Friday, August 17, 2018


Writer's Desk After BIg-time Cleanup

I have always been a writer, beginning in fifth grade with a western novel:  Sun Up At Sundown, or was it Sundown at Sun Up?  I can never remember.
In high school and college I wrote for the school newspapers.  In college I also wrote a lot of creative papers and took a writing course.  The professor had published a somewhat scandalous novel, The Blind Bull, which made the course even more interesting.  He used to say, "I can teach you to write not badly, but not well."  Think about that for a while.
I enjoyed the course, but never wrote much afterward. Marriage, children, and volunteer work pushed writing into the future.  The next writing I did, well, it was writing computer programs for big IBM mainframes.  Remember them?

Flash back to over twenty years ago. I became, from time to time, disillusioned with high tech.  Programming for business could be a real hassle.  One evening I came home and ranted  to myself, "Why am I writing computer programs?  I should be writing novels. I like to read mysteries.  Writing a mystery should be easy, that's what I'll do.

Dumb and dumber, but that's what I did.  On a kludgy word processor.  Predating Word Perfect. 

My novel's title was The Password Is Death. I was stumbling around like a blind dog in a meat house. No idea what I was doing.  Did not understand motivation to say nothing of plotting.  The weird thing was, this all happened so long ago that agents responded to queries in writing.  Sometimes with advice.  I realized that the book had major flaws.  In an attempt to learn what I should be doing, I enrolled in a Writing Your Novel course at Harvard Extension.  Some excellent writers were in that course. I was inspired. Right after the course was over my husband had a business meeting in Singapore, and I went along for the ride which was, by the way, 22 hours long.
 The Password was Death, had some characters I wanted to hang around with because I liked them. On the return flight from Singapore, I read a tiny blurb in the airline magazine.  "The Fifth Annual Computer Security Conference will be held in May at Raffles Center in Singapore." Lights flashed.  Bells rang. Ye Gods, my characters could go to that meeting in Singapore! In my new novel.

In Singapore where The Shadow Warriors begins
 Yes, I found the  germ of my plot in the Singapore Airlines magazine.  Not that I knew the ending or what would happen but I did have people and settings and some ideas of action.  I used Goettingen, Germany, my husband's former hometown for the scenes in the  rest of the book. But everything began in Singapore.  I returned to Goettingen for on-site research.  Pub crawls, restaurants, library research, walking around the town and then walking some more. Ideas came like kamikazes. I think that was when I became a real writer.  I had been to Goettingen many times, but not with a writer's gaze. Research was fun and did it ever bring forth ideas. And I found other parts of the plot at my workplace in some technical journals with far out technology.  Ideas are everywhere.

This book became The Shadow Warriors.  I had no idea that this was also a computer game, and it was really dumb not to Google it.  Well, this was before Google, but not before Amazon. Always Google your book title, and check for books with identical names on Amazon. 

The Shadow Warriors went through many iterations and I found a writing group that helped enormously.I discovered writer's. conventions, writer's camps, other writers.

Then came my publishing fisasco.  Remember, this was before technology as we know it existed.  I found an internet publisher who was creating e-books and planning on doing POD, in its infancy then.  Suddenly, the company announced they weren't doing POD.  There was a palace revolt and 80% of the writers bolted for a newly formed company.  I waited too long.  Publisher went belly up.  Out in the cold with my nose pressed against the window.  Traditional publishers wanted nothing to do with a book with my kind of high tech plot.  Plus, it was  long.  Not long-long, but long. 120,000 words.  Too long.

I found out which POD printing company would have been used to publish the books in the now belly-up company.  They published mine. They published anyone. Then Amazon bought the company and all it's books and enabled The Shadow Warriors to make a second debut as an e-book.

Of course I got NO RESPECT back in those days for self-publishing.  You could almost hear people whispering behind your back.  Nonetheless, I made a little money and did some speaking gigs and began a second novel with the same characters.  Again too, long. I rewrote it with different characters, got rid of the backstory and went from 120,000 words for 86,000. A small e-book publisher picked it up and they also did POD and published it in all formats. World of Mirrors, suspense, not mystery, made  a little money. More speaking gigs. Now retired, I assumed I could write faster.  Did not happen. Still bumbling along.

