READERS: Here’s a Brief Summary of ALL THREE Books:
In post-WWII Mississippi, a group of junior high white boys experience a menacing side of their small bayou town when they decide to include their Negro friend, T.J., in a crucial game against their cross-town rivals for domain over the school’s baseball diamond. Determined to move their Deep Southern town one step towards racial equality, the boys find themselves coming head to head with the hard lesson of learning how to love in the face of hate.
For the story’s main characters, identical twins Jimmy and Billy McGee, this is just one of many coming of age lessons they will experience as their teenage years proceed. The twins had always found novelty in looking and sounding alike and had always gotten along until girls entered their worlds. Suddenly, their lives’ primary focus switched from baseball to the opposite sex. In what seemed like overnight, life became a race for Jimmy and Billy to each establish his own identity in their fishbowl of a town. These struggles sparked a mini-series of drama both at school and at home but, perhaps, the most intense battles were fought over gaining their parents’ acceptance, as well as, one another’s blessing over their unparalleled plans after high school.
Jimmy, the more conventional of the two, planned to attend college at Ole Miss and pursue his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. Billy, however, saw a much grander path for himself and secretly enlisted in the United States Air Force with high hopes of being deployed to the Korean War zone. Little did either know that the impact their decisions would bring upon their relationship would prove irreversible.
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In my July 13, 2014 blog I shared 3 Key Qualities to a Successful Blogger. One of those qualities was Attention to Detail. For the sake of time, I am going to narrow this topic down to ONE specific detail regarding Historical Fiction: Character Names.
Generally speaking the objective of historical fiction is to capture the particular period in history during which the story takes place. One important detail that shouldn’t be missed is the authenticity of character names. Many names that are popular today were not always popular and in some cases did not even exist. For example, in my book Extra Innings: The Diamond Thieves, one of the main supporting character’s is Charlie Blair. In the original version of the story, he was written as Ryan Blair simply because I liked that name and though it fit his persona of being a pretty boy. However, according to my research the name Ryan did not appear as a first name until 1946. Previously, it had only been known as a last name. My story begins in 1947, at which point my “Ryan Blair” was thirteen years old. Fortunately, I caught this oversight and then had to begin searching for a fitting name to this character. Social Security online has a designated section for popular boy and girl baby names for each specific year in history (you can also search by decade). This site was very helpful through the Extra Innings trilogy since I can search by state and the story takes place in Mississippi. (NOTE: If your book takes place in another country you may try using a site called Baby Name Wizard. This allows you to search for popular boy and girl names by country). Through my searching I was able to happily settle on Charlie which was one of the top 10 boy names during the 1930’s in the American South. REMEMBER: Search using the decade or year in which your character was born NOT the year in which they are a young adult or adult in your story.
Now I’m going to switch perspectives. Although it is critical to capture authenticity when representing a specific period in American History, or anywhere in the world, you may also choose a unique name to one or a few select characters. This may help to give your book some global popularity when it comes to search engine uniqueness. Although it was not my initial intention with one key character, T.J. was certainly not a popular name until later on in American History. The only reference I could find was in ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry‘ by Mildred D. Taylor. One of her characters was a 13 year old boy named TJ Avery. I debated whether or not to change T.J.’s name to a more popular black name of the Old South but ultimately believe it was best considering how significant and unique of a role he played throughout the books.
Lastly, is surnames. This is another area you don’t want to miss. Make sure you to your research on popular last names AND how they were spelled as spellings may be different in certain regions of the United States as well as specific parts often world.
This extra step of research will have a significant impact on how your book feels to its readers. Even if your target market was not alive during that particular era, an accurately selected name, especially one unique to that time period, may trigger a memory of a grandparent or great grandparent that will help boost the story’s overall credibility. The last thing I would want is for my readers to comment: “I loved B.W. Gibson‘s Extra Innings story but I couldn’t get past that Ryan Blair character. I’m from the South and Ryan was just not a name that was ever used back then.”
Have you ever signed a document or form and the pen smeared?
