Monday, September 15, 2014

Meet Scott Coren Author of Mathew 13:44

Scott has written a fast paced novel about finding God in the face of adversity. It's a book that many people will find helpful because it encourages us to not lose hope and to keep going. Scott provided some insights about how and why he wrote this book.

  1. Tell us about your book Matthew 13:44
Matthew 13:44 is a novel which is influenced by true events. It is about strength in the face of adversity and how good can sometimes come from the bleakest of circumstances, though you wouldn’t know it until the darkness has lifted. Like many of us making our way through life, Lucy Sinclair will stumble, fall, get up and walk, all because there is no other alternative but to carry on; in her case for the sake of her critically ill daughter. And all the while, like the last days of Christ, she will be betrayed, tried and publicly humiliated by those who would do her harm for no other reason than their own personal gain. Although written as a thriller, Matthew 13:44 is primarily a journey from ‘no faith’ to ‘belief’ and from a world view as seen through the prism of chance to a heavenly view of divine intervention and love.

  1. What inspired you to write your novel?
My firstborn came into this world needing life saving cardiac surgery. She then suffered a complication. On day ten of life she was given tracheotomy—an artificial airway cut straight into her neck—something which even a full grown adult would struggle with. And so our journey began, though little did I know, a second journey would be running in tandem.
The first, was the pediatric experience which is a vicarious one. Vicarious, in that as parents, we are not patients and so are lucid. We have our full faculties to suffer every step of the way as our children, our small bundles of pure love, suffer in front of us, while we are powerless to help them. Instead, we put our trust in strangers, doctors who—like all people—can be brilliant, appalling and anything else in between. In our case, we had the full spectrum, as we soon saw that medicine is part science, part art and part guesswork. We are now two years in to this experience and as a result, all night, every night, I sit by her bedside, like a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ dad, as her tracheotomy tube can and does block, leaving us with thirty seconds to intervene and change the tube less irreversible brain damage occurs.
I wrote this book by her bedside as she slept, in the dark, except for one dimmed light in the corner. It is in part a catharsis; to rationalize my experience…the uncertainty, the pain, the ups and the downs of her condition, the reality of her going from well to seriously ill at the drop of a hat. But also to touch others who are living the same solitary, sterile life as me, regardless of their children’s condition.
The second journey was less expected. I found faith. Not in an instance. Not as a sudden realization, and certainly by no revelation or voice. But by a slow burning, gradual and very personal meeting with Christ. Matthew 13:44 is thus a testimony. A statement of faith, made most surprising of all to me, given that until two years ago I’d have happily described myself as a militant atheist.

  1. You describe yourself as ‘once an atheist,’ why?
Faith for me wasn’t sudden. And it wasn’t imposed or taught. Like the male lead character in the story, religion just wasn’t on our radar. I was brought up an atheist in the United Kingdom. My grandfather was a medic during the second world war. He spent his time policing up the wounded and dead in North Africa as Nazi Germany and Great Britain engaged in an attrition in the sand. In fact, my grandfather served at the famous battle of El Alamein. If it was ever possible back then to have had a ‘bad war,’ given the whole affair was so turgid, then he certainly had one. God for him, as he would say, died on that battlefield too; a notion which continues to run strong in my family to this day. In other words, how can there be a God in the midst of such carnage? Why would He let it happen? Or indeed, how could any good possibly come from such a tragedy? These are well charted dichotomies which I wanted to explore, but through my own life experiences, which is as the father of a medicalized child. An innocent who is born to suffer.

