Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Your Writing DNA: Diction and Syntax

Five Scribe Readers: Today I’m excited to bring you one of the most talented women I know. As former Overall Coordinator of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, I saw today’s guest rise to the rank of Overall Winner of “The Daphne” for RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter. Few rise to this level, but many aspire to earn the coveted title. Today, Jo has her educator hat on and she’s here to teach us a thing or two … or several. Please welcome Award-Winning Jo Robertson, Author of THE WATCHER.

ne of the greatest tools in the author's arsenal of revision and rewrites is working with language. Once you've got your plot and pacing well defined, what can you do to elevate your book above the common fray? What sets your story apart from the myriads available to readers?

You've written the draft, tightened the plot, and strengthened the pacing. What's next? We talk a lot about an author's voice, but often writers fail to understand the concept. Voice is the unique tone of your writing; if your voice is strong, it's as distinguishable from another writer as fingerprints. It's your writing DNA and arises from two strong writing elements many authors pay little attention to: diction and syntax.

Diction is word choice and includes tone, which is the attitude of the writer toward her subject, characters, or writing. Diction is the foundation of voice. Effective writers use words that are clear, concrete, and precise. Largely this can be done by skillful understanding of words' denotation (the literal, dictionary definition of the word) and connotation (the implied or suggested meaning of a word, the emotional tag).

Consider the words "gaunt" and "slim." Both have the same denotations – both mean extremely thin.

Example: Your character hasn't seen her friend since last Christmas and she's lost a lot of weight. When Sara first sees Jane, she exclaims, "Oh, my gosh, you've lost weight! You look so ______." Consider the words you could use and how they convey the precise meaning you want.

skinny, thin, slender, gaunt, slim, trim, tiny, petite, svelte

Connotatively "gaunt" evokes memory of a concentration camp survivor or a cadaver. "Skinny" suggests too thin, perhaps even anorexic.

If you want your character to be a bit snarky, you will show her character by using "skinny," which has a negative connotation (not as negative as "gaunt," but that'd be going too far). If you want to convey sincere congratulations, your character might use "slender" or "slim."

Diction, then, is word choice, a powerful tool.

As a writer, you have great power over diction and an entire world of words to use. I advise my student never to use a thesaurus. If you don't know a word already, you're likely to misuse it in context.

If you need a word bank, start one of your own. When you read or hear interesting or evocative words, type them into your word bank and note how they're used. Play attention to their connotations as well as their denotation. Study their rhythm. Or you might consider investing in a good synonym dictionary. The difference between this kind of dictionary and a thesaurus is that the synonym dictionary will jog your memory for words you (hopefully) already have in your mental lexicon.

Another example: "Plump" and "obese" are denotatively the same – they mean overweight – but "plump" has a more positive connotation (pleasingly plump) suggesting a well-rounded or over-endowed person, while "obese" is a clinical term and suggests being grossly overweight.

Consider what the writer does connotatively with the underlined words in the following sentence:

The finalist surveyed the audience, clutching the RITA statue and congratulating herself for snatching the highest honor in the profession's contest.

All four words suggest that the finalist stole the honor from the other contestants, rather than achieved it fairly. The tone is gloating; the finalist surveys her fellow contenders as one looking down upon the audience.

Choose words that fit the tone of the passage or character. Don't overreach for these words, but do consider how tone is conveyed through your word choice. Your voice is closely connected to your diction.

The second tool we rarely talk about is syntax. Syntax is the arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence or passage. It involves a number of devices like sentence structure and phrasing.

Attention to syntax is more useful in your narration than your dialogue, but is important.

A. Sentence structure includes different kinds and types of sentences, rhetorical question, specific punctuation, and specific patterns of phrases and sentences within a passage.

Let's look at this periodic sentence:

The man died because the ambulance arrived late.

Because the ambulance arrived late, the man died.

The second sentence is arranged so that tension is built as the reader waits to find out what happened; the first one tells you up front. Which is better for your writing purpose?

An example from Jane Austen: "The garden sloping to the road, the houses standing in it, the green pales and the laurel hedge, everything declared they were arriving."

The periodic sentence delays the important message (they were arriving); plus Austen has this lovely layering of phrases as she builds toward the final clause.

B. Phrasing refers to the placement and variation of phrases in sentences, parallel structure, and purposeful repetition.

Caveat! The point of understanding and using these syntactical devices is to underscore or enhance your content. Not for showing off! Whatever syntactical devices you use should (a) mirror the content and (b) not detract from the story.

Look at this passage from Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention:

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price or chains and slavery?"

Rhetorical question – no answer expected or needed. Also notice the nice alliteration of the letter "p."

Another syntactical device is varying sentence structure in a passage. Simple sentences, compound sentences, complex, compound-complex sentences – all can be controlled by the writer to deliver a desired effect.

