Category Archives: Guest Post

Author interview with Jay Scott

Please welcome debut novelist Jay Scott to Saturday Coffee with Authors. Jay is currently working on book one of his gritty trilogy, 122 Rules, which will be with beta readers next month. Book two is already complete! (No grass growing under Jay’s feet!)

When did you start writing and what made you start?

I started writing two years ago. I had wanted to do it for a long time, but it was my coworker, who, unbeknownst to him, actually prompted me to get more serious about my dream. What spurred me on was when he told me about an article he read. In it the author reported the results of a survey done on a several thousand WWII veterans. The men came back from the war, got jobs, and eventually retired. Their mindset when they got home was to work and take care of their families. 50 years later when these men were asked what they would have done differently, an overwhelming percentage of them said they wished they had done something creative. Writing, drawing, painting, and acting where the most common. I realized that if I ever wanted to write, I was just going to have to make time for it, and since my first idea (see below), I have.

Tell us a little bit about your latest books.

Here is the latest version of my synopsis: College student Monica Sable records a conversation between the mob boss, Laven Michaels, and his number one henchman. She manages to slip away without them catching her, only to be nabbed by the FBI who force her into witness protection. With her testimony they have enough to shut down Laven’s operation and put the mobster away for life.

Sam Bradford, a man living outside of society, is an expert at finding people who do not want to be found. He’s the best The Agency has to offer and a master of the 122 Rules of Psychology. With these rules he can manipulate people into doing and telling him anything.

When Sam is hired to find Monica, he doesn’t know he is ultimately working for the mob. In spite of misgivings about the case he tracks her down, seduces her and reveals her true identity. Later he reads about an explosion in her house where she is thought to have been killed. Deeper investigation reveals the truth of the “accident,” and who wants her dead. He also learns that, incredibly, Monica is still alive.

Laven has also learned Monica survived and sent his henchman across the country deal with her. No mistakes this time.

Sam is caught, forced to either right a wrong he helped create or follow orders and stand down. For the first time in his life he ignores protocol and instead pursues both the henchman and the mobster who hired him. Sam’s only plan: get them before they get to Monica.

Where did you come up with this idea?

I was on my way to work one day, listening to music and not really thinking about much when this insanely vivid scene came to me of this girl asleep in her room. In my head I could see that her bed was covered with a huge pile of blankets. Across the room was a large open window overlooking the ocean. I was even able see the books on her dresser and the dust bunnies tumbling across the floor in the breeze. All the way to work I thought about it and when I got there I typed it up…on my phone. I sent myself an email of this first scene, then lost it. No idea what happened. Just gone. Poof. It’s still probably cruising the halls of cyberspace.

So that weekend I typed it up again…on my computer. Fool me once and all that. Didn’t really know why, but this time around a dog appeared in a basket on the floor. Black and white terrier. After I completed the chapter I kept writing and the next one came out, then the next, and so forth. It wasn’t like I came up with the idea for my book, it was more like the book found me and my job was to unearthed it.

Who did the cover art for your book?

I don’t have a cover for my book yet. I have an image in my head of a guy on a motorcycle, my antagonist whom I met during my writing journey, riding towards the reader. It’s nighttime, on a long, deserted country road, with mountains and a full moon in the background. Haven’t found the art yet. I suspect whomever actually designs my cover will probably have a much better idea.

Who do find to be a huge inspiration for your writing? And why is that?

My literary hero is Stephen King. No question about it. My blog, Jay On Writing, is named for his book On Writing, which if you have not read I highly recommend. Here is an excerpt from my blog about him:

Arguably there are authors who write with a larger vocabulary, create better, more vivid descriptions, have a higher Lexile reading level, blah blah blah, but there is no one that can tell a better story, and for me it’s all about story. Whether or not you like his genre is immaterial. The man can spin a yarn that hooks you from word one.

Which one of your characters would be the best to meet in real life?

