Monday, October 18, 2021

Emotional Depth

I’ve been trying to show emotional depth through dialogue for my protagonist and a secondary character who are crucial to the success of finding the protagonist’s kidnapped girlfriend. An author friend suggested that I think about the characters speaking to me and how I'd like that to sound.

I hadn’t thought about creating dialogue from that perspective. I try to look at the world through my main character’s ‘eyes,’ but when I tried to put myself in his ‘head’ and ‘heart,’ all I found was empty space. It's my job as a writer to fill those voids.

A basic tenet of writing is “know your characters.” I flunked that part. Back to the drawing board for more character development.

Update: I was working on a scene to add more emotion, and I guess I succeeded. My eyes filled with tears, and I sniffled. My dog came over to offer comfort.


Friday, October 1, 2021

Writer’s High

As a writer, you learn what times and conditions are most productive for your writing. I write best in the morning, before I distract my mind with emails, chores, and daily life.

I was thinking about my work-in-progress before I fell asleep, and it was on my mind when I woke in the morning. I scribbled seven pages on how to escalate the conflict for my protagonist’s love interest who escaped her kidnapper but is lost in the forest.

She hears a chainsaw, and she’s following the sound to where she’ll find people and rescue—but a ravine is between her and them. She’s injured and physically unable to climb down, across, and back up the other side, so she must find another way. I wrote such a high energy, physically active scene that I sprained my wrist.*

I’m on a writer’s “high” even though the pages are on top of a stack of papers that have yet to be typed into the manuscript.

(Dirty little secrets… After my first and second books were published, there were still scribbled pages of notes that hadn’t been typed up. *The sore wrist is really from yesterday’s heavy yardwork.)

 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Character Rights

Can literary characters file complaints for the treatment they receive from an author?

Case in point, Lynn Carter, the love interest in my current work-in-progress, is living a nightmare. She’s been kidnapped, injured on the job, and expected to perform dangerous feats of physical strength and endurance without the proper training. On top of that, she’ll disappoint many people if she doesn’t show up at the scheduled time to perform her maid-of-honor duties in a few days.

Admittedly, I am interfering with her personal activities for which she has pre-approved vacation time. And she wasn’t informed of the hazards of the plot and setting when she took the job.

I think Lynn filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA would never approve of the hazards in my book’s plot and setting. They left a message on my voicemail last week – something about a workplace inspection.

As the author, am I legally responsible for characters’ health, missed commitments, and any lasting psychological impact my plot lines might have on them?


 


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Life Changes

The Bedroom (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh
When my adult son asked to move back home, I envisioned pushing the queen size guest bed into the corner so he could set up his desk and work - with the rest of his stuff in a local storage unit.

Nope. His vision was stripping the room bare of furniture, then refilling it with a king size bed, a king size desk, a small couch, and a 60-inch flat screen tv. Oh, yeah, and the monster speakers. (I may need to get hearing aids so I can turn them off when the volume from his room gets too loud.)

I’m actually looking forward to the move. I predict he’ll upgrade the internet on the first day. I have six online writer’s meetings a month, and either my screen freezes, or I get the dreaded “Your internet connection is unstable” message at least half-a-dozen times an hour.

I’ll get a live-in dog sitter for when I travel, and he’s looking forward to organizing my garage. What’s not to love? 


 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Beyond Word Count

The word count for my current work-in-progress is hardly growing, and because of the way I write, I can’t look at that number for gratification.

I don’t write sequentially from the story’s opening sentence through ‘The End.’ I revise scenes I’ve written as I go along before I’ve completed the manuscript’s first draft. The day’s ending word count is often lower than when I began.

What the word count doesn’t show, though, is the impact the revisions have made to my story. I tweak the plot, develop characters, and strengthen scenes.

When I feel the need for authorial gratification, I read from the beginning and immerse myself in the story. I’m always amazed at the manuscript’s improvement, and I feel inspired to forge ahead.


