Monday, June 24, 2013

Writing Tips From James Patterson

James Patterson
I love a good thriller, and one of my absolute favorite thriller writers is James Patterson. I admit, sometimes there's a little too much blood and violence, but he always tells such a great story I can overlook those things and just enjoy a great thrill ride!

Patterson novels are hard to put down because, not only are they exciting, they're extremely fast paced and filled with unexpected twists and turns.  

Today I thought I'd share a few tips from Patterson on writing commercial fiction found in this Publisher's Weekly article by one of his co-authors, Mark Sullivan.

According to Patterson, "We are in the business of entertainment, not edification or enlightenment...We are interested in giving the reader an intelligent thrill ride populated by outsized people we feel for.” Characters, especially heroes and villains, Sullivan explains, have to be thought about carefully. They have to be human, above all, and subjected to terrible ordeals that take them to the brink of their capacities and beyond.

“To do that," Patterson says, "our villains must be worthy opponents...The reader has to believe that the bad guy is fascinating enough, clever enough, and bad enough to defeat our hero.” Research, Sullivan learned, is the basis of great villains. It's also the basis of hero, plot, and believability. Sullivan says that Patterson is extremely well read, and his statements about writing are often peppered with references to specific authors, books, or films. In one villainous discussion, Sullivan said Patterson urged me to read the poetry of Louise Glück to get a better feel for a lacerating voice. In another they discussed the novel Perfume.

Mark Sullivan
With Patterson, exposition was severely limited. Sullivan says, "The old adage—show, not tell—was critical, and the element of surprise was paramount. Each chapter in Private Berlin had to deepen a character, advance the plot, or turn the tale on its head. You began every scene with the end in mind; and the end had better blow the reader’s mind or it would be revised or tossed."

Patterson told Sullivan at their first meeting, “What most people who attempt commercial fiction don’t understand is that you have to write the way people talk...You can’t make the prose rigid or dense and expect the normal, busy reader to turn the page, much less stick with you to the very end.”  Sullivan says that Patterson advised him to imagine an entertaining bon vivant in a bar telling our stories in a language that would appeal to every Tom, Dick, and Mary in the place. Humor helped. So did a flare for the dramatic. So did a pared-down style. Sullivan says that Patterson has been criticized for the "short chapters and the ultra-lean prose, but don’t think for a minute that it is without purpose beyond a quick read for a harried reader."

Patterson said to Sullivan, “Most writers will tell you five to 10 things about a character or a setting or an action...Fine for literature. But our approach is to pick the one or two or three that really count and discard the rest. It not only creates pace but it leaves images in the reader’s mind that are concrete and unequivocal.”

In conclusion, Sullivan says, "The sum of this advice was to sacrifice all for the story and the characters. Outlines were trusted navigational charts, yet we were free to sail in other directions as the novel evolved. But if you were going to change something, it had to be a terrific change."

"We’re after terrific, fascinating, and smart,” Patterson said. “We’re after a story that the reader can’t put down and can’t forget when they’re done, the kind people talk about to their friends.”

Don't we all wish we could write something that our readers can't put down? Do you like thrillers? If so, who's your favorite thriller writer?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Crock Pot Ribs

Smoky Favored BBQ Ribs
It's picnic season, a great time for burgers and ribs! This is easy and yummy. Cook these ribs ahead of time and take them to your next picnic.  July Fourth is quickly approaching! But don't just wait for a picnic; this is a great dish any time of year!

This recipe is from Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook.  Enjoy!

Smoky Flavored BBQ Ribs

3 1/2 lbs pork loin back ribs
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 t pepper
3 T liquid smoke
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 t salt
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 cup cola
1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce

Spray inside of 5-6 qt. slow cooker with cooking spray.

Remove inner skin from ribs.  Mix brown sugar, pepper, liquid smoke, garlic and salt.  Cut ribs into about 4 inch pieces.  Layer ribs and onion in slow cooker.  Pour cola over ribs.

Cover and cook on low heat setting for 8-9 hours, or until ribs are tender.  Remove ribs from cooker.  drain liquid from cooker and discard.

Pour BBQ sauce into shallow bowl.  Dip ribs into sauce.  Place ribs back in cooker.  Pour any remaining sauce over ribs.  Cover and cook on low heat setting for one hour.

Do you have a picnic favorite?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Your Novel Starring...

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Bad Sister Lavinia
Halle Berry: Good Sister Olivia

My new novel, Masquerade: Book Two of the Unchained Trilogy, is now available! Today, in honor of my bad girl protagonist Lavinia, I thought I'd play "Your Novel Starring..."

Lavinia, originally introduced in the first part of the trilogy, Escape, is not the nicest person, and if she'd lived today, most likely would've been diagnosed with Narcissistic personality disorder.  According to Wikipedia, this "is a personality disorder  in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity. This condition affects one percent of the population. First formulated in 1968, it was historically called megalomania, and is severe egocentrism."

In addition to her megalomania, Lavinia suffers from sibling rivalry issues.  This is seen in Escape when we meet her sister, Olivia, who is kind and sweet.

Although Masquerade is Lavinia's story, Olivia, to Lavinia's dismay, also makes an appearance.  As I wrote the characters, two beautiful sisters of mixed race ancestry, I envisioned Catherine Zeta-Jones as Lavinia and Halle Berry as Olivia.

