Saturday, July 26, 2014

Starting a New Series

by June Shaw

Hm, starting to write a new series is much more difficult than I'd expected.

Of course the characters are different and so is the tone -- to some extent. I'd thought I wouldn't put quite so much romance in this one, but relationships jumped in. Oh right, I think most lives are enhanced with having a loved one, or even a really important person in your life.

My first series features a spunky widow of a certain age who'd trying (without much success) to avoid her hunky dude, and all of those books are fun.

The series I've begun now features divorced sisters--one's hot, one's not--in the interest of romance I mean. This is also fun to write, although parts of the books are darker than those in my Cealie Gunther series.

Yes, I do have ideas for at the second book, and they're wanting to draw me into that one before I complete a final rewrite of the first. I guess that's a good thing. It means I care enough about the concept and characters to stay with them. Yay!

What about you? If you're written more than one series, how do you feel about the characters and plot for the next one? I'd be interested in hearing your ideas. Thanks!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Weird Kind of Storyboarding

by Jackie King

The amount of time it took me to write my second Grace Cassidy mystery, THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, was downright embarrassing. To avoid this with my third in the series, I researched storyboarding and plotting. Then I told anyone who would listen that I would block out each and every scene before I typed one word in my third Grace Cassidy mystery.

Well, I lied!

Sorry about that.

My intentions, as always, were pristine. (And, yes. I do know the name of the road that’s lined with good intentions. My mother explained all of that to me when I was 13.)

But in my own defense, is it my fault that the headlights of my brain only show me a tiny stretch of the road ahead? (You can blame God, if you like, since he created me. But first you should know that He and I have already agreed that He’s always going to be right, no matter how good of an argument I manage to offer.)

I began my storyboard for my 3rd Grace Cassidy mystery in good faith. I bought a bulletin board at Walmart for ten bucks, came home with my purchase and marked it into four sections with masking tape. Feeling very self-righteous and completely sure of my success in this project, I started making plot points on index cards, as I’d always done.

This grew old in a hurry. My fingers started to cramp. (I'm an old girl, after all.) Then it occurred to me that I could type much faster than I could write in longhand. So I finished my notes on Word. Then I changed the margins so I could cut each note into an index-card size. These I pinned to the board.

The first section was filled, when suddenly the characters sprang to life and started talking inside my head. The problem was, they said what they wanted to say, not what I had planned. And since I’m sort of a wishy-washy person, I didn’t argue with them, but just followed blindly. (For some weird reason there seems to be a sort of magic connection between my fingers and the story. I’d be a real bust at dictating).

I’m still convinced that storyboarding is the right way to go and might save me a year of rewrites. Therefore my storyboard for my 3rd Grace Cassidy mystery is still in progress. However, my method evolved. (Some writers work with files and some work with piles. I’m a pile person.) I now pin the plot progress on my board as I go. I’m a gal who must write as she goes. I start with a premise, knowing only who has murder in their hearts, and why and who they're ticked off with. The rest I learn as I write.
2nd Grace Cassidy Mystery

1st Grace Cassidy Mystery
I wish I could be a strict plotter, but it seems I can't. I have to write "by the seat of my pants."

Oh well, it worked for the pilots in the 1920's maybe it will work for me too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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 put to me in a recent interview.

What am I working on?
Ahem, this is an embarrassing question 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 1840 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 in early Victorian Scotland so their options were limited. I’m 23,000 words into it and waiting for it to grab me and insist I work it all out. It doesn’t help that I’ve also started writing another sequel, to my satire The Sparrow Conundrum, and have made copious notes for the sixth (and probably last) in my detective series.

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?
I’ve already hinted at that. I write crime because it’s what that first publisher wanted. But it also 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. The third in my Carston series, The Darkness, sets real questions for readers, making them examine where their sympathies lie and what that says about their own morality.

On the other hand, I used to write radio and stage plays and I also write short stories, most of which aren’t about crime, and stories for children and I do it for the sheer pleasure of entering different worlds, getting to know different characters, some of them existing in other dimensions. In fact, my latest novella, Alternative Dimension, was about an online role-playing game where characters were not only themselves but avatars, which could take any form. 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. I know that’ll happen soon with that sequel that’s taking so long and, when it does, I'll finish it quite quickly.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Today’s Guest Blogger Is Lois Winston

Lois Winston
I recently attended a family reunion for my husband’s maternal side of the family. Most of the attendees had multiple, higher-education degrees from Ivy League colleges. Some were classical and jazz musicians. One was a composer. Another, an award-winning movie and TV producer and writer with a gazillion credits to his name, including Emmys and a Peabody award.

I had never previously met many of the attendees because my husband’s aunt, who had organized the shindig, had also invited people from her ex-husband’s side of the family. So there were lots of introductions being made at the onset of the banquet.

I’ve found there’s a segment of the population that is always more interested in telling you about themselves than asking anything about you. Many of these people fell into that category. After I politely listened to much bragging (covering up my boredom with a fake smile pasted across my face and the occasional nod of interest,) someone finally turned to me and asked, “And what do you do?”

With a completely serious expression I said, “I kill people for a living.”

Jaws dropped. Sideways glances were exchanged. Dialogue thought bubbles popped up above people’s head, reading, “Is she kidding?”

Eventually, I explained that I wrote a mysteries. Now these are Jonathan Franzen-type people, the kind who only read literary fiction. But to the credit of a few, I was asked about my books and even had a couple of people pull out their smart phones and jot down a title or two. Would they eventually buy one of my books, or were they simply being polite? I’ll probably never know because chances are slim I’ll ever see these people again.

