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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Presentations and the Like

At one of the library visits I did, another author came and wanted to see what I did because she had her first library presentation coming up.

This latest set of library visits, the attendance hasn't been all that great, though a few have shown up. One visit, it was one person--but it happened to be someone I hadn't seen for ages, so we had fun talking and yes, she bought books.

But here is what I do. First I find out why the people came--are they interested in writing or reading. If it's reading, I ask questions about what they like to read, and some questions about them, and maybe the town they live in.

It it's writing, I ask them what they are writing or want to write and let them ask me any questions they might have.

And of course, I tell about my books, often what gave me the idea to write them. The process has worked well for me.

Recently I did a presentation for a writing group about writing mysteries. Because a lot of the time was taken up by their meeting and another guest who had a lot to say about an upcoming conference, I cut what I was going to say about mysteries short. I'd given out a hand-out with lots of information so instead of going over it, we planned a mystery together.

I've done that several times for all ages and it's lot of fun. We decide upon who/what the following will be:

The detective/sleuth and sidekick.
Location
The victim--why this person might have been killed.
Murder weapon or method of murder
Suspects--and why they are suspects. (I like to have at least four)

The audience comes up with various ideas and then vote on them.

I certainly engaged everyone and I kept their attention.

Authors, what have you done for a presentation that worked really well?
Readers, what kind of a presentation have you really enjoyed?

Marilyn


Blurry photo, but you get the idea. Though you can't tell the room was pretty full.



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Raising the Stakes as a Writer

Make Mine Mystery




August  5, 2017
Linda Lee Kane
Raising the Stakes as a Writer
To keep readers turning pages, what do you do as a writer? I try to keep raising the characters’ stakes. This means every line must add tension and conflict to the story. 
So how does a writer build suspense while the story unfolds? The answer is in every line of the story. To ensure a tight, high-stakes scene, use the characters’ fears and weaknesses against him or her. In the Black Madonna I used Luci’s panic attacks which not only forced her to struggle, but also to face an inner and outer antagonist. Know the character’s story goal or problem, then I showed how difficult that quest is through r her weaknesses.
Here’s a few tips to help raise critical stakes.
Caught in the Crucible
Are the characters caught in the middle of a goal, either mentally or physically, in which both refuse to release the hold? The crucible is greater than the characters’ desires, and neither is willing to give it up.
Choices and Doubts
Think about yourself. Have you ever given up on a goal or decided the challenge wasn’t worth the trouble? Considered quitting? Given up for a while? I know I have. I want my characters to mirror my emotions, and I want them to overcome their fears to succeed.
Consider the choices confronting your character. Have her choose between two rights. Which one? Why? Are you still looking for more conflict? Force your character to choose between two wrongs. Imagine the guilt, the responsibility, the consequences, and the circumstances surrounding her dilemma. Make her life messy, with the story line and characters believable, but bigger than life.
Chapter hooks are as vital to the story as the hook in the beginning. End each scene with high stakes, an outer or inner struggle that spins with emotion. You’ll keep the reader up all night turning page after page to discover what happens next.



Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Importance of Having a Life Beyond Writing

The first Tuesday of August snuck up on me, so quickly I'm going to write about what came to mind.

Though being a writer can take over your life what with all the plotting, writing, getting published and the promotion that must follow, it also important that you take time for yourself.

The most important reason is to keep you refreshed. You should do things on a regular basis that you enjoy. For me, it's spending time with family and friends, taking in a movie in a theater now and then, going on short vacations, and reading. It really doesn't matter what you do, just that whatever it is is something you like.

Another big reason to have a life beyond writing, is to experience new things, to meet new people, all of this can bring a freshness to your writing. Being with others and listening to their stories can give you ideas for new plots.

This happened to me while out to breakfast with friends, weekly occurrence.. The husband and wife have had various jobs and have told us about many of their experiences along the way. One of these tales gave me the idea for my coming Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, A Cold Murder.

Once I began writing the story, at the next breakfast and a couple more, I asked lots of questions. No, the story is not exactly what they told me about, no one was murdered, but they related enough interesting facts and details to help move the fictional story along.

A Cold Murder will make it's appearance sometime this month.

