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Listen to your publisher

I am lucky that the editor at my publisher’s goes through my submitted manuscript and makes suggestions. Then we book a phone consult to hash through all these suggestions and comments.

It really gets me thinking beyond whatever box I was writing in.

I had that experience earlier this week. This was the “final” submission, i.e., the one that would make or break whether my new Beyond novel would be accepted for publication.He was quick to praise that it was a much better story and worth being published, but it came with the suggested changes. And some of them pointed out what wasn’t working and left the how-to-do-so up to me.

So we had, as the current dialogue goes, “a conversation about it”. We were both polite but explored what could be done. He said he had read the novel as a reader and not a publisher and that’s where his suggestions came from.

Besides stretching the creativity limit, it also served as pointing-out what just might not work. He didn’t say it, but he was playing devil’s advocate.

Not all publishers do this with their authors – whether new. Often it is “my way or the highway if you want it to be published.” That often stifles the author’s creativity. It is okay for authors to talk about why they wrote what, but go from there. Get past the ego that everything in your manuscript, down to the last comma, is sealed in gold and it has to be published exactly that way. We have probably all read published trade books where the publisher gave the author (often a well-known author) free rein. I won’t mention any names, but some of those books could have been shortened by 200 pages or so.

Getting published, at least by a trade publisher, is a two-way street. Remember, your publisher wants to sell your book, so making that more viable is a good idea. And it can also increase not only your royalties but the book’s presence in a very crowded market.

I have to the end of April to make the changes. So, after our phone conversation, I spent the rest of the afternoon and into dinner time going through the whole novel again and making short comments to his comments based on our conversation. Because being human, I would not remember it all if I didn’t do that.

I’ll keep you posted on Beyond Faith.

Meantime, you can familiarize yourself with the Beyond mystery series by clicking on the Beyond Blood icon a the top.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Writing fiction from reality

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4Sometimes writing fiction from reality can make a stronger story. And I am not referring to the “reality” of so-called reality TV shows. I’m talking about your personal experiences.

There is a catch, though. You are writing fiction so you need to change charactes’ names. You might also want to change places and timelines. One of the most important points is that because this is fiction, you can change what happens – in fact you can use what happened in your life as the seed for your story and go from there.

One of the short stories, Porcelain Doll, in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) is taken from a regular occurrence in my childhood – but a pleasant one. So I did a “what if?”

My late father worked for many years as a timekeeper for one of the railway companies. Mom and I had free travel passes on that railway line and the competing railway. That was how we travelled to visit Mom’s relatives and to other places each summer.

So, I took that travel and the approximate time and created a “What if?”

What if the dad was a bully?( My Dad wasn’t.) and the mom was a doormat scared of him? (My Mom wasn’t.) What if the dad also bullied the daughter? (My dad didn’t – he used to call me his princess.)

So, I extracted a few facts from real life – a family of three who annually visited a grandfather on a farm, the mom knitting, the dad obsessed with the train service, and what the train ride was like at that time (early to mid-1960s), and the daughter’s obsession with reading Agatha Christie mysteries and dolls. Here the resemblance gets more than murky.

What never happened on a train in real life (at least not on any trips I took), occurred here – from playing poker for money, a prize doll (hence the story’s title), murder, disappearances, the aforementioned bullying – and the aftermaths. Story is told going back and forth between the present (1989) and the past to move the plot along to a startling conclusion.

With this use of my past I could get the feeling of being there on a train ride in the late 50s and early 60s including some little known facts such as the trains actually had a separate coach for smokers and you couldn’t smoke in any other coach, a somewhat novel idea in the days before smoking and non-smoking regulations across the board. My dad smoked back then. There was also the train route and where you would have to change trains – although I kept it to the same route I changed the location where the grandfather lived. So, I had feelings and remembrances of these train rides.

What I didn’t have was how the little girl in Porcelain Doll would react and act to what happened. That was pure fiction and that is where I had to get inside Sarah’s head. And…

No, I’m not telling you anymore. This is an example to give you an idea how you can do it. If you are stuck for a story idea. I think Porcelain Doll is a stronger story because of my past experience. Certainly others who have read it have said so.

If you want to read Porcelain Doll and the 12 other stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, you can click on the book icon at the top to get more information about the book.

What personal experiences have you had that could be turned into fiction – with a lot of well, fiction in them?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Same old same old to twisted plots

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4If I saw one more TV mystery where the cops found the dead body in the trunk, I was going to do more than scream. And I did. I wrote “The Body in the Trunk” (from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012). Instead of a body being found in the trunk the story deals with getting a body into a trunk and the why behind it. I also, as I often do with these stories, wrote it as a satire, in the noir black vein.

