Today’s Featured Author – Pat Bertram

Please welcome author Pat Bertram to my blog. Her book Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare came out in August 2017. Here is an excerpt from it.

Excerpt

I didn’t want to kill Grace—it was her idea. I’ve literarily massacred hundreds of thousands of people, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to do away with one petite older woman, but the truth is I couldn’t think of a single reason why I—or anyone—would want Grace Worthington dead. Though most of us humans frown on murder, we do grudgingly admit some folks are so villainous they need to be eliminated, but no one would consider Grace a villain. She is charming, kind, with a smile for everyone, and the ghost of her youthful beauty is still apparent on her lovely face.

Besides, killing a friend is a good way to lose that friend, and dance class would not be the same without Grace.

I was still trying to make up my mind about killing Grace when several of us dancing classmates met for lunch. After nibbling on salads and sandwiches, we rose and gathered our belongings. I’d hung my dance bag on the back of my chair, and I yanked the bag with more force than I intended. The bag swung out and narrowly missed hitting Buffy Cooper, a tanned, elegant blonde a couple of years older and a couple of inches shorter than me.

Buffy deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.”

That cracked me up, and right then I decided I had to follow through with the project. I mean, really—how could I not use such a perfect line?

I turned to Grace. “How do you want me to do the deed?” Since she’d initiated this lethal game, I thought it only right that she got to choose the means of her demise. So much fairer than the way life works, wouldn’t you say? I mean, few among us get to choose our own end. Life, the greatest murderer of all time, chooses how we expire, whether we will it or not.

Grace laughed at my question and said she didn’t care how she died.

But I cared.

Death is often messy — and smelly — with blood and body wastes polluting the scene, and I did not feel like dealing with such realities, especially not at Madame ZeeZee’s Dance Academy.

***

So begins the story of Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, my sometimes amusing, always suspenseful novel about fun and murder at an adult dance class.

Even though it took me a long time to decide to write Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare (as I said, “killing off one’s friends a good way to lose those friends,” and I don’t have any to lose), and even though it took even longer to actually sit down and write the book, the writing itself was easy. I used whatever happened in class for inspiration, and if that failed me, I asked one of the characters what she would like to do, and if that failed, I wrote me writing the book. That was fun!

I hope you enjoy the story as much as I did.

Book Blurb 

Killing friends is a good way to lose friends, even if the murder is for play. When Pat’s adult dance classmates discover she is a published author, the women suggest she write a mystery featuring the studio and its aging students. One sweet older lady laughingly volunteers to be the victim, and the others offer suggestions to jazz up the story. Then the murders begin. Tapped by the cops as the star suspect, author Pat sets out to discover the truth curtained behind the benign faces of her fellow dancers. Does one of them have a secret she would kill to protect? Or is the writer’s investigation a danse macabre with Pat herself as the bringer of death?

About the Author

Pat Bertram, a native of Colorado, is looking for adventure in whatever comes her way, most recently, dance classes and hiking in the desert. In addition to Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels: Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of the non-fiction memoir Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”

You can find out more about Pat on her blog.

Pat’s books can be found on Amazon.

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Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

This post is the twenty-seventh in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Every story must end. At some point after your story’s climax, your characters will return to their regular lives. Before that there may be some fallout from the climax as the consequences of your character’s choices are played out.

But knowing exactly where to stop your story and what you want the last words to be are not always easy. Here are some tips to ending your novel.

  • Ensure the ending makes sense. Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. Your ending doesn’t have to be happy (unless you are writing a romance novel in which case there often is a Happily Ever After). The ending does have to fit appropriately to the rest of the story. The reader will feel robbed or tricked with anything that doesn’t make sense.
  • Don’t be predictable. Even with a HEA ending, you don’t have to be predictable. There should be more than one possible ending for a book. Try to keep your reader guessing what will happen up until the end. (But re-read the point above. Twists in the plot are fine, as long as they make sense and aren’t simply tricks.)
  • Ensure that you do wrap up any loose ends or subplots to your story. Every question you placed in your reader’s mind should be addressed even if the answer is to say the character will address it later (after the book ends).
  • Don’t introduce new characters or subplots at the end – even if you are writing a trilogy or series. Any appearances toward the end of the book need to have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play.
  • If possible, you can link your final words to events in your opener as a tie-back, or you can create a feeling that your final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story.

