NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS
Monday, April 30, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
When I left the house yesterday, I was in a pretty good frame of mind. I'd driven less than 500 yards when I had to brake hard because a man and two children were strolling across the road in front of me. While I sat there muttering things like "Don't rush - take your time", he turned to look at me with a completely vacant expression.
I eventually drove on and tried to join the main road. I couldn't because northbound traffic on that was at a standstill and some moron had stopped right across the junction so that none of us could get out and join the free flowing southbound lane. The driver/moron was sitting there quite unconcerned about the queue building up. He was too busy talking on his phone!
I walked into a shop and held the door open for the woman following me. She walked on without so much as a glance at me. I put on my frightfully posh voice and said, "You're welcome. Please, don't mention it." I didn't receive so much as a flicker of interest.
When I reached the checkout, the girl behind the till talked non-stop to a colleague while she slowly put my items through the scanner. Still talking, she held out her hand for my payment. I handed over my card, she dealt with it and handed it back. She didn't utter so much as a 'good morning', a 'please' or a 'thank you'. I would have fired her on the spot.
I followed a middle-aged man out of the store. He opened the door, walked through and let the door slam behind him. Right in my face. Grrr.
That brief excursion took around half an hour and I returned home in a really bad mood. I've decided to have a good look at the WIP and check to make sure it's bang up to date and a true reflection of everyday life. If I have a character holding a door open for someone, or uttering old-fashioned words like 'please' or 'thank you', I'm going to hit the Delete key.
Is it me? Have manners become a thing of the past? Are people still polite in your part or the world?
Thank you for listening. I feel much better for that rant. :)
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
by Janis Patterson
Okay, I messed up. Big time. Again.
Friday, April 20, 2012
It’s that time again: Spring! And you know what that means…an insane, irrational impulse to clean! I, too, have been known to succumb to the madness at this time of year. But this year is different. I have deadlines to meet, words to produce (and edit), and no desire to bury myself in housework when I could be outside in the sunshine (or immersed in a story inside my head).
But spring cleaning can apply to anything, right? (Hint: The only answer I’ll accept here is an affirmative one.)
By channeling extra springtime energy toward my writing, I’ve been clearing the cobwebs of my story that have gathered into little dust bunnies in my mind. Besides, spring is an excellent reminder that a quarter of the year has gone by. (Actually—and I don’t mean to panic you here—a third of 2012 is already gone! Gasp.)
Spring is also an excellent time to re-evaluate goals set at the beginning of the year, when we were buried in snow (and maybe a few extra pounds from the holidays), to find renewed energy to pursue such goals, and to celebrate the ones we’ve accomplished (or at least made great strides toward).
Who’s up for a little self-evaluation? I’ll go first…
1.) Health: My health goal was to lose 15 pounds and work out more regularly.
How far have I come? I’ve managed to lose five pounds and keep them off. (Yay, me!) I work out 2-4 times a week.
How can I improve? I have another 10 pounds to lose, but given that a third of the year has gone by, I’m right on track. Lately, the workouts have increased in frequency, and that can only be a good thing.
2.) Career/Writing: Finish my latest manuscript. (Actually, I’d love to get two manuscripts out this year.)
How far have I come? I was 50,000 words into a new project (thanks, NaNo!) at the start of the year. I am now at 85,000 words, but the plot is a hot mess (I believe I mentioned the dust bunnies above...). I also have 50,000 words of a different project (thanks to the previous year’s NaNo!).
How can I improve? I’ve set a new deadline with the goal of trading off my manuscript with a fellow writer. Having a concrete deadline will hopefully lead to massive productivity in the next couple weeks. I WILL have a complete and readable draft by May 1st!
3.) Family: Treasure every moment.
How far have I come? One of my goals this year was to live more in the moment. After spending most of 2011 watching a loved one struggle with cancer, I’ve vowed to no longer take things for granted. I think I’m doing a good job of taking more time for myself and my family. One thing I’ve started doing is taking stock of the day at the end of each day and listing the things I accomplished as well as the things for which I’m grateful.
