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Category Archives: Beyond mystery series

Creative Nonfiction intersecting with memoir and fiction?

I’m teaching a new writing workshop called Memoir as Creative Nonfiction. Although both are nonfiction and therefore must be truthful or as Lee Gutkind’s book stays You Can’t Make this Stuff Up. But you can use fiction techniques (emphasis on “techniques”) to tell your true story. Mr. Gutkind should know – he has been dubbed the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction.

As this blog primarily focuses on fiction writing, I’m going to give a brief look at this technique.

Let’s suppose you are writing a book about your parents emigrating to Canada or to the United States in whatever year they did so. Remembering that you must tell the truth (at least as best as you remember it and your research backs you up). Maybe you are a journalist and so you deal with facts. Truth is important in newspaper, magazine (print or online) stories too. And yes I know that’s not always the way they are written. So using your journalism background you do your research on how and when your parents emigrated. Yes, you interview your parents (let’s presume they are stlll both living)  for their story, but you do some online research for perhaps the boat they came across on. What was going on in the country they came from, etc.  All good…until  you start writing your story which you write something like this:

My parents were born in Germany in World War 11 – my father in 1936 and my mother in 1937. My mother was Jewish and along with her  parents and two siblings, was sent to a concentration camp in Poland in 1943. Her older brother didn’t survive. At the end of the war the Allies freed her parents from the concentration camp. Because of their ordeal, they decided to emigrate to Canada.

Boring!. Methinks the author is hiding her parents story behind her journalism. It doesn’t even make an interesting magazine story.

How did her parents, particularly her mother, feel about living during World War 11 in Germany? What was their life like – in the  eyes of a young child? How did she feel about losing a brother in such horrific circumstances? (research can be used to back up fact – for example dates, location.) So many questions that can be answered by writing like it was fiction, i.e., use dialogue, suspense, literary techniques like metaphor and simile and make her mother and father appear real – e.g. how did they feel? The writer has talked to her parents for goodness sake.

As this is someone else’s story,  I’m not going to rewrite it for you. But I’ll give a brief example from my memoir in the works and true stories based on it.

Here’s one which is somewhat self-explanatory.

Stuck firmly in this unknown, like a fly to flypaper, was Dad’s cancer, (From Don’t Look Down,”  copyright 2018 Sharon A. Crawford)of

And here’s the beginning of my recounting of a disturbing incident in the middle of the night. I was eight at the time.

One late night, loud pounding on the front door wakes Mom, Dad and me. Like the servant heeding the master, we all trip out to the front entrance. Mother turns on the veranda light and yanks the door open.

 “Do you know this man?” A police officer stands on our veranda. His right hand supports the shoulder of a dishevelled man.

“Uh, home,” the man says.

The stench of his breath assaults my nostrils and I jump back behind Mom, then peek out. The man’s oily black hair lies flat. Night shadow and red blotches compete for attention on his face. He is bare from his neck to his dark trousers. Looking closer, I see blood dribbling down from a deep slice on his left cheek onto his chest. His eyes look bloodshot and vague. A black mass is stamped above his left eye.

“Home?” he asks again.

“Sharon, go back to bed,” Dad says. “This is not for little girls.”  (From Deconstructing My Demons, copyright 2018 Sharon A. Crawford)

You can see some of the fiction techniques used – dialogue, the characters  and some of what they were like – real people, my inner thoughts and feelings, and use of the senses such as hearing (both dialogue and the pounding on the door) and lots of visual.

So it’s not fiction. It is memoir. Is it also creative nonfiction?

My workshop will reveal all – at least as much as can be done in one and a half hours including discussion with participants and a short writing exercise.

Here are the details for the workshop.

Memoir as Creative Nonfiction

Can memoir be creative non-fiction? In this workshop, author and editor Sharon A. Crawford will explore the many forms of Creative Non-fiction and Memoir and how they can intersect. Excerpts from published works will be used to start a discussion. Through writing exercises, participants will get the chance to begin their own creative non-fiction memoir and get a quick critique. Free.

Call 416-396-3975 to register.

Location: S. Walter Stewart Library, 170 Memorial Park Avenue, Toronto, Ontario Canada

Date and Time: Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.

