Friday, April 29, 2016

Is it Really Necessary to Create an Outline for Your Novel?

James Patterson, most successful author of our time is so struck on outlines that he devotes two chapters to them in his online writing class.

The problem is, I'm a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. In other words, I sit down at a computer and start writing, and the characters tell me the story.

I do not plot and I do not outline.

But James Patterson. He's not someone one should ignore, right? After listening to what he had to say, I went back to my novel, Virgo's Vice,  which was in the editing phase with my publisher, and created a belated outline. Surprisingly (to me), it helped me see more than one flaw with my story and I was able to make big improvements.

I stopped working on the next novel, Scorpio's Sting, which was in my pre-submission editing phase, and went back and created an outline. It helped me to see several problem areas. In particular, the timeline. The outline made it easy to find events that were in the wrong order.  It also helped me to identify (and delete) chapters that did not move the story forward, because we all know every chapter must do that or it isn't needed.

Next, I started writing "Fat Girls Rock," the fourth book in my Redneck P.I. Mystery Series. I tried to start with an outline. I swear I gave it a lot of thought, but nothing came. No inspiration. Zilch. It stayed unwritten. I ended up writing a one-page synopsis, and allowed myself to start writing the story. The lack of an outline nagged at me, and the writing dragged. The dreaded unmentionable thing loomed. Writer's Block.

This past Monday I had some time on my hands and I told myself "To hell with it, I'm just gonna write." And guess what? The story was all there in my head and today, Friday, the entire first draft is completed. Now I can create an outline.

I guess we're all different and what works for one, just doesn't do anything for another. That's what I tell myself, anyhow.

Here's the rough draft of my first few paragraphs. I still have to go back and make changes, add more emotion, and enhance the descriptions, but it is such a blast to write this kind of stuff.

Trish Jackson


Big Bart stomped his feet on the mat and strode in through the door with his brindle Pitbull, Sadie, and Benjamin, the dog he rescued from the dog fighting ring. He wore leathers, and a red, white and blue bandanna wrapped around his head. His biker boots made a loud clipping sound on the old wooden floors.
Several of his biker gang members trudged in behind him, all wearing their leather jackets with 'Justice Enforcers' on the back. They nodded at us and headed for the bar.

My dog Stretch stood up from under my legs, stretched, and stuck his nose into Sadie's ass.
Bart stopped at our table. "Well, if it ain't the fat girls' club." He clamped an oversized hand on my shoulder and I stared at the cut-off black leather glove before I glared at him through narrowed eyes.
"Who are you calling fat? I'm not fat, and neither is LaMercy or Ena." Fat is a word that's always made me bristle, and if it was anyone other than Bart, I would probably have done something physical to him.
He held up his hands, palms facing me. "Oh, no. Don’t get me wrong, Twila. Fat is good. What man doesn't like a little padding? I meant it in a good way." His gaze strayed from my boobs, to Ena's and then to LaMercy's. "You ladies all got curves where women are supposed to have 'em," he growled in his deep bass voice. "Fat girls rock, man."
I was at a loss for words. Luckily, Stretch took the attention away from us when Sadie snapped at him and he whined and licked her face.
"Yeah, good girl. You don’t need anyone sticking their cold nose there, do you?" Bart rasped. He turned toward the bar. "What's a man got to do to get a drink around here?" he said to Gasser, who was standing behind the counter serving the others, with an annoying grin on his face.
"Coming right up," he said, and slid a 24 oz glass of draft beer across the pitted wooden counter top. Bart grabbed it and swallowed half of it down in one gulp. 
As usual, Jimmie Lewis, the town drunk stood in the corner propping up the bar, and Lilly Belle Groat, the town mattress, who looks like the back side of a bus, sat beside him.
"Maybe we have put on some pounds," LaMercy, always the practical one said. She was staring at me.
"Yeah, but fat. That's a big word," Ena said. 
I took a hard look at my two companions. They actually had put on some weight, and I hadn't really noticed before.
We all stared at Bart's ass as he crossed the room to join the others at the pool tables.
"That is one heck of a man," Ena, the only one of us who was truly single said. "No fat there."
I knew LaMercy was thinking it too, and so was I. He was one hell of a piece of male flesh.
Gasser, with his coffee-colored skin and dreads stepped around from behind the bar, pulled out a chair at our table, and dropped into it. He still had that irritating grin on his face that meant one of two things. Either he had just farted or he thought something was amusing.
I sniffed, and didn’t detect anything. "What do you think is so funny?" I asked.
"Fat girls' club," he glanced across at Bart to make certain he couldn't hear, and burst out laughing.

