Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Special Guest, Lisa M. Campbell about: Schizophrenia and the Writer; or What's that pervert doing behind the tree?

Please welcome our Special Guest today, Lisa M. Campbell, who has a fascinating topic for us -

E.L. Doctorow once said, "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia." As a reader, I never understood. Now, as a writer, I agree with part of that quote, as I tend to live inside my head more often than not. I'm just not certain the way I go about the writing process is socially acceptable.

Merriam-Webster dictionary describes schizophrenia as "a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life."

In the beginning, I had a problem with Doctorow's assertion until I dissected this statement and realized his quote wasn't too far off the mark. After all, those of us who write fiction, and romance in particular, spend a lot of time shaping characters, situations, and places in our imagination, agonizing over their fictional lives for days, months and sometimes years.

Now, before you shake your head in complete denial, check your concentration level the next time you study a couple sharing a passionate kiss. Ask yourself this question. Were you a bit more interested in cataloguing hand and lip placement for the upcoming first kiss scene in your manuscript, rather than giving the couple a passing glance? Uh-huh, thought so. Now that I have your attention, ask yourself another question. Do you find yourself falling off chairs, or skulking around corners to eavesdrop on private conversations for the sake of character development? What interests you more, the topic of the discussion, or the emotions behind it? If you have answered at least one of these questions, you, my fellow writer, are completely uninvolved within your external environment. Mmm-hmm… shocking, is it not?

A solitary person, I shy away from such behaviors in my un-writing life, and yet, I have no problem indulging in these dubious traits for the sake of my story. Therefore, I can safely assume this is writer's schizophrenia taking over. Now what, you may ask? Well, the next step should be admitting there is a problem, and finding a solution to correct the behavior before you wind up in an arraignment hearing.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to pin down such inappropriate actions if you're unaware of them. Enlisting the aid of family and friends is a proactive first step, though I have to admit my own husband isn't always useful in certain circumstances. He's a great help positioning himself between my subjects and me when he sees I'm sidling closer to a group, notepad at the ready, to record outbursts and the like. However, he's more than eager to parse a few love scenes when I want to confirm positions or pacing. In this instance, he supports my schizophrenia one hundred percent---and in the end that is all any of us wants; one special someone who understands, accepts, and supports the schizophrenic side of a writer's life.

I've traveled the world, lived on two continents and in eleven cities.I've met my childhood hero, twice.I wore a uniform during wartime, though I never fired a shot.Thanks to my husband, I've flown an airplane.I'm a wife, and mother.I'm owned by two crazy cattle dogs, both of which I rescued from puppy prison.Right now I live in the beautiful Black Hills, the Oglala Sioux call Paha Sapa.I have a Celtic Connection with a Gaelic speaking friend.I write what I love to read.

The lush landscape of the Scottish Highlands holds great beauty, but also great peril. Therefore, when Lady Arabella Wyndmere is spirited away from her English home, she is right to fear for her heart and her welfare. Held to a deathbed vow, Laird Connal MacRae is honor-bound to deliver Lady Arabella unsullied, to his deposed older brother, as a prize to soothe his ego. Nevertheless, Connal cannot deny the burning ache the spirited beauty has awakened in him. However, something far more dangerous stalks from the shadows. And in a climate of treachery and betrayal; the greatest risk of all could be surrendering to the depth of feelings of unexpected love.
Buy Superstition's Desire Here

Please leave a comment to welcome Lisa - Thanks, Morgan Mandel

Monday, March 29, 2010

Behind the Scenes

by Carolyn Hart

I was writing a mystery set in a general bookstore when I visited Murder by the Book in Houston, TX, in April 1985. Enchanted by the idea of a mystery bookstore, I created Death on Demand, the finest mystery bookstore south of Atlanta, and the first book in the series is entitled Death on Demand. I placed the store on a fictional sea island reminiscent of Hilton Head, South Carolina, in the nineteen seventies when our family started vacationing there.

Design for Murder was inspired by the annual house and garden tour in Charleston, South Carolina. The fictional town of Chastain is patterned after lovely Beaufort. I specially love the old cemetery in Beaufort.

When talking to my editor, I proposed setting a mystery against the backdrop of a little theater group presenting Arsenic and Old Lace. When I started to write, I decided it was too cumbersome because the play has so many characters. When the manuscript was turned in, the editor objected saying, “You promised me Arsenic and Old Lace.” Faced with rejection of the manuscript, I rewrote the entire book, substituting Arsenic and Old Lace for the fictional play I had created. Something Wicked was accepted and went on to be the recipient of the very first Agatha Award for Best Novel.

Annie Laurance is getting married in Honeymoon with Murder. The editor asked for more emphasis on the wedding. In doing the revisions, Laurel Darling Roethke appeared on the computer screen, brimming with wedding ideas, including a red wedding dress. I laughed as I wrote, remembering a wonderful character actress Billie Burke.

When A Little Class on Murder was published, I created a Blue Book with a 20-question mystery quiz. The first question: Who is the founding genius of the mystery? The last question: Who has Nancy Pickard described as the most endearing pair of new sleuths since Tommy and Tuppence? All 20 questions and their answers may be found at my website:

Deadly Valentine has a true cat subplot. Agatha, the bookstore cat, is furious about the arrival of all-white Dorothy L. On a January day, I sat in an easy chair in the living room. I’d written the first few pages of a story about what happens when love is desperately sought and jealousy ruins lives. I heard the cry of a kitten and hurried outside to find a tiny, terrified black-and-white kitten in the middle of the street. A boy on his bicycle said, “I saw the lady throw her out of the car.” Inside was a large gray, white, and orange cat named Patch. When I told Patch that Sophie would die if she wasn’t kept, Patch said, “Good.” In the book, Agatha’s jealousy and hunger for love underscore that everyone, everywhere, cats included, must have love or perish.

The Christie Caper is a tribute to the writer I most admire and respect. When the manuscript was turned in, the editor suggested making the ending a reprise of the solution to The Orient Express. I responded that I’d rather die. Happily, the editor laughed and said that wasn’t required. The ending of the book in fact is rather odd because I was determined that it should differ from any Christie title and that was a challenge.

Southern Ghost celebrates famous ghosts of South Carolina. I confess to a continuing delight in ghost stories. My fondness for ghosts, especially good-humored ghosts such as George and Marian Kirby in Topper, resulted in the creation of the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous, redheaded ghost who returns to earth to help those in trouble in Ghost at Work and Merry, Merry Ghost.

Mint Julep Murder is a behind the scenes look at the insecurities and vulnerabilities of writers. I especially enjoy writing about Emma Clyde, the self-centered, the-book-comes-first mystery author. Is Emma self-revelatory? Possibly she might be the unvarnished author, but I do try to be a bit kinder and gentler.

Henny Brawley, a recurring character in the series, has a large role in Yankee Doodle Dead. Henny is Carolyn’s tribute to women who were young and brave during World War II, especially the glorious and adventurous WASPs. Henny was one of the 1,800 Women’s Air Force Service Pilots who trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Tx, and whose gallant stories can be admired in Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines, the Unknown Heroines of World War II.

I have a wonderful friend who for many years has donated her time to hospice. I think of her with awe and admiration. But, as mystery authors will, one day it occurred to me what might happen if a not-so-nice person volunteered and listened to dying words. The result was White Elephant Dead.

