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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Holidays Are Upon Us

Been so-o-o busy lately, something had to give, and I guess it's daily blog posts that gave. I figured that as long as I was producing new pages of "Mongan Manor," I should concentrate on that within the time I have to work on writing each day.

Got past the stuck places and events are now unfolding at a furious pace. Almost at the turning-point scene that's been in my head for a while, but with a few revisions to the original form. Still waiting to see how the whole thing comes out.

I've also found my thoughts drifting to future projects. There are many of them:

  • Finish third book in Jack Watson series. I stopped before because (1) the timing of it was off, (2) I wasn't sure where to go with it next, and (3) the inspiration for "Mongan Manor" was tempting me.
  • Revisit manuscript of my first and second completed-but-not-published novels, both science fiction. Oh, do they ever need work . . .
  • Another paranormal idea that's been shuffling around in my brain. This one would be really different--a male victim who gets involved in an investigation with a female cop and a paranormal investigator (also female) in an uneasy alliance against a new sort of creature. Still very much in the formative stages.
  • Return to an unfinished manuscript from a few years ago, a medical thriller.  

But I'm trying to stay focused here and do one thing at a time. Maybe if I could clone myself...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stuck Again

Well, not really stuck. Now that an important member of the "Mongan Manor" family has been introduced, I've been wrestling with what she will initially reveal that will lead to solving the mystery of the treasure. Previously, I was still working out her character, but I think I've got that down now--nearly 100 years old, but still sly and a bit mischievous. She and Stefanie have just met, and I need to work out what get said in this first passage.

As usual, I want to get past this point and on to the more exciting stuff that's coming up. I suspect there are some authors who could work out of sequence and get to "the good stuff" but I can never quite bring myself to do that, no matter how eager I am to write the big, dramatic scenes. Surprising--to anyone but me--is the fact that I still don't know how the story ends! Really. No clue. But experience has shown me that the inspiration will come at the proper time, and the scenes will practically write themselves.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Different Sort of Antagonist

I'm at a point in "Mongan Manor" where an antagonist, of sorts, is coming onstage for the first time. I realized that even though I have mentioned her repeatedly in the first part of the book, I had little idea about her personality. Now, before her first active scene, I need to define her better. This person started the trouble at the heart of the story while unaware of what she was starting. Do I make her innocently mischievous or deviously manipulative? Should she be failing in her mental faculties since she's almost a century old or be sharp and cunning? Nice or nasty?

And how important is it to determine her motivations? And should those motives be complicated or simple? At this point, I have to decide how important they are to the plot. Regardless of why this lady stirred up her family with the notion of hidden treasure, the goal is to find it and settle all the disputes. Her motives will have to fit her personality and vice versa. What keeps coming into my mind about her is a character portrayed in a movie that's a favorite of mine, mainly pertaining to her appearance and manner, but that's just the surface.

I have some other activities planned for the day, things which occupy the hands while letting the mind roam.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Why

I sat down this morning with the intention of putting something on my blog but with no ideas about what. Distracted by hunger, I got up and made some scrambled eggs. Since it's easier to read while eating than to write while eating, I went into my email to read some messages from The Write Practice. There was an article titled "The Odds Are Against You, Might As Well Get to Writing." While it presents some daunting statistics about the scant chances of commercial success for a writer, it encourages authors to write all the same. It triggered some thoughts about why I do this.

First, it's not for the money. Yes, I get paid when people buy my books. I wish more people would to get me to the point where I make a comfortable living at it. Do I expect to move into a mansion and have servants and all that? No. Comfortable would be just fine, but I'm not even to that point yet.

Second, I know the odds are against fame and a Pulitzer Prize, and neither of those things ever inspired me to write. Recognition is certainly nice, and I get some of that now and again. Nobody stops me on the street or in the grocery store to indicate they recognize me. I'm not a household name and wouldn't expect to be unless I get more books sold.

Third, I've already proven that I can write a novel, get it published, and get paid. Therefore, what drives me is not a sense of accomplishment from doing once what many are never able to do.

So what, then, is the point? Why do I do it?

As I imply on my websites, I can't NOT write. It goes on in my head whether I want it to or not. Story ideas, scenes, bits of dialog, characters and their relationships--my imagination keeps generating the stuff. The only way to control it is to put words together in a "permanent" way. Only, that just makes room for more stuff to gush out of my brain. It's as if there is a story that must be told, and since I don't have throngs of people waiting with bated breath to hear me tell it, into print it must go. Once it's in a manuscript, why not try to get it published? I have, and it continues to be a rewarding experience. Just not monetarily rewarding. Yet.

