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The kindness of strangers

The offending shopping trailer

Those who know me well know that I don’t have a partner and that for the most part I have to get through the crap in life on my own. To clarify, I do have a son and a few close friends who help where they can and for that I am grateful. But often I am facing a lot of problems that I have to deal with on my own. I divide those into constructive challenges and I try to get through those myself and consider them positives. It’s the destructive ones, often coming from left field that I resent having to deal with alone. I consider them negatives. I can’t just ask a non-exiefstent partner for help.

That is why the unexpected help spontaneously from strangers is so wonderful. I am so grateful when that happens I try to pass it along, i.e., help someone else, even if a stranger.

Last week I had a string of help from strangers – and all related to trying to maneuver one of those bloody push trailers/shopping carts.

I never liked them and preferred to cart groceries and books around in bags I carry on my shoulder.

However, last week I had to bring books to a bookseller at the Bouchercon Mystery Writing conference in downtown Toronto so decided to buy one of those trailers. I loaded it with copies of my three Beyond mystery series books. It was heavy. So when I phoned a close friend to invited her to  my book launch Oct. 22, I was talking about this trailer and she offered to drive me part way to the location. She had to get her husband to put the trailer in her van. She dropped me off at a taxi stand. As it turned out, it would have been a nightmare going through  public transit entrances and exits with the trailer. The cab driver was very friendly and helpful.

Books got delivered okay. But unfortunately not as many sold as I had hoped (and I had brought less than the bookseller had suggested). The day before I had to pick up the books I did the public transit route just to check it out, but as suspected too much for a short skinny woman with a heavy trailer of books.

And did I mention that this bloody trailer collapsed after I got it home empty after dumping the books off at the bookseller’s booth? It was still fine then, or so I thought, but two days later I was moving  it around in the house and the top canvas part disconnected from the steel bar near  the top. It its fastened by velcro – which would be fine if the side parts of it had been originally put in the steel bars going down when it was  at the manufacturer’s. It had looked okay to me and after I closed the velcro part I did notice the bag wasn’t too sturdy from then, but what do I know? I’ve never used the damn things before and only got one because of no other choice to get the books to where I was going.

Sunday morning on the way down, pushing the empty trailer into the subway station, my discomfort must have been visible, because a young fellow offered to carry it down the three flights of stairs. When we got to the bottom, he noticed that the canvas bag was out of the steel side bars and said if he had a screwdriver he would fix it. He said the bag should be in the bars but the top part was screwed in.

To come home, after collecting the unsold books, a hotel employee, I think a bellhop, got the trailer out the door and got me a cab and put the trailer in the trunk. The cab driver was again a helpful and friendly fellow and lifted the offending bag out of the trunk. I did have to drag it up the veranda stairs and into the house.

After I removed the books, it clicked what the fellow at the subway station had been getting at. When I checked the photo of the trailer in the sheet that came with it ( a sheet with little info) I noticed the sides of the trailer were indeed over the sidebar.

Not on my trailer. It’s going back to Canadian Tire today and if they don’t give me my money back I’ll be raising unholy hell. I do not want to cart that trailer around with me today because I have to check out the last part of the trip to where I do a guest breakfast talk on Saturday. The walk after I get off the subway for that is short but tricky and confusing and I sure don’t want to have to figure it out early Saturday morning. You can bet I’m not using a trailer any more. New rule of thumb – I only bring what books  I can carry in bags on my shoulders. And hope I have enough books for sales.  It has happened once that I didn’t.

I may have to take a cab from the subway station on Saturday morning though if it I feel the route is bad after today’s venture, I’ll see if the organizer can get one of the writing group members to pick me up at the passenger pickup at the subway station.

I am spending too much on cabs here. I never take cabs unless from the train station after a visit with cousins in southwestern Ontario. I live at the poverty level so cabs aren’t really in my budget.

Cheers (I think),

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series. Book Launch for Beyond Faith is Sunday, October 22. See details on flyer below.

 

 

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Getting your novel ending right

The second beyond book.

Five rewrites later for the publisher I finally got it right. Sure lots of changes and improvements throughout Beyond Faith. But the one giving me the devil of a time was the ending. No matter how many rewrites of that, the editor at the publisher came back with what basically amounted to that it wasn’t quite right. And he did make suggestions which I did not ignore.

In retrospect I was probably being too flippant in part and it wasn’t getting serious enough, wasn’t making sense. In the end, my change must have been inspired by something he emailed. Or maybe that he said he could rewrite the last page. And the time ticking. So, I said I wanted one more crack at it and he agreed.

