Showing posts with label ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ideas. Show all posts

25 November 2019

Recycling


by Steve Liskow

One of the first short stories I wrote fifteen years ago featured Maxwell and Lowe, the Detroit homicide detectives who played supporting roles in the still unsold "Woody" Guthrie series. They investigated the death of a wealthy banker who died from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot. I called the story "Walking After Midnight," a Patsy Cline song. Several markets rejected it and I kept writing more stories because I was teaching myself to write short stories by...wait for it...writing short stories.

I sent out many other stories that got rejected, too, but eventually I sold enough to become an active member of MWA. In 2010, MWA called for submissions on a theme that "Walking" seemed to fit. I expanded it to make the theme more explicit and changed the title. It still didn't sell, so I cut some of that new thematic detail, changed the title again, and kept sending it out. The shot of my spreadsheet tells the story.

By the time the story sold, I had sold seven or eight other ones and was working on my sixth self-published novel. As "Dead Man's Hand," all that remained was the original premise, a blind man who still has a pistol permit and appears to shoot himself to death. I replaced Max and Lowe with different cops, and the POV shifted from the police to the son of the dead man, who didn't even exist in the first version.

Four other stories I sold in that period also changed titles. Two of them changed almost everything else, too. "Stranglehold," which won the Black Orchid Novella Award in 2009 as a 16,000-word novella, earned seven rejections as a 6700-word short story.

As I write this, eight of my 25 sold stories exist in at least two very different drafts. Sometimes I've cut them, but I usually change the characters or plot to make them better. My premise has only changed in one story, and that story still hasn't sold.

Last week, "Two Good Hands" appeared in Tough, and that story is unique. I added about 100 words after the first rejection because I decided the ending was too abrupt, but the other eleven rejections came with no other changes. I have a story knocking on doors now that is the only story I've never altered even though I'm running out of markets for it. That should tell me something, shouldn't it?

Where do all these versions live? I have a flash drive with a folder called "Stories, Unsold," and it has 34 drafts of 21 stories. They date back to 2004, and some of them are pretty awful, but I never throw anything away. One story exists in four different versions under two different titles.

That same flash drive has notes and outlines and early versions of several unsold novels. Blood On The Tracks earned 112 rejections between late 2003 and 2011. It went out as Death Sound Blues, Killing Me Softly (With His Song), The Cheater, and Alma Murder. The titles alone show how much it evolved. The first version was set in 1991, at Guthrie's 25th high school reunion. All that remains of that version is Megan Traine's name (Guthrie is the PI's fourth name, and he was a journalist in the first take) and the dead singer. That singer even went away in The Cheater and Alma Murder, which teetered dangerously close to Lifetime TV. I resurrected (?) the dead singer when I self-published the book in 2013.

My point is pretty simple. Never throw away ANYTHING. Someday, you will be able to  use the description of an intriguing place, a good line of dialogue, or a character you abandoned years ago. You will recognize that fact because now you've learned to write better and use stuff more effectively.

That flash drive still contains a gunfight I wrote in 2004 for a Woody Guthrie story that was never going to work. It also involved Blue Song Riley's boyfriend, and he never got to first base either. I recycled the idea and the mindset of that gunfight into Words of Love, the fifth Guthrie novel, which came out last week, too. (Last week was a good week.)

Postcards of the Hanging, published in 2014, had 44 rejections under that title, its fourth. I wrote  the first draft of my first novel in the early 1970s. Between then and 1982, it went out under three different titles with increasingly complex characters and subplots. Along the way, I learned how to write a bad novel more quickly and fix it later. The third version became my sixth-year project at Wesleyan in 1980, and that version is about 95% of what eventually saw print. I changed from chronological order to  flashbacks to make the book open with more energy. I also added about 12 pages of prologue and epilogue so agents understood that the book was NOT really a YA novel even though the main characters were in high school.

Six unsold novels. 34 drafts of 21 stories.

And people still ask me, "Where do you get your ideas?"

09 April 2019

Hey, Mister


Say, mister. Will you stake a fellow American to a meal?

            — Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Yes, it's very pretty. I heard a story once – as a matter of fact, I've heard a lot of stories in my time. They went along with the sound of a tinny piano playing in the parlor downstairs. “Mister, I met a man once when I was a kid,” it always began.

            —Rick Blaine (Bogart again, in Casablanca)


Okay, to be honest, I’m not really sure how apropos these quotes are for the following piece. But hey, mister (and Ms.), why not look for an opportunity to get Bogart into a piece?

I get the equivalent of “Hey, mister” sometimes when people that I know and sometimes people I don’t really know tell me they’ve got the greatest idea since the Moviola (remember those, Larry Maddox?) was invented. And if I write it for them we’ll both be rich. Or if I write it for them, they’ll take half of the gobs of profits and I can have the whole other half. So like Dobbs in Treasure of Sierra Madre, they want me to stake them to a completed script or manuscript from their original, fabulous, never-been-done-before, get rich quick, idea.

I have a friend, let’s call him Friend, who is a non-stop idea machine. Not just for writing projects (both film and prose) but for pretty much every other thing under the sun. If he could just get one done he might actually make that million bucks. But he never does. He’s all talk and no sit-down-and-do-it. Re: writing he wants me to sit down and do it and split the billions we’ll make. He’s enthusiastic and the ideas fly out of him at a million miles an hour. Some ideas better than others, but nothing that makes me want to pull out a contract and say “Yeah, let’s do it.” He’s a fount of ideas, but I’ve been approached by others as well. They don’t seem to realize that I have ideas of my own.

Moviola
On another occasion, an old girlfriend and I got back in touch for a short time – let’s call her Girlfriend. It was nice catching up with her. But right off the bat she said her husband wanted to talk with me. He liked film noir. He had friends who liked film noir. When she originally put me in touch with him I think I naively thought that he’d want to shoot the breeze about noir films or books…….or God-forbid even one of my books. But nope. Right away, he asked me to read a couple scripts by his friends and see what I could do with them. Well, both for legal and other reasons, I never even downloaded the scripts he sent me. Therefore, never looked at them. They, too, might have been the greatest thing since the Moviola, but I’ll never know. And I thought it was odd that he had the chutzpah as to ask something like that right out of the gate of someone he didn’t know, had never talked to, etc. But then, he’s a lawyer, so maybe it’s to be expected…

I’m approached fairly often with these fabulous offers, which I take about as seriously as the fabulous offers I see on late-night TV or hear from telemarketers. I try to help people whenever I can, as I’ve been helped by others. But one thing I don’t necessarily want to do is work on someone else’s idea at this point in my life. I’ve done that in the past. But that’s not where I’m at now. I don’t need the headaches of working with someone else, especially someone who wants it done their way but wants someone else to do it their way. And I have plenty of ideas of my own. Several hundred written down in a couple files on my computer.

