Tag Archives: contemporary YA romance

i-Movie & Book Trailers

As I’m counting down to the launch of my next book, PIECES of LOVE, due out in a few weeks, I figured I would do something a little different this time. I finished and posted my book trailer before the book’s release. You would think this would be a no brainer, but I’ve published five novels and haven’t managed to do this until now. With good reason, I assure you. I can’t tell you how long it takes me and my husband to produce a decent trailer. Don’t get me wrong. He is an amazing source of technical support, but he’s a super busy guy and can’t always work to my time schedule. I also get frustrated in trying to share my creative vision with him in a way that translates to exactly what I want. Yes…I’m afraid I’m a bit picky. So this time, I took it upon myself to learn how to use i-Movie, and created my own book trailer.

I thought I would share the process with you today.
First off, I recommend finding the right music. There are several stock music sites that offer “free” music, but it can take hours of listening to samples to find just the right piece, and the selection of free titles is limited. It’s likely you’ll pay a nominal fee for what you want. Be sure to read the fine print because you may also only have the music rights for a specifically contracted period of time. The most important thing is to find music that is released under a Creative Commons license, and to give the artist credit when due. Here are a few sites where you can find music suitable for book trailers.

http://www.incompetech.com

http://www.audionautix.com

http://www.danosongs.com

http://www.ccmixter.org

Since I’d gone this route before and found the process daunting, and I wasn’t willing to pay someone big bucks to do  a trailer for me, I almost wasn’t going to have one this time around. As the fates would have it, my main character in PIECES of LOVE, Lexi, plays guitar, sings, and writes music. In my efforts to help readers connect to the character on a deeper level, I was inspired to write lyrics into the book. Of course, then it dawned on me that I should also try to put music to the words. Not that I’ve ever written a song or know how to write music, but what can I say…my muse was feeling adventurous. With a step in faith and a little effort on a lunch break, the tune came to me, and I recorded it into my phone (love those apps). Then I took it to my pal, lifelong musician, Ozone Pete, who plays guitar and “knew a guy” who could help with a professional recording. Six months later, we spent a day with Jim Fogarty of Zing studios in Westfield, MA. All in all, it took a total of about fifteen hours over two days and I had a theme song—now available for download on i-Tunes.

It was the perfect choice for the book trailer.
Once I had the music, I was ready to start on the hard part. Being techno-challenged and averse to learning the Mac’s operating system, I was prepared to defer the actual trailer production to my husband, but as I said, that wasn’t to be if I wanted it done sooner rather than later.  I bit the bullet, so to speak, and dove in.

I used parts of the book’s blurb and boiled the synopsis down to a paragraph, creating a “story board” with 8-10 slides to “tell” the story. I figured each slide would require about 6-10 seconds—long enough for viewers to read. Adding the transitions and front/back matter, I was able to keep the whole production at about two minutes.
Using stock photos from Big Stock Photos, each costing about $5-10, I chose photos that reflected the blow by blow description of the story. Uploading the music and photos to my husband’s Mac and importing it all into i-Movie was a challenge for me (being Mac deficient) but a snap for hubby, so I let him do that part. Once I had all the pieces there to work with, it was a matter of choosing an appropriate segment of the song to match the story board. Two minutes is a bit long for a trailer these days, but I had a certain timing in mind for the slides and the music selection to work together.
Caution: Timing each slide and transition accordingly is an OCD sufferer’s nightmare…or dream come true, LOL. I tweaked and cajoled this thing to death, but the final product was worth it, IMO.

Yes, countless hours went into the project, and there were studio costs, but in the end, for a few hundred dollars, I have a product I’m proud of and it’s exactly what I envisioned. I can use it to promote my book as well as the song on i-Tunes, and at the same time, offer an entertaining connection for my readers who might find it interesting to hear the author singing the theme song.
As much as I’m not a big Mac fan, I-Movie is a powerful program! Once I figured out how to use all the neat features, the possibilities seemed endless. There are several backgrounds, title fonts, and styles to choose from for each slide, special affects you can apply to pictures and transitions, and many variables you can and can’t control. For instance, I wanted to blur a couple of the photos but couldn’t do it in i-Movie, so I exported them to Power Point, manipulated the shots there, and then saved them to the i-Movie event I was working on. It was simply a matter of playing with the program and figuring out what worked. Of course, when I ran into trouble, hubby was there as tech support.
Once I had fine-tuned my baby and edited the crap out of it, I published it to You-tube and shared it on all my social media sites. It had over a hundred hits the first day! I’m glad so many people have enjoyed the production and I truly appreciate all the positive feedback.
If the DIY version seems too daunting, save your pennies, because a decent trailer can run you anywhere from $300-$1200. I’ve seen them for more and I’ve seen them for less, but you definitely get what you pay for in this case. I once paid $50 to a supposedly reputable person and was less than satisfied, so lesson learned for me. Until I can afford to pay the big bucks, I’ll continue to go the DIY route.

