Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Writing Life

A recap: I’m working on two books. One, Imminent Danger, that I started at the end of 2019 that dealt with a super virus developed in a Chinese biotech lab. When Covid-19 became a reality, I couldn’t believe China had copied my plot line!! At over 30,000 words, I put the manuscript aside. That’s when I wrote the fourth book, Deadly Secrets, in the Caitlyn Jamison mystery series. Last summer I was encouraged to finish Imminent Danger, so I reworked the plot line, and added new characters. In an exercise at the end of two rural library Zoom author talks last October, I asked the library patrons to develop a character. Two interesting characters were developed that I thought would make a great story. That book carries the working title of Autumn after one of the characters. I’d been making great progress on Autumn, working on the backstory of the two main characters until Kara, the new protagonist from Imminent Danger appeared on my shoulder wanting equal time. New scenes for Imminent Danger have been scrolling through my head. Thank you, Kara! Okay. I can manage this. Both books are well enough developed that I can switch back and forth as the dueling protagonists fight for my attention. But, on my early morning walk today, Sage, a secondary character from Deadly Secrets tapped me on the shoulder saying, “Remember me?” During the writing of Deadly Secrets, I developed a character, Sage, and her partner, Holly, that I thought would make a great spin-off book or series from the Caitlyn Jamison books. I had not thought about them since . . . until this morning when Sage, the owner of the art shop in the town of Pont-Aven made her presence known. Can I handle three books at the same time? I think not. I will pull out my notebook and jot down thoughts on the “future” adventures of Sage and Holly.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The characters are in charge

My next book features Autumn Whitcomb and Yuri Rachinskij, two characters developed by participants after two author presentations at two Upstate New York rural libraries. One library's patrons developed a female, the other a male. When their bios were developed by the patrons I realized these two characters could work well in a story. I've been working on this in fits and starts until recently when Autumn tapped me on the shoulder (kind of like that editor on your shoulder) and told me I needed to spend more time developing her back story. I was rushing the story too much without letting the reader know about her personality. The same was true of Yuri. At the start of the story he's the head archivist of the Ukrainian Archives. The country is under attack and the archives have undertaken a major digitization project to save the country's history and culture before it is destroyed. Listening to Autumn, I'm now back at the beginning of the story making tweaks to the text to follow her advice. That's the life of a writer - the characters are in charge.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Incorporating Tension

Think of tension as a cord woven through every chapter, slowly pulling the reader towards the last scenes. Tension doesn’t need to be dramatic, like a serial killer who has broken into a house. For romance writers, it could be the question of whether the protagonist will choose his/her dream job, or stay with their new love? Tension can be emotional turmoil. Whatever genre you are writing, pack your scenes with some sort of tension with conflict within the character’s mind or with other characters. Put complications and conflicts into the character’s life and this can be accomplished through action, dialogue, description, and narrative. Draw out the scene with words that evoke emotion and keep raising the stakes. Remember the slowly woven cord. Alternate between action, thoughts, dialogue and description. Take your time. Make sure the scene is set up in earlier scenes so the reader knows what’s at stake, to keep their heart pounding and keep them turning the pages. Torture your protagonist with road blocks. It could be as simple as a weather event – like a blizzard when your protagonist has to be somewhere. A search engine is your friend in finding tension words. In the book Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, he suggests using a scale to rate the intensity of your scenes. The intensity scale is a good way for you to balance the scenes in your book. Determine which scenes are the big ones and rate their intensity, which should be in the 8-10 zone. Then balance those scenes with ones that are slower and more reflective in the 2 to 6 zone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Hybrid it Is

