Showing posts with label novels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label novels. Show all posts

09 July 2023

Synopsis and Poisons


No conversation about submissions to literary agents is complete without a discussion about writing a synopsis. There are many professional and calm articles about this topic but this article is neither for one very important reason: I’m married and have children.

The many excellent articles explain how to write a synopsis in simple terms. Summarize the novel’s plot (status quo, inciting incident, rising action, crisis and resolution) main subplots, characters and none of this should read like a dry summary. It should include characters’ emotions and reactions to what’s happening. All of this should be done in 500 - 800 words (preferably 500).

Most of these articles are written in a way that encourages writers to tackle this task with confidence. They explain how this is a doable task and would even help identify any plot holes. I appreciated all this help and encouragement.

So, armed with the criteria, I started writing a synopsis. I ended up with a synopsis of a couple thousand words that barely touched the surface of my over 80K word book. So, I needed to cut the word count and make it more thorough at the same time.

No problem, I thought. I can do this. So, working hard I got rid of about 1,000 words and still had too many words and now also had a very dry synopsis.

I went from being delighted with all the advice, to resenting the encouragement about a task that’s clearly impossible. Increasingly, my mood became foul and my language became fouler. This is where my marital status and family enters the story.

My husband, trying to be helpful, told me that I’m a good writer, he’s sure I can do this and would do a great job. He sounded like the encouraging articles. There are moments in a marriage where your partner says all the wrong things. This was that moment. Sometimes I can shrug it off, mostly because the children are very fond of my husband and would miss him if anything happened to him. However, determined to fulfil his role as my support, my husband went on. And on. When he stopped to catch his breath, before he launched into more encouraging statements, I asked him if he could please help. He was delighted to be asked. I requested that he find my book of poisons - I hadn’t seen it in years - while I get a shovel. He said he’d look later because he needed to take the dogs for a walk first.

I went back to work with no more encouraging interruptions.

The upshot is that my synopsis is now down to 500 words. It needs work but it’s mostly there. Better than that, writing it did help me identify a plot hole and helped me be much more focused on plot when editing my manuscript for the trillionth time. I do think writing a synopsis is actually useful.

At this point, you probably don’t care about the synopsis at all and are asking different questions. Did my husband ever locate the book of poisons? Is that really gardening I’m doing in the backyard? When was my husband last seen? How are the children?

I actually did buy a book for writers on poisons many years ago. I cheerfully showed it to my husband who was uncharacteristically quiet. Oddly, I must have misplaced it because I have not seen it since. I didn’t even get to read it. My husband has looked for it diligently and cannot find it.

My husband is walking the dogs right now. All the neighbours can see him. The children are fine. My garden remains woefully untended but I have some herbs, thanks for asking.

I highly recommend writing a synopsis. Don’t be fooled by the encouraging articles. I doubt I’m the only one who was frustrated with the task and baffled why I was the only one incapable of doing it. It’s not an easy task. It’s very hard. It’s also worth it if you get someone wise to hide the book of poisons before you begin. Think about the children.

23 June 2023

Some Favorite Novels


Since posting a list of some of my favorite short stories back on June 2nd, my mind clicked to some of my favorite novels. Many of these books inspired me to write fiction. These are favorite novels, not a best novel list.

In no special order:

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell

Goodbye Mickey Mouse by Len Deighton

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett



The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding


The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani


The Frozen Hours
 by Jeff Shaara

Pronto by Elmore Leonard

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Fin Gall by James L. Nelson

New York by Edward Rutherfurd

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

River Girl by Charles Williams

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury


Black Cross by Greg Iles

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

White Fang by Jack London

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain

Night and the City by Cornell Woolrich

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg

The Maddest Idea by James L. Nelson

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


A Bullet for Cinderella by John D. MacDonald

Kazan by James Oliver Curwood

Dune by Frank Herbert


The Heydrich Deception
 by Daniel Savage Gray

Ramage by Dudley Pope

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico (novella)

Tourist Season by Carl Hiassen

From Here to Eternity by James Jones


The Killing Circle by Chris Wiltz

Fortune's Fugitive by Linda Crockett Gray

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells


The Wolves of Memory 
by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

The Bolitho Novels of Alexander Kent

The Ramage Novels of Dudley Pope

Non-Fiction Novels:

In Cold Blood by Trume Capote

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Trilogies:

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

    Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation 

The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett

     Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, Edge of Eternity

I have to stop or I'll go on and on.

