Indie Spotlight on Fantasy Author Jack Massa

True Magic is never an easy road.

For sixteen-year old Abigail Renshaw, the terrifying nightmares are not the worst part. When apparitions start leaking out of the nightmares into her waking life—Well, that’s a problem.

But Abby’s dealt with hallucinations before, and she’s nothing if not resilient. Following clues from the nightmares, she convinces her mother to let her visit Harmony Springs, the small town in Florida where Abby was born, and where her grandmother still lives.

There, Abby finds unexpected help from new friends: a compulsive teenage blogger named Molly Quick, and Molly’s older brother Ray-Ray (a guy Abby really starts to like). 

The not-so-good news? Abby’s apparitions might be real after all. And one of them wants to kill her. Ghosts of Bliss Bayou is available at Amazon

Story Craft: Presenting Backstory in Scenes

As fiction writers, we often hear the advice “Show, Don’t Tell.” But what exactly does that mean?

To me, it means to present your story with immediacy. Write it mainly in dramatic scenes, and focus each scene in a single character’s point of view.

But a rich story embodies a lot of information. If you try to convey all of it in scenes, you can easily find yourself writing lots of extraneous scenes, as well as using obviously contrived dialogue (“As we all know, Tom, the Druna are an ancient elvish race who live in Dampwood.”) This is a great way to ruin a story.

For this post, let’s define backstory as all the information from outside a scene that the reader needs to understand that scene. Skilled story-tellers use a number of techniques to present backstory within the structure of their scenes. Here are few that I’ve observed.

Tip 1: Create a scene in which the character can reflect

In real life, we all spend time thinking about our problems. Your characters can do the same: when out for a walk, waiting in line, riding a bus, whatever.

For example, in Chapter 1 of Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, our heroine Abby has woken up from a recurring nightmare. Worse, figures from the nightmare are now appearing in her waking life. To get a grip, Abby goes out for a run. During the run, she has a chance to reflect on her past:

With the route set, my brain flips into autopilot, and I can think about other stuff.

Like my hallucinations.

I’ve always been the sensitive, imaginative type. Hyperaware of other people’s feelings. Sometimes I can tell what they’re going to say before they say it. And I’ve always been prone to anxiety. But when I started to go through puberty, things got really bad. I was afraid all the time, and then I started to hear voices in my head. Scary voices, telling me I might as well just die, that I had no future, that I was cursed.

Just like my dad.

This goes on for several more paragraphs and gives the reader a chunk of backstory while keeping the immediacy of our protagonist confronting her very scary problem.

Tip 2: Let characters catch each other up

We’re all familiar with scenes where a character learns some backstory by hearing it from another character. You have to handle this carefully or it will seem contrived or ‘stagy.’

First, make sure your viewpoint character would realistically learn this information from the other character. (Tom really doesn’t know that the Druna live in Dampwood.) Secondly, present the dialogue in short chunks, not long speeches. Finally, make the disclosure part of an emotionally-engaging scene.

In this example, Abby has travelled to Florida to visit her grandmother and try to figure out where her nightmares are coming from. She’s just met Molly, and they’re talking over coffee about some recent weird happenings in the town.

Molly nods. “It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. The history of Harmony Springs is full of paranormal stories.”

A wriggle of fear starts in my stomach. “You mean like apparitions and ghosts?”

“Sure. The families who founded the town were spiritualists. The Greenes, the Hollingsworths, the Aldens”—she gestures at me with an open hand—“the Renshaws.”

The wriggle turns into a cringe. “I didn’t know that.”

The scene goes on to reveal more of the town’s history and a supposed curse on Abby’s family. Notice that this exposition is rooted in the protagonist’s immediate and deep emotional concerns.

Tip 3: Add blocks of backstory near the start of the scene.

In this technique, you start a scene in the present, ideally with an emotional hook to engage the reader. Then after a few lines, you skip back to reveal the backstory. This is not really a flashback, just a bit of exposition that explains how we got here.

Midway through Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Abby is scheduled to leave Harmony Springs. She has tried to convince her Mom to let her stay longer, but the reader doesn’t yet know the outcome. In the next scene, Abby meets Molly and tells her that, after a week up north, she’ll be coming back.

