Thursday, February 26, 2015

Falling in Love with Revision

by Jackie King

Do you love or hate revision? When I first started writing I hated what seemed to me a tedious and mostly unnecessary exercise. What could need correcting except perhaps, punctuation and spelling? I had stories to tell and a passion to write these tales from the depth of my heart. I did a fair job of it, too, I thought. I even managed to sell a couple of short stories. (This was some time ago and the short story market was good.)

My mother, an English teacher, also wrote and hung around with folks having the same inclination. One of her more successful writer friends, a local journalist named Vera Holding, dropped by with a draft she’d just banged out on her typewriter. (Those were the clickety-clackety, non-electrical machines that writers, businesses and students used for letters, manuscripts and such back in the dark ages.)

“Would you listen to my story and give me some feedback?” Vera asked, and we agreed, so she began to read aloud. I had seen this woman’s published work and expected smooth and polished prose, but that didn’t happen. Her story was so bad I couldn’t think of anything to suggest that might help. Her work was unsalable in my opinion. So I decided to be kind and lie. “That’s just fine,” I said, and smiled.

Mother, who knew the woman and her work much better than I did, made some suggestions to strengthen the plot, but nothing could save that story. Or so I thought. Her work had no plot; her characters were shallow and her writing seemed lifeless. But bless her heart, I thought, she’d not learn that from me.

The next day Vera came back and asked to read her revised story aloud. I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes, disappointed that I had to listen to that drivel a second time. But I was raised to be polite, so I folded my hands in my lap, crossed my ankles, and pasted a smile on my lips.

When Vera began to read something magical happened. The day before I’d been bored and even a little embarrassed by her writing. Now I was transfixed. Somehow this author had breathed life into her characters, their dialogue and the narration. The plot was still weak, but the protagonist was so compelling that I knew the story would sell. And it did.

That day I became a devotee to the power of revision. I also learned the difference between a wanna-be writer and a professional writer. Learning and applying good writing technique takes time and many, many hours of writing. But anyone who is willing to make the effort and to revise their work until its right, can master this skill.


Years have passed and revision is my favorite part of writing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Son (or probably Daughter) of The Figurehead

by Bill Kirton
The original
This blog’s intended to embarrass me. I only say that because it seems I’ve been mentioning the present Work In Progress for ages, maybe even years. Usually, once I start the actual writing of it, the first draft of a novel takes me about six months. This one is resisting me and it’s embarrassing that it’s taking so long. This is the story so far.

Way back, a friend, out of the blue, said ‘You should write a book about a figurehead carver’. At that point, I’d published 3 modern mysteries. But I like sailing boats, I live in Aberdeen, Scotland, which has a great shipbuilding tradition, and I love the Romantic period, so why not?

Research involved looking through the usual archive materials and reading newspapers about events in the Aberdeen of 1840. I also took up wood carving, so that I could get the feel of conjuring a distinct shape out of a big log. And I sailed across the North Sea as part of the crew of the beautiful square-rigger Christian Radich.

So there I was, starting yet another crime novel, but this time with no worries about DNA or any of the other CSI techniques. And I created a character, John Grant, who’s a figurehead carver. He’s also a handsome loner – you know the type – and he was going to be my Miss Marple and solve the mystery of the body found on the beach.

But all that was before I met Helen Anderson. She’s a young woman who resists the oppressions imposed on her sex in the 1840s and defies conventions. She’s bright, witty, self-assured and more complicated than I know. She’s also intrigued by the death of the man on the beach, a shipwright who was building her father’s new ship, which was to be named after her mother, Elizabeth.

I won’t go into details of the plot because I always find synopses very
An offshoot of my research - one of my own carvings
unsatisfactory. John continues with his sleuthing but it’s the intervention of Helen that gives him the final insight he needs to piece things together. Meanwhile, he’s carving a figurehead for the Elizabeth Anderson and, at the request of Helen’s mother, he’s making it a composite image of herself and Helen. So he’s coaxing her likeness from the oak in his workshop and the carving lies there continually reminding him (and me) of Helen. For her, the carving is an excuse to visit John and, incidentally, discuss their respective theories about the killing.

But what came to be far more important than the detective work was the growth in their relationship. She’s rich and, despite her intelligence, protected from any real awareness of the lives lived by the people who work around the quays of Aberdeen. But her curiosity and her determination to involve herself in her father’s world of trade and intrigue lead her to befriend the dead man’s wife and form relationships which would appal her parents (if she hadn’t already shown them her determination to be independent).

A dream come true - helming the Christian Radich
And, as she was doing all this, she quite quickly pushed her way to the front of the narrative – or at least to a position of sharing the spotlight with John. Neither admits openly to the fascination they hold for one another and love is never mentioned, but the tenderness, the tensions, the playfulness and the quarrels they have all suggest a passion which surely can’t be suppressed forever. So I found that I became far more interested in how their actions affected each other, how the mind of each was filled with thoughts of the other, and how their strong personalities clashed and sparked and led to more frustrations than satisfactions. And it all happened in that wonderful writing state in which you just sit there, listen to what the characters are saying, watch what they’re doing, and write it all down.

