Showing posts with label writing tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing tips. Show all posts

27 April 2021

The Pause that Refreshes


Since the beginning of the year, I have read submissions to Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3, and the special cozy issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.

I then read, in quick succession, Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back, John Sandford’s Gathering Prey, and John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. 

When I finished them, I started reading the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which contains work from a significant number of SleuthSayers.

What I didn’t do is write.

That’s almost four months without finishing a new short story, a significant productivity gap considering I’ve had year-long stretches when I produced at least a story a week.

This weekend—only a few days before this post appears—I began writing again. Though I’ve not yet finished anything in my two days back at the keyboard, I’ve made progress on a trio of stories.

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS BEFORE

Write every day.

I’ve seen this advice repeated ad nauseam, and it’s good advice. Some writers need this structure in order to be productive, and other writers use it as a way to build a wall between them and their other responsibilities. (“I can’t do that now, this is my scheduled writing time!”)

But writing every day isn’t the only approach to productivity. Over the years I’ve had many writing gaps lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes real life demands our attention elsewhere, whether it’s a health issue, a family emergency, mandatory overtime at the day job, or a weather-related incident. And stepping away from the keyboard can be—when done by choice—a way to recharge one’s batteries and return to writing refreshed

In my case, time away was the result of a combination of things: a Snowpocalypse, editing responsibilities, and a week or so of binge reading to cleanse my literary palate.

I have returned refreshed, but I see another writing gap in the near future: All those stories I accepted for Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn, and Black Cat need to be edited and prepared for publication.

With any luck, I can squeeze in a good bit of writing before the next pause.


April has been filled with good news:

“Last Waltz Across Texas” appears in the May/June Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

“Soiled Dove” appears in Crimeucopia: We’re All Animals Under the Skin.

“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” appears in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads), edited by Josh Pachter.

“If You’ve Got the Money, Honey” appears in Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books), edited by Gary Phillips and me. The anthology, which released Monday, April 19, appeared on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list that day (the Kindle edition at #65 and the paperback edition at #67), dropped off, and reappeared the next day (Kindle edition at #29 and the paperback edition at #36).

And the ITW Thriller Award nominees were announced. Two stories from Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 (Down & Out Books), which I edited, were nominated for Best Short Story: Alan Orloff’s “Rent Due” and Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “The Mailman.”

