[7. Depending on the story, maybe even create a world]
Now, let’s find out what ‘the perfect location’ means, and where it’s supposed to be?
One of the main rules of writing says: “Write what you know.”
Besides that being the most misunderstood advice when it comes to writing, it still holds a little piece of good meaning, when it comes to ‘location’. ( Nathan Englander, the critically acclaimed author of ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank’ says, that authencitiy in fiction means thinly veiled autobiography. If you’re a drunken, bralwing adventurer like Hemingway, no problem, but Englander says, growing up he watched TV, played videogames and dreamt about being a writer. Was he supposed to write about the Atari 2600? Englander says, ‘Write what you know’ isn’t about events, it’s about emotions. Have you experienced love, jealousy, longing, or loss? According to Englander, it doesn’t matter where the story takes place, your front yard, or another galaxy, if you’re writing what you know, the reader will believe you. (Source: Bigthink.com).
And here, I admit, my opinion is divided. Part of me wants to agree with Nathan Englander, the other part doesn’t. And that’s mainly, because ‘The Council of Twelve’ series mentions places on Earth, where, in many cases, I have been before, but also, Heaven and Hell, where you normally don’t go, at least not, until you face the Grim Reaper.
How can I write about locations nobody alive has ever set foot in? And that’s the fantasy writer in me, who wants to agree with Englander. You’re right… it doesn’t matter where the location is. I can make it up, I write fantasy… I can create locations that serve my story, that are as horrible, or as beautiful, as I need them to be…
The other half of me, working on a crime story, wants to scream: STOP! Of course, it matters, where the story takes place! How can I write about a murder that is happening in a dirty back alley in Shanghai? I have never been in that city. (Except at the airport, but that’s a different story, and not for now)… What’s wrong with the murder in Tuscon, Arizona, where the writer lives, or in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or in Keystone, South Dakota, if the writer grew up there and knows every building like the back of their hand?
To me, writing my crime story, meant I picked the location I knew, and that’s where I lived at the time. I was busy enough with creating a crime, a plot, keeping my characters straight, inventing, writing, changing, adjusting, trying to feel like an evil individual and being impatient because it took longer than expected… I didn’t have time to make up locations I have never seen before.
I read a series of books I love very much, Don Massenzio’s Frank Rozzani Books. Don Massenzio’s main protagonist, Frank Rozzani was born, where the author was born, and he lives, where the author lives, in Jacksonville, Florida. I doubt very much that is a coincidence. Don Massenzio, I’m sure, will answer our questions hereof.
As for my preferences: I enjoyed both, mentioning places, where I’ve been, where I lived at the time, what I saw, and show them in my books… but also I immensely thrive in the process of creating locations that don’t exist.
When you’re a writer, what do you enjoy? Have you experienced both in your career? What do you enjoy most? When you’re a reader, and you read in a book about a location you have seen, do you judge the story according to the accuracy of the places? Let us know in the comments, we are curious.
(This blog post was published the first time September 9, 2015 here on ‘Writer’s Treasure Chest’.)
When I started building my network on social media and created “Writer’s Treasure Chest” I was not prepared for this much more to come. There are many more challenges to face. One of these challenges is to create my own Author Newsletter.
I started research on writer’s newsletters.
There are as many hints, tips and tricks as newsletter owners, and I’m desperate to be as well informed as possible before giving it a try. I’d like my first newsletter to be a success, not some amateurish “good luck” try.
Tips & Tricks
One of the first blog posts about newsletters I read had been written July 5, 2013 by Steena Holmes. She provides a list of what a newsletter can be used for. Mrs. Holmes hands out warnings on what not do with newsletters. She as well dedicates an entire paragraph on and how to get people to sign up. I like her writing style very much and I recommend this blog post to every writer who’s just starting. Her entire blog post can be found here: https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/the-how-and-why-of-author-newsletters/
Choose your Newsletter Provider
Steena Holmes mentioned one particular Newsletter and campaign provider: “Mail Chimp”. I did research on several providers and Mail Chimp seems user friendly and offers a variety of designs. I even found an easy to read and helpful “step-by-step” manual. It can be found here: http://www.authorsatlas.com/blog/author-newsletter-101. This valuable tool provides tricks and screen shots to guide me through the process.
