Friday, 29 May 2015

Glastonbury – A Writer's Perspective


The Cover of the third Shaman Mystery,
showing the summit of Glastonbury Tor
and St Michael's Tower, which is all that
remains of an ancient church
Have you ever suffered from the Writer Doldrums? Did they hit you when you were about halfway through the story you were writing? I call this phenomenon "The Mid-book Blues" and I reckon all writers are prone.

When I started the third book in the
Shaman Mystery Series, I was raring to go.

Beneath the Tor already had its title, and its basic structure. I had notebooks full of writing and boxes full of cuttings. I had several online files of research and a shelf of books already devoured. I’d created a sketch of each main character, especially the new ones for this third book - there are many and varied new characters in Beneath the Tor, some of them very colourful indeed! I'd even pinned up a character-driven timeline of the story on my office door. 
My Plotting Wall
showing the timeline of Beneath the Tor

Yes, I was bursting through the starting gate; on a scale of  1-10 my motivation levels were 99. I began writing and at the end of one furious month I had 60,000 words. 

Then I came up for breath and…yes, you’ve guessed it, my enthusiasm, confidence and energy seeped away as if I’d thrust my garden fork through a water pipe. (That’s happened before now, too.)

But determination will wane from time to time –  a writer would not be human if that didn’t happen. The important thing is to deal with it.


had to deal with it. There was just no excuse – I had a contract to fulfill. But for writers who aren’t lucky enough to have already received a nice little payment and a deadline date, strategies for getting out of the Writer Doldrums are invaluable, so I thought I'd pass on my most successful one so far. You might find it useful when you hit the Mid-book Blues


Glastonbury Abbey Grounds.
I began by visiting the setting of my book. Not all writers are lucky enough to be able to do that, of course; if your novel is set on Mars, or pre-historic China, you might have trouble, but Beneath the Tor, as you might already guess by its name, is set in the amazing and unique town of Glastonbury, in the south west of England. I spend several days there, soaking up the spiritual atmosphere, imagining Sabbie Dare and the other characters from the book wandering down the High Street, visiting the Chalice Well Gardens and hiking up the Tor itself.


White Spring Wellhouse
I spent a tranquil afternoon in the abbey grounds, soaked with the sun's warmth. I found myself scribbling furiously. 

Then I visited  the White Spring Wellhouse, which is at the foot of the Tor. The spring gurgles and gushes out of the hillside into a small building, which in the 19C supplied the town with clear spring water. Now, it's a jungle of damp-loving plants and shrine icons placed there by visitors. As you can see from the picture, I was not alone. Someone was playing a guitar and softly singing as people paddled in the ice-chill water.  


Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury Town in the background,
showing the Glastonbury Thorn, cut down by vandals,
 covered with remembrances.
Finally I walked up Wearyall Hill, famous in legend as the place Joseph of Arimathea landed, when he came from the Holy Land (Glastonbury being surrounded by water at the time)Joseph thrust his staff into the ground in joy of arrival and it flowered into a tree. The tree – there are several now, of course – is called the Glastonbury Thorn and it flowers on Christmas Day. A sprig of its blossom is sent each Christmas to grace Queen Elizabeth's dining table. Recently the Thorn growing on the hill was vandalised, and now stands as a reminder of how loved it was, covered by ribbons and remembrances left by countless visitors. I was moved by this sight, and it stirred me to think more clearly about the themes and symbols in Beneath the Tor.

By the time I was ready to go home, I was also bursting to carry on with my writing. 

Take a visit to your setting; I'm positive it will stimulate your writing and give you fresh encouragement to steam ahead. If you can't actually get to where your book is set, as well as reading about it, try borrowing travel DVDs. If you can't even do that, play some music that will take you there in you head. 

Bon voyage.




Sunday, 24 May 2015

A Unifying Brand – KTW Guest Blogger Edith Maxwell


Edith Maxwell, Mystery Author
My Guest Blogger at KTWs today is Amazon bestselling author Edith Maxwell. I have a great affinity with Edith; like her, I love my garden, I love my kitchen and I love researching interesting settings for my crime fiction.