Best-Seller Hopes for Authors

Almost every writer has a dream about breaking out—or achieving best-seller status. Many of us think it's an impossibility, but recently I read something to change all of that.

I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA), and one of the two significant positives I've gained from belonging to the organization is their monthly magazine. In the March issue, five authors who have recently broken out are interviewed. The crazy thing—no one author could offer a single specific strategy that caused her book to break out.
Brenda Novak says she didn't do anything particularly different with Trust Me, her seventh single title.
Robyn Carr broke out with her 25th novel, Virgin River Christmas, 30 years after selling her first book. She had embarked on an aggressive marketing promotion when she started her Virgin River series, but she didn't do anything to focus on that particular book, the 4th in the series.
Susan Mallery broke out 16 years after her first book was published with Accidentally Yours. She didn't do anything different to promote it, but attributes her success in part to likeable characters.
Marie Force's 25th published book, Waiting for Love was book eight in the Gansett Island Series. She self-published the book, and spent a lot of time building a Facebook following. She believes the world she has created in the series is what readers responded to.
Kristan Higgins made the best-seller list with her fourth book, Too Good to be True.
The information I got from all five interviews was this:
―You must keep writing. Like everything else, it takes practice to hone the craft.
―Create likeable and memorable characters.
―If the setting is unforgettable, readers will want to visit it again.
―Most importantly it is the readers who make your book a best-seller.

If you write romance, it probably wouldn't hurt to read all of their books and learn from them. Even if you don't write romance, I hope if you are an author, you'll find this info useful and accept that writing a best-seller takes time and experience. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sometimes Karma's a Dog

Karma's a bitch--we've all heard that saying before, but this short story is a little different. 

   Romney Richlieu cursed. Bad luck followed her as usual.
   Her whole life had been one giant screw up, and now this.
   She mimicked Mrs. Breiton's words. "We're so sorry. It's nothing to do with your leg, Romney. The company is in financial difficulty and we have to let a few people go."
Sorry, my ass. I don't know why they hired me in the first place. I didn't hide my leg. It's all skinny and ugly and it's totally obvious my shoe is built-up. They could see that from the time  I  went for the first interview. I suppose it's because of that silly woman with the Chihuahua in her purse. How was I supposed to know it was there? I like animals. I wouldn't have put the file on top of the purse if she had told me it was there. And anyhow, the dog is fine.
   She dragged her personal items from her drawer and tossed them all in the trash can. Like her life, nothing in there was worth saving.
   She walked out of that place with her head held high. It wasn't totally a normal walk, but she didn't limp so much these days with the new orthotic shoe. So now what? She couldn't even claim on unemployment because she hadn't been there long enough. Maybe next time she should wear long pants to the interview and they wouldn't see her leg. But these days with the recession, it seemed that the only way she could get a job was because of the sympathy factor. The poor crippled girl. We should be nice to her.
   Romney stopped in the park and flopped onto a bench. She hadn't allowed herself to think about her circumstances, but now fear clutched at her stomach. How will I pay the rent? Will they kick me out? Oh God. I wish I could just die." She held her head in her hands and cried quietly.
   "What the . . .?" She looked up sharply when something wet made contact with her arm. A dog—and he was licking her.
   "What are you doing?" She pushed him away. He stood there and wagged his tail—and his whole butt wagged with it. He showed her his teeth. But he wasn't snarling. He was smiling. The mutt was smiling at her. She tried to keep the stern look on her face, but he looked so funny with his butt wiggling like that and the goofy grin, she laughed out loud. Then she noticed his leg. One of his back legs was all shriveled up, the muscles useless and wasted like hers, and he held it up off the ground.
It didn't seem to bother him. He wasn't pissed off with life. In fact, he looked epically happy to see her. His  matted, dirty white fur clung to a bony frame. He wasn't wearing a collar. She reached out and patted him on his head and his butt wagged harder than before. He made a whining kind of noise.
   "I do believe you're talking to me," she said. "You must be a stray, and yet you look so frikkin' happy despite your bad leg, and you probably haven't had a square meal for a while."
   She jerked and blinked. An old lady perched on the other end of the bench. Where had she come from? She smiled at Romney and petted the dog. "This is Andy," she said. "He was mine, but I passed, and he was left to fend for himself. He's yours now." Before Romney could even open her mouth to reply, she was gone.
   Was she really ever there?
   Romney shrugged and smiled down at him. Smiling did something to her. It made her feel hopeful.    "Well, Andy, let's go see what we can do to get back on our feet. The first thing I'm gonna do is get you a square meal. I feel like our luck has just changed."

