|A mystery? A nail biter? No. It's just a BLUE DRESS!|
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Monday, March 2, 2015
Have you noticed that the jacket blurb for a lot of literary novels has been saying "a great mystery" or "a nail-biting thriller" recently? What do you think is going on?
by Meredith Cole
I have come to believe that genre is indeed a porous and hard to define thing. Mostly genre is a construct of editors and marketers who need a way to position the work they sell. Mysteries in the end are rather difficult to define with just one or two characteristics. Books in the genre have at the heart of their story a puzzle or a question that needs to be solved--perhaps a wrongful death or a crime. But so do many books we define as literary fiction. So how can any of us tell the difference?
Literary fiction is often defined as more character driven than plot driven, and honestly the genre is not selling very well these days. Genre fiction, specifically mysteries and romances, are doing much better. I just went and counted the number of mysteries/thrillers on this week's hardcover New York Times best seller list. In the top 16, 9 of them were mysteries and thrillers. Nine! So if I were a marketer trying to do my best to spread the word about a book I loved, I might very well choose to emphasize its marketable traits like mystery and romance. That way maybe I could reach someone who had just finished the latest James Patterson and might be looking for something else to read.
In the end, I think every good book has a pinch or mystery and a dash of romance. There is a question at its heart of the story that makes us keep turning the pages to see if we can find out the answer. Interesting characters, intriguing settings, great dialogue and a well-paced plot are all things I look for in a good book. And in the end, I don't care what part of the book store I find it in, only that it entertains me.
Friday, February 27, 2015
by Paul D. Marks
I don’t think I have an “ideal” landscape, but I do like to see something appealing and engaging outside the window, whether a busy cityscape from a high-rise or a view of the hills or a country scene.
That said, I’ve written in places where there wasn’t much of a view. Just the stucco wall of the apartment next door or even worse the inside wall of my apartment and no view of anything. But I didn’t like that much. Don’t like having nothing to look at, and when that was the case I would put pictures on the walls that would “inspire” me. In our last house, we had a pretty nice view...but it was on the back side of the house and my office was on the front side, looking out at the street. So the walls there were decorated largely with Edward Hopper prints – good for writing mysteries and noir. But some of the time I’d write on the laptop in the kitchen or family room where I could look out at the view. Which was nice...except for the time the hills across the way were blazing and smoke was furling up. And then hoping the fire wouldn’t jump over to us.
My office might be a cluttered mess, but I can block that out. Having something serene outside to look at calms me and gives me the peace of mind I need to get into that Zen writing state (he said with only a hint of sarcasm, at least about the Zen).
I do like our view here, but Robin’s view is to die for. Can’t compete with that. Very nice!
And, while I do like something to look at out the window, I also like to “shut the world out” when I write, not in a visual sense. But in a sense of quiet. I need quiet, for reasons I won’t bore you with. I’ve lived in places where there was construction going on next door or across the alley. Sometimes eighteen hours a day. Once the vibrations from the construction were so bad that when I tried to play a record the needle would skip across it, making a sound as irritating as fingers on a blackboard.
When I haven’t had quiet, I would play music to mask the background sounds. Mostly the music turned to white noise.
And unlike Susan, who thrives on external stimulation, I can’t write well or at all in public places. I’m just too distracted by everything going on around me. I want to drink and chat and have fun. So I like retreating to my clean, well-lighted place, to borrow a phrase.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Squirrel and Zombiesby Clare O'Donohue
Q: Do you pull down your shades and shut out the world when you write? Or are you motivated by a city view? A view of nature? What is the ideal landscape for your creativity?
I don't have a dedicated office space in my house (though a girl can dream). I have a kitchen table, and I have living room couch. I have a nearby Starbucks. I have whatever hotel I'm in because my job keeps me on the road. But I've found that the writing mojo isn't so much based on what I'm looking at as what mood I'm in.
I have two writing personalities. "Squirrel" appears faithfully every time I sit down to write. Anyone who has seen the movie "Up" knows what I'm talking about. In the movie the dog gets easily distracted by anything resembling a squirrel, running off mid-sentence sometimes. In real life it's me who gets distracted by anything resembling... anything.
I fidget, spend a lot of time reading the articles on Cracked.com, get up for my fourth cup of tea in an hour, realize I need to return an email, and remember that I haven't cleaned the refrigerator in a while. I don't mind a little squirrel in my life, it's when he overstays his welcome - wasting whole days - that I really get annoyed.
The second personality comes later, when I've found the words again. I start writing and writing and forget the world, the internet, and household chores. My half finished cup of tea gets cold on the desk. When I'm really in a book, the world outside could turn into a scene from The Walking Dead. Zombies could roam by my window, break into my house, take a chunk out of my leg, and I'd keep typing. "Just let me finish this chapter," I'd say to the undead creature making me his lunch, "and then I'll go zombie-ing with you."
It doesn't matter to me whether I'm hidden away in an undecorated room, or sitting on the floor in a crowded, flight-delayed airport gate. If I'm in zombie-mode, the only view I care about is the one on my laptop.
I have found that it's easier for me to get into zombie-mode when I write in the same place every day. Maybe my squirrel personality is bored by the same-old scenery so I get down to business sooner, or maybe my brain just knows this is where the writing happens. I find it's easier when I don't have music playing, so that goes off. I don't close the blinds because scenery is not a distraction, but I do avoid the internet because it's not just a distraction it's a time-suck.
