Twist your plot. Can your characters escape?

Karalee’s Post #133

twisterOne can spend a lifetime surfing the web and hanging out on social media. I’m choosing to cut back (I can actually choose how to spend all of my time) and I’m spending those minutes that often stretch into hours being more productive by reading books and working on my new business.

But every once in awhile a gem pops out from Facebook or Twitter. It happened today when I scrolled through my FB feed and I paused on a UTube that a friend posted. For some reason I clicked on it. Thanks Randy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBoyS4wHPTc&sns=em

This tickled my murder mystery writing funny bone. The site is called Spy Escape & Evasion and subjects like this are good to jump-start your imagination and “what if…”

A few examples from this site are:

  • airplane survival secrets
  • how to become a human lie detector
  • how to escape handcuffs
  • how to escape zip ties
  • how to pick locks
  • how to disappear
  • how to escape rope
  • stun flashlight

Of course once you become immersed in discovery and contemplating how you might use new ideas in different ways in your fiction writing, you can spend all day surfing again.

Outliers

 

The internet easily becomes a circular web, catching the curious, the bored, the procrastinators, the blocked, the (put any excuse here….). It’s easy to go back to the first line in this blog:

One can spend a lifetime surfing the web and hanging out on social media.

The trick is to break the circle, use the internet with purpose and focus – and then get off.

 

Become an Outlier.

Can you?

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Perspective Photos:

grouse ice rink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

This writer’s world

Paula’s Post #113

If you’re a blogger, you’ll know WordPress has a “Quick Draft” function for when you really, really need to get a blog post up in a hurry. Particularly useful if you can’t connect to WiFi and you’re trying to pound it out with only the benefit of cellular data!

That’s me!

Sunday, I was in Santa Barbara at the USTA Southern California Sectional Championships where, yes, a miracle happened: my 6.0 Ladies Doubles Team (that’s two 3.0 players playing together- the lowliest low of competitive senior tennis) WON their division and are now headed for Nationals in 31 days time in Surprise, AZ.

No location could be more more appropriate. Why, no one could be more ‘surprised’ than me and my fellow teammates. Woo-hoo.

On a more sombre note. I wish I could have been in two places at once. Could have been like a character in a novel and could have been able to ‘time-shift’ myself so I could be in Vancouver, seconds after we won the Championship. Because I couldn’t get a fight out of California early enough to attend an important event back here in Canada. And I regret that. My 5writer colleagues rallied and did their best to step up and fill in the void, as did my husband. But it still didn’t feel right not to be here.

Instead, Monday I was back in La Quinta, doing laundry and making hotel reservations for Nationals. I then caught a flight from Palm Springs to Vancouver. It arrived late and didn’t make it past the airport. Just a quick stop for Chinese takeout in the airport food court and a night at my favourite airport hotel.

Today, Tuesday, still towing my rolling suitcase, I scooted downtown for a full day course at the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, where I learned all the intricacies of Foreclosures and Court Ordered Sales. At least all the ones I didn’t already know: I’m old enough to remember the early 80’s, when interest rates were an astonishing 22% and the market was tanking. That’s just when I started my legal career. I spent my fair share of time in Chambers, making applications for foreclosure orders. A sad time. Still, it was good I sort of had a handle on the basics, because this tennis player’s thoughts are definitely still on cloud 9.

Funny coincidence though: in my course today, I sat next to a colleague who is a famous Canadian doubles star and actually reached ‘Finals’ at Wimbledon.

Poor guy!

At every break I pestered him for tips for my team on how we can stay ‘tournament tough’ all the way through to Nationals. But that’s the great benefit of being an extrovert: you rarely stop (at the time) to consider how ridiculous you look (or sound).

Ninety minutes later and I’m now at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, heading for my home on the Sunshine Coast. A gorgeous sunny evening with the hint of fall in the air.

Not so I’d notice, mind you. Because it this is Tuesday … that means “Paula-must-get-blog-post-done”.

Now!

My husband has been petsitting for 10 days straight, amusing the poodles, while I lollygag in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Oh yeah, he just loves the life of ‘husband-of-tennis player’ almost as much as ‘husband-of-writer’.

I cannot, tonight, disappear into my writer’s world of plot and character. At least not until he falls asleep, and that won’t be early, he’s on another Netflix binge.

So, I only have 25 minutes until my ferry arrives. More than enough time to share the ‘reading and writing’ highlights of my week (which frankly, given our intense tennis schedule, is going to be pretty short and sweet).

1. I think 5writer Silk has almost convinced me to abandon my ‘geo-shift’ idea for my Hawaii novel. I’d planned to move the whole story to post-war Vancouver. She more or less threatened to ‘steal the book’ if I didn’t leave the characters in Honolulu where they belong. All I can say is woe-is-you Silk, when I start texting and emailing you at 3 am, panicked (or despondent) because I can’t figure the pidgin dialect or the uniform of the house boys at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Or 1930’s surfing vernacular. Just you wait!

2. Though I have no page output to report, I’m still feeling pretty good. Returning the novel to the original Hawaii setting will let me retain more of my original (stalled) rough draft I resurrected from 3 years ago. So I’m going to pretend I’m ‘ahead’ of schedule in this 5 month challenge (and the operative word is ‘pretend’).

