Thursday, September 25, 2014

Father Time Almost Kicked My Butt

by Jackie King

I love writing! It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. First I wrote at night, after working a day job. Twelve years ago, I was able to retire and begin living my dream of writing full time. For about eight years things were wonderful. Then my body started letting me down. I was forced to give thoughts to accommodating Father Time. My first reaction was to kick and scream and rail against this natural happening. What a waste of time.

Just living started to take all of my energy. Keeping up my 4-bedroom house, my yard and cooking meals left me too tired to write. I tried, but after about 20 minutes, I had to lie down for a while.

I fought this personal battle for much longer than I should have. Because of my own stubbornness, my  2nd Grace Cassidy mystery, THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, wasn’t getting written. Was my life as a writer over? I asked myself.

“NOT IF I CAN HELP IT” was my answer.

 My solution was to move into an independent living apartment complex where someone else would cook, wash dishes, and clean my digs. My continuing conversations with contractors of all kinds would be over. Whatever energy I had I could use to write.

This was pretty drastic for me. I’d lived in my 4-bedroom house for 40 years and accumulated a lot of things with precious memories attached. I’d have to get rid of most of my possessions. That was hard. Each book and each item on my shelves had some kind of sentiment attached to it. I struggled.

My youngest daughter was between jobs and said that if I wanted to downsize and move she would help me. She’s a genius at organization, and I knew she could make it happen. I have learned to follow my intuition, which some folks call their gut-feeling. Whatever one chooses to call this inner-knowledge, I believe it comes from God. I had such a feeling about this move.

Signing up for an apartment and calling a realtor to set everything in motion was a bit like stepping off the roof of a skyscraper into nothingness. But I wanted to continue writing. So I took a deep breath and marched forward.

To complicate things, I contracted pneumonia about this time. And sleep apnea. And a-fib. Downsizing and moving was a nightmare. Adjusting, traumatic. I had one serious melt-down which my sweet daughter talked me through. But I did it. And guess what? I love it. I call my 3-room-apartment My Writing Nest.

I finished book 2 in my Grace Cassidy mystery series, wrote a novella to include in an anthology, and am well into book 3.

I’M WRITING. Every day. And that’s what makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An interview with Sara Bain, part two.

by Bill Kirton
Last time, I was talking to Sara Bain about her first novel, The Sleeping Warrior.  Here's the rest of our chat

OK, here’s your chance to tell people why they should read it. Sell it to me (even though I’ve already read it).
The Sleeping Warrior is basically a crime thriller, police procedural and romance with an element of fantasy thrown into the mix. I wanted to write a contemporary novel that I could believe in, which also included that little ingredient of escapism. I suppose, if I was forced to categorise it, the book would fit loosely into the urban fantasy subgenre but it’s also much more than that.
The heroine of the story is Libby Butler, a self-centred ambitious young lawyer who has been emotionally traumatised by a close encounter with a serial killer. When she’s called to a south London police station in the middle of the night, she meets a man in the custody suite called Gabriel who is in need of help. But helping Gabriel proves perilous to Libby and everyone she knows. As the death count rises and fear is the only emotion left to feel, something inside Libby turns and her true self emerges.

The story is set partly in London and partly on the Isle of Arran where The Sleeping Warrior is a famous view of the mountains from across the Clyde. Gabriel is also the Sleeping Warrior in that he starts off in the story as a taciturn, enigmatic anomaly of society until he’s called into conflict. Allegorically, the Sleeping Warrior is also the dormant warrior spirit within us all.

I didn’t know about the allegory when I read it and it certainly helps to explain the richness of the character’s involvement. It makes me wonder how you want people to feel after they’ve read it.
I’d like a reaction like ‘Wow! That’s clever’ or ‘I love what she has to say’. I hope that anyone reading it will also appreciate the multiple layers of theme and nuance that are built into the foundations of the story.

Well, for what it’s worth, you had me hooked. As I said, I found it very rich and very compelling. Now let’s move to Ivy Moon Press. What decided you to set it up?
I started my career in publishing, albeit in professional text books for a legal publishing company. As an editor, I learned editorial skills and the entire process from commissioning to marketing. I’m also a graphic designer and very computer literate, so setting up my own publishing company just seemed like the natural progression to what I’ve already been trained to do. Having been a journalist for over 13 years, I know how to approach the press, which is a very handy skill when it comes to promotion.

