Monday, February 29, 2016

Be your own travel agent. . .

We’ve had a mild winter in Arkansas, so spring fever came on unexpectedly and with urgency. Rediscovering Arkansas Curiosities on my bookshelf, I began to plan some day trips or one-or-two overnight trips. 

Stop #1
Earlier this month I set out for nearby Mt. Ida and the Wegner Quartz Crystal Mines where I spent a fun couple of hours with a screen and a bucket of sand “mining” for an array of minerals and gems. 

 Stop #2
  Coming away with quite a full bag, I headed back to town and spent an enjoyable hour kibbitzing with folks in the recently opened art gallery and  the wood shop on a small town square which just might come back to life someday.

Stop #3
Then I headed to Norman, an even smaller town, to visit what may possibly be the smallest free-standing library in the United States! Follow the link for more great pictures. Walking back to my car parked in front of the City Hall, I encountered who appeared to be the only employee as she left for lunch. As most small-town folks do, she smiled and offered more information about the town--a site right up my alley: the old high school which is being renovated as a museum. I can’t wait to go back when it’s finished!

Stops #4 and #5 
Back in the car, I headed down the road to Caddo Gap and the Indian monument built in 1936 by the WPA. It commemorates DeSoto’s arrival at the most westward point in his explorations. Four additional markers tell the history of the Caddo Indians in the area. On the way back, just before crossing the bridge into Norman, I stopped at the Caddo Indian Memorial which, though in need of repairs and regular upkeep, is a fascinating look at the lives of the people who first inhabited the area. 

 Stop #6
Stopping to snap a few pictures of the old high school as I retraced my steps, I pictured it as central to a new story!

Stop #7
By now it was past two o’clock in the afternoon. Breakfast being a mere memory, I enjoyed a “real” hamburger at the Mt. Ida CafĂ©, one of those small-town restaurants you can always count on for good food in a cozy atmosphere. 

In retrospect. . .  
There's a museum in Mt. Ida, too, but unfortunately it wasn't open this month. I think I have a good excuse to go back. . .maybe buy that painting of a mockingbird at the art gallery. . .perhaps price the woodcarving of the same bird at the wood shop. . .and, of course, stop for another real hamburger in the cozy cafe! 

But that day, for the price of gas and a hamburger, I had a lovely day, met some nice folks, took some pretty good pictures, and learned a lot. You can’t ask for more!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

You don't have to travel to bring home writing ideas!

I included this information in a “Resources for Writers” series I blogged five or six years ago, but it’s worth repeating. 

I love to stop at the Visitors' Centers as I travel, particularly the ones on state lines. At each, you can find a wealth of information, and it's all free! Now, how is this a resource for writers, you ask? Let me count the ways, using Texas as an example. You can acquire comparable information in any state.
Stories/Novels need characters, settings, and plots. They're all here in these fat glossy folders replete with maps, charts, pictures, timelines, even glossaries!

  • The Chisholm Trail: Exploring the Folklore and Legacy
  • Texas Mountain Trail: Exploring the Heritage of Far West Texas
  • Texas Plains Trail: Exploring the Heritage of the Panhandle Plains
  • Texas Forest Trail: Exploring the Heritage of East Texas
  • Texas Independence Trail: Deadly Battles, Heroic Deeds, and a History Shaped by a Desire for Freedom
  • Texas Brazos Trail: Exploring the Heritage of Central Texas
  • Explore the Red River Valley: Your Gateway to the History, People, and Places that Make Texas and Oklahoma Legendary
  • Texas in the Civil War: Stories of Sacrifice, Valor, and Hope
  • Texas in World War II: United by Duty, Honor, and the Fight for Freedom
  • Official Roadmap of Texas Forts and Trail Region
  • Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Route

Every town with any historic link provides its own brochure, urging you to visit and behold the wonders of preserved homes, museums, and other historic sites. If wanderlust doesn't stir in your soul, it should.
Not only historical plots can spring from these treasures, but also contemporary ones as well. Romance, mystery, adventure, thrillers--it's all there waiting to be unleashed. Brochures not only contain facts but also pictures which are essential for setting ideas/descriptions.
Can't get to a Visitor Center, you say? Not a problem. Simply write to the state historical commission or state tourism bureau (they're called by different names in different states), and your personal research library is on its way to you. Shoot, you don't even have to write these days--go to their websites and make your request! Then watch your mailbox--the snail mail one, of course.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It’s elementary, dear readers!