3. A very exciting 5writer update: we’ve gained another 5writer challenger! Yes, Susan Laufer, whom Helga and I met at the Hawaii Writers’ Conference several years ago, has been following our blog for quite some time. When the second challenge arose, she lurked for a bit more, then realized it was just the kick-in-the-pants catalyst she needed to get back to her own writing!

Bravo!

Susan says:

“I finally decided to quit being a “wanna be” and “just do it”. I predict a lot of late nights, with a glass of wine in front of the half finished fireplace, scribbling in my note pads. Nice dream. We’ll see if I can make it a reality. If the half finished fireplace didn’t give it away, we (that would be me, myself, and my over stressed husband) are in the middle of a remodel on our house which we spend what spare time we have as do it yourself handy folk. The rest of the time I work in the exciting world of high technology, go figure. They say write what you know. I don’t know a thing about murder but there’s a lot of reading material to draw from. I do know a few things about remodeling, dealing with the good and the bad of contractors, and living in a close knit neighborhood where everybody seems to know what everyone else is doing. Sounds like a perfect set up for a mystery, don’t you think?”

We’re thrilled to have Susan join in the fun as: 7/7/5

7 Writers/7 Novels/5 Months – but especially exciting for me to re-connect with Susan. Want to know what else is great? When we first met, Susan was actually living in Honolulu’s Chinatown – the modern day version of the setting of my Hawaii noir novel in progress. So now Silk can breathe a bit easier, as I’ll be texting and emailing Susan in the middle of the night too!

So, a big 5writer welcome to Sue!

There’s safety in numbers, so if you’ve been lurking in the background, wringing your hands, it is not to late to jump in!

4. I may not have gotten much writing done, but winding down from some pretty action-packed tennis days was the perfect opportunity to finish the mystery novel I’m reading. As writers, I’m the first to say we must continually study our craft, and the genre within, to see how the ‘masters’ do it! Right now, I’m on a little ‘kick’ of reading NY Times bestselling mystery novelists’ first published breakthrough novels.

This month, it’s Margaret Maron’s The Bootlegger’s Daughter featuring small town lawyer (now Judge) Deborah Knott. A very good read, in some ways reminiscent of the polished style and developed characterizations of Canada’s own Louise Penny. Just finished it last night and trying to figure out who to read next, so any suggestions are gratefully appreciated.

So, ferry’s here. time to board.

Back now.

The BC Ferry system may not have the world’s most reliable WiFi, but at least it has the pretense of maintaining ‘business stations’ with desks where you can plug in and charge, something and I desperately need, at 5:55 pm, to finish my 5/5/5 blog post for the week.

But you know what they say about ‘the best laid plans…’. Turns out the 100 or so excited six year olds on their school field trip, who had filled the waiting room with a cacophony of joyous chatter (making it near impossible to work, much less think), have just followed me onto the ferry and camped right across of me. I fear my hopes for more inspiration is doomed, drowned out by the crazy chatter of these happy children.

But what if one of them disappeared… mid voyage.  What if they counted twice when they got on… and twice when they were ready to get off. A frantic search, the adult chaperones are sure the missing child must be in a washroom… or they miscounted… or met up with someone they knew and… and… It’s a huge ship. Three levels of vehicles, two for passengers, restaurants and play areas and a gift shop… but where could she (or he) have gone? A mystery, to be sure.

And what if the child is still missing after they dock? What if the parents are frantic? What if the police are called in? What if they investigate and discover one of the adults wasn’t a parent at all? A complete stranger, posing as the parent of a child in the school. What if…?

Okay, that’s enough for now. Just another example of why, for some writers, it is so very hard to get one story told. One novel done. There’s always another pretty story, lurking just around the corner. A lovely pretty story. A story that isn’t yet mottled and marred by a muddled middle or a thin characters.

Sigh. If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

How was your week?

IMG_1035

On the ferry… heading home, to ‘This Writer’s World’.

PS – the Captain just announced there is a pod of whales off to port, maybe if you look close, you just might see one.

The series game has one rule

series

Mea culpa – yes, I’m a day late again this week. Sorry to intrude on Paula’s Tuesday again, but the good news is that you may be getting two-posts-for-the-price-of-one today!

Silk’s Post #70 — Does anyone writing genre fiction even think about writing a stand-alone novel anymore?

Series. That’s the holy grail. The brass ring. The magic word that rolls off the tongue like the sexy serpent in the Garden of Eden. SSSS-e-r-i-e-s. Or, visualized another way:

$$$$-e-r-i-e-$

But listen up, fellow emerging writers (aka the great not-yet-published hoard): if writing one novel – and getting it published – is a mountain climb, then writing a commercially successful series is like climbing every mountain in the Hindu Kush.

So, if this is what you’re up to, sharpen your pitons, load up your backpack that weighs as much as a small horse, and prepare to experience some oxygen deprivation. Best I can advise you if you’re afraid of heights or doubt your fitness for this trip is: don’t look down, lean forward, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Truthfully, aren’t all genre writers — especially those of us who lust to see our names on the mystery-suspense-crime-thriller-legal shelves — really dreaming of series?

