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Monday, November 15, 2010

Weather or not...

It's my day to post over at The LadyKillers, and we're talking about the weather this week.  This sounds boring, until you realize that the weather in my books includes Category 5 hurricanes and cataclysmic floods...

Check it out:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest blogger Vicki Delany on learning from our literary past...

I have a guest blogger today, my friend Vicki Delany. This post, on using the history of the detective novel to hone your own fiction, should be of particular interest to those of you who started following It's Like Making Sausage back in June and July, when I was doing my thirty-writing-tips-in-thirty-days marathon. Actually, I think it's of interest to anyone who enjoys crime fiction, because delving into the history of something you love will almost always uncover information that will make you love it more.

The fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, Negative Image, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in November 2010 . Kirkus Reviews said Negative Image “…combines the crisp plotting of the best small-town police procedurals with trenchant commentary on such universal problems as love and trust.” Visit Vicki at

This post, on using the history of the detective novel to hone your own fiction, should be of particular interest to those of you who started following It's Like Making Sausage back in June and July, when I was doing my thirty-writing-tips-in-thirty-days marathon. Actually, I think it's of interest to anyone who enjoys crime fiction, because delving into the history of something you love will almost always uncover information that will make you love it more.

The fourth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, Negative Image, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in November 2010 . Kirkus Reviews said Negative Image “…combines the crisp plotting of the best small-town police procedurals with trenchant commentary on such universal problems as love and trust.” Visit Vicki at


The Detective Novel – Making the Tradition Your Own
By Vicki Delany

I’ve recently finished reading a very interesting book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It’s a true story about a sensational murder in the town of Road, in England in 1860. Mr. Whicher is Jack Whicher, one of the very first detectives on the London police. One night in July of 1860, a three-year-old boy was removed from his bed, taken outside, had his throat cut, and was stuffed into an outdoor privy (aka outhouse). As the house was tightly locked that night, and there was no sign of break and enter, suspicion immediately fell on inhabitants of the house, family and servants. After an initial incompetent investigation by the local police (which refused, for matters of delicacy, to question the family) a detective from the brand-new Scotland Yard was called.

And, not incidentally, the detective novel was born.

Summerscale explains that Wilkie Collins’s great book The Moonstone was influenced by the Road House case, and Collins’ detective, Sergeant Cuff, is considered to be a fictional version of Inspector Whicher. The Road case contains the staples of mystery fiction as we know it today: the large family with hidden passions and secrets, the nosy villagers, the incompetent (or just outwitted) local police, the big-city detective.

The Moonstone is, arguably, the prototype for all detective fiction being written today.

Including my own, the Constable Molly Smith Series, of which the forth, Negative Image, is being released by Poisoned Pen Press TODAY.

I am a great lover of British Police Procedurals (Ian Rankin, Susan Hill, Peter Robinson, Aline Templeton, Stuart Pawson are among my favourites). When I decided to switch from writing standalones to a series, I wanted to write the sort of book I love to read: the traditional police procedural.

One problem – I have no law enforcement experience whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada. I used to be a computer programmer and then a systems analyst with a big bank, not much police work there. (Although I am qualified to identify potential money laundering and terrorist banking activity!)

As a Canadian, writing a Canadian series, I’m in a somewhat difficult position regarding policing, as most of what I read is either British or American. And Canadian policing can be very different.

Here’s an example. Canadian police are not allowed to carry their guns when off duty. Most Americans, I believe, are required to do so. The British police don’t carry guns normally, and have to take special steps if they need one. At the end of In the Shadow of the Glacier (the first book in the series), Constable Smith isn’t in uniform when she comes up against the bad guy and thus she has only her cell phone, stiletto heels, and considerable wits with which to defend herself.

I’ve heard it said: Don't write what you know. Write what you want to learn. Where could I go to find out about Canadian policing?

I wrote to the police force of the town that’s the inspiration for the fictional village of Trafalgar B.C., explained who I was and what I was trying to do. To my considerable surprise, and delight, they wrote back and said they’d be happy to help.

Over the next months, my contact answered all my questions - he even went around the station taking pictures to send me - and when I arrived in town he gave me a tour of the station (including the cells complete with prisoner), introduced me to everyone, and arranged for me to go on a couple of walk-alongs with the beat constable. I met a female officer who was happy to talk to me about the special difficulties women face on the job.

Later, I met a senior police officer for the town near where I live at a book signing and she arranged for me to accompany one of their officers on a ride-along. I have since been on ride-alongs, observed in-service training, been to the firearms training course (you’ll be pleased to know I wasn’t allowed to touch a weapon), interviewed a dog handler, taken step-by-step though fight moves, and borrowed books on police psychology.

On the other hand, I wrote to the police in the town where I used to live asking for help and got a very terse note back, basically telling me to get lost. I’m sure if that had been my first attempt to get police help, it would have been the end of my writing career.

When I told a writer friend about that, he suggested that in my book I have a character transfer in from said town because he couldn’t stand the incompetence and corruption. I resisted the urge to do so.

I wonder where Wilkie Collins got help for his books.

NEGATIVE IMAGE is published by Poisoned Pen Press. If you’d like to read the first two chapters, please go to: Most of Vicki’s books are available in Kindle and other electronic formats as well as hardcover and trade paperback, large print and audio.

About Vicki
Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of psychological suspense such as Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior, including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Winter of Secrets which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, (“artistry as sturdy and restrained as a shaker chair”), to a light-hearted historical series, Gold Digger and Gold Fever, set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki is settling down to the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario where she rarely wears a watch.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why do mystery writers write the things we do????

Today, I have a guest blog from Kathryn Casey, whose book The Killing Storm is hot off the presses. She's seen the dark side of life, writing true crime books, and now she's crafting her own murder stories, instead of letting the real-life bad guys call the shots.  Why are we mystery writers drawn to the things we write?  Well, I think I tell my stories because they give me the power to set things right.  In my little world, justice is done, even though we all know that in the real world, this just isn't always so.

Let's let Kathryn tell us the inspiration for her fiction herself. And if you'd like to see a trailer for her book, you can do that at the end of her post.

Happy reading!
Mary Anna

Fictional bad guys are better
By Kathryn Casey

When Singularity, my first mystery, came out, I noticed a couple of distinct reactions from family and friends. Before reading it, they seemed delighted that I wasn’t hanging around courtrooms and prisons as much as in the past, during my more than two decades as a journalist, writing true crime books and covering real murder cases. “It’s good for you to not see such a depressing side of life,” my aunt said one day, patting my hand. “It’ll give you a more optimistic view of the world.”

