Keeping Track of Details by Karen Shughart

Well, I’m almost there. I’ve been slogging away at writing book two of the Edmund DeCleryk mystery series, Murder in the Cemetery, for upwards of a year and now I’m in the editing, polishing and cut-and-paste phase of the book. There are more details in this one than Murder in the Museum, so way more things to keep track of:

For example, in an earlier chapter, Annie DeCleryk, wife of sleuth Edmund DeCleryk, invites a friend of hers to speak at an evening event sponsored by the Historical Society where Annie works. Low and behold, a later chapter indicated that it was a luncheon event. Boy, was I glad I discovered that one!

At another point I write about an unidentified set of tire tracks at the murder scene, that’s early on in the story, but as I reached the end of the first draft I realized I’d never come back to it and explained why they were there.

There are a set of historical letters written into the plot, they take place in the 1800s. I have them interspersed throughout the book in chronological order. At least now I do. When I scrolled through the manuscript, I discovered that in a couple places they were in the wrong order.

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Then there are chapters. As I write and revise, I sometimes remove chapters or move them to another location. Sometimes I divide one chapter into two. I spent one afternoon making sure the chapters were in order and correctly numbered. In a few cases they weren’t.

I also try and eliminate redundancy. Ed and Annie take a trip to England, you’ll learn why when you read the book, and they discover there’s a connection with something that happens on that trip and the murder in Lighthouse Cove. I explain it fully in that chapter and yep, I had Ed explaining the same scenario, multiple times, to other characters who were helping solve the crime. You, the reader, probably don’t want to revisit the entire story more than once, so in subsequent explanations I went back and had Ed summarize.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was a journalist once and as a result, my fiction writing, at least those early drafts, is typically very succinct. So, then I go back and expand the plot. Once done, I usually realize I’ve written more than I need, so then I cut.  What that means is that sometimes I get rid of a chapter I’m emotionally attached to, because as much as I like it, it really doesn’t enhance the plot.

Writing a novel takes a lot of work, not just making sure the plot makes sense, but also keeping track of all the details that make a book flow the way it’s supposed to. I do that on handwritten notes, charts, notes in my computer and, also, in my head. Phew! But I’m gratified when the finished product finally goes to print.

 

The Terrible, Necessary, Unavoidable Triumvirate

by Janis Patterson

In last month’s blog I talked about musery, and how the concept of a mythological goddess whispering ideas and words into a writer’s shell-like ear was a catch-all used to combine the rock-bottom basics of inspiration, imagination and skill. You see, to be a writer – a writer of any worth, a writer with any hopes of publishing – you need all three.

Inspiration is the beginning; this is the start of creating something from nothing. A ghost of an idea. An isolated incident that could be pampered and grown into something more. A starting place.

Imagination is what takes the ephemeral, insubstantial bud of an idea and feeds it, molds it, multiplies it into an acceptable storyline. Like a cook creating a recipe from the beginning idea of two ingredients, a writer will spin a complete storyline, adding in heroes and villains, buffoons and sages, problems and victories, and eventually bring it to a desired and logical conclusion.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it will come to nothing if the writer does not possess the final part of the triad – skill.

In this context the simple word ‘skill’ has a labyrinth of meanings. The most basic form is what we used to call fifth-grade English – mastery of spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation. In other words, the solid skeleton of language on which you can hang the gossamer flesh of your story.

Unfortunately, these days it seems that correct and standard usage of English is if not a dying at the very least a fading art. Typos and plain mistakes that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago are now not only tolerated, but hardly noticed. Where once a single typo in a published book was a point of shame, now it is regarded as a triumph.

But this post is not to rant about the relaxing of standards, it is to point out the need for plain old skill to use the language to create your world and your story. Everyone knows the example of ‘eats – shoots – and – leaves’ and its two very different meanings. ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ is a very different sentence from ‘Eats shoots and leaves.’ A single comma changes the sentence from the reporting of a violent action to a descriptor of an herbivore’s diet.

It’s the same thing with ‘she took a peek’ (i.e., she snuck a quick look) to ‘she took a peak’ (she conquered a mountain top). Such mistakes can pull a reader out of the story in an instant, to say nothing of confusing the action. Doesn’t make the author look very good, either.