At one point I was also getting bored with reading mystery novels where the main character, a private investigator seemed to be continually broke. So, in “The Couch” I created a young (mid-20s)  private investigator who has too many clients. The story, also a satire noir black, deals with how the PI tries to downsize the clients – first using standard legit means, and when that doesn’t work, turning to crime. The payback is unexpected. “The Couch” was first published in an anthology, before being published in Beyond the Tripping Point.

So if you hit writer’s block on creating a new plot – take a twist on an old one, but one that is overused to the point of boredom.

And let your creativity loose.

You never know what will surface. It is just criminal. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that).

Cheers.

Sharon

And as usual, click on the book icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

 

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Snafus getting in the way of your writing?

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

The actual “final” rewrite of my latest Beyond mystery is coming along and I am enjoying doing it because I get more creative insights, can fix inconsistencies, check the research and am really tightening up the wordage.

However, I’ve hit a few outside snags that are interfering with my writing time. And they make me angry. So, I’m doing something about them.

One biggie comes under the heading “My health ate my life.” So far since 2017 arrived I’ve been and am faced with two separate unexpected molar extractions. The dental surgery for the second is the day before my publisher’s deadline. As he has given me two extensions already and for health reasons, I do not want to push my luck – it would also not be fair to the publisher.

To get the manuscript and its synopsis (the latter rewritten this week with the word count part left open so far) done in time, I’ve arbitrarily given me an earlier deadline before the publisher’s and before the dental surgery.

It has also forced me to do something I had started to do this  year. Get rid of a lot of the stuff I do that isn’t really important and put some of the others in “pending”.

So far I’ve cancelled me going to a meeting tonight, limited what I get involved in within my community. Important are my East End Writers’ Group and keeping track of a nearby Light Rail Transit line being built as that will affect me in many ways. I am also a member of a local garden club and go to some of their meetings but no volunteering there this year. A couple of other community things I’m interested in I signed petitions and will let the persons organizing them do all the work – just keep me informed. At this point I am also careful of how many social and pseud-social events I go to.

And I finally found someone to shovel my snow when we get bigger snowfalls.

The big take-away point here for writers – whatever you are writing or rewriting – is you can’t do everything, especially what others think you should be doing. Figure out what is important and don’t be afraid to say “no” and/or put some of that on hold. Prioritize. Make the word “no” a big word in your vocabulary even if you have to post it all around your house and on your devices – maybe create an electronic file with a big “NO” and click on it sporadically. You can figure something out.

What I have kept in is family. Last Saturday I was to take out my son and his girlfriend for his birthday dinner (which is actually tomorrow but he will be out of town in the US for a tour with his band – Beams). Martin was sick last weekend. I wanted to see him and at least get his birthday present to him before tomorrow – the present, although not connected to music, is something useful for travelling. So, we arranged for me to make a “flying visit” to his and his girlfriend’s place in another part of Toronto last evening – if you can call buses and subway “flying.” He was feeling better. Dinner will be rescheduled when he returns home.

I know this isn’t exactly about writing, but perhaps if those getting distracted from their writing from whatever, can see one person’s way to deal with the problem, maybe it will help.

How do you deal with writing distractions?

Comments please in the comment section.

Cheers.

Sharon

And as usual, click on the book icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books.

 

 

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Don’t Write the Same Old Same Old

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

When writing fiction, particularly mystery, thriller and suspense, don’t develop plots and characters that have been used before. Do readers really want another jaded police detective who is an alcoholic? How about yet another body found in a trunk?

Readers want to be surprised, entertained, and have something different. Those who like to try to figure out who done it and why like a challenge. If it is too easy, that won’t work.

Twists and turns in suspense, mystery and thriller novels work very well – provided they are different. And if you are writing a series, you need to write the unexpected even more so your readers don’t get too comfortable with your series characters. You want them to relate to the characters and develop a bond, but you have to shake them up with each book’s plot and characters.

Remember your characters need to be like real people – they can’t be stagnate. Throw them lots of curve balls and see how they act and react.

Some authors that are masters at this are Julia Spencer Fleming, Peter Robinson and Harlan Coben. The latter writes standalone mystery-suspense, while the former two write series mysteries. Spencer Fleming, for example throws a big curve with each book. Just as something seems to be sorted out between her two main characters – Rev. Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne –  right at the end of the novel, something happens that seems to come out of the blue.

But it is not really out of the blue – if you go back throughout the novel you will see events and what the characters are doing that make the unexpected logical. Some examples (without stating which novel) are when the priest and the cop finally get their relationship solidified, the priest who was previously in the armed forces and is now on reserve, is put on active duty outside the US. Right at the end of the book. Great hook to get the reader to read the next one in the series.

