Friday, July 29, 2016

Knowing When to Stop

I love this week's topic. I'd like to share my thoughts about my muse. Unfortunately, I have a looming deadline. I'm trying to write a short story, and my muse is being a pain in the whatever. Not because she is ignoring my plea for inspiration. I have the opposite problem. She has been and is being entirely too helpful.

It started a few weeks ago. I woke up with the title of the story in my head. No idea where it came from. No idea what it meant. I had to go to the Internet to make sure I understood it. That was where the trouble began. My quick search turned up something that made me go "Wow! This is great!" The only problem was I knew nothing about the "this". Muse said, "No problem. Just do a little research."

I did, and then Muse handed me another idea.  A setting that would work. A closed circle of suspects. The sleuth? "Would I let you down?" Muse asked. "Here she is." Except I knew nothing about my sleuth's occupation. Nothing. Nada. I pointed that out to Muse. She said, "No problem. It's a short story. Do a little research."

Okay. I know how to do research. Off to the university library. Books -- even a couple requested from storage. A couple of dissertations. Some articles. Good. This was working. Good to go.

That was when Muse said, "But you know your problem with descriptions. I always work better when you've actually seen what you're trying to describe." That made sense. A road trip on a lovely summer day. Invite friend to come along. Grab camera and go. Come back with photos -- and a couple of more books.

Open small book and make big discovery.

Days passing. Clock ticking. I point this out to Muse. She says, "Just read this. It might be useful. You know I'm always more helpful when you have lots of information." I say, "I have enough information to write a book." Muse says, "Yes, you do. But we'll get to that after we're done with your story. Keep reading."

Last night, I'd had enough. I said, "This is ridiculous. I've got to get some words down on paper." Muse said, "You've been writing the whole thing in your head. You have all the scenes. You have motives and killer." I said, "But I still need to write. Have you looked at the calendar?" Muse said, "Go to bed. We'll talk about it in the morning."

This morning Muse said, "You have to eat lunch anyway. And I know exactly where we should go. Then you'll have all afternoon to write."

Muse and I are getting ready to go out to lunch. Lunch in a diner that I didn't even know existed before I started all that research Muse insisted I do. There are some pictures on the wall that Muse thinks I should see.

After that, I'm going to write because I am running out of time. No more hanging out with Muse. Sit down. Put hands on keyboard and write.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In Search of an Idea


My muse, having a rest

Donis here. In truth I am not filled with inspiration today, which is ironic since over the past few days my blogmates have been writing about the Muses and where ideas come from.

My Muse is taking a nap. This is not an unusual occurrence for her since this is what she does every time I finish a book. So, as I have done at the completion of every single book I have written over the last decade, I admit that I am, at least for the present, brain dead.

Eventually my Muse will slowly stir and an idea will begin to form. When the writing-muscles start to engage again, I become hyper-aware of what is going on around me, of what other people are saying, of what is in the news, of the weather, but especially of what I'm thinking. Most of the time, my thoughts float around in my head like fluffy little clouds that I pay no attention to, but when I'm in this state, I stare at them until I find interesting shapes.

When I was in college, I was a crammer. I never studied much for tests until a day or two before, then I'd study until my eyes fell out. I'd never recommend this process to anyone, though it seemed to work all right for me. Even at the time, I was aware that in order for cramming to work I had to have a literal change of consciousness, and become almost hyper- aware. When I look back on it, I think it was just a matter of paying close attention.

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 coalesce and I think, “That might make a good story.”

And I'll begin again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Characters and plot in search of setting

Barbara here.Today I want to continue the fascinating topic of muses that was raised in Aline's and Rick's two previous posts. Aline zeroed in on "motive" or rather the whole picture of what drives that particular killer to kill at that moment in that way, which forms the whole underlying question of the story. Rick addressed starting points--that germ of an image or idea that pops out of nowhere and starts the writer's mind on its creative journey.

Both of these are key elements to storytelling. One provides the initial spark and the other guides us in the weaving of the story flowing from that spark, just as an oyster slowly builds a pearl out of a grain of sand. I want to talk about setting, because that is foremost on my mind right now, and in the case of my Amanda Doucette novels, I can't begin the story until I have some idea of the setting. Each novel in this new series is set in a different iconic location in Canada, with the view that by the time I wrap up the series, I will have touched on Canada's beautiful, varied landscape and culture from coast to coast to coast.


Book One, Fire in the Stars, is set in the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, a wild and beautiful land of crashing oceans, craggy mountains, icebergs, and little fishing villages. It is already written, and due for release in early September. I have visited Newfoundland several times and have roots there, but I made two research trips to make sure I got the right feel and detail for the exact places I was writing about. Book Two, The Trickster's Lullaby, is set in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains just north of Mont Tremblant, and although I went there often for skiing and summer fun, I still made two short trips once I was writing the book in order to get the detail right. The setting needs to match the story I want to tell, and sometimes this means massaging the story a bit and other times changing the exact locale I had in mind.


Setting means not just physical surroundings but also season and weather. My third Amanda Doucette book is set in Georgian Bay and involves kayaks and rich island mansions. During these hot summer months I am finalizing the winter camping story in the Laurentians, and I will be writing the first draft of the summer Georgian Bay story in the dead of the upcoming Ontario winter. So I changed my writing schedule to do some location setting this summer, to figure out exactly where to set Prisoners of Hope. What a fun trip it was, driving the length of the eastern shores of Georgian Bay, exploring little villages and shoreline roads, and ending up in the village of Killarney at the northern tip of the bay, where the dogs and I took a lovely walk along the pink granite shore to the lighthouse.


The villages and shores themselves provided inspiration and plot ideas as well as dramatic atmosphere, and a long talk with the local outfitter helped me to plan the fictional trip my characters will take. None of that would be possible without a hands-on visit. Once I start writing the book, I know I will have many more questions about the setting, and will scour the internet for answers as well as keep a running list. When next summer comes and the first draft is hopefully mostly written, I will make another trip to Georgian Bay to get my final answers.

