Top Five Favorite Books Growing Up

A lot of things inspired me to be creative at an early age. Had it not been for the encouragement of my parents while growing up, there’s a good possibility that I wouldn’t have become a writer at all. They served as my earliest audience, my first fans, and fed my artistic endeavors to such a degree that I even wrote my first novel while in high school. Trust me, there’s no way that would’ve happened if it weren’t for them. A handful of teachers also contributed to my writing craft after telling me they saw talent with the words I hammered out on the page, but for the most part, I remember my earliest encouragement, and the things introduced to me that were the most inspirational. The books read to me, and the books I later discovered on my own, sparked my imagination and helped paved the way to becoming an author. So, without further ado, I present my top five books growing up that still manage to impact me today.

5. DUNE
I know what you’re thinking. How did you read DUNE when you were little? Well, the truth is, I wasn’t quite so little when I read it. My first introduction to Herbert was in high school, and it simply blew my mind. Spice Melange? Interstellar Travel dependent on one planet’s production of Melange? Mentats? When Paul first encounters the native inhabitants of DUNE, and becomes the prophesied figure that could change the face of the universe, I was amazed. It’s deep, it’s epic, but most of all, and it was an adventure like no other.

4. Journal of a Novel
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, chronicled the writing sessions of John Steinbeck from January 29 to November 1st, 1951. He wrote these “letters” to his editor, Pascal Covici, who worked for Viking Press at the time, as a sort of warm up before he began the days work. It was a fascinating peek at what was going through Stenbeck’s head during the creation of one of his most pivotal novels. It was great to see the thought process, a sort of behind the scenes, and how he stretched his creative limbs before each session. If you haven’t given this one a read, you should.

3. Pushing Ice
If DUNE blew my mind, nothing in the science fiction field could ever do that again. Right?
Believe it or not, Alastair Reynolds did. It’s a grand adventure following a group of deep space miners who set off after one of Saturn’s moons when it abruptly breaks orbit and heads out of the solar system at increasing speeds. What they discover is a classic mystery that spans generations, and presents a devastating sense of enormity unparalleled in anything I’ve read since.

2. AKIRA
Yes, it’s an epic comic that’s broken up into six parts. No, it isn’t a novel. This tale of two best friends in a post apocalyptic future is not only epic, but gut wrenching as well. When a mysterious force awakens, dubbed by the military as AKIRA, it puts that friendship to the ultimate test. The ending will leave you breathless.

1. The Neverending Story
The novel that takes my number one slot is also my favorite from childhood. There were several close contenders, but they all paled in comparison to this highly imaginative story. There’s adventure and wonder around every corner, but the real surprise is how it involves the reader in it’s immersive plot. Sure, there was a movie adaptation, but it could never compare with this epic and beautiful tale. Heck, the movie only told half of the book, and it barely did that!

-Bonus-
The Princess Bride
Honestly, it’s inconceivable that this incredibly fun tale didn’t make my top five. William Goldman knocked it out of the park when he came up with adventure, full of true love, pirates, revenge, political mystery, and of course, rodents of unusual size. If you haven’t read this book, then perhaps you should go back to where we found you! Unemployed, in Greenland!

So, what did you think of my list? Did any of your favorites show up in my top five? What are your favorites?
Let me know in the comments!

Winter Project: Part Five

The Holiday Season Is Here
It’s December. Time really soars! If I’m not careful, this winter project of mine will turn into a spring project. It’s fine with me if it does. Nobody wants to rush creativity, unless you are the type of writer who is determined to push quantity over quality. Yes, those people do exist.
The meat of the story is well underway now. There are multiple threads weaving through the book, and I’m hoping they don’t end up a tangled mess! The outline has so far kept me on track, which is a real blessing.
Some of the more difficult scenes that occur in the book have now been written. Somehow, I gritted my teeth through the pain and put the words on the page. As some of you know, my father passed away this year. Writing about crime, and in particular the subject of death in my mysteries, can be trying at times. I’m pushing through, however, and hope that I’m producing a book that all of you will enjoy, no matter how painful some of it has been to write.
Right now, I’m working on chapter twenty-two.  Selena and Jameson have been working two different sides of the case independently, and that’s been different.  Now, however, they are working together to uncover some corrupt folks.  Behind that corruption, a killer is hiding.  (Dun, Dun, DUUUNN!)
Time to get back to it.