However, you never know. Maybe…just maybe…that award-winning TV and movie producer/writer just might want to pick up the option on one of my series. Hope springs eternal…

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Definitely Dead, the first book in her new Empty Nest Mystery series, was recently released.
Gracie Elliott-New Empty-Nester Series 
In addition, Lois is a literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, Follow everyone on Twitter:

Definitely Dead
Book One in the Empty Nest Mystery series

An homage to Dashell Hammet’s Thin Man movies with a modern day spin on Nick and Nora Charles

When her career is outsourced to Asia, fledgling romance author and empty-nester Gracie Elliott wants a job that will allow her time to write. So she opens Relatively Speaking, becoming a wing woman to the senior set. Since her clients need several hours each morning to find their teeth, lube their creaky joints, and deal with lower GI necessities, and they always turn in after the early bird specials, she has plenty of time to pen her future bestsellers.

Gracie deliberately avoids mentioning her new business venture to husband Blake until after she signs her first client. Blake joins the company as a not-so-silent partner, tagging along to make sure Gracie doesn’t cause a septuagenarian uprising. When Client #13 is found murdered in the parking lot behind the Moose Lodge, Gracie knows, no matter how much Blake protests otherwise, she can’t wait around for the police to find the killer if she wants to save her livelihood.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Chance Occurrence of Events Remarkable either for Being Simultaneous or for Apparently Being Connected

by Bill Kirton
My model of The Scottish Maid
Forgive the title but I’m still working on the sequel to The Figurehead  and I find myself doing quite a lot of Victorian-speak. It is, however, that activity that’s produced this blog. So let’s start with a question: what connects the first ship to have a clipper bow, Monsieur and Madame LaFarge,  19th century melodramas and me? The question is rhetorical, of course, although if any of you do have the right answer, that merely adds to the frisson I get from it.

I’ve mentioned the ship with the clipper bow before. She features briefly in The Figurehead and was designed, built and launched in Aberdeen. Her name was Scottish Maid. In those days, ships were taxed according to the depth of their hull and boat builder Alexander Hall reduced this depth by extending the bow above the water line. The result was not only lower taxes but also a sleeker, faster, more efficient bow.

The LaFarges were around at the same time as the Scottish Maid – Marie for rather longer than her husband because she was tried for his murder in 1840. And that was also the period at which melodrama was thriving in France, the UK and elsewhere.

So those are the ingredients and when you put them, The Figurehead, its sequel and me together, you get the subject of this blog, of which the title is a dictionary definition. In a word, coincidence, which is rife in melodramas, most of them relying on unexpected family relationships, birthmarks, people turning up at exactly the right time and so on. For me, an unrepentant cynic, atheist and believer in common sense, most events that seem to reveal some hidden plan or underlying structure are coincidences. But I do prefer the happy ones.

So what?

Well, this morning, I was just finishing chapter six of the sequel when I decided to change the way the victim had been killed. I’ve been struggling a little with it because the crime part of it all is less interesting than the other themes – Helen's first steps in her father's business, a new, unusual figurehead commission for John, and the visit of a theatre troupe to Aberdeen to perform nautical melodramas. I was trying to achieve too many things through the way the victim died so it was muddled and the clues and red herrings weren’t easy to find. So I decided to poison her instead. Arsenic was a favourite poison for the Victorians. They could buy it at the apothecary's and no records were kept of purchases or sales. It was also an ingredient in various medications, including a cream used by actresses (and ladies in society) to lighten their complexions and, fortuitously, my victim is an actress.

Back, for the moment, to The Figurehead. When I was writing it, two striking coincidences occurred, one of which was to discover that I shared a birthday with Scottish Maid. She was launched on August 10th 1839, exactly one hundred years before I arrived. Pure coincidence, but it gave me a childish pleasure.

And the pleasure was repeated today. You see, I needed to find out how they performed autopsies in 1842 and how they discovered that the death might be due to arsenic poisoning. My luck was in. A Scottish chemist, James Marsh, had devised a test for it in 1836 and 'The Marsh Test' was used in court cases thereafter as an almost infallible technique. Its most famous case was that of Marie LaFarge . In 1840, the year in which the action of the first novel takes place, she was accused of murdering her husband, Charles. I read all about it on several sites and it gave me all the information I needed to check the authenticity of the case I was building.

And on what date did Charles and Marie marry? Yes, of course. The same day that saw the launch of the Scottish Maid, August 10th 1839, exactly one hundred years before a screaming, wrinkled me emerged in a Plymouth Nursing Home.

Coincidence or all part of God’s plan? You decide.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Where do you get your ideas?


One of the questions writers of fiction hear most often (if not the most frequent) is "Where do you get your ideas?" I usually give a semi-facetious answer: They're all floating around in the ether and when you're tuned in they just come to you.

Facetious, but as good an explanation as any. I can pinpoint where certain books started. Sometimes I began with a great title: Styx and Stones, for instance.


Once I had that, it clearly had to be a poisoned-pen story, so the characters, plot, and setting developed from there. But what sparked the title I have no idea.

It's easier to trace the books that started with a place: Rattle His Bones, set in the Natural History Museum;

The Bloody Tower, set at the Tower of London;

or To Davy Jones Below, set on a transatlantic liner, and Murder on the Flying Scotsman, on a train. In each case, the place--the setting--led to the plot and the characters. Where the Flying Scotsman is concerned, another factor was that I wanted to make it as different from Murder on the Orient Express as possible, though that's where the idea came from.

(The cover on the left, the US hardcover original, was developed from a real 1920s railway poster--which did not, however, have a skeleton driving the train)

So, sometimes the origin of an idea is clear. More often, I haven't a clue, or not one I can pin down. I guess the real answer is: A lifetime's experiences.