So, I suppose I got really into what the ending was all about and just wrote. When finished (including some rewording here and there before it went back to the publisher) I discovered something I wasn’t even thinking about in the main part of my brain. But my subconscious must have been tuned in, because there it was.

The ending actually tied back to the beginning.

And it made sense. It also provides, shall we say (no spoilers wanted), an opening for the next Beyond book. In fact, there are a few things happening in the latter part of Beyond Faith that could be carried forward into the next Beyond book, story lines that could be developed further and used in the complex mix of plots and characters I use in my stories.

So, why hadn’t I thought of that tie-in to Chapter One  before?

Many reasons. Perhaps the rush to finish the rewrite to meet a deadline (as it turned out, several deadlines). Perhaps because I had client work to do as well (no offence to the clients. I try to balance client work with the novel-writing and all the PR work for it involved.) If it were just Beyond Faith and client work to balance, I could manage.

I think I have to put a big share of the blame on much of the other stuff in my life, such as income tax filing and the CRA messing up despite me filing on time, health issues (that one will eat up your life no matter what. Guaranteed.), house and property problems, etc. Perhaps one of the biggies is others expecting me to do this and that for them and well, just bugging me to do so. Now, I’m reining back, even being slow to return emails if it is something that can be dealt with later. Some things I’m dumping and some things I’m saying “no.” to. My new motto is to prioritize and to focus on what is important to me.

That includes my family, too and some property and financial stuff, and especially the garden. My garden is therapeutic.  So is my writing

What can we learn from my experiences above to get the right ending for your story?

Don’t rush it.

Better time management – ignore the unnecessary and/or not important at the time. If those demanding your time to do something for them balk, too bad.

So, prioritize.

Think of your story’s beginning. This works for novels, novellas and short stories. A long time ago I learned from a writing instructor that the ending has to tie in with the beginning somehow – perhaps a resolution. In today’s mystery series novels, which mimic TV series, there is often a cliff-hanger at the end. Don’t be afraid to use it. Linwood Barclay and Julia Spencer Fleming use that tactic very well. In fact, I’m currently reading the third (and I think final) in Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls series. This third one The Twenty-three starts just days after the second one. I suggest you read some of their books as well.

And don’t be afraid to rewrite. That may include several endings to see what works best. This might be the time to get somebody (besides a biased family member) to read the beginning and ending and give you some feedback. I know it could have spoiler potential, but you do want to get it right, don’ you?

The cover of my previous Beyond book Beyond Blood is up at the top with links to amazon. And yes it’s ending ties in with something in Chapter one, and also has a hook into Beyond Faith.

The publisher now has his book designer designing a cover for Beyond Faith. When that’s done and I get a copy, I’ll be putting it at the top of these blog posts.

Meantime, starting next week, I’ll be writing some special blog posts, a sort of mini-Beyond series for the summer.

Keep writing and rewriting.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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E-book sales inconsistent

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

The stats are in. E-book sales are down, at least for traditional trade publishers. Yet some authors are beating the odds. What exactly is happening here? Weren’t e-books supposed to be the new book sales venue, the one readers gravitated towards?

First, a few statistics.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“One reason for the 2014 decline in revenue and earnings was also a drop in digital sales. E-books accounted for 23.2% of S&S sales last year, down from 24.4% in 2013. Total digital revenue, which includes downloadable audio, generated 26.4% of revenue, down from 27.1% in 2013.” (See http://techcrunch.com/2015/03/03/publisher-revenues-down-as-ebook-buying-slows/

and

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/financial-reporting/article/65592-sales-earnings-fell-at-s-s-in-2014.html

Publishing pundits are blaming the decline partly on self-published books (the other is lack of block-buster books published). So… what about Indie published books? As self-publishing becomes more acceptable is this really hard to comprehend? And traditional book publishers only publish so many books each year – a lot has to do with their funds. In Canada, some rely on government grants.

Having said that, some small trade publishers such as my own Blue Denim Press, and Imajin Books in Western Canada, still manage to keep publishing (and we hope they continue to do so). Some of that is by going outside the usual trade publishing box. Both keep their “print run” down by going the Print on Demand route. My e-book sales were also down too the past year. But from what I can see from my royalty and royalty statement, and what I sell on my own at readings, etc., the print copies of my mystery fiction books are up slightly from the previous year. I don’t know if this is partly because I now have two books published with Blue Denim Press. What I do know is for the first time Blue Denim Press published a new book (complete with launch and all the promotion with that) this spring – not mine, but an anthology, Hill Spirits II. Blue Denim Press have been in business since 2011. See www.bluedenimpress.com for more info.