Who are our idols, if not James Patterson, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George, John le Carré, James Lee Burke, Jeffery Deaver, Patricia Cornwell, Donna Leon, David Baldacci, Sara Paretsky, Jo Nesbo, Tom Clancy, Anne Perry, Walter Mosley, Robert Crais, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, P.D. James, Harlen Coben, Robert B. Parker, Peter Robinson, Elmore Leonard, Kathy Reichs, John Connolly and Michael Connelly?

And who were their idols but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardiner, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald … even Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, who hooked them on mysteries at a tender age?

You can add your own favourite names to these lists, but it’s a good bet that most of them – like these – will have two things in common. First, they are authors of series. Second, they created famous protagonists – memorable characters who returned the favour and made their authors famous.

And that is the one inviolable rule in this business of series fiction. A great protagonist.

To climb the mountain, you need to invent an intriguing, enduring alter-ego to accompany you. Not just accompany you, but lead you through the snowdrifts of saggy middles, rescue you from the trackless wilderness of boredom and obscurity, and pull you up over the precipice when you’re dangling by a thread. A protagonist who is strong enough, smart enough, complex enough, resourceful enough, engaging enough, vulnerable enough, and likeable enough to climb to the heights, fall to the depths, recover and triumph. Again and again. Evolving somehow with each new story, but always solid at the core.

You can certainly have a memorable protagonist in a stand-alone book (for instance, it’s hard to believe that Dashiell Hammett’s larger-than-life Sam Spade appeared in only one full length novel, The Maltese Falcon). But it’s hard to pull off a series without a memorable “anchor” protagonist (it takes a talent like Scott Turow to establish a multi-protagonist series like his Kindle County stories, and even so he knits them together with recurring characters).

But remember: you will have to live with this protagonist for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health – possibly until death do you part. So you better love and cherish him or her if you want your readers to do the same.

Once you know that character to the bone, you can drop plot after plot on his or her head, and your protagonist will come alive and spring into action – and action is the lifeblood of story.

Okay, now to the fun part! Can you pair these famous protagonists with their authors? Answers are shown at the end for those who can’t guess whodunnit …

name-game

Answers:

1-p; 2-o; 3-q; 4-t; 5-w; 6-y; 7-d; 8-l; 9-c; 10-r; 11-v; 12-g; 13-u; 14-b; 15-j; 16-k; 17-i;
18-n; 19-x; 20-h; 21-f; 22-z; 23-e; 24-a; 25-m; 26-s.

Bonus:

the-lineupFor an extremely insightful and entertaining look into the hearts and souls of some of the most beloved detective protagonists and their creators, read The Lineup edited by the legendary Otto Penzler, in which “The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives”… in their own words and style. Published by Back Bay Books, an imprint of Little Brown, this book is a gem that belongs on every crime writer’s shelf.

Crime of passion

crime_of_passion_ver2

Paula’s Post #57  Happy 5writers New Year’s Eve!

In yesterday’s post, The Top 10 Most Overlooked Emotions, my 5writer colleague Silk closed out the year with a thought-provoking commentary enumerating ten under utilized emotions writers may wish to consider when seeking motivation for their fictional characters.

I’m sure Silk’s outstanding post caused many of you, like me, to pause and reflect on your current work in progress. Did you find yourself examining your literary characters’ motivations and how these motivations relate to your plot and character development?

What’s the verdict?

In retrospect, did your protagonist’s emotions seem real and genuine? Believable? Likely to enthrall your readers and keep them flipping the pages into the wee hours of the night?

I hope so.

But what about your antagonist?

I think we can all agree that here is where the real fun starts. If we 5writers learned anything this past year or so it is that we had a whole lot more fun with our antagonists than with our protagonists.

Many of you have been fortunate enough to attend a seminar, workshop or lecture given by literary agent and writing guru Donald Maass, the author of several bestselling books on the craft of writing including Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and The Fire in Fiction, all available from Amazon.

If you’ve ever attended one of Mr. Maass’ workshops, you’re familiar with his oft asked question:

What could cause your villain to care deeply enough to… ________”

Go ahead. You fill in the blank.

Right about now, I can see you thinking about your carefully constructed character sketches… your convoluted plot… wondering if you’ve imbued your protagonist and/or antagonist with sufficient emotional triggers to carry your story.

If you’re writing a murder mystery, or even a thriller, your plot may revolve around a: ‘crime of passion’: the name given to any crime committed under circumstances that involve the compelling emotion of the perpetrator.

One usually thinks of murder or at least assault causing grievous bodily harm.  The ‘Love Kills’ garden variety type of crime where a jealous cuckolded husband takes revenge on the adulterous couple.

But even here, isn’t the writers’ magnifying lens required to determine the actual emotion at play? Did jealously provoke the act? Humiliation? Rage? Overwhelming feelings of inadequacy? What is the triggering emotion that caused such a loss of control? Some component of anger for sure, but here, the subtle differences are the writers’ paintbrush.

Take a closer look at the definition: ‘the compelling emotion of the perpetrator”.

