The Advice Most Often Given to Writers: Write What You Know

The trouble with that advice is that a lot of thrillers, supernatural suspense novels and tales of horror would never be written if we followed it. I’ve written about killers, genetic experiments, financial empires, supernatural powers, espionage, the Middle East and other topics of which I have no personal experience. If I only wrote about what I know, the list would include idiots, self-absorbed and spineless jerks, nutcases, liars, and false friends.

Okay, so I could write political novels. As we all know, Washington is full of all of those type of characters.

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My friend and fellow author, Shelly Arkon, has lately been writing a  great deal about matters of faith on her blog. Shelly has spent the past few years studying both the Bible and the Torah and has learned a great deal. While bloggers are often warned about writing about matters of faith in a cheesy manner, Shelly’s posts are honest, from the heart and thought-provoking. I’ve done a lot of thinking myself. I’m a Christian, and I’ve experienced a great deal in my life that has confirmed my faith–but I still have more questions than answers. I’m by no means an expert, but still I want to write things that make people think and hopefully find a door opened to them that they haven’t seen before. So how to do it?

Fiction, mostly. In Chasing the Wind, I write about characters who also have more questions than answers: cynical FBI agents, an agnostic photojournalist, a Biblical archaeologist who has faith but challenges it, and an atheist who is called to be a prophet but still can’t believe what’s happening to him. I put them in situations where they get pushed to their limits and their faith (or lack of it) is tested. They witness miracles. They deal with loss and rise above it. And they face many of the same questions I’ve faced.

I always believed in God–but as the Bible says, even demons believe in God. They know He exists. Believing is not the same as putting one’s faith in God. I wasn’t able to do that completely for a long time. That door opened for me twenty-two years ago, on a dark night in which I felt more hopeless than I ever had. I went to bed that night, facing a situation for which there seemed to be no resolution. I prayed, more than I ever had before, and was still praying when I finally fell asleep. I was awakened the next morning by what first seemed to be just a ringing telephone, but in fact was God’s answer to my urgent prayers–the miracle I needed.

That miracle has led me to write my first work of nonfiction–a memoir that’s (finally) almost finished, Riding Out the Storm. It’s not easy to lay bare one’s soul for all to see, as my close friend William Kendall discovered with his most recent blog post. But sometimes, we need to write about the things that make us most vulnerable. Sometimes, as in William’s case, it’s a way to exorcise our personal demons in order to be free of them. It took tremendous courage for William to share the things he’d kept so private for so many years. For some, like Shelly, it’s a way to share our discoveries of faith…and to provide a warning of what’s ahead. For me, it’s hopefully a means to testify, to show others that anyone can–and will–change. And that it really is darkest just before dawn.

 

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The Ghost and…Mrs. Butz?

It’s Wednesday, so once again, I’m plugging the works of a fellow author. This week, it’s my longtime friend Shelly Arkon, who is currently recovering from an arm broken in three places because her new dog wanted an armadillo (don’t ask). Shelly’s done one novel–the first in a series she’s been working on. Secondhand Shoes is available on Amazon.

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What’s it all about? Check out this Amazon review from William Kendall:

Secondhand Shoes opens in an uneasy place, with the main character, Lila, an eighteen year old woman on her wedding day. Her bridal nerves are more than what might be expected; she’s marrying a man she barely knows and doesn’t particularly like, thanks to the pressure of her overbearing mother Babs. Lila has little say in the direction of her life, no respect at all from a mother who thinks that she’s crazy, a father living far away in exile, and a step-father who bows to his wife’s every demand and seems to have lost his spine. The only living person who seems to be on her side is her best friend Cynthia, and we can see this in her advice to run while she can.

Then there are the ghosts. Just like a long out of work former child actor who shall remain unnamed, Lila sees dead people. One of the ghosts in her life happens to be her paternal grandmother, who has little patience for her former daughter-in-law’s overbearing ways, and is at Lila’s side through much of the story. Gram is a force to be reckoned with, a mixture of common sense and great wariness about the threats that exist in the world, particularly where her granddaughter is concerned.

Lila’s ability isn’t appreciated by most people around her, let alone her mother, who won’t abide such nonsense. Instead Babs, who we learn has coerced her daughter into breaking off with a young man she did like, simply because of her own prejudice, has orchestrated a relationship with Max Butz (yes, that’s his name), a dirtbag of the first order who thinks that turning up in a orange polyester suit for his own wedding is perfectly acceptable. Max runs with a similar pack of criminal degenerates, has a father with anger management issues, and a religious zealot for a mother (with a few hidden secrets of her own). It doesn’t take long before the reader confirms that first impression: Max is a vicious bully with no respect at all for Lila, and nothing at all resembling scruples.