  1. What influenced the setting?
The latter part of the story—and the setting which the various plot strands work towards—is a children’s hospice. And for me, a children’s hospice is surely the very apex of all human suffering, outside of a concentration camp or a disaster zone. It is a place where bad things happen to the most innocent of people. And more so, it is a place where the incomprehensible must be explained to those who can comprehend the least. If angels do walk our earth then they exist in places such as these. They are the staff. They are the people who live their lives in that moment between being alive and not; between the trauma of a young death and the devastation of its aftermath. Yet every day they do it with an incredible mix of decorum and joy. And they do so for no other reason than making those days, hours and minutes just that little bit more tolerable.
  1. What do you hope readers will take away from this?
That no matter how isolated we feel, we’re never alone. I hope readers will take strength, courage even, to get up and walk regardless of whatever the setback, obstacle, or hurdle. I hope that readers will see something of themselves in my lead character Lucy. That she never knew when she was beaten, even at the bleakest of times.

  1. Where can we get the book?
It’s available on as a paperback or Kindle eBook. It’s also available through Barnes and Noble.

Ashley Lauretta,, (512) 501-4399 ext. 712

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dialogue: Asset or Liability?

I recently reviewed a book, Inca's Death Cave by Bradford G. Wheler. I loved the plot. The author had done a lot of research on technology and how it could be used in archaeology. The setting in Peru was beautifully described, and the plot was interesting. These were pluses. However, the dialogue almost made me put the book down.

The mistakes in the dialogue were the ones everyone warns beginning writers about. Every time the main characters had a conversation they used their first names. People don't talk this way. They may use a first name in greeting someone, or in adding emphasis to a statement. They do not constantly refer to each other by name. It isn't necessary and it becomes tedious to read. It also makes the dialogue sound stilted.

The second mistake the author made was using conversation as a data dump. In the early chapters of the book, the female character gives long dissertations on the technology. The author does it in the guise of explaining technical areas to a novice, but it quickly becomes wearing. There is no give and take. If the explanations were necessary, and in this case they were, description could be used effectively at least part of the time.

Dialogue is not the easiest thing for most people to write. Even experienced authors have some character come off sounding stilted. The best advice I've heard about how to correct this problem is to listen to people. If eavesdropping on conversations seems too intrusive watch good movies, or there are places like the library of congress where native speakers have been recorded. If you listen to them enough you will get the speech patterns, and your dialog will sound natural.

One of the best ways to draw a reader into your world is a conversation. Readers get caught up in the exchange between characters if it's well done. Another plus is that dialogue sentences are typically short, at least they should be. This means lots of white space on the page. Readers like to see white space. It doesn't look so daunting.

Writing dialog may not come naturally to you, but if you work at it, it will pay dividends with your readers and reviewers.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Do ebook Readers Want Simple, Unchallenging Novels?

I recently reviewed a book, Locked In by Kevin Wilkirson, that raised this issue. The book has been a best seller in the UK, and Amazon picked it up in the US. It's a publishing phenomenon that I think deserves a passing look.

It's not a bad book, but as crime novels go it isn't a great one. So what's the appeal? My take on the book is that the plot is simple to the point of allowing the reader to move at least a few steps ahead of the police. The characters are two dimensional. The twists are predictable as is the ending. It wasn't a memorable book. So what's the attraction.

Another reviewer had an observation that made me think. Do readers want unchallenging novels. I suspect that may be the case. In this novel, the main character is a female detective who has a rather abrasive and aggressive personality, but no lusting after the boss, no steamy sex. The prose is simple, but that makes the book a quick read. Because the plot is predictable, you don't have to pay close attention to the clues, you can pick the book up at intervals and still be quickly up to speed with what's happening.

It's been suggested before that the reading public likes Dan Brown novels because, while the writing is less than stellar, the plot moves quickly, and the chapters are short. That's another way of suggesting that the novel is unchallenging. Romance writers understand that the public wants plots that are similar, with romantic settings, attractive protagonists, and not too many complications.

I love the idea that people are reading more. An observation on Digital Book World, reported that ebook sales were down during World Cup Soccer. This suggests that reading has become a relaxation pastime equivalent to watching sports, but I may be reading too much into it. However, if what the public wants is simple, unchallenging novels, that's something writers have to take to heart and decide whether they want literary fame, or best sellers.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What About Unlikeable Heroes?

