Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Be Lucky by Bill Kirton

Two recent experiences made me start thinking about the role of luck in our writing and publishing careers. First I received an email from an online writer friend whose books weren’t selling and who was beginning to doubt her writing abilities. I tried to reassure her with my answer that it’s something most writers feel some of the time.  Then came news of some other writers who’d decided to give up because they’d been targeted by trolls who’d written nasty reviews of their books, sometimes without even having read them. My friend needed some luck to generate interest in her books, the others were being brought down by bad luck (and the incomprehensible desire of some people just to hurt others for their own amusement).

I remembered having written an article a few years back about the balance between luck and laziness in my own writing career. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here but it concerned one of those weeks that make being a writer very satisfying. I was feeling good because I’d started a new novel, there was a good turn-out at a reading and talk I gave, then came news that a publisher was interested in some of my sci-fi/fantasy stories and finally, on the Friday morning, proof copies of a non-fiction book I’d written arrived along with a message saying the publisher wanted to commission two more in the series.

So, all good news when I set off for Glasgow for the weekend of my grandson’s 5th birthday. Needless to say, my two grandsons weren’t particularly  impressed by any of this. As far as they’re concerned, my writing skills are judged on whether I can make them laugh when they come into my bed in the mornings. Needless to say, their laughter isn’t provoked by elegant turns of phrase or dramatic linguistic and thematic juxtapositions but by me doing funny voices and creating characters who live inside walls or have two mouths so that they can talk and eat simultaneously. (This particular detail involved an interesting sub-plot about the anatomical separation of vocal chords and alimentary canal and, if the listeners had had their way, would also have involved an exploration of what happened at the rectal end of the process.)

So altogether it added up to a happy weekend. But what’s it got to do with luck?

Well, when lots of ‘results’ of this sort come together, it feels like (and it is) luck. But it has to be put in the context of the many weeks or months, of ‘lucklessness’ which preceded it. We get pleasure out of writing, we work at it, cut, edit, polish, to make it as good as we can, and we send it away hoping that it reaches someone who appreciates it and recognises its quality. So when we get the usual rejection slip or, worse, no acknowledgement at all, we’re deflated, and it’s easy to start wondering whether we’re deluding ourselves and should maybe start a paper round or a window cleaning business. No. Keep writing, keep submitting material. Rework it, resubmit it because, yes, in the present market you need luck but (cliché alert) you make your own. If you stop writing and submitting you’ll never get lucky. I know, that’s so obvious it’s hardly worth stating, but it’s too easy to start thinking it’s all a waste of time. It isn’t. Look back over material you may have forgotten, look at it critically, amend it if necessary, and start sending it away again.

As for the trolls, their need to hurt others reveals more about them than it does about you. How many of them ever have the pleasure of opening a package, taking out a shiny new book with their name on the cover, cradling it and feeling as if they’ve just had another baby?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moors, mystery, and murder

by Carola

Moorland has provided a setting for a great deal of fictional (and some real) mystery and mayhem, at least since Wuthering Heights and probably before. The example everyone knows is, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is set on Dartmoor.

Someone recently told me the stories she had read planted an image of moors in her mind that she found to be very inaccurate when she went to England and saw the Yorkshire Moors for herself. When I was in Cornwall last month, I hiked a corner of Bodmin Moor that I plan to use in my next Cornish mystery, so I'll share some pics of the hazards to be met there:

Animals, domestic and wild, and what they leave behind them





   Vicious plants

Rough country







Unexpected sink holes

 and mine shafts not guarded by restored pit-head buildings

















Plenty of room for mayhem, methinks!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Featuring Guest Blogger Marilyn Meredith

My Writing Process

by Marilyn Meredith
The author at a writer's conference

First I should say that I am not an outliner. However, that doesn't mean that I don't plan ahead.

Because I'm writing a series, I know my main characters. I begin by thinking what kind of crime Deputy Tempe Crabtree will have to solve--usually a murder. If a murder, who will be the victim, the motive, and who had a motive--usually more than one person.

At the same time, I want something to be happening in Tempe's private life. Sometimes it's a continuation of what was happening in the last book. 



I have a notebook where I start writing things such as character names and descriptions and plot threads. 

My goal is always to come up with a first sentence that will hook the reader. Once I have that I can usually start writing on the computer.