Winter Project 2015 – Part Four

Atmosphere
There’s a howling wind outside. A storm is splashing rain against the windows. This kind of weather is perfect for writing, at least for me. Not sure if it’s a genre thing or not, but the gloomier the better. I’ll often accompany my session with music. Something calming, like George Winston. Solo piano music isn’t just relaxing for me, it really stirs my thoughts, and sets my creative brain into motion. What sort of atmosphere do you try to maintain while writing?
The First Forty-Eight
Today, I’m working on chapters nineteen and twenty. At this point in the story, local search parties have gathered late in the evening. Flashlights dart about in fields and wooded areas. When someone is missing, the first forty-eight hours are vitally important. Piecing together the clues in that time frame, figuring out what was happening in the person’s life in the days before, could very well be telling of what happened to them. Investigators are working on several leads in the case, and the story is beginning to branch out into a wider scope.
Character Sheets
One of the things I need to do that I’ve completely forgotten is the character sheets. You know what they are, right? Basically, just a profile of the characters. Everything from eye color, to height, to personal hobbies and interests are listed here. It’s very useful, because I cannot count how many times I have to skim back through the pages of a story trying to remember what color someone’s hair was. Sometimes, I’ll even include pictures, making it look like an official police profile, which is fun. Maybe I’ll work on that after today’s writing session.
Words On The Page
You ever hear other writers explaining how easy writing is? You know what I mean. Just keep writing until it’s finished, put those words on the page, put one word after another, etc. It makes the process sound so simple. Just sit down and hammer aimlessly on the keyboard. It’s never perfect the first time, you just need to get the story out. Don’t edit as you go. Finish writing the book first. Whatever you have to do to finish, just finish. This is really good advice, but not all authors are the same. Take me, for instance. As I’ve stated above, atmosphere is imperative to my process. Music. Quiet. I’ll usually write early in the mornings, and again in the afternoon. A tactic that coincides with my daughter’s sleeping habits, but one I wouldn’t have thought of without the monthers (more on that here).
If any of these things aren’t present during my typical writing session, chances are good that I simply won’t write. Sure, I might end up making notes, tweaking my outline, etc. But any actual writing might not happen at all.
Now, some authors may be suffering from the First Draft Blues (Here and Here), but for the most part, atmosphere is a major contributing factor to my word count success. Not that word count is the most important thing. Your session could have been only 300 words, but you wrote and that’s what’s important. They could be the best 300 words you’ve ever written! Every little success should be celebrated.
Speaking of putting words on the page, it’s time for me to get back to it!

Need a word count calculator?  Here You Go!

IF YOU WANT EXCLUSIVE CONTENT AND ALL KINDS OF OTHER AWESOMENESS, YOU HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER! IT’S NOT HARD. JUST A LITTLE FORM, AN EMAIL ADDRESS EXCHANGE. NO BLOOD SPILLING NECESSARY. TRUST ME. YOU TRUST ME, RIGHT? GOOD.

newsletter

2 Kindle Deals That Won’t Last Long!

Today, you can get the first two Montana Marrenger books starting at .99 cents!
AlexConcept_FinalMW.inddMonsoonCoverFinal.indd

This is the best time for you to get into the series, and the Countdown Deals aren’t going to last forever! This means that every day, the cost will gradually return to it’s original list price.

Sure, I may be short changing myself by listing Monsoon Morning, a full length novel, at .99 cents, but you know what? That’s not the point. The point is that I want to share my work with all of you. I want you to fall in love with these characters and feel the intensity of the cases. YOU are the reason I write these stories!
Grab them while the sale lasts!
Click Here For Book 1
Click Here For Book 2

Winter Project 2015 – Part Three

Visualize
What is it that makes us writers? Where does it come from? The same can be asked of a painter, who visualizes scenes onto a canvas from his mind. It’s an interpretation, the original conception is always much different than the end result. It takes practice, trial and error, and repetition to get to the point where the physical creation adequately represents the artists original vision.
Throughout the planning process for my new novel, there was a strong scene that played out in my mind repeatedly. Anytime I thought about the project, this scene would jump into my head. It was a quiet one. Sunny, on an old country road. The only sounds were of wind rustling the autumn leaves, and the crunch of bicycle tires on gravel. The rider was smiling, carefree, so lost in thought that she didn’t even notice the car approaching from behind.
Interpret
That’s the way it was. When I sat down to make some notes, or even to write, I could hear the crunch of those tires, feel the crispness in the air. This scene did actually occur in the novel a couple of chapters ago. The end result wasn’t exactly what I had originally planned, mainly because the time of day was wrong for it. In fact, it wasn’t daytime at all.
It didn’t feel like the scene was totally lost in translation, though. As a matter of fact, I think it turned out better than what I visualized. It was darker, more tense than before. That’s a good thing.
Wherever that scene came from in my head, as with any scene, all I can do is try my best to interpret it with words and hope that I create a moment that you as the reader can see, or feel. For me, making the reader feel is worth every word. It’s worth celebrating. That’s why I do what I do.
The Words
Today, I’m going to be writing chapter fourteen. I’ve been sticking to my new writing routine (more on that here) and things have been going really well, word count wise. It’s nothing like the what the Monthers push out on a daily basis, but it is more than what it used to be.
Selena and Jameson have their hands full today, not only with the investigation but with the TBI and local authorities as well.
The coffee is hot. Scrivener is open. George Winston’s Midnight is playing on the radio. The weekend was long, and I’ve been feeling pretty sick. I can’t stop the words, though.
It’s time to get back to it.

