Privacy, Responsibility and General Robert E. Lee

by Janis Patterson

On this and other blogs I have always ranted about the necessity of a writer for privacy, of how we shouldn’t have to open ourselves and our personal lives up just because our fans want us to or because we need the publicity. Privacy is very important to me and always has been. Some say that by being too open, or too outspoken on social media we run the risk of losing or even alienating fans, and that is a distinct possibility. No sane person wants to damage their career deliberately. For some reason writers – especially genre fiction writers – are not supposed to be controversial. Mean people who disagree with us, we are warned, will flock to our retailers and give nothing but bad reviews in an attempt to hurt us and complain about our attacking their freedom of speech if we complain.

That sounds more like bullying than freedom of speech.

However, there are things which supercede a career. We have all been counseled to be quiet or at the most neutral about some things, politics and religion primarily. That’s good advice, but I think we are human beings and citizens first, and some things trump both the career and neutrality cards.

I live in Dallas, which is controlled by a very liberal mayor and city council – all of whom are bound and determined to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee that has been standing for over 80 years – all in a rush of indecent and (in my opinion) barely-legal haste. The powers that be had a crane ready to dismantle the statue within minutes of the council’s vote. (After over 80 years in the same place it suddenly had to be removed THAT AFTERNOON? Sounds like something’s fishy to me.) Had not my wonderful husband rushed to file a Temporary Restraining Order we would have lost an incredible work of art. The statue (or as the council member spearheading this idiocy calls it, the ‘statcha’) is one of the finest examples of heroic-sized bronze art in the country. Whoever/whatever the statue (statcha) represents, the fine detail work, the intricate delineations, the entire piece is exquisite and to take such a work of fine art out of the beautiful park setting created for it decades ago and probably out of public view forever is just plain heinous.

But that’s not the worst. Dallas is a perpetually cash-strapped city where (among other things) it can take months to get a pothole repaired, and where over 400 policemen quit the force last year because of the poor pay and a very shaky, poorly managed pension fund. Even with such financial problems the mayor and the city council simply cannot wait to pay over (and maybe a LOT over) $400,000 just to remove the statue. One statue. And that’s when even the liberal media admits that over 80% of Dallas citizens want the statue (and all such monuments) left alone.

How can I as a tax-paying citizen of this city stand still for such deliberate fiscal irresponsibility? How can I remain silent when our tax dollars are being wasted so egregiously? How can I ignore it when the city is always complaining that they don’t have enough money and say our taxes should go up yet again but our services always seem to shrink? When I think of how that almost HALF A MILLION dollars (and probably more before all is said and done) could be spent on paying our police the salaries they should have, or putting after-school enrichment programs in underprivileged schools, or creating some health-care storefronts in the poorest areas of town, or…

There are so many ways that money could be used constructively, and as a citizen I must raise my voice in spite of the wisdom that says writers should not offend anyone, that stating what you feel or believe or espouse can damage your career. I am not so naïve as to believe that there are not people who will judge my stories by my activism, even though those stories have nothing to do with it. Frankly, I don’t care. I was a human being before I was a writer, and I will be a human being after I quit being a writer.

I have a conscience. I have a voice, and I should have a say about what affects me, be it a statue or a tax increase or a mis-managed pension fund or whatever! After all, it is my hard-earned tax money that the powers that be want to squander so idiotically. I love writing, and I love my career, but life is more important than selling books. If we do not stand up for what is right, for the love of fine art and the integrity of history, for freedom of expression, we have no right to complain when things go wrong. That’s why I’ve spent days urging people to telephone or email the mayor and the city council to stop this attack on freedom, fine art, history and the will of the people.

Plus, my most recent exercise in activism is self-serving, and I believe all writers should applaud. Everything offends someone, so if a small minority can dictate – for no real reason other than they don’t like it – the removal of a statue that the majority wants left alone, how long will it be before they start burning the books they don’t like? Or destroying the art?  And after books and art, what next? People?

Remember, those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.