That's all for now –




www.oneildenoux.com 

11 June 2023

The Last 300 words: A Query Letter


I wrote a 80,000 word book that got shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for unpublished novels and then, decided it needed work so, I did what any sane person would do and wrote a whole new 80,000 word book. 

I’ve done my final edits and my editor will do her grim reaper work on it and then it’ll be done. 


Writing the book is the best part - it’s full of long mornings getting up before the sun and quietly writing. Even when I’m not writing and, perhaps sitting for lunch with my family, a part of the book comes up that I need to add to or edit, I replay it in a few different ways and often slip away to write it. Sometimes things are maligned by saying they’re child’s play but writing is child’s play in all the best ways - it is the total immersion into a world of your creation that’s so real that the real world can sometime pale in comparison.

Now I’ve hit the next step: the query letter.

The purpose of query letter is to seduce an agent into reading your book. An agent can’t read every book sent to them so a short letter is how they choose what to invest time into and what to reject. However, the whole process of writing a query letter has my heart racing, my mouth dry and in this state I couldn’t seduce my own husband let alone a complete stranger. But sure, let’s be seductive.

Did I explain that there are sections? Yes, sections. In 300 words.

I can barely say hello to an old friend in less that 300 words and that’s with no sections. 

First, there is a warm greeting to the agent and an explanation of why you want to work with them. For the agents I want to work with, I would need the whole 300 words to explain why they’re amazing, it would be an honour to work with them and why a future of having tea and chatting about books is both of us living our best lives.

Ok, maybe just me living my best life. 

Then I need a hook to get them interested in my book. A hook is a sentence or two to make them want - nay need - to dive into my book even if it means neglecting their children, pets or dinner in the process. This is the ultimate seduction and I’m not sure I’m up for that.

Can I beg off with a headache? 

Then I need to summarize my book. Summarizing a 80,000 word novel would take me (checks notes) 80,000 words.

That’s why I wrote the darn thing in the first place. 

Then there’s a little bit about me. I am down with that part and can do it in a few words. It’s the rest of it that’s driving me around the bend.

I have always loved reading. I can’t remember even a day in my life where I wasn’t immersed in a book and, whenever I finish all the books by an author I love its almost as bad as a death in the family. These constant companions of mine, writers, have always been my heroes who create worlds from nothing but ink. I have a new found respect for authors because they also they managed to wrangle this dreadful beast called a query letter. It is no small feat and may well be a bigger feat than writing their books in the first place.

This leads me to my next problem: should I write the query letter or just write another book instead? As an escape from the anxiety of the query letter, I’ve already mapped out another book and it’ll take less time and be less stressful than writing a query.

A summary of my writing experience is this: the first 80,000 words are a delight to write but the last 300 words are hell.

21 November 2021

Character References


Queen's Gambit, girl and chessboard

The Netflix miniseries Queen’s Gambit led me to check out the novel from my local library. I was charmed. Walter Tevis chronicles the professional life of chess prodigy Beth Harmon, an orphan who rises above her expectations.

Her journey reminds me of the vicissitudes of Bobby Fischer, America’s erratic genius. When Fischer faced off against his friend and relentless Russian competitor Boris Spassky in Reykjav√≠k, for the first time the US saw Fischer and Spassky’s battle televised move for move. Those of us with an interest in chess enjoyed the showdown.

When Queen’s Gambit appeared on Netflix, those days came back to me. I was immediately captivated. I’m going to preach heresy– I liked the series slightly better than the novel.

Film has advantages over words on a page and one here was the portrayal of chess on the ceiling. (You have to see it to get what I mean.) Beyond that, the miniseries offered a few subtle enhancements. For example, Beth learns Russian and happens to overhear an opinion about her… a critical opinion that gives her a chance to assess the destructive path she’s taking.

