Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pleasures & Pitfalls of Writing ‘Where’ You Know

Amazon, Kindle or print
Author Linda Lovely, who writes the Marley Clark mysteries, is my guest this week.
It’s fun to write a novel that showcases a place you know and love (I suppose it would also be true for a place you love to hate)—a setting you’ve felt as well as seen, a location that sparks passion you can capture on the page.
Yet there are pitfalls in setting a novel in a real locale. How reliable is your memory? Will residents take umbrage if you make mistakes? Will readers draw unintended connections between your fictional cast and real people? Will they forgive literary license if you contradict their memories, their experiences?
I set my new Marley Clark mystery, NO WAKE ZONE, in the Iowa Great Lakes region. Don’t scoff if you haven’t visited. Iowa is not all cornfields. This section, near the Minnesota border, boasts clear blue lakes, towering oaks, trumpeter swans, and the best summer days of my youth.
I can smell, feel and taste the time spent here. My aunt, uncle and cousins lived on Lake Okoboji just outside the town of Spirit Lake. Every summer Mom packed meat loaf sandwiches for our 400-mile car trek to Lake Okoboji. This is where I learned to water ski, where my cousins shamed me into baiting my own hook with a slimy worm, where Bobby Vinton called to the Roof Garden stage to sing with him, where I first tasted saltwater taffy, where I dove off a Camp Foster dock for skin-prickling polar bear swims, where I screamed in terror riding the Arnolds Park roller coaster before begging for another chance to scream again.
As I wrote NO WAKE ZONE, these memories and more surfaced. I felt smooth pebbles massage my toes as Marley, my heroine, waded into Big Spirit Lake. I smelled a breeze heavy with tropical suntan lotion and a hint of diesel from a boat’s four-stroke engine as Marley strolled down her cousin’s dock. I watched ominous thunderclouds mass on the horizon and heard the crackle of lightning as Marley drove past the town’s windmills, arms twirling in fury.
Lake Okoboji, Sunset
Would I have been able to write with equal passion about a location I’d only seen on postcards or visited by video? I think not. These sensory memories made the scenes vivid and real for me. But I did take precautions.
Timelines. I attempted to ensure my 52-year-old heroine never did the impossible. Since she was too young to recall being on stage with Bobby Vinton, I checked with the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see what Roof Garden entertainer might have invited her to share the spotlight. Likewise, Templar Park where I worked as a cook was defunct before Marley reached college age. So I created a fictional retreat evocative of several of the area’s grand old resorts.
Linda and Steve, Fishing

Resident Fact Checkers. My late cousin, Steve Kennedy, helped greatly with my initial research, and later his widow, Mary, tirelessly checked landmark references for accuracy. 
Asking Permission. I shared an early version of the manuscript with Historic Arnolds Park to seek permission to use this classic amusement park’s real name as well as the Queen II excursion boat and the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum.
Note to Readers. Finally, I wrote a note to readers detailing elements that were totally my invention and why. For instance, I made no attempt to research the community’s actual law enforcement hierarchy, because I knew how I wanted my investigation to play out.
Kindle or Print
Do you like to read about real locations? Do you expect authors to be faithful to every detail or do you give them leeway for plot requirements? If you’re an author, how do you cover the bases when you set your books in a real place?
About Linda
A journalism major in college, Lovely has made her living as a writer, tackling everything from magazine features and ad copy to speeches and brochures. Her manuscripts have made the finals in 15 contests, including RWA’s prestigious Golden HeartÒ and Daphne du Maurier competitions and mystery contests such as Deadly Ink, Murder in the Grove and Malice Domestic.
For more information about the author and her books, you can visit her website at: www.lindalovely.com

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why Do Some Stories Resonate?