No where is the word jealousy used. You, the author, have free rein here. Your imagination and the endless reach of the internet your very best friends. Check it out yourself by googling “crimes of passion” or better yet “odd crimes of passion” or even “bizarre crimes of passion”.

Having fun yet?

Getting some good ideas?

I mean come on! Who can forget the headline grabbing accounts of Lorena Bobbitt’s bizarre attack on her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt in 1993?

If you clicked on the “bizarre attack” above, you’ll notice that I’ve linked back to the Wikipedia account of the crime. I can already see some of you frowning. She does her research on Wikipedia? Seriously? ‘Lightweight’ you mutter under your breath.

But stop and think about it for a moment – if you’re seeking inspiration, if you’re writing fiction, does your source research need to be completely accurate? Isn’t it more important that it just be believable, or better yet entertaining? Your not writing a scholarly treatise here, you’re looking for inspiration.

In the Bobbitt case, I have no idea whether the contributors to the above wiki are correct or not when they report:

“After the incident, John Wayne Bobbitt attempted to generate money from his notoriety in a number of ways. He formed a band, The Severed Parts, to pay his mounting medical and legal bills, though the band was unsuccessful and failed to generate enough money.[12] In 1994, John appeared in the  John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut, in another attempt to make money. In 1996, he appeared in another adult film, Frankenpenis (also known as John Wayne Bobbitt’s Frankenpenis).”

Frankenpenis?

Seriously? Is that true? The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) says it is, but who cares?

Yes, who cares!

I could go on forever with examples mined from the internet, but the point I’m trying to make is that perhaps for many of us, our background and training has fettered the way in which we approach our fiction. Are we too logical? Too dispassionate in our research?

Have you fallen into this trap?

If we writers spend too much time researching dates and places and facts and figures, if we get bogged down in a futile attempt to probe too deeply into the soundness of scientific theory, are we not perhaps missing out on the opportunity to entertain our readers?

If you’re a fan of Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers, I can already hear you grumbling. But just for fun, give it a try for yourself.

My challenge, for this last post of 2013 is to ask each of you to do a little internet surfing of your own. Research the phrase ‘Crime of Passion’ or some variant thereof. Mine one or two little gems from the internet and concoct your own ‘pitch’ for a story.

A one line story idea that sparks your imagination. I cannot tell a lie, I got the ‘one sentence’ idea from onesentence.org a fabulous site inspired by the concept of brevity. The idea that most of the best stories that we tell from our lives have one really, really good part that make the rest of the boring story worth it.

So, have some fun. Think up a crazy crime of passion. Tell us the story in just one sentence. Maybe you’ll find your inspiration on the internet, maybe in one of Silk’s 10 most overlooked emotions.  Don’t be shy. Post it below! A real writer could never resist this challenge.

Happy 5writers New Year!

Writer’s epiphany, where does it come from?

Karalee’s Post #56

I’ve been struggling, really struggling (okay, I’ve admitted it) to create a super protagonist that I relate to on a deep visceral level and someone who I can struggle and grow with. That is what I yearn to do in my novel. I’m also convinced that when I get into that groove I will have so much fun and satisfaction that getting published will be the icing on a rich multi-layered chocolate cake. Now that’s a great vision.

But a vision doesn’t get the job done. So what is this epiphany I’m talking about? 

The genre I love writing in is mystery thriller and I’ve gravitated to having a female detective. But in reality, I’m not a cop and don’t live and breathe cop-ese. I’ve done my homework to learn about the trade, such as taking a Police Academy course and going on a ride-along for a 12-hour shift (great experience and I was there after a bank robbery, a stolen car, and stolen property that brought the police dogs out). And, of course, there is always ongoing reading and research, and I have some practice in shooting guns in Las Vegas at one of their many “gun experience” stores.

That said, progress on my manuscript has been lagging behind my enthusiasm. It’s not that I haven’t been busy regarding my writing career. I’ve taken Jami Gold’s ‘Seat of your Pants’ outlining course and have spent productive time learning more about the Scrivener writing software so I can be more efficient in my organisation of my manuscript and have sent off a short story to one of Writers Digest contests.

And all the while, I’ve been trying to visualize and write out who my protagonist really is.

Yes, my days have been full to overflowing, but all told my satisfaction level has been low and my self-inflicted nemesis called Guilt has been swooping down trying to claw at me like Hitchcock’s, The Birds. I was twelve and babysitting when I first saw that movie.

Maybe you remember where you were too?

I can still see it and feel it as though it were yesterday and I was WAY TOO SCARED to go upstairs and check on the children sleeping!

That may have been the start of my writing career now that I think about it. What would I do to be able to instill such a long-lasting emotional response to a story? It is well worth devoting my life to, and NO, I’m not setting my expectations too high.

With my manuscript progressing at a staggering limp I decided to offer my help to a friend that is trying to write a non-fiction book. I can introduce her to Scrivener and help her organize and we can spin our ideas together.

We are meeting on Friday. 

What fun!  And it is still in the writing arena to boot.

Today I was sorting through some Christmas stocking stuffers I have been accumulating throughout the year in the anticipation of making a list for a shopping afternoon with my daughter on Friday. I was opening the bags and looking at this and that, and remembering where I was and what I was doing when I had purchased them. My mind was in neutral and I was simply enjoying the peace of the moment.

