Tuesday, July 22, 2014

And now for something completely different.

Okay, Type M fans, you’re going to have to do a little reading today before we being. Since you’re here, I’m going to assume that you have some interest in what writing is all about, in which case I’ve got something quite intriguing for you. I few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article about the results of German researchers investigating how the brains of writers actually work when they’re at work. Click on this to read it. I’ll just work a bit on my new novel while I’m waiting for you to read it.

So, what do you think? Having been involved in serious writing for more years than I sometimes care to acknowledge, the results of this study really don’t surprise me. But most intriguing to me was the fact that trained and seasoned writers’ brains appear to work differently from those who are untrained. The suppositions as to why this is happening makes perfect sense. Most of my best “creating” when it comes to writing is done inside my head and away from the computer. My famous “walks in the snow” with recalcitrant characters. I suspect that you writers in the audience will agree with me on this

When I’m writing my novels, a fierce process of creating the necessary dialogue to accompany a particular scene begins in my head. I don’t ask it to happen, it just does. At first, realizing what was going on made me question my own sanity. Fortunately, I’m quite used to having internal music going on inside my head — sometimes even when I’m listening to music — so pretty quickly I came to accept it as part of the creative process:

“By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.”

It’s nice to see that my experience has been now medically confirmed. I am not a flake and my brain appears to be working the way it should. There’s nothing wrong with my invisible friends carrying on discussions in my brain — even when I don’t ask them to. Case in point: last night, after a rehearsal of the big band in which I play, as we sat around in our host’s backyard (Thanks, Henry. It was a lovely evening!), I dropped out of a conversation I was having with two people when I realized that two of my characters had started a discussion about why it’s important for people to make clear decisions about what they want to pursue in life based on what their interests are, not on parental expectations. The conversation might well never appear in the book, but it confirmed something I had been suspecting about both characters which they had previously only hinted at. Now they were saying it out loud. Whether the dialogue appears in the eventual book or not is immaterial. It tells me a lot about each characters’ motivations and I can move forward with that in mind.

On the surface, this is a very weird and difficult thing to explain to people whose brain don’t work in this manner. In fact, I suspect little thought bubbles appearing above their heads would probably reveal, “This person is completely mad.”

I’m not. I’m just wired that way!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Travels to Haiti

By Vicki Delany

Barbara talked earlier about one of the joys of the writers’ life research and travel.

Yesterday morning I finished the first draft of the new Sergeant Ray Robertson mystery, A Hill Full of the Dead. This is a Rapid Reads book for Orca Press, a follow up to Juba Good.   Juba Good is about an RCMP officer serving with the UN in South Sudan, helping the new country create a modern police force, and I wrote it when I was visiting my daughter, a Canadian diplomat in that country.

Orca liked Juba Good so much that they wanted another book in the series.  But with the situation in South Sudan being so volatile at the moment, I felt that I really couldn’t set another book there.

So, instead, I took Ray to Haiti.  I have a friend who lives in Haiti and I was able to pay her a visit. She introduced me to a couple of RCMP officers who were working with the UN in Haiti, and they were able to tell me all about their jobs there.  A perfect setting for Ray!

You can’t fake having been to places such as Haiti or South Sudan. If you want any veracity at all, you have to go there.  The air is different, the light is different, the sights and smells are different from what we are used to, and very different from what we imagine them to be.

As an example, as soon as I saw the main cemetery in Port Au Prince, I knew the climax of the book had to be set there. 

Here are some pictures of places I visited that I have incorporated into the new book.
A Cemetery

Looking over Port Au Prince

Lunch at the Oloffson Hotel

At the Oloffson Hotel

The Main cemetery in P-au-P

A taxi called a tap-tap



Look for A Hill Full of the Dead, in Fall 2015.  In the meantime Juba Good is available from all your regular sources. Including this one: Amazon.com 



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Today’s Guest Blogger Lynn Cahoon

When Romance Turns to Murder


As a little girl, I ran off the bus, through the driveway, up the stairs, and through the front door to sit in front of the television for the last fifteen minutes of Dark Shadows. Twenty, if the bus was early.
I’ll pull off my coat, dump my books beside me, and get lost in the black and white story. I could feel the dark mist pouring out of the cabinet television.

During commercials, my mom would let me have a treat – usually an RC (Royal Crown cola in the glass 18 oz bottle) and homemade cookies. Then she’d catch me up on what happened on the show before my arrival. What I wouldn’t have given for a DVR back then. I loved the dark Barnabas Collins, my first bad boy. Doesn’t get much badder than the local vampire. But Barnabas only fed when he had to. And he truly loved Victoria.

Dark gothic soap opera. Watching that show was probably the start of my writing career. My wanting to write the happy-ever-after that Barnabas craved but knew he could never have. So it didn’t surprise me that my first completed (and now under the bed) book I wrote was a romance. The first book I sold was also a romance –The Bull Rider’s Brother released in June 2012. Then I sold a witchcraft novella. 2012-2013 was all about the love for me. At least in the books I released.