So when someone gives me the equivalent of “Hey, mister, can you stake a fellow American to a script or manuscript or whatever,” I try to politely turn them down.

What about you?


~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The Anthonys. Well, from the BSP Department and since Anthony voting is still in progress, I hope you'll consider voting for Broken Windows in the Best Paperback Original Department.



The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

03 September 2018

Write What THEY Know


One of the time-worn chestnuts about getting ideas is "write what you know," and many people point out that staying on familiar ground will limit you. Obviously, it depends on what you know. It certainly didn't hurt Tom Clancy, did it? Or maybe Xaviera Hollander. If you have the right experience, you're golden.
The shared experiences some people think are mundane will be fresh if you put YOUR slant on them. And if they're shared experiences, you already touch a shared nerve that will affect many readers.

Everyone has a first job, first day of school, first date, first heartbreak and dozens of other rites of passage. One of the great literary themes is loss of innocence, which fills a lot of the high school literature reading list. "The Girl in the Red Bandanna," which I published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine last spring, revisits a summer job I only held for one night.

I've played guitar since the mid-sixties and one of my favorite stories was inspired by seeing the
Muddy Waters Blues Band when I was still heavily into the Monkees and Paul Revere & The Raiders. My musical world changed that night, but the story has had over 20 rejections and I've run out of places to send it. Oh, well...

Most of my titles are also song titles because Woody Guthrie, my wannabe rock & roller PI, came from meeting a classmate at my high school reunion. She was now a full-time session musician in Detroit. Blood On the Tracks, Woody's first adventure, was a long time coming, but he now appears in four novels and a few short stories, all of which take their names from songs.

My wife insists that Hell is really middle school. WE all have nightmares about it except the kids whose voices never changed, never had a growth spurt, or never went through puberty. Judy Blume is one of many writers who turned the angst into a gold mine. My own Postcards of the Hanging grew out of a scandal that rocked my school senior year.

Bel Kaufman had a huge bestseller recounting a first year of teaching in Up the Down Staircase, and Braithwaite fared nearly as well with To Sir With Love. My own Run Straight Down comes from my teaching, too, but has a little darker perspective.

Several of my friends (well, two. I don't have many) ask when I'm going to write a story revolving around theater. Well, Linda Barnes wrote an amateur sleuth series featuring Michael Sprague as an actor who solved mysteries. She gave the series up because, as she pointed out, if people got killed in every production Sprague joined, eventually nobody would cast the guy anymore. Barnes and I both grew up in Southern Michigan, moved to New England, and taught English and theater. She's younger and taller than I am, and much nicer. She also went back to theater for her standalone The Perfect Ghost a few years ago. If you have any familiarity with Hamlet, you might check it out.

Three days ago, I finished a first draft of my first attempt to use theater as a background for a story. I  only had to look up one detail that I no longer remembered after several years. It was fun to write, too, a refreshing break from my usual rock and blues.
My favorite poster from when I was directing...

Everybody knows something nobody else does. And maybe it's so obvious we don't even know we know it.

Now for the BSP. John Floyd and I both have stories in the newest issue of Mystery Weekly, now available at your favorite website.

24 February 2018

How long should we write?
Bad Girl confronts the hard question


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Is there an age at which we should stop writing novels? Philip Roth thought so. In his late seventies, he stopped writing because he felt his best books were behind him, and any future writing would be inferior. (His word.)

A colleague, Barbara Fradkin, brought this to my attention the other day, and it started a heated discussion.

Many authors have written past their prime. I can name two (P.D. James and Mary Stewart) who were favourites of mine. But their last few books weren’t all that good, in my opinion. Perhaps too long, too ponderous; plots convoluted and not as well conceived…they lacked the magic I associated with those writers. I was disappointed. And somewhat embarrassed.

What an odd reaction. I was embarrassed for my literary heroes, that they had written past their best days. And I don’t want that to happen to me.

The thing is, how will we know?

One might argue that it’s easier to know in these days with the Internet. Amazon reviewers will tell us when our work isn’t up to par. Oh boy, will they tell us.

But I want to know before that last book is released. How will I tell?

The Idea-Well

I’ve had 100 comedy credits, 40 short stories and 14 books published. I’m working on number 15. That’s 55 fiction plots already used up. A lot more, if you count the comedy. How many original plot ideas can I hope to have in my lifetime? Some might argue that there are no original plot ideas, but I look at it differently. In the case of authors who are getting published in the traditional markets, every story we manage to sell is one the publisher hasn’t seen before, in that it takes a different spin. It may be we are reusing themes, but the route an author takes to send us on that journey – the roadmap – will be different.

One day, I expect my idea-well will dry up.

The Chess Game You Can’t Win

I’m paraphrasing my colleague here, but writing a mystery is particularly complex. It usually is a matter of extreme planning. Suspects, motives, red herrings, multiple clues…a good mystery novel is perhaps the most difficult type of book to write. I liken it to a chess game. You have so many pieces on the board, they all do different things, and you have to keep track of all of them.

It gets harder as you get older. I am not yet a senior citizen, but already I am finding the demands of my current book (a detective mystery) enormous. Usually I write capers, which are shorter but equally meticulously plotted. You just don’t sit down and write these things. You plan them for weeks, and re-examine them as you go. You need to be sharp. Your memory needs to be first-rate.

My memory needs a grade A mechanic and a complete overhaul.

The Pain, the Pain

Ouch. My back hurts. I’ve been here four hours with two breaks. Not sure how I’m going to get up. It will require two hands on the desk, and legs far apart. Then a brief stretch before I can loosen the back so as not to walk like an injured chimp.

My wrists are starting to act up. Decades at the computer have given me weird repetitive stress injuries. Not just the common ones. My eyes are blurry. And then there’s my neck.

Okay, I’ll stop now. If you look at my photo, you’ll see a smiling perky gal with still-thick auburn hair. That photo lies. I may *look* like that, but…

You get the picture <sic>.

Writing is work – hard work, mentally and physically. I’m getting ready to face the day when it becomes too much work. Maybe, as I find novels more difficult to write, I’ll switch back to shorter fiction, my original love. If these short stories continue to be published by the big magazines (how I love AHMM) then I assume the great abyss is still some steps away.

But it’s getting closer.

How about you? Do you plan to write until you reach that big computer room in the sky?



Just launched! The B-Team 

They do wrong for all the right reasons, and sometimes it even works!
Available at Chapters, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and all the usual online suspects.

