Friday, March 23, 2018

How Important Is Luck in Gaining Publication? by Jacqueline Seewald

The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the emperor is warned to “Beware the Ides of March” by the Soothsayer. Julius, not being a superstitious sort of fellow and believing the nonsense about his personal immortality, sneers, ignores the warning, and refers to the Soothsayer as “a dreamer.” Not Caesar’s wisest decision.

 We recently celebrated St. Patrick’s Day which supposedly brings good luck and fortune. People do at times have lucky things happen to them and at other times suffer misfortunes like ill health, accidents or assaults. However, writers prefer to believe that for the most part we make our own luck.

According to Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” I apply that statement to authors. We get lucky with our work when we’ve done adequate preparation—that is being well-read, writing, rewriting, and editing until we’ve created something of value and quality. If we’re too lazy or too full of ourselves to make this kind of effort and commitment then alas we’ll never “get lucky.”

Luck is often a theme in literature. For example, Thomas Hardy created characters that were unlucky like Tess or Jude. Yet it could be argued that their bad luck came as a direct result of fatal flaws in their own characters. Tragedy derives from this. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship.

I write about and admire main characters with positive values who make their own good luck and overcome obstacles through personal effort, not bemoaning their fate or bad luck. To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar again, as Cassius observes: “Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In tribute to Irish literature which often deals with themes related to luck, I want to mention a few of the outstanding Irish writers I’ve appreciated over the years.

As an undergraduate English major, I read and enjoyed John Millington Synge’s The  Playboy of the Western World. Synge celebrated the lyrical speech of the Irish in a boisterous play.

In graduate school, I took a semester seminar on the works of
William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. I learned a great deal about Irish mythology from his work.

George Bernard Shaw was also of Irish origins and a great playwright, another favorite of mine. His plays still hold up because of thought-provoking themes and clever dialogue.

I’ve read James Joyce’s stories and novels but most appreciated his earlier work. I thought Portrait of the Artist was brilliant as was Dubliners, his short story collection. His style was original and unique.
Mere luck does not account for his success.

Satirist Jonathan Swift is often thought of as a children’s writer, but this is, of course, completely false.
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift
Oscar Wilde was a talented Irish writer and playwright. Sentenced to two years in prison for gross indecency (homosexuality), he eventually lost his creative spark.
Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest (play), Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (children’s book), A Woman of No Importance (play)
Abraham Stoker (Bram Stoker) gave us Dracula (enough said!)
Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, C.S. Lewis all had Irish origins as well, although they left Ireland for England. The list of outstanding Irish men and women who have provided great literature is very long and therefore beyond the scope of this blog. However, neither luck nor connections account for the success of these famous authors.

My latest novel DEATH PROMISE is set in London, New York City, and also Las Vegas—where people tend to place their hopes on luck. But not everyone in the novel is fortunate. The unique skills of Dr. Daniel Reiner and woman of mystery, “consultant” Michelle Hallam are required to solve the murders in this romantic suspense mystery thriller. You can check it out here:


Your thoughts and comments welcome!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Get the Facts and Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot

We've all heard "write what you know," but the fact is we don't know everything. That's why we do research!

Many of us love to read and write mysteries and crime thrillers. In them, there may be military, law enforcement personnel, or shooting sportsmen. Our history was built by people who had to defend their land and defend our country by force. If you chose to write about someone who uses a firearm, be sure you get it right. Otherwise, avoid it. Not only are firearms controversial, but they are complicated.

I recently read a novel about an investigator who carried a gun. I'm no expert, but something sounded off. Out of curiosity I did a bit of research and found a plethora of information, thanks to the internet.
(If I make a mistake here, my apologies, what I want to do is share some good resources I found for firearm safety, ammunition, recoil, sounds, smells, handling, weight, type, etc.)

The people that participate in the forums will usually answer questions if you let them know you are an author and what situation the character will be dealing with. It's important that we describe the weapon accurately, handling, as well as the accouterments used. Just do a Google search on gun and shooting forums, and you'll find quite a few. For general gun information, there is a forum called "The High Road."

If you know what type of weapon, you may find a dedicated forum, for example, Colt 1911, Smith & Wesson, Glock Talk, etc. If you need to understand and describe what happens when the weapon is used there are shooting ranges in most communities with staff who will help answer questions or even allow you to rent and shoot.

I was astounded to realize all ammunition is not the same. They were all bullets to me, but the bullet is actually the projectile at the end of the cartridge. There are shotgun shells with pellets inside and even lead balls used in the old cap and ball revolvers. "Round" is a generic term that we could consider using instead.

Pistols can be automatic or revolvers. Oh, and in the automatics, they use "magazines," clips were used during WWII and expelled when they were empty with a distinctive "ping."  There are single action and double action, pumps, shotguns, and rifles and if we are going to use them in our stories, we have to know which is appropriate for the time and place. See what I mean about complex?

