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.

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 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

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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.

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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

Monday, March 9, 2015

Go Ahead and Beg

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?

- from Susan

I know the real answer to this, but I have to admit, when I closed my eyes to think about the question, my first thought was “How much money?” So, whatever I concluded, I guess I have my price. I just don’t have any friends who can meet it, not surprising since most of them are writers or artists or otherwise underemployed.

50 Shades of Gray comes immediately to mind. I haven’t read it, but someone quoted a truly awful couple of sentences in a review that made me cringe. The writing was amateurish and whatever thought the author seemed to be trying to express was lost in the weeds. The reviewer was ruthless. I’d be mortified to have a reviewer do that to a book with my name on it, so that’s one for the list.

Add anything purporting to be the shocking and hitherto unknown truths about proven instances of UFOs in New Mexico being covered up by a massive conspiracy among the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon. The exception would be the script of any of a dozen episodes of “The X-Files” in which Scully pokes out her lower lip and says “Mulder…” Those, I would have liked to write for bags of money.

I would turn down a ghost writing contract for celebrities whose only claim to our attention is that they have gotten attention before. You know them even if their names blur. They’re on the home pages of every online and supermarket rag, have their own TV shows, give birth to babies they monetize, and get the book contracts my fellow writers and I only dream about. But I suspect they have few ideas outside of seeking celebrity/money and I couldn’t stand being forced to listen to them and take notes for months.

It might be easier to win the lottery than to be offered a suitcase full of money to write anything unless you’re James Patterson or J.K. Rowling. But it’s a nice daydream, so thanks for asking.