Category: Writing (page 1 of 4)

Seven Awesome Internet Tools for Writing Realistic Settings

Having a concrete setting in your novel helps orient the reader and can be used to establish the tone, but how do you go about writing realistic settings if your main character travels the world — while you stay at home — or lives in a place far from where you reside?

The answer is research. I’ve made a list of 7 internet tools that can be used to build accurate, realistic settings for novels. To help explore the potential of each tool, let’s run through an example of a novel set on Coronado Island, California, USA.

Tools for Writing Realistic Settings:

1. Google Earth

Google Earth has different versions. You can download a version onto your desktop computer, an app to your Android device, or use it on the web via Google’s Chrome browser (the web-based version doesn’t currently work in other browsers).

Google Earth gives you three dimensional maps that can be an airplane view or a bird’s eye view of a particular location. Many maps are supplemented with videos, guided tours, etc.

Google Earth is particularly helpful for giving you the overall lay of the land, so you know where to stage a romantic picnic for your characters.  Or hide a body, if it is a mystery novel.

2. Google Maps

Chances are you’ve used Google Maps  to find directions to a restaurant or shoe store or your friend’s house. But have you used all its features for writing realistic settings?

(Screenshot used for educational/discussion purposes).

When you first type in a name or address, you will get this map view. See the satellite view in the lower left corner? Click on that for an overall view. Also, see the little yellow guy on the bottom right corner? You can use your mouse to drag him into the map for a street view of a particular location.

 

I plopped him right on the beach, as you can see in the window on the bottom left hand corner.  You can move around at street level and see detailed landmarks. Get an accurate idea of vegetation, architecture, and more. It’s a blast!

Once you have the general details, you may want to return to the map for specific scenes. You can even calculate how long it would take your character to drive from place to place.

3. Wolfram Alpha for Weather

According to Google Maps, that above image was taken in July, 2016. What if you want to set your story in January 1968?  What weather would your characters experience?

Luckily, you can look up historical and current weather information for a given location at Wolfram Alpha. According to my search, it was clear and sunny like this 30% of the time in January in 1968 and the average high was 68° F. It also reveals which days were cloudy, which were foggy, and what the percentages were.

4. SunCalc.Org

Want to send your characters out to have a picnic at sunrise? You can find out what time that would be on a given day and place, where the sun would be in the sky, etc.

5. YouTube Videos

As a writer, you know to add sensory information to make a place more vivid. YouTube videos can help you add both images and sounds to your descriptions.

Although I found videos from Coronado with traffic noise and dogs panting, this would be good for a sunrise at the beach scene.

Don’t forget to include the cultural setting  as well as the physical one. Do the locals have an dialect or accent? Do they celebrate certain holidays?  YouTube can help with those, too.

In My Defens has compiled a wonderful list of videos that feature ambient sounds from different settings that are perfect to listen to while writing. I often use them to drown out background noise.

6. Snap map

This is a pretty new app that allows you to see brief  Snapchat videos that anonymous users have posted at a given location. It is oddly addicting and also an fantastic source of ideas and inspiration.

Add a location to the search box. Once the map comes up, click on the colored areas that indicate hot spots. Even if there aren’t any, sometimes clicking on a location of interest will yield a video or two. When I checked Coronado Island, I found a young woman’s selfie video taken at the beach hours before. You could hear the waves and wind. Her looks, clothing, and what she said were great clues to cultural setting.

Try a few locations and times to get a good idea of Snap Map’s full potential.

7.  Wikipedia

Be sure to utilize the awesome power of Wikipedia, especially since articles are often edited by people with ties to a given location. In addition to information about geography and history of a given place (for example, Coronado), it also offers lists like regional cuisine in the US, regional dialects (check different languages), etc. The links to references can be invaluable, too.

Miscellaneous:

Of course, travel blogs and social media can also help fill in details of a particular setting. Just keep in mind travel blogs which used to be someone’s clunky personal diary of a trip, now may be highly-curated articles and images sponsored by (paid for by) local tourist attractions. If you do manage to find an authentic one, don’t be afraid to ask the blogger or poster questions about local flavor.