Note in the example below how J.D. Robb (Naked in Death) has wedged the complex sentence between two simple sentences. Consider the effect on the reader.

"She woke in the dark. Through the slats on the window shades, the first murky hint of dawn slipped, slanting shadowy bars over the bed. It was like waking in a cell."

Also from the same book:

"He had a vision of himself dragging her to the floor, pounding himself into her until her screams echoed like gunshots, and his release erupted like blood."

Note the parallelism in the two participles (dragging and pounding) and the parallel similes ("like gunshots" and "like blood"). This is particularly evocative because in this scene Roarke and Eve are in the gun collection room, surrounded by the implements of death and blood. The primitive sexual feelings he has are underscored by the environment.

Parallel structure from Sherry Thomas' Private Arrangements:

"His kiss was as light as meringue, as gentle as the opening notes of Moonlight Sonata, and as nourishing as the first rain of spring after an endless winter drought."

Not only does she maintain the parallelism with the "as – as" construction, but each subsequent phrase is longer than the one before it. If she'd put the last phrase in the middle of the sentence, the meter and continuity and smoothness of the sentence would be lost.

Note: Good writers may do this kind of construction subconsciously (leaving the analysis to us English teachers) or deliberately, but they never allow the syntax to drive them. They drive their syntax.

Diction and syntax also account for rhythm. The English language is a series of accented and unaccented syllables that can be arranged to be very pleasant or very jarring to the ear.

During revision or rewrites consider where you've placed words, phrases, and sentences for maximum effect. Choose words that convey the tone you've intended. A strong use of these devices enhances your voice. For example, we could read passages by Hemingway and Faulkner and easily distinguish between them. Their voices are that distinctive.

Revision is not editing. Editing attends to the mechanics of the language. Manipulating the language to a specific purpose – that's revision!

As a writer what do you consider the most effective tool in your arsenal? Any pet peeves or pitfalls? Share! Inquiring minds want to know.

Questions? Comments? For those who do, you'll be entered in a drawing to win THE WATCHER either in print or digital format. Sorry, U.S. residents only. The overseas postage is prohibitive. Check back on Friday evening September 2nd when Jo will announce the winner. And to learn more about Jo, check out her website: http://www.jorobertson.com/

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Indy Authors: Getting the word out about your books

Edie Ramer ran the gamut of winning prestigious contests to being an American Title Finalist. She's had four agents, and did her best to fit into the mold that was New York publishing. Until finally she thought, what for? Edie was one of the first authors to stick her toe into the self-publishing waters when Amazon and Smashwords created the option. She did so fearlessly and hasn't looked back. Is it tough? Sure it is. But if you look at the last time she visited Five Scribes, http://tinyurl.com/3wsdxrs she admitted she hadn't gotten into Indie publishing for the short haul. Today Edie's dropped by to share some advice for those considering or already involved in Indie publishing for boosting sales.

Take it away, Edie.

Getting the word out about your $0.99 & $2.99 eBooks

A friend emailed me for advice. She’s an indie author and one of her books isn’t selling very well. She plans to redo the description, but she’s also considering lowering the price to $0.99 for a month. She wanted to know how to let people know the book is on sale. Of course she plans to post on Facebook and Twitter, but most of her twitter followers are writers, and she wants to reach readers.

That was an interesting question. I’d lowered the price of two of my books as an experiment. CATTITUDE last December, and DEAD PEOPLE in February, I believe. I know I tweeted about it. I might have mentioned it on Facebook, but I’m not sure.

Since then, I thought I’ve seen mention of places for 99-cent books on Facebook and Twitter. So I went to Facebook and found these sites:


http://www.facebook.com/pages/99-Cent-Network/123755871041942 This one seems to be an offshoot of the previous link and appears fairly new.


http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheap-e-Reads/163454373711210 This is for Barnes &

Noble books. It also has books posted that are $1.99 and $2.99.

On the Internet:

· Daily Cheap Reads will feature your book without charge. Their feature of my paranormal romance DEAD PEOPLE catapulted it to the top 10 bestselling lists of 3 Kindle categories for about 3 months. They have a long waiting list and it will take 2 to 3 months after you send your request on their Your Two Cents Worth page to get on the site.

· Kindle on the Cheap appears to be new. They don’t charge for a feature. By the time you read this, I’ll have contacted them about GALAXY GIRLS, my recently published sci fi romance, which is $2.99.

· The Frugal eReader has different categories, including Finds under $1, Finds under $5, Finds under $9, and much more. They even feature free books. They charge, but the price seems reasonable. Some might even say frugal. You can read about it here.

· Pixels of Ink charges. I bought a feature for one of my books, and made less in sales than it cost me. However, I don’t know how many people read my book and then went on to buy one of my other books. I haven’t paid for promo anywhere since. Someone else might have had a better experience.

