December 9, 2009
Years ago my father drove a great deal for his job. If he was in a small college town, he’d bring me a spiral-bound notebook with the college crest on the front for me to use as a journal. I filled numerous notebooks from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Kearney State College (it wasn’t a University back then), Dana College, Doane College, Wayne State College . . . you get the idea.
They were simple notebooks and I filled them with rants about high school frustrations, job issues, stories, and even the occasional poem tainted with the romantic delusions of a teen-aged girl. (ahem)
Anyway, I didn’t care what I wrote. I didn’t censor myself or criticize myself. I just wrote.
When I was in college, my older sister gave me a beautiful journal with a picture of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night on the front. Like all the notebooks I used before, this was spiral bound. But instead of a cardboard front, it had a thick, glossy cover and screamed TALENT and ART and DON’T PUT ANYTHING ON THESE PAGES THAT ISN’T PERFECT.
Understandably, it sat unused. When I started medical school, I copied, cut, and pasted anatomical figures, lists, class notes (typed, of course) inside and used it as a pocket reference during rounds. I refused to touch a pen to the pages lest anyone think I was pretentious enough to believe I had talent.
However, even though I was engrossed in class work geared to take me in a scientific direction, I still wrote in secret, scribbling thoughts on scraps of paper when the mood struck, writing funny Christmas cards, thinking of funny characters and the like. People bought me journals for gifts . . . beautiful journals with cloth covers and perfect pages. But I continued to hide my desire to write like some sort of leprous lesion and I rarely brought any of those journals out or used them.
Occasionally I tried to document (yes, document) the first words of my children or funny stories or even feelings . . . but everything sounded clinical. Too afraid to make a mistake on the pages, I wrote carefully, determined to keep my thoughts organized and numbered, just like I’d been taught in school. If I had nothing profound to say, then I had nothing to say.
Eventually I grew up and got over myself. Writing will always be something I do. My words may not change the world; they may not stop global warming or clear up acne, but they are my words and it is okay for them to matter to me.
I’m thinking of my oldest son as I write this. He’s an incredibly talented writer. Several months ago we gave him a leather journal to write in. When I noticed he wasn’t using it I asked him why. He said he felt he had to write something “profound” inside. “Profound.” That was his exact word. I was only too happy to show him the journal I use now . . . a beautiful, refillable, leather-bound journal with hand-torn pages . . . a gift from my husband and kids last year.
He looked at the cover and said only, “I’ve seen that before. You got it last year.”
So I opened it up for him and let him have a good look at what I write these days. Today, my beautiful book contains story ideas, shopping lists, sketches (and I can only draw stick people), funny stories, first chapters for books I’d like to write someday, angry rants, reminders, ticket stubs from dates with my husband, playbills, and too much else to name here. In short, my journal contains all sorts of things that make me who I am. I’m not afraid to put words inside a beautiful book. My words don’t have to be profound; they just have to come from me.
I hope if you are a writer you don’t let the appearance of your notebook intimidate you. I hope you don’t shy away from writing in public because you are embarrassed to want to share your craft with others. And I hope you keep writing because life is short and filled with so many good things worth dreaming and writing about.
November 25, 2009
So my pal, Eric had a book signing at Mystery Bookstore in L.A. about two weeks ago. A minor hitch occured and there were no books for him to sign at the actual signing.
Thus, in an unprecedented (I am sure) maneuver, the dedicated author hoofed it door to door to deliver to the folks who ordered it.
Check it out.
November 25, 2009
So a year ago . . . October 22, 2008 to be exact, Eric and I crossed the last ‘t’ and dotted the last ‘i’ of One Too Many Blows To The Head and began sending it out into the world to make friends and maybe find a home.
Publishers tended to shy away from such an unusual collaboration– a book written in two first person narratives by two people who have never met? Would it work? Would people read it?
I’m thankful and proud to say that Second Wind took a chance on us. And One Too Many Blows To The Head isn’t the only book being sent out into the world right now. We are honored to share the spotlight with JJ Dare and Pat Bertram.