With a good sense of place in your mind through careful research, you can cherry-pick specific experiences and details to create a concrete, powerful setting unique to your novel.

What tools did you try? Do you use any others? We’d love to hear about them.

Old Nano Blog from 2008

I’m retiring and consolidating a bunch of blogs/domains this month and I thought I’d add a few old posts from a blog written in 2008 here before I delete them.

 

########

Thursday, November 6, 2008

This month is the annual novel writing month. If you have never heard of it before, visit the National Novel Writing Month website. I have had friends and relatives who have taken part in the past, I was curious to find out what it was about. So, here I go!

My novel is in the Mystery/Suspense category. The tentative title is “A Possibility of Murder.” I choose to do a mystery because I love reading mysteries and I’m very familiar with most of the most famous authors in this genre.

After a week of meeting my writing targets and feeling quite good about this whole NaNoWriMo process, I had a bad day yesterday. You see, a bunch of negative information flowed in from a number of different sources, all on the same day.

First, I attended a meeting of the library committee for our school. This is the first year the school is open and they don’t have a library yet. We are working hard to get one going and have fundraisers planned to buy books and book shelves. One item on the agenda was deciding on lists of books to purchase once we have some funds. Jan, our chair, mentioned she had read that for libraries with limited budgets, it is best to buy fiction and avoid nonfiction. The idea is that children now use the Internet for all their nonfiction research.

I have to admit I was devastated. My son and I use the nonfiction section of our local libraries almost exclusively. We rarely read fiction from the library, although I do buy fiction. That’s because we usually have nonfiction projects that interest us for a short time. We read every book in the library on that subject, and then another project comes up and we get out books on another topic.

Back to using the Internet, sure there are some fantastic sites, but you are just as likely to get sites that are just links to other sites, sites full of urban myths, or sites that people fill with junk just to have fun. I want my son to be able to pick up a well-researched, insightful book and have confidence in the information it contains.

But that is only the start of the negativity that flowed. I opened my e-mail and there was my daily dose of one of my favorite blogs “On Living By Learning.” Guess what the thesis was? To Blog or Not to Blog in the Microblog Era. She quoted people who stated we should kill our blogs because blogs are out of date. Sandra, the author of On Living By Learning blog, said that blogs still have a place in the world and listed some reasonable ideas why this is the case. However, it was still disturbing to me, because I love blogging and feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of it. How much can you communicate on Twitter? I find that form of writing is for people with the attention span of a fruit fly. My depression deepened.

Now comes the best part. Next I opened an electronic newsletter I receive for writers. At this point I need something to cheer me up. Nope, more bad news. The featured article is a link to this blog post: 5 Reasons why you don’t need to write a book, although the link actually says 5 reasons why you should not write a book. Can you believe it? Such cheery thoughts as “You’ll make more money working at a fast food restaurant.” The good news is that she’s not anti-blog. She says that if you write a good blog you might get a book deal out of that.

I am not superhuman. To have that much negativity about writing books all hit, wham, on one day was totally disheartening. I only did about 400 words on my novel.

But you know what? I got some hope, from a very unlikely place. My sister had given me a subscription to Oprah magazine. After making sure the homework was done and the dishes were at least off the table, I opened it up. There were articles about writers, by writers and even a list of favorite books. People still do appreciate books. People do still read something besides Twitter. And you know what I realized? Some people will write about anything to get some attention on the Internet.

So, I’m still going for it.

Read a book today!

The Beauty of Writing

Writing this novel has really opened by my eyes to how the process of writing works. I compare it with a painting. I guess I always thought that when you wrote you sketched out the design, maybe lightly or even just had the design in your head. Then you started to write, and it was like a fully finished beautiful painting would be revealed with each stroke you added. You would work from left to right and when you were done the entire painting would be revealed.

What I have discovered, however, is that it is more like a real painting process. You draw the sketch, and then you revise it. Then you put down the bottom layer, revise again, add some color, change your mind, try some of this over there. At least for this novel, for me, I’m adding washes and layers of color over previous layers. It is an exciting process, nothing like I expected.

