What Lies Beneath the Surface? by G.B. Pool

Discovering Aspects of Your Main Character That Even He Didn’t Know Existed

 

People 3Aristotle said there were five basic parts of a story: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue, and the meaning or point behind a story. People have argued for ages which is the more important, plot or character, but even though I agree with Aristotle that plot is the most important, we do like stories brimming with compelling characters.

I personally want the main character to be someone I would invite into my home; after all, we will be spending some quality time together, often in bed early in the morning… What I mean by that is simple. After my husband has left for work and I am curled up with a good book, I want the hero to be someone I can trust or the heroine to be someone I can go to lunch with or maybe to some breaking and entering with, if that’s the caper.

People 4When I came up with Johnny Casino, the character who inhabits the pages of the three books in The Johnny Casino Casebook series, I wanted someone with a past. The opening line from Past Imperfect, number one in the series is this: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me.

Of course his past does catch up with him, often. In fact, every “guest star” in each case in the first collection of short stories has a past, whether good or bad. It’s up to Johnny to sort it out. But along the way, he has to come to terms with his own past.

As I delved into his background while I was writing these stories, he explained a lot about himself. It might sound odd that I am giving credit to my character, but any writer will tell you these “people” have a life, if not a voice, of their own and when they whisper or yell in your ear, you listen.

People 2The first story I wrote had Johnny mention that he once worked for the Mob. I was channeling his voice and the words just came. Then I realized I needed to know a little bit about the Mafia. An ex-cop acquaintance with a rather interesting connection to the Mafia told me what books to read and he also shared some insights that you might never find in a book, but if you did, you would think it was fiction.

This revelation made me dig deeper into Johnny’s character. Even the names of the Mafia guys Johnny worked for changed. One was called Eddie Fontaine, but it changed to Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine when I knew him better.

People 1Elmore Leonard once mentioned when he gave one of his characters the wrong name, the guy wouldn’t talk, but when he changed the name, he couldn’t shut him up. The man was on to something.

It’s these layers that build up, like a pearl, that allow the writer to “create” a three-dimensional character. The first story I wrote briefly mentioned Johnny’s Mafia history. The second story, a flashback, shows it in somber detail and it also explains why Johnny has a problem with women. He will be a knight-in-shining armor to a lady in distress, even if she is less than virtuous, but he can be tough, too.

HollywoodAs I was on this road of discovery, I realized I had given Johnny the title: Hollywood Detective, but I didn’t have a story with a movie star. I do now, and a few of these legends make a return engagement in subsequent books. I decided not to use actual names of stars, but I did borrow heavily from stars I liked from the past, but mostly it was their stature and the era, since I doubt if any of these luminaries had too many dead bodies in their own past. That would be another story.

But I learned Johnny had a code, and sometimes that meant breaking the law to do the right thing or maybe covering up something illegal for a friend. But one of the coolest things I discovered in writing the first book was that Johnny’s past might not even be what he thinks it is. That question is answered in the next book in the series – Looking for Johnny Nobody. The first book sets the stage and lets you meet a few other characters that inhabit his world. And as I said on the back cover of the book – everybody has a past.

By the time I started book three, Just Shoot Me, I let Johnny take over and write those stories. He had discovered some new things about his own life that changed everything for him and he was going to carry on with this new identity that he had. But there was something else… He was growing. He was becoming a real character.

Open DoorMy newest character in a series is Chance McCoy. I bill him as a third rate P.I. in a secondhand suit who blows half the cases he takes on. Not a great track record. Then Chance is shot… and killed. But Chance gets the opportunity of a lifetime. He gets to come back, alive. Now he can fix some of those old cases and take on some that challenge even the brightest detectives. What does he use? As the guy who sent him back tells him: You use what’s inside. Chance’s discovery process is a trip in book one: Second Chance. Finding different aspects in this character was definitely a trip for this writer as well.

People 5Aren’t memorable characters what writers want to create? And isn’t that what readers want to read. You betcha. Write On.

MILESTONES by Linda O. Johnston

Signpost 1

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a milestone is “a significant point in development.” Writers can reach a lot of milestones. In fact, that’s part of the writing process.

One milestone is to begin plotting your first book. Even if you’re a “pantser” — you write by the seat of your pants rather than starting with an outline or well-planned plot–your mind will be working on your story, and, yes, that’s a milestone when you begin.

Starting to write is another. Finishing a first draft is another. Finishing a polished story is yet another.