Who is Sherlock Holmes? What do you know about him? Here are some things I know about the super sleuth. He

is a 19th century fictional character
lives at 221B Baker Street
smokes a pipe
knows a lot about many things
has a sidekick named Dr. Watson
uses cocaine (which was legal in 19th-century England)
uses deductive reasoning
has a brother named Mycroft
works independently and with the police in an era when forensics was just beginning to be used as an investigative tool
is a master of disguise
plays the violin when he’s thinking
is messy
has a housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson
often battles his archenemy Professor Moriarity

So who was Sherlock Holmes? He was, in fact, the brain child of Arthur Conan Doyle who brought him to life when he needed money as a struggling young doctor.
Scottish actor David Hayman, himself a “television detective” narrates an excellent documentary, The Search for Sherlock Holmes, which I recently watched free with Amazon Prime. Following the previous link will bring you to an interesting article on the documentary as well as links to other related documentaries

Sherlock Holmes on the Silver Screen
Since 1911, the character has been portrayed in films by a variety of actors. One of my favorites was the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes  in which he meets the future Dr. Watson and first engages his archenemy, Professor Moriarity.
Basil Rathbone played the famous detective more than any other actor. Here’s a link to a list of his ten best films.  Other actors whom you might be surprised to know also played the roll are:

Patrick Macnee
Christopher Lee
Chalton Heston
Michael Caine
Peter O’Toole
Peter Lawford
Christopher Plummer
Leonard Nimoy
Larry Hagman
Roger Moore
Stewart Granger
Fritz Weaver
Orson Wells
Reginald Owen
John Barrymore
Raymond Massey
Here’s a complete list of actors who have played Sherlock Holmes

More recent cinematic portrayals
Add to the list Robert Downey, Jr., who has played the urbane detective in two films with a third possible.
And, Ian McKellen brings to life an aged Sherlock Holmes struggling with early dementia in the 2015 film Mr. Holmes. 

Sherlock Holmes on the Printed Page
Like most characters, Holmes had his beginning on the printed page. Here is a list of Sherlock Holmes stories and novels by the creator, Arthur Conan Doyle
Beginning in 1994, author Laurie R. King began a series of books based on the further adventures of a retired Sherlock Holmes. Book #1, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, is set in World War I era. I recently read this book as part of a mystery book club at my local library. While the members shared mixed opinions on the book, I and others loved it. Eventually I’ll track down the rest of the rather long volumes and read them.

Why do I like Sherlock Holmes?  
That’s easy enough--he’s good entertainment. I’m weary of the technically complicated twists and turns of modern detective fiction. The special effects in movies makes me want to run away to a quieter place. The language assaults my ears. The graphic sex which has nothing to do with the actual plot is tiring to sit through while one waits for the real story to resume.
When I go to a movie (rare) or read a book, I want to come away feeling I’ve been removed from the real world and transported to an imaginative and exciting place. I want to look back on what I’ve seen and read and smile--not feel I need to go stand in a shower and scrub myself.
While I don’t see Sherlock Holmes as a totally upstanding character/role model, he’s clever enough to hold my attention. He’s interesting. And when one looks for entertainment, interesting is what it’s all about.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Writing a One-Sentence Summary of Your Novel

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 14,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Why You Need a One-Sentence Summary
Why write a one-sentence summary? Because your one-sentence summary is a powerful sales tool. 

If you’re traditionally published, you need to sell your story seven times:
1. You have to sell it to your agent. 
2. Your agent has to sell it to an editor. 
3. The editor has to sell it to the publishing board. 
4. The editor also has to sell it to the sales team for the publisher. 
5. The sales team has to sell it to the buyers for the bookstores. 
6. The bookstore has to sell it to the early-adopter readers. 
7. Those early-adopter readers have to sell it to everybody else.

If you’re indie published, you only need to sell your story twice:
1. The online retailer has to sell it to the early-adopter readers. 
2. Those early-adopter readers have to sell it to everybody else.

The one-sentence summary is a selling tool that helps make each of these sales happen. 
But there’s one sale you need to make before you sell it to any of those people. You need to sell the story to yourself. You need to convince yourself that it’s a great story worth writing. You need to know what the story is that you’re writing. If you’re a planner, you can’t even write the story until you know what it is. If you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer, you can’t edit it into final form until you know what it is.

