Once upon a time, not that long ago, all books were printed on paper. Then came the Internet, quickly followed by "e-books", or books not printed at all but readable electronically. At first, these were not considered "real" books, the presumption being that if an author could not sell her novel to a "real" publisher, it couldn't be very good.
How things have changed.
Once upon a time - in the 1980s - I had several romance novels accepted and published by "real" publishers and printed in book form. I was thrilled. My creations would become immortal--or at least make pots of money.
Neither happened, of course. My nine books made their advances back (just), got some good reviews, and quickly went out of print.
A few years ago, some anonymous kind reader, to whom I am forever grateful, recommended one of my novels to Elizabeth Neff Walker. Circa 2000, she started a website called Belgrave House, named after the street she lives on in San Francisco. Belgrave House offers her own books and those of writers belonging to Novelists, Inc., in e-book form.
Ms. Walker wrote Regency romances under the name Laura Matthews. She recalls "...only when I realized that Regency romances were far outselling the other books, did I break out Regency Reads as a separate site. I hired a webmaster to do the sites, offering Paypal and instant downloading. We now offer the most popular formats for e-books."
Most of my books, written as Elisabeth Kidd, are Regencies - romances set in the English Regency (1811-1820). Regencies are a kind of drawing-room comedy historical romance that depend a good deal on just the right language, humor, and attention to historical detail. True modern Regencies - modeled on the novels of Georgette Heyer - are gentle, avoiding explicit sex and violence.
In no time, my Regencies, including a tenth book I was finally inspired to finish, were up and running on www.regencyreads.com. So I looked at my remaining backlist - longer historical romances that are set in other eras and locations, and sexier. These are now available on www.belgravehouse.com, which also publishes contemporary women's fiction and mysteries.
"Our intention is to run a casual publishing partnership with authors (not agents) interested in making their backlist available as e-books," according to Ms. Walker. If you'd like to see your own out-of-print books, including mysteries, given a second life, check out the submissions guidelines at Belgrave House.
All Croak & Dagger members are invited to finish a short story inspired by a Charles Schultz Peanuts cartoon republished September 2, 2016 in the Albuquerque Journal.
- Snoopy begins the story at his typewriter:
- Snoopy pauses for inspiration, then adds:
- Gripped by inspiration, Snoopy adds:
- Snoopy grins, thinking 'this twist in the plot will baffle my readers'.
- The challenge is open to members of Croak & Dagger
- Your story must begin with Snoopy's opening lines
- Email your story to email@example.com
- All entries will be published here on our blog
- Challenge runs until October 31, 2016
Linda's story "Working It Out" is one of ten short romance stories that won top honors in the 2014 Sophie King Prize Contest sponsored by Corazon Books/Wyndham Media Ltd. of London.
As Elisabeth Kidd, Linda previously had published nine historical romances, seven of which are available in e-book form from www.regencyreads.com.
Linda grew up in Connecticut and has lived in several states and countries, calling Albuquerque home for the last eight years. She didn't think of becoming a writer until she graduated from college and embarked upon a career in...well, there was the problem. She hadn't yet decided what she wanted to be when she grew up.
An avid reader as a child, it was perhaps inevitable that she would turn to writing, but this happened only after she stumbled into her first job, in banking, which had the advantage of being in London. There she discovered the English author Georgette Heyer - and was hooked.
On returning to the States, she practiced her craft reporting for her hometown newspaper and eventually published several stories and travel articles as well as numerous theater review in addition to her novels. She is currently working on another Regency and a cozy mystery.
For more on the Sophie King prize, go to: http://www.thesophiekingprize.com
Most writers grow fond of the characters they create, but there must be a special relationship between writers and series characters that, with skill on the writer’s part and staying power on the character’s, appear to change and mature through the life of the series. Between female mystery writers and their detectives, there is an even more finely tuned rapport. These ladies must be at least a little in love with their creations.
Was Roderick Alleyn Dame Ngaio Marsh’s ideal man? In fiction, reader identification is crucial; the reader, if male, must want to be the hero, the female reader must want to meet him. In order to create so admirable and desirable a character on the printed page, the writer must see him clearly in her mind before ever she sets fingers to keyboard.
Alleyn first appeared in 1934 in A Man Lay Dead and last in 1982 in Light Thickens, having aged gracefully in the interval by no more than a dozen years.
Doubtless his marriage to painter Agatha Troy—they met in Artists in Crime and became engaged in Death in a White Tie—accounts for his ageless grace.
Alleyn is Eton and Oxford-educated; his father was in the diplomatic service, but Rory unaccountably chose to be a policeman.