While I'm writing, I continue keeping notes, especially what happens on each day. I started doing this when an editor pointed  out that I'd left out a day in one of my manuscripts. 

I try to write five days a week and the best time for me is morning. 

I read each chapter to my critique group, and make changes and corrections the following day. I consider that as my first edit.

Once I've finished, I go through the whole book. I do the Word edit and spell-check. 

Next, I send it off to the publisher and it is assigned to an editor. The edits may come back to me a couple of times. 

And last of all is when the galley proof arrives--that one I print out and go over carefully. 

As most authors know, no matter how many times a book is checked,  a typo or two seem to slip into the printed book. I think there are gremlins afoot that attack a book right before it goes into print.

And for those who often ask, I don't play music when I'm writing. As for what I drink, I begin my day with Chai latte.

Marilyn

Blurb for River Spirits:
While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Bio:
Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at 



Contest:
The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during my current tour.
He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.


Tomorrow you can find me hanging out with George Cramer http://gdcramer.com/ and I’m talking about taking a break—or not.

Links:
From the publisher, all formats:

For Kindle:

Amazon paperback:
For Nook

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stick to your theme by Bill Kirton

Earlier this year, I wrote and recorded a new story for Richard Wood’s excellent Word Count Podcast. For those of you who haven’t yet come across it, you’ll be able to link to the relevant episode here.

It’s been running for a couple of years and I’ve written several stories for it. One of the things I like about it is that Richard sets a theme and, since I tend to be reactive in most things, I like the challenge of responding to something I might never have thought of. Anyone can send in a story, poem, song (although it’s mostly stories) and if it’s good enough it’ll be included. The intention is to support the short story form as well as authors by giving them another way to attract new readers.

The reason I mention it now, though, is because of the process I went through with this story. Ever since last year’s Edinburgh ebook festival, when Dennis Hamley gave a great series on the supernatural and ghost stories, I’ve been meaning to write one. Part of Richard’s prompt for the podcast is a photo taken by Matthew Munson (that’s it on the left), and it struck me immediately that it was exactly the right sort of setting. The trouble is I’m not a fan of ghost stories, nor am I a believer in the supernatural, so the idea of having some apparition wander down the dark street, however atmospheric the lighting, dressed in Elizabethan gear and vaguely wailing, didn’t attract me.

I won’t tell you what the story’s about in case you decide to listen to it, but the first half (maybe more) has nothing remotely ghostly about it. It’s only when the narrator walks under the arch that the supernatural (if that’s what it is), creeps in. But I only decided on the nature of that supernatural (so to speak), as I was reading a piece about the film Gravity in which Alfonso Cuarón, the director, said ‘Before the story, you start with the theme’. Their theme was ‘adversity’ so they started thinking about survival scenarios and there was no mention of a space setting.

So, going from his sublime (it’s a great film), to my ridiculous…

I’d already written the first half, I knew the narrator had to go through the arch and I knew the sort of experience I had in mind for him when he did. But I wasn’t sure how to make the ‘reality’ of it acceptable – not necessarily by the reader, but by me. I had no idea what to write. So I tried applying Cuarón’s technique, decided what the story’s theme (or perhaps main image), would be and gradually teased out how it might work. I then rewrote the first half and the second half was much easier. I think it works, although, of course, listeners might well – and probably will – disagree, but I think the important point to make is that, whatever genre you’re using, stick with a consistent theme so that, however far from ‘reality’ it may be, its internal coherence is consistent.
It just showed me yet again that, however much we’ve written before, we’re still always learning how to write.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Series or Single Title?

by June Shaw

In years past there were Nancy Drew mysteries, which countless people who became writers of mysteries read. I've heard many multi-published authors say they became inspired by reading those books. I am sad to say I read none of them. I wonder if it would help for me to read them now, although I think not. I think that to write modern mystery series better, I need to continue to read current ones. But if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time.

I was blessed to have many people my age in my neighborhood and a park and large public pool and schoolyard with lots of activities that kept me outside having fun, so I must confess I seldom sat inside reading a book that wasn't for homework while I grew up. There was band and twirling practice and sewing for home ec, and if my English I teacher told me he was sending me to a literary rally for English, it wasn't my fault. Most of the test was grammar, which I knew well, especially because my mother annoyed me by always correcting the way I spoke as a young teen. Yeah, I won. Blame it on her and our excellent teacher.

