Friday, July 19, 2019

Writing to Word Count

by Linda Thorne

If you’re an author who has ever entered a writing contest, you’ve been subjected to word count requirements. Submissions to agents and publishers normally have maximum word counts too, except sometimes the limit may be a number of chapters in a book rather than actual words.

It’s amazing how the number of our words can significantly be reduced without changing a story. I’ve managed to cut a 3500-word short story down to 1000 while keeping the story intact.

My debut novel, Just Another Termination, started off with a 120,000-word first draft. It was awful. I eliminated a couple of non-essential characters and their roles, but still more fat to trim. I’d fallen victim to the mistaken idea that readers need to know everything. For example, I wrote over four pages that described the different stages my protagonist’s husband went through to move from LA to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to take a better job. He left my protagonist behind to sell their Los Angeles home, moved into a hotel near his new job, and then bought a home in Mississippi and moved into it. This all happened prior to my lead character joining him. Too much information.

I took these four pages of information dump and turned it into a two-sentence summary blurb. That and another 40 words sprinkled into other sections of the book was all that needed to be said on this subject. I had several other places where I could scratch 90% of the descriptions I’d written.

Here are some other things I did to reduce word count and tighten my book: 

I dropped one of my subplots. I had to many in the first draft of my debut novel, Just Another Termination. In my second book yet to be published, A Promotion to Die For, I  think I’m right-on with the number of subplots.
I got rid of a few characters. I had to eliminate a couple of characters in Just Another Termination and hated it. I’ve already eliminated two characters in my current work-in-progress, A Promotion to Die For.

I’ve heard to watch the words used on backstory in the beginning. Cut them down and trickle the information throughout the book. This is more difficult with my current WIP, A Promotion to Die For because my inciting incident happened thirty years earlier but is pressing into the current time frame of the book. Sometimes authors must ignore the naysayers when their book doesn’t fit into the “rules.” Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Susan Isaacs wrote a book called, Lily White, where one chapter was in present time and the next in the past. To help differentiate, chapters in the present were written in regular font, where those in backstory were in italics. This went on with present/past chapters alternating until past and present met in time at the end of the book. Even though the author broke some (lots) of the “rules,” it seemed to work perfectly for this novel. I really enjoyed Lily White.

In A Promotion to Die For, I only have a few chapters that are written in back story, but I did need some full chapters to bring in the the inciting incident from three decades ago.

When my debut novel was finally published, it was closer to 80,000 words. I’m trying for the next one in the series to be about the same. Eighty thousand words is my general comfort level for mystery novels.

Amazon Buy Link

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Problems of Color and Choice

by Janis Patterson

Where have all the colors gone? We're rapidly entering a sad and monochromatic world.

Maybe I had better back up and tell you what is behind this melancholy rant. You see, I have a pink bathroom. An ALL-pink bathroom, and as things will when they grow old our toilet (pink, to match the sink, the bathtub and the wall tiles) broke. Well, what can you do but buy a new one?

Except that no one makes pink (or any real color) toilets any more. We went to big box DIY stores, specialty plumbing houses, commercial plumbing suppliers, even contacted manufacturers. Most of them didn't laugh at us, but it made no difference - there is no such thing as a commercially available pink toilet. We were told by a manufacturer that we could order a specially made pink toilet - at a price that was a little better than tearing out the bathroom to the studs and starting over... but not by much.

What makes me angry is that there is so little choice. At all the outlets we found at least three shades of white, between four and seven variations of beige (called 'Biscuit') and a rather creepy solid, shiny black. And nothing else.

So we chose white. It looks really weird in our pink bathroom, but I hope to ameliorate the effect by painting flowers to match our shower curtain on the tank. Desperate measures, I know, but the whole situation is as depressing as when colored toilet tissue disappeared. When we heard on the news about this obscenity, my dad went out to at least six stores and bought every package of pink toilet tissue they had. His daughter liked pink, so she should have pink! Of course, as that was many decades in the past the supply ran out long ago, but alternating with white softened the impact of having no choice except white. (Biscuit - no way; black - ick!) I still resent the freedom of choice being taken from me.

In other areas of our lives freedom of choice is being slowly but definitely eroded. Look at cars; the vast majority are white/silver and black. Every so often there is a red and less often than that a blue - in new cars; customer-painted aftermarket is a different thing. It's boring, but thankfully in cars - at least for now - you can buy your way into individuality - sort of. The Husband's car is a 2011; mine is a 2013. His is brilliant red, mine a pale liquid blue. We had to pay $500 each (a small percentage of the total cost and would probably be more now) to get something that was not black, white or silver but at least we had the choice - however costly - of getting a color.

