Friday, May 31, 2013

New Thriller Author on the Scene

The world of legal thriller writers just increased by one: Todd M. Johnson, trial lawyer, former US Diplomat, husband, father, and now author of the gripping debut novel, The Deposit Slip.

Jared Neaton is worn flat after leaving a huge law firm and going solo, only to lose his first break-out case that should've set his new practice up for good. When another break-out case lands in his lap, he hesitates. Stakes are high, and the payoff doesn't come unless he wins. His potential client can't finance his expenses, and the colleague who dropped the bombshell on him backed out of a sizeable amount of seed money.

And to top it off, his old firm represents the other side. They've done an excellent job of scaring off every other attorney the client has turned to for help. At this point, they figure there's nothing left but to sit back and count their money.

But something about Erin Larson makes Jared take her case. Intriguing enough is the ten million dollar deposit slip that has no matching bank account, but something about Erin herself intrigues him. Not romantically, as his assistant assumes, but the bond between two people with the similar experience of needing to forgive their fathers.

Intricately woven into this story of legal maneuvering, assassination attempts, and missing millions, is the tale of two fathers who made serious mistakes in their lives and the people who struggle to forgive them.

Published by Bethany House, The Deposit Slip is available everywhere books are sold, and you can learn more about Todd at his website, Author Todd M. Johnson.

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The Soul Saver, by Dineen Miller

What an incredible gift to have--to be able to sculpt the face of someone God wants you to meet long before you do. You never know what your mission is, what you're to do when you meet this mystery person, just that God has a job for you.

In The Soul Saver, a supernatural women's fiction novel by Dineen Miller, Lexie Baltimore has that gift, and it leads her to meet a pastor who understands her pain over losing a child and her frustration over having a husband with whom she cannot share her faith. She doesn't know yet whether Nate Winslow is her mission, or she is his.

The widower Nate develops an attraction to her and tries to drive a wedge between her and her husband, who is becoming more and more distant from her as he pursues his career goals. Hugh also becomes more belligerent toward her religion, which makes Nate more attractive to her.

What she doesn't know, and what Nate constantly battles, is that he owes the devil a favor for saving his daughter after she and his late-wife were in an accident. The favor is to split up Lexie and Hugh so the demon Tobias can win Hugh's soul more easily--without Lexie's influence. To make sure Nate remains compliant, Tobias sends his daughter to the hospital with a life-threatening condition. Consumed with guilt and feeling cut off from God, Nate is torn between tearing apart a husband and wife, or losing his only child.

So much is wrapped in this story: the need for strong prayer support, the invisible battle between principalities and powers, the pain and loneliness of a mismatched marriage. Dineen is the author of Christian novels, and The Soul Saver is the definition of what that genre is--a novel whose story would collapse if the Christian thread were removed. Many Christians write novels, but not all Christians write Christian novels. This one fills the bill. It's scripturally sound and full of wisdom, particularly addressing the mismatched marriage. This one's a five-star keeper.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Passive Aggressive Marketing

I discovered Passive Aggressive Marketing on our 50 States journey. My wife and I recently finished touring America on our Gold Wing motorcycle, towing a pop-top tent trailer. Before we started, I decided to celebrate the trip by installing a vinyl wrap on the bike and trailer. In the spirit of 'Easy Rider,' I designed the wrap in an American flag motif like Captain America's bike in the movie.

After a few months of people stopping to chat us up about the trip, I realized I'd hit on something quite by accident; Passive Aggressive Marketing. I wasn't chasing people to "Please please please read my blog, check me out on Facebook or LinkedIn, or give me your email so I can tell you about my book." They came to me.

The audience I would love to have for my upcoming book, '50 States in 50 Weeks: Easy Rider Revisited' noticed the bike and stopped to talk, especially in common interest areas, such as rest areas, campgrounds and bike shops.

We finished touring the Capitol building in Rhode Island and as we approached our bike a cabbie across the street yelled out, "Hey Kevin! How you doing?"

Huh? I didn't know anyone in Rhode Island. He held up his phone. "Been reading your blog. Love your story." He'd seen the website on the side of the trailer. We talked with our new follower for a good half hour.

Another passive aggressive technique we initiated was leaving business cards on the seat with a small rock holding them in place. During our adventure we handed out over a thousand cards.

Cars would pass us, slow down and the passengers would take pictures of the bike. Once when parked I offered a man a business card. "Don't need it. Got a picture of the website on the bike."

Another few months passed before I realized I had been building a platform and hawking a book that not only hadn't been written yet, but the story wasn't even complete. What an amazing way to market.

Unless you're traveling like us, this probably doesn't help your book marketing plan at all. However, you need to think outside the box. I know a writer who made earrings of books with her title on them. Another author, who writes motivational books, travels extensively. When she gets on a plane, she holds the book to her chest with her picture facing outward. People notice and ask her about it. I repeat; they ask her about it.

