Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The stories are limitless...

By R.J. Harlick

“There's only so many ways to sing the blues and yet no one ever asks blues musicians why they're still doing it. Do you ever feel restricted by the constraints of the crime genre or overwhelmed by what's out there?"

They’re singing the blues because they love singing the blues. If they didn’t, they’d sing something else. Crime writers are no different. We write crime fiction because we have great fun writing it. Far from feeling constrained by the genre, I’d say we continuously push the envelope, so to speak.

Detective/suspense fiction didn’t exist until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the reading public to the crime solving detective and Wilkie Collins to the amateur sleuth. And while crime continues to be central to the plot, successive crime writers have taken the genre in many fascinating and varied directions, so many that the genre has been further divided into sub-genres, even sub-sub-genres.

I don’t think any of us have felt the least constrained by the genre. Quite the contrary. Stories involving crime, even a simple mystery, are limitless. They revolve around human nature. Nothing is more fascinating than the complexities of the human mind and the motivations that drive us not only to commit a crime but also in our continuous interactions with the world and people around us.

Take my Meg Harris series for example. I set Meg up in a near impossible setting for a mystery series: a wilderness, where people are few and far between. It’s worse than Cabot Cove. The potential for the body count to surpass the living population is high. So what do I do? I move Meg around. She goes off on canoe trips, visits nearby cities, explores other wildernesses, where the body count can rise without becoming ludicrous.

There is so much freedom with the mystery genre. Think of all the fascinating places you can visit from the comfort of your chair. As the author, you get to visit and explore all these unique places, all in the interests of research of course.

With historical mysteries, the genre transcends time, taking the reader as far back as the author wants to take them. Those mysteries with a science fiction slant take the reader to the future and to societies that exist by virtue of the author’s imagination, which let’s face it is boundless.

As for the crimes themselves. I suppose one could say there are only so many variations on a theme. But let’s face it, there are many ingenious ways to end a person’s life, many of which have already been written about. But I imagine there are other ways still lurking in an author’s mind. The crime doesn’t have to be limited to murder, but could be any kind of crime. Just is, murder is the most dramatic.

More intriguing with the genre is the ability to exploring the motivations behind the crime. As I said at the outset, it revolves around human nature. The permutations and combinations are boundless, particularly when you add different locations, different cultures and different periods in time into the mix.

But if a crime writer begins to feel they are running out of crime stories, they can always write a different type of fiction. However, I have yet to meet a crime writer who has moved away from the genre. It’s too much fun. Instead, when they feel they are becoming stale with a particular series, they write a new one with different characters and locations, even time periods and cultures.

By the way I’ve just sent my publisher the manuscript for the next Meg Harris mystery, A Cold White Fear, which will be released in early November.  For a change of pace, I have written a different kind of crime novel, a thriller. Rather than trying to determine whodunit, Meg has to survive a very perilous situation. She is stranded at her home, Three Deer Point, by a raging blizzard, when there is a sudden knock at her door….

Monday, March 30, 2015

Don't Box Me in

There's only so many ways to sing the blues and yet no one ever asks blues musicians why they're still doing it. Do you ever feel restricted by the constraints of the crime genre or overwhelmed by what's out there?

by Meredith Cole

Everywhere you turn in life, there are expectations. Your own and others. And it's a struggle to hold strong to what you want in the face of expectation and obligation. I'm sure that's even true of people who sing the blues.

I remember meeting a nice boy (oh so long ago...) and when we finally moved in together, people would ask when we were going to get married. When we got married several years later, people asked (on our wedding day!) when we were going to start a family. But we waited 7 years, making movies and art--even living in Paris for a while--until we were ready. And after having a baby, I was shocked that so many people ask when we were going to have another.

Being a novelist is a little like that, I'm afraid. As soon as you get your first book finished and published, someone always wants to know when the next one is coming out. And you can jump on that moving escalator and try to churn out books as fast as possible (each one a little different but not too much). Or you just can be happy that they're interested, choose your own path--maybe even crossing genre lines--always trying new things and know that some people will be very disappointed in you. As a stubborn individualist raised by hippies, you can probably guess that I'm picking door number two.

