Wednesday, October 15, 2014

By Carola

I've just been in England doing research for my next two books. Here are a few pics from St. Michael's Mount, in Cornwall:
 The causeway--under water at high tide

Virtually impregnable, the island has been part of England's defenses for centuries. As well as these ancient cannon, it has 3 WWII "pillboxes".

 Nearly there...

To be continued... I'm jet-lagged and Blogger is being recalcitrant!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Canadian Angle – an interview with Eden Baylee, part one

After two fascinating exchanges with a writer friend in Australia, then another two with Scottish writer/friend Sara Bain, serendipity brings two more, this time with yet another friend who’s just published her first mystery and she’s in Canada. Eden Baylee and I ‘met’ through contributing stories to R. B. Wood’s The Wordcount Podcast some time ago. We’ve become regulars on the show and plan to contribute one or more joint stories at some stage. Eden’s been writing full-time since January 2010, producing literary erotica in the form of novellas and anthologies. Her new mystery/thriller, Stranger at Sunset, is her first full-length novel.

So, Eden, welcome. I knew we’d be doing an interview at some stage and the publication of Stranger at Sunset is a good excuse for it.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Bill. I’ve always wanted to come to Scotland, and this was the next best thing to boarding a plane and flying here. I’d always hoped that one day we might actually share a Scotch together.

Excellent idea. We’ll decide whose round it is later because it’ll include a transatlantic air fare.  But let’s start with the fact that you’re a Canadian. Do you find yourself being absorbed into the writing world as ‘American’ or is there a distinct Canadian identity in crime/mystery or indeed in writing in general?
In Canada, we take literature seriously, offering prestigious awards for novels that represent our country’s presence in world literature. Despite this, we’ve managed to accumulate a list of writers who are well known in genre fiction, specifically mysteries and thrillers. Linwood Barclay and Joy Fielding are two authors I’ve read, and they’re international bestsellers.

Canadian mystery/thrillers have risen from a marketplace that used to be dominated by British, American, and more recently, Scandinavian novelists. The success of Stieg Larsson’s books has created an appetite for unusual crimes, remote settings, and diverse protagonists. I believe Canadian writers have adapted, but whether the location of the book is set in Canada or not is irrelevant. I’m an international storyteller because I have a worldview. I’ve written stories set in Thailand, Ireland, and my current book is set in Jamaica.

In Canada, access to the news has always been international. I’m a news junkie, and I love to travel. Both these factors inform my writing, so unless my story is set in Canada, you wouldn’t necessarily know I’m Canadian.
Okay, who are you then? Give us a wee bit more background. I know you were a banker for twenty years before you became a writer full-time. That’s quite a transition. Was it difficult?
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been tremendously rewarding. I actually left my job after ten years to pursue a writing career the first time. I moved to New York City and immersed myself in the writing scene there. Unfortunately, not long after, I was diagnosed with cancer—talk about bad timing! It forced me to move back to Canada for treatment. The process of getting my health back took about two years, and by then I was no longer financially solvent.

I went back to work with the intention of staying just long enough to pay off debts – two years max, I thought. Who knew it would take another ten years before I got up the nerve to leave? My finances and personal situation were much better by then, but it was still difficult. I had a lot of fears associated with leaving and potentially becoming sick again. They weren’t realistic fears, but they paralyzed me nonetheless. Ultimately, what clinched my decision to leave was an even greater fear—that of regret. I’d rather fail than regret that I never gave my writing a real chance.

Yes, spending one’s time thinking ‘If only…’ would be very frustrating. So bravo for making the change. Would you say you have a particular writing style?
I’m not someone who deconstructs my writing, but readers seem to know my voice. My main purpose is to create a story that’s engaging and will keep the reader interested until the final page. As I’m a lover of conversation, many of my stories contain scenes with dialogue.

I stay away from too much description of setting and characters’ physical appearances because these passages bore me in books I read. I prefer to use my imagination to visualize a place and what a person looks like. This keeps me engaged much more than when I’m spoon-fed all the details.

But how about the change from writing erotica to a mystery/thriller novel – was that difficult?
Yes, but not because of the genre, more so because I’d never written over 30K words before. When I set out to write full-time, I started with erotica as I knew it well. I’ve been reading the genre since I was eleven, but I also knew I wouldn’t write it forever. I’ve always considered erotica best served as a short story or novella and never intended to write a novel in the genre. 

I enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers. There are lots of nuances in them and different ways to tell a story. I’m not a ‘blood and guts’ storyteller, so I don’t have the stomach to write police procedurals or crime novels. My interest lies in the motivations of people. That’s why I classify my book as a psychological mystery/thriller, because much of it is based on intellectual mind games.

I always struggle to find my titles but you’ve chosen a good one – Stranger at Sunset. Where did it come from?
It wasn’t my first title. I had several others including: Strangers in Paradise, Strange Encounters, Strange Liaisons, and so on. I settled on Stranger at Sunset because there are several meanings the title can take. “Stranger” can be both a noun and an adjective, and it alludes to how we view others as well as ourselves. “Sunset” refers to the time when a pivotal scene takes place in the book as well as the name of the resort.
I tend to like double entendres and wordplay in my writing.

Well, I read and enjoyed it and you definitely seem at home with the genre.

Time for a pause. Next time we’ll continue with some more general chat about writing and Eden’s approaches to it, including the value of a woollen hat.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Introvert Writers

by June Shaw

Many, in face probably most of us who write, are basically introverts. If we were life-of-the-party kind of people, we would have a most difficult time sitting alone for all of the hours and days and months or years most of us spend writing a book. And then another. And then another book and possibly more.

It's easy for an introvert to sit quietly for all the time it takes to create characters, settings, and plots. What do these characters want? Why can't they have that thing? What's another reason they can't reach their goals? Where are they? Is where your story takes place extremely important to your plot? Dig deep into the place's secrets and lies and all that is beautiful there and all that is not.

What's going to happen to the people you place in this setting, and how will they change? What ups and downs (more downs than ups please) will you create for these story people? How will this continue for a whole book? And maybe the next one in a series. And another....

If you needed to be in the midst of a crowd, you would have a more difficult time creating ideas and submerging yourself in the worlds you create on the page.

Now aren't you glad you're kind of shy?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Critique Groups—a Challenge and a Blessing

by Jackie King

Finding the right critique group can be a bit like dating. I can be time-consuming, frightening and emotionally painful. You may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. But if you’re persistent, the results can be a wonderful enrichment to your life. Only you can decide if it’s worth the investment of your time.

A good critique group is a valuable tool to any writer, but if you’re a beginning writer finding the right one can be a challenge. This process may take courage and determination. Many of the best groups are by invitation only. Some of these groups include multi-published authors who may seem intimidating to a tyro. But as writer Jodi Thomas often says with a laugh, “I was a 15-year-overnight success.” That’s true of more published authors than not.

To get started, begin hanging out where the writers of your genre are: their author pages on Facebook, writer groups, and writer conferences. Most writers are wonderfully friendly and helpful people. The money I spent attending writer’s conferences has put me in contact with many authors.

Remember, you can always start a group of your own. Take a writing class at your local community college and invite the students you meet. Look for an online group. I just Googled “Critique groups for Tulsa writers,” and found several opportunities. Two were local writer’s groups and one was an online writing group. This is the way you start.

Years earlier I was invited to join a group that has changed a great deal over the years, but because the participants were kind hearted, I’ve stayed. Now, there are only two founding members left in this group, but it has morphed into the gem of all critique groups. I trust these writers to tell me the truth and to tell it gently enough that I won’t want to go home and burn my computer.

If you’re starting you own group, set up guidelines to begin with and stick with them. One of the rules in our group is that we must always be kind as well as honest. Some groups have a rule that you must either bring something to read for critique or a writing information handout for each member.

These things are learned by trial and error. Don’t be discouraged if meetings for your first group begin to fizzle after a few months. Keep encouraging each other, and above all else, keep writing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Guest Blog: D.E. Ireland

Posted by Carola

D.E. Ireland is a team of award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. Long time friends, they decided to collaborate on this unique series based on George Bernard Shaw's wonderfully witty play, Pygmalion, and flesh out their own version of events post-Pygmalion.


