Advice for new authors

Advice for new authors

First of all I am going to pass on the obvious:

  • Read a lot
  • Write a lot

Then there is the advice Mark Coker gives in one of the manuals he makes available for free (in Smashwords.com):

  • Study the work of authors in the same field you want to write

Another suggestion I found useful is to give the manuscript to a friend-author and search her/his advice; this doesn’t mean that you have to follow what she/he says; only that you have to ponder the criticism thrown at you. Your friend may have found an error (thank and correct right away). In the case she/he wants to change your story, your plot or the reactions of your personas…be careful. You, the author, is the one in charge: it is your story!

  • Submit your novel to competitions; the judges are quite competent and often offer free comments. I list some of the best: NIEA (National Indie Excellence Award), Global Ebook Awards, Five Star Dragonfly Book Awards
  • Competent reviewing is also very useful: Midwest Book Review does it for free and has an excellent reputation.

Analysis of a bestseller

A few years ago I offered a successful seminar, called “Learn from the Masters” in which I analyze in graphics from, the essential components of bestsellers. An example is the anatomy of Rick Mofina’s “Six Seconds”: Several stories run in parallel, often interlacing.

six-seconds

Mountie Daniel Graham risks his job to solve a murder that hit close to home…the next blog offers a graphic representation of my analysis.

In fiction, we distinguish three essential blocks: the beginning, the major event and the ending. Of course, the start has to ignite the reader’s interest, so at times is referred to as the dynamite stick; its function, however must have a prolonged effect. Figuratively speaking, its conflagration had to leave some burning embers; you can resort to them if or when the story suffers a sudden stop. Example: did you use a killing as your dynamite stick? If yes, introduce an unwanted witness, somebody who should not be there but who, unexpectedly has lingered around the premises. He may come handy, later on…

In the middle, you should place the extraordinary event that leaves dramatic consequences.

The ending, naturally, should answer all the questions that you have raised at the beginning.

Here is what happens in Six Seconds in big blocks (I would not hint at the ending, of course)

The beginning consists of two major concurrent events (the dynamite sticks):

• A woman plots a sophisticated terrorist attack
• A mother spares no efforts to find his kidnapped nine-year-old son

The middle: The pope’s imminent visit.

Children of a school choir who have been chosen to sing for the pope; they will receive a rosary from the hands of the Holy Father. (Time: six seconds)
Due to personal reasons Mountie Daniel Graham doesn’t care much about his job and this allows him to challenge his superior’s orders beyond normal police procedures

Relevant fact: The US National Security Agency, with its advanced technology in signal intelligence keeps the skies under constant surveillance
Another relevant fact: Special fabric incorporating explosive and micro-receptors are woven and shaped into fancy clothing—thus constituting a potential, above-suspicion and hardly-detectable weapon that can be ignited from any point of the earth.

THE BIG CONFLICT: the explosive is ignited

The end is a kaleidoscope of actions that keeps the reader glued to his seat.
By analyzing closely a successful novel, one can appreciate (and maybe absorb) some of its structure and style.

 

Choosing a title for my new book

I never choose the title of my book too early. In a way, I let the title pop up by itself as I develop the story. Here it is how it went for “Lemoncella Cocktail.”

The protagonist is a bartender, so he is in the position of experimenting with new drinks and cocktails. He wants to please the girl he is interested in, so he concentrates on inventing a drink for women—not too strong with a delicate flavor.

Now, of course I am no expert… First, my experience with alcoholic drinks is minimal, so I had to resort to the help of my sweet sister who frequently visits me from Italy. Second, vodka is one of the best mixes since it seems to enhance the flavor of a drink, without overpowering it.

cropped-lemoncellaI was familiar with the traditional limoncello made in Italy, using peelings of lemons, sugar and water, with the optional addition of alcohol. I went to buy some of the liqueurs available on the Ontario market (where my story takes place) paying attention to the lemon flavor. I found Rossi D’Asiago Limoncello and Sophia’s Lemoncella.

The mixture we came up with was very pleasant to the palate, but we felt that it could stand a bit more kick. The next time, when we met in Italy, we thought of using the juice of a chinotto.lemoncella

A few drops of this fruit made our creation distinctive, if I can use this word. Chinotti are small oranges of bitter taste, frequently used as flavoring agents in Italian aperitifs. We were satisfied with the taste… and so was my protagonist, Patrick Carter.

