Friday, August 27, 2010

Flipping the Series

I hate when I get a series out of order.

For those of you who haven't read Timothy Hallinan yet, get yourselves in gear and start with A Nail Through the Heart. I've mentioned (in passing) the intriguing setting, the amazing writing, the deep characterization and the page-turning plot. What's left?

One thing.

I read Nail on my Kindle. For those of you who have acquired e-books, you may have noticed the formatting can pull you out of the story and either cause you to emit a few choice words, or at the very least, cause you to squeeze your eyes closed, apply fingertips to forehead and rub. Hard.

Just so you know, I have enough wrinkles and strange skin. I don't need to be doing that rubbing thing very often.

In addition to the master of Timothy Hallinan, I am giving immense kudos to Harper-Collins e-books for taking the time and trouble to format in a manner that never—not once—detracted my attention from the story. Except for the couple of times when I noticed how wonderful the reading experience was thanks to their efforts. They are to be congratulated for a job well-done. If only . . .

But now to that 'in order' thing. I was sitting out on my main deck, a glass of a wonderful red wine blend ready to enjoy, when events caused me to understand that what I thought was the second in the series is actually the third. And I've already ordered the hard-cover edition of the second (that I thought was the third) and it's making its long, non-Kindle, journey to me now.


CR: Who knows. But I will have to find something.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

OT: More Comic Relief

You know I love dogs. And smart dogs are among the most amazing creatures on the planet.

The manuscript I'm working on involves some pretty impressive canines, so in a way, I feel a bit like I'm continuing work when I sit back and watch this video.

These three beautiful shepherds are not only intelligent and well-mannered, they're bi-lingual.

Take a break. Enjoy the fun.

Belly up to the bar.

CR: A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan. I love this book and must be sure to get the second in the series before I finish this one. Writing, characterization, setting, story . . . this has everything!

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fail Better

(OT Note: Congratulations to Heather Spiva who won the book/bag/lip gloss package from Brenda Novak.)

My favorite bit of advice from Christopher Farnsworth in this interview:

Put your heart and soul into creating the best story you can. Fail. Pick yourself up and go again. Next time, FAIL BETTER.

And between you and me, I like the idea of keeping vampires scary.

I'm just sayin'.

CR: Shadow Dance by Julie Garwood. (Needed something a little light and easy. This works.)

It's all better with friends.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Guest Blogger: Brenda Novak . . . What Writer's Block?

We're in an unusually busy period of time at our house. Our oldest granddaughter just graduated from law school. Her new firm has offered her a 2-year stint in London, so her start date has suddenly moved up from November to September. We'll miss her at our vow renewal ceremony in September (also taking a huge amount of planning), but want to plug in as much time with her as possible. We also just moved my mother-in-law to a new home (that doesn't involve stairs, but does involve time and window coverings) as well as my Palisade Peach project for the Wild Animal Sanctuary and my Citizen's Police Academy training that begins tomorrow night. We have friend get-togethers planned (that we wouldn't miss for the world) and one special event (an artist's reception) for the Significant Other of a special long-term friend we haven't seen in years.

This is not a 'down' period. I'm just sayin'.

Brenda Novak has graciously offered a guest post, and I've taken her up on it. Brenda is a best-selling novelist who is also a tireless advocate for diabetes research.

Please join me in (thankfully) welcoming Brenda to Suspense Novelist.

Oh . . . and she has a special giveaway to one lucky person who places a comment. An autographed copy of one of her books, a special gift bag, and a wonderful lip gloss. So if ever there was a reason to comment, this is it. If you have something to say about writer's block, this would be the time.

One question I get asked more than any other is whether or not I ever get writer's block. That dread inability to produce so often depicted (comedically and otherwise) in the media strikes fear into the heart of any writer at the mere mention of it. But I don’t believe in writer’s block as something that can inexplicably steal my muse and thwart all my efforts to turn out a good book. There are days when I get stuck, however, when my scenes seem to be turning to drivel or I can’t get them to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are methods I can use to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and examine it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”

I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing each scene to see if it’s “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together and hash it out between us. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do or say things these types of characters would never do or say. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. And once I find the break, I can fix it simply by figuring out WHY is isn't working.

Sometimes my production will fall not because the story isn’t coming together but because I’m too distracted to concentrate properly, or I’m emotionally exhausted. At these times, I need to “fill the well” by reading for pleasure, listening to music I find deeply stirring and emotional, or reading quotes or poems that resonate with me. The musical score from Les Miserables fires me up every time. Same with Phantom of the Opera. Watching a good movie will also jumpstart my muse. My favorite is Last of the Mohicans. That emotional scene where the hero (played by Daniel-Day Lewis) is forced to leave the heroine (played by Madelyn Stowe) behind at the waterfall never fails to rejuvenate me. Taking a break to be with people helps, too. Laughter is a general cure-all.

