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Making Your Short Stories Sparkle and Sell

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

If you want to lift your short stories above the mediocre there are many things you can do. One of these is to be original in your story and in your characters. Readers like something different in their plot and eccentric characters can be a big draw whether you are writing commercial or literary fiction.

Three of us commercial fiction authors – Rosemary McCracken, Madeleine Harris-Callway and Sharon A. Crawford – who write both crime novels and short stories will be discussing why and how we do it. We will cover how we get story ideas and how much is from real life and how much from imagination. A couple of us have series characters in some of our short stories and in our novels, so we will discuss how we deal with time lines. Is it difficult going back and forth from writing novels and short stories and what the heck is the difference in how you write each?

Then there is marketing your short stories. Each of us has unusual ways we market our books (both the short stories and the novels).

And this panel will not be just the three of us talking. We are open to lots of  q and a.We want to get a real conversation going on short story writing. Here are the details about this upcoming panel being held by the East End Writers’ Group Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

Making Your Short Stories Sparkle and Sell

Do short stories come from real life, imagination, or both? How do you market short stories? For June’s East End Writers’ Group meeting join fiction authors Rosemary McCracken (shortlisted for the 2014 Derringer Award), Madeleine Harris-Callway (finalist for 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel), and Sharon A. Crawford (author of the “Beyond” mystery series) for a discussion on writing and marketing short stories.  Copies of authors’ books available and there will be  networking and food at 9 p.m.

Time and Date: 7 p.m. to 9.30 p.m., Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Location: S. Walter Stewart library branch, 170 Memorial Park Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I am doing a guest blog post on Rosemary McCracken’s blog Moving Target about libraries and how they were and are important to me in my writing career, then seguing into this upcoming panel which is held at a library. There is a serendipity for me about this library branch. You’ll find this and more when my post is up on Monday, June 27 at Moving Target.

Meantime you can check out the panelists:

Rosemary McCracken http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/

Madeleine Harris-Callway http://mhcallway.com/

Sharon A. Crawford http://www.samcraw.com

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

That’s my short story collection – Beyond the Tripping Point – book cover at the top of this post. If you click on the book cover, it will take you to my author profile on amazon.com

 

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Picture it to kick-start your story

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

I teach a memoir writing workshop called Writing Your Memoir from Pictures. Participants look at old family photos, old newspaper stories, old ads to bring their minds back to their past. From there they start writing part of their memoir, perhaps even the beginning.

A variation of this could be done to get you going writing fiction or to help you create a scene in your story.

Let’s consider a photo of a family member or friend – whether in print or digital. Or even a photo posted online of someone you don’t know. Maybe you are having a hard time visualizing what your character looks like. Or maybe you have some idea but are having problems describing the character. Looking at a picture can trigger some ideas. I’m not saying you should make your character an exact copy, but images can get ideas swirling.

If your story is set in the not-too-distant past, maybe up to 150 years ago, old newspaper photographs, and ads especially can help you get ideas of how society lived at that time. Sure, newspaper stories back then, can tell you that. However, just looking at pictures and letting your mind absorb them, can help you create that scene in a town set in the 1950s or during one of the world wars or another time – whatever your story dictates.

Picture it and let your mind absorb. Then let your imagination loose.

You know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words.

Cheers.

Sharon

If you click on the book cover at the top, it will take you to one place where my Beyond books area available

 

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Turning winter weather into fiction

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

If you’re like me and hate winter with a passion, don’t just moan and groan about it. Write about it.

Not necessarily your hatred for the season itself. But set your story in winter. Take some of the weather highlights as white fodder for your stories. Follow news stories on the weather on TV or online from various media outlets. One of the best sources is The Weather Network. Both on TV and online, they feature stories in video and text (online) formats about some of the extremes in winter, as well as amusing incidents.

For example, this week, a motorist parked his car beside Lake Erie in south western Ontario. Then we got a flash freeze and snow. If you can’t imagine what happened (no the car didn’t fall into the lake, check out the story here). From that you can let your imagination run wild with story ideas. Maybe there is a dead body in the car – froze to death or murdered before and left there to die? Somebody in an emotional turmoil – failed relationship, terminal illness, etc. – decides to end it all. Somebody wants to save their body for posterity to come back in a later century and finds a unique way to “preserve” his or her body.  Or? Well, you get the picture.