He is described at 6’2”:
“his eyes grey with corners that turn down; they look as if they would smile easily, but his mouth doesn’t” (A Man Lay Dead),
“terribly good-looking and remote” (Death in a White Tie),
“monkish-looking with a fastidious mouth and well-shaped head” (A Wreath for Rivera), and frequently as looking like a grandee.
Troy finds him a perfect subject, and painted him from memory after their first meeting.
Personally, I find Alleyn a little too good to be true, or comfortable to be around. Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant, on the other hand, perhaps because he is less graphically defined, seems easier to live with. Grant too doesn’t like the conventional idea of a policeman (none of these heroes do; one wonders what the genuine article does look like.)
Grant is a bachelor,
“six-foot-odd” (in The Daughter of Time),
“slight of build” and “chic” of dress (The Man in the Queue).
He is well-off financially, having inherited money from an aunt in Australia to supplement his salary from the Yard.
He is human enough to have a hobby (fishing, which he describes to his doctor as “somewhere between a sport and a religion”), to be a little on the clumsy side (falling through a trapdoor while chasing a crook land him in the hospital where the discovers the perils of historical research in The Daughter of Time), and to suffer from overwork like any other civil servant (the fishing was prescribed for an attack of nerves leading to Scotland and The Singing Sands).
P.D. James’s ideal man is Adam Dalgliesh, who is also 6’2” and dark (I’d hazard a guess that all these writers are petite blondes). He has a “detached, ironic, and fundamentally restless spirit,” which is reflected in the poems he writes to get his mind off his cases. Dalgliesh is a widower, with no family but an elderly Aunt Jane in Sussex.
James herself has described him (in an article in Murder Ink) as
“a very private person, self-sufficient, uninvolved, a professional detective dedicated to his job, totally unused to the claims, emotional and domestic, which a wife and family would make on him.”
He does have a lady friend to whom he is on the verge of proposing in Unnatural Causes, but she wises up and dumps him (if any lady may be said to do such a thing to Adam Dalgliesh).
There are other detectives in this mold—Margery Allingham carries on an on-again-off-again romance with one Albert Campion—but not all female writers by any means are devoted to them.
Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey is another kettle of red herring altogether—an amateur detective, not a professional, he is small, with straw-colored hair, a long face and pointed chin, grey (sometimes blue) eyes, attractive or not depending on whether you are Harriet Vane observing her sleeping lord in a punt on the Cherwell or a murderer having been caught by Peter’s formidable intelligence and skewered by his sharp wit (or depending, if you’ve seen the TV series, whether you prefer Ian Carmichael or Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey.) Readers, like other impressionable adolescents, are subject to crushes on the likes of Peter Wimsey, but they don’t last.
Some writers, of course, prefer sleuths of their own gender, from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum, but this takes us into almost another genre. For a romance writer turned mystery reader, I retain a lingering yen for a hero.
Law enforcement is in her DNA: her father served as a police officer and completed a distinguished career with the FBI. She became an FBI employee herself for a brief period. She graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy in 2009.
Her career experiences include: executive assistant in hospital administration; managing a banking telecommunications network; bank security operations; computer technology. She became president of her own computer company in 1991 and sold the business in 2006.
Her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, came out in February 2013.
C&D: Where were you born and where do you call home?
PSW: I was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and call Albuquerque home.
C&D: Share something that has just happened or is about to happen in your life.
PSW: Something that just happened in my life is my first book signing at Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town, and we sold 30 books in two hours!
C&D: What is your most recent book? How would you sum it up in 30 words or less?
PSW: My most recent book (and my first) is The Easter Egg Murder. It’s a highly fictionalized story based on a real cold case murder in New Mexico in 1949. In that crime, the murderer or murderers were never identified. In my telling, the murder happens in 1950 and it’s solved in 2000. I change most details and supply the answer to who done it!
C&D: Why did you choose that particular cold case?
PSW: I became interested in the unsolved murder of Cricket Coogler when I was a teenager. At first I think her name drew me in. As I learned more, it seemed so sad that this young woman's death was all but lost in the ensuing federal civil rights case, and the downfall of some New Mexico politicians of the era. I spent hours listening to my father talk about it. Then I had a friend who I discovered went to school with Cricket. After that, I heard more details and behind-the-scenes accounts of what Las Cruces was like back then, and how the people reacted to the death. I got this information from a former Las Cruces newspaper reporter. And finally, I discovered that Tony Hillerman came to New Mexico shortly after the murder and he became intrigued with the case. He was a reporter for the New Mexican in Santa Fe and learned much from that experience. Later I found a video production about the murder in which Tony gave an interview about the case. At last I came up with the premise for my mystery and set off to write it.
