NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Club Love

I’ve done time in a book club or two. Friends from the neighborhood. Online with writer pals. Serious readers at the local college.
 
Every book group is different. Book discussions with other writers are always feisty. I love the way they lead me to the best of the latest thing out there. Because writers can be harsh critics, if they like something—I’d better check it out!

My “serious readers” book discussions are like “Continuing Ed” credits. They remind me of college English courses. Except, more fun because I’m not afraid of the teachers anymore! Popping into a discussion like this keeps me on my toes. It’s nice to touch base with a classic every now and then. (Even better when you can follow up with a trip to the latest film remake. Those costumes in Gatsby? Swoon worthy!)

Of course, my special love is my neighborhood book group. We’ve “grown up” together with our kids, dogs, work and dear, Dear Husbands. Our monthly meeting usually begins by covering family updates, local politics, general gossip and information trading on everything from handyman phone numbers to recipes. Don’t get us started about the local gardener’s blue eyes. It’ll be another half hour before we get around to discussing the book.

I don’t mind. Books are meant to be social. They are meant to be shared and discussed and mulled and praised and insulted. Some of that requires a little chatting and goofing off too. It’s not English class. It’s fun.
“The Book Group,” as we call ourselves, coordinates food to the book of choice. Great fun when the book is “Great Gatsby” & we get to try the Daisy Martini. But don’t get me started about “My Year of Meats” and the meat-fudge. Although, the phallic suckers for the “The Fanmaker’s Inquisition” bring on giggles to this day.

(Imagine the conversation that led to that special treat.
Gentle Reader to Shopkeeper: “Hi! I’d like 2 dozen penis pops, please. To go.”)

I love when the book spills over into food, or a trip to the movies, or someone brings in an artifact that is mentioned in the story. I love the way we bring the book to life as we meet together. And the strangest thing is, some of our best discussions happen when we really hate a book. (Or at least one of us does.) I got pelted with old shoes for suggesting “In the Cut” one month. But we had a great discussion about language and how it shapes/represents the dominant culture.  Jody Piccoult is a hot button. Some love her. Some, uh, not so much! But we had a great discussion of her book.

Do you participate in a book group? What do you love? What would you change?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO by Kathy Ivan

You're a writer. Why do you do it?

Is it for fame?

Money?

Prestige?

I love to tell stories but I'm not good at doing it face-to-face. If I know you, I can pretty much talk your ears off on just about any topic. I'll tell you all about the books I'm working on, what I've finished, and even stories I want to write but haven't had the time. If I don't know you . . . I'm a virtual clam. Hard to pry two words out of me, much less have me tell you an entire story.

But I can write it down.

I'm free to tell you (the reader, somebody I've never met) everything that makes a story complete and whole. I'll tell you about the main character, who he or she is, what they do for a living, and why they're driven or compelled to solve the mystery. I can expound about the villain, why he or she is mean, horrible and unrepentantly evil and gleefully relate all the dastardly things they do to make the hero and heroine's lives a continual nightmare.

There may be fights, car chases, or bombings. There will definitely be romance, falling in love and probably some sexy times along the way before the end of the book.

I can guarantee a happily ever after. How? Because I get to tell the story my way, in my words, just the way I want it. Isn't that why we write?

I got a letter from someone I don't know. In it they said: I read both of your books this weekend and I am impressed. I don't usually read romantic books, but I totally enjoyed them. Your characters were charming and really came to life for me. Thank you for entertaining me!

They were entertained! As a storyteller, there's no greater compliment. And when all the smoke has cleared and the final "the end" has been written, isn't that why we do what we do?

Monday, May 27, 2013

IN MEMORY--THE RIGHT TO KNOW

  

