Tuesday, October 28, 2014

THE ENDING: DEAD END OR ‘THE END’?


  

Recently I saw a thriller at the theatre that ran from twist to turn. However, after the movie ended, the number one comment I heard from the exiting audience was how awful the ending was. While the movie is being lauded as being Oscar-worthy, my disappointment has deepened.  Why?

First the ending didn’t resolve the main conflict. A bad relationship remained bad. Neither of the main characters undertook a journey of discovery. Yes, layers were peeled off revealing who they were, but they never evolved. The characters at the end were who they were at the beginning of the movie, except the audience now knew who and what they were. The characters didn’t even appear to make a decision to stay the same, which may be more a hallmark of a literary work.

Although my personal preference are romances with the ‘happy ever after’ ending, I know that’s not necessarily true for other genres. However, so long as the internal conflict and motivation are spot on, I can accept the less than happy ending. Ultimately all the movie’s twists and turns may have kept the audience guessing, but for me they didn’t lead to lessons learned and the conflict resolved.

So what makes a good ending?  Here are my thoughts.

First, ask what is the main conflict? Not every issue or subplot has to be tied up in a neat bow by the conclusion, but the main conflict does.

The foundation for the resolution must be referenced or foreshadowed earlier in the story. No new characters should be introduced in the last moments.  The protagonist should apply what has been learned to defeat the external conflict and thus earn the right to be the ‘hero’.  Even if the hero loses, he’s still learned a lesson and hopefully will move forward.

Respect the reader. Don’t get lazy. They’ve stayed with you throughout the story’s journey. If the milestones have been laid out with solid dramatic questions, the ending should be organic and satisfying rather than yet another manufactured twist that comes out of the blue.  Leaving a question for a reader to ponder is good. Surprise endings are great, but they must feel right, natural. The reader’s reaction may be at first, “I didn’t see that coming’’, but with reflection she/he will realize the skilled author has woven the references throughout the story.

This leads me to ask: What was one of your favorite endings to either a movie or book and why?





J Carol Stephenson

Justice At All Costs


 

 



 

 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stalking Ideas

by Janis Patterson
One of the questions authors are asked the most is “Where do you find your ideas?” - as if ideas were rare and wondrous things as difficult to discover as flawless emeralds. As far as I and most of the writers I know are concerned, there are fewer questions more maddening.

As if one has to ‘find’ ideas. They find us, as ubiquitous as mosquitoes during a lake holiday, and sometimes just about as annoying. For example : you’re working happily on a sophisticated big city humorous mystery, when all of a sudden the sight of an axe in a hardware store brings up a flash of inspiration for a dark and noir-ish story about a suburban serial killer. It lurks at the edge of your consciousness, waiting to leap on every unguarded moment with yet another character or plot twist.

The sleuth you’re trying to write is an urbane, wise-cracking former male model who speaks four languages and not only knows but actually cares about the difference between white tie and black tie evening wear. (Sigh) The sleuth who is trying to creep into your mind is a wise-cracking suburban mom who hates soccer, has a daughter mad for ballet and who, through her knowledge of some arcane middle-class suburban pastime, deduces the killer who has been decimating the neighborhood.

Finally to propitiate the annoying creature you take a few precious hours to make some notes, jot down an idea or two, scrape together the bare bones of an outline and file the results into your bulging Ideas file. (You do keep an Ideas file, don’t you? I have for years. Mine is now roughly the size of Rhode Island.) The only problem is, when you decide the suburban mom has to have a garden, there is the flicker of an idea about a well-known television writer who loves to raise poisonous plants and his encyclopedic knowledge allows him to solve crimes as there is suddenly an epidemic of poisonings on the set of a controversial new series...

See how insidious this is? Before long you’re doing nothing but making notes about possible story ideas while your sophisticated and urbane city detective languishes somewhere in black tie (appropriate to the occasion, of course) waiting for you to come back to him. Ideas are everywhere, and catching them can take over your life.

Now, as we must never forget, I will repeat my mantra – an idea is not a plot. An Idea Is Not A Plot. Repeat that three times every day before you sit down to write. An idea is a situation, a frame, a slice of a singular moment in time. For a successful book, you need hundreds of ideas, and you need to be able to mesh them together seamlessly to provide a workable story. That part is work. Fielding a couple of the bazillions of ideas that flash by you every minute is not.

