Friday, April 29, 2011

MY INVITATION'S LOST IN THE POST ...

So how on earth did I get the poisoned chalice of today's blog post? When the eyes of most of Britain - and, I may say, the world - are on an event as far removed from Clare London blogging as the sun from the earth? :)

I've spent the morning at a friend's, watching The Royal Wedding, and searching my rather weary brain for a connection with the NYUS blog. And ... failing. So, if you'll excuse a rather scribbled moment after a jug of Pimms - here's some mystery fiction instead!

***

I crossed the darkened room on bare feet and leaned against the closed door, listening with fierce concentration, my sharp hearing on alert. There were no sounds from the corridor outside. I blinked in the darkness, but nothing was out of place: no movement, no answering breath, no cry of alarm. Excellent. I was alone in the room, just as I had been when I slid the window open and climbed in from the garden.

A special day, they’d said. Yes, indeed. The happy couple would get what they deserved today, and I’d be the one to deliver it.

Who was there to stop me?

I bent on supple knees, the dark fabric of my clothing stretching over my muscles, then moved across the room in a crouch. My gloved hands moved swiftly across the furniture, feeling my way. The geography of the room was just as I’d anticipated. The package at my side hung awkwardly, pressing into my thigh. Slipping a hand down, I patted it back into place. There must be no noise; no warning given.

Just what they deserved.

Maybe just one more touch? My mouth went dry at the promise. After all, I couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong now. They would be back from the church any time now, and I … I wanted things to be ready for them. Preparation was everything.

I’d been waiting for this moment for a long time.

Pausing, balanced on my knees and heels, I grasped the thick, velvet cloth in my pocket and drew out my burden. My heartbeat quickened. Biting my lip to hold back a moan of satisfaction, I ran a tentative finger along the sharp edge inside.

And then the lights snapped on.

Blinking with shock, I jumped to my feet. The door had slammed open, a large, solid shape silhouetted in the frame. For a second’s flash, I couldn’t focus, yet knew it was a human shape. How many were there? Just one? A whole team? Three running steps would take me back to the window and escape.

“Stay there,” said a strong voice. “It’s all over now.” The shadow broke away from the doorway and started walking towards me. A man in uniform. A large man. The voice was low and harsh. “I told you to wait with the others, didn’t I?”

“You can’t stop me. This is for them.” I gripped my precious parcel.

The man shook his head slowly, almost sadly, still walking forward. There were mere feet between us now. “Now come along quietly. You know it’s for the best, don’t you?”

No. I shook my head too, but angrily: with frustration.

“Give that to me,” the man said. His voice was kinder now.

With a sob in my throat, I held out the parcel. I watched the other man take hold of it. For one brief moment, I wouldn’t let go. “It’s what I planned for. What I must do.”

The man nodded, almost sympathetically. “Of course.” The parcel had changed hands. I was bereft. I stood  in the room, disarmed, thwarted.

“Look around,” the man said. “You see?”

I looked around slowly, expecting a trick, dreading the truth. The room was opulently furnished, every surface covered with greetings cards of all shapes and sizes. Over the fireplace was a large banner proclaiming “Congratulations to the happy couple”. And on a large dining table at the far side of the room was a pile of sumptuously wrapped gifts.

“I’ve checked them all in,” the man said. “It’s my job, as steward of the Royal Household.” He shook his head again and gestured with my parcel. “And there are twenty five of these already.”

Twenty five?” Surely not. Surely my dreams were unique, my promises treasured…

The man took my arm, guiding me firmly but carefully towards the exit. “Send them a gift voucher instead, why don’t you?”

“No –”

“Yes,” he said, with a sigh that spoke of a very long day, and the aftermath of a stream of challenging well-wishers at the doors of Clarence House. “Because you can have too many kitchen knife sets.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Location, Location, Location

When my first romantic suspense novel, The Paris Secret, was on submission to publishers, I was stunned when an editor rejected it because of the Parisian setting. This editor said that foreign settings didn’t work for her readers. Really? I’m a reader and I certainly enjoy books set in foreign countries. And I know I’m not the only one. Can you say Stieg Larsson? Reading about far off places I’ve never been brings those places alive for me. They take me on journeys I might not otherwise take and all from the comfort of my own home. Here are some of my favorite mystery/suspense/thrillers set in foreign countries.

Murder in the Marais By Cara Black – This is the first book in Cara Black’s wonderful series set in Paris and featuring half French half American private investigator, Aimee Leduc. In this first book, Aimee encounters neo-Nazis; corrupt government officials and fierce anti-Semitism.