Read something today!

 

A Sense of Place

The experts say that a good mystery novel should have a strong sense of place.  I can think of several examples of novels where this is true, like the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. I always want to have a relaxing cup of red bush (rooibos) tea after I read those books, which are set in Botswana.

I have a horrible confession to make now. I don’t have a clue where to place my mystery novel. Yikes! I have 9,000 words and I haven’t decided yet. How can this be? Worse yet, how long can I go on like this?

I think the problem is that I don’t feel roots to a place myself. I grew up in Upstate New York. I have traveled a lot, and now have ended up in Arizona. I love the East, but I feel disconnected from it. When I go back, I have the eerie feeling I’m revisiting the past. I am also not confident that I can recreate somewhere I only visit now and then.

But I also don’t feel like I have roots where I am living now. I don’t have the love for and understanding of this area that someone who grew up here would have.

So right now my poor characters are living in generic town, USA. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I only have a few weeks to solve this problem.

And oh yes, thanks for reading this.

What Writing a Book is Like

I just came across an interesting quote from Leonard Cohen about his book Beautiful Losers in Gayle’s Blog. (Gayle runs Changing Hands, a wonderful indie bookstore in Tempe, Arizona.)

Because the quote very hard to find on the blog, I’m going to copy part of it here:

Beautiful Losers was written outside, on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies, behind my house on Hydra, an island in the Aegean Sea. I lived there many years ago. It was a blazing hot summer. I never covered my head. What you have in your hands is more of a sunstroke than a book.”

How Do You Find The Time?

A friend asked my how I am finding the time to write a novel. Because I have asked this question myself before, I will try to figure out an answer. I have a disclaimer though: what works for me one week probably isn’t going to work for me the next week, let alone work for anyone else.

Some people might say, “she’s a stay-at-home mom, what else does she have to do?” Sorry, I’m afraid stay-at-home mom’s are just as busy as everyone else, although most days it seems we just don’t get any pay or any respect.

Right now I am finding the time to write by condensing my housework and errands into a few very intense bursts. I make meals and clean the dishes at the same time. Before I started writing, I would have waited until after I dropped my son off at school to put the dishes into the dishwasher. Now they are dropped in as I make breakfast. I am moving fast and furiously. My son doesn’t seem to notice the difference.

Two other things I have done is not jump up when the phone rings. I have been letting the machine catch it and then picking up if I want, using the phone next to my computer. I have also tried to cut back on time spent on e-mail, although my husband started complaining that I wasn’t responding to him, so I had to pick that back up a little.

I am also finding that writing creates its own niches. Instead of creating more work for myself with this project and that project, I am simply writing. For the time being, that is enough. I am afraid though, that someday soon the projects are going to loudly demand attention and I’ll have to stop writing so much. Until they do, I’ll write.

And now back to NaNo.

Second Trimester

Now that I’ve passed the 1/3 way mark (16,667 words), it feels like I’ve moved into the second trimester of a pregnancy. The initial excitement and adrenalin rush have mostly worn off, and the big event is still a long way away. I’m starting to feel some discomfort, both literally and figuratively (I need to rest my hands when I finish this). Now it is time to become quietly introspective.

I found this painted lady butterfly this morning. It’s beauty inspired me to keep writing.

May you find inspiration today, too.

New Writing Buddy

Everyone in my family had Veteran’s Day off yesterday. Not much writing happened, but we did spend a great morning at the Desert Botanical Garden taking a walk and checking out the Dale Chichuly exhibit that is being built. The garden is expecting the exhibit to be so popular that after next week you’ll have to make reservations to get in, even with a membership card. We wanted to beat the rush.

On the way home, we stopped by the pet food megastore to get some pet supplies. My son led us over to the cat rescue area and before we knew it we were bringing home a six month old kitten. Must have been sunstroke from being in the sun all morning.

