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.

Moving On–For Now

Guenette photo (2)

Maelstrom – a powerful whirlpool in a sea or river; a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil.

As hoped – the first draft of Maelstrom is done. In the hopes that it would stop me from tinkering and obsessing, the draft has flown the coop – gone to my editor for a read through and comments. Whew! It weighed in at 195,000 words. My drafts are written in Word, double-spaced in Times New Roman at 12pt. with standard margins. That amounted to 599 pages. Thank goodness I didn’t cross the line to 600.

The work of the last two weeks was the most intense writing experience I’ve ever gone through and it truly resembled the above definition of the word, maelstrom. Twelve to fourteen hour days living, breathing the world of the characters – all their ups and downs in my head twenty-four seven. Not easy as this book is much more of a suspense novel than the Crater Lake series. I knew what was coming and I was biting my nails.

I reached the two chapters that would form the climax and got stuck. Technical issues had to be worked out. Meanwhile, I skipped ahead and wrote the final two chapters and got that little chill when I typed the words – THE END. Bit of cheating but we do what we have to. Then I came back to the climax. Not sure that I’ve totally nailed those technical issues but we are talking first draft.

So – what comes next? I have been a poor blog friend the last month and hope to rectify that in the coming days. I’m looking forward to finding out what everyone else has been up to while I’ve been in self-imposed exile within the town of Haddon in the pages of Maelstrom. I’ve also got at least five books lined up on my Kindle that I am anxious to read and review. I’m looking forward to that I’m-all-caught-up feeling that I can see glimmering down the road a ways.

I’ll leave all of you writers with this great little quote Smile

google image

Maelstrom–An Exercise in Collaborative Writing

Our inmost souls encircled - Bruce Witzel photo

Perhaps I should have signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. My work-in-progress, a collaboration with my dead mother’s unpublished novel – Maelstrom – has taken off. Over the last week I have written 4000 to 5000 words a day. This morning I woke up knowing I’d have to pace myself if I’m not to run out of steam before the end.

I am currently twenty-nine chapters in and sitting at 133,000 words. My detailed outline says I’ll wrap it all up in forty chapters and hopefully come in under 150,000 words. Remember – this is my first draft of the collaborative work! There will be much trimming and refining to go before this book sees the light of day. But it has already waited, hidden away in boxes and shunted from pillar to post, for decades. Another year on the drawing board won’t hurt.

Trumpeter Swans - Charles Brandt

The way in which the process of writing this draft has evolved may be of interest to some. It fascinates me. This is how it has gone, so far.

First step: I did a detailed read through of the 2500 plus pages of what my mother had written, making notes as I went – my immediate reactions, frustrations, moments of poignancy, alternate storylines, and parts of the manuscript that I believe should never see the light of day.

Second step: I created a tentative outline.

Third step: Working through sections of the manuscript, I use post-it-notes to mark the pieces of the original work I will rewrite. At the same time, I create a list of sections, pieces and transitions that I will need to write from scratch.

Fourth step: This is definitely the fun part. I write and I write and I write, weaving together parts of my mother’s story with my own ideas and style. I have ahh moments as I come across pages of her writing that I simply must have. Then there is the slash and burn times when other pages hit the cutting room floor and I whisper to myself – sorry Mom, sorry.

Turkey Vulture[ - by Charles A.E. Brandt

(Me, the turkey vulture, chomping away at my mother’s work.)

After a read through of the first sixteen chapters, this is a portion of the feedback I received from my first reader/editor:

The story is hard-hitting and gripping. I was hooked from the beginning and I experienced intense feelings of anger and powerlessness, sadness and empathy, upset and revulsion. I could picture the people, scenes and events so clearly that they ran like a film in my head. In fact, at some point I actually thought that this book would make a good movie. It is action-packed; it evokes strong emotions; and it demands a just denouement. The characters come to life. They are complex individuals who tug at my heartstrings at the same time that they irritate and frustrate me. They are all caught in a system that controls their lives; they don’t like it, but they can’t do anything about it. The title – Maelstrom – says it all. They are swept up in a whirlpool and the reader gets drawn into it as well.

