When Words Matter

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I was working on my current manuscript the other day, when the idea for a short story came to me. I’m not a short story writer. I’ve tried. I did not succeed. But I was struck by the idea, wondering why it came to me. At this point, I’m more interested in the idea than in writing the actual story.

The story would go something like this: an average guy accidentally gets involved in a battle between good guys and bad guys from the future (yes, I’m a Sci-Fi fan). He doesn’t have the skills or knowledge that the future warriors do, but he has a good heart and a lot of courage. He joins the battle and helps the good guys win. They invite him to join them, to travel to the future with them, where he can have a better life. He’s thrilled. He’s got no family he’ll miss (maybe his wife just died in childbirth or something tragic like that).

He travels to the future with his new friends, excited for the life that awaits him. When he arrives, he’s processed into his new community. You know the type of thing: paperwork, blood tests, analyses to make sure he’s safe. To make sure he’ll assimilate well. Everything goes great, until they get to the final page of the questionnaire.

“What is—well, ahem, I suppose I should say what was your profession? What can you do to contribute to our society?” The future agent man asks him.

“I’m a writer,” our hero replies. “I write fiction. Books. Stories.”

Future agent man blanches. He stands, the papers he holds shaking in his hands. He glances at the two-way mirror on the wall and jerks his chin toward it in some sort of signal.

Our hero, for the first time, starts to worry about his decision. Two burly men in white suits carrying long, silver tubes enter the room.

“I’m sorry, but we can’t let you stay,” future agent man explains apologetically. “Writers are too dangerous. Too subversive. We don’t allow those types here.”

Our hero doesn’t feel a thing as he is humanely euthanized.

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Sometimes I feel powerless. Sometimes I feel like I’m just a cog in a machine that I can’t control. But we all have our own way of moving our little part of the machine. Maybe we can’t steer, maybe we can’t even control our speed, but for each of us there’s something we can do. For me, it’s writing.

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The author in her natural habitat

I love the fact that I can build my own worlds, create my own characters, heroes and villains. Bad things happen, but they generally end well. (Alright, not for the people who get killed, obviously. But usually for everyone else!)

When I write, I need to remember to do it with intention, with thoughtfulness (my fellow Lady of Mystery, Amber Foxx, might say mindfulness). Because what I write matters.

I think my idea was connected to the fact that today is Martin Luther King Day. He was a man who knew how to use words, as well as actions. His words had power. They still do.

I’m inspired by him in many ways. One of those ways is recognizing that words matter.

To learn more about Jane Gorman and the Adam Kaminski Mystery Series, visit her website at janegorman.com or follow her on Facebook.

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My Writing Community

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At this time of year, it’s not unusual to spend some time thinking about — and being grateful for — friends and family. I have a warm, loving family and I’m fortunate to have friends who inspire, amaze and support me. But today, I’m thinking in particular about my writing community.

Writing is a solitary endeavor. It kind of has to be, doesn’t it? You, the writer, sit down at a keyboard and type. The ideas come from your head (or from the pages and pages of notes and research you’ve done on your topic!). That’s the classic picture of the writer: sitting alone in a room, writing.

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But wait, there’s more: for those of us lucky enough, there’s the writing community.

As I progressed along the path to being a published author, I got to know other writers and other artists. I’ve written before about my involvement in groups like the Sisters in Crime, my attendance at writing conferences, and of course there’s the wonderful community here at Ladies of Mystery.

I cannot emphasize enough the value I find in spending time with, getting to know, learning to rely on other writers. I look forward to every post here on Ladies of Mystery, to see what questions and challenges my fellow mystery writers are dealing with and how they respond to them.

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Thanks to my involvement in the Guppy chapter of the Sisters in Crime, I have a team of people ready to respond to frantic questions ranging from details of cyanide poisoning to the appropriate position of a challenging comma to the best way to describe a character’s face (always one of my biggest challenges).

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My writerly life was forever improved when I decided an hour was not too far away to drive to meetings of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Sisters in Crime. Through this inspiring group of writers (men and women, of course), I’ve been introduced to new ways of thinking about mysteries, characters that seem to be standing in front of me, and questions from readers that simply wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise.

I’ve been so fortunate to be included in an anthology of mysteries written by some of the best mystery writers I’ve read — check out the Sisters of Suspense anthology for some great mysteries!

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I’ve benefitted from my participation in public celebrations and book readings. Each event gives me another opportunity to figure out how to talk about my books, how to talk about myself, and how to build my relationship with my readers.

So today, I’m feeling warm and fuzzy thoughts about my writing community, and I wish everyone in it — and those who may one day join it — a warm, wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year.

 

Understanding Your Characters

Part of what makes a great story is great characters. Any reader can tell you that. Writers talk about developing characters, fleshing them out, giving them back story, making them flawed and relatable. These are all vital steps in creating great a character.

But once the character is created, I find I have yet one more hurdle that I have to jump: I have to understand my characters.

A young couple in Galway contemplate the evening

But you created them, you might say with surprise. You wrote their background, you devised their likes and dislikes, fears and dreams. What’s left to understand?

Lots.

Characters run the show. They get away from you, the writer, taking their own story in directions you hadn’t anticipated. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. Yet it happens to all writers.

