Browsing Tag

twins

Publishing

Fiction Hits the History Books

Writing a book is hard work, regardless of the genre.  It takes patience, focus, perseverance and passion.  Historical fiction, in particular, requires a bit of extra OOMPH.  Why?  Research … You gotta hit the history books and internet to get your facts straight. Dig Deep and take your time for a thorough research. And Be Advised: You Can’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet or everything you’re told in interviews. Are you aware that anyone can edit a Wikipedia page?  Knowing that, be careful what you document in your book based on your internet findings.  In addition, you should always cross-check information you obtain during a personal interview.

Most historical fiction works involve a fictional character who is interacting with something that actually took place in history.  Markus Zusak is the author of The Book Thief.  His main character is a nine-year-old girl named Liesel Meminger living in Nazi Germany in the year 1939.  The town she lives in is also Zusak’s creation; it’s called Molching.  Zusak has done a brilliant job of balancing the freedom of creation with the restraints of historical preservation.  I highly recommend that you read this novel.

In my book, Extra Innings: The Diamond  Thieves, my goal was to paint nostalgic accuracy around the innocence of youth in the old American South.  It was important to thicken the plot in order to straddle the age gaps between older readers who would enjoy reminiscing over some of the specific throwbacks I’ve peppered throughout the story and younger reader who may enjoy discovering what the old south was like prior to our laws protecting equal rights among races.

Research for the Extra Innings trilogy was both fun and exhausting.  I had the blessed fortune of meeting multiple sets of twins who provided me some fascinating perspectives into their unique environment.  This was by far the fun part.  The exhausting part was getting all the facts correct that I wanted to include in this book.  Peppering in accurate historical facts are what help to bring a historical fiction novel to life as well as keep the critics at rest.

For example Book 1 includes an extensive baseball trading card debate that required layers upon layers of research.  It was important to me touring the tastes, sights and sounds of the old south to life in all three books.  This information was gathered both through interviews and internet.  The chocolate cream pie mentioned in Book 1 was actually one of my Grama’s famed contributions to dinners when my dad was growing up.  I plan to share this recipe (with photos – finally) in a future blog.  The story gives considerable references to popular music of its time – particularly “the blues.”  Authors should be careful not to use any defaming terms when mentioning real people who actually existed.  Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker are all referenced in Book 1.  Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey are mentioned in Book 2.  Since I am NOT writing for the purpose of documenting their specific lives, it’s wise to either mention them in a positive or indifferent light.  The books also mentions numerous products like Palmolive, Gay Furlough cologne and Camel cigarettes. Two points I want to make here:

These names are trademarks of their respective owners. Their owners would have to claim for infringement if I was using them for promotional purposes.  Which I am not, so again, as long as I am not disparaging the product, then I most likely will not encounter an issue.

Double and triple check that the products you are mentioning not only existed during the time in which your book is set but also that they were used.  For example. I was planning to mention a specific furniture dusting product in Book 1 to illustrate how the twins’ mother, Ellen, kept the house clean and smelling fresh.  However, I learned through my extensive research that it was far more common, especially for a middle-class family, to use a vinegar and water solution to clean furniture.  Only one in a while was a special product like Pledge or Old English used.

I want to thank all the folks at Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi), especially Langston Rogers, who provided me specific details to campus life and the Rebels baseball team that I could have never dissevered online.  For example, Langston was able to inform me of the dining hall most on-campus residents used along with where the pay phones were that students used, since today’s handy-dandy little cell phones & iPhones hadn’t even been conceived back then.

Part of Book 3 takes place in Lackland Air Force Base and in Korea.  Over this 10 year period of writing this trilogy, I med some wonderful guys who were directly involved in the Korean Conflict (the more accurate title for the otherwise popular Korean War).  I actually even got to hold and load an M1 Garand rifle (which is the specific gun illustrated by Adam Lichi on the book’s cover).   I heard some great stories from these guys and will be paying my respects and thanks to them in the printing of Book 2 (A Hero Among Thieves).

