WRITING: Tagged for the Writing Process Blog Hop…

I got tagged by author/musician Jamie Schultz, who answered the same questions on his blog. So now it’s my turn to answer these four questions…

What am I working on?
Currently I’m working on three projects:
– the fourth KillFile, as yet untitled, that revolves around Katla fulfilling another contract. This time, she has to enter a secluded estate and get her targets to leave their fortress-like villa.
– the fourth novel, working title Ghosting, which happens during Katla’s sabbatical year. She finds out quickly that it’s harder than she expected to shelf her homicidal enterprises.
– a stand-alone novel, In Pocket, about a nomadic heroin-addicted pickpocket who gets drawn into a potentially fatal situation by a scheming woman.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think the suspense fiction genre is replete with unfailing heroes and unrepentent antagonists. My Amsterdam Assassin Series differs in the sense that the protagonist, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter Katla, would be the antagonist in most suspense fiction books, just because–although she had her own ethics–she’s a morally ambiguous remorseless killer for profit. Another thing is that I strive for verisimilitude. Everything that happens in the books could happen realistically. So Katla is no ‘superwoman’. She’s smart and resourceful, but she has severe flaws and she makes minor mistakes with huge consequences.

Why do I write what I do?
In short, I write what I wanted to read but couldn’t find.
Longer version: What I couldn’t find is Katla. A resourceful remorseless protagonist who, unencumbered by her virtually non-existent conscience, works her way through conflicts in a way that most heroes wouldn’t be able to. And her ruthlessness is balanced by her blind boyfriend Bram, who is also unique in the sense that his blindness is not a mere plot device, but something that shapes him into Katla’s ideal companion.

How does my writing process work?
I start out with story ideas–I need several different stories that I can weave together into a cohesive novel, so the ideas need to have the potential to become linked.
While I’m researching story ideas I write scenes that I hope will fit within the story ideas. If they don’t fit, I shelf them. I rarely throw anything away. Chapters that couldn’t be used Reprobate were modified to appear in Peccadillo, and scenes removed from Peccadillo appeared in Rogue. So I have a whole file with ‘deleted scenes’ that might turn up in new books or become a KillFile.
When I finish the first draft, I turn the manuscript into an ebook that I can read on my iPad. This is in essence a modern variant on the ‘print out your manuscript and read it through’-method often cited by authors. Both a printed manuscript or an epub cannot be edited, but with both you can highlight sections that need to be corrected and you can sprinkle the text with footnotes on what you want to do, like ‘move this scene up’ or ‘this section contains too many crutch words’. In fact, the epub version works better than the printed version for several reasons:
– you can insert longer notes than what you’d be able to write into a margin of a printed version
– you don’t have to carry around 500 double-spaced A4 pages and a highlighter and a red pencil.
– epubs have a feature where you can make a list of all the ‘Notes & Marks’ you made while editing the draft, which makes it easier to go through your manuscript and make changes. If you use a print version, you have to leave through the whole print-out again and hope you don’t miss a note or highlighted section.
– It’s easier to track the corrections you have to make, because you can delete the notes you corrected in the manuscript.
– the disadvantage is the same as with any e-reader versus print book–if the battery quits, you can’t continue. On the other hand, it’s much easier to take your manuscript anywhere you want. And nobody wonders why you’re marking up a sheaf of paper…

I hope my answers were illuminating and entertaining. I’d like to pass on the tag to three writers I greatly admire:

First off, I tag Henry Martin. When he’s not buried elbow-deep in some greasy motorcycle project, Henry Martin enjoys reading quality literature and writing prose and poetry of varying coherency. He finds inspiration in conquering the open road while trying to outrun some of the characters he created in the past. He lives with his family in the Northeast, surrounded by coyotes, foxes, and bears. Click on his name to check out his blog. Click on the cover to check out Escaping Barcelona on Amazon.

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Second author I tag is Roberta Pearce. Roberta likes to have fun breaking some (but not all!) clichés in her contemporary romances – her latest novel, A Bird Without Wings, features a heroine who is smarter than the hero. And her soon-to-be-released The Value of Vulnerability has a hero who is a sociopath (that’s sociopath, not psychopath!). If you click on her name you’re taken to her blog, if you click on A Bird Without Wings, you can check out her book on Amazon.

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The third author I tag (all good things come in threes) is Gregor Xane. Gregor is the author of the horror novellas Six Dead Spots (one of the weirdest books I read) and The Hanover Block (forthcoming). He resides in the U.S., in a small town in southwestern Ohio. He’s currently preparing a rather large and ridiculous work of science-fiction for publication. Click on his name to check out his blog and/or click on Six Dead Spots to read a sample of his work on Amazon…

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WRITING: ‘What the hell is a blurb?’ or pitching your book

From a discussion on writing blurbs (also known as the pitch), I’d like to share some of my ideas on a ‘formula’ for writing a pitch.

