Monthly Archives: October 2013

Story Structure

Building works Sydney, 1928 (5102935225)
Here’s a great post about structuring your novel/screenplay by Alexandra Sokoloff. The ideas are clear, concise and even if you’re a writer who doesn’t outline, extremely helpful in regard to thinking about story structure and plot points. Personally, I don’t go as far as she does with the whole post-it, index card method, preferring to use a handwritten timeline with notes on which scenes I want to use (way simpler for me), but I may try it for the next book to see if it improves my workflow. The thing about this business–ya gotta be open to new ways of doing things or you’re going to be standing in an alley, alone, scratching your head, wondering where the heck things went off the rails.

Or something like that.

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Awesome Authors–Barb Goffman

author Barb GoffmanToday on Awesome Authors I’m excited to introduce you to award-winning short story mystery author, Barb Goffman. Barb is a fellow Sister-in-Crime member and has worked previously as a journalist and an attorney. Here’s her bio:

“Barb Goffman won the 2013 Macavity Award for best mystery short story published in 2012. That award-winning story, “The Lord Is My Shamus,” was recently republished in her collection of crime-fiction stories, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press, April 2013). The collection includes all her award-nominated stories, plus five new ones. Barb has been nominated multiple times for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity crime-writing awards, as well as once for the Pushcart Prize. She works as a freelance, crime-fiction editor. In her spare time, Barb serves as a co-editor of the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes series (Wildside Press), as program chair of the Malice Domestic mystery convention, and as secretary of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She’s also a past-president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.”

D: Hi Barb! Welcome 🙂. It’s great to have you here. Tell us a little about yourself.cover for Don't Get Mad, Get Even

B: Thank you, DV, for inviting me to blog here. I’m a short-story author. Most of my stories involve crime/mystery.  Just last month, I won the Macavity Award for best mystery short story published in 2012. My first collection of short stories, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, was published in April by Wildside Press. I also run a crime-fiction editing service, offering developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. In my past lives, I was a newspaper reporter and an attorney.

D: Congratulations on winning the 2013 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Short Story for “The Lord is my Shamus” (not to mention being nominated for the Anthony and the Agatha, as well). You must be thrilled! Tell us about the events leading up to the award.

B: Thrilled is a good description. After my name was announced as the winner, I sat in my seat like a deer in headlights for several seconds, not quite believing I’d heard correctly.

The Macavity Award is given out by Mystery Readers International (MRI). Each spring, members of MRI submit their choices for best mystery novel, first mystery novel, mystery short story, mystery non-fiction book, and mystery historical novel published in the prior year. The books/stories with the most votes become the official nominees, which this year were announced in July (that was a great day). MRI readers then vote for the winners over the summer. The winners are announced each year during opening ceremonies at the Bouchercon mystery convention.

One thing that’s particularly lovely about the Macavity Award is that it’s a reader-based award. It’s extremely satisfying to know that people read my story and liked it enough to submit it in the spring for possible nomination. (Winning was quite wonderful, too, especially considering the stiff competition.)

D: Tell us about your latest release. What was your favorite part about writing it? Least favorite?

B: “Dead and Buried Treasure” came out in mid-September in the Halloween crime anthology All Hallows’ Evil. The call for stories for this anthology stressed that the editor wanted character development, so I created an introverted character with low self-esteem who finds love and begins to feel better about herself. But not everyone is happy about that.

cover for All Hallows Evil anthologyI’m an introvert. I tend to feel uncomfortable at large social gatherings and have always felt that my desire to avoid such situations was looked down upon by some friends and family who thought I should be more social. This story gave me the chance to show my side of things, which I really enjoyed. As for my least favorite part of writing the story, there really isn’t one. I love writing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it.

D: What inspires you and why?

B: I love anthology prompts. I love being challenged to come up with interesting story ideas that, hopefully, make the editor think, Ahh, this is what I was looking for. Or even better, for the editor to think, I didn’t even realize I was looking for this. When I’m writing a story, I want the reader to finish and have an emotional reaction. Sometimes I want them laughing. Sometimes I want their mouths hanging open in surprise or shock. I love the challenge of writing a story that will prompt a reaction like that.

D: What do you find most challenging about writing short stories? Why?

B: I find coming up with plots to be the most challenging part. I can come up with interesting beginnings—I often will hear character voices in my head that set up a good story, but figuring out what happens next is most difficult for me. I’m envious of other authors who say they have plot ideas pouring out of them. For me, plots often are elusive and devising good ones require a lot of work.