The main idea is to take the actual story, not copy it, but use it for inspiration for your story. And be original.

You can also do the opposite of what is written. In my story “The Couch” from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012), I took a theme from many private eye stories – the PI who is having trouble making ends meet. (If you want a recent TV series on that one, watch the British series Case Histories). My story had a young, mid-20s PI who had just the opposite happening – too many clients. So my story took this dilemma and spun out a tale of how this PI tried to reduce the number of clients. It wasn’t that straightforward as the story has many twists and turns and a surprise ending.

And that’s all I will tell about “The Couch.” If you want to read it (warning, short plug coming here), you’ll have to read “Beyond the Tripping Point.” Click on the book cover below for one place it is available besides the usual Amazon (yes, it’s available there, too)

And use that blizzard keeping you indoors for time given to write your story.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Beyond the Tripping Point Cover 72dpi

 

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Interview of Fictional Character by Fiction Character – Part 8

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

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

The things that you know more about than you want to know are very useful.

          Robert Stone

Bast Overture stays in 2013 and will have his hands full with the next few interviews as he will be talking to members of the wacky Clarke family who appear in “For the Love of Wills” in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). When a body turns up in their Rosedale home (ritzy area of Toronto, Canada) each member tries not to get arrested for the crime. Bast will start with the main character, Clara Clarke.

Bast: Clara, it’s not every day that a body is found in the family home. How did you react when you and your mother found the body in the attic den?

Clara: Sounds like an old Agathie Christie mystery when you put it that way.

Bast: But it’s not. It’s present day.

Clara: Right. Well, I did wonder if Dad was involved somehow. I mean he did find the body.

Bast: But didn’t you feel a little bit glad? The main reason your mother was kicked out of the family home was now dead?

Clara: I don’t think so because like I said, I was worried about Dad.

Bast: What about your mother? She had the most to gain from the murder?

Clara: No way. Mother was with me.

Bast: When the body was found, but before?

Clara: You forget that Dad changed the locks so Mother’s house key didn’t work.

Bast: Aw, come on, she could have knocked on the door earlier and your dad could have let her in.

Clara: No way. Mother didn’t want to even confront Dad.

Bast: Very well. Now you and your mother made a rather unconventional entrance. Was this your idea?

Clara. No. Mother’s. Even though I did rock climbing at the gym, Mother, whose only previous climbing experience was stairs, suggested we climb the walls of the house to the balcony and then sneak in.

Bast:  In this story by Sharon A. Crawford, your mother and you discuss why the two of you have to get into the house.

We’ve got to see his will.” [Mother said]

“His will? What the hell for?”[Clara said]

“I need to see that he’s still leaving me everything and hasn’t changed it to the Bimbo.”

“Wouldn’t it be simpler to just ask William, Jr.? He is the family lawyer?”

She’d smirked and muttered something about keeping her ideas close to her mind. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford)

So, Clara, why didn’t you persuade your mother to talk to William Jr.?

Clara: Well, because she is Mother. Once she makes her mind up about something, nobody can change it.

(Heidi Anastasia Clarke – Mother –  stomps into the room): And I had my reasons. It had to be done this way and only this way.

Bast: Mrs. Clarke, please, this is Clara’s interview. Your turn will be next week.

Heidi (waggling a finger at Bast): Now, listen here young man, it was my husband who cheated on me, who kicked me out of our home after 40 years of marriage. I think I…”

Clara: Mother, shut up.

Heidi: Now, listen, Clara…

The two continue arguing. Bast throws up his hands in disgust, covers his ears with his hands and walks out of the room.

You can read more about the Clarke family 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 book 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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Interview of Fictional Characters by Fictional Character – Part 4

Be obscure clearly. – E.B. White

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

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

 Bast interviews his fraternal twin, Dana Bowman. The twins were close when growing up but in their twenties drifted apart partly because Bast didn’t like Ron Bowman, Dana’s husband at the time. They reconnected a few years before the four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, after Dana’s divorce when Bast helped Dana buy out her ex for the “family” home and moved in to help his sister raise David and meet expenses. Their backgrounds, personalities and looks are different (Fraternal twins don’t necessarily look alike) so all is not always smooth sailing.

