Thursday, September 21, 2017

The 2017 Killer Nashville Writers' Conference


by Linda Thorne





Me at Killer Nashville last month at the Embassy Suites in Franklin (a suburb of Nashville) 

I feel so privileged to live in a city with its own annual writers' conference. I started going in 2009 as soon as I realized there was such an event in the city where my husband and I had moved.

In the early years I attended the sessions to learn the basics on how to write, taking dubious notes and asking questions. Then came workshops on writing query letters and finding a publisher. When I had a book contract for my debut novel, Just Another Termination, I showed up at other sessions taking notes and asking questions about marketing and promotion. I even went to a very early Sunday morning one about the "swag" authors need (book marks, cards, pens, gimmicks).

Killer Nashville has everything needed for any wannabe author.

I've been on at least one panel for the past three years. This year I had a fun panel (below) on Saturday August 26. It's name:
A Cat, A Recipe, and an Old Curiosity Shoppe: How to Write Cozy Mysteries. 

Panelists from left to right: Phyllis Gobbell, Carol L. Wright, me, Traci Andrighetti, Barbara Collins, and moderator, Lois Schmitt.

When you are a Killer Nashville panelist, Parnassus Books orders your books to sell in its makeshift conference bookstore. 



The schedule is totally different every year at Killer Nashville, so lots to see and learn. I'm already looking forward to the August 2018 conference. 

Tom Wood stopped by to talk to me and Phyllis Gobbell prior to our panel. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Surprise!

 by Janis Patterson

One of the saddest things about an inadequate education is the ability to remember quotes but not be sure about who said them.

One of my favorites is “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” I think it was Robert Frost who said it, but don’t quote me on that.

I suppose I should give you a disclaimer – I am a thoroughgoing and proud pantser. I work on what I call the suspension bridge system, meaning I know where the story starts, and approximately where it ends, and a couple of plot points in the middle. Then the rest is just putting in more plot points where they’re needed and stringing the story webwork in between. Half the time I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Like every writer, I have friends who are devout plotters. They fill out multi-page character sheets, detailing everything from his grandmother’s maiden name to his favorite flavor of Jell-O. Then they do scene-by-scene outlines, practically noting every time a main character raises an eyebrow. They say it keeps them on track and makes them more efficient. I’ve tried it (I’m always open to ways to improve my craft) and all it made me was bored. Incredibly bored and sleepy. In one class I plotted minutely what should have been a very interesting book about terrorism, antiquities smuggling and dirty bombs. Sad, but it’s a book that will never be written. By the time I finished the outline I was soooo bored with it that it will never be written. By me, at least.

Is dedicated pantsing fraught with potential problems? Of course, but then so is rigid plotting. So is any kind of putting words in a string to tell a story, however you do it. Sometimes I hit a wall and have to back up, but surprisingly rarely. My personal belief is that a good book grows organically – that each action/scene grows logically out of what has gone before. Sometimes it takes me a while to go from one point to another, but not often. It’s really easier than it looks, and your characters – if they are real people and not just cardboard puppets – will tell you what to do. My characters just walk in, tell me their name and what they will and will not do. If I try to go against their will, they stage a silent sit-in strike until I give in, which I usually do. 

Case in point : in my current work in progress, I realized that I had to have a character deliver a crucial piece of information about a series of murders. Only problem was, this character had been the first victim, and ghosts didn’t fit into this story. Last night at dinner (The Husband treated me to a luscious hamburger at our favorite place) I was chatting about the story, and he was listening most politely, when all of a sudden the penny dropped and I knew what had to be done. The expression on my face must have been remarkable, because The Husband looked up, startled, and asked if I was all right.

“The brother! It’s the brother.”

Well, he doesn’t have a brother, and mine died many years ago, so he became much more alarmed about my mental health. After all the years we’ve been married he should know better, but… Immediately I explained that the first victim had a brother, who may or may not be killed himself after delivering the important piece of information my sleuth needed. The Husband’s comment? “Oh.”

Once I tried to explain my working process to The Husband, who is a science-oriented military man. He listened politely, then said, “Sounds like possession.” Maybe he’s right. Whatever it is, it works for me.

One last note – this organically-grown, pantsing way of writing is not, repeat NOT, a license to drag in unrelated action or utilize the dreaded (and unbelievable) Deus ex Machina to solve everything. Neither can you blame a convenient wandering homicidal maniac who has been unheard of until the final chapter. Your clues have to be there. You have to play fair with the reader and give them enough so that – if they are quick and clever – they have a chance to solve the mystery. (You don’t have to dump the solution in their laps, though!) It’s not necessarily easy, but it is very satisfying for both writer and reader.

