Sunday, March 29, 2009

Inspiration from Unusual Places

blog21 Most writers get one particular question a lot.  It’s one many of us dread hearing: “Where do you get your ideas from?”  The reason the question is so hard to answer is there’s no good answer for it.  Or, maybe, we worry we would sound a little crazy if we talked about the times  a turn of phrase or a particular word popped into our heads and we dashed from the shower to write it down (and the word/phrase initiated an entire dialogue or even plot.)

Writing is an odd thing.  Some days I feel like I’m just scouting for material as I do household errands, volunteer at my child’s school, and go to Brownie meetings.  Meeting interesting people is always good.  How do the shy, retiring types really behave?  What about the strident folks who mow you down with their personalities?  Even negative experiences and impossible people can be fodder for your book---are they the perfect murder victim?  Or maybe the murderer who gets his in the end? 

Drood: A NovelAnd many of us owe our writing styles (and to a certain degree, plot structures) to authors who have gone before us—Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Poe, Conan Doyle, and Chandler.  In fact, two authors recently took their inspiration not only from Charles Dickens’ style, but from his actual work—his unfinished "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" .  Dan Simmons even went as far as to invoke Wilkie Collins as Dickens’ friend in Simmons’ Drood

Friends and family can also provide inspiration.  After all, these are the people we know the best.  Sometimes their personalities, looks, and experiences creep into our writing.  And, of course, the encouragement they provide is a real inspiration.  They’re the ones who ask us how it’s going and help us stay on track with our goals. 

Interesting Blog Posts to Check Out:

Bookends on "What Can Authors Do to Sell Books?" 

Make Mine Mystery blog on "Putting Zip in Mysteries"

My Mystery Writing is Murder blog on Genre-Switching

Mysterious Matters blog on "Ten Characters to Put Out to Pasture"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Carolina Conspiracy welcomes author Camille Minichino to our blog!

How much time do you spend writing each week?
When I'm on a deadline, as now, it seems like 24/7! But I do stop for meals and The Mentalist, so it's probably more like 8 to 10 hours a day. I have a couple of day jobs, so sometimes those hours don't begin until ten at night. Sleep is overrated. I think the most important thing is to get it done (writing the book) not worry about writing on a schedule, or even writing every day. Sometimes rules like that stifle creativity. Often I'll go to the movies and meet someone for lunch during the day, and end up writing at two in the morning. Whatever gets the job done.

What is your favorite mode of death?
I love the old fashioned ways where someone is stabbed with an icicle and—oops—where's the murder weapon? But mine are much more conventional, like shootings and stabbings. Probably my most original was in The Beryllium Murder, where a man with allergies was killed by breathing in beryllium powder that had been dusted into his box of tissues.

Are you like your main character in any way?
I have two series, one with a scientist, like me, and the other with a miniaturist, like me. My plan is to have a series for each facet of my life. I guess a tech editor might be next, or a teacher. Or a canasta player. I think one of the hardest things is to keep point of view straight. When I'm writing Gerry Porter, in the miniature mysteries series, I have to remember that she is not a scientist and is very low tech, whereas Gloria Lamerino, of the periodic table mysteries, is at the other end, with a scientific world view. Gloria reads only science magazines, where as Gerry quotes Shakespeare. Gerry makes miniatures; so do I. I have a gallery of mini scenes I've made, at I love donating them as raffle prizes or to the silent auctions at conferences. Gloria lives in an apartment above a funeral parlor; I've made a miniature of the mortuary, which is also shown at the site.

Does cooking play any part in your book?
My husband tells me there's too much eating my books! Mostly desserts and cappuccinos. But now that you ask, there's not a lot of cooking. I don't know how the food gets to the table.

Why do you write mysteries?
They're the most satisfying, the most quickly. The structure is there for you: Come up with a crime and solve it. It's like being given a ready made cake and told to decorate it. I add my characters, setting, and plot, and all the leit motifs I want, but basically I know where I'm going. Well, most of the time.

Thanks for the chance to visit! If anyone would like to read sample chapters or see more info: or, which are linked.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The dreaded COPY EDIT

Besides query letters, there is nothing authors hate more than copy edits. These are the edits that come AFTER your editor has already had you do edits on the storyline and other things.

Sometimes, these can be a great help because another pair of watchful eyes catch things you missed that you wouldn't want to go out to the public.

Sometimes, not so much.

A copy editor can be blessing or a curse. If he or she doesn't 'get' the story, it can create a tug of war between what you want the story to say and what you DON'T want it to say. Those red pencil marks can create the devil with a nuance or an emotion, if the editor is on a different page.

