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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Book Review of Unblock Writer’s Block by Paul Lima

Cover of Paul Lima's Unblock Writer's Block

Click on Cover of Paul Lima’s Unblock Writer’s Block for Paul’s blog and sale places

The desire to write grows with writing.

–          Desiderius Erasmus

In Unblock Writer’s Block: How to face it, deal with it and overcome it, Paul Lima not only debunks some writer’s block myths, but provides some creative exercises to get writers writing. He compares his former writer’s block to “walker’s block,” i.e., not exercising, his situation until his wife got a dog. He started walking daily and the story ideas began arriving – a good thing for a freelancer with 35 plus years of experience writing newspaper articles, corporate, and fiction, who  is the author of 12 books, including the best selling How to Write a Non-fiction book in 60 Days. Lima also writes prolifically and quickly to deadline.

If you are doing other things to avoid writing, Lima says you are procrastinating, not suffering from writer’s block and you need the equivalent of a dog – writing exercises – to get you going on the write track. Lima emphasizes when you write the draft, ditch the editor in your head and just write. He also gives the option of “cherry-picking” exercises to get the most die-hard blocked writer going – a good idea because of the large and varied selection. When reading Unblock Writer’s Block, I kept flipping files to create story ideas. Lima recommends starting with  how you are feeling because you have to have emotion in your writing to connect to your reader. He has exercises for unlocking emotions focusing on the individual and his past, followed by three chapters with activities on freefall writing, directed free-fall writing and clustering – the three parts Lima advises readers do.

Ensuing exercises deal with the actual craft of writing such as plot, characters and point of view in fiction. My favourite exercise is one that could help POV problems. Lima suggests readers write a letter of apology to someone wronged and then switch POV to the other person and have him or her write back and perhaps letters back and forth will follow.

Although Lima uses examples from other authors such as novelists Margaret Atwood and Alistair McLeod (the latter’s cheese story is funny), I would have liked to have seen more Paul Lima stories, although the one where Paul apologized to a telephone pole when he bumped into it (Note: apologizing for everything is a Canadian trait) is priceless. The other bits of humour interspersed add spark to the writing wisdom presented.

Unblock Writer’s Block fulfills Paul Lima’s intentions, i.e.

“Our goal throughout this book is simply to do some writing—to see that we have the ability to write over, around and through whatever may be blocking us. You may not have produced anything you want to continue writing about. You may not have written how you want to write. But that’s not the point. The point is to write no matter what, and to be open to where your work may (or may not) lead you.”

Unblock Writer’s Block is available in paperback and e-copy. To find out where and more about Paul Lima and his books, go to  http://www.paullima.com/books/wb.html.

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to her Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Today (Thursday, March 28), from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I talk about where my characters come from and read from Beyond the Tripping Point at the Leaside Branch of the Toronto Public Library. (See the above BTTP link for more details.)

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Getting your book noticed with book reviews

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

There is creative reading as well as creative writing.

–          Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even before your book goes to market you need to stake out possible book review sources. That applies for trade published books, self-published books whether in e-copy, print or both. Often you are ignored but sometimes serendipity steps in and you get a review or two or three, etc.

That happened to me – twice – and from the same event last year. My short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point had a publisher and I had a copy of the contract. But the contract wasn’t signed as I headed into the Bloody Words Conference last June in Toronto. My publisher’s instructions were: get the word out about your book and get some book reviews.

I did it –couldn’t shut up about it even though I felt a little strange doing it all so far in advance of publication. The first reviewer freelanced mystery book reviews for a daily paper from a neighbouring city – Hamilton, Ontario. Before I even got more than my name and I had a book coming out he asked, “So you want a review?” And he took down the particulars. The mini-review came out in print and online December 22, 2012 in The Hamilton Spectator at http://www.thespec.com/feature/article/857834–mini-reviews  (scroll down, it’s the second book reviewed and the newspaper, in error, left out the reviewer’s byline. It’s Don Graves).

The other review is the big serendipity one, thanks to persistence in networking. The book reviewer for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – one of the biggies for publishing short stories from mystery authors from around the world (the magazine is published in the United States) was a guest panelist at Bloody Words and also sat at the head table for the banquet. I missed talking to him after his panel gig, but on his way out after the banquet I “accosted” him (read: stopped him, introduced myself and my upcoming book and asked for a review). He gave me his business card and the name of  Jon Breen, the freelancer who does an annual review roundup of anthologies and short story collections. I gave him my card and thanked him. I did have to do a follow-up email to get the email address of the other book reviewer.

Then I emailed the other reviewer my pitch.