Pencil 2Then there’s the publication process. There are different ways to approach it these days. If you want to be traditionally published, you’ll probably attempt to reach the milestone of obtaining an agent. Or, you may just go directly to a potential publisher with a proposal. Getting your manuscript accepted by one or both constitutes more milestones.

If you self-publish, the process is different, but you’ll still hit milestones–determining how and where you’ll publish, getting your manuscript in the right form for publication, and then, finally, getting your new book out there in print or e-book form or both, for people to buy and read it.

Pencil 1Either way, promotion also sometimes achieves milestones — getting your first review. Getting your first really good review. Throwing your story out there on social media. And milestones in actual sales.

This year, I’m hitting some milestones of a different kind. I’ve been traditionally published for many years — and this year, at the Romance Writers of America Annual Conference to take place soon in Denver, Harlequin will be acknowledging, in its 2018 Author Achievement Awards, that I’ve reached my 25th Book Milestone with them.

And as this year progresses, I’ll have two more Harlequin books published… and the second, my last Harlequin Nocturne paranormal romance since the line is closing, will be a milestone event, too. Including all my other books including mysteries, it will be my 50th published novel!

Signpost 2So yes, this year I’m particularly jazzed about milestones. But whatever stage of writing a writer happens to be in, whatever way they choose to be published, milestones can occur anytime.

What’s your latest milestone?

 

THE SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE by Rosemary Lord

Happy Birthday America

 

I remember my first July 4th in America. I’d only been in L.A. a few months and was still marveling at the endless sunshine. I was in Beverly Hills that day and saw a red English double-decker bus being driven slowly along Wilshire Boulevard. Along both sides were large white banners with “Happy Birthday America – love, Mum” written in bold print. It was an image I have never forgotten.

American flag 1That first July 4th was spent with an international group in an Australian friend’s back garden (or yard, to use the local term) where we all celebrated the start of our new lives in California – the land of such promise, excitement and new ideas.

As the years progressed I won the coveted Green Card, so I was working as an actress and enjoying a thoroughly Americanized summer. On location in Colorado, we had the day off from filming, and had a big barbecue with the crew. (The little English kid in me thought, “Wow! Mum – look at me, in America, celebrating with a Hollywood film crew!”)

HotdogI also found myself a wonderful, gorgeous American husband, Rick! And so Independence Days were filled with our own new traditions of hot-dogs, baked-beans and hamburgers with friends and neighbors. Some years we had picnics in the park or by our favorite lake, creating lovely memories. And always the fireworks burst forth over the nearby Hollywood Bowl.

FireworksSome of the July 4ths we spent in Kentucky at my late mother-in-law’s farm. What a wonderful slice of Americana: the local town congregated together and roasted a wild hog over coals in a huge, rusty brazier thingy. A local country and western group performed on a flat-bed truck and American flags flew everywhere. It was a ‘pot-luck’ affair, so there were tables groaning with an assortment of pies, savory things and desserts. A delicious chicken-like dish that one of the neighbors had brought turned out to be frogs’ legs! “Frog Gigging” was a local past-time, I learned. “Ya just have to remember to cut the tendons before ya cook it, or the darned leg will hop right out of the pan before ya can catch it!” As Hardin County was a ‘dry’ county, I am not sure what they were all drinking from an assortment of bottles. “It’ll put hair on yer chest…” I heard. I decided to pass on that one.

Sometimes, Rick and I were back in England where Rick observed that July 4th went strangely unnoticed – save for a few American ex-pats who had their own barbecues and flag-waving.

Trip of a Lifetime 2009 240One memorable Independence Day we spent at sea. Rick’s boss, Oprah Winfrey, had rented a luxury cruise ship (as you do!) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her television show and to thank her entire staff for all their hard work over the years. Rick and I were tickled pink when we were invited to join this Mediterranean cruise. After we left the last stop on the island of Malta, we headed back to Barcelona and we were at sea on July 4th – of course, not an occasion celebrated in Europe. The organization for that day was mind-boggling! The huge swimming-pool deck was covered and, after a ‘group photo’ of all the Harpo staff with their ‘plus-one’ and guests like Rick and me, the festivities began with a live band and several long tables filled with every sort of food imaginable and a large barbeque. The music and dancing went on until the small hours, long after we had retired. It was a good thing we were in the middle of the ocean with no neighbors to disturb – except the fishes and the dolphins.

PatriotsI grew up watching American movies with July 4th   Independence Day celebrations. They always appeared such a fun gathering for families and friends where everyone prepared their special dishes and decorated whole neighborhoods with red, white and blue. I loved being able to share this tradition.

