December 9, 2016

How Do Your Characters Handle the Holidays?

With the holidays right on our doorstep, I thought it was a good time to look at the timing in your books. How do your characters handle the holidays? Do they purchase gifts? Do they see family members they may only see once a year. If you write murder mysteries, do tempers rise and murders happen?scared woman wearing a christmas hat against a grey background

Our characters live during certain periods of time. Perhaps the setting is in the summer when people are taking vacations. Perhaps the setting is in the dead of winter when people a snuggled up in their homes or fighting the cold temperatures outside. One of the reasons I love the mysteries set in the Nordic regions is the way weather plays into the story.

That time when their character’s lives are different–more cooking, shopping, eating, visiting, partying. Others use the holidays as a distraction. In my work in progress, Jenna is about to go home for the holidays at the end of the book. The story begins near the end of October. Her phone calls to her mom deal with making plans for the holidays. These issues are real. They are the kinds of interruptions in our lives that everyone relates to. Are we going home this Christmas or staying where we live? Are we entertaining guests or being alone? What kinds of decisions do your characters need to make?

Tell me how you’ve handled the holidays in your writing. Do you use them as a plot point (murder around Christmas or New Year’s) or do you deal with them as secondary issues? Either way, the holidays matter–whether it’s the big season which we are quickly approaching or Easter or July 4th.

  • Your character may get a part-time job during the holiday. He or she might need to earn extra money.
  • Show your character buying gifts for family and friends. She could have bought just the perfect gift for her husband and then he is murdered.
  • Use the holiday time as a plot point. Perhaps there’s a major event that happens during the annual Christmas parade. Or, your character goes to church on Good Friday and finds an important clue.
  • The holidays enable you to introduce new characters–family members who have been long lost or live faraway.

Share some of your ideas.

Check out Susan Bernhardt’s mysteries. She uses the holidays to accent her murder mysteries.

#MyBookReview 5 Stars!!! A Man Called Ove

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It evokes every emotion, laughter, anger, frustration and tears. The story may not grab you like a thriller, but the book is one you’ll tell all your friends about. It’s one you’ll think about and never want to forget. That’s what happened to me when I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Blackman.The story is about a crotchety curmudgeon named Ove. He lives somewhere in Sweden. At first you wonder why you want to read a book about such a grumpy old man. But, as you get into it, you learn more about Ove and how he became who he is.

The theme of the story is summed up in one line found later in the book but hinted at throughout: “For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”

Nothing about this story is complicated or even unpredictable. It touches us in a real human way. I was reminded of Forrest Gump. He did amazing things in a very special way.

Ove lives in a subdivision in Sweden and he’s in constant battle with his neighbors. He cusses at the stray cat who wanders into his life. He fumes when people disobey the rules. The only thing that keeps Ove from going off the deep end is his wife Sonja. She’s also a very special person. In the book someone described the couple as black and white with Ove being the black and Sonja being the white.

There’s much you can learn from people and relationships in this story. It promises to delight. And, the author writes beautifully. Here are some examples I simply had to highlight:

“You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away.”

“And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter.”

“…the sulky boy’s face opened up in a smile. It was like a plaster cast cracking around a piece of jewelry, and when this happens it was as if something started singing inside Sonja.”

Don’t miss this wonderful Must Read.

 

 

My Favorite Books of 2016

Readers love to learn what other readers enjoy. Recommendations about books are the best ways to find new reading material. I not only spend a good bit of my time writing, but I also spend time reading. I read both fiction and nonfiction.

I suspect a number of you have read Ann Cleeves. I found her this year and have devoured three of her books with a fourth waiting to be read. She’s written a new series which begins with Raven Black. Each are different, but all are set in the same remote Shetland area and star a police officer named Jimmy Perez. The setting for these books contributes to their enjoyment. If you enjoy a good mystery in an enchanting setting and with an interesting supporting cast, give this series a try.419l3hdE0ZL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

51t7d9byeal-_sx331_bo1204203200_The second well-known author I discovered this year was Jodi Picoult. I read Leaving Time. That book will surprise and captivate you. I’m not one for paranormal but Picoult handled that aspect of the story very well. After reading Leaving Time, I’m ready to venture into more of Jodi Picoult’s fictional worlds.

