The Birth of a Book

Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mysteries, Barking Mad About Murder, and A Bird’s Eye View of Murder.  Her latest mystery, Civility Rules, comes out this February. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com. 

THE BIRTH OF A BOOK

I’ve never had the privilege of giving birth, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I think the event has been captured in enough books/movies/conversations that I don’t feel unqualified to compare the novel-writing process with a that of a full-term pregnancy. Both are exercises only attempted by the delusional, and the mistakes made along the way range from comical to painful, but the results are original and, one way or another, extraordinary.

I will make the author in my example female because writing “his or her” and “he or she” over and over again is a pain in the side.

The Spark of Life 

BABY: The minute the couple finds out they are expecting a baby, joyful laughter follows them wherever they go, because they are telling anyone who will listen that they are having a child with the expectation that the good news will bring forth reactions of awe and wonder. In their excitement, they seem to forget that billions of people have accomplished this same goal.

BOOK: When the author comes up with a killer idea, her first instinct is to share the idea, though often with more reticence than the happy couple. The author might toss out the idea to a group of friends or a writer’s group with the hope that her peers will be stunned into speechless envy. In her excitement, she forgets there is no such thing as a completely original idea and that her writer friends have probably have had similar ideas and tossed them out.

The Excitement Grows

BABY: Lacking sense, the happy couple will NOT keep their dreams for their child to themselves. For example, Uncle Sam, who once had hopes of becoming an All-Star baseball player until he tore his rotator cuff, won’t appreciate hearing over and over how this little wonder will someday be a member of the Hall of Fame. Foolish comparisons are made. “He’s going to be an athlete, just like his father,” even though the only reason the patriarch of the family wears sweats is because they have an elastic waste band. Mom will pipe in that their little girl will surely be at the top of her class, because Mom is still proud of the passing score she received on her dissertation about the effects of cow flatulence on the ozone. Then, to ensure their child receives a good head start, they will immediately apply at an elite preschool.

BOOK: The author, still under the delusion that her idea is original, witty, and worth millions, will start preparing her acceptance speech for the Academy, because, naturally, producers will fight to put her best-selling book on the screen. She has clear ideas of who should play her lead character. This taints her selection process of agents to whom she plans to submit her finished manuscript (which she hasn’t started writing), causing her to narrow the field to representatives of New York Times best-sellers.

The Feedback 

BABY: They asked for it. After turning every conversation  back to the subject of their upcoming child, and even flashing pictures of the ultrasound at startled relatives, the couple is surprised when their listeners fight back. They begin to receive advice, and their every movement is monitored. Subject that were formerly considered private are now everyone’s business, from gastrointestinal difficulties to their lovemaking habits.

BOOK: Everyone’s a writer! After testing out ideas, plot points, and characters on strangers in the grocery store line, the author is surprised when her listeners fight back. Advice ranges from suggestions that she include graphic sex scenes to an insistence that she pepper the story with zombies, even though she’s writing historical fiction.

The Hard Work

BABY: Morning sickness. Back pain. Strangers asking,  When are you due?  The mother’s overwhelming desire to have this alien life form removed from her body.

BOOK: Writer’s block. Grammar errors. Strangers asking, When does the book come out? And will there be a cheaper ebook available? The overwhelming desire to delete the entire  manuscript from the author’s computer hard drive.

The Final Push

BABY: This baby is coming. After nine months, the mother finally reclaims her body, but the next 18 years are booked. I’ll never do this again!

BOOK: The book is finished.  After nine months, the author types THE END. Now it’s time to market the manuscript. Maybe I can get a job as a receptionist at the car dealership.

A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar

Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website.  

A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar

It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. These are the characters who inhabit my head, along with a crime reporter, a mother and two daughters with a knack for stumbling into nefarious situations; and a few more who haven’t made it to print.

One of the difficulties with so many different characters is finding a common thread that runs through the various books that can be used to solidify an author brand. What is an author brand?

When you hear Joanna Fluke, you think mysteries and baking. And vise versa.

Is there a common thread among my characters? Well, Evan Miller is troubled, while Deanna Winder IS trouble. Frankie Chandler, Pet Psychic, considers the supernatural an intrusion in her life, while Father Gerald McAllister, exorcist, relies on it. And most of them would be left off the guest list of a dinner thrown by Edward Harlow, author of the Aunt Civility etiquette books.

An author, when coming up with a brand, also needs to consider his or her target market. I’ve never mastered that one. Most mystery readers are women, so I should try to determine who would like my books by age group and other demographics. Let see an example of how well that works.

I took a screenwriting class in Chicago. I wrote a scene that took place in a small town post office, and  a confused, elderly lady at the front of the line was driving the impatient protagonist mad. The person who laughed the loudest was a young, black man. I would have picked the suburban-looking white women as my target audience, but her slight smile seemed reluctant. So much for stereotyping your audience.