Top chess players often suffer a touch of madness, Fischer among them. The great Paul Morphy committed suicide. Few women play. It might be sexism or women may be too smart to pursue chess. The actress, Anya Taylor-Joy, perfectly portrays that touch of something not-quite-right and does it in an endearing way.

In both book and on screen, the players (her competitors), her mentors, and especially her step-mother are well drawn. Unfortunately, the novel’s sketch of her primary Soviet opponent reminds one of a boar-like Leonid Brezhnev. The movie version opted for a sophisticated, elegantly dressed family man, which carries much better.

The series outlines that male habit of being cautious of interlopers until they prove themselves. Beth’s biggest fans become those she defeats. She earns their respect, unstinting admiration and, in one case even love.

The ending of the miniseries is well done, a fitting ending to a poignant story.

But…

In both book and film, I level a criticism about a small but important lost opportunity. The story opens with Beth’s mother crashing her car into a steel bridge. Later, her childhood friend Jolene asks, “What’s the last thing your mother said to you?”

Beth answers, “Close your eyes.”

Absolutely chilling, or it would have been except both the book and the film felt they had to add background, diluting that simple answer down to nothing. Therein, I thought, lay a lesson.

Oh, the cover, Queen’s Gambit… sheer genius.

chessboard with bottles of booze and pills

25 March 2021

The Movie was Better


It is a universal truth that a novel is always better than any movie made of it.  Except when it isn't.  These are rare.  There is an endless list of bad movies made of excellent books, from every freaking version of Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and other classics.  I would include The Great Gatsby, but I liked the original - I thought Redford was as opaque as Gatsby should be, Bruce Dern sufficiently rough, etc. - the only problem, as always, was Daisy.  It's my belief that the only way to make a "perfect" Gatsby would be to pull a Bunuel and have two different actresses play Daisy:  one actress for every time we see Daisy through Gatsby's eyes (romantic, beautiful, etc.) and another actress for the real, shallow Daisy everyone else knows. 

But there are a few movies that are equal to if not better than their source material.  My list:

  • The African Queen - novel by E. M. Forster, movie directed by John Huston and starring, of course, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  
  • Speaking of Bogart, there's Casablanca - has anybody ever actually read the play, Everybody Comes to Rick's?  
  • The Third Man - Graham Greene wrote the novella at the same time he wrote the screenplay, but just keep watching the movie, okay? 
  • Lonesome Dove - I infinitely prefer the miniseries, with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, to the book.  But, to tell you a deep dark secret, I think a lot of Larry McMurtry's books make better movies than the books themselves.  Including The Last Picture Show.
  • In an opinion that could get me banned from Australia, I think the miniseries Cloudstreet is better than the book.  
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Trust me.  
  • Miss Marple, as played by Joan Hickson, in Nemesis is fantastic, and the script as a whole is as close to a perfect transmutation from the page as I've ever seen.  
  • Any movie version of Ivanhoe.
  • 2001:  A Space Odyssey - pretty good sci-fi novel, iconic movie.

So, what are some of your choices?

BTW:  I would have done more of these, but my husband had a medical emergency and I've spent the last 3 days at the hospital with him.  He's back home now, for good hopefully, so… sort of back to normal.

04 January 2021

Blurbs Too


by Steve Liskow 

If you read John Floyd's discussion of blurbs a few days ago, you found his usual Fort Knox worth of wisdom. Since we have so much in common (We went to different high schools together), I was thinking about blurbs, too.

Does a blurb really help your sales? I don't know. But if a well-known writer says nice things about one or two of your early books, it gives you more street cred, and that shouldn't hurt, should it?

John and I agree that it's best to ask friends for blurbs, especially if they're well-known and you have compromising photographs. But John prefers email, and I like to ask people in person on the theory that it's harder for most people to say "no" face-to-face than it is to send an email. 

Usually, that well-know writer and I have a common theme in our writing. Sometimes, the connection is a little more arcane.


Jeremiah Healy and I met at Crime Bake in 2006. I admired his books, but I also read his blogs about his diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer. I was diagnosed with the same condition only weeks before the conference, and we spent time at the hotel bar discussing his experience and the options. When I sold my first novel a few years later, he remembered the drinks I bought and asked for my outline and first 30 pages. Then he wrote a blurb I have recycled at least twice.