Then out of nowhere an epiphany hit.

A 3-D image complete with a life history popped into my head as if it had been dropped from outer-space by an alien. Maybe they are out there throwing down images all the time, mind-melding with us humans, maybe spreading propaganda too … (Yes, I was a Sci-Fi fan way back, even going to conventions!) Most people say it is our subconscious at work, but I think aliens sound better.

But, by whatever means the images and feelings came to me, my protagonist had a sudden life-altering experience. Not a sex change or a lottery windfall, rather a new role in the policing world of forensics and solving murders. (TBA in my first bestselling book!)

So today I’m a happy writer again, and my advice is to go out there and work on a project that has been bugging you and needs to be done, one that doesn’t take Einstein-like concentration, and one that you can let your mind wander around with no place to ‘have to be’.

Then simply enjoy the moment and let the aliens help!

Happy writing.

The Year in Review… Paula’s perspective

 

End of summer

 

Paula’s Post #45 – Hey, wait a sec. Something is just plain wrong here. Post #45? That can’t be right. No way!  Silk just posted yesterday and, if I’m not mistaken, her post was labelled “Post #51”.  I know I’ve been MIA for a few weeks during my move but, crikey… has it really been that long? Have I fallen that far behind?

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Except I can’t say there’s been much fun in my life this summer. When I last posted, (way back in mid-July), I confessed to being in full retreat from the writing life. Admittedly, I’d ‘checked out’:

At least until my house-hunting quest comes to an end. Six weeks to go until we move and still no destination in sight. So, while others haul out their manuscripts and start their edits, my days are spent hunched over my laptop, checking out each new listing that hits MLS (Plan A) and trolling through Craigslist in search of a rental house that is both, 1) bigger than a breadbox and 2) not shared with bedbugs and cockroaches (Plan B).

Okay, so maybe it isn’t that bad, but it seems that way as tick, tick tick….every day brings us closer to our late August moving date.

Characters? Plot? Pacing? Forget it, baby. I’m sorry to say these are not the thoughts foremost in my mind.

No, I’m staring in my very own mystery novel. The one entitled: Where are we going to live next!

For those of you curious about how this mystery turned out, I can only say, ‘Plan A’ is a distant memory, ‘Plan B’ our default strategy, now the reality. As the dog days of August dwindled to a close with no new home in sight, we panicked.  We bit the bullet and rented what I now affectionately refer to as the ‘Postage Stamp’ a rather luxe apartment, sans bed bugs and cockroaches, but alas, not much bigger than a bread box.

Since we moved into our new digs a week or so ago, my days have been filled with playing the moving equivalent of ‘musical chairs’, except in this game, all the chairs are boxes. Boxes we an never find a place to put, no matter how hard we try. Our tiny, elegant pied a terre resembling nothing so much as a home from an episode of Hoarders Hoarder.

I admit it. We’ve reached critical mass.

Time to give up and admit defeat.

But there’s a delicious silver-lining to ‘surrender’ to the inevitable.  Now that I’ve abandoned my war against ‘stuff’, I’m actually beginning to think I may be entering a new phase in my life. A metaphysical ‘space’ where I feel settled enough to actually get back to writing.

For many of us, September is a time of renewal. A time when Labor Day rolls around, (or “Labour Day”, for those north of the border) a time when we turn away from the pleasures and past-times of summer and get back to more serious pursuits of school and work.

And writing.

In her post of yesterday, Silk reflected on what her 5writers journey has been like, what she has accomplished, and what she has learned. I really enjoyed and appreciated her candor. I’m sure our readers did too. So, following Silk’s lead, here are my ‘two cents’ on the year in review:

Accomplishment #1 – We’re still together.

Did you see the photo Silk posted yesterday? Five smiling 5writers, five fingers, splayed in unison, our symbolic tribute to the powerful bond we share. Skeptics take note. Amongst our small community of writers, this bond has never been stronger. And while I may have been a wee bit green with jealousy as Helga floated around northern Europe on her swanky cruise ship and Silk glided through the peaceful waters of the Northwest Coast on her sailboat and Joe communed with nature in the forests of beautiful British Columbia, while I packed box after box after box….

…. oops. I’m getting off track again.

The point is that while our lives at times can seem very different, our core values as writers are remarkably similar. We strive to be encouraging. We strive to be respectful. We strive to be honest and never pull our punches. Too honest, perhaps for some. We are not the kind of group to say something’s good when it is, well, not to put to fine a point on it, utter crap. But we are dedicated to supporting one another, to learning as much as we can from one another, -all in the quest of trying to master this very difficult craft and becoming, (we hop)e, better writers than we were last year. In this, our core values unite us, and for that I am grateful.

Accomplishment #2 – OMG we’re actually blogging. I’ve done my mea culpa for dropping off the face of the earth this past August, but now I’m back and happy to be here.

Surprisingly, little empirical statistical research has been published on the phenomenon of blogs and blogging. Our blog is hosted on WordPress, according to Forbes the most popular blogging system in the world, powering over 60 million websites worldwide. Yet the statistics I’ve seen seem to suggest most people who start blogs, quit within the first three months. What blogger Judy Lee Dunn calls, The Princess Syndrome.