“Being able to create a complete story is very satisfying, and since short stories are, by definition, short, writing them gives me the chance to have that satisfaction on a regular basis.”

D: Tell me about your process: do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants?

B: I plot.  When starting a story, I’ll often sit with a pad of paper and jot down ideas. For example, with my very first story, “Murder at Sleuthfest,” I started with the idea of wanting to kill off the person who stole a ring I stupidly left sitting on a bathroom sink at the 2004 Sleuthfest conference. So I wrote down “kill ring thief.” Then I thought, why would a person who steals a ring get murdered? And I wrote down possible answers to that question, which prompted more questions in my mind, and resulted in me writing down more ideas to flesh out the plot. When I go through a process like this, I often end up with a sheet of paper filled with possible ideas and arrows leading from one idea to another. Once I’ve come up with a plot and characters that excite me, I’ll circle the key ideas that figure into my final idea, and then I’ll start writing. At that point, I probably won’t have all the characters in my mind or know the exact route I’ll take to reach the story’s conclusion, but I’ll know what that destination is and I’ll know the key stops I’ll want to take on the trip to get there.

D: What do you like best about writing short stories?

B: I like how I can go from story idea to typing “the end” in a short period of time. I used to be a daily newspaper reporter. Every day I worked on a different story. I loved the fast turn-around and how I could work on something new every day. Short stories provide the same opportunity. I regularly can come up with new ideas, new characters, and new twists, instead of working on the same story for months on end (which I’d be doing if I wrote novels). Being able to create a complete story is very satisfying, and since short stories are, by definition, short, writing them gives me the chance to have that satisfaction on a regular basis.

D: Short stories require a bit of a different skill set than writing novels. You need to draw the reader in, tell the story, and wrap things up much more quickly. How do you develop your characters within the parameters of that shorter form and still make the reader care what happens?

B: Each story needs that zing—the thing that draws the reader in and keeps her turning pages. With me, it’s often humor, such as in the Thanksgiving mysteries I’ve written. But I also write more serious stories in which I devise a situation that whets the reader’s desire to see justice done. The reader hopefully keeps reading to see if (and how) the bad guy gets what’s coming and if the good guy is vindicated.

Stories work—really work—when they resonate with the reader. For instance, a story about a woman foiling a bank robbery could be a good story. But to make the story stick with the reader long after it’s over, have the woman realize that the robber is her baby’s father. Should she do the right thing and save the poor hostages, resulting in the man she loves going to prison and her baby growing up without a father? Or should she help him, compromising her own ethics and risking her own freedom and putting her child at risk of having no parents to raise him?

“Stories work—really work—when they resonate with the reader.”

It’s not difficult to have a complete plot, fleshed out characters, and resonance in a short story. The use of small details can be very telling. A single thought can show so much. And, as with the bank robbery example above, you can come up with a scenario that tugs the reader’s heartstrings and have the story play out in just a few pages. The key is focusing on the important details and making every word count. You also have to remember that you’re telling one tight tale. There are no subplots. No family sagas. You come into the story as late as possible to tell the tale you want to tell and then, as soon as you hit the sweet spot at the end, you stop.

D: What advice would you give to new writers?

B: Read, read, read. Then write, write, write.

I learned how to write mystery short stories by reading them, letting their structure become a part of me. (And I still read them to this day. It’s always interesting see how other authors approach things.)

Once you’ve read a few stories, begin writing. (Actually, if you’re a plotter like me, first come up with an idea for your story.) Know that your first draft won’t be perfect. It might not even be good. That’s okay. You can always revise but only if you get your first draft done.

D: Which writers have influenced you the most?

B: I’ll start with the late Barbara Parker. I loved her legal-thriller series. One day I was reading one of her books and suddenly thought, “I could do this. I could write a novel.” Barbara Parker created characters that I wanted to visit with again and again, and she inspired me to want to replicate that experience.

I also have to mention Jan Burke because when I decided to write my first short story, I picked up Jan’s story collection, Eighteen, to learn how short stories were structured and written. So Jan was my first short-story instructor.

“Know that your first draft won’t be perfect. It might not even be good. That’s okay. You can always revise but only if you get your first draft done.”

And finally I need to mention Donna Andrews. In the mid-2000s, I’d had one short story published and had stopped writing. It hadn’t been a conscious decision to do so, but I’d gotten busy with other things and since I’d met my goal of being published, I didn’t feel that internal push to keep going. Donna, who lives in my neighborhood, knew all this, but she encouraged me to join her critique group anyway. She told me I didn’t have to write anything, that I should just come and give my thoughts and be with other writers. I know she thought that if I spent time with other authors, I would be inspired and start writing again, which is exactly what happened. I don’t know if I’d be writing today if it hadn’t been for Donna’s push.

