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The Enemies Within Us – a Memoir is released

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October 1 was the big day. Blue Denim Press released my new book, my memoir. I am thrilled and am now busy with book promo and talking about the book and what’s inside it.

Part of that is posting to my blogs (I have another blog) but when I opened this author blog today to post, I got this new-fangled setup – supposedly to make it better and easier to post. Right. And pigs fly. The only thing “easier” is the print and setup on the eyes. Well, they did say it was coming setup, but no date set and no real warning.

Methinks I have to cross the M-line again to the mystery writing end and call on PI Dana Bowman to comment here. She is waiting to do so about The Enemies Within Us – a Memoir, but first…

PI Dana Bowman here. Like Sharon says, what is all this here? I think I have to agree with Sharon. Why fix what isn’t broken, what still works. Of course, that has different connotations coming from me as I’m from the late 1990s and going into 2000. I mean we did have email and Internet and cell phones, but not smart phones. Having had a gander at the latter, I don’t mind that change; but some things shouldn’t change, at least drastically.

This is maybe one reason why Sharon chose to write about her past, her childhood. From reading her book, I can see that some things, while appearing different from today, really never change – just some of the details. Take being bullied. Now kids are bullied online. It is there forever. It is…

Oh, Sharon wants to speak here.

Over to you Sharon A. Crawford

Dana is right. I was bullied by two people – a close friend and a nun. My memoir goes into that from my perspective as a child and my perspective as a senior. I don’t suddenly switch from young Sharon to old(er) Sharon. Occasionally I use the “in hindsight” type of phrase. But the content is from the two perspectives. What child of five, 10, or even 13 would have all the wisdom of an older person (this is a general question folks)? If I wrote it exactly and only like a five or 10-year old would say and see it, the story might not work; it might be uneven. I like to hold up Catherine Gildner’s Too Close to the Falls memoir as an example of excellent blending of her childhood but looking back from an adult’s hindsight, and still keeping the child’s perspective. I don’t know if Ms Gildner would agree, but I see it (at least with my memoir) as the younger me sitting on the shoulders of the much older me and the two of us going back to the 1950s, 1960s and very early 1970s to dig up, tell, and yes, even analyze what the heck happened back then and how did it affect me. And hopefully I have learned from at least some of it.

One thing is certainly different than back then. I am no longer a shy child. In fact, some days you can’t shut me up. And I do tend to get carried away speaking my mind and writing what I think.

But isn’t the latter all part of writing. Even with fiction, the author can come through – somewhat in attitude and certainly in style with the writing.

So, when you read The Enemies Within Us a Memoir, this is something to keep in mind – maybe at the back of your mind. You want to enjoy your read and not get lost in analyzing. Despite the theme of me having to deal with my beloved Daddy getting cancer and eventually dying from it, there are lots of funny stories within the memoir.

And I’m going to end this blog post with a short excerpt from one of these stories where my parents collaborate to teach six year old me how to ice-skate.

Daddy turns on the hose, and out pours cold water. Overnight it freezes on the dormant grass in the backyard. I never think how the water passes through the hose. Wouldn’t it be frozen? Does Daddy put his ear to the lime green radio and listen to the weather reports to see when the daytime temperature sits around freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit then) or just below? When night falls, so does the temperature, and in the morning—magic—instant skating rink.

Then Daddy turns it over to Mommy. Like a dance instructor trying to teach steps to a nervous wannabe, she grabs my hands and tries to set me in motion.

“Come on Sharon. Just slide your feet, one foot in front of the other.”

My feet, tucked tightly into new white figure skates, scrape and totter along the ice and my fingers dig into her hands; her mittens no protection for the hard, petrified squeeze I give her. I do not want to fall. I might break a leg. I’m terrified of losing control, so carry on clinging to Mom as she steps backward, sometimes in her rubber boots and sometimes in an old pair of Daddy’s black hockey skates. I follow forward like a drunken clown. (Copyright 2020 Sharon A. Crawford, The Enemies Within Us – a Memoir, Blue Denim Press)

The Enemies Within Us – a Memoir is available at

Amazon and Chapters/Indigo online.

Happy Reading.

Sharon A. Crawford

And Pi Dana Bowman, for this post anyway

 
 

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Return to blogging with a new book

“Your dad has cancer.” That’s the beginning of my new book. And it has arrived.

