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Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Ben. Tell us about your latest book.

Shadow Dance Murders: Detective Carson Chandler draws the short straw — the assignment to untangle a series of murders at the Antebellum Community Theater, in Charlotte, NC. As he pulls back the curtain the spotlight reveals the unglamorous inner workings and politics of the Theater. The large pool of suspects includes: actors, directors, staff, Board members, and shady real estate developers that are willing to do whatever to grab the choice Theater property.

As Chandler works to solve the case, his life is increasingly complicated by two intriguing, yet polar-opposite women. Ben Furman_Book Cover_ (2)One is a successful Broadway actress he’s loved since childhood, or at least that is what he believes. But this belief is challenged by an incident that occurs in the scorching sands of Pakistan. He saves a mysterious female Mossad agent, who is seriously wounded in a terrorist ambush. He cares for her wound, and immediately her comrades whisk her away to a secret location. He’s left with only her first name. His military tour is cut short by a sniper’s bullet. He returns home following months of rehabilitation and struggles daily with the physical and mental effects of battle. He tries, but can’t erase the striking Israeli woman from his mind, and then when he least expects it, she reaches out.

The Shadow Dance Murders has a unique “hook” that to the best of my knowledge has not been encountered before by homicide detectives. There is a secondary hook at the ending that establishes the groundwork for a sequel.

Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

Several key characters move forward with Chandler in much broader international thriller.

General O’Malley, Chandler’s control, says, “Your wealth gives you unique credentials that allow you to infiltrate the world of power brokers that make kings and bring down governments. These days, friends turn foes faster than a short order cook flips pancakes. As an insider you can sniff out problem areas and identify hostile alliances that can’t be done by electronic means or satellites.

“If a corporation has changing attitudes that are favorable to our enemies, especially the Russians and Chinese, we have to know. We’ve ear-marked large US companies that are doing business with terrorist organizations, supplying them with embargoed goods, and laundering their blood-soaked money. Identify the key players, and then……”

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I write early, around six a.m., which includes the entire process of researching, editing, and head-scratching about the dumb stuff I wrote the day before that I thought was so brilliant. I close shop before noon or earlier if my brain goes numb. But, not being at the keyboard doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the twists-and-turns of the story, so at six the next day I’m at it again.

When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

Most often I’m in control, but I do listen to the characters. If they show me something I think will add to the story, okay, if not I tell them to get back in line.

Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

Elmore Leonard: He wrote small, tight stories that ordinary people could understand, and chose to stay away from world-ending, apocalyptic, international thrillers. He was malleable, and successfully moved from writing westerns in his early years, such as 3:10 to Yuma, to a crime writer that had his work adapted to movies and television series, like Justified.

David Baldacci: The years he spend practicing law in Washington, DC gave him a first-hand look at the power brokers and political maneuvering that occurs with the inside the “beltway” crowd. He used this knowledge to write Absolute Power, and his body of work has an authentic feel because of his background. Plus, he’s used his fame and money to do considerable charitable work for multiple sclerosis and formed a foundation to combat illiteracy.

Robert Ludlum: I got hooked on his break-neck paced spy thrillers such as The Scarlatti Inheritance, and The Bourne Identity and its sequels. He was one of the first writers to use former CIA agents to supply his books with authentic background information and procedures. And because of his experience as an actor and producer, he brought a theatrical flair to his writing.

Promotion is a big – and usually the most hated – part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

Over the years I’ve run through the promotion gauntlet to include radio and television interviews, signings at book stores, talking at book clubs, blogs, and employing professionals (literary agents — there really are such things) to sing my praises to book buyers.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing off-and-on for thirty years, and seriously for the past eight.

If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?

Harper Lee.

Describe your writing process once you sit down to write – or the preliminaries.

I back-read recent work to pull me back into the story to verify the tone and atmosphere are correct, and then I check my outline to make sure I’m moving the story forward rather than meandering about. With the first key stroke I’m back in the zone.

Where do you get your ideas?

I rely a great deal on my life experiences, and when I find something of interest I try to come up with a different twist or angle that will help weave an interesting tale.

 Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

I grew up in a house of readers. Even though my parents didn’t mandate that I read, it seemed the easy, natural thing for me to do. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a task master. She read everything in sight, expected the same of me, so I got in lock-step with her and eventually came to cherish our time together discussing books, etc.

Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I have. Electronic publishing continues gaining traction and “respectability.” The cost-savings of “on demand” publishing and digitized e-books are substantial, which is important in this day of tight pocket books. The big expense of warehousing books, delivering them to the bricks-and-mortar houses, and then bearing the expense of unsold inventory that’s circled back, has been eliminated. Kids are growing up in an instant everything world that they access through I-phones and I-pads. They’re not inclined to spend time browsing bookstore aisles when they can access millions of titles online. Overall, electronic publishing allows a broader spectrum of writers to participate in the business, and provides readers with an excellent, inexpensive variety of material from which to choose.

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BIO

 

Mr. Furman retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the North Carolina field division. His investigative and managerial expertise was directed against domestic and international terrorism and organized crime.

Currently he is the CEO of the Rexus Corporation, a background screening company and private investigative company headquartered in Charlotte, NC.

Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Jeffrey. Tell us one strange and provocative tidbit from your life that nobody has heard before.

They say that everyone in the world has a double, an exact lookalike. I was surprised to find a few years ago that mine is a celebrity. I’m mistaken internationally for Steve Wozniak, the computer guy Jeffrey McQuain Author Image (2)who cofounded Apple and then performed on “Dancing With the Stars.” When I try to explain politely that I’m not “the Woz,” as he’s nicknamed, people don’t believe me or look disappointed to learn the truth that I can’t dance or build computers. If my novel “The Shakespeare Conspiracy” succeeds, though, I’m hoping somebody somewhere asks the Woz, “Aren’t you the guy who writes those Shakespeare thrillers?”

Tell us about your latest book.

I’m very excited about my first novel. It’s a thriller based on the Bard’s racial background. The main character, Professor Christopher Klewe, teaches Shakespeare at William and Mary in Virginia. When his best friend is murdered by a secret society in Washington, he has only three days to outrun killers on two continents and reveal the biggest conspiracy in literary history. Much in the style of Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code,” my novel uses fast pacing and cliffhangers to move the story along and to allow readers a whole new way to see Shakespeare.

Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

My next novel in the Christopher Klewe series is a prequel to the first one and will be titled “The Shakespeare Trap.” It shows how Klewe became caught up in solving Shakespeare mysteries as he tracks a serial killer who leaves clues from the Bard’s tragedies. This second novel takes place in Williamsburg, Virginia, and it should be ready later this year.

When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I hate to say it, but I think novelists tend to be control freaks. We invent the world and the characters, often forcing them to do what we want. That being said, there are moments that the characters rebel against all my good intentions. In “The Shakespeare Conspiracy,” for example, one character was originally meant to die, but she was too important to let go, so she was granted a reprieve in my final rewrite.  Now here’s the strange part: when the characters do take control, the writing becomes an almost out-of-body experience for me, and that’s my favorite part of being a novelist. In other words, sometimes I’m driving the bus, and sometimes I’m just along for the ride.

Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

My favorite writer is Shakespeare, of course, but I find that my preferred modern writers are mostly women, particularly in the mystery genre. I think that women tend to be more detailoriented and make scenes come to live more vividly. Among mystery writers, I read everyone from Agatha Christie (the best at plotting) to Martha Grimes (the best at characterization). Try any Grimes novel about Detective Richard Jury, but I especially recommend her Shakespeare story, “The Dirty Duck.”

Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?

I tend to travel around the South a lot, and I’m always hearing lines that I want to save. My latest nonfiction book is “Ebony Swan,” which makes me think of the favorite Southern euphemism, “I swan” (meaning “I swear”). I’ve also heard “I could use a skinny nap,” as well as the greeting when two women met on the street: “If I’d known you’d be here,” announced the one with a grin, “I’d have brought my gun.” I also love Southern signs. There’s a bar in Daytona Beach, for instance, across from the town cemetery. The sign says, “Order a drink and have a seat. You’re better off here than across the street.”

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I started thinking about a mystery/thriller series while reading and teaching Shakespeare. My inspirations come from everywhere, though, and I have to keep paper and pen nearby at all times. In fact, even my dreams can contribute. One night I was dreaming about being chased through a library, and I soon started writing “The Shakespeare Conspiracy.”  Of course, one drawback is that I can’t control when an idea strikes. I may be in conversation with you when my eyes glaze over with thoughts for a fictional murder, but I promise it’s not personal.

If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?

jmcquain.theshakespeareconspiracyI don’t know what I’d ask Shakespeare, so I suppose I’d talk with my favorite modern writer, the novelist Shirley Jackson. She’s the only writer I know who can frighten me with one story and have me laughing uproariously at another. I wrote a graduate thesis about her work and was allowed to use her personal papers at the Library of Congress. It was a thrill to see her unpublished letters and find a four-leaf  clover pressed in her childhood diary. She died in 1965, so I’ll never get to ask her about the secrets to her multifaceted writing, but she was my biggest inspiration to become a writer.

Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

Yes, books were always important in my house. My mother worked outside the house as a library aide, so she was always telling me about books she enjoyed. My father worked for NASA as a meteorologist, and I remember that he would sit down in the evenings to smoke a pipe and read a dictionary he kept beside the chair. I have one brother, Dan, who is older and the most prodigious reader I’ve ever met, so I had to learn to read early just to keep up with him.

Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?

I had a drama teacher named Marguerite Coley when I was in high school. She was exceptionally good at encouraging students not to worry about limitations.

I even tried acting for a while as a result of her courses, but soon I turned to writing as my creative release. Years later, when I started teaching, I remembered many of her acting lessons to use in teaching Shakespeare classes across the country.

 Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?

The best secret I can share is not to force it. Turn your attention to other things. Daydream a little. Brush up your Shakespeare. Often I have an inspiration about another way to approach a scene. It helps also to keep more than one project going at a time. That way, when I’m blocked on one, I can usually make progress on something else. Finally, I’d heard that Ernest Hemingway would stop working midsentence at the end of his day, so he’d know where to pick up the next day. (To be fair, though, I’ve tried this system and found I had no idea where I was going with that sentence.)

Any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?

The mystery writer Martha Grimes once taught at a Maryland community college I attended, but I regret never taking her class. Instead, I’ve read the writing lectures by Shirley Jackson and I recommend them as well as the Strunk and White classic “Elements of English.” I also wrote a book on writing called “Power Language,” in which I advised writers to inject humor whenever it’s appropriate.

The truth, though, is that writing is an organic process that uses everything you’ve ever seen or done. You must take those experiences and craft them into a finished product. That’s why I’m excited about my first novel, “The Shakespeare Conspiracy,” and I’ve found I’m enjoying myself writing fiction more and more. I’m already plotting the third novel in the series and thinking of other projects, including a stage play of my nonfiction book “Ebony Swan: The Case for Shakespeare’s Race”.

Recently, while offering advice to a young friend, I blathered to a halt and recalled advice offered to me when I was growing up. I didn’t ask for most of it, but that never stopped adults from handing it out. It seemed almost as if spouting words of wisdom and/or warning was a requirement for being a parent or grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend of the family.

Some advice made sense. (Take along an umbrella if it looks like rain. Don’t dive into a stream until you know where the rocks are. Don’t play with snakes with triangular heads. Don’t pet skunks.)

Some I didn’t see the logic for until I was older. (Always keep a fund of walking-away money. Learn to drive a stick shift. Be careful who you step on as you go up the ladder, because you might meet them when you come down.)

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

And some seemed suspicious and unreliable—then and now. (Never go out in old or torn underwear because you might be in a car accident. Clean your plate because people in India or China or Africa are starving. Always respect your elders.) I regularly pondered questions like: Would doctors and nurses pause in their efforts to save me in order to comment on the sad state of my undies? If I ate more, how would that help a hungry person in another country? Did I have to respect criminals and disgraced politicians simply because they were older?

When I started taking writing classes in the early 90s, I got an avalanche of fresh advice. My mentors explained the logic for bits of wisdom they dished out, but I soon discovered that every writer walks a different path. What works for one, might not work for another. So, while I took advice about the importance of characterization, plot, and trimming dead language, I ignored several other snippets.

Here are some suggestions I considered and discarded.

Set a daily word-count goal and stick to it. No excuses. I like goals and I love meeting them, but I knew there would be days when I couldn’t crank out enough words to hit the mark. I also knew I’d try to make up for that “failure” and put too much pressure on myself. I decided I would write at least five days a week, but write only what I could, not what I “had to.” Sometimes that’s 3,000 words. Sometimes it’s 300.

Don’t start writing until you have a complete outline. If I adhered to this piece of advice I’d have exactly NO novels in print. Having been chastised in elementary school for getting my Roman numerals and capital letters in all the wrong places, the thought of outlining makes my stomach clench and my creativity go AWOL. Give me a pack of file cards and I recover and start plotting.

Know everything about your characters before you begin. My characters have a way of growing and changing as they come into contact with others. Emotion, conflict, and a need to take action have an impact. Characters may be altered in ways I couldn’t foresee in the plotting stage. So, I establish basic physical characteristics, a bit of back story, and a few notes about their unique outlooks and voices. Then I go for it and see what they’ll say and do.

