Monday, March 31, 2014

Can We Love Imperfect Characters?

Someone once told me that the most important thing a writer has to do is to make readers love the main characters. From chapter one, preferably starting on the very first page, your readers must fall in love with them, or your book is toast. There're plenty of suggestions on how to make your characters likable.  They have a terminal illness. They have a best friend that likes them. They love kittens. They speak in a cute accent. They're orphans. The list goes on, and I'm getting tired just typing it.

Make your heroes sympathetic, or your novel will die a slow death, is the conclusion of the proponents of 'instantly likable character' syndrome.

Then, there's an issue of making your characters perfect. So perfect, in fact, that they become boring.  There's nothing they can improve on as your novel progresses, there're no little niggly things that make them slap that arrogant guy's face, nothing that makes them tick and then learn that--gasp--they might've been wrong about the state of the world and the humanity has to be saved after all.

When I start writing a new novel, I'm starting with very flawed individuals, preferably those I can laugh and cry with and who can evolve into human beings who are tiny bit closer to perfection than they were at the beginning of a novel. Just a tiny bit, not still very much wonderfully disfunctional.

Yes, there is a fine line, and sometimes stepping over it will make your readers hate your imperfect creations. But more often than not, it's those annoying little character traits that our readers will identify with. Don't get me started on the 'getting in trouble' defect that leads to many fun scenes in a novel. There's nothing I love more than a cute, snappy troublemaker who will find herself in danger because of her very best intentions gone awry.

There are always reviewers who are frowning upon the flaws in the characters like those are inconceivable blemishes that dirty your novel. I beg to differ. We love imperfections, and we will love your imperfect work.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

When I Knew I Had to Write a Sequel

I was sitting in a room full of Turks, the only American without much more than a few words of conversational Turkish. Everyone's eyes were glued on TV broadcasting the results of one of the most important elections in years. It was supposed to be a celebration, one of those parties where Turkish teas and pastries are served and everyone commemorates the day when Erdogan's party loses at least some of its power. Unfortunately, it weren't to be.

Turkish secular AKP party secured the majority of electoral votes and ensured the next twenty years the country would be influenced by its uncompromising views, a deep blow to the modernists who believe in keeping Islamic religion separate from he government.

Listening to the disappointed remarks of the Turks, I couldn't help but wonder how the lives of the Americans living in Turkey would change after these election results. Would the ban on wearing burkas be lifted? Would the education system change? Would the fashion change, influenced by the first lady's heavy head scarf and overcoat?

In my novel All Roads Lead to Anatolia, two Americans explore what the country has to offer and decide to settle down in Turkey. The decision turns out to be easy for them. Turkey is full of passionate people, promising business ventures, and bright future. Or is it? What challenges will people face in the next decade? What will the life be like for Alex and Damien, my characters?

Only time will tell, and, well, the sequel that's already brewing in my head.

It took me several years of rigorous notes taking while traveling in Turkey to collect materials for All Roads Lead to Anatolia. Today is the day I'm starting to gather notes for the sequel.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain. There's a lot on Turkey's plate and lots to write about.

Katerina Baker

Friday, March 28, 2014

It's all about deserts . . .

Below is the excerpt from my upcoming novel, All Roads Lead to Anatolia. Although I had to cut it from the final version of the novel, the deserts deserve their mention.

Our order arrives quickly, sparing us moments of continuing silence. I dig in, feeling like I have died and have gone to heaven and the clouds of the Other World are made out of this sweet cream. I may have been moaning, because when I come up for air, Damien is sitting back and staring at me with his lips turned up.
Turkish deserts are my weakness. For all those times when I’ve been strong in my past, it only took one serving of kazandibi shortly after my arrival to Bodrum to make me feel that the move here has been worth it and I’m better off living in the land of breathtaking sugar masterpieces instead of being somewhere in the Western Europe.
Kazandibi is a thick pudding, in case you’re wondering, and its name literally means “the bottom of the pot”, which wouldn’t do this desert the justice if it didn’t accurately reflect the craft of its preparer. You cook it on the bottom of a pan, with the fire of the stove caramelizing the sugar into a paper-thin brown crust around a milky, jelly-like pudding in the middle. One day, when I not only make it perfect but will also be able to place it on a serving plate without spilling the cream, one of my life's goals will be accomplished.
“Your ice cream is going to melt.” I break the silence once mine is gone, but his is still untouched on his plate.
“Would you like to have mine?” He grins.
“You haven’t even tried it.”
He dips his spoon into his desert and brings it up to his mouth. Now that my desert is gone, I don’t have an excuse to keep my gaze down on my plate. I look up, and, before I know it, I’m staring at his sensuous lips and watching the tiny droplet of white vanilla melting on them. Paired with his otherwise impeccable appearance, the disorder that this represents is disturbing and erotic. It’s such a simple thing, but when he licks the ice cream off, with a slow, deliberate flicker of his tongue, my breath catches and a tremor goes down my spine all the way to my belly. I swallow and wet my dried lips. With renewed annoyance, I vow to keep as much distance between us as possible.

