Monday, August 9, 2010

VBT # Jacqui Murray

Short Bio:
I was born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, another in Russian and an MBA, I spent twenty years in a variety of industries while raising two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. Now, I live with my husband, adult son and two beautiful Labradors and I write. I write how-books, five blogs on everything from the USNA to tech to science, and a column for the Examiner on tech tips.



Book Review:
Computer Workbooks for Grades K-5 and Computer Toolkits for Homeschoolers:
I geared these books for parents with nominal computer skills, homeschoolers and lab specialists. They outline the method I use in my classes that gets kids from the most basics of computer skills in kindergarten to Photoshop by fifth grade. It is now being used in school districts all over the country.

Building a Midshipman: How to Conquer the USNA Application.
There are lots of how-to books on getting into the Naval Academy, but they’re quite dry and impersonal. Mine is from the perspective of a woman who did it (my daughter!) and how she accomplished such a lofty goal. It’s very down-to earth and should give confidence to any teen, male or female, considering a military academy as their college of choice.

To Hunt a Sub …tells the story of a brilliant PhD candidate named Kali Delamagente, a cynical ex-SEAL named Zeke Rowe (Zero to his friends) and a quirky bot named Otto (and his equally-quirky human handler) who team up to stop criminals from stealing America's most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. It has been called "a highly readable techno-thriller that would appeal to the same audience that enjoys Tom Clancy" and received the Outstanding Fiction award at the So. California Writer’s Conference. You can read Kali's blog, The Sizzle of Science, which is inspired by Kali’s love of the amazing natural side of our world and is visited by over 800 unique visitors monthly.

Anyone interested in my books, here is where you can find them:
My six technology workbooks are available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on Scribd.com.
My two computer lab toolkits are available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on Scribd.com.
Building a Midshipman is available on Amazon.com and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on Scribd.com.
If you’re interested in To Hunt a Cruiser, leave a comment on my WordDreams blog and I’ll let you know when it’s out.
My Building a Midshipman site is USNA or Bust.
My Computer Lab Toolkit and Technology Workbooks site is Ask a Tech Teacher
 My writing tips blog is WordDreams
 I also write a column for Examiner.com. I invite everyone to read that, add comments, follow me!
Oh—my Twitter handle is @askatechteacher

Blog post:
If your story sounds stilted or scripted, the believability of your characters might be the problem. Readers get to know them through your words, how they participate in the plot, and their introspective comments. Readers don’t like when the protagonist or antagonist or any of the individuals they’ve spent hours getting to know and love act, well, out of character.
Get to know your characters–intimately–before you cast them. Know their favorite colors, movies, songs. Know their morals, educational background, weaknesses and strengths. Know them as though they were your child, or your best friend.
I’d suggest writing a profile. Not just a few paragraphs, but pages. Once you’ve completed that (see below), throw the character into situations and see if you can predict how they would act. If you know them well enough, you’ll find you can keep all of their thoughts, reactions, and movements, in character.
In my case, I write a prequel to my story so I can flesh out the characters, their actions, thoughts, feelings. It’s not for publication (well, maybe as a prequel after people have met the characters in a later time frame. I’m still pondering that.), but it makes me comfortable that even the surprises in my novel are in character.
I’m a little crazy about getting them right. You might be able to do it in a shorter amount of effort. You can get lists of background questions from the books in this blog’s sidebar. Here are traits I use to flesh out my characters:
  1. · What is their ruling passion–what makes them tick?
  2. · How old are they?
  3. · Describe them physically including abnormalities, allergies, scars, deformities, posture, bearing.
  4. · Describe them psychologically, including their fears, manias, inhibitions, patterns of behavior, special abilities, soundness of reasoning, habits. Are they irritable? Are they sensible? What are their longings, aptitudes, special talents?
  5. · What are their emotional firestorms like ambition, love, hate, greed, vengefulness, lust, envy, malice?
  6.  What is their purpose in the story?
  7.  What is their position in the story–antagonist, protagonist, confidante?
  8.  What are their speech patterns?
  9.  How does their voice sound? Breathy? Gravelly? Mellow?
  10.  Do they have nervous ticks, gestures, mannerisms (everyone does–what are theirs? Do they tug on an ear?)· Take the time to go through their typical day–work, jog, visit the health club, drink coffee at Starbucks. Then when they do something out of this routine, you can explain it.
  11. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  12.  What is their work life like?
  13. Enough? You’ll know when you write the character into a scene. Is there any time that you aren’t sure how your character should behave? If there is, add more detail to your biography.
  14. Do you have any other questions you ask of your character? I’d like to learn from your experience.

