NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Visit the South Seas with Robert Louis Stevenson

Mention Robert Louis Stevenson and the mind probably goes straight to Treasure Island and Kidnapped. During his short life, he wrote several books that have become classics, so when we visited Western Samoa, I made a beeline to view his house.

Robert suffered from ill-health for most of his life (thought to be tuberculosis) and spent time traveling through the South Pacific searching for a climate to ease his symptoms. In 1890, he and his wife Fanny purchased a block of land in Samoa. It's a gorgeous spot, in the middle of the bush and surrounded by vast grass lawns and lots of tropical plants. There is a beautiful view out to sea, the sort of view one would never tire of watching. Of course when Robert purchased the land on the slopes of Mt. Vaea, it was covered with bush and in a rough state. They lived in a shack while they cleared the site and built their house. Their estate was christened Vailima.

He lived there happily with his family and made friends with the locals while continuing to write. He died suddenly on 3 December 1894 at the age of 44.

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This is a view of the mansion. As you can see it's quite big and has several bedrooms. It also has a ballroom and a library, which was my favorite spot.

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This is the view of the bush from the house.

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And here's the view of the sea from inside the house. 

We were given a guided tour around the house by Margaret who was very knowledgeable and answered all our questions. I loved this place because we were actually allowed to touch. The valuable first editions, were of course, locked up, but there were none of the ropes and barricades found in stately homes.

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The above photo shows the formal room. Note the fireplace - the only one in Samoa! The wall paper is all batik style and that's a lion skin on the floor.

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This is a first edition of Kidnapped.

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Robert Louis Stevenson's medicine cabinet complete with bottles and potions.

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And this is me on the staircase.

Robert Louis Stevenson is buried on Mt. Vaea and overlooks Vailima. His wife Fanny, who was American, died in California. Her ashes were buried at the foot of her husband's grave.

If you ever visit Samoa I highly recommend a visit to Robert Louis Stevenson's house.

If you had the money, where would you build your dream house and office?

