Me, Myself and I

This morning as I lay in bed bargaining with myself about what could be postponed in favor of continuing to lay in bed listening to the silence, it occurred to me what a huge portion of our fictional journeys seek discovery of self.

Is that not the purpose of the character arc?  We meet the character living a life under normal circumstances, like so many of us do IRL (in real life) going from one mundane task to the next: drive kid to school, office, pick up kid, get dinner on, load dishwasher, fold laundry.

Then the inciting event occurs, a crisis in that person’s life. What are all the possible things it could mean to her? She looks at it from this angle and that angle. Her mother, her husband and her best friend all give their opinions, sometimes unsolicited, sometimes unwelcomed. She mulls over what feels right and what does not. She mulls over whether she will passively accept the event or whether she will take action.

In a complex story like Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty, there are seven point-of-view characters, three married couples and a teenager, who experience the same inciting event and spend the book hashing it out. Will the marriages survive? If not, is that a good thing?

(Having been thrice married myself, I often say that the divorce WAS the happy ending.)

Once the POV character sorts out the meaning of the event and her actions in response, is she a different person leading a different life, is she the same person, or is she the same person more realized? What does the mundane look like to her after it’s all said and done.

 

A Writer’s Mentor

Last week I lost one of my mentors, and the world dimmed a bit more.

One of the special treasures I keep on my desk is this little “award” that he made for me, honoring one of my books.  (Dancing for the General, which is finally coming out later this year, but that’s another story–for later.)

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See what I mean about the world dimming?

We’ve all had friends and coaches and teachers and cheerleaders.  Writers are fortunate to have many such helpful supporters in our lives.  We’ve talked here on the blog about how amazingly supportive the writing community is.

But a mentor goes above and beyond all that.

While I’ve had countless dozens of the former, I can count on only one hand the number of true mentors in my life.  And so I’ve been wondering what makes them different?  How is a mentor more than just a friend, a coach, a teacher, or a cheerleader?  A mentor is all of that and more.  But what makes a mentor a mentor?  Here’s how I spell it out:

Motivate.  A mentor motivates us to want to write our best.  Sure, mentors supply knowledge, but they also fuel our desire.

Encourage.  Mentors believe in us, even when the rest of the world doesn’t.  They stick with us and don’t give up on us.  They see and understand our dreams, too.

Nurture.  Mentors gently guide us along our career paths.  They nourish our literary gardens.  They help us pluck out the unsightly weeds, leaving only magnificent blossoms to open.

Time.  There is no limit on a mentor’s time.  They give their time freely, and they do so gladly.  They are always there for us, for whatever we need.  Sometimes it’s advice, but other times it’s just a shoulder.

One-on-one.  Mentors give us their exclusive attention, blinding us to the point that we think we are the only one they are mentoring.  (The truth is that there are usually many others.)

Relationship.  The mentor’s relationship is one way to give back to the writing community.  It’s what writers do, in exchange for all that we have gained from the generosity of other writers.

We never really graduate from the mentor relationship.  We will keep on keeping on, and the writing community is richer for all those relationships.

Have you ever had a mentor, whether for writing or something else?  I’d love to hear your insights!   

 

Keeping the Love Alive

Valentine’s found my husband and I sitting on the couch in the throws of the stomach flu. My husband was sipping 7-Up. I was still puking about every half hour. The whole room smelled. It wasn’t too bad, though. In between my pukes, we watched The Nice Guys, a movie with Ryan Gosling and some guy who wasn’t Ryan Gosling–I forget.

At one point my husband looked over and said, “This is nice. We haven’t watched a movie together in a while.” He was right. For once, the kids were actually in bed (it took the stomach flu to incapacitate all three at once) and neither of us had a laptop out. The whole thing struck me funny, especially because I write romance. My actual life is mostly about puke.

In a book, romance can never leave the initial passionate phase of the relationship, at least if you want  people to buy the thing. The author has to constantly think of ways to keep the romantic tension alive. It’s much harder than being in a real relationship where you can just give up. Romantic tension mostly arises by keeping characters apart through obstacles of one kind or another. The minute the author lets the characters settle into a happily ever after–poof!–the tension is gone and the story is over. Characters can’t relax until the bitter end.

