What’s the Deal with Back Story?

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, AneMulligan-PR.headshot copy Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction. She is President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, and firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane is giving away a copy of her book to someone who leaves a comment.

 What’s the Deal with Back Story?

Contrary to popular belief, backstory is a good thing. Now, before y’all call for a lynching party, let me tell you what it’s good for and what it’s not good for. After all, backstory helps you, the author know your character. What makes her tick? What formed her worldview? Why does he dislike women who have a good business head?

 Let’s get the “not” out of the way first. The reader does not need to know the backstory of your characters to understand the plot—at least not in the beginning. A bit of mystery about the character is a good thing. It draws the reader onward to find out why this otherwise nice guy is so antagonistic to the heroine.

 I always tell new writers to think of it this way. You’re attending a party, and your host introduces you to a new neighbor. You start off the conversation by telling her your life history, and the new neighbor will be in jeopardy of whiplash, looking for the host—or anyone for that matter—to rescue her.

 Readers who are bombarded with backstory in the first few chapters of a novel with either skip over it or close the book for good. Either way, putting it in wasted your time.

 Now, let’s look at what backstory is good for and how to discover it. First, I conduct a character interview (CI). Think of that as a journalist interviewing a subject for an article. In my CI, I dig and prod for the character’s secrets and for his or her fears. What happened in their childhood that had a major effect of them?

 After I’ve completed the CI, I write a stream of consciousness (SOC) backstory. This is where I go back two or more generations. People are the product of their ancestors’ worldview. For example, let’s say your great grandparents lived through the Great Depression. They probably could get more for a quarter than anyone you know. They taught your grandparents, who taught your parents. But did your parents continue that trait or did they, because of their more affluent status, break away from it?

 It’s within the SOC backstory where I discover so much about my character. Besides their worldview, I learn the lie they believe about themselves, and that lie will color their motivation, and that motivation will drive their plotline.

 Your characters will either fall victim to their lie or they will try to prove it wrong. Remember, the key is: Lie drives motivation drives plotline.

 Much of what I learn never makes it into the manuscript, but it makes the characters come alive. They’re three-dimensional and when they are real to you, the author, they become real to the reader.

 One of my beta readers said after reading Chapel Springs Revival, “I love the people. I want to find out more about their lives.”

 And that’s the goal for backstory.

 Mulligan - CSR COVER copy With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.

 Everybody in the small town of Chapel Springs, Georgia, knows best friends Claire and Patsy. It’s impossible not to, what with Claire’s zany antics and Patsy’s self-appointed mission to keep her friend out of trouble. And trouble abounds. Chapel Springs has grown dilapidated and the tourist trade has slackened. With their livelihoods threatened, they join forces to revitalize the town. No one could have guessed the real issue needing restoration is personal.

 With their marriages in as much disarray as the town, Claire and Patsy embark on a mission of mishaps and miscommunication, determined to restore warmth to Chapel Springs —and their lives. That is if they can convince their husbands and the town council, led by two curmudgeons who would prefer to see Chapel Springs left in the fifties and closed to traffic.


JIM:  Ane is giving away a copy of her book to someone who leaves a comment.  It can be either paperback or  e-pub if the winner lives in the U.S., or e-pub if outside the U.S., so leave her a comment.  Thanks.

You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.


From the Middle of a Forest – Linda Yezak

Today, we’re interviewing Linda Yezak, who lives yezakin a forest in east Texas and writes uplifting books about second chances, love, forgiveness, and new beginnings.

 Jim:  Linda, you’ve written books with other authors.  Tell us about that experience.

 Linda:  I’ve done that twice and both experiences were different. Terry Burns invited me to include my thoughts for Writing in Obedience, but he already had a contract with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. I started working like mad in December, 2013, and the book came out in February, 2014. So far as I know, that’s a record!

 I wrote the conspiracy thriller The Simulacrum with New Hampshire author, Brad Seggie. He had a great idea for a Dan Brownesque thriller and did some in-depth research. He worked out the general outline, and gave me carte blanche while writing the story.

 In both cases, there was a lot of give and take going on and ideas being tossed around. Writing with a partner can be tons of fun, but there are times when we disagree on things. The secret is not to take these spats personally and to consider the other’s comments carefully. Mutual respect is important when picking a writer to partner with.

