Friday, November 30, 2007

Mysterious, Suspenseful Music

For some reason, I can't listen to music while reading, but occasionally, it's the perfect thing when I write. Especially if it's an intense scene.

I've searched and searched for the right mood music, and I'm always looking for recommendations.

So far, what I have for those piercing places in my manuscript is a CD from Jerry Goldsmith. It's the soundtrack for Deep Rising.(If this link doesn't work for you, the CD is available through Amazon.) I admit I discovered the music while working with the television on in the background. Boy, did it catch my ear!

Some other recommendations (not all of which I've listened to, and none of which I've written to) include: anything with a theramin (sounds like a pill doesn't it? but it's pretty spooky); Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique: The Dream of a Witches' Sabbath; Mussorgsky, Night on Bare (Bald) Mountain; Rachmaninov, Isle of the Dead; Saint-Saens, Danse Macabre; Weber, Der Freisch├╝tz - Wolfsschlucht scene; Funeral March of a Marionette (the Alfred Hitchcock theme); a Manheim Steamroller double CD called Halloween; the Funeral March by (?)Chopin; The Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt. I just wish Pandora had a larger classical selection!

What about you? Do you have some favorite mysterious, suspenseful music?

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I've Been Attacked!

Okay, this is the IM picture I have to let people know it's me. I guess you can say I'm a simple person, compelled to do certain things, and easily caught. *grin*

But this picture is here only because I'm accessing you guys through my laptop which I'm glad (I think) isn't networked to my desktop, and from which I can't latch onto my stash of pictures. {sigh}

Yesterday morning, I was going about my business, checking routine overnight email. When I was compelled to click on a link (in a routine email) I was immediately connected to a porn site, caught, and my day went downhill from there. Anyone in the world, who didn't know me, would take a look at my computer and believe I had serious moral and ethical issues.

Ugly.

So, I got our IT guy out. Tupper got at least one other call while he was here concerning something similar. A virus is going around, and I wasn't sufficiently immunized.

Are you? (And Mac users . . . don't be too smug. Your day is coming.)

NOTE TO EVERYONE: NEVER, IN A MOMENT OF PANIC, DOWNLOAD ANYTHING ONTO YOUR COMPUTER THAT IS URGING YOU TO DO SO. NEVER. NOT EVER. ASK YOURSELF HOW IN THE WORLD SOMEONE KNOWS WHAT'S GOING ON WITHIN THE PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN COMPUTER. (This is what will be known as a "Tupperism" from this point forward in my life.)

Okay. So how could I use this, fictionally speaking? What my heart desires is a program that acts like a boomerang and attacks the attacker. Wouldn't that be cool? Tupper tells me that in real life, even the most sophisticated protection companies are always about two steps behind the bad guys.

But what if . . .

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Interview with KELLY IRVIN

I'm pleased to bring my friend and writing buddy, Kelly Irvin to you "live" today.

SN: Kelly, welcome! You've written a number of manuscripts. Tell us about them.

KI: If you don't count the two I've written and put in a drawer, I've completed five manuscripts and I've two partials that are still twirling around in my brain, waiting to be finished. All are romantic suspense/suspense.

SN: I know you've finaled in writing contests. What are your thoughts about those?

KI: I have a love-hate relationship with contests. They can be incredibly helpful in getting feedback on your manuscripts, but that feedback can be very painful sometimes. Once in a while, when you see your name on a list of finalists, they offer a great sense of affirmation that you're on the right track. Of course, they also offer unpublished authors the opportunity to get their work in front of editors and that's important.

SN: Are critique groups important?

KI: I would not still be writing after five years if it were not for the encouragement and kick-in-the-rear get-going support of my critique group. It's important to find the right critique partners, the ones who give you loving criticism. My critique group is my sounding board and they reel me in when I get carried away so they don't just critique my words, they help me keep my manuscripts on track.

SN: When did you decide to get an agent and how did you find one?

