Monday, October 31, 2011

Scary Book Moments

by Elizabeth S. Craig @elizabethscraig

First up, hope you’ll run by to visit me (actually, visit my character, Lulu) today at Dru’s Book Musings. My third Memphis Barbeque mystery, Hickory Smoked Homicide, releases tomorrow!

blog111Halloween made me start thinking of some scary book moments.

These weren’t moments that were intentionally scary. I wasn’t writing about a harrowing chase or the moment when my sleuth met up with my murderer. These were problems with my books that made we wonder if I were ever going to meet my deadline. And that’s scary.

Alex Cavanaugh created the Insecure Writer’s Support Group—supporting each other the first Wednesday of every month. Since I’m on Joan Swan’s blog on Wednesday, I thought I’d run an early post with the same theme in honor of Alex and Halloween. Hey, if your manuscript’s got problems, you’re not alone. Here are some of my scariest book moments (scattered among seven books):

1. A plot hole big enough to sink a whole book. At the end of one of my first drafts, I realized the solution wasn’t logical and my sleuth was babbling while trying to explain it. If it couldn’t be explained easily, it wasn’t a sound ending. Solution: I changed the murderer and changed all the clues leading to her. I also took out a subplot.

2. A character with no motivation but an important role to play in the mystery. Solution: I cut the character and assigned the important role to another character in the book (who made more sense.)

3. Since writing out of order does work for me (when I get stuck on one section), I decided to write an entire book out of order. Kids, don’t try this at home. Solution: A few days later, I’d finally ironed out all the jagged transitions in the book by going through back-to-back complete read-throughs of the manuscript.

4. I got 30% through the mystery that’s coming out tomorrow and realized I didn’t have a handle on the subculture of the beauty pageant world I was writing about. I decided to scrap the book and start fresh with a completely different idea. I was brooding over it when I picked up my daughter from a playdate. Solution: Research from a primary source. Little did I know the mom of my daughter’s friend had first-hand knowledge and enough insight to fuel me the rest of the book.

5. A required outline flattened all of my characters during the first draft until they were cardboard cutouts. Solution(s): I made a list of all the opposing characteristics of the stock characters I had---and incorporated some of the opposing traits into my characters. I did a few character worksheets. I also spent a few days letting the various characters accompany me on my day to day life.

Are any of these problems familiar to you? What are some of your scariest moments when writing a book? And…Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011



Below are the writing-related links I tweeted last week.

The Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine, designed by software engineer and writer Mike Fleming, makes all these links searchable. Sign up for the free monthly WKB newsletter for the web's best links and interviews: .

Recent news: the 3rd book in the Memphis Barbeque series will release November 1—Hickory Smoked Barbeque (available now for preorder).

iPads as writing tools for authors – resources: @rogercparker

Facebook security updates – how to make your account more secure: @eset

5 Things You Should Never Do in Epic Fantasy: @AISFPpodcast

Book Promotion: Show, Don't Tell: @pitchuniversity

Why 1 writer is betting on the Kindle for self-publishing: @shurleyhall

The agent's view--the thrilling world of pitching: @jennybent

On Writing Well: Repetition:

Am I providing enough information for the reader to get into the story immediately? @Janice_Hardy

Stare Down Your Limiting Beliefs: @storyfix

Why Writers Should Get Over Pop Music: @Porter_Anderson

Publishing--the worst business in the world: @bentarnoff

Publish the Way You Want. Ignore the Dinosaurs: @ireadiwrite

On worldbuilding--Vamps with a pulse: @kalayna

A writer's thoughts on critique groups: @AlexSokoloff

Top 20 Free Book Apps of the Week: @ebooknewser

Politics in Fantasy: @FantasyFaction

Talking mysteries--my interview with @VictoriaMixon:

How to write fiction--the importance of plot: (Guardian--Kate Moss)

Pros and Cons of E-publishing:

Short fiction and the subway theory of reading: @40kBooks

Should you tie up all the ends when you type 'The End'? @DirtyWhiteCandy

6 Prescriptions to Cure the Heartbreak of Being Published: @annerallen

All about flash fiction and tips for writing it: @BTMargins

5 Elements of a Resonant Closing Line: @KMWeiland

Do you use superpowers in your story? Tips to keep them from getting stale:

Why 1 writer might stop self-pubbing paperbacks: @cathryanhoward

What's wrong with a readable book? @TorontoStar

A useful resource for describing settings, emotions, shapes, textures, and more: @AngelaAckerman

For literary inspiration follow @AdviceToWriters. Jon Winokur dispenses writerly wisdom of the ages.

