Thursday, November 30, 2023

The End of an Era, or What Not to Do Redux

 Donis here, wishing you all a lovely holiday season. Since last I posted I've made a big change in my writing life. After seven years of reviewing mystery novels for Publishers' Weekly, I have hung up my red pen. As I told a friend, I've finally run out of ways to say charming and/or suspenseful. Reviewing had also become burdensome, continually knocking up against my own writing time. I'll miss knowing what new books are coming out in three months' time and discovering promising new authors I want to read. In fact, as soon as I resigned, I had mixed feelings. I learned a lot about what is being published at any one time (in the mere seven years I reviewed, things changed!) I had to read a lot of iffy stuff, though. In fact, I learned a lot about what NOT to do. 

I named some of these bugaboos in a blog post I wrote for this site four or five years ago, and in the spirit of helpfulness to other writers and as a fond farewell to my reviewing life, I repost it below. Take note. I have spoken to other PW reviewers who have the same opinions about the following as I. Best of luck to all of us, and may all our reviews be stellar!

What Not to Do (from 2019)

Besides writing mystery novels, for a few years I've had a side gig as a free-lance mystery reviewer for Publishers' Weekly Magazine. I don't choose the books I review. The editor at PW sends me three or four advance reading copies (ARCs) a month to review. Usually these books will not be available for purchase for several months, and an ARC is not the final version, so I don't pay undue attention to typos or other minor flaws that will more than likely be corrected before the book hits the shelf. 

I try never to be mean with my reviews, because as a writer myself I know how that feels. Besides, just because I don't enjoy a particular type of character/plot/setting/time period, that doesn't mean it's not well executed, and other readers may love just that kind of thing. But I know an epic fail when I see one, and when I do, I'm honor bound to tell the truth. In the years I've been reviewing, I've seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst, and both have taught me many things I've tried to apply to my own writing. In fact, I'm currently in the midst of getting a lesson on what not to do. I'm reading the second or third installment of a series in which some loose ends are left from earlier books, and the author keeps interrupting the action to catch us up on what went before. Now, it has to be done, but said author does it with such lengthy digressions that when he returns to the action, I've forgotten the details of the story. 

As I read, I'm furiously taking "what not to do" notes, especially considering I'm in the midst of writing the second installment of a mystery that contains loose ends from the first. How do you catch the reader up on what has gone before without bogging down your momentum? Do it in short intervals, I think, and try to work it into the action naturally. That's what to shoot for, anyway. 

Here are some other comments I've sent to the PW editor about fails in books I have reviewed which all writers would do well to watch out for. None of these comments actually showed up in the review I wrote for publication, and the names, situations, and details have been changed to protect the guilty. 

"The plot had so many holes that I have a headache from slapping my forehead so many times while I was reading." 

"She had an idea for a plot and bent all her characters out of shape to fit it." 

"This is a historical, but I couldn't tell what the year actually was and the author never actually said. From things the author wrote in the beginning I thought it must be in the 1850s or so, but I kept revising my estimate forward as more and more modern items kept showing up. I think maybe the 1870s." 

"The sleuth's method of detection consisted of basically going from suspect to suspect and loudly accusing him or her of murder in hopes someone would crack. The motive was stupid and the killer was stupid for falling for (X's) lame trap." 

"No proper English lady would go on 'vacation' with a single male acquaintance in 18--." 

"Great characters and deft handling of the mores of the time. But I wish (X) hadn't cleared (Y) of the murder by having the coroner pinpoint the murdered woman's time of death within half an hour! In the 19th century!" 

 "I like the unusual setting and the characters are fun. She handled tension well, but I would have liked it better if the big showdown between the sleuth and the murderer hadn't ended with a slapstick food fight." 

