Showing posts with label guest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guest. Show all posts

29 May 2021

I Have a Few Questions


Our guest columnist today is my friend Adam Meyer, a screenwriter and fiction writer. His TV credits include several Lifetime movies and true-crime series for Investigation Discovery; he recently finished his first thriller, Missing Rachel; and he is the author of the YA novel The Last Domino. Adam's short fiction has been nominated for the Shamus Award and has appeared in Crime Travel, The Beat of Black Wings, Malice Domestic: Murder Most Theatrical, and other anthologies. He also has stories upcoming in Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Diabolical, Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn 3, and more. Please join me in welcoming Adam to SleuthSayers!
— John Floyd

I Have a Few Questions

by Adam Meyer

I've often wondered: why am I usually so wiped out after a long day of writing?

I'm just typing words, after all. My father was a construction worker, who spent his days climbing skyscrapers. When he "rested his eyes" during TV show reruns at night, he'd clearly earned the rest. After a long day of work, I haven't done anything more physically taxing than dash to the kitchen for a handful of trail mix. So why am I so wiped out?

Over the years, I've come to realize that while the physical component of writing may be minimal, the mental piece of it can be intense. And what is it that's so tiring, so draining, so utterly exhausting?

Simple--it's the questions.

My daughter is eight now, but I can still remember when she was just a toddler. Back then, everything was a question: Why do we have to pay for the food before we leave the grocery store? Why are there traffic lights? Why can't I have ice cream every single day? (Come to think of it, that last one still comes up.)

As writers, we are perpetually living in this question phase of our lives. I can remember as a teenager, the very first time I started trying to draft a short story. Staring at the screen of my primitive Atari computer, I asked the question: what's the first line going to be?

After several minutes of puzzling this out, I went with the tried and true, "It was a dark and stormy night." Phew. At last, I was on my way!

Alas, more questions lay ahead, ready to ambush me. What was the story going to be about? A man and his cat, I decided. Great, now I was ready. But wait, what was I going to call this man and his cat?

It didn't take long to realize that the questions were not going to stop. In fact, they were built into the process. And experience has not made this go away. In fact, the more I've learned about writing, the more questions I seem to have.

From the very moment a new idea pops into my head, the questions begin: who is this piece going to be about? Why would the character do this or that? What is the conflict they're facing? And how am I going to resolve it?

Another question I find myself asking is how much space I'll need to tell this story. Have I come up with an idea that will sustain six or eight thousand words? In that case, it's a short story. But if the idea feels bigger and more complex, then maybe I have a novel or a screenplay. So which is it?

Over time, if the idea really starts to gather momentum, I have to consider the biggest question of all: is this something that I really want to write?

When I was younger, the answer almost always seemed to be a resounding yes. These days, it can depend on a variety of factors. What's the potential market? How long will it take me? What other deadlines do I have that I need to consider? 

If those answers satisfy me, I find myself asking one more question: have I written something like this before? I hate being bored. Then again, taking on a new challenge makes the writing more fun. But is this project too far out of my comfort zone?

Of course, I've learned that at some point I need to put the pre-writing questions aside and sit at my laptop. But that only invites a new series of questions: What's the first line going to be? That depends. Do I want to start at the beginning of the story, or somewhere in the middle?

Even if I've outlined a piece, the questions continue to come up, because what seems like a better idea always pops up. But is that idea really better? And which choice is most consistent with my characters?

As every writer knows, there's nothing better than finishing a draft. It's not just the sense of accomplishment, but also the feeling of utter relief. It's like dropping your toddler off at pre-school. For a few too-short moments, you actually get a break from the questions. But then … revision.

What is revision if not a series of questions one needs to ask about the manuscript? Yes, I've narrowed the choices considerably by this point. I've decided to focus on this character instead of that one. I've laid down the track of the story and followed it to what I hope is its natural conclusion. 

However, I still go through line by line and scene by scene and make sure that everything adds to the story. I also ask myself (again) if there is a better choice to be made. Sometimes it can be as simple as changing a word, other times it may mean adding a new character to a scene or shifting the point of view.

Of course, that leads to the final question, the one my eight-year-old is still likely to ask on long car rides: are we there yet? In other words, is this project done? At this point, I may bring in writer friends that I trust for feedback. OR I may just decide that I've had enough and move on. 

After all, I've been hard at work. And I'm tired, so very tired, of asking questions.

Adam and daughter Leah, writing away
Adam and daughter Leah, writing away

That said, I have some questions for you--what do you tend to think about most before you write or while you're writing? Which questions are the easiest and hardest for you to answer about your work?

23 November 2016

How I Conceived



photo by Peter Rozovsky
Last month I reviewed a story by Jeffrey Siger, which resulted in some e-conversation, and that led to what you see below. Jeffrey  is an American living on the Aegean Greek island of Mykonos. He gave up his career as a name partner in his own New York City law firm to write mystery thrillers. His books have been nominated for the Left Coast Crime and Barry Awards.

