What the Heck Do You Write? by Kate Thornton

Reading and Writing – The Basics by Kate ThorntonKate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

 

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I write Mystery and Science fiction.

I used to say, I write short stories. And while I do indeed still write short stories, I also write novels.

We tend to identify ourselves by the most comfortable label, or by the one we’d like to fit, as well as by the one that seems to fit the best, based on what we have actually written. Or maybe just by what we wish we could write: “Yes, I write archaeological papers with a bit of whimsy,” or “Yes, I write about the cosmological implications of French cooking.”

So I have identified myself for decades as a mystery and/or science fiction writer. But even as my short story career – long and semi-illustrious as it was – began to wind down, I started writing real full length novels, whole stories over 65,000 words, some of them in the 85,000 word range..

I found that I liked it. It’s a whole other world. Worlds within worlds. Multiple characters, multiple settings, a story arc that can encompass several plot threads. It’s wonderful, and the discipline I learned as a short story writer helps me to keep it concise and not wander all over the page.

But there was a danger I had never thought about, a hidden pitfall to the novel-writing game that never occurred to me. The characters, so spare and driven in a short story, are under no obligation in a novel to do as the author says.

The characters, fully fleshed, do as they please. Whether you outline meticulously or are a seat-of-the-pantser, the characters have a way of driving the story, sometimes into a ditch or over a cliff. They become real enough to take on their own lives and are no longer a simple Mary Sue reflection of the writer, but become individuals who possess a weird amount of self-determination.

You might want them to murder or solve murders when they are busy developing relationships with other characters. You might plan for them to journey into space, when what they decide to do is stay home and build a fire in the fireplace. You might outline a tidy little puzzle, and they may turn it into a messy romance.

Yes, you are the all-powerful Author and can line your ducks back up into their neat little rows, but sometimes listening to your characters can help you take the story in a completely different direction, a better place, a more interesting and life-like place.

So before you proudly say, “I write such-and-such!” take a look at where your story is going. You might find that your characters have taken your sweet little cozy into noir territory, or burned up the spaceways with hot inter-species encounters.

I used to say I write Mystery and Science Fiction, but now I have to add Women’s Fiction and Romance to that description.

So what do you write? And has it changed from what you thought you would write?

PS – It’s all good as long as you keep on writing!

 

What Is a “Book Club” Book? by Bonnie Schroeder

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

 

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In today’s publishing environment, with millions of books competing for a reader’s attention, having book clubs discuss your work is one sure way for recognition.

But how do you get on the book club universe’s radar?

I wish I knew.

Oh sure, there are websites out there offering to help connect you with book clubs—for a fee.

There must be a better way.

And what defines a “book club book?” Does anyone know? Some clubs go for the best-sellers and prize winners. Others seem to focus on genres, like mysteries.

One way to figure out what makes a book club tick is to join one, which is what I did.

Several years ago, I joined the Brown Bag Book Club at Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, not as a sneaky way to find an audience—my first novel hadn’t even been published then—but as a means to gain insight into what readers like and don’t like in the books they read.Book Club

Being in that club has enriched my life in many ways. I’ve made good friends, and I’ve read books I’d never have chosen on my own—for example, The Help. A novel about Black maids in Mississippi in the 60’s? I figured it would be too depressing. I would have missed a wonderful, uplifting story if I’d gone with my first impression.

Our club uses a variety of criteria in picking our books: we do some best-sellers and prize winners, but only after they’ve been released in paperback (which is why we’re still waiting to read All the Light We Cannot See.) We also ask individual members to recommend books, but only books they’ve actually read and, preferably, loved.

We take turns “moderating” the hour-long monthly discussions and usually bring a list of Reader’s Guide-type questions to fuel the discussion, but sometimes just asking “How many of you liked this book? And why?” will fill up the hour with commentary. It’s fascinating to see how people’s minds work!

My novel Mending Dreams has been read by two different book clubs, and I sat in on both discussions. The first time it was still in draft form, and the feedback was very helpful in shaping the final version. The second time was with my own Brown Bag Book Club, and the members were ever so kind in their comments. But both times, I have to say it was almost an out-of-body experience to hear them talk about my characters and the story developments. I kept having to remind myself, “I wrote that.”

I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I hope I get a chance.

Some advice if you are lucky enough to be invited to a book club discussion of your book:

  • Leave your ego at the door if you can. I found that some club members really personalized parts of the book, and I had to remind myself their reaction was colored by their own experiences. Focus on hearing what resonated for readers—and what didn’t—so you can build on that knowledge in the future.
  • Come prepared with a list of questions in case the discussion loses momentum—not just the Reader’s Guide type questions, but your own as well: things you’d like to know about how a certain part of the book plays out, how the members felt about a character, did they see a plot development coming?
  • Be sure to bring bookmarks and/or business cards to distribute, maybe an email signup sheet so you can build your contact base.

If you don’t belong to a book club already but are thinking it sounds pretty cool, where do you find them? All over the place! Many bookstores have them, and so do libraries. One member of my club also belongs to a neighborhood book club. Ask around. You can also find some in your area through the Meetup website (http://www.meetup.com/topics/bookclub/).

Besides getting to read some really interesting books, you might find an audience for your books, maybe even more than one audience. Book clubs often share information. Get in with one (or more), and your book might be chosen by others. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and some book clubs can definitely affect a book’s success.

Happy reading!

INHABITING ANOTHER WORLD….by Rosemary Lord

9db14-rosemary2bat2bburbank2blibrary2bjpgRosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

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I was going to write about my many Bad Hair Days. But I realized that, by deciding that I could not write another word until my current strange hair color was sorted, this was just another form of Writers’ Avoidance Tactics – albeit colorful! That is a subject for a whole other Blog to come!

