Monday musing: Writing fiction is different from writing non-fiction. It’s harder.

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Writers of non-fiction often set out to answer a need: “How to hammer nails straight,” or “How to deceive yourself into believing that this diet will actually work next week.”

In fiction, however, it’s completely up to the writer to make the reader need to read the content. And as I read fiction lately, I find myself trying to deconstruct the appeal some writers hold for me.

First, I want a story that pulls me along. I have to want to find out what happens next. While this strikes me as obvious, some writers apparently need to be told: don’t bore me.

I also appreciate originality. Many writers, particularly of cop or spy stories, seem to be trying to write an episode of their favourite TV show, rather than making up their own stories. Another tip: don’t make everyone beautiful. I’ve said it before: if you look around you, you won’t see a lot of beautiful people. A few, sure. But most humans are tolerable-looking, maybe attractive.

There’s also the depth of characterization, the writer’s ability to make a character or a situation real. Dialogue has a lot to do with this, but writing believable dialogue is very tricky. If you were to write down exactly what people actually say, it would make for very boring and incomprehensible prose — people make up what they say as they go along, and there are a lot of false starts and changes in tense and tone in ordinary speech. And then there’s all the information conveyed by tone of voice and body language. It takes an extraordinarily skilled writer to capture all of that.

How a writer writes

Writing style has a lot of impact on my enjoyment. There’s word choice, and sentence structure, but I don’t have patience for writers who are trying to impress me with their vocabulary. TELL THE STORY.

Many have said: “Show me, don’t tell me.” The writers I like best are those who, simply and clearly, bring me right into the situation.

Here’s a great example from the independent novelist, BestSelling Reads member Gae-Lynn Woods in her novel, The Devil of Light.

Cass Elliot drew a deep breath and slowly released it. Her irritation wasn’t directed at Mitch. She’d been lost in a black funk during the hours they’d spent on the road today. Wondering again why Sheriff Hoffner had bothered to hire and promote her, the first woman detective in Forney County, only to look right through her even when she was standing in front of him. As Mitch settled against the passenger door and began to snore, her thoughts had whirled farther back in time, searching the events of that night long ago, seeking clues to the identity of the man who had changed the course of her life. She was sucked again into an ugly pit of anger and helplessness. The dreams had been worse lately; they jolted her awake with the phantom sensation of fire streaking across her breast and a scream frozen in her throat.

She glanced in the rearview mirror and caught the fury in the flat line of her mouth and the contraction of her brow. Again she breathed deeply, forced the tension from her body and felt exhaustion ooze in to fill the void. When she checked her reflection again, her violet eyes were still weary and her creamy skin too pale, but the imprint of anger and fear on her features was gone. Cass looked at her sleeping partner and snorted in reluctant amusement, resisting the urge to lower his window. Instead, she raised Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” into audible range on the radio.

One blue eye stuttered open. “Are we home yet?”

“Almost.” Her stomach gurgled. “Is Darla there?”

Mitch straightened his long form, gently rocking his head from side to side and swiping at his chin. Stifling a yawn, he checked his watch. “She should be by now. Probably have Zeus with her. Which one of your brothers is cooking?”

“Bruce. Harry’ll be there and want to cook, but Bruce will have control. He always does in the Elliot kitchen. Harry has the girls this weekend so he’ll be wrapped up with them anyway. If Daddy’s home, he’ll stay out of their way.” She grinned, a movement that brought mischievousness to her delicate features. “We’re pretty dysfunctional, aren’t we?”

This example gives the reader a lot of information, but not too much. It tells you about a character and makes you want to read more, without overwhelming you with the dreaded “information dump.”

What not to do:

Here’s an example of an information dump (details altered to protect the guilty):

Michael Chapman stood wearily in line at the ferry’s bar. It had been a long trip, but he was nearing its end. Four years ago Michael was a twenty-eight-year-old investment counselor with a corner office in one of the gleaming glass towers of Atlanta. He thought he had it all — until his marriage disintegrated in a messy divorce in which his wife got the house, the kids, and everything else important to him. After eight more months of pointless activity, he walked away from his job, cashed in what remained of his investments, and bought a ticket to England.

Not only does that use a lot of clichés (“gleaming glass towers,” “marriage disintegrated,” “messy divorce,” “walked away from his job”), there’s no reason to dump all this here. Get on with the story: he’s in line at the bar — does he get his drink? Or does something get in the way? Where is the ferry going? How long has the journey been?