Funeral Ernie Pyle By USN via Wikimedia Commons 
     “News is history,” Mark Twain said, “in its first and best form.” In Washington D.C., at the Newseum, a spiral glass and steel sculpture—dedicated to the men and women who died while reporting the news—bears the names of over 2,246 journalists embedded in glass panels. As the morning’s first light appears, the memorial reflects the sun then tracks the passage of time until twilight.
     The first documented newspaper man to die was General James Maccubbin Lingan, in 1812. Lingan, a Revolutionary War veteran, was stomped to death in a Baltimore city jail. The General owned the Federal Republican, a newspaper that published an editorial two days after Congress declared war on England. The editorial stated that Americans should not involve themselves in the war of 1812—a “highly impolitic and destructive war.” After publication, rioters—equipped with axes and hooks—invaded the paper’s building and destroyed the printing presses. Publication of the paper was temporarily moved to Georgetown. On July 26, 1812, Lingan, Alexander Contee Hanson—the editor—and their friends, all carrying weapons returned to Baltimore. When darkness fell on July 27th, a mob surrounded the building. The Federalists, Lingan, Hanson and their fellow defenders persuaded to surrender were taken to jail—a day later, the rabble attacked the prison. Since that time Baltimore has been known as Mobtown.
     Elijah Parish Lovejoy, an American journalist, newspaper editor for The Saint Louis Observer and an abolitionist was murdered by a pro-slavery posse in Alton, Illinois on November 2, 1837.
     The first Associated Press journalist to die while reporting was Mark Kellogg in 1876. Kellogg died on the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana.
     On June 2, 1976, Don Bolles of the Arizona Republic was murdered when a car bomb was set by the Mafia outside the Clarendon Hotel.
      Veronica Guerin, a journalist from Dublin, began as a reporter with the Sunday Business Post and Sunday Tribune. She went directly to a source without considering any danger she might cause herself. Respected by both legitimate authorities and criminals, Guerin built close relationships with both. In 1994, she began to write about offenders for the Sunday Independent using pseudonyms for felons to steer clear of Irish libel laws. When she began to cover drug dealers she received numerous death threats and was murdered on June 26, 1996.
     Rachida Hammadi, an investigative reporter for Algerian State Television died March 31, 1995 after being gunned down by the radical Armed Islamic group. Her colleague, Horria Saihi of Le Matin wrote, “They aimed to silence you as a journalist...as an Algerian woman who hounded them daily by showing pictures of their barbaric crimes against innocent women.”
     Daniel Pearl, a journalist who worked as the South Asia Bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal was kidnapped when he went to Pakistan as part of the investigation into possible links between Richard Reid—the shoe bomber—and Al-Qaeda. He was beheaded by his captors on February 1, 2002.
     One of the most beloved and famous journalists to be killed in the line of duty was Ernie Pyle, a Scripps-Howard columnist who covered the front lines in World War II. Pyle’s stories were about average American soldiers and their courage. His writings brought the war home. Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper on April 18, 1945 on the island of Le Shima. “No man in this war,” President Harry Truman said, “so well told the story of the American fighting man.”
     The Journalist’s Memorial is updated and rededicated—several blank panes of glass wait to hold the names of reporters, editors, broadcasters and photographers who have died the preceding year in pursuit of the news, a free press and the peoples’ right to know. Last year twenty-four journalists died while covering the news.
They are remembered for their dedication to freedom.

Bests,
Elise


    
 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Forgive and... Remember?

I’m so jazzed to see my newest baby out in the world this week. I had a great time writing Living Dangerously. I’m a big fan of Hollywood and all things entertainment so to be able to write a little about it is always fun. One of the themes I use in many of my books is trust. Betrayal makes for great conflict and great stories come from great conflict.
 

Personally, I’m a pretty forgiving person. But, I’m also like an elephant and I never forget anything. So if someone lies to me or betrays me, I might forgive them, but I’ll always remember what they did to me. I’d hate to think I’m the only person out there with a memory for that sort of thing. (And it’s odd since I have a really cruddy memory with everything else!)  But sometimes, depending on the betrayal, I’m not sure I could be so quick to forgive. Take Sandra Bullock and Jessie James. After all the lying that Tiger Woods did to his wife, I imagined Sandra saying very casually, “Man, if my man did that, I’d leave him so fast his head would spin.” Then low and behold, she finds out her man did exactly the same thing and she’s probably thinking, “It’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Later, Dude.” I can’t imagine how hard that is, to put your total trust and faith in someone and have them lie to you. I’m sure everyone’s been through a certain version of that whether it was with a friend, family member or even a spouse. (Dare I say, former spouse?)

The question is, are certain lies easier to forgive than others? I happen to think so. Are certain lies more damaging than others? Absolutely. Do you have a line in the sand? A lie you can’t forgive? Or maybe the lie you can forgive once, but not twice?

That's my question for the blog, but before I go, I want to announce my other big news. Aside from this being my release week, it also begins the countdown for my next book, Against The Wall! One month from today, June 24, the first book in my High Stakes series goes on sale and I can't wait for it to be out. Today is cover reveal day, not only here but on my website and FB page. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I got sick!