Edith describes her novels as cozy and traditional mysteries, and she writes under several pseudonyms with an interesting link; almost all the novels include recipes readers can cook up in their kitchens.


She’s Maddie Day when writing her country story mysteries

As Edith Maxwell, she writes the local foods mysteries series and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries.

And just to keep things interesting, she writes the lauren rousseau mysteries as Tace Baker.

Edith is a fourth-generation Californian, and lives with her beau and three cats in an antique house north of Boston, where 
she's currently working on her next Local Foods mystery when she isn't out gardening. She’s well equipped to write about food; she’s a former farmer of a certified organic farm and she also holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and blogs every weekday with other Wicked Cozy Authors (http://wickedcozyauthors.com). You can find her at @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor

Like me, she also can’t resist shorter fiction; she’s an Agatha-nominated and award-winning writer of short crime fiction, with stories appearing in the anthologies Fish Nets, Burning Bridges, Thin Ice, Riptide, and The Larcom Review.


Here she is talking about her books and her web presence – writers who are thinking of creating their own blog or website should listen up:


I’m really excited at the moment about the new Quaker Midwife series, which features Quaker 
midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 Amesbury. John Greenleaf Whittier, the actual Quaker poet and abolitionist, features in the novels. The series will debut in March, 2016 with Delivering the Truth, I love the cover – midnight ink books have done an excellent job.

The latest book in my Lauren Rousseau mysteries, under the pseudonym Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press), is Bluffing is Murder. Out now, it was recently review by blogger Mark Baker; “In this page-turner of a mystery, linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau uses her smarts, her Quaker faith, and her summer vacation to bring a vicious murderer, and a secret from her own past, into the light.”

My first book in the Maxwell’s Country Store Mysteries, Flipped for Murder, from Kensington Publishing,  will be out in November 2015. I recently took an extensive research road trip from Massachusetts to southern Indiana to refresh my memory of landscape and dialect. The series will feature Robbie Jordan and Pans ‘N Pancakes, her country store restaurant in fictional South Lick, Indiana. 

And my latest in the local foods mysteries series, also from from Kensington Publishing, Farmed and Dangerous, will be out in late May. Kirkus R
eviews said; “Quirky characters, lots of organic farming tips, and a well-developed mystery make this Cam’s best outing yet.



I wanted to be sure my web site reflected all these identities and all these series, and my previous site on Blogger wasn't cutting it. The banner was made up of my book covers, but that meant it had to change every time a new book came out, and there were other issues. I started drafting a new site on WordPress, and wondered what I could use for a banner, for a common theme.



So, as often in the mystery world, I went looking to my friends for help. I checked out Sheila Connolly's new site, http://www.sheilaconnolly.com/orchard-mysteries.php. Doesn't it have a great look?

I looked at Catriona McPherson's site http://catrionamcpherson.com/ – I love those crows. She writes one series and one line of standalones, but also all under a single name. And I checked out Leslie Budewitz's site - she writes two series under one name. Isn't that an evocative painting? http://www.lesliebudewitz.com/


What I saw on each site was a unifying graphic. In the latter two, the art doesn't necessarily represent the settings of the book, but rather the author. In Sheila's, there are pictures of the places where her series are set: Ireland, Philadelphia, and small-town Massachusetts.

I considered hiring an artist to create a banner for me, either with pictures or art. Then I looked at the wall in my office and realized I had it right there!

 Edith's World, painted by Jennifer Yanco  from www.edithmaxwell.com



My dear friend Jennifer Yanco (a published non-fiction author) commissioned Boston-area artist Jackie Knight to create an oil painting for my sixtieth birthday a couple of years ago. It's titled "Edith's World." It's mysterious and imaginative and gorgeous. It doesn't look like any one of my series or names, but instead represents me and my work. Right?