"She certainly studied the manual on how to write a cozy, so cozy lovers will find much to like. But that ending! The protagonist and her sidekick lay a trap, then hide in the bushes to eavesdrop on the conversation between the killer and the person who agreed to be bait. I always get annoyed when the killer confesses all in excruciating detail, and at the drop of a hat!"* 

But really good characters cover a multitude of sins: "Her editor would have done well to have her condense the beginning quite a bit, but it eventually picked up nicely and the main character was well drawn and realistic. She was actually emotional about the deaths! It wasn't hard to figure out whodunnit, but there's enough atmosphere and crafting and eccentric characters (and a hunky detective and a kitty) that cozy lovers won't care."

*This is a pet peeve of mine. Can you tell?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Timing Is Everything


by Sybil Johnson

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Ours was very nice with a lot of food. 

Every time I put together a dinner with multiple things going on at once, I thank my junior high Home Ec teacher, Mrs. Cook. Yes, that really was her name. For our final assignment one year we worked in pairs and cooked a meal for a teacher. We made ours for our art teacher, Mr. Klatt. As part of that, we had to work out the timing of every course so it would all be ready at the same time. 

This got me thinking about timing in writing. I guess what I’m talking about here is not only pacing, but also making sure multiple plot lines come together at the end.

In my books, I usually have three plot lines going at once: the major one which involves the murder, one that involves another crime or bad situation and a final one that involves the personal lives of my ongoing characters. The first one gets more scenes than the second one etc. They still have to be woven throughout the story and come together in the last part of the book.

This aspect of timing is probably the easiest for me. When I’m writing or rewriting, I look at each of the scenes and see which ones refer to each plot line. If I haven’t addressed a plot line in a while, I figure it’s time to put something in about it.

In terms of pacing, if you reveal some things too quickly, the story feels rushed and the reader may not understand what’s going on. If you reveal things too slowly, the reader gets bored and may give up on the story. Either way, it’s not a good thing.

Setting a story aside for a week or so can help bring any issues to light. I read my stories aloud to myself (when I had cats it was to my cats). That helps me as well. A good editor and beta readers are also useful in this situation.

Knowing your own tendencies is important. I know I sometimes just want to get to the end of a project, particularly if I’ve been working on it for a long time. So I’ll rush an ending. I have to consciously slow myself down.

How do you get your timing right? I don’t have a degree in creative writing. I don’t teach classes. I can only go on what I’ve experienced throughout the years I’ve been writing books and short stories. What do those of you out there who teach writing think? Do you have any tips you give your students?

Monday, November 27, 2023

Weather or Not?

 By Thomas Kies

On Saturday I was the emcee at a Small Business Vendor Holiday event at our local community college where I also happen to teach Creative Writing.  There were 140 vendors that were in attendance, and I’d be introducing local dance and singing acts.  It was an all-day event and in return for my services, they kindly gave me a spot to put up a tent, set up a table, and sell and sign a few books.

I thought, what the heck?  This was a holiday event.  What makes a better gift under the tree than a mystery signed by the author?

Things never go as planned.

On Thanksgiving, just a few days prior to the event, the weather here on the coast of North Carolina was sunny and in the seventies. On Saturday, the temps had dropped to the high forties—low fifties and the winds had picked up to gusts of over twenty miles per hour. 

I started the morning by unloading the car and then attempting to put up the canopy.  In that wind, trying to do that alone, it became a hilarious wrestling match.  The struggle was not only to put it up, but to keep it from flying away and becoming a lethal missile.  

After a half-hour battle, I was sweating, breathless, and frustrated.  I looked around to see if I could find one of the other vendors to give me a hand.  They were all having the same problem.

Most had reached the logical conclusion which was not to put the canopy up at all. 

While overcast, it wasn’t supposed to rain so I put the tent back into the back of my car and parked it in the adjoining lot.  Then I set up the table and had a similar problem with the tablecloth.  It was like something out of a Buster Keaton movie.

I’d have one end of the tablecloth laid down when the other end would go flying around as if it was possessed by a demon.  Since my wares were books, they ended up being my weights. 

