Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Guest Interview. Michael J Malone

My good friend, Michael J Malone, has so far only got two books out in his Glasgow-set series featuring his detective, D.I. Ray McBain. The first is Blood Tears and it has everything you’d want of a crime novel set in Scotland – a plot full of twists, issues triggered by human relationships, plenty of darkness, and plenty of laughs, too. Everyone says the second novel’s harder to write than the first so when I chatted with Michael, that was what prompted my questions.

OK Michael. Tell us about the thought process that went into writing the second book, A Taste for Malice.
With pleasure. I was driving along the A78 in Ayrshire, passing the Paper Mill when I was struck by a series of “What ifs?”. The first one fired up in my mind from witnessing a near miss on the opposite carriageway. One car narrowly missed another coming off the roundabout and it set me off. What if there was a car crash? What if it was a young woman, on her own, on her way home from work to her son – and she was seriously injured – in a coma for months as a result? What if she was recently divorced? What if, when the wife came out of hospital she had severe memory loss? What if the husband moved back into the marital home as if they had never split up? What if a strange woman appeared pretending to be a friend of the wife’s? The husband can’t tell on her – because she will then tell on him. And what if the family began to trust this woman had only positive intentions? And what if they were soon to find out that she was wrong in every way possible?

The A78’s obviously an inspirational place. But you haven’t mentioned Ray McBain. How did you fit him in with all these what ifs?
After writing Blood Tears, I didn’t really think about writing another crime novel
– it was only when I was 80,000 words into this novel that I realised that it was missing something. There was tension from the worry about what this strange woman was up to, but I needed to crank it up. So, I deleted 40,000 words and set McBain on her. He’s back in a job (just) after the events of the previous novel. He’s on forced desk duty and bored out of his skull. He comes across a cold case where a vulnerable family complained about a woman who wormed her way into a position of trust, before mentally and physically abusing the kids and then vanishing.

Sounds intriguing. And you’ve come up with an interesting structure for it – switching the viewpoint back and forward between the investigation and the life of the unsuspecting victim. We also get more detail about potential victims than usual.
Most crime novels concern themselves with the aftermath of a crime. I thought it would be interesting to give the “victim” more of a presence. I wanted this novel to be about the anticipation of a crime and the tension to come from the investigation finding the perpetrator before the crime was actually committed.

I also wanted to see if I could write a crime novel without killing someone. You’ll just need to read the book to see if I was successful in that regard.

So, first Blood Tears 12 months ago, now A Taste For Malice. D’you think you’ve learned any new things about the world of writing over that period?
Definitely. As an aspiring author all you think about is getting that publishing deal and when it happens you think all your dreams have come true. But that’s only the first step. You have to get that book into the hands of readers or else it’s only so much paper. Selling books is what it’s all about and that is all about visibility. You need to get your book spotted among the multitudes.  When I master the trick of that, I’ll be keeping it to myself, so don’t even think of asking. (Cue pantomime laugh.)
(Waits patiently for the echoes of the – it has to be admitted – hammy laugh to die before speaking.)

Any final thoughts on this writing business?
Aye, learn to live with bad reviews. This is one area in life where you don’t have a right of reply. The vast majority of reviews have been favourable, thankfully, but there has been the odd one that has had me flummoxed. You read them over and over trying to see if there’s anything positive to be taken from them. And usually, there’s not because its more about the reviewer than it is about your book. And as I said, in most other areas of life you do have a right of reply, but in this one you need to step back from the computer. If you do respond, YOU end up looking like a dick. Not the dick who got their jollies from trashing your hard work.  Best not to read any reviews. Probably. But then, how do you resist?

Yep. Good advice, but hard to follow. I’m sorry this has been such a short look at what’s behind  A Taste of Malice, but I hope it’s piqued readers’ curiosity. You know how much I enjoyed it and I’m sure others will. Thanks for your time, Michael, and lots of luck with the book.
Thank you, Bill.

You’ll find more details about Michael on his Amazon page and his blog.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Shame of Forgetting to Take Your Own Advice

by Jackie King

There are two writing challenges I’m facing just now. The first is creating a protagonist (heroine, in this case) for a new series I’m trying to concoct. The second is working with old characters in order to get my current work to the publisher.