Even better than visiting the setting is walking through the experiences the characters will have. Thus in Newfoundland, I took hikes through the woods and along the ocean cliffs, took the whaling boat trip that my characters take, and ate in the restaurants. For the Laurentian book, I actually took a four-day winter camping trip. I would love to take a Georgian Bay kayaking trip, and am currently trying to see whether I can fit it into my schedule this fall. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Whither comes the muse? Or “capere musam”.

by Rick Blechta

Funny that Aline would be planning on writing her blog post on the same topic I was planning to use. Since we’re both discussing muses, perhaps we have the same one – or maybe our separate ones are colluding.

Where do ideas come from? While the arts (writing, music, dance, drama, painting, etc.) are all very different, they do share one commonality: they require an initial idea to get started on a new work.

I’m sure every writer of fiction has been faced with the dilemma of “characters in search of a story”. I certainly have. If you write a series as many crime writers do, you face this at the beginning of any new book. For those of us who write one-offs, it’s not as common, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens to most. (It’s always much easier to be confronted with a story in search of characters.)

And that’s where the muses come in, as Aline so ably described yesterday. Where do these ideas come from? It can be from an otherwise unremarkable conversation, perhaps even an eavesdropped one (happened to me in my third novel). It can be something you read or even witnessed. Sometimes an idea just comes out of the blue. Or a serendipitous encounter.

To me, those are the most fascinating. In my novel, When Hell Freezes Over, the genesis of the story came to me as I was driving home from a gig late one night.

Snow, whipped around by a stiff wind, made visibility poor and I sighed as I stopped, the lone car at a light.

A tap on the passenger window startled me. A young woman stared me in the face, so I rolled down the window.
“I need a ride. I have no money and I need to get home. Can you help?”

I almost said, “Sure. Hop in!” before an alarm bell clanged in my head. I would be alone in my car with someone I didn’t know and who might not have the best of intentions.

Instead, I asked, “Where are you heading?”

She gave me her destination, rather far out of my way. Should I take a chance to help a fellow person? All I had was a couple of twenty-dollar bills, no change, so I wouldn’t get off financially easily, but I decided to give her money rather than taking a risk.

“I’m headed in the opposite direction. Here’s a twenty. Take the bus and then a taxi to get home.”

She took it gratefully. Perhaps I’d just been scammed, but I hoped I hadn’t.

Regardless, the light had by now changed and I took off.

It hit me about 3 minutes later: if instead of tapping on the window, what if the girl had just gotten into my car? What would I have done? The answer was pretty clear. I probably would have been stuck driving her to her destination – if everything had gone okay.

A myriad of other possibilities flooded my brain, none of them good. Before I got home, I had the beginning scene in the book I was going to write and a solid idea of where it would take the story.

The next morning I realized another thing: I had just paid a paltry $20 for a terrific idea around which I could craft an entire novel.

Now regardless of being scammed or not, that’s money well spent, isn’t it?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Motives for Murder

What is your starting point for writing a novel? For me, it usually starts with a picture I have in my head: in Evil for Evil, for instance, it was a skeleton shackled to a metal ring in a sea cave wall. I've no idea where it came from, but thank you to whatever Muse put it there because it gave me what I needed to start asking the questions that make a plot – why was it there, who could have put it there? And what could have happened before, to make someone do it – the whole dramatic point of the story.

Means, motive and opportunity – the classic wisdom about what the police need to establish in order to prosecute a crime. It's often the very backbone of a police procedural novel.

Only, of course, when I thought about it, motive doesn't actually form part of the necessary police evidence; maybe the prosecution will suggest one as a way to influence the jury, but for a trial to succeed it's only essential to prove that the accused was in possession of whatever was needed to commit the crime and was there at the time.

'What makes someone a killer?' is the question that interests me most in crime fiction, but it's not really 'motive' that's answers it.

There's a classic list of motives for murder, sometimes summarised as 'love, lust, lucre and loathing.' (My criminal defence advocate son would point out that getting drunk and lashing out was actually by a distance the most common.) It covers jealousy, ambition, revenge.

Yet if you look at the Shakespeare tragedies, Macbeth's motive is ambition, Hamlet's is revenge, Othello's is jealousy – all technically sufficient motives. Give Hamlet Macbeth's motive, or Othello's, and there would be no play. What gives the tragedies their absorbing interest is that each of the heroes is put into the precise position where their particular nature leaves them vulnerable.

It's the interplay of nature, nurture and circumstance that makes the killer and for all the psychological reports commissioned for the courts, in real life you can't  hope to know the full story. When it's your own character, you can – another of those god-like powers that keeps us all addicted.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Happy Happy Anniversary

This week our blogmaster, Rick Blechta reminded the Type M'ers that our blog is ten years. I'm a fairly recent member and came in through the good graces of our beloved Donis Casey. I'm feel humbled and honored to be included with this collection of talented, generous people.

I tried to look up my first blog before I started this post, but I'm going to have to settle for completing this scant offering without including the date.

I'm getting a new roof and guttering on my house. We have a great homeowner's association and this is only going to cost me $40.00. So I'm quite cheerful about all the banging and shower of debris. But nevertheless I can't work with this sort of noise. I jump when there's a bang. Could be gunshots you know. One pays a price for possessing a murderous mind.

My deadline for the new mystery is August 16th so I'm leaving daily for a more peaceful place. Through the roofing process my internet is temporarily very erratic. So I'm going to publish this post before it all goes away again.

A sincere thank you to everyone who has followed this blog. And we can't thank Rick Blechta and Vicki Delany enough for starting it in the first place.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Technical Goulash

I'm nearing the 10,000-word mark of a new project that is very different from other books I've written for a number of reasons, the first being that I'm writing in present tense.