What do you think of book trailers? Are they an effective promotional tool? Seen any you love? 

Pot smoking teens and other family dramas

Hey readers,

PJ Sharon here on a lovely autumn day in the Berkshires. I’ve actually seen a few patches of yellowed leaves on the trees and the star-filled nights here are getting cool.Crane This crane will likely be taking flight to warmer climes soon enough.

It’s also the time of year for the spreading of colds and such.*sniffle…sniffle*

I guess I can’t complain. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in a few years and it gives me some needed downtime to rest and reflect…and write.

As I swim through the murky middle of my current work in progress, PIECES OF LOVE, I’m reminded of my own teen dramas and those of my many siblings. You see, I grew up in a pretty crazy, dysfunctional family. Lots of alcohol, a dash of mental illness, secrets, lies, some seriously scary and frequent catastrophes, and lots of drama! Yes, we all loved each other in our own way, but each person in that house of seven children and three adults, was flawed. As we all are. It’s what makes us human. It’s also what makes us interesting to paint into the canvas of a story.

There’s a reason that I write YA dramas that touch on  taboo topics that encompass everything from grief and loss of a loved one, to teen pregnancy, bulimia, the effects of war, and even sexual abuse. I draw as much as possible from personal experience and from all that I have seen to be true in the human condition.

So when I began PIECES OF LOVE, I wanted to make sure to give Ali’s plight its due. Not that I’ve ever lost someone to an alcohol overdose or been arrested for marijuana possession, but I’ve certainly seen my share of these kinds of family dramas to draw real emotion and conflict from them. Understanding the motivation behind why people do what they do is a key element in making your fiction believable. As is sharing accurate and interesting detail to utilize your setting to enhance your character’s journey. Since I’ve been on a Mediterranean cruise, I have lots of insights into how Ali sees the world anew with each port she visits. It’s been fun and interesting to revisit the places I went and relive it all through her eyes, watching her transformation from self-centered, immature teen trying desperately to avoid dealing with the painful realities of life, to a young woman who learns to appreciate the people in her life who love her.

Here’s the blurb for PIECES OF LOVE:

Sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. What’s the point in planning for the future? Her world is shattered by her sister’s accidental alcohol overdose at college, and she is arrested for marijuana possession a second time. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Ali to spend the summer with her Grandmother in Malibu.

But problems aren’t so easily dismissed. After Ali steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain her life is over and that she’s destined for juvenile detention. Her ‘Malibu Barbie’ grandmother, Maddie, takes desperate measures…a Mediterranean cruise…for seniors. If overwhelmed and motion sick Ali needs further torment, Maddie has decided that her granddaughter’s childish name could use an upgrade and renames her Lexi. Can a new name and a French haircut fix everything that’s wrong with Ali’s life? Maybe when Ethan Kaswell says the name.

Eighteen year-old Ethan, the poster child for being a good son, who is stranded on the cruise when his famous heart surgeon father is kept away by an important consultation, finds Lexi irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side and soulfully sad eyes draw him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As she spirals out of control, will she bring him down too, or was he already drowning? Maybe by saving her, he can save himself. 

Greece2011 224 (2013_02_16 18_14_38 UTC)Visiting such ports as Portofino, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; and Rome. From the Greek Islands to Tunisia, North Africa; and Barcelona, Spain to Dubrovnik, Croatia; you’ll see the sights and walk on sacred ground with Ali as she learns about herself, her family, and what it means to love someone–even when you have to let them go.

Infusing our own experiences, we can create flawed but redeemable characters who are on a journey of self-discovery. The more vividly we can paint that portrait, the more we bring the story to life with their color, depth, and the rich texture of emotional reactionary drama that makes us connect to them in an intimate way. When the character’s fatal flaw forces them to face the consequences of their actions and choices, and we see them grow, it’s satisfying and uplifting. Readers heart’s are touched. It’s what all writers strive for and is so challenging to do, and do well.