Decide on a professional design
After reading these posts and articles I tried to imagine how to stay true to my brand and still deliver a professional looking and interesting newsletter for my future readers. The answer I found on wikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Good-Newsletter. They even offer sample newsletters there which I found attractive. But the one thing impressing me most on wikiHow was their first paragraph. “Although images and layout are important, the written content is the biggest factor in whether your newsletter is successful. However, writing a newsletter requires more than just a good grasp of proper English grammar and extensive vocabulary. You need to be interesting, relevant, and easy to be read. Here are some simple steps you can take to write a good newsletter.”
The four types of Author’s Newsletters
Having a nice design in mind does not make a newsletter yet and found a blog post, written by Cheryl Reif. She offers four different Author’s Newsletters:
Many writers have a myriad of other writers and authors in their network. Since we all know how important book reviews are for us authors, most of us are willing to help out and write a review for our fellow authors. If not, we should.
At this moment I won’t repeat how and why book reviews are essential to our work, I published plenty of blog posts on ‘Writer’s Treasure Chest’ about that subject, many of them written by other bloggers and writers and shared here.
Also, I won’t add any more tips and tricks on how to write a review, because, ditto…
But what, if we agreed to help and find ourselves in the horrible situation of having to review a book that’s not what we expected, neither in character development, character voice, description clarity, or plot arc? What if we just cannot find the thread that leads us through the story, and we have the feeling that this particular writer suffers from a lack of skill, ability, and talent to actually write a book?
And here, I admit, I feel torn apart… I want to be honest, I don’t want to discourage a fellow author, in particular a young, upcoming author who’s just starting out… But at the same time, there’s that nasty little thought that tries to talk me into protecting the world from a really bad book…
So, what should we do in such a case? And here, each one of us might decide differently. There are, of course, different possibilities. I’ve seen them all.
I write and publish an honest review, clearly stating that the book is not good
I don’t publish that review, but send it to the author personally and tell them, the book is crap
I contact the author and let them know that I read the book and ask if they’re willing to ‘listen’ to some advice
I want to help and recommend the author to remove the book from the market for a while and work on it before re-publishing
Tell the writer that it might be a good idea to find another occupation, maybe as a gardener, at least they’d do something useful
I admit I wish I had never made that horrible experience or stood in front of that decision. But unfortunately, it happened. What did I do?
Very simple: I tried a mix of numbers three and four.
Now, we are talking about three different young authors and three different reactions.
Author A: “How DARE you judge my book like that. My Mum said it’s a great story, and my sister said the same thing. That’s why it’s published, and they both helped me with the editing and stuff.” (You must be a writer, man… I like the ‘and stuff’ part best). Basically, I dare to judge your book ‘like that’ because you asked me to. If you ask for an honest review, you will have to brace yourself for the possibility that you will get a very honest review, and it cannot always be good. If you only want a good review, ask your Mum and your sister. Being a writer, and a published author is not always a ride on a pink rainbow unicorn. It’s hard work, and you give many people the chance to libel your name. Get a very thick skin, that’s the only way to protect you from being harmed. Not everybody is as nice as to tell you in private that your work needs a bit of polishing.
Author B: “Thank you very much for telling me. I’d like to hear what you recommend, please! I really appreciate it. I don’t get much support from anyone, and I feel I can do with some help.” (Needless to say, I’m still in contact with that author, and the story has massively improved. I will promote the book here on ‘Writer’s Treasure Chest’, once it’s ready.)
Author C: “I hate you! You hurt me so much! I will make sure that nobody will ever take you seriously as an author. You will pay. for what you said..” (In that case I would really have liked to recommend a good shrink)
Now, in each one of these cases, I’m not talking about a published book review on my side. I contacted each one of these authors and told them, that I’d like to talk about that book, carefully explaining, why I thought, at this moment a review wouldn’t be the best idea. Also, in each case, I started by mentioning the good things I found. (Even though there weren’t many, I tried my best). Only then I listed the things that should improve.
