Sunday, March 28, 2010

Skiers and writers by Kathleen Delaney

Like just about every one else in the world, I watched the Olympic. The figure skating is my favorite, probably because, in the past, my oldest daughter was a competitive skater, went on to skate with Ice Capades when it was a popular show, then later became a skating school director for them. My appreciation for what those skaters do is immense, and made even more so by my little bit of knowledge of what they have to go through to achieve those dizzying heights of perfection.

That doesn’t take away any of my awe of what people in other sports achieve. For instance, I have just enough experience with skiing to know that the bunny hill is terrifying. The thought of going full tilt down those hills, either straight or weaving in and out of poles you can barely see, makes me slightly faint. And the bobsled/luge people! And—we could go on and on. They are all slightly nuts but just about the bravest and most skilled nuts I’ve ever seen.

There was a lot of commentary along those lines, but I was struck by one phrase in particular that came up often as we watched the skiers zoom down the hillsides. The commentators kept talking about “letting the skis run.” That phrase struck a cord.
So hold on, here’s where the writing analogy comes in.

Letting the skis run seems to be a sort of controlled form of pointing them downhill and hoping you stay upright until you get to the bottom.

Writing characters is a little like that. You start out with a character that seems integral to the vague idea you have for a story, and you start to build them. What is this person like? How do they look, walk, what do they sound like? What do they do for a living, why do they do that? Are they happy? Why not? Are they old? Young? Married? Dating? Athletic? A couch potato? Shy? Social? Mean? If so, does that make them evil? Or just mean? Or are they nice? Really nice, not just to impress people. What do they like to eat? And where do they like to eat it? Do they like horse racing? Or NASCAR?

Pretty soon we have a person we think we know. We may like them a lot, or not at all, but we think we know them, and we’d better. The action in our story is going to spring out of those characters, who they are and what they do in any given situation. Remember, no two people will ever act, or react, the same under the same circumstances, What will drive one person to murder may not phase another much at all. What will make one person courageous under stress may make another run for cover.

Stories are about conflict. They wouldn’t be very interesting if they weren’t. Only, sometimes, we don’t let our characters reach their full potential. We hold them back. We throw all kinds of stressful situations at them, murder, mayhem, danger of all sorts, yet we don’t let them react. There they are, little cardboard figures, going through the motions, but without the emotions so essential to telling the story.

So, when you are writing that next tense scene, let your heroine struggle to be brave. She really should be afraid to go down those cellar steps alone, so lets make sure she has a darn good reason to go, one that overrides her very justified reason to stay safely at the top. Lets see that struggle, let’s feel it. We also need to feel the reason the murderer did what he/she did, Maybe he/she is filled with rage at an injustice, perceived or real. Maybe the destructive effect of greed, or pride (remember pride goeth before a fall?) is the motive for murder, or perhaps the fear that for some reason they have boxed themselves into a corner and the only way out is murder.

Whoever they are, and whatever the motivation for their action, let your character sit on top of that hill. Let them take a deep breath, ready to take off and fly to the bottom of the hill, or the end of the story, with a heart stopping run. Go with them. Let those skis run. You’ll have a much better story, and you’ll have a lot more fun, too. So will the reader.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paper Management—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Le Stiratrici--Carlo Cressini-1864-1938 Y’all have caught me at a bad time—I’m really feeling the need to do some spring cleaning (it’s very springy here now in North Carolina), but I’m smack dab up against a huge deadline. Actually, make that 2 deadlines.

So I have cleaning on the brain. :)

There are certain kinds of messes that drive me crazy. If the laundry or the dishes aren’t done, I’m not going to be able to focus on anything until I’ve started a load.

Paper? It can wait a little while. But when it becomes a smallish stack, it starts bothering me, too. Plus I won’t remember to take action on whatever is on the paper if I’ve got it covered up with something else.

So this, for what it’s worth, is my method for dealing with paper:

Act on paper as soon as it comes into the house: RSVP, write the date on the calendar, pay the bill, write the check for the school yearbook, etc.

