Monday, April 26, 2010

Ghost Stories by Joyce Lavene

Do you believe in ghosts? Asking this question will make most people relate a ghost story, sometimes from their childhood. They immediately say they DON'T believe in ghosts, not really. It's not like anyone has ever proven that there are ghosts.

But some things don't need to be scientifically proven for people to believe in them. People throw salt over their shoulder when they spill it. Not that they believe it's bad luck exactly, but why take chances? There are hundreds of things that we believe in that haven't been proven - like shamrocks being good luck - and weather prediction. (ouch!)

But can we explain why we have those strange feelings when we walk into a house? Those creepy little sensations like someone is watching us? And what about the photos of ghosts that crop up from time to time? Are those real?

Most people either know someone who has seen a ghost or believe they have seen a ghost. They believe in otherworldly activity. Most people believe they have spoken with their dead loved ones, even if they haven't seen them.

I can't debate who's telling the truth and who isn't. But I've seen ghosts. The first one was my great-grandmother when I was about 5 years old. Was she real? I don't know for sure, but I believe she was.

The paranormal will always interest us, with or without the benefit of scientific approval. Maybe we all want to believe that the people we love are still with us. Maybe we see it as our own kind of immortality.

The question is always - Do YOU believe in ghosts?

Joyce Lavene
A Timely Vision
Paranormal Mystery from Berkley - May 4

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Friends by Joyce Lavene

I never thought becoming a writer would change my life so much. I have met so many wonderful people in the 11 years since my first book was published. Terry Prather (pictured with me and Jim at the Friends of the Library luncheon in Kannapolis, NC on Tuesday is one of them.

She is a dynamo, keeping her library going, setting up programs for writers and readers, inspiring people and listening to her library patrons.

She has sent strangers my way, telling them what a wonderful person and writer I am, showing them my books at the library. She has helped me with research and listened when I complained about things I thought weren't fair.

She is a sweetheart and I am glad to call her my friend. One of many people I didn't know were out there until I took up the pen to write.

Wise people have always said that it is the journey that matters as we travel to our destinations in life. Terry, and other friends like her, make me believe.

Joyce Lavene
A Timely Vision
Berkley - May 4

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dropping Clues About Our Characters—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Portrait de la belle-fille de Maxim Gorki --Motherhood--by Boris Dmitrievich So I was in the grocery store….again….(must make more lists) and was nearly run down by a little guy pushing a shopping buggy that was bigger than he was.

“Benjamin! Watch our for the mommy!” fussed his mother before apologizing to me.

She kept on scolding, “Honey, you can’t just go running through the store with the cart! You could have hurt this mommy.”

I was—quickly—walking away by this point, but I was struck by the fact that the woman had pegged me, twice, as a mother.

As far as I’d known, I hadn’t put on a “Hello, My Name is Mommy” nametag before leaving the house.

I didn’t have a child with me.

But—I was at the grocery store in the middle of the morning on a work day. I didn’t look at all professional—I wore my usual uniform of a cotton v-neck tee shirt, shorts, and flip flops. And I’m sure I looked distracted— par for the course for most moms. I hadn’t slept well (which is completely normal for me) so there were circles under my eyes. I had “Mini-Moos” green and yellow yogurts in my cart and “Goldfish”-type crackers.

The clues were all there, despite the lack of children.

That’s what I’m aiming for with my character descriptions. I want the clues to be there. I want the reader to pick up on the hints and feel clever about their deductions.

Some things have to be told, but it’s a lot more fun planting clues about our characters for the readers to discover.

Next time I’m at the store, I’m wearing a dress, though.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Old Books by Joyce Lavene

There's nothing like cracking open a new book that you've waited for by an author you love. I like to buy books and hurry home to sit and read in a quiet corner somewhere.

But I also love old books. They have a romance and flavor to them that is very attractive. They have been well worn and loved, in any cases. And I'm always eager to see what's inside - not just the words either.

I've found shopping lists in old books. Probably used as a book mark and forgotten. I found a love letter once that was started but never finished. The words haunted me for months, wondering who Rosa was and if her friend ever got up the courage to tell her he loved her.

I've found parking tickets, report cards, memos about going to the vet or the eye doctor. These sneak peeks into other people's lives, people I will probably never meet, are always interesting.

I know some people believe it is wrong to sell these old books - after all, we don't get royalties more than once. But I would have missed so much by not reading them that I hate to think I'll never see another.

The last book I bought, Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte, had a pressed rose in it. It is a story in itself. I'll probably wonder about how and when it got there (and make stories up about it) for a long time to come.

Joyce Lavene
A Timely Vision
from Berkley - May 4

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I LOVE festivals! by Joyce Lavene

I love festivals! I don't care if they're wine festivals, like the one I'll be at on April 17 with Elizabeth Craig and Kathleen Delaney (The Carolina Conspiracy) or if they're at gold mines or farmer's markets. Going to festivals with my books is a relaxed, happy atmosphere to meet readers.