And why am I mentioning Imajin, another small Canadian trade publisher? Because one of their mystery fiction authors, Rosemary McCracken, was their top-selling e-book author for May 2015 for her mystery novel Safe Harbor. See Rosemary’s blog, Moving Target at https://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/bestseller/.

As Rosemary states, Safe Harbor was published three years ago.

That should tell us something.

A few of those somethings are both author and publisher have to get out there (online and in person) to promote their books – a lot. And try new things. Both publishers and authors have to be flexible. The publishing industry is going through many changes. As some pundits have pointed out, the publishing industry is where the music industry was a few years ago.

And we know how Indie music has helped musicians – many we would not have heard of otherwise. And we music appreciators would have missed out on some excellent music.

Maybe the larger trade publishers need to take note, be more flexible, and go along for the ride.

We cannot go back.

My toonie’s worth anyway.

What do you think? Comments please.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com – my publisher – you can also purchase e-books – both Kindle and Kobo from Blue Denim Press. Click on the Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post.

 

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Interview of Fictional Character by Fictional Character – Part 5

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

“Live passionately, even if it kills you, because something is going to kill you anyway.”

– Webb Chiles

Starting with this week’s post, Bast Overture, crime reporter turned PI will be interviewing characters from the other stories in Beyond the Tripping Point. Some of them will require him to do a variation of time travel. This week’s interview is with Elsa Richards, the main character in “16 Dorsey St.” Elsa and Bast are in the same time frame (late 1990s).

Bast: You are a fashion designer who works from home?

Elsa:  Yes, I prefer that because my boss, Monsieur Louie is always breathing down my neck at his place. I’m a very creative person and I need solitude to create my best. It’s like I’m in another world with all senses, all areas of my mind focused on the current dress or skirt.

Bast: But your new home, an apartment in a former old Rosedale home doesn’t turn out to be so solitary. Could you elaborate?

Elsa: The other tenants were mad and scary old people. It makes me shudder to think about them.

Bast: I understand. But could you tell us something about them?

Elsa: (Takes a deep breath). Okay. Did you ever watch those old Frankenstein movies starring Boris Karloff? (Bast nods). Well, Harold Marchant has a face just like him. But believe me, he doesn’t move around stiffly like Frankenstein. And the old biddy, Winnifred Hoyle – her eyes just bulge out so far you’d think they would pop out. She says she’s a retired school teacher.

Bast: Probably scared her students into studying?

Elsa: (chuckles slightly). Probably. Don’t know when she was a teacher, maybe in the 1940s because that’s how she dresses, complete with padded suit jackets and nylons with seams. Who wears stockings with seams anymore?

Bast: Didn’t you think for a time that there was a third person living in the old house?

Elsa: Well, I suppose so.

Bast: Tell me about that.

Elsa: I’d go out to run errands and such and when I returned I’d find some of my things like my lipstick and hairbrush moved from where I put them. I’m very particular where I put my stuff. Then there was that wig. I couldn’t figure out where that came from until my sister, Sylvia, reminded me of a Halloween party costume I word a few years ago.

Bast: That brings up my next question. You tell your story through emails to your sister. Why is that?

Elsa: Because, Sylvia doesn’t live in Toronto. I know; there is the phone. But I’m like you a computer techie and then there is the privacy issue. Our mother keeps popping unannounced into Sylvia’s place and stays for a bit. So Sylvia and I don’t want her to know about all out conversations.

Bast: Your mother comes up with a cryptic revelation later on in “16 Dorsey St.” What do you think of that?

Elsa: I’d rather not say. I go through a harrowing experience…

Bast: That’s right. Life threatening, even.

Elsa: Sh. We don’t want to tell the readers all.

Bast: Right. Well, thank you Elsa for your time and I hope you, your sister and your mother can sort out all these, er, matters.

You can read more about Elsa, her sister and the scary oldsters in my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to my profile – including books reviews – at www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book  go to http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/search/?keywords=Beyond%20the%20Tripping%20Point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy.

The video link to my thatchannel.com interview and reading from Beyond the Tripping Point on You Tube can now be accessed via the new page “Video” at the top of this blog.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Looking at story endings

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.