And here’s a photo of my late Mom and Dad, who did not emigrate to Canada, but our ancestors did in the 1800s.

 

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

author of the Beyond Mystery series and also memoir.

 

 

 

 

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Sharon and Dana and Beyond books at Word on the Street

The latest Beyond mystery. (2017).

 

But before I talk about being there, first a word about Word on the Street (WOTS).

It’s an outdoor festival for books and magazines and much more that is related – panels of authors, author readings, author presentations, publishers, agents, magazine editors, writing organizations, children’s area, etc.

It’s currently in its third location at Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West by Lake Ontario in Toronto, Canada

It is free to get in. But you can spend a lot (or a little) money on books, magazines and magazine subscriptions, and food

It is for readers and writers – and often that’s the same person.

It is a great place to meet other writers and readers.

It is a great family outing as well as great for individuals.

It runs this Sunday, September 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More info here

And at this point, the weather is supposed to be cool and sunny.

I’ll be there at two booths with my Beyond Books (see below for book titles and cover shots) and will also have flyers for  the following:

my East End Writers’ Group, which meetsvthe last Wednesday of the month (excl. Aug. and Dec.) at S. Walter Stewart Library

Another War Between Mystery Fiction and Literary Fiction Presentation I do with Michael Robert Dyet (literary short story collection Hunting Muskie, Blue Denin Press fall 2017) Oct. 23 at Annette Street Library, and

my new writing workshop, Memoir as Creative Nonfiction which I’ll be teaching Oct. 16 at S. Walter Stewart Library

And my appearances for book selling and signing at WOTS:

2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. at the Crime Writers of Canada booth

4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sisters in Crime Toronto booth

Before that I’ll be checking out a few other booths. As for Private Investigator Dana Bowman from the Beyond books – she thinks she will be running around there, but we’ll see about that.

Speaking of the Beyond books – here they are:

Short story collection (2012)

The third Beyond book (2014)

 

The third Beyond mystery (2017)

 

See you there.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Book Promo by Serendipity

The latest Beyond mystery.

I have learned that just having a Marketing Plan to promote my Beyond mystery books (and following it, even) is not always the most lucrative way to do it. The late great John Lennon was right when he said “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” And so it has been happening with me lately.

In late July I was in the thatchannel.com  studio,  or rather the main character, PI Dana Bowman, in my Beyond mystery books was being interviewed on the weekly Liquid Lunch show. Three people interviewed Dana – the show’s host, Hugh Reilly and two authors – Jen Frankel (genre fiction) and Dave Boyle (literary fiction). Both Jen and Dave passed along to me a couple of places to do author presentations. And Dave even took it one step further – getting it in motion. This one is that joint presentation literary author Michael Robert Dyet (author of the short story collection Hunting Muskie) and I do – The War Between Mystery Fiction and Literary Fiction. After much to-ing and fro-ing on my part with Dave and the librarian, Michael and I are now scheduled to do our presentation at the Annette Street Library branch in the west end of Toronto, 6.30 p.m., Tuesday, October 23. And we can bring book copies to sell. If you want to see some photos from this presentation we did the end of June at the S. Walter Stewart library branch, visit my website here.

Jen suggested an east end Toronto advertising company that has author readings and emailed me the info afterwards. I still have to follow-up on that one.

Perhaps the most serendipitous one is with my neighbour, Bob. Bob is a retiree who with his wife, Norma Jean, now collects wine and pop bottles and donates the money he gets for them to local kids’ sports leagues for their uniforms and equipment. So he gets my few empty wine bottles when he comes by with his buggy. We also chat then. A month or so ago he told me about another neighbour who would be doing a cable TV show interviewing local people doing interesting unusual things and he was going to be a guest. So, I piped in about being a published mystery author and he jumped in and asked questions about that. Turns out he and his wife are big mystery fiction readers and have a huge collection of books. He asked me about mine and where they could get copies.

So, since then he has bought a copy of all three of the Beyond books from me – this month. The local TV show hasn’t started yet, but who knows…

And Monday some of my cousins came to visit Toronto for the day. We are all avid gardeners so went to the Toronto Botanical Gardens and then came back to my place to see my garden. Then we went to dinner at a local restaurant. It was there that I mentioned Beyond Faith – as they hadn’t been able to come to the Book launch for it last fall. Two of them who are big mystery readers wanted to buy a copy, so it was back to my place for them to do so before they headed for home.

