Ric Bennett’s advice to aspiring writers

Today I’m featuring an article by Tasmanian author, Ric Bennett. Ric’s novel, The Moses Prophecy, is a mythology-inspired adventure story.

‘What process did you use to write your book and what advice would you give to young aspiring writers?’, I was asked.

Goodness me. Who am I, a first time writer with no previous experience at writing a novel and who has never attended any story writing courses, to give advice about writing a novel?

Ric Bennett with a display stand to promote his book, The Moses ProphecyI can only tell you about my own desire and determination to write my book, The Moses Prophecy and how I went about it.

Being an artist and musician/songwriter/composer certainly helped. I’m a very visual and auditory person and my imagination does run riot quite often.

My writing style has been described as ‘cinematic’. While thinking of ideas and dialogue I actually saw my story played out like a movie on a cinema screen. I wrote about what I was seeing and hearing.

A well-known author told me that with the appropriate training I could become a good screenwriter. I guess that fits with my style being called ‘cinematic’.

I also had conversations with my main character. Never having done this before I figured this was normal for all writers, until I found out otherwise. Well, it worked for me.

The one piece of advice I would offer is this. Enjoy what you are doing. If you have a story and you believe you can write it down in a coherent way, without losing the plot (excuse the pun), then do so. Don’t be put off by anyone telling you can’t do it. And don’t be put off by adverse criticism. You have to believe in yourself.

The idea for my book was in my head for about fifteen years before I had the opportunity to get it out and let it take form as a coherent story. It involved a lot of research into historical data that I needed for the plot. Although the story came out of my imagination, it is fiction, set in the present but woven around facts, myths and legends. So much so that the reader will not know what is true and what isn’t. And this is entirely intentional.

Once you have the story down, and that may take many re-writes, additions and deletions before you are satisfied, then get a good editor. That may mean more re-writes but it’s worth it, especially if you want to submit it to publishers.

Bio
Ric Bennett is an artist, musician and writer who settled in Derby, Tasmania in 2014. The Moses Prophecy is set in London, Washington, Melbourne, Israel and Tasmania and is Ric’s first novel.

I will be publishing another interview with Ric in June, as part of the Dorset Art & Craft Festival.

Links
Ric’s website
Amazon page for The Moses Prophecy
If you are in Tasmania, The Moses Prophecy is stocked by Petrarch’s Bookshop in Launceston. (They are on Facebook.)

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My favourite writing research tools

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about technology I’ve been using to help me write. Today I thought I’d share my technological research tools. There may be something here you haven’t come across – or perhaps you’ve a great suggestion you’d like to share!

My favourite writers’ research tools

This year I’ve found myself using eBooks as well as print books for research. I rarely use my clunky old Kindle – but do use the wonderful Kindle app for the iPad. This sits on your iPad desktop like any other app but allows you to read Kindle eBooks.

I’m currently writing stories set in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, and on the Kindle store I’ve found lots of free literature written during this period. I lucked upon the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. It’s full of familiar words that have changed meaning over the years, as well as words that have disappeared. It’s like time-travelling, only through language. Classic books are all there. In fact any classic that’s out of copyright is likely to be on the Kindle store. This means I don’t have to keep my bookcases cluttered with paperback classics.

My only warning here is that many of the free Kindle eBooks are poorly-formatted. At least with freebies you haven’t spent any money.

(I hope this doesn’t sound like I don’t like spending money on eBooks! I do, cross my heart. I also buy picture book apps, which are those all-singing, all-dancing magic books. But this is usually for entertainment, rather than research.)

Another iPad app I use for research is the British Library Historical Collection. It’s a portal to their historical collection. There’s a lot there within my own niche area of interest that I can’t access at my local, the State Library of Victoria. And as it’s curated by librarians, the collection can be searched in a variety of ways. Even browsing is a lot of fun – perfect for inspiration.

Robert Fortune’s Two visits to the Tea countries of China and the British Tea Plantations in the Himalaya recently caught my fancy. Although The History of a Lump of Chalk by Alexander Watt sounds good too!