In the case of a series or a television show, the author or screenwriters have to keep romantic tension alive for years, an almost impossible feat–ask anyone who’s been married for more than two years. Basically, they have to artificially suspend the relationship in a phase that might last a couple of months in real life, if you’re lucky. I have yet another sick kid, so I’m not going to go on too long today. Instead, I’m going to list some romances that never quit (mostly because they never really get started). I haven’t had coffee yet, so I’m definitely going to miss a few!

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  • I can’t even remember how many books are in the Stephanie Plum series, funny because numbers are in the names, but there are a lot. Janet Evanovich kept Stephanie’s romance fresh throughout.
  • Charlaine Harris is a master. Sookie Stackhouse and her “should I pick the vampire or the werewolf?” dilemma puts Twilight to shame.
  • Kate already mentioned Lowcountry Boil, but that is a good one.
  • When I was a kid, I remember watching Moonlighting. My mom was in love with that show. Pretty sure it qualifies.
  • More recently, Castle did an amazing job of keeping the tension alive.

Hope you all are all staying healthy! Anything to add to the list?

 

 

 

 

Finding your tribe

I hear a lot of authors online talk about finding one’s tribe — connecting to a like-minded (or genre-minded) group of writers for artistic support, encouragement, and guidance. It’s an incredibly important aspect to the profession, not just because networking can be beneficial to authors’ careers, but because writing is a very isolating job and if we don’t connect with others, we’re going to lose our ever-freaking minds.

Seriously.

I do not currently have a tribe, in that I don’t belong to a group. However, I have liaisons to other tribes. I have my very best writer friend, Katie, who joins me on two-person writing retreats. Who I can contact via Facebook Messenger for a quick peptalk and get an equally quick reply. Who reads my scenes to see if they’re boring. I have my buddy Stephen, a horror writer, who manages a group blog (ahem, a different one) penned by a team of writers from various genres. I have my friend, Melinda, a local YA author who I met last fall. We live ten minutes apart (a miracle since I live in such a rural area) and we meet once a week to hang out and write. In fact, she and I just attended an author reading in town on Friday. And then we went to dinner and we talked…shop! And it was awesome.

*These are photos from our outing to see Manjula Martin read from her latest book, Scratch. It was a packed house!

There is no substitute for talking craft and publishing with another writer who gets what you’re saying. My husband, as smart a guy as he is, doesn’t care about publishing trends in YA or advances (well, maybe he cares about that) or the merits of first-person narration for a hardboiled mystery. But Melinda does. Katie does. Stephen does. And so, while I don’t belong to a local critique group or an online marketing collective like many authors I know, I have formed relationships with various authors, some online, some in-person, that have made writing a less isolating endeavor, and more like a virtual office.

These professional relationships are crucial. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (like me), writers must connect to other writers, and often. It’s hard to enjoy this business otherwise.

If you’re a writer, do you belong to a tribe? And if you’re a reader, do you belong to a monthly book club? A workout group? A motorcycle gang? Surely, you must.

Sound off below.

Interview: Nupur Tustin

Today we get to know Nupur Tustin, author of the Haydn Mysteries.

deception_final_500x800What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I have three toddlers, so, as far as I’m concerned, a day when I can get some writing done is a perfect day. Beyond that, if it’s warm and sunny, and the kids are happy, I’m happy, too. And, if I also get to spend some time at the piano. . . well, at that point my cup runneth over!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I’m quite fond of burgundy—the color, not so much the wine. I use it a lot in the Haydn newsletter, so you could say that’s a signature color. As far as a fragrance is concerned, it would have to be Estée Lauder’s Beautiful. I wear it because the scent is just heavenly, and it makes me feel beautiful.

My signature meal—please don’t laugh—is whole wheat bread with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese. It seems to have been the favorite meal of every fairy tale character who decided to set out on an adventure. I suppose that accounts for my fondness for it. Add a few tomato slices and some cucumber, and you have a gourmet meal!

