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?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

COLD COMFORT Read an Excerpt

Amazon Kindle
“Thanks. Take the rest of the cookies.” Claire slipped her feet into her shoes and went to the counter for something to put the treats  in. “Riley ate a cake last night and doesn’t need any more sugar.” She slid the cookies into a red bag and handed it to Mary. “Tell Damien hi and I’ll see him Friday afternoon.”
Claire let Mary out the front door and locked it behind her. “Damien’s working with us on Fridays after school and all day Saturdays this season,” she said to Riley. “He’s a nice boy.”
“I did not ‘eat a cake’ last night. Maybe a big piece, but that’s all,” he said, following her to the back. He guessed she was over her mad spell—good woman. No grudge.
She spun around and walked backward for a couple of steps, facing him with a wide grin. “Okay, half a cake.”
Audible for $1.99
When the smile reached her eyes, the corners crinkled. He caught her arm, afraid she’d stumble. He felt like a cat with a mouse—one hint and he’d have been on her. Shaking his head, he turned her around again and let go. “It was going to waste.” God, but he needed to finish this job and get out of here. “By the way, didn’t I tell you not to leave the store without me?” He gentled his voice, not wanting to be too hard on her, scare her.
“Yes, I believe you did,” she said, stooping to adjust a little tin soldier who kept watch over a glittering ballerina.
Maybe he’d been too easy. “But you went out anyway.”
“Yes, I did.” She looked up, giving him a guileless smile.
He glared. “I mean it. Don’t go out alone.”
She straightened. “I’ll try not to.” She spoke carefully, her tone deliberate.
“You’ll try?” He couldn’t believe her. He definitely hadn’t scared her. “Someone is trying to kill you,” he snarled.
“Yes, I know.” Her gaze met his without blinking. Under the honey lay a note of steel. “You’re supposed to find out who, not hide me in a closet.”
She was warning him. He stepped out of her path, at a loss, as she sailed toward the restroom with the empty cider carafe.
When she came back, she indicated the cash register. “I need to close out and take the money to the bank. I didn’t have time this afternoon. Want to go with me?” Her eyes tilted with amusement.

Riley surrendered. He watched her bustle around the shop, tidying and rearranging. It all looked fine to him. “Okay, then let’s go out for dinner. How about Shields Tavern? Unless you have other plans.” Like the guy next door. Or the nerdy lawyer.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Excerpt from Cold Comfort

Amazon Kindle
   “I’m off duty now. I can give you a ride,” Parsons said. “Where do you want to go?”
   “You sure? Don’t you have family or a friend you could stay with?”
   “No, no one.” She thought about Walt Kramer, her former fiancĂ©. She could hardly call him—he’d eloped with his secretary—his pregnant secretary—two months before the wedding. Six months later, it still stung. Tears of self-pity stung her eyes. Roughly, she wiped them away. Get over it.
   The officer wheeled her outside the door to his car and settled her in the seat.
   Numb from shots and pills, she described the events of the past week. “For three nights, I noticed a car with one dim headlight—it could have been following me.”
   “I’ll put it in the report. Keep watching for that odd light. Anything else?”
   She rubbed her forehead. “Maybe. Several times I had this prickly sensation of being watched. I thought I must be imagining it. And someone may have been inside my house.”
   “May? Did you report it?”
   “I started to, but I couldn’t find anything missing—only the rumpled bedspread and the scent of tobacco and aftershave. No signs of anyone breaking in. I couldn’t be sure all these . . . it wasn’t my imagination.” Maybe she should have called, but she’d been raised to take care of herself. She nibbled her fingernail, then shoved her hands under her thighs. “I didn’t want to overreact.”
   “To be honest, you wouldn’t have gotten much attention.”
   “I found one of the dolls in my storeroom with its head crushed.” But how could she report a broken doll? “It could have been an accident. It just didn’t look like one.”
   He nodded. “Someone’s being very clever, trying to scare you without leaving real evidence.”
   “Last night I got a phone call.” The voice replayed in her head, making her skin crawl. “As soon as I realized what he was saying, what he wanted to do, I hung up and turned off the ringer.”
   “Caller ID?”
   “No. But I added it today.”
   “Not much else you can do unless you get an unlisted number.” He glanced at her with apology in his eyes. “Chances are he watches enough TV to know how to hide his number.”
   “Tonight, just before he ran off, he said he’d be back.” She tightened her arms around her midriff.
   “He knows your name, and it sounds like he’s seriously focused on you,” Parsons said. “I’m afraid you’ve got a stalker.”
   A stalker! Her stomach turned over. A chill ran through her. The word sounded so much worse than a one-time thief or mugger. Why would anyone be stalking her? Since she’d abandoned her dreams of a family, her whole life centered on the store. She didn’t go out, didn’t search for her soul mate in cyberspace, didn’t do anything that would attract attention.

   “He was waiting for you. I found broken glass on the porch from the light bulb. It didn’t burn out.”

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Excerpt from Time of Death

If Alex could ever get a damn paper, she’d read the ads. What was happening in the world? Why did their newspaper disappear every day. Mr. Foley’s son swore he left it every morning. An idea dawned, and she smacked herself in the forehead, then grabbed the phone book.
“Mr. Foley, what time does your son deliver the paper to Isobel Devore?” She’d see what happened to it for herself. “Thanks.”