That’s five Beyond books sold this month that was not part of my marketing plan.

Sometimes it is good to give serendipity a chance.

Hey, we writers have story ideas come to us from wherever. Why not let book sales come to us some of the time?

The only thing we have to do is mention our books unless like with the Liquid Lunch show the info is already part of what is going on.

And if you want to find out about the upcoming (so far) Beyond gigs go here and scroll down  and a workshop I’m teaching called “Memoir as Creative Nonfiction” – which has nothing do with mystery writing, go here.

I’m not the “M and M” lady for nothing (and I don’t mean those scrumptious chocolate and peanut butter candies, but Mystery and Memoir – that’s what I write)

And here’s the link to that Liquid Lunch segment where Dana Bowman appeared. thatchannel.com does have it on its website, but this You Tube link is quicker.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

PI Dana Bowman guests on Liquid Lunch

 

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Putting your writing out there – whatever way

sharon at CWC Arthur Ellis short list Marilyn Kay photo

We. all have to start somewhere to get our writing out there – first for publishing and then to promote the published work. Both can involve some reading in public. But getting out of our comfort zone of behind our laptop, Ipad, etc. isn’t easy at first. Our “audience” might not like our work. They might say rude things about it – like “don’t give up your day job soon.” They might not get what we are writing. Or maybe deep inside there is a fear of …not failure, but success.

Oh sure, I can say that easily, you think. I, who do live skits and TV shows featuring Dana Bowman, my author readings – alone or with other authors, which come across more as acting then reading. I who teach writing workshops and courses. I, who approach venues to do some of the aforementioned. And let’s not forget my 35 years as a freelance journalist which required much story pitching.

Dana Bowman does the into

It’s that last phrase that is important. Not the 35 years, but the years of experience. Maybe being a senior has something to do with it, too. Where you know your life length is ticking away so you (or I do) tend to take some chances you wouldn’t maybe do otherwise. I also am known as a big mouth – not just having a loud voice. I say what I mean and sometimes I’m blunt. Taking after my late mother? Maybe, but as I said, age can make a difference.

But it was not always this way and I’m not referring to age. Let me give some examples.

When I was 20 I began submitting short stories to magazines. One editor, of a now defunct magazine wrote a note back about one story “This isn’t a short story; this is an incident.”

I was so incensed, so upset that I gave up writing short stories for years.

But I didn’t give up writing. I just switched – to journalism, which I had been interested in anyway. I took many journalism courses at what is now Ryerson University in Toronto and at Seneca Community College. After the Seneca course in 1976, where every student in the course got published somewhere on their own merits and with good suggestions from the instructor), I started pitching stories to local newspapers

Not without trepidation. My first story pitch was about a local noisy ratepayers group.My then husband had to stand by me at the phone while I called and talked to the editor. When the editor said to “send the story” I got a little brave and mentioned that I had sent him a humorous personal essay and he said he would check it.

Both were published as were many more. And after those two, for journalism stories I just pitched the idea first. Personal essays, like fiction, you usually write first and pitch after. I also moved along to other local newspapers – at the request of their editors. So I wrote a weekly community news column for first one newspaper and then another.

But that didn’t go smoothly all the time. For the first one, the editor forgot to tell the current community news columnist that she was fired. She found out when I called her in her capacity as spokesperson for a community group for info. Oops.

At this newspaper I really messed up. Six months after I started writing my column , the editor of another newspaper asked me if I wanted to switch and write a similar column for them. Although the pay was higher, I declined out of loyalty to the first paper, because of the short time writing the column.

The following year the first newspaper gave me a raise of the princely sum of $5.00 a week. So when the “new” (as in a year and a half) columnist for newspaper no. 2 told me she was moving out of the area and so leaving the newspaper (yes, we “rivals” knew each other – covering the same events. Hey, a reporter from the first newspaper and a reporter from the second newspaper got married – they met covering town council meetings. Both became my friends and they are still married, although they each went on to different jobs and are now retired).