14 August 2017

The Land of Shady Habits


I set my first mystery in Saginaw, Michigan, about 80 miles north of Detroit. While I shopped that around, I also worked on a series set in Hartford, CT, where I now live, and many people asked why my stories didn't take place in New York, Chicago, LA, or Boston. I told them there were already enough private eyes there to keep things under control. Twenty years ago, Robert Parker, Linda Barnes and Dennis Lehane all worked Boston. It's a wonder there was even a parking violation.
Rosemary Harris uses a fictionalized Southwest Connecticut and a couple of other writers have set an occasional mystery in the state (Thomas Tryon, a Hartford native, created a version of Old Wethersfield in The Other), but I don't know why we don't see more of them. The state has an energetic multi-cultural background--Irish, Italian, Polish, African, Hispanic--not even counting the original occupants. Manufacturing and the insurance industry flourished here, and the history offers truckloads of material.

So does crime. The two towns that still argue over which is the oldest one in Connecticut both have seen major foul play.

Wethersfield, on Hartford's southern border, still has a section called "Old Wethersfield," with colonial architecture, tall trees, and a cove that leads to the Connecticut River. Thomas Beadle, a merchant who contributed to the revolutionary war effort, lived along the cove with his wife and four children. When the Continental Congress devalued Connecticut scrip to 1/40 the face value to help finace the war, Beadle faced bankruptcy and disgrace. In December 1782, after months of planning and delay, he struck his wife in the head twice with an ax and cut her throat in their bedroom. He did the same to the children in their rooms, then wrote a suicide note, sat in his favorite chair with a pistol in each hand, and shot himself through the head. His act was the first mass murder in the American colonies.

Over a century later, Amy Archer-Gilligan
ran a nursing home in Windsor, which borders the northeast corner of Hartford, only about ten miles from Wethersfield. Although she was only tried and convicted for one death, she poisoned at lest five men.

In fact, between 1907 and 1917, sixty residents of her home died, mostly from stomach ailments.


Eventually, the court declared her insane and she spent years in an asylum, dying in 1962 at the age of 93. Her story inspired the popular play Arsenic and Old Lace. If it had become a TV movie, maybe they would have called it Gilligan's Trial.

The Nutmeg State boasts (?) other ground-breaking crimes, too (pun intended). In 1957, authorities captured George Metesky, AKA "The Mad Bomber," after he had planted over thirty bombs in the preceding decade. After years in prison, he died in Waterbury at the age of 90 (Crime in Connecticut appears to be connected to longevity). His arrest came about after one of the first uses of a psychological profiler, whose description proved remarkably accurate.

Wethersfield used to be the site of Connecticut's electric chair, where Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky was executed in 1960 after killing at least seven people in a series of liquor store robberies. His reign of terror caused package stores to close earlier in the evening than had been customary.



In September 1983, several Puerto Rican nationalists held up a West Hartford branch of Wells Fargo and escaped with over seven million dollars, the largest recorded haul in history at that time. By the time authorities tracked down the thieves, they'd spent most of the money on political activism.

A much darker first occurred in 1989. In Newtown, philandering airline pilot Richard Crafts went to prison for killing his wife Helle, the first time a Connecticut jury convicted a defendant for murder without the corpse being found. Prosecutors built a grisly chain of evidence about how Crafts destroyed the body, and the case is still notorious as the "Wood Chipper Murder." It may have inspired the scene in the Coen brothers film Fargo.

In 2005, Michael Ross became the first execution in Connecticut since Mad Dog Taborsky after a jury convicted him of raping and strangling at least eight women in Connecticut and New York. Ross, who looked slightly more dangerous than cotton candy, picked up most of his victims hitchhiking.







In central Connecticut, the Cheshire Home Invasion of July 2007 is still an open wound. Two career screw-up druggies battered Dr. William Petit in his home, forced his wife to withdraw money from a local bank as a ransom (The banks' surveillance video was evidence at the trial), then raped and killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, aged 11 and 17. The injured Petit managed to escape and alert police, who captured the fugitives within blocks of the house, driving Petit's car. Their trial and ultimate convictions aroused a movement to bring back the death penalty, which Connecticut had rescinded after Ross's execution. The movement failed.

In August 2008, Omar Thronton, fired for stealing beer from the Hartford Distributors in Manchester, entered the building with two 9 mm semi-automatics and killed eight co-workers before turning his guns on himself.

It's disturbing to notice how these tragedies seem to come more and more quickly. The most horrific of many school shooting rampages took place in Newtown, the home of the Crafts couple I mentioned above. On December 14, 2012, mentally disturbed Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 six-year-old students, five teachers and the school's principal. He shot himself when police answered the frantic 911 call, and his mother--who bought him the guns, including an assault rifle--was found shot to death in her home. Local Senator Chris Murphe is one of Congress's strongest voices for gun control, and President Barack Obama's private visits to each of the victims' families are now local legend.

I'm closing this installment with the story that made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Even if you don't follow football, you might have heard of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, a star athlete at Bristol Central high school (where one of my theater buddies used to teach English). Hernandez was convicted of murder in 2015. while in prison, he was tried for two more murders, but was acquitted. Five days after his acquittal, guards found him dead in his cell, apparently after hanging himself.

Yes, it's a grim list. But it gets even worse. Next time, I'll discuss a few more cases, all of which involved people I know. I even used a couple of them for stories...

03 June 2017

Zoning Out


All of us have heard of it, and all of us have experienced it, from time to time (but never enough, it seems). It's special and wonderful and elusive--and no, it's not fame or fortune. What am I talking about?

It's something I've often heard called the Hot Zone, or just the Zone. It's a feeling, or a state of mind, that we as writers are sometimes able to achieve, and when we're reached it our ideas seem to blossom and the words seem to flow and the whole world just seems right. When we're in the Zone we're invincible, unstoppable; we can do no wrong. Author Carolyn Wheat once said, "Getting to that state, and staying there for as long as possible, is the key to writing success."


I used to play a lot of golf, and even though I'm weary of sports analogies, I can still recall the warm and weird "feeling" that came with the confidence of sometimes knowing, during a swing, that the ball was going to go exactly where I wanted it to go. (That feeling was rare, and many of the balls I hit have never been found--but when the sensation was there, it was exhilarating.) The same thing happens occasionally during other activities, including some of my writing sessions.

But I was serious when I said it's elusive. Ariel Gore observed, in her book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead, "Where do I go to write a story? I don't. I just sit here, waiting and waiting and waiting till the story begins to come to me. Then I sit very, very, very still and try not to scare it off. If I grab at it, it might run under the sofa and hide."

John Simmons, in a piece he wrote for Writers & Artists, said, ". . . When I'm in that zone, I'm not always aware of it. It's a wonderful feeing when you realise afterwards that you've been there. I think it's part of the addiction of being a writer."