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I Love Writing Mysteries Except… by Paty Jager

I’ve been working on the next Shandra Higheagle book. It will be book #9 and it is set around Halloween.  On top of it being book #9 and a bit of a Halloween setting, it will have an orange cat on the cover.  I love when I have fun ideas come to me. I decided since Sheba the dog found the body in Yuletide Slaying and was on the cover, the October release, Haunting Corpse, should have the cat, Lewis, find the body and be on the cover. I wonder if I can come up with Shandra’s horse Apple finding a body for a future book?   LOL

Besides having fun coming up with murders, figuring out why the person was killed and how, and who the killer is, I enjoy coming up with the premise and the titles just as much.  I would have to say the only thing I don’t like about writing murder mystery books is the fact most of the big mystery contests and conferences don’t feel a self-pub or Indie book/author has anything of value to give on a panel or their books aren’t good enough to be in contests. Otherwise, I love it all! And I wish I had stayed with mysteries when I first started writing all those years ago.

I’m looking forward to attending Left Coast Crime Reader/ Author event March 22-25, 2018 in Reno, Nevada. It’s fun talking with other authors and meeting new readers. If I’m lucky I’ll get on a panel but because I’m an Indie Author and can only be a moderator or if there is a panel with not enough “traditionally” published authors to fill it and I meet the criteria, I might get on a panel.

Romance Writers of America have embraced the self-published author but the mystery genre is still a bit behind the times.

That is the one thing I don’t like about writing mystery.

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter / Pinterest

 

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Cold War ethics

My WIP is a cold war cozy, a somewhat traditional cozy mystery with spies. The setting is 1967, the peak of the spy craze on TV and in the movies.

One of my favorite shows from this era is “Mission: Impossible.” I love the series for the top-notch writing, complex plots and logical structure. But on re-watching the show, I’m dismayed at some of the distressing ethical values.

Members of the IM Force, for unclear reasons, are not allowed to directly assassinate the villains (which would make for short and dull episodes). However, they can lie, cheat and steal as well as deceive, trick, con and manipulate other people into doing the killing for them. How is this better than simply doing the dirty deed themselves?

The end justifies the means. Trampling on emotions is acceptable as long as it brings about the desired results. In the first-season episode “The Short Tail Spy,” Cinnamon Carter carries on a lengthy romance with the mark, even spending the night with him. Does she really fall in love with him or is it all an act? We never really know how Cinnamon feels about the affair. But if she does have feelings for him, she never lets her emotions compromise the mission. Like an actress, she can conjure up fake emotions to serve her purpose.

In another episode, the IM Force is leaving the building at the end of the episode and they hear a gunshot. When someone asks who was killed, Jim Phelps replies rather coldly, “Does it matter?” A rather callous attitude, but necessary in this business.

Bruce Geller, the series creator, stated that he wanted the characters to be “ciphers,” completing the mission with no emotion or revealing their own personality. In a few episodes, we catch tantalizing glimpses of the team members joking and interacting with each other (in a seventh-season episode, Barney and Jim briefly enjoy a friendly game of tennis on a day off). But the agents, for the most part, remain pawns in the spy game. We see the agents portray every type of character expect themselves, yet sealing off their own emotions doesn’t appear to cause mental health issues.

And they are expendable. The government will deny their existence in the event the agents are caught or killed. So they are on their own. How can the agents remain loyal to a government that needs them but wants nothing to do with them?

The missions work because the villains have no ethics. The missions/cons work because the baddies are ruthless, greedy, egotistical. lusty and cruel. A con game only works on a mark that wants to be conned.

Yet “MI” has some positive aspects. Compared to most spy shows of the time, the body count is low. In the first season, the team members engaged in some gunplay, but soon that was phased out.

The team members had an extraordinarily high moral sense. They lied and conned only evil individuals and not for personal gain. They felt a need to rid the world of drugs, dictators, nuclear bombs in the wrong hands, corruption and brutality.

They never defected to the other side or were never tempted by the money or power. They never took bribes or betrayed another team member (unless it was part of the mission). If a team member was captured, the others made sure he/she was rescued.

They were willing to put their lives in danger for—what? Not for fame or fortune. They received no public recognition for their service. Due to secrecy they probably had few friends outside the agency. Their only reward was a personal satisfaction for bringing about justice in a wicked world.

