Monday, September 28, 2009

Interview with Bruce Cook


As a huge fan of Blood Harvest, I’m happy to see Marshal Lawe return to print in Tommy Gun Tango. Will this book take on the point of view of other characters as Blood Harvest did? Any animal POV’s?



It’s so nice of you to interview me, Jackie—thank you! And I am happy that you are a fan of Blood Harvest.


Yes, I am once again using multiple first person points of view in Tommy Gun Tango. That was an experiment in Blood Harvest, and I found I really enjoyed the process. I am sticking with fewer points of view this time around—four people, instead of six humans and two animals. By the way, I borrowed this idea of contradictory/contrasting first person POVs from the Japanese film Rashomon, by Akira Kurasawa.



I greatly enjoyed writing from the point of view of a dog and a crow last time, and some of my readers found it amusing and entertaining. But that choice—to write as an animal some of the time—caused a tremendous split among readers and reviewers. They tended to love or hate the book based on that criterion. I decided to forgo that technique this time around—and besides, Marshal Lawe has moved across the country by car in 1932. His police dog Chief had already passed on to the Great Hunt in the sky.



This story begins with the POV of Marshal Lawe. We then see things from the POV of his serious girlfriend, Gladys, who lost her diner back in Massachusetts and moved to be with family in Los Angeles. We also hear from Jackie Sue, the sexually precocious and ambitious 13 year old from Blood Harvest. She is now 16 and is working as an actress in Hollywood. The final voice is a new character, Al Haine, a handsome Irish gangster, con man, and smooth talker. (Side note: Al Haine is the grandfather of Sam Haine, the lead character in my first novel, Philippine Fever.)



For Tommy Gun Tango, Bruce Cook collaborated with alter ego Brant Randall. What did each self bring to the process?



The Bruce Cook side of me is a scientist and mathematician by training. I worked on the Apollo Project in the 70’s as a laser physicist, before becoming a film maker. Bruce tries to be a close observer and factual reporter.



Brant Randall is the story teller, memory-keeper, spinner of tall tales, researcher of times past and customs vanished. He grew from my work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, director, cameraman, film editor, and sound designer.



You have two very different protagonists in your novels—Marshal Ichabod Lawe and ATF Agent Sam Haine. Do you find it difficult to move between their mindsets? And do you ever work on both series at the same time?



I have written 30 screenplays, none of them sequels to each other. I do not find it difficult to invent new characters. None of them are myself—but they all have aspects of my personality.



This is seasoned with the traits of my friends, family, co-workers, passersby, and enemies.
I haven’t worked on both series at the same time, but I don’t see that it would be a problem. I see it in much the same way as when you move from workplace to home to church to public space—you display different aspects of your personality. When I move from contemporary times to the past I switch attitudes and mores to match the setting.



In Tommy Gun Tango, you take on a real person, actress Jean Harlow, and an incident in her life—the death of her second husband, Paul Bern. This had to be intimidating. How did you approach your research, and were you nervous about upsetting Harlow fans?



I read plenty (and there is plenty to read!), re-watched her films, talked to film buffs—just immersed myself in Hollywood of the 1920s and 30s. I enjoy research, so it was fun, not intimidating.

I perused news accounts of the death of Paul Bern. I was able to get hold of some court transcripts. I found late-life memoirs of people involved with Harlow, Bern, and MGM. I read the gossip sheets from the era. The material was fascinating and contradictory. Bit by bit a pattern emerged (to my eye, at least) of Hollywood studio cover-ups of crimes by stars and producers. The police and city officials were complicit in these cover-ups. From all this data I drew my own (reasonable, I think) conclusions about Bern’s death.



You seem so comfortable writing “outside the box”, whether it’s placing your story on foreign soil in Philippine Fever or traveling back in time for Tommy Gun Tango. I know you lived in the Phillipines, but you certainly weren’t around when Blood Harvest took place in the 20’s. Is this simply great imagination? Painstaking research? Magic?



I’ll pick research and magic.



Seriously, I read accounts of the times written by many different voices. And then I interviewed people who were alive during those times and let their memories flesh out my vision of the past. I also found fabulous visual and audio resources. I was greatly aided by fiction films and documentaries made during that era. The internet and Netflix are wonderful tools.



You are also a teacher. Do you think this impacts your writing and how?



Yes, indeed. I constantly try to improve my teaching—which I see as the process of getting ideas and information from my mind to the mind of the student. And of course that is the same task that an author faces. Sometimes techniques from the craft of writing change the way I teach—and other times the tricks I have learned as a teacher work just as well on paper.



Among your former students are Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), actor Laurence Fishburne, six Academy Award nominees and winners, and twelve Emmy nominees and winners. You obviously have something important to say to artists. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?


The difficult thing is to develop a voice and world view that is your own—recognizable to others so that they can identify with it, but quirky (or twisted or off-kilter or…) enough to force the reader to see things freshly. The writer is a storyteller first of all, a conservator and purveyor of the culture—but if he/she isn’t also an innovator, then the story is old and formulaic, not worth the reader’s trouble.



I have to ask. You used the names of people you know in Tommy Gun Tango. (Including our own Gayle Pool and Jackie Houchin.) Are you careful to be complimentary when you do this?

I asked permission first to name characters after these fellow authors, and told them briefly what kind of character each would be. Once I had written a substantial passage that included them I sent it to them to vet. If either had been offended or homicidal about her portrayal I would change the character name to Jackie Vick.



My buddy Robert Fate also shows up in this book and other friends and family have been used as well. It’s meant to be fun—so if it’s not, I don’t do it.


What’s next on Bruce and Brant’s agenda?




Well….Bruce is writing a textbook on screenwriting just now. When that is out the door Bruce and Brant are going to collaborate once again. The next book is set in contemporary Los Angeles and features a number of ancient gods, mythical characters, and other immortals of waning power and influence. They all are trying to break into show biz to re-establish their identities in popular culture and regain solidity in the Jungian world-mind. The book will be called Nasté, Brutus, and Shorte.



And yes, there will be animals: Odin’s talking ravens, Hugyn (Thought) and Mugyn (Memory), for those of Scandinavian inclination.





You can order the book by clicking on the cover. You can also visit Bruce online.

Review of Bruce Cook's Books

Dancing with the Stars

A Review by GB Pool

Great atmosphere shares center stage with a cast of memorable characters whose lives are intertwined in this fascinating tale of the dark side of old Hollywood.

Tommy Gun Tango, co-written by Bruce Cook and Brant Randall, brings back several characters from Randall’s Blood Harvest, an equally entertaining story set against a backdrop of the KKK in Massachusetts. And readers of Cook’s first novel will recognize a name that might be a relative of his hero in Philippine Fever, Cook’s adventure story set in the steaming back streets of Manila.

