Wednesday, June 19, 2013
I think Reece nailed this week's question in his post on Monday. (I suggest you check out his post, and while you're at it congratulate him on his new book deal!) Pretty much the only stuff I won't read while I'm writing is anything that plays in the same sandbox. For my Collector series, which straddles the line between old-fashioned noir and the creepier side of fantasy, that means waiting until between books to read Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series, Neil Gaiman's grown-up fiction, or anything by Stephen Blackmoore or Tim Powers, to name but a few. I also, for the record, had to quit watching Supernatural when they started getting all biblical on me. The last thing I wanted was to get called out for ripping off somebody who simply happened down a similar narrative path.
That said, there are a host of authors whose books I often pluck from the shelf when I need a literary shot in the arm to kick my writing into gear. Hammett, for his grit. Chandler, for his poetry. Block (particularly his Scudder novels), for his raw emotion. Westlake (writing as Stark), for his spare, pitch-black perfection. And of course Dante (with a little help in my edition from Messrs. Longfellow and Dore), for bringing hell to terrifying life in much the way I hope to for my poor, damned Sam.
Sometimes, I'll read 'em clean through while I write, but just as often, I'll simply grab one and read a passage or two at random before I sit down at the keyboard. I'd recommend you try it sometime with your great literary inspirations; you'll be surprised how much it serves to fuel your own creativity, and inform your day's writing. And heck, even if it doesn't, at least you got to read some pretty sentences.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Question - Whose work can you not read while reading your own?
Answer - Gillian Flynn.
Monday, June 17, 2013
By Reece Hirsch
The only books that I will not read while I’m writing are the books that I don’t trust myself not to steal from. By that, I mean books that deal with the same subculture, place or specific type of story that I’m writing. For example, about half of my current work-in-progress is set in another country. There are several mystery and crime writers who have placed their stories in that part of the world, and a few them are on my To Be Read list, but I must stay away until this book is done.
I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t like to read truly great writing while they’re working because it's too intimidating. I understand that point of view, but I don’t share it. There is something therapeutic about reading a solidly entertaining, craftsmanlike book where you think you understand the writer’s choices and how they could be improved upon. Sometimes you do learn more from a book’s flaws than from its strengths.
* Raymond Chandler's similes;
Friday, June 14, 2013
Despite some years devoted to imbibing various concoctions before bed so I could dream clever attributes about my characters and envision twisty plots, from hot toddy, whisky neat to Chamomile tea, the scenarios would not unfold across the landscape of my sub-conscious. But I now have a shiny new goal to dream about. This fall in San Antonio they’re opening the first bookless library as part of the state’s ongoing BiblioTech effort.
From the press release: “The $1.5 million facility in Bexar County will not house a single printed book, but will offer 100 e-readers on loan, and 10,000 digital titles accessible to readers via their home computers and digital devices, with more being added regularly.”
I dream then of flying to San Antonio, the plane partially flown on auto-pilot. The instructions having been texted to me on my iPhone, I call and summon my robot car like the ones Google has been experimenting with these last few years. The car arrives, a Cadillac CTS with a number by jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery bumping softly on the sound system. The driverless car whisks me off without incident to the bookless library.
Inside are people, real people, not cutouts or beamed in via closed circuit – though maybe a few are in “attendance” like that. We chat some. The librarian, who is also trained in keeping the machines running, introduces me.
I give my talk about my recent novel, an ebook exclusive, a decades spanning mystery of conspiracy and double dealing and masked vigilantes. There’s laughter in the right parts and a lively Q & A post the presentation. I see fingers moving across e-reader devices and I sing their e-reader cases. Later, checking my account on my IPhone, I see that there’s been a respectable up tick in my ebook sales.
I have a sip or two of whisky neat later in my hotel room, the doors of it zipping open and closed like they do in Star Trek’s Enterprise. As I drift off to sleep, soon I’m dreaming of building an android to take my dictation of stories. The robot will begin thinking like me as this process goes on. At some point, I’ll just have to give her, as I’ll have designed my personal simulacrum, to look like a combination of Beyoncé and JLo, she’ll be able to write like me, with me supplying the outlines.
In the dream I sleep too. When I wake, my mind has been transported into a Kindle. N this way I project my stories like someone standing behind a large frosted glass and writing the words backwards with a marker...my thoughts the words that appear onscreen to the reader.
I have eliminated the middleman. I am the machine of words.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Do you ever dream about your characters? Or other people’s?
To the best of my recollection, I have never dreamed about my characters. Nor about anyone else’s characters.