Harness the power of resentment: @storyfix

List of Words that Sparkle! Jazz up your Writing/Pitch/Synopsis: @veiledvirtues

Using 'they' for third-person singular: @VictoriaMixon

10 Best-Selling Books That Were Originally Rejected: @flavorpill

6 Ways to Become More Self-Motivated: @aliventures

Why 1 writer believes in fiction: @WriterNancyJane

What late-blooming writers can learn from Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan): @Later_Bloomer

The craft of coffeehouse reading: @SherryIsaac for @JoanSwan

The Difference between Steampunk & Gaslamp Fantasy: @LiaKeyes

Plot points from a pantster:

For writing parents--The Guardian's series on reading with kids:

Governance and the Not-for-profit Publisher: @scholarlykitchn

Cover Art Development for a Romance Novel: @JoanSwan

Story Structure Dos & Don'ts: @galleycat

Keep scenes dramatic by knowing what to narrate and what to summarize: @Edittorrent

Sharpen your story's hook: @storyfix

Preparing to be a published author: @RachelleGardner

Top 5 Reasons You Should Do NaNoWriMo This Year: @MuseInks

Top 8 Tactics to Power Your Online Book Launch: @JFBookman

You Don't Have To Be An Expert To Self Publish On The Kindle: @BubbleCow

Google Plus as a Storytelling Platform: @ChrisBrogan

Protecting Yourself From Yucky People (Social Account Security):

How to write fiction: MJ Hyland on revising and rewriting (Guardian):

Writing advice--Voice: @author_sullivan

Why is dystopia so appealing to young adults? (Guardian):

6 Things NOT to Put in Your YA Novel: @mrsctyler

Why 1 writer hates heists in genre: @tordotcom

The Shrinking Orphan Works Problem: @scholarlykitchn

3 Tips for Consistent Tone: @writersdigest

The Future of Self-Improvement: Grit Is More Important Than Talent: @jkglei

Why Writers Should Embrace Amazon's Takeover of Publishing (New Republic): @ruth_franklin via @PassiveVoiceBlg

Good intentions in crime fiction: @mkinberg

Moral ambiguity in crime fiction novels: @mkinberg

Music inspires and @Porter_Anderson has some atmospheric ideas & a site with free streaming:

What makes writing mysteries so interesting? My interview with @VictoriaMixon:

An agent on simultaneous submissions: @RachelleGardner

5 Rules About Conjunctive Adverbs:

Change for writers--how do we know we've changed?

10 tips for effective research trips:

More than Five Senses: Writing with Visceral Impact: @lucymonroe

Writing Tip: Get In Late, Get Out Early: @BryanThomasS

Want a satisfying ending for readers? Include resonance in your story: @VictoriaMixon

Tips for writing a synopsis: @JaneFriedman

8 tips for slicing through the research jungle: @JulieMusil

4 tips for continuing your story's pace during its 2nd act: @Mommy_Authors

How to Write Your Bio for a Byline or Query: @writeitsideways

4 lies the internet tells you about writing: @jammer0501

The Non-Transitional Transition: @editorrent

Smart ways to use Twitter lists: @alexisgrant

Find musical inspiration on Q2--a 24-hour free online stream of contemporary classical music: via @Porter_Anderson

Writing Short Stories or Articles with a Fantastical Twist:

A Checklist for Eliminating Unnecessary Prose: @CherylRWrites

A Small Press Implodes: The Inside Story of Aspen Mountain Press: @VictoriaStrauss

Tips for good plot flow: @jamesagard

The Amazon Question: Blind Faith vs. Reality: @behlerpublish

Sometimes writers stand in their own way:

How to Get Guest Posts on Big Name Blogs: @OllinMorales

Tips for successful blogging for writers: @Blogussion

The Agent-Author Relationship Is A Team Affair: @greyhausagency

Royalty Reporting Systems – Garbage In/Garbage Out: @PassiveVoiceBlg

Take a Break from Blogging without Losing Your Audience: @JeffGoins

How to Plot Your Writing Time During the Month of November: @plotwhisperer

Commas…To Avoid Confusion: @FantasyFaction

Author Blogging 101: 11 Reasons Your Blog Isn't Working: @JFBookman

Several options for designing ebook covers: @PYOEbooks

How to Be Creative When You Are Busy: @write_practice

A Strategy for Introducing Your Hero: @storyfix

106 Excuses That Prevent You From Ever Becoming Great: @ChrisBrogan

An agent recommends that novelists stop branding themselves: @RachelleGardner

5 Tips for Styling Numbers:

Tips for improving your story: @StoryMeBad @TheCreativePenn

Some Tough Love for Authors on Rights: @scholarlykitchn

Why 1 writer is now selling his books primarily on Amazon and not his website: @rule17