D: What practices have you found to be most effective in promoting your short stories?

B: This is a difficult question to answer because I usually don’t know when a book I have a story in is purchased and what prompted that purchase. So I asked my Facebook friends this question. It appears that my social-media promotion works best. When I have a new story accepted for publication, I mention it on Facebook. When the cover becomes available, I post it. When the story comes out, I mention it. If the book goes on sale, I let folks know. Each time, I include a purchasing link to make things easy. I’m on Facebook often, and my story promotion amounts to a small percentage of my posts, so (hopefully) my friends don’t feel bombarded by them. I also have been very fortunate to have been nominated for a number of awards. Whenever that happens, I mention it. I’ve heard from some readers that they picked up my stories because of the nominations.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I blog or am interviewed on a blog, the Amazon ranking on whatever book I’m promoting goes up.

Another thing I do that I think probably has been effective is getting out into the mystery community and meeting readers and other writers. I regularly attend my local Sisters in Crime meetings, for example. People get to know me and hopefully like me, so they’ll try one of my stories. And as a reader who’s become my friend told me, once she read one of my stories, she was hooked.

D: If you could time-travel (either backward or forward) where would you go and why?

B: I would go back to October 14, 2006. That was the date I brought my now-late dog, Scout, home to live with me. Scout died this past July, and I miss him every day. I would love to go back to the day he came to live with me and have the chance to relive and cherish every moment.

D: I’m so sorry, Barb. Losing a pet is so hard. I love the idea of going back to when you first brought Scout home and being able to see him again.

Thank you for stopping by, and sharing a little bit about yourself with us. For more information on Barb’s stories, please see the links at the end of this post. But first, we get a teaser from her award-winning short story, “The Lord is My Shamus”:

B: Here’s the first scene from “The Lord Is My Shamus,” which appears in Don’t Get Mad, Get Even. It originally was published in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder.

EXCERPT:

You’d think after all these years, I wouldn’t be nervous in his presence. Yet my sandals shook as I approached the swirling cloud.

“You asked to see me?” I crooked my head, trying—but failing—to spot him through the mist. Why was he always such an enigma?

“Yes.” His booming voice echoed. “I’m sending you back to Earth to do some investigating for me.”

“Investigating?”

“A man has died, and I’d like you to probe those who knew him best. Find out what happened.”

Now I know better than anyone that it’s not my place to question God. He has his reasons for what he does. But come on. He’s omniscient. Why would he need me to investigate anything for him?

“Umm . . . okay,” I said. “But don’t you already know what happened?”

He chuckled. “Well, yes, I do. But you of all people understand suffering and the need to know why it happens. So I want you to help this man’s family by looking into his death and encouraging the killer to admit his sins and repent.”

“The killer? You mean—”

“Yes. This, Job, is murder.”

END EXCERPT

Author Website

Author’s Editing Website

Amazon Author Page

Link to e-book version of Don’t Get Mad Get Even at Wildside Press

Link to print version at Wildside Press

Amazon

Barnes & Noble


Awesome Authors–K.S. Brooks

Today I am forced get to interview the curmudgeonly fabulous K.S. Brooks, multi-talented, multi-genre author and co-administrator of the global powerhouse that is Indies Unlimited. (Full disclosure: I am a contributing minion and I had to resort to extortion KS has graciously agreed to allow me an extra ration of gruel for posting this travesty interview.) What follows is the bio her hockey playing pool boy sent for me to use. I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you gentle readers that this insane concoction information could possibly be true–or not. Just remember, we’re talking about K.S. Brooks here. Consider yourself warned…

KS BrooksK.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist and photographer, author of twenty-two titles, and co-administrator of the multi-author, multi-national website IndiesUnlimited.com. She is the creator of the Mr. Pish educational children’s book series as well as the Agent Night suspense series. Brooks’ feature articles, poetry, and photography have appeared in magazines, newspapers, books, and other publications both in the U.S. and abroad. In November 2012, she founded Indie Authors for Hurricane Sandy Library Recovery which provides brand new books to libraries in need at no cost. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website or her Amazon.com Author Page.”

And, without further ado, heeeeere’s K.S.:

D: Hi K.S.! Thanks for being here 🙂 Tell us a little about yourself and your latest release.