In 2013 I sold Guidebook to Murder, the first book in The Tourist Trap Mysteries. I’m releasing the second book, Mission to Murder this month. And a third in late autumn. So my writing this last couple years has focused on setting the clues and not outing the bad guy too soon.

So why the move from small town romance to small town murder? Mostly because like the little boy in The Sixth Sense, I see dead people. Okay, not like real dead people. I’m the girl that when we stop at the rest area off the freeway and I look at the woods surrounding the area and says, “That would be a great place to hide a body.”

Yep, I’m fun at parties.

Adding a dead body into the story adds instant conflict. And if my heroine just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, so much more the fun. Don’t get me wrong. I love writing romance. Helping characters fine their soul mate one book at a time is a great job. Writing romance reminds me that me that love does conquer all barriers, even between a vampire and his dinner.

Writing mysteries reminds me that good can overcome evil. Actually good must conquer evil in my view. I’m not a fan of the slasher movie types. The ones where the villain gets up and walks away after the heroine has spent the last two hours figuring out a way to win. Jamie Lee Curtis deserved better in Halloween. She worked hard to defeat Michael Myers, he should have stayed dead. You can argue the point, but I know I’m right on this. At least in Lynn’s world view.

Stories set in small town America allows me to build a community of people who care about each other. People who have their own quirks and insecurities. Sometimes these insecurities make them doubt each other. Sometimes they bring people together. And book after book, the characters grow on me, their creator, to the point three books later, I’m not sure who’s doing the story telling, me or them.

I grew up in a small town. The bus I rode home took forty-five minutes to deliver me back to the farm house where we lived eight miles out. Living in the country as a kid was hard. The friends I made were unusually in books. I planned to live and work in the biggest big city I could think of – New York City. From a farm south of Nampa, Idaho, I dreamed of taking my own bite out of the Big Apple. Yep, I would have fit in with the Glee kids. Except for the amazing vocal and acting talent.

Instead, I stayed close to home and currently, live in a small historic town on the banks of the Mississippi river. Not a small apartment in a big city high rise. I have a two story with a back yard that backs up to a wooded area, perfect for hiding bodies. Or at least the bones my Pomeranians like to bury there.

Small town settings bring my stories to life. And my villains stay defeated. And sometimes, love blossoms between a couple characters.

I think Barnabas would be proud.

__________________

USA Today and New York Times best-selling author, Lynn Cahoon is an Idaho native. If you’d visit the town where she grew up, you’d understand why her mysteries and romance novels focus around the depth and experience of small town life. Currently, she’s living in a small historic town on the banks of the Mississippi river where her imagination tends to wander. She lives with her husband and four fur babies.

MISSION TO MURDER

In the California coastal town of South Cove, history is one of its many tourist attractions—until it becomes deadly…

Jill Gardner, proprietor of Coffee, Books, and More, has discovered that the old stone wall on her property might be a centuries-old mission worthy of being declared a landmark. But Craig Morgan, the obnoxious owner of South Cove’s most popular tourist spot, The Castle, makes it his business to contest her claim. When Morgan is found murdered at The Castle shortly after a heated argument with Jill, even her detective boyfriend has to ask her for an alibi. Jill decides she must find the real murderer to clear her name. But when the killer comes for her, she’ll need to jump from historic preservation to self-preservation.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gone to a Movie

I am stuck. I am profoundly, officially, ripping out hair stuck. All week, I've been multitasking. Last night I had dinner with a friend and we brainstormed a short story I've been asked to write for a unique anthology (more about that later). Earlier in the day and the day before, I did some research on topics that I might write about related to funerals and crime. The victim in my next book is a funeral director, and I have been thinking about marketing. On Wednesday, I spent a lot of the day reading a dissertation about honor and masculinity in 19th century literature. I learned why Alexander Hamilton fought a duel he didn't want to fight -- or, at least, the author's well-reasoned theory about that. On Tuesday, having started Monday with confidence, I was sure that this week I would finally have a breakthrough. I thought I would finally -- at long last -- settle on the title for the book I'm writing about dress and appearance in American crime and justice. I thought I would settle on a title and finally be able to finish writing the proposal that my agent is waiting for and that I have been working on for months. I was wrong.

It may seem unimportant that I can't choose among the list of titles that I have in my notebook and on my computer. After all, chances are that if the book is sold, the title will be changed anyway. But, as I may have mentioned here, I have a thing about titles. I can't write -- or write well -- until I have one that captures what the book is about. So I wait for the right title and it usually comes. The title for my 1939 historical thriller came from the mouth of Opie Taylor while I was half-listening to a re-run of The Andy Griffith Show. When I heard it, I knew that although it seemed to have nothing at all to do with my story, it was actually a perfect metaphor for what I was trying to say about the old and the new.