 Jim:  Your novel, The Cat Lady’s Secret sounds delightful.  Tell us about it.

yezak-cat lady Linda:  I love this one, because I love to play with eccentric personalities, and Millie is as eccentric as they come. She dresses in bold colors and seeks feral felines throughout the town of Dogwood, Texas. While she’s hunting, she hears of people’s needs and wants, and arranges for these to be fulfilled. But who is the real source of these blessings? A journalist wants to know. Is her secret a deal-breaker? This novel is about love, forgiveness, and second-chances.

 Jim:  You have said you live in the middle of a forest in east Texas.  Describe the area where you live and how you happened to move into the middle of a forest.

 Linda:  Around 20 years ago, Billy’s company closed down their plant in our hometown of Bryan, and gave us the choices of Iowa, South Carolina, or Nacogdoches, Texas to move to. Since all our family is in Texas, we couldn’t bear to move out-of-state. Nacogdoches is a beautiful town, located in the wooded east Texas hills, and we wanted a home that reflected its charm. The small forest here, the pond, all the wildlife– when we found this house, we knew it was perfect.

 I got so homesick that first winter in the new house. Billy had gone to work and I was totally alone. I grabbed a box of tissues and sat in front of our patio windows overlooking the pond. It was overcast that day, and everything was gray and gloomy. But just as I settled in for a good long cry, the sky sliced open and a ray of sunshine peeked through. It caused the ripples on the water to dance with brilliant diamonds, and I was so dazzled, I didn’t feel like crying anymore. God put on a wonderful show that day, just for me.

 Jim:  And tell us about your writing space.  Does it look out on the forest?  Is it perfectly quiet?  And when do you write?

 Linda:  I replaced the love seat facing the patio windows with an antique drop-leaf table I’d refinished and work there. The pond, the trees, and birds and squirrels and the occasional deer are all in full view and often draw me away from my work just to watch life go on outside my windows. It’s amazing I get anything done. The windows are to my right, and the fireplace is to my left, which can also distract me on cold days with its colorful blaze and soft crackling. 

 My work hours are two to five, though anytime I’m alone, I work. I prefer the quiet, but sometimes I have the TV or music playing quietly in the background.

 Jim:  Simulacrum seems to be very different from your other work.  Tells us about it and how you came to write it.

 Linda:  The Simulacrum is the conspiracy thriller I wrote with Brad Syezak-simulacrumeggie. He advertised for a critique partner on the ACFW site a long time ago, and I answered the call. I love his ideas, and he loves my writing style, so we made a great team.

 We wrote the novel in the style of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, but instead of tweaking the noses of Christians, we tweak the noses of avid evolutionists. Brad thought it would be best to present the arguments to characters who weren’t Christian and predisposed to believe in Intelligent Design in hopes of reaching others with the truth about Creation and the extent to which evolutionists will go to protect their “science.” Wrapped around all the scientific argument and evidence is a fast-paced action/adventure/thriller that we’re both proud of.

 Jim:  What is your WIP?  Can you tell us about it and when we might expect to see it?

Linda:  Right now, I’m writing the sequel to Give the Lady a Ride. That novel was published by Port Yonder Press in 2011, but released by the publisher in 2014. I put it back out myself and was amazed at the difference in royalties I received when I had no middlemen to pay. Although I still intend to pursue the traditional route, I also want to keep the cast of Ride alive, so I’m continuing the story and self-publishing it. 

  Jim:  Any advice to yet-to-be published writers?

 Linda:  Keep plugging. The wheels in this business turn slowly–painfully so, particularly if you’re walking the traditional route. Keep writing, keep studying the craft and striving to improve, and try to be patient. 

Jim:  Thanks for visiting with us today, Linda, and for sharing a little of your life.  Readers, you can find more about Linda’s books by visiting :http://amzn.to/1qlDM9I

And it will take only a second to click on the “Like” button, and/or the “Tweet” button just below.  Thanks for visiting.



It’s 1984, Modernized

Quick, now. How many great inventions can you name that get turned into something most undesirable?

That many? That’s more than I thought of.

 What brought this to mind was a piece I read on the Internet thatred_cell_phone said, as part of its promotion,  just type in a cell phone number and they would tell you its location.  Interesting.  But, they weren’t suggesting that you had misplaced it and they will tell you it’is on the table beside your bed.  No, they were saying if you typed in, say, my cell phone number, they would tell you where in the world I was at the moment.

 That could be very helpful—under certain circumstances.

 Another company advertised that for less than $200, you could have an app that would monitor a mobile phone’s text messages, call logs, emails sent and received, and the location of the phone.

 A parent can know where her children are.  Or who is contacting them.

 But, can you envision that being misused.  I can without a moment’s hesitation.