K: I’m an old, yet somewhat sexy (well, to people with bad eyesight), curmudgeonly hermit, who for the time being lives in the wilderness of northeastern Washington State. My first book was published in 2001. I came out here late in 2008 to write (and to get away from people – I told you I was a curmudgeonly hermit) and since then I’ve published 21 additional titles. (Technically, I started writing full-time in 2009.) My latest release of a novel is Triple Dog Dare, a humorous chicklit story I co-wrote with Evil Mastermind, Stephen Hise. The book was inspired by my dear, sweet, and somewhat mischievous Mr. Pish.cover for triple dog dare

D: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

K: I get this question so often (at least I did back in 2011 when I was doing a ton of interviews. I’ve pretty much stopped doing interviews because of how time-consuming they are and because I hate answering questions.) that I actually wrote a post about it: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/04/09/inspiration-phooey/

D: When did you realize you were a writer?

K: It might have been third grade. I’m not completely certain, but I do recall writing a ton of stories back then. I think when I saw that HG Wells had ripped off my story about the island of talking animals – well, that’s probably when it sank in.

“What the hell is this? is commonly heard in my home…”

cover for Mr. Pish Goes to the Farm

D: What has your road to publication been like? What made you decide to eventually go ‘indie’?

K: Well, that’s a long and complicated story, since I was literally – and quite accidentally – one of the first indie authors. The story of my bizarre journey was actually the first thing I ever wrote for Indies Unlimited – here – http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2011/10/25/my-strange-new-world-by-special-guest-author-k-s-brooks/

D: You are obviously a prolific writer. How hard is it to switch between writing children’s educational books, snark, and action/adventure?

Cover for Night UndoneK: I have ADHD, so it’s not difficult at all. In fact, I welcome the change in gears. It’s easy to burn out on a project. Having another one or two or ten in process simultaneously is very appeasing to my multiple personalities. The biggest problem I have, actually, is trying to figure out how to classify (by genre) what I’ve written once I’m done. Is it a romance? A mystery? A character-driven drama? I dunno. What the hell is this? is commonly heard in my home.

D: What are you working on now?

K: Now? If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Really. It’s top secret. Like really secret. Sorry. After the first of the year, however, I’ll be able to discuss the upcoming and long-awaited sequel to Lust for Danger, possibly a couple of comedies, a vampire book I have to write under a different name, a mystery, perhaps another Mr. Pish book, and if the Feds come through with my Witness Protection Program credentials, a seedy tell-all about some not-so-nice people.Author with Mr. Pish

D: What is your process like? Do you write every day? Have a certain word count? Do you have a ritual that you enjoy doing before sitting down to write?

K: I don’t have a process. I do what needs to be done. Usually that means doing nothing for most of the year and then cramming and releasing three or four books in one month. Rinse, repeat. Next thing you know – 7 titles added to the backlist! That looks really impressive to people who don’t realize the rest of the year I sat around eating bon-bons, watching Oprah, and getting my feet rubbed by the Indies Unlimited chimp. Life is trying, isn’t it?

D: Do you find you work better with or without deadlines?

cover for IU SnarkopediaK: I always make my own deadlines. I like doing that because then I can use it as an excuse not to do things that other people ask me to do which I frankly don’t want to do.

D: How much research do you do when you write your books?

K: Depends on how well I know the subject. I tend to over-research, which sometimes slows me down, but hardly ever is a waste of time. I’ve done research on everything from bomb detonators (why I’ve been on the FBI’s favorite people list since like 1991) to desert survival to marine life in the Falkland Islands. I’ve also taken a few punches, and gotten a concussion during the process. I wrote an article about some of my more extreme research “experiences” here: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/06/21/dont-try-this-at-home/

D: In light of the huge changes in publishing, where do you think the industry is headed? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

K: I have no idea. The way things change, so rapidly, anything could happen. One thing I know will not happen, however, is I will not be growing a beard like Konrath. A hockey player once told me that I am by far the least hairy person he’d ever met.

 “I sat around eating bon-bons, watching Oprah, and getting my feet rubbed by the Indies Unlimited chimp…” 

cover for Lust for Danger

D: What advice would you give to new writers?

K: Seriously – do your homework. You wouldn’t start a company without doing market research, interviewing vendors, and doing credit checks. You wouldn’t let your company put a product to market without testing it or researching your distribution choices. Give your work the same amount of attention, if not more.