I didn’t argue. First, my parents raised me to not contradict my elders. Second, it can get pretty intense covering real murder cases, sitting with the victims’ and defendants’ families, watching their reactions, listening to the evidence, often grisly, looking at disturbing crime scene photos, and then, later, interviewing the killers.

My family and friends relief, however, was short lived. When they’d actually read the book, some eyed me rather warily. “You know, Kathy,” a friend said over lunch in a crowded restaurant one afternoon. We were out celebrating the new novel, and we’d both sipped a couple glasses of champagne. I was feeling rather effervescent when she said, “Some of the girls have been talking, and we’re wondering if we should be concerned with the ideas you have floating around in your mind.”

I put down my fork, looked at her eye-to-eye, thought briefly, and then said, “You know, you really shouldn’t bother. I’m pretty sure, I’m okay.”

“But those murder scenes in your book,” she said, growing ever more adamant. “They were, how should I put this, unusual. Do you often think about such things often?”

Again, I took my time, considering the scenes she’d referred to. My main character, Sarah Armstrong, is a Texas Ranger/profiler. She doesn’t get the run of the mill murders. Instead, she’s kind of like that TV doc House, the one they call on to weed through all the clues when they can’t crack a case. In that first book, the one my friends had just read, Sarah hunted a serial killer and the death scenes were indeed unusual, in fact, ritualistic might have been a better word.

“You know, I do think about such things,” I told my friend, who shook her head slightly at my confession. “But you don’t need to worry, because the beauty of fiction is that none of it’s real.”

As my aunt had hoped, the transition from fact to fiction has been invigorating. After all those years covering real cases, I do have rather strange things floating around in my head, and, for the first time, I’m letting them out to play, resulting in plenty of plots and characters to draw on.

For instance, in the second book in the series, Blood Lines, I wrote about a deadly cyber-stalker circling a pop star and an oil company exec found shot through the head with a farewell note beside her body. Was it suicide? I’m not telling, but I will say that both plot lines tied back cases I’d heard about but never wrote about back in the early nineties. So their roots are real, even though they’re thoroughly fictionalized in the book.

So is it any surprise that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike hitting my hometown, Houston, I wrote a book entitled The Killing Storm? The African symbols and the sugar cane plantation in the book? All modeled after real places and archeological finds within an hour of my house. The location where the book builds to a climax? You guessed it. Real.

Yet everything else materialized when I let my imagination take over, freed from worrying about sticking to the facts, able to mold the best plot, scene, and characters. What’s the most delightful thing about writing mysteries? For me, it’s that when it comes to the killer: pure fiction.

Kathryn Casey is the author of six highly acclaimed true crime books and the creator of the Sarah Armstrong mystery series. Learn more about her at

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My mother

I've been a less faithful blogger lately, because my mother has been very ill.  We lost her last week.  Being a writer, I felt a need to set down some of my memories of her, so I hope you don't mind if I stray from the topic of this blog, just for today.

As we were planning her funeral service, the minister asked my sister and me some questions about our childhood and about our memories of Mama. Then he asked for something brief that captured her spirit, perhaps something that we could imagine carved on her tombstone. I really couldn't think of anything to tell him, except for the word, "Mother."

Since I am a novelist, any effort to expand her description beyond a single word naturally metamorphosizes into many, many words. Since she was a singularly beautiful woman, that description naturally includes photographs. Here are those words and pictures.

My mother Lillian was born in January 1937, almost exactly one year after her sister. Two years later, their mother was dead of one of those things that don't kill healthy young women any more, pneumonia. I'm told that someone was driving frantically to Mobile, hoping to find one of those miraculous new antibiotics, a sulfa drug, but he didn't get back in time. She was 26.

Before their mother died, she made two special little dresses,one pink and one blue. I've never seen any like them. They were made of maybe 30 triangles of silk that were connected by flat strips of white insertion lace to make the dresses' skirts. The strips of lace extending from the skirt were sewn together at the top to form the dresses' bodices. I'm told that my grandfather helped her make them. She basted them together while he, being a mechanical engineer and thus handy with things that had motors, ran the sewing machine.

This picture of the girls wearing the dresses was probably taken after their mother died.
By the time I was born, the dress was too fragile to wear, so my mother copied it in pink cotton batiste. My sister and I both wore the copy. When my girls were born, Mama gave it to me, and they both wore it. I think it's still in good enough shape for my granddaughter to wear after she's born in January, but I have a hankering to see if I can engineer yet another copy. We'll see if I work up enough nerve to give it a try.

As a Mother's Day gift a few years ago, my sister and I had the original dress cleaned and mounted in a shadow box, along with photos of all the girls who wore it or the copy, as well as the grandparents who made the original. We included our sons' photos, not because they wore the dress, but just because we kinda like them. :-)  Here's a crummy photo of the contents of that shadowbox.
Maybe I'm losing my mind, but look at this photo. I just propped the frame against the wall, sat on the floor, and snapped the shot with my phone, so you can see the reflection of everything in the room in the glass.

Look for my reflection. You can see my white shirt and dark hair. Do you see the reflection of someone else wearing a slightly darker blouse partially obscuring mine? It looks an awful lot like the blouse we buried my mother in.  I've always had the traditional engineer's skeptical approach to the metaphysical, but I really can't think of anything to explain that picture.

Here's a photo of the last little girl to wear the current copy, my younger daughter, along with her mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and godmother.
 It was perhaps destined that my mother would be an operating room nurse, because there is a story that she and her cousin had a big fight over a worm they found, because she wanted to cut it open and see what was inside, and he wasn't sure that was a good idea. She told me that she'd read everything in her high school library before she graduated, and I know that she was blessed with determination, because Daddy told me that her Daddy took him aside before the wedding to warn him that she "butts with her own head." So I am not surprised that she was at the top of her nursing school class, graduating with an RN license that was a lifelong source of pride. She was in charge of the OR by the time she was 25, and the doctors liked working with her because she was cool, and because she was smart, and because she taught herself to cut sutures with her left hand the very night after she saw that it was a useful skill to have. I love this photo of her as a student nurse in the mid-1950s, especially the open door on the nursing dormitory behind her.
Many years later, I was asked to contribute a story to a very noir publication. Since modern noir connotes a bit more blood-and-guts than I typically write, I pondered a while on this story. Then I decided that I didn't have to take this story onto mean streets that I knew nothing about. It stood to reason that there should be plenty of blood-and-guts in an operating room. And I thought a 1950s-era OR would be even more noir. Mama was so enthusiastic in helping me get the setting of the story right, to the extent of mailing me her old textbooks, that I gave her co-author credit for "Starch," which you can find here:

While in nursing school, she met Daddy. Since people are at their most beautiful when they're in love, I'm including two photos from 1956, one of the two of them at a Christmas party and one that he took of her at Audubon Park in New Orleans while she was training at Charity Hospital.
They married immediately after her 1957 graduation in a small ceremony at the parsonage. Afterward, she was an OR nurse and he did sales for a tobacco company until he finished college, thanks to the GI Bill. Daddy got a job at the Kaiser Aluminum plant where he was eventually plant manager until he retired at age 52.
A sympathy note I received this week mentioned that my father "had personality coming out his ears," and he did. I'm told that the brass at Kaiser Aluminum didn't know what to do with this slow-talking man who would say absolutely anything he pleased to them and who could get away with it, because he had the charm and looks of a Hollywood star. And because he knew he could run his plant so that it was eternally profitable. And also because he knew that nobody else wanted to go live someplace obnoxious like Mississippi and they'd have to do that if they fired him. And the final reason he never kissed up to his bosses was because he had no interest in moving further up in the company, not if it meant that he'd have to move his family someplace obnoxious like New Orleans or Oakland or Gary, Indiana.

