Diane Hester

Diane Hester

I’ve recently returned from another writing retreat (our last for the year) where I discovered a new exercise that’s helped me enormously in writing the first draft of my current thriller, No Good Deed.

I’m still at the stage of outlining my plot and, as always, am looking for ways to get more drama into my scenes.

Usually when I begin a new story I start by getting to know my characters. I freewrite on their backgrounds, explore their early formative experiences, determine their goals, their strengths and weakness, internal conflict, etc.

This time I added an extra step. I already had a pretty good idea who my characters are as individuals so I started putting them together in pairs.

I remembered that when writing Run To Me, the thing that kept pulling me back to the story was the emotional dynamic between my heroine and the boy protagonist. Before either of them did a thing or said a word in the story, a potential dynamic existed between them – they weren’t just any woman and boy, but a mother who had lost her son and a boy with no family.

The characters on their own were interesting and had traits and backstory that were compelling. But it wasn’t until I put them together that the real chemistry started to happen. A perfect example of a result being greater than the sum of its parts.

So that’s what I tried with my current work in progress. Instead of just focussing on my individual characters, I asked myself, what is the dynamic between each pair?

I started with my heroine and explored her relationship with the villain – how she reacts when she first meets him and how those feelings change over the course of the story.

Then I did the same thing with the heroine and the hero, the heroine and her father, her missing sister, her best friend, etc.

Exploring the dynamic between my characters has given me heaps of ideas for scenes and dialogue. Ways to get naturally-existing emotion onto the page. And pairing two secondary characters together has given me a few surprises as well.

For me the relationship between characters is far more interesting than any one character on his/her own.  

In Jaws, one of my favorite movies, the three main characters – Brodi, Hooper, and Quint – are all interesting on their own. But it wasn’t until they were forced together on a small boat, in close quarters, that they became my favorite trio of characters.

Thursday, 18 August 2016 07:15

My Self-publishing Timeline

When I decided to go the Indie route, my first step was to do months of research. Using the information I gathered (and being an avid list-maker!) I wrote out a publishing timeline for myself – all the steps I would need to take, in order, to reach my goal of producing my first self-published book.

Now - only halfway through my journey - I’ve already revised my list a dozen times. And that’s okay - I’m working to get it right for next time.  I’m sure there are more revisions to come, but just so you know I haven’t been goofing off this last month, I’ve decided to post my current timeline.

For anyone thinking of self-publishing a novel, feel free to copy it. Yours will almost certainly be different but it’s a starting point you can refine how you like.

For anyone who’s already been down the self-publishing path, I invite your comments on anything you think I could’ve done differently or that I left out. And for any interested readers, this will give you some idea of what authors go through to produce a novel without the support of a traditional publisher.

Once I reach the end of this process and have finished revising, I'll post a free download of my complete timeline with explanations of what each step is and why I made the choices I did. Until then, here’s how things stand at the moment:

Phase 1: Editing/Feedback (2-3 months)
_____    finish final draft of manuscript            
_____    submit manuscript to editor                 
_____    give manuscript to beta readers            

Phase 2: Product Preparation (to do while ms is with editor and beta readers)
Book Exterior
_____    decide book title and subtitle
_____    select/design front cover image
_____    write shout line (or use editorial review quote)
_____    write back cover copy
_____    select back cover background (design back cover using InDesign)
For Amazon
_____    write book description for Amazon website (approx 500 words)
_____    set 5 book key words
_____    decide book category
_____    decide print and ebook prices
_____    choose my publisher name
_____    purchase ISBNs from Bowkers/MyIndentifiers
_____    create CreateSpace and KDP accounts
_____    create Createspace project file and enter all preliminaries (above items)
_____    write author bio for book interior and Author Central
_____    write acknowledgements
_____    create end-of-book sample of my next book (and its release date)
_____    create a page with cover and blurb for each previous book
_____  add new book to Goodreads website (cover and blurb but no ISBN)
_____  do a cover reveal via General Updates and/or GR blog
_____  schedule a Giveaway of my previous book  
_____  announce giveaway on Status Updates and GR blog
_____  add giveaway widget to Welcome page of my website
_____  shelve books, join groups, engage with readers
_____  upload free ‘sneak preview’ excerpt from new book
_____  announce ‘sneak preview’ on GR blog/general updates
_____  announce upcoming release on Facebook (cover reveal)
_____  get new author photo taken
_____  prepare list of blog reviewers to send ARCs to
_____  create and start using new email signature (new book cover and release date)
_____  announce on Facebook ‘sneak preview’ available on GR  
_____  editor returns edits  

