Writing a Book Blurb is Hard Work

Arizona tree - Bruce Witzel photo

And it doesn’t seem to get any easier with practice! I’m at it for the fourth time and I feel as though it would be easier to write another book than it is to construct this short synopsis. Struggle, struggle, struggle.

I found a handy-dandy resource this morning over on Books Go Social Book Marketing Blog.

Using my current draft of Maelstrom’s blurb, here’s my take on a few of the steps.

A strong first sentence. This makes a lot of sense. Hook the reader right from the start.

A shot is fired into the still night air and a young woman dies up on Suicide Ridge.

Suicide Ridge - chalk - Lorna Friesen

Highlight the drama. Let the reader know what kind of book to expect.

A dangerous game of move and countermove has begun. The year is 1976, the setting, small town America. Over the course of one blistering week in late August burning winds of change sweep through Haddon Valley and no one’s life will ever be the same.

Name the characters and broadly sketch their circumstances.

Sheriff Bert Calder, with the help of Mayor Amos Thatcher, has held the isolated town of Haddon under his thumb for twenty-five years.

The sprawling estate of Casa Destino sits on the hill overlooking the town. Rafael Destino races against time to gain control of the all-important Haddon Valley Railroad. His goal – to destroy Amos Thatcher, the man he believes responsible for the death of his beloved sister.

Pencil sketch - Casa Destino - June Guenette

Myhetta, commonly known by the petty citizens of Haddon as the breed, is charged with carrying out Rafael’s revenge. But how far will his adoptive father push the young man who owes him everything?

Laura Thatcher has prided herself on being a person who makes do in a loveless marriage. She sleeps in the spare room and lavishes all her affection on her step-son Casey. Her quiet life explodes when Myhetta pulls her into the Destino’s blood feud against her husband.

Meanwhile, Calder lays his plans to regain control of Myhetta’s mother, Ahya, a woman who escaped his grip so many years before.

If the book is meant to be dramatic then play that up. Don’t be afraid of a little hype.

Maelstrom is a pot boiler of a reading experience. The dialogue sizzles, the characters jump off the pages and the story races along like a runaway train.

The road up to Casa Destion - chalk - Lorna Friesen

Well, there you have it. It’s back to the drawing board. I have my work cut out for me.

The Road to Aldeao - pastel work June Guenette

Except for the top photo, I’ve used examples of my mother and grandmother’s drawing to illustrate this post. Hopefully some of these images will make their way to the cover of Maelstrom. But that is still very much in the planning stage.

Writers Must Make Time for Reading

Stephen King Meme - google image

Scroll down a few writers’ Facebook pages and before long you’ll find a Stephen King meme with his words of wisdom about writers needing to read. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. I wholeheartedly agree with the King.

Depending on the type of writing projects I’m involved with, the amount I read ebbs and flows. But I am always reading – more so when I’m in the final stages of editing, less so when I’m actively creating and constantly when I’m on a writing hiatus. 

Nailed - Joseph Flynn coverI recently discovered Joseph Flynn and his crime/drama books. I read all three of the books in the Ron Ketchum series. Ron used to be an LA cop who retired over some events that had him looking like your typical white cop gunning down blacks. He actually calls himself a recovering racist. He ends up being recruited by big time movie star and Mayor of Goldstrike (a beautiful little town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains), Clay Steadman, to become Goldstrike’s new Chief of Police. Nothing much ever happens in Goldstrike, until, of course, it does. Flynn writes good stories with great character development.

Flynn is a sneaky author. In book two of the Ron Ketchum series, he introduces Bureau of Indian Affairs, Special Agent John Tall Wolf. I became hooked on John’s character and it just so happensTall Man in Ray Bans cover that Flynn has written another series devoted to Tall Wolf. The first has a great title – Tall Man in Ray Bans. These books feature multiple US government acronym agencies mixing it up together to solve crimes that all have a slight Native American twist. The hook in the Tall Wolf series is John’s belief that Marlena Flower Moon, his BIA boss, is actually Coyote, a mythical creature with great power – a southern US version of trickster raven. She tried to eat him when he was a baby and she’s never given up trying to get him.

Joseph Flynn has published both traditionally and is currently self-publishing from his own imprint, Stray Dog Press.

