Don’t Love Your Characters Too Much

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Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

 

I was working on the next Harlow Brothers mystery.  During a scene where older brother Edward gets arrested, I noticed that I was leaving him with his dignity.

What?!

I had a perfect opportunity to make a screamingly funny scene, and I was letting it go because I didn’t want to embarrass Edward.

Like many authors, I love my characters. We spend a lot of time with them, so this is understandable. However, there has to be a line between caring about what happens to them and getting in the way of the story.

I should tell you up front that I will walk away from a movie or TV show if a situation gets too embarrassing. I have a chronic case of empathy, and the character’s humiliation is just too much to bear.  Still, if I want to write the best scene possible, I’ll have to find a way to get past this.

Maybe if I thought of them as little masochists who reveled in embarrassment and shame. The more I pile it on, the happier they are. No, that’s too creepy for me and would lead to a completely different kind of book.

What if I told them to trust me? That no matter how bad it gets, I will pull them out of the mire, clean them up and set them back on their pedestals.

I just don’t know.  Have you ever had this problem? How would you get past this dilemma?  Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

Why Dogs? by Linda O. Johnston

lindaphotoLinda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and additionally currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her June release was her 46th published novel, with more to come.

 

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My turn. 

All my fellow Writers in Residence have been focusing their posts on pets for a while, and there are few subjects of more interest to me than that. 

Why?  I’m a dog lover.  A cynophilist.  All my novels these days feature dogs in one form or another.  In my Harlequin Nocturne paranormal romances, those canines might be shapeshifters or their cover dogs.  In my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, they include the protagonist Carrie Kennersly’s dog Biscuit as well as canine customers in her barkery, where she sells dog treats based on healthy recipes she developed as a veterinary technician.  My Superstition Mysteries featured Pluckie, a dog who’s lucky according to superstitions because she’s black and white–and she proves to be lucky in the stories.  And my upcoming K-9 Ranch miniseries for Harlequin Romantic Suspense has a background of many kinds of dog training occurring on that K-9 Ranch.

Is that all?  Not really.  In my first mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter Mysteries that I wrote for Berkley Prime Crime, Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Lexie.  At the time, I was a practicing lawyer, and I still live in the Hollywood Hills with my two Cavaliers, although we lost our wonderful Lexie last year.  Unlike Kendra, though, I haven’t tripped over murder victims–except in my mind.  And my second mystery series, the Pet Rescue Mysteries, was a spin-off from the Kendra books. 

So why dogs?  I’m not sure why I started loving them, but I was definitely young.  I convinced my grandfather to buy me my first puppy from a pet store when I was eight years old.  I learned a horrible lesson then about pet stores at the time.  My mother took Cuddles to a vet when I was in school the next day, and learned that the poor pup had distemper.  We returned her to the store and learned that all the dogs there had distemper.  In those days we couldn’t even bring a dog into the house for a three-month quarantine period after that, and I used the time to research breeds.  My next puppy was a Boston Terrier from a qualified breeder, and I had Frisky for quite a while.

Then, years later, on my first trip to London I saw my first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on a woman’s lap on the Underground.  The rest was my history.  I hunted for a Cavalier puppy when I returned to the States and have been owned by them ever since.  Our current Cavaliers are Mystie, a Blenheim (red and white) and Cari, another tricolor.  Cari’s still a puppy, very cute, very energetic, and very determined to play with Mystie, whether Mystie wants it or not.

Dogs have inspired other aspects of my life, too, and I absolutely love writing about them.  In fact, I’m always dreaming up new story ideas but don’t have time to follow up on all of them. 

Why?  Well, if you’ve ever been leapt on by a puppy who wants nothing but attention and to give you doggy kisses, you know.  If you’ve ever worked with training a dog who really wants to learn what you want so you’ll be happy with him, you know.  If you’ve ever looked into a dog’s eyes and believe you understand what they’re communicating to you, you know.

Will I ever write anything in the future that doesn’t have dogs?  Possibly, but there’d have to be a good reason for it.

For now, dogs rule in my real life–and in my writing.

