Monday, April 30, 2012

Perfumes, Plots and Past Lives

I picked up a book the other day in the genre I write, past lives and suspense. I was intrigued when I read the prologue where it noted something that I had found ridiculous when I had originally heard about it in 2007.

In an attempted power grab, China announced that all living Buddhas (Dalai Lama) had to obtain permission before they reincarnated (How ridiculous!) They are attempting to bring an end to the Tibetan mystical/religious system of reincarnating Buddhas that dates back to the 12th century.

That is only one link in the chain of this story.

The Book of Lost Fragrances (by M.J. Rose) is about perfumes, scent masters and the ancient art of perfumery. It’s about love, suspense, memory and past lives. The core of the story starts in Eqypt when Cleopatra had her own perfume master create scents for her alone. In present day, where the bulk of the story takes place, scent is at the heart of the Tibetan issue of identifying the next Buddha.

I was intrigued with the romance of a story based on scent. In my youth I had a very sensitive nose. Scent could bring memories sharply into focus whenever I smelled an odor associated with some memorable experience—good or bad. So I was drawn to read this book, but its influence did not stop at the story’s end.

I thought about perfumes, especially the one I wear now, and began doing some research. Many fragrance ‘notes’ go into making a scent. There are top notes, middle notes and base notes—all different scents that come out at different times in the life of the perfume during the hours of a day.

I thought about the life of a perfume as an analogy/metaphor/simile for writing a novel or reading fiction that pleases us. There’s the top notes—the first impression that grabs our attention. It peaks our interest and draws us in until the middle notes take over. The middle notes are secondary scents—that make us want to keep reading; searching for the next clue in a plot with its twists and turns, hopeful that it will be satisfactorily resolved. Then we spend a little time with the end notes. Knowing the book is almost over, we seek to savor the final moments for as long as we can, finally leaving us reflecting and yearning for more after we close the book.

(Now that’s a book I want to write as well as read.)

Like a book, it is hard to get rid of an old perfume bottle that holds/held a beloved scent that still retains pleasant memories. I perused the perfume bottles I have on my dresser, and wondered what changed that caused me to find a new scent and then another and another during the years. Like the individuality of a perfume, we choose books that fill us up and round out our edges but our tastes can change as we grow. Our “signature scent” needs to be adjusted.

Just as I’ve changed perfumes, I’ve gone through periods of reading mysteries/thrillers, romantic suspense, science fiction, gothic tales, historical fiction, etc.

There may be many of the same “scent notes” in the new perfume, but with different additions or adjustments. I was curious about the ingredients in my present and past perfumes. I learned that scents have been altered by the needs of a changing world. Some ingredients once derived from certain plants or animals, can no longer be used for many reasons, so now they must be chemically manufactured—a noticeable change for one with a sensitive nose. I have changed perfumes when they no longer represented “me.”

How have you changed in your reading or perfume tastes?

Do you have many perfumes or just one, or one at a time? Do you feel it represents you?

Care to share the name? I presently wear 5th Avenue by Elizabeth Arden.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Juggling All The Balls

In continuing this on-going series of building characters through use of astrology and the Tarot, we have to juggle a bit. Begin by throwing the first ball into the air—our sign is dual in nature (two sides clearly evident), 

then add that it is an air sign (associated with the mind and mental agility), 

further add something we haven’t mentioned before—it’s a mutablesign (changeable—with mercurial-like qualities because the swift footed planet Mercury rules it). 
(*Like the elements of earth, air, fire and water, signs also fit into categories of mutable, fixed or cardinal. For further details go here.)

Can you juggle one more ball? Add the Tarot card of the Lovers. Keeping all those balls in the air? That's Gemini. If you dropped a few, let's try adding them one at a time.

The symbol for Gemini is the Twins and the Tarot card is The Lovers.

I tried to think from the end backwards for character building on Gemini. What characters in movies would fit a Gemini. I immediately thought of Thelma and Louise—those women who were fun and witty, brave and quick, and took to the road to have their moment of freedom and cleverness, but when they became unfocused and went too far the only way out of their mess was down (in their case literally over a cliff).

