Monday, March 28, 2016

Hey! Who's the Boss Here?

There are plenty of ups and downs involved in being a mystery writer. Fortunately, the ups far outweigh the downs, or so I tell myself.

For some reason, when I tell people I’m a writer their first reaction is to ask if I write children’s books. It must have something to do with my appearance, but I’m not really sure. Actually, I don’t want to ask why they think that. “No,” I say, politely, “I write murder mysteries that are light reading with a little humor.” Their eyebrows shoot up like I’d just confessed to a murder.

I thoroughly enjoy writing mysteries. I’ve always liked puzzles, and creating them for a story is, well, fulfilling. It’s actually the most fun I’ve ever had while doing a job.

This leads to another comment. “Is this a hobby for you?” I sigh when I hear this. It’s not a hobby. It’s a job, but instead of heading for an office five days a week, I work at home seven days a week. I don’t bring home a weekly paycheck and that’s one of the downs. Paid vacations or sick leave? Forget it!

I do have bosses even though I work at home. Actually, there are many of these taskmasters.

Of course, your publisher is a boss, even if you’re self-published. You’re your own boss? Then you’re your own boss. You have standards to live up to and timelines to follow, along with many things I won’t go into here.

Time has become one of my biggest bosses, simply because there isn’t enough of it. If you’re not a big name author, you have to do most (or all) of your own marketing and promotion. You have to write the story, and you have to edit it and rewrite it until it’s the best entertainment you can offer to a reader. This takes a huge chunk out of your time. I should backpedal just a little. Big name authors have plenty of promotion to do, too. There are always presentations, book signings, panels to serve on, and more books to write. Believe me when I say I’m simplifying it, for all of us.

Another supervisor is the editor and/or critiquer. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold, and someone you want to listen to, even if you don’t want to hear criticism.

There’s another boss, and this is The Big Boss – the reader. If you don’t please this person with your writing and story, they’ll fire you faster than you can blink. They’ll never buy another one of your books if you don’t satisfy them. Now that’s a distressing thought.

In the midst of trying to please all of these bosses, an author is also trying to keep family, friends, and even pets, happy. Happy, happy, happy. Everyone wants some of that time I said there’s not enough of, and of course, the newest book is still waiting to be worked on.

The next time you read a mystery, remember that this story didn’t write itself. Someone had to work to create the twists and turns, the characters, to plant the clues and red herrings, and to come up with the solution. They also had to answer to all of those bosses, along with a few others, during the process.

Until next time, if you’re a reader I hope you discover a good book, and if you’re a writer, I wish you more hours in the day.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Enjoying Those Goosebumps?

Many people love a story that makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up, sends shivers down their spine, or gives them goosebumps.

I recently watched a movie, The Uninvited (1944), starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. The uninvited individual was a ghost. By 1944 standards, I’m sure it had a few people on the edge of their seats. There was no gore, no blood, and they used a minimum of special effects. It held a couple of surprises, too. It was a fun movie, even with ghosts.

How could a movie such as this give you goosebumps? You’d have to ask someone who saw it in 1944. (I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes yet. Just thought I’d throw that in.)

Everyone has something different that makes them uneasy. Thick fog or a moonless night can make one’s blood run cold because of the unknown element that might be hiding just out of sight.

In my opinion, a book can create the mood better than a movie because once again, the reader’s imagination is in play and might be working overtime. Imagination can actually be scarier than watching a blow by blow story on the big screen.

In real life, fear can be devastating. In a book, it can make you get up and make sure the windows are closed and the doors are locked. It can make you fidget in your chair. It can even cause a nervous giggle from time to time.

Certainly it’s not just ghosts, but a hidden room, a monster, a shadow (of course, it would be elongated for more drama), or a vicious animal can set the scene for fright night. Ordinary everyday things can cause alarm, too. Noises, a brief glimpse of something, a book that’s been moved and the character knows he or she didn’t move it.

I have two large yellow Labrador Retrievers who scare easily. The smoke detector started softly beeping the other night because it needed new batteries and one of the dogs barked furiously while the hair on her back stood on end. Even after we took the batteries out, she was nervous. My husband once stood in the dark and made a snorting noise at the dogs. Their yellow streak, and I don’t mean the color of their fur, was front and center. You would have thought they were being chased by a bear.

Many readers love the mystery of the unknown. They purposely search out books that will make them feel ill-at-ease. When they finish the book and put it down, they go in search of another such story. How many times have you patted your chest, willing your heart to slow down because of a fright?

The blood and guts portrayed in movies doesn’t scare me. It’s the unknown that leaves so much to our own thoughts. The phone might ring in the middle of the night, but when you answer it, the line is dead. A noise outside the window that turns out to be a branch blowing in the wind can set someone’s teeth on edge.

When I was a kid there was a show on TV (and earlier on the radio) that started with the sound of a creaking door. As soon as the creaking started, I ran out of the room, stuck my fingers in my ears and sang at the top of my lungs so I wouldn’t hear it. True story. If you’d ever heard me sing, you’d probably run out of the room and stick your fingers in your ears. That creaking door struck a chord in me that scared me and gave me nightmares. It figures that I can’t remember the name of that show. If anyone has an idea, please enlighten me.

The element of surprise can make me jump easier than anything else. What scares you? Do you like the graphic scenes or would you rather let your imagination take you to the heights of fear? Or do you find you don’t enjoy frightening moments?