27 March 2021

Three Good Suspects: The Five Things you need for a Mystery Novel


~~~Three Good Suspects~~~ (as opposed to the usual suspects...)

Many of you know that in addition to being a writer of mob heist novels, I'm also the past Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada. (For my sins. Of which I've lost count...) I'm just coming up for air after serving as a judge for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence.  So this post is timely.  It is also cathartic...which may prevent the consumption of too much scotch.  (I know, I know.  There can never be too much scotch.)

In the crime fiction world, most books fall into two categories:  mysteries or thrillers.  (Note that in decades gone by, we used to call thrillers 'suspense novels'. Same thing.)  I write both and find them very different to write.  I'm not alone.  Lots of readers who have a preference for one or the other tell me they wonder why mysteries and thrillers are shelved together in libraries and bookstores.

So to start, let me offer one commonly held description of each, as accepted by Crime Writers of Canada, via many publishers.  Like so many things in life, it has to do with goals.  (And of course, we'll add the usual disclaimer that there may be exceptions.)

Mystery fiction is a puzzle story.  It starts with a murder (or crime) and the goal is the solving of the crime.  The protagonist's job is to discover who committed the crime and why.

In contrast, suspense fiction is driven by a character in jeopardy.  A suspense novel or thriller is one in which the main action (crime or murder) has not yet taken place, and in most cases, the goal of the protagonist is to prevent it from happening.  The emphasis is on the tension built by the anticipation of the outcome.

Of course, there will always be suspense in a mystery novel too.  I don't want to discount that.  But let's focus on the puzzle that a mystery novel presents.

In many ways, mystery novels are like chess games.  They are to some extent a cerebral experience.  I would argue that no other type of novel invites the reader to engage in such an involved way with the protagonist.  

Why? Mystery readers like to pit themselves against the fictional detective to uncover who committed the crime.  The reader and the detective both receive the same information at the same time (anything else is not playing fair.)  

In a great mystery novel, you will hopefully come to the same conclusion as the protagonist, at the same time.  It's the challenge that intrigues us, the joy of the intellectual chase, which leads to a supreme high when you compile all the puzzle pieces together in your mind in such a way as to unveil the antagonist. In fact, the ultimate letdown in a mystery novel is when the killer is easily detected before the half way point in a book.

So why do I occasionally find murder stories where there is only one suspect?

Jeeze Louise, people!  A mystery must be a mystery!  If you go light on your suspects, what challenge is that?  

Thirty years, seventeen novels, fifty short stories, three agents, and six publishers have taught me the essentials of writing mysteries.  I'd like to pass this list on to several entrants to the awards this year, who seemed to have missed the memo.  But as anonymity is our credo (always good to remain mysterious) I will present them here instead.

1.  Three good suspects.

Every mystery novel needs at least three good suspects that you can't dismiss out of hand.  Three suspects with good motives (more on that below.)  Five is even better, particularly for a full length novel.  Make it a challenge for the reader!  That's what we're looking for.

2.  A believable motive for each suspect

A suspect must have a motive for murder.  Yes, really.  Serial killers aside (and even some would argue them too) people don't murder each other for no reason.  The motive for each suspect must be believable.  So many times, I have read books (and particularly, watched television shows) where the motive for murder is simply too trite.

There's an expression we use in romance writing:  TSTL.  This translates to Too Stupid to Live, and refers to that particularly daft female protagonist who get herself into predicaments so stupid that a chimp could have figured out how to avoid it.  The ditz factor is simply off the charts.  This is how books get thrown against walls.

Murder is risky.  If caught, you'll go to prison for years and in some countries, lose your life.  With a mystery novel, the reader must believe that the murder is worth the risk.  Don't slack on this!  Make your motive so rock hard that no one will question it.

 3.  A believable motive for the protagonist

Most amateur detective series start with a personal reason for the protagonist to become the detective in the first book.  Either she is a suspect wishing to clear herself, or a possible 'next victim' - but some reason why it is imperative the main character become involved in the solving of the crime.  Of course, if your book is a police procedural, or PI subgenre, the detection is part of their job and requires no explanation.