But then I get the best of both worlds, as I can also celebrate Bonfire Night with fellow Brits or my family – as well as Boxing Day, which is just another workday in America.

When, as a young girl, I first heard about July 4th – Independence Day – when all that British tea was thrown into the bay, my selfish reaction was – how many delicious cups of tea were lost? But lo these many years later, and now as an American Citizen, it’s a different matter.

I think about the meaning of Independence Day: America’s independence from Great Britain, free to make its own decisions and rules. These days we enjoy our individual sense of independence. Today, more than ever, most people are free to create their own lives, go their own direction. As writers I feel we are privileged to have each created our own literary world, writing about whatever takes our fancy – even following our own schedules and timetables – except for those pesky publisher deadlines.

Happy Independence Day, one and all!

Just Rosie 2

PAY IT FORWARD by Miko Johnston

I’ve supported many worthy causes throughout my life. In addition to monetary donations to charities, I’ve baked elaborate pastries to be auctioned off at a scholarship dinner, left canned tuna, dried beans and boxes of pasta for my local food bank, and brought gently used clothing and household goods to thrift stores. However, this year I made a new donation – myself – to what I believe is a very worthy cause. I began a volunteer program for students at a local high school.

 

It began when a teacher who offers a creative writing class at the school contacted my writers group. Several of her students wanted to pursue writing, either as a passion or a career path. However, they needed guidance and she asked if we could help.

 

I took the helm and gathered several writers, all published authors with years of experience, to begin a mentor program. Students in the class send us pages to critique and we supply feedback, guidance, and (I hope) encouragement. We began the program with a class presentation, where each of the volunteers had seven minutes to discuss some aspect of writing. I will share my contribution with you:

 

 

 

Miko Johnston: THREE HABITS ALL WRITERS MUST DEVELOP

Writers may differ in how and what they write, but most will agree to that be successful, all writers must know some basic principles. Here are three key ones:

 

I           Develop the writing habit:

Write and keep writing. Too often, writers will get a few pages or a chapter written and then go back and tweak them, over and over, until they have it ‘right.’ Or they’ll stare at a blank page, waiting for inspiration. Resist the temptation. Keep going, even if it isn’t perfect, or brilliant. Even if it isn’t good. Things may change as you progress in the story, but you won’t know that until you have more, or all of it, written. It’s why many writers begin with a ‘vomit’ draft, where you get it all out now and clean it up later. Remember: it doesn’t matter what you start out with, only what you’ve got when you’re finished. That’s what rewriting is all about. Develop the writing habit and practice it regularly. Finish what you’ve started, then begin again.

 

 

II         Develop the grammar habit:

Master the rules of writing. Learn how to use grammar and punctuation, because once you do, you can consciously break the rules without it seeming like you don’t know what you’re doing. To learn how todo it right, get a dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide.Then pick a style, any style, and stick to it. There are many ‘right’ ways to write. You can debate over whether to write 2017 or twenty seventeen, if a comma is needed after the next-to-last word in a list, or whether next to last should be hyphenated. For example, the current trend is to leave out commas except when they’re needed to make the point clear (“Time to eat, Dad” vs. “Time to eat Dad”) or put a pause in a sentence. Which style you use matters less than whether you’re consistent about it.

 

 

III        Develop the fearless habit:

There’s a tendency to keep your work private. However, you won’t know how people will react to your work unless you have the courage to share it with them. Join a critique group or find like-minded writers to form your own group. Meet with people who’ll read your work and offer genuine critique, which is different from criticism. You will do the same with their writing. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn from evaluating others’ work. If you’re reluctant or afraid to show your work to others, don’t be. You might think that having someone read your work and tell you it’s bad would be the worst thing to hear, and you’re right. However, it’s not because their comment is hurtful, but unhelpful. What’s bad about it? If someone can point out what isn’t working in your story, and how to fix it, that isn’t negative. As for useless comments like, “It stinks”, ignore them.

 

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

 

It’s been such a pleasure working with these students. They’re anxious to learn and receptive to our feedback. I can see marked improvement in their work already. We’re on summer hiatus now, but all of my volunteers are looking forward to resuming the program this fall. A few of the students have real potential. Perhaps in the future, after they’ve been published, some of them will pay it forward and help a new generation of young writers.

 

If any of you are interested in starting a mentorship program for young writers, there are many opportunities to help in your community. Check with your local public or private schools. Community organizations like the Boys And Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other youth groups might welcome your help as well. You’ll be amazed by how much you’ll learn through teaching others.

 

You’re welcome to contact me at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com for more information.