Yesterday I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and loved it—so much that I want to see it again. I woke up thinking about it. Why do some stories touch us so much that we keep thinking about them? Why do the characters come back to visit our dreams many times?
Maybe part of it is the way each character’s story resolves itself—not necessarily happily but in a just and satisfying way. Sometimes the resolution isn’t what we expect, but if it seems to fit, if it’s what the character has earned, we’re pleased.
In Marigold, the characters grew. Each one developed in some way that made us cheer. The characters were not all likable, but they were interesting and each elicited an emotional response. We cared.
The point is, aside from recommending a very good movie, that we should try to do the same thing in our stories. But how? We need to give each of our main characters some weakness or undeveloped trait and then impose conflict and circumstances that force the character to react. From those reactions, the characters should learn, gain confidence, and move along their path. This doesn’t have to be a positive path, but if it’s your protagonist, he or she will probably then need to overcome the negative aspects—unlikely in a short story because it takes time to show so much change.
Placing the story in a foreign or culturally different setting imposes change and provides opportunities for the character to react according to her personality and outlook. “Foreign” could be anything different from the norm. An egocentric, in-charge character might become a patient in a hospital. A timid, indecisive soul could find himself in charge of a group of children in a hostile environment. Those are extreme examples, but forced change is a good way to do it. In Cold Comfort, Claire is an ordinary woman who becomes a killer’s target, forcing her to move outside—way outside—her comfort zone. Riley, because of a personal failure, hates working with women, but a debt of honor forces him to help Claire.
There are many ways to do these things, limited only by our imagination. Do you consciously think about making your character grow? How did you do it? What vehicles or devices have you used?
Note: Read about the “real” Marigold Hotel

Monday, May 21, 2012

That Moment Called Murder

Buy at Amazon or Kindle

Mystery author Faye Tollison is my guest today. Faye is the author of To Tell the Truth and the soon-to-be-released The Bible Murder.

There are many ways to lay out your murder, but I have two that I particularly like to use. They work for me; and as writers, we do tend to like what works.
If you have a murder scene that moves quickly, it would best serve that scene if you build up the scenes prior to it slowly, increasing the suspense and the pace as you get closer and reaching the peak at the moment of murder. The idea is to stretch it out and keep your reader on edge and then moving the actual murder quickly.
The method I used in To Tell the Truth was to build up the scenes prior to the murder scene quickly and then lengthen the actual murder scene slowly, building the suspense up to the climatic moment. When Ken (the antagonist) pulled the gun on Anna (the protagonist), I made the scene go fairly slow to give the reader a sense of the emotion he was feeling. Then when Anna was trying to get the gun from him, the scene sped up, and it moved quickly. But when Anna finally got the gun in her hands, I slowed things down to a very slow pace. Anna needed that time to think about what she was doing. I had her become somewhat mesmerized by the drop of blood rolling down to his upper lip as he pleaded with her; and then the drop of blood stopped and just sat there, not moving any further, building the suspense as the reader waited, possibly even hoping, for her to pull the trigger. Then things began to move fast as John (the cop) moved to stop her from shooting Ken and the gun goes off, Ken falling to his knees and then to the floor.
As you notice, I wrote the scene in a crescendo of slow, fast, slow, and then fast pacing. This method will keep your readers interested and wanting more. Tease them, then back away, and then tease them some more until you reach that moment of murder. Do not give it to them too fast or too slow but in waves of both.
Whether you are writing a mystery or a suspense story, suspense is the key to your murder scene. Even though there are other means of building suspense, pacing still plays a major part in it.
Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murder
            Sarah’s Secret
Member of: Sisters in Crime
            Writers on the Move
            Books in Sync

To Tell the Truth
Anna Kacey had faced many difficult situations in her life and had carried some heavy responsibilities. When she met Senator Kenneth Levall, her world soared. At least until it collapsed.
     Undercover cop, Detective John Mentz, came into her life and fell deeply in love with her. He gave her reason to question her relationship with the senator, who he was investigating for drug trafficking.
     But as strong a woman as Anna was, she had to dig deep to find the strength to endure what followed:  the murder of her sister, the destruction of her life, and lastly facing a courtroom full of people, a judge, and a jury in an effort to save the man she really loved. He had confessed to the murder of the senator in order to protect Anna from being charged with the murder.
     It was now time for her to stand up and tell the truth.