The story hinges on a decision Lila makes to take her life into her own hands, and it leads her into danger, both physical and supernatural. She has to confront her own fears and anxieties (fear of germs, insects, and other creepy crawlies plays big for this protagonist). She gets help along the way, from the living, the dead, and those who are, well, in between.

Shelly Arkon has done well with her first novel. She has a strong style, giving characters a voice that are distinctly their own, even minor characters who might only appear for a scene or two. And she pays attention to detail: scenes in a Southern swamp make the reader feel like they’re right there; the same applies to sequences in a truck, a roadside dive, or even in an afterlife of sorts. The style draws the reader right in, and gives the narrative a touch of authenticity. The same applies for when the story is set. This is firmly set in the Eighties, and cultural references of the time abound, small touches that firmly ground the story.

As mentioned, there’s a liberal dose of humour spread throughout the book. Some of it comes from the living characters, such as Lila herself (especially her paranoid germ phobias), Cynthia, or B.J., a trucker who turns up along the way. Much of it comes from the ghosts, particularly Gram, who is a wise sage capable of interacting with the world in a number of different ways; she can wreck havoc with electricity or make use of nature, and does so with regularity.

Characterization itself is the bedrock of the book, and this is the strength of the novel. I felt a particular dislike- and this shows the strength of the writing- for Babs, who comes across as a bully (including at times even physically) and a terrible mother. She’s overbearing, difficult, temperamental, and bigoted. She might be Lila’s mother, but at the same time, there’s a toxic quality to her that was close to home for me. I’ve known a couple of Babs, and these are the unpleasant sort of people you wish you’d never known

Max and his cronies and relatives are memorable, if unlikeable. In different ways, their personalities come across as real, and sleazy. At least in some ways, I expect real people have inspired them.

Cynthia is a strongly written character. She’s absolutely supportive of her friend, fierce and courageous when she needs to be, and willing to prod Lila along when she needs it.

Gram is the scene stealer of the book, a wise woman with heart. For a ghost, she’s more than lively, won’t take nonsense from people she doesn’t care for, and is protective of her granddaughter. She’s aware of the world in a way that those who are living can’t be aware of, including a lingering threat that might well be left for another novel.

The book is really about Lila’s journey. It takes her from being meek and submissive to making choices for herself, to finding her own strength and resolve. It’s understandable, given the way her mother is, that the character starts out as not wanting to rock the boat and refuse her mother’s wishes. Over time she’s gotten used to surviving what basically amounts to emotional abuse by just going along with everything her mother says. During the events of the book, Lila comes to terms with what it means to be an adult, to have to be responsible for her own decisions. It’s character growth, and it helps that we’re sympathetic towards her from the start.

Secondhand Shoes tells a story that is at times tense, at other times wry and mischevious. It wraps up the natural arc of the characters while leaving room for more, and provides its own good spin on the world of the paranormal. The pacing of the story keeps things moving along, and the characterization and attention to detail combine to make the book succeed.

Cover Reveal: THE PARTNER’S PROGENY by Shelly Arkon

My good friend and fellow author Shelly Arkon is about to release a wonderful short story with a great cover by none other than my brilliant son, Collin.  The Partner’s Progeny will be available as an ebook at Amazon in early July, so be sure you get a copy. It’s only $.99–a steal!

The Partner's Prodigy (1)

Bullies rule … or do they?

For seventeen years, Victoria Sheek has been a paralegal surpervisor at the Law Offices of Pereene, Carr, and Sevino, specializing in injury law. Rumors portray her as a bully. She remains confident that her position will never cease because of close relations to one of the founding partners, Mr. Carr.

Until Mr. Pereene, the head partner, hires Monica Bowman. Smitten with her because of her resemblance to his deceases granddaughter, Melissa, and his memories of her, she can do no wrong.

Which one of the two girls will keep their position at the firm? It takes an unexpected event to decide the outcome of their rivalry….

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Shelly Arkon is the author of Secondhand Shoes.

When Shelly isn’t doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking, chasing grandkids, listening to daughter drama (five of them), or lopping heads of hair at the salon, she’s writing beside her two fur-peeps, Sir Poops and Hair Ball, popping an occasional chocolate while her hubby is flipping through TV channels.