But if your amateur detective has no stake in the outcome, why the heck would they chance going head to head with someone who has already murdered?  Silly, if not stupid to put yourself at that risk.

This is what becomes unbelievable in many cozy mystery series.  The gal who runs the bakery shop solves the first murder, and then goes on to solve many more, for no reason other than it becomes a hobby.

I demand more than that, of my mysteries!  There must a valid motive for the protagonist to become involved.  Give her a good motive each and every time.

 4.  Risk for the protagonist

Remember I mentioned putting oneself at risk in the above point? Here's what I'm talking about.

You know that crazy device in so many television shows where the two leads are in a deserted warehouse, and one says to the other, "You go that way, and I'll go this way, and we'll save time" … and you, the viewer at home are going, "NO!!!!  Don't be so stupid - you need to stick together!"

Well, there's a reason for doing that.

In my "Nine Steps for Writing Suspense," step seven talks about 'Isolating the protagonist.' Because even in a mystery novel, we need to put the protagonist at risk.  The climax of your book should be accompanied by a black moment, where all seems to be lost, where the protagonist isn't going to get what she wants (safety, money, love, the identity of the killer…)

Any mystery that doesn't put the protagonist at risk in the end is a bit ho hum, in my books (sic).  Go hard on your protagonist.  Make it risky for them to search for the killer.  Make it do or die at the end.  And hopefully not die.  Which leads to point 5.

5.  A Clear Resolution

Don't kill your protagonist in a mystery novel.  Please don't.  Countless readers have told me that they absolutely HATE to read for four hours, and then discover that their beloved protagonist kicks the bucket in the end.  Readers want the protagonist to win, in a mystery novel.  They want justice to prevail.

At the same time, we also need a clear resolution to the story.  Nothing will get people storming your publisher's website than an ending to a mystery novel that isn't an ending.  We don't know whodunnit in the end.  

That doesn't mean you can't have the bad guy escape to play another day.  Even Arthur Conan Doyle did that regularly.  My point is: we need to know Whodunnit by the end of a mystery.

WE NEED THE MYSTERY SOLVED.

It will be possible to find novels billed as mysteries that don't play by the rules above.  They may even be bestsellers.  So I'll leave by saying, here are some clear guidelines I offer to help writers tackle their first mystery book and look like a pro.

With any luck, readers will also mine gold in the above, as we've demonstrated how much thought must go into creating a really good mystery story.

Melodie Campbell writes mob heists as well as mysteries.  Crime Club is her latest mystery.  The pug is not a suspect. www.melodiecampbell.com

12 March 2021

The Joy of Monotasking


When my wife and I hang out in the backyard at the end of a day, inevitably our conversation turns to productivity. How can we get more things done without driving ourselves crazy?

Over the years, we’ve devoured a number of books that promise to help their readers crack this nut. Two of our favorites are books that have, in a certain sense, sparked mini-movements. Getting Things Done, by David Allen, inspired legions of developers to create software that embodies Allen’s principles: religiously collect all your to-dos in one place so you can routinely process things in one go; if a task can be done in two minutes or less, freaking do it now and don’t waste time adding it your to-do list!


Deep Work, by Cal Newport, is more of a manifesto. He argues that human beings do their best work when they think deeply about a project, and ruthlessly keep their workplace and time free from distractions. His official definition:
Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
The challenge facing any professional today, he says, is fighting to accomplish this deep work. It’s bad enough that we all have to contend with mindless admin or household tasks, but now we’re bombarded with ceaseless emails, the promise of “free promotion” if only we’ll become slaves to social media, and the fatuous lie that is multitasking.

In contrast, Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, famously responds only to emails he thinks are worth it. (We know this from personal experience. Denise and I have tried to lure him into doing an interview. No response.)

He did, however, talk to a reporter for the New York Times. It’s a wonderful chat, archived here. In trying to explain why ceaseless interruptions by social media and email are making us miserable, he says,
“…the culprit here is network switching. Human brains take a long time to switch. If you’re going to put your target of attention on one thing and then switch it to a new target, that takes a while, right?”
And later he adds:
“And then if you wrench your attention back to what you were trying to do, it creates this whole pile-up in your brain, which we experience as a loss of cognitive function. We also feel frustrated. We feel tired. We feel anxious. Because the human brain can’t do it.”
