Discovering Character-And Other Things

I should know Jo, my main char­ac­ter by now—I’ve just com­plet­ed final edits of the sec­ond mys­tery, plus a short sto­ry pre­quel. But she con­tin­ues to sur­prise me. I’ve been resist­ing.

Why? Hey, she and I start­ed out the same age with the same child­hood mem­o­ries, but our per­son­al­i­ties and life expe­ri­ences are dif­fer­ent. Over the years that I wrote and rewrote that first mys­tery, I aged, while Jo kept get­ting younger. By the time a small press said, “Is your man­u­script still avail­able? We want it,” I was near­ly eighty and she was some­where in her late six­ties (nev­er specif­i­cal­ly stat­ed).

As I start­ed the sequel, I thought, 61. Yeah, sounds about right. But, as I wrote, I decid­ed, maybe late 50s. That’s old enough to have the his­to­ry I’d sup­plied. Some of those mem­o­ries could be from Grand­ma, or a par­ent. Or, she’s into old stuff. Then I added a TV ref­er­ence I remem­ber watch­ing with my kids. My kids are most­ly in their 50s. So I wrote away, decid­ing she was that age. But, I still  had those ‘old’ ref­er­ences. Jo described her­self as old in a vari­ety of ways. I do not think of my 50s daugh­ters as old. They do not look old. Perhaps—I just didn’t think.

Until, I saw an arti­cle about Valerie Bertinel­li with her cook­book.8-13 Bertinelli cover She’s 55. Yoiks! How can that be? I remem­ber her on TV as a teenag­er. I’m real­iz­ing that fifty is def­i­nite­ly the new thir­ty. Final­ly, I have an image of my fifty-some­thing Jo—maybe not a beau­ty, def­i­nite­ly not a Valerie twin, but cer­tain­ly not a hag. And a whole new image of my mar­ket. And the pos­si­ble cov­er. And pos­si­bly a redo of the first cov­er. And, def­i­nite­ly, a redo of Jo’s atti­tude. She’s been much too laid back about the guy who’d like to know her much bet­ter. I mean, let’s have a lit­tle chem­istry there.

And maybe I’ll try Valerie’s recipes. (I do love to cook!)

 

 

Do You Tweet?

Some days I tweet, some days I don’t. Today, for some rea­son, I put up sev­er­al tweets on dif­fer­ent sub­jects. I linked them to my blog, or to an Ama­zon site. I can’t say if Ama­zon got any clicks, but my blog got a cou­ple. They were about books—nothing about any of mine, but com­ments about oth­er books and favorite books. Did a click­er then go to the oth­er books’ Ama­zon sites, maybe buy a book? I don’t know.

_Fish or Cut Bait coverSpeak­ing of tweet­ing, those of us who con­tributed to the Fish or Cut Bait anthol­o­gy decid­ed to tweet and retweet other’s pro­mo­tions. I’ve done so a cou­ple of times. But, there are so many tweets fly­ing by, I haven’t seen any to retweet. (And that’s anoth­er thing I’m unable to check for any kind of ben­e­fit.)

I like to add pic­tures to my tweets, a book cov­er, usu­al­ly. Does that make a tweet more notice­able? Prob­a­bly. Or, does the read­er just get tired of see­ing so many, often the same pic­ture repeat­ed­ly? Yeah, I’m sure that hap­pens too.

I’m not all that savvy to use Tweet Deck or any such pro­gram. I’ve tried a cou­ple, unsuc­cess­ful­ly. So, I’m not a tweet expert. I tweet in the dark, you might say.

How about you? Shall we just bum­ble along togeth­er?

That Final Edit

Every day when I sit at my com­put­er, I see a clip­ping I cut out years ago. It’s a pic­ture of a dog and a cat. In these days of viral videos show­ing ani­mals of all kinds play­ing with each oth­er, this one typ­i­fies the usu­al belief of dogs and cats as wary ene­mies. The dog’s head seen from the rear tips ever so slight­ly toward the cat. The cat gin­ger­ly pass­es the dog while watch­ing for any way­ward move­ments. It’s an illus­tra­tion from a book for writ­ers, The Pock­et Muse. It illus­trates the sen­tence, “Most good sto­ries are about trou­ble,” and includes a list of trou­bles.