Well, we’ve learned we’re not quitters. We are, apparently, also not “Princesses”, which may come as a huge relief to Joe.

Accomplishment #3 – over 323,064 words and counting

Okay, maybe I didn’t add to that total over the summer. But I got my licks in early and I’m back on track now. I’m going to add to that total very soon. And that brings me to the last of Silk’s headings:

My big, fat, life lesson.

Time for another mea culpa. While I was one of the two 5writers to actually complete a novel in 5 months, I’ve now let that novel ‘percolate’ on the back burner for a few months. Result? I’ve got to confess, I’m not wild about my novel.

My fast-paced young adult thriller was a lot of fun to write, but now that I’ve stopped and caught my breath, I have to admit that I’m reluctant to go back, pick that manuscript up and put in the grunt work necessary to polish it to the stage where I can even start thinking about the query process.

Ironically, part of my ambivalence arises from my ever so painful moving experience. One of the dilemma’s I faced was what to do with the huge stacks of paper I’ve accumulated over the years as a writer of fiction. Like many of you, I’ve kept most of my writing on my computer. (Thank goodness for digital). But inevitably, I’ve also squirrelled away a ton of paper: hard-copies of partial manuscripts (my preferred medium for rewrites and sharing with beta readers, manucscript mark ups from my critique group, hand outs and articles and…. well, an avalanche of paper, spilling from file cabinets, boxes and drawers.

Frightening.

But during my aborted effort at downsizing, I realized I liked some of those stories a lot more than my current 5writers YA manuscript. I’m not going to beat myself up about it, if your heart is not in it, your heart is not in it. That’s why, when I do start writing again, and I hope it will be soon, I’ll be picking up and dusting off a different manuscript, most likely my noir mystery novel set in pre-war Honolulu. Or maybe the culinary-mystery-with-a-twist set in Napa. Haven’t decided yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. I promise.

At the end of yesterday’s post, Silk wrote:

My “5writers year” has been endless. That is to say, I’ve not yet typed “the end” in the story I began on September 5, 2012. When I do, I can make a new beginning.

Hopefully by then I’ll be wiser about what kind of writer I am.

I may have already experienced the joy of typing ‘the end’ on the last page of my original 5writers story that I began on September 5th, 2012, but like Silk, I think I’ll be making a ‘new beginning’.

Maybe I’m already a bit wiser about what the kind of writer I am.

Book buying

books and books

Joe’s post #18 — How do you buy books? By genre? By authors? By recommendations from friends? By the pretty picture on the cover?

Ok, but let’s be more specific. How do you decide to buy a book by a new author, by someone you’ve never read before?

That’s a challenge for all of us new writers. How do we stand out? How do we get the attention of an agent, of a publisher, of millions of readers?

I’m not sure I have the answer, but I can look to how I buy a book by an author I’ve never read before.

1) Genre. It’s my first filter. New or old, I go to a section that I love to read. Mystery. Thriller. Fantasy. As new writers, we don’t have much of a choice where our books get put, but we can help agents and publishers by delineating where we think our books belong. My latest book, YA fantasy. One day, I hope to be able to move out of that genre and into mainstream. Sort of like moving out of my mobile home and into a spacious condo overlooking the city of Vancouver.

a-game-of-thrones-book-1-of-a-song-of-ice-and-fireCover and Title: Yes, it matters. At least to me. If the cover has a bare-chested man with a half-naked women pressed up against him, I won’t care that there’s a dragon in the background. But show me something like what’s on the latest Game of Thrones, and you got yourself a sale. Have a cool title like “The Bone Collector?” Even better.

So, writers, make sure you have a cool title.

Any recommendations: Has it won awards? Does GRR Martin recommend it? Oprah? Are there any quotes from famous authors, like “Best book I’ve read since my book” or “I’m going to kill this bastard for writing such a great story.”

I can tell you one thing, if I ever get published, I will shamelessly pester all my published writer friends to write something nice about my story.

The Flap: Ok, I made that word up. It’s the ‘blurb’, or the synopsis or why the hell should I buy this book?  So now I’m standing in a ‘section’, trying to look cool, and I’ve picked up a book with an interesting cover and a neat title (and maybe with a nifty recommendation.) Now, I read the back (or, in the case of the hardcover, the promo inside the dust jacket.) It has to wow me. I’m sorry, it does. If I read ‘bored housewife…’ I put the book back. If I read something that might interest me, then I move to the last filter.

The First Pages.   You can fool me with a nifty cover – I’m easily distracted by pretty colors and half-dressed women on dragons. You can fool me with recommendations – Writers have been known to get together at comicons or mystery writers at wine tasting nights and agree to endorse each other’s books. You can fool me with a cleverly written blurb – Hey, they have entire marketing departments working on this in-between martinis. But it’s harder to be fooled by someone’s actual writing. So I read the first pages, a few paragraphs somewhere in the middle, and then I make a decision.

As new writers, I think we need to remember this. Words matter. Voice matters. Style matters. How a story starts… matters.

