I want to extend a hearty welcome to thriller writer Mary Deal, my guest blogger today! Mary is a native of Walnut Grove in California’s Sacramento River Delta, has lived in England, the Caribbean, and now resides in Kapaa, Hawaii. (I’m insanely jealous). She has published three novels: The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret, an adventure suspense; The Ka, a paranormal Egyptian suspense; and River Bones, a thriller, which was a winner in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards competition. A sequel is being written. Down to the Needle, her next thriller, is due out early 2010. Mary is also a Pushcart Prize nominee. Read More
Tag Archives: money
MA: I am pleased to have visit with me today, Australian author Diana Hockley. Diana lives in a southeast Queensland country town, surrounded by her husband, Andrew, two 19 year old cats and four pet rats. She is a dedicated reader, community volunteer, and presenter of a weekly classical program on community radio. She and her husband once owned and operated the famous Mouse Circus which travelled and performed for ten years throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales. Now that the circus is sold, she is the mouse judge for the Queensland Fancy Rat and Mouse club shows!
Diana and Andrew also bred Scottish Highland cattle. Prior to 1995, her last occupation was medical transcriptionist specializing in Radiology at a major Brisbane hospital.
They have three adult children and three grandchildren.
Diana has had articles and short stories accepted and published in a variety of magazines, among them, Mezzo Magazine USA, Honestly Woman (Australia) the Highlander, Austin Times and Austin UK, Australian Women’s Weekly, It’s A Rats World, Solaris UK, Literary Journal of University of Michigan USA, Foliate Oak, children’s website Billabong. She was awarded Scenic Rim Art Festival prizes for poetry and fiction. Since that time she has published two crime novels, The Naked Room and The Celibate Mouse.
Now, that’s one of the most diverse – and interesting – backgrounds I’ve ever seen. How did you go from the circus to novels?
DH: I wrote a novel in 1971 which was rejected but deemed “worthy of merit.” After this, I didn’t write anything more until I attended university when I was in my 30s. Raising children was a fulltime occupation for a widow, so I didn’t write anything more until 2005, by which time I was living on a small farm in rural Australia, married again and on my own a great deal in the show season. I started off with articles about our animals – always a rich source of amusement for city magazines, then ventured some short stories and had some success there as well. It was a short step to novel writing after that.
MA: Did your professional career inspire your writing? Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
No, my professional life – from which I retired in 1993 – didn’t inspire my writing, but I think some of my characters couldn’t help being heavily disguised as some people I know!
MA: I won’t ask which of them resemble rats! Tell us about your stories.
DH: My debut novel, The Naked Room, fits into the crime genre, the idea for which came to me one night when I was in the studio at the radio station. What would happen if the pianist didn’t turn up for the big concert? There would have to be a very good reason why not. So I set about creating one!
MA: How did you develop your protagonist?
DH: I allowed Ally Carpenter’s character to develop in response to her abduction and the personalities of her kidnappers. I once read that you have to listen to your characters, rather than trying to force them to do what you want (within reason of course) so that is what I tried to do and it seems to have worked.
MA: Is there a hero in addition to a heroine in your story?
DH: It’s hard to say who is the hero in The Naked Room. Is it her boyfriend who takes it upon himself to investigate the crime? Is it her father who holds himself together and works on the ransom money? Or are they both the hero? My heroine’s strength is that she refuses to give in. My hero’s strengths are neither of them are about to give up searching for Ally Carpenter.
MA: I understand you have more than one antagonist in the book. Tell us about them.
DH: Oh yes, there are three bad guys and one bad woman in this – but they too have an agenda other than money.
MA: Any real life experiences that flowed over into your stories?
DH: No, not really. I psyched myself into standing behind each character, listening to them speaking and the reaction of those around them – like reading a newspaper over someone’s shoulder. And I am sure they got a bit cranky with me sometimes (chuckling).
MA: So who migrates over from The Naked Room to your other novels?
DH: I have taken the main female detective from The Naked Room and given her the starring role in The Celibate Mouse. In this novel, the reader finds out what is happening to three of the protagonists from The Naked Room. For After Ariel, my next story, I have taken one of the characters from The Naked Room and made her the character. We find out what is going on with some of the Naked Room characters who were not in Celibate Mouse (some have moved on, it’s two years later) and Susan Prescott turns up again, now an Inspector. I don’t want to over-use the same characters beyond giving continuity to the series.
MA: Any last thoughts?
DH: It’s said that you should always write what you know, so my novels will always be set in small towns/rural/Australian city/UK or Wales and they will feature people whose lifestyles I understand and whose point of view I can put across. My stories will never feature high finance, spies or sophisticated political themes because I have no knowledge of these genres. I do know, however, how people keep secrets!
I tend to write my main characters in first POV and the rest in third, with the exception of The Naked Room which is very different, darker and more violent than The Celibate Mouse.
MA: Thanks, Diana! Please visit Diana Hockley’s website for more information about her writing: http://www.dianahockley.webs.com. Read More
MA: My guest today is Peter G. Pollak. Peter is a retired business executive who has also been an educator and editor of two weekly newspapers. He also runs a web business where he interviews people, and he writes a blog on New York State government and politics.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us more about your background.