We’re all so busy these days. Everyone I speak to complains of not having enough hours in the day. Sometimes it feels as if we run all day and get nowhere. As a writer, my mind is a constant chant of “I must do this, I must do that, I need to get this finished, I need to complete that…”. 

Apart from the obvious, like a decent daily quota of words to be written, there’s research to be done, blog posts to write, emails to reply to, sales figures to check (I know, I know), Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads to check out, accounts to be thought about, more blog posts to write, a website to update, more emails to answer - the list seems never ending. Apart from that lot, there are dogs to walk, groceries to buy, food to prepare, house to clean, bills to pay, car to service and so on. 

Other people have far more to deal with, like children to take care of, day jobs to cope with, and aging parents to care for. We're too busy. I'm always muttering "Busy, busy, busy..."

Then one day, I got sick. I went to bed feeling fine, my head full of what needed doing the next day, and I woke up feeling like death. I got out of bed, had a drink of water, and promptly returned to my bed and stayed there all day. I did the same the next day.

And guess what? Nothing happened. Truly. The world didn’t stop turning. My computer didn’t die from lack of use. Thunderbolts didn’t fall from the sky. No one starved. The dogs didn’t die. The house looks no worse than usual. Nothing happened.

Now that I’m back in the land of the living, I’ve decided that once a month, I’m going to have two pretend sick days. I won’t take to my bed, that would be far too boring, but I’m going to give myself permission to do nothing but please myself. After all, I know that the world won't  end.

What about you? I’m not wishing illness on any of you, but are you busy, busy, busy? Do you think you might benefit from a couple of pretend sick days now and again?

Monday, May 20, 2013

CODES, CONSPIRACIES & SYMBOLS, OH MY!

Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon thriller, Inferno, was released last Tuesday. I had it pre-ordered on Audible a month ago. Yes, I freely admit I’m a big fan. Ever since I first read the Da Vinci Code I’ve put Dan Brown on my auto buy list and developed a passion for books featuring codes, symbols, conspiracies, and secret societies. The Da Vinci Code was also a big influence on my own novel, The Paris Secret. Over the years there have been many Da Vinci Code like books I’ve enjoyed. Here are some of my favorites:

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse- July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig, stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth. Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade that will rip apart southern France, a young woman named Alais is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father. The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. Now, as crusading armies gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take a tremendous sacrifice to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe.


The Givenchy Code By Julie Kenner- a mind-bending code spawned from the mind of a madman...or maybe just a jealous ex. A desperate race through the cathedrals and hotels of New York City...with a teeny bit of time for shopping, it's true. An astonishing truth concealed for years, unveiled at last...with more than a little help from a super cute new guy. As if a recent breakup, scrounging for rent money, and lusting after designer shoes weren't enough, Melanie Prescott starts receiving obscure codes and clues from a menacing stranger. She attempts to solve the mysteries -- enlisting the help of a tall, dark, and handsome new friend -- with high hopes for the multimillion-dollar reward guaranteed at the end (handbags, sunglasses, and shoes, oh my!). That is, if she can survive the deadly game.

Juliet by Anne Fortier- twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key—one carried by her mother on the day she herself died—to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy. This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever—a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind.

Chasing Vermeer By Blue Balliet- When a book of unexplainable occurrences brings Petra and Calder together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect; an eccentric old woman seeks their company; an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has stumped even the FBI?

Enjoy!
Angela : )