— Rod Serling

Last evening I had a discussion with members of the book club at the Albert Campbell Branch of the Toronto Public Library. One of the many interesting questions from one of these readers was about the ending to my short story “Porcelain Doll” from Beyond the Tripping Point. And the ensuing discussion got me thinking.

I’ve blogged about the beginning and middle of short stories and novels, but endings are just as important for the writer and especially the reader. You want to have your readers hanging onto every word of your story but you don’t want to disappoint them in the end. That doesn’t necessarily mean a main character shouldn’t die but…

Let’s look at endings. Without completely spoiling the ending of  “Porcelain Doll,” when the protagonist Sarah Holden is reunited with her father she has mixed feelings – relief, love – lots of heavy emotions – but when she sees him being led out in handcuffs and sees ”a glimmer of the old Daddy in his eyes,” she shudders. (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford Beyond the Tripping Point)

The book club member and I explored this ending where Sarah Holden has these mixed feelings about reconnecting with a father who for years she thought was dead because of her, a father who was a nasty piece of goods in that he was verbally abusive to her and especially to her mother. But he had one redeeming quality – he loved his daughter. He found it difficult to express his love so did the one thing he thought would please her – try to win a big porcelain doll through a poker game.

This ending works because it brings out the mixed feelings Sarah has for her father. If she completely forgave him and ignored the pain he caused her, particularly for deserting her and her mother which left her with feelings of guilt, it wouldn’t be realistic. His arrest is minutes after she is reunited with him so she has little time to digest all that happened and is happening. Perhaps if it was a few years after the reunion and Daddy and Sarah got to know each other…maybe.

What can we learn about endings?

1.      They must be logical and follow through with the plot and characters.

2.   That point doesn’t eliminate surprise endings but again the plot and characters must point towards what happens in the surprise. Killing off a bad character or even a superfluous one because the author can’t figure any other way to deal with him or her doesn’t work. Killing off a bad character in a “shoot-out” type of scene might work if the antagonist corners the protagonist and it is a “kill or die yourself” situation.

3.   Happy versus sad endings – both can work, but being a so-called “romantic” at heart (some of you will have a hard time believing that), I think often the sad ending could actually be turned into a better ending, even of hope – especially if the author is writing a series. For example, a steamy relationship that occurs in the novel or a blossoming relationship, is ended at the story’s finish. Why not leave it up in the air somewhat for readers and give them some hope and a hook to read the next book. Pamela Callow is good at that in her thriller mystery novels, Damaged and Indefensible. The protagonist has professional run-ins with a former lover, whom she still has feelings for, in both novels, but there is also a blossoming relationship with another character.

4.      No long drawn out endings. We don’t need a line-by-line account of the “steamy relationship” couples’ marriage or an injured protagonist’s recovery. Watch this with Epilogues. It can bore the reader. Just a few sentences or a few paragraphs where the fellow proposes and the woman just had to say “yes,” or “of course we got married six months later.”

5.      Balance – with plot and character – is the key word.

I discuss some of my characters in this Liquid Lunch interview part.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xMhcTRANMY&feature=youtu.be

.Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Making your fiction funny

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Sharon A. Crawford’s book. Click on the cover to go to amazon.com

The funniest things are the forbidden … The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.

— Mark Twain


I use humour in many of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point. My goal is not necessarily to be funny but the characters and their situations need humour, often the black comedy type. My characters are a little off from normal and get themselves in spots where they well, go beyond the tripping point in life and then have to sort it all out. Throw in crime and some of these characters need to go on the light side of life.

One of these stories “The Body in the Trunk” focuses on two close friends, Kelsie and Sally. Kelsie wants to dump her cheating husband but the normal divorce route doesn’t sit well on her shoulders. As she tells Sally,

“Divorce?” cried Kelsie when I’d said as much. “I’d have to split the house, the cottage, the golf set, the home entertainment centre, the BMW and,” she glared at me, “the dog. How do you split a dog? If Harry gets prison for life, he gets nothing and I get everything. And I really want that BMW.” (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2012).

\So Kelsie drags Sally into her plan so that Harry will… You didn’t really think I was going to tell you the story, did you? You’ll have to get the book.

Basically I created an original situation which is humorous and had my characters act in offbeat ways that are funny. For example, in a few scenes in the story Kelsie wears a clothespin on her nose. But it ties in with the plot and Kelsie’s character.

So, if you want to create humour in your fiction, your characters must be funny in character. None of this having a character tell jokes unless the character is a stand-up comedian. Otherwise it is forced humour and will fall flat on your reader’s eyes and mind.

