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Friday, February 13, 2015

Break the Rules, Dammit!





At the last meeting of Sisters in Crime at our San Joaquin chapter, we had a visit from two charming Bay Area writers that delivered a punch with their talks both at the meeting and at the venue that followed. 


Seal of Approval
CatrionaMcPherson 
is the President of National Sister in Crime (an organization that was formed to support women writers who were not getting a fair shake in the publishing/promoting arenas) She has been nominated for an Edgar Award and brought along the Sisters in Crime mascot, Seal of Approval, with her. 


SimonWood 
is in charge of Publicity for National Sisters in Crime. He is an accomplished author with more than 150 published stories and articles under his belt and winner of an Anthony Award. He had some writing advice that goes against the grain of what we have been hearing regurgitated in the writing community for quite a while. Some of this advice is opposite what you might have heard. 

Since I began reading his latest thriller first, The One That Got Away, I thought it would be good to pass along some of the writing advice he shared with us, which he clearly follows with a facility of style in his novels.


Rules for series characters:
  • See the character grow through the series. What is the overarching goal?
1.       You shouldn’t be able to sum up your character in one line. You can’t describe a ‘personality succinctly. You can get to know someone–over time.
2.      You need a ‘voice’ for that character. Take out all that is not her/his voice in the re-write.
3.      The character sees himself and knows that he’s not perfect.
  • On the other hand, a good crime novel does not have to have good or great characters. So, plot, pace and high stakes can make it alone. Think about James Bond, Jack Reacher, Robert Langdon—they are not complicated figures, but they maintain a certain attitude—that’s about it. Yet they pull us through book after book. We don’t have to know why a personality does what he does only that he reacts in certain ways.
  • A true flaw in your main character has to have a cost. You have to do it in a way that works. (Girl on a Train and Gone Girl—unlikeable characters). 
  • Characters do NOT have to want something. It limits where you go with the character. Your hero can have unresolved desires and wants if he is a series character.

The take away—don’t be bound by the rules and advice of other writers, especially when they don’t work for your story. Sometimes a new and fresh way of writing wakes people up. I guarantee you will find it hard to put down Simon’s novel, The One That Got Away.



Is there a rule that you break in your writing?


Or do you try and follow famous authors' rules consistently?


        ***

Clowning at the meeting with my gal pals: 

"NO, wait, let me take my glasses off!"

"Okay, now we're ready. Everybody say cheese."
 


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Writers: Give Yourself Some Rope




As writers become bloggers, writerly advice is dispensed ad nauseum, as if we are all the same, all fitting into some mold called ‘writer.’ If we do such and such, we will be successful at . . . take your pick.

YIKES!

We are all too different to fit into one way of doing things (Oh, and by the way, this might just be a life lesson as well). I don’t want to fall into that trap of using the tried and true method of list making today. You know, do these 5, 7, 10 things and be a successful writer (blogger, author, dieter, skier, pool player . . .). Whatever!

So, in this New Year, why not open up your creativity without trying to do anything?  

Okay, that was easy, now what?

When I go into my creative mode, I try to remain as open as I can to the influx of new ideas and things that come into my world, how I view the world around me and the people I come into contact with. I try to just observe and not do anything for awhile. Not that I succeed all the time, and I have some miserable failures, but I see it as a mindset. Acceptance is a big part of it—believing in yourself as a path into your own creative mind. Don’t let anyone devalue your unique way of doing things. Play.

If you are stuck in your writing (or dieting, exercising, etc.), and you go to all the dos and don’ts that others have said will make you unstuck, it just might make it worse, because then guilt sets in. I tried this and I’m still stuck, I must be a moron.

Logic works well for science but can be deadly when applied to the artistic creative process. As some of you who have followed me for a while may have noticed, I can be all over the place in my blogging—from talk of perfumes to exploration of the Beat Generation to roses, thorns and the Munsters. It opens doors, it breaks down resistance in the mind.

Why? Because inspiration comes from exploration. I try not to limit myself because it might appear weird or strange. (I can be weird and strange so why hide it?)

Conclusion? Approach life/art with openness—with allowing. Don’t block your creative side with labels and structures that limit or rein in your creativity—give yourself some rope (It’s okay to hang yourself metaphorically, you learn from your mistakes—they can be some of the best teachers.).

For me, what works is to dip into the waters of the metaphysical (the non-physical or beyond the physical that our senses perceive), where freedom from the logical part of the mind can be found. Logic seeks to label, sort and box one in with “safe” structures that are tried and true—“be safe, do what is known to work, don’t venture into the unknown.” 