One of my secondary characters: Angel. When I first learned about her I thought she was a throw away. Someone that would simply be used as childhood friend of one my main characters, helping to give her more depth. But Angel surprised me. In spite of her being a checker at a grocery store and having no real direction for her life, she turned out to be surprisingly resourceful and spunky. She saves my main character’s behind over and over with her mad ninja-like skills and take-no-crap attitude. She would terrific fun to hang out with.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Mary Waibel’s, Charmed Memories—I was lucky enough to get a pre-release copy from her, before that was Hank Buchmann’s, Dead Woman Creek, before that was Dean Koontz’s, Deeply Odd. The entire time, I have also been reading George R.R. Martin’s, Game of Thrones. This last book is more a marathon, where I keep stopping at different intervals, 2 miles, 12 miles, 15, to read other books. I love his story, but I have ADD and keep getting distracted.

What is the one thing that seems to always get in the way of writing time?

Time! Ugh!!! I get as few hours of sleep as possible, always riding the ragged edge between bleary and prostrate, but between family, work, working out, commuting, and miscellaneous—don’t you just love that category?—I have only about an hour a day during the week. My primary time is on the weekends were I work from my hammock, weather permitting, or from the couch if it isn’t.

Are there any more projects you are currently working on? Do you know when we might get to see those?

I have a complete novella in the final edit stage. My first book, 122 Rules, was originally a 157,000 word tomb—I missed the debut-novels-need-to-be-80,000-words rule—so I broke it up into two books. Never thought it possible, but I worked the manuscript over, new ideas came, and am now almost done with the initial edits. What is coming out is better than the original. I expect to have it fully edited and ready for beta readers by mid-September. The good news is that the next book, 122 Rules – Redemption, is largely complete and edited. It required a lot less modification than the first half. In addition, I have 35,000 words of the third book in the trilogy. My goal is to be querying the first book by November.

You’re throwing a fiction character party.  What fictional characters would you like to invite (name and where they are from (book/TV/Movie/etc.) and why?

I would LOVE to hang out with Christopher Snow and friends from Dean Koontz’s, Fear Nothing. I wouldn’t want to invite them to a party though, I’d want to run with them in Moonlight Bay, the town where the story is based, and go on an epic adventure.

Christopher is, hands down, my favorite character. Ever. He has XP (xeroderma pigmentosum) a disease where a person’s DNA does not repair itself after being damaged. Because of his affliction he only goes out at night, thus protecting himself from the harmful rays of the sun. He also lives near this “abandoned” old military base–only it isn’t completely abandoned–and he and his friends have all these fantastic adventures there. Christopher is also a surfer and he and his girlfriend surf at night.

This sounds like the best time ever.

Feel free to add any of these this/that questions to the end of the interview:

Coke/Pepsi – I don’t drink soda, except occasionally. I like coffee, tea, water, wine and beer.

Cat/Dog – Ugh! None please! I’ve taken care of a dozen dogs over my life, not one of which was mine!

Vampires/Zombies – Vampires from TrueBlood are awesome!

Marvel/DC – Marvel

Thor/Loki – Thor kicks booty. I normally like the villains, but Loki annoys me. My favorite scene of Loki’s is during Avengers when Hulk smashes him into the floor. Loki’s potential realized!

Hero/Villain – I always seem to identify with the villain…except in the Thor/Loki debate.

Car/Plane – Depends on my mood. Sometimes a road trip sounds like just the ticket, other times I just want to get to my destination.

London/Paris – Yes, please! England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Greece, France

Ice cream/Chips – Occasionally. When that’s what you want there is nothing else that will satisfy the urge, but if I’m going to indulge, usually it’s in dark chocolate and/or beer.

JayPic

Find more from Jay here:

Web page
Twitter
Facebook
Google+

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Filed under Author Interviews, Guest Post, Writing

How the Heck Can I Sell My Books – Guest post by Melissa Foster

I’m thrilled to have bestselling author, marketing coach, and entrepreneur Melissa Foster with me today, to talk about this crazy thing called marketing. Melissa has a program called Fostering Success that I’d highly recommend – it was one of the first things I did as an indie, and the Facebook group is awesome.