Goodreads List of Present-Tense Novels

Interestingly, I taught Naomi Hirahara's Murder on Bamboo Lane this past year, and none of my students noticed the tense (or mentioned it until I did). As a teacher, that was frustrating; as a writer (nice job, Naomi!), that's a good thing. I know if I'm consistent in voice, point-of-view, and tense, I'll go unnoticed, something I'm always striking for: I want readers to be so lost in the story they forget they're turning pages at all.

Writing present tense is interesting on many levels. The syntax, for one, has changed. Sentences are shorter (for me, that's never a bad thing.) I find myself writing a lot of fragments (missing subjects). This is happening naturally. Just riding the rhythm of the book. And my nemesis, the To Be verb, is getting very little airtime, something that pleases me immensely. The chapters are averaging less than a thousand words.

Additionally, the pace of the book is faster because of the tense choice. Dialogue propels the action for me, as always. But the I see this book being shorter than some others I've written in recent years. (Whether that holds up or not remains to be seen. Every time I start a book I tell myself this time I'll be really efficient.)

Like any writer, I will do my best to show and not tell: 

My second-floor classroom looked out onto the quad. There was a grass courtyard nearly the size of a soccer pitch and boxed in by brick dorms and brick office and academic buildings. Morning sunlight reflected off benches that glistened with ice and snow. Christmas was a full three weeks away, but twenty inches of snow had already fallen. Parents' Weekend took place only a month earlier, when cobblestone paths were ablaze with autumn's fallen leaves and playing fields' sidelines were awash in light blue swag and proud parental voices. That seemed a distant memory.

My second-floor classroom looks out onto the quad, a grass courtyard nearly the size of a soccer pitch, boxed in by brick dorms and brick office and academic buildings. Morning sunlight reflects off benches glistening with ice and snow. Christmas is a full three weeks away, but twenty inches of snow have already fallen. Parents' Weekend – only a month ago, when cobblestone paths were ablaze with autumn's fallen leaves and playing fields' sidelines were awash in light blue swag and proud parental voices – seems a distant memory.

The differences are evident. Immediacy being the most obvious. No surprise there. But more subtly, the imagery, particularly of the final line, is punched up. The present tense version in the second paragraph is more forceful.

Now I put the challenge to you: Take a paragraph you've written recently, and rewrite it in the present tense. What differences do you find? This might serve as another technique for your toolbox. After all, a present-tense scene well-placed in a past-tense novel might heighten suspense and add to your reader's experience.

I'd love to hear readers' thoughts on this and my Type M colleagues' opinions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Poirot: From Page to Screen

I love, love, love Agatha Christie. I’ve read all her books at least twice, and I enjoy the TV and movie adaptations. The version of A Caribbean Mystery featuring Helen Hayes as Miss Marple never fails to cheer me up. Yep, you know you’re a mystery writer at heart when a murder mystery makes you feel better!

Even though I’ve read them all, I’m not as familiar with her short stories. I recently decided to rewatch the first season of the Poirot TV series featuring David Suchet as Poirot.

The first season is 10 episodes, each 48-51 minutes long, all adaptations of Poirot short stories. After watching each episode, I read the story it was based on to see what changes had been made.

Here’s what I noticed:

Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon are often inserted into the TV version of a story where they weren’t in the original. When this happens, there’s usually some scene at the beginning that reveals the relationship between Poirot and the two of them. I have to say, these scenes are the ones I remember the most, probably because they are great fun. And whenever a policeman was needed, Inspector Japp was always the man they called, which wasn’t necessarily true in the original story.

In a couple of the stories, The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly and The Incredible Theft, Poirot is brought in before the crime occurs in the TV version. In the original stories, he’s brought in after the kidnapping and theft, respectively.

In a few of the TV versions, when the culprit is revealed, they added a pursuit scene that wasn’t in the short story. Makes for a better visual and I have to admit is quite fun.

There’s only one story where I noticed the TV adaptation changed a clue slightly, Murder in the Mews. I think it worked out a little better.

A few of the stories collapsed a couple characters, but occasionally new characters were added.

In Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, there were quite a few changes. Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings were added, the dinner companion was his dentist, someone’s profession was changed, the contents of a letter was changed and a visit to Scotland Yard’s new forensics lab was added.

In The King of Clubs, a famous dancer became a famous actress and the murdered man the head of a movie studio. That gave Poirot the chance to visit a film set.

Overall, they’re quite faithful to the story, keeping the solution and the murderer generally the same. I think these adaptations are great and I have no problems with the changes made. And, dare I say, they made the stories more fun to watch.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I can’t believe we missed this!

by Rick Blechta


Last week I failed. It wasn't until Wednesday morning that I realized I'd totally forgotten that the previous day had been Tuesday and that I'd missed my slot on Type M. I don't believe that's happened in the nearly ten years we've been on the internet. Imagine my chagrin!

Well, this week isn't much better, but I did set my computer to remind me of the day and my obligations to Type M. So here I am.

Only problem is, I haven't given any thought to what I want to write about, but there is this:

TYPE M FOR MURDER
IS TEN YEARS OLD!


Unfortunately, because I've been so preoccupied with other things, the anniversary date totally passed by without me noticing! Imagine, please, my extreme chagrin for that egregious oversight.

For those interested, we first graced cyberspace with a post by our founder, Miss Vicki Delany, on June 26, 2006. Here is the link: launching-first-entry-for-our-new-blog – if you care to read it. My first post (now-its-blechta’s-turn) appeared on July 12, 2006.

Since then, the guilty parties have changed a fair bit. I'm still here, as is Vicki (who was away on sabbatical for a short time before we coaxed her back). We currently have a terrific group of bloggers, some part of the scene for a number of years now. I don't know about you, but I've made some great friends on Type M – and I'm not just referring to my fellow blogmates and our guest authors.

The amazing fact is that we're still here. Most blogs don't last anywhere near this long. It's good to stand on the crest of the hill and see what we've done and all the (cyber) ink we've spilled in the process of sharing our thoughts. Sure, we have (and have had) a great group of writers, but the length of our lifespan is due to only one thing: our loyal readers who drop by frequently to read our deathless prose and comment on our thoughts of the day.