Actually, we have been being visited by a stray yellow cat over the last few weeks. I think he (my husband calls him Mooch) whetted our appetite for a new cat, but we weren’t sure whether he was a true stray or just a neighbor’s cat who likes our cat food better. We didn’t feel we should capture Mooch if he did belong to someone else,  so we got a kitten of our own. Make sense? Nah, it didn’t to me either.

Our new kitten kept me up all night last night, so my NaNo writing has taken some interesting turns today. Ah, that’s what editing is for, right?

Do you have a writing/reading buddy?

How is it going?

The muse has left the building, I’m really struggling. But I guess that is how everyone feels about this point. So I will struggle on. I need to get 30,000 words by tomorrow night if I’m going to have a realistic chance of finishing by the end of the month. Instead of flowing out in streams, the words are now trickling. The ideas aren’t bad, they just don’t amount to many words.

Appreciate an author today!

NaNo Draws to a Close

November 30, 2008

National Novel Writing Month is almost officially over and I didn’t get to the 50,000 words needed to be declared a winner. My son and I both got sick last Friday and I didn’t write another word until yesterday afternoon. By then I was in such a big hole, I knew I could never finish. C’est la vie.

Because I didn’t finish a 50,000 word novel in one month, it is easy to assume that I failed. But I don’t think I failed at all. I learned a lot from this experience.

  1. I learned I can write a couple of thousand fairly coherent words in a couple of hours. This is a huge discovery for me.

  2. I learned that moms are incredibly important people, and when they are distracted and too busy to perform their normal duties, things can fall apart fast.

  3. Never, never, never adopt a kitten in the middle of NaNo month. 🙂

  4. Writing is a wonderful, difficult and mysterious process. Some of the things that came flowing out onto the page from my subconscious astounded me.

  5. The NaNo sages who said don’t edit your work until December were right, but I didn’t follow their advice. Now I wish I had. I found out that as soon as I started the left-brain/logical editing process, my right brain/creative side got squirrelly.

  6. Sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy the rainbows.

Appreciate a writer today!

 

Writing Opportunity: @WriteOnCon and Critique with @MindeeArnett

Have you heard of WriteOnCon? It is a conference for #kidlit writers that anyone can attend because it is both online and so reasonably priced. What an opportunity for those of us with crazy lives and no money.

The next WriteOnCon will be will be February 8-10, 2019. Sign up today!

To add to the excitement, this week I found out I won a query letter + 25 page critique from YA author Mindee Arnett in the December Raffle. What an amazing opportunity.

Mindee Arnett’s newest is Onyx & Ivory, which has gotten some buzz in a number of the reader blogs I follow through BookBeginnings.


Now I have to quit blogging about it and go polish those 25 pages!

#amwriting Finding the Path

A few days ago I walked across a grassy patch near my house. A silvery dew covered the area and I could see footprints.

When I turned back, I noticed something that startled me.

I thought I had been walking in a straight line, but instead I had wandered back and forth.

It is natural. People who get lost in the woods or in the desert — where there are few landmarks — begin to loop around and walk back to where they started (LiveScience discusses our tendency to circle).

The way to correct the wavering is to focus on an object in the distance, such as a tree, and head for it. I tried it. When I checked my path, it had worked.

As I thought about it more, I realized it was a good metaphor for my life right now. I feel like I’m wandering lost, rather than pushing toward a writing goal.

The problem is I have many, many projects and so my goals are a forest rather than a tree. No wonder I’m getting nowhere.

It’s time to thin the forest. It’s time to focus.

Too bad it is so hard to figure out which ones have the most value or even will bear fruit.

How do you decide which projects are worthwhile? 

#amwriting Studying Lethal White

The fourth novel in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White, came out last month. The author (actually J.K. Rowling) has shaken up the typical mystery format in this novel. Does it work?

Lethal White* by Robert Galbraith

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

The typical mystery reveals something about a crime in the prologue or first chapter, usually within the first few pages. In book one of the Cormoran Strike series, Cuckoo’s Calling, Rowling follows the formula when a model dies in essentially the first scene (link is to my review). For this novel, however, she shakes things up. In fact, a crime is not mentioned until after page 40. Let’s take a look at an analogy to explain what she’s done.