Garnethill By Denise Mina - Set in a Glasgow suburb of the same name, Garnethill features troubled Maureen O’Donnell, a woman just released from a stint in a Glasgow psychiatric institute who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a social worker.

Labyrinth By Kate Mosse – If you’ve read my book, The Paris Secret, you can probably tell I’m a big fan of ‘timeslip’ novels. Set in the Languedoc region of France, Labyrinth features two heroines born centuries apart and connected through time by a quest for the Holy Grail.

Haunted Ground By Erin Hart – The first book to feature American pathologist Nora Gavin and Irish archeologist Cormac Maguire. The two meet when the perfectly preserved head of a young woman is found in a bog west of Ireland.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death By MC Beaton – This is the first book that introduced the world to the unforgettable Agatha Raisin, a London publicist who takes early retirement and moves to a village in the Cotswold’s. When she cheats by entering a store bought quiche in a local competition, a judge ends up poisoned and Agatha is the prime suspect.

Vodka Neat By Anna Blundy - features Faith Zanetti, the new Moscow correspondent for a leading newspaper--chosen for the job because she married a Russian when she was a teenager. But the minute she steps on Russian soil, she is instantly arrested in connection with the murders, fifteen years before, of a couple from a neighboring apartment.

What about you guys? Do you like reading books set in foreign cities?

Angela : )

Monday, April 25, 2011

BE A SUCCESSFUL HOOKER.

Hooker?
Did you come to the blog thinking I was going to talk about a very old profession? If you did well……. HA! Made you look. You fell for my hook.
So what is a hook?
I think instructor Mary Buckham, in her lecture packet on Hooks and Pacing, says it best.
"Hooks create an emotional response from a reader. Not just any emotional response but one that gets under your subconscious, raises a question and compels a reader to turn one more page in order to find an answer.
Hooks can, and should be used, in the opening sentence of a book, the opening paragraph, the end of the first page, the end of the third page, the end of the third chapter, opening a chapter as well as an ending one, at each new scene and, if you're writing a series, the last sentence."
In her book How I Write Janet Evanovich says: "The beginning is the most important part of the book. It must capture the reader immediately and force them to keep reading."
Agent Donald Maas says hooks are vital to open your book, open each chapter, open each scene, and end the book. The best books contain one or more of twelve different hooks.
* Action or danger
* Overpowering emotion
* A surprising situation
* An evocative description that pulls a reader into a setting [think a specific setting here that impacts the story line vs simply description per se – simple description of a generic or vague nature is not evocative nor qualifies as a setting]
* Introducing a unique character [Introduction of a character is not enough – they must be unique.
* Warning or foreshadowing
* Shocking or witty dialogue [internal or external]
* The totally unexpected
* Raising a direct question

Still not convinced hooks are important? Take five of your favorite books from the shelf and read the first paragraph. Is there a hook? I had twenty-one books on the table and all save one had a hook. All but a handful had the story GMC in the first pages. My very favorite opening is Michael Connelly’s first page of The Brass Verdict. It completely lays out the story.
Recently I was at a luncheon and ladies were talking about a book on the best seller list. One asked if the book was any good, should she read it. They other’s response blew me away. She said, “It’s great once you get past the first hundred pages.” I knew the book, it was two hundred seventy-five pages. My mouth is always forty feet in front of the rest of me spoke up and asked why on earth would anyone continue to read a book after the first five pages if it didn’t interest you. To me those are chuckawalla books. They don’t grab my attention in those fist pages and they get chucked against the wall.
Does your opening immediately draw the reader in? Want to share? Or tell me what you most favorite ever opening is.
Here’s my opening for Under Fire.

“We have a visual on the boat.” Coast Guard Lt. Commander Olivia Carver’s gloved fingers tightened around the helicopter’s control stick and she increased airspeed. The chase was on.
Olivia’s heartbeat matched the tempo of the rotors. Sweat bonded her flight suit to her body and trickled between her breasts. Counter-narcotics had become her reason for existing and she was damn good at it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

THIS MAY TAKE MORE WORK…

In my last blog, I confessed that I wasn’t evil enough and needed to become meaner if I was to create a credible bad guy. I promised I’d work on my evil-twin side and report back on my success.

Well. It turns out there’s not much to report.

Being mean—let alone evil—is work. It’s hard to go against a lifetime of conditioning. Sort of like learning to eat healthy when you’ve always been able to eat whatever you want. (Not that this has been my personal experience, you understand.)