My father never met a stranger, and he liked to tell about the time he was dressed all slick in a suit and tie, flying cross-country to a corporate meeting in Oakland. He chatted with the Yankee lady in the seat next to him for the entire flight, and he used his college English and his company manners and everything, but she apparently never got past the accent. As the plane landed, she asked, "Pardon me, sir...but are you a hick?"

He just grinned and said, "Yes, ma'am. I are."

Mama stopped working and commenced mothering when I came along in 1961. This picture was taken in 1963, while she was pregnant with her second and last child, my sister.  So, technically, we're all three in the shot.
Mama made virtually everything we wore during our growing-up years, and I'm still spoiled by the experience of strolling into a fabric store, picking out a dress pattern and asking if she could put on a different sleeve, then picking the fabric and color that suited me. She cooked a hot meal and we ate as a family every night. And we washed every meal but breakfast down with her iced tea. Everybody loved her cooking, but there must be something on the y-chromosome that responds to southern cooking. It didn't matter where he came from, if a man sat down at my mother's table, he drank a gallon of that tea and he ate her potato salad until he hurt himself. She passed those recipes on to me, and I've handed them on to all three children. Her interest in sewing seems to have stopped with me and my sister, however.

Here are two pageant gowns she sewed for me. The first one was made from fabric we bought at a fire sale. The other girls had department store dresses, but I won the pageant and the evening gown competition. For the state pageant, we found a photo of a dress we liked, then she copied it, using a pattern that really didn't look much like the original dress at all. Notice how perfectly the bodice fits and know that one of my shoulders is lower than the other and one hip is higher than the other and that I weighed ninety pounds at the time. Have I mentioned that I am spoiled when it comes to shopping for clothes?
It became apparent early on that my sister and't ordinary. There were no gifted programs in elementary schools back then, but she'd heard about such things being offered through the university education department. She consulted with our pediatrician, Dr. Mary Clark, who probably knew quite a little bit about being unordinary, since she was already middle-aged by that time and there couldn't have been many women in med school with her.

Dr. Mary showed the southerner's typical disdain for hiring experts to do things that can be addressed through common sense. She told her to encourage any interest we showed and to fill the house with books.  She took us to the bookmobile in the summers and all three of us left with stacks of books. The archaeology books passed through all of our hands, and they are probably the reason I write what I do. That, and the fact that my mother excavated some really cool stuff out of the trash pit left in the woods behind our home by the residents of a long-gone house. Also, she found some arrowheads and the quarry where their stone was dug in those very same woods.

My mother was there for me during all the little bumps in my road, and the biggest of those was probably my second child's premature birth. She and Daddy took my little son to their house and brought him to see me on weekends.  Every week, Mama would go to the hospital, check out the baby, and pronounce that the doctors were wrong. (My sister and I have always said that if she'd been born in 1967, instead of 1937, she would have been a doctor herself.)  She declared that this baby was going to be fine. Here she is, holding my daughter when she was three months old and nearly ready to leave the hospital. She kept stretching her arms out and waving her little hands in the air. The doctors said it was a reflex and maybe a sign of brain damage. Mama said that the baby was just saying, "Look at my pretty hands!" Mama was right. And my daughter's hands really are pretty...
After my daughter got out of the hospital, my father liked to carry her around and introduce her to strangers by saying, "See this little thing? She weighed a pound and ten ounces when she was born! Just look at her!" He was also ridiculously proud of his daughters, bragging about my sister's PhD in chemistry and my master's in chemical engineering by saying, "All my boys was girls." (He frequently dispensed with the college English when he thought Mississippi talk did a better job of getting his point across.) He died of lung cancer at 58 in 1992.

Mama carried on alone, though it must have been hard. After they'd been married about 25 years, one of his friends asked my father if he'd seen the really beautiful woman who'd walked into church that morning. Daddy said, "Really, I think my wife is the most beautiful woman there is." I wish they'd had more than 34 years together.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. When the biopsy came up positive, I carefully packed my suitcase for the trip to Mississippi...then left it on my living room floor. I had to borrow underwear until her surgery was over and I could take time to run to Walmart.

After the diagnosis, I told her we'd take a trip when she got finished with her chemo. Because we loved archaeology and science so much, I found us a cruise that started in Athens, went to ruins in Turkey and Romania, then stopped in the middle of the Black Sea to view a total eclipse of the sun. Here we are embarking on our adventure and viewing the eclipse in our matching flamingo shirts.

She went on to have many years of remission and then manageable disease until the cancer took her last week, but it was on that trip that I first sensed that responsibility was being passed to me. It was a strange feeling.

Before my son's wedding in March 2009, Mama's doctor told me that she would not see my daughter's wedding in September of that year. She made him into a liar, then she lived more than another year, just to show she could. Her father did say that she butted with her own head. Here she is, making her entrance on my son's arm at that wedding she wasn't supposed to see.

I think the greatest gift our parents gave my sister and me was the fact that they never once suggested that there was anything we could not do. When you realize that I'm talking about 1960s Mississippi, a place where few people considered that girls might want to do much of anything, I think that their attitude was extraordinary.

To sew a lovely bit of trim on all this remembering, here is a photo from Christmas 1963, when I got my first piano and my infant sister lay on a blanket under the tree and Daddy caught Mama in her flannel pajamas. All Christmases should be like this one, and all childhoods should be like mine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

25 years ago today...

Today, Stacy Juba is graciously hosting me on her blog, 25 Years Ago Today, where I'll be talking me think...what I was doing 25 years ago today.  Fortunately, I know pretty much what I was doing way back then, because my firstborn entered this world on Halloween 1985.  Coincidentally, I just wrote a book wherein the viewpoint character is weeks away from giving birth for the entire length of the book.  Visit Stacy's blog to see how one experience informed the other:

Monday, October 18, 2010

More from Key West...