Happily there are lots of great writing role models out there for someone who doesn't want to be boxed in. Charlaine Harris springs to mind. So does Kate Atkinson and Michael Chabon. But there are plenty of others (and I bet Art Taylor can reel off about twenty with no problem!). And lots of musicians that sing the blues when they've got 'em, and sing something else when the mood strikes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Long and Winding Rewrite

Sometimes great ideas go horribly wrong. Is there a book with a genius premise that you'd like to rewrite?

By Paul D. Marks

DaVinciCodeWell, besides everything I’ve ever written that, after looking at it a few months or years later....

It seems that great minds think alike and that said great minds all think The Da Vinci Code falls flat. Coming at the end of the week, I hope I’m not being too repetitive. I think The Da Vinci Code is a great, high concept, idea for a book. But it was a terribly written book. Of course, that didn’t stop it from becoming a mega zillion seller making mega zillions for Dan Brown.  So maybe it doesn’t need to be rewritten. Nonetheless, I’d take a shot at it. Definitely clean it up and liven up the dull prose. Bring in a street sweeper to pick up the you-know-what. And then it would probably be a well written book with a great concept that nobody would buy.

There are a lot of books (and movies) where, when I look at them or read them I think, great concept, terrible execution. But I often seem to be in the minority because a lot of these sell tons of copies. It’s like my mom used to say, something to the effect of, “I don’t get bogged down in the quality of the writing, good or bad, if it’s a good story it will carry me along.” And maybe that’s the key. Just write a good story, tell it reasonably well. Have a plot that drives forward and characters that drive the plot and there you go.

However, for me, I like things that are well written as well as well plotted. That’s not to say I won’t read a book that’s not necessarily well written. And even enjoy it. But I might enjoy it more if were better presented.

I happen to be partial to Raymond Chandler. I like his plots. I like his characters. And I love his writing and his descriptions. I really feel that I’m there, in that location with those people. I can see it, feel it, smell it. And I think a lot of that is missing from today’s writing. A lot of prose writing today is inspired, for lack of a better word, by film writing. And film writing is very fast paced and very spare. And that’s good for movies. Because a screenplay is not a finished product and all those other elements, visual, atmosphere, setting, casting, location, etc., get filled in by the locations, the sets, the camera work, the actors, etc.  But a novel is the finished product. And in a novel it’s up to the writer to convey a picture, mood, feeling, etc. I like to feel where we are. I like to be in the room or the location with the characters. And so many writers today basically describe a scene as “Joe entered the room. He picked up the gat from the desk.” Okay, that’s a little simplistic. But you get the idea. There’s no, or little, sense of the room. The atmosphere, etc. And I miss that. 

484Oh, and to bring this full circle and respond again to the question at hand: I’d like to rewrite Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon to make it more accessible to everyday schmucks like me. (Okay, I’m not saying I would ever attempt to rewrite Pynchon, but you know what I mean.) I’m not saying to dumb it down, just to make it a little more user-friendly and approachable.  I’ve tried three different times over the years to read this book. It’s one of those that you think you should read, book bucket list-wise. But I just can’t get past about page 80 or 100. I’m not saying it’s badly written. But for me, at least, it’s impenetrable. Maybe I’ll give it another shot one of these days and the fourth time will be the charm.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who put that soapbox there?

I'll tell you one thing for a kick-off. I wouldn't rewrite any of the three blogs on this topic that have gone before me this week (or any week). You've nailed it, fellow Minds. Agatha Christie and Dan Brown were going to be the foundation of my argument today. Also Raymond Chandler.

Wait, wait - before you strip me of my MWA membership and possibly my greencard.

Just as nobody reads Christie for the characters, and nobody reads Brown for the lyrical prose, surely nobody reads Chandler for the plots. Surely.

As Clare said yesterday, it's rare for one writer - and rarer for one book - to do absolutely everything brilliantly.