Molly grins. “Yippee! You must really like us.”

I grin back. “Yes!”

Mom took a lot of convincing. Granma and I both talked to her three times before she gave in. She finally had to admit how little time she’d actually have to spend with me in London, and I think she began to see how lonely I would have been. She did insist that I fly home this week so we could see each other, but that was something I wanted too.

Here, the tension of whether or not Abby will get to stay is resolved as part of a scene that emphasizes her growing friendship with Molly. A single paragraph of backstory does the trick.

What do you think?

Think about your favorite authors. How do they handle the presentation of backstory? Are there tips and tricks you can add to my list?

Jack Massa has studied writing and other forms of magic for many years. He has published fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and oodles of technical nonfiction.

In addition to the Abby Renshaw adventures, Jack’s current projects include The Glimnodd Cycle (epic fantasy featuring witches and ice-pirates; two novels published to date) and the Conjurer of Rhodes series (historical fantasy set in the ancient world; forthcoming).

Jack lives in Florida with his magical wife, wonderful son, and a pet orange tree named Grover. If you’d like to know more about Jack, you can visit his website, follow him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

 

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Indie Spotlight on Paranormal Mystery Writer Casi McLean

Piper Taylor concedes she’ll never fall in love, until a treacherous storm spirals her into the arms of the handsome Nick Cramer. Unrelenting remorse over a past relationship haunts Nick, but he can’t deny the mysterious connection and hot desire Piper evokes.

The allure of a secret portal hidden beneath Atlanta’s Lake Lanier tempts him into seizing the opportunity to change his mistakes. But his time slip triggers consequences beyond his wildest dreams.

Can Piper avoid the international espionage and terrorism of 2001 New York, find Nick, and bring him home before he alters the fabric of time, or will the lovers drift forever Beyond The Mist 

 

How a ‘Wrinkle in Time’ Inspired my Writing Career

For as long as I remember, I’ve loved the idea of supernatural. Not blatant horror stories, vampires, sci-fi aliens, or other worldly fantasy, but the notion of “what if” that entices imagination into believing there’s more than what meets the eye.

My fourth grade teacher nudged the author within me when she read aloud Madeleine L’Engles, A Wrinkle In Time. The enchanting story opened the door to my future. I read every time travel story I could get my hands on and watched every time slip movie. The question niggled at me. If time travel was “a thing” how would the concept likely occur?

Years later, when I heard about the eerie lore attached to Atlanta’s Lake Sidney Lanier, a man-made lake located in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, the tales fascinated me. Plagued with mysterious disappearances, freak accidents, strange phenomenon, and ghostly occurrences, the lake became the perfect setting for my passion to bloom.

What if the construction created more than a lake? What if the excavation triggered a seismic shift, which when given enough energy, opened a portal to a different dimension…a rip in time connecting past to future? I loved the possibilities. I envisioned a town that time forgot and the history and creepy tales attached to the rural area that sleeps beneath Atlanta’s famous lake, became book one of my Lake Lanier Mysteries, Beneath The Lake.

Homes, churches and buildings still linger beneath the surface, abandoned by displaced families and businesses. The moonshiners of the 1940’s added built-in suspense and sparked the birth of NASCAR. Looper Speedway, a half-mile dirt track where bootleggers competed with their souped-up cars, bared its cement stands in a recent draught. And there’s a Lady of the Lake who haunts the ghost town. Some say she lures victims to her watery grave. The truth is, swimmers get trapped among the deadfall of sheered-off trees and town remains. Even expert divers get tangled beneath the murky surface, hence the lake’s unnerving label: Lanier never gives up its dead.

I moved to Lake Lanier last year and my home overlooks a beautiful cove. The glimmering lake is a solace for me. Taking walks on trails around lake, and talking to neighbors who have lived in the area for generations feeds my muse. There’s no telling how many tales Lake Lanier Mysteries will yield, but if this inspiration should ever dry up, my passion for a touch of supernatural will keep me submerged in fodder. For now, Between The Shadows, book three, flourishes as my current work in progress. This story slips back to 1865 Georgia at the end of the Civil War, where two more Reynolds Cove characters promise to lure you into their own romantic suspense. I hope you all will join us as Lake Lanier Mysteries continues.