Monday, October 28, 2013

CRIME PAYS








     Crime writers who bring flamboyant characters and complex stories to life often find their stories born again in another medium. Agatha Christie who published her first novel in 1920 became one of the most famed authors in history with billions of copies of her work sold to avid readers. Christie was also a playwright and romance writer. Her play, The Mousetrap, is the world’s longest running play—opening on April 12, 1958—having its Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and is still on the boards today. She also penned the plays The Hollow, and Verdict plus Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile—both adapted into films. Writing over 70 detective novels earned her the title “Queen of Mystery.” Included in her repertoire were short fiction, and romantic narratives. Christie was made a dame in 1971 and we all know, “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”
     Among the first mystery novels is Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White published in 1859 and appearing in serial form in Charles Dickens “All Year Round Magazine” and in the United States in “Harper’s Weekly”. It was staged as a melodrama in 1975 and titled Egad, The Woman in White, became a stage play in 2005 and a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Zippel in 2004. Silent films of Wilkie’s play were made in America in 1912 and 1917 and in Great Britain in 1929 and in America in 1940, and 1948 and Russia in 1982. Two TV Miniseries produced by the BBC and one in Germany and a computer game created in 2010 titled Victorian Mysteries: Woman in White.
     A British Horror film titled The Woman in Black was adapted from a novel by Susan Hill in 1983 and became a play in 1987. I remember seeing the play on a visit to London, clutching my husband and screaming. A first for me—fortunately I wasn’t the only one in the audience who had the shudders.
       Attracted to ghost stories, Henry James wrote the The Turn of the Screw. Published in 1898 the story has had multiple interpretations—made into an opera, television play, motion picture, and radio and theatre productions.
     William Gillette, the actor, playwright and inventor began a correspondence with Arthur Conan Doyle in 1898. At their first meeting he arrived at Doyle’s home wearing a long, gray cape and wearing a deerstalker cap. Sherlock Holmes incarnate—he appeared to have stepped out of the pages of Doyle’s book. He gave the breath of life to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes extensively rewriting a five-act play that Doyle had written, then cabled Doyle asking to “Marry Holmes.”  Sir Arthur replied that he could marry Holmes or murder him or do anything he liked with him.” Gillette wrote two plays—“Sherlock Holmes,” and “The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes,” and earned over three million dollars, a hefty amount in those days, with his portrayal of the great detective. Doyle said he was “charmed both with the play, the acting and the pecuniary result.”
     W. Somerset Maugham wrote a short story, in 1926, that was included in his collection titled The Casuarina Tree. Based on a true story about a murder that occurred in 1911 when the wife of a headmaster was tried and convicted of murder after shooting a male friend. Maugham turned his story into a play that ran in London, toured the provinces and opened on Broadway with Katherine Cornell. The play has been revived, and made into films in America, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy and three television anthologies, a made for television movie, a musical titled The Bloomers and an opera produced by The Santa Fe Opera.
     In 1984, William March wrote a novel titled The Bad Seed adapted for the stage by Maxwell Anderson. The play opened on Broadway less than a year after its publication. The book was the last of March’s published works because of his untimely death. Both a critical and commercial success, the book was nominated for the 1955 National book Award for Fiction. The premise of the book and the play—which starred Nancy Kelly who won the Tony Award for her performance—was “nature vs. nurture” in explaining deviant behavior. Patty McCormack, the child actress played Rhoda—The Bad Seed. A film was made in 1956 and a television movie in 1985.
     Bram Stoker worked at the Lyceum Theatre—headed by the actor-manager Henry Irving—between 1878 and 1898. His novel Dracula bore many other titles until shortly before publication including The Dead Un-Dead and was not commercially successful at first despite the praise of critics. Stoker modeled Dracula on Sir Henry’s dramatic characteristics and gentlemanly comportment and hoped he would play Dracula in the stage version. Sir Henry never played the part but in 1928 the part was played by Bela Lugosi. It was adapted for the stage by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston in 1977 with the charming and sexy count played by Frank Langella and again made an appearance in 2004 as a musical. 
     Chicago is based on a play by a reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins who covered the 1924 trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gartner for the Chicago Tribune. In the twenties, there were many homicides which involved women killing their husbands or lovers. Annan became the starting point for Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly is basis for Gaertner. Watkins pieces were extremely successful with the Tribune’s readers and became the heart of her play. The play appeared on Broadway in 1926 and a silent film version was produced by Cecil b. DeMille in 1927 and remade as Roxie Hart in 1942 starring Ginger Rogers but Ginger was accused of murder but never convicted. Gwen Verdon read the play in the 1960s and asked her husband Bob Fosse about adapting it as a musical. Fosse tried to buy the rights but Watkins had become a born-again Christian and believed her work glorified decadence and rejected his offer. After her death in 1969, her estate sold the rights to the producer Richard Fryer, Fosse and Verdon. The musical opened in 1975 and played 926-performances. Opened on the West End in 1979 and ran for 600 performances then was revived on Broadway in 1996 and is still playing today. Revived on the West End—it is the longest running American musical in history. The musical has played all over the world and won numerous prizes including the Tony. It also became a film starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones and won the Academy Award for that year.
     Do you dream of the play, the musical, television or the motion picture?Sometimes crime pays.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Creativity

Creativity is one of those slippery terms to define, but generally includes words like “new” and “innovative.” Do you see creativity as something you were born with – one of those innate talents like athleticism? Maybe, but just like that “natural” athlete works at refining skills, an author – or anyone working in a creative field (oops, there's that word again) – can strengthen creativity.

I'm working through The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron), and loving the insights from this creativity guide. In addition to dealing with the ways we shoot ourselves in the foot and learning to recognize the (ahem) less than supportive people around you, it also recommends … well … play dates for your inner child artist. Remember how much fun art was before someone told you to stay inside the lines and the sun must be yellow and the grass green?

While I do occasionally haul out the watercolors, I look for other ways to amuse that inner child. I had a free afternoon on a recent business trip. 

Rather than hang out in the hotel, I took a walk. 

C'mon, walk with me through Portland.

I knew Portland had lots of pocket parks, but didn't know about the linear parks in the downtown core. People read, napped, skateboarded, chatted, played chess, knitted – you name it. The parks were more than the area's backyard, they reminded me more of a community gathering spot.


Now as I got further into the park, I admit I was highly amused to discover that Southerners aren't the only ones who put up statutes of mounted men. No clue who this guy might've been. Even more amusing when you consider the laissez-faire attitude of most of the Pacific Northwest.





Other elements take time – slow down, let your gaze wander. 


This church is nearly hidden by the trees, but isn't that a gorgeous bell tower?









Or ooh, what about the gingerbread detail on that house?




And can you go anywhere in the Pacific Northwest without stumbling upon a flower market?