Over-the-top characters won’t sell. Hmmm. Tell that to Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey. As a reader, I don’t much care for mundane characters with blah lives, so I no longer hold my characters back—except to keep them from tossing the F-bomb.

Write what you know. What I know is that I don’t know much. Writing only what I know would be a limiting experience. So I altered that advice to: “Write what you can imagine. But do research.”

How about you?

What advice have you taken or rejected, cherished or laughed at, passed on or passed over?

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.  http://www.deadlyduomysteries.com

 

I admit it. I’m a fan of TV shows and Internet articles about the bizarre, the unexplained, and the weird. I’ll happily sit for hours, munching popcorn and watching programs about UFOs, creatures lurking in lakes and rivers, beasts prowling the jungle, and, of course, Bigfoot.

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Mostly I watch those programs alone. My husband—no, make that my long-suffering husband—checks out after about 25 minutes, rolling his eyes as he departs for his man cave. What I find intriguing or amusing, he finds ridiculous.

So, when I mentioned that Bigfoot would feature in the 4th Subbing isn’t for Sissies mystery, I wasn’t surprised by the expression on his face. It implied that I had yet another screw loose.

Undaunted, I plunged ahead with No Substitute for Myth. As the title suggests, the story deals with myths—not stories of gods, goddesses, flying horses, and heroic deeds from ancient times—but mundane and fairly modern stories and sayings and traditions. Often we accept them without question.

For example, when I was young I was told that if I kept popping my knuckles, I’d get painful arthritis. I stopped popping. But guess what? Recently I read about a study that indicated I could pop all I wanted. Granted, the study looked at only a small group, but it led me to conclude that the knuckle-popping warning from my grandmother was another way of telling me to “knock off that annoying habit.”

But, like I said, No Substitute for Myth also involves Bigfoot, less in a reviewing-the-evidence way than in presenting him as a symbol for the unexplained and unknown, for all we wonder about. I’m no Bigfoot expert. And I don’t intend to try to become one.

I admire people with the courage to venture deep into the forest in search of something large and perhaps dangerous. But I’m never going into the backcountry in search of proof. I believe in Bigfoot just enough not to hunt for him. I’d rather take on a crush of shoppers at clearance-sale day or tell a friend her new jeans make her look fat.

And, quite honestly, if I came across a set of giant footprints, I’d walk briskly in the opposite direction of where they were headed. And if I heard what I thought might be Bigfoot, or saw him, I’d run. If I could. I’m more likely to be paralyzed with fright, gibbering with fear, wetting my pants, or all of the above.

If Bigfoot isn’t in the forests of the Pacific Northwest where I live, other not-so-friendly creatures are—bears and wolves and cougars. To trim the odds of running across them, I’ll stay on the sofa with my popcorn and the TV remote.

What about you? Are there myths you hold near and dear? Myths you’d like to see busted? And do you believe Bigfoot exists?

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone), and other works. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.

http://www.amazon.com/Substitute-Myth-Subbing-isnt-Sissies-ebook/dp/B00YI7UTN4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1436463023&sr=1-1&keywords=no+substitute+for+myth

 

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/no-substitute-for-myth

 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-substitute-for-myth-carolyn-j-rose/1122025758?ean=2940151390163

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

 

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

When I wrote my first TV newsroom mystery (now out of print and going to stay that way), I called it Face Time. The title referred to the amount of time viewers would see a news anchor’s face during a newscast. Over the years, I’d worked with several anchors reeled through tapes of news programs and literally counted the seconds their faces filled the screen. If their co-anchors got more time, they’d complain to the producer and news director.

The title spoke to me. But not to others. I argued with everyone (including writing coach Elizabeth Lyon) who said they didn’t get it, didn’t think much of it after I explained it, and felt it wouldn’t sell books. Eventually they wore me down and I went with Consulted to Death because the death of a media consultant sets the plot in motion and the title signals that the story is a murder mystery.

Although I felt like I was the only writer ever to go to war over a title, I wasn’t. Here’s what Lyon says in her just-released booklet, Crafting Titles:

In my years as a book editor, I’ve seldom seen an early title make the final cut. Critique groups, family, friends, and editors may passionately insist that you change your title. . . Because every novel can have many good titles, set your sights on finding one that captures the essence of your novel, has the right “sound,” and reflects its genre.