Friday, May 17, 2013

Weather - Or Not


by Janis Patterson
Last night we had some terrible storms around here – tornadoes touched down all over the area, baseball sized hail, lots of destruction, and (worst of all) several people died. Fortunately my home and family was spared any real damage – a thorough drenching, small leak in the garage, some greenery down – but it was frightening for a while. Just listening to the area’s tornado sirens going consistently for over half an hour and hearing the trees slapping against the house was nerve-wracking enough.
Which brings me to my topic – weather. Do we ever really realize how much weather is a tool in our books? Yes, you can write a creepy mystery set in a nice suburban villa with brilliant sunshine, balmy breezes and the sound of children laughing in the yard next door. It’s been done, and done well, but to my mind it makes the story lose something. There are those who say the very normalcy of such a setting increases the tension, but I’m not one of them. My mind (no comments, now!) tends to discount danger inherent in bright, sunny days.
How much more disturbing is the low-hanging overcast sky, the shadowy house which no amount of light seems to illuminate completely, the wind scratching at the windows, a driving rain…
Perhaps less-than-perfect weather, night, darkness, shadows all ignite a feeling of unease in a primitive part of our brains. What we cannot see we cannot be prepared for. We are all hardwired to fear the unknown something that lurks in the dark. Did you have monsters under the bed in your childhood? I did. Did I every see them? Nope, but I knew they were there just the same. Sometimes, if I’m working on a particularly intense book, or it’s a stormy night and I’m alone in the house, they might still be there. I’m not going to crawl under and look, either!
Sometimes having an active imagination can be a curse.
Conversely, it’s very difficult to have a lighthearted comedic story set in that same dank and drear house – or shadowy urban alleyway – under lowering, stormy skies.
There’s a clichĂ© opening that Bulwer-Lytton used in the hyperverbal Victorian era – “It was a dark and stormy night…” Once I was beginning a new project (a Gothic mystery) and had the story pretty much pat, but could not get the beginning started until I really used “It was a dark and stormy night…” after which the story just rolled. When the book was finished I did go back and change it, not wanting to be an object of fun, but for my own personal uses it was invaluable. I do wish I could have used it, though…
Writers have a myriad of tools available to them, and the weather is one of the most effective. There’s nothing like it for setting mood and tone.
At least we can control the weather in our books. I would have loved to have been able to last night. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BOOKS THAT HELP YOU WRITE BETTER



My bookshelf has several well-worn books that I sometimes refer to while I am writing. Although I've been writing for many years, consulting with my one of my research or writing books often serves to remind me of certain things I need to do to jump-start my thinking or figure out a puzzling scene. I no longer need to consult some of the books as much as I used to since I've absorbed a great deal of the lessons and information over the years. But it's always nice to know my trustworthy books are on my shelf should I need them.

I have books that help me define a character arc, sort out weapons, determine proper police procedure, and yes, even accurately describe historical underwear. Other books remind me how to pick up the pace of a sagging middle, how to create a good hook, and how to refuel my fickle Muse.

For all you writers out there--what books do you return to time and again for advice, research and clarity? It just so happens I've got a bit more space on my bookshelf to add a few more!  

Here's a list of a few of my favorites:


The Writer’s Journey by Chistopher Vogler

On Writing by Stephen King

The New Hacker's Dictionary by Eric S. Raymond

How To Write a Damn Good Novel, I and II, by James N. Frey

How to Write & Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier and Frances Spatz Leighton 

Police Procedural:  A Writer’s Guide to the Police and How They Work by Russell Bintliff

Cause of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder and Forensic Medicine by Keith Wilson

Armed and Dangerous:  A Writer’s Guide to Weapons by Michael Newton

The History of Underclothes by C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington

 How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card  

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron 

 How to Write, Recite, and Delight in All Kinds of Poetry by Joy Hulme and Donna Guthrie


Monday, May 13, 2013

The problem with series


I don’t think of myself as a series reader, let alone a series writer. I tend to prefer the stand alone novel, starting fresh with every new story: new premise, setting, characters.

In spite of this, I have followed SaraParetsky’s private eye character, V.I. Warshawski, in many of her adventures. And I have loved following Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache in his quest to solve murders in Three Pines. Lately, I’ve been reading everything of Charles Todd’s that I can get my hands on, especially his Inspector Rutledge series. And I’ve certainly enjoyed the series penned by my NYUS colleagues.

Back in the day, I used to watch Jessica Fletcher solve murder after murder in Cabot Cove. Since then, I’ve followed the various CSI shows, the DCI Banks, the Midsomer Murders, the Poirots…

And then I found myself writing not one, but two series: the Mendenhall Mysteries and the A’lle Chronicles.
 

So really, with all these series, how can I say I don’t like them? Maybe it’s because I get tired of the same quirks that originally charmed me. Or maybe there isn’t enough growth in the characters from book to book. Or maybe I just get bored. I’ve lost interest in V.I., and the last Inspector Gamache story made me question my devotion. And frankly, Rutledge does way too much driving around in his little roadster. How can I avoid the same pitfalls in the series I’m writing?

I can’t speak for other writers, but I’ve discovered that writing a series can be challenging. Just keeping track of the recurring details like a character’s eye colour, type of car he or she drives, or admitted likes and dislikes within one story is hard enough. Trying to remember from one book to another while growing my characters, now that can be daunting. Tables become involved. Charts, even. You have to be organized.

