Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where'd I Put That Darn Idea?

Dime image courtesy of Morguefile.com
Ideas. A "dime a dozen," as some people would say. Not copyrightable unless presented in some tangible form: treatment, synopsis, novel, screenplay, etc. (But I'm not going to get into legalities here. I'm not qualified.)

What I am qualified for is being someone who often struggles to come up with ideas for stories. Or, I do come up with one, and upon further examination, realize it's the dumbest thing ever. Back to the proverbial drawing board. (On those days, I think maybe I should trade in my keyboard for my Wacom pen and pursue an art career. But then I look at my artwork and reason pats me on the head.) Don't worry, I'm not giving up on writing. I don't really know how to do anything else.

I've been needing to write a new feature-length screenplay. Winning first place with a short and a feature is great, but an author doesn't live by two winning screenplays alone. And, since there's a writing challenge coming up next month, I need to find a new idea for a novel. (This while revising an older one.) While I do have a one-page synopsis for one, and I do want to write it, part of me wants to write another one based on a documentary series I've been watching. I'll probably write the former one, since the latter, a historical mystery, will require research.

But didn't I say I needed to find ideas for stories? How could I say I had a couple of ideas then? (To be honest, the synopsis was written a while ago.) I guess, for me, ideas come organically from my experiences. Like the documentary, which reminded me how much I loved the subject and inspired the current plot idea.

Ideas have also come to me in song lyrics and in paintings. There's no consistency, and what worked before may not work again.  Ideas are mercurial like that.

What about the screenplay? That was a bit harder, since I knew what I wanted to write about, but didn't have enough information about the organization to write a plausible scenario. But then I got the idea of how to work around that while doing some of the exercises in Viki King's How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. I'd bought the book when I was first learning how to write a screenplay, but had never used it. This time, I thought it might be the jumping off point I needed. And it seems to have worked. I don't know if I'll do every exercise in the book, and I'll probably write the script in less than 21 days, as soon as I get my characters developed.

And did I mention how difficult it can be to create a well-rounded character? But that's a post for another time. :-)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Character Occupations


One great thing about being a writer is being able to create characters with different occupations, including some I would've loved to pursue, had I the opportunity.

Like many authors, I've held several jobs: telemarketer, receptionist, secretary, bartender, artist model, security guard, substitute teacher, server, and probably a couple more I don't remember. But I wanted to be an author since I was in middle school, when I bought a blue notebook and penned my first novella.

I also wanted to be a private investigator growing up, as well as a doctor and pharmacist. My mother was a nurse's aid and I read her medical books. Sadly, chemistry proved my bete noire. I suppose I would do better now, given my life situation is less stressful than in the past. Suffice it to say, though, we all have our educational strengths. Mine is English, while my husband's is science and math. Our daughter took after him. It all balances out.

Over the recent years, I've sometimes wished I'd gone into forensic science, either forensic pathology or computer forensics. That, or become a homicide detective. The reason? To help solve murders and other crimes. Crime scene investigation has fascinated me for years, as my bookshelf can attest.

I've written a couple of homicide detective characters. Been playing around with creating a private investigator and writing a series of tongue-in-cheek novellas. Other characters I've been working on are NTSB investigators, a US Postal Inspector, and a former Secret Service agent. Not an exhaustive list, to be sure. And yes, there are a couple of characters who work as doctors.

Like actors can play various roles, so too can authors live vicariously through their characters. Even better if the author has similar experiences for real world comparison, but for those who don't, creating a fictional world is one alternative.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Listening to Your First Instinct

Death Sword Cover
Last time I mentioned returning to work on Serpent Fire, the sequel to Death Sword. Initially, Death Sword was meant to be a stand alone, until Samael demanded I tell his story. Don't ask. Anyway, Samael's story continued, not only in Serpent Fire, but in a third book, Devil Inside. Unfortunately, Serpent Fire kept giving me fits, and Devil Inside came together faster, although that meant nothing if I didn't get Serpent Fire in shape.

What to do? Considering I wasn't contracted for a series, I had to submit each book on its own and hope the publisher would pick it up. Except Serpent Fire wasn't working the way I hoped, and any hopes of submission were quickly becoming unlikely. I even tried combining Serpent Fire and Devil Inside, given Serpent Fire was a novella and Devil Inside novel-length. But that's only because I cut out a significant subplot from SF.

Know how they say to listen to your first instinct? Yeah. Good idea, in this case.

I was smart. When I decided I wanted to write each book separately again, I wrote down the chapters and scenes from both Serpent Fire and Devil Inside, and used a different process, particularly "Chapter 1, Scene 1" for SF, and "Ch. 2, Sc. 2" for DI. Then a bit of info about what the scene was about and any corresponding plot point. All this done on index cards, which I then transcribed on Scrivener's index cards.

An extra bonus? Pulling out all the folders I had on the latter two manuscripts, I found detailed notes and character descriptions. Granted, some of the plot had changed, but it was enough to work with. Even better? I had the manuscripts available, too. Now all that remained was to reverse engineer the stories, making any necessary revisions, adding in the subplot, and hopefully getting them ready by Spring.

Why wait this long? Why not work on Serpent Fire and Devil Inside years before? Not that I hadn't tried, but I couldn't make the stories work then. Since that time, I've written five angel paranormal suspense novels and one novella. Not to mention, parts of another angel novel and an outline. Perhaps I wasn't ready to work on Serpent Fire until now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

No Plot? No Story?

I'm at that crossroads of revising a novel and trying to think of an idea for a full-length screenplay, as well as plotting my next book and getting ready to go through a major revision of Serpent Fire. The latter has been my bete noire for years, and I'm determined to produce a polished manuscript this year.