PP: My working titles have included visiting professor, editor, publisher, CEO and lately chairman (of the company I founded), but what has characterized my professional career has been a willingness to take a risk in order to make a difference. After finishing my B.A., I spent a year as a VISTA Volunteer. Although I went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D. (in history and education), in between I was editor of two alternative newspapers. In 1985, I said good-bye forever to being an employee and started a press release delivery service which is still in existence (under the name readMedia). I’m semi-retired now, spending most of my time writing.
MA: With your particular credentials in business and journalism, how did you end up writing fiction?
PP: I love to read fiction. To me fiction is on par with painting, sculpture and music as a higher art form. It requires both talent and dedication and good fiction rewards the reader by transporting h/h to another reality. In doing so, the reader can experience life’s horrors and its potentials.
MA: In your novel, did you create characters based upon people you’ve known in your personal and professional life?
PP: I don’t draw on real people for my characters. I suppose my characters are composites of people I’ve met, read about or come in contact with in some other way.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PP: The Expendable Man is a political thriller. The protagonist is thrown into a bad situation for which he is ill prepared. He not only has to find a way out of that situation, but in order to regain his life he must find out why he was put there in the first place. He must survive the crucibles of being wrongly convicted of a crime and contracting a normally fatal illness.
MA: I love political thrillers. What makes your hero who he is? Strengths? Weaknesses?
PP: At the beginning he’s all about himself. He lacks family or friend. He’s not a bad person, but one who hasn’t allowed himself to smell the roses. No one can go through hell without being changed in the process. I hope my readers see the changes that take place in his personality as he struggles to regain his health and his freedom.
MA: Every good thriller has to have a bad guy, so I assume you have a unique one?
PP: Yes, of course. There is the person who sets the ball in motion and the one who has to do the dirty work of making my protagonist “expendable.” Readers may recognize their types.
MA: I imagine you don’t have any real life experiences that you drew from to create your story, or do you?
PP: I’ve been behind bars…for a few hours. I was arrested when I was about 19 for violating a local ordinance, selling without a permit. I was trying to earn money one summer selling encyclopedias. Later I had the privilege of teaching political science 101 to inmates at more than one NYS Correctional Institution (prison). What’s worse than being locked up? Answer: facing a deadly disease. What if you had to contend with both? That’s the fate of my protagonist.
MA: Well, I never saw that coming! What are your future writing plans?
PP: I’m working on a mystery which I hope to finish by the end of the summer and then publish a second mystery set in the same city using two of the characters from the first one. The protagonist of The Expendable Man has ridden off into the sunset. I’ll let my readers imagine what his life is like, but I think readers will like the main characters in my next two novels — Jake Barnes, a retired cop turned P.I., and Karen Battaglia, recently promoted to detective on her local police force.
MA: Excellent! Any parting thoughts for my readers?
PP: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, I’d be happy to do a reading for your book club or other organization. Contact me through my website: http://www.petergpollak.com/
MA: Today I will change up my format a bit. Instead of a series of Q & A with my guest authors, I am going to let them tell their story in their own words. All the way from England, please welcome Carol and Bob Bridgestock!.
Carol and Bob Bridgestock have spent almost half a century between them working for the West Yorkshire Police in the North of England. The force is the fourth largest in the Country.
Bob was born in West Yorkshire in 1952. He attended local schools – the last one being Morley Grammar School. He had a weekend and holiday job working at the local butchers, and when the offer of an apprenticeship came he left school and commenced work before the exams. The apprenticeship was for five years after which he became qualified and competent. Bob decided after a while that the career wasn’t the one he wanted to pursue and took up a job in a dye works, only because of the money and he had a young family. This, however, was a complete contrast to what he had done before and over the next two years he considered his future.
The next 30 years he spent as a Police officer, working as a detective at every rank and spending less than three of them thirty years in uniform. During his distinguished and exemplary career he received recognition for his outstanding detective work by way of ‘commendations’ from judges and chief constables. A total of 26 is an unusually high figure. As well as being a senior detective for over 17 years, he was also an on call negotiator for kidnap, hostage and suicide intervention incidents.
He achieved the rank of Detective Superintendent and became one of a very small number of Senior Investigating Officers in the force. As ‘the man in charge’ in his last three years alone he took charge of: 26 murder investigations, 23 major incidents including attempted murder and shootings, over 50 suspicious deaths, and numerous sexual attacks.
Carol was also born in West Yorkshire in 1961 and the majority of her schooling was also in West Yorkshire, although for four years she lived in Milford-on-sea in Hampshire. She ended her school days, however, at Sowerby Bridge Grammar School. On leaving school Carol became a hairdresser and opened her own salon before going on to College to teach the subject. Later she worked in the Police in a number of support roles and was ultimately a supervisor in the administration department. During this time she also was commended for her work with the community, inspiring children to highlight crime prevention work.