JJ Dare is the author of False World, the second title of the Joe Daniels trilogy. Dare is sponsoring a contest for a book giveaway. Scare her real bad in fifty words or less and you could win a free book.
Pat Bertram’s new release is Daughter Am I, a story about a girl, her inheritance, and the danger she finds herself in when she starts poking around in the past. Bertram is sponsoring a treasure hunt on her blog. The prize: the one and only proof copy of Daughter Am I.
Eric Beetner, soon to be proud father of not one, but two beautiful daughters, is also hosting a contest. Prizes: newest thrillers from Second Wind. Answer a question based on the central theme of each book, wow him, and you win.
And since I love a good contest and a great story, I want you to try to wow me as well. Give me a story about a flawed character, any flawed character who is in need of a second chance or a “do over”. Click here for full information.
Rules for my contest are:
- 500 words or less (I already said that but I’m saying it again)
- Prose should be lighthearted and humorous. It’s the holiday season and I don’t want to get all suicidal.
- Material needs to be original (That goes without saying, of course.)
- Deadline is December 15.
- Send story to firstname.lastname@example.org
First Place gets a signed copy of One Too Many Blows To The Head and a signed copy of The Deputy’s Widow. Second Place gets a signed copy of One To Many Blows To The Head.
Both winners will have their material posted on my blog, “Toeing and Typing the Line.”
But wait, there’s more! I love meeting writers. I love hearing about other writer’s methods for work. Winners will be presented with a guest appearance on my blog to give us the lowdown about writing habits, methods of success, opinions on writing, aspirations, etc.
So do you think you’ve got what it takes? Huh? Do ya? Do ya?
That’s all I’ve got. I’m heading back to my bowl of Chex Mix and dreaming of pie. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving folks!
November 9, 2009
I married a Nordic god. He’s tall, blond, rugged, chiseled . . . all those things you read about in a romance novel that make you sigh. He’s also brilliant, which is a good thing in the Oracle database world.
Unfortunately, he suffers from what many brilliant people suffer from . . . it’s a little something I call “the butterfly effect.” (No, not the real butterfly effect . . . something else entirely as you will see.)
In his Belgariad series, David Eddings describes a situation when the protagonist, Garion, is coming to terms with his powers. He has embarked on a quest with a group of warriors. On the journey, they rescue and adopt a young colt.
Garion, unsupervised, decides he will attempt to hurl a boulder with his mind. Aparently in the world of magic, the same laws of physics apply as in the normal world. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The boulder is tossed and Garion finds himself sunk into the ground to his neck and unable to move.
Being the wizard that he is, the boy telepathically summons his horse to go for help. He links his mind with that of the colt and sees . . . flowers, butterflies, bees, birds . . . and senses the young colt scampering off in pursuit of these follies instead of bringing the trapped Garion the help he needs.
This, my friends, is the butterfly effect. And my husband has made it a sport. He, in fact, is its top athlete.
He will exit the front door. His destination: mailbox. Distance: fifty yards. Twenty minutes will go by. Twenty become thirty. Thirty become forty. I’ll peek out to check on him only to find he is standing waist high in prairie grass studying a spider web or a sapling or a flower in our daughter’s butterfly garden, a stack of mail tucked safely under his arm.
He is a considerate man, my husband. “Do you need anything, honey?” he asks. “Love a Diet Coke,” I say. “Sure thing. Right away.”
One hour later, he’ll join me in the living room, knowing only that we spoke sometime earlier . . . although he can’t quite remember what was said.
If we go to Jamestown or Yorktown to see the sites or on a guided tour, he lags behind, savoring every moment, examining every artifact. When he’s done with that, he studies the trees and the dirt and the plants and anything else he can see or touch or smell.
Now, you may think I’m poking fun at him . . . and I guess I am. But what you need to know is that these things set an example for me.
In her book, If You Want To Write, Brenda Ueland stresses the importance of recognizing the need to pay attention to “now.” “What is happening to me now.” She recognized that writers spend a lot of time inside their own heads, hosting conversations between characters, dreaming of plot, pushing forward. We forget to stop and smell the roses. And sometimes, the best ideas for scene description or mood in a chapter can come from the things we observe if we’ll only take the time to look.