So, I took a high quality photograph of the painting, cropped a horizontal slice of the digital image, and made it the banner for my web site. It shows up on every page. I also use it on my Facebook Author page.

And then, because I could, I made up business cards, note pads, and even a few mugs.  So I have my brand, I have my new web site, and I have a lovely connection to the friend I have known and journeyed with for almost forty years.

The pen names are on the web site on each series' page and on the business cards, in case anybody needs to find one of my selves.

Heck, maybe t-shirts are next...

Readers: Can you find other examples of multi-name multi-series web sites you like? Any suggestions for my site? (Be brutal!) Go to www.edithmaxwell.com to take a look.



Monday, 18 May 2015

Elizabeth Haynes – psychologically thrilling – the Kitchen Table Crime Review



Elizabeth Haynes
 http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/
It hit me, only moments after I received the contract for my three Shaman Mystery novels; I really did have to write a book in a year. I had never written a book in anything less than – well, a decade – and the fear slapped me off my office chair. Luckily, it didn’t dry up my writing, it got me searching for help. I found that help with NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month which challenges writers to reach 50,000 words during the month of November. I wiped November off the calendar to achieve 2000 words a day; watching no TV and never going out in the evenings. On December the first I emerged, like something from a chrysalis, with battered but beautiful wings and 60,000 words; more than half the second novel in the series; Unraveled Visions. (Midnight Ink 2014).

I was delighted to discover that one of my favourite crime writers took the same route with her first published novel; Elizabeth Haynes and Into the Darkest Corner (Myriad Editions 2011). In an Afterword at the end of the book she admits to becoming a Nano bore; “it’s very different from the usual way of writing a book.”

During this time, Haynes was pursuing a creative writing course at West Dean College near Chichester, and they encouraged her to submit Into the Darkest Corner. This is just the sort of incentive a new writer needs; it was soon being devoured by crime fans. It won the Amazon UK 2011 Rising Stars award, and became a New York Times bestseller. The Guardian review  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/26/first-novels-review-roundup, describes it thus; “From its uncompromising prologue – a young woman being bludgeoned to death in a ditch – Haynes’s powerful account of domestic violence is disquieting, yet unsensationalist.

A bookshelf of crime fiction from Hayes' accomplished pen http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/
Into the Darkest Corner is a tense thriller with a clever structure; it is topped and tailed by two court transcripts; the first transcript sets you up to wonder just how sane and believable the narrator of the novel, Catherine, is. She looks back to 2007, when she met and fell in love with a charismatic police officer called Lee. Lee is vulnerable in a lot of ways; he’s also possessive and aggressive, and ultimately sadistic. We watch the slow but inevitable deterioration, until Catherine, like a lot of women in abusive relationships, is trapped. Catherine tells this story of this past while describing her life now, where she is controlled by a different jailor; OCD. She exhausts herself checking and rechecking everything about her life, but especially the security of her little flat.
Her two stories, told as alternating time settings, are taut as pieces of elastic that sting you if you flick at them.

Although Into the Darkest Corner is Haynes first book, it wasn’t the first of hers that I’d read; last year I read Human Remains (Myriad Editions 2013), which is even more psychologically tense and even more clever in its critique of mental conditions that make us dangerous to others. In Human Remains, Haynes explores NLP, a technique with is intended to be therapeutic and empowering, but her character, Colin, twists these aims chillingly. Haynes explains in the Afterword; “things that people actually want – to die without pain or fear – is accomplished in such a way that [Colin] can benefit too.”

I was impressed that, rather than running out of ideas or inspiration, Haynes’ work seemed to just get better and better. In her first book, I liked the way she brought abusive relationships to the fore as the main theme alongside obsessive, compulsive disorder. But I felt she’d reached deeper for Human Remains, and developed her writing, investigating the sad phenomenon of people who withdraw from society and end up dying alone…I wanted to explore the potential reasons why people make this choice…I also liked the idea of the roles of predator/prey and hunter/hunted.”