It was a smaller than expected crowd.  As I said, the weather was cold and very windy.  Many vendors gave up and went home early.  Cindy, my wife, joined me a little later in the morning and that helped rejuvenate my spirits. She gamely greeted shoppers as they drifted by and even managed to sell books when I was on stage introducing the next gaggle of kids choreographed to dance to Christmas Carols. 

When she started to shiver however, I asked her to go home.  I stuck it out the rest of the day and I did sell more books than I should have on that miserable afternoon.

Okay, so it wasn’t the most conducive day to sell books.  But it’s the kind of day I enjoy when I’m writing. Here it is, the day after and still cold, not as windy, but dark and it’s raining off and on.  For me, that’s perfect writing weather.  

If it’s sunny and warm, I feel like I should be outside doing something.  If it’s nasty out, I love being inside with a cup of hot coffee, listening to some soft music, and sitting in front of my laptop, knocking out another chapter or two.  

Our environment is an important part of our writing process.  Some of us can be more productive when we’re free of distractions while some other writers are happier in a bustling coffee shop.  Some of us love to listen to a little jazz while we create, and others need total silence.

When I teach my creative writing class, one of the subjects we discuss is finding a place that’s comfortable for you, a place where you can feel creative.  And to get into the rhythm of writing every single day.  

Where do you like to write and does the weather impact your writing? Do you enjoy music while you’re creating or do you need the quiet?

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Sidestepping Tradition

 We've entered that period in America known as the Holidays! And with my schedule here on Type M For Murder, my posts coincide with the big holiday celebrations, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

While Thanksgiving is about getting together with loved ones and friends and sharing a meal in a spirit of gratitude, hosting Thanksgiving dinner is an exercise in anxiety. This year, my girlfriend and I decided to sidestep tradition by hosting a low-key breakfast for my sons and their significant others. While the meal was simple--waffles, omelets, sausage--there was a bit of anxiety since there's this pressure for everything to be perfect. I'm happy to report that a good time was had by all. 

We did enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner of sorts by dressing up and going out that evening to nosh at The Ship's Tavern in the swanky Brown Palace. Followers of this blog will happy to hear that dinner conversation involved stories of murder at the Brown Palace and other tales from Denver's sordid past. On the way home we drove by the Denver City and County Building and saw that it was decked out for the Holidays!  

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Messy middles and beyond

 I have enjoyed both Charlotte's and Donis's posts this week, and boy, can I identify. Every comment and experience they related made me smile. I too am a "mostly" pantser, who never outlines at the beginning because that would be a boring way to write a novel and the outline would just get thrown away anyway. Not only do I like the surprises that my imagination comes up with along the way, but the richness, depth and direction of the novel comes to me during the writing. If I were following a pre-conceived outline, all that would be lost. It would feel like "paint by number" writing.

I do, however, sometimes have to lift my head above the parapet to see where I'm going. As new ideas come to me for upcoming scenes, I scribble them down so I won't forget them, and they act as an outline of sorts for the next few scenes. Sometimes I have to brainstorm or change direction to get myself out of a dead end (or more likely a tangle).

The "messy middle" is where I have to brainstorm the hardest. Sometimes it's the halfway point, but more often it's the two-thirds mark. The first half of the book is devoted to throwing balls up in the air – piling up the complications, challenges, and question marks. By the middle I usually have quite a few balls swirling in the air, and not only do I have to remember them all, but I also have to start thinking about how to tie them together and catch them all in the right order. My messy middle is not so much a dearth of things going on as too many. Not so much stagnant as overwhelmed. How on earth do I get from here to the end? In less than 200,000 words!

I love Charlotte's very helpful suggestions about techniques to spice up a sagging middle. I've used several of them. When I'm feeling overwhelmed and bewildered, one of my techniques is to list all the balls I can think of – the things that need to to revealed, the questions that need to be answered, the loose ends that need to be explained by the end of the book (bearing in mind I don't know what that end is). And then I brainstorm ideas, jotting the ideas as they come to me, exploring what would happen if?, and if this then that... Keeping in mind the basics of our genre. Avoid exposition, build from small to big, keep the action on the page, etc.