In my current work in progress, I realized after finishing the second draft that I had the wrong killer. A different character was standing in the wings looking guiltily around, trying not to make eye contact with me. Ah-hah, I thought. That’s the real killer!

Trying to pull a fast one on me, I might add.

In several of my books I have another problem of understanding with some of my characters: I write characters who are not native English speakers.

My mother and grandmother in Warsaw

As we all know, language affects not just the way we talk but even the way we think. Writing a foreign character (foreign to me, that is) means not only understanding their native tongue enough to be able to replicate their thoughts, but also understanding the way they frame their thoughts in the first place.

A Pole, an American and an Irishman walk into a bar…. They’re all thinking a little differently and it’s my job to understand those differences.

A woman examines a grave in Warsaw. What might she be thinking?

I’m not complaining. I love that job! I spend time improving my language skills. (By the way, for anyone interested in learning French, I recommend the lessons by Paul Noble. They’re very good!). Extra bonus, it helps when I travel the world and meet new people. So it’s a good problem to have. And one that I hope I have succeeded in overcoming.

But you tell me. If you’ve read any of my books, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my foreign characters and how well I’ve captured their differences.

Learn more about Jane Gorman and the Adam Kaminski mystery series at janegorman.com.

You’re Not Alone!

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I had the pleasure this weekend of participating in a mystery celebration at the Tredyffrin library in Strafford, Pennsylvania. The event was in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Sisters in Crime, a fabulous mystery writers and readers group. I spend a lot of time writing, reading, reading about writing, blogging, following blogs… you get the picture. But there is nothing quite like meeting with fellow mystery writers and mystery lovers.

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Sharing a table with mystery writers Matty Dalrymple and Lisa Regan

Sisters in Crime was founded by Sara Paretsky and a group of women in 1986. It now has 3600 members in 50 chapters world-wide and offers networking, advice and support to mystery writers. Members are authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians, all bound by an affection for the mystery genre. The mission of the Sisters in Crime is to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.

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If you’re a mystery fan, I can’t recommend the Sisters in Crime enough. I’m a member of two different chapters.

Here in my local area (near Philadelphia), I attend the monthly meetings of the Delaware Valley Chapter. I’ve met some incredible writers through this group as well as some fun mystery fans who I love to share stories with.

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I’m also a member of an online chapter of the Sisters in Crime, the Guppies. Originally created as the “Great Unpublished” (hence, Guppies), the group now includes not only unpublished writers but a few rock star writers as well. It offers a chance to virtually chat with fellow writers, to swap manuscripts, to take online courses, to share information and ideas.

Thanks to my involvement in these groups, I’ve participated in writers conferences, book signings, lectures, and more.

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Reading from A Blind Eye

If you are a writer, an aspiring writer, or just a huge fan of mysteries, check out the Sisters in Crime! I’m sure there’s a chapter near you. And if the nearest chapter is farther than you want to drive, boot up the computer and check out the Guppies.

Writing can sometimes seem like a lonely pursuit, or at least something you do alone. But thanks to groups like the Sisters of Crime, I always have someone to support me, to keep me motivated and inspired.

Learn more about Jane Gorman and her books at janegorman.com

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In the Dark: About Titles, Writing and Eclipses

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I usually develop the titles to my books somewhere in the early stages of writing. I know the theme, I know the murder weapon and motive, and I know the red herrings that will be swimming through the story. The title usually comes from one of those. This time around, I find myself in the dark.

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My current work in progress takes place on a cruise ship traveling from New York to Bermuda. Our hero, Philadelphia detective Adam Kaminski, must figure out who poisoned the Claypoole family patriarch—and how—before the ship docks and all the witnesses (and suspects) hit the open seas. But first he has to convince himself that he still has what it takes to catch a murderer.

I really want to title the book, Through a Glass Darkly. It’s part of a verse from the bible, 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I love the poetry of the words and also the theme it implies—being in the dark but eventually finding your way to the light. After all, isn’t that what happens in most mysteries?

It didn’t take much polling of friends and readers to realize my working title wasn’t a hit. Too many people didn’t get the reference. And my books are not religious in any way, shape or form, so I really don’t want to give the wrong impression.

That led me to working title number two, Voices Carry. It fits with one of the elements of the story. It’s short, kind of catchy. It would work as a title. But I just kept thinking about the darkness.

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Today is an appropriate day to think about darkness, obviously. I’m not on the path of the total eclipse, sadly, but I was able to see a partial eclipse. I loved watching not only the eclipse itself, but also its effect on the shadows on the ground around me. They became visibly crisper, cleaner. I’m a huge fan of shadows, so for me that was one of the highlights.

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Light and dark, shadows and sun. I need a title that captures it all. Being in the dark, then seeing clearly.

Right now, I’m on working title number three, A Pale Reflection. I’m toying with changing that to A Dark Reflection.

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At some point soon, I need to make a decision! I’m still hoping the right title with come to me, focused like an eclipse-sharpened shadow. Or perhaps a sign from above, like the blotting out of the sun.

If any of you have any suggestions, I’m open to ideas! Let me know what you think!

For more information about Jane Gorman’s books, visit janegorman.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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