Utilizing multiple points of view, one per chapter, each character starts out by explaining where they came from and about the skeletons in their closets. First is Marshal Lawe, an out-of-work constable from a podunk town called Peony Springs in rural Massachusetts. His little town pretty well dried up and blew away, so he headed west to the Golden State.

Along a deserted highway one night, Lawe sideswipes a hitchhiker who ends up completing the journey with him to the land of milk and honey. This is the Depression, 1932, and everything looks better on the other side of the tracks.

The guy Lawe hits is Al Haine, a two-fisted Irishman who uses one fist to fight and the other to gamble. He is good at both. Talk about the luck of the Irish. Al manages to secure a few extra bucks on their journey to the coast. He never mentions the bruised bodies he leaves in his wake.

Once in Hollywood, Lawe gets himself a job in the movies as an extra. His credentials lead him to a security job for one of the big studios. Al tries his luck at the dog track. He does well and soon moves with a faster, more dangerous crowd.

Laced throughout the opening section of the story are tasty little tidbits ripped from the headlines of the newspapers of the day. Stories like the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and the mysterious death of William Desmond Taylor. Each tale shows how the studio heads deal with moral turpitude and the threat to their box office receipts along with their willing accomplices in law enforcement.

Another character who graces the pages is Gladys Alwyn. When the war broke out she left Virginia and turned tricks in New York City before saving up enough money to buy a diner in Peony Springs. She hid her past and became romantically linked with Marshal Lawe, but when the economy turned south, she headed for Los Angeles. She had relatives there. She took with her another, darker, secret that she figured would ruin any further notions about making any permanent plans with Lawe.

Al Haine’s tempestuous past was filled with rapid departures, usually when a dead body turned up. His anarchist tendencies finally landed him in America from Ireland where trouble kept finding him. Once in Los Angeles, he sought to improve his lot in life and ended up working at one of the studios as a dancer in a gangster musical. His dancing partner, Gayle, a gorgeous blonde, is a kid with ambition, but this little number plays by different rules.

Gayle wants to get out of the chorus line and into better things. She is a Jean Harlow look-alike who wants to parlay her considerable assets into a sizable career. The young woman (really young, try sixteen) ran away from her hometown, Peony Springs no less, changed her name to a high-toned hyphenated British derivative and, with a doctored birth certificate that places her outside the statutory range, works every angle to get ahead. She meets Al who likes all her angles. They decide to pool their resources and take Hollywood by storm. But they have no idea what kind of storm is brewing.

So everybody is now in Los Angeles, and a particular Hollywood death draws each into a soul-searching nightmare. Tommy Gun Tango is filled with spot-on atmosphere and terrific characters. Any fan of the movies from the 1930s will be instantly transported to an old black and white movie, so bring the popcorn.

A fast and fun read. My only complaint: I wanted it to last longer. The characters are so well drawn, I wanted to see more of them. But the authors left a few doors open, so there just might be more adventures in Hollywoodland.

Published by Capital Crime Press, $14.95.





Blood Harvest
By Brant Randall
Capital Crime Press, May 2008, $19.95

Review by Jackie Houchin

Reminiscent of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Blood Harvest is the chilling tale of hatred, racism and violence spread by the Ku Klux Klan, not in the South, but in New England in the early part of the last century. It’s the story of two rival bootlegging families, related by marriage but separated by prejudice.

Years earlier, the youngest MacKay daughter defied her family and ran off with Nick DeCosta, a detested, “non-white European.” They had a son, Angus, who ran wild as a teenager. One day the boy showed up at a church social where he found young Jackie Sue MacKay ripe for picking.

Her cousin discovered them under a rhododendron bush, and pulled Angus out by the ear. The MacKay men folk thrashed him and tossed him off a bridge, breaking his leg and nearly killing him.

About that time Nick came looking for his boy, saw him in the riverbed, and opened fire on the MacKay men, injuring several. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder. What follows is a trial with little hope of justice.

What makes this book a pleasure to read, and re-read, is Randall’s unique voice. He relates the story of the trial, the lynching and a bizarre revenge murder through the eyes of nine colorful viewpoint characters – including a dog and a crow – and it’s perfectly believable. His back-woodsy dialects ring true, and his animal-speak is mesmerizing. The mystery is well-plotted and absorbing, his writing is fresh, but it’s the characters that sell this one.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Building a Platform - Day 3

Day #3

Get yourself plastered…all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. http://www.agathapenwrite.com/ will draw more people to you than http://www.im-a-greatwriter.com/. Unless “Great Writer” will be your pen name, use your real name. You are selling “you” out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy “you.” You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, “Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. It will be good.”





Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then map your writing quest. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer’s group, you sent query letters, that you got some bites. Put a few notes on My Space about who you are. Remember you already discovered the “real you” in the first bullet point in this series. Now it’s time to get your name out there.





While you are signing up for all the websites, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on the site. People want to know what you look like. The generic silhouette they use when you have “no picture available” says you don’t know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you. You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. Get that picture on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love you for advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Interview with M.M. Gornell

Madeline Gornell took on the psuedomym of M.M. when she thought that her protagonist was going to be a man. The characters refused to cooperate, and her protagonists so far have been women.

Author is a lifetime lover of mysteries of all types, and her favorite novelist is P. D. James. Besides reading and writing, she is an avid gardener--with a fondness for roses and fruit trees, and a potter particularly interested in the high-fire reduction process. A long time resident in the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound, she now lives with her husband and assorted canines in California’s high-desert.

You are known for creating an additional character out of your locations; the depth of detail and your word choices bring them to life. Is this an intentional attention to detail on your part, or are you in love with the locations that you write about?

Locations are my inspiration. Inexplicably, certain spots hit a note in my being and I know something special has happened there—or should happen in one of my novels!

In fact, different places I’ve visited, or even just seen in passing from an auto window, talk to me. I know we’re supposed to only have five senses, but there’s something more that speaks to my imagination. In that respect, location is definitely an additional “character” and has a strong influence on my plot and protagonist’s decisions.

The hard part (no surprise), is bringing life to the location for my readers. The key I think is “experiencing” the place through my protagonist’s responses to their environment. What they see, hear, smell—and especially how the location makes them feel emotionally. My goal is for my writing to grow and improve; and this is the number one aspect of writing I want to excel in.

The book I’m finishing now, “Reticence of Ravens,” is set in a particular stretch of the Mojave Desert between Barstow and Las Vegas, and in the book’s Preface I try to explain how for me, behind almost every creosote bush, lays a tale!