Nobody likes someone in their face. If you're cornering people and dominating them with your passion, you'll drive them away. Find a way to attract people who want to read what you're writing.

What can you do in your genre' or with the content or theme of your book, to use Passive Aggressive Marketing to help promote it? If you're relying on bookmarks you are in serious trouble. You're the creative one who writes the prose. Now you must be the creative marketer.

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Monday, May 27, 2013


How to draw your reader and make him swallow the bait.

The hook is the sentence that makes you want to buy it even more than word of mouth, because word of mouth invitations are a reader’s individual interpretation of the hook.

A Tale of Two CitiesA hook is not a synopsis, it is not an explanation, it is not a series of descriptions, it is not a subtitle, or a log line (which the description of a movie), or an endorsement. It is not a cliché.

A hook may be a complete sentence, or a phrase, or a premise, or a theory. It should always be a promise.

Where should you place this hook to make the best use of it?
Authors want to reach all readers. Browser readers will do one of two things, or both: they will flip a physical book and read the back, or they will open to the first page and read the opening sentence/hopefully paragraph. This is also why that “look inside” feature of e-book sellers is important. You want to entice online readers the same way.

The back cover blurb hook: Is it the same sentence as your opening? No

The opening sentence of your work must use the genre to do more than invite—it must entice and keep the reader, like a fish taking the bait, in a way that won’t let the reader escape.

Just like fishing, a fish may be curious and check the bait from a safe distance (the cover or genre or name was attractive, but enough to merit a touch); a fish may nibble and escape (the reader has touched the book; i.e., read the blurb but backed off); a fish may bite but escape before being landed (the reader was attracted and bit, but dropped away after the promise of the hook didn’t hold up); or a fish may be captured (the reader liked your book!).

Here’s one way to research a perfect hook.
Walk to your bookshelf if you have one that contains any fiction and even non-fiction, even text books, look at the books there and read the opening sentences on the backs/flaps of the books, or the subtitles on the front. If you don’t have access to books in your genre, go to your book store or library and look at some books in your genre. Or use online retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Christian Book Distributers, or Goodreads, and hunt for books similar to yours. Read all those descriptions of the books, take some notes then think about your story.

Here are some from the pile of books near me.

Back cover/flap: Three brothers tear their way through childhood—smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. First sentence: We wanted more. –from We the Animals, by Justin Torres 

Back cover: When romance calls, will she choose to answer? First sentence: Did she dare? –from When Love Calls, by Lorna Seilstad 

Back cover: Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660s amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. First sentence: He is coming on the Lord’s Day. –from Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks 

Back cover: They came on a mission of mercy, but now they’re in a fight for their lives. First sentence: We were in the cantina waiting for a bus when Mendoza walked in and shot the waiter dead. –from If We Survive, by Andrew Klavan

Here’s one way to develop that hook for your own work.
Start by asking yourself some questions. What is your one-word overall theme?
What are the three most important things that happen in the book?
What is the inciting incident—or what caused the action/main problem—and what are the stakes?

Those are the elements you’ll use in your hook—the sentence that entices to reader to read on. The goal must be fresh, unique, active, and have grave circumstances if not achieved.

These are the elements from my current work in progress:
One-word theme: Restoration

Three most important events: The female protag is rescued by the male protag. The villain is encouraged to complete his task. The male protag discovers the underlying impediments to both his and her struggles for victory.

The inciting incident: The female protag attempts to trump the villain’s plan.
The stakes: Survival, rescue, justice, revelation of the truth
Some thoughts about the hook blurb:
When nobody loves you, you have nothing to lose.
Hiding might not be the best way to deal with being exonerated of a false accusation.
Running might not be the best way to deal with being the target of an insurance fraud scheme.
It’s a sin to be impure.
Hiding can’t erase their past.
The current opening sentence: The engine spluttered and choked.

What are some of your favorite openings or hooks? What are some from the book you’re reading or working on now?

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Letting Your Characters Lead

I've just finished two novels and am writing this to delay starting the editing process. I'm still a relatively new author and have discovered letting your characters lead helps me avoid the dreaded writer's block.

Each of the novels I've written has started out with me pretty much knowing where the plot is headed. So I think. I'm a sort of half plotter - half panster. I'm becoming more of a plotter by outlining the events I want in the book. I'm a panster by taking an idea that comes along in the middle of my writing and going with it. The combination seems to work for me.

I've found that I might as well let my characters lead since they are going to whether I fight them on it or not. In my first novel, Healing Love, Magdelina Taylor was supposed to be a nasty young woman bent on breaking up or at least causing problems for the main characters. Her mother, Beulah, is a nasty. Through several books she's a nasty. (I could use a different word but you know what I mean.) I tried to make Magdelina be nasty. Very hard I tried to force her into the role I had planned for her. She absolutely refused.

