Stuck at Home? Write That Book!

By Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.

This devastating pandemic took us all by surprise. With no time to prepare, we were suddenly either inundated with work and/or home obligations, or we found ourselves isolated and wondering what to do with all the spare time.

writing-923882_640 (1)Here’s a suggestion for wannabe authors. You’ve pondered that writing project for years; now you have time to get those ideas down on paper (or computer, or recording device). What would it take to turn that dream into a manuscript?

In a perfect stroke of timing, CampNaNoWriMo begins the first of next month. If you’re not familiar with the National Novel Writing Month challenge, it provides a venue for novice and accomplished alike to focus for an entire month on writing. The goal is to produce 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. I’ve done it a few times and managed to produce a satisfactory draft in the allotted 30 days. Except for the year I had an emergency appendectomy on November 6!

CampNaNoWriMo is more flexible, allowing you to work on a project of your choosing, setting your own goals. I’ve signed up and plan to compile my advice for beginning writers. At the same time, I’ll be posting the most relevant tips in my Avid Authors Facebook group. Join me there and immerse yourself in learning about writing at the same time as you write.

bookstore-4343642_640 (1)I’ve opened membership to this site on a temporary basis. Here’s a place for you to learn about the author’s journey from “aspiring” to “avid.” Find out how to improve your writing, where to market your work, and ways to research trends in the industry. Get questions answered from an author who’s been there.

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Jeanette Chaplin I’m a semi-retired college English instructor and published author with a doctorate in English composition. I self-published the Self-publishing Guide in 1979 and went on to self-publish print versions of a mystery series and several non-fiction books. I’ve given workshops through libraries, bookstores, writers organizations, and continuing education departments and have written for writers’ newsletters, homeschooling blogs, inspirational magazines, and publications such as the Des Moines Register.

Disclaimer: I focus on writing as a craft and what a beginner needs to know. I’m still learning the ever-changing marketing and digital publishing aspects of the industry. I have no affiliation with NaNoWriMo and receive no compensation for referrals.

Check out the latest writing tips and find more info about the “Camp” at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AvidAuthorsGroup/

 

This article was posted for Jeanette F. Chaplin by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

 

Upside Down

By Linda O. Johnston

upside down natural-2728146_640Apologies.  I’m late with this blog.  But… well, as I’m sure all of you reading this know, life is different now from what it’s been.

The pandemic.  Potential danger to all of us.  Lots to learn about how to protect ourselves.  Staying home most of the time–and only going out to buy essentials or bring in take-home food… occasionally.

What’s good about it?  Well, for writers, our lives may not have to change as much as other people’s.  We’re often home a lot anyway, staring at our computers and hopefully being productive on them.

 But… well, for me, some of the changes include not getting together with other people for exercise classes.  Or attending writers’ group meetings–which now have been canceled.  Or even considering attending writers’ conferences, which are also mostly canceled anyway.

 And then there were a couple of trips with family that we’ve had to cancel.

 I am walking our dogs more than before, which they enjoy–though of course staying more than six feet away from also-walking neighbors.  Our pups also enjoy having my husband and me around nearly all the time, to give them even more attention and treats.

 So yes, that part is good.  But considering how things will progress, when this might end, the situation regarding nearly the entire world… we’re upside down.

And then there’s this blog.  Being late didn’t help, but my mind obviously is on other things.  And though yes, I’m editing some stories I’ve been working on and plotting more–and my mind is also roiling around possible scenarios in which I can include this horrible situation in a book–things are different enough that I’m clearly not planning or focusing as I should be.

 I’d like to be focusing here on an aspect of writing.  That’s what we often do on the Writers in Residence blog.  And in a way, I am.  I’m suggesting that writers can do their job no matter what’s going on around them.  Focus on fiction, perhaps, to help your mind deal with the difficult facts.

I’m suggesting that writers can do their job no matter what’s going on around them.  Focus on fiction, perhaps, to help your mind deal with the difficult facts.

 Perhaps the hardest thing for me is not seeing family.  We have a son in our area but not right next door, and for now I’ve told him not to visit, at least for a while.

 What’s the hardest thing for you?  What kind of fiction are you focusing on to help you through this?

 How are you upside down?

 

This article was posted for Linda O. Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

THE WRITERS’ CONFERENCE THAT WASN’T…  

By ROSEMARY LORD

 

Writinhand           Well – who could have known…

I was heading for the Left Coast Crime ‘Murder’s A Beach’ writers’ conference in San Diego.

