Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Writing Life -- Echoes

While working on my current piece of fiction, The Amber Tower, a sort of fairy tale, I've found echoes of things I've read in the story. This is a courtship story with a bit of a twist. Like Repunzel and unlike since the prince is the one in the tower. He has a month to choose one of two princesses as his bride. The sorceress guardian of the land has shown them a likeness of him but he can only view them from a high window in the story. The first twist is that he has a month to make his choice or be in the tower for life. The second is that is has been transported from his own land where he has been urged to marry by his mother and his father. The Witch of the Woods tells him she loves him just as she loved his ancestor a hundred years before and Rafel, the current crown prince can break the curse she placed on his family. His refusal sends him to the land of the amber tower. Not only is there the Repunzel thread but there is a touch of The Lady or the Tiger and an O. Henry bit at the end.

Now that I've discovered the echoes in one story, I wonder what echoes are in the others I've written. I also wonder if I'll be aware of this as I write each new story. At my age I've read a lot of fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps what all writers do is weave in hints of what their reading habits have been. Any ideas anyone?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Writing Tips -- The End

The ending of a story must be satisfactory. Yes, a happy ending is essential to some genres and some stories but not all stories have a happy-ever-after ending. The last part of a story must lead a reader to say yes, I can see that's the way it had to end.

But there are things leading to the ending of a story. There is the black moment or the crisis. This is when one or both of the main characters believes all is lost. The hero or heroine feels they will never gain love. The detective believes the criminal will go free. That's the sort of emotion the black moment brings. Following this the character or character must come to a decision and see what changes must be made so they can attain their goal.

Some books are hard for a writer to end. The characters have become really alive and it's like saying goodbye to a friend. One way to solve this is to do a sequel. When I was writing The Quest For The White Jewel, the editor thought the ending was all right but wanted me to do a bit more. That was the moment when it hit me that the story wasn't complete. Though the White Jewel had been found there were other jewels without Holders and there were also some of the baddies still running around. That was when I started the second book and untimately there was a third.

Here's a bit about epilogues. I generally don't write them because the ending I've written satisfies me, In romances, especially, an epilogue is often used to show the hero and heroine really have managed the happy-ever-after. I'm not sure this is necessary.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Writer Interview -- Marilyn Meredith

I met Marilyn at the first EPICON in Omaha and while we remain mostly online friends, I enjoy spending time with her talking about writing and other things when we meet in various cities for the conference.

1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?

For the last few years I've been writing mysteries--two a year, actually, since I have two series, the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series (Dispel the Mist is the latest) and the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, (An Axe to Grind is the lastest.)

2. Did you choose your genre or did it choose you? I love to read mysteries, and it seemed logical for me to write them too.

3. Is there any genre you'd like to try or one you wouldn't?

I've written historical family sagas and a romance with a touch of the supernatural. It's been an e-book for a long time, but the publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series is bringing it out as a trade paperback.

I know I couldn't write erotic romance or fantasy or science fiction.

4. What fiction do you read for pleasure? I still usually read mysteries, though once in awhile I'll read something on the best seller list.

5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing.

I've been writing since I was a kid--but didn't get published until 1981. I grew up in Los Angeles and got married right after I graduated to the cute sailor I met on a blind date. We had five children and though I wrote things like PTA newsletters and plays for my Camp Fire Girls to perform in, my fiction writing was put on a back burner for a long while. I had lots of jobs along the way, telephone operator, teacher in a pre-school for developmentally disabled kids, and I also taught in day care. For 23 years my husband and I lived in and ran our own residential care home for 6 developmentally disabled women. That's when I really started writing on a regular basis.

6. Which of your characters is your favorite and why?

I am very fond of Deputy Tempe Crabtree, a Native American. I've loved learning about her Indian heritage and figuring out ways to use in in my books. She is very real to me and I know her better than I know any of my family or friends--because I know how she thinks.

