The Five Rules for a Book Review
For authors getting book reviews is a big hurdle. Often even your loyalist fans who love your book are intimidated to actually post a review. Make it simple for them.
Whenever you can, assure your readers that they don't need to be brilliant, or write a long review. Take it from the heart and say how you feel--how the book made you feel. That's really all they need to do.
Every Review Counts
One by one, they add up. As an author make sure you let your fans know that posting a heartfelt review is not intimidating.
Master Mystery Outline Template
I am using Story Shop to create a master outline template for mysteries. The software is still in development stage with a generic outline. The developers have plans for outline templates in the future, but in the interim while the software is in beta testing, I decided to create my own format for mysteries.
Mystery stories have a number of false suspects and false clues. In the planning stages I like knowing what those false leads are so I can add foreshadowing.
An important part of the outline for a mystery is each of the crimes. In addition to the overall mystery outline, I created an outline for the crime(s) with sections for:
Of course, I have the overall story outline from start to finish.
Every story has its cast of characters, and for a mystery the characters have a rôle in the story. The sleuth, the villain, the false suspects, the supporting cast all contribute to the story. I created a set of character qualities for each of these rôles to work in any story.
Then, depending on the character rôle in the story, each type has a set of details.
With these prototypes set up, I can easily begin a new story and add details as I think of them. For instance, as I work on finishing The Peach Widow I can begin notes on the next story. The story is still waiting for a title but I know some of the characters and details of the crimes.
I'll be curious to see how my outline compares to the outline the folks at StoryShop provide in the future.
Beta testing has its challenges. Although the software is much more stable than it was at the beginning, there are still bugs. For instance, when I entered the The Crimes outline everything was saved. But, when I entered the overall outline for the generic story the software was unable to save it. I tried several times, but no save.
The developers warned us that things could be lost and that we should keep a backup of everything until the software was stable. Today I'm waiting for feedback on this problem. Overall, I'm delighted with the planning aspects of StoryShop and am enthusiastic about testing the software.
First Author Interview
My first author interview. I am excited. Thanks so much to fellow author Katherine Hayton for inviting me to interview for her website.
Enjoy the interview. If you have any questions, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org. I love talking with readers and other authors.
Zara Altair - The Used Virgin
Please tell us a bit about yourself
Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus mysteries. The Used Virgin is the first in a series of mysteries based in southern Italy at the time of the Ostrogoth rule of Italy under Theoderic the Great. Italians (Romans) and Goths live under one king while the Roman Empire is ruled from Constantinople. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.
Zara Altair lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She is a fiction author writing in the historical fiction genre. Her approach to writing is to present the puzzle and let Argolicus and Nikolaos find the solution encountering a bit of adventure and some humor in their search. Her stories are rich in historical detail based on years of research. Zara is working on a historical novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic set in the same time period with Argolicus as the main character. To get on the reader list for Argolicus fans go here http://goo.gl/m5aL3E (copy and paste to your browser).
Zara loves reader feedback. Be sure to leave a review. Write comments here on the Author Page. Zara replies to all comments.
What genre are your books?
Historical mystery. In Italy, giallo storico.
What draws you to this genre?
I’ve been reading in this genre since Nancy Drew for mystery and a gift subscription to monthly history books for kids.
Have you ever considered writing stories for other genres?
Yes. I’ve ghostwritten a number of steamy romance books and sometimes I write science fiction.
When did you first discover your passion for writing?
I’ve been telling stories since I was two when I sat on the back porch and told stories to Yoohoody, the owl who perched in the tree. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven.
What inspired your latest novel?
A phone conversation with my daughter. We were talking about how much we love the Italian day and she said, “Mommy, you should go to Ravenna.” Then she told me about Theoderic leading his people across the frozen Danube and eventually arriving in Ravenna. I thought, “I wonder what it was like then?”
I started researching and discovered a time of divided loyalties, intense theological differences, and a “barbarian” who lived like an emperor.
Do you have a teaser for The Used Virgin?
