Thursday, October 2, 2014

Feeding the Dark Side

Which type of character is more fun to write: villain or hero (in the classic sense of the word)?

Let me recap this week’s answers, so far (see Criminal Minds).

On Monday, Meredith said that “Characters should be fun to write--no matter what their role is in your story.” In other words, she thinks writing both villains and heroes are fun. Score: Heroes 1, Villains 1.

On Tuesday, R.J. said she enjoys creating the hero more than the villain. Running Score: Heroes 2, Villains 1.

On Wednesday, Tracy proclaimed her love for writing villains (even though she was under the spell of a high dosage of pharmaceuticals, we’ll chalk one up for the dark side). Running Score: Heroes 2, Villains 2.

Now it’s my turn to weigh in.

I’m tempted to say that I don’t like writing either heroes or villains. It’s difficult (emotionally trying) to write a sympathetic hero and then subject him (or her) to a wide range of nasty incidents. It’s cruel! It’s inhumane! It’s inconsiderate! But, it makes for good conflict!

On the other hand, it’s hard to write a villain; it’s hard to worm yourself inside his (or her) twisted mind as he (or she) goes about stealing, maiming, killing, or cutting off people in traffic.

But saying I don’t relish writing either the hero or the villain would be copping out. Besides, I guess I really do have a preference. While writing the hero may be more satisfying/rewarding/enlightening, writing the villain can be more fun.

A few reasons:

High Stakes – Most of my books are about the struggles of the heroes, so the portions written from the villains’ POV are often more concentrated and more intense (and focus on something of utmost importance). In other words, the villains are on stage for only a short time, and I try to make every moment count double (or triple).

Over-the-Topness – Depending on what kind of story I’m writing, I can draw my villains a bit larger than life than the hero. After all, things like laws—and common decency—matter little to evildoers, and the villains have to present a major challenge to the heroes. (I had a great time writing the villain, Dallas Pike, in my horror novel, THE TASTE. He was a very nasty man who pretty much did what he pleased. Fun!)

Feeding my Dark Side – In general, my heroes are nice people. Sure, they’ve got their flaws, but underneath they fall squarely on the side of goodness, justice, and unicorns. Sometimes it just feels great to write about depravity for a change, know what I mean?

Running score: Villains 3, Heroes 2.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hello? Anybody There?


Do you feel like being a writer is a career choice or a calling?


I’ve been and done many things before becoming a writer. Engineer, product planner, marketing manager, entrepreneur. In fact, writing fiction never even crossed my mind until relatively recently (ten years ago).


I disliked writing in high school (Although I loved to read, I didn’t love reading all those boring, assigned books written by dead guys for class. I stuck to my science fiction, much to the consternation of my father, the former English teacher.)


I disliked writing in college. I studied engineering, so I didn’t really have to write much. And certainly nothing creative, unless you consider the analysis of a system’s vibration profile creative (truth: writing a grocery list is more creative).


I disliked writing in grad school. Although I more writing was required there, I managed to fill my papers with technical jargon and buzzwords. We even had a roommate competition where we came up with a list of buzzwords we had to use in each assignment. Which kept us amused, if not the professors.


So if being a writer is a calling for me, the phone rang pretty late.


Actually, in my case, writing was an absolute choice. More evidence: Some writers say they HAVE to write. That if they miss a day of writing, they feel bad. Not me. I can go whole weeks, nay months, without writing, and I wouldn’t feel any different. (Now, if I were to go a whole week without eating, then I would feel bad. Maybe my true calling is eating.)

0815141042
This question brings up something I struggle with from time to time: my identity. When people ask me what I “do,” I (still) have a hard time saying writer. Yes, I’ve published six books (three traditionally,  three self-pubbed. Note the library “shelfie” with fellow Criminal Mind Clare’s books). Yes, I’m involved with writing organizations and attend writing conferences. Yes, I teach writing workshops (some start this month, sign up HERE). But I still hesitate before I claim to be a writer.


Maybe I’ll just tell people I’m an eater and ask for directions to the nearest buffet.

***

 

My book, RIDE-ALONG, is now available as a trade paperback. Enter the Goodreads Giveaway HERE for a chance to win your very own signed copy!

http://amzn.to/Wgy0KE

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Write On!

DC-area writers: September is the perfect time to take a writing workshop, and as it happens, I’ll be teaching FOUR different ones at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.

Three are one-day (2.5 hour) sessions:

Whodunit? How to Write a Mystery (9/6, 10 am)

Elements of Fiction: Dialogue (9/6, 2 pm)

Writing the Dreaded Query Letter (9/13, 2 pm).

I’ll also be teaching an 8-week workshop:

Fiction II - Writing Compelling Fiction (Saturdays 10 – 12:30) beginning on 9/13.

Click HERE for more details and registration information. If you have specific questions, ask in the comments or shoot me an email!

Write On!


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Give Me a Hand, Will Ya?

Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?

First, let me address the assertion that the crime writing community is supportive.

Yes, yes, yes it is! The vast (vast!) majority of crime writers I’ve met have been generous with their time and advice, friendly, approachable, helpful, and supportive. They seem to operate under the credo, “If one succeeds, we all succeed.” Or “A rising tide raises all boats.” Or maybe “Mystery loves company.”