As a reader, I want to read the back-story as it’s needed. Show me the pain of the divorce when Michael meets another potential romantic partner, or some other situation that calls for it. Writing all this in an early chapter forces me to try to remember it all later, which gets harder with a longer book, especially one I might be reading in instalments, day after day, on a commute.

The good example puts the reader right into the situation. It’s personal. Readers can identify with the character. If it were a movie, the director would be starting with a very close focus. Context comes later, naturally as the story rolls out.

What do you think, as a reader?

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Writers want to hear from readers

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Next to writing, the thing writers love to do most is . . .  talk with readers about books, writing and what makes reading great.

This week, BestSelling Reads authors share the question they most want to ask readers, as well as the question they most want to answer — the question they’d like readers to ask them.  We’re looking for your responses in the Comments.

Samreen Ahsan, author of award-winning paranormal romances, asks readers whether she should continue writing romance or should try a new genre.

 

Fred Brooke would like to ask readers two different things.

  • How have your reading habits changed over the years—how much you read, what you read, what medium you use to read?
  • Do you read mostly one single genre, or multiple genres? Which ones do you read? Do you read authors who write in two or more different genres?

 

Scott Bury wonders which tropes—those common themes and ideas that authors repeat in a genre—readers would like to say goodbye to. Smart poor girl meets handsome billionaire? Sassy cop can’t work within the rules of the police department? Disillusioned Special Ops soldier’s heart melts for brilliant doctor/scientist of the opposite sex?

He would like to talk to readers about why we love certain characters.

 

Seb Kirby asks readers, “Do you prefer to read a book as part of a series (involving mainly the same characters) or do you prefer each book to be a standalone story?”

And Seb would like to discuss with readers why he writes.

 

Alan McDermott, author of espionage and action thrillers, asks how long should a series be? Three books? Twenty? When should the author say enough is enough for this character? He also asks whether you would be more likely to buy your favorite author’s book for a friend or loved one if it was a signed, personalized paperback?

 

Toby Neal also has two questions:

  • What is your favorite setting to escape to?
  • How has reading helped you deal with stress?

 

Caleb Pirtle III, author of historical mysteries and thrillers, asks two questions:

  • Would you rather read thrillers set in the present or the past?
  • Do you prefer reading 300-page novels or 125-page novellas?

 

Raine Thomas asks readers what draws them to a new book. How do they find new authors? What makes them click that purchase button? And on the flip side, what turns them away from giving a book a try?

 

D.J. Torrens wonders whether you prefer stand-alone stories or a series. She would also ask what has been your favorite twist in a story you have read, in any genre.

 

Gae-Lynn Woods asks

  • How often do you genre-hop?
  • What makes you rush to pick up the next book in a series?

 

What do you say? Relieve us of our suspense in the Comments!

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Meet the Author Monday: Gae-Lynn Woods

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This week, BestSelling Reads presents Gae-Lynn Woods, an author who lives in East Texas.

Tell the readers about the books you’ve written.

I have written three books, and I’m hard at work on novel number four.

All my books are mysteries set in a small town in East Texas. The first two, The Devil of Light and Avengers of Blood, are part of the Cass Elliot Crime Series. The third, A Case of Sour Grapes, is a companion novel to the series, featuring Cass’s best friend, Maxine Leverman. My fourth book is a return to the Cass Elliot series.

How have the main characters developed or changed over the course of the series?

I had the vaguest idea of the characters who would inhabit Forney County when I started writing The Devil of Light and have loved getting to know them. Cass grows considerably over the series, from a damaged woman unsure of her place in the world, to a confident detective hunting for the man who hurt her, and perhaps many other women. I try to highlight a character in each book, because I love learning about them. In Avengers of Blood, we find out how Officer Ernie Munk lost his daughter years ago, and how that event continues to impact his career and his life.

How has your style changed over that same period?

I am a fan of long books with twisty plots. Greg Iles, Stephen King, Elizabeth George, Justin Cronin—I love the way their books allow for character and story development. My first two novels are long, with Avengers of Blood running to almost 600 pages, and the stories themselves are dark and twisty. I decided I wanted a different feel to Maxine Leverman’s first novel, so it’s written in the first person and is a much tighter and lighter read. The mystery is still intense, but Maxine’s approach to it is impulsive and at times, comical. The next novel in the Cass Elliot series is headed right back to those intertwined plots and original length, but I’m looking forward to writing another novel from Maxine’s perspective.