Heroes don't have to be paragons. They can even be villains, but can they be arrogant, egotistical and thoroughly unlikable? My belief is: “No.” I recently reviewed a books with a hero most reviewers disliked. I gave it a low rating, and I wasn't alone.

The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay sounded like a book I'd love to read. A young writer Nicholas Duhamel has written a best seller on his first foray into publishing. If you're a writer, this book beckons. It promises a glimpse of the creative process and how fame can affect a writer's ability to create. It also has a mystery about how the book he's written connects to his own life. However, Nicholas turns out to be a thoroughly unlikable character: egotistical, self-centered and demanding. I believe the author created him this way to show that at the end of the book he realizes that he has been driving his friends and lovers away and that is responsible for why he can't write.

The problem is that you have to get to the end of the book to see this, and many reviewers gave up in disgust before they got there. You have to be very committed to a book to keep reading about a jerk.

So to answer the question: Can you get away with an unlikable hero to show character development? I would suggest that you be wary. There are always people who like a book that others can't stand, but it you want a large following, it's better to have a character that is attractive in some way so that people can feel emotionally connected to the character. This isn't new advice, but it's illuminating to see it in action.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Meet Angela Smith Author of Fatal Snag


Meet Angela:

During her senior year in high school, Angela Smith was dubbed most likely to write a novel, and that has been her dream ever since her mother read Brer Rabbit to her and her sister so often that they were able to recite it back to each other before actually learning to read. She’s always enjoyed stories about the adventure of love, and getting involved in the legal field developed her love of suspense. A certified paralegal, work gives her perfect fodder for her romantic suspense stories. When not caring for her small farm or spending time with her husband of two decades, she enjoys creating, reading, and dreaming of the places she’ll visit one day.

I asked Angela some questions about herself and her writing.

What made you decide to write romantic suspense?

I’ve always loved reading romantic suspense, and I’ve always known I had to write to shut up the voices in my head. I had already been writing romance (unpublished) when I started working at a prosecutor’s office and once there, I knew suspense was what had been missing. (Too bad it took me another ten years or so to pursue publication!) 

Did you do research for your books? If so, what kind?

Absolutely! I do all kinds of research for my books throughout the entire writing process. I read a lot of books on topic that relate to my book as well as search the internet for anything that might help in my research. I’ll ask questions and read blogs on topics. And when I can’t go where I want to write about, Google Earth is my friend! I recently contacted a police department in another state for information I needed and they were very helpful. Learning new things through my research is one of my favorite parts of writing.

Who is your favorite character and why?

A favorite character I wrote about would be like picking a favorite child. I can’t do it. I have certain characters that won’t leave me alone, but those are usually characters I haven’t completed stories on. I could pick a favorite one for a particular subject, but not overall.

How long does it take you to write a book? How much revision do you do? Any tips for other authors working on romantic suspense?

I typically plan to write one book a year, and my revision process is grueling because my first draft is like a puzzle. The three books I have now (one still in the works, but all part of my Slopeside series) took five years from start to finish, but they were finished long before I did anything with them and that’s when I was letting other things get too much in the way. Although I’d love to write and publish three to four a year, I have to be realistic with my schedule and other demands. And I always remind myself that Sandra Brown, my favorite author, only writes one a year. And she doesn’t have another job full time! So that always makes me feel better. My biggest tip for authors of any genre is to write what you enjoy reading, and don’t be afraid to write bad on the first draft. Keep writing and don’t give up, and learn everything you can. 

How did you find your publisher? What made you decide to publish this way?

A lot of research. I decided to go with a smaller press because they don’t require an agent and I love the fact my book won’t take years to get published once I sign with them. I also love that Crimson Romance is a part of Adam’s Media, a well-established publisher that has been around a long time. Going with a smaller press has a lot of huge advantages, and I’ve been very happy with them. 

What sort of writing schedule do you have?

I have a full time job, so my writing schedule revolves around my work. I usually try to get up early enough to write in the morning and I write most evenings. I usually try to write a few weekends a month, but not every weekend. I do miss weekdays, though, but have learned not to beat myself up. 