Analogy

In most series, the relationship between ongoing characters, that is, the characters who are present in all or most of the books, changes and evolves over time. This forms a story arc. Using an analogy, the ongoing story arc of the main characters is like a stream which flows through the novels. The main mystery is what readers came to see, so the stream drifts along in the background while the main mystery plays out on the stream bank in the forefront. The stream is important, however, because it motivates readers to move on to the next novel when the main mystery has wrapped up at the end of each book.

Let’s emphasize:  the ongoing story arc is a backdrop, part of the staging.

Public domain photograph by Karen Arnold at PublicDomainPictures.Net

In Lethal White, Rowling points the camera at the story line of the two main characters. In effect, she focuses on the stream.

The two detectives, Robin and Cormoran, have had a mutual attraction that they continue to ignore, which is called the “will they or won’t they?” trope. The prologue of Lethal White features Robin marrying her longtime boyfriend Matthew while pining openly for Cormoran. At her wedding! Nothing dysfunctional about that, is there? The prologue sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Does The Change of Focus Work?

Although I am all for shaking up writing formulas, in this case it hasn’t worked.

When the mystery finally shows up on page 40, it plays out mostly on the far shore. The reader begins to wonder if the series has turned into a poorly-plotted romance. Eventually Rowling brings the crime to front and center, but by then at least some readers have lost interest.

If the “stream” (romance) had turned out to be a gushing torrent with whitewater and waterfalls, then the shake up might have been successful. As it is, the “stream” is barely a drizzle.

Turns out, the main crime is how much I paid for a novel that doesn’t live up to its promise.

(Robert Galbraith novels summary page)

#amwriting Notes on Writing Mysteries

Writing mysteries isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding.  According to science fiction author David Brin (Writing Excuses podcast 7.10), all new writers should write a murder mystery for their first novel. His reasoning? The techniques you are forced to learn can be applied to any other genre.

 

Where should you start? Before you put fingers to keyboard, here are a few things to think about.

1. Explore the Mystery Genre

Readers expect certain elements when they read a particular genre. For example,  in a romance they expect kissing, in a western they expect a horse or two, etc. In mysteries they are looking for a dead body — or at least some form of foul play. They also expect a sleuth or sleuths to try to figure out who did it and clues to point to the answer. It’s okay to shake up the expectations, but do it from the perspective of knowing the rules and breaking them rather than stumbling because you aren’t aware of the norms.

To see how the publishing industry defines different types of mystery novels, take a look at GoodReads.  Some of the subcategories/subgenres may differ from those found in writing handbooks. For example, where writing guides may lump all mysteries with amateur sleuths into the cozy category, GoodReads lists Amateur Sleuth Mystery as separate from Cozy. This makes sense because although cozies always feature amateur sleuths,  they also have other elements such as they take place in a small town and the level of violence is low to nonexistent. On the other hand, GoodReads combines private detectives and police detectives into Detective mysteries, whereas most writers consider mysteries featuring law enforcement sleuths as “police procedurals” and those with private detective main characters as their own subcategory.

In any case, the lists are wonderful places to find new novels in each genre and subgenre. Reading mystery novels in each category is a good way to learn about them. You can also see which novels are popular (1000s of reviews) and which are not (only a few reviews).

Items 2-4 may be done in any order, but they are tied to one another.

2. Pick a Great Setting

A good mystery answers the questions who (is telling the story), when and where early in the book. Both when and where are the setting.

Answering these questions right at the beginning helps orient the reader and gives information about what to expect. If the setting is a small town in Maine, expect a cozy. The story of a private detective living in New York or Los Angeles will probably be grittier. If the year is 1871, the reader is going to look for a historical mystery with details that fit the times.

If you plan to pen a series, consider how many dead bodies the citizens of your setting will realistically generate. For example, the Lewis series on PBS was set in Oxford, England with a population of about 150,000. The show portrayed numerous murders per episode over eight seasons, giving Oxford an abnormally high murder rate. Note:  If you’re going to feature a particularly gruesome serial killer, tourism boards everywhere will thank you for creating a fictional city or town for your setting.