How can I improve? While I feel I’m on course for this goal, I think I need to keep working on appreciating what I HAVE achieved each day instead of focusing on the things I haven’t.
How about you? How will you channel your springtime energy? What goals did you set months ago, and have you taken stock lately? How far have you come and what could you do differently to ensure you get to the finish line?
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
With all this modern-day technology how can my hero or heroine get lost and need help? GPS devices are everywhere, watches, phones, and people who are regularly put in danger are carrying little GPS tracking devices. Tires have GPS chips in them. Supposedly it's to determine the wear and tear on the tire so they can make a better product. When tires are traded those chips, so I'm told, can accurately tell everyplace the tires went. And if push comes to shove along with a court order, they could possibly be used to locate a vehicle.
Satellites can take pictures of license plates. Silent remote-controlled drones and helicopters can buzz only feet away and take pictures. And you won't know they were there. Most establishments have cameras. Inside and out. Facial recognition programs are used at transportation hubs and police departments around the world. All the software needs is a current photo of you and the computer scans all the faces for a match. The US Department of Justice operates one of the largest systems in the world with over 75 million photographs that are actively used. Even Disney uses them. Really?!?
From space, heat signature devices can tell how many people are in a building. Phones can pinpoint an owners location. Planes have locator transponders. Credit card use can be relayed to the authorities minutes after they've been used. If you post on Facebook it knows where you are and can tell everybody.
The high-tech security locks on new vehicles can be short-circuited with a laptop and a $50 software program. All one of these needs is the vehicle VIN number. Easily seen from outside the car BTW. The thief codes the Vin number into a laptop, hits a couple of keys and by gosh by golly the locks pop and the ignition starts. If someone steals your iPad, smart phone, or laptop there are apps that can track it. So, if you can track it if it's been stolen somebody can sure as heck track you as the owner.
You can’t even put your hero and heroine at the bottom of the ocean because Bob Ballard or James Cameron will be sure to find them. And get this. At the South Pole there is this new building, two stories high. It's off the ground on pillars or stilts or something and those stilts can raise the building up even higher off the ground should the snow get that bad. It was built with a slope to help it withstand the 60 mile an hour winds that Antarctica has during the winter. It houses several different types of scientific labs and a greenhouse where fresh vegetables are grown. Head smack. You can't even make your characters uncomfortable at the South Pole.
A while back I watched one of my favorite movies Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. That movie couldn't be made today. Absolutely all of the tension was built on the fact that Grace Kelly went across the courtyard to the murderer’s apartment and had no contact with Jimmy. No communication. The tension was built when Stewart could see the bad guy coming and he had no way to tell Kelly. That wouldn't happen today.
With all the technology we have today I have no idea how any criminal can get away with anything. I swear I'm ready to start setting my stories in the 60s and 70s. Phones had cords and busy signals. Computer processors took up the whole room and you didn't need to experience a cavity search to get on a plane. Cars didn’t parallel park for you and tell you where to go.
And it's little off-topic here but… If all this is true about those Secret Service agents in Cartagena, what were they thinking? Can anyone say phone cameras and YouTube?
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Steam Punk was the fashion statement to make this year. Carina Press Editor Mallory Braus cut a dashing figure in her bronze tiered skirt and beribboned bustier. Brilliant accessorizing!
Scientific eyewear was all the rage. And the fascination for the fascinator has not faded, especially with females who prefer fuchia.
I hope you brought your rolling suitcases, ladies! I haven’t seen a line like that since I ran out of fast-pass at Disney. With hundreds of authors on the scene and thousands of books for sale, bibliophile’s from across the country indulged with abandon.
Anyone who bought a book at Saturday’s sale, could have it autographed by the author. (I noticed several Kindle and iPad owners packing sharpies and asking favorite authors to sign their readers!)