Even when I had an impulse to lash out with a cutting comment or place a metaphoric tack on someone’s seat, I resisted. Why? Because there’s a reason we’re polite. We are social creatures and have developed conventions and customs that allow us to live tightly packed in small spaces without killing each other.

I learned, however, that my inner bad guy rises much closer to the surface when I’m cranky and tired. It becomes oh so easy to sharpen my tongue on friends and family. But that’s as bad as I get. More like an inner bitch than an inner bad guy.

I did have an insight, however. An acquaintance made a mistake. It was a stupid mistake, involving another friend, but instead of owning up to it, she proceeded to dig herself in deeper and deeper until it all fell apart. Slow motion car wreck.

So if I extend this experience to fiction, I find that bad guys aren’t necessarily evil, or even bad. They could be normal people pushed into desperate action by extraordinary circumstances—sort of like heroes.

My latest villain appears in The Shoeless Kid, on May 16, from Carina Press. Check it out and see if he—or she—meets your criteria for a good villain. What about you? Any favourite villains?

Marcelle
http://www.marcelledube.com/

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who’s your favourite sleuth?

As soon as people know my novels feature crime solving detectives and private investigators, they want to know the identity of my favourite sleuth. Am I a Morse fan or do I prefer Rebus? Kojak or Columbo? Miss Marple or Poirot? 
There’s a clue in the title of this post that I’m British. (Thankfully, Carina Press allows me to keep British spellings in my books.) I was born in a tiny village in the lee of Meon Hill where you would be safe to assume that nothing happened. Ever.
But… One day, years before I was born, something did happen. On Valentine’s Day, 1945, a seventy-four-year-old man was brutally murdered. 
Charles Walton, a farm labourer, was tending fences on Meon Hill. Walton was a recluse so he wasn’t a popular man. Also, he had a gift for calling animals and birds to his hand to feed. Some believed Walton was clairvoyant. Others swore he was involved in witchcraft.
The fact is that his body was found on that barren hillside. He’d been badly beaten, his neck had been slashed and he’d been pinned to the ground with his own pitchfork. There were no witnesses and no suspects. Warwickshire police officers were baffled and Scotland Yard was asked to assist.
Enter ace detective Inspector Robert Fabian.
All this may have happened long before I was born, but I still get a thrill from knowing that Fabian came to my little village where nothing ever happened. (Except the odd murder, that is.)
One of the earliest police procedurals made for British TV, Fabian of the Yard, was based on Fabian’s memoirs. The episodes were broadcast in 1954/55 and were later shown in the US under the name Fabian of Scotland Yard. Each episode was based on a real crime that had made national headlines at the time. And each episode ended with the real Fabian explaining what had happened to the criminal.
So did Charles Walton’s case appear on Fabian of the Yard? No. It remains unsolved to this day. Fabian says he was met with a wall of silence. Locals were tight-lipped. Tales of witchcraft continued to circulate. All these years later, a search on the internet for “witchcraft murder” will bring up the case of Charles Walton.
As children, we heard about the murder and frightened ourselves silly with tales of ghostly black dogs and murderous witches roaming our hill. Adults would say, in hushed tones, that even Fabian of the Yard had been unable to solve the mystery.
Robert Fabian died in 1978, but he remains my favourite detective. He showed flashes of genius, he was way ahead of his time when it came to forensic science and he possessed the ability to get inside a killer’s mind which is exactly what I try to do when I write. 
(Talking of writing, if you look at the book cover, you’ll see that Fabian was published by none other than Harlequin).
So who’s your favourite detective? Is he/she real or fictional? Enquiring minds need to know.

Monday, April 18, 2011

WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE AND LOVE WHAT YOU WRITE


I had an emergency come up over the last week, and completely forgot that I was blogging this morning. So I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to post a previous blog that I wrote, as the words in it are just as true today as they were when I wrote it. :-)

A good friend once told me write what you love and love what you write. I firmly believe that. She said unless you love your story and what you have written, how can you expect the reader to love it? I sometimes forget that’s my job as a storyteller. It’s the reason I love to write. I want to tell people a story, with a compelling beginning, middle, and an emotionally satisfying ending that they will remember and think about after they have “put down the book.”

That’s the case with Desperate Choices. I loved the story as I outlined it, figuring out who each of the characters was, what motivated them to make the choices they make throughout the book. If I was in the same situation, would I make the same choices?

Back cover: When psychic Theresa Crawford’s former beau walks into her New Orleans New Age shop, she senses trouble. Big trouble. Max Lamoreaux hasn’t come to discuss their relationship—the private investigator is on a case, and he needs Theresa’s help.

