So you can read my books

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Look around you.

Hearts have grown cold,

ears dull,

minds impatient.

And this affects you as a writer just how?

Each page of your novel could be the reader's last ...

unless ...

unless you make your novel alive and alluring.

People pick up a book in a store, thumb through it, and read a page at random.

That is your only shot at snaring him/her into buying what cost you years of sweat and effort.

Make each page count. Make each paragraph breathe. Make each moment live in the mind of the reader.

Each of the senses should be touched by your words. And one of the ways you do that is to paint your locale with such brushstrokes of prose, the reader "sees" and "feels" and "smells" the unique flavors of your locale.

New Orleans :

Hollow-eyed mothers hugging hungry children within a block of spacious mansions, framed by lush bushes and gleaming iron lacework fences.

Decaying public schools slowly devolving into raucous social jungles and tribal warfare over gang colors and drug territory.

A hardened, jaded police department that in some seasons can be scarier than the city's criminals. Official corruption at every level. Murder rates ever soaring. And hot, steamy air you can wear 7 months out of the year.

And it is a wonderful place to live :

The morning mists parting as the St. Charles streetcar happily clatters through the shimmering fog under the avenue's great oak trees.

The second-line parade of trumpet blowers high-stepping intricate steps in honor of some event or another.

The mellow, haunting notes of Ellis Marsalis playing piano as you sit at Snug Harbor, sipping a drink light on alcohol, heavy on taste.

You must paint your reader into your locale with words that touch the taste buds, stroke their cheeks, and tug on their heartstrings.

Only then, with the setting so real that they hear the sound of throaty laughter and fine jazz, will the Stetson wearing, doomed hero, Samuel McCord, feel like an actual person to them.

Remember :

Each city whispers in its own voice. Your city. My city.

You know streets that whisper to stay away at night.

You know what scandal has stained some avenue beyond repair. You know what person's name is spoken in hushed tones long after he or she has died and been buried in your city.

Each city has its own personality. Like a human's, it changes with trauma, years of abuse, and moments of historic impact.

Lifting the veil from the distinctive features of the setting of your novel makes your whole narrative come alive for your reader.

But how do you do that verbal sleight of hand?

Some obvious to tourists. Some that you have to ferret out by research in the library, on the internet, or by listening to a local visitor to your setting.

How does your hero/heroine feel about those details? How have they affected the protagonist and those important to him or her?

Weave those details and emotions into a rich tapestry of irony and longing.

What shadowed corner of your setting is especially dangerous or emotion-laden to your central characters? Why?

Paint a passage where that tapestry flutters in the shadows, not quite completely seen but more evocative because of that.

What era is it in your setting? Has your protagonist lived through more than one era of time in it?

How has the passing seasons shaped his/her mind, opinions, and outlook for the present? For the future? How does your protagonist view his and the setting's past?

Master these points, and your novel will live for your reader.

And since this is election night :


  1. I hope I do those all; some say my women's fiction is overkill on the emotional draw, too realist to read without hurting.

    Good and bad both.

    I read your last post too. And yes, I'm starting to believe my novels - even the one I barely started - are the walking dead.

    Maybe that's why I haven't written anything, decent or otherwise, is so long.

    Gotta find a way to throw myself back into it - or be done for good. Nothing worthwhile comes of procrastination . .

    Glad to see you're back at work Roland - and I hope the pain isn't too much to bear. Pulled muscles can be awful.

    Stay cool and take it easy.


  2. Donna : Thanks for the great words. Don't give up on yourself or your writing. Your writing is unique and what is unique can catch a weary agent's eye. The right agent may just be two months away. Wouldn't it be a shame to walk away so close to the finish line?

  3. HI Roland,

    Well you certainly are keeping up my expectations. This is such a fantastic post. Every aspiring writer should read it!

    You mentioned your book on my blog, and , of course I wish you all the luck with it. I would also like to have a copy. Are you self-publishing? If so where?

    I just read what you said to Donna... You are all heart. It shows. In every word.

    As I have said before your writing is so rich and velvety. It's such a pleasure to read. I am also glad you post so often.


  4. Michael : I'm just now writing the rough draft of THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH. It's a bit of AUNTIE MAME meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE. It occurs in the same time, using the same characters, as my finished FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, my urban fantasy.