Compiling all of these facts were key building blogs to capture the authentic feel I was going for in the Extra Innings trilogy.  However, a tip for historical fiction writers is to look out for overkill.  Don’t inundate your readers with so many facts that your story becomes a snooze fest.  Remember that it’s also fiction.  So don’t feel too constrained by feeling like your High School history teacher is standing over your shoulder or that they’re going to grade your book like it’s a term paper.  HAVE FUN!  It’s okay to paint a place or time in history with a more color if it lends to the direction your book needs to take.  One tip to increase your flexibility is to create your own immediate setting.  Just like what Zusak did in The Book Thief, the town is fictional although we all know Nazi Germany (sadly) existed.  If you need the setting to be an actual place that exists like New York City or San Francisco, for example, perhaps have the building where the main character lives be your complete creation or where they work or go to school.  This just helps ease the workload required in researching as well as keeps you clear of any defamation complaints in case there is an negative or risqué incident that takes place in the specific location that the building’s landlord or business owner feels might be a possible threat.  Perception is reality so it would be horrible if one of your characters lives in a specific building that actually exists somewhere and they are attacked or raped in your story and that building’s landlord gets word of this and perceives it as a threat to future tenants being afraid to rent there.  Make sense?

I would love to hear some comments from other historical writers?  And definitely your feedback on the first book in the Extra Innings trilogy (The Diamond Thieves) which is AVAILABLE NOW.  Keep in touch!

Publishing

Niche Rhymes with …

Completing this sentence: “Niche Rhymes with …”  all depends on how you pronounce the word “niche.”  Some pronounce it “neesh” but I’ve always pronounced it “NITCH.”

Today’s blog title is referring to niche (‘nitch’) marketing and I’ve’ phrased it this way to suggest that this particular type of marketing CAN be a real pain in the @$$.  Allow me to explain myself  …

The goal of offering a new product or service is sales and customer satisfaction.  In order to optimize this effort you must have a clever marketing campaign which communicates the value of your product or service to potential customers.  Your niche is whatever category or area you specialize in.   And within the entire marketplace there is a subset  interested in your niche.  The trick is effectively reaching these folks with the right target marketing.  Some writers and bloggers may have a niche that makes it more difficult to reach their specific subset and when you’re a novice like me, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Let’s start with bloggers.  One of the most popular blog sites on the internet today is called bloglovin.  Bloglovin makes it easy for blog enthusiasts to “follow their favorite blog as well as discover new ones.”  Bloglovin features the most popularly searched blog categories on the internet.  These niche categories include: Art, Beauty, Design, DIY & Crafts, Music, Books, Film, Fitness, Family and Travel to name a few.  Nowhere among this list the most commonly blogged about categories do I see “Marketing” or “Target Marketing” or “Historical Fiction.”  There’s not even a category for Writers & Poets.  There is a category for “Books” but it’s is more for book reviews.  I’m not blogging about book reviews.  Since my blogs do not match one or any of those “most popular” categories I am, therefore, climbing a much steeper hill towards gaining followers.  (My goal is to gain at least 2,000 followers by the end of this year).   So see what I mean by the title I’ve chosen for this particular blog?  If you’re not marketing within a popular niche it can become a struggle.  I’ve been researching dozens of credible bloggers to help enhance my knowledge to write a good blog that will hopefully help or inspire new and emerging authors, however, my topics are not in a category that produces a large volume of followers.

For example, Celebrity updates and gossip is a very popular niche market.  Just look at American Blogger Perez Hilton and the fame he’s self-generated.  He’s stepped into the real of television personalities based on his blogs which generated hundreds of thousands of followers because he blogged about what people want to hear: Celebrity Gossip.  Unfortunately, for me, identical twins Jimmy and Billy McGee of my books from the Extra Innings trilogy are not celebrities – although they do have some very interesting drama between them (especially in Books 2 and sadly Book 3).

Now let’s talk about writers.  Marketing Expert in Small Business Success Kim T. Gordon recently wrote a great blog titled “3 Rules of Niche Marketing.”

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/49608

The first rule she talks about is “Meeting Unique Needs.”  I’ve read this article numerous times and I believe I am doing this with my blogs and especially my book.  I spend a lot of times in Barnes & Noble perusing the historical fiction and young adult fiction aisles to study my competition.  I feel this is a critical task for a new authors.  These are some of the questions a new author should be asking themselves while they are researching their competition:  Does your story provide something that is new and compelling?  Are you speaking in the language of your niche market?  Are you matched up to the key selling points, pricing and distribution method that your niche market requires?  If not, you have some revamping to do.

I feel my books are well-tailored to the young adult readers who enjoy historical fiction, are family-oriented and concerned with racial injustice and social issues.  Of course, it does help that the relationship between the 2 main characters, Jimmy and Billy, sparks some pretty juicy drama.