Just remember – no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. And surprises keep things interesting, don’t they?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Barnes and Noble Signng a Success!




I've not had many bookstore signings in the last few years, mainly because we have no book stores nearby.

When a friend suggested I do a signing at the Barnes and Noble in Bakersfield, I was less than enthusiastic. When she said she'd arrange it, I agreed. She not only did the leg work she also promoted it among her friends.

Now this friend is someone I didn't think I knew except on Facebook, but it turns out I had met her a couple of years ago at a Sisters in Crime meeting in Bakersfield.

I did an advertisement on Facebook--don't think it did much good. Of course I promoted other ways too.

And Barnes and Noble did lots of advertising and even had books available to purchase before the event, and some people had. The store had been unable to order the two latest books--why, I'm not sure--so I brought copies.

B and N now has a great system if you bring in your own books, at the end of the event you get paid for those that sold.

I really did well, had a great time, met a lot of people, saw some old friends, signed a lot of books, and did plenty of chatting.




Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A continuation of Raising the Stakes

Make Mine Mystery
September 5

                                                                       Mata Hari

By Linda Lee Kane
A continuation of last month’s article 'Raising the Stakes'
 Roles and Settings
Roles
Provide the character with more than one role and make life difficult for the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist). The higher the stakes, the more a character will risk to reach her goal. No one is one dimensional.

I recently wrote an article about Mata Hari, the exotic dancer who was convicted as a spy in World War I. What an exceptional woman who lived a life that today we would consider pretty normal but in that time period she was considered a free-spirited bohemian. Questions I asked after reading about her was why did she have to give up her child and become an exotic dancer? Was it really society and her unconventional life style that convicted her? Did she really give up important secrets that led to the deaths of 50,000 men? 

At her conviction she exclaimed,  "A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never!" Forty-five minutes later she was brought before a firing squad, she blew them all a kiss of farewell, than they fired.

Don’t cheat the reader by failing to use every ounce of emotion and action to build higher stakes. 

In life, things are never quite what they seem, Mata Hari played more than one role in life, as do we all. Life was difficult for her, and what greater stakes than life or death.
Setting
Tension and suspense explode when a setting is unfamiliar and hostile, and it forces the character to grow. How does a writer accomplish an antagonistic setting? Begin by concentrating on a few traits of a villain: determined, powerful, an outward appearance of beauty or charm, and the ability to deceive. The adversity of setting can be obvious or hidden, but include it in ways that force the character to make tough decisions and then accept responsibility for those actions.   
Raising the Stakes is not an engine additive to a story. It’s a process that begins long before the first line is written. It’s a mindset that influences every technique of novel writing and coincides with character traits. Look at your story. Where can you Raise the Stakes?





Linda L. Kane MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, and Chilled to the Bones. A 2017 release date for Clyde to the Rescue, and Death on the Vine, A Daisy Murphy Mysteries. 






What's Interfering with my Writing Now



Any of my Facebook followers know that there is a big fire around Springville where I live. My little town is situated in the foothills of the Sierra, surrounded by mountains of many sizes.

We live on the downside of the town, but many have chosen to have their homes in the higher elevations surrounded by many beautiful trees.

As I'm writing this, there's been many evacuations of homes in the mountainous areas, and even an area only a couple of miles from town. The fire has moved all the way over to Black Mountain which is part of the Indian Reservation.

Though there are many firefighters and volunteers, fire trucks and bulldozers available, the biggest problem is the rugged terrain with no roads to access. Because of the heavy smoke, the air bombers haven't been able to fly.

Our little church has opened its doors to anyone who needs shelter. We do have a shower and places where people can rest and sleep, plus a kitchen and food. Food because we have a food pantry.

I had planned to work on my manuscript this a.m. but I am continually checking the fire status. My hope is by the time this is to appear, I can add some good news.

Marilyn

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Setting as a Character


by Linda Thorne

I’ve been reading a lot about setting as a character and the subject has piqued my curiosity. Setting was extremely important to me in my debut novel, Just Another Termination, which is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The reason I kept my timeline for my book in pre-Katrina time is because Hurricane Katrina hit prior to its publication and destroyed many of the places and landmarks I had described in detail. It was going to take a major overhaul to bring the book up to date. It would also be impossible to do for years because that’s how long it took to rebuild much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My solution was to leave the timeframe of my book back in late 2004 through early 2005 and let my entire series run in the past. It starts prior to Katrina with Katrina hitting at the end of my second book (a work-in-progress) and then the third book will drop into post-Katrina time starting in late 2005. My entire planned Judy Kenagy mystery series will always run behind current time.