Big name authors, like Ann Rice and Susan Elizabeth Phillips and JR Ward, stopped by for a visit.
Gossip on the line: “JR Ward has a curse jar. Every time she swears, she puts a dollar in it.”
"Does she swear a lot?”
“Well, she went through $70 bucks in singles. Had to borrow extra from her mom.”
The afternoon workshops were both educational and refreshing. Your Humble Reporter learned that Lord Byron was a Greek National Hero and the Duke of Wellington lived at Number One London. Wellington was born in Ireland. Being somewhat ambivalent about his Irish past led the Duke to remark: “Being born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse.”
To which an Irishman supposedly replied, “Nor does it mean, you are not an ass.”
According to a workshop on Drinks with Jane Austen, at the time of the Regency, children were allowed to drink.
“They might have been onto something,” author Karen Dornabos said with a wink. “If I could give my kids a drink or two, every so often, we all might be better off.”
Dornabos mixed up a batch of claret cup for all the guests to sample, along with four of her fellow Regency authors who thoughtfully brought along the Rum Punch, Orgeat, Ratafia, Sherry and Port for the gentlemen. What? No gentlemen here? Guess the ladies will have to make sure that tasty tipple doesn’t go to waste.
Next, onto a character wedding with Jade Lee. Champagne, wedding cake and cheese cake, actual and metaphorical.
The men were beautiful. The women were funny. And the vows were priceless:
“Do you promise to rub her feet whenever she is tired and pleasure her even to the denial of your own desires?”
“Do you promise to put him in his place whenever he is arrogant and satisfy his lust even though he seems insatiable?”
The event ended with a contest to win a beautiful embroidered Peruvian wedding blanket.
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.
First, I want to apologize for missing last month’s column. I unexpectedly came down with the flu, and that was pretty much that for the next two weeks! Yeesh.
Either way, if there’s a single most important element in modern storytelling, it is characterization. For most readers, the difference between liking and loving a story very often comes down to how they feel about the characters.
It’s not enough to create believable characters; you have to create interesting and engaging characters. Ideally, characters the reader comes to love.
Then again, just creating believable characters can be a challenge for many new writers, so maybe we ought to start there. You’ll find plenty of information and advice on the web regarding creating characters. I’ve seen recommendations for everything from buying expensive software to thumbing through a thesaurus in order to match verbs with personality types. If you like writing exercises you can develop bios, cast astrology charts, cut photos out of magazines, spin the color wheel… If you like reading and talking about writing versus writing, try this article on for size. Or this one. Here’s another one.
This is the thing... I’ve never met a writer who could admit he or she has trouble creating characters. Occasionally a writer will confess difficulty writing opposite sex POV, but generally I’ve found most writers believe -- whether true or not -- that characterization is one of their strengths.
We writers are predisposed to love our own creations. This leads to two common mistakes. The first is to create characters in the author’s own image. The second is to create nauseatingly perfect characters that embody all that the author wishes he or she could be. So the first rule is to preserve a proper distance between ourselves and our creations. It’s too hard to put our characters through the necessary hell they need to evolve and grow if we get too attached to them or identify with them too closely.
You have to remember that we writers aren’t…well, we’re writers. So we have to look beyond ourselves and our experiences and our reactions when we’re creating “normal” people to populate our stories. The ideal character is someone the reader can relate to. A good refresher is to read non-fiction -- in particular biography and autobiography --relating to both law enforcement and crime.
One of the first things you notice when you read any biography is that every human has strengths and weaknesses. This needs to be true of your characters too. Now strengths are rarely a problem since the tendency is to make our characters too perfect. Coming up with recognizable weaknesses is harder. Usually what we see in fiction are “weaknesses” like…the character’s blindness to how gorgeous/talented/adorable he really is. Or the character is too successful or too brilliant or too whatever for his own good.