C&D: Who designed the cover of your book?
PSW: I was very fortunate with my book cover. I submitted some ideas and the designer liked my photograph of a Yucca plant at White Sands. I was very pleased when they decided to use that as the cover.
C&D: Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
PSW: I have the second book in the computer and I’m working on it. It is part of a series.
C&D: What books have influenced your writing?
PSW: I devoured the Judy Bolton mystery series when I was a teenager. The dream started then.
C&D: Where do you prefer to buy your books?
PSW: I purchase many, many books at author book signings. For books about New Mexico and/or by New Mexico authors, I shop at Treasure House Books & Gifts. They are the only bookstore in town that reliably stocks local authors. If I need specialty books, I get them from Amazon.
C&D: Are you a self published (Indie) Author?
PSW: I am not self-published. I received a contract from a new publisher, Aakenbaaken & Kent who just celebrated their first full year as publishers. Mine was one of seven books they published this past year.
C&D: Is there a particular movie that you preferred over the book version?
PSW: I’m a huge fan of the movie Somewhere In Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. I’ve seen it dozens of times and visited the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island for a Somewhere In Time weekend. There is bought the book the movie was based on. The movie was vastly superior.
C&D: What book are you currently reading and in what format (eBook/paperback/hardcover)?
PSW: I’m currently reading a passle of books on Kindle, and one print book by Catriona McPherson. The Burry Man’s Day is from a series set in the 1920s featuring a female protagonist/amateur detective of wealth living in Scotland. I met Catriona at Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs in March. She moderated a panel I was on and she’s quite a gal. One of her books in the series won the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award this year.
C&D: Do you write under a pen name?
PSW: I toyed with using a pen name and even came up with one, but in the end decided to use my maiden name with my married name.
C&D: Where and when do you prefer to write?
PSW: I prefer to write at night. That could be because that’s the only time I had for many years. Now it just seems to be when the words flow better. I usually sit at my desk and use my Mac. Occasionally I curl up in the recliner with my MacBook Pro.
C&D: Where is one place in the world that you would really love to visit someday?
PSW: One place in the world I would like to visit is the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, but I’m not adventurous enough in today’s unrest to do that.
C&D: One of your favorite quotes -
PSW: My favorite quote is from Mark Twain: The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.
PSW: The Easter Egg Murder is available in print and on Kindle from Amazon.com, in print from Barnes & Noble.com, and can also be purchased at Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque.
C&D: Where can your readers follow you?
PSW: Readers can follow me on my blog: www.patriciasmithwood.wordpress.com,
my web site: www.patriciasmithwood.com,
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/patriciaswood1
I also have an author page on Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/PatriciaSmithWood.
Figures of speech, or figurative language, are the sound effects added to writing to make it richer and more colorful. The most common figures of speech are:
A comparison of two different things, introduced by like (“My luve’s like a red, red rose”) or as ("Her dress was as plain as an umbrella cover"). Similes that are around for a while tend to become clichés ("mad as a hatter", "fit as a fiddle", "drunk as a lord").
A comparison of unlike things by stating that one is the other (“You are love”) or by giving one the other’s name and letting the reader make the connection “(You are Polaris, the one trustworthy star”). Sometimes both things are mentioned (“All the arts are sisters”), sometimes only the “other,” or non-literal thing (“Green Buddhas/On the fruit stand./We eat the smile/And spit out the teeth”), leaving the reader to figure out what literal thing is meant.
Related to metaphor, personification gives human form, powers, or feelings to non-human beings or things. (Keats calls his Grecian urn “a sylvan historian.”)
The use of a word for another with which it is closely associated, as “crown” with the monarchy, an author for her work (I am reading Austen again), or brand names (Kleenex) for the product (tissues).
Read good writers in a variety of genres. Learn how the masters have handled figures of speech. Train your ear to hear literary language just as you train it to help you write more realistic dialogue. Eventually you will be able to “hear” when a metaphor sings—as well as when it clangs.
Any questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth MacKintosh, who wrote mystery novels under the name Josephine Tey, was an intensely private person. Little is known of her life, but her fans are more than satisfied with reading her eight classic short mysteries over and over.
Grant also appears in A Shilling for Candles (1936) and To Love and Be Wise (1950), but only fleetingly in The Franchise Affair (1948) and not at all in Miss Pym Disposes and Brat Farrar (1949).
MacKintosh wrote plays and other works under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot, most famously Richard of Bordeaux (about Richard III), which made a household name of its young leading man and director, John Gielgud. The Man in the Queue was first published under her Daviot pseudonym in 1929 as A Killer in the Crowd.