Deciding how to end your book and what the final words on the page will be can be a daunting task. The bottom line is that the ending of your book is what the reader is going to remember. Yes, the opening scene must draw them in but a satisfying ending is going to be what gets you that good review or word of mouth recommendation.

Epilogue

If you have loose ends to tie up that don’t fit into the last chapter, you might consider an epilogue.

Romance novels often include an epilogue of what happened to the characters at a later point in their lives, whether it is several months, a year or perhaps even a number of years later.

Epilogues are NOT final chapters. They are meant to cap off the story, giving it the final piece of finality. Here are some reasons for an epilogue.

  • Provide closure – This is where you can add some details that might have diluted the climax if they had been included in the body of the novel. This might be especially true if a major character dies or when the fate of the characters is not clearly depicted.
  • Gives us the happily ever after – This is where you find out what happened to the main characters sometime down the road. This is where you might read of the wedding or the birth of a baby in a romance novel. Or you find out what happened to Harry Potter and his friends nineteen years down the road.
  • Set up a sequel – If your story is over, but you can’t just let go of these characters, perhaps you will write another book. You can close the first book out in the final chapter and then use the epilogue to pique reader’s interest in the next episode.

Should you write an epilogue? Only you, the author, can decide that. But generally, the answer is no book needs an epilogue. If the information is crucial to the story, then include it in the actual story.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

Our vacation plans for 2018 are set

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am a planner. In fact, one of the trips my family will take this year has been in the works since 2016. As it stands right now, we have three trips out of town as a family. I can’t say they are all vacations as one of these is a work trip for my husband but a vacation for the rest of us.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

I went to 8th through 12th grade in Albuquerque, NM before going off to college. But I returned every summer during college and even got married there in 1995. Over the years I made a few trips home to see my family. The last one was three days after Sept 11, 2001. (I can remember the date because the day I flew was the first day flights resumed.) Soon after that, my husband and I moved to San Antonio. My parents soon followed so I had no reason to return. Well, my brother still lived there but it seemed easier for him to come visit us than for the four (and later after the kids, the six) of us to travel to him.

But now he has bought his first house, and I thought it might be fun to take the kids to Albuquerque to see where I went to high school and to see the mountains. (I really do miss the Sandia mountains.) I mentioned the trip to my mom and the next thing I know, we have plans to drive with them to drive to Albuquerque for a Spring Break visit.

The kids were quite insistent that Lexie needs to be here for her birthday which is the Monday of Spring Break. But the very next day, we will get up and make the 11-hour drive to Albuquerque. We will spend 3 days there checking out my brother’s house and sight-seeing before driving back home on Saturday.

The good news for my husband is that we are leaving him at home. It is always a hassle to get him to take time off, and we have a major family trip coming up in August so it seemed easier to let him stay here and work.

Bastrop, Texas

Speaking of work, our June trip is actually a conference for my husband. Every year the Texas City Attorney’s Association has a conference in June. For many years it has been in South Padre Island but a few years ago they tried the Lost Pines Resort outside of Bastrop, TX, and they will be returning there this year.

This is a resort, so the kids and I will spend our days riding bikes, playing frisbee and relaxing in the lazy river while my husband attends the 2 day conference. He will get to join us in the fun in the evenings and on Friday afternoon when the conference ends.

Alaskan Cruise

Our biggest trip is a 7-night cruise to Alaska in August. In 2015, my parents paid for a Caribbean cruise for them, my brother and my family. We had 3 cabins in a row and had a great time. The kids, who had been nervous about going on a cruise ship, loved the trip so we began talking about taking another cruise. Somehow that ended up as a cruise to Alaska.

So, once again, my parents, brother and my family will be going on a trip together thought this time we are each paying for our own cruise and flights. As with our last cruise, a majority of our shore excursions will be done together. We will be riding a train, taking in a lumberjack show and going whitewater rafting. The kids also wanted to see Huskies, so we are going to a sled dog training camp.