It’s a wonderful group, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Of course, there are many practical reasons why we (crime writers) need to be nice to each other:

    • We know dozens of ways to kill people without leaving any clues.
    • You might have to rely on a fellow writer as a character witness during your murder trial.
    • You never know when you’ll need someone to back you up with a rock-solid alibi.
    • You never know who you might need to drive the getaway car. Or who you’ll have to persuade to come out on a dark and stormy night, with a shovel, and help bury the bodies.

To be fair (at least in my experience), I have to say that most writers I’ve met, regardless of genre, have been very supportive. I guess it’s because we all struggle with that blinking cursor and the never-ending self-doubts about our work.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, August 7, 2014

No Threat to Society

What’s the worst thing I ever wrote?

Hmm. The worst thing? Hard to settle on just one; there are so many contenders.

I mean, seriously? Bad writing? I’m an engineer. They practically taught us to write in desiccated techno-speak. It seemed the worse I wrote, the better my grade.

Of course, writing is so subjective—one person’s dreck might be another person’s cup o’ tea. And when evaluating, do first drafts count? What about poetry? (The best/worst of my poetry couldn’t hold a candle to Tracy’s example yesterday.) What about stuff I wrote in grade school? Or college? (Did I mention I’m an engineer?)

You see, not such an easy question to answer.

Here’s what I can say:

My first attempt at a novel currently resides in an asbestos-lined vault, buried deep in my backyard, where it poses no threat to society. (I guess that answers the question, huh?) The prose is terrible and there are more plot holes than plot. (It wasn’t all bad. I liked the font I used.) Let’s stipulate that it’s best if we let that one continue to rest in peace.

A few years ago, I went back and took a look at my second attempt at a novel. The prose was horrid in this one, too, but I liked the story and the characters and the structure. So I decided to resurrect it from the depths of my hard drive.

I opened two windows on my laptop, a blank Word document in one and the manuscript in the other. I then proceeded to re-write every single sentence in the book, revising as I went along. After more revision, I can honestly say that it doesn’t stink!

I could go on with more examples of less-than-stellar work, but then I might run the risk of making this blog post the worst thing I’ve ever written.

And there’s only so much room in my subterranean vault.

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I had a lot of fun at the recent DC Noir at the Bar. Here’s a video of me reading:

 

 

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Books About Writing Books

What's your favorite writing craft book of all time?

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books devoted to the craft of writing. As you might imagine, many have been helpful (to me), while others haven’t, but even in those less worthwhile volumes, I think I’ve always been able to find at least a nugget or two of valuable writing wisdom.

As with most things in life, you need to be careful about what advice to follow (but it doesn’t hurt to listen and read widely).

On Monday, Meredith mentioned two of my favorite books:

On Writing, by Stephen King

On Writing 

And Bird by Bird, by Ann Lamott (although I would classify this as being more of an inspirational writing book than a craft book).

bird by bird

Let me add a few (random) others:

For those wanting to pen a best-seller:

How to Write Best Selling Fiction, by Dean Koontz

Koontz writing book

A long (long) time ago, back before I even really wanted to be a writer, I picked up a book by Dean Koontz (one of my favorite authors at the time), mapping out how to become a best-seller. For some reason, it’s out of print now, but you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for a mere $68.

 

For those wanting to write a “breakout” novel:

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

breakout novel

This book also has an accompanying workbook (which I haven’t used).

 

For those who have trouble differentiating writing in summary versus writing in scenes:

Scene & Structure, by Jack Bickham

Scene and Structure

When I first started writing fiction, I didn’t know what I was doing. This book helped (a lot!).

 

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APPEARANCE NEWS

Want to see ten crime writers, in person, reading their work, AT A BAR?

D.C. area folks will have that chance, this Sunday night at the inaugural D.C. Noir, 8 p.m. at The Wonderland Ballroom. Meredith, Art, and I, along with seven other great writers (Nik Korpon, Steve Weddle, Ed Aymar, Tom Kaufman, Don Lafferty, Tara Laskowski, and Michael R. Underwood), will take turns reading and schmoozing. Come on by—a good time will be had by all.

(This blog entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Give it to me Straight

Writing groups and early feedback - does it help or hinder your process? Why?

If you asked ten writers about their writing process, you’d get fifteen different answers. What works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another, and after having written more than a dozen complete manuscripts myself, I’ve learned that what works for me once, might not work for me again.

Yes, writers can be fickle, finicky creatures with a dependence on coffee and/or bourbon.

However, one thing that remains constant in my writing process is my need for feedback. It’s easy to slop some words down on the page, thinking that I’m saying one thing, when in reality, my work is being interpreted in an entirely different manner (hey, it happens!). I need to understand how my story is coming across to readers so I know if I’m on the right track.

The most beneficial way for me to do this is by participating in a critique group. I give them my words, then sit back to see how they go over (not always so well, I can assure you!). I can find out what works and what doesn’t. Is the plot believable? Are the characters behaving consistently? Is the pacing right for the genre? Do I have ten characters whose names begin with J? Have I dotted all my t’s and crossed my i’s?

Writers can be too close to their work to be able to give it an impartial evaluation. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting my work “out there” without first sending it through the gristmill that is my critique group. It’s a very valuable—and crucial—part of my writing process.

Without a critique group, I’d be just another writer pounding away at his keyboard, mired in self-doubt. Instead, I’m just another writing pounding away at his keyboard, mired in self-doubt, with a critique group to keep me in line.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


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