After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths. A young magistrate of mixed ancestry retires to find people are just as corrupt and venal in the provinces.
A corrupt Governor. A young girl. And old man.
A ruined reputation is worse than murder in Italy. Argolicus and his lifelong tutor, Nikolaos, discover evil, greed, and extreme extortion.
Argolicus unravels the threads.
What is your least favorite word?
Do you ever read your stories out loud?
Always. And in my writing group we read each other’s work. You can instantly hear the clunks or the stumbles over awkward phrasing.
What’s the first book you remember making an indelible impression on you?
Anna Karenina. I couldn’t stop. I read all night and finished just after dawn.
Do you have a favorite author?
In historical fiction, Robert Harris. My favorite is Pompeii. I love how his “Roman” is an engineer. And, the reader knows from the beginning that Vesuvius is going to erupt. From that moment on, it is a cliffhanger. Plus, for world builders, his alternative history, Fatherland, is a prime example of a character caught in the surrounding culture.
What are you currently working on?
Along with the next short story, The Peach Widow, I’m always at work on the novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic which takes place two years after the mystery series. Oh, and there’s that other contemporary mystery series that is percolating in my head with retired detective, Jake “Cozy” Cozzens.
If your book were made into a movie, who would you cast?
When I started, it was Tom Hardy as Argolicus for the smoldering undercurrent, but Argolicus is 32 at the time of the mysteries, so I needed a new actor. Argolicus Clive Standen. Nikolaos Dragos Bucur.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write. Study story. Read in your genre. Start your author platform. It takes time. Have everything—author bio, book description, website, email autoresponder (emails written and sequenced), email opt-in—set up before you publish. Write. Edit. Keep writing. Connect with other writers. Plan you next book. Keep writing.
That’s all practical. Most importantly, believe in your story.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Katherine, thank you so much for the interview. Although writing is a solitary activity, sharing our individual stories is part of building a community.
Thank you, Zara. How can readers keep in touch?
Author Website, Author Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads,Amazon Author Page, THE USED VIRGIN
Thank you for reading.
Factions for a Time
Today football (soccer) fans go wild in the street causing disruption, injury, and even death. Every era has its fanatics. In the time of Theoderic religious interpretations of the nature of Christ caused the same kind of eruptions. My favorite fictional description is from Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague deCamp, a time-travel fantasy about the time of Theoderic.
"That so? How do you like Rome?" The man had very large and very black eyebrows.
Argolicus has divided loyalties because his father is Roman (Italian) and his mother is of The People (Ostrogoths). Romans were Trinitarian (three natures) while the Ostrogoths had been converted under an Emperor several centuries before to Arianism (two natures). So, he finds himself on a tightrope between the two cultures.
King Theoderic established edicts to create a climate of religious tolerance as mentioned in the story. Nevertheless, feelings ran high. Riots happened in Ravenna, the capital, and Rome, the center of established Roman patricians, not to mention very wild riots in Constantinople, the new Rome, center of the Roman Empire.
These undercurrents run through the Argolicus Mysteries and are a dominant theme in Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic (WIP).
Conflict is essential to fiction and whether large street fights involving hundreds of people, circus factions of Greens and Blues assigned specific places along Theoderic's progressions through Ravenna to keep them from fighting, or Argolicus meeting a slave or a patrician, conflicting beliefs create tensions within scenes.
There was also tension between the poor (rustico) and wealthy landowners and rich ecclesiastical centers. These tensions are a background for The Peach Widow coming this summer.
Join the Argolicus Readers Group to receive a publication notice.
StoryShop for Planning a Novel
The beta version of StoryShop, an online application for building a story, is out. The aim of the application? Here's what the creators have to say.
The better you know your characters, your plot’s key points, and your world before you start writing, the better and faster the story will pour out of you once you begin … and, honestly, the more fun you’ll have while telling that story.
With that in mind, I decided to do my beta testing by creating a new world, with new characters, and an outline for each story in the world. I started by creating a new story world.