And how do you see it developing? Will you have a stable of authors? Will its approach to publishing be different? Are you afraid that running it might eat even further into time that you’d prefer to spend writing?
Having been in the business for only a couple of months, I now understand why authors are so desperate to find a publisher! The publishing business is not always as straightforward as it would appear and before a book even hits the market there are many different fundamentals to consider that most authors aren’t aware of.

The learning curve has been more like a 1:1 gradient and I’ve found myself in the ring with the various internet publishing platforms: all of which say they’re human-friendly but none of which fulfil their promises of ease of use. I’m getting there slowly, though, and I’m now armed not only with knowledge but also with the benefit of hindsight.

I intend to publish the first episode of my ‘big’ fantasy by December and take it from there. I hope that my experience will attract other quality fiction writers whose works don’t fit into the comfortable niches devised by publishers solely for ease of promotion. My only stipulation is ‘quality’ and ‘fantasy.’ Anything more, I would consider a bonus.

Until Ivy Moon is fully fledged, I have no idea where this journey will take me but it’s my intention to offer support for all authors, irrespective of whether they fit the Ivy Moon list or not. I’m developing a part of the website which will provide a free showcase for authors – be they self or traditionally published. Obviously, this will have to start as perhaps a few sentences, a thumbnail cover image and a link to either the author’s website or the book’s retailer. I also want to feature resources for authors who are looking to hone their craft. This may take the form of guest blogs and clinics or even a link to good advice sites. I have lots of ideas and, through time, hope to incorporate them into the Ivy Moon site.

I should say also that, alongside Ivy Moon, my colleague has set up Oak Moon Press which will showcase Scottish works of non-fiction. We already have a number of quality Scottish authors lined-up and hope the list will progress in the coming years.

That all sounds very ambitious, exciting and daunting but it’s a great vision. It also seems to fit with the way the business is changing. I hope it goes well. Let’s finish with some wider, more general questions about you as a writer. You strike me as a pretty gregarious person yet writing’s a solitary pursuit. Do you enjoy that solitude?
I have a big family and come from an even bigger family, so I’ve never done anything in solitude. You’ll often find me writing, researching, talking on the phone and cooking dinner all at the same time. Also, writing allows me to escape into another world for a while and mingle with the characters there, so I really don’t know what it is to be alone although I’m sure my poor husband does.

So you have to deal with family matters, earning a living and writing. How do you juggle them all?
Kids are all at university and my full-time job is this publishing business so writing has had to take a back seat for the moment. Once The Sleeping Warrior is published, however, I’ll settle back to continuing with my fantasy.

Which presumably means another book, so what will that be about?
It’s called Dark Dawn and it’s the first episode of a sweeping fantasy entitled The Scrolls of Deyesto. I’ve been writing it for about 16 years on and off but I’ve settled down to re-writing this first book.

There’s no doubt, Sara, that you think big. Do you want to be rich, famous, both or neither?
Everyone wants to be rich, apart from those who already are. I don’t feel comfortable being in the public eye, so I’d prefer to give fame a wide berth.

That’s it, Sara. Thanks very much for such generous and comprehensive answers and good luck both with the book and Ivy Moon.
Thank you, Bill. It’s been a challenge but a pleasure. A wee reminder for anyone who missed it last time, you can get the book here in the UK, here in the USA and here on Goodreads.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A bloody tale

by Carola

A while ago, my dog Trillian's best friend, Oli, came to stay for a week or two. Like most dogs, one of the games they both enjoy is running along a fence barking at a dog on the other side of the fence who is running and barking back.

Trillian watering a tree on the school field

I'm lucky enough to live next door to a school field where dogs are allowed after school hours. Like mine, my next-door neighbour's house backs onto the field. He has two bloodhounds and two mini yappers. When they're out in the yard, it's practically impossible to get Trillian and Oli away from that fence. They'll come away but always rush back for another session. Oh well, it's exercising them!