You currently write standalones, such as Uncle Si's Secret. In Death of a Perfect Man, there is a hint that Jada Beaudine has a history of helping the police, and by the end of the book, there seems to be a relationship forming between Jada and Sheriff Josia Rhodes, and maybe even investigator Lyle Elliot. While it’s a fantastic idea to leave the readers feeling as if these character’s lives will go on, are you ever tempted to continue with a series?



Not yet. Part of that I think, is because somewhere in my writing-psyche, I like leaving a few loose ends. That’s probably a literary “no-no.” I also believe life is a stream of endless possibilities. There’s always options, different paths, “what if” directions to take—not only for me, but for my characters. For now, I’m leaving Jada, Josia, and Lyle’s future destinies hanging—with many wonderful possibilities.
A bigger reason why I haven’t leaned toward sequels yet is there are still so many places, and so many different characters hanging around in my imagination—jockeying for their chance at coming alive.

The coast and the desert have featured in your books. Are there other locations you would like to cover in your writing? Is there a favorite spot that speaks to you?

Oh yes! Many locations have beckoned, and their accompanying tales are rattling around in my head. To name a few— a particular view of Lake Michigan from the 18th floor of a Michigan Avenue condominium in Chicago, a spot on Highway 58 as you drive up to Tehachapi, California from Bakersfield, a wonderful Thai restaurant tucked away on a downtown backstreet in Montreal, a stretch of two-lane highway heading south from Hoover Dam to Kingman in Nevada, a small bungalow on the side of the hill in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a particular Route-66 marker in Newberry Springs, California—the list goes on.

However, I’m not one of those lucky writers that can survive on four hours sleep, or once writing never stop to eat or drink—or water the plants, feed the animals, etc. I need at least eight hours sleep every night, nothing stops me from getting hungry, and I’m easily distracted. Consequently, I’m a slow writer. And all those characters in my head are getting impatient for their turn!

What kind of writing schedule do you adhere to?


I’ve failed miserably at establishing a daily writing routine. But I do physically write (word process) everyday. And I think my unconscious is always engaged in writing. I haven’t given up, however, on a more structured routine. Among the “endless possibilities” ahead for me, is successfully adhering to a schedule.

From Irena –the strange and psychic owner of the Red Rock Inn and Cafe-- to Manny the cook, your supporting characters are unique and detailed. Do you sketch out all of your characters before writing or discover them along the way?


Both. I outline my plots, and complete detailed character descriptions as part of that outline—including their appearance, life philosophies, emotional baggage, and motivators. For me, those psychological aspects are plot drivers, and determine my character’s choices when confronted with adversity.


Once I’m into my story, I forget the outline, and more often than not, make many plot changes. New events and twists develop, and my characters make decisions that I hadn’t initially envisioned. However, without my original roadmap (outline), I’d be lost.

What’s next for M.M. Gornell?


My immediate goal is to finish “Reticence of Ravens.” My protagonist in this book is male, and more morose than Bella (“Uncle Si’s Secret”), or Jada. Hugh James Champion III is a Psychologist on the verge of a mental “something” himself, and has to confront murder, the daunting Mojave Desert, several villains (past and present), a possible desire for a relationship, and a haunting past failure. The inspiration for this tale was a semi-defunct mini-mart at an I-15 exit. In my novel, I call the place Joey’s. And yes, the location and the seemingly omniscient ravens that hang around are “characters”. I’ve also recently discovered I enjoy reviewing books of authors I’ve met.


Vying for my writing and reviewing time is getting smart (and eventually becoming successful) in promoting my novels. For me, writing is fun, promotion is hard work! Part of that is because I’m so new at it. Most fortunately, (and I really mean this), the Associations I’ve joined, and the wonderful authors I’ve met, have been generous guides. They’ve helped me in more ways than I can possibly explain.



You can visit Madaline at her website or blog. Her book is available in bookstores and on Amazon by clicking on the bookcover to the right. It's also available on Kindle.







Death of a Perfect Man

Death of a Perfect Man by M.M. Gornell

When Jada Beaudine takes a wrong turn in the Mojave high desert, her life is about to change. Will it be for the better?

Before she knows it, Jada is caught up in a bizarre murder. A local pottery instructor is found murdered in his classroom, which is a short walk away from her room at the Red Rock Inn and Cafe. She could walk away, but she’s drawn to the people who live at the inn as well as the pottery students who reside in the surrounding city.

The unsettling Irina, owner of the inn, seems able to read Jada’s mind. The fabulous cook Manny must have his reasons for staying in such a deserted place. Are they innocent reasons? Even
Chief of Police Josia Rhodes has complex depths that tie him to the suspects.

Who murdered the art instructor and why? Why is Jada being followed? And how does this all tie in with her husband Terry’s death?

M.M. Gornell weaves a tapestry of words that brings the setting to life. The desert heat and dust will pop off the page and envelop the reader. At the startling conclusion of this novel, the reader will feel as if she is just returning from an actual visit to Red Rock City.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Building a Platform - Day 2

Day #2


What makes you so special? Okay, you have taken inventory of yourself. You know what you want to write, maybe even what you like to read, and you have some special skills that give you credibility and perhaps an audience down the line. So what makes you different from every other author out there?

Say you like mysteries with a food theme: chef/sleuth, caterer/sleuth, food critic/sleuth. There are other books out there with those characters. Jerilynn Farmer (Perfect Sax) writes a mystery series about a caterer who gets caught up in crime. Mysteries are notorious for having food-related themes. Amateur sleuths are constantly eating in their books. (They should all be fifty pounds overweight.) What makes your Ginsu knife-wielding sleuth more interesting than the others?

Knowing the answer to this can be the biggest selling point for your work.

When an agent says, “Yeah, you write well, but there are a hundred chef/sleuths out there.” What are you going to tell him or her that makes your guy or gal sleuth unique? If you are Oprah’s personal chef, boy do you have an in. If you cooked twenty years in the army, you just might have an edge. If your sleuth is a Martian with the best quiche recipe in the Solar System…You get the idea.

So, what makes your sleuth different? Have that answer at your fingertips before you submit your first manuscript. And consider using the same technique screenwriters use to sell a script: the high concept idea. Have a short, pithy term to describe your main character. Maybe you have a blind chef, or a wisecracking Yenta chef, or a bi-polar chef. Make it memorable and you just might have a winner.

My series character, Gin Caulfield, a former private detective who gets back in the business, is a middle-aged woman. Her catch phrase: Still Packing Heat. I have a 12 x 17 in magnetic sign on my car with Gin Caulfield Mysteries/Still Packing Heat in red and black letters with a picture of a pair of red high heels on it. I am a driving bulletin board. People stop me and ask about the sign. It’s (almost) free advertising.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A young orphaned girl who survives an attack on her village, a divorced professional whose terminally ill ex-husband is gay, a private investigator struggling to overcome gunshot wounds and an addiction to pain killers, a child princess lost in a forest with only a wolf for protection, a trio of woman who drive each other crazy: How did you all come up with your protagonists?