· Kindle Nation. On a blog last Dec., J.A. Konrath wrote, “I can testify that appearing on Kindle Nation has helped boost my sales.” But a couple friends have advertised with Kindle Nation, and they didn’t feel they got their money’s worth.

Twitter has hashtags for #99cents and #99centbooks. Most writers use the first, and that’s what I would stick to.

My problem with using Twitter for promo is that your tweet is easily visible for just a short space of time. Unless a lot of friends retweet your tweet, it gets lost. Constantly repeating promo will annoy your followers, but I’ve thought of something my friend can try. We belong to 2 large Yahoo writers groups that have set up a separate Yahoo group for members to use for promotion. One group is an RWA chapter; the other is for indie authors, though quite a few also publish traditionally. On the promo loop for the second group, we set aside Sundays for mentioning books we’d like tagged and liked, which is working out well.

I suggested to my friend that she mention the tweet announcing her 99-cent sale price on the promo loop of both groups, and ask them to retweet. To make it easy, she should include her Twitter link. It won’t hurt, and I’m sure some of them will RT.

I found more links since I sent Donnell my post. I asked her to tack this onto it. I’d mentioned Kindle on the Cheap, but discovered they also have a Kindle on the Cheap Facebook page:

The same ladies have The Cheap for Nook deals. If you look on the right sidebar, under Facebook, they have Facebook pages for Casting Pearls (inspirational for Nook & Kindle), Nook Jr., NookLove (romance), Kindle on the Cheap, and NookTeen.

Can you think of anything I’ve missed? Do you have any advice for my friend? Or me, because I’ll use it, too.

Edie Ramer
Amazon Best-Selling Multi-Award-Winning Author
Ghosts, dragons, cats and aliens with attitude

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scriptscene Fast Track Classes

This is an incredible opportunity for screenwriter's and novelist's alike!

Hope to see you all there!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Senior Moments are Murder -- Interview with Mike Befeler

Five Scribe Readers: Fate is the funniest thing. Years ago, at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, this nice older man stood in front of the crowd and read from his book, “Living with Your Kids is Murder.” When I wasn’t leaning forward from fits of laughter, I was thinking who is this guy? He’s good. Years later, when he joined my online mystery critique group, turns out my first impression wasn’t wrong. Nominated for the best humorous mystery of 2009 for a Lefty Award, Mike Befeler is good; what’s more he puts the pro in prolific.

Kirkus Reviews writes, “It’s hard to beat a team that includes a wisecracking old fart and a straight-talking young sprout, and Befeler’s second geezer-lit entry delivers.”

Today, Mike is here to talk about his third book in his Geezer-Lit Mystery Series, “Senior Moments are Murder.” Please welcome Mike Befeler.


D.B.: Mike, what a pleasure. Geezer-lit. I’d never heard of it until I read one of your novels. Did you coin the term, or is it a well known genre I’ve missed?

M.B.: I had toyed with the term, and it was reinforced by fellow mystery author Christine Goff. I went with it and found other references when I started Googling “geezer-lit.” In any case, I’ve embraced it and always wear my Geezer-lit Mysteries straw hat at conferences.

D.B.: Paul Jacobsen is a hoot. A crusty old man with a quick temper, Paul also has another problem. While he ordinarily has a high I.Q. with a photographic memory, he has what Paul himself calls “foggy brain cells.” Meaning if he goes to sleep, the unthinkable happens and he loses his memory of what happened in the days before. One thing, and one thing only, keeps him from losing his memory. But I’ll leave this for readers to discover. It’s charming and ingenious.

I take it you couldn’t give your character Alzheimer’s for understandable reasons. But what a great plot device. What inspired you to create Paul, and tell us in what way is he like Mike Befeler and then, minus the obvious memory problem, what way are you two different?

M.B.: Paul was inspired by my stepfather who had short-term memory loss. There are many forms of dementia besides Alzheimer’s, and both my stepdad and Paul suffer from the type that is caused by minor strokes. The one attribute that Paul inherited from me—we both hate taking pills. When I write a character, I may use snippets from people I know, but the vast majority of characteristics are just what feels right for the character. One other aspect of Paul—he cusses. I don’t swear very often (except when I’m playing racquet sports). I’ve received some flack from cozy readers who don’t like swearing. As I tell these readers, Paul learned to swear when he was in the military during WWII. I’ve tried to get him to stop, but because of his short-term memory loss he keeps forgetting.

D.B.: It’s bad enough that Paul forgets critical elements of the day before, but with the temper I mentioned, he is the perfect protagonist cum murder suspect. You can’t leave well enough alone with one body, Mike. Paul becomes a suspect in three murders in “Senior Moments are Murder,” an art dealer, a rival for his wife’s affections and finally one of Venice Beach’s most popular artists.

If that’s not enough the book opens and he’s in bed with a sweet young thing who’s all of seventy. You write in first person, but you feed in the secondary characters well. Was Marion in “Living with your Kids Is Murder?” (I suspect I missed Paul and Marion’s courtship.) Do we need to go back and read books one two to read more?