Write down all the information off the paper onto the calendar or another central location and then throw the piece of paper away.

Open the mail over the recycling bin.

My reminders go in at least one place—sometimes two. I’ve been known to lose my day planner. :)

My writing papers are gathered up at the end of each day and transcribed onto the computer.

I go as paper-free as possible. I unsubscribed myself from the junk mail people, I’ve opted for electronic bills and statements when possible, etc.

I keep only a few back issues of magazines. I can usually find the articles that interest me out of the magazines online when I need them.

Do you have a good clutter-management solution? Please share them with me! :)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Promotion Madness by Joyce Lavene

Promotion Madness - it's here again.

Of course, every author promotes all year long. But there's that special time right before and right after a new book comes out that becomes like a crazed journey to see how, where and when you should advertise for that book.

Right now, it's Promotion Madness time for A TIMELY VISION, our May 2010 mystery. The book has been out for reviews since the end of last year - check, some reviews are back and on the website which was just changed - check. Contest in place for the book and a Duck, NC tote bag - check.

Setting up book signings and other events is underway. There will be the familiar and the not familiar places. The book launch party will be the day the book comes out - if Berkley can get copies to the bookstore in time.

There will be magazine ads, local ads in the newspaper. The trailer is progressing. Booksellers have cover flats. Friends and relatives in faraway places are poised to turn all the books face out when they appear on the shelves.

Have we forgotten anything?

Every few weeks there are articles in magazines like this one from the LA Times:,0,5647724.story about how books should be promoted and how they are promoted. There are no exact rules to follow, no real guidelines even to know what works and what doesn't. It's a crap shoot.

Does spending a lot of money work? It all depends on who you talk to. Will it help if you get a publicist? We've had a few of those and ended up doing more than they did for a lot less money. But many authors swear by them.

I've known authors who spent thousands of dollars on ads in big glossy magazines that should have produced results. They didn't.

What's an aspiring author to do?

All you can do is read everything you can and do what you can afford. Do what feels right and move on. Will your book be an instant bestseller? Who knows. But if you find what works for you (blogging, chats, radio spots, interviews, guest shots, etc.) keep doing it and hope for the best.

If someone ever finds a sure-fire way to promote a book that leads to a bestseller, we'll all find out about it on Facebook, Twitter and other resources. Until then, I have to get back to checking off my list.

Joyce Lavene
A Timely Vision
Berkley Prime Crime

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What’s Unique about the Writer’s Lens—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Adalbert Stifter - Moonrise

I’ve noticed that many people I know view life through a lens.

Some of them use a political lens—they look at everything in relation to politics.

Many use religious lenses.

There are some that use a financial lens: everything boils down in terms of money.

There are egocentric lenses…how everything in life affects them.

There’s even a motherhood lens—how life’s hardships and joys affect their children or the raising of them.

The big thing that seems to set writers apart, to me, is our lens—it’s an observational one.

It doesn’t seem to be a very analytical device… we’re not so much into the why people behave the way they do as watching it happen.

I do know many different kinds of writers and there are some extroverts in the bunch, but I’d say it’s probably 90% introvert to the 10% extrovert that I know.

Most of the writers I know are happy to sit on the edges of a group or gathering and watch the people. We’re less happy being the center of attention—you can’t observe life as well when all eyes are on you. We’re the perfect bystanders.

We don’t mind the quiet.

We can get so caught up in our writing that we don’t feel self-conscious about taking notes or writing in a public place.

This filter provides us with a little distance from other people. This can be a very welcome distance. I can come across a really annoying person, but through the writing lens they come through as complex and different.

And, yes, still a little annoying. But we need those kinds of people in our books, too.

But the biggest thing that stands out to me is the watching and recording that writers do. We’re listening and looking…jotting down names of people and places, unusual situations, people’s personal conflicts. We’re sorting through ideas.

And I think this note-taking is frequently done in a nonjudgmental way—we’re just relating these life observations to readers. We’re the middlemen…we polish up our notes to make them interesting or entertaining, but it’s truth, on paper.

Do you see yourself as an observer?