Thankful for Our Authors

We are thankful for the privilege of working with some outstanding authors. This collage represents some of the books we’ve edited or formatted this year, which include fiction and nonfiction: novels, memoirs, education workbooks, journalism, and religious themes.

We enjoy talking on the phone, emailing and texting with our writers, getting to know them, and assisting as they fulfill their dream of completing their book and becoming a published author.

As one client mentioned on the phone a few days ago, “I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but I never dreamed I’d be an author. Thanks for your wonderful help and encouragement. I’m ready to start my next book!”

Well Told Stories

Every life is a series of stories, and each person an endless repository of action, emotion, and relationship. One of the goals of literature is to capture that collection of raw material, and frame the narrative in such a way that those who read the finished product are invited to participate in a vicarious experience. If the stories are told well, readers can feel pain, joy, love, fear, or wonder. They are able to cry when a lover is betrayed, cringe when the hero of the story is under attack, or crawl under a blanket and hide to escape being discovered by the intruder.

I remember coming home from work one day and discovering my wife and children watching a scary movie on TV. All three of my kids were on the same sofa, huddling together under a blanket as the terrifying story unfolded before their eyes. The fear was real. They were experiencing the lives of the people on the screen.

That’s what happens when a good book is placed in front of your eyes, too. The reader can learn, grow, increase in wisdom, or even become a better friend or lover as a result. Sometimes, reading a selection can lead to anger, motivate to action, or inspire a deeper faith. Other times, you come away so afraid you want to lock the doors and shut out the world.

Each writer obviously has a unique personality and writing style, and every story has a different theme and mood. But good writing should warm your heart, provoke you to action, inspire you to travel to a place you’ve never been before, or entice you to want to read more. Some stories will cause you to question what you believe, and others will affirm what you already consider to be true. Perhaps you’ll find yourself sitting in your chair with a smile breaking across your face, or see yourself in one of the scenes.

This article is excerpted from the introduction to a book titled Reflections: An Anthology of Memoir and Short Story, which may be purchased on Amazon .

Draw Your Reader into the Story

Good writing captures the imagination of the readers, grabs and holds their attention, compelling them to keep reading. It creates interest, makes them care about the story, the people, the problem. Its impact is so deep they simply don’t have the option of putting down the book, the article, or the essay. They must keep reading. They have to find out what happens next. They want to know the outcome. They are hooked.

The same is true of any form of communication: television commercials, sitcoms, and movies; micro fiction, short stories, and novels; essays and narrative nonfiction; poetry and songs; speeches and sermons. When done well, it latches onto something inside the mind or the soul of the hearer, viewer, or reader.

This happened to me the first time I read Longfellow’s Evangeline. My wife had recommended it, so I picked it up at a used bookstore and sat down on the sofa to read on my day off. From the opening page, I was hooked.

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman? List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

Business communications consultant Milo Frank says “The attention span of the average individual is 30 seconds. Let me give you an example. Look around the room and concentrate on a lamp. You’ll find your mind goes to something else within 30 seconds. If the lamp could move or talk, or go on and off by itself, it would recapture your attention for another 30 seconds. But without motion or change, it cannot hold you.” This is why in his chapter titled “The Lead and the Ending,” William Zinsser writes:

The most importance sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he is hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the “lead.”

If this is true, writers who want their stuff to be read will use a variety of means to hook and maintain the reader’s attention throughout the work, not only at the beginning. Because the mind can only focus for thirty seconds, every word, every sentence, and every paragraph has to effectively reengage your readers, reconnecting them to the story for another thirty seconds. There has to be movement, change, something of interest. Even in non-fiction.

The Witch Elm: Review

I have a few favorite mystery writers, and Tana French is one of them. Her first book, Into the Woods, is the beginning of a series with different Dublin Murder Squad homicide detectives as the main characters. The series allows for repeat appearances of detectives as minor characters in subsequent books—a clever device for fleshing out backstories and building strong characters. After five novels in the series, French has written two stand-alone mysteries that still take place in the Dublin area, still involve homicide investigations, but don’t have the Dublin Murder Squad members as characters.