 

A Monkey’s Tail… by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary 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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When it was suggested we bloggers write about our pets, I panicked.

My first reaction was “You must be joking. I am not allowed pets where I live. I am terrified of dogs (a childhood incident – don’t ask…) and I am allergic to cats…” Where does that leave me? Not wishing to be a spoilsport, I had a good, long think. So here goes:

I once had a monkey called Poggy. I was four years old and living with my family on the Mediterranean island of Malta, where my dad was stationed in the navy. I loved Poggy. Poggy was brown and white, with a long tail and red felt feet and paws. He was very cuddly.

But when we returned to live in England, Poggy stayed behind. In readiness for our big move back to England, Poggy was carefully washed, so he would be smart for the journey, and pegged on the washing line to dry. But somehow, with all the turmoil, soggy Poggy was left hanging on the washing-line in the back-garden, next to the well, amidst grapevines in the Mediterranean sunshine. I hope that the family that found Poggy, loved him as much as I did.

I’m quite good with turtles, though. Or was. My late husband, Rick, taught me to rescue turtles. In Kentucky, over the many years we spent visiting and taking care of his late-mother in the small town, south of Louisville, we frequently encountered turtles ambling across the narrow country lanes. Rick would stop the car and wait. If they didn’t get a move on – before cars or farm vehicles would come barreling down the road from the opposite direction – it became my job to get out of the car and carefully pick up the wandering turtle and place it on the far grass verge, out of harms way. They were often quite mad at me, spitting, wriggling or peeing as I lifted them to safety, before a speeding vehicle could  run them over. Road-kill abounded on those winding trails.

red eared sliderSo did Red-eared Sliders. So-called, because they have a narrow red stripe around their ears. The ‘slider’ bit comes from their ability to slide off rocks and such into the water quickly. Then there’s the common Snapping Turtle. I learned to grab them more towards the back of the shell, because they have longer necks and would, of course, snap at me. Hence the name. They can be vicious little what-nots, craning their necks, trying to reach my fingers and glaring at me as if to say, “Leave me alone, I was on my way to the pond up by the crossroads.”  Mind you, the Alligator Snapping Turtles can be huge, like some prehistoric creation. Their faces look a bit like E.T. on a bad day. My mother-in-law’s doctor had a collection of these in his garden. Some were as big as 75 lbs. Then, of course, there is the  Yellow-Bellied Slider: with a yellow under-belly and sometimes yellow stripes on its’ top shell. Not to be confused with the Eastern River Cooters, who have yellow stripes, too. Here endeth the turtle lesson. See. I used to know my turtles!

Rick was a goodfile00065284551 teacher. He loved all living creatures and had the most amazing knowledge, experience and affinity with them. Turtles and snakes were his favorite. We would go snake hunting, too. That’s when I usually stayed in the car. But sometimes I would have to handle the smaller ones. Or, if he found a large, wriggling snake and didn’t have a big sack to put it in, he would hold it gently out of the car-window with one hand, (careful not to injure the delicate vertebrae) while he drove – very slowly – back to the farm. He often promised (or threatened?) to take me to Death Valley in the summer, in search of the striped Rosy Boa!

Goodness, it’s all coming back to me. Maybe I should think about including some of this herpetological information in my writing. Not sure how ‘Lottie Topaz and the Red- Eared Slider’ would sound…

Pet News by Jacqueline Vick

Since animals have broken loose on the Writers in Residence blog, I thought I would post a part of a newsletter I wrote to introduce the real life pets behind the characters in my novels. I give you, Chauncey. Enjoy!

Chauncy

577d861cd3822ba86c96e42c63007a61“A solid, ginger mutt glanced up from his position on the couch, but he didn’t move his eighty pounds to greet me. I’d rescued Chauncey from a local shelter three months ago. Rescued animals usually brought baggage with them, but Chauncey had an entire set of luggage.”  

Frankie Chandler’s rescued mutt, Chauncy, is the star of her home. He enjoys laying on the furniture, passing wind, and eating. The real-life model for his character is Buster, also known as Buster Brown and Busterlicious.