I've often heard advice from big-time authors who say not to try to write to the market. Just because Young Adult vampire/shapeshifter/zombie/wizard stories are the rage one day doesn't mean that the thirst for such books won't be quenched by the time YOUR book finds its way to the marketplace. The best advice I ever heard was, "Write the book that is in you."

Which is what I do. There seem to be many of them in there waiting to get put down in words. Fine by me. I would continue to do it even if nobody wanted to publish or read anything I wrote. But I think someone who writes stories of any length actually taps a common well of human experience which stands to ultimately touch others. Writing stories is a high form of communication, of human communication, of sharing experience and ideas and emotions. Perhaps that is the bottom line of why it feels so rewarding.

Catching Up

Haven't had much time to devote to anything writing related over the last few days as I have been trying to catch up on a number of other things. With the possibility of a full-time job on the horizon, I may have less in days to come, and my blog posts may become far less regular. The time I have available for writing activities will probably be devoted to writing first rather than social media.

Work will continue on "Mongan Manor" which is now picking up pace toward a turning point event.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Point of View Can Be Tricky

Got through a tricky passage in "Mongan Manor" where Stefanie gets some good information from a member of the family, putting a different spin on the treasure. Her conversation went through a few fits and starts as I worked out how much to reveal and how many red herrings to toss out.

Arline Chase, my publisher, always has excellent information on her blog for Write Words. Her post yesterday was about author intrusion, something I try to stay on the lookout for. In a nutshell, it has to do with not including information unavailable to the point of view character. Since I do a lot of my work in first person POV, I really have to watch out for this. My character cannot narrate that My cheeks turned red unless she's looking at herself in a mirror at the moment. Instead, her narrative might say, My cheeks burned with embarrassment. It's a bit trickier when writing in third person, harder to catch. I think the key is that the point of character feels things about him/herself and observes things about other characters to draw assumptions and conclusions. As someone who read Arline's post remarked, big-name authors fall into the trap frequently, and maybe the average reader doesn't notice, but critics and editors sure do.

Both POVs have their benefits and limitations, and the choice of which to use is largely a matter of style and preference. I use third person for the Jack Watson series as a device for giving the character information my main protagonists don't have and to take the reader where the action is. If not for this ability, stuff would happen off stage and Jack would be ferreting it out later. I think letting the reader witness important events "first hand" adds to the tension. For my other series, the plot unfolds through the eyes of one character who must unravel what is happening and how to protect herself. First person sort of locks me into a female protagonist because I'm not sure I would know how to write a first person male character for a novel. I did try it once in a short story, but those are usually so bare-bones in character development, it did not matter. Maybe I'll try it in a novel someday.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

More on The Name Game

Started in on "Mongan Manor" this morning, backtracking a bit to pick up the rhythm of the scene. I also had a flash of inspiration about providing Stefanie with the clues to the family secret and treasure mysteries, so I went forward with that. Had to stop and do some research on coats of arms and the various symbols used, and while I haven't yet decided on a key symbol for the story, I'm comfortable with the concept at least.

While doing my research into family names and histories, coats of arms, etc., I'm starting to wonder if I should include a disclaimer in the book when it's done. I want to stay true to the Irish heritage, but not so true that anyone could think I meant to portray real people. I'm making this up out of pure imagination and using facts from research for authenticity. I remember reading about another writer who was getting threats from someone who claimed her book of fiction exactly mirrored a relative's life. Is that how these things get started? Someone reads a book and figures any supporting details which match with him/herself or someone they know in life (notice, I did not say "real life" because life is real and fiction is fiction) and automatically assume that the writer based the book on them. Nonsense like that is nothing but ego and/or greed. I don't know anyone with the last name of Sheehy, the family name in the book. I chose it because of its meaning--eerie or mysterious. I did web searches for Irish-sounding names, both given and surnames, but mainly used those with certain meanings which will be part of the clues to the family secret.

I completely avoid using names or physical descriptions that might lead someone who knows me to think I wrote about them. I don't even like the idea of loosely basing characters on someone I've met. For one thing, when I meet someone, I never think "Gee, he/she would make a great character." It just doesn't happen for me. For another, when I'm developing a story, the characters are contrived to play certain roles in it. I need good guys and bad guys with a large proportion of people who are neither all good nor all bad. The role each plays determines their appearance, age, profession, history, demeanor, attitudes, and all the rest and can change as needed. Even the main POV character is subject to this treatment. Perhaps that's why I don't spend a great deal of time deciding who my character is before I set to writing the story, although that is an exercise many teachers of writing encourage.