And to you, dear readers, we all extend our thanks!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Newsletters and a Contest


By Vicki Delany

Frankie’s post on Friday about her newsletter made me realize that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned to all you nice Type M followers that I send out a newsletter.

I try to issue it quarterly, with news about upcoming books and my travels, book-related or otherwise. I occasionally have information about contests for books and other goodies.

If you’d like to be put on the distribution list, please drop me a line at vicki at vickidelany dot com.

Speaking of contests, let’s have one!  Everyone who writes to me this week (i.e. before Monday July 25th) will go into a draw for a signed mass market paperback of Negative Image.  

If you are in Southeastern Ontario this weekend, and looking for something to do, why not come to a cross-genre convention! Limestone Genre expo will be going on Saturday and Sunday in Kingston. It's Limestone Genre Expo and I am the Mystery Guest of Honor. Here's the link with all the details http://www.limestonegenreexpo.ca/  

Perhaps I'll see you there.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Weekend Guest - Janet Hubbard

Type M is thrilled to welcome our weekend guest blogger Janet Hubbard, author of the wonderful Vengeance in the Vineyard series. So pour yourself a nice glass of Burgundy and settle in for a treat.

Accomplices in Tasting
By
Janet Hubbard



I write mysteries set in the wine districts of France. Descriptions of food and wine abound. I place my characters at dinner tables in the various regions that so far include Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

One of the most common comments I hear at my readings is, “The research must be tough.” WinkWink. A ripple of laughter follows.

It’s true. I do hang out in some pretty special places, and I have on occasion sipped a fine wine, all in the name of research. However, though I enjoy wine on a daily basis (not, alas, the fabulous wines I write about) and thrill to the taste sensations of a boeuf bourguignon served in an elegant home in a southern village in Burgundy, I am far from being a writer who is adept at teasing the various flavors out of a complex dish, and making it come alive on the page.

I learned as a young adult while traveling through France that winemaking and lovingly prepared dishes are synonymous with conviviality. What drew me to the world of the senses literarily were the people who inhabit it, starting years ago with friend Astrid Latapie, who set the tone for my Vengeance in the Vineyard series with her poetic descriptions. (Most of CHAMPAGNE: The Farewell takes place at her mother’s country estate in a small village in that region.) Since then I have been fortunate to find “consultants” who are happy to share their knowledge, and sometimes their talent. Food and wine critic Dawn Land, for example, came to my rescue when I decided to set an entire chapter of my second novel, BORDEAUX: The Bitter Finish, in Veritas, an oenophile’s paradise in Manhattan. Chef Sam Hazen invited me to come with a friend to enjoy the “tasting menu,” where tiny portions of exquisite dishes were sent out from the kitchen for our delectation. My guest, Matt Tornabene, owner of Manhattan Wine Company, made sure a marriage was created between the cuisine and wine. It was a memorable evening, or so I thought at the time.

My two protagonists in the series—NYPD woman detective Max Maguire and French investigating magistrate Olivier Chaumont—sit on the same banquette Matt and I had inhabited months before, sampling the same menu over conversation that vacillated between the taste sensations they were experiencing (thank you, Dawn!) and the crime that had them flummoxed. Checking my notes while writing that book (BORDEAUX), panic set in. Had I consumed too much wine? What exactly did Chef Sam use to create the piquancy in a particular entrée? I appealed to Dawn, who wrote this for the novel: “The server brought small, white plates upon which rested Montauk Pearl oysters with tequila lime mignonette…Max savored the sensation of cold stone that the oysters had clung to before being picked…” Success!

White writing BURGUNDY: Twisted Roots, I came across a great website, www.everydayfrenchchef.com and wrote to the proprietor, Meg Bortin, an American ex-pat who is a journalist, and a stellar chef and food writer. Soon we were dining together in Paris, and it turned out she has a country house in Burgundy. It doesn’t get more serendipitous than this! She created menus for the novel, and offered additional information about the food, and a friendship was born.

My world has been enriched immeasurably by wine and food enthusiasts. I think the provenance of the term joie de vivre originated with the vignerons (or wine growers) of French vineyards.

My response when the cliché about how tough the research must be for this series is to laugh along with the audience. It would be too complicated to explain that I have a host of “accomplices” working behind the scenes.

Janet Hubbard’s third novel in her Vengeance in the Vineyard series, BURGUNDY: Twisted Roots, will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in January, 2017. Her website is www.janethubbard.com.


Friday, July 15, 2016

The Art of the Newsletter

I have invited visitors to my website to subscribe to my newsletter. I have collected names and email addresses at book launch events. I have planned to go through my subscriber list and weed out the spammers who bothered to sign-in to leave me a message about working at home (presumably at some occupation other than writing) and to come up with a list of "real people".  I have thought about sending out a newsletter and mentally walked through the process. But I have yet to really send out an actual newsletter. This is a source of recurring embarrassment when someone asks to be added to my newsletter list.

So this month, I am going to send out my "July newsletter," to be followed by my "January newsletter." I should be able to handle that, two newsletters per year.

The question is what should go into an author's newsletter. I am on the subscriber lists of a number of other authors. I'm not sure how I got on all of them, but I find it useful to see what other authors are doing. I enjoy hearing about new books and upcoming events, but I especially like the newsletters that provide something extra. Those newsletters remind me of the newsletter that my real estate agent sends out by snail mail to past and current clients. His newsletter is several pages of homeowner tips, health information, quizzes, polls, and a monthly contest. I don't read all of every newsletter, but I do glance through quickly. And I appreciate the fact that he is taking the time to maintain contact. That's the kind of newsletter I want to do.

