Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stick to your theme

By Bill Kirton

Not long ago, I wrote and recorded yet another story for Richard Wood’s excellent Word Count Podcast. One of the things I like about it is that Richard sets a theme and, since I tend to be reactive in most things, I like the challenge of responding to something I might never have thought of. Anyone can send in a story, poem, song (although it’s mostly stories) and if it’s good enough it’ll be included. The intention is to support the short story form as well as authors by giving them another way to attract new readers.

The reason I mention it now, though, is because of the process I went through with this story. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of writing a ghost story. Part of Richard’s prompt is a photo taken by Matthew Munson (that’s it above), and it struck me immediately that it had a sort of scary setting. The trouble is I’m not really a fan of ghost stories, nor am I a believer in the supernatural, so the idea of having some apparition wander down the dark street, however atmospheric the lighting, dressed in Elizabethan gear and vaguely wailing, didn’t attract me.

So the first half (maybe more) of what I wrote has nothing remotely ghostly about it. It’s only when the narrator walks under the arch that the supernatural (if that’s what it is), creeps in. But I only decided on the nature of that supernatural (so to speak), as I was reading a piece about the film Gravity in which Alfonso Cuarón, the director, said ‘Before the story, you start with the theme’. Their theme was ‘adversity’ so they started thinking about survival scenarios and there was no mention of a space setting.

So, going from his sublime (it’s a great film), to my ridiculous… I’d already written the first half, I knew the narrator had to go through the arch and I knew the sort of experience I had in mind for him when he did. But I wasn’t sure how to make the ‘reality’ of it acceptable – not necessarily to the reader, but to me. I had no idea what to write. So I tried applying Cuarón’s technique, decided what the story’s theme (or perhaps main image), would be and gradually teased out how it might work. I then rewrote the first half and that made the second half much easier. I think it works, although, of course, listeners might well – and probably will – disagree, but I think the important point to make is that, whatever genre you’re using, stick with a consistent theme so that, however far from ‘reality’ it may be, its internal coherence is consistent.

It just showed me yet again that, however much we’ve written before, we’re still always learning how to write.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fun for My Readers: A FREE Short-Short Story HERE

THE MURDER OF A PERFECT WIFE

by Jackie King

“Pastor Wally, I have a confession to make.” Miss Thelma Click clutched her hymnal to her chest as if it were a shield, then glanced around the deserted chapel.

“Yes, Miss Click?” The Reverend Wally Birdsong smiled at his choir director, his sympathy aroused.

“Your wife is such a perfect woman that she makes my best effort seem like a total failure,” Miss Click said. “I find myself disliking her because of it, and I’m so ashamed.”

Pastor Wally’s heart stopped beating. His smile froze. He wasn’t alone.

“She’s the most organized person, man or woman, that I’ve ever met.” Miss Click sighed, then lowered her hymnbook to rest on a scarred Baldwin piano. “Come to think of it, I’ve never seen her tired. Or even sweat. Not even at the Women’s Auxiliary picnic last August when it was 100 degrees in the shade.”

Pastor Wally knew there was nothing to do except agree with her.

“Yes,” he said in a tight voice. “My wife is the most genetically superior person ever created.”

Miss Click looked shocked.

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Pastor Wally hastened to explain. “She’s not divine, of course. But none the less, my wife is the most perfect human ever created.”

A sort of fog descended over Pastor Wally. He realized that if Margot wasn’t divine (and of course she couldn’t be) then she must be demonic. After all, she certainly had turned his life into hell. Pastor Wally wondered if Margot might be the antichrist.

A picture of his wife Margot, laid out in a casket and wearing her Sunday best, flashed unbidden into his mind. He gasped at the thought that seized him. Miss Click flushed with embarrassment and began to stammer.

“Oh, my goodness. I never meant to criticize your dear wife. Quite the contrary. I’m the one with the problem. I’m the one who needs to change. I make so many mistakes. Margot is absolutely perfect.”

“Indeed,” Pastor Wally said with a sigh.

Pastor Wally hadn’t realized that he was such a flawed specimen until after he married his wife. As a younger man, his socks had been knocked off when he first saw her. Her beauty and energy dazzled him. It was only after seven years of marriage and her continual recitation of his imperfections, that he knew for sure what a miserable failure he was. Only yesterday Margot had suggested he see a psychiatrist.

***

Months passed and every time Margot was at the top of the basement stairs, he’d started to fantasize about giving her a firm shove. In his mind’s eye he saw her tumble down the stairs and go splat on the concrete, face down in a growing pool of blood. But he never murdered her.

Not until today at lunch.

“Wallace.” Margot spoke with the voice of a martyr. “You cannot wear that red tie to preach dear Mr. Smith’s funeral. You must change to the navy one. Red would be improper for the tragedy of death.”