So what does this have to do with mystery writing? Ten-fifteen years ago when the big publishers controlled what was published, one by one lines tightened (or disappeared) and the choices of type of book decreased accordingly. This holds true for all genres, too - mystery, romance, science fiction, women's fiction, whatever.

Then the self-publishing revolution began and suddenly writers could write what they wanted to write and readers could read what they wanted to read, all without the oversight (or interference) of the New York publishing types. Now this does mean there is a ginormous amount of absolute rubbish being published almost daily, but it also guarantees that every reader can find the precise sub-set of book they want to read. It puts the freedom of choice back into the hands of the writers and the readers, proving that there is hope for the survival if not resurrection of personal choice.

Unfortunately for those of us who have colored bathrooms or hate white/silver/black cars, I doubt that there will ever be a situation where people can design/color their own bathroom fittings or choose whatever color of car they want to order... but that's by no means a guarantee. Twenty-five years ago who would have even imagined the scope and reach of self-publishing? Who knows what's going to happen regarding the available colors of bathroom furnishings or new car colors?

Whatever it is, it will probably be far too late for me to have my pink toilet, drat it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Make Mine Mystery

July 5, 2019

Research for 'Death on the Vine' not a bad 
place to delve into your writing.

by L Lee Kane


If you’re writing what you know or pursuing a different passion, research is a critical tool for developing the world of your novel. What you learn during your in-depth study allows you to engage your reader in your setting. It will help you in developing your characters, the novel’s moral gray area, and even the fundamental conflict of your story.
For those with new topics, the preliminary stage of research is generally exploratory and involves reading anything that interests you. As you delve deeper, you will find your research becoming more focused. You will begin asking questions about particular locations, histories, or scenarios that involve your subject matter.
At some point in your research will be necessary to reach out to others. Discuss information with an expert their expertise about their interests which can offer perspectives that you will not find in books. Their enthusiasm and authenticity about the subject will come through in your writing. It could also give you an idea for characters in your novel. Please do not expect that a specialist will train you about their work. Make sure you have done research first and prepared thoughtful questions for your interview subject. It shows respect for their time and allows you to go deeper with them. You might meet some fascinating people.
If possible, visit locations that interest you. I wrote a book about the Central Valley in California. I drove up to Oakhurst and without any recording devices, pen, or paper I allowed myself to absorb the space and to feel what it’s like being there. Take mental notes of the things that strike you the most. The next day I went back for a second visit with my notebook and camera to collect as much information as possible so I could refer back to it.

Time to Plan Another Mystery

One thing I can say honestly, is I'm never bored.

I just sent off my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery to the publisher so now it's time to plan another Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. At this point, I only have a few fuzzy ideas buzzing around in my head. I want to do something in the mountains, but not sure exactly what or how.

And at the same time, I need to be thinking about promotion for the other book.

Of course I have plenty on my calendar as far as book promotion is concerned.

In fact, when this post comes out I'll be on my way to San Luis Obispo where I'm going to give a presentation to the Night Writers about Writing and Sustaining a Mystery Series.

The following week, along with my husband and daughter, I'm headed to Las Vegas for the Public Safety Writers Association's conference. I'll be teaching at the before conference workshop, and I'm on two panels, and moderating another, so it'll be a busy time. Plus, the best part is seeing old friends.

Our annual family reunion always in August had to be canceled, so instead two of my daughters, their husbands, hubby and I are returning to Tehachapi for a mini vacation and see things we missed on previous trips. Tehachapi is the setting for Spirit Wind. 

So far in September I have nothing planned, October is the big Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca.

I  know other opportunities will arise, but any time without plans is writing time.

What plans do you have for this summer?


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Signing at the Tehachapi Museum was Wonderful!

Truly, when my daughter, Lisa, and I began our drive up the highway into the mountains toward Tehachapi, I had no idea who the day would turn out. I brought lots of copies of Spirit World and some of the other books in the series.

Though Spirit World is set in Tehachapi, I wasn't sure if anyone in the area would be interested in a fictional mystery.

We arrived early and Lisa spotted a rummage sale and visited that. We located the library, then went to the most wonderful bakery for lunch.

We headed to the library and I wasn't optimistic because there wasn't many place to park. Inside we were greeted by the gracious woman who had invited me. She pointed out they had lemonade and cookies set up, and led me to a back room where a table, chair, and two benches were. I arranged my books, but really didn't expect to do much more than sit there for two hours.

The room we were in was filled with displays of the Kawiiasu Indians who are mentioned in my book. So I spent a few minutes perusing the baskets and photographs.

The famous Tehachapi Loop
Then the first person arrived a woman from the library who'd already bought the book for the library and read it. She purchased another for herself.

From then on, people began arriving at nice intervals, one at a time, or in pairs. Everyone sat down and visited with me, some giving a history of why they'd moved to Tehachapi, or something interesting about themselves, and they asked a lot of questions.

