Today’s Featured Author – J. D. Horn

Today I welcome my first author of 2018 – J.D. Horn – to my blog. His latest book, The King of Bones and Ashes, will be released Tuesday, January 23. Be sure to check out the excerpt after his author interview.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Wall Street Journal bestselling author. My first published book, The Line, came out in February 2014, and earned me a spot as as an official nominee in the category of best debut author in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. Three other titles (The Source, The Void, and Jilo) have been published as part of the Witching Savannah series. The Witching Savannah series has now been/is being translated into eight languages (Russian, Polish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Turkish, Romanian). I have also had one standalone novel (Shivaree) published. Shivaree is kind of my ugly baby. Not nearly as popular as the other books, but in my opinion either ties with or comes in second to Jilo as my best published novel to date. Fingers crossed that The King of Bones and Ashes outdoes both.

I’m married, have two step-daughters who both graduate from law school in 2018, and I’m the proud pet father of the world’s most wonderful Chihuahua. He was a rescue boy who rescued me. (Adopt, don’t shop.)

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

I’m going to use a quote from the great television writer, Agnes Nixon, to answer this one. “The Great and the Least, The Rich and the Poor, The Weak and the Strong, In Joy and Sorrow, In Tragedy and Triumph, You are ALL MY CHILDREN.” (sic)

My characters are all on some level reflections of me, even if the relationship is limited to my aspiration to share a character’s better qualities, or my battle to keep from giving in to their worst.

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

I’m currently working on the final round of edits on The Book of the Unwinding, second book of the Witches of New Orleans series, and writing the first draft of The Final Days of Magic, the third in the (so far) trilogy. Writing a trilogy is a bit like juggling. In the first you hope to catch attention by throwing the balls high into the air. The second, you’re keeping them in motion, and the third you have to catch them all without dropping any. The Book of the Unwinding feels like a good “bridge” book between the other two, progressing the story, but taking it in hopefully unexpected directions. Three minor characters from the first book become huge players in the second.

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

Dreams can come true, but it may not feel the way you expected it would when they do.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

No. At least hardly ever. I get critiques from a team of trusted professionals, and I do the best work I can. I know I am neither the best nor the worst writer ever, regardless of what a five or one-star review might say. That being said, my publisher forwarded me Publishers Weekly’s and Booklist’s reviews. You darn well know I read those.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Rarely. The character most solidly based on a real person appears in the new Witches of New Orleans series,  Nathalie Boudreau rises from a minor character in the first book to a lead in the second. I’ve borrowed several characteristics from a woman I used to know way back in the 1990s. Nathalie’s inspiration was, and hopefully continues to be, as tough as nails, but as sweet as sugar.

Oh, but that may not be quite true. It all depends on whether you count cats as people. If you do, then Sugar Caissy wins. I based the character on our beloved, departed Sugar. I know it may sound goofy, but trust me, Sugar Caissy is one of the major characters and helps drive the plot. It’s actually been wonderful writing her as a dramatic heroine, as it’s made me feel like I have her back on some level. Got to give her a tenth life, if you will.

Did the story turn out the way you planned from the beginning? If not, what change happened that you didn’t expect?

I’m going to borrow from the answer I gave when we were discussing Jilo. I start out with a broad summary—basically what I’ve promised my editor I’m going to write—and then sit at the keyboard until the characters tell me what’s really going to happen. As I tell my publisher whenever I present them with a proposal, my writing process resembles what happens when you store your carry-on luggage in a plane’s overhead bin. At the other end of the journey you find pretty much what you expect, but the contents may have shifted during flight.

One of the characters, actually the first POV character we encounter, came out nothing like I’d intended. Alice Marin had secrets, and she made me dig deep until I discovered them.

Excerpt

Lisette Perrault

Just over the blonde’s shoulder, through the window, Lisette caught sight of a familiar head of closely cropped gray hair. Her father, Alcide Simeon, came weaving down the sidewalk, threading his way through the throng of tourists, stopping and bowing theatrically before a young girl, stepping into the street and ceding the sidewalk to her and her parents. The girl’s father reached down and swooped the girl up into his arms as a car horn blared a warning at Alcide. The driver swerved around him, and he stepped backward onto the uneven sidewalk, stum­bling but righting himself. The glint of something silver in his hands caught Lisette’s eye.