Bast: Dana, you have a somewhat unusual approach when we are doing an investigation. Care to elaborate?

Dana: Well, little brother, (From her 4’11” height she looks up at Bast, standing tall at 6’ 3”) I suppose you mean my sketches?

Bast: Yes, in particular your caricatures of the people we interview.

Dana: I’ve always liked to sketch, particularly people and I like to get at what I see as the heart of the person, what makes them tick. And everybody has something they don’t tell the world. So, I look into their face, their body language and see what they aren’t saying. Often that helps with our investigation.

Bast: Yes, but sometimes it startles the person, like Anne Belcher in “Road Raging.”

Dana: Yes, but Anne was pretty upset already when she banged on our door. I guess if someone close to you, like your husband, had been seriously injured in a car collision, you’d be upset…unless it was all an act…and that’s what I am trying to find out when I sketch a person.

Bast: And was Anne all an act?

Dana: Now, Bast, I’m not telling. That would spoil it for our readers.

Bast: Okay. Let’s go to “Digging Up the Dirt” where you were actually doing caricatures of seniors and other guests at Mavis Crandock’s 100th anniversary celebration. Did any of them help solve the double murder here?

Dana: Thanks for not giving it all away. I think probably subconsciously although we did solve this one using other means.

Bast: I presume you mean Great Aunt Doris. She…

Dana: Don’t mention that woman and I’m surprised you do considering what she thinks of you…

Bast: And of you. The two of  you really got into it in “Saving Grace” with her criticising your parenting…

Dana: Don’t you start. You know we were having difficult times because of David being psychologically mute. Aunt Doris didn’t have to live with us day-by-day, thank God (Dana makes a mock sign of the cross).

Bast: Fair enough. But she did help you a lot in “Saving Grace?”

Dana: I suppose so. Without her intervention things might have been quite different for all of us.

Bast: Back to “Digging up the Dirt” which was a few months after “Saving Grace” – Aunt Doris did help you…

Dana: Inserted herself in the investigation was more like it. Bast you should have seen her get-up when we went out to interview people. I wish I had sketched that one although I suppose I could from memory. (She sits down, picks up her sketch pad and charcoal and starts sketching).

Bast: You are also not that fond of computers; how do you get around that?

Dana: Well, at first I wouldn’t touch the damn machines, but then I started a bit with the email.

Bast: Ah, the email will do it every time. (Note to readers: The Dana-Bast stories take place in the late 1990s before Facebook and Twitter and high speed Internet connection was just coming into use in late 1999 in Canada).

Dana (shaking her charcoal at Bast).Yeah, but I’m not glued to it like you are little brother.

Bast: Will you stop calling me that. Just because you are a few minutes older than me. (Clears his throat). Okay, Dana will you tell us what you actually use the computer for?

Dana: Okay, given that you taught me what I know. Besides email, I use that Word program occasionally to type up reports although I prefer to leave that to you. And I do some research on the Internet. But I still prefer my sketches and face-to-face contact. I mean if something goes wrong with the computer when I’m using it, well, I’m out of here. And speaking of that, I have to go pick up David from school. Here… (She stands up, walks over to Bast and hands him her sketch).

Bast: Hm. You’ve captured a good likeness of me, but two things. Why do I have a smirk on my face and why did you draw me with a beard? I shaved that off a few months ago. (He touches his chin).

Dana: Because little brother, that beard gives you some authority and dignity. And if you repeat that to anyone I’ll deny it.

Bast: Fair enough.

You can read more about David, Dana, Bast, Great Aunt Doris, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding and the others in the four linked stories which are part of 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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Story Settings from riding the bus to readings

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

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

Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?

          Eudora Welty

I don’t have a car and don’t drive so I have to take public transit to get to locations for my book readings (unless out of town). Public transit can include subways and streetcars, but mostly it has been on Toronto buses. Besides opening my eyes to new areas of Toronto and getting around in them, what I experience can conjure up story settings, characters and even plots.