Nothing beats visiting the place in which you’re setting your story. If you can’t do that, there’s always Google maps. And major libraries have been busy digitising their collections – particularly useful for accessing maps, photographs – any sort illustrative material. This means I don’t have to visit the library in person. I can sit at home and view and print the material I need. I discovered the Alma Collection at the State Library of Victoria in this way. It’s material collected by Will Alma on the history of magic and magicians in Melbourne. There are hundreds of wonderfully atmospheric photos and posters.

Researching what’s hot and what’s not

If you’re like me and want to know what other publishers and authors are producing, there’s nothing like a spot of market research. Having lost 20% of bookstores in Australia in recent times, I’ve been backing up my bookstore research with online research.

On Amazon, you can search your region as well as new releases from the last 30 or 90 days. However, given Amazon’s less-than-generous terms for most publishers outside the US, this is probably not a representative sample for Australian publishing.

The Apple iBookstore is growing, and there is strong representation from Australian publishers. On the iBookstore you can download samples of every title for free. Unfortunately this doesn’t always give you a good indication of the title. With picture books in particular, I’ve found you can end up with a cover, the usual preliminary material, then straight to the ‘buy this book’ button. So not always a helpful guide. I should mention you do need an iPad or iPhone to access iBookstore.

I always find it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what particular publishing companies are publishing. These are companies who release similar material to what I write. On their websites, most book publishers have subscription-based e-newsletters where they’ll periodically announce their latest releases. If you ignore the spin, these can be useful for market research.

I haven’t signed up for it so can’t really comment – but I’ve heard Netgalley is a good way of seeing what publishers and authors are up to.

So that’s it for the technology I find useful for writing. If you’ve any suggestions for research tools, as usual I’d love to hear them!

The pros & cons of Authonomy: A guest post by Paul Xavier Jones

The cover for Paul Xavier Jones' book

Paul's book, Boundary Limit

Today emerging writer Paul Xavier Jones shares his experience of publicising his book through the Harper Collins website, Authonomy.

What exactly is Authonomy?

Authonomy is a website managed by Harper Collins publishers. The idea is, rather than submitting a manuscript directly to the Harper Collins’ slush pile, users of the site rate books and provide feedback to authors.

How does Authonomy work?

A fledgling writer can upload either a few chapters or an entire manuscript onto the site. Other writers and the general public then read as much as they like, and rate the book. There is a ranking system, based on how many people load the work onto their ‘bookshelf’ and there is also a ‘star’ rating system. Readers can leave comments about the work, or suggestions for improvements or ideas.

If your book gets into the top 5 of books on the site, then Harper Collins will select it for review by their editorial team.

What have you found useful about the site?

I found the comments section the most useful, although you have to take them with a pinch of salt. A lot of the people who write comments are other authors on the site. They tend to be gentle with their comments, because they want you to read their work and comment favourably, or back their work by putting it on your virtual bookshelf. I only got one really critical comment, and the person leaving it had a point; I used what he said to improve the work.

What hasn’t been useful about the site?

The site isn’t achieving what Harper Collins set out to do. People solicit for votes. If you want to move up the ranks, you need to plead for votes, or join voting ‘blocks’ where if you vote for someone, their friends will vote for you.

There seems to be little interest in the actual merit of the writing itself. The work on the site is variable in quality. I’ve read stuff that was absolutely first rate, and I’ve also read stuff that was poorly written.

About Paul
At ten years old, Paul Xavier Jones was part of the generation captivated by the first Star Wars film. He thus began a life long love affair with sci fi, fantasy and thrillers. Three decades later, he has accomplished something that was just a dream back then – completing his own work on a sci fi thriller, Boundary Limit.

Paul has also written a fantasy trilogy, the Ameca J series, which will be available on Kindle shortly.

Paul is married, has two daughters and lives in Wales.

About Boundary Limit

What happens when a boundary limit is exceeded?

Blake Trubble is a man with an obsession. Personal tragedy and a troubled past have moulded him into an emotionless killing machine, with one aim in life – the ruthless and relentless pursuit and destruction of all extremists.

