Sunday, June 24, 2018

When to Use a Pen Name

Sometimes people ask me if I write under my real name, or a pen name. I actually write under both, and there are many reasons why authors choose to write under pen names.  
  • The author wishes to keep his or her privacy.
  • The author writes controversial or sensitive subject matter, such as erotica.
  • There is, by coincidence, another author with the same name, or a similar name.
  • The author has a name that is confusing, hard to pronounce, or with an unusual spelling.
  • The author writes in more than one genre, and wishes to build a separate brand for each.
The latter two were applicable to me.

When I wrote my first book, Anna's Kitchen, I naively thought my legal name, Gayle Martin, was perhaps too common, so I included my maiden name, Homes, to make it unique. However, before I was married to Mr. Martin, I spent my life having both a first and last name with unusual spellings. Gayle Homes. People were always getting my name wrong, thinking I was, "Gail Holmes," and no, it didn't exactly do wonders for my self-esteem either. Once Anna's Kitchen was published, I soon realized that the troubles of the past had come back to haunt me. The name, "Gayle Homes," with or without the name, "Martin," simply left too big of a margin for error for a keyword search, and had I not picked up the name, "Martin," along my life's journey, I would have used a pen name from the get-go. That said, we learn from our mistakes, so when I published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first book in my Luke and Jenny series, I dropped the name, "Homes" and published it as, "Gayle Martin." It worked, and I successfully built my brand as a children's book author. Then came the next problem.

As much as I love my Luke and Jenny books, I wanted to branch out into the romance genre. And while I'm not writing erotica, readers in this genre do expect some steamy, if not somewhat graphic, love scenes. This would present a real problem if, by chance, a youngster, or a parent, who were Luke and Jenny fans, came along and bought my latest book, thinking it too was written for younger readers. So I created a pen name, Marina Martindale, which is simply a play on my middle name and last name, and created a whole new brand. It's been fun, yet challenging at the same time, since "Marina" cannot ride on the coattails of Luke and Jenny. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

Ultimately, it's up to each author to decide whether or not to write under a pen name, and if you should opt to do so, I highly recommend coming up with one that's easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.


GM
or is it
MM?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Create an Interesting Villain for Your Stories

It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys when I write my fiction that I sometimes forget the bad guy needs love too, in a manner of speaking. Plot lines revolve around conflict, so there has to be a source behind that conflict, and that would be the antagonist, more commonly known as the villain.

There are different approaches to creating a good villain. One is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable, like Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. This is the sort of villain you can kill off at the end of the story, with your readers feeling relieved and satisfied.

A more complex, and interesting, approach would be to create a "conflicted" villain. Instead of a purely evil Count Dracula, you could create a villain more like Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire of Dark Shadows fame. Barnabas had been a good guy until the vampire curse was placed upon him, leaving him despising what he had become. He's a "hero-villain" antagonist who the audience can root for because they too want to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl. In the interim, however, they'll see him wreak plenty of havoc.

Some storytellers like to take chances by having their protagonist, or hero, go bad. Interesting approach, but it can be a little tricky. If you're going to attempt it you need to have a character with plenty of redeeming qualities, otherwise your readers won't be able to make a connection and they won't root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they did earlier, and be willing to do whatever has to done to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers will not be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.

Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with tragedy, especially if your hero-villain has done some really nasty things in the past that can't be walked away from. At the end of the original Star Wars saga Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force, but in so doing he has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. It certainly made for a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.

So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create develop interesting and memorable villains who can keep your readers engaged. And that's what good storytelling is all about.


GM

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.

GM


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.

GM

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 www.mytimelesscuisine.com

BEEF BISCUIT ROLL

   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.


GM

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. 

GM