Who do you imagine as some of your favorite characters in novels you've read or written?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Release Date for Masquerade

I am happy to announce that Masquerade: Book Two of The Unchained Trilogy is set for release next Tuesday, June 11! It will be available at in Kindle (2.99) and paperback (14.99) versions.
Masquerade is a continuation of the American family saga The Unchained Trilogy, which opened with Escape: Book One.  In that story, Lori is a slave girl, and Daniel Taylor, the abolitionist who helps her to escape.  They fall in love and eventually have three children.  Lavinia is their youngest child, and unlike her siblings, appears white.  Introduced in Escape, Lavinia is the main character in Masquerade, which examines the age old phenomenon of passing.  A brief synopsis of Masquerade follows: 
Synopsis of Masquerade

Celebrated actress Lavinia Hargraves performs her most challenging role offstage.

Although born in 1872 to Daniel Taylor, a white man and wealthy landowner in southern California, Lavinia’s mother, Lori, is a Negro and former slave.

Lavinia, who appears white, is desperate to hide her Negro ancestry, as well as pursue her dream of becoming the world’s greatest actress.    

After eloping with the much older Vernon Hargraves, owner of New York’s premier theater troupe, Lavinia is provided with all she could ever want: a new life as white, stardom on the stage, and an abundant supply of money.  
Soon Lavinia’s seduction by a young and handsome actor sets in motion a devastating  turn of events. Dashing millionaire contractor Andrew Standish comes into Lavinia’s life at a time when she needs him most.  However, Lori's existence could demolish her daughter's carefully constructed facade. To what lengths will Andrew go to uncover Lavinia's past?

Read an excerpt from the prologue below, and please stop by on June 11 to read a sample of Masquerade: Book Two of the Unchained Trilogy

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Masquerade: Book Two of The Unchained Trilogy
Spring 1889

           “Now, not only will you have to speak with an accent,” Vernon said, closing the script he’d just read with his new wife, “you’ll have to speak slowly.”  Beginning to feel groggy from the soothing sway of the locomotive, he yawned, then placed the script on the center table in front of him.  “You gotta keep in mind that the sailor has taught your character English, and it’s a new language for her.”
“Oh, Vernon, I realize that.”  Lavinia clutched her husband’s arm.  They sat on a green velvet love seat in his private rail car.  “Sometimes you talk to me like I’m a child.” 
Vernon chuckled.  “Sometimes I forget you’re old beyond your years.”
“I’m seventeen, hardly a child.”
“Well, to an old man like me—”
“Oh,’re not that old.”
Her words were sweet, Vernon thought, but at fifty-four, he was old...and probably losing his mind.  Since he’d married Lavinia only days earlier, not a moment had passed when he hadn’t questioned himself about what he’d done.  She was young, beautiful and determined—and he was in love with her.
Vernon Hargraves, owner of New York City’s premier theater company, The Hargraves Players, had never considered himself a marrying man.  But that had all changed, once he’d set eyes on Lavinia Taylor.  Who would’ve thought that Vernon’s desire to buy land in California, would instead result in his gaining a wife? 
“Vernon,” Lavinia arrested his thoughts, “what should I wear in the production?”
He looked into his young wife’s eager face, one of unearthly beauty with high cheekbones, sensual lips, and cat-like green eyes that sparked wildly with excitement.  Vernon smiled, patting her hand.  “My seamstress will fix you up in some clothes that are—island-like.”
“Yeah.  Sarongs and such.”
Lavinia’s emerald eyes widened.  “Sa—sarongs?”
Vernon’s rotund middle joggled as he laughed.  “They’re long pieces of fabric that you wrap around the waist.”
Lavinia’s mouth opened in wonder, then she giggled.  “That’s scandalous!  What about the rest of me?”
“You’ll be well-covered.”  He squeezed her hand.  “Your costumes will only be suggestive of the South Pacific.  And your hair,” he gazed at the thick black tresses piled high, “you’ll wear it down.  With your exotic look, and your...mystique, the starring role in Hidden Splendor is just right for your debut.”
 “My debut!”  Lavinia exclaimed.  “Oh, I can’t wait!  Vernon, you’re just too good to me!  Do you think people will love me?”
“Of course,” Vernon’s eyes began to grow heavy and he leaned his head back, “but none as much as I do...” 

In moments, Vernon was asleep.  His large belly rose and fell, and his rasping snores kept time with the rhythmic chugging of the locomotive.   
Using a lace-edged handkerchief, Lavinia patted dust from her brow.  The heat from the train ride and its bitter smelling ash didn’t faze her.  She was too busy dreaming about  her future plans.  Lavinia lusted for the role of the island girl and wanted more than anything to reveal her talent to the world. 
  “Mrs. Hargraves.” One of Vernon’s servants, an Irish girl in prim and proper black attire, approached Lavinia and bowed slightly.  “Dinner will be served in thirty minutes.”
Lavinia suppressed a giggle.  This maid suspected nothing.  The thrill of a white servant kowtowing to her, as if she were a rich and powerful white person, was only too exhilarating!
She raised her head in a masquerade of white superiority.  “Very well, then.  Thank you.”

The maid returned to the car’s dining room, leaving Lavinia alone with Vernon once more.  Soon, she’d need to wake her husband for the evening meal.  But that slipped her mind.  Instead,  Lavinia’s thoughts gravitated back to Hidden Splendor; not the play itself, but the title, which so brilliantly reflected her circumstances.  She’d successfully escaped from California, and was now journeying to New York in search of the hidden splendor that awaited her!