KI: I went to conferences to pitch and the pressure was so intense when I realized that was my only opportunity to get my work in front of houses that don't take unsolicited manuscripts. I can't afford to go to several conferences a year. I needed an agent to shop my work year-around. I sent proposals to agents the same way I did to publishing houses. Several turned me down, but I kept trying until the right one came along.

I found Mary Sue Seymour, of the Seymour Literary Agency, on a web site that listed reputable agents. She represented mainstream authors, primarily, but she was looking to focus her client list more toward the CBA. I sent her an email query, she asked for a proposal, and then a full manuscript. And then offered me a contract.

SN: Is there a character in one of your manuscripts who you can most closely relate to? Did that character impact you in some way?

KI: I would have to say Piper Martinez. She's the main character in the manuscript that's in the drawer and she appears as a secondary character in several others. She's a working mother and wife whose spouse is her polar opposite. She struggles between a calling to ministry and a husband who'd rather have her safe at home. She lost her first baby to a miscarriage. She's independent, yet she still longs for approval. The thing I learned from Piper's ongoing story is to never underestimate the power of love--earthly or Fatherly.

SN: What's the number one thing you've learned about writing?

KI: It's easy for someone like me, being a former newspaper reporter by trade, to put a bunch of words on paper. That doesn't make it good literature. I didn't start seriously writing fiction until I turned 45. In two months, I'll be 50. Many times I've wanted to quit. I can't. The sheer joy I feel when I'm "in the zone" and the story is rolling from my fingertips is too intoxicating. Like every fiction author I know, I want to be published. Whether that happens or not, I will always be a writer. God wired me that way.

SN: What do you know now that you wish you'd known before you started sending manuscripts to publishing houses?

KI: How important the marketing component is. I'm in public relations. You'd think that would have been first on my mind. Now I realize how critical it is to brand myself and my work in order to make sure I stand out from the crowd. My position line is Salsa Suspense . . . San Antonio Style, a reflection of the multicultural diversity and regional color found in most of my work. Having a hook is so important in today's crowded publishing world. Showing the editor that you're ready, willing and able to market yourself earns you additional points. You've got to write a good novel first, but don't stop there. Show your willingness to help sell it.

SN: Wow, Kelly. I love that position line. What are you working on now?

KI: I'm editing "The Dead Parent Society", which recently placed second in The Molly Contest sponsored by the Heart of Denver Romance Writers. It's a mainstream suspense novel I want to enter in the Minotaur Crime Writing Contest, which has a December deadline. I'm also trying to finish "High Note", which is a sequel to "False Note", currently under consideration by a CBA publisher. If it sells, I'd like to have "High Note" ready to offer.

SN: Congratulations on being so close. I hope we have something to celebrate soon! What are your future plans?

KI: To keep writing. To start a new series with a new slate of characters I've yet to meet. To sell the half dozen short stories I never seem to have time to market. I have two teenagers on the brink of starting college. When they've finished I want to go back for a masters in creative writing. (Shh! That's a secret my husband doesn't know!)

SN: Don't worry, Kelly. I won't tell anyone. *grin* Do you have any favorite resources that might help other writers?

KI: I love reading writing magazines because they make me feel connected to other writers. I also highly recommend ACFW to any newbie writers out there. A sense of community is so important. My favorite new resource is for suspense/crime writers. It's called Police Procedure & Investigation, A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland.

SN: Great leads there. Thanks, Kelly. How about research?

KI: Since I write crime-based fiction, a lot of my details come from being a contract proofreader for four court reporters who work felony courts here in San Antonio. I've read capital murder trials, sexual assaults, etc., which means medical examiners, ballistics experts, DNA experts, police officers, homicide detectives, gang members, etc., testify and I get so much of my technically correct details from that. Having been a reporter and having a TV news photographer as a spouse also help in that regard. I'm a fanatic about reading the newspaper and clipping anything that has to do with crime investigation, police procedures, or crime itself, so I can springboard story ideas from these real-life issues.

