Tag Archives: The Hydra Effect

Your Story: the Macro View

I started writing The Hydra Effect in my 1970 VW pop-top camper while navigating Hwy 95 between Acapulco and the Guerrero State capitol, Chilpanzingo. I dictated into my mini-recorder between tollbooths. I felt like a fool, telling stories to no one. But I had a story, I was sure of it:

A closer to 40 than 30-something Californian was driving a VW pop-pot camper, her dog sleeping on the backseat, along a lonely stretch of Mexico 200, the Pacific Coast Highway,in the State of Michoacán when narcos drove up alongside the bus and threatened the woman with guns.

I dictated every detail of the incident down to the flash of the VW’s headlamps off the gold chains around the neck of a piggish-looking thug with a semi-automatic rifle. (Not that I’d ever seen one before, except on Miami Vice.)

It was going to be a best seller, a blockbuster movie, the inspiration for a gritty cable series—I was sure of it. Until I realized that’s all I had. An isolated, if very scary, incident. I stopped dictating, paid my near $50 in tolls and let my harrowing experience percolate through my brain for the next twelve years until I’d found some characters, some things those characters wanted, and an ending. And that’s when I got busy making some decisions about what kind of story I was writing, as by then it was Nanowrimo 2004, and I wrote 50,000 words—but not until I was able to articulate my premise. That took me two weeks, and once it was stuck to my monitor on a sticky note, I cranked out the book.

The premise was my focus. It’s changed somewhat since that madcap contest, but that one sentence pointed the way to a setting (that I had!), several characters, a main conflict, and an inner wound. I came up with a premise by asking myself “what if” questions. K.M. Weiland adds to this the “what is expected?” question. She asks herself what the average reader expects and then turns each expectation “on it’s head to insert the unexpected wherever possible.”

Once you’ve identified some what ifs and what’s expecteds, the next step is to refine the ideas into the premise sentence. Why? Because it will help you decide if your idea will hold up for the length of a story. Through the premise you will identify your point of view character(s), a conflict and through that, a plot. Weiland puts it, “Your what if question gives you an idea; your premise gives you a plot.”

Investigator JadeAnne Stone accepts a missing persons case against the wishes of her boyfriend/partner and discovers Mexico is more than beaches and margaritas when she and attack-trained, Pepper, are hijacked en route to Ixtapa, and ensnared in a web of violence and intrigue as oil politics intersect with money laundering and El Narco’s grab for power.

I can’t say it’s a perfect premise, but it sure worked as a mini-outline to keep the rough draft on track. And from that, I was able to find each next step of my plot, the characterization, and even characters that needed to be added. Additionally, once I had actually finished the draft, the premise acted as an answer to all those folks asking, “What’s your book about?” Now it’s part of my pitch.

 How can you use your premise to its maximum advantage?

Ask yourself what questions each part of the premise raise. I might ask, why would JadeAnne take the case against her partner’s wishes? Has she been targeted for the hijacking? Why would a woman alone with only a dog drive through the most dangerous part of Mexico?

After exhausting the premise possibilities, ask more general questions—your pre-outline questions.

Weiland (Outlining Your Novel, Map Your Way To Success) lists:

1               What are 4 or 5 big moments that will occur in the plot?

2               Can you think of at least 2 complications for each of these moments?

3               Will these complications push your characters in ways that make them uncomfortable?

4               What additional settings will these complications demand?

(If you don’t have a main character:)

5               Which character will be the protagonist?

6               Which character will be affected most by the inciting incident?

7               Does this character have at least 2 major problems or anxieties in his life? Which offers the most potential for conflict and drama?

8               How does this problem affect other characters?

These, and whatever other questions you can ask of your premise and of yourself, will form the basis for your outline. You’ll find there aren’t any right or wrong answers—just answers with a lot of energy, and answers with less energy. Which will you pick? Each choice will draw a new flood if ideas. It’s called brainstorming. Keep at it until you have considered every possibility, and when the brainstorming is done, the creating can start!


Filed under Outlining

DIY? Some like Createspace

Now that The Hydra Effect book 1: Zihuatanejo is testing with “beta” readers, I’m thinking about what comes next. I’d love to find an agent and land a three-book deal sweetened with a fat advance, an editor, a publicist and a deep pocketed promotion budget. What writer wouldn’t? But is it realistic to expect my first book to be noticed by the traditional publishing industry? Or is that the right publishing route for me?

There’s a lot of talk about traditional publishing vs.  self-publishing. Agent Nathan Bransford blogged last year, “These days it seems like traditional and self-publishing are increasingly pitted against each other on blogs and forums, as if one side or the other is the bastion of all that is good and pure in the world and the other side is the bastion of all that is horrible and evil.” But it ain’t so. There are pluses and minuses to both.

Self publishing is a viable option for may of us. In our favor, digitally published books are out-selling paper books. I haven’t found a statistic that compares 2012 paper book sales to digital book sales  but Amazon’s 2012 digital book sales jumped 70% over the prior year and trends suggest Kindle  and Kindle aps are expanding into international markets.

Amazon may not be your ideal solution, but their publishing subsidiary, Createspace, may offer you the opportunity to launch your book into the world as it has for Nathan Robert Winters, author of the soon to be released, Omaha Kid. His local Launch Party will be held on April 6 at the Rianda House in St. Helena. We asked him to tell us about his experience using the Createspace publishing tools and he gave us some pros and cons of using this service.


  • you don’t need an agent
  • your book publishes much faster than through a traditional publishing house
  • you control all aspects of your book
  • you control all aspects of your publicity campaign
  • you keep a higher percentage of the profits


  • you don’t get the support of the agent or publisher
  • you find and pay for your own editors
  • there is no advance
  • you will have to maintain your own records

He went on to inform us that when you begin the Createspace process, your manuscript must be ready, corrected, formatted and error free. Although it can be a bit of drudgery, if you do publish with errors in your book, you can take it down and re-upload a corrected version—another possible feature for the CON list. Your book will also need it’s copyright and ISBN number, and a cover either predesigned, or you can use Createspace templates.

If you do choose to publish through Createspace, get a copy of Blake Webster and Steve Boga‘s book, How to Self-Publish Your Book The Createspace Way,  A Step-by Step Guide to Writing, Printing and Selling Your Own Book Using Print On Demand. It’s a nifty little book with plenty of screenshots that point out just what to do to upload your manuscript.

I haven’t made up my mind how to approach my publishing dilemma, but learning about the many options is opening my eyes to what lies ahead. At least I’ve got two of my three jacket blurbs even if there isn’t a jacket yet.

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Filed under Publishing