But you know what bugs me? When people who've never read Christie for years (if they've ever read her at all) casually dismiss her, while people who've never read Chandler for years (if at all) laud him to the heavens.


But, to be fair, it's not only that. It's also that what's great about Chandler - the individual lines of prose and the imagery - is something easy to get a handle on with a quick Googlesearch. What's great about Christie - the plots that had people writing to the Times and would have had them rioting in the streets if they hadn't been English  - are harder to be acquainted with unless you sit down and read the novels.

But what about the films, you ask. Well, that's the other problem. Now that we know the plots - they all did it! The narrator did it! She wasn't there! - we forget what genius they were first time around.

If I had homework-setting powers I'd ask everyone who hasn't read it to crack open The Moving Finger and feast on one of Christie's most wonderful plots - much copied since by movies - in a novel with great characters and laughs of the out loud kind.

In fact - why not? - I'll send a copy to a commenter who hasn't read it, and see if you agree.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Re-Write Nightmares

by Clare O'Donohue

Q: Sometimes great ideas go horribly wrong. Is there a book with a genius premise that you'd like to rewrite?

I'm stumped on this one. I've read books that have been disappointing, even infuriating. But have I quietly rewritten it in my head? That's a really good question.

And the answer is: probably, but I'll be darned if I can come up with an example.

Certainly not my own work but that's because I'm scared to read my early books. What would I do if I hated a character or realized I'd gotten the ending all wrong? Would I chase down everyone who bought the book and explain how it should have been? That's a bad dream (or a great movie premise).

And in terms of other people's books...

I didn't like The Executioner's Song, though Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer for it, so what do I know? It's a terrific idea, chronicling the life and death of Gary Gilmore, who fought for his execution rather than against it. I'm not a huge fan of Mailer's writing, but I thought the subject would overcome that. Apparently not.

The Da Vinci Code is another on that list, but for different reasons than Robin. Also not a fan of Dan Brown's character development, but in this case it was the central premise of the book. I didn't buy it. It's not like anyone could prove the big secret of the novel that prompts some people to kill to expose it, and others to die to protect it. You could shout it from the rooftops, offer all the closely guarded paperwork you wanted - but for the faithful, you would just be some crazy person with fake documents, and for non-believers, well, what would they care? Since I didn't buy the idea, the thrill of the chase was a bit dull for me.

But I don't think I'd want to rewrite these books, just learn from them that nothing is universally loved. Which is what I try to remember if I happen across an amazon reviewer who wonders why I got the ending to my book all wrong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to "Fix" a Bestseller

by Robin Spano

Question of the Week: Sometimes great ideas go horribly wrong. Is there a book with a genius premise that you'd like to rewrite?

If I could take The Da Vinci Code and play with it, I would love to run with all of Dan Brown's stellar plotting, keep his page-turning pace, but tweak the writing to bring the characters more fully off the page.

There are so many elements that make a great novel, and I'm struggling to think of one author who nails it on each and every level. Gone Girl came pretty damn close. (Great writing, characters, plotting, pacing, and more.)

Dan Brown gets so many key ingredients right. I seriously admire his twists and turns and plot devices, including the ending's powerful punch. But more flesh on his characters and a couple more rounds of copy editing to strengthen his verbs and nouns? His stories could be genius.

Same for several action writers. If the deal with Dan Brown worked out, I'd love to take on some titles by Tom Clancy and John Grisham next.

The catch? These books are bestsellers as they are. So maybe they don't need my edit notes, really, at all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Run That By Me Again

Sometimes great ideas go horribly wrong. Is there a book with a genius premise that you'd like to rewrite?

-from Susan

Definitely, starting with a few of my own that exist only in beginnings. Interesting premise, new characters, I’m off to a great start. Twenty minutes into my whirling brain activity, I realize she can’t do that for a living because…or, he can’t fly off to Chad because…or I don’t know the first thing about Spanish law enforcement. Genius thwarted, again.