There’s always more than one way to say something. And right here the title of this blog post kicks in. As the French say: “It’s the tone that makes the music.”, or in French: “C’est le ton qui fait la musique.”
Let’s say, you’re at a party, and the host serves an adventurous combination of manchego cheese, pickles, pineapple, and maraschino cherries on the avocado salad. You can either say, you’re allergic to avocado (And hope, she doesn’t remember you ate her guacamole last time you were there) or, you can ask her, if she’s pregnant, because, nobody in their right mind would eat something like that without vomiting big time. I’m known to be quite straight out, but even I wouldn’t eat that salad, and faking an allergy at that moment sounds just perfect.
Or, you’re taking your two besties out for dinner to celebrate… and when you arrive at the second one’s house, she shows up in a white mini-dress that has seen better days, and she’s completely oblivious that she grew out of it, most likely, about twenty-five years ago, you have two choices. Tell her, that she forgot to get dressed in something age-and weight-appropriate, or ask her if she forgot to get dressed – period.
In our case, things are similar. I had two possibilities: publish a book review that tells everybody the plot is crap, the characters are lame, and the book is poorly written, by a completely talent-free individual… or, I did what I did and try to help these authors by telling them something good I found to avoid killing their buzz, and then carefully showing them different blog posts and articles that help them to improve their story plot, their character voices and -development.
It’s all in the way we say things… how we make and keep friends, how we make sure we don’t hurt people, and how we remember, that our strongest talent and skill are words. That saying ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ is true. Words can injure and kill, as horribly as a blade can. In doubt, just remember one more thing: “Talk to others the way you want to be talked to.”
How would you handle a situation like that? And do you remember it’s the tone that makes the music? Let us read your comment, please.
When I was a kid, I watched my parents carefully marking their days and appointments on an agenda. Back then, you got these 2022 ‘agendas’ from your bank, the butcher’s shop, or some other company that used them for advertisement. I always wanted my own ‘agenda’, despite me being only 4 years old and going to Kindergarten.
Since I grew up in a so-called well-protected parental home (and I’m very grateful for that!), my life was generally controlled by my mother. That meant, all my appointments, play afternoons, or birthday parties were noted in her agenda. She had to be informed about everything we children did. I think, when I got my first personalized agenda for my birthday, she impounded it and I never saw it again.
Then, planners, and ‘Filofax’ cases became not only a fashion statement but also a necessity for every business person (and a few others too)… and I would have loved one of these. Instead, I had to settle for an agenda, a promotional article from my bank. (I could have my own now, I was almost an adult).
When I finally got my first combined planner/agenda/address book/notes case in size 9 x 13″ from COACH, the fashion statement was basically on its way into the archives, not to mention that I found out, that thing added about 6 pounds to my already heavy writer’s purse. To make things a little easier (and lighter on my back), I left that rock-heavy combined case at home and got myself a light, ring book paper agenda to take with me. I love paper, and I continued entering my appointments, plans, and tasks in both agendas, one for home and one for ‘the road’. By the time it got hard to get a replacement for my annual COACH agenda, I was so sick of my method, that I decided to set the state of my COACH stone to ‘out of service’ and further just kept using my light and practical paper agenda, which I, on an annual basis, bought at Walmart or Target.
Since I’m a writer, and was a job seeker at that time, and had other things to do I took notes of, and love post-its, my agenda always looked like a ‘work book’, with notes, corrections, and hooks, and post-its and tape, and I loved it.
And then came the time…
When my life took a big hit with the pandemic, and I decided to add another huge change and start traveling, I realized, that my paper agenda used up a lot of space and just didn’t serve its purpose anymore, no matter how much I loved it. I kept collecting paper in it, rather than using it for its original purpose, and took fewer and fewer notes, which I had started adding to my electronic agenda on my devices, (phone and tablet) instead. That way I knew I had them with me at all times. They didn’t use up additional space and were even lighter and less bulky that my beloved paper agenda.