When Bob completed his service Carol also retired from the force and they both headed to the south of England where they now live on the Isle of Wight. They had often holidayed on the Island and fell in love with the way of life and the tranquillity of the Island. The Police service behind them, they got on with enjoying life without a pager or a mobile phone. Carol had always told Bob he should write a book, but he had no incentive to do so. Their new group of friends on the island with no police connections also suggested that he write due to the fact he relayed so many stories about his career; some happy, others sad, many macabre. He resisted until a cold damp morning in 2008 he saw an advert in the local paper advertising a college course ‘Write your first novel’. As sudden as it was out of character, he booked them both on it to Carol’s amazement.
Thereafter their new joint career as co-authors took off.
Crime fiction was the answer to Bob’s reluctance to write. This way he could use his real life experience in a way that would not be connected to the original events.
Deadly Focus, the first novel, introduces Yorkshire Detective Inspector Jack Dylan and the clandestine love of his life Jennifer Jones. This is a fast moving story that allows you to travel with Dylan to a series of murders, seeing through his eyes the stark reality of death and its fallout. It allows the reader to feel as he does the highs and lows of an intense murder investigation. The reader through the ‘eyes’ of Jen also gets to know how it feels to be the partner of the ‘man in charge’.
Dylan’s strengths lies with his persistence and experience, but will the pressure have a dire affect on his health? Jen is his ’norm’ a safety net for his turmoil of emotions after the distressing sights he has to endure. Deadly Focus continues to receive 5 star reviews on Amazon, WH Smith etc. In May it was resurrected as the first crime novel in the RC Bridgestock series published by Caffeine Nights Publishers. It is also live on eBooks via Smashwords and Amazon as well as many other e Book outlets.
People often ask the question, ’How do you write together? Does one of you write the odd, the others the even?’
We enjoy working together at last! Our police ‘working life’ often meant spending hours apart. Bob writes the plot and the storyline from start to finish. Carol then takes this first draft and develops the scenes, the story line and importantly the characters. Carol teases out of Bob the true feelings of what it is really like to deal with these gruesome crimes. The novel is then passed back to Bob for the re-write to be checked. Then they both sit down together and go through every word, sentence and chapter to ensure it works. Then and only then is it ready for the publishers to scrutinise the draft.
As we said before, May this year sees the resurrection of the original Deadly Focus and it is also being published this time as an eBook. We have been fortunate to be taken into Caffeine Nights Publishers stable of authors who will also publish book two in the series this summer. We have called this book ‘Consequences.’ The third book in the series is ready for scrutiny by the publishers and book four is ready for the re-write stage. Others in the series are also being penned.
As can be seen, the writing is industrious, as well as being addictive and enjoyable. Both Carol and Bob are members of a local writing group called Wight Fair Writers’s Circle that Carol chairs. This group evolved from the college course and we remain a group who also runs competitions to inspire others to write, especially children. All proceeds go to local charities. Bob and Carol also do talks about Bob’s career for schools and colleges as well as other adult groups to raise money for the local hospice which they support. Certainly exciting times and a new career which they never considered when they retired,
To learn more about Carol and Bob and their writing visit their website. www.rcbridgestock.com. A must is also www.caffeine-nights.com. On both these sites you can download the first two chapters of Deadly Focus FREE! Carol & Bob are also on Facebook – Carol Bridgestock and RC Bridgestock and we Twitter – RC Bridgstock
The support from our readers around the globe is extremely satisfying and spurs us on. Read More
MA: Help me welcome my newest guest, Steven Nedelton. Steve is a professional engineer, but most of his life he dabbled in arts. For example, he likes to paint in oils. He lived for a while in several countries outside of the U.S. and was born in the Balkans. Steve lived and worked all over the U.S., from the Washington and California coasts to Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. He started reading when he was ten after beginning to receive books as birthday gifts. Those included Tom Sawyer, then a year later, The Three Musketeers, and so on. At first, it was hard for him to concentrate, in fact, he hated reading. But then, gradually, he began to love good novels. Zane Grey became one of his favorite writers. He still remembers how he got the lunch money from his grandmother and spent it on books about cowboys and Indians, and the Wild West.
That’s a very colorful life and background you’ve had! You mentioned dabbling in the arts and having a love of reading, so it sounds like a natural progression to writing.
SN: Way back in my early teens, together with a few of my school chums, I began writing short stories. There’s no doubt that Tom Sawyer, The Three Musketeers and the various pirate novels were the principal contributors to our writing affliction. Also, the principal cause of all my later accompanying woes. But, aside from those early literary misadventures, and a lot of reading since, my first serious involvement with English Literature happened in my college English 102 and the subsequent course, Advanced Creative Writing. It was a true miracle that I managed to get through those two classes with A’s, and even to this very day, I am convinced that my professor was one crafty yet friendly soul. I guess, my feeble pretenses to understand Shakespeare warned him I wasn’t the material for a future scribbler. Thus my English Literature marks, A or F, were quite inconsequential. And his conclusion was natural, I was studying how to become an engineer, not how to write another War and Peace
From then on, my writing was, one might say, ‘placed on hold.’ A lot of occasional reads, but not much else until a decade ago. It was then that that sordid writing affliction got sort of reawakened within me, and the desire to become a writer was reborn too. And so, finally, after all those years, I chained myself to my laptop, and began writing again. I worked very hard while braving various virus attacks and rejection e-mails from a multitude of publishers and agents.
