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Using bad life events in your writing

Pi Dana Bowman holds Beyond novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, it’s okay.”

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

Ms. B…B…Bowman, it’s all right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The former migraine sufferer – real life

 

 

 

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Sharon and Dana at Word on the Street

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It’s PI Dana Bowman here and I’m so excited. The annual Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival rolls into Toronto this coming weekend. And I’m going to be there at two booths. I am front stage and centre at the Toronto Sisters in Crime Booth and share space at the Crime Writers of Canada booth with authors Lorna Poplak  and what’s her name who says she wrote Beyond Faith and I didn’t. We’ll see about that. This will be my opportunity to set some things straight to everybody who comes by the SINC booth. I can show them parts of Beyond Faith and ask them.

Who wrote the book?

Oh, what’s her name is here. I better scoot.

 

Hey you, Dana Bowman. Get your nosey nose (and the rest of you) back inside Beyond Faith. Oh, hello from the real author of the Beyond mystery books, including Beyond Faith. If you look a the book cover below you will see it doesn’t say “Dana Bowman” as the author, but me, ” Sharon A. Crawford”. Do I try to stick my nose into Dana’s life?

Don’t answer that. Of course, I do, as an author.

The latest Beyond mystery. (2017).

Now, down to business.

Word on the Street (WOTS) appears every year about this time somewhere in downtown Toronto, Canada. For the past few years it has been at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre by Lake Ontario. And that can give a real meaning to “jump in the lake”..WOTS covers pretty much the gamut of books and magazines; hence its title.And it doesn’t matter if you are publisher, author or reader (or some or all of those); it doesn’t matter if you read only print books or e-books; it doesn’t matter if you write prose or poetry or plays, there is something (or several somethings) for all. Yes, even a kids section. Children’s literature is big business these days, especially Young Adult books. So are romance and mysteries. Whatever you like to read is there. And a word of warning. The festival may be free to get into, but all those books and magazines. You’ll need to bring money and some canvas bags..

Take a gander over to the Toronto Word on the Street 2019 website and browse. You’ll be doing more than just browsing. With all that is going on ast WOTS, you will need to plan your visit down to the last second. But, this time there are events on the Saturday as well.

Dana got one thing right. Two appearances – but for me. She”ll be there inside the books and if I catch her trying to take my place, I’ll…I’ll

Well, maybe I’ll let her out if she sells some books.

Anyway, Dana Bowman (from wherever) and I look forward to meeting you and talking to you at WOTS on Sunday, September 22, 2019. The three Beyond mystery novels   – Beyond the Tripping Point, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith will also be available to browse and purchase.

Here’ my (er, our) appearance info.

Sisters in Crime Toronto Chapter

Booth #WB5

11 a.m. to 12 noon

 

Crime Writers of Canada

Booth #WB4

Times and Date.

3.30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, September 22, 2019

Location:

Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario

Please note the whole festival for the Sunday runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And let’s hope the weather and public transport co-operate. We don’t want any rain to fall on our “parade”, especially if we are waiting for a bus to get there.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Author of the Beyond mysteries.

And PI Dana Bowman, the books’ main character.

 

 

 

 

 

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Taming your main fiction character.

PI Dana Bowman, main character Beyond books.

She’s done it again. Private Investigator Dana Bowman has jumped out of Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith to run amok in the real world. Is she going too far? Has she taken over?

When your main fiction character takes over your story, what should you do? Scream? Kick her or him back into the manuscript? Go with the flow (or flood)? Or listen to what he or she is saying?

Often you get so deep into writing your short story, novella or novel  that it seems like the story is getting away from you.  You are sitting there writing away in a creative fog or focus (take  your pick) and suddenly  it dawns on you. Hey, just who is writing the story?

First, take a deep breath. A character getting involved in their story  is not always a bad thing. It is a sure sign that your character is alive and you are deeply connected to his life. You know better how he operates because he is telling you this – or so it seems. That can be a good thing. Maybe your story was getting dull with something missing. Then it was as if your character jumped in to save the story? Your character is also telling you who he is and how he acts and speaks..

But what if the character is way off base? Not necessarily adding on to what you envisioned as the latter can be a big help. But what if the character has turned so unrecognizable that he just doesn’t seem to be himself?

Sometimes this character reveal develops your character in ways that makes the plot work better. It is as if you are getting insides from deep down. But….

If your character really seems to have gone off the rails and it is not because he  is drunk, on drugs or hasa psychological condition…then you need to stop and take stock.