Whenever I picture the aging actress in Sugarplum Dead, I see Agnes Moorehead. Writing the book, I felt it was touch-and-go whether readers would immediately see what I was doing with illusion.

April Fool Dead explores the readiness of ordinary people to take events at face value. Henny Brawley knew her friend could never have planned blackmail. That faith propels Annie to seek the truth behind a clever and heartless murder.

In Engaged to Die, I decided it was time for Annie and Max Darling to disagree, but even though they choose opposite sides, they always believe in each other. Annie and Max are my celebration of the fact that good marriages exist. I have a skeptic’s view of romance, but I believe in love.

Murder Walks the Plank is the only Death on Demand book with a title I dislike. I think the title is flippant and suggests a light story. Instead, this particular book has a plot which is particularly complex and I felt it worked really well. It is one of my favorites.

When plotting Death of the Party, I set the action on a remote sea island for the express purpose of getting to write a book in which I did not have to deal with cell phones. Cell phones are the bane of mystery authors. Long ago a heroine could find a note on her pillow: Meet me in the cemetery by the old willow at half past midnight. The reader would be urging, “Don’t go. Don’t go.” The heroine, of course, hurried to the rendezvous but instead of meeting her lover, there was the dastardly villain. In today’s books, she whips out her cell and punches nine-one-one. In the old days, she had to escape with many a thrilling moment. But in Death of the Party, I created harrowing moments and never had to worry about a cell phone.

In Dead Days of Summer, a young woman is found dead and the bloody murder weapon is in the trunk of Max Darling’s car. When he is arrested, the media descend in force. I wrote this book in part to protest the unfeeling and cruel 24/7 coverage of sensational crimes and the callous disregard of the human beings caught up in a crime.

Double Eagle by Alison Frankel is a charming book about the history of America’s most fabulous gold coin. I heard her interviewed on NPR interview. I read her book and used those gorgeous gold coins in Death Walked In.

In Dare to Die, Buck remembers Iris in first grade and how he and Iris were Yellow Birds. The best readers were Blue Birds. The competent readers were Red Birds. Everyone knew who the Yellow Birds were. That passage is based upon my husband’s memory of his second grade class. He was a Blue Bird, but he never forgot the hapless Yellow Birds. More than a half century later, Buck and Iris were Yellow Birds.

The Death on Demand series has always celebrated wonderful mysteries of the past and present. I especially love mysteries written in the ‘30s and ‘40s where sleuths deal with apparently unrelated events and characters. That was my inspiration for Laughed ‘Til He Died. In a race against time to save an innocent woman, Annie and Max must solve three interlocking puzzles, the pulled-out pant pockets of a murder victim, three guns that appear and disappear, and the disappearance of a teenager who knows too much.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

I had a completely different post in mind for today, but then a friend posted this link on Facebook and I thought it would be more fun to share what a variety of different writers had to say. From the U.K. Guardian, here's the intro:

Ten rules for writing fiction

Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don'ts.

Follow this link to the first half of the article; the second half is here.

My favorite quote of the article is this one from Philip Pullman:

"My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work."

You'll note that's his only quote in the article. Cheeky bastard. :-)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

When Men Craft Women, Women Craft Men Fiction




To pull off the so-called “impossible” –getting into the head of the opposite sex and understanding from this point of view, surprisingly enough, surrounds elemental, fundamental reliance on a “woman OR a man of substance” that you embed and imbue inside the VOICE that you create for this character.

VOICE in any dramatic, commercial fiction relies on strong Active Voice over weak passive textbook, WAS/WERE-riddled voices (leave the qualifying voice to the politicians). These basic grammatical decisions (word choice, exorcising qualifiers for absolutes, using active verbs over passives and cripplingly slow helping verbs, and exorcising the verb to be) are the crucibles of language about which E.B. White wrote in The Elements of Style and supported by the fine book Writing Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. Style comes out of extremely small elements you choose to make work for you—like any electrical plug in the wall. Or items you fail to utilize.

As small as the choice difference between say the word before and ago, maybe and perhaps, this is “shaping” voice. This “becomes you”--BECOMES your style. If you choose a folksy or shoddy or simplistic or complex or formal or informal voice, your reader will know it from the outset, and is normally willing to follow it, so long as this voice remains consistent and consistently believable. But a blowhard voice, a whining constant victim voice, or a wishy-washy narrative voice—no, nah, no way.

So is VOICE the single most important element of your story? Absolutely, and yet it is created of all the other elements and choices you make, from setting to dialect to no dialect to the difference between between and betwixt, leaped and leapt, or using a comma for a dash. I personally make a habit of using contractions, dashes, and mixing sentence types from simple to compound to complex to compound-complex. All my choices…all lessons we continually need to relearn with each book.

All good writing relies on the reader ‘falling for’ your Feminine or Masculine authorial\narrative voice, the point of view speaker, the mind you set your reader down into comfortably or awkwardly. If it is an ill fit, little wonder. The holy all of it is this: an author is a trick cyclist on the unicycle juggling twenty four plates in the air, spinning each ‘choice and decision and element’ at the end of long sticks all at once! Each plate, each stick, each prop is an important element, but they all culminate in the overall greatest EFFECT or illusion we writers create. The effect that your story has on the reader’s ear and mind’s eye. (A story is only as good as the lasting effect it has on a reader. Do you recall the details of your favorite child’s book?)

If I had said the writer is LIKE a trick cyclist rather than stating it as a fact, it rings a different bell, sends a different and less powerful blow. The use of LIKE and AS is terribly overdone in some “voices” in female-lead crime fiction. As are adjectives. As are adverbs. As is the use of passives, especially the WAS/WERE verb—a major killer of action and visualization. These mistaken choices riddle even a great deal of published fiction, and especially in the first person narrative along with the personal pronoun references to the narrator: I, me, my, mine, myself, often using the personal pronoun three and four times in a given sentence.

What a reader hears and pictures comes about as result of our giving him a believable SOUND in his head—along with images. The author’s voice, or the narrative voice (not always the same) or the character’s voice creates that sound. A “qualifying” character’s voice can be filled with qualifiers, but you are damned if your narrator or main character’s voice is riddled with qualifying, iffy, wishy-washiness. An absolute gives the same sentence the mental Kodak moments that look, feel, taste, smell, and sound like IMAGES. Images are made of this; they are not made of lines like: He was standing as if in a trance, and was soon climbing through a reddish fog that seemed to be lifting amid the treeline that almost acted as a filter to the sunlit Georgia hills. But rather: In a trance, Mick stood and climbed through a coppery red fog filtering through the Georgia treeline.

Thanks much and know that today's thoughts come straight out of DEAD ON WRITING, available in paper from and in ebooks at

Name My Next Book Contest & Vote ongoing can be found on Google at Dirty Deeds - Advice

Rob with hopes you'll leave a comment!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pacing Yourself by Christine Duncan

After years and years of going to critique with my manuscripts, I've heard a lot of writers try to figure out how to write themselves out of whatever corner they're in. The complaint I hear most from my fellow writers is about pace. Too often a scene or even a whole chapter lags and the author just can't figure out why.

More often than not, the answer is goals.

I'm not talking about your goal when you write the scene. That could be anything from introducing a character to killing off your victim. The goal the writer has for the scene should be different than the character's goals. And it is the character's goals that should be up-front and out there--visibly stated at the beginning of the scene.