For the record, my second-most-disliked question is when some bright-eyed naif comes bouncing up (for some reason this is usually a middle-aged male at a cocktail party) and says with the utmost generosity of a Lord Bountiful, “I’ve a wonderful idea for a book – why don’t I tell it to you so you can write the book and we’ll split the money.” If it weren’t so maddening it would be funny to see their faces fall with disbelief when I tell them that ideas are literally everywhere and why would a writer need or even want to borrow ideas when there are more around for free than we could ever even make notes on in our lifetime? Let alone that the writing of the book is the work part, not finding an idea or two.

There have been a few, foolish ones who forge ahead and tell me their idea anyway, apparently convinced that once I hear it I will find it so irresistible and wonderful that I will fall all over myself begging to write it. Huh. Usually this idea is either an improbable farrago of wish-fulfillment or a twisted re-hash of some recent television show. Sigh. Unfortunately, there is nothing in any etiquette book about how to handle this situation and stabbing the innocent but tenacious offender with a cocktail pick is frowned upon. (I say that from sad experience...)

See the problem? It’s not that we have to stalk ideas – it’s that ideas stalk us, continually battering at the gates of our mind until we acknowledge their existence, which diffuses our focus. Perhaps a friend of mine said it best : “It’s not the idea; it’s what you do with it.”

What we do with it – writing the story itself – is the important part.

UPDATE :

Well, my one book release every two weeks from 30 June-30 October publishing blitz ends in a scant handful of days, and am I glad! It was madness to undertake such an insane schedule. What surprised me was how many people – including many writers, who should know better – asked disbelievingly if I were writing a new book every two weeks. Yes, two of the releases were new, but they were completed and edited before this all began, and all the rest backlist books whose rights had reverted to me. Still, it was all a tremendous amount of work that distracted me from everything else in life. Luckily The Husband likes frozen pizza, but he will be glad when I have the energy to get back in the kitchen, though the local restaurants will regret the loss of our all-too-regular patronage. In a way I too will be glad, for the business end of publishing has been so all-encompassing that my writing has been ruthlessly shoved aside. Only recently, as the publishing obligations started to decrease have I been able to approach the computer creatively. Jump-starting my brain and switching from the mind-set of publisher to author was more difficult than anticipated, but slowly the words have been creeping from my fingertips and once again I am feeling the radiant glow of creation. It’s about time.

The ultimate book in the blitz is a re-release of a traditional Regency romance entitled LACEY. It’s a fun book about three couples finding love in spite of societal conventions, meddling relatives and past hurts. Like all the rest, it has been re-edited, re-formatted, given a beautiful new cover and is available in both electronic and paper versions.




Now I am going to rest for a while, at least until the siren whisper of ideas becomes too strong in my ear!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Character Mimicry


Sometimes, after I create a new heroine, I find myself mimicking her world—often without realizing I’m doing it. For example, Delaney is a rock-climber (no, un-uh, I’m afraid of heights) who has a gray tabby Maine Coon cat with attitude. When my cat of sixteen years passed away a while ago, I began visiting the local shelters looking for a replacement.
Petzl
After several weeks and multiple trips I found the one that was destined to be mine. Until I named her I hadn’t realized subconsciously this was Delaney’s cat. Part Maine Coon, my Petzl (named for a climber/climbing equipment manufacturer) has an uncanny resemblance to that fictional cat I had created four years earlier.

 
In my new series, Caitlyn is a lieutenant in the US Coast Guard. Her “office” is a Jayhawk helicopter (I bet I could get a lesson in a helicopter…) and her ground transportation is a sexy black sport bike. When I started this story I had a Honda Blackhawk (trust me, the only thing in common was the color). But after researching sport bikes I found myself becoming more and more intrigued with the idea.
My Ninja
Yep, when the opportunity presented itself, I became the proud owner of a Ninja 500 (while it lacks the horsepower of Caitlyn’s monster, I prefer mine red with black trim).