I greatly enjoy Deep Work’s opening anecdote. Newport describes how Carl Jung got some of his major books and academic papers written. Jung built a Spartan, two-story stone tower in Bollingen, in the woods overlooking Lake Zurich, and used it to escape from the obligations of clinical practice, academic lectures, and the temptations of Zurich’s coffeehouse scene. (He later enlarged the house, but you can see the original design here.) He conceived that tower not as a vacation home, but a place to which he escaped to get work done. Alone, away from others, Jung walked in the woods, thought deeply, and managed to get a lot of writing done. The ideas born at Bollingen are today regarded as the strongest counter-arguments to Freudianism. 

If you want to write, you need to think. Sometimes deeply. Even if what you’re writing is playful. I have heard of some people who can write while playing classical music, or jazz, or whatever, in the background. I’ve heard of a mystery writer—was it Stanley Ellin or Robert L. Fish?—who could bang away happily on his typewriter while his kids were inches away, playing in their pool. I believe all these stories, but I can’t say I necessarily admire such skills.

Some of the best advice on writing is sitting on the windowsill facing Denise’s desk. She describes them as a “A list of do’s, a list of don’ts.”


One, as you can see, is Elmore Leonard’s famous 10 Rules of Writing, which I don’t need to go into, because it’s sparked tons of other columns in the mystery world. (One of my favorite follow-up essays half-joked that Leonard probably had forgotten he had a deadline for a piece for the New York Times, so he sat down the day the piece was due, and quickly banged out those 10 rules, machine-gun-reporter-style, never expecting that so many other writers would later obsess about them.)

The other little list Denise treasures is culled from the work of Henry Miller. It’s a work schedule Miller hammered out in the 1930s to help him get one particular book done. I’ve made the image big so you can read his rules, but you can find the complete list at numerous websites, like this one.
 
 
It’s worth thinking about how Miller’s approach might apply to your own work. If you want to get a task or specific project done, you work on it until completion. You resist the urge to do all the other Bright Shiny Ideas that are bouncing around your brain, and which always seem so much more exciting and promising than the piece of crap you’re trying to write right now.

And yes, Miller’s rules may not apply to the one big project you’re working on, nor are they for every writer. This is, after all, Miller’s list. But still, when I read his rules, I feel seen: Work on one thing at a time until finished. Start no more new books. Work joyously. Go out and see friends. (Boy, so I miss that in the long malaise that is 2020-21.) But also: when you cannot create you can still work. Yes, yes, yes! Man, is he right about all of that.

I don’t know if Professor Newport has ever seen this list, but I think he would approve. At the end of Newport’s interview with the Times, he’s asked for book recommendations, and he tosses off a few, observing that by necessity literary work is the epitome of deep work:
“there’s really no way to produce real insight in writing at that level without actually just having the ability to be alone with your own thoughts and observing the world, and just letting that percolate and letting that move, and trying to craft and move and work with it.”
I like that. Also, for some reason, writing this post reminded me of our man Curly, played by Jack Palance, in the 1991 movie, City Slickers. Remember his genius piece of advice?


I recently watched another sort of clip; an interview with one of John Steinbeck’s sons. Thomas Steinbeck said his father would take time every morning to sharpen 24 pencils because he hated the distraction of having to stop his work and sharpen them in the middle of whatever he was working on. I suspect that anyone who’s ever written knows the real reason Steinbeck sharpened those pencils. He was procrastinating, because sometimes writing is terrifying, especially if you have struggled with depression and self-doubt, as Steinbeck did.

Nevertheless, I went out that day and ordered a box of 24 pencils. They’re (relatively) local-to-me pencils, made by the good folks at the Musgrave Pencil Company, in Shelbyville, Tennessee. They’re made of cedar, come in a fragrant cedar box, and smell marvelous when you take the time to sharpen them.

So I guess my advice this week is to take the advice of other writers and thinkers. Stay safe. Work joyously and recklessly. Work on one thing that freaking matters to you right now. Heaven help you if you start a novel or story with the weather! And take the time to smell the pencils.


 
____________________

See you in three weeks!

— Joe

08 February 2021

Writing to the Don'ts


In an era when short crime fiction has far fewer and more specialized markets than in the great days when writers could actually make a living writing it, oldtimers give aspiring authors some wise but contradictory advice: "Don't write to the market," and "Don't ignore the guidelines of the market you're submitting to."