One thing I’m sure of is that we can’t shy away from addressing tough issues when writing for teens, but we have to be willing to step fully into their shoes to get it right. Knowing that “pot” is now mostly referred to as “weed” and other such specifics, are important for authenticity, and can only be known if you hang around teenagers and ask questions. It’s been my experience that they are most willing to share their opinions and ideas when I tell them why I’m asking. They seem to appreciate that I’m willing to have an open dialogue and that I’m not interested in judging them. I don’t think any of my teen library group kids are “potheads,” or “stoners” as they call them, but they are fully engaged in the youth culture in a way that I am not.

I’m hoping for the book to be ready for release in the first part of 2014. A cover reveal and the ability to pre-order the book through Smashwords should be coming up at the end of November. I’m also working on recording a theme song for the book–possibly two, written by yours truly!

So if you’re a writer, write what you know, ‘they’ say. I agree. Either draw from your own experiences, or find a way to walk in someone else’s moccasins for a mile or two. Your characters will be so much richer for it! Just be real, and let your characters take the story where it needs to go. You might even experience some healing as you create/or re-create a painful real-life event that still holds you back from being the best you can be–just like your characters.

I often have to remind myself that ‘do-overs and make-believe are not only allowed in fiction writing, but encouraged.’

Today’s unlocked secret: Infuse your personal experiences into your writing to create vivid, authentic, and memorable characters. Don’t be afraid to tackle the tough problems, and keep it real.

I’m heading back to bed for more rest. I have to be better for my trip to Nashville and New Orleans later this week, where I’ll be at my step-son’s wedding and doing some research for book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I hate getting on a plane and being THAT person who gets everyone else sick. I’m also thinking my sinuses aren’t going to appreciate the flight…uggh!

To happier thoughts and my original statement in this post, I really do love it here in the hills. Our town has the cleanest air on record in Massachusetts, and has one of the healthiest ecosystems. I routinely see lots of wildlife, including a host of various birds here. Although with hunting season commencing, and flight of the migratory bird populations, that will likely be less now. Blue heronI am so grateful to live where I live and feel blessed to be part of my small community.

As such, I’m participating once again at the Granville Harvest Fair coming up Columbus Day weekend (October 12-14). I’ll be hanging out in front of the library signing books with a few other authors. If you’re in North Central CT or Western MA, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. There’s tons to see and do. I swear, we have one of the BEST harvest fairs in New England!

Do you write what you know, or rely on a mix of research, empathy, and experience? I’d love to hear from you about your process and how you make your characters authentic.

Trust Your Story

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. Have you ever been writing along, minding your plot and meeting your daily word count, only to have your character take you “off track”? Do you catch yourself swearing at your characters and asking them, “Where the *&%*@# are you taking me?” Well, let me tell you…I’ve learned to let them have their way—at least on the first draft. Let me explain why.

After several manuscripts and three or four published novels, I’m finally beginning to trust my internal process. It seems that my unconscious mind knows a lot more about my characters than my conscious mind does and if I let the story evolve organically—rather than trying to control every word that lands on the page—some miraculous things happen. Characters take me to the most interesting places, and if I go along for the ride, there is usually some grand reason they needed to go there. A piece of the puzzle is found, a character flaw is brought to light, or an opportunity for character growth presents itself.

When I wrote ON THIN ICE a few years ago, Penny’s story unfolded and jumped onto the page with such abandon, it seemed as if it was writing itself. I hadn’t planned on all the twists and turns that her story would take, but as it developed and each thread wove itself into her character arc, I had no choice but to follow and see how everything came together in the end. Amazingly, her journey turned out to be profoundly complex and beautiful. Of course, my problem was then trying to sell a story that had multiple subplots and more drama than a season of Dallas.

I had several published authors, a few agents, and even a couple of editors tell me the same thing…get rid of at least two—preferably three—of the subplots. I was told “One teenager could not possibly deal with all of these issues and one or two is enough for any one book if you want to explore them in depth.” So I tried to unravel my plot to remove some of the “unnecessary” subplots. The problem was that I couldn’t. I struggled for several months trying to make the story “marketable” by choosing one story line and then bleeding all over the page for 250 pages. I couldn’t make it work. Deconstructing the story seemed like an impossible task without it losing that special something that made it unique and authentic. Worse, was that it felt like I wasn’t being true to my character. Penny needed to go through all the trials and tribulations she endured in order to become the person she was at the end of the story. It was her journey—not mine—and I didn’t feel right about robbing her of any of the experiences that made her who she was.

Ultimately, I shelved the story and began writing Heaven Is For Heroes, which turned out to be a much more “marketable” story, but by that time, I had decided that the kind of stories I wanted to write were likely not going to fit into a specific mold and that I wasn’t willing to have a traditional publisher “brand” me (ouch!) and put me in a “box” (NO…Not the box!). Enter—Indie publishing.