The reader knew Clare’s background here,so that wasn’t grabbed from the air. It was the timing.

And that’s what is important. Timing. In my Beyond novels, I build up the suspense with (among other things) a growing relationship between the main character PI Dana Bowman and Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Both are relationship shy – that isn’t too different. But how it evolves (or does it?) is different because of other things going on in the novel. The ending has a big twist.

This is the novel I’m still putting the finishing touches on for the publisher. So, I’m not going into more details. The previous and most recent one, Beyond Blood has a bit of a cliff hanger at the end – the premise here being, when a crime victim has been rescued, it may not all be rosy and comforting for them. In fact, it isn’t in real life.  I took that idea and left the reader wondering about a character’s dealing with after effects. The short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point has four stories featuring Dana Bowman and most of the rest of the Beyond gang. These stories take place the year after. And the current Beyond book is later that same year and the character is still suffering some after effects.

Unexpected events change people – how they live their lives afterwards.And that varies with each person. So, too, should your fiction.

Don’t be lazy and write the same old same old. Surprise your readers – but make it logical. That may sound like an oxymoron, but be creative.

And read what is already written to see what works, what surprises and what doesn’t. Read books by Julia Spencer Fleming, Peter Robinson and Harlan Coban, and yes my Beyond books too.

You can get more information about the Beyond books by clicking on the Beyond Blood icon at the top.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

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Make Writing regularly a 2017 goal

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

If you’ve been struggling to write that novel, short story, novella, etc. because you don’t seem to have time because other stuff to do is taking over your, life, whatever the reason, 2017 is coming in. Time for a fresh start.

Forget about “New Year’s Resolutions” which go down the drain after the first few weeks. Instead think goal, yes that’s singular. And make that goal to write on a regular basis in 2017.

For parts of 2016 I have struggled to find time to get at rewriting my third Beyond novel. The editor at my publisher’s (bless his soul) has given me a couple of extensions. But he is not the problem and I have to find a solution – make that several solutions to deal with the multitude of impediments that come at me “from outside.”

Just to clarify, “from outside” doesn’t mean things like sleeping in, too much socializing to name a few. Mine also include: gardening (in spring to fall, not now in horrible winter), doing client work (editing and teaching writing workshops and courses), and promoting my first two Beyond mystery books.Those things in the previous sentence I don’t begrudge doing and they are under my control and it is my business to get them in order so I do have time to write.

I’m talking about what just seems to come out of the blue at you. Some of mine are unforeseen health issues, house and property issues and weather (which often affects the house and property). It is true we just had Christmas and Boxing Day and I spent Christmas with my son and his girlfriend and Boxing Day just relaxing reading and phoning friends. What I did on those two days was my choice.

Most of the first half of my day today was not. I do a daily “to-do” list for what I call “Biz” and another for what I call “Other.” Unfortunately, like this morning, the “other” took over.

First there was the snow that came overnight. I had watched the Weather Network last evening and my “Other” schedule had up to one hour for shovelling the white shit that fell down. And I did it in that time.

Then things went wrong. The main time-stealer was the heating cable. I went to plug it in to melt the snow off the roof and discovered the cord just before going into the plug was suddenly frayed.And it got that way because it is a tight squeeze and turn to get it into the outside electric outlet. I taped it with electrical tape, then called my neighbour, a retired electrician, over to check to see I had done it right. He wouldn’t touch it, and instead gave me a long rant about he wouldn’t even check it because of liability, etc. The cord got frayed in the first place because my regular handyman (electrical stuff is one of his specialties) didn’t do anything about the short cord – didn’t even put it on a heavy-duty extension cord which my neighbour at least suggested. To make a long story short, I took my shortest heavy duty outdoor extension cord and found the plug from the heating cable wouldn’t go all the way in. I called the handyman and blasted him – he should have done it right first and I’ll pay for any new parts, but not labour. He is coming by later today or tomorrow morning to check it out.I made sure he knew I had expensive dental surgery coming up in January.

So, the bottom line is I have to come up with some way of dealing with all these outside problems that come at me unexpectedly. A year ago, I started dealing with all the health issues, one month at a time for each – even if I had to repeat this a few months down the road. I’m not sure about house and property things – certainly if not emergency issues they can be paced out per month based on time and money available (double hah-hah here).

Because I am fed-up with all this stuff getting in the way of my writing. (There’s a story there). I think the important thing is to figure out what is important. Staying healthy, of course, but when it gets beyond eating healthy, taking supplements, regular exercise (walking and gardening for me), getting enough sleep, and relaxing, then it is too much.

I may have found a way beyond the one medical issue per month – my writing is important for me to stay healthy. It is creative; it makes me feel good and relaxed. And it gets me out of the crap taking over my life. So it needs my time.