About Faye
Faye M. Tollison has been writing since she was a teenager and has loved mysteries for as long as she can remember. After 27 years in the medical field, she decided to devote herself to writing her own mystery.
She has written several articles on writing, which were published in The Quill, a newsletter for the South Carolina Writers Workshop, and in The Printed Matters, a newsletter for the local chapter for the SCWW. She also had a short story published  in Catfish Stew, an anthology published by the SCWW. As a member of the SCWW, she wrote numerous critiques, which were also published in the Printed Matters. In May of 2011 Faye finished and self-published her first novel, which is a romantic suspense. She is also a member of Sisters In Crime.
Faye lives in the upstate of South Carolina with her three cats and is presently working on her second and third books.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Writing with a Partner

The Peeper - Amazon Kindle
This is a re-post of one of my first blogs, but several people have asked about writing with a partner, so here it is again. 
Have you ever considered writing with a friend? Or even someone you respect but don’t know well? I did, and it turned out to be a great experience, but it doesn’t always have a happy ending. We’re all egotists in some way and used to having total control over our writing. It’s normally a solitary endeavor, and sharing responsibilities and control is a new concept. You have to be willing to set aside your ego, at least most of the time. This is my experience.
First, decide why you want to partner with the other person. Do you have complimentary skills and knowledge? Is one of you plot-oriented but not as strong on character development? Assess your abilities and see if they mesh. If you have the same areas of strength, you’re more likely to clash. You really must respect each other’s ideas and sensibilities. My partner for The Peeper, Jim Christopher (Chris), is a forty-year law enforcement veteran and a terrific storyteller; I was a published author and editor. He had the basic concept and asked if I’d be interested. I definitely was.
Chris has a strong personality and presence. I’m quieter, more dig-in-and-hang-on than commander in chief. It kept life interesting for many months.
Jim Christopher
We decided I was stronger at relationships and he at plotting, but both of us could make valuable contributions to any part of the story. This worked well until he wanted to kill someone I cared about. After my outraged protest, I think he pushed it just to stir the pot. Humor is important.
Set ground rules. Be constructive. In our case, we read Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer’s ideas on collaboration and decided that, on the main characters, Chris would have final say on the males and I would have it on the females. But we wrote scenes individually, including all the characters in the scene. Then we exchanged them by email and made minor changes to each other’s work. If we felt significant changes were needed, we discussed them in person. We also met for plotting sessions. Sometimes we disagreed and hashed it out over several days, arguing our reasons and objections. But in spite of our very different personalities, we didn’t get angry. I believe this is because we respected each other and were both willing to compromise. Most of the time.
Chris has a peculiar ability to foresee scenes in number of words. He’d say, “We need a fight with this and this. It should run about 3,500 words. Then this should happen. It’ll take about 5,000 words.” That’s totally foreign to me. I just write until it’s done. But he turned out to be amazingly close.
Of course he had the final say on the police procedures. Even though I wrote some of those scenes, he made sure they were correct. I learned a lot. And he wrote some of the more personal Kay and Sam scenes. I’ll bet some of his cop friends would be surprised. I was.
Elliott, the hero of the story, was Chris’s brain child. He set the tone and voice initially, but his idea was so clear I was able to follow it. Much of the humor came out of Chris’s head. I loved it.
So if you find the right person, it can be a great experience. If you don’t, admit it isn’t working, dissolve the partnership quickly, and stay friends.
Have you tried this? Did it work for you? What went wrong and what went right? Any suggestions? We’d like to know.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Mystery Writers

