IT’S TELEVISION TUESDAY
How to Sell More Books Through Reader Engagement
Geoff Symon is a 20-year Federal Forensic Investigator and Polygraph Examiner. His participation in high-profile cases includes the attacks on September 11, 2001, the War in Iraq, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, the 2002 bombings in Bali and the Chandra Levy investigation, among countless other cases.
He has direct, first-hand experience investigating cases including murder (of all types), suicide, arson, kidnapping, bombings, sexual assault, child exploitation, theft and financial crimes. He has specified and certified training in the collection and preservation of evidence, blood-spatter analysis, autopsies and laboratory techniques. You can reach him at GeoffSymon.com.
Want to add an autopsy that won’t kill your story? Death swings its scythe in every genre, from family funerals to crime scenes to creatures that won’t stay buried. This user-friendly, illustrated reference digs into all things posthumous and postmortem.
Presented as a research manual for the experienced writer, this “Forensics for Fiction” title offers practical approaches and realistic details by covering:
¤ Terms and techniques used during autopsy procedures
¤ Different postmortem professionals and their specialties
¤ The stages of decomposition in different environments
¤ Methods used to estimate the time of death
¤ Case studies in which autopsies cracked the crime
¤ Examples of how to use autopsies in any popular genre
Whether you’re writing about dissection or resurrection, this guidebook covers it all from cadaver to slab as an easy-to-understand resource for dead-on storytelling.
Sam returns home from a business trip a day before his son’s thirteenth birthday and is looking forward to being with his family, when his world is cruelly shattered in one fell swoop. Initially he thinks he can cope with the loss, but finally seeks the help of Cynthia, an experienced therapist, to regain his equipoise. What he does not know is that Cynthia herself is trying to cope with a debilitating divorce and the sinister shadow of her ex-husband over her daughter…
What happens when doctor and patient find themselves in the same sinking boat? Moreover, when they are rowing in opposite directions–one clinging to the past, and the other unable to get rid of it! In the midst of it all is Lily, Cynthia’s daughter, who harbours a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
Dark Blossom. I love the title of this book. Was this your first fiction book? What’s the story behind it? (No pun intended)
Thanks! To be honest, the title appeared to me in a dream. And since I’m being honest, I must also admit that I fell into writing rather serendipitously as well. Dark Blossom is indeed my first work of fiction and both the story and the characters were more or less cleaved by an imagination that had run amok at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life.
While the characters are all very different from me and the ordeals faced by them are exaggerations of what I was going through, my innate spirit wanted to describe their experiences and interactions in a way that was entertaining for readers. This duality of finding entertainment and perhaps even levity in daily strife exists in everyone including my characters and the title from my dream captured that essence. Here’s a snippet from my book launch on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iodpyiw4Z7Y&t=3s
What do you enjoy most about storytelling?
Given how and when I fell into storytelling, I soon found writing to be an unbridled expression of empathy. First, I needed it for my characters to allow them a full and vibrant range of expression and then, for my readers to help them partake of such expression in a riveting way. So writing afforded me a double dose of empathy if you will – and it helped fill that personal void in my life too.
In retrospect though, there is one other thing about writing and storytelling that I enjoyed as much. Call me a masochist, but I fell in love with playing around with language – its syntax, semantics, and subtleties, all of it! How a word here instead of there, a moved punctuation, or a replaced synonym can affect the way people understand intellectually and perceive viscerally is all very fascinating. As a life-long learner too, I think I have fallen in love with this process of reflection followed by articulation.
Which came first idea, theme, or character?
If I were to think about just the idea and the characters, I would have to say it’s a judicious mix. In order for a story to take place, not only must the idea be important to the characters but also they must have something important to say about it. Once this scaffolding is in place, then the idea might change less and the theme is driven by its interplay with the characters, but it’s the characters that really have to evolve the most. They have to – to fight increasing stakes, win small battles, and eventually come out on top at the end of the war!
What’s your method for character creation?
Good stories take place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. Ergo, good characters must be borne from a place of sincerity. If that’s not the case, then it will be difficult to convince readers. Once I am able to make this genuine empathic connection with my characters, I follow a five-step process to give them substance – Read, Research, Reflect, Rest, and Repeat. First, I read and research a lot and this includes conversations with people who might provide inspiration. Then I let it percolate by backing off completely after a period of reflection, of course. Lastly, I find myself having to go back to the start of the loop at times when I get stuck.