It’s almost unsurprising that right up to publishing Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes was a police intelligence analyst. “At the time,” she explains on her website http://www.elizabeth-haynes.com/, “I was producing a quarterly report on violent crime and as part of this I read a lot of accounts of domestic abuse. I was guilty of having very fixed ideas about violence in the home and the sort of people who were victims of it, and this stereotype was challenged in every way by the reports I was analyzing. I’d always thought of domestic abuse as something that happened to ‘other people’, but it affects many couples and families from every part of society and is often very well hidden.”  In Human Remains, Annabel is a police analyst, just like Haynes. She is concerned about an increase in people dying at home yet remaining undiscovered until the overpowering smell alerts a passer-by. And when Annabel discovers her own neighbour in this state, she seriously begins to investigate something that Colin is delighted to exploit.

Haynes says, “I’ve always felt the role of analysts within law enforcement has been sadly overlooked by fiction writers.” Well, no longer. I’m going back for more of Elizabeth Haynes; an unconventional approach to writing psychologically thrilling books that has crime reviewers singing her praises.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Commonplace Book; A Miscellany of New Ideas…Writing advice from OCA tutor and novelist Nina Milton

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can get information upon it...Samuel Johnson

Nina Milton writes regularly for the Open College of the Arts Blog; weareoca.com. 
This month, she's talking about that a very ancient form of collating information that is still used by writers until this day; the Commonplace Book…


Johnson was quite right (which is just as well, because he generally did think he was right!); if you know where to get the information you need, your research is halfway done. Which is where a Commonplace Book comes in, because sometimes (quite often, really), writers don’t know what they’ll need to know or even what they’ll want to write about until it jumps out at them.

Think about this. I was skimming through the Sunday supplements one afternoon (not necessarily on Sunday of course...) and was absorbed by an article on genetic history....the story of people who’d discovered that they have ancestors that don’t belong to the cultural, social, national or even racial group they always imagined they were part of. I cut it out, for no better reason than it was interesting, and as a writer, I keep things that are interesting. I put it into my Commonplace Book.

Go to. http://weareoca.com to read the complete blog post.



Monday, 11 May 2015

MAY GUEST BLOGGER: Writing Coach Bekki Hill



As both a writer and a creativity coach for writers, Bekki Hill's first message for her guest blog with KTWs is that… 




Writing can be a slow and frustrating business. 








Have you ever told anyone that you write, to met by the question:

‘So you’re going to write the next 50 Shades of Grey?’

Or

‘So you’re going to be the next J K Rowling?’

Or something similar.

Coach Yourself to Writing Success
 by Bekki Hill
Such encounters can needle away at our confidence. Even friends and family can erode self-assurance by asking too frequently if we’re published yet or if we’re still writing that book. Few books make it big. However, if you're responding to such ill-thought out comments by explaining that you’re pre-published, that you publish short pieces, you can be left feeling pretty flat. 

In reality, unless we’re fortunate to be truly gifted or lucky enough to hit on a bandwagon that doesn’t ask us to write competently, we writers need to spend years developing our skills. Furthermore, in a tough market, even the most brilliant prose can fail to make it through acquisition. Even once we’re published, we have to keep proving ourselves over and over again. On top of that, the whole publishing process can be a very very slow. Meantime the idea that we write, therefore we must have written something everyone has heard of, and/or are being frequently published, penetrates our earshot far too often. Worse still repeated, well-meant, enquiries from family and friends can unintentionally suggest we must be slow or stupid or both. 