Why? Let's say you write, "Justin decided there was only one way to take care of this. He was going to confront Anna." See, that is just a simple goal statement. And your reader is going to start worrying. Ooh, is this the end of Justin and Anna? What will Anna say? Why doesn't Justin know that Anna is not the murderer--that she's actually in danger of being the next victim?

Right then and there, just by stating the point of view character's goals at the beginning of the scene, you have introduced tension. And that helps your pace.

Now, the character may or may not meet his goal. Justin may just stomp over to Anna's to hear that she's gone for a girls' night out. Or she may have something she wants to confront him with and he never gets a word in edge-wise. Or in the interest in keeping the characters up a proverbial tree and throwing coconuts at him, Justin may get in the car and find himself in the middle of an earthquake.

That's fine. Really fine. Just be sure to keep mentioning the goal every so often so the reader will keep worrying.

And make sure the scene goal relates to the overall story goal. It can't be that Justin's goal is to bum a cigarette off his friend. Who cares? It has to be something a bit more significant to the story.

I hear a bunch of you sighing out there. Just inserting a line or two about the character's goal at the beginning a scene can't help pace that much, can it? Try it. It helps the best when you start writing the scene because then your scene will be more pointed. You the author will keep it in mind, and play with it in the scene. But it's not a bad thing to insert the scene goal when you go back and edit either. You will automatically see the stuff that goes in that scene, and what needs to go out. And the scene will be sharper for it.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book Two, Safe House is available now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Let’s Get it Started by Austin Camacho

While I was teaching my most recent class on writing basics I mentioned the importance of the first line of a novel. Today’s readers expect a writer to hook them fast and keep their attention. I spend a lot of time agonizing over the first sentence of a book and I know a lot of other writers who do the same. But when questioned, I was hard put to clearly define what a good lead sentence is or how to create one. What will let the reader know what kind of book to expect, create suspense that draws them in, yet doesn’t leave them feeling lost and confused?

In my on line search for enlightenment I came upon an entire web site dedicated to first lines. The Opening Lines section of Wikiquote - - is almost a class in itself, an extensive lesson on how to grab the reader at the start of your book. The lines are laid out alphabetically by book title and just in the A section I found great examples of opening with humor:

Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.
The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

Profound, thought provoking starts:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

And beginnings that tell you what the whole book will hinge on:

Who is John Galt?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

I’ll admit that I’m also partial to openings that make you want to know why:

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

I was surprised to see just how many of these familiar books opened with a description of the weather, something I’ve been told is a bad idea. Of course the most famous bad writing example starts there: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Anyway, I found the pages to be a fun read, and I think others who enjoy short works might enjoy trolling thru these opening lines and if they work, you might be looking up the books too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Guest today: Stephen D. Rogers

By Earl Staggs

I’m proud to welcome Stephen D. Rogers as my guest today. Stephen is the author of SHOT TO DEATH, a collection of thirty-one of his short stories. He's the head writer at Crime Scene (where viewers solve interactive mysteries) and a popular writing instructor. For more information, you can visit his website,, where he tries to pull it all together.

I’ve known Stephen for a number of years and have long respected his skill as a writer. I don’t know of anyone who has worked harder to improve his craft, and the volume of his published work -- more than six hundred stories and poems -- squarely places him in the top layer of contemporary mystery and crime writers.

Stephen takes a unique approach in his piece below. Have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a writer? Here’s your chance. Stephen dissects and analyzes the opening of one of the stories in SHOT TO DEATH. I found it interesting and know you will, too.

Be sure to read all the way to the bottom to see how you can win a copy of SHOT TO DEATH.

Here’s a sampling of what’s being said about it:

"Terse tales of cops and robbers, private eyes and bad guys, with an authentic New England setting."
- Linda Barnes, Anthony Award winner and author of the Carlotta Carlyle series

"Put yourself in the hands of a master as you travel this world of the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared. Rogers is the real deal--real writer, real story teller, real tour guide to the dark side."
- Kate Flora, author of the Edgar-nominated FINDING AMY and the Thea Kozak mysteries

"SHOT TO DEATH provides a riveting reminder that the short story form is the foundation of the mystery/thriller genre. There's something in this assemblage of New England noir to suit every aficionado. Highly recommended!"
- Richard Helms, editor and publisher, The Back Alley Webzine

And now, here’s my friend, Stephen. Enjoy.


"Although Lieutenant Brant was already sitting at the corner booth when I entered the diner, I still stopped at the counter to place my order before joining him."

So begins one of the 31 stories contained in SHOT TO DEATH (ISBN 978-0982589908). Within that beginning lurks the ending to the story and everything that happens between the beginning and the end. Or at least it seems that way to me.

The narrator not only kept the lieutenant waiting, he then emphasized that he was in a position to do so. The power politics are even more intriguing if the narrator is male, and thus he is.

Who would dare play such games with a police lieutenant? An ex-cop? A politician? A private investigator?

A hood might think he could get away with it, but I think it's more interesting if the balance of power is more tenuous. That also lets out the possibility of the narrator being a politician, not that I'm suggesting that all politicians are crooks. Heh.

A corner booth makes sense for a cop to pick, as his back isn't to anyone, but the word "corner" also suggests that a corner is going to be turned. Perhaps the balance of power will tip one way forever. Perhaps the narrator will experience a life-changing event.

By stopping at the counter, the narrator not only makes Lieutenant Brant wait, he demonstrates an unwillingness to simply sit and wait for his order to be taken. The echo of "corner" indicates that there's more at stake than a flexing of his muscles.

Assuming the diner is staffed with waitresses rather than waiters, perhaps the narrator is experiencing control issues with a teenage daughter. And then a police lieutenant comes calling.

All that remains is the writing.

For a chance to win a signed copy of SHOT TO DEATH, click on over to and submit your completed entry.

Then visit the schedule at to see how you can march along.

And then come back here to post your comments. Phew.


Saturday, March 20, 2010


by Ben Small

Do we as mystery writers give our cops too much technology? Watch CSI, and one would think nobody ever gets away. But as the Crime Lab Project  has discovered, while the technology technically exists to match these television feats, few people or cases have access to it.

Thursday's NY Times article (FBI Computer Setbacks) noting the failure of the decade-long project to bring the FBI's computer programs up to snuff, considered by some to be a matter of national security, probably should have been predicted. I've seen similar issues at the corporate level. Everybody wants to be a designer, to chase technology is a specialized way, a wish festival. So the designers tumble on, rolling with the requests for bolt-on applications, more security levels as seats (users to the techno-ignorant) and features. The programs get so bloated and complex, nobody can run them, and even if they could, they couldn't afford to.

Look how much chasing Apple has cost your family.  Imagine hundreds of criminal-techno-experts with that Apple stare, that I WANT glow in the eye.

In the corporate world, it doesn't take long before technology costs get so high, the boss threatens to can the project unless shortcuts are built in. The results are usually a slimmed down plan, practical in application and need, and edicts on spending. Blow the budget, don't come back.

That doesn't work at the federal level, especially so when the end product must protect us from all sorts of unknown evils. The projects get bigger, complexities abounding, costs spiraling out of control.

And then they blame the contractor -- there's always a contractor, the government doesn't build anything... except itself.

I promise: There will be an investigation. And it will be revealed during that investigation that the design changed by the moment as more voices tuned in and ideas fermented, spewing cost gasses to the bursting point.