 

As you know, a writer’s life is rarely really just a writing life. The typical writer might also have a full-time job, a family, volunteer efforts—a plethora of other activities other than writing. My life is a little like a constant tornado whirling around me—and I’m the eye of the storm.

I’m asked quite often what it really takes to sell books. I’d like to not only cover what it takes to sell books, but also what it takes to maintain your sales—and your writing.

The most important thing that one can do is to start with a good product—a well written, professionally edited, and professionally covered book (or ebook). Once you’ve achieved that, then you are standing in the middle of a crowd of over 1.5 million other writers. Get your marketing hat on, because the next leg of your journey is an uphill one, and you’ll need the strength of many people behind you.

Next on your agenda is a marketing plan. A marketing plan is your plan of attack to get your books noticed, and it must be ever-present. Think of McDonald’s versus Arby’s—which fast food restaurant comes to mind when you’re hungry and need a drive-thru? Of course it’s McDonalds, they’re everywhere; billboards, print media, radio, television. Everyone my age (ahem) probably remembers this—take a deep breath— twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun. One long word, and if you said it fast enough, you won a Big Mac. Yup, I won, even had a t-shirt with the very long word on it.

Where should you market? Social media, print ads, online ads, and blog tours. If you can think of a place where you might be found, you should be there, and there are many ways to get noticed that cost almost nothing, but they do take hard work. Magazines and blogs, for example, accept short stories and articles, but they must be well thought out and well written.

How else can you get that presence? Give back, give often, and give genuinely.

 

I preach, and I live by, the premise of giving back and cross-promoting. If you’re on Twitter, then you’ve probably seen the #WLC tweets. World Literary Cafe (previously WoMEN’s Literary Café–hosting both men and women) is a literary community that I developed to bring readers and authors together, to teach authors how to succeed, to bring exposure to their books in a manner that is beneficial and long-term attainable (a week long promotion averages $35, and we have many free programs as well). We are building a community based on paying-it-forward and giving back more than we receive. We strive to bridge the gap between readers, authors and author services (bloggers, reviewers, cover artists, editors, etc), and do it in a way that is beneficial for everyone.

The beauty of cross promotion is that the venues for this are endless. Avid readers read many books each month, some, each week. What better way to help a friend than to refer their books? When you shout, “Read my book!” many turn a deaf ear, but everyone loves to hear, “I recently read….” or “My friend wrote a book. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds great. It’s called…” Readers will respect you for not being self-serving, your friend will benefit, and even though you didn’t sell your book, what goes around comes around. Karma is a great equalizer (yes, I say this often, and I believe in it).

Never worry about competition, or being the one who sells the most. As for competition, writing is not a competitive sport. Others will try to copy your means—heck people take my exact tweets and duplicate them. That’s cool—someone said to me recently that copycats are the greatest form of flattery. It’s true, I just never understand the desire to strike away from the crowd instead of joining them. I find joy from seeing others succeed, and even greater joy from watching them pay-it-forward. I invite the literary community to join us under our community umbrella.

Marketing is a full-time job, and there’s no magic bullet. You could sell 5000 books this month and two books the next. Remember this on your climb up the ladder: Fame is short lived, friendship is eternal. I strive for the friendships. When I’m old and (even more) gray, any modicum of fame will be long forgotten, but friends will be by my side, telling me it’s okay to move toward that big computer keyboard in the sky.

So, how can you sell your books? What will it take, and how hard is it to get there? Establish a presence. Join a community that will help you reach your potential, and plan on working hard. We all have the opportunity to learn and grow on a daily basis. This marketing life, this writing life, can be a lonely path. It doesn’t have to be. WLC is here for you.