If you’re frustrated by the speed at which the writing business moves, doubting yourself because others don’t understand, or becoming increasing shy about admitting you write, here’s a few things you can do to help:

  1. Start by identifying what you want to achieve in the short as well as the longer term. That way you can manage both your own and others expectations more effectively.
  2. Tame others expectations by being more detailed about what you do. For example instead of saying you write, say you have an interest in a particular area and write articles about it, or if you want to write for children, say you’re learning about writing for children. If you’re not aiming for publication consider why you write so you can help others understand you’re not interested in publication.
  3. Don’t try to do too much too soon - you’ll eventually lose faith without any help. That doesn’t mean you can’t reach for the stars, just make sure at each step you’re being realistic.
  4. Remind yourself that your writing is strong or improving by collect things such as positive rejections, competition wins or good feedback from tutors.   
  5. If you’re not ready to be published and others make you feel negative about it, remind yourself that just because you can type it doesn’t mean you’re ready for publication - just as people who can pick up a tennis racket aren’t ready to play at Wimbledon and not everyone who knows how to use a scalpel can perform brain surgery.
NLP for Writers
by Bekki Hill
One of the best ways to build self-belief in your writing is to spend time with other writers who are in a similar position to you. They can help you feel less isolated and recognise you’re not the only one who other people expect to write a bestseller in the blink of an eye. They can also provide support when your work is rejected and help celebrate when you do well. Their future successes will also underline that it’s possible for you too to achieve your goals.

Seek out communities that have writers of your level and/or share your interests. Organisations such as the Romantic Novelist Association and The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators accept both published and unpublished writers and have both physical and virtual gatherings. Writers’ conferences are also good places to meet new writers as well as hear seasoned writers talks about how they overcame  rejection and confidence dips. Also seek out bloggers who are supportive and/or that you feel attuned with.


Above all be proud of what you achieve, don’t knock yourself for what you haven’t done yet and keep on learning and growing until you succeed.

Bekki has written features and short stories for many publications. She holds an MA in writing for children, has written part of an MA in screenwriting and is the author of three books including NLP for Writers and Coach Yourself to Writing Success. 

You can read Bekki's regular posts at her blog; http://www.thecreativitycauldron

 Links for RNA and SCBWI
http://www.scbwi.org/


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ping! How to Pitch your Novel in an Elevator

Image; http://www.bored.com/games/e3d-elevator/

Ping! 
You’re in an elevator. The doors open and Wow! Into the lift walks the agent/editor/novelist you’ve always wanted to meet. Yes– it's Ed Deskman, the editor from Deskman Publishing. Now the doors are closing and the lift is hurtling towards your floor. You have perhaps 30 seconds to pluck up the courage to open a conversation and tell Ed about the book you have just finished writing.
You open your mouth, but it’s as if your tongue has been replaced with a piece of bathroom sponge. You can hardly remember your name, let alone the plot of your novel.
A bad dream?
It should be the most wonderful stroke of luck.
The elevator pitch is known over the business world; how to sell yourself, your idea or your product to the director you bump into and have 30 seconds to impress. But an elevator pitch can work just as well for writers.
You might be thinking that you’ll never need it; even though you have a book to place, you don’t use elevators, and you never meet anyone from the publishing world. 
But you can use an elevator pitch in a lot of different circumstances. When I was writing my children’s novels I went to a Writer’s Workshop. As always, the tutor went around the class asking us what we were writing at that moment. An absolute brain numbing fog came down upon me. Then out of it, I remembered the short synopsis I’d just written about my children’s novel. I dragged it to the front of my mind and delivered its salient points in less than a minute.
“That sounds a really good idea for a children’s story,” the tutor said. At the end of the class she suggested an agent I might like to try. Within a year, that agent had placed Sweet’n’Sour with HarperCollins. So don’t turn your nose up at the much maligned word ‘pitch’. It is simply the verbal form of a business or other plan; the previously prepared presentation of an idea.
Like me, you might think about honing your elevator pitch down from longer presentations, such as the synopsis you may have just finished writing. A synopsis can be anything from 3000 words to 500; anything less than 500 words is best thought of as a ‘blurb’. Here is my 130 word ‘blur’ for latest Shaman Mystery, Beneath the Tor;
which will be released at the end of this year:
On a Midsummer night on the Glastonbury Tor, beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancing away the night. Sabbie Dare and her friends are in shock, and when her shamanic guru, Wolfsbane, confesses that Alys may have unwittingly taken drugs during his ritual, Sabbie’s shock turns to horror.  

