Monday, March 19, 2018

End Result

I've just reached the end of my new book.  I make a distinction between 'reaching the end' and 'finishing'; for me they are two very different things.

The great thing about reaching the end is that I know the story works.  I've now got past the terrifying stage where the plot gets more and more complicated and shows no sign of ever stopping and it now has a beginning, a middle and - hurrah! - an end.  But there's a lot of hard work ahead.

I don't describe this as a first draft.  I'm constitutionally unable to go on writing when I know that something I've already written is inconsistent with what I'm writing now; I have to go back and change it. Not doing that would feel to me like going on building a house when you knew the foundations were faulty and it could collapse at any time.

Continuity has to be maintained too.  I have previous on making mistakes with that - like a car that went on fire in chapter two and was being driven around a few chapters later - and if I don't keep a time continuum mistakes get embedded and trying to spot them first of all, and then dig them out is a complicated business.

So the job I'm starting on next week isn't exactly a rewrite.  I come to it with a list of editing points that have accumulated, where I know something ought to be emphasized or clarified.  It's an evaluation of what's there and how it can be improved and polished and initially it's quite an appealing prospect - at least on the first run-through.

But the nearer the time gets for letting it out of my hands, the more the worry creeps back.  I start seeing all its faults and get savage with it - hacking back verbiage, deriding implausibilities, slashing wordy dialogue, trying to see it with the eye of a critical stranger rather than that of a fond parent.  By this stage I have convinced myself it's rubbish and can't bear to let it out of my hands.

There was a mention last week of re-reading one's earlier books.  I can't, particularly at this stage.  They were published, so an editor liked them and readers have enjoyed them;  my poor, pathetic infant of a new book has no such imprimatur as yet.  I look at it with pity and fear.

And then the time comes when I have to let it go out into the big cruel world. I read it through one final time and it's only then I find myself thinking, 'Well, perhaps it isn't so bad after all.'  I press 'Send.'

That's when it's finished.  It's still a long way ahead but at least I can celebrate making it to the end.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

On Location

Here I am!

By Vicki Delany

Right now, I’m working on the fifth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop book, in which I’m taking Gemma, Jayne, and the gang to England for a Sherlock Holmes conference.
Sir Arthur Drank Here

At the end of November I went to London for five days to do location research for the book.  I had a great time and saw lots of interesting things to put in the book.  We stayed in South Kensington, close to where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hung out during his time as president of the College of Psychic Studies, and had a couple of drinks in a pub where he was a regular. My books are not about Sherlock Holmes, so I didn’t spend much time at Sherlockian sites, I was there more to walk the streets my characters would walk, look at houses they would visit, travel the tube where they would go, visit museums they, as tourists, would visit, and drink at pubs they would frequent. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

I came home with plenty of ideas and lots of pictures.

In-depth research
More In-depth research

But what about all the things I might have not known I’d want to see when I was there? Such as the inside of a Georgian row house in Kensington or a high end flat in Canary Wharf, or the exact route one would take to get from point A to Point Z with all the points in between.

For that I have the Internet. All that, and so much more, at my fingertips.

Which started me wondering how writers of old (meaning more than ten or fifteen years ago) managed. Sure they had maps and reference books at home or at the library they could refer to, but 

I’m thinking of the small details, the things that add colour and verisimilitude to a book. How much would a row house in Kensington cost? (Answer: twenty to twenty-five million pounds). What’s the view from the fifteenth floor of a flat in Canary Wharf? (Pretty nice).  Where do I transfer if I’m travelling from Harrods to the Tate Modern?

I suspect the writers of old simply didn’t put in as much description and minor fact as we do today. Sir Author Conan Doyle wrote a book set in Canada, and he’d never been here.  

After all, I could always say, this house is worth a lot, rather than specifying the amount, or say they travelled across town rather than giving the names of the stations.

Does it matter? Why am I going to all this trouble (and the expense of a trip) for details that don’t affect the plot or the characterization of my novel?