How did that make you feel? Frustrated … irritated … or just plain pissed off? Well, imagine being a writer and hosting your a book signing for your latest (or very first) book? How embarrassing!! I recently attended an Author’s Book Fair at the Hudson Library & Historical Society last Saturday (July 19th) in Hudson, Ohio. I had the privilege of meeting some very talented authors which I will blog more about in the near future. My main takeaway was that all 50-some authors were signing books with a black Sharpie. I don’t know why this felt like a mind-blowing revelation to me but I was like wow! Genius! I am so glad I picked up on this because I just had my first book signing last night at The Nervous Dog Coffee Shop in Akron, Ohio and I was just planning on using a nice blue that I found laying around our house. Yikes! That would have been a horrible lasting impression if that pen had smeared. ‘The Diamond Thieves‘ is the title of my first book in a young adult historical fiction trilogy entitled Extra Innings.
I’m sure most writers agree that quality is a top priority in their writing. Many writers, like me, are very private about their work and not willing to share it with the general public or even friends and family until it’s just right. Well, I believe this Attention to Detail should also be applied to any and all interactions with anyone in conjunction with your writing. Details go a long way. Imagine the impression your customer who brings their signed book home only to discover that the author’s signature or personalized message has been smeared and indecipherable. That’s major negative points against your overall quality reputation. So here’s just a quick and very simple (BUT IMPORTANT) tip for all you writers out there:
Use a Sharpie when signing one of your books. Sign on one of the inside blank pages and NOT immediately inside the cover in case the Sharpie bleeds through. Remember, Attention to Detail is one of the ‘3 Key Qualities to a Successful Writer/Blogger’ (see my previous blogs). Oh … and one more small suggestion: I think black just looks the most professional when signing a book.
Let me just start off by saying that growing your customer network takes focus and hard work. It is not easy. You must remain loyal to the two bulleted networking best practices I’ve provided below. I don’t say this to discourage you but rather to prepare you for the reality. Your first run at this will not produce turnkey results. If you want to begin driving free organic traffic to your blog’s website you need to education yourself with some long-time expert advice. I’ve been researching blog networking experts like April Tucker and David Wood. They’re both great resources for much better advice than a newbie like I can give. They offer expert advice on how to drive tons of traffic to a blogger’s site fast.
In the meantime, there are a few tactics I can explain to help you get started. Since I am an author, my blogs are focused on marketing to book readers. We’ve talked about identifying your target market in previous blogs, so the advice I’m going to give is assuming you’ve already done that. My novel, Extra Innings: The Diamond Thieves, is a young adult, historical fiction and also it’s important to note that it’s a trilogy.
- NETWORKING with BLOGGERS:
Use Google to search for blogs within your book’s genre. Find a blog that truly interests you. Read it from beginning to end. If you like it, then post a comment on that blogger’s page below the blog you liked. However, be a critical thinker, if you didn’t like it, don’t try and make false friends with a fake comment. It’s just not worth it unless your comment is sincere – believe me that blogger with know the difference. I recommend posting on at least 1 relevant blog per day. Your comments should be professionally written. They should begin with a positive compliment. Remember what I’ve told you before, it’s always smart to gain favorable attention first by appealing to an artist’s pride. Just because you feel a kinship to the blogger doesn’t mean your response should include: What’s up! Hey there, or dude – great advice! Save these blogs in your favorites so you can continue to revisit them. A productive relationship with a blogger takes multiple comments on multiple blogs and if they respond to your comment then you may invite them to visit your blog’s site.
NOTE: Commenting on a bloggers site should be FREE. If they are asking you to sign up or pay a fee, click out of that page and find a different blog to comment on.
- NETWORKING with TWITTER USERS:
Use hashtags to search for Tweets that are relevant to your book’s genre. For example: #historicalfiction or #youngadult. I also recommend searching for #newauthor. Thousands of Tweets will generate from this these searches. Focus only on recent Tweets. If a Tweet was posted more than 2 days ago, don’t bother. You may feel tempted to start firing off Likes or Retweets or Comments but I really advise only responding or liking Tweets that you sincerely found interesting or had a link to a site or blog that was educational or beneficial to you. If you find a Twitter user who truly is in sync with your scope of writing then Follow them. Send them a comment introducing yourself and use hashtags relevant to your book and/or writing mission. You only get 140 characters in a Twitter post so it’s important to craft an impactful comment. You want to be positive, professional and unique. If the Twitter user responds then I always explain that I am a new author, I provide the title of my book and I invite them to visit my website.
The fruits of your labor will begin when start to develop online relationships with a host of authors, literary agents and publishers within your target market. The overall objective of persevering in this targeted effort is to make a fruitful connection. I anything, you will at least gain a tremendous amount of free advice.