We once had an editor who didn't get sarcasm. Since the story we were editing was heavily sarcastic, you can imagine the amount of red on every page. Explaining sarcasm to someone who doesn't get it is like explaining a blue sky to a dog.

Sometimes copy editors can be very school marmish, leaning toward perfect grammar in dialogue that makes it sound like your ten-year-old wrote it.

What can you do about it? Not much. Grin and bear it. Fight for the integrity of the story that will bear your name. You'll be the one who receives the letters and emails about it later. You have to work as part of a team with your editor, no matter how hard that is sometimes.

We are currently editing GHASTLY GLASS, the second book in the Renaissance Faire Mysteries. I'm not going to say whether this is a good edit or bad edit. It's just something you have to do if you want to get the book published with a traditional publisher.

If it gets to be too much for you, you can always go to a vanity press that will let you have it 'your way'. I've known a lot of authors who have done this rather than deal with the problem.

It's always your choice.

Back to the copy edits!

Joyce Lavene
Come see me on Face Book!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Escape With a Mystery


It's hard to get away from the bad news these days.  I've actually cut back on my  avid news-watching habit to avoid the negativity.  I still hear about the bad economy everywhere--from parents at my children's schools, from strangers at the grocery store, and splashed across the pages of the newspaper (which I absolutely can't cut back on reading.  My little 5:00 A.M. ritual of coffee and the paper must be observed.)

There is, however, one great way to escape for those of us who can't just hop on a plane and hightail it to exotic places.  Through books. 

Mysteries are an especially gratifying escape.  Where else can you experience heart-pounding danger from the safety of your living room?  Feel terror as you sip your coffee? 

Cozy mysteries, in particular, draw me in.  An idyllic town.  The introduction of a wicked element.  The final resolution and peaceful reinstatement of tranquillity in the happy village.  Bliss! 

What I'm Reading:  Pig Island.  So far, it's really drawing me in.  A cult on an island?  Secrets?  I'm in!

Best Recent Blogs:

Mysterious Matters blog delves into the wonderful world of mystery sub-genres.

Write to Done blog on getting inspiration from your everyday life (how I accomplish most of my writing)

Blood-Red Pencil blog on big publishers vs. small publishers.

Moonrat on acknowledgment pages.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Carolina Conspiracy welcomes guest blogger Neil Plakcy

The Mahu Frittata

I have a Google alert set to let me know whenever my last name appears on the web. Since it’s a pretty distinctive name, shared only by an uncle and a handful of cousins, almost every alert I receive is about me, though I did learn when cousin Larry made a donation to a political cause in his hometown.
Not so the Google alert I set up for the word mahu. Since it appears in the titles of each of my books, I thought this was a clever way to catch any mention of the books that didn’t happen to include my name, or that somehow misspelled that name.
Instead, what I’ve learned is that this word, which I first heard as a negative epithet for ‘gay’ in the Hawaiian language, means so much more.
In most dialects of the Maori language, it means ‘gentle,’ and it’s the name of a natural skin care product for pregnant women in New Zealand. It’s a last name in Malaysia as well as in Canada; a girl named Kaitlyn Mahu plays basketball and always seems to be winning awards. Mahu was the chief of police of the pharaoh Aketaten, and his tomb can be found among the South Tombs at El-Amarna. He is shown “worshipping the Aten with a text of the 'Hymn to the Aten' in front of him.”
Since I still consider ‘mahu’ to mean a gay man, I thought it was pretty funny to find an online recipe for a Philippine treat called the mahu frittata—and no, it’s not a gay guy covered in egg and baked.
Apparently, there’s a Chinese delicacy in the Philippines called mahu, which means shredded dried crispy pork or chicken. The recipe included: “Mahu is delicious when eaten alone or as toppings for rice porridge. Kids love it when sprinkled on arroz caldo. Mahu is available at Chinese groceries and food shops in Chinatown.”
So there you have it. Not just a mystery novel, but a delightful, tasty treat!

Author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire, and Mahu Vice (August, 2009), mystery novels set in Hawaii.
Nominated for the 2009 Left Coast Crime/Hawaii Five-O Award (best police procedural)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salvia lands on the front page

It’s not often I get to deal with a controversial subject about plants. But I couldn’t help noticing that N.C. Sen. Bill Purcell has introduced a bill to add salvia divinorum to the Schedule I statute for drugs in this state. Schedule I is reserved for the worst of all the drugs like heroine, methamphetamine and cocaine. Marijuana is only rated as a Schedule VI. Obviously this would mean no one could grow salvia divinorum or face criminal prosecution.