MA: Given your penchant for writing short stories as a teen, how did you come about writing novels?
SN: That is an interesting question. Early on, in my teens, I dreamed of writing a top short story. Much later, after reading a number of novels, I decided that short stories were not for me. Mostly because avid readers loved novels. I felt it was in my best interest to stay away from short stories and proceed with novels. There I could fit in my interest in thrillers–suspense and crime, the genre that was my true love and I knew I could do it well.
MA: You and I share a few writing things in common. My Child Finder Trilogy is a thriller series with paranormal elements which some of your books have also featured.
SN: I write fiction based on partly true events and characters. My novels deal with infamous criminals, espionage, and extrasensory perception tied together with unusual and extraordinary action. Basically, I write about anything that will make the reader interested in the story. I don’t specialize in any genre; I try to write about life in general. My stories cover local and international events. Also the events I have lived through and been a part of. Mixing fiction with fact makes readers believe in my stories.
For example, Crossroads is a thriller/suspense based on extrasensory and the action takes place in the US, Russia and France. The principal character is a U.S. agent assigned to lead a group of men with very special gifts like claivoyance, remote viewing–the ESP. The inspiration came from a sentence found in a major newspaper in the early 90s. The story is far more than espionage, James Bond like flick. It deals with several countries and characters with their ethnic peculiarities.
The inspiration for The Raven Affair came from the news too. In this case I had already heard quite a lot about one particularly infamous criminal involved in genocide who was finally being prosecuted in California. I thought that I could write a story that would be far more interesting than a description of his hideous exploits alone. I decided to add a number of fictitious characters and a number of fictiotious events. The title of this book was based on its central character, the hit man known as ‘Raven’ who, as a child, witnessed the horrors of genocide and decided to revenge his family. But the stories included in this book are far more interesting than the criminals and, of course, I’ve used my imagination to make them believable.
Both books were reviewed by the top country reviewers like the Midwest Book Review, The US Review of books, Apex, etc. I just received a note from the “Eric Hoffer Award” representative advising me that The Raven Affair is “Da Vinci Eye Finalist” and an “Eric Hoffer Award” finalist.” I feel that it is a great achievement for my novels.
Fear! is my next book that I hope to have it released soon. It is a sort of a historical biography. And, I am presently working on my third thriller, Tunnel.
MA: Congratulations on the book award accomplishments! Those are two excellent and prestigious selections. Tell us how you approach the development of your characters.
SN: I develop my characters through events. I let them speak, act, and from their actions and dialogs one can get the feel for the character’s strengths or weaknesses. For example, in The Raven Affair, the hero (the hit man Raven) has the criminal in the gun sights and yet he does not shoot him. He lets him live so that the people’s courts can judge him for his hideous crimes.
MA: A hit man protagonist! Tell us more about him.
SN: Raven is a very determined man. He is ready to sacrifice his life yet, occasionally, he is cold and detached, disinterested in other people feelings.
MA: I take it with these standalone novels that you do not migrate any of the characters over to other novels, or do you?
SN: I don’t have a recurring character in my novels as yet. Each of my novels is a completely different story with different characters, with one exception. I am developing the use of a character from Crossroads. This is still in a developmental stage and I am not yet set on other characters and their interaction. I can assure you that he will be used in the most interesting way.
MA: Given your travels in life, have any of your experiences outside the United States inspired your writing?
SN: Yes, I lived in several countries, England and France for example. I dealt with various people there and although people are pretty similar everywhere, there are ethnic peculiarities that one needs to experience in order to portray a character properly in a story.
MA: Where can people learn more about your stories and purchase your books?
SN: My books are available in print and e-book formats on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Fictionwise.com, etc. They can be accessed directly from my web site: http://snedelton.com.
MA: Thanks, Steve!
MA: My guest-blogger today is Paul Guthrie. Paul – or Dr. Guthrie – is a scientist by training and vocation. He received a BA in Physics from Cornell University, followed by a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, Paul went to work for NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt MD. His work was primarily in the development of computer models to simulate the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere in order to understand ozone depletion and climate change. After thirteen years he left NASA and joined a consulting firm in San Rafael CA, working mainly on air pollution issues for the EPA. By then he was irrevocably committed to the use of computers and the development of software. In 1999 he left the environmental field entirely and became involved in developing software for biotechnology and medical applications, which he continues to do part time. Starting in 2002, however, Paul decided to pursue another interest, that of writing fiction. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, still married to the same person after thirty-seven years. We have two grown children.
Now that’s a fascinating biography you have, Paul. I am curious about how you found an interest in fiction with so much science in your life.
PG: I’m a scientist, with degrees in physics and astronomy. Working on issues like climate change, I was part of the collision of science, where truth (even approximate truth) is an ultimate goal, with politics, where truth is irrelevant. And I like to read. I‘ve read lots of fantasy and SF over the years, from classic “hard” SF to Tolkien, Eddings, Jordan, Martin, Stephenson, Gibson…the list goes on and on. I also like technology thrillers, like early Tom Clancy and early Michael Crichton.
MA: It’s good to have a wide breadth of interests, but how did you end up writing fiction, and why novels?