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Unusual Jobs

I took a literary side trip with a short supernatural piece I wrote for a themed anthology. In it, a character needed employment, so I searched the internet for unusual jobs. These are some of my favorites.

  • Dog food taster
  • Fortune cookie writer
  • Herb strewer
  • Hippotherapist
  • Iceberg mover
  • Marmite taster

But with the writing’s supernatural slant, I was hoping to find job titles more along these lines:

  • Alchemist
  • Astral projectionist for the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cephalopodiatrist
  • Ghost biographer (not to be confused with ghost writer)
  • Piranha dentist

Now that post-pandemic hiring is on the rise, I wonder how many of these job titles might be filled.


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Letter from Jail

Detective Scott McGregor’s best friend, Ryan Talbrook, will be arrested in the first Lynn Carter cozy mystery. I tried to imagine what incarceration would be like and wrote this letter from jail.

Dearest Brother,

I am ashamed to admit I have been arrested twice in the past week and am writing this from an 8x10 jail cell.

The first arrest was for loitering in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store during this heat wave. My defense of being old and having trouble remembering what I was there to buy was not believed by the judge who had heard the same defense by the seven other customers picked up at the same time. (Three of them are in the cell with me. We’ve been sharing recipes.)

My second arrest was for biological terrorism using the US Postal Service. The main Portland P.O. sorting station was evacuated yesterday. They traced the return address of the stink bomb to me. I was charged with violating the Stilton Act of 1997 which states “no stinky cheese should be mailed through the U.S. Postal System without proper refrigeration.” How did I know it would take 17 days for the cheese (your birthday present) to travel from HB to Astoria? I’d included an entire tray of ice.

So, Dearest Brother, Have a Great Birthday! and if you can spare the time, please call the Feds and give me a (good) character reference. Although I can raise the bail, they won’t let me out on my own recognizance.

In other words, another year, still no present.

Your Loving Sister,

Inmate 727

 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

New Series, New Dog

Berger Soil Images: Berger Picard Mix
I grieved when I made the decision to skip my planned fourth Detective McGregor mystery. The second and third mysteries occurred out of town and McGregor wasn’t the lead detective. McGregor’s best friend is the prime suspect in the fourth mystery, so conflict of interest prevents McGregor working that case as well.

The series arc wouldn’t suffer without this story. But I liked the basic plotline (which was already developed), the setting, and the title.

It was a sticky situation, but with my first cup of tea in hand and my trusty dog beside me, a win-win solution crystalized in my mind. A spin-off cozy series featuring Lynn Carter, Scott McGregor’s girlfriend!

With a few minor modifications to several scenes, and a one-word change in the title, the intended fourth book in a detective mystery series is now the first book in a cozy series. Another out-of-town McGregor mystery was immediately reassigned as the second Lynn Carter Cozy.

And for a bit of eye candy, meet Maisie, Lynn Carter’s Berger Picard mix. Also known as a Picardy Shepherd, this is the breed in the movie ‘Because of Winn-Dixie.’


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Creativity

Developing new plot ideas gets easier with practice.

I started with one scene idea. It was an image in my mind when I woke one morning. Brainstorming converted that image into a plot. The plot came alive and converted itself into a series.

Once my imagination and creativity muscles got a little exercise, they took over. Story ideas pop up unexpectedly. Last week, for example, the weather was hot and humid. As I tossed and turned trying to sleep, my discomfort transformed into an opening scene for a new mystery story idea. Not all the ideas are keepers, and some are blended into other stories as scenes or sub-plots.

A year or so after I started writing, I bought a new bookshelf and recycled some old binders to keep my writing ideas organized. It helped, but I still jot ideas in notebooks scattered around my house and never quite seem to get them added to a binder.

The ideas pile up faster than the publications. So far, I’ve published two mysteries, one children’s book, and short contributions to several anthologies. If my entire idea collection was published, I’d need a larger bookshelf.




Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Evidence?

Sometimes I investigate an incident (crime) at home (scene of the crime) through the eyes of my police detective character (Scott McGregor).

Collecting evidence is part of a policeman’s job. Trash at the scene of a crime may have been discarded by the perpetrator. The trash is sent to the lab where fingerprints and trace evidence, such as hair and fibers, are collected and recorded.

Once the crime scene has been processed, the detective sifts through the evidence looking for leads. Sometimes the collected evidence doesn’t relate to the crime. Trash may have been discarded before or after the crime by persons other than the perpetrator. Some leads may be ‘red herrings,’ evidence that is misleading or distracting.

This discarded candy packaging was found in my locked office. Initially, it appeared to be damning evidence that I had violated my diet and ate the candy. Upon closer inspection, though, a white Border collie hair was discovered resting on the lower edge near the left corner. Is this a red herring, or evidence that the dog ate my candy?


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Inspiration Strikes

No one wants to read about flat, cardboard characters. The antagonist in my current work-in-progress suffered from two-dimensionalism with only occasion bulges of 3D. I needed to round out the character.

Inspiration for character development came from an unexpected source. One of my secret vices is browsing the lost and found dog pictures on the local animal shelter website. I already have a dog, and I’m not getting another, but I enjoy looking.

One German shepherd-type dog was so skinny, his backbone and ribs showed through his skin. I decided he could be a lost dog the antagonist befriends. I might have the antagonist see the dog from a distance and wonder at first if the animal is a coyote.

Now the antagonist has ‘someone’ to care about. The dog makes a good listener and companion as the antagonist struggles with unexpected conflict.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Real Locations


In fiction, a good guideline is ‘don’t use a real business for something bad.’ Readers like to recognize the setting in a book, but a business isn’t likely to appreciate a notorious crime occurring in their establishment.

Should the author use fictitious settings or change the names to protect the innocent?

Whichever the author chooses, the reader wants to feel immersed in the story’s setting. If the story doesn’t occur in an area the author knows well, a research trip could help the setting come to life on the page.

I took such a trip to realistically describe the setting for my current work-in-progress. But I just realized my fictitious crime scene business is in the same location as an actual business offering the same services. I had come up with a story idea, searched for the ideal town, then used the town as inspiration for description.

Do I have a problem, and if so, how do I solve it? The easiest answer is to change the town’s name, but I intentionally set the story in this specific town. I could move the business, but the crime is linked to the specific location. Does the ‘fictitious use’ disclaimer on the publication page cover this situation?


Monday, May 3, 2021

Reader Expectation

Reader expectation is a powerful force. Effective story openings introduce main characters and the dilemmas they’ll be facing. Themes and settings are suggested. By the end of the story, the reader expects the characters and themes to be fleshed out, and the dilemmas to be resolved one way or another. The reader also expects a satisfying ending – happy or sad – with the loose ends tied up.

Expectations also apply to non-fiction genres, including craft books on writing. Several years ago, when I first began writing, I bought craft books I saw highly recommended online. One of the books I ordered sight unseen was Stephen King’s On Writing (2000, 2010 paperback). The book arrived, and I saw the subtitle: A Memoir of the Craft. On page seventeen, the first page of narrative after his three forewords, King states, “This is not an autobiography.” I stopped reading on page twenty-three. I had expected a craft book; instead, I had purchased a mildly interesting autobiography.

I signed up for a writing course that begins later this month. One of the pre-course homework assignments is to read Stephen King’s On Writing. I pulled it from the discard pile and knocked off the dust. This time I made it to page one hundred-three before tossing it on the ephemeral “Should Be Read” pile. At least I’d found a helpful editing example on pages fifty-six-to-fifty-seven. I’ll read the remaining one hundred-eighty-eight pages before the course starts. In those pages, I expect to find the jewels for which the book is so highly recommended.