M.B.: My books are a series, but they can be read in any order. Marion appears in the first two books, “Retirement Homes Are Murder” and “Living with Your Kids Is Murder.”

D.B.: Evidently your stories have been based in Hawaii, but Paul finds himself in Venice Beach, California, smack dab in the art district. Add to his short-term memory loss, he’s afraid of water, hates lawyers and technology and he seems to find himself in a verbal fight with every character he encounters. Is knowing this character so well something that comes with writing a series? When you started with book one, was that your intention? Or with its success, did Five Star say what else have you got?

M.B.: When I started writing the first book, it didn’t even start as a mystery. Having spent a lot of time with my mom and stepfather in their retirement home, I was intrigued by the people I met there who displayed vitality and a great sense of humor. My book started as a relationship story about three men and three women in a retirement community. At the same time I was writing a collection of short stories that had either the victim or the perpetrator being an older person. The two ideas merged and “Retirement Homes Are Murder” was born. I learned mystery writing on the job. I didn’t even think of a series until I had completed the first book. Then I just had to keep writing about Paul. My editor at Five Star, Deni Dietz, was a terrific coach and mentor. For example, in the original draft I submitted, I killed off one of the secondary characters. Deni suggested I might want to reconsider that decision, and she was absolutely right. That character continues to play throughout the series.

D.B.: You introduce Detective Quintana in the opening pages, and with Paul arguing with the first victim the night before, and Paul just happening to stumble upon the corpse in the water, it looks bad, real bad. I have to agree with Quintana -- Paul did it!:) But the old geezer and Marion know he’s not capable of murder, so Paul sets out to prove his innocence. Using Paul’s photographic memory, he journals at night so when he wakes up, he can read what happened the day before. In addition to great plotting, Mike, you know law enforcement. What did you do to prepare to write your mysteries? I’m also curious, do you paint? You list some techniques, and with your inclusion of the art world in the story, I wondered if that were the case?

M.B.: I’ve attended the Boulder Citizens’ Police Academy and the Boulder Sheriff’s Academy. I’m also vice president of the Boulder Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni Association for which we have monthly speakers on different aspects of law enforcement. I’m also vice president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America with monthly meetings often on law enforcement. Another thing I’ve done is volunteer as a role player for police training, so I’ve been “arrested” and cuffed numerous times. I’ve tried to make my law enforcement accurate from what I’ve learned. In my past I did some painting. When I was 56 years old, I made the conscious decision to retire into something creative. Writing was my first choice and painting was my second. Some day I may paint again, but right now I’m fully consumed with writing and enjoying it.

D.B.: As I mentioned Paul doesn’t appreciate technology, believes his ticker’s too old for the Internet, but luckily, his granddaughter Jennifer can do it for him and possesses a photographic memory like Paul’s. I found the relationship between Paul and Jennifer charming, as well as Paul’s relationship with Marian’s grandson, Austin.

You address the differences between the younger generation and the geriatric set well. In addition, you address some other important social problems, e.g. macular degeneration, the isolation one feels in nursing homes and the plight of the homeless. Serious topics, but you do so with warmth and always with a sense of humor. When you’re starting to tell a story is this intentional to bring to light these problems? Or does your muse just incorporate them as your protagonist tries to clear himself of murder?

M.B.: Donnell, I try to relate a balanced picture of the aging process. I’m co-chair of the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and have become involved in volunteering to support the older population. There are problems people face as they get older but also opportunities. I often speak to service organizations and retirement communities about POWs, not prisoners of war but older people—persons of wisdom. Much like I enjoy humor in mysteries, I like the aspect of humor being appreciated by my older characters. As a grandfather, I’ve come to welcome the intergenerational interaction and put that into my books. In society, older people and younger people can all benefit from knowing those at the other end of the age spectrum.

D.B.: Let’s talk about writing in general before I give the whole story away . I believe you’re a retired engineer. Were you always a writer, or was this something that interested you after you retired? First person works well for SMAM, but did you experiment with third and decide first fits your voice?

M.B.: I spent 39 years in the computer industry. I was actually in sales, marketing and program management but worked with engineers all the time. I’m a late bloomer. I wasn’t that good an English student in high school and college, but over the course of a business career I figured out how to put a sentence together. I also learned a little about fiction writing because I used to write press releases. With my job and raising a family, I didn’t pursue the writing muse until 2001, when I made the decision that I would retire into fiction writing rather than retiring away from the computer industry. My first novel was published in 2007, and I retired later that year to write full time. I’ve written novel manuscripts in both first and third person. With Paul it just felt right to let him speak directly.

D.B: I know firsthand that the Geezer-lit series aren’t your only books. In addition to Geezer-lit, I’ve read two mysteries, a paranormal P.I. story that I’ve never seen anything like, (and know readers would love), and even a young adult. Talk about your process, Mike. What happens when you get an idea, how long does it take from inception to draft to completion of a novel?