The most important thing I can do when I run into a glitch in my story is to give myself time to work with it instead of overreacting. Panicking only makes it more difficult to fight through the rough patch. Occasionally, all I need to do is sleep. Somehow, my subconscious continues to mull over the problem--and when I get up in the morning, the path is once again clear.

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has three novels out this summer—WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT & KILLER HEAT. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May at To date, she’s raised over $1 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.

CR: Shadow Dance by Julie Garwood.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Next Scene, Anyone?

I've been talking off an on about how much I'm enjoying writing this new manuscript.

Preparation met creativity with this one.

I was attending a writer's conference late last year, and that strange combination of boredom and antsiness crawled under my skin. Know the one? I left the session I was attending, and wrote the gist of the idea by hand in my moleskine notebook in a quiet corner of the otherwise frantic main floor of the hotel. It was both calming and exciting. An altogether different combination that I loved.

It felt like destiny. Except that I had another manuscript I needed to finish. So, this one, a romantic suspense (my first) with some dogs as prime players (my heart) had to be shelved (until a couple of months ago).

I made myself pull the pieces together, because this one's a bit more layered and complicated than the first one I wrote. I did some research, and brainstorming with trusted friends. On my desk right now are 13 file folders ranging from Biological Threat Agents to NecroSearch to Prisons/Supermax to Timeline. Also on my desk are three reference books with sticky tags hanging out all over them, helping me get this thing done right. I hope.

So, I have notes and plot points and character studies . . . and the one thing that makes me stumble?

What will make the Best Next Scene?

I ended the last scene with one of the best hooks I've ever written. Seriously. I'm not sayin' it's the best hook anyone has ever written, it's just one of the best ones from moi. So, the following scene needs to be powerful.

I thought about jumping to the antagonist, but that would diminish that fabulous punch. And if I were a reader I might be ticked off. So, one more scene first. And it has to be amazing.

So, writers out there . . . how do you determine your next scene?

CR: Shadow Dance by Julie Garwood. (Have you checked out her website?)

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Noir With a Twist

What does a guy do when his dame is an English teacher?

Enjoy the interlude from Ramsey Bros. Pictures.

CR: Trying to find something to sink my teeth into. Coming up short. Thinking about a Jack Reacher . . .

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

When Detail Drains

I wrote about action scenes a while ago, but I've considered them even more in the last few days.

How does a writer transfer that amazing action scene from the screen (for real or in his or her mind) to the page? Some of those action scenes in a movie are awesome, and I almost hold my breath while they're taking place. I see every detail and it's all I can do not to call out. Have you experienced those? (I was lazy on Sunday and watched movies most of the day.)

Sadly, with many—if not most—novels that I read, these are one of the parts of the story that bore me. I find myself skipping over them, plucking out a word here and there to make sure there's nothing important happening that might force me to go back and read it carefully later.

What's with that?

As I mentioned in the earlier post, slowing down and developing details are important. But too much of either and you can kill the story. Trying to capture every nuance that is visually available on the screen becomes tedious and draining when you're throwing it out to your audience using only words.

How do you lift that tension-filled cinematic moment to the page?

I knew there had to be an answer.

Behind my back at this very moment is a bookcase with probably over sixty books related to writing. I like to think that somehow the brilliant advice and direction in each of them would somehow drill into the back of my head when I'm goofing around with emails, but alas, they require a more interactive approach.

Donald Maass is my 'go to' guy when it comes to most things writing, and he didn't fail me in The Fire in Fiction. In fact, I had conveniently highlighted it months ago when I first read it:

" . . . action, when related in strictly visual terms, feels flat. Handled objectively, it does not move us. Emotions are needed to give action force." (p. 198)

Yes! Exactly! So what does this mean . . . exactly?

Master Maass continues later:

" . . . tension in action comes not from the action itself but from inside the point-of-view character experiencing it." (p. 200)

(Note: This is also the first time I've seen a 'poor' example spelled out in a craft book. Nope. Not gonna tell you. You'll have to get your hands on a copy for yourself. But it begins on page 196.)

So, the way I interpret this is you reign in your broad cinematic view of the details to the sweat and fear and utter desperation in your POV character.

Slow it down, provide the details, but don't try to be a reporter on the scene. Be the character. This would be a perfect place for deep POV.

If there's something else, please share!

CR: Rain Gods by James Lee Burke. This one has really slowed me down. I'm considering shelving it for a bit because I'm sure it's me and not Mr. Burke. And, to be honest, there's been a lot of life going on at the moment.

It's all better with friends.