Interview Questions;

1) Tell us about your book?
 Building a Midshipman: How to Conquer the USNA Application. There are lots of how-to books on getting in the Naval Academy, but they’re quite dry and impersonal. Mine is from the perspective of a woman who did it (my daughter!) and how she accomplished such a lofty goal. It’s very down-to earth and should give confidence to any teen, male or female, considering a military academy as their college of choice.

My Computer Workbooks for grades K-5 and the Computer Lab Toolkits are geared for parents with nominal computer skills, homeschoolers and lab specialists. They outline the method I use in my classes that get kids from the most basic of computer skills in kindergarten to Photoshop by fifth grade. It’s a curriculum I developed over the years and I’m not surprised it works. It is now being used in school districts all over the country.

2) What were some of your favorite books as a child?

Anything science fiction. I read everything I could get my hands on from the library.


3) What gives you the innovation to write a particular genre?


I love researching so I write what I call ‘scientific fiction’. I research fascinating scientific principles and put them into fiction so everyone will enjoy them with me. Any non-fiction is exciting when you couch it with the principles of storytelling—characterization, plotting, climax, story arc.


4) Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family?


My first book, Building a Midshipman, is my daughter’s story of applying for and being accepted into the Naval Academy. Now she’s graduated from the USNA and serves on the USS Bunker Hill, which happens to be the most modern cruiser in the Navy thanks to its upgraded AEGIS systems. It’s an interesting fact that America has had no Naval battles since WWII so these wonderful offensive/defensive systems have never been tested under fire. That’s the kernel of my current techno-thriller, To Hunt a Cruiser, which is a foray into a 21st century Naval sea battle.

 Before I wrote this story, I discussed it with my daughter because it would require much collaboration on her part as well as the crew of her ship. Everyone on the USS Bunker Hill from the Captain to the XO to the enlisted engineers—and everyone in between--has gone out of their way to answer my questions, explain complicated systems (such as the degaussing coils and the AEGIS systems) to my layman’s level of understanding. I am very excited about how it’s all coming out.


5) Did you experience writers block? If so, what did you do to get rid of it?


I’m happy to say, I never do. I have more to write about than time to write. I’ll die before I finish!

6) What is your favourite scene in your book?


My favorite scene in the book I’m currently writing, To Hunt a Cruiser, is a modern-day sea battle between the USS Bunker Hill and the air force of North Korea. I get to use all of the Bunker Hill’s state-of-the-art defensive weapons, as well as a few offensive ones when they’re attacked by an old Romeo-class sub. Fun to write and exciting—I hope—to read.


7) Had you previously written anything?


Most of what I’ve written to date is non-fiction. I’m a K-5 technology teacher, so I wrote tech workbooks for kindergarten through fifth grade and then I wrote a two-book series for homeschoolers on how to teach technology to their kids and when to introduce each skill. It uses a pedagogy I’ve refined in my own classroom and is now used all over the nation.


8) How long does it take you to write a book?



A couple of years. Mostly because I can’t work on it full time. I spend 3-4 hours a day after I come home from teaching. It’s only over the summer I can really dig in and do 12-14 hour days. For example, this summer, I’ve almost finished my next book!


9) Which comes first for you - characters or plot?


 I’m writing sequels now so my characters are well-developed. Therefore, it’s the plot that inspires me to write the next in the series.


 10) What are you reading now?