I promised more tales from the very remote and exotic Key West.  Sometimes I think we all forget how remote it really is.  It's just Florida for heaven's sake.  Everybody's been to Florida.

Well, folks, I'm not even in the northernmost part of Florida, but it took me about nine hours to drive from here to Key West.  It's a heckuva a long way.  That means that if you're talking about the Orlando theme parks when you say, "Everybody's been to Florida," then you're talking about a place that's still seven hours from the spot where US 1 ends in downtown Key West.

Speaking of Key West's status as the really-and-truly-I-mean-it end of the road, when I started on my trip, I got my GPS out of the glove compartment and started to set it.  Then I thought, "Um...I drive south to where the Florida Turnpike starts.  Then I drive south for the turnpike's entire length.  Then I get on US 1 South and I drive until I run out of road.  If I can't find Key West without a GPS, then I really shouldn't be driving a car."

That last 125 miles of Highway 1 is so spectacular and unique that I think it should be on everyone's bucket list.  It follows the route of the Overseas Railroad constructed by Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway in 1912, which was considered a wonder of the world in its day.  When the railroad was destroyed in the great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the route was sold to the federal government for the purpose of building a highway.  Over the years, the old bridges have largely been replaced, but some of them still stand, adding a sense of history to the drive.  Here's a picture of the Bahia Honda section of the old bridge.  It's been cut, so that no one will continue using it, but it was left in place for use as a fishing pier.  The new bridge is roughly parallel and to the right of the bridge as you're looking at it.  As you drive across the new bridge, on the dividing line between the Florida Straits and the Caribbean, you feel like you're driving on top of endless water in every possible shade of blue and green.  You can't help cranking up the radio and rolling the windows down.

On the other side of Bahia Honda Key is a world-famous beach.  It's frequently on one of those Top Ten beach lists that show up in magaziens and on the internet, and it's just spectacular.  It's not one of those carefully groomed and raked stretches of beach.  No, I've been there three times now, and the fine sugar white sand always has a pretty decent coating of dried seaweed.  This isn't surprising, because you can see dark patches of seaweed beds under the clear water.  When there's a good bit of surf, as there was on the times I visited, the water is heavily laced with seaweed and murky with white sand.  All these things only serve to make the beauty feel natural. 

Check out this photo to see just how crowded Bahia Honda's beach was on a beautiful September Saturday.  I walked down past the furthest point you can see in the picture, to the end of the island, and I found a large area of clear and seaweed-free turquoise water where I could walk, thigh-deep, far from shore.  I just floated in it, practically alone, except for a handful of other folks who were far away and minding their own business.  It was a little slice of heaven.  (I'm sorry, but I cannot seem to make the graphics program turn it 90 degrees and keep it there.  It turned the Bahia Honda Bridge photo properly.  It actually turned this one properly, but when I post it, it flips over again.  There are many things about computers that I don't understand.  Sigh.)

On that note, I'll sign off, promising you more Key West stories and pictures soon.  If you want to hear my thoughts on music and mystery writing, today's my day to post over at The Lady Killers.  Hop over there and you can see a picture of my piano and everything.  How cool is that?  (Okay, it's not all that exciting to most folks, but it is a wonderful piano.)   :)

Happy reading!
Mary Anna

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Making sausage elsewhere...

I'm guest blogging today for Lelia Taylor at Buried Under Books.  It's the traditional Columbus Day, which is the official release date for Strangers.  I'm blogging about the reasons why I chose that date, so hop over there and see for yourself.

Some of you may remember Lelia's mystery and science fiction bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, Creatures 'n' Crooks.  She has turned from bricks-and-mortar book sales to online book sales, so if you'd like to shop for books while you're there, you'll find the kind of service she gave face-to-face at her store.

Here's the link:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I'm headed west...

...but not very far west.  I'm going to Mississippi.

I'll be in the Florida Panhandle on Monday, speaking to the collegiate high school of Northwest Florida State College, then I'll be sleeping in Alabama. 

Early Tuesday, I'll be off to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I'll be speaking at Main Street Books in Hattiesburg at noon, and at Oak Grove Public Library at 5:30 pm. 

On Thursday, I'll be at the Purvis Public Library, in Purvis, Mississippi, at 5:30 pm.

And on Friday, I'll be at the Laurel-Jones Public Library, in Laurel, Mississippi, at noon.

Or, if you prefer, you can check out my schedule here.

I'll be back here with more tales from Key West and Mississippi but, first, I've gotta go celebrate Columbus Day week in Mississippi.  Because there are few books more suited for a Columbus Day release than Strangers...

(Gorgeous cover, huh?)

If you're near any of those stops, please come see me.  I love to put faces with email addresses...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Homesick for Key West...

Today is the first day I'm really trying to get back to work since my fabulous writer's residency with The Studios of Key West.  These wonderful people gave me nine days in an apartment in the heart of Key West's Old Town historic district.  And what did I have to do in return?  Nothing but write.

Now, remember that I have spent the past quarter-century rearing three wonderful and adorable children, writing when they were in school or asleep or locked in a closet with a bowl of water.  How often have I had nine days with no responsibilities other than to keep myself fed and avoid burning down the house and make up stories?

I'll tell you the answer to that question.  Never.

And I'll tell you something else.  It was great!

I am woefully behind on the seventh Faye Longchamp mystery, Plunder, but I have never missed a deadline in my life and I don't expect to miss one now.  So even though I was sitting in the middle of a tropical paradise, I set myself a daily goal of ten pages a day.  As long as I hit that mark, I could go out and play.  Since life experience is part of the work of a writer, even that play time wasn't wasted.  (And play time every wasted?)  The next book after Plunder will be set in Key West, which is what prompted me to write a proposal for this residency in the first place. 

It was important that I spend some of this time getting to know the island, so I walked all over the historic section, just to look at the pretty houses in their sherbet colors and white gingerbread trim.  I watched sunset at Mallory Square twice.  I had dinner at a harborfront restaurant and at Margaritaville and several other places.  I grocery shopped and cooked my own tropical fare--shrimp salad, guacamole from local avocados, lots and lots of sliced mango.  I got lunch and cafe con leche at the neighborhood Cuban restaurant and consumed it on the deck outside my bedroom, located beneath one of the biggest mango trees on Key West.

I'll post more photos and tell more tales later in the week, but here are a few to tide you over until then.  And I'll probably say this a few more times, but thank you to The Studios of Key West!

Mary Anna

My apartment's private patio and, behind it, the trunk of one of the largest mango trees in Key West.  
This is why they call the apartment "The Mango Treehouse"

Sunset at Mallory Square--Key West's daily end-of-the-day party

Monday, September 20, 2010 appropriate...