Stefanie in the Windsong Lake series is a case in point. When I decided to resuscitate the "Dabblers" manuscript I finished a few years earlier, I decided that the character was too wimpy, too needy. She needed to be stronger. That was when I decided that she had known about her psychic ability and kept it secret for most of her life, even from her husband, Paul. Voila! More conflict was born. And her situation required her to "make peace" with her ability which kept trying to warn her of impending trouble, which meant she would be growing, developing, changing. Once I settled on that, my muse let out a sigh of relief and said, "Ahhh, now we've got it."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Updates and A Bit of News

I did some more fiddling with the cover for "Where Power Lies" and with the blurb as well. I wanted to do some experiments with changing the background colors and to be sure that there is ample room for the title and byline to be added without losing any important elements. I reduced the shadows to only one row so that more of the background is revealed, which also adds a bit more color. Unfortunately, my graphics skills and toolkit are very limited, so all my attempts to change the color pallet resulted in shades of one color only, which looked less attractive than the original.

Also added a small amount of text to "Mongan Manor," getting through a scene where I was not really sure what I wanted to happen. It needed to be an event of some importance, but what was it supposed to say? The resolution brought me new inspiration for how a subplot unravels going forward.

This afternoon, I'm going on a job interview. Yes, out of temporary retirement, perhaps, and back into a day job. Thus far, it could go either way I suppose. While I would certainly love to continue focusing on my writing career, it isn't bringing income in a major way. So it looks like I'll return to squeezing it in around a real job. Ah, well...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Updates and Miscellany

Yesterday afternoon, I received my print copy of "Dabblers," and frankly, the sense of satisfaction never diminishes with each book. One more print book left to receive, and I understand it's on its way.

I checked with the libraries where I donated books and was delighted to find "The Dreamer Gambit" in both their catalogs. One of them was even checked out! Might this lead to people discovering my other books, too? Sure hope so, because that was the whole idea about donating to the libraries.

Everything is prepped for "Where Power Lies" now, as I've pretty much settled on the most recent cover design, the one with the blood on it. That red spot really pops, I think, and more or less settles the fact that the woman beside it is the murder victim mentioned in the blurb. Anyway, I think it will work.

Back to Mongan Manor today. I need to sit back and consider the scene I'm working on next and what change it will bring about.  I think I know what it is, but it's just a matter of how I can reveal it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Name Game

Working on a crucial piece of "Mongan Manor" this morning, I realized that one of the names I had selected early on caused a problem with the method of delivering pieces of the puzzle. I went back to my list of Irish names previously collected, but I did not find anything workable. Back to the Internet. A little searching on the Behind-The-Name site gave me a good name to use but it then too closely resembled another name I had selected for a different character, already changed once before for the same reason. So I found a new name for that one too. (Bless Microsoft Word's find and replace.)  Now I'm deciding where the next step goes, especially in light of the pacing issues I mentioned in an earlier post.

After another peek at my cover for "Where Power Lies," I played around a bit with the background colors looking for a way to charge it up a little. Then I had a burst of inspiration, and this morning, I managed to execute it in another sample cover.

I think the pool of blood draws the eye fairly well. The most time consuming thing about this cover design is the shadows. When pasted over the background, tiny flecks of white surrounded each "head" and needed to be touched up.

Just for reference sake, I'll include my working blurb here, too.

In 2075, fifty years after a cataclysm nearly leveled the continent, the United States has been reborn with cities rising from the ruins. Deanna Kirkland struggled out of poverty to land a job in one of them, working for Senator Wolfson. On the bottom rung of the new society, Dee spices her humdrum life with daydreams of glamorous adventure while accepting that working for Wolfson is as close as she'll ever come to realizing her fantasies.

Then she happens to find a coworker dead in the Senator’s office and her life becomes more like one of those fantasies. Although everyone tries to convince her the woman committed suicide, Dee seems to be alone in thinking it was murder until she runs into Reese Ballard. He says it's evidence of the machinations of secret networks he calls Power Blocs that run everything while hiding behind a sham of democracy. Leery at first, she joins his search for the truth and soon finds his conspiracy theories are not merely theories. She plunges headlong into a different and dangerous world as those shadowy networks seek to silence them before they can reveal the truth about where power lies.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Too Much Too Soon?

Had time on my hands today without Internet access for most of it, but I did some work on "Mongan Manor." There is an important piece of the puzzle to the family secret involving names of ancestors, and I had thought I would put that off until much later. As I started down a different path this morning to do a different sort of scene, it struck me that it had the potential for more drama and would fit better at a later point, closer to the Big Scene, as it were. So I switched gears and started dropping some hints about names.