Literary references in crime fiction: @mkinberg

The Dark Side of Metrics–Writer Friend or Ticket to Crazy Town? @KristenLambTX

The end--wrapping up your stories: @FantasyFaction

3 Tips for Writing Paranormals: @RoniLoren

How Digital Became the Self-Publishing Beacon of Hope for Comics: @WesleyCGreen

The timing of payments from different self-pub venues: via @PassiveVoiceBlg

3 Tips for Writing When the Words Won't Come: @keligwyn

12 fiction writing checklists:

How to write tight prose: @LynnetteLabelle

The Dilemma of Coaching Yourself: @jkglei

Turn Your Novel into a Literary Destination: @catewoods

How To Make People Fall In Love With Grammar: An Interview With Grammar Girl: @OllinMorales

An Experiment in Serial Fiction and Self-Publication: @selfpubreview

Stuck? Borrow Techniques from Popular Authors: @ProcrastWriter

5 things you need to know about Kindle Format 8 (KF8), Amazon's new ebook format: @rule17

How to Make a Book Trailer with Your Phone: @GalleyCat

NaNo Prep: Planning Your Novel: @Janice_Hardy

Strive to make *every* novel a thriller with quality : @NakedEditor @JHansenWrites

How To Use Your Blog To Sell Your Self Published Book: @BubbleCow

Opening for a Distinct Purpose and a Specific Reader:

Content as Commodity — Price Elasticity and New Business Models: @scholarlykitchn

WordPress Plug-Ins: The Bare Essentials: @JaneFriedman

The latest installment of @GeneLempp 's series on archaeology, mythology & human history artifacts to design stories:

Indie Publishing's Impact on Independent Publishing: @selfpubreview

17 Twitter Marketing Tips From the Pros: @smexaminer

Serialization: A Timely Return for the Digital Age? @thedavidwwright

5 Biggest Mistakes Writers Make About Lawyers: @DearAuthor

e-Book Cover File Size Specifications: @JFBookman

Publishing debates--should we take sides? @JamiGold

Tips for writing climaxes: @lisagailgreen

An Insiders Look At What Books Are Selling:

Author Blogging 101: Presenting Your Content: @JFBookman

Characters and instant conflict: @LauraPauling

Why Every Writer Needs As Much Editing As Possible: @JodyHedlund

Is an 80% ebook world for straight text really in sight? @MikeShatzkin

Is Self-Publishing Giving People A Misconception Of Publishing? @greyhausagency

A few tools to help you escape the emotional cycle of writing: @write_practice

Using Social Networking to Promote Your Event:

Catch up with this week's publishing buzz--platforms, metrics, & Amazon--with @Porter_Anderson for @JaneFriedman:

Best Articles This Week for Writers 10/28/11: @4kidlit

E-book pricing – dart, meet bull's eye: @behlerpublish

Creativity Tweets of the Week – 10/28/11: @on_creativity

How To Keep Yourself Grounded When Writing Away From Home: @ollinmorales

Self-Published Authors Have Great Power, But Are They Taking Responsibility? @JaneFriedman

Copyright Is People: @michaelcapobian @VictoriaStrauss

Are Successful Writers Just Lucky? @KristenLambTX

How to Write a Year's Worth of Posts in 30 Days: @kellykingman

Chris Van Allsburg on Picture Book Writing: @GalleyCat

The complete and unabridged guide to GoodReads for authors: @novelpublicity via @PassiveVoiceBlg

How to Carve a Library Lion in Your Halloween Pumpkin: @GalleyCat

Friday, October 28, 2011

Films and Books about Writing and Writers

The ShiningI was really enjoying Masterpiece Mystery Sunday night.

That’s because the episode of Case Histories featured a writer with a big role. And the screenwriters for the episode had clearly been having fun—writing in winks for other writers.

At one part of the show, the writer (portrayed as extremely insecure and hesitant) is a visitor in a hospital. The nurse frowns at him and tells him he looks familiar.

“I’m a writer,” he says, looking anxious.

The nurse studies him. “I’ve always wondered about writers,” she says, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

I’m sure all the writers watching the show were laughing…and that no one else thought it was even supposed to be funny. :)

It reminded me that I’ve enjoyed reading books about writers and watching films about writers, too. Sometimes it’s just nice to watch something written just for you.

