Tuesday, August 31, 2010

September Dare - Finish the WIP?

I actually won't have time to stop and think until Thursday, so I'm not sure this is going to get off to a whiz bang start tomorrow.

But I don't know that I have more than 6-10 thousand words more to write on this thing. On the other hand, I have a LOT more to rewrite. But I want to resist doing any more of that than necessary.

Because I think one of the motivating factors - my critique group - may also work against me. You see, I've got five chapters to go before I get to new material, and the group's pace is not all that fast. So I'll want to stop writing new material and mess with the stuff that's already done.

The other thing is, of course, that I have to critique three chapters for every one I submit. So I think I will try to work that into the actual dare routine. I will attempt to get my critiques done, and polish the submission chapters on workdays (mostly Monday through Wednesday) and then write new on my days off. This should scratch both itches, and balance out my goals nicely.

So.. I've already submitted Chapters 1-6. I think all Chapters 7-8 need is to be split in a different place. So that's where I'll begin.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Discovering Characters

You could say I've been on a vacation from the blog (although not from much else). I may get around to telling you what I was doing on my "blogcation" in terms of writing, but at the moment I'm ready to get a move on.

I'll be starting up the dare again on Wednesday, but in the meantime I'm dipping back into my critique group, and I noticed something this week about how readers (including myself) react to openings and how it changes later on in the story.

First I had that really nice review for Have Gun, Will Play, in which the reviewer mentioned something about my favorite character technique - that of revealing characters slowly throughout the story:

"When we meet them at the beginning, they are simply thrown into our laps. Their history is presented to us in a slow trickle throughout the novel, so much so that even in the last paragraph we are given tidbits that let us greater understand their character. This was skillfully executed, and flaunts the author’s impressive mastery of character development."

(Pause for me to do Happy Dance.... Ahem. Back to the blog post.)

Yes, I love peeling back the onion on a complex character. I love the discovery process. It's one of the reasons I like series - whether in books or on TV. You get to discover more and more about interesting characters.

However, there is a down side to this technique. It's even hinted at in the quote above. The characters are "thrown in our laps." If you're going to do let the audience discover the character over time, you can't burn your steps. You have to start minimally and simply. A really good series can take a lot of time to develop.

I noticed this week in critiquing others that, even with a skillfully handled first chapter, I flag things - awkward bits, discrepancies - but once I have read a few chapters, I'm into the story and that stuff doesn't mean as much. I noticed when other people critique my stories, they often don't "get" the characters at first, but then as the story develops, something clicks and the comments change.

I had a nice positive crit today where I noticed that most of the comments were on subtle little character notes. They were mainly unexplained things that in a first chapter would either just confuse the reader or be overlooked. But by the sixth chapter there is context, and suddenly they are the most important thing in the room.

Context supports even those things which are still unexplained. Once the audience has seen a pattern of behavior, they don't necessarily need a full explanation. Especially if the character does new things that seem to fill out the pattern - and it becomes like clues. The audience begins to trust you, and to understand that not only is there an explanation, but there is more to come.

The down side of all this, as I said earlier, is that first chapters are always a bear. No matter what you do, there is no context. And no matter how you write it, the most interesting stuff will go over the audience's heads. It is your job to hook them with something they can understand.... but even there you have to be careful about not lying to the audience just to keep them there.

But a well set up first chapter pays off in the end - because if you do it right, that when you get a great audience reaction to those subtle little character notes. In many ways, it's all in the set up.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hit the #4 Best Seller Spot!

Okay, so it was just the #4 best selling "mystery anthology" on Amazon, and I only hit it for an hour. But I am happy to say that "Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! Five Short Mysteries" has been consistently somewhere on that list for the past few weeks, and it has made it into the top ten pretty often. (Non-Kindle users can get it on Smashwords in other formats.)

I also got a spiffy review for Have Gun, Will Play, at The Journal of Always. He said he really wanted to give it a four-star rating, but just couldn't come up with a reason not to give it five-stars. He also spent a lot of time talking about the characters, which is something I always like to hear from a reader.