Without being as obvious as “twin” characters like Thelma and Louise, I also thought about Ocean’s 11 (George Clooney and/or Brad Pitt) and other great heist films with actors who put together clever ways to rob a bank, jewelry store or museum, and reacted instantly to situations, but with nervous temperaments. The type of character who would be the mastermind, clever enough to devise the plan, charismatic enough to keep the group together and be successful, could very well be a Gemini.
The strengths of a Gemini are that they are energetic, clever, witty, adaptable and have imaginative qualities. On their weak side, they can be superficial, impulsive, restless, fickle, devious and indecisive.

One strong trait is that of independence, a must with them. They don’t like being pinned down by anyone or by any rules. They want to experience the world on their own terms.

They make interesting and exciting friends because they are always learning new things and going different places—taking in the world on their own terms, thus having lots to talk about and entertain you with. They are great communicators and are the go-to person if you need advice. They will have the latest gossip and dish the dirt with an interesting flare—a social butterfly.

But, they can lack perseverance. Gemini can easily go off topic, exploring another thought or idea. They can appear superficial, forming opinions on matters without diving fully into the subject or situation and exploring it fully. This can lead them into thinking they know everything. Their minds are too busy to be concerned with fine details and they would rather be naive then know the depressing truth-they do not want anything putting a damper on their freedom or positive energy.

If they disperse their energy on different tasks and not focus on one thing, they can leave a trail of unfinished projects in their wake and appear wishy-washy and changeable on a whim. Because of their logical bent, they can be thought of as cold and unemotional but it’s simply how they function—they connect in their own way.

Their lightness of spirit and youthful exuberance help them to appear forever young. Eventually though, they need time by themselves in order to recharge.

The Greek myths can further explain Gemini and where the symbolic origin of the twins comes from, but that is too long for this post. You can go to Star IQ for a quick lesson in the Greek pantheon of the gods that affect this sign (Mercury, Greek messenger of the gods, Castor & Pollux, the Trojon war and all its characters (Helen, fathered by Zeus and Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, etc.). I can’t get that in-depth here (that would be a Gemini trait, to go off subject and wander about for new and interesting tidbits of information).
And, I’m only mentioning that the tarot card of the Magician is relevant to Mercury (and thus to Gemini) in passing, because we need to concentrate on The Lovers card.

The Rider-Waite-Smith lovers trump, numbered six (like the six stars in Castor), is a representation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall. Behind the two lovers stands an angel. Eve stands next to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and around that tree is coiled the snake that circles the waist of the magician in card one of the tarot. Adam stands next to the tree of life with its twelve fruits, one for each sign of the zodiac.

In the Hebrew bible, God created Adam in God's image and likeness. Because Adam was lonely, God took a rib from Adam to create Eve, also in his image and likeness—a type of twinship. Adam and Eve were the lovers who started the human race. The serpent convinced God's human creations to eat the forbidden fruit (perhaps an apple as in the myth of Helen of Troy). Human suffering and misery was the outcome of that primal choice. (taken from: Star IQ.)

The lovers represent the union of opposites. That perfect understanding of Yin and Yang. So, when building a Gemini character, their learning arc will be from the individual, self-centered viewpoint to a more universal understanding. They will see the symmetry in seeming opposites, and that it is really all one movement. Without getting too metaphysical, at the end of Gemini's chameleon personality arc, he/she will broaden the mind and expand the sense of connectedness with life; bringing many sides together into an adapted whole. The Gemini will be able to communicate effectively, think clearly, work dutifully and heroically, as well as leave their fickleness behind when loving and sharing themselves with their friends and companions. 

Other sources used for this article: Astrology on Line,  Zodiac Signs Astrology and

Did I confuse you, or did you manage to keep all those balls in the air to understand this sign?

Can you think of another movie with a Gemini character?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Little Humor is Warranted

It seems this has been a stressful week for many of my writer/blogger friends. A little humor is needed. So, scouring the world wide internet, I found a few humorous blogs. Grab your morning, afternoon or evening (wherever on the globe you are) coffee, tea, wine or whatever--and take a break to laugh, chuckle or maybe just giggle a bit.

The Ominous Comma posted about: Writing prompts for the Not-So-Prompt

"There comes a time in every blogger’s life when having answered every email, researched every YouTube video, and basically exhausted every imaginable resource, he finds himself in the desperate position of actually having to write.