If you can't do six impossible things before breakfast, you have no business writing fiction in the 21st century. But lately, the directives of journals and e-zines have become so demanding and exclude so much that one begins to wonder how the struggling authors can find anywhere to place their stories.

Here are excerpts from a few of my favorite sets of guidelines.

Needs: cutting edge, hardboiled, horror, literary, noir, psychological/horror. No fanfiction, romance, or swords & sorcery, no fantasy and no erotica. We no longer publish erotica, but if your story contains graphic sex that is essential to the story, that's fine. Absolutely nothing glorifying Satanism!
*No stories involving abuse of children, animals or dead people.
*Seriously folks, animal abuse is our number one no-no! It will get your story kicked back quicker than anything else. Nothing so sick or perverted that even I can’t read it. Nothing racist or bigoted, anti-religion, nothing blasphemous or sacrilegious. Nothing strongly Conservative or blatantly Liberal or so politically correct the ACLU would love it. Seriously, keep your politics to yourself or at least low-key. There’s a happy medium somewhere: Write straight from the heart; call it like you see it, but show some control. Also, no published song lyrics or poetry or quotes from other stories. Material from texts or academic books may be quoted, but must be properly footnoted.
Yellow Mama

We do appreciate clever and poetic turns of phrase, but first and foremost we want a story readers can sink into late at night before they go to bed. We want to stretch people’s minds, but not give them a headache.
*We receive so many brilliant but depressing stories that we must pass on all but the best gems. We strive for emotional balance in each of our issues, and want our readers to leave feeling challenged yet refreshed.
*We love to publish works featuring fiery feminism, a rainbow of LGBTQIA+, skin colours that don’t begin with the letter ‘W’, indigenous and immigrant experiences alike, and people of varying shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities.
*We like some action along with those intriguing personalities, and we want to see characters that grow and change throughout the story arc.
Pulp Literature

We go for stories that are dark, literary; we are looking for the creepy, the weird and the unsettling.
*We do not accept stories with the following: vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers, hitmen, excessive gore or sex, excessive abuse against women, revenge fantasies, cannibals, high fantasy.
LampLight

We don’t do cozies. We don’t do procedurals. We’re not a literary magazine, and we don’t do other genres. We like strong characters, and good story telling, and we will not reject anyone based on mainstream morality. Amoral protagonists are encouraged. As the world's only no-limit criminal culture digest magazine, we will consider any twisted/taboo storyline, or deplorable protagonist.
*We want stories featuring the criminal as a protagonist. Legbreakers, hookers, drug pushers, porn stars, junkies, and pimps welcomed. We do mob stories. Keep them original. Write what you know.
SwitchBlade

It's a rare journal that doesn't lose its sense of humor in such a thicket of stipulations, so I want to give a shout-out to Crimeucopia, a UK quarterly whose submission guidelines are generous and include the priceless one-liner, "We’re usually pretty relaxed in regard to manuscript presentation, but please don’t take the piss." I wish the other zines quoted above were taking the piss.

I don't do the kind of story in which a PI who needs therapy and an ending that's a bummer are de rigueur. I don't do horror. Sometimes I do traditional murder mysteries, sometimes police or part-police procedurals, sometimes historicals. I mix them up. I weave in social issues. My standalones can be literary in tone and execution. Sometimes I write about theft instead of murder. A few of my crime stories qualify as urban fantasy, neither gore nor fairy dust involved. Twice, I've written a serial killer, one not quite human.

The net result is that I read these guidelines, throw my hands up in despair, and don't submit. Whenever I've risked going with the positive elements—"we like strong characters and good storytelling," "we want to see characters that grow and change"—I've been told my story is "not what we're looking for." I know the issue is not the quality of my work. Magazines that don't have a lot of restrictive guidelines, like EQMM, AHMM, and Black Cat, have accepted enough of my submissions to reassure me. It really is the don'ts.

21 November 2020

The Same Old Story



How many of you have unfinished or unpublished stories (or novels) stashed away in a drawer or under the bed, or in a folder someplace on your hard drive? Most of us do, if we've been writing fiction for a while. Oddly enough, very few of mine are unfinished--when I think of an idea for a short story I usually go ahead and churn it out–but I certainly have plenty that are unpublished and unsubmitted. Alas, typing THE END doesn't always mean it's ready for prime time.

