Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Book Reviews Help Your Writing - Part 2

Please welcome Suzanne D. Williams as our guest blogger.

How Book Reviews Help Your Writing - Part 2
(see Part 1 here)

As a writer, sometimes I lose perspective with what I am working on. I have found that one excellent way to see things clearer is to write a review of it.

There are three areas I always consider when writing a review of a book.

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Editing


First, I ask, “Does the story have an opening hook?” Then, “If I were the reader, would I want to find out what happened next?” The plot of any book needs to progress at an even pace. Give me something to peak my interest along the way. I do like a big ending, but I don’t want to become bored getting there. Then, once I have reached the ending, I also want the plot to tie up any major questions created by the plot.

Part of the fun of writing fiction for me is in the “what ifs.” It seems like a simple idea, but when it is a book written by someone else, we do it all the time. You come to that point in the story and say, “Wait a minute. He should’ve gone there instead.” I find asking myself the what-ifs also helps my own writing. If I change the direction of the story, will that make it better or worse? How would that make the story fail or grow later?


Additionally, a well-written book must have believable characters. Even if the story has a fantasy edge, the character must be human enough that the reader can identify with it. In a detective story I read a week ago, I found I didn’t like the main character. It seemed to me she was too brash and as a result, I disconnected from the story. Despite the plot, I didn’t particularly care what happened to her.

Characters must think and express themselves as the reader would. This is what makes the best characters come alive and creates demand. Look at your favorite television series. Why do you continue to watch it? And why would you stop if the main character was removed? On the other hand, when a main character is removed, why do you continue to watch? One of the worst books I’ve read failed, in my opinion because I continually thought no person would think like that. In Christian fiction, I see this problem a lot when the author tries too hard to insert Scripture into the context. If you wouldn’t say it that way, then probably the character wouldn’t either.


Making a story believable, having a well-constructed plot, and creating loveable characters is important. However, other stories fail for me when the editing is so incredibly bad. In order to be an author, you must have an understanding of sentence structure and grammar. Rarely, do I catch a spelling mistake. Word processors are too good today for that. But I do find context errors. Twice in two different stories one character’s name was exchanged when another was meant. 

How was it the author didn’t catch that mistake? Having to ask that made me wonder more about the author than the story itself.

Writing well requires constant growth. Growth requires growing pains. I hate having to admit I messed up, but admitting it makes me a better person than I was. 

Writing a review of a scene that is not working well improves my writing, and improving it is my goal. Ultimately, I want the reader to like what I’ve done well enough to share it with others and leave me the glowing review I would’ve have left for them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Book Reviews Help Your Writing - Part 1

Please welcome Suzanne D. Williams as our guest blogger today.

Every book deserves a review. I feel this way more now that I am a writer. Having been through the writing process and crafted a book, I know how rewarding it is to have someone leave their objective view on my finished project. I make a point now at a book’s completion to write a review.

I think my perspective as a writer and proofreader helps me. I know what to look for in a book, what works and what doesn’t. I can see where things could be adjusted to construct a better story, and I spot language and grammar errors easily. In this same vein, writing reviews has taught me quite a few things about creating a better story.

What makes a good review?

First, it comes from the perspective of someone who understands books. I’ve read reviews that made me wonder what planet that person lives on. Second, it must be well rounded without strong opinions. If you disliked the book, say why instead of rambling on. Hatred really has no place. Third, a good review should consider the proper structure of a book.

I read a book recently that I loved. I was drawn in from the beginning and along the way found myself making comparisons between the thoughts of the character and my own thoughts. The author knew exactly how to make a character come alive; she expressed real thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, when I reached the end of the book, I found myself staring at the page and wondering why she ended it that way. 

There were too many unanswered questions and I felt like I was left dangling in mid-air. Another book had such smooth writing. The sentences flowed so well from one into another; as a proofreader, I found this excellent. Yet the content of the book was too much. The story had great characters and an excellent writing style, yes, yet so much of the plot needed to be left out.

I learned while writing the review of both books what not to do. As a writer, I know, when you are into the third read of your manuscript, you sometimes lose perspective. Stepping away for a while helps, but here’s an exercise I have begun that gives me a better view. I write a review of it. By asking myself the same questions I would of another author’s story, I see my own in a clearer light.

Tomorrow, I will discuss three important areas I always consider when writing a review – plot, characters, and editing –  and how they help make me a better writer.

(See Part 2 here.)

Suzanne D. Williams is a native Floridian, wife, mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, Christian, dachshund owner, spelling whiz, wildlife enthusiast, photographer, graphic artist, and writer. She designs book cover art for self-publishing authors.She writes a regular column on digital photography for Steve's Digicams, as well as in her personal blog. Her book, Fearless, is her personal testimony of how God freed her from crippling fear. One of her stories appears in "A Pixel Perfect Christmas," which was originally released in 2009, and will re-release in 2011. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Chat with Karen Baney, author of Nickels

Hello again Karen Baney and thank you so much for talking with me today! To begin, could you just tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a software engineer by day and author by night.  I love how both of these careers allow me to use my creative thinking.  I know everyone thinks programmers are all like Spock or Data from Star Trek.  But, we’re not.  We are creative problem solvers.