After that first novel, for reasons that don't bear discussion here, I decided to self-publish, and that made getting blurbs more difficult. Many established writers are forbidden by their contract from blurbing a self-published writer. At least, that's what they told me. Luckily, I was a member of MWA and SinC and often appeared on panels or at workshops, so I could make other connections.

Chris Knopf and I did a panel together in White Plains, New York on the night of an Old Testament cloudburst. 85 people signed up to hear the four-person panel, but only 7 showed up. Chris and I both drove about 80 miles from Connecticut (He got detoured by a washed-out road), and the four of us didn't sell a single book to the small audience. The shared misery brought us together, though, and Chris agreed to blurb my first self-published novel, The Whammer Jammers. He used to work in advertising, so he wrote me a blurb so good I even put it on my bookmarks.


I only have two blurbs from writers I didn't personally know, and their books shared a theme or subject I was writing about, too. 

Cherry Bomb is about teen trafficking on the Berlin Turnpike, a notorious stretch of Connecticut blacktop that connects Hartford and New Haven. Another writer had written books about troubled teens, and she gave me a blurb that showed up on three of my books.

I got the other blurb for that book through sheer synchronicity. Browsing at Border's (Remember them?), I discovered a nonfiction book about trafficking on the Berlin Turnpike. Even better, author Raymond Bechard was going to do a signing the following week. I bought the book and burned through it so we could discuss it later. When we met, I discovered that his girlfriend's cousin was one of my English-teaching colleagues. Sometimes, it just works out...

By the time I wanted to publish Blood on the Tracks, I'd run out of famous writer friends, and a few others declined my request for a blurb because I was still self-publishing.

Then I remembered Raymond Bechard and the friend connection.

Blood on the Tracks is about a rock and roll cold case in Detroit. By happy coincidence, a high school classmate became a session musician in Detroit. When I met her at our reunion, her escort was the former drummer from Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. She had been married to the drummer in a band fronted by Dick Wagner, who later played behind Lou Reed, Aerosmith, and a host of other stars. He also wrote many of the songs that became hits for Alice Cooper. Susie said I could drop her name into the discussion, so I asked Wagner, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, and Mark Farner (Who briefly played bass in Wagner's first band). Wagner, who had recently published his own rock and roll memoir, said sure.

Deborah Grabien also writes mysteries involving a musician.
She's one of only two strangers I've asked for a blurb.

He had serious health issues at the time, and he was preparing for what he probably thought would be his last tour. I dedicated the book to my classmate for all her help and published the book with Wagner's shout-out. Two days before I received my first copies so I could mail him one, Susie posted on Facebook that Dick's health problems caught up with him and he passed away.

That was the last time I asked someone for a blurb. Reviewers said a few nice things about me and spelled my name right, so I re-cycle those comments, too.

I don't get asked to write a blurb for anyone very often, but it always thrills me. 

Golly, someone actually thinks I'm famous.

12 October 2020

It's Better When It Moves


Last week, Rob Lopresti offered "The Inspiration Panel," a short play that was both funny and terrifying. I told him if he could write two companion pieces to make it a trilogy, I'd direct them. Now I think about how much my early misadventures in theater taught me about writing.

Theater audiences pay more to see a live play than they do for a movie, so you better give them their money's worth; small audiences mean you might not get to direct again. Sitting in the audience when my first baby hit the stage taught me a lot that you can apply it to stories and novels.

Years ago, I showed Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder to a high school class. The first 45 minutes of the film show Ray Milland and another actor sitting at a table talking. That's it. My sixteen-year-olds went crazy. The long stretch of nothing happening was brutal. Do you have long passages like that in your book? Audiences need movement, emotion and/or action to keep them grounded.

Action perks up a static scene 
If they don't get the stimulation they need, they'll drift away. Good dialogue is fine, but does it go somewhere that the reader can notice? Nobody includes the set design in the program, so maybe you can cut back on description, too. 

If I directed that play today (I can't think of any reason I'd want to, including a large check), those two actors would mix a drink, go to the telephone, size up the room, and laugh at each other. Movement.