When I look at that page, even more than trou­ble, I think, sus­pense, sus­pi­cion, what if…

Today I’m pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to that illus­tra­tion, since I’m deep into a final edit of a mys­tery, I know my read­er must have that same sense—that some­thing will sure­ly hap­pen, but not in a good way. Will the read­er be slight­ly dis­ori­ent­ed, pos­si­bly leery of ques­tion­able actions, even fear­ful of what might hap­pen to a char­ac­ter on the next page? Will the read­er turn the next page?

Ah, that is the eter­nal ques­tion.

So, even after my man­u­script has under­gone peer review with a cri­tique group, a full pro­fes­sion­al edit, and a perusal by a beta read­er, I’m going over it again. I’ve not­ed arti­cles in the recent Writ­ers’ Digest issue on revi­sion, I’m check­ing my pages for vio­la­tions of the 24 prob­lems explained in Chris Roerden’s Don’t Mur­der Your Mys­tery. (Okay, that one is my Bible.) And, espe­cial­ly, I want to make sure each chap­ter, each scene, each page entices the read­er to eager­ly turn the page.

And, if I’m suc­cess­ful, my read­er will have a mys­tery that pro­vides exact­ly what the read­er wants—a good book—a sto­ry that sat­is­fies and pos­si­bly edu­cates in some small way.

Camp NaNo

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-Banner big

I’m busy at Camp NaNo. Pic­ture me sit­ting around the camp­fire with my tent bud­dies, snarf­ing down S’Mores. Okay, not real­ly. That short sto­ry is wait­ing, as well as edit­ing the new mys­tery. I’ll let you know how I’m doing next week. (Just start­ed yes­ter­day.)

Camp-s-mores-2Those S’Mores are look­ing good! Maybe just one.

Yum.

Okay, maybe two.

Oh, heck. Can’t leave just one!

The Writing Road

I meant to write about the road not tak­en today, to fret about missed oppor­tu­ni­ties in the past. I won­dered, what would have hap­pened had I tak­en anoth­er road? Some years ago I went, with a group of women, to vis­it our state house. We were greet­ed by our new state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, a neigh­bor. When my friend informed him I’d just had a children’s sto­ry accept­ed by a major mag­a­zine, he asked me if I’d like to work for him, cor­re­spond­ing with vot­ers. Although I knew he’d hired anoth­er neigh­bor whose spe­cial­ty was design­ing love­ly bou­quets to help him with pub­lic rela­tions, I remind­ed him it was a children’s mag­a­zine, hard­ly fare for adults. Some years lat­er, after I start­ed writ­ing mys­ter­ies, I’d think, what if I had tak­en him up. Just think, I then could have writ­ten mys­ter­ies about the ins and outs of polit­i­cal life, and point to my expe­ri­ence. Per­haps that would have inter­est­ed agents and pub­lish­ers. And, I might have closed this post with advice for the young—jump at every oppor­tu­ni­ty.

But, I don’t want to talk about that today. Instead, I like the road I’ve actu­al­ly tak­en. Today I real­ized it was only six years ago when, after a few hun­dred agent rejec­tions, despite a few nib­bles along the way, after writ­ing and rewrit­ing sev­er­al books, I almost decid­ed to start a blog and give way my old­est, most rewrit­ten man­u­script chap­ter by chap­ter. But first, in June, 2009, I decid­ed to give small pub­lish­ers a try. Final­ly, I suc­ceed­ed with the third pub­lish­er I con­tact­ed. And they worked fast. By August they asked to buy it. By Octo­ber 1, it was edit­ed, copy-edit­ed, cov­er designed with my input, and pub­lished. A few days lat­er, I turned 80. But, with that accep­tance, I felt val­i­dat­ed.