Lisette’s father did not take drugs. He did not touch drink. Always said he’d watched too many of his buddies lose it all down those roads. But here he was, stumbling toward the shop. Still, seeing her teetotalling father drunk was a lesser shock than the sight of the strange instrument he carried. Bessie was his “brass belle,” the horn such a familiar sight that it seemed an extension of her father’s hand. Seeing him with this new horn cradled in his hands made her feel like she’d caught him car­rying on with a strange woman.

“You’ll excuse me for a moment,” she said without looking at the women. “You all just keep on looking around as much as you would like.” She stepped around the counter and brushed past the blonde. She grasped the door handle, and, walking through the bell’s protest, slipped out to the street.

She strode up to her father, whose lips tipped into a smile as he threw his arms wide to welcome her.

“There’s my baby girl,” he said. “I was just coming by to see you.”

She stopped just beyond his reach, and his stupid, drunk glee faded—but only a touch. For the first time in her life, she felt ashamed of him. “Why are you all lit up?” she said, her hands on her hips, unin­tentionally mimicking her mother. “And what are you doing with that horn? That isn’t yours.”

“Oh, it’s mine all right. I bought it special this morning.” He raised it to his lips and ran up a quick scale, ending with a flourish.

She held her stance and narrowed her eyes. “Special for what?”

His head jerked and his eyes widened in genuine surprise. “You haven’t heard?” He turned to a passing stranger. “She hasn’t heard!”

She stepped forward and grabbed his forearm. “No, she has not heard,” Lisette said, her words breathless, angry, “but she is standing right here in front of you, so maybe you should get busy with the telling.”

He looked at her, his lips drawing into a thin line. Then his face loosened, and he began to laugh. “Celestin Marin,” he said, his eyes twinkling, “is finally dead. Funeral’s day after tomorrow.” He winked at her. “Gonna be a band and all. This tin horn and I are gonna join in right before they cut the bastard’s body loose,” he said and laughed. “May end up a devil of a second line.”

“Celestin wasn’t a musician. Why would anyone throw him a jazz funeral?”

Her father didn’t respond with words, but a wide smile crept across his lips.

“You did not . . .”

“I sure did. I arranged the whole thing. How the hell else do you think it could happen?” He wagged the offending horn at her. “Just rang up a few friends. Charles Delinois made up a little white lie for me about how Marin was a secret donor for years to a charity to keep music in schools, and how it’s the least we can . . .”

“You lied to Vincent,” Lisette cut him off, regretting it before she could draw her next breath. It was ridiculous. Even after twenty-five years, the mere thought of Vincent darn near took her breath away . . . like someone had kicked her hard in the gut. She loved her husband. She loved the family they’d made together. Still, it hurt to speak Vincent’s name. It hurt like hell.

“Yeah. I reckon I did a bit,” her father said, sobering, Lisette could only surmise, from having witnessed the expression on her face. “The boy ate the story right up. Seemed kind of hungry for any kind words about his defan papa.”

“Vincent’s a good man. You’ve got no reason . . .”

“Vincent’s a Marin.” Her father’s jaw stiffened, the mirth in his eyes turning to hatred. “Reason enough.”

“You were friends once, all of you. Mama and you and the Marins.” She hoped her words would summon a happy memory for him, but he remained stock-still and silent. “All right,” Lisette said. “So how about you tell me why. What do you get out of this parade?”

The smile returned to his face, but it had come back cold and cruel, making him look less like the father she knew and loved. He held the horn to his lips and blew a few bars of the “Cross Road Blues” before lowering the horn. “I’m gonna play that son of a bitch’s soul right into hell.”

Lisette felt her jaw drop. It took her a moment to find words. “What kind of fool nonsense are you talking?”

“It isn’t nonsense,” he said, clutching the trumpet to his chest. “You aren’t the only one who learned a thing or two from your mother. Gonna use this horn to blow his soul straight to the lowest pit of hell, then I’m gonna toss it in the river. Make sure it never gets played again. Would be too dangerous to let it fall into innocent hands afterward.”

Lisette raised her hands to her temples. She shook her head. This could not be happening. Her father really couldn’t think himself capable of speeding another man’s descent into the fiery pit. She’d come so close, so many times, to telling her father that she no longer believed. That she knew none of this, not the vèvès, not the candles, not the gris-gris bags—especially not the table of premade ones at the shop now marked down to $19.99 each—was real. She’d only held her tongue out of respect for him and her mother’s memory.