My hubby and I have been married for over 11 years and love living in Arizona, where we met.  Before I started writing, we used to hike all over the state of Arizona with our two dogs.  I would take hundreds of pictures on my camera.  Yeah, I’m a photography nut.

How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?  Did you receive a clear “calling” from God or have you always had a desire to write?

In early 2010, I went through some rough health issues.  I ended up having surgery on my hand to remove a cyst.  Then, just as I was on the mend, my back went out.
Through these trials, I learned a new level of dependence on God.  I didn’t have the physical strength to do even normal daily activities.  I cried out to God and let him work on my heart.  As he dealt with me on some things, I gained the courage to ask Him a question that had been weighing heavily on my heart for several years. 

I asked, “God, since you haven’t called me to be a mom, what have you called me to do?”

He answered.  “Write.”

I had no idea what to write.  I’ve always had a journal.  Sometimes, I wrote short Bible studies or supplemental material for a study I was teaching.  But, I had never written a book.

Then, He gave me the story for A Dream Unfolding.  Some of it came in a dream.  On March 25, 2010, I sat down at my computer and I began with the most dramatic scene in the middle of the book.   Though I didn’t publish A Dream Unfolding until December 2010, I was already a writer.

Everything since has been an amazing journey—one that I sometimes feel like I’m just along for the ride!

What are 2 things that people wouldn’t normally know about you?

When I was a teenager, I wanted to become an artist.  I studied art in high school, built up a portfolio, and even went to a fine arts school in Philadelphia for a year.   Life got in the way and I eventually gave up oil painting for the less-messy hobby of photography.

I always wanted to collect stamps.  I liked the cool artwork on stamps when I was growing up.  But, since my brother was collecting stamps, my parents told me I had to pick something else.  So, I became a coin collector instead.

Your contemporary novel, Nickels, is being offered FREE on Kindle right now! Please tell us about the book.

Niki Turner is a software engineer—yeah, not much of a stretch for me to write this one.  She’s suffered some real heart ache and loneliness in her life.  The one thing she has going for her, her career, suddenly becomes threatened when Kyle Jacobs, a blast from her past, ends up working at the company where she gets assigned.

She slogs through a mess of emotions and baggage, ultimately coming to the realization that something big—she doesn’t know what—is missing from her life.
This is my first contemporary romance novel.  Readers will smile at some of Niki’s snarky comments, they’ll cry as she lets go of some painful things, and they’ll rejoice when she finds what she had always been looking for.

Is there a message in your book?  If so, what is it and what can readers expect to get from reading it?

The biggest message in this book is about changed hearts.  There are examples of this through Kyle Jacobs’ life.  It is one of the things that Niki struggles to understand.  How could the man who tormented her in high school be the same as the generous, kind man before her?

What’s your favorite part of the story?

Though it’s not my favorite (that one would spoil the story), one of my favorite scenes is where Niki is having a bad day.  The tire blows out in her car during the hot Arizona summer.  She has to rely on Kyle for help, thus exposing her to one of the first examples of how he’s changed over the years.

I also like the revealing of where the title of the book comes from.

Readers - get your copy of Nickels here.

Karen, give us your blog or webpage so everyone can check it out.  Anything else you’d like to share? 

My website is:  

On Mondays, I feature interviews with new Christian authors.  I like introducing readers to some of the great people I’ve gotten to know over the past two years. 

Typically, on Wednesdays, I like to feature either characters from my novels or more information about the history behind my novels. 

Fridays are reserved for topics about writing and self publishing.  I love sharing what I’ve learned with others.

Karen, we're so glad you joined us today! Keep us posted on all your latest releases!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mystery Monday: Interview with Gina Conroy

Happy New Year, Readers! I pray you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that this year will be a blessed one for each one of you.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing author Gina Conroy, and today, we share that time with you.

Gina, thanks for joining us today for Mystery Monday.

Cherry Blossom Capers, the book you wrote with Cara Putman, Frances Devine, and Lynette Sowell releases today! Congratulations – it sounds like a delightful book. Here’s the blurb for our readers:

Encounter mystery, mayhem, and murder near Washington, DC, alongside four professional females. White House assistant chef Tara Whitley works with an old flame, FBI agent Jack Courtland, to stop a plot to sabotage a state-dinner. Attorney Ciara Turner and her nemesis Daniel Evans have trials tracking down a judge’s murderer. Archaeologist intern Samantha Steele and security guard Nick Porter are on the heels of a dangerous forger. Shop owner Susan Holland and renovator Vince Martini turn upside down her late uncle’s mansion while investigating a string of mysterious accidents. Will these sleuthing couples’ machinations move them into matrimony?