Some people like to analyze dreams, putting a lot of stock in what they mean. I’m not one of those people. I believe that dreams are simply a way for my subconscious to blow off a little steam (or a lot of steam, depending on the dream). I don’t think I’d make a very good subject for a psychology experiment.
That’s not to say that my nighttime slumbering isn’t ever productive. Sometimes I will cadge a bit of dialogue from a dream and try to work it into something I’m writing. Like Tracy described in her post yesterday, I’ll wake up, scribble a few ephemeral snatches of something witty or clever on a piece of paper on my nightstand. In the morning, I’m disappointed when it reads, “Mfxxth Strxtmet. WACHNRVPQ!”
Also, on occasion, I’ll get an idea in the middle of the night. When I was at Sleuthfest last year, I woke up one morning at 4 a.m. with a mostly-fully-formed concept for a thriller with a dynamite premise.
Maybe I should take a nap now. I could use another great idea!
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
By Tracy Kiely
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013
by Meredith Cole
Dreams can be such a valuable part of the creative process, but dreams can also be elusive, abstract and not particularly useful. I read once about a writer who, when she's stuck on a problem, wrote a question down on a piece of paper and put it under her pillow. In the morning she always had the answer to her question. One time I was desperate enough to try it. It didn't work for me. Maybe my question was too big (how do I fix this story so it works?!!) or maybe my brain just wasn't ready to spit out an answer. Who knows.
I have dreamed amazing stories before. I fumbled with my journal in my haste to write them down in all their vivid detail. In one movie-like dream, I rescued my little brother from a concentration camp while riding a motorcycle. I even tried to write one of my dreams into a screenplay once. I vaguely remember that there was someone on a ship with lots of animals--and this was before Life of Pi. The only problem was that the story made no sense to anyone but me, and by making it make sense it lost the wonder and delight of the vivid dreamscape it emerged from originally.
Have I dreamed about my characters? I'm sure that I have. I dream about every little thing that happens to me--sometimes things that happened to me years and years ago. I just rarely remember the dreams when I wake up. I do know that my creativity is always better in the morning so maybe I have occasionally dreamed my way to a story fix in the night. Sure sounds better than tearing your hair out over the keyboard to make a plot point work or to fix a glitch in your story.
So--have you dreamed about your characters? And do they ever come bringing plot fixes?
Friday, June 7, 2013
Thursday, June 6, 2013
I tried banking. Hah. Fifty-pound-notes got bundled into hundreds. Which was four notes, right? After they searched my bag and and my pockets and recounted my stash and looked down the back of the couch, a very honest wages clerk came back to the bank and returned the extra.
I tried being a university lecturer. Hah. I was one of four lonely linguists in an English literature department, teaching phonetics and syntax to kids who wanted to learn Jack Kerouac. When one of my colleagues asked me what I read for pleasure I said I only read the TV Guide to see what time Star Trek was on. I forgot to wink; he believed me; I was the talk of the senior common room.
I worked in a pub serving food but my portion control was non-existent and just before the place went bankrupt I was demoted to cleaning.
I worked in the Fine Art and Local History departments of Edinburgh City Library. That, I loved. That, I could do. That, was between university courses.
So giving up a full-time day job in 2000 to try this writing lark wasn't as difficult a decision as it might have been. I did part-time tutoring to make some money and also had a number in my head: if I ever got an advance of *this* amount, I said to myself, I'd give up even the tutoring and write really full-time. That took five years and it was scary when it came.
This is year thirteen of writing stories and I feel as if I'm just about to get a day-job again in a funny kind of way, because I'm about to start renting an office in town and going back to having a commute instead of working in my house. It'll be a big change - no more jammies, no more leftovers for lunch, no more chats with Joe the UPS guy . . .
My one regret is that my office doesn't have a half-window of bumpy glass on which I can put my name in gold paint like Philip Marlowe. That would have been something. But learning to smoke those unfiltered cigarettes might have been tough and a raincoat and fedora in this climate would have killed me.
Oh and also: AS SHE LEFT IT comes out on Saturday. Yeay!
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
- Don’t change Point Of View (see The Stand)
- Don’t write drunk/high (see just about all of his work from the Eighties)
- Don’t self-publish on the internet (see UR)
- For mystery writers work environment provides numerous opportunities to interact with people who inspire murder
- Provides reason to buy nice clothes
- Free cake randomly given for singing unenthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday
- No TV to call you away from your work, “Hey, Tracy! Hoarders is on! And you won’t believe the crap that this lady keeps!”