After receiving sinister, anonymous emails about Alys, her grieving husband Brice approaches Sabbie for help. She turns to the spirit world for guidance, but receives only enigmatic replies. She tries seeking some practical help from her boyfriend Detective Inspector Rey Buckley, but he is embroiled in problems of his own. Sabbie feels isolated, and as she heads closer to the truth about Alys’ death, a deranged killer is also heading towards a final victim, and both are closer to Sabbie than she knows.

This will appear on the back cover of the book, but if I recited those words aloud, to someone in an elevator, for instance, they would feel stilted, and they would also feel out of place; word on the cover of a book can fill in the missing blanks with pictures (of Glastonbury Tor) and words (such as The Shaman Mystery Series). So although you can start creating a pitch by paring down your synopsis into a blurb, you need to do more work again when preparing your pitch.
Don’t forget that being prepared is the fundamental point to an elevator pitch; it’s to stop that bathroom-sponge-tongue experience. Knowing what you want to say when asked to say it is impressive in itself; it demonstrates that the book is worthy of a good descriptor.
Turning your blurb into pitch takes a little time and effort. Start by remembering that the pitch needs to be brief, persuasive, memorable and compelling. It should also run off your tongue in a natural way, suggesting that you know your book well, rather than you’ve worked on a pitch!
So look at your synopsis and ask yourself what would grab a professional first. When reading the synopsis, they have already made  made the decision to spend time doing this. For the pitch, you have to think what would hit them verbally; what would stop them checking which floor the lift has reached for just the 30 seconds of their ride. Think about the business phrase, USP; unique selling point/proposition. Every book has a USP. Yours does, even if you don’t already realize that. Think about the story you’ve written and search out that uniqueness. 
The next stage, having written your pitch is to practice it. Practice being confident; if you don’t think your book is good enough to be published, no one else is. Being confident is not the same as being aggressive, however. Practice breathing so you don’t get breathless, getting the tone of your voice just right, and speaking slowly, not gabbling, even though the lift is hurtling upwards towards floor 101. Practice staying on cue, so that you' avoid being still halfway through when the 30 seconds is up. Practice your body language; assertive, confident, but not pushy. Practice both facial expressions and your body language in front of a mirror. Practice getting the delivery to sound natural. You might also like to practice not being so shy you don’t deliver the pitch in the first place. Practice opening gambits with an invisible elevator-companion.
“Can I ask, are you Ed Deskman? Only I’m a fan of Deskman Publishing. Actually, I’ve been thinking of sending you something. It’s about…”
Then deliver that pitch, no more ado. Remember that you'll probably never see Ed again, so it really doesn't matter if he thinks you're a little crazy. In fact, you'll only see Ed again if he likes your pitch, so battle on. Concentrate on two aspects; making Ed care about what you’re saying, and leaving him wanting more. Try not to end by trailing off, gasping for breath, or saying things like, “So…well, you probably think it’s rubbish.…” 
Instead, ask an open, engaging question that can’t be answered with a basic yes or no. “I’m wondering now what I need to do be read by one of your team.” This allows your lift-buddy a bit of lee-way; they can tell you what they’d tell anyone; the route you’d need to take. Okay, this will land you in the slush pile, but now you have a get-out-of-the-slush-pile card to hand; in your covering letter you will be able to say something like:
Dear Ed Deskman. I was delighted to meet you end of the Writers' Conference, last week, and thank you so much for listening to what I had to say about my book, and offering to read the first three chapters. As I said, this book is…
It’s not much, but it is a foot in a door. It will make Ed turn the page, and that's a small writing miracle. 
Ping!
The lift has reached its destination and Ed the editor will be getting out any second now. Have to hand something you can leave with them; your business card, a bookmark with your contact details and the ‘blurb’ of your new novel. Something that will be later fished out of a pocket, hopefully just as your first 3 chapters are landing on the doormat of Deskman Publishing.