Creating new characters is pure fun. Playing with those who have been around for a few years can sometimes be a bit tedious. These fictitious folk have had time to develop an attitude. To add insult to injury, I fear they learned this unpleasant trait from me. 


Not wanting to write is sort of like a young woman with a would-be admirer she’s (at first) uninterested in. The guy seems dull to her, and she doesn’t want to go on the date she’s agreed to. She does it anyway, because she promised.

This is what I’m like when I don’t want to write, but have to. I type what seems to be one dull word after another. Then later I’m astonished (as is the young woman) when the dullard springs to life and becomes exciting. This is part of the magic of writing fiction.

Writer’s block has been jokingly described as, “When your imaginary friends won’t come out and play.” In fact, I have a T-shirt with that in scripted on the front. But the opposite is also true. Sometimes writers just don’t want to play with the people they have created, that day. This happens to me quite often.

We writers can find very creative excuses for this malady. One writer friend I know used this method:

“You told me to make sure you wrote on this trip,” I’d say.

She’d lean back in her chair, shoot me an ultra-wise look, and tap her forehead. “I am writing,” she’d say. “Up here, in my mind.”

I never argued, because that’s not my style, but I also never believed her. When I’m writing or brainstorming for new characters or plots, I find it necessary to be at my computer or have pencil and paper at the ready.

Ideas can flash through a writer’s mind with such brilliance that you know you’ll forget never forget them. How could you? The character or plot concept seemed so alive it couldn’t fade. But it does. The inspiration burns itself out for want of a pencil and turns into ashes.

By the time I decided to put my rear in the chair and record my masterpiece, the whole thought had disintegrated. Much to my own chagrin, that sometimes still happens. Usually when I’m out somewhere with nothing to write on or with. Which, of course, is my own fault. I’ve told students to always carry a pen and notebook or index cards in their purse or pocket.

Oh, the shame of not listening to your own advice.

Just now I’m brainstorming for a new protagonist. (To non-writers, that’s the main character who is telling the story.) I’m interviewing females from 60 upwards to relate some new adventures.


Ms. Protagonist will have younger relatives to add balance to the story. One might be a a grown granddaughter who is also a police psychologist. To add depth and interest, this young woman could love anime and dress up each year for Tokyo in Tulsa. As a hobby she might conjure up characters by doodling pictures like these:

Brother and Kid travel a deserted wasteland




Thorn, a thief, wrestling with his own pride
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
All characters were created and sketched by Morgan Sohl
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At this stage there are no limits, and I’m having so much fun that the old characters may have to wait for awhile. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

An Island Adventure Worth Writing About

by Jean Henry Mead



The Tatoosh Islands

I was invited to Tatoosh by my brother Bob, a career coast guardsman, who was in charge of the small island group collectively named for a chief of the Makah Indian nation. The three small islands are the most northwesterly point of the continental U.S. and located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, half a mile from the coast of Neah Bay, Washington. The lighthouse, Cape Flattery, was located on Tatoosh's main island.

My vacation to Tatoosh was an adventure from the start. My first plane belly-dived onto the runway in Stockton, California, because the landing gear failed to release. A rough landing but, fortunately, no one was hurt. It did, however, result in a six-hour delay before a replacement plane arrived. That placed us in Seattle-Tacoma airport at about 4 o’clock in the morning. At 6:30 a.m. I learned that I was to fly the remainder of the trip on a three-seater, single engine Cessna--no larger than my car--over the Olympic Mountains to Neah Bay. By the way, it was my first ever trip by plane.

Seated behind the pilot and another passenger, I could see the mountain peaks protruding through the clouds and I’ve never been so frightened in my life because air currents had us falling dangerously close to the peaks. When we reached the tiny airport some miles from Neah Bay, the landing strip appeared to be  a narrow, cracked sidewalk with weeds growing between the cracks.