The New York Times called his Andreas Kaldis series “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales.”  Today he will tell us how he wrote the latest and eighth in the series, Santorini Caesars.                                                - Robert Lopresti .

                                                                          
by Jeffrey Siger


I never thought when Robert Lopresti generously offered me the opportunity of posting as a guest on SleuthSayers that I’d be talking about conception, but hey, nothing surprises me these days, and if it’s details on how I conceived my latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel the SleuthSayers faithful want, that’s what they shall get! 

A dozen years ago, when I decided to walk away from my life as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to unite my loves of Greece and mystery writing, I said to myself I would not write fluff.  I would write what I thought should be said in a way that told the truth as I saw it about a country and a people I cared very deeply about—little realizing at the time how applicable my observations on Greece would be to so much of the rest of our world.

When I started writing the series, I didn’t intend on becoming a chronicler of Greece’s trials and tribulations, but things just sort of turned out that way, as each novel gravitated toward exploring a different aspect of Greek society, and before I knew it I found myself immersed in creating a collage of what Greece is all about.   

For example, I’ve written about the relationships of Greek islanders and mainlanders, Greeks and their government, Greeks and their church, Greeks and immigrants, Greeks and their families, Greeks and their financial crises, and in my just released #8 in the series, “Santorini Caesars,” Greeks and their military. As important as are the elements making up that collage, is the glue that holds it all together—the unvarnished perspective of my protagonist, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis.

Andreas is a politically incorrect, second-generation cop, and an honest observer of his times, who despite all that life and the system throw at him, retains his integrity.  Perhaps most significant for purposes of my stories is the unfettered access he has to all levels of Greek society, be it the seamy underbelly of its most degenerate bottom rung as head of Greece’s special crimes unit, or the glittering lifestyles of Greece’s movers and shakers by reason of his marriage.

The idea for writing about the Greek military in “Santorini Caesars” had been percolating in my mind for quite a few years. After all, much of the nation’s modern history stands shaped by the Greek Military Junta Years of 1967-74, and until the financial crisis struck a few years back, Greece numbered among the world’s five biggest arms importers.  Even today Greece has four times the number of German made top of the line Leopard tanks as Germany’s own military. 

But how to tie it all together in the context of a fast-paced mystery thriller was my dilemma. Then one day it all came together, inspired by a simple passing thought on the predicament known as Greece: “The fragile fabric of a nation hangs in the balance.” 

Greece stands before the world in perilous straits.  With its government and economy in disarray, its goals and leadership suspect, and men like Kaldis undoubtedly at odds with its direction, life is not the same, nor likely to return to better days any time soon, and many wonder if carrying on the fight matters any more.

Sound familiar?

Yes, Greece’s situation inspired the story, but as I wrote it, I could not help but sense how many other places in the world faced nearly identical circumstances. Here’s the plot line for “Santorini Caesars” that evolved from that thought.

When a young demonstrator is publicly assassinated in the heart of protest-charged Athens, the motive is murky and the array of suspects immense.  Kaldis’ investigation leads him and his team to Santorini—an Aegean island of breathtaking beauty which legend holds to be the site of the lost island of Atlantis—and a hush-hush gathering of the Caesars, a cadre of Greece’s top military leaders seeking to form their own response to the crises facing their country. Is it a coup d’├ętat or something else?  The answer is by no means clear, but the case resonates with political dimensions, and as international intrigues evolve, the threat of another—far more dramatic—assassination looms ever more real. As does the realization that only Kaldis can stop it.  But at what price?  It is a time for testing character, commitment, and the common good.  And for saving the nation from chaos.

As I said, sound familiar?




02 February 2012

Lock Up Your Daughters


Mira Kolar-Brown
Mira Kolar-Brown
by Mira Kolar-Brown

Mira Kolar-Brown was born and educated in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslavia, where she graduated in English Language and Literature with post-graduate Business. She came to the UK in 1977 where she tutored at two universities and project managed for an NGO and a QUANGO, and now lives in the north-west of England. Upon early retirement, she has been working as a translator and interpreter for the public sector. This offers ample opportunities for research into the work of police, welfare system, courts, immigration and health organisations.

This first hand knowledge and experience proved invaluable in writing mystery novels, the Simon Grant Mysteries series, Hiding the Elephant and Lock Up Your Daughters, the latter title from which we've drawn another meaning for today's article.

Here's the talented Mira Kolar-Brown.


Hiding the Elephant Endrita

Author Sibel Hodge has written a book Trafficked: Dairy of a Sex Slave, a well researched, factual account of one young woman's journey through a new world of human trafficking.

