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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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Lessons learned from book promotion

CWC mystery writers, students, and a teacher at Richmond Green library, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada

Two situations in the past couple of weeks have taught me a valuable lesson. And helped me decide where to give and how much to give.

As a somewhat senior published author (and I’m NOT referring to age here) with four books published (including one co-authored with another author and published by a different publisher than for my Beyond mysteries), I am often asked for advice on writing and publishing. Most authors in a similar position do run into this. And most of us are glad to help other authors with suggestions and the like.

But sometimes it gets frustrating. There may be too many novice authors coming at you at once and you are having difficulty finding time to do your own writing and book promo. Sometimes these authors are too persistent and  your resent it.

A wonderful experience with four other Crime Writers of Canada authors – Nanci M. Pattenden, Rosemary McCracken, Mel Bradshaw, and Cynthia St-Pierre, Aprl 23 at the Richmond Green Library in Richmond Hill, Ontario, helped me put it all in perspective. You see, most of our audience consisted of students from a couple of local high schools. These students were taking a Writing Craft Course there and they wanted to write and learn more about writing. Part of uor panel presentation – after the usual why, what and how we write and q and a, we  five provided feedback on the first sentence of a story submitted by some of the students. The idea was originally from Mel, and Rosemary and I fine-tuned it. I provided the box for the students to place (anonymously) their submissions.

But it was one student whom I interviewed after the presentation for a story I was writing for CWC Crime Time e-newsletter, that set the proverbial light bulb flashing in my head. The student isn’t yet in high school – she is in grade 8 and already a growing concern in the writing talent and writing perspective areas. She is the blond young lady peaking out from behind my left in the photo.

Contrast her with what I have come to refer to as the persistent pest I was introduced on by a mutual friend on one of my social media locations. This fellow is around my age and just self-published a book. He wanted to chat about writing and the like.

That word “chat” should have raised alarms, but it didn’t, except for me to suggest we could talk about marketing books. I set a time and day for a phone conversation, but unfortunately had to postpone because of all my book promotions commitments and doing the dreaded Income Tax returns (which are due April 30 in Canada). In an email I gave him a few suggestions he could follow if he wished. I also  suggested he go to one of the CWC events I was participating in (not the Richmond Hill library one), which he did and we talked a bit after the event. But I told  him I would be busy and not available until after May 5 and we could meet for coffee to talk after that.

Then he started emailing me with what-do-I-do questions on his follow-ups to my suggestions. Did he not read the memo correctly? So, I ignored him. I had other priorities until after May 5.

It was my experience with the students that set me straight – who to help when and remembering I am doing it for free. And when to start charging a consulting fee. Certainly I am willing to help student writers of all ages and no fees certainly for the grade school and high school ones. Certainly at public presentations or with writing groups a their meetings, groups of writer in coffee shops and pubs. Certainly when teaching workshops and courses. And of course, if anyone does want to hire me as a writing consultant in some way (and that has been done) I get paid for it.

But outside of the above parameters I have to draw some lines – especially if the one asking turns into a persistent pest.

So,  I will not meet him for coffee to chat. If that sounds harsh, that will save us both some time – he has a distance to travel to meet me. I am not leaving him in the lurch though. I did promise to talk to him and I try to keep my promises. He will be given 30 minutes of my time on the phone to answer his questions and after that I start charging my hourly rate – and I do not break up an hour – so  if it goes for 20 minutes or 50 minutes over the 30 minutes free time – it is one hour. Of course I will tell him ahead of time when he emails next week and suggest he pick one area he wants to discuss because he is all over the map with the chat about writing.

 I don’t like being pestered and pushed.

Fortunately, most writers are more considerate.

So, there is a lesson in here for both us senior authors and novice authors. Our time is valuable and we should be considerate of that with the other person.

And why after May 5?

Because on Saturday,  May 5, from 12 noon to 3 p.m. I am doing my first solo book signing at a bookstore – Coles Bookstore in The Beach area of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. And I am looking forward to it and am grateful to the bookstore’ manager for letting me do this. I need to focus on doing a good job here. And having some fun, too.