Maybe I have a short attention span as a reader, and not so much as a writer. Maybe I’m fickle in my reading, or just can’t commit. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right series. What are your favourite mystery series? And what is it about them that keeps you coming back?


Friday, May 10, 2013

If the pen is mightier than the sword...

www.zenithgallery.com/

... what happens when the pen is the sword?


I have no insights today, only questions.

We have a common bond on this blog. We're all suspense writers of one form or another, and if you're like me, you've done research that's taken you dark places. But speaking for myself, while some of the research gave me nightmares, I've always had a clear understanding that I write fiction. I create events and people that aren't real.

While the news has been non-stop lately with horrible acts of terror and victimization, two conversations this week have resonated in unexpected ways. Two writing friends shared events that were keeping them awake at night. Men they knew, people they'd gone to lunch with, worked with, thought they knew, had snapped and lashed out. The men killed others, including their wives, and then took their own lives. In both situations, my friends were shaken—hadn't seen the potential for violence, any evidence of mental illness—and were grieving.

I write about law enforcement professionals and amateur sleuths who put themselves in harm's way to bring villains to justice. I've read your books and know your characters take similar paths. But this intrusion of real life into the fictional world has made me wonder. We complain about violent video games and their impact on the kids who play them. Are we writing novels that desensitize people to violence or murder?

What do you think? Does the experience in reading a novel evoke different emotions than the hands-on, visceral experience of a video game? Do we need to dial down the violence? Or does horror rule?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Five Mystery Novels Every Mystery Writer Should Read


One of first -- and best – pieces of advice an aspiring mystery writer receives is the instruction to read widely within the genre. Not only is this good advice, it’s enjoyable advice, so it’s a rare thing to find a mystery maven who isn’t on speaking terms with Dame Christie and couldn’t, at least, pick Mr. Chandler out of a lineup.

 

That said, it’s only natural that most mystery authors primarily read their contemporaries. After all, reading one’s contemporaries kills two birds with one stone: it’s a means of keeping one’s fingers on the pulse of prospective publishers, and it’s a means of keeping one’s eye on the competition.

 

Mystery fiction has changed a good deal since the Golden Age, and it’s true that many books which were bestsellers in the good old days wouldn’t make it over the publisher’s transom now. That still leaves hundreds, if not thousands, of crime classics in every conceivable sub-genre.

 

For example:

 

The Three Coffins (1935) by John Dickson Carr - Carr is the universally acknowledged master of the Locked Room mystery, and The Three Coffins is arguably his most famous contribution to the genre.

 

The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey - One of the first and all time best cold case files. The fact that the detection is performed through examining historical documents, deductive reasoning, and using intuition while the sleuth is flat on his back in a hospital bed makes this feat all the impressive.

 

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier - A little bit thriller, a little bit gothic, a little bit murder mystery, and a lot romance: this one has it all. It’s the original bestseller crossover. If you haven't read Rebecca, I am shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you. And Mrs. Danvers is shocked too.

 

The Moon-Spinners (1962) by Mary Stewart - The gold standard for romantic suspense. An exotic location, a handsome and mysterious man in a world of trouble, a smart, witty, capable heroine thrust into dangerous and confusing circumstances.  Stewart perfected the formula.

 

No Good From A Corpse (1944) by Leigh Brackett - Classic PI novel in the Chandler tradition with one difference. Leigh Brackett was female. This is practically a step-by-step How To Write Hardboiled Detective Fiction.

So these are my recommendations. What are some of yours?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hidden Talents

I've always had a bit of a split personalty. Oddly, growing up I was evenly divided between the schools of art and science (not an uncommon phenomenon but a shame that we are forced to choose between them at such a young age). How I ended up as a writer, I don't know :)

So, knowing my NYUS peeps are equally amazing outside of writing, I thought I'd showcase a few of our hidden talents :)

The amazing J Wachowski studied film in college. She says she drives her family crazy waiting to finish framing something just right…

 The lovely Elise Warner dabbles in with paints--I love the freshness and vibrancy of this picture!
 The very talented Cathy Perkins creates something I've always admired--fused glass!
This is a before with layers of glass and burn out fiber...
 This shows the fused piece although not the full 3D glory or iridescence
 And another piece--(my favorite!) displayed on her hubby's homemade table!

Clare London is a woman of many talents from making Barbie doll clothes to glass painting, but here is an example of one of the scrapbooks she's made for a fellow author's birthday. What a great idea!
 

