Saturday, June 25, 2016

Conspiracy Theory Z

While the big news from the UK this weekend was their Brexit, what got buried was this other report where the British--in partnership with India--have initiated serious medical research into reanimating the dead. When I mentioned this article to my youngest son, he jerked upright and gave me a look. You're kidding, right? 

My sentiments exactly. Apparently the eggheads behind this experiment have ignored centuries of literature and decades of cinema where raising the dead was a really bad idea. Every possible consequence has been explored and none were good. Admittedly, there is Jesus raising Lazarus of Bethany, and Jesus himself returning from the grave for the Resurrection. But to depict either instance as the appearance of zombies would probably get you crucified.

Reanimating the dead is always step one in a major doomsday scenario. So why do it? My writer brain starts working the angles and given my distrust for the government--which only seems to get more evil as it gets bigger--here goes:

Reanimating the dead has already happened. The one percenters who control the government and their Dr. Strangelove minions have determined that the only real solution to climate change, pollution, water shortages, over crowding, and traffic gridlock is population control: read that as thinning out the masses. And a zombie outbreak is their solution. These recent stories are them trickling out the facts so that when the big news hits--we've reanimated the dead!--everyone shrugs.

The plot thickens. In zombie movies, there are three preferred weapons for killing the undead: flame throwers, big knives, and guns--particularly rapid-fire weapons like the dreaded assault rifles. Flame throwers are hard to find, but knives and guns are prevalent, especially here in the US. Over in Britain, the government first got rid of their guns and is now hard at work taking knives away from the populace. It's true. "Zombie-killer knives" have been specifically outlawed. On this side of the pond, we have an anti-gun faction funded by billionaires who are hard at work trying to convince the American public that we don't need--shouldn't have--assault rifles, your best defense against zombies. Meanwhile, these rich guys are surrounded by armed guards, and I bet you'll find plenty of high-capacity, rapid-fire guns under their jackets and inside their armored limousines.

So you ask, what about the mass shootings? That's what people are really objecting to. Yes, of course. But first, let us wade deeper to the conspiracy waters. None of the mass shooters who used an "assault rifle" was unknown to the authorities. The FBI investigated Omar Mateen twice and gave him a pass. You can google the others and see what you find. It's as if someone is using a false flag to sow hysteria over assault rifles in an effort to support laws to get them out of the public's hands.

Granted, I'm connecting some blurry dots, but you see a pattern.

No knives. No guns. Add zombies. You do the math.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Say what?

I'm at the Western Writers of American convention in Cheyenne Wyoming and heard an interesting panel this morning on dealing with vernacular.

It started me thinking about dialog and what is politically correct and what is a hot potato. But another more important issue to mystery writers is related to regional usage. Since most of what I write is set in Kansas I'm usually on pretty firm ground. But not always.

My husband and I both grew up in Anderson County Kansas. We moved to Western Kansas when we were married. I was surprised at the difference in what people in opposite sides of the state called things.

In fact, I once took a class in linguistics in which the professor said there was a man so skilled at detecting variations in usage that he could tell within 50 miles where a person was born and where they moved to later in life.

Determining verbal accuracy in dialogue can be quite frustrating:
       Do you want a coke or a can of pop?
       Do you make bread or white bread or light bread?
       Is your pickup stuck in the ditch, the bar-ditch, or the barrow ditch?
       Do you reach for a tea towel or a domestic?
       Are you afraid of thunderstorms or lightning storms?
       Is that river the Arkansas (as in the state--Ar-kan-saw) or the Ar-KANSAS?
       Do the men go off somewhere or do the menfolks?

Occasionally usage can even be a factor in plotting. Certainly it has been a clue contained in ransom notes and threats.

I'm not a hard and fast advocate of "writing what you know" but when it comes to the choice of words native to a region it's a very good idea to plan a research trip to the area. Go with a notebook and pay attention when people "talk funny."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ways to finish a book

I recently enjoyed Rick's post "Great ways NOT to write a book" and thought I'd be a glass-is-half-full kind of guy and take the other side. Most of the writers I know who are publishing annually or semi-annually also have full-time jobs, making writing, essentially, the most demanding and time-consuming hobby imaginable.

"How do you do it?" is a question writers with day jobs get often. The "do it" part of the question refers to finishing a book each year while balancing the job that pays the bills and, for many of us, balancing family life.