Planning an Alaskan cruise is proving to be quite different than one to a warmer climate. I will certainly have more posts about the trip. Until then, I am looking forward to all these trips.

Today’s Featured Author – David L. Heaney

Today I welcome author David L. Heaney to my blog. His debut novel, A Yorkie’s Tale: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived, came out in October 2017.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have had, what I think, is a really interesting life. I hope it will continue to be as interesting as it has been so far. I grew up for the most part outside New York City during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. I look back on my life during that time and like so many others wonder how I survived. It was wonderful but crazy.

I had no idea what I wanted when I went to college so initially majored in English then discovered philosophy and loved speculative metaphysics even as the area was gradually falling out of favor with contemporary philosophers. I went to Yale Divinity School mostly to study philosophy with no intention of pursuing the ministry. I was diverted toward the ministry after working with chronically and terminally ill persons at a large New Haven Hospital. There was a clarity (and an intensity) it engendered that I loved. The literary critic, Anatole Broyard wrote about this when he was dying of prostate cancer. He said for the first time in his life he had a real deadline and it brought everything into a laser-like focus.

I spent 20 years as a parish priest (Episcopal), probably unfairly dragging my wife and four kids along.

During this time I also pursued another degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and after leaving parish work practiced and taught for a couple of years. I landed next with a large publicly traded company working on outsourced government public assistance programs and climbed up the corporate ladder. I ended up doing international business development for the company working with governments all over the world. I lived in Israel and later London as part of this job. I had a great time.

More recently, I have quieted down and have created with a London-based business partner a boutique-consulting firm that offers advisory services to government services firms seeking to enter the international market. This occupies relatively little of my time so I have time now to write. I just finished A Yorkie’s Tale a few months back and am now working on several new writing projects.

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I spent most of my adult life in Southern California but moved to Durham, North Carolina four years ago. I’m very happy in Durham. My wife works with Duke Medicine. The Chapel Hill/Durham area of course has a number of great universities and that enriches the quality of life.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

My writing is in many ways autobiographical even though the characters in my first book are animals. The thoughts that trouble them, what makes them laugh, and so forth are really different parts of who I am, I suppose. A Yorkie’s Tale deals with big issues of meaning and mortality, and what is really most important in life. Every character is generally a mosaic that includes parts of me as well as those who I have encountered over a lifetime.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I have started two books. The first I am well into but am struggling with whether it is heading in the right direction. The story involves an adolescent boy whose imaginary friend from childhood seeks him out for a special task. The story explores belief and unbelief. We cannot see what we refuse to believe is possible. When we believe, really believe anything is possible a whole alternate world is opened to us.

The illustrator who did the illustrations for my first book spoke to me about loving to draw foxes, so I have also started a story about foxes. It is a love story with some mystical elements.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

I try to write a little bit every day but when it’s not coming easily, I’m prone to distractions. I still do a little bit of consulting, and its hard for me to lock myself away and just write and write. Annie Dillard, whose writing I have always loved, wrote about trying to just get a page written each day. You can see in her writing how she labors over every word being just right. That’s why her work is so rich.

So I write every morning until maybe noon. I may come back to it later in the afternoon. In between I try to make a little money.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

I think it’s just the act of creating that drives me to write. What keeps me writing is the relationship I form with the work I am creating. This includes developing the characters, the place where the story takes place. You get to know all these things and as the story evolves, I go back to them adding detail. I heard a writer on NPR say that you create intimacy by adding detail and that continues to inform my own writing.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

It’s not necessary to save everything you write because when you are older you are going to read some of it and think, “What the hell?!” I wouldn’t really say that. Writers need to be nurtured and how one offers counsel in such a way that it can be heard and assimilated is important. I’d tell my younger self the more you write the more you will want to write and the more you write, the better you will get.

Please tell us about your current release.