The book was love­ly. My friends bought it and loved it. How­ev­er, it didn’t make much of a splash. I’m grate­ful to that small pub­lish­er for actu­al­ly giv­ing me the belief that my writ­ing was of val­ue. But when my two-year con­tract ran out, I didn’t renew it, but took back my rights. With the new ease of self-pub­lish­ing, I could do just as well on my own. I had anoth­er mys­tery ready to pub­lish. Since then I’ve also pub­lished a YA mys­tery and a non-fic­tion nar­ra­tive of my father’s adven­tures as a young man. I’ve had short mys­ter­ies pub­lished as well. And, I have a sequel of that first mys­tery just about ready to meet its pub­lic.

So, per­haps I missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty years ago. No mat­ter. I don’t live in the past. I can remem­ber the past, think fond­ly of what has tran­spired, see my chil­dren and their chil­dren suc­ceed, enjoy life with my hus­band. I also look for­ward to the future and what will tran­spire.

My path took me down anoth­er road. I like this road just fine. How about you and your writ­ing path? Are you hap­py with the road you’ve tak­en?

War of 1812 — Kent Island

In August, 1813, Cap­tain Charles Gor­don, U.S.N. said, “MARYLAND INVADED…it appears the ene­my have tak­en pos­ses­sion of Kent Island, and that the inhab­i­tants of every descrip­tion have removed to the main land…From the cir­cum­stance of land­ing can­non on Kent Island, it appears to be the inten­tion of the ene­my to keep pos­ses­sion of it for some time; and cer­tain­ly a more eli­gi­ble sit­u­a­tion could not have been select­ed for their own safe­ty and con­ve­nience or from which to annoy us.”

Burning in Kent County

Burn­ing in Kent Coun­ty

Indeed, on August 5, the British, with two thou­sand men and sev­en­teen ships, took over the island. British Admi­ral John Bor­lase described Kent Island as a “valu­able & beau­ty Island which is half as large as the Isle of Wright…a cen­tral Point between Annapo­lis, Bal­ti­more, Wash­ing­ton and the East­ern Ports of the State of Mary­land.” After they pre­pared the island, they launched raids on St. Michaels and Queen­stown. How­ev­er, they left on August 27 to sail to their win­ter quar­ters.

One rea­son they left so soon was because of the heavy storms they had encoun­tered in the pre­vi­ous Sep­tem­ber.

This bit of his­to­ry and oth­ers that I’ve shared added to the reen­act­ment of the for­got­ten War of 1812 in my upcom­ing mys­tery—For­got­ten Body. In fact, some I’ve read today means I have to change a few things in that upcom­ing man­u­script. Saved me from a major his­tor­i­cal boo-boo. Of course, since all the char­ac­ters live in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, any mis­state­ments they make could be blamed on igno­rance. But Jo (my amateur/reluctant sleuth) is smarter than that.

I just said that, didn’t I? My char­ac­ter is a person—not an exten­sion or imag­i­na­tion of my brain. As a writer, does that hap­pen to you too? As a read­er, do you think of the char­ac­ters as paper dolls or real peo­ple? As a read­er, when I enjoy a book, I’m firm­ly in the “real peo­ple” mind set.

 

New Writers’ New Book

5-25-5th grade coverI’m one of the retirees who have been help­ing ten fifth graders who want to write. (When oth­er kids see us pass­ing through the school halls, they ask, “Are you the grand­mas?” Yep, that would be us.) This week we will deliv­er their fin­ished book. They will each get two copies—one to keep and one to give away to a favorite per­son. (Or, two to keep—their choice.)

All of the chil­dren wrote one, or more sto­ries, we edit­ed them, made sug­ges­tions, they learned that writ­ing is also rewrit­ing. Some illus­trat­ed their sto­ries. One cre­at­ed the cov­er. One boy was def­i­nite­ly writ­ing a book, but he man­aged to make a sto­ry out of the first two chap­ters. One of the girls seems des­tined to take Steven King’s place, but since she was also pro­lif­ic, we encour­aged one of her sweet sto­ries.

They accom­plished quite a bit in a half hour a week, espe­cial­ly since 5-25 5th grade kidsthere were sev­er­al late days for snow that seemed to always hap­pen on our Tues­day morn­ing at the school. They did their writ­ing on a com­put­er eas­i­ly using a hunt-and-peck sys­tem they had each worked out for them­selves. (Although it was easy to trans­fer their work, I real­ly do think it might be bet­ter to teach typ­ing skills before using the key­board. But I’m def­i­nite­ly of the old school—learned how to type in high school on a man­u­al type­writer.)