The name of the cocktail popped up, and this author thought it could be an attractive title for the novel.

 

 

How I created the protagonist of Lemoncella Cocktail

As I said in my previous blog, Lemoncella Cocktail was inspired by a story I heard in the older days. A teenager had killed his father in the attempt to protect his mother. He grew up shy and averse to challenges or confrontations. Avoiding being in the spot light seemed to be his main concern. He surprised everybody when  one day he risked his life to save a drowning girl, thus becoming a celebrated hero.

In his event there was drama; it could serve as a dynamite stick to ignite the readers’ attention in a work of fiction—possibly a thriller. Once chosen the starting point, I had to build the character of the protagonist, Patrick Carter.

The young man had to be familiar with water rescue and aquatic traumatic stress—so I made him a certified lifeguard serving on the shores of Lake Huron.gazebo

Naturally he has to be physically strong, so he is tall and muscular. He has to have another job to complement his daily income, so I made him a bartender at night.

Now, his action has to provoke some problems, right? So, what is better than saving the life of a person the mob wants to eliminate? That would put him in jeopardy, in the middle of a conflict, since now the mob not only wants to kill the girl, but also the good Samaritan who has seen who had thrown her into the river. His he married? No, he’s 25-year old and very handsome, so this offers me the occasion of introducing a bit of romance. But the girl he likes belongs to a social level much higher than his. After all, Patrick does not even have a stable job!

Why the mob wanted to kill the girl in the first place? Because she is believed to have witnessed a massive weapons exchange. Now we have crime. So, I can now present the bad guys, and the lawful group that chases them. The latter is a specialized task force, comprising members of Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, working with the coastguards of both Ontario and the United States.

No good novel wins a prize or gain many readers without a constellation of characters—some nice, some bad—who interact with the main personas by importing a few of their problems. There is the son of a business man who is anxious to make quickly much more money than his father ever did in his life and in doing so he becomes an arms dealer; there is a very young woman who, not confident in the understanding of her family, tries to solve her problems by herself—and so she goes from one perilous situation to another; there is a seven-year old kid who looks for a father figure…

All these events, situations and characters have to tie in together, making the story flow without a glitch.

I hope I have done just that!

 

 

Presenting Rene Natan and her newest novel

I always wanted to be a storyteller; I loved to entertain my schoolmates with stories of my own or recount plots of books I had recently read. When I had to decide which discipline to choose at college, my family pointed out how difficult it would be to become a professional writer and support myself with the corresponding meager income. So, since being independent financially was important to me, I chose a scientific direction and soon entered the emerging field of computers; being one of the first in this discipline opened a lot of doors, giving me the possibility to teach and conduct research in an academic environment. This experience was priceless and gave me a lot of satisfaction and recognition. However…stories never ceased to bubble up in my head. Should I go back to my first passion? I decided to try my luck, took several online courses on fiction writing and dove into the field with the enthusiasm of a novice.

There were difficulties to overcome—and not of minor magnitude. First, English was not my mother language; second, scientific writing requires conciseness; one should express concepts and describe results with the least amount of words. While hiring a good editor could help in the first issue, the second was a difficulty I had to struggle with and still do after having written ten novels. I tend to focus on the essential and bank on the reader to fill in the obvious.

Enough about me…I come now to an issue that can interest readers: where do I get the inspiration for a story? Sometimes it comes from what happened in my life, sometimes from a striking event reported in the news, other times from an old story I heard from friends or relatives.

My first novel, Mountains of Dawn, for instance, got the starting point from my childhood, when my house was destroyed and my family had to move to an unfriendly place. The Jungfrau Watch dealt with the subject of terrorism when in the ’70s a group called The Red Brigades stormed all over Italy, kidnapping rich folks and shooting at everybody who stood in their way. The Blackpox Threat is a spy story where a beautiful young woman, intent to enjoy life in the peaceful surrounding of London Ontario, is drawn into an international intrigue. Fleeting Visions—a tale centered on underage prostitution—had two elements of inspiration: some information my husband and I collected when we travelled south and the Minh Dang’s story as reported by NBC.

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Lemoncella Cocktail was inspired by a tale I heard in the older days; a young man who, as a teenager had killed his father in the attempt to protect his mother, had risked his life to save a drowning girl; in his story there was drama, and it could serve as the dynamite stick to ignite the readers’ attention. Once chosen the starting point, I had to build the character of the protagonist—but this has to wait for another blog…