Category: Book Topics with Real Life Applications

What Defines Success?

The Red Vineyard---Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Red Vineyard—Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Legend suggests Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime—The Red Vineyard. Investigation into the matter shows that it’s likely he sold two paintings, as well as some sketches.

Regardless of which story you believe, one thing is certain. Van Gogh killed himself at age 37, believing himself a failure.

Today he’s known as one of the most prolific artists of all time.

By van Gogh’s standards, I know plenty of artists who achieved more “success” than him in their lifetimes who will never be famous. I know bands that play at local establishments and sell CDs of their work. Artists who have sold work and been commissioned to do more. Authors who have sold more than one copy of their books, who have multi-book deals. Heck, I fall into that category.

I don’t know if any of us will ever be famous. And, while I can’t speak for everyone else, I don’t feel like a failure. I don’t measure my success by number of sales. Sure, I’d love that number to be in the millions, but that’s not why I write.

I write because I have stories to tell, themes to explore, concepts to share. I write because I want not to only entertain people, but to get them thinking about their lives and their roles in the world. I write not for notoriety, but for legacy. This is my skill set, and this is what I can leave to the world. Hopefully I’ll leave it a better place than I found it.

For me, success is completing the tasks I set for myself. I wanted to share my words with the world, and I have. That, to me, is success. (click to tweet)

However, if you want to encourage thousands of people to buy my work, well… that’s just icing on the cake. 🙂

medici protectorateI have a new novel, Bleeding Heart, releasing this month. Tuesday, May 19, to be exact. When it is published, I’ll be sharing a story that’s important to me, because it is inspired by a story of my grandfather’s heritage. Through this story, I have immortalized his legacy. And I can’t think of anything more successful than that.

Setting Descriptions in Novels Reveal Character Details

I write different genres. One style of storytelling just didn’t enable me to say everything I want to say. I’ve already released a mystery, which lets me explore crime and problem-solving skills, and a mainstream novel, which lets me explore characters and their motivations. Both of these genres let me do what interests me most—delve into relationships and family dynamics. And the novel that’s coming out this spring? It’s a paranormal romance, but the main point of the story is, once again, relationships.

Pittsburgh_skyline7That said, I get to do something in my new series that I haven’t done before. Explore Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is near and dear to my heart. My hometown is only about forty minutes away. It’s the city I spent much of my time in as I grew up. I went to college there. All my favorite sports teams play there. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s amazing. And if you haven’t, you really should go.

The things to do and see there are too numerous to count. I’ll introduce a smattering of them over the coming weeks. But today, I want to talk about the museum. Specifically, the art museum, as Pittsburgh has several museums.

If you thought museums were boring or for only student field trips and upper crust society, you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s something for everyone at a museum.

And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. If you watch international news, you’ve heard about the museum in Tunisia. I want to turn the conversation to something happier.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a Hall of Architecture, in which is housed the largest plaster cast collection in the US (third largest in the world) with almost 140 pieces. These are full-sized pieces, one of which is the largest in the world.

hall of architectureIn my novel, Bleeding Heart, the female lead studied architecture and (both in college and in her current life) spent a lot of time in the Hall of Architecture. I drew on personal experience for this part, because in college, I also spent a lot of time there. (I would now, too, but I live too far away.) Of particular interest to her is the cast of the Porch of the Maidens.

In Greece, the Erechtheion is a temple on the side of the Acropolis in Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. On this temple is a porch with six supporting columns sculpted in the shape of women—desirable and strong women—presumably holding up the stone roof as they gaze at the Parthenon. In Pittsburgh, the front four maidens are displayed in the museum, a life-sized cast depicting both the power and beauty of the feminine form.

My main character is focused on these four women, in part for their aesthetics, but also because she is one of four sisters. She is drawn to these figures, and we learn interesting facts about our lead through her study of the work.

Writers, consider your setting in your WIP. Setting descriptions in novels can be used to reveal so much about characters and plot. I’m not recommending you spend pages and pages describing a place, but a few well-placed details can not only ground your reader, but impart necessary information about the characters.