Scientists are required to submit a full disclosure of their biases when they submit a manuscript for review. Their disclosures are brief because editors charge researchers (or at least the agencies supporting the research) page charges.
Here’s mine: My novel Coming Flu (published in July 2012 by Oak Tree Press) is a medical thriller; it is also an example of a new sub-genre: science in fiction. The lead character in Coming Flu, Sara Almquist is a woman scientist like me. See my website http://www.jlgreger.com for more information.
Besides brief disclosures (I’m afraid the tag lines for many writers exceed three lines), what can writers learn from scientists? Maybe some ideas for great characters in their books.
Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dr. Strangelove created an image of scientists - as aging, un-athletic, males with anti-social tendencies. Comic strips changed the image of scientists to be handsome, male superheroes with big egos (like Batman, Iron Man, and the Avengers). Now TV shows (like CSI, Bones, and NCIS), feature a number of attractive, young women as scientists.
Have the faces of scientists really changed that much?
In 1958 and 2006, women earned 8% and 40%, respectively, of the doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering in the US. However, women in 2003 still held only 17.9% of the full professorships in science and engineering. Current TV shows suggest total equity of women in science.
Why do I as an author care?
Scientific discoveries offer great ideas for novels, plays, and short stories. Tidbits of science can add a sense of reality to a novel. Many strong-willed heroines can be found among the women scientists of the twentieth century. Her are the profiles of two famous women scientists and two more typical of women professors prior to 1980.
1. Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes (physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911) and was the first woman to become a professor at the Sorbonne. Yet the French press persecuted her because of an affair with Paul Langevin, a prominent scientist in his own right. Never mind, she was a widow at the time of the affair.
2. Rosalind Franklin helped to define the fine molecular structures of DNA with her meticulous X-ray crystallography (a way of picturing the location of atoms in molecules). If she had not died at thirty-seven years of age in 1958, many wonder if she, rather than Maurice Wilkins, would have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Watson and Crick in 1962.
3. Elizabeth McCoy was a microbiologist. In 1946 the New York Times ran this headline “Wisconsin University Girl Wins Patent on an Industrial Solvent.” At that time, the “girl” was 43 years old and was only the second woman (outside those in nursing or home economics) to achieve a full professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. No one reported her response, but she was known for her salty vocabulary.
4. Hellen Linkswiler, a nutrition professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was more ladylike than McCoy, even though her background was probably rougher. As a child, she ate moldy bread because there was no other food in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years. In 1960, a banker refused her a mortgage for a home, even though she was full professor, unless a man cosigned the loan.
With a little digging into the history of science, you can uncover many other interesting characters and weird plot twists for your novels. Have fun digging!
C&D: When did you begin the process of writing your first book?
EAG: Five years ago and after attending two Tony Hillerman (mystery) Writers’ conferences, I still could not fathom how anyone could write a novel. How could one keep track of all the strands, fibers and loose ends? How did one begin? It was not until I got an idea for a mystery novel that subsequent workshops began to help me, as did joining Southwest Writers, learning from other writers, and experiencing a meditative approach to writing from Mark David Gerson that I dared to entertain the notion that I could do it. Although I read many mysteries, and especially works set in the Southwest, I could never figure out whodunnit. So, how dare I write a mystery?
When I started writing Secrets of the Plumed Saint, in my early 70s, I did not know how my “debut novel” would end – or if I could even complete the manuscript. I did not have a glimmer of who might have stolen the 100-year old statue of the Santo Niño from its chapel high in a mountain valley nor what the motive(s) might be. I had the core but the story would take many twists and turns as I wrote. I had to listen as the story unfolded and curb my control self from jumping in.
Some say writing is a lonely and isolating effort; I did not find it so. It was collaboration from start to finish. I knew I would need lots of help; I did what research I could by myself. Finally, I asked an expert on traditional sacred art in New Mexico to be my consultant. When he generously consented, I had someone who gave me a crutch to lean on and an on-going link to expert advice and fact corrections when needed.
I surrounded myself with trusted literate friends. I tried out my first chapters on their ears. I wouldn’t let anyone read the first few chapters; I insisted on reading aloud to them what I had written. I think this is good practice because I could catch omissions of words, bad word choices, and awkward phrasing right away. If I didn’t, they did. My listeners were not afraid to tell me when something was unclear. So, I strove to make the words work better.
I am not afraid to ask for help and pick others’ brains about their writing experiences, and I love listening to people’s stories. My best advice to writers is to listen, listen, listen, and then ask questions.
C&D: You use a lot of humor and your similes and metaphors are linked to the region. Why?