Non-writers don't understand that characters come alive in the mind of the writer. Talk about it with people and they give you this funny look as if you are crazy. (Maybe we are. Or I am.) My characters are alive to me with distinct personalities and have plans and goals with their lives. Maggie (as she prefers to be called) let me know in no uncertain terms that she was not going to be who I thought she was going to be.

I was stymied for a while. It was my first book after all. When I finally allowed Maggie to lead me the way she wanted everything worked out. Not only was my writing flying from my fingers but suddenly Maggie became the lead female in the second book.

Character traits can also be directed by the character. I didn't know Nell yet but she was out there waiting to be found in the book. Once she was imagine my surprise when she whispered instead of speaking in a normal voice. Letting Nell whisper instead of forcing her to talk in a normal tone helped define the character and her background. Why she whispered. I could have simply ignored her but I would have struggled to write some of the effects her life had on her.

Allowing the characters to lead can send the story in different ways than you expect. Plot lines can change. Character interactions are modified. I've had to scrap entire outlines because the characters took it in a different direction than I thought. Hopefully it's better than if I'd forced my view of their world on them.

Letting the characters influence where the story goes is, for me, part of the fun of writing. Just as our lives go in directions we don't expect, the lives of those in our books may take us someplace other than where we are aimed. Let them take you down the unexpected path. It just might be a better one.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Magic of Transitional Words and Phrases


Donn Taylor

            Long, long ago and in a universe that no longer exists, my high school basketball coach taught me a simple offensive technique that paid off handsomely on the ball court. It was truly simple: just lean and look one way while placing the opposite foot outside and somewhat behind the defender’s foot. That put the defender at a disadvantage when I pivoted past him on that pre-positioned foot. This is not to say that I was ever a particularly good basketball player. Nor was I a particularly good piano player when my teacher taught me another simple technique, lifting the elbow to facilitate passing the ring finger over the thumb on the keyboard.

            The point is this: In many skills, remembering to employ simple techniques sometimes provides large rewards.
            Thus it is with astute use of transitional words and phrases in writing. “Transitions” are the words and phrases that show relationships between ideas. The most common are the coordinating conjunctions: “and,” “but,” “or,” “for,” “nor,” “yet,” and “so.” (“For,” “yet,” and “so,” of course, can also be used as adverbs, and “for” can be used as a preposition.) Later, I’ll mention several transitional words that are more complex, and then suggest a way for the writer to simplify the reader’s task without simplifying the content, or message, of the writing.
            But first, let’s look at things from the viewpoint of the reader. Fundamentally, the reader faces two problems: first, finding the ideas (the content) stated in the text and second, discerning the relationship each idea has to those around it. If he has to perform both of these at once, the reading becomes more difficult. But if he can perform them one at a time—even when the separation consists only of split-seconds—the reading becomes easier.
            That’s where transitional words and phrases come in. Let’s start with those coordinating conjunctions. When a reader sees the word “and,” he knows that something of the same kind will follow. When he sees either “but” or “yet,” he knows something in contradiction will follow. Similarly, the word “or” indicates an alternative, and “nor” indicates alternatives in the negative, while “for” and “so” introduce stated causes of what went before.
            By revealing the relationship in advance, the transitional word frees the reader’s mind to focus on the content of the following statement.
            This function is not too important in ordinary compound sentences, but it becomes more important as the ideas presented become more complex. Consider, for example, transitional words and phrases like “therefore,” “consequently,” “however,” “of these,” “in addition,” “of course,” “although,” “in spite of,” “besides,” “also,” “for example….” I’m sure all of us could name many others. And I’m sure you’ve already noticed that I used several of these in the preceding paragraphs.
            My theory is that when the reader sees one of these words or phrases, his mind registers the relationship and automatically forms a blank sentence structure that needs only to be filled in. I think it works like this:

            Although ___________, ______________________________.

            Similarly, __________________________________________.

            Consequently, ______________________________________.

            However, ­­­­­­­­­­­__________________________________________.

            In each case, the transitional word signals the relationship of ideas and the expected sentence structure so that the reader only has to fill in the blanks with content. His job has become easier.
            The short, choppy sentences of journalistic style often leave the reader guessing about the relationships of ideas. Too often, the result is portrayal of a child’s-mind world in which all things happen and none have specific relationships to others. But the writer who portrays an adult world of complex relationships can facilitate the reader’s comprehension through the skillful use of transitions to show the relationship of an idea before the idea is stated.
            As it is in athletics and musical performance, so it is in writing. Conscientious use of the simplest techniques can often produce the greatest gain.