Another fun read for me this year was Joanne Harris, Five Quarters of the Orange. This was a World War II story but with a different twist. There’s history as well as a mysterious past. The book flashes from the present to the past in a skillful way. If you like this time period and enjoy understanding the conflicts people face during wartime, you’ll enjoy this book.51z3mpqa7ml-_sy346_

As for my nonfiction reading this year, I enjoyed several books. The first was Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting. That was all about finding a lost Caravaggio. I learned a lot about the life of that artist as well as his unique technique.51bapwxilkl-_sy346_51owhq4gjxl

Also, in nonfiction, I enjoyed Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. This was an account by a neurosurgeon of his work and the progress made in the study of the brain. It was a fascinating read.

Finally, I’d like to suggest a few of my fellow writers, MJ LaBeff has a great story in Mind Games. It’s the story of a young woman whose mind begins to play tricks on her. There are secrets and lots more in this fun read. The other fellow writer whose series I discovered this year was Heather Haven. She wrote Murder is a Family Business debuting her funeral home characters. The Alvarez family are a quirky group of interesting characters that will make you laugh as you try and solve the mysteries.

Share the titles and authors with us. We’d love to know!

Maybe this was one of your favorite reads in 2016? Check out the book trailer.

Writers Using Scrivener or Not?–Pros and Benefits

This is a writing tool designed to help organize the unfocused, creative minds of writers. I wonder how F. Scott Fitzgerald or Faulkner might have responded to something like Scrivener? My initial reaction was it would take me too long to learn the tool. Precious time away from writing, right?scrivenerfinal1_400x400

I resisted for several years. Finally, while attending a writers conference, I said to another writer, “What do you think of Scrivener?” The person answered quickly. “I love it.” Okay, so what was I missing here?

First of all, Scrivener is designed for all kinds of writing, fiction, nonfiction, screen plays and more.

That makes it hard to figure out what may or may not work for you. When I first went onto Scrivener, I had a book written in Word. I tried to convert it to Scrivener. That didn’t work very well.

The best way to use Scrivener is in the creation phase–before you have a document created on your computer. I learned a few other tips as well.

In fact, be sure to look at the one on getting started. If you resist doing this, then don’t use Scrivener.

It will be tempting to use the template for your kind of writing, whether you’re writing a novel or an academic book. But, those templates are too limiting.

Do not venture into more difficult territory.

What are some benefits of using Scrivener versus your word processing software?

You will never lose your work. Yippee! That’s huge. If your computer crashes, everything you’ve done that day on Scrivener is saved.

I caught myself naming a character and several paragraphs down I used a different name. There’s a sidebar on Scrivener (the Inspector), where you can note a new character’s name, occupation, hair color, whatever you need.

Instead of cutting and pasting, you simply move one section up or back or sideways as you wish. You can always put things back just as easily.

Scrivener has a great feature that lets you take a photo of a section you might be planning on revising entirely. It saves the old as you create the new. You can combine or revert back as you wish.

I’ve clearly not done everything with Scrivener. But, I’m learning as I go. Give it a try. It might open and entire new world for you and actually make your writing easier.

What are your thoughts on Scrivener or other writing tools?

When You Just Gotta Laugh

Most of us would rather pull our teeth than open the document that’s been nitpicked apart. But, I have to say. Some of my errors are really funny and I’m grateful to my readers for picking them up. Whether they have to nitpick or not!Pretty young happy asian woman laughing while holding smartphone.

Here are a few that made me laugh out loud:

I saddled up next to him. Now can’t you just see that? Saddling up next to someone. Hahaha. Actually, I meant to say sidled up next to him. Don’t ya just have to laugh?

That really peaked my interest. Another hahaha moment. What I meant to say was that really piqued my interest. Couldn’t you just see the interest peaking?

