Capturing Kate – new from Alexis Alvarez

Saturday+Spankings

Greetings, everyone!  It’s Alexis Alvarez with a new book for the SatSpanks blog hop! My latest novel has released through Stormy Night Publications and is available on Amazon and other platforms. It’s called Capturing Kate, and it’s a spanky, sexy adventure story about a feisty reporter and the handsome FBI agent who keeps her safe.

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Blurb

Journalist Kate Klein knew reporting on a powerful businessman’s disregard for the safety of the local water supply was a dangerous assignment, but she is nonetheless shocked when she is taken captive, bound, and brought to a remote cabin. Her gruff yet undeniably handsome captor turns out to be a man named Sloan Masters who claims he is an undercover FBI agent investigating the same organization she has been trying to expose. Kate is unsure whether Sloan can be trusted, but he makes it clear that he plans to do whatever is necessary to protect her, whether she likes it or not. If keeping her safe requires taking her over his knee for a stern punishment to ensure her obedience, then so be it.

When Kate keeps some critical information from Sloan, a long, hard spanking on her bare bottom quickly proves that his warning was not a bluff. To her surprise, however, the painful, embarrassing chastisement leaves Kate not only promising to be good but also yearning for Sloan to take her in his arms and claim her thoroughly.

Sloan’s skilled, dominant lovemaking is unlike anything Kate has ever experienced before, and she finds her desire for him growing more intense by the hour, but she cannot help wondering if she is just a means to an end for him. When something goes terribly wrong and the entire investigation is put in jeopardy, can Sloan prove to Kate that she belongs to him no matter what?

Publisher’s Note: Capturing Kate is an erotic romance novel that includes spankings, sexual scenes, elements of BDSM, and more. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Excerpt

“Who are you, and why am I here?” She snuck a look up at him.

“I’m a FBI agent. I’m part of a team that’s working undercover.” He put down his wipes, and smoothed a piece of gauze over the cut. “My team has been working to infiltrate Mancini’s organization for the past year.” He ripped a long piece of white tape and attached the gauze at top and bottom. “There. That should hold you for a while. I’ll put some healing gel and gauze on your wrists, too, as soon I undo your hands. I’m sorry about the rope burns. And your face.” He winced as he looked at her, and brushed his fingers across her cheek. “Connor told me he slapped your cheek so he could tie you up.”  He hesitated, and his voice was low when he spoke again. “You’re damn lucky that Mancini called on one of our men to take you out.”

 

Buy Links

Amazon US:  https://amzn.com/B01I4N16Y8

Amazon UK:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01I4N16Y8

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Are you ready?

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One more teaser….

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Please visit the other authors participating in this blog hop. Their links are below. Thanks!

 

Apocalypse Playlist

Hey! It’s Maria Monroe here to share the playlist I put together for Afterglow, my apocalypse romance.

When I was writing Afterglow, I compiled what I think is the perfect Apocalypse Playlist. (Yeah. In a real apocalypse nobody would be playing anything, except beat up guitars around garbage can fires.) It ended up being a really eclectic mix of songs, like all my playlists are. And a few of the songs have nothing to do with an apocalypse, but they are mentioned in the book. Or are ironic. Or inspired me. Or just have the right feel. Lots of these songs I had playing on repeat while I wrote this book. I hope you enjoy it!

If you’ve got any other ideas for my Apocalypse Playlist, let me know!

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Capturing Kate – New from Alexis Alvarez

Saturday+Spankings

Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez, and I have a new book coming from Stormy Night Publications on Friday, July 8th.  Capturing Kate is a thrilling, sexy novel about a feisty woman named Kate, and the FBI agent who needs to keep her safe.  It’s a full-length novel with an HEA and scenes so steamy they’ll melt your Kindle.

Excerpt from Capturing Kate

He smiled, nodded, as if he were right about something. Then he raised one eyebrow.  “If it’s necessary, I’ll tie you back up, like I said. But first, I’ll do something else.”

“What – else?” She whispered the words, suddenly sure he had read her mind and knew exactly what she wanted from him, and the thought made her burn.

“I’ll turn you over my lap and spank you so hard that you won’t sit comfortably all day tomorrow.”  He pierced her with his gaze.

fbi book ad 5 web

 

Kate’s a determined reporter looking into corruption, and her whistle-blower source  is about to hand over the most critical information.  But when she ends up being kidnapped instead, it’s up to undercover FBI agent Sloan to keep her safe until the investigation is over.  Sloan’s chiseled abs and handsome face have her heart skipping beats, and even his non-traditional methods of keeping her in-line with his orders are sexy.  The days they spend hiding in his cabin safe house are exhilarating.  But the danger is very real, and when chaos erupts, they’ll have to work together to save their lives…and their hearts.

The book is full of steamy, explicit sex and elements of consensual BDSM, so it’s only for the 18+ crowd who enjoy reading about these kinds of things.  🙂

Stay tuned for the cover reveal and more excerpts here on my blog and on my Facebook author page. Please follow me for all the latest.  And thanks for reading!

Alexis on Facebook

Please visit the other authors participating in this blog hop.

Saturday+SpankingsThere are many other book snippets to enjoy! Happy reading.

Afterglow

bymaria

I’m super excited to announce the upcoming release of my latest book, Afterglow! It’s an apocalypse romance (heavy on the romance, lighter on the sci fi).

 

 

The cover’s still a secret, and I can’t wait for the cover reveal. Pre-order links will be available soon. Until then, here’s some  more info about Afterglow.

 

 

 

Blurb:

Who knew the apocalypse could be so sexy?

Nina can shoot a gun, start a fire, and kick some serious ass. So when a killer virus and solar storm decimate the country, she’s as prepared as possible to survive. She just needs a motorcycle to navigate the cluttered roads and meet up with her family.

Creed, former Marine, is tattooed and tough. He’s scarred inside and out. Loss is no stranger to him, and he avoids getting close to anyone at all costs.

When Nina tries to steal his motorcycle they have a vicious fight, but necessity and attraction force them into an uneasy alliance. They travel together through the dangerous landscape, where trouble lurks around every corner and they need each other to survive.

But the biggest danger just might be falling in love.

Spring Fling Threesome

Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez here, ready to tell you about the Spring Fling writer’s conference in Chicago. My sisters and I attended, and it was our first book conference as romance authors!

sisters at convention

Maria Monroe, Adrienne Perry, and Alexis Alvarez (sisters!)

 

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The organizers did a fantastic job! The conference was outstanding.

I’m excited to report that we drank at least $150 in wine at the bar (hi, cute bartender! Remember us?)  We also attended conferences, pitched to agents, and laughed so loudly and so long in our room that our neighbor came to bang on our door. We though we were in trouble, but she only wanted to join the party.  It was Jade Lee, a best-selling romance author who has published over 50 books.  When we told her what we were giggling about, she still came in to hang out, and we all had a great time talking. She gave us some excellent writing advice on top of it, as well as copies of her books.  She didn’t run away screaming!  This made us want to call our mom immediately and report:  “See? Sometimes when we laugh together like hyenas for hours, GOOD THINGS can come of it!”

jade lee

Jade Lee writes books that are sexy, romantic and fun!

I won a cool Indian-themed basket from Sonali Dev in the silent auction!  We also got to hear her talk during a panel.  Her concept of good romance writing inspiring “heart-gasms” was fun and provocative – loved it.  I’ve interviewed Sonali before for an article on writing and love her insight into editing and using beta readers.  (Read it here:  Getting The Words Right: The Magic of Editing.)

sonali graphic

We got to meet Christina and Lauren, the best-selling duo who write as Christina Lauren, and they were so nice. Like, really, super NICE. The kind of women who you want to turn into BFF’s and talk with on the phone every day because they’re just so interesting and cool, but it’s important not to stalk them too hard because they already have a BFF (each other) and a pretty busy life, what with writing a new best-selling book every few months and also having families.

christina lauren with text for web

Important Event:

Here’s a true story from the conference about how nice they are:  So Robyn Carr gave the big keynote speech, and it was a good one. She told us as writers that we need to work through adversity (she once had an 8-year dry spell), and that we can be the wings, not just the wind under someone else’s wings. She also had a free book on the table for each of us. So Adrienne and I went to thank her afterwards and shake her hand. She was busy chatting with fans, so we waited politely for our turn.  But the crowd around her was so big, and there were so many people waiting to meet her, that we couldn’t get in there. So we waited. And waited some more. We kept missing our opportunity to get in there and started to feel silly, because we were standing there, trying to say “hi” and kept getting cut off by other people. It was like when construction makes two lanes merge into one, but the other drivers are determined not to let you in, so you end up marooned behind the cones, blinking wildly, praying, “Let me in! Someone, let me in!”

