Wednesday, June 12, 2019

One Picture, Three Views, Three Authors

Photo by Sunny Forest
From a few years ago. I asked Parris Afton Bonds, Yves Fey, and Rebecca George, three wonderful authors with backgrounds in romance, to give this a shot. The rules, as always, are to tell what they see in this photograph in 150 words or less. 

BONDS
Her steps lagged as her eyes took in the old place. It had always been a retreat, a respite from the dutiful demands of family, work, and, yes, even her public persona. She had bought the little house with her first royalty check, as meager as the house. Over the years, as her checks had increased, she could easily have afforded to restore the place to a quaint luster. Yet she had kept its genteel shabbiness, something to hide behind, something real, something authentic, when she no longer knew who she was, when she needed to escape the demands of everyone, waiting for her to solve their problems. Now the children were in college, her husband claimed by someone else, her work schedule less demanding but more rewarding. And the little house was no longer shabby but serendipitous, for inside awaited, at long last love. Her steps quickened.
FEY
Standing in the rough grass, Cassie looked at childhood home, the sting of salt air sharp on her skin, salt scents teasing her nostrils.  Teasing her memory.  She’d been isolated here.  Lonely.  Protected - the doors and windows roughly carved with runes, curtains woven with spells, dreamcatchers snaring nightmares.
Silence embraced her.  Not silence without.  Even on the most sunbaked summer day, the air weighted with heat, the sound of waves crashing on the rocks floated over the cliff’s edge.  Sometimes, like now, a gull screamed.
But blessed silence reigned within.  The rising cacophony of voices – voices of minds screaming, souls screaming – they did not carry here.  They did not invade her.
Cassie walked forward, then gasped as a cold spike of fear pierced her spine, pinioning her where she stood. 
Someone waited inside.  Hid inside.  Anticipating.  What?
Had she not chosen to come here? 
Had she been summoned?
GEORGE
She walked toward the cottage.
Fifteen years, she thought, and it looks the same.
Her heart began to beat faster as it would have fifteen years earlier.
Would he still look the same, she asked herself, and now questioned her decision to come back to Ireland. When she left, it was never to return. Yet here she was.
She had changed her name and, with a new identity, achieved a certain peace in Dallas. For fifteen years she believed she had buried the past. Then his letter came, and it was as if those years meant nothing.
Please,” he wrote, “come home. Until now, I did not know why you left. If only I had  known the truth then, I would have done everything in my power to stop you.”
Would you, she wondered as she opened the door.
He stood tall before her.
“Hello, Harry,” she said.
“Hello, Kathleen.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Parris Afton Bonds
PARRIS AFTON BONDS
Parris Afton Bonds is the mother of five sons and the author of thirty-five published novels. She is the co-founder of and first vice president of Romance Writers of America.
Declared by ABC’s Nightline as one of the three-best-selling authors of romantic fiction, the award winning Parris Afton Bonds has been interviewed by such luminaries as Charlie Rose and featured in major newspapers and magazines as well as published in more than a dozen languages. She donates her time to teaching creative writing to both grade school children and female inmates.
At Amazon
YVES FEY
Yves Fey’s debut mystery, FLOATS THE DARK SHADOW is set in the dynamic and decadent world of Belle Époque Paris. Aspiring artist Theodora Faraday and Detective Michel Devaux clash in their search for an elusive killer who has already claimed too many children.  Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris.  Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France. Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.
At Amazon
REBECCA GEORGE
Rebecca George is the award-winning author of five novels. Her newest, SO WHISPERS THE HEARTwas released recently on Kindle. Of her four previously published  books, DAPHNE  was a Romantic Times award winner, Best Historical – Love and Laughter, and was considered by Aaron Spelling Productions for a TV movie. CALL HOME THE HEART was a runner-up for Best Historical.
A native of Georgia, Rebecca was raised in the Tidewater region of Virginia. She went to the University of Georgia and majored in history. She lives with her four rescued dogs in a historical district in Upstate South Carolina.

