Friday, April 29, 2011

Those Special Moments

I’m pleased to have suspense fiction author, Steve O’Brien, as my guest today. He’s written several books, including the award winning Elijah’s Coin.

I’ve been around Thoroughbreds growing up and have had family who has worked with racehorses. My brothers will tell you these are phenomenal horses, intelligent and full of heart and fire, and highly competitive. They want to win. I love animals in general and horses in particular. I have three. When I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. A hint, don’t start reading this just before bedtime unless you don’t care about sleep. :-)  It touches the emotions and I have to tell you, I wanted to hurt these villains, oh so bad.

I finally was able to hunt Steve down, lol! I invited him to visit Over Coffee. I love his topic and with a teen myself, I had to laugh as I read his article. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.  

Special moments accompany the lives of authors. Undoubtedly, the first is holding the finished product in your hands. Heck, it could even be an ARC copy, but there is a distinct feeling of satisfaction and completion at that moment.

Another special moment is receiving that first review. Somebody read it, liked it, and wanted to tell others about it.

Other special moments could be receiving a literary award, seeing the book on Amazon and or doing book signings.

I experienced a few other unique author moments, with unexpected twists however.

Recently, I was browsing through a nearby Barnes and Noble store. My wife tells me I spend way too much time in bookstores. I can’t help it. I’m a serial browser. As I cruised past the “new fiction” section, an image caught my eye.

My book!!!!   In the new fiction section!!!

A rush of emotion overtook me. I wanted to scream out “hey, everybody! My book is here in the new fiction section!”

With great restraint I was able to avoid making a scene. But I felt compelled to pull out my i-phone and snap a picture of my book and its placement. (I did have to ask a customer to move slightly to the left, so I could get the pic. She, of course, figured I had recently escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane, and quickly moved over a section or two).

Months and months of work, edits and re-edits, nights pounding on the keyboard, my book was finally getting equal billing with mega authors like James Patterson and Jodi Picoult. I was breathless. (Okay, they will still outsell me a billion to one, but there I was).

I did not have to walk from the store, as my feet were nowhere near touching the ground.

When I got home, I was nearly bursting with excitement. I was just waiting to pounce on that stock question “anything interesting happen today?” But I couldn’t wait. I whipped out my I-phone and showed my wife. As she was viewing it our sixteen year old daughter walked into the kitchen. I handed her my phone and casually said, “do you recognize anything in this photo?”

She grabbed the phone with both hands and in an instant was awe struck. “Oh, my gosh.” I could feel my chest puffing out slightly and a smile crept across my face. “Oh, my gosh,” she gasped. So cool that she will be able to tell all her friends, I thought.

She looked at me and exclaimed, “Snooki’s book is out!”

Snooki’s book is out?

In a nanosecond, my zeppelin sized ego, came crashing down in flames. I had to point and say “No, honey, don’t you see? Two rows above (gulp) Snooki’s book, is my book?”

“Oh, yeah. Cool.” She handed back my phone and walked out of the kitchen.

Okay, maybe I deserved that. My raging sense of significance needed to be checked. No one can dampen that self absorbed emotion faster than one’s own teenager.

At least I could take comfort that she didn’t reply “whatever.”

Now, to be fair to my daughter, she has been a huge advocate of my writing. (I guess the Snooki book sighting was just too much for her to pass up). My all time favorite text message was not even sent to me. It was sent to my daughter.

Last summer we were relaxing at home and her phone buzzed. It was a text from one of her classmates.

The message read. “Dude, your dad’s book is number three on I-Books.”

Greater words were never written. (Truth be told, the book was number three in the Children and Teens category, but hey number three is still number three).

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect my favorite text message to start with the word “dude.” But it does.

So, for today’s Over Coffee blog, tell me about your special moment, either as a writer or in any occupation. Then tell me about a time your ego was cut down to size. It’s okay, we’re all friends.


Bullet Work Cover Blurb

When facing our darkest fear, one question remains.
Are we willing to bet everything?

Behind the glamorous exterior of horseracing lies the gritty reality of the backside. Within this fiercely competitive world of owners, trainers, vets, and jockeys something has gone terribly wrong. As opening day approaches, one racehorse is poisoned, another has her leg crushed by a lead pipe and a third mysteriously disappears. Shock and horror grip the racing community.