As I brainstorm, I'm also guided by a few questions that help to make the story authentic and alive. 1. What would logically happen next, or what would this character do next? Note: I sometimes do the opposite, just for spice. 2. What the worst thing that could happen? 

I have now made it through to the end of my current first draft and have done some tidying of loose ends (those balls that would otherwise land on my head), checked for major plot holes, and made sure the whole thing makes sense. I'm now at the stage of hating the book. I suspect every author goes through this stage at some point. I'm tired of it and can't see the forest for the trees. It holds no surprises or excitement for me, and so I am afraid it won't for the readers either. If a writer is on a deadline, as I am, we don't have the luxury of shelving it for a few months to get some distance from it. Now is the time to let trusted beta readers look at it with fresh eyes and tell me if it's as bad as I think it is. If so, hopefully they'll have some ideas for rescuing it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Muddled in the Middle

 by Charlotte Hinger

Boy, do I ever identify with Donis's problem. I'm totally bogged down in the middle of my latest mystery. I think this happened when I abandoned this book to finish up my historical novel.

Yet, somewhere in the middle of the journey, many writers find themselves knee-deep in the mire, struggling to move forward. The dreaded "sagging middle" can be a formidable obstacle, but fear not, for there are ways to navigate through this literary quagmire.

  1. Like Donis, I'm a pantser. I outline a chapter after I've written it. Those of us who write mystery can always introduce a New Element: my favorite is another body. Stagnation often results from a lack of fresh ideas or conflict. This not only keeps the reader engaged but also reignites my own enthusiasm for the story.

There are other ways, of course. Here are some ways that might work for our dear readers:
  1. Raise the Stakes: Assess the stakes in your story. Are they high enough to keep both your characters and readers invested? If not, consider amping up the tension or introducing new challenges. A sense of urgency can propel your narrative forward and keep the middle from sagging.

  2. Explore Character Development: Take advantage of the middle to delve deeper into your characters' backgrounds, motivations, and internal conflicts. Use this time to reveal layers of complexity, making your characters more relatable and dynamic. Strong character development can compensate for a slower plot pace.

  3. Create Milestones: Break the middle section of your manuscript into smaller, manageable milestones. Celebrate each accomplishment, whether it's resolving a minor conflict or reaching a significant turning point. This approach not only provides a sense of progression but also makes the writing process more enjoyable.

  4. Consider Subplots: Introduce subplots that complement the main narrative. These can add depth to your story, creating a multifaceted reading experience. Just be cautious not to overwhelm the reader with too many distractions—subplots should enhance, not detract from, the central story arc.

  5. Take a Break:

  6. Sometimes, the best way to overcome a creative roadblock is to step away briefly. Allow yourself some time to recharge and gain fresh perspective. This break can be instrumental in identifying what's causing the stagnation and how to address it.

Remember, getting bogged down in the middle is a common challenge, and every writer faces it at some point. The key is muddle through..

Thursday, November 16, 2023

In the Weeds, or the Tale of the Pantser

Donis here. I've passed the middle of the manuscript I'm currently working on, and as usual, I'm a little bit lost. I know just where I want to go, but the question is how to get there. As I've mentioned many times over the years, I am a pantser. That means I do not outline my novels before I begin writing them (I write by the seat of my pants, if you haven't yet figured out what that means.)  

 I was told once by a mystery author friend (who also happens to be a lawyer - a significant detail, I think), that before she begins writing, she outlines each and every one of her novels to the tune of at least one hundred pages, and never deviates therefrom. One Very Big Name of my acquaintance never outlines at all, or even has much in mind when she begins her mammoth novels. She writes dozens of seemingly unrelated episodes, then arranges them in some sort of order and cobbles them together with new scenes and segues. This technique may sound pretty slapdash, but it seems to work for this woman, since she could buy and sell us all.