My WIP looks at the ethical nature of the spy game. A spy agency recruits my heroine, a civilian, to help with a case. At one point, a spy tells the heroine she will have to kill the enemy. The heroine is shocked—murder goes against her beliefs and morality. In another situation, she must do something she feels isn’t right or else risk blowing her cover. This being a cozy, everything works out to a happy ending, but it’s interesting to explore how she reacts to these situations without compromising her own ethics.

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Writing and Promoting and Living

Sometimes we authors forget the importance of living–and I’m just as guilty at times as anyone else.

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This past month has been particularly full of all of the above. My latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, A Cold Death, is now out and I’ve been busy with promotion plans, setting up a blog tour, finding a couple of local places to do signings–no bookstores so I’ve arranged for a signing in a chocolate store (they also sell designer coffee drinks), and at a local Inn. I have a Barnes and Noble signing in the closest big city, coming up September 9th.

Me at Caruthers Library 2

 

I’m also working on my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, and it’s going great–lots about the private lives of my police officers–and of course a murder. Only problem is finding time.

As for the living we had a wonderful family reunion and spent time with relatives who live near and far, including two of my great-great grandbabies. And yes, I’m old enough, I just celebrated by 84th birthday. One of biggest fans who is now a good friend, took my husband and I out for lunch–2 1/2 hours of eating and visiting, great fun!

My birthday, Sheri

One of big things about living is the pure joy of being around family and friends. And for writers, ideas for stories and plots and characters are all around you, just waiting for you to notice.

Right now, something so romantic has been going on with a young family member I know that one day I’ll either write the story or incorporate it into a novel. I can’t say what because at this point it’s still a secret.

Anyway, writers keep on doing what you have to do, but take time to enjoy your life.

Marilyn

 

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Lie, Lady, Lie: A Grammatical Short Story

In which a liar lying on a beach lays to rest all possible confusion about the words for reclining, telling falsehoods, and setting things down.

Lie, Lady, Lie

I should be at home laying tile in the kitchen, but I instead I’m lying on the beach. I called my husband—ex-husband-to-be—and lied, telling him Grandpa’s home health aide had called in sick and that I’d have to stay with Grandpa all day. The kitchen can wait. We’re only fixing it up so we can sell the house for a higher price after we move out and go our separate ways. I lie on my back and close my eyes, lay my phone on the blanket, and then remember to turn it off. When I’ve lain here long enough, I’ll get up and wade in the waves. But not yet. When was the last time I was free to just lie around and be lazy? I swear, I married a slave-driver. I’m not going to miss him. Once, I lay in bed until nine o’clock and Dan listed all the things I could have accomplished if I’d gotten up at seven. On a Saturday. Today, I’m making up for lost time

I wake with a start, wondering how long I lay asleep in the sun. I reach for my phone to check the time, but it’s not where I laid it. My hand grabs a man’s ankle instead. I look up to see Dan’s attractive young assistant, Sebastian, holding my phone and smiling down at me.

“Bad lie.” His voice is low and teasing. “Your grandfather’s house is on Dan’s way to the office. Your car wasn’t there. And he said he heard gulls in the background when you called.”

Darn. The best-laid plans of weary wives … “And he sent you to make me go home and lay tile? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“He sent me to go look at a property we’re leasing for the business.” Sebastian takes off his shirt and lays it on the sand, then lies beside me, propped up on his elbow, grinning. “Of course, when he mentioned your call, he complained about what a lazy wife he has. He doesn’t appreciate you, Celia. So, I lied, too. And here we are.”

His half-bare body is as beautiful as I’ve often imagined it would be. The longing that has lain dormant in both of us for years awakens, and we embrace. On someone’s radio in the distance, Bob Dylan’s classic love song, “Lay, Lady, Lay” is playing. Sebastian laughs. I ask him what’s so funny, and he says, “It’s such a sexy song, but I always wonder what he wants her to lay across his big brass bed? A silk duvet? Granny’s crocheted afghan?”