Some of my favorite memories have been at festivals. I've met so many people while talking about giant radishes or comparing notes on historical happenings. Some of them read my books--some don't. Many pick up a few while we're talking. We compare our favorite authors and their books too.

Sometimes the atmosphere at book stores can be a little tense. People see you sitting at a table full of books and they KNOW you expect them to buy something. I worry about some of them getting whiplash, they turn away so quickly. Some of them come right up to the table then say they don't read books. Others just want to know where the bathroom is.

But at a festival, under a tent, the sun beaming down, people seem to be less fearful. They can stand around and talk for a while. They don't seem to make as many excuses. Sure, there can be weather issues, but it's worth it anyway.

It really doesn't seem to matter if your books have anything to do with the theme of the festival. I have sold dozens of NASCAR mysteries at garden festivals and garden mysteries at Renaissance festivals.

Of course, you know the Ren Fests are my favorite! Huzzah!

Writers, try a few out this spring and see how they work for you. You might be the only one with books at a crowded festival full of happy readers. These things really do happen!

Joyce Lavene
A Timely Vision
May 4, 2010
from Berkley Prime Crime

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Defense of Grammar - By Kathleen Delaney

Years ago, before any of my novels or articles were published, I decided that if I was going to get serious about writing I needed a writing class. The instructor wrote children’s books. Past middle age, gray hair twisted into a knot at the back of her neck, short, and given to smock tops. She also wore tights under her long denim skirts, Birkenstocks and was delightfully vague. My perfect mental image of what a children’s author would look like, maybe any author. I’ve learned a lot since then.

She was a lovely person, but she wasn’t a very good teacher. She had no idea of how to impart knowledge on how to construct a story, build characters, and incorporate tension. Those things I would learn much later. But what she did do was empathize the importance of a good story. And she inadvertently introduced me to the importance of grammar in the telling of that story.

There was a man in the class who, from the first day, interrupted constantly to correct her grammar and everyone else’s. He ignored the story importance entirely and concentrated on correct sentence structure. Poor lady, she didn’t know how to stop him and fumbled around each class, trying to tell him that it didn’t really matter how correct the sentence was if it didn’t say something interesting. If it didn’t push the story line forward, didn’t build empathy for the characters, it didn’t matter if it wasn’t grammatically correct because no one was going to read it anyway. He finally dropped out.

Maybe it was because I grew up in Catholic school, back in the days when they were staffed by nuns in habits who were addicted to diagramming sentences, but I’ve always hated grammar. I didn’t really care if my participles dangled, if my page was littered with commas all in the wrong place, and if my spelling was atrocious. I was a reader; I had no thought of becoming a writer, and didn’t want all those little annoying details to get in the way of a good story.

It is only now, years later, that I realize the importance of grammar. How, for instance, a misplaced comma can impart a very different meaning to a sentence than what you had intended. That a complete sentence is not a luxury but a necessity. That misspelled words are like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle. The story stops while the reader tries to figure out just what that word was exactly and what the writer meant by it. That the best story in the world is no good if poor grammar and misspelling is so distracting to the reader that they put it down in frustration.

Where I have really noticed how distracting poor grammar and spelling can be is in comments put up on the Internet. Especially now, in this climate of vitriolic comments on the government, people of other nations, people of faith other than the commentator’s, or about their neighbor across the street, the one with the kids who dare to play on the sidewalk. The Internet is replete with comments, most of them grammatically incorrect, some of them indecipherable.

When I’m in the mood for a puzzle, I read some of them. Mostly, I don’t feel strong enough to unravel the wandering thoughts that never seem to come to any real conclusion, the lack of punctuation, and the words that are so misspelled you have to guess at them. That’s when I thank Sister Mary St Herbert for her love affair with the semi-colon and Sister Mary Katherine Patrice for her insistence on complete sentences with proper punctuation. Some of what they taught me actually rubbed off.

And I wonder, where were the sixth grade teachers of those who favor us with their thoughts on the Internet? Or are they so intent on getting their pearls of wisdom posted for the entire world to see that they don’t re-read what they have written? Maybe they have missed the button that takes you to spell check. I’m sure they don’t know what the delete button is for, or some of the things posted would come down before they go up.

One of the first things writers learn is to edit. Re-read what you have just written. Does it make sense? Do the sentences flow together to present your thought accurately, and is it a complete thought? Does that comma really belong there? Should there be a question mark at the end?

And, most importantly, if you have something to say, something you think is important, do you really want to say it in a way that makes you sound like an idiot?

More people will read your comments, or your blog, or your posted comments on Facebook than will ever read your novel, which, I am sure, you have re-read and re-written many times. So, whether you are a writer or just the person making the occasional comment, go back and re-read what you just wrote. You may want to revise that a little. Or a lot. And, in case you missed it, Spell check is under Tools on your space bar.

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.