Gemma's parents live here
Because I think today it does matter. Readers are used to books full of color and background and minor details, they love the sense of ‘being there’ and if they have ‘been there’ they demand that the author get it right. They’ve come to expect it.  Get it wrong about the tube stations and I’ll hear about it, whereas Sir Arthur probably didn’t get letters pointing out the error of his ways.

All of which just makes writing a novel in the 21st century, so much more complex, interesting and, yes, fun.

The Cat of the Baskervilles, the third Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery, is now available. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Return of Good and Evil

Wonder Woman (2017 film).jpg

It's back! The concept of absolute good and evil. It came roaring in with a bang and a whistle thousands of miles per hour.

This summer I saw Wonder Woman and last week I saw Black Panther. Both movies reminded me of old westerns in that there was little doubt as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Or gals, in the case of Wonder Woman. The movies had staggering box office receipts.

Both were based on the eternal struggle of good and evil.

It's high time. Frankly, I'm  just fed up all the leaders who turn out to have feet of clay. Hardly a day goes by without having someone I've admired turn out to be crook or a deviant. I welcome the return of persons with a strong moral compass, a sure sense of right and wrong. Treks to the silver screen are once again providing a glimpse of a world (or worlds) where black and white is stark and heroes are sure-footed.

I understand that what is depicted is not real. And my favorite shows will always be complicated dramas that delve into the human condition. The real world is painful and some have extremely hard lives. But still, I can't imagine being a child today and being inundated with persons with no moral code.

There was a lot to said for the old westerns. I'm referring to the really old westerns when gun play was kept to a minimum, and the villains were likely to be yodeled to death.

Recently I wrote about my dislike of fuzzy endings. I don't like fuzzy heroes either.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Deadlines and James M. Cain

It’s spring break at New England colleges and boarding schools, so I’ve had a week off. And I’ve been hard at it, trying to finish the second draft of a novel that has changed a lot from the first version.

I have a self-imposed deadline –– Saturday of this week –– but may or may not make it. I have surgery scheduled for Tuesday, so, although I’d like to have the draft done by then, I know I’ll have downtime in the coming days to weeks to finish it.

The second draft is a chance to add consistency and clarity. Those are the two most important things for me. It has meant eliminating a plot thread that I found (and still find) interesting, one that might reemerge in later books, but took too much away from the ending of this one to leave as is. It meant developing one character and cutting another in the name of clarity.

I’m reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice right now, for the first time, and I’m marveling at the simple sentences that create a tension coursing through the text. It’s like standing at the base of a roller coaster, looking up to see the twists and turns, but still being frightened when you actually ride it. I’ve read a Cain biography, so I know how the book will end, and I’m still on the edge of my seat.

Which brings me to this second draft. Precision is clarity.

"I said it, and I mean it. I'm not what you think I am, Frank. I want to work and be something, that's all. But you can't do it without love. Do you know that, Frank? Anyway, a woman can't. Well, I've made one mistake. And I've got to be a hell cat, just once, to fix it. But I'm not really a hell cat, Frank."

"They hang you for that."

"Not if you do it right. You're smart, Frank. I never fooled you for a minute. You'll think of a way. Plenty of them have. Don't worry. I'm not the first woman that had to turn hell cat to get out of a mess."

This passage from Postman is in chapter 3 and establishes what is to come. Yet it also establishes Cora for us. She’s ahead of her time, given the women Hemingway and others were writing in the ’30s. She’s driving the murder plot. “Do you know that, Frank? . . . You’re smart, Frank.” At once helpless and complimentary. Precision. Clarity.

If you haven’t read Cain, check him out. He just might help you with your second draft. He’s sure helping me with mine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Kindle In Motion

Since I turned in my book I’ve been doing some reading, including checking out several books in Kindle in Motion format.

You haven’t heard of Kindle in Motion, you say? I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago. Apparently, the e-format has been around since 2016. This Kindle format adds animated book covers, animated gifs, embedded videos (this is also something you can do with the Kindle with A/V format, different from KIM), and custom page backgrounds to an e-book.

