Becalmed…

     Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.


Despite my post-title, I’m not a sailboat person. Know little about them—and the several sailing adventures I did have, made me queasy, both when actually sailing, and even when just sitting there on the water barely rocking back and forth. So why the title? I like the word, both its sound and emotional connotation. And for me, it’s more of an accurate description for those times when I’m not in the “mood” to write, than the often used phrase “writer’s block.” Becalmed feels and sounds for more appropriate for what I feel those periods of time.

But why share my current becalmed circumstance and affinity for the word? Because the trail from thinking about the word led me to a possible value in sharing what I actually do to get my “writing-wind” back a-blowing.  Another tool to consider adding to one’s writing toolbox?

I’m pretty sure I’ve listed somewhere in one of my posts the mistresses of crime I love and rely upon for guidance—what I’ve dubbed, my “oldies but goodies.” In particular, Agatha Christie, Ngaio(Nye-oh) Marsh, Margery Allingham, and more recently, P.D. James. And what I do, is go over what in particular I like about their writing, and what I have learned, or want to continue learning from them. My writing-goals in the sky kind of thing. Usually, by the time I’m midway through my list-of-writing loves, I start moving forward again, e.g., new story ideas, or changes to something I’ve already written pop into my mind. I catch a breeze.

So starting with my most recent influence first, Ngaio Marsh(1), and with homage to her:

  • I’ve allowed myself to ignore recent conventional knowledge on the importance of short sentences, and using more dialogue. Funny thing is, I love reading novels in that style–but for writing them, I’m stuck. It was hard, but allowing myself to ignore focusing on dialogue and continuous action has been very freeing for me. But the nugget here, is not to argue the point of right or wrong styles, or what’s a better or not approach—but that Ngaio showed me it was “okay” to write in a way I like and in line with stories I want to tell.  She did it, why can’t I? I have permission from one of the greats…
  • Also, using long-winded sentences, conveying several layers of meaning and complex thoughts is acceptable. Tedious sometimes, and that’s the trick—long but sustaining interest (and combined with short to the point sentences before and after in a melody to achieve what I’ve in the past called lyricism.)
  • Multitudinous characters—like in our real lives—some important, some seemingly not so much, and at different times viewed from different perspectives, but all layering the fabric of our lives–and for me, my stories. I’m very fond of Ngaio’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn(especially when played by Patrick Malahide on video), but often, the other characters take the lead, set the scene, even tell much of the “what happened” part of the story. Not everyone likes that, I know—but I love that in her writing.
  • Also, Ngaio Marsh showed me you can write (have as a goal) many complex literary like tomes, not just one “great novel.” Diligence and tenacity.
  • And then, when I think about her settings, her scenery descriptions, especially in her New Zealand tales, re-envisioning usually gets me going again. Scenery/location/local color and culture can be integral in bringing a story alive–and to my point here--starting the wind back a-blowing.
Sailing with your writing-wind

Now that I’m at the wrap-up part of this post, my hoped for take-away is–reading well(2) and revisiting what you have read, are not only crucial keys to writing well, but can also get a good wind started when you might need one.

Hoping the writing-wind is at your back right now—and I think I feel a breeze coming my way…


Ngaio Marsh – Public Domain Image

(1)http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Photos/Topics/People/MarshNgaio/ https://commons.wikimedia.org  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngaio_Marsh

(2) P.D. James is quoted as saying “Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”

Ghostwriter

Jill Amadio, guest blogger

Ghostwriting2Many authors need a day job until our books earn enough royalties and renown to quit working for someone else. One day job that grew and grew into an almost full-blown career for me began with a ghostwriting stint. It also led to writing my own mystery series.

I first turned into several alternate personae when a magazine editor informed me that a reader was looking for a ghostwriter to churn out a business book.

“A whole book? Impossible,” I said. “Too many words.”

“Imagine each chapter as an article,” she suggested. After she told me the average payment I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve ghostwritten more than a dozen memoirs, autobiographies, and business books that required transforming myself into a U.S. ambassador, a Las Vegas croupier, a Texas oilman, a Las Vegas taxicab fleet owner, a motivational speaker, a triathlete, and sundry others. I also ghosted two true crimes. For two of the books I was promoted to co-author half-way though.

Eventually a friend referred Jonathan to me to ghostwrite a crime novel. It turned out during my initial visit to his Beverly Hills mansion that he had always wanted a book with his name on it to display “right here,” he said, patting an enormous Italian marble coffee table. His dilemma was that he had no idea how to write. Reminded me of the time I was at an airport shop in Indonesia and picked up President Sukarno’s biography, a heavy red leather hardcover akin to a family Bible only to find it full of blank pages (he was still living at the time).

