Today I heard from a fan who, after having finished The Finn O’Brien Thrillers and the Witness Series, tackled my standalone books. Her comments have ranged from ‘wow, where did that come from‘ to ‘that was pretty dark‘. I admit it, before I started my series I was inspired by life experiences that were a little raw, so her comments didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was what she said next.
“I love that your characters are so flawed, and you never wrap an ending up in a bow.”
Beyond Malice’s Amanda annoyed her at first, but the character brought back childhood memories that made the story more compelling. She understood and appreciated where the character was coming from because I had touched on something personal. Amanda ceased to be annoying and became a character to root for. Tara in Keeping Counsel had tons of baggage but she carried that weight and more. She agonized to the bitter end whether to sacrifice her own life or her best friend’s future. Character Witness, Before Her Eyes, and The Mentor explore flawed characters and their gut wrenching choices. This reader’s appreciation of imperfection is the mark of a true thriller lover.
My genre does not lend itself to bow endings. I write about the law and justice, about individuals against the system, about people who try to do the right thing but sometimes fail. A thriller ending must always be a draw. If I write about divorce, it is realistic that each character will lose family, assets, and stability, but will gain freedom, relief, and self-determination. Neither will be perfectly happy, one might be hurt more than the other, but the story can end no other way. Happiness is still a promise down the road. Will that be perfect? Probably not, and that will be another story. A happy ending for me is when my characters keep trying despite the roadblocks. That determination makes them heroic, and that’s why I love them.
For me an many thriller readers a happy ending is only satisfying when it is a little messy.
My messy, almost-happy ending, thrillers are FREE for Kindle Unlimited- $.99 to buy. Click a cover to read more.
Greetings! I’m back for my quarterly post about various and sundry things related to writing historical fiction.
In my last post I talked about the delights of playing with words and creating Tom Swifties.
Today I’m talking about the difference between English and English, as in American vs. British.
Is it fall? Or is it autumn? More on that later.
Words are the building blocks we writers and speakers use to create story. We start hoarding those blocks early, and the resulting vocabulary says much about our own personal settings—where we grew up, what our social milieu is, what our family is like.
A case in point—my grandkids’ first words. We waited with bated breath for each munchkin’s first spoken vocabulary word. I coached them repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to say “mama”.
But for both of them the first word was… DOG! (Yes, we do love our dogs.)
are taught “write what you know”. I wonder why? It’s a lot more fun to step outside the known world. But it does lead to challenges.
The biggest challenge: You don’t know what you don’t know.
For a 21st century American like me trying to set a story in Georgian England, there are a million opportunities to err.
First there’s the issue of etymology. Was a word used during this story’s time period?
A couple of examples from a Regency first draft I was beta reading for a friend:
And a couple from my own first drafts:
Which brings up another potential pitfall for the fledgling Regency Romance author.
Americans and Brits may speak the same language, but we use different words.
I’m fortunate to work often with an editor in England, and so I’ve compiled my own list of Americanisms for my own pre-editing purging.
Some more examples:
This very funny post from a British writer complete with illustrations.
And a list of 60 American English words translated into British English.
Once, long ago, while reading one of Georgette Heyer’s books, I wondered why they kept writing “cosy” instead of “cozy”. Why had so many misspellings slipped past the editor?
The British spelling was different enough to make it a jarring read for this ignorant and unaware American who happens to be a good speller. Fortunately, I’m wise to them now.
There are also punctuation differences. Here’s a short post about some of those.
I don’t believe Regency readers will pillory an author over this issue, so I’ve settled on using American spelling and punctuation in my stories.
One might say, in this area at least, I’m writing what I know!
Do you suppose we’ll ever go “one-world” on the spelling and punctuation rules?
Happy fall (and autumn) to everyone, and I’ll be back in December!
Images credits: autumn leaves and dog are from Stencil (I’d happily claim that dog though!); image of words is from Wikimedia Commons.
Writing a book is a work of love. However, things get in the way, i.e. work. We all dream of the day when we can make enough money to survive by writing. Until that day comes (if it ever does), we need to keep our full time jobs. We wrote and published our first five books working full time.
When do you write? This is a common question people always ask us. And it all comes down to time management and what you can do working around your family and work schedule.
Both of us use to go into work 1-2 hours early each morning just to write. We brought our lap tops and clicked away until it was time to start work. Egg timers are great for working an hour at a time. Don’t forget to bring your breakfast. Some people prefer to stay later at work which may work better for you. Be sure to plan at least an hour or more at a time.
Look for gaps in your day, including breaks, waiting for the mail, or meetings. Basically anytime you may have a few minutes, i.e., typing, or writing a note for characterization, dialogue or sub plot in a writing notebook, on a napkin/piece or scrap paper/paper towel and pocket it. You never know when inspiration will hit. Nothing is more frustrating than coming up with a fantastic idea, telling yourself you’ll remember and when it comes down to writing…forgetting.
Keep up the good writing.