Uh . . . no! Not when I need to open up my creativity.

Of course I’m not talking about craft here. Writers always need to keep learning their craft. Writing is not just about spewing your creative ideas willy nilly onto the page. Characters and unique situations cannot just spill out without structure that readers understand and relate to. That’s where logic comes in so you can lay out your story with depth and intelligence—or simply as a romp for some momentary fun.

But if you are a writer who works with insights that go deep, you have to explore and not be afraid of what you find around that next dark corner, to those unexplored places that need the light of your consciousness. Go there, see it, feel it, understand it—then write it.

So, what am I exploring in this New Year to stimulate my creativity? Shamanic Journeying. Yes, you heard that right. Logical mind; step aside. I’m going out to play now without heeding your limiting roll of the eyes. My next blog post should be very interesting, right? 

To be continued . . . .
  




What do I write? 
I explore the paranormal and the possibility that past lives and the unconscious impulses they leave behind (or project before) us—that drive us; lead us into situations that cause us to work through these unfinished elements—this process of allowing is especially effective for my writing.

My first novel, Dance the Dream Awake is about Tessa Harper, a woman plagued by nightmares that drive her to go to the Yucatan in Mexico where the Mayan past that haunts her dreams is uncovered, exposed and healed—paranormal, romantic suspense. It awaits re-publication in 2015 with Black Opal Books.

Along with that novel, Haiku Dance, an erotic love story (inspired by the pillow book of
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji) that takes place in historical ancient Japan, in the Heian era, has also been accepted by Black Opal Books. This is the past life of two of the characters in my first book and the impetus for the sequel in book three, Dance the Edge that I am currently working on. It will be the final love story, with HEA (Happy Ever After required for a traditional Romance), even though it will be another paranormal romantic suspense of the sizzling variety.

Yeah, I’m all over the place, as per encouragement of @DonMaass in his newest book, Writing 21st Century Fiction.

So, what do you do for inspiration and to stimulate your creativity? Tell me in 25 words or less—just kidding, take as long as you like…I’m giving you enough rope.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hot Coffee, Croissant and Angst




I decided to shake things up a bit this morning. It was cold—that is, cold for California—well okay, chilly. It was quite chilly and foggy. 

I took my two dogs out into the damp air to the groomer’s. My little Chihuahua was shaking and happy to go inside to be fawned over in their waiting arms. Not so for my long haired Lhasa Apso, Buddy. He’s a loner and doesn’t like all the fussing like Milton does. He headed toward the exit the minute I put him down.

After getting them settled in, I decided a short trip to the La Boulangerie French Bakery & Cafe was in order. Warm, fragrant and soothing—seemed like a good idea on what could have been a downer morning.

 With coffee and a bag of sweets in hand, I sat outside to listen to a live Dixieland Band group that were gathered to perform that early morning. They played Bye, Bye Blackbird while an older couple danced on the sidewalk, a small child bounced in time to the music and his parents drank coffee and texted—yup a good morning even though the cold metal chair was a challenge to my tush. 

Sparrows descended as soon as I took my first bite of almond Croissant—which  being French was very light and flaky. Crumbs dropped intentionally and unintentionally. Where the heck do all those sparrows come from? Duh, Cora, if it's winter, cold and damp, and if you had to eat every day, wouldn't you choose the eaves of that particular building?

I sipped my coffee (yes!!! love me that strong brew), and taking a suggestion from the craft book I’m studying, completed an exercise by penning this moment into my main character’s POV:

Tessa whispered the words of the lyrics while the laughing couple danced to the Dixieland tune, Bye, Bye blackbird.
“Where somebody waits for me…sugar’s sweet and so is he.”
She closed her eyes to stem the tears.  Jack, in her studio last night, alone. Calling her, wanting her.
"…nobody here can love and understand me…oh, what hard-luck stories they all hand me."
She  threw crumbs to the greedy chirping birds that only came for what they could get from her. Jack was different, now, wasn't he? Could she trust him with her already broken heart? Or was she headed for another fall.
“...make my bed, light the light, I'll arrive late tonight...black bird, bye, bye.”




 Will I use that in my novel? Time will tell. At least it's given me a fresh perspective. 
(I'm not a great fan of Dixieland, so I've included Joe Cocker's version of Bye Bye Blackbird.)



Have you done something to freshen up your perspective when in the midst of a novel? 

I highly recommend it—even if you’re not a novel writer. Change is good I always say. Do you agree?