PG: My teachers always said I was a good writer, back before I chose a career in science and technology. In 2002 the medical imaging startup where I was working ran out of money and went belly up. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my mind occupied until something else turned up. Something else never did. Why novels…the form is long enough to really explore characters and story. You can say a lot of things in a novel.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PG: “The Wrong God” crosses genres a bit. It involves something that looks like magic, elements of science fiction, some real science, politics and religion. Here’s the pitch:
Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Is this an illusion or is it new physics? Why can John do things that other people can’t – things that will mark him in some eyes as a worker of miracles? And why does John think someone is watching him?
Someone is watching. Wendell Murchison is possibly the most powerful man in America. He controls wealth, his own cable news network, an army of evangelical political operatives, and the President of the United States, but he wants more. From the new America of terrorist sleeper cells, detention camps and legalized torture he sees a path to levels of power not seen since the Inquisition. He would make a new all-out war of religion; all he needs is a leader – the New Prophet, John Chalk. Whether John believes or not.
When John refuses and disappears, Andy is left to face an adversary who will offer bribes, publish lies, send goon squads to beat him, whatever it takes to force him to betray John. Under constant surveillance and unsure who he can trust, Andy can’t stand alone; he has to find John. But even together, what can they do against Murchison? Levitating pens won’t stop him and there’s no point in hoping for miracles if you don’t believe in anybody’s gods.
Actually, it all grew out of a single observation. Traditional epic fantasy often involves ancient magic, with a venerable sage or a sacred book to explain the magic. My question was, how did the book get written? Who were the poor bastards who first discovered magic and had to figure out how it worked without killing themselves? Since I assumed (naturally) that they would approach it like scientists, the story became contemporary.
MA: That sounds intriguing, and it contains many of the same elements I enjoy reading about and writing with my own work. Tell us how you developed Andy’s character.
PG: Andy is kind of an almost-scientist. He has the training, but he isn’t entirely part of that world, the way John is. Andy can see the ambiguities in John’s discovery. I tend to like stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, so he had to be somewhat unheroic.
MA: Andy’s strengths? Weaknesses?
PG: Strengths…determination, loyalty, intelligence, humility, his love for his girlfriend, Rachel.
Weaknesses…fear, self-doubt, a little envy.
MA: It sounds like this Murchison guy is pretty devious…your antagonist, I assume?
PG: Oh yeah. I spent a lot of time on Wendell Murchison. My wife kept asking for more backstory. I kind of saw him as an amalgam of the kinds of people who have been involved at the intersection of great wealth, political propaganda, and the religious right.
MA: I almost hesitate to ask if any real-life experiences made their way into your story, especially given you hard science background.
PG: I guess the main influences were knowing how physicists think and approach problems, and experience watching scientists collide with politics. One other thing isn’t really central to the plot, but I’m a student and player of Taiko, the big Japanese drums. I gave that to Andy so I could try to describe it.
MA: I spent many years in Japan and always enjoyed Taiko drum performances, so I can relate to that character aspect (and a good thing you gave that to your hero!). So what’s next?
PG: I’m working on another novel that is still an untitled work in progress. It’s unrelated, more of a straight-ahead technology/political thriller. Beyond that I have notes for two more books to continue the story of “The Wrong God.”
MA: Thanks, Paul! You have a great blend of real science colliding with fiction in your work. I like the confluence of the two. For my readers, please check out Paul’s website: http://www.thewronggod.com Read More
MA: I’d like to welcome today’s guest blogger, K. Sawyer Paul. Mr. Sawyer is the author of the novel, No Chinook. Please tell us about you and your writing.
KSP: I think my first few stories were all plagiarisms and remixes. When I was in junior high and high school, I’m not sure I had a single original thought. I’d take characters, stories, and plots from various books and movies and video games that I’d enjoyed and play with them in different environments. It was basically the equivalent to playing with action figures from different cartoons. I didn’t know why I wrote, but I always had it in my head that I could write well if I just stuck at it for long enough. You know, the idea that perspiration would eventually lead to inspiration. So I wrote a lot. I wrote a short novella in high school, printed it out, and sold it for a couple of bucks. I sold it for a dollar if the person wanted it on a CD. I basically had my first ebook in 2000, in the form of a Word 98 file. I went to the University of Toronto and decided to take professional writing as a minor. It was a great experience, and it taught me many things about what not to do. I felt I was a little allergic to preconceived ideas of success in writing, especially Canadian writing, where the expectation is that you’ll never really make any money and you sort of make people suffer through your work. I’m very against that. If my story isn’t gripping, put it down, you know? There’s more books being published every year than anyone could ever read. Why waste time if you’re not enjoying it?
MA: Well, amen to that! Why did you choose to write short novels?
KSP: I write short novels, because I don’t like to waste people’s time, but I like novels because even if they’re short, they feel like an accomplishment to read and write. I generally hit the 50 or 60 thousand word mark in the first draft, then cut it down to 45 or so. That makes for a 200-220 page book, which I think is enough. I’m a big fan of not wasting time, wasting words. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy’s style in that respect, where he purposefully leaves out areas of his stories that really could use a sweeping emotional explanation. Hemmingway, too. I like that I can go back and read A Farewell to Arms or Francis Macomber and I’m done in a weekend and better for it. There’s something really crisp and biting about a terse novel.