Crafting Titles by E Lyon

Crafting Titles by E Lyon

In the first section of Crafting Titles (available from Amazon, Crafting Titles by Elizabeth Lyon, Nook, and Kobo), Lyon reviews the many benefits of using a character’s name, like Lolita, or The Great Gatsby. After that, she examines the possibility of using the name of a place:

A setting may become a major character. If place sends seismic waves throughout your story, consider . . . compelling reasons for selecting it as a title.

One of those reasons has to do with the theme of the book, so I pat myself on the back that I used Hemlock Lake as the title for the first of my Catskill Mountains Mysteries. For the protagonist, the remote lake and the small town beside it are poisoned by past events and memories, and those poisonous feelings shape the story and his future.

Elizabeth Lyon, author

Elizabeth Lyon, author

In Lyon’s words: Titles that telegraph themes may unite many levels of the novel: plot, character development, an image or concrete thing, a place and era, an emotional tone, an atmosphere.

Elsewhere in her booklet, Lyon discusses the use of important things or meaningful objects as titles, the use of quotations and literary references, and titles that fit specific genres. She also considers the ideal length of a title, and branding for sequels and series.

Reader recognition of your book is particularly important if you decide to write a sequel, a prequel, or a series. Publishers—and fans—often hope, or even expect, sequels or series. Novels destined to be sequels or part of a series typically have similar titles. A handy way to accomplish this is by repeating a pattern of words in every book title.

I probably should have done that with my Catskill Mountains Mysteries, but I got carried away with other ideas and—okay, I admit it—didn’t ask for advice. Without conscious thought, however, I set up a pattern for the Subbing isn’t for Sissies Series. The fourth in the series, No Substitute for Myth, is just out.

If you’ve struggled with a title in the past or are struggling now, share your pain with a comment. Elizabeth and I will be happy to respond.

A writing teacher and book editor since 1988, Elizabeth Lyon is the author of half a dozen books on how to write, revise, and market novels and nonfiction. In 2013, she launched a booklet series to explore one topic at a time in greater depth. Booklet #1 is Writing Subtext. Booklet #2 is Crafting Titles.

A reviewer for The Writer magazine selected Manuscript Makeover as one of “8 Great Writing Books in 2008,” and described it as “perhaps the most comprehensive book on revising fiction.” Lyon is also the author of The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, and others.

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches). She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.  Website www.deadlyduomysteries.com

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pets

For some writers, the process of crafting a novel gets easier with each work.

Unfortunately, I’m not a member of that group.

Counting one that I tossed, three that are out of print and will stay that way, and five written with my husband, I just finished novel number 19 (No Substitute for Myth, to be released in June—or so I hope). Even though I knew the characters well because it’s the fourth in the series, and even though I had a clear idea of the plot, I struggled through the middle. Some of that struggle was due to elements I decided to add. Some was due to a feeling of being “held hostage” by my characters and wanting to be out of my office and living a life of my own.

In the previous substitute book, the beginning gave me fits. For number four, that was a cakewalk. Sometimes the ending is elusive, and sometimes I visualize the conclusion long before anything else.

Recently, while waiting for inspiration to deliver a perfect simile, I made a list of what I find most difficult about crafting a novel.

Getting an Idea. Because I’m afraid every idea will be the last, I treat a new one like the discovery of a rare plant. I record my “find” on a file card, post the card on a bulletin board, and then watch it, waiting for fresh shoots and leaves. Meanwhile, other ideas may be passing me by.

Plotting. The planning writers do is equivalent to that huge percentage of an iceberg beneath the surface. It supports your story. But the process of plot-building can be slow, and I’ve found that once characters interact, things can change. So, while I know how a book will start and how it will end, my plans for everything in between are often vague until I get there.

Crafting the Opening Sentences. Unless they come to me in a cheesy-snack-fueled dream, these are tough. So tough, in fact, that I often leave a blank space. When I reach the end, I have a better idea of how to plant the seeds of theme and plot on the first page.

Sitting. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the consequences of spending too much time on your ass-et.

Not Borrowing from Others. I don’t mean plagiarizing; I mean that unconscious shift toward a style or turn of phrase brought on by admiration for the skill of the author I’m reading at the time.

Making it Through the Middle. No matter how many file cards I’ve accumulated and how much plotting I’ve done, sometimes I feel like I’ve waded through a swamp only to step into quicksand. Often I have to go back to the beginning and work forward, reintroducing myself to characters I created weeks ago and have half-forgotten. The ending, like a mirage, seems to retreat before me.

Controlling the Snacking. When I’m stressed—and being stuck in figurative quicksand is stressful—I snack. (And I’m not talking about munching on baby carrots or apple slices.)