 

Click on the book cover above and it wlll take you online to  my books at Indigo Books online. Coles is part of the Indigo bookstore chain.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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The rocky road of book promo

Sharon at CWC Arthur Ellis short list Marilyn Kay photo

The aftermath of getting Beyond Faith published has been nothing close to easy, especially in the book promo department. Don’t get me wrong. I love doing book promo and I realize it all takes time and some of it will get put temporarily in Pending. But …

Well, let’s say that all did not go well for me…and apparently some other authors had the same problem – at the CWC Arthur Ellis Awards. Even CWC itself ran into a few snags – but Elizabeth Duncan who organized it with the Indigo Bookstore venue, fixed them very well. For example, the main guest who was to announce the authors shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis awards was ill and couldn’t make it. Elizabeth had some of the mini-presenters – one per category – go up to the podium, open the envelope(s) and read out the shortlisters. It was such a great choice and maybe could be done in future years.

The venue was good, a little oasis set up for the event surrounded by shelves and shelves of books. What more could an author want? Well, maybe spring weather outside.

Everybody’s presentation went very well and was interesting – much more interesting than eight authors reading excerpts from their books, one right after the other. We had to talk about our books in whatever way we wished. I chose not to do a Dana Bowman skit, but the nosy Private Investigator had apparently jumped out of Beyond Faith a a busy subway transfer station enroute to the bookstore and was lost in the rush-hour crowd. But Dana is not stupid and I knew she would show up. After thanking CWC for arranging the event, I went into my presentation – holding up a photo of Dana Bowman and asking “Have you seen this woman? She is….” After the escaping-the-book business I segued into a bit about what the book  is about from the viewpoint of what Dana and her twin PI investigating brother Bast Overture have to contend with. As I neared the finish, I thought I saw Dana darting between the bookshelves, said so, thanked the audience, grabbed Beyond Faith and Dana’s photo, chasing towards the books. A few seconds later when I showed up at the back of the audience, Elizabeth from the front asked, “Did you find her?”

“Yes,” I answered. “She’s back in the book.”

So, what was wrong with this picture? Both Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith, hadn’t arrived at the bookstore and it’s all the distributor’s – Ingram Sparks – fault. First because of all the nonsense with BF not able o be ordered in the Indigo chain stores, yet available for online orders  – which had to be fixed twice and also as the bookstore manager told  me “sometimes it takes six weeks for books to arrive from Ingram.” But the manager had contacted me beforehand about BF’s not arriving yet and we arranged I would bring in three copies for show and sell that evening, and any left could also be left in the store afterwards to go through usual ln-store selling procedure. When the shipment from the distributor arrived, I could come in to get three copies back from that.

But what happened to Beyond Blood? There were no issues with ordering it in – at least as far as availability was concerned. It has to be Ingram’s tardiness, although another store in the chain had already ordered in copies of Beyond Blood for another event with me and those copies arrived in two weeks time.

And I found out some other authors had the same problem – their books didn’t arrive on time either. No idea if their publisher uses the same distributor.

I know this has happened before to authors, but it is frustrating to an author, especially as I didn’t know about Beyond Blood.

Still, it was a great event.

And there is another CWC one Monday, April 23 in the Richmond Green Library in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Five of us crime novelists are on a “crime” panel there. Here are the highlights.

Crime Writers at RG Panel

If you’re are in the Greater Toronto Area, why not drop in? It’s free and an interesting time is guaranteed.

And our books will be there – we five are bringing copies from our own stashes.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

all

 

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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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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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Point of View or Points of View in Fiction?

The latest Beyond mystery novel

I  have covered Point of View before but it is so important and is one of the writing techniques that authors mess up a lot – even published authors. The two biggies usually occur when the author is telling his or her novel from the third person omniscient. Both mistakes can be aggravating to the reader. The first misstep is when two characters are talking. Character A says something and the author adds how this character feels or what he is thinking when he talks. Then Character B replies and the author also adds how this character feels or what he thinks when he talks.

In the writing and publishing business we call this “jumping heads.” Or as I sometimes call it – “head lice”. This one doesn’t usually confuse the reader about the plot, but it can get annoying. The rule of thumb here is one character’s point of view per scene or per chapter or per a series of continuous chapters. If you are changing POV after a scene, you can leave a few lines and/or add asterisks between the scenes. If it helps, you can put the POV character’s name at the top of each scene or chapter – whether you leave it in or not in the rewrite. I do this (and the date and time) in Beyond Blood. The date and time are there because the novel takes place over eight frantic days in August 1998. The reason for each POV character’s first name (or a reference to the character.I do have a character called “HIim”) is for keeping track of which point of view character is narrated.