And he was interested. So my publisher sent him a pdf. It’s paid off. Recently  my publisher emailed me that he had received the hard copy proofs for that part of the May 2013 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. A mini-review by Jon Breen of Beyond the Tripping Point  appears in it. It’s already available online at http://www.themysteryplace.com/eqmm/jury/ Scroll way down – it is there, 12th in the list of books . And it links to http://www.amazon.com

Those two make up for the nonsense trying to get a review in the big Toronto dailies and Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishers’ Bible. The Toronto Star got as far as email communication between me (initiated by me) and back with the reviewer who does mini-reviews of new arrivals. That didn’t happen despite me bringing the book down to her office in person. Some of us authors joked about the supposed big room where the Star stashes all the unreviewed books that come in before disposing of them – and how they do so was pure speculation.

So, what is an author to do to get a review? Besides this combination in-person and pseudo-social media and yes, social media, too, with the latter we can review each others’ books. If like me you have an author profile with your book on amazon.com, Goodreads, etc. this can be done. Just troll the sites to see who’s there. What about other bloggers you follow? You can also at least get interviews about your book on other authors’ blogs. You can do book review trades with other authors – they read and review your book; you do the same for theirs and both of you post your review on whatever social media you can. I’m currently doing this with another very prolific writer, Paul Lima, reading and reviewing his book on Writer’s Block and he’s doing the same with Beyond the Tripping Point. My publisher sent him a Kindle copy of my book and Paul sent me a pdf of his book as that’s what I requested.

So, next week we will revisit Writer’s Block with my review of Paul Lima’s book Unlock Writer’s Block. Paul has some very creative ways to get around this bane of writers.

Then I will have to follow my other advice above – start trolling Goodreads, Linked In groups, etc. to do and get more reviews. And in case anyone is interested in doing and posting a review of my book there or on Amazon.com, let me know. I have Kobo and pdf copies and can get the Kindle one from my publisher. And if you have a book published let me know and I might just review it.Of course, remember the unwritten rule for doing book reviews. The book is free of charge to the reviewer

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my website – http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

This evening (March 21, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) I moderate an author publisher panel featuring Andrew J. Borkowski,  the 2012 Toronto Book Award winner for his short story collection Copernicus Avenue and his publisher Marc Coté of Cormorant Books. This panel is at a meeting of the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch – more details at http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/events.html

Next Thursday, March 28, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I talk about where my characters come from and read from Beyond the Tripping Point  at the Leaside Branch of the Toronto Public Library. (See the above BTTP link for more details.)

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Do your research and get your information correct

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.

–           Rod Serling

If you think writing fiction eliminates any research, think again. Especially if you are writing mystery and science fiction. Do you want your police procedure to be incorrect, especially in connection with a crime scene?

According to police, that is a biggie with many authors (TV series are especially bad). Just watch some of the shows. Even a “lay person” can pick out some of the no-nos at a crime scene.

An older version of my short story “For the Love of Wills” from my mystery short collection Beyond the Tripping Point had glaring police procedural errors. I didn’t know that. Then I heard Toronto Police Constable Brent Pilkey, author of the Rage series of police procedural novels  http://www.brentpilkey.com/ talk last June on a couple of panels at the Bloody Words Mystery Writers Conference. One of those panels also featured a Chicago PI turned author. Their topic covered where fiction (mainly TV) gets the crime scene investigation wrong. I thought “oh, oh,” about the “Wills” story and with Brent’s permission, emailed him the first part of the story – just enough so he could see what the heck I was doing. He emailed back with the correct procedure and some suggestions – he was very polite and helpful. He also helped me clarify some skidmark issues in another story “Road Raging” in the same short story collection.

So, he became my police consultant, got acknowledged in my book as well as a complimentary book copy and also has helped me with police procedure for my prequel novel, which is set in the summer of 1998. Some of the procedure and set-up was different then. The one that really grabbed me was how wire-taps were done using reel-to-reel tapes that had to be turned on as the ransom call came in.

That one I should have had an inkling of because of my days as a journalist using reel-to-reel tapes, albeit the smaller cassette versions.

Then there is science fiction. Here, you want to make sure what you are writing about is actually still science fiction and not science fact – even if you take a science fact and spin it out beyond into fiction. A master novelist in that area is the award-winning Rob Sawyer  http://www.sfwriter.com/. Once you have established that you are writing science fiction, you will probably need to do research on how the details would pan out. Even though it is fiction, it has to make sense. The late Isaac Asimov http://www.asimovonline.com/asimov_home_page.html was also a master at that with his Foundation novel series.