More quotes:

"An athlete has her training schedule, the date of the event stamped in her mind, the excitement of the crowded stadium to trigger her best. An actor has his script, his rehearsals and, when it matters, the glare of the lighted stage. The writer has nothing. Hence all the mad little rituals we hear about, having to use a 4H pencil, a Moleskine notebook, having to be in a particular spot, in a certain room, at exactly this time of day, drinking this kind of tea, smoking this brand of cigarette. All desperate attempts to propitiate inspiration, to have ordinariness and originality somehow intersect." -- Tim Parks, "The Writer's Zone."

"The runner's zone is a situation that occurs when you have run for a long time, and your body finds a 'place' where it hits its peak performance. Your body synchronizes your breaths and moves more efficiently. When a writer gets in the zone, inspiration, imagination, posture, keyboard command, focus and concentration, and even the perfect amount of emotion all settle in, making us type much faster, make fewer mistakes, automatically correct the mistakes we do make, and essentially enter a supercharged writing mode." -- Scott Kuttner, "How to Find the Writing Zone and Stay There"

It even got mentioned in the current crime novel I'm reading (Home, by Harlan Coben). The book's protagonist, former NBA star Myron Bolitar, is watching his nephew play basketball in Myron's old high-school gym, and Coben says, "You could see it right away. The greatness. Myron studied his nephew's face and saw that look of what they called 'being in the zone,' focused yet relaxed, on edge yet laid back, whatever terminology you wanted to use, but really it could all be summed up in one word. Home. When Mickey was on the court, like his uncle before him, he was home."

The big question, then, is how do we writers ensure that we reach this mystical place, often and regularly? Well, everybody has different ideas about that. Peter Shallard, in his article "Psychological Tips for Getting in the Writing Zone," said, "Hardly anyone knows how to get in the zone to produce top quality written material. This is about having the state of creativity (or productivity, or whatever is relevant) on tap . . . ready to go, whenever you need it."

Z marks the spot

So how DO we find our way into the Zone? As always, most treasure maps are false, or at least misleading. I've found that some of the "hints" we're given in how-to-write books are maddeningly vague: clear your head, breathe deeply, meditate, find your rhythm, leave your troubles behind, etc. That kind of advice is no help to me--or, I suspect, to anyone else. Of course we need to clear our heads of everything except writing, in order to do our best work. But how?

The following is one of those "do as I say" lists, rather than "do as I do," since I don't seem to be able to make myself obey these rules. But a lot of my writing friends swear that these are the things they do to increase their chances to reach (and frolic in) the flowery meadows and bubbling fountains of the Writing Zone.

1. Write in the same place every day.

This could be the desk in your home office, a recliner in your den, a chair on your sun deck, a swing in your back yard, or anyplace that just feels "right" and comfortable. But let's face it, most writers have schedules that make this hard to do, at least for any length of time. For some, it might be a seat on the commuter train to the office and back. Whatever works.

2. Write at the same time every day.

This is another rule that, for many of us, might or might not be possible. If your daily routine allows it, I can see that it could help. And I've heard that the time should be early in the day rather than late, because our minds are fresher before facing all our daily non-writing problems. Again, if you can do this, fine. Since I'm a night-owl anyhow, most of my fiction is produced in the wee hours (the midnight zone?)--but I don't assign myself a time slot. I can, and do, write pretty much anytime, and anyplace.

3. Surround yourself with encouraging/inspiring sounds.

Many writers say they require a certain kind of music during their writing sessions; others prefer a busy public place with people-noises, like a coffeeshop or the food court in the mall--or a city park with the soothing sounds of birds and traffic and laughing children. I even know writers who use white-noise machines or tapes of rain on the roof or of seagulls and the surf. What I prefer, like Simon and Garfunkel, is the sound of silence. I'm not a solitary person, usually: I like to have things going on around me. But when I write, I want it quiet.


Game analysis and zone defense

If I had to assign percentages, I'd guess that at least half my writer buddies make a sincere attempt to follow the three rules I mentioned. And I say More power to 'em--if that helps, do it. If I did it, I might create better stories, or at least create them faster. But we all have our own methods, and I've been fortunate enough to somehow reach that strange and hypnotic plateau pretty regularly without knowing for sure how I got there.

What do you do, to maximize your writing efficiency/productivity? Is this "zone" state of mind something that happens to you often, or seldom? Do you write in the same location every day? Same time(s)? Do you listen to classical music while you work? Jazz? Rock? Country? The sounds of nature? The Mystic Moods Orchestra?

To each his own.



And by the way, sincere congratulations to my old friend and fellow SleuthSayer O'Neil De Noux, for being nominated earlier this week for a Shamus. Well done!!

04 January 2017

A Flood of Ideas


by Robert Lopresti

The town where I live is usually pretty soggy, but this was the wettest October in recorded history.  Then, the first Saturday in November we got two and a half inches of rain.  And that was too much for the walls of my sixty-year old house.

I should explain that I live in a raised ranch, with what is known as a daylight basement.  And about half of that basement flooded on Saturday night.  Luckily, it was mostly the unfinished section.  We emptied at least seventy gallons out of there with wet vacs.
'
I collapsed around 1 AM but Terri stayed up most of the night.  When I got up to relieve her I found myself doing a mindless physical task while half awake.  And as some of you know, that is a perfect condition for a writer to start bouncing ideas off his skull.

* What would Shanks, my mystery writer character, do if his basement flooded?  Complain a lot, naturally.  It's what he does best.  But could he use that mess to solve a crime somehow?

* Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine just bought the third story in my "Bad Day" series, each of which is about a group of strangers in fictional Brune County getting tangled up in a crime.  What if my incompetent Brune County cop, Officer Kite, got called to a flooded house?

* What if a family turned off (or didn't repair) their sump pump, causing disaster to neighbors downhill?  A family feud begins...

* The cabinet in our back tool room got soaked and all the boxes of effluvia and paint cans had to be tossed.  What if a couple who was, say, renting a house, experienced the flooded basement and, in the process of cleaning up, found something they weren't supposed to see?

Hmm.  I like that one.  Maybe once things calm down I can wring out the computer keyboard and see what happens...

13 May 2015

Janet Reid on Blogspot


Janet Reid's an agent in New York who posts her thoughts and queries and if you haven't visited, it's well worth your time. She talks about the pitfalls of querying, and agenting, and the vagaries of publishing. It's informative. 

This past week, she got a question from an author, as follows: What if I don't want to do business with a particular publisher? (The concern here was ethical or political issues.) Janet didn't say this was a flat-out deal-breaker, but she said you'd better be able to explain yourself.