The difficulty I am having is communicating this to potential readers.  Primarily because Book 1 focuses on a different theme than Books 2 & 3 which are more about young adult issues.  What readers mostly perceive when they see the cover of Book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) is that it’s a baseball book.  This is the primary theme of Book 1 but it’s wrapped around a much deeper and more controversial context.  The boys are trying to secure usage of the school’s baseball diamond but their best friend, T.J., is black.  Being that the Extra Innings trilogy is set in the Deep South circa the late 1940’s, T.J. becomes a main focal point with respects to the enemies (known as “the mob”) who are trying to take over the diamond from the twins and their friends.  Much of our nation’s current morale foundation has been shaped by our past struggles with racial injustice.  I wanted to show this town as a beacon of hope during a time of extreme intolerance.  I like that the character who steps forward as the principle hero around this topic is not who the reader is expecting.  It’s very endearing.  This is actually one of the best parts of the story (aside form Chapter 12 which I have mentioned in past blogs is one of my favorite chapters out of every book I’ve ever read).  The trick is, at face value, the book screams baseball.  So I am missing a more important subset of the market.  Baseball fans are not particularly going to get a re-invention of “The Sandlot” – if that’s what they’re looking for.  So when targeting my niche marketing efforts I need to find a clever way to reach the young adult subset that would be interested in a story pertaining to social injustice in America without confusing them by the book’s title.  I’ve been considering blogging more about topics followed by young adults.  Although this would not help provide advice to new and emerging authors, which is my goal, it would help attract more followers from the subset of the market which is more likely to read Extra Innings.

Thoughts?

 

Publishing

3 Key Qualities to a Successful Blogger

First, let me begin by saying that I would not (yet) consider myself a successful blogger in terms of a following or any sort of fanfare.  However, I do have 15 years marketing experience along with a degree in marketing from Sonoma State University.  (NOTE: I also took a marketing and advertising semester-long course at the UMASS Amherst.  This foundation has gained me the ability to recognize effective qualities executed by a blogger.  Below, I’ve bulleted the top three qualities that I believe are critical to an effective blog.

  • INTEGRITY

Be honest with your readers.  Don’t spew on the screen keystrokes full of b.s. this will turn away readers.  If you are not an expert in the field in which you are writing, at least admit it.  This will actually gain you more respect than trying to be someone you’re not.

I talk a lot about gaining favorable attention by an appeal to pride.  Favorable attention only works if you truly mean it.  Although, it may gain you a short-term boost in reader traffic, these readers will eventually catch on.  If you’re not dishonest or the compliments you’re delivering are just an illusion to gain more followers, your long-term retention percentage will be extremely low.

  • CREATIVITY

This can be broken down into 2 elements:

  1. UNIQUENESS:  What sets you apart from other bloggers in your category?  Do you stand out or do you blend in with the rest of the crowd?  Keep in mind, the crowd I speak of is a rather sizable blogosphere of 152 million (as of July 2014) with more bloggers  adding to this population on a daily basis.  Is the topic of your blog creatively engaging?  One of the best ways to answer this question is by following other bloggers within your targeted market?  Are you repeating the same things they’re saying in their blogs?  Or is your blog teaching them something that they can get nowhere else?  Or if the purpose of your blog is to entertain, does your blog have a uniquely magnetic personality?  Kurt Mortensen is the author of the best selling book “Maximum Influence” where he explores his ’12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion.’  This is a great book for salespeople and I have learned a tremendous amount by reading Kurt’s work.
  2. WIFFM:    What’s in it for your reader?  To answer this question, you need to step outside of yourself and review your blog from your targeted customer’s point of view.  You should be able to identify at least one WIIFM within each of your blogs.  What are some take aways from your blog?  Is there at least one take away that’s either changed or enhanced there reader’s perspective in a way they’ve never looked at that idea before?  As your blog gains popularity you will know if you’re achieving this based on the comments your followers are leaving.
  • ATTENTION TO DETAIL

This is the area in which my blogging struggles the most.  Interestingly enough, attention to detail is a considerable strength in my Extra Innings trilogy.  Of course, writing in the genre of historical fiction, I better pay close attention to detail for if any of my readers were alive during the period in which this story takes place, they would surely call me out on any oversights.  Granted, the McGee twins are fictional characters so that does give me, as the writer, some wiggle room.  As for blogging, I struggle with attention to detail mostly because I am a new author trying to build a popular reputation and so I feel rushed to produce an eruption of blogs.  My advice is to slow down.  Take your time.  Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct before clicking publish.   Review your blog for rambling.  Are you repeatedly repeating yourself?  Repetitiveness and rambling seem to be common mistakes in many of the blogs I read.  In today’s fast-paced society, ain’t nobody got time for that.   Especially, my YA target market.  I’m lucky if I’m able to capture five minutes of their undivided attention.  I recommend saving your blog as a draft, sleeping on it or walking away for a little while.  Then, go back and review before publishing.  Ask yourself: Are you making your point clear and concise?  There’s nothing worse than having a captivating title to your blog but the body that proceeds it is irrelevant.  The details of your blog must be relevant to it’s title AND to your target market.