Your whole plot can be something offbeat and lend itself to humour (as does “The Body in the Trunk”). And you don’t necessarily want all characters to be funny. Kelsie is, but she is balanced by Sally who while thrust into the ridiculous situation, is not a funny person. The formula for humorous skits applies here – the funny person needs a straight (and I’m not referring to sexual orientation here) person to play against. Of course, there are some humorous skits where both characters are funny. Some of you may remember the skits on the old Carol Burnette TV show. Of course Carol Burnette just has to appear on stage and she gets laughs, but until your characters get well-known in the reading world, it is better to play the funny one against a straight character. The Janet Evanovich series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is a good example. Stephanie is always getting herself into situations and the humour bounces off the pages.

Which bring me to Point of View – tell the story from the funny character’s POV or another character’s? That depends on who the funny character is – a main character or minor character, protagonist or antagonist, or in the case of mystery-crime stories – one of the suspects. With novels you can have multiple points of view (one POV per scene), so there is some choice. You can get into the funny person’s head and/or the straight person’s head   – with the latter you can get their take on the humorous character. If it is short story you are writing, you need to tell the story from one point of view but either the funny person’s or the straight person’s could work. Unsure which? Try writing your story twice – once from each character’s POV. Then read each out loud and see what seems to work best.

Whatever way you use humour in your novel or short story, make sure it isn’t forced. Readers will pick up on it.

One good thing with humour in book fiction – print, e-book or audio book – readers don’t have to suffer from that awful canned laughter on TV sit-coms…not yet anyway.

And I’m going to relent a little; you can hear me read the beginning of “The Body in the Trunk” from my reading on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be

For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to the Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Getting your book noticed with book reviews

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

There is creative reading as well as creative writing.

–          Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even before your book goes to market you need to stake out possible book review sources. That applies for trade published books, self-published books whether in e-copy, print or both. Often you are ignored but sometimes serendipity steps in and you get a review or two or three, etc.

That happened to me – twice – and from the same event last year. My short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point had a publisher and I had a copy of the contract. But the contract wasn’t signed as I headed into the Bloody Words Conference last June in Toronto. My publisher’s instructions were: get the word out about your book and get some book reviews.

I did it –couldn’t shut up about it even though I felt a little strange doing it all so far in advance of publication. The first reviewer freelanced mystery book reviews for a daily paper from a neighbouring city – Hamilton, Ontario. Before I even got more than my name and I had a book coming out he asked, “So you want a review?” And he took down the particulars. The mini-review came out in print and online December 22, 2012 in The Hamilton Spectator at http://www.thespec.com/feature/article/857834–mini-reviews  (scroll down, it’s the second book reviewed and the newspaper, in error, left out the reviewer’s byline. It’s Don Graves).

The other review is the big serendipity one, thanks to persistence in networking. The book reviewer for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – one of the biggies for publishing short stories from mystery authors from around the world (the magazine is published in the United States) was a guest panelist at Bloody Words and also sat at the head table for the banquet. I missed talking to him after his panel gig, but on his way out after the banquet I “accosted” him (read: stopped him, introduced myself and my upcoming book and asked for a review). He gave me his business card and the name of  Jon Breen, the freelancer who does an annual review roundup of anthologies and short story collections. I gave him my card and thanked him. I did have to do a follow-up email to get the email address of the other book reviewer.

Then I emailed the other reviewer my pitch.

And he was interested. So my publisher sent him a pdf. It’s paid off. Recently  my publisher emailed me that he had received the hard copy proofs for that part of the May 2013 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. A mini-review by Jon Breen of Beyond the Tripping Point  appears in it. It’s already available online at http://www.themysteryplace.com/eqmm/jury/ Scroll way down – it is there, 12th in the list of books . And it links to http://www.amazon.com

Those two make up for the nonsense trying to get a review in the big Toronto dailies and Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishers’ Bible. The Toronto Star got as far as email communication between me (initiated by me) and back with the reviewer who does mini-reviews of new arrivals. That didn’t happen despite me bringing the book down to her office in person. Some of us authors joked about the supposed big room where the Star stashes all the unreviewed books that come in before disposing of them – and how they do so was pure speculation.

So, what is an author to do to get a review? Besides this combination in-person and pseudo-social media and yes, social media, too, with the latter we can review each others’ books. If like me you have an author profile with your book on amazon.com, Goodreads, etc. this can be done. Just troll the sites to see who’s there. What about other bloggers you follow? You can also at least get interviews about your book on other authors’ blogs. You can do book review trades with other authors – they read and review your book; you do the same for theirs and both of you post your review on whatever social media you can. I’m currently doing this with another very prolific writer, Paul Lima, reading and reviewing his book on Writer’s Block and he’s doing the same with Beyond the Tripping Point. My publisher sent him a Kindle copy of my book and Paul sent me a pdf of his book as that’s what I requested.