Then it all makes sense. Greed.

The extortion demands are revealed. Stables are forced to pay protection money to ensure the safety of their horses. Despite all security efforts, the brutal killings continue. For Dan Morgan it becomes personal when his precocious two-year-old filly is targeted. Dan befriends AJ Kaine, a lonely, “horse whispering” young man. AJ is a hotwalker, the lowest of jobs in the backside food chain. But AJ has a secret–perhaps a secret that can corner a killer. With AJ’s help, Dan must crack the extortion scheme or risk becoming the next victim. Excerpt


Steve O’Brien is a lawyer and fiction writer. His first novel, Elijah’s Coin was the recipient of nine literary awards including the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Best Novella and Best Young Adult Fiction by the National Best Book Awards. His second novel, Bullet Work was released March 22, 2011. O’Brien lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Loving The Drama!

My guest is contemporary fiction author, Lisa Dale. She says about herself, "My fiancé and I are getting married this July 2 in New Jersey. Between the new books and the wedding, I’m insanely busy. And that’s just how I like it! Writing is a great excuse for me to follow my fascinations, so you’ll find lots of interesting little factoids scattered through my work. What I want... is to tell romantic stories that challenge, inspire, astonish, and enchant." 

Lisa's one of those New Jersey larger than life residents--in her books--but in life?

If you were to make a reality TV show out of this writer’s life, here’s what you’d see. 
  • Scene of me sitting in my pajamas, bleary-eyed but intensely writing.
  • Scene of me getting up for a glass of water.
  • Scene of me getting up to hug my fiancé when he comes home.
  • Scene of me knitting, talking with friends. 

Yep—exciting stuff! TV producers like to do shows about us New Jersey folks because they think we’re larger than life, over the top, good entertainment.

But in the opinion of this Jersey girl, drama is meant for novels. Not real life!

The other day, a reporter asked me if the characters in my new book, Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, were based on real people or real-life situations. I told her: Thank God, no!

You see, even though I don’t believe that we’re put on this earth to make trouble for each other, I LOVE a book that puts it all on the line. I love when characters risk everything important to them for love. My characters have to work for their happy endings.

By the time a reader gets to the end of one of my books, I want her to be breathless with anticipation of an HEA—absolutely invested in the action. And for me, half-measures don’t cut it. I push my characters to their limits before they find a way to transcend their own tragic flaws, overcome deadlocked and impossible problems, and find their happily ever afters.

So you would think, in my real life, that I’m the kind of person who likes a little drama. That my characters, as the reporter implied, are born of real life events.

But in fact, I’m a very quiet person. I have a few close friends whom I love dearly. I have a wonderful family, a fiancé who warms my heart. I like knitting, reading, and evenings filled with laughter and intimate conversation. When the occasional bit of real-life drama happens, I try to let it roll off my back. Real life is precious, and I think we’re put here on earth to be peacemakers for each other.

But in my stories…look out! All bets are off. Drama reigns! As a writer, if you’re gonna do drama—you’ve got to make it as intense as can be, because that’s what makes for a big, emotional payoff in the end. It’s go big or go home!

In my new novel, Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, the heroine is the owner of a Newport, RI, coffee shop (coffee is absolutely fascinating! And each chapter behind with a little interesting history about the seed/bean that is so easy to take for granted!).

There are actually two loves stories in one—two stories that run parallel with each other. The first story is about when the characters fell in love with each other for the first time in high school—a head-over-heels, wild kind of love.

But then, weaving in and out of that story, there’s the story of the present. The characters are no longer in love (something really bad happened between them, I won’t say what). In fact, the hero outright hates the heroine when the book opens.

But as echoes of that first love begin to resurface, his feelings change. Their loves story as adults parallels, contradicts, and overlaps with their love story from when they were teenagers. I wanted to explore the similarities and differences between adult love and young love—and I also wanted to give readers a LOT of bang for their buck. You don’t just get one love story here. You get two.

So far—it’s paid off. Slow Dancing is a TOP PICK for both Barnes & Noble and BookPage magazine. Can I even begin to tell you how cool it is to see my book on a page with some of the bestsellers that I’ve been admiring for years? Kinda surreal.

As for my own real-life romance, I’m getting married in July (the Saturday after RWA national!). My sweetheart and I have been together for a long time now. It’s been a lot of fun planning the wedding! We’ve got most of the big things done.