Gina, which story is yours? Can you tell us more about it?

My story is the third one in the book and is called Buried Deception. It’s about a Mount Vernon archaeology Intern and widow Samantha Steele who wants to make a good impression at her orientation, but her babysitter gets sick and she’s forced to take her rambunctious children to work. There she has a run in with security guard and ex-cop Nick Porter who’s haunted by his past. Through several mishaps, a forgery is discovered, and it’s up to Samantha and Nick to set aside their stubbornness, and rely on each other to catch the thief … or the results could be deadly.

How did all of you decide on DC as a setting?

I’m really not sure how the setting came about since we first started brainstorming the project in 2006. But I had just taken a cross country trip up the East Coast with my family and visited Mount Vernon. Cara Putman also lived in the area where our book is set, so it was easy to come up with a community close to D.C. Plus, when you think of Washington, D.C. you think of mystery and intrigue. I think it’s the perfect setting!

What did you find the most difficult aspect of writing a mystery?

Making all the clues match up and make sense in my head! The research and clue dropping had to be precise, and at times even I got confused as to whodunit. There was a lot of police procedure involved where I counted on my police officer friend, Steven Hunt, to educate me in all areas of background checks, firearms, and cop lingo. When it came time to reveal the villain, it took more mental power than I had imagined to make sure everything lined up with the facts. Just thinking about all the double and triple checking I had to do makes my head hurt.

Were there any surprises during the writing of your stories?

Yes, one character I didn’t think would be a suspect started acting suspicious. It was fun to develop that thread.

I love when that happens - it somehow seems to validate the creative process, doesn't it? Did you do any special research to help with this story?

On top of the police procedure research, I contacted Mount Vernon about the new building additions on the estate since the last time I visited, and I talked with an archaeologist at Mount Vernon about the archaeology lab and preservation center as well as the archaeology program. I enlisted fellow writers in the D.C. area to help me with the subway system and how long a trip from D.C. might take to Mount Vernon via roadway. I used maps of the Smithsonian, Mount Vernon and google Earth to figure out the setting of different areas in my story and to map the path my characters took. And that is only a sampling of the research I had to do.

It's amazing how much research goes into every story. Aside from writing, what else are you passionate about?

I love to encourage fellow writers and people to pursue their dreams. In fact, I started the pursuit of another lifelong dream of mine. Ballroom dancing. While I won’t be on Dancing with the Stars anytime soon, I am enjoying the physical and mental challenge of dancing. Not to mention it’s a great work out and lots of fun!

How fun!! I've got two left feet, so anyone who dances has my utmost admiration. Please tell us what you’re working on now, and when we can find your next release.

I’m working on a WWII Rosie the Riveter novel inspired by grandmother who kicked her no good husband out of her home when the loan sharks came to collect money he owed. She then worked as a Rosie and raised her three children until her youngest was 16. Then she remarried. Her story is such an inspiring one to women of all eras! My agent is shopping it around now, so I can use all the prayer I can get! J

Gina, tell us where we can find you on the Web.

For a more personal account of my life and triumphs and trials as I pursue my dreams along side my kids' dream, you can find me blogging at Defying Gravity. There I share my writing insecurities and celebrations, but also share fun stuff about my family like when my kids got a Disney audition call back! After all, my blog is all about helping people follow their dreams, and I have to include my own children!

For posts related to all types of writing, I blog ever Friday at Writer...Interrupted, the site I founded when I was trying to figure out how to balance raising my family with pursuing my writing career. The rest of the week writers, agents and editors guest post and the archives is full of great information for the busy writer!

If you just have to keep up with my daily life, follow me on Facebook or for a more professional view of my life there's my Author Page. I'm also on Twitter and have a Facebook Page just for Writer...Interrupted. And did I mention I LOVE to hear from readers!!

Thanks so much for spending time with us, Gina. We wish you great success in all your pursuits. Readers, if you have any questions or comments for Gina, just leave them below.

More about Gina:

Gina Conroy is president and founder of Writer...Interrupted where she mentors busy writers. Knowing how difficult it is to raise a family as well as a career, she chronicles her triumphs and trials on Defying Gravity, hoping to encourage those on a similar path. She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, releases from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. Gina loves to connect with readers on Facebook and Twitter.

More about her novella Buried Deception:

Mont Vernon archaeology intern and widow Samantha Steele wants to provide for her children without assistance from anyone. Security guard and ex-cop Nick Porter is haunted by his past and keeps his heart guarded. But when they discover an artifact at Mount Vernon is a fake, Nick and Samantha need to work together, set aside their stubbornness, and rely on each other or the results could be deadly. Will Samantha relinquish her control to a man she hardly knows? Can Nick learn to trust again? And will they both allow God to excavate their hearts so they can find new love?

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