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Category Archives: Writing

Dark and stormy nights and other novel settings

It was a dark and stormy night. All right, cliche setting. But perhaps it’s overuse and familiarity has a reason. Settings are important when writing fiction. You don’t live in a vacuum, do you? Neither do your characters and their stories. Even if your character has disappeared to a remote island, there is still a setting. Think ocean, sand, trees, wild animals, an anonymous presence, etc. Even if your character is in prison, there is still a setting – albeit one limited in space.

Settings influence your plot and your characters’ behaviour. Don’t believe me. What about the late Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries? Wolfe, a  middle-aged PI, lives in a brownstone apartment in New York City. He seldom leaves his apartment and prefers to spend his time alone in his big orchid room, commiserating with his large collections of orchids. Yes, the plants, in a room of their own.. Not your typical use for a spare apartment room. Wolfe is a loner and an eccentric. When he wants to see clients or suspects, he orders his employee, side-kick Archie to get them in. Any legwork outside the brownstone is Archie’s responsibility. And that is where the reader sees and experiences the setting – a New York City a few decades ago.

So you can see how setting is part of the characters and plot. Sometimes setting can even be a character. Think The Perfect Storm, although here I am treferring to the movie. In fact if you want to see setting, watch the movies and TV shows and see the variety of settings presented. There are hospital series such as The Good Doctor and Chicago Med. So you feel like you are there in the hospital. Or a fire with some of the firefighters stuck inside it in Chicago Fire. You can tell what I like to watch. Even the overdone car chase scene has setting. If you can get your eyes off the cars for a few minutes and just see their surroundings. A car chase on Hawaii Five-O is much different than one through the slushy, snow-covered streets in wintry Chicago PD. And the setting for the car chase influences just how the chase might go.

Back to books. In my mystery novel Beyond Faith, late the last night in November 1999, PI Dana Bowman is walking from a reception party to a midnight meeting with a blackmailer at St. John’s Church. Basically, she is walking from the industrial area of a mid-sized town to its downtown. On the way, I blend in the warm for  November night with a car that seems to be following Dana. I’m not going to tell you what happens with that; instead I’m going to quote some of what happens when Dana gets to the church.

No one else was about, which might make it easy to spot the blackmailer as he or she arrived—if he or she showed up. Even the area of St. John’s was barren of people, but about half a dozen cars were parked in the parking lot. Overflow from the Beaver and Cricket, no doubt. Not the church, which appeared dark, and after climbing the stairs, I found that the door was locked. Odd. But then the time was pushing closer to midnight and St. John’s probably was the church that had been robbed earlier this year.

I walked down to the cement seat surrounding the fountain, and began pacing to and from the seat. My digital showed as five minutes before midnight. More pacing and time checking did nothing except move time forward to 11.58. The blackmailer was pushing it close. A breeze brushed my face and I wished to be wearing the usual wardrobe of jeans, sweats and warm jacket. I also wished the blackmailer would hurry up and get here. Just as I started to put on my fake fur coat something snapped nearby. A tree branch? I jumped and dropped the coat on the ground. Get a grip, Dana. Clutching my bag, I moved away from the fountain seat and looked at the other side of the fountain. (from Beyond Faith, Copyright 2017, Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press, 2017)

And no, I’m not going to tell you what comes next. You have to get the book for that. (Hint. Click on the book at the top of this post.)

But from the Nero Wolfe scene descriptions and from the above from Beyond Faith, something else is going on. We don’t just get a bland description of the setting. The characters are actually doing something in it and the plot moves forward.

Plot, characters, setting – all part of a novel and they are intertwined, connected.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Unexpected snafus when marketing your book

Click on book for more info

I love promoting my Beyond books – in person (alone or with other authors) or on social media. Sure, it is a lot of work but it can get very creative. However, one thing, actually many things have come up, under one category to slow or stop the process – snafus from outside sources, particularly connected to computers and other digital stuff.

Here’s what I’ve been dealing with to promote Beyond Faith. Warning: some of it might sound a bit odd and at least unexpected and unwelcome.