However, characters in mysteries do often suffer from a genuine weakness known as TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). But this is generally not deliberate on the part of the writer -- which means it’s something we have to watch for when our characters are making the life and death decisions that frequently crop up in a mystery novel. Granted, some leeway must be given characters in crime and mystery fiction because if our characters behaved sensibly, they’d never get involved in crime or mysteries.
When you think about crafting any character, you should focus on the things that define us all: who we are in our work, who we are at play, who we are at home. If you know who your characters are when they are at work, at play, and at home, you know all you need to know about them.
As you’re sketching out your characters -- and I do recommend keeping biographical notes because it makes life SO much easier if you don’t have scan earlier chapters to verify whether Protagonist A has green eyes or hazel or Protagonist B’s grandfather graduated from Yale or Harvard -- think about the character traits that would make someone likely to get involved in a crime or a mystery -- and survive the experience.
Think also about how their work or hobbies mesh with developing the skills and personality traits that will allow your protagonists to believably survive their involvement in this particular and unique crime or mystery.
Note: Romantic relationships with cops or other law enforcement is a staple in mystery and crime fiction, but try and give your protagonist some useful skills and abilities in his own right.
Remember that if your protagonist will need some special knowledge or talent to solve the crime or save himself, you need to establish that talent or background early on. For example, if your character needs to speak Russian to decipher a mysterious message, at the very least hang a print by Karl Bryullov on the wall of his apartment.
The trickiest part of good characterization is remembering that you can’t tell the reader that your character is well-educated or inquisitive or free-spirited. Nor can you have other characters comment in clunky fashion, “You’re so well-educated/inquisitive/free-spirited, Jonah!” You have to show this to the reader, you have to prove it, you have to make your case for characterization based on the way your character speaks, the car he drives, the clothes he wears, the newspaper he reads, etc.
This month's recommended reading features gay historical mystery:
My Dearest Holmes by Rohase Piercy
Gaywyck by Vincent Virga
Willing Flesh by JS Cook
Lessons in Love: A Cambridge Fellows Mystery by Charlie Cochrane
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
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, April 13, 2012
Since it's Friday and I think we can all use a bit of a laugh at the end of a long week, I thought it might be fun to review the meaning and use of what is popularly known as "purple prose." For those of you who may not be familiar with the phrase, it is typically described as a passage written in a figurative language that is unusually and overly descriptive. The term is most often applied derogatorily and indicates that the author has surpassed her/himself in the overuse or convolution of metaphors. Let me give you some specific examples of purple prose taken from several not-to-be-identified novels.
“His throbbing weapon pierced her sugared treasure-trove.”
“From between his steely thighs rose a marble pillar.”
“She was drowning in a sea of chest hair.”
“He dived into her pool of love.”
“Desire rose in her like a call of nature.”
“His eyes were hacked from the walls of hell.”
“She flashed her optical orbs of disbelief.”
Done laughing yet? The obvious problem of purple prose is that most readers are rudely jolted from the story by such over-writing, not enchanted by the author’s incredibly imaginative use of a metaphor. Writers have to beware that they are not carried away by the moment (especially a passionate one) and allow themselves to gleefully toss their common sense out the window.
We, as writers, know that writing love scenes can be difficult. No one wants to be accused of woodenly explaining how Tab A fits into Slot B. On the other hand, using “his throbbing man-root” and the “quivering, wintry flesh of her rounded globes” is NOT the way to go either. How realistic is it to expect the reader to relate to a phrase like, “She eagerly eyed his purple helmeted soldier of love?" Jeez! How can anyone read that and keep a straight face?
Writers can avoid purple prose by simply applying a little common sense. You can be sensual and sexy without being absurd. If you re-read a passage and it makes you laugh (and you’re not writing comedy), then you’d be better off to change it. As silly as purple prose may seem, it can truly be fatal to your story. Avoid it like the plague! Ha!