I love venues where I can talk about the inspiration behind writing. Thank you so much for hosting me, Anita. And thanks for reading everyone.

BIO: Award winning author, Casi McLean, pens novels to stir the soul with romance, suspense, and a sprinkle of magic. Her writing crosses genres from ethereal, captivating shorts with eerie twist endings to believable time slips, mystical plots, and sensual romantic suspense. Her novel Beneath The Lake, is the 2016 winner of the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for BEST Romantic Suspense.  If you’d like to learn more about Cassi you can visit her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Indie Spotlight on Indie Author of Spiritual and Supernatural Fiction P.S. Winn

Journeys is the story of a young man who, because of a car wreck, has a near death experience. While Josh walked through that valley of the shadow of death, doorways opened. Arriving on the other side, Josh is told he has to return because an evil presence stepped through and made its’ way to earth and Josh’s hometown. Josh’s obligation is to find and destroy the evil. Josh returns and finds he was given some very unique gifts and two special friends to help him on his journey.

Writing – an Incredible Journey

When I began writing, trying to somehow preserve the words and ideas in my heart and floating in my head, I had no idea where it would lead. Now I have published fifty books in five years. One of the questions I am asked most is which book was my favorite to write. To me, that is like asking which of my seven children is my favorite. I love them all, but each has their own reason for being special. The same goes for the stories I write. The book I think took me on the most interesting journey is “Obligations.”

For me, there is a distinct link between the spiritual and the supernatural. That connection twists and weaves itself through many of the books I write.

I also think the books I write for preschoolers are important. Children who read do better in life. I have four books I hope instill the love of reading in young ones and also teach lessons that are essential.

The most important book I believe I have written is based on a true story. The man the story is about is an inventor who patented an invention that could burn garbage with no pollution and was creating an electrical charge in the process. The man, whose name had to be changed, wanted to clean our air while giving people cheap or free energy. Government bureaucrats with their big oil backers suppressed the idea and the man.

I wonder how many other great ideas have been silenced and how many important inventions suffered “Suppression” in the same way.

Although I love all my books, I give credit for the success I’ve had to the readers. Their vivid imaginations take the stories to new levels. A person who loves that journey of grabbing a book and sinking into the depths adds a different dimension. I think each reader sees the story a bit differently in their own minds. The story becomes personal to them and even better than I can imagine. The same reason the books are always better than the movies. The reader makes their own movie in their mind as they read and no two step away with the same pictures.

I believe, as a writer, I blend my own experiences into the stories I create. Along with that, I leave a piece of my heart, soul and life in each book. I think the reader does the same.

With each book, written and then read, that connection is what makes each book unique.

My health problems are making it harder for me to write. I write all the stories longhand before I struggle to type the words. That is beginning to be a bigger challenge to continue than I would like.

I hope with some innovative technologies and personal ingenuity I will produce more books. Maybe not another fifty in five years, but it is the sharing of the stories that float through my mind with readers that makes writing an incredible journey.

I have to thank my husband for his support, my children and grandchildren for input and believing in me. I have amazing friends, on-line and off who keep me going when I struggle. They are my life line and I am blessed to have them. Not only is writing an  incredible journey, but so is life.

P.S. Winn started writing when her husband had several heart attacks. He was told to move to a lower elevation. He wanted to go home to Montana and be by family. So, that is where they are now after spending thirty years in Utah.

P.S. is also an avid top ten reader on GoodReads and you can find the books she’s read and written there. If you would like to learn more about P.S. you can follow her on Facebook, join her Journeys Facebook group, and visit her GoodReads author page.

 

Indie Spotlight on Paranormal Mystery Author Elle Klass

Elle’s new series, Evan’s Girls kicks off with the book, Scarlett. The book will release in November 2017 but is available for pre-order at Amazon. This is a story that will make you shudder in fear, cry from sadness and shout for in anger. Scarlett is told in 3 parts and Elle is offering Part I for free via Instafreebie, so get over there and download it today.