- Usually someone always brings in munchkins
- For those days when writer’s block has you by the throat, you can focus on your day job without guilt
- You don’t have to deal with crazy bosses/co-workers
- You can excuse being seen at the supermarket wearing clothes normally found on participants of What Not To Wear by explaining how you got caught up in a lengthy call with your agent.
- Don’t have to sing Happy Birthday at random times during the day to co-workers you barely know
- Hoarders is on!
- Joy of being able to sit all day at your desk doing what you love
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of my career as a full-time writer. I still remember how nervous I was when I started out. I wasn't sure if I'd have a roof over my head for long, though I was reasonably certain I'd be able to eat, given that the first regular gig I lined up was a restaurant-reviewing for Toronto Life magazine. A couple of years after I quit the day job, I came across a book about freelance writing called Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal. I realized that summed up my attitude towards the whole enterprise, and it still does.
Even after all this time, I still can't believe I'm lucky enough to have a job that allows me to explore the things I'm curious about (if you know me, you know that's a long, eclectic list). Even better, it's evolved to become a job where I get to play with my imaginary friends, since I now spend most of my time writing fiction.
That's not to say that freelancing doesn't have its frustrations. When I'm chasing down a deadbeat client — or when a client's check bounces —I feel envious towards people who don't have to scramble after cash they've already earned. But those days are few and far between.
The very best thing about writing is that it's introduced me to so many amazing people. The toughest adjustment for me, when I started writing full-time, was that I was at home, alone, with no coworkers to chat with or to bounce ideas off. When I'm writing, I'm a solitary creature, but the rest of the time, I'm a social animal. Ironically, writing full-time forced me to join organizations and go to conferences to meet my peers. That habit has served me well with crime writing. My social circle broadened in ways I never imagined, and I'm grateful for it.
This is my last post as a regular member of Criminal Minds. I'd like to thank my fantastic blogmates, past and present, for being such a fine, fun crew. I'll be back to guest-post from time to time, and if you want to find me online, that's not hard to do. You can drop by my website, my personal blog, my gluten-free blog, my newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest... it's kind of hard to hide from me online, truth be told. See you around!
Monday, June 3, 2013
I'm delighted to welcome to Criminal Minds this week Susan Shea, a friend and a wonderful mystery writer. Susan C. Shea moved from an early career in journalism to a second one as an executive and then head of her own consulting practice. She ran marketing, fundraising, and communications programs for a variety of prestigious organizations, picking up good stories along the way. In 2006, she made the break she had been dreaming of, quitting her day job to write fiction full time as a third career. She's a member of the board of the northern California Sisters in Crime, and a past board member of Norcal's Mystery Writers of America. Susan's a transplanted New Yorker, and a lover of exotic places, fine art, great food, and sparkling events—just like Dani O'Rourke, her series protagonist. She lives in Marin County, California. You can visit Susan's website at www.susancshea.com.
Susan's new Dani O'Rourke mystery, The King's Jar, is getting glowing reviews. Kirkus Reviews call it, "[w]ickedly funny" (and we know how picky they are). Library Journal says, "This San Francisco–based cozy is fresh, fast-paced, and great fun. Shea's characters' professional and personal foibles are done especially well."
By Susan C. Shea
The pros of keeping your day job are easy. You won't have to sleep on the street, you can feed all the hungry mouths in your nest, and you’ll be able to buy designer jeans with holes in the knees that make it look as if you were sleeping on the street. When someone asks you what you do, you’ll have an answer that makes both you and the asker comfortable, that puts you in a safe, predictable niche. Unless, of course, your day job is wringing chicken’s necks or serving as O.J. Simpson’s newest lawyer. Either of those two jobs might give you some great ideas for a thriller, however, so that’s another plus.
There are tradeoffs for those designer jeans. You’ll have to get up at four a.m. or stay up until four a.m. to find the time to write your three-hundred page book. Alternatively, you’ll have to do what a fine, published writer said she managed for years: Go out to her car for thirty minutes at lunchtime and write. Every day, rain, sleet, or hot sun, sitting cramped in the car. Not so much fun.
I can’t complain about having had to work for many years. It gave me a chance to save my pennies, and to practice the fine art of getting the first chapter right. It overloaded me with ideas for characters, settings, story lines, and potential victims. (I’m still searching for just the right way to kill an I.T. guy I knew…) There were those conferences, where I met other struggling first-time writers, listened to great authors tell us they had started right where we had, and worked up my courage for the ultimate step off the cliff.
Speaking of that second book, The King’s Jar, which was published May 1, I’m offering a signed copy here to a commenter chosen randomly from those posted before midnight June 9th. Good luck.