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.

Selecting the Right Character Name

“How attached are you to the name Anna May?”

Sandy Isaac’s question took me and six other members of Guelph Write Now by surprise. While I appreciated the many critique suggestions I had received, I wondered about Sandy’s question. Anna May is the villain in my cozy mystery, A Season for Killing Blondes, and I wasn’t prepared to change her name. Along with her two sisters and cousin, the Godfrey women all have double names: Anna May, Carrie Ann, Jenny Marie and Melly Grace. I had given much thought to the double names and I didn’t really want to change any of them.

Sandy noticed my hesitation and explained her resistance to the name. Said quickly, Anna May becomes “anime,” a style of animation often featuring themes intended for an adult audience.  Two of the other members nodded, while five of us merely shrugged. But Sandy’s concern raised several questions in my mind. How would my readers respond? Would they make the same connection as Sandy? Would Anna May’s name suit or hinder her villain status?

A well-chosen name sets the right tone for the character and, in some cases, may even suggest certain physical, emotional or psychological characteristics. For example, James Bond flows well and suggests excitement and wealth, while Scarlett O’Hara conjures up images of plantations and Southern belles.

Some writers devote considerable time to the process. Short one-syllable names like Jane Eyre suggest direct and well-grounded personalities while longer, multi-syllabic names like Anna Karenina and Armand Gamache are often associated with more complex personalities.

I have a personal preference for certain names, in particular the apostle names, Luke and Paul. Patricia Anderson, one of my readers, pointed out that I had used Paolo, Paula and Pauline for three characters in the novel. Definitely overkill. So, I changed Paula to Belinda and Pauline to Karen.

After the critique session, I decided to research the meaning behind the names of the five principal characters of A Season for Killing Blondes:

Gilda—golden (appropriate for a nineteen million dollar lottery winner)

Sofia—wisdom (questionable choice for the expedient cousin)

Carlo—warrior (works well for the chief detective)

Roberto—bright fame (suitable for the well known local lawyer)

Anna May– Anna means favored  by God and the middle name, May, is often used for girls born during the fifth month of the year.  (I might have to reconsider)

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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.

Dinner with Writers Ink

Last evening, seven of us gathered at Symposium Restaurant for our April dinner meeting. We are celebrating the second anniversary of  Guelph Writers Ink.

A bit of history…

After completing Dennis Fitter’s creative writing course, a group of us decided to meet on a monthly basis to discuss our writing journeys. We came up with the following mission statement: We will inspire and encourage each other to write on a regular basis. Last year, Cindy Carroll and several members of Guelph Write Now joined us.

Lots of discussion and advice floated around the table as we discussed epublishing vs traditional publishing, agents, manuscripts and social media. Patricia Anderson, Linda Johnston and I have decided to bite the bullet and start tweeting before the next dinner meeting. No more excuses!!!

Congratulations to Linda Johnston–winner of the door prize.

A reminder…Dennis Fitter’s book, Mexico City is now available.