In preparation for my first newsletter, I've been searching the Internet for tips and "best practices". Mentioned more than once:
1. Offer information of value.
2. The newsletter should be in keeping with your author brand.
3.Offer subscribers "bonuses" that they cannot find on your website.
4. Use visuals (e.g., photos and sidebars).
5. Content that works well includes: a feature article about book-related topic; your interview of another author; a new book trailer; your to be read (TBR) list; a book review.

I intend to do a feature article about the research I did for my last book that ended up "on the cutting room floor" because it turned out to be irrelevant. I have some photos that will work well. I can probably come up with information for a sidebar. And I'll share information about my current projects.

Anyone else do an author's newsletter? What do you include? Have you encountered any problems?
  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Eavesdropping



I, Donis,  am supposed to be finishing up the edits on my latest manuscript right now. My editor wants the corrected MS by the end of next week. I should be correcting away. Instead I'm taking care of every item on my to-do list for the next month. I never accomplish as many random tasks as I do when I am facing a deadline.

I blame part of my difficulty on summer, or as Charlotte so appropriately called it, the "dog days", when it's too hot to do anything, all your energy is sapped right out of you, and you can't even think coherently. It's the perfect time for reading, the perfect time for observing. And as we know, the ability to observe critically is one of the top requirements for a successful artist of any sort.

One thing that I like to do when I am in observation mode is go to a restaurant or coffee shop and blatantly eavesdrop on my fellow diners. Listening to people talk is a great way to study speech patterns, slang, dialect, as well as a great way to come up with interesting plot lines. I mean, what did s/he mean when she said that! Walking around in the mall is a good eavesdropping technique. I particularly enjoy the walking eavesdrop because one generally only gets snatches of conversation, and if one is in writer mode, one immediately begins to fill in the blanks. I often carry a small notebook with me in order to immediately write down comments that intrigue me. Following are a few actual snatches of conversation that I overheard on several mall walking occasions:

What a sweetheart. It was so horrible I didn't want to ask. Devastating, you know?

I may go out tonight just because I'm so depressed.

Do you think he saw a ghost?
You might do well to check it out...

Oh, my God, I would not share that with anyone!

I don't want to give them too many of my emotions. (either a poet or in need of a vocabulary lesson- D.)

When I was a detective, they tried to get me to take a course in Forensic entomology, but I decided that one of the two homicide detectives on the squad ought to go instead of me. (I tried to follow this guy and listen in some more, but he eluded me.- D.)

I had to kind of become a Nazi to get it back.

He looks kind of like the Hamburgler but not so happy.

My check covers utilities, rent, car payment and the f-ing plane ticket. Never mind clothes or belly dance lessons. (I call this First World Problems - D.)

John, if I wanted to be you, I would be you.

Like Spiderman, but without so much angst. He's so angsty.

The only reason he said that is because he thinks my mom is hot.

Find me an avocado. (Overheard by my husband at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, 1967, and indelibly stuck in his mind.)





Monday, July 11, 2016

Formula, Schmormula

Like John, I too saw the article about the formula to create a best-seller.  Like him, I've no intention of trying to follow the prescription.

Partly it's because 'formula writing' has a bad name..  Partly it's realistic - I couldn't do it now however hard I tried..  But the main thing is, no matter how carefully they all researched this, no matter how many best-sellers they analysed, I just don't believe them. It wouldn't work.

Some time ago there was a series of concerted attempts by publishers to engineer best-sellers.  With all their experience of marketing they were, they thought, the people who knew what it was that readers really wanted and all they needed was obliging authors to do as they were told.  Life would be much easier for them if they didn't have to gamble on which horse to back.

 James Patterson and even, I believe, Wilbur Smith now have ghost writers patterning their style. But that's a niche market that has already been created -  Mills and Boon, of course, have done it for years. But an original best-seller written to a formula?
 
As a young, unpublished and very broke wannabe author, I was caught up in one of these schemes myself.  My then agent and an editor from one of the major English publishing houses devised a scheme whereby they got together to develop a series of outlines for a brand that would be called, I think, Dark Secrets - known in the trade as 'creepy-weepies' - and recruit a stable of authors.  The paperbacks would be temptingly displayed at the supermarket check-out to be popped into your bag along with the weekly shop. 

Fortune was promised, if not fame, and I was very excited about it at the time and spent months working on my allocated outline.  The first ones were, indeed, published  - but no  more.  Despite all the expertise of editor and agent being applied, they bombed.  Questions were asked about the closeness of the agent-publisher relationship which had exploited the authors and I left her and moved on, greatly to my advantage.

It's very irritating for publishers, of course, that readers don't conform.  How often does a friend tell you that you must read a book - 'It's wonderful, I couldn't put it down' - and you struggle through it, wondering why on earth it was recommended?  No one formula is ever going to have universal appeal.  Thank goodness.




Saturday, July 09, 2016

Writing Fun in the Twittersphere



Our guest this week is J.C. Lane author of the thriller Tag, You’re Dead, which just hit the shelves on July 5. She also writes mysteries as Judy Clemens, including the Stella Crown series, the Grim Reaper mysteries, and Lost Sons. She tries not to spend too much time on social media, but it is a lot of fun! You can visit her on Twitter at @judyclemens1, or on Facebook at judyclemensauthor (J.C. Lane aka Judy Clemens).

By the time you get done with the first draft of a book, you’re either mentally exhausted or euphoric – sometimes both! The problem is…if you want to get your book in the best shape it can be you’re not even close to finished. There’s re-writing and beta readers, and editing some more, and critique partners… By the time you’ve gotten your book into tip-top shape you’re even more tired than you were before!

But now it’s time for the tough stuff. The part where you want to hang it all up and forget you ever wrote a book. It’s so hard to send out queries and write a synopsis and feel really, really vulnerable about people looking at your work. But don’t give up now! Yes, it’s hard researching agents and reaching out to them…and getting rejected. But that’s part of writing. Perseverance! Persistence! (Rah, Rah, Rah!) Makes you worn out just thinking about it, doesn’t it? All of that hard, hard work. But it’s worth it. It really is. I mean it.