My Beyond books are available online in both paperback and e-copy in many outlets world-wide. But to get them in bookstores the bookstore has to order them in at either my request or someone who walks into a bricks and mortars bookstore and wants a copy. If I have already persuaded the bookstore to order in a copy, then the customer can buy it. Otherwise it can be ordered in.

That’s the way it is supposed to work and has with Beyond the Tripping Point and Beyond Blood. My publisher’s distributor sends electronically all the info to all these bookstore.

Not for the Indigo Chapters Coles chain. And this was not the chain’s fault. Imagine my surprise when I went into a Coles bookstore and the manager was so enthusiastic to order in Beyond Faith and Beyond Blood and have me do a book signing, but when she went to order them in (while I was there) no problem with BB, but she couldn’t do so with BF. She advised me to contact my publisher and when it was fixed she would order them in and set up a book signing.

I emailed my publisher right away and he got on it right away, even ccing me with his email to the distributor. A customer service guy from the latter emailed me and said it was being forwarded to their tech dept. to fix. Yes, it was a computer glitch from the distributor. Since then, my publisher let me know it has been fixed so I emailed the bookstore manager and just hope this message hasn’t screwed up her still wanting to order in my books and have me do a book signing.

And the bookseller company isn’t completely guilt-free as there is another problem – the book cover for Beyond Faith shows fine on their website for ordering in for the e-copy but for the print copy (which presumably can now be ordered in) shows no book cover  – just a standard book graphic with the message that the book cover graphic isn’t available. I contacted the bookstore online customer service and got an email that I had to contact the new author section and gave me an email. Somebody from there emailed me and said they could fix it if i emailed them a jpeg of the book cover – and proceeded to give me the size and dimensions and dpi required and the file name to use. i had to find the larger book cover graphic on my computer . Even with my organized file system it wasn’t that easy to find and then I had to rename file and find it again. And yes I used my computer’s Search function.

It doesn’t help that I have limited sight in my left eye.  Which explains any typos I may have not caught and corrected after reading the preview of my posts.

But I sent the book cover graphic and got a reply that the jpeg is okay but it will take a few days for them to get fixed.

At least all the replies to me from the bookseller customer service, etc. came quickly

Like I said I like doing book promo – the legwork – in person and the finger work online including social media. But trying to remedy others mistakes? Especially technical ones?

Nah!

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

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Fictionalizing your problems

Lately I’ve been inundated with problems, snafu sand the like – 90 to 95 per cent caused by other people, organizations, etc. But I have to deal with them and get them solved. I may go into one of them in a future post as it is writing related, but for now if you really want to know more you can read this post from my personal blog Only Child Writes.

To say I am ticked off at all the time wasted sorting out these problems, but i do have an outlet – so do all writers.

The pen is mightier than the sword

Or in today’s world

Creative Digital is mightier than the sword.

Some of you might go the journalistic route and do a story on the problem or write an op-ed piece. I used to do the former and sometimes do the latter on the aforementioned personal blog. But now I take the problem and fictionalize it in a short story or novel. And because i write mysteries, I can kill off the culprit or make him or her the killer. Fictionalizing is the key word. You don’t want to be sued or worse.

My latest one is a story I’m writing (between dealing with the actual problems, doing client work, and PR for Beyond Faith) is about telemarketers. How many of you (despite any “do not call” type laws) get hit with a deluge of telemarketers calling? Even wrong calls claiming to be wrong numbers? Well, I get too many and usually don’t bother to pick up the phone. But when they leave voice mail messages, guess what I want to do.

The story is still in draft. But it’s working title is “Don’t Call Me.” The story has lots of twists and turns, including the murder weapon. I’m not saying what it is or who murders whom. But let’s just say I had a slew of questions for my police consultant on the crime scene and in the process got the  lowdown from him on how to use that weapon to kill someone. The weapon is not your usual gun, knife, rope, poison, etc. but is something people with a certain hobby would have in their possession.

I promise to use that weapon only in my story and in real life for its regular use.

What problem has been stealing your time and energy lately? Or is it an annoying person. Don’t yell or kill that person. Fictionalize him or her in a story.