 

 

 

Melissa Foster is the award-winning author of three International bestselling novels, Megan’s Way, Chasing Amanda, and Come Back to Me. She has also been published in Indie Chicks, an anthology. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, a social and support community for women, and the World Literary Cafe, a cross-promotional site for authors, reviewers, bloggers, and readers. Melissa is currently collaborating in the film production of Megan’s Way.

Melissa hosts an annual Aspiring Authors contest for children, she’s written for Calgary’s Child Magazine and Women Business Owners Magazine, and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa lives in Maryland with her family. Melissa’s interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping women see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod.

 

YOU CAN FIND MELISSA ON HER WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, AND TWITTER.

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Filed under Guest Post, Marketing

Why I Love Scrivener and Evernote – Guest post by Heather McCoubrey

A big welcome to author Heather McCoubrey, who talks about two of my favorite programs, Scrivener and Evernote (which I’ve only recently discovered!).

I started writing when I was thirteen and back then we didn’t have fancy word processing or even computers.  I know, can you imagine?  The way I learned to write was by using a pencil or pen and writing it down in notebooks.  I sound old, don’t I?  I’m not really, I’m thirty-six… but when I think back to being thirteen and writing my first poem and short story, I feel old.  So many people I’ve talked to have told me they hate hand-writing, they love the ease of typing, of auto-saving, of spell-check, of quick searching, of being able to type faster than they could write (even with short-hand).   And some of the younger authors, well, they’ve always had computers.  Why would you write it out when you can type it?

It’s a question I get asked often, even from my husband, who is the epitome of new-age technology.  He lives and breathes computers, computer programs, and everything technology.  But try as I might, I cannot break away from hand-writing parts of my novels or short stories.  I love writing by hand and have several million notebooks to attest to this.  And the reason I love it – besides it being more personal, an extension of myself and a testament to the heart and soul that goes into my writing?

It’s convenient.  You’re sitting there right now, confused and dumbfounded.  This woman is crazy!  Convenient, is she daft?  No.  I’m not daft, I am perfectly serious.  Since Microsoft Word has been available, I’ve used it for all my writing needs.  And I’ve hated every single minute of it.  For years – more than two decades! – I’ve wished for a program that mimicked my notebook obsession.  A program that didn’t make me scroll for hours looking for a passage I needed to reference.  And I hated having several different files for research and notes.  I wanted it all in one place, one “notebook”.  The time I spent searching, closing programs, opening files and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling – it put a huge damper on my writing.

For me, writing is not a fluid thing.  I don’t write and write and write until I’ve exhausted my muse.  I write, research, write, reference, write, write, research, reference, write.  I’m constantly flipping pages back and forth, back and forth – but that’s just my writing style.  I am the writer who lets the story ebb and flow on its own.  I rarely outline – my outlining is me fumbling in the dark when I wake up from a dream to write down the idea and supporting sentences.  When I’m coherent, I start the story and I let the characters, plot, and emotion take me through their story to the end.  So by doing it this way, you can see my need for constant research and reference.

Now skip forward to the beginning of 2013, I’ve finished my first novel, To Love Twice, and I have sent it out to my critique circle and beta readers.  As their input comes back, imagine my frustration with trying to sort it all out and make it work.  Word is impossible for this, at least for me.  So I started doing research on novel writing software.  I started with my pals over at the NaNoWriMo forums.  I’ve participated in NaNo since 2011 and I knew that if anyone would have an opinion, it would be them.  Almost immediately I received responses.  Scrivener, Q10, FocusWriter, Liquid Story Binder and ZenWriter were the most popular.  I checked them all out faithfully, carefully reviewing all the pros and cons I could find.  Some were out because I use a Mac and the software wasn’t compatible with the Mac iOS.  Some didn’t seem to fit my needs and some just seemed too hard to figure out.  I didn’t want something that was going to add even more stress to my writing.

