Tuesday, August 25, 2015

George A Bernstein discusses his book "Trapped"

George Bernstein is a youthful seventy-eight-year-old, with a B.A. from Northwestern University, now living in south Florida, and the retired president of a publicly held Chicago company. 
George's main interest is as a serious novelist. He has attended numerous writers’ conferences and seminars, including that of famous fiction agent, Donald Maass, and he has worked with independent editor, Dave King, all with the goal of improving his craft. This talented author will be sharing with us a benefiting article on writing very soon. Join me in this book dialogue where he discusses his book Trapped, A novel of Parapsychological Suspense.    

D.O: How do you do.  Thank you for joining us today, on Authors' Curtilage Book Dialogue.

G.B: Thanks for having me.

D.O: When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

G.B: My wife encouraged me to start. When I was ready to semi-retire pretty young, she said, "What are you going to do to keep busy? You don't love golf that much. You are a great story-teller. Maybe you should write a novel." Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for. But once I began writing, I was hooked. I get totally involved in my plots and the lives of my characters. I HAVE to see where they are going!

D.O: Hmmm. You had a drive both from your wife and that spirit guide common with well talented writers who know how to connect. What are the various craft you've studied before you came into the entertainment industry or do you just possess some natural tendencies to write stories?

G.B: I always loved to write, and my essays were often the ones read aloud in various English classes. A few years into this new career, I started attending classes at good writers’ conferences, and a seminar by Donald Maass, probably the top fiction agent. I quickly learned that while I had some natural talent, there was a lot I didn’t know about how to write really riveting fiction. As an aside, my wife attended some of these conferences and seminars, and suddenly realized how badly done were some of the things she used to love. She’s become my severest unapologetic critique.
That’s impressing. What are the steps you took to develop your book from a rough draft into a published novel?

G.B: First, I envision a story, and then I imagine my characters: the heroine (in my 1st 2 novels. Heroes come in my 3rd & 4th); who will be her protector; an anti-hero or villain; and various enablers (both good & bad). Each character has their own 4 x 6 index card, with physical appearance, likes, dislikes, traits, and backgrounds. As the story develops, anything new gets added to their card. New characters that appear get their own cards.

Next, I outline the entire story, chapter by chapter - just a few sentences for each, as a guide. Then the writing begins, and soon the characters magically take over the action, often plunging off into uncharted directions of their own. The outline becomes a flexible tool, not an iron cast mold.

After I complete the 1st draft, I begin several edits. First, I correct spelling, grammar and sentence structure. You always find something you missed; no matter how often you redo this. Next, I look at overall flow & pacing. Often, chapters are moved around to improve overall flow. Then I go back and look at descriptions... both words for more powerful descriptions, and whole scenes, to be sure they are as tense as I can make them. In Donald Maass’ seminar, he asked “What’s the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?” After coming up with that, he then asked “What can be even worse than that?” and then, after some serious head-scratching, “What is even worse than THAT?” Without tension, no one stays interested in your novel very long.

On a final edit pass, I often break longer chapters and paragraphs into shorter ones, a trick I learned from, among others, James Patterson. It keeps the reader more engrossed.

D.O: I have learned something myself from this interview. Not just that, I am cautioned on some principles I skip when writing. If all writers will apply these aforementioned principles they will do well. What did you do differently in your book to make readers feel fear, concern, sadness, love and laughter?

G.B: I try to humanize the characters with little things to show their inherent goodness (or evil), their loves, fears, hidden purposes, anxieties. Things to make them real, someone you really care about (or hate). These are things often missed in the first draft, as I get the story down. I often have to go back to turn them into real people.

What sensitive materials do your books deal with?

G.B: In my 4th novel, BORN TO DIE, the 2nd of my “Detective Al Warner Series,” 6 month-old baby boys of wealthy or very talented Palm Beach families are mysteriously dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Only Casey Jansson, a maternity nurse, sees anything suspicious

D.O: What's the subject matter of your book?

G.B: Detective Al Warner, who is on Medical leave after a deadly shootout with a serial killer, agrees with Casey that something seems suspicious. He agrees to help investigate, but they have no idea of any motive or opportunity for anyone to somehow cause these deaths.