Phase 3: ARC Preparation (3 wks)
_____  revise manuscript as per editor and beta reader feedback (2 wks)
_____  format book interior (CreateSpace, Wordpress, Bookdesign, Vellum)
_____  upload completed interior template to CreateSpace by: _____________
_____  once you have book dimensions, design backcover and spine
_____  upload complete book file to CreateSpace (allow 24-48 hrs for approval)
_____  once approved, order proof copy
_____  in the meantime, proof read book via CS on-line proofing; make corrections
_____  once interior has been proof read, submit e-ARCs to reviewers (see list below)
_____  once proof copy arrives, check cover and make final changes on CS
_____  once approved, order copies for launch and Goodreads pre-release giveaway
_____  create e-book through Kindle Direct
_____  create pre-order link on Amazon
_____  ARCs complete and ready to submit for review by: ________
               add 3 months to above date to get release date: ___________

Phase 4: Reviews/Pre-release Promotion (10-12 wks)
send e-ARCs for author endorsements
_____  submit ARC to Publishers Weekly                
_____  submit ARC to Best Thrillers                     
_____  run a giveaway on Library Thing        
_____  submit to Goddess Fish blog tour              
send e-ARC to pre-selected blogger/reviewers:
_____  commence Goodreads Giveaway of ___ ARCs
_____  initiate Goodreads paid advertizing campaign for giveaway
_____  update author profile on Goodreads (new author photo and bio)
_____  update Welcome page with new release cover and blurb  
_____  install new Goodreads Giveaway Widget
_____  create free-sample link to Amazon
_____  create pre-order link  
_____  blog about new release (the story behind the story, interesting notes about the setting, things I learned researching the book, food recipes from the area, etc)
_____  announce Goodreads Giveaway of new release
_____  add Goodreads review widget
_____  post good editorial reviews
_____  announce launch date
_____  update Amazon Author Central page
_____  winners of Goodreads Giveaway selected on ____ – send out prizes
_____  commence 2nd Goodreads Giveaway  
_____  organize author talks, signings, book tour (libraries, book clubs)
_____  order book marks
_____  organize launch
_____  contact local paper to announce book launch
_____  post good reviews on website as they come in
_____  add editorial reviews to Amazon book listing via Author Central dashboard
_____  add editorial reviews to Goodreads book listing
_____  winners of Goodreads 2nd Giveaway announced – send out ARCs
_____  write launch speech
_____  write author talk speechPhase 5: Release Promotion
_____  (change shout line on book cover to a quote from editorial review)
_____   release book for sale on Amazon
_____  announce Goodreads Launch Giveaway of ___ signed copies (week of launch)
_____  local book launch ______________________
_____  winners of Goodreads Launch Giveaways chosen – send out prizes
_____  answer ‘ask the author’ questions on Goodreads
_____  submit new-release title to writers groups I belong to
_____  announce/post schedule of book tour on website and Facebook
_____  continue to add good reviews to website pagePhase 6: Post-release
_____  enter book in any awards
_____  announce any nominations/wins on Facebook, website, Goodreads, Amazon

Other Branding/Platform Building Options
    plan a workshop to present
    write an article for a writers group newsletter
    write guest blog for friends, contacts, writers groups I belong to
    post a Utube video interview on my website, FB and Goodreads

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the white cedar trees that line the drive of our rural property were all in bloom, scenting the air with their delicate fragrance.

‘Ah, smell that,’ I said to my husband as we set off for our morning walk. ‘Isn’t it lovely.’

In typical fashion Michael grunted. ‘Hunh. I don’t smell anything.’

I stifled a sigh.

One thing I’ve noticed since becoming a writer is that it changes the way you experience life. The majority of people, men in particular, walk through their days with blinders on, never appreciating what’s around them.

But we writers are different, a separate breed. Constantly taking in the little things, those resonant details that others miss, storing them away to use in our stories.

Poor Michael, I thought. If only he’d train himself as I have. To be more observant. To be more aware. Maybe I could show him all he was missing.

‘Wait here,’ I said, and turned to stride over to the nearest tree.

I reached up, snagged the lowest branch and broke off a cluster of flowers. Clutching the posy, I marched back and thrust it beneath his nose. ‘There. Can you smell it now?’

He seemed bemused. An odd sort of smile on his lips as he stood gazing down at me. Finally he answered. ‘Yeah. I guess.’