Two Southern California authors were being honored: Rachel Howzell Hall and T. Jefferson Parker. I was moderating a panel, “Hooray For Hollywood: Tinsel Town as a setting…” with Kellye Garrett, Lee Goldberg, Sherri Leigh James and Pat Broeske on Friday.

These conferences are always a great time to catch up with other writers who live far and wide – all coming together because of their love of books, of reading and writing – and especially mysteries. They readily share their knowledge, expertise on novel writing and their encouragement to those in pursuit of a publisher. It’s also a chance to meet their readers and fans.

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I bumped into old friends writer/magician Stephen Buehler, wine-expert Nadine Nettmann, Catriona McPherson, Sheri James and Pat Broeske on my way in. But I’m getting ahead of my self.

It was a long, slow drive from Hollywood through a heavy rainstorm, averaging 9 miles an hour. 4 hours later, as I drew into the Marriot Mission Valley, I was looking forward to all the panels and lectures I had marked on the busy schedule.

Having checked in, left my bags in my room, I had already missed the ‘Not Too Distant Past: 20th Century Historical Mysteries’ panel that I wanted to hear, so I headed for the Rio Vista ballroom to listen to Toastmaster author Matt Coyle being interviewed. I stood at the back, as it was already underway.

A small cluster of somber-faced women with clip-boards arrived and stood at the back. Hmm. At a long pause in questions, they walked up to the front and one announced. “Please everyone stay in your seats – do not leave!” Then, the dreaded words followed that the San Diego Health Department was shutting down the conference, due to the Covid-19 virus concerns. Effective immediately. (The Arizona Book Festival and the L.A. Times Festival of Books would soon follow.)

Microphones

The conference organizers had spent 3 year planning this what-would-have-been-wonderful 4 days of panels, discussions, celebrations and networking. They were, naturally, devastated. They announced they would be emailing us about refunds. Some in the audience suggested that we return any refund to put towards the huge cost of putting on this event. Then there was the discussion of the Saturday Night Award Banquet, when awards for the Best First Novel, Best Historical Novel and so on. No solutions yet. The crowd promised to meet up at the next Left Coast Crime conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April 2021.

We were asked to vacate the ballroom. Immediately.  

“But we’re here, together, now – can’t we at least have the Opening Cocktail Reception before we leave?” rippled through the crowd. A glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres sounded very welcoming at that moment. Alas no. They shut that down too.

But, as we filed out of the room, the hotel staff wheeled out trolleys of spring rolls and wantons into the corridor, offering us plates to help ourselves as we left. They explained that they had cooked them, so we might as well eat. But the wine-bar was quickly moved out of sight!

The rest of the evening was spent congregating in the bar-café area as we figured out our next step. I had a relatively short drive, compared to many who had flown in from Canada or the East Coast, with return flights booked for Sunday.

Ladies Study

The attendees include not only writers, publishers and editors, but many readers – fans. They seem to often be older women – often Agatha Christie fans who love meeting other mystery writers, collecting signed copies of their books. I wondered how many of these fans lived alone and, having had just had their big, exciting vacation crushed, would be returning to empty apartments and homes. I also thought about the struggling writers who spent hard-earned money on promotional items such as pens, notebooks, bookmarks to give out at various events during the weekend, attempting to sell their books. And then there were all of the extra hotel staff hired especially to work this conference. What happens to them?

Although I appreciate that this is insignificant compared to the health risks of those who are felled by this awful virus and the impending suffering of so many workers, travelers and businesses affected by the quarantines in force.

But it was sobering to observe this sliver of the rippling effect.

But I don’t want this to be all doom and gloom, for this, too shall pass. We will get beyond this bizarre situation we have all been thrown in together. And when we come out the other end, we will be much wiser and a lot more appreciate of the freedoms we usually enjoy, of the good friends we have, aware of the health and safety of our loved ones, friends and co-workers. Many of our parents lived through World War Two. The motto then was KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

I shall be working from home for the next couple of weeks, having closed down the Woman’s Club as a health precaution for our members, guests and volunteers. Although I still have a large stack of club paperwork to tackle, I shall be able to take more time to work on my Lottie Topaz books and a couple of new ideas I have.

It’s a chance for all of us to take some time to reflect on where we are going with our lives and our writing careers, to count our blessings and make wonderful plans for a bright future.

So just remember to check on friends and neighbors living alone. Stay safe and healthy.  See you on the other side of this pandemic.

So keep calm and carry on writing….!