Has the way your write, or the process, evolved?

I’m a complete pantser and as much as I would like to o-u-t-l-i-n-e, even thinking the “o” word shuts my creativity down. I start a story with a general idea of the conflict and a glimpse of how the story ends, then write and see where events and my characters take me.

What about the way you create characters or build worlds?

Because my novels are set in in the same small town, many of the characters overlap from one novel to the next. That’s the way it is in small towns: everybody knows everybody else, and all their business! I know very little about my characters when they show up during the course of a book, and learning about them as I write is part of the fun. I keep notes about almost all characters, even the most minor, updating them as the books develop. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to many countries, and meeting so many people gives me great ideas for character traits and development.

Is there a particular place or time you like to write?

My preference is to write first thing in the morning, before the day has a chance to interrupt me. But life is a bit unpredictable right now, so I write whenever I find time.

I do most of my writing at home in our study, but I spend a lot of time at gigs and rehearsals with my husband. Earphones and music are crucial to my writing process. I’ve written in coffee shops and restaurants, stuffed in dusty backstage corners or dressing rooms, and sitting cross-legged in airport hallways. I’m outside a music store now, waiting in the car for my husband to pick up a guitar. I’ve got a mobile desk on my lap and Freddie Mercury in my ears. Life is good.

Get to know Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

When she’s not playing the roadie, tending to cows, fixing fence, or digging post holes, Gae-Lynn is working on the next Cass Elliot novel and the next Companion Novel featuring Maxine Leverman, Cass’ best friend.

Gae-Lynn can be found:

Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Easter Monday Musings: Do you love to talk about books?

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Do you love to talk about books? One thing I’d like to do is drink a cup of coffee and talk about books with readers and writers.

I love chatting with readers, but I want more than the usual “Where do you get your ideas from?” I’d like to hear about more specific aspects of the reading experience.

What do you like to talk about when it comes to your favorite books or favorite writers?

What about characters? Do you want the stock heroes and heroines, the Jack Reachers and Jets, the ones who can defeat any foe without question? Or do you prefer the kind of protagonist with weaknesses, flaws, who isn’t certain to win every contest?

What about stories? Many romances today follow the arc of 50 you-know-what: smart, educated but poor young woman meets gorgeous but damaged billionaire. After overcoming several barriers, their love blooms. Does that still have you flipping pages (or swiping left on your e-reader)? Or are you yearning for something different.

Personally, I find the boundaries between genres annoying. In recent years, there has been a profusion of books that combine, or cross, the paranormal or fantasy and romance genres. Do you like that? Are there genres that you’d like to see combined? How about horror and steampunk?

Or what about creating a new genre? What are the books that you’d like to read, but haven’t been written yet?

I also want to know what you want to hear from authors. Are there specific questions, like “Why does the heroine go into that room when she knows the axe murderer is hiding in there?” Or “Why doesn’t he just ask her out, already?”

So tell me what appeals to you in your favourite books, and ask me—or any BestSelling Reads member author—what you’d like to know.

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Meet the author Monday: Seb Kirby

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In our new series, we’re doing some basic introductions for each of our members. This week, it’s Seb Kirby.

How many books have you written?

I’m currently hard at work on my seventh.

Please explain your various series and standalone books.

All the books I’ve written so far are thrillers. The three books in the James Blake series came first. I was interested in telling stories with an international perspective. After drugs and guns, art theft is the third largest international crime. One estimate puts it at $6 billion each year. Organized crime is behind many of the most notorious art thefts. Stolen works of art are used as a form of currency between mob members.

I have a long-term interest in art. Before I took up full-time writing, one aspect of my work as a university academic gave me insights into methods used to restore paintings and sculpture. It seemed natural to draw on this in creating the world that James Blake is drawn into. Uncovering what lies beneath a work of art and its history is also a good vehicle for developing the mystery and suspense that I’ve worked hard to capture in the series.

How have the main characters developed or changed over the course of the series?