Another trick to finding your brand is to brainstorm words that come to mind when describing your books or characters. Unintentionally funny due to the circumstances and  people they are surrounded by. In other words, you and me. That doesn’t narrow it down very much.

Could this be the next
Agatha Christie?

You can always compare your books to others out there, but that’s too intimidating. When I put fingers to keyboard, I always hope to be the next Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, but the results fall far short. As for comparisons to current authors, each one seems so unique to me that I wouldn’t dream of holding my novel up next to theirs. I would feel like the gal on late-night television offering knock-offs for those who don’t care for the real thing.

JA Konrath has said that if you want to sell books, write more books. That I can do. I’ve slowly built up 4 novels, a traditionally published novella, and 4 short stories. Oh, yeah. And a children’s book.  If my timetable holds out, I’ll have Civility Rules, my Harlow Brothers mystery, and the third pet psychic mystery out before the end of the year, and the Father McAllister mystery out at the beginning of 2016.

So what should I do about my brand? I’d solicit feedback from other people on what words they thought best represented my books and characters, but if anyone used the word sassy to describe Frankie Chandler or Roxanne Wilder, I’d throw myself out the window. (It doesn’t matter that I live in a one-story. It’s the intent that counts.)

The Difficulties of the Back Cover Description

If I know an author well, I will simply pick up a copy of his or her book, confident that I’ll enjoy the read. I’ve seldom been disappointed this way.  But what if I don’t know the author? What will make me lay down my money and take the book home, or even download it at a cheaper price from Kindle? After all, this is the position I have to assume most readers will have toward me when they first discover my books.

The back cover description is the key.

It’s ridiculous, if you think about it, that an author must condense the plot, the character’s arcs, the entire novel into a paragraph or two that will entice the reader to want more. But something on that back cover has to convince me the book is worth my time. Here is the back cover from Elizabeth Peter’s first Amelia Peabody mystery. (It’s a bit of a cheat, as my mother recommended it to me.)

“Crocodile on the Sandbank”

Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her debut Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. On her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her scoundrel lover. Together the two women sail up the Nile to an archaeological site run by the Emerson brothers – the irascible but dashing Radcliffe and the amiable Walter. Soon their little party is increased by one – one mummy, that is, and a singularly lively example of the species. Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn. Now Amelia finds herself up against an unknown enemy–and perilous forces that threaten to make her first Egyptian trip also her last…

The basic story is that a spinster goes to Egypt and runs into a lost young woman, two brothers, and a mummy, but notice the adverbs and adjectives:  irascible, suspicious, perilous, scoundrel. The verbs are strong as well: embarks, rescues, abandoned, threaten.

These word choices also work because the characters and situations are bigger than life, which I think comes through.

Radcliffe is described as “irascible but dashing”, which gives the reader a hint of fireworks and romance.

Out of this description, I’ll tell you what would have made me open the book.

“…a singularly lively example of the species.”

I LOVE dry, understated, and usually British humor. What a hysterical way to describe a mummy! That alone would convince me to open the book, because it’s my kind of writing style. I would also look inside to check out the writing style because there are only two authors who are good enough to make me suffer through present tense.

1. Condense the story into a few lines.
2. Choose strong adjectives, adverbs and verbs.
3. Make sure the description reflects the tone of the book.

 Sounds easy, right?

Take your latest tome and apply the rules. Can you improve your description?

Catching Up With Jacqueline Vick

Where to start.

It’s been an incredible ride of highs and lows, and all along the WinRs were there to support me, even those who weren’t yet officially part of the group.  We may not see each other face-to-face that often (on my part) but this incredible group of women are the best.

In October of 2011, the hubby took a major fall off a ladder at work and wound up with emergency brain surgery, titanium in his collarbone, and months of rehabilitation.  Through the prayers of many and the Grace of God, both of us made it through that tough time without any scars. (Well, hubby has scars, but scars are manly on men.)

I went through the same rigmarole that each and every one of you who writes goes through. Is this working? Why am I even doing this? I’m a sham! Maybe I should write romances instead, though I don’t like graphic scenes. Maybe the leads can just be friends. Maybe I should renew my insurance license instead.

When I look at what I have listed on Amazon, I actually managed to produce more than I thought I had.  There have been several short stories and a few novels, including the Frankie Chandler, Pet Psychic mysteries, which seem to be popular with readers. (A Bird’s Eye View of Murder, has just been released in paperback and Kindle.)

I’m hard at work on Civility Rules, a Harlow Brothers mystery, and I have a mystery involving a priest–a former exorcist–who’s been condemned to work at an all-girl high school. And the third Pet Psychic mystery is written in my head. So there is a lot on my plate!

I think that as you read the Catching Up With posts, you will find that each of us has been extremely active. I’m so pleased that we’re back together again with two new members, and my hope is that you’ll find plenty to entertain and inform you here at Writers in Residence!