Okay, okay! Here's some of my stuff--Toni Anderson. I don't have much on the walls or at home, I tend to give everything away :) I did this pastel for my hubby years ago :) You're going to figure out we're fishy people, if you didn't already know.



 Here are two seascapes I did last summer (after a few years gap). They aren't really finished yet but rather 'works-in-progress'.


And one more passion I have is gluing stuff to mirrors :) I should have been a hippy!
 
 So--thanks for my amazingly talented NYUS writers for sharing another part of their lives with us! What do you think? Should we give up the day jobs?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Whoops!



I’ve done something terrible. No, I haven’t murdered my husband (yet!). I didn’t wear black shoes with white pants, or eat a double serving of death by chocolate. It’s way more serious than that.

I feel really bad admitting this, but the brutal fact of the matter is that I submitted a manuscript with too many characters in it.

There I’ve said it!

In my own defence, it was the third in a four-book series and some of the characters I brought into it were family members from the previous two. I don’t know about you, but if I read a series, I do like to know what’s going on in the lives of the characters I’ve already met. My editor argued that it would be too confusing for people who might not have read the previous two books. Worse, none of these characters drove the story forward.

She’s right, as always. Even so, as I reader I do like to get the full…well, story. Since we’re talking about my series of Regencies, The Forsters, let’s take a moment to think about arguably the best-known Regency romance in the world, Pride and Prejudice. I really would like to have known more about Caroline Bingley’s reaction when Lizzie and Darcy got hitched. I’d give an awful lot to know how Wickham felt at the time, too. Yes, I know, there are trillions of books out there written by modern authors who tell me all of that, but I’d like to have heard it from Jane’s own pen.

Anyway, there were no such problems with the second book in the series, Beguiling the Barrister, released by Carina in June. This is a Regency courtroom drama, set against the backdrop of the famous Old Bailey Courthouse.

England 1814. Flick- more properly known as Lady Felicity Forster - was twelve when she decided she was going to marry her handsome neighbour, Darius Grantley. Now, embarking on her second season, she's no nearer to achieving that ambition. Drastic action is called for if she's to make Darius fall in love with her.

Darius adores the lovely, high-spirited sister of the Marquess of Denby, but he's aware that Flick is far above him socially and he can't afford to keep her in the style to which she's accustomed. Winning the high-profile Cuthbert case being heard at the Old Bailey will earn him a promised appointment to King's Counsel and just enough income to prove a home for his well-born lady.

But the cards are stacked against Darius. Not only do the newspapers trumpet his clients' guilt, but a powerful peer bribes the witnesses and threatens Flick unless Darius sabotages his own case...

The Forsters Book 2 – Beguiling the Barrister by Wendy Soliman – Available from Carina Press and all etailors from June 25th. http://amzn.to/18f6YFi

Wendy


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I-SPY: JUGGLING THE PLATES AND THE PEN

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.


TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... JUGGLING!

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JUGGLING THE PLATES AND THE PEN!
by Clare London

Many of us feel passionately about our writing, but not many of us can afford to do it full-time. So we start our writing career as a second job, running it alongside the jobs we already have, inside or outside the home, paid or unpaid, for corporation or kin. And reassuring ourselves that we can handle it, that our inspiration and love for fiction lends speed to our fingers and stamina to our waking hours. The stories start to flow, the wonder and reward of publication carries us ever onward, and so the juggling starts in a spirit of enthusiasm and confidence. We CAN have it all! we cry.

*wipes brow*
In Dec 2007 I was a full-time working accountant with two strapping sons of 13 and 18, a husband settling into a drastic career change, a mother with serious health problems, a house constantly full of hungry teenagers, a pretty poor performance record on housework, and a psychotic goldfish.

Well, in Jan 2008 I was the same person but I’d taken on another job, publishing! And while I was still up on Cloud 9 with excitement at my first contract – and glamorous visions of BEING ON AMAZON – I hadn’t really thought anything through beyond that. What’s more, I don’t remember anyone offering me a gang of nubile young slaves to help out, or at the very least a couple of extra pairs of hands.

And I was going to need them. Believe me, I’d never had trouble finding time to write. It was the publishing that added that extra dimension – and potential stress. No longer was it just “writing” (or “your tapping away” as my family used to say, less than fondly). Now it encompassed professional submission, external edits, deadlines, promotion, industry awareness and a launch into the Community(ies) of Fellow Authors.