Only a few days ago I finally found it, somewhere, on a dresser, forgotten and abandoned, ragged, shriveled, used… and still, somehow sad and neglected. And with a heavy heart, I had to recognize the sad truth: it is time to bury an old tradition… Another one of my beloved paper products will not be with me any longer. My poor, orphaned paper agenda will retire…
Does that mean, I’m completely computerizing myself? Hell, no! I will always enjoy taking notes by hand, on paper, with a beautiful pen. But there won’t be notes for books, or something else… they won’t be appointments, tasks, and meetings on paper anymore. That will be over. A. J. Alexander goes electronic!
Goodbye paper agenda. Thank you for your decades-long services! I will always remember you.
I was asked a short while ago: “The Council Of Twelve” series is a series of religious books, right?” I almost laughed. However, I kept my cool and smiled. “No, it’s not. I’m writing a YA fantasy series!” And it is important to me that my readers take it as such!
The Council of Twelve series is a work of fiction, it won’t proclaim truth or even faith.
The Catholic Bible mentions seven Archangels, some of them named, and some are not. According to old scriptures, four Archangels’ names are known: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel. I ‘borrowed’ these names and added eight more Archangels to form the ‘Council of Twelve’. (Also, who tells me, these names are correct? We know them, yes. But I doubt very much anyone on Earth can remember, that our Lord God named four of his Archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel). Still, through history, these names, in connection with a strong, powerful creature called an ‘Archangel’, represent the ‘ultimate’ Good.
In my series, I wanted the ‘ultimate Good’. I wanted the fight ‘Good vs. Evil’… And angels and demons are the ones fighting that war. The characters of Archangels, angels, demons, and their respective hierarchies give me freedom any fantasy writer can only dream of!
Now, while Michael has on occasion been called the ‘Angel of Death’, others called him the ‘Archangel of War and Conflict’, on further websites and in articles he was the ‘Archangel of Peace and Safety’… who is right? Nobody knows for sure. And that’s why Archangel Michael in ‘The Council of Twelve’ series, is exactly, what I made him; the strongest, most powerful individual in existence, except his creator, of course, the oldest existing Archangel, and the leader of the Council.
Who said, Raphael was ‘the Healer’? In other essays, he’s described as ‘the Guardian’, and nobody can tell for sure, what and who he is, right? I made him both; the protector and keeper of the Healers and the Guardians…
It seems different sources are clear about Gabriel being ‘The Messenger’… and I kept it that way. The bible is clear about Gabriel being the Archangel sent to inform Virgin Mary about her being the mother of God’s son. Gabriel was also the Archangel who announced the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem.
As for Uriel, nobody is sure about his sources and roots. He’s described as ‘the Fire of God’, in other articles he’s been called the ‘balance of the world’, and other sources claim him to be ‘the Angel of Death’. It is said in certain books, that Uriel was the Archangel who killed the firstborn sons of Egypt when the Pharao didn’t let Moses’ people leave the country. The bible only talks about the ‘Angel of Perdition’, no name was mentioned there. But since it was talked about a powerful angel with a ‘fire sword’, it was assumed that Uriel was the one fulfilling God’s orders in that case. But again, nobody can tell for sure. In ‘The Council of Twelve’ series, Uriel is God’s beloved son, made out of fire and ashes, with flames in his wings. My Uriel is an Archangel existing in my fantasy… he’s caring, loving, and protecting, and he looks fabulous.
I purposely refrained from using any further Archangel names as they were mentioned in additional articles, books, or the ‘lost books of the bible’, the Apocrypha. I made up eight Archangels, born in my imagination and fantasy, each one strong, powerful, unique, and with his own set of skills. Each of these Archangels brings his own personality, talents, and voice into the ‘Council of Twelve’ and completes his brothers. Each of the Archangels is good to the core, fights the evil side, and protects his troops. They all fight, discuss, plan, protect… sometimes they joke, they laugh, they support each other, and they fall in love.