Buster was rescued from the Castaic Animal Shelter by author Jacqueline Vick, and she was his last shot at a forever home. He’d been adopted and returned twice, which meant three different homes in less than seven months!

His troubled puppyhood, which his current vet believes included abuse, caused him many neuroses, including a fear of loud noises, a fear of riding in the car (sometimes), a fear of walking near the street (which thankfully passed) and an inability to greet other dogs face-to-face (which makes his pet parents want to murder people who let their dogs off leash, free to rush Buster.)

Soon after his arrival at his forever home, Buster entered doggie day care for a few hours each week in order to develop his social skills. He loved playing with every dog, but his favorites were a pair of boxer siblings and a standard poodle named Rocky. He also took an agility class at a local park, but when the trainer parked a jeep nearby in which she had recently transported a mountain lion, he caught a wiff of the scent and that put an end to his classes. His boycott of that particular park is still in force.cone of shame 005

He was 55 pounds at 7 months old, and to his family’s surprise, grew to 82 pounds! They also discovered that Buster had colitis. He’s on a diet that consists mainly of homemade dogfood, and he’s doing just fine! His large size doesn’t make him any less active, and he’s suffered a few minor injuries, which have forced him into the cone-of-shame!

Buster is the proud recipient of the Canine Good Citizenship award, and he hopes to train as a therapy dog when he finally calms down. His other talents include barking at cars and sleepiheadshot and buster 015ng in his appointed chair, but his absolute favorite activity is eating, which caused one trainer to nickname him Bear.

Buster takes his new celebrity status in stride.

Yak Shaving 101 by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary 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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 What, you might ask, is ‘Yak Shaving’?  Where do I start…?

I was writing a new chapter in my next book, when I needed some research information that I could not find online. (If only I wrote about the present day, I wouldn’t need all this specific research – I could make it up.)  A visit to my local library was needed. So… I got dressed and headed out. I knew my car had the little orange light flashing, so I would have to get gas first. But, lo and behold, the universe had another idea. I had a flat tire. So I called the AAA and waited. My spare was flat, too, so the AAA guy towed me to the local Tire place. Eventually, I was able to drive my car away, go get some gas and head to the library for my research. I found the book I needed and copied my notes. It was a reference book, so I could not take it out.  After which, I was hungry. I can’t think or write when I’m hungry. So on my way home, I had to stop by Trader Joe’s and buy some food, before heading home to cook, eat, then pick up where my writing left off –  many hours later.

This is known as ‘Yak Shaving’ – when you find yourself doing something as irrelevant as shaving a yak (don’t ask!), instead of the goal you set out to accomplish.

It’s a term invented by MIT student Carlin Vieri and made famous by blogger Seth Gordon, who told his own tale of, “the seemingly unrelated, endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before the next step in a project can move forward.” There!

Hey – maybe I can absolve myself from the  personal responsibility for not finishing my current book: I have the Yak Shaving Syndrome.

But writers are known for procrastinating. Sometimes we find it is essential to clean out our fridge, before we can write that next article – or re-pot those pesky plants in the garden, before we write the next pages. Essential stuff, eh?

But then, we could turn Yak Shaving to our own benefit. When you’re writing a novel – especially a mystery novel – you usually have a vague idea how it ends, and maybe an overall feel about the way you want your characters to interact. So perhaps, if you’re stuck, you can work backwards.  Think about what has to happen just before the end. How you resolve your different characters storylines at the finale. What has to happen just before that?  And what has to happen before that point in your plot – and so on. Yak Shaving in reverse.

I digress. Because one can easily get distracted by all the Yak Shaving things life throws at us. Finding the perfect printer, the best notepads on which to write your literary gems, sharpening your pencils to perfection, then choosing just the right font when you finally get to type it all up.  I get so busy and distracted by little things that I have to constantly remind myself, what is it I really want to accomplish or be doing?

Remember that old saying: ‘When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget that your original mission was to drain the swamp.”

 

How Rough Will You Go?

