Getting Lost Along The Way

I am the first one to admit that directions aren’t my strong suit. Consider this as evidence: even after seven years of living in California, when I face the ocean, I still think north is on the left and south is on the right. (Let’s hope I never need to flee the country for Mexico!). And because I have no GPS, when I’m heading out for parts unknown, I’m usually armed with a printed out Mapquest and a full tank of gas.

You might conclude from this that I like to know where I’m going. Truthfully? I don’t, at least not always. Sometimes I even head out with no safety net and take an exit, just to see what I’d normally miss if I stayed on the main road. Sometimes that discovery is a stretch of mid-century houses that are hidden away in development. Sometimes it’s a strip mall with a used bookstore that has Trixie Beldens for $1. And sometimes it’s just a long and winding road that continues on and on, seemingly going nowhere, twisting and turning enough times to raise my anxiety about ever finding my way home again.

In terms of storytelling, I have to send my characters out of their comfort zones. Sometimes they’ll get lost in their amateur investigation. Sometimes they’ll wander into sticky situations and dangerous parts of town and have to find their way back. Getting them lost is a key part of the puzzle. They have to stumble and fall and backtrack to see what they’ve missed so they can find the answers.

When we head out someplace unfamiliar, we flex our sense of discovery. When we return home, we build our confidence that we can, if left to our own devices, find our way through the woods. The same thing goes for writing. Let your characters get absolutely, utterly completely lost and then force them to find their way back home.

And if you want to raise tension, send them out in the middle of the night with an empty tank of gas.

P.S. 48 Days until Suede to Rest!

Interview: David Burnsworth

We are delighted to welcome David Burnsworth, author of Southern Heat.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Wake up about 7 AM. Have breakfast with my wife. Begin writing about 8 and stay the course until noon. Take my wife out for a nice lunch (we do Southern Heat Cardthis instead of late dinners). Spend three hours in the afternoon volunteering. Walk the dog. Eat a small snack. Work on an old car for an hour or so. Exercise for an hour. Shower. Read for two hours. Go to bed. Rinse. Repeat.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
If it were up to me, I’d wear worn shorts and old T-shirts. Fortunately, my wife has helped me see that dressing like a beach bum all the time is probably not for the best.  But, she lets me get away with it around the house.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Author Hank Phillippi Ryan, Editor Chris Roerden, and members of the Greenville chapter of the South Carolina Writers Workshop.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes, I usually listen to eighties classic rock and alternative. You can see this influence in Southern Heat. However, for the second book, Burning Heat, coming out in 2015, I found myself tuning in to a few country stations. I believe the flavor of the book changed slightly.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Southern Heat would be dark chocolate because it is on the noir side of the spectrum. I like characters with baggage and depth, and Brack Pelton, my protagonist, has a lot of both.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I lived in Charleston for five years on Sullivan’s Island. At the time, I wasn’t writing. After I decided I wanted to write a novel, I already had the setting. Charleston is very unique in its old southern charm and all that implies.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
To me, it takes a familiarity with evil to be able to come up against it. My main character has a sketchy past. He’s seen evil and been part of it. He understands what it takes to defeat it.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Just when Brack’s life was reaching its zenith, his wife got sick and died. He spiraled out of control, first with booze, and then going off to war. He’s just starting to get his life back together at the beginning of Southern Heat when another tragedy occurs and he has to reface his demons.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
The series I like to read have an influence on my writing.  You can see elements of Mike Hammer, Joe Pike, and Chet the dog in Brack Pelton.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, John Sanford, Robert Crais, Walter Mosely, and Spencer Quinn

What’s next for you?
After the final edit of Burning Heat, I will continue with book three in the series.  There is still a lot of unfinished business among the characters.

***

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Southern Heat is his first mystery. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife along with their dog call South Carolina home.