Dropping her hands, Lisette glanced back over her shoulder at the shop. She almost gasped, sure she caught the image of her mother mov­ing behind the vèvès painted on the windows. No, that could not be. It was just a creation of her mind—more fodder for her next therapy appointment. Blinking the apparition away, she turned back to her father. “Listen, Daddy, even if you could . . .” She stopped herself, choosing her words more carefully. “Even if you do know how to do what you’re planning, what good would it do? What happened with Mama and Mrs. Marin was so long ago.”

“Maybe to you, but not to me. To me, it still seems like yesterday.”

“But, Daddy, Celestin didn’t have anything more to do with it than you or I . . .”

“Oh, he had something to do with it all right. I know it.” Tears brimmed in his eyes, and he pounded on his chest with his free hand. “I know it in here.”

What harm can it do? Lisette thought. Might even do him some good. Do all of us some good. Bury this damned animosity between the families once and for all. Lisette looked up at him. Patted his chest. “All right, Daddy. You do what you need to do.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek.

As she pulled back, she noticed his eyes were reddening. His bot­tom lip began to quiver. For a moment, she wondered if the storm had passed, but then he raised his chin, his expression hardening, defiance growing in his eyes. “You could help, you know.”

She traced her hand down his arm. “No, Daddy,” she said, turning, heading back toward the shop. “I really couldn’t.”

Book Blurb

Magic is seeping out of the world, leaving the witches who’ve relied on it for countless centuries increasingly hopeless. While some see an inevitable end of their era, others are courting madness—willing to sacrifice former allies, friends, and family to retain the power they covet. While the other witches watch their reality unravel, young Alice Marin is using magic’s waning days to delve into the mystery of numerous disappearances in the occult circles of New Orleans. Alice disappeared once, too—caged in an asylum by blood relatives. Recently freed, she fears her family may be more involved with the growing crisis than she ever dared imagine.

Yet the more she seeks the truth about her family’s troubled history, the more she realizes her already-fragile psyche may be at risk. Discovering the cause of the vanishings, though, could be the only way to escape her mother’s reach while determining the future of all witches.

Author Bio

J.D. Horn, the highly praised and bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series, now debuts a new contemporary fantasy series, Witches of New Orleans. A world traveler and student of French and Russian literature, Horn also has an MBA in international business and formerly held a career as a financial analyst before turning his talent to crafting chilling stories and unforgettable characters. His novels have received global attention and have been translated in more than half a dozen languages. Originally from Tennessee, he currently splits his time between Central Oregon, San Francisco and Palm Springs with his spouse, Rich.

You can find out more about J.D. on his website or Facebook.

You can check out a trailer for The King of Bones and Ashes here and pre-order it on Amazon. (The book comes out Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.)

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Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

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

As you write the scenes of your novel, you want to draw your reader into your story, into your make-believe world. You want to surround them with details – the sights, the sounds, the smells – of your world.

Using the five senses can enhance your writing and have your scene coming to life. Note: you don’t have to use all five ALL the time but rather interject these into your scene just enough to create realism. A few chosen details are better than a waterfall of information.

Sight

Remember, what your character sees is what your reader sees, and if you fail to describe very much, your reader won’t fully appreciate the scene. However, there is a such thing as too much description. There is no need to describe the cracks and peeling paint on a sign unless it has some relevance to your story.

Smell

The sense of smell can invoke powerful memories; a certain perfume may remind you of someone, or freshly cut grass may bring back memories of your childhood. By adding the sense of smell to your writing, you create a subtle sense of atmosphere and add another layer to your descriptive passages for your reader to enjoy. This is an often-overlooked sense, but it can provide background color to your narrative.

Taste

This is perhaps the most neglected sense in writing. Eating can be a shared, sensual pastime. Arouse your reader’s taste buds. Was the apple pie warm and delicious and make the character remember the pies their grandmother made or was it barely edible and tasted of cardboard?

Hearing

Whether it’s characters or background noise, remember to add a sense of sound to the narrative to help your reader feel the scene. This could be the chirping of birds in the morning or the fog horn of the ships at the harbor.

Touch

You can describe the feel of material of a character’s dress, the feel of a baby’s skin, the roughness of the ropes binding your character’s wrists and so much more to add to your description.

These senses may be just small details of your whole novel but remember it’s all in the details.

Show, Don’t Tell

Writing about senses brings up another common phrase writers often hear – “show, don’t tell.”  This is a technique that uses words to enable the reader to experience the story through action, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s summary or description.

In other words, instead of telling us the character is hungry or scared, show us.