Our imaginations might be our stock in trade, but our command of language – and our skill in using it – are what makes it possible for us to communicate our stories to others. Inspiration, imagination and skill – the essential tools a writer must have.

An ‘ideal’ article

By Sally Carpenter

 Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffrey Scott, the most prolific writer of TV animation, with over 600 produced scripts to his credit, and all-around nice person.

 In his book, “How to Write for Animation,” which has good advice for any writer, he talks about ideas.

 “There are an infinitive of ideas,” he writes. “All of us are inherently creative.”

 Scott makes a good point that we tend to over think creativity, which is often presented as some mystical, awesome force that only affects a few highly gifted individuals.

Or else we try to analyze creativity as science by probing the workings of the brain or studying the effects of environment or family life to determine the elements that lead to artistry, as if recreating Michelangelo’s studio will produce another Sistine Chapel painting.

Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way” books, agrees that everyone is born with creativity, only we get “blocked” by criticism, discouragement and rejection. Cameron’s books present exercises that help the reader to “unblock” and let the creativity flow.

While I’m not as prolific of a writer as Scott, from my experience I agree with his observation that the best way to break though a “block” is to write: “Good, bad or indifferent,” he says.

Some writers try to “summon the muse” through complicated rituals before they start working: brew a certain type of coffee, do yoga, take a walk, do writing prompts, meditate, wait until inspiration hits (which could be a very long holding pattern). But sometimes these rituals instead lead to writer’s procrastination, simply postponing time spent writing.

In my day job at a community newspaper, some of my tasks are writing headlines and photo captions. I can’t sit and wait for inspiration to hit. The paper is on deadline and the boss won’t pay for overtime. So I learned how to work quick and dirty, coming up with ideas on the fly.

 I’m not sure where I heard this, but the best way to reach the muse is to “show up at the page” (or the keyboard). In other words, start writing. An author can’t edit or polish a story until words are on the page.

When I was a kid, I had tons of story ideas. Unfortunately, at that age I lacked the discipline to write it all down; I just daydreamed. Even though the stories were childish, a writer must start somewhere. A runner can’t finish a marathon unless she first masters those first wobbly steps as an infant.

 Cameron suggests that artists begin each day with “morning pages,” three pages of free-form longhand (not typing or texting), just writing whatever comes to mind. The concept is to keep the pen moving even if the words are gibberish, to clear out the mental “junk” that blocks an artist, and to activate the richness of the subconscious. Soon gems will appear among the scribbling.

 I recently started writing a short story that I planned to include in the reprint edition of my first book. I wrote some pages, and then had to leave it for other projects. In the meantime, another story idea occurred and I decided to move ahead the second idea.

Did I waste my time with the first story? Of course not. I may use the first idea in a later book. Even if I never finish the story, it’s possible I might not have been open to receiving the second idea had my mind not been “primed” with the first.

For me, a good way to prime the pump is research, no doubt a holdover from grad school. I love to read and learn new things. For my new short story, I got some great ideas by reading a book on the subject.

Writers get ideas from the news, movies, TV, trips, family and friends, and their own experiences. My book “The Sinister Sitcom Caper” was inspired by my work at Paramount Studios.

Scott suggests that one way to general ideas is to pick an object in the room—such as a table, phone, bookcase—and generate stories from it. I see my record albums. I can use a record disc as a Frisbee, float it down a river, use it as a serving tray, hear secret messages if I play it backward, roll it like a hoop, wear it on my head, use it as a shield, hide behind it and peer though the hole—the possibilities are endless.

 If you write it, the ideas will come.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Brainstorming another Series by Paty Jager

Besides loving thinking up ways to kill people and how to fool readers about who did it, I love coming up with a new series and characters.

That’s where I’m at now. I have three more Shandra Higheagle Mystery books to write and I’ll introduce the two main characters of my next mystery series in that third book.  I’ll keep writing the Shandra books, but plan to bring out another series in 2019 that will be written this coming year.

 

The main character of the next series will be a male Nez Perce Fish and Game warden.

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Wallowa Lake

He’ll be working the area his ancestors once roamed during the summer and winter months. He’ll be a proficient tracker, asked to come help find people, and to train others. This will take him not only around the state but also to seminars, giving him an expanded area to help solve the murders.