Seriously, there are lots of crime novels that start strong, perhaps because we authors work like demons to get off to a good start, having been told a thousand times that we have to hook readers by the first page, or paragraph, or even the first sentence. (I don’t believe that, quite. If it’s well written and charms us, aren’t we willing to at least turn one page? Come on.) Anyway, I am involved, ready to stay with the author’s clever idea.

But around page 50, something begins to wobble. It might be the plot, in which something too improbable happens, clearly arranged only to create The Conflict. Or, the protagonist does something that shrieks of discontinuity with character, something that the person the author has gone to pains to create would not do, period, like leave her beloved new husband in bed on their honeymoon to investigate a strange sound out on the dark lake. Or – and this one is bigger for me than for some readers, I know – the writing is flat, repetitive, unexciting, and I can’t ignore it. It gets in the way of the storytelling and pulls me right out of the book.

I’m hesitant to name names because I’m sure the author wrote the best book he or she was able to at that moment, as I do myself, and because most of what I’m saying is subjective. You might love the book I just tossed aside. Heck, it might even win awards, be praised by reviewers and in blurbs, sell lots of copies. I recently read a debut novel that had an interesting premise, but which had me wanting to slam the book against the wall when the character, who had behaved like one person for 250 pages, morphed completely, without explanation, into a different person physically and mentally, in the last 20 pages. And, the saddest thing about that was that the idea for the story was a good one, worth 250 pages. In answer to this week’s CM question, yes, I would have written a different ending, one that completed the circle of the story, the character, and The Conflict.

If I go back in time, to stay on safer ground, I’ll admit that as much as I love Agatha Christie, her later books, spy stories like They Came to Baghdad (1951), start with an interesting idea in a fascinating environment but don’t play to her talent. They have a synthetic, stagy quality that leaves me cold. She operated best in her fantasy worlds – the small town, the locked room. John Mortimer created a wonderful character in Horace Rumpole, but then he drove the conceit into the ground with stories that did have small, clever plots, but in which the dialogue was interchangeable from one story to another. In an excess of enthusiasm I once bought all three Rumpole Omibuses, but I haven’t made it more than a story or two past the first.

There is one book I remember desperately needing to rewrite and that was when I was about eight or nine: A Christmas Carol. I did not think Tiny Tim should die, and at the Christmas Future point in the narrative would have written to Mr. Dickens to tell him. It was a great story until that moment, and then – amazingly – Mr. Dickens came to his senses and wrote my ending to the story. I’m so grateful that at least one author took my advice.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spare Change

By Art Taylor

Here's another of those weeks where the conversation among my fellow panelists has been so good, I'm not sure what to add here at the tail end of it all. This week's question—"In a series, do you prefer a protagonist who changes over time or one who stays the same?"—has prompted talk about the comforts and pleasures of iconic figures like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple and, on the other hand, about the realism of having characters grow and develop the same as all of us do: milestone moments, relationship shifts, the perspectives that come with age, etc.

To my mine, both can be rewarding—and I wouldn't necessarily praise one choice as intrinsically better than another. It's just a question of the kinds of story that each author wants to tell and, of course, the kinds that each reader wants to read. There's pleasure in consistency—the newness in the fresh particulars of whatever case a detective is facing—and there's also fun in change: the newness coming from changes in a character embarking on a new relationship or ending a relationship, recovering from traumatic experiences from previous stories, making life changes as part of an overarching storyline that transcends several books.

Earlier this week, I talked about the concept of the "novel in stories" as part of a blog post for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and the ideas I explored there are resonant here. There's a difference between a collection of stories each featuring a character and a novel in stories connected by a single character. A collection implies that the stories aren't interwoven as part of a larger pattern or larger story (we don't think of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as a novel in the same way we think of Hound of the Baskervilles, even thought the former is longer in page count). A novel in stories implies that the stories add up to something bigger or more—a character perhaps changing as part of a longer storyline, ending up in a different place, as a different person.

Again, I'm not sure what else to contribute to a conversation that's already seemed comprehensive! (One of these days I'm just going to ask Meredith to swap places with me....)