   Andy barked twice, and they limped out of the park together.

I grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Africa, and lived through some crazy adventures that sparked my imagination; including having to keep a loaded UZI by my side every night in case of an attack by armed insurgents. I love all animals and don't seem to be able to keep them out of my stories, which usually take place in small, country towns.  Find out more at .

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Petiquette -- Teach Your Kids to Treat Pets Kindly

Last night I watched an episode of  'My Cat From Hell' that was of particular interest to me. Teaching kids to treat their pets with respect. 

The episode showed a family with two cats, one that was so laid back it didn't seem to care what the kids did with it. It just flopped about in their arms and allowed them to tip it upside down and one kid ever tried to put it into the refrigerator. Basically, the child treated it like it was a stuffed toy. The other cat, understandably, was terrified of the kids, and scratched and spat whenever anyone reached out a hand toward it--or a foot as one of the children did, threatening to kick it.

My peeve is that some parents don't seem to notice, as was the case with this family. I don't imagine for one second that they would deliberately be unkind to animals. They're just uninformed. The cats or dogs either submit to a life of hell, or rebel, and get sent to the shelter or euthanized because they are considered dangerous.

I commend the cat whisperer, Jackson, for his patience and consideration in this episode, in which he admitted he knew nothing about kids or how to get through to them, but he did, in fact, achieve this. He even took the time to visit the children's school and teach their classmates how to treat animals--what to do and what not to do and how to pet them. By the end of the episode the problem cat had gone through a surprising transformation, and obviously realized the children were no longer going to hurt her.

Writers who do research on psychopaths will often include an episode in which their antagonist does something to hurt an animal, although it is not recommended that you go into any great detail. Readers find it easier to read about people being tortured than animals. Perhaps our empathy for animals comes from their innocence--and the same goes for children. No animal--or child--is born with a cruel and nasty temperament. If they become aggressive, it usually has something to do with the treatment they get from the humans around them.

If ever I visit a home in which children don't seem to understand and have never been taught how to treat animals, I am quick to take them aside and explain to them that animals have feelings too. I hope you guys reading this will do the same.

(I am an incurable animals lover, and always try to include them in my stories. In the Redneck P.I. Series, Twila's rescue dog, Scratch rides on the back of her Harley with her in a special metal basket fabricated by Twila's Pops. In Aquarius Addiction, Arlette Xylander's crazy black cat, Marbles seems to know what's going on when the Voodoo queen performs a ceremony to find out what secrets the old mansion holds in its walls.)