Fiction Writing: Three Common Mistakes

We live in a world where a lot of grammar rules are tossed out the window in favor of expression.  Sometimes, it’s hard to break away from them, especially when we’ve grown so accustomed to having them around in school.  There is such thing as a run on sentence.  Authors do use exposition to tell a story.  Most writers seem to agree that knowing when to break these rules for a strong effect is very much appropriate.
George Martin, Jim Harrison, and Cormac McCarthy are just a few very successful authors who break the rules they want to break, and the result is a strong impression on the reader.
So, what are the unwritten rules regarding fiction writing?  In my opinion, I don’t believe there are many rules to the medium.  The only rules, truly, are for basic grammar.  When it comes to your fiction writing, use common sense.  Write what you want, how you want, and be coherent.  To improve your form, read.  I can’t stress that enough.  How many musicians are out there that don’t listen to music?  Well, I don’t know how many, but there can’t be a whole lot.  Read a bunch of books, and develop your craft, your own style.
If you want to improve your craft, here are some mistakes new writers tend to make:

  • Name dumping.  Yeah, you know what I’m talking about here.  John Clemens scratched his northern Irish beard while sitting underneath the English Oak Tree and thinking about Marie Taggard, The Cobbler’s wife, who lost her sister Janet in the war against the Western French army led by Pepe La Pew.  Way too many names of people and places right off the bat.
  • Info dumping . You don’t want the reader to know every little thing about your MC right up front.  I know that you love your MC, you want everyone to love your MC.  Unlike you, however, it’s a relationship between that person and the reader and a relationship has to grow.  Start simple, and build as the story progresses.
  • Too many characters introduced right off the bat. This is common, and you should try to space it out a little.  If you have a couple of main characters, it’s perfectly fine to introduce them in the first chapter or so of your book.  If you throw in every side character in-between, however, the reader could get confused about who they are supposed to follow.

Do you find yourself making any of the above mistakes?  It’s perfectly fine to make them during your first draft.  Remember, the first draft of everything is ALWAYS crap.  Nobody is perfect.  For writers, the thing to remember is that you need to get the story out.  Finish it. Tell it the way you want it to be told.  If you want excessive run on sentences to carry your tale, then by all means, make it happen.  When it’s done, and you look back through your creation, that’s the time to make any corrections you may decide to do.  Change your mind about those run on sentences?  Change it.  Is your first chapter laden from excessive info dumping?  Break the information up.  That’s why they’re called drafts.  Once your book is written, you still have quite a bit of work to do.  It’s just the name of the game.

Tanglewood Release, Plus A Free Gift!

TanglewoodCover_f_paths.inddGood news for Montana Marrenger fans.
The Runaway Train is having a free run until 10/23 starting TODAY!
It’s my gift to you in celebration of my newest release!
Tanglewood, the third book in my Montana Marrenger Mysteries, has finally been published! Here’s a free sample for Tanglewood, if you’re wanting to check it out here first.  Enjoy!

 


