Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What's next for Ebooks?

At one time a lot of people I knew thought that ebooks would replace paper books completely. While I still see no sign of that ever happening, it is true that ebook have the potential to evolve in ways that our beloved dead tree editions can’t, and can offer new marketing options as well. In so doing they may find new audiences.
For example, a company called Neoglyphic Entertainment has created a platform that lets publishers create enhanced multimedia ebooks. The idea is to enhance the book’s storytelling capacity. Will motion graphics and a musical score improve the reading experience?  Could be. At the very least I think a lot of people will want to give it a try. 
It’s true that enhanced e-books and apps with sound and video have not been well received by readers in the past, but Neoglyphic has assembled focus groups to help direct their efforts to create new experiences around traditional storytelling. The company plans to offer its multimedia platform as a for-pay service to publishers. As a demonstration they published Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall, an illustrated middle grade fantasy series. The series (in Kindle but also hardcover and trade paperback) follows an elf-like civilization facing environmental doom. 

In other news, Indie authors who use Smashwords to distribute their ebooks may want to check their new service – Smashwords Alerts. This service automatically lets readers know about new releases from their favorite authors. To track an author, readers just go to the author profile page at Smashwords and click the button labeled, "Subscribe to Author Alerts."  When the author releases a new book, readers will receive an alert. If a book is on preorder, readers will receive the alert the day the book goes on sale. And Smashwords says they maintain a strict email privacy policy, so readers’ email addresses remains private and are never shared with anyone. 
To get the most out of the new feature, writers would encourage their readers to subscribe to alerts so they never miss another new release.  Authors can track the number of subscribers and "favorites" in real time from the Smashwords Dashboard. 
Ebooks may or may not be the future of reading, but they do offer more options in presentation and marketing than any other publishing choice.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Case of the Vanishing Detectives

When I decided to write a hardboiled detective series I did what most fiction writers do.  I set out to explore my detective’s predecessors, the characters he’d be compared to when he made his appearance.

That turned out to require a lot less time than I expected it to.  As a hardboiled detective with an African heritage, Hannibal Jones turned out to have few predecessors.  The best known black mystery characters, chronicled by Walter Mosley, James Patterson, Chester Himes and Hugh Holton, are policemen or amateur sleuths. 

So where are all the men of color following in Phillip Marlowe’s gumshoe footsteps?  Ed Lacy introduced the first credible African-American private eye, Toussaint Moore, in 1957.  He won an Edgar, but no one followed his
lead.  I assumed that John Shaft would turn the tide when he appeared in 1971.  Ernest Tidyman's Harlem private eye was so hardboiled that at the time my friends and I jokingly referred to him as “Sam: Spade Detective.” Yet despite his film success, there was no rush of imitators.  All the African American private eyes seem to have vanished mysteriously.

I can hear all the Caucasian authors out there now, shaking their heads and muttering, “Don’t blame me.”  Well, why not?  African American authors write white characters all the time, so why not reverse that spin.  And white authors don’t seem to have any trouble writing black characters as sidekicks, or villains.  Why not write them as detectives?

Of course, there is the danger of stereotyping.  Your ethnic readers will look very closely at any characters you introduce who don’t look like you.  So how do you get it right when you’re writing about people from another race and culture?  Here are three hints that will help you.

Observe:  spend time in the grocery stores, restaurants and bars filled with mostly faces of color.  Don’t worry, no one will assault you as long as you mind your own business.  And by listening closely you’ll get a feel for the attitudes and interests of that group, not to mention their food and drink preferences. You will also develop a feel for the rhythm of language and common phrases they use.  I’ve found this works for Latin, Korean and Iranian characters too.

Avoid dialect:  When we change the way words are spelled to imitate the sound of someone’s voice we not only insult them, we make it harder for readers to get through our writing.  All you need to do to get the dialog perfect is to use the words your characters would use in their own unique order.  Your reader will “hear” what you meant, be it North Dakota Swedish or inner city black.

Get a reality check: First, make a black friend.  Next, have that friend read your work and beg them to be honest in their feedback.  Watch their face as they read.  Ask them to test the dialog aloud, and listen for changes they may make unconsciously.  If your friend balks at something, don’t debate it, change it.

The most important thing, of course, is to remember that we are all more alike than different.  Human motivations, desires, fears and joys are universal, so make sure your black characters are first and foremost human. 

And in case you’re skeptical about writing a black detective, you should know that Toussaint Moore’s creator, Ed Lacy, was actually a white guy named Leonard Zinberg.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

8 Ways to turn up the suspense in your fiction

After sharing theory and concept, I figured I should share a few actual tips on how to keep the suspense building when you write. So here we go.

1. Let the characters tell readers their plans. That doesn’t mean give away all the secrets.  It means show the reader the characters’ agenda.  Readers know something will go wrong because they know, on some level, that the story is about conflict. A bad guy hiding in the bushes is creepy, but how much stronger that scene would be if earlier we heard the good guy tell his girl, “I’ll meet you by the bushes at 6 o’clock.” Now we’re not only worried about him getting jumped, we also get to worry that she’ll see it, or that she might be the next victim.

2. Cut down on the violence.  If you read my thrillers you might be surprised at how few actual fights there are. I think the more violence there is, the less it will mean.  That’s why we don’t see all the fights Rocky has to go thru to get into the position to face Apollo Creed. 

3. Always be one step ahead of your readers. As you write, keep asking yourself what your reader is hoping for or wondering about each point in the story. Your job is to give them what they want, when they want it – or maybe a little later than they want it – or to add a twist so you give them more than they bargained for. How do you do that?

4. As you develop your story, appeal to readers’ fears and phobias. Phobias are irrational fears. To be afraid of a tarantula is not a phobia, but to be afraid of all spiders is. Most people are afraid of helplessness in the face of danger. Many are afraid of needles, the dark, drowning, heights and so on. Think of the things that frighten you most, and you can be sure many of your readers will fear them as well.

5. Be sure to describe the setting of your story’s climax before you reach that part of the story. This is necessary to protect your pacing. So let someone visit it earlier and foreshadow everything you’ll need for readers to picture the scene when the climax arrives. Otherwise you’ll end up stalling out the story to describe the setting, when you should be pushing through to the climax.

6. Countdowns. Countdowns and deadlines can be helpful, but can work against you if they don’t feed the story’s escalation. For example, having every chapter of your book start one hour closer to the climax is a gimmick that gets old after a while because it’s repetitious and predictable—two things that kill escalation. Instead, start your countdown in the middle of the book. To escalate a countdown, shorten the time available to solve the problem.

7. Isolate your main character.  As you rush toward the climax, remove his tools, escape routes and support system (helpers and defenders). This forces him to become self-reliant and makes it easier for you to put him at a disadvantage in his final confrontation with evil.

8. Make it personal.  Don’t just have a person get abducted—let it be the main character’s son. Don’t just let New York City be in danger—let grandma live there.