I wrote the first book, Take No More, as a one-off. It’s a story complete in itself. Then, the inevitable happened. The characters I’d created began to take on a life of their own and the further stories Regret No More and Forgive No More demanded to be written. In Regret No More art theft and a sophisticated conspiracy to cheat collectors out of millions takes center stage, while Forgive No More tells of the wider conspiracy that underlies this branch of organized crime and takes on a much more ambitious, historical dimension. Each is a story complete in itself.

The main character, James Blake, grows in stature, from an ordinary man unwittingly caught up in these events to become a wiser and more assured champion for truth and honesty.

How has your style changed over that same period?

This is a good point to talk about my other stand-alone stories. Alongside the more conventional approach to thrillers in the James Blake series, I have a strong interest in psychological thrillers. This first took shape in Double Bind, a doppelgänger story about a hero struggling to make sense of a profound existential crisis. I wrote this as a thriller and was surprised when it was received as sci-fi. On reflection, this is not too shocking as, since a teenager, I’ve read a great deal of sci-fi and much of that must have been formative in the telling of the story.

In writing Double Bind and in seeking to capture the mind-set of the main character, I was drawn to a more minimalist style than the one used in the James Blake stories where conventional third person, past tense is used throughout.

Double Bind introduced me to writing in first person, present tense and I’ve carried that through in three stand-alone psychological thrillers set in London. Each Day I Wake and Sugar for Sugar are available now. I’m currently close to completing a third story, as yet untitled, to be released in September. These books do not form a series as such but they have a commonality of place—the South Bank and East End of London—and share some characters. Each is a stand-alone story and can be read in any order.

Has the way you write, or your process, evolved?

My writing process has evolved with each book, as described above. There are many ways to write a novel and I think I’m still investigating some of the many possibilities.

But underlying it all is storytelling. That’s the real currency that we all work with.

When do you write? Is there a time of day, or a period during the week? I don’t adopt a set pattern in writing. I just set myself the goal of achieving something tangible every day. As Dorothy Parker put it: “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” That’s my guiding principle.

Is there a particular place you like to be to write?

I used to write in notebooks whenever I had the opportunity—traveling to work by train, grabbing a few minutes at lunch-time. Now I write full time, I tend to work at a (not too tidy) desk in my home office. But I still use notebooks to capture ideas as they come, whenever they come.

About Seb Kirby

Seb Kirby was born and raised in Birmingham, UK.

Get to know more about Seb at:

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Meet the author Monday: Eden Baylee

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Get to know your favorite BestSelling Reads authors better. This week features Eden Baylee.

How many books have you written?

I have nineteen titles available for sale. They include anthologies, novels and novellas, and collections with other authors.

You’ve written more than one book for the Lei Crime Kindle World. How have those main characters developed or changed over the course of the series?

I have three novellas in Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle Worlds’ series: A Snake in Paradise; SEAL of a Monk; and Charade at Sea.

For these stories, I developed a brand new character named Lainey Lee and wove her into the settings and back story of the first three books in Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series. Lainey appears in all three of my books, and a Navy SEAL named Max Scott enters the scene in the second book.

Lainey transforms from an inhibited newly-divorced woman to someone who finds a little more of herself in each book.

How has your style changed over that same period?

I don’t think my style of writing has changed. I write in both the literary erotica and mystery/suspense genres, so my books for Kindle Worlds evoke a moody sense of place and vibrant characters.

Add to this a setting in Hawaii and a mystery that needs to be solved, and you’ll find the books are easy to read with interesting and believable characters.

Has the way you write, or your process, evolved? For example, do you use outlines more or less now? What about the way you create characters or build worlds?

I’m a pantser par excellence. When ideas flow, I’m go-go-go. When they don’t, then it’s difficult. I’ve been going through a particularly rough patch of late, but it’s something I need to push through. There is no other way around it. It’s one day at a time putting words to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Characters are the backbone of a story, so it’s important to make sure they are carefully developed. Modeling them after real people helps keep them real.

When do you write? Is there a time of day, or a period during the week? A particular place you like to be to write?

I write standing at my kitchen counter most of the time. The room has natural light and the counter is long with plenty of space for my writing and research material. I’m also using two Apple laptops, so the set-up works well. My husband thinks it’s my very own genius bar!

I’m an early riser but I don’t write immediately upon waking. I usually begin work after a leisurely breakfast and work late into the evening. I write six days a week.

How do you create new characters?

