Monday, October 28, 2013

Good Question!

So last week the call went out to my friends and blog readers to ask me some questions.  Not all pertained to the business of writing (I'll get back to you about lunch soon, Patty) but I gleaned a few of the more interesting ones, or rather, those topics I haven't quite covered in the blog.

1) How do you come up with the characters' names?

Without trying to sound facetious (or worse, delusional), a lot of times the characters will walk into my imagination and introduce themselves.  Some are fragments of names of real people I know that just happened to sound like the character I was creating.  I try not to use real names of people I know or have heard of... if a real-life name is almost too good to pass up or fits a character perfectly, I try to tweak it so it isn't exactly the same.  And sometimes, the character actually dictates what his or her name is.  I had this issue with one of my main characters, Sheriff Rick Sutton.  I didn't like his first name.  I fought to change his name, but "Rick" kept insisting on it.  Finally in frustration, I told my character, "You CAN'T be Rick! That means your first name is really Richard and you are NOT a Richard!"  Clear as a bell, I heard his voice in my head say, "My first name is Patrick."  Whoa.  Okay, that sounded more like my character.  As I said, they sometimes DO speak!

2)  Have you ever gotten stuck and how did you get past it?

I have gotten stuck more times than I can count.  When I first started writing a novel (many years back), I took getting stuck to mean that I wasn't cut out to be a writer.  Or that what I was writing  wasn't that great.  So I would stop what I was writing and start another project.  Inevitably, I'd hit a wall with that project, too, and stop.  I have an amazing collection of first chapters (it even rivals my equally impressive collection of rejection letters!)  It wasn't until I picked up an abandoned rough draft (after ignoring it for a few months) and read it from the beginning that I saw that changing something in an earlier chapter would have eliminated the problem that got me stuck.  So after eliminating the last four chapters I had written (and a hapless character I had created and thrown in to try to fix the mess), the story began to flow and I managed to finish.  It wasn't easy; throwing out your hard work, even if it isn't useful to the main story, still hurts (I still feel bad for that character I created and had to get rid of!)  But it's part of the writing process and something a lot of would-be writers struggle with.  So my advice is, if you get stuck, back up and see if you didn't make a wrong turn somewhere.  Even if fixing it means getting rid of a few thousand words or a few dozen pages, it's better than giving up!

3)  What does it take to become a writer?
Coffee helps, too!
There are several ways to answer this.  First off, if all you want to do is write, all you need is something to write on and something to write with.  And something to write about.  If you want to write to be published, it takes a little more.  I took several classes on creative writing, but didn't learn anything of use that I hadn't already learned in basic English grammar.  And I read a lot.  I mean, A LOT.  Depending on what you want to write, that's what you read the most of.  And not necessarily the best of the bunch.  I learned a lot more about character development, plotting, setting, and dialogue from reading books that I struggled to finish than books I loved and wanted to read again and again.  The most important thing I learned?  Don't write a book I wouldn't want to read myself.  Something else it takes to be a writer (specifically, a published writer) is persistence.  Keep writing.  With practice comes, if not perfection, then improvement.   Even the most talented of writers get rejected.  The important thing is not to give up.  That can mean all the difference in being published or not.

4)  What do you think about love triangles in murder mysteries?

Well, I have one in mine, although I am not a huge fan of them.  A lot depends on how well written the conflict is... and how believable the reasons are for not resolving the conflict.  Too many love triangles have carried on for nearly 20 books without any resolution in sight and it becomes tiresome after a while (Think about it: a series publishes a new book about one every 9 to 12 months.  Even if the time frame in the books only covers about 3 years total, 20 books means this love triangle hasn't been resolved for almost 20 years!  You'd think the author would have gotten tired of it by then!) I think the main focus on the series should be the mysteries, not the romance!  The triangle with Corrie, Rick, and J. D. will be resolved before the series ends, but I can't say for certain how long it will take... complications can arise... but I hope to not tire readers out with it.

5)  What about recipes?

My other pet peeve!  I recall writing a note to my friends, Aimee and David Thurlo, when they were writing the Sister Agatha series, thanking them for not succumbing to the trend and presenting us with Sister Agatha's refectory recipes!  It's a little disappointing to pick up a murder mystery and find that nearly 50 pages are taken up with recipes that the characters make.  I wouldn't expect to pick up a cookbook and find a murder mystery or romance going on between recipes!  So if you want Corrie's enchilada recipe or Rick's blueberry pecan muffin recipe, you won't find them in the books.  There are some great recipe websites on-line, so check them out!

That covers most of the questions I was asked, but feel free to ask anything else that might come to mind!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A little about me... and an assignment for YOU!

It's been a busy few days and, for once, most of it has been writing related.  I turned in an interview with Lucy Walton from "Female First" magazine (from the U.K.) where Oak Tree Press's authors have been spotlighted recently.  I decided to take a couple of her questions and use them for today's blog entry (including a peek at the next book!)