The setting will also influence who you choose as your sleuth, which is another reason to consider it early.  J. A. Jance’s J. P. Beaumont series is about a homicide detective working in Seattle. Her Joanna Brady series, in contrast, is set in the small town of Bisbee, Arizona. In that setting, it is more appropriate for her main character to be a sheriff.

Consider choosing somewhere new and fresh. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who has picked up a mystery novel simply because of the unique setting. The Shetland Island Mysteries by Ann Cleeves, and Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee series spring to mind.

grand canyon arizona

3. Pick a Sleuth

The plot and tone of your novel will depend on the who you choose to investigate the crime. Now that you understand genre, the sleuth may be a hard-boiled private investigator, a grizzled cop, or a spunky bookstore owner.

Make sure the sleuth has a strong reason to pursue the villain. I recently read a novel where the sleuth played cards with his friends and took his goddaughter to the zoo rather than investigating. His lack of focus and motivation might have been realistic, but it was maddening for the reader.

You also need to decide who will narrate. The story doesn’t always have to be told from the sleuth’s point of view. It can be told from the point of view of a sidekick (like Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe mysteries) or from multiple points of view, like Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series.

4. Pick a Villain and Suspects

You will need a good villain (or villains), too. For the conflict to draw the reader in, the villain should have his or her own compelling story. The more conflicted and complicated the villain is the better, even if he or she doesn’t end up having much time on the page.

You’ll also need realistic suspects. The suspects may be completely innocent or can be villains of another story who just happened not to carry out this particular crime.

5. Write front to back or back to front?

Plotting a mystery is complicated because the clues have to be laid out in the text so the reader can solve the main puzzle by the end of the book. On the other hand, to provide an enjoyable reading experience, the clues should not be obvious. Multiple solutions should be suggested, some of which are red herrings (clues that mislead the reader). How does a writer do this?

Because the crime is generally revealed in the first few pages, it is often easiest to start there. Develop an intriguing crime.

Front to Back (ending)

If you are a pantser and generally write from beginning to end, you might give yourself multiple scenarios of how it happened and who did it, and whittle them down to one at the end.

Back to Front

If you are a plotter, decide who did it and why (the ending).  Construct a chain of clues to get you to that ending.

After laying out the main clues, build subplots around the trail of clues to obscure it. Point the reader in other directions. Leave out some clues and add others.

As you can see, both approaches lead to a similar structured mystery.  Which works better for you will depend on how you organize your thoughts. Just don’t forget to maintain the suspense and have plenty of mini-cliffhangers at the end of each scene to keep the reader turning pages.

Note:  Be sure to reveal all the suspects near the beginning of the story, if possible. Readers will toss your novel away in frustration if you bring the villain in on page 260.

How you physically record the plot details is up to you. Some people use index cards, some can’t live without software and spreadsheets, and others plan with sticky notes on a bulletin board. I personally use Scrivener because of the virtual index cards and outlining features.

The best method is what works for you.

Good luck!

Any questions? Let us know.

Writing Life With Donis Casey, Vicki Delany @vickidelany and Ann Parker @TheSilverQueen

Over the weekend I attended a fabulous writing panel discussion with prolific mystery authors Donis Casey, Vicki Delany, and Ann Parker. All three women have books published by Poisoned Pen Press, which is a local Arizona publisher that specializes in mysteries. Donis Casey and Vicki Delany post at the collective mystery author’s blog, Type M for Murder.

The women talked about many different aspects of writing mystery novels. It was interesting that both Donis and Ann, who write historical mysteries, say they write in spurts (often motivated by a deadline.) Donis writes in the afternoon and Ann at night after work. In contrast, Vicki said she writes every day when she’s at home, starting at 9:00 a.m. She doesn’t write, however, when she travels. They all admit that their schedules have changed during different stages of their lives.

All three suggested new writers make an effort to attend writing classes, conferences, and critique groups. They agreed that they benefited not only from what they learned, but also from the opportunities to network. Great advice!