Another recent read that led me to a series is The Devil’s Grin by Annelie Wendenberg – book one of the Kronberg Crime Series. Free on Amazon as I’m writing this post, this novel has over 600 reviews! The novel’s premise fascinates me and I marvel at the creativity of other writers. Main character, Anne Kronberg, wants to be a doctor in a historical era when a woman in the field of medicine would be arrested. She disguises herself as a man, becomes Dr. Anton Kronberg, England’s best bacteriologist and lives her dream. The fun begins when she is called to a crime scene involving a man found in the London waterworks who is suspected of dying of cholera. There she meets Sherlock Holmes. The book races on from that point in the best Holmesian fashion.

Devil's Grin cover

I have just started the second book in the series and must pause to wonder and, as the writer of a series, ask myself the same question: why, when authors write the second book, do they seem to lose sight of what readers loved in the first book? Wendenberg’s writing magic came in the interchanges between Holmes and Dr. Kronberg. I am at the 36% mark of book two and Sherlock has yet to arrive. Hmmm … I’ll keep reading because I am hooked but if Holmes doesn’t show up soon, I am unlikely to be thrilled about continuing.

The Fifth Heart coverI’ve written before about author Dan Simmons. Not too long ago, I finished his newest novel, The Fifth Heart. As always, with Simmons, he writes with a wide-reaching net and a stunning catch ensues. It is 1893 and author Henry James meets Sherlock Holmes in Paris as James is about to throw himself into the Seine and end it all. Sherlock convinces James they have other fish to fry and the two of them are off to Washington, DC to thwart an attempted presidential assassination. A side trip to the Chicago World’s Fair is fascinating. But, as reviewers are wont to say, Simmons is in love with his own research and the book might have been better for a bit of trimming. But this is Dan Simmons and you get what you get and you don’t get upset. There is enough brilliancy to make any indulgence fade to the background.

Darwin's Blade cover

Still on the Simmons bandwagon, I also read, Darwin’s Blade. This novel is fast-paced with amazingly funny dialogue. Darwin Blade is an accident scene investigator, a complex man who is haunted by his Vietnam battle experience and some harsh personal losses. I couldn’t put this one down.

So, there you have it – a writer must read and believe me, I do. My tastes are eclectic. If I love an author, I’ll always give their next book a go. My attention is often caught by a book’s blurb. Once caught, I’ll give the book a try regardless of genre or author recognition.

I’d have a hard time ever calling myself an expert writer – no matter the number of books produced or hours spent writing. I believe there will always be just too much to learn. But I am quite confident to say I am an expert reader. With an easy 10,000 hours of practice under my belt, I’ve attained professional status, as Malcolm Gladwell defines such things.

Book Reviewer Love

You’ve had a peek inside my reading life. Let’s share. Take a moment to comment and let me know what you’re currently reading. Then hashtag this post on Twitter as #fridayreads. Sound like a plan?

Waiting for Inspiration

Garden Inspiration - Guenette photo

The days slip by since my last post and my blog views fall into the basement of the stats page as I wait for inspiration to come a calling. Lest it seem I sit still and attempt to drag that inspiration out of the air, nothing could be further from the truth. My hours and mind have been active with many things.

The rain has come to our corner of the earth. Yesterday, I was out on my recumbent, stationary bicycle making my way towards Sayward on my imaginary journey across Canada and the rain was coming down so hard beyond the covered deck, I simply couldn’t believe I was staying dry. Recovery on my injured knee is going well. I can now ride thirty minutes at a stretch virtually pain free.

Proofreading - google imageI’m proofreading Maelstrom and making incredibly important though picky changes while ensuring that I don’t mess something else up. The mistake in the little Google graphic to the left says it all about what one is up against at this stage of book production. The process is time consuming and draining. Bruce reminds me once again that cement is an ingredient in concrete and thus there is no such thing as a cement dam. Thanks … really … I mean it.


Home preserving is going on at a steady clip. An abundance of tomatoes and a large gift bag of apples turned into five-alarm chutney and the most amazing Yellow Tomato Marmalade. If you are a marmalade fan, give this recipe a try. And don’t be limited by not having yellow tomatoes. I chose a selection of not-quite-ripe, on their way from green to red tomatoes and they worked out perfectly. Bruce says he’s not a big marmalade fan but this stuff is definitely bringing him into the fold.