Website:www.davidburnsworthbooks.com

Twitter: @DavidBurnsworth

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BurnsworthDavid

Losing: Transformation

Often we lose things we really, really don’t want to lose. Whether its our keys, wallets, cell phones, or favorite sweaters, we humans rarely enjoy losing things. Sometimes, though, we do look forward to loss; as Mary Sutton explained earlier this month, losing our fear can be a really good thing. But, by losing, we can achieve something else entirely, something not necessarily good or bad:

Transformation.

Stay with me on this. I’ve been trying to develop some new habits, particularly to fit regular exercise into my routine (as a result of getting ever closer to that mid-point between 40 and 50, when everything biological seems to go haywire). To help me with this, I joined an online program called the 12 Week Total Body Transformation. I’ve failed miserably at this program (mostly because, I think, the only time I can exercise is 5:30 a.m. and “Pamela” will never be found near “morning person” in any dictionary). The idea is that participants will reduce their calorie intake, increase their exercise, lose weight, and build muscle, the combination of which will transform our bodies into something more preferable, stronger, leaner, healthier.

The idea of transformation is so appealing! Caterpillars transform into butterflies, seeds into plants, and so on. But, the caterpillar loses the privilege of being one in order to become a butterfly, right? It loses that which makes it a caterpillar in order to become the butterfly.

As a writer, the act of losing things can transform my story into something better, worse, or simply different. The losing, in and of itself, carries no inherent shine or dullness; what matters is what I choose to lose, and how. For instance, perhaps my story is bogged down by too many details. I’ve lost momentum or clarity, and by losing a few extraneous elements, the story is made stronger, clearer, better than it was before. If I lose the ghosts in the graveyard, the story moves from paranormal thriller to thriller; not better or worse, just different. Perhaps I snip a plot line, and my writers’ group cries foul and insists I put it back, as I’ve ruined the relationship between two key characters, and spoiled the story.

The losses may be painful (“but I love those ghosts!”) or not (“oh, thank goodness I don’t have to learn any more about taxidermy”), but each loss has the potential to transform my work. If I’m thoughtful about it, those losses will result in a much better story.

Now, if only transforming the body by losing a few inches was as easy!

Interview: Lorne Oliver

We are delighted to welcome Lorne Oliver, author of the Alcrest Mysteries and the Sgt. Reid series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day. I actually had as close to a perfect day as I could get just recently. The wife, kids and I went to the zoo with the next door Front Cover FINALneighbours. A few hours of walking around checking out the animals and then just the four of us caught a movie at the cheap theater. Then on the ride home (it was 1 hr from home) my wife and I talked about title ideas for my current WIP. Yeah, that was as close to perfect as you can get.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My notebook is something I always have. A hard covered black notebook. You know, the kind with paper in it that you need an ancient device called a pen to write in. I’ve been using notebooks for many years and still have the first ones I used back in the 90’s just in case I wanted to reference some old idea I had. Other than that I’m always wearing some piece of clothing that is black. In The Cistern (and it will be coming up in all of The Alcrest Mysteries) the only “phrase” that is going to be a signature is the word “feneuter.” At the first restaurant I worked at the owners went shopping for smaller items we needed in the kitchen every day. One of the servers one day got hold of the shopping list and wrote down “2 cases of Feneuter” The owners went all over town looking for it. In The Cistern Chrys calls someone a feneuter. A Google search discovered that according to the online urban dictionary a feneuter is a very smelly, ah, womanly part.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Mrs. Staples. She was my elementary school librarian. One day when the entire class was at the library she asked if anyone knew any Canadian authors. I guess I was a smartass back then because I put my hand up and said I wrote so I must be a Canadian author. She laughed and told me to come back when I published a novel. I then joined her Young Authors Club and the rest is history. Years later when a local anthology was published with one of my stories in it, Mrs. Staples was there at the launch.

Stephen King. Never met the man, but I remember seeing him in an interview where with just a few words describing what it would be like if a character had a rat in his mouth made my skin crawl. I wanted to write in detail that could fill you with emotion.