I finally settled on Scrivener and worked with their free trial for a couple of weeks before buying the software for approximately $40.00 (US).  I made use of their tutorial program, which took me approximately an hour to complete.  It was full of useful information, not just on how to use the software, but all the extra goodies inside.  What I immediately loved about Scrivener was that it so closely resembled my notebooks.  Scrivener uses a table of contents like tree and you can separate your novel any way you’d like.  For me, I make each chapter their own folder and I put each scene inside its appropriate folder.  In this way, if I need to change a scene placement all I have to do is to click on the file and drag it to its new spot.  SO easy!

Another feature I love: It has its own branch for research!  All of my research goes into my Scrivener project file and it’s right at my fingertips when I need it.  Bonus: it will open in a little box that floats on top of your current work.  You can move the box around and reference it as you type!

Yet another feature I love: A branch for character charts and description.  You can create your own character template or use the one provided.  I love having the character descriptions so easily accessible; being able to reference them at any moment is priceless.  For me, I have three to four novels going at once and sometimes I forget whether this particular heroine’s eyes are green or blue.

Scrivener will also compile your manuscript into different forms: eBook, Paperback, Screenplay, etc.  When you’re finished with it and ready to print it out to send to an agent, publisher or editor, Scrivener makes that so easy.  It has branches for all the front matter, a place to hold photos and cover photos.  And your whole project is in ONE file.  It’s amazing.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say I never write in notebooks anymore.  I do.  But it is less and less often as I get acquainted and comfortable with Scrivener.

I’m completely in love with Scrivener, so why did I reference Evernote in the title?  Well, my Mac laptop died a horrible death.  I did have all my files backed up, so thankfully I didn’t lose anything.  When I went to replace my laptop, I decided to try a different approach.  I got a Mac Mini and a Chromebook to replace my laptop.  Do you see where I’m going?  I have the Scrivener app on my Mini and I use it when I’m down at my desk.  BUT often, I’m out and about and I bring my Chromebook with me wherever I go.  Any of you who have a Chromebook know that it is web-based and you can’t have “apps” on it.  So, no Scrivener for my Chromebook.  That’s when I found Evernote.

Evernote is Scrivener-like in that you can make “notebooks” for your projects and then have notes inside these notebooks.  It’s great for me when I’m away from my desk and Scrivener and have some writing to do.  When I’m back to my desk, I just access Evernote and copy and paste my updated work into Scrivener.  Granted it’s a bit of a hassle to do it this way, but then that’s my own fault for doing this whole Chromebook deal.  A nice feature of Evernote is that it does the auto-save and you can access your Evernote files from any computer connected to the internet.  What I dislike about Evernote is if you aren’t connected to the internet, you can’t retrieve your files… and that’s where my trusty notebook still comes in handy!

I know this probably sounds like a plug for Scrivener and Evernote, but truthfully these are the writing programs that work best for me.  Several people have told me how much they love Q10, Liquid Story Binder and FocusWriter.  It’s all about what YOU need as a writer.  Find what works best for you and stick with it.  And Microsoft Word?  Nothing beats Word in my opinion for the formatting, fonts, and just plain making it look nice.  Once I compile my manuscript, I definitely paste it into Word to finalize it.  Like I said, whatever works for you as the writer.

Once you have the environment you need, nothing can stop you.  Happy writing!

Heather McCoubrey author photo

You can find more from Heather at her links:
Website
Twitter
The Independent Author Network
Facebook
Goodreads

Couple at Big Ben after sunset

Find Heather’s novel, To Love Twice, here:
Amazon
Nook

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Filed under Guest Post, Self publishing, Writing

Elevators and Ebooks – Guest post by David Burnett

escalator-rv

Thanks so much to author David Burnett for stopping by and discussing the eBook vs print book war!

It was once said that elevators would replace stairs.

Why would they not? After all, elevators provide faster access than do stairs, are more efficient than are stairs, and cause less stress to the human body than do stairs. Why would one choose to tromp up a long flight of stairs instead of stepping into an elevator and being whisked away to one’s destination?

