Bios and Blurbs

bioblurbYesterday, I met with several members of Guelph Write Now at Lucie’s Restaurant in south Guelph.

Organizer Cindy Carroll suggested we draft two bios—a short bio (50 words or less) and a  longer bio (100 to 150 words)—and a blurb (100 to 200 words).

Why are blurbs so important?

While book covers  attract attention, most readers spend only a few seconds glancing at the artwork and graphics. The rest of  the time is devoted to the promotional copy on the back cover.

Those few sentences or paragraphs carry the power of the book.

As I analyzed the  blurbs of several novels on my bookshelves, I  quickly realized what had attracted me to each book.  The opening sentences of each blurb contained an unusual or provocative element that enticed me to continue reading.

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself.  (The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls)

New York, 1845. Mr. Poe’s “The Raven” is all the literary rage–the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. (Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen)

It’s a rainy evening in a Stockholm suburb, and five-year-old Tilde is hiding under the kitchen table playing with her crayons, when a man enters and beats her mother to death in cold blood. (More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff)

My Blurb

This September, Soul Mate Publishing will release my debut novel, Between Land and Sea.

Here’s my blurb…

mermaidAfter giving up her tail for an international banker, Isabella of the Mediterranean kingdom is aged, weathered, and abandoned on the fog-drenched shores of southwest England. She faces her human journey as a plain and practically destitute fifty-three-year-old woman.

With the help of a magic tablet and online mermaid support, she reinvents herself as a career counselor, motivational speaker and writer of self-help books. Along the way, she encounters a cast of unforgettable characters, among them former mermaids, supportive and not-so-supportive women, deserving and undeserving men, and several New Agers. As Isabella evolves into Barbara Davies, she embraces her middle aged body and heals her bruised heart.

This contemporary version of The Little Mermaid can offer hope and inspiration to anyone  who has been dumped, deceived or demoted. It may also appeal to mermaid enthusiasts.

As for the bio…

When it comes to fiction, the author’s bio many not be that important. While researching my favorite authors, I noted that many of them simply listed previous novels and awards. I did linger on those bios that described a non-linear path.

One of my favorites from Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

“Rachel Joyce is an award-winning writer of more than twenty plays for BBC Radio 4. She moved to writing after a twenty-year acting career performing leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and also winning multiple awards. Joyce lives in Gloucestershire on a farm with her family and is at work on her second novel.”

Creating Characters

editing1Yesterday, twenty of us gathered at Symposium Restaurant for a workshop with award-winning author J.K. Coi.  Having written several novels in the urban fantasy, contemporary and paranormal romance genres, Coi is best known for creating compelling characters that “leap off the page and into readers’ hearts.”

Some of her tips…

  • Strong characters will offset weak plots.
  • Allow your characters to have flaws. There is no tension or growth in a perfect character.
  • Keep in mind that believable does not translate into realistic. Inject an element of fantasy to entertain the reader.
  • Make your character so unique that they couldn’t be dropped into any other book.
  • Feel free to make tweaks and twists that readers will appreciate, but not throw them out of the story.
  • Avoid cliches but respect reader expectations. If you must deviate, add humor or provide an appropriate back story.
  • Character-driven books have depth and are more memorable than plot driven stories.
  • Give your characters complicated relationships.
  • Secondary characters are there only because they have a purpose. They should not be more interesting than the protagonist.
  • Use other characters to reveal the protagonist’s blind spots.
  • Figure out the intricacies of the characters before starting the novel.

Coi also provided us with information about Romance Writers of America and Toronto Romance Writers.

Thanks to Cindy Carroll of Guelph Write Now for organizing this event.

The Next Big Thing

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Author Jenny Herrera tagged me in her The Next Big Thing post. The idea comes from She Writes and is meant to help female authors promote their WIPs (Works in Progress). As per the rules, what follows are my answers to ten interview questions about my WIP. At the end, I’ll tag five other writers to carry the banner.

What is the working title of your book?

A Season for Killing Blondes

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. While receiving my treatments, I started reading murder mysteries. I must have read at least two a week for the entire ten months.  I started to think about writing a murder mystery based in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. I considered the following scenario: What if a 50something woman wins a nineteen million dollar lottery and returns to her hometown. While reinventing herself as a career counselor for boomers,  the woman encounters a number of obstacles, among them four dead blondes neatly arranged in dumpsters near her favorite haunts.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a cozy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since most of the characters are boomers, I would prefer to use actors in that particular age group. Lorraine Bracco would make a great Gilda Greco, the protagonist of the novel. For her love interest, I would go with Pierce Brosnan.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

It is a season for killing blondes and a brunette lottery winner never has an alibi when dead bodies turn up in dumpsters near her favorite haunts.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I would prefer the traditional route, but am open to all options.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started the novel eight years ago and took almost a year to finish it. This past January, I revisited the manuscript and rewrote it in first person. I added another sub-plot and more characters.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Cozies written by Denise Swanson (Murder of a Small Town Honey, Murder of a Sleeping Beauty, Murder of a Smart Cookie) and Mary Jane Maffini (Organize Your Corpses, The Cluttered Corpse, Death has a Messy Desk).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I was going through my own difficult season, I started thinking about other people’s rough patches. I combined that with my new interest in reading murder mysteries and came up with a plot for A Season for Killing Blondes.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Not too many cozies are based in Northern Ontario. Also, the combination of fifty something Italian women, their mothers, their men, food and four dead blondes is an interesting one. I have included eight dessert recipes.