I'm blogging today over at The LadyKillers:

And what's my topic?  Chaos.  Why do I feel that my fellow LadyKillers were thinking of me when they picked that theme????

Mary Anna

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dove World: An interesting week in my hometown

I'm sorry to go dormant on you, my faithful readers.  Among many other time-eating factors, my mother's health took a significant downturn recently, and I'm frankly not getting much done.  If anybody wants to come down here and do my laundry and mop my kitchen floor, I won't argue with you.  :)

Never fear, I'm not going to stop making sausage here.  The excitement of a new book's publication is right around the corner, and I wouldn't miss sharing it with you.  This past week, however, I witnessed some things here in Gainesville that played out on the world stage and I thought I'd share them with you.

Usually when worldwide media outlets focus on this town, they're talking about the antics of large young people on the football field or baseball diamond or basketball court or lacrosse field. Not last week.

I do not believe that a single media organization on the planet failed to send someone to report on the antics of a single idiot with 30 congregants and a loud mouth and a book of matches. The population of Gainesville, minus 30 benighted members of Dove World, was remarkably unified against Terry Jones and his inflammatory behavior, and I'm proud of that.

My minister has always been socially and politically active, and he was very involved in the organization of an interfaith worship service held earlier this week. He and several other ministers and rabbis and priests signed a letter printed in a full-page ad protesting the planned Koran burning. Some of the flock of media folk found him on Thursday, and he was interviewed in three languages that apparently included English, since he appeared on CNN Friday morning.

Everyone I encountered last week was talking about this brouhaha, from tbe conservative wealthy elderly white folks at my mother's assisted living facility to the probably-less-wealthy African American nursing assistants taking care of them. I didn't hear the first person support Dove World's plans, which gives me hope for mankind.

On Sunday, I attended our church service, and plans to feature readings from the New Testament, the Torah, and the Koran had been widely publicized.
The media kept a low profile. It was, after all, a church service. Representatives of various newspapers, CNN, and the ACLU sat quietly in the congregation. Al-Jazeera sent a cameraman, and I hope that their viewers see that Dove World has 30 people who wish them ill, but just across town from them, we have 300 who are reaching out.

I've never been much of a rabble-rousing protester, choosing instead to express my political views by rearing three children with strong moral values, but I was glad to be part of this event.  And I hope we all one thing away from the response to one man's actions:  We live in a small world, and we're not that different from each other.  It's really important to love each other.
Mary Anna

Monday, August 23, 2010

Talking about the bad guys...

It's my day to blog at The LadyKillers , and the current topic is "villains."  I had fun talking about the villains in my Faye Longchamp books, but only in passing, because I don't want to spoil the books for you.  However, my ebook, Wounded Earth, is a thriller, meaning that the villain is front and center for the entire book.  And when the villain has a name like Babykiller, you know from the beginning of that book that this is a bad man.

Wounded Earth

I talk a bit about Babykiller on The LadyKillers today.  I hope you'll hit that LadyKillers link up there and join me.
Mary Anna

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You knew I'd dip into the Beatles songbook, sooner or later...

I'm back with another popular song that can teach students of fiction a thing or two.  I'm fascinated by music--by any art, really--that transcends the passage of time.  I recognize a sister in Jane Austen when I read her sharp and usually affectionate skewering of her own society, and I am always astonished to remember that she was writing 150 years before I was born.

If I'm looking at popular music for examples of this phenomenon of art for all time, I'd be an idiot not to look at The Beatles.  They arrived on the scene just as mass media made it possible set the world afire in a way that had never happened before and likely can never happen again.  I was born in the 1960s, so I barely remember The Beatles' phenomenon, but I appreciate their work a great deal.  My 14-year-old daughter can't even imagine life in a world of dial phones and untrammeled smoking in public places, but she is a huge Beatles fan.  The Summer of Love is receding far into the past, but "Yesterday" has a timeless quality that lives on.

Today, there are just too many channels and stations and blogs and websites and media venues for one artist to dominate the culture so completely. Still, Beatlemania would not have survived for a half-century if those lads had not been exceptionally talented songcrafters.  You probably think that I'm going to whip a mega-hit out of the Lennon-McCartney songbook to talk about tonight, but you're wrong.  George Harrison was a writer of delicate masterpieces, but he was laboring in the shadow of his larger-than-life friends, so he gets overlooked.  Let's look at one of his finest songs:  While My Guitar Gently Weeps

First, take a moment to admire that title with me.  I could actually point to that phrase as an example of great writing and quit writing this post.  This title, which is the song's hook, speaks of the love affair between a musician and his constant musical companion.  It speaks of the emotion that pours out of that musician so freely that it seems to come out of the guitar itself.  And the image of someone gently weeping reaches right into my heart and twists it.  Well done, Sir George.

I look at you all...see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps 

The singer is just sitting there, looking at someone he loves, and he's grieving.  It's a timeless, still moment that extends while he looks around the quiet room and sees the dust on the floor.  He is as far from picking up a broom as a man can be.  He can't do anything but hold his guitar gently and let it speak for him.

Is there a fancy word in this stanza?  There's hardly an adjective or an adverb here, and one thing I almost always do with beginner manuscripts is to take a light saber to three-quarters of the adjectives and adverbs.  Flowery modifiers tend to suffocate the message.  Harrison has excised them, and the adverb "gently" shines so brightly because he did.

I don't know why nobody told you
how to unfold your love
I don't know how someone controlled you
they bought and sold you

Someone--I presume it is a woman--has made a mistake in love.  She--and I presume he loved her--has been betrayed by someone who treated her as a thing of value to be bought and sold.  He doesn't blame her for this tragedy.  He blames them.  And he has told us so, again, without a single flowery descriptor.

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps 

He's taken a step back from noticing the dust on the floor...a big step back.  He's so detached that he notices the world in its turning.  Nothing is moving but the earth on its axis and his fingers on that guitar.  He indulges himself in an extraneous adverb--"surely"--but it's needed to drive that third line's rhythm hard, and he wants to move on from this mistake as inexorably as the world turns.

I don't know how you were diverted
you were perverted too
I don't know how you were inverted
no one alerted you 

Excuse me, Sir George, but what are you saying here?

Well, I know what he's saying.  It's the same message as the last stanza.  Someone fooled this woman into a betrayal, turning her upside down, and nobody warned her.  You can sing this trippy stanza if you're George Harrison, but if I were covering the song, I'd have to leave it out.  I also couldn't pull off the Liverpool accent to properly sing "divuhted," "purvuhted," "invuhted," or "aluhted," but it sounds great when he sings it.

