Reunion at Walnut Cherryville

Received Third Prize in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.

Eternal Feud: Reunion at Walnut Cherryville Johnny Cockit accidently murdered a man when he was ten years old, which is why he was sent to Sonoran Correctional High School, a gender-segregated boarding school located in Phoenix, Arizona. Two months before graduation, Johnny and his friends are drugged and abducted by Walnut Cherryville secret watchers during an afternoon counseling session. Making decisions about the future has never felt important until the students are forced to work in a remote produce factory owned by the vengeful Quinton family. Walnut Cherryville is no ordinary factory; it’s the Quintons’ futuristic desert village governed by the principle that people live better-quality lives when they don’t make their own decisions. To ease the burden of life’s basic yet complicated choices, the government limits misdirection by choosing every citizen’s career path and lifestyle. Johnny and his friends plot an escape but must avoid being recaptured because abandonment of the village is a crime punishable by death. In a scandalous turn of events narrated by Johnny and his delinquent friends Vincent, Laura, and Collins, they discover that the reason they were captured roots back to an ancient family feud between the Cockit and Quinton families.

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Goodreads Quiz

Jun 16, 2014

What’s in a Book Character Name?

Feudling Fan Question: How Did You Decide on the Best Book Character Names for the Eternal Feud?


Centuries ago, when I was 17, and Reunion at Walnut Cherryville was being drafted for the first time, I gave my characters somewhat random names.  I didn’t decide on the names Johnny, Vincent, Laura, Collins and Kenneth in advance; it was more like an instinctual decision made on the spot when I was working on a chapter using nameless characters.  Many writers believe that a character’s name is supposed to say something about their character, but I feel like that’s not very realistic.  Since your first name is decided by your parents, you’re born into a blank slate with no identity, so I wanted to mirror this by giving my characters common names.  However, certain character’s first and last names have developed unusual twists.  For example, it’s difficult to explain to my Microsoft autocorrect that Johnny’s last name is “Cockit” and not “Cockpit”.  Behold, I will finally reveal the history behind:  what’s in a name? That which we call…  

Vincent Henderson-Smith

Since Vincent’s existence was an accident of two opposing senators taking a drunken roll in the hay, he grew up in a wealthy, politically divided household, as expressed by his two surnames.  Smith is the most common surname in the United States, while Henderson is a little more unique, and suggests Vincent has a Scottish or Northern Irish background on his mother’s side.  He never developed a nickname because of his formal upbringing that was constantly being watched under the public eye.      

Vincent Henderson-Smith Meme

Laura Hansen

Laura’s name was chosen to reflect her physical attractiveness.  Since she has Scandinavian genetic features, I chose Hansen for her surname because it is the most common surname in Norway, where her father’s family took root.  From personal experience growing up as a Lauren, the sophisticated, brunette sister of Laura; I noticed that many girls I knew named Laura were pretty, blue-eyed blondes.  Pardon the stereotypical observation.  Laura Hansen is the model example of the saying “blondes have more fun.”   

Laura Hensen Meme

Collins Greene

Collins is African-American, even though his first and surname is of English descent making him an interesting case to study given the history of slavery in the United States.  I had no rational reasoning for picking this name out of the hat, though further research on this choice could give insight into his family’s roots.  I often work backwards with names—pick them first with little information to base them from and then find out what they mean later.  Collins is the perfect example of that process.  I found an interesting article, Surnames Used by African American Slaves, which explains how Collins might have inherited his name.

Collins Greene Meme

Johnny Cockit

The only time I created a name for a character and wanted it to mean something was when I decided on Johnny’s surname, Cockit.  I knew it was the right name because I chuckled the minute I thought of it, but there’s more to it than that.  As Johnny learns more about his family history in future books, why I chose this name will be better explained, but for now let’s look at the obvious.  The entire series revolves around two families constantly murdering one another—perhaps Cock-it was an early indicator to how Johnny would eventually murder someone when he became 10 years old.  He sure did live up to his family name and has been haunted by it ever since.  This name is a play on words referencing the saying “cock it and pull it” to foreshadow that he uses a gun.  Johnny’s trailer-park upbringing explains why his name is spelled so informally instead of these classier alternatives: Johnnie, John, Jon, Johnathan, or Jonathan.

Johnny Cockit Meme

Kenneth Quinton 

I chose Quinton for Kenneth’s surname because it sounded fancy and flowed well with his first name.  Back then, I had no idea it meant “queen’s town” in Old English, which is interesting considering his character.  Kenneth was created to be as handsome as a Ken Barbie doll—a wealthy, pretty boy, who seemed perfect on the outside of his nutshell.