So what about you? 

What have you done lately to “feed your Artist Child?”







Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Who do you write for?



When I write, I write for me. I write the stories I want to read. It’s why I wrote my first story at seven years old, and it’s why I write now. Like many authors, I started with fan fiction, only it wasn’t called that then. I did Georgette Heyer fanfic, and that forced me to evaluate what I wanted to see in the stories, and I wrote my own versions, or did a continued story. I didn’t write sex then, not at thirteen, when I started scribbling in earnest, but I did write more intimacy. More cuddling, more togetherness, more kissing. That was how I finally realized I wrote romance. I wrote about what kept the couple apart and how they came to each other.
It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t write about external events principally, but about what’s going on inside—and I don’t just mean the sex. How the couple have to evolve to come to each other, and to make a success of their lives together. That takes bravery and strength. That’s, in a nutshell, is why I write romance. And it’s why I won’t compromise that part and why I want to try to get better and better.
I revise and edit for the reader. Ultimately, the person I get my money from is the reader. The relationship with my readers is extremely important to me. That’s why, despite not being what you might call independently wealthy from my writing, I spend a big chunk of change flying across to RT Booklover’s Convention every year. I meet readers there, and they let me know what they want.
But I don’t sell to the reader, I sell to publishers. I’ve been happy building my career in the sphere I know well, the digital-first scene. Recently that has changed almost beyond recognition. It’s become a viable market in its own right, and some companies have pulled ahead in the game. Most notably, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Carina and Loose-Id.
Market is becoming more and more important to digital-first publishers.
If I may digress a little (bear with me, it’s relevant, honest!), a few years ago I wanted a pair of flat-front trousers. This was when pleated front trousers were fashionable. So fashionable that, outside jeans, it wasn’t possible to find them. When I asked, I was told “there’s no call for them.” Well yes, there was. Me. I’m too short to make that look work for me. Looking around, I saw other height-challenged women who also wanted flat front trousers. A year later, the stranglehold disappeared, much to our relief. But I stopped wearing trousers then, except for jeans, and I’ve never really gone back.
Something similar happens in writing, too.
Something becomes popular and the publisher will look for more of the same. They had to gear themselves to what they could sell. Not what the reader wants, that’s something different, and always will be. But what the majority of the market would tolerate.
This has led to publishers flooding the market with a certain type of book until the market (that’s you and me) tires of it. I’m currently finding myself in the flat-front trouser situation. I want something the market isn’t currently providing. I see some staleness growing in the market, the readers who last year would have grabbed all of them off the shelves becoming a little disillusioned. When that happens, the core of a strong subsector remains. So, say, when sales for the current trend declines, the publishers will be ready with something else.
That means the authors of this trend will decline. If their hearts remain in that category, if that’s what they really love to write, they have just started “writing to the market.” Their fans might become disillusioned or just not enjoy the books as much as they used to. They might not know why, just that either their tastes have changed or they sense the lack of spark in books they used to love.
Which leaves the writer out in the cold, writing books she doesn’t really believe in for a dwindling readership.
That’s one reason why I won’t ever “write to the market,” although I will respect my reader and try to make sure that the brand of romance that I write is as satisfying as I can make it, and shows the reader some respect.
I write angsty stories that deal with the inner dilemmas of the people involved, and I try to keep the stories as accurate as I can to reality. I believe that if I try, writing won’t be fun anymore, and will turn into ‘just another job.’ I won’t let that happen. So I’ll continue to write what I love to read.
I want to write about adults that have come part of the way but need an extra push to get there, to their personal nirvana.
It happens. A publisher or editor previously enthusiastic about an author can turn lukewarm, or even not welcome work, and it’s not always down to the author or what she is producing. So the author has to have faith in herself, but not to allow that faith to turn into arrogance, a belief that everything they do is perfect. It’s a difficult line to tread, and that’s where good author friends come in.
Most of the writers I have ever met feel that. It makes them vulnerable, especially to the publisher who wants a commercial product, and urges the writer to write to that ideal. Publishers are far too busy these days to nurture and encourage established talent. If a writer puts in a query that hits the market square-on, it’s easier, in the short term, to take that book and go with the new writer, rather than continue to develop the career of a more established one. Doing that maximizes profits. And it’s a sad fact that for every published, accomplished writer, there are a hundred just as accomplished, but unpublished ones.
The only thing a writer has going for her is loyal readership. Some have so much that they can set out on their own. Some have enough to ensure continued sales. Most are encouraged to believe that they have to survive book to book, and in many cases, that is now leading to authors leaving the market entirely. It happens quietly and steadily. It always has. Occasional calls for “whatever happened to…?” appear, but on the whole, the writer slips away unnoticed.
Why should the reader care? Well, the answer is of course, that she shouldn’t. There’s no need for her to, unless she’s finding that she can’t get the books she enjoys any more, or that her favorite writer has disappeared. Most keep a dignified silence, choosing to leave with grace, rather than to expose private hurts and slights in public. Most realize that it happens, has always happened and most likely will continue to happen. Or they’ll start all over again, under another name. That’s something the reader isn’t always aware of, by the way. I know at least two writers who have done that recently, started with a new name and persona, as well as a new style and even genre.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Growing Pains -- Editing Old Work