Hope this helps boost traffic to your blog!  Please let me know and stay tuned for more marketing tips!

Publishing

Why Twins?

Identical twins have always fascinated me.  It was purely a selfish reason to have the main characters of Extra Innings be identical twins because it gave me a purposeful excuse to research the topic.  As the original storyboards were being developed and my excitement grew I realized that this topic gave the story very unique opportunities.   After all there are very few fictional novels on the market about identical twins.  I think the trilogy would make for a fun movie.

I was fortunate enough to encounter a handful of identical twins throughout my research.  One question in particular, I will not disclose in this blog as it will give away too much information. Readers will just have to complete the trilogy to find out.

One of the first and very apparent concepts I learned was that the general stereotype of identical twins acting identical is grossly mistaken.  Learning this really helped me to develop the characters of Jimmy and Billy McGee.  I wanted them to be almost polar opposites so I was pleased to learn this concept is widely justified.  At the same time, this is where the pieces throughout the story become intellectualized WITHOUT becoming ponderous.

The correct term for identical twins is monozygotic.  This is where two embryos are formed from a single (mono) fertilized egg.  Because the two embryos are formed from a single egg/sperm fertilization, the twins have the same genetic origins and, therefore, the identical DNA.  However, despite this shared gene set, they have clearly individual personalities.  Studies are done as to whether parents should encourage this individualization more by not permitting the twins to share the same bedroom growing up or not to dress them alike, etc.  Right from Chapter 1 of the Diamond Thieves the reader learns that Jimmy and Billy both share the attic as their bedroom  I touch a little bit on their infancy and the whole concept of “twin ESP” and “twin talk” but mostly the story focuses on how the cavern of their individuality expands as their teenage years move along.  Still, what I find fascinating is how despite their differences they both often find the same platform with which to express themselves.  My favorite example of this is in Book 3 (A Hero Among Thieves) when both twins are experiencing stress they both express it through writing.  Jimmy, the more deliberate and intellectual of the two, completely emerges himself in a research paper at Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) while Billy, the more free-spirited and creative type begins to write songs and poems about his experiences in Korea (during the Korean Conflict).  It’s also interesting that Jimmy naturally begins to develop a rigid routine to his mornings at college while Billy is forced into a rigid routine with the United States Air Force.

In book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) the reader is immediately told that Jimmy and Billy McGee are “clearly individuals.”  Behaviors, actions, expressions and thoughts help to illustrate this.  However, this book constellates more around the battle over their baseball diamond and how to handle the prejudice of their enemies “the mob” with respects to their good friend T.J. who is black.  With respect to this topic, both Jimmy and Billy have the same feelings although Jimmy (like his character describes him) is more in tune and responsive to T.J.’s emotions.

Book 2 (Race of the Gemini) lives up to his title by digging deep into the progression of these boys growing more different.  The story describes a lot of how one twin (Billy) feels like a living shadow of the other (Jimmy).  This was an interesting idea that I picked up in many of my interviews with twins.  They felt that the other was more of a favorite of one or both parents.  Some felt the jealousy of one twin being more popular in school or better at sports or a natural at socializing.  As I asked more questions I was very intrigued by the pressure and jealousy that was felt around this topic.  Often times these feelings sparred a sense of competition between then, hence the title “Race of the Gemini.”  The trick with writing about this was trying not to intentionally downplay one twin over the other.  If the readers found themselves having a favorite among the two brothers, I wanted that to be their choice and not triggered by some intentional or subliminal seed I planted.

In book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) both twins love baseball, however, Jimmy is a team’s all-star batter while Billy has the Ace pitching skills.  Also, Jimmy has a closer relationship with Skip, who is more mature and logical while Billy was closer friends with Whitey – the wild and fun one in the group.