So, next week we will revisit Writer’s Block with my review of Paul Lima’s book Unlock Writer’s Block. Paul has some very creative ways to get around this bane of writers.

Then I will have to follow my other advice above – start trolling Goodreads, Linked In groups, etc. to do and get more reviews. And in case anyone is interested in doing and posting a review of my book there or on Amazon.com, let me know. I have Kobo and pdf copies and can get the Kindle one from my publisher. And if you have a book published let me know and I might just review it.Of course, remember the unwritten rule for doing book reviews. The book is free of charge to the reviewer

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my website – http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.

This evening (March 21, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) I moderate an author publisher panel featuring Andrew J. Borkowski,  the 2012 Toronto Book Award winner for his short story collection Copernicus Avenue and his publisher Marc Coté of Cormorant Books. This panel is at a meeting of the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch – more details at http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/events.html

Next Thursday, March 28, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I talk about where my characters come from and read from Beyond the Tripping Point  at the Leaside Branch of the Toronto Public Library. (See the above BTTP link for more details.)

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Do your research and get your information correct

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

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

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.

–           Rod Serling

If you think writing fiction eliminates any research, think again. Especially if you are writing mystery and science fiction. Do you want your police procedure to be incorrect, especially in connection with a crime scene?

According to police, that is a biggie with many authors (TV series are especially bad). Just watch some of the shows. Even a “lay person” can pick out some of the no-nos at a crime scene.

An older version of my short story “For the Love of Wills” from my mystery short collection Beyond the Tripping Point had glaring police procedural errors. I didn’t know that. Then I heard Toronto Police Constable Brent Pilkey, author of the Rage series of police procedural novels  http://www.brentpilkey.com/ talk last June on a couple of panels at the Bloody Words Mystery Writers Conference. One of those panels also featured a Chicago PI turned author. Their topic covered where fiction (mainly TV) gets the crime scene investigation wrong. I thought “oh, oh,” about the “Wills” story and with Brent’s permission, emailed him the first part of the story – just enough so he could see what the heck I was doing. He emailed back with the correct procedure and some suggestions – he was very polite and helpful. He also helped me clarify some skidmark issues in another story “Road Raging” in the same short story collection.

So, he became my police consultant, got acknowledged in my book as well as a complimentary book copy and also has helped me with police procedure for my prequel novel, which is set in the summer of 1998. Some of the procedure and set-up was different then. The one that really grabbed me was how wire-taps were done using reel-to-reel tapes that had to be turned on as the ransom call came in.

That one I should have had an inkling of because of my days as a journalist using reel-to-reel tapes, albeit the smaller cassette versions.

Then there is science fiction. Here, you want to make sure what you are writing about is actually still science fiction and not science fact – even if you take a science fact and spin it out beyond into fiction. A master novelist in that area is the award-winning Rob Sawyer  http://www.sfwriter.com/. Once you have established that you are writing science fiction, you will probably need to do research on how the details would pan out. Even though it is fiction, it has to make sense. The late Isaac Asimov http://www.asimovonline.com/asimov_home_page.html was also a master at that with his Foundation novel series.

You can do research in several ways:

  1. Interview/work with an expert in the area.
  2. Do research on the Internet – Google is a big help (but be careful – check the credentials of the website or blog poster). If you get a good one, you might want to email them for more information.
  3. Read newspaper and magazine articles; also books on the subject. (For my prequel novel, I read a book on serial killers; I didn’t want to rely 100 per cent on Criminal Minds. Also with the novel set in 1998 I didn’t want to mention serial killers and FBI etc. procedure that is post 1998). These three sources can also provide experts for you to contact to obtain further information.
  4. If you are writing historical fiction, or like me, even something 15 years before now, you will need to do a lot more research about what the social economic conditions were at that time. Plus little details – my favourite (although not for my novel) – was canned food available at specific times in history. You would be surprised how far back tinned food goes. You certainly wouldn’t want to have the Countess of Whatever flying around in a plane in 1789, although maybe a hot air balloon as the first one was supposedly invented in 1783 – unless you are writing science fiction.
  5. Time travel can also be tricky as you are bringing a character or character(s) into a past or future time. Besides the obvious of the time-traveller’s reaction to the “primitive” or “futuristic” conditions, you must get the right information into each time period. Diana Gabaldon  http://www.dianagabaldon.com/with her Outlander novel series is an expert at doing this and keeping the reader interested in the story.
  6. And that’s my last point. Don’t bore or bog down your fiction with research. Weave in the research with the story and characters and skip the expository, the character explaining, or worse the author as narrator explaining. It can turn away your reader or at least cause him or her to skip paragraphs, even pages. You know the old adage – it is easier to learn when you are having fun or being entertained.