The Way Around It All: Frankly, the way I usually buy books by authors I haven’t read is that I’ve been told it’s awesome by a friend I trust. Any time I get a text like “OMFG you have to read this!!!!!!!” I will give it a try, despite the number of exclamation seanpoints. If someone brings a book to a coffee chat and the first thing they say, after telling me how handsome I look, is “I have just read the most amazing book of amazingness ever!” then I’ll give that book a try. I mean, why not, they’ve done all the work and all I have to do is look up that author?

Like this one. Check it out. It’s a FANTASTIC book.  !!!!!!!

But no matter what your own personal filters are, give a new author a try.

We need all the help we can get.

Some things don’t change

photo by Garry Knight

photo by Garry Knight

Karalee’s Post #16

I happened to be channel surfing the other day and came upon a documentary called the Agatha Christie Code. I found it very intriguing. A research team decided to analyse Christie’s writing for word length, repetition and structure.

Apparently Christie used much the same concepts in all of her books:

  • Repeats words and uses words with similar meanings multiple times in a short space. It seems that using the same or similar words three times in a paragraph helps convince the reader about the concept.
  • Uses simple everyday language.
  • Uses dialogue extensively. Often what a character says and what the reader interprets is the solution in her mysteries.
  • Uses very similar writing style in all her books; on average she uses the same number of letters in a word, and approximately same number of words in a sentence. (I find this astounding.)
  • Often introduces nine or more characters, and each with a motive (their own plot line). Apparently the human’s conscious mind can only process five to nine concepts at a time so the reader becomes overloaded and seems to experience and feel the book more. Getting into the book and really ‘feeling’ it is what is memorable to the reader.
  • Uses more descriptive passages at the beginning than the end of the book, which controls the speed of the reader. The race to the climax with shorter sentences keeps the reader reading and not able to put the book down.

At the end of the documentary it stood out for me that many of the concepts I’ve learned in the craft of writing are still working strong today: the importance of dialogue, using simple language, and that longer passages decreases the pace while shorter sentences speed up the pace of a book.

One concept Christie uses that seems to be frowned upon in today’s teaching of the craft is the repetition of words within a few paragraphs. Maybe I’ll try this in my writing though, since after Shakespeare, Christie is the world’s bestselling author in any genre, with more than 2 billion books sold.

Beyond a doubt, the Agatha Christie Code works.

Our 5Writer’s deadline is fast approaching. I’m confident that I will have my first draft completed, albeit on the skeleton side compared to Joe saying he has to pare his down. I’m still struggling with one plot line that I can feel, but can’t seem to find the right setting for, that brings my protagonist and the villain together a few times over the course of my book.

I also seem to be writing this book in a different order than I’ve done before, that is, not chronologically. I’m writing slower than usual and working through the complete progress of my villain, and I will have to go back and fill in the protagonist’s very important bits later!

I need to ramp up and pour jet fuel onto my back burner and write away. Like the rest of my group, I’ve taken the last week or so off and spent time with the family. Now it’s time for pop-in-the-oven meals and longer writing days.

Everything needs to be in balance. Agatha Christie knew this well.

Happy writing.

Real writers don’t give up

Paula’s Post #7 – One of the things I like best (and fear most) about the 5writers challenge is the new sense of discipline that this unique endeavour brings to one’s writing. The new sense of urgency it brings to one’s writing.

Specifically, to my writing.

But to err, as they say, is human and this week, I must confess, I’ve been weak.

I erred.

Discipline, in fact, flew right out the window. Evaporated. Gone.  Hasta la vista, baby!

But what about urgency you ask? Ah, (to borrow from the Bard)  all I can say is ‘aye, there’s the rub‘. Urgency, alas, has remained my faithful friend and follower, not only this past week, but throughout the first seven weeks of this 5writers challenge.

Seven weeks! OMG!

I know, I know, I can hear you now. A cacophony of disapproving mutterings and murmurings, echoing through cyberspace.  Worse yet, if I am to continue with my ‘true confessions’ I must admit to not having written a word since the end of the conference on October 22nd.

No further plots plotted, period, full stop.

In terms of progress, my outline is still languishing somewhere amidst the muddled middle, and, while I have no real idea of how productive my fellow 5writers have been, (we’re all holding our cards a bit close to the chest) I fear that I’m the one who is eating dust in this 5 horse race.

In the circumstances aforesaid, I have no choice but to enter a plea of guilty, or, at the very least, a plea of nolo contendere. In retrospect, I could have planned better. In retrospect, I should have planned better.

But the simple truth is that I did not.

In mitigation, I could plead extenuating circumstances. To wit, the fact that for most of this past week, I found myself confined to an overstuffed vehicle, whizzing down I-5, with all waypoints, rest breaks and accommodations dictated by the capricious whims, physiology and needs of a rambunctious, 85 pound Standard Poodle and an incontinent, blind and deaf, 17 year old Miniature Poodle that needs to go ‘outside’ every three hours, day and night.

I could also respectfully submit that for the balance of this evaporating week, I dutifully (and quite happily) entertained house guests.

Shoulda… Coulda… Woulda…

Nevertheless, much as I would love to write a post on the subject of Procrastination, with a capital “P”, I fear that train has already left the station. Not once, but several times.

Done and overdone.