Usually in situations where I'm writing a new book, I often have a character in search of a story. I've used tarot cards to help me plot an idea, often using the Hero's Journey. Other times, it might be a snippet of a song or a piece of art that inspires me. As more and more of the plot unfolds, I try to weave it into a comprehensive whole using Dramatica Pro, a story engineering program.

The hardest thing is writing the first draft and realizing the plot isn't quite going as planned, no matter how carefully thought out. Unfortunately, like many writers, I have stories like that. It's not easy to look at a story that isn't working and part ways. If possible, I try to salvage what I can to use in another story. Of course, that requires organization and (for me) extensive notes.  Currently, I've been using Scrivener so organization is a bit easier than the binder I used for a previous novel.

Then there are those stories that aren't quite ready to be given up on, but still aren't quite up to par. Ones that I'll keep, but probably will end up taking space on my hard drive. Of course, since it's 1 TB, no worries.  :-)

It can be frustrating putting one's energy into a book that isn't working and having to back away from it. It's easy to feel one has no talent and that one's plots are weak. I think it's important to remember that even if a plot isn't working, perhaps a better one is waiting around the proverbial corner. I've had times when writing when I realized I could improve the plot. So even though I'm a plotter, it doesn't mean I've written my outline in stone. Adaptability is a good thing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Monthly Round-up: January 2017

I'm a bit late with this round-up since it's now 1 February. So how have I been doing in the first month of this year? Let's see...

OUT NOW

Nothing new out, but I'll take this opportunity to pimp the existing works.

Horror
The Whispering Death
Suffer The Children

Crime (Contemporary Amateur Sleuth)
Death Scene
Dead Cool

Short Story Collection
Soul Screams

PUBLICITY

No guest blog posts to report. However, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH for February, with two free paperback copies of the book to giveaway. You can enter here. Please note this is for UK entrants only, due to postage costs. Please promote the giveaway if you are able to - I am hoping to raise awareness of the book and perhaps get a few more reviews. There will be more giveaways over the next few months so watch this space.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Work has started on a new horror novel. Since this one is to be delivered to KGHH Publishing this year I am pressing on with it, and I have achieved nearly 10,000 words in the first month of the year. It is set in the Arctic, and it has the title OUTPOST H311.

Meanwhile the fourth Shara Summers novel is also a work in progress.

Plenty to keep me busy, then. See you at the end of February!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Best Books of 2016

Sometimes people ask me how I deal with the commute to work. I spend a good three hours a day - often four - travelling by public transport, into London and back again along with hundreds of other commuters.
The singular thing that keeps me sane on my commute is that I use the time for reading. Losing myself in a book allows me to find some pleasure in this daily ordeal.

For the last few years, I've participated in the Goodreads challenge by setting a goal for myself on how many books to read in the year. For the first time in some years, I did not complete my challenge in 2016 - I set myself a goal to read 70 books and only read 68.

Generally this time of year I list the best of the previous year's reading, which is guided by which books I gave five-star ratings to. And in 216 there were four, as follows:

Defending Jacob - William Landay
Witches Abroad (Discworld #12) - Terry Pratchett
13 Minutes - Sarah Pinborough
Try Not To Breathe - Holly Seddon

There's one comic fantasy, one crime thriller and two psychological thrillers. Further details, as well as a link to the Goodreads page for each book, are listed below.

Defending Jacob
I had to read this one for my book group, and it left me utterly gripped. The story is told from the point of view of Andy Barber, district attorney, whose life is rocked when his fourteen-year-old son is accused of the brutal murder of a classmate.It throws up an interesting moral dilemma: what is a father to do when he suspects his own child might be a murderer?

Witches Abroad
I'm still working through my re-reading of the Discworld books, and I have to admit that the books featuring the witches - Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick - are my favourites. In this book the witches have to venture to much-suspect 'foreign parts' to stop the happy ending of a well known fairy tale. Because there's so much more to the story than the one that we've heard. I love the witches and their very different but forceful personalities.

13 Minutes
I tend to run into Sarah Pinborough at most of the conventions I attend these days, and know her well enough to say hello to. Not only is she a lovely person, but she's a phenomenal writer, and one of those people that occupies a spot on the writing career ladder that's much higher up than me, and I can only look up and hope that one day I can get to the same spot.

Sarah Pinborough writes in many different genres. This novel is pegged as YA, but I really hate that label because when I see it I assume it's referring to a kids' book. The main character of this novel happens to be a teenage girl, but the genre is most definitely psychological thriller. The main character is rescued from a freezing river and revived after being technically dead for 13 minutes, and this is where the title comes from. How she got there is the main plot of the story, and it soon becomes evident that all the main characters are hiding secrets. As well as being a gripping story, this also serves as a reminder as to just how bitchy teenage girls can be. I'm so glad I don't have to go through all that again.

Try Not To Breathe
Another psychological thriller, I had to review this for Shots and I found it utterly compelling. It involves the story of Amy, who was attacked and left in a coma when she was 15. Fifteen years have passed and she is still in the coma, but the story of how she got there is gradually revealed through three viewpoint characters, one of which - disturbingly - is Amy herself, who still has active brain function within her coma although she is tragically unaware of how much time has passed.

For this year, I have set myself a target of reading 68 books - the same number I managed to read last year. However, due to the fact that there are a lot of problems on London transport at the moment and I am spending four hours a day on trains, buses and underground trains I have been getting a lot of reading time in and I am already two books ahead of schedule.

If you're on Goodreads and want to compare books with me, or even check out some of mine, connect with my profile here.