As always, I'm concerned about pacing. Each chapter must reveal something and institute a permanent change, hopefully with increasing tension and surprise, until the final wrap-up. The problem is getting a feel for where on the upward curve I am at a given point. In an earlier post, when I was working on the third Jack Watson book, I realized that things were happening too fast. A series of events occurred in the space of a day and it just didn't seem to be reasonable. Granted, I'm writing fiction, but as Stephen King once wrote in his "Danse Macabre," fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. Disbelief is a heavy load, like lifting a grand piano with a hoist to a third floor apartment. If you do it right, the reader gets swept up in the story and will believe just about anything, but if it flies in the face of reason to flagrantly, it's game over. Using my Jack Watson story as an example, I could imagine the reader thinking: "The killer found a phone number, called someone from out of town, got hooked up with a contract shooter, and then a snitch mentioned to Jack that someone was gunning for him ALL IN ONE DAY?????" Since I write in fits and starts, from day to day, the gaps make it hard to notice this, but when I went back to verify what day of the week I was currently writing (yeah, I do that a lot), I realized how much had happened in the space of a day and it just seemed impossible, even for fiction.

The other challenge with the Windsong Lake characters is that they're intelligent people. Paul's a genius and Stefanie recognizes patterns and never forgets anything. If a clue is too obvious and they both miss it or misread it, that grand piano is a pile of splinters.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

OMG I'm Writing a Cozy!

Well, not really. Added another scene to "Mongan Manor" which reveals some of the relationship issues among the extended family who owns it and dropping some important clues, too. While writing it, however, it struck me how much of the cozy mystery feeling keeps cropping up. A bunch of people with different agendas around a dinner table. There are clues and red herrings at the same time, some of it innocent because each character has a different goal and different background knowledge. One of the things that makes it fun is to have a character speak from their point of view in a way that the others will misinterpret or read more meaning into it than is there. I find myself returning to my notes document where I have a synopsis of the family history, its secrets, and where each character present stands on it.

I'm still waffling a little about how the mystery will get solved, vacillating between a down-to-earth versus a paranormal sort of resolution. At present, I'm favoring the paranormal, but the problem I'm having with it is that if Stefanie's psychic experience puts the final piece into place, there is no proof to present to the rest of the players. She's an outsider and there's no reason for anyone to take her word for it. She'll need corroboration of some sort. There's also the issue of a murder or at least an attempt at it. I have some ideas about it, but they are still sort of nebulous. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing because I can make adjustments as I go, as the family conflicts take shape. I need a murderer, a victim, and a motive.

The one thing I don't want to do is repeat myself. This time out, I think Stefanie should take the lion's share of credit for solving the mystery with some help from Paul of course. The experience should also enhance or change her psychic gift in some manner, and I've got an idea about that, too.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lo and Behold

I do believe I have a cover for "Where Power Lies" and the blurb is now in pretty good shape too. A couple of ideas/thoughts/inspirations led to the cover design process, and I thought I'd map that process out.

I started with the blurb. First pass was very wordy and included way too much information. I honed it to the essentials after a few passes, realizing that the blurb cannot possibly convey every aspect of the plot or the setting.

An earlier cover concept featured the bright, modern city surrounded by what is called the No Zone, areas of crumbling buildings and such. As I worked on the blurb, the No Zone definition got cut, so the illustration of it on the cover was no longer workable.

The latest version of the blurb has a number of significant details: a main character who comes to the reborn city, a dead body in the Senator's office, shadowy secret networks, the Senator as a puppet for those networks.

I had a few elements already--woman's dead body (and I'll bet I'm now on a watch list somewhere for searching on THAT any number of times!), a man in a suit (the Senator), silhouettes of male figures, i.e., shadows. I experimented with some tools at my disposal and finally got the Senator and the dead woman in a black-and-white graphic look. I put them on a gray background which resolves into groups of shadow figures. Then I needed a back drop for all of it, and I found it in the print shop program I bought some time ago. It works well because I can format all the elements in an image that is the correct size for the cover art. I tried a few background options, and fortunately, found the perfect one.

And now, here is the design I've come up with. Penny for your thoughts?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Still Two Worlds at Once

I did some more work on "Mongan Manor" this morning, tweaking a few things in earlier pages and double-checking details. I was pleased to note that some early clues are suitably ambiguous yet fair. I then got past the hump to move forward. Four more players have shown up at the house, and next up, Paul will meet Robert Markey, heir to Mongan Manor and another genius. The wordplay between them is where I had to pause, and I'll pick up there again once I decide what information they should exchange. Their interactions are going to be crucial and tricky.

Yesterday, I did some more polishing of the blurb for "Where Power Lies" in order to help define what the cover should look like. I also thought my first pass was too long with too much detail. The whole idea of the blurb is to intrigue and entice the reader, deliver a flavor of the story without going into a lot of definition. The current version is down to around 200 words, which is not a bad size. Interestingly, without really trying to do so, the editing has removed mention of certain elements that would justify one of my cover design concepts. With that, I can focus on the remaining idea I had for it, and I'm going to play with it today while I work out the next scene of "Mongan Manor."