Sop writing and sit back. Go over your character descriptions and what you have written in your story so far and remind yourself where you as a writer want to go with this character, with this story and with the two connected.

Ask yourself:

Are your character’s actions and diaogue things he would do and say in character – even when he is angry; even when he is sad? For example, if your character has a habit of swearing when upset, and suddenly is throwing plates,. you .need to step back and think. Was the situation something that would push your character over the edge? And how would he react when pushed over the edge? This latter would tie in with his traits. For example. if big on justice and the law, and somebody in his life has crossed the line – maybe beat up his spouse – would you main character beat up the wife-beater? Is that how hat character would exact justice? Maybe, if you have made this character the type of person who when pushed too far takes the law into his own hands. Or maybe not.

Sometimes you might just need to sit down and have a conversation with your character and ask “Just what were you thinking when you…?

And yes, I do carry on conversations with Dana bowman. But she still leaps out of the Beyond books and does her thing – which consists of mostly dissing me, her author. And she even says she wrote Beyond Faith.

Now tthat’s when you start worrying about your character taking over.

If you want to see Dana Bowman in action, she opens all my Crime Beat Confidential TV shows on thatchannel.com and here is a link. This is the third episode where Dana actually returns later in the show to do some of the interviewing of our guest, a real life private investigator. At least it gets Dana off my back…momentarily.

Now if Dana would just use some of that energy to take care of the crap in my life – you know cleaning the house, doing the dishes.

But she won’t. I didn’t create her that way. She doesn’t  even cook. It’s her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture who cooks.

Maybe i should rethink Dana and have her take cooking lessons in the next Beyond book. Yeah right. the books are murder mysteries so Dana is liable to poison someone with her cooking..

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Can Point of View help Character Development?

No matter what genre of fiction your write – mystery, romance, science fiction or if you writer literary fiction – your characters are very important to your story and to your readers. Readers want to get to know your characters so they can connect to them – whether they like or dislike them. If you just skim the surface of your characters they become too superficial and your readers just won’t care about them. They may even stop reading your short story or novel before getting to the end. This does not bode well for the fiction writer.

How can you make your readers connect to and care about your characters?

One way is getting inside their head. The best way I know how to do this is by using another fiction-writing technique – Point of View.

Point of View is often misused, especially if you use more than one POV in your novel. And using more then one POV is not wrong. You just have to remember the cardinal rule. One character’s  POV per scene or per chapter. So stay only in that character’s head during that scene or chapter. Otherwise you are doing what we call in the business – “jumping heads”. Perhaps if you think of lice doing that it will give you some incentive not to jump heads.

How can POV help you see and develop your characters?

Basically,if you are inside that character’s head, you have to think like him or her – not like you would think for yourself. For example, how does he react when things go wrong ? What makes him scared and what does he do because of it? Is he shy? Is he a bully? Is he being bullied?  Reactions include actions, dialogue, inner thoughts and how others react to him? And these will depend on the character. For example if the character is a child, the reactions will be different than an adult. But adults also react differently to situations and that is based on their background, their characteristics – physical (are they short and fat and subject to a lot of derogatory comments about that? Do they cringe, hide inside themselves, stand up for themselves or bully the attacker – maybe punch him in the nose?)

All depends on your character and yes, doing a detailed character outline of your character helps. Just remember like real-life people, characters change and evolve – often because of what goes on in their life. So your character outline is fluid.

How do your characters react to being insulted? Frightened? To trauma?

Let’s look at one of my main characters in Beyond Faith – seven-year-old David Bowman. He was kidnapped in the previous book, Beyond Blood, and is suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder because of it. This affects how he speaks, what he does,what he thinks and what others, especially close family, think of him.

The best way is to use the writing axiom of “show not tell.” So here are a couple of short excerpts from Beyond Faith (published Blue Denim Press, fall 2017). Please note all copyright of all excerpts,  is with me, Sharon A. Crawford, the author.

First, his mother’s inner thoughts about him. The first chapter is from her – PI Dana Bowman’s POV. She is walking up Main Street dreading returning home. Two short excerpts here:

THE WIND WHIPPED my back and the cold rain pelted my face. Hunching further inside my jacket, I pulled the hood tighter. Despite chattering teeth and an oversized purse sliding down my sleeve, I continued plodding forward.