There are some actual fun ways to get your book in front of other people and have a great time in the process! You’ll make friends, get to know agents, and learn how you can support and help others along the way. One of the best ways to do this is through Twitter contests. There are lots of them out there. You just have to find the one that seems right for you. Here are some of the ones I’ve participated in. If none of these sounds good to you, perhaps you’ll learn about others through these suggestions.

#QueryKombat

@Michelle4Laughs (Michelle Hauck), @ravenousrushing (Michael Anthony), and @LH_writes (Laura Heffernan) accept entries of a query letter and the first 250 words of a manuscript for this exceptional contest (or, er, Kontest) in May of each year. I was a Kombatant in 2014 and have been a judge the past two years. This year they had over 340 entries!* Each of the hosts picks a team of entries (total of 64) which battle each other in pairs for the judges’ votes. (Judges are published authors and others in the industry) The winner of each pair goes on to the next round to battle another winner, which winnows down to a Grand Champion, as well as a YA champ, an MG champ, an NA champ, and an Adult champ. The cool part of this contest is that all winners of the first round get seen during an agent’s round, and agents can make requests for anything that strikes their fancy! This contest is friendly, fun, and pretty amazing. A great experience for all involved.

*All entries which do not make it into the 64 have a chance to pitch for the opportunity to work on their query letter and 250 words with one of the judges by tweeting a pitch on a special hashtag. I worked with three writers this year.
These hosts also run Nightmare on Query Street #NoQS around Halloween, which is great fun. You can check that out, as well as a few other contests run by Michelle here:http://www.michelle4laughs.com/p/writer-contests.html

@BrendaDrake runs a couple of very popular contests, which are #PitchWars and #PitMad. In Pitch Wars writers have the opportunity to send in a query letter and first chapter of their manuscript to apply to a mentor (published author, industry professional, etc.) who will help them shine up their manuscript in time for an agent round a couple of months later. Check it out here: http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-wars/ There’s still time to apply for this year! Deadline is August 3.

#PitMad is a Twitter party four times a year when writers can tweet their work to try to catch the eye of an agent or editor. Very cool and fun. Read more about it here: http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/

@AuthoressAnon (Authoress) runs a variety of contests on her Twitter page and also on her web site here: http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/p/authoress.html. Her mission is to help other authors, and she does that through connecting authors with agents however she can.

These are just some of the contests and hosts I’ve been involved with in the past few years. If you look them up I’m sure you’ll learn about more opportunities, because these folks all help each other, and writers get involved in different contests and love to talk about them. Twitter is a great way to make friends and get to know people in the writing business. I got to know my agent on Twitter, and I couldn’t be happier. Good luck to you all!

What Twitter contests would you suggest to other writers?

Friday, July 08, 2016

Dog Days

I'm waiting for the edits for Fractured Families. This is a perfect time to catch up on projects and if I were the right sort of person, I would be outlining a new book or spiffing up my web page, or stalking bookstore owners to promote my new non-fiction historical book.

Instead I'm slipping into my dog days mentality.  When I was a child living in Eastern Kansas summers were often unbearable. The heat of late July and early August blanketed all the pre-air conditioning days and nights and there was no way to throw it off. It was oppressive and deadly and inescapable. This time of year was referred to as Dog Days.

There was one sure way to obtain relief but it was forbidden. We could go to Garnett and swim in the pool. But mom wouldn't let my sister and I do that because that time of year was associated with polio and diseases. Vaccines changed everything of course but the warning to stay be cautious during Dogs Days remained.

The term got it's name from Sirius, the "Dog Star" which rises and sets with the sun. During late July it's in conjunction with the sun and the ancients believed its heat was added to the heat of the sun. Which isn't true, but never mind. Hot is hot and before air conditioning this time of summer was a preview of hell.

Now there are other reasons I'm especially cautious during Dog Days. Polio aside, new dangers lurk. Lime disease infects unsuspecting fishermen and hikers. The possible complications are heart-breaking and sometimes permanent. We have daily warnings to wear long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants to shield our bodies from West Nile-bearing mosquitos. We're not supposed to walk at dawn or sundown--which are my favorite times--because mosquitos are the thickest then.That leaves the hottest time of the day. I'm not about to risk a heat stroke.

It's Dog Days run amuck.

So who can blame me if l lie about in a listless stupor reading, reading, reading. It's the way I was brought up.




Thursday, July 07, 2016

Best-sellers: A Formula?


From the just-when-you-think-you've-seen-it-all corner . . .

I stumbled across an article in the June 27 issue of Publisher's Weekly titled "What Makes a Bestseller? Two SMP Authors Say They Know the Formula." The story discusses a forthcoming book titled The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel (St. Martin's Press, Sept. 20) in which co-authors offer an algorithm based on themes, plots, characters, and setting used in 20,000 bestselling novels.

Dave Eggers's novel The Circle, according to The Bestseller Code authors Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers, "had a 100% chance of hitting the New York Times bestseller list." And it did.

I have not read Eggers's novel, but I liked Zeitoun, his nonfiction work, and now I'm curious as hell, so I'll pick it up. However, I don't plan to read The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel. For a guy who hasn't sniffed the New York Times bestseller list, maybe that's crazy; maybe I ought to be running out, getting the book, and asking someone to quiz me on its content. Logic would dictate that I should absorb every last syllable of The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel. But I have no interest. And I'd be very surprised if Dave Eggers does either.

It brings me back to the central question: Can you sit down with the intention of writing a bestseller and produce one? I've heard it said that bestsellers aren't written at all; they are marketed. After the Harry Potter phenomenon, though, I no longer believe that, not entirely anyway.

I have no doubt Archer and Jockers will sell a lot of copies. After all, what better way to write a bestseller than promising to unlock the secret to that holiest of grails? (Somewhere James Patterson is quaking.)