So I ate crow and phoned the editor at the second newspaper and said I had heard E. was leaving and I was now interested in writing the community news column for his newspaper. He gave me an appointment to go in to see him. By then my husband and I were separated – we had a preschooler son ,so there I was pushing his stroller into my interview with the editor.

I got the column and wrote it for six years until the publisher canned the column. I had also been writing community theatre reviews and feature articles. After the column went, I did some freelancing for several other local papers and then move don to the Toronto newspaper and magazine market – and other area magazines. Not all smooth sailing, which is one of my points. Like everything else in life, you get some bumps in the road. Each bump you handle adds to your experience and your confidence, although if you are like me, you still sometimes worry about it.

As for my reading, skits and TV appearances with my books, that’s from experience, too.Teaching the writing workshops helped develop confidence in front of other people.This for someone who in high school nervously took part in a class debate. Reading – I just practice before hand. Ditto the skits. And I have a little secret. I am terrible at memorizing scripts when I am acting with another person. Even on my own, I forget lines. So I improvise and make sure I have a script handy.

And the short story writing? I went back to it about 12 years ago – had some stories published in anthologies and my first Beyond mystery book, Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) was a collection of 13 stories.

Also to get a little practice in getting your writing out there and in reading,and some feedback, join a writing critique group. I blog about that here.

Cheers.

Sharon A,. Crawford

 

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Getting story ideas from your neighborhood

The latest Beyond mystery. Click on it for more info

In the last post I talked about getting story ideas from your garden. But here’s another story source – your neighborhood. Maybe the house down the street is a marijuana grow -op ( there was one kitty-corner across the street from me a few years ago. Unfortunately I was out when the police raid went down.). Maybe there are always loud arguments from the house next door. Maybe…

Well, never the maybes here. This morning a couple of legal surveyors knocked on my door to let  me know that they would be doing a survey of the next door neighbor’s house – on the other side of my driveway – just to let me know they were there and what they were doing. The wouldn’t tell me why, said they don’t know and aren’t told. Yeah, right. When I found them on my verandah taking pictures of my property i called them on it and they said they need to get the properties next door for boundaries as the underground metal stakes weren’t found.

Oh! Oh!  Even though they said they were probably removed (these houses go back to 1949 and 1950), it got me thinking – what if the underground metal stakes are under my driveway? What if they have to dig up that part of my driveway. What if somewhere the property line is wrong and part of my property is really theirs? And what are they going to do? Build a fence around their property? Sell their house? Or add an addition? Because they have three kids and they are all getting older, and the boy’s room is tiny, I’m guessing it’s an upper addition. Except for selling their house, most larger renovations including fences, require a permit and before that a property survey. If they are building an addition, does the city give  notice to  us living near in case I want to object? I don’t know about Toronto, but when I lived in Aurora, they did when the neighbors wanted to do so. because it would invade our privacy (on higher ground than our house), my then ex-husband and I formally objected. They couldn’t build an addition, so they build a swimming pool and held noisy parties late into the night. Some of us called the police.

You can see where this real life occurrence can give you story ideas? What if the surveyors were actually casing the joint to do a robbery? What if they are actually who they say they are and the boundaries are wrong. What about the change starting a neighbors’ feud – which could lead to murder? What if…?

What is going on in your neighborhood? Does your neighborhood have a neighborhood gossip? Most do. Ours does and I’m going to talk to her, although I suspect in this case I know more. Stay tuned to what is happening in your neighborhood and your neighbors. You may just get an idea for your next story. Just don’t forget to fictionalize it – use the real situation as a kick-off point for your story and create if from there.

And for those in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, I’m one of several authors reading at an event for the alumni of workshops and/or courses taught by well know southern Ontario writing instructor and editor Brian Henry this Sunday afternoon. Specifics are:

Author Readings at The Wallace Gastropub

Sunday, June 10, 2018

12 noon – 4 p.m.

Location:

The Wallace Gastropub

1954 Yonge St, Toronto (Just north of Davisville)

Sharon A. Crawford reads from Beyond Faith as she joins other alumni of Brian Henry’s writing classes to showcase their writing creations. More info here.