* * *

On the other hand, if you want a craft book that shows examples of what not to do from an editor’s point of view, consider How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (2008). I chuckled at the Introduction and belly-laughed through Part I. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this helpful and highly entertaining book.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Defining Characters

Source: Geeden blog

How can an author create characters who are distinct individuals? The obvious answer is to know them. Many writers interview their characters, write their backstories, and get to know what events in their lives molded their current personalities.

When I ran across this Left Brain-Right Brain image, it helped me determine what characteristics might be grouped and represented in different individuals. (Both halves of the brain actually work together.) I made a chart of the characters in my current work-in-progress (WIP). Half of the characters jumped out as displaying more Right-Brain traits. Two showed more Left-Brain functions. And two presented with characteristics of Both.

I also considered Introvert vs Extrovert and filled in the chart with this characteristic. Knowing my characters’ occupations and how they react with others helped me determine which labels applied.

Then I analyzed the chart, and patterns emerged (Left-Brain behavior). I noticed my Right-Brain characters are Extroverts, and my Left-Brain characters are Introverts. One Both-Brain character is an Introvert, the other is an Extrovert. My WIP characters are four couples. Only one couple is mixed Introvert and Extrovert. The same couple is mixed Right and Left Brain. I wonder if these patterns exist in the general population or only in my imaginary book world?

Characters in Forever After: A Detective Scott McGregor Mystery



Thursday, April 1, 2021

Happy Anniversaries!

Today I celebrate two anniversaries – four years since I began writing (Camp NaNoWriMo April 1, 2017) and two years since I began retirement (April 1, 2019).

What have I done since those milestones? Published books and traveled the world.

How will I celebrate? No telling, but I’ll call if I need to be bailed out of jail.

 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Read!

I’ve reignited my reading habit. I used to read two or three books a week but somehow stalled during the pandemic.

I grabbed The Caller: An Inspector Sejer Mystery by Karin Fossum from my dusty to-be-read pile. I was amazed at her skill layering in backstory and subplots for multiple characters. Fossum moved smoothly between multiple point-of-view (POV) characters in the same scene – something I’ve been taught not to do. I don’t know if writing styles have changed since the 2009 publication, if the difference in technique is due to the book’s Scandinavian origin, or if this is the author’s personal style.

Reading The Caller demonstrated lessons from an online class I just finished. POV, internal dialogue, backstory, descriptions, deep dives into thought processes and emotions, etc. all shone from the pages. I have frequently run across the advice to read – a lot – to improve your writing, and this book supports that advice.

The reading habit should be instilled early in a child’s life. My favorite children’s literacy program is AHHAH’s Pop Up Lending Library (PULL) Station campaign. View the PULL Station photo gallery to see these artfully decorated boxes which are filled with free books. If you want to build your own PULL Station, download a how-to manual.

Develop (or strengthen) a healthy Spring habit – Read!


Monday, March 8, 2021

Celebrate Everything!

The pandemic lockdown began one year ago in mid-March. I was attending my first ever book-related convention, Left Coast Crime, in San Diego. The convention shut down the first day.

Recently, the occasional bouts of cabin fever have hit more frequently. I’m burned out on online meetings, and writing doesn’t fulfill my need for escapism. Television, the great time waster, leaves me feeling restless.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Celebrating the little things will re-ignite my interest. And March has many things to celebrate – first month of the year starting with an “M,” daylight savings time change day, St. Patrick’s Day, the beginning of spring, and birthdays.

Millicent Hart’s birthday is March 26th. I won’t be throwing an invitation-only gala with formal dress, champagne, and hors d’oeuvres, or inviting the characters from the first Detective McGregor mystery, but I can have a real birthday cake. I’m looking forward to it already.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Valentine Gift

Silver Thaw by Wayne Woodcock

This year I gave myself self-care for Valentine’s Day.

Permission to kick back, relax, and enjoy the simple things. A conversation with a friend. A walk in the park with my dog. The beauty of nature in a silver thaw.