Recently I have undergone the most painful experience a writer can have. It isn't rejection. It isn't a bad review. It isn't losing a day's work (back-up your work, people, this is a sign! :)).

What's so painful? Editing something I wrote eight years ago.

It's humbling to realise that all those rejection letters, all those slicing contest comments were actually...spot on. The book wasn't ready and I thank God it was never published even though I sold it to a company who (thankfully) went bust. Ironically I am also editing a connected book, HER SANCTUARY, and although it is much better, it has definitely benefited from a quick edit using my new improved authorial eye.

My old bad habits? Using too many words, so many words that the meaning of the sentence is lost in some dim and distant memory. Using dialogue tags that can be cut. Too many analogies (OMG). And my characters thoughts jumping around too much. Jeez.

I'm re-releasing HER SANCTUARY and the follow up, HER LAST CHANCE (Marsh and Josie's story, which had the wip title BLADE HUNTER) in the run-up to Christmas (assuming my freelance editor approves). I hope both books now meet reader expectation. I would have left HLC to languish on my hard drive, but I get so many reader letters asking me what happened to Marsh & Josie, I finally broke down and edited the manuscript. See me weep.

So what is this experience teaching me beside the usual dose of writer humility? (because we can never have enough of that, right?). Strangely it made me feel really proud of my more recent releases, including THE KILLING GAME, which you can buy for $0.99 (limited time only) as part of a Romantic Suspense Box Set promotion. I know, crazy price, huh?

I believe I am a better writer than I was eight years ago, but I still want to improve. The key to being a good writer, I think, is the drive to always want to write a better book.

Have you ever tried this? Have you ever had a clear sign about how much you've grown as a writer?





Friday, October 18, 2013

Is “NO” Realistic?


Is “NO” Realistic?

I recently came across an article written by Tim Ferriss titled, Why (and how) Creative People Need to Say “NO.” It was very well done and quoted many successful creators. Here are a few:
When asked for an interview, Saul Bellow’s secretary informed the journalist that, “Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s studies.”
Management writer Peter Drucker said, “One of the secrets to productivity is to have a very big waste basket to take care of ALL invitations.”
A professor contacted 275 creative people to interview them on how they stayed creative. One third of them said they didn’t have time to be interviewed and one-third never replied, suggesting they didn’t even have time to refuse. 
Ferriss says, “Saying no guards our time and “yes” makes less. There are no overnight successes and many up-all-night successes. “No” makes us boring, impolite and selfish. But “no” is the button that keeps us on.”
I enjoyed Ferriss’ article so much that I printed it out and hung it over my computer. It made me feel motivated, but in truth, I have yet to enforce it. And lately, the more I look at it, the guiltier I feel.
For the past few years, since the kids have grown and moved into their own homes and lives, our house has been quiet, just my husband, our dogs and me. I work full time, with a schedule of afternoons and evenings so I can guard my mornings for writing. My first novel, In the Shadow of Revenge, was published a few months ago and I am getting close to completing what will be the second in the series.
A short time ago, due to unforeseen circumstances, my daughter and two grandsons, ages four and six, moved in with my husband and me. And now I can’t seem to move my novel from “close” to “finished.” The quiet house I used to have has disappeared. Now, I write to the background noise of Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Batman and who hit whom first.  I can close my door to most of the noise, but lately, my six-year-old grandson has been sneaking into my office and sidling up beside me. He lays a hand on my shoulder and asks, “Can I write a story too?”
I glance at Ferriss’ article above my computer as “yes” comes out of my mouth. I hit save and shrink my work off to the side and feel like a traitor to the profession. He slips into my lap and begins dictating while I type. Inside, I am agitated and want to keep working on my own story. I am also elated to share this time with my grandson and thrilled by his creativity.
I’ve been getting less and less done lately and my emotions are running the gamut. I’m behind on my work, anxious to finish, frustrated over lack of time and mourning the loss of my quiet home.  And then I remind myself that it won’t be long until my six-year-old grandson won’t be caught dead sitting on my lap and he’ll have a million reasons why he doesn’t have time for Grandma.
A writer’s life is not as cut and dry as Ferriss’ article suggests. We are spread thin and constantly weighing priorities. Sometimes our writing comes out on top and sometimes our families do and I’ve come to believe that’s as it should be. I also noticed this morning something I hadn’t picked up on before. All those quoted in the article, including its creator, are men. Does the approach to writing differ between men and women and if the answer is yes, is that due to choice or necessity? Is it easier for men to say no? How often do you say no?  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seriously, a Series