Tess Gerritsen. She writes characters that are alive with colour and emotion. She also connects with her fans.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Not as much now as I used to. I always have a TV or video on when I write now. I know I shouldn’t because I spend more time watching than I do writing. I was on a short flight recently and had a great time because I was writing the whole time. Back when I wrote Red Island I often listened to music by Chris Isaak and others. I really should get back to that.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My wife says Belgian dark chocolate with caramel swirl and a little hidden secret inside. The Cistern can be dark at times and it is full of little secrets and hints of future novels to come.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
In The Cistern the main characters Chrys and Spencer go to a house which had been foreclosed on a year later. The family which lived there had taken off. Chrys’s part-time job is to inspect such houses, take pictures of them and then clean them out.

My wife had this same job 2 years ago. The scenes where the brother and sister arrive at the house and inspect it is actually about 90% accurate to when my wife and I arrived at the house. We went through the main floor finding all of these forgotten belongings and momentos. My imagination was going crazy with coming up with ideas of where the family had gone. Then came the time to go to the basement. It was dark and musty. My wife went into the bedroom down there and I went into the furnace room. Then I saw something behind the furnace and hot water heater. It was a wall made of cinderblocks, but it didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. Around a corner the wall continued. It was a room. Around the back was a ladder and on top, a trap door. Why would there be a room of cinderblocks in the basement of a house?

Oh the ideas were plenty.

What if there was a body in this room? (we found out later they were called cisterns) What if there was a kidnapped person in the room? This is the basis for The Cistern.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
One of the main themes I always try to touch on is that the really bad men and women are very often just your average people on the street. You can’t judge a book by its cover. The guy pumping your gas with the nice smile and pleasing manner could, at that very moment, be planning what he could do to you if he got you alone. Anyone can be a killer. When doing book signings instead of writing “Thank you” or “Happy Reading” or anything like that I usually write, “Beware the quiet ones” and then sign.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
In The Cistern there are 2 main characters which happen to be a brother and sister, sorta.

As Spencer grew up his family did 2 things. They ran the family pub and took in foster kids. He started working in the kitchen very young and that was all he wanted to be. When he was 9 his family took in a 3 year old girl who would eventually be known as his sister. He will do whatever he can to protect her.

Chrys’s mother just up and disappeared when she was only 3. She went to live with the Alcrest’s. She has never realized it, but her love of mysteries and her need to explore is most likely from the internal yerning to find out what happened to her mother.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Chrys – Rizzoli from the TV show Rizzoli and Isles, Angelina Jolie (but just her lips), and Pocahantas but just because that’s the only female Native woman I can think of that’s famous (that is until the actress Elizabeth Frances who the character is based after makes it big).

Spencer – Bradley Cooper when he was on Kitchen Confidential, Hotchner from Criminal Minds, and Wash from Firefly.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Stephen King, JK Rowling, Tess Gerritsen, Kathy Reichs, and Clive Cussler.

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on the second Alcrest Mystery. Chrys and Spencer quickly get themselves in way too deep. They get asked to look for missing 18 year old and find it is much more than someone who just didn’t want to talk to his family for a while. After that I have a couple more Alcrest ideas including basing one off of the suspected homicide of a college friend.

Then there is also Red Rover, the third novel in my Sgt. Reid Series. This one will pit Sgt. Reid of the RCMP against a couple of cold-blooded killers who are playing a deadly game against each other and with the authorities.

***

Lorne Oliver has been writing most of his life. He honestly doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t have a black covered notebook at his side. The only time he really doesn’t have the notebook is when he is at work in whichever kitchen he is in. (but he still has a notepad in his pocket) He has moved all across Canada, but now calls northern Saskatchewan home where he lives with his wife and 2 children. Find out more about Lorne at lorneoliver.blogspot.ca or about The Alcrest Mysteries www.facebook.com/TheAlcrestMysteries.

Losing Money—Gaining Readers? And a Giveaway!

Lately there’s been a big discussion on writers’ boards and blogs about the practice of giving away books for free. Since the advent of independent publishing, many writers have posted free books, some for a certain period as a promotion and some permanently. Some writers put up a free short story that they hope will introduce readers to their series. Often when a writer has a new book coming out, they’ll offer their first book free either for a little while or permanently, especially if it’s the first in a series.