Kelly, my female USCG rescue swimmer, gets to live one of my fantasies too. (No, jumping out of a helicopter is not my idea of fun!) She lives on a cabin cruiser in a Florida marina. While my 36 foot Sea Ray was the inspiration for her abode, I never spent longer than a week on the water. But oh, how I would love to do that full time (well, not when a hurricane is bearing down on Florida—it was bad enough hunkered down in a concrete-block home—imaging what that would be like on a boat is the stuff of nightmares).

Hmm, I wonder how my new Steampunk heroine is going to influence my future….

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chat or Chore? The book group


I'm Clare and I used to belong to a book group. (Chorus of "hello, Clare" LOL).

I gained a tremendous amount from it. I read books that I would never have considered buying on my own. I read in many different author styles - in many historical periods - in many different genres. It was also a great way to get together with friends each month, and chat about something other than the jobs we hated doing, the news that had depressed us, and the families driving us mad LOL. We'd extend the agenda to movie adaptations, other books by the same author etc etc.

It was a joy to discuss books with other readers when it was fresh in our minds. Okay, sometimes we disagreed with the overall opinions - or was that just me?! - but that made the evening even more interesting.

And then came the cracks.

"We should try a thriller next time," someone said with cheerful brightness. "Clare can choose that one for us." Understand this, I'm not ashamed of loving thrillers and crime novels. I'm Lee Child's greatest fan, at least in my house. But it seemed my taste for suspense and romance wasn't on anyone else's list.

We read a particularly emotionally harrowing one, which I didn't enjoy. "Have you read any others of his?" I was asked. I decided not to take that as patronising. (Not yet, anyway). "I don't think you appreciate his wonderful sense of time and place." It was still harrowing and an unpleasant read, I wanted to say :(. There are other ways of absorbing the same time and place, surely?

Then we read a Booker Prize nominee. Everyone raved about it, except me. Did I agree with them to keep the peace? In the spirit of tolerance and friendship? I'm afraid not :). Letting mischief take over, I announced that I had found it to be the worst waste of paper I'd ever read. Contrived setting, unfulfilling plot, self-indulgent characters ... I bit my tongue at everyone's disapproval.


Oh, Provocative Me! I left the book club soon after. All very amicably, don't worry. My friendships are intact :). And in fact the club fizzled to a halt soon a few months later, anyway. (And I haven't used actual conversations or details of my book group, so as to protect the innocent LOL).

I've decided that although I like to have my horizons stretched now and then - and I LOVE to talk books with people! - I read such a wide and varying range of books, good, bad, life-changing and DNFs, that it's difficult to find regular soulmates. It's also not easy to commit to any kind of club when my life is up and down with writing deadlines. The best I can do is overlap on some books with friends, as and when I read them. But the real benefit of my wide reading tastes is that I can overlap with all kinds of people, not just my immediate circle of friends, and that makes for some fascinating conversations.

Fiction is fiction, I often say! If you love reading, you love A LOT of it :). And although many of us can crit a book intelligently and constructively, it's not always easy to explain exactly WHY you feel the way you do about it. Sometimes it's enough for me that a book moves me emotionally, without it having to be dissected, or indeed, prove "worthy" to be so.

So have you ever been in a book group? Online or in real life? Enjoyed it? Or not?

It's always interesting to hear how people like to share their responses to a book. Tell us what you think! :)


Monday, October 20, 2014

SUPERSTITIONS: ARE YOU A BELIEVER?



I grew up in South Florida and spent many a happy vacation going to the beach and/or visiting with family and friends along the Florida Keys and Key West.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that after a day combing the shore for spectacular seashells that I wasn't allowed to bring them inside the house.


Why?  Because it's bad luck to have real shells in your house.  Bet you didn't know that (unless you were brought up by a very superstitious grandmother and mother.)  

Most of you know the superstitions or omens which are fairly common.  Don't walk under a ladder.  A black cat crossing in front of you is bad luck.  Finding a 4-leaf clover is good luck.  Always hang a horseshoe pointing up, so the good luck doesn't run out.