What can you tell us about Sam?
Phew! Now that’s a toughie. Let me explain. Part of the inspiration behind the novel is my belief that the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities. And Sam’s character is supposed to catalyze readers to reflect on how we judge the motives of those around us. In fact, I have even incentivized such reflection with a contest at www.WinTrip2NY.com.
So while Sam’s loss and his tribulations are real, his characterization has been somewhat abstract. Let it suffice to say that he is an immigrant who has assimilated well and is unsure about how to cope with a very deep loss.
Who is Cynthia and what role does she play in the story?
Cynthia is a psychologist and she finds herself alone with her patient and her daughter in a sinking boat. Moreover, they all seem to be rowing away from one another. While trying to heal from a debilitating divorce, Cynthia is helping her patient, Sam, who is struggling with the worst kind of loss there is. She is also trying to mend her relationship with her daughter, Lily, who is not only fighting her own demons but also holding on to a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
What was your experience writing the point of view?
From the very beginning, I wanted to narrate the story from Cynthia’s perspective. This was daunting since I am neither a woman psychologist nor do I share a cultural background with her. So I knew I was trying to fill shoes much larger than my own and I had to both step out of my comfort zone and dig deep. And I’d like to believe that I have grown much as a person because of it. So not only was the process personally gratifying but also her perspective turned out to be most relevant for the plot.
Was it easy writing about flawed characters?
Aren’t we all?! But yes, confronting these flaws, let alone embracing or articulating them, is never easy. Fortunately, I strongly believe that such duality exists in all of us and I’m quite comfortable with both my flaws and my struggles with them. Even though writing about these flaws in characters that are different from me wasn’t easy, the fact that I enjoyed this process helped me immensely. Now, as to whether or not I was able to do justice to such expression – I think I’ll let readers be the judge of that.
What’s next for you?
I have only recently started researching and outlining my next novel. It’s also going to be narrated from the perspective of a young woman, Abigail, who has just started her first job as a nanny at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year-old Stewart, fighting for his life in the pool. And Abigail soon discovers that June, the boy’s older sister, may have been the one who pushed him in.
Neel Mullick is the author of Dark Blossom. The Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company, Mullick is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD. He mentors female entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially aware leaders with Nigeria’s Steering for Greatness Foundation, supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers through Peru’s Emprendedoras del Hogar, and works with IIMPACT in India to help break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. Dark Blossom is his first novel.
How did you get interested in history?
My interest must have begun in college, when a professor made history more interesting by telling stories which made past heroes real. Since then, I’ve learned that “truth is stranger than fiction”, and am regularly surprised by the limitless things that can happen in life. I also feel that great people of the past deserve to be remembered, and that we can learn from their lessons and mistakes. History is our connection with our ancestors, a continuation of life from our beginnings to our present to our future.
What fascinates you about the history of Ireland?
Ireland is one of the lesser-known, yet most fascinating places in the world. My interest began when I discovered my Irish ancestry, and with my first trip to Ireland I was so hooked, I felt more at home than in New York. Irish history is culturally rich, and archeologists are discovering sites and artifacts older and more advanced than the pyramids.
What’s your creative approach to writing a novel?
I never know where inspiration will come from. I was planning my first book to be about German immigrants in NYC, but on a bus tour in Dublin, our plans were changed from seeing Dublin Castle to seeing Christchurch Cathedral. That day changed my life. Visiting a place as old as the Vikings, feeling medieval tiles beneath my feet, and exploring the underground crypt gave me my first connection with ancient times. From then on, I decided to write about Ireland. I have been inspired by the most unexpected things, like fishing villages, plants, abandoned islands, and even an insane asylum in Wales (which I frequented as a visitor, I might add).
How has your writing process changed over the years?
I used to write from the seat of my pants, but found that subsequent editing required too many drafts, and plot and character fixing. Now I take my time—months–developing an inspiring idea, drawing an outline and doing research until I feel I really know my story and characters. That way, there are no major snags in the plot. Planning definitely shows in the development of the story, and the reader can tell.
How do you write the historical tone of Ireland into your writing?