Yellow Tomato Marmalade - Guenette photo

Yellow Tomato Marmalade

· 4 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes (I sieved mine to make sure they weren’t too juicy)

· Rind and juice of one large lemon (I added the juice and rind of a small lime to make things interesting)

· 6 cups of sugar

· 1 bottle or package of Certo ( I used crystals rather than liquid and it worked fine)

· Optional: I added some chopped crystallized ginger in one batch and it added a nice flavour.

Cook tomatoes, covered, for ten minutes without water. Add lemon rind, juice and sugar. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring constantly. Boil hard for one minute. Turn off the heat. Add Certo and stir vigorously for 5 minutes. Bottle in sterile jars. Makes 3 pints.

Now, as to that chutney – next time I will not follow exactly a recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon of dry mustard and 1 teaspoon of cayenne. But on a lentil daal with sour cream, this chutney is going to rock.

Grouse in the Apple Tree - Guenette photo

On alternative days from stationary bike riding, I get out around the place for walks. Greta the Grouse has been a constant companion. In the picture above, I caught her up in the apple tree. She’s great company except for those times we startle each other. Then she fluffs herself up like a stuffed version of a grouse and makes a racket that has me thinking I’m about to be run over by a bear. It is easy to see in the picture below how one could almost walk right over a grouse and not see it. They blend into the background like one of those crazy Waldo pictures.

Grouse - Guenette photo

A recent purchaser of the Crater Lake Series checked in the other day to say that she couldn’t put the books down once she had started reading. She went right through the whole series and said the stories were addictive. I love the feedback. What writer worth her salt wouldn’t enjoy knowing someone couldn’t put her books down?

Well, there you have it. Inspiration decided to show up this fine Sunday morning. As Milton Berle is quoted as saying,

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

I wish each of you the best of luck with all your September projects and endeavours. And may inspiration crawl through a window if you can’t knock out a door.

Falling in Love

Kindle Paperwhite - Guenette photo

I have fallen madly in love with my new Kindle Paperwhite! Okay, I was more than ready for the plunge. Having been without an e-reader for several days, I may have been slightly desperate. But all kidding aside, this Paperwhite is truly the cat’s meow.

Let me tell you why. It has cured me of my extreme fear of touching an electronic screen. The ease with which I can manoeuvre through the functions is amazing. I was able to create collections and file almost all of my books in next to no time. That type of thing took forever with my old Kindle. Watch out Emma, Subway Surfer here I come.

But here is the real kicker. This new version has its own email address. I can send Word documents to my own Kindle via email and when I open them up they are almost perfectly formatted for reading. Wow! At first this may not seem like such a ground shaking thing but let me elaborate. While traveling, if I would like to review a manuscript, I can’t always whip my laptop out everywhere I go. But a jazzy-looking Kindle is ideal. It is truly no bigger than a small paperback and barely a quarter of an inch thick.

And there’s more! (Oh my goodness – I’m starting to sound like a late-night info commercial for Kinsu knifes.) I have discovered that reading on this new e-reader is the perfect way to do my final proofreading. Two weeks ago, my editor and I finished line-by-line edits for Maelstrom. I let it sit for a week, emailed the Word document over to the new Paperwhite and started doing my final proofread. I see things on the Kindle screen that I would never pick up on my laptop or even on a hardcopy. There is something about such a different way of looking at this material that makes typos, extra words and even little bits of strange spacing jump out at me.

I’m glad I live in a semi-isolated area. If I was spotted yesterday, strolling up and down my deck with my e-reader in hand, reading aloud, suffice to say observers may have thought I had lost my marbles. But no! I was proofreading. And why sit when one can be in motion?

I am now busy with formatting and looking forward to a fall publication date for Maelstrom.

Bear in the Mountain Ash - Guenette photo

I’ll leave you today with a photo I snapped from the deck last week when our drop-in bear decided to scoot his way up the Mountain Ash tree. As branches cracked and snapped around him, he merrily chomped away on the bright red berries. That is, until Bruce pitched a well-aimed rock at him, shouting all the while, “Get out of that tree you crazy bear.” We were both amazed at the easy leap said clumsy-looking bear took from that tree to the ground, ambling away as if he had not just suffered the indignity of being beaned by a rock in the hindquarters. Not even five minutes later, he was back harvesting salal berries right behind the kitchen. It takes a lot to deter a bear from eating at this time of year.