7. Are there villains in your stories and how are they created? Because I'm writing murder mysteries, every book has a villain--some worse than others. I have to create someone who would have motive enough to kill another person--and something that's fun to do.

8. What are you working on now? I just started writing a new Rocky Bluff P.D. which doesn't have a title as yet. That series has an ensemble cast; members of the Rocky Bluff P.D. and their families. Each book features different characters, though alll of them appear. This particular book is going to focus on Gordon Butler, a patrol officer who has been the comic relief in several books, in this book he's going to come into his own and be the hero.

9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive? An Axe to Grind is the latest in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series and I got the idea when I attended an Sisters in Crime meeting and heard a coroner tell about a murder victim who's been decapitated. (He even showed us slides.)

Dispel the Mist came about because I learned about the Hairy Man, the Big Foot like creature our local Indians believe in and knew I had to incorporate him in a story.

10. How does the book open? This is the opening scene of An Axe to Grind.

Chapter 1

Sergeant Abel Navarro fought to keep from gagging. It wasn’t only from the smell, though that was bad enough.

“Somebody really did a job on the poor slob.” Officer Gordon Butler spoke from the open front door.

“You could say that." Abel shook his head, had to be the understatement of all time. His wife, Maria, would have a fit if she knew he was in a room with this much spilled blood without any protective gear on. As a nurse, she’d lectured him many times about how airborne droplets of blood could contain the HIV virus along with other terrible diseases. He’d have to take his chances. Until the detectives arrived, there wasn’t anything he could do except make sure no one messed with the crime scene.

“You didn’t touch anything, did you, Butler?”

“Nope. Only poked my head in the door. It was obvious from here the guy was dead.” Gordon was the newest and youngest officer on the Rocky Bluff P.D. Mostly because of his gung-ho attitude, he had a record of mishaps. He’d calmed down a bit, and finally earned the respect of most of his fellow officers.

There wasn’t any need for medical help, though the EMT’s would arrive soon. The victim’s body lay sprawled in a pool of blood that had emptied from the neck cavity. The head was missing. Abel couldn’t spot it from where he stood about two feet inside the modest living room. Globs of blood and rivulets decorated the plain white walls, the beige slip-covered lumpy couch, and light green overstuffed chair. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any surface free from congealing spots of blood.

“What brought you to the scene?” Abel asked.

“Paperboy,” Gordon said. “Poor kid’s pretty shook up. Got him sitting in my unit now. He was collecting, went to knock on the door and realized it was open. Gave it a shove and this is what he saw. Jumped on his bike and went racing down the street. Flagged me down. I took one peek inside and called it in.” Gordon’s cheeks flamed red. Obviously, what he’d seen had shaken him too.

“I got your call about twenty minutes ago, around seven-thirty and notified Milligan and Marshall. They should be heading for the crime scene about now.” Abel longed to be outside to breathe in the fresh sea air. He would never get used to the pungent coppery smell of freshly spilled blood, the sickening stench of evacuated bowels and urine. Though murder wasn’t unknown in the seaside community of Rocky Bluff, this was one of the most brutal and gory he’d ever seen.

“Anyone around when you drove up?” Abel asked.

“Nope.” Butler nearly filled the open door with his bulk. His arms were crossed over his massive chest, and dark glasses hid his eyes. Bright pink colored his cheeks.

Abel glanced again at the victim, ignoring the gore, he took in the fact that the body was that of a white male. Including the missing head, he would be around five-foot-ten, slim build, no noticeable tattoos on his arms. The body was clothed in a striped polo shirt, khaki pants and sneakers. He had on a watch, but no rings. Studying the rather plain room, except for the body and the blood, nothing seemed out of place. It was an ordinary living room in an ordinary small rental.