“But Mr. Smith was 101 years old,” Pastor Wally said. “He was always laughing and joking. I thought a red tie would be a nice touch. It would make the service seem sort of like a graduation. A celebration of his life.” Wally longingly fingered his tie.

“No Wallace. I can’t imagine why you ever even bought a red tie. Change to the navy.”

Pastor Wally sighed. She was right, of course. She was right about everything. His clothes, his diet, who should be elected to the board of deacons, and the proper time of day to move his bowels.

“Yes, Margot.” He sighed again and reached for his favorite salad.

“You aren’t going to have another serving of that dreadful noodle concoction that Miss Click brought?” Margot asked. “You’ve already had two starches and the top buttons on your dress shirts are getting snug.” She cut herself a piece of steak about the size of her windpipe and slipped the morsel into her mouth.

“I daydream about murdering you,” Pastor Wally said before he could stop himself.

Margot sucked in a hard breath. The steak lodged in her windpipe and she began choking.

Pastor Wally knew he should run around to her side of the table, put his arms just below her ribcage and squeeze, but he was unable to move. His wife’s face began turning blue. I should help her, Wally thought. He touched his tie and remembered all of the times she had ‘helped’ him.

Margot’s eyes widened in surprise. Her slender white fingers touched her throat. Wally knew that if he tried to help her, he wouldn’t do it correctly. If she lived, he’d have to listen to her explain the right way. Over and over.

She slipped onto the floor and her beige designer skirt flared becomingly around her legs. She looks lovely, Wally thought, even in death. He knew he was right. Anyone that perfect had to be satanic. He sat still as a church mouse until she stopped moving, and then he walked to the phone and dialed 911.

***

The Inconvenient Corpse

The Corpse Who Walked in the Door

Jackie King


Jackie King is the author of two Grace Cassidy mysteries. The third, titled THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE, will be available later in 2015. She has also written and published 6 novellas and one nonfiction book. Her work is available on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble Nook, or can be ordered at bookstores everywhere.

No part of this story may be reproduced without written permission from Jackie King, Author.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From nurseries to coal "cellar"

by Carola

One place I visited while researching in England was Audley End House, once the largest stately home in Britain. Too large: The Lord Treasurer built it to impress James I. The King was impressed all right. He had the source of the Lord Treasurer's funds investigated,  found he'd been embezzling, and chucked him and his wife in the Tower. They had to pay a huge fine and the family was impoverished. Later they sold the house to Charles II, who used it as a home from home when visiting the races at nearby Newmarket.

Eventually the family regained possession, but two thirds of the enormous house was gradually demolished. What remained was used during WWII as a training school for Polish resistance fighters. When English Heritage gained possession, it was practically derelict.

The story of the restoration of the nurseries was interesting. They found two water-colours of the rooms painted by the young ladies of the family in Victorian times. Also, in another part of the house, the original dolls' house was discovered.






Using the paintings as a guide, English Heritage had carpets and wallpaper designed and manufactured. They moved the dolls' house back to the nursery, and collected toys and furniture of the period.



























Travel trunk










The governess's room. After going through a number of governesses, the family had the same one for many years. She eventually became companion to one of the painting daughters, who never married.












As a result of the demolition of a large part of the original house, it ended up with only one staircase, that is without back stairs for the servants. The family was liable to meet maids and footmen carrying hot water and coals up to the bedrooms and nurseries. They invented a novel solution: an upstairs coal "cellar." A winch was run from a window to the ground and coal was hauled up (300 tons a year, if I remember correctly) and stored here:






You can see a coal scuttle used to carry coals to the various fireplaces. The whitish object on the right is the boiler where water was heated for washstand ewers and hip baths.

Here's a close-up of a bucket used to carry hot water to the rooms. It must have been pretty heavy when full.


As I  mentioned, Charles II, the Merry Monarch, owned  Audley End for a few years, when it was still enormous. He must have spent quite a bit of time there, enough to make it worthwhile also buying a house in a nearby village for his mistress, Nell Gwynn. We had a bit of a hunt for it but found it at last:

Nell Gwynn's house

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Writing Process

by Bill Kirton

Whenever I’m asked questions about my writing, I always seem to find out something new for myself. Here are my answers to some questions I was asked by a blogger friend.

What am I working on?
This is embarrassing because I’ve been working on it for such a long time. It’s the sequel to my novel The Figurehead. That was set in Aberdeen in 1841 and featured John Grant, a figurehead carver, and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a shipowner. It was a crime novel (because that’s what I’m supposed to write) but the chemistry between John and Helen turned it into a romance, too. The romance aspect was left unresolved and I knew I wanted to spend more time with those two characters. There was also the pleasure of stepping back once again into 19th century Aberdeen and its ways.