With his job as a Major in a crack SAS team dedicated to hostage extraction, he has numerous opportunities to fulfil his aim.
But there’s one man Blake wants more than any other: Mahmoud Sabak, the Western governments’ most wanted terrorist leader, the so-called ‘missing link’ between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When Sabak seizes the Euro Large Hadron Collider at Batavia, Blake must rescue the four hundred scientists and staff being held hostage from Sabak’s deadly grip.

But both Blake and Sabak haven’t counted on the power of the Collider – when it pushes at the boundary of this reality, breaching its limits and opening a door to another.

And when doors are opened, things can come through …

Weblinks
Click here to visit Paul’s blog.

You can order Paul’s book through Amazon UK.

Click here to visit Authonomy.

How do you promote your book? Part 2 of an interview with non-fiction author, Julie Wise

Today, motivational coach Julie Wise explains how she’s been promoting her new book, Dream BIGGER: Reclaiming a Life of Joy and Ease.

Motivational coach and mentor, Julie Wise

The effervescent Julie Wise

Julie, can you tell me why you created a blog as well as a website?
My website is designed to promote my coaching business. It does include a link to my book blog and a button for purchasing my book, but it also provides information on workshops I offer and other products I’ve created. I set up the blog to focus on the book. It’s much more than a blog; it has information on book reviews, events like my book signings, television and radio interviews, links to all the sites I ‘visited’ during my virtual book tour and so on. I post a new blog for that site every Monday and Thursday. I wanted a site that I could update regularly so I could keep people posted on the latest happenings with the book.

On television, your visual image is very important … Your message is almost secondary.

You’ve been travelling and appearing on talk shows on television and radio to promote your book. Did a publicist help you with this media coverage? Has it been a worthwhile experience?
My publicist set up the majority of the media appearances. She is based in the United States and has connections across the country so working with her was a very worthwhile experience. She was able to book a number of television interviews, advise me on what to wear, help me organise media releases and talking points for interviews. Some of the radio interviews I set up myself. The more exposure you have, the more you are seen as an expert in your field and the more likely people are to want your book.

Could you give readers any advice on media appearances?
Be well prepared! For television appearances, you generally have about 3 minutes for an interview (and that includes questions from the interviewer). So you need to know your material, focus on getting your main points across, and be animated at the same time. Being on television is quite a different experience from radio.

On television, your visual image is very important – what you wear (not busy or distracting colours or patterns), your hair and makeup, your mannerisms (how you sit, your gestures or facial expressions). Your message is almost secondary.

On the radio, all people hear is your voice and your message, so it’s important to speak calmly and not rush, focus on getting your points across, and sound friendly and happy.

Always think of the interviewer as your best friend, smile as you speak, and focus your attention directly at him or her (ignoring anything else that’s going on in the studio).

You recently completed a virtual book tour. Can you explain what this is and how you set up the interviews?
The virtual book tour was set up through my social media consultant. It’s a series of blog sites that feature either written interviews or guest blogs and book reviews.

On set dates, I went to specific blog sites, checked for comments under the blog interview or review of my book, and responded to the comments. It’s a way of doing a book “tour” without leaving home! And it provides an author with good internet exposure through the various blog sites.

Tell me about the Dream BIGGER Reinvention Challenge. Why did you decide on a contest?
When I first began working with my Dream BIGGER team (publicist, social media consultant and website designer), we discussed ways to promote the book on a large scale. One of the ideas was to create a 60-day online contest. The Dream BIGGER Reinvention Challenge was the result.

Over a period of 2 months, people could enter their dream and others could go to the pages and vote on the dreams that inspired them most. We wanted this to inspire the general public to dream bigger with their lives and consider new possibilities, especially during the challenges of recession.

It was a great success with nearly 900 visits and over 2700 page views from 20 different countries in just 60 days. The grand prize winner is currently receiving coaching, publicity and social media support on making her dream a reality.

I never could have envisioned all that’s occurred in the past year as a result of this book … So take a deep breath, and let the ride begin!

Which online communities could you recommend for writers to promote themselves and their books?
I’ve found that many of the social media sites are excellent sources for marketing and networking. LinkedIn has a Books and Writers Group, for example. I also use Twitter and Facebook for general marketing. Authorsden, Goodreads, Stumbleupon are a few that come to mind. BookCrossing is a wonderful way to send your book out into the world and watch as it travels. Amazon has a new page for authors to promote themselves, plus you can create a list that includes your book through Listmania. It’s also very beneficial to ask reviewers to post their reviews on Amazon.