If some of you thought I had dropped off the face of the earth, I can’t really blame you. It has been a couple of months, not just the usual couple of weeks since this author appeared on her author blog. Not COVID-19 (not yet, anyway, and hopefully never), but I have been busy. Yes, some with client work, some with my garden,  some with moderating twice-a-month Zoom meetings of my East End Writers’ Group, and spending these COVID-19 times chatting weekly with my son on Zoom. Somewhere in there I was rewriting and rewriting another book to meet my publisher’s deadline. And I did. But there is something different here. My new book is not another in the Beyond mystery series (although I have been working on the fourth Beyond book).

Drum roll here: MY NEW BOOK IS A MEMOIR. After 18 years of on-and-off writing, through several versions with several different content, it is done. And it is about time. I’ve been teaching memoir writing workshops for 10 years, so now the teacher has to put her pen where her mouth is  – or something like that.

So, folks,  meet meet me from age four to 22  in my memoir THE ENEMIES WITHIN US.

Oh, oh. PI Dana Bowman, who is not in my memoir, is insisting she step in now. She wants to introduce the new book. She is already doing that elsewhere, Give someone an inch and they will take a mile. And don’t ask me to put that in metric. When I was a child we measured in feet and inches, not centimetres and metres. Okay, over to you Dana.

PI Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series

 

Sharon wrote a memoir about her childhood  way way back in the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike me with my fraternal brother, Bast, she was an only child, her parents were what she calls “elderly,” She won’t tell you this, but the book’s title wasn’t the first. She went through many titles and finally her publisher, Shane, at Blue Denim Press  came up with

THE ENEMIES WITHIN US  – a Memoir

And here it is…

Another drum roll please.

 

 

 

Okay, back to you Sharon.

About time. Dana eluded to some of the memoir’s content. Perhaps the best way to summarize what the book is about is to post the synopsis on the back cover of the book.

“Your dad has cancer.” Ten-year-old Sharon hears these words. Not from her parents. They lied. Set mainly in 1950s and 1960s Toronto, this  is Sharon’s story before and after Daddy’s dirty little secret surfaces. Before, she is Princess to her elderly father’s King. He protects her, a shy only child, from best friend, The Bully. Sharon also deals with a bullying nun at school. She distracts herself playing baseball and piano, riding the rails with Mom and railway timekeeper Daddy, and visiting eccentric Detroit and rural Ontario relatives. After learning the truth, Sharon withdraws from Daddy. At 13, she teaches Mom to play the piano. Then Daddy gets sick again, and again…and dies.

Sharon A. Crawford’s memoir is a powerful, sometimes humorous, account of a young girl’s lessons learned from difficult teachers – bullying, betrayal, and cancer.

In future blog posts I will quote here and there – sometimes – from the content, but I also will ask questions (and give a few tips) about memoir writing. Here’s a question to start you off,

Who reading this is also writing a memoir or has written a memoir? What is the memoir about (briefly)?

Okay, that was two questions. I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

The books’ arrival I alluded to at the beginning are my author’s copies, which this time the publisher sent directly from the distributor to me. Yes, we authors get our own copies, but at half price. The traditional reason for author copies is for us to sell them at readings, festivals, presentations, etc. we attend but the venue is not in a bookstore or the publisher isn’t there to sell the books.  Or we want to give complimentary copies, for example to people who helped us with research, media book reviewers, etc.  In these COVID-19 days in-person presentations, etc. are on hold. But hopefully sometime in the first part of 2021, things will change for the better. So why the author’s copies? Because some of them will go with my virtual book launch in November, which will have a bookstore (as in bricks and mortars) involved, although anyone will be able to purchase The Enemies Within Us at

Amazon and Chapters/Indigo online. Book sales there go live October 1, but pre-orders of the e-versions are available. Amazon also has the print version for pre-order.

And some of those complimentary copies, and I suspect a few books sold, wiLL go out to the buyer via Canada Post  – for those who want to get their book directly from the author (i.e., a signed copy). Hey, these are different times and we authors, like everybody else, have to adjust.

 I’ll leave you with a sample of one of the photographs from my childhood. It shows Daddy, Mom and I on the veranda of the house I grew up in. In my memoir, I sometimes refer to the house as “139.”

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Getting around the COVID-19 writing block for writers meetings

Logo designed by Lee Parpart

COVID-19 days and nights continue and so do a lot of changes. For those of you (writers and others) who think that we writers just write in isolation anyway and can continue to do so, think again.

Writing isn’t just about writing. You have to market your little written darlings to get published, and if a book, promote it.