M.B.: I’m always coming up with crazy ideas so in the last ten years I’ve been jotting them down and keeping them in a manila folder. I often take walks during the middle of the day, and these ideas percolate. When a particular concept reaches a critical mass, I write a basic outline. I’ve tried the range from a detailed outline to seat of my pants, but I find I need some structure to get my thoughts organized. Once I decide to go with a concept and start writing, I follow the general outline but find the story always goes off in some direction I never would have predicted. That’s what I enjoy about writing—being surprised when something unexpected develops. One manuscript was inspired by a presentation I heard at a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. I came home, took a walk on Sunday afternoon and started writing the next day. That manuscript got interrupted, and I finished it three years later. I enjoy trying different types of writing projects. Although most of what I’ve done is mystery, I’ve also written several business stories and right now am working on a spy novel. I’ve also experiment with middle-grade mysteries in addition to the YA one you mentioned.

D.B.: Blink and the industry changes. What advice, if any, would you give to today’s writers?

M.B.: The most important message is perseverance. Writing is a difficult, frustrating, lonely, disappointing activity and full of rejection. On the other hand it is the most amazing, fulfilling and rewarding thing imaginable. I received 111 rejections before I sold my first short story, and I’m not that unusual. Louis L’Amour, the famous western author, received over 350 rejections for over 200 manuscripts before he sold his first story. Don’t ever give up. Keep writing, keep improving your skills, keep pitching, keep querying, keep submitting manuscripts.

D.B.: What’s next in the Geezer-lit series? Will it continue, or will Mike Befeler introduce a new cast of characters?

M.B.: Book four in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery series is under contract with Five Star for publication December, 2012. I recently completed the rough draft of book five, so the series will go at least that far. I’ve completed the first book of a new geezer-lit mystery series that can be developed into at least three books.

Mike, thank you so much for being with us today. As readers can see, I’m a fan. His books are such fun, with twists and turns in every chapter. You’ll laugh, cheer and keep smiling for days.

Well, readers, there you have it. Have you ever heard of Geezer-lit? And, like me, do you wish more stories revolved around older protagonists?

Best, Greenest Revision System

Those of you into recycling and saving trees are going to love this. Hmm. maybe I'm behind the times and it's the way many of you already do your revisions, but I was tickled to death and thought myself quite brilliant to think of this new set-up to facilitate revisions.

Now I'm certainly NOT a techy--my family would laugh rather heartily--embarrassingly so, pee-your pants hard--that anyone would think me tech savvy, however, when faced with some wonderful, extensive revision feedback . . . it occurred to me that instead of printing out the pages of suggestions or flipping between open screens , that it'd save lots of paper, money and aggravation if I could just display the listed edits on one computer screen while I made the changes on my lap top.

And it so happened that we had this cute little monitor sitting abandoned in our basement waiting to be loved. So I resurrected said monitor, gave her a thorough dusting off and made a run to the Mac store to get appropriate connections--after my darling husband spent a little time researching my needs and cursing Mac creators--before enlightening me as to exactly what I should request.

Contrary to John's pessimistic thoughts, setting her up was really quite simple--even I could do it with the Mac genius's few pointers, and voila, I have a terrific set up to allow me to easily make my changes. I highlight the more extensive edits and strikethrough the completed line edits and simpler modifications. I love it!

Take a look. What do you think?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing and Translating into Magical Stories

I belong to a wonderful goals group created by founder, Amy Atwell. One meets the most interesting people in our group, among them the prolific Annemarie Nikolaus who is a German journalist and author, who has lived in Germany and Northern Italy and recently moved to France with her daughter. This January Annemarie decided to publish as an indie author. She began with her out-of print-work and e-published. Magical Stories is her first book translated into English. I work so hard to make the stories I write in English make sense, I can't imagine translating my work into a foreign language. But Annemarie fearlessly takes this on. I asked her to tell us about it. Please welcome Annemarie Nikolaus.

Magical Stories is a compilation which includes a water ghost, a young magician, a magic-talented hare and a good witch: Magic and intelligence, reality and legend connect in these short stories. Two stories about the force of nature and the thoughtlessness of man. One story's message is to consider well what you wish. And last is a Christmas story.

Some years ago, “The Brook“ and “Cork“ were published in German, the Christmas story in Italian. These short stories, imparting wisdom are not only for children.


Being multi-lingual: Usually I write fiction and non-fiction in German; sometimes in Italian. My daughter normally writes in Italian, as this was her “school language” for most years. Meanwhile she’s begun to write in German too and actually she tries to translate her YWP-story in French. (Young Writers' Program).

Now I have e-published an anthology of children's stories in English - and this is not an original work, but a translation of my German book.

So Donnell asked me, how it's working for me to translate my stories.