Did you develop special workshops to introduce people to you and your book?
Yes, and that’s part of the focus for the coming year – giving workshops, talks, developing a teleseminar and podcasts … There are always more ways to generate interest and create a greater following.

Is there anything you would do differently with your next book in terms of promotions?
I think I’d recognise that it’s a more involved and intense process than I’d originally hoped! I’d try to be more relaxed and accepting of the time involved and take more time to truly appreciate and celebrate each milestone rather than be focused on what remains to be done.

I would definitely hire a support team again. It’s more effective and efficient (and sane!) than trying to do it alone. The great advantage to a second book is that you can build on the connections you’ve already made the first time around.

Would you say you’ve made a conscious effort to develop your brand? Or is this something that’s evolved?
I tried to develop it consciously, but I think it’s been evolving as well. It’s important to be open to the way you, your book, and your life are shifting and changing and work with the flow rather than against it.

What next? Do you have plans for other writing projects?
I did start back into writing the book on Ireland that I was working on when Dream BIGGER came along. But a few weeks ago, I became bored with that story, so it’s on hold for now. I think my focus for the next six months is on developing some other products. I believe there is another book gestating at the moment, but it hasn’t revealed itself to me yet.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you started your publishing project, what advice would you give yourself?
Dream bigger, Julie! You see, I had a different ‘plan’ for my life and my writing, and what happened with this book is a perfect example of what the book is all about. I never could have envisioned all that’s occurred in the past year as a result of this book. There’s often a bigger plan for our lives than we can possibly imagine. So take a deep breath, and let the ride begin!

Where can people buy the book?
Dream BIGGER is available online through Amazon. In the United States, it’s also available online through Borders and Barnes and Noble. In Canada, online through Chapters.

Julie, thank you for sharing your story!

About the book

When life’s challenges get you down, and you feel like giving up on your heartfelt desires, it’s not time to quit. It’s time to dream even bigger! Dream BIGGER: Reclaiming a Life of Joy and Ease is filled with inspiring true stories, simple tools and exercises, and plenty of motivation. Learn how to re-chart your course and bring more joy and ease into your life as you pursue your dreams.

About Julie

Julie Wise is a motivational coach and mentor who helps people navigate change in their lives and achieve their dreams. She encourages people around the world to look beyond their current circumstances and envision a brighter future. Julie currently lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not coaching clients, she can be found dancing flamenco or exploring a windswept beach somewhere …

Weblinks
Julie’s website:
http://www.juliewiseconsulting.com/

Julie’s blog:
http://www.wise1coaching.wordpress.com/

The ‘Dream BIGGER’ contest:
http://www.dreambiggercontest.com/

How did you get published? Interview with non-fiction author, Julie Wise

Today, I’m talking to motivational coach, mentor and now non-fiction author, Julie Wise. Julie recently published her book, Dream BIGGER: Reclaiming a Life of Joy and Ease through iUniverse.com.

Dream Bigger, by Julie Wise

The cover for Julie's new book

Julie, why did you decide to write this book? How does it slot in with your work as a motivational coach and mentor?
Actually, Cathryn, I didn’t decide to write the book. The book itself made the decision! I was busy writing another book (about my three-month journey through Ireland) when the idea for this book came to me and wouldn’t let go. It showed me the title, gave me the outline and insisted on being written. So I set aside the time, and the content revealed itself, section by section.

The message is perfectly suited to the work I do as a coach because I help people navigate change in their lives and achieve their dreams. In the book, I write about what to do when the plan you had for your life falls apart and you’re faced with unexpected change. I also provide tips and tools for identifying your life dream and making it a reality.

How long did the process take, from planning, research and writing to holding a freshly-printed copy in your hands?
It was exactly nine months from inception to ‘birth’, just like having a baby! The writing came first, followed by a month of doing interviews with people I call Dreammakers in the book (inspiring people whose dreams took on a life of their own and had a community or global impact), and then the editing, cover design, final proofing and printing.