Until next time, check your doors and windows, close the blinds while you’re reading a scary book, and don’t – I repeat don’t – look behind that creaking door.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

In the Moment

 As I sit here eating butter-cinnamon-sugar bread, which is very tasty by the way, I’m reminded of the characters in our books.

They fight crime, solve mysteries and save damsels in distress, and yet sometimes we forget that they have daily needs, just like real people. Eating comes to mind, along with sleeping. Protagonists even need to simply relax once in a while.

You can only wear a pair of jeans or a shirt so many times before your closet is empty and the laundry needs to be done. The same would apply to your protagonist.

Maybe they don’t have time to cook, but there’s usually a fast food joint around every corner, unless they’re driving across the desert.

Many readers appreciate being in the moment with the characters, but we don’t want to overdo it. Just the facts, Ma’am, even if it involves a one sentence description of the food or location where food is found, or the fact that there’s nowhere to grab a bite.

Some of these same characters have pets to take care of, or ants in the cabinet and on the counter top. These are things they need to deal with in addition to solving crimes. If we were detectives we’d still have everyday situations to deal with, whether we liked it or not.

The phone may ring, and we can choose to answer it or ignore it. Our fictional characters have the same choice, but they have to remember that the call may have something to do with the case they’re working on. Should they ignore it? Personally, I have trouble ignoring a ringing phone. I have to remind myself that in certain scenarios, ignoring the ringing telephone might further the story.

Your character hasn’t had enough sleep? What if they’re doing a surveillance and they fall asleep. They may miss the most important event of their case. Although, sometimes this type of thing works to further the story just like answering or not answering the phone.

If your bad guy loses sleep, he might become a lot meaner or creepier. Of course, the lack of sleep might cause the protagonist to become meaner, too, which isn’t always a bad thing.

In The Bogey Man, Sandi Webster takes Chris Cross on his first stakeout. To make himself more comfortable, he takes snacks and plenty of things to drink. Big mistake. There’s a time to eat and drink, a time to tough it out, and a lesson to be learned.

Sandi is a chocoholic (like her creator) and in Old Murders Never Die, she runs out of candy. She considers this a disaster, as does her partner, Pete. Eating chocolate is a daily event in her life, and in times of stress it’s essential to her diet. Trust me when I say it’s essential.

Think about what you do on a daily basis and decide if it’s something your characters should be doing, too.

Keep your reader in the moment. Let them feel hunger or pain or drowsiness along with your characters. It doesn’t hurt if the reader can feel joy and laughter, too.

Let them take the ride of their lives with your characters.

I think I need another slice of that butter-cinnamon-sugar loaf. After all, I have to eat to keep my strength up, right?

Until next week, enjoy your week and your daily activities. Think of some things as necessary evils and others as fun necessities.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Been Thinking - Can You Smell the Smoke?

 I’ve been writing a blog since 2010 when someone talked me into it. My first thought was, “Don’t I have enough to do already?” My second thought was, “Okay, maybe this will be fun.” And it has been.

The tricky part is coming up with new topics or a different spin on a topic that’s already been covered. Of course, it’s always fun to have Guest Bloggers.

My point is, I’m running out of ideas. I’ve been doing this on a weekly basis, with the exception of a recent “personal vacation” when I didn’t post for a few months.

I’d like to write every post about writing or promoting, but I have to admit that I’m not an expert. All I can do is offer an opinion and cheerlead for the rest of you. I try to make most of the blogs entertaining, but that’s not always possible either.

As I reread what I’ve already written, it sounds like I’m saying Good-bye. I’m not. I’m just sharing how it goes.

Right now I’m working on a time travel mystery, as I’ve mentioned before. I’m torn between two titles. The first is “Elsbeth’s Road” which would make sense when the book is done and you read it. The second is “Choosing One Moment”, which would also make sense when the book is read.

It’s not just the story that we sometimes struggle with, but also the title, the editing, the marketing and the promotion. If you’ve ever had anyone refer to your heartfelt writing as a “hobby”, or they’ve said it’s so easy that anyone could do it, just bite your tongue. They have no clue what’s really involved in the whole process. You do. Sometimes we think, “What was I thinking? I had no idea what I was getting into. This is hard.”

I must look like a grandmother or something because when I meet new people and they find out I’m a writer, many of them ask if I write children’s books. No, I don’t, although I do try to add humor here and there.

We’ve lost some talented writers over the past couple of years – some well-known and some not so well-known, but still talented. It’s sad when we have to say good-bye to an author who’s kept us entertained for so long, but life goes on and we move on to other writers. We discover new talent.

In some ways, reading almost seems to be becoming a lost art – a lost pastime for many. There was actually a time when people talked about the latest book they’d read rather than the latest movie they saw. Recently I heard someone say, “Why read a book? If it’s any good, it’ll be made into a movie anyway.” What they don’t realize is that there are so many changes that sometimes the movie barely resembles the book.

Also, a good book can take you away for a day or more, but a movie will only take you away for a couple of hours. You can read a book while dressed in your jammies or a sweat suit, or dressed up for work on your lunch hour. You can read in bed. You can watch a movie while in bed, too, but not until it’s out of the theaters. Of course, I’m sure I’m missing something here because I’m not very techie. There may be something you can do on your iPad or Kindle, or some other device.

Such is life.

So, it’s now 2016 and I’m sharing some thoughts with you. I guess I should think of this as my Thought Topic.

Anyway, until I think up something new, I hope this gave you some food for thought.

Until next time, read a good book, take a walk, or let me know some of the topics you’d like to read about. I’m fairly open to suggestions, the key word being “fairly”.

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