But, enough of that. I enjoyed work­ing with the kids. I’ve got to say, at least one inner city school is giv­ing the chil­dren lots of choice in their edu­ca­tion, for we could not have done this with­out some coop­er­a­tion from the over­worked teach­ers.

Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a ques­tion I sel­dom ask myself. I write mys­tery (most­ly) tak­ing place in the cur­rent time, and in the coun­try where my books are sold. I don’t have any char­ac­ters speak­ing a for­eign lan­guage.

Oth­er books, often ones I read, are set in past cen­turies or oth­er coun­tries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfa­mil­iar. That’s handy. There are oth­er instances that neces­si­tate word lists—often involv­ing unusu­al occu­pa­tions, or even hob­bies. But cozy, or almost cozy mys­ter­ies? Most read­ers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needle­work, antiques, pets, and the var­i­ous occu­pa­tions of our favorite ama­teur sleuths.

Now, back to my ques­tion. One of my mys­ter­ies involves boat­ing. The fol­low­ing is a para­graph that may have non-boaters think­ing I must have missed a few gram­mar lessons in ele­men­tary school.

The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcom­plete­ly dry. Lit­tle col­ored plas­tic tags lay, woven into the fiber to mea­sure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was any­thing under­neath? Not tonight. Too much trou­ble. I flashed around the inte­ri­or one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I mis­spell some­thing? I checked a boat­ing site from the Great Lakes. This is a sen­tence describ­ing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gen­tly back down on the anchor to set it in the bot­tom.”

RODE — anchor chain or line (rope) that attach­es the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT — to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor lock­er so the anchor is low­ered

Or, is that just too much? Per­son­al­ly, I think so. I don’t mind read­ing a book with a few things I have to infer from con­text. What do you think?

Indi Authors And Libraries

Most inde­pen­dent­ly pub­lished authors have heard of J. A. Kon­rath. They fol­low his blog and his progress with his inde­pen­dent­ly pub­lished books.  He took his tra­di­tion­al­ly pub­lished books back from the pub­lish­er and suc­cess­ful­ly pub­lished them him­self. Oth­ers joined him. He’s the first true guru to many indi authors.

Now he’s going a step fur­ther. He has start­ed a pro­gram that’s still in beta form, one to sup­ply e-book man­u­scripts to libraries. It is called EAF-Ebooks Are For­ev­er. Instead of a library buy­ing a man­u­script for a lim­it­ed num­ber of bor­rows, it will buy a copy that is good for­ev­er. (The same way libraries buy phys­i­cal books.) And, just as with phys­i­cal books, the e-book can only be loaned to one per­son at a time. For a pop­u­lar book, a library would buy mul­ti­ple copies, just as they do with phys­i­cal books. Sounds like a good idea to me.

A full-size book would be pur­chased for $7.99, no mat­ter its price on line, even if it is offered for free. It would prob­a­bly already be avail­able for sale every­where, not locked into one venue, such as KDP.

Kon­rath envi­sions even­tu­al­ly offer­ing every inter­est­ed inde­pen­dent author’s books to libraries. I’d like to join. I tried, but the site doesn’t seem to be accept­ing oth­er con­trib­u­tors yet. But I’ll watch for any updates. Mean­while, to learn more, click high­light­ed words to see Konrath’s blog expla­na­tion. Find EBooks Are For­ev­er here.

 

Snoop, Student, Writer

I’ve had friends ask, after read­ing one of my books, “Where do you get your ideas?” My hus­band asks, “How do you think all that up?” I’m quite sure every writer gets the same ques­tions. And, like me, the answer might be some­thing like, “I’m not exact­ly sure,” or pos­si­bly, “Or, here and there.”

writing SnoopyThe true answer is com­pli­cat­ed. It’s a bit like the way I fol­low a recipe when I’m cook­ing. Love the pic­ture that goes with it. Beau­ti­ful. The ingre­di­ents? Oh, sure. Except, I don’t have all of them. In fact, even if I do have an item, I real­ly pre­fer anoth­er. I’ll trade off Worster­shire sauce for soy sauce every time. Let’s see, unsalt­ed but­ter? Heck, I have salt­ed. No prob­lem. Broc­coli is just as green as green beans. Recipe calls for veal, but I hap­pen to have pork. Oops, that item is one hus­band doesn’t like—I’ll skip that. I think I’ll serve the dish with noo­dles instead of rice.