Initially, Jonathan envisioned a family drama about a typical insurance scam of which his father had been a victim. A little tame, I said, and persuaded him we should add a couple of murders to spice up the story. He agreed and said the characters must include his parents, two brothers, six ex-wives, four mistresses, and three daughters. I told him, No, no, far too many. I would take three wives, two mistresses, and two daughters, all the while struggling to explain to him that in the book they’d be fictional and would not resemble the real people. He stopped complaining when I asked which of his family he’d like to be the killer.

Occasionally during the writing my client threw a spanner into the works such as calling from Belize or Paris and asking me to add even more murders to the mix now he’d got into the swing of things. Luckily, he was pleased with the various twists and turns, especially when I included thugs from a Bel Air branch of the Russian Mafia (honestly, it really exists) as part of the plot.  I gave the murderer my great-grandfather’s revered Scottish name for some inexplicable reason, honored Keats by sprinkling quotes throughout, and withheld adding Cornish cuss words although sorely tempted. Instead, I saved them for my mystery series that features a younger Miss Marple from Cornwall.

I enjoyed creating a fictional forensic accountant on someone else’s generous dime and planned to develop the book into a series. I had grown fond of the sleuth but Jonathan owns copyright so my brilliant idea died an early death.

An inveterate traveler on both business and pleasure, Jonathan was absent a lot. In fact, most of the time. He told me to basically just carry on, and he’d read the book after it was finished. As it turned out, he preferred me to read it aloud to him, which I did, leading to another unexpected part-time career in voice-over and narrating audiobooks.

Jonathan pronounced himself satisfied. But then he said his third daughter was going to be very upset that I’d left her out. He insisted on her inclusion. Fearing my final fee in jeopardy I had her join the Peace Corps in Chapter One and whisked her off to Somalia, never to be heard from again.

However, when it came time to querying agents Jonathan refused to spend longer than two weeks on the search and quickly self-published with an expensive hardcover POD press. For which I was grateful, nevertheless. Even though I had to watch him signing my book, my bank balance was healthy,

We soon had a book signing at Dutton’s. Jonathan was having a grand old time chatting to the two hundred or so friends and neighbors he’d invited to congratulate him. As his eyes kept darting to the door to see who was arriving I just knew he was hoping for a Hollywood producer, a director or an actor who’d slap an option offer on the table within the next three days. He’d begun to like this author thing. I decided to phone a film producer friend and invite him over to put Jonathan out of his misery.

“Hi, Brandon, how about coming along to a book signing right now? It’s not far from your place”.

“Who’s the author?”

“Oh, no one you know”.

“So why would I come?”

“Well, I wrote it”.

“Why didn’t you say it’s your book signing?”

“It isn’t”.

He snorted and hung up.

Since then I have continued to ghostwrite books, present how-to workshops, and assist other writers in entering the field. In fact, Kelly James-Enger wrote a book on ghostwriting and spent weeks interviewing me. Happily, she credits me for each quote spread over five pages, and thanked me in the Acknowledgements.

I like helping someone realize their dream of creating a family history so that their descendants can learn of their heritage. The joy on their faces when they hold that published book in their hands almost matches my own.

 

gunther (1)My biography of a World War II pilot, “Gunther Rall: Fighter Ace and NATO General” was a bestseller and is an eBook on Amazon and Smashwords. I have ghostwritten 14 memoirs and other books for clients including a true crime and a thriller.  jill valle book

I co-authored the Rudy Vallee memoir, “My Vagabond Lover”

 

 

 

Capture (1)About the Author

Like Tosca Trevant, the amateur sleuth in her crime series, DIGGING TOO DEEP and DIGGING UP THE DEAD, Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, UK. But she is nowhere near as grumpy or unwittingly hilarious as her main character, a younger Miss Marple. Jill wrote two true crimes, and ghostwrote a crime novel. She has written 14 biographies.  She was a reporter in Spain, Thailand, Colombia and the United States.  She wrote for Rolls-Royce Magazine, the London Sunday Dispatch, Conde Nast, the Los Angeles Times, the Westport News, and was a reporter and syndicated columnist for Gannett Newspapers in New York. For 12 years she wrote a column for Entrepreneur magazine. Jill writes a monthly column for the UK-based MysteryPeople ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine.

Visit Jill Amadio at:  jillamadiomysteries.com

Mystery books by Jill Amadio:

Digging too deep_533x800-e1383673499772   Digging Too Deep

DiggingDeadCover-375x600  Digging Up The Dead

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This article by Jill Amadia was posted by Jackie Houchin.

Who Was That Guy? by G.B. Pool

Dapper Dog“There are no small parts, only small actors.”

The truth in this Hollywood line is that any actor can make his part better by bringing out every ounce of character in the role. Thelma Ritter did it in spades in roles like she had in All About Eve and Rear Window. Her presence and personality did a lot for the part, but let’s also give some credit to the playwright. And in a book or short story, you have to give ALL the credit to the author… or the blame if he or she doesn’t make every character work, large or small.