How did this come about? It seems that YouTube may be to blame. There were several videos posted of college kids smoking the herb and doing a variety of stupid things. Sen. Purcell likened the use of salvia to the beginning of marijuana use and wants to stop it before it starts.

According to a New York Times article written in September about salvia use, there are no studies suggesting that salvia is addictive or its users prone to overdose. Pharmacologists have been working with the herb because they believe it could open new frontiers in medical use. Like all herbs, salvia has been used medicinally for centuries.

Gardeners have grown various types of salvia as long as there have been gardeners. Pliny the Elder wrote about the plants in ancient Greece. That was a long time ago. Salvia is a genus of plants in the mint family which includes common sage. The ornamental species are commonly referred to as salvia. There are an additional 900 species of perrennials and annuals.

Salvia divinorum is commonly refered to as Mexican mint. It is native to Oaxaca, Mexico. Mostly what we grow in our gardens is Salvia officinalis or common sage, with a Mediterranean heritage. They both have woody blue-green stems and purple-blue flowers. Officinalis has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries as well. It just hasn’t had the bad press that its cousin has had recently.

But many herbs could be considered dangerous if used incorrectly, like many other substances. We all know that SuperGlue is bad if you inhale it but it hasn’t been taken off the shelves. People have used draincleaner to kill themselves and others but it is still available.

Ephedra was banned in the U.S. because FIVE (5) people died while taking it. By comparison, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other over-the-counter and prescription painkillers and fever reducers, cause approximately 56,000 injuries, 25,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths every year. Medical professionals have concluded that long-term use, or large doses of the drug can damage the liver, leading to liver failure or death.

Hmm . . .

Is there some difference between chemicals that kill people in this country and herbs that kill people?

Apparently so.

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Snow Days

What do you do when there is 6” of snow on the ground, your car is covered and you couldn’t get out of the parking lot if it wasn’t?

The first thing – I slept late. It felt good to loll in the bed and know nobody’s going to come to the door because they can’t get out of their house either. When I finally do get up, I spent time at the windows looking at the pristine scene outside and wonder if I should go out the glass doors. There is after all, a three foot icicle handing from the roof. I know it could be deadly if it hit me in the right spot. (Oh, good introduction to a mystery plot.)

After I had my fill of looking, I made coffee and wondered why I didn’t pick up something easy for breakfast when I was fighting the crowd for milk and cat food the night before. Ah, there’s a slice of raisin bread left. Toast it and smear it with some peanut butter and I’ll have a nursing meal. Close enough to one anyway.

With a cup of coffee and my toast I go to the computer – thank goodness the power didn’t go off – and check email. I have 52 messages. 32 of them are advertisements telling me how I can make a fortune on all these different websites, get 140 million dollars form a guy in Africa who only wants my bank info to send it to me, meet that special man or woman who will fulfill all my dreams and fantasies, or how to extend the warranty on my 10 year old car with 108,000 miles on it. But worst of all, I have two rejections from publishers and one from an agent. I suck up and read the funny, off color jokes my cousin in WV sent me.

It’s 11:00 AM and I’ve thought of a dozen places I need to go. The snow hasn’t budged because it’s 15 degrees out there. I’m scared to drive when it’s raining, not to mention ice and snow. So why not make snow cream?

I get a big pot and slip out under the huge icicle and fill it from the top of my heat pump. The cat runs when I drop a handful on his nose on the way back in. I made my snow cream, ate a bowl full, froze the rest for July and go back to the computer. I work for a while on my WIP but for some reason I can’t stay focused.

Now what? A friend sent me an invite to join Facebook. What is it and why haven’t I been on it? Okay, I’m on it now. Only took 6 and a half hours to get my photo to load. Picked up a few other friends and some relatives.

It’s 8:00 PM. I go heat a bowl of soup for supper. Back at the computer I delve into the writing. It’s flowing better now. At midnight I run out of steam. I look at my email again and see a new invite to meet that special person. I almost do it, but resist the temptation. Instead I go to bed before I do something out of character for me.

Snow days have always made me do crazy things.

How did your day go?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Carolina Conspiracy Guest blogger is Clea Simon!