I hear the distant voice of a curmudgeonly judge, admonishing me to get on with it: ‘I have your point, counsel, move on.’

Yes indeed, time to think of something new to write about for this week’s post. But what?

And then it came to me. A brilliant, bright new idea. As bright and clear and fully formed as a humongous meteorite hurtling not just through cyberspace, but real space. By this point, you see, I knew I would be up late, writing, well into the wee hours of the morning. So why not write a post about writing at night?

How clever! I thought, smugly congratulating myself on my bright new idea. Brilliant!

Voila! Perfect! Eureka!  I found it.

Filled with a renewed sense of discipline, and with my constant companion urgency hovering somewhere just over my head, I powered up my laptop, clicked on this blog and… and… and…  found Writing in the Dark. Silk’s post #7 from today, (oops! I mean yesterday, since it is now well past midnight).

Silk, Silk, Silk, how could you do this to me? How is it that, mere days apart, we somehow hit upon the same brilliant topic for a blog post?

Mouth hanging open in disbelief, I stared at that gorgeous image of your magnificent,  wide-eyed owl. Read with a mixture of joy and dread your passionate, lyrical, evocative exposition on the joys of waiting ’til the midnight hour’ (with apologies, to Wilson Pickett, for ‘borrowing’ his deft turn of phrase).

Once again, I find myself back of the pack, eating dust.

For not only has the race gone to the swift, Silk also trumped me with her evocative title, her gorgeous photos, her powerful, almost poetic prose and vivid imagery  Owls? Larks? Hummingbirds? My God! Not mere ‘writing’ in the dark, but rather ‘dancing’ in the dark. Bravo Silk!

2:16 am – Okay, time for a reality check. Although I am, most assuredly now ‘writing in the dark’, I find I cannot make that activity the subject of this blog post for, to borrow from the realm  of Canadian Constitutional jurisprudence, the field has clearly already been occupied.  (And don’t even think of asking me where that arcane tidbit came from, though, if pressed, I’d have to admit to a vague recollection harking back to my moot court topic in second year law school).

But I digress.

What I really want to say in this blog post is that sometimes, in the world of writing, just like in real life, not much gets accomplished. Sometimes, the wheels of the bus just fall off. Sometimes, this is due to some human failing, some blameworthy conduct, (to wit: p-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-o-n). Sometimes, this is due to the many exigencies of real life.

And sometimes, this is due to mere unfortunate happenstance. Like the man who invented the light bulb…. right after Mr. Edison.

Sometimes, we writers face roadblocks. Sometimes, we face setbacks. I’m feeling a litte battered and bruised this week, some of it is my fault, some of it is not. But I did (eventually) smile at the fact that Silk and I had both, independently, come up with the same idea for a blog post. I mean, you have to admit it is funny. And I smiled even further when I remembered a similar situation, several years back, when I hit upon what I thought was not only the perfect premise, but also the perfect title for a mystery novel:

Deadly Lies.

Scandal, intrigue and murder at an elite golf and country club. Fully formed characters whirled through my mind, all as vivid as the images one sees on television or on the silver screen. I saw my novel’s golf pro; I saw my novel’s clubhouse; I saw my novel’s cute little red golf carts, I smelled the worn leather club chairs in my men’s locker room, the whiff of whiskey and cuban cigars. I heard the whispered bickering of my novel’s stuffy dining room staff, and saw the hardy, 90 year old Scotswomen who still turned out for the shrimp bisque and watercress sandwiches at the “Ladies Day” luncheons.

I compiled notebooks full of character sketches and feeling the first flush of excitement over my wonderful idea, I did what all writers do. I googled the ever so clever title of my novel-to-be: Deadly Lies.

And that is how I discovered Buried Lie, a golf mystery by Roberta Islieb, featuring LPGA  golfer/sleuth Cassie Burdette. I stared, mouth open in disbelief, at a photograph of the author standing over a cake decorated with the book’s title and depicting, in some charming fashion, a golf course sand trap.

My heart, as we writers try hard not to say, sank. Jealousy coursed through my veins, (Ugh – that sounds like it hurts). Not quite my title, sure, but close enough to discourage me from writing that book, at least back then.

Tonight, another google search reveals five Cassie Burdette golf mysteries published by Berkley Prime Crime. author Roberta Islieb is now working on a series of culinary mysteries set in Key West.

And my title? Deadly Lies? Another quick google search revealed that author Cynthia Eden used that title for her second in a series suspense novel about an FBI agent still traumatized by her encounter with a serial killer.

Not quite the book I imagined at all.

My version of Deadly Lies never took flight. But I didn’t quit writing, just because I found out someone else came up with a similar title, and a similar book, right before I did.

But real writers don’t give up and I haven’t either. Maybe I haven’t quite mastered the concept of discipline, but with each passing day, urgency becomes more omnipresent.

I still like my title, Deadly Lies, and my idea for my own ‘golf mystery’. And one day I just might write that book.

So, sorry, Roberta and Cynthia, I haven’t yet read your books. I hope to when this 5writers challenge is over on February 5th, 2013. But I still love the title Deadly Lies. Oh, and  guess what? I checked it out. You can’t copyright book titles.

4:44 AM

Besides, I thought of it first!