In the meantime, I've been having a kind of blogging vacation. I've also been taking a vacation from serious writing, but that doesn't mean I haven't been writing. I'll probably write about that later, but just now, I'm getting ready to dive into the Fall Dare. (Didn't I already do that? I guess the tide went out.)

With the help of my critique group, I hope to make an extra effort to finish the W.I.P. and then get on to A Fistful of Divas without distraction.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Did I Self-Publish?

"Why Self-Publish?" that's the question for tomorrow's blog carnival over at Dun Scaith. My answer is pretty simple:

Because it's fun.

That's really it. That's 90 percent of my reasoning right there.

I don't think it would be fun for most people. It's hard work, and no matter how much you know about marketing or art or layout or editing, you've got a lot to learn. And you're not going to make much money. Not unless you've got some leverage - like you can afford to pay a great cover artist and hire an editor, and you are just a natural at book publicity, and you have a whole bunch of books all ready to go which happen to be something a bunch of Kindle owners happen to be starved for.

The other ten percent of my reasoning is because in this publishing climate, I don't have a good reason not to. I like to write what I want to write (dangit!) and that is not always... commercial. I wrote the first Mick and Casey mystery quite a while ago. At the time, there was no chance at all of selling it to anyone.

"Nobody wants westerns."
"But it's really a cozy mystery."
"Ack, NOBODY wants cozy mysteries. They're too bland."
"But this one has gunfights in it."
(Blank stare.)
"And gunslingers playing with dolls!"
"Uh ... no. Thank you anyway."

Now, I knew that someday somebody would be interested, so I set it aside, and wrote some short stories on the series (and published them, and one got put forward for an Edgar). But because of the way traditional publishing works, I really didn't get the chance to properly follow up on Have Gun, Will Play.

See, in traditional publishing, you don't want to write a second book in a series until the first is sold. You can't submit that second book, so your best bet is to write a whole bunch of first books for different series. Maybe later, after you've sold one series, you might have a chance at selling some of the others. But without a bunch of first books, it's hard to break in. Lots different first books give you a shot at hitting a flavor of the month. Second and third books are just not in the game.

And that is because of the downside of traditional publishing; a book has to support not only the author, but all the people who work for the publisher and the distributor and the bookseller, and the shippers and printer and paper makers. They can't take a gamble on a mystery western until the audience is ready for it. They can't afford to slowly build an audience the way they once could.

But as an indie publisher, I can afford to take the time to build an audience for it. I can just go ahead and write it, and promote it, and write more.

And that's what it's all about.

(Be sure to check out all the other answers to the question at Dun Scaith's blog carnival tomorrow!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I have been writing!

For the past few days I've been doing some exploratory writing on The Serial.

It occurred to me that I need to bring the exotic locale of Awarshawa more vividly into the story from the get-go. I've been reading some period spy mysteries, and yes, often the "exotic location the spies are from" is only mentioned and never visited. Still, I think in a story in a fictional setting - especially one which will NOT be heavy on the exposition and world building - it's important to introduce places and people via vivid example.

It's like the movies. There's an old bit of screenwriter's wisdom that says you should avoid using phone calls in a script as much as possible. Always find a way to get the characters face to face so they can have an interesting interaction. It doesn't need to make sense, it only needs to be vivid.

It goes back to "Show, Don't Tell" - the golden rule of writing.

So the story is going to start with an episode/chapter called "Escape from Awarshawa" in which the hapless Walter Fitzboddle manages to get out of that war torn country with a valuable object... though not with his hat, or cufflinks.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Suitably Operatic Ideas

The next Mick and Casey mystery will be titled A Fistful of Divas. The first idea I had was for a long short story, but I realized that bit would make a good opening for something bigger. I've been struggling with that bigger story. I want it to be suitable for Mick and Casey - and I realize this week that the very best thing I could do would be to look to opera for inspiration.

Uncivilized Mick and Casey, with Operatic themes. It almost makes me think of... of... of....