Monday, April 9, 2012
Take my latest novel, Backli’s Ford. It started as a novella way back in August 2009. After I finished writing it, I realized that the darned thing was really meant to be a novel. Not only that, but it would be the first in a series. So I started over. By my calculations, that’s over two and a half years for one novel. That’s long, even for me.
In my defense, during that two and a half years, I sold two novels to Carina Press, wrote a sequel to The Shoeless Kid (The Tuexedoed Man), a short story in the Mendenhall Mysteries world, Night Shift (still available for free but not for much longer) and self-published a number of short stories and novels (under my own name and a pen name, Emma Faraday).
Now, I know people who can write 10,000 words a day and not die. That’s not me. I’ll never produce five or six novels a year, and that’s fine. However, I’ve learned that I can produce stories a lot faster than I ever thought I could. How?
Persistence. In other words, applying seat of pants to seat of chair, day in and day out.
This is the way I look at it. I have a full-time job, so my writing time is in the evening and during the weekend. So, say I write 500 words a day, every day. That’s 500 words x 7 days = 3500 words a week. At that rate, I could have a first draft of a 70,000-word novel in 20 weeks, or five months.
And 500 words a day, well that’s nothing really, but let’s leave it at that for weekdays, and double it during the weekend. So that’s 4500 words a week, or one 70,000-word novel in under four months.
That’s three novels a year, with some down time built in, just by being persistent.
It seems simplistic, but it does work. For me, at least. At least partly. I may not produce three novels a year, but I do get a lot of words down (again, for me) in the form of short story, novella and novel.
Now I have a question — do you think less of a writer who produces work quickly? I’ve heard some people say that you can’t possibly produce quality work if you write quickly. Is that generally accepted, or is it bunk?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Friday, April 6, 2012
She has this red collar that she seems to like better than any other collar she's had. Problem is, about once a week the thing pops open and falls off. She doesn't let that stop her. She carries it to me, lays it at my feet and howls until I put it back on. I don't dare replace it!
That got me thinking about determination and how it's one of the qualities I want my heroes and heroines to possess. Doesn't matter what the obstacles, the hero will relentlessly pursue the heroine. The heroine will fight tooth and nail for what she believes in or to catch the villain who wronged her or someone she loves.
Determination is essential for me to like a character. If he's willing to just lie down and take whatever is dealt to him, I want no part of that character.
What about you? Is there a character trait you refuse to compromise on?
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
So my advice is talk, baby, talk!
Monday, April 2, 2012
I discovered something in the past week. I’m not a fan of disturbing reads. I pretty much already knew that – especially since I write romance – but I’ve always said life is too short to be sad or upset so I like to put out happily ever afters to keep things on the bright side. I just finished reading The Hunger Games series and I’m very conflicted about the whole thing. Yes, I know it was a good series because it’s stayed with me. That is absolutely the sign of a good book. Certainly there were some amazing lessons on loyalty and morality not to mention some great quotes. But, let’s face it, it’s a disturbing topic and the deeper into the series I got the more disturbing it became. The one thing it did do was to confirm my decision to write romance. My characters in Dangerous Race and Danger Zone certainly go through some disturbing incidents, but all ends up working out in the end. I need that happily ever after so I can smile and sigh at the end of a journey (or even cry happy tears).
What about you? Do you need to mix up your reading or do you usually stick with one genre? Do you lean toward the same things or do you go outside your comfort zone? And for you writers out there, do you read more of what you write or find that mixing up your reads helps your writing in any way?
More Popular Posts
Despite the glut in recent years of everything from knitting mysteries to miniature car racing mysteries, the cozy or (preferred term) trad...
Hold on to your Liberty scarves, everyone. Guess what? I just realized I have at least five things in common with my favorite TV and book d...
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm mad for vintage mystery. There are certain dusty and cobwebbed tropes that I still find amusing, out ...
The other night I watched an episode of Waking the Dead, a popular and often shocking crime thriller series in the UK (and no, I don’t watch...
Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and pu...