Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Chocolate Pudding: The Ultimate Pain Killer

In 1999 my husband and I went snow skiing in Salt Lake City, Utah. We wanted to check out the slopes to be featured in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Our first morning of skiing was fun. Park City is an incredible venue. As we neared the exit for one of the lifts late in the morning, we decided to race down to a nearby lodge for hot chocolate. Everything was perfect. The snow. The weather. Everything. Well, everything except the setting on my right ski binding. Bindings are set so that if a skier falls the boot releases from the ski. 

I fell. My left boot released. My right boot stayed in the binding. The right ski planted itself firmly in the snow while the rest of my body hurled down the slope. I screamed in pain. Tom got to me quickly as did the ski patrol. I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say that even though it did not break the skin, the fall sheared the patella off. In essence, I had a broken knee. Not a typical break by any means.

My surgeon in Ohio cleverly figured out a way to lasso the patella and tie it to a screw in my leg. I was in a straight leg brace for weeks and then in rehab even longer to learn how to bend my knee again. Through it all, my mom and Tom cared for me. My mom drove me to teach my classes at the university and Tom did everything he could to comfort me. 

One day, Tom came home from work carrying a small grocery bag. “I got you some medicine,” he said in a sing-song voice. He had a huge grin on his face. I pulled out a package of four individual cups of chocolate pudding. 

I like chocolate pudding.

That came to be an ongoing practice. If I was sick or feeling down…if I had a stressful week or something happened at work, Tom would come home with “my medicine.” The man knew how to take care of me. 

My knee healed and I was able to ski again. My surgeon warned me though that one day the injury would come back to haunt me. He said I could likely expect trauma- induced arthritis in ten years or so. It wasn’t uncommon. 

My knee served me well for eighteen years before the pain started. Two thousand-seventeen. The worst had already happened. Tom died on October 29, 2014. I wound up having cortisone shots until finally the bones in my knee collapsed and the cortisone wouldn’t work anymore. 

My surgeon scheduled me for a complete knee replacement. I felt a bit overwhelmed.

Oh sure, since Tom’s death I had overcome other obstacles:
I went on a mission trip to India without him.
I negotiated and bought a new car without him.
I sold our house without him.
I bought another house and had it renovated without him.
I moved to Europe, living in Kosovo for ten months without him.

But in some way or another he had prepared me for those events. This was different. It was the first major medical issue I faced without Tom. I prayed for guidance. 

The surgery was scheduled for October 12. I had little time to prepare. I knew I would need a walker and would be going to therapy. My mom planned to stay with me and drive me to my therapy sessions. My children were looking at ways to help as well. It’s not that I didn’t have support. It’s simply that I didn’t have Tom. 

A few days before the surgery I was at the grocery picking up some things I thought I might need. There it was. A bin of chocolate pudding cups on sale… “This week only.” I bought a boatload (well, a very small boat) of chocolate pudding.

My surgery was successful. I have been faithful in doing my exercises, taking the prescribed meds, and… eating my chocolate pudding. As I write this Tom has been in heaven for four years. But I can still see his grin and hear his voice. “I got you some medicine.”

If you follow my blog you know that some of the other authors from the Ohio Christian Fiction Anthology 2018 have served as guests on the blog. These women stepped up to help me during this difficult season of surgery and recovery. 

Sandra Merville Hart, JPC Allen, Michelle Levigne, and Carole Brown. If you missed their posts, simply click on their name to read what they have to say about writing. Hart shares how she researches a location. Allen introduces us the genre of Country Noir. Levigne offers wise advice on editing and Brown gives clues to building characters within a storyline.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

From the Shadows Came ...the Character

Join me in welcoming Award Winning Author, Carole Brown, this week's guest on A Novel Creation. Carole is one of the nine authors selected for From the Lake to the River: Buckeye Christian Fiction Anthology 2018. Her story, Christmas Angels, is a tender and emotional story taking place during WWII. I asked Carole to share some of her secrets to developing believable characters.

"Shadowy forms. Vague details. Expanding. Decreasing. That's how my character developing goes." -Carole Brown

Most times I know the beginnings of the plot to a new story. And as I study the structure line, the two main themes: romance and suspense/mystery develop fairly quickly. I know what I want to create in the suspenseful realm, what the mystery will be and sometimes the ending or how it will be revealed. The romantic side's greatest challenge for me is deciding how to end the story. I may not know some details, but with research, conversation with my best go-to people, and contemplation, I can figure it out.

But the character development is different. Today I'll share one way I develop characterization by using  two different personalities (in the simpliest form).

Complex characters.
·     Abigail, the main character in Christmas Angels. I wanted to show her strength and courage, but also her fear, doubts and a bit of self-pitying. How did I do this?

One of the best ways, for me, is to use other people. In this novella, I brought in a brief scene of Abigail's mother.Just in that short period, readers can get a glimpse of what type of woman she is. Demanding. Overbearing. Berating. A definite, if poor, example for Abigail. Anyone who can crawl away from such a demeaning existence has to have something deep within them that causes them to be more than was expected.