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

 

Click on the book cover below and get the lowdown on this book and the other two Beyond books at Amazon

The latest Beyond mystery novel

 

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Getting you and your new book on TV

Being interviewed on a TV show is a good way to get the word out about your book and, if you have a good interviewer, get out some information about you, the author. One sign of interest in your book, is interest in you, the author. How do you write? Why do you write? Or in my case – who wrote the book, Beyond Faith – PI Dana Bowman, the main character who insists she wrote it, or me, Sharon A. Crawford, whose name is on the cover?

All that and more (including non-fiction books versus fiction books) got covered last week when I appeared on the Liquid Lunch where I was interviewed by host Hugh Reilly and a newbie co-host. This is on the Internet channel thatchannel.com – the channel has been going since 2004. Not bigtime ( or small time) TV but TV is no longer just regular channels. Think Crave TV. Think Netflix. And think thatchannel.com

This was my third appearance in six years (one for each Beyond book) on Liquid Lunch. This time I have mixed feelings about the way it went. There wasn’t time for me to read a couple of pages from Beyond Faith because we chatted too much. “We” is mostly Hugh and meas the newbie didn’t say too much and she put her foot in her mouth about one thing she said. But I handled it graciously.  Also it was a different studio room and setup from the previous two appearances.

But my biggest gripe was my bangs had been cut too short the day before. Clearly I’m reading too many celebrity stories online. I was able to carry on an intelligent conversation and even steer it back to Beyond Faith when it got a bit off track.

You can check it out for yourself here. Or you can click on the Beyond Faith book cover above and that will take you directly to the interview.

And something extra is coming out of all of this.

I am getting my own TV show on thatchannel.com. It will be about crime – true and fiction and  PI Dana Bowman will be a part of it – if she has her way. Show will get going this spring

More info closer to the date. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, watch the video (it’s about 27 minutes) and please spread the link to it on your social media. Thanks.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Sharon holding up Beyond Faith

 

 

 

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Plotting Your Way Through Your Story

I wrote the original version of the below a few years back when I was Writer in Residence for the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Authors’ Association. With a few updates, which I have now made, it is still relevant for us authors. So here goes. 

 

Plotting Your Way Through Your Story

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. — Kurt Vonnegut, science fiction writer

Vonnegut describes the fiction writer perched at the computer. The writer is ready to roll with the plot. Sometimes he soars, but sometimes his wings get clipped.

Let’s look at some baddies in fiction plotting.

A literary magazine editor once scrawled on one of my short stories, “This is not a short story. This is an incident.”

A novel that I evaluated contained quirky characters. However, they solved everything too easily and their relationships, including the love relationship, had no problems.

In another novel, the author tried to carry most of the plot with dialogue. Dialogue is good for showing the reader rather than overdoing the narration. But you can overkill with dialogue too.

In another novel, the author had created a certain atmosphere from the setting and characters. Unfortunately, the plot resembled those 500-piece jigsaw puzzles that you finally toss out in a garage sale.

Kurt Vonneget describes plot as

I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away — even if it’s only a glass of water. … When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyone’s wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are. … And you can put him to sleep by never having characters confront each other.

The characteristics of a good plot are:

  1. A protagonist or main character with a conflict to resolve. The characters drive the plot. Let them struggle to get there. Life may be a bowl of cherries, but the characters need to experience the pits.

  2. The plot moves forward, usually chronologically, although some flashbacks can work. If you get lost, use Doug Lawson’s rule, i.e., figuring out where the characters would rather not go.

  3. Events must be connected, not random and they must link from one event to another with some purpose.

  4. The plot must be believable, whether commercial or literary fiction. Your story line may seem unbelievable, but you make it believable by suspending the reader’s disbelief. Think “X Files.”

  5. Their must be a climax, whether it’s a moral one in the protagonist’s mind or the opposite extreme, such as a sword fight. Think protagonist and antagonist together at the edge of a cliff – for an analogy.

  6. The plot must have some resolution in the end. With series mystery novels, something, perhaps in the main characters’ personal lives, is often left hanging for the next novel. But the main plot must be resolved or you cheat the reader.