 There are now apps (everything is an app today) that can capture computer, smart phone and tablet activity and put it into a file on the Internet that you can access from your smart phone or tablet.  They didn’t mean backing up your info.  You would be capturing someone else’s data.

 Again, I can see some good uses for this app.  But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a lawyer, to see the incredible number of abuses for this app.

 Some companies that make surveillance equipment are already selling governmentseye_pyramid_mason_236225 the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cell phone as they traveled around the world.  And we’ve all heard the controversy that arose over the NSA capturing the cell call activity of almost everyone in the U.S., although they said it was only the numbers called and the length of the calls, not the actual conversation.

 One company offered “remote monitoring,” up and running in ten minutes, and pay-as-you-go, no contract.  It didn’t sound like a baby monitoring system.

 I read another article recently that said big department stores would soon be able to track which isles you traveled and how much time you spent in a particular area, and even send you a text message suggesting some additional purchases, based on what you were looking at.

 Personally, that’s help I do not want.                               1984

 In 1984, Big Brother was watching you. But it’s now 2014, and we’ve advanced in those 30 years.  Now, anybody can track you and see what you text.  I may ditch my cell phone. 


I’d like to hear your comments on this “break-through. Or other great ideas that turn sour.  Jim Callan


What a Synopsis Is – and Is NOT


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Book Publishing Continues to Change

Cleansed_by_Fire_cover blog 3
Last month, one of my mysteries,
Cleansed by Fire, was released as an audio book.  Oh, it had been released as a paperback book and then later as an e-pub.  But there was still a bit of excitement when it came out in audio.  Maybe it was because the narrator (Jonathan Mumm, an Emmy Award Winning TV journalist) seemed to capture the characters as I had heard them as I was writing the book.  Maybe it was a hope to make additional royalties on the same book.

 But, I think it’s more than that. A writer wants, most of all, to have his or her work read and enjoyed. I really like the book and this gives the book yet another avenue to reach readers, or listeners in this case.

 I had an earlier book of mine turned into an Audio book.  While it sold well, reaching number seven on the publishers list, the process was rather impersonal.  I had no say in who narrated it.  I had no say in what the cover looked like.  I had no say – in anything.

 That was not the approach at Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX.  As the name implies, it is an exchange that brings together the rights holders of books and producers/narrators. It is part of Audible.com which is a subsidiary of Amazon.  

If you own the rights to a book, ACX will post information about the book and a short selection from the book (something that can be read aloud in less than five minutes). Prospective narrators can then submit their rendition of that short piece, giving you, the rights holder, a chance to hear how they sound reading your work, interpreting your characters.

 Please note, I am saying “rights holder,” not author.  If you have assigned the audio rights to a publisher, ACX cannot deal with you, even though you are the author.

 Having someone narrate a full length novel can be an expensive process.  What do I mean by that?  Of course, it depends on the length of your book.  It might cost $350 to $450 per finished hour of the book.  So, a 75,000 word book could cost between $2800 and $3600 for the narrator.  Keep in mind that the narrator and producer (could be the same person) will spend a number of hours to produce one hour of the finished product.

 ACX offers another path. You can offer to split the royalties with the narrator, 50-50. If ACX pays 40% royalty, then you would get 20% and the narrator would get 20%.  It’s a gamble for you and for the narrator.  Still, it offers the writer (rights holder) an opportunity to broaden her reach with no outlay of money.

 Of course, you may not find a qualified narrator who will go to the work of producing a quality recording (ACX demands high quality) unless you do a good job of selling your book.  This is much the same way you have to entice an editor or agent to work on your book for no guarantee of a return. 

 ACX does offer yet another possibility for you.  You can narrate the book yourself.  ACX does require a high quality finished recording and can return your effort with instructions of how to improve it. Their site even offers advice on how to set up a home recording studio. 

 ACX is trying to help authors get their book into audio. Once the product is released, ACX will make it available through Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.

 The point here is, in today’s changing publishing world, you have more choices than ever before. One of them is a different route to an audio book.  If you have a book on Amazon and you hold the audio rights, it is worth your time to investigate ACX and what they have to offer.  Go to www.acx.com and check out how they work to bring your audio book to the marketplace. I did and I’m glad I did.  Take a look at:  http://bit.ly/1zsb0I0  Mumm, the narrator, also produced a great trailer for the book.  You can see it here.

Leave a comment on your thoughts about audio books.  And ask for a code for a free download of the audio book Cleansed by Fire.




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The Six Most Difficult Things for a Novelist to Do


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Searching Her Ancestors Led to Historical Novels


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