My brother wasn’t there to meet me, so I hitched a ride with the other passenger, who was stationed at the coast guard base located on the Makah Indian reservation at Neah Bay. Halfway to the base we noticed a car parked along the road with a long, familiar pair of legs hanging out the door. It was my brother Bob, who was sleeping it off from a night at the club on the base the night before. It had been two months since he had been off the island. 

We then proceeded to the base where we waited for a small boat to come from the island to pick us up. When we reached the main island of Tatoosh, an inexperienced coastie was operating the crane which lowered the boatswain’s “chair” to the ocean to pick us up. The wooden box was about two feet square and six inches high and connected to a cable. I was lifted from the boat up a sheer rock face that appeared to be a hundred feet high. I screamed like a wounded water buffalo. When I reached the top, the box was swung to a wooden platform, landing hard enough to nearly break both my ankles.

Did I mention that the airline lost my luggage?

Cape Flattery on the main Tatoosh Island

I wore my brother’s coast guard uniforms for a week, and fortunately, one of the coasties had a pair of tennis shoes that fit. The fog horn woke me repeatedly during the night although the other inhabitants of the island were able to sleep through the noise.

I loved the lighthouse at Cape Flattery, located at the western end of the half mile by quarter mile island. The lighthouse was built in 1857, and the island has alternatively been inhabited by Makah Indian fishing parties, the coast guard, weather bureau employees and the navy. The guest book was fascinating to read and I wish I had been able to photograph some of the entries. It told of 19th century fishermen and explorers who visited the island by climbing the rocks. Some of their companions drowned or were killed from falls in the process.

I nearly lost my own life when I volunteered to mow the jungle-like undergrowth that threatens to take over the island. The tractor slid backward down an embankment and nearly went over the edge onto the rocks below. Once was enough. It still gives me shivers thinking about it.

A bird sanctuary is located adjacent to the main island (upper left in top photo) where I watched a variety of colorful sea birds take off and land, as well as seals and other marine life. Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca is Vancouver Island, Canada, which I could see on a clear day, which wasn't very often. When I wasn’t watching sea birds and visiting the lighthouse I enjoyed playing pool with the coasties and watching films in their small basement movie theatre. 

We were fogged in the morning I was scheduled to leave so I was able to stay two extra days. The morning I left, a small coast guard cutter arrived with my luggage, so I dressed like a civilian and boarded the cutter for the trip back to the mainland. Five minutes later, a wave swamped the boat and I looked like a drowned rat when I boarded the small plane for the trip back to Seattle. During the subsequent trip home, my plane left without me in Stockton, California, so I waited again for another plane.

I'd been expected to start my first newspaper reporting job several days before I returned home and was nearly fired before I began. The publisher said he'd traveled to northwestern Washington several times and had never heard of Tatoosh. Thankfully, I was able to whip out an island postcard, which saved my job. I also wrote a feature story about the trip.

The island is no longer inhabited and no coast guardsmen or weather station employees remain. Tatoosh has become one of the  most intensively studied field sites for marine life in the world. Studies have discovered how various species are linked to one another through a network of interactions and how environmental changes resulting in the extinction of certain species have affected the marine life food chain.

Anyone who now wants to visit the Tatoosh islands must ask permission from the Makah Indian Reservation officials at Neah Bay on Washington’s beautiful Olympia Penninsula . . .

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Real people--by request

by Carola

I had an interesting meeting at Art and the Vineyard (a local outdoor art & wine show) yesterday.

Several years ago, I was asked to give a character in my next book the name of the person who bid highest at an auction in aid of the Eugene Opera (disclosure: I'm a classical music fan but don't care for opera). The winning bid was $800, a woman who want her husband's name used. Turned out his name was Polish, which made for complications, but I got him into Valley of the Shadow, my 3rd Cornish mystery, as a WWII Polish refugee-- If you've read the book, you may have wondered where Skipper Tom Kulick came from! (I had asked about him and learned he was in the US Coast Guard).
 


Yesterday, the Kulicks came to the Oregon Authors booth to see me, They were very happy with the way I wrote Tom in, brought copies to be signed, and asked if I'd be willing to attend a lunch for 12 opera supporters for this year's fund-raising. I'm still not keen on opera, but what could I say? I'll do anything for a free lunch (well, almost anything...)
 