As we write this, the film Gone Girl is still weeks away from its October release. There are legions of fans around the world hoping the book will be as suspenseful and riveting as Gillian Flynn’s corker of a novel. We’re right to be nervous about the outcome. Many excellent mystery and suspense novels have been turned into cinematic misfires. Others, however, hit their mark with deadly aim. Sharon and Meg briefly discuss their favorite film adaptation of a mystery, and ones they are still trying to forget.

Sharon: One especially egregious example was the film adaptation of Carolyn Hart’s Dead Man’s Island. This book launched the wonderful series featuring Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, aka Henrie O, a retired newspaper reporter. Our intelligent heroine is caught up in a first-rate mystery while trapped on an island during a hurricane. With a dead body, a colorful cast of suspects, and a nice twist at the end, how could the movie go wrong? Well, it did. I knew we were in trouble when girlish Barbara Eden was cast as the no-nonsense, sixty-something Henrie O. Everything went downhill from there.

By the way, I have nothing against Barbara Eden; she made a lovely genie. But the blond glamorous Eden seemed like an Orange County housewife, and not a retired famous journalist with graying hair and a penchant for jogging suits. Eden also seemed unable to imitate a Texas accent. Actually very little about the movie was convincing or suspenseful. The film also starred William Shatner, Traci Lords, and Morgan Fairchild – which only added to the misery of watching it.

My favorite Agatha Christie novel is Death on the Nile. It is a quintessential Christie story starring Hercule Poirot, and peopled with a beautiful heiress, an archaeologist, a socialite, a spurned lover, a French maid, an untrustworthy lawyer, a Communist, and a romance novelist by the delicious name of Salome Otterbourne. Cast as Poirot, Peter Ustinov was far taller than the little Belgian. But, being the consummate actor he is, Ustinov was entirely convincing. Small changes were made to the script that differed from the novel; these largely involved deleting several secondary characters. However the alterations did not change the story arc, nor make the movie any less entertaining than the book. Unlike Dead Man’s Island, the cast was spot on, the script faithful to Christie, and all of it filmed on location in Egypt. With a sweeping musical score as well. Of course, it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, and Maggie Smith. I have a feeling that Miss Christie would have been as pleased by the 1978 film as I was.

Meg: For a movie I can’t get out of my head, I’ll go for the gore of Sleepy Hollow. I actually enjoyed the movie, except for closing my eyes whenever another head rolled. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – published in 1820 – isn’t a true mystery, being based on a German folktale about a ‘headless horseman’ who rides through the wild woodlands. The lovely Katrina Van Tassel’s hand, along with a sizable dowry, is at stake. Two rivals emerge – schoolmaster Ichabod Crane (an outsider to the community) and the local prankster Brom Bones. Tensions escalate when Brom relates local legends at a party held at the Van Tassel farm. When Katrina turns down Crane’s marriage proposal, he heads home to Sleepy Hollow but encounters a mysterious figure who carries his head on the saddle. After a horseback chase, Ichabod escapes across a bridge, where the horseman throws his head in Crane’s face.

The movie with Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and the villainous Christopher Walken certainly was a mix of both horror and mystery. Sleepy Hollow morphs the hapless, mooning schoolmaster Ichabod Crane into a 1799 New York City police constable who is sent to the remote hamlet to investigate several gruesome killings. Crane has an interest in new-fangled gadgets which help him perform autopsies and lift fingerprints (just go with it, although historically it was another hundred years before Bertillon invented the technique).

Locals blame the beheadings on a headless Hessian soldier, who takes center stage. Brom Bones is a local hero whose head rolls. The movie’s pretty cool, given the Tree of the Dead clotted with the victims’ skulls, the twisty plot and many exciting chases through the woods and into the local windmill. Overall, much better than the short story if you love a great Hallowe’en-themed movie.

As for a disastrous adaptation, I’ll choose the 1965 film of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders starring Tony Randall. While I loved Randall’s work in other films, he was totally wrong as Hercule Poirot. He walks like an American, talks like a Frenchman (abhorrent to the Belgian character – French music even plays while Randall and Robert Morley walk in London), and his movements are stiff and clumsy. Horrors!
The dialogue in the screenplay – meant to be comical – comes off as cringe-worthy. Morley makes a goofy Hastings. Randall only stares at Margaret Rutherford who makes a cameo appearance (and an astute observation), but even that seems wrong. One would expect the two to compare notes.