What is a One-Sentence Summary?
What is the one-sentence summary? It’s one sentence of 10 to 25 words that captures the spirit of the story. 
The one-sentence summary is not the place for details. It’s the place for coolness. It’s the place where your target audience says, “Ooooh!”
Let’s be clear that it’s also the place where people not in your target audience say, “Uh-uh.”
That’s right, your one-sentence summary is not only a sales tool, it’s a sales-preventer. 
Why would you want to prevent sales?
Because most people are not in your target audience. If they buy your book, they’ll hate it and won’t finish it. It isn’t ethical to sell a book to people who’ll hate it. So your one-sentence summary should give them the information they’ll need to know they’re going to hate your book.
Some people are in your target audience. If they buy your book, they’ll love it and will become your lifelong fans. You’re doing them a favor by helping them find you. And your one-sentence summary is the easiest way for them to realize that you might be their favorite author in the universe. 
So the purpose of your one-sentence summary is to separate the sheep from the goats. Separate the people who will love your book from the people who will hate it.
That may sound like an impossible task. How can one sentence of 25 words or less possibly close the sale on your book?
The fact is that it can’t. Closing the sale is not the purpose of the one-sentence summary. Breaking the ice is its purpose. 
The one-sentence summary is usually the first piece of information a prospective customer will get about your book. It gives that customer enough information to know whether she wants to know more. After hearing the one-sentence summary, your target audience should be saying, “Tell me more!” 
The classic example is this: Suppose you’re at a writing conference and you get in the elevator with an agent who’s going up one flight. The agent looks at you and politely asks, “What do you write?” You tell him your one-sentence summary in the few seconds between floors. When the door opens, the agent walks out. If he likes your one-sentence summary, he hands you his card and says, “Make an appointment with me.” If he doesn’t like it, he says, “Have a nice day.”
This is the great virtue of the one-sentence summary. It’s very efficient at connecting you with the right sort of people and steering you away from the wrong sort of people.
Imagine instead that the only way to get an agent’s ear was to make an appointment with him and spend fifteen minutes of his time and yours. Then he’d be swamped with appointment requests, and you’d be so busy talking to the ten agents not interested in your book that you might never meet the one agent who is.
You might think that you don’t need a one-sentence summary because you already have an agent or because you’re an indie author so you don’t need an agent. 
But that’s wrong. A reader browsing in a store or on Amazon or skimming the daily pitches on BookBub is going to look at the cover and title and then skim a sentence or two of the back- cover copy. Based on that sentence or two, she’ll either move on or stop to read more. 
You can put too much pressure on yourself when writing a one-sentence summary. It’s scary to think that this is your one chance to hook that editor or agent or reader. It’s easy to cobble together a 100-word sentence that gets in every single scrap of cool stuff you’ve got.
Don’t do that. Don’t force-feed. Take the one coolest thing in your book. Say it in 25 words or less. Then stop. Give the editor or the agent or reader a chance to digest it. Now the ball’s in their court. If they say, “Tell me more,” now you have permission to give them a paragraph or two. Maybe a hundred words. Then again give them a chance to respond. They’ll feel respected, because you’ll be respectful.

Here are some one-sentence summaries for books that have come out over the last few years:
1. A 17-year-old girl falls in love with the cute guy in her biology class, and then discovers that he’s a vampire.
2. When his wife goes missing, Nick Dunne cooperates with the police—until he realizes he’s the main suspect.
3. When her sister is chosen in the lottery, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place with twenty-four teens in a battle to the death.

#1 is the one-sentence summary for Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. The storyline seems simple enough, until the last word, which flips it from ordinary YA into paranormal. 
#2 is the one-sentence summary for Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. There’s more to the story than this one sentence—much more. You really can’t pack this story into a single sentence, and it would be a bad idea to try. The novel is a psychological thriller, and the sentence makes that clear.  
#3 is the one-sentence summary for The Hunger Games. It’s clear that this is a YA dystopic action novel. The summary doesn’t even hint that there’ll be a strong romantic thread in the story. That would only confuse things at this point.  
In each case, there is more selling to be done. The one-sentence summary gets people in your target audience interested enough to ask for more info. That's its job. That's its whole job. So you'll need more selling info, and you'll need excellent writing to back up your sales copy. The one-sentence summary is just the start, but it's an essential piece that you need for every novel. 

What’s the one-sentence summary for your novel? 
Give yourself one hour to come up with a single sentence that tells what your story’s about. It should make clear what the category of the novel is. It should focus on the central conflict for one or two of the main characters. 
At the end of the hour, stop, even if your one-sentence summary isn’t perfect. It may take several hours of work spread out over many months for you to get it perfect. Take your best cut at it now and write it down. Then come back to it every month or so and see if you can improve it.
You don’t need it to be perfect until your novel is done and you’re trying to sell it. 
In the meantime, you can use your one-sentence summary NOW to help you guide your story. Are there parts of your story that don’t fit into your one-sentence summary? If so, are those extra parts adding to the story or detracting from it?
If they add to it, that’s all good. More cool stuff is good. 
But if they’re defocusing the story, that’s a problem. You may need to cut some things or rethink your story. 
Every day before you write, reread your one-sentence summary. It’ll guide your fingers as you write. It’ll guide your subconscious while you’re not writing. 
You may find that your one-sentence summary changes over time as you understand your story better and better. Generally, it evolves for a while until it becomes as good as you can make it. 
When it locks into place, you’ll know it. Once that happens, stop messing with it.
The one-sentence summary is the first of several steps in designing your novel. I’ll be discussing more of those steps in the coming months. If you want a preview of where we’re going, see the article on my Snowflake Method on my web site. It’s the most popular page on my site, with over 5 million page views.