What do you enjoy doing that refreshes your body and mind?

Marilyn




One of my favorite places to visit--Morro Bay--and it gave me lots of ideas for another Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Not as it Seems.

Monday, July 31, 2017

OPERATING A SMALL BUSINESS

Writing is a profession, a business as much as an art. If I'd known that back in 1985 when I wrote and sold my first essay about the Ozarks I might not be a writer today. I didn't know I was starting a business.

Through what I call practice and process, a successful author creates, not just an artistic product, but a saleable one, made to fit a market. During our "set-up" phase we practice writing, over and over. We look at our product and process it, not just with a creative mind, but with analytical intelligence and reason. We answer the question, "What does this product offer the reading public? Is it of value?"

If our answer is "Yes," than it's time to sell ourselves as well as our product. And that's the hard part--not back-breaking work, but sometimes heart-breaking, because it can take a long time to get noticed as a writer. There are thousands of people out there who write well and want to sell their writing, or at least share it publicly. Many are choosing to publish their own work. No matter how written work is shared, it's still a business, and a business requires detailed record-keeping.

Work schedule, financial arrangements, a record of business-related travel or study, product stocking, and, of course, income, including payment for talks or teaching as well as personal book sales. The IRS will ask for these records if you are ever audited. Know how to print invoices and know the cost of  postage and packing materials if you mail or ship books. Your publisher may help you with  record-keeping, but it's a good idea to have some knowledge of all that's happening in your business.

And don't forget the Internet. A web site to maintain, time spent writing blogs and keeping up with social networks. (How much do you make an hour?  :-)  )    

I'm sure seasoned authors already know all this, and that beginners are getting the picture. Reading words you have put in an order that pleases you, and seeing the wonderful ideas they express is a glorious thing and a wonder. Just remember, though being a creative artist is primary, you are also running a small business.  Today these two facets of a writer's life go hand-in-hand.

Radine, at www.RadinesBooks.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Public Safety Writers Association Conference Short Report

What an amazing time!

It began with a pre-conference workshop. I gave a presentation on the Importance of Setting. Mike Black talked about other aspects of writing and Mar Preston had some other great insights. However, right away, Mike--the promotion chair and retired detective--had a problem to solve. One of the attendees had her wallet stolen before she checked into the hotel--but didn't discover it until after lunch. Mike spent a lot of time with her at security etc.--one credit card was used--but the next day the wallet was found. Good thing because, she'd flown to the conference--though all of us learned that if a police report is made, that will get you on an airplane.

Though the conference always has panels on writing, there are many on things like: Weapons, Fights, and Consequences, Wounds, Pure and Not so Simple, Team Building, Special Ops and Sting Operations, Investigations 101, Gunplay, Properly Portraying the Essentials of a Shooting.

The panelist were all experts: law enforcement etc.  The last panel had an actual replay of a 911 call, the dispatcher and the officer who responded to the call--a man with a gun. The officer was there and explained everything, he did a magnificent job.

Besides all that we had three featured speakers:

Ron Corbin who discussed Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design/

Jory Rosen who stepped in for his mother, Marcia Rosen, on the topic Marketing your Books--and everyone received a workbook.

Mar Preston spoke about Writing and Editing your Mystery.

Jory Rosen returned to give an amazing presentation on Pitching Your Book to Hollywood. A totally different approach from any I've heard before.

This is a small conference, only one track, and there is ample opportunity to get acquainted with the attendees.

This is my absolutely favorite conference and far more affordable then most.

Marilyn


While I was there, good friend Barbara Hodges took this photo of me and as you can see, I'm not longer dying my hair.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Writing Without a Day Job -- Unemployed or Retired?




by Linda Thorne

Although I hope to be able to call myself a career author someday, right now I don’t make enough money or publish enough books to do so. This past May I published a post here about losing my 9-year job in human resources. I’d been especially busy at that job for the previous six months and was at my wits end because I could not get any time in for writing—zero, none, nada. I was lucky to do a minimum amount of promotion and I had literally stopped attending all author events and group meetings.