Keep Calm

Keeping It Real: Developing Characters, Part II

by Miko Johnston

Frequent readers of this blog may recall me referring over time to the fourth novel in my A Petal In The Wind series, which I’ve been writing for more than a year. I got stuck. My plot points kept stalling out, but I had a breakthrough after my last post. Whew! Until then I worked on revising earlier chapters. In one I found something I not only rarely do, but scold other writers for doing – I repeated myself in consecutive scenes. The actual scene played out first, and on the next page my protagonist Lala told another character what happened.

Then it occurred to me – maybe I didn’t repeat myself; maybe instead, I wrote the scene in two different perspectives. I didn’t need both, but I could compare them and keep the better of the two. Out went the full scene; the gist from her dialog worked better. Lala had to have her say about the incident, and that clarified why I got stuck finishing the novel. Lala found my direction for her ‘wanting’. I realized I kept forcing the plot in a way that wasn’t true to the character, so I ‘asked’ Lala to explain, in a few sentences, what she sought for herself. That solved the mystery. I feel confident she – and my readers – will agree this new direction sounds like the Lala we’ve watched grow up.

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Our characters must be real to us, for if we can’t envision them, body and soul, no one else will. It’s why I always write: characters ‘who’, rather than ‘that’, and say they’re created, not invented. KEEPING IT REAL: PART I focused on writing series, where you have more time and pages for character development. When creating and developing characters for a short story or stand-alone novel, how do we keep them ‘real’?

  1. Give them a background

Begin with a basic police description of gender, age, and physical size: Asian male, mid- thirties, five foot ten, 170 pounds. Ask them what you’d ask any person you’ve just met – what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? Delve further and observe. How are they groomed and dressed? What do they sound like? Are they eloquent, plain-spoken or inarticulate? Adventurous or timid, gregarious or shy? Many writers, including our own GB Pool, recommend writing biographies for your primary and secondary characters. It’s helpful in writing a short story but vital in a novel.

  1. Find inspiration in real life

Often we base characters on actual people we know. We observe strangers in public places, listen in to their conversations. We play-act, or fantasize about what a celebrity might be like.  That may make them real to us, but it doesn’t always translate onto paper. If you write fiction, you don’t have to recreate an exact duplicate. Instead, borrow traits from the person, like appearance, personality, or history. Use those elements as a foundation to write a unique character who reminds you of what you love, or hate, about their real counterpart.  I based one character on a dear departed friend who suffered more than she deserved, and gave her a better life. I’ve also created some who resemble people I know and have one trait in common – their taste in clothes, or their bluntness. The rest I fictionalize, but with qualities I’ve found in real people.

  1. Get to know them

We must become familiar enough with a character to understand what they will say and do. Talking to your characters, questioning or interrogating them will flesh out little details. Are they outgoing or shy, active or couch potatoes? Do they like to travel, or are they homebodies? Do they eat to live or live to eat? If they could change any aspect of their life, what would it be? What flaws does your hero possess, and in contrast, what are your villain’s fine points? The more you know the better you’ll know them. To grow interrelationships, try free-form dialog, where you write a conversation between two of your characters. Sit down and begin to write without pausing, without dialog tags or punctuation. Just write, and after a few minutes your logical left brain will switch over to your more creative right brain. Try this for at least ten minutes and see what your characters have to say about each other, and by insinuation, themselves.

  1. Go beyond words and actions to thoughts and motivations

To really understand someone, we need to know more than what they say or do, but why they say or do it. Your biography will help with this, but like the exception proves the rule, contradictions in characters prove their ‘realness’. Look for contradictory traits, for everyone has a touch of hypocrisy within them. Even if your characters don’t know why they say or do something, as often happens in real life, you – their creator – must know and present it in a way the reader can deduce it without being told.

  1. Set them apart

To create characters who are not cardboard cutouts, begin by avoiding clichés and stereotypes. Not everyone from Mexico is named José (or Maria) Gomez, and you can’t always tell by appearance or mannerisms if someone is gay. Real folks are a mixture of commonality and individuality. What we share in common makes us recognizable, but our uniqueness sets us apart. Think of anyone you know and list five traits that they share with many people. Then list two or three that are different. My five shared traits would include compassionate, sensible, impatient, analytical, and curious. What sets me apart? Despite being a mature adult, put me in an environment with animals and I turn into a giddy three-year-old, as I recently demonstrated in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

  1. Let them be

Once you’ve created your characters, allow them their voice. Let them tell you what they want and don’t want, and listen to them. It could save you hours, weeks, even months of writers block. You don’t always have to obey, but trust and respect them enough to hear them out. Also allow them some privacy. Instead of writing in every detail, give enough to flesh out the character and let readers have the pleasure of filling in the rest.