For a couple of library readings I had to change buses at the Warden subway station. The bus bays here are open at both ends and could be very windy. Because the bays resemble a somewhat dark tunnel (lights on at night) it conjures up stories of someone or something menacing suddenly appearing at one end of the tunnel. There are nine bus bays so a chase scene between victim and suspect or cop and suspect can be easily imagined. Throw in a bus or two entering or exiting a bus bay and you have a different take on the chase scenes that occur between and against cars on busy streets..

The bus stop at the other end for both library branches wasn’t right by the library. One was at an intersection of three major roads – very busy and on the dark and not stormy night I returned home – cold. I stayed in the bus shelter, hoping I was at the right stop and my bus would arrive soon before any strange person in this unfamiliar area came by. It all worked out okay and I even made an immediate bus transfer at the Warden station. A subsequent trip to this library branch for another reason was in daylight and although the weather wasn’t warmer, the difference in atmosphere was palpable – from blackness to sunny brightness. This contrast could make for a great setting to perhaps show the main character going through a somewhat familiar area in daylight but how menacing it becomes at night, especially if a weird person shows up at the bus stop. Or maybe someone from a car tries to grab her. You can use your imagination.

The other bus ride from this Warden Station was 40 minutes up to the north end of Toronto. I did this run early afternoon. The scenery was a mixture of bungalows, apartment buildings and plazas. Nothing really interesting on the surface. The interest was inside the bus – it was a good representation of all ages and cultures in Toronto. Throw in large baby strollers and bungle buggies (not the wheelies) taking up space on a crowded bus and you could conjure up a story of conflict between some passengers, especially if the protagonist has no other way to get around with her twins and the antagonist hates strollers on buses. (This is an issue in Toronto).

Another bus route took me through the older well-kept homes in the Leaside area of Toronto – some green grass with spring just awakening – all of it filled me with peace. But what if your main character was riding home on the bus in this quiet area when the doors open at a stop and a passenger steps in, then pulls out a gun, and starts firing.

So, the next time you take public transit (even underground) notice your surroundings. They can provide the setting for your next story and kick-start a plot with original characters. Just don’t get too carried away and miss your stop.

Upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point readings:

This evening, Thursday, May 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Crime & Mystery Writing Panel

Moderating a panel of mystery novelists on plot and characters especially when police enter the picture. Presented by the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch and featuring Crime Writers of Canada authors, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Panelists:

  • Brent Pilkey http://www.brentpilkey.com/  author of the Rage novels who, as a police constable with Toronto Police Services, has an inside view of police procedure; and
  • Rick Blechta http://www.rickblechta.com/ whose novels aren’t exactly cozies — all have main characters involved in the music industry and when murder enters their lives, come into contact with the police.

More info http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/events.html

Thursday, May 23, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Sharon A. Crawford hosts a Crime Writers of Canada Books ‘n’ Beverages reading at Q Space

Join these CWC authors as they read from their latest crime (fiction and fact) books, Meet and mingle, have a drink, something to eat and buy some books.

Melodie Campbell

Mel Bradshaw

Rosemary McCracken

Meg Howald

Brent Pilkey

Catherine Astolfo

Simone St. James

Nate Hendley

Rick Blechta 

Sharon A. Crawford

Location: 382 College St., Toronto, Ontario

More info about these authors at http://crimewriterscanada.com/

More upcoming gigs listed at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

And for those who can’t make these events check out my videos – one link to all three now.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC505OMPiVNy27zCFfND_8WA

Beyond the Tripping Point now has two reviews on my amazon.com account. Click on the book cover at the top. If you’ve read the book and made any recent purchase from amazon.com you can add your review if you wish.

And I haven’t forgotten about the readings with the Grade 7 classes – all 42 students. Coming up in a future post.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Creating the actual story from real life ideas

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

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

In last week’s post I discussed how much of yourself goes into your fiction and listed overall guidelines, especially when the idea isn’t taken from your life. Today, I’m going to show how I gelled a plot idea with the main characters to write a story.