(This is akin to my difficulty with the song I dissected three posts back, "Dream On."  I can sing along with the recording.  I can do that monster slide.  I can do those bluesy vocal tricks.  I can even hit the high notes on those shrieking "Dream on"s at the end.  But I can't do those shrieks with a straight face, so no one but my kids will ever hear me do it.  Only the original artist can pull off such shenanigans in public.  Trust me on this.)

And then, on the original Beatles recording, he repeats the chorus and quits.  However, the internet gifted me with these additional lyrics from the original Harrison version:

I look from the wings at the play you are staging
While my guitar gently weeps
As I'm sitting here doing nothing but aging
Still my guitar gently weeps

I simply adore this, and I would absolutely include it in any cover of this song.  Our singer is still the motionless observer, watching the drama the nameless woman has staged and playing a mournful guitar accompaniment as that drama ends.  He has watched the dust pile up on the floor and he has watched the world turn and these things are just reminders that time has passed.  Nothing has happened.  But this isn't true.  He's getting older.  Maybe he'll heal and maybe he won't.  Maybe he'll never do anything but sit there and play.  But his guitar, his first love, sits with him and weeps.

Go ahead and break out The White Album, whether you listen to it on your ipod or a CD or a cassette or...does anybody still own an eight-track?...or on vinyl.  You know you want to.

Happy listening...
Mary Anna

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Some cool news...

I'm taking a break from my literary appreciation of rock lyrics to share several bits of good news with you people.

First, my Faye Longchamp novels--Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, and Floodgates--are all now available on Kindle and for the iPad.  With the daily flood of news stories on the growth of the ebook market, this can only be a good thing.

Second, my co-writer in the educational work, Faith, and I received word that an article of ours will be published in a prestigious literary journal.  It's called "Reading Geometry:  Text Options and Reading Activities," and it will appear in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' journal Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.  One of the reading activities included in the article is based on an excerpt from Artifacts, so my work will get some nice exposure to people who might want to use it in their classrooms.

Third, I've been selected to do an artist's residency at The Studios of Key West.  (If I've told you this already, forgive me.)   I'll be going down in September to spend a week in a cottage called the Mango Treehouse, apparently because my bedroom is situated upstairs in such a way that I'll feel like I'm sleeping among the branches of the largest mango tree in Key West.  I have two deadlines coming up, so I'll be working like a slave in that magical treehouse, but Key West is a pretty wonderful place to experience self-imposed slavery.

And last, Faith and I have another article in a professional journal this summer.  Florida Readers Journal is a very scholarly publication, and our article is actually quite scholarly, but it does have a tongue-in-cheek quality that I think is what prompted Faith to list me as first author.  This is very generous of her, since she's the one with the PhD, but she said, "This one was your baby."  And it was.  It's called "Exploring Strange New Worlds:  Across-the-Curriculum Lessons from the Star Trek Franchise."

I have a picture to go with this last news item that is so appropriate for the topic and so ridiculous that I shall post it.  Live long and prosper!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A very literary rock star...

In my last post, I dissected the meter and thematic development of a pop song, and I felt positively schoolmarmish.  So I thought I'd dig up a picture of myself in my glasses, just so I could look the part.
The schoolmarm is in.

Today, we're still looking at the ways our modern troubadours are following in the footsteps of Homer and the Bard of Avon, and I've chosen one of my favorite lyricists, Sting.  Yes, sometimes he stomps onto the wrong side of that slender boundary between literary and pretentious, but the man has written some most elegant songs.  I'd rather risk being pretentious than spend all my time penning predictable tales in single-syllable words, and I imagine that Sting feels the same way.

As of last week, I am the mother of the a two-time National Junior Classical League mythology champion.  In her honor, I want to talk about The Police's hit, "Wrapped Around Your Finger," which draws from the mythological themes that she so loves.  I saw The Police perform this song in 1984, during their Synchronicity tour, and I continue to admire their work, particularly Sting's songwriting abilities.

This song is as classically inspired as they come, from the opening sentence:

You consider me the young apprentice
Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis.
Scylla and Charybdis were a pair of monsters who terrorized sailors back when the Greek gods walked the earth.  Scylla had a bunch of heads, bobbing on very long necks, and she would reach those heads out to a passing ship and snatch sailors right off the deck.  Charybdis took the form of a gargantual whirlpool that didn't bother with snatching individual sailors.  It just sucked the whole ship down into the depths.  Scylla and Charybdis make a famous appearance in The Oddysey.

Saying one is "caught between the Scylla and Charybis," is a whole lot prettier and fancier than saying that one is "caught between a rock and a hard place," but it means pretty much the same thing.  And what's our young apprentice doing in this precarious spot?  Why, I do believe that Sting has induced a state of dramatic tension in a mere 12 words.  We should all make it our goal to be equally economical.

Hypnotized by you if I should linger
Staring at the ring around your finger.

Until I started writing this post, I was certain that I understood this reference.  I was under the impression that the sorceress Circe wore a magic ring that she used to enchant Odysseus.  I can almost see the book where I read this, an adaptation of The Odyssey.  And I thought she used it to turn people to stone, which will come up again later in this post.  But I can find no evidence of these things on the internet and, as much as I love you people, I don't have time to re-read The Odyssey for you.  So I'm going to regard this line as referring to a generic sorceress's ring.  Or maybe she's not a sorceress.  Maybe she's a married woman who's got the young apprentice's attention.  This song has been out 27 years, but there are still people talking on the internet about this question.

I have only come here seeking knowledge,
Things they would not teach me of in college.

Sting has a way with feminine rhymes, doesn't he?

I can see the destiny you sold
turned into a shining band of gold.

Back to the sorceress/married woman question.

I'll be wrapped around your finger.
I'll be wrapped around your finger.

And the hook...repeated, of course.  Because it's the hook.  :)

Doesn't it oh-so-elegantly mirror that mysterious ring?

Mephistopheles is not your name,
But I know what you're up to just the same.

Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles, so now we know exactly what's at stake.

I will listen hard to your tuition,
And you will see it come to its fruition.

Tuition/fruition.  Another feminine rhyme, maybe the prettiest ever...because the words work with the story.  "Tuition" and "fruition" would be the perfect words here if they didn't rhyme.  Never force the wrong word into your story, just because you want to use it.

As a schoolmarmish word-person, I think that "tuition" and "fruition" look pretty and sound pretty, and they even feel good in the mouth.

I'll be wrapped around your finger.
I'll be wrapped around your finger.