Story Outline (s)
The creators plan on providing a variety of pre-formatted outlines for quick story creation. For now, you need to outline the beats of the story on your own. If you are planning a series, you can set up a unique outline within the story world for each of the stories in the series.
Elements of the Story World
The green circle is for Elements in the story world. These can be settings, magic spells, laws, cooking utensils, recipes--anything that pertains to the unique world. Although the Elements look simple this is a great place to hone in on the details of the unique world of the story. Your hero's home. Your heroine's garden. You can flesh out the details so that when you are writing you have a true sense of place for each scene.
You've probably guessed that the teal blue circle is for characters. Here you can collect details and background about each character in the story world. I plan on marking mine as characters who continue through the series and those who appear in only one story.
You can see from the bottom example that you can add images for each character. When you click on a character, a page opens up for details.
Character Deep Dive Features
StoryShop has some built-in features, to get you started with you character development. Each character has a header image, plus an image for the character. Attributes allow you to quickly add descriptive elements like height, hair color, distinguishing characteristics, magic powers, or anything else.
The Character DNA questions are prompts to get you started thinking about the deeper character elements like biggest fear, likes, beliefs, etc. You have the option to skip a DNA question.
Below what you see in the image is you place to expand as needed in a section simply titled Notes.
Beta is Straightforward, but More to Come
The first two days the software (yep, this is SaaS, Software as a Service) had some access and usability bugs. Beta testers send feedback and the responsive development team works to make adjustment. I sent some questions to the team on future plans. Seth Atwood, Co-Founder, CTO, StoryShop replied.
We're planning to release the first of our tutorial videos next week, and it will include a lot more detail about how to use all the various bits of the app.
I'm looking forward to the power of this creation tool. I see StoryShop as a writer's super tool to do all the planning and detail work that comes before actually writing the first sentence of a story.
Series creators will find this tool especially helpful because the entire series is contained, outline by outline, within the one Story World.
For now there are instabilities, including the possibility of losing everything. Beta testers are advised to make a copy of all entries.
StoryShop will be available after this first beta testing by subscription currently at a base price of $9.99/month, or $99/year! Affordable!
If you'd like to read a short story created without StoryShop, get your copy of The Used Virgin on Amazon.
The First Round of Research Leaves Gaps
Even though 80% of research doesn’t make it into your story, sometimes in the middle of writing a scene you know you don’t have the exact detail you want. Then, it’s back to scouring for infomation. I was getting ready to write a dinner scene near the beginning of the novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic when I found that I didn’t know the seating arrangement for the small dinner party.
Even though at the time of the beginning of the 6th Century C.E. most people sat on chairs or benches, high level events for rulers and the pope still held to the old Roman dining tradition of the triclium. I needed to know where each character was placed in the room so lears, salacious glances, and downright glares would be obvious to the main character, Argolicus.
Not only did I need to know exactly how people were placed, but I needed to know the etiquette for how people were seated around the table. I never did find an answer that would translate to Ostrogothic Ravenna, but I had an understanding of how people ranked in Theoderic’s court system, so I was able to get all the characters placed in the room.
At the same time, working on the short story The Peach Widow the ubiquitous fish sauce garum plays a role not only at the table but in the plot of the story. I researched how the sauce was made then. Here’s a factory from the time. Imagine fish guts fermenting in the sun and you’ll get an idea of how this place must have smelled and why the garum factories were always outside of town. The best sauce was made from mackerel offal.
If you’d like to approximate how the sauce tastes, here’s a quick way to reproduce the sauce. It is an acquired taste.
1 bottle of Thai fish sauce (approx. 24 oz.)
1 liter of white grape juice
In a large saucepan simmer the grape juice until it is reduced to a least half. Cool and store. When you are ready to make your garum mix the reduced grape juice with the fish sauce in proportion: 1/3 grape juice to 2/3 fish sauce. This will even out the saltiness of the anchove based fish sauce to the approximate sweetness of garum made from fresh makerel. Try it on vegetables, salads, and grains and legumes like rice or lentils.
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.