D: If you could time travel, either to the past or into the future, where would you go?

cover for A Year with Mr. PishK: I would like to go to France, in the mid-1800s and be the first person to taste a croissant as it was invented. It would be nice if Alexandre Dumas was there, as well, so I could smack him for stealing my musketeer story ideas. And I took French for 6 years in school, so at least I could say those six years weren’t a total waste of time.

D: Thanks for stopping by, K.S. I assume the purple llama is yours, right? Right. He left a present on the carpeting. Most generous.

Anyway, here’s the description and an excerpt from Brooks and Hise’s new release, Triple Dog Dare. To find out more about K.S. Brooks, please see the links at the bottom of the post.

Triple Dog Dare.

When wealthy champion dog breeder Stu Hockersmith presents prize pup Lord Louis to lovely Bianca Jameson, he hopes to win her heart. Things don’t always go as planned. Bianca, oblivious to Stu’s amorous intentions, takes the adorable pooch back to California where she goes on to become a celebrated author, writing books about little Lo-Lou.

Bianca thinks she’s living the good life with her Norse god of a fiancé, former fashion photographer Lars Lundgren. When she realizes Lars has spent all their money and committed her to a new book with a looming deadline, Bianca pulls out all the stops to get the job done. But she doesn’t know about all of Lars’ deals.

To make matters worse, Stu is informed that gifting Lord Louis broke the kennel club bylaws and he now must get the pup back before his father’s legal team takes action against the woman he still loves.

Stu needs Lo-Lou to satisfy his father. Bianca needs Lo-Lou to finish her book. Lars needs Lo-Lou to work out a secret deal with a movie producer. Lo-Lou can’t be in three places at the same time. Or can he?

Triple Dog Dare is available from Amazon.com and Amazon UK.

From Chapter 23:

Terri started to protest, but Bianca spoke first. “I’m sorry Stuart. You’re right. We haven’t been honest with you.” She glanced down at her lap as if mustering courage. “The truth is, I’m in trouble. I foolishly let Lars handle the money so I could concentrate on my writing. He got us – got me – way in over my head. Among other things, he bound us to a contract to do another book without telling me about it, and we are way past the original deadline and even the publisher’s legal, lawyer-type period.” She seemed uncertain how to word her last sentence and fumbled a bit before looking over to Terri who nodded nervously and fervently.

Bianca swallowed and took a deep breath. “Luckily I bumped into Terri and she talked to the publisher and got us another two weeks to get them a manuscript. Even if we can actually finish a book in two weeks, that will only solve one of my problems. So there is the ugly, embarrassing, and humiliating truth.” When she finished speaking, she drooped a bit and stared vacantly at the plate before her.

Terri reached over to place a hand on Bianca’s arm in consolation and said, “We were hoping you might help us, Stu. I know now we should have been honest with you. I’m sorry. It was my idea, not Bianca’s.”

Stu felt the weight of his own scheme pressing hard upon his better conscience. He tried to tell himself it was okay, because he was actually trying to help them while they, on the other hand, had been hoping to finagle money from him. But there was Bianca – so sad – and showing genuine remorse, as was Terri.

“I haven’t been completely honest with you either. You may as well know the Colonel has initiated legal proceedings to recover Lord – I mean Lo-Lou. Under the Oakwood Hills Charter, the dogs technically belong to the corporation. It’s something that is done to protect the bloodlines. The long and short of it is that I didn’t really have any right to give him to you in the first place.”

The expression on Bianca’s face changed from one of regret and guilt to one of shock and horror. Her mouth dropped open. “You came out here to take away my dog?” Her posture stiffened and she sat back away from the table. Tears welled in her eyes. “On top of everything else? Lo-Lou is the only thing I have left!”

Stu felt a near-panic surging up inside him at her reaction. “Oh, no. No, not that. No no no no no. Well, yes, but not exactly.” Bianca burst into tears as he heaped this final, large straw onto her already heavy burden. Terri leaned over to hold Bianca in a consoling embrace and shot Stu a harsh, narrow-eyed look.

END EXCERPT

www.ksbrooks.com (official website)

https://www.facebook.com/KSBrooksAuthorcover for Bad Book

https://twitter.com/AuthorKSBrooks

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3418971.K_S_Brooks

http://www.youtube.com/agentnight

More links at: http://ksbrooks.com/contact/links/

cover for Mr. Pish's Woodland AdventureMr. Pish:

www.MrPish.com (official website)

https://www.facebook.com/MrPish

https://twitter.com/MisterPish

http://www.youtube.com/mrpishvideos

More links at: http://mrpish.com/about-mr-pish/links/

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