After the discussion, they all signed their books and we got to talk to each author individually. It was a lovely afternoon

The authors’ recent books:

Donis Casey writes a historical mystery series (Alafair Tucker Mysteries) set in Oklahoma in the early 1900s. Her main character has 10 children. Donis reported that she intended write 10 books in the series, each featuring one of the children more prominently. Her tenth book, Forty Dead Men, came out in February.  We’ll be excited to see what she decides to do next.

 

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (February 6, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1464209391
ISBN-13: 978-1464209390

Vicki Delany has authored several series, including the Lighthouse Library Mysteries under the pen name Eva Gates.

Her most recent title is a cozy, The Cat of the Baskervilles: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery (February 2018)

 

Because I’m interested in police procedural novels, I chose the first in her Constable Molly Smith series, In the Shadow of the Glacier (2008).

 

Set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, the novel features newly-hired Constable Molly Smith and veteran Detective Sargant John Winters as they investigate the murder of a prominent businessman.

I have to admit that I came home from the event and basically devoured the book in one sitting. I will look for more titles in this series.

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (March 15, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1590585585
ISBN-13: 978-1590585580

Author Ann Parker has a day job as a science writer, yet she has managed to write Silver Rush Mysteries set in Leadville, Colorado during the Silver Rush of the 1880s. In her sixth of the series, A Dying Note (April 2018), her main character Inez decided to move to San Francisco. Ann says it surprised her, too.

 

 

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (April 3, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1464209812
ISBN-13: 978-1464209819

 

Have you read any novels by these prolific authors? What did you think?

 

colorado vicki delany

#amwriting 5 Reasons to Write Short Stories

I have been churning out short stories lately and my favorite editor asked me why I was doing short stories rather than working on a novel. I told her that sometimes it pays to focus on short stories.

 

 

5 Reasons to Write Short Stories

1. They are short and not as much of an investment.

I read an article the other day that said writing a novel is like lifting a 500-pound barbell. Novels require a lot of work, both in preparation and writing time.  Authors rarely finish more than one novel a year and some, like Donna Tartt, need a decade per novel.

The best thing about short stories is they don’t take long to write. They are more like lifting a five-pound barbell.  Most people can write 500 -2500 words in a day, which is the average length of a short story. I have been writing for contests where the limits are 3500 -5000 words. If your muse is cooperating, you can finish a first draft in two to four days. Even if a short story pushes the absolute maximum word limit of 25,000 – 30,000 words, it can be completed in a couple of weeks. It feels great to finish a writing project in a compact period of time.

Because a short story isn’t much of an investment, it is also relatively painless to discard it if it doesn’t go as planned. If it doesn’t gel, simply move on to the next project.

In addition, if you’re stuck in a dry spell, one good idea is to do some reading, but another is to work on a short story. Sometimes the small success of finishing a short story can help jump start a larger project.

2. Short stories give you the freedom to stretch your writing muscles.

Writing short stories allows you to try out different styles and genres. I’ve recently written humorous essays, a science fiction/police procedural, and dabbled with metafiction. The latest short story I’m working on is xenofiction, which is told from a non-human point of view.

Back to my editor’s questions. She also asked if practicing the short story techniques and formatting — which are not the same as novel techniques — might interfere with my ability/desire to write a novel. I said no. In fact, writing short stories allows you to play with voice, plot, characters, etc. in ways you wouldn’t want to do with a novel. If your short story not working from a limited third person point of view, it is easy to switch it to first person and compare the results. When the protagonist narrating the story makes the pace drag, try having the antagonist narrate.  If the past tense sounds clunky, try present tense. Mix it up with a perky voice or a snarky one. In a short story you can be brave and have fun being creative.

If you have an idea for a novel, you might want to go ahead and try it out as a short story. Think of it as an extended synopsis. You may be able to detect problems and fix them early on, or even decide it isn’t worth developing.

A writing mentor recently suggested the reverse, to turn a short story into a novel because “novels make more money.” I’m not sure that was good advice, because some ideas are not big enough to carry a full novel. A story line that works for a thirty-second ad is probably not enough for a 10-episode television series.