Taking Advice. Unless I’ve asked for it, I hate getting advice. And even when I’ve asked, I hate taking suggestions. So, when I’m deep enough in a quandary that I solicit ideas, I set them aside for a week while I work past a bout of I-should-have-seen-that resentment.

Ignoring Advice. I’m referring to the unsolicited and random suggestions that come from well-meaning folks who always wanted to write but never did. “You should write about my garden club and be sure to name all the members or someone will be mad.” “Don’t forget to give your protagonist a few cats.” “You should set your stories in Bermuda.”

The Ending. I think of an ending as the perfect meal—all the good stuff on the plate in portions that are just right. Not so much that servings and flavors run together. Not so little that I close the book feeling hungry. Just enough that I’m satisfied and want more from the same chef.

The title. Titles are tough because a few words have to do a lot of heavy lifting. In fact, they have to do so much lifting that I’m going to “save my strength” and save the topic for next month, when I’ll enlist writing coach Elizabeth Lyon to help me.

In the meantime, what do you think is the most difficult phase of writing a novel and why?

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton. She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking. www.deadlyduomysteries.com  http://www.deadlyduoduhblog.blogspot.com/

Confessions of a Shoeoholic
In 1890, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Journal, “The sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inner tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow.” I couldn’t agree more except to add “perfectly well-dressed and wearing a pair of red stilettos.”
There are only two things I collect: books and shoes. My book collection is larger than my shoe collection only because books are more affordable. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d send each of my sisters a big check, donate to my favorite animal rescue organizations, and then I’d head for the nearest city and buy every pair of shoes that caught my eye.

shoes and butterflies

shoes and butterflies

I suspect my shoe obsession had something to do with the need to rebel against my mother, not that she denied me footwear. But I do remember my mother commenting once on one of her friends having owned sixteen pairs of shoes, and “who did she think she was?” I also remember my mother ogling a pair of red shoes, but not buying them because she already owned a pair on red shoes and “what would people think?” Because of my mother’s beliefs and her reluctance to live wild, I swore I’d never own less than sixteen pairs of shoes and I’d buy as many red ones as I could afford. Right now, I have six pair.
And guess what else? I saw a news flash the other morning announcing that women who wear high heels well into their seventies are less likely to experience life-threatening falls. Seems that high heels improves one’s balance.

Kathleen Kaska, author

Kathleen Kaska, author

My love of shoes found its way into my Sydney Lockhart mysteries. Being a private detective, and having to dress in disguise on occasion, Sydney’s usual footwear are saddle shoes (the series is set in the 1950s), and cowboy boots (Sydney’s from Texas). But when she’s not chasing bad guys, Sydney dresses up in snug sweaters, pencil shirts, and high heels. There’s also a bit of rebel in Sydney too. Much to her mother’s annoyance, Sydney refers to her high heels as her tart shoes. And her sidekick cousin, Ruth Echland, wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but the latest Ferragamos.
Check out my latest Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Driskill.

Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mysteries set in the 1950s. Her first two books Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queens Book Group, the largest book group in the country.

Murder at the Driskill by Kathleen Kaska

Murder at the Driskill by Kathleen Kaska

The third book in the series, Murder at the Galvez, is set at the Galvez Hotel in Galveston. Kaska also writes the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Sherlock Holmes trivia books are finalists for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida), was published in 2012.  http://www.kathleenkaska.com, http://www.kathleenkaskawrites.blogspot.com/

It rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest. Yearly totals exceed the national average. Some folks describe the climate here in Washington as nine months of rain followed by three months of drought. Those nine wet months have given birth to a wealth of terms to describe the stuff dropping from the sky. Increased interest in weather phenomena has helped add to that list.