I've always enjoyed reading series. Some of my favorites are Cynthia Eden's Deadly series and Allison Brennan's Lucy Kincaid series. I've never ventured into writing my own romantic suspense series before, but I decided to give it a try about a year ago. And damn, it wasn't easy!

First, you have to come up with a world to build, some characters with a common thread or one character with a whole lot to him or her. I decided to add a little paranormal flare to my series by setting in a spiritualist community and making my heroines witches. Not point-and-shoot witches, like Samantha Stevens, but real live, modern day witches. They are members of the same coven, and each has her own special talent. And her own suspenseful plot to meander through.

So I worked, I researched, and I even attended a few witch circles. And finally, I've released book one and two of The Witches of Freedom MoonHidden Magic and Killer Magic. But I wonder how the reading public will take to my modern version of witches. They do spells, but they can't wiggle their nose to make things happen. They are spiritual—not demonic. They worship nature and embody all that contemporary pagans do. I hope that realism isn't off-putting for anyone expecting Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

But I digress. The series has been challenging for me, mostly because I have ADD! One book captures my attention, and then one day, another spark of an idea steals it away! Although I've planned the series as three books, I don't know when I will get to book 3. Unless of course, a gazillion people read the first two books and beg me to write the third;-)

I seriously admire anyone who can write series well, particularly those with more than three books in them. Many of those very talented series writers are right here at NYUS! Hats off to you if you can capture not only your own attention for multiple books, but that of your fans. I sure hope I can follow in your footsteps. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Will the real hero please stand up

In Wrongfully Accused a congressman plots to blow up his wealthy wife's airplane, but his plane explodes instead. Unfortunately for Kate, my heroine, the FBI and the cops think she paid someone to blow up her husband's plane. And the detective in charge is the man she's always loved. Gabe has treated her like dirt for the past eight years because he believes she led his brother to commit suicide. And now he thinks she's a black widow.

Wait. There's more.

At her husband's funeral, Kate discovers that her deceased husband had been sleeping with a colleague, Joy Stuart, one of Kate's oldest friends and the wife of a really great guy. Ben Stuart was best friends with Kate's late husband, and has always been there for her.
   
In this excerpt from Wrongfully Accused, Ben comes upon Joy and Kate in the deceased congressman's study, where Joy has spent the past several minutes berating Kate for being a bad wife who "didn't deserve" her husband.
 

     The door to the study opened and Ben Stuart stuck his head inside. “There you are,” he said to his wife. “What are you doing in here all alone?”
     “She’s not alone,” Kate rasped around vocal cords that felt frozen. Joy couldn’t have hurt her more if she’d taken a stick and beaten her with it.
     He stepped further into the room. “Oh. Sorry, Kate. I didn’t see you. I’ll, uh, leave you two to talk.”
     “Oh, believe me, we’re done,” Joy said. She brushed by her husband on her way out.
     Ben seemed momentarily startled, then moved toward Kate. She was struck, as always, by the calm he carried with him. Ben was a handsome, athletic man who seemed oblivious to his looks and appeal. His green eyes studied her from behind tortoiseshell glasses as though she were one of his heart patients.
     “Are you okay?” he asked, squeezing her hand.
     “I will be,” she managed. Once she recovered from Joy’s pummeling.
     “What a terrible day this must be for you.”
     Terrible didn’t begin to cover it. “It’s hard,” she said.
     “So much harder when someone is torn away from you suddenly, the way Drew was.” He shook his head in that concerned way of his that she found so endearing. “And dealing with all these people. My God, Kate. There must be a hundred guests here.”
     “It’s important to bring everyone together.” She gazed down at her black high heels, unsure what to say next. “I think you should take Joy home. She’s had too much to drink and...she’s grieving. She needs you now.”
     He was silent for a moment, and Kate mentally kicked herself for saying too much. Even if Joy and Drew had been sleeping together, she wouldn’t want that knowledge to hurt Ben.
     “What about you?” Ben asked. “Who’s going to take care of you?”