Have you been in that situation? You’re feeling meek and small, and try to look like you belong, but every second that goes by, you feel more awkward, and soon you’re frozen into place like a terrified squirrel faced by a vicious alley cat? And there are huge used-car-lot arrows flashing right at you?

alexis is mouse

Soon we realized that we just didn’t have the guts to power through the crowd. So now it was clearly time to sneak back to Maria and confess our lameness (she was in the bathroom, sending us selfies) —

maria selfie

—but out of the blue, who should appear but Lauren, from CLo!  She smiled and said hi, and we said hi and that we were considering trying to to talk to Robyn Carr, but the crowd was too thick, and do you know what Lauren did for us? She interjected herself gracefully and sweetly into the scene, and introduced RC to us. And we got our books autographed.

So my takeaway from that is that Lauren is a Super Hero, and if we knew how to sew (we don’t) and if we had extra fabric with us (we didn’t) we would have made her some kind of cape as a way of saying thanks.  Also, she and Christina gave a very a)funny and b)moving keynote speech about how they became a writing duo, about perseverance and teamwork, about not giving up.  It inspired the three of us to want to write a team book.  We’re already finished with the rev 0. draft!

Oh, also? When Lauren & Christina give classes? They include pictures of themselves eating corn-dogs, and swear sometimes, and make jokes, and ask the audience for real-time feedback. FUNNEST TALKS EVER.  If you  get a chance to hear these two women talk live, TAKE IT. You won’t be sorry.  You need to read their books, if you haven’t already. They’re sexy, funny, smart and addictive.

Second Important Event

The other important part of the conference was Maria’s underpants. She had this Spanx-style garment to make herself look slimmer, and she noted that there was a hole in the crotch of it with little flaps, so you could — apparently — crouch down and open the flaps and pee instead of trying to wriggle out of the entire bodysuit.  I also have  a slimming garment with a similar hole, which I have never used (the hole, not the garment).

spanx

Maria started calling her garment the “Beaver Peeker.”  As in, “Guys, can you toss me the Beaver Peeker? I need to change.”  Or,  “Should I wear the Beaver Peeker tonight to  look skinnier for the dinner?”

We though that savvy women should have more names for this creative cloth, so we started brainstorming.

beaver spanx underwear

We brainstormed these over the course of the 2-day conference, and each new suggestion made us roll on the floor, nearly crying with laughter, howling until our stomachs hurt. It was so, so fun. They don’t all make sense. They don’t have to!

At the final dinner, we came up with some creative ones:

  • Quesadilla Let Me See ‘Ya
  • Taco Unlock-O

We were screaming with laughter about some of these suggestions when Jade knocked on our door. 

Later, on our way to the lobby for Starbucks, the bartender walked by with some people in suits. He nodded his head and smiled to us, and waved.

So to summarize our conference learnings:

  • The RWA chapters of Chicago are full of awesome, fun people. They put on a well-organized, insightful, fantastic, helpful conference. Well done!  Sign up for their next one.
  • Next time you’re shopping for a slimming undergarment, why not spice up the conversation by asking for it by one of the new names above?
  • When you’re waiting in the “pre-pitch” room, it’s a good idea to start a horse-drawing competition with all the other women to help settle the nerves.

horse contest

  • Way to make a new friend:  When someone shushes your seatmate during a class in a very loud and rude way, it’s helpful to write, “Shush, BITCH!” in your notebook and show it to her and giggle. Then you can laugh together later and becomes besties on Facebook.  **Only do this if your seatmate seems to have a good sense of humor.**

shush bitch

  • During the silent auction, it’s helpful to get specific when you’re bidding on a critique session with a best-selling author:  “Fifty dollars and a picture of a sexy shirtless man.”  You may be out-bid by someone with an even better offer (Melonie!), though, who seems to have inside knowledge of what the author likes:  “Sixty dollars and pictures of hot gingers.”  (Damn my inability to appreciate the ging!)

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  • Penny Sansevieri has a GREAT class on getting the most out of Amazon. Take lots of notes.

penny

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Notes from Penny Sansevieri’s Class

  • To make your sisters choke on their meal, send more selfies from the bathroom of you doing a duck-face. (Head and shoulders only!)

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  • Thanks to all the organizers, presenters, editors, agents and authors at the conference. We had a fantastic experience there and would do it again in a heartbeat.

We had a great time. Were you there, too?  Want to share your memories,  or suggest a new name for the Beaver Peeker? We’d love your comments!


Alexis, Maria & Adrienne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Sentence

Writing & Editing – Creating the Perfect Sentence

By Alexis Alvarez

I can still see the excitement in my German teacher’s face, how he radiated enthusiasm through his hands. His gestures grew like waves in a storm. “This is one of the most perfect sentences ever written!” he declared. “And you are lucky to read and understand it in the author’s original voice.”

His gray curls bobbed. “Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.”

Light streamed in through the paned Barnard windows and I saw tiny flecks of spit hurtling like diamonds through the dusty air, and this accentuated his immense delight in the way the words moved in his mouth. He had us recite it aloud together, and we agreed on the perfection, the way it slid off the tongue, The German guttural and slick at once.

kafka book with quote

“Memorize it!” he exhorted us, and I did, the words ingrained in my brain after that one reading, my mind mesmerized with the cadence.

My German teacher’s name was Marvin Shulman. He was five feet something tall, and his energy for German, his love for words, radiated from his pores. My mental image attached to his name is this: Seeing him lean forward in emphasis, as if only by approaching us with the words could he hurl them into our souls.

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He spoke about something I’d felt in small bursts while reading – the joy of finding lines where the words fit together like puzzle pieces, as if they were meant to belong in that order, and the author was the first one who discovered it.

Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for other perfect sentences, and sometimes I write them down in notebooks, so I can enjoy them later like mind candy.

“Like a cat in the dark, your whisker touched something the wrong way and you backed out.”

-Mary Gaitskill, Veronica

“In the water, a dark plume of blood blossomed by her foot; as I looked, a thin red tendril spiraled up and curled over her pale toes, undulating in the water like a thread of crimson smoke.”

-Donna Tartt, The Secret History

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Every Author is a Translator

In her New Yorker article Teach Yourself Italian,” author Jhumpa Lahiri talks about the difficulties of learning a new language as an adult, and trying to become not just proficient, but expert enough to write in the new language, beautifully. She studies Italian for years in America, but it is only when she moves to Rome that she begins to think in Italian and to reinvent herself as an author who can write in Italian. With her newfound skills, she could even begin to construct and understand an Italian Poem. In the beginning, it’s a torturous process full of gaps and halts, but the sentences she writes to describe it are so lovely that they shine, notebook worthy.

“I write in a terrible, embarrassing Italian, full of mistakes. Without correcting, without a dictionary, by instinct alone. I grope my way, like a child, like a semiliterate. I am ashamed of writing like this. I don’t understand this mysterious impulse, which emerges out of nowhere. I can’t stop.

It’s as if I were writing with my left hand, my weak hand, the one I’m not supposed to write with. It seems a transgression, a rebellion, an act of stupidity.”

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She is determined to master the language to the point where the words work for her, within her, so that she can think in effortless Italian and make beautiful, perfect sentences in this new language that calls to her heart.

She does it: She learns to write so well in Italian that she doesn’t need to think of the words in English and translate in her mind into Italian; she does the more fundamental translation, that of images right into Italian.

Because all writers are translators. We are learning the language of our own mind and soul, and finding a way to get the thoughts out in a way that other people can understand. Whether we do it in our native tongue or a new one, it’s a steep mountain to climb: how do you take the ephemeral wraiths in your brain and implant them into someone else’s head?

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It’s a laborious process. Often I feel the way she did, writing in English, my native tongue. We have to translate our thoughts into words, and organize the words into something sensible and lovely; then the other person must read and interpret them.

It reminds me of Escher’s drawing of the hands drawing each other, turning from three dimensional to two dimensional and back: It’s something alive that gets flattened out, smashed into print before it’s resurrected in another body, and only the excellent writers create words that can send thoughts across this journey without being irreparably damaged in the process.

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There’s no simple secret on how to do this. But it’s possible to improve any writing through editing. The more we observe our work dispassionately, the harder we strive to improve our sentences, the better we’ll become at our craft. And with practice, we can write some perfect sentences of our own.

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How To Start

Stop worrying about perfection and write what flows into your brain and out of your fingers. Give your wordless images words; allow them ugly life, then you can mold them back into the images you see in your brain. You can’t edit an empty page. There are some writers who don’t revise at all, but it’s rare. Most authors find editing to be the most painful and most fruitful part of the process.

collette quote with outline

It’s like assembling a box of old bones into some new animal the world has never seen, not even me. At first there’s a rough scaffolding of a shape, but it’s wrong: I have too many ribs, an ankle attached to a wrist, a sad leg dangling uselessly into space, a spine that diverges into two necks, one of which I must sever. Over time, with great effort, I reassemble, remove, revise, until the beast stand firm, a shape emerged. Only then can I start putting on the skin and the color, the delicate eyelashes and the sparkling teeth, the eyes that glance and burn.