 

 

Miko Johnston first contemplated a career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a television and print journalist before deciding she preferred the more believable realm of fiction. She is the author of the A Petal in the Wind series as well as several short stories. Miko is currently working on the fourth Petal novel as well as a mystery set in a library. Contact her at: mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

PROMOTING BOOKS VIA IMPROBABLE PUBLICITY OUTLETS by Jill Amadio

MegaphoneWe’re always seeking new ways to promote our books. One of the benefits of belonging to this group as well as to national organizations of crime writers such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America (I also belong to a British one called Crime Writers Association) is sharing marketing ideas.

 

After promoting my new crime novel to the usual online, broadcast, and print mystery media where I hoped (okay, begged) for reviews and interviews I realized that there are many other publicity outlets worth approaching that are outside-the-box and neglected by many authors.

 

“Yes, indeed,” I wrote to a gentleman in Virginia, USA. “I believe I am definitely qualified to join your organization. My family played an active part in the St. Ives, Cornwall community when we lived there.”

 

Digging too deep_533x800-e1383673499772This email conversation with the Cornish-American Heritage Society came about after the first book in my mystery series, “Digging Too Deep: A Tosca Trevant Mystery,” was published. I had endowed my amateur sleuth with a vocabulary of Cornish cusswords and a penchant for brewing tongue-curling medieval mead from the land of the piskies (Cornish pixies). My initial reason for seeking out the Society was to get back in touch with my roots and because my main character is a Cornishwoman.  I was worried I’d forgotten parts of my heritage by living in California. Happily, I gathered a new vocabulary of naughty words.

 

CornwallThe Society has a newsletter that reports on various goings-on in Cornwall and on ex-pats. One delicious news item that caught my eye was that the Duchy of Cornwall (as we call provinces) was contemplating opening up an embassy in London now that the Cornish are finally recognized as an official minority! Tosca can have fun with that in her next book in the series, I thought. Then, lo and behold, I noted that the newsletter also ran book reviews. Well, icing on the cake. The review and a blurb of my book appeared in the next issue. I noted, too, that with the Society holding events all over the U.S they provide signing opportunities. When I attended the international Gathering of the Cornish Bards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had a book table, and quickly sold out.

 

PubAre your settings on your web site? On mine, www.jillamadiomysteries.com, I have added a page about the small fishing village of St. Ives that includes a photo of its 1312 pub, The Sloop Inn, which is still selling pints. — a topic for the brewing trade publications? On second thought, Tosca brews medieval mead but makes such a hash of it I wouldn’t dare query them although two of her recipes are being published in a new cookbook anthology.

 

I also sent a copy of the book to the St. Ives Archive which maintains an online site as well as a gift shop that sells books. (Shouldn’t I be hired by the Cornwall Council as a roving ambassador?)

 

Classical MusicAnother avenue for publicity came from a friend in New York, a leading classical music critic. He writes an internationally-syndicated column for ConcertoNet.com distributed in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and on the island of Karguella for all I know. He’d helped me with research for the music in both my mysteries and my current WIP, and surprised me with a lengthy review. After it appeared in the Bangkok Post, Thailand I heard from a reporter I worked there with years ago. She now owns a specialty music museum that I’ll include in a future book. Again, grist for the mill.

 

Some authors combine their non-literary careers with the fiction they write as a platform and pursue marketing on both fronts Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, bases her protagonist in the Claudia Rose series on her daily job. Lowe’s expertise and testimony in real court cases gains her entry and access to legal publications, legal blogs, and online sites where she can discuss cases involving forensic graphology and at the same time promote her novels, even if only as a tagline.

 

The list of custom blogs like ours here at The Writers in Residence is growing by the week and they are looking for content. If you write about wine, gourmet cheese or other foods are you or your publicist sending ARCs to baker and grocery organizations and their trade publications such as the Costco newsletters? To crafts and pet magazines? How about a review copy to women farmers’ associations? The Internet is chock full of hobby newsletters that probably one of your characters enjoys although I doubt there is a milkmaids fellowship.

 

Magazines NewspapersI used to write an automotive column and sent my book, which features a vintage Austin-Healey, to my pals at car magazines. Alumni and club publications, too, welcome notices of new books of grads and members. Hit them up for a talk and write on their blog. Platforms such as these provide ideas for finding new and unusual opportunities to promote your book. Turn over that stone! I wrote a biography of a World War II fighter ace and give power point presentations to which I bring along my mysteries, too, of course. Likewise, when I am invited to be a speaker on ghostwriting memoirs.

I’m sure there are many other unusual outlets worth exploring. Let’s share!