But nothing like that has happened with my clothing and crime book. I've read poems, looked up quotes, tried variations. One moment I think I have it and the next I don't. I have arrived at a state of anxiety that makes me think it would be easier to write the book than finish this proposal. But, of course, I need the title before I can finish the book. I have titles for individual chapters. I've done work on those. But I can't pull it all together and say what it means until I have the book title.

I woke up this morning, knowing the title I came up with before bed last night still wasn't right. Rather than scream, I decided to analyze the situation. That was when I realized that by trying to power through this, I am only making matters worse. As we have all occasionally noted here, sometimes the only sensible thing to do is remove your fingers from the keyboard and step away from the computer.

This is confirmed by research on the value of not concentrating. Concentrating too hard on the task at hand can be counterproductive. In an article in New Scientist (6/16/2012), Richard Fisher writes about the value of daydreaming. Humans, as a group, have a hard time staying focused. Even when we try to pay attention, our minds drift. The good news about this, is that we often get some of best ideas when we are daydreaming. The corollary of this finding is that if we are faced with a difficult task that seems to require concentration, this is often the best time to disengage -- to, as Fisher suggest, watch a Robin Williams stand-up routine -- and relax. Rather than try to work when our minds are sharp, if the task requires creativity, we might do better to work when our minds are groggy.

Writers often talk about getting their best ideas in the shower. There seems to be some science related to this. S. Kay Murphy (The Writer, March 2005) discusses the value of turning up the volume on some kinds of sounds. It seems that what taking a shower or sitting within hearing of a refrigerator or clothes dryer have in common is that both the water and the home appliances produce "white noise" that block other more distracting sounds (such as a barking dog). With the distracting sounds muted, we are more relaxed and the ideas comes.

I am now stepping away from my keyboard. I'm going to go drop by my office to check in with the IT person who happily will have my office computer today. Then I'm going to go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. After that I'm going to have an ice cream cone. And maybe go for a walk in the park and spend some time sitting by the lake. I am taking a mental health day because my poor little brain needs the rest.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Process

I, Donis, am working on a new book right now, and am very interested to see how it's going to turn out. I never know what the entire story will be before I begin. I learned early on that you may think you have it all figured out, but you don't. However, in all my previous mysteries, I at least had a murder in mind before I actually began writing. I knew who was going to meet his or her doom and how, where the body was going to be discovered and by whom. I usually knew who did the deed, though I'm flexible about that. Before I start, I always think I know why the killer did it, but to date, by the time I reach the end I discover I was wrong. The motive seems get modified every time.

Thus far I have written about 135 pages for the nascent Book Eight. I know which characters will be involved, I know where the story will be set, what the season will be, what historic events will unfold, what the side stories will be. But I haven't yet discovered a body!

A murder mystery isn't really about the murder, of course. It's about the mystery. But without a murder, or some other incredibly compelling reason for your protagonist to get involved, it's mighty hard to create the mystery. Not long ago, I told someone she should "trust the process" with her writing. Even if you don't know where the story is going to go, just start writing and trust that all will become clear as you go along. Have faith that the answer will reveal itself in time.

I should pay attention to myself.

My Alafair Tucker series started in 1912 and has moved forward years or months with each book. Book Eight has finally reached the spring of 1917, and World War I. I've done tremendous amounts of research. For each of my books, I keep a notebook and file full of information that I read up on as I need it.  I’m maybe one-third of the way into this new book, and just before I sat down to write this entry, I was perusing the file, and was interested to see how much information I’ve collected about the American home front during WWI.  Much of my research won't be used, for as a book advances, some of the ideas I started out with fall by the wayside.   

As I write on, brilliant new ideas for advancing the story will occur to me, and I’ll find myself looking up things I never would have thought of, otherwise.

Is this a "writing process"? I don’t know. Ideas come to me from the oddest places–from something I’ve read, or some off-hand comment someone says within earshot of me (be careful what you say around a writer). Once or twice from a dream I’ve had. In any event, the idea gets in my head one way or another and wiggles around in there for a while. Eventually it begins to take shape and I think, “That might make a good story.” I choose a narrow time period, such as April of 1917, and start reading the April 1917 newspapers from anywhere in eastern Oklahoma to see what was going on in the world and what Oklahomans were thinking about it. This usually adds layers of story to my basic idea. Then I ponder some more, make a few notes, and then start writing. Where the story ends up is as big a surprise to me as to anyone. It usually turns out better than I had planned, so thus far I have no reason to complain.