It is the first book in the Black Horse Campground series, so can you give us some insight into the next installment?
The next installment is tentatively titled “No Lifeguard on Duty”.  That might give you a clue as to where and how the next murder is to take place!
When you are not writing you are cake decorating , so tell us a bit about this area of your life.
I started decorating when I was 12 years old.  I came home from school one afternoon and my mother had signed me up for cake decorating classes with a neighbor of ours.  I don’t remember ever asking for it or expressing interest in the art of cake decorating, but my mother always said I was very creative and it turned out that I enjoyed it and had a knack for it. It gave me a creative outlet and even if the cakes didn’t look all that great in the beginning, they still tasted good and my family still liked them! When I got married and moved to New Mexico, I found a job at a bakery and I’ve been decorating professionally for 25 years, 15 of those years with Walmart.  It still gives me a good feeling when I see the delight on people’s faces when I’ve made a cake for a special occasion.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I think it was back when I learned to love reading.  I was a huge fan of the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and what intrigued me was how Laura was a real person who loved to write.  Writing assignments were always my favorite and getting positive comments from my teachers and friends certainly encouraged me!  I also had wonderful teachers, two of whom I acknowledged in my book (Patricia Quinn and Patricia Hollis) who were excellent English teachers who always prodded me to do my very best.  I owe them both a lot.
Okay, so here's the assignment part:  Send me YOUR questions!  I'll pick five and use them for my next blog entry!  So send your question to me via my e-mail on my website or to (be sure to put Back Deck Blog Question in the subject line) or write it in the comments box below.  Hope to hear from you soon! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How To Keep A Writer Happy (Part 1 of 50 Part Series.... just kidding!)

Keeping a writer happy is not necessarily a life-skill most people need, unless, of course, they are married to one, are best friends with one, are biologically related to one, or read books.

So, yes, I'm talking to YOU.

Let me assure you it's not as costly as you think.  We don't need diamond-studded pens, journals of parchment vellum with genuine giraffe leather covers, and we really don't need a secluded cabin in the Rockies with pristine meadows and lakes around it, a well-stocked wine cellar, and a hot-tub (it would be nice, but we really don't NEED it.)

What we really need to keep us happy is the following (in no particular order):

1)  Read our books.  How simple is that?  And yet, it means so much to know that someone actually reads the work on which we spent so much time and effort.  If you want to send us into ecstasy, mention something about the book to us.  Example:  I was talking to a friend at work about an upcoming book event and how I had planned to serve pinon coffee (the protagonist's favorite kind of coffee) at the event.  She lit up and said, "You should also serve banana bread and blueberry muffins, just like the sheriff makes in the book!"  You should have seen ME light up!

2)  Read our blogs.  And tell us you do.  Same friend mentioned that she follows my blog (yes, I know she's reading this!) and I was stunned and flattered.  When you take the time to put down your thoughts and then post them up, there's always a twinge of "Is anyone reading this?  Does anyone care?"  I've said it before, writers can be some of the most insecure people in the world.  So if you do follow your favorite writer's blog, let them know that their words and thoughts aren't merely floating around in cyberspace waiting for someone to notice them.  Comment or tell them in person.

3)  Attend their book-related events.  Short of manuscript rejection, a writer fears nothing more than the possibility of hosting a book talk or signing to which no one shows up.  I attended one last week and it was quite well-attended, for which I'm sure the writer (who traveled 200 miles to get there) was most appreciative.  Even if you don't buy the book, being there and keeping us from talking to empty chairs means a lot.  And you might get free coffee and banana bread, too!

My writers' group at my first book signing... and they didn't even get banana bread!

4)  Understand that writing IS a job.  If a friend who is a writer says they can't go to lunch or a movie or shopping because they have a deadline or they need to spend a few hours on their manuscript, don't take it personally.  It's not a rejection of YOU.  If you had to turn down a lunch date because you had to work, you would expect people to understand that.  Well, to a writer, especially one under contract, especially one who is on a deadline, time is something that is in precious short supply.  Believe me, I'd love to be able to take off on one of my days off and just have a fun day out, complete with lunch and a movie or shopping, but sometimes the work must come first.  And a guilt trip doesn't help.  I'm fortunate to have a spouse and friends who understand that!

5)  Buy the book.  Like the first item on the list, this one sounds easy.  And knowing we have readers who like our work really is worth more to us than money.  However, the hard, ugly truth is this:  without book sales, there won't be other books.  Publishing is a business.  The business is not just to print books, but to sell those books.  And if the books aren't selling, the publisher will not ask the writer to keep writing.  So if you really, REALLY like the writer's work, make your Christmas shopping easy and buy your friends a book.  Make it one of a kind and get it signed by the author (most will do this if you mail them the book with return postage.)  And then next year, you can get them the next book in the series!