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Tag Archives: Short story collection

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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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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Writing fiction from anger

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

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

Do you get angry at the crap that happens in your life? Some stupid motorist running a red light nearly hitting you when you cross the street? You or a family member keep getting sick or suffer a serious injury? You get a lot of “junk” phone calls and/or emails? Some utility has messed up your bill? Your garbage isn’t being picked up but all your neighbours’ garbage is? And customer service for the latter two is rude and unhelpful. You get the picture. You feel a swirl of emotions and often anger is at the core. Maybe you even want to kill the person causing the problem – or making it worse.

Don’t do that.Instead  write about it. I don’t mean a play-by-play of your situation – but fictionalize it. One way to do this that can work very well is writing a noir satirical short story.

I do that all the time. Many of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point are based on something bad that happened to me or someone else or something that really makes me see red, purple, and blue. Examples from BTTP include The Couch, For the Love of Wills, and No Breaks.

Currently I am writing a short story about something I have been (and still am) inundated with – telemarketers. Usually I ignore them or pick up the phone, get sarcastic and tell them off, then bang the phone down. But many of these telemarketing calls are also scams and are computer-generated, so you get a recording – which if you don’t pick up the phone will actually go to your voice mail.

So, I’m writing about telemarketers and two women’s revenge of one telemarketing company. But as I write mysteries, it is not that straight-forward. The characters are not me or anyone in particular in my life. However, I have used one tactic that I did in No Breaks – two female friends, but not the same two friends. And I make it humorous, quirky and yes sarcastic. Does the telemarketer get just desserts? I’m not telling – that will come out whenever the story gets published.

To get started on that you need to develop your quirky characters. One or both are victims of the problem and one is usually not so smart or sophisticated as the other. It works better to tell your story from the point of view of the victim who isn’t as savvy as the other one. And you need a villain or two – and if writing a mystery you need some red herring type of villains. Depending on your story you might need a police officer. In my telemarketing story I do have a police detective Larry Hutchinson, who made his first appearance in “For the Love of Wills” in Beyond the Tripping Point.

You also have to develop a plot – based on your characters and their situation.

As regular readers of this blog know from previous posts, I am a seat-of-your-pants plotter. I take my characters, my idea, figure out a few plot developments and then run with it. I let the characters (particularly the POV one) take over, along with what happened to me in real life – which is also in my mind.

I also keep focusing on how much fun I am having with the bad guys getting their come-uppance.

Of course, the plot isn’t that straightforward – like real life it gets messy and goes on tangents. But in the end if the baddies get their come-uppance, that is good. Because in real life that often doesn’t happen.

As an old boyfriend once said, “Life is not fair.”

That’s why we have fiction – to at least right some of these wrongs.

And as usual,if you click on the book cover at the top of this post, you can link to more info about it and Beyond Blood.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Finding gold in partly written short stories

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

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

One of my 2017 writing goals is to write more mystery short stories and submit them to contests and magazines for possible publication. As I’m registered to attend Bouchercon 2017 (in Toronto, Canada in October), I decided to enter their short story contest for possible publication in their short story book for the event.

I checked my files of unfinished short stories. The one I was thinking of needs too much work to make the January 31, 2017 deadline. Not a problem, I thought. A check through my other short-stories-in-the-works unearthed one that has been written and rewritten many times and shows a lot of promise. Of course it needs more rewriting, but there is time for that. Only one problem – the theme for the Bouchercon 2017 short story contest is travel and my story doesn’t even cover travel, unless you count travelling across a parking lot and inside a commercial building.

However, I am not one to give up – just change course if necessary. I decided to scrap the Bouchercon contest –  after all, I should be able to arrange to have my two published (so far) Beyond books there to be sold and I will be doing a lot of learning and networking there. So, I decided to focus on this one story and also did a big Internet search of possible markets. I have had short stories published in anthologies and also my first Beyond book – Beyond the Tripping Point – is a collection of 13 of my mystery short stories, five of them published first elsewhere and eight new. And who knoews? If I get going on writing and rewriting short stories, there may be another collection down the road. I already have on story published before that is not in Beyond the Tripping Point.