And the hook he just using an old saying here, or is he talking about a wedding ring, or is he talking about the spell this woman has over him?  The line works because we care about the answer.  We know nothing about this apprentice, except that he is trapped in a power struggle, but Sting tells his story in a way that drags us into the young man's viewpoint.  We're all wrapped around her finger...whoever she is.  Circe?  An unnamed modern woman?  We really don't care.

Devil and the deep blue sea behind me  

In a neat bit of songwriting legerdemain, this sentence fragment harks back to Faust's deal with Mephistopheles and to Charybdis the sea monster, and to the unnamed singer's struggles with those two beings.

Vanish in the air you'll never find me.

And the apprentice has harnessed his magic!  Don't you want to applaud?

I will turn your face to alabaster,
Then you'll find your servant is your master,

It bugs me that I remember a story of a sorceress who used a ring to turn men to stone, but I can't find a reference for that story.  If anybody knows it, please write me.  But even without it, this couplet is simply awesome. It functions like the final couplet in a Shakespearean sonnet, requiring the observer to re-evaluate everything that came before in light of the surprise now being revealed.

The multisyllabic feminine rhyme, master/alabaster, emphasizes two important words.  "Master" is obviously a central image to the power struggle being detailed in this song.  And turning someone's face to alabaster, knowing that alabaster is a stone and is also synonym for "white," opens the mythology of the song to interpretation.  Is the student's master (or mistress) white-faced in shock, or was he or she actually turned to stone?  In this mythic land, either are possible.  Poseidon turned Odysseus' ship to stone, and Medusa's glance could turn anyone to rock.  I've always thought that the choice to use "alabaster" in this context was simple genius.

And you'll be wrapped around my finger.
I'll be wrapped around your finger.
You'll be wrapped around my finger.
I'll be wrapped around your finger.....

And the turn keeps turning.  Who really is the master in this relationship?  And does it matter when the two people are so inextricably bound?  This power struggle is going to continue as long as both parties are still breathing.  And it's entirely possible that this song will  have fans as long as human beings can see themselves in that struggle.

Keep on rocking...
Mary Anna

Monday, August 9, 2010

Every time that I look in the mirror...

As I promised yesterday, we're going to take a good look at some timeless words.  No, they're not excerpted from a novel or a short story.  No, they're not even fiction, though I do think they tell a story.  They're song lyrics, that special kind of poetry that is consumed by the masses because it comes wrapped in ear-pleasing, visceral rock-and-roll.

I had a nostalgic good time on Saturday night, enjoying an excellent Aerosmith concert in the company of my 14-year-old daughter, who appeared to be enjoying it as much as I was.  See--don't we look happy?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is art that crosses generations.  (Pop art, it's true.  We're not talking Mozart here.  But I write popular fiction, and I happen to believe that popular art that strikes a chord with millions of people is probably saying something important about the human condition.  Steven Tyler just makes his social commentary in a much raunchier way than, say, Maya Angelou.)

I remember hearing "Dream On" on the radio when it was first released.  When Aerosmith launched into that song, I heard thousands of people squeal like the little girl I was then, and I thought "We wordsmiths can learn some things from Aerosmith.  I'm gonna deconstruct that song."  I tell my fiction writing students that they should write poetry, just to practice the precise and practical use of words.  Well, when you write a pop song, you know you're gonna have to repeat that hook many, many you have to be even more selective about the words you do use.  Let's look at the words Steven Tyler chose in boldface.  I'll comment in regular old Times New Roman.

Every time that I look in the mirror,
All these lines on my face getting clearer.

I thought this was a heroic couplet, but alas, heroic couplets have five iambic feet.  Rock-and-roll lends itself more to four feet--tetrameter--and those look more like trochees than iambs, so let's call it trochaic tetrameter.  Shakespeare used that meter.  So did Edna St. Vincent Millay.  So I guess it's worthy.

Whatever you call it, I think the back-to-back rhyme of a couplet has a strong, definite sound.  And the feminine rhyme scheme--two rhymed syllables instead of just one--makes it even stronger.  It can be risky.  It can sound like a bad limerick.  (There once was a man from Nantucket/ who...oh, never mind.)

I think it works here.  And these opening lines strike right at the heart of anyone who has ever contemplated age and mortality.  (This is fairly amazing, considering that Tyler was what...25?...when he wrote those words.)  But it's a perfect opening for a song that's aiming a little higher than the average blues song that begins, "I woke up this morning, a day older than I was yesterdaa-aa-ayyy...)

The past is gone.
It went by like dusk to dawn.
Isn't that the way?
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay. 

And again, "Everybody's got their dues in life to pay," rubs our face in the hard parts of life, but it does the job with a little more style than "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."  And it differs a bit from the blues, in that there is a whiff of hope here.  Will things get better after we get those dues paid?

Yeah, I know nobody knows,
Where it comes and where it goes.
I know everybody sins.
You got to lose to know-oh how to win.

And again, we're dealing in sin here, and sin leads to death, and well, there's the mortality thing again.  But maybe we've got a fighting chance to win while we're still kicking.

Half my life's in books' written pages, 

So's mine, Steve.  :)
Live and learn from fools and from sages.
You know it's true.
All these things come back to you. 

Dusk/dawn, lose/win, fools/sages...are we getting it yet?  What goes around comes around and what you give will come back to you.

Sing with me, sing for the year.
Sing for the laughter, an' sing for the tear.
Sing it with me, if it's just for today.
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away...

Laughter/tear, today/tomorrow...are we getting it yet?  The good Lord has stuck us with this mortality thing, but we're doing our best to deal with it.  And maybe it's just me, but this song sounds like it's written about a man who is utterly depressed--at rock-bottom, actually--but a man who believes he can turn it around.

Dream on, dream on, dream on,
Dream until your dreams come true.

And this is where he turns it around.  This song's hook takes the jaded teenager's response to a cheerful statement, "Dream on...sigh..." and removes the irony.  It seriously asks us to contemplate that dreams come true.  Works for me.  And because it's a radio-ready song, the hook gets repeated several (several!) times, turning it into a rock anthem.

So there you go.  Look at your own writing and see if you can use any of this wisdom:  Simple words.  Strong rhythms. Timeless longings.  And the rebellious, shaken-fist refusal to succumb to depression.  We could all do worse, don't you think?

Dream on, dream on, dream on,
Dream until your dreams come true. 

Rock on!
Mary Anna

Sunday, August 8, 2010

From TV to rock-and-roll...

Today's my day to blog over at The LadyKillers, and it was a tough assignment.  They wanted me to write about TV crime shows, and I just don't watch a lot of TV.  However, I managed to wrestle the topic into submission by morphing it into a writing tip.  So if you're one of my writing tip collectors, you're going to have to hit that LadyKillers link and go over there to see it.