Everyone who came in bought a book, some two or more. The  museum purchased five.

It was a fun and rewarding day.

From this, my advice to authors is look for unusual places to have a signing, especially if no book stores are in your area. I've had a successful signing in a handmade chocolate store, and next up, I'm headed to a coffee shop.


Friday, June 21, 2019

The Red Herring of the Mystery Genre

 by Linda Thorne

One of the critical but perhaps the most entertaining part of any mystery is the continual misdirection of the reader. That ploy ensures a satisfying surprise at the end. To prevent premature exposure to who done it, writers often use a literary tool called a red herring, which leads the reader astray in two ways. One way presents false, distorted, or ambiguous information. The other distracts from the subject at hand either by changing to a new topic or allowing a new event to disrupt the current scene.

After teasing readers with clues of the mystery's true ending, a skilled writer often throws in a red herring to pull his audience away temporarily. This planned postponement adds deeper layers to the the plot and weaves in more doubts about previous suspects. However, the writer intends to reintroduce the same subject matter during the climax. At that point, the reader will likely remember many, if not all earlier hints, clues, diversions, and distractions, which can help him say, “Of course, I should’ve known that!”

Admittedly, in my first book I had almost too many red herrings and too many innocent characters for the reader to suspect. I started to remove one of the planted questionable characters, but decided in the end to keep them all because I did have logical reasons to to explain their innocence that would eliminate each as a suspect. Yet in revising my second book, A Promotion to Die For, I have found a shortage of innocent characters that look guilty. I have also found too few diversions and distractions. So, with book one, the red herrings came easily, but book two will take some work.

I’ve always wondered why this literary technique of trickery appropriated the name of a fish, a herring no less. More research revealed a long history of red herrings being dragged over ground to create scent trails to train dogs, and possibly horses. Apparently, red herring, a very smelly fish when dead, proved useful for distracting ardent searchers. One theory going all the way back to the 1600s included fugitives using red herrings to cover their own scent, thus, throwing off bloodhounds that were chasing them.

The turning point that popularized the name as an extended metaphor came to fruition in the early 1800s. An English journalist named William Cobbett wrote a story that told how he, as a boy, had used a red herring to mislead hounds that were following a rabbit. Though a fictional story, Cobbett used it to criticize what he believed was a naive press that fell for false information about a defeat of Napoleon. Supposedly, Corbett’s criticism caused the repeated republishing of versions of this tale for many years.

I think as writers, we may all appreciate how red herrings serve in the mystery genre. But, if you didn’t know the back story on how this term evolved, you now know as much as I do.

Amazon Link

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Do You Ever Scare Yourself?

by Janis Patterson

Not too long ago a writer friend posted that she was having trouble figuring out how to poison a character. Nothing seemed to work, either through symptoms (she wanted the character to live), or availability, or treatment.

A bunch of us replied, trying to help find a substance that would fit her story's parameters. I contributed, reeling off a list of reasonably available poisons as well as their symptoms and antidotes. From memory.

I was sort of shocked. Yes, I've known for years that there is a lot of really weird knowledge tucked here and there in the messy storage of my brain, but for the first time it really hit me that I really do know this stuff to a frightening degree. Of course, anyone could look it up either at the library or on the internet, but to be able to rattle it all off from memory... it shook me.

Now I'm really rather a good person. I don't kick puppies, kittens or children (with one notable exception, but the animal torturing little brat totally deserved it!) ; I obey the law and take my fair turn at a 4 way stop sign; I recycle and give to charity. But I also know how to eliminate scores of people without even thinking hard. What on earth is St. Peter going to say - assuming, of course, that I get that far.

Which brings up another question: going on the assumption that I never commit a criminal act with my rather esoteric knowledge, what if someone reads my book and uses it as a blueprint to commit a crime? A real one? Does that make me some sort of accessory before the fact? While the idea is admittedly a stretching of probability, even if I were innocent in the eyes of the court, I don't think I would be innocent in the eyes of my own honor. Yes, the murderer could have just gone to the library or internet to do his research, but why should he do so much work when I've laid it all out predigested for him?

I can hear some of you scoffing now, saying I'm too sensitive and other, probably more unattractive epithets, but this is my mind and heart and sense of ethics we're talking about. However, I love writing mysteries and have no intention of giving it up.

So, I take refuge in following the footsteps of some of my betters and cheat. I use exotic poisons and poisons you can find in your kitchen cabinet now. I describe the symptoms and the dosages... but not all of the process. I always leave a little something out. People will always kill other people, but not with my help. If they want to poison someone, let them do the work on finding out. Leave me out of it. I'm just a storyteller.