I stood triumphant for all of two seconds. Until I noticed my knee felt wet. A sensation rapidly spreading down my leg and into my shoe.

This eagle-eyed writer had failed to notice her husband had paused, not to anticipate her return, but to relieve himself against the nearest tree.

Saturday, 25 June 2016 07:28

Moving Forward - On Going Indie

There have been moments in the last two years when I felt this whole publishing thing had finally got me beat. That it was time to hang up my pen and take up kick boxing or stunt car driving. Something less painful. Something more sane.

I submitted my work for eleven years before my first novel, Run to Me, was accepted by Random House. I thought I’d finally broken in. Maybe it wouldn’t be all smooth sailing but at least I’d got my foot in the door. I was on my way.

But after waiting a further three years - being held in limbo on two other manuscripts for most of that time - I have yet to publish my second novel. Therefore, after much debating, I’ve decided to do it myself. (You know that ol’ biological clock? An author’s career clock ticks no less loudly!)

So for better or worse, I am hereby committed. My next suspense novel, HIT and RUN, is now with my editor and if all goes to plan I’m looking at a release date sometime in October 2016. (To be announced.) Above is a sneak peak at the cover (selfpubbookcovers.com).

I’ll be on another steep learning curve through all of this. Wish me luck.

Friday, 10 June 2016 02:54

Thanksgiving in Australia

The house is looking festive, filled with a sense of anticipation. There’s a basket of apples scenting my kitchen, pumpkins and vegetables cover the counters, and all my big platters and serving bowls are sitting out ready to be filled with traditional Thanksgiving fare.

The kids will be arriving this afternoon, ready to gather wood for the bon fire, prepare the shed for the influx of guests, set the huge table (for 22 this year!), and stoke up the wood stove ready for Sunday.

As American-born parents, Michael and I wanted to give our kids a taste of U.S. tradition. Apart from Christmas (which Australians celebrate in any case) the biggest holiday for us was Thanksgiving and before our children were even born we were keeping the tradition alive in our new home.

It didn’t feel right celebrating Thanksgiving in Australia on the same day they do it in the States. I had a hard enough time adjusting to Christmas without snow so I wanted to keep to the appropriate season.

As luck would have it, South Australia has a long weekend in early winter – the Queen’s Birthday, in the middle of June. So that has become our family’s traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

When we first moved onto our farm and the kids were young, we actually combined this day with Halloween. Back then I had a massive vegetable garden and grew mountains of pumpkins every year. On our Thanksgiving day, after the traditional turkey dinner, a hay ride around the property and dessert and coffee, the kids would all gather round the picnic table and carve some Jack O Lanterns. (When I say ‘kids’ it was most of the grown-ups as well, as everyone wanted to be in on the fun.)

By the time they’d finished, dusk was falling and it was time to light the bon fire. Michael’s pyromaniac friends would get it going, and when the flames had died to the point we could get within fifty feet of it, everyone would pull up a chair and settle in with a port, beer or glass of cider.

That’s when we’d light the Jack O Lanterns, arranging them around on the ground, up in trees, lighting the pathway down to the house. We’d sit in mellow appreciation, digesting our meal, with those laughing, ghoulish, grinning faces shining back at us.

These days I don’t have the vegetable garden (one of the downsides of a bad back) but the rest of the day is still the same: food, drink and plenty of laughs.

We love sharing this tradition with our Australian friends and like to think they have fond memories of the many times we've celebrated it together.

What traditions has your family invented or transplanted to a different country?

Saturday, 04 June 2016 02:52

The Culinary Three Act Structure

As a writer I’m familiar with the 3 act structure as it pertains to novel, theatre and film writing. But it occurs to me a similar structure exists in the art of gourmet cooking, especially among passionate amateur chefs.

Act One is the drama of buying the ingredients. This involves a day (or at least several hours) flitting from one market to the next, examining, fondling and (most importantly) sniffing produce. It requires lengthy questioning of market staff (while other customers line up waiting to be served), debating the merits of one fish gut paste over another, and standing in aisles bemoaning to anyone within earshot, ‘If only I could find that beetroot jerky I bought in Florence that time…’

Act Two is the drama of preparing the meal. This again involves hours of intense labor – chopping, grating, mashing, pulping, dirtying every pot and utensil in the house and covering every inch of counter space in a swill reminiscent of industrial waste.

Like the second act of any good play, this stage involves numerous setbacks and complications. It involves lengthy delays, bouts of swearing and frequent updates on the estimated meal time.