Chapter One
November, 1994

“When’s Dad coming home?”
Maggie whirled around to find her little brother standing in the kitchen doorway.  His brown hair was tussled and there were pillow crease marks that made a bizarre tapestry of lines and circles along his cheek.  “You’re up early, Aiden.  Are you hungry?”
“Yeah,” he said in a squeaky voice that made her want to scoop him up in her arms.  He pulled out a chair from the small kitchen table and climbed into it.  “Where’s Dad?
“He’s at work.  Don’t worry, though.  He’ll be back before you know it.”
She turned towards the window.  The soft glow of morning revealed falling snow outside.  It was heavier now, and she just knew they would get another couple of inches added to the three feet that accumulated overnight.
Wind swirled up out of the trees lining the back yard.  The birch and cedars were the beginning of a large expanse of woods behind the house.  Their skeletal limbs trembled and creaked against the gusts.
“Daddy hates it when it snows.”  She washed her hands in the sink, observing the winter storm that had every school in the county closed.
“How could anybody hate snow?”  Aiden turned a confused expression towards her.  “I love snow!  Everyone loves it.  You can have snowball fights, you can build snowmen… You can even build a snow fort!”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”  She stepped away from the sink, pulled a carton of eggs from the fridge, and cracked one into a cast iron skillet that had already been heated up for herself.  “It’s not that Dad hates snow, exactly.  It’s more that he hates driving in it.”
Aiden followed her movements with wide eyes.  “Why?”
“Well.”  She glanced at him and smiled at the superman pajamas that rose up just underneath his knees.  “Driving in the snow can be kind of tough.  It’s hard to see the road.”  She scrambled the egg with a spatula.  “Hey, I thought we got rid of those pajamas?”
“Nope.”
“They don’t fit you very well anymore, kiddo.  We should put them in a box and take them to Goodwill with the other clothes from last winter.”  She scooped the egg onto a plate, poured a glass of orange juice, and set them on the table in front of him.  “I thought dad told you to do that.”
“He did.”  He forked the eggs into his mouth as though he hadn’t eaten in a week.  “It’s just that these are my favorite.”
“That may be true,” she said while cracking two more eggs into the skillet.  “But somewhere out there is another little boy who may not have any pajamas to wear at all.  Just remember that.”
He gulped the juice and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve.  “Maybe his mom and dad should buy him some.”
She aimed the spatula at him with her eyebrows raised.  “My point exactly.”
Hail pinged against the window, startling her.  Outside, the wind howled and the snow blew across the yard in sheets.
Aiden was oblivious to the raging storm outside.  “Do you think Dad will help me build a snow fort today?”
She glanced at the digital clock on the stove.  Their father had never been this late coming home from work before, and the thought of road conditions made a spark of panic race along her spine.  Her hand shook when she scooped the eggs onto the plate.
“Maybe.”  She said in a soft tone she hoped didn’t betray her worry.   The thought of food suddenly made her stomach churn, but she dug into the eggs with a fork anyway.  “Maybe all three of us will.”

Chapter Two
February, 2011

His breath came in short stabbing rasps.  Branches grabbed at his sweater.  Twigs slapped against his face.  It was useless to even try to be quiet when every cracking stick under his boots exploded in the stillness of the woods.
A sharp incline to his left revealed a glittering stream.  He grabbed onto a branch to keep from sliding down the hill.  His steamy breath blossomed in the frigid air as he examined the chilly water below.
Had the stranger followed him this far?  He wondered if he should turn back, climb into his pickup truck, and head to the warmth of the fireplace at home.
A snap sounded somewhere behind him.  He heard the crunch of snow.

Available at Amazon

 

Behind The Character: Maggie Sue Maguire

UnknownWhen I first envisioned Maggie Sue Maguire, it was while working on Monsoon Morning. The concept of incorporating a private investigator into a story was intriguing, but I wanted to develop the character into something I hadn’t quite seen before in my genre. Most of the PI’s I came across in books were cynical, not unlike the main character depiction in the television series House.
Not all of the PI’s I discovered were male, either. If it happened to be a woman, then she had to be sexy, sultry, and mysterious. Not all investigators look like super models, and I didn’t want mine to fall into that label.
I set out from the start to make Maggie quirky. In an original draft, there was even a nod to the great Spencer that came in the form of Maggie’s feline pet she keeps around the office. Sometimes the days are long in between assignments, and she considers her cat to be quite a good listener when there’s no one else around.
Maggie is smart and witty. Messy, but very much in control when she takes on animages assignment. She has a warm heart, and could very much be the girl next door if you didn’t know any better.
Much like Selena Marrenger, Maggie Maguire isn’t without her faults. She doesn’t claim to be perfect. She’s not one of those super cops you find on CSI. She tends to think with her heart, but isn’t afraid to follow her gut.

You can catch up with Maggie Sue Maguire in my upcoming novella, TANGLEWOOD!

IF YOU WANT EXCLUSIVE CONTENT AND ALL KINDS OF OTHER AWESOMENESS, YOU HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER! IT’S NOT HARD. JUST A LITTLE FORM, AN EMAIL ADDRESS EXCHANGE. NO BLOOD SPILLING NECESSARY. TRUST ME. YOU TRUST ME, RIGHT? GOOD.

newsletter

Short Story Writing Class

ManhattanMayhem_WebBanner_0

Nancy PickardOne of my favorite mystery authors, Nancy Pickard, is hosting a series of courses on Facebook centered on short fiction.  If any fellow writers out there are interested in honing your craft in this particular style, or if you are a curious reader who wants a peek into the complex world of writing, I highly recommend it.
The class is coming fresh off the heels of the publication of Manhattan Mayhem from the Mystery Writers Of America, and is edited by Mary Higgins Clark.  It’s an anthology featuring mystery authors such as Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver.  Nancy Pickard’s short story  “Three Little Words” appears in it.  Nancy is using this anthology as a sort of text book for the course.
classIf you struggle with short fiction, or believe the old writer’s tale that they are too difficult to write, then I urge you to sign up today! join

See you there!