Twelve Angry Men was originally a teleplay, and it works better that way because the camera cuts and close-ups give the illusion of motion. Watching the play on-stage is akin to watching gangrene move up your leg. The only successful staging I've ever seen was when the director seated the audience around the jury table so the actors could move naturally and address each other without have to face front in an awkward pose. I still don't care for the play, but that made it much more watchable.

Inertia is bad, but so is too much movement. If we see lots of action early, we get lost without a context to show us whose side we're on. That guy in the cape might really be a bad guy, not a super hero. Think of the James Cagney film White Heat (1949), which opens with ten minutes of car chases and gunfights, but includes dialogue and character background so we understand what we're watching. It's good exposition without becoming static. Can your book do that, too?

Unrealistic set that HELPS actors
tell the story: Book of Days

Bill Francisco and John Hawkins, my directing and acting mentors at Wesleyan, both pointed out that nobody watches an actor or scene unless the actors make him watch it. If the audience doesn't feel like they're getting something out of it, they'll check their watch, fan themselves with the program, or play with the change in their pockets. Earn the attention. That goes for your story, too.

Beware of special stage effects. Arcane sets, odd lighting, and bizarre sound effects may work for Richard Foreman (or not), but unless they help the actors tell the story, they'll pull attention away from action and dialogue.

If you need bells and whistles to make it work, your plot or characters can't stand on their own. Fix it. It makes a better story and saves money on the special effects budget.

Think of last Wednesday night. Did you really pay attention to what Mick Pence was saying while that fly sat on his head?



26 September 2020

Writing is Hard (in which Bad Girl confesses the truth about all those books)


A long time ago, back when video stores were kind of a cool new thing, I was whooping it up at the Toronto Press club with some eminently more famous Toronto newspaper columnists and reporters. One of them, Scottish he was, asked me this:

"Tell me lass. You have a syndicated humour column, you've written comedy, you've had over two dozen short stories published… So why aren't you writing a novel?"

After much deliberation, my exceedingly clever answer was: "Because they might want me to write another one?"

That got a round of applause (actually make that a round of scotch) from the somewhat sozzled guys at the bar.

No, really. Even then, even in my not-quite-Cleopatra salad days (thanks for that, Mr. Shakespeare) I knew that writing a novel would be a rat-poop load of work. It wasn't that I was allergic to work. I had honed the art of writing 650-800 words every week and making them passably funny. And believe me, that was a challenge after the first 100 columns. But writing 80,000 words on one subject? Especially when you had to make the whole thing up?

That was 1995, twenty-five years ago, they try to tell me (but I'm not buying it.) Since then, I've written 17 novels and a pile more short stories. And let me tell you.

Writing is WORK. Holy poop, it is work. It is a freaking black hole of work and time and bloodletting. Time suck, soul suck, give your life over to the keyboard for MONTHS.

Sure, I love the finished product. Love it 'when a plan comes together' (guess that reference.) But having done this so many times, I can't kid myself that it's going to be easy.

I've heard other authors say they can't wait to sit down to write the first page of a new novel. That they get so excited when they start something new.

That isn't me. After 17 books, I know what's coming. Months and months of hunkering over the keyboard, doubting myself, loving, then hating my characters (Jesus Murphy, WHY is she such a whiny nincompoop?) Finding the Black Moment. BECOMING the black moment.

So to illustrate, my starts are more like this:

Me: "Sob!" (hits head against desk) "I don't want to. Don't make me. I can't do it again..." (reaches for scotch bottle with head still on desk)

Working-class Muse, quite possibly from Jersey, the wrong side: "Listen, sister. Sit your fat bippie down and get a move-on. These things don't write themselves."

Me: "But it's so HARD." (slurping puddle of scotch sideways from desktop)

Muse: "You think THIS is hard? Remember before you were published? Remember all those rejections letters from publishers? We insulated the walls of of the cottage with them."

Me (sniveling): "Too bad the place caught fire."

Muse: "Maybe if you hadn't written BURN IN HELL on all of them…"

At about this time in the ritual, W-C Muse says the magic motivating words: "Sit up sister. YOU GOT A CONTRACT."