Oli giving me a kiss on the school field
Another neighbour with one dog, Stella, also shares a fence with the field. She's older and not so much fun, but occasionally they have a "run-in". Unfortunately, Stella's fence doesn't reach the ground in some places. Stella's mom puts boards to block the gaps, but sometimes the boards fall over or get nudged out of position.

One of the run-ins with Stella got out of hand. Oli stuck his  head under the fence, and Stella removed a piece of his ear. Blood started to well. Oli shook himself and blood spattered all over him. Stella's mom brought a bucket of cold water to the gate to wash him off and--we hoped--stanch the flow, but by then it was more flood than drip. A second bucket didn't help. By then there was a puddle of blood in the gateway to the school field... (As a mystery writer, I started plotting!)

So I headed for home with Trillian completely unconcerned and Oli respattering himself as we walked. He looked awful. A young girl walking down the street saw him and asked in horror, "Is that blood?"

Another bucket of water at home. Oli still bleeding freely but not apparently in pain. He wasn't allowed in the house, of course, and by bedtime he was still bleeding, so the poor boy had to spend the night in the garage. I should add that by that time there was no danger of his bleeding to death.

Luckily there was time enough for it to heal before his parents came home. I just had to explain why he had a notch in his ear...

Now I keep styptic powder in the garage, readily to hand for emergencies.
Yes, Oli is one of my faithful readers...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Killer Nashville August 2014

by Jackie King

Killer Nashville rocks! I highly recommend this mystery con for mystery writers or for any writer who needs an excuse for a fun trip. The conference was scheduled over the weekend, August 22 through 24. T.D. Hart, my traveling buddy, aka Jennifer Adolph, and I left on the Wednesday, August 20. We went early to attend the Sister’s in Crime workshop on Thursday afternoon, which was titled: DOING TIME WITH SinC: GREAT BEGINNINGS. We brought the beginning of our current WIP, up to 200 words.
Hank Phillippi Ryan with T.D. Hart (Jennifer Adolph)

The presenters were Laura DiSilverio, (president of SinC), Catriona McPherson, Cathy Pickens and Hank Phillipi Ryan.

The president read our copy, which felt a bit like taking your clothes off in public and letting everyone critique your body. In other words, it took courage. But wow! Did we ever get some great tips. As soon as I came home I immediately rewrote my beginning. What I learned was well worth the cost of an extra night at the Omni Hotel (First 5-star hotel I’ve ever stayed in.)

I was on the KILLER COZY panel at 10:00 on Friday morning. Panelists: Jennie Bentley/Jenna Bennet, Kay Elam (panel leader), Caroline Fardig and Nancy Parra. I'm in the middle.

Mystery Writers of America party—Killer Nashville 2014
Surrounded by writer friends

Book one in Grace Cassidy Series

Book two in Grace Cassidy Series

If any of you attended this fantastic conference, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crime and the paranormal - an interview with Sara Bain, part one.

by Bill Kirton
I seem to be spending a lot of time interviewing other authors nowadays. Following on from last month’s chat with Dorothy Johnston, here’s another with a Scottish writer-friend, Sara Bain. Sara’s a journalist and late last year, she published her first novel. I read a beta version of it and wasn’t surprised to find myself drawn into a powerfully conceived, beautifully written story which ticked all the crime boxes I expected to find but also threw a disturbing paranormal element into the mix. Also, The Sleeping Warrior will be the first publication from a new publisher, Ivy Moon Press. And guess what, it’s Sara herself who’s set it up.
I found her answers so interesting that, rather than edit the conversation down, I decided to split it between two postings. Here’s the first chunk.

First, let’s talk about The Sleeping Warrior. Have you written anything like it before? If so, tell us about it and if not, tell us what sort of writing you have done.
I prefer to read and write within the confines of the ‘fantasy’ genre and all its associated subgenres. Epic fantasy, in particular, is a personal favourite and one that I’ve been reading since I was a little child and writing since I was a bigger child. That said, when I started submitting my work to traditional publishing houses, I was often told that my fantasy was not ‘epic’ enough, in that there was not enough magic in the primary plot and not enough magical creatures running around my world.