At Amazon

My guest this week is Jean Henry Mead, author of the Logan and Cafferty mysteries, The Mystery Writers, and others
There were no self-help books available for writing novels back in the dark ages (before computers), but I was only nine and my classmates seemed to like what I took to class for them to read. Years later I signed up for a Famous Writers Fiction course, although I was working as a news reporter at that time, and my fiction sounded like journalism—too terse and lacking description.
Fortunately, a couple of award-winning writers took me under their wings and taught me the language of fiction. They asked that I return the favor by serving as a mentor when I had enough experience of my own. So, when I began blogging after I had published a number of nonfiction books and a couple of novels, I decided to mentor a lot of novice writers in my own way by inviting bestselling, award-winning and other midlist authors to my website titled Mysterious Writers.
When I had accumulated well over a hundred interviews and articles written by them, I put them into a book titled Mysterious Writers and sold it to Poisoned Pen Press in 2010. The book has sold well in ebook form but I wanted to also provide a print edition, so The Mystery Writers also became a book. Sixty bestselling novelists, award-winners and journeymen writers appear in this new edition, including Ellis Vidler, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Julie Garwood, Vicki Hinze, J. A. Jance, and James Scott Bell (former Writer’s Digest fiction columnist).
Some of the authors are living and writing from South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, England and Canada, and what they have to say will not only entertain and inform readers, but shock them as well.
Twelve subgenres of the mystery genre are represented in this latest collection: traditional mysteries, cozies, private eyes, police procedurals, crime, humor, noir, contemporary western mysteries, thrillers, historicals, amateur sleuths and suspense. In essence, something for nearly every reader and novice or veteran writer.
The 406-page book is loaded with advice that I wish had been available when I was a fledgling novelist. James Scott Bell begins the book with “The Ten Commandments for Writers.” I especially like the following, “Thou Shalt Write Passionate First Drafts:”
Don’t edit yourself heavily during your first drafts. The writing of it is partly an act of discovering your story; even if you outline. Your plot and characters may want to make twists and turns you didn’t plan. Let them go! Follow along and record what happens. I edit my previous day’s work and then move on. At 20k words I ‘step back’ to see if I have a solid foundation, shore it up if I don’t, then move on to the end.

The book is currently available in print from Amazon and on Kindle. It's also featured in the Kindle Select Program and can be borrowed from the Amazon Prime lending library.
Bio: Jean Henry Mead is an award-winning photojournalist who has been published nationally and abroad. She’s served as a news, magazine and small press editor and was a correspondent for the Denver Post. She’s also writes the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, Hamilton Kids’ mysteries, historical novels and nonfiction books; 17 books in all.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Lonely Egg and a Conundrum

The Lonely Egg, first shot

Recently I've seen a Carolina wren bringing bits of grass and twigs to my bathroom window sill, but there's no real nest, just a small pile of brush. They often build false nests to distract predators, and I thought this might be one. 
Then yesterday I looked out and saw this single egg. I looked it up and it appears to be the egg of a house wren, not a Carolina wren. I thought with the unfinished look of the nest and the lonely egg, it wasn't viable.  But Sialis.org says house wrens lay one egg a day and the female doesn't begin incubation until the penultimate egg is laid. So it could be the first egg and perhaps a young bird whose nest-building skills aren't fully developed.
House wren, courtesy of Sialis.org
This morning I went back to take a picture and met the bird again. She flew off immediately and I took a hasty picture (that's why it's blurred), hoping not to disturb her too much. The thing is, I'm sure the bird is a Carolina wren, but the nest and the egg are quite different. And the two wrens look different.  Mike took the Carolina wren picture at the feeder. We see lots of reddish-brown Carolina wrens with the distinctive white streak above the eye.
This is the bird we see,
taken next to the feeder.  Definitely
a Carolina wren.

So what do we have? I really don't know, but I'll keep watching and see if there's another egg. If you know  about wrens or their nests or eggs or if you've seen anything similar, please let me know.
 I just went back to see if I could get another picture. Had to use a flash because the egg has been moved into the corner.