The novel ends on a kiss (after the mystery has been solved, of course), but now, here I am trying to get deeper into the sequel. It’s another crime novel because that’s what readers expect, but the main character is Helen, not John, and it’ll be as much a romance as a mystery – probably more. I’ve written a big chunk of it but the thing that’s holding me back is ‘What have they been doing in the twelve months since that first kiss?’ I still can’t answer that question or another which I’ve been asked by several readers – ‘Will John and Helen get together?’ I think they will but I really don’t know. In the end, it’s up to Helen. I just wish she’d hurry up and let me know.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Action is the Heartbeat of Ficion


by Jean Henry Mead

I once read a magazine article titled, “Action, the Heartbeat of Fiction” by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, which I thought was worth discussing. Rosenfeld said, “Action is a dynamic word that calls to mind a director hooting into a megaphone at his actors. It's also the heartbeat of good fiction that keeps readers riveted to the page. Action is comprised of all the elements a reader can 'witness' taking place. From physical movement to spoken dialogue, action transports your readers into your writing and brings your writing to life. Despite all this, many writers have a tendency to shuffle important action offstage, relying on pace-dragging narrative summaries and recaps instead.”

The solution to preventing pace-dragging scenes is to write them within a framework. By presenting scenes as though they were happening on a theater stage, all the drama takes place as it happens, not offstage and something for the characters to discuss. Readers remember what happens on stage and can make their own deductions. They needn’t wait for the characters to endlessly discuss what has just taken place. Cozies are exempt, of course, because violence and murder take place offstage. 

The scene’s momentum keeps the reader reading and her heart pounding as the action accelerates if the plot situation seems real, particularly when the character is in danger. Instead of characters talking about a past experience, replay the scene in flashback action. By reliving it in living color, the reader can experience it for himself. 

Another good way to involve your reader in a scene is to reveal information in dialogue. A good plot reveals new information in each chapter and one of the best ways to deliver the news is to have the characters act it out. Give the narrator a rest. It’s much more powerful to have events happen now than to hear about it later, secondhand.

Character movement is essential in a good scene, whether the protagonist throws a chair through a window in anger, or flicks ashes from a cigarette into his cup. Don’t leave your characters standing around without something to do. Body language is a giveaway when a character’s motives are in question. If a man drops his head when asked if he killed someone, it usually means he’s guilty or knows who committed the crime. If a woman lifts a palm to her chest while denying something, changes are she’s telling the truth.

If your character comes to an important decision or suddenly realizes that he has the answer to a problem, avoid internal monologue as much as possible. The realization will have more impact if it happens in someone else’s presence because it raises the emotional stakes for all concerned, as well as your storyline. 

And finally, turn your backstory into frontstory whenever possible or delete it from the plot. It’s usually spooned in as narrative summary instead of dialogue and lacks the elements of scene writing. Because it doesn’t take place in the present, there’s no dialogue or scene setting or action taking place. When that happens, the best part of backstory is casually written off without the slightest hint of emotion. And emotion definitely drives the plot.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Online interview: Superfluous Women

by Carola

Here's a link to an interview I did with mystery blogger Terry Ambrose: http://terryambrose.com/2015/02/carola-dunn/

It's about my next Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Superfluous Women, which deals with a rarely considered consequence of the First World War: Hundreds of thousands of men killed meant hundreds of thousands of women with no hope of the life they'd been brought up to expect, marriage and a family.

And here is a link to a poignant poem by one of the women  who found herself in this position, Vera Brittain
http://allpoetry.com/The-Superfluous-Woman

Saturday, February 14, 2015

MARDI GRAS

by June Shaw

Sure wish I could take time to write more--but it's Valentine and Mardi Gras, and I live near New Orleans.

Need I say more?

Have a terrific time!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Murder and Valentines

by Jackie King

The thought of Valentine’s Day always gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I can’t help myself. This all started back in grade school when we were allowed to decorate a special box or paper sack in anticipation of the valentines we would receive.

And in appreciation of Valentine's Day, I'd like to say that I can’t seem to spin a romantic yarn without weaving “Murder Most Foul” in with “Happily Ever After.” When my fingers hit the keyboard I’m immediately seized by the urge to murder some odious person on paper. ALAS for my LACK (pun intended) of control, but YEA for the fun of it. You see, I can choose any dolt I wish who has ‘done me wrong’ or ‘irritated the fire out of me.’ (Okie speak.)


The Inconvenient Corpse 1st Grace Cassidy Mystery

Since I write traditional (cozy) mystery, the violence in my stories happens off scene and my main character stumbles onto the body. Circumstances then drag this hapless person into the solving of the crime. In my novel THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE, poor Grace Cassidy discovers a naked dead body in her hotel bed. Then (as if she didn’t have enough problems dealing with an unfaithful husband), I add a rugged cop named Sergeant Sam Harper, who thinks our Grace did the killing but likes her anyway.