Carolyn J. Rose, author, 2015

Carolyn J. Rose, author, 2015

When I grew up in the Catskills back in the 1950s, long before 24/7 weather reporting and weather-related reality shows, we had relatively few words to describe precipitation: snow, sleet, rain, thunderstorms, hail, and drizzle. Today, I hear more descriptive words: mist, mizzle, sprinkles, deluge, drenching rain, driving rain, pouring rain, torrential rain, continuous rain, freezing rain, and intermittent all of the above. There’s also fog, freezing fog, and snow in all its forms and accumulations.
All that winter precipitation makes for glorious green growth, tall trees and rushing rivers. It makes for great skiing, boating, fishing, gardening, and dozens of other recreational opportunities.
It also makes for a lot of dank and dreary days.
My first Northwest winter (1989-90) was filled with new experiences and I scarcely noticed the weather. My second winter, however, was ugly. Fog moved in, not on little cat feet, but like a 200-pound cougar driving a bulldozer. That fog hung around for weeks. I made it through by indulging in massive bouts of comfort eating followed by rolling up in a quilt for yet another nap.
The next fall, having finally shed the winter poundage, I vowed to adopt a healthier lifestyle and focus on the weather in my fictional settings instead of outside my window. By spring I was halfway through a novel and hardly noticing the thick drops hammering on the roof. (Except when the gutters clogged with leaves or a leak appeared in the living room ceiling.)
Since then, I’ve followed the same plan:
• Step up those vitamin D capsules.
• Beam on those bulbs. Light up the workspace. Strings of twinkle lights are always fun. Phototherapy with a light box may brighten your mood and regulate your circadian rhythms.
• Cut back on greasy foods and heavy meals. (I know, I know. That’s tough to do with those holiday parties and treats, but give it your best shot.)
• Don’t overdo coffee and caffeine. Sure, it wakes you up on a dreary morning, but too much can mess with your sleep patterns.
• The same goes for alcohol.
• Escalate the exercise.
• Get out and confront precipitation. Walk in all weather.
• Concentrate on what you can control and try not to think about what you can’t.
• Do nice things for yourself.
• Vary the routine. Go places you’ve never been—even if it’s just a new coffee shop or walking trail.
• Catch up on movies you’ve been meaning to get to and books yet to be read.
• Reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
• Ask for advice about beating the blahs.
If you have tips for powering your writing through the winter, please share them in the comment space. I’m always looking for ideas to add to the list.

 

The Devil's Tombstone by Carolyn J. Rose

The Devil’s Tombstone by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone, just released). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).  www.deadlyduomysteries.com

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.

colbymarshall-headshot1 (2)Confession right up front: I am a reader of paper books.

Don’t get me wrong…if you love e-readers because they help you read more often/easier/in a way that ensures no one on your subway commute can see the cover of your self-help book about how to overcome your intense fear of Slinkies, then have at it.  I just know that for me, printed books are my preference.  Maybe this is because I write my own books on the computer, so electronic books often automatically become “work” in my mind no matter the author or topic.  Maybe it’s because I resist change (I do.  I’m pretty much the only person under the age of thirty who still has an AOL e-mail address, and I will cling to my Blackberry until the day someone tries to steal it so fast and violently that they rip my whole hand off with it.).  But while those things might be true, I think the most likely reason I lean towards printed books is because they happen to be less dangerous.

Let me explain.

Books are not safe in my house.  If I was a book, I would be terrified to live here.  Why, you ask?  Because the mortality rate of books in my home is extremely high, and none of the causes of early demise for literature around here are particularly painless.  Methods of torture for books include being ripped apart by a toddler (who may or may not have inherited my penchant for thrillers, but that’s another post for another time), becoming the hairball-catcher for one of the not-so-naked cats (Yes, there is one naked one), and being buried under a pile of other, heavier books when our makeshift book shelves buckle and send our extensive collection raining to the floor.

But as bad as those fates may be, the worst of them—and the one that accounts for the highest percentage of book deaths in this house—is the very reason I steer clear of the e-reader: the bathtub drop.

I can’t count the number of books we’ve laid to rest due to a dip in the bath bubbles.  I’m a tub-reader (Definition: Person who reads in the bathtub, not a person who reads bathtubs).  I’m a perpetual workaholic, so the only time I let myself “off” long enough to squeeze in a respectable chunk of a book for fun is when I can rationalize it by pairing it with general human hygiene (sounds psychologically healthy, huh?).  This habit benefits my favorite authors immensely; any time a copy meets its watery doom, I shell out several dollars for two more—one to pick up reading where I left off, and another as a backup for when, inevitably, the first of the two new copies makes a splash all its own.  I’m pretty sure Katrina Kittle owes a substantial percentage of her sales of The Kindness of Strangers to my serious bathtub addiction.

ColorBlindCV1 (2)Which brings me back to why I’m still quite solidly in the books in print on paper camp and will likely remain there for the foreseeable future.  If I were to let my e-readers take “swims” as often as my paper books, I’d likely need another job to support my book habit. But this time, I wouldn’t be paying the author a second time for another copy of their book I loved so much—I’d be paying a big company for a new e-reader.  So, the idea of simply replacing the damaged merchandise is not only pricier in this situation, but it doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities as much, either.  After all, who would you be happier to give a few extra dollars to on a given day?  An author whose work has informed, helped, or entertained you, or to a stockholder whose name you don’t even know but who happens to hold a few shares of that e-reader company and has so many dollars in various stock statements that he won’t even notice when the investment you shelled out shows up in his statement numbers, because that amount you spent, while significant to you, didn’t even make a blip on his radar?