***********************************************************

Jackie Houchin

Back in the Olden Days (okay, well, maybe 15 years ago), two friends and myself made it a habit to have lunch together once or twice a month after a Tuesday Bible study class. Our choices of eateries were eclectic, but our companionship was always fun and supportive.

Although we were different in either age or inclination, we had a jolly good time sharing jokes, heartaches, experiences and wishful thinking.

Joyce, older and more importantly, a woman of "The Old School," was very modest even though she'd been a "looker" in her youth. She regaled us with hilarious (to us) stories of how she'd be "accosted" by leering men as she rode the bus to work in downtown LA.

We got to teasing her about being molested as a child, just to see her horrified response. (Okay, I know that is not funny, but her affront was!) She became Celeste, the older of my trio of sisters in "Sister Secrets;" the one who helps abused women in her legal practice, while fighting her own deep terror of men.

Rita battled weight-gain problems and yet often gave in to rich, hi-calorie choices when we ordered lunch. She also "confessed" a near-uncontrollable chocolate craving and sometimes whispered (as we leaned in close) the ways she indulged that addiction.

She also had a tender heart for kids and neighbors with problems. Rita became the needy but nurturing, finger nail biting, self-indulging but sweet, middle sister, Helena.

The third sister, Evangeline had to be me. (Jacqueline=Evangeline...get it?) She is a professional photographer, a bit naive, and an "incurable romantic," which often gets me...er, I mean...her into trouble.

From this foundation of close friends, it was easy to expand on personalities, problems, pasts & passions, and ... well-kept "secrets," for the protagonists in my novel.

***

MK Johnston

It’s a funny story, really.

When I was a child, my mother would tell me stories about her life and her family. She’d repeat them so often I began to tune them out. After she passed away, though, some of those stories began to re-circulate in my brain, especially the one about how my grandmother, a five year old girl living in a late 19th century Russian shtetl (peasant village), went to the nearby river to wash laundry. She returned to discover her village has been destroyed in a pogrom that killed many villagers, including her parents.

My imagination took over and a story emerged.


Although my work was fiction, I clung to the factual part that launched my novel. I can recall arguing with my writers group over my protagonist’s age; they insisted she needed to be at least eight, and I countered that, although it defied belief that a five year old could do what she did, it really happened. Eventually I bumped her age up to six going on seven, but not without a fight.

Now here’s the funny part.


I visited my aunt – my mother’s sister – just after I finished my first draft and told her about my novel. When she seemed confused, I repeated the story about her mother, which my mother had told me countless times. I will never forget her response.





“That never happened.”

She then told me the real story about my grandmother, with such detail and clarity that I knew it had to be true. I went home and immediately changed my protagonist’s age to eight.

Would I have written my novel had I known the truth about my grandmother? Probably not. The actual story, while interesting, didn’t move me in the way my mother’s version did.

I always planned to dedicate the book to the woman who inspired it. For years, I thought it was my grandmother, but now I know the truth.

***

Bonnie Schroeder

I actually knew a woman whose husband left her for a man – about the time she learned she was pregnant. This was a smart, pretty, successful woman. I’d met her husband, and they seemed like a pretty solid couple. You just never know.

Anyway, I got to thinking about her situation and how I’d feel in her shoes – I’d probably want to murder the jerk. I’d stayed friends with my own ex-husband, too, and I wondered how I’d feel if he came down with a terminal illness.

The physical prototype for Susan was a business associate whom I admired – a tall woman with masses of curly black hair who once remarked that her size (and she wasn’t overweight or anything, just big) had colored her whole outlook on life. Anyway, these elements all converged to create Susan Krajewski.

The last name, BTW, came from another business associate, a guy who lamented about the mispronunciations of his name. I decided to saddle Susan with it as a token of her connection to her ex-husband – the fact that she kept his surname despite the obvious inconvenience.


***

Jacqueline Vick

Family. Lots and lots of family. That's the secret to my characters. I come from a line of Lithuanian/Luxembourg/French immigrants, a good Catholic family with 13 children including my father, the oldest. Most of them are married with children, and some of those children have children. My family is a wealth of human eccentricities.

There's the uncle with nine lives. He's almost burned alive trying to escape a bonfire he set, fallen off a glass roof while shoveling snow, and come this close to electrocuting the entire family. And that was on Monday.


I have Chinese relations, Japanese/Filipino relations, Mexican relations. At any moment, I can draw on The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Y.


And then there's my Mother's side of the family. Proud English/Irish/Scottish/Dutch descendants of those who arrived shortly after the Pilgrims. There's a historic site in PA, The Harlow Old Fort House, that was built by one of my distant relations in 1677--Sgt. William Harlow. (I've named a character after that side of the family.)

My Grandfather was a Protestant and a Mason; my Grandmother was Catholic. His mother wore black to the wedding.

I have a picture of five gorgeous Irishmen, my grandmother's brothers. I have the great uncle who never swore because it was lazy. (There are so many more interesting words in the English language, he said.) There was even a publisher in the family. Alas, he was before my time.

All I have to do is dig into the family pool and I can come up with characters who will hopefully delight readers for years to come.

***


GB Pool


Where do these characters come from?

The final version of the character, Gin Caulfield, the private detective in my current mystery series, came from reworking clay I had been painstakingly molding for several years. But her original incarnation came from something my husband, Richard, said.

I had been working on a spy trilogy for many years, but agents and publishers weren’t interested in the ponderously long tomes. That’s when my dear husband uttered the words: “You used to be a detective. Why don’t you write a detective novel?”

I knew the guy was smart, but he’s also brilliant.

So I started writing a series about a former P.I. who gets back in the business. I fashioned Ginger after myself, and her husband, Fred, after Richard. Fred and Ginger were going to be a modern-day Nick and Nora Charles eventually (book number three) with Nora the pro and Nick the seat-of-your-pants type of detective.

But then I got an agent and she had other ideas. I wanted Ginger to be “over fifty and still packing heat.” My agent put on the brakes and said, “No, no, no. That’s too old. Publishers want younger protagonists.” So I hid Ginger’s age and continued my rewriting. Then my agent said she had to have a flaw or something that makes her edgy. I had her more of a female Dick Francis character…and I liked her that way. After all, she was based on me.