The 1992 television adaptation of the novel, with the perfect David Suchet as Poirot and Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings, as well as Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp, is far better. The book deserved better treatment. The ABC Murders is one of Christie’s most intriguing plots, with a serial killer who leaves an ABC railway guide at each crime scene. He begins with Andover tobacco shop owner Alice Ascher as the first victim, then B exhill waitress Betty Barnard, and Sir Carmichael Clarke of Churston. When the pattern is broken, Poirot falls back on a simpler solution to the murders. Christie at her best, but the 1965 film butchered it – even Dame Agatha was displeased.

Good or bad, murderous movies do give viewers a 3-D picture – but often the book is much better. Being mystery novelists ourselves, we are not at all surprised.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Father Time Almost Kicked My Butt

by Jackie King

I love writing! It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. First I wrote at night, after working a day job. Twelve years ago, I was able to retire and begin living my dream of writing full time. For about eight years things were wonderful. Then my body started letting me down. I was forced to give thoughts to accommodating Father Time. My first reaction was to kick and scream and rail against this natural happening. What a waste of time.

Just living started to take all of my energy. Keeping up my 4-bedroom house, my yard and cooking meals left me too tired to write. I tried, but after about 20 minutes, I had to lie down for a while.

I fought this personal battle for much longer than I should have. Because of my own stubbornness, my  2nd Grace Cassidy mystery, THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, wasn’t getting written. Was my life as a writer over? I asked myself.

“NOT IF I CAN HELP IT” was my answer.

 My solution was to move into an independent living apartment complex where someone else would cook, wash dishes, and clean my digs. My continuing conversations with contractors of all kinds would be over. Whatever energy I had I could use to write.

This was pretty drastic for me. I’d lived in my 4-bedroom house for 40 years and accumulated a lot of things with precious memories attached. I’d have to get rid of most of my possessions. That was hard. Each book and each item on my shelves had some kind of sentiment attached to it. I struggled.

My youngest daughter was between jobs and said that if I wanted to downsize and move she would help me. She’s a genius at organization, and I knew she could make it happen. I have learned to follow my intuition, which some folks call their gut-feeling. Whatever one chooses to call this inner-knowledge, I believe it comes from God. I had such a feeling about this move.

Signing up for an apartment and calling a realtor to set everything in motion was a bit like stepping off the roof of a skyscraper into nothingness. But I wanted to continue writing. So I took a deep breath and marched forward.

To complicate things, I contracted pneumonia about this time. And sleep apnea. And a-fib. Downsizing and moving was a nightmare. Adjusting, traumatic. I had one serious melt-down which my sweet daughter talked me through. But I did it. And guess what? I love it. I call my 3-room-apartment My Writing Nest.

I finished book 2 in my Grace Cassidy mystery series, wrote a novella to include in an anthology, and am well into book 3.

I’M WRITING. Every day. And that’s what makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An interview with Sara Bain, part two.

by Bill Kirton
Last time, I was talking to Sara Bain about her first novel, The Sleeping Warrior.  Here's the rest of our chat

OK, here’s your chance to tell people why they should read it. Sell it to me (even though I’ve already read it).
The Sleeping Warrior is basically a crime thriller, police procedural and romance with an element of fantasy thrown into the mix. I wanted to write a contemporary novel that I could believe in, which also included that little ingredient of escapism. I suppose, if I was forced to categorise it, the book would fit loosely into the urban fantasy subgenre but it’s also much more than that.
The heroine of the story is Libby Butler, a self-centred ambitious young lawyer who has been emotionally traumatised by a close encounter with a serial killer. When she’s called to a south London police station in the middle of the night, she meets a man in the custody suite called Gabriel who is in need of help. But helping Gabriel proves perilous to Libby and everyone she knows. As the death count rises and fear is the only emotion left to feel, something inside Libby turns and her true self emerges.

The story is set partly in London and partly on the Isle of Arran where The Sleeping Warrior is a famous view of the mountains from across the Clyde. Gabriel is also the Sleeping Warrior in that he starts off in the story as a taciturn, enigmatic anomaly of society until he’s called into conflict. Allegorically, the Sleeping Warrior is also the dormant warrior spirit within us all.

