Relationships by Kait Carson

Our theme this month is relationships. What a great topic for February and for writers. I’m having such a hard time decided which part of this critter to lasso. I may have to bifurcate the blog!

Readers know all about one of the most important relationships a writer will ever have. It’s the relationship between reader and character. A writer creates her characters, gives them names (which sometimes they graciously deign to keep), hair and eye color, hobbies, values, quirks, and flaws. Unless a character is part of a series, the writer determines most of these before sitting down to write the story so they will hopefully stay consistent and flame-haired Mystie won’t turn into raven haired Maggie around page eighty. Has been known to happen, though. If the character is a series character, then the baselines are constant, but the character does grow and change, and the writer needs to keep track of the changes as they happen

Now that we’ve talked about a perfect world here’s the real 411 – characters have lives of their own. Somewhere between their neat creation and the story taking place on the computer screen, those critters hijack the story. Your characters expect you to trust them to act in a way that is best for the story, and while it makes no sense in the three-dimensional world, in the story world, the character is always right. I spent a long month writing entire chapters of Death by Sunken Treasure while my character rebelled. It wasn’t working. Finally, in sheer desperation, I started a new file called “Hayden’s Way.” I wrote the same chapters letting the character take the lead. Know what, those were the ones that made it to the book. And they changed the entire story.

The idea of trusting a character that I created to make changes to a story I was writing took a bit of getting used to. It’s second nature now, provided I’ve come to know the character well enough. After all, a story doesn’t work at all if the character doesn’t change and grow. Just as in real life, we have to learn let go and trust we’ve done our job well enough.

There is a second relationship that readers may not be aware of in a writer’s world. It’s the relationships between writers. An interviewer once asked me what I wish I had known when I first became involved in this business. I responded that I wished I had known how welcoming and generous other writers are to newbies. There is nothing cutthroat about the writing business. One would think given the rapid demise of large publishing houses, the decline of bookstores, the explosion of online retailers, the glut of books enticing readers, the pressures of self-marketing, the difficulty in acquiring an agent, and/or obtaining a publishing contract that writers, when approached by “the competition” would curl into small balls and pretend not to notice other writers. NOT SO. Shouting intended.

Established writers will go out of their way to respond to comments, requests for blurbs, give advice, encouragement, whatever it takes to get a new or newer writer on the path to publication or help keep the writer there. Writers see what they do as a gift, and successful ones seem to remember the uncertainty and struggle they went through and want to honor that difficult time by easing the way for others.

So, the point of this blog? Writing is all about relationships. In the writing life, and in the life of writers.

Happy February all, and happy Valentine’s day.

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

 

 

2017 (IMAGINE FIREWORKS HERE) by Kait Carson

Our theme this month is new beginnings. What better way to return from a Holiday break that includes the introduction of the year 2017?

Can’t speak for everyone, but I love the blank page, in writing and in life. 2017 is a blank page. I’m surrounded by new calendars (crack for me) and a new book. I turned in Death Dive (working title) to Henery Press on 12/31/16. Yep, right at the end of the old year. It wasn’t due until 1/3/17, but I wanted to finish 2016 with a flourish. Needless to say, I haven’t heard if they are accepting it. But I think it’s one of the best I’ve written.

There’s some breathing room before I have to begin the next Hayden Kent book so I’ve begun the third book in my self-published indie series, the Catherine Swope mysteries. This too is a departure. Catherine is a former cop and current realtor trying hard to establish herself in the high-end Miami market. Her best friend Nancy calls and Nancy’s brother is dead, in front of the UFO houses in Homestead. The resulting investigation jars Catherine to the core and threatens her friendship with Nancy and Catherine’s relationship with Mike, the man she has come to see as the love of her life. Can Catherine’s fragile sobriety survive these blows? Will she be able to help Nancy and find her brother’s killer? You’ll have to check out the new book. I plan on a June release date – just in time for a beach read.

On other new beginning fronts (you’ll note I’m not calling anything a resolution), I’ve decided to cut back on work at my day job. I’ve been working 12 hour days and if the workload will allow, I’d like to cut them back to ten hour days. My boss is on board with that as he understands how important my writing life is to me. Pretty cool to have a supportive boss. Kudos, Richard Milstein!

I’ve also managed to run four and a half miles three days in a row. While I know my body will not take that punishment on a daily basis, I have found a wonderful yoga program app. Yoga Studio by Gaiam. It lets me practice at home and will provide wonderful stretching and balance exercise for my off days. Looking forward to participating with the app on days when I won’t have time to run—or shouldn’t run.

My new beginnings also include writing goals. I used to publish with the Trues magazines. You know, True Story, True Romance. I haven’t participated with them for a while, but now, I want to get back to the short story form and that’s a great way to do it, so—I’m figuring on writing at least one a month. Same with Woman’s World. I never could crack the romance market there, but I have published in the mystery market. Again, it’s been a few years and now, I’m aching to get back to it. There is something so satisfying about writing short, but it’s difficult too. I need to relearn the skill and flex my writing muscles.