MA: How did you approach your two novels?
KSP: I made a really set decision when I started writing Everything We Haven’t Lost and then No Chinook to never get unbelievable, so I write about relationships because I think I know my way around them pretty well. So you can say I do romance, but if you read my books you know they’re not typical romances. The fight scenes are uglier. The sex scenes are rougher. The dialogue that connects the exposition seems pulled from real people. At least, I’d like to think so. That’s what people tell me. I want it to feel like you’re actually peering in on a real conversation between real people in a contemporary setting, and while these people are adults they still have emotional hiccups and can really hurt one another.
MA: Tell us about your hero in No Chinook.
KSP: With No Chinook, I developed Scott out of how I saw myself out of the kind of guy I saw a lot of at college: someone who’s grown in every way, but still has a few hang-ups regarding his scars. He’s not a finished adult yet, and No Chinook is in many ways him working his way out of that. So Scott is still hung up over a girl from high school, and he thinks he’s over it until she comes back into his life and they sleep together. What’s interesting about Scott is he sees how immature this girl is, and still can’t eject himself from the drama, because he’s fighting the urges of his younger self.
MA: What should we know about Scott? What makes him strong, and what makes him weak, if at all?
KSP: Scott’s big strength is that he’s a truly nice guy, who’s capable of going a long way for a friend, a lover, and even an ex-lover. His weakness is pretty well as I said above, his inability to really break free of a toxic situation. The relationship he has with Shawn is pretty toxic, and the only way he’s really capable of breaking free is by removing the love he has for this man and just using him. Basically, by figuring out how to cure himself of his biggest weakness, he has to rid himself of his greatest strength. That might seem like a convenient plot progression, but I don’t know that I’ve ever even thought of it that way until recently, now that the book has been out for two years.
MA: Interesting. And what about an antagonist?
KSP: Kate, Scott’s girl from the past, is definitely the antagonist. She’s in many ways Scott’s Tyler Durden or Ferris Bueller, a free character that helps him out of his shell. But she also crushes him over and over. Also, she never reveals where she works. Would you date someone who kept their job from you?
MA: Uh, oh…do I detect an old flame influencing the “bad girl” in No Chinook?
KSP: Yeah, there was definitely a girl I was into who didn’t like me back. But who doesn’t have that? I tapped into other people’s stories more than my own, and built conversation after conversation on the pain of my friends and colleagues. It’s a writer’s job, I think, to plaster those sorts of things together, to make sense of it.
MA: Since No Chinook has been out for two years now, what’s next on your plate?
KSP: I sent my next novel off to my editor just recently. The editorial process always takes longer than you want it to, but it’s in the pipeline. It’s called A Record Year For Rainfall. It’s about a paparazzi and a celebrity blogger who live in Las Vegas. I’m a big fan of Las Vegas, but I’m young so I’ve only ever seen the modernized Disney-like Vegas, so my characters exist in it, in 2006. It’s still sleazy, but there’s all these ironic angles where it’s family friendly now. But there’s still girls in sexy outfits everywhere, and celebrities still go there to go crazy. It’s a fun book that’s about trying to escape yourself and the things you love but not really being able to. There’s a lot of comedic violence and sex and there’s a gay governor and I think people will think the book is a lot of fun.
MA: Are your novels all standalone types, or will you write using some of the same characters in the future?
KSP: There aren’t any continuations of character, but A Record Year For Rainfall and No Chinook definitely exist in the same “universe.” You can think of it like the Kevin Smith movies or Final Fantasy video games, where there’s a new cast, but there’s a lot of familiar aspects. In Rainfall, you’ll find that Bret, the main character, used to work at a job that he’s not allowed to talk about. It’s the same place Kate from No Chinook works, but that’s not obvious from reading either book necessarily. To sum up, I guess: I don’t do sequels, but I do enjoy planting Easter eggs.
MA: I happen to love Easter eggs J. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KSP: I think I want to talk about publishing here. There isn’t any stigma in being an independent graphic artist, an indie band, an independent charity, an independent chef, or almost any other art form or business. Lawyers go into business for themselves all the time. Doctors open up their own private practices. Soon, in less than ten years, people will absolutely not care who published your book. I don’t think readers care who published your book now. If you design a book properly, if you edit it professionally, if the package looks and smells and registers like a real book, then I don’t see the difference between an indie book and something by Harper. There’s a big difference between vanity publishing and independently publishing. Gredunza Press is a business. We publish books. I publish my books through it. Does Dave Eggers get slack for publishing his books through McSweeney’s, a press he built? The only people who care these days are authors who are more swept up in the “industry” than in writing their own books, publishers who want to stay on top, and pundits looking for a juicy story. Readers and writers don’t care, and soon enough nobody else will either. You can buy my book on your Kindle or Nook or whatever, and you can order the physical copy from me and soon from Amazon. You read it, and you’d never know I didn’t get published by one of the big guys. Not every author is capable of completely going into business for themselves. They need help editing, designing, and promoting their novels. That’s where publishers like ours come in. We offer services to authors trying to make it. We’re the future.