Let's say, for example, you don't want to publish with Rupert Murdoch, because you don't like News of the World, or the Fox network. Maybe you don't want to work with Regnery, because their list includes writers like Ann Coulter. Contrariwise, suppose you have issues on the other side, and it goes against your grain to shop a book to a house whose authors may support abortion, or same-sex civil unions, or something else that conflicts with your personal convictions. In other words, if you feel strongly enough about something, for or against, you don't want to collude in promoting a belief system you find wrong-headed, or even repellent.   

Janet remarks that one problem with this is that a Hit List of publishers might be entirely arbitrary, and what if you move the goalposts later on? So-and-so was fine with you until they paid big money for O.J. Simpson's memoirs or Fifty Shades of Grey. You can get a chicken sandwich anywhere, but sometimes Hobby Lobby's the only store that carries the specific product your kid needs for a school project. You can boycott ivory, or blood diamonds, and nobody needs powdered rhino horn, no matter what their problems are with erectile dysfunction, and those things are pretty black-and-white. The trouble comes when everything's so interdependent, or vertically integrated. How much are those Vietnamese laborers paid for making designer sneakers? And what if Adidas, on the other hand, promotes Third World literacy and eradicating disease?

A related point is that there just aren't that many big trades left to sell your book to. There are, in fact, only five corporate majors. Bertelsmannn probably controls 20% of the market. NewsCorp, Hachette? This doesn't leave too many seats at the table. There are a number of viable indies, but they don't have the leverage of the Big Five. Realistically, if you want distribution, and readership, you're selling your soul to the devil. I don't have much use for Rupert Murdoch, either, but I wouldn't turn down a contract offer from HarperCollins, it's cutting my nose off to spite my face.

So what's a girl to do– take the money and run? Let's say I don't agree with Steve Hunter's politics, or Charlie McCarry's. I still read their books. I think we let the marketplace of ideas settle our differences. Life's too short to fuss about this, as Janet Reid herself says. What counts is whether what we wrote is any good.  

05 May 2014

Random Thoughts On Writing


Jan Grape
Random thoughts running thru my head today. Both are good subjects, I hope. The first is, do you let an idea jell or percolate in your head before you start writing? I try to do that but have certainly been guilty of not letting the idea jell long enough. And to be honest, you can also take too long to let an idea come out of your head and onto the computer screen or on to the paper.

I don't think there's a specific amount of time that one should use. No right or wrong way here. Sometimes a story demands that you sit yourself down and write while the idea is fresh on your mind or when the muse says, do it, just do it now.

It's always possible you'll have an idea, maybe make some notes so you won't forget it. Then you set it aside. Perhaps you might need to do some research on the subject. On the location or on the character's life or on some part of the idea. Somewhere your creative muse says, whoa, slow down here, we need to get this right. Or maybe you've written about half-way through and you're not exactly sure where to go. Place it on the back burner and let it percolate. Most likely it will come spilling out when you least expect it, but it will solve your problem.

Most writers I know, write both novels and short stories, but I once was editing an anthology and asked an Edgar winner if he would write a short story to be included.  He declined by saying, sorry I only have one idea a year and I need to use that for my next novel. It was a strange response but perhaps it's true.  I don't recall seeing many if any short stories from him through the years, but he does write terrific novels.

Personally I seem to do better when I have a deadline so I don't let my story or idea simmer too long. And I have on occasion had a story come pouring out and finishing a decent short story in a day.  I do try to set it aside then and jell at least a day or two then reread before I edit.  If I have the time, I think I'm mentioned before that I like to let a story sit for three or four days before I start on editing or rewriting. But each writer does things differently and each story or book demands different actions.
I do think it's a good thing to be easy going and do whatever works for you in the long run.

****

My other random thoughts are about mentoring aspiring writers. How many of you have done that? I enjoy doing it and actually do it every year for my Sisters-in-Crime local chapter. We have an event every year in May which is to honor our good friend, Barbara Burnett Smith who had a fatal accident in 2005. Barbara enjoyed mentoring and her son, W.D. Smith set up this event with our Heart of Texas Chapter. The authors who agree to participate, are sent the name of an aspiring writer. The author contacts the writer and the writer sends along 500-750 words of their work in progress. A very short synopsis is also included.

The author reads and critiques and spends as much time as the author wishes. Then on the scheduled date for the S-in-C meeting and event, the author and writer meet. The regular meeting occurs and the participants are recognized. Usually a portion of the aspiring writer's work is read. Also one author is usually chosen as being an outstanding mentor. At the end of the meeting, the mentor and mentee have a few minutes to discuss the mentees work and hopes. The author gives the aspiring writer a couple of their books and autographs them.

One major thing I enjoy about being a mentor is when I read the new writer's work, I can see myself with my early work. I can usually see where they might be going wrong and do my best to set them on the right path. However, you might find an outstanding aspiring writer and decide you want to introduce them to your editor or agent. That hasn't happened to me yet, but I've had a couple come close and hope I'll see them published soon.

I also enjoy the idea of giving back or paying it forward is really the right term. I had so many wonderful writers help me when I was getting started and I remember telling one that I'd never be able to repay him. He said, don't ever even think about it. But to pay it forward. That he'd had great help when he started and someone had told him to pay it forward. It was something that he always tried to do. And it's something I always try to do. It's such a wonderful feeling to see the growth of an aspiring writer and know that you were able to help them get to complete their goal.


Happy Spring, Happy May, and Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Like my partner in crime, Fran, always says, until we meet next time take good care of yourself.

08 April 2013

Lost Ideas


Jan GrapeI'm thrilled the President is backing research on mapping the brain. Mainly, because I'd like to know where my brilliant ideas go inside my brain when I lose them. Does this ever happen to you? I can't understand it and it's wonderful that scientist are going to map out the brain. I wonder if it will be like a file cabinet and things will be labeled alphabetically? Or will they just handle things regionally? Texas things here. NY things here. California things over here. Music, art, literature, science, mathematics, food, wine, sex, uh oh. I really don't care I just want to access those awesome ideas when I have them.

The aggravation is, I know I had a wonderful idea for this post last week. It was on writing and the lessons were perfect for the beginning writer, for the advance writer and for the astute reader. I had examples I planned to use and even thought of book covers I could incorporate. But silly me, I didn't write any of this down. You see, I was laying (lying?) in bed trying to go to sleep and my brain was running about 120 miles per hour. It happens to me at least twice a week. I just can't turn off my brain and go to sleep.

So I'm lying (laying)? there and suddenly I began having a brainstorm. I'll bet at least half of those 86 billion neutrons were popping at the speed of light and the thoughts kept blinking off and on. Off and on. I'd have a good thought and that in turn would melt into another related good thought. The next idea flowed into another and it all made wonderful sense.