Before all that you might want (and need) some feedback on your writing-in-the-works. And if you have been attending in-person writing groups, you just can’t do that anymore – or at least for nowthanks to COVID-19. And for me, to add insult to injury (pardon the cliché, but a cliché is well, normal in these definitely non-normal times), the writing group I founded and still run, East End Writers’ Group, is supposed to be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. We had lots scheduled and being prepared for this year.

A Writers Circle reading in person before

Then, thanks COVID-19, things were cancelled. Public venues were closed, including the libraries and we were meeting at the S. Walter Stewart library branch in Toronto since July 2014. Before that we were meeting for a few months in a used book store until it closed; before that in a café which closed too; before that for 17 years in my tiny bungalow. The latter is not an option now, especially with COVID-19 and doing the self-isolation bit until who knows when. Also, even without COVID-19, I don’t want meetings in my house anymore. Too much work.

My favourite meeting place – closed for now

So enter online.

Like many writing groups (and other groups, including my gardening club), we have zoomed into Zoom. I probably don’t need to tell anybody what this is, although how it works, is something else. Both my son, Martin (the IT guy) and a retired IT guy, Nick, who belongs to East End Writers’ Group suggested Zoom and although I haven’t too many clues about how it works (I’m improving with their help), I’m enthused about using Zoom and grateful they came up with the suggestion, and grateful that Nick is doing all the technical stuff to get the meetings going and creating the invitations for members. I am sending out the invitations, so not sitting on my laurels (cliché). So, I like to say, Nick hosts the session and I moderate it. In our two hours or so we have time for four members to each read a poem or two or a short prose excerpt and then after each author reads, it is my turn to lead a discussion and everybody else (and me, too) to give constructive feedback. At the end of our last Zoom meeting (we are meeting every two weeks) the diehards who stayed behind after all the feedback was finished, got into a discussion of how COVID-19 is affecting our writing. The consensus was it is causing us to be distracted and not get as much writing done as we would usually do.

As for the East End Writers’ 20th anniversary celebrations, that too has gone online. Earlier in May, novelist Shane Joseph, who is one of the EEWG’s original members and I were guests on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel the online TV station where I tape my Crime Beat Confidential Show. Liquid Lunch’s host, Hugh Reilly, interviewed Shane and I (remotely – he was in the studio and Shane and I were in our respective homes and coincidentally in our respective offices. Maybe some underlying wish that it will inspire our writing?) to tape the show. The episode is on You Tube now and also you can get to it via thatchannel. Shane and I talk about the early days of East End Writers’ Group. But pay attention to the last part and what we talk about. You can probably guess. Note: as we are isolated, we are not wearing masks, but Hugh is wearing his trademark toque.

 

Link to show is here. Scroll down and across.

And the link to my East End Writers’ Group is here.

So, I guess the message for writers is: don’t let COVID-19 get you down. Find a writers’ critique group online and KEEP WRITING. If you go to my Facebook author page, I post daily writing quotations on weekdays, from other writers, some well-known, some not, to inspire you and get you thinking and writing. Here is that link.

Stay safe, stay healthy and write and read.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Fitting dialogue to fiction characters

 

David’s Mommy, PI Dana Bowman

You may have written your story with a three-dimensional  character. The reader is enthralled with your narration – the character’s background, what they think and what they do. Then your character opens his or her mouth and speaks.

The character,  is a 20-something immigrant to say Canada, Great Britain and English is his second language. But he is trying and when he masters English better he will be bilingual. But now he is speaking like a professor of English Literature. What’s wrong with this?

Or your character, a seven-year old boy speaks like he is 27 or older. He has average IQ for his age and your description of him includes a reference to that. Even if you hint at that the normalcy of his life will soon change with events, he is still a seven-year old boy.

Fiction characters’ dialogue must be realistic to their age and life situation.

The first situation was something unpublished I read. My take on that was to have the character speak in some-what broken English in parts, keeping in mind he is learning to speak English. So you would cut out all the “a’s:” and “the’s” as many people learning English as a second language do this. For example instead of saying “The car won’t run,” you say “Car not running.” That also covers another area. When learning English, the person does not use contractions. I also would interject  this phrase or something similar a few times during the person’s conversation “How do you say it?…”