One of the many things that drew me to Indie pubbing was the freedom to be true to the creative process and write what is in my heart. I’m convinced that there are readers for every well-written book—even if/especially if—it fits outside the box. Why should readers be fed only stories that publishers have deemed saleable? As it turns out, many Indie authors are finding great success because they are taking risks and writing something different. The upsurge in the “New Adult” market proves that readers of all ages want something new–stories that bridge the gap between YA and adult romance–stories about what happens when young adults are faced with real life issues that push them into adulthood.

Although I’ve learned to rein in my characters a bit before they take me too far off course or lead me into some corner I can’t get out of, I’ve also learned to trust my story to take me where my characters need to go to become who they are meant to be—even if it takes me places I never dreamt I’d go. I’ve gotten better at plotting and planning rather than flying by the seat of my pants, but the real joy in writing for me is when my characters take over and lead me on an adventure greater than my mind could have imagined.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’ve already read the book. I greatly appreciate all honest reviews. If you haven’t yet left a review and would like to do so, you can click on the Amazon link below and write a brief line or two about what you liked/or didn’t like about the book. This helps other readers find books that might appeal to them and helps us authors reach new readers. 

So what did you think? Was it too much drama for one book, or did it somehow all work together to make a worthwhile and unique story?on thin ice front cover jpg

If you haven’t read ON THIN ICE, you have one final opportunity to download it for FREE from Amazon this weekend. I won’t be renewing my KDP Select contract, so this is the last time it will be offered as a FREE download for the foreseeable future. It will be available Saturday through Monday, January 26-28th in honor of National Skating month and the US Figure Skating Championships taking place this week.

Bookmark this page and stop back this weekend to download your FREE Kindle copy from Amazon

Although Penny’s dream of Olympic Gold is derailed by life’s cruel twists of fate, she learns what all fierce competitors learn…follow your heart, and never give up.

Conflict is King

Leave a comment below and enter to win a free e-copy of ON THIN ICE. Contest ends Thursday at midnight and is open to US and Canadian entrants.

While preparing for a writing class that I teach for teens at the public library, I realized that the essence of good story telling is conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. My fabulous and brilliant teens wanted a class specifically on “How to start a story.” We’ll be discussing where to begin and in my opinion, every story starts with a conflict. A vivid and compelling character might come to mind, but if they don’t come to you with some problem to solve, the story ends before it begins.

So what constitutes a suitable conflict to create an engaging story? In my mind, internal conflict rules the roost.
There has to be some major dilemma happening in the mind and heart of my main characters and it has to be related to their fatal flaw or greatest weakness. In On Thin Ice, Penny’s fatal flaw is her perfectionism. She so wants to be loved and accepted, that she tries to be perfect (or at least appear perfect), so she forms a habit of lying which leads her into lots of trouble. Of course I had to give Carter, her big crush, a fatal flaw that fed into Penny’s big weakness, so I set up a backstory for him in which he hates liars. His father was an alcoholic and a liar and abandoned him and his mother and sister when he was little. This sets the scene for lots of potential conflict between my main characters, both internal and external.

Which leads me to external conflict—generally provided by villains and horrible circumstances. What story would be complete without the main characters having to overcome some huge hurdle or win out over the bad guys? I’m afraid I threw the kitchen sink at Penny in terms of external conflicts, but they were all integral to bringing about the changes in her character and forcing her to grow into the person she was meant to be by the end of the story. Knowing what I know now about storytelling and writing, I would not create this dynamic again, but Penny’s story needed to be told as is. One of the reasons I chose to indie publish this book. We’ll see if it stacks up in the world of contemporary YA romance.

And since we’re talking about romance, I’ll mention the importance of romantic conflict. The romantic conflict is basically the thing that keeps your main characters apart until the end of the story. In Penny and Carter’s case, the fact that she is only seventeen and that he is twenty-one creates an insurmountable obstacle, especially when he finds out the truth about her age and her father threatens to have him arrested. Not only did she lie (a Cardinal sin in his book), but her lie has threatened his security and his goal of working and saving money to go to college and help support his mother and sister. From Penny’s view, she has failed in her attempt to gain Carter’s love and approval and must deal with her father’s rejection as well.

All of this conflict is what keeps readers turning the page to see what happens next. Will Penny find her way back into Carter’s heart? Or will her quest for perfection lead her down a dangerous road that has no happy ending?

 You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

What’s your character’s problem? Is there enough internal, external, and romantic conflict to keep readers turning the page?