This has been a standard of the publishing industry for a long time—giving books away. “Get the books in readers’ hands,” they’ll say. “Then word of mouth will take over.” There are bags of free books at conferences, books sent out to reviewers, contests. They say it works. They also say advertising doesn’t work so much. The selling of books is apparently a mysterious business.

Then there have been the price wars between the New York houses and Amazon, lately just Hachette and Amazon. eBooks have changed pricing structure. I took a promotion workshop from a long-time publishing professional and he stressed the importance of promotions—not so much free books, but pricing your books up there with the big 5 (4?) New York houses so you don’t look like a bargain cheapy. Selling a novel at $1.99 invites bad reviews, he claimed. At least it invites readers to think of your novel as something they picked up at a discount store.

Established writers say the practice of giving away free books and selling at a steep discount is undermining the whole industry. Readers expect to read for free now. They won’t buy a book at say $6.99. Some won’t go above $3.99. How are writers expected to make a living this way, goes the argument.

Others say that giving away books helps them get readers. They cite a give-away that led to an uptick in readers who then read their way through all their titles. The market is flooded with indie books and authors are fighting to even get noticed.

What is your opinion? Freebies or not? $1.99 or $5.99?

In the spirit of this topic, I’ve decided to give away a free copy of my newly released audiobook, The Star Family, to the best comment today. A secret spiritual group. A recurring dream. A 400-year-old ritual that must be completed before it is too late.

Losing Tasks: One Way to Gain Time

When I meet new people and they find out I’m a writer, often times I hear them say, “I would write a book, too, if only I had the time.”

Have you ever heard this?  Or said it to a writer?

Is this true?  Does this mean that writers actually have more time than non-writers?  Maybe that’s how writers get those books written, year after year.

Not.  Writers also have family and pets and friendships that need nurturing, hobbies and interests and day jobs and countless obligations.  How do writers find time to write?

Finding time means losing something else.

I like to prioritize my tasks and assign them to 3 main categories:

1.  Got-to-do:  

  • Eat, sleep, nurture the family (i.e., physical, biological and emotional needs that do not include housework)
  • Write
  • Read (even if it’s only to the children)

2.  Ought-to-do:  

  • Tell kids to clean mold from refrigerator
  • Send hubby to grocery with list
  • Pay bills on time

3.  Want-to-do:  

  • Volunteer in my child’s classroom
  • Shop for new shoes
  • Happy hour with BFF
  • Take quizzes on FB
  • Build debt at the movies
  • Join a dinner club
  • Sign up for a ballet class

Certain points in list #3 might qualify as an emotional need in list #1.  Everyone arranges their lists differently, what goes into them and when and how often they are done.  But for a writer, here are some main take-away points:

  1. Writing always goes in the got-to-do list.
  2. Books are written one page at a time.
  3. Prioritizing tasks keeps the want-to-do list in line.
  4. Delegate as many tasks as possible.

As long as writing is a priority, then writers will likely lose some of those items from their want-to-do list.  Who needs an extra pair of shoes, anyway?

Announcement: New Member Kait Carson

We are delighted to announce new Mysterista Kait Carson, who will be blogging on first and third Tuesdays, beginning in October.

DBBWCarson Kait is a probate paralegal by day and a plotter of murder by night. Her mysteries are set in the steamy tropics of South Florida. She has two series, the first features Catherine Swope, an ex-cop and current Realtor who sells high-end Miami homes, sometimes by the seashore, and always with a twist. The second series features Hayden Kent, a scuba-diving paralegal who seems to attract dead bodies. Under water, no one hears your screams. Catherine’s current books are Zoned for Murder and Murder in the Multiples. Hayden makes her premier in Death by Blue Water, forthcoming from Henery Press.

For more information, please see Kait’s original Mysterista interview and visit her at kaitcarson.com.

Welcome, Kait!