old manuscript

Most of those abandoned stories are those I wrote many years ago, when I was just getting started. Occasionally I dust them off and look them over, and sometimes I go back in and do a complete rewrite, until that story is what I consider to be submittable and battleworthy. I've done that several times, and so far I've always managed to sell them afterward.

One of those rewrites was on a never-submitted story called "Molly's Plan," written in the early '90s about a New Orleans bank robbery. A few years ago I rediscovered it, changed it in about a dozen ways but kept the same title, and sent it to Strand Magazine. They bought it, and it later wound up in Best American Mystery Stories, was reprinted in Russia's leading literary magazine, was selected for New York City's Subway Library project, etc. All this after sitting idle for more than twenty years as a stack of dot-matrix-printed pages in a box in the corner of my home office. A similar thing happened with another long-ago story originally called "Footprints," about a college student involved in a cheating operation. I rewrote the whole thing, retitled it "Calculus 1," which was the name of one of my first college courses, and sold it to the print edition of The Saturday Evening Post. That story will soon appear again in a bilingual collection of my SEP stories by a Moscow publishing house. Just call me Ivan.

My point here is that some of those early and forgotten manuscripts of mine had some promise and have been worth revisiting, but in their original state none of them were very good. Which was why I never sent them anyplace. Some things about them that were okay from the beginning, I thought, were in areas I've always been pretty comfortable with: premise, dialogue, hooks, endings, structure, etc. Most everything else about them was terrible.

What was it that made these stories so bad? Here are some of the things I found:

  • Too much repetition. Not just of words or phrases but of ideas and thoughts and plot elements. I probably wanted so badly to make everything clear to the reader, I kept saying the same things too often, in different ways.
  • Too many cliches. At the time I don't think I even realized they were cliches.
  • Too many pet words and phrases. My characters were way too fond of sighing, shrugging, turning, staring, nodding, taking deep breaths, etc. This probably belongs under "repetition," and some of it still shows up in my current creations.
  • Too much description. It took me a while to learn there's no need to describe in excruciating detail things like settings, items, or the way people look or dress. Unless it reveals something vital about either the plot or the character, writers should leave most of that to the reader's imagination.
  • Too much exposition. This is just as dangerous and tedious as the overuse of description– I just didn't know it at the time. Overwriting of any kind is bad, and especially when it involves technical details, which I also happily added to the stew now and then. I guess I figured it'd be a shame to waste all that stuff I had to listen to in engineering school.
  • Too many semicolons. All of them were grammatically correct, but I used them far too often. As I've said before at this blog, semicolons can make your writing appear stiff and formal even though that might not be your intention. I still use too many, but I'm cutting back. (Same goes for parentheses, ellipses . . . dashes--and especially exclamation points!)
  • Overuse of dialect. At first I thought anything that makes dialogue sound more "real" is a good thing. The truth is, using too many slang expressions and misspellings is not only lazy writing, it's annoying to the reader. You know what I mean.
  • POV problems. I found that I often made dumb decisions about viewpoint. I didn't know when to use only one, when to switch, how best to use third-person to heighten suspense, how much head-hopping is too much, and so forth. Basic things that I learned later, mostly by paying more attention when I read.

I'm not saying that's everything that was wrong with my early efforts, but those points come first to mind. I still have several stories (several dozen, actually) sitting out there that are unchanged and unsubmitted and gathering dust. On the one hand, I might take another swing at 'em, one of these days. On the other, I might treat them as training exercises and let them rest in peace.

Do you have some of these underachieving stories lying around in your office, or on your computer? Do you ever try to resurrect them? If so, were they later submitted, and published? Do you look back at some of your early published work and see problems there as well? Do you ever update those published stories a bit when you market them as reprints? What are some of the ways you feel you've improved, in your writing?

Before you ask me, No, not everything I publish is old. I've written 32 new stories so far this year, and I typed this column on Wednesday. Whether it's really finished is another matter--but I'm done with it.


Thanks for indulging me, and best to all of you. Keep turning out that good fiction!



15 September 2020

Let’s Get Zoomier: Amazing Zooming Tips