Published authors Will Zeilinger and Janet Lynn had been writing individually until they got together and wrote the Skylar Drake Mystery Series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1955. Janet has published seven mystery novels, and Will has three plus a couple of short stories. Their world travels have sparked several ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and lives in Southern California.
In the oceans of writing instruction and advice available to anyone with a search engine I look for everything publishers have to say about current trends. Since you can’t really access publisher’s marketing info — and certainly not Amazon’s sales data — that’s as close to the horse’s mouth as I can get to learn about sales trends. That’s info that helps me help my clients. One offering stands out about contemporary fiction: keep the narrative fast paced. This digital world of FX, Twitter, flash fiction, etc. has our brains wired for lightening fast action. There’s not a lot of room for ruminating on superfluous details of landscape, the nature of family bonds or the sounds of church bells. The story has to gallop from the starting gate to capture and compel a reader. I think we all get that. What’s interesting to me are the narrative techniques an author can use to set and maintain that just-right pace.
Voice and tense are formidable tools to heighten tension, move action and hook and hold the reader. I don’t know what goes into an author’s decisions about what tense and voice to use but I’ll venture to guess it most often comes organically. When a protagonist begins to take shape in the creative sphere of the brain the author hears 3rd Person or 1st Person (which is tricky to write but such fun to read when done well) and the story grows in the mind in the present or past tense. Past tense is most common in fiction (and has been for eons) and is almost always 3rd Person. Present tense is more commonly used with 1st P voice; it creates an immediacy and intimacy that’s very engaging.
I’d never given a thought to 3rd Person present tense. Then I discovered the who-dun-it series of British writer Bruce Beckham. He’s amazing! Set in Britain’s Lake District his detective, Skelgill, is an irresistible mixture of irascible, self-centered, scruffy, generous and intuitive. Every character is roundly drawn and intriguing, the setting is as integral a character as the murderer and the pace never lags. Beckham accomplishes all of this in 3rd Person (omniscient) voice, present tense. It’s an unusual combination but in the hands of this author it is riveting.
It’s how he uses this tool to set and maintain a perfect pace and to draw the reader so fully into his world that amazed me. Reading a narrative described to you by an unknown, unseen, non-judgmental voice as the action unfolds just shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s like having your eyes covered at the movies while a very erudite friend describes what is happening on-screen.
Beckham is a master wordsmith and so uses dialog to show characterization and plot points but the present tense and 3rd P voice puts the reader in a front row seat as the action scenes unfold before our eyes. I didn’t feel as though I was right there — I was right there.
A writer’s choice of voice and tense would have to be dependent, in some part, on the story they are telling. Not every tale will fit just any combination. But it is amazing what a powerful difference the choice can make.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 25 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
Last night all I could think about was the deadline for this blog post. I had put it off all month. At the last minute I was hoping to write something inspirational for both readers and writers. While hope springs eternal, I found myself pondering – and pondering – what that perfect message should be.
If I’m going to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t come up with anything substantial because I have been distracted. When I’m distracted I usually sit down with a friend at a coffee shop and hash out whatever is on my mind until I’m back on track. Since I can’t do that you’re ‘it’, my friends in a virtual coffee shop. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing while I’ve been locked down and pondering this post. We’ll start with the garden and move on from there.
Tomato plants. I haven’t actually thought about the tomatoes as much as I have been checking on them. Going outside every fifteen minutes is a nice break from staring at my blank computer screen or at my husband napping on the couch. No matter how often I check, though, the tomatoes still have not turned red and my husband still has not gone back to work.
My fabric stash. Over the last eight weeks I have knocked it down some. Here’s the count: five blouses, a quilt top, a fully-lined summer suit (1 dress that would have fit 15 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter), and ten face masks. Here’s my question: is sewing my stash like a tree falling in the forest or is it like ‘build it and they will come’? I think it’s the latter. When the day comes to have dinner in a restaurant I will have lots to wear.
Work. Honestly, my brain has been mush when it comes to writing a new book. I have an idea but I couldn’t get it to gel, so I looked through my files and reread some of my early work. I had so much fun that I edited and published five novels from the 90s. I also published The Death of Me, a novella I wrote that morphed into a novel (Before Her Eyes). These two works are as different as they are similar. Some times pondering one thing will lead to another. The trick is not to ignore the ‘other’. Productivity: mission accomplished.
Finally, I’ve been pondering important things: the individual versus the greater good, the constitution and ‘guidelines’ as our lockdown stretches into yet another week, another month, another century. My heart is sad for those who are sick and who have died; my heart is breaking for my relatives and friends who are losing their livelihood, home and, well, everything they have worked hard for. I won’t tell you which side I’m on when it comes to hunkering down or opening up. I will only say that I realize that what I have been pondering all along is something readers and writers have always been inspired by: story. No matter what road we choose there will be stories at the end of it. We are writing them now.
These will be tales of tragedy and triumph; there will be something to laugh at and something to cry over. We will all see these events – and each other – differently. Eventually there will come a time when we put pondering aside so that we can sit with friends at a coffee shop, tell our stories, and hug each other when all is said and done.
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