He goes for another spoonful. Whatever’s got into me, I’m mesmerized by the show. It’s one of my favorite deserts, and now I have pornographic images of this same ice cream, but melted on my naked skin with him tasting it from my navel.

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Of Writing Process and the Ghost Demons

Lugging a tall stack of entertainment materials, I find us an empty table in a Barnes and Noble. Brick-and-mortal bookstores never fail to strike a writers imagination: from their To Kill a Mockingbird posters to the success of other authors that you can feel in their four walls. Even their coffee tastes different: its darker, more aromatic, more caffeinated.

I start typing on my iPhone (because lets face it, all of my hands are already taken either holding miniature palms or their parcels to even entertain bringing my laptop). Every second is precious, like the last moment before the big flood that you know is coming soon, but anticipating its arrival doesnt make it any easier.

Thats when the ghosts enter. Theyre here to select the next precious soul for the sacrificing of the demons, of coursethe next unassuming mind that will forever be claimed by the temptation of the ancient craft. The next great novelist. The future victim of the sleepless nights dedicated to the realm of those who do not exist except in a writers imagination. The martyrs of crumbling marriages because of the countless hours spent in the land of make-believe instead of repairing fragile relationships with their spouses.

The ghosts look around, always careful in selecting their preythis calling isnt for the weak.

Suddenly, I hear the humming of a Pink's song. "Why does she hate and love at the same time?" a high-pitched voice demands.

Shit. Change of radio channel on her portable player.

Give me a moment, darling . . . Im in the middle of something. Work on your puzzle, please, I mutter absentmindedly.

Here are the ghosts, floating above Top Picks in Paperbacks table, casting shadows over the latest Katy Evans masterpiece. Theyre so close, yet they are worlds away. Im hardly a Katy Evans, even if my heroines heart does pound a thousands beats per minute at the sight of a tattooed, dimpled stranger.

Can I help you with your work, mommy?

Clearly must bring more ammunition next timea.k.a. coloring books and math textbooks (a winning combination, in my experience: a perfect mix of reward and punishment).

Okay. Pause. No! NO!

Shit. I keep forgetting that shes now a fluent reader. I dont want to explain why Im writing those scenes.

Cant you bother your sister a little? I just need a few minutes, darling, and then Ill be all yours.


Okay, that came out wrong.

I meant to say, cant you read a princess book to your sister?

Silence . . . Thank God. So where were we? The ghosts. Oh, yeah. Its been a while since Ive seen those up close, and its so important to not lose track of this moment. They must surely notice my dedication and drive, right? I mean, who ever has such ambitions as making any progress on anything while hanging out with two small children, in the middle of their spring break, no less?

Mommy, can I have a sleepover with Lea?

Hm, do I want to share my bed with not two but three girls? I don't think so.

Well talk about it at home, darling. Mommy needs just a few more minutes, okay?

A few more sentences, a beginning of a new scene . . . My fingers are typing furiously away. These moments are precious. Then . . .

My wish has been granted. These two are going at each other.


Darling, please . . . Just another minute.


Something touches my shoulder. I look up, expecting to face a man from the table next to us complaining about the noise, but no, its not him. The air moves, ever so slightly, and I unmistakably see them. The ghosts. They smile.

Dont lose hope, they whisper.

I put my iPhone away and dedicate the rest of my day to my most precious gifts of allcurious-eyed, mischievous pair of girls who will forever be my greatest fans, no matter what I achieve. My novel will just have to wait until their bedtime.