 I tend to read in my genre—action/thrillers. Right now, I’m reading all the works of Robert Parker. He created the Spenser detective that was turned into a TV series. He has tightly drawn plots, a snappy sense of humor and nonstop action. Lots of fun to read.

11) What advice would you give aspiring authors?

 Decide why you’re writing. If it’s for yourself, do it as a hobby. Don’t worry about anything else. If you want to be published, read everything you can find on writing, what publishers want to read, how to write a publishable novel (see the sidebar in my blog WordDreams for a list of suggested books). The two concepts are very different. It’s the rare person who writes from their soul, with no thought to satisfying the morays and protocols of the publishing industry, and makes it. A reminder, though: Just because you write to be published doesn’t mean you have to sell your soul. The two work well together if you pay attention to your goal.
When you read your story, is it underwhelming? Are you bored and you're the


author? In the



writers tipsexcitement of getting your story on paper, developing your

characters and moving through the plot, have you missed whatever it is that

makes a story worth reading.



I know what the problem is: It's the basics.



You've forgotten the nuts and bolts. Here are ten of them, each designed to

address the most fixable parts of your story. Once you've edited with these

in mind, re-read your story. You'll find a huge difference. If you don't,

and only if you don't, read the last paragraph:



1. The story is too passive. Check for how often you use a derivation of

the verb, to be. That would include was, is, were, etc. Limit them to five

per page. They take the umph out of your story. Choose a more active verb.

Sometimes it's as simple as switching She was thinking to She thought.

Sometimes it takes more time. Doesn't matter if it takes a while. It'll fix

your story



2. More dialogue. Less narrative. Dialogue is active. Narrative is

passive. Dialogue pulls the reader into the action. Narrative lets them sit

outside where it's nice and safe. You want your reader to feel the plot's

danger, not feel insulated. You've probably heard writing professors intone,

Show, not tell. This is what they mean. Dialogue shows. It's in scene.

Narrative tells. It's outside of the scene.



3. Don't jump around in POVs so often. Once a chapter only. At the most,

between paragraphs (I stick with a full scene for each POV). You're reader

wants to get to know the POV character and wonder about events with them,

not jump into someone else's head to find out the answers. Mystery is good.

No mystery is boring.



4. Your protagonist isn't likable. People want to like the main

character. They want to relate to that person. Your main character shouldn't

be perfect. S/he should have foibles, failures like every person on the

planet. Just don't make them dis-likable.



5. Add detail. Be specific about the restaurant your characters eat at,

the town they visit, the types of dogs in the dog park. Your readers will

relate to the details. Specifics pull readers in. Generalities leave them

outside the plot, wondering if they want to commit.



6. Fix your grammar and spelling. Everyone won't catch every error, but

most people will catch some of the errors. If they catch more than a few-and

I use that term loosely-you've lost your credibility. Catch as many as you

can before you even show the mss to your writer's group. Don't assume your

future agent will fix grammar and spelling. S/he won't see the plot for the

errors.



7. Your characters must grow. They can't remain static from the

beginning of the novel to the end. There's something about a trial by fire

and coming out better that snares readers. Look at each character. Where did

they start? Where did they end? Have they grown? If not, fix it.



8. Vary your sentence length. Long involved sentences slow the story

down. Short snappy sentences speed the action up. Make sure you use each

type in the correct spot.



9. Use picture nouns and action verbs. Every noun should evoke an entire

picture in your reader's mind. Every verb should set off a sequence of

actions.



10. Limit adjectives and adverbs. Replace a multi-adjectived noun with a

fully-developed picture noun. Replace an over-adverbed verb with a

descriptive verb. A rule of thumb is no more than two adjectives per noun

and no more than five adverbs per page.



If these ten tips didn't fix things for you, well, now you have to enter the

murky land of intangible tips. Things like.



. Put passion in your writing



. Write what you know



. Be unique and unpredictable



I know-these last are important, maybe the most important. But, you have to

agree, they're a lot harder to fix. I like to start at the beginning and

proceed to the end. Keep my editing as simple as possible until I can't.



What are your hints?



Thanks!
Jacqui

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