What has been hidden in Manhattan by the most powerful people on earth?
What would you do to a Manhattan banker who treated ordinary people like slaves?
What magic is buried under Manhattan that allows it to rise again from anything the world throws at it?
These are the themes of The Manhattan Puzzle. The story sees Sean and Isabel reunited in Manhattan at the headquarters of one of the world’s largest banks. There’s been some grisly murders, and now the plot takes a new twist. The contents of the book they found in Istanbul are revealed.
My personal journey with this story grew out of my disgust at the financial crisis that has brought many so low. I am interested in the myths and the beliefs of those who value money above everything.
Right now I am on my second set of structural edits for The Manhattan Puzzle. I plan to submit these changes, some tightening of the plot here and there, by April the 29th. We are on track for a global release, in English, on October 10th.
But don’t get me wrong. I love Manhattan. It’s a city in a snow globe of dollar bills. So look in your bookstore and on your E-readers and pre-order if you want or just sit tight. You’ll be hearing more about this book.
These are the books on writing that excited me most when I read them, which I still consult when I need advice.
1. Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein. First published in 2005 this is the essential guidebook on how to write for our times. Broken up into sections and covering both fiction and non fiction it contains a mother lode of practical advice on issues from the writer’s job, to the keys to swift characterisation, to adding resonance.
What grabbed me about this book though was the focus on practical advice. Almost every page of my copy has a section underlined and a corner turned. This is the book I turn to again and again. If you can only afford one book on writing make it this one.
2. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maas. First published in 2004 this is the workshop book for Mr Maas’s famous Writing the Breakout Novel book and training modules. Its three sections cover a wide range of topics under the section headings character development, plot development and general story techniques.
I went for the workbook version because I like to fool myself that I’m focused on the practical. The exercises at the end of each chapter made real sense to me too. They made me think about how to apply the excellent writing observations Donald describes so well. My copy of this book is heavily underlined and there are notes sticking out of it. I also return to Donald’s book at critical points in the development of a manuscript. This workbook should definitely be in your library, especially if commercial success is something you aspire to. If you want to write and then starve, you definitely won’t need it.
3. Conflict, Action & Suspense, by William Noble. First published in 1994 this book provides step by step guidance on setting the stage, creating and building suspense and bringing it all to a gripping conclusion.
My copy is poodle eared. For me suspense is one of the most important aspects of any novel. It’s why I keep reading. It’s what keeps me turning those pages. It’s what Michael Connelly does to make me want to buy every book he writes. What Harlan Coben does to make every book he writes go to the top of the bestseller lists. If you want to write suspense well, this is the book for you.
4. A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. First published in 1991 Diane’s book is a grand tour of the realm of the senses. In it she describes the evolution of the kiss, the sadistic cuisine of eighteenth century England, the chemistry of pain and a lot more.
Structured into chapters for each sense, including synthesia (yes, it’s the combining of constituent elements into a single or unified entity), this unusual and thought provoking book is a treasure filled garden for those who are interested in helping readers see what they see and feel what a character feels.
5. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. Subtitled, A writer’s guide to staying out of the rejection pile, Noah’s book covers a lot more than just five pages.
Sensible advice about creating an opening hook, the use of phony adjectives and absolutely incredible adverbs is mixed with sage advice on how not to use metaphors, like stale confetti, and how not to turn melodramatic. The life and death of a writer are contained in these pages. For anyone who wants to avoid having their work head straight for the great landfill in the sky this is an excellent book.
6. Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, by Jessica Page Morrell. First published in 2008 Jessica’s book is dedicated to those who want to get to know a character’s sinister side.
For me, there is something endlessly fascinating about the dark side. You could ask my psychiatrist what that means, if I had a psychiatrist. But actually it’s simple. Great stories need great conflict. And great conflict often comes from situations where some of the characters insist on being bullies or bastards or bitches. If you want to understand the differences between unlikable protagonists, anti-heroes, dark heroes and bad boys read Jessica’s wonderful book. It may open up a whole new dimension for you.
7. The 3rd Act, by Drew Yanno. Drew’s book helped me understand how to build a good ending. It’s mainly aimed at script writers and it features lots of references to many of the best movies of all time. But I don’t think that makes it any less relevant to fiction writers.
There are so few books about how to construct a good ending this one deserves a place on your shelf not only for that reason, but also because it makes planning the build up, the final battle and the denoument so much more pleasurable when you understand how the masters do it. The check list at the end of the book is worth the price of admission alone.
