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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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Claiming my time to write, edit and teach writing

Ready to cut loose from pesky interruptions

Lately my writing time and time to do client work kept getting shoved to the back burner because of too many other things getting in the way. So, last week I started to just dive in and write and do the work clients have hired me to do. And push everything else to the back burner.

Isn’t quite working out that way. An unexpected heavy rainfall resulted in some water in the basement and I had to postpone a lunch meeting with a client because I was constantly mopping up. Usually I get a neighbour to check the basement for a few hours if heavy rainfall is forecast. This storm wasn’t until the last minute and I wasn’t going to call my neighbour at the last minute. I mean he is doing me a favour. So, in future I will be more diligent about weather.

And this week I am on a hard purge of what I do and whom I allow to take up my time.

So, out is the would-be landscaper who doesn’t listen to me. Apparently it didn’t sink in when I told him – four times – that I only could afford to pay him for one hour until the end of the month. He didn’t do that great a job of digging part of may garden anyway. The kicker was after I told him no more until the end of the month, he called me four times in an hour and a half (I checked the call display and didn’t answer and he didn’t leave a message). When he landed on my doorstep an hour later I told him off and sent him packing. But he still tried to get my by phone – texting – good luck with that on a land line.

And the self-published author I was introduced to via Linked In by a mutual friend. I had to postpone when we could “chat” (his words, which should have rung alarms in my mind if it wasn’t so cluttered). I did agree to meet him at an author reading/presentation I was at with other authors. We talked a bit, but I told him I was not available until after May 5 and we could meet then. So what does he do but start emailing me with what do I do questions. Excuse me, but this is something I do for a living and he is not a paying client. I ignored the emails and decided he could fend for himself.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But it’s my writing time and my client work time.

I am also pulling back a bit (time-wise) this month in doing book promo for after June. Still doing some, but trying to work it in between the writing and client work instead of the other way around. That means less time on Facebook and other social media. And it also means cutting back on email time. So, I guess I will be setting the timer when I’m reading and answering email and on Facebook too.

But I’m still going to garden. I can dig my garden myself – always have. And so is spending time with family and friends.

How do you deal with pesky interruptions and other time-stealers that get in the way of your writing?

Comment, please?

Now back to client work.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mysteries.

The latest Beyond mystery. Click on it for more info

 

 

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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

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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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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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