Tell me about your writing process. What obstacles did you encounter and how did you solve them?
Once I had the outline, I spent time filling in ideas for the content in each section. I knew I wanted simple exercises plus real life examples. I committed to writing at least 1000 words a day. I wrote 2–4 hours a day nearly every day for three months and the first draft was complete. There were days when I didn’t want to write, or didn’t feel inspired, but I sat down at my laptop anyway, and the words would come.

I also kept a writer’s journal – a file on my computer where I’d make short entries each day before I began to write. I’d put down ideas for that day’s writing, or mention that I felt tired and uninspired. It helped to be able to reread previous entries and realise that even on slow days, I was able to write 1000 words and feel energised by the end.

When I finished writing the first draft, I realised it was shorter than I wanted, so I needed to find something else to fill the space. That’s when I decided to interview the Dreammakers. I sent an email to six people whose stories I found inspiring (I didn’t know any of them personally), and asked for an interview. Even though they are all very busy people, they said ‘yes’ right away. I think their stories add a great deal to the book.

Why did you decide to publish with iUniverse.com? Did you approach any traditional publishers?
I didn’t approach any traditional publishers with this book because I wanted to get the book published and in readers’ hands as quickly as possible. With traditional publishing, there can be quite a time lapse. I published with iUniverse on a referral from a colleague who had previously published with them.

Did you get any assistance from an editor, proofreader or other book publishing professional?
After doing a thorough editing of the draft myself, and formatting it according to the required standards set by my publisher, I submitted it to an iUniverse editor for further editing. I did the final proofreading myself. I’m a professional translator, so I have a good grasp of language, punctuation and grammar.

How did you work out pricing for the paperback and Kindle versions of the book?
The prices for paperback, hardcover and Kindle were set by the publisher.

Tell me about your book promotion. You seem to have devoted a huge amount of time and energy to promoting Dream BIGGER: Reclaiming a Life of Joy and Ease. Did you make the book your number one priority?
Dream BIGGER became a full-time job for about a year, from writing to printing and marketing. I set aside three months last fall to focus solely on promotion. I hired a publicist for television, radio and print media promotion and a social media consultant to handle internet marketing. It was a very busy and demanding time, but I felt it was essential to getting the book out there and known.

Did you sit down and plan your promotional tactics? How did you decide what to do and what not to do?
My publisher required that I create a marketing plan. I was given a template to work with, but I developed my own and tailored it to my own needs and objectives. When I began to work with the publicist, we discussed a three-month plan based on my long-term vision for the book.

I’ll be posting the second part of Julie’s interview in a few days. In it, Julie explains how she’s been promoting her book.

Click here to visit Julie’s website, and here for her blog.

The joys & pitfalls of historical research: A guest blog by Richard Blackburn

Today’s guest blogger, author Richard Blackburn, writes about the difficulties and pleasures of researching the historical settings for his books. He also includes some fascinating tidbits about medieval life!

The joys & pitfalls of writing a story with an historical setting
A guest blog from Richard Blackburn

I must admit, first up, that I hate being wrong. Many readers of fiction are quite happy if the setting is vague or some things obviously incorrect – such as showing Henry VIII throwing half-gnawed chicken bones over his shoulder or Vikings wearing helmets with horns sticking out of them. These are commonly-held myths but I couldn’t stand having them in my work.

Trying to get things right isn’t always easy. My three books often feature peasants living in the years 1347–1356. There are lots of paintings, books and biographies about lords and ladies, Kings and Queens – but not much about peasants.

I believe some of the traces that do exist are misinterpreted. One historian discussing Brugel’s paintings stated that they must have represented a time of unrest – the men all had sheathed knives on their belts. At the time knives weren’t laid out at the table in poor people’s homes. Everyone used their own at meal time. These knives would be used every day by peasants as they worked the land. They’d cut honeysuckle vine to make string or rope, if fences needed mending and so on. So knives were a part of their everyday dress.

Russell advised his readers: don’t blow your nose on the table cloth … Don’t spit too far away … but WHEN you DO spit, place your hand to the side of your mouth and spit neatly to the side of your chair.