I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to get into the sequel. I knew I wanted it to feature a theatre company performing melodramas and that it would see Helen becoming involved in her father’s business. I also knew there’d have to be a crime (see above brackets) but, since John and Helen had ended the previous book with what I described as ‘a lover’s kiss’, I had to work out what they’d been doing in the year that had passed since then. This, remember, was early Victorian Scotland so their options were limited.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The bulk of my output has been contemporary crime, which is a very crowded field. It comes under the police procedural tag and I started writing it because a publisher liked a stand-alone thriller I’d written but would have preferred a police procedural, so I wrote one. There are now five in the series, all featuring DCI Jack Carston who’s happily married and doesn’t have any particular hang-ups. drink problems or other character-defining flaws, so I suppose that’s one difference. More than that, though, he believes in justice rather than the law and is aware of the gaps between them. His (and my) interest is in people and their motives rather than the deeds they perpetrate so, while the books are whodunits, they’re also whydunnits.

I try to get as much humour as possible into the stories but that’s not unusual. But there’s one thing which I think is: I have a tendency to add a coda to each book which suggests that, although the crime has been solved and the loose ends have been tied up, there’s still something going on which shows that evil persists. I like to leave the reader with the satisfaction of a good story where justice has been done but a little niggle to undermine their idea that ‘all’s right with the world’.

Finally, very few of the deaths are caused by murderers.

Why do I write what I do?
Crime offers a ready-made structure. To tell any story about crime you need characters, motives, notions of good and evil and by seeing how different characters respond to temptations, frustrations, provocations and the rest, we come to understand better our own attitudes. In the end, I write because I enjoy it so much.

How does my writing process work?
If you’ve read my answer to the first question, you’ll probably be thinking ‘well, it obviously doesn’t’, but I’m always writing something. Ideas come from everywhere – newspaper items, scenes you see in the street, some dialogue you overhear, a photograph, anything and everything – and they’re either compelling in themselves or two or more of them fuse to set up something which needs to be resolved. Then, once I’ve let the implications stew for a bit, I start writing about them, characters appear and, basically, take over. Thereafter, I sit and watch and listen to them and write it all down. When I’m really into a novel, I want to be writing it all the time and I sometimes lose track of time entirely. Writing is almost always a pleasure.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

WRITING IN THE NEW YEAR

by June Shaw

A whole new year was given to us. Most of us have choices with what we do with it. Those of us in the writing profession normally need to decide how we will use our time. Will we devote a certain amount of time each day or week to writing?

Will we piddle away time we could spend writing doing other tasks--like checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other online place that steal our minutes and hours? Or will we make a decision that we'll spend our time wisely?

Will you start something new?

Will you complete a book, join a critique group, polish work you've completed, and send it out?

Or will you let the new days and months given to you slip away as you may have done in years past?

How about making a decision? You can call it a resolution or not, maybe just a goal. You will write every for a certain amount of time--before you check social media. You will complete your work-in-progress by a certain time and then get readers. Or affirm that you'll get something published in 2015, no matter what.

I'd love to know what you are deciding to do to get your work out there more this year.

Best of luck!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

GUEST BLOG: MARY COLEY

Posted by Jackie King


Mary Coley is an Oklahoma writer. During her professional career, she has worked as a journalist, a park planner, an environmental educator and a public relations officer. A native of Enid, Coley lives in Tulsa, where she is an active volunteer for Oxley Nature Center. She holds membership in state and national writers groups, as well as the Tulsa Chapter of the Women in Communications.  Coley uses her scientific education to create believable backgrounds for her suspense novels. 

Mary Coley, Environmentalist and Author


Finding a Fresh Storyline

by Mary Coley

We've all heard that there are no new story lines, they have all been used before. Not good news, especially for mystery writers. A limited number of motives for murder exist and only a limited number of ways to do the deed. So how do you make your mystery new and relevant? Incorporating a topic of current interest into your story is one way to do it.

For my second mystery, Ant Dens, I found a topic I had seen in the headlines and even on a  billboard with a 1-800 number. But I had never read anything about it and had never attached a human face to it. It was only a phrase; I didn't pay much attention.

While researching, I discovered a shocking issue: the kidnapping of children, young women, young men and even adults for use in the sex trade or servitude. Could I incorporate the issue of human trafficking in a mystery I had just finished drafting?

In the second mystery in my Family Secret Series, Ant Dens, the main character's stepdaughter disappears. Jamie wonders if Rebecca ran away or if she had been kidnapped. Wouldn't the tension be increased if it was possible that her stepdaughter had been trafficked and might be existing in a living hell? That would add a whole new twist to the story, and provide a way to make the mystery current but also timeless.