The sound of squeaky brakes announced the arrival of at least one of the detectives. Taking care to walk out exactly as he’d come in, Abel stepped outside.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Genres -- Cozy Mysteries

A friend called me the other day and asked me to list some cozy mystery authors for her to read. I was totally blocked on this and had little to offer her. Just what is a cozy mystery? Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Reinhardt are two of the early writers of cozy mysteries that I read years ago. I've written a few cozy mysteries and my friend has read at least one of them and has been involved in critiquing others. Remembering some of the things I read in the past about cozy mysteries, I've come up with a few facts.

A cozy mystery involves an amateur detective. Much of the gritty parts of the murder takes place off stage. There is much attention to a kind of gossipy flavor with much studying of the other players in the story. Some cozy mysteries are done in first person so only the detective's thoughts are there for the readers view. When done in third person, the views are usually limited. The police can play a role but usually as support for the detective. These are not nitty-gritty stories. I'm sure there are other things that fit the subgenre.

What are your favorite cozy mystery writers? A good list would be fun to see.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Excerpt -- Murder and Mint Tea

This book and the main character Katherine Miller remain one of my favorites. Murder and Mint Tea was my first electronically published work. The novel grew from a short story rejection. The editor had purchased other stories from me but said this one sounded like the synopsis for a novel. So I set down and learned how to write novels. Rejected many times inclucing one rejection letter calling the story a perfect cozy that wouldn't be bought. Finally I went electronic and Katherine Miller's story has grown into a series of four books with the possibility of two more in the future.

Murder and Mint Tea
Chapter 1
Preparing The Ground

The pale winter sun shone through the kitchen window. I cleaned up the last of the mess from my adventure. The caper hadn’t gone as planned. How many do? In my many years of life, most of my plans had taken an unexpected turn.

Merup.” Robespierre, my Maine Coon cat, announced a visitor on the way. He’s almost as good as a doorbell. The firm rap on the door told me this wasn’t one of my female friends. “Come in.”

Pete Duggan strode across the room and thrust a bouquet of bright carnations into my hands. A red hue, almost as vivid as his hair, stained his face. “Mrs. Miller, got to hand it to you. I’ve come to eat crow.”

To hide a smile I buried my face in the flowers and inhaled the spicy fragrance. “How about chocolate chip cookies and mint tea instead?”

“Sounds great.” He straddled one of the chairs at the table and picked up the local newspaper. “Local Woman Thwarts Robbers.” His grin made him look like the ten-year-old who had moved into the corner house on my block. He cleared his throat. “The guys at the station ribbed me about this. Did you forget the plan?”

How, when the idea to catch the real thieves had been mine? A series of burglaries had plagued the neighborhood for months and had troubled me. Especially when the police had decided two teenage neighbor boys were the culprits. I knew the pair and had disagreed strongly enough to set myself up as a victim. Then I informed Pete.

“Did you forget?” he repeated. “When I crept up the stairs and saw you grappling with one of the men, I nearly had a heart attack.”

Heat singed my cheeks. “How was I to know my date would poop out early?”

After filling two mugs with mint tea I opened a tin of freshly baked cookies. How could I admit to a nagging doubt, or tell him I had wanted to be part of the action? In July I had turned sixty-five and in September retired from the nursing staff at Tappan Zee Memorial Hospital. Six months of placid existence had made me edgy. Lunch with friends, coffee with the neighbors and weekly bridge games with old cronies bored me. These events held none of the challenge of meeting crises at the hospital.

Pete scowled. “You could have gone to the Prescott's house.”

“They’re away.” I sipped the tea and savored the cool mint flavor.

“The Randal’s’ then.” He pulled the other mug across the table. “The guys insist the two of us make one perfect cop. Want to hire on?”

“I’ve no desire for a third career.” Until my husband’s death twenty-five years ago I had been the organist and choir director at St. Stephens Episcopal Church. Needing a way to support myself and my son, I enrolled in the nursing program at the community college. “Besides, I’m too old.”

“Old, never. You look the same as when we moved here.”