I don’t have a great memory for titles of movies and books, although I remember enjoying Stranger than Fiction (although it’s sort of a disturbing movie for a writer to watch) and reading Misery (decidedly troubling!) Oh, and that great moment in The Shining where we see what the writer has been busily typing for so long.

I found some lists online of books and films that featured writers:

Films About Writers or Writing:

14 Great Movies About Writers

20 Greatest Movies About Writers

Films About Writers

Novels about Writers or Writing:

6 Memorable Books About Writers Writing

Ten Terrific Novels About Writers, Writing, and the Writing Life

Novels about writers

40 Books about Writers and Writing (for children)

Have you read books or watched movies about writers? What have you enjoyed?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Playing Fair with Resonance—by Victoria Mixon

by Victoria Mixon @VictoriaMixon

I’m reading an Ellery Queen today, after a whole pile of other pulp mysteries, and I've also started re-reading Hillary Waugh’s Guide to Mystery & Mystery Writing. Waugh was one of the great American mystery authors of the twentieth century (he died only a couple of years ago), and he dissected the mystery genre with great insight and intelligence.

One of the things he discusses is a crucial aspect that was missing from some (but not all) of Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal works, from which the entire Western mystery genre sprang, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” “Gold Bug,” and “Thou Art The Man”:

Fair Play.

But what is Fair Play?

Fair Play is letting the reader know what’s going on. Even more than that, Fair Play is planting the clue to the solution early—preferably on one of the first pages.

Now, the general understanding of Fair Play is that we have to do it to keep the reader’s loyalty. If we don’t Play Fair, the reader gets mad at us and goes away. Birdcages throughout the ages have been papered with books by writers who ignored the Rule of Fair Play.

But Fair Play has an even more important job than that. After all, writers get away with all kinds of crap with their readers, and if they’re good enough writers the readers take it, pay for it, and keep coming back for more. No. Fair Play is based on something even closer to the reader’s heart than fairness, and that is. . .

Having a good time.

As an Australian friend of mine discovered when he visited me years ago in downtown San Francisco, a grand adventure, whether real or fictional, is all about having a good time.

Whatever else goes on in our story, our reader wants to enjoy the experience of reading it.

Of course, people’s ideas of enjoyment vary widely, and readers in general tend to enjoy a lot more of being ejected from their chairs, dragged around, thrown against the walls, and smacked silly than you’d ever believe.

But, more than anything else, readers enjoy resonance.

That's when they get to the end of the story and find there, unexpectedly and yet inevitably, the beginning of it. That clue the writer planted on the early pages.

Putting our reader inside a brass gong and giving it a good, hearty clang.

Readers love this! It’s possibly the single most important reason for the popularity of mysteries throughout the past 150 years. A devastating event. And the key to that event.

Give the reader a whiff of something tantalizing, lead them a merry chase in all the wrong directions, and then smack them in the face with the whole tantalizing pie.

It’s that wonderful, visceral sense of familiarity, that whisper in the back of the mind: this ending was inevitable. It’s the seductive implication that, if they’d just paid close enough attention (and they will the next time they read it, they promise themself!) they could have figured the ending out before we showed it to them. It’s that magical authorial sleight-of-hand, creating a positive emotional response in the reader by what we’ve left out as much as what we’ve put in.

Planting a clue to the Climax in a story's Hook is the simplest, most powerful fiction technique I know.

It makes the story a relentless progression always forward toward a Climax both unexpected and inevitable, a living, breathing thing in the reader's hands, the story of an ending that appears to have been manifested out of thin air by sheer genius.

Thanks so much to Victoria for guest posting today and for sharing with us an excerpt from her insightful writers' resource, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner's Manual.

Victoria Mixon has been a writer and editor for thirty years and is the creator of A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, voted one of WritetoDone's Top 10 Blogs for Writers. She is the author of The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner's Manual and the recently-released The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual, as well as co-author of Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, published by Prentice Hall, for which she is listed in the Who's Who of America. She spends a lot of time tracking clues on Google+ and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Streaming (Screaming) Resource for Mystery Writers—by Porter Anderson