People have been sold into slavery, or trafficked, throughout the history of mankind. This horrific crime is not new, but most of us don't think much about it. That is, unless we personally have a missing loved one.

I began to delve into the emotions those family members feel when a loved one disappears. What horrible fears and imaginings must go through the minds of those left behind! I can imagine my character wanting to shrug it off, to refuse to believe the worst, but what if it becomes almost a certainty that her worst fear has been realized? And worse yet, what if the disappearance was not random, but might be related to her stepdaughter's father, her deceased second husband?

My character, Jamie, does what I hope I would do. She becomes consumed with finding her stepdaughter. It does not matter that she was not particularly close to the young woman. Rebecca is family -- she is all that remains of the husband she loved and misses horribly.

In Ant Dens I chose the setting of New Mexico, a state well aware of tragic disappearances, as the Hispanic population is often victimized in trafficking crimes. And Rebecca is half Hispanic. I added an additional conflict by including Rebecca's mother, Jamie's husband's first wife, in the mystery. Maria comes to stay with Jamie as they investigate the girl's disappearance.

I hope that the resulting newly crafted mystery, Ant Dens:A Suspense Novel provides a new awareness of this horrifying and prevalent crime as well as a chilling ride for the reader! I hope you'll check out my Amazon Author page too, after you visit my book link.

Product Details


Learn more about Mary on her website, www.marymcintyrecoley.com, or at her blog, http://marycoley.wordpress.com. 

Her books are available at Amazon.com.




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel


Bestselling author Hallie Ephron not only writes suspense novels, but how-to-books, including Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead with Style, nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. She was also the recipient of the Salt Lake Libraries Readers Choice and David awards and is the Ellen Nehr Award winning crime fiction reviewer for the Boston Globe.

Hallie, how did your early environment influence your career as a journalist and novelist?

I grew up in family of writers (my parents wrote plays and movies; my sisters Nora, Delia, and Amy are all well published) in a house that was wall to wall books. The pressure to become a writer was tough to resist. I tried for three decades and then succumbed.

Did you ever consider following in your parent's careers as a screenwriter?

Dialogue isn't my strong suit, and that's what screenplays are. So it was not the natural place for me to begin.

Where did you work as a journalist and did the experience serve you well when you began writing novels?

I never thought of myself as a journalist. I wrote essays and feature articles for magazines and now I review crime fiction for the Boston Globe. Reviewing books--and more importantly reading lots of them--has helped me see why some books work and others don't. So it's really helped me as a teacher, and also as a critic of my own work.

Tell us about your psychological suspense novel, Never Tell a Lie. How did the story come about?

I got the idea when I was at a yard sale near my house. It was a big Victorian house, one where my daughter used to play with the children of a former owner. I was dying to find out how the interior had been transformed. I drilled the poor homeowner with questions until finally she said, “Why don’t you go inside and have a look around?” I didn't wait for her to change her mind. As I wandered on, through the upstairs, I thought: What if a woman goes to a yard sale. Somehow she manages to talk her way into the house. She goes inside and…she never comes out.

The idea made the hair on my neck stand up. I knew right away that my next novel would start with that yard sale. I knew that the woman running the yard sale would be nine months pregnant, and the woman who comes to the yard sale and disappears would be nine months pregnant, too.

When did you decide to write how-to writing books and what do they encompass?

I didn't actually decide... I was teaching a class for writers and the acquiring editor for Writer Digest Books sat in on a bit of my class. Afterward, she asked if I'd like to write a book about mystery writing. I jumped at the opportunity. I started my career as a teacher, and this gave me a chance to combine teaching and writing.

How do you select books to review for the Boston Globe? And do you always try to find something good to write in each review or do you just cut to the chase?

I pick from the 80 or so titles sent to me each month. Yes, I try to find books I like. If I don't like a book I stop reading and go on to the next one in the pile. But if I review I book I don't like, I say so--but I try not to be flip or clever about it, just as specific as I can.

What’s the best way to acquire an agent and are they necessary to sell fledgling books?

Yes, they are essential if you want to be published by a mainstream press. Agents have become the arbiters of taste. The process is well documented--in Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents it's all laid out plus detailed information about each agent and how to contact them. Just follow the rules about querying. And be patient. And revise, revise, revise if you are fortunate to get comments back.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Keep at it. Perseverance pays. Grow a rhinoceros hide so you don't take criticism personally, but hear it and use it to make the work better.

What do you stress most in your fiction courses at writers’ conferences?

Not to send a work out too early--I see so many authors jump the gun and send out manuscripts that still need work.

Which writer, past or present, would you like to have lunch with?

P. D. James. That's easy.

Hallie Ephron's website: http://www.hallieephron.com/
Her blog: http://www.jungleredwriters.com/

Submitted by Jean Henry Mead