And of course, nobody thought of the user, the fed or cop on the beat, the poor schlub who has to send an overnight mail package on a 9/11 bomber because he has no computer, fax or scanner.

In family or in business, somebody says stop, look for more efficient ways to meet technology needs. But the federal government operates differently. Don't believe me? Take a gander at DOD procurement regulations, or NASA's. And then imagine connections to both of these agencies, their complications, the conflicting and always changing technological systems they've adopted.

Gives me a headache even thinking about it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Remembering Fallen Medics by Chester Campbell

With all the hoopla on the tube and in the papers about health care, I was more than a little interested in an email I received today regarding a facet of that subject we don't hear much about. As a retiree, I'm a member of the Air Force Association and got the email from AFA President Michael M. Dunn.

Dunn, a retired Air Force general, told of attending a Remembrance Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery dedicated to fallen military medical personnel in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The medical community was there to honor those who gave their lives and the families they left behind.

The general said he was struck by three things at the ceremony. The first was the large number of losses from such a small segment of the military community, one that is normally protected under the Geneva Conventions. A total of 216 medical personnel have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another thing he found particularly interesting was the Surgeon General of the Navy's observation that Americans should take time to honor our physicians on National Doctors Day, March 30. Though observed by some since the 1930s, National Doctors Day did not get official recognition until 1990.

The other occurrence he took note of dealt with the singing of the National Anthem during the outdoor ceremony. "I, as a veteran," he wrote, "saluted the flag." Afterward, several people came up to him and asked if a hand salute was permissible rather than the customary hand over the heart.

He wrote: "I noted that in October 2008 the law changed - thanks in large part to Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, with the support of AFA - to permit military not in uniform or veterans to salute the flag when it is raised and lowered and when the National Anthem is played. Read the VA press release here.

Injecting a little patriotism into the conversation isn't a bad idea at a time when so much negativity and division are floating about.

Chester Campbell

My Website

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The 25% Solution by Mark Troy

I'm a numbers guy, as I've mentioned in a previous post. I count words, paragraphs and pages, especially when revising. As soon as I write, "The End," on the first draft, I count the words and set my goal for revising accordingly. That goal is always 25%. That is, my final draft will be 25% shorter than the first draft.

As an example, my most recently completed project, The Splintered Paddle, for which I'm currently trying to find a publisher, had a word count of approximately 105,750 on the first draft. Seventy-five percent of that is 79,312 words. My goal was to cut out 26,438 words.

Non-number people might look at that goal and say, "Shouldn't your goal be to make it the best possible?" Well, yes, that is my goal, but how do you know when you have reached that draft that represents the best possible? My answer is, it's 25% shorter.

David, first draft?
Of course, this doesn't mean cutting out just any words. If that were the case, I could take a big chunk from the middle or the ends and leave everything else intact. The effect would be to destroy the story. Revising is about getting rid of the words that don't belong. How did Michelangelo create David? He took a rock and cut away everything that wasn't David. Had he just cut away 25% without regard to whether or not it belonged, he might have produced a statue without a head or arms. The same is true with a story. I cut all the words that don't belong until I reach my goal of a manuscript that is 25% leaner.

Is there something magical about 25%? Why not cut out 20% or 15%? I don't think there is any rule of writing that says the final draft should be 25% shorter than the first draft. Perhaps my first drafts have a lot of fat in them. Other writers might have 20 or 15 percent fat.  I know, from keeping track of my submissions, that the published versions of my stories have all been about 25% shorter than the first drafts. I don't even bother submitting a story that has been cut less than 20%. For me, therefore, the solution is 25%.

Stephen King says the second draft should be 10% shorter than the first. In fact, my second drafts fit that formula. If I could make each draft 10% shorter than the previous one, I would achieve my goal of 25% reduction in four drafts. Alas, that doesn't happen. It's easy to cut 10% from a first draft. The first draft is always full of characters that don't develop, scenes with no point, and paragraph after paragraph of choking description. Those are like the big globs of fat on a brisket--easy to cut away, but the result is only ten percent leaner. Getting at the rest of the fat is tougher. It means tweaking scenes to get the biggest impact from fewer sentences and paring sentences down to the most powerful nouns and verbs. It requires a lot more than four drafts to get that 25% solution.

David, final draft.
I can't even count on each draft to be shorter than the previous one. I've completed some drafts only to discover, to my consternation, that the story has picked up some words. This isn't necessarily bad. The process of cutting away fat can expose holes in the plot or weak development in a character that need to be repaired, usually by adding a scene or two. This is where writing a story is different from trimming a brisket or chiseling a stone. When I do have to add, I try to take away somewhere else, but, as I near the 25% solution, that isn't always possible.

As for, The Splintered Paddle, which I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it comes in on draft number 17 at 78,500 words--26% leaner than draft number one.

Do you have a percentage that you shoot for when you revise or do you aim for some other criterion? If so, what percentage?

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog
Mark's website

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What I've Learned About Myself and Promotion

I've just returned from a five days away from home attending Epicon in New Orleans and then turned around the next weekend to head to Apple Valley CA (a driveable 3 1/2 hours)for a talk for a writers' club.

The trek to New Orleans was brutal with three plane changes and one to another airline. Traipsing through the terminals lugging two carry-ons, having to find a bus that went to another terminal for the airline change wore hubby and me out. The conference itself was great as was the sightseeing in New Orleans, but I was exhausted for days afterwards and not really recovered when it was time to take off again.

Because of my new book, An Axe to Grind, I've been promoting non-stop. I always do a mix of on-line promotion and in-person events.

I'm on a blog tour all month which means visiting the blog stops and leaving a message, answering quesions left in comments, and promoting each blog on Facebook and other social networking places.

When I got home from New Orleans I made arrangements for my physical book launch in the little town I live in and the nearest city. Fortunately, our local newspaper is always gracious about helping me promote my books and my events. On my way out of town to Apple Valley I made a stop at the newspaper to get my photo taken holding my book.

This coming weekend I'm headed to Oxnard CA where I'll have a booth at the Celebration of the Whales on Sunday, March 21st, from 9 to 5. This one is a bit of physical labor as we must put up our own tent and table and chairs. I've done this one before and it was good. Plus, we can stay with our daughter and hubby and have a chance to visit with them and our other daughter who lives nearby.

The weekend after that we're headed back to Morro Bay for a group author signing with the Central Coast Sisters in Crime on Sunday, March 28 from 1-3 at the Coalesce Bookstore.

When I read about these famous authors who drive or fly all over the country for booksignings in bookstores I know they are all much younger than I am. I could never handle that pace. I need to get home in between events and rest in comfortable surroundings.

Next time I'll tell how some of these promotions have worked out.

How about you? Have you learned anything from your promotions?

Monday, March 15, 2010


Today, I'm happy to feature a recent interview of one of my Book Place members, thriller author, Kensington Roth, along with information on his current spy thriller, Able Danger.   Leave a comment in the comment section, along with your email address. One lucky winner will receive a free copy of Kensington's thriller, Able Danger. (Entry void where prohibited by law) Morgan Mandel

Author Interview

ABLE DANGER author Kensington Roth, recently sat down and answered a few questions about his novel, his inspiration, and more.

What inspired you to write Able Danger? Is this your first book?

Able Danger was born after my trip to mainland China and following the 9/11 attacks. I pondered for some time about a what-if scenario of China attacking the U.S. with a weapon more powerful then a nuclear weapon and just how the White House might react.