A huge contrast, is Abigail's husband, Patrick. The reader barely gets a visible picture of the man, but his sense is throughout the story. His absence is made so much stronger by the emotions he exhibits on Abigail. He believes in her and because of that, the reader knows, the man really loves her. His confidence that she is a strong woman, capable, and smart filters through her thoughts and gives her the encouragement to hang on. 

I wanted to create a young girl, a mother and wife, who came from, at best, an unhappy home life. A female who made a choice and is satisfied with it. A doubting, scared, worried person who moves ahead with life in spite of her feelings. A person who learns throughout the story, in a very subdued way, that prayers are answered. 

So Abigail's complex character can be defined as: 
·      Smart in deciding what to do about money even though she pities herself by imagining she's been abandoned by the one person she knows loves her.
·      Brave and courageous in the midst of fear. How to handle the problems facing her. How to handle life if Patrick doesn't return. How to provide for herself and her daughter. 
·      Fearful that she is and will be alone in raising her young daughter if something should happen to her husband. Can she do it alone? Can she do it right? Was her mother right?
·      Believes in prayer, yet doubt persists in nagging at her. Prayers escape her lips even when she wonders if God hears.
·      A bit of a dreamer with a huge imagination. She wonders about the residents. She dreams of her husband and how he showed his love for her before he left. The way she sees her neighbors.
·     A sweet personality in loving those with whom she shares the boarding house. Always ready to carry out the tasks they request from her. Sharing her daughter with them. Offering a listening ear when one or more needs to talk.

Simple Characters
·     The boarding house residents. These are the people in Abigail's current life. Humorous details like Mr. Albert's hair that looks like electricity played a part or Mrs. Owen's orange hair. Sad things like Mrs. Owen's love for her boys even when they fail to visit her, or Mr. Albert's obvious sadness he bears quietly. 

Bringing in these various simpler—as far as this story takes us—touches about the characters gives us a glimpse of others that help bring Abigail to life. 

There's much, much more to developing characters. Physical, actions, speech, motives etc. all are part of creating interesting characters. Getting it right is vital to a character readers can love—or hate. But you know you've nailed it when readers say: “bring on the tissues” or “true to life characters” Or “I was drawn into the characters.” 

That, my friends, is worth every tiny bit of work an author puts into her characters' creation.

About Carole:
Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. An author of ten books, she loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Publishing is War

 When you join the military, do they send you onto the battlefield with spitballs instead of guns?

So why do people who decide to be writers slap words onto the page and never take the time to polish, proofread, fix grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, formatting, etc., before they send those words to a publisher?

Yes, I know what you're about to say: Fixing those piddling little details are what editors are for.

Umm, NO! A traditional publisher will read the first paragraph of such a sloppy "masterpiece" and reject it immediately. If not sooner. No publisher has the time and budget to make your book readable. That is YOUR job -- BEFORE you submit.

The only publishers who accept manuscripts full of grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting mistakes CHARGE YOU to fix them. I make my living as a freelance editor for people who self-publish, or publishers who contract to publish people's books for them. Books that traditional publishers won't touch because they're aimed at audiences too small to be profitable, or they are incoherent messes. Spitballs instead of rifles.

I had an editing job that frustrated me to no end. Why? Each chapter was ONE continuous (run-on) sentence. The only capital letter was at the start of the chapter -- probably the word processing program did that. No periods to indicate the stop of a sentence, very few commas to indicate phrasing. Do you know how HARD it is to figure out what someone is trying to say, without punctuation to indicate phrasing and where thoughts end?

After I inserted punctuation, then I fixed grammar and spelling. I couldn't tell if the words/spelling were right until I knew what the author was trying to say. All because the author didn't use punctuation -- a simple period -- or capitalize the start of each new sentence.

Today's Lesson: Learn punctuation. Learn capitalization. Learn sentence structure. Learn spelling. The mechanics. Your weapons in the battlefield of publishing.

How do you do that? READ. READ. READ. READ. (get the picture?) Read lots of books, big books, bestsellers, classics. Pay attention to how authors put sentences together. Pay attention to how punctuation is used. Learn grammar through example.

Writing is war, and with e-publishing and self-publishing exploding, there are a whole lot more soldiers and armies you're battling for readers. You want to go out there with the most effective weapons possible -- not a bunch of spitballs.

On the road to publication, Michelle fell into fandom in college and has 40+ stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a bunch of useless degrees in theater/English/film/communication/writing. Even worse, she has (or had) over 100 books and novellas with multiple small presses, in science fiction and fantasy, YA, and sub-genres of romance. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living ( for info/rates), but only enough to give her time to write. Her newest crime against the literary world is to be co-managing editor at Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Be afraid … be very afraid.   