How do you do research for your fiction?

For my upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to my BTTP page on my website – http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

And clicking on the book logo at the beginning of this post links directly to my entry on amazon.com. Book is available in print and e-copy.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Point of View – Part 4 – The “God” POV

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

Easy reading is damn hard writing.

–          Nathaniel Hawthorne

The omniscient point of view is sometimes called the “God point of view” because it is the point of view that is see all, hear all and know all. Here, besides various characters’ POV you get the narrator jumping in. The narrator or “God” can do things like give background of a setting or other information that none of the characters would know. The omniscient POV also lets the author step back a little from getting too close to his or her characters, although the latter isn’t obligatory. The author may get close to his protagonist and antagonist.

Just to muddy the omniscient waters more, the rule of one character’s POV per scene (or per chapter if chapters aren’t divided into scenes) still applies, although some proponents of the omniscient POV disagree and say you can be in all characters’ heads at once.  “God” maybe is able to be everywhere at once, but your reader can’t with one exception – that narrator or “God” can work in those setting details – you know the type where one character drives into a town he has never visited and more than just what he can see and know is narrated (town’s history, for example).

When to Use Omniscient POV

You can best get your message across and further your plot by revealing many characters’ thoughts, and feelings.

When your story can’t be told from one person’s point of view because of actions occurring in the plot.

When your story needs information that none of the characters would have knowledge of.

In novels that cover several time periods and that have several characters.

In a nutshell, the author knows all/sees all understands all of what each character thinks, imagines, knows, feels.

It’s complicated.

What Isn’t Omniscient POV

First let’s cover what isn’t omniscient POV, but uses a technique not too common – mixing up first person and third person. Mystery writer Bill Pronzini does this in his “Nameless” detective novels. His earlier novels were told from the first person only and Nameless was just that. In later novels, Pronzini has three POV characters – Nameless (who has a first name now) and two other private investigators in the agency. Nameless is told from the first POV and the other two are in the third person. He sticks to the one character’s POV per chapter and puts the name of the third person POV at the beginning of the chapter. Nameless chapters don’t get this subheading because readers should be able to tell from the first person usage who the character is. Pronzini does this very well.

Omniscient POV in Short Stories

Omniscient, per se, isn’t usually used in short stories, although a variation of it can be used. You can have your narrator come in at the beginning with information about the story, the characters, the setting, etc. but at some point you have to focus on one character’s point of view. Because short stories are supposed to be well, short, you probably shouldn’t use more than two points of view, but no jumping heads – one character’s POV per scene. Otherwise you have the inside of the reader’s head jerking back and forth and getting confused. You do not want your reader to be confused – confused readers give up reading a story (or a novel).

Omniscient POV in Novels.

I use a variation of omniscient POV in my prequel mystery novel which I am writing now. I say “variation” because I put one character, Dana Bowman, in the first person and other main characters’ POV in the third person. I name the POV character at the beginning of the chapter or scene, but unlike Bill Pronzini I do put “Dana” for the first person POV character. However, for obvious reasons, I put nothing at the beginning of chapters with the POV of a maybe suspect.

Dana is put in the first person because she is the character I want the reader to get closest to. She always wears her emotions on her sleeve. Her fraternal twin Bast Overture is in third person for two reasons. He is not so forthcoming in his feelings, even in his own mind, and I want to show the reader this. The other main characters I get close to in varying degrees, but none as close as Dana.

As for the narrator jumping in to do the scene descriptions, etc. I’m still working on that or if I want it strictly from specific characters point of view. I’m leaning towards the latter and there is a technique in that which I’ll cover in a future post.

Meantime, read the beginning of my short story “No Breaks,” and see if you can figure out the Point of View and why? Is it third person limited or is it omniscient?

It’s a scummy Saturday morning and Highway 11 resembles fast food parking hell. If you’re making your last ditch scramble for your reserved spot in the Muskokas, try an alternate route.”