But it reminded me how important I felt the color of my character’s hair was. In my current novel series, my protagonist, Lottie Topaz, has copper-colored hair styled in the 1920s fashionable bob with ‘spit-curls’ on her forehead. ‘Spit-curls’ are so called because you spit on your fingers, then make a couple of curls from your bangs, securing them flat against your forehead with spittle. (Charming – I know!)

Lottie’s best friend, Flora, has jet-black hair in a sleek bob with straight bangs – or ‘fringe’ as we Brits call it. Very sophisticated.

This is why I love writing this series that is set back in the early Twentieth Century. It is such fun exploring the styles and fashions of that era. But not just that: recreating the life-style and sharing the whys and wherefores of a by-gone time. So that I and my readers are immersed in another world.

For instance, I find it fascinating to use a mystery setting where telephones were not readily available. Certainly no mobile-phones. How would they communicate, especially in an emergency?

Mysteries set in today’s world have so many solutions to use: computers, emails, Skype, texting. It appears much easier to explain clues and resolutions of the who-dunnits when you can show your characters following an email trail or intercepting a text message on a stolen cell-phone. Researching people’s backgrounds or tracking addresses or locations for present-day books is swiftly done on the computer.

So, why do I give myself this headache of working out how Lottie and her friends can find out about potential suspects or track locations where they may have traveled to? I guess that’s because one of my favorite things is research. I have Lottie and her friends do what I have always done: Of course, today I do use computer research. But I have always spent hours at the libraries, pouring over musty tomes, looking up old newspapers, checking magazines and advertisements. This gives me the color to weave into my stories, words and names that are not used today. I also glean ideas from those pages as to how to provide clues as well as challenges for my characters.

It is imperative that the details are authentic and that everything rings true. Even when I create situations with a little ‘poetic license’ – I always check it out so that it certainly could really have happened.  As a reader, I hate it when something jars because it is out of the realms of possibility – or just plain wrong! I find it difficult to continue reading after that. So I go to great lengths to ensure I have my facts right.

Then there is ‘the leg-work.’ Over the years I have been drawn to exploring wherever I go in the world. I stroll through streets, note book and pencil ready, checking out addresses and buildings, noting the conditions and architectural style of doorways, windows, even roofs that I can access. Up and down steps and stairways I wander. As I explore these old streets, buildings and gardens, I can really get a feel for what went before me. I get a sense of how people lived and worked.

Basements are especially fascinating. Because they are rarely cleared out thoroughly, I find old magazines, pages of newspapers, abandoned cases, luggage tags and labels on shelves and doors. They all tell a story.

I am very chatty. So in my wanderings I will always chat to people I come across: those guarding old buildings, neighbors in old houses, cleaners, workmen – just anybody I can. “How long have you been here?” I ask. “What was here before?” “How many generations of your family have been here” I ask lots of questions about the past. I am very nosey! But most people are eager to share whatever they know. They love to repeat stories they have heard or tell me about their grandparents, aunts and uncles. I find that almost everyone has a fascinating tale to tell. So I borrow and steal unashamedly from the past.

As I have previously confessed, I have an abundance of scraps of paper with these many notes on them.  Although I do occasionally get overwhelmed by the sheer volume I have accrued, mostly I absolutely love surveying them spread all over my desk and my floor as I piece together my stories.  Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I work out what gem I can place where and string together a necklace of a mystery.

I have written contemporary stories. In many ways they are much easier, as I don’t encounter an ‘oops’ moment when my character switches on a light – at a time before  electricity was available.

Writing historical books and novels is considerably more time-consuming. But, for me, it is so much more fun.   I love to share what I have discovered about times gone by. I love the intricacies of weaving historical facts and people into my stories. I love using a vocabulary from earlier generations.

Although I am very grateful for modern plumbing, medical advances and internet access, I often feel that the world I write about was a kinder and gentler place – most of the time, anyway.

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A Life in Pages by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko JohnstonMiko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Please excuse me while I wipe tears from my eyes. Someone very dear to me has died. Or to put it more accurately, I had to kill someone very dear to me.

Now before you dial 911, let me explain that the person I killed was one of my characters, someone beloved by my other characters as well as my readers. It was difficult, but necessary. My continuing saga would not have the same impact, nor would the surviving characters develop as they must, if this character were allowed to live. As Star Trek Commander Spock famously said, “Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

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I also needed to do this to prepare myself for what will be coming. My historical fiction
series revolves around a Jewish family living in what is now the Czech Republic. I’m working on the third book, set during World War I, but the final installment will take place after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. As you may surmise, this will not bode well for some of the characters.

Although my story is loosely based on my family history – my maternal grandparents endured pogroms in Russia and Poland, and my father survived the Holocaust – it has been suggested that my characters could escape prior to the invasion and make their way to America, thus sparing their lives. After all, I’m writing fiction. I can change it at will.

But can I? I think not, because when you’ve been involved with a story for over twenty years, it takes on a life of its own. I wish I could change their destiny, but it would ring false to me. Early on I made decisions about the characters: who they were, what they would do, and to an extent, how they would develop over time. However, after awhile some of them began to make decisions on their own. Most were simple and minor – a preference for a particular color or beverage – but one unexpected action taken by two of my characters resulted in converting my trilogy into a ‘quadrogy’.

In a sense, I gave birth to these characters. Early on I guided them, taught them, made sure they were always where they were supposed to be. Now they have a life of their own, and I must respect that. Within reason. I still have final edit. But I can’t ignore their wishes and directives, no matter what I, or some readers, may think. Why? As Captain Kirk observed, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

When you create your fictitious world, is it set in stone, or do you change it at will? Have you ever found yourself letting your characters decide where they’re going and what they’re going to do? Or do you maintain full control over them?