Most characters are modeled after someone I know or have known. I combine different traits of people I’ve met and create one character. In my novel, Stranger at Sunset, you find a lot of characters; many are inspired by someone familiar to me. Even though we have unpleasant dealings with people in real life, they sometimes make for the best characters. No experience is ever wasted.

Where do your ideas for plots originate?

They come from a variety of sources—stories I’ve read or heard, TV shows, movies, music—life in general, really. I definitely listen more than I speak, and that helps.

How do you feel your writing style and process have evolved over the course of writing your books?

I’ve become less hung up on specific words. I’m a logophile who can worry about the use of a particular word or description, even though I know readers won’t necessarily care as much. As an example, whether a dress is green, blue, or red is less important than if it’s made of a sheer, see-through material, but I do tend to sweat the details.

In order to create books, you have to look at the bigger picture. It’s not simply about writing well, it’s about telling a good story. Being a perfectionist can really stall the process of getting the book out there.

It’s a fine balance for me, most days.

More about Eden

Eden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to write and is now a full-time author of multiple genres. She has written three collections of erotic novellas and flash fiction: Spring Into Summer,  Fall into Winter and Hot Flash.

In 2014, she launched the first novel of her trilogy with Dr. Kate Hampton—a psychological mystery/suspense called Stranger at Sunset. In addition to working on her next novel, Eden created Lainey Lee for the Lei Crime Series, a feisty divorcée who finds adventure and romance in Hawaii. Her novellas are available on Kindle Worlds.

An introvert by nature and an extrovert by design, Eden is most comfortable at home with her laptop surrounded by books. She is an online Scrabble junkie and a social media enthusiast, but she really needs to get out more often! Connect to her via all her networks. She loves talking to readers!

Eden can be found on

her Website   |    Bestselling Reads Author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   LinkedIn   |    Amazon

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Monday musings: How do you want to engage with your favorite writers?

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Writers love to hear from our readers.

CollegeDegrees360 / Creative Commons

And we’ve found that readers love to talk with their favorite authors. That’s why we’re going to start a new BestSelling Reads Café.

The Café will be a place online where multiple members of BestSelling Reads will come together to respond to readers. It will take some time to set up, but we’re hoping to be able to use text, audio and video.

In the meantime, we’re asking: what do you want to know?

  • Where we get our ideas?
  • Are our characters based on real people?
  • How do you come up with your characters’ names?
  • Our pre-writing rituals?
  • Whether we prefer to create first drafts with pen on paper, a typewriter or a computer?

Or do you have some really different questions that you’ve been wondering about.

We also want to know what kind of format you’d like. Do you think connecting through social media, such as a Google Hangout, would be best? Are you interested in using video and audio, or do you feel more comfortable with text?

Let us know through the Comments, or send If there’s enough interest out there, we’ll set up a time and a channel where we’ll be able to interact.

Leave a comment or send an email to bestsellingreads@gmail.com.

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Monday musings: If the story turns you on, write about it

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This post is a re-blog from Venture Galleries.

How could my mystery and thriller novels be called historical fiction? They happened in my lifetime.

It appears that we have become locked into a publishing universe that is built on genre fiction, and the genres are changing just about every time the leaves on the trees either grow, turn green, become red and gold, or fall off. These days, it’s not out of the question to find books that are labeled paranormal and historical romantic suspense, a mystery and thriller with time travel. Confuses me.

I thought I wrote thrillers. And mysteries. That’s what I tried to do. That’s what I like to read. My bookshelves and my mind are filled with the fiction of Robert Ludlum, James Lee Burke, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Ken Follett, and the boys.

But here’s the problem.

I am fascinated with the 1930s and 1940s. I have written three Ambrose Lincoln thrillers and have a fourth ready for release. All of them are set during World War II: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark – with Place of Skulls waiting in the wings.

It was a glorious era. It was a mysterious era. So many rumors running rampant. So many mysteries lurking in the background. Too much intrigue to know the difference between fact and fiction, truth and contradiction.

It was the dawn of intelligence agencies whose operatives worked in the shadows and behind enemy lines. They were in places where danger lurked around every corner and behind every door. The agents of the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany had their only little private wars going. Winner take all. Not everyone came home. Not everyone was supposed to.

Besides, the era had the greatest villain of all. He was a madman. He engineered a Holocaust. He wore a mustache, made fierce, fiery speeches, and was known to the world as Adolph Hitler. His was the face of evil.