I try to be like my husband. I try to be more observant. Often I fall short. I cannot be the athlete. I can only be the athletic supporter.
What about you? Is there someone who sets an example for you, forces you to slow down a little bit? Someone who influences you in weird ways?
I’d love to hear about it.
November 2, 2009
Eric Beetner will be signing copies of the book (One Too Many Blows To The Head) at the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles.
He’ll also be discussing the book and answering questions about collaboration in novel writing. Check it out here:
October 23, 2009
One would think that, after editing, re-editing, proofing, and re-proofing, that a book would be perfect, ready to go, error free.
I got the proof for One Too Many Blows To The Head on Monday. It was thrilling to see it in print. However, despite the fluttering of my heart when I looked at it and flipped through its pages–pages laced with the heavenly smell of printer’s ink–I knew I had to push past the honeymoon phase and get to readin’.
As I opened it and read the first paragraph I realized one thing . . . I was really getting tired of proofreading. After all, writing is the fun part. Writing is what makes my heart sing. Writing is what I do. Proofreading is like washing dishes or vacuuming. It’s a job to me.
But read it I did.
And I found errors. Nothing embarrassing, like changing a character’s name halfway through the book, but errors in punctuation or spacing that were noticeable to me and would certainly be noticeable to a reader.
So another proof has to be ordered.
Am I disappointed? Sure I am. But not as much as I would be if Eric and I had let it go to press with all the errors inside.
I constantly remind myself that I shouldn’t let impatience govern my decisions . . . and that is so important in the writing world. Patience is what gets a good copy. Patience is what gives you time to start marketing and pushing forward. Patience is what it’s all about, man. Well, and writing something worth reading.
So here I sit, impatiently (despite my self-chastising) awaiting my next proof and reminding myself that it too will need to be read and approved by both Eric and me before it goes to press. My fingers are drumming but I tell myself this is what it is to be a writer . . . it is to learn to love your art enough to get it right . . . no matter how long it takes.
September 9, 2009
School started yesterday, which means that summer is officially over. As I think about the last three months at home with the kids I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve learned. It is funny how children, if given the chance, can be our best teachers. And they teach not only with their words; they also teach by example.
This summer I’ve learned the following:
- I should never drink while lying down.
- I should always run with my eyes open.
- I should never walk barefoot through a field of clover when it is in bloom no matter who dares me to do it.
- Even peanut butter can mold if given enough time, the right conditions, and a great hiding place.
- My definition of “noise” is entirely different from that of my kids.
- I should never taste a slug.
- I should never hit my sister when Mom is watching.
- I should never hit my brother when Mom is watching.
- I should never make a face at Mom when I think she’s not looking. She has eyes in the back of her head.
- I should avoid trying to vocalize impromptu poetry involving words that rhyme with “duck,” “fit,” and/or “pass mole.”
- Having a dog lick it does not make it clean.
- I should never put a wet bathing suit back in my drawer.
- I should probably pick up the dog poop before trying to run it over with the lawn mower.
- I should heed the expiration dates on milk cartons and bread packaging. They are there for a reason.
- Shoving an entire ice cream cone in my mouth for the amusement of others hurts no one but me.
So with this new knowledge, I feel ready to embark on a new year of writing and editing and living. Thanks kids. Mom loves you.
August 18, 2009
First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Nick is one of my dearest “cyber friends”. Although he hails from Britain and therefore disagrees with me about what “real” football is, there is one we both agree on– and that is what makes a good story.
Nick’s latest novel, Broken Dreams, introduces Joe Geraghty, a world-weary detective tucking his chin and hunching his shoulders against the blows reined on him by criminals.
Nick was kind enough to answer questions for me recently and I’m proud to post his interview here. His novel has been published by Caffeine Nights Press in Britain (http://www.cnpublishing.co.uk.com). You can also visit Nick’s Web site at http://www.hullcrimefiction.co.uk.com.