I know, I know, I probably should have gotten up, picked up my pad and pen from my night stand and made notes. Problem is, I was so comfortable. I had my body in exactly the right position so that nothing hurt and it was so nice that I just didn't want to move. When you get to be my age, good sleeping positions are to be cherished and the worst thing you can do is move a muscle. Because once you move, that warm comfy position somehow slips away. No matter how much you try, after you get up, to get back into that comfort zone you just can't find it. It's gone. Where I don't know, but perhaps with the brain mapping there will be a cabinet drawer that's labeled "Comfort Zone For Sleeping." Lord, I hope so.

So I'm totally comfortable and I'm not about to move. The next best thing is to sternly tell myself, "Self, this is important. This will make a super article for my SleuthSayers blogspot." Okay, so I repeat several times what I believe is the main theme of my article. I mentally write on my forehead, as if it were a note pad. Number 1: The fantastic way to do this is by writing...this. Number 2: It's very easy to do, all you have to do is...this. Number 3: Show examples of this. Number 4: Get someone to show you how to pull book covers off web sites and put into your article. Finally, Number 5: bring it all together in a meaningful way and wow...you got this.

That's when the danged alarm went off and it was time to get up and get ready for my bowling league. I was exhausted because I had not slept a wink all night because I had this extraordinary idea to write for my blog. However, I couldn't remember any of it except all the meaningless things.. Like being too comfortable to get up and make notes. Like talking sternly to myself and saying "You will remember, you will remember, your will remember." Like mentally writing bullet number points on my forehead as it it was a lined sheet of paper.

BUT I had absolutely no idea what my article idea was about. Nothing. Nada. No way. I've tried every day for nine days to remember. Used every trick I could think of to bring it all back to mind and nothing works. Which means that y'all now have this silly little article about my forgetfulness and my frustration. As my Mama used to say, "It's aggra-fretting."

Please Doctor Scientist, hurry up and get our brains mapped so I can know exactly where to go in my mind to find those super ideas that I manage to come up with. And maybe, just maybe that awesome idea is there, filed away somewhere in my mental file cabinet and I'll be able to resurrect it and write it up for all of you to read.

25 February 2013

Ripped From The Headlines


Jan Grape People always ask writers: "Where do you get ideas?" Gosh, I dunno, maybe the news of the day, just ripped from the headlines. Two items that caught my attention this week:

Body in hotel tank: Cause may take weeks


An autopsy on a woman whose body was found in a hotel water tank in Los Angeles is complete, but the cause of death is deferred pending further examination, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said Thursday.
That may take six to eight weeks, according to Ed Winter, the assistant chief of the coroner's office.
The decomposing body of Elisa Lam, 21, of Canada, was found floating inside a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel on Tuesday. The body was in the tank for as long as 19 days while guests brushed their teeth, bathed and drank with water from it, officials say.

One lady is reported to have thought the water tasted "funny" but finally chalked it up to the LA area having strange tasting water. (Taken from a CNN News Report)



Don't think about this too much, but maybe for the next few weeks or months people will carry bottled water with them. That won't help with bathing; at least what you drink will likely be pure.

My first thought when reading this was I wonder how many thriller/mystery books will come out next year with this idea as the premise? Someone on Facebook stated that one of the CSI-type shows had this as a story line a few years ago.

Maybe this next item should be in the "Stupid Crooks" column except this guy wasn't a crook. At least nothing was said about his rap sheet.

Woman 'shot' by exploding bullets in oven


A Florida woman is lucky to be alive after being 'shot' when a loaded handgun magazine exploded in an oven.
Aalaya Walker, 18, was visiting a friend when she turned on the oven to heat up some waffles, not realising he had hidden the magazine there earlier, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
When she went to investigate the resulting explosion, she was struck in the chest and leg by bullet fragments.

Ms Walker was able to remove the shrapnel before taking herself to hospital to be assessed. Her friend, Javarski Sandy, told police he had placed the magazine from his licenced Glock weapon in the oven with four rounds still in it.

"He stated that he does not have a temperature gauge on the oven so he estimates the temperature based on how far the knob is turned," the police report read. "I observed that the inside of the oven was damaged."

If being an idiot were an arrestable offense, Mr. Sandy would be in handcuffs by now but no charges have yet been laid. (Taken from a CNN News Report & Tampa Bay Times)



As most writers know truth is often stranger than fiction. I know writers who have written true stories in their manuscripts and an editor rejected them by saying "No one would believe that."

I've often said and think maybe have even mentioned in a column before that ideas are everywhere. I even have a strange feeling they're in the air and when you need one, you just reach for one. There have been times I've had an idea come to me and a short time later I would read or hear something about that same idea. Or would come across a book written by someone else using that same idea.

But I've also heard stories of authors already working on a book when the major premise of their book actually happened in the real world. Both times the author had to stop and give up on the idea because it was too close to the real events. The first was a writer friend who told of how he was writing a book about a famous athlete (not a football player) killing his wife and he was about three-fourths of the way to the ending of his book, when O.J. Simpson was accused of killing his wife. In my friend's book the athlete is caught burying the wife. The author gave up his book because by the time it came out everyone would think he had just "ripped" his story from the headlines.

The second, was current best-selling author Michael Connelly and he reports in his newsletter that he had a book almost complete that he had to give up because it dealt with school children being killed in an elementary school. But it's got to hurt an author to spend so much time developing the story and characters and then have to dump it. Michael had to do that, Newtown CT was too emotional.

I do know that many television shows of today are based on true stories or events of the day. One television show has used that idea to their successful advantage for many years.

So the next time someone asks you where you get your ideas, you know what to say: "Ripped From The Headlines."

03 October 2012

Peculiar


by Robert Lopresti

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in this very spot that I had an idea for a story about blackmail, but the idea refused to resolve itself into a plot.  I spent many hours riding around on my bike, the PlotCycle (TM), pondering the little seed but it has still refused to germinate into a full-blown story.  It was like I had a pile of flesh and no skeleton to hang it on.

But something peculiar happened last week.

I was reading someone else's story -- in fact, it was "The General," by our own Janice Law in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance.  A fine story it is, by the way, and I recommend it.

But my point is that a few pages in I suspected I knew how the story was going to turn out.  And, of course, I was completely wrong.  Which is fine; I like surprises.

However, by the time Janice had finished unwinding her story, I had unwound mine.  I had the entire plot for a story in my head.  Usually when I get an idea for a story I just jot it down in my pocket notebook, but I felt so strongly about this one that I hurried over to my computer, poked the hamster to start spinning the hard drive, and wrote an outline.  I even wrote the gutwrenching last paragraphs (oh, you'll weep.  Trust me.)  Now all I need is time to write the damned thing.

From original concept to fully developed plot: less than an hour.

Meanwhile, remember my blackmail story?

From original concept to fully developed plot: more than a month and still an unfinished mess.

Which leads me to my thesis statement: The human mind is one peculiar vegetable.