As the hour draws closer to the final act and the tension in the kitchen becomes unbearable, dinner quests retire to the living room (or deck or porch – anywhere away from the harried chef) to mop up the last speck of liver pate and fantasize about peanut butter sandwiches.

Finally, after hours of waiting, (long after anyone’s normal dinner time) the greatly anticipated moment arrives. But just when you think you can sit down and enjoy the meal there is one last Act to this sintilating drama: the meal must be thoroughly analyzed.

This involves the chef reliving the entire experience of creation and sharing any nuance his diners might have missed (or sought to escape).

Again that elusive beetroot jerky gets a mention as the missing ingredient that would’ve elevated this disappointing effort to truly gastronomic heights. For no chef is ever happy with what their efforts. No matter how many compliments or murmurs of delight they get from their dinners, they sink ever deeper into a depression that lasts at least for the rest of the evening and often till they start planning their next diner party.


Having said all this (with tongue in cheek as I dearly love my cooking friends) I can clearly see that, on a different level, this is exactly what I go through when writing a novel. Like the chef I hunt for ingredients (characters and ideas), spent hours preparing (writing) my project and am often in a foul mood while I’m doing it. And when it’s finally done I analyze (edit) from start to finish and am rarely satisfied with the results.

So really I’m just another passion chef preparing a meal I hope people will like. The only difference I can see is that I don't have to starve while I’m doing it.

Monday, 23 May 2016 11:31

Making the Cuts That Improve A Novel

‘Drama is life with the boring bits left out.’

I love this quote by Alfred Hitchcock. It applies not only to movie making but novel writing as well, especially suspense. And I try to adhere to it as much as possible in writing my own.

What I choose to write in a story is never a blow-by-blow account of what happens. I skip the dull bits and if there’s any information the reader needs from it, I have my characters talk about or reflect on it later.

For example:

In the story I’m currently working on I’ve just written the opening scene where my heroine saves a man whose car brakes fail on a steep mountain road. The scene ends with her pulling him from his submerged vehicle and reviving him with CPR thus saving his life.

The next thing that would actually happen in the story is that the paramedics would arrive and take him to the hospital while the heroine is questioned and then driven home by the police.

But there isn’t really much interesting in that. The injured man is once again unconscious so there can be no exchange between him and the heroine. And the heroine will only tell the cops information the reader already knows.


Instead what I’ll do is cut from the moment the heroine revives the stranger to when the police drop her back at her house. There, upon seeing a police car pull up at the door, her father greets her anxiously and a conversation between them deepens both characters and reveals info that furthers the plot.

The only information I need to get across to the reader from the time period I omitted is that the injured man briefly regained consciousness, long enough to look into the heroine’s eyes and say something to her. That’s all I need. And it’s easy enough to have her reflect on this as she’s talking to her father or getting ready to head off to work.

To me the easiest way to know what to cut from a story is by how I feel about writing it. If I’m not looking forward to writing a scene, if it doesn’t excite or move me in some way, I know the chances are pretty good that it won’t do a lot for the reader either.

As a reader, what sorts of things would you prefer to do without in a story? Physical descriptions of the characters? Scene setting? What do you too often find in a story that you'd rather the author had left out?

4pm   It’s absolutely howling outside, even worse than when we first arrived. Some of the gusts feel like they’re trying to take the roof off. And raining as well. Solid, steady, ground-soaking rain. The windows are streaked with silver ribbons, the ocean is heaving itself against the rocks and you can’t tell where the grey sky ends and the water begins.

It’s great!

I’m sitting in my chair at the window, a cup of coffee at my side and a Yankee candle (Spiced Pumpkin) burning in the blue cut glass holder on the window sill. Snug and warm. Who could ask for a better spot to write?  

The Australian summer is long and dry especially here in South Australia (the driest state in the driest continent on earth). This year the season blew out even further with a lingering stretch of Indian Summer. Enough for the moths to get in an extra breeding cycle. They’ve been everywhere! On the two warm nights we had out here they literally covered the windows.

But with this burst of rain their monster cousins have started emerging. Giant rain moths. Forcing their way up out of the ground, as big and heavy-bodied as sparrows. The surest sign winter is on the way.

Anyone who’s seen me teach or present at an author talk might be surprised to discover I’m an introvert.

Being an introvert isn’t being shy or socially awkward (though it can definitely include those attributes—I’ve suffered from both). Introverts find mixing with others, even friends, leaves them drained. Extroverts are energised by company. But for the introvert, the only way to reinvigorate our resources is to be alone.