Tell us about Broken Dreams and Joe Geraghty. Is this part of a series?
‘Broken Dreams’ is my first published novel and will be available through UK-based Caffeine Nights Publishing. The lead character, Joe Geraghty, is a small-time Private Investigator who is asked to investigate Jennifer Murdoch’s unauthorised absence from her work. When she’s found murdered in her bed, things get a bit trickier for Joe, as the woman’s husband is a prominent businessman with plenty of enemies. As he digs deeper, Joe begins to understand that finding her killers may hold the key to understanding the reasons for his wife’s death. I’ve toyed with Joe for a fair while now, mainly in short stories, which is where I tend to try things out first before diving into a novel. It took me a bit of time to find a vehicle I was comfortable with for a potential series, but as things stand, my thinking is certainly to continue running with Joe.
Would you classify the novel as police procedural, mystery, crime fiction, or something entirely different?
I see ‘Broken Dreams’ as being a crime novel, though I don’t really think too much about classifications. With Joe being a PI, there are elements of noir, but equally there’s a police presence running in the background and a strong mystery element, so I must be greedy – I want to cherry pick from different areas. Ultimately, I look up to writers like George Pelecanos. His novels are recognisably crime, but first and foremost they’re about characters and situations. For me, you can draw a line back to the likes of Steinbeck in the way he writes. The themes may be different but they both feel and care about the same things. I’m not sure what kind of crime writer I’d call him; all I know is that if I could get anywhere close to his level, I’d die a happy writer.
Joe is a well rounded character, complete with the hard-boiled edge and emotional scars I like in a private investigator. Will we be seeing more of him in future books?
Definitely. I’m hard at work on the next Joe Geraghty novel as we speak and I have ideas kicking around for the one after that. Prior to ‘Broken Dreams’, I wrote a police procedural novel called ‘Black and White’, and although I enjoyed creating a set of police officers, the weakness was in trying to portray police life accurately. I knew I had to move on from that and shake things up a little. It was very much a learning experience for me. A private investigator was the logical step, as I can continue to write the same sort of things, but without the fear of getting it totally wrong. Joe’s not bound by their rules, which certainly makes it more fun for me as a writer. When I created Joe, I deliberately didn’t fill in a lot of his background. That way, I’m learning about him as I go on and it feels like there’s plenty of mileage left. Most of the short-stories I write feature Joe, so I think he’s going to be around for a while yet.
Do you do a great deal of research for your books?
I think the answer to the question is, I do as much as I need to. It was certainly important with ‘Broken Dreams.’ When I started playing with the idea of the book, I deliberately wanted to write about the decline of the fishing industry in my home city. To find a way to do that in a story, I read a fair few books on the subject and searched the Internet for the inspiration to get it off the ground. I also went on a tour of a refurbished trawler boat and listened to the guides stories and anecdotes, which gave the novel a bit of colour. The trick seems to be not to get carried away with the process. I think you need to know enough to write with some credibility and conviction. Otherwise, you run the risk of sounding a bit preachy and there’s the temptation to dump loads of superfluous information into the novel.
Your novel is set in Hull, which is also where you live. Was it challenging to set your novel in Hull? Why did you choose Hull as the setting?
I never gave it a moment’s thought. I knew as soon I made the decision to write that I’d set the stories in my home city of Hull. The place always gets a bad press in the UK – whenever there’s a poll highlighting the worst places to live or those with the worst education results etc, Hull usually figures highly in it. Part of me understands the reasons for this, but a larger part of me is angry about it. Hull has more than its share of social problems, but if you look a little closer, there’s a lot to be positive and proud of. Much like Ian Rankin makes Edinburgh a central part of his Rebus series, I want to make Hull a central part of my work and delve into its unique character. I’m not sugarcoating; I want to tell it how I see it, but the city doesn’t features very often in literature, so this is my way of saying a little about what it’s like living in Hull at this point in time.