Because my story has many dimensions of action, intrigue, and romance I felt it could be best portrayed on the silver screen. After I wrote the screenplay I adapted the story to the novel format for all spy-thriller fans to read and my first book was published.

How did you come up with the idea for Able Danger?

After watching all the movies that have been made about the U.S. and Russia fighting over nuclear weapons, I thought they’re much too busy haggling over nukes when there is something with far greater destructive power that they should be be worrying about. In the novel Gravvox is discovered, not by the Americans, but by another superpower — China.

I understand you did a lot of research in the Library of Congress to prepare for this book?

Yes I did and I discovered many “behind the curtain” facts about the 9/11 attacks and also a lot about China’s global ambitions.

What is the origin of the title Able Danger?

After I finished writing the story, I realized that the U.S. government’s overly confident attitude about war has made them think they are able to encounter and overcome any danger. So, the title Able Danger stuck.

Your main character Harrison Court-006, has been called the American James Bond. Are you an avid James Bond fan?

Yes, ever since I was 7 years old when my father took me to see my first Bond movie Goldfinger, I was intrigued by the many elements the characters delivered to the story. I didn’t know that I wrote an American Bond-like novel until the novel was finished.

Who are your biggest fans?

It seems most Bond fans have taken a liking to my American version of the Bond-like story theme and most are eager to read the novel and see the movie on the big screen. They have the same thirst for spy-action intrigue, coupled with romantic interludes portraying beautiful women, as I do.

What was the most frustrating aspect about writing and publishing this book? What has been the most rewarding?

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story so everyone can share in the Harrison Court-006 saga. Self-publishing the novel has been the only challenge to overcome. The most rewarding factor is that I discovered the many, many people who simply adore spy-thriller action stories about intriguing spies and gorgeous ladies found in exotic locations.

Do you plan to write another novel? Have you begun?

I plan on writing the sequel to Able Danger which will be called Danger for 2. I have already started my other genre of action-adventure-fantasy which will feature the first of a series showcasing the first female action hero for all audiences to enjoy. It will be published in early 2010.

When you Google Able Danger, you pull up the Able Danger movie. Does it relate to your novel?

The movie from 2008 has nothing to do with Able Danger the novel. It’s a question asked often and the public will discover this after reading the novel.

Do you have plans to make your own movie of Able Danger?

I planned on making the movie as I wrote the screenplay which is currently in the early stages of development. Two accomplished actresses are slated to play China doll “MISSONG” and the voluptuous “VOLACE.” Several amazing theme tracks and songs from the soundtrack have been sent to me for review. A choice director is joining the ensemble to entice two famous known actors to play the lead role of Harrison Court-006 and his nemesis DaSage.

Can you tell us why you choose the Virtual Book Tour to promote your book?

The virtual book tour is for the general public to be made aware of my new explosive spy-thriller that has a Bond-like appeal.

Are you promoting Able Danger by any other means? Website? Blog? Twitter? Facebook?

Able Danger the novel can be viewed at my website. for the full synopsis and for ordering information. My profile is displayed on Facebook, along with The Kensington Roth Fan Club so everyone can get plugged-in with the latest events taking shape about Able Danger the movie adapted from the novel.

Do you have any final words?

I hope audiences around the world will welcome the Able Danger series of spy-thrillers and Harrison Court-006 in his perilous exploits that take him across the globe to fight the evils of the world, while never getting his tuxedo dirty.

Thank you for this interview, Kensington. Good luck on your tour!

Dexter Matthews says:
December 16, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Outstanding interview. I took an interest in the book “ABLE DANGER” after be-friending Kensington Roth on facebook. The more I read the synopsis the more I wanted to read the book. However, after reading just the first two chapters I was “HOOKED” I’ve always loved the spy thrillers since I was a kid. “JAMES BOND,” “OUR MAN FLINT,” “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E,” and the “AVENGERS” to name a few. Harrison Court AGENT 006, brings back the excitement, intrigue, adventure and romanticism of the genre. As a reader you’ll love the twist of this novel and the depth of each character. As a fan of spy movies ,you’ll anxiously await the release of “ABLE DANGER” the film. It is safe to say you will not be disappointed with the saga of agent Harrison Court and his sexy spy-girl Missong.


Agent Harrison Court-006 a black ops-spy discovers China’s secret attack planned for the U. S. taking him on a new mission across Asia and Europe against time to stop a rogue ex-CIA agent DaSage. Court uncovers China’s deadly super weapon from a known terrorist leader hiding in the caves of Tora Bora. OO6 must find out what American cities the silent gravity weapon will destroy by defeating the phantom of reverse gravity before history is altered forever.

Excerpt from Chapter 1

From outer space the satellite disengages its laser on this American suburban household, as the TEST of Gravvox’s destructive firepower has concluded. The laser’s disengagement creates a sensitizing, bursting, spherical-shaped flash traveling almost forever in space. The effects of the laser burning out causes a phenomenal, geomagnetic interference with Earth’s ATMOSPHERE.

How Able Danger, the Novel, was born

Kensington returned from his trip to the Orient in March 2004. Being his assistant, I noticed for some months he was distracted and always jotting down illegible notes. The months went by and the office was filled with small pieces of paper everywhere. He was truly fixated with some big story. What did he see in Hong Kong? Was it main land China that moved him? The people? The culture?

As the next year turned the corner, he began transferring his ideas in no apparent order onto the computer. He struggled in the last months of that year to grasp some sort of flow which didn't come out about until the fall of 2006, and that's when he started writing Able Danger for the silver screen. In the spring of 2008 the novel was written and subsequently published by his company Kensington Roth Media, Inc. - Karina


Known for his spy thrillers set in exotic locations across the globe, Kensington Roth is the author of this highly acclaimed explosive, action spy-thriller. “Able Danger” fits the international espionage spectrum of sequels for avid readers and has been adapted to film by the author for moviegoers to view agent Harrison Court-006 on the silver screen. The sequel ”Danger for 2” will be featured in paperback and theaters in 2011.

Please leave a comment or question for our guest,
Kensington Roth. Make sure to include your email
address to be eligible for the contest drawing for
a free copy of Able Danger.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Squeezing it in...

So it's been a busy week at work and I've been working on my WIP and a short story in the evenings. It's Friday, we have company coming in, in...oh... fifteen minutes? We're having a small party tomorrow night in honor of this company (and one of them is a chef, who is happily doing the cooking), which will require much preparation tomorrow. Sunday, I have a library panel and our company will still be in town. I realized while running around scooping cat boxes and changing sheets that I hadn't written my Sunday post and thought to myself, "When the hell am I gonna have time to do this?"

The answer, of course, was to drop everything and sit down with my laptop. The subject matter was easy this time around because I want to know what everyone's favorite 'squeezing in the writing no matter else is happening in your lives' techniques are.

Do you write on the bus/train/streetcar?

Do you carry mini-recorders with you while you walk?

Do you use notebooks and pens or carry a laptop/Alpha/??? with you?

Do you wake up at 4am, unable to sleep, and make the most of that time by writing (and if you do, you're a mutant like my boyfriend...)?

Do you scribble notes on breaks or lunch hours if you, like me, have a day job?

Do you throw your hands up in despair, curl into a fetal ball and whimper a lot?

Please share!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hard Start - Openings in Novel Writing

A Most Important Aspect of the Novel: Opening Pages ^ Establishing Shots
                           by Robert W. Walker

The following advice comes from my How-To book entitled DEAD ON WRITING.