Okay, so I’m a little vanilla. So I rethought Ginger’s personality. First, I started calling her “Gin.” That changed everything. She was tougher (though I’m an NRA Life Member), she had attitude (I know every four-letter word there is, but usually keep that reserved for private rants), and she was shot in the back and left for dead a few years before the opening on the latest book, Hedge Bet.

That last little tidbit set her apart from me and let her have a life of her own. Now she can have a little drug dependence in her past, a dark side every now and then. It was good for both of us. We will still consult over a good martini. I didn’t come up with the name “Gin” for nothing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Interview with Jeri Westerson


Today, we are pleased to present an interview with Jeri Westerson. A Southern California resident, Jeri has been a freelance reporter and has written award-winning short stories, some of which can be found on her website. Besides being a wife, a mother and an artist, Jeri is the author of the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series. Crispin debuted last year in the hardcover mystery "Veil of Lies", available in bookstores and on Kindle. "Veil of Lies" was recently nominated for a Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. GB Pool's review of "Veil" follows this post. Her second Crispin Guest mystery is "Serpent in the Thorns."


Without further ado, Jeri Westerson.


“Serpent in the Thorns” is the second book in your Medieval Noir series. Most people think of Los Angeles when they think noir. What attracted you to 14th century London?

I am an L.A. native, as it happens, growing up on the “mean streets.” But I am of the mind that any place can have its noir-ish qualities. There are dark mysteries set in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago. But aside from geography, I think noir is more of a state of mind. It’s the dark places in one’s soul; the depressed lives of those who move through the underbelly of society. And that can be anywhere, from Chandler’s Los Angeles of the thirties to the muddy streets of fourteenth century London.
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When I set out to write my own style of medieval mystery, I didn’t want to write the same thing that I saw on bookshelves. They say you should write what you can’t find out there to read, and so when the idea of creating a hard-boiled detective set in the Middle Ages came to me, it seemed a natural fit with the time period. When you concentrate more on the people of the streets rather than the velvet-gowned nobility, you have the makings of noir.

Fourteenth century London offered a great deal to write about for a disgraced knight who found himself trying to eke out a living as close to what he was used to doing as he could get, valiantly maintaining his chivalric code. In 1384, when the series begins, we have just come off of the Black Death some forty years prior. This is a dark chapter in Europe’s history where a third of the population was wiped out. Imagine, a third of farmers, craftsmen, nobility—all gone. That took a toll on commerce, making food, goods, and services scarce. Superstition, crime, corruption, the Hundred Years War—all good stuff! But on a happier note, it is also the time of Chaucer, when English was becoming the language not only of the people but of the court. It also begins the promising reign of Richard II only to have that reign end in tragedy. It’s rife with noir opportunities!

The Boston Globe described your protagonist Crispin Guest as a medieval Sam Spade. He’s a disgraced knight turned private investigator. We’ve seen disgraced cops before. What additional implications are there for a disgraced knight?

There is a lot in common with the cop who has to leave his badge behind, but also some differences. Crispin not only lost his knighthood, his lands, and his wealth, but taken all together, these were the very things that defined him. So it’s not just about losing one’s job as a cop. Crispin has no place in the world. All his life he was raised to a certain position, a certain expectation in a society in which everyone’s place was rigidly defined. To have been tossed out of his place—not allowed to even be succored by relatives—was the ultimate dehumanization of a person like him. Family and lineage was important to every aspect of society, but now Crispin had nothing of a legacy to leave behind. In a sense, he has no name.

But even though he was no longer allowed to be a knight with all the trappings, he can’t let go of the chivalric culture he was raised in. Crispin is a classicist and a snob. He contends that his nobility is “in the blood” and even though his rank has changed, he finds it impossible to overcome that which was ingrained in him, even to his detriment.


I thought it incredibly clever that you gave Crispin his own blog. What are some of the pluses and minuses of posting from your character’s point of view?

The pluses are that readers get to know Crispin more deeply. I write the blog in first person, but the books are in third. It actually gives me a deeper insight into the character when I have to think in first person.

The downside is that I have to be careful not to give away plot or get ahead of the current book (I’ve actually already written the first four in the series, but we’ve only got the first two released or soon to be released).

I only post once a month because I want to save something for the novels. It’s only supposed to serve as a bridge between books, just to keep in touch with Crispin in a new and sort of interactive way. Some people have left comments but not many. I don’t know if they realize that Crispin will reply.

Reviewers praise your attention to detail and your ability to bring medieval England to life. What are some of the strangest facts you’ve run into while researching your time period?

There is the odd fact that an inordinate amount of men in London met their doom by falling out of windows. That in and of itself isn’t much, but it was how they fell out that was the most interesting part. It seems that waking up in the middle of the night, probably groggy from too much drink, men were too lazy or thought it too hazardous to relieve a call of nature by climbing down rickety ladders and stairs to use the privy outside. So they’d open the shutters (remember, no glass), positioned themselves accordingly, and…well…misjudge. Talk about getting caught with your pants down!

With so much detail, do you write your first drafts and then fill in the research details later? Or do you research as you write?

I usually take a solid month or two before I begin to write to do some detailed research. I already have a lot under my belt to get me going. These new details usually involve real people I plan to write about, or occupations I haven’t researched in depth before. Then, as I write, if I come across something I need to research, I usually stop and research right then and there. The problem with just passing over it to look it up later is that sometimes what you thought and what you discover are two entirely different things and the new information could end up radically changing the plot! So I find it’s just better to stop and find out right away. Sometimes it gives me more insight into some other aspect of the plot I hadn’t thought of before, so it’s always valuable.

Do you have any advice for aspiring historical novelists?

Well, there is a difference between the historical novel and historical mystery. The latter is a much wider market (which was why I switched from writing straight historicals to mysteries). I think it might be easier to get published in the latter, but mysteries come with their own set of problems. For one, mysteries pretty much demand a series with the same characters. There are exceptions but I wouldn’t count on those. Writing a series character was a new experience for me. I was writing and trying to sell stand-alone historical novels for well over a decade before I switched gears and worked on developing my mystery series. I couldn’t get arrested let alone published with my historicals (the historical market is very tough. Currently, editors seem to want female protagonists. And the Tudor era is golden.)

My best advice is to write what you love. Write what you can’t find out there to read. And keep on writing.

Can you tell us what’s next for you?

Crispin will return in his third adventure in 2010 (I’ve signed a contract for books three and four and I’m currently working on books five and then six). The third in the series is called A CONSPIRACY OF PARCHMENT and pits Crispin against a child killer and a mysterious creature that might be a Golem.

And then I am also working on a second medieval mystery series. It’s in the thinking stages right now but promises also to be another subgenre of medieval mysteries, something a little lighter in tone.

Thank you, Jeri, for taking the time to talk with us.

If you would like to check out Jeri's website, click here .