When their is an overabundance of POV characters, especially when it goes into minor characters, it can confuse the reader to the point where they feel like they need a road map to keep track of all the characters.Then they may lose interest in the story and ditch the book. Do we really need to get inside minor characters’ heads? Do we really need to know what they ate for breakfast? If something they do or did is important to the plot, it could be presented from one of the POV characters. For example, if a PI or police officer is a POV character, they might discover this about minor character – from looking at police reports or news stories. Maybe when the PI or cop interviews the minor character, something comes up. Maybe they see the minor character does something that appears out of character from what they know about the character. There is one exception, though. Sometimes crime novels start with a short Prologue told from the victim’s point of view as he or she murdered – at the end of the Prologue. Obviously, this character can’t come back or can she? if her story is told in flashback in chronological order in alternating chapters – it could work very well. And is the murdered character a minor character or major character? If he or she wasn’t killed, where would the murder mystery be?

I use four points of view in Beyond Blood and in Beyond Faith. Three of them are the same – the protagonist PI Dana Bowman, her twin brother and business partner, PI Bast Overture, and Dana’s son, David. The fourth POV character is a different one in each of the novels, mainly because that character doesn’t appear in both BB and BF. So far, this fourth character is on the shady side and is used (with reservation, i.e., not revealing all and building up the story from their POV to work it in with the rest of the plot as narrated by Dana, Bast and David.) The three POV characters who are in both Beyond novels are identified at the beginning of each chapter  and each first chapter of a string of chapters or even a scene where he or she narrates.  As a twist, Dana is told from first personal point of view and the other three from third person POV. This is done because Dana is the main character, the one who I want the reader to identify with most.

Bill Pronzini who writes the Nameless detective series does something similar. Nameless is from first person POV but no name (well, he is nameless) at the top of the chapters. But for chapters from the POV of his two PI associates, he puts the name of the POV PI at the beginning of the chapter or first of a string of chapters. When Pronzini teams with his wife, author Marcia Muller to co-author a book – especially with Nameless and Muller’s main character PI Sharon McCone  it gets interesting. For Sharon the chapter is headed “McCone” and for Nameless it is headed “Wolf.” Check out their novel Double.

The best way to understand Point of View is to read published fiction in the area you write in. Even read the ones that mess up point of view because when you spot it you will see what not to do.

And write, and rewrite, and rewrite…

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The second Beyond book in the series

 

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Catching story ideas on the fly

 

I’m a writer as rarely as possible, when forced by an idea too lovely to let die unwritten.

– Richard Bach

Our story ideas may not be as esoteric as Richard Bach’s – he wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  Where can we get story ideas and when we get them, what do we do with them?

Story ideas often pop into our heads when we are busy doing something else or more likely when our mind hits a lull. Or we are reading an article in the daily newspaper or the classifieds (online or in print) and our right brain, the creative side, suddenly wakes up. A conversation overheard on a bus, especially those cell-phone monologues, conversations overheard in restaurants can suggest several story ideas, often of the criminal intent. Brochures on community groups, art shows, and even the supermarket flyers can inspire. Take the old (former) Dominion supermarket slogan, “We’re fresh obsessed,” and try to look at a story angle that is fresh. Taking a shower or bath is also guaranteed to fill you with more than water. The Internet is full of potential story ideas. Don’t underestimate the power of dreams. Drugs and alcohol are not recommended as you will see from the following example.

Late one night a photographer friend once thought he had a brilliant idea. He scribbled it down on a piece of paper before he crashed for the night. When he woke the next morning, he looked at the paper. On it he had written, “I am very drunk.”

Another moral from this story is look at photographs. A picture is worth a thousand words, but before the words come the ideas.

What do you do when an idea hits? Grab it before it disappears into the nether area of your mind. Write it down. Keep a notebook (electronic or paper) handy. If you think faster than you type or scrawl, use a recorder for dictating your ideas. If the source is the Internet, bookmark it under the heading “Story ideas.”

Then let the idea rest for at least a few days. The idea will simmer in your subconscious and when you sit down at your computer, the act of starting to write will draw out these ideas. On rare occasions, a simmering story suddenly bubbles and you are compelled to write it right now. Do so – if you don’t you might not only lose the momentum, but the idea as well. Nothing, except maybe a blank screen, is worse than an idea gone stale because it was left in storage beyond its best date.

Follow the advice of Martin Woods, who said,

“Write great ideas down as soon…”

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery novels – whose ideas came from all of the above.

And if you click on the Beyond Faith cover icon at the top, it will take you to the one of the online places the novel is available – as well as more details about the novel itself.

 

 

 

 

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