If someone is hungry, he might lick his lips as he stares at a pie, or she may place her hand over her rumbling belly. When a character is scared, he trembles and his heart races. He jumps at strange noises in the darkened house as he grips the flashlight.

To show instead of telling the reader what is happening, you need to use active voice. In fact, most of your writing should be in active voice. But as always there are exceptions to that “rule.” (See below.)

Active vs Passive Voice

Passive voice is where the subject receives the action rather than doing the action. It is dependent upon the use of “to be” verbs such as is, was, am, were and has been. With passive voice there is no action implied. These verbs merely relay action.

Passive Voice Example:

The window was shut quickly by Elizabeth.

Passive voice isn’t necessarily incorrect; it’s just that it isn’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward or vague. It also can be wordy and it deflects who is doing the action – “mistakes were made”; “shots were fired.”

Caution: Not all “to be” verbs are always passive – I am holding the pen is still active voice since – the subject – am doing the action of holding the pen. To make this passive it would be – The pen is being held by me.

Active voice uses action verbs. The subject is doing the action.

Active Voice Example:

Elizabeth quickly shut the window.

This example is stronger since the subject – Elizabeth – is now doing the action. Using active voice gives your writing more immediacy and puts the reader into the middle of the action. Once the reader is involved in the action, it is harder for them to put down your book.

Reasons to Use Passive Voice

But there are times when you may want to use passive voice in your story. Here are some examples:

When you don’t know who was doing the action.

The jewels were missing.

In this case, the emphasis is on the item taken rather than who took them.

When what was done is more important than who did it.

Uncle Bob was killed today.

What is important is that Uncle Bob has died. It doesn’t matter how or who did it. Later characters may question those things but in the beginning, their only focus may be on the fact that Uncle Bob is dead.

When describing a secondary character through the main character’s POV.

Aunt May was a tall woman with wrinkled skin.

When you want to speed up the story.

Half an hour later, the tents were stowed and the fire dowsed.

A lot of mundane actions are now contained in that one sentence. It would have taken many more words to write that in active voice and nothing really would have been gained for the reader.

These are just a few examples. I am sure there are other instances where you may want or need to use passive voice – for variety’s sake if nothing else. Just do so sparingly.

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

Looking for Blogs to Promote my New Release

Image result for new releaseMy latest book, Blood Bond, comes out Tuesday February 6. I am looking for blogs to appear on to promote my new release. I am open to doing author interviews, book excerpts or just a new release announcement on fellow writing/publishing/book blogs. If anyone has openings the February 5th or beyond and would like to host me, please send me an email at susanleighnoble@gmail.com.

I also feature authors on Fridays so I am willing to reciprocate! I currently have openings in February, March and beyond.

Dying my hair for the first time – a Madison Reed review

For the past few years, I think I have been in denial about how much gray hair I actually had. I even had a white streak in my bangs but still couldn’t admit it might be gray or a sign that I am getting old. I don’t recall exactly when the lighter stripe showed up but I originally thought it looked more blonde than white.

Recently, I noticed more gray stands in my hair and decided it was time to do something about this. I have never dyed my hair – beyond a temporary dye back in high school. I know nothing about dyeing my hair. So, I turned to the internet. I knew nothing about stripping color, lift, shades or pretty much anything. I did also check in with my mom and mother-in-law who have both colored their hair for years.

Now, I was not interested in changing my hair to a different color. I wanted to retain my color but just get rid of the grays. In fact, I would prefer that no one know that I dyed my hair. My research – or more accurately, Facebook – led me to Madison Reed, an online hair color company specializing in hair color without harsh chemicals.

They offer a way to find your perfect shade. If that doesn’t work or you have any questions, you can chat with someone online, on the phone or email them. I am a strawberry blonde but was having trouble having the website recommend a color that looked appropriate. Instead I looked at all 40 shades and wrote down a few I thought might be right for me. Then I emailed a couple photos of my hair (following their online instructions) to their color specialists.

Twenty-four hours later, the color specialist responded with two colors that she thought would look good. One of them – Ravello Blonde – was one of the colors I had picked out so that is the one I went with.

Now with Madison Reed, you can place a one-time order or save some money and sign up for membership where product can be regularly shipped to you. (The membership can be cancelled at anytime.) I opted for the one-time order and was able to a free shipping code online. (I also ordered the extra tube of color as my hair is longer than shoulder length.)

Before shot – on left side of photo, you can see a lighter strip area in my bangs.