Can you tell what kind of a year I’m beginning? A year of transition from the day job to a full-time writer.

That’s my dream. I hope it comes true.

What about you? What’s your dream for 2017?

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

Wrapping it up and Sending 2016 on the Road

Where did this year go? Seems like only yesterday I was in a track stance and waiting for the new year. Father time has traded in his two-wheeled handcart for a Ferrari.

December is a special month. A time to look back and ahead. I’ve kept a journal since I was nine or ten. I remember my first one—it had a Girl Scout logo, and a lock. Every December I’d reflect on what happened over the year and make plans for the upcoming year. The December 31st entry always had a list of what I hoped to accomplish during the next year. It’s strange, but when I go back through my older journals, I discover how many plans came to fruition. Did writing the hopes and dreams set a cosmic force into play, or was it the act of writing that laid the groundwork for accomplishment? That’s a theory to explore another time.

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve fallen away from journaling. Part of it is the curse of the computer. I’ve spent hours flipping through handwritten journals trying to find an event I wanted to use in a story only to throw my hands in the air and re-shelve the book. So, I tried keeping a journal in Word, and even in One-Note to make use of the search function. Neither satisfied. A different part of the mind engages with pen hits paper. I guess I have my first plan for 2017—get back to regular journaling. Maybe color coded pens are the way to go. General stuff in one color, events to remember for stories in another. If nothing else, the pages will be festive.

Now it’s time to put 2016 in a box, wrap it up, and tie it with a bow. This is the year my second book, Death by Sunken Treasure, was published. I learned more about marketing, and became a charter member of a new blog, MotiveMeansOpportunity. By the time this year officially closes, my third book in the Hayden Kent series will have been sent to Henery Press. I’ve started work on the third book in the Catherine Swope series and I intend to self-publish it. To more books are perking away in my thoughts. One for a new series, and the second for a standalone I’ve always wanted to write. Overall, it’s been a very good year, one that left me with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation.

What about you? Do you have a sense of contentment looking back on 2016?

All the best for the upcoming holiday season no matter how you celebrate it.

Atmosphere

This is a hard blog to write. I keep getting caught up in the feeling of atmosphere. That doesn’t do the reader a bit of good. Instead of writing about atmosphere, I’m lost in a swirling cauldron of emotion and feeling and setting. My mind is filled with images of dark nights, empty moors, forbidden and forbidding places.

Walk with me through the night. We’re in an alley, it runs between a series of storefronts and art studios. The moon is a silver crescent in the night sky. The stars wink on and off. Occasionally you see the red and green twinkle that means an airplane is flying overhead. You hear your footsteps. They echo off the empty buildings. There is no other sound. Nothing human. Can you feel the velvet touch of darkness on your skin? Are your senses heightened until each and every sound is distinct? What else do you feel?

Now, just for the moment, imagine a loud cacophony of sound. The crash metal cans and a loud wail breaks the silence of the night. Your heart pounds, sweat, dampens your hairline. You’re sure it’s cats fighting or mating. Until the shards of concrete slice into the side of your face. You taste the bitter, almost coppery flavor of adrenaline racing through your system. Warm liquid runs down the side of your cheek. You lift a hand and touch it. Your fingers come away coated in blood. You’re running, but you don’t remember moving your feet. Fear fills you with primitive responses. Get safe, stay safe. Your only imperative is to get away.

In the distance, a buzzing sound irritates you. You try to ignore it. It doesn’t go away. You push yourself to consciousness annoyed at the interruption to your self-preservation. The sound is your alarm. It was all a dream.

Atmosphere. It’s more than setting. It’s a mix of setting, character, emotion, and the key ingredient… imagination.

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

 

Sleight of Hand

I’ve been fascinated with magic ever since my Uncle Jimmy pulled a quarter out from behind my ear. He let me keep the quarter, which was a major attraction too. I have never figured out how tricks are done. Oh, I know about the quarter, and I think I once used to be able to do a (note the singular) card trick, but rabbits out of hats, cutting people in half? Nope, not a clue.

The amazing Randy and Johnny Carson, who was a fine magician in his own right, claimed that the tricks are accomplished through sleight of hand, misdirection, and deception. Writing mysteries is like that. The first rule of mystery writing is play fair with the reader. Just how is a writer supposed to do that? If the writer truly played fair, then the reader would know who the killer is immediately. After all, the writer usually does—sometimes by the end of the third draft, sometimes immediately—depends if you are a pantser or a plotter.

Writers use the same tricks as a magician. We hide clues in plain sight, we misdirect the sleuth and thus the reader, and sometimes, we outright deceive, the sleuth, who takes the reader along for the trip down the wrong road. After all, in real life, witnesses lie, or misremember, villains don’t own up to the crime and try to shift the blame, and the investigators don’t always look in the right places first.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle perfected the art of hiding clues in plain sight. Remember the Hounds of the Baskervilles? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the story—the hounds remained silent, the silence was the clue that was introduced in the very beginning of the story, but left unremarked until it became the clue that solved the crime. It was always there, right from the start, hidden by Doyle’s unmatched sleight of hand.

Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca opts for deception. The unnamed second wife is led to believe that Max and Rebecca shared a wonderful marriage, that he can’t overcome his grief at her loss, and that the second Mrs. DeWinter is unloved. She doesn’t see the deception until at long last, she’s convinced her marriage is over by the very same event that proves to be the salvation of the marriage. Truth saves the day for Max and the second wife. It’s the downfall of the deceivers.

JK Rowling uses misdirection throughout the Harry Potter series. She had little choice. Harry was a child. His interpretations were not always accurate, although the reader believed they were. Harry was not acting as an unreliable narrator, at least in my opinion. He believed what he saw was truth, and so the reader believed too.

Sleight of hand, misdirection, and deception are all tricks in the mystery writer’s arsenal, but tricks intended to make the sleuth work hard to decipher the mystery. The reader enjoys sifting through the clues to solve the puzzle in a race with the sleuth. After all, a writer playing fair will expose the same clues to the reader as the sleuth it’s always a challenge to see who gets the solution first.

Readers, do you think sleight of hand, misdirection, and deception are fair plays, or would you prefer a more linear story? Writers, which is your favorite for hiding your clues?

Texture

Dictionary.com defines Texture as:

The characteristic structure of the interwoven or intertwined threads, strands, or the like, that make up a textile fabric: the characteristic physical structure given to a material, an object, etc., by the size, shape, arrangement, and proportions of its parts: an essential or characteristic quality; essence.

The definition goes on to imply that texture only applies in the visual or tactile arts. Pottery, painting, fabric, even movies and stage plays can all have texture. Print media is notable for its absence of mention.

REALLY? I think not! Yesterday Pamela shared some lines from Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn to demonstrate texture on the page. It was the juxtaposition of light and dark, the weather, the mist. The texture that DuMaurier brought to her story drew the reader in. We were right there on the Cornish coast feeling the bite of the wind, the lashing of the mist.

Writers have a responsibility to bring their scenes to life in a visual way. Our characters have to make the leap from the single dimension of the page to the three-D high definition imagination of the reader. The only way that can happen is to create scenes so real, so vibrant, that the reader becomes a part of the story. Not for nothing do readers talk about “getting lost in a book.” They don’t mean they lost their place, they mean they lost themselves.

The blending of colors, contrasts, emotions, smells, touch, all contribute to the texture of a book. The skillful writer takes all these parts and weaves them together, wrapping the tale around the reader, ensnaring her in the story.

What books have you read that leapt off the page?

It’s Just a Fig Newcome of Your Amalgamation

That’s what the little boy who lived next door called it. He had no imagination. The entire neighborhood knew Larry was going to grow up to be a scientist, or a mathematician. (Sidebar-last I knew he was working for NASA)

A little backstory I grew up commuting between my great-grandparents’ farm in upstate New York, my cousin’s house in Miami, Florida, and New Jersey, eleven miles outside of New York City. A ripe setting for an imaginative child. Best of all, this was in the halcyon days of sending your kid outside to play after breakfast and not looking for them until supper. Add to that the fact that I was the only girl in any of my venues. We were a posse. We were a military division. We helped the Lone Ranger and Tonto track the evil doers. We road with Roy Rogers. We hitched rides in pickup trucks looking for Lassie, and almost all of us wanted to fly like Sky King.

My job in this grand army of boy children was the creative director. I didn’t know it then, but what I was doing was honing my story skills. We’d meet outside on my porch right after breakfast and talk about who needed saving and who needed killing. I’d lay out the inciting incident, take the group through a quick outline of the never sagging middle and bring the story home with a burst of glory at the end. Then we’d head for the park, or the fields, or the river and immerse ourselves in the story, creating sets and dialogue, learning to shape reality from fantasy. Let me assure you, it is possible to make fire from two sticks.  But it takes a lot of work. We believed in authenticity whenever possible!

All except for Larry. His job was to bring us water and ice pops in the summer, and a steaming thermos of hot chocolate in the winter. He’d show up every morning on my porch, eager to hear about what we were going to do. Every morning I’d ask him if he was going to play with us too, and he would shake his head and say, “Kait, it’s just a fig newcome of your amalgamation. None of it is real. I’ll just help.” Took me years to figure out that fig newcome of your amalgamation meant figment of your imagination. Larry kept right on saying it that way until girls grew cooties and I learned to confine my stories to paper. He probably still says it that way.

So, where’s that fig newcome today? Ah, tucked away as my secret weapon. All it takes is the tiniest spark to ignite it. A glance, a snippet of conversation, a vignette of interaction, and that fig newcome is off and running. It spins whole plots from gossamer wisps of what ifs. Brings scenes and chapters to life and never, ever, fails to entertain me and helps me bring the story home, with a burst of glory at the end.

What about you? Do you have a fig newcome?