“Yeah, what alternate? Highway 400 is worse.” Millie Browne yells back at the radio announcer. She clicks off the radio.

Most of these Saturday drivers probably have air-conditioned cars. Millie isn’t blessed with air-conditioning. She isn’t blessed. She can’t even remember whether she was baptized as an infant, but today she’s going to remedy that.

Today, on this heat-infested highway, Millie desires only one thing: an even break in life. To obtain this end she plans to jump in the lake. She’s not sure which Muskoka lake but she doesn’t care. It won’t be Baptism by fire, but Millie figures the cold water will clear her head and bring some control back into her life.

Control is Millie’s keyword. She’s organized her life every day from senior year in high school. Her diaries (the truth) speak in contrast to her calendar (the plan).

Not so Jessica Myers, age 30, sitting beside Millie and thumbing on her BlackBerry… (excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press)

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

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POV – First person or third person – Part 3

Cover of Sharon’s book Beyond the Tripping Point

My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.

– Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

So you want to get inside one person’s head (or at least one person at a time) in your story. Should you go for first person singular or third person singular?

Let’s look at how these can work.

First Person Point of View – the story is told from one character’s point of view, using “I,” “me,” “my” and “our.” The character could be a major player who is active in the novel, or the observer, as in F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Or an observer/major player, such as Archie in the Nero Wolfe mystery novels.

Anything that happens in the story must be what the character can see, hear, touch, feel, think, imagine or read. He or she can say what he sees about other characters but can reveal only his own feelings. He could imagine what the other character feels, but this must be clear. You can get around some of what sounds like restrictions by using emails, Facebook pages, Twitter – as long as it is either what the  I POV character is doing or reading. To help keep on track, picture a video camera inside this first person narrator’s head.

My short story “16 Dorsey St.” from Beyond the Tripping Point is told using emails between two sisters, Elsa and Sylvia .with newspaper clips thrown in. The POV remains with Elsa even with Sylvia’s replies. Elsa is reading them from her computer. Here’s a short example.

E-mail from Elsa to Sylvia

3/3/1997 9.07 P.M.

Subject: Newspaper story

Sylvia, something disturbing happened. The “someone” at the door was today’s newspaper and I don’t get the paper delivered. An article on the front page of section two was circled in red. I’ve scanned it and am attaching it so you can read it.

Love,

Elsa

Attachment to e-mail:

CRIME FLASHBACK—MURDER ANNIVERSARY TODAY

Today is the anniversary of one of Toronto’s most baffling murder cases. Fifty years ago, a 23-year-old woman was strangled. Lois Harkner was a honey blonde beauty, a lady who would never hurt anyone. Yet someone wanted her dead.

Harkner was found lying beside her dressing table…

(Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press 2012)

When to use First Person POV

To move the plot forward, your readers need to know the main character’s inner thoughts.

You can reveal your main character best by telling the story from main character’s POV.

Revealing the conflict works best by showing the readers only the main character’s thoughts.

You want your readers to get up close and personal with your main character.

Third Person Point of View – the story is told from the narrator as “he/she” – you can use people’s names. Here the narrator is further from the story than the first person POV. In Third Person the story is told from that one character’s POV with only what he can observe, hear, etc.

Here’s the beginning of my short story “No Breaks” I combine what Millie hears on the radio with Millie’s inner thoughts.

“It’s a scummy Saturday morning and Highway 11 resembles fast food parking hell. If you’re making your last ditch scramble for your reserved spot in the Muskokas, try an alternate route.”

“Yeah, what alternate? Highway 400 is worse.” Millie Browne yells back at the radio announcer. She clicks off the radio.

Most of these Saturday drivers probably have air-conditioned cars. Millie isn’t blessed with air-conditioning. She isn’t blessed. She can’t even remember whether she was baptized as an infant, but today she’s going to remedy that.

(Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press, 2012)

When to Use Third Person POV

First person POV won’t work because you need to have your narrator more distanced to report your main character’s thoughts and actions. Also use third person if first person gets in the way of showing your main character’s weaknesses. This latter is not always necessary, as some characters seem to be able to get around their egos to show and comment on their weaknesses. For example self-effacing humour, inner thoughts where they present their view as correct but they word it so you can read their weakness between the lines.

Narrator’s objectivity strengthens the main character or the story’s message.

In next week’s post we’ll go into using the omniscient Point of View as that can be complex and confusing.

Meantime, check out my short story collection and maybe purchase a copy. It is now available as an e-book. Click on the book cover above.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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