But none of the fun I was experiencing included much literature. In class we read poems (Ugh, I thought, although I wrote and sold a few years later) and short stories (better), and mythology (fun!), but we never had to read a novel, so I didn't. Just occasionally someone handed me Little Women or some other classic and I sat still long enough to read it. Then wonderful people and events came to life.

But none of those books started a series. They stood alone, strong and proud and making me wish I could read more of them. I guess that's why more authors started to write series. By that time I was a young bride having one baby after another (yep, good Catholics down here in S. La.), and who had time to think of reading a novel, much less a series?

Now the kids are grown. Their kids are growing, too. And I have discovered series--for mysteries and romance. I find that I often enjoy series more than stand-alone, although not always. It's characters that will keep me going back to spend more time with them. I also write both--series and stand-alones.

What about you? What type books do you enjoy? Does a series hook you and keep you, or do you prefer to discover someone and some place totally new in each book you read?


http//www.juneshaw.com









Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Knit one, kill one...

posted by Carola

Julie Turjoman is a widely published knitwear designer, who is so enamored of 
1920s fashion and period mysteries that she suspects she must have been a flapper in a 
former life.
 
'It was inspired by Carola Dunn’s lady detective character, Daisy Dalrymple, who never left home without her “emerald green cloche” in the first few books of the series.'
 

It’s a quirky theme, I admit. But the opportunity to combine my profession as a knitwear designer with my twin passions for Roaring Twenties fashion and period mystery novels was simply too tempting to resist.

A Head For Trouble: What To Knit While Catching Crooks, Chasing Clues, and Solving Murders is my latest knitting book.


 It draws on fictional 1920s lady detectives for inspiration, and the result is a collection of 20 hand knits that combine vintage glamor with a modern sensibility. And throughout its pages, murder and mayhem lend a dangerous edge to the traditionally gentle image of knitters with the quiet clicking of their needles and their skeins of soft and colorful yarn. Ten fashionable crime busters from popular period mystery novels swan through the book’s pages, wielding binoculars (the better to spot a villain from a distance), tipping back flasks of Prohibition-era gin, inspecting poison bottles, and of course, wearing the knitted designs with great panache.

Let’s consider these lady detectives, and examine their place in the world of traditional mysteries. Agatha Christie’s deceptively sweet little old lady, Miss Jane Marple – a knitter herself - is among the early female detectives to achieve lasting fame in the genre. In several modern mystery series that look back to the 1920s and ‘30s for inspiration, their authors capitalize on both the skills that women bring to the art of detection, and the societal shifts and contradictions of the “between-the-wars” era that made it a viable career option. Detective work became possible for women only once they had achieved the independence brought about by WWI, when many served as volunteers, munitions factory workers, nurses and ambulance drivers. After the war, women lived independently in greater numbers than ever before, owned and drove their own cars, and continued to work in professions previously open only to men. 

Like these fictional lady detectives, whose sleuthing skills are usually undermined or dismissed outright by their male counterparts in the local police force or Scotland Yard, the knitting needle itself has been given short shrift. Its potential as a murder weapon should not be underestimated. While its true that knitting needles are traditionally employed in the creation of baby blankets, tea cozies, and tweedy cardigans, few realize that sharp-tipped metal needles are in almost every knitter’s project bag, and that they’re positively lethal. And then there are circular needles: two sharp points joined by a length of strong plastic cable. Perfect for garroting one’s intended victim, wouldn’t you say? 
 

And let’s not diminish the role of yarn as an accessory to murder. A ball of yarn makes an ideal gag when stuffed into the victim’s mouth. An unwound skein, with its tremendous tensile strength, is just the right length to loop around a victim’s throat for quick, neat, and fail-proof strangulation. And yet whenever I travel by plane with several of these potential weapons in my carry-on bag, not once has a TSA agent either confiscated them or even pulled them out of my bag for inspection. As a knitter, I appreciate their trust – but if I had murder in mind, it would be another story!


In fact, I’m hoping someone will write that story. Already I can imagine the opening scene; a demure-seeming woman sits quietly knitting under the warm glow of a lamp in her living room. Her needles click softly, yarn spooling out of the ball at her feet into the beginnings of a new sweater for her husband.

But wait; downstairs, her husband lies crumpled in his ‘man cave,’ light from the televised football game playing over his frozen, startled features. A small, circular wound in his chest glistens with blood, but that’s the only sign of what transpired.

Who will take it from here?