When I have the animal, I can show it to other readers and allow them to tell me where it’s still wrong. These people, my writer’s group and my beta readers, look at my creation and tell me where it’s broken, bleeding, dull, hollow.

hemingway quote

This part is the hardest part of my writing process, because sometimes significant changes are necessary, and they are difficult. I feel like I’m doing brain surgery on most delicate tissue, trying to improve and refine without killing the host. It would be easier to pretend the thing is fine and publish, but that’s the bigger misstep, because once it’s out there in the world, ready to roar out its presence, those flaws will make me wince every time I see it.

It’s not even that the editing process makes it perfect, it just makes it better. Each thing I write, each edit I perform, I improve my skills. Malcolm Gladwell proposes in his 2008 book Outliers, and several follow-up articles, that it can take up to ten thousand hours to become an expert in many fields. He points to certain musical virtuosi, computing geniuses, and sports stars who put in significant amounts of time – nearly ten thousand hours each – before becoming the master of their craft.

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He reminds the reader that a certain amount of natural skill is necessary, and passion is what will keep you interested over the long haul– but for most people, putting in the time is fundamental. People who skip past the practice right to the perfection are the exception, not the rule.

Don’t shy away from the hours your writing and editing take. Count them all as worthy steps toward your goal, although, of course, writers don’t always have discrete goals, but long, winding paths that last our entire lives.

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Common Writing Rules

How do you know what to cut, what to keep? My process is this: Rules and readers. I go through my work several times first, using basic rules of thumb to shorten and streamline, then I ask others to read it and give feedback on things big and small. My writing group will pick out missing commas and redundant language as well as bigger plot inconsistencies, and my two sisters will give me gut-wrenching feedback about the story as a whole and what needs to change to improve it.

Some common rules that writers follow

  • Show, don’t tell
  • Avoid adverbs when modifying the word “said”
  • Limit adverbs everywhere else
  • Be succinct
  • Alternate long sentences with short
  • Use concrete rather than vague language
  • Avoid passive voice
  • Reduce “ing” verbs. (Ex: Use she looked instead of she was looking.)
  • Don’t repeat words too often
  • Cut the stuff that readers skip
  • Use outside eyes to help edit

There are more. These can, and should be broken as necessary, but they’re a starting point, a good one. In the rest of the article I’ll focus on avoiding adverbs, being succinct, “ing” words, and outside eyes for editing.

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Favorite Writing Rules: Avoid Adverbs — “Show, Don’t Tell”

For me, “show, don’t tell” and “use concrete language” are the most important ones; the “avoiding adverbs” –my current favorite — is part of that.

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When I learned we’re supposed to be sparing with adverbs, I was sad. Obsequiously. Intermittently. Spasmodically. Unskillfully. You could assemble a list of them and it would be a poem.

When I read the why behind it, I understood. An adverb is often a short-cut that replaces details. If you force yourself to eliminate certain adverbs, you will need to fill in the gap with a specific description, and this makes your story interesting and vivid. Sometimes as the author you want and need your reader to fill in gaps, to make up their own mind about your characters, but it’s usually not in places where you’re clarifying something important about a character’s appearance, thoughts or actions.

No, you want to save that for places where they’ll catch hidden meanings or put together some clues you’ve scattered throughout the text. Let them work for the intellectual, challenging connections. But for the fundamentals of your story? Those should be crystal.

 

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If you overuse them, adverbs hide what’s really happening. Compare the two versions below.

Original

He shouted loudly, gesturing wildly with his hands. His hair blew crazily in the wind, and even though she leaned forward intently she couldn’t understand a single word. Below them, the ocean churned.

Edited

He shouted, gestured, and it looked as though he were trying to shake water from his fingers. She couldn’t understand a thing. The wind tossed his hair over his face like a dancing veil. It seized his words and tumbled them down the rock wall to the sea, where they sucked under and drowned.

Maybe to you, gesturing “wildly” means waving your hands to and fro for emphasis. Maybe it means pointing a finger and shaking it, or slamming one fist into a palm. If I want the reader to see exactly what I see, I need to tell them. If I don’t want them to see exactly what I see – why not? Is there a reason?

checkov quote w outline

For me, it was a shortcut. I was trying to get the pictures out of my head and onto paper, and in order to do that before the ideas faded, I used adverbs as placeholders.

When I went back to edit, I replaced them with the more specific images. This made the passage longer, which is opposite of the “being succinct” rule. To make up for it, I went through the manuscript and cut out words elsewhere that added bulk without beauty.

Sometimes adverbs are the perfect fit for your passage, and if that’s so, use them proudly and unapologetically. Authors mix in a deliberate ratio of adverbs for emphasis, perhaps because they love the sound, perhaps because they want to grant the reader poetic license to see their own vision.

Some writers have such intricate prose and vivid descriptions that an adverb here and there is good; it’s a breath between thoughts, it’s the oil that glides the story forward.

Take this example from Robert Hellenga’s The Fall of a Sparrow:

“The guitar had tremendous power and volume, tremendous resonance and sustain, more than Woody had been able to control; but the man skillfully damped the strings, now with his left hand, now with his right, so that the sound that came through was clean and penetrating, free from the resonator rattling Woody’d been aware of when he was playing. He didn’t know what to say.

‘Guitar like this can change your life,’ the clerk said when he’d finished the song. You don’t have to play it; just show it to people, let them look at it.”

guitar closeup small

When a great author mixes in a few adverbs with his or her gorgeous description, it’s almost like a compliment to the reader: “I trust you to fill in the details. You get me.” The use of ‘skillfully’ here doesn’t hurt the passage. It provides a little bit of “you figure it out on your own” help, and that’s effective, because Hellenga’s words are rich and luxurious, and the additional of a bland helper now and then works. He doesn’t just convince you that he’s heard this guitar; he convinces you that you have.

Here’s an example from Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, by Geoff Dyer:

“A dusty pole of sunlight poked in from the outside, illuminating a piece of Sanskrit written on a wall. The boy pointed at the light, which pointed at the sacred text like the finger of a slow reader moving across the page of a difficult book. I continued moving too and the boy tagged along, keeping fractionally ahead of me, thereby subtly suggesting that he was being employed to guide me.”

His style is unique, his words gorgeous. The adverbs keep us moving along so we can see more poles of sunlight and hear the bells ringing. Unpacking these particular adverbs into longer exposition would spoil the passage.

sun ray on sanskrit2

Some authors use adverbs all over the pages, tons of them, and still write best-sellers. Donna Tartt’s book The Secret History is a favorite of mine, even though she shot her adverbs at it with a BB gun. She uses Greek mythology and purple-tinged prose that hangs just on the right side of beautiful, and that makes it possible to forgive her for sentences like these:

“I know what he wants,” Charles said bleakly. “He wants us to come over to his hotel and have dinner.”

“Suddenly, his face changed. To my great surprise he cursed loudly and slammed down the receiver so hard it jangled.”

“Isn’t that interesting,” he said coolly. “I’m really not attracted to you, either.”

I don’t mind because she has glorious lines like these: “When I got to my room it was silver and alien with moonlight, the window still open and the Parmenides open on the desk where I had left it; a half-drunk coffee from the snack bar stood beside it, cold in its Styrofoam cup.”

mittelmark on adverbs

Maybe because Tartt uses so many adverbs from the very start, and because her book is larger than life, a Greek tragedy come alive, it’s appropriate to have the characters overact their emotions. Her adverbs are like stage directions for the mind. We imagine what to see as the storyteller narrates.

parmenides ad

Fans of J.K. Rowling may note the abundance of adverbs in her writing, adverbs which in no way hindered her stratospheric success. People love her plot and her characters so much that they care little about her adverb usage.

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More about Adverbs: Don’t Let Them Mar Your Translation

If you use too many adverbs, you don’t thoroughly describe the images in your mind, and the reader misses the path you worked so hard to create. Yet if you unravel every adverb with a long explanation, you can end up with unwieldy text, top heavy and boring. Sometimes it’s necessary to rewrite an entire passage when you eliminate adverbs.

Here’s a paragraph I wrote after interviewing a provocative local artist.

This is how I felt when I saw his shop

His art workshop was impeccably organized and obviously styled; more like a gallery than a place of labor, it was instantly obvious that he was abundantly in need of praise, as much from himself as from others. The works of art in progress were discomfiting and strange, everything designed to provoke unease. Even the way he organized his books spoke to his need for grandiosity.

Arranged as they were in shelves, in such a fashion that a single book could not be extricated without sending the rest tumbling, his organization let any guest know that he was so incredibly smart about art that he’d never need to read such a book again. They were not worth his time. It reminded me of a person so rich that he had no use for the dollar bills that we peons coveted. There was nothing humble about his space.