Setting ‘Broken Dreams’ in my home city brings certain challenges. Although I’m not prepared to turn a blind eye, I don’t want to run anybody or certain areas down. If Joe is in what might be described as one of the rougher parts of the city, I don’t want to make a name for the place up, but equally I don’t want to stigmatise it in print either. I simply don’t name it. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, though. I’ve lived in Hull all my life, so I know the city well and that gives me an insight and a feel I simply don’t have for other cities. The most fun part is that I can interlock stories and characters as I go. The lead character in ‘Black and White’, DS Coleman, has a role in ‘Broken Dreams’, and it’s nice to have ready made characters to draw on when needed.
What sort of readers do you hope will find your book?
I really don’t discriminate when it comes to readers – all are welcome to read to ‘Broken Dreams’! I’ve spent the best part of four years writing seriously, and in that time I’ve published all my work for free on my website because I was determined to do something more constructive than just putting my stories in a drawer to gather dust. The Internet is great in this respect for new writers and I could give you a dozen names of excellent crime writers who publish this way. As a writer, it’s not without a bit of heartache, though. Looking back, I’d happily never see some of my early stuff again. What it did, though, was help me build a readership from day one. I’m proud that I’m still in touch with some of the people who read the very first stories and have followed things to this point. I think with ‘Broken Dreams’ I’m ready to step things up again. It’ll be available in bookshops and through all the new technologies. Hopefully, having a traditional publishing deal will open up my writing to a new and wider audience, and if anybody needs to try before they buy, there’s plenty of free stuff to read on my website. The bottom line is, I hope enough readers find my book to allow me to publish another.
When you aren’t writing, what do you read?
I’m mainly on a crime diet and always have been. Probably three out of every four books I read is crime. If I was to make a list of ‘must reads’, top of the list would be George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Ray Banks, Graham Hurley and Lee Child. To that, I could add countless names. I like a wide range of crime writers and I’ve always been a prolific reader. The one downside of taking my writing more seriously is that the reading has slowed down. I’m still always reading, it just takes longer to finish a book these days. I spent most of my twenties reading just for the pleasure of it, without so much as a thought about writing, but I think the range of crime novels I’ve soaked up has stood me in good stead as a writer. On my reading pile I have the latest from Mark Billingham, ‘Blood Line’, which is a real return to form, and David Peace’s ‘Occupied City’, which I’m sure like all his other books will be a difficult read, probably literally, but will show why he’s one of the finest writers around.
June 2, 2008
Last week, I interviewed a new talent in the fantasy writing field. Mark Murray is experienced in short story writing and runs the e-zine Arcane Twilight. Today’s post is a copy of his interview.
Tell us about Warders of the Gate. It’s part of a trilogy, correct?
Warders of the Gate is part of a planned trilogy, yes. With Warders of the Gate, I’ve set the stage for the war and introduced some main characters. The background to the warders is that elves have built four magical gateways from their world into the land of Rhillai. To keep the gates secure, the elves have magically altered humans into being able to shape-change into animals. These shape-changers are the warders for the gates and only they can open the gates.
Rhillai has nine duchies and two dwarven kingdoms. The duchies are ruled by a High King. But, the seat of the High King is vacant. Warders of the Gate sets up the war for someone to be High King. To make matters worse, a mage, Alisandra, has opened a gateway to another world to allow an evil army,
the Hylnan, to enter Rhillai. The second book, War of the Gates, deals with the alien Hylnan conquering everything in their path, five dukes uniting to take control of the other duchies and the gates because a one in five chance at High King is much better than one in nine, and lastly, there is one duke fleeing with her army to eventually join with a small band of dwarves, warders, and dragons. I have one strong female lead in Warders of the Gate with Alisandra, the mage behind letting the Hylnan through. And I have one strong female lead in War of the Gates with Duke Rachel Iorion.
But, the idea that I keep throughout the whole story is that no character is safe. Some will be killed.
In addition to novel writing, you are also an accomplished penner of short stories. Do you have a preference for writing short stories vs. novel length fiction?
I actually don’t have a preference right now. I continue to write both short stories and novels.
The hard part is finding the time to get them all done.
