Lessons from a Flawed-io-book

I seldom finish a book I don’t like, but I recently got all the way to the end of a romantic suspense audiobook that I almost gave up on.  Since I was usually exercising or doing housework while I listened, my tolerance for the book’s shortcomings was greater than if I’d been sitting and reading, and I had two reasons to endure the whole thing:

One: To find out how it would end.

Two: To learn from the author’s mistakes.

Obviously, reason number one says she did something right. Even close to the end, I had no idea who committed the murders. She laid the clues well, along with effective red herrings. I thought I knew “who done it,” but then I realized I was wrong. It came as a big surprise. I didn’t like the main characters, though, and the writing was noticeably flawed. As I said above, the flaws were educational. Each time I noticed one, I thought: I’d better not do that. Here are some examples.

  • Overused words. Characters in this book don’t turn their heads, shift in their seats, or look around; they twist. “I twisted my neck” occurs particularly often. Between reading aloud and getting input from critique partners, I catch more and more of my habitual words, but I’m afraid I acquire new ones as I cure myself of the old.
  • The descriptions of settings and actions are excessive. Detail has its place, of course. It’s useful that she gives the layout of the male lead’s house, because it’s an important setting as well as an unusual structure. But she also describes the complete décor of a rental cabin we’ll never see again, right down to the color scheme of the braided rug. A man doesn’t simply open a package, he takes a pen knife from his pocket, unfolds the knife, slices the paper diagonally, etc. Sex scenes are so long and so much alike, I could have skipped them and picked up the story again without having missed a thing (and half-way through the book, that’s what I started doing.)  Sometimes it’s okay to tell, not show. Or at least to show a lot less.
  • Not only is the food described in excess detail, far too many scenes take place in kitchens and in bars and restaurants. Yes, we all eat three meals a day, but in fiction, conversations can have more varied settings. Sameness gets stale.
  • Secondary characters keep popping in uninvited, showing up on the street, or in those bars and restaurants, in order to deliver plot points. Some even fly in from another country to have an argument face to face rather than on the phone. Their presence feels contrived. I need to make the main characters’ choices and actions drive the plot,  instead of using too many convenient intrusions.
  • The main characters are stunningly attractive, and yet they eat huge unhealthy meals (always with  dessert), drink a good amount of beer, and they never seem to exercise. How does he have that amazing rock-hard muscular body? How does she have a figure that makes everyone stare at her and desire her? They ought to look ordinary, not above average. I can be unrealistic and not notice—one of many reasons to keep getting multiple critiques. I do plenty of research, but beta readers have still caught things I overlooked.
  • Every single person in the whole book is white. I’ve never lived anywhere so homogeneous, and since I use real towns and cities as settings, my characters reflect the diversity of those places. But do I fall into some other kind of unconscious pattern with my characters? I’ll have to look for it.
  • The book is padded with conversations that could have been summed up in a sentence or eliminated altogether. I suspect the author was so fascinated by her characters and by exploring their relationships that she couldn’t bring herself to kill these long, dull darlings. My pantsing first drafts are full of material like this.  I discover a lot by writing it—but it needs to take place offstage.
  • Characters echo each other’s words. “I saw him.” “You saw him?” “Yes, I saw him.” Even if people occasionally talk this way in real life, it slows down the story. I should start dialogue where it counts, not with the warm-ups.
  • The revelation of who committed the murders comes through a spate of expository dialogue in which the two conspirators tell each other what they already know, having an argument full of “That was our plan” statements. The protagonist is a witness to this, but she’s tied up, and until that moment she never had a clue what either of them was up to. The police show up after she’s heard it all and is in mid-escape. I can’t let the mystery be solved solely by accident and chance. And if I want to reveal a secret or backstory through dialogue, I need to set it up with conflicts, questions, and challenges to bring out the information in a believable way.

I picked up some valuable reminders from this audiobook, and most have to do with cutting and revision. I need to know more than my readers do, and then choose what to tell them and how.

 

 

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The World Through My Eyes

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The fifth book in the Adam Kaminski mystery series will come out this summer. I am so excited to share it with you! I’ve spent the past two years working on this book that looks at the world through the eyes of a photographer, while also telling the story of a cruise in which everyone is pretending to be someone they’re not.