To say I was thrilled with her initial reactions would be an understatement indeed. Happy dance, happy dance!

I predict, that with another ten days of intense labour, the first draft will reach that magical – The End – moment. But those ten days won’t be in a row – this is where the pacing comes in. I have to guard my own energy levels to get through the climax. But, if all goes well, this draft will be in the drawer percolating before I break for Christmas festivities. And when I come back to writing in 2015 it will be full steam ahead with the third novel in the Crater Lake Series – Chasing Down the Night (cue the drumroll) working towards a June release date. I hope to return to second draft writing on Maelstrom as I work through final edits and formatting on Chasing Down the Night. The juries out on how that type of multi-tasking will work but rest assured, my blog followers will be the first to hear.

Violet!oilmultiplex - Bruce Witzel photo

I Found a Book . . .

Golden Ears - Guenette photo

“This is a book. It is a book I found in a box. I found the box in the attic. The box was in the attic, under the eaves. The attic was hot and still. The air was stale with dust. The dust was from old pictures and books. The dust in the air was made up of the book I found. I breathed the book before I saw it; tasted the book before I read it.” (P. Harding)

Some of my regular readers will remember that about this time last year I did a blog post about having found a small portion of a manuscript my mom had been working on for years. Pages eighty-eight to one-hundred and ninety suddenly appeared. I was so intrigued by that discovery, I plunged right in reading, transcribing from the manual typewritten pages, and changing things as I went. I couldn’t help myself.

I went through those pages fairly quickly and then I simply pined to find the rest of that manuscript. Feelers went out everywhere it could have possibly been stored and I waited. Whenever I returned to the work, I imagined how I would start and end the story if my mom’s work never surfaced.


A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my daughter. The rest of the manuscript had been found in some boxes that had been stored in an attic for years. I could hardly contain my excitement. I arrived at my daughter’s house last week to be greeted with a very large stack of black duo-tang binders and loose papers. I was stunned. As the quote above says, I smelled this book before I ever read it. The smell was familiar – old paper and dust and something else that was my mom.


This stack of material contained a file folder with map drawings of the setting, blue file cards that contained character sketches and a complete outline! Wow!

The total size of the typewritten manuscript is over two-thousand pages! And I thought I was long-winded. I located a bunch of pages that started at page one and began to read. Got to about page thirty-five and realized this was a far different version of the story than I had dipped into last year. I put those pages aside and began searching through a series of red folders. I found the version I was familiar with but it starts at page twenty. That is better than eighty-eight for sure, but still . . . sure wish I had page one.

I read and I read and I read – I made it through all of those binders and loose pages. Sometimes I felt like screaming because my mom was breaking more than a few of those rules that I said (in a post not too long ago) make me want to grab an author and shake him or her or even my own mother. Other times, I couldn’t stop flipping just to find out what might happen next. Still other times I burst out laughing as I turned over a page and found a recipe from lasagna, an old phone number or childish doodling that had to have been done by me or my siblings sitting by mom as she flipped the pages and scribbling on the back of each newly dropped paper.

The novel is stunning. It is brutal, raw, edgy and the main bad-guy character, Sergeant Burt Calder would give the hardened out there a few bad dreams. This is a story I could not have conceived of. But, oh gosh, am I excited at the thought of what I might be able to do with it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought – while reading a self-published novel – I just wish I could change this or that. Well, now I can.

I have to leave it on the drawing board now and move back to finishing the final third of Chasing Down the Night. It won’t be easy because my mind is racing with ideas. But a time of letting those ideas go into a slow simmer will only serve to improve the choices I make later.

Oh yes, and I am spending time with my granddaughters and enjoying life out in civilization for a couple more weeks. Seeing people every day, shopping, going to restaurants, getting my hair done and even scored big at BINGO the other night. Life is good.

Emma & Brit on bikes - Guenette photo

So – here’s a question. I’m curious . . . if you found a manuscript as I have what would you do with it? Would you have the nerve to rewrite, to tamper with the original story? Would you type it up as is? Or would you put it back in the box and leave it for another generation to discover?