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 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?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Makes a Novel Successful?

Why do writers choose the stories they do? Is it as simple as figuring out a plot, some characters and a story issue? Or does the story emerge from the experience of the artist in an unconscious flow; he opens that vein and lets it bleed out onto the page?

To touch the heart of a reader there has to be a successful mixture of both a well constructed story and the magic of connection to something deeper. That is why when we construct a plot, our characters often change it up on their way through to its conclusion.

There are stories, but then there are scenarios that touch us, dig in deep, make us think and reflect on our own lives.

So, can a young writer touch our hearts like that? Or is it a generational thing that young writers only speak to young readers but seasoned readers don’t react as much to those young issues of angst any longer? Not necessarily.

As artists, we must enter the zone where the deeper knowledge resides if we want our writing to get to that next level. It takes work, clarity, sensitivity, reflection--a contemplative mind or a meditative spirit. The young writer does not often have that ability yet. For that matter, it is not a gift to the older writer, either. It is a life practice which some never achieve or don't wish to achieve--or don't even realize is an option.

One can access that level either consciously or unconsciously, but to write a book that makes a successful, meaningful connection to the reader, one must reach that depth of thinking and bring out the jewels to be had.

Story is important, but the deeper story within the plot is what makes connection with readers—whether they are aware of it or not.

Do you agree? Or, do you see it differently? And what is that deeper story within the story?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

From the Stars to the Page

A Snitch in Time
by Sunny Frazier

Christy Bristol and the astrology mysteries I write emerged from a single incident while working for the Fresno County Sheriff's Department undercover narcotics team. I've been doing astrology for 40 years now, quietly, not really advertising the fact that I cast horoscopes. People tend to look at the practice of astrology with skepticism and I have always wanted to be taken seriously, not some sort of kook. When one of my detectives (Wolfe in the book) asked me to do a chart on a notorious drug dealer who was hooked on astrology and calling the 1-800 astrology hotline on a regular basis, I refused. I could just see getting up on the witness stand and saying, “Yes, judge, I did a horoscope on the criminal to scare him into showing us where the bodies were buried.”
But, what a great book, right? I actually did charts on not only the drug kingpin but also all the members of his meth crew. I used the case as the storyline for “Fools Rush In.” In the book, Christy is an office assistant, much like my position. Captured by the drug dealers, she uses her knowledge of astrology against them to stay alive. Much of what is in the book is true, as strange as it all seems. The publisher would not put my photo on the back cover for fear he might put a hit out on me from prison. The man conveniently died in incarceration.
I forced Christy to go undercover to a sex club to find a missing person in the second novel, “Where Angels Fear.” Christy's shyness makes this an excruciating endeavor but her wild friend Lennie (based on a friend from my wild days in the Navy) won't let her off the hook. By doing the horoscopes of three dead men, Christy finds the connection and the motive for their deaths. And yes, this is also based on a true incident, and yes much of the strange stuff I wrote about is true.
In every book, Christy grows and, hopefully, grows on the reader. She is Every Woman, not Wonder Woman. I didn't make her pretty or rich, but I gave her warts, insecurities and many of the same daily problems women experience. I also gave her the strength to overcome whatever I throw at her. 
 1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic?
Christy Bristol. She's fictional but is very similar to me in a lot of ways. Awkward!

2) When and where is the story set?
All of my stories and novels are set in the San Joaquin Valley. They are contemporary and set in the now. 

3) What should we know about him/her?
Christy is a 32 year old office assistant for the Central County Sheriff's Department. She's unmarried but has a hot boyfriend who she can't believe loves her. She's plain, but improving both in looks and confidence with every book.
Christy does astrology, receives unwanted glimpses into the future and relays messages to her sister, a nun, via ESP. She is not comfortable with her “gifts” and resists being pulled into doing horoscopes. Unfortunately, fate doesn't let her off the hook. 

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
In the latest book the main conflict is that Christy is at the wrong place at the wrong time. She just wanted a long weekend with her friend Lennie up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. But, when a murder occurs and the homicide detectives need an office assistant to man the phones at the substation and type up reports, she conscripted to work with them. Unhappy at the arrangement and anxious to go home, she decides to try and profile the killer using reverse astrology.
Her relationship with girlfriend Lennie is also strained because Christy takes an instant dislike to Lennie's latest man. She's jealous because her former co-worker now owns a newspaper and has left the drudgery of office work behind.
While up there, she is given a forest ranger's cabin to live in. He shows up and they have to share the small space. They bond over literature and his poetic nature. Never having had much attention from men, Christy is flattered that two men are now interested in her.    

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
In each book, I force Christy to go outside of her comfort zone and grow. In this book her impatience with the homicide team's inner politics and personality clashes finally  makes her throw up her hands and do her own investigation with the only tool she's got: astrology.
The conflict with her BFF comes to a head and Christy is forced to recognize that she has, in the past, belittled Lennie for her lack of education and sexual escapades. It's hard for her to admit that Lennie has been the better and less judgmental friend in the relationship.
Christy also has to decide between her love for the man who has stood by her but is frequently away and a new man who seems to “get” her on an intellectual level.  She's never had choices like this before. It's all very flattering.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The title is “A Snitch In Time.” No, nobody gets to read anything until the book is out.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
The book is in the final edits at Black Opal Books as we speak. I think the launch will be early 2015.

And now, to continue the blog hop, I nominate Che Gilson and Liane Spicer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Painting as Writer Inspiration?

(Convergence, 1952, Jackson Pollock)
A few years back, I was asked about my writing process when I was on a panel at the Left Coast Crime Mystery Convention, 2004. I had mentioned that my first novel began as a painting; my way of loosening up my creative muscles—a way in to find my story. I found that others in the audience also work with painting to find inspiration.