Book blurb: When my parents died I became a child no one wanted. Scooted from one foster home to another, facing evils no child should. A foster father who used abuse to control those around him, unloved children who took their insecurities out on others. I was ridiculed and bullied, but none of that was worse than who I was. The part of me that feared even itself.

When my biological half-sister and wealthy husband opened their home to me I thought the terrors of my past were over. That was the farthest thing from the truth. The tortures I faced forced me to accept and take control of the sixth sense that lived inside me from before birth. My biological parentage gave me a gift or a curse. The thing that made me more than an average girl.

Under duress, I was impregnated and gave birth to the most vicious serial killer of all time. He is remembered only with shudders of fear. It is my mission to end his life using the tools stored in my DNA.

Writing a Spin-off Series

When I first wrote Eye of the Storm Eilida’s Tragedy it was meant to be a stand-alone. It wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized I needed to further explore and the Ruthless Storm Trilogy was born. The trilogy centers on a specific event that happened. In the first book Eilida witnesses something at her neighbor’s house that scares the pants off her. She runs from the scene. It’s storming and the ground is muddy and slippery causing her to fall and plummet down the mountain, hitting her head on a large boulder. She wakes up in the hospital and doesn’t remember anything. The paranormal connection comes in here and through it she remembers, everything, including what she witnessed. This story became a paranormal fiction award-winning novel.

Each volume is a different characters story therefore, each volume is unique. Volume 2 is more a crime thriller with a paranormal twist including a serial killer and his deranged motives. It’s also a prequel and ends during the event witnessed in Volume 1. Volume 3 is a romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. It picks up a year after the event and ties all the characters and their actions the day of the event together into the twisted shocking truth.

For me that was the end but not for readers. They came at me with questions about the girls the serial killer leaves being physically unharmed. I gave it a lot of thought. There’s no way these girls had picture perfect lives. The series is a thriller so pursuing their lives one can’t expect rainbows and chocolate. There are eight girl’s, one whose story has already been told so that left seven. If it wasn’t for a persistent nagging enigmatic character that is first introduced in Volume 2 it would have stayed at 7 but her story needed to be told. I can’t ignore my readers or my characters so I explored her story and learned so much more about her and the trilogy in general.

When writing a spin-off or a series I recommend a character chart to keep everyone straight, maybe also a skeleton map. Some people are meticulous planners and all those notes will come in handy. I also suggest reading the previous book before writing the next. In a spin-off read them all first. I’m a panster so did none of the above. I don’t suggest doing it this way but when I’m writing a scene or a character from a previous book I open the word doc and “find” what I’m searching for. Another benefit I have s an editor that’s edited all my work.

Promoting is spin-off series is time to promote the first series. Build up hype and be sure to include information about each series in the books. When people enjoy a story, including myself, they don’t want it to end so give them more!

BIO: Elle Klass is the author of mystery, suspense, and contemporary fiction. Her works include As Snow Falls, The Ruthless Storm Trilogy, Zombie Girl, the Bloodseeker series and the Baby Girl series. Her work Eye of the Storm Eilida’s Tragedy is a Reader’s Favorite Fiction-Paranormal Finalist in the 2015 Awards. She loves traveling, especially the Caribbean, and beaches. She is a night-owl where her imagination feeds off shadows, and creaks in the attic. If you’d like to learn more about this prolific author you can visit her website.

 

Indie Spotlight on YA Author Piper Templeton

Rain Clouds and Waterfalls, is a coming-of-age novel told in linked short stories, with each story/chapter named for a Beatles song, that sets the theme of the chapter.  NOW AVAILABLE as an audio book as well.  You can get Rain Clouds and Waterfalls at Amazon and Audible.

The Beatles – Timeless Icons Who Influence Pop Culture Across Multiple Generations

The Beatles continue to influence pop culture as their music inspires and delights multiple generations.   I’ve been a witness to this phenomenon as I’ve seen three generations of families soaking up the unadulterated joy experienced at Paul McCartney concerts.  Their songs are part of our broad pop culture, and they also serve a more intimate purpose to many individuals:  The songs deliver comfort, wisdom, poignancy, and lots of smiles at the memories they invoke.