Writing is like shouting in the dark at stars too far to hear; like shooting in the dark at targets we don't always see, and once in a while we get lucky and hear a report back. We've hit our target. When first starting out, we do it not knowing enough about the tools at hand, or if we are holding our mouth right, or if the weapons we wield are loaded or sharpened. That is until we begin to practice and hit our stride, and soon writing, like firing off shot after shot, comes progressively easier on everyone, including the innocent bystanders we call readers-nice people who we don’t want to send screaming away from us for all our unintended results.


This is about making the right opening moves in your story…no matter what setting you open with. First lines and first paragraphs which establish character and much more are absolutely crucial. True whether you begin with the weather or a cobra about to strike.

When you open a story, you really have to rework it and rewrite it so that those opening moments are pure gold…as pure as you can make them. Clear as you can make them as well as exciting as you can make them (excitement does not necessarily mean fireworks or car chases). Think of every good film that has SET the stage in the very first seconds and minutes of the film. These first shots establish time and place along with tension and character. Perhaps you might have a page or two to interest the reader in a character or the actions being taken by a character, but this can’t possibly happen if your story opens in a miasma of confusion in which we know nothing whatsoever of the setting, the time, the character, perhaps his or her occupation, where his or her hands are at the moment, what action(s) the character(s) are currently occupied with…what pie they have their hands in. HANDS are so important to characters; about as important as LEGS and FEET.

To become proficient at opening successive chapters beyond Chapter One, too, you’ve got to establish the basic Five W’s of Who, What, Where, When, and How or at least four of the above. With each new scene this job’s got to happen. All this has to be repeated over again with each geographical shift, point of view shift, time shift. Such shifts have to be carefully “glued” together by comforting road signs as with a time word or two such as since, before, then, now, when…

To become proficient at openings, read the back jacket copy of every paperback you can get your hands on, and tell me how many of these “interest” grabbers appear in paragraph one or two: Time period, setting with place names, character’s names (names have resonance), occupation of main character, chief tension or problem (the how and why that keeps us turning pages).

Take a lesson from the back-flap writers. In fact, become adept at writing your own “flap” to place in your query letter and synopsis. They say never judge a book by its cover, but when the flap is well written, go ahead—judge a book by its synopsis. Learn to write the most important short story you will ever need to write—the story of your story in its most elemental form, my dear Watson.

You can also use this in pitch sessions—the back-flap you write for your own book! You may want to begin with the word WHEN—as in:

Just when Inspector Alastair Ransom had cut off the head of one snake slithering about the gas-lit streets of Chicago in 1893, a second fiend raises his ugly head to mar the prosperity of the city and the success of the World’s Fair.

In one fell swoop, one sentence, you get the name and profession of the main character, the time period and the location and a teasing tension. Write the copy you’d like to see on the back of your book!

An opening line and paragraph and page ought to engage the reader and excite his interest, of course, but it also ought to plant the reader’s feet firmly in place, square into the moment, square into the story. But no beginning is of any use no matter how spectacular if the story fails to move forward and a plot or at least a series of engaging episodic events do not occur. A plot must become evident and fairly soon. To this end, a good faith attempt at writing a rip-snorting ghost story or mystery or at least a men’s adventure yarn is a great and wonderful tool for a writer to learn the craft of plotting.

I hope you will leave a question or comment and Write to Sell --
rob walker, Dead On Writing, Amazon Kindle or in paper at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ISBN by Christine Duncan

It all started last fall when my book, Safe House, was published actually, although I didn't know it at the time. My family and friends told me they were not able to order the book. I thought it was just the usual problem that someone who is published by a small press goes through all the time. I told them to insist in (Borders, Barnes and Noble, other national chain, pick one) that they knew the book was available through Baker and Taylor and could be ordered.

Still no one was able to order it.

Then my local paper did an interview and the CRM at my local Barnes and Noble promised to order the book in exchange for me mentioning that it would be available there in the interview. All was good--or so I thought.

The local paper even put me, holding the book on the cover of paper. And sure enough they mentioned that the book was available at the local Barnes and Noble. But when I emailed the CRM a few days later, she was upset with me. She had ordered, she said, twenty copies of the book. And she got someone else's book.


The local library ordered the book because of the newspaper interview and had the same problem. They got in copies of a Western book that my publisher had released at the same time.

Of course, I immediately notified my publisher of the problem. But it took months to fix. Before it was finished, Safe House had appeared on major websites with the other author's name, the other author's cover, and sometimes with no cover. At one point, Amazon said it had only one copy for sale and it cost $250.00. My publisher, I and the other author involved sent emails to Baker and Taylor, Bowkers, the printer, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon. People didn't want to do reviews because it appeared the book was unavailable. I could go on and on.

At first, I thought it looks bad for me and the publisher if this kind of thing gets out. But when I started talking to other writers, each had a story of some kind like this. Oh, not exactly like this. There were tales of the last page of mysteries being left out of the published book, upside down covers and yes, other ISBN problems. And as one friend remarked, if you don't tell people what happened, they'll think the book just sank out of sight because it was no good.


Yet now Safe House's ISBN's problems are fixed, I'm left wondering what to do. I've got a book that looks as though it's been out for months but in reality has only been made available on the major bookseller's websites... well, this week, actually. There is still a bit of a problem on Barnes and Noble unless you know the ISBN.

So I'm asking you authors, what would you do? When the book was originally scheduled to come out, I had a story about it on holidays mysteries in a mystery magazine. I did radio and podcasts and blog tours. And now that the book is supposedly 6 months old some of this stuff is too late.

If you don't have a suggestion for me, can I ask, will you please go request that your local library buy Safe House? I need a jump start somehow.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House is now available.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Mystifies You?

Greatest Mysteries?
We spend a lot of time constructing our mysteries, laying in the clues and red herrings, characterizing our hero/heroine and villain, plotting meticulously and creating a satisfying conclusion for our readers. But there are many, many unexplained mysteries out there. Here are a few intriguing ones:

Loch Ness Monster
Nessie has fascinated us for hundreds of years. First reported in 565 AD in the large, freshwater loch, interest renewed in the 1930s and has continued to today. This legendary water monster has had dedicated searchers hoping to find him or her, to no result – yet – despite photos, sonar and even a video.

The Great Pyramids
Who built the great pyramids? How were they constructed using the tools and knowledge available at the time? Man has spent a great deal of time since the mid-19th century exploring the pyramids, without coming up with definitive answers.

Plato teased us with stories of a great seafaring civilization whose island world sank into the sea, leaving no trace. There have been stories, movies and endless discussions about the mysterious world of Atlantis since.

Jimmy Hoffa
Head of the influential Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa disappeared one day in Detroit, Michigan, in July, 1975. No trace has ever been found of Hoffa, but there are plenty of theories and rumors about what happened to him.

Bermuda Triangle
How many aircraft, ships and people have simply vanished in the famed Bermuda Triangle. Is it a wormhole, piracy, weather phenomenon or something else entirely?

Just a few mysteries that intrigue and puzzle us – do you have a different favorite mystery?