So when I find I'm spending too much time in squirrel mode, I force the routine of being in the same place, at the same time, in relative quiet, until I'm so far zombie that I don't care. Two or three good zombie days and I can venture back out into the distracting world. I've not just written a fair amount, but I'm filled with ideas for the next chapter or two - something that can keep me writing just in case squirrel pops up again.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
I'm pleased to welcome a distinguished group of writers to help round out this week's discussion on the question "Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser? Have you ever tried to do it the other way? What happened?" Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, Kathy Lynn Emerson, and I all have stories which have been named finalists for this year's Agatha Award for Best Short Story, to be presented at Malice Domestic the first weekend in May. Soon after the finalists were announced, Edith invited us all to join in a big group post at Wicked Cozy Authors, which will appear on Friday, March 6— and Kathy also offered to host another post at Maine Crime Writers in April as well. Stay tuned for all of that!
In the meantime, I thought that this week's question here at Criminal Minds offered a good chance for each of us to talk about our nominated stories, what method we used in writing them, and whether that was the approach we normally took—or a step in a new direction. I'll kick things off, and then include each author's response below—along with a link to each story (embedded in the story's title in the heading for each section). Thanks again to Edith for suggesting this blog hop in general!
Art Taylor on "The Odds Are Against Us" and "Premonition"
"The Odds Are Against Us," on the other hand, was pretty carefully plotted from start to finish before I started writing it—all of it focused around a choice that the narrator needs to make, the consequences that follow that choice, and the way that the past both determines and then complicates both the choice and the aftermath. Because of what I saw as the greater thematic heft of this story, I felt like it really needed to be calibrated pretty carefully each step of the way, and I'd laid out each of the scenes and their purpose in advance to determine the movement of all the parts.
So which do I usually do? My writing generally follows a wide range of approaches. Some stories build in unexpected directions, some are planned out firmly, and sometimes it's a combination of approaches—surprises for me that I hope surprise the reader too.
Barb Goffman on "The Shadow Knows"
For “The Shadow Knows,” I wanted to write about a superstitious man, Gus, who believes his town groundhog, Moe, actually controls the weather. Gus decides to get rid of Moe so his town could finally have an early spring. I wanted Gus to be injured while trying to nab Moe, but it took a while to figure out how to make that funny, which was my goal. (In the end, it’s all in the voice. If the same scenario had happened to a less grouchy person, it wouldn’t have been funny.)
I tried to write a story by the seat of my pants once. In the end, that was way too much work. I ended up writing a lot of things that ultimately didn’t serve the story’s purpose and had to be deleted, and I still haven’t sold that story. So while I tip my hat at pantsers, I am firmly and happily a plantser.
Edith Maxwell on "Just Desserts for Johnny"
Sometimes an entire story will pop up while I'm out walking, and all I have to do is fill in the details, but it’s not like I plotted it. It just appeared in my brain, and those are the stories that seem to write themselves.
Novels are a bit different, especially since my publisher at Kensington asks for a three-to-four page synopsis before I write the book. But I still pretty much pantser it, as long as I update the synopsis when the book is finished. The most plotting I do is three or four scenes ahead.
Kathy Lynn Emerson on "The Blessing Witch"
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser? Have you ever tried to do it the other way? What happened?
I graduated college with a degree in mechanical engineering. I like plans, schematics, and spreadsheets. Formulae, laws of physics, straight lines, sharp corners, curves described by elegant mathematics. I believe in ORDER.
If I tried to write something without an outline, I have full confidence it would devolve rapidly. I’d start writing a scene, and everything would be fine for a few minutes, but before too long it would go flying off the rails. For instance, have you ever had an argument with someone, but ten minutes later, you’ve miraculously switched positions? Which reminds me of a book I read once, where the characters’ back stories kept shifting, making following the chain of events difficult, at best. Not as difficult as rocket science, but still hard. Did you ever wonder how these advanced 3-D rendering technologies have changed the way engineers design rockets? And rockets are way, way cool. Maybe I should write a book about people hijacking a rocket and settling on Mars. Mmmm, Mars. I do like their chocolate. And if anyone is interested, I prefer dark chocolate. I understand it’s actually healthy for you. And I’m all about the health. Hey! Squirrel!
But I digress. (If you couldn’t tell, I often write these blog posts by the seat of my pants.)
Now, where was I?
Oh, yes. Outlining. I outline, but when I say I “outline,” it’s not like how we were taught in third grade. Nothing formal whatsoever—no Roman numerals, no subsection 12-G-IV-c, no indenting. First, I map out how the story begins. Then I plot out how the story ends. I also like to pencil in some of the major turning points along the way. Then I fill in the scenes that connect these “tent poles.”
Sometimes I have a good idea what a scene should contain, but often my outline consists of little more than: “Scene 14: Joe and Sue meet in the old chemical plant. Joe tells her something shocking, and Sue runs off, slips, and falls into a vat of hydrochloric acid.”
I should make it clear that I’m not a slave to my outline. I view it as a living, almost-breathing entity. When things change (and boy, do they ever), I change right along with them (or should I say, I change my outline right along with them). In my writing workshops, I tell outliners that if things aren’t working, consider changing your outline. (Similarly, I tell pantsers they need to change their pants (ba-da-bing!).)
Sometimes I wish I had the ability to just sit down and start writing (with the reasonable expectation of producing something decent). That’s right, on some level, I envy the pantsers. So carefree. So happy-go-lucky. So…Bohemian.
But even if I did write more by-the-seat-of-my-pants, I don’t think anyone would ever confuse me with a free-wheeling, spontaneous artiste. And that’s something I’ll just have to learn to live with.