Kenneth Quinton - Chair Trials

Philosophical Hindsight – Kenneth Doomed From Birth

The Kabalarian Philosophy suggests that a person’s name defines their personality, how they feel, and perceive themselves.  Now, I know school is almost over, but there is still time for one more educational video!  For a brief explanation of the Kabalarian Philosophy, click here.  According to this mathematical theory, the name “Kenneth” is associated with these personality traits:
  • You have a quick, analytical mind.
  • You are creative, versatile, and imaginative.
  • However, independence, positivity and the urge for action and progress are such strong forces in your nature that you find it difficult to control them.
  • You feel happy as long as headway is being made, but as soon as you are obstructed or your individuality and freedom of action are restricted, you experience an intense nervous reaction.
  • Moods of depression can result during which you become caustic and belligerent in your attitude toward everyone, especially to those in closest association with you.
  • Routine, monotony, and the responsibility of looking after details can have a similar effect on you, as you are a person who desires change, travel, and new experiences.
  • In order to gain greater congeniality in your personal associations, you need to cultivate a more relaxed manner, greater generosity, understanding, and tolerance, and, above all, you need to avoid being too outspoken and self-opinionated. The influence of this name can be very destructive to your health and personal happiness, even though it may take you far in business.
This analysis of Kenneth’s character is not entirely accurate, though it was the most accurate out of all the characters compared (including: Johnny, Vincent, Laura, Collins, and Veronica) as perceived by their Creator.  Evidence that the name “Kenneth” is deemed overall destructive in theory allows inference that Kenneth is the antagonist solely based on his name.  All the other characters tested came back with constructive results because their names were more mathematically harmonious; therefore, they were born to be protagonists or assistants to the protagonist.  On a less scientific note, Kenneth simply sounds like the bad guy (unless your name happens to be Kenneth), but I don’t think he’s completely evil.  There is a dim light of good in him…somewhere.  If he can’t find it over time, he can always blame his mother that her poor choice in his name is the reason why he became a monster. 

Download and read Reunion at Walnut Cherryville to learn more about the characters and the world of the Eternal Feud.

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Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @EternalFeud.

Dec 24, 2013

How to Turn Your Novel into a Pitch for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards

Congratulations, fellow writer friend!  If you’re reading this, it must mean you finally finished drafting your novel and are wondering “how do I get this thing out into the world?”

Honey, I shrunk my book!
The first thing you’ll need is a great pitch, but that requires a dozen scientists who can operate a shrink ray machine that can reduce your book down to size, or about 300 words.  You could go the traditional route and send query letters to literary agents or you could see if the odds are in your favor at the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (submission date soon to be announced…hopefully).  Either way, you’ll still need a pitch that can awaken an editor from drooling all over the slush pile.

For the purpose of this blog, I am gearing my advice towards those who are creating a pitch for ABNA by following their 2014 contest submission requirements and sharing from the knowledge I gained by making it into the Third Prize level in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards with my novel pitch for Eternal Feud: Reunion at Walnut Cherryville.

Here are six things I suggest you do first before really cracking down on that pitch.

1. The Synopsis: An 80% Reduction
When I finish writing a chapter, I create a chapter summary, which is like writing a book report.  This involves rereading the chapter, taking note of details that are pivotal to the main plot, sub-plots or characters.  I also list unanswered questions posed in the chapter that will need to be addressed later because this will eventually reveal plot holes and other inconsistencies in the manuscript.  Creating chapter summaries was the first step I took towards making my pitch because they became my outline, or synopsis, for the entire book.  Through this process, I reduced a 400 page book into 20 pages.  Click here to see the chapter 1 summary below from Reunion at Walnut Cherryville to get tips and view the process in action.

2. Remember, math is not for novelists.
Since the synopsis had driven my book down to its most important points, I thought writing the pitch would be peachy…I guessed wrong.  I ended up rewriting my pitch five times until I developed the 180 word combo that won third prize in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.  If you’re keeping track of the math, I’ve just reduced 20 pages down to 1/3 of a page..ta-dah!  There is no exact formula for how to write the best pitch and I’ve seen it done in infinite ways.  After scouring the internet for examples, I found hidden details encrypted in clouds of creative fluff.

3. Express the originality of your book idea indirectly. 
Every book has its own identity, so I wouldn’t compare my book to another or say “it’s different because…”  I showed how my story was unique through my perspective, while allowing room for readers to make their own inferences and comparisons to other things they’ve read.  

4. Define your target audience.
When reading a pitch, you should be able to tell which audience it appeals to solely on the main character’s demographics, challenges and themes.  Without stating it, I targeted the young adult audience by making my main character a high school student who is tasked with making difficult decisions future.  It’s important to focus on discussing conflicts, challenges and life lessons that are relatable to your target audience.  

5. Imply your genre and theme.
Use descriptive language to suggest your book’s genre and a theme will emerge based on that language.  In Reunion at Walnut Cherryville, speaking about intolerable governments suggests the book is dystopian themed with a hint of western (due to roots of an ancient family feud) and general science fiction (futuristic produce factory located in a desert).    
      
6. Set the stage for the reader.
Introduce the main characters, plot, conflict, and “take home message.”  State or give an idea about where and when the book takes place.  Don’t reveal all your secrets, just enough to spark interest and curiosity about the book.  Click here to see the breakdown of my pitch as an example.

For those of you struggling to write your pitch for the first time, I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  Looking back at my own 2013 ABNA submission, I wish I had a more straightforward way of saying that the book was narrated from multiple perspectives, though I couldn’t think of how to fit that in gracefully without disrupting the flow of the pitch.  If you think you can solve that puzzle, let me know in the comments!


Keep in touch and let me know how your ABNA pitch is coming along on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @EternalFeud.

Oct 26, 2013

Lets Get Animated!

Eternal Feud: Reunion at Walnut Cherryville has been transformed into a fun and engaging comic strip by Bitstrips. Check it out and make sure to download your free ebook exclusively available on Amazon from October 27 to October 31. Happy Halloween!