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is the opportunity to look at the world through other peoples eyes. Because my series has one main character– Adam Kaminski – who always finds someone to help him out, I have the pleasure of creating a new point-of-view character for each book (that is, a character whose thoughts you, the reader, get to hear.)

In this book my second leading character is Julia Kaminski, sister to Adam. Julia has appeared in most of the other books in the series, so I’m not creating her from scratch. But this is the first time I’m writing from her perspective, describing the world through her eyes. In this case, the eyes of a photographer. There can be no doubt, we all see the world a little bit differently.

 

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A very blurry suggestion of the cover for A Pale Reflection  – the world as I might see it!

Personally, I’ve been wearing glasses since I was five (and probably needed them before that). The world through my eyes looks very different. Terribly near-sighted, without my glasses I see blurs of color without distinct shapes. Every pin prick of light becomes a giant, glowing snowflake. It’s actually quite beautiful! As long as I don’t need to see clearly. These days, I wear bifocals, so I get two different views of the world depending how I hold my head! (And does anyone hate progressive bifocals as much as I do? I couldn’t stand them.)

As an aside, I recently saw a video about very young children – one year or younger – getting glasses and being able to see their mothers’ faces clearly for the first time. The expression of joy on their faces was indescribable. How the doctors were able to figure out a) that they needed glasses and b) what their prescription was I have no idea. But it is remarkable.

 

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Bifocal and near vision only – just two of the many pairs of glasses in my life!

My husband, on the other hand, is farsighted. How strange! After a lifetime of holding things next to my face to read them, I can’t imagine only being able to see clearly when things are far away. The world he sees is very different from the world I see.

I’m pretty sure the same holds true for reading. I write a book and let it out into the world. Now it’s up to the reader to see whatever he or she sees in it. I love hearing other peoples perspectives of my books — don’t get me wrong — but I admit there are times when I hear someone describing one of my characters and I think: can’t I just give you a prescription that lets you see it the way I see it?

A Pale Reflection, my book about seeing the world – and other people – clearly, comes out this summer. Check out my Facebook page or sign up for my newsletter at my website to see the full cover soon. And follow me on Instagram to see photos of my world. I hope my perspective of other people’s perspective will keep you entranced – and wondering who the killer is!

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PLANNING AND PLOTTING

 

I’ve told you all this before, but I am not a plotter. I have an idea, and I follow it, hoping that the story will make sense as it develops. But I’ve fallen into an abyss, unable to figure my way out. My story has hit a wall, and I can’t find my way through. I keep gnawing on the problem, but so far, no answers.

I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t plot—and probably not the only one who falls into an abyss. But recently I’ve found support, at least for the nonplotters.. Just in the last month, the New York Times Book Review has had comments by two writers of mystery fiction indicating they aren’t plotters either.

Chris Bohjalian, author of THE FLIGHT ATTENDENT, which has made it to the Times best seller list, says in the “Inside the List” column, “I’m in awe of writers who outline—or even those writers who know how a book is going to end when they begin . . .I never have even the slightest clue. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story.”

And in the April 29th edition of the Book Review, in the same column , Lisa Scottoline, the best-selling author who writes three books a year, says, “I plan absolutely nothing.. . .  It’s not in my nature. I write a book in an organic way, asking myself after each chapter what the characters would do next. I never know what the story is until I tell it to myself. Not only don’t I know how it ends, I don’t know how it middles!” Scottoline goes on to say, “. . . the surprise ending always comes as a surprise to me!”

So, I’m not the only one with a problem. But I’m an amateur compared to those guys. How shall I fix my problem? My murderer is apparently unbelievable, and the story has great, big plot holes. Do I need another character? Maybe that would help with the problem. Maybe I don’t want to kill one guy too early in the story. If I keep him alive, he might be the murderer.

Now that’s an idea! Maybe the murderee should be the murderer. I’ll play with that for a while. I need a reason for that, though, and right now my mind is blank. I do have a sense, however, that I killed off the first victim too soon, that I should let him live a bit more and develop more of a story.

I remember attending a writing panel where two writers were non-plotters and one, who wrote for television, was emphatically a plotter. One of the non-plotters told us that when she got to the end of her novel, she liked the person she had made the murderer too much to cast him in that role, so she went back and added another character. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with these problems.

Do any of you ever get yourselves into this kind of mess? Let me know. It’ll make me feel better, just like Bohjalian and Scottoline did.

