Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts About Authors Changing Genres?

This is a Reader Friday-type question, but I have a question for y'all: When an author whose work you have previously enjoyed begins writing in a new genre, using a different voice, how have you responded? Do you think it's a good idea for authors to use a pen name for a new style of writing, or are you willing to accept different voices from the same writer?

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

For any of you who are on Facebook with me, you will know that last week I had a great deal to be thankful for, especially as a result of the kindness of strangers. 

The drama occurred last Wednesday when one of my neighbors (1st stranger really, as I don't know him very well) knocked at my door around 7:30 in the morning to tell me that he had just seen our beloved collie, Hamish (as shown in photo above), being lured up the road by two coyotes. I rushed outside (very glamorous in my PJs and dressing gown) to see the most surreal scene -  two coyotes nearly at the end of our street cunningly leading my dog along to what I have no doubt would have been a nasty end. I never truly believed all the stories about coyotes working together to lure large dogs away to be attacked by the pack - but I do now. 

In a panic I called out after Hamish, who initially looked back at me with a face that said "are you kidding me, I'm having way too much fun!". By this time my neighbor was running to his car, ready to help - because we both could see that Hamish was way too far away for me to get to him. It took me four attempts (and a lot of willpower not to scream at my dog) before Hamish turned reluctantly to come back to me. That was when the next stranger came in - running down her driveway to help coax Hamish and grab his collar. I'd never met her before, and although it was a little weird meeting in the circumstances (both in our PJs - saving my dog from coyotes!) I was touched by her concern. She was already on the phone to animal control telling them to send a patrol - having not only seen the amazing sight of two coyotes 'playing' with a collie but also making the decision to actively come outside and help rescue him.

So as you can see I have a lot to thank two relative strangers and this got me thinking, especially as this is Thanksgiving week, about the difference strangers can make. In my writing career I have been amazed how people who I've often never met, have gone out of their way to help me - be it booksellers, readers, conference organizers, blogger or reviewers. Although I've always tried to thank each person individually, I would also like to take this time to acknowledge how much we, as writers, rely on the kindness of strangers. I don't mean that in a 'taking pity' kind of way - I mean those active, 'go out of your way' actions that can often make all the difference to a writing career. All too often we have no way to repay these acts of kindness, except (I hope) by following their example and helping other writers in our midst.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which 'stranger' would you thank if you could? Have you ever experienced a moment such as mine, where the kindness of strangers really made all the difference (and there is no doubt in my mind that without them Hamish would have been lost forever)? Well, now is the time, to acknowledge those moments. We should also aspire to be these sort of strangers - the ones who don't stand idly by - but who rush in to help when help is needed. 

Oh, and as a side note, this morning we received a 'coyote' calling card in the form of someone's dead chicken disemboweled on our lawn. I swear I feel like I'm suddenly in some kind of 'coyote godfather' movie...thank goodness we have strangers looking out for us!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Using the Novel Journal for Writing Breakthroughs

James Scott Bell

I was at Bouchercon a week ago and did a panel with some other legal thriller authors. Before it began we were interacting with some people in the audience, and a woman in the front row made a funny comment about something I said, and I replied into the mike, “I’ll do the jokes, madam.”

We all had a chuckle. The moderator, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and whispered, “Do you know who that is?”

I shook my head.

“Sue Grafton,” he said.

Indeed, it was the amazing author of the alphabet series featuring gumshoe Kinsey Millhone. 

Which, when you think about it, is virtually unprecedented. Twenty-six mysteries around a single series character in a wide variety of mystery plots.

How, one might ask, does she make the magic happen book after book?

One answer is the novel journal. I read about this in Ms. Grafton's chapter from the book Writing the Private Eye Novel (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997). She calls this her “most valuable tool.”

What this tool does is provide a “testing ground” for ideas, a place for both left and right brain hemispheres mix it up a little. As she puts it:

Right Brain is creative, spatial, playful, disorganized, dazzling, nonlinear, the source of the Aha! or imaginative leap. Without Right Brain, there would be no material for Left Brain to refine. Without Left Brain, the jumbled brilliance of Right Brain would never coalesce into a satisfactory whole.

The novel journal is a free form document that is added to each morning before getting to work on the novel. This is what Sue puts in there:

The day’s date and a bit of diary stuff, how she’s feeling and so on. This is to track outside influences on her writing.

Next is notes about any ideas that emerged overnight. I especially like this part, because the writer’s mind has been working while I sleep and I want to pour out everything I can. The trick here is not to think too much about what you write. Just let it flow.

Third, she writes about where she is in the book. She “talks” to herself about the scene she’s working on, or problems that have arisen. In the “safety of the journal” she can play the What If game. She can debate things with herself. Right Brain and Left Brain can duke it out. She’s playful. “I don’t have to look good. I can be as dumb or goofy as I want.”

What happens then is that she finds she “slides” naturally into her writing day. There is no hesitancy as there might be if she just got to work on the WIP.  

Writing about this now excites me. I have to admit I’ve been lax about using this during this NaNoWriMo month. As I write this particular post (it’s Tuesday) I’m a little over halfway through my NaNo novel and feel the need to mine deeper into my writer mind. So I’ll be journaling away for the rest of the month. 