The seven-year old boy who sounds like he is 20 years older is from one of my Beyond mystery novels – Beyond Faith. David, PI Dana Bowman’s seven-year old son, David may have been kidnapped, but coming back from that doesn’t make him act older. He may do some things he wouldn’t otherwise do, but in keeping with his age as well as his experience. My publisher picked this one out in one of my rewrites before the book was published. I had David traumatized by his kidnapping in Beyond Blood which had him doing things like drawing  demons.But he doesn’t go out and investigate what is happening in BF. He does become tuned-in to what is happening (what he comes up against), but in my changes in the rewrite I had him use his fear to show how he reacted. He had become protective of his mother and so he kept things to himself, even when he and Dana were in a session at the therapist’s. And to show he is still a boy, I have him mix up the meaning of words he overhears. In this scene he and Dana have had an argument about an incident when Joanna, the babysitter took David and Buddy (the dog) for a walk. Joanna went into a drugstore, telling David to stay outside. During that time one of the murder suspects shows up; David is frightened, lets go of the leash, Buddy goes after her. David runs after Buddy, and things happen and almost happen. Back home Dana is furious at Joanna for leaving David alone and at David. Here’s  the argument. It is from David’s point of view.

“Go to your room, David. I don’t want to talk to you now,” Mommy said. “And you too, Buddy. You’re as much to blame as David.”

As he headed towards the stairs he heard Mommy yelling at Joanna for leaving David outside the drugstore. Joanna was crying and saying she thought he would be okay with Buddy and she couldn’t bring him in when she had to buy those famine products.

“What are famine products?”

“David, upstairs,” Mommy shouted at him.

(From Beyond Faith by Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press, 2017, copyright 2017 Sharon A, Crawford).

Notice, Dana is called “Mommy” with David’s point of view. Often when he addresses her he says “Mommy, Mommy…”

So how can authors have their characters talk like well, the characters they are:

1. Get inside their head.

2. Listen to characters around the same age and life situation as your character. I knew a writer who at age 30 was writing a book about and for teens. She figured she was too old to remember how teens spoke, so she sat in a park where teens congregated and eavesdropped. This was before Smart phones. You can probably come up with other ways to listen in. If family dynamics and your main character is a mother – go to a grocery store and watch for moms with kids. You can get great insight on parenting and how their kids act in grocery stores.

3. If you do character profiles or descriptions before you start writing, add some dialogue.

4. When you have some dialogue written, read it out loud, or better still, record it and play it back. Does it sound realistic?

5. And read novels with diverse characters of all ages and situations.

These are just a few ways to get your characters speaking in character. But it will get you started thinking.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery books.

 

 

 

 

 

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Avoid the tourist approach describing story settings

So, you are sticking with you Point of View writing your short story or novel. The story is from one person’s point of view or perhaps two or three. You have each chapter, and scenes from chapters in only one character’s point of view – no POV change until you are in another chapter or scene. Then you hit some geography.

Maybe it is a particular town or city you character is in or maybe even the inside of a house. Suddenly it is reading as if a another “person” has shown up – somebody called the narrator. But you aren’t using the narrator as a separate person. Your main character or characters are doing all the narration.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Your main character is a young woman, aged 30, named Caroline. She is returning to her home town after many years away and is driving into the town. Let’s call it Whistletown. And the author is starting the chapter like this.

Whistletown has a population of 22,500. The entrance to the town is on Highway 55, which winds its way into the downtown. Main St. has a grocery store, drugstore, cleaners, bookstore, Lulu’s Diner, a couple of gas stations and the obligatory MacDonalds.

Whoa! What’s happening here? Where is Caroline? Has the area’s tourist bureau suddenly taken over?

There is a fix for this and you can keep in your description of the town. The key is to put your character in it.

Has the population increased since Caroline was there last? Why did she leave? When was she there last and why is she suddenly returning? How does she feel about that as she comes into Whistletown? And how does she drive in? Is she hesitant about returning home? Or does she just speed into the town? What has changed on Main Street and what is the same?

Here’s a possibility for the rewrite of the chapter beginning.

As she drew nearer to Whistletown, Caroline slowed down. Not because of the traffic; there wasn’t much here on Highway 55, just an SUV far enough ahead of her that she couldn’t see its license plate. The other way, nothing. Wait a minute. A big Wal-Mart delivery truck was speeding out of town. Don’t tell me Wal-Mart had come to Whistletown? Things must be expanding. A honk sounded behind her and she realized she had almost come to a stop. She sped up, but apparently not enough for the car tailgating her as it passed her and continued on at race driver pace.

Sheesh.