In other news, I'm very pleased to have a story in the new issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine—the May issue, which should be on shelves now. "Commission" is the second of my stories focused on the characters Del and Louise, small time crooks trying to make a fresh start on the right side of the law—easier said than done, of course. These characters first appeared in the EQMM story "Rearview Mirror," and both these stories will join four more in my debut book later this fall: On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, to be published in September by Henery Press.

Also in this month's issue of EQMM: Some great news for me and another of our Criminal Minds panelists. My story "The Odds Are Against Us" (currently a finalist for the Agatha Award) earned the number 6 spot in the magazine's annual Readers Awards poll, and Paul D. Marks' story "Howling at the Moon" took the number 7 spot! Both stories appeared in EQMM's November 2014 issue, and I was glad to share space with Paul there, glad again to share space with him here. (And thanks too, Paul, for the picture above!)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Times, They Are (or Aren’t?) A-Changing

by Alan

In a series, do you prefer a protagonist who changes over time or one who stays the same?

What’s that saying? Half dozen of one, half dozen of the other?

Actually, I suppose I have a slight preference for characters who change over the course of a series.

I think it adds depth to a story/character/make-believe world when characters undergo change, and I like it when a character grows from book to book. It’s more believable (and more relatable) to read about people changing as they age (I know my hair’s gotten a bit grayer over the years). About people getting married, having kids, losing jobs, retiring, getting hip replacements, and all the other life milestones.

So, if fiction is supposed to reflect life, then writing about characters changing is only natural.

On the other hand, we ARE talking about fiction here, so if a writer wants to maintain a certain feel or time period throughout a number of books, who am I to argue? I don’t see anything wrong with that. After all, writers handle the passage of time differently (some try to keep in step with the “real” calendar, while others pick arbitrary timelines. Others write prequels and sequels and alternate universes, etc.). As long as writers are clear about what they’re doing, I’m okay with whatever decision they make. (And as Tracy said yesterday, there is something mighty comforting falling in with an iconic character who NEVER changes. Sometimes it’s nice to have one constant in an ever-changing world.)

Having characters change during a series does present certain challenges, especially to me as a reader. You see, I have trouble remembering what’s happened in books I’ve read, so I often don’t remember the changes a protagonist has experienced from one book to the next (What? When did he get married and have kids? And, more importantly, what the heck happened to his ’82 Mustang?). This means I sometimes find myself lost when I’ve set aside a series for too long, and I have trouble getting back into it.

Of course, maybe I’m just getting old. RUNNING cover

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Turn and Face the Change

In a series, do you prefer a protagonist who changes over time or one who stays the same?
 by Tracy Kiely

When I read this week’s question, I immediately thought – “Change! They should definitely change.”

This was immediately followed by  - “Actually, not always. Sometimes it’s nice to visit a character that you know won’t throw you for a loop or drag you into some deep emotional angst.”

Then I started to get a headache, so I lay down for a while.  Then Better Call Saul came on, and then it was St. Paddy’ s Day (my people’s High Holiday)

And we take it very seriously.

 and, well, I sort of stopped thinking about it until just now.

So, this should be good.

When I pick up a Miss Marple or a Poirot mystery, I am looking for a very specific kind of read. I want a clever mystery. I want tea and scones and well-mannered people. I want a well-dressed corpse.  I even want a well-dressed murderer. I do not want to read of Miss Marple’s struggles to learn to respect the privacy of others. I do not want to read of the inevitable intervention when her nephew, Raymond, takes away her “bird-watching” glasses. Nor do I want to read about Poirot’s struggles to overcome his OCD tendencies. I’d also rather not see him learn to “open up” and “not keep everything inside” (such as vital clues and solutions). Miss Marple and Poirot are who they are, and we like them that way. (Well, Poirot can start to irritate when he keeps hinting at clues to the case – in French.) 

Maybe this explains why he held everything back

Both series were successful because of that consistency. Dame Agatha wrote during some turbulent times. People want to escape into a well-ordered world where justice prevailed and dressing for dinner was de rigueur.

So, one mark for no change.