But I will say this: I have read many novels over the years that hooked me, novels I enjoyed and couldn't put down. In fact, I just finished one, stayed up late Saturday night to see how it would end. However, my basis for judging a book successful is determining if I'll go back to the well again.

The book I loved -- "King of the one-night reads" one critic calls the author -- stars an African-American hero. Yet I didn't realize (or had forgotten) the protagonist was African-American until it was mentioned in the final 10 pages. Should I pay better attention? Okay, sure. But my litmus test is will I buy another book by that author (or buy another in the series). So if I'm reading about a protagonist with a backstory, especially one involving a racial identity, I want to experience the world through that character's viewpoint, something I obviously didn't get to do with this current read.

So is there a formula to writing best-sellers? Who knows?

Am I looking for one?

Hell, no.



Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Wandering Aimlessly

I'm in the "what the heck do I do now" phase these days. A week ago I sent in my edits for A PALETTE FOR MURDER. Those edits consumed my life for over a month. Even when I wasn't actively writing, my brain was always focused on the story I was telling and the changes that needed to be made.

I always get this way after a big deadline. Doesn't matter if it's writing, programming or planning a conference. I have a long list of things I intend to do after I finish, but when the deadline passes I have a hard time focusing on actually doing any of them for a while.

Okay, I'm not sitting around doing nothing. I started a painting project, jotted down notes on the next book, read several of the books on my TBR pile, started cleaning the house. But I feel like I should be getting more done. I have all this time, why aren't I using it more effectively?

Some people go from one writing project to another without needing a break. I’m not one of those. And it’s not like this writing project is completely done, anyway. At the end of July I’ll be starting the final round of edits on PALETTE.

I’ll give myself a couple more aimless days, then I’ll get to work on writing back of the book copy, understanding Facebook ads and other things.

What do you all do when you get to the end of a big deadline? Do you go straight into the next project or do you wander aimlessly like I do for a few days?

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Free at last!

by Rick Blechta

Up here north of the 49th parallel we have an insurance company with a very successful and long-running commercial touting their “Freedom 55” program, meaning that they can help you retire at 55. (Of course, they've taken a lot of ribbing since people now talk about “Freedom 75” (or even “Freedom 85”) as the economy and job markets flounder around and people of “a certain age” have to get jobs at Walmart or McDonalds to make ends meet.)

Anyway, to get to the point, I turned 65 at the beginning of the month. As I laboured in the coal mines of public education for 24 years, I did manage to build up some pension money (not the very lucrative teachers' pension fund since I was merely a lowly Music Itinerant), but enough that I might be able to drop a source of income (my main one) and begin accessing it.

In short, I can actually stop working. Well, that’s not completely accurate. Let’s put it this way: I can stop doing work I don’t want to do, and start spending more time working on things I do enjoy and actually want to work at!

And that, of course, means writing (and music).

Soon (I have to finish off three graphic design jobs before this all happens) I’ll be able to get up in the morning and not have to immediately sit down to field emails from clients, which invariably leads to getting right to work on their jobs, quite often with a gun to my head because a deadline has been announced. Believe me, that’s no fun.

So now I’ll be able to grab a cup of joe and start in on “playing with my imaginary friends”, something that’s been hard to find consistent time to do over the past few years – not that it was ever easy. I’ve currently got three novels (and two synopses) in various states of disrepair and I’ll be able to dig in on them with a clear conscience and the knowledge that I’m not leaving a client hanging. I’ll also be able to reboot my website with a complete redesign.

No…wait…that's graphic design again, and it’s what I’m trying to get away from!

Monday, July 04, 2016

Mixing it up on Cape Cod



by Vicki Delany

The explorers
As a writer, I always like to mix things up. I like writing different styles and moods and in different sub-genres.  In particular I like mixing up locations.

I've set books in South Sudan, in the Yukon, in British Columbia, Haiti, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Muskoka Turks and Caicos, and even where I live in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Writing in different places, gives me wonderful opportunities to visit all these great places.

Case in point.  Elementary She Read, the first in my new Sherlock Holmes Bookstore and Emporium series will be out next spring. The series is set in Cape Cod. The last time I was in Cape Cod was in 1969.

I thought it might have changed a bit.

So I headed down with my youngest daughter for a quick (far too quick) research trip.  Here are some pictures of things I saw.

Can't go to Cape Cod and not eat clams


Lighthouses!

A small harbour
 
This is a salt-box house, the style my character lives in

Isn't' this perfect for the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium!

Another salt box




Saturday, July 02, 2016

Guest Post: Ritter Ames

Please welcome USA Today bestselling author Ritter Ames to Type M. Ritter writes the Bodies of Art Mysteries published by Henery Press. Take it away, Ritter...


Banter and Dark Humor—Close Allies

by Ritter Ames


I love banter in dialogue, whether it’s in a book, a movie or a television series. My gold standard for banter is His Girl Friday, the Howard Hawks film starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell—smart, evenly matched characters, brisk pace, and a life-and-death plot offset by the banter and dark humor. These are characters who know their stuff, know each other, and know exactly which buttons to push to attempt to get what they want. But they also effectively use banter and gallows humor to momentarily lighten extremely serious situations.

Banter should be quick, sharp, fresh, and used to advance the characters. What each character says during banter dialogue should not only tell readers about the speaker, but give information about the other character in the exchange, too. Yes, care must be given so banter isn’t reduced to bickering. Something to always remember is that banter is actually part of a power dynamic—social or otherwise. The characters might be trading witty barbs but deep down we know they actually like each other—or at least respect each other.

The technique can work well between male and female characters, between heroes and villains, between a mentor and a mentee. The characters can be a lot alike, or very different in temperament, but likable or not, they have to be smart. Dead weight doesn’t work for banter dialogue. Banter plays only a part of the power dynamic, but it often plays a crucial role. Especially when humor needs to be added to a scene.