EAG: The use of humor is natural to me and so several of the characters reflect that. They joke around and tease each other good-naturedly. It was a conscious decision to integrate humor into the story.
As I read more and more mysteries, I became irritated when similes were often out-of-date or referenced very narrow cultural tidbits (She sang like a young Janis Joplin). They did not fit the time or the landscape. I tried very hard to come up with comparisons that were grounded in nature and which invoked the real life of the characters.
C&D: What’s the one question no one asks you and you wish they would?
EAG: Why is your book unique? What special qualities does it have?
Secrets of the Plumed Saint is unique in that it illuminates the dynamics of the cultural and religious practices of a Hispanic Catholic traditional community and demonstrates how the villagers use their wits and wiles and faith to solve the disappearance of their statue. It suggests that relationships between the communities and the Church hierarchy were sometimes strained. It also celebrates the manifestations of faith and strong reliance upon spiritual allies. It is rooted and grounded in place and shows how the land, sky, climate, scapes, mountains, and history of the area have profound significance in the lives of the people.
To learn more about Elizabeth and Secrets of the Plumed Saint, including images from the book and an excerpt, visit her website: http://elizabethanngalligan.com
C&D: What is the best advice you would give another writer?
Rob: The same things I told members of the writing group I set up at CIA in 2000. It had 180 members at my retirement and is still active today.
- Start early. If you find you’re good at it, you’ll be glad you didn’t wait until your 50s as I did. If you find it’s a struggle, you’ll have plenty of time to take classes, read books, attend conferences, and join a critique group of like-minded writers.
- Develop writing habits consistent with your family and career situation. I used to write two hours per evening, Monday through Thursday. Your family wants to see you on weekends. Some writers write early in the morning, when the rest of the family is asleep.
- As soon as you begin to write, introduce yourself to people you meet as a writer. You never know who you’ll meet that may be helpful.
J. L. Greger's new medical thriller Coming Flu describes the potential effects of a truly virulent flu.
C&D: Why did you call the flu induced by this new lethal virus in Coming Flu the Philippine flu?
J.L.: In 1980 I did a short visit for USAID (US Agency for International Development) to Visayas State University in Baybay on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. I saw poor families living in close proximity to their livestock in rural areas – the perfect environment for the transfer of viruses among humans, chickens, and pigs. Ergo the name – Philippine flu.
C&D: What's real in Coming Flu?
J.L.: The science is real. I tried to whet readers' interest in science without slowing the action. Thus I briefly described scientific procedures and processes (e.g. polymerase chain reactions - often called PCRs, immunological tests, and survey techniques). The quarantine described in Coming Flu is my "guess-timate" of how the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act and associated legislation would be enforced.
C&D: Is Coming Flu an example of the new genre of books known as 'Lab Lit' or 'Science in Fiction'?
J.L.: Yes. Don't worry if you're not much interested in science; you'll find the action exciting and the characters just quirky enough to be interesting, even lovable.
|J.L. and Bug|
C&D: Will Coming Flu make readers think?
J.L.: I hope so. For example, we devote a lot of public attention to murderers but relatively little to the biology of viruses. The residents of La Bendita learn that a friendly man infected with the Philippine flu threatens more lives than a drug kingpin. The quarantine of La Bendita raises the question: When is the common good more important than the rights of individuals?
C&D: Does La Bendita exist?
J.L.: The walled community of La Bendita and its residents are fictional, except for Bug the Japanese Chin.
C&D: Will there be a sequel?
J.L.: Yes. Coming Flu is the first book of a three-part series.
Coming Flu, published July 2012 by Oak Tree Press, is available in print and electronic format. To learn more about Coming Flu and Science in Fiction, visit J.L. Greger's website www.jlgreger.com.
Here are some common words that confuse everyone, not just those of us who want to write professionally (and we should know better):
AFFECT / EFFECT
The verb affect means to influence or have an effect on. Effect as a verb means to bring about or cause; as a noun, it means result. (His opposition affected the outcome of the vote. The vote effected a change in policy. The effect of the change was staggering.)
FEWER / LESS
Use fewer when referring to units that can be counted. Use less when they can be measured but are usually considered in bulk. (Cottage cheese is less fattening than ice cream because it contains fewer calories and less sugar and fat.)
ITS / IT'S
Its is the possessive, just as his, hers, and theirs are. (The cat licked its paw.) It's is a contraction (like can't and won't), short for "it is". (It's a lovely day tomorrow.) Remember one and you'll remember the other. Don't be confused by the rule that tells you to form the possessive by adding 's. Its is the exception that proves the rule.