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford’

Author of the Beyond mystery series

 

 

 

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Getting ideas from your garden

Scene from my garden

Many of us writers are also gardeners. I’m not sure why. Both are creative although not in the same vein. One we create with words and the other we create with colour, design and more practically for food to eat. Writing is more in the head and gardening requires a lot of physical exercise. So maybe the two provide balanced living.

For example, when something about a story I’m writing hits a stalling point, I go out in the garden. Often I end up pulling weeds. Like the bad things in life irritating me, which I want gone, I want the weeds gone. And sometimes when someone or some entity (read big utility company and the like) has messed up something in my life, I give the weeds names as I yank them out and pitch them in the yard waste bin. And yes, when I’m done in the garden I often have an idea how to deal with the problem person or entity.

And I often get a story idea – like the short story I’m writing and rewriting about telemarketers.

So, let’s see how something in the garden can bring about a story idea. Let’s take something common in people’s gardens – wildlife trespassing and doing damage. In particular raccoons getting into the garbage and creating a mess. I used that idea as part of the plot in my first Beyond novel Beyond Blood. I had someone doing a series of break and enters one summer also leaving a dead raccoon at some of the places. There was a reason for it and not to punish raccoons for causing damage. You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out what.

But raccoons or any other animal doing garden damage can conjure up several story ideas: a rash of garbage and recycling bins being knocked over in a neighborhood on collection days. Raccoons? Or something else. Maybe a red herring for something really bad going on. Perhaps someone in the neighborhood wants to sell their property to a developer and his or her neighbors don’t want to. Or vice versa Maybe a developer wants to tear down some old houses to put up condos. So someone (depending on your story’s angle) might be imitating raccoon actions to make the area no longer livable for the residents and so they will want to sell, but not get caught.

Or back to the weeds for another story idea. Whose name are you using when you pull a weed and why? What’s the problem the person is causing? Take it from there but fictionalize it.  Like I did with the telemarketer story. I wrote it somewhat tongue in cheek but it is a murder mystery (well, that is what I write). I decided to take a crack at telemarketers and created a fictitious telemarketing firm and had a gardener and a non-gardener who are friends go after that company. And that’s all I’ll say.

And from that, you can see your story characters don’t all have to be gardeners. In my Beyond series, neither PI Dana Bowman or her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture are gardeners, but gardens and gardening appear in two of the short stories featuring them in Beyond the Tripping Point. In “Road Raging”, the twins traipse through a garden gone dormant in the fall – they are after a road rager. In “Digging Up The Dirt” inside a garden centre  something poisonous in it is featured.

Want more ideas? Watch the old BBC series Rosemary and Thyme which has two gardeners who are hired to fix large estate gardens in England and always run into murder. One of the two women gardeners is a former police detective. Sometimes PBS runs reruns but it is also available ion You Tube.

Or if you want something currently running on TV on one of the specialty channels – try Midsummer Murders – often takes place in a large beautiful English country garden although murders are investigated by police, not gardeners.

Take a look at the photo from my garden at the beginning of this post. Does it give you an idea for a story?

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. Latest Beyond Faith. Here is one of the other Beyond books mentioned in the post above. Click on it for more info about it and the other two Beyond books.

 

 

 

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Sharon A. Crawford’s Beyond Faith appearances

I have a sequence of events where I am appearing with two of my Beyond mystery series in the next few weeks. One on my own and others with other criminal (I mean “crime”) writers. Fortunately, the snafu with Indigo and its chain of bookstores having problems ordering in Beyond Faith for the actual stores, seems to have been fixed by the distributor, Ingram Sparks. Let’s hope it stays fixed. The store  managers and I were perplexed and frustrated by the problem.

Here is the  first event.

We will not be reading from our books. Instead we will be doing mini-presentations about our latest books. In my case, will my nosey main character PI Dana Bowman show up? I am trying to contain her between the book covers of Beyond Faith. But who knows what that wily PI will come up with?

And what are the other authors going to do?

Maureen Jennings (Murdock Mysteries) will be announcing the short list for each category for this year’s Arthur Ellis Awards. We (and others present) will be listening with the proverbial bated breaths.

So, if you are in the area in the GTA or actually in Toronto, please drop by for an interesting evening. And it’s all free.

Meantime, you can click on the Beyond Faith book cover at the top for more info about it.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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