I have done both in my long history. Each book seems to be a whole new order of creation for me, and demands its own unique method of coming into being. I’ve been known to outline before I begin when I think that would help me clarify the direction of the plot in my own mind. I have never once followed an outline to the end. The characters don't allow it.

 I have also simply started writing, usually at the beginning, but I’ve started in the middle and at  the end, as well.  More than once I’ve begun a novel on the fly, and then gone back and created an outline because I’ve gotten myself into a muddle and can’t quite figure the way out.  Miraculously, it always works out. As I write the first draft, my beginnings never do match the end, for somewhere in the middle of the story, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line. I try not to waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. No, no, that way lies madness. I can get (and have gotten) caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I just have to keep going until the first draft is done. Then it's time to go back in with a machete and start cutting and rearranging.

Often if I'm a bit lost in my story, I simply pick a path at random and get to writing. If that path leads to a dead end, I try another. Even on the dead ends I find all kinds of interesting material I can use someplace else.

I like being a pantser rather than an outliner because I enjoy surprising myself as I go along. I don't mind hunting around for my path a bit in the middle of the first draft because often I find a delightfully original way to go that I hadn't thought of before. But really, whatever works best for each author - and for each book - is the way to go.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Stuff That Makes Me Smile


by Sybil Johnson

I enjoyed Monday’s post by Thomas. I think we could all use a little fun in our lives right now. 

Here are a few things recently that have put a smile on my face. Maybe they’ll put a smile on yours.

Podcast: Behind The Page: The Eli Marks Podcast

John Gaspard writes the Eli Marks mysteries featuring magician Eli Marks and hosts this podcast with Jim Cunningham who narrates the books. There are 3 seasons so far. The first and second seasons were a combination of interviews with magicians on various topics as well as the reading of a chapter of the first 2 books in the series, The Ambitious Card and The Bullet Catch. The third season, the one I’m listening to right now, has yet more interviews with magicians (including Teller of Penn and Teller and, yes, he can talk) as well as readings of the short stories from his compilation, The Self-Working Trick. Just a lot of fun to listen to. The interviews have been fascinating and Jim does a bang-up job reading the stories. I’ve read all of the Eli Marks books so far, but I still enjoyed listening to them. Of course, if you only want to listen to the interviews, that’s possible.

TV: The Simple Heist

This is a Swedish program titled EnkelStöten. I watched it on Acorn TV. Unfortunately, the first season is no longer available, but the 2nd season is on Acorn as well as available through Hoopla Digital through libraries. Hopefully, the first season will come back somewhere so you can see it. I watched it with English subtitles. (I don’t care much for dubbing.)

The two leads are women in their 60s who have run into financial difficulties. One is a gastroenterologist who has managed to lose a lot of money in some bad financial investments. The other is a math teacher who is getting divorced. Her husband is enforcing a pre-nup, which means she essentially gets nothing. Someone they meet tells them about a bank that would be easy to rob. So that’s what they do. Of course, nothing goes according to plan.

I love these two characters and really wanted them to get away with it.

TV: The Great British Baking Show

It's called The Great British Bake Off in England. I’ve loved all of the episodes of this show. A new series started on Netflix a few weeks ago. The bakers get along, many of them becoming friends and keeping in touch after the program. They bake interesting things, many of which I’ve never heard of before. It’s just an enjoyable program to watch. Always puts a smile on my face and I even enjoy watching past seasons even though I’ve seen them already.

Books: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman 

I’d heard quite a bit about this book series so I decided to read the first one. I’ve now gotten on the Richard Osman bandwagon. The story takes place in England in a retirement community. Every Thursday, a group gets together to solve cold cases. They come from varied backgrounds, some very mysterious. Then a murder occurs involving their community and they decide to investigate. This is a fun read with lots of interesting characters. I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

What have you been reading/watching/listening to recently that has made you smile?