Which brings me to the Stephanie Plum series. I loved them until about book 8. Then I found myself rolling my eyes in irritation. It seemed that in every book, her car managed to catch fire and explode, or get shot at. Why did any of her friends even drive with her anymore? Who the hell was her insurance company, anyway? And her constant dithering between Ranger and Joe got old. Fast.

One mark for change

So then I thought about the Fletch series by Gregory Mcdonald. Fletch is a character who definitely changes over time. In the beginning, he’s something of a rebel, an anti-conformist. He poked fun at the stuffiness of society. As he aged, however, he became less edgy. Just like most real people. The problem was, the older Fletch wasn’t nearly as fun to me. Now, I first read those books when I was around 17. I thought it was hysterical that he answered his phone by saying “Good-bye.”  I remember my mom not being as amused as I was. As I got older, I saw her point. Some of his antics were more immature than edgy. That said, it seemed the series faltered over time. Whether it was because Fletch had become a grumpy old man or because of something else, I don’t know. Evolution doesn’t always work.

One mark either way?

My last thought about writing a character that evolves is this - but, I warn you, it’s not terribly helpful or insightful. If you find yourself in an airport needing a book to read, and you go to one of those overpriced stores – here’s what happens. You scan all the books – which, of course, are the current best sellers. Many of these books are part of a series. But, what if you haven’t read the first ten books? Do you really want to pick up a book in which the character is mid-evolution through a struggle you don’t understand because you’ve just met?  I don’t. Especially not on a long flight where you have no legroom, the man next to you wants to tell you about his suspicious mole, and the kid behind you keeps kicking your chair.

Give me Miss “Oh-I-was-just-looking-for-a–bird.  With-these-field-glasses. In-your-living room,” any day.
What magnifying glass? Oh, this one? Well, how did that get there?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Good day All

I had every intention of writing a blog on my day long flight home yesterday from Left Coast Crime until I was hit by a miserable cold. The only thing I was capable of doing was plugging into the music on my iPad, reading a good book and basically girding myself for 7 hours of flying with two waits in airports. Thankfully the flights did what they are supposed to do, leave and arrive on time and fly very smoothly.

I had a terrific time at the conference renewing acquaintances with old friends and sparking up new friendships. And though I missed the banquet because of my cold, I was thrilled when Catriona won. A super congratulations, Catriona! We CM bloggers rock!

For those of you who signed up to my co-hosted author table at the banquet or came to my panel on Sunday, I'm so sorry I wasn't there to chat with you. But you wouldn't have wanted me with my cold germs anywhere near you. I look forward to chatting with you at the next conference.

Now excuse me while I crawl back into bed and feel sorry for myself. At least I am home. Home is a very nice place to be when you are sick.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Don't go changing...

In a series, do you prefer a protagonist who changes over time or one who stays the same?

by Meredith Cole

As an author, I try to embrace change and not shy away from it. If a book is going to be one in a series, I like to plot ahead to future stories and think about where the character can go and how they'll develop in future books. It's more interesting to me as a writer to think about the big picture and not just write a book about someone who is stuck at one age or with just one set of problems.

But I realize that I have a different attitude when I'm a reader. I don't mind that Miss Marple never makes it to 90 or that Hercule Poirot is the same book after book. I have actually given up on several series because the author has married off the protagonist, dissolving, in my opinion, the sexual tension and conflict among the characters. Anne Perry's William Monk series is an example of this for me. And I really think it's a bad idea for sleuths to have young children. I start to wonder if someone else should take over the investigation while they are changing diapers. I just finished Michael Connelly's The Drop and I kept wondering how long he was going to leave his teenage daughter home alone... Very distracting.

I certainly don't mean to imply that I don't like it if anything changes from book to book in a series. In fact, I don't like it when every story plot in each book in the series is the same. I find that boring after a while. But Lee Child changes his setting in every story and has a different mystery, but Jack Reacher is always the same one man army. And I'm sure I could think of a million other examples.