     That's Ben—unfailingly kind and thoughtful, unlike the other people in Kate's life, including the hero (at least at this point in the book). When I was writing this scene I actually considered changing the story to make Ben the hero. He's handsome, intelligent and compassionate and he cares about Kate. Later on in the story he repeatedly has Kate's back. Definitely hero material. But she and Gabe had a passionate, if painful, history and it was their story after all. Still, I always felt that Ben deserved better than a cheating wife. At the end of the book...well, that would be giving it away.

So now I'm writing Ben's story. It takes place in Scotland, where he's gone on a leave of absence from his cardiology practice to decide what to do about his life, and whether to give his marriage a second chance. It's nighttime, and he's in a camper at the summit of the highest, most treacherous road in the highlands. A fierce storm has blown in from Iceland and a frantic young woman is banging on his door. It seems there's been a terrible accident...
—Ana






Friday, October 11, 2013

AM I BLUE?

AM I BLUE?
Before it left the local theaters, some friends and I went to see Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.  True to all reports, Cate Blanchett is stunning in the starring role of what in many ways is an old-fashioned morality play--one with Wall Street traders, trophy wives and jewelry like the proverbial pigeons’ eggs.
            I’d been dying to see the movie ever since I read Mark Olsen’s interview with Woody Allen in the Chicago Tribune.  (7/28/13) 
Olsen quotes Allen, who both wrote and directed Jasmine, as saying, “I don’t know why they like one (movie) and not another . . . If I could figure it out, I might be able to get rich.”
So the great W.A. can’t figure out what succeeds, which story to tell, which idea to promote?  Sound familiar?
In his search for perfection, Woody is apparently hard to please.  As Blanchett says,
“ . . . he is never satisfied (with his work) . . . he is actually in some exquisite agony and it’s horrific for him often to hear what he’s written.”  Hasn’t every writer you know experienced the same feeling?  But this is a man who’s won multiple Oscars, for Pete sake.
For Allen, “his films almost exist in some way outside of his control.  They’re not autobiographical, he claims.  Yet unconsciously recurrent themes emerge.”  Over time, haven’t you seen this happening in your own work--a thread, a core idea that underlies every book you write?  Maybe the search for peace, for love, for justice.  Whatever.  It’s there, lurking below the surface. 
Of all the Allen quotes in the article, my favorite is, “I’m thinking of entertaining.  That I feel is my first obligation.  Then, if you can also say something, make a statement or elucidate a character or create emotions in people where they’re sad or laughing, that’s all extra.  But to make a social point or a psychological point without being entertaining is homework.  That’s lecturing.”  How true. 
And lest I be accused of that very thing, I’m outta here!  


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Naming Your Baby


...Or your book. To writers, it is nearly the same. (Okay, it’s exactly the same—at least to me.) Just as I couldn’t wait to see each of my three kids’ faces when they were born, I was so excited to see the covers of my other babies…my published books. And just as I have to live with our choice of kids’ names for the rest of my life (I’m still happy with them all, by the way), I have to live with my books’ names for the rest of their shelf-lives.

I’ve been lucky to have kept the original titles for my first three Mindhunters books. They are: Only Fear, Avenging Angel, and Deadly Bonds. So when the fourth book came along and, despite reader enthusiasm for the name I gave it (Vicious Circle), the publisher requested alternate options, and despite the tie-ins with both “vicious” and “circle” throughout the book, I had to dig deep for some additional choices that would still suit my baby. I knew right away that I wanted a two-word pairing, like the first three books. It had to have a suspenseful feel, too. And, of course, it had to fit the theme of my “baby.” Over several rounds of email exchanges, my editor and I came up with about four dozen alternatives.