Their songs are embedded in our collective conscious and plant themselves into ordinary, everyday facets of our lives.  I pass a street sign every evening on my commute home from work named Blue Jay Way.  I often see salads on menus named Strawberry Fields. I have a container of popcorn sitting on my desk right now that I ordered from a Youth Group fundraiser.  The name of the popcorn?  Sergeant Salt & Pepper.

The Beatles have been a recurring presence in movies, whether through dialog, one of their songs playing, or actual footage. As a very recent example, in Twin Peaks:  The Return that recently aired, one character starts telling his work buddy about a dream.  After he recaps his dream, he starts telling the other that he woke up, and then he recites the middle part of “A Day in The Life”  “Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, found my way downstairs…”  The characters give each other a knowing grin.  In Boyhood, there’s a great scene where the dad makes his son a composite of Beatle solo songs that he calls “The Black Album” and walks his son through the rhyme and reason of it all.

Beatles songs play in the background of many films.  One of my favorite examples is the unforgettable parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.   Who can forget Ferris dancing away on a float to “Twist and Shout”?  In a somber example, the use of John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the end of The Killing Fields seared our memories and hit the perfect emotional note.

 

How could Forrest Gump guide us through the 1960s and 1970s without bumping into a Beatle?  I love the scene of the old Dick Cavett footage in which Forrest is superimposed over Yoko One, and he finds himself seated next to none other than John Lennon.  Through Q&A with the host, he then inadvertently inspires the lyrics to “Imagine.”  It’s priceless!

You can check out a detailed, lengthy montage of Beatles references in film from the SgtPepperChannel on You Tube.

On a more personal, intimate level, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’ve found that many of their songs function as a Greek chorus to my life.  “Take a sad song and make it better” from “Hey Judge” automatically plays in my head when I’m going through a difficult time.  One day I was driving to work after experiencing a crushing loss.  Weeks had passed since the ordeal, but when alone, I could not get past the crying part of the grief.  I would think about the loss, and the tears would surface.  One morning as the tears started filling my eyes, “All Things Must Pass” came on the radio, as if in direct response to my personal grief.  It helped put matters in perspective and offered me a handle on my grief.

When I think I’ve got my day and week all planned out, and chaos instead ensues, I hear John Lennon’s lyric from “Beautiful Boy” floating through my head:  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”   When life deals blows that seem to come crushing down on me, I hear my Greek chorus again:  “Bang, bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer came down upon her head.”

The Beatles’ music has always been playing along either in the foreground or deep in the background as I journeyed through life.

BIO: Piper Templeton lives and works in the New Orleans area. A Liberal Arts graduate from the University of New Orleans, she loves writing fiction that mines beneath the surface of seemingly ordinary people’s lives. She combines her love of children and books by tutoring second graders in reading.

Other passions include animals, music, nature, long walks, and good laughs.

She developed a love for writing fiction in childhood and forayed into self-publishing in 2014 with her Beatles-inspired novel, Rain Clouds and Waterfalls. If you’d like to know more about Piper you can visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaming the System & Good Blogs This Week

Business Musings: Gaming the System by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frank, direct frontal assault on those who game the system. This post applies to writers but you could apply it to anyone who believes that tricking and gaming the system equals success. Even if that were true, what an empty success that must be. I also love Rusch’s incredible analytic skills and her ability to speak the truth in no uncertain terms. Must read!

Amazon is America’s best company. Says who? You! At least that’s what most people think, according to the Reputation Institute, an advisory firm that surveys the public about companies and industries.

2014 QUICK & DIRTY INDIE EARNINGS RESULTS by Brenda Hiatt. Interesting numbers and data on indie earnings for 2014. Worth a look.

DIY: Point-of-Sale Programs for Indie Authors. Discusses the pros and cons of authors selling their works directly. Informative.

Just for fun you can go to this site and make cool free twitter ready images

Have a great week, everybody.

Writer Chick