Hope they can find 12 people willing to pay to have lunch with me!


Similarly, someone once paid $500 at a library supporters auction to have me put her sister (deceased) in a book. I asked for information about her and discovered that she had played a brass instrument and loved brass band music. Her name seemed to me more American than English, so I wrote her character as an American visiting England on her honeymoon, in A Colourful Death, the second Cornish mystery.

Nick Gresham, the artist neighbour of my protagonist, Eleanor Trewynn, meets the young couple while listening to and sketching a band playing "Land of Hope and Glory," at Horse Guards' Parade in London. They commission him to paint a picture of the band. Returning to Cornwall, and finding himself chief suspect in a murder case, he keeps humming snatches of the tune as he works out ideas for his painting.


The sister of the bride--so to speak--was thrilled that I'd woven the love of brass music into the story.

 

The only other time I've done something like this was a whole family, whom I put for free into A Mourning Wedding, one of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.  It turned out their last name, Walsdorf, is from Luxembourg. It was an interesting challenge to fit them into a book set in England in 1923.

I made them a family of poor relations, a refugee from World War I, when the Germans invaded Luxembourg, who had married an Englishwoman. Given the xenophobic feelings of many of the English at that period, they made a great addition to the cast of suspects!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

America the Beautiful, take two

Home
Other people’s holiday snaps are merely things which test your acting ability and your vocabulary as you search for synonyms for ‘lovely’, ‘nice’, ‘how interesting’ and so on. So the fact that I’ve already droned on about visiting the USA and here I am extending it even further is a good reason for you to stop reading now and leave a comment consisting of one or more of the synonyms.

If you’re still here, I’ll make it worse by telling you that one of the evenings was spent with my eyes full of tears because I was laughing so much. I won’t name those responsible but they know who they are and one of the topics that came up was the direction my writing career should take. They started to plan what my next novel (or, better, series of novels) should be. They had the title of the first and kept trying out various pen names of which the least offensive was Ophelia Groyne. The title itself came in for some close textual analysis when the original suggestion – Under the Scotsman’s Kilt – was refined to Under m’ Scotsman’s Kilt and then Under da Scotsman’s Kilt. You see what I mean? This was just a tiny fragment of what genuinely was a hilarious evening but on the screen, it just looks embarrassing.

The Moon Gate
So, let’s get back to the snaps. We were a couple of weeks too early to get the full pleasure of the Azalea/Rhododendron Garden near the URI campus but I’d really love to build a replica of its Moon Gate in my own garden.

Guns and concrete

On the other hand, while I was fascinated by the extraordinary column in Providence made of guns concreted together, I wouldn’t like to have too many reminders of the proliferation of firearms around. But, on the other side of the road there’s a great restaurant called Parkside, which had terrific food, a great ambiance and cost far less than I’d have to pay in Aberdeen for rubbish.




a MALL
My wife and I have come to an agreement about shopping. She won’t let me come with her – ever. Her reasoning is that she can’t look around, compare styles and prices and things without being aware of my glowering, resentful presence. My reasoning is that she’s absolutely right. I hate shopping (unless it’s a hardware store full of interesting things whose function isn’t clear but which I want as soon as I see them). But in the USA, it’s different. I know we have malls, but they have MALLS, and the one in the middle of Providence is the biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s like being in a Star Trek set without the Klingons.

Mystic Seaport
Finally, though, another visit, to a beautiful place in Connecticut called Mystic Seaport. It’s much more to my liking because, as its name suggests, it’s about the sea and boats. It has a great collection of figureheads and I got talking to three of the volunteers there who act as guides and general sources of information and enthusiasm about the maritime history of New England. I told them I was writing a sequel to The Figurehead and that I had a couple of problems about the accommodation offered to passengers who were emigrating from Scotland to the USA in the 1840s. I wanted to know how conditions in steerage could be improved and one of them simply told me to visit the Charles W Morgan, the last wooden whale ship, which was originally built in 1841, the year in which my novel will be set, and is being restored and preserved at Mystic. He told me to go aft to the officers’ quarters and look for some particular features. I did and found not only what I was looking for, but things that would be of special interest to the woodcarver in my book. Without the guide’s directions, I would never have noticed them. That was just one of the serendipities of the trip. As you can probably tell, I had a great time.