I don’t suggest slavishly following the rules in any of these books, but to know the rules is useful, particularly if you’d like to bend them, and then break them, with your fist in the air and your hair flying out behind you. I hope you enjoyed the list.
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Some things are off limits, even for the most challenged of us. Here is my list of the 7 things I shouldn’t ever be caught trying to tell you about in 2013:
1. A multi level marketing program. Sure, it sounds great to get a kick back every time someone clicks through to that How-to-Make-Your-Fortune-Without-Any-Effort site, but if the system worked so well, why would the sponsors need us to pay to join up?
2. Details about those amazing new photos I took of myself. If you wanted celebrity pics you wouldn’t be here, right?
3. Info on the clothes I just bought. They may fit snugly, but surely only my mother could care.
4. How I can AT LAST make money from Real Estate or FOREX trading. We all got suckered real good the last time, and the few people who didn’t get suckered are too smart to look on Twitter or a blog for investment advice. Only the truly innocent would fall for these.
5. An aphorism, spoonerism, myth or motto. Unless it was created by me, has been tested on my nearest and dearest, and has not made any of them laugh, in disgust.
6. Best wishes to enjoy our lives. My heart is in the right place, but there’s a lack of creativity in this. This is the one I fall down on!
7. Posts about anything negative. If I get the urge to do such a post I go to a dark room and lie down. After 15 minutes all such thoughts have gone and I’ll be thinking about a light snack and where the nearest toilets are.
This is the final post in this series, created as a lead in the launch of The Jerusalem Puzzle ebook on Monday Dec 3rd. We have had:
and now this final post in the series.
Foreshadowing, for me, comes in two forms. The first is the simple, “something different was about to happen” phrase inserted in the text, which makes the reader wonder what is about to happen. I recommend doing this only very occasionally.
I think I use this explicit form of foreshadowing only twice in The Jerusalem Puzzle. The reason you can’t use it very often is that readers get tired of such things very easily. Explicit foreshadowing loses its appeal very quickly.
The second type of foreshadowing is a general foreshadowing brought about by the plot. For instance, if the main character is going to Jerusalem to investigate the disappearance of someone he knows, then the reader will naturally anticipate what will happen next. This subtle foreshadowing is useful because it uses the reader’s imagination. It’s not just plot driven novels that use subtle foreshadowing, literary novels use it too. When any change or event is anticipated in the text you are using foreshadowing.
Inspiring anticipation is a critical aspect of writing compelling fiction in my opinion. Anticipation is, for me, one of the greatest pleasures of being alive. Looking forward to Christmas, a holiday, a big game, a night out, a family event, an election, are what keeps many of us going through the hum drum nature of everyday life. If you can inspire anticipation in your writing, by hinting at what is to come, you will have cracked a powerful technique to make people read on. And I use make deliberately.
I hope you have enjoyed this series. If you would like to order The Jerusalem Puzzle please click one of the links to the right. Next week I will post about the secrets revealed in The Jerusalem Puzzle. Thanks for coming here.
I attended the Irish Book Awards last night. Tana won in my category, and I had an amazing night.
The senior people from Harper Collins were so encouraging all the way through. And I met one of my idols, the venerable Edna O’Brien. Here is a pic from my view point at the Harper Collins table. The winner of the children’s book award, Oliver Jeffers, is on the far side of the table to me.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone who voted for me and everyone who has bought my books, and all my publishers around the world and all my readers everywhere for helping me get this far.
With your help I am doing what I have always wanted to do, tell stories. That is what is important to me.
The next big thing on this site is the launch of the ebook for The Jerusalem Puzzle on December the 3rd. I will also be creating some new blog posts. I hope you will find them interesting.
I am just so happy to be read all over the world now in so many languages. Thank you all for your help and support.
The excitement is mounting in the run up to the Irish Book Awards on Thursday night. I will post the result as soon as I can.
I don’t expect to win the Crime category for The Istanbul Puzzle. But we will enjoy the gala dinner with dinner suits, black tie and long dresses and authors glaring at each other and others getting drunk!
In other news The Jerusalem Puzzle has broken though the 1,000 rank barrier on Amazon.co.uk, which means preorders are going well.
If you haven’t ordered your ebook for Dec 3 yet here are the links. ,amazon.co.uk first then amazon.com then iTunes.
I am sure it will be out at the same time on Nook, Kobo and other ebook service:
wish me luck for Thurs night and thank you to all who voted for The Istanbul Puzzle!