Bear behind the kitchen - Bruce Witzel photo

Reminds me of this photo I snapped of a squirrel right outside the back door. He was far more interested in eating than in running for safety. Getting a full belly is currently the prime directive in the animal world.

Squirrel - Guenette photo

On the Demise of a Kindle

bathtub of my dreams 2 - google image

Two nights ago while getting out of the bathtub, I knocked my beloved Kindle from the side of the tub into the water. Amid my gasps, curses and frantic attempts to pull my beloved e-reader from the water and get it out of its dripping leather cover, I felt convinced that the end was near – for the Kindle that is.

(Oh – disclaimer time. That is not my bathtub. I wish!)

Dark Waters Cover


Can you guess what book I had been reading right before this mishap occurred? Dark Waters by Toni Anderson. How ironic is that? The title should have warned me against just such a mishap. Perhaps, if I had been reading the first in the Barclay Sound Thrillers, Dangerous Waters, I would have been wiser.



Anyway, back to the fateful plunge. The Kindle screen blipped and flashed and went blank. Later that evening, a lamenting-my-loss Facebook post resulted in several friends suggesting I put the e-reader in a bag of rice and let it dry out. I’ll give any suggestion made by at least two reputable sources a try. It wasn’t like I had anything to lose.

The next morning, I pulled the Kindle out with grains of rice clinging to the dead looking screen. With doubt in my heart, I slid the power button over, the green light came on and the page of the thriller I had been reading showed up. Wow – the power of rice.

Death of a Kindle - Guenette photoI happily read for a while but, I must admit, I had a sneaky suspicion that the page turning function was a beat slower than it used to be. I got up to answer the phone, got busy with a couple of other tasks then returned to my comfy chair to read some more. The Kindle would not come back on. It has since refused further rice efforts to dry it out and remains stuck on a black and white photo of Jules Verne striped over with odd white lines. This may in fact be how all e-readers give up the ghost – hand in hand with Jules Verne. Who knows?

A new Kindle is definitely in my future. I can’t say I’m not somewhat pleased about purchasing a more updated model. I’ve had my eyes on a Paper White for a while now. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a rabid consumer seeking after the most updated devices except for when it comes to the electronic gadgets I love – my laptop, my e-reader and my digital camera. Admittedly, this is a small line up.

I do not possess a cell phone and have no use for any type of device that insists I touch the screen to operate it. Call me old school. Both my granddaughters certainly do. They roll over on the floor laughing when they see me trying to operate their iPad Minis as I fumble around shouting, “How do I get out of here?” Emma almost went into a collapse when she watched me trying to play Subway Surfer. Don’t even get me started on how my daughter rolls her eyes when she hands me her iPhone to show me a picture and tells me to push across the screen to see more and I end up taking a bizarre selfie and automatic texting take a leap instead of take a look to one of her friends – all within ten seconds.

My avarice for a new e-reader is in keeping with my hope that the old Dell laptop (which is the cheapest laptop I have ever purchased – still running on Vista for heaven’s sake, with no sign of going the way of the dinosaur it surely is – given to Bruce when I updated years ago to an HP running the newly released Windows 7) will die a natural death so I may gift Bruce with my perfectly lovely HP and move on to a newer model. Though the screen flops to and fro and small screws are falling out of the bottom, the Dell shows no signs of imminent collapse.

Bruce and the old Dell laptop - Guenette photo

But I digress … all gadget avarice aside … I will miss that older model Kindle. I feel a bit naked without it.

I’ll leave you today, on a wonderful sunny afternoon where I live, with a photo I took the other morning. Spider Web Overlay. Enjoy.

Spiderweb Overlay - Guenette photo

Quote Wednesday–Keep Writing

Quote Wednesday Sept 2, 2015

There are days when I sit in front of my computer screen with fingers poised over the keyboard … and nothing happens. My mind goes blank, the story lines twist and tangle, the ideas that seemed so inspired as I prepared to write, drift away like a cloud scudding across the sky in a stiff wind.

And yet, as the quote above so clearly states, I must turn on that tap. I have to get that water flowing. I must write – full stop – no negotiation.