“It’s the dye.” His puzzled look tickled me. Dyeing my hair makes me look younger. “I came into the world with red hair and I intend to leave the same way.”

Laughter rumbled deep in his chest. “A worthy ambition you nearly fulfilled last night.” He touched my hand. “Thanks again. You kept me from making a mistake that could have ruined those boys.”

I lifted my mug and inhaled the aromatic steam. The evidence against the pair had been circumstantial and strong. They had done odd jobs at all the houses that had been burglarized. “I’ve known them since they were infants. Nothing I’ve ever seen in their actions to make me believe they were guilty.”

Pete made a face. “I’ve known them just as long. Didn’t stop me from suspecting them. How could you be sure?”

“Forty years of living in the same house has attuned me to the rhythms of the neighborhood.”

“Twenty years hasn’t helped me.”

“There’s living and living.” Some people are so concerned with the melody they never hear the underlying harmonics. As a musician I’ve learned to listen. As a nurse I know how to evaluate symptoms that are sometimes similar but are caused by different diseases. Those traits are a vital part of my nature.

I set the mug on the table. “Don’t blame yourself. You weren’t the only one to suspect the boys. No harm was done.”

He finished the cookie he held and rose. “No harm. Maybe some good. I’ll try looking beneath the surface.”

“That’s a great idea.”

He grinned. “I’m out of here. Work tonight.” He zipped his green down jacket. “How about acting as my silent partner?”

I laughed. “Go away with your nonsense.”

Just them the cat door opened. Robespierre made a grand entrance. Flakes of snow dotted his brown and black fur. His gait suggested a mission. He halted in front of Pete and banged the young policeman’s leg with his head.

Pete crouched and scratched the cat’s head. “Not my fault, old man. She jumped in on her own.”

Robespierre’s rumbling purr suggested he understood and accepted Pete’s explanation.

“He’s been out of sorts since the thieves visited.”

“Me, too.” Pete hugged me. “Never again. Promise. We need you around. Think about being a silent partner. There are times when I need someone to listen.”

“If listening is all you need, I’ll be here. No more active involvement in crime for me.”

“See you.” He clattered down the stairs.

Until I heard the front door close I remained at the top of the steps. Silent partner, no way. I rubbed the tender spot on my head where I’d been bashed. I had enough experience with crime to last the rest of my life.

* * *

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Writing Life

A new week and an almost new month. There will be some changes in my blog. Monday will be about what I'm doing, the gains in my wirting, the problems I'm having and other things about writing and my life. Tuesday will have excerpts from my books. Wednesday is genre days, Thursday interviews with published writers and Friday writing tips.

This week, the excerpt will be from Murder and Mint Tea, the genre Cozy Mysteries, the interview will be with Marilyn Meredith, a mystery writer who has been my friend since the first EPICON and Friday I'll finish up the Plotting segnment.

I am back from a trip begun in rain and ended in rain. Managed during the six days of travel with staying in a different place every night to do a bit of writing. Not as much as I wanted but rain travel is no fun. On the return trip, the rain was so heavy we missed the signs for an exit, fortunately not the one we needed. Spent some time with relatives and also with my husband's 50th medical school reunion. Seeing what time has done to people was interesting. The banquet had the worst food I've had for years. How can someone ruin crown roast been I'm not sure.

I'm back to the computer. Am completing the revisions of In Other Worlds -- Egypt and completing a draft of the Amber Tower. Have started the fourth and hopefully final book in the Henge Betrayed series, a YA fantasy. Also have to do some reading of things for the upcoming EPIC Ebook award since I decided to help herd writers with judging the contest. Also see what all I have for the historian role I volunteered to head the committee. Why I do these things I don't know but there's a part of me that hates to see a vaccuum.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Writing Life