And, of course, Russia had its own madman, Joseph Stalin. He was our friend then. He was our own personal bad guy. Stalin became our enemy as soon as the flames of atomic horror rose in a mushroom cloud above the cities of Japan. His face was just as evil.

We had what he desperately wanted. We had The Bomb. Stalin began building one of his own. And a war turned Cold.

Want to write a thriller? You can’t find a better era.

That’s what I thought. But now I’ve found that I haven’t written any thrillers at all. It was a grand era all right. It was the wrong era.

Now everyone wants to call my novels historical fiction. How could they be historical? They happened in my lifetime.

I was only a small child during World War II, but my father worked in a military plant that built bombs, and I heard him and my mother talking in hushed tones at night about men I didn’t know killing men I didn’t know in places I never heard of.

I was fascinated with what was going on. I still am. But it’s historical or so they say, and they’re probably right.

I could write about the present, and maybe I will. To me, however, there may be mysteries in a world that relies on computers and the digital speed of the Internet and cell phones, but there is little intrigue. There is little suspense.

Suspense is when the good guy is cornered in an alley on a dark street in Berlin with Gestapo agents trailing right behind, and he can’t find a telephone to warn someone that the German storm troopers will attack at dawn.

Where is a phone that works? How can he find it? Will he die before he gets there? And he knows he can’t escape to freedom until he finds that damn phone.

Now that’s suspense.

If he whips out a cell phone and makes that call, it’s ho-hum and time to spread a little more peanut butter on my bread since I know for sure everything is going to work out fine. Make the call. Look up the GPS coordinates on his hand-held computer. And hitch a ride on the helicopter that’s coming in under the cover of darkness.

It may be a really good story. It’s not the story I want to tell.

I want an operative who lives or dies on his own daring, wits, and ingenuity. I don’t want his fate decided by email or Twitter. So I guess I’ll keep writing historical fiction.

And I guess I’ll keep calling the books thrillers. Why change now?

A great writer, J. E. Fishman, penned a piece for Venture Galleries, and his advice for authors was this: “Write what turns you on.”

He’s right.

I do.

And so the battle rages on.

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Monday musings: Paper or electronic books?

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The bus is a great place to observe people, to watch how they spend their time when they’re waiting to get to where they want or need to go. While many just stare at nothing, or try to sleep, most attempt to fill their time.

Most of those who are doing something besides sitting on the bus are using an electronic device. There are people of all ages using their smart phones to talk, check email, text or most often play a game. Others read Kindles, Kobos or iPads. In the mornings, I often see students finishing an assignment on their laptop computers. It’s rare to see someone reading a newspaper, which was the most common pastime when I began my career.

Occasionally as I ride into and home from the city, I see someone reading a book. An honest-to-god paperback or hardcover.

In the environment where we focus on, chat about, read and write e-books, it’s sometimes surprising to remember that people still buy, read and share paper books.

There’s a lady I meet and chat with occasionally, when we’re on the bus together. When I showed her a sample of the paperback edition of my latest book, Walking Out of War, she said “I love a real paperback book. It’s something you can touch, you can hold.”

I had to agree with her. E-books are the sensible choice for commuters: a Kindle or a Kobo is lighter than a big paperback, and the batteries last for days. You can have any number of books on them and they never get heavier. The type never fades and if it’s too small for my aging eyes, I can make it bigger.

But there is something about the tactile experience of holding a book that triggers the emotions in a way an e-book just cannot. As a writer, I love having a print book that I wrote. And I really regret that my contract with Amazon does not allow me to produce print editions of my Kindle World books.

Print has its advantages over e-books. You don’t need to charge up a book to read it. You don’t have to put your paperback away when your plane it taking off or landing. (What is that really about, anyway?)

As a writer, another advantage I find that print has over e-books is that I have greater control over the visual presentation. That means I can choose the type fonts I want, the page layout and so much more. With e-books, you’re limited to the fonts and layouts the publishing platform, whether Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble or whatever, have.

However, it is more challenging and expensive to produce a physical, paper book. Amazon’s CreateSpace and Ingram’s Lightning Source provide web platforms that make it easier, but if you want a professional-looking product, you need to know what you’re doing.