Here are some tips: 

Write when everyone else is asleep. This is my best advice. I have a wife and three daughters, ages 18, 15, and 7, so their sleep habits are VERY different. The teens sleep from midnight to 10:30 a.m.; the second-grader sleeps (if at all) from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Throw in a dorm of teenagers (during the school year), and you can see what I'm up against. Four to 6 a.m. is prime time. Dead silent. And there is no such thing as writer's block at that time of day. Take it from me, if you drag yourself out of bed that early you will damn well write something.

Find a loud quiet place. Yes, loud can be quiet. Procrastination is best done at home. Think about it, you rarely put things off at work. So get out of your normal routine, and find a bustling coffee shop or a mall (or airport), and plop yourself down in the middle of the action. With all that going on around you, you'll find solace in your laptop screen.

Don't shoot for time, go for a page count. I usually write 90 minutes to two hours a day. But I'm a tweaker. I can tweak a paragraph for 90 minutes, if I allow myself. So when I need to finish a book, I go for page count: two or three pages a day. I tweak a lot, but I do it AFTER I've gotten my two pages.

As my late father used to say, Smart people don't have all the answers, they just know where to find them. I certainly don't have all the answers. I'd love to hear some tips on finishing a book from my Type M colleagues and our readers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where The Chicks Roam Free

I’ve been enjoying the recent posts of my fellow Type Mers on editing. I find hearing how other writers work interesting and helpful. I often discover new tools or ways of thinking about writing that helps me in my own work.

My publisher, Henery Press, has a Club Hen House blog which I contribute to a few times a year along with the other HP authors. We chicks are a varied bunch and the brood is constantly growing.

Starting February of this year, we’ve been doing a series of posts on “Writers on Writing”. Each month has a different theme.

February – The Beginning

Here you’ll find posts on getting started in writing and on a particular project. Lots of interesting posts here: Cindy Brown wrote one on Feb 1 on where she got her inspiration for her book, The Sound of Murder, “Ideas: The Bones, Flesh and Heart (& the Funny Bone)”. On Feb 5, Nancy G West wrote one on the questions she asks when starting a story, “4 Steps to Starting a Story”. I wrote a post on Feb 24 on my route to becoming a writer, “So You Want to Be a Writer.

March – The Process

Here are posts on the writing process. On March 25, Edith Maxwell wrote one on researching and when you stop, “When Do I Stop Researching?.” On March 30, Susan Boyer wrote a post on finding your writing process titled, well, “Finding Your Process.

April – The Bones

Posts on the bones of writing. On April 28, J.C. Lane gave us “8 Ways to Combat Writer’s Block”. On April 29, Alexia Gordon wrote a piece on how sometimes less is more when it comes to description, “When Writing Place, Less is Less”.

May – The End

Posts on finishing, a good ending, epilogues, etc. On May 12, Larissa Reinhart wrote a post on finishing, “The Four R’s to Rescuing Your Ending”. On May 26, Noreen Wald wrote a post on planting clues in your mystery, “Whodunit?: Leaving Clues for the Reader”.

June – The Editorial Process

The current month deals with editing, beta readers, revising, etc. On June 15, Hank Phillippi Ryan wrote one on editing, “Super Double Secret Secrets for Successful Editing” which I have printed out for future use. My June 16 post dealt with how I handle feedback, “Handling Criticism Constructively.”

July – Behind The Scenes

Next month will deal with bloopers, deleted scenes, etc.

These are just a few of the many posts on writing. Go ahead, explore, but be sure to come back for your daily dose of Type M!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A whole lot of nothin’

by Rick Blechta

You know how it is when you start a day with great intentions, but the weather outside is gorgeous, you have a good novel started and the hammock beckons? But you also didn’t get your lazy butt in gear in appropriate time to have a blog post ready to go?

Well, that’s what I was faced with today and guess which won?

See you all next week!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Changing Directions

Ever been in the midst of one writing project when another grabbed you by the arm, said, "Me! Me!" and wouldn't let go?

In a post last year, I described my new strategy for staying organized and being more productive. I had been reading books and articles and based on the research findings and expert advice on the subject, I intended to:

a. Stop multitasking and focus on one project (at least for that day)
b. Do "the next logical thing" (the most important task with the most urgent deadline)

Sounded good. Been trying to do it. Hasn't worked. Here's why:

a. I always have more than one writing project going on at the same time -- a nonfiction project and a mystery. I can alternate back and forth between the two, but I can't simple press "pause" and come back to one or the other in a few months or even a week or two. I need to keep both moving along. I like dividing my day between the two and seeing progress on both. The shift in focus is energizing.
b. Doing the next logical thing according to importance and urgency seemed to have promise. Must finish my crime and clothing book this summer. Working on that. Really want to finish my standalone 1939 historical thriller. Agent wants me to finish. I want to get it done. Could be important to my career. Working on that, too.