Me: "Oh right. Friggin hell. Move over. And pass the scotch."

And so it goes.

I'm at that stage right now. Staring the page in the face, knowing I have to start book 2 in a new series, thinking I'd rather jump out this picture window into the lake below (even though I'm 4 stories up and about 50 feet from shore. So it would be quite a leap.)

Anybody else like this? Anyone else dread starting the new project because it means another dive into that black hole that is writing?

I started life as a columnist, so I know I should end on a positive note. Wrap up these six hundred words with smart repartee, and sage advice for the novice. So here goes.

Writing is Hard. But it's my life.

Melodie Campbell whines about writing from the shores of Lake Ontario. Her 16th book, The Italian Cure, came out this year at about the same time covid did. Hell of a start for a poor book, even a trashy romantic comedy. Available at all the usual suspects. www.melodiecampbell.com

25 July 2020

The Best Thing about Writing Short Stories (and it's not the money...)


Beyond the delight of creating a story that swings on a single plot point/twist...

Beyond the excitement of putting together a really professional product in just a few weeks...

Beyond the satisfaction of mastering the craft of the short story in another tautly written tale that speeds along with the impact of a runaway commuter train...

Here is the real reason I love writing short stories.

My 17th book is done.  Sent to agent in New York.  I sit back, awaiting the inevitable comments, rounds of edits, during which I will alternately cry, fume and laugh hysterically.

Then off to the publisher it goes.  After which there will be more edits, more crying, fuming, and possibly, more drinking.  (Okay, that's a cert.)

Which is why I love writing short stories.

To Wit:
I've been a novelist for over 15 years now.  My 16th book came out this February (yes, possibly the worst timing in the history of the human race, with the possible exception of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, but I digress.)

So I've had two traditional publishers and three series, but believe it or not, I got my start writing short stories.  In fact, I have over 50 of those published, and 24 of those were in print before I even gave a thought to write a crime novel.

Why do I love writing short stories so much?  Short stories come with less stress than a novel because...

Short stories are all mine.

In order to get a novel contract with a medium to big house, you really have to keep the audience in mind.  Sure, you write what you want to write, but with the publisher's audience always in mind.  Then your agent gets hold of it, and makes comments and suggestions.  Next, your house editor will be asking for changes to the manuscript, and possibly even to the story to make it most appealing to their audience. 

All good.  All with the purpose of increasing sales, which I'm sure it does.  All tedious as hell.

Yesterday, I sent my 17th book to my agent.  She really liked the first 30 pages sent months ago.  I probably won't sleep until I hear she likes the next 200.

If she does, it's a sparkling vino moment.  If the publisher does too, then break out the Bolly.  (I do love Ab Fab, by the way.  Just call me Eddie.)

But then the fun starts.  I have to wait for the inevitable tinkering.

I can see now that one of the great joys of writing a short story is there is no interference.  It's MY story, just the way I want to tell it.  I've been published in AHMM, Star Magazine, ComputorEdge, Canadian Living Magazine, Flash Fiction, and others, and no editors have ever suggested substantial changes to the stories they've published by me, or even requested minor changes.

Writing a short story is a more independent project than writing a novel.  I love that.

But back to the title (and it's not about the money):  I have actually made more per word with some short stories, than I have with some novels.  Mind you, if I'm making a dollar per word for short stories, that would translate to $80,000 per novel, and I don't reach that with every book.  

So although we say you can't make a living writing short stories anymore, it is possible to make some Bolly money.  Usually hobbies cost you money.  This is one that allows you to make some!

I've always said that when my novel career wanes, I will continue to write short stories with gusto.

It's true what they say:  you never forget your first love.

Melodie Campbell has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis and eight more awards.  She didn't even steal them, which will be explained if you look up her wacky Goddaughter books...
www.melodiecampbell.com








20 July 2020

Plot versus Character


When I conduct a writing workshop, one of the questions people frequent ask is about the importance of plot versus character. I tell them that it depends.
If you're writing a novel, or maybe even a series, you need to know your main characters very well. These imaginary friends and co-workers need a biography that's complete enough to flesh them out and show what makes them who they are. You need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and the lines they won't cross well enough to know what they want enough to risk dying for it. If you write mysteries, you need to understand how your protagonist's mind works so he or she can solve your mystery, too. You probably won't bring all this information on stage immediately, and some of it may never show up, but you need to know it. It's how you give your character depth.