Late November in Thurston Ontario could weave a wicked wind, leaving you out of sorts and gasping for life, a feeling I had experienced a lot lately. Couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. Bast said it was because we would turn 40 the end of next month and to get over it. But that wasn’t it. Just when I seemed to find the proverbial hole, something always kept me from crawling in. But what was really stopping me?………

 

I should be happy. Not only did my son David survive his kidnapping last year, but this July he finally started talking again after months of silence. First he wouldn’t shut up, then he took to following Bast around again like he did when still mute. Since summer disappeared into autumn, when not at school, David was spending more time alone in his room—drawing. I didn’t like what erupted from his crayons—devils, fires with heads sticking out the top, hands wielding axes or guns. Where did he get all these ideas? Had he not healed from the kidnapping? Maybe the aftermath was like grief—going back and forth and all over the place in uneven stages……

What’s happening here? How does this clue the reader in on David’s character? And on his mother’s too? What do these short excerpts tell you about mother and son?

Let’s hear from David now in another scene. A little bit of info first. Partway through Beyond Faith, Dana is attacked from behind, falls to the cement and suffers a concussion. This is part of the scene a few hours later in the hospital from David’s POV.

“Uncle Bast, can we go see Mommy so the detective can find out who hurt her?”…..

Bast turned to the doctor. “Very well, if you don’t have any objection, Doctor? I would like to see my sister, too.”

Dr. Richards scratched his cheek. “She is sleeping now. She should get more rest, no excitement.”….The doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. But just family. And just for a few minutes.”

He led them back to Mommy’s room. The cop sitting outside seemed to be asleep on the job. David went to him and shook him. “Wake up. You’re supposed to be watching Mommy’s room to keep the bad guys out.”

Constable Biggs looked up, but before he could say anything, Uncle Bast was leading David into the room, behind the doctor. The doctor said something to the nurse about giving them a few quiet minutes alone with the patient. The nurse stood up and she and the doctor left the room.

Bast sat down in the chair on one side of the bed. David moved his chair closer to Mommy on the other side. He sat down and took her hand. And started to talk about school, Ms. Dugan, and Buddy. He was there and he wasn’t going to leave her. If he did, he knew she would die……

What does this excerpt tell you about David? What techniques were used to show the reader David’s character? And as this is a child character, are his thoughts and language appropriate for a seven-year-old boy?

If you wish to find out more about the Beyond characters, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are available at amazon.com, amazon,ca, and other online places as well as some bricks and mortars stores.

But I am also suggesting you read a variety of novels (or short stories if that is your writing area) to see how a variety of other authors handle POV and character. Two caveats: unfortunately a small portion of published fiction messes up the POV – blame the editor here. And don’t copy what another author does – reading is for your learning and inspiration. In the end it’s your story and your characters.

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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Getting you and your new book on TV

Being interviewed on a TV show is a good way to get the word out about your book and, if you have a good interviewer, get out some information about you, the author. One sign of interest in your book, is interest in you, the author. How do you write? Why do you write? Or in my case – who wrote the book, Beyond Faith – PI Dana Bowman, the main character who insists she wrote it, or me, Sharon A. Crawford, whose name is on the cover?

All that and more (including non-fiction books versus fiction books) got covered last week when I appeared on the Liquid Lunch where I was interviewed by host Hugh Reilly and a newbie co-host. This is on the Internet channel thatchannel.com – the channel has been going since 2004. Not bigtime ( or small time) TV but TV is no longer just regular channels. Think Crave TV. Think Netflix. And think thatchannel.com

This was my third appearance in six years (one for each Beyond book) on Liquid Lunch. This time I have mixed feelings about the way it went. There wasn’t time for me to read a couple of pages from Beyond Faith because we chatted too much. “We” is mostly Hugh and meas the newbie didn’t say too much and she put her foot in her mouth about one thing she said. But I handled it graciously.  Also it was a different studio room and setup from the previous two appearances.

But my biggest gripe was my bangs had been cut too short the day before. Clearly I’m reading too many celebrity stories online. I was able to carry on an intelligent conversation and even steer it back to Beyond Faith when it got a bit off track.

You can check it out for yourself here. Or you can click on the Beyond Faith book cover above and that will take you directly to the interview.

And something extra is coming out of all of this.

I am getting my own TV show on thatchannel.com. It will be about crime – true and fiction and  PI Dana Bowman will be a part of it – if she has her way. Show will get going this spring

More info closer to the date. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, watch the video (it’s about 27 minutes) and please spread the link to it on your social media. Thanks.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Sharon holding up Beyond Faith

 

 

 

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When in doubt kill the character off?

 

Dana Bowman from the Beyond mystery series. Still alive.