The added items can only be viewed on the Fire tablet (that’s what I read my e-books on) or on the Kindle apps on iOS and Android. If you read the book on an e-reader like the Paperwhite, only the text elements will be viewable. If you don’t want to see any of these enhanced elements, you can just turn them off.

I checked out a few titles, some fiction, some nonfiction. The animations and illustrations were very cool but, honestly, I don’t really think they added much to the story in any of the books I read. Maybe I’m just not the right demographic for it. Or maybe it would be good for children’s books. Or I haven’t read the right books.

I didn’t check out the illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (didn’t feel like shelling out the cash for it), but from this clip it looks like they really went to town on the illustrations and animation for it. You can check it out here:

Where I can see it as being useful is in history books about presidents or events that took place in a time where video clips would be available say of inauguration speeches or other such things.

Have you all read any of the few hundred books available in Kindle in Motion format? If so, what did you think of it? Did it enhance the story for you?

In other news, the audio version of the third book in my Aurora Anderson Mystery series, A Palette for Murder, is now out. Like the other two books, it’s unabridged and read by Vanessa Daniels. You can check it out here.

If you're attending Left Coast Crime in Reno, I will be there! I'm on a panel on Friday, March 23rd called Wooden Hearts: Craft Mysteries from 2:45-3:30 pm. It's moderated by Gay Gale. Other panelists are Peggy Ehrhart, Cheryl Hollon, Camille Minichino  If you see me, say hi!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Character appropriation

by Rick Blechta

I’ve been considering and then working on this post for quite a bit of time (for these things), but I’ve seen something recently that really pressed a nerve with me. I also don’t like calling people out, but while this topic has been percolating in my brain, I’ve found that I’m getting more upset about the situation rather than less. I simply cannot remain silent. So here goes…

Like the current trends in movies, publishing is constantly looking for ways to maximize their chances of cashing in to the max on every book they publish. That’s why the movie industry presents us with old TV shows packaged as movies. The idea goes that they have a built-in audience, and unless the movie is particularly awful, fans of those shows will come out to see their favourites (Brady Bunch, anyone?).

In books we see the popular creations of long-dead authors revived in pastiches. To be honest, I’ve found some of these that I’ve read to be very good. However, they come with an element of “sharp practice” to my mind. Would Rex Stout, for instance, be happy about someone using his characters and continuing his series? At its root, doing this is simply a blatant money-grab by the publisher. Find an author willing to do the work, an estate that’s willing to okay it to share in the money made, and the deal with the devil is done. Again, unless the product of this unholy alliance is particularly dreadful, the resulting books should be successful. Readers get their fix of favourite characters and the publishers et al make money. What the original author would think is probably not even a consideration.

But is it right?

I’ve heard of book publishing contracts where the publisher demands the rights to the author’s characters, in other words, they own the characters. If the creating author comes up with a bestseller and then wishes to end the series or move on to something else (or dies), then it is very easy for the publisher to continue on without skipping a beat. To me, that’s just wrong. I’m sure the publisher could justify their demand (“We put all this money into these books and we deserve some protection against the loss of our investment.”), but we’re dealing with something creative here — the creation of a particular writer, not a mass-produced widget to which you can purchase production rights. (The author in this case was told she had to agree to this particular demand or the book deal was off.)

Would we stand for a painter being hired to continue the works of Rembrandt, or a composer to write Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony? That would be the same type of thing.

At this point, I’m not calling out authors like Type M’s Vicki Delany whose Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries (which are, by the way, excellent) make use of the Conan Doyle characters, but they’re used as reference material for characters of her own creation. Vicki is definitely not writing The Extended Series of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries here. Her series is simply an homage to Holmes and Watson.