First thought in my mind was an Italian saying: "Traduttori sono trahitori." - Translators are betrayers.


Did you ever put a text into a translator and then re-translate the output into the original language?

But translating is not only substituting the words of a text of one language with another. You have to find the bridge from one culture to the other one. That's one of the reasons, why automatic translators don't work at all; even when they find the right words and know the correct grammar.

Sometimes I professionally translate from other languages to German, what is my mother tongue; and even with technical or scientific translations I often have to discuss with my clients about the meaning of sentences and words.

Translation of literature is more difficult, because it means to catch also the voice of the author. For this reason, often a new edition of books in foreign languages are translated anew. The next translator gives the reader another interpretation of said story and a new voice to the author. That's why translators, next to the author, own the copyright for the work.

But which one is right? When the book is in English, many German readers prefer to read the original work. Because none is right. Think of a movie that doesn't come with sub-titles, but with translation. The voices of the actors are different; no way.

Now I went to translate my own stories. Would I be able to maintain my voice? That was an enormous experiment. And much much more work than I had expected. I often write in English or in Italian: I barely use a dictionary - I just take the words that come into my mind. Which in general are rather common than poetic.

But especially for "The Brook" I needed poetic words to catch the fairy-tale atmosphere of the story and the music of the waterfall. I needed a dictionary. I used three different dictionaries; sort of cross-research. Sometimes I could not help but take what has the nearest meaning.

There are words that just don't translate. After twenty years living in Italy, I have some Italian words in my mind, for which I have no German ones. There is nothing "identical". Till today - we live in France now - I think [of] them in Italian. Because it's a different way of "thinking".

So I should have known it. But translating my own stories, nonetheless, got me in difficulties. I gave my translations to fellow writers to correct the English. Both did not only correct grammar, but also edited. Different way of thinking. Most of it I did accept - English is like that. But at some points I said, no; it's not at all what I want to say.

Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof - someone still knows this name?

He was a Russian, born at Bialystok in the mid-19th century. A place, whose population spoke Russian, Polish, German and Yiddish. At the end of the 19th century, he made an invention that some decades ago was rather popular - as far as I know at least in Germany. I remember that I wanted to learn it, when I was young. Esperanto. He wanted all people to understand each other speaking the same language; so he created this artificial language.

After WWII it gained a certain interest because of the idea that a unique language could resolve something. So many things should be easier without misunderstandings. As if war was ever caused by misunderstanding and not by economic and political interests.

Nowadays "no one" mentions Esperanto. No one even knows how many people learnt it - numbers go from half a million to two millions. Why? It doesn't work. A unique language can't catch all the very different cultures.

Know what? I'm glad it failed. With only one language our world would be poorer; a lot of cultural differences would get lost. That I wanted to learn Esperanto was due to the school's methods to teach: School taught - if ever - children to translate, not to think in other languages.

I grew up in Germany, then lived in Italy for many years and recently moved to France. Sometimes I get the question, why? What's better in France than in Italy? - Nothing. It's different. That's the point.

And except of the translation issues, what has all this to do with me as a writer?

With legacy publishing, writers went worldwide, when their books were translated in foreign languages. As far as it happened.

Now we have internet, e-book and worldwide operating distributors. Most of the e-books are in English. And I read author's happily blogging about the unlimited sales of their English books, because everywhere in the world are millions and millions of readers capable to read in English.

Great. And the other ones? There are much more millions of people who will never read a book, written in English.

So what?

Most indie authors can't afford translations of their books; hard enough to pay edits and cover art. So for foreign rights we have to go back to agents and legacy publishers and let them gain their percents for a lifetime?

I dream something else: Exchange of translations between indie authors. German authors translating English and Italian books in German; Americans translating German and French books in English ... It would take a while, but it would cost only time.

As indie authors with e-books we are anyway at the long haul.

Annemarie Nikolaus has been writing fiction since 2001. She has studied psychology, journalism, history and political science. Her preferred genres are historicals and fantasy, but with her political background, she also writes thrillers. Her complete bio at Wikipedia is http://bit.ly/r0mwoC

Magical Stories at Amazon: http://amzn.to/o14v6L Magical Stories at smashwords http://bit.ly/nrcyTk

Annemarie, thanks for stopping by. Readers, have you ever thought of translating your work into another language?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In a Treacherous Court -- Interview with Michelle Diener

Today's guest is historical fiction author Michelle Diener. About Michelle, I don't know what's more intriguing, the fact that she was born in London and brought up in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, or that she's written such a compelling novel! Five Scribes readers, please welcome Michelle Diener.

DB.: Michelle, it's such a pleasure. IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, your publisher couldn't have come up with a more apt title. Still, your unpublished title of ILLUMINATIONS fits well, too. Was your original title hard to give up?