The only beings who could demolish opera ever better than the Marx Brothers:

Although I wasn't planning on having a whole grand opera staged in the story. I was thinking more of having a pair of opera singers having to slum it a bit, more like this clip from earlier in the same show with Beverly Sills.

And then, of course (purely in the name of literary research) I found this one of Beaker, The Swedish Chef and Animal singing La Habanera. Oy!

Okay, I don't get that silly in Mick and Casey, but they do get pretty silly. We'll see what this inspiration does for me.

(In the meantime, Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! has reached the top ten list for mystery anthologies on Amazon. It was sitting at #7 for most of the day, but it has begun to slip.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Announcing my latest book!

Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! Five Short Mysteries, is a collection of previously published and award nominated mystery short stories for 99 cents. (eBook only - on Amazon, as well as on Smashwords. Soon to be available in the Apple iBooks store and other retailers.)

Descriptions of the stories:
In the title story, "Waiter, There's a Clue in My Soup!" two police detectives sort out a poisoning case over lunch at the deli, with a little help from a foodie in the corner. (This story was nominated for a Derringer award in 2003.)

"The Hoosegow Strangler" was the first story featuring Mick and Casey, a pair of young gunslingers turned detective. In this locked room story, a witness they were guarding is murdered, and they have to solve the crime to preserve their reputation.

"Trail of the Lonesome Stickpin" finds Mick drugged by a pair of pretty femmes fatales, and he has to figure out what happened before Casey shoots him. (This story was put forward for an Edgar by its publisher.)

In the fourth story, a killer believes that all he needs is a strong "Alibi" to pull off the perfect crime, but he finds that works against him.

In the final story, "The Promise," a teenaged girl has to keep her brutal father from turning her brother into a killer. (This story was also nominated for a Derringer in 2007.)

The the first three chapters of the first Mick and Casey novel, Have Gun, Will Play, are also included in this collection.

In the meantime, I think we just got past the worst of the pre-semester rush for the day job. I may be able to get back to a regular sleep schedule and even do some writing by this weekend. (Golly!)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Plans Gang Agley

I knew this was going to be a very busy week at the day job. But unfortunately it turned into one of those times when it was a wasted week, and so the next TWO weeks will be a nightmare.

So my posting schedule will become erratic. Although part of the purpose of this blog is to post every single day to keep myself honest about that I'm not achieving, I don't want to post boring posts like this just for the sake of posting.

I will post over the weekends, and maybe once or twice during the week during this period. Most of you who read this are subscribers of one kind or other, so you should get your notifications when I do post.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Never Underestimate The Perversity of a Cat

So Mr. Orange Cat has insisted at getting me up every single morning for the past few months at exactly 6:22. Since I tend to go to bed around 3am, this is not welcome and gets him shut out. (The only reason I don't shut him out in the first place is that I sleep in a different place during the heat of the summer, and it involves building a barricade, which I'd rather not do. And besides the girl cats want to sleep with me sometimes, and they don't get me up. Except when they want to be petted, which can be done while still a sleep.)

But this morning I had to get to work for an early morning training, and I set my alarm for 7am, and assumed he would probably get me up earlier but this time I'd just let him.

Silly me.

He got me up at 5am.

He has never done that before. I wasn't even aware that you could reset the clock on a cat.

So, anyway, after that inauspicious start, I did get my training at work, and then fell sound asleep after I ran errands and got home. I plan to work on the short story collection and correct the errors in my online publications list, and that's pretty much it.

The Culprit, prepared to go shopping, it looks like.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gack! Mistakes!

I paused to edit my short story collection, and discovered that I had somehow posted a very very old version of my publication list on my blog. It's missing several stories, including some award nominees. So I spent my writing time scrambling around trying to gather the info on the various stories, and I think I may have even missed a few.

I didn't even get to the point of actually updating the erroneous website file, but at least I did gather the info.

Now, to bed. I have to get up shockingly early, and I feel as though I'm coming down with a bug. Heck, I may even let the cat get me up at 6:30 am this morning. (Just watch, after he has tried to do that every morning for months, he'll skip this morning and let me sleep in.)