Rewritten

Soup-can-shaped containers waited in silent precision. Four feet tall, wiggly and large enough to hide a crouching human, they rippled at a finger touch. A white, powder-coated body exposed wires from a leg, a thigh, the torso, dripping them onto the shiny steel table across from his desk. This view was equally intimate and disturbing: his signature. A hundred glossy hard-cover art books, arranged in an intricate pattern of piles and floating shelving from which a single volume could not be extricated without disrupting dozens, were themselves an exhibit.

I once saw a picture of a wealthy man who lacquered an entire room in gold and hundred dollar bills, and it struck me that Tonnesen had a similar narcissistic arrogance; so convinced was he of his superiority that books on the subject, with nothing left to teach him, were best used as self-congratulatory décor.

bill tonnesen art

The thing with adverbs is to use them with intent — verify that they’re the best option to make your sentence complete. No published author has a perfect manuscript, so don’t use their mistakes and shortcuts as a justification for your own. Make your writing as strong as you can. In the long run, it will serve you well.

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Be Careful With “ing” Verbs

Renee Rose, USA Today best selling author of romance and erotic fiction, gave me an example of a before/after paragraph from one of her best-selling novels.

Original

“No,” he said and then had to lunge to catch her as she tried to escape. He wrapped both arms around her and held her tightly against his body. “No, Celia. I would never do that. Angelina was talking about you because she’s jealous.”

He could feel the shape of her firm breasts pressing against his chest through her thin robe and the image of their naked glory rose in his mind. His eyes strayed down to her lips again. She was looking at him full in the face, studying him as if to determine whether he spoke the truth.

Edited

“No.” He lunged to catch her as she tried to escape. With both arms wrapped around her, he held her tight against his body. “No, Celia. I would never do that. Angelina was talking about you because she’s jealous.”

Her firm breasts pressed against his chest through her thin robe and the image of their naked glory rose in his mind. His eyes strayed down to her lips again. She looked at him full in the face, as if to determine whether he spoke the truth.

Renee did a few things to clean up the passage. She eliminated several “ing” words (progressive verbs). By replacing “She was looking” with “she looked” she made the sentence crisper.

Sometimes the sense of motion or time passing is necessary to the story, or to your character’s voice, and if that’s the case, don’t hesitate to use an “ing.” However, many times authors use it as a habit. Be aware of when you’re using an “ing” instead of an “ed” and make it a deliberate choice. Overuse of “ing” words makes a passage fuzzy – a matted dog that needs a haircut.

Authors use “ing” words because they worry that time will snap by, sharp, and slingshot the action ahead of itself. That’s not the case. Readers know to extend or compress time using context. They don’t need a constant flurry of “ings” to remind them about it.

Too many “ing” words:

She kept looking out at the sea during her coffee break while she was eating her sandwich.

Revision without “ings” makes it stronger:

During her coffee break, she ate the sandwich without taking her eyes from the sea once.

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Beta Readers Provide Valuable Input

My sisters are my two best beta-readers. They read my entire novel from start to finish. Because they see the whole manuscript, they can give me overriding feedback about a character’s development and where it falls flat. In addition, they give me detailed critiques of sentences and paragraphs that should be fixed.

Here are some examples that Maria did for my novel in progress, Boston. She highlights the comments that need help, and puts her thoughts in a comment to the right. I usually take all of my sisters’ suggestions, because they make sense. (Don’t worry; many adverbs were harmed in the making of this story.)

comm3 from maria

She points out places where the language is clunky or offensive.

comm2 from maria

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Writing Groups Are Golden!

My writer’s group provides feedback on a chapter by chapter basis. During a typical meeting, each person takes a turn reading their segment aloud while the others follow along on hands-outs and take notes. The written-up hands-outs go back to the original author, who can use the comment to make improvements.

I’ve scanned several hand-outs with comments from my group. In each case, I used the feedback to make changes. Some of the changes may seem small. Added together, these comments work together to make a book streamlined and sleek.

Bren commented on my excessive use of the word “I”. My book is written in the first person, and it’s imperative to break up the “I-fest” and come up with creative ways to tell the story without inundating the reader.

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Edits from Bren

Angela always gets on me for my excessive use of semicolons. What can I say; I love the dang things. She pointed out my over-reliance on the word sex(y). When I edited, I found new words and maybe even got rid of a few semicolons; a sad process, but critical.

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Edits from Angela

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Edits from Angela

 

We point out things that work with a smile or an LOL, and are honest about things that don’t work. Jill gave me a smiley for a good line, and suggested eliminating an entire paragraph, which I did. She gave me an idea for a better phrase, and I used it.

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Edit from Jill

Adriana asked for more detail on perfume; when I rewrote, I added in the exact scent (Light Blue, by D&G.) She suggested ways to streamline and I took many of them.

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Edits from Adriana

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Edits from Adriana

Kacey pointed out that I used a lot of run-on sentences, something I want to fix. Her reminder stayed in my head while I edited, and I was careful to mix it up — some long sentences, some shorter, for variety.

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Edits from Kacey

Group members are honest when they find a phrase that sounds out of place or awkward.

kacey edit 2

I removed the “whore” reference. It didn’t work.

Make Your Editing Process Your Own

Your editing process might not involve beta readers or friends from a writer’s group, but no matter what you do, it’s critical to revise and improve your work. Sometimes, time itself is a wonderful editor. Let the manuscript sit for a week or a month, then re-read. After some distance, you may be able to make changes that would have scared or hurt you the first time through. The point is to do what it takes to make our work better, to turn it into something that captures readers.

My favorite books are ones where I read something and exclaim, “Yes! She gets it. I feel this way. I am this way.” Or, “This is really what life is like.” When you find an author who shines a light into your soul and illuminates something, not just in you but across humanity, showing you that a part of you which you considered fundamentally different is actually intrinsic to a greater population, it’s better than any magic trick in the world. Words are finite, but some authors make them sing.

kafka quote

Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, supposedly said about writing:

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

The interesting part is that sometimes our writing comes out muddy and watered down, and it’s only through editing that we get it clear and perfect. Jhumpa Lahiri used all of Italy, the country, as her editor, while she was in the process of learning Italian. We, too, can use everything at our disposal here at home: Writer’s groups, beta readers, and self-reflection.

Lahiri never stopped; just like Malcolm Gladwell’s “ten thousand hour” experts, she pushed on, day after day. So do that.

The more we revise and edit, the closer we come to making perfect sentences of our own.

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Bibliography / Credits

Kafka, Franz with Ian Johnston. Die Vervandlung – Metamorphosis (German-English Parallel Text). London: JiaHu Books, 2014.

Gaitskill, Mary. Veronica. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Tartt, Donna. The Secret History. New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1992.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Teach Yourself Italian.” The New Yorker Magazine. December 7th, 2015 Issue. (With translator Ann Goldstein.)

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Complexity and the Ten Thousand Hour Rule.” The New Yorker Magazine. August 21st, 2013 issue.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

Dyer, Geoff. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. New York, Vintage Books, 2010.

Hellenga, Robert. The Fall of a Sparrow. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1999.

Quote by Parmenides: https://faculty.washington.edu/smcohen/320/parm1.htm

Photography: All pictures are owned and copyrighted by Alexis Alvarez.

book pile

I have hundreds of ebooks, but I still love my paperback versions!

 

 

Dream Girl Excerpt

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Get the novel that makes reality TV shows come alive! Dream Girl is a contemporary romance with passion, humor, and an HEA.  It’s 85K words of pure fun with spicy heat and a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

“Writing is brilliant, and I loved these clever, hilarious scenes mixed in with super hot Dominic sexiness.”

“If you like witty, character driven, romances then you’ll love this book.”

“This book is “call into work sick in order to finish” worthy.”

“Fantastic story featuring real woman who are sexy & smart! Plenty of heat & drama!”

Chloe signs up for the Dream Girl reality TV dating show for adventure, not to fall in love with handsome bachelor Dominic and his chiseled abs. And his kissable lips. And the dirty, dirty promises he keeps whispering into her ear. But somewhere between a California fishing boat disaster and her daring escape from a boring fashion show in Rome, Chloe gives him her heart.  They sneak some time alone, and the passion blows her mind. Dominic promises he’ll choose her in the end, but things aren’t always as they seem on these reality TV shows…people have secrets, and plots have twists.  And the road to true love turns out to be the most complicated path of all.

Get Dream Girl today and find out why a reviewer says “The plot is funny and has enough twists to keep you reading right through to the end. This is one of those books where I’m torn between wanting to read until I’m done but also wanting to slow down so I can enjoy it longer. It’s so good!”

Buy on Amazon, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Excerpt from Dream Girl:

Muffled giggles peppered the silence before Dominic said firmly, “Chloe. Would you look at me for a minute?”