I think that readers want consistency between books in a series and like to feel comfortable with the characters. Reading book two or three or beyond can feel like sinking into a soft well-worn easy chair. I guess the trick is making it feel new and familiar at the same time, and that is definitely not easy. But it's definitely worth a try.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday the 13th with Kat Yares, Guest Blogger and Horror Writer

Friday 13th d1
Kat YaresIn honor of Friday the Thirteenth, I thought I’d turn my post over to Kat Yares, a terrific horror writer. But she’s more than just that, she’s also a screenwriter, indie movie maker and amateur photographer. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous print and online publications. And she’s been a member of the Horror Writers Association since 2001.

Kat did some time in the LA area, but now lives in the gothic groves of Arkansas.

Her fiction is primarily in the horror/thriller genres. But unlike many horror writers, she writes horror not to gross out or startle her readers, but to make them think. Most of her stories are mind games and deal with men and women’s inhumanity.

Kat’s The XIII is a fast paced thriller that will keep you guessing.  If you like Dan Brown's books you're sure to like this one.

Her two novels, Beneath the Tor and The XIII, are both fantasy and thriller and, as several readers have written to her, are bound to send her to Hades after she passes.

Find her at www.katyares.com

*          *          *

Is there a book you couldn't or wouldn't write - even if a good friend begged you and offered a suitcase full of money?

By Kat Yares

When Paul D. Marks first asked me to do a guest post for Criminal Minds, I had no idea what I was getting into.  As a self-identified horror writer, I wasn’t sure of what topic I could write on that would satisfy the blog readership.  Then, he shot me the above question and I absolutely cringed.  There are a number of genre’s I’d be terrified to even attempt.  But that suitcase full of money made me consider each one.

First thought was Romance.  While I can write sex, romantic interactions are not my strong suit.  Besides, I’ve only read maybe ten modern romance books in my adult life.  I loved them as a teenager, before I found out what the real world was like.  Boy did not meet girl and live happily ever after in the end.  Yet, for a suitcase full of money, I might just try.

Next up was Young Adult.  I’m way too far removed from what a young adult goes through to be able to write something like that realistically.  Honestly the only young adult books I know about are the Twilight series and I don’t think I have to say a lot about that.  Again, that suitcase full of money might tempt me.
Into the Velvet Darkness - Kat Yares- eBook
The third I considered was High Fantasy.  While I did pull it off once in a short story, I’m not sure I’d be capable of doing a hundred thousand word book.  Depending on the friend (and yes, that suitcase full of money), I might try, but he or she better be able to help with the world building.  I totally lack the imagination for magic, dragons, knights in shining armor and the like.

This leads to Science Fiction.  While I love science and love science fiction as a genre to read, I’m not sure I’d be able to write anything believable in that genre.  To do the research needed, I don’t think I have enough years left in me to research enough and write the book.  One more time though, that suitcase might tempt me to try.

I would like to say that to get me to try any of the above genres, that suitcase had better be large and all the bills inside at least hundreds and it better be very hard to close because it is so stuffed full of said bills.
TheXIII_frontcoverSo what did I finally decide on?  Memoirs.  No amount of money would get me to write one, even for a friend.  I know it seems simple, they tell you the story of their life, you write it down and attempt to make it interesting for the future reader.  Thing is, most people’s lives are not interesting enough--they think it is, but it is not.  Also, most folks when relating past events can only remember ‘their’ truth of it.  The real truth may be very, very different.  People, at least those I know, attempt to sugarcoat their pasts, especially if something horrific happened in it.  Which is why so many ‘truths’ may not be truth at all.  Heck, I have a file on my hard drive that I suppose could be considered my biography or memoir.  It has the title of I Was Born Plain White Trash.  Will it ever see the light of day?  In a word, no.  While my life had its problems, they were really no different than what hundreds of others have gone though.  With my ego, if I don’t think my life is worth writing about, I doubt I’d find any of my friends lives that compelling either.  And since a memoir is supposed to be ‘truth’, no amount of money would allow me to write anything other than fictional lies.

*          *          *

Thanks, Kat. Great post!

And not to detract from Kat’s post, but I just found yesterday that the results for the 2014 Ellery Queen Readers Award are out.