Tomorrow, I'm planning to make you all jealous by telling you how my daughter and I heard Aerosmith play a fabulous concert last night.  I'll make your misery worse by posting a photo of us being rocker chicks.  Then I think I'm going to deconstruct the lyrics to "Dream On" and tell you why they work.  (Weeks ago, one of my writing tips was to learn from the masters.  Well, a song that can still make a stadium full of humans squeal like little girls was probably written by a master, doncha think?)

I have not written this post yet, so I'm tiptoeing way out on a limb.  What if I find I have nothing to say about "Dream On"?

Oh, be serious.  I am a novelist.  I can find something to say about laundry lint, but I'd rather talk about Aerosmith.  Check back tomorrow, when we'll all know what I decided to say.

Mary Anna

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just a Little Gift from Me to You: Writing Tips from the Pros

I spent most of last week in the company of people who make their living as writers--the faculty of the Anhinga Writers Studio Summer Workshops. I was the conference's faculty coordinator, so I picked these people and you'd better believe I picked their brains when I had the chance.

Here are some gleanings of wisdom from the best. Use them. Incorporate them into your work life. You can thank me later.  Better yet. Next time you see me, bring me chocolate. :)

A Poet's Advice on Revision...Which is Pretty Applicable to Non-poets, As Well
I think sometimes students who workshop a lot get the idea that revision is synonymous with streamlining, and so all you have to do to get your writing to shine is cut the fat. Cutting when possible is definitely critical. But there's more to revision than that. Sometimes a poem is missing information, or has no hook. Sometimes it needs to change direction because the way you began isn't the way it wants to go as it evolves.
- Lola Haskins, NEA Fellow,

Is Success as a Writer Any Different From Success In Any Other Field?  Probably Not...
Question:  How do you make a bunch of money with your book?
Answer:   Don't focus on making a bunch of money with your book. Start with a fundamental respect for your potential readers.
- Peter Bowerman, Author of The Well-Fed Writer and The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book Into a Full-Time Living,

How Do Agents Do What They Do?
While the author is revising the project and rounding up supplementary materials, the agent is busy too. She’s making her preliminary “hit list” of likely editors, often in consultation with her colleagues in the agency. She’s also writing her own cover letter for the project – a pitch not unlike an author’s initial query. She may even be doing a bit of pre-selling, dropping tantalizing hints about the book at lunches or in chance telephone conversations with editors. Finally, the agent has to decide the best time to schedule the submission, ideally a week when editors won’t be out of town because of sales conferences, book fairs, or holidays.
- Anne Hawkins, Senior Literary Agent with John Hawkins and Associates,

Writing Good Characters is Like Dating, Sorta...
Think of your main characters and your readers as developing a relationship in your manuscript. When you first introduce your character, think of this as a first date with the reader. (If the reader isn’t intrigued, there won’t be a second date; that is, the reader won’t keep reading if she or he is bored, thinks “yeah, so what?” or is not otherwise engage with the characters.) But, if you hook the reader on that first date, then as the story evolves, the relationship between the characters and the readers similarly evolves. If you are writing a series, then your characters and your readers form a kind of marriage—or long-term relationship. And, as in a real relationship, what the characters say, think, and do over time (the duration of the book or books) reveals more and more about who they really are and what they are capable of doing. In order to keep your characters/readers’ relationship healthy, you must offer the readers some of the same things a healthy real-life relationship offers — interest, intrigue, respect, and pleasure.
- Claire Matturro, awardwinning author of Florida-based legal mysteries featuring the sassy Lily 
  Belle Rose Cleary,

Monday, August 2, 2010

A funny story...

One of our students at the Anhinga Writers Studio Summer Workshops told me a hilarious story, and I told her she should write it down.  It turned out that she already had, so she forwarded it to me today.  I enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd share it with you.  Enjoy...
The Double Surprise
by DJ Towles

During the year Mr. Hayden and I talked business over the phone, we had become quite relaxed with each other. Sharing tidbits from our personal lives resulted in our discovery that we would both be in DC's Georgetown section on the same day the following week. It seemed natural to take the opportunity to meet for lunch, and, as Mr. Hayden said, "put faces to the names." Since my schedule was the iffier of the two, the plan was for the reservation at the Four Georges to be for one o'clock in Mr. Hayden's name. I would join him as soon as I finished my client calls.
My preparations were intensive, extensive, and most of all, expensive. No suit in my closet seemed fashionable enough. No dress seemed to work. No shoes seemed stylish enough for this lunch, this meeting which was just to "put faces to the names." Hundreds of dollars spent, not just on clothes, but on a salon coiffure for hair normally treated to a shampoo in the shower and a half-hearted finger fluff during the air dry process. A manicure. I hadn't had a manicure in years and years. The pedicure was the most ridiculous decision. A pedicure for toes that were going to be hidden in shoes, new, fashionable shoes, under the table while we're having the business lunch to "put faces to the names." Why am I so nervous? It isn't even a date. Well, maybe it seems like a date to me, but I'll bet he doesn't think it's a date. No. He probably really means it's just to "put faces to the names." 
For all my attempts to calm myself when I walked into the Four Georges I was a nervous wreck, a well dressed, coiffed, manicured, pedicured nervous wreck, but still, a nervous wreck. I had rushed through my morning appointments and arrived only minutes after one o'clock.
The maitre d' ushered me to a banquette table set for four.  There was only one occupant, a very attractive lady. No Mr. Hayden. Perhaps he had gone to the mens' room. Was this his secretary? His wife?
I extended my hand to the raven-haired lady in a typical business greeting.  "Hello, I'm DJ Towle."
Was there just a moment of hesitation before she clasped my hand in greeting?
She flashed a smile and in the husky/sexy voice I knew so well from the phone said, "Hello, DJ, I'm Elizabeth Terhayden. I'm so glad to meet you." 
Elizabeth Terhayden. Miss Terhayen. Not Mr. Hayden. Miss Terhayden!
While sipping coffee after our meal,  my need to confess could no longer be contained. I revealed to my new girlfriend that she was supposed to have been my new boyfriend. She hooted with laughter. "You were my new prospect, too. I even bought a this dress."
"I bought this suit."
 "I had my nails done."
"My hair, as well!"
The Four Georges is a pretty upscale place with a quiet, reserved atmosphere. The rest of the diners must have thought the two of us had consumed  too much juice of the grape. The heck with what they thought. We two husky voiced young professional women with names that could be male or female, each gussied up to meet a business associate with hopes of establishing a long term heterosexual relationship, hooted with laughter at the double surprise.
It's been decades and decades since Liz and I did business together. We don't even keep in touch like we once did. However, when either one of us retells this story we always let the other one know. I'll end this now. It's time to e-mail my friend, Miss Terhayden.