19 September 2012

Lights bulbs, twelve for ten cents


by Robert Lopresti

So, let's say you're a writer.  One day you introduce yourself to someone and that person asks what you do.  Being an honest sort you say "I'm a writer." 

Nine times out of ten, that's fine.  But the tenth time you will see the face of your new acquiantance brighten wonderfully.  "I have a great idea for a novel/story/sccreenplay!"

Uh oh

Here's your best move: Point over his or her shoulder and say: "Look!  A silver-crested wookpecker!   They're supposed to be extinct.  I have to call the Audubon Society!"

 Then run like hell. Because this conversation is not going to go well.  Let's assume you stck around long enough for our  newcomer to explain his story.  One of three possibiities will likely occur.

1.  The idea is terrible.  Well, most are, mine included.

2.  The idea is good, but not one you could do anything with.  Most writers are inherently suited to write about the ideeas they come up with themselves.  Problem is if you tell your new friend that he/she will think this is an excuse you came up with because you realy think the idea belongs in category 1.

3.  The idea is good and one you could work with.  (Hey, it could happen.)  You tell acquiantance this and the person suggests you write it and spit the profits fifty-fifty with the person who did the hard work, i.e. thinking up the idea.

I have now managed to sneak up on myy point, catching it unaware, I suspect.  Here it is:  Ideas are a dime a dozen.

I know that isn't a popular point of view, but consider this example:

A boy discovers he is a wizard and goes off to wizard school.

Is that a billion dollar idea?  Nah..  What J.K. Rowling did with the idea is what made her richer than Queen Elizabeth.

In other words, the idea is not the precious pearl.  It is the grain of sand the pearl grows around.,  As the philosophers would say it is necessary but not sufficient..

I am pondering this because there is a grain of sand rolling around in my brain, irritating the heck out my cerebellum and medulla oblongata.

Basically, it is a new concept in blackmail.  (Suddenly I feel like I'm in the marketing department.  Exciting Breakthrough In Extortion Technology!  Ask your victim if it's right for you.)

So far the idea has not developed into a plot.  The pearl has refused to grow.

Now, let's consider another idea.

A young woman is brutally attacked by a son of power and privilege.  Her only parent seeks justice and, failing that, revenge.

That happens to be the plot of idea behind two of the best stories I have read this year.

The more litigious among you may now be thinking: Two stories with the same idea?  Author B stole from Author A!  Plagiarism! 

Well, yes and no.  I am fairly sure that Author B stole the idea from Author A but I don't think there will be a lawsuit.  Because in this case Author B is Author A.   Both stories were written by Brendan DuBois.

"His Daughter's Island," ( Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2012) is the story of Zach Ford, a mild-mannered accountant in a small town in Maine.  His beloved daughter goes off to a party at the home of a millionaire and dies.  The millionaire's son is whisked out of the country, far from the possibility of justice.

"The Final Ballot," (Mystery Writers of America presents Vengeance) tells us about Beth, whose daughter suffers life-threatening injuries at the hands of the son of a senator and presidential candidate.  The candidate's fix it man offers her a couple of choices, but can she get what she wants?


 They are both excellent stories but I prefer Ballot, for two reasons.  In Island the revenge begins on the first page and stays fairly static throughout, but in Ballot the revenge comes late in the story, in a non-violent twist that nonetheless takes one's breath away.

Second, in Ballot the odds against the protagonist are even higher.   

Beth knew in a flash that she was outgunned.  This man before her had traveled the world, knew how to order wine from a meny, wore the best clothes and had gone to the best schools, and was prominent in a campaign to elect a senator from Georgia as the next president of the United States.

She put the tissue back in her purse.   And her?  She was under no illusions.  A dumpy woman from a small town outside Manchester who had barely graduated from high school and was now leasing a small beauty shop in a strip mall.

But my main point here is to demonstrate how a talented writer can produce two very different, but equally fine stories from the same idea.

And speaking of ideas, I wanted to tell you some more about that blackmail concept--

What do you mean, you saw a silver-crested woodpecker?  We're indoors!  Get back here!

23 August 2012

Time with Art




 by Deborah Elliott-Upton

What's better than spending time with people you admire for their skills? Last week I had a leisurely lunch with a creative group of women. The assortment of talent ran the spectrum of the genres in the writing arena: one was a playwright, one a singer/songwriter, another a novel-length young adult writer, a children's author who handles novels and picture books, a historical fiction writer, a romance writer and me, the lone mystery author. (For some unknown to me reason, although my area in the state is known for its abundance of writers, few choose to write mystery.)

An eclectic gathering, we spoke of our current works in progress. A few won't discuss their work until it is finished, several only with their personal critique group members and a couple said it depended on which work at which specific time.

I am one that falls into the latter choice. At the beginning of  project, I tend to talk more about the basic idea with a few close individuals. This is more my way of seeing if the idea holds attention with the public as much as with me.

At that point, I tend to mull over the details of the plot and allow the characters to come to me with their own viewpoint. They need to talk to me!

Writing after this is usually kept more to myself until I am ready for someone else with a critical and unbiased eye to take a look.

This group -- like so many others in the writing community -- is less about stroking egos and more about supporting other artists in their artistic endeavors. Talking about writing to us is like finding a lifeline in a stormy sea.

Life hands out rejections like election ads during a campaign year: too many seem to bombard us at once. Many ads and rejections are too negative and lean on the nasty side. Negative remarks whether they are meant to received as such or not can bruise talent. I've heard each artist must suffer to find the truth in his work. Maybe. But I don't believe they must be beaten beyond recognition. Spread some of that random kindness around. Compliments are inexpensive and means much to the receiver.

Writers gathering to talk about writing is uplifting. It's good to hear what others are facing in their journey.

I enjoy spending time with people "new" to discovering their talents. Nothing is as contagious as passion.

The young playwright is reading every play she can find and attending avant-garde theatre productions. The singer is performing some new songs at a small town cafe. The young adult writer sings backup in the group. They're also collaborating on new songs together. The historian is finishing her novel and ready to take the next step to find a publisher. The children's author is finishing a six book series. The romance writer is new to writing and is fresh with anticipation. I advised her she is my newest protege and she didn't even laugh. (I like that in a writer!) I'm working on a hush-hush project I'm not ready to talk about to the masses. Soon though.

We laughed as we discussed introverts and extroverts and how even our small grouping was a combination of both. Writers don't come in one size fits all.

By the end of the lunch, we were full -- not just of the delicious food served (our singer is also a caterer -- lucky us!), but also of eagerness to get back to our own writings. Our own genres. Our own art.

Time spent with art and artists is never dull and always so very worthwhile. I think I just may mull on that thought for a few more days.