But what about those minor characters?

 

  • They bring the background to life. Example: regulars in a cheap dive bring out the seedier side of life while diners at the Ritz show us how the other half lives.
  • They provide information about the surroundings and specifics. They can run in and tell us the bridge is out or mention that so-and-so’s nutty sister is still in the institution or just got out of the slammer.
  • They add mood and comic relief. Example: Joe Pesci in a Mel Gibson movie.
  • They can be places the hero might not be able to be. This works especially well in a first person narrative. The main character can’t be everywhere, so Old Clem can fill our hero in on what’s happening somewhere else.

Gas pump

  • They can advance the plot. Sometimes you need to dump information without making it sound like an information dump. When the old lady down the street can tell our hero every move of the mysterious guy who rents the small house on the corner, get out of the way and let her blab.
  • In mysteries, Secondary Characters are called suspects… or victims.

 

Flat vs. Round Characters (Amongst our Minor Players)

 

Flat characters can be described in one or two sentences. They fit their surroundings, sometimes the way they dress tells us if we are in the city or a rural environment. Since they have a minor part, often they don’t need a name because they aren’t on stage or the page very long.

 

Example: The butler, with the demeanor of an undertaker, escorted the police detective and the other officer to the business wing of the large house with solemnity befitting a funeral procession. It was slow and wordless, like a bizarre pantomime. The men were ushered inside the large workroom and the door firmly shut behind them.     From “A Perfect Alibi” in From Light TO DARK by G.B. Pool

 

The term “butler” alone says we aren’t in a flop house in the Bowery. If you are writing a short story you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words by dropping in a character who fits a particular situation.

 

Round characters are those who have something to say about the situation. They inform the reader and/or the main character of facts not readily available.

 

 

Example: She stood there, all five foot-one of her, petite, platinum hair, looking up at me through glasses thicker than the bottom of a shot glass. She must have been eighty-five. Why did I seem to attract folks lingering in God’s waiting room?

“You’re Johnny Casino, aren’t you?” she said, her faded blue eyes squinting at me, sizing me up. “You came to my house when you were looking for that dead girl, didn’t you? She wasn’t dead, was she?”

I managed a “no,” but that was all.

“I told you I heard their voices. All those dead girls. They’re still there, you know?”

I remembered her, all right. She looked like Ruth Gordon in that Clint Eastwood movie with the orangutan. Just another nutty old lady who sees things that aren’t there and hears things that were never said. She swore she could feel the vibes from scores of dead girls buried in her backyard.

“Have you talked to the sheriff?” I said, resuming my quest for the perfect cold brew.

“He thinks I’m crazy.” She tugged my sleeve. “But I’m not.”

“We found the missing girl,” I said over my shoulder. “She wasn’t dead. You don’t need to worry anymore.”

“These girls are dead. I can feel it. I hear them screaming, ‘Stop! Stop! You’re killing me, or am I already dead?’”

From “The Snuff That Dreams Are Made Of” in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 by G.B. Pool

 

The fact that this is an old lady is slowly revealed one word at a time until we get to the thick glasses part. She adds to her part by not letting the detective get a word in edge-wise. The old lady gives Johnny information that he needs to solve this case. And she has personality up the wazoo.

 Typewriter Vintage

Here’s a brief exercise to work those creative muscles of yours.

 

Minor Character WorksheetDescribe a lumberjack or deep sea fisherman who is a minor character in a story.

 

____________________________________________________________

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NOTE: Okay, this was a trick… If you wrote out more than a word or two about either the fisherman or the lumberjack, you were working too hard. The very fact both of these occupations come with a built-in look, all you had to do was mention that occupation. Most readers will assume you mean the guy with the yellow slicker and wading boots on a fishing boat or the big guy with the plaid shirt and an ax over his shoulder in the woods. You needn’t go much further than that unless there is something unique about the guy like maybe one is three-feet tall or one had a peg leg. Stock characters are just that. A mention of their occupation or places they frequent tells the reader all he or she needs to know. Save your word count for something important.

 

Without a handful of great characters, all you have is a travel guide. Readers want someone to care about and be willing to travel with, but in a short story you will have fewer people to go along for the ride. In your novel, you can have a few more of these folks to carry your story along.

But remember this, if the character has no purpose, if he isn’t imparting valuable information or if she isn’t describing the surroundings, eliminate them. You can also combine several of your walk-ons into one character so you don’t have too many folks populating your story.

 

PeopleAlso, if you have too many minor characters, they will start to clutter up your story. Your reader won’t know if he is supposed to remember this character or if the person is just an information-dropping entity.

 

If you don’t give the minor character a name, it will be assumed they aren’t a major player. That might help. But most of all make sure they have a reason for being there. Remember, there are no small parts…