I had just wound up a Northern Book Tour with my Suspense Sister, Sandy Vaile, and a marathon one-day workshop with the Eyre Writers. We were both buoyed by mingling with writers, book club members and awesome librarians who welcomed us into their world and laughed in all the right places (thankfully!).

Elated by the positive interaction and feedback, we never-the-less looked forward to reconnecting with old friends and our sadly neglected writing routines on a five-day writing retreat.

Organised by Diane, the retreat group is kept small so that we all have space and privacy. Accommodation is Spartan. We take everything we need, and make do with much less than we would at home. There is no TV. Internet is kept to a minimum and often the signal is too weak to work effectively anyway.

The first time I attended I suffered from sensory deprivation. So desperate was I for stimulation that I walked the beach listening to the only station I could pick up on my old 3G mobile phone—parliament question time. Desperate!

Writing is the primary goal. But the other love that pulls me to the Eyre peninsular is the beach, a great sweeping series of shallow bays populated by nothing but wildlife and the occasional sunburned fisherman.

It was on one of these walks, toward the end of the five days, that I realised just how desperately I needed time alone. Weird. Most of the week there were only seven of us. I had my own room, my own table and laptop. I walked the beach for an hour and half every day alone with my thoughts with only plovers and pelicans for company.

And yet, there I was cross-legged beneath the dunes, listening to waves gently lap the sand and the occasional honk of pacific geese as they found a place to rest for the coming night.

Ten minutes was all I needed. Ten minutes of listening to nature with no thought of writing or talking or even walking. Just reconnecting with myself.

I returned to my friends and to my writing with renewed vigour.

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This time around on our writing retreat two of our authors, Rowena Holloway and Sandy Vaile, drove all the way from Adelaide to join us.

In addition to giving author talks in Port Augusta and Port Pirie on their way over, these two published suspense authors ran a lively workshop for members of Port Lincoln’s Eyre Writers on the Saturday prior to the start of the retreat.

On Sunday they gave a combined presentation at the Port Lincoln library, entertaining listeners with accounts of their journeys to publication, with trailers and readings from their books.

I met these two fabulous authors at the Salisbury Writers Festival years ago and since then we’ve attended several conferences together, including the 2010 Willamette Writers Festival in Portland Oregon.

It’s great having them both here on retreat – a rare chance for us all to catch up. I’ve asked them each to give an account of their experience here and first up we’ll hear from Sandy, author of Inheriting Fear.

Hi, I’m Sandy Vaile and it’s been four years since I last joined Diane and her critiquing group for a writing retreat. It’s a precious gift to spend a week in relative isolation. Quiet time from dawn until dusk, to nurture those creative juices and let them shape my latest work in progress.

I don’t sleep well at the best of times, so am awake long before sunrise, and busy at my keyboard by 5 am. I leave the lights in the writing hall off and work by candle-light. A dark cocoon where only the characters on the page matter.

When the sun finally makes an appearance, the view from my writing table is spectacular. I am positioned in front of a huge window in the hall, overlooking the rugged beach and Tumby Bay. A sly rabbit sneaks onto the beach when it thinks no-one is watching, sniffs around the seaweed drifts, and then bounds back to the safety of the sand hills.

The weather isn’t quite what I was hoping for, with howling wind and squalling rain, but it’s a good excuse to stay inside and write. Every now and then the clouds are blown away and the sun brightens this special place for a while. That’s when I take advantage of the rugged coast for a walk with my friends: exercise, mind clearing and a valuable brainstorming session in one.

The ocean surge struggles to scale the slight incline of the beach. It foams with the effort, and just when it’s near to the peak, is torn back to the grey depths. A good simile for novel creation, I think.

The atmosphere is relaxed, with people coming and going from the writing hall at their leisure. The arrangement has to be flexible, because writing is a culmination of activities, not purely the act of sitting at the keyboard. It involves reading, researching, brainstorming, problem solving, communing with the muse, and dialogue with mates.

Today I made a vat of Orange Delight soup for a communal lunch, and it went down a treat.

Orange Delight Soup

1 onion
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 litre stock (vegetable or chicken)
½ pumpkin
½ cauliflower
2 carrots
½ sweet potato
1 can coconut milk

Dice the onion finely, and sauté them in a large pot until semi-translucent. Add the spices and stir for a minute. Pour in the stock. Peel and dice the vegetables, and add to the pot. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes (or until the vegetables are tender). Add the coconut milk and white pepper to taste. Puree the soup and serve with a crusty roll.

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