Posted by Donn Taylor, author of Deadly Additive, The Lazarus File, Rhapsody in Red, etc.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

James Patrick Riley — Becoming a Scriptwriter

James Patrick Riley as Silas Rhodes in "Courage, New Hampshire"

The blast of a shotgun that fired too close to his ear did its damage and, for a time, writer/creator/producer James Patrick Riley could barely hear.

Nearing the end of the first episode of the mini series “Courage, New Hampshire,” a critical scene was still being filmed. But the hearing loss incurred from that blast left Riley unable to adequately hear the final words between the series lovers.

“I had to ask Drew Ganyer (Director of Photography) if it went well and he assured me it did.”

But it wasn’t until he could actually hear actors Nathan Kershaw and Alexandra Oliver on a recording that the emotion-filled dialogue, spoken to near perfection, took Riley’s breath away.

“It’s so gratifying when actors bring your words to life.”

While many writers may imagine that kind of response to characters in their novels, few authors ever get to see their words come to life in video form as Riley has. And this Memorial Day weekend, Riley gets to see his mini-series shown for the first time on INSP network as the four-hour program premieres May 27 at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

Riley didn’t always think he’d be writing scripts for a series. When he was a student at Stanford University in the writing program, he imagined himself developing into a literary fiction writer.

One of his favorite authors was American novelist and short-story writer, Flannery O’Connor. “She was the master of  ‘the surprising ending.’ Her stories were always about redemption or divine judgment.”

The longer Riley was submerged in academia, however, the less satisfied he was with the fellowship and grant route to publishing. In 1983, he left the writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa and headed back to the family farm in southern California.

This rural business was far more than a farm to grow crops, however, although apple orchards were a part of the acreage. His family had begun doing Civil War re-enactments on the land near Oak Glen, as well as scheduling tours for schoolchildren to offer educational programs. The first year they offered five tours for kids. By the following year, 50-70,000 children participated in the program.

“People have an affection for history,” said Riley. “It allows them to escape into a totally different ambiance.”

While his brother, Scott, enjoyed the history of the Civil War, Riley himself was always fascinated by the history of the American Revolution. His search into family genealogy had unearthed family connections going back to colonial Rhode Island and Massachusetts. So when he and his wife Mary planned their house, they designed it like a colonial home from New England. Soon some of the farm tours focused on Early America. This re-creation of 1700’s living in America served to inspire his writer’s heart to follow a new course, as he created scripts for the living history business.

Riley began studying television and movies, even taking classes and workshops on script writing. He watched movies over and over, paying close attention to how the writers accomplished transitions from one scene to the next. But it was really hands-on practice that taught him the ropes of writing scripts. “It really is just doing it.”

Ernest Hemingway’s novels inspired Riley with their abundance of dialogue and action, the key elements for script writing.

Somewhere on this journey, the seeds for the script of “Courage, New Hampshire” were planted. It took two failed attempts before his third try birthed the first episode, “The Travail of Sarah Pine.”

Working on a shoe string budget with new grads fresh out of film school, but also finding willing participants with seasoned Hollywood talent, Riley did the seemingly impossible: He created four hours of a period drama that rivals many programs produced for millions of dollars.

Not bad for a writer with a passion for history and Christianity, as well as a desire to produce “masterful storytelling.”

“You gotta dream big.”

Sometimes, dreams do come true.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Book Review, Halftime

Halftime, by Bob P. Buford

“The real test of a man is not when he plays the role that he wants for himself, but when he plays the role destiny has for him."
~Vaclav Havel

What if the second half of your life could be more effective and successful than the first? Bob Buford explores how we can assess, regroup and direct our lives from success to significance. No matter our financial condition or cultural stature, we can possibly become more of what God intended us to be in the second half of our life than the first.

Halftime is that period just like during a sporting event where we can stop, appraise where we've been, but more importantly, plan and steer ourselves into an effective second half.

Buford poses questions, uncomfortable ones, that if we ask and answer them carefully can perhaps find that sweet spot in our lives. Questions like, 'What do I want to be remembered for?' As an example, he indicated that he would like his epitaph to read:

Other questions he asked: Am I comfortable with my job? Would I be willing to take a less stressful (and lower-paying) job to be happier — to be closer to my true self? What is it about my job that makes me feel trapped? To clarify, he isn't just talking about changing our job. In fact, keeping our job could be a possibility. Yet after a lifetime of working for the car, house and boat, getting the kids through school and independent, what next? Halftime provides that focus we may need. 

Personally, I found the book compelling. After thirty-six years of self employment, my company evaporated in the Great Recession. Fortunately we saved and invested well, thank God. However Buford helped me to think about where I've been, what I've done (both well and poorly) and what I can do to make the next run more effective than the first. 

He quotes George Bernard Shaw as an example:  “This is the true joy in life — the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got ahold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations”

I like books, whether fiction or non, that provoke emotion, but also make me think. Halftime does this well.

What would your epitaph read? 

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