SN: What's your personal writing process?

KI: Since I work full time in public relations, I have very little free time for writing. I have to make every second count. There's not a lot of time for outlining or storyboarding. I get an idea. I put my behind in the chair and I write. Makes my critique partners a little crazy. Sometimes I write out of order. Makes them a lot crazy. The price I pay for this free-flowing style is that I spend a great deal of time editing and rewriting. But when a character is in my head and he's telling me what's happening, I have to go with it or I lose that spark. It's almost like having hallucinations. It's bright, it's vivid, and the characters are alive--sometimes characters I didn't even know were in my story. I try to at least know what's coming two, three or four chapters ahead so I don't get stuck and I always know who did it and why. Just not always how.

SN: Kelly, thank you for chatting with us over your Thanksgiving break. And continued successes and growth in your writing!

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Death in Real Life


I'm sitting here tonight, thinking about the funeral service I'll be attending on Monday.

When someone dies, we get reminded of the finite part of this life. Of the limited amount of time we have to place our stamp and leave something behind--hopefully of an encouraging and enduring nature.

For many of us, we can put our faith in our Faith and go from there, with confidence in The Promise. But for those of us who have things about this life we love, we also think about what we'll leave behind--and miss.

Emotions as wild as any white-water rapid are tumbling through me right now. And today, more than ever, I want the words and deeds to comfort those most immediately effected by loss. No amount of knowledge of craft helps--I can only trust God to give them to me.

As novelists, in any genre, I suggest we not let these ideas fall far from our thoughts. To remember, especially in the midst of struggle, our larger-than-life hero and/or heroine, needs to run up against their own mortality and the kaleidoscope of thoughts they (we) often fight to squelch. Those very feelings are likely to make our writing more powerful and our readers more convicted in our characters, and thereby our story.

This task is not for the weak. I've written there before. You'll be calling up things from your gut you'd rather leave alone and buried. You'll cry until there are no more tears left, and you feel sucked of every atom that made you human. You'll wonder where some of the words and feelings came from--certainly not from you.

But in the end, you'll be better for it. Even if those words, from your depths, end up on the cutting room floor. There are times for restraint, and times for letting loose. If you need to cut, fine--you've vented. If it works with your story and you can keep it, you have something that will touch your reader.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Book Review: RESTITUTION by Lee Vance

Peter Tyler has a high-powered Wall Street career. He's ambitious. A real guy's guy. Married to his college sweetheart. His life looks solid. Ordered. Easy.

On the surface.

But there are cracks--weak places in his character and his history. As his marriage struggles, he finds himself increasingly attracted to the sister of his best friend, Andrei. A one-night stand with her leaves him conflicted, but before he can sort it out, his wife is murdered in their home and he's suspect number one. When it's discovered that a package sent by Andrei is the only thing missing from the murder scene, Peter believes Andrei is the key.

Only the package isn't the only thing missing. Andrei is too.

In order to prove his innocence and find his wife's killer, Peter goes underground. Bitter cops, greed, vengeance, ruthless pillars of society, and the Russian mob all conspire to put obstacles in Peter's way as he fights to save his own life and find the truth.

An amazing first novel. The pace is relentless, the plot serpentine, and the writing tight. Vance hints at the rewrites and efforts he made to bring a winner to the market. They paid off. Restitution is fabulous, and one of my top reads for 2007.

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Regular Joe, Not G.I. Joe

This is a picture of the Terra-cotta Warriors being unearthed in Xian, China--the closest I could come on short notice. It does show the "multitudes" and no individuality. Sort of what this post is about.

Not to take one iota away from Veterans Day and the special recognition it brings to every American, there's something I want to share with you. My writing buddy, Wanda Dyson, recently posted this article on Keep Me In Suspense. She has generously agreed to let me reprint it here.