LAY / LIE
Lay means to place, put down, or deposit. As a transitive verb, it requires a direct object (the thing you lay down). The past tense of "lay" is laid. (Lay the book on the table. He laid it down. She has laid her books next to it. They have been laying things down all over the house.)
Lie means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. It is an intransitive verb and does not take an object. The past of lie is lay. (Let it lie. He lay there without moving. She had just lain down beside him. They have been lying there for hours.)
Lie, of course, also means to tell a falsehood, in which case it is conjugated differently: I lie; he lied; we have lied like troopers; they have lied to us all along.
THAT / WHO
That refers to things (The apple that I gave the teacher had a worm in it); who to people (The teacher who screeched is the one who bit into the apple). If this were not so, Who's Who would be called That's That.
WHO'S / WHOSE
Who's is the contraction of "who is". (Who's there?) Whose is the possessive form of who. (Whose is this blood-stained handkerchief?)
YOUR / YOU'RE
Your is the possessive form of you. (Did you find your keys?) You're is the contraction of "you are". (While you're up, get me an Oreo.) This also applies to their and they're, which is additionally complicated by there, which is neither possessive nor a contraction, so don't use it for either.
Any questions? Write to email@example.com
Dr. Richard Peck as our guest speaker. The focus of his talk was dialogue in novels and plays.
Dr. Peck received his PhD at University of Wisconsin, taught English at University of Virginia and Temple University, held administrative positions at University of Alabama and Arizona State, and served as president of ASU, University of New Mexico, and University of South Florida.
Dr. Peck started out writing plays, directing plays, and performing in plays. After his retirement, he resumed his writing career by writing novels, short stories and newspaper articles.
Dr. Peck began his talk at Croak & Dagger by quoting Harlan Ellison: "A writer is someone who writes every day. An author is someone who once wrote something, and now goes on talk shows to talk about it."
Dr. Peck said he would speak about writers, not authors. He admires writer Elmore Leonard who said, "There's one rule for writing successful fiction. Unfortunately nobody knows what that is." One of Leonard's great strengths is he stays invisible as a writer, i.e., you don't hear the narrator talking as you read. Mr. Leonard has a list of ten rules for good writing, published in the New York Times article "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle":
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
- Never us an adverb to modify the verb "said"...he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than 2 or 3 per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose".
- Use regional dialect (patois) sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Dead Pawn. Turquoise plays a very important part in the book, and it was a long, beautifully detailed description of the stone. He decided that no character in the history of the world had ever talked that way, so he took the passage out. It became instead the frontispiece of the book.
A creative writing instructor he had in college once told him, "Pick out the best paragraph in the story, then cut it." Why? "Because it was the best paragraph - different from the rest of the story. It doesn't belong there."
Elmore's Rule #8 - avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Dr. Peck visualizes a particular actor for each of his characters. He doesn't mention the actor's name, but he has in mind the physical characteristics of the person and infuses them into his character.
Elmore's Rule #10 - leave out the part readers skip. It seems nobody skips the dialogue. Let's have the conversation and leave out the "telling". If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
Dr. Peck has written 12 plays, directed 15, appeared in more than 30, and he's learned plenty of tricks from his experiences. He suggests when you finish writing a book or a play, hire a playwright to revise it for you, or become a playwright yourself.
Raymond Hull, author of Profitable Playwriting, wrote many plays of his own, and worked as a 'fixer' of other people's plays. Profitable Playwriting can help writers of books, too. Dr. Peck highly recommends it to all writers. It teaches the essentials of how to make characters come alive, write believable dialogue, handle conflict skillfully, and create effective endings. You can learn how to write dialogue by writing plays, since dialogue is the totality of a play.
Writers should keep in mind that each character in a book or a play has the lead in his own story. When Dr. Peck writes a book, he reads through each character's scenes, just that character, all the way through. He measures the continuity and consistency of a character, and makes sure the story each brings to the book is fully told.
Each line of dialogue must do one of three things:
- advance the plot
- reveal character
- get a laugh or instill emotion
When you get the characters right, when you get their stories right, when you get everything moving along smoothly, when you get the dialogue so each one speaks differently from the others, then the dialogue works for you.
Dr. Peck read passages from a couple of his own books to illustrate the points about dialogue. When a character's point of view is used in a chapter to move the story forward, the words used must reflect the personality and unique viewpoint of that particular character.
- Revise as a playwright would revise.
- You must finish each character's story.
- Don't forget the minor characters; they are very important, too.
- Distinguish one character from another by their dialogue, not by describing them.
- Describe things in the voice of a character to whom it matters.