In my case, it helps that I’ve worked in the printing and publishing world for most of my career. I’ve learned about some of the little things that make a big difference between professional and amateurish. And there are plenty of books available that obviously have been produced by people who may be talented writers, but don’t know squat about publishing.

I believe that professional appearance makes a difference to the reader. Many of the little details, like how big to make the margin on a 5 x 8 page, where the page numbers (folios, in publishing language) go, which way quotation marks should slant, how to set up facing pages, how to select typefaces—all evolved because they enhance the reading experience. They make it easier to read the text, to navigate and to follow the story.

While readers may not appreciate every nuance, at least subconsciously they’re affected by them. The difference between a professionally produce page and one done by an amateur is as obvious as the difference between a professional musician and the tone-deaf kid next door.

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These are all from the writer’s perspective, though. I’d like to hear from readers. I know that many people who follow this blog read e-books—some of BSR’s members publish only in electronic format. But which do you like better, electronic or paper? Why? Which do you prefer to take the beach, or read in bed? What do you take when you commute?

Leave your answers in the Comments.

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Monday Musings: What’s the difference between memory and history?

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Image source: Pinterest

History, the stuff we’re taught in schools, read in books and watch on screens, is supposed to be the official, collective memory of our culture—or at least part of it. But when you talk to people who have direct experience in something mentioned in the history textbooks, you’ll often find context and texture that somehow get missed.

The Second World War certainly has its share of historical record and analysis. I cannot begin to count the numbers of books, articles, reports, films and more about it, in fiction and non-fiction.

But in talking with someone who was there at the time, I found tiny details that others somehow missed.

One memory that inspired me to write my Eastern Front trilogy came from Maurice, my father-in-law, who was drafted by the Soviet Red Army in 1941. He told me that as an officer, he had good leather boots, but the enlisted men had only cloth boots, which wore out as the army retreated before the German invasion of Operation Barbarossa. When the cold weather came, the Red Army had no replacements for those boots (among a lot of other shortages), and the men had to wrap their feet with anything they could find, like old newspapers.

I did a lot of research for the trilogy: reading books, articles and reports, watching films and, of course, interviewing my father-in-law, who passed away in 2003. Yes, it took me a long time to write those books. But I never came across any references to the Soviet soldiers’ boots wearing out. This little fact led to my title for the first volume in the trilogy: Army of Worn Soles.

Under the Nazi Heel, book two in the trilogy, describes the Ukrainian resistance to the brutal German occupation of 1942–1945. One striking story from my father-in-law was how he and others in the underground resistance army would sneak into the rail yards at night and switch the destination cards on the boxcars. I told him that seemed more like a prank than a resistance effort, but he explained that the cards determined where the boxcar’s contents would be sent. So a boxcar filled with ammunition would not reach its intended destination, which hampered the enemy’s supply efforts.

Image source: Wikipedia

I still did not think much of this until I read William Craig’s Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, upon which the movie with Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Joseph Fiennes was loosely based. In the book (this did not appear in the movie) the German 6th Army, hemmed in by the advancing Soviets and running short of supplies, received a boxcar full of crates of condoms instead of ammunition. A nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. Well, not when the enemy is literally about to overrun you.

I just published the third book in the trilogy: Walking Out of War, which deals with the last year of the war and its aftermath. A memory prominent to Maurice was how much better the equipment and the food were in the Red Army compared to the beginning of the war. That’s mostly because by 1944, the USSR was getting a lot of supplies from the Allies, especially the U.S.A.

Along with weapons, ammunition and 152,000 trucks, the U.S. sent tonnes of food to the USSR. Maurice told me how all the “boys”—the soldiers—love the American canned ham. “It was very tasty.”

Source: Wikipedia

After the war, in a United Nations Displaced Persons camp, Maurice saw the cooks from the U.S. Army throwing away fat from the outside of hams. When he asked why, the cook shrugged and said “We don’t eat that stuff.”

That was a godsend for hungry refugees. Maurice took as much as he could to the refugees, who would use the ham fat for various recipes. It may not to be to the taste of us in the prosperous 21st century West, but it kept a lot of people from hunger in 1946.

Little details like that make history come to life for me. It’s crucial to preserve these memories that don’t make it into the history textbooks, because they make the grand sweep of history immediate to those of us who weren’t there.

What do you think about the difference between memory and history? What specific details do you think the history books have missed? Let me know in the Comments.

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