Now she was passing the sign reading “Welcome to Whistletown, Ontario’s home of the Blue Danube Orchestra. Population 22,500.” That was a big jump. It had been only 6,000 when she had hurried out of town, hell-bent in getting away from Josh, after he had broken their engagement to marry Janie, her younger sister. Now Janie was dead and she suddenly regretted their 10-year silence. At least Mom had kept in touch occasionally, by letter and email and the odd brief phone call. She wondered if Mom had forwarded her emails to Janie.

She was now at Main Street and slowed down a bit, forcing herself to look at her surroundings. Lulu’s Diner where she and Josh had spent hours just hanging out, drinking sodas, was still there. And darn if it didn’t look the same. Murphy’s Hardware Store, Samuel’s Grocery Store, Hamlin’s Pharmacy were still there, the hardware store looking a little shabby. But Hamlin’s was now part of the PharmaSave chain and where was the cleaners and…what was that up ahead?Was that a MacDonald’s. Well, that was obligatory these days, she supposed.

She continued driving through Main Street until she had passed the downtown core. Suddenly she had to know if there was a Wal-Mart in town. There was – in an open mall up ahead. As she passed it she noticed a Canadian Tire, a No Frills Grocery Store, a Shoppers Drug Mart, a cleaners, although not the one she remembered from Main Street, and at the far end a huge Wal-Mart. 

As she turned onto Robinson Street for her mother’s home, she wondered what else had changed. She had the impression that her mother’s phone calls and emails hadn’t told her all.

 

That’s one example. We get the outline of the town, its changes, how the main character sees it all and how it affects her and how she feels about returning home after 10 years away.

How do you work “geography” into your fiction so it doesn’t read like a travel piece?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. And yes, my main characters are right there for “geography” including Lilly, the main character in “Unfinished Business” (short story in Beyond the Tripping Point) who is returning with her daughter to her old neighbourhood in Toronto where something terrible happened when she was a child.

 

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Beyond Gang and Books at new places

Pi Dana Bowman holds Beyond novels

PI Dana Bowman and the rest of the Beyond books’ gang are showing up at a few new places, not  mentioned in a recent post.

I am one of several writers reading at the Wallace Gastropub in Toronto, Sunday, November 24.  We are all graduates of Brian Henry’s writing classes and he is letting us strut our writing stuff. I will be reading from Beyond Faith, my latest Beyond mystery novel. The big question is: will PI Dana Bowman show up and create a scene? Not if I can help it. I plan to read an excerpt that shuts her up – at least temporarily. We will start with  lunch at 12 noon, followed by the readings. All are welcome, including your friends, foes and family.

A few words about Brian Henry. I have attended several of his writing workshops over the years – including some in Newmarket, Ontario when I lived in Aurora, Ontario near Newmarket. And my East End Writers’ Group sponsored some of his workshops when they were held upstairs at The World’s Biggest Bookstore, before it was torn down to build a codo. Brian has a unique workshop presentation – he actually gets you writing for the first half of the day’s workshop – including during lunch. After lunch there is some writing feedback and a guest connected to the workshop’s content. For example, if it is about how to market and pitch your manuscripts, the guest speaker is a literary agent.More info on Brian’s Quick Brown Fox blog

Location: The Wallace Gastropub, 1954 Yonge Street (near the Davisville subway station), Toronto, Ontario

Date and Time: Sunday, November 24, 2019, 12 noon to 4 p.m.

Sharon reads from Beyond the Tripping Point

My Beyond books are now available at Walmart online. Here’s the link for the two novels:

Beyond Blood here

Beyond Faith here

And for the Short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point here

And last, but not least, another episode of Crime Beat Confidential will be taped shortly. I will be interviewing a very prolific and interesting author. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford

Author of the  Beyond mystery  books.

Beyond Book No. 1 – the short story collection

Dana is holding copies of the other two Beyond  books at the beginning of this post.

 

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Using bad life events in your writing

Pi Dana Bowman holds Beyond novels

When I was a journalist, often something happening in my life triggered a story idea. Not necessarily something personal in my life; it could have been something in my neighbourhood or  someone I knew or had just met. A big one was when I went through a few years of suffering from debilitating migraines. That one generated several stories published in several newspapers. The stories weren’t about me, but about migraines, headaches, and dealing with pain, including a story on the migraine sufferer who started The Migraine Foundation.