Besides…while I don’t think you can be electrocuted by making your e-reader your accidental rubber ducky, I’m just not keen on adding anything into water that contains me that happens to carry a charge of any kind.  If by some off-chance it so much as gave me a little zap, I’d probably need to buy a dozen self-help books about how to overcome extreme fear of bathtub shocks.  And given that I’d be too traumatized to ever buy another e-reader, everyone would be able to see those books’ covers on my subway commute.

 Writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, Colby Marshall has a tendency to turn every hobby she has into a job, thus ensuring that she is a perpetual workaholic.  In addition to her 9,502 jobs, she is a proud member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.  She is actively involved in local theatres as a choreographer and occasionally indulges her prima donna side by taking the stage as an actress.  She lives in Georgia with her family, two mutts, and a charming array of cats.

About COLOR BLIND: There is something unusual about Dr. Jenna Ramey’s brain, a rare perceptual quirk that punctuates her experiences with flashes of color. They are hard to explain: red can mean anger, or love, or strength. But she can use these spontaneous mental associations, understand and interpret them enough to help her read people and situations in ways others cannot. As an FBI forensic psychiatrist, she used it to profile and catch criminals. Years ago, she used it to save her own family from her charming, sociopathic mother.   Now, the FBI has detained a mass murderer and called for Jenna’s help. Upon interrogation she learns that, behind bars or not, he holds the power to harm more innocents—and is obsessed with gaining power over Jenna herself. He has a partner still on the loose. And Jenna’s unique mind, with its strange and subtle perceptions, may be all that can prevent a terrifying reality…

Color Blind is Now Available:

On Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/pbs3uts

On Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/pbs3uts

And other places books are sold!

To learn more about Colby and her books, check out her website at www.colbymarshall.com

 

 

 

 

Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose, author

One rainy day in the 1950s, my mother got out a set of aging paper dolls she’d played with as a child. Sadly, they didn’t survive for long. Not many toys or games did. My brothers and I played hard.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the tiny tabs designed to hold outfits in place never quite did their jobs, I loved the variety of clothing and the speed and ease with which I could make changes. It was far quicker than dressing the rubber-skinned ballerina doll for which my grandmother sewed skirts, tops, a cape, and even a beret.

In high school I created outfits for myself—seldom with much success—by stitching up simple jumpers and skirts, borrowing from friends, and buying what I could stretch my allowance to cover. All of that took time, time I spent yearning for what I saw as the cheap convenience of paper clothing. If only I could sketch a sweater and slip it on, paint a pair of paints, crayon a coat.

Now, with words instead of art supplies or needles, thread, and fabric, I do just that for my characters. Clothing them is far more enjoyable than clothing the dolls of the past or outfitting myself.

First, the sky is the limit. There’s no budget, no need to save up or ponder the necessity of each purchase. If Mrs. Ballantine from No Substitute for Murder insists on three strands of pearls and a cashmere wrap to wear with a silk dress, she gets them. If Dan Stone from Hemlock Lake demands top-of-the-line hiking boots, no problem. I’ll even throw in a pair of thermal socks.

Second, there’s no need to alter, hem, let out a seam, or take a tuck. Everything fits, no matter what shape the character is in. That also means there’s no need for a character to shed a few pounds or hit the gym to tone up.

Third, there are no storage issues. There’s no need to toss something old because a character bought something new. There’s always room in that fictional closet for a few more items.

Fourth, if a change of outfit is necessary to the progression of the action, it can be accomplished in the time it takes to write a sentence or two.

Fifth, unless the plot calls for an item to be impossible to find, out of stock, too large, or too small, what characters want is always available in the right size and color.

Sixth, I have the right to scoff at the dictates of fashion. Nothing goes out of style unless I want it to.

Seventh, I don’t have to dress every character every day. When they’re not in a scene, they’re on their own. I sometimes wonder if they sit at the edge of a page wearing outfits from previous scenes or if they slip into loungewear or strip down for a shower or soak.

How about you?

What advantages do you see to creating clothing with words?
What are your favorite fictional outfits?
And what do you think characters wear when they’re not appearing on the pages?

 

No Substitute for Murder by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Murder by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries, Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood. Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and five novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton: The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor.

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking.  www.deadlyduomysteries.com

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