I just finished the first of these stand-alone novels, The Witch Elm, and it’s still haunting my thoughts. Recently, on a walk with my husband around a nearby lake, I recounted the whole plot so that I could “think out loud” about my reaction to the novel. I hadn’t decided whether I like the main character and narrator, Toby, which is unusual in my reading experience.    

My ambiguous reception of Toby fits well with the plan of the novel, however. Early in the book, Toby is violently attacked at home by burglars and left for dead. When he awakens in the hospital, he realizes that he’s got large gaps in his memory. He recognizes all the people in his life, but he can’t remember chunks of events. He knows his best buddies, but he can’t remember the details of his recent evening at the pub with them. He knows his parents and cousins, and he can remember many details about his relationships with them, but he can’t remember some details about past times he spent with them. These memory gaps lead him to wonder what he did and how he felt during key events in their shared past, specifically when he and his cousins were teenagers together and spent summers with their bachelor uncle Hugo at the family home.

In the same way that Toby isn’t sure whether he was supportive and kind when his cousins were facing bullying and intimidation, or whether he was a jerk and joined in on the bad behavior of some of his friends, the reader is left to wonder whether Toby is truly a good guy or only wishing that he were. His memories of their teen years, or the lack thereof, become crucial when a body is found in an ancient witch elm tree located in the family home’s large back garden.

Throughout the novel, I found myself wondering if a character was a victim or a perpetrator, whether I was considering Toby’s friends, his uncle Hugo, or his cousins, Susanna and Leon. I realized I cared about the characters but was concerned about their culpability. French weaves a story that never delivers a definitive answer about the people who populate the story, although the murder mystery itself is clearly revealed. I’m still not sure whether I like Toby’s character, but then, by the end of the book, I wasn’t sure Toby liked himself. One reason I enjoy French’s mysteries so much is the author’s ability to deal with the truth and logic of a murder investigation, following the evidence to its inevitable end, while also unpacking the complexity of Truth about human nature and the ways we see ourselves and others. These enduring questions that linger long after I’ve read the last page are what keep me eager to read any book written by Tana French.

Tug at the Soul

As a child, I loved stories. I still do! And I loved people who told good stories. My uncle was fabulous. My brother was into ghost stories.

But my sister bested them all, because not only did she tell wonderful stories, she then organized us, gave us our parts, created the scene, and showed us how to bring the story to life. I don’t know how many plays she created, directed, and had us perform. Her favorite names were Laura and Perry, so of course, she was always Laura and I was always Perry.

In the school library, I discovered more stories. My favorites were about animals. I must have read every book that featured horses and dogs—especially wolves. For some reason, these stories captured my imagination, took me to other places, and left me with a feeling of . . . a feeling of . . .

What if I was there? What if that happened to me? What would I do in that situation? The stories left me with the same feeling the people in the story had. And sometimes I experienced what the horse or the dog was feeling.

That’s what you want to do in your story. You have to find a way to reach into your readers’ emotion, tug at the soul, and carry them into the world you created. Do that, and you change people. Do that, and you’ll have a winner on your hands.

What Matters Most

I’m reading a novel that was published by one of the big New York publishing houses, and have discovered quite a few errors: incorrect word usage, typo, grammar, punctuation. I chuckled to myself, “You mean those big publishers are human too?”

And that’s exactly what it means. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and that’s OK.

If you self-publish your book, only to find out that there are a few errors, it’s OK. You or your editor/formatter can make the corrections any time. That’s one of the benefits of self-publishing.

On the other hand, there are more important aspects of a book than perfect spelling, word choice, and grammar. Jeff Gerke, in the introduction to his book The Irresistible Novel, says what really matters is NOT that a book is without errors. The important thing is the story itself. Is it compelling? Does it grab you? Is the reader captivated and transported into the world of the story?

As an author, you need to free yourself from worrying about the technical elements during the writing process. Liberate yourself so you can focus on the story, the characters, the plot, the world you’re building. If you are successful with the story itself, it doesn’t matter if there are a few typos in the printed book. Because what readers are looking for is a fantastic book they can get lost in.

The novel I’m reading is really good. I can hardly wait to see what happens next. Even if there’s a mistake the editor missed.