    Samuel McCord is the central character in NOCTURNE. He is the AUNTIE MAME character in Victor Standish's adventures.

    EBooks is such an iffy proposition. Only 9% of the readers have ebook capacity, even though you can download onto your computer these days.

    Agents and book publishers look at your stating you have ebooks out there as if they were not good enough to get a real publisher interested. Ouch. Not completely true, of course. But perception has killed many a career and lost many an election.

    Thanks for the kind words, Michael. They meant a lot this weary evening when I'm on call for blood runs as a rare blood courier.

  5. You always manage to pull a big sigh from me. This was a great post. Love that you 'show' us what you mean rather than just telling us.

    You had me right there with Sam.

    Also, read the last post. Copied down the 'formula.' You know with all that I write and have written I've never looked at a plot in formulaic terms before. And really, that's what they are. PLUG and PLAY kind of things. No matter the genre.

    I don't turn my nose up at formulas, they simplify where chaos would otherwise ensue.

    Thanks for the great posts. And you really do have perfect timing.


  6. Jodi : I'm happy my timing fit your needs. That made me smile wide. My effort felt like it had been worth it. I try to show how my perspective might work from examples the readers are familiar with. The FORMULA is why I enjoy different kinds of genre, for I am pulling for the hero/heroine to overcome the inner and outer demons whatever they may be. Thanks for the great comments.

  7. I really like this. It is hard oft times to see what is in the peripheral vision.

  8. loved your introductory para.. suddenly all the novels in the store seem so much more than just stories... i will keep in mind the fact that how much effort the author would have put to come up with a story before i pass my judgement on any of them! thanks for making me more humble as a human...

  9. Flying High In The Sky : Yes, you're right. Novels are the extensions of the persons who wrote them, their dreams, their mindsets, their doubts, and their passions. As for passing judgement on people, something tells me that you have always been kind and compassionate in that regard.

  10. Oh, Thank you Roland, this was most informative. Learning, growing and envious of your descriptive ability :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  11. Jules : Thanks for liking my post. I try to pass on in some small way what I've learned. And each of us has a strength in our writing. The trick is to continue to grow as much as we can in every facet of writing. Have a great today -- you made mine better with your comment.

  12. You make it look so easy, Roland. All these snippets do indeed breathe. I think New Orleans is an easier city to work with than many, yet even some other great cities, I don't see this kind of nuance about. I know in my own writing, I have the easiest time doing a little of this with Portland, as it is a city I lived in for 12 years, but it is still nowhere near what you've got when you are just giving us a few examples.

  13. Hart : Thanks. Your comment made my morning before the work gauntlet much happier. A city with a long history always has some shadows and spirits haunting its streets.

    My best friend, Sandra, challenged me to do a whirlwind "Bourne-type" adventure with Sam McCord -- so I did a short story wisking him to Amsterdam, Jerusalem, and finally to the catacombs under the Vatican to a final showdown with an ancient evil. Each of those cities I tried to bring to life, putting my muse where my mouth was. Whew! It ain't easy!

    Your praise made the pain from my pulled muscles easier to contend with as I girded myself for work. Thanks again.

  14. I love your comment about making every page count. I used to think, "wait till the reader gets to this important scene, it'll knock their socks off!"
    But I realized that every page should be making socks fly with great writing.
    Great post as usual Roland!

  15. Lydia : Yes, we can't save it for later. If we do not "wow" the reader with the first page, there well not be a second one for him/her. Your own post was truly helpful and insightful. Work calls -- I gotta run!

  16. Hi Roland - Outstanding post. How deft you are at imparting information in a manner that allows the reader to feel as much as see your intent. So often I read "rules for writers" and while the information is valid the prose is dry. You don't just say "do this", you show how it is done. I'm hooked, and I'll keep coming back. Thanks for a great read.

  17. Lisa : As a teacher of creative writing in high school, I tried to make my lessons as interesting and as much fun as possible. You're my friends so I try to do the same for you, too. I'll be looking forward to your visits and future comments. Thanks.

  18. Excellent points and I love the way you choose to express them.

  19. Laura : Thanks. I work hard not to bore you but to make you smile, or laugh or even learn something that might help in some small way.

  20. This is what my revision and editing will be about. Got to copy this link and store it in Word to refer back to *tapping my noggin Winnie-the-Pooh style 'remember, remember, remember'*