Sunday, June 17, 2018

How to Write a Good Description of Your Novel

From time to time I get emails from other authors announcing their latest book, including one from an author who's been in the novel writing business longer than I have. It included the usual announcement, along with a copy of the book cover, and a book description. However, the description was problematic, to say the least. It was at least five hundred words, if not more, and it described the entire plot. By the time I finished reading it I had no incentive to buy the book because I knew the story from start to finish.

One of my mentors taught me to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words, and nothing longer. Over time I've discovered that for most promotional purposes, a fifty to one hundred word description works nicely. I also write teasers, not plot summaries. The whole idea of a book description is to give a potential reader a general idea of what the story is about, while enticing them to want to read more. In other words, it's ad copy

I've pasted copies of my descriptions for my Marina Martindale novels, The Journey and The Stalker as examples of effective teaser descriptions.


Cassie Palmer’s world is shattered when a car crash leaves her hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her husband, Jeremy, begins his own frightening journey when he meets Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but while he may no longer remember her, she has neither forgiven nor forgotten how he jilted her, years before. Denise seeks revenge and Jeremy soon vanishes under mysterious circumstances, leaving his grieving wife behind. As Cassie struggles to recover her life will take another strange turn, when an unexpected visitor reveals that things are not as they appear.


Rachel Bennett may have attended her ten-year high school reunion on a whim, but fate intervened once she saw Shane MacLeod. No longer the shy, gawky teenager she remembered, Shane has matured into a handsome and successful man, but her perfect evening ends when another man from her past suddenly reappears. Craig Walker had been her mentor until he became jealous of her talent and success. Now he intends to either have her, or destroy her at all costs. As Rachel’s family pressures her to take Craig to court, she can no longer ignore her nagging feeling that a tragedy is about to strike.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Knowing When to Quit, Part One

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / tomasfoto
I majored in art when I was in college, and I'll always remember one of my painting professors making a profound statement. "Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he's done. Otherwise he'll overwork the painting and turn it into mud."

It's extremely difficult for artists to see their work objectively enough to know when it's finished. And once we finally realize we've overworked something it may be too late to salvage it. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One would be redundancy. I'll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.

I was near the end of the story. I'd resolved the main conflict, but as I tied up remaining the loose ends I suddenly discovered a huge opening for one of the antagonists to go after the protagonist a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought as I loved my cast of characters. However, in this instance, the conflict would have been virtually the same as the conflict in the first book, making sequel redundant. In other words, it would have been a boring, "been there, done that," story. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader's time, with a bad sequel, I wrote a definitive ending and killed off the antagonist, ending the feud once and for all. 

Does your story feel like it's getting stale? If so, go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character's choices are always the same, it may be that your story has become too redundant.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Sample from Rosies Riveting Recipes

From time to time I'll be showcasing my own books, and today I'm sharing a sample recipe from Rosie's Riveting Recipes. This historic cookbook features delicious WWII era ration recipes along with anecdotal stories from the American home front. Most of the recipes are easy to prepare, and, when necessary, I've noted modern adaptions or variations, as some ingredients may not be as common today. For more information about Rosie's Riveting Recipes please visit my other blog at


   1 lb ground beef
   1/2 cup chopped onion
   1/2 cup chopped green pepper
   2 tablespoons butter or bacon drippings
   1/3 cup milk
   2 cups flour
   2 - 3 teaspoons baking powder
   1/2 teaspoon salt
   1/8 teaspoon pepper

Brown the beef, onion and green pepper in butter or drippings in a frying pan. Add seasonings.

Make biscuit dough by sifting flour, salt, baking powder, cutting in bacon drippings, add milk slowly until the dry ingredients are moist. Roll out on a floured board to about 1/4 inch thickness. Brush with melted drippings or melted butter. Spread with meat mixture and roll like a jelly roll. If dough is too soft, chill in refrigerator first, then cut in 1 1/2 inch slices. Place in greased pan, cut side up, brush tops with melted butter or beef drippings. Bake 20-25 minutes at 450 F. Serve with brown gravy or cheese sauce. Makes 5-6 servings.

Modern adaptation: Since today's baking powders are double-acting limit baking powder to 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons. Try brushing the dough with olive oil instead of butter. While the meat is baking make a gravy by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour to the pan drippings. Add milk and bring to a boil, stirring frequently until it thickens, or top with your favorite hamburger condiments.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate

Anna's Kitchen was my very first book. I completely produced and self-published it on my own. I think there should be a requirement somewhere that every author must do this at least once. It's an incredible learning experience as it makes us extremely aware of just how much hard work goes into publishing a book, and why teamwork is so necessary.