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

For the Haydn mysteries, apart from his earliest biographers and Haydn’s own life, Stephanie Barron, whose Jane Austen series is simply out of this world, and Emily Brightwell and Kate Kingsbury, both of whom write historical cozies, have been my strongest influences. Stephanie Barron influenced the voice I chose to adopt for a series set in eighteenth-century Austria.

Emily Brightwell’s ability with plotting helped me develop a good puzzle-plot mystery and Kate Kingsbury’s natural way with dialogue enabled me to unfold the story, to a great extent, via dialogue.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to the music—or noise, depending on your perspective—of toddler-speak as I write. When my children screech and squabble, they drown out most sounds. If I could listen to music, I’d be forced to listen to heavy metal because all three kids are metal-heads!

I’ll often hear my five-year-old daughter belting out the lyrics to Killpop—”she’s sticking needles in her skin, I turn with an ugly grin”—while my three-year-old son growls out some Crowbar— “I gave my heart to you, my friend, you let me fall. . .I live my life as a man would do. Why’s it so hard to find the truth?”

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

What an intriguing question! I’d have to say a marbled blend of dark and milk chocolate. I think dark chocolate is sophisticated, while milk chocolate is fun. A Minor Deception, is equal parts sophistication and fun! The downstairs dynamic provided by palace maids Rosalie and Greta is, I think, very milk chocolate.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I’ve always been fascinated by historical mysteries, in particular those that feature real-life historical figures. I love history, but I know many don’t. So, for me, historical mysteries are a wonderful way of getting people interested in history. In my case, I wanted to draw people’s attention to the history of music and to, perhaps, revive an interest in classical music.

Haydn, Brahms, and Liszt frequently drew upon folk music. Haydn, the son of a wheelwright, had grown up listening to folk songs, and working in the backwaters of Hungary, had plenty of opportunity to hear Hungarian folk music. In the eighteenth century, you could visit a pub, and hear a minuet, dance music. This isn’t “learned music,” and it isn’t music for the elite. It’s music, period. There are pieces you’ll like, and works you’ll hate. When you listen to Pearl Jam, SlipKnot, Tool, or any other modern band, you don’t like every single song you hear, do you? Well, you’re not going to like every single work written by the classical composers, and that’s fine.

Through my writing, I’m trying to do what British percussionist Evelyn Glennie does with her wonderful music. The same kind of thing Mr. Holland tries to accomplish with his students in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus. My husband, a confirmed metal-head, has actually begun enjoying classical music as a result of the Haydn mysteries. He listens to it on his car radio these days! And he’s discovering it can be just as “badass” as heavy metal.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Deception and the dichotomy between appearance and reality seem to come up a lot. These are old literary themes, and they go back as far, at least, as Shakespeare whose comedies often treat of these ideas. But they lend themselves particularly well to mysteries, where the reader and the sleuth are frequently deceived in both the characters of the perpetrator and the many suspects, who all seem to have plenty of reason to have committed murder.

Unfortunately, though, this theme comes up in real-life crime as well. Ted Bundy wasn’t the only serial killer who seemed like a polite, well-spoken man. There’ve been countless others. People aren’t always what they seem. Mysteries teach us that as well as comedy.

Tell us about your main character.

Joseph Haydn, the Austrian composer, was a fascinating man. The son of a wheelwright, he had none of the advantages of the young Mozart. His parents enjoyed music and his father played a little by ear. When the young Haydn was sent to the Parish School of a neighboring town, it was in the hopes that the musical training he received would equip him for a career in the church.

At the age of eighteen, Haydn was thrown out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna where he’d been a choirboy since the age of eight. He had no intentions of going into the Church, and he resisted his parents’ advice that he do so. Instead, he eked out a bare living giving music lessons and playing at churches and private chapels, all the while studying music theory and the writings of the great Southern German composers, Hasse, Mattheson, and the northern German, C.P.E. Bach. It took ten years before he managed to get a job as Kapellmeister—Director of Music—but when the noble family employing him lost their wealth, he lost his position.