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko 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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Last summer I created a four-part seminar, “The Rules, And How To Break Them” for this blog. My intention was to show how crucial it is to learn the guidelines and formulas in writing fiction, because once you understand them, you can work around them.

There is a singular exception in my opinion, one rule that should never be broken: always treating your work in a professional manner – using standard formatting with readable fonts, and correcting your copy before showing it to anyone.

I still believe that. I set my Word docs to one-inch margins, double-spaced, usually Times New Roman or Cambria 12 point font. I check my work for spelling, grammar and punctuation before presenting it to a critique group or beta reader. What I present is never perfect, but I catch and correct a lot more errors than I let through.

Not everyone follows that policy. I don’t understand why. Pages with odd or odd sized fonts and single line spacing can be difficult to read. I don’t take issue with the occasional extra or dropped word, a few typos, or missing dialog tags. Writers who’ve caught an error after the fifth proofing of their work know it can happen.

However, when I have to review pages that are hard to read or overloaded with avoidable mistakes, I feel more like a teacher correcting papers than a writer offering critique. In fact, too many errors distract me from the writing, from finding the real gems within the pages as well as the core issues with character or plot.

I recently submitted pages from my third novel to a critique group with the up-front warning that they were a first draft. I’d been struggling with how to develop the story, which plot points to follow and which to drop. Even so, I made sure to present the material as though it was my final draft – proofed for typos and other errors. Their feedback was extraordinarily helpful, but I doubt they would have been able to provide so much insight if I hadn’t done my cleanup first.

Some writers I’ve worked with over the years don’t agree with me. They’ll submit a rough draft and make corrections after the critique. I’ve even heard some say they don’t care about grammar, punctuation and spelling – they can hire someone to do that for them. What professional would admit to being unable to handle some of the most basic elements of their job?

Doesn’t submitting sloppy work unchecked for common errors not only show a disregard for one’s own material, but disrespect for the readers?

 

 

“Vortex” Review by Jacqueline Vick

As writers, it’s tempting to remain focused on our own works-in-progress, but savvy authors know that one of the best ways to remain fresh is to read other books in our genre.  It’s also a good idea to move a step outside of your comfort zone when composing your reading list. Consider it a mental stretch. I’ve been gorging on mysteries, and though I usually stick to golden age, British traditional, and humorous, I recently picked up a crime thriller to round out my list. Here’s the scoop:

Vortex
Paul D. Marks
Timeless Skies Publishing

It’s apparent from the first page that Paul D. Marks writes stories that move. Fast. Hard-to-put-down fast. Which is probably why he has a Seamus Award for his novel, White Heat.

Vortex, protagonist Zack Tanner returns from Afghanistan to find that he isn’t the same shallow, fun-loving man that left Los Angeles for an adventure in the army. Unfortunately, no one else seems to have changed. Not his girlfriend, Jess, who is forever dreaming of stardom, nor his best friends and fellow soldiers, Bryan, Carlos and Matt.

Well, maybe Carlos and Bryan have changed. They believe that Zack has possession of something they desperately want, and suddenly the friendly banter takes a sinister turn. And the chase begins.

Marks, known for his love of Los Angeles noir, honors the moral ambiguity of that genre with a complex hero who straddles the line between being the good guy and being the guy who simply isn’t as bad as the rest.  Zack, who functions as the point-of-view character, presents an authentic voice reflecting the difficulties a soldier might experience when faced with his former life.

The supporting characters ring true, and you won’t know whether to love them, pity them, or hope they get bumped off before they cause additional damage. You can never be sure who’s on Zack’s side.

Marks knows the Los Angeles area well, and whether the scene takes place in the affluence-surrounded-by-grunge Los Feliz neighborhood, on the touristy Santa Monica Pier, or zooming up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, it feels as if you’re there.

The only problem with the novel is that it ends, because you won’t want to lose touch with Zack Tanner.

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Jacqueline Vick spent her childhood plotting ways to murder her Barbie doll. Mystery writing provided a more productive outlet.

 You can find out more about the “Barbie Death Ritual” at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.