Fast forward to several years later when I am writing the Beyond mystery series. I made one of my re-occurring main characters, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding a migraine sufferer, who was the main character in a short story “The Headache Murders ” (Wordscape 5 Anthology, 1999 MTB Press), and also a main regular character in the first novel in the Beyond Series – Beyond Blood. It is the novel where my main character PI Dana Bowman meets Fielding when there is a weird Break and Enter at her house. Then her son is kidnapped and a murder is committed. You guessed it – Fielding comes down with a migraine and Dana, being Dana, tries to help Fielding in her in-your-face way. Here I use some of the tricks of the migraine suffering “trade”.

For me it was at a party at my house when I got a migraine. The stress of the party, coupled with dealing with a boarder co-organizing the party (and getting on my nerves). One of my friends sat me down in the kitchen, asked for a brown paper bag and told me to hold it over my nose and mouth and blow into it. as I recall, it didn’t completely get rid of the migraine.

But I thought it would work in Beyond Blood for Fielding and Dana to connect as they had started off getting on each other’s nerves (and continued and still continue to do so). I decided to put it in a bedroom scene – no, not what you are thinking. Dana and her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture are bunking overnight  in spare bedrooms at their next door neighbours’ house, because the twins’ house is a crime scene and they have to get out for now. The next morning Fielding bangs on Dana’s bedroom door to question her further and brings her a change of clothes that Constable Nivens (female cop) had gathered. Dana was still in her dress-up clothes from the reception opening for her and her brother’s Attic Investigative Agency the previous evening. Some of the conversation goes like this:

Thanks.” I grabbed the bag. “You look like hell. No sleep?””

“Just a migraine. I get them all the time. It’ll pass.”

“Migraine. Here come in and sit down on….” A quick look around the room showed an ironing board piled high with clothes standing beside a chest of drawers. A basket of clothing sat in the only chair.:..the bed.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t. Migraines are awful. My mother used to get them, but thankfully I don’t. She used to blow in a a paper bag, to get rid of the pain, I mean. Maybe there’s one here.” I started rummaging in the dresser drawers.”

Ms. B…B…Bowman, it’s all right.”

“Here we are.” I shook a scarf from a Fashion Shoppe bag and shoved the bag at Fielding. He ignored it. “Put it over your face and blow.”

He stared at me, for once speechless, took a deep breath and sputtered.

“Take the damn bag and blow. And go and sit down. I don’t want to have to deal with a cop passing out in a bedroom.”

A little colour hit his face for a second. He staggered over to the bed, plunked down on the edge, leaned over and blew. (From Beyond Blood, copyright 2014,  Sharon A. Crawford, published 2014, Blue Denim Press)

You can see how this pans out – and based on personal experience as mentioned previously. And there is something else different about Fielding from your usual police officer characters.

He stutters. Also from my life, but not me – a classmate from grade school. Not to be disrespectful to my classmate, but it triggered another different character trait to use.

So, the take-away idea is: what can you take from your life to use in your short story or novel? Something a little different than falling down drunk or an argument – although those could be used with a twist.

One piece of advice for writers is to write about what you know. I prefer to use that as the bare basis and go from there. You may also find (particularly in non-fiction where you write fact, not fiction), you will become involved in a lot of research, including interviewing several sources. And in fiction, you may also need to go beyond your own experience as I had to in Beyond Faith when Dana is pushed down onto the cement and suffers a concussion.

And not I did not fall down on the cement or get someone to push me – although I have tripped over weeds and plants in my garden, and fallen down a few stairs – but those are for other stories.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The former migraine sufferer – real life

 

 

 

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Revisions in Life and in Writing

Beyond Book No. 1 – the short story collection

“Half my life is an act of revision” – John Irving.

Most of us writers are familiar with doing many revisions of their short story, their poem, their novel – whatever they are writing. But did it ever occur to you that our lives are full of constant revisions and we often have to “rewrite” parts of our lives? And that sometimes these life revisions affect our “revisions” in writing.

If this sounds absurd, let me give you a few examples from my life.

From when I was a teenager (back in the grey ages, of course) I wanted to write and get published. I accomplished the first, but the second was not so easy, Around the age of 20 I was writing short stories and when I finally got up the nerve to send them out (in those days by snail mail), I got what I thought was a devastating rejection from a journal in Alberta. “This is not a short story; this is an incident”. I was so upset that I stopped writing short stories and switched to non-fiction – newspaper and magazine articles. But first I took various courses i  magazine and newspaper writing at a local community college.

Then my husband (at the time) and I moved just north of Toronto to Aurora, Ontario. This was the mid-1970s and Aurora, unlike today, was a very small town. But that local college from Toronto had a campus in a smaller town just outside Aurora, so I took another course in freelance magazine and newspaper writing. This class was a turning point – all of the students got published.