I removed the bowel for the cereal. Oops. How embarrassing. Look at what one little letter error can do! Of course I didn’t mean to say I was going to put bowel in the cereal or whatever. I meant bowl! Hahaha

These are just a few of my favorites. I’m sure there are lots more. The problem is we type slower than our minds flow. The mind is thinking one thing while the fingers are still lagging behind. When that happens, no telling what will appear on the page. Fortunately I catch most of my errors when I read over my work, but new, fresh readers catch more. It’s an endless process.

What errors made you laugh out loud? C’mon tell us. I’m sure you’ve got a few.

 

The Durrells in Corfu. Lessons about Confidence and Taking Risks

 

It’s the story about how a young widow and her four children pack their bags and leave England for the island of Corfu. The oldest of the Durrell children is Lawrence Durrell (Larry to his family). He is a budding writer who later becomes the famous author of the Alexandria Quartet.th-6

Watching this writer tussle with himself in his early years brought to mind several of my own struggles and confidence issues. One of the reasons Larry’s mother abandoned their home in England was that her children were not happy. Larry, in particular, worked in a dead-end job that he hated while all the time dreaming of writing. In Corfu, he devoted himself to writing. Could he succeed? Was he living a pipe dream? His sibling belittled him but his mother encouraged his work. When his first story got published and he received a tidy sum that the family desperately needed, he got a jolt of confidence.

One thing about Larry that many writers don’t have was an over abundance of confidence. Even when his first novel was rejected by the first publisher he sent it to, he didn’t give up. Well, he almost did. He tried farming for one day and that only made him want to redouble his dedication to writing. What he said when he got the rejection was, “That publisher will regret this decision.” Larry knew he had talent.

The question is whether we fall under the illusion that we are not destined to write or whether we push ahead. Larry was certain that he was good at what he did. Are you?

We won’t please every reader and we won’t please every publisher. But, are we pleasing ourselves? Writing is a solitary job. Much of the time we are reading and critiquing our own work. And our worst critic is ourselves.

I’m grateful Durrell didn’t become a farmer. I’m grateful to his mother for whisking him away from the drudgery of England and placing him in a world that inspired him to write. Why am I grateful? Because he has given me hours of entertainment by writing such amazing books. You can, too.

What are your secrets for persevering in the lone world of writing?

#MyReview of Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

It’s the story of a young girl, Jenna, whose mother has disappeared. She hasn’t seen her mother for ten years. At the age of 13, she decides to do all she can to find her mom. She’s already searched the web for her mom, but she chooses to get more active by hiring a psychic and a private detective.

Meantime, the readers learn that Jenna’s mom is an animal behaviorist specializing in elephants. While in her POV, the reader learns lots about elephants and their behavior.

But, if you want to learn both how elephants respond to mothering, to grieving, to living as a heard as well as follow the suspense of Jenna’s search, you should read this book.

As for the writing, it was beautifully done. The author alternated by chapter POV between Jenna, her mom, the psychic and the private detective. Each of these POV’s gave the reader a deeper view of the events. Here are some examples of beautiful writing.

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“Engaging with haters is like rearranging pictures on the titanic. What’s the point?”

“Dreaming is the closest the average human gets to the paranormal plane; it’s the time when the mind lets down its guard and the walls get thin enough for there to be glimpses to the other side.”

“The light that wakes over that girl’s face looks like the kind of thing you see in paintings in cathedrals, the sort of art that breaks your heart even as you stare at it.”

“…find myself at the bus station in Nashville Tennessee, stepping into a wave of heat that hits me like a knockout punch.”

“A bruise is how the body remembers it’s been wronged.”

 

This is a definite must read!

I See Murderer Everywhere. Do You? Thoughts on Writing Mystery

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t go around killing real people, just imaginary people. The fun part is if you don’t like someone, zap, you can knock them off with the click of a button on your keyboard. I’ve noticed in my addictive viewing of British murder mysteries, that the good guy is sometimes killed. Or even the killer. That always surprises me. Particularly the latter. Those mysteries realize that even good people sometimes make bad decisions that either get them killed or corner them to the point of killing.