You get the idea, right?

Now, how about the title of this piece. Yes, it also explains at least one writer’s sys­tem (mine). Maybe snoop is a bit extreme. Let’s say, I dis­cov­er some­thing that appeals to me. For instance, my YA Cher­ish, began with a road sign. “Sandy Bot­tom Road.” That book def­i­nite­ly used my recipe-fol­low­ing sys­tem. I’d dis­card­ed the man­u­script years before, but I start­ed with that and sub­sti­tut­ed. A skele­ton became a ghost. The girls switched boyfriends. I changed names, dipped into a vari­ety of view­points. I added real his­to­ry to alter the sto­ry. And, I def­i­nite­ly updat­ed my teens into twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry kids. Those last two required the stu­dent mode with infor­ma­tion and assis­tance from the inter­net and advice from teens.

Okay, maybe that’s not illus­trat­ing the snoop-stu­dent mode of a writer. Snoop: Scan news­pa­pers for some­thing new I can incor­po­rate into a mys­tery. How about the item about a sev­en-year-old girl who takes fan­tas­tic pho­tographs? Check. Now, here’s an item about Workam­pers, or peo­ple who live in their RV campers but trav­el around tak­ing short term jobs to sup­port them­selves. They stop to work for a sea­son at theme parks or a few weeks at local cel­e­bra­tions. Check. How about those books I’ve gath­ered dur­ing our sail­ing years at small Chesa­peake Bay towns—books about local his­to­ry, many men­tion­ing the War of 1812? Check. Okay, now for the study. Read and com­pare those local his­to­ries. Check it out on the inter­net. Study reen­act­ments, his­toric fig­ures’ lives, maps for place­ment of my fic­tion­al town. That’s the tem­plate for my upcom­ing mys­tery, For­got­ten Body, now await­ing one final run-through, for­mat­ting, and cov­er.

But I do have a still bet­ter exam­ple of the stu­dent mode for an author. I’m now work­ing on a short sto­ry that may turn into a novel­la. I’m plan­ning to make it per­mafree to inter­est peo­ple in my mys­ter­ies. It’s got­ta be good for that. And, I’m strug­gling. But, I’ve found help by read­ing the writ­ing blogs, newslet­ters, books, and mag­a­zines I’ll nev­er aban­don. That’s because, invari­ably, a phrase or sen­tence will spark an idea. Most recent­ly it was part of a sen­tence in R.A. McCormick’s arti­cle in the Sis­ters in Crime Gup­py chap­ter newslet­ter, First Draft. Quote, “sur­prise as the sto­ry goes in a direc­tion that read­ers don’t expect.” It’s not new infor­ma­tion to me, but those words remind­ed me—“Hey, that’s what I need!” The oth­er man­u­script help was a guest appear­ance by anoth­er Gup­py, Kaye George, on B.K. Stevens’ blog, The First Two Pages. Yep, after read­ing Kaye’s clear show and tell of the way she added each ele­ment, I knew what I had to do. Ramp up my begin­ning as well as sur­prise the read­er.

So, next time some­one asks me where I get my ideas, what will I answer? “You see, there’s a talk­ing bird—not a par­rot, I’ll have to look that up, and one of those mini-hous­es I’ve read about that is cramped with one per­son, but I’m putting two in there. And there’s this guy who faked his death and will come back to upset the lady who thought she was a wid­ow about the time she’s get­ting seri­ous about some­one else.” Will that be my answer?

More like­ly, I’ll reply, “Oh, here and there.”

As a read­er, I’d prob­a­bly love to hear more. But, as a writer, do I want to rat­tle on and bore my read­er even before the book is out? Hope. How about you?