Hi Joyce,
Thanks for having me on your blog! I'm very excited to introduce readers to my latest (April) Theda Krakow mystery, "Probable Claws." My first Dulcie Schwartz mystery, "Shades of Grey," will be out this summer, too.
- Clea Simon

What made you write for the first time?
I honestly cannot remember a time when I didn't write! I still have (thanks to my mom's archiving) a story I made up when I was first learning to write, about a turtle (misspelled) that found its way back home after being lost. Of course, I got to illustrate that, too. I majored in English literature and language in college, and after interning at a university press and working on various school and college journals, I figured I'd go into journalism because it got people to write on deadline! Books were the obvious next step.

Why mystery?
I have always loved mysteries, from Encyclopedia Brown in elementary school, on to the present. But I think I doubted myself at first. I wrote several nonfiction books, because I knew how to research and how to present facts. But it wasn't until a local independent bookstore owner (Kate Mattes of Kate's Mystery Books) told me "You should write a mystery," that I started writing one. I think in some way she gave me permission to do what I'd always wanted to. I had a draft of my first mystery, "Mew is for Murder," about four months after she told me that.

Is your main character modeled after anyone?
I have two main characters now, Theda Krakow and Dulcie Schwartz, and they're both modelled after parts of myself. Theda is a freelance rock critic, as I once was, and lives for the community of the music scene. It's all young adults who gather at night, support each other, romance each other, and just try to figure out their lives. A lot of us had cats, too, so Theda was a natural! Of course, she's much tougher than I am, so she's got a bit of my old buddy Kris in her, too. Dulcie is much more of a bookworm, a little innocent and very sweet. She's a literature grad student, which I never was, but she's my bookish side. She lives for her stories, her close friends, and, of course, her cat. So when she stumbles across a crime - her roommate is murdered - it makes sense that she turns to her books for answers. Only, the books she loves are Gothic novels, so ghosts and various psychic messages get involved... particularly the ghost of her late, lamented cat, Mr. Grey!

When we read your books will we know the real you?
You'll learn about things I love and know sides of me, for sure!

How long does it take you to write a book?
I can draft a book in four or five months, but then it's best if I let it sit for at least a few weeks before revising. I always find that some of what I thought I'd written stayed in my head! Then I have to put that in, and then we're good to go!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dealing With Distractions

blog15 I was talking to my friend Friday about our children.  My son, a middle schooler, has his own cell phone and spends a good deal of time texting on it.  The other day he was tackling honors math homework, texting several different people, talking to me, and eating a bowl of ramen noodles. Naturally, I assumed he wasn't doing any of these things well, based on the fact that I would have failed abysmally at juggling all these different things. But...his ratios and percentages seemed correct (to my English major brain, anyway), the people he was texting seemed to think they were all having a solo conversation with him, his dialogue with me was perfectly coherent, and the food was rapidly disappearing.  Hmm.  My friend and I decided that the next generation is obviously wired differently. Maybe, since they cope with so many competing media, their short attention spans don't limit the quality of their output.

Writing, for me anyway, doesn't work that way.  I had an entire day of writing derailed last week by getting distracted.  I started out being focused on my current manuscript.  But then I got an email from the publicity person at Midnight Ink for the book, Pretty is as Pretty Dies, being released in August.  Since the email seemed to indicate a deadline for some information they needed from me, I followed that tangent.  But then I got a different email from my editor at Midnight Ink, asking me to review several corrections they had for the August release.  Well, that suddenly seemed more of a priority (gosh, don't want the book to have any errors.  Why even think about marketing a book that has errors?  Better put off the publicity info and do these corrections real quick.)

And then it was time for something completely different: my daughter's school needed me to go over and watch the class for an hour and a half for the teacher. So, of course, still thinking about corrections and marketing, I dash out the door.  I have brought nothing to entertain the second graders with--because, hey, my head is still at home even though my body is at the elementary school.

I hashed through where I went wrong on Thursday.  Obviously, I never should have read my emails.  I think that's actually the point where my train got derailed.  Volunteering at the school was already set, but I should have handled it differently---focused on my work in progress first (no emails), then given myself twenty minutes to get my head wrapped back around going to the school (and figuring out what I needed to bring, etc...a book or a word search would have helped me out).

The lesson I take from this is that I need to disconnect from media when I write. The time I spend on writing needs to be dedicated time. I'll have an assigned time to check emails that's later in the day.  Because I'm not a middle schooler anymore. 

Interesting blogs:

Blog Book Tours blog, which appears to be the Holy Grail for authors interested in blog tours.

Mysterious Matters blog has a great post on motives for murder.

Blood Red Pencil has several entries on Elaura Niles' new book Some Writers Deserve to Starve: 31 Brutal Truths about the Publishing Industry.