Monday, November 13, 2023

A Little Writing Humor

 By Thomas Kies

I’ve been watching way too much news these days.  It’s scary and depressing.  I mean it’s soul sucking and makes me want to hide under the covers, lock all the doors, and hold my calls kind of depressing. 

So, I’m going to give you a little writing humor.  I hope it lightens your day.  

--Three guys walk into a bar, sit down and order a drink.  Thie start to have a conversation and the first guy says, “Yeah, I make $150,000 a year after taxes.

The second asks, “What do you do for a living?

The first guy answers, “I’m a stockbroker. How much do you make?

The second guy says, “I’ll clear $100,000 this year.  

The first guy asks, “What do you do?”

The second guy replies, “I’m a real estate attorney.

The third guy has been sitting quietly, listening, and sipping his drink. 

The second asks him, “So, how much do you make a year?”

The third guy rubs his chin, thinks for a minute, and answers, “I guess about $13,000.”

The first guy asks, “So, what kind of novels do you write?

--What do you get when you cross a writer with a deadline?  Answer: A really clean house.

--I once asked a literary agent what kind of writing paid the best.  Her answer was “Ransom Notes.”

--What’s random, disgusting, and will put you on an FBI watch list?  A mystery writer’s browser history.

--A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell. She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

“Oh my,” said the writer. “Let me see heaven now.”

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

“Wait a minute,” said the writer. “This is just as bad as hell!”

“Oh no, it’s not,” replied an unseen voice. “Here, your work gets published.”

I told some friends these jokes last night at dinner.  They all laughed but then my wife turned to me and asked, "Are you sure these are funny?" 

Okay, then change the subject and talk about something happier, like the Middle East or climate change.  Keep smiling, everyone.               

Saturday, November 11, 2023

On the Road Again

 It has been a long day. I have finally made it to the hotel -- the Hilton Boston-Deham -- where the New England Crime Bake is held. I am tucked in a comfortable bed watching The Remains of the Day. I saw this movie years ago and now that I am working on a historical thriller set in 1939, it is relevant to my research.  And writing this post is about all I can manage after driving over from Albany.

I always enjoy mystery conferences for all the reasons that have been mentioned here - catching up with friends and acquaintances., seeing agents and editors, and a chance to take workshops, set on panels, and be inspired by other writers. I enjoy conferences but I don't enjoy getting to them. 

Post-pandemic, I have decided to indulge myself when I travel.  For years I have been traveling in the Business Coach on Amtrak. I like not having to wander through a train that is in motion looking for an empty seat and a pleasant looking seatmate. It is worth the extra charge to travel in a single seat next to the cafe.

When I was invited to attend the International Agatha Christie Festival, my travel agent suggested I avoid the strike that seemed to be on the horizon at Heathrow. He suggested I take Aer Lingus to Dublin for a few days and then come back across to England for the conference. Coming from Dublin it would be a much shorter flight. And if I traveled in the airline's version of First Class, I would be able to have a bed and arrive well-rested. I did and I was. I also decided that henceforth I would trade in my cramped seat in Coach for the plush seats with menu, food on a tray and the other amenities of flying first-class. I did on my next domestic flight. It was a short flight, but I enjoyed it.

Today I didn't have a choice. I had to drive from Albany to Boston. By the time I took my dog Fergus to his daycare where he is going to be boarding over the weekend and my cat to the sitter who is going to board her, I was already later than I intended. Doing wash and packing made me even later. Darkness fell and I drove following the lights of the cars in front of me. Apparently, I was a bit erratic because the Driver Assistance on my car suggested I take a break for a cup of coffee. The first time I stopped at a rest area for hot tea and a Big Mac. The second time, I kept driving.

Good thing I did because I was too tired to follow the GPS's directions when I got to the roundabout. leading to the hotel. I ended up back out on the highway. After two more attempts I finally hit the right exit. 

I'm sure the conference will be worth it. I'm on a panel about strong female protagonists. But this tired woman needs some sleep first. 

And so, Good Night, dear friends, If you are here at Crime Bake, please say hello.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Tidying up a manuscript

 This week I am in the final throes of rewrites of my latest Inspector Green novel – that final tweaking of details and wording before I send it off to my beta readers. These are experienced writers and readers – fellow members of The Ladies Killing Circle, who published seven anthologies of short stories some years ago. I have specific "big picture" questions for them. Does the overall story work? Did you like the book? Any plot holes, boring bits, unbelievable or inconsistent characters? They each tend to catch different flaws and address different issues, which is helpful and gives me food for thought.

Once I get their feedback, I adjust and tweaking my manuscript some more before sending it off to the publisher by the deadline. Up to this point, the publisher has very little idea what the story is about beyond a one-paragraph concept. I don't submit a synopsis or outline ahead of time, which is a good thing since I hate writing them and don't know what happens in the story until it's done.

I try not to send the book to my beta readers until I have made it the best I can, but once you've read a manuscript over and over, it's impossible to see all the flaws or plot holes. The brain fills in the gaps. I also know that I could tweak endlessly, even once the book is in print. With this book, there are also a few location details that I can't verify until the snow is on the ground, so those may need to be adjusted at the last minute.

This week's final rewrite involves trying to catch errors in grammar, typos, inconsistencies, clumsy wording, dropped words, etc., as well as tightening up the language. Every writer has a few favourite phrases and tics that pop up unconsciously when pouring out the first draft. First draft is for creativity not editing or critiquing. But the final rewrite is the time to catch them. I used to have a program that counted the number of times a word appeared in the book and generated a list. I could see how many times the word "eyes" or "frowned" or whatever, turned up. Some common words naturally occur many times, but the appearance of "eyes" 500 times suggests it's overused. A simple "find and replace" search solves that.

Through successive versions of MSWord, that little program got lost. If anyone knows of a similar editing tool for Word, I'd love to hear it. For now, I rely on running "find and replace" on the words I know I overuse. I also run one on filler words like really, very, and pretty, as well as on "ly" to catch any excessive adverbs. It does help, but it's tedious, time-consuming, and imperfect. I just found a program called "Word Counter" on the internet and if anyone uses that, let me know. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

An Unexpected Event

 By Charlotte Hinger

I spoke at the Christian Women on the Plains annual retreat Saturday. As time for the event approached I was quite wary because it involved a long drive and I was not familiar with this interdenominational group. 

It was at the Cope Community Church. The population of Cope is 53. The drive was weird to say the least and even with (or because of) Google I made a couple of wrong turns. Although I didn't know a soul who was involved, I had checked the organizer out ahead of time. She had a LinkedIn account. 

What possessed me to give a type of talk I hadn't given before? Worse, my subject would be on the connection between spirituality and creativity. I'm not qualified to speak on either one.

I had little hope for any reimbursement. I would get a percentage of the enrollment and there would be a free will offering at the end. I could sell books if I wanted to. 

According to the flyer I would talk for two hours in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon. I did not know that when I agreed to be the speaker. 

It was amazing! Not only did I make the most money I ever have at an event, I had the pleasure of meeting the most fascinating collection of women in recent memory. They bought books at such a rapid pace that I could barely keep up with the signing. Against all odds, my biggest seller was my academic book about Nicodemus. 

This is the second time I've had an event at a small town when I've been stunned by the attendance and diversity of participants. 

The photo above is of a gorgeous king sized quilt made by lovely lady, Tinka Hiner, who pulled all of this together. 

Events are so unpredictable! Here's hoping all the Type M'ers and loyal readers have such wonderful luck.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

The Work

 I've been missing in action lately. Too much going on in my personal life (nothing horrible, thank goodness, just a lot of stuff). I've been reading my blogmates' previous posts, and oh, they are so on the money – about why we like horror stories, and how unfortunately the real world is a horror story right now.  I can hardly watch the news or read a newspaper any more. The only thing I can try to make sense of these days are my own writings about human nature.

Last week I got hold of a fabulous book on the act of creating, written by one of my favorite historical novelists, Steven Pressfield. It's entitled Do The Work : Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way. It's a little tiny thing, less than 100 pages, but like all of Pressfield's writing, it is pithy as hell and right to the point. The blurb for the book says that it is "an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches." One of the first things he suggests a writer (or any artist/creator) must do before he begins is determine what the work is about. After I read that sentence, I had to put the book down and ponder for a minute.

You see, I'm right in the middle of the first draft of a novel, and the best I can say is that it's about...150 pages long. I have a fabulous set up, great characters, some fantastic scenes. It's a cold case murder, but besides trying to find out who did it, our heroine is trying to prove the main suspect did not do it. As usual, I'm having a little trouble figuring out how my protagonist is going to figure it out in a believable way. 

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on one of the mystery writers' discussion groups concerning victims. Why, one author asked, are most victims in mysteries horrible people? Why then would anyone care if the killer was caught? Interesting question. It made me think back over my twelve mysteries and consider who I have killed, and why anyone cared. Thus far, my victims have been: 1) an old buzzard who had it coming, 2) a sad case, 3) a member of the family, 4) another member of the family, 5) a couple of haunted young men, 6) a guitarist in a mariachi band, 7) a really, really bad guy. 8) another really bad guy, 9) a bunch of innocent people, 10) a sex-trafficker, 11) Rudolph Valentino

Of the slate of victims, only three were terrible people whose deaths left the world a better place. None of the rest deserved their fates. So the point in most of my mysteries is to find justice for those who met a tragic end. However, why would a reader care who killed the bad guys? Does it have to do with the simple intellectual challenge of solving the puzzle? Does it have to do with making sure an innocent person isn't implicated? In one of my favorite books, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, the victim is awful but all the suspects are perfectly lovely people. No matter who gets fingered, it's going to be sad. Or is it? In this new manuscript, I have a similar moral dilemma.

I love those.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Recognizing Faces

 by Sybil Johnson

I spent last week in the Seattle area visiting family. This was the first time I put the boarding pass on my cell phone rather than having a paper ticket. I know, I know, I’m behind the times. Heck, I remember when you had to go to a travel agent to buy a plane ticket and they gave you an actual physical one. E-tickets and buying directly from the airline have made it so much easier. I’ve always thought of technology as a tool. Up until now I’ve never thought of the boarding pass on the cell phone as being something that was useful to me. I liked the feel of that paper boarding pass in my hands.

Of course, now that I’ve started doing this, what happens? The travel industry appears to be embracing doing away with boarding passes, even on phones, and using facial recognition instead. According to an article I read in the newspaper, airports, cruise terminals and theme parks are trying out facial recognition.

At Miami International Airport, facial recognition systems are used at some gates for international flights to match passengers’ faces to the passport photos they’ve put on file with the airline. More U.S. airports are embracing the technology. Passengers can opt out and present a physical passport, which I think is a good thing.

Apparently, Disney World tried out using facial recognition for entry into their parks in 2021, but decided not to continue. Some cruise lines are using it to keep track of who goes on and off the ship as a security measure.

Facial recognition uses the geometry of your face and converts that into data that can easily be compared to other facial data. Distance between eyes, depth of eye sockets, distance from forehead to chin, shape of cheekbones are all used to create a faceprint. Apparently, this biometric data can’t easily be changed without significantly altering one’s appearance.

Some people, including me, have concerns about this. I’m not satisfied that there aren’t a lot of bugs. I’ve read for quite awhile that such software is less accurate for people of color.

I can see other issues. An innocent person could be implicated in a crime. Biometric data could be stolen and used for nefarious purposes. Not sure what, but I’m sure some enterprising criminals will find a way to use it for “evil” purposes. If biometric data is stolen, it’s not like a social security number or credit card number which can be changed. 

I’m sure as facial recognition becomes more mainstream, it will appear more and more in TV shows, movies and books. 

What do you all think about the use of facial recognition?