Where was that “never had trouble finding time”? How many times have we heard about the work/life balance? Whatever you add to one side, it’ll tip over unless you make adjustment. Most of us need good health and happy family/friends more than we need royalties *yeahcough*. But we have the opportunity to make something for ourselves, to let loose the stories inside, to share the fun and – yes, we like this too – to get recognized for it.

So the question is…HOW?

This is a lighthearted post, but with a thread of serious consideration underneath it. I’ll tell you how I try to keep everything going, you can roll your eyes, then both of us may pull a few tidbits of useful strategy from the whole thing. And so, ladies and gentlemen of the big top, what do you need for juggling?


Yes, you’ve got it. B.A.L.L.S!

BRAVERY
You’re going to do it. You WILL do it! When things get tough, remember – you took this step. You wanted it. Remember why! You love to write and you’re determined to get better at it. It means the world to you. It’s fun (most of the time). You’ve met great friends. You’ve read some fabulous fiction. You written some of it, too. Hold that thought! YOU are in control of what you do.

And if/when it gets too much?
(1) Read one of your favourite books, that maybe inspired you to write yourself. Remember what a joy and a reward it is to be an author and able to communicate that way.
(2) Then read one of the WORST books you ever misguidedly bought…and reassure yourself you can do waaay better.

ATTITUDE
Time to be brutally honest. Know how you are: how you work. Make your personality – and your Muse! – work for you, not the other way around.
*Can’t write when you’re over-tired, upset or pissed off? (that’s me) So don’t. At those times, step away. It’ll be counterproductive, because what you DO write will likely be poor. And when you recover and go back to it, you’ll make up for that fallow time.
*Can’t self-edit? Find someone else who can see your work more clearly (and BTW, listen to their feedback).
*Can’t resist new projects? (good god, the confessional’s working well for me today…). PRACTISE saying NO!
Try to measure what resources you have, both actual and emotional. If everything you do just leads you back to the ‘overtired’ place…recognize that spiral and break the pattern. I’m terrible for attention splat – easily distracted by the net, by website widgets, by Ebay sales. I’ve learned I have to cut myself off if I’m under pressure to get something done. My Muse is a demanding soul. Totally.

Think about what you’re really after. A career? A fun hobby? A way to reach out to others? International fame and riches? (cough) Are you in publishing for the long haul or more of a dabbler? (answers on a postcard, please). And then enjoy it for what it is. Don’t chase after other people’s ambitions. They’re not you, they don’t live your life, they write their own way. There’s space on the bookshelf for it all.

LOGISTICS
Make things easy for yourself, as much as possible. Everything’s great when the words are flowing so fast they spill from your fingers. It’s a different thing when you realize you’ve lost your hero’s motivation, the edits are more evisceration than enhancement, and you still don’t know what happened to the anonymous letter in chapter 6. Then this writing thing is bloody hard work – and you don’t need additional barriers.

We all know how that brilliant idea arrives when you least expect – in the bath, on the train, half way through that call to mother in law. So be ready! Carry a pad and pen in your bag / pocket / whatever at all times. Keep one beside the bed. In the car. By the phone. In the bathroom, for God’s sake. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. I carry a sheet of paper in my jeans pocket at all times, covered in largely illegible scribbles that may one day constitute The Great Modern Novel (and/or next week’s shopping).

When do you write? Juggling means you have to prioritise, you have to choose. You can’t write all the time – though I’m still buying the lottery ticket – but listen to your internal clock. I can’t always write from a standing start just because everyone’s gone out for an hour. But I can make the most of going into work early and having a blessed free hour before everyone else arrives and the phones start ringing. Choose those good times to follow your plot ideas, to re-read work, to plot through tricky re-writes in peace. Then use the nibbles of time for short term stuff. I use my lunch hours to update the website, write my emails, buy books (lots!), catch up on loops etc.

Working around a busy household? *rolls eyes* I work on the edge of the dining room table. We call it ClareSpace. My laptop has to share with table mats, a constantly-growing pile of family bills, discarded cola cans, camping gear on its way to or from the loft, and – did I mention him? – the psychotic goldfish in the tank at my elbow. BUT…it’s separation of a sort. Find YOUR space if you can, however small. Your mind will hopefully register you’re moving into author mode whenever you go there.