Heroes: To FBI or Not to FBI

Go to any bookstore. Any one. Your choice. Pull any 25 suspense/mystery titles down off the shelf and find out what the hero does for a living. How many do you think will NOT fall into the category of: Cop, FBI, Detective, Seal, Special Forces, Mercenary, or Elite something-or-other? That’s right. Not many. One or two… maybe.

And editors are tired of seeing the same-old thing coming across their desks.

When editors ask to see something different…they really do mean DIFFERENT. They want to see everyday people become heroes, not heroes doing another heroic thing. They want to see the guy next door get in over his head and make it out by the skin of his teeth.

I had the opportunity to chit-chat with several editors in Dallas at the ACFW conference. They were talking about being snowed under with the same old stuff. If it’s a legal thriller, ya gotta have a lawyer. If it’s a medical thriller, there’s going to be a doctor. But if it’s a suspense novel, why does it HAVE to be a cop, a detective, or some other law enforcement/military trained hero taking the lead?

I almost asked them how they would take to having the ex-mercenary hero break his leg in the first chapter and his geek brother have to take over… but I restrained myself. The editors were serious. They’re looking for something different. They want to see something OTHER THAN a cop, a detective, a soldier, a SEAL, a mercenary go up against impossible odds and walk away a better person for it. They want to see a regular guy (or gal) quake in his tasseled loafers at the prospect of defeating the force that is coming against him. Then they want to see him win in spite of himself.

Now, I say all this and I’m in the middle of writing a three-book series for Waterbrook about…. drumroll please…bounty hunters. But at least it’s a little bit different. And trust me…these bounty hunters are no “Dog the Bounty Hunter” types.

But next time you sit down and put together a suspense novel proposal with the beautiful girl, the evil villain, and the cop, scratch through the cop and write in “Phil Smith, car mechanic by day, bowling fanatic by night”… or “Tommy Harris, Starbucks Manager.” You might just get a request for the entire manuscript…

Wanda Dyson (www.wandadyson.com)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's On Your Nightstand?

I'm forever wanting to know what everyone is reading. My husband says I'm nosey. I say I simply love books--and readers of books.

Okay, yeah . . . that's not my nightstand. Just one of our many bookcases. (That's a picture of George and I with Desmond Tutu--a keeper.)

Every book in this case I've read. Our bedroom is the realm of TBR (To Be Read) books. Now that I review books from time to time, there's always something to read. I remember going through withdrawal if I didn't have at least five books waiting for me. It's a sickness.

New authors I've found . . . Robert Liparulo, Brandt Dodson, John Sandford (yeah, I came late).

Old faves: Mary Higgins-Clark, Colleen Coble, Brandilyn Collins, Wanda Dyson, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, Frank Peretti, and on and on and on.

What's triggering your late night reading sessions these days? And why? (I truly am an old snoop--but a genuinely interested snoop.)

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 9, 2007

CONFLICT!!!



This is a picture of my husband standing in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 2004. Certainly not filled with conflict on our visit, but very few people (who are old enough anyway) have forgotten what happened in that place in 1989.

To me, the Tiananmen Square Massacre was an external conflict directly resulting from internal conflict.

Huh?

It's very clear what the external conflict was in 1989. Threat of death will do it every time. But what about the guy who stood up in front of all of those guns and tanks? Do you think he didn't have any internal conflict going on? Zowie. He had to have struggled (at least a little human-bit) between staying safe and doing what he knew in his heart was the right thing. Could there be any greater internal conflict?

Every novelist needs to make sure there's struggle. Otherwise, what reader will be interested?

There's an old writer's adage of picturing the gorilla in the phone booth to understand the idea of conflict. I would add to that. The gorilla in the phone booth is supposed to be picking up his daughter from daycare at that very moment, and his wife doesn't respect him anymore because he did "x", and he's not sure he's got the moxy to fix it.

We were in Russia a few years before we went to China. The people of Russia are amazing, and both their internal and external struggles are easy to figure out, at least superficially. Make sure your conflict can, at some point, be easily understood by your reader. Make sure it matters to them, and that they can identify on some level.