And if you would like to read what Crispin is blogging about, click
here .

You can find "Serpent in the Thorns" at bookstores or by clicking on the book cover.

"Veil of Lies" Review by GB Pool


Noblesse Oblige

Veil of Lies is a fourteenth Century tale told with Chandleresque pacing. Author Jeri Westerson centered her intriguing tale about former knight, Crispin Guest, who earns a meager living as a tracker (think private detective with a dagger). The story is replete with damsels in distress, court intrigue, holy relics, and a man's honor.

The period detail is neither boring nor scholastic, with just enough pictures painted to set the stage for sword fights and dungeons and scurvy knaves. The dialogue is just contemporary enough to give you an occasional laugh, right before you hastily turn the page, because this is a page-turner.

Crispin Guest is hired by a merchant to follow his beautiful, young wife. The wife seems up to no good, then the husband is found murdered in a locked room in the fortress like home of the rich merchant. And the wife isn't a highborn lady. She had been in service in the home before marrying the man.

Then the mystery of the veil comes to light. It’s a holy relic that seems to cast a spell over anyone in its presence, forcing them to tell the truth. But sometimes the truth can be a problem. Secrets abound. Truths are revealed. And Crispin Guest confronts his own prejudices.

A great tale, well told. The plot could have taken place in a 1930s Noir movie or in an episode of Magnum P.I. A good story is still a good story. This one just happens to have wonderful atmosphere and situations that only a former knight could experience.

Loved every page.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Building a Platform - Day 1

Bullet Points for Building a Successful Platform

Day 1 –

Who are You? Before you can really start building a platform of skills to promote yourself and your work, you need to know who you are and what you do best. In other words, what is your niche? If you were a book, where would you be in the bookstore? Mystery section, Short Story collections, Mystery plays. When you meet people, do you say, “Hi, I’m Agatha Penwrite. I’m a mystery writer.” Or are you still not sure what you want to be or write? If you can’t figure out what it is you are, you won’t be the only one.

Look back over the things you have already written and take inventory. At the California Crime Writers Conference in Los Angeles (June 2009), Gayle Lynds (The Book of Spies) said that you will probably have five novels under your belt before you sell your first one.

So, what do you primarily write?

The other half of knowing who you are is this: What other skills do you bring to the party? Were you once a cop, a private detective, a chef, a hooker? Hey, all of these are the basis of a good storytelling. What skills do you already have that will add credibility to your writing?

When I first started to write seriously, I wrote three long spy novels. The length alone said they wouldn’t be selling anytime soon. My dear husband said to me, “You were a private detective once. Why don’t you write a detective novel?” Duh.

So ask yourself, “What actual expertise am I bringing to this novel?” If you are a great cook or professional chef, you might center your stories around cooking. (Jerilynn Farmer’s Perfect Sax). If you are good at research, you might tackle an historical novel. (Jeri Westerson’s Veil of Lies) If you are a doctor, lawyer, or police officer, you have case studies by the score from which to draw stories.

All the people with the above job descriptions have something to talk about when speaking to an audience besides their great new novel. They have real life experience in the subject matter. They bring credibility and great insight to their latest book. Sue Ann Jaffarian (Booby Trap) is a paralegal writing about paralegals. Sheila Lowe (Dead Write) is a real life handwriting expert. Her protagonist has the same job. Doug Lyle (Forensics for Dummies) is a heart doctor. They each write about what they know best.

Not only does Sue Ann have actual knowledge of her subject matter, but she can also go speak at a paralegal convention or a lawyer conference. Her expertise carries weight. It’s a great draw.

So, what is your biggest asset?

Not a doctor or lawyer? You still have resources. Mari Sloan (Beaufort Falls) comes from a long line of Southern eccentrics and visionaries. Her storytelling skills make her book fascinating. Did you hear some good family tales growing up? Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall) wrote a novel that incorporates some of his family’s stories in a knockout book, Blood Harvest.

Now ask yourself again: “What am I bringing to the party? What else can I talk about that shows I just might have credibility in the subject matter of my book?”

Write a one-paragraph biography about yourself listing pertinent accomplishments and skills. You’ll need this when an agent asks: “Give me a brief bio about yourself that I can send along to the publisher when I submit your manuscript.”

Are you getting the idea what a platform is? Good. Come back next week for more.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Whether reading Bonnie's chilling short story, "Intervention", or perusing her novel, "Remember to Breathe", you'll meet characters who can make you laugh and cry at the same time. So we asked her:


Your writing is known for its emotional depth. Is it difficult to reach this far into your characters? Are their experiences drawn from your own, or are you simply a master of empathy?

Gee, you mean all those years of therapy haven’t been wasted?

Seriously, I’ve always been fascinated by human nature. What motivates people? What makes them happy or sad or mad? Several years ago I decided to take a few psychology courses to deepen my insight, so I enrolled in L.A. City College and went through basic psych, physiological psych, and abnormal psych.






Warning: do NOT take abnormal psych unless you’re prepared to imagine you’re suffering a range of symptoms – kinda like watching “House” and then thinking you have the Disease of the Week.




And of course I’ve read tons of books and articles on the crafting of characters and getting into their hearts and heads. One of the best is Linda Seger’s Creating Unforgettable Characters – it’s not just for screenwriters.

Since I’m blessed (?) with a hyperactive imagination, I use it to put myself in a character’s shoes and tune in to how they might be feeling in a given situation. One good piece of advice I stumbled on in my copious how-to reading is that the key to showing a character’s emotions is to tell the reader what the character’s thinking, because thoughts reflect feelings. And combined with physical gestures and actions, it’s more effective than simply typing, “Fred was mad.”

Many of my characters’ experiences and feelings are, of course, drawn from my own life, but mangled and modified to suit the story. I’ve lived long enough to experience a fair range of human emotions: I’ve lost loved ones to illness and accident, I’ve been married and divorced, I labored in the trenches of Corporate America, and all those things have contributed to my slightly warped perspective on human nature. And as some smart writer (I think it was Philip Roth) once said, “Nothing bad can happen to a writer; it’s all material.”

Can it be painful to experience a character’s grief or rage, or to remember when I felt that way? You bet. But when I come across a scene I’ve written that brings tears to my eyes, or makes me want to slap another character’s face – or makes me laugh – then I suspect I’ve tapped into something real, something maybe even universal – and that’s one of the biggest rewards of being a writer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

An Interview with Sheila Lowe

We are proud to present our Monday Guest Series, where we will be interviewing authors, web mavens, personal coaches, and other professionals who can bring you valuable information about writing, whether it's enthusiasm, encouragement, tips, or advice.