Managing that promo? (or not?) Take an hour or so to set things up in advance for yourself. I have a set format for excerpts, a standard signature. An intro post, my bio etc etc. Make it non-specific for time, fashion, latest releases etc, then updating is minimal. Embrace shortcuts. Copy Paste is your friend. I keep all the promo in a specified file on my computer so I can find them quickly. I keep a copy on my memory stick as well, so I can post at lunch time at work – especially useful if you’re in a different timezone from the forums you’re posting in. If you see someone’s post that looks great – borrow the format for your own! Don’t re-invent the wheel every time. Life’s too darned short.

Social networking? Heavens. Feels like you’re spread thinner than margarine sometimes, right? Consider setting your networking base with just one platform, then just dip in elsewhere. Make it somewhere you feel comfortable, because you don’t want to waste precious time girding your loins to face your horror of posting on a Wall, fighting html or keeping your flowing wit to 140 characters. Believe me, you’ll still keep in touch where it matters. I concentrate mainly on my blog, but I’ve set it up to link public posts through to Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter and Amazon. The occasional times when technology works for me are to be treasured…

Can’t face all the Yahoo Groups? Follow the minimum of ones you should – your publishers, your best friend’s – then put the others on Digest (at the least) and drop into the others at a specified time of your choosing. Be regular, but don’t be slavish. See if you can find a friend you can share an Alert Status with – i.e. they can tell you if a chat’s coming up you should attend, and you can let them know the latest submissions calls.

Last Christmas’s present for me? Hubby got me a pair of ear defenders to block out the noise of Call of Duty and the washing machine when I’m in the middle of edits. Bless him


LIMBER UP 
Time. Ah yes. The elusive Scarlet Pimpernel of modern life. Unless you have large stretches of time to manage – which is a different skill entirely – you have to make the most of what’s left after everything else.

Be flexible. You’ll have it forced on you anyway. Think how long you need to finish that short story for submission next month – then multiply it by three. I kid you not. Face reality. I call it the “coffee PLUS” time. Stop for coffee by all means, but then you find you also have to stop for the washing, the emergency call from MIL, the broken fridge, the scraped knee syndrome, the temporary power cut, running out of milk, the lost travel card, the goldfish floating perilously near the top of the tank… And if my family’s anything to go by, their support will wax and wane according to whose turn it is to make supper. Learn words like “negotiation” and “compromise”. Maybe resist a couple of submission calls – there’ll be others.

SENSE OF HUMOUR
‘Nuff said. Seriously, I’ve found if I push too hard, it’ll show in my hair colour, my nerves – and my work. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind whatever you hoped to get done (remember, Coffee Plus Time…).

Look at what you did achieve, not what you didn’t. And it’ll be impressive to many people. Lay off the stick, too. For example, we all need motivation, but I gave up setting myself a daily word count I was pretty sure to miss when Budget time came around at work. Find what genuinely works as motivation for you. I write most days but I stop if it’s starting to feel like a chore. Better to enjoy a schedule of one day at the weekend, a couple of nights in the week. Which is what I (should) do.

And instead of the stick, dangle some carrots in front of your nose! Stop writing and go and watch a Bill & Ted movie. Listen to music, make something, cook, exercise, surf outrageous poster art websites. Laugh at jokes, read a book. I do all that myself (apart from the cooking). And I feed the goldfish. Aside from the fact you need external interaction to inspire your future fiction, haven’t you earned it?

I also follow some blogs that never fail to give me something to think about. For example – and by no means all – inspiration at Christine Kane, constructive help at Jordan Castillo Price’s Packing Heat, the motivational tips at Writer Unboxed and Anne Allen’s blogs, the entertaining and accessible reporting at Nathan Bransford’s. I love to read review sites, other authors’ blogs, what’s happening in the industry. Oh, and watch daft clips on YouTube. What works for you? Do you have any other good suggestions for sites that help you battle onward to your best?

Remember what really matters. Seriously, I’m hopefully not being twee, but stop regularly and remember it. Bank the “wow” moments, you’ll need them. Watch the balance of what you want to achieve with what you can achieve, with what you’ve got. Then turn all the trauma into your next book! And surely I’m not the only person who sends the occasional text message while she’s in the bathroom because otherwise it seems such an appalling waste of time…? OK, so TMI right there.

I hope some of these ideas have been useful or thought-provoking for you. What do you mean, there’s another matinee at 4? Back to spinning those plates!


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Clare London
Writing ... Man to Man
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