My publishing started with me cold-calling a local newspaper in Bradford to pitch a story idea. The idea was actually my husband’s and he had to stand by the phone and give me moral support to call the editor. I was a real chicken then. But I did it. Then I go brave and added, “I also sent you a humorous personal essay.”

tBoth stories were published and I ended up freelancing for that newspaper for a few years, then moved geographically (getting published. i was still in Aurora). I wrote a weekly column on Aurora’s community groups and their activities – first with a newspaper in Newmarket for a year and a half, and then with one in Aurora. There is a story behind those gigs, but that is for another posting. My next regular writing  freelance gig was for the  Toronto Star – at the suggestion of one of the editors at the local paper. So I was freelancing for that newspaper as well as a few small magazines – writing profiles of quirky people (my favourite), theatre reviews, some business stories, stories of local organizations and their members.

And then I moved back to Toronto in fall 1998, and expanded my writing to higher profile magazines, wrote freelance for another Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail and began to focus more on writing health-related articles – something I had become interested in when I started getting migraines.

But this was all non-fiction. Oh, yeah, I wrote a few poems and some were even published – in local newspapers and in a few literary magazines.

But what about fiction? I began writing what would become much later my first novel  in the Beyond mystery series. Actually I started that in Aurora not long before I moved.

And at some point in there I began writing short stories, one story in particular, Porcelain Doll. The idea for that came from my background way back. I was a railway brat – my dad worked as a timekeeper for the CNR and he, Mom and I got free train rides. So I started thinking like a writer. What would happen if? The father in the story is very different from my real father except for working for the railway and the three of us travelling to Grandpa’s farm in the summer.

Porcelain Doll went through many revisions and some of the writing critiques (from various writing groups, including the one I started – the East End Writers’ Group) tore it apart. But I kept on writing it and a few other short stories. Some of these other short stories were published in anthologies.

A new small book publishing company, Blue Denim Press, started up. One of the publishers in this husband and wife enterprise, used to come to my EEWG  group when he still lived in Toronto. so we were familiar with some of each other’s work from there. and after pitching a short story collection idea (originally with two of us authors), the publishers were interested in my stories. But I didn’t have enough stories to make a collection; still I signed a contract, and began writing frantically and furiously. Short stories travelled by email back and forth many many times with many many revisions. It seemed as more than half my life was then in constant revision

But Porcelain Doll finally made the cut and was one of the 13 stories published in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). From there I (slowly, lots of revisions), I wrote and Blue Denim Press published my (so far) two Beyond mystery series novels – Beyond Faith (2014) and Beyond Blood (2017).

Now I’m writing two books and wondering if I have finally gone mad, crazy, off my rocker (well, I am a senior). One is a memoir, getting my most attention as it is the next one for publication next year, and the third Beyond novel, which has a beginning and I am also doing research with it and a constantly changing the plot outline – much of the changes going through my head.

So you can see where your life going through constant revisions can affect what you write (or don’t write) and when. All from the wisdom in a short story rejection – “this is not a short story; this is an incident”.

I use that one in the short story workshops I teach – but that’s another “story”.

And that’s my cue to get out of Dodge – for now.

Question: What revisions or changes in your life have affected your writing? And how have they done so?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

With Crime Writers Canada at Richmond Green library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The tools of creative writing

 

Sometimes we get too caught up in the tools of our writing  trade. Our computers act up and give us grief. Or we can’t get on the Internet and can’t connect with anyone. Or…or…

Hold on a minute. Aren’t we forgetting the other tool of the writing trade? Our imagination. Which leads to being creative. Which leads to some interesting and creative writing.

It you can’t get online, count it as a blessing in disguise. Or a message from the universe to get writing. If the computer is misbehaving, try another way to write. Type on a typewriter – you know that ancient pre-computer method of creating story. Sure, not as good as a computer (copy and paste it was not).

Do any of you even have an old typewriter hidden in your basement or attic? Try a garage or yard sale. Old school, I know. But remember I’m going on the thread that you can’t get on line. But for your info, typewriters are available on e-Bay.

Create a story in your mind and tell it out loud. And if you have a recorder – digital or otherwise – that can operate without being connected  – record your story.

Or if all else fails, go back a century or two and do what writers did then. Write with pen and paper.

And maybe write about the problems and pitfalls of writing while being connected.

And yes, fellow and sister writers – I do have an old typewriter. It’s an electric typewriter. Not the best choice if there is a power outage.