Since I was doing it all myself I had no one to edit or proofread for me. I used my spell checker for a proofreader instead. Big mistake, I know. It's one of the many reasons why I learned, the hard way, that every author, no matter how rich and famous, simply must have an editor.

Once the book was printed I found all kinds of errors. One of my friends came across one in a gravy recipe he found particularly amusing. It said, "Add two tablespoons of fate." He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, that’s actually not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things in life much more than the big things, but in this case it was actually a typo the spell checker had missed, as the word, "fate" was spelled correctly. What it should have read was, "add two tablespoons of fat."

Yes, you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you're making gravy. However, when it comes to life in general, it might now hurt to add two tablespoons of fate. You never know what's going to happen next. What will be will be.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Cure for Writer's Block

Image by Gayle Martin
It happens to all of us at one time or another. We run into a proverbial brick wall and suddenly find ourselves unable to come up with something to write about. Ugh! Creativity is a funny thing. We can't always turn it on and off whenever we want, which can be particularly frustrating for fiction writers who have to juggle writing time between their work and family time, only to end up looking at a blank screen or paper and wondering what to do with it. 

Sometimes switching gears and writing about another topic can help. I have friends who typically work on two or three different books at the same time. If they get stuck on one they simply set it aside and work on another one. However, if that doesn't work, or, if you're like me, and only work on one story at a time, then try stepping away from the computer and doing a project that's been on your "honey do" list for too long. Those nagging issues really can effect our creativity. If that doesn't help, then why not take a break and do something you enjoy doing? Bake some cookies. Play a round of golf. Go to a movie, or a ball game. Take a day trip somewhere. Read a book that you haven't had time to read. Call a friend or relative you haven't spoken to in awhile. Taking a time out and doing something different, particularly if it's something you really enjoy but don't get to do too often, gives your mind  a chance to focus on other things, giving your creative muse a rest. Don't worry about your story. It'll come back. And when it does, you can pick up where you left off. 


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Why Having the Cloud or Other Off-Site Storage is a Must

Photo by Gayle Martin
It's happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover that either part of it is gone, or it's missing altogether. Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they're black magic and voodoo, and sometimes I wonder if there could actually be some truth to this. Both times this happened was after I had saved the files and shut down my computer properly, which proves that files can still be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you've done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage, and why I so highly recommend having it to others, whether or not you're a writer.

Off site storage, sometimes called, the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server, and, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, and that's a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off site storage company will encrypt your files. 

I use Carbonite, but there are other back up services out there. Carbonite costs a little over $50 per year, and it's money well spent. It automatically backs up my files, and whenever I've had to use it I found it very easy to locate and download the needed files. The first time I used it was to recover a Word file, and I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an Adobe InDesign file that mysteriously vanished from my hard drive. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact. 

Some people tell me they don't need off site storage as they manually back up their files to a flash drive. That's fine as long as you remember to do it on a daily basis. However, Murphy's Laws being what they are, rest assured the day a file corrupts or disappears completely will be the same day you didn't do a back up.

Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end not once, but twice, so I'm now a customer for life.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Fan Fiction and Copyrighted Characters

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I once had an interesting chat with a fellow author at a writer's convention who mentioned something about another writer who apparently got into a some serious trouble with Paramount over some "fan fiction" he'd written about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The writer in question had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way their copyrighted characters had been used.

Back when I was a teenager, Star Trek fan fiction was very popular, and I seem to recall that one of the reasons why Star Trek conventions started up in the first place was so the fans, or "Trekkies," as they called themselves at the time, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fan fiction authors wrote with pen and paper and kept their stories in notebooks. Traditional book or magazine publishing would have been the only means to distribute their work, which meant permission would have had to have been obtained from the copyright holder before any fan fiction could be published. There was no Internet, no blogs, no self-publishing, and no eBooks.

Times have indeed changed, so it's very tempting for the fan writer of today to write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be one of sincerely paying homage to their favorite television show, their devotion could, potentially, get them into some very serious legal hot water. While I'm not an attorney and not purporting to be giving legal advice, it's pretty much common knowledge that the legal rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person who created it, or to a third party who may have purchased the rights from the original creator, and that would include rights to the characters as well as to the story.

Those of us who write fiction may model our characters after people we know, or perhaps base them on other fictional characters. Either way we do it, our characters should have plenty of other characteristics to make them unique. So while Captain Kirk could be your inspiration, your character will need a different name and should come from a different background, have a different physical description, or even be the opposite gender. However, if you really have your heart set on writing a Star Trek story, or of using other copyrighted characters, it might not be a bad idea to do some research to find out what, if any, guidelines that copyright holders, such as Paramount, may have for writing fan fiction. Even if you're not writing your story for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.