Polishing Today

It was a long day at the Day Job, and I also had a silent migraine. (My migraines tend not to be painful, but I am stupid as all get out when I've got one.)

I did, however, get some reading and polishing done. I think I might have the short story collection ready to put up on Kindle tomorrow. I'm reading through and doing a last set of edits. It's five mystery stories that have been published, and I realize that three of the five were nominated for awards. (Two reached the finals for the Derringer. One didn't get far, but it was chosen for nomination for an Edgar by the magazine where it was published, Futures Mysterious Anthology, which was a prolific magazine, so I feel honored that they chose my story. Especially because it's one of my favorites.)

I hope I someday have more time for short fiction too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Weight of a Story

I did last night's 300 words in a notepad, hand-written. I know it was well over 300, but I am not going to count it specifically. Especially since I will change everything in it.

The issue I'm having with A Fistful of Divas is this:

A good comedy will have some pathos behind it. A little weight. In Have Gun, Will Play, Mick and Casey may be innocent and wide-eyed about civilization and luxuries like toys and silk drawers - but they're also paid killers. They are very much aware that they are on the outside of society, looking in. Early in the story Mick and Casey witness the shooting down of a harmless old man, and they get into a shoot out with the perpetrators. Since Casey - who is still just a teen - grew up with that sort of violence all around her, she's angry and though she would never admit it, she feels helpless. Late that evening, she reveals a little vulnerability to Mick in the middle of an argument as to whether they should go chasing after the killers.

“Every place is like this, ain’t it,” she said, her voice so quiet I could hardly hear. “Every place.”

“No it ain’t,” I said.

“Every place we go. Outlaws shooting and messing things up....”



“Some places are like this. Not all of them,” I said. “We just keep moving around and running into it. It’s our job.”

She nodded, and looked in her glass. The fire threw flickers of light across her face, which looked red, but she wasn’t crying.

“Like dirt,” she said, lifting her chin. “It gathers and we clean it up.”

Both of them are treated like saddle tramps and bums by the rest of the world, and they both struggle with their value to the universe. You could say that's their life long quest, to find the meaning of what they do and who they are. It's the theme of the series. (And of course, Mick WILL solve the murder of the old man, though it will seem lost in the sweep of greater events for a while.)

But those kind of contemplative and thematic elements really work better in a novel than a short story - especially a light mystery puzzler. You might have touches of it in a short story - just personality quirks. In "The Hoosegow Strangler," the very first Mick and Casey story, they have to worry about taking the blame when a witness they're guarding is murdered. It's always a struggle for a good-natured young doofus and a teen-aged girl to be taken seriously as gunslingers. But he is smart, and she is tough. And that contrast is a part of the comedy.

My problem for A Fistful of Divas is that it started as a short story, and then a short film script. In both cases, the theme stayed on a frivolous level. As I sit down to thread in more complications to the story, I realized quickly that this story needed more weight.

Last night I played with one thread that looked fruitful. Mick and Casey have long been on a quest to hear an opera, because Casey's father had bemoaned the fact that she'd never hear one if she married Mick. And in this story, they get the chance, except that an attempted murder thwarts the concert. And Mick lets Casey down at a key moment, and feels doubly obligated to solve the crime and get that concert back on track as a gift to her.

So I thought that if I made that quest more important, I would deepen the story. I decided that Casey had recently had word that her father had died some time earlier. But all that did was make the whole opening a downer. The comedy went away. I think that kind of character development probably belongs later in the series.

I think the secret is not to look to the detective for depth, but to the victim. In this story there are three victims, and two of them are stupid criminals who are kind of the flip side of Mick and Casey. ("There but for the grace of God" kind of thing.) I'm even thinking that Mick and Casey may rescue and help the second one. Certainly, though they are the only ones who care about these admittedly no good murderous varmints.

So: for depth, look to the victim. (And remember that the victim may be someone other than the person whose murder is being solved.)