Of course, it didn’t happen. We have elevators, we have stairs, and we have escalators –moving stairs. They co-exist, each serving the same purpose, that of moving people and things from one floor, one level, to another.

We have all read the speculation that eReaders – Kindles, and Nooks, and iPads – will ultimately replace books. Indeed, sales of eReaders soared while bookstores closed.

The writer who reported the early speculation about elevators, however, asserted that the demise of the printed book is as unlikely as the demise of stairs.

Now, argument by analogy is a tricky business. No analogy is perfect, and it may well be that the suggested link between the future of books and the future of stairs will not hold up. Modern inventions have, in fact, replaced many of the things we formerly used. For most of us, cars have replaced carriages, digital has replaced film, clocks have replaced sun dials, and my wife maintains that cell phones are replacing wrist watches.

However, I tend to agree that eReaders will not completely replace books.

I take this position as one whose wife gave him a Kindle Fire earlier this month as an anniversary present. Amazon identifies it as “David’s Fifth Kindle,” although two of the five actually have belonged to my wife. I have used a Kindle since shortly after I first read about them in the New York Times. I love my Kindle and the ability it gave me to take a single volume on vacation, rather than having to choose between three or four thick, heavy books and the second pair of shoes that I really would need for river rafting.

Ereaders are terrific for straight reading, when you start on page one and read directly to the end. When I read Jennings’s book IXEOS, I sped though it on my Kindle. It was great.

Yet, there are situations in which I prefer a book, a printed book.

Some texts are complicated. Financial Intelligence, a book I’m currently reading, describes how to understand and use various financial documents. For the chapter on how to read a balance sheet, there is a sample balance sheet – in the appendix. When the text discusses “cash on hand,” for example, I must turn to the appendix to see how this entry actually appears.

With a book, I’d stick a piece of paper – or my right index finger – at the appendix and flip back and forth as needed. With my Kindle, I bookmark the page in the appendix. To consult it, I tap the top of my screen to access a menu. I choose “Bookmarks,” locate the correct bookmark, and touch it. To return to the text, I touch the arrow at the bottom. In the next paragraph, the text discusses “depreciation,” and I repeat the process. It is as complicated in practice as it is in my description. Thumbs and sheets of paper work much better!

Have you ever looked at images, charts, or tables in an eReader? My Kindle Fire produces beautiful color images. But they are small. Have you ever tried to follow the flow of a line graph across a screen? When I find the balance sheet in the appendix, can I even read the entries? Give me a book any day!

When I read IXEOS, I read it straight through, as I said. I recall, I think, one occasion on which I had forgotten the significance of a particular character and had to page back to discover who he was. It was not fun! Imagine if you are reading a technical work, something you have difficulty understanding – Steven Hawkins’s book, A Brief History of Time comes to mind – and you are having to frequently page back to find a previous reference. Lost is an understatement. Ereaders are not optimized for this activity.

Finally, if the book is something that I want to keep, I want it printed on paper. I have the Book of Common Prayer on my Kindle, and I pretty much read in it six days a week (I hear it read on Sunday). My prayer book, though, is on a table beside my chair in the den; the copy on my Kindle is simply for convenience.

I have published two books, both of which are available on eReaders (The Reunion and, recently, The Handfasting). I have copies of them both on my Kindle, but I assure you, printed copies can be found on the desk in my office. I love Greek icons, and I have books with reproductions of numerous images. I want these on paper where I can page through them slowly, enjoying their beauty, finding meaning in the details that would likely be lost on my Kindle.

We know that technological innovations can be fleeting. In a decade, will .mobi files be readable on any device? Have you heard an eight-track tape recently? How about TRS-DOS, the operating system once used by Radio Shack computers? Paper survives. Today’s digital files? Maybe.

Elevators will replace stairs. It never happened. Ereaders will replace books. It could happen, I suppose.

But I’m thinking not.