My point here is if you are stymied about what to write for a short story, don’t go crazy trying to think of  new plot with new characters. Check out stories you have already started. You might just find a gold mine there.

And as usual, if you click on the book cover at the top it connects you to more information about my books.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Marketing your book – more ideas learned

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Although my Beyond Blood novel is two years old (and yes, the next one is tentatively scheduled to appear just under a year from now), I am still doing PR for it and surprisingly, still for the previous Beyond Book – the short story collection, Beyond the Tripping Point.

I am doing new PR and also adding on to what I have previously done. For example, I have sold copies of my Beyond books at the Toronto Heliconian Club annual pre-Christmas sale of art, books and other creative things in past years. But just selling. This year I am one of the authors from the Literature group reading a short excerpt from our published books (from Beyond Blood for me). There are also music interludes from the Club’s Music Group. More information is in the Gigs and Blog Tours page and also at the Heliconian Club website.

Another new thing here with the Heliconian club is our Literature group held a Dinner and Salon November 8 and I read from one of the short stories – The Body in the Trunk -in Beyond the Tripping Point. And that book came out in fall 2012. But it was suggested a short story excerpt was preferable for that than from a novel, so I complied. Just picked out a funny one and got a lot of laughs and good feedback comments afterwards.

All this can help build future book sales.

I’m also compiling a list of Toronto and York Region libraries where I could do crime fiction presentations/readings and/or teach writing workshops and courses. I already have a very big in with the two library systems having done all of that in the past four (for the fiction books alone) to six years (for the workshops) in many library branches.This past June I started something else – or rather one of the library branches hired me to do – teach a four session (once a week) course on Memoir Writing. From that a librarian at another library branch approached me to do the same next spring and I agreed. So my list is going back to some places I’ve been, but ones I haven’t don so for a year or more and to get gigs for next spring and summer.

This is all for the first two books. Once the third Beyond book is ready with a signed contract, I’ll start doing the library pitch for that one. This time I may do a specific proposal for author readings/presentation – for a specific form which goes out to all the libraries.

Each of these workshops/courses/ presentations/readings presents an opportunity for my Beyond books.

I have also started approaching area writers organization where I have not appeared and snagged one with the Writers and Editors Network (WEN). It is a breakfast one but on a Saturday in April. I am not a morning person, but you can bet I’ll make that extra effort to get there on time.

Two more things, one I’ve learned from experience. If you live where winter can be iffy with weather that can be blizzards, mixed precipitation and the like, you don’t do in-person presentations, readings or teach courses. I have managed to be lucky with teaching workshops in March and even February and evena couple of readings in February. But there have been very iffy ones due to weather in late March. That was the case with the Crime Writers of Canada panel I was on at the Gerrard/Ashdale library the past March. It got put on hold when the weather forecast was mixed precipitation and that’s what we got. The librarian there didn’t want us to cancel but was prepared to wait until the morning of (the panel was in the evening), so I emailed the other four panelists that it might be cancelled. When the librarian phoned me the morning of, she convinced me to not cancel. So I had to phone the four other panelists. It was just rain in the early to late evening and we packed them in to a very lively interactive discussion. The librarian took photos and the close-up on is at the bottom of the home page of my website. The long shot of the audience is at the bottom of this blog post.

Those winter months are for planning, social media PR and writing, writing, writing,.

There is also one more thing I did and I recommend it to anyone trying to promote their books – whether trade published or self-published. Sign up for the free Build Book Buzz weekly newsletter and the much more Sandra Beckwith offers with that. Check out the website for more information. I can’t say enough on how much it has opened my eyes to marketing my books and it isn’t all social media but that is a part of it. There are free webinars offered and…well you can check it out for yourself. And a disclaimer: Sandra Beckwith hasn’t hired me to do publicity. I just like to pass along info about something good to help other authors.