The Corpse Who Walked in the Door --2nd Grace Cassidy Mystery


In my second in this series, THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, the romance continues slowly. The slow pace is because my books are primarily cozy mysteries, and murder is the main focus.

At present I’m on the second draft of the next in Grace’s adventures, THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE.

Oh my! There’s nothing like murder and mayhem and secret lusting after someone who is totally wrong for you, to get a reader’s/writer’s juices flowing. I know, because those are the kinds of books I read until my eyes feel as if they have been sandpapered.

For other writers out there, I suggest you consider spiking your romance with a touch of mystery. For my favorite people, readers (and of course this includes writers who are avid readers) let’s chat for a minute about authors who excel at this skill:

Blackbird Sisters Mysteries by Nancy Martin:

Nancy Martin has penned the delightful Blackbird Sisters mysteries series. She begins with HOW TO MURDER A MILLIONAIRE and continues to A LITTLE NIGHT MURDER. And I just heard a new Blackbird book is in the mill. Martin also writes the brassier Roxy Abruzzo series featuring a monster dog and a monster truck, along with the madcap heroine.

Charlaine Harris doesn't just write about vampires! If you haven’t already done so, check out her Aurora “Roe” Teagarden line involving a young librarian and her evolving love life. Aurora “Roe” Teagarden begins as a stereotypical librarian wearing coke bottle glasses and sensible shoes. Her social highlight is a once-a-month meeting with other mystery enthusiasts to discuss murder. As might be expected, someone is iced and Roe becomes sleuth. She also evolves through the series into a sexy woman with an exciting social calendar. These books are well-plotted, exciting mysteries, combined with romance.

Have y’all (more Okie speak) read Elaine Viet’s ‘Dead End Job series?’ If not, you might want to read the first chapter of AN UPLIFTING MURDER (free on line). Bet you’ll love it. I intend to order my copy as soon as I finish writing this blog. She’s another writer who keeps me glued to the book until the last page is finished.

I've shared three of my favorites mystery/romance series. Let me know your best picks, whatever they may be, and if I haven’t already tried these authors I’ll download copies ASAP.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Can I help you? Obviously not.

by Bill Kirton
The charming but useless Matilda
A recent attempt to get an online answer to a very simple question saw me directed to one of those ‘Ask Penelope’- type pages, where you’re confronted by a photo or a ‘cute’ cartoon of a pretty, smiling woman, with a speech bubble saying ‘Hi. Let me help you.’ Fifteen minutes and an avalanche of oaths later, I gave up and wrote and sent the company a letter (yes, on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp). I wasn’t asking a bank about my account but, in essence, what follows is not too far away from the experience.

Hi, welcome and thank you for using our helpline. Before we start, have you checked our FAQ to see whether your question has been dealt with there?

Yes.

OK. The recent most frequently asked questions are:
What is my current balance?
How can I transfer money from an account in Nigeria?
How can I link my sick grandmother’s account to my own?
How long would I have to wait after her death to claim her outstanding credit balance?
What is my reference number for tax purposes?
Is there another reference number I can use?
Does any of these cover your query?

No.

OK. Can you tell me in a few words why you are calling?

I have lost my account’s reference number and am unable to log in.

Thanks. Am I right in saying the query concerns your account?

Yes.

I’m sorry, but in order to answer questions on specific accounts, we first need you to enter your reference number.

But I don’t have it. It’s lost.

I’m sorry, could you repeat your question please?

I have no reference number. I’ve lost it. I can’t log on.

Just to be clear, do you want help with:
Logging on?
Your reference number?
Lost property?
Your current account?
Another account?
Our shareholders’ protection policies?
None of the above?

My reference number.

OK. Reference numbers are required for logging into your online account. Does this answer your question?

No.

OK. Just to be clear, do you want help with:
Logging on?
Your reference number?
Lost property?
Your current account?
Another account?
Our shareholders’ protection policies?
None of the above?

None of the above.

OK. Would you like to continue? Please choose one of the following options:

No. Thank you.
Yes. I need more help.
Yes. Please give me some other choices.
Yes. I want to ask a new question.

Yes. I need more help.

OK. Please enter your reference number.

I don’t bloody have one!!!!! That’s the point!!!!

OK. Would you like to continue? Please choose one of the following options:

No. Thank you.
Yes. I need more help.
Yes. Please give me some other choices.
Yes. I want to ask a new question.

Yes. Please give me some other choices.

OK. Does your query refer to:
The balance in your account?
Your credit rating?
Potential investments in fish-farming in the Outer Hebrides?
How Greece’s financial situation might influence your future choices of investments?
How to create an ethically sound portfolio?
How to create a real portfolio?
The advantages of being a resident of the Cayman Islands?
No questions asked, tax-efficient accounting?
None of the above?

None of the above.

I’m sorry, could you repeat your question please?

What’s the point, dickhead?

OK, just to be clear, to which dickhead are you referring:
The Manager?
The I.T. consultant?
The web designer?
Our chief accountant?
The Governor of the Bank of England?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer?

And so on, and so on… Who designs these things?