Before we delve into that complex subject, let's go back to the beginning, back to our understanding and perceptions of the oldest profession in the world. We've all come across it, we've all seen men and women gathered at street corners at certain times and locations, waiting for customers, entering strange cars or disappearing behind buildings for ten minutes or so to render express service to those with little time and even less money. We also know that there are more upmarket forms of the old trade all the way up to designer wear and luxury hotels, caviar and champagne, and the box at Wimbledon, Covent Garden and Ascot.

And we lift our noses and gather our skirts around us and turn away in the knowledge that ours is a welfare state where no one needs to sell themselves to survive or feed their children.

Maybe.

Experience tells us that life is never a set of simple either or options.

I've mentioned the 'new world' of human trafficking even though there's nothing very new about the concept. It pre-dates the Roman Empire all the way back to the caves. What's new is the upsurge in the scale on which it's happening. With so many hotspots erupting all over the world throughout the past three decades, it has reached mind-boggling proportions and in the process it has pushed sex trade to new depths of horror.

I do not intend to go into details of what happens to men and women who fall victims to the trend. Several years ago, reports of girls and boys installed in premises condemned for human habitation, kept there with very little sustenance or breaks and made available for sex with a constant stream of paying clients until they're dead when they're replaced by a fresh asset, prompted several metropolitan police forces to start a counter-action and print leaflets in a variety of languages inviting victims to seek their protection. There was very little response. Some victims can't read, most of them are drugged to their eyeballs, and they're all scared stiff of what might happen to them and their families if they run away. But, more than anything else, the leaflets rarely reach the victims. What little response there'd been mostly came from clients.

There's a school of thought that none of the victims would have got caught in that trap if they or their families didn't have ideas above their station. Their decision to leave their homes and travel abroad to work in bars or as au pairs or cleaners is always based on the expectation of better earnings and higher standard of living.
Lock Up Your Daughters
Perhaps.

As I've said, nothing is ever that simple.

After early retirement I've been freelancing as a translator and interpreter for the public sector. I've spent a lot of time in police custody suites, category A prisons, Immigration interview rooms and appeal hearing centres. I interpreted for people serving life sentences for genocide and for their victims. I also interpreted for a few young women seeking asylum after they were raped. In all instances, the rape itself was, for the lack of a better word - straightforward. The man or men forced the woman to have sex with them and left. Horrendous as those incidents were, the true horror came afterwards. Their families didn't want to know them any longer because the girls became soiled goods and brought shame on the family. In one instance, the male members of the girl's family believed that only honour killing would save their face in the community, so her mother and grandmother spirited her away. Their stories prepared me for the encounter with Endrita to some extent.

Endrita was born and grew up in Pristina, Kosovo, She came from a family of ethnic Albanians. Her father was a doctor, her mother was pharmacist and Endrita and her younger sister considered themselves destined for university education and independent, comfortable, modern living. But then came the '90s, the Balkan war, the fighting and the bombings, and their world changed forever. The parents were suddenly stripped of their role in the family and replaced by family/community elders and the revival of ancient values and way of life. The elders in Endrita's extended family clan were aware that none of their members had been particularly active on the Albanian nationalistic front, the fact that was threatening their safety and well-being in the new order. They concentrated on rectifying the position and one of the avenues to an improved status was to marry off the girls to people in power. As long as they had a few teenage virgins to trade in exchange for safety and profit, they were into a winner.

Endrita had a couple of problems with that plan. She was in love with Jak, a man of no power or consequence and therefore ineligible, and she wasn't a virgin. When she caught the eye and attentions of a senior police officer, the situation became very serious. Her parents, unwilling to see their daughter married to someone she didn't love and aware of the dire consequences for herself and everyone else in the family if she was found to be 'damaged', they sent the younger daughter to relatives in Croatia and put together whatever money they still had control over to send Endrita to the UK and Jak.

They liked Jak.

Everyone liked Jak.

Some ten years Endrita's senior, he'd entered the UK illegally a few months earlier, applied for asylum and worked in London bars, mixing mostly with models, fashion designers and PR agents. Life was great. Jak was going to secure the beautiful, tall and slim Endrita a few modelling contracts and they were going to get married just as soon as his immigration status was sorted out. In the meantime, there were the bright lights and London night life to enjoy. And drink, And drugs. Soft drugs, at first. Then the harder stuff. Then one or two or three photographers and agents expressed an interest in getting to know Endrita a bit better before offering her a modelling contract. Jak saw no harm in that. That was the way of the world that they lived in. Then Jak got arrested for drug dealing leaving Endrita in the hands of his best friend, the human trafficker and the owner of one of the establishments offering 24/7 sex.

Endrita became available for sex 24/7.

A couple of moths later a Mancunian on a trip to London availed himself of her services, took pity on her, brought her up north with him and helped her to apply for asylum.

There's no fit ending to this story. Interpreters rarely learn the outcome of individual cases. I don't know what's happened to Endrita.

At the time of her immigration interview she was drug-free.

That's something.