“Her body, silly.” I kiss his neck and nibble his earlobe. “He wants her to lay her body down.”

“Then he should be asking her to lie—”

“I already did. ” My fingers caress his lips.  “We both did.”

*****

For more fun with lie and lay, check your mastery of these words with a couple of quizzes.

http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar_quiz/lie_vs_lay_1.asp

https://journalism.ku.edu/interactive-quiz-lielay

I’ve never written anything in first person present tense before, so this experiment was fun for that reason as well as my attempt to incorporate every possible variation on lie and lay in a story as short as NPR’s three-minute fiction. (I’m sorry it’s not a mystery, but with the characters both lying and lying, the thematic words lent themselves more to a tryst.) I was inspired by Jane Gorman’s entertaining homophone post and by my encounters with lie/lay confusion in print and in speech.

Occasionally, I take yoga classes taught by a young woman who understands the human body and teaches well, but she uses the transitive verb lay for the intransitive verb lie. When she wants her students to assume a supine or prone position, she says, “Lay on your back,” or “Lay on your stomach.”

In some parts of the country, this is a regional speech idiom, and of course it occurs in popular music. Perhaps that’s why it’s confusing for writers. I’ve found lay/lie errors in published books, overlooked by editors and proofreaders. Even the grammar-check function in Word is confused, and occasionally tries to supply the incorrect word. It found fault with one of the two quotations from the ungrammatical yoga teacher and not with the other.

I can’t bring myself to make any of my characters talk the way she does, even though it would be more realistic if a few of them did.  What about you?

Comments welcome! Lay it on!

Photo credit: The lead image was originally posted to Flickr by J.C. Rojas at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcrojas/194663540

 

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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.

Simple three books

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.

Eclipse

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.

Eclipse2

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.

Adam-Kaminski-Mystery-Series

 

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CHARACTER ARC

The main character in any story needs to transform in some way or the story doesn’t go anywhere. If the main character remains the same throughout, there isn’t any story.

The narrative tells the story of how the main character grows or changes. But the character may not develop or change but remain even more intensely the same, that is, recommitted to the way he or she is at the beginning of the story. This is harder to write than a story in which there is clear character growth or change.

In a clear character arc, the narrative is the story of the change to the main character. Ths may happen through experience, the learning of new skills or simply through the passage of time. The character starts out in one way, and throughout the story, he grows and changes. The narrative arc of the story is that of the main character’s growth, however it is accomplished.]

But in some stories, there seems to be no change in the character, no character arc. The main character remains who he or she was at the beginning throughout the story. But, when you read the story carefully, you see that there is character movement. The character does not perceptibly change, but becomes even more steadfastly what he was at the outset.

A class I was in read a novella by Cynthia Ozick called THE SHAWL It’s the heartbreaking story of a woman in a concentration camp who has only the shawl which held her now-dead baby and its smell as a memory. The class members, as I remember, argued with the teacher that there was no discernable character arc in the novella, that she had not changed from beginning to end, and that this was a flaw, but as we talked, we saw that the essence of the story was the protagonist’s steadfast memory of her child and her commitment to that memory.

My novel PSYCHIC DAMAGE is a story of growth and change. In that story, Eva Stuart, addicted to allowing advice from psychics to guide her life and unable or unwilling to make decisions on her own, learns to be strong and independent, to make decisions and even to rescue her partner when he is kidnapped. Her character arc is clear.

This is more difficult to do in a series because the changes are often incremental and not as striking as they would be in a standalone novel. Still, within each story in a series, the protagonist, who doesn’t start out being perfect, gains new knowledge and becomes more adept at what he or she does.

For example, in the first book in my Florida series, A REASON TO KILL, the protagonist, Andi Battaglia, new on her job as a detective, learns through her work on the case to question suspects, evaluate informations for its truth or falsity and determine the solution to the murder. In the second book in the series, SO MANY REASONS TO DIE, Andi defies her supervisior in the hunt for the murderer, ending up suspended from duty but solving the murder.

How do those of you who write series create the incremental changes that contribute to the growth of your character? Do you find it difficult to do and do you plan those changes ahead or do they occur as the novel progresses?

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