But those are only the beginning.  Here are a few you may or may not have heard of:

·      It's bad luck to put your shoes on top of the bed. 
·      Never let someone sweep under your feet, or you'll never get married. 
·      Putting your purse on the floor is bad luck.
·      A bird in the house means a death in the family.
·      If the palm of your right hand itches, it means you'll unexpectedly receive money.  But, if the palm of your left hand itches, it means you're going to spend money you weren't planning to spend.
·      If the bottom of your foot itches, you're going to take a trip. 
·      Don't open an umbrella in the house, its bad luck.
·      Never kill a spider inside the house, again bad luck.

Seems like a lot of superstitions point toward bad luck, although some predict good fortune.  So, how do you feel about superstitions?  Do you believe in omens or have a ritual that you do, hoping for good things.  Share it with us in the comments. 

Kathy Ivan is an award-winning author of romantic suspense and paranormal romance, currently working on her next romantic suspense when she's not checking to make sure she hasn't left her purse on the floor or put her shoes on the bed.  You can check out all her releases on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kathyivanauthor. 


Friday, October 17, 2014

THE SENSES



Photo courtesy of David Monniaux The Three Wise Monkeys Toshogu Shrine

     The three monkeys are reputed to hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, but we—a band of writers—employ all our senses. We see, hear, taste, touch, smell and employ evil in our work.
     As a city girl, my senses are engaged whenever I ride on the transit system feeling the heat of people jammed together during rush hour or the whack of someone’s backpack as the owner barrels past me. The icy breeze from air conditioning on a hot summer day or the slam of a stranger’s body against mine launched by a person who’s gotten up late and is determined to get on an overcrowded train.
     Smell comes to the fore when the homeless need a place to sleep and have had no place to wash or a starving teenager wolfs down a hamburger complete with onions and a side of fries or someone who is standing much too close and had prepared and eaten a healthy Mediterranean dinner the night before and used a tad too much garlic.
     I watch—fascinated—when someone late for work is able to make-up her face complete with eye shadow, mascara and pencil without putting one of her eyes out. Her lipstick—though I don’t like the shade she’s chosen—glides easily on her lips. As easy as an Olympic skater’s glide across the ice. Then there are dancers who stand on one hand, form pyramids and manage to swing from pole to pole without kicking in one commuter’s head. People absorbed in cell phones are everywhere—when I peek most seem to be playing the latest game. Others listen to music and turn off the world and sometimes the sound leaks out of their ear phones—and wakes the sleepers who have an inner alarm clock that will wake them when they reach their stop.
     Singers, guitar and mandolin players and magicians who ask us to hold pieces of cord can be heard every day along with preachers practicing their chosen profession and beggars—the truly down and out and the professionals who’ve worked at gathering alms for years. Listening to conversations often introduces a new character or a sentence or two of dialogue and when I don’t hear the ending of a story, the line becomes part of a mystery to be solved or an ending to make up.
     By the end of a long trip, my throat feels dry and I pop a mint offered at the end of a lunch in my mouth. The mint brings my taste buds refreshment and when I come to my destination, I feel I’ve put the ride to good use. Observations are stored in my brain and I’m sure will appear next time I need to recall an image, a sound, an odor, a sight, a taste or a feeling of revenge.