Lonely egg moved to corner--second shot

This is the second "nest." the one in the living room window. One egg early this morning , but about 10 o'clock we checked and found a second egg. I hope they hatch. We should have a good view of the birds if they do.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When does Stubborn Turn into Stupid?

At Amazon - soon to be in print
My friend Polly Iyer, author of four terrific suspense (with romantic elements :-) novels, is my guest today.
Some of you may have heard me say this before—I’ve been vocal enough in my frustration—but those “brilliant” techies who designed Word 2010 can only be described as sadists. I’ve just finished formatting three books for CreateSpace. I had help from my blog host—yes you, Ellis—who sat down with me in a restaurant halfway between our houses and showed me how to format the first book, step by step. We switched to Word 2003, a much more user-friendly program, because even a seasoned tech writer like Ellis thinks Word 2010 sucks. My lesson went well, one book done, so off I went to do book two. Easy, peasy, right?
Um, not when I got home. I resisted throwing the computer out the window at least a dozen times, but because I have a major character flaw called persistence, I forged ahead. (Okay, I sent the file to Ellis a couple of times to straighten out the section breaks and the pages. I admit it.) But I had another problem. My Photoshop program is on the computer with Word 2010, so I have to send the file to CreateSpace from that computer. Surprisingly, and after a lot of hair-pulling, I got the second book finished in Word 2003 on one computer and sent it to myself to open on the other. The formatting held.
Sound effects—heavenly music from above.
At Amazon - soon to be in print
I’m feeling good. Two books done. I sent them off. Proofs looked good, so I ordered a couple of each. I went through the whole process, clicked on Confirm Order. REJECTED. CreateSpace wouldn’t take my credit card. Huh? This is the same credit card they accepted three weeks before for my first sample. Same credit card that Amazon takes all the time.
I thought it might be Firefox, so I ran it through on Explorer. Same thing. Rejected. I called my credit card company. (They love me, by the way. I really don’t know why. I never pay a finance charge. But I digress.) So I went back to CreateSpace. They said it was my CVV code. Same code I used three weeks before. I told them I’ve never had so much trouble trying to give a company my money. They assured me they wanted my money.
We had a long telephone conversation. The customer service representative had a lovely, lilting English/Indian accent. I understood her. She understood me. She contacted the tech people while I was on the phone. She was really trying to help. They insisted it was my CVV code. I insisted it wasn’t. She said they’d get back to me.
So I worked on book three.
I don’t consider myself totally tech challenged; in fact, I’m really not bad for an old broad learning new tricks. I even do my own book covers on Photoshop, do my own website. But every time I thought I had the third book finished—this in Word 2003—I scrolled up and there were headings where they shouldn’t be, numbers on another line, pages disappearing when I scrolled—seriously. I thought I was seeing things. Now you see it, now you don’t.
Did that stop me from torturing myself? Not even close. I got what I thought was a good document, sent it to CS. Their proof looked a mess. Backward, in fact. Enough of Word, back to the sample books. I called CreateSpace again. Another lovely service rep. The credit card validating company is closed until Monday. She will get back to me. Meanwhile, she’s sending my samples free of charge. I didn’t argue.
I do believe that those who format books as a profession earn every cent they charge, and if I weren’t such a control freak, or stupid, I’d hire them.
By the time this blog posts, I may have an update. It’s Saturday, 5 o’clock. I’m on the way to the fridge for a beer—or maybe something stronger.
Monday, 5 o’clock. After all the fuss and phone calls, it turns out it wasn’t my CVV code that they insisted was the problem. It was the expiration date. It was still the same expiration date that was in their file, so I don’t know why it decided to kick back. I peeled the egg off my red face, entered the profile again with the updated expiration date, and made a dummy sale that Sara, the wonderful customer service rep, said she’d delete. Bingo. The sale went through. Sara couldn’t delete it. So she didn’t charge me for that book either. I’m feeling a little guilty getting five sample books for free. After all, it was really my fault. I offered to pay. She refused. I guess I’ll just have to live with Amazon’s generosity.
Time for my afternoon libation before I send the next proof to CreateSpace.