Before I start. I have been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards, Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award 2012 for The Istanbul Puzzle. You can vote from anywhere in the world here. The Istanbul Puzzle is half way down. Please vote for whatever novels you liked or just the crime novel you liked. Vote however you wish. Voting closes midnight GMT on the 18th November. I promise not to ask again.
* I will tell you a little-known secret about why people read on. The secret concerns the way our brains operate. It will help you pull your readers forward through your story. As a writer, it is vitally important that you know this.
* The second secret is . . . wait, there’s someone at the door. I hope it’s not that guy who was waving a gun at me when I cut in front of him a few minutes ago. He looked like one mean mother. Wait . . . what the!
* The third secret of creating a sense of mystery is . . . hold on, I could finish this, but I think there are three people outside now. And one of them is around the back. And there’s another one upstairs! What the hell is that buzzing noise? Is that a chainsaw? Maybe two!
* The fourth secret of mystery is easy to guess. It goes back a long way. You know, I was always afraid of one thing. When I was a child it wasn’t men in masks that worried me. It was something more ancient, more hard wired inside me, more evil. Something I couldn’t escape. Do you know what it is?
* If you want to know the fifth mystery you will have to wait until the next time we get back to this subject.
To summarise, the five techniques for creating a sense of mystery in your writing, as used above, are:
* Foreshadowing and keeping people waiting for an answer.
* Putting your character in danger.
* Increasing the danger.
* Shifting the fear to something different, something older or more personal
* The cliff hanger.
These techniques must not be over-used, but if you use them well, in a new and unique way, you will drive your readers to read on. And that’s what we want, isn’t it, for readers to read our stories?
I wonder would you mind telling us, through a comment below, which other mystery techniques writers use, as this list isn’t intended to be complete, just a good starting point for a conversation?
And please sign up for updates above right, as I will be giving away Advanced Reader Copies of The Jerusalem Puzzle in December. And I will be able to tell you what to do to win one, if you sign up. And thank you for reading this. If you want to order The Jerusalem Puzzle or The Istanbul Puzzle there are links to the right.
This is the third in a series of four posts in the run up to the launch of The Jerusalem Puzzle on ebook December 3rd and in paperback in many countries January 3rd.
I have been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards, Ireland AM Crime Fiction Award 2012 for The Istanbul Puzzle.
You can vote from anywhere in the world here. The Istanbul Puzzle is half way down, if you scroll down to it. You must leave your email address and you can only vote once.
Please vote for whatever novels you liked or just the crime novel you liked. I will have no way of knowing who you voted for.
It’s a bit strange a public vote for books, but I am sure that voting takes place behind closed doors for all other book awards, so who am I to argue against the choice of the public?
The voting closes November the 18th, so you only have a few days. Do please vote now here.
Thank you, if you do vote for me, and thank you if you vote for some other novel instead. Your opinion is important and no one should tell you what way to vote.
It’s in your hands.
“I opened the door. The woman standing outside in the rain had a small black gun in her hand. It gleamed. She smiled, then put the gun to her forehead. I put my hand out to grab it.” (1)
This is an action opening to a short story. I know not everyone likes a story to start with action, but many people do. The action mightn’t be about a gun though, It could be about something else:
“I opened the door. The woman standing outside in the rain had an envelope in her hand. It was wet. She smiled, held the envelope out. I put my hand out to grab it.” (2)
This opening has almost as much impact as the gun opening in my opinion, but the impact is psychological now. Let’s try another way to get action into an opening:
“I opened the door. The woman standing outside in the rain was dripping from every extremity. She smiled. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said. I had no idea who she was.” (3)
This third opening isn’t about giving something physical, but it is about a possible moment of real change in someone’s life. What about a fourth type of action:
“I opened the door. The woman standing outside in the rain was naked. Her eyes were wide. Her hands covered herself. “Please, I need to hide,” she said. Her voice quivered as she spoke.” (4)
This one had an emotional impact, I hope. What about this final one:
“I opened the door. The woman standing there laughed. The rain bounced off her. ‘If you abuse another female character in a story, I’m going to come and get you,” she said” (5)
This is more of an experimental meta-fictional type opening.
I wonder would you mind picking which opening you prefer?
If you leave a brief comment below and come back late December, to give plenty of time for some responses, or simply sign up for updates above right, the most popular opening will have a short story created around it.
Please also comment below on using action as an opening technique.
This is the second in a series of four posts in the run up to the launch of The Jerusalem Puzzle on ebook December 3rd and in paperback in many countries January 3rd.