Libby McKinmer
On GoodReads, Facebook & Twitter, too!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fiction in a Flash by Austin S. Camacho

I am by nature a novelist, but I do love the challenge of writing a good short story. I find it much harder to tell my tale under, say, 1500 words, but I both enjoy and am impressed by those who can do it in even less space. The REAL masters of this talent write flash fiction

Flash fiction is NOT a vignette. Flash fiction stories have to have all the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles, and resolution.Sometimes these stories are designed more to be a challenge to the writer than anything else. For example, some aim at a precise word count. Nanofictions are complete stories with at least one character and a plot that must be exactly 55 words long. A Drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Because of the limited word count, writers are often forced to leave some of those traditional story elements unwritten, but in the best stories they are hinted at or implied in the written storyline. That’s always the case in the most extreme flash fiction, the six-word story. How can you tell a story in six words? Here’s one by Katt Dunsmore:

“Whaddya mean, you’re gonna kill…”


Here's another cool example:

“Or was it the red wi…?”

Yeah, she didn't tell you but you KNOW what happened there.

The most famous of these, and probably the story that got the six-word story started, is credited to Ernest Hemingway. This is the ultimate example of writing tight, yet you can see the entire story. It is written in the form of a classified ad. Here are Papa Hemingway’s six stirring words:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

I doubt anyone I know could put that much emotion into six words, but every one of us should try, at some time or other, to write some flash fiction. I'd love to see YOUR six word story.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Successful Bookstore Signing

Bookstores are not my favorite place to do signings, nor are join author signings. However, this weekend I was part of a successful event at a bookstore with 5 other authors. Why did it succeed?

First, there was great publicity, both in the local newspaper and by the bookstore itself--and the authors spread the word.

It was an event rather than just a signing.

This particular bookstore has a gorgeous garden in the back and a chapel that is used for weddings. The weather was perfect so the books were on display in the garden and the authors each gave 10 minute talks in the chapel. Food and drink were plentiful.

In between each talk, people were encouraged to visit the author's display table and have the books signed they wanted to buy, and eat and drink, and they did it all. Most people stayed until the very end then carried the books they'd chosen up into the store to pay for them.

Each author approached their time in a different manner. Some read a section of their books, others just talked about their books. I learned long ago if I made people laugh, I'll sell books.

I sold 16 books in the two hour period this was going on.

The trip was well-worth the drive over and back. Plus we had two great seafood dinners while there, one with a good friend and hubby we don't see often enough, and our hotel was inexpensive and lovely. The wildflowers on the way over and back were gorgeous!



by Ben Small

Man, that felt good. The bang, bang, bang, bang of full automatic fire, the jolting recoil, the repeated snapping of the target from thirty feet away. Satisfaction.

My birthday present to myself, a fully automatic Sig Sauer 556 machine gun. Retractable stock, BUIS (back up iron sights, for you non-shooters), a picatinny rail. Simple safety, simple Select Fire. Sling-ready. Four thousand rounds added to the purchase. No muffs, no rubber plugs; I've already got the shooting glasses. I'm ready to shoot, the urge burning inside. Can I load a magazine as I walk to the car, maybe fire off a few celebratory rounds?

Damn, too many ears and eyes. Somebody'd call the cops.

How about in the car? Okay... that's crazy. But my ears could handle it... once anyway. I'm a shooting bull, see, and the red flag's waving.. I want to pull the trigger.

Now the Brady Bunch ain't gonna like this...

I bought an air gun. Yup, bbs. Little plastic bbs. 400 feet per second. Into a little plastic target, where the little bbs stick. Okay, if you miss, you got little plastic bbs bouncing around the room like a Chucky Cheese Ball Room riot.  Hence the safety glasses. These bbs are much smaller than Chucky's and they travel a helluva lot faster.

This baby looks and feels like the real thing. It's licensed by Sig Sauer, and may even be manufactured by the same folks who produce the real thing.

But this one won't break glass... unless used as a club.

Cool, huh? Bought a $30 Tasco red-dot scope to go with it.
I consider... I saved myself about $1500. See, my gun's big brother was also on the rack. Heck, even the cops buy my toy, for training and practice. Real ammo and guns are expensive.

Now I can sit in my study, get pissed off at a metaphor, and fire a few rounds at the target on my bookshelf thirty feet away. The mags fire four hundred rounds, and you can buy a thousand bbs for about $6, or ten thousand for $12 at Wal-Mart. They even come in florescent colors, so you can shoot 'em at night. The target glows in the dark, too.

And mine's electric. I just recharge it. No CO2 cartridges required.

Ah.. there's that metaphor... Like shooting my troubles away.

Yeah... pretty poor. Maybe some more rounds...

Ah, hell. Who wants to write anyway...

NOTE : These guns are not recommended for families with kids. Trust me, they will shoot each other, and safety glasses are required. While these bbs are light, they will sting just a bit if someone is shot. Eyeballs are at risk. But the bbs are easy to pick up, suitable for vacuum or broom, and they're re-usable. But don't let grandma and her walker near you when you're shooting, or that new hip she's been wanting might be needed rather soon. And don't take this air gun out and about, like, say back to Wal-Mart. You might not make it far unless you were wearing Kevlar..

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring: a Time for New Beginnings

Spring is just around the corner, at least on the calendar. It's a time to start looking for new growth. A time for new beginnings. Today the sky is a solid blue, as unblemished as a newly-painted wall. The trees are still bare, except for an oak in the backyard that won't give up its leaves until the new buds are ready to pop out, but the sun beams down like the snow and ice of a few weeks ago are history.

If you're mired in the swamp of an unfinished manuscript, one that requires a new breath of life to get it over the hump, now is the time to get your brain stimulated for that final dash to the finish line. That's my situation.

I found a good resource to stir your creative juices. It's The Blog Cabin at Tim Hallinan's website. If you don't know Tim, and you should, he writes the popular Poke Rafferty mysteries set in Bangkok. He writes present tense stories as smooth as any I've seen.

The articles I'm referring to are in a weekly series running on Wednesdays which deal with the subject of Plotting vs. Pantsing. He has a different author each week tell about how he or she writes. They are quite illuminating and most go beyond the question of writing style to touch on other areas of the writing process. The series began back in January. The current offering is Number 7 by Leighton Gage.

Other authors who have contributed include Helen Simonson, Gar Anthony Haywood, Jeremy Dun, Rebecca Cantrell, Bill Crider, and Stephen Jay Schwartz. They offer lots of great ideas on writing. The comments on the articles are filled with much fodder for the creative mind.

Tim's website also contains some great advice on writing in a section titled "Finishing Your Novel." As he puts it, this section is for you if:

"You’ve started a novel but are having trouble finishing it, or
You want to start a novel but aren’t sure you’ll be able to finish it."

Tim's home on the web offers a great store of other writing advice as well. I highly recommmend spending a little time at the Hallinan website.

Now that I've received my springtime rejuvenation, I've gotta get back to writing. See you later.

Chester Campbell.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Inspired Not to Expire

I don't know about you, but I think we writers as a group sometimes get a little defensive about what we do. We may talk about how the markets are drying up, or the Muse not being with us, or about how the cards are stacked against a new writer because he is new and no one has heard of him or against a midlist writer because the publishers are not putting the big money into that writer's promotion. So often we look at how things are done and think, "How am I supposed to succeed as a writer when there are so many tens of thousands of other writers competing for the same few slots at publishing houses, or for shelf space at the Barnes & Noble?"