A YORKIE’S TALE; LESSONS FROM A LIFE WELL-LIVED tells the story of a nine year old Yorkie named Niles with dim vision and a chronic cough who lives comfortably with his owners, Mama and MAN. During the summer Niles would sneak into the backyard after dinner to see if any avocadoes had fallen from the neighbor’s tree. One evening he encounters Nathaniel, a fruit rat who walks along the telephone wires strung along the alley. Nathaniel wonders how Niles can be content living in his little world the size of his backyard. Nathaniel sees things and is worldly. But Nathaniel did not understand what he saw when he witnessed a family burying their cat. Indeed he was alarmed and tells Niles about this. The two of them later encounter the possum, Leach who tells them the cat was dead and then demonstrates by playing possum. The two are shaken by the news that they don’t go on forever and wonder what they should be doing with their lives. This sets in motion Niles escape to join Nathaniel on a journey to answer the question, If we all die, how should we then live? They meet a number of other creatures each with a unique set of important truths. Niles receives guidance in his dreams when visited by the cat, Deheune who speaks cryptically yet guides him to the truths he seeks. Without being preachy, the book focuses on the importance of friendship, compassion, self-awareness, and imagination.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was living in London away from home on a long-term business assignment when I started it. We had a Yorkie named Niles who, in fact, did sneak avocados. We had no idea why he was getting so fat. And of course there were fruit rat and possums that visited, as well as a flock of beautiful Conures (parrots) that would visit and chatter. All of these made it into the book. The setting is San Diego and many people will recognize this from the descriptions.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

My favorite character is the possum, Leach. He is eccentric and a little bit magical, and always disarming. My least favorite character is a little boy named Miles who snatches Niles when he is sick and has been hidden by his friends. The boy is very needy and tries to compel the Yorkie to love him, which of course, is unsuccessful.

Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?

It is when Niles falls ill. He has a series of dreams or visions but this one is especially frightening. It’s kind of the dark night of the soul moment where he, in fact, discovers his soul. And this was difficult to write because I felt like I wanted to write for all ages and the dark night is a complicated matter. How do you talk about an existential crisis to an adolescent? So, I’m not entirely sure I was successful.

Many of the issues the book attempts to explore are complex so my hope is the reader will be able to take away something useful to them based on their unique experience and developmental stage.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

I have always loved JD Salinger’s FRANNY AND ZOOEY. I taught a class on Psychotherapy and Spirituality some years back for a graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy and used it as one of the principal course books. Part of the reason I think I like it so much is that it explores longing and the flailing about we go through as we attempt to figure out just exactly why we are so restless.

Book Blurb

Niles, an aging Yorkie, has led a pampered life with his two loving owners and knows nothing of death. When his new friend Nathaniel, an inquisitive fruit rat, shares the puzzling tale of a family burying a sleeping cat, Niles’s life begins to really change. Another neighborhood critter, an eccentric possum called Leach, explains to the two befuddled creatures that the cat wasn’t simply sleeping it was dead.

Shaken by this revelation, Niles and Nathaniel decide they need to do something meaningful with their lives but what? They resolve to venture outside Niles s backyard, and with the help of Poppy, a friendly parrot, and guided by cryptic messages from a cat Niles encounters in his dreams, they begin to seek out answers.

Their travels take them from their own neighborhood through a canyon right to the edge of the ocean. Along the way, they encounter and benefit from the wisdom shared by others the seagulls, dolphins, and a visionary gorilla about the mysteries of life, and the grace that comes from living well unafraid of their own mortality.

About the Author

David L. Heaney has spent his career helping individuals and organizations discover and pursue their own special transformational paths. He received a bachelor s degree from State University of New York at Purchase, a master s degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of San Diego, and a master s degree from the Divinity School at Yale University.

Heaney has served as a parish minister, psychotherapist, and instructor with the University of San Diego s Marital and Family Therapy program. His work over the course of nearly twenty years as an Episcopal pastor and family systems therapist has given him great insight into the psychological, spiritual, and social factors that drive individuals, families, and communities. He is cofounder of the Social Assistance Partnership, an entity that assists health and human-service organizations.

Heaney lives with his wife, Lynda, and their three dogs in Durham, North Carolina.

You can follow David on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

You can purchase A Yorkie’s Tale: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived on Amazon.

 

 

Avoiding Plot and Character Cliches

This post is the twenty-sixth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

I did not plan out all my posts on novel writing in the beginning so as you will see, some of these posts probably would have been better earlier in the series. Today, I wanted to talk about clichés in writing.