D.O: What is the underlying theme that explored truth or moral in your book?

G.B: That would be a spoiler. Everything is revealed in the end.

D.O: Okay. If you think it will be a spoiler, we’ll skip it. What town or city does your book story portray and what is the feeling we have in this dwelling places?

G.B: The tri-states of Dade, Ft. Lauderdale & Palm Beach Counties. The sprawl and the wilderness of the Everglades

Having a unique point of view in telling a story provides your story with intention. From how many characters' viewpoint is your entire book seen from?

G.B: Primarily, three: Casey Jansson; Casey’s best friend, resident doctor, Danny O’Brien; and Detective Al Warner, with several other side characters having chapters.

What do these points of views infuse into each of the scene in your book?

G.B: Who they are, what they want for themselves and those they care about, and what are they doing about it.

What does the lead character of your book want most in the world?

G.B: Al Warner: to get released by the departments shrink and get back on The Job, and to resolve complicated romance situations plaguing him. And of course, an unrelenting search for the bad guys. Casey Jansson: To discover the truth about these SIDS deaths, and to finally find love for herself

What does he do to achieve this goal?

G.B: Warner: Pester his Captain and psychiatrist about why he’s not back at work; follow the few leads that develop in this off-the-books case; and pursue answers from the women in his life. Casey: Goad Danny into research into the SIDS babies’ records; encourage Warner to help her; and eventually put her life in danger as she chases the final clue in her crusade

What are the two conflicting values you created for him?

G.B: Warner: A relentless search for truth and the villains, while conflicted attempts to find love a rarity for a street tough, hard-nosed cop with an unremitting commitment to honesty. Casey: Her obsessive crusade after a reason for all the SIDS deaths, while trying to overcome past loss while searching for love

Does these values make sense from his backstory?

G.B: Yes, for both, at many levels.
D.O: What is the personal trait you gave your lead character to survive your book story?

G.B: Warner: Unremitting toughness, with great insight into mysteries, and a surprisingly sensitive nature under the hard bark of his exterior persona.
Casey: An unrelenting sensitivity to children dying, while filled with personal conflicts.

In the end of your book did the story goal satisfy your lead character's ambition or did he device another method to achieve his goal or failed at achieving it?

G.B: Yes, fully satisfying with a surprising, I hope, very tense climax. All is revealed in the end.

D.O: Okay. Any hint about your next book?

G.B: The 3rd Detective Al Warner Novel, again dealing with a deranged serial killer in the Miami-Dade area. Warner’s finally back on The Job, and a new Unsub is killing off young redhead women, dressing them to the nines before disposing of the bodies. The co-protagonist is a young redhead woman, striking out on a new real estate venture, while writing short stories. Those she loved as a child were “One Thousand and One Nights,” and an O’Henrey collection. They eventually become her lifeline.

D.O: That’s compelling. What better effort do you suggest writers, input into their writing to have great sales in the ever-changing economics of the entertainment industry?

G.B: First write a riveting novel with a different slant from the “run of the mill,” with escalating tension, i.e. “What can be even worse than that?” Tense scenes can take pages, and even full chapters. Nothing should resolve too quickly.
My first two novels, TRAPPED, and “A 3RD TIME TO DIE,” received 5-Star review with praise for how different they were. Everyone said “I couldn’t put it down.”
My 3rd novel, DEATH’S ANGEL (the 1st in my Al Warner series), has an ending no one will suspect, with all 5-Star reviews. It also explains why Warner is official inactive in BORN TO DIE. Be open to serious criticism, and don’t be afraid to make changes. After several comments from editors, I reluctantly deleted a lengthy side plot from TRAPPED, which made it a better story. But don’t be so flexible that you’re afraid to stand by what you believe is right. Again, I resisted change for the ending of TRAPPED, and readers seem to love it the way I wrote it.

And then you have to become your own publicist, something most of us are not good at

D.O: Thank you once again for joining us on Authors Curtilage Book Dialogue. I wish you all the success you deserve in the field.
G.B: Thank you Darmie. You are doing a great job.

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