Now, it’s my turn to tag some follow authors.

Cindy Carroll

Linda Johnston

Jordanna East

Beth Verde

Patricia Anderson

How Much Dialogue is Too Much?

When I first heard the expression, “You can go blind listening to that story,” I took a second look at the prose in question.  I quickly agreed that the long stretches of unbroken dialogue were tiresome and cut off all senses with the exception of hearing.

And then I revisited my own writing.

I love dialogue and often fear that I overuse it.

While dialogue serves many important functions, it is only one element of fiction. It definitely has its place, but it shouldn’t take over the story.

How much dialogue is too much?

At a recent dinner meeting of Guelph Writers Ink, Cindy Carroll suggested that thirty percent of the novel should be dialogue. Elsewhere, I read that the percentage should be closer to fifty.

Truthfully, I don’t think there is a magic number out there. Instead, I try to keep in mind that characters who talk too much can be just as annoying as real people who dominate conversations.

In their upcoming thriller, Some Kind of Peace, Scandinavian authors Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff skillfully weave dialogue and narrative to create tension. This is especially apparent in the therapy sessions where psychologist Siri Bergman interacts with her patients.

If I focus only on the dialogue, I would probably stop reading the book.

Dialogue Only Excerpt

“I’m happy for your sake, Sara. Truly. How long have you known this man?”

“Oh, a few weeks. But we’ve been seeing each other a lot. He gave me this bag.” She held up a Gucci bag. “He takes me out to dinner. He’s nice to me.”

Sara looks at me, waiting for validation.

“Sara, you’re a grown-up and hardly need my approval before you start a relationship.”

Actual Excerpt

“I’m happy for your sake, Sara. Truly. How long have you known this…man?”

Sara looks down at the carpet, resting her upper body against her knees and rocking slowly back and forth.

“Oh, a few weeks. But we’ve seen each other a lot. He gave me this bag,” she adds, and as if to prove the legitimacy of the relationship, she holds up an oversized, monogram-patterned Gucci bag.

“He takes me out for dinner.”

I say nothing.

“He’s nice to me.”

Sara shrugs and looks questioningly at me, waiting for validation.

“Sara, you’re a grown-up and hardly need my approval before you start a relationship,” I say, but my tone of voice reveals how worried I really am.

It doesn’t seem right. A middle-aged, successful man courts a young girl with bright green nail polish, a charming borderline personality, and arms and legs zebra-striped with scars from razor blades and knives. I realize to my own surprise that I’m afraid he will exploit Sara.

Any thoughts out there?

My First Month on Twitter

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At the April dinner meeting for Guelph Writers Ink, Cindy Carroll dared me to start tweeting.  While I had set up a Twitter account in November, I still hadn’t tweeted. I didn’t know where to start and  felt that first tweet had to be significant.  I also wondered if anyone would follow me. No one in my family or immediate circle of friends was tweeting. Would I be the only person on Twitter without any followers?

Cindy had heard my excuses before, but that night she decided to force my hand. She found my Twitter page and became my first follower. I hemmed and hawed and finally came up with a tweet.  As I join the world of Twitter, I keep in mind Nancy Thayer’s famous quotation: It is never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise.

The next morning, I discovered a second follower. I thanked her and tweeted five more times that day.  I was hooked! I started spending more and more time each day in Twitterville, reading other people’s tweets and responding to them. I welcomed all their replies and learned all about mentions and retweets. I discovered some interesting hashtags–#amwriting, #writing, #cozymystery, #leadfromwithin, #lifeclass, #quote–which I visit regularly. I also participated in several twitter chats.

Four weeks have passed and I am very pleased with my Twitter progress.

482 Tweets

557 Followers

703 Following

Sundays for Writers

This afternoon, I joined several other members of Guelph Write Now for our monthly meeting at Lucie’s Restaurant in south Guelph. I look forward to meeting with other writers and talking about our respective writing journeys.

Lots of discussion and advice floated around the table as we discussed the pros and cons of social media, ebook covers, our WIPs and Fifty Shades of Grey. Organizer Cindy Carroll provided us with three prompts and we wrote spontaneously. Afterward, we shared out stories and commented on the different interpretations of the prompts.

We also enjoyed the delicious coffee, tea and desserts.