by Porter Anderson, @Porter_Anderson Appointment With Death is Agatha Christie's travelogue-gone-wrong, set in the "rose red city of Petra." And some years ago, when I directed Christie's 1945 stage adaptation of it, I reached for Vivaldi. I wanted some big, noisy, precisely orchestrated suspense to get my big, noisy, endlessly patient actors into an opening tableaux. And by setting this whole thing in the swamp-gassy gloom of a weird hotel lobby, I could also show off the smart elevator our designers had rigged up for the stage. So I used the first movement of the Winter concerto from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Sounds like the kind of blizzard that gets Mayor Bloomberg into trouble. Worked like a charm. We managed to get the "detestable" Mrs. Boynton into her seat right on the button of that string-section snowstorm every time. Image: Flickr, National Library NZ But how I wish I'd had Q2 Music then. Because I'd have used something far more atmospheric, closer to the exotic locale. Petra, an ancient city carved from rock in Jordan, has little to do with Vivaldi's Europe. And I'd also like something less bombastic, more intimately sinister. Something like composer Dohee Lee's "HonBiBaekSan (The Ritual of White Mountain)." After a very eerie, quiet start, she uses a beautiful woman's vocalise, throbbing percussion, queasy glissandi and electronically generated tones oozing through the air. Every sound, like Christie's characters, a suspect. If you don't see the audio file from Q2 here to click on, just go to this page at Q2 Music and scroll down to Dohee Lee's name. That's the amplified quartet Ethel playing it, in a live performance.

Q2 Music is a completely free, 24-hour online stream of "contemporary classical" music. And don't be scared off by either word. WQXR, the major classical-music NPR affiliate in New York, created Q2 just over two years ago, to stream the work of living composers, taking advantage of the Internet to tap into a global audience that Salieri might gladly have murdered Mozart to get.

For my money, it's the best friend a writer who enjoys music could have. And one characteristic of a lot of today's best composers' work is that they're fearless about sonic "colors," the use of instrumentation to create those nerve-scraping effects associated (a bit too simplistically but not without reason) with avant-garde work.

For mystery writers? Heaven.

Take prize-winning composer Ken Ueno's terrifying "(X)igágáí " Again, if you don't see the audio clip from Q2 Music to click on, just go to this page at Q2 Music and scroll down to Ueno's name. This recording is from a live performance by the delightfully named ensemble Alarm Will Sound.

After one of those big piano-scary chords at the open, hear that white sound, a little like wind? Partly created by tearing paper slowly. And if you make it two-thirds of the way through, you'll hear what sounds like the sort of wind chimes a killer might just hit on an airless night when he was making his escape into the darkness. Waking up the household. To find the piano-crash shock of another body in the parlor, you know.

But, hey, I've spooked you with loud noises and scraped your nails over enough blackboards. I should give something more mellifluous, right? Still unsettling—after all, we're getting ready for Hickory Smoked Homicide here, Ms. Craig's next one (as Riley Adams).

How about a little ghostly piano work, something like that lonely ditty the victim might have been playing when you-know-what happened to her? Try Valentin Silvestro's "Bagatellen," here in an excerpt at Q2.

And in fact, let me offer you not only some fine piano work, but also the kind of spine-tingling little electronic edge that few composers do better than Missy Mazzoli. This is called "Orizzonte" for piano and tape. You can read about her as well as hear it, on her Q2 Music introduction page.

Like a car alarm left squealing after that murderous attack in the parking lot, isn't it? Goes right through you like those sounds always do.

Needless to say, as time goes by it's not as easy to match modern-day mystery to old-timey music. And if you're like me and you find the work of composers and musicians helps you to explore your own creativity, I can recommend Q2 Music and its diverse composers without any back-alley dodges or ducks around the double bass.

As long as you're sitting at your computer, give its speakers a workout. What streams in to your workspace might just hold enough clues to your latest goose-bumper that you'll head to the playlist to see whocomposedit.

----- Porter Anderson—whose Writing on the Ether appears at on Thursdays—has issued a matching grant to Q2 Music listeners who donate during the autumn pledge drive through Wednesday. You do NOT have to pledge a penny. This is not a pitch. Porter’s much more interested in bringing together new music with new writings. If you do feel interested in contributing to the work of this unique NPR affiliate (an online streaming service of WNYC/WQXR in New York), each $1 you donate will be matched with $1 from Porter, up to a total of $5,000, at And Porter would love to thank you. Drop him a line on Twitter. More on the first photo: Boethius, De musica, f.43v, (211 x 144 mm), 12th century, Alexander Turnbull Library, MSR-05. This is a manuscript about the theory of music. It was copied probably in England at Christ Church, Canterbury, in the second quarter of the twelfth century. Its main focus is the mathematical basis of music, and the beautifully-drawn diagrams with their graceful arches illustrate the mathematical ratios which produce the various intervals in the musical scale. Sometimes these diagrams take on animal forms such as here. -p.