Katerina Baker
Romance Novelist

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's In a Name?

The Art of Novel Naming

I was out of something to read. I was craving a cozy romance novel that I could curl up with on my couch with a glass of Merlo. I opened Goodreads and browsed through a selection of most-downloaded novels in Romance category. Same ol list. I opened up Amazon and, again, didn't have much luck. All book titles seemed identical, generic. It made me bored out of my mind just skimming through them. Finally, my heartbeat started picking up. An excitement rushed through my blood stream. I found itthe novel I was going to lose myself in. It wasn't because of its flashy cover (although I did like the six pack of a barely-dressed man), or its unique storyline (which, I admit, sounded rather predictable). My purchase was based purely on the title of the book. It was sexy, provocative, and it definitely stood out from the rest. I clicked on Buy and started thinking about just thatwhat a capturing book title is and how to invent one.

You'd think that with so many books out there, writers would spend a bit more time giving their creation an original name, but it's becoming a rarity rather than a norm to see a catchy book title. All writers should know that a bad title can be even worse than a bad cover, a dull first chapter, or a mundane teaser synopsis on the back of a book. A reader won't even get to reading your first chapter if that readers attention is already elsewhere. You can give out your book for free on Amazon all you want, but once you start charging for it, your badly named title will dry out your sales as quickly as a river in a desert (unless you already made a name for yourself, in which case feel free to name your book whatever your want).

There are several traps a writer can fall into when naming a book: a plain old boring title, a title that doesn't accurately reflect the genre of your book, or a title that doesnt make a reader think.

The worst offense has to be giving your book a title that doesnt tell readers anything about the novel. You know it when you see it. The Fallen. The Unforgettable Affair. Tied to Me. One Day. One Night. The One. The Only. The Boring.

Reading these, I cant help but imagine a writer sitting in front of his or her computer and thinking up a title.

Ive spent six months writing this fantastic novel about a prisoner who falls in love with his new female guard. What is the most appropriate title I can give it? Oh, here it is. I got it. I will call it The One. Perfect.


What does this title tell a potential reader about the book he or she is about to read? NOTHING. Nada. Would a potential reader be more likely to buy this novel if its title was Romancing the Hostage? I dont know, but I might at least read the synopsis.

Then, there are titles that dont match the genre of a novel. Think racy titles that scream hookups, sex and alcohol, but turn out to be serious suspense novels. It could also be visa versa when a writer might give a serious name to a fifty-shades-copycat novel.

So what constitutes a good book title?

A perfect name should tell a reader in five words or less what is unique about your book.

Here are some examples of great book names.
Fifty Shades of Grey tells me that the story will have a "shady" multi-faced character that will evolve throughout the book.  
The Wolf of Wall Street instantly makes me imagine a corrupt trader doing shots from the bosoms of three leggy blondes.
Memoirs of a Geisha tells me that the novel will take place in Japan and its main character is a professional female escort.

How do you come up with memorable book titles?

Every writer thats ever created a memorable title has his or her ways. Here are a few of mine.

Come up with a list of nouns that you would use to describe your book. Avoid generic, overused words like 'love', 'affair', 'trust', etc. Once you fill a page, choose the best two or three, using a combination of which would be sufficient to describe your book.
Eat, Pray, Love describes each of the three parts of Elizabeth Gilbert's novel nicely.
Vampire Academy is brief and it instantly tells me what the book is about as well as its genre.

The "contrast" approach. In some cases, you can use contradictions when naming your book, especially if your main character undergoes dramatic transformation. Say, he was portrayed as a smelly, arrogant, bad-mannered drunk, who evolved throughout the novel into a sexy hunk (well, he was remodeling his house when we met him in the beginning). Linda Howard's Mr. Perfect is a perfect (pun intended) title for her romantic suspense novel published in 2003.

The "shock" approach. Use something unorthodox or shocking in your title, which will quickly capture a reader's attention. Wallbanger is a romance novel about a guy who shakes the walls of his neighbor when making love. Is this a memorable title? Definitely. It made me pause and read the excerpt from this book.

Please post your comments and let me know what you think makes a good title.

Katerina Baker
Author of Romantic Suspense novels