Duck for Cover

Duck for cover – the new book cover, that is. After much back and forth with my designer, the final version has come through for my revised first thriller. It looks something like this:

Yes, you are the first ones on the planet to see this new look! It just needs a minor tweak with the sizing and it will be ready to launch. The gap on the lower back cover is for the ISBN, etc. BTW, this is why I don’t recommend self-publishing—I should be spending my time writing and not worrying about book cover design, re-writing, correcting errors, uploading files, etc. [You can order a copy of 3 WISE MEN here]

On a Cold and Rainy Day

What to do on a cold and rainy day? I could finish painting the spare bedroom, but the weather is damp and the paint won’t dry very well. I could take my wife out for a coffee, but she is ill and resting. I could keep editing my new book—or, rather, what I call fine-editing since the major editing is finished. No, I need a new inspiration. So, I decide to work on my first book; produce a new cover, revise the first chapter and update the About the Author page. My goal is to have this done in three days. Meanwhile, my darling publisher Amazon have changed their Kindle format from .mobi to .pub, so that requires more work :-). The next day, I have a head cold and don’t feel like doing much at all. But, the weather is warmer and the painting is almost finished. I’m praying for a better week ahead and a new-look to the bedroom as well as my first book. More news to follow if all goes well. {PS: good progress on both the bedroom renovation and book revisions. The text changes are done and have been uploaded to Amazon. Now I am working with my illustrator with final touches to the cover. All will be revealed soon}

The Day of the Jackal Sets a High Bar for Thrillers

Author Lee Child has published 25 thrillers, featuring Jack Reacher, which have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.So when he says The Day Of The Jackal is “a year-zero, game-changing thriller, one of the most significant of all time” you listen.

It is 50 years since the book by Frederick Forsyth was published but, in a new introduction to a special anniversary edition, Child says it still feels “luminously fresh and new”.

And no-one is more surprised than Forsyth himself. Not only was it his first novel, but also he tells the BBC: “I’d never written a word of fiction in my life.”

Back in 1970, the former RAF pilot and war correspondent was out of work. “[I was] skint, in debt, no flat, no car, no nothing and I just thought, ‘How do I get myself out of this hole?’ And I came up with probably the zaniest solution – write a novel,” he says.

Forsyth “dashed off” The Day Of The Jackal quickly on an old typewriter in 35 days. It is a gripping tale, set in 1963, about an Englishman hired to assassinate the French president at the time, Charles de Gaulle. But publishers were not interested. After all de Gaulle was very much alive, the mission had obviously failed, so where was the suspense? That, says Child, is the key to its success.

“It had a wholly new approach. It was talking about how things were done, rather than would something succeed. [read more from the BBC here]. PS: I smiled when I read this article and hope that my new thriller is a success because the mission given to the lead character fails to unfold in the way we would expect. (oops, did I give too much away?)

Unnecessary Characters

Another dilemma—what to do with unwanted or unnecessary characters. The best idea is to let them go, but do it in such a way that it provides more tension for the main character(s). In my first thriller, the main character – Jack Colins – is chased by a woman who attempts to discover his secret. She sits next to him on a train ride to Milan and hounds her way into his life to the point of being more than annoying. At a crucial moment, Jack discovers her body in an ante-room in a small church and it’s not a pretty scene. But, her demise piles more pressure on Jack and he is forced to flee to safety in an e-type Jaguar, aided by his sister. Unfortunately, she also becomes an ‘unnecessary character’ and …. no more spoilers. But, if you really want to find out what happens to my unwanted characters, why not buy my book? PS: the e-type is yellow; it just had to be yellow.

Chapter Expansion

I am a fan of short, crisp chapters. Something that worried me about my first chapter was the length. At 8pp it seemed a bit long, but was held together by the same scene. It must have worried me, because I couldn’t sleep and got up to split the chapter into two. It wasn’t easy, but at least I could now get back to sleep—that is, until I decided to add another chapter to the end of my novel. This is the fun part and why I love writing. By adding another end chapter, I was able to complete a plot circle and connect with an earlier character. It brought some threads together and had the added bonus of giving freedom to my protagonist to enjoy a new, and better, life. This new chapter took my lead character out of the shadows and into the sunshine. I also wanted an ending that finished my novel, yet opened the possibility of another. It goes something like this;

[“This is Maria.”

“Pleased to meet you and thanks for joining us,” I say. She is wearing a wedding ring and I ask, “Is your husband joining us?”

Maria looks away and drops her head. All I can say is, “I’m sorry I asked.”

“It…it’s O.K. He died at sea.”

I change the subject. “Rian, what are we drinking?”

“Ombra, a fine Prosecco from northern Venice.”

“What does ombra mean?” I ask.

“It has a story,” Rian replies. “In Venice, many years ago, a wine merchant set up his cart at the foot of the bell tower in St. Mark’s square. As the day wore on, he moved his cart to stay in the shade and keep his wines cool and fresh for the customers. Ombra means shade or shadow. Here, try some.”

The taste was a burst of refreshing citrus after the hot afternoon. Like the wine seller in Rian’s story, my time at MI6 had been spent chasing shadows.

I raise my glass, “To new friends and a better future.” As I swallow, my eyes meet Maria’s and sunshine fills my soul at last.]