- You as the author can't say it's raining, but the character can say it's raining, because it matters to him. Having the narrator say it is awkward.
- If a chapter starts blandly and ends blandly, get rid of that chapter, because it's not doing its job.
Albuquerque’s little theaters frequently perform mystery plays, which is a boon to us fans. Croak & Dagger chapter members have had the opportunity to see several in recent years—at a reduced ticket price for members—including Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution earlier this year at ALT, and just this July a production of Angel Street at the Adobe.
|Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton |
directed by Paula Stein
at the Adobe Theater
Angel Street, despite its Victorian setting, was written in the 1930s by British playwright Patrick Hamilton and is probably best known in its 1944 movie incarnation titled Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. This reviewer saw the play years ago in Florida, but it's not often produced.
That’s too bad, because the story is suspenseful, with several unexpected twists and turns, even though you know who the villain is from the outset. The problem is that the characters are hard to empathize with unless exceptional actors can transform them into real people. The Adobe gets one—well, maybe one and a half—out of three right.
Jack and Bella Manningham live in a mansion in London, the top floor of which has been closed off. Nonetheless, Bella often hears strange noises from above, and the gas lights flicker ominously after the noises cease. Her mother died insane, so it doesn’t take much for Bella to doubt her own sanity, and when Jack berates her for her forgetfulness and withdraws his affection as quickly as he bestows it, she doesn’t see that he is manipulating her.
One evening when Jack is out, Bella is visited by former police detective Sergeant Rough, who tells of a violent crime that took place in this very house 15 years earlier. By the end of his tale, Bella realizes that she may not have been imagining things at all. She finds a sympathetic ally in Rough, who is determined to solve the crime that baffled him so many years ago. Rough not only sets the plot in motion, but as played by Stephen Zamora, he is the most believable and enjoyable character in the play (he also has the most natural English accent).
Dale Simpkins as Jack, alas, may just be too young to be a convincing Jack, but speaking to Bella at pretty much the same angry pitch the whole time doesn’t help, when a little French charm a la Charles Boyer would have gone a long way toward showing his second face, of solicitous concern. Teresa Kizziah as Bella does the best she can with the part, which isn’t written with any spunk or even common sense. This is the kind of heroine that helped put the gothic romance out of business.
Two servants round out the principal cast. Madelon Brown is solid as a housekeeper loyal to Bella, and Anne Sheridan is a saucy maid (memorably played by a young Angela Lansbury in the movie), who wouldn’t mind stealing Jack from his wife and helps him in his machinations.
The set, designed by Bob Byers, is excellent, particularly given the small stage, full of Victorian knickknacks and even including a staircase, tea table, and fainting couch, all put to good use—especially, of course, the gas lights. The costumes are also superior; I was especially taken with Bella’s skirt, which fell in graceful folds behind her whenever she moved.
If you need only one good reason to join Croak & Dagger, it might be the opportunity to come to our theater parties!
Joseph Badal's 38 years in the banking and financial services industries provide a solid foundation for the storyline in Shell Game, a thriller that uses the financial meltdown that began in 2007 as a backdrop for murder, greed, corruption, and mayhem. His roles as a financial consultant and as a senior executive in banking and mortgage organizations give him unusual insight into the capital markets meltdown that continues to impact economies and markets to this day.
Prior to his finance career, Joe served as an officer in the U.S. Army in critical, highly classified positions in the U.S. and overseas, including tours of duty in Greece and Vietnam. He earned numerous military decorations.
Joe was recognized in 2011 as "One of The 50 Best Writers You Should Be Reading". His short story Fire & Ice will be included in the anthology Uncommon Assassins, which will be released in Fall 2012.
C&D: When did you begin writing your first book?
Joe: I always wanted to write a book, but always seemed to be too busy to do so. I began writing my first book in 2000. I hadn't gotten any less busy; I just came to the conclusion that putting off doing something that was so important was foolish.
C&D: Why do you write? Why do you write thrillers?
Joe: I write because I cannot NOT write. I write thrillers because my background has given me a lot of material to write about. Writing a thriller based on personal experience makes the writing process easier and more enjoyable.
C&D: How did you get started writing thrillers?
Joe: I had a story in my head for well over 20 years. It was about international intrigue, murder and mayhem. After I wrote that story, I was hooked on the genre. Of course, I have always loved reading thrillers, so writing them was the natural thing to do.
C&D: Where do you get your story ideas? How do you pick your locations?
Joe: My stories are generally inspired by actual events, many of which were personal experiences. When I change a location from the location where an experience or incident actually occurred, I try to come up with a place that adds drama and interest to my story. For example, the treasure that forms the basis for the story in The Pythagorean Solution was actually on a fishing boat sunk off the Attican Peninsula. I moved the treasure's location to the island of Samos because of the ancient historical sites on Samos and because Samos was the home island of Pythagoras.