I’ve found some good sources – at high school I studied Chaucer in the vernacular as well as Shakespeare. These are worth reading for some understanding of the lives of the lower classes. There are also a thousand letters from or about members of the Pastern family who lived in the early 1400s. They wrote about their day-to-day existence as middle class, and somewhat privileged, citizens but they also include a lot of interesting facts about the unrest of the time.

One fascinating short piece was written by John Russell, a servant in the middle 1400s. His words were printed in the late 1500s by Wynkyn de Worde in a booklet called The Boke of Keruynge (The Book of Carving). As well as showing things such as how the three table cloths were arranged on each table, he gives us good advice on manners. He tells his readers not to spit over the table cloth or onto it. He says definitely don’t blow your nose on the table cloth. And when the water is brought around to wash your hands, you shouldn’t spit into that. Don’t spit too far away, he says, but WHEN you DO spit, place your hand to the side of your mouth and spit neatly to the side of your chair. With at least fifty people eating at the castle where he worked, I wouldn’t have liked cleaning the floor after a meal!

I’ve also read a translation of Froissart’s Chronicles. This is a French nobleman’s account of the early part of the 100 Years War. That brings me to another important point: histories are the writings of people who see history from their own country’s perspective. The enemy’s treacherous and murderous assaults would be our brilliant, innovative campaigns. So be very wary of the internet and cross reference everything, but also read extensively around even our most respected historians. Treat nothing as absolute.

Histories are the writings of people who see history from their own country’s perspective.

There are very useful sources of information from the writings of the times I write about. I can also gain an idea of how people spoke in those times from these texts. Of course, I couldn’t have the peasants in my books speaking in Medieval English. That would be too hard to read. But I also mustn’t include phrases or concepts they wouldn’t use.

In 1347 I couldn’t have a peasant say something went off ‘half cocked’ or that someone was ‘a flash in the pan’. These sayings come from the use of gunpowder in muskets which was a long time later. Before 1496 the word ‘lynch’ wouldn’t have been used for stringing some luckless person up by the neck. On that year an Irish mayor, John Lynch, hanged his son without a trial and the word was born with his son’s death.

The word ‘posh’ comes from Port Out, Starboard Home when well-heeled English families sailed to India in the coolest cabins. Talking about India, the word ‘thug’ came from a brutal Indian religious group discovered in the late 1700s. And my characters couldn’t ‘fall asleep’. This saying came from stagecoach days, when the poorer passengers, sitting on the roof, would doze off and actually fall off. So the cry would go up, ‘he’s fallen, asleep’. The same for ‘dropped off’.

As well as sayings becoming dated, the food people ate reflects the times. At the table where John Russell was serving, only the highest level of society would eat manchet bread, the white bread made from fine flour sifted through boulting cloth. They wouldn’t have eaten potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, chillies or corn. These came to Europe from South America in 1536. Pumpkins came from North America. But in the Pastern Letters, Margaret Paston asks her husband to send her rice, saffron and galangal. So rich people did eat some very exotic food.

By reading works written in the time of my stories, looking at pictures from those times, and examining the period for anything that would stand out as different from life today, I hope to make my work interesting and informative … as well as fun to read.

About Richard Blackburn
Richard’s three books are published in Australia by Zeus Publications. They are The Gatekeeper, Rudigor’s Revenge and The Regiment; die Kompanie. All have now been accepted for the New South Wales Premier’s Reading Challenge. The first book has also been published as The Guardian of the Gate by Lachesis Publishing. It’s available in paperback format in USA and Canada and also in eBook format by all major eBook outlets.

Click here to visit Richard’s website and find out more about Richard and his books.

The ‘rules’ of modern-world sci-fi: A guest blog by Russ Colchamiro

Russ Colchamiro's Finders Keepers

The cover for Russ's book, Finders Keepers

Today I have a guest blog by US science fiction author, Russ Colchamiro. Russ’s first novel is titled Finders Keepers. Here Russ explains how he blended the elements of this hybrid genre story: science fiction, humour, mystery and ‘cosmic lunacy’.

The ‘Rules’ of Modern-World Sci-Fi
by Russ Colchamiro

Mixing science fiction/fantasy elements with the modern world is a dance indeed. It was for me.