Historical wording is something I’ve experimented with in various ways for the past few years. At first, I wanted the language to be as modern as possible, as I was addressing a modern reader, and wanted more than just historical readers to enjoy my books. Then I went more literary, striving for heightened language, but found the readers weren’t as fond of that. Now I’m returning to simpler language (with occasionally sprinkled historical words) with a more engaging plot. As far as historical Irish elements, I generally try to make the characters speak with the grammar and vernacular of the culture, as well as using cultural items and situations of the time.
What’s the historical context of Dingle Ireland, 1579?
Ireland of the sixteenth century was under the rule of Elizabeth I, who was fighting a war with Spain. Therefore, Dingle, a busy port, was subject to British rule, Spanish interference, and smuggling, as well as destruction by local Irish warriors fighting against Elizabeth and among themselves. My book talks about the struggle of Ireland’s “Black Earl”, who fought Elizabeth and his relatives to maintain the estate which had been in his family for centuries, a fight which resulted in Dingle being burned a few times.
What are some fun facts from your research that aren’t in the book.
Studying about Dingle revealed interesting facts about struggles from other time periods as well, such as the potato famine’s effect on the town, which brought the establishment of the notorious workhouses, as well as the battle at Smerwick Harbour, where Irish soldiers were decimated by the English. The most fun part of research is always the travel. Dingle is the most magical place in the world. A road winds along cliff-laden coasts where one can catch unexpected views of ancient ringforts, famine cottages, Celtic runes, and the abandoned Blasket Islands. There are few untouched places in the world, but because of an Irish tradition to respect what remains, old sites are not taken down.
Who is Englishwoman Norma Le Blanc and what is she dealing with?
Norma is a fictional character who believes her religiousness makes her superior to everyone, but a carefree, Spanish smuggler who arrives poses the greatest challenge to her ideas. Norma is lonely without her family, who live in England, and finds companionship in Vicente, despite their differences, until she realizes she’s in love. They both have something to learn from one another, as Vicente struggles with his mother’s wish to maintain faith in a God, when it seems as if God has failed him. Through their relationship, Norma learns humility, while Vicente regains his ability to believe.
What did you enjoy most in writing The Smuggler’s visit?
Finishing it? Ha! I always enjoy writing, and every book is different, but the first draft was most enjoyable with this one. Because my outline was established, I went off to a cabin in upstate NY and typed away to my heart’s content, finishing the first draft in two weeks. The editing process took much longer.
What were the most challenging aspects?
Finding detailed information about Dingle’s history was a challenge. Irish history isn’t as well-published as in other countries, and much of the Dingle info was in books or documents in their local library. Thanks to a local historian, I was able to get what I needed.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I collect them and have so many! But I came across this the other day, by Einstein: “Failure is just success in progress.” I think that’s a good thing for us to remember, every time we challenge ourselves to do better.
How do you introduce your story?
I always begin my books with a catastrophic event in the prologue that directly affects both the protagonist’s internal conflict and the entire plot. For Example, in my upcoming novel: The Born Weapons, my protagonist is the first “natural-born” of his kind and his birth is an act of Rebellion against “the Maker.” The Maker makes a deal with my protagonist’s mother that if she kills the Rebel Leader, who is her honorary brother, than her baby can live.
What’s your process of creating characters?
I base my characters off a theme such as truth or innocence. There after, I build their backstory, psychology, personality, appearance, and quirks. The themes I choose correspond to the plot work. For example, my protagonist is based on truth and the catalyst to the climax is the event in which he tells humanity the truth about why his kind was created.
How do you introduce the main conflict?
I design the main conflict and my protagonist’s identity to be symbiotic. In my current novel, the main conflict is that the ‘Alma’ (a type of cyborg) are subject to the oppression of their Makers and Humanity. Since my protagonist is an Alma, he and the conflict are introduced simultaneously.
How do you approach writing the first Act, or 25% of the book?
I love to hit the ground running. I believe that characterization and world building are best shown and not told, so I throw my MC into peril from the first chapter and introduce settings, characters, etc… in pace with the plot.
Do you use a certain number of scenes per Act?
Nope! I actually don’t pay attention to anything regarding quantity such as pages, scenes, or acts until I am revising. I only concern myself with following my outline to ensure I cover all my plot points, sub plot points, character development milestones, ect….