My problem is that I like real people and put them in real situations, albeit with a long stretch of the imagination. I can’t write about something I don’t believe in. Orcs and dwarves don’t work for me, although the supernatural and a belief system in heaven and hell does.

I wrote The Sleeping Warrior as a challenge to traditional publishers’ fixation for genre classification.  I decided to write a contemporary novel which crossed as many fictional genres as I could cope with; which was populated by as many cliché antiheroes from fashionable fiction that I could stuff into the story without losing the plot, so to speak; and which had an element of fantasy woven into the narrative.

For some reason, it worked for me.

Hmmm, ‘challenging traditional publishers’ fixations’. You obviously know what they, as well as agents and readers for that matter, feel about genres and how they like their authors to fit neatly into them, so isn’t your challenge rather a bold move?
Maybe, but I’ve noticed that, where a couple of years ago publishers would instantly reject novels that failed to fit neatly into the limited library classifications of fiction, they’ve now opened the submission sluice gates to the more speculative or slipstream genres: something that was anathema to them only a little while ago. I believe that, with the coming of the mighty Amazon, publishers are no longer in control of what people read and are genuinely surprised that readers are choosing for themselves. 

So what are you offering readers to counteract any possible resistance to genres being mixed?
I believe that a strong plot and strong characterisation are the true benchmarks of a good story, regardless of setting.

Well, there’s no doubt that the crime aspects of the book in particular are very real, pacey, gripping. Did you have to change gear or somehow change the way you thought as you shifted between that and paranormal/fantasy mode?
Not at all. Gabriel is the fantasy element in the book: the stranger who turns up one day and turns people’s lives into hell before making them better people for having met him. He could happen to anyone.

He’s certainly a striking character (and phenomenon). Do you see the supernatural as being an extension of ordinary reality, some feature of the subconscious perhaps, or is it purely fantastical, an escape?
I believe the supernatural is anything and everything that can’t be explained by science or logical reason, so, syllogistically, it must exist. Just because something can’t be explained or proven doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

When I was a journalist for a local newspaper a few years ago, I ran a regular feature on hauntings in my region. This not only involved interviewing the owners of the allegedly haunted buildings, but also the physical investigation of the sites. I must admit, most of the time, I was absolutely terrified but, mercifully, I saw and experienced nothing other-wordly so I wasn’t haunted by the experience.

I like to think that, if I witness something personally, then I’ll believe it. I do, however, keep an open mind just in case someone or something does come back from the dead and tries to convince me otherwise.

Tell us about your characters. Were some easier to create than others? Are there any with whom you did or didn’t like spending time?
There are a lot of characters to juggle in The Sleeping Warrior but their characteristics are so different from one another that it was quite easy to keep up with them. Carl, Libby’s boss, is the one character I particularly dislike. He has so few redemptive personal qualities that it was difficult for even Gabriel to save him. I did think of killing him off quite early in the plot, but he worked too well.

And how about the difference between males and females? Did you find them equally easy to inhabit?
I don’t think I’m one of those writers who possesses the minds of characters and manipulates them from the inside. I tend to let them get on with life while I take a back seat – a bit like God. All my books involve a vast array of characters – both good and bad, male and female, young and old, poor and rich – they tend to interact better when I’m not trying to control them and the story progresses organically.

It sounds as if you maybe don’t do much plotting beforehand. Is that true? Or do you need to have a fairly rigid idea of where you’re heading?
I start with a character and then a few more come along. I don’t plot and I don’t draw mind maps or make lists. I may have a general inkling as to where I want them to go and what I want them to do once they’ve got there, but sometimes that doesn’t work. I tend to go where my characters lead me and trust that they will get there in the end. Often the end is a surprise, even to me.

OK, time for the intermission. Next time we’ll say a wee bit more about the book, then turn to the new publishing venture and more general thoughts on Sara’s approach to writing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

That revision letter...

That revision letter is my excuse--no time for blogging once again. My editor is quite right, I have to rewrite the last chapter.

So I'm going to post a link to an article I wrote for an online magazine:

The only thing it has to do with writing is that I wrote it.