I'm gearing up for a trip to Pittsburgh and other environs. Husband's 50th medical school reunion. I do not like reunions and I do not like to be away from writing for an extended period, but one does what one must. I'll be taking along a new project and the last chapter of the novella due at the end of June. When I return I'll be adding two features to my blog. One will be interviews with published authors and another segments from my books. The final bit of the Plotting exercise will be put on there then. Then I'll talk a bit about pacing. A fellow author once mentioned one of my books on a forum I belong to and said I was a master of pacing. I had no idea what he meant. The book was Obsessions.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Writing Hints -- The Middle

Some people find the middle of their stories sag or drag. This can happen but remembering the three hints for developing a scene should help. Showing characterization, advancing the plot and providing information the reader needs.

The middle is made up of scenes and the writer must become a juggler. Things to remember are what does each major character want, why do they want these objects, such as love, finding the criminal, magical powers and so forth. How does one person's desires effect the other characters?

Every scene in the middle of the book leads to the moment of decision. Sometimes known as the Black Moment. This is when the hero or heroine is faced with a decision that may win or lose them their objective. But that is part of the End of a story so that will be talked about later.

What I've discovered as the story unfolds, one has to look for a number of things in the middle of a book. Are their scenes that are repeats? By this I mean are their repeats of the kind of scene such as a dozen restaurant scenes. Are there scenes that don't really add to the story? Is the scene told from the right viewpoint? Sometimes changing the focus character of a scene brings a fresh eye to the project.

A very important thing is does the scene lead the reader to turn the page. Is there a question they want to see solved at the end of the scene. This has to do with pacing. I've often found switching to a totally different place or character makes me wonder what will happen next.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Books We Love contest

Books We Love Sizzling Summer Sweepstakes

Win a Borders Kobo eReader - Entry instructions on the Books We Love website: To enter the contest simply visit five of the author pages displayed on the web page index and sign the guest book of the author you choose to visit. Then fill out the entry form on the website and click submit.

PRIZES: (1) Every week until July 31 we will draw one winner to receive their choice of an ebook from any one of our Books We love authors. (2) On May 31, June 30 and July 31st we will draw three winners who will each receive an autographed copy of one of the print books displayed on the page. (4) GRAND PRIZE: Borders KOBO EREADERS on July 31st one lucky winner will receive a Kobo and their choice of any five Books We Love ebooks.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paranormal Romance Ghosts

I quite believe in ghosts having some glancing experience with entities I believe were ghosts and living in a town where there is at least one house haunted by a ghost. I'm not sure about having a ghost as a hero or a heroine. The thought of loving a spirit being doesn't seem possible. I remember the Ghost and Mrs. Muir when that was on TV. I just never enjoyed watching the show.

How do you feel about a ghost as a hero or a heroine? Do you know any good stories that use a ghost for this purpose? Since I love to read, I'm always up for new books.

My real objsction to a ghost as a hero or heroine is the inability to touch this person. Also to have a ghostly hand touch one gives me shivers and makes me think horror story, a genre I don't like to read.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Writing Life -- Deadlines

All writers face deadlines, some set by others and some set by ourselves. Mine are mostly self-set and often I beat them. Then there are the times when I don't. This is often caused by trying to do too many things at once. I have a deadline set by another for a novella, but there is also a new book to plan and one to finish proofing to send out. I tried to do all at once and found myself bogged down and going nowhere. What I had to do was tell myself to calm down. Since no one is waiting for the story I'm proffing, I can finish that when the time is ready. Once the novella is ready to send to a reader, I'll be able to meet the deadline. As for the plan for the new book, it's only ten or eleven pasge so I'll polish that off and move onto the novella. I'll stop panicking myself into thinking I need to be super-writer. Pacing is everything.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writing Tips Plotting continued

This is part 2 of Plotting. All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Before talking about the beginning, there are several things to remember.

Three places to begin your tale.
1. A moment before the action that will force a change in the hero or heroine's life.
2. In the middle of the action.
3. A moment after the action has taken place.