Recently I spent some time in Bologna, Italy. A very nice city, full of beautiful porticos. It’s a great walking and cycling city. There is lots of activity in Bologna. People everywhere at all hours. My naughty mind began playing out scenarios of people stabbing one another in the various corners of the bars or better still in the dark corridors of the old, medieval apartment buildings.

A dinner party goes wrong or friends having a falling out over spouses or neighbors in a war over a joint driveway or a fallen tree. Most of the time, these little incidents end in disrupted friendships or divorces. But, in my mind, things may go in a different direction.

Was I always like this? Honestly the answer is no.

I read a lot of murder mysteries, but did I see murder in my own world? The answer is no. Now, however, being a writer, I see everything differently. I’m much more aware of people and their motivations. I wonder what they are thinking and why they do what they do. Check out this previous blog post.

That’s just how writers think.

That means that writing has broadened my view of the world. Instead of simply existing in my own reality, I now make up stories about other people, create new realities and, yes, see murder everywhere.

If you’re a thriller writer, do you see spies around every dark corner?

Love a juicy murder? Check out this new release, Murder on Moonshine Hill.

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Click to order for $2.99

 

What Surprises You About Writing?

Recently I was asked by an interview,

He included the creative process, publishing or editing. Admittedly nothing in the publishing or editing process particularly surprised me. I realized going into this field that getting published would be a challenge and would require all my powers of persistence. I also recognized that without support from well-known writers or publishing houses, I wouldn’t attract the attention of the big houses or an agent. No surprises there. That was simply realism.bigstock-euphoric-and-surprised-winner-113833298

As for the editing process, there were no surprises there as well. I understand that editing is the hallmark of good writing. Once I writer said her first draft was always perfect and she rarely made any changes, I recognized that statement as unrealistic.

Editing does that. Perhaps I didn’t realize in the early days that editing and creating were so different. That may have surprised me a bit. Editing requires a different kind of thinking–ruthlessness. Creating is softer, more forgiving.

So, what did really surprise me about writing? The answer lies in the creative process. I’ve always been a very organized person, with to-do lists and clear paths. I set those paths and I maintain a high level of discipline to meet the goals on those paths. Creative writing lapses in a different world. When I set out to write my first novel (a practice novel–one that will never be published), I began with an idea. The outline in my head had a fuzzy path, nothing concrete. Before long, my mind took me to places I’d never been or seen. Characters emerged with ideas of their own.

The surprise is that if I fought to bring the story back on the path I had original planned, it fell apart. If, however, I allowed the story to unfold as it wanted to, it grew and developed. This was not just a surprise but scary. When you don’t know where the story is going from day to day, it’s frighting. Negative thoughts take over. Things like: “This story is a bunch of crap or Who’d every want to read this?”

Persistence kept me going in those early days and I had to trust that everything would work in the end. The surprise was that it did!

Not organized or neat. But, if I will allow the messiness to happen, something special, something I never dreamed would happen emerges. Twists and turns I never predicted come into focus. My story unfolds and even I have no idea how.

Or maybe your other creative endeavors? Share with us. We’d love to hear from you.

Wanna preview the winner of the GOLD in mystery? Check out e-Murderer.

Tips from Famous Writers

bigstock_Writing_1575Recently I watched a video with tips from famous writers. It was all about the joy and heartache of writing. Stephen King, JK Rowling, Maeve Binchy, Anne Rice and more talk about their writing experiences.

As one writer put it, get on the ship and let it guide you. This is a scary thing for new writers, but it’s definitely true.

Another point where most agreed was the importance of reading. As Stephen King said, if you don’t have time to read, you cannot be a writer. He advises reading everything–not just in your genre. JK Rowling talks about allowing yourself to write “rubbish.”

So much of what they say, we all know and have learned. But, it’s fun to watch and to hear again the delights and the frustrations in our chosen career.

Take a look and then share what tips you might add.

Take a look at my award-winning book. Believe me, I had many rejections before it finally got picked up by a publisher.