  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Parking Lot Mystery

Weird week. Lemme tell you what happened.
I arrived early.
Some of you (anyone who’s ridden in my car, for example) may be surprised by that. (Move on, people.)
The building was on a busy street. It was 1970’s construction, red brick, rectangle. Two floors. No windows facing the street. The parking lot was nearly empty. Deserted. Cement cracked. Weeds knee-high toward the edge, where I parked.
The only other car in the lot was a sleek, black Lexus.
The back of my neck began to prickle.
Okay. This is where I have to admit. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. This is the point in the story where my life experience began to…engage.
I was there to deliver books to a group of women for an ESL class. I lugged two heavy bags of children’s books to the front door of the building. It was hard to see anything through the glass door. Someone had covered the inside with a reflective cling-film. The door was locked. I’d ventured to say, it was more than "locked." It was super, ultra-locked. I could see the metal dead-bolt through the gap in the aluminum door frame. 
I rang the bell.
Nothing.
I knocked.
Nothing.
I turned around and stared at the empty lot and my 12 year old mom-van...
...the Lexus.
Back in the day, kids would say, “You know he didn’t inherit the money.” A Lexus? Hmmm.
I reminded myself I was still a wee bit early. I knocked again.
The door opened suddenly. A man appeared. He was a foot shorter than me. Older maybe? He had a bushy white beard and his teeth had not had the benefit of American dentistry. He was wearing traditional Middle Eastern clothing, including a knit cap on his head.
“What?” the man says to me. 
I picked up my bags of books. Immediately, he held up a hand. “No.”
“I have books for the ladies. The meeting?”
“No. Not here. No. You can’t come in.”
He was brusque. He hardly looked at me; his gaze was fixed about three feet to the left of my head.
I could feel myself getting irritated. I pulled myself up taller, which is useful. I'm six feet tall in shoes. Seriously? I’m bringing books, dude. Who was this guy?
For half a second, I had the urge to crowd him. To push forward. Are you talking to me? Are you using a tone…with me?
Instead, I stepped back. “I’ll wait in the car.”
“Yes. You wait. In car.” He shut the door in my face. I heard the lock snick.
The books were heavier on the way back to the car.
About two minutes after I sat down in the car to think, the building door opened, and the man came out. He got into the Lexus and drove off.
Now, I was alone in the parking lot. The neck prickles were back. I imagined the man picking up the phone to report to his associates the strange, white woman in the parking lot.
This is the point I must pause to remind you, I write fiction.
So what happened?
The ladies drove up. They were sweet and welcoming. I carried the books back to the door and into the building. They didn’t seem as heavy.
What did you think would happen?
   

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Is Your Cadence?

Less than three weeks ago I woke up from a scary dream.  Many authors are inspired by dreams, but the impact of this was so vivid it bordered on absurd. I literally got out of bed and went to my desk (not even stopping in the bathroom, which is unheard of!), and began to write. I wrote like someone posessed--a crazy woman in her pajamas with hair sticking straight up. In just over 14 days I'm more than halfway through a novel! That is as preposterous as not stopping in the bathroom first thing in the morning!

The pace of the writing is an indication of the pace of the book. It's like someone was standing behind me, banging on a base drum. 

We all know that poetry has a cadence, but did you know that books do as well? You may not be consciously aware of it, but if you are reading a book and you find yourself going, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, that pretty much sums up the books' cadence.

The cadence to this book is BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. Definitely a double-time.

What type of cadence do you enjoy in a book? A marching band? A rock beat? The gentle strum of a cello? 

Or have you read one of those books that possesses the monotonous beat of Newton's cradles?

Maureen (Crazy author desperately wiggling in her seat because she hasn't had time to get up to go to the bathroom)
www.MaureenAMiller.com


Friday, October 10, 2014

Sex and Politics

Like a lot of writers, I write with an agenda.


Because I write about gay men falling in love, my agenda might appear more transparent than most. When I first began writing gay fiction, my focus was simply on showing how absolutely UNextraordinary such relationships were. Normal was my catchword. Because when I first found a publisher for these stories, most of my mainstream readers and writing friends still found gay mysteries unusual, surprising, and occasionally uncomfortable. They were most certainly -- and correctly at that time -- viewed as non-commercial.


Aside from the sexual orientation of my characters, I've mostly tried to avoid getting political in books. I don't like to be preached to, and neither do readers. This isn't to say that my characters don't have political or religious affiliations. They do. The things that we believe in, trust in, have faith in, think are worth fighting for define us. So a well-drawn character should have views on religion and politics and, yes, sex. Because it is rare to find a human who doesn't.


Fair Play is the first really political story I've written. It's difficult to write about a former radical on the run from his past -- or to discuss the 1960s -- without getting somewhat political. The story is a mystery-romance, so politics aren't the focus, but it's still feels a lot more political -- and personal -- to me. Just the mention of Vietnam riles up people in my family, so I imagine it will rile up a few readers.


Or maybe not. It was a long time ago, after all. I'll be interested to see if there is a reaction or not. Anyway, Fair Play comes out November 10th, but you can preorder it now through Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.

So what do you think? Do you write with an agenda? Or if you're a reader, do you find a noticeable agenda off-putting?


Fifty years ago, Roland Mills belonged to a violent activist group. Now, someone is willing to kill to prevent him from publishing his memoirs.


When ex-FBI agent Elliot Mills is called out to examine the charred ruins of his childhood home, he quickly identifies the fire for what it is—arson. A knee injury may have forced Elliot out of the Bureau, but it’s not going to stop him from bringing the man who wants his father dead to justice.
Agent Tucker Lance is still working to find the serial killer who’s obsessed with Elliot and can’t bear the thought of his lover putting himself in additional danger. Straightlaced Tucker has never agreed with radical Roland on much—“opposing political viewpoints” is an understatement—but they’re united on this: Elliot needs to leave the case alone. Now.


Tucker would do nearly anything for the man he loves, but he won’t be used to gain Elliot access to the FBI’s resources. When the past comes back to play and everything both men had known to be true is questioned, their fragile relationship is left hanging in the balance.















Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Falling For ...

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “fall”?  This time of year, I still automatically go with a Currier & Ives image of a perfect New England foliage explosion. 

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, fall is quieter. In town, yard trees are selected for spring flowers, summer shade, and fall color. Our mountain place leans toward towering evergreens, although we can do sepia tones quite nicely. (Le sigh – I keep planting Aspen and the deer keep eating them.)
 
“Fall” can conjure other images: People fall up and down the stairs, in and out of love. We choose to free-fall on carnival rides or in any number of outdoor sports. We enjoy the beauty of waterfalls and falling leaves.

Emotional falls can be beautiful, romantic, sad, painful, and exciting—or “d” all the above. Those emotional triggers seem fraught with so much more peril. A broken bone heals, but is a broken heart ever truly mended? What’s a writer to do? Remember the phrase going around for a while? Want to write? Open a vein and bleed onto the page. That’s emotional vulnerability.

In my current WIP, I’m struggling to knock my protagonist down emotionally. I’m taking bigger risks, digging deeper into the character. And in digging deeper, I’m risking revealing more of myself as I tap into my own emotional reserves. In order to entice my readers to fall in love with my character, to follow him along and through his internal and external journeys, my character has to not just face down challenges, he has to fail—and fail big, falling flat on his face. He has to hit rock bottom and leave the reader wondering if he can get back up. As I push myself as a writer, I’m pushing this character to peel back layers, figure out what he really wants, and go for it, even if at times he’s hanging by his fingertips over a chasm that will kill him if he falls.

What about you? Fall/falling–love it or hate it? Are you taking risks—as an author or personally?


Monday, October 6, 2014

Homeland's thoroughly dislikable heroine

I'm writing this in front of the TV, where I'm anxiously awaiting the first episode of the fourth season of Homeland, one of my all time favorite shows. I don't watch much television – I can't deal with sitcoms or shows that feel formulaic or predictable. I also dislike characters that are simply "too too:" too good, too bad, too beautiful, too ugly.

Now I'm the first to admit that the characters in my novels are very good-looking and sexy, but they're imperfect all the same. Most of them have a past they're not proud of (kinda like all of us, right?), but they evolve and do the right thing in the end. That's what romance readers expect, and it makes us feel good.

Enter Carrie Mathison, the bipolar CIA agent (played brilliantly by Claire Danes) on Homeland who spends at least half her time on screen behaving unpleasantly (read: acting like a total b--ch), alienating her coworkers, exploiting her family and sleeping with the enemy. She insults people, yells and curses a lot, drinks way too much and has sex with strangers. She looks ordinary most of the time and downright ugly when she cries. 


In other words, she's the real deal.

The most extraordinary thing about Carrie is her freakishly spot-on intuition. Lots of super intelligent, highly analytical people work for the CIA, but they don't have her gift for seeing what no one else is willing or able to see. She fully intends to save the world and will use any method—illegal or unethical if necessary—to do it. If Carrie were a real person I wouldn't want to put up with her snark or her craziness to be her friend, but I think she's an incredible woman.


If you're a Homeland fan I'd love to know what you think of Carrie. If you're not, is there a character from another TV show or movie you don't like but admire the hell out of?

-- Ana Barrons