Anything you'd like to add about your books?

Fatal Snag is the second in a stand-alone series set on the ski slopes of Montana, featuring the brother of the hero in my first story, Burn on the Western Slope. Along with the romantic suspense, there’s a lot of adventure, even some history and learning tidbits (i.e. Chayton discovers his mother is Native American living on a reservation). Although I’ve always called my stories mindless entertainment that won’t change the world (to my non-romance reader friends), I always try to add some depth in the form of setting, character development, and many unusual ways, including topics that interest me. For instance, Winona, who you’ll meet in Fatal Snag and who has her own story coming out, volunteers at an animal shelter. And I’m a huge animal lover. And I’ve always been infatuated with Native American history. So I tend to add tidbits in my stories about things that interest me. 

Blurb for Fatal Snag


Hollywood fashion consultant Naomi Fisher is happy to use her obsessive-compulsive planning to assist with her cousin's wedding, but her history with the sexy and sullen Chayton Chambers, the groom’s brother, terrifies her. When the groom is kidnapped at his own wedding, Chayton and Naomi rush to find an important relic to satisfy the ransom before her cousin becomes a widow before a bride. Naomi trades garters for guns as survival, and love becomes a deadly game impossible to resist.
Information about the book:
Title: Fatal Snag
Author: Angela Smith
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: 17 March 2014

Buy Links:
Crimson Romance:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Do Readers Finish Your Book?

"Use Grammarly for free proofreading because it can keep your readers from tossing the book across the room and editors from depositing it in the circular file."

Grammar mistakes are one reason readers become frustrated and stop reading your book somewhere before the middle. I review a lot of books and read other people's reviews. Poor grammar is so annoying to many readers that they actually start marking up the book before giving up in disgust. Running a thorough grammar check on your book can pay big dividends in reader satisfaction.

Grammar isn't the only reason readers stop reading. You have to play fair with your readers. I recently read a book in which the author set up the first three chapters as a murder mystery. I love murder mysteries, so I was ready to keep reading, but in the fourth chapter the author included about fifty pages of backstory. Too much backstory is frustrating because is slows the action, but worse it can change the character of the book. This book turned into a character study rather than a mystery.

Readers will also put your book down if you are inconsistent in your presentation. A romantic novel can have elements of fantasy, but if your sizzler slides too far into fantasy your readers may give up. They bought the book for the sizzle. Conversely, a fantasy should stay a fantasy and not become a modern romance.

I recently read an article in the New York Times, December 25, 2013, about new services like Scribd that track how readers are treating your book. This can be valuable information for authors, but you don't have to wait to subscribe to a service. Read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, not only for your books, but for books you've read. You'll find plenty of reviewers willing to tell you exactly why the stopped reading and where.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Frugal Editing from Carolyn Howard Johnson

Quote from The Frugal Editor: “Language is a fluid lifeform. To assume that because we once learned grammar one way, it will always be accepted is fallacious. To neglect researching the language we write in when we so assiduously research the facts for what we write is folly.”
There are gremlins out there determined to keep your work from being published, your book from being promoted. Resolved to embarrass you before the gatekeepers who can turn the key of success for you—they lurk in your subconscious and the depths of your computer programs. Whether you are a new or experienced author,The Frugal Editor will help you present whistle-clean copy (from a one-page cover letter to your entire manuscript) to those who have the power to say “yea” or “nay.”

Absolutely essential for beginning writers and a necessary reminder for the more advanced.  The mentor you've been looking for.  This book won't collect dust!”~Christina Francine, review for Fjords Review

"Using the basic computer and editing tricks from The Frugal Editor, authors can prevent headaches and save themselves time—and even money—during the editing process. It’s well worth your effort to learn them." ~ Barbara McNichol, Barbara McNichol Editorial


I found The Frugal Editor helpful, so I asked Carolyn some questions that other writers might find useful.