Yes, it was nice having Sue Grafton show up at my panel and crack wise.

Here are a few more tips on making the novel journal work for you:

Trust. Keep your fingers typing. Lose control. Don't worry if it's correct, polite, appropriate. Just let it rip. Stay with the first flash. If something scary comes up, go for it. That's where the energy is. Figure out what you want to say in the act of writing.

"We write and then catch up with ourselves." (Natalie Goldberg)

If you don’t know what to write in the journal, open a dictionary at random. Pick the first noun you see. Now start writing whatever that word suggests to you.

Work out problems in your novel by asking questions and letting your Right Brain suggest answers. Then let your Left Brain assess them.

Be specific. When something unique pops up, follow that lead. Don’t hesitate to write for five or ten minutes on one thing if that’s where you’re being led.

Be willing to be disturbed.

If you’re pantser, the journal will help you decide what to write next. If you’re a plotter, the journal will help you bring to life the scenes you’ve mapped out. And if plot or character takes a weird turn, you can hash it out in the journal until you decide how to use it. 

Give it a try sometime. I think you'll be pleased with the results. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Help! Help!

I hate to bother you with this but I need a bit of assistance, having exhausted my usual sources. In a nutshell…I have two different quotations which I plan to use as an introduction to a novel I am writing and I need the source of each.

The first is: “Italy is a land of actors…the least of which are on the stage.” I heard this one repeatedly from my father, God rest his soul, and he would recite it when referencing his mother-in-law, my maternal grandmother. He insisted that the source of the quote was Orson Welles. I have researched the quote and have been unable to find it attributed to Orson Welles, or to Orson Bean for that matter. And, no, Orson Scott Card didn’t say it, either. I can’t ask Dad if he was sure, though I know he was; please believe me when I tell you that it would have been easier to disinter Welles, prop him up, and bribe him to utter the statement in question than it would have been to persuade Dad that Welles was not the source. Anyone?

The second quote is one used repeatedly, and never sourced, by my late friend Michael Fenneman. He would usually say the following when we would see an attractive woman: Mike would mime the smoking of a cigar, and in a Foghorn Leghorn voice would say, “I did not tell you that I was takin’ you to Tampa…what I said, my deah, was that I was gonna tampa with ya.” Mike never recalled where he originally heard the statement, and quite honestly, I have used it as my own for many years. I am at a point, however, where I need to give proper credit if possible.

Can anyone help? If so, I would appreciate it. If you have a quote of your own which needs sourcing and so far has eluded same, by all means, offer it up to those assembled. We are a helpful group here. Either way, Happy Thanksgiving to you, one and all, whether you visit here regularly or have stumbled upon us for the first time. I am thankful for you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reader Friday: Getting Away From It All

Sometimes you just have to get away. For an hour, a day, or maybe longer. Where do you go to get away from it all? What would be your dream getaway?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Calling For First Pages!

Just a housekeeping note today: We are interested in receiving more of your first page submissions for our monthly first-page critiques.

Here's how it works: Send us the first page (400 words max) of your manuscript in an email or as a Word attachment, along with the title, to the email killzoneblog at gmail dot com. We'll take the first 30 submissions we receive, then announce when we're accepting submissions again. The pages will be divvied up among the Zoners for review.We'll post the pages on recurrent Thursdays, along with a critique. Readers will be able to comment as well. Note: Critiques are done anonymously--writers'names will not be posted, and reviewers will not know who authored their assigned pages.

In years past we've had great fun doing this exercise! We're looking forward to reading some of your pages!

Note: And actually, we don't cut off the submissions at 30. It just takes us longer to get to 'em! ;)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gerunds Be Gone

Nancy J. Cohen

What’s wrong with this sentence: “Shutting off the ignition, she threw her keys into her purse and emerged into the bright sunshine.”

How can you throw your keys into a purse when you are using them to shut off the ignition?

This type of “ing” phrase is called a gerund. I never knew what it was until a critique partner pointed out that I was using them liberally. And I hate to say it, but this was several years into my published works. Even now, I’m not sure this is the correct grammatical term.

I learned my lesson, and as I’m now going through my backlist mystery titles making updates and tightening sentence structure, I am finding more phrasing like the one above.

Beware these illogical phrases in your own work. Here are some examples:

NO: Flinging the door wide, she stepped inside the darkened interior.
YES: She flung the door wide and stepped inside the darkened interior.

NO: Taking a sip of orange juice, she put her glass down and opened the newspaper.
YES: After taking a sip of orange juice, she put her glass down and opened the newspaper.

NO: Racing down the street, she came to a halt when the light turned red.
YES: She raced down the street, coming to a halt when the light turned red.

NO: Shaking the lady’s hand, she stepped back to admire her cobalt dress.
YES: After exchanging a handshake, she stepped back to admire the other woman’s cobalt dress.

It’s okay to use an “ing” phrase in thoughts. For example, you can say, “Wishing she could change the events of the past few hours, she sped down the road.

What is your grammatical Achilles Heel?