My first novel, Finders Keepers, is loosely based on backpacking trips I took through Europe and New Zealand, set against a quest for a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA.

You know … a quiet family drama!

My goal was to write a multi-layered novel that felt epic in scale, yet was simultaneously intimate, while remaining fun and funny throughout. But not long into the writing process, I realized that I had a big issue to reconcile:

How do I combine the ‘cosmic lunacy’, as I like to call it, with the everyday world that you and I know, and invite the reader to accept that this total environment is plausible?

One key element pulled the threads together.

During the early days of my first draft, I belonged to a writer’s group, as many of us do. I received all manner of feedback, but one comment stuck with me from a writer named Brad:

You need to establish the ‘rules’.

At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what Brad meant. To be honest, deep in my gut I suspected he was right. But I wasn’t yet in a confident enough place to acknowledge and accept this confrontation with a key, structural misstep in my storytelling.

During those earlier drafts, I started the action by introducing the hero of Finders Keepers — Jason Medley, a 24-year-old waiter from the NY suburbs — seeing him in the day-to-day of his humdrum life. My reasoning, as far as I was concerned, was quite sound: introduce Jason at his lowest point so that we get to see him during all the phases of his journey — from bummer to reluctant participant to hero.

Now, I really did want to establish the sci-fi tone right away — you gotta give the readers some idea of what you’re up to early on — so I started Finders Keepers with a two-paragraph prologue that hinted at the science fiction theme. This way it wouldn’t be a shock when it finally appeared.

But I saved the more complex ‘cosmic lunacy’/sci-fi elements until a bit later, as a big ‘twist’. Even though I don’t write mystery novels, per se, I like to include mystery elements. Reveal, pull back and conceal, reveal some more. My intention was to get the reader to say, ‘Whoa! Cool!’ when the sci-fi parts really kicked in.

Seemed pretty good to me. It made sense. Only, it didn’t quite work.

Finders Keepers is loosely based on backpacking trips through Europe and New Zealand, set against a quest for a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA.

The problem was that, by the time I unveiled the ‘cosmic’ portion of the story, the readers weren’t really sure what kind of book they were reading. I simply out-thought myself.

What I finally came to embrace was that it’s easier to start big — FATE OF THE UNIVERSE IS AT STAKE! — and then go small — lonely waiter dude whimpers about having no girlfriend — then to go the other way.

After many drafts, I finally gave in and established the ‘rules’ of the world I created with the very first sentence. And in the Finders Keepers world, there’s a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA, lost on modern-day Earth somewhere, and unless it’s recovered in time, the Milky Way Galaxy might go bye-bye.

Once I made this structural alteration, the narrative fell into place.

In the published version of Finders Keepers, the entire 1,457-word prologue is now ‘cosmic’. And then throughout the novel, I slip back and forth between the two major settings:

  • The down-and-dirty details of Jason and his New Zealand buddy Theo Barnes backpacking through Europe — train schedules, hangovers, achy backs, languages they don’t understand, food they can’t identify, girls they want to sleep with.
  • A host of cosmic characters that are in charge of building the Universe’s infrastructure, and are after the DNA jar. Which, of course, Jason and Theo are somehow mixed up with.

The lesson I ultimately learned was this: as long as I show the readers what they’re in for — up front, right away — they pretty much all say, ‘Okay, this is the world I’m in. Universe jar. Check. Let’s roll’.

From the very first sentence, there’s simply no doubt that Finders Keepers is meant to be a fun, sci-fi romp that brings a smile to your face. Establishing the ‘rules’ brought it all together.

Bio
Russ Colchamiro is the author of the humorous science fiction novel Finders Keepers, published by 3 Finger Prints (www.richkoslowski.com). He is now finishing his second novel, Crossline. He lives in Queens, NY, with his wife Liz, his twin babies Nate and Abby, and their gregarious dog Simon.

You can follow Russ on Facebook and on Twitter (@findkeepnovel).

Click here to visit Russ’s website.

To read the Finders Keepers prologue, establishing the ‘rules,’ click here.

And to watch a video interview of Russ at the 2010 NY Comic-Con, where he launched Finders Keepers, click here.