So I want to congratulate two of our own for making the Top Ten on the list. Art Taylor for his story “The Odds Are Against Us” for coming in at #6...and trailing close behind him at #7 is another of our bloggers: me, for my story “Howling at the Moon.” Both of our stories were in the November 2014 issue. More on this in a couple weeks when the issue with the announcement actually hits the stands.  And thanks to David Dean for turning me onto this. And congratulations to him as well as he has three stories in the Top Ten!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The One That Didn't Get Away - guest blogger Simon Wood

Catriona: the question is "Is there a book you wouldn't or couldn't write?" And purely by coincidence, my answer is "Here's a book I didn't write." But I'm glad someone did. 

Please welcome our guest today, Simon Wood, whose new book THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, is certainly one I couldn't have written, but one I'm looking forward to reading.

Understanding a Damaged Hero

The most difficult thing about writing THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY was understanding the motivations of the heroine, Zoë Sutton, who was afflicted with survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder.  I kind of set myself up for this headache as I wanted to write a story about survivor guilt.  I do this time and time again with my books.  I am drawn to write about topics I have only a vague understanding of, which means I have to do research.
I like to research by conducting first hand interviews. Zoë is a victim of violence.  She's abducted along with her friend Holli.  Zoë’s guilt is derived by her escape at Holli’s expense.  I approached a number of support groups for victims of violence for interviews, but sadly none would talk to me.  I respect their reasons but I would have liked the opportunity to have discussed their experiences.  I know I am writing fiction but I do like to accurate and informational too.

After a lot of referrals, I ended up at the door of the Veteran’s Administration.  As a psychologist I was talking to said, “If you want to understand PTSD, then go to the VA.”  I was introduced to a psychologist who counseled veterans from both Iraq and Afghanistan and all the way back to Vietnam.   We met several times and talked for hours about what I was trying to depict and achieve with the book as well as the clinical side of PTSD.  As with all my research trips, my understanding of the topic was shattered in a few minutes and my education began.
Here are just some of many character traits of someone suffering with PTSD:
  • ‘Magical thinking’ – think Monday morning quarterbacking. The person mentally rewrites history to prove they had the power to change events but didn’t.
  • Risk taking behavior
  • Shame based arrogance – i.e.: “you weren’t there so how can you have any idea what I went through?”
  • Rigid thinking – people clinging to their personal dogma
  • Impulsive
  • Sleep and sobriety problems
  • Living in the past and fearing the future
  • Bullying behavior
  • Isolationist
These were just some of the issues and topics we discussed that became the foundation for Zoë’s character.  One of the best pieces of advice I received in regard to PTSD was that PTSD is an injury, not a defect.  That’s quite a telling detail.

All this information was great.  These were all things I was totally unaware of, much like potential readers.  And that was where the problem lay for me.  These traits don’t make for a sympathetic character, because the character’s behavior is so closed down and shut off.  Not sure why I have a yen to write about troubled protagonists.  I really do make a rod for my own back.  I didn’t want to sugarcoat or dumb down the issues in order to make her more likeable.  I don’t expect everyone to like Zoë, especially at the beginning, but I hope people can understand what someone like Zoë is going through and sympathize from a distance.  The best way for me to endear her to the reader was to let the reader see her change.  One thing I learned about PTSD was that people want a second chance at that past event, a chance to face the situation again and this time, change the outcome.  For Zoë, she gets to face her abductor again and that is a situation I think the reader can get behind.

I hope I’ve done just justice to Zoë and the issue of PTSD, as it’s something many people suffer from and we still don’t truly understand.  If you read the book, please let me know what you think.

Simon Wood is a California transplant from England. He's a former competitive racecar driver, a licensed pilot, an endurance cyclist and an occasional PI. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and four cats. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper, Terminated, Asking For Trouble, We All Fall Down and the Aidy Westlake series. His latest thriller is THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY due out March '15. He also writes horror under the pen name of Simon Janus. Curious people can learn more at http://www.simonwood.net.