Polly is the author of Insight, Hooked, Murder Déjà Vu, and Mind Games

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Bee Saga Continues

The bees seemed to have stopped moving into the new hive and are balling up on the dome again. Jeff, the beekeeper, came by today and looked in on the new hive. The process began three weeks ago with the arrival of the new hive and queen and the closing off of the old hive. (See blogs for April 14 and 20.) In a few days, any new bees are likely begin hatching and may not be accepted by bees still attached to the old hive, so it's important for the bees from the original hive to transfer to the new colony now.
Jeff lighted his smoker, which calms the bees, and sent a few puffs with the bellows into the hive before opening it. Although a small colony has moved in and settled down to business, they've only begun building new combs on two or three racks. But that was amazing. He pulled a rack out and found a nice new hive underway. In the picture, the black material at the edges is a sheet of plastic lightly coated with beeswax to encourage the bees to build a new hive. Looks like it's working.
Near the top, the comb is thicker and filled out. You can see where they're spreading downward as the cells thin at the outer edges. Jeff could see larvae in some of the six-sided wax cells, a good sign.
But the large cluster of bees at the dome over the old hive seems to be growing, so he decided to close off the old hive for a day or two and see if he could force them to move. Hence the duct tape. The bees got very agitated and clung to the metal pans.
A fine mist of water helps settle them too, and they don't fly well when wet. So we provided a small hose and he sprayed them. Then taking a chance, he scooped the bees into a cake pan (you never know what will come in handy) and dumped them into the top of the new hive. He did this several times, figuring he added at least a thousand bees. This technique isn't supposed to work, but he couldn't wait much longer and have the old bees accept the new hatchlings (some of my terminology may be a little off).
So now we'll wait a few days and see if the bees that were so unceremoniously dumped accept their fate or go to war with those already settled. The new queen will be protected by a group of drones already loyal to her. We'll just have to be patient and see what happens. 

A Kingdom by the Sea

Keukenhof Gardens

'Twas many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea . . . but in my case the kingdom was The Netherlands. Back when I was writing industrial training manuals, my company had a project in Spain, but the engineering was being done in Holland. So I worked in Haarlem for the entire month of May—you know, May? When the tulips are blooming?
We worked hard during the week with some great people. The Dutch are amazing. Their language skills put us all to shame. Most spoke at least three languages fluently. Few people can be witty in another language, but they could. They were helpful, patient, and nice to work with. Another thing that struck me was how many really tall people there were, women as well as men.
Dordrecht Harbor
Our group was given a choice of sharing a room in a more expensive hotel or individual rooms in a more basic place. The unanimous choice was individual rooms, and so we went. The motel was very clean and pleasant with a few differences. To say the beds were single was an understatement. Most of the men slept with their feet hanging over the end, and turning over required some care, but they were comfortable. The bathrooms were completely tiled with a drain in the middle of the floor. The shower head sprayed over most of the small room, so storing anything in the bathroom was out. Even the towels hung on the outside of the door. The clothes area was a raised floor topped by a rod. You stacked clothes on the raised area and hung things above, no door or curtain. But each room had a desk and chair with an Internet connection. Very efficient and not uncomfortable.
On weekends our time was our own. Hard duty, that. Keukenhof, the famed tulip gardens, wasn't far (nothing in Holland is very far). I went to Gouda (pronounced HOWduh) and Kinderdijk, to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and to Apenheul Primate Park, a wonderful zoo in Apeldoorn where the smaller monkeys roam freely among the visitors.
That May was one of the great experiences of my life. Sometime I'll tell more about this one. But if you ever have an opportunity, GO!
What are some of your favorite places? Do you enjoy traveling? What did you like least?