Max’s godson is missing. The police have declared Tommy a runaway, but Max’s gut tells him otherwise. While he’s highly skeptical of Theresa’s abilities, her visions provide the only clue as to who’s taken Tommy. The longer Max works with Theresa, the harder it is to resist his desire for the sexy woman.

As they inch closer to finding Tommy, Max and Theresa also discover that time hasn’t diminished their powerful attraction. But Theresa harbors her own dark secrets from her past. Secrets that broke them up before—and could drive them apart again, unless Theresa can learn to trust Max with everything….

For those of you who are readers, there is an excerpt from Desperate Choices on my website www.kathyivan.com. There’s also a book trailer there for the book.

For those of you who are writers (or interested in writing), here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

WRITING TIPS:
1. Never give up. I know everybody says that, but it’s the truth. I decided it was time to retire Desperate Choices. After making a deal with one of my critique partners that I’d send it out one last time (to Carina Press), I gave it one final shot. That was on March 6, 2010. I got the call on May 11, 2010.
2. Get good critique partners. Have people read your manuscript who will give you honest constructive feedback. It’s easy to find people who will read your work and gush and say how wonderful it is, but that won’t get you one step closer to publication; it’ll just make you feel good for the moment. Having people who aren’t afraid of yielding the dreaded red pen and slashing and hacking at your baby may hurt, but it will ultimately make you a better writer.
3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; be true to what you write and write what you love. If you don’t believe and love the story you’re writing, trust me, the reader will be able to tell that in a minute.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Writing, Real Life and Tax Deductions by Janis Patterson



            If you notice the ‘posted by’ at the top, you’ll see it was done by our own marvelous Toni Anderson and not by me. That’s because I’m not here – I’m in Paris (yes, that Paris!) celebrating a wonderful, romantic tenth wedding anniversary with The Husband. A Captain in the Navy Reserve, he was activated last year for the fourth time in eight years and posted to Germany. He was very upset that we would be spending our wedding anniversary apart. Again.
            Me: It’s okay, honey, it’s not the first anniversary you’ve missed.
            The Husband: But the tenth is special, so you’ll just have to come over and we’ll go to Paris.
            Me, gulping : Okay!
            So that’s wonderful for me, but how does that tie in with writing?
            Simple. EVERYTHING ties in with writing, from a romantic trip to Paris to getting your tires rotated.
            I used to have a sweatshirt that said “Nothing bad ever happens to writers –it’s all research.” Oh, so true! The sweatshirt finally dissolved from pure age, but the saying is still as meaningful as ever.
            Whatever is happening is grist for your mill. Even if you aren’t conscious of doing it, your brain is constantly absorbing little bits of information – smells, sights, sounds. Occasionally, simple curiosity will drive you ask a question, even if you don’t have an exact usage for it at the time. For example, I was having my tires rotated when I asked a somewhat bemused mechanic how to make sure a car would crash. Luckily he has known me for the many years we’ve patronized that station, so instead of calling the police he patiently explained several very nifty ways to ensure a spectacular smash-up. There’s one involving a block of wood and some glue that I can’t wait to use… in a story, just in a story…
            One of the benefits of being a writer is that there is so much you can claim as a business-related deduction. Books. Movies. Parts of some trips. A home office. Lunches with fellow writers. Conferences. Workshops. Classes. Postage. Mileage. Some writers even claim a portion of their home for an office and a portion of their internet fees. You need to check with the tax code or a good accountant well versed in writerly deductions to see if everything you’ve claimed is legal and justifiable. You also need to keep impeccable records and receipts. The minutiae of that, however, is fodder for a post by someone more gifted with numbers and laws than I.
            I am trying to make the point that everything in your life affects your writing. When you smell the first roses of spring, it doesn’t mean that you have to put them in your current work; it does mean that when you need a fresh, springlike odor or even a reference, there is the memory of those first, dewy roses just waiting in the back of your mind. Same thing with other, less pleasant events/ideas/odors/sights/emotions.
            Whatever affects you can also affect your readers. Good writing invokes nuance and texture. Instead of just telling your readers there is a coat on the chair, let them know what kind of coat it is. Lush fur? Ratty denim? Cashmere, freshly cleaned or down-at-the-heels grubby? Plaid or plain? Pristine or torn? Whatever that coat is gives us an insight into the owner. For example, “The jacket had originally been dark indigo, but time and wear had faded the denim to a pale blue with streaks of white around the edges. One of the pockets had been torn and carefully mended with thread that didn’t quite match, but it was clean and had been neatly pressed.” That not only describes the physical coat, but also says a lot about its owner.
            That does not mean you have to go into a detailed treatise on fabrics, coat manufacture or dry cleaning processes. A great indigestible lump of information is as bad as none at all, and sometimes worse. Readers have sparks, gems, archetypes in their minds, too. As writers it is our job to activate them.
            Too many of us wander around in the fog of the immediate (our minds concentrated on what to serve for supper tonight, who is going to take the kids to soccer practice, when the roast should come out of the oven) for us to acknowledge the real world around us. Life, the tiny little gems of life, are passing us by and we haven’t even noticed.
            One of the purposes of fiction is to take the reader to a different world; if we don’t notice these gems, how can we pass them on to our readers? How can we create a complete and believable world? Oh, it can be done, but without those gems of the senses the end product is usually flat and sterile and does nothing for the reader. It says nothing good about the writer, either.
            So, while I am in Paris I shall be looking at the magnificent buildings and listening to the accents and tasting the food, but when I come home I shall be just as assiduous in noting the play of light through the grapevines on the pergola roof and the strange whine coming from my car’s newly aligned tires and smelling the heat of a drowsy spring afternoon, all so I can use them accurately in my work. My readers deserve nothing less.
            Tout allors, ma cheres – c’est finit! My space – and my French – are just about finished, so I will close with the promise to tell you about April in Paris in my next entry. (May 23.) À bientôt!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

GUEST BLOGGER: Alpha Males by Adrienne Giordano

I love a good alpha male. The nice ones. Not the mean ones. The nice ones give those around them a sense of stability, an assurance that whatever comes at them, they'll deal with it in a direct and concise manner and if anyone wants to get in their way, they should prepare to get run over.

Alpha males don't like people standing in their way.

I grew up surrounded by alpha males, which is probably why I have such a soft spot for them. I'm a Jersey girl from a large Italian family. Need I say more? Family gatherings with my father's siblings could have been the annual alpha convention. And I'm not talking about just the men either. The females weren't about to take any prisoners either. My father was what I call an alpha-on-steroids. A master storyteller, he was loud and funny and had a temper that sometimes ran hot. Speaking of that temper, it wasn't a shocker for him to pull to the side of the road and kick the crap out of a guy who had flipped him the bird. I can attest to this. I witnessed it.

Back then, it wasn't so fun. Now though, I laugh because the non-alphas of the world would probably have considered my dad a madman. Heck, there were times I thought he was a madman. On the flip side, my father was generous to a fault and would give his enemy his last dollar.

In my own writing, I try to give my alpha characters qualities that off-set their overbearing ways. Most people can accept flaws in characters if there are compelling reasons to like them. Did they jump in front of a bus to save a child? Buy meals for the homeless? It could be something as simple as holding a door open for an elderly woman, but for me, a good alpha has to have a tender side.

As a reader, I love when books have alpha heroes who constantly surprise me. Maybe the author has given the hero a fear of worms or cats. Something incredibly ordinary to humanize him and make him vulnerable. That's the good stuff because I always want to know why they have this fear.

As a writer, I find it makes for great fun to throw a character smack against his biggest fear. Is he afraid of spiders? Why not lock him in a room with a bunch of them and see how he gets out? Afraid of heights? Make him jump out of an airplane. Love. It.

Also important is giving alphas traits that set them apart from each other. I find this is important to avoid "cookie-cutter" characters.

The hero in my upcoming release is a government assassin. Vic is a loner who has no idea how to communicate with women on an intimate level. He is most definitely an alpha, but not a chest-bumpy alpha. Threaten someone he loves though, and he'll get as chest-bumpy as he needs to be. He will stop at nothing to protect his loved ones.

The hero in my September release? He's an alpha-on-steroids. A total control freak. If someone needs rescuing, call Monk and he'll find a way. Fast. He is the "daddy" of the group, a caretaker who can't resist getting into everyone's business. For him, I tried to balance his over-the-top alpha tendencies with his need to always make things right. He may be aggressive, but he wants justice. Always.

Another strong-willed personality I thoroughly enjoyed developing was Michael, the hero in my third release. He's more of an incognito-alpha. He'll get things done, but he likes to use his brain rather than his fists. He won't back away from a fight, but he doesn't necessarily look for one either. I paired him with an alpha female who runs a major daily newspaper and has no use for a man she can push around. Part of the fun with Michael was putting him into situations with Roxann and watching them blow up on him because he assumed he would be in charge.

Chances are I won't stop writing alphas anytime soon. Whether it be the hero or the heroine, I will most likely have alphas somewhere, facing something that terrifies them. Because really, I think it's a whole lot of fun to watch someone conquer something they fear will bring them down.

What about you? How do you feel about alpha heroes/heroines? Do you have a favorite alpha character from a book or movie?

Adrienne's Bio: Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and women's fiction. She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Chicago area with her work-a-holic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaton Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog. Adrienne's books have been finalists in the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Her debut romantic suspense, Man Law, will be released by Carina Press on July 4, 2011. Her second book, A Just Deception, will be available from Carina Press in September 2011. For more information please visit www.AdrienneGiordano.com.

Here are my Facebook and Twitter links.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Writers' Police Academy


Last September I traveled to the tourist Mecca of North Carolina. It was one of those occasions when I got on a plane only vaguely aware of where I would be when I got off. When I booked my ticket I remembered thinking—is there really an airport in Greensboro? There was, thankfully. 

I was going to Guildford Technical Community College and Public Safety Training Academy, Jamestown, N.C., and I was so excited I grinned the whole way, included in the full body scanner at Winnipeg airport, and even as I lined up to fly to Frankfurt from O’Hare (wrong line, but I’m British and we like to queue).

I’ve toured a few police stations and visited a wonderful sheriff’s department in Nevada (professional reasons only), but this was my first time with the WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY (2010).

I blogged about some of the day-to-day activities here here and here for those thinking of attending, but I realized I never actually post anything about THE thing that made the trip so worthwhile.

The FireArms Training Simulator--FATS. 

Throughout the conference/academy everyone would ask in excited voices, you been to FATS yet? And the sweat and exhilaration was like a drug. I was one of the very last people to do mine, but oh man, it was worth the price of admission. In the first room, you’re in a group of three people, the second room, you are on your own.

These are the [edited] notes I made on the plane home—same day.
First room: You go into the room and have the gun [a modified Glock that shot laser beams with enough recoil to simulate the real thing] explained to you. You have to drop the cartridge, reload, and then pull back the slide to load [between each video scenario].  Then you keep your trigger finger along the barrel rather than on the trigger (that and not pointing it at anyone helps to stop the wrong person getting shot).  You grip and place your other hand beneath the gun and interlock the thumbs. Aim through the sights.  

Different scenarios come up on the screen and you have to work out when you can/should take a shot at someone.  [These are real training videos. Before the FATS training we got information sheets from the Use-of-Force Trainer/consultant on when you can use lethal force. I couldn’t believe you couldn’t just shoot someone running away. Kidding. But there are strict rules and if you mess up you could end up ruining your career and on the wrong side of the judicial system (I’m not touching the morals/ethics of the situation here, just the basic facts)].

So you stand there with your feet planted when things start to happen on this big screen. [I’m pretty self-conscious so felt like a total dweeb talking my imaginary foes off all these different ledges—and yes, there were times I wanted to talk dirty to them—Dirty Harry :).] What I noticed was people often get into a cycle of saying the same thing over and over. Put the gun down. Put the gun down. Over and over. Need to engage in different way.  Can shoot if feel imminent threat to yourself or others. A person holding a gun and pointing it in your direction counts. Holding a knife and walking towards you counts.  Dropping weapon and trying to punch you doesn’t count. Someone committing suicide does not count [don’t shoot the man who wants to commit suicide! Many trainees did].

Focus is extreme. But trying to aim and at the same time be aware of situation is difficult (and this was just a 2-D screen in front of you rather than 360° 3-D world). Things happen fast, so aiming within that timescale is hard. Training is key.  Makes it automatic. 

I loved the adrenaline and the power.  You sweat. You tremble. You feel under pressure. Start questioning all situations. Start wondering if people are always reaching for gun.  One guy reaching for his jacket got shot as soon as his hand went out of sight.  

You shoot if you or someone else is in imminent lethal danger and if you can make the shot.  If you shoot too early then you can escalate the situation and everyone starts firing.  

In the second room: the gun doesn’t require reloading.  The guy would critique us and then make us doubt ourselves.  Sweat and shake.  Firm stance.  Become more suspicious of everyone. Actually this guy liked to make us fail, I think it’s probably what they do to real recruits until they ‘get’ how they are supposed to behave under these tense situations without putting themselves in danger or shooting every second person they meet.

I started to get it by the second room. The guy took the practice targets an extra two rows back compared to the other people I trained with [oh, the glory]. Then the bugger started moving them around and I was toast. But I was pretty impressed with myself because it was the first time I’d really fired a handgun.  One funny aside for me...I did FATS with 2 lovely ladies. One was a dead-eye shot, the other made everyone dance. It was the second lady who said with a little shake of her head, “I really must get out to the range more.” I just about fell through the floor. [I did mention British, right?”].

***
I've already used some of the scenarios and situations covered at WPA in the last two manuscripts I've written. I bought Lee Lofland's book POLICE PROCEDURE & INVESTIGATION which has some very useful information in it. I'm not going to pretend I get everything right--I don't. There are some situations when I know I'm going to have to not follow correct procedure to make things work in my story. But I am trying my hardest with the information that is now available to me to make my stories as authentic as possible.

Check out the next Writers' Police Academy online. (They changed the hotel. Thank goodness :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Feed the Muse


I’ve been having a good run lately. Work, work, work. Time alone to think and no traumas on the front burner.

When work is going smoothly, I cook. My family eats really well when I’m writing happily. Mushroom risotto with sautéed spinach. Baked chicken with olives and artichokes, with a quinoa feta salad. Chocolate chip banana bread.

Conversely, if the writing blows—your choices are frozen pizza or hard boiled eggs and baby carrots out of the bag for dinner?

The longer I write, the more aware I am of the connection between my inner world and the outer world—aka “reality.” The two worlds definitely relate to each other. In both lift and drag.

When the work stalls, sometimes I look up and realize I haven’t been out of my office in hours, days, weeks. My sister has been known to call and ask: “Have you eaten today?”

“Uhhhh. I think so?”

Eric Maisel, author of “Creativity for Life” says that creative mania is similar to other forms of mania, only not necessarily cause for institutionalization. (Yay.) Creative mania is a positive form of mania. It definitely makes life exciting.

And like other kinds of mania, it’s usually followed by a rest period. Low energy, fallow time. The creative winter. Hard boiled eggs and carrots, anyone?

I used to fight that shift. Lots of wailing and nashing of teeth. Can’t say I exactly embrace it now, but I do have the sense it’s all part of the package.

These days, I’ve developed a few tricks to feed my spirit when I’m in the creative winter:

1. Rest. Sleep is the first medicine. Try some crazy all day napping. Vacation hours. You only need one day. Pretend it’s olden times, when Sunday was a day of rest.

2. Go outside. Be reminded of the physical world. You can’t write about the world unless you feel it on your skin and in your bones now and then.

3. Clean your desk. Make room for a new idea by clearing up what’s around you physically. Dust. Vacuum. Take a loofa to the desk and slough off the old.

4. Read. Words follow words. When you’re stumped, go hang out in the library for a while and see if that doesn’t get the juices flowing.

5. Sweat. Okay, this is one of my least favorite options, when it involves going to the gym. But I think we can all think of sweaty non-gym related activities as well. Dwell on that thought for a moment…Ahhh. Nice.

Now, I’m off to cook. Ravioli and grilled asparagus? Or polenta and meatballs?
Next week, we may be eating oatmeal and Raman. It's not all quite as tasty, but it’s all good.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Snowball in Hell book release

Yesterday saw the re-release of one of my early novellas, Snowball in Hell. Snowball is set during Christmas in 1943. It’s a tense time in the City of Angels, and murder does nothing to help the holiday spirit.

I’m a great fan of vintage mystery and so writing a story set in the 40s was a natural for me. It’s a time period I know fairly well, but even so the research was grueling -- all the same, I enjoyed working on this story intensely. I had that rare but wonderful feeling of sinking into a dream each time I returned to work on it. It was my own personal noir flick.

Anyway, the novella begins…  

“Hell of a thing,” Jonesy said for the third time.
Matt agreed. It was a hell of a thing. He turned his gaze from the gaggle of reporters smoking and talking beside the grouping of snarling cement saber-toothed tigers, and returned his attention to the sticky, bedraggled corpse currently watching the birdie for the police photographer.
Whoever had dumped the dead man had counted on the body sinking in the black ooze of the Brea Pits, and in the heat of the summer when the tar heated up and softened…maybe. But it was December, a little more than a week before Christmas, and it had been raining steadily for two days. No chance in hell. The body had rested there, facedown in the rainwater hiding the treacherous crust of tar beneath, until the museum paleontologists excavating the site for fossils had made the grisly early-morning discovery.

Not only does the novella have a new lease on life, I’m beginning work on the second book in what will be called the Doyle and Spain series.

To celebrate the re-release of Snowball in Hell I thought I’d hold a little contest.

It’s very simple. Match the author to the correct first line(s) of an unnamed but classic vintage crime novel. I’ll pick randomly from the correct answers and select a winner, and if no one guesses correctly, I’ll just pick randomly from those who comment on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog.

The contest will end at tonight.

Oh! And what do you win? You win an Amazon gift certificate for a copy of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller. An informative, entertaining, and accessible introduction to film noir.

So here are the first lines -- authors listed below.


1 - Frey shrugged his broad shoulders, gestured helplessly with spread hands, palms upturned.


2 - Mrs. McGillicuddy panted along the platform in the wake of the porter carrying her suitcase.


3 - I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on
Fifty-second Street
, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.


4 - “I am afraid, Watson, that I shall have to go,” said Holmes as we sat down together to breakfast one morning.


5 - It was about in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.


Authors:


A - Dashiell Hammett

B - Agatha Christie

C - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

D - Raoul Whitfield

E - Raymond Chandler


Answer in the comment section below -- and good luck!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Help, I’ve Got A Sagging Middle!


It’s been four months since the beginning of the year, so how many of you are fulfilling your New Year’s resolution to do something about your sagging middle? No, I’m not talking about your waist or the extra pound or two on your behind you might have acquired at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m talking about the dreaded sagging middle of your story. How many times have you read a book that started off with a bang but came to a screeching halt right about the middle? Frankly, I’ve read more than my fair share of them. So, why does this happen, and how do we, as writers, prevent this from happening to our stories?

Actually, there are a few simple steps you can take to keep the pace of your story at an even clip. One of the most common reasons for a sagging middle is that the writer reveals too much, too early, about the characters. Lure your reader into an emotional investment with your characters; show WHO they are without explaining WHY they are. As the story progresses, reveal more and more tidbits about your protagonists, making sure they have at least a few likable characteristics so your readers can both identify and empathize with them.

Another way to avoid the trap of a bogged down middle is to heighten the tension. Put your characters in danger, add some action, or, if appropriate, turn up the sexual heat. You can always have your characters do something surprising, unexpected or even outrageous, and you can tone it down later, if necessary. A simple trick and one of my personal favorites -- try to end all your chapters (especially those in the middle) with a hook that will keep the reader turning the pages like mad.

There is a lot more that could be said on this subject, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll give you my top-five list of reasons for a sagging middle. Hopefully, you can give your own story a once over and see if there are spots you can firm up.

Top Five Reasons for a Sagging Middle

1.) You’ve already revealed too much about your characters.

2.) Secondary characters or a subplot has sidetracked you.

3.) There is little or no conflict – internal, external or sexual, and no action.

4.) You’re not certain what comes next plot-wise. Or you are missing critical information to your story, but instead of spending time looking it up – you are trying to write around it.

5.) You’re bored with your story or you’ve come to the regrettable realization that your plot is unrealistic.

Well, now I’m off to the treadmill to sweat off the extra pounds from my real sagging middle. Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Romance Genre



I drew the straw for the April 1st blog.   I am a professional, and am not about to succumb to the temptation or mischief that besieges us on April Fool's Day.  No, instead I am going to share some news regarding a new genre that is being hyped in the industry and is currently flooding the market with submissions. The genre is referred to as Romulan. Romance under land.

Inspired by recent events, this category features love stories for the likes of miners, borers of the earth's crust and subterranean cave dwellers.  Underwater plots are considered eligible providing the setting is at a depth greater or equal to that of the Mariana Trench. Most recently, the novel, "It's Dark In Here" captured the ill-fated romance of a reclusive cave dweller and the engineer of an all-female drilling team. 

You are wondering why we are discussing Romulan on a Mystery/Suspense blog? Well, the article cited that submissions were being accepted for a hybrid category called Romulanse.  Romulanse is classified as "Romulan with Suspensful elements".  An example of this can be found in the novel, "The Pit and the Passion" featuring Katarina, a Russian scientist heading a project to bore the world's deepest hole. A seeming victim of sabotage, Katarina’s venture is plagued with accidents and escalating destruction. The turmoil elicits Klaus Gulluksen from the parent company to assess the situation. He learns that Katarina is the target of a greedy politician looking to misappropriate the project’s funding.

In a basement of basalt at the Earth’s lower crust, Klaus will protect Katrina at all costs...

Okay, you got me.  Happy April Fool's day to all!

Is anyone working on any Romulan plots? J