There are a few things I’ve learned to do that can help prime the pump. If I’m stuck in general, I might try some wild writing and see what comes of it. I’ve given this exercise to students – from grade 5 all the way up to fourth year university students. Write for five minutes without stopping. Write about anything that comes into your head, but no stopping. No rewriting or editing. No erasing or backspacing. That’s the only rule. No stopping. It’s a hard exercise. I’m often stunned at what emerges during these five minutes.

If I’m stuck on not being able to hear a character’s voice, I’ll write a lengthy letter from that character to another. Or, I’ll come up with a series of interview questions and put them to this character and type away at the answers he or she gives me.

If these methods aren’t getting me anywhere, I’ll go for a long walk or a stationary bike ride to clear the cobwebs out of my head, then try again. If I think the story is going off the rails in some way, I’ll revisit character sketches, stare at my storyboard and rearrange sticky notes, then try again. I might have to take a total break and read a book by someone else, then try again.

I think all of you get the message. Try again. Turn that tap on. Keep writing.

Colleen's Writer Quote Wed. cartoon

I’m happy to be participating in Colleen’s post chain once again. Make sure to visit her blog – Silver Threading – on Tuesdays to catch a compilation of all the great quote Wednesday posts.

How to Recognize Your Fan Base

Emma in Save-On with Chasing Down the Night - Guenette photo

I read somewhere that a solid base of a thousand fans is the tipping point for an indie author. That number of readers who are committed to buying the author’s next book, talking up an author’s work and recommending said author to friends and family will push sales and name recognition to a level where things start to snowball.

But how does one evaluate this fan base? It isn’t about sales because people often download books and never read them. It can’t be determined from the number of followers on various social media platforms because much of this type of engagement is people looking for reciprocal action. No judgement, here – just reality.

Self-publishing sign - Google imageIn my experience, fans are counted through engagement. My fans take the time to let me know they love my work. This post is a tribute to those people. They really seem to love the Crater Lake characters and they keep on asking for more. I’m not at the one thousand mark yet. Winning people over and generating true engagement is something that builds, slowly but surely, over time. This is what makes self-publishing a marathon and not a sprint.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking down the sidewalk of a nearby town. A store door burst open and a woman came running out. She stopped me by saying, “I know you.” I smiled and stuck out my hand. She went on, “I’ve read all your books.” Then she pulled me into a tight hug as she said, “Thank you so much for writing those books.” Stepping back, I could only stare at her in amazement. My first brush with being recognized solely on the basis of my writing was a surprising thrill.

As I said, fans keep asking for more. A case in point is a recent comment on this blog supporting Malestrom, my work-in-progress (a non-Crater Lake book) but ending with a plea for more from Crater Lake.

3-D Box Set - Crater Lake Series

Trilogy number one? Time will tell. Ideas are definitely percolating for book number four.

My daughter had an interesting conversation with her stepsister the other day. Amber had just finished reading Chasing Down the Night and she asked, “Has your mom told you if Justin and Lisa-Marie ever get together?”

Kristen replied, “Even if she did, are you sure you would want to know?”

Matt, Kristen’s husband, laughed and piped in with, “I heard she’s going to kill Justin in the next book.” Amber jumped up in alarm. (No spoiler alerts here – that joking son-in-law heard no such thing from me!) I do cherish the emotional attachment readers have with my characters.

I can’t even describe the fun I had watching my niece, Chelsea, read Chasing Down the Night. There was only one rule – every time she laughed or gasped, she had to say why. It felt like I was attending a weeklong book club. When she got to the end, she gave a heavy sigh and said, “It’s like a summer holiday coming to an end. You wait and wait for it then it’s over before you want it to be and you have to wait a whole year for another one.”

Silver's Book Review capture

Colleen Chesebro, who blogs over at Sliver Threads recently wrote a review for the box set of the first three novels. Her wrap up is well-worth bragging about. Please check it out by following the above link to her blog.

She topped off her thoughtful review and blog feature with this response to my thanks.

“Francis, I have read many books, but few touch me as much as these three did. I simply loved the characters and their journeys. I do want to know how they survive the winters on Crater Lake. I wish you continued success and look forward to your future books. I was honored to read the Crater Lake Series. Thank you.”

I know my fans because they let me know how they feel about my work. More than anything else, that type of sharing makes writing a thrilling and worthwhile endeavour.

Brit at the beach - Guenette photo

Brit making you an offer you can’t refuse – read my grandma’s books. You won’t regret it!