MA: Thanks, K. Sawyer. Folks, please visit his website and the site for his press: www.ksawyerpaul.com, and www.gredunzapress.com. Read More
Talk the Talk
Is your dialogue authentic?
I write mysteries and watch some reality cop shows listening for police techniques and jargon. It’s a way of keeping stories in the now, exciting, up to date and understandable by readers. With an open mind and ear, you can learn how to make your characters act like the police or the perpetrator. You can learn search techniques or glitches in the schemes of wrong-doers. All of this knowledge enhances the reality of the stories you write, not just mysteries.
When writing dialogue for each character, it’s important that each person in the story have their own personality. When speaking, no two characters should sound alike. So it’s important to make a cop sound like a cop and a perpetrator like a perpetrator. It’s important t make these characters sound authentic in any story.
Especially, dialogue is critical in defining character personality. Here is a piece of dialogue I heard when watching Manhunter:
“Do you have an eyeball?”
The scene was a stakeout. Lenny DePaul, on one side of the building, was asking Roxanne Lopez at the corner of the building, if she had a clear view to the doorway where the perpetrator might appear. In another show, I heard “Do you have an eye?”
A book I recommend where you can find police jargon if you’re not into scrutinizing TV shows is Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, by Tom Philbin.
Here are some examples from the book that can easily be incorporated into dialogue:
Flashlight roll = A police technique of rolling a flashlight across a doorway of a dark room to illuminate the interior.
Make a canoe = Do an autopsy.
Catch a stack = To rob someone who turns out to have a lot of money.
Grounder = An easy case to prosecute; also known as a ground ball.
Mutt = Police term for a person with very poor character.
Hello phones – Telephones that informants use to reach their police contacts.
Still more of the terms and definitions in this book run from hilarious to dead serious. You can find any term explained and some mean far more than you think they do.
If you want your stories, especially mysteries to sound authentic, this book or other similar ones listing terminology and definitions will greatly enhance your writing and dialogue. Make them part of your instructional library.
MA: I am delighted to have as my guest-blogger today, Tony Thorne. Tony is an Englishman, born and technically educated in London, England, and now living in Austria; but in the winter, he lives in the warmer Canary Island of Tenerife. He originally qualified as a Chartered Design Engineer and subsequently created a well-known British company specializing in Applied Physics products. For developments in the field of low temperature (cryo)surgery instruments, and very high temperature (carbon fibre) processing furnaces, the Queen awarded Mr. Thorne an MBE.
Well, that’s quite a scientific and technical background. I would have guessed you’d write technical books, textbooks, or articles for scientific journals. Why fiction?
TT: Much earlier in life I wrote and sold some science-fiction and humorous stories, was an active SF Fan, and a spare time lecturer for the British Interplanetary Society. After many business adventures, including the development of AI computer software for business applications, and animated computer graphics set to music, I now write quirky speculative yarns; mostly Science Fiction and Macabre tales, with a novel and over 100 short stories on file. Most of the latter are available in different collections.
I’m really a short story writer but Harry Harrison said I should write a novel if I want to be really successful … so I’ve recently completed one. Incidentally, Harry wrote the introduction to my Tenerife Tall Tales SF collections.
Most of my quirky SF and Macabre Tales are set in, on and even under, that magical Canary Island of Tenerife, where I spend every winter. Apart from those, I like to scan the science news for the latest developments and then write a tall tale about the possible consequences.
MA: So, tell us how you blend your science and technical background into your novel.
TT: In my novel, POINTS OF VIEW, the hero is a young blind boy, named Horace Mayberry, who gets fitted out with some nanotronic eyes. They are intelligent and can develop various functions to suit whatever scrapes the lad gets into. He is recruited into a secret government agency as an assistant to an experienced agent and embarks on a series of adventures, including being abducted twice by an international gang of crooks. Each situation causes his eyes to develop something new, and enables his introvert personality to evolve, too.
The finale covers an attack on the crooks hideout in Tenerife … where else! I had a lot of fun writing it.
MA: I love fiction that embraces technology like this. Tell us about your hero and villain.
TT: Horace is a cautious lad, very introvert initially. Then as his abilities develop he becomes impulsive and somewhat headstrong. The main crook, Rudolph Beckman, is an international billionaire financier who is after the secret of the company that developed the nanotronic eyes. He uses a trio of henchmen to do his bidding.
MA: Now, I’m sure your real-world exposure to emerging technologies influenced the plot in Point of View, but was that all? Did any other life experiences factor into the story?
TT: That’s a very interesting question. Yes, part of Horace’s training mirror’s some of my experiences when I joined the army, so many years ago.
MA: So what’s next in your fiction future?
TT: I’m currently working on a couple of new short stories and also finalizing a collection of quirky short tales and some poems which are to be published in the USA next year, entitled INSIDE INFORMATION. They’re items I’ve performed in costume, at SF Conventions and various other events.
I am also thinking about a sequel to the novel … there’s plenty of scope in the idea. Other than that, some of my short Tenerife tales feature common characters, and will continue to do so.
MA: I know your love of science drives you, but what else?
TT: It can’t be for the money, but more of that would be nice … I guess it’s really an insatiable craving to be recognized.