A cliché is anything that is overdone and overused. Clichés pop up all the time in movies and books. When you look at the list of cliched plots and characters, you may wonder if it is even possible to come up with something new, something original. Rest assured; It may not be easy, but it can be done.

Plot Clichés

Plot clichés are the hardest to avoid as there are only so many things that can happen during a story. The mark of a good writer is to turn that same old plot device into something special.

Some plot clichés:

  • A man/woman loses their memory
  • A tycoon’s son must prove himself (to his father, to the woman he loves)
  • A young girl grows up among horrible family members but still succeeds
  • The ugly duckling story-line
  • The love story between two people from the opposite sides of the track
  • The tough rancher (boxer, mechanic, or whatever) meets the sophisticated woman from the city and falls in love (which really is just a variation of the one above)
  • Two people meet, fall in love, one of them screws it up and then some how they get back together

A few clichés for fantasy novels:

  • A prophecy that must be fulfilled by the “chosen one”
  • The rise of a dark lord who seeks total power and “the chosen one” (often an orphan or a nobody) must defeat them
  • A band of adventurers quest for a magical talisman, ring or other artifact

So how do you avoid these plot clichés?

The key is to know the common clichés for your genre. Then look at your outline, draft or story idea to see if it contains any of them. Fix any clichés by brainstorming ways to add a twist or new slant on the plot. One way might be to fill your story with fresh, compelling characters.

Character Clichés

This brings up character clichés which are just as common as plot clichés. The villain has piercing dark eyes, and the hero is a dashing and likeable. The young stable boy is mentored by a wizard or wise old man, the police detective has a broken marriage, and the private investigator has a drinking problem are just a few examples.

Knowing that these things are overdone, doesn’t mean you can’t use them. It just means you need to be more creative. Turn them into something new. Take something people are expecting and change it around. The orphan isn’t the savior but perhaps the love interest. Instead of having your villain either be handsome and charming or dark and menacing, aim for a plain person who no one would even offer a second glance.  No longer do you need to make the heroine a modern-day Barbie doll. Instead instill her with average looks and a truer to life personality. (So that is Tip #1: Don’t use stereotypes – the high school hunk, the plain Jane, etc.)

And most important, make sure your protagonist has flaws. Everyone has them and so should your protagonist and antagonist. Really all your characters need them. Your characters need to be complex. They need a history, problems, dreams and more. They need to feel real. (Tip #2 – Consider giving your character something distinct. It could be a gesture, a movement, a habit or even a limp.)

In addition to flaws, your characters need goals. They must want something. And during the course of your story, you need to develop the cause and effect behind that goal. Nobody wants to rule the world “just because.” Goals and flaws will make your characters believable. Believability is the antidote to cliché. (That is Tip #3.)

So with a little imagination, you can get rid of both plot and character clichés.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

Recipe of the Month – Individual Mexican Meatloaves

This recipe comes for an old microwave cookbook. It is a nice twist on meatloaf. I like that they are cooked in individual casserole dishes. And because it is cooked in the microwave it is ready in less than 10 minutes.

 

 

 

Ingredients 

1/2 cup chopped green peppers

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 lb lean ground beef

1 pkg. taco seasoning mix

1/2 cup chopped tomato

1 egg

1/2 cup finely crumbled Nacho cheese chips (or tortilla chips)

1 can kidney beans, drained

4 corn tortillas

1/2 cup grated Cheddar Cheese, divided

chopped lettuce, tomato and salsa for the top

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine green pepper, onions, ground beef, taco seasoning, chopped tomato, egg, crumbled chips and kidney beans. Set mixture aside.

To fit tortillas into individual casseroles, cut four 2-inch slashes in edge of tortillas. Shape tortillas by overlapping cut edges; place in 4 individual 12-oz. casseroles. Press one-fourth of meat mixture in each. Cover with wax paper. Microwave on high for 7 minutes or until filling is firm to the touch. (I find that if you don’t use very lean meat you will need to drain the grease from each one.)

Top each casserole with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Let stand for 3 minutes or until cheese melts. Top with chopped tomatoes, lettuce & salsa.

If you like meatloaf, you also might give New Mexican meatloaf a try.