In the background, Kyle’s voice rang out: “Camera one, stay on Chloe. Camera two, you’re on Britt. We’ll edit out what we don’t need.”

Chloe ignored that and looked up at Dominic, finally, to find that his eyes were crinkled, his lips curved into a small smile. “Just say it,” she demanded. “It was fun. Have a nice life, right? I hope you all have a super time in Rome.”

“Oh, that’s how it is now?” said Dominic. “I don’t even get a chance to speak?”

“Fine. Speak,” Chloe ordered.

Dominic thrust a cloud stick at her. “Do you want to come to Rome or not?”

“You’re inviting me?” Chloe’s voice was full of disbelief. “After what I told you upstairs?”

“Yes.” Dominic was impatient. “So are you coming or not?”

“Why should I?” Chloe demanded.

Dominic paused. “Why should you? Well, damn it, Chloe, you told me you were dying to go to Rome. To take pictures. To see the architecture… or so you say.” He raised one eyebrow at her and gave her a wicked grin. “So you tell me. Why wouldn’t you want to go?”

Chloe glared at him. Dominic stepped closer and murmured, “You need more convincing? I want you to come. I want to get to know you better. That’s why you should come.” Then he added softly, “You’re going to kiss me in Rome, Trip. I’m going to make damn sure of it. I’ll find a private moment and rock your world.”

“Oh, really?” said Chloe, as her heart leapt and hammered in her chest. “Keep dreaming, Tools. I already told you my terms.”

“Who said I didn’t agree to your terms? That might be just what I want, too,” murmured Dominic, making her jump in surprise and blush. “And,” he added casually, “Even if you don’t kiss me, you still get to see your precious Colosseum.”

“You’re just lucky they don’t accept sacrificial slaves anymore,” retorted Chloe. “Or I’d be severely tempted to hand you over to fight a vicious lion.” She bit back a smile, trying to figure out if he was serious or just teasing about what he’d just said.

“Who needs a vicious lion when you’re around?” countered Dominic. His voice was stern, but his mouth twitched. “So are you going?”

“Fine!” yelped Chloe. “I’ll go. Okay?”

“Okay.” Dominic rolled his eyes.

“Are you happy?” Chloe’s voice was raised.

“I’m frickin’ overjoyed.”

They started at each other for a long minute. Dominic suddenly grinned and pulled her closer by the arms and spoke into her ear. “See you in Rome. I’m looking forward to starting our new agreement. That is, if you don’t break the plane.”

“What?” Chloe was scandalized.

“Well, you broke your shoe. And the gnome. And the bathroom. Face it; things aren’t exactly safe around you.”

Me break the plane?” Chloe repeated. “Please. I just hope the plane doesn’t get all cock-eyed in the sky from the mile-high antics you’re probably going to get up to. Pun intended, by the way.”

“Only if it’s with you, Trip,” whispered Dominic, making her flush red. He leaned in and let his lips hover over her jawline, and without meaning to, she leaned into his body and made a soft breathy noise. He chuckled and whispered, “We’re going to get along just fine in Rome.” He touched her neck softly. “More than fine, Chloe.”

Excerpt from Dream Girl:

When they entered her room, Dominic took off his jacket and tossed it to the chair. He looked her in the eyes and began to deliberately unbutton his shirt. Chloe felt her face redden and she sucked in a breath as his magnificent chest came into view. She waited for him to keep going, but he smiled at her and nodded his head.

“Your turn, Chloe. The shirt.” He crossed his arms, his shirt open. His voice was dominant, and the tone—so masterful and deep—gave her shivers. She licked her lip, watching a muscle twitch in his cheek, and slowly used both hands to raise her shirt and pull it over her head. When she was standing there in just her lacy bra, she tilted her head.

“Like what you see?” Her voice came out husky.

“Damn straight.” His was hoarse. He sat down on the bed, legs spread, and leaned back on his elbows. Chloe let her eyes dart over the cut muscles in his stomach, which rippled as he moved.

“Pants.” His eyes were dark.

Chloe felt a smile tugging at her lips, and she deliberately unbuttoned her pants and stepped out of them. Her panties matched her bra and she felt her nipples peak under his gaze.

“Nice,” he murmured, his body taut, his face focused on hers. “Now the bra.”

Chloe sucked in her breath. “Um…”

He smiled a dangerous grin. “Didn’t you say you wanted to play my game?”

She nodded, hesitant, but still didn’t move to undress further.

“Maybe you need help?” suggested Dominic, getting to his feet. “First-timers sometimes need a little… assistance.” His voice was low and sexy. “Come here.” He gestured with his finger, and pointed to the floor in front of his feet.

 

And as promised, an excerpt with the “dirty” Italian phrase…and many more!

The plane didn’t break, and nobody got up to any extracurricular activity, partly because it was a red-eye and partly because Dominic flew separately. Chloe sat with Eris, Devin, and Bella in a four-across middle row of the large jet, trying to teach everyone critical phrases from her Dangerously Italian Phrases book, which she’d found in the L.A. airport in a small book kiosk.

She poked her friends and spoke eagerly. “Oh! Here’s one that we might need in the hotel in case our reservations aren’t right. Say this: In questo caso, credo che ci limiteremo a dormire nella hall.”

The other three chorused it back to her in a poor imitation. “What does it mean?” asked Bella.

“In that case, we will just sleep here in the lobby,” answered Chloe in a sanguine tone. “Oh, and I’m sure every woman wants to hear this from a handsome Italian man. I tuoi occhi sono bellissimi al chiaro di luna. Your eyes look beautiful in the moonlight.”

The women giggled and pushed to look at the book, and Chloe continued, “And this one is the best! Posso mostrarti la mia Colonna Traiana? May I show you my Trajan Column? I think we all know what that means!”

Eris snorted and Bella blushed, putting one hand over her mouth. “I get it! Funny!”

Chloe pointed at the page. “Oh. Here’s how to tell a guy that he turns you on. Mi fai impazzire. Am I saying this right? Mee fie im-pots-ear-ray?”

A well-dressed, clean-cut man with a faint five o’clock shadow turned in his seat with a faint smile. “Scusa, Bella, your try was close, but you would say it like this. Mi fai impazzire. Or you could also say, mi fai deventare matto.” His smile was charming, full of white gleaming teeth. “But it would generally be spoken in a voice full of passion, and in a place more romantic than these airplane seats.” He had dimples and an impish grin.

“Well, grazie mille!” said Chloe, grinning back at him. She turned back to her friends and grabbed Eris’ arm with mock passion. “Oh, take me to your place and make sweet love to me all night long. Save me from the boredom and banality that plague me. Oh, amore mio, mi fai impazzire, mi fai deventare matto!”

The handsome Italian laughed. “Molto bene!” Then he lowered his voice and winked at her. “If you would like a private language lesson, I’d be happy to help. I am a very experienced teacher.” He handed her his business card. “You can call me any time.” His dark eyes shone and his clear olive skin gleamed in the low light. He was sexy, but Chloe wished it were Dominic sitting there, picking her for flirtation.

Chloe flushed. “Oh, thanks, but I’m sort of not available—”

“Ah, I see. You are with someone already?” the Italian asked. He looked curiously at the girls.

“In a manner of speaking. Except,” Chloe decided it was too difficult to explain about the show, “he’s also dating a bunch of other women.”

“Perhaps you wish to even the playing field?” offered her new friend, making sizzling eye contact. “My name is Alessandro.” He offered his hand and Chloe took it. She did not care that the stupid Dream Girl camera tech was filming even now, with a small hand-held camera. Or that she was not, technically, supposed to be talking to strangers. Marlie, who was right there next the cameraman, wasn’t yelling at her, right? So it must be okay?

“I’m Chloe. Nice to meet you,” she said to Alessandro, giving him a sultry glance. She had no plans to call him, but would it hurt to just flirt for a few minutes? A male flight attendant broke in, offering extra water and dimpled grins. He was very handsome too, and Chloe giggled as he exchanged flirtatious looks with Devin and Bella.

“Ah, perhaps I have competition already?” joked her new friend Alessandro, after the flight attendant moved on. “Do you also like this handsome man? Perhaps this is your idea of male perfection?”

“He is pretty fine,” observed Eris, following him with her eyes.

Chloe laughed and said, “Come on. He’s like, the last man on earth I’d ever want to be with. What a vacuous playboy.”

“I will have to work hard to disguise the fact that I, too, am a vacuous playboy,” said Alessandro in a mock serious voice. “That is, when I am not involved in my extremely successful investment banking company and making a lot of money.”

Another time, Chloe would have easily allowed herself to fall for his self-deprecating yet flirtatious manner. Today, though, she only wanted a few minutes of easy flirtation, perhaps to stroke her ego. And there was only one hot investment expert who had a place in her heart.