The difficulty with writing a pitch is that most novelist have trouble figuring out how to ‘sell’ their book. I’m taking the blurb of my novel Reprobate as an example on how write a pitch:

First things first, the blurb is not a synopsis of the book, but the blurb has to provide incentive for the reader to read the book.

What is also useful if you write the blurb like a pitch, with three different stages:

Stage one, the elevator pitch: Describe your book in one sentence, preferably less than could be spoken in one short breath. For example: Hungry white shark terrorizes beach community. Lone undercover cop battles terrorists in highrise office building.

Stage two, the story pitch: Try to tell, as succinctly as possible, what happens in the first part of the book that sets up what will happen next.

Stage three, the promise: This book is X genre and part of a series. The author is a gynecologist and therefore qualified to write about this subject. This book is highly recommended for easily excitable readers with short attention spans.

If your three stages work well, the first stage poses a question that is answered in the second stage with another question that is explained in the third stage.

My ABNA pitch (in 2010) for Reprobate was:

REPROBATE is the first novel in a series featuring female commercial assassin Katla Sieltjes, a specialist in making homicide appear as ‘deaths without suspicious circumstances’. The setting of the story is the Netherlands, in particular Amsterdam.

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience Katla Sieltjes views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her alias Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with principals through electronic means, all to protect her identity.

Resigned to remain single for the duration of her career Katla meets the enigmatic blind musician Bram Merleyn when he enters the gallery where Katla has just killed the owner. Deciding that the blind man won’t make a reliable witness, Katla spares his life. After stalking the blind man to gain information whether he is truly harmless, an opportunity presents itself for a new introduction and Katla becomes intimate with Bram who is unaware of her real occupation. While the relationship between Bram and Katla blossoms and starts to affect both their lives, the suspense mounts to exciting heights as Katla accepts a difficult high-risk assignment from an unreliable principal – not only her possible exposition and fragile relationship with Bram are at stake, but her very life is in peril as Katla scrambles to get back to zero.

Through the developing romance between Katla and Bram, and their interaction with a supporting cast of unusual characters, the reader gains insight in the business of a commercial assassin as well as detailed knowledge about the life of session musicians; local information about the famous Dutch capital; the narcotics trade; motorcycle gangs; mehndi bridal tattoos; martial arts; and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

The strength of REPROBATE lies in authentic details and psychological depth of the characters, mixed with fast-paced action and a realistic plot.

My final description for Reprobate follows my formula, but uses text from the pitch:

Assassin Katla breaks her own rules when confronted with an unusual witness…

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience, Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her male alter ego Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with clients through electronic means, all to protect her identity. Her solitary existence satisfies her until she meets a blind musician whose failure to notice a ‘closed’ sign causes him to wander in on Katla’s crime scene. And Katla breaks one of her most important rules—never leave a living witness.

Reprobate is the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

This e-book features a glossary.

You can see the repeated elements. And it’s a lot shorter, because pitches to agents are 150 words max, while ABNA pitches are (were?) 300 words max.

Analyzing your pitch/blurb:

Take the first part of the blurb from Reprobate:

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience, Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her male alter ego Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with clients through electronic means, all to protect her identity. Her solitary existence satisfies her until she meets a blind musician whose failure to notice a ‘closed’ sign causes him to wander in on Katla’s crime scene. And Katla breaks one of her most important rules—never leave a living witness.

If you analyze this blurb, you see:
Who is the protagonist? Freelance assassin Katla Sieltjes, who considers herself ‘blessed’ by being unburdened by a conscience. So she kills without remorse, which is not a common trait in a protagonist.
What does the protagonist do (what is the status quo? She lives a solitary life, apparently enjoys killing for profit, and takes great pains to remain anonymous
What is the conflict that changes the status quo? A blind man walks into her crime scene, and Katla breaks her own rules and spares his life. And Katla becomes dissatisfied with her solitary existence.

That ‘conflict’ happens in the first of fifty chapters. So, you don’t need to ‘tell the whole story’. Just give a reader enough that they may think, ‘hey, this might be interesting’.

The second part of the blurb is:

Reprobate is the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, computer hacking, the art of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

The second part is the ‘promise’. What can the reader expect? The first book in a series (so if they like it, there is more), the heroine is unusual (a remorseless killer is often the antagonist, but rarely the protagonist), and she’s not the only unusual character.
Amsterdam is famous all over the world, but the blurb offers a rare glimpse in the local culture and information on a host of other topics, which may or may not be unknown/interesting to the reader. And it contains brutal violence (so the reader won’t think it’s chick-lit and complain about the violent bits).

What the blurb doesn’t do is tell what happens after Katla breaks her rule. Breaking rules is always a risk, and the reader can figure out that there’ll be consequences. Only, to know the consequences, they’ll have to read the book.

If you apply the analysis to your own blurb, see if you can figure out what you’re telling and what not.

Other articles on writing blurbs:

Four Easy Steps to an Irresistible Book Blurb.

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