For another take on this, see How to Make a Short Story into a Long One.

3. Once finished, short stories don’t require as much attention.

One big advantage of short stories is that you don’t have to promote them (unless you publish a collection). You don’t need an agent and you don’t have to do a book tour. You submit to a magazine or a contest, and it’s thumbs up or nothing. If you lose or are rejected, you can polish some more and submit the same piece elsewhere (as long as the contest didn’t take your rights — read the fine print!)  No need to devote months of your life to marketing.

That said, you also might not get as big of a reward. Some contests are costly, and more and more magazines require a reading fee just to submit an article. It is possible with a little research, however, to find reputable contests and magazines that don’t charge fees. An added benefit of writing for contests is that there’s a fixed deadline for submission. Deadlines are great for motivation.

Some authors have had success publishing their short stories directly to eReaders like Kindle, too.

4. Short stories can help build an author’s platform.

You can attract fans to your website, plus build up an email list by offering short stories. It works best if you stick to topics/genres related to your novel(s). Many savvy authors use short research and backstory pieces to entice fans.  Include a few personal essays, which would also appeal to fans who want to find out more about you as an author.

5. Publishing short stories can give you recognition and credentials.

If you do finish your novel, it might be easier to get an agent if you have some published work and particularly, if you’ve won awards. Short stories might give you some much-needed credentials.

Conclusions

Not every writer enjoys writing short stories. For example, some of the famous authors in the short story compilation MatchUp said they were “short story challenged.”   Given all the reasons above, however, the ability to write short stories can be a handy skill to have.

Thanks to Karen for the idea for this blog post.

#amwriting Much Needed Motivation

Need motivation to keep going? This is it:

The Funny Little Errors in The Goldfinch

I have been noting little errors and inconsistencies while reading The Goldfinch, and I thought I’d document them. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the book. I love the book. The quirky flaws make it even more precious to me.

By the way, this isn’t a full review. I haven’t even finished the book yet.

 

The first inconsistency is right on the first page. Main character Theo says he doesn’t know a word of Dutch, then a few sentences away he refers to the people as dames en heren, which is Dutch for ladies and gentlemen. This particular error is probably intentional and tells the alert reader that Theo is a bit of an unreliable narrator.

Later errors are probably not intentional. For example, in the hardcover version on pages 248-249 Theo and his friend Boris go shoplifting at a “discount supermarket” for “…steaks for us, butter, boxes of tea, cucumbers…” Shoplifting at a grocery or convenience store wasn’t an unreasonable scenario, and I didn’t think a thing of it until Donna Tartt reveals the store:  Costco. I burst out laughing. Costco is a mega warehouse store that only sells in bulk. The packages all contain multiple items. You wouldn’t steal a single steak, you’d have to hide an enormous pack of five steaks. Then you’d have to get them past the security check. Costco stations people at the door to look you over and read through your list ticking off your purchases. Let’s just say it isn’t likely Boris and Theo would shoplift at Costco if there were any alternatives, which there were.

My husband does woodworking, so I immediately noticed on page 418 that Hobie is using “cramps” to hold his wood together. British and Australian woodworkers use cramps. In America — and presumably New York City — we call them clamps.

The Bigger Picture

A lot of readers have noted that the drinking age isn’t eighteen as suggested in the book, but is in fact twenty-one. Maybe Tart was channeling her own inner teenager, which was from an earlier time?

Other reviewers have also pointed out errors in the technology used at various points. I’m a bit more forgiving about these because let’s face it, it took the author ten years to write the novel and technology changed so much during that period. With some 771 pages to keep track of, I would be more surprised if she had been able to stay consistent.

To me, all these little imperfections are rather like the scuff marks on a fine piece of antique furniture or the bubbles in a delicate pane of old glass. They give the novel a unique character.

That said, I’d like to let Donna Tartt know that if she needs a fact checker for her next novel, I’d be more than willing to volunteer.

« Older posts

© 2019 It's A Mystery Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