M.D.: It was hard for probably all of ten minutes, because I had never thought of the book as anything else, and my publisher and editor were happy with it, too. But when they came up with IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, I saw immediately that the old title, ILLUMINATIONS, was only powerful if you had read the book, or knew a lot about it, but if you didn't, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, said a lot more about the book, and that was what mattered.

IN A TREACHEROUS COURT combines the lives of a Flemish painter, Mistress Susanna Horenbout and John Parker, the King's Keeper of the Palace of Westminster and his Yeoman of the Crossbows, one of Henry VIII's most trusted courtiers, or perhaps more simply, he's the "King's Man."

Susanna comes from a family of illuminators, studied under her father who painted for Margaret of Austria, and though equally talented, has lived in the shadow of her brother, Lucas. Until her father allows her to travel to England, at King Henry's behest to serve as the King's painter. Aboard the ship, however, as a man dies in Susanna's arms, he whispers a secret involving a deadly plot against the throne. Have I got it right so far?

M.D.: You do. :) Most likely, Henry would have sent a request for someone from Gerard Horenbout's atelier (his studio) to come and work for him, and I made it both impossible to send Lucas because he is away in Germany, and also fortuitous for Susanna's parents to send her, to get her away from a situation they don't like. That she is the one who was sent seems clear to art historians, though, because she was definitely at Henry's court before her brother and father. Unfortunately the records on what she did are gone.

I have so many questions about this novel, I don't know where to start, so let's begin with Susanna Horenbout and John Parker. These two were actual historical figures. I believe they may have even been married? What made you take these two individuals and put them into a historical romantic suspense? Was there any evidence in your research that said these two were involved in such treachery?

M.D.: They were definitely married. That's how art historians realized Susanna was sent to Henry's court first. The record of her marriage precedes her father and brother's journey to Henry's court. As for the treachery and danger I put them in, no. There is so little information on them anyway, and certainly none that involves them in a plot against the throne. But it was a dangerous time and Parker was a courtier who would have had plenty of access to the King, so my plot is possible.

And I certainly like the version you came up with! What I thought was particularly innovative and non-cliched in your writing is that neither of your protagonists was of noble birth, although as an artist and as a courtier, they were well-bred. Susanna is one of the most intriguing historical heroines I've ever read (imagine, a 16th century feminist). You aptly describe what she might have endured trying to fit into King Henry's court, and what in that era belonged to a man's profession.

In the story, Parker grew up on the docks, and at one point, came to the King's aid. You write about this so seamlessly, I'd like to know: Is it true that King Henry as a young man went out alone with only a companion? And did Parker actually come to the king's rescue? In other words, how much of this is true and how much was creative license?

M.D.: The part about Parker coming to the King's rescue I made up, but it is definitely true that Henry VIII liked to wander the streets of London dressed as a commoner. Disguises and taking on the appearance of someone else was something he loved, and would incorporate into the many plays and pageants that were staged at court. He would often appear in the plays himself, dressed as an old man, or some other character, and then delight in throwing off his disguise to reveal it was him.

He did this to an unsuspecting Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, who had never met him before, and her reaction of dismay and confusion was one of the things that soured their marriage from the start.

But it definitely seems he would disguise himself and wander about the streets, although I can't imagine he would be foolish enough not to take at least one person with him. In my account, he takes his best friend, Charles Brandon. It seemed very possible that he might find himself in a sticky situation in what were dangerous times, and a very dangerous city, and as the scene I wrote had Henry actually courting danger, it wasn't anything of a stretch to see that he might have needed some help if things got violent.

D.B.: I love when authors place historical figures in books. One of my favorites is Barbara Erskine's LADY OF HAY. At the end of the book there are pages of indexing citing her research. Will you talk about how much research went into IN A TREACHEROUS COURT? Is this the first novel in which you've placed historical figures? And how difficult was it to stay true to what they did in history?

M.D.: I loved LADY OF HAY, too, Donnell. I've been to Haye-on-Wye, and loved it all the more for what I knew about it from that book. I have written a book where the main characters were fictional, but a number of the secondary characters were real historical figures, and the main event in the book was a real historical event. IN A TREACHEROUS COURT was my first book where almost all the characters were based on real people.

The research for IATC was focused on Susanna Horenbout, and so I went to great lengths to discover everything I could about her. Most of it is in art history or historical journals, and I managed to get my hands on every article out there I could find. There were also a few books that specialized in the history of the miniature painting, an art form the Horenbouts are credited with bringing to England, so I snapped those up, as well. I did research into illuminating and painting in the Renaissance, and then tackled the massive body of research available on the court of Henry VIII and Henry himself. It took me over six months of full-time research before I felt ready to start writing, and I was still researching as I got underway with the story.

I can't imagine how daunting. Michelle, the suspense takes off from the start. You do a marvelous job of placing us in the 16th century as well as creating believable characters. Susanna's compassion to Parker's brusque exterior makes them an ideal pair to thwart this conspiracy, and with Susanna conceptualizing paintings everywhere she looks in the world around her, you certainly brought the artist to life.