And luckily, my real-life wedding planning has been mostly drama-free.

  • Question: When real-life drama starts to get to you, what do you do? Take a long bath? Grab some chocolate? Or read a book?
  • Does this work? 


 Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier 

Thea Celik has devoted herself to running her Newport coffee shop, to parenting her daughter, and to being a meaningful part of her in-law’s loving family. Her life is mild but satisfying—she’s sure of her place in the community and in her family. But when her childhood friend and husband Jonathan uncharacteristically cheats on her, her certainty about her role in the world is shaken.

Now as Thea strives to rediscover herself and remain close with the only family she knows, Jonathan’s brother Garret vows to exile her from their lives once and for all. Garret has never forgotten his history with Thea, and he hopes Jonathan’s divorce from her will mean he can reconnect with his brother at last. But his increasingly frequent encounters with Thea—and his unresolved feelings for her—threaten his relationship with his family now more than ever before.

SLOW DANCING ON PRICE’S PIER is the story of one woman’s determination to rediscover a new life while trying to maintain the old. When the bonds of friendship, family, and love are tested, how long will they hold? Excerpt

A lifelong bookworm, Lisa Dale is a firm believer that there are few things in life better than curling up with a novel and a cup of tea. Lisa Dale grew up in rural Northwestern New Jersey before attending McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. She worked briefly in publishing before going back to school to get an MFA in fiction at Fairleigh Dickinson University. A nominee for Best New American Voices and the Pushcart Prize, her writing appears in many literary magazines, such as The Writer, Fourth Genre, Flyway, Fugue, Sou’wester, The Southeast Review, The MacGuffin, Many Mountains Moving, and more.

Lisa's: Website, Blog


Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Musings: Understanding Villains

For your story to be believable you need good characters, and you need to understand what makes them tick. Characters have to act and react in realistic ways. Their actions drive the plot forward. We spend a lot of time on our main characters, their motives, and goals, internal and external conflicts that get in the way of your satisfying denouement.

But, what about the villains?

We get that they’re bad guys. Fine, but why are they bad guys? What is their motivation and goals? To make the story realistic, we have to have those things lined up for our villain, otherwise he’s merely a cardboard figure the main characters bounce against. Cardboard figures steal tension and drama from your story. It steals the final punch of the denouement.

Oh, villains can just be evil just because. Or they can have what they perceive as honorable intentions, a reason for their actions. Sometimes the rationale can become corrupted and make them unpredictable or even create a god like persona.

Think about the brilliant, but cold-blooded commander, Colonel Tavington, in The Patriot. Originally, his motivation is putting down what he perceives as treason. A noble goal, but he also has another motivation for serving—his father has left him penniless. And Cornwallis has promised him land in exchange for his services. So recouping money and his prestige is also an underlying motive. Tavington also believes in ‘total warfare’, meaning civilians helping the enemy are also the enemy. So this justifies his often-brutal treatment of civilians. Even though he is reprimanded for his atrocities he still feels right is on his side. Tavington comes to look at Benjamin Martin, as an obstacle in the way of what perceives as his right, plus Martin makes a fool of Tavington. So now we also have personal conflict.


Tavington: You! So you're the ghost, are you? I remember you! On that farm! That stupid little boy! Did he die? You know it's an ugly business, doing one's duty. Just occasionally it's a real pleasure.

Martin: Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you.

Tavington: Why wait?

Martin: Soon.

Colonel Tavington engages the emotions of the reader/viewer as much as the hero, Benjamin Martin. The battle of wits between the two keep you engaged and builds the story tension.

You’ve taken sides. You want to see this villain die for his atrocities. The conclusion has more impact because the villain was well depicted and it leaves the reader/viewer satisfied.
The writers understood their villain. He was real.

I recently realized I had a good story premise. I had a good reason for the hero and heroine to fight to save a species, but I also realized my villain and his organization didn’t have a good motivation for being evil. Why was he hunting the hero? Why did it matter if the heroine remembered the fire? What did the villain have to lose or gain? What motivated his actions? Until I could figure that out the story stalled and took power away from the actions of my two main characters. Sort of another ah-ha moment for me.

How much time do you spend on creating a believable bad guy? Do you understand why does what he does? His motivations and goals?

  • Let’s talk villains. Who are some of your favorites? Why?