In last week’s fall finale of The Blacklist, Tom, one of the major characters was killed off in a very brutal way. Those following the British series Inspector Banks were jolted in one episode where a major character DI Annie Cabbot was killed. Blue Bloods killed (off screen/between seasons) a minor, but important to the series character, Linda, Detective Danny Reagan’s wife.

Near the end of last season, NCIS Los Angeles killed off Michelle, the wife of NCIS Agent Sam. Michelle’s roll wasn’t even as a regular, but as a recurring guest. But in a twist, the actor who played Grainger – Miguel Ferrier – a regular –  died in real life. Instead of following suit, the writers and producers had Grainger quit NCIS and go off to some faraway place.

 

 

Perhaps the weirdest one is the actor who played the original Morse on the old Inspector Morse series. Yes, the producers had Morse die of a heart attack when they were killing the series. But not long after the segment aired, John Thaw, the actor who played Morse died  also, but from throat cancer.

Lately, TV series seem to be in a killing mood. Want to delete a character from the series. Kill him. Actors playing the characters want more money than the new contract will offer. Kill off their characters.

So what does this have to do with fiction characters in novels? Maybe something as some of those series originated from books.

To me, killing off a character just to get them out of the TV series, out of the novel series, or even just out of a novel is a poor way to do it.  If you are going to kill a character there must be a reason within the story itself, something with the character and his other relationship with another character or characters.  Even in murder mysteries, characters are bumped off for some reason – maybe they were going to reveal something bad about the murderer, maybe they stood in the way for the murderer to inherit money, maybe revenge and yes even the so-called random killing spree where the killer kills for no apparent reason. there is always some reason even if just in the killer’s mind.

If a character in your novel dies from natural causes,  it has to be worked into the plot. Let’s look at a scenario from Beyond Faith, my latest Beyond mystery. There are two brothers – Gerrard Olsen and Larry Olsen. Near the beginning one of them gets killed. Without giving any spoilers, I had to think which brother and why and of course, who killed the brother and what led up to the killer doing so. That doesn’t come out right at the beginning, but PI Dana Bowman and her fraternal twin brother PI Bast Overture, and Det. Sgt. Fielding are trying to find out. Like most of my mystery novels and short stories, it is not straightforward. It all rises from the characters – who they are – what they have gone through and are going through in life and would they cross that line to kill? That latter is very important for an author to consider. Some characters are such bad assess in what they do that killing is believable. Other bad ass characters commit a lot of crime and/or are mean and ill-treat the people in their lives, but draw the line at killing them. Then there is the so-called good character who is pushed beyond his limits to the point where they kill.

Iit really all boils down to the character and the plot – and the two go hand in hand and drive each other. If you want one of your novel’s major characters to exit the novel, killing them may not be the only answer. That often comes across as lazy writing. Tthat can happen in mystery novels too, although when you get to the end and the good guy confronts the bad guy (or gal – guys don’t have the monopoly on being bad asses), the author has to “get rid” of the bad guy, but shooting her dead is not always the best way. The author has to consider who the good guy/gal is and how she would deal with it. Would she arrest the bad one? Or shoot him? Torture him? Push him into the lake and let him either swim or drown? Having said that, sometimes the good guy (or gal) isn’t the trigger-happy person, but is forced into a situation where it is ether the bad guy’s life or his. Then he might have to shoot – but not always to kill. Be creative. Many authors are. They have killers disappear during one novel only to return in a later novel. Chances are with this type of scenario, the novel’s protagonist probably has had some kind of a relationship with the baddie – so he will have to deal with the before and after. Unless you are a sociopath, you will be scarred  by the death of someone close to you. You will have to grieve.

Back to Inspector Banks and the killing of Annie. That does not happen in the books by Peter Robinson the British series is based on. And to me that is a disrespect for the original author. True, TV series don’t follow the novels they come from and often go off the novel’s track, often for a good reason. They can’t get all the novel contents in a movie or limited TV program. And series have to expand beyond the novel’s plot.

Killing a character on TV or in a novel shouldn’t be done just to eliminate him. There has to be a reason – beyond the character just being bad or leaving the TV series. Haven’t these producers heard of just getting another actor to play the part? It was done years ago with the comedy series Bewitched when the actor playing the husband died. And it was done recently with the British series Jack Taylor. A different actress now plays the part of Kate. Both work.

What are your thoughts and ideas on killing off characters in books and TV. Do you kill of any of your fiction characters? Why or why not?

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon.

Sharon’s latest Beyond mystery links to Amazon

 

 

 

 

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