My writing life had come to a halt and a big part of me kept thinking maybe I could let the job go and see how I fared. Then I stretched my daydream of quitting into maybe in 6 months, which would turn into maybe in a year, and then I’d add another year and say to myself I could make it for at least two more. It became apparent I’d never let it go and I saw no end to the increasing workload with new owners and restructuring. I didn't get to make that choice and therefore the reason I titled my post, Be Careful What You Wish For.

That May post brought in a number of comments from others who had gone through similar situations trying to write while working a day job and/or having their jobs eliminated. Their experiences ran the gamut from saying their lay-offs were absolute blessings to admitting they didn’t get much more writing done while off work than they did when working full-time. Some people talked about the pluses of not working; i.e., less time constraints and fewer expenses on things like gas for the car and business clothes.

In one of my replies to comments made on that May MMM post, I said I’d get back to everyone on how this pans out for me as time goes by. It’s been three months since I lost my job and here are some things I learned. Yes, I’ve been able to do more writing, but I’m not as disciplined as I hoped to be. When the job was an eight to fiver with a true one-hour lunch break, I got almost as much done writing as I do now with no day job. It was only in the final six months that the work demands became so extreme to stop my writing life. So it was not having a job that held back the writing, it was the increased amount of time it took me to do the job.

I’ve decided I don't want to be retired, but temporarily unemployed instead. I'm looking forward to getting back to my profession in human resources where I have a regimen, deadlines, and a paycheck.

Our dogs would like to see me back at work too. They’re not happy when I feed them later in the mornings and they let me know it. Notice I’m not in the chair in the sitting room below?

That’s because our fur friends don’t want me to use it in the daytime hours. I used to sit in there in the evenings and read instead of watching TV. If I go in there before five o’clock they whine to my husband making the darndest fuss. Somehow over the years they’ve gotten the notion it’s their room during the day whether they're in it or not. I can still use it at night, but daytimeoff limits to everyone but them.   

So I’m past the decision stage and hoping to get back to a regular job. If I get one, I’ll continue to work at writing in my spare time and will likely get as much accomplished as I do now. I hope you'll all wish me luck. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Publicity and Privacy - How Much is Too Much?

by Janis Patterson

The hardest thing about blogging regularly is coming up with an idea for a post. After the basic premise is secure, writing the post is a breeze – and usually takes no more than half the time. But coming up with that idea…

I’ve blogged about technique until I feel I should hand the most faithful of my readers a degree of some sort and about my personal life until, being a very private person, I feel half naked. Besides, I really don’t think that people are or even should be interested in the cute things my animals do or the new curtains I’m putting in the guest room, what I’m cooking for supper that night or my political/religious beliefs. While such things affect my writing, they should not affect my books, and my books are the connection with readers – not my supper plans or curtain colors.

I truly do not understand the need some readers feel to know the minutiae of a writer’s personal life. While I admit to a vague curiosity about if my favorites are married, and in what part of the country they live, and the most general of information, none of it is necessary to my enjoyment of their books – or really any of my business. Their books are the connection between us – not the color of their drapes or dinner plans, to continue my rather tired example.

I find, though, that I am in the minority. Far too many readers today feel entitled to know the daily details of a writer’s life, as if they were next door neighbors or long time friends and the only reason they aren’t welcome to come over every morning for coffee is distance. As writers we are encouraged if not demanded to befriend our readers, interact with them, share with them and no one ever seems to realize that the more time we spend befriending and interacting and sharing with them is time we are not spending writing the next book. Ah, but, says the entitled reader, that’s for everyone else – not for them.

So is it the books they like, or being ‘intimate’ with a writer? I’m afraid it’s what we in the talent industry (I used to work in an actors’ agency) the ‘stardust factor’ – the belief that by being close to someone even semi-famous some of their fame and glamour sprinkles down on them. (I can hear all you writers chortling at the concept of writing being glamorous!) Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone – I have made several dear friends who began as fans, but in every case it is an organic relationship that grew naturally and not something deliberately sought.


Maybe my insistence on a certain level of privacy and distaste of feigning a relationship that doesn’t really exist is why I’m not as popular as I think I should be. Or perhaps it’s just that I was raised with the belief that putting oneself forward constantly saying “look at me look at me” is vulgar. Either way, so be it. If my animals and curtain colors and dinner plans are more important to readers than my books I pity them.