(The She-Wolf, Jackson Pollock, 1943)
I’ve had this blog for a few years now, but I’m not an author who posts about writing (which many do). I post about creativity and the things that inspire me. I am not trying to reach other writers, I am trying to reach my audience (some of whom might be writers interested in what I write about, but the majority will be readers only).

So, I write about anything that strikes my fancy. Kind of like the painting process of Jackson Pollack. I throw, brush and dribble paint all over the canvas and let the creativity flow in whatever avenue it wants to flow until an image emerges for me to work with. If my audience likes the way I write, they might be interested in reading my stories.

This novel I am highlighting today was a tale within another tale, a story that formed like a painting. I write about past lives, and this story was the past life of two of the main characters in Dance the Dream Awake, my first novel. It emerged rather powerfully and began to take over when I was writing the sequel. I had to pull it out and make it a standalone Romance novel. I hope you will enjoy it when it is published in 2015, along with my first novel (a paranormal romantic suspense that will be republished, both with Black Opal Books).
I was nominated to talk about my new novel by my author friend, Carrie Padgett. You can read her answers for the novel she is working on at her blog.

 Here are the questions and my answers:

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic?

I have two main fictional characters in a dual point of view. The setting is historical Heian Kyo, the era of the Pillow Books. My samurai is Saito no Shino and the object of his love is Fujiwara no Miyoshi, once his childhood friend, now a courtier to the Emperor Enyu.

2. When and where is the story set?

Ancient Japan, 980 A.D. The story starts in the tea fields of Mount Takao and moves to the Imperial City of Heian Kyo, Japan.

3. What should we know about them?

Shino starts out as a defiant boy coming into his manhood. His grandfather decides Shino needs discipline and structure to rein in his unruly behavior. He sends Shino for training with samurai monks in the Enrakyu-ji Temple of Mahanyana Buddhism to follow in the footsteps of his own father, a famous samurai.
Young Mihoshi is also ripped from her home when sickness invades their mountain home and her mother dies. She goes with her father who has been promoted to the higher class of Governor in a province just outside the Imperial City of Heian Kyo.


4. What is the main conflict. What messes up their life?

Shino overcomes his defiant nature and years later finds himself offered the position of chief samurai to the house of Fujiwara, Miyoshi's father. As samurai, he is of a lower class than Miyoshi, but realizes he loves her and has always loved her. Their love is a forbidden subject for serious consideration. She is slated to wed one of the sons of the Emperor's wives and although Shino can be Miyoshi's lover, he cannot be her husband.

5. What are the personal goals of the characters?

Shino wants to train other samurai to be the best fighters in Japan, to have status and prestige of their own. By doing so, he hopes to find a way to have Miyoshi for his own before it is too late.
Miyoshi wants the freedom to live her life as she does within the walls of her father's house, to have Shino as her husband and not be a fixture in the court of the Emperor. But her father disagrees and wants her safely ensconced in the palace. His word decides her fate.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we rad more about it?

The title is Haiku Dance. There will be more about it on my blog as time moves toward publication in 2015.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

It is presently slated for publication with Black Opal Books sometime in 2015.

And now, to continue the blog hop, I nominate Kris Lynn and Sunny Frazier to talk about their books next Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014 on their blogs.

(Sunny will talk about her book right here on my blog at that time as she has no blog. But you can visit her website.)

Do you read historical fiction?

If a writer, do you have a certain method for inspiration that works for you best?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stuck Like Old Chewing Gum?

Writers are filled with neurosis. With all the time spent alone trying to work out a story, thinking being the major occupation, it is inevitable thinking about one’s self will be in the mix; about one’s place in the world, one’s place in relationship to other writers and other human beings or any number of subjects in the known universe—or outside it. A distraction.
Guilt is a major weakness to be chewed on and spit out. Anything we feel we should be doing and are not comes into the mix.
Mental trips rotate around our mind like a merry-go-round about our writing. “My work is superior, why isn’t it recognized as such?” Or, “My writing sucks, it’s not up to par, what if everyone hates it?”
Then there is writer’s block or lack of inspiration. “Maybe if I fix my work schedule and update my priorities, and avoid procrastination, and drum up some motivation—and maybe even find that perfect writing program that will simplify the whole writing process. . . .” And on and on.
Oh, and sarcasm. Lots of sarcasm pours out of molting writers.
Until finally that book or story is finished. And then the promotion and marketing begins. . . . "How can I promote enough but not too much? I don’t want to aggravate people.”  I can’t/don’t want to do that!”
So what’s a writer to do when he/she is too much in his head and is stuck on any number of subjects or processes?
Stop thinking. Take a break from your mind.
Meditate or take a walk and feel the air on your skin, listen to the sounds around you – or the sound of silence. Let your senses take in the world. Tamp down the processes you overuse and need a break from (thinking and seeing) and instead focus on smell, touch, taste – intuition. Give it enough time and you will feel the ideas, inspiration, motivations return as they slowly seep in or quickly pop up.
Sometimes that’s all we need to do and the last thing our mind lets us do. It wants to ‘figure it out at all costs.’ So, maybe it is time to forcefully pull the plug and get yourself some space. Give yourself a break when it seems you have the least amount of time. If it gets you past that stuck, resistant place, it is gaining you time in the end.
Oh, by the way, this works for anyone, not just writers. Then, when you're unstuck, pop in a fresh stick of gum and begin chewing all over again.

Do you have a process you use to get un-stuck? I'd love to hear about it.