Guess I’m heading for some  yard and garage sales.

How do you get writing when the technical tools of your trade let you down and give your grief?

Cheers

Sharon

My third Beyond mystery. Written creatively despite computer snafus.

 

 

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Don’t forget your research

Beyond book No. 3

You may be writing fiction, but you still need to do some research. Sure, you can make up your story, your characters – and you better be doing the latter – but some things such as a place, a date, a real life event will pop up that you need to check out, even if you are writing science fiction. And if you are writing anything – sci-fi or other – and there are police in it, you will need to do research. Ditto for any other career involved even if you have worked in it.

Then there are stories set in countries other than the one you live in – or oven another part of the country you live in. Peter Robinson, who writes the Inspector (now Superintendent, I believe) Banks mystery series sets his novels in Yorkshire, England. Peter has been living in Canada for many, many years, but he makes regular trips back to Yorkshire.

And if you are writing historical novels – romance or mystery, or any novel set in the past, you need to do some research. My Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are set in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Computers, the Internet, etc. were quite a bit different then. If you set your story in the late 1990s you can’t have people running around with smart phones. Yes, there was email and Internet then, but on computers.. My twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture do have cell phones, but the type that flipped open and closed and no email or text on them, although text was just coming in across the pond in Europe. But not in Toronto, Ontario and north of Toronto.

Even though I didn’t have a cell phone then, a real estate agent/friend of mine did. So I could go back to what I remember about that phone, which I did use a few times. Not enough though, so I did a lot of research on cell phones from the past, what they looked like, their size (fortunately in the late 1990s they weren’t still the big clunkers from four or five years earlier). I was able to do enough research for that on the Internet. But not all research on the Internet is sufficient. Sometimes you have to get off your laptop, off the Internet and off your butt, off your smart phone, and get out there and do other research.

There is the obvious one with police and I’ll go into that in another post. Today, I want to talk about one of my in-your-face type of research – not exactly interviewing someone – which I did a lot of when I was a journalist (and some was via phone and email). No, something else I used to do for research for a story was to get out their and “absorb the scene”.

One of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point is set in present day Toronto. There is an alley in the story, so I re-visited the alley behind a street of row houses where relatives used to live many years before present day. I walked up the street in front of the houses to see what they looked like today and then I went around the corner and into the alley behind and started walking there. I visualized the scene in the story (Missing in Action) and decided this alley fit the story. So when I wrote that scene this was the alley I was thinking about. Yet I didn’t pinpoint where it was in Toronto in the story.

In the story “Unfinished Business” I have the main character revisiting her childhood home area in Toronto with her 12-year old daughter because the daughter insisted. Something really bad happened to the mother when she was around the daughter’s age and she had only been back once just for a ride-through with a friend and she ducked down in the car so she wouldn’t see the place. When she came with her daughter, I envisioned where I grew up and had her drive in past buildings and on roads there up to the house (but I changed the street names). However, the whole street was in my mind as I wrote it as were most of the changes outside the house like for my house – except the rickety old garage at the back  of the driveway. It had been replaced  just before I moved back to Toronto in 1998, but I left it in my story, because it was crucial to the story. The people in the story and the bad thing that happened to my character didn’t happen in my life. (I had other things that happened instead). And for the record, I have a son, not a daughter. And also for the record, I took many walks along that street and even talked to the current owners before I wrote my story. Unlike my story’s main character, I don’t drive.

And how the latter happened is the “fault” of a couple of cousins visiting from Michigan, well, one of them. Here’s how that went.

My cousins, G and K and I were driving downtown from my place to meet my son for dinner. As we drove past the street where I grew up, big mouth me mentioned this. G turned onto my street, stopped outside the house (big mouth  me again telling him which one). A man in his mid-fifties was hauling a golf set from the trunk of his car. G rolled down the window and shouted out “My cousin used to live here.” So the three of us had to get out and we got into a conversation with the man and his wife. Turns out they (particularly her) are interested in the house’s history and the street’s history too. And the garage came into the conversation. The wife asked me if the original garage was so far back and I said “no.” Some more comparisons of outside were made and I learned some of the history of the property from after I moved. And I saw more inside when a few months later (I had their permission to call to make an appointment for this) I visited the couple inside the house.

Unfinished Business did not take place inside the house, but it did have scenes on the street, in the driveway and the old rickety garage.

So research is not all boring and you can get some physical exercise doing it. Just remember to go beyond the Internet.

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series.

Short story collection (2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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