07 November 2011

Ideas R Us


Jan Grape Almost every time I talk to a group about writing and get to the Q and A portion, I’m asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I have a couple of stock answers which usually get a laugh. One is: “I belong to ‘Ideas of the Month Club’ and they send me ideas once a month.” (I think I stole that from mystery writer, Les Roberts.) The other is: “I just go to “Ideas R Us” and buy one when I need it.” (Am sure I stole that from someone, too.)

My own real answer is: Ideas are in the air, all you have to do is pull one down when you need one.

Deadly Allies III wrote two short stories that were inspired by songs. One story was “Scarlett Fever” in the Deadly Allies II anthology and my inspiration (idea) came from a song by Kenny Rogers, titled “Scarlett Fever.” In the song, this guy kept going to a club to watch a dancer named Scarlett and fell in love with her. One night he goes to the club and she’s not there anymore and he’s devastated. My idea was: what happened to this girl? Did she really leave for brighter lights as the club manager says or did something bad happen to her?

My second story is “Deathbed Confession” based on a song by a local Texas writer, Thomas Michael Riley. I can’t really say much about the song without giving away some of the story but it will be published next spring in ACWL Presents: Murder Here, Murder There. This will be the first Jenny Gordon, C.J. Gunn, story in several years and it was nice to find out how the female private investigators were doing. Nice to know that G & G Investigations still is in business. Murder Here, Murder There is the second anthology written by the members of the American Crime Writers League and is co-edited by R. Barry Flowers and myself and published by Twilight Times.

Another story was inspired by a name. A friend of mine, writes a newsy-about-town column in a local weekly newspaper and she writers under the nom de plume of “Ima Snoop.” I thought the name was funny and asked permission to use it in a story called, “The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong.” That story is in the first anthology, from Twilight Times, written by ACWL members and co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and Jan Grape.

My Austin policewoman series was inspired by taking a ten week class, Austin Citizen’s Police Academy training which was offered by the Austin Police Department. In these classes we learned about different departments such as fraud, firearms, robbery homicide, SWAT, etc. After the training was over, I was involved in the alumni association and went out to the academy on numerous occasions to assist in the new cadet training. Training offers set up scenarios using alumni graduates as bad guys and the cadets would have to participate and discover the crime or non-crime committed. Cadets learn how to use their computers, the patrol car’s siren, their walkie-talkies and to quickly access a situation and act accordingly. That was fun because I got to role-play as a bad guy, which soon led to a voice I kept hearing in my head. Fortunately, I began writing Zoe Barrow’s story in Austin City Blue, published in 2000 by Five Star and wasn’t hauled off in a strait-jacket by the guys from the funny farm.

My latest novel, What Doesn’t Kill You, came from seeing a little girl with ears that stuck out like open taxi doors, who was in a bookstore with her grandfather. She wanted to buy a magazine, but gramps said they couldn’t afford it. Somehow that little girl stayed in my mind and eventually became the sixteen year old, Cory Purvis, in that book.

Just yesterday, a friend asked me to do some research on sleepwalking for her. Who knows– I may come up with a character who kills when sleepwalking or so he/she claims.

Today I read a short article in my Sunday newspaper about people selling lollipops which have been licked by children with chickenpox. The buyers are people who don’t want to vaccinate their children but want them to catch the childhood disease. People could go online and look for: 'Find a Pox Party In Your Area' the article said. Cost was $50 a pox-licked lollipop. The sellers are selling these all over the country, sending the candy by mail. Sending diseases and viruses by mail is a federal crime. So some arrest have been made and prosecutors warning parents. Can you imagine giving your child a lollipop, supposedly with chickenpox virus on it? What if it were AIDS virus, or hepatitis? What if it were a more deadly lollipop like Anthrax or something similar? That news article idea sounds like a great plot for a book and I’ll bet we’ll see that used in one very soon.

Newspapers, TV news reports, TV shows, songs, books or stories by other writers, something read on the internet all can give you ideas. So in my humble opinion, ideas are everywhere and all you have to do is pull one down. As a last resort, just go to the mall to IDEAS R US and buy an awesome idea.

28 September 2011

Missed Connections


Missed Connection 1 by ChildOfAtom
Missed Connection 1, a photo by ChildOfAtom on Flickr.

You’ve probably seen the ads in weekly newspapers or certain websites. They generally go something like this:

Where: Joe’s Grill. When: Last Tuesday night. You: The beautiful woman in a red dress. Me: The guy being punched by his girlfriend for looking at beautiful women. I was bleeding too hard to give you my phone number. Want to meet?

This is a story about a missed connection. (But I swear I was nowhere near Joe’s Grill that night.) Bear with me. We will get to crime fiction eventually.

They want your blood

A few years ago my siblings and I were asked to participate in a national medical survey. The object was to determine whether certain conditions had a genetic link.

And we were happy to do so. It was no biggy: just a blood draw. In fact, the longest part of the procedure was reading the list of cautions and warnings that the researchers provided in the name of fully informing their human subjects. Mostly they wanted to tell us not to expect instant cures to come out of the study.

But one paragraph fascinated me. I don’t recall the exact language bu it amounted to this: If it turns out you aren’t related to the people you think are your family, we aren’t going to tell you.

I was most amused that they found it necessary to plan for this circumstance. Very logical, really.

So how does this relate to missed connections? Or crime fiction?

What’s bred in the blood comes out in the bone


Doug Allyn has a story in the November issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and a fine story it is. “Bloodline” is about a fourth generation banker who participates in a study much like the one I was involved in, but the doctor in charge did not follow the rule above. In fact, he took gleeful pleasure in telling the protagonist that he was not the biological son of his wealthy (legal) father.

(By the way, this is the premise of the story, so I am not revealing salient plot points.)

I had mixed feelings as I read the story. Yes, it was a very enjoyable read, but I had the maddening sense of – you guessed it – Missed Connections. Why hadn’t I seen that paragraph of legalese as a story idea?

Not that I would have come up with the same story as Allyn. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought of any story at all. What bugged me was that it never even occurred to me to LOOK for a story idea there.

Go fish


When people ask where I get my ideas I usually reply with a parable:

Once a traveler was walking along the riverbank. He saw a man standing by the river with a pole in his hand, a baited hook on a line and the line in the water. The traveler noticed a creel full of trout.

“Gosh,” he said, “where do you get your fish?”


We all live by that river. Some of us have developed our equipment and some of us haven’t. I think mine is in pretty good condition.

But dagnabit, that was a big juicy fish that swam by and I never even knew it was there. Makes me wonder if the next Harry Potter idea was right in front of me today while I was trying to decide between a chocolate chip cookie or a snickerdoodle.

If it was and someone else grabbed it I hope they don’t tell me where they got their idea.