Perhaps, putting writing in one of your daily living categories, will get you writing regularly. Remember “regularly” will differ with each of us. If you have a full time job and/or raising a family/looking after an elderly parent, you will have a different regular schedule than I do. The trick is to look at what is taking over too much of your time, see where you can cut back and/or get help, and work in some time – whether it is two hours in the evening and/or Saturday and Sunday mornings – that is up to you. You also need to consider if some of the things you do are really necessary. For example, do you have to spend so many hours tweeting? Or even doing email. Shopping online or in bricks and mortars? If something is taking a lot of your time, that’s a clue to look at it closely.

And  tell family members and friends (remember, socializing takes up time, too) what you are doing and why – nicely. You have the best reason to do so now – a new year and a new goal. And think of the result – that novel finally underway, those short stories written, etc.

Good luck and may you write, write, write in 2017.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Click on either Beyond Blood at the top or Beyond the Tripping Point below to link to more information about the books. Hopefully later next year the third Beyond book will join them.

 

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection. Click on it for publisher's website

 

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Writing the right story beginning

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

If you have ever started to read a novel and became bored by the end of paragraph one, it might not be that the story is dull. There is a good chance that what you are reading isn’t really the story’s beginning.

One story beginning, particularly with novels, that has me yawning is the big character background story. Or the big travelogue of a city or a town. As my old journalist and creative writing instructor would say, “So what?”

You can start with character or setting or both together. The trick is to bring in something about your story. Something that will grab your reader. You need a good lead (or “lede” as it is sometimes spelled), as we old journalists call it.

I was a freelance journalist for 35 years and writing a good lead for my articles was very important. Otherwise it was impossible to write the rest of the story. The lead lets the reader know something about what the story is going to cover and teases them in to read all the details.

So when I write fiction or edit other authors’ fiction, I always pay attention to the lead. Sometimes the lead is hidden a few pages later or even a few chapters later. One author’s novel’s actual lead was a chapter near the middle. She needed to pull out that chapter and a few after it and bring them to the front. And then do some rewriting.

Rewriting, of course, is always necessary when writing fiction and ho-hum leads can be fixed then.

Off the top of my head here is an example of a bad story beginning.It is made up and not from any client’s fiction or any of mine.

Ellen was born in 1960 in the town of Crystal, the third in a family of four siblings. Her mother was an Osborne before her marriage to James Clark. She was a shy child who didn’t say much in school but she always got good grades. Her mother was also quiet and her father spoke in a loud boisterous voice. Ellen’s two older siblings, Daniel and Robert, teased her. Her younger sibling, Gail got on better with her brothers.

And on and on ad nauseum.

Do we really care about Ellen and her family?

Let’s see what we can do with that beginning – if we want to get some family background in and make it relevant to the story. If we want to make the reader care about Ellen and her family and read on. Something like this:.

Ellen Clark had always been shy and withdrawn. Until now. If her older brothers, Danny and Robbie, could see her now, they would be sorry they spent her childhood teasing her. They would be proud of her for what she just did for them, for her, and for the rest of the family. Especially Gail. Poor Gail. Best friends with Danny and Robbie had not helped Gail.

Ellen smiled as she looked down at her feet and what lay there.

Or something like that. Hey, I write mystery fiction. Anyway, let’s compare the two story beginnings. We still have Ellen, her shyness, her two brothers and the fact that they teased her and her sister Gail hanging out with the two brothers. We don’t mention Ellen’s birthday year or the town,  or her parents names or their main traits. That can come later. We have woven in a few things to tease the reader in. What did Ellen do just now? How did she go from being shy and withdraw to taking some kind of action. And what about Gail or the parents? What is lying at Ellen’s feet? Or should that be “who”?

This is the type of lead to draw in the reader. Even if you are not writing a mystery, a story needs some suspense, which could  very well be about the relationships in that Clark family. Or it could be something else – whatever your imagination conjures up.

I’ll end with the beginning of one of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point as it does have some family background woven into it. And I’ve used another technique to start the story and then pushed into the family background.

“The police can’t find her, Ms. Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says.

Rosemary Morgrave has gone missing and I’m putting on a brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sat on the other side of the desk in The Attic Agency’s third floor office. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David, my seven-year-old son, was abducted last August, I’ve been living in Panicville.Sure, we got him back, but how much of him returned? He follows  Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul.I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except ti swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, published  by Blue Denim Press, 2012).

You can pick it apart and try to guess what will happen in the story. Or you can read it. If you click on the BTTP icon at the top of this post, it takes you to my Amazon profile as well as to information about Beyond the Tripping Point and the novel (with the same three characters) Beyond Blood.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

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