MA: (Chuckling). Thanks, Tony, for being my guest today. I encourage my readers to visit Tony’s website for more information about this intriguing author: www.tonythorne.com. Read More
Writing prompts and story ideas can be found in numerous lists on the Internet, but the best ones are found right around you.
How many times have you searched to find topics that might serve to shake a story out of your Muse? A list of words or phrases just might jog your Muse into action. Then, when you find such a list, you are not enthused by its offerings and you continue to search for more.
Story starters that encourage descriptive writing abound around you. Everything you see day-to-day is a writing prompt. If you don’t see life that way, I encourage you to take another look.
Take new interest in the things you take for granted. Let your mind wander from the probable to the improbable. Fantasize about things and events. Give them new life.
Here are a few samples of story ideas taken from everyday life that might help you see what’s around you in your world.
Imagine you’re walking down a road. Normally you see rocks and you side step and walk on.
If you’re a fantasy writer…
What would happen if all those rocks lying dormant for eons suddenly came to life? They pop. They explode. Wow! Would they be friendly? Or would they be alien, just waiting for the right moment to change the universe?
Want to write a mystery?
Suppose one of those ordinary rocks had fresh blood on it?
You find an envelope caught under a rock along the road. It’s open and money is sticking out. You want to get the money to its rightful owner so you return it promptly and find yourself looking into the fiery eyes of…
See where I’m going with this? Writing prompts are everywhere.
In my day to day life in Hawaii, just this morning, I saw or heard the following writing prompts out of my window from where I sit composing this bit of descriptive writing at my desk.
~ The man across the street is trimming branches off a tree with a buzz saw. He stops suddenly and tries to see into the window of the house. (Someone from inside that house may have called to him. But as a mystery writer, I can make a real thriller out of that teeny bit of action.)
~ A kid runs down the street, like he’s real scared. Now I hear a siren coming close.
~ A dog limps across my yard. It has a broken leg, or its favoring an injured leg, and hobbling. A moment later, another dog crosses the yard. Looks as though it’s had one leg amputated.
~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.
~ I hear a strange sound and it doesn’t sound like any of the neighbors using power equipment as they repair their houses and structures. The sound is most curious and I can’t get it out of my mind.
~ I hear a loud bang, like a gunshot. It comes from the next group of homes adjacent to this small neighborhood. I hear another.
~ The woman in the house to the left is standing out in her yard. She never just stands there. She’s always on the go. Her husband comes out. They talk. They hug. She cries. He comforts.
The best writing prompts are right around you. However, if you wish only words or phrases to trigger your Muse, then here are a few samples.
Buried money and valuables in a box
White powder in the kitchen and you don’t bake
Loving a married person, learning he is divorcing
A child who leaves alien footprints
An ugly knot growing on your body
Learning your spouse is a murderer in hiding
A horrific recurring dream that gets closer and closer
Lightning always striking only your house
The neighbors on your left practice swinging with the neighbors on your right
A rock containing clear facial images that seems to pull you in
A grotesque Halloween mask
A drop of acid rain
Unidentified creature footprints
This list is just a sampling. I could go on and on.
When searching for writing prompts, keep in mind that it is said only twenty types of stories exist. All stories have been written. This is true, but every story contains a different setting, unique characters, and unusual occurrences and endings. That is how we’re able to create new stories all the time.
As you seek mental stimulation through prompts, begin by having an idea in which genre you wish to write. Genre is what you need to decide first. Take for example, this prompt listed above:
~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.
A romance writer will turn that scene into, perhaps, one of a happy couple of kids. Then life pulls them to opposite ends of the world. They meet again years later, only by chance, depending on the circumstances of the plot, and realize that they still love each other.
A mystery writer could turn writing prompts such as this into a thriller where the girl is gah-gah over the guy, but he’s got other plans. He turns out to be a serial rapist!
A science fiction or fantasy writer would have the guy taking the girl out to a deserted field, she thinks for a bit of petting. Instead, he beams her up to a hovering ship and whatever fate waits.
Know your genre and then, as you read prompts, determine what appeals to the type of story line you wish to create.
Begin to make a list of story starters that you notice. They are innocent gestures and occurrences that you might find in any good novel or short story. Make a list of anything that strikes your Muse.
Allow yourself to dwell on story ideas that may come to mind. Loosen your imagination. Do it now. You will need to free your Muse to write any story. Begin with your writing prompts.
Any story starters that you discover can also be used as occurrences and highlights in the story itself. Story starters need not only start a story. Starters can also fill in the story middles and endings.
I have used many instances from my life and ancient family history as writing prompts. You might wish to read “Grandpappy’s Cows” in the Flash Fiction section on my website to see how my Muse hilariously stretched the truth.
Or you may wish to read what my Muse made of seeing a boy out in the dead of night with a scissors in “Boy at the Crossroad.”
Writing prompts, story starters, or story ideas, wherever you find them, can trigger descriptive writing if you will loosen the reins of your Muse and let your mind wander on things sometimes best left alone. But then, after all, it’s only fiction. Right?
Mary’s stories mentioned above are further analyzed in the Flash Fiction section of her website writeanygnere.com.