Enjoy the journey, my writing friends and avoid shooting yourself or your story in the foot by not doing the research. Have fun!

Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, March 9, 2018

Interview with Author Leslie Wheeler by Jacqueline Seewald

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: The title of my novel is Rattlesnake Hill; the genre is mystery/suspense. I chose the title Rattlesnake Hill, because much of the important action takes place on a hill with that name in the fictional town of New Nottingham, in the Berkshires. I chose the genre of mystery/suspense, because the book contains a mix of both. While there are mysteries to solved in the novel, it does not have the structure of a traditional mystery in that a crime occurs in the beginning and is solved by the end. In Rattlesnake Hill, the crimes are in the distant and more recent past: one murder occurred over a hundred years ago, and the other five years previously. When my main character begins her quest, it relates to another mystery connected to a missing piece of family history; she has no idea that in the process she’ll discover these two murders, or that the more questions she asks, the more she’ll risk becoming a victim herself. So, the story is more that of a woman in danger (“fem jep”) that about solving a crime.

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: Rattlesnake Hill was inspired by my deep love for the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, where I’ve lived for many years, first full-time, now part-time. I call the book my “dark valentine” to the area. Like the novelist, Edith Wharton, I’m enchanted by the beauty of the landscape, but am also aware of the region’s dark side in the grim lives of some of the locals. One story, in particular, about a love triangle turned deadly haunted me, until I knew I had to write about it, especially because I knew some of the people involved.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  My heroine, Kathryn Stinson, is a curator of prints and photographs at a small private library in Boston. Although not a New Englander by birth or upbringing—she was born and raised in Southern California—her ancestors lived in the small New England hamlet of New Nottingham--and that’s where she goes to solve an old family mystery.

A woman in her early thirties, she’s described by her boyfriend as “pretty without trying to be”: she doesn’t wear make-up and keeps her long, light brown hair pulled back from her face in a pony tail. Although not aggressive by nature, once she sets her mind to something, she doesn’t give up easily. An unhappy childhood with a seriously depressed mother, and a grandmother with a gloomy outlook on life have made her wary of other people, especially men, and she has yet to experience real passion.

Ruggedly handsome, athletic, and charming (when he wants to be), the hero, Earl Barker is the “golden boy” offshoot of an otherwise disreputable local family, known for their hot tempers, said to stem from the rattlesnake blood in their veins. In his early forties, he’s divorced from his wife, who was his high-school sweetheart, and with whom he had three sons. An excavator by trade, he cleared the land and built a pond for a couple from New York City, and he and the wife had an affair. She was murdered five years ago, under mysterious circumstances, and Earl still mourns her. When Kathryn Stinson rents the very house his dead lover once occupied, Earl resents her presence and wants her gone.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Three books in my Miranda Lewis Living History Mystery series have been published: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. I call these books “living history” mysteries, because they’re set in the present-day at historical sites, which enables me to weave in a lot of history. Murder at Plimoth Plantation takes place at the re-created Pilgrim village in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where first-person interpreters portray the seventeenth-century residents. Murder at Gettysburg is set at an annual reenactment of the famous battle, while Murder at Spouters Point takes place at a fictionalized Mystic Seaport and a fictionalized Foxwoods, the Native-owned casino that’s nearby. An important theme in Murder at Plimoth Plantation and Murder at Spouters Point is the often troubled relationship between white people and Native Americans, past and present. With its focus on Confederate reenactors, Murder at Gettysburg explores the ways in which some people in this country are still fighting the Civil War.

Question:   What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Rattlesnake Hill, tentatively titled Shuntoll Road. It picks up the story where Rattlesnake leaves off, with my main character and her romantic partner trying to rebuild their relationship that was almost destroyed in the first book. It’s June, a beautiful month in the Berkshires, and Kathryn and Earl Barker look forward to spending some relaxed, quality time together. But the sale of the house on Rattlesnake Hill that Kathryn has been renting to an unsavory real estate developer from New York not only puts the kibosh on those plans but creates conflict between the couple. For excavator Earl, the proposed development means much-needed work, while for Kathryn it means the destruction of land she’s come to love and wants to protect.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer:  Ever since I was a young child, I enjoyed making up stories that I’d either tell or sing. The next logical step was to write them down, and I’ve been doing that since grade school, though none were published until much later in my life.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

The best advice I can offer is summed up in three words: Don’t give up! But before I launch into my pep talk, give yourself a big pat on the back for starting to write a novel. Many people never get beyond a wistful, “I wish I could write novels like you. How do you do it?” But when you tell them that it’s not always fun or sexy, and can involve many hours sitting at the computer, sometimes writing, sometimes simply staring at a blank screen, they lose interest. That’s why you deserve kudos for getting beyond that point and committing yourself to writing a novel. But having made that commitment, you’ve got to work hard to maintain it through times of discouragement and even despair.