Join in and tell what the picture says to you. Post 150 words or less in a comment.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Inside the Mind of a Killer: Researching your Antagonist


I came across this article by author DV Berkom, written a few years ago but well worth re-posting. Here it is.
Author DV Berkom
So there I was, minding my own business writing one of those truly twisted novels that grabs hold of you and has to come out when I came to the killer's debut. I'd never attempted to write a character quite so creepy and wasn't relishing that first passage. In fact, I continually wrote around him, putting off the scene until I felt I could do justice to him instead of creating a killer cliché. Yes, I could have abandoned the effort and gone on to something else, but a disturbing dream I'd had several months prior provided the inspiration for the story and I felt compelled to follow it through.
How do you write a fresh psychopath? Readers today have been clubbed over the head with serial killers (pardon the pun) to the point that it's become a joke in many literary agencies and publishing houses. The only way I could think to do it was to go to my default: research. I love learning new things. Researching has a way of surprising you with oddball connections, often to be used in ways you'd never expect. A reference here, a notation there, it's similar to a treasure hunt. Like I said, I love research. 
Until I started to investigate killers.
The information I came across in my search made my skin crawl.
Now, I haven't lived what anyone would call a sheltered life, but I'd so far avoided learning specific details about the habits of serial killers. The information I came across in my search made my skin crawl.
Reality is so much more frightening than fiction.
The information creeped me out to the point I'd find myself vacuuming the living room, unsure how that Hoover ended up in my hand. One thing to understand about me: I don't like housework. I'll let dust and dirt accumulate until I can't find the couch or someone decides to visit. Apparently, I found something I like even less.
I followed this routine whenever I delved into the bizarre world of a psychopath, and though you could eat off my living room floor, my manuscript was going nowhere. No closer to fleshing out my killer, (I know- another pun. Sorry) he wouldn't budge from the twisted caricature of a human being I'd created and I was close to giving up. Sure, I could give him odd quirks and mannerisms, but it felt as if I was making him play dress up: all show, no substance.
"an ocean of ideas began to form around what my antagonist's early life was like, his taste in music, food, what made him tick."
That is, until I dug a little deeper and discovered the science behind the psychopath. A series of articles on NPR.org discussing the biological basis for psychopathic behavior led me ever deeper into the complexities of a killer's mind. Fascinated, I began to read white papers on personality disorder, multiple personalities, cannibalism and the like. Where once I'd been stymied by what motivated someone to kill, an ocean of ideas began to form around what my antagonist's early life was like, his taste in music, food, what made him tick.
Soon, I had seventeen pages of articles, notes and sketches, all revolving around my antagonist. I knew him, knew what made him get out of bed in the morning, why he chose the victims he did. Most importantly, I knew how he justified killing. That was my 'eureka' moment.
Understanding my antagonist helped me move past the visceral recoil from the heinous crimes I read (and wrote) about and gave a more human face to the killer. I learned there's an entire area of scientific inquiry emerging that uses genetic testing and MRIs to map the brains and biological processes of psychopaths, on occasion admitting the results of these tests as evidence in court trials.
Can the fact that a person has the genes and/or brain structure associated with violent behavior be enough to reduce a defendant's culpability in a trial? It's a new take on an age-old question.
"I can't wait to write the killer's scenes  . . ."
At Amazon
Whatever the answer may be, for now I can't wait to write the killer's scenes and try to work in some small kernel of research to help the reader understand him better. Yeah, still pretty creepy, but it worked.
Now, where the heck is that couch?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads: Kate Jones and Leine Basso. Her latest Leine Basso novel is Absolution.
Available at Amazon:
Former assassin Leine Basso has severed ties with everyone she loves to keep them safe while she hunts for the ruthless terrorist, Salome. There are rumblings that the French-born assassin is planning another attack and Leine’s determined to stop her before it’s too late.

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 Audible.com  .
Cold Comfort, Audible.com


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 https://www.facebook.com/EllisVidler.AuthorPage/ 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.