Readers, pay attention to the details writers give you about the setting in their novels. Writers don’t waste words, so if the information is in there, it’s important. Many people gloss over those setting descriptions as nothing more than purple prose, but in reality, those descriptions might hold clues to the characters that you would otherwise have missed.

If the Porch of the Maidens interests you, visit this site for more information.

If the Hall of Architecture interests you, visit this site for more information.

If Pittsburgh museums interest you, visit this site for more information.

And if Bleeding Heart interests you, visit this page on my site for more information.

I’d love to hear what you like about Pittsburgh, what’s going on in your WIP, what settings helped you better understand characters and plot in novels you’ve read. Let’s discuss it. Comment below.

Do You Get What You Deserve from Political Fiction?

United States GovernmentI thought since Monday was Presidents’ Day in the US, I should tailor this post toward the political. And as I’m not one to discuss politics in a business setting (although my family and I have heated debates), this would be the perfect time to discuss the genre of political fiction.

Fiction, when done correctly, helps us make sense of the world around us. Therefore, politically-themed fiction should help us make sense of war, trade embargos, terrorist attacks, immigration, government coups, voting debacles, scandals, etc. Look at the Civil War novel Gone with the Wind, the WWI novel A Farewell to Arms, and the WWII novel The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank, just to name a few stories with political themes. These stories give us a picture of their respective wars, but more importantly, context with which to understand them.

And just how do we achieve this context? I’ll give you a hint—it’s not by excessive description of battles and death.

political novelsGone with the Wind isn’t about Sherman’s March; it’s about a girl struggling to overcome the aftermath of that march.

A Farewell to Arms isn’t about the crushing defeat of the Italians in the Battle of Caporetto; it’s about a man searching for love amidst the horrors of war.

The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank isn’t about the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands; it’s about the tragic life of a young girl in hiding during those years.

We get historical context through character development in fictional works. (Agree? Tweet it.)

So many of the novels dealing with today’s tragic events focus on the horrors of war. They become military thrillers. And I love a good thriller; don’t get me wrong. But except for the exhilarating and terrifying journey they take me on, I’m left with no message, no commentary. No understanding of the conflict, no comprehension of how it affects me or the world around me.

Political fiction, successful political fiction, has to help make sense of the conflict and the resolution. (Agree? Tweet it.)

How do Gone with the Wind, A Farewell to Arms, and The Diary of Anne Frank differ from today’s political thrillers? They focus on the characters, which ultimately gives us a context with which to process the historical significance of the wars.

Good fiction, regardless of the genre, is driven by characters.

  • Who they are before the inciting incident.
  • How they react to the changes in their lives.
  • How they behave in the climax.
  • Who they become in the resolution.

Plot-driven fiction is exciting, but still needs character development to work. Character-driven fiction is compelling, but still needs a viable plot to drive the action.

In fiction, character and plot are difficult to divorce, even when one takes precedent over the other. Both must be strong for a story to be a success.

But in political fiction, we’ll never understand the complexities of events, and the results on our lives, if we don’t delve deeply into the characters and let them relate their stories. One small slice of a person’s experience in a great conflict can tell us more about the situation than an overarching picture of the whole thing.

Writers:
Are you working on a political novel? Is it character- or plot-driven? Do you see the difference between the two? What are your goals—an action-filled ride or a psychological commentary on the event? You have to have solid answers (and reasons for them) in order for your novel to work. Spend some time thinking about that.

Everyone:
Do you enjoy reading (or watching) political fiction? Do you have a favorite book or film? How did it make your list? Let’s talk about it.

Five Tips for Keeping Pets Safe in the Summer

summer pet safetyWe’re in the middle of a glorious summer. But time moves so fast, and I’m in the middle of a lot of changes. I know I’ll blink and I’ll be writing about leaves changing or snow falling before I know it. Now, though, other than my new (and exciting) job and the new releases I’m preparing for, my mind is on summer fun. Bocce games, tennis matches, lounging by the pool or splashing in it. But we can’t forget about summer safety. Especially for our pets. In Type and Cross, the new novel I’m releasing this fall, one of the characters is an animal rights advocate. She would be the first one to remind us that animals need special care in the heat. So here are 5 tips for caring for our pets in the “dog days” of summer. Continue reading

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