The final choice? Dark Deeds. (To be released March 17, 2014. *shameless plug*)

I can live with that title since it fits my “baby” and has a sufficiently gritty romantic suspense vibe. I'm still working on getting used to it, though.

What’s in a name? If you’re lucky, the mood, a sense of tension and pacing, and a reflection of the theme.

What are some recent books you read where the title struck you with its power? What titles matched the “personalities” of the books, and which ones were misleading or duds?


Anne Marie is the author of the Mindhunters series. She has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  As a games hostess at Sea World, tutor, waitress, personal and family counselor, and high school counselor, she indulged her curiosity through sanctioned professions.  Now, as a stay-at-home mom of three young children, her passion for understanding the human race is satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and writer.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Relaxed & Refreshed

I just returned from the best writers' retreat. As I said on Facebook, we could easily have called it a foodies' retreat.

As with any gathering, the fellowship over food--writing, art, or whatever--is fed by shared love of something. For us, it was love of books, learning, reading, thinking, and accepting. By baring our souls through open critique, we discovered things about writing, others, and ourselves we either didn't know or that we needed to remember.

Writing and cooking alongside like-minded friends opened all manner of doors. One of our members didn't learn to read until her mid-twenties. We celebrated the sale of her second published short story in 2013. Another of us, a multi-published author, was stuck on her current WIP and needed to brainstorm.

Cool swag didn't hurt. Neither did a great game we played. Special prizes and gift bags. Coffee and conversation. The freedom to spend 48+ hours sans makeup, undies for some, and release of mundane stress...all combined to form a unique experience.

It struck me as we congregated on the wide deck one night, eating our Walking Tacos and self-made Ice-Cream In A Bag, that we are each in competition with ourselves, not with one another. Maybe that's why writerly functions are special to us.

Conferences are for networking, writer biz, and expanding our odds for publication. Retreats, on the other hand, increase our odds of connecting with our stories, which we need before we tend to the goals we set for conferences. Just my 2 cents.

May the Muses be with us all.
Sunny

Recipe:
Ice-Cream In A Bag

2 sizes Ziplock Bags--quart & gallon

1/2 cup milk
1 & 1/2 T sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
whatever toppings or extras (chocolate chips, syrup, sprinkles, M&Ms)

6 T salt (rock salt works best)
2 trays of ice or equivalent per gallon bag

Smaller bag with food stuffs
Larger bag with ice & salt

Then...Crank out the music then shake your booty for 10-15 minutes. Voila!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Can We Brainstorm?


What about this for a plot? 

A devoted family man with a child suffering from an incurable disease and a surprise baby on the way is diagnosed with lung cancer. His job provides a barely livable wage and little or no insurance to cover his treatment. He needs money to provide for his family after he's gone. So, what does he do? He turns to a life of crime, cooking meth, murdering people good and bad, being the reason for others being killed, and destroying his family.

Or, a mob boss who murders, steals, cheats on his wife regularly, sees a shrink and has people working for him that do the same.  Or a serial killer who works for the police department (and has other family members who work there) so he can track down his victims.  Do you think these stories will work? Sound too demented? Sound like it’s already been done? It has.

These are the basic plots for Breaking Bad, the Sopranos, and Dexter. Three of the highest-rated small screen shows ever. Millions of people, me included, were addicted to these shows.  Walter White is the characters name in Breaking Bad. I don't know if any of you watched it but, it was beyond addictive. Walter was unredeemable one moment and you felt sorry for him in the next. Not only him but his partner, Jesse, a drug addict and even more unredeemable. If you didn't watch it you're probably wondering why I did and like it. All I know is the writing was brilliant. I cared about these unredeemable characters. The Sopranos did the same thing. So did Dexter. I never knew what was coming next. The writers had me hating a character for their despicable behavior one minute and then the next they did something that had me feeling empathy for them. There are two other shows, Boardwalk Empire and Homeland, that evoke the same feelings. I find these shows have valuable writing lessons.  Villains I can feel for and understand their motivation. Incredible foreshadowing.  Hooks that keep me coming back every week. Surprises I never see coming. Spot on dialogue. 
          
I am as sorry to see Breaking Bad and Dexter end, as I was the Sopranos. I’m considering getting the Breaking Bad DVDs to keep learning from the masterful writers.
What about you? Do you like any of these shows? Do you ever use TV or the movies as teaching tools?


Rita writes sexy stories suspense/thrillers about Extraordinary Women and the Men They Love with Military Heroines.
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