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Digging into a Character by Paty Jager

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View from my ride-along

I’m currently working on a the first book of a new mystery series. This new series is making me grow as a writer which is what I hope each book does, but this series and character in particular is really making me stretch my brain which isn’t getting any younger.

I picked not only a male protagonist but I made him Native American ( one of my signatures of what I write) and I put him in a profession I know nothing about. Whew! Talk about working in a totally new environment!

Through the years writing romance before I got the nerve to try my hand at mystery, I wrote from both the male an female points of view and in my Shandra Higheagle series I write from a male point of view with Detective Ryan Greer. But this book is told completely from the male point of view- from Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s point of view.

Not only do I have to think like a male, I have to think a bit Native American and as a lawman would. Having been around my son-in-law who is a detective with the State Police, I’ve learned that even when they appear to be off duty and hanging around, they are still seeing things and picking up on things that the rest of us shrug off.

Trying to keep my character “on the alert” yet laid back and letting things happen as they should has been a tricky balance. Using his upbringing and his drive as counterpoints has also been tricky.  He has worked hard to get out of the reservation and to have the job he does-protecting his ancestors land. But at the same time because he is protecting his ancestors land he has a deep connection to his Native American roots. While he is full blood Native American he still feels as if his feet are in two worlds. He is upholding the Whiteman’s law as a lawman, but at the same time keeping vigilance over his Native roots.

This first book is taking me longer to write than I thought it would but I had to put it on hold while I did a ride-along with a Fish and Wildlife State Trooper in the Eagle Cap Wilderness where my character works.  The day I spent with the game warden was eye opening in the scope of duties they must preform. Because it is a large remote area, not only do they have to do their game duties but they also serve as a state trooper and while they are on the trail of a poacher or trespasser and there is a call that comes in about a shooting or domestic dispute they have to respond even if it is across the county from where they are at the moment.

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Elk refuge where we were looking for trespassers

The best part about the ride-along was getting the troopers perspective on his job and learning some of the little nuances that I can add to books to give the character the flavor of a real life person.

When the first Gabriel Hawke book is ready to go to my critique partners and beta readers it will be interesting to see if I managed to get the male character correct.

The first thing that pulls me into a book is the characters. What about you?

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Books… And More Books… And Still More Books…

by Janis Patterson

Books are most definitely a leitmotif in my life. I have always loved to read. Even in my toddler days I would on an almost daily basis pull every book I could reach off the shelves and sit happily among them, turning the magical pages. Mother said I never got one upside down and nor ever tore a page, which I find remarkable as it took me much longer to master the skill of walking.

My parents discovered that I was reading when I was three, when I sat them down and read a short story from the newly-arrived Saturday Evening Post (the original version, remember that?). No one ever knew how or when I learned to read.  I had free rein in the family library, reading Boswell, all of Ellery Queen and most of Pearl Buck before starting school, but it was Shakespeare which fascinated me the most. The language! The imagery! The flow of those incredible words that drew you into a different time and place, a world of magic…

I had so looked forward to school, where I hoped to talk books and characters and reading, hopes that were dashed the first day. Not only did my classmates not even know the alphabet, the teacher took my copy of Shakespeare away, telling me I was naughty for stealing it. I had to prove to the principal that it was my book – it had my name in the front, too – by reading aloud and explaining a full page of the play I was currently reading. It was Troilus and Cressida, and it was such an infuriating and humiliating experience (resulting in an irrational dislike of that play which lasts to this day) that I loathed school from then on. Even before starting school I was not too fond of libraries, either, after a supercilious librarian insisted I could not look through the adult section, but would have to stay in the young children’s department where there were only pamphlet-thin and distressingly simplistic (if not downright idiotic) stories that had no real action or character development and a stunted vocabulary that should have shamed a retarded parrot.

I know now I was blessed to grow up in a house with books and respect for books. It took me a long time to realize that not everyone grew up immersed not only in books but love and respect towards books. Then it was just the way things were. I did not realize, however that some blessings can be an overabundance. After my mother passed away, I was clearing out her house preparatory to our doing some remodeling and long-deferred maintenance before moving in. There were books everywhere. Not only did the house have a dedicated library, there were bookshelves in every room. I called The Husband in tears when, after thinking the books were all taken care of, I discovered six big boxes of books under the guest room bed!