  1. Why did you start writing the Frugal series?
After I saw how many authors were struggling with the basics (even the ethics!) of promotion on the Web, I pitched a class in book marketing to UCLA Extension's world renowned Writers' Program and when they said yes, I realized that there were no books I could recommend that covered both the basics of writing queries, media releases, media kits, etc. and helped authors with promotions, too.  Then when I pitched an editing class because I could see that editing is an important part of knowing the publishing industry, the marketing of a book and more, I ran into the same problem.  Both books are now a series of four HowToDoItFrugally books for writers with more to come.  I'm passionate about sharing the joy of writing with others, but I know it's a more joyful process when we're successful.  
  1. You said in the Frugal Editor that editing contributes to branding. What to you mean?
If an author sends something out that is unprofessional--and I don't mean just has poor grammar, but all the aspects that the publishing industry expects from authors--they risk  being seen by editors, agents, radio hosts, contest judges and more as unprofessional.  That's really not great branding from the get-go!
  1. How far should you go in editing on your own before you think about hiring an editor?
As far as you can. I say that because the more an author knows, the better prepared she is to work with an editor--whether she hires one or ends up working with one assigned by a publisher.  The more she knows, the better writer she'll be. The better writer, the more successful. Editing is a carousel that leads to success.
  1. Many sites for writers urge writers to hire an editor. What qualifications should one look for in an editor
This seems as if it should be an easy question to answer but I devote a whole chapter in The Frugal Editor ( to finding the right editor--one compatible with the author and with the title the author is working on.  The two major things I hope to get across are: 1. How to avoid scams and/or unprofessional editors  and 2. How to use references effectively. We need to ask questions we never needed to ask when hiring a plumber or a contractor.
  1. What can you expect from your editor? Finding typos? Grammar rules? Help with style?
Nancy, there are all kinds of editor. And an author has all kinds of needs. Authors learn exactly what they most need as they learn more about editing on their own.  Much has to do with how they plan to publish, how new they are to the publishing industry (notice I didn't say "to writing"), how willing they are to learn more about writing and editing on their own. Here's how I see it. A great editor who checks for everything--style, structure, writing techniques, typos, grammars--even formatting--is  a bargain. Think of it like paying top price for an editor but getting at least one extra class at the university level in everything else. I happen to know those university classes can cost upward of $500 each--on or offline. I took many of them myself and I taught many of them.
  1. Will your editor help with finding inconsistencies in the text?
An editor won't if he or she isn't qualified.  There are lots of people passing themselves off as editors. Having written a book doth not an editor make.  I give several specific resources for editors I've worked with personally in The Frugal Editor and--reallly--that's how I go about writing all my how-to books. Hearsay just doesn't cut it when you're trying to point others in the right direction.
  1. Is there anything else you'd like to add about your new book?
Well, let's see. Let me just list a few things that this book will give a writer that will make him or her seem like a professional to the gatekeepers who can say yes or no to their project:
  • Do you know how to format ellipses? It's not essential, but it's one more little thing that indicates to professionals that you know what you're doing.
  • Do you want to know how to avoid those pesky double spaces that appear throughout your copy. And do it quickly instead of trying to delete them one at a time.
  • Do you know why perfectly good grammar (things like helping verbs) may look unprofessional?
  • Do you know enough about the intricacies of writing and punctuating dialogue. Yes, that includes nonfiction writers. If you're a nonfiction writer who never uses dialogue and/or rarely uses anecdote, the information in this book will improve the salability of your work. 
You can tell I'm passionate about the topic!  Editing is about so much more than finding typos and grammar errors. Your readers will love the tips that the agents I interviewed give them. I interviewed more than 100 and some of the things that tick them off will amaze you!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the classes she has taught for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program.
The first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter was named USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book” and won the coveted Irwin Award. Now in its second edition, it’s also a USA Book News award winner and received a nod from Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards. Her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success was also honored by USA Book News and won Readers’ Views Literary Award. Her marketing campaign for that book won the marketing award from New Generation Indie Book Awards.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of 14 women of “San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.