Our first guest, Sheila Lowe, is a court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in forensic cases. Sheila's handwriting analysis practice, Sheila Lowe & Associates, covers a wide spectrum, from personality evaluation to handwriting authentication, to lecturing, teaching, and writing about handwriting.


So it's no surprise that her protagonist, Claudia Rose, works in the same field, though with more deadly results. In Poison Pen, the mystery begins with the suicide note of an ex-friend. In Written in Blood, Claudia is asked to prove that the signature on a will is a forgery. This time, Claudia is headed to New York in Dead Write, where dating can be hazardous to your health.

And now...author Sheila Lowe.




Sheila, you have been a qualified handwriting expert with the California Court System since 1985. Your first venture into publishing was non-fiction with “The Complete Idiot’s Guide -- Handwriting Analysis” in 1999 (which I’m going to purchase and use on my fellow WinR’s). When did you decide it was time to move on to fiction? Was there any particular incident that edged you in that direction?

The fact is, it was the other way around. I always wanted to write fiction, but got busy raising three kids on my own, and scratching out a living. It wasn’t until the kids were grown and on their own, and I had finally succeeded in creating a successful handwriting analysis practice, and had my two non-fiction handwriting analysis books published, that I came back to my first love, mystery.

In your third and most recent book, Dead Write, Claudia is hired by a world-class matchmaking service for the rich and powerful to screen their applicants. This seems especially relevant in the wake of the recent Ryan Jenkins tragedy. For those who don’t know, alleged murderer Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on the VH1 show “I Love Money”. How did the idea of a graphologist vetting matchmaking applicants come to you?

Having Claudia work for a matchmaker was a natural for me. For about fifteen years I had a client who was herself a high-priced matchmaker. She used my analyses to help her understand the members of her introduction service better, and often said it helped her to create successful marriages (she is not Grusha, however!). If everyone would use handwriting analysis as a tool, it could help avoid many unhappy relationships (this is a not-so-subtle plug for the non-fiction book I’m writing now on that very subject—Rotten Relationships, why we choose them). I don’t know anything about Ryan Jenkins, but the sad truth is, unless the client listens to any warnings about red flags in the handwriting, it doesn’t help. My own daughter is a case in point. She was the victim in a murder/suicide by a man whose handwriting contained some major red flags which sadly, she chose to ignore.

Dead Write takes Claudia out of California and into New York’s Manhattan. What was it like taking Claudia out of her usual environment? Was it an enjoyable experience that you plan to repeat in the future? Or was it difficult to create both a new mystery and a new environment?

I think it’s a good idea to change environments from time to time, or readers will begin to think I’m writing cozies J (I consider my books psychological suspense). Claudia lives in the almost fictional beach town of Playa de la Reina. In Poison Pen there are scenes in Palm Springs, and in Written in Blood, Claudia goes out of state. New York was a bit of a challenge because I haven’t spent a lot of time there. But Google and Youtube, are my friends and provide lots of good, usable stuff: sights, sounds, local color. Of course, there were a few missing senses, but a writer’s imagination can make up for that, and some of the smells I could do without anyway. I was lucky enough to make contact with a police detective in the precinct where the story took place, and he kindly filled in some of the blanks.

If you were to analyze your protagonist Claudia Rose’s handwriting, what are a few of the characteristics that would show up?

Claudia’s handwriting would have strong rhythm, a balanced spatial arrangement on the page, be moderate in size, with well developed lower loops, good simplification, and a few angles. Now you’ll have to look all that up in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis to find out what they mean (will the BSP never stop?!).

What is the strangest assignment you’ve had?

Having analyzed well over 10,000 handwriting samples over my career, that’s a really hard question to answer. I recently provided Graphological input on a company logo. I’ve been asked by foreign police to examine the handwriting of a potential copycat serial killer. I’ve had genealogists ask me to prepare a Graphological autopsy on their ancestors. But mostly my work is fairly humdrum and involves analyzing handwriting for employers who are interviewing applicants, and on the other side of my practice, authenticating handwriting in cases of forgery.

Do you find that you subconsciously analyze the handwriting of everyone? Your agent, your mother, your friends?

I certainly get impressions about handwritings when I see them, favorable or otherwise. Way back when I was a beginner (in the 1960s), I would sit down and properly analyze them. Like Claudia, I don’t do that anymore, unless I’m getting paid for it. These days, although I do still maintain an active handwriting analysis practice, I’d rather be writing about Claudia Rose analyzing handwriting than doing it myself. Like I said, more than 10,000 samples…

Is there one obvious trait or set of traits that would make you just walk away from a person or situation?

An important fact about handwriting analysis is, there is no “this means that” relationship. The handwriting must be seen as a whole, as the context can make a difference to the interpretation of the individual parts. But some ‘red flag’ characteristics that can add up to potential for pathological behavior are extremes in pressure (heavy or light) plus extremes in slant (left or right); too many angular formations, extremely tall upper loops. Heavy, filled in punctuation. Many tiny hooks (seen under magnification). In fact, extremes of any type can usually be interpreted negatively.

What’s up next for you?

I’m madly working on the next Claudia Rose mystery, Unholy Writ, for release next year. Claudia’s friend Kelly Brennan is approached by her estranged younger sister Erin to help her find her missing child, who has been taken by her husband. Claudia and Kelly go “undercover “ in the religious cult of which Erin and her husband are members and where things are not always what they seem. And, of course, there’s that non-fiction book on relationships waiting to be finished.

Many thanks to Sheila for coming to us on this Monday moring.

Dead Write is available in bookstores or by clicking on the book cover to the right.

You can find out more about Sheila Lowe and Claudia Rose at
Sheila's web site.


Buiding a Platform Introduction

Building a Platform

Platform: 1. a raised flooring 2. the flat area next to a railroad track 3. a set of principles

Now is the time to add another definition to your Webster’s. If you are a writer, or you would like to be a writer someday, definition #4 is essential.

Platform: 4. an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public

Building a Platform in the 21st Century

It isn’t enough for today’s writer to merely write the novel or short story, or for that matter a non-fiction piece, newspaper article, or screenplay. Today’s writer needs to get noticed. Does that mean be a flaming exhibitionist? Yeah. Sort of.

As described in definition #4: a “platform” is an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public. And this can be started before you have a book in print. In fact, it should have been started before you are knee deep in trying to promote a published book.

If you have visions of your future publisher footing the bill for your world-wide book tour or arranging your multi-city American book tour, wake up, sweetheart. More than likely, you will be doing this yourself.

But, if you have developed certain skills and have laid a foundation (a.k.a. platform) for getting your name out in front of the public, you are ahead of the game. But a “platform” isn’t just a website or a blog. It’s a plethora of things.