In the morning, she’d be there watching. A thick stand of waxmyrtle and palmetto would hide her, and she’d catch the thief with his hand in the box. It couldn’t be an animal, had to be human—or maybe Neanderthal. She wondered if Neanderthals read or if they used newspaper for something less appealing. Dismissing the mental picture, she locked the door and hurried to the car. At least she had a plan.
Her meeting with Tucker worried her. The drawings were coming with increasing frequency. What if something happened while she was off-guard. He wasn’t going to be receptive, she could tell.
She crossed into Mt. Pleasant and turned on Johnnie Dodd Boulevard. At least she could read the papers at the library.
A flash of dull red in a filling station caught her eye. She slammed on the brakes and whipped into the parking area, leaving an angry driver hitting his horn.
An old Land Rover sat to one side, a small For Sale sign in the window. “Yes!” Chelsea leapt from the VW and ran as quickly as her stiff body would allow to the window. Wiping away a layer of dust, she peered inside the car, testing the handle with her other hand. It opened. Stains and a couple of rips marked the cloth seats. She climbed in and sat down, bouncing in spite of her bruises. 
“You interested in this baby?”
The voice at the window surprised her. A young man in jeans and a plaid shirt stood with his hands in his back pockets, his head tilted to one side.
“Yes. What year is it?”
Alex's Defender
“Nineteen ninety Defender. The real thing. She’s a little dirty right now, but she drives good, got some new parts.” He straightened and pulled a single key from his pocket. “Think you can drive it?”
“Of course.” She looked at the heavy gear in the floorboard. “Well, maybe a few pointers would be good.” She smiled at him. This was her car. She could feel it. A Land Rover! “Is it yours?”

“Yep. I’m the mechanic here. I bought it four years ago. I wouldn’t give it up, but me and my wife are about to have a baby, and she wants a more regular car.” He pushed long strands of hair out of his eyes. “Want to go for a ride?”

Available at Amazon, print , audio, and Kindle
Audio sample

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The importance and influence of setting

Blue Ridge

I’ve been thinking about setting because I’m working on two stories in quite different environments. One is in Mexico and the other the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountain setting is near me and I can easily go there. Mexico, especially the jungle in Chiapas, is much more difficult. I spent some time in Toluca and loved it, but I never got to Chiapas. It’s requiring a lot of research.

Setting, or place, has several functions in a story. The simplest is that it provides background for your characters if you use something well known or that has a character of its own. “He’s from the Bronx.” “She’s from Savannah.” These statements give an initial impression of the character based on our ideas of these places. You may go on to add detail or provide more specific information, but the reader still has certain expectations. We don’t expect the character from the Bronx to be slow-talking and laid back, and we’d be surprised to find the Savannah character edgy and in-your-face; if this were the case, you’d have to explain why.

On the road to Tenango
Setting also provides a backdrop and color for your story. Streets, buildings, restaurants, or some wild, rugged terrain—it all depends on your story and what you want to happen. Most people write what they know or have a good chance of finding out. I wouldn’t set a book in Alaska because I doubt if I could get enough of a feeling for it from books and movies or the Internet, but I could set one in Atlanta or most towns in the South. Even Texas, in the last few years, has taken on a more “cowboy” character and would be harder to write about in depth.

These days, if you chose a place you’re not familiar with, you can easily find pictures and information about restaurants, streets, businesses, and places of interest on the Internet. But be sure you’re correct. If you can find someone who’s spent time there, try to interview them or have them review your story for accuracy. They may be able to add some details you wouldn’t otherwise find, such as smells, sounds, whether it’s windy or the air is visibly polluted.
Threatening storm over TeoTenango

Setting also affects the characters’ attitudes and expectations. If they live in a small town with a strong religious community, it might influence their actions in certain situations, or it could provide part of the conflict. Think what kind of setting would add to your story. What could enrich it?

I have my work cut out for me, but I love both places, so it's fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

First in the McGuire Women Psychic books

   Rita Nelson opened the door for them. “Come in. I told them you were coming.” She gestured toward the darkened room behind her. An older woman with short gray hair pointed a remote control at a softly murmuring television set, and the orange-skinned characters faded away.
   The man, slumped in a worn brown recliner, continued to stare at the screen. His hands were folded across his stomach; light from an overhead fixture glinted off his scalp through his thin strands of hair.
   “This is Kate McGuire.” John said as he stepped into the room. He bent down in front of the woman, taking her hands in his. “Hello, Mrs. Nelson. May I ask you a few questions? I don't want to open old wounds, but something has happened, and I need your help.”
   Kate followed him in and, at Rita's nod, slipped into a stuffed chair on the other side of the silent man.
   The woman held tightly to John's hands. “I know you don't mean no harm, son, but there’s not no more we can tell. Harlan here don't talk to nobody nowadays, and Rita don't know nothing.”
   “I'd like to try again though,” he said, sitting on the sofa beside her without letting go of her hands.      “Do you know about the girl who was just found in Lake Jocassee?”
   “Heard it on the TV,” Harlan said, still staring at the screen.
   “It's possible that the same person who … took Charlene from you, is responsible for her.” He tried to avoid using the words they hated, words that pierced the heart. He caught Kate's eye and saw that she understood.

   “Is this one rich? Maybe the police'll try a little harder this time,” Harlan answered, turning to John.    “They didn't find nothing, just quit, when we lost our girl.”