As a companion piece to my last SleuthSayers post The Next Best Thing to Being There about Zooming instead of meeting in person, I thought I’d do some tips on how to prepare and do a Zoom conference. So, you want to make sure you look your best, both personally, as well as in terms of camera angle, lighting, etc. Go full Hollywood with makeup, hair and lighting.

In the good old days when you could actually go out into the real world, we had to get out of bed, shower, shave, get out of our P.J.s and put on real clothes (not our daytime P.J.s). But now, in the age of Covid we’ve gotten sloppy. Hey, who needs to comb your hair when no one’s going to see it? And that shirt you spilled mustard on, no problem, it might be a limited Jackson Pollack design! But the internet age has changed all that with Zoom and other online video conferences. We can no longer hide behind the curtain of privacy that old fashioned phone conferences gave us. No longer can we multi-task while we’re on that conference call – no clipping your toenails or reading the latest mystery novel or Facebooking while you attentively listen to others talk. Now via video conferencing we have to allow a whole bunch of strangers into our homes, let them see our messy cluttered counters, our out-of-date wall paper and dusty bookshelves. But there is help out there for those of us who struggle with the idea of video conferencing. Here are my tips to make your Zoom even zoomier:

Personal Grooming: You want to look your best. Maybe get a haircut and a close shave: If your local hair salon isn’t open, why not try the do-it-yourself approach? I like to keep my hat on as it makes a good template so I don’t cut it too short and promotes my always-wear-a-hat brand. And I find that a good sharp axe makes for the closest shave.

You can trim your own hair. Watch out for the ears!

The secret to a close shave is a sharp blade.

This picture shows the final glorious effect – not bad for an amateur.

After you get your haircut and shave you might want to powder off the shine, like the Beatles did in A Hard Day’s Night:


--Make-up?

--Norm, take them down to Make-up and powder them off. The shine, you know.

--Sure.







To which George Beatle, while having makeup applied, says:

“Hey, you won't interfere with the basic rugged concept of me personality, will you madam?”


So, don’t forget to powder off the shine. Just make sure to use the proper utensils, like the custom panda powder puff as seen in the pic below. You can probably find one -- or maybe something even better -- at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goopy store:


And let’s not forget the words of wisdom on this subject from Carole Lombard as Princess Olga in The Princess Comes Across:


Princess Olga (Carole Lombard): Oh, my poof!

[fishing out her sopping wet powder puff]

King Mantell (Fred MacMurray): Your what?

Princess Olga: My powder poof! It is vet!
[squeezing it out onto his shoes]




Camera Angle and Framing: Make sure your phone or laptop camera is aimed properly. Unless you want to look like grandma driving her humongous ancient Oldsmobile and not being able to see over the steering wheel, you need to make sure you aren’t angling your screen so that you are too high or too low in the frame.

Uh, hello? Where are you? I can’t seeeee you.

Proper Background: Make sure to have a clean, uncluttered background with nothing sprouting out of your head to conflict with the pearls of wisdom you’re spouting.

Uh, no that’s not the new Mickey Mouse club hat I’m wearing.

Lighting: Make sure the lighting is flattering. Don’t you just love that “is it Halloween yet” look? Or do you prefer the “did you forget to pay the electric bill” fashion? Or maybe a dark, noir rolling power outage vibe?


Hollywood Cool: Or you can go for the film noir shadow effect. The Shadow knows. This works particularly well during brownouts.


Always look your best: Look sharp. Pic out the right outfit. Add a tie. A tie can dress up any old shirt. It can also be a useful tool in letting everyone know how you really feel about outlining. And it can be used as strangulation ligature in a pinch if you feel like acting out a scene from one of your books.


Cute cameos: Don’t forget the photo bomb cameos. It’s always good when a baby or child or cute animal walks into frame and steals the scene. Remember what W.C. Fields said, “Never work with children or animals.” They’re scene stealers. Exception to the rule: Buster in these pix.


Final Reveal: And the final reveal, makeup and hair done, proper lighting and angle, appropriate attire. It all comes together in the end:


The Real Deal: And a pic from a real Zoom conference I did a couple of weeks ago with a book photo bomb:


So there you have it. All you need to know about Zooming and being Zoomier!
~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Thanks to Steve Steinbock and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for the review of The Blues Don’t Care in the current September/October 2020 issue just out. Four stars out of four. My first time getting reviewed in EQMM. A great honor!




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