Permission to replace self-criticism with self-acceptance and to be proud of small accomplishments. A productive writing day. Meeting two writing goals in one week. That’s the “trick” to accomplishment – setting goals and meeting them.

I’ve strayed from the literary path and lost the daily writing habit. I stopped setting small, easily-attainable goals. Without the structure of a writing habit, my progress has floundered.

Baby steps will lead me back to productive writing habits. I can’t write a novel today, but I can write 500 words. And I can do it again tomorrow and the day after. For at least five days a week. Writing daily keeps the story fresh in my mind so I can be more productive with less stress.

These are the lessons I have to keep re-learning every time I stray off the writing path.




Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sluggery Basics

When I was asked to create an online class based on a short fantasy piece I wrote for an anthology a few years ago, I was hesitant. But OmniOcademy “offers a whimsical interactive approach to education, entertainment, and enrichment,” so I felt my topic would fit right in.

I hit the internet and began researching slugs. I found some wild and crazy reproductive behavior, but I wanted to keep the material family friendly. Although Sluggery Basics: Raising, Training, and Showing Your Slug is based in fantasy, many scientific facts are included. The early chapters apply the pet care of dogs and cats to slugs. Later chapters equate slugs to horses.

It’s been stressful developing the Sluggery manual, taking a serious online writing craft class, working on the third Detective McGregor draft, and trying to have a life all at the same time. Now that the writing class is finished and the Sluggery manual is organized and under control, I’m less stressed.

In the last couple of days, I’ve seen the course come alive online. An intro page for the course exists on the Ocademy website. I’ve seen content from the first half of the course online. Today I watched the newly created introductory video. I’m excited.

Now I’d better get back to work and finish the remaining chapters.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Killer Suspense

Recently, I’ve been exposed to the richly layered and textured plots of other writers through Sisters in Crime (SinC) online classes and by beta reading a critique partner’s manuscript. In comparison, my plots are simplistic but seem to work well within the format of the short novel and the novella previously published as the first and second cases in the Detective Scott McGregor mystery series.

Detective McGregor’s third case, Forever After, is a suspense / thriller. The reader knows who dunnit from the start but learns the what, the why, and the resolution of the crime as the story evolves. Mastering suspense techniques will make the story shine.

Fortunately, “Killer Suspense,” a SinC online class taught by Simon Wood, begins next week. Simon will teach techniques for creating and maintaining suspense throughout the book that keeps the reader turning the pages. I’m looking forward to an intensive and rewarding class.

At the moment though, my greatest suspense is whether I’ll finish writing the Sluggery Basics manual before the Academy of Omniosophical Arts & Sciences online classes begin in early February.


Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year!


Historically on New Year’s Day, I’ve either made resolutions for the new year—that I usually don’t accomplish—or review the successes from the prior year. But 2020 is metaphorically in the rearview mirror, and my recommendation is: DON’T LOOK BACK!

2020 went out with a bang for me personally, though. On December 31, I was notified I won an award* for a story I submitted.

My 2021 calendar is already packed with online writing craft classes. And my publisher has me on a strict production schedule. (I’m going to stick to it, even though I love the Whoosh! of deadlines screaming past.) I owe her a project by the end of January – a ten-lesson training manual: “Sluggery Basics: Raising, Training, and Showing Your Slug.” The course will be presented online through the Academy of Omniosophical Arts & Sciences. My course description and qualifications can be viewed on the Preceptor (instructor) page.

My casino-themed book release party for the second Detective Scott McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation, was originally scheduled in January at my favorite English tearoom. Life intervened, and rather than having an online launch party, I’ve postponed it so my friends and family can meet in person.

Wishing you the best in 2021.

* Participation award. Everyone who submitted a story for the zoom Christmas party is receiving a prize. I’m guessing it will be a coffee mug with the writing organization’s logo on it.