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Writing Backstories – Guest Post & Book Giveaway!

Writing Backstories

By Karen Wojcik Berner

Thank you so much, Mary Jo, for inviting me to guest blog today. I am very excited to be here.

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

Talking Heads. “Once in a Lifetime.” Remain in Light. Sire Records, 1980. Vinyl.

This song pops into my head all the time. Not only were the Talking Heads one of my favorite bands back in the day, but it also helps put me into the proper writing mode to create a character’s backstory, which happens to be every time I begin writing a Bibliophiles novel.

Most series focus on the adventures of one main character. I decided to switch things up a bit. Each novel in my series spotlights one or two members of a classics book club and tells the story of their lives up to joining. The book club storyline is furthered throughout the series.

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For example, A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) is about Sarah, an overwhelmed, stay-at-home mom, and Annie, a P.R. executive dealing with fertility issues. My next book, due out in spring 2012, follows Bibliophile Catherine Elbert as she bounces from coast to coast in search of her true self.

Backstories are a big part of all fiction, don’t you think?

I start with the standard journalism questions: who, what, why, where, when and how. I can’t help myself. I was a magazine editor for ten years and a newspaper freelancer before that.

Who is this person? How old? Where does he or she come from? What kind of family? House or apartment? Rural, city or suburb? What school? What does she look like? What kind of family life did he have growing up?

Relationships, or lack thereof, with siblings or parents. Goals and dreams. Clothes? Music? Cars? Drinks? Favorite food? All these things help create well-rounded characters. As you make your choices, be careful not to make your new character a stereotype. Mix in some seemingly conflicting traits to shake things up a bit.

The main question I think backstories should answer is how did this person get to this point? What are the ramifications of the past upon the present?

Also, don’t forget to include the things that just spill out while you are writing. Most of the time, these can be the best details, even though they might change your previously conceptualized notions about your character.

That’s okay. It’s your world. You can alter it however you please.

Don’t you wish life had that option? I know I do.

About the Author:

Karen Wojcik Berner lives a provincial life tucked away with her family in
the Chicago suburbs. If it was good enough for Jane Austen, right?
However, dear Miss Austen had the good fortune of being born amid the
glorious English countryside, something Karen unabashedly covets, so much
so that she majored in English and communications at Dominican University.

Like the magnificent Miss Austen, Karen could not help but write about the

Society that surrounds her.

A booklover since she could hold one in her chubby little toddler hands, Karen

wanted to announce to the world just how much she loves the written word.

She considered getting a bibliophile tattoo but instead decided to write about

the lives of the members of a suburban Classics Book Club. The series is called,

of course, The Bibliophiles.”) When she isn’t reading, writing, or spending her
time wishing she was Jane Austen, Karen spends her time can be found sipping

tea or wine, whichever is more appropriate that day, and watching Tim Burton

movies or “Chopped,” her favorite foodie TV show.

Just Thought You Should Know:   A Whisper to a Scream is Book One of a series called The Bibliophiles. The second book in the series will be released in February 2012. Stay tuned!

Author’s Websites:                                                  
Karen Berner’s website:  http://www.karenberner.com/index.html

Leave a comment or a question and Random.org may select You as a winner!

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Filed under Advice, books, Fiction, Give Aways, writers

Author Guest Post & Book Giveaway: THE QUICK AND THE THREAD

Today’s guest author, Amanda Lee (AKA Gayle Trent) shares how she creates fictional towns with realistic geographic facts without ever leaving her desk! Scroll down to read more about Amanda and today’s book giveaway! (Leave a comment or question on today’s post -Aug 3 and Come back tomorrow to see if you’ve won!)

“How to Get to Tallulah Falls”

Tallulah Falls is the name of the fictional town which provides the setting for The Quick and the Thread. Since my editor wanted the story set in this fictional town on the Oregon coast, and since this was my first job with a “big six publisher,” I readily agreed. But how does a writer from Southwest Virginia find her way to Tallulah Falls, Oregon?

A visit to the Oregon coast was out of the question. I had neither the money nor the time to travel across the country to soak up local color. My first step, therefore, was to search the Oregon coast online. Naturally, my search turned up a lot of tourist-related sites. I requested information from several of them, and soon my mailbox and e-mail in-box was overflowing with Oregon coast travel information. I received brochures and catalogs with beautiful glossy photos. The photos helped me get a feel for the environment. The maps included in the tourist information provided valuable details such as interstate routes, most common types of restaurants and annual activities.

I mention whale watching in The Quick and the Thread. Through the tourist catalogs I received, I learned that whale watching is a favorite winter activity for Oregon coast tourists and residents alike. I thought maybe seeing some whale watching footage might give me more perspective on the activity than merely reading about it, so I did a YouTube search. To my surprise, a search for “whale watching on the Oregon coast” actually yielded results. There weren’t many, but there were enough for me to get a better sense of the excitement of whale watching.

Since travel brochures failed to provide me with an understanding of actually living on the Oregon coast, I searched for online newspapers of towns whose names I’d gleaned from the brochures. I checked out newspapers from Depoe Bay, Lincoln City and Yachats. One of the newspapers offered a six-month online subscription, and I subscribed. I printed out articles of interest and filed them in a large file box. I also checked out the real estate listings and advertisements. After all, I needed to know what type of house Marcy would realistically buy, what types of community events she might want to take part in and what shops would compete with The Seven-Year Stitch.

I finally became enamored of the charming seaside town of Tallulah Falls. If you pay us a visit, I think you might like it, too.

About Today’s Guest Author:

Amanda Lee is the lady next to you in the grocery line or car pool. She has twins: one boy and one girl, she’s a baseball fan, she likes to decorate cakes, she rocks at Guitar Hero…oh, and she likes to think about murder. But it’s okay! She only writes about murder–a lot.

Amanda Lee is also Gayle Trent, author of the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating series that includes Dead Pan and Murder Takes the Cake.

Gayle is also a contributor to WOW! Women On Writing. Her most recent article is Avoiding Plotholes, featured in this month’s Fiction Writer’s Toolkit issue. If you missed it, be sure to check it out! It provides fantastic tips for fiction writers.

Amanda Lee (AKA Gayle Trent)

Author’s Websites:


Website: http://www.gayletrent.com

Blog: http://www.gayletrent.com/blog/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/gayletrent

About the book you can WIN!!

The first in a new mystery series that will have readers stitching–and itching–for more…

Marcy Singer has big plans: a move to the breathtaking Oregon coast, opening an embroidery shop called The Seven Year Stitch, and a fun grand opening stitch-in. What she doesn’t plan on is the shop’s old owner showing up–DEAD–in her shop. Some people think Marcy killed him. Some people think she’s the next victim. All Marcy knows is someone has to uncover the murderer before she’s forced to flip the sign on her shop door to CLOSED permanently. And it looks like that someone might be Marcy.

Note: The Quick and the Thread hasn’t even been released yet and it’s already been named a Romantic Times Top Pick with a 4 1/2 stars excellent rating!!

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