When they landed, Alessandro murmured, “I would love to hear from you, Chloe bella,” before he smiled and merged into the exiting crowd. Chloe sighed.

“Look at you,” observed Eris. “Already charming the locals.”

“I guess I’ve still got it,” joked Chloe, licking her finger and touching her butt. “Tssssss!” she exclaimed, with no small amount of pride.

“You going to call him?” joked Eris.

Chloe laughed. “If you like him so much, you can have him,” she replied. “He’s not my type for sure. Too cocky and sure of himself. But you know, knock yourself out if you want.”  She dropped the business card into Eris’ lap.

Eris poked her. “Nice way to give me your backwash. Remind me never to share a Coke with you.”

Chloe giggled. “I can’t believe he chose me to flirt with, though, instead of one of you all. Maybe he needs some radial keratotomy or something, but hey, I’ll take it. I mean, I’m leaving it, but I’ll take it.”

“Chloe!” Bella was dismayed. “I can’t believe you said that about yourself. And just so you know, I think Wavefront Lasik is far better than RK if someone is going to consider eye surgery. Safer and fewer side-effects. Just saying.”

Chloe smiled. “Oh, Bella, you always know how to cheer me up. Listen, everyone likes to flirt now and then and have some meaningless fun. But I’m saving my heart for someone really special, you know?” An image of Dominic filled her mind. She paused and turned to her right. “Marlie, do you mind? You’re crowding me. Again.” She raised her eyebrows and shot her chin forward at Kyle’s number one assistant and the woman holding the hand-held video device, using the universal gesture for Back off. “Do you really need to record every single thing we say, every belch we make, every piece of crud we pick out of our eyes?”

Buy on Amazon, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Thanks!

Amazon US

Amazon UK

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I hope you enjoyed the excerpts. Thanks for stopping by!

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A day with Shane & Kacey

Greetings!  I recently got to spend the morning with model Shane Eyeball Williams and author Kacey Shea.

kacey and shane

We walked around downtown Chandler, my hometown, chatting and taking pictures for Shane’s portfolio and Kacey’s book teasers.  Some of you may know that Shane is an model from Australia who does work for ads and book covers around the world, and has also done some television/movie work.

(Please be patient if the pictures load slowly – they’re worth the wait.)

shane by wall final bw wm Kacey is a hot new indie author with three sizzling books and more on the way.  Shane and Kacey are both fun, kind and good-hearted people who love to laugh and joke around.  Shane is rightfully proud of his hard-earned physique, but he’s no diva —  he’s a down-to-Earth nice guy with a great smile and a kind word for every fan.  Kacey can organize the best book-signings ever, and is one of the most creative and driven authors I’ve met, but she’s humble and sweet when she talks about her success as an author and her plans for future books and sexy covers.

KACEY GRAPHIC

Do you recognize that sexy guy on Uncovering Love? It’s Shane!

While we were taking pictures against a particularly scenic crumbled wall, a guy approached Shane with a business card, asking if he was a model, and told him about a new TV show. He said Shane would be perfect for it and should give him a call.  Shane later explained that this happens a lot when you’re a model, and not all of the offers are legit, but I was blown away. Can you imagine the coolness?  People just walking up to you with a business card?  Pretty impressive, right? (The man didn’t offer ME a card.)

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While Shane was in the US for this visit, he took pictures with several top photographers, including Eric Battershell and Golden Czermak. I felt honored to take pictures of Shane, too — and thoroughly enjoyed it, because Shane is such fun to hang out with.

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Shane was fun and professional, and game for taking pictures in front of every cool wall around, as well as my favorite coffee shop and the bridal boutique next door. Look closely, because in one of the shots you can see his name (“Eyeball”) tattoo.

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(Ladies, Shane is pointing to the dress you should wear!)

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Please visit his website and Instagram to see more of his pics and learn more about this cool Aussie with the sexy accent and the beautiful eyes.  Those eyes!

 

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And those muscles…

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And be sure to visit Kacey’s Amazon page so you can see (and purchase) her excellent books, which — by the way — have excellent covers. One of them features Shane.  The others are beautiful, too, even though they have not been Shane-ified.

Please stop by and friend by Shane and Kacey on Facebook, and follow their progress on Instagram & Twitter. They have fun, sexy and interesting posts to share — and they’re both super cool, nice people.

Find Shane:

Shane Eyeball on Instagram

Shane Eyeball on Facebook

Shane on Twitter

Shane on the StarNow site (talent directory)

 

Find Kacey Shea:

Kacey’s website

Kacey’s Amazon page

Kacey’s Author Page on Facebook

Kacey on Twitter

Kacey on Instagram

Awesome photographers I follow:

Eric Battershell

Golden Czermak

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Have a great day. Happy reading & picture-viewing!

Alexis Alvarez

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Getting The Words Right – The Magic of Editing

Getting the Words Right by Alexis Alvarez

 

Retro styled image of a vintage typewriter with a blank sheet of paper

 

In 1958, an interviewer for The Paris Review asked Ernest Hemingway how much rewriting he did.  “It depends,” responded Hemingway.  “I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”

The interviewer was curious. “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway replied, “Getting the words right.”

Getting the words right can take a month or a lifetime. Most people use websites such as effortlessenglishclub.com to try and aid with this. It is as simple as opening a vein, Hemingway was reported to say. In truth, it was the sports writer Red Smith who joke that writing was easy: “You just sit down and open a vein and bleed it out, drop by drop.” Still, Hemingway’s life as an author, replete with adventure and difficulty, is a testament to the beautiful irony of this oft-quoted phrase, and every author who reads it laughs and then says, “Yes,” understanding the agony of empty arteries and garbled pages.

The books get written – perseverance and dedication pay. Every author develops a method to distill the word flood into a sophisticated or wild vintage, using her style and voice to create something fresh.  Although good editing will never be described  in a perfect set of rote rules, there are enough similarities in the work flow of  successful authors, which, taken together, describe a  starting point for a solid editing process.   Reflection over time, outside eyes, and a ruthless scalpel are the keys to most finished manuscripts, regardless of the author’s genre and experience, with an emphasis placed on the ability to cut junk and keep the jewels.

I talked to authors who write suspense, romance, erotica and young adult fiction to find the unifying themes for an expert editing flow.  They are indie writers, authors who are affiliated with well-known publishers, and authors who move back and forth between the two. Some are newcomers to the writing world while others have been writing for years.  Yet they all share the same convictions about their writing – that only with significant self-reflection, help from other readers, and the ability to look dispassionately at their own work can they create their brightest masterpieces.

Several popular techniques I’ll focus on include getting honest feedback from peers before publication (either through a writer’s group or beta readers), reviewing the book multiple times to look for inconsistencies and errors, and having the courage to make significant cuts or changes to the book, even if it’s difficult and time-consuming.

steven king quote

Writing groups come in all shapes and styles – some groups meet on-line only, and talk in message boards about works they have emailed to each other.  Other groups meet in person, read aloud each week, and get real-time feedback and critiques.  Still others combine real-life meetings and on-line interactions.  The popular internet site Meetup can locate participating writing groups by state and region; many authors are surprised to discover multiple writing groups exist in their neighborhoods.   I started my own local writing group in Chandler, AZ,  when I didn’t find the perfect one to fit my needs.

Beta readers are people who read a novel before it’s published and offer feedback and critique to the author, who uses the suggestions to improve the work.   Beta readers can be friends, family, peers; the common theme is that they are trustworthy and give helpful advice.

Sonali Dev builds reader feedback into her entire writing process in order to create a book that is smooth and polished.  Her system works well for her. Sonali’s novel The Bollywood Affair was listed as one of NPR’s 100 Most Swoon-worthy books and as one of NPR’s best books list of 2014, and her novel The Bollywood Bride was listed as a Best Book of 2015 for fiction by Kirkus reviews.  She has an interactive writer’s group, and uses feedback from trusted beta readers to refine her novels.

sonali graphic

Sonali is passionate about writing and about getting feedback ahead of publication so she can perfect her books. She told me, “I’ve always thought of critiques as absolutely essential to my writing.  I WANT to hear all the criticism, so I can see what I don’t see, and fix what I need to fix. But of course, this is why building trust with your readers is so important, because I instantly discard anything that I believe is a personal taste thing, or a lack of understanding thing. There’s this intricacy to each reader’s reading and reacting process.  When you get to know them, you work out what their comments really mean, and you get better and better at picking out what that means for your story.”

Sonali’s writing group meets in person several times per year and works together on-line  to provide assistance to each other. She says, “We do weekly goals and recaps and basically put out calls when we need something read/critiqued/brainstormed. Either an open call: Can anyone read my synopsis/chapters/MS? Or then we go to individuals who might have the specific skills we’re looking for.”