C&D: Do you know the endings to your book when you start writing? After it's in print, do you ever wish one of your books had a different ending?
Joe: I never know how my books will end. So far, I've been happy with the endings.
C&D: How do you come up with titles?
Joe: I agonize over my titles. Sometimes, the title of a book just comes to me with little effort. Other times, I spend hours and days making lists of possible titles.
C&D: What is your work schedule like? Has it changed since you published your first book?
Joe: Although I write at least 5 days per week, I tend to fall into manic cycles during which I will write in 6-8 hour stints. I usually write 40-50 hours a week, not including research time. If anything, I write more today than I did before being published.
C&D: Please describe your workspace.
Joe: I write on a computer in a room with a large table on which I can spread out my research materials. There are windows that afford plenty of light and gorgeous views of mountains and sky.
C&D: What do you do in your spare time when you aren't writing?
Joe: I do financial consulting work for a variety of clients, and I speak to writers groups.
C&D: What are your most and least favorite things about being a writer?
Joe: I love the process of writing and love talking to readers about that process. My least favorite thing about writing is interacting with agents and publishers who approach your work from a biased position, who start with premises such as "only women buy books" or "men won't read books that have a strong female character". I have found that my readers are split about equally between men and women.
C&D: Do you read your reviews (good or bad) and do they make a difference to you?
Joe: I read all of my reviews, because I can learn a lot from what people think about my work. Sure the bad reviews bother me, but not for long.
C&D: What is the most interesting criticism you have received?
Joe: One reviewer told me I should put more sex into my books. My counter to that was "I only write about what I know and understand".
C&D: Character, Setting Story. Which is your starting point? Do you outline your plot before you begin? If so, how extensively?
Joe: I wish I could tell you that I am so disciplined that I can outline my plots. I start with a concept and a main character and then go from there. I never know how my books will end, and add characters as the story evolves.
C&D: What are your long term goals as a writer?
Joe: I have two aspirations regarding my writing: I want each book that I write to be better than the previous book, and I want to make the best sellers list.
C&D: What is the best advice you would give another writer?
Joe: Don't put off writing. If you have the passion, then start writing today. If you don't have the passion, find something else to do. Writing is not a guaranteed path to fame and fortune. It is hard work and often the only gratification you will receive is the feeling of accomplishment you get in finishing a project.
C&D: What was your biggest career break?
Joe: My biggest break came when Tony Hillerman read and blurbed my first novel and then introduced me to his agent.
C&D: If you could acquire a talent or skill just by asking, what would you ask for and why?
Joe: I would ask to be a great pianist. I admire people who are accomplished musicians, and I have always wanted to play the piano.
C&D: If you were taking a long flight - 15 hours or more - who would you like to sit next to, picking anyone past or present?
Joe: I would love to have a conversation with Leonardo DaVinci. Just trying to find out how his brain worked would be fascinating.
C&D: If you could be any hero/heroine in a book, which would it be?
Joe: Edmund Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo.
C&D: Do you watch any comedy/thriller series on television? If so, which one is your favorite and why?
Joe: Yes, I watch crime/mystery/thriller series on TV. Some of my favorites are MI-6, Breaking Bad, Damages and Justified.
C&D: Has TV influenced your writing?
Joe: I can't say that I've been influenced by TV other than in the area of creating short chapters. My chapters tend to be similar to movie scenes - short and punchy. The greatest influences on my writing have been personal experiences and the writings of other authors.
C&D: Who are some of your favorite authors? Is there anyone in particular you draw inspiration from?
Joe: Robert Ludlum's work made me fall in love with thrillers and international intrigue. James Clavell, Nelson DeMille, Steve Brewer and Michael Connelly are some of my favorite authors.
C&D: If you could trade places with any other person (famous or not) for a week, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be?
Joe: I would trade places with William Shakespeare, on the assumption that when I reverted back to my real persona I would carry with me W.S.'s talent.
C&D: What was the last movie you went to see?
Joe: Man on a Ledge.
C&D: If aliens landed in front of you, and offered you any position on their planet in exchange for anything you desire, what would you want?
Joe: I would ask for the position of Space Exploration.
We are published authors, aspiring writers, and readers - bound by our affection for the mystery genre and our support of women who write mysteries.
Membership is open to everyone interested in mysteries!
To view our upcoming speakers and events, visit our website: croak-and-dagger.com
To learn more about Sisters in Crime: sistersincrime.org