But by 1766 when my story opens, he was known throughout the Holy Roman Empire for his music. Haydn epitomizes for me, the importance of believing in oneself and one’s dreams. He worked very hard, but was quick to recognize that without the help and support of numerous people he’d likely never have made it. He was very generous with both his time and money, and, just as he’d been helped in his younger days, he sought to help those in need.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

What an interesting proposition. Let’s see now. Haydn had such diverse interests—he enjoyed hunting, and was a good shot, and he had the complete works of Shakespeare in his library—that he reminds me a little of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve always marveled at Holmes’s wide-ranging interests. He always seems to have written a monograph on something or the other.

Haydn was also a shrewd judge of character, and knew how to appeal to his musicians to get the best performance out of them. In this respect, he’s very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. Christie’s detectives are often underestimated by the villain, and both frequently elicit confidences from all sorts of people. Haydn, like Poirot and Miss Marple, was very approachable, too. He soon earned the nickname of Papa Haydn.

He was short, pockmarked, and one time he was even mistaken for a servant, and a visiting priest hotly contested his identity. How could the famous Haydn be such a small, insignificant fellow? Surely, this man was not he!

His helpfulness, his affability, and his easy ability to get on with upper and lower classes alike remind me a little of Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Phryne Fisher.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I’d love to invite Naomi Hirahara. One of my piano teachers used to refer to Glenn Gould as a pianist’s pianist—so great only a fellow pianist could truly appreciate his performance. She’d probably refer to Naomi as a “writer’s writer.” You really have to be a writer to appreciate the depth of characterization and the sense of Los Angeles Naomi captures in her two series without ever sacrificing pace.

I’d love to have Kendel Lynn, whom I met at LCC last year. I’ve really enjoyed her Elliot Lisbon series, but more than that I admire her for forging her own path. It’s amazing how far Henery Press has come since it’s inception. Sylvia Johnson, another Henery Press author, would be an invitee, too. She has something of Naomi’s deft style, and her mysteries capture a very different side of Los Angeles.

Emily Brightwell, who truly is a contemporary Agatha Christie, would be at the table as well. Sheila Connolly said quite astutely that contemporary mysteries need to have more action. The actual business of investigating and questioning people is rather tedious. Well, Emily Brightwell has the amazing gift of making it fascinating, the red herrings are cleverly thrown in. And everyone seems like a plausible suspect.

I love Susan Wittig Albert’s mysteries. I became a fan when I read the Beatrix Potter series. Her China Bayles series is very different, but equally good. I sense that she enjoys research, and with each new book, she offers the reader a wealth of information on whatever topic her mystery plot is grounded in.

I enjoy that aspect of mystery writing, too. Fiction needs to transcend reality, but even when it does, it can take inspiration from and be grounded in reality. And, in this way, it opens a doorway to a new body of knowledge for the reader.

Finally, I think I’d have Amanda Carmack, who writes a historical mystery series as well as historical romance. I find myself amazed at how prolific she is. The research alone must taken an incredible amount of time. She used to work at a radio station, hosting their classical music programs, so we have in common a love of music and a love of the past.

What’s next for you?

I’m researching the third Haydn book, Prussian Counterpoint—the second, Aria to Death, is already written. I’m also working on short stories, and delving deeper into FBI investigations, in particular the exploits of the Behavioral Science Unit. I find it absolutely fascinating that a crime scene can yield such invaluable information about the killer’s personality and profession, and even, in some cases, their appearance! It’s uncanny how accurate they are.

I always like to see how much of what I read about modern investigative techniques might translate over into a historical context. Not all of it does, of course, so I set my short stories in the contemporary world. One of them, “The Christmas Stalker,” was published in the December issue of Heater Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue. 11.

Another short story, “The Evidence Never Lies,” is a contemporary variation of the armchair detective with a former crime reporter piecing together a serial killer’s identity as she delivers her firstborn child.

*****

A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works. A Minor Deception, the first in the Haydn Mystery Series, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

Haydn Mysteries: http://ntustin.com
Music: http://ntustin.musicaneo.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8616151.Nupur_Tustin

Relationships with…inanimate objects?

Okay, bear with me.

I was in a bit of a fuzz this morning. All day I pondered what to blog about, considering the other Mysteristas have had such wonderful things to say on the topic of relationships.

People? Check. Books? Check. Characters? Check. We’d covered it all. Or so I thought.

Two things have been my nemesis today: my day-job computer and my chair. Yes, my chair.