The feedback helps her make improvements to the story, such as this one:  “In the book I just finished, my hero and my heroine are both survivors of trauma and are trying to deal with a lot of pain. And their relationship is based on how they are able to process their own pain by sharing in and helping with the other one’s pain. My hero hurts my heroine a few times, without meaning to, but he still does. And this bothered my CP. Basically I realized that my aim in those scenes was to have the hero take care of the heroine. That was the important part that led to the growth of their closeness. It required a little work  and digging but I rewrote the scenes where he takes care of her but he doesn’t inflict the hurt first.”

Kacey Shea, a fresh new voice in the indie romance world who combines light-hearted humor with deeper themes, has used feedback from her writer’s group to improve parts of her manuscript for her well-received novels Uncovering Desire, Uncovering Love, and Uncovering Hope.  She says, “In the manuscript I finished a few months ago, one of the main characters is a drummer. There was a passage with him getting into his car and blasting the music for the ride. A group member said, ‘I want to know what he was listening to, because if he’s a musician, it would be important to him.’ I thought that was insightful feedback, and made sure to add that he was listening to AC/DC’s Back in Black.”

That may sound like a small change, but many of these little suggestions add together to make a character more coherent.

KACEY GRAPHIC

Writing groups can take time, and some people with full schedules and young children can’t attend physical meetings. For these writers, beta readers provide feedback about the manuscript and suggest changes.  In fact, many authors say that the beta readers are the most critical aspect of their entire process.

Sonali Dev has about ten beta readers for each book, some of whom include close family members.  She says, “I get different things from different beta readers, who range from experienced writers from various genres to regular readers. But generally a good beta reader is someone who replicates a reader well and is able to tell me what worked for them and what didn’t in terms of character, plot, pacing. My beta readers are a mix of author friends whose work I enjoy (mutual respect and love for each other’s writing) to friends who love reading and are honest and read widely and whose opinion I respect as a reader. I also seek out a few beta readers who are subject matter experts in a theme or subject my book touches on.”

Sonali sends early revisions of her book to a set of beta readers, makes changes, and then sends the next revision to a new set of beta readers for additional feedback. Doing it this way, she says, guarantees fresh eyes the whole way through and gives her the kind of insight she needs.

She offers this advice to authors who are contemplating using beta readers for the first time.  “Build relationships. Readers who can brainstorm their reactions are invaluable to me. Also the best readers are ones whose writing you enjoy and those who enjoy your writing. Sometimes even your closest friend just isn’t into the same sort of writing you are into, and then you’re both just wasting your time. Also, each reader has a different strength. Some do well at the scene level, others at larger story level. Take the time to learn and apply each individual skill.”

Renee Rose, USA-Today best-selling author of erotic romance, is enthusiastic about receiving honest feedback about her book ahead of time.  She says, “I think I’ve always been open to honest critique. I majored in creative writing in college and spent thirteen years doing technical writing, so I’m used to receiving feedback and edits. I almost always accept feedback from my beta readers. I’ve learned that any time I ignore a beta reader’s feedback, a reviewer is sure to leave the same opinion.”

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Renee has hit #1 on Amazon in the Erotic Paranormal and Sci-fi categories in the U.S. and U.K., is often found on the list of Amazon’s Top 100 Erotic Authors and is a regular columnist for the website Write Sex Right.  Her most recent book, The Don’s Daughter, rose to the top of multiple Amazon charts.  She isn’t part of a writing group, and she picks her beta readers carefully, developing strong relationships with them, in order to continue her success in the marketplace. She explains, “A good beta reader has your best interest in mind and wants to help you do your very best. They are the sort of friends who would tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. They aren’t afraid to say what bothers them, and they know you won’t take offense, because the feedback is given from love.”

Renee’s process is streamlined.  She has four to five regular beta readers for each book who give detailed feedback and suggestions.  “I share a google doc and they track changes. This way multiple beta readers can give feedback or interact at the same time, and I can make updates to the same doc. They will give me feedback about plot holes, likes and dislikes of characters, word choice, sentence structure, and even punctuation. I rely heavily on my beta readers.”

One change she’s made to a manuscript based on beta feedback? “In The Hand of Vengeance, I originally had the hero’s dog die. My beta readers and professional editor both complained, so I saved Dog.”

athletic man with enthusiasm reads the book

One of Renee’s most trusted beta readers

Kacey Shea has recently expanded her team of beta readers from four to eight to increase feedback for her newest novel.  Because her large family and second career make it difficult to attend regular meetings in person, she’s moving away from physical writer’s group meetings and putting more reliance on her beta readers.   She welcomes honest feedback, saying, “My beta readers are crucial to my process. I won’t write another book without them! Feedback, both positive and negative, fuels me to be better, to stay on schedule, and to edit along the way.”

Instead of sending a finished book, she sends several chapters at a time to her beta readers, and gets continuous feedback as she writes. “I ask them to email or message me once a week, after they’ve read the chapters. I ask for them to share with me the feelings they get from the characters (do they like them, hate them, relatable), story (did it flow well, did anything make you stop and have to re-read), and anything else that stands out, the good, bad, and ugly. I honestly live for their emails/messages because my betas are smart, well read, and have a great sense of humor.”

Kacey has made major changes to books based on beta reader feedback.  “On this last book I wrote, I added an entire chapter based on one beta reader’s feedback that she felt jolted and completely taken out of the story from the transition of one chapter to the next. She actually thought maybe I had made a mistake and didn’t include it. The transition was too jarring and in turn I added a chapter that I not only love, but also develops the main character better. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see with fresh eyes, and I think good beta readers do that.”

It’s not always easy to ask for and receive feedback, but a serious author does it anyway because the reward is worth the pain. Kacey disclosed to me, “I always get insanely nervous about sharing my work because it’s maybe the most vulnerable I’ve been. To let someone into my thoughts, my writing, is to share a piece of myself that most people haven’t seen. I’m an introvert who still struggles with opening up to new people, so I am learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable! For me, I don’t think this part will ever get easier.”

Leslie McAdam, a Wattpad writing sensation who recently published The Sun and the Moon to rave reviews on Amazon, says “Wattpad  is my beta.”  She doesn’t work with a writer’s group, but she gets large-scale feedback in other ways. She has hundreds of followers on Wattpad, some of whom have become friends and regular commentators on her work.  She explains,“With the chapter by chapter publishing format of Wattpad, and the constant votes and comments, a writer gets A LOT of feedback.  Since I pretty much write and post same hour because I’m crazy, I am basically letting the world see my first draft and comment on it.  And sometimes those comments shape the manuscript because people will bring up questions that they want answered, or things that bothered them.”

leslie ad 1bigger2

In addition, she works with a trusted critique partner to develop the books further.  She says, “I met Kristy Lin Billuni, who is both a grammar nazi and a former sex worker.  Her business is called sexygrammar.com.  She gives me feedback, from the ‘add commas’ here type, to the ‘my reaction as a reader was to think ___ when I read this.’  She is so helpful, I can’t explain it.  She used to work for a publisher reviewing manuscripts and editing them, so she knows both the business and the genre of romance novels/erotica.  She also knows STORY and a lot of the advice she has given me has stuck.”

Some of Kristi Lin Billuni’s suggestions include:

  • “Write the fun part first. If you’re struggling to write something it could be because it’s boring and you don’t need it.
  • Don’t use the word “was” if you can help it.
  • One way of looking at plot is that a story has certain questions and the plot is when you answer those questions.
  • Use the quirky, weird words to make it more interesting. Make the sentences lively, with sensory description.”

Leslie is adamant about listening to feedback. She urges other writers: “Don’t be too precious about your writing.  Make it strong but malleable.  Let in the criticism, even when it hurts. And if all else fails, whiskey.”

She gave me an example of a change she made based on feedback. “If  too many people call you out on something, it probably needs to be changed.  I had a joke in my book that I loved and NO ONE got it.  NO ONE.  I finally ended up taking it out because it was cleaner without it.  (I still like the joke.)”

jokes

Leslie’s jokes are far better than these. No kidding.

She recognizes that feedback is sometimes hard to take.  When this happens, she recommends taking time to think it over.  “Give it a moment.  Don’t react immediately.  Because maybe you’re defensive at first but later on it seems like a good idea.”

Despite being in a demanding job where getting writing critique is just a part of her day, she points out that receiving reader feedback as an author feels different, and it’s important to react appropriately to get the most out of it. 

“In real life, I’ve been a lawyer for fifteen years and have received near constant criticism of my writing during that time, from colleagues, clients, and occasionally judges or the other side.  At some point, you get used to it. That said, it’s still scary.  Every time I hit “publish,” I sit back and cringe a little, because I am scared of what they are going to think.  I like what I wrote, clearly, because I hit publish.  But what if they don’t agree with me?  That feeling/thought process hasn’t gone away yet.”