Then I started hearing the term, “Setting as a character” and thought, Hey, I’ve got tons of descriptions of settings in my book. Could I call my settings characters? The answer turned out to be no. Setting as a character is a lot deeper and more complex than just a good description of a place. I believe such settings would be found more often in literary books and not so much in commercial works like mine.

From what I’ve read, when setting becomes a character it also becomes some sort of metaphor, which I’m not sure I totally understand. What I do understand is how the setting felt when I watched the movie, The Shining with Jack Nicholson. A few years afterward, my family and I had lunch at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado where the movie was filmed. I could picture Jack Nicholson walking around each and every corner. I did not read the book, but something tells me Stephen King did just as good of a job transforming the inside of that hotel in the mountains just outside of Denver into the character that it was in the movie. Some other examples of books I’ve heard of where this technique is used are: On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings, and the bayou in Athol Dickson’s River Rising.

Do any of you have a simple way to describe how you’d detect setting as a character in a book or do you have some examples you’ve found in your reading?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

There Are Rights and Then There Are Rights...

by Janis Patterson

Early this year I was talking with a dear friend of mine, a very successful romance writer who is so successful that she has her own Kindle World. For those who don’t know what KW is, it’s sort of a legitimized fan fiction scheme. A world is based on a popular book/series. People who want to write in that world can – as long as they follow certain contractual restrictions. If accepted by a Kindle committee, the book will be published, with half the income going to the original author. A different concept, but so far, so good.

To a point.

As I said, I was talking with my friend and we agreed that it would be a fun thing for me to come play in her world. She’s a multi-NYT, USA bestseller, so it would have been good for me. I wrote a book – and had a marvelous time doing it, as her fictional world is set in one of my favorite places in the real world, so it was sort of like a mini-vacation. Then, while finishing the book, I thought I should take another look at the KW rules before submitting, as I had only glanced at them before.

What a shock. Copied from the KW ‘how it works’ page :

You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all of the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you grant Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all of the original elements you include in that story for the term of copyright. This means that your story and all of the new elements must stay within the applicable World, and you can use only this platform to write about them(Emphasis mine.)

Whaaaat? You own the copyright, but grant them exclusive license to the story and ALL original elements in your story for the life of the copyright? (That is 75 years after your death, in case you didn’t know.) And if you want to write more using those characters they not only have to be exclusive to Amazon, but to KW? Worse still, if Amazon decides to end KW, or pull your book from the canon, your characters and original elements are still under their control. They can vanish from public view forever and contractually you can’t do a thing about it.

Amazon goes on to say :  

We recommend that you do not incorporate an original character or elements unless you want them to become an exclusive part of that World. In short, Kindle Worlds is a place to be creative and explore a popular World, but anything you create will become part of that World. (Emphasis mine.)

And, to be fair, they do say :
If this is not right for you, Amazon has many platforms (including Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace) for writers who want to be creative with original ideas but do not want their work under this kind of license.

What I don’t understand is why would anyone give away their rights for what is pretty much perpetuity like this? Especially for just HALF of the royalties? Amazon even says bluntly that no rights will be reverted before the end of copyright. Period. I know there has been a trend lately among traditional publishers to hold on to (sometimes to the point of refusing to return them no matter what the contract says) or demand longer terms on rights, but I find this is incredible.

Needless to say, I called my friend and said that I would not be putting anything into her world, that I could not simply give away my rights like that. I do intend to publish the book, but I was very careful to scrub it of any reference to her world or her characters, except for the physical location, which actually exists and has been used in books for at least a century. I offered to send her a manuscript copy so that she could be sure that there was no overlap with her work, but she most graciously said it wasn’t necessary. (We have been friends for many years…)

So while I can only goggle at anyone who would simply hand over the rights to their characters and ideas as well as their right to publish anywhere they want, such a rights confiscation apparently is not illegal. The writer has to submit and sign of their own free will, which makes the contract (however unfair I regard it) valid. I don’t have the right to order anyone not to accept such an arrangement (not that they would listen to me) because it’s their business, not mine. All I can do is beg everyone to read the FAQs and the contracts very carefully and make sure they completely understand just what they are signing away and for how long. Then I would remind them that they should do the same with every contract offered them, no matter from whom it comes. If there is the slightest question, they should turn to their agent (if they have one) or talk with an intellectual property lawyer. Or both.


Unfortunately the publishing world – like the world of movies and TV – is just brimming with sharks waiting to gobble up the creativity of the na├»ve. You the writers are the only ones who can protect yourselves and your creations. Make sure that any choice you make is a good one.