I wrote another book I had to rewrite  and shorten. Is this sounding familiar? I'm trying to find a publisher for it now. I wrote my Burning Man book, Festival Madness, which  had to be approved by Burning Man organization. That's another story. After trying for twenty years, I got an agent, but she did not sell my next two books. We parted company amicably.  I'm in the middle of another novel with three unsold books, but I am working on this. In the meantime, I sold several short stories, some poems, and a memoir piece.
A novel of high tech and Burning Man

I hate doing PR. Remember, I was a dweeb.  But I like to write, to talk about writing, and, like most writers,  I love to read. Writing is a great occupation, but you will not likely support yourself as a writer. That's okay.  I love my friends in the writing community.  Looking around my ungodly messy office with piles of books and papers everywhere, and the cat asleep in the rocking chair, I know that I am happy.  And that counts for a lot. I started writing and never stopped. 

The writers below will tell you their own stories.  Everyone has a story.  Read on. 

Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire
Fiona McGier
Margaret Fieland
Rhobin L Courtright

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Violence in the News. Violence on the Page.

We live in a violent world.  I don't need to tell you this.  As a writer of mysteries and suspense, I incorporate violence into my stories.  By far, my most violent novel is World of Mirrors.

World of Mirrors has a cast of bad characters:  Americans, Brits, and Germans.  The setting is East Germany the year after the Berlin Wall came down. The country has voted to reunite with West Germany, but none of this has happened.  It is "the time of the turn."

 The main characters, a man and a woman, are morally compromised.  Lots of bad stuff happens, but there is not a lot of on scene graphic violence.  I never write anything stomach churning.  Enough of that in the daily paper.  The book begins with a murder. The hero and heroine are both attacked.  A small boat is crushed by a freighter. A man is thrown off a cliff.  The violence never stops.  And World of Mirrors is romantic suspense.  Go figure.

One of the characters in the book is a dog whose former occupation was "Wall Dog."  This means he guarded the border of East Germany.  When the Berlin Wall fell, these dogs became unemployed, so to speak, and there was a hue and cry about what to do with them.  Mine ended up guarding the property of one of the bad guys.  And when intruders arrived, he apprehended them and guarded them until his master appeared, as he had been trained to do.  And then one of the bad guys, ostensibly on our heros' side, showed up  before the master and shsot the dog.  Told TK and Zara (the morally compromised hero and heroine) to dump the dog's body in the harbor.

My writing group was outraged.  You cannot kill a dog in a book.  You cannot.  "But he was a bad dog."   Doesn't matter,  you cannot.   So a little change of plot.  This was never a problem in that book because I wrote it from the seat of my pants with no concrete idea of where the plot would actually take me.  Except I knew there would be a fingernail-biting adventure in the shipping lanes of the Baltic.   In the fog.

Meanwhile, the dog.  It is the middle of the night. TK and Zara argued en route to the harbor.    She is upset.  "I did not come over here to kill animals."  They get to the land bridge across the island to the mainland.  Nobody coming.  Park. Open the trunk.  Open the tarp to put the paving stones in with the dog's body.

But wait! The dog whines. He is injured, not dead. Zara absolutely refuses to dump the wounded animal into the water.  TK has no stomach for it either.  A car approaches from the other direction.  Stops.

"Is there any trouble?"  In German of course.
"Our dog is sick.  Do you know of a vet?"
The driver calls out a vet clinic and an address.
"Danke schoen."

The sun is rising. They drop off the dog at the door of the vet. Ring the bell.  Zara leaves a big wad of West Marks for the dog's care.   And runs like hell.
This will come back to haunt them, as we know that no good deed goes unpublished.  At least not in crime fiction.

Other violence comes.  There is another murder. Our heroes are kidnapped.  They escape. They play cat and mouse in the Baltic fog.  The frieghter comes.  The KGB arrives. More tension.  Always the threat of violence.  They survive.  The dog survives.

You can have a body count that never stops, but you cannot kill a dog.    Just not done. 

These writers will tell you how they handle violence. 

 Dr. Bob Rich
Victoria Chatham
Connie Vines
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Skye Taylor
Fiona McGier
Anne de Gruchy
Rhobin L Courtright