So happy and prosperous book marketing..And oh yes, the usual – click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top and see where it leads you.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Longshot of the Gerrard Ashdale library CWC presentation in March 2016

Longshot of the Gerrard Ashdale library CWC presentation in March 2016

 

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Using fictional characters’ inner thoughts for character development

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

We’ve all read fiction where the characters come across as superficial. I’m not referring to their traits (and superficiality may well be one of them). Instead, I’m referring to characters that don’t evoke a strong reaction from the reader, characters that  don’t connect in some way to the reader, characters that leave the reader thinking “Who cares?”. Chances are fiction with characters that the reader can’t seem to get into means that the writer doesn’t really know their characters. The writer didn’t get inside each haracter s’ head.

Getting inside your protagonist’s or antagonist’s head is key to understanding them and bringing them to life to your readers. Here’s a short excerpt from my novel Beyond Blood to illustrate this.

Chapter Twelve:

David:

He had woken up to cold and darkness. Beechnut. Where was Beechnut? He was lying on his back and tried to sit up but his arms were stuck in front of him and his feet were stuck together. Shadows seemed to come at him.

“Mom … mee,” David said. “Mom … mee. Where are you? Mom … mee, I’m scared.”

No answer. Where was he? Where were Mommy and Uncle Bast? Where was Debbie? They’d been reading Alice in Wonderland. Then he had gotten hungry and run downstairs to the kitchen with Debbie after him. It was a game they always played. When he’d heard a noise in the basement he’d run down there and seen one of Mommy’s friends playing the game, so he’d chased after … and then … he couldn’t remember. His head hurt and he felt a little sick. He tried to move his hands again, but couldn’t. They were still stuck together.

Where was he? His toes hurt. His teeth hurt and he was so cold.

“Mom … mee. Mom … mee.” Now he was yelling.

A door burst open and something thudded in.

Oh no, a monster. Coming after him.

“Mom … mee. Mom … mee. I’m scared.”

He heard a click and a bright light blinded his eyes.

“Pipe down,” a voice shouted at him from above, or was it beside him?

“Who are you? I want my mommy. I want Beechnut.”

Instead he felt something heavy and sticky cover his mouth. The bright light clicked off and footsteps receded to the doorway, and then he heard a door slam.

In darkness and alone, David began to cry, his sobs muffled by the tape over his mouth.(From Beyond Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, Blue Denim Press,2014).

It is probably obvious that David has been kidnapped and that he is a small child (he is six). Here the reader finds out how David feels about this from first discovering he is not at home and his Mommy is not around. The reader can feel for David, can feel his fear and despair.

Of course not all characters get kidnapped. Some fall in love; some are con artists, etc. The writer needs to convey all this to the reader and getting inside the character’s head is one way to do this.

There are other ways to develop characters. I will be teaching a workshop on Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction next Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the S. Walter Stewart library branch in Toronto, Canada. If you are in the area and want to attend, it is free. The library prefers you to register first (call 416-396-3975) , but you can just show up at 6.30 p.m. Workshop runs to 8 p.m. Here are the details about it.

Developing Characters and Dialogue in Fiction

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learn how to show, not tell, to develop credible characters and make their dialogue sing. Uses excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point and Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford to illustrate. Writing exercises and some writing critique.

Facebook Event

Location:
S. Walter Stewart Library Branch (auditorium)
170 Memorial Park Ave.
(Coxwell Ave. and Mortimer Ave. area)
Toronto, Ontario

Time:
6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

And if you are interested in reading more about developing characters but can’t make the workshop (for obvious reasons such as you live in another part of the world), you can click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top and that will take you to my publisher’s website where you can see my profile and where my books are available online and elsewhere. I didn’t do the usual link to Amazon because they have the incorrect price for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. It is not $94.36. I have contacted Amazon about this error so hopefully it will be corrected shortly.

It would be nice to get that much from a book, but who will buy it at that price? Somebody with big fingers on little keys maybe entered the amount?

Cheers.

Sharon

 

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Electronic mania versus telling a good story

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

We are bombarded with electronic devices in our daily lives and that includes TV shows. Sometimes the story gets lost in all the “bells and whistles.” But what about books? In particular novels set in present time? Should authors overwhelm the reader with smart phone usage, social media and the like?