And then something happened. My last Lizzie Stuart book came out in 2011. I started to write my Hannah McCabe police procedural books set in Albany in the near-future. But I wrote a Lizzie short story that was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in July 2014 (podcast of "In Her Fashion") . I knew I would come back to Lizzie sooner or later.

But I didn't have a book idea in mind. I knew that in the next book, she would go with John Quinn, her fiance to meet his family. I knew that would happen Thanksgiving week 2004, and they would go to Santa Fe. That's it. I assumed the mystery would happen there. . .until a few months ago when the first scene in the book came to me. That was when I knew Lizzie would be distracted during her visit with her future in-laws by something that had happened the night before she and Quinn left Gallagher, Virginia.

Okay, I made a note or two and tried to go back to what I was doing. A scene -- even a vivid scene -- was no reason to let this book step out of the queue. I wanted to work on my 1939 thriller.

But that scene kept nagging at me, and I found myself telling a friend about it over dinner. As it happens this friend is the person with whom I always talk out sticky plot points. She knows my characters, and she's a lawyer with a logical mind. (Notice that I have great respect for logic because I sometimes run to intuition and need to refocus). So, I told her about this scene and that I wasn't sure what it was about. She threw out an idea or two. I listened. And went home and made a few notes. Still a back-burner project.

Until earlier this week when I was reading a criminal justice report that had nothing to do with the Lizzie book and suddenly another character walked on stage. A character with a problem that would pull Lizzie into the investigation. And bring back one of my favorite characters. A subplot that should get me through that sagging middle and give Lizzie even more motivation than she originally had for getting involved.

So now, I'm working on the clothing and crime book. That is moving along. But my 1939 thriller has been pushed aside by Lizzie. The characters in the 1939 book are not protesting. They seem to be fine with my promise that I will continue to make notes and tinker with my complex plot outline. I suspect that's because there is something about the Lizzie book that is going to be relevant to the 1939 thriller. As I may have mentioned, all of my research and writing seems to occupy the same universe. Lizzie is a crime historian, maybe while I'm doing research for whatever she's working on in the past. . .

So I'm kicking logic to the curb. I'm going to go in the direction that I'm being pulled and trust that it's my subconscious at work and not my way of avoiding the challenge of my standalone. I'm trusting that my 1939 book needs something that I'll find while writing a book set in in 2004. We'll see what happens. I just hope I'm not halfway through the Lizzie book when suddenly I need to head back to 1939 and start writing.

Have you ever changed directions? Switched your focus from one book to another?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ugly World

Donis here today. I am writing this entry on the day after the Orlando massacre. There is nothing enlightening I can say. No brilliant insight or suggestions.

When I first saw the news, I was immediately reminded of something my grandmother said to me many years ago.

"I've lived through wars and deaths and upheavals and bad times," she said, "but I've never seen things as bad as this."

That was in about 1972. It seems that human nature never changes, especially when it comes to man's inhumanity to man.

I once heard a woman on NPR relate that her five year old daughter once came stomping down the stairs in a snit and demanded to know why we were ever born if we're just going to die anyway.

An excellent question that should convince anyone that children are deeper than adults give them credit for. The mother said she pondered for a minute before answering, because she wanted to give the girl a meaningful answer, and finally she replied that it was because of all the stuff that goes on in between.

Billy Graham was asked what he had learned about life, and he said that he was just surprised at how fast it goes by. I think of that quite a bit, especially when it comes home to me that not one day more is guaranteed to us. Anything can happen at any time. And even if I live out the rest of my natural life in peace, at this point I have less time ahead than I do behind. I wonder why on earth I ever spend time doing things I don't have to do that I don't particularly enjoy.

Carolyn Hart told me once that she thought the popular resurgence of mystery novels was due at least in part to the fact that at least in a mystery novel, justice is usually done in the end. I like to think that mystery novelists are people of compassion, who are doing what they can to impart to the reader a sense of order and rightness in a world that is messy and incomprehensible and unjust.

Or at least divert them with a ripping yarn.