When the zingers come they must not only match the mood and the characters, but the situation as well. I love very smart characters, and when I write dialogue for my Bodies of Art series I let them be a little snarky, let them throw the other characters a little off-balance—especially in exchanges between Laurel and Jack. I let a little dark humor flow sometimes to lighten up deadly situations, because my characters understand each other well enough that the true intent is understood. My characters get irritated with each other sometimes, and a line or two shaded toward bickering still works, but when writing banter dialogue always make sure your characters rein it in so the witticisms are sharp but not cutting.

Another important way banter works in a story is to provide subtext, questions within the story, and hooks that keep the reader anticipating what comes next. Irony is often another key element of banter, adding twists and drama as the characters interact to achieve what they need.

A favorite example of banter is in Casino Royale, when James Bond first meets Vesper and they try to one-up one another during a train conversation. Again, smart characters, quick wits, but while they’re at first trying to prove their personal superiority, it soon becomes apparent they’re developing a respect for one another—and recognizing they’ve each done their homework and are working with a pro. As they’re pushing back with each line, they’re also pulling together.

One last thing to note, banter should never be used by a character to get attention. Poorly timed banter that favors one character over another makes the first character usually come off maladjusted—like the class clown who’s constantly trying to grab the spotlight. Keep it smart, keep it sharp, keep it witty for all the bantering characters in a scene.

USA Today bestselling author Ritter Ames writes the Bodies of Art Mysteries, her way of coaxing her husband into more European travel for “research.” Her first two books in her Bodies of Art series, Counterfeit Conspiracies and Marked Masters, which feature her bantering characters, Laurel & Jack, are available now. The third book in the series, Abstract Aliases, has an October 11th release date and be available for preorder later this month. Visit her at www.ritterames.com, like her FB Author Page https://www.facebook.com/RitterAmesBooks or follow her on Twitter @RitterAmes

Friday, July 01, 2016

Summer and Uncertainty

Donis's post yesterday about Arizona in the summer made me grateful to live in upstate New York. Given a choice between heat and cold, I say, "Somewhat on the cool side, please. The way autumn used to feel when we had an autumn." Now, even winter in upstate New York is unpredictable. A winter of massive snowfall, followed this past winter by less snow then my relatives in Virginia were complaining about.

But getting back to summer. I've always had mixed feelings about summer. As a child, I liked school. But three months of vacation and the freedom that went along with it appealed to me. What didn't appeal was the heat and the storms -- well, I could deal with the heat but I hated the storms. I still feel the same way. During the summer, I can tell you the weather forecast for the next forty-eight hours. I plan my commitments by whether it might mean driving in a storm. Except some events must be planned months in advance. Then I cross my fingers and hope -- as in the case of a recent trip to western New York. For those folks who don't know upstate New York, Albany is north of New York City, about two and half hours "upstate". We're about five hours west of Buffalo on the other side of the state.

I had committed to driving out to Fulton, only about half the distance to Buffalo, but heading west. Our stormy weather upstate usually comes out of the west and blows through as it heads into Massachusetts. A week or so before the event, I saw that I might be in trouble. The night before the event, I checked the hour by hour weather report and saw that I had a small "window of opportunity". I might be able to leave Albany at around 9:30 am and arrive in Fulton before the storms started.

I set my clock, got up early, fed my cat, and dashed out the door. I drove much of the way, watching the horizon, and let out a (cliched) sigh of relief when I rolled into Fulton as clouds were beginning to gather. The rain had started, but nothing heavy. The cultural center where the event was being held was not open yet, so I stopped for a fast food salad. Then found my way back to the center. About ten minutes after I walked in, the cloudburst that had been symbolized by all that yellow and red on the map came. Rivers of water. So much that the people who arrived a little later reported they had been forced to pull over to the side of the road. 

Before leaving, I looked at the weather map and saw flares of yellow and red in the west. I decided to try to get out ahead of it. It rained all the way home. Pouring now and then, but no thunder or lightning. 

Why am I telling you about the weather instead of my book event in Fulton (small group but fun discussion and interesting fellow author)? I'm acknowledging my fear of storms and my related summer blues because of an observation I've made about how this affects my imagination. I don't like the heat. I don't like the storms. But my summer anxiety -- and my ability to imagine all kinds of scenarios at the first rumble of thunder -- means that I always keep a notebook handy. When it's storming, I find my corner and distract myself by working on plot outlines. Instead of wondering if I really should teach my cat Harry to come when he's called or at least get him used to walking on his leash in case we have to get out of the house quickly, I think about my suspects and their motives. I imagine myself in my fictional world. I make notes to myself about research I still need to do.

I have to confess that my overactive imagination cranks up in response to other real life events. For example, this morning I woke up and discovered that the power had gone off and come on again sometime during the night. That also happened one night a few weeks ago. I might have assumed it had been a neighborhood power surge of some kind. Except it was a cool night and most people probably didn't have their air conditioners on. Still perhaps nothing to worry about, but because I had a scary experience not long after I bought my house (several years ago), my imagination went into overdrive. I called the power company, discovered the power had not gone off in my neighborhood, and asked to have the wire leading to my roof checked. I called my contractor and left a message saying I might need someone to go up on the roof and make sure everything was okay. I called the fire department and left a query about the "pet in the house" logo I had seen that some fire departments provide. Next on my list, an electrician.

And this brings me to my point about something that I suspect I share with most writers, particularly mystery writers -- an imagination that constantly generates multiple scenarios of things that could go wrong. This is good if it leads to checking weather reports, planning ahead for getting the cat out of the door in the event of emergency, and having wires and wiring checked. It's bad, if it increases anxiety -- particularly if one tends to be a worrier. On the other hand, uncertainty and anxiety can be put to use. A "dark and stormy night" outside sets the mood for imagining the internal turmoil that might lead someone to contemplate murder.

Come to think of it, I probably did some of my earliest youthful mystery reading on stormy nights in Virginia when I was looking for a distraction. Not that I wouldn't be perfectly happy to plot my book without the storms that are predicted this evening.

But that's summer . . . and life.