A story in the May 2016  issue of The Walrus writes about this conundrum. Here writer Naben Ruthnum, discusses how some authors like best-selling author Joy Fielding skirt around it. While summarizing the story lines and acknowledging that the story is important, Ruthnum wonders how long this approach will be relevant in our digital/social media obsessed society?

Ruthnum writes “By ignoring the contemporary reality of instant communication, authors such as Fielding are preserving the nail-biting satisfactions of their art. But how much longer can these books provide escapism-seeking readers with relief given that their trick of withholding details is in direct conflict with our expectation that information always wants to be free?” (bolded part is mine).

That’s a big point with mystery novels – readers get temporary relief from a mad mad world and that includes overdoses of electronic media leading to overwhelm.

Yes, mystery novels do imitate reality. But the reality is what the story is about, the story’s setting and its characters. As in real life, not all people are digitally proficient; nor do they all immerse themselves in the whole digital/social media life-style. So, Fielding and other authors have to be true to that. And they are.

Personally, after all the over-abundance of bells and whistles on some TV shows set in present time (not futuristic and not fantasy), I prefer a somewhat toned-down digital presence in the novels I read (and write for that matter).

Many mystery novel authors handle this digital business very well. Marcia Muller’s PI Sharon McCone has a nephew who handles all this digital stuff so only what is necessary to the story is told. McCone gets to do what she does best – personal investigation while her nephew helps out on the digital end.

Mystery novel authors like Peter Robinson, acknowledge the digital aspect – his police officers have smart phones (they are called mobiles in England) but his main character Alan Banks doesn’t investigate by being glued to his smart phone or sitting in front of his computer (which some consider passe these days). He does what police should be doing – gets off his butt and interviews people, as well as following suspects in his car.

And yes, Robinson makes use of one current technology available to police in most cities world wide – CCTV- the police surveillance cameras on public city streets.

And I do the same in my Beyond books. Perhaps the short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point is the best example as stories in there take place in different time periods – 1965, 1980s, 1999 and present day. So for the first two – no technology-infested society. In 1999, where my fraternal twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture are introduced, technology is relevant to the time – so I have cell phones (that have antenna and fold closed), Polaroid cameras for “instant” photos, and dial-up Internet connection, but with email functions. (Note: in Canada DSL didn’t get going until late 1999 – after the four “twins” stories in BTTP. I should know. My computer techie son’s computer business at that time was testing one of the DSL’s in 1999 and in late fall1999, my son hooked up my computer o one of the first DSL’s provided. Dana uses a computer for basics such as email and leaves all the computer technology to her brother. So in my third Beyond book (which I’m still rewriting), which is set in November and December 1999, I have computers – desktop and laptop – using DSL. There are also onlinr forums involved which Bast accesses – but it is all part of the plot and the twins’ investigation of a case. And birth record searches (which is part of the novel’s plot) were not online then (I checked with Service Ontario on this one), so Bast has to go into the Ontario Government dept. office to do an in-person search.

My BTTP stories set in present time do use electronic realities such as CCTV and smart phones. In fact one story, the main character is obsessed with using her device but that is part of the plot. The plot, the story is never buried in electronic devices.

Which is what Peter Robinson and many other mystery novelists do. Use the current technology (or technology for the time period of your novel) as it applies to  your story. Don’t make the technology the story unless that is your plot.

A happy medium often works best. Besides, we mystery novel readers need a rest from the over-indulgence of digital on TV in other areas of our lives. And that’s one reason I like reading from my Kobo (I do still read print books). Not a lot of flashing digital nonsense. And the print size is bigger – better for my fading eyesight (left eye)

Our eyes and brains need this respite, this escape from too much digital.

What do you think?

And on another note, I will be part of a panel (along with Ali Cunliffe and Susan Viets) about Self-publishing from both authors and editors perspectives. Hosted by the Editors Association of Canada, the panel/seminar will be held in Toronto Tuesday, April 26, from 7.30 p.m. More information on my Gigs and Blogs page here and also on Editors Association of Canada website.

Cheers.

Sharon

Again click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top to find out more about my Beyond books. At least we have this digital function today.

 

 

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