If you're writing a series, this bio is even more important because some stuff may not matter until the third or fourth book, or even later. Publishers and agents love, love, love a series.

Lately, I've been moving from novels to short stories, and my thinking is changing, too. Maybe my attention span is waning, or maybe I'm just trying to go faster, but for short stories, it's all about the plot.

Remember, instead of 80K words or more, my short stories average about 4K, roughly 15 pages. Get in, get dirty, get out again. There's less room to present a complex and fleshed-out character. Unless you're trying to sell a story featuring a character from your series--which I've only done two or three times--you rely more on your premise, and that's more apt to guide your plot.

You need a character who will logically find herself in a particular situation. For a short story, once I have a premise, I start typing with generic names and see where those given circumstances lead me. I characterize the protagonist with action and his or her goal instead of with lots of description and back-story (both of which I tell my writing workshop students to leave out). If I go quickly and don't censor or force things, they will lead to the detail I need, and that often provides a plot twist, and maybe even a solution.

Let's say you're writing about a woman who qualifies as a "crazy cat lady." She has eight cats and has hidden her will somewhere in her enormous house. Cats suggest certain ideas: mice, purring, dogs, people who like or dislike them, people who are allergic to them. What if a supporting character loathes cats? What if she likes them but is allergic? Can you use that as a plot point, or even a clue? Maybe. It's a character detail, but it steers your plot. More and more, I discover details that flesh out the plot at the same time they delineate character, and when you get two for the price of one, it's even better.

As I re-wire my brain for short stories, I find that I'm writing them more quickly and maybe having even more fun. I'm fond of a few stories that have rich and complex characters, but several of them have never found a home except on my hard drive. The newer plot-premise stories seem to have more potential markets, so I can send them out with higher hopes.

That's a happy ending.


02 June 2020

Outside the Three-Mile Limit


As many regular readers here know, I’m fascinated with Los Angeles history. I post about various aspects of it from time to time. I use it as background in much of my fiction. And one of the most fascinating aspects of L.A. history are the gambling boats that used to anchor off the shore, just outside the three mile legal limit.

The Rex
Bobby in the just-released (yesterday) The Blues Don’t Care has more than his share of adventure on one of those gambling ships. In the novel, Bobby and the band he’s in get a gig on the Apollo, one of the gambling ships off the Los Angeles coast. They find more than a little trouble there that really sets the plot in motion.

Cops dumping slot machines off the Rex
The Apollo is based on the real gambling ships that used to lay off the SoCal shore, just outside the three-mile limit. I’ve taken a few liberties with the Apollo. It’s much nicer than the real gambling ships, which, while they had their amenities, weren’t always as glamorous as you might think. But when gambling was illegal I guess they were good places to go and get your fix.

                  The interior of the Lux
The most famous of the real gambling ships was the Rex, run by Tony Cornero, A.K.A. The Admiral. Cornero had a checkered career, to say the least. During Prohibition in the 1920s he was a rum-runner (I wonder if he knew Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.?). He moved much of his illegal booze on ships, so had a background on the bounding seas for when he decided to open up the gambling ships later on.



When Prohibition was repealed, Cornero made the easy slide over to gambling. In 1931 when gambling was legalized in Las Vegas, he and his brothers set up there, opening up The Meadows Casino and Hotel, beating out Bugsy Siegel’s Vegas venture by over a decade. Unfortunately, Lucky Luciano got wind of it and, since Cornero wouldn’t pay extortion money, the Meadows was torched. Hmm, no connection to old Lucky there, right?

Tony Cornero aboard the Lux
So back to L.A. Cornero went. And in 1938 he bought two ships, the SS Rex and the SS Tango and converted them into gambling boats. By running them outside the legal limit he could skirt US law. The ships included gourmet chefs, gunmen to keep the peace, waiters, waitresses and—wait for it—orchestras. And that’s where Bobby and the Booker ‘Boom-Boom’ Taylor Orchestra come in.