To make this even more unique, he will spend time at a remote hunting lodge in the mountains where he works that is owned by a woman who he respects and is in love with but who he feels doesn’t deserve someone the likes of him.

She will be an independent woman who runs the hunting lodge and flies an airplane, which is one of the two ways to get to the lodge. The other is by horseback.

So far these are the only two characters I know and am still fleshing them out. There will be a superior of Hunter, that’s my name for the character right now but that could change. Still working on it. And there will be employees for the lodge.

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photo from depositphoto

I also need to come up with a name for Hunter’s horse. A sturdy Appaloosa/Quarter horse cross gelding. I’m also thinking about him having a dog. Perhaps part wolf or husky. Still working out these details.

I’ve been reading books by Craig Lesley. He has a male Nez Perce main character in his books. It is giving me the “feel” for how a man such as my character would think and talk.  I’m enjoying the books and the getting to know my character through his characters.

As I start working on this series, I’ll keep you updated on how it’s coming along and when you can find the books.

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photo of Wallowa Lake by Paty Jager

 

 

 

Guest: Maggie King

Why Do I Write Mysteries? The short answer: I love reading them. The long answer is much, well, longer!

Like many young girls I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls. I’ll never forget the day my mother brought home The Hidden Staircase after a trip to the P.M. Bookshop in Plainfield, New Jersey. My friends and I started swapping tales of those intrepid girl detectives like mad. We loved the puzzles and the adventures. My parents were great role models for mystery reading with the stacks of Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner paperbacks atop their nightstands.

In sixth grade I started writing my own girl detective mystery and read installments to my friends while walking home from school. They enjoyed my creative efforts. I wish I still had those stories, for posterity.

By high school I had drifted away from writing and reading mysteries, finding an outlet for my considerable adolescent angst in poetry and journal entries. The journal entries (as well as the angst) continued throughout my life but it wasn’t until the nineties that I took up mystery writing again.

I joined my first mystery book group in Santa Clarita, California in 1993. I’d been devouring anything by Agatha Christie for years but there was a whole world of other mystery authors out there and I was ready to dive in. The women in the group were lovely—almost too lovely. I hadn’t yet started my writing career but I knew I was on my way when the what-if scenarios came to me unbidden—

What if these women weren’t really so nice?

What if this was all for show and they harbored secrets, agendas, hatreds?

But it wasn’t until 1996 when I moved to Virginia and took a creative writing course at the University of Virginia that I started writing in earnest. I didn’t forget those nice women—or were they?—from the Santa Clarita book group. I gave them backstories and they became the story prototypes for Murder at the Book Group.

Like many mystery writers, I have a strong need to see justice done and set the world right. Mysteries are the perfect vehicle for that. Mysteries are about relationships—relationships that have gone awry. I’m fascinated by family dynamics and how memories of my own family experiences have popped up throughout my life, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in disconcerting ways. Love and obsession intrigue me to no end, as does sin and how we’re impacted by it.

My short stories are morally ambiguous and I sometimes explore vigilante justice. I’m a law-abiding citizen, but sometimes I wonder if justice is better served outside the boundaries of the law. That’s why I write. It keeps me out of prison and my victim(s) safe. And I can create interesting characters I’d never want to know off the page.

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever solve a mystery—and I have no desire to—but my sleuths can do anything. Just like Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was intrepid, talented, bright, and flawless (Okay, she was a bit uppity at times, especially in the early stories). My characters, like most modern day sleuths, are flawed but I get to pick and choose their flaws and their virtues.

To circle back to the original question, “Why Do I Write Mysteries?”

Because I love reading them.

And I love writing them.

Blurb for Murder at the Moonshine Inn:

murder-at-the-moonshine-inn-cover-lowWHEN HIGH-POWERED EXECUTIVE Roxanne Howard dies in a pool of blood outside the Moonshine Inn, Richmond, Virginia’s premiere redneck bar, the victim’s sister enlists Hazel Rose to ferret out the killer. At first Hazel balks—she’s a romance writer, not a detective. But Brad Jones, Rox’s husband, is the prime suspect. He’s also Hazel’s cousin, and Hazel believes in doing anything to help family. Never mind that Brad won’t give her the time of day—he’s still family.