If you are a stranger to the delightful world of wordcraft, perhaps spending your time on more respectable and rewarding occupations like say, Roadside Carcass Removal, you might believe that those who call themselves writers would have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that sooner or later they would be called upon to produce verifiable written material."

You would be wrong.

You see, being a writer is a lot like being a rock star: you are allowed, and even expected to dress funny, hold bizarre and often conflicting opinions, and basically act like an adolescent.

The act of writing, however, is a lot like work. . . . “


If you've been sucked into Pinterest, you might enjoy Penny Warner's blog post An Interest in Pinterest about her need for an intervention: 

. . . “Thanks to Pinterest, I now own four pairs of Tom’s shoes (buy one, send one to a needy child), I’ve tried numerous new recipes (like Cake Mix Rice Krispies Squares), I’ve painted my nails to look like Angry Birds (mostly they just look angry). . . I know what to do with leftover Peeps (turn them into Peep S’mores), and I’ve cut up a perfectly good t-shirt in an attempt to make it into a shawl (mine looks like a cut-up-t-shirt.”


On The Junk Drawer, a post by Kathy Frederick tells us about an embarrassing incident in:  At Least It's Not a Boombox

. . ."Mom! What's that lady got on her head? And what's that discus thing she's carrying?
The mother shushed her son and said, "It's like an iPod, only Frisbee-sized. She must be destitute, so don't make fun of the lady."
"OK, Mom. But let's pull over and give her a few dollars. Will that help her get an iPod?"

Hoped that helped to brighten your day.  (Did one of those evoke a laugh, chuckle or even a giggle?)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not Just Another Pretty Face

They might be known for their pretty face, but more than that, these personalities share something else. What similarities do you see in Frank Sinatra, John Malkovich, Tina Turner, Bette Midler, Jimi Hendrix, Woody Allen, Judi Dench, Jane Fonda or Walt Disney? Strong personalities? Yes. Take charge people? Yes.  Subtle?  Um, no. They are Sagittarians and they do not stop until they get what they want.
When Sagittarians go bad, they go very, very bad ( gangster Lucky Luciano, mass murderer Richard Speck, dictator Francisco Franco, Manson family killer Charlie “Tex” Watson, Stalin, Vlad the Impaler and Nero). 

Sagittarious is a fire sign, and fire exemplifies their passion. Though very diverse (as you can see above) they all have that “fire in the belly” that makes them successful. It’s what gives the Sagittarians their enthusiasm and drive. They never stop until they get what they want.

Sagittarians are leaders, take charge kind of people. They are motivating, confident and proud so if you need a pep talk, go to them.

On the flip side, they can be arrogant and self-centered, having little patience for emotionalism so don’t tap them for sympathy or comforting—they don’t like neediness. They need freedom and recognition and tend to drive right over the weaker, shyer signs.

The celestial archer is the symbol for Sagittarius and the Temperance card of the Tarot is highlighted. Temperance refers to the blending, moderation and tempering of disparate elements to achieve a balanced whole greater, more harmonious than the sum of its parts. When in their positive mode, Sagittarians are tolerant and broad-minded.

Sagittarius is ruled by the planet Jupiter—the god of luck and good fortune which is linked to the Tarot’s Wheel of Fortune card.

The Wheel of Fortune teaches that luck can change and that fortune is part of a universal cycle of ups and downs; what goes around comes around. By linking Temperance with the Wheel of Fortune, the tarot may be advising Sagittarians to develop the virtue of temperance so they are better able to cope with the inevitable downturns in fortune.

In this ongoing series of using astrology and the Tarot for character development, you have much to draw from in Sagittarius for a strong minded--even willful character who gets things done (positive or negative). Do you need a magnanimous character, or an insensitive bull-dozer type? How about a take-charge personality who can get things done? There is much fodder here for a colorful character.

Are you writing a character right now that needs to be a Sagittarius? Go to StarIQ for more on Sagittarius and the Tarot. Or go to It's Elementary, My Dear for more on the element of fire.

Does your knowledge of Sagittarius (either you are one, or you know one) agree with this assessment?