What are the internal and external conflicts in the story you're writing? The one you're reading? Thinking about these things can only add depth to the experience to both you as the writer, and the person you're engaged to entertain.

Just remember . . . if you're writing a story, until you put the words to the paper, the conflict doesn't exist.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Book Review: THE LOST SHEEP by Brandt Dodson

Colton Parker is an ex-cop, ex-FBI guy, who is trying to put his life back together after the death of his wife. His faith is, shall we say, less than stable. And a solid faith is what he's going to need if he wants to save the life of someone he loves--his daughter.

Callie has run away from home. More than that, Callie has been lured to Las Vegas, into a world where darkness rules and lies abound. From prostitution to the occult, this is a story that will keep you absorbed.

According to the publicist piece that came with the book, "Readers of the first three Colton Parker Mysteries will devour this latest entry in the fast-paced and highly recommended series."

I beg to differ.

This was the FIRST Colton Parker Mystery I've ever read and I loved it! Although this is the fourth (duh), it's also a stand-alone and you can enjoy this without knowing all the details of what came before.

Don't let this one get away. It's a fast read because it's compelling and well written. I'm off to find the rest of the series . . .

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Economy of Words

This picture has nothing to do with the topic--I just like it. And by letting it sit a bit I've managed to convince myself it works. Oy. The imagination of a writer . . .

I belong to an online group called Booked for Breakfast. Suzanne Beecher provides snippets of soon to be released books from one publisher, Monday through Friday.

This week we've been peeking in on the new Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year, available November 30th.

There's one line that made me drop my donut. It's only eight words, but those eight words paint a whole picture. Here they are:

"His face was a snarl of knotted threats."

Man, oh man. I would love to be able to string together a few words that speak volumes.

Wouldn't you? Do you have a favorite?

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Not Exactly a Walk in the Park


I love living near a groomed city park and a wilder state park. I take frequent walks and enjoy myself, playing with dogs in one, and watching deer in the other.

But some parts of writing are not exactly a walk in the park.

What's the hardest part for you? Is it coming up with an idea? Strong characterization? Dialogue? Staying in a consistent POV or resisting spilling backstory on every page?

Mine is the first draft. Accomplishing that is like giving a long, agonizing and emotional birth. And at the end? Well, for me, what I end up with is not much more than a fat outline. One that needs diapering, and feeding, and nurturing.

What comes next is filling in the scenes, shifting the plot where it needs to be shifted, and creating something that works and is exciting. Way easier said than done. But way easier--for me--than the first draft.

What's a suspense novel without pacing? That means I end up with a lot of Nobel-prize winning words on the cutting room floor. (You'll have to trust me on that one.) Even with just a fat outline, I can overdo what should be underdone. I live for the day when I can write pretty much straight through with very little leftover.

In the meantime, I think I'll go for a walk.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book Review: COMES A HORSEMAN by Robert Liparulo


FBI Agents Brady Moore and Alicia Wagner are seasoned investigators. While Brady prefers to apply his expertise behind a desk, Alicia hungers for the action of the hunt. Too bad for Brady--they're in the middle of one of the most complicated--and deadly--hunts of their lives.

Convinced a serial killer is acting out some bizarre drama, Moore and Wagner search for anything to link the victims beyond their manner of death. The trail they follow takes them on an international hunt and pulls them into a web of a secret society dating back a thousand years.

From Colorado, to Virginia, to New York, to Italy and the Vatican, to Israel and ancient Jerusalem, the agents find themselves drawn into labyrinths of conspiracy and murder, becoming targets of the evil they seek to destroy.

If you're squeamish, consider passing on this thriller. But if you like Dekker, Peretti, Alcorn, King, or simply feel like taking a walk somewhere on the wild side, get your hands on Comes A Horseman by Robert Liparulo.

This one is big screen material from the get-go, with diabolical plot twists that make sense, non-stop action, and a visual ride that doesn't slow down.

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.