If people (agents, publishers, booksellers, and librarians) know they can count on you to get a job done, you build your credibility. Sometimes that means just showing up at a literary event and helping out. If you exhibit this type of capability, your agent and publisher will consider you a professional, especially if you have this part of your budding career taken care of before you drop your first manuscript in their laps. And let’s face it, when you sell your book, you won’t have time to learn these new skills. Take the time now, while you are still polishing that second or third draft, to get yourself up to speed.

Now you might say, “But, hey, I just want to be a writer.” (Boy have you got a lot to learn.) Unless you actually have the next Harry Potter book, or Twilight series stacked up around your computer, you have things you need to do now. Both Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer have people to handle this. Unless you have “people,” you will have to do this part yourself.

For the next few weeks Writers in Residence will Bullet Point many of the ways you can build your own platform. This will include creating a web presence, getting your face out there (short of on the Ten Most Wanted list), and discovering who you really are in the first place.

Roll up your sleeves and join me as we polish the gems that we are inside.

Please note: I am primarily a mystery writer, so I will use examples based on writing mysteries. But a writer is a writer. These skills fit all shapes and sizes.


Gayle Bartos-Pool, mystery writer

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Outlining: Necessary or Not?

An Outline. Some writers depend on its structure; some writers consider it the death of creativity. Do you outline? In detail? Why or why not? First we'll hear from some of our WinR's, then we'd love to hear from you!




Jackie Houchin


Yep.
And nope.

For me, outlining is crucial for writing FICTION. I need to see the story, or at least the plot points, all neatly displayed. It can be a literal A-B-C outline in a ruled notebook or Word.doc, or a tabletop covered with index cards or Post-its.

Seeing everything together at once helps me identify potholes, traffic jams or major disaster areas, and I can easily shift, shuffle or scuttle what doesn't work.

In my "Great American Novel" (Ha!) that is currently residing half-finished in a bottom drawer, I have three major characters. Each of these girls gets a color. As I lay out my "deck" of index cards that represents their lives, I can see clearly where they cross, collide and ricochet off each other as they each push towards their individual resolutions.



If I'm writing a mystery, I map the paths of the victim and the killer in one color, then the sleuth and the killer in another. In these bare bones of the story I check for illogical leaps and inconsistencies.

Next, using a third color, I slip in the other suspects and red herrings, making sure nothing is too obvious. Then - usually in gold - I hide the tell-tale clues that will keep readers a bare half step behind my crime-solving sleuth.

Lastly, I pack in points about the weather or setting (in green, what else?) if they are important to the story. (Yeah, I know, a virtual rainbow.)

And then, of course, I must write the fully fleshed-out yarn from these tiny scraps of data.

Now for NON-FICTION, I hardly ever outline.

My interviews and reviews usually come "pre-loaded" with their own paths to follow. Maybe I'll clump facts into two or three vague sections, i.e. intro, main, conclusion, with a possible "research" column, but that's all. I simply write these articles "from the seat of my pants."

Or wherever else I've scribbled my notes.

***

The Great Debate by GB Pool

When I first started setting up author panels for Sisters-in-Crime at libraries and other venues in and around the Los Angeles area, one of the questions I asked the panelists was: “Do you outline? Why? or Why not?”

After asking the same question for about a year, I came to the conclusion that half the writers did outline and the other half didn’t. The half that did was fairly prolific in their writing. The half that didn’t outline was just as prolific. Both sides were very strong in their decision to do the outline or not.

Everything I have written to date was not outlined. I started with page one, wrote a little, edited and little, wrote more, edited more, and finally came up with a book. It took about a year to finish a novel, except for the spy trilogy. They took ten years, but they are long and quite detailed with historical facts and many locations, all of which required loads of research to get right.

So, after hearing some pretty good writers like Pamela Samuels-Young who is a lawyer and who outlined her books (In Firm Pursuit and Murder on the Down Low) and Bruce Cook who is a physicist and who also teaches screenwriting as well as an author (Philippine Fever and Tommy Gun Tango), I decided to try my hand at knocking out an outline.

In a matter of two days I blocked out the main plot points of the next in my Gin Caulfield Mystery series, Damning Evidence. I then started to write the story.

I can’t say I write any faster with an outline, but I know where I am going. And I don’t feel the panic of wondering where the story will run off the tracks or where I will have to plug up the holes. That alone was worth the two days it took to do the outline.

Another thing writing the outline prompted me to do was write out brief sketches of the main characters in the story. I now know exactly who the bad guy is. I know why he is doing what he is doing. And most importantly, I know the roadblocks he is going to be throwing up along the way to thwart my heroine.

Something I learned from examining one of my own stories was that the bad guy in a mystery, if he is going to play an active part in the story and not just do the crime and leave the scene until the hero tracks him down, is the person who runs the show. Every thing the protagonist does is basically a reaction to something the bad guy does.

Remember: if the crime hadn’t been committed in the first place, nobody would be doing anything about it in the second place. The villain now has a vested interest in not getting caught. He or she will do anything to stop anyone from discovering their identity.





By writing the outline, I know places where the bad guy will be waiting to set a trap for the hero. If the hero gets too close, the bad guy will throw a monkey wrench into the works. But the villain runs the show, always trying to stay one jump ahead.

The outline made it much easier to set those traps, throwing the hero off kilter, making the hunt a mental exercise. It will make for a story with more tension if it is plotted that way rather than letting the story flow in a more random pattern.

I’ll see when I am through with the first and second draft if this theory holds true.

Books have been written in many ways, so the best advice is to write the way you find that gets the job done. Finishing is the goal.


***



Jacqueline Vick



I'm afraid I'm going to be wishy-washy.




When I first tackle a novel or short story, I always have the plot in mind. I doodle questions on a pad of paper. What would this character do in that situation? What else would he do?




Since I write mysteries, I want to know the crime, why it was committed, and how. I'll assign possible motives to the other suspects, building the relationship between them and the victim.


That's a sort of outline.

It's after the first draft that the outline comes in handy. A brilliant writer I know (initials GBP) suggested that I outline the story once I've got it all on paper in order to show what's missing. It works like a charm. I pretend I'm preparing the outline for an agent or publisher, so it has to be detailed and it has to spell it all out.

The canyons of missing information, the stuff that doesnt' make sense, it all becomes clear in that post-first draft outline. It's too embarassing to tell you what I've discovered missing. It's like looking down in a crowded room and discovering that you forgot to button your shirt. And not in that hot-body-on-display kind of way. In that threadbare-bra-exposed-bellyroll kind of way.



I'm too arrogant to believe that my characters speak to me and that they'll move the story in the direction they see fit. I speak to them, and it's usually to say, "Move your fanny!"