 

And the usual, if you click on the Beyond Faith book cover at the beginning, you go to a link with more info including a bit about its twisted plot.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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Sneaking in writing when you have no time

Gearing up to write

I’m back after a two-week break, some of it ostensibly to do some writing. But I had to spend a lot of it dealing with house and property issues related to all the snow and cold weather. But – yes, another but… I did start my next Beyond mystery novel. Just had to get something down with all the ideas swirling around in my mind. And i am glad the ideas were coming.

Which gave me an idea to spread around to those of having difficulty finding time to sit down and just write.

First of all, who says you have to be sitting down at your laptop? You write from your soul, from your whole being. And as I just proved, from what swirls around in your head. So why not write while you are busy doing other things? Things like vacuuming, standing in line at the grocery store (unless you have all your groceries delivered), waiting for that bus or subway or actually travelling on that busy or subway, waiting in line to gas up the car, and yes, even shovelling snow. Basically doing tasks that don’t involve major calculations and the like from your brain.

Let your mind go (no, not crazy), Don’t even try to think about what you could write. But it does help to give your brain a quick nudge that you want a story idea and voila, as you push that snow or go for that walk, ideas will start to come into your mind. Think I’m nuts. Earlier this morning  an idea for a new short story started going through my mind. I told myself that was all very well, but I needed an idea for this blog post one right away popped into my brain. And so here it is.

While I am making time to write this – it is my day of the week for this- you might not be in a position to do so. Well, keep the idea alive in your head although you will probably find you don’t have to push it. The story idea will stay there to develop – even if you have to concentrate on something else, like pay for your groceries. The idea will return and may keep haunting you until you do something about it. That is how my new Beyond novel got started.

So, you will have to find time eventually to sit down and get writing. But in the meantime, let the story evolve and run around in your brain. It is certainly more pleasant than shovelling snow  and complaing about it.

Cheers

Sharon A, Crawford

Below is the cover of my latest Beyond book – Beyond Faith. Click on it and it should take you to Amazon and a book review.

 

 

 

 

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Just Write

How I feel some days lately

Tuesday I decided I had had enough of trying to get all the client and other not-my-writing work done. I was behind in it all and not keeping to schedule anyway. So I played hooky that afternoon

And sat in front of the desktop PC, just daring it to blue screen on me. (It didn’t then) and dived into rewriting my memoir. It had stewed in its file for a few years. It was time to return to it. I did have a deadline of sorts – submit the first 10 pages to the Writer in Residence at the Toronto Reference Library – in January. That’s when the submission time frame opens.

It was on my schedule to get back to the memoir during the two weeks I’m taking off from client work (and all the other madness – book PR, etc.) Instead,  there I sat Tuesday afternoon reading some of my memoir’s beginning, did some rewriting, did some deciding what needs changing or deleting, did some deleting. It was wonderful to be able to just write, even though it was rewriting. It was my creative stuff.

I am back to the other stuff in my business – client work, book promo, trying to get writing teaching gigs ,etc.. But I have discovered what the big time stealer is and yes, some is related to clients or wannabee clients.

E-mail. All the frigging email I get. I still want my email programs and accounts to work, but I don’t want to spend so much time on it answering everybody’s queries, doing this and that for everybody (“everybody” is a generic term here). So, I’ve started giving my notice – during those two weeks, December 19 to January 2, I’m going off the work grid. I’ll answer family and friends email, do my blogs, and Facebook and Goodreads.

But work stuff – emails related to that arriving while I’m taking my break – they will sit in the pending folder until after January 2. And after that it will depend on who is emailing – the clients whose work I’m getting back to –  any querries for book promo and teaching writing – those will get priority.

But for those two weeks, I will do what I haven’t been doing too much of – read, see family and friends.

And Write!

A writer has to get her priorities straight.

And for those who might be wondering – yes there will be a fourth Beyond book – ideas and plots and characters are running round in my mind. So, some of that will have to get on the computer soon.

Maybe I will wish that my main Beyond character PI Dana Bowman was actually doing some of the writing.

How do you deal with all the other stuff in your life getting in the way of your writing?

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The real me

 

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