Additionally, Parker's background makes him a natural born fighter, but he fits in with commoner and nobleman alike. And, readers, he's so smart. I loved how he turned street urchins paid to attack Susanna into allies, and, in essence, gave them a better life.

This was brilliant plotting, filled with sexual tension. I can't imagine writing such complicated, intricate plot in the mist. I see you with spreadsheets, and fumbling for your notes at every turn. True? False? Tell us about your writing process.

M.D.: Writing process? Am I meant to have one? :) I like to have a general idea about where the story is going in my head, but that's it. I waste a lot of time because I don't have a spreadsheet, probably because I am constantly rechecking facts and making sure any references I make are accurate, but I like letting the story develop organically.

D.B.: Has all of your work been historical in scope? What do you think is the biggest challenge historical authors face? And do you have any plans to write contemporary fiction?

M.D.: I have a few fantasies written. They mirror my love of fairy tales, and the setting, though magical, mirrors the 15th century and 16th century, so I guess they could be called historical fantasy. They aren't published (yet!).

As for the challenges historical authors face -- I think it is hard to balance all the research you do with what should end up in the book. I'm a firm believer in less is more. So I prefer to have a very solid idea of the world I'm writing about, and then write it without explanation, and let that mental image I have in my head of what the clothes, rooms, palaces looked like come through on the page without fanfare and flourish. So the reader gets their sense of place from what the characters are seeing, experiencing and doing, not from an information dump by the author. I don't want to intrude as an author.

A few months ago, I wrote an contemporary-set paranormal short story for inclusion in an anthology called ENTANGLED. My first foray into the contemporary genre. The anthology will be out around the end of September, early October this year, and all the proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I'm thrilled and honored to be invited to contribute, and although I was nervous to write a contemporary story, it ended up being a lot of fun. So much fun, I have plans for a sequel. :)

How do you vet your research? Do you have readers, critique partners? Do you correspond with experts?

M.D.: What I do is draw from peer-reviewed research -- articles from academic historical journals and art history journals -- and from well-respected historical references sources, as well as primary sources. Letters and Papers, the compilation of letters and records from Henry's reign, features heavily in my research. When I really cannot find something I want, I've emailed experts, like a specialist in residence at Westminster, and the Tower of London. I am constantly amazed at how generous and sharing they are.

This is your debut novel, and you have been contracted to write book two. What's its title? Will it have the same characters? If you can, tell us about that plot.

M.D.: The second book is called KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS. Susanna and Parker are the main protagonists again, and the plot deals with the aftermath of what happened in the first book. The outcome of IN A TREACHEROUS COURT results in a shady deal done by a person very high up in the hierarchy of Henry's court with the King of France before he was captured by the emperor Charles I, turning very, very bad. KEEPER OF THE SECRETS has Parker and Susanna scrambling to avert a war with France and involves a very interesting French assassin.

Sounds intriguing as IATC! Congrats. Finally, Michelle, as you know Five Scribes is a blog for writers. Tell us how long it's taken you to go from aspiring to published author, and what advice would you give to writers?

M.D.: I turned my mind to writing seriously in 2001. But I had a number of false starts. I was also establishing my own small business at the time, and fell pregnant that year, too. I had always written, always seen myself as a writer, even when I was a child, but I expected the muse to show up before I went to work. Deciding to get serious meant I had to learn to write even when I didn't feel like it, and that was a hard and long process. I started submitting work in 2004, and I accepted agent representation in 2009, and my agent sold IN A TREACHEROUS COURT over Christmas in 2009. I got the call in early January 2010, after my editor got back to the office.

If I have one piece of advice, it is never settle in your work, strive to make it as good as you can, and never, ever give up.

Hear that readers? Advice you should take to the keyboard.

Michelle Diener currently lives on the west coast of Australia with her husband and two children. When she's not writing or driving her kids to activities, you can find her blogging at Magical Musings, or online at Twitter and Facebook.

Interviewer's Note: IN A TREACHEROUS COURT, Michelle Diener uses history, in particular, the very backdrop of King Henry's inability to produce a male heir and his philandering ways against him. With treachery arising in the upper echelons of his court, the conspiracy transcends to France and even the Pope as the King's enemies seek to bring about his downfall. It also ends with a satisfying romance I know readers will love.

So how about you? Do you like to read historical novels where actual historical figures take center stage? Questions or comments will enter you in a drawing to win IN A TREACHEROUS COURT. Be sure to leave your e-mail address. Also, unfortunately, since Michelle is out of the U.S. her publisher must send the book out and has stipulated U.S. residents only.

Thanks for being here, Michelle & to all, Happy Writing. ~ Donnell

Congratulations to Ellis Vidler. She won Michelle Diener's debut, IN A TREACHEROUS COURT.