Leslie differentiates between various types of critiques, and how to respond to each.

“There are a lot of different types of criticism.  The type that is the easiest to take (that is not praise) is that which points out fixable things, like grammar or punctuation, errors in word choice, or things that you look at and go, ‘ah, that’s what is written but that’s not what I meant, let me change it.’  That type of feedback is no big deal.

What is harder to take is when people say that they don’t connect with your character or that the chapter isn’t resonating with them.  And when that happens, there could be a few things going on.  Maybe that person just isn’t your reader.  Like shopping at the super-huge Rose Bowl Flea Market, not everyone wants to buy your goods and it would be impossible to do so.  Maybe that person really likes Sci Fi and you write Historical Romance.  They are never going to like your writing.

But if the person IS your reader and something isn’t connecting with them, listen to them.  I had a chapter that was a climax to a book and I really liked the chapter and no one else did.  I asked Kristy to look at it recently and she gave me two items of feedback that really helped.  She told me that the chapter was all in the character’s head and I needed physical description, a specific, easy fix.  And she told me that my word choices were leaning toward generic rather than specific, and to use the weird words that make it more interesting.  Again, a specific, easy (ish) fix.  It was so helpful to show her the chapter and say, this isn’t working for others, how do I fix it?”

In addition to writing groups and beta readers, an author can get important information from reading Amazon reviews. Natasha Knight, one of today’s biggest names in erotic romance and dark erotica,  told me that she always reads her reviews carefully, looking for trends and commonalities.  “It’s often hard to take, but look at similarities. Chances are, if you’re hearing the same criticism over and over again, it’s not them, it’s you. Nobody is perfect and one of my favorite reviews is a 2 star I once received on Given to the Savage. There is value in this if you take it the right way.”

natasha graphic

Natasha is a USA Today Bestselling author who writes a variety of genres including contemporary, paranormal, post-apocalyptic, science fiction and fantasy. She is a #1 Amazon Bestseller in multiple categories. Her most recent novel, Retribution, hit the top ten listing on multiple Amazon charts when it was first released. Natasha is currently self-published, but when she started writing she was with a publishing company. She gave me an example of a change that was suggested by her editor/reader at the time.  “Captive’s Desire had some content edits. I’d not given Livia’s sister a happy ending originally and was asked to change it, and I understand why now. A satisfying ending — and not just for the main characters — is something people rely on in romance. At least I do when I read a romance.”

Natasha doesn’t use beta readers or a writer’s group (she lives in The Netherlands, and the closest genre-specific writing groups are hundreds of miles away in the UK).  She goes through her manuscript herself at least five times, revising and making changes as needed after spending time in between reflecting and thinking about the storyline.  She hires a copy editor to help clean up the manuscript when it’s almost ready for publication.  Her process is thorough so she can catch as many flaws as possible.  Here’s Natasha’s flow for editing:

“I first write the story and when I’m about three chapters from being finished, I book my editor so I can get on their calendar. I submit once I’ve read it through and revised myself about five times after the first draft is done. Once the editor gets my MS, I like two rounds rather than one because I tend to make a lot of changes between the two.

The first round is the hardest, but I go through the changes one by one, and accept or reject. My manuscripts at this point look like a very badly done test with more red than anything else! Once that’s done, I go through and read the MS again, revising along the way. I make notes as I go on timelines to double check as I do this, and end up reading it through probably twice more before sending it back for round two.

Second round is easier, but I’m really paying attention now to errors in timeline or hair color or anything the editor and I may have missed. I’ve worked with great editors, but I think it’s important to note that this is your book and your name is going on the book. If the editor missed something, you’re the one who looks bad, so it’s really important to be very present during this stage of the revision and make sure your story makes sense and flows and that you don’t have storylines that drop off or don’t match up between chapters. This happened in one of my books where, during this round, I found an error in one of the secondary character’s storyline. It was kind of major and I’d missed it after multiple readings and so had the editor (it happens, we’re human). You’ve just got to really be paying attention and not reading when you’re tired or the kids have the TV going in the background or anything.”

Most authors agree that regardless of whether or not you use beta readers or critique partners, a final content editor is critical to catch errors.   The content editor is responsible for grammar and spelling and general continuity, and usually does not offer any kind of advice about plot, pacing, or characters.

Kacey Shea says, “I would never be able to publish a book someone else has not laid eyes on. It’s impossible for me to catch errors at a certain point because I have been reading it over and over and my brain already knows what it’s supposed to say. Attempting this solo doesn’t sound like a good time to me!”

Many authors find a content editor through word of mouth from author friends, and some have eagle-eyed friends and family who help with the read-throughs. Going through every single word is critical.

mark twain quote

 

Natasha Knight recommends, “Ask questions if you’re hiring someone for the first time, and get references. Be very clear up front on your expectations. And ultimately, trust your gut. It’s your book, be humble and be open, but also know that you know it better than anyone else. Stand up for yourself and speak up when you’re not getting what you expected or what was promised.”

Even before sending a book to the copy editor, authors get it as clean as possible first, to give the editor the best chance to make it perfect. Kacey Shea comments, “I change the font between edits. It’s amazing how things pop out when it looks different! I also give myself time. Enough time so that when I’m reading it’s not something I’ve seen twenty times before and hopefully I’ll catch errors, double words, etc. And even though I do hire a copy editor, I have at a minimum three people I trust read though the final copy to look for errors, all of whom have not read the book before. It’s always fascinating, and a little scary, how many errors can slip through at this point.”

Leslie McAdam offers this advice to authors who may feel nervous about their  grammar expertise  — do the best you can, use others to help, and focus on how to make the book more meaningful to the reader.  “I wasn’t an English major (I majored in Forestry) and I have some hang ups about grammar and writing.  I haven’t let that stop me from writing, I’ve just tried to suck as much information as I could.  One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given about writing is to ‘lower the level of abstraction.’  What that means is instead of saying ‘he harassed me,’ you say ‘he called me every day at seven in the morning and let the phone ring three times and hung up.’  It’s more specific.  I think that as you edit, look for ways to lower the level of abstraction so that the reader is more engaged in the story and can really picture what’s going on.  Always think of the reader, even if you’re writing for yourself.”

Good looking man posing with axe Good looking man with axe

One of Leslie McAdam’s Fans

If you’re still stuck? If the editing process is so painful that you want to give up? Maybe you need to change something bigger than a few words, or even a major plot twist.  Are you writing what you really love? All of the best writers groups, beta readers and  content editors  in the world can’t improve a work that doesn’t resonate with readers – and in order to connect with them, you first have to connect with yourself.

Sonali Dev says, “When I started writing novels, I was trying to write this really complicated literary novel, and I was very lost. And I kept hearing write what you love, write what you love. And I had this love story in my head. I had TB and I was stuck in the house and I was too depressed to write my literary novel. And I said, well, you know, I’m going to write what I love and this love story that’s been in my head, which was The Bollywood Bride. I grew up watching Bollywood films, and what romance readers are seeking and what the Bollywood audience is seeking are exactly the same, which is an emotional connection, emotional highs and lows. People who criticize the predictability of romance or of Bollywood films misunderstand the point of both. The point isn’t  logic. It’s feeling. We hunger for that emotional bite, those highs and lows and that—I call it a heartgasm. That’s what both have.”

Remember to keep the heart of the thing, even as you busy yourself with the myriad details involved in editing and publishing a book.  Don’t let your story get lost in the flurry of details and revisions, in the Oxford commas and the adverb deletion.

pages with words

The authors quoted in this article are experts at their craft, and they’ve all created brilliant stories that I love,  and one thing I respect about each one is her unique and strong voice.  They  put their heart and soul into their writing. Despite the fact that there are significant differences in their editing processes, they all do the hard thing – they listen to feedback and edit, even when it’s nerve-wracking and heart-smashing.  You can’t mimic their results by copying their formula, but reading about their experiences can help spur new ideas to try.  Their commitment  reminds me of another quote by Red Smith:  “I made up my mind that every time I sat down to a typewriter I would slash my veins and bleed and that I’d try to make each word dance.”

The point is to get creative and do what it takes, using ideas from other writers and your own, to turn your work into the best thing it can possibly be.  In the end, if you do it well, you will get your words right.

Happy Editing.

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Find the Authors & Editors:

Sonali Dev

Leslie McAdam

Renee Rose

Kacey Shea

Natasha Knight

Kristi Lin Billuni (SexyGrammar.com)

References

Real Quote by Hemingway:

The Paris Review, Spring  1958, No 18:  Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21.  Interviewed by George Plimpton.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway

Quotes by Red Smith, incorrectly attributed to Hemingway:

The Quote Investigator.  http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/

https://killzoneblog.com/2012/11/the-perils-of-internet-information.html

http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com/2015/03/making-blood-splattered-words-dance-off.html

hemingway farewell to arms