When you’re not writing, what do you read? I really love Robert B. Parker‘s writing. I’ve read all the Spenser novels at least twice and I’m trying to read the rest of the Jesse Stone series. I used to love to read fantasy, scifi, and horror, but now that I’m actually writing them, I find that I don’t read them as much. It’s weird. I used to go into bookstores and head straight for the fantasy/scifi section. Now, I tend to just roam around looking for something to pique my interest. And I read online forums that pertain to martial arts like aikido and kali/silat.
Let’s talk about craft a little bit. As a writer, do you prefer to tell your story in first person or third person…or does it depend on the work? Do you prefer single point of view or multiple point of view?
Um, yeah. I’m really bad about first/third person and single/multiple views. For me, it does depend on
the work or story. And after reading tons of books from unknown authors to bestsellers, I’ve seen all
kinds of variations. That tells me, in the end, that what matters isn’t the view but the story being told. If you can convey a great story in just first person, it’s still a great story. If you can convey a great story
using variations, it’s still a great story.
What are you working on now? Do you ever find yourself working on multiple projects?
I’m working on:
1. War of the Gates, the next book in the Rhillai series.
2. The second book to Power Play, no title yet. Power Play is mysecond written novel,
but it hasn’t been published yet.
3. A western novel, no title yet.
4. Short stories for DargonZine.
5. I have a horror novel started, but it is on hold right now because of the above projects. I have a scifi story in my head that’s been waiting years (probably ten or so) for me to sit down and type it out. So, yes, I work on multiple projects. I have stories floating around in my head that stay there until I type them out. And I don’t write with pen or pencil or typewriter. I’ve never been able to do that. I’m weird that way. I can only type them onto a computer.
Tell us about your web-zine Arcane Twilight. How did it come to be?
I was writing for DargonZine and wanted another outlet for stories. DargonZine is a great place to write, but it is a shared world and as such has boundaries. Stories are set within that shared world. If anyone ever wants some great experience with writing, including getting your stories critiqued by all other writers, then DargonZine is a great place to be. My writing improved dramatically because of DargonZine. So, yes, I plug it when I can because of the value. On the down side, if you want to write scifi or horror, you have to go
elsewhere. So, another writer, Carlo Samson, and I decided to start an E-Zine for fantasy, scifi, and horror stories. In fact, we’ve even showcased artwork. Arcane Twilight was started as a personal outlet for writing other stories and it grew from there. You mention you are working on several other projects, including
Do you find you prefer writing in one genre over another?
So far, not really. With fantasy, I don’t have as much research to do. With the western, I had quite a bit more but that’s because there are real events, real places, and real people in the setting. You just can’t make it all up like in fantasy. While I don’t have a preference, I am finding that other genres can have significantly more research time.
Do you still have a “day job?” or have you attained what all writers want…the ability to write full time?
It would be great to write full time, but alas, I’m still one of the majority that has a day job. I’m thankful that it’s mostly Monday-Friday though. I also have martial arts a minimum of four days a week and sometimes five. Toss in regular chores, family time, book signings, seminars, etc and I really could use more hours in the day.
Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for writers working toward getting published?
I’ve found two major things. The first is keep writing. I know it’s silly and it’s what a lot of other authors say, but it’s a basic truth. Most professional athletes practice insane hours of the day and week. Olympic level athletes go beyond that. Top tier musicians live and breathe their work. Why should writers be any different?
Enter contests, write for fun, join a writing group, submit pieces for publication, take a writing class, etc. I sent a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley long, long ago for her MZB Fantasy magazine. It was rejected, but MZB sent a handwritten note in the return letter. I had understood exactly what my story was about, but as a new writer, I didn’t let that come through in the story. Naturally, MZB hadn’t understood the story either, but her reply helped me to realize my errors. I kept writing and trying to get better, but had I not sent that in, then I might not have realized I had a big hole in my writing.
The second is don’t give up. Just because a publishing house has rejected your work doesn’t necessarily mean it is badly written or not worth publishing. Publishing houses are businesses and they look for specific trends to publish. Your piece might not fit that trend rather than it being horribly written.