You can do research in several ways:

  1. Interview/work with an expert in the area.
  2. Do research on the Internet – Google is a big help (but be careful – check the credentials of the website or blog poster). If you get a good one, you might want to email them for more information.
  3. Read newspaper and magazine articles; also books on the subject. (For my prequel novel, I read a book on serial killers; I didn’t want to rely 100 per cent on Criminal Minds. Also with the novel set in 1998 I didn’t want to mention serial killers and FBI etc. procedure that is post 1998). These three sources can also provide experts for you to contact to obtain further information.
  4. If you are writing historical fiction, or like me, even something 15 years before now, you will need to do a lot more research about what the social economic conditions were at that time. Plus little details – my favourite (although not for my novel) – was canned food available at specific times in history. You would be surprised how far back tinned food goes. You certainly wouldn’t want to have the Countess of Whatever flying around in a plane in 1789, although maybe a hot air balloon as the first one was supposedly invented in 1783 – unless you are writing science fiction.
  5. Time travel can also be tricky as you are bringing a character or character(s) into a past or future time. Besides the obvious of the time-traveller’s reaction to the “primitive” or “futuristic” conditions, you must get the right information into each time period. Diana Gabaldon  http://www.dianagabaldon.com/with her Outlander novel series is an expert at doing this and keeping the reader interested in the story.
  6. And that’s my last point. Don’t bore or bog down your fiction with research. Weave in the research with the story and characters and skip the expository, the character explaining, or worse the author as narrator explaining. It can turn away your reader or at least cause him or her to skip paragraphs, even pages. You know the old adage – it is easier to learn when you are having fun or being entertained.

How do you do research for your fiction?

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my website – http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

And clicking on the book logo at the beginning of this post links directly to my entry on amazon.com. Book is available in print and e-copy.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Putting your social causes into your fiction

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

We care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are. — Henry James

Many of the short stories in my collection Beyond the Tripping Point deal with children who get the short end of the stick – missing children, abused children – and trying to save them as well as punishing the perpetrators. For example, in “Unfinished Business,” the protagonist has run away from something terrible that happened to her as a child. When the same evil threatens her daughter, she is forced to do something. Two of the linked stories (“Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace”), featuring fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, and Dana’s seven-year-old son David also focus on finding and saving children. These two stories have an extra kicker as David has been left psychologically mute because of his own bad experience in the prequel novel which I am now working on.

My cause is the safety of children. When I started writing my short stories and the novel I didn’t set out to include this cause. I didn’t realize it was my cause. Many authors have a social cause and they want to get their point across in a short story or novel. The trick is to do so without lecturing or preaching. You don’t want your story bogged down by a character going on ad nauseam about capital punishment, global warming, etc.

How do you get around this?

Make your cause a part of your character and plot. For example, if you are against capital punishment, your protagonist could be a defence lawyer who tries to get the death sentence off the table, or better still, prove the client is innocent. And I don’t mean copying Perry Mason. Or if your cause is justice isn’t there or doesn’t work in the legal system, your protagonist could be a private investigator who goes beyond the law when catching guilty perpetrators. For global warming, your protagonist could be a meteorologist or a geoscientist who has a passion for global warming – for or against.

That’s the characters. Now you have to work them into a plot. The global warming could be a “what if “story, even science fiction (although these days what is happening with weather may kill the science fiction angle – unless you take it to extremes, the world freezing over into snow (already been done in a movie starring Dennis Quaid. Use your imagination. Your protagonist can be the one predicting something like this will happen. Or he or she could be called in by the government to help solve the problem. Or for a twist – he or she could be doing something to escalate or cause the problem (there’s an idea for science fiction).

What runs through stories involving a cause is timeliness. If you set it in the present, your “cause” needs to be something that is going on in the world now. If the cause is something that was dominant in the past, you need to set your stories then. This is something I do with the fraternal twins’ stories and novel. In the novel, part of the plot has to do with something that was big news in the late 1990s, I’m not telling you what, but I will say that it does have to do with children in danger and I also work in other aspects of children in danger, such as kidnappings – something that is unfortunately, always timely.

Another angle for your protagonist and plot is to build in some foreseeing of the future with your protagonist and plot. In the popular Murdock Mysteries TV series, set at the turn of the century (that’s going from the 19th to the 20th century) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the protagonist Detective William Murdock, has great respect for the murdered victim (he is a staunch Catholic who makes the sign of the cross when he first sees the dead body). So he is motivated to find the killer and bring him or her to justice. However, Detective Murdock is a far-seeing investigator who uses pioneering methods (some of which he devises, some already just coming into investigating procedures elsewhere) such as fingerprints to help solve the crime

I suggest you read books by authors who do some of the above and watch some TV series, although with the latter, especially, you need to be careful the writers did their research and got it right. But that is a subject for a future post.

Meantime, check out the three parts of an interview I did last fall (links below), just as my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) came out. I talk about my characters, plots and yes, Murdock Mysteries, one of my favourite TV series. Read some of the books by its creator, Maureen Jennings – she has other series’ mysteries published as well and co-developed a story concept which became the Bomb Girls TV series. Check out Maureen Jennings at http://www.maureenjennings.com/

And check out my online TV interview on thatchannel.com posted in three parts on You Tube at:

Sharon A Crawford Beyond the Tripping Interview No. 1 on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScuE2g4cWtc&feature=youtu.be

Sharon Reading from Beyond the Tripping Point on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be

Sharon A Crawford Beyond the Tripping Interview No. 2 on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xMhcTRANMY&feature=youtu.be

And don’t forget: clicking on the book cover at the top of this post, links you to Beyond the Tripping Point on www.amazon.com.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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