Michelle is one of the authors you will find in the Buckeye Christian Fiction Anthology 2018: From the Lake to the River. I have asked those authors to share their area of expertise with my readers. You will recall Sandra Merville Hart's offering insight into power of accurate research (Click HERE if you missed it) and JPC Allen's post on understanding genre. (That one is HERE.) Thank you, Michelle for this great article on self-editing. And READERS....Be sure to comment or ask Michelle your own editing questions. I know she will happily respond.

AND...Watch for a book for writers being released by Michelle in 2019 called Do Yourself  a Favor: Tips and Quips on the Writing Life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hurricane Florence: A Template for Tension

Note to my readers: I saved this post about Hurricane Florence for October. Typically, the hurricane season is about over in October. I never want to trivialize the impact of hurricanes on the lives of people. Now Hurricane Michael is destroying everything in its path. I decided to take the post down. My heart and prayers are with those in harms way and those who have lost their homes and lives of loved ones.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What Is Country Noir?

Join me as I Welcome Author JPC Allen to A Novel Creation! Allen is one of nine authors featured in the Buckeye Christian Fiction Anthology 2018, From the Lake to the River. I asked her to share a bit about her genre, country noir. I know you will enjoy the post and love her short story, Debt to Pay In the Anthology. Meet Allen and other authors featured in this new release THIS SATURDAY at All Around Books in Troy, Ohio. We will be there to chat, answer your questions, and sign books! Be sure to leave JPC Allen your comments below!

My short story “Debt to Pay” is crime fiction, falling into the subgenre of country noir. Author Daniel Woodrell is credited with inventing the name about twenty years ago, but country noir, also called rural noir and southern noir, has been around for a long time.

The TV series Justified is a recent example. The themes of poverty and violence described in the nonfiction book Hillbilly Elegy are common in country noir. Many country songs, like “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, would qualify.

Opinions differ over what should be included in country noir, but I think stories should echo themes originating in film noir, the classification that started all the noir subgenres. I am a huge fan of this style of movie.
In Film Noir, eds. Paul Duncan and Jurgen Muller, the classic period for film noir is listed as 1940-1960, but other experts say it ends in 1958 or 1959. Along with a distinct visual style which often included low-key lighting and deep shadows, classic film noir contained at least one or more of the following elements:
·      A weak, male character
·      A femme fatale — she manipulates the weak male
·      A private eye — who may be either weak or strong
·      A determined, good woman — usually, she is trying to rescue the weak male.  (These weak, male characters are a lot of trouble.)
Author JPC Allen
·      Corrupt authorities — including the police
·      An innocent man or woman convicted of a crime — see weak, male character
·      Characters doomed by fate or their pasts
·      Greed and opportunities to make huge scores
·       Caper film — from Film Noir by Alain Silver, The audience sees a crime from the criminals POV. And during or after the execution of the crime, Something Goes Wrong.
·      Couple on the Run — from Film Noir. The couple can be innocent, fleeing from a trumped-up charge, or guilty and trying to escape the police.

The setting for most of these movies is the gritty, corrupt city. A few movies from this time period can be labeled country noir — On Dangerous GroundThey Drive By Nightand one of my favorites Inferno.

What draws me to country noir is the combination of noir elements in a rural setting. The country landscape gives noir themes a fresh twist. I also like rural settings because it believably limits the characters access to technology. When the bad guys are chasing the heroine through the woods, and her phone has no bars, the tension increases.
It might surprise many of you to learn that Ohio has many spots where a writer can realistically isolate a character. My husband and I recently went hiking in Wayne National Forest, the setting for my short story. The forest is a patchwork of public lands, divided into three separate units, located in southeastern Ohio. We explored the Athens Unit.
We first went to the trails for hikers and off-road vehicles at Dorr Run, west of Nelsonville. Despite having directions from the forest website, the trailheads were not easy to find. We had good hiking through an area with heavily forested sandstone cliffs and only had to step off the trail a few times for groups of ATV’s and motorcycles. These trails are so remote that a kiosk at the trailhead listed helipspots with their GPS coordinates. If someone in your party is injured, find out which helispot you are closest to so a medical helicopter can fly in. Along with the Wildcat Trail in the northeast corner of the Athens Unit, Dorr Run seemed like the ideal setting for a plane to crash with few, if any, people around to notice.

Have you read or watched anything that can be called country noir?

JPC Allen began her writing career in second grade with a homage to Scooby Doo. She is a 2016 semi-finalist for her YA crime novel The Truth and Other Strangers in the ACFW’s Genesis contest. A former children’s librarian, she loves to introduce tweens and teens to the adventure of writing through her workshops. She offers writing tips and prompts for beginning writers at and on Facebook and Instagram at JPCAllenWrites. A lifelong Buckeye, JPC Allen has deep root in the Mountain State. “Debt to Pay” is her first published short story.

Connect with Allen on her FB Author Page or Follow Her on Instagram: