Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Reposted from DV Berkom's Awesome Authors–Ellis Vidler

My guest today on Awesome Authors is the fabulous mystery-suspense author, Ellis Vidler. I’ve known Ellis since I found the supportive writer’s group, Sisters-in-Crime, and their sub-group, the Guppies. Ellis is an author, editor, and speaker. She grew up in North Alabama, studied English and art at All Saints College for Women, and thoroughly enjoyed studying creative writing under the great Scott Regan. She also taught elements of fiction at a community college. Her home is now the South Carolina Piedmont with her husband and dogs.

(From the author’s bio): As a child in the South, Ellis spent long, hot days imagining herself an Indian or pioneer or musketeer. At night she (and her whole family) read. From Tarzan and D’Artagnan to Anne Shirley and Nancy Drew, she lived them all. No angst in her childhood. So what did she do as an adult? Write fiction, what else? She loves creating characters and making them do what she wants, but mostly they take off on their own and leave her hurrying to catch up.

Hi Ellis! Thanks for joining us. J  Tell us a little about yourself and your writing:

EV: I grew up on everything from Tarzan to Nancy Drew and Jane Eyre, and I’ve always loved reading and writing. My career began with illustrating and morphed into editing and technical writing. Now I write fiction and love it.

DV: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

EV: I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer.

DV: What compels you to write?

EV: The characters in my head—they want to have their stories told, even though the stories evolve and shoot off in new directions as I write them.

DV: What do you enjoy most about writing in the crime genre? Dislike? How much research goes into one of your books?

EV: Suspense is what I aim for, but there’s always an element of romance. Relationships are part of life, and for me, they make a story richer. I can’t stick with the required elements long enough for them to be called romances. For example, in Prime Target, the main characters don’t meet until Chapter 10, a no-no in romance, but that’s the way it worked out. It’s a love story on my terms.

I research everything, trying to get the details right. It’s an obsession, but it’s also a good way to get sidetracked. One interesting fact can lead me down a lengthy detour.

“Relationships are part of life, and for me, they make a story richer…”

DV: Sounds familia . J In the McGuire Women series, your protagonists have psychic abilities. Why did you choose to go in that direction with your main characters? What were the challenges you faced?

EV: My grandmother was psychic. I think hers was considered telepathy. She knew when any of her family was ill or injured, no matter where they were. I was there and saw it, so I know it was real. After Haunting Refrain came out, I found out her brother had the same ability. Psychic ability has always fascinated me, in spite of the charlatans. One of my cousins has some of it; however, none of the family “gift” passed to me.

DV: Do you ever include your own life experiences in your plots?

EV: Yes, they do work their way in, but I alter them to fit the story. My main characters tend to like what I like and experience many of the same things. In Cold Comfort,
Claire is with Riley in a small plane. The events of the flight and the storm actually happened to me and my husband—proof that ignorance is bliss.

DV: What are you currently working on?

EV: I just approved my first audio book, Time of Death and Haunting Refrain will be Prime Target and get it to my beta readers. I love it, but the story is different, and I don’t know how it will go over.
out next month. I have two terrific narrators and can’t wait for the books to be released. Also, I’m trying hard to wrap up

DV: That sounds intriguing! I can’t wait… What’s your process when you write? Do you outline or just get an idea and run with it?
EV: Until now I’ve been a pantser, running with a vague idea, but I’m determined to have something of an outline for the next book. I’d like to know if something’s not going to work before I’ve written 100 pages.

DV: I know that feeling. J Tell us about your road to publication. What words of wisdom would you like to impart to writers who are just starting out?

EV: Study your craft and persevere. My first book, Haunting Refrain, was much more luck than judgment. I had no idea how little I knew. It’s amazing that a publisher actually wanted it. I’ve been both traditionally and self-published. There are pros and cons to each. Writers have to decide which one suits them. Personally, I like the control I have in doing it myself and intend to stick with “indie” publishing.

“…I’m determined to have something of an outline for the next book. I’d like to know if something’s not going to work before I’ve written 100 pages.”

DV: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Where do you see the publishing industry in 5 years?

EV: Ideally, I’d like to have several more books out. Ebooks are becoming more and more popular, but I don’t think print books are going to disappear. With the advent of earbuds and tiny players, audio is gaining too. It’s a very exciting time for writers—lots of change and opportunity but the main thing is still to produce a good story. That won’t change.

DV: What strategies work best for you when promoting a novel?

EV: Goodness, I’ve tried so many. Twitter, Facebook, freebies (I doubt if I’ll do any more of those), ads on certain reader sites… I have a blog with lots of articles, I but rarely post now.

Luck, timing, and word of mouth are the best, and you have no control over any of those things.

“It’s a very exciting time for writers—lots of change and opportunity but the main thing is still to produce a good story.”

DV: If you could travel back in time (or forward) where would you go and why?

EV: I wouldn’t give up electricity, hot water, the microwave, or the Internet. I like my creature comforts. J  I’d probably go back to my twenties (a long time ago) and get serious about my writing sooner.

DV: Hmm. Good idea. Now, if I could just figure out where I put that pesky Time Machine… Thanks so much for stopping by today, Ellis! Good luck on your new releases!

If you’d like to find out more about Ellis and her work, please check out the links below:

NOTE: This is reposted from DV Berkom's blog (with photos updated).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ear of the Listener

I’m giving away one audiobook of Cold Comfort to a commenter on this blog. Grace Lowe is an amazing narrator, and she brings the characters to life. I just listened to it again and was caught up in Claire Spencer’s story, much as I was the first time I heard it. The audio brings out all kinds of things I didn’t expect. Listen to the sample at  .
Cold Comfort,

Hearing your book read by someone else is eye-opening. The narration adds a whole new dimension and offers an insight into how others interpret the characters you know so well. Sometimes they’re quite different from the way you imagine them, giving the dialogue a tone or meaning you hadn’t thought of. I often read a book and later listen to the audio version. It’s a new experience.

This giveaway is in preparation for my audio of Prime Target, in production now. It should be ready to go in the next couple of months. This one will be read by Drew Stone, a man who does spot-on North Carolina accents, among others. I fell for his voice a couple of years ago but was only now able to work out a deal with him. Prime Target has a variety of characters, mostly male, and Drew captures them well.
I’m interested in how others listen to audiobooks. Does it distract from what you’re doing? Or make boring activities more interesting? I play them when I do simple things—no concentration required. Otherwise the book wins and I make mistakes. They help when I’m cooking or knitting, sitting outside in the sun, or on the rare occasions when I do yard work. Years ago I traveled a lot, and they’re wonderful on a long drive. Leave a comment and I’ll add you to the drawing. I’ll post the winner here and on on Sunday evening, January 28th.

Sometime before Prime Target is available, I’ll be giving away copies of my other audiobooks, Time of Death and Haunting Refrain, so check back if you’re interested. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas traditions

'Twas the night before Christmas
Christmas in my family has, or had, many traditional activities. Some have gone by the wayside as the family dwindled--there are only seven of us here, but we get together and eat and enjoy each other, and eat some more, and finally nap. Son John and sister Christy are the best cooks, but we all help.

So far, two of my characters like to cook, Claire in Cold Comfort and Madeleine in Prime Target. I prefer cooking in winter, and both of those books are set mostly in cold weather—Claire even owns a Christmas shop and bakes cookies.

The scents wafting from a busy kitchen bring back many memories. Baking, which started in November with fruitcakes and didn’t end until Christmas dinner, required help from everyone. My sister the artist makes pretty cookies. (It did take her several tries to get them looking good.)
Christy's Christmas Cookies

Mother used to make a range of candies and cakes and filled paper plates, which we tied up in red or green tissue paper with a bow. They filled the dining room table, and my sisters and I loved giving them out. I did it for many years, but now I’m doing well to make a few things for friends.

Christy's Lane Cake
My sister usually makes a Lane Cake. They're special and maybe made more in the south. Harper Lee mentions one in To Kill a Mockingbird, but this is not her recipe. Whatever, it's scrumptious and goes quickly.

My job is usually to set the table--less risky than some of my cooking. What are your Christmas traditions? Favorite foods?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Showing Character

Do you like to see images of main characters, or do you prefer to let your imagination create the picture? I have ideas but love to see pictures. I collect them from various places to use for references, such as for Claire and Riley, the characters in Cold Comfort, for Madeleine in Prime Target, and for the others. I keep interesting faces to use in minor roles.
Claire, Cold Comfort

But mostly I want the description to let the reader see the person. There are many ways to show characterization. I try to keep descriptions visual whenever possible, but that doesn’t mean I give a driver’s license description.

Show rather than tell. Physical attributes are more than hair and eye color. You might show how the person walks—does he walk, swagger, amble, sidle, or slither into the room? Does he look directly at you when he talks or does his gaze slide away?

Riley, Cold Comfort
Show, don't tell. How the character looks can be shown through the effect on others. Instead of She was breathtakingly beautiful, you might say Joe and every other man present forgot to breathe when Angela entered the room. Instead of George was big and mean-looking, try something like Walking with George was like walking with a Doberman—one look and people made way in a hurry.

Clothing can show a great deal. Is the character neat and clean but wearing an obviously homemade dress? Does Dan have snagged threads and salsa stains on his Dior tie? And there's always the church organist with the red lace underwear. List all the physical characteristics on a separate page so you don't forget that on page twenty she had green eyes and on page two hundred you make them match the topaz necklace she's wearing. If she's only an inch shorter than another character, she'd better not be looking up at him unless she's sitting down. I often use pictures I cut from magazines or wherever and tape them to the wall by my desk.
A marvelous sleezy character

Mannerisms are good ways to make a character memorable, but use the mannerism sparingly. Don’t limit your character to a single action so that you repeat the same thing over and over.  Instead of having her twist a strand of hair around her finger until the reader wants to cut it off (either the finger or the hair—watch those pronouns), find ways to vary a nervous habit. Make a list of applicable verbs if she plays with her hair: chew, finger, pull, stroke, tuck, whatever. Or maybe she fiddled with her clothing, adjusted her glasses, pushed her hair back, picked at her nails.

You can also use physical surroundings, the character’s past, and his or her name to enhance the character’s personality. Someone told me that Margaret Mitchell started out calling her heroine Pansy. Thank goodness she changed her to Scarlett. How about Eudora Welty’s Stella Rondo? The name rolls off the tongue and stays with you. Faulkner’s Colonel Sartoris Snopes. It suits the character. A bitter prostitute named Tanya sounds more in character than one named Mary Jane. Give your character names a lot of thought and try to let them convey a sense of the person.

What are names you love? Hate? How do you name your own characters? 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I blame Kerry Greenwood

For all these muffins I’ve been making. In addition to the charming Miss Fisher series, she writes the Corinna Chapman books, which, aside from some great characters and a wonderful flat and bakery, feature muffins.

Carrot Muffins
Corinna owns Earthly Delights, a wonderful bread bakery. Ms. Greenwood does an outstanding job of describing the aroma and taste of Jason’s muffins and even provides a recipe. Of course I made them. Several times, as it happens. And ate way more than I should have.

It all started with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a delightful TV series set in nineteen twenties Australia. The cast is even more delightful. I’ve fallen for all of them. The relationship between Miss Fisher and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson is one to be savored. There’s something to be learned there too—if I were an actor I’d be studying the way Nathan Page (Robinson) communicates with his eyes. (Is there a way to write that?)  Page also does voiceovers. Wow. I wish I could afford to have him read Prime Target. I'm sure he could get the accents right, and he has a great voice.
DI Jack Robinson (Nathan Page)
 Essie Davis has captured the essence of the confident, capable, and intrepid Phryne Fisher. (Her outfits are fabulous.) I could go on with Dot and Hugh—also perfectly cast—and the others, but it would just be more praise.
Miss Fisher (Essie Davis)
DI Robinson, Hugh Collins, Dot Williams, Miss Fisher
After watching a couple of TV seasons, I found the books. As you’d expect, there are differences, but the TV series stays true to the characters and the flavor of the books. At least Miss Fisher doesn’t bake bread and muffins. Thank you, Ms. Greenwood.

I recommend both series, but Miss Fisher has my heart. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

McClellanville, SC

Williamsburg Photo Ser Amantio di Nicolao

COLD COMFORT was a fun book to write. I pored over maps, websites, and real estate ads, looking for the right neighborhoods and houses for the characters. I wrote to friends who live in D.C. for information on the traffic, how to get around, and where typical people might live.
Mistletoe window

Then I spent a few days in Williamsburg, VA, and drove down to McClellanville, trying to absorb the details and imagine the scenes. My sister was with me and took notes--which were a joy to decipher later! We took lots of pictures and enjoyed ourselves, with many stops for fun. We discussed murder and how to dispose of bodies in soft voices in restaurants, but we still earned a few odd looks.

Now I’m dragging her and my husband to the mountains in nearby North Carolina to research another book, but I must admit it’s slow going. No matter how hard I try to ignore it, the news is a constant distraction.
North Carolina mountains

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making the heart pound

In an action or dramatic scene, one in which the emotions are high and the reader is on the edge of the seat, the mood is tense, the writing tight. Define the emotional goal of the scene. Use all the senses, the coppery taste of blood, the cold sting of the rain, the smell of old fish. Limit the number of adjectives (descriptive words). Cut any that aren’t absolutely necessary. Find strong verbs and let them do the work. Avoid adverbs ( –ly words).
Make the main character (MC) want something badly, need it now. The reader must want the same outcome and want it now. Then deny them the desired outcome. It can be the discovery of a small puddle in the desert when he’s dying of thirst. Let it seep into the ground and disappear as he reaches for it. He can dig with his hands, ripping his fingernails, tearing his skin.
Or a woman is in labor and her car plunges over a bank. The baby starts to come. It’s night, there’s no moon, there’s no one around. She must save her baby and herself.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Or a man might be following his wife to see if his suspicions are true—who she’s meeting and why. What will happen to his child if he divorces her? All kinds of tense situations make up action scenes.
The pacing in an action scene is fast. There’s no room for background or description, which will slow the action. Save these things for slower scenes and when you want to give the reader a little time to catch her breath.
In action, every word must count. Vary the length of your sentences, using short, terse statements and fragments mixed with longer sentences. Keep paragraphs short. Eliminate “and” as much as possible. Don’t use words that dilute the meaning, such as “almost,” “seemed,” and “nearly.” Make it hard and fast; give it some punch.
Here’s a small piece of a tense scene from Time of Death:
Alex heard a whisper of air behind her. A hand grabbed the back of her shirt, jerked her to her feet.
“Move, girl.” The straw man pushed her forward toward the road, oblivious to the brush and vines in her path.
She jerked, tried to free herself, but he switched his grip to her arm, crushing it with steel strength. The man, Hunnicutt, wouldn’t let go no matter what she did. Save your strength. Wait for a chance.

The sentences are short, choppy. My goal was to have the reader share Alex's fear. There’s a small chance to catch your breath when she plans, then the action picks up again.
The Long Riders
Remember, any type of scene must advance the plot and develop the characters. It should show how people act during bad times or in difficult situations. Ask yourself how the scene shows action. It doesn't have to be physical action. The scene must have consequences. What happens as a result of this scene?

How do you write action scenes? What are the emotional goals?