She lives in New Port Richey with her husband and two dogs. She’s also a member of Florida Writer’s Association and Writers of Mass Distraction.

Secondhand Shoes Cover Reveal and Giveaway!

Today, it’s my pleasure to introduce a new author (sure to be a bestseller!) and a personal friend of mine, whose first novel will be available soon. It’s also a pleasure to participate in the cover reveal because the cover was designed  by my favorite cover artist–my son Collin at Beishir Media!

 

Secondhand Shoes Cover Reveal and Something Borrowed Giveaway

Today, Shelly Arkon is doing another cover reveal to Secondhand Shoes. She’s also giving away three books from the Twilight series and eight books from the House of Night series. In order for your name to be put in the drawing you must promise to Tweet, Facebook, and Google +1 this and leave a comment in the box that you did so along with your email, which series you would like, and what you borrowed on your wedding day to wear down the aisle. And I hope they weren’t secondhand bridal shoes that didn’t fit like my MC, Lila.

There will be no rafflecoptors or anything like that. She’s pretty much a self-admitted-techno-moron. Next Friday, October 19th, she will reveal two winners over at Secondhand Shoes.


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

The shoes didn’t fit. It was an omen.

Eighteen year old psychic-medium-germ-a-phobe Lila should have listened to ghostly Gram’s advice the morning of her wedding, “Take off that dress and those shoes. And run.”

En route to the honeymoon, she decides to listen after too many disagreements with her groom. It doesn’t pay to go along to make everyone happy.

Still in her wedding dress and shoes, she escapes out a diner’s bathroom window into the Florida woods despite her fear of snakes and germs with her dead Gram’s direction.

So she begins a journey of finding her inner strength that puts her on a deadly run from her psychotic groom and his deranged friends.

Will she ever get past her fear of germs and snakes? Will she survive her honeymoon?

 

An Excerpt

A screen stood between me and my freedom. I pushed it. Nothing. I pushed it again. It was one stubborn screen. I took off a shoe, scraping a blister. “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow,” I muttered.

I held my spiked heel like an ice-pick and punched a hole in the screen, ripping the rest with my other hand.

I didn’t want to, but I had to put my shoe back on and get it over with. I jammed my foot into it and stepped. “Ouch, ooh, ooh, ouch.”

The ledge was tummy high. I slung one leg over it, held onto the bottom of the window, got my other leg up and over and shimmied my way out.

There were woods beyond the alley holding the diner’s dumpsters, trees all the way to the interstate’s on-ramp to my right and on down behind the gas station to my left and beyond.

A light wind blew my hair across my face. I looked at the sky. Dark clouds coming up I-75. I looked at the woods.Probably a million snakes in there,I thought.

Don’t be afraid, Lila,” Gram said.

A half-dozen sparrows flew from around the front of the diner, low to the ground, and into the woods. I followed them in through the ferns bordering the pavement and into the trees. My lacey arm caught on a cypress branch ripping a portion of my sleeve from me.

I walked for at least a half hour. When Max and I left the wedding, it must’ve been mid-eighty degrees. It warmed up since then like twenty more. That was a Florida July for you. The humidity made it almost unbearable. I was sweating, my bodice soaked. The money inside my bra stuck to my skin. It itched. The lace on my one arm and back itched more. I smelled no better than Max did when he got home from work and every winged insect buzzed around me. I smacked at them. A big, black horsefly really liked me. It wouldn’t go away. I thought of Max.

My blisters and toes screamed pre-, mid-, and post-step. The balls of my feet, too. The three inchers got caught in vines, branches, and mole holes. It took a lot to stay upright in the deep leaves. I considered taking my shoes off, but there might be hook worms or some jungle ameoba waiting to feast on my leg muscles, and I needed my legs to get me out of this mess. Mom scared me out of going shoeless when I was little, and I’d never gone barefoot except on Mom’s clean carpets and disinfected floors. I wore shoes or slippers at Cynthia’s. Her mother didn’t vacuum every day. Nor did I taste Pine Sol in the back of my throat at her house.

A hawk flew down out of nowhere and landed on the ground in front of me, tilted its head, and blinked its eyes at me.

The hawk jumped up and down, flitting its wings. He turned and squawked.

You want me to follow you?”

It hopped onward, looking back at me every third or fourth bounce.

From not too far behind me a male voice bellowed, “Lila!”

Max.