I have been writing about doing ‘research’ for ‘The Council of Twelve’ series. We are talking about the list of demons of the Ars Goetia, which helped me get my ‘Evil’ side organized and set up. The Good side needs an antagonist, and Lucifer doesn’t fight all alone. Again, we aren’t talking about a fact list… We’re talking about a lot of fantasy being involved in getting ‘The Council of Twelve’ series created. Of course, I didn’t take every demon’s name and transferred the creature into my book. I made some of them up, I gave them a voice, a look, a truly hateable creature. But all this is rooted in my fantasy and imagination.
If an author takes fantastic creatures and magic and transfers both into our existing world, in combination with falling in love and kissing, the genre is called ‘Paranormal Romance’. The Council of Twelve series is taking place in Heaven, on Earth, and in Hell, two of the three places are unknown to living organisms, which made me consider ‘my genre’ as ‘Fantasy’. There are too many unknown factors to call it ‘Paranormal Romance’.
Now, we know what the genre is called, but I downright refuse to consider ‘The Council of Twelve’ series ‘Christian or Religious Fantasy’. There’s too much fantasy in these books to truly consider them religious. It is an undeniable fact that the author of these books is a believer in God. It’s clearly readable that the Creator of the World has my highest respect. I never describe Him in detail. When He shows up within the stories, only His voice is mentioned. Heaven and Hell are formed and described after my imagination.
I’m not going into religious discussions, I don’t use bible quotes, and I am not going to argue with anyone about whether my fantasy is the ‘real’ Heaven, Hell, or story. The Good side is, what’s close to my heart, and you won’t find anything better to fight for the ‘Good side’ than a dozen Archangels with their love interests. Not to talk about the fact that I added a bit of humor to the stories, and I expect my readers to laugh, enjoy the stories and fall in love with the characters, just like other authors do. I’d like my readers to be entertained, and not to think too intensely about religious beliefs when reading ‘The Council of Twelve’ series. Read, be entertained, and enjoy.
When I read that quote I immediately felt ‘understood’… I know, that sounds presumptuous. That was never my intention, of course! I don’t want to say, I feel like being God, of course not! At this moment I felt like ‘an artist’… someone who ‘creates’ something… stories in my case, just like Sidney Sheldon. Needless to say, I admire him to no end. He has been a true artist, his unbelievable talent consisted of everything, from writing for Broadway, Musicals, TV, Film, and, of course, books.
I’m not even hinting, my modest talent gets anywhere close to Sidney Sheldon, but he has been an inspiration for me for a very long time. I think, reading this quote connects many artists, composers, writers, and also painters… some have an empty piece of paper or sheet of music, and others have a blank canvas. We all have something in common: we would like to fill it with a piece of us.
In my case, it’s my fantasy, my idea, my plot, my characters, and sometimes even ‘my world’ that I’d like to create, write about, and would like to introduce my readers. I’d like to show a part of what’s in my head to my readers, take them on a trip inside my head and fantasy, and fill them with wonder, surprise, laughter, tears, anger, and many more emotions. I’d like them to love my world, feel at home within my stories, and love my characters (or hate them, when I write about the antagonist).
All that is part of a creating process, a very very tiny one, compared to the creation of the world, of course, and still, it’s not an easy process, no matter how small it is, compared to others. Even in the mini-version, it’s not easy to create. We need our God-given talent and abilities to deliver good work, a good story, and a good piece of art, no matter what it is! We want our work to be recognized, we want readers, we want them to love our characters and world. But it is still a difficult process. There are days things go a bit easier, but on other days, it’s hard work, and the ideas I had the day before just won’t return like someone buried them overnight.
I’m quite convinced I’m not the only one chewing on the pieces I bit off. But the fact that someone as talented and successful as Sidney Sheldon struggled with the very same creative process, makes me feel a bit better, and makes the hard days a bit less difficult. Thank you, Sidney Sheldon!
Sidney Sheldon, an American writer, playwright and novelist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 11th February 1917. His father Ascher “Otto” Schechtel, was a jewelry store manager and his mother was Natalie Marcus. When Sidney was ten, he sold his poem for ten dollars making it his very first sale. He went to the Denver East High School and for graduate studies he attended the Northwestern University. There he made contributions to the drama groups with his short plays.