Mickey Spillane, when asked how much research he does in the interest of authenticity:  “None.  My job is not to tell the truth.  My job is to make you believe.”(Note:  I’ve used that quote for years, but when I looked it up for this entry, I see that it’s actually “I don’t research anything.  When I need something, I make it up.” However, I like my version, so there it is. D.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adventures of the mind

Barbara here. I know I have talked before about the joys of armchair travelling while researching a book, but every day I discover new horizons and ideas that make the writing life so exciting. Writers don't need to be limited to writing what they know; we can research what we need to know, and in the process we expand our experiences.

I am currently working on a new book that combines several areas that are new and interesting to me. First, since the novel involves travel to Gros Morne Park and western Newfoundland, I am having a great time studying maps, pictures, and stories about the area. I will be travelling in person to the area later in the summer.  And then during the dark, cold days of winter I will be researching international aid work, particularly in Africa.

But right now, I am immersed in the world of motorcycles. To date, my experience of them is limited to having dated a young man with a motorcycle almost half a century ago. You never really forget the sensation of the wind tearing through your hair, the roar of the engine, the vibrations of the bike and the road, and the feeling of vulnerability along beside much larger cars. But I have never driven one, nor taken one on a road trip with all my gear stashed on the back.

So far I have browsed through internet forums and motorcycle websites, and then spend an afternoon in Powersports here in Ottawa amid a whole floor of shiny new machines, talking to a young man about the kind of bike that a small woman with a dog might buy to tour from Quebec to Newfoundland. Dogs, I've learned, can be great travelling companions and can be transported in a pet carrier on the back of the bike or in a trailer or sidecar. They need to be securely belted in and should wear protection such as goggles. At the moment I have opted for a sidecar, but will be doing more research. I think the image of my character driving side by side with her 40-pound dog in a mini sidecar wearing matching goggles is perfect. But I'd love to hear from readers on the pros and cons of each kind.

Meanwhile I look at every motorcycle on the road and watch what the drivers wear, how they move, how they carry their gear, as well as the kind of bikes they drive. Never having had the least interest in them before, I am now learning all I can. I look forward to my trip to Newfoundland, where I expect to meet many more cruising motorcyclists whose brains I can pick. With any luck, I will be able to bum a few rides on the open road to capture the true feeling.

When a writer ventures into a domain about which we know nothing, it's crucial to get as much information as possible, not just the facts but the sensations, sounds, feelings and emotions that accompany it. Because some reader, somewhere, will be able to spot the errors and feel cheated about the whole story. PD James, for example, apparently made a mistake involving a motorcycle, and received lots of mail correcting her.

What a gift to have an excuse to explore the unknown and experience new thrills, all in the name of writing research. So if you see me streaking down the Queensway on the back of a lime green motorcycle, with a dog in a sidecar wearing matching goggles, know that it will all turn up in a book sometime.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Insecurity

Having been an active musician for the vast majority of my life, I have often lived with moments of great doubt. I’ve known nearly since the beginning that no, I am not the second coming of Mozart. In fact I’m not even musically skilled enough to have qualified for being his porter.

Every time I pick up an instrument, I’m aware that no matter how much time I put in in the practice room, I will never be as good as so many people I admire. The most sobering thing is to subjectively listen to something I’ve recorded. All I can hear is the holes, the duff notes, the place where I could have done better.

This is part and partial of being a (mortal) musician. We always strive for perfection. Many of us never attain that lofty level. In fact, I’ll bet if you were to talk to Mozart himself (or anyone in the pantheon of immortal musicians), you’d never have someone tell you they ever played anything absolutely perfectly.

So when I listen to myself making music with feet of clay, I now shrug and promise myself that next time I’ll do better. This isn’t to say I don’t try my hardest every note I play. I’ve just come to realize that I will never obtain the true grace of perfection.

(The reason I’m telling you all of this is that I’ve been forced to listen to my trumpet playing over and over the past few weeks since the band I’m in the process of forming is doing an audition demo so that we can get some gigs.)

Of course this semi-negative – but wholly realistic – attitude permeates my writing. I always feel a sentence or a phrase could somehow be better if I only worked harder on it, dug a little bit deeper. I learned early on that this is the best route to complete stasis. Writing is a series of choices. The longer the writing, the more choices that must be made. Every phrase is a choice. I will make good ones, bad ones, even cringeworthy ones. And there will be the occasional brilliant one. As with music, there will be authors I’ll read whose prose leaves me shaking my head, knowing I will never be that brilliant, that adept. Shakespeare can make me feel as if my brain is going to explode. He’s able to reach through the years and grab hold of you in a way no other writer can.

It’s bittersweet, but I fully understand my place in the musical and literary firmament. I can only hope to entertain, enlighten a bit, and occasionally (very occasionally) reach out and grab someone emotionally. It’s the best I can hope for and I have learned to accept it.

All that being said, my forthcoming Roses for a Diva is the best frigging new novel you’ll ever read by me this fall!

Sorry, I never said that I was humble, now, did I?