Lastly, I wanted to play around with the whole concept of “switching places” or “trading places” as this was asked of each set of twins I interviewed.  I was surprised to find that this was not just a childhood experience but also performed on more of a strategic level as teenagers.  This was executed for various reasons allowing one of the twins to practically be in two places at once.  For the McGee twins, Billy insisted on Jimmy covering for him multiple times so he could sneak out of the house and be with his girlfriend or go drinking with his friends.  Jimmy, not being a big fan of drinking became almost the victim here so Billy, who was grounded, could still go out and party.

Overall, I had as much fun writing Extra Innings as I did doing all the pre-writing research.  I hope its readers fall in love with the McGee twins and all their friends as much as I have.  #extrainnings

Publishing

Why Baseball?

Now that my first book is out, I’m getting a lot of folks asking: “why did you choose baseball?”

Well, as most people know my goal was to write a fictional book that required a vast amount of research, however, I did feel the need to incorporate some theme with which I was familiar. Considering the age of the characters I tried to think of what might interest them during this period in American history and baseball felt the most appropriate to capture the essence of this era. I grew up playing ball with my friends either during recess or during the summers in the town I grew up in a small town (named Wentzville) just outside St. Louis, Missouri. Other than building forts and trails in the woods that surrounded my house, I spent countless hours playing baseball. I also have some great memories of going to Busch Stadium to see the Cards (Cardinals) play. Speaking of major league teams, my dad was definitely more of a following fan. I didn’t watch sports at all growing up but I do recalling overhearing games my dad watched on t.v. or listening to on the radio. Again, these were great memories all positively influencing my current love for baseball. Now, I am a proud Boston Red Sox fan. I love listening to the games on our MLB app and posting fan messages on my Facebook page.

Once baseball was the decided theme for the beginning of the book (remember that the Extra Innings trilogy was originally plotted to be one single book) I began to create storyboards detailing the plot. Obviously, since the baseball portion of this story took place in 1947 and I wasn’t born until 1975, I did have to do some research. This mostly came in the with the help of Google. I had fun digging into the baseball archives for player and team information as well as specifics on rules and regulations of the game which have since changed. This was important because I could not always rely on my current knowledge of how the game is played. Certain illegal moves now were legal back then or had just been outlawed a few years prior to the year of this story.

For example, spitballs were originally outlawed in 1920.  The example of a balk mentioned in Book 1 is when the pitcher makes a motion associated with his pitch but does not complete the delivery.  The balk rule was first introduced 50 years prior to this story taking place but it was mentioned to help reinforce how the opposing team (“the mob”) had to be watched closely for cheating.

I want to specifically talk about Chapter 2. There is a scene between two friends (Fist and Boston) who are trading baseball cards. Researching this was tricky, because I really wanted to feature the more popular players at the time with a particular focus on rookie cards (like Brooklyn Dodger’s Pee Wee Reese’s rookie card from 1941) as those leverage the highest bargaining ability during a card trade.  But at the same time, I didn’t want to select too famous of a player because I believed that might appear too far-fetched to the reader. After all, avid baseball fans would know any and all current players (current being mid 1940’s) and not just the major celebrity players with now legendary status.  One interesting fact to note was that some major league players didn’t get issued an actual “rookie” card until a few years after they were playing.  One example was outfielder Ralph Kiner who began playing for the Pittsburg Pirates in 1946 but wasn’t issued a rookie card until 1948.

Another interesting point to mention is that major league baseball was shut down during WWII as the men were away fighting the Nazi’s. This is when the AAGSL (All-American Girls Softball League) came about (later to become the All-American Girls Baseball League in 1943. (Remember the movie A League of Their Own with Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna).  This era of baseball is not mentioned in the Extra Innings trilogy at all. Based on the nature and personalities of these characters (and their relationship with one character in particular), it would be contradictory for them to speak of this league unless it was negative.

I do feel it’s important to mention that the story of the twins goes beyond the topic of baseball. Only in Book 1 (The Diamond Thieves) is this even a focus. Chapters 10 and 11 give solid closure to the baseball-themed plot and I believe that Chapter 12 does a good job communicating that the reader can expect for Book 2 to incorporate a completely different theme. For the purpose of peaking a prospective reader’s interest to buy my book, I am going to refrain from explaining what that theme is in this blog.  Speaking of Chapter 12, I hope everyone who reads the book really enjoys Chapter 12 as this is absolutely my favorite chapter in the entire book.  Readers have already reported to me that they are (pleasingly) shocked by this chapter.  I love it!  #extrainnings