In the beginning of 1937 Sheldon tried his fate in Hollywood by writing and reviewing various scripts. He finally managed to sell one of his screenplays ‘South of Panama’ to a studio for 250 dollars in 1941. During the World War I he was recruited as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. After the end of the War he returned to New York where his reputation as a creative writer started building up. He wrote musicals for the well known MGM Studios and Paramount Pictures. Once he had three of his musicals at once on Broadway. They were ‘The Merry Widow’, ‘Jackpot’ and ‘Dream with Music’. This success brought him back to Hollywood. The first film written by Sheldon was ‘The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer’ which got him the Academy Award in 1947.
With the rise of television as a popular medium, Sheldon decided to try out his luck in it. He wrote a series called ‘The Patty Duke Show’ and for the next seven years wrote every episode of it. He also made, produced and wrote the show ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ using three pseudonyms ‘Mark Rowane’, ‘Allan Devon’ and ‘Christopher Gollato’. These were also used when writing ‘Nancy’ and ‘Hart to Hart’.
His first novel was ‘The Naked Face’ which was published in 1969, earning him a nomination for ‘The Best First Writer’ category. The second novel ‘The Other side Of Midnight’ was published in 1973, topping ‘The New York Times Best Seller’ list. Sheldon was very particular about the writing and validity of his books. For this very reason before writing his novel ‘Windmills of the Mind’ which was a story about the CIA, he personally met Richard Helms who was a former CIA recruit. He also went to Argentina and Romania, and spent some time in ‘Junction City, Kansas’ where one of the lead characters of the book resided. He said during an interview in 1987:
‘If I write about a place, I have been there. If I write about a meal in Indonesia, I have eaten there in that restaurant. I don’t think you can fool the reader’.
His marriage to Jorja Curtright Sheldon, an actress and interior designer, lasted for thirty years. After her death in 1985, Sheldon married Alexandra Kostoff in 1989. His legacy includes 18 novels which have sold three hundred million copies, 200 TV scripts and 25 major films along with 6 Broadway plays. Sidney Sheldon died due to Pneumonia in California on 30th January, 2007. He was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
Last week, as of Tuesday, I surprisingly found myself in a situation when I suddenly had a lot of time at my hands, but unfortunately, my books were as far away from me, you could have counted the distance in lightyears…
What do you do, when you’re a writer, you cannot stare into your phone all the time, you have certain limitations in movement, pen, and paper – and feel the need to continue your work? Right, you ask for pen and paper and start drafting.
Make a list of the published, written, and WIP titles of ‘The Council of Twelve’ series
Plan the two last books in the series
plan the second and third of the collected ‘The Council of Twelve’ novelette books
Start drafting character sheets for the two last books in the series’ new consort characters
Find names for the very same two consort characters
Draft a character description of one of the most unusual novelettes that will be part of the collections.
I did all that by hand, considering to type it into my OneNotes at a later time – and then decided I wouldn’t. Why should I do that? I wrote it once, and I got the notes. I would have to work out the characters eventually, but at this time these are new ideas, which means, they go into the OneNotes ‘New Ideas’ folder and will stay there, until I’m ready to take on the challenge to start writing these books.
So I took pictures of my notes and moved them into the app.
And once more I’m grateful for today’s helpful and supportive technology. Remember typewriters? Oh yes, we could type there, with ‘blue sheets’ in between, and if you permitted yourself one typo, everybody could see it. And we could use copy machines. But then we still had to keep the paper. Now I can take a picture and move it to wherever it’s needed. I’m lucky. I’m happy, I’m relieved…
The Council of Twelve series is still progressing… but I also permit myself the thought to develop ideas outside of the series. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I don’t want to ‘end up’ only to be defined by one style, by one genre, or by one series. I know I can do more than that, and that’s what I’m working on.
When you’re writing in your genre and feel like peeking into another one, which one would that be – and why? Let us know in the comments, we’re curious.