My previous posts on astrology and the Tarot for character development are here:
Libra    Pisces   Taurus    Leo    Scorpio 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three Tarot Cards Define Scorpio

For my ongoing series of creating characters by use of astrological signs and their corresponding Tarot cards, I'm choosing Scorpio this week. When I wrote my first novel and was working on character, I thought of using astrology to define my protagonist. I wanted the attributes to be  accurate to her personality. What sign would provide me with those traits of a woman who would have nightmares of another life time, uncover a psychic side and be plunged into darkness to find her truth? Scorpio.

The sign of Scorpio is the scorpion—a stinging arachnid associated with death, destruction, rebirth and transformation; exactly what my novel (publication date yet to be determined) is about.

Scorpio, in a nutshell, is an intense sign. Scorpios can be very energetic people—determined and hardworking but also jealous, obsessive and secretive, even to holding grudges. Intelligent and attractive, with a tendency toward the romantic, being they have passionate and emotional natures, they thrive in long relationships. But, they can also be self-centered.

Using Scorpio for the parameters of my protagonist’s personality was ideal. I later found out that there were three Tarot cards associated with Scorpio, which provided me confirmation that I had chosen correctly.

As expected, the Death card is one of the Tarot cards associated with Scorpio. My character had to re-enter her past-life death through her nightmares. 

The Tower card, another symbol of destruction (a bolt of lightning—like the sting of the scorpion—sudden and painful), was indicative of her death in that past life.

The third card is Judgment. Most religious and mythological traditions speak of undergoing a judgment as one passes from this life to the next. The Judgment card signifies the radical transformation or transition from one phase of existence to another, literally or symbolically.

(To read more about the Greek and Roman mythology of these cards, see Star IQ  from which I drew information for this post.)

My protagonist’s violent death in a previous life had to be transformed so she could overcome the trauma of that past life. She needed to release the outworn and useless patterns that hampered full expression in her present life. Unable to let go of that past effecting her in this life, enter the Tower.

The Tower card warns that if we do not make necessary changes in our lives, then outside forces will make them for us. So began the journey of my protagonist, forced to find her truth and achieve freedom from her past. Joseph Campbell describes the hero's journey as a stage of "leaving the known" which defines my character's journey into the depths of the Yucatan jungle.

I hope this example of how I used astrology and the Tarot for charting a character and his/her development gives you ideas of how to develop your own characters.

Do you know any Scorpios that fit this persona? Are you one? Share.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

After Easter Tidbits

With a week of company, family gatherings and rich food, I’m still working my way down from a food coma, family good times, a sick dog and three days of hay fever issues brought on by seasonably warm weather. As a result, my writing has suffered. To give you something special to take away, I decided to share a few authors you might like to know about.

Long time friend, Lorie Ham, has gathered some interviews and short videos she taped for her on-line magazine KingsRiver Life while at the recent Left Coast Crime Writers’ Conference in Sacramento, California in March. I’m sure you’ll find these interesting:

Victoria Heckman has a new series of books with an interesting twist—communicating with animals to solve crime. See her taped interview discussing this interesting ability that some people have and how she came to write about it in her new novel Burn Out:

Jeri Westerson puts a different twist on the noir mystery by having her stories set in medieval times. Her series features Crispin Guest, a “tracker,” the equivalent of a Medieval Private Investigator. After being disgraced as a knight and stripped of all of his wealth and postion, Crispen uses the only things left to him to make a living—his knightly skills. Check out her interview by Marilyn Meredith here:

Lee Goldberg, script writer (Monk, Spenser for Hire, Diagnosis Murder and more recently, The Glades), and novelist with a dose of humor, is interviewed here by Deborah H. Williams and includes Lorie's live interview video: 

Have you recently come across an author that wows you? Leave a comment and share your new find.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why Do We Write Stories?

We are made of stories; our history, our future our present; an ongoing story of our journey and everyone’s journey. We write to make sense of our lives, to give meaning where there is none and to glean all the meaning we can from an inexplicable event. We write to make ourselves whole, to find the parts of us we have lost or never knew—like when we search for our genealogy—we need the story behind our life.