Character Arcs Are Not All the Same

Oh how we love character arcs (youtube is full of them). A good protagonist ends up bad, or a bad one turns good. Or, a level-headed character stays that way to meet challenges head-on. News channels love to publish about someone who has ‘fallen from grace’ or done something awful. We all have stories about fallen characters. I am reminded of what the great Apostle Paul said (in Romans 3:23) – “all have sinned, and come short…” In other words, none of us are perfect. We aim to be better (or worse) and our character trends or arcs upwards or downwards, or stays level. An arc is a line that is part of a circle; character arcs are the same and three types are listed below. However, there is another arc you should consider, and it is the arc of electricity makes as it moves from one source to another. A spark arcs as an electrical discharge between two electrodes. We saw that in a spectacular way a few days ago. Our stove caught fire and, when we looked inside, there were sparks arcing at the back of the main oven. In writing, I like to think of this arcing as being between characters. Sparks fly as conflict develops and, as conflict develops, you want to keep reading. Now, back to character arcs:

 

Here are three basic character arcs (source from tkpublishing):

What is a Positive Character Arc?

A positive change arc is one in which the protagonist undergoes a positive transformation. This usually includes a neat resolution at the end, where, because of their internal change, the character finally achieves their goals. An example of a positive character arc in classic literature is that of Marilla, the woman who adopts Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Marilla starts off uninterested in keeping the little girl, but as the story progresses, we see her developing a subtle but strong affection for Anne.

Negative Character Arcs

But not all stories have a happy ending: a negative change arc is one that still shows how your character develops, but not toward a positive transformation. Instead, this arc illustrates a downward spiral. However, the basic “arc” pattern remains the same, as it is still about how your protagonist starts one way and ends up another. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a classic example of a negative character arc. From the beginnings of her adultery, Anna Karenina continues to spiral downward, only to reach a tragic end at the end of the book.

What Is a Flat Character Arc?

Another character arc is the flat arc, wherein the character already has their beliefs in place and uses them to solve problems throughout the story; but even as the story ends, the character remains mostly the same. The development of Miss Maudie, the children’s aunt in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is an example of a flat character arc. She remains steadfast in her beliefs from her first scene until the end of the book.

[PS: my main character is an ageing spy who has second-thoughts about the value of his career. I will say no more.]

Less Words, Less Crap

I’m revising a paragraph and it doesn’t read well. I take out a complex phrase and, voila, the paragraph flows. Fewer words can energize writing and increase the pace; more words slow it down. When editing, I ask myself:

  1. What descriptive text can I remove, yet retain the setting?
  2. Do I need this action or does it detract from the plot?
  3. Is there a better way to convey this character’s mood?
  4. Can I break a long chapter into two shorter ones?
  5. Does the sentence length vary enough?

Any Plans Today?

I love those moments when something simple can be profound, such as this example from Chapter 2, when the antagonist is asked what he has planned for the day…

“Guten morgen, Sir. May I take your briefcase?” the driver asks, snapping to attention.

“Thank you.”

“And, where are we going today?”

“Eurotower.”

“Very good, Sir.”

The black limo glides west onto the B44, then loops back to follow the Theodor-Stern-Kai motorway, parallel to the River Main. As they slow for the Friedensbrücke bridge, the driver glances in his mirror.

“Sir, if I may ask, what have you got planned for the day?”

Michael is silent, his thoughts caught by reflections on the water. Across the bridge, he gazes up at the rising commercial landscape north of the round Westhafen Tower and finally speaks as their destination comes into view.

“I plan to change the world.”

What makes a good literary agent?

I had to laugh when I made this new post. Why? because, I don’t yet have a literary agent for my new thriller. However, I worked closely with a publishing editor (MacMillan’s) and enjoyed this list—edited from an article by Nathan Bransford (link here).

1. Your literary agent should have a proven track record of sales and/or works at a reputable agency

This is far from the only criteria for determining whether you have a good agent, but it’s a mandatory starting place. A good agent should have either a track record of sales to major publishers or have a good deal of experience cutting their teeth at a reputable agency or both.

2. Your literary agent should be a good communicator

When you have a question, your agent answers. When you ask for something, your agent delivers. When you want to have a serious conversation, the agent is there to have it. A good agent doesn’t dodge, doesn’t hide, is straightforward with you and tells you things you may not always want to hear. If you feel like you are constantly pulling teeth to get the most basic questions answered, you may not have a good agent. The communications lines need to be open between author and agent.

3. Your literary agent should be able to explain every question you have about your contract or your royalty statements

Publishing contract clauses can be confusing, royalty statements borderline indecipherable. Your agent should know exactly what they mean and be able to explain them to you.

4. Your literary agent is completely ethical in how they approach their job

A good agent will act ethically and advise you to act ethically. If you see your agent act unethically it’s only a matter of time until you’re on the receiving end.

Know your rights as an author.

5. Your literary agent should pay you on time and send you contracts in a timely fashion

Most agents have clauses that stipulate that publishers send payments to them, then they take their commission and send you the balance. This is normal. However, that means it’s all the more important that they send your payments and contracts to you on time. Be very wary if you encounter delays.

6. Your literary agent charges you a commission of 15% on domestic contracts, 20% on foreign contracts, and deducts very transparently for reasonable expenses like postage and copying

No agent should charge you up front. They only make money when you make money and only charge you separately for things like foreign postage and manuscript copying.

7. You feel comfortable

This is key and was the determining factor when I worked with Macmillan Publishers. My editor was available, professional, keen and helpful. I trusted her. In the same way, you have to trust your literary agent. You have to have a good feeling about them. At the end of the day, having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. You have to be able to have faith that your agent has your best interests at heart and is good for your career.

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