I didn’t know about the allegory when I read it and it certainly helps to explain the richness of the character’s involvement. It makes me wonder how you want people to feel after they’ve read it.
I’d like a reaction like ‘Wow! That’s clever’ or ‘I love what she has to say’. I hope that anyone reading it will also appreciate the multiple layers of theme and nuance that are built into the foundations of the story.

Well, for what it’s worth, you had me hooked. As I said, I found it very rich and very compelling. Now let’s move to Ivy Moon Press. What decided you to set it up?
I started my career in publishing, albeit in professional text books for a legal publishing company. As an editor, I learned editorial skills and the entire process from commissioning to marketing. I’m also a graphic designer and very computer literate, so setting up my own publishing company just seemed like the natural progression to what I’ve already been trained to do. Having been a journalist for over 13 years, I know how to approach the press, which is a very handy skill when it comes to promotion.

And how do you see it developing? Will you have a stable of authors? Will its approach to publishing be different? Are you afraid that running it might eat even further into time that you’d prefer to spend writing?
Having been in the business for only a couple of months, I now understand why authors are so desperate to find a publisher! The publishing business is not always as straightforward as it would appear and before a book even hits the market there are many different fundamentals to consider that most authors aren’t aware of.

The learning curve has been more like a 1:1 gradient and I’ve found myself in the ring with the various internet publishing platforms: all of which say they’re human-friendly but none of which fulfil their promises of ease of use. I’m getting there slowly, though, and I’m now armed not only with knowledge but also with the benefit of hindsight.

I intend to publish the first episode of my ‘big’ fantasy by December and take it from there. I hope that my experience will attract other quality fiction writers whose works don’t fit into the comfortable niches devised by publishers solely for ease of promotion. My only stipulation is ‘quality’ and ‘fantasy.’ Anything more, I would consider a bonus.

Until Ivy Moon is fully fledged, I have no idea where this journey will take me but it’s my intention to offer support for all authors, irrespective of whether they fit the Ivy Moon list or not. I’m developing a part of the website which will provide a free showcase for authors – be they self or traditionally published. Obviously, this will have to start as perhaps a few sentences, a thumbnail cover image and a link to either the author’s website or the book’s retailer. I also want to feature resources for authors who are looking to hone their craft. This may take the form of guest blogs and clinics or even a link to good advice sites. I have lots of ideas and, through time, hope to incorporate them into the Ivy Moon site.

I should say also that, alongside Ivy Moon, my colleague has set up Oak Moon Press which will showcase Scottish works of non-fiction. We already have a number of quality Scottish authors lined-up and hope the list will progress in the coming years.

That all sounds very ambitious, exciting and daunting but it’s a great vision. It also seems to fit with the way the business is changing. I hope it goes well. Let’s finish with some wider, more general questions about you as a writer. You strike me as a pretty gregarious person yet writing’s a solitary pursuit. Do you enjoy that solitude?
I have a big family and come from an even bigger family, so I’ve never done anything in solitude. You’ll often find me writing, researching, talking on the phone and cooking dinner all at the same time. Also, writing allows me to escape into another world for a while and mingle with the characters there, so I really don’t know what it is to be alone although I’m sure my poor husband does.

So you have to deal with family matters, earning a living and writing. How do you juggle them all?
Kids are all at university and my full-time job is this publishing business so writing has had to take a back seat for the moment. Once The Sleeping Warrior is published, however, I’ll settle back to continuing with my fantasy.

Which presumably means another book, so what will that be about?
It’s called Dark Dawn and it’s the first episode of a sweeping fantasy entitled The Scrolls of Deyesto. I’ve been writing it for about 16 years on and off but I’ve settled down to re-writing this first book.

There’s no doubt, Sara, that you think big. Do you want to be rich, famous, both or neither?
Everyone wants to be rich, apart from those who already are. I don’t feel comfortable being in the public eye, so I’d prefer to give fame a wide berth.

That’s it, Sara. Thanks very much for such generous and comprehensive answers and good luck both with the book and Ivy Moon.
Thank you, Bill. It’s been a challenge but a pleasure. A wee reminder for anyone who missed it last time, you can get the book here in the UK, here in the USA and here on Goodreads.