I quit counting my parents’ books at 12,000, but there were more. Trust me, there were more. Lots more.

Nor was that our only problem. Mother passed away just 3 weeks after our wedding, and The Husband and I were still trying to blend our possessions. In his house he had most of a bedroom devoted to bookshelves. In my 1,000 sq ft condo I had 19 floor-to-ceiling bookcases, most of them double-stacked.

We gave away LOTS of books. The Husband had a big pickup, and we took the bed brimming full twice to a charity shop. We gave books away to friends by the boxload. We even recycled some which were in too poor a condition to be read. Now, admittedly, most of these were paperbacks, but a paperback still qualifies as a book. We packed away about 10-12 banker’s boxes of books for storage in the garage for which there was no room in the house. Don’t know why, but for whatever reasons we simply could not get rid of them at the moment. A lot of them are wonderful fiction that is currently unavailable. Some I’m hoping to scan some of them. Someday. Of course we kept our lovely collection of reference works on the various subjects in which we’re interested, and the choice assortment of autographed and first editions that were my grandfather’s and then my parents’.

While remodeling we converted one of the bedrooms into another library, one with shelves on all four walls as well as over the windows and doors. The parlor, very Victorian in tone, has a tasty selection of glass-fronted antique bookcases, making it a sort-of third library. Not that any of this did any good. It’s a little known fact that, like brown cardboard boxes with mysterious contents, books tend to breed. We have stringently limited our trips to our local bookstores to one every couple of months, but still books appear, rising in drifts in the corners and lurking in clumps under the furniture. I do try, though, and do probably 99% of my reading of what I call ‘disposable fiction’ (the kind you read once and then get rid of) on my phone. If we had hard copies of every one of those books the house would be so full that we would have to live in a tent in the back yard. We are, however, talking about possibly creating a fourth library in what used to be the garage. We need it.

On Facebook there is a recurrent meme that says “It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” Yes it is. It most definitely is. But it’s wonderful, too.

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Music to my ears

­By Sally Carpenter

I got the idea of using chapter headers in my books from Steve Hockensmith. His “Holmes on the Range” books have cute headers that hint at the chapter content. I use headers in my books so I can keep track of the action in each chapter. Just using chapter numbers doesn’t jog my memory. And it’s fun looking for titles to match the story.

I began using chapter headers with my Sandy Fairfax Teen Idols series. Since Sandy was a musician, it made sense to use song titles for the heds. “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” of course, used only Beatles songs (group and solo) for the headers. “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper” had all Elvis songs for no particular reason. The other two books used a mix of artists and decades.

 My new series, The Psychedelic Spy Mysteries, is set in 1967, so all of the songs are from the 1960s. One title, “Searchin’,” was released by The Coasters in 1957, but a soon-to-be very famous group re-recorded it for its audition tape for Decca Records in 1962, so it worked.

Nearly all of these songs are in my personal record/CD/tape collection, which gives you a hint as to my personal tastes. The recording of “Runaway” that I have is from a Micky Dolenz live concert CD. His sister Coco sings the song (she has a great voice too).

See if you can match the original artists with the songs! Hint: some musicians are used more than once. And how many of these songs do you still remember?

Chapter 1: Baby the Rain Must Fall

2: This Boy

3: What Goes On

4: Dr. Robert

5: Your Mother Should Know

6: Little Children

7: Secret Agent Man

8: Pictures of Matchstick Men

9: Strawberry Girl

10: Incense and Peppermints

11: Ask Me Why

12: Magical Mystery Tour

13: Everybody’s Talkin’

14: What’s New, Pussycat

15: Runaway

16: Surprise, Surprise

17: Writer in the Sun

18: Tell Me That Isn’t True

19: Tombstone Blues

20: I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You

21: On a Carousel

22: You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)

23: It’s a Gas

24: Fun, Fun, Fun

25: Where Were You When I Needed You

26: Searchin’

27: All Together Now

28: Black Magic Woman

29: Trip, Stumble and Fall

Answers:

Chapter 1: Glenn Yarbrough

2: The Beatles

3: Beatles again

4: Fab Four

5: That group from Liverpool

6: Billy J. Kramer

7: Johnny Rivers

8: Status Quo

9: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

10: Strawberry Alarm Clock

11: John, Paul, George and Ringo

12: Ditto

13: Harry Nilsson

14: Tom Jones

15: Del Shannon

16: Rolling Stones

17: Donovan

18: Bob Dylan

19: Bob Dylan

20: The Bee Gees

21: Moody Blues

22: The Beatles (a rarity not found on the “official” albums)

23: Alfred E. Newman (released onto the world by Mad Magazine)

24: Beach Boys

25: Grass Roots

26: You can hear this one on the first Beatles “Anthology” album

27: One last time for the Fabs

28: Fleetwood Mac

29: The Mamas and The Papas

 

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Haunted Timer Tales

Hey yo. What’s up?

So, this month I’d planned to talk about summer, writing outside and why it’s awesome BUT, instead, we need talk about something spooky that happened.

I don’t know if you remember from my last post, but I was talking about how I’d just started writing full-time and how I was having difficulty managing my time and settling into a routine. (And pomados! Let’s not forget the pomados!)

Anyway, I modified the whole pomado technique (because I just love being able to say to people, “I can’t right now, I have to pomado”—not that I’ve had the chance to say it to anyone, but I practice saying it in my head all the time). Yes, so, now my version of pomadoing means I estimate how long I think it will take me to accomplish something, halve that amount of time and set a timer. Why do I halve it? Well, I used to have a boss that would set unrealistic time goals on tasks:

Her: We got a hundred boxes of stock in delivery. You have until lunchtime to get all stripped, hung and tagged. (“stripped” just means taking the plastic off—in case you were wondering.)

Me: Lunchtime when? Lunchtime next Thursday? Cool, I can do that. (I’ve always had a poor work attitude!)

Her: Lunchtime today.

Me: *checks watch* That’s three hours. There’s no way we can do that.

Her: Well, you have no choice because that’s when I need it done. *walks away*

Me: *flips her off behind her back* (see above comment about poor work attitude)

Her: I can see you in the mirror.

Me: I was stretching my fingers. Didn’t want to pull a muscle and not get this done by lunchtime … *slinks off to the stock room*

Now, every time I think of estimating how long it will take me to do something I always think back to that and her unrealistic goals. Because of that, I got into the habit of setting deadlines much further away than I really needed. There’s nothing more demotivating than setting a deadline that is going to be impossible to hit. Or one that’s going to be so tight, you get stressy over it. Life’s too short.

So I got into the habit of overestimating … and then I found this nugget of time management wisdom: “However long you set for a task, that’s how long it will take. If you set a week—it’ll take a week. If you set a month—it’ll take a month.”

Which is true (for me, at least). Even with this last book. I set the goal to have it ready to send to my editor a week earlier than the deadline. But that didn’t happen. I got it finished the day before I needed to send it off because that was (technically) how long I actually had to get it finished.

Anyway, so I halve my time estimate and set the timer. And there’s something about seeing a timer count down and thinking “Maybe I can get it done much faster than I thought”.

But, time management aside, the thing I wanted to tell you was that I have a battery operated timer (remember this—it’s important). Just a regular kitchen timer. I’ve used it for nearly two months now. It counts down (timer setting) and it counts up (stopwatch setting). I wanted to use it to count up so I could time something—I forget what now. Naturally, I pressed the “mode” button thinking that it would switch it from “timer” to “stopwatch”, but I found another setting called “clock” … and it tells the time.

I can hear you’re, like, “So? What’s the big deal?”. Well, the “big deal” is that it’s a battery operated timer! It has no way to know the time. It’s not wifi connected. I frequently take the batteries out so they don’t run down. There is no way for it to connect to the internet or anything to sync with to get the time. But it knows the time! How does it know the time!!? And, it is always nine minutes fast. Crazy.

I suppose it could be counting up from whenever I put the batteries in but that seems like a huge coincidence …

Worlds Collide - FINAL COVER

So, obviously, I channelled that experience into a story. It features two of my main characters and it’s free … but you have to sign up for my newsletter to get it (sorry!), but you can always unsubscribe straight away. Why can’t I give you a link where you don’t have to sign up? I promised my newsletter peeps the only way you could get it was by being a newsletter peeps—gotta be a woman of my word, yo.

 

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/qujqdjo00l

Yeah, so that’s my haunted timer tale. Have you had anything like that? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

Jordaina 🙂

 

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