Another important series of three to remember. Each scene, bit of dialogue should do one of the following things. If you can bring two about, that's great. Hitting all three is wonderful.
1. Reveal something about the character.
2. Advance the plot.
3. Impart an important piece of information.

Keeping these things in mind, it's time to begin. The beginning of the book can be as much as a third of the book and must show the characters in action, to learn about their motivations, establish the conflicts both internal and external, show the setting and the time period. Often the book is started too soon or too late. There are times when I write a chapter one and find the only value is for me as the writer, not the reader. It's time to scrap that chapter. Other times I start a book too late and have to go back and do a scene before the one I originally intended to be the opening scene.

There are problems that happen during the opening of a book. Often times the first paragraph is intriguing. Then the writer spends pages giving the back story of the characters. A sentence or two won't bother the reader but paragraphs about the hero or heroine's life are more for the author's benefit than the reader. Save this kind of the story for times when it can be done in a sentence or two of through dialogue. Another problem is when the author becomen enamoured by the setting and spends paragraphs describing a house, a vista or something. In fantasies, sometimes more time is needed to establish where the characters are but these are details that can be brought into play during the action.

The opening scene is where the writer has to give enough information to intrigue the reader to comtinue reading. There are several problems that can creep in. There's the information dump that provides the reader with too much information. This can be back story or it can be scenery or other descriptions. There is the cast of thousands start where too many charactera are thrown into the mix in the first few pages. For me this is one of my faults. There is also starting with a dramatic scene like a car chase ro a volcano erupting and the hero or heroine fleeing from some drastic event. Problem here is how can the tension be maintained for the entire book. A hard act to follow is what I call this kind of opening.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Genres -- Time Travel

I've read many books that are time travels but I've never written one. I've had several that are billed that way but they're really reincarnation novels. One even tied for a Time Travel award from Affaire de Couer a number of years ago. What's the difference between what I write and a true time travel. In my stories the main characters in the past lives are reincarnated in the present or perhaps even in a series of lifetimes. History plays a large part in these stories. History plays a major role in time travel tales. So what's the difference? Maybe only a mindset or editors not sure what to call these things I write.

Time Travel means a person from contemporary times is sent by some means to the past or someone from the past is brought to the present. I've also written fantasies where a person from our world is sent to an alternate world. One is strictly a fantasy world and the other is an alternate to ancient Egypt. These are not time travel either.

What I like about Time Travel books is the history and watching how the hero or heroine learns to fit into the new world. Sometimes I have trouble believing the method the writer chooses to send them to the past. I also have trouble believing that once a person has gone back in time that they can return to the present without bringing some nasty diseases with them. What if they ended in a time where smallpox or the bubonic plague was a threat? That gives me the chills,

So what do you think of time travel and what clever ways have you read that allow you to buy the theory of going back or forward in time.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Writing Life -- An OHenry moment

years ago, I read every story O Henry wrote and enjoyed the twisted endings. Though I seldom write short stories these days, that's how I began writing and selling. Always in the back of my mind I dreamed of those twists at the end of a story but only once have I managed to fine one and that was in a very short story. The twist was she couldn't see the forest for the trees. This was a play on the names of the characters in the story. Today I had another one. At least to me it is.

I'm working on a novella and I had a rough sketch of it and began the first draft. For me this is an important one since it sets the plot in more solid form. As I came to the end, I knew the very last bit but I needed a surprise in there. Suddenly it was there and I laughed. Sometimes when things fall into place it's a shock and a pleasant event. I hope as I revise the story my surprise does the same for the readers. I may have to plant a clue or two earlier in the story but maybe not.

Reading is such a part of a writer's life. I may never go back and read the volumes of short stories I read years ago but I will keep on reading, Maybe I'll dip into poetry next. One never knows.

There will be some new topics coming to this blog soon. One will be interviews with other authors, excerpts from my own work. Keep tuned for new developments.