While at the Left Coast Crime Writer’s Conference this past weekend, I was struck by what mystery writer L.J. Sellers said on one panel. As a news reporter she often became frustrated while trying to complete a written piece when she couldn’t find out all the details of what happened and why. It was out of that frustration that she came to write mystery novels so she could tell herself the part of the story that was missing.

If we think about why we write and get deeply reflective about it, it might just give us the voice and perspective we need to make our stories deeper, richer—more fully imbued with meaning. 

I have been thinking about discussions of late about classic fairy tales and the TV shows picking up on the interest (Grimm is dark and unsettling, taking its cues from "horror movies and serial killer thrillers" 

and Once Upon a Time is lighter and whimsical, evoking Harry Potter.--Fall TV: Once Upon a Time vs. Grimm") Why are we drawn (or not) to fairy tales?

I found a very thorough article on, Do We Need Stories? in the New York Review of Books by Tim Parks where he examines different novelists answers to that question. He made the point that as a writer we tweak the stories so that they are right for us. Perhaps that explains why some people are drawn to one or the other of the above mentioned series on fairy tales—so different in their focus and meaning. And why some people don't care for fairy tales at all. But, something deeper is going on and if you want to read more, go to the article here.

Why do you write stories? Have you thought about it?

Why do you write the genre you write?

What you are trying to tell yourself?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mining for Murder at a Mystery Conference

Because I was away this weekend, taking in Left Coast Crime Mystery Conference in Sacramento, California, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of some of the advice, tidbits and insight I got from one particular panel session called Criminal Minds.

The Guest of Honor of the conference was John Lescroat (New York Times best-selling author whose books have been translated into16 languages in more than 75 countries) 
            Since one of the basics of fiction writing is “show” don’t “tell,” John was asked how he shows what is in the mind of his characters. For one particularly difficult character, he wrote out 150 pages of interior monologue expressing how this character would think, act and approach life. When he went to write this character, he was able to show through his actions what was in his character’s mind. He used none of the 150 pages  —those he discarded because they were for the sole purpose of getting him deeply into the mind of his character.
            When he begins a new novel, he starts by taking out his list of 14 motives for murder, and picks a motive. Asked what his 14 motives are, he said to email or Tweet him and he would give you the list (he didn’t have it with him).

Author, Rick Reed, retired detective, had some fascinating stories about his life as a detective and his capture of serial killer, Joseph Weldon Brown who had claimed fourteen victims. Rick’s subsequent interviews with Brown clued him into the criminal mind and gave him fodder to write his novels. Brown was given a second life sentence after he strangled his cell-mate in prison. In one of his interview sessions with Brown, Rick asked that Brown be allowed to be unshackled so he could express himself better while they talked. At one point Brown reached over, put his hands around Rick’s neck and began to squeeze, showing him how he strangled his victims—a sobering moment.

I had originally chosen to catch a different panel but my author friend who gets around a lot on her book promotion tours, said we should go to this panel because one of her favorite writers was on it and it would be a good one. (My friend, Marilyn Meredith, was one of the very earliest authors to embrace e-publishing. She has several (lots) books that are available in both e-format and trade paperback, among them, the award winning mystery Guilt by Association. Her favorite writer friend on this panel was:

William Kent Krueger "William Kent Krueger can't write a bad book. Northwest Angle is one of his best. A complex crime novel that contains meditations on the difficulties of loving and the paths we take to reach God, this Cork O'Connor novel has everything you want in a great read: depth, action, and credibility."—Charlaine Harris, NYT best selling author
            He was delightful to listen to, and on the recommendation of my friend, he is going on my TBR list.

L.J. started out as a reporter. She would search out the stories and when she was frustrated with not getting all the answers, she started writing fiction. “When we can’t find the real story, we make one up.” Human are made for stories—we must have them. She writes thrillers and mysteries.

Denise Hamilton was the moderator of this panel (she has a long list of credentials for her writing (finalist in Edgars, Anthonys, Macavity and Willa Cather awards); won the Edgar Award for “Best Short Story” and the So. California Independent Bookseller’s Award for Best Mystery of the Year.
A mystery and thriller writer, she also moderated another panel I caught on Sex in Mysteries which was hilarious.

So now I need to digest all the fun and get back to my own writing.

Do you like mysteries?
Have you ever read a mystery?
Do you have a favorite mystery author?