“The Couch,” the first story in my mystery story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, originated with something I kept reading in mystery novels that annoyed me. This was 11 years ago – “The Couch” was previously published in an anthology – but the idea is still relevant today. Too many fictional private investigators seemed to have a hard time making ends meet. I decided to turn that issue around – my PI, named C.U. Fly, called “C.U.”, would be raking in the money from too many clients and was burnt out. C.U. first tried conventional means to downsize and when that didn’t work, C.U. turned to an unusual take on crime. I also used the axiom of “crime doesn’t pay” as my underlying theme. C.U. was 25, so the good fortune wasn’t from many years of work. I threw in one more main “character” an old horsehair couch – that idea came from a horsehair couch that sat in the living room of my late grandfather’s farmhouse. Of course, Grandpa’s couch didn’t have adventures like the fictional old horsehair.

Here’s the beginning of “The Couch.”

I blamed the whole business on that old blue couch. An heirloom on my mother’s side, it was stuffed with horsehair. She’d given it to me when I opened this office. “Old Horsehair” settled in permanently until the bitter crackling end.

How else could I explain my actions? I had no choice. Some days I spent 20 hours in the office. No partner took the load off my shoulders. Only that damn three-seater couch, which sucked in my clients like a magnet. I had repeat clients related to repeat clients.

Or was Ms Everglades to blame?

The story’s theme is set up with the first sentence. The main character’s name and profession aren’t revealed until a few paragraphs down and are done in two ways: first, the PI’s name and a reference to the profession in Ms Everglades’ dialogue.; second, the profession is revealed in a short backstory in Fly’s mind to show how the situation started. How the state-of-affairs progresses is shown in a parade of clients – via dialogue, action and C.U’s inner thoughts. The point of view stays with Fly.

Here’s another excerpt with one of these quirky clients.

Take Guido “Ratty” Rattali, a self-professed blackmailer. Ratty hired me to dig up dirt on well-heeled people. Then he threatened them with their dirt, collected the payoff and limped into my office. He heaved his Blue Jays cap onto the floor, shoved his greasy locks behind his ears and pushed his grimy beige trench coat off his shoulders and down over his ass. Then he dived face-down onto the couch. His sobs alternated with sneezes as his nose rubbed into Old Horsehair.

“I’m only the poor son of a poor greengrocer, achoo, excuse-a-me,” he said.

When his sinuses were completely blocked, he jumped up, tripping on his trench coat, and handed me a wad of cash for my fee—less his take, no doubt. (both excerpts copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford,  from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012)

 

 You can also see how Old Horsehair fits in. And Ratty is an example of the type of clientele, although he is more bent than some of the others. I also add a dog who chews into Old Horsehair and a furnace repair man who comes in to check the furnace downstairs – all necessary developments that foreshadow and lead to the credibility of what Fly eventually decides to do.

Does it work? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

From the above, we can learn the following:

  1. Use a combination of what annoys, scares, or concerns you with perhaps one other item from your life (I used the complaining poor PI’s from fiction and the horsehair couch from my past.)
  2. Use your imagination for your characters – you don’t want a replica or yourself or someone you know – but you can “steal” a few characteristics here (I used imagination only).
  3. Devise a plot for your characters that is not run-of-the mill. (I turned the situation around, using the “what if?” approach.
  4. Lighten it up with humour – it can balance some of the nastiness in the story (It helped with the presentation of a quirky story with quirky characters).
  5. Make sure your story follows its theme (mine was “crime doesn’t pay) but do it in an original way (sorry, not telling here).
  6. Use “show the reader” features – dialogue, action, inner thoughts but some narrative is okay.
  7. Let your readers be surprised by the unexpected – but make it credible.

The first part of No. 7 occurred in a well, unexpected way. Tuesday evening I did a reading presentation from Beyond the Tripping Point entitled “Where do characters come from?” at the Runnymede Branch of the Toronto Public Library. When introducing me, the head librarian mentioned that her husband had been reading the stories and then looked at my photo on the back cover and said, “I can’t believe that sweet-faced woman wrote those stories.”

It’s the same photo of me as at the top of this blog page. The stories in BTTP contain murder, sexual assault, missing persons, kidnapping, revenge, suicide, vehicular mishaps, etc. You be the judge.

Cheers.

Sharon. A. Crawford

 

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