OK, you can stop pretending to be interested now.



Saturday, July 11, 2015

What's In a Name?

by June Shaw


Okay, I did not originally come up with that question. Someone you know much better created it and numerous other quotes we enjoy. I believe Shakespeare's question is relevant today just like many of the situations he created.

But really, what is it about names? Shakespeare used Montague and Capulet to deepen his question and point out the fury between both families. Considering a few of the names he used throughout his plays makes me know the Bard spent quite a bit of time selecting those he selected.

Should we writers today do less?

Titles that were almost given to famous films tell us much thought was given to producing those that stuck in our thoughts. The same thing happens with well-known characters in novels. How could Rhett Butler be called anything else? Okay, without naming the famous protagonist, hasn't Tara also become a character?

Most of us who write books and stories know the names we give our main characters should not begin with the same letter or be the same length. We want to give much thought to whether we are creating a Daisy or a Scarlett. Obituaries often show us popular names of the elderly that we seldom use for young people today.

What type name do you like to read about or use for characters in stories? For those of you who are authors, how do you decide what's in the name of the people you create?

http://www.juneshaw.com


Thursday, July 9, 2015

I'M AT SIXES AND SEVENS--As the Brits Say

by Jackie King

I’ve been a huge Anglophile most of my life. Early in life I fell in love with that country upon discovering Agatha Christie’s delightful mysteries. One of the phrases she often used, and I particularly liked was, “ I’m at sixes and sevens...”

There was never any reason to look up this bit of colloquial vocabulary, because whenever Dame Agatha used the phrase I always knew exactly what the character meant: A state of confusion and disorder.

I’m in such a state of flux right now. Or, may I say, “I’m all sixes and sevens.”
 
I'm at sixes and sevens
i.e. A state of confusion and disorder

My third Grace Cassidy mystery THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE, is in the hands of my beta readers. My emotions are raging:

Relief: Yay! I finally have a draft good enough to go out in public all by itself.

Anxiety: What if these avid readers hate my story; are confused by the plot; bored by the dialogue?

Hope: That my novel will amuse and entertain. And also, (perhaps) earn a few royalties to help pay my always rising rent.

Any sensible person would take this time to relax and celebrate. And I’m doing some of that (along with much hand-wringing.) I’m also interviewing other possible characters who traipse through my mind and make smart-aleck remarks. One is an older woman (like me), living in a retirement center with other oldies, except they will be stumbling over a few bodies now and then.

Of course she will have middle-aged children and young-adult grandchildren. One of them will probably be police officer. I may make one a firefighter. This is the part of writing that’s wonderful fun.

Grace Cassidy, my current character, really needs a vacation so she can settle into the new relationship in her life with Sam Harper. And new imaginary friends are as much fun as old ones. I can hardly wait for them to fully develop so I can lead them into murder most foul.

A further complication in my life just now, is that I’m in the process of moving from one independent living facility to another. (A raise in rent threatened my financial comfort zone, so I must move on.) With the help of my youngest daughter, I’ll fold up my (writing) tent and steal away into the night. Probably not quietly, though.

My new pad will be slightly smaller than my present apartment. I’m learning to do what metropolitan dwellers have long done; move needed storage upward. One of my sons-in-law has been volunteered (note the verb tense) to put storage shelves above my desk for the many things I seem to need. (Smart children, acquired both by blood and by marriage, are true gifts from God.)

I didn’t want to move. I have made friends and grown roots where I am. But stuff happens.


The wonderful thing about being a writer is that we can work continually and in all situations. Lying in bed, sitting in a chair, driving—wherever. So I remind myself that all of the hand wringing I tend to do is both optional and unproductive. Perhaps I should give up the hand-wringing? After all, it is optional in a writer's life.


Book 1 in Series
Book 2 in Series