Think of novel writing as a journey, where you must reach your destination no matter what. Don’t give up despite critics who’ll pick at your writing until there’s nothing left but a skeleton. Don’t give up when you reach a crossroads and aren’t sure which road to take. Take a chance, try one, and if it doesn’t work out, try another. Don’t give up when a seemingly enormous roadblock brings you to screeching halt. Leave your vehicle and do something else: go for a walk, take a shower, cook a meal, and you’ll be surprised at how soon the road clears and you can continue your journey. Don’t give up despite characters who insinuate themselves into your story at the last minute. Hear them out and if they make a good case for being in your book, let them stay, even though it means a lot of backfilling. Ignore the doomsayers who tell you agents and editors aren’t interested in your kind of novel. Ignore the people who want you to follow their own maps for your journey. It’s your book after all, and you should stay true to your vision. The only time you should consider changes is if two people, whose opinions you trust, give you the same advice.

And if your first novel isn’t picked up, write another, and yet another. In other words, don’t put all your apples in one basket. I’ve known writers whose second and fifth books have been picked up for publication. Cheer yourself up with stories of famous writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald who papered the walls of entire rooms with rejection letters before getting an acceptance. Try not to envy those lucky few who do get to “yes” right away. And know that you’re not alone if it takes you a lot of “no’s” to get to “yes.”

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Rattlesnake Hill is available right now. Bookstores in the Boston area that carry it are Porter Square Books (where I’m having my launch party on March 15) and the New England Mobile Book Store. Or you can order it at your local bookstore. As a last resort, because I think it’s important to support the indies, you can find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Leslie, thanks so much for being our guest today.

Note: Leslie is available to answer questions and offer responses to comments.

Friday, March 2, 2018

When is the murder? by Susan Oleksiw

Back in the dark ages, I struggled with my first mystery novel. Just about every reader I knew talked about how important the opening pages were. Hence I labored over them, writing and rewriting the opening chapter. If what I had didn’t seem to work, I wrote another opening chapter. After weeks of agony, I had three opening chapters, one right after the other. It took a tactful inquiry from a former Knopf editor to set me straight.

“Couldn’t we get to the dirty deed a little sooner?” Natalie asked. When I realized what I’d done, piling one opening onto another, I got the point. The murder came much, much earlier in my first mystery, Murder in Mellingham.

I’ve been wishing there were more Natalies in the world these days. Over the last year or so I seem to have zeroed in on mysteries by writers who prefer to delay the inevitable, so long delayed in fact that I begin to wonder if the murder will ever happen. Which raises the question, when should the murder occur?

In one book set in New York City, the author takes eighty pages to set up the crime, introducing the two sleuths and the core characters, which are eight. We see these individuals repeatedly but the writer doesn’t go deeply enough into any one of the suspects to leave me feeling I know him or her well. It’s all a lot of bantering and bickering.

Another author whose two books I’ve enjoyed immensely doesn’t even admit that a death perhaps long ago was even a murder. She meanders for two hundred pages exploring the possibilities and just as the book ends manages to have a character make a decisive statement that indicates that yes, indeed, a crime was committed. But just as the book is about to end, the reader grasps that enough detail has been uncovered to ensure that the now curious detective will solve the crime. The first book was annoying, the second one confusing but riveting.

When does a murder have to occur, or be recognized as the central crime of the story?
I took Natalie’s advice and excised almost seventy pages of fabulous, deathless prose—hundreds of darlings were cast aside—and introduced the murder at the end of the first chapter, within the first fifty pages. I consider that a good guide—first chapter, first fifty pages. If it takes me longer, perhaps I’m not sure what the story is about.

By pushing myself to bring in the murder sooner rather than later, I am forced to think through the characters and their motivations, set up the major points of tension, and make choices about subplots. I can establish the setting rather than indulging my pleasure in talking about a place I find interesting, which is not the point of the novel. I draw in the reader to the story and characters, and get started. All of this can be changed as I write and make discoveries. But I’m not wandering in the first chapter. I’m establishing the basic thrust and outline of the story, and setting a path for me to follow.

My rules or guidelines may not be for everyone. After years of reviewing for mystery and general review publications, I have come to be accepting of the many ways writers get into their stories. But there is the key. Get into the story, and don’t make the reader wait, flipping to the end of the book to see how many more pages, or wondering when something really interesting is going to happen.

The murder holds the reader’s attention and tells her what to focus on in the coming chapters. But it’s not the only way to tantalize the reader. Find what works and use whatever holds the reader’s interest and satisfies that ideal reader sitting out there waiting for our next books.
Susan Oleksiw @susanoleksiw