What’s the hardest part of developing the setup?
I assume that by ‘setup’ you mean world building and primary conflict. I often struggle to include world building details while drafting because I tend to focus on plot and character development. I’ve learned to let these details go and add them in while revising.
What has helped you develop your writing skills?
I have to say that the process of trial and error has been most helpful. I’ve been writing books since I was eight years old. Also, reading has helped improve my writing voice over the years.
What’s your creative approach to writing?
I treat it like a job, these days. It may sound unromantic, but writing one or two novels a year takes discipline. I tend to research, write and edit for eight hours, every week day.
Outlining or pantsing?
I like to outline, but always veer away from my plan! I wish I could stick to my blueprint, but I get distracted by better ideas, or juicier characters, so my plans are constantly changing.
When you write crime fiction what comes first? The crime, character, idea?
First the location, then the theme. I fell in love with the Isles of Scilly as a child, for their wild remoteness and knew I had to set a series there.
How do you get to know your characters?
I write detailed profiles, so I know all of their quirks.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Lack of confidence. It doesn’t matter how many books I write, I always reach a point, midway through the writing when my belief takes a nosedive. It takes one heck of a lot of stamina and a robust ego to stay in the writing game.
How has your writing process changed over the years and books written?
I began life as a poet, writing longhand, but now use my computer for pretty much everything. With poetry you have to agonise over every word because the form is so precise, but prose is much more discursive.
Did you write poetry before novels?
I surely did. Two collections, Reversal and The Alice Trap, both published by wonderful London press, Enitharmon.
What do you enjoy most about poetry?
Its impact. If a poem is doing its job well, it can be like a bullet of truth, straight to the heart.
Can you share one of your poems?
Not right now, I’m afraid, I’m deep in the middle of a crime novel, but my poems are floating around on the net if you go looking for them.
What next for you?
Two more books in my Hell Bay series, published by Simon and Schuster, which I’m enjoying enormously.
KATE RHODES is a full-time crime writer, living in Cambridge with her husband, a writer and film maker. Kate used to be an English teacher and has published two award winning collections of poetry. In 2015 she won the Ruth Rendell short story prize. Kate is the author of the acclaimed ALICE QUENTIN series, with the fifth book, BLOOD SYMMETRY published in 2016.
In January 2018 Kate will publish the first novel in a new series, HELL BAY, a crime novel set on the remote Cornish island of Bryher, featuring DI Ben Kitto.
Resources mentioned in this episode: BONUS CONTENT: Free sample report from Alex and K-Lytics – http://k-lytics.com/SPF
SPF 101: The 101 course is open for enrollment for a limited time. – https://selfpublishingformula.com/101
The award-winning author of The Music of the Primesexplores the future of creativity and how machine learning will disrupt, enrich, and transform our understanding of what it means to be human.
Can a well-programmed machine do anything a human can―only better? Complex algorithms are choosing our music, picking our partners, and driving our investments. They can navigate more data than a doctor or lawyer and act with greater precision. For many years we’ve taken solace in the notion that they can’t create. But now that algorithms can learn and adapt, does the future of creativity belong to machines, too?
It is hard to imagine a better guide to the bewildering world of artificial intelligence than Marcus du Sautoy, a celebrated Oxford mathematician whose work on symmetry in the ninth dimension has taken him to the vertiginous edge of mathematical understanding. In The Creativity Code he considers what machine learning means for the future of creativity. The Pollockizer can produce drip paintings in the style of Jackson Pollock, Botnik spins off fanciful (if improbable) scenes inspired by J. K. Rowling, and the music-composing algorithm Emmy managed to fool a panel of Bach experts. But do these programs just mimic, or do they have what it takes to create? Du Sautoy argues that to answer this question, we need to understand how the algorithms that drive them work―and this brings him back to his own subject of mathematics, with its puzzles, constraints, and enticing possibilities.
While most recent books on AI focus on the future of work, The Creativity Code moves us to the forefront of creative new technologies and offers a more positive and unexpected vision of our future cohabitation with machines. It challenges us to reconsider what it means to be human―and to crack the creativity code.
Author of the psychological thriller, Incalculable: The Rousing of Mia
Author of the Commune Series
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