It started early, as soon as I plugged in the day-job laptop. No WiFi? What? (pause to search for switch, maybe it got bumped to the off position). No switch. Why no WiFi? (checks phone – no, that’s connected just fine) I read for the ethernet cable. Kind of defeats the purpose, no? One has a laptop for portability. Hard to be portable when you’re tethered to a cable. The WiFi is working now, but it’s gone on and off all day.

Grr.

Next up: how do I get rid of that horrible tightness in my back? I tried standing. Three days of on an off standing. And while I have a friend who swears by it…nuh-uh. Sure, the standing alleviates the pain in my hips. Torture on my feet. And my knee. And my back, probably because I’m standing in a weird posture in an attempt to take pressure off my knee.

Sitting isn’t helping. One, it makes my hips hurt more (I have what is called cam and pincer impingement in my right hip – go Google it if you’re interested in the gory details, I’ll wait). And my lower back – OMG.

So I started playing with the various knobs and levers on my chair. Futzed with what I think is the lumbar support (I yanked it off accidentally – pretty sure that won’t help). I’ve come to the conclusion that I have the world’s most un-ergonomic chair. How much does a good chair cost? Yikes. Better figure out how to work with what I’ve got.

And at the end of it all, I realized something. We all, especially writers, have funny, intimate relationships with the inanimate objects in our lives and we don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. Think of computers. What writer do you know who writes long-hand or by manual typewriter? Okay, they probably exist, but I don’t know any. Maybe for when they are stuck or for a change of pace, but I don’t know anyone who writes a 90,000-word novel longhand. And besides, even if they do, they just need to type it up for submission to an editor, or an agent, or CreateSpace.

That’s beside all the research. No one can go visit China in the 1800s, or check out the streets of Paris at the drop of a hat – especially if you have a day-job or kids (with all their assorted activities). Internet to the rescue. You know, as long as the WiFi works – unless you’re still working on a desktop (and I know almost as many writers who use one of those as who write that 90,000-word novel longhand).

Then there’s where you write. I’ve heard stories of past writers who sat in the bathtub (talk about hell on the back) or stood. Recliners, sofas, lying on the floor – it had better be comfortable or else writing those 90,000 words is going to feel like walking over hot coals. Or thumbtacks. Or…something.

The point is, our success is kinda-sorta dependent on our physical, inanimate space. Our chairs, our pillows, our shoes, our technology. And we don’t tend to think about it…until the headache, or the back pain set in.

So I will continue to search for the perfect chair and desk position. I’m fond of my recliner at home, but kinda hard to transport that to work.

In the meantime, pass the Advil…and maybe the phone number of a good chiropractor.

It’s Complicated

“It’s Complicated” is easily my favorite relationship status descriptor. The implication is some kind of wonderful mystery with messiness and possible mayhem thrown in. Imperfection. Confusion. Humanness. Honesty.

For writers, it’s story material. I read those words and my imagination is engaged.

Loss mixed with hope. Vulnerability tossed with trust. Heartache pressed up against triumph. Assurance balanced with insecurity.

I dare you to name one relationship in your life (that matters) where “It’s Complicated” doesn’t apply to some degree.

There’s no one on this planet who makes my life better than the man I’ve been with for more than half of it. He’s my rock and my rudder. He also has the power to throw me into the middle of a storm should he choose to do so. He’s my soft place to land or the provider of a swift kick to my butt—often at the same time—because one or both is perfect. While our relationship is strong without question, it has its complicated moments.

Then there’s my mother. My sister. My dad. My mother-in-law. My bonus kids and granddaughters. My bonus mom and added siblings. Friends who hold pieces of my heart and pets who staked pieces of it out when they died.

If not complicated, what?

This past Sunday I sent my manuscript to my editor. I had tears in my eyes. I love my continuing characters, but I’d also come to love the three young girls whose turning points were within the confines of this story. In the future Jayla, Alexis and Livvy will only come up in passing, if at all.

I made them up.

They’re real.

It’s complicated.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading about complicated relationships or do you like them laid out and easy? How does that contrast with your own life?

 

It’s better with friends (even when it’s complicated).