The product shipped and arrived promptly. You get everything you need in the box – hair color, 2 pair of gloves, cap, barrier cream, cleansing wipe, instructions and samples of their shampoo, conditioner and no-frizz serum. Even though they send detailed instructions, they also offer videos online that show exactly what to do and how to handle difficult to cover gray hairs.

after shot – gone are the grays – color is a little darker than my original color plus the lighting in the room was different

The directions were easy to follow. While I was a little nervous about doing this myself verses going to a specialist, everything turned out fine. The grays were covered, and the color was perfect. My hair felt soft and healthy afterwards.

It has been about a month since I dyed my hair, and the color still looks great. (And no one has asked me if I dyed my hair.) If you are looking to cover your grays or are only looking to go up or down one shade of color, then Madison Reed is definitely worth it.

Need Authors for Featured Author Spot (FREE)

wantedAre you an author looking for some additional publicity for your latest book?

I host guest authors every Friday – any genre, both traditionally and self-published. I have openings in February and beyond!

The post can take one of three formats: author interview, book excerpt or a guest post on any aspect of writing, publishing, or book marketing.

Sign up is on a first-come-first-served basis, though I do have a few Tuesday openings to accommodate special requests for dates related book tours, book releases or cover reveals. (Click the Featured Authors link on the left to check out past authors.)

If you are interested, send me a message along with any date requests, and we’ll take it from there.

Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

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

Ahh…it is a new year. This could be the year you finish (or start) your novel. To help you reach that goal, I want to talk about setting writing goals and developing good writing habits. Now if you are one of those people who makes New Year’s resolutions, you can check out my post on 5 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers.

Establishing Writing Goals

Image result for writing goalIn life, something always comes up and unfortunately, it isn’t always writing. To stay on track and complete your novel, you may need to establish some writing goals.

To do this you need to be specific and realistic. Don’t just say you want to write each day. Set yourself a goal of how many hours, words or pages. Some authors like to set daily goals while others set weekly goals.

But no matter which you choose, make sure your goals are realistic. Nothing is more discouraging as never reaching your planned amount of writing because you were too ambitious when setting your goals. You don’t want to set a 25,000 word weekly goal if you can barely get 1000 written each day. You want it to be something that you can actually reach.

Maybe setting a specific word count worries you. In that case, you might want to set a certain amount of time to write. If you do this, you may want to find a block of time that you know you can consistently do some uninterrupted writing. It can be in the mornings before the rest of the family gets up or before you get caught up in your to-do list. Or maybe your time will be in the evening when everyone is in bed or during lunch at your office.  Don’t just find a few spare minutes here and there. Look for a set block of time that you can dedicate to nothing but writing. (To be the most productive with your set time, check out my post on avoiding time wasters.)

Image result for good writing habits

Developing Good Writing Habit

Now that you have established your writing goals, check out these good writing habits to help improve your writing.

1.) Establish a daily writing schedule – A daily writing habit is crucial to improving your writing. It is better to write fifteen minutes a day than to binge for six hours over the weekend.  Much like an athlete, you need daily practice to improve.

2.) Don’t forget to read – You can learn a lot about writing by reading what others have done. You can learn what not to do or what you don’t like as well as pick up ideas for things that did work out well. Pay attention to sentence structure, word choice and how the material flows. Check to see how (or if) the author successfully draws you into the story.

3.) Finish what you start – All too often writers begin something, and then a newer, better idea (or even just life) comes along, and they abandon what they were working on. Shiny, new ideas are always tempting. Don’t give in! Unless you are absolutely stuck on your project, wrap up your current project before moving on. (That doesn’t mean you can’t jot down your idea in a notebook so you can expand on it later. It just means don’t get distracted by the new project.)

4.) Write now, edit later – It is important to just write and not judge what you have written down. (At least not at first.) Even experienced writers don’t crank out perfect first drafts. Set a timer and just write.  And accept that much of what you write in your first draft may not make it into the book. The important thing here is to write. You can worry about word choices and sentence structure later.

5.) Know your craft – As a writer you need to understand thinks like grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as the importance of editing and polishing your work before you show it around. Make sure you learn the rules and then be sure to edit, edit, edit. Consult grammar and style guides if necessary and learn to properly format your documents. You can learn a lot by revising or rewriting what you already wrote.

Improving your writing is hard work. Maintaining a consistent writing schedule is hard especially with so many distractions vying for your attention. But the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice.

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