As people start to gather, feeling a bit safer coming out of Covid, organizations that relied on Zoom, Google Meet, and other online meeting places, are trying to bring people back to meeting in person. But there's some pushback. Some people crave the personal contacts, but many prefer the online presence. We've become used to jumping onto our devices five minutes before a meeting with no changing clothes, driving to a specified location, or asking for a ride. Those online meetings have saved us a lot of time. I can still facilitate the fiction critique group from the Fredericksburg, VA library while I'm in Connecticut or Florida. For the last two years I've been able to attend two genealogy society meetings via Zoom. Organizations are now accommodating both constituents by offering hybrid meetings. This past week I gave Zoom presentations for two rural libraries in Upstate New York. It was great fun with folks sitting in the library and others at home on Zoom. A year ago I gave an in-person, but outside, presentation in Essex, New York. I asked those attending for help with the setting of my book in process, Deadly Secrets, set in their town. The group had a great time sharing what they loved about living in the Adirondacks, and what wasn't so much fun. It really helped me with details I wouldn't otherwise have known, and I appreciated their input. Last week, on Zoom with the two Upstate New York libraries, at the end of the presentation, I asked participants to develop a character for my next book. The patrons jumped right in to create a character. Each one was different, both with interesting characteristics. One library's patrons developed a male, the other library's patrons developed a female. Ironically, the two characters complement each other in a way that will make an interesting story. I'm looking forward to doing more Zoom presentations, and am happy to Zoom into book club meetings to share ideas. I, for one, am thankful that libraries and genealogy societies are offering hybrid meetings. Because I can't be in all these places!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Deja Vu - An Unexpected Death to Imminent Danger

A question every author has to ask when starting a project is: What is this story about? That question has to be asked throughout the writing, because when the plot and characters are developed, the story will change. Revisting the story I started in 2019 (see earlier blog), I asked the question, and couldn't come up with a good answer. I had so many feelings going through my mind. Thoughts and emotions of what we had gone through the last two years. There were too many issues I wanted to touch on and plant the seed for readers to think about. I continued to ask the question: What is this story about? I boiled it down to the root issue. In doing that I felt the similarity of my feelings in 2008 when I started writing An Unexpected Death. At that time I was frustrated and angry over what was happening in our country. People were losing their jobs, and then losing their homes. And those responsible were not being held responsible. I had to release this anger, and through genealogy I'd learned that writing helps you make sense of things. And that's when I started writing. As I honed in on the root problem of the last two years, it was a similar feeling I had in 2008. Write about it, work out the frustration and anger, and plant seeds for readers to think about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Intensity Scale

I've been working on my "Make a Scene" presentation for the Rappahannock Writers' Conference 2022 that will be held in-person and virtual on Saturday, November 5, 2022. Scenes are the building blocks of a book and have a beginning, middle, and end. Think of a three-act play or even your daily life. Mornings set the action of your day, middle of the day is when you perform those actions, and at night you are wrapping things up. Every scene has to contain new information. Tension is needed in every genre, though it varies by the genre. In the book, "Plot and Structure," by James Scott Bell, he includes an intensity scale for rating the scenes between 0 and 10. I love this idea and have included it in my presentation, giving Mr. Bell full credit. Mr. Bell states that scenes rated as 0 should probably be discarded, and those rated 10 should be few. Ten, he says, is over the top. Tension can be added through dialogue, description, and narrative. Tension is built through conflict. As in any book, pacing is critical. An author has to pace their scenes in lenght throughout the book. Too many short tension scenes will tire the reader. You want to keep the reader turning the pages. In my book, Fatal Dose, the tension rises when Caitlyn learns that illegal drugs are being shipped from New York City to Buffalo through central New York. Knowing how many lives are lost by using these drugs, she takes on the drug lord in charge of the shipments. And the tension rises.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Deciding on a book's setting

A reader asked why I chose the Adirondacks for my latest book, "Deadly Secrets." A great question as it prompted discussion on all my books. I explained that setting can be character, and that I chose settings that I can be passionate about. It boils down to my passion about being near water, and in rural settings. When my Virginia neighbors wanted me to bring Caitlyn's investigation to a Virginia setting, I couldn't get excited about the setting being in the middle of the state, even though every part of Virigina is stunning. Then I thought of the Northern Neck and the Chesapeake Bay. That's where "The Death of Cassie White" is set. "Deadly Secrets," my latest book will make everyone happy. Caitlyn, the protagonist, falls into an investigation in the town of Pont-Aven, New York that is situated on the shores of Lake Champlain. Her partner and mirror character, Ethan Ewing has started his new job with the FBI. He is challenged with a cybercrime case that begins with a stolen artifact from the Library of Congress Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia. Another passion is genealogy, and in "Fatal Dose, I wove in a genealogy subplot along with the water theme. And then there is wine. I seem to feature wineries in my books. And, books can be read anywhere.