David Burnett authorDavid Burnett lives in Columbia South Carolina, with his wife and their blue-eyed cat, Bonnie. The Reunion, his first novel, is set in nearby Charleston. The Handfasting is his second novel. While most of the events in the story take place in New York City, psychologically, the story is set in the rural South of the 1970’s.

David enjoys traveling, photography, baking bread, and the Carolina beaches. He has photographed subjects as varied as prehistoric ruins on the islands of Scotland, star trails, sea gulls, and a Native American powwow. David and his wife have traveled widely in the United States and the United Kingdom. During one trip to Scotland, they visited Crathes Castle, the ancestral home of the Burnett family near Aberdeen
David has graduate degrees in psychology and education and previously was Director of Research for the South Carolina Department of Education. He and his wife have two daughters.

The_Handfasting_ebook_small The Handfasting is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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Filed under Guest Post, Publishing, Writing

How to solve the plotter/pantser dilemma – Guest Post

calvin-hobbes last minute panicToday we welcome author Alison Morton, who has ideas on how to quell the raging debate between plotting and pantsing.

Do you sit down at the keyboard and just write, a vague idea of the characters and their story swirling around in your head? Then you’re a pantser who writes by the seat of your pants. Maybe you plan every scene and chapter in meticulous detail, paying careful attention to the rules of structure used by your genre.Undoubtedly, you’re a plotter.

Well, I’m not entirely sure these extremes exist, in the same way that Elinor and Marianne Dashwood don’t but are symbols for extremes of Sense and Sensibility. When I write, I usually start classically: a character who is suddenly faced with a terrible dilemma, but I only discover how she’s going to resolve it once I start writing her story. However, sensible hat back on, I do like to know the point she’s going to reach at the end. The story has to have some definite purpose otherwise it becomes a soup of pure muddle. But if I don’t have free rein to develop the story, let the characters spark off each other and encounter and deal with setbacks, then I don’t enjoy the actual writing. There’s no point in creating a story if you can’t have fun doing it!

Now I’m drafting book four in my Roma Nova series, I’m learning how to resolve this dilemma. Yes, I’m acquainted with the main character and I want to tell her story. But that’s it. I need to let her run around in my head a bit, to have some adventures, get into trouble, struggle to get out, land in more – you know the rest. More than anything, I have to get to know her, to find out what she wants, what’s stopping her, what she has to do, or Goal, Motivation, Conflict, as creative writing tutors call it.

My way of doing this is to write down 30 lines of plot. Less an outline, more of a wireframe as I like the 3D analogy better.

Line 1: The beginning – the inciting incident
Line 2: Impact and realisation
Line 3: The plan
Line 6: First enormous set-back (turning point 1)
Line 15: First glimmer of light (turning point 2)
Line 21: Gritting on in face of terrible odds and sacrifice (turning point 3)
Line 25: Despite developments, we might be getting there – the false dawn
Line 28: Catastrophe/black moment – do or die
Line 30: The end – the resolution and loose-end tying-up

I have not put all the lines in, but you get the idea. It’s not fixed but it gives you a skeleton which holds the whole thing together but which will become absorbed into the finished product and never be seen by the reader. Once you have these thirty lines and accept that you might have to change or omit some of the lines and substitute new ones, then you can release your inner pantser, and create and imagine to your heart’s content.

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Alison Morton grew up in Tunbridge Wells, a former spa town in South East England, and worked in the City of London, dealt in coins and antique jewellery, head-hunted chief executives, served as a reserve military officer and owned a translation company. She completed a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics and several years later a masters’ in history. She now lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

A wordsmith much of her life – playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor and translator – she came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film.

‘I could do better that that,’ she whispered in the darkened cinema.

‘So why don’t you?’ came her spouse’s reply.

Three months later, she had completed the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first in her series of Roma Nova thrillers. INCEPTIO was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award. The next in the series, PERFIDITAS, will be published October 2013.

Find out more about Alison’s writing life, Romans and alternate history at her blog  and say hello on Facebook or Twitter.

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New York, present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it… 

Inceptio is available at your local Amazon.

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