Hazel recruits her book group members to help with the investigation. It’s not long before they discover any number of people who feel that a world without Rox Howard is just fine with them: Brad’s son believes that Rox and Brad were behind his mother’s death; Rox’s former young lover holds Rox responsible for a tragedy in his family; and one of Rox’s employees filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against her. The killer could be an angry regular from the Moonshine Inn—or just about anyone who ever crossed paths with the willful and manipulative Rox.

When a second murder ups the ante Hazel must find out who is behind the killings. And fast. Or she may be victim #3.

 Buy link: http://amzn.to/2dtozWa

maggie-king-author-photo-72Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including the recently-released Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She contributed the stories “A Not So Genteel Murder” and “Reunion at Shockoe Slip” to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies.

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

 

Mystical Mysteries

Mystical Mysteries

If I could channel the spirit of any author to mentor me, it would be the late James D. Doss of Los Alamos, New Mexico. I discovered him through a review in New Mexico Magazine and read all seventeen of his Charlie Moon mysteries, some of them more than once, and I know I’ll read the whole series again. Though I don’t attempt to write like Doss—no one else could—he influenced me greatly as a writer of unconventional and mystical mysteries, where the ordinary and the spiritual meet.

Here’s a short list of the things I love about Doss’s books:

  • Characters. Complex and eccentric, they surprise the reader. I love the ongoing characters and the unique, colorful people introduced in each of the books. My favorite one-book character is six-year-old Butter Flye in The Night Visitor. Doss wrote child characters with unsentimental realism. Butter is tough and strange and yet likeable, and I have never laughed louder or longer reading any book, let alone a mystery, than I did when I read the encounter between Charlie’s irascible aunt, the shaman Daisy Perika, and Butter in the back seat of a truck.
  • Spirituality. The visionary experiences that Daisy and her ward Sarah Frank have are written in a way that makes me feel as if I’ve taken the shaman’s journey with them. The spirit world is integrated seamlessly with earthy realism and humor that says Doss understood this aspect of Indian culture: the sacred and the comic are not opposite or incompatible. He mixed Catholic mysticism into the books as well with beauty and sensitivity, another Southwest truth. Many people adhere to both Native religions and Catholicism at the same time. My favorite character for expressing that unique blend of spiritual worldviews is Nahum Yacitii, the old Ute shepherd who apparently ascended to heaven in a windstorm and comes back to visit the few who can see him.
  • Language. I read a Doss book and I am in the place. When he takes us for walk in the Canyon of the Spirits with Daisy, I hear every step and smell and feel the air. Even the description of the nervous, jerky second hand of a ticking clock is a marvel of observation that sets the mood of a scene perfectly. (I leave you to find this treasure, also in The Night Visitor.)
  • Mastery of the omniscient narrator. Most writers can’t pull this off, but Doss could show the thoughts of every character in a scene without causing the slightest confusion or disorientation in the reader, often to humorous effect. He could even use the point of view of an animal—a bird, a deer, or a prairie dog—as the only witness to an event, and make it work.
  • Hanging out with the guys. Doss wrote real, not hyper-masculine, male characters. Charlie often fails to understand the women around him, but he does it so sincerely I like him for it. The friendship and repartee between Charlie and Scott give me a sense of hanging out with the guys in a way a woman doesn’t often get a chance to in real life, even when some of her best friends are men.
  • Humor. I get a kick out tall tales Charlie Moon tells just for the fun of it, pulling people’s legs. While the essence of each book is serious, dealing with life and death and love, there is a layer of humor as well, coming from the genuine interactions between characters and from their various eccentricities. Daisy is a spiritual visionary and also a quirky, cranky old lady.

Doss resolved the tangles of Charlie’s love life finally in the last book. I wonder if there were more books in his mind when he left this world, though. Daisy was the oldest living member of the Southern Ute tribe, and Sarah Frank, a young adult by the end of the series, was trained—somewhat—as Daisy’s shaman’s apprentice. Was Sarah destined to inherit all the spirits in the canyon, and the ancient little spirit-man living in a badger hole, the pitukupf? I’ll never know. It’s the sign of a good series, though—I still think about it. The characters live on.

This is revised from a tribute to Doss originally posted on http://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com.