What got me going on this topic was a book I saw in the catalog of a remainders warehouse from whom we occasionally purchase books or videos. I’m referring to a series created by two authors appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s characters from his play Pygmalion, to whit Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. From the copy provided for this particular book, it’s a cozy mystery involving the characters in question with solving murders at a race track, and is the second in a series.

What is bugging me about this is that a) the book’s two authors are using someone else’s characters (hopefully with permission) and b) using them in a way that the original creator certainly never intended. If I know anything about Shaw — who was a noted polemicist he would be severely put out by this situation and would not have let it happen.

I’m sure the authors are very lovely people and the books are quite fun, but I’m sorry, I feel what they’re doing is wrong and an egregious example of character appropriation. It shouldn’t be happening. We writers should be working to create our own characters, not borrowing them from other writers and using them in ways not intended.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Guest Post - Aimee Hix

Please welcome Aimee Hix to Type M! I met Aimee at Malice Domestic last year where she moderated the panel I was on, Murder and Crafts. She was a great moderator and we had a great time on the panel. You can visit her online at Take it away, Aimee...

A Little Help From My Friends

 by Aimee Hix

In late January, my sweet-faced, gentle Karma had to be put down after a sixteen-month battle with adenocarcinoma. She was twelve years old and my soulmate. Some people may think that’s weird that a middle-aged suburban wife and mother declares a dog her soulmate but she was. She and I got each other in a way no one else did.

Karma was the kind of dog that inspired me to be the person she saw me as. Writing book two in my Willa Pennington PI series was difficult. I had an inner ear infection that wouldn’t clear up and gave me mild vertigo. I sat on my bed, sweet Karma by my side, and wrote every day after my medication had kicked in. We did this for months. January to June until I had a sinus surgery that cleared up the problem.

I did what any sentimental writer would do - I wrote her into the story. I named the dog in the book Fargo as a piece of continuity for my character’s love of Coen Brothers movies but when you read the book you’ll know Karma is the inspiration.

That’s what I do as a writer. I put pieces of the real world, my life and things I see around me into my fictional worlds. I want my stories to reflect reality in a way that makes it easy for the reader to immerse themselves in the world I’ve created. In real life, people have messy family situations; they make bad decisions; they love unwisely. Characters in stories need those too. It’s how you create conflict as a writer, certainly, but most importantly it’s how readers can relate to them. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t live an imperfect life.

In my first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU, Willa Pennington’s life and decisions mirror that of the real world - her family is loving but flawed; she makes bad decisions, some are very bad; she loves unwisely; she has problems with trust; she’s grieving the death of her best friend. All things people can relate to and I know people can relate to them because I’ve done all those things. My life is much more settled than that of a twenty-seven-year-old, single former cop, apprentice PI but I remember having the whole world laid out in front of me and trying to find my way, one foot in front of the other.

I love that Willa is flawed and complicated and snarky and tough. But mostly I love her because she is loyal and good-hearted. She wants to help people and she struggles to see people in a more positive and hopeful light. I do that too. Karma taught me how to do that.

In my sweet Karma’s memory, I chose, perhaps unwisely, to adopt two puppies this past weekend. We stumbled across an adoption fair and we were faced with two sleepy, cuddled up black lab puppies who’d lived most of their short lives in kennels outside. They had been rescued from a high-kill shelter and were looking at a long trip back to NC to their foster. They had been saved so recently they hadn’t even been given names. I just couldn’t not take them home. More heart than brains is probably a good way to describe me. It’s a good way to describe Willa too.

I hope you want to meet her now. I think she’s a good person to know. After WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU she has more adventures. She grows wiser and stronger. She gets a sidekick. And as I write book number three in the series, she may get two more. Because puppies make everything better.

An inability to pass the sight requirements and a deep aversion to federal prison prevented Aimee from lying on her FBI application so she set her deficient eyes on what most Northern Virginians do for work - the non-law enforcement side of the federal government.

After twenty years as a federal contractor, she retired and turned to fictional murder. She is the author of the Willa Pennington PI series set in Fairfax County, Virginia. The first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU published January 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink.