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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - The Nose Knows

Noses are frequently overlooked when describing characters, but they can conjure up an image faster than almost anything else.

Consider these descriptions and what images come to mind as you read them:

He had a bulbous nose with purple veins;

His nose waggled when he spoke, as if it had a mind of its own;

Her nose was fleshy and soft, and turned down at the end;

Her nose appeared like it was taken off a parrot and I couldn't seem to stop staring at it;

His nose was patrician; perfectly shaped;

His nostrils flared when he spoke;

His nose seemed to have a golf ball shaped lump at the end of it, which reddened as the day wore on;

Her nose was so flat, her nostrils seemed to be lodged in the skin just above the lip;

Her nose turned up at the end, which always made her appear haughty and conceited;

He was much taller than me and I always seemed to be staring up his nostrils when he drew near.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Sounds

Sounds are an integral part of a scene, helping the reader to determine whether the main character is alone, with a few people, or in a crowd.

The character can hear the sounds of laughter or arguing... Feet shuffling when they should be alone in the house... Steady, heavy footsteps on stairs... The sound of a refrigerator kicking on... Or the overwhelming sound of silence when electricity goes dead...

They can hear macaws or monkeys, conjuring immediately the image of a jungle... Or of seagulls and dolphins laughing, transporting the reader instantly to the ocean... The heavy-handed sound of a truck blasting its horn or a train whistle splitting the darkness...

It can be the sound of phones ringing and people talking... of music playing in the background... The sound of something crashing to the floor, but you don't know what...

Sound can draw you in or push you away. It can evoke feelings of security or terror. It can raise the red flag that something isn't right. Or it can lull you into complacency...

It can be the sound of surf hitting the sides of a boat, rolling in at intervals so unevenly spaced that it keeps you on edge...

The sound of the wind in a growing fury as a hurricane nears...

It can be the sound of a lover screaming for help in the darkness, their voice bouncing off the wind and the rain so you don't know from which direction it came...

The sudden, violent sound of thunder...

Sound rounds out a scene like no other sense can do.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Christopher Sandige

This week, I'm answering the question about my character's backgrounds with information on Christopher Sandige, who made his first appearance in Exit 22 and has remained throughout the Black Swamp Mysteries series. Last week, I profiled Brenda Carnegie; the week before, Dylan Maguire; and the week before, Vicki Boyd.

Christopher Sandige is an anti-hero, a guy who is more at ease behind a desk constructing political strategies for his Congressman boss than he is running for his life through alligator-infested swamps with Brenda Carnegie.

He told himself he didn’t want a woman, a marriage, a typical family life in the suburbs. His hours were long and often began with coffee at his desk and ended with pizza delivery to the office. All that changed when he met Brenda.

The woman awakened in him desires he didn’t think he had—a longing to be with her, a need for romance, a desire for intimacy, an urge to protect her—even when he knew she was quite capable of protecting herself. He’d never really had eyes for anybody other than Brenda and though he knows she is dangerous, he can’t seem to tear himself away from her.

When push comes to shove, it turns out he is quite capable of handling a gun, of fighting off an attacker in hand-to-hand combat, of working in a team that often finds itself at the wrong end of a barrel… and of crossing the line without a look back.

If the Black Swamp Mysteries series was made into a movie, who would I want to play him? My pick would be Tom Weston-Jones.

Next week: Sam Mazoli.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Body Types

Some body types are often overused in books, while others are rarely encountered.

Women, of course, have vastly different body types than men. They are more often pear-shaped as they age where men's bodies frequently become apple-shaped with age. Either description conjures the image of an older person, at least of middle age.

A description of a waif-like creature conjures the image of a young woman or girl, where a muscled, hard body automatically conjures the image of a man at his peak.

There are also barrel shaped bodies, much like an apple shape, voluptuous, rubenesque... versus stick-thin, reedy, willowy, or slight.

Describe a man as slight with rounded shoulders and stick-thin arms and I have the image of a man whose job is behind a desk... But describe a man as tanned and brawny with arms like pistons and I have the image of someone more likely to be an outdoorsman who earns his living lifting or swinging heavy things - a logger or perhaps in construction.

Describe a man who is as big around as he is tall with pallid skin and arms as soft as a woman's and now I have the image of a man of great wealth who has everything handed to him; one who leads a soft life. His knees might creak as he rises, or one flight of stairs might wind him, or heat and humidity may cause him to perspire heavily.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

WIP Wednesday - The Touch

Sometimes I may write a scene in which the main character's eyes are blindfolded, which means they must discover the world around them through their other senses... Or they may be surrounded by pitch blackness, as Mary Neely was in Songbirds are Free, when she attempted to escape the Shawnee warriors who had captured her.

In such circumstances, the sense of touch can round out a scene, making the reader feel as if they are there, discovering their surroundings just as the main character does.

What they touch can be as varied as the velvety soft skin of a woman's cheek... the hard muscles of a man's biceps... the silky fur of a collie or the coarse fur of a short-haired Jack Russell... the uneven, prickly paneling of a wall or the smooth texture of drywall... satiny smooth sheets or rough burlap... the cold, hard feel of handcuffs or the unyielding, abrasive rub of a rope around the wrists...

A touch can be tentative or abrupt... violent or loving... soothing or terrorizing...

Touch can evoke emotion. When using touch in a scene, it has to keep the action moving.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Brenda Carnegie

A few weeks ago, I was asked to share the backgrounds of each of the main characters in the Black Swamp Mysteries series. Last Tuesday, I talked about Dylan Maguire and the week before, it was Vicki Boyd. Today, it's Brenda Carnegie.

Brenda Carnegie has a secret… many secrets, as it turns out.

Separated from her older sister Vicki Boyd when their parents were killed in an airplane accident, Brenda grew up in Robeson County, North Carolina. She is equally at home trudging through alligator-infested swamps as she is shooting a gun, tending a bullet wound, evading police—and committing computer crimes.

Brenda is an opportunist, especially when it comes to hacking into websites and secure databases, participating in shell companies and cybercrime, and amassing a fortune that must, for her own preservation, be held in off-shore accounts and out of the reach of the United States government. She’s quick, she’s street savvy, and she’s often sexually charged.

She also doesn’t trust anyone. She prefers the dark side, living life on the edge, moving through her life alone and capable of changing her plans on a moment’s notice. She has a very high tolerance for pain which holds her in good stead on many a gritty occasion.

She made her first appearance in Exit 22 when her partner-in-crime is murdered by a hired assassin—and the hitman comes after her. But her real secrets begin to spill in Secrets of a Dangerous Woman—secrets that reach to the highest levels of government and beyond, and which could very well get her killed.

And if the Black Swamp Mysteries series was made into a movie, who would play Brenda Carnegie? My pick would be Lindsay Lohan, who could play this bad girl very well.

Next week: Christopher Sandige.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Speech

When writing, it's always important for each character to have their own distinct personality. One easy way - though often overlooked method - is through their speech patterns.

Some people speak in a gentle, low voice. Vicki Boyd in the Black Swamp Mysteries series has such a voice; she is soft-spoken, which shows her gentle and loving nature.

In contrast, Vicki's sister Brenda Carnegie is often sardonic, her words clipped but silky, showing her street-savvy side but also her passionate side. She is more likely to speak in sexual innuendos and double entendres.

Dylan Maguire's speech patterns are unique because they show an Irish heritage though he lives in America. His speech is that of rural Ireland, in which g's are more likely to be dropped, and "me" or "m' " are used instead of the word "my".

Ryan O'Clery, the main character in The Tempest Murders, is also an Irishman but he is a Dubliner. His speech patterns are not those of Dylan's at all, but those of urban Ireland, of education and intellect.

When writing a character's speech in a pattern that is easily identifiable, it is vastly important to select one or two characteristics to stick with, instead of overwhelming the reader with abbreviations that slows them down as they seek to decipher it.

I recently read a book set in 15th century Scotland, in which the author had so many inflections in one character's speech that I felt like I was reading another language. Try deciphering this dialogue: "Nay, an' I dinna ken 'e be kepin' ta ye se'f 'sted o' suppin' w' me."

In case you have no clue, the dialogue actually means: "No, and I don't understand why you'd be keeping to yourself instead of having supper with me."

When a character is difficult to understand, it's best that they be a minor character, in which their speech makes them easily identifiable but they don't have so much dialogue that it slows down the action.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Tasting the Scene

Last Wednesday, I talked about the use of scent in a scene. But you can also taste a scene through the main character's senses.

In my upcoming book, The Tempest Murders, Ryan O'Clery can taste the salt in the air as he tries frantically to reach the Outer Banks of North Carolina during Hurricane Irene...

He tastes a sweetness on the lips of his lover - of mint; fresh, cool air; the hint of orange...

When his preschool-age niece pecks him on his lips, he may taste milk or saltiness or the hint of chocolate...

During the rainstorm that arrives before the eye of the hurricane, he might taste the rain itself, a pungent mix of autumn florals and freshly churned air...

If a woman is accosted, she might taste something more foul as she tries to turn her head from her assailant's face... The taste of perspiration, of an unwashed body, of the previous night's meal.

The use of taste to conjure undesired feelings must be used sparingly, while those eliciting pleasurable feelings can be used more liberally.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Dylan Maguire

Last Tuesday, I gave some background on Vicki Boyd, one of the main characters in the Black Swamp Mysteries series. Another main character is Dylan Maguire, the Irishman who becomes Vicki's love interest and whose past unravels in Dylan's Song, the fourth book in the series. (Though he is also a main character in Vicki's Key and Secrets of a Dangerous Woman.)

Dylan Maguire never had a normal childhood. Though his parents were from Ireland, he was born in New York. Unfortunately, he never met his father—he’d abandoned his pregnant wife and simply disappeared. Unable to provide for her son and herself in a strange country, his mother packed them up and brought Dylan back to Ireland when he was just three years old. In and out of bars and with dubious pastimes, his mother wasn’t a mother to him at all.

Dylan was raised by his grandmother, a woman he called Mam. She was the only family he’d ever known—that and the home of his neighbor and best friend, Thomas Rowan.

Dylan has a mysterious past when he arrives on Laurel Maguire’s doorstep the summer that Vicki also arrives to help Laurel with her freshwater angelfish business. He seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, from teaching Vicki the angelfish business to remodeling the old, rambling—and haunted—house, to cooking up traditional Irish meals and looking after Vicki.

He is a hopeless romantic who makes CD’s with all his favorite romantic songs… To taking Vicki on an intimate boat ride down the natural and secluded Lumber River… To picnics in the park and romantic, candlelight dinners.

He is also capable of violence—of defending what is his and of killing when the need arises. He is an opportunist; a former kickboxing champion, a man known as “The Butcher” who channels his anger into his fists and feet.

If the Black Swamp Mysteries series was made into a movie, who would I want to play Dylan Maguire? Assuming he could play the role with an Irish accent, Eduardo Verastegui is a dead ringer.

Next Tuesday: Brenda Carnegie.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Windows to the Soul

The eyes are often said to be the windows of the soul, which means when a character is described in a book, the eyes will be a significant predictor of the person's personality - or of the scene itself.

Eyes can be so black one cannot read them; or so wide, they depict innocence. They can be narrowed in suspicion, flitting as if nervous, unblinking as if trying to read another's soul.

On a driver's license, eye colors are divided into four categories: brown, hazel, blue and green. But in reality, brown eyes can be mahogany, chestnut, amber, honey, russet, chocolate, or even tan.

Hazel eyes have flecks of green and gold. They can appear to change colors, based on the character's surroundings, and appear more blue or green or brown... These eyes also change colors depending on emotion, especially depicting passion or fear...

Green eyes can be emerald or peridot, olive or bottle green... Sea green or jade...

Blue eyes can be periwinkle or cobalt, sapphire or cerulean, indigo or even purple. Both green eyes and blue can be deep or pale.

Eyes and eyebrows can depict emotion: narrowed in suspicion, furrowed or flashing in anger, widened in fear or apprehension. They can blink rapidly, wander endlessly, or stare unblinking.

Eyebrows can be heavy or thin, pale or dark, drawing the eye upward or seeming not to appear at all.

Lines around the eyes can depict laughter and a good nature or evil or worry.

Lashes can be pale or dark, thick or thin, silky or coarse.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

WIP Wednesday - What's That Smell?

Sometimes I will read a book and feel as if I am transported to that exact day and time. Other times, I have difficulty placing myself in the scene. I like to analyze both good and bad writing to see what works and what doesn't - and how an average read could become outstanding.

One way to flesh out a scene and make the person feel as if they are really there is through the use of smell.

Mentioning a scent within a scene can be defining a person. Each person has a unique scent that combines his or her cologne with shampoo, soap, or even cosmetics. Vicki Boyd's scent in my Black Swamp Mysteries series may be a combination of gentle aromas such as awapuhi shampoo, lavender moisturizer, and light summer blossoms in her perfume, while her sister Brenda, who is much more adventurous and walks on the wild side, might have hair that smells like wild ginger, a cologne with citrus and musk undertones and a moisturizer with a crisp, lemon-lime scent.

There are also scents in every room that can help to define that scene: awakening to the strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee, walking into the kitchen to the welcoming scent of baked cookies, fresh bananas, or pumpkin pie...

Scent can be a turn-off, such as the smell of onion or garlic on someone's breath... The strong scent of cigarette or cigar smoke... The feeling that someone owns multiple cats, even if you can't see them or the litter box... The smell of dried sweat, of fear, musty odors in a closed house, attic or basement... The smell of mold or mildew versus bleach or cleaning solutions...

Weaving scent into a scene has to be done in snippets that don't stop the action but help to propel it forward. It should make you feel as if you're there, and it should evoke feelings within you: warm, cool, endearing, sweet, sour, distrusting, repelling, revulsion...

A wonderful day to discover scents and the feelings they evoke is to visit a candle shop. They have scents that smell like sand, surf, mountain air, ocean salt, fresh springs... honeydew, bananas, strawberries, watermelon, apple, orange... vanilla, peppers, cinnamon, rosemary, eucalyptus... roses, spring blossoms, tea tree, gardenias... musk, night air, fresh linen, caramel, mint...

Think of a book that made you feel as if you were there. Did they use scent in any way to round out your experience of that scene?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Vicki Boyd

I was asked recently to give some biographical information about the main characters in the Black Swamp Mysteries series. So today, I'll give you some background on Vicki Boyd, who first made her appearance in Vicki's Key.

Vicki Boyd had a normal, happy childhood until the day her parents died in an airplane accident—one she saw weeks before it happened. Overnight, she and her three siblings—a younger sister and two younger brothers—were orphaned and placed into foster care. And overnight, she received national attention for her premonitