NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Monday, July 30, 2012

Audible: The Journey, Part 1

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy: Audible: The Journey, Part 1



Many of you know that my background is in show business. I studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked as an actor and dialogue coach for many years. Though I’ve spent a lot of time on sets, the most amount of time I spent in a studio (specifically for voice overs) was for my Tide commercials in the 90s. The reason I bring all this up is because I’m going to ask you a question…

Do you want to know how you can narrate your own book?
I can tell you, you’re not going to like my answer. You need to have a background in performing. If you don’t and if you’re not famous, you have two chances of a company letting you narrate your own book. Slim and none. Of course, just about anything is possible anywhere. I think writers like to make the improbable happen and generally tend to sell it, so if you have an amazing voice and the ability to keep dozens of different voices straight in your head and you can convince the powers that be to give you an audition, then anything is possible.


Here is how it began for me.
When I discovered my first book, Dangerous Race, had been picked up by Audible, the book had already been narrated. Yes, I was thrilled, but the performer in me said, “Hey, wait a minute! I want to narrate my book!” I will be the first to tell you that I don’t have a spectacular Kathleen Turner voice. The thing about narrating is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can deliver my books the way I intend people to hear them.  I don’t care if my voice isn’t the best, because my delivery is what matters to me. (And, FWIW, I worked really hard in school to lose my (Texas) accent and bring my pitch down as I spoke in a much higher register when I moved to LA, but I digress…)

As soon as I found out Danger Zone had been picked up by Audible, I immediately found out who I needed to call about narrating. Mike, the man in charge, was probably about to tell me that just because I wrote the book didn’t mean I could narrate it, but I didn’t give him a chance. I told him I had been an actor for twenty years, had both my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) cards and spent a ton of time in the studio during my Tide years. That caught his attention. He also asked where I lived because finding a studio was another obstacle if I didn’t live near the Audible studios in New Jersey. The conversation went a little something like this:

“Why don’t read something for me?” he said.
It was about 7:30 a.m. Los Angeles time and he was calling from New Jersey.
“You mean now?” I asked, heading quickly for my office and computer to pull up the book and thinking how low my morning voice was (which was probably a good thing).
“Sure. Just read me the opening of the book,” he said.
“Okay.” I scrolled to the first page and took a deep breath, trying not to think how much depended on this spur of the moment audition. Because that’s what I was doing…auditioning to narrate my own book. I dove in, didn’t even get through the first paragraph.
He stopped me after about three or four sentences. “Oh, that’s fine. You’re fine. You can do it.”

Wha-Hoo! Yes, I was hugely excited, but managed to keep my elation under wraps. Had to keep it professional, you know. <G>

Now I had a ton of work to do. Sure, I wrote the book, but I can’t say that I’d ever read the whole thing aloud. You can guess what came next. I started reading aloud. Did I mention this book is about 114K ? No short novella for me. Have any of you talked for nearly six hours straight every day for about a week? I never had. My sessions in the studio before this hadn’t gone longer than three or four hours max. I had to seriously train to do this job! The first couple of days, by the time I hit the three hour mark, my voice was raw. I got the job in October and we scheduled the narrating session for November. I had about a month to get my voice ready. I think I got up to about four and a half hours a couple of times before my first day in the studio.

I was a little nervous about a few things. First, I’m a fast reader. (I knew the director would help me with that, which he did.) Next, it was imperative that I kept all the voices straight. I had about thirty overall characters to execute. (Not execute as in “kill” but as in perform. <G>) Oh, and BTW, the director was a man and I had some seriously steamy sex scenes to read. <um-yikes>

Day one: I sat down in my tiny padded booth and read the opening so the guys could test my level. I got my first note. Slow down. Yep. I saw that coming. (I was proud that in the forty-one pages I read, the director only stopped me three times to slow down. I was expecting much more.)

I also discovered during this time that I had good “mic technique.” That just means I’m able to keep my mouth the same distance from the mic no matter where I’m reading on the page. People can tend to move their mouth away from the mic as they move their face, so you have to keep your head centered – for the most part – and move (just) your eyes to read.

When it finally came to start for real, I found myself running out of air because I simply wasn’t breathing. Not good, let me tell you. The further into the book I got, the better I read it. Or maybe I should say, the more comfortable I was reading it. I learned how to breathe which really went a long way in keeping me alive. LOL.

I marked my script with notes (and a highlighter) and color-coded all the voices so I wouldn’t accidentally slip into the wrong voice during dialogue with multiple characters. (Basically, I knew before I got to a voice who it was by color.)

After five hours we ended the day and my throat was rough. I kept tea, water and a granny smith apple next to me the whole day. I’ll tell you why I had the apple tomorrow!

So... whatcha thinking so far? Does it sound like something you'd want to do?

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Dee J. Adams has been writing romantic suspense for over a decade. Her Adrenaline Highs series is published through Carina Press and her debut novel, Dangerous Race was a finalist for Best First Book in the 2012 Golden Quill Awards. The third book in the series, Dangerously Close, was released 7/23/12. She's been married to the love of her life for 22 years and has one remarkable daughter.



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FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Thunderous Train of Air

I had a blog topic all ready to go for today, when that rotten Clare London beat me to it in her post on sequels and series. Worse yet, she did a very fine job of it.

Mild panic ensued. I had nothing else lined up—I was a dry well, an empty envelope, a blank page. It had finally happened: creativity had deserted me.

Which led me to wondering about the nature of artistry, and in particular, the nature of creativity and inspiration. Unlike other writers I know, I don’t live in a cloud of creativity and leave a trail of ideas wherever I go. Persistence drives me more than inspiration does.

And yet… And yet, even I have been touched by inspiration. It’s a wonderful feeling. To catch fire from an idea and to be unable to do anything else until that idea, that scene, that short story is written down and captured. To be inspired is to be blessed, to be touched by the Muse.

Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat Pray Love, does a wonderful TED talk on genius. She means genius in the ancient sense of the word, what today we think of as inspiration.

Gilbert discusses the “maddening capriciousness” of the creative process in the context of writing her next book after the phenomenal success of Eat Pray Love. Anyone who has ever felt the touch of inspiration knows what it’s like to return to the everyday once the creative fire has moved on. How do you keep writing, when you don’t know if you’ll ever be touched by “genius” again?

You keep showing up and doing the work, that’s how.

Gilbert tells a delightful story about the American poet Ruth Stone who grew up on a farm and whose poems rushed toward her over the landscape on a thunderous train of air. Stone would have to drop everything and run as fast as she could to the farmhouse to find a piece of paper on which to capture the poem as it swept by, else it would be lost to her.

What an image, eh? A poem thundering across the landscape, coming for you, and you had better be ready to capture it. So when inspiration comes calling, be ready.

Marcelle

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Researching the Occult

When I was a kid, we took a family vacation to Salem, Massachusetts. We visited all the usual sites, did the tourist thing. But when we got to the old cemetery, something strange happened. The sky darkened and the wind started howling. It was as if someone turned on the special effects to make our visit creepy and atmospheric. Since that time, I've always been fascinated with witches, psychics and anything supernatural. Only I didn't feel informed enough about any occult subject to use it in any of my books. 

About a year ago the bug bit me again. I started wondering what if (don't all our story ideas begin there?) a psychic wanted to get out of the business after a bad experience. Only someone—or something—wouldn't let her. To be authentic, I decided to do some research. I started with my local occult store and learned they offered classes. After purchasing several books on psychic powers, I signed up for the next available class series, which happened to be on witchcraft. In the meanwhile, I wrote Spirit of Seduction, my first paranormal romantic suspense story. 

My husband, who works at a jail, voiced his interest since he is tasked with documenting and investigating occult-type findings at the jail—as in the discovery of satanic contraband items or Santeria altars found in cells, for example. So he took the class with me. 

One class led to another, and another. We're now fairly well versed in everything witchcraft, but we still have a long way to go. What we discovered has impacted our lives in many ways, from making new friends to taking up the practice of meditation to shifting our views on life, death and the universe. 

We learned that witchcraft was not at all what we thought. Real witchcraft, that is. It's not the Hollywood version of green-faced women flying on broomsticks. It's actually a pagan spiritual path, one that includes magic, divination and responsible stewardship of the earth. 

My point is that as writers, we often find ourselves having to deeply research many different topics. And we never know where that path will take us. Have you ever started learning about a subject only to find it wasn't at all what you thought? 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Responsible Writing

We interrupt National Nail Polish Day to bring you this blog...

If you know me, I had originally intended to write something light and humorous because I never take myself too seriously. But, recent events sobered me.

The grandeur and in your face quality of motion pictures is very impressionable. Visual impact on someone not mentally prepared to handle it can go askew. A prime example is youth. As a child I must have been in the living room to catch a glimpse of a scene on TV. A man was standing out in the snow in front of a ski chalet. He was throwing rocks at the upstairs window. When a woman came to the window, he shot her and there was blood in the snow. For months afterwards I would call my father to check my bedroom window at night because I swore I heard someone throwing rocks at it. 

As an adult I stumbled across that movie by recognizing the very same scene that plagued me as a child. It looked extremely cheesy and the ‘blood’ in the snow ended up being a spray-painted message by the killer. The point, however, is that as a child I was not mentally prepared to handle that scene.

It is not often that a book is responsible for acts of violence, but it does happen. Steven King had to take a book out of print due to violence that was perceived to have stemmed from one of his stories.

As a writer we are responsible for preaching safe sex. What other responsibilities do we have? With the nature of romantic suspense, danger and violence are often part of the package.  Granted, our audience is an intelligent, mature and beautiful group, but how far do our liberties as a writer take us? Do you ever find yourself toning down a scene because you feel it’s too graphic, or do you feel that the graphic nature makes the scene?  As a reader, has the violence of a book ever lingered with you afterwards?

In romantic suspense, I like to believe that the HEA overshadows the impact of evil. But I'm a romantic. :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Euphemisms Gone Purple, Putrid and More

With all this talk of mystery and suspense, sometimes the romance part of it is forgotten. I include explicit sex scenes in my books because I don't believe in teasing my readers, even though I find sex scenes to be the most difficult to write. The scene needs to be sexy without being vulgar. You need to find the balance between coldly technical and so ridiculously purple you expect Barney to make an appearance, which can be more difficult than you think. To start, it's best to avoid the following fifteen euphemisms that I found in real books edited by real editors and real copy editors.

It's a Religion!


Number 1
Staff of heaven.” *eye roll*

 

It’s an Animal!


Number 2
Raging beast of his desire.” I keep wanting to say, “You hairy like animal!” in a Moose-and-Squirrel accent.

 

 It’s a Plant!


Number 3
Jade stem/stalk/staff.” This phrase stems from the Chinese because they call jade the “stone of heaven.” Thus, a jade stem/stalk/staff is supposed to take you to heaven and back. Egotistical much? Personally, when human cells go green, they’re putrid. Of course, the phrase could work if you have a fetish for the Jolly Green Giant.

Number 4
Turgid shaft.” Turgid sounds like a plant disease.

Number 5
Manroot.” Mandrake keeps popping in my head. Just as mandrake is poisonous to eat, so should manroot be to read. 

 

It’s a Weapon!


Number 6
Sword of flesh.” I blame the medieval romances.

Number 7
Man sword.” See above comment.

Number 8
Love staff.” Ditto.

 

It’s Not Romance, It’s Not Erotica; It’s Porn!


Number 9
Meat of his confession.” Ew. Just ew.

Number 10
Love tool.” Unless batteries are required, it’s not acceptable.

 

Just Say It Already!


Number 11
Tumescence.” Everytime I read that word, I expect the penis to be glowing like Dr. Manhattan’s.

Number 12
Admission of desire.” I want to say only senior citizens would use this phrase…except I know a number of romance authors in their sixties who can make me blush.

Number 13
That which made him man.” See above comment.

 

If It Needs a Hyphen, Don't Use It


Number 14
Purple helmeted soldier of love.” The Trojan radio ads aren’t this corny.

Number 15
Purple-headed womb ferret.” I’m sure there’s a surgical procedure to cure this one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Chase for Glory: Sports and Inspiration




As an action junkie, I love watching sports.  I'm not athletically gifted although I did dabble at swim team and took tennis lessons.  However, I've been a primo spectator all my life.  Playing clarinet in the marching band ensured me ring-side seats at football games.  Being on pep club notched seats at basketball.  I've cheered from the stands at everything from car races to tennis matches.  While professional football was my first love, NASCAR is my soul mate.   

Athletes' training, sacrifice, and determination resonates with me.  The speed, the height, the strength, the control they exercise.   I love watching the good, the bad and the ugly.  So long as the athlete is trying, I'll cheer them on.  I enjoy the rush of the nail-biting suspense as the event reaches its critical climax.  Then comes the emotional see-saw of the low's and high's of defeat and victory.  Naturally, my passion for sports does weave its way throughout my writing.

My heroine Nicole Sterling swam laps to reflect in COURTING DANGER while her great-aunt used skeet shooting to eerie effect.  Carling Dent in COURTING DISASTER was a major fan with memorabilia filling her office and sports terms populated her dialogue.  Boxing trivia figured in one scene in HER DARK PROTECTOR.  However, the biggest thrill as an author was my getting to write a NASCAR novella, CHASING THE TRUTH.  The roar of the engines, the blur of cars as they raced around the track.  Sigh, a gear-head's idea of heaven on earth.  Even as I plot the next book, I've got my eye on skiing for a chase scene.  

However, the big sports enchilada is almost upon us: the Olympics.  I've been an avid fan all my life of both the summer and winter games and will be glued to the television.  There are so many memorable moments over my lifetime.  A few of my favs: Carly Patterson's winning of the all-around gold in gymanstics in 2004 despite having back problems and Kerri Strug's performing the vault with an injured ankle.  Then there was the wire-to-wire gold medal win in 2008 by the US Women's rowing team.  I held my heart in my hand as I screamed them on.

Faster, higher, stronger.  Athletes of the world, inspire me.  Let the games begin. 

What's your favorite Summer Olympics event or moment?

:) Carol Stephenson

Carol Stephenson lives in South Florida with her beloved Shih Tsu Maddie and loves to write compelling, heart-pounding stories. You can learn more about her books or visit her: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery: Clues & Red Herrings


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.


Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.



TODAY'S POST: I-Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery – Clues and Red Herrings


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Nowadays much of what passes for “mystery” within the m/m genre (and indie publishing in general) is more properly described as “romantic suspense,” “thriller” or “crime” stories. There is minimal investigation and even less traditional deduction.



Partly this is due to a mistaken belief (mistaken, given that all of Christie’s novels – Christie still being hailed as the Mistress of Misdirection – remain in print and continue to sell well all across the globe) that modern readers aren’t interested in anything but forensics and psychology. Partly the absence is due to the fact that sprinkling legitimate clues and red herrings throughout a story is not an easy thing to do; let alone hide them successfully from the now-jaded modern mystery reader.



But if there is one single element that characterizes the classic mystery novel from the rest of the crime family, it is The Clue.



In Mystery Fiction Theory and Technique, Rodell writes:



Clues are the traces of guilt which the murderer leaves behind him. Whether they are tangible, material things, like a button torn off at the scene of the crime; or personal traces like footprints or fingerprints; or whether they are intangible habit patterns or character traits, they are the signposts leading detective – and reader – in the right – or sometimes wrong – direction.



A single clue does not, in itself, prove guilt. Rather, these are the breadcrumbs the sleuth gathers up along the way that then allow him to follow the trail to the correct solution. Some clues mislead the sleuth, and those are called Red Herrings.



The best clues appear to initially lead in the wrong direction, but in fact ultimately form part of the final deduction.



In the Golden Age of mystery writing, and particularly the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, tangible clues were often puzzling, even crazy, minor mysteries within the greater mystery: footprints on the ceiling or a blue rose or whistling from a sealed crypt. The sleuth would have to figure out how the footprints got on the ceiling or how a rose could turn blue or how a corpse could whistle – and that solution would eventually, against the odds, lead to the identity of the murderer.



In real life, clues are more typically known as evidence. There are four types of evidence: Statistical, Testimonial, Anecdotal, and Analogical. But mystery fiction is not real life, and therefore our clues are not typically DNA samples, ballistic reports or witness testimony. Although these are all part of building a case and solving a crime. Therefore a partial fingerprint is not really a clue UNLESS it is the fingerprint of an innocent person, in which case it is a red herring.



Classic mystery fiction clues are personal rather than scientific. Thus we have an abundance of overheard bits of conversation, lost cell phones, threatening letters pasted from bits of magazines, and smashed wristwatch dials.  These are fine, as far as they go. But ideally the importance of the tangible clue is not in the clue itself, so much as what the clue reveals: a smudge of lipstick in a color few women can wear; a strange whiff of smoke that turns out to be, not incense, but clove cigarettes; a haunting melody that is revealed to be a fragment of an old folk song.



Alternatively, the clue might not be significant in itself, but yet triggers some train of thought or memory for the sleuth that helps him connect the dots that form the murderer’s portrait. This kind of clue is ideal when you’re writing a series because it helps flesh out your protagonist as well as help solve the crime.



The challenge is to describe the clue fairly without putting undo emphasis on it. Or to put huge emphasis on it, thereby fooling the astute mystery reader into thinking the clue is not important. The experienced reader now knows that any character who seems a little too suspicious or obviously guilty is almost always a red herring. Equally, they know that the least likely suspect is generally the one whodunit. So the real least likely suspect is the genuinely least likely suspect, which in fact is the MOST likely suspect.



And if that didn’t confuse you, nothing will!



A favorite tangible clue is the clue that is not immediately recognizable. The puzzling shard of glass or sliver of wood that, once placed, provide a key to the solution. Again, you have to play fair with the reader and make sure the reader has access to whatever the betraying item is.



Sometimes it is the absence of the tangible clue that is most revealing. Rodell quotes the classic Holmes story “Silver Blaze.”


"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time."

"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Tangible clues, though fun, are increasingly outdated by the advancement of science. This brings us to intangible clues. Intangible clues are closely linked to psychological profiling. They are clues to character traits or behavioral patterns.


Clues to character traits are generally linked to motive. Behavioral patterns are linked to identity.

There are three basic methods for concealing clues:

1 – Distraction. Immediately after the introduction of the clue, something exciting and dramatic should happen to distract the reader from fully noting the significance of the new discovery. It’s a bit of literary sleight of hand.


2 – Disguise. Bury the clue in a list of other similar innocuous items. Better yet, include a hard to ignore item in that innocuous inventory. A drawer contains a bunch of junk including keys and a gun. One of the keys is to a safe deposit box, but it’s likely that the reader will notice the gun and not the pay especial attention to all those loose keys.


3 – Delay. Present the clue in a straightforward manner but delay revealing its possible application for a good fifty or so pages. Hopefully the reader will have forgotten about the original item by the time the significance of the second bit of information is clear.

Clues supply much of the fun of mystery writing, both for the reader and the writer. The main thing to remember is that you must play fair with the reader, even though the modern mystery reader has already seen and read every possible trick in the, er, book.


All clues must be logical and have a believable and reasonable function within the story. They cannot exist merely because you know a mystery story should have clues.

Questions? Thoughts? Opinions?

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A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist

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FUTURE POSTS will cover:

Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.

We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


Friday, July 13, 2012

STORY TIME


Photo by Sean Pavone Dreamstime.com
     A friend of mine told me that when she was a little girl, her parents would see a motion picture every Saturday night. When they returned home, she would snuggle between them and say, “Tell me the story.” Her parents told her about the stars who portrayed the characters, how the plot unfolded, and the location where the action took place. After their narrative came to the end, she would say, “That was pretty good. Now tell me the story the way you want it to happen.”
     Writers are like my friend. We listen to stories, watch people as they pass, eavesdrop on conversations, and store memories good and bad for future use. We think about the premise, a story line, the foibles of each character, sometimes an ending that will surprise us as well as our characters but an ending that is true, plausible and inevitable while keeping in mind that an ending based on fact may be unbelievable on the page.
     Our job is to create a story for our readers that will let them relate to characters that are, funny, sad, desperate, and cruel—characters motivated to walk down the path we’ve set for them to accomplish their fictional reality. An ending that will make the reader think—Yes. That’s the way it had to happen.
     People have been telling tales since the days our ancestors sat around their camp fires and elaborated on the hunt, the wild beasts they challenged or another clan they would conquer. Stories told verbally—legends, fairy tales, folklore are passed from generation to generation—each adding their own spin. Tales are told and endure. Tales of Big Foot, the Fountain of Youth, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Romulus and Remus, Romeo and Juliet and William Tell. Legends—a starting place for folklore—incorporates history, culture and particular societies. Narratives in the Western world include children’s rhymes and ghost stories and religions all begin with the premise of a greater power before they take different paths.
     What stories do you remember being told by your parents, grandparents, and friends? How many do we share?
Bests,
Elise


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Taste of Poison

One of the cool things about writing books with mystery and suspense elements is that you get to kill people off. The murder can be behind the scenes where the reader doesn’t see the grisly stuff, or the murder can be graphic and gritty and give readers nightmares. And then there are all the interesting methods of killing characters off. Choices galore and so much fun—for the writer that is!

Today I’m going to discuss poison. I’ve heard it said poison is a woman’s weapon. Since food is the ideal vehicle for poison and food preparation is often the domain of women, it’s simple to slip a little extra into the dinner. With poison, all the murderer requires is a way to introduce it to the victim’s system and their job is done. They don’t have to get up close and personal or get blood on their hands.
Poison was used by ancient tribes, within the Roman Empire and in Medieval Europe. Many noble families employed people to taste their food before they dined, so if the meal did contain poison, the taster keeled over first. These days most poisonings occur accidently, and the victims are often children.

Arsenic

This is a common poison in fiction, and it was very popular with the Borgias and de Medicis.
Arsenic is usually swallowed, but it can also be inhaled in industrial circumstances. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include gastric problems, jaundiced skin, a skin rash, pain and vomiting. The skin becomes cold and victims become dizzy and weak from in drop in blood pressure. These symptoms are followed by convulsions and a coma. Death finally occurs due to circulatory failure. Not a nice way to go!

In the eighteenth century a Frenchman killed off his wives with arsenic. During sex he used a goatskin sheath to protect himself, but he placed a lethal dose of arsenic on the outside of the sheath. The women absorbed the arsenic during intercourse and died. Authorities became suspicious when so many of his wives died. He was found guilty and hanged.
Cyanide

Cyanide comes in three common forms: potassium cyanide, sodium cyanide and hydrogen cyanide. The potassium and sodium forms are solid and have the distinctive bitter almond scent while hydrogen cyanide is a gas. Cyanide can be swallowed, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. The cyanide interferes with the enzymes responsible for getting oxygen into the body. Death is fairly quick—short of breath, dizziness, nausea and a drop in blood pressure are some of the symptoms. Although the bitter almond scent is an indicator of the presence of cyanide, not everyone is able to smell this aroma.

Agatha Christie used cyanide in several of her mysteries. I distinctly recall Hercule Poirot detecting the scent of bitter almonds in a recent TV episode.

These are only two poisons to consider—there are countless others for your characters to use to rid themselves of troublesome foes.

When deciding to use poison as a murder weapon consider the following:

1. Is your book a historical or a more contemporary title?

Poisons were readily available from apothecaries in years past, and the possession of poisons didn’t prove guilt. It is more unusual to have poison readily available these days (apart from general household cleaners) and it isn’t always easy to purchase poison. Some require a special license before they can be purchased.
2. Think about the symptoms and the dosage required to kill off a character. i.e. their size, age and sex.

3. Do you want a quick death or do you want them to suffer for weeks?
4. Is there an antidote available?

5. How are you intending to introduce the poison? Will the character swallow, inhale or absorb the poison through their skin?
6. Do you want the crime discovered quickly or not? Maybe the murderer needs time to set up an alibi.

Poison is an interesting addition to the writer’s arsenal, and it might be just the weapon for you!

Authors: Have you used poison as a murder weapon before? What is the most interesting way you’ve killed off a character?
Readers: What are your favorite murder weapons in books? Do you like the sly murderer who uses poison or would you prefer a gun? Do you like your murders to take place off the page or do you like to experience them along with the characters?  

Sources: Deadly Doses, a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner

Shelley Munro lives in New Zealand and writes sexy romances, usually with a body strewn here or there, for Carina Press, Ellora’s Cave and Samhain Publishing. You can learn more about Shelley and her books at www.shelleymunro.com

Monday, July 9, 2012

What's in those packages?

My neighbors get a lot of packages delivered to them. I estimate that between USPS, FED EX, and UPS they probably average about ten a day. Every day. If you do the math, you realize that's a boatload of boxes over the course of a year.

I've spun some wild stories in my head about what could be in those boxes. Then, when I realized that some of the boxes come addressed to people who don't even live there, my stories got wilder. And more paranoid.

While my husband is sure that our neighbors are very nice people, I've become convinced they're engaged in some sort of illegal activity.

Maybe the boxes contain drugs!


Or guns!

Or people!

Okay, maybe not the people thing...live ones at least.

When I try to make small talk with said neighbors (the real ones, not the ones who don't exist, but still "receive" lots of deliveries) all my wild (aka paranoid) stories run through my head as I babble about the weather, or the dogs, or whatever subject I think won't offend them because I'm kinda worried about getting shipped in a box myself.

Maybe I should write my next book about them?

Do you have odd neighbors? 

We once had a neighbor who got on the roof of his two story house EVERY SINGLE DAY with his leaf blower to clean it off. The poor guy had suffered a head injury and I pitied him, but he also scared me.

Do you make up stories about people you encounter? A cashier? A waiter? Someone waiting on line? The woman who lets her dog pee on your lawn every freaking day?

Tell me I'm not the only one with this reflex!


When she's not spinning stories about her neighbors, JB Lynn writes stories about murder, love, and how screwed up the world is. The sequel to her novel CONFESSIONS OF A SLIGHTLY NEUROTIC HITWOMAN will be out in October. For more info visit her website.

Friday, July 6, 2012

To Sequel...or not?


So... Our New Book has been read, and it was great. It brought tension and romance and excitement and mystery into our lives for a while - now we can shut the book, or turn off the e-reader, take a deep breath and relax into the memories.

Or do we think ... what happens next?? What happens after the last page is turned? Do we care, either as authors or readers?

I recently hosted a joint blog post with a fellow author A. B. Gayle about Sequels and Spin-Offs. We both write mainly romance and it's all about creating sympathetic Main Characters, a plot conflict (either external or internal), a romantic journey and resolution of that conflict. Pop in some sexy smooching, in my case, too :). And then - the Happy Ever After!

But when readers say - I wanted more! / I wish I knew what happens to them after that / What about Secondary couple C+D? / How can you leave it there??? ... what's to do? A.B. is writing a sequel to her latest novel right now. I've never actually written sequels, but I am considering a spin-off for two secondary characters in my erotic m/m romance novel True Colors.

But SHOULD we? Isn't it just that the readers enjoyed the characters and that's why they'd welcome reading about them for longer - NOT that it means we should write more? Or did we leave trailing plot lines? Frustrating romantic entanglements? A sense of unfinished business?



As A.B. and I see it, there are a few different options:
1. The Epilogue where the author makes sure all loose ends are neatly tidied up.
2. A short story, published separately, showing the characters living happily together. Holiday themed stories that authors write involving their popular characters are an example of this.
3. A follow up story where unresolved external issues from the past intrude.
4. A sequel where the nature of their personality differences or their living conditions provide new / unexpected conflict. (the factors that can tear them apart)
5. Ongoing books in a series where their jobs and/or world allows for ongoing adventures that are as interesting and significant as the parallel romance plot which develops over the series.
6. Spin Offs involving minor characters in the first book which show the ongoing relationship of the initial characters in their own secondary role.

Each of these has a place depending on the characters and circumstances of the initial book.

My opinion is that a book should stand on its own as a rewarding story, whether it's part of a series or not, and that there should always be a full, new story to tell in the next one. But I've liked revisiting characters occasionally - and we put enough love and attention into them the first time around, it's sometimes difficult to let them go! And there are MANY successful series published now, including those from the NYUS authors.

But do we run the risk of losing the tension of book#1 / disappointing readers' expections, already racked high from their enjoyment of book #1 / disappointing ourselves as authors, craving new challenge rather than revisiting existing?

Or is it one hell of a blast to dip back into a favourite character's life, and share it with your readers?

Is it a case of listening to the Clamour For More - or Quit While You're Ahead? :)

This is a non-judgemental and hopefully entertaining post - but I'm very interested to hear what you say!

Clare :)


The full text of the blog post I did with A. B. Gayle is here.

The "Keep Calm" pic is with credit to keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk.
Pic from "Oliver!" is with credit to the copyright owners.



-------------------------------
Clare London, Author
Writing ... Man to Man
   

Website ... Blog ... Facebook ... Twitter

Sunday, July 1, 2012

BE A SUCCESSFUL HOOKER.


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.


TODAY'S POST:  BE A SUCCESSFUL HOOKER.




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FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

                    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.
   I’m talking about hooks in your writing. Hooking a reader into your story. Grabbing them so hard and fast they can‘t put your book down.

  So what is a hook? 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? I wasn’t either. I didn't see the need for an opening hook. This is what a smart author told me. 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 before I became a believer. 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 The Brass Verdict. It completely lays out the story.
“Everybody lies.
Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victim lies.
The trial is a contest of lies. And everyone in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing .They take their seats in the box and agreed to be lied to.”

  I am blown away when a reader remembers my opening or asks me if I’m a helicopter pilot.  Let’s get back to your opening. Does it immediately draw the reader in?  Don’t know? Think about it like this. Say your book is about an asteroid on a collision course with earth and the heroine who saves the day. Should the first page begin with the heroine sitting on the sofa, channel surfing, eating ice-cream, thinking about calling the hunky new neighbor that just moved in next door? But, first she has to make her grocery list, call her sister and make sure the new puppy doesn’t pee on the carpet ?
OR…The heroine learns there is a giant asteroid headed her way. She snatches up puppy, runs next door, grabs the hunk out of shower and drags him from the house seconds before the asteroid hits demolishing both homes. 
  Which are you going to want to read more of? Do you care about what her grocery list includes? What flavor of ice cream she prefers? Do you want to read farther to learn if the puppy pees on the carpet?  Not me! I’d kinda like to know if hunky neighbor had time to grab a towel, what he’s going to do for clothes and how he is going to thank the heroine for saving his life. Hmm. HOOK!

  Your opening does not have to be  explosions, fires, or murders. It does need to make the reader want to read on and on and on. You only have a few pages to ‘hook’ an agent, editor, and most important your readers.  Make the best of your first pages.  In the first paragraph drag the reader in with a grappling hook, use a spinner to end the first page.  End the first chapter with a treble hook. Go all out for the end of you submission and use a big game hook.  

  Would you like to share your opening hook?







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