All this may seem like a lot to compact into a story or book, but the sum of big picture and little details about characters humanizes them. It also makes them vivid in our minds, which enriches the story, for even above plots, great stories revolve around the people who occupy them.

To find more writing on the subject throughout this blog – just put CHARACTERS in the search line. For an in-depth look at how to create villains, see my earlier post:  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2015/07/15/building-a-better-villian-by-miko-johnston/ If you have any advice you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

 

This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

My Fishy Introduction to Malice Domestic

by Jill Amadio

 

Ever feel like a fish out of water? As an ex-pat in California where residents are famous for being “the people from somewhere else,’ I humbly claim myself as a prime example. Because I am a Brit from Cornwall I was invited to be a “Fish-Out-of-Water” panelist at the three-day Malice Domestic Writers Conference held in Bethesda, MD just outside Washington, D.C.

Mary HigginsThe event is the largest annual gathering in America for writers and fans of traditional mysteries in the genre of Agatha Christie, which places them in a genre called ‘cozy.” It appears that publishers here prefer authors to be strictly categorized into the type of book they write: romantic suspense, noir, thriller, psychological suspense, hard-boiled, legal thriller, historical, private investigator, cozy, police procedural, and sub-genres such as a sci-fi and the newest, cyber-crime mysteries.

Some crime writers look down their noses at cozy writers. We are often considered to be the low man on the totem pole. No matter. We bask in the knowledge that it attracts hundreds of attendees from all over the country.  It was my first foray into this cozy conference although I am a veteran of Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Ladies of Intrigue, Surrey International in Canada, and other conferences for cozy writers and readers.

DiggingDeadCover-375x600The second book in my series, “Digging Up the Dead: A Tosca Trevant Mystery” was published just in time for this premier annual event. My main character hails from Cornwall and comes to live in Newport Beach, like me, so the “Fish Out of Water” panel was perfect for us both.  It was fun to explain to the audience that Tosca Trevant, a London gossip columnist (me too!) had rattled the royals by discovering yet another scandal at Buckingham Palace. This led her editor to re-assign her temporarily to America. Cussing mildly in the Cornish language, and coping with a culture that sees no need for a teashop on every corner, the meddlesome, outspoken and humorous Tosca turns amateur sleuth when she stumbles upon human remains in a neighbor’s garden, in the best Miss Marple tradition although Tosca is a younger version.

I was the only ex-pat author among us five panelists at Malice, whose main characters were also considered outsiders rather than police detectives or private investigators. I was bombarded with questions from the packed audience about how I came to live in the United States (“my ex-husband insisted and who needs all that rain back home?”), why I write traditional mysteries (“because Agatha Christie is my muse”) and how I manage to conjure up clues, settings, and plots. My favorite question is usually how I decide who the murderer will be. I answer honestly that I don’t always know until I’m into the story.

In my new book I created a character whom I intended to be the killer but the more I wrote about that person the more I came to like them so I designated someone else to be the villain instead. Another time during the writing of chapter 16 something incredible happened to me. I was writing dialogue wherein a character denies knowing something. GuardianShe was instantly contradicted by a voice behind my chair shouting out, “Yes! You did know!” The voice was male and sounded exactly the way I had described his gravelly voice in a previous chapter. I swung around, dumbfounded. Of course, there was no one there and no one else was in the house. Some writers say their characters often take over their role in a book but this was different. Sam spoke a line of dialogue that added another dimension to the plot. It worked well, surprisingly, giving an extra twist to the story. I didn’t hear from him again nor from anyone else I created so I guess he and the others were satisfied with how the plot was progressing.

One important take-away I have learned from being a panelist and this was particularly true at Malice: make ‘em laugh. I was fortunate enough to be able to describe some of Tosca’s amusing clashes with American culture, a few of which I experienced myself when I arrived in the U.S. Her reactions, though, are a bit more defined and she has no problem expressing herself although most of the time she is proven to have grabbed the wrong end of the stick or has misinterpreted the meaning, which makes for a few giggles.

So the lesson is that the more listeners you can make laugh, the more likely they are to buy your books. The key is for your readers to like you as a person, which can encourage them to believe they’ll like your writing. I was lucky enough to have sold out of my books at that first conference, as did other authors. I’m told that cozy readers make up the bulk of the crime-reading market so I plan to attend Malice Domestic forever. Or as long as I write mysteries.

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JillAmadioHead

Jill Amadio’s mysteries are available in paperback and kindle on amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Nook. She is also the ghostwriter of 16 memoirs and biographies, and co-author of the Rudy Vallee life story, “My Vagabond Lover.”

 

 

 

 

 

This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)