Like most writers, I am discouraged sometimes about writing, and feel as though I'm Sisyphus, pushing that big doggone rock up the eternal hill. For me, the discouragement often is caused by a lack of time, or maybe a lack of what we like to call inspiration but in reality is simply the ability to stick with it until a new way of saying something comes out of my head. And I get frustrated by the way the system works... or doesn't work... even though I am part of the system!

But I'd like to introduce you to someone who makes me ashamed of my excuses, who makes me realize that, no matter what annoyance or frustration I may be dealing with about my abilities as a writer, I can get over the hump. I'm not going to say a lot more about it. I don't need to. The video will say it much better than I ever could.

And if you ever think you can't, you're too tired to write, you don't feel like it, or you just aren't inspired to write at the moment.... Well, just watch this.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beginnings by Mark Troy

The perfect is the enemy of the good. This is especially true in story beginnings. I recently had a conversation with a writer working on her first novel who was getting nowhere. She had rewritten the first chapter over and over, never getting past it. That was her problem. She knew a strong beginning is important to a story, but she got herself stuck trying to make it perfect. She was never satisfied enough to move on, or, if she did try to move on, her efforts on the second chapter failed to produce the same level as her first.

Her problem had two causes. First, she failed to recognize that any story takes multiple drafts to assemble. Second, she didn't realize that, until the final draft, the primary function of the first chapter is to get the writer to the second chapter. It should be good, but not perfect.

A first chapter is like the icing on a cake. It should catch your attention and entice you to try it. When do you put the icing on the cake? At the beginning? No, you ice the cake when all else is done. The same goes for the first chapter of the story. You write that first chapter, the one that will hook the reader, last, when the rest of the story is done. A perfect first chapter will be a scene as close to the ending as possible. It will set a tone that will carry through the story. Until you have finished the story, you can't know where it will end or what the tone will be. Okay, you have some ideas about both, but you don't know enough to write the perfect beginning.

My friend's problem aside, what makes a good beginning?

Some years ago, Elmore Leonard famously put forth his ten rules for writing, one of which is, "Don't start with the weather." Leonard's rules, and particularly this one, have been the subject of heated discussion on writing groups ever since. Somebody, it seems is always ready to take exception. The pronouncements go like this: "There are no rules for writing.;" and "I'm a writer, nobody can tell me how to write;" and "Rules are made to be broken;" and "Why can't I start with the weather if I want to?" With the possible exception of the third one, all are correct. (Ask any rule maker if he makes them to be broken.) All of the arguments miss the point that these are not really rules anyway. If Leonard, instead of calling them rules, had called them "Some principles which have made me the most popular author since Will Shakespeare," there would be little controversy over them. If, instead of saying, "Don't do this," he had said, this is what works, he'd have a lot of adherents.

So what works? First, Stories are about characters. We read to learn about them. We don't read to learn about weather or scenery, so start with what's important; start with a character.

Second , we want to learn how the character changes, so start with the first change. Romance and confessions editors say to begin with the day that is different. The Hollywood maxim is begin with an arrival. Editors of pulp fiction say begin with a fight. No matter how you state it, the advice is to begin with change.

Third, you need to hook the reader with a strong image. What makes a strong image? Verbs.

Consider the opening of Ken Follett's The Key To Rebecca. "The last camel collapsed at noon."

Six words, but it creates a powerful image of a character in a fight for his life. Six words with one powerful verb--collapsed, one adjective--last, and no adverbs. Even though no character is named, we fear for him because he is out of camels, which means, in the desert, that he is out of luck. Another writer might have begun with the scenery, but not a master like Follett. We know where to find a camel. We don't need a description of the desert, because we have the image in our heads. Another writer might have begun with the weather, but not Follett. What else kills a camel in the desert, if not the weather? It's not until 350 words later, that Follett tells us how hot it is.

In summary, a good beginning has:
1. A character
2. Change
3. Active verbs.

Don't worry about making it perfect, just make it good enough to get you to the next chapter. Save perfection for the final draft. Oh, and don't start with the weather.

Mark Troy

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why I Write Mysteries

Everyone has different reasons for writing mysteries, but my interest probably began way back when I was a kid. At the time, my family subscribed to three newspapers, The L.A. Times, The Herald, and The Daily News. My mom was an avid reader and read them all--don't think my dad did anymore than glance at the front pages.

The Daily News resembled some of the lurid newspapers of today--all the scandalous doing made the front page. When Lana Turner's daughter killed her mom's boy friend, Johnny Stampanato, the news was filled with gruesome photos and graphic details. I read the all.

My sis and I had a Philco radio that picked up police calls. We were forbidden to listen to them but after we went to bed we listened anyway. The night the Black Dahlia was killed we heard the police after they made the horrifying discover of the cut-up body.

My fascination with real-life murders continued into my adult years. I never subscribed to three newspapers at once, but I always got the local newspaper and read it thoroughly just as my mother did. When we lived in Oxnard, the first murder that happened in years in Ventura county was a mother who paid someone to kill her daughter-in-law. The details intrigued me. Of course as the years passed, the murders increased.

It doesn't come as any surprise that my next fascination was for men in law enforcement who solved the cases. We had many of them living in our neighborhood and we partied with them, I visited with the wives, and our kids played together.

It wasn't too long before I decided I wanted to write a series about a small police department and the men and women who worked in it as well as their families--and of course each book would have to have at least one murder.

The book due to come out in the next few days is An Axe to Grind which has mainly the same cast of characters as the previous books in the series. Though I write each one as a stand-alone, there are things that progress for each character, like the on-going romance between Officer Stacey Wilbur and Detective Doug Milligan. The romance is not the most important aspect of the plot, but it is affected by what is going on.

The idea for the murder itself came from a gruesome slide of a decapitated corpse that a coroner once showed at a Sisters in Crime meeting several years ago. (The coroner spoke right before lunch and gleefully showed us lots of slides of gory murders and I think he thought he would make all of women sick. He was wrong.)

In real life, murderers sometimes get away with their crimes, or they aren't even discovered. One thing about writing a fiction story about murder, I'm in control, and you can be assured the murderer will always be found out.

I'm sure there are many other motivations behind my desire to make-up stories about murders and murderers and how they are found out, but looking back, I think those are the main ones.


Monday, March 1, 2010

There's Only One You by Morgan Mandel

You may have friends with similar tastes. You may live in a neighborhood with similar houses. You may look like other people, yet not quite. That's because there's only one you. You are a unique person, with your own background, family, and memories.

Remember that when you write. I'm not saying to cram all of your views into your manuscripts. What I am saying is to develop your own style. Sure, you can learn from other authors who have mastered the craft, but bottom line is it's your voice that needs to shine through.

No one can write like you do because they haven't experienced life exactly as you have. Become one with your characters. Enrich them with your own emotions taken from the joys, triumphs, sorrows and disappointments you're already lived through. The instances won't be the same, but the way you express your feelings will put the reader deep into your point of view.

One way of doing this is by including something that happened in your life, but put a different spin on it. I'm borrowing from one of my experiences in my work-in-progress called Forever Young. A while back, I was bitten on the face by what appeared to be a friendly dog. It was a horrid sight. Fortunately, a plastic surgeon repaired the area so well you wouldn't be able to tell where it happened. In my novel, it's a different story. The face of the person bitten can't be repaired. The result is his outward looks become a mirror of his grotesque thoughts.

So, give the reader what no one else can provide. Take advantage of the fact that there's only one you.

What other ways can think of to make a book unique? Have you included something in a book you'd like to share?