Cornero was a constant thorn in the side of authorities, but things went along swimmingly until The Battle of Santa Monica Bay—yeah, that’s a real thing. The authorities tried raiding the ships. The Rex held them off for nine days, but eventually lost and Cornero, to make a long story short, hightailed it back to Vegas, where he built the Stardust Casino and Hotel, which I stayed at many times. At the time, way back when, I knew it was mob-connected, but I didn’t know then about the Cornero connection, which I find intriguing.

The Battle of Santa Monica Bay
And, of course, some pivotal scenes in The Blues Don’t Care are set on the Apollo, just a water taxi ride from the Santa Monica Pier:

“A fine briny mist bit Bobby’s skin as he waited in the throng of people on the Santa Monica Pier for the water taxi that would take him to the gambling ship Apollo. The little cartoon-like ‘Kilroy Was Here’ drawing glared at him from the water taxi shack. Kilroy was everywhere these days. He had to shield his eyes from the fiery late afternoon sun, wished he had a pair of sunglasses. Only movie stars and musicians wore sunglasses. Maybe he’d get a pair of shades.”

Below, Bobby describes seeing the Apollo’s ballroom for the first time:

“Bobby peered over the sea of faces in the ballroom—white faces in expensive suits and chic dresses. The Apollo wasn’t the biggest or fanciest or the most seaworthy ship in the world. But if she went down, half of Hollywood, the Los Angeles political establishment, and business movers and shakers in the Southland would disappear into Davy Jones’ Locker. That didn’t stop the people who ran her—gangsters everyone knew—from decking out the main ballroom as if it were Versailles. The ceiling was tall and sparkled with lights under a false ceiling with a gauzy, azure-painted sky. Below it, the dance floor in the center of the room, surrounded by gambling tables—craps, roulette, blackjack, and the like. And in rows behind the gambling tables, dining tables.”

The La La Land gambling ships also make appearances in one of my favorite books and a movie from one of my favorite series.

Raymond Chandler talks about them in Farewell, My Lovely. In the novel, Philip Marlowe is told that Moose Malloy might be hiding out on one of the gambling ships outside the three mile limit. Marlowe sneaks aboard and persuades Brunette, the gangster who runs the ship, to get a message to Malloy. Farewell, My Lovely was made into the movie Murder, My Sweet (1944). The 1942 B movie The Falcon Takes Over is also based on the plot. And in 1975 Robert Mitchum starred in a remake.

And much of Song of the Thin Man, the last Thin Man movie (co-written by my friend Nat Perrin) is partially set on one of the ships. A benefit is happening on the gambling ship Fortune. The bandleader is murdered. Guess who has to figure it out. Song of the Thin Man should be called Farewell, My Thin Man as it’s the last in the series and unfortunately not the best by far, but it has its moments.

Mr. Lucky
Another movie that takes place on a gambling ship is the Cary Grant-Larraine Day flick Mr. Lucky. Not his best, but I like it. And you can check out my close encounter of the first kind with Cary Grant at my website.
The book was released yesterday. Hope you’ll want to check it out. Here’s what some people are saying about it:

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
    —DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com

“Award-winning author Paul D. Marks hits it out of the park with this finely-written novel bringing WWII-era L.A. alive with memorable characters, scents, descriptions, and most of all, jazz. Highly recommended.”
     —Brendan DuBois, New York Times bestselling author

“Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40's L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. There's sex, drugs, and jazz and an always surprising hero who navigates the worlds of gambling, music, war profiteers, Jewish mobsters, and a lonely few trying to do the right thing. Marks has an eye for the telling detail, and an ear that captures the music in the dialogue of the times. He is one helluva writer.”
      —Michael Sears, award-winning author of Tower of Babel, and the Jason Stafford series


"While The Blues Don't Care is a complex, sometimes brutal, story, it also has its glimmers of beauty and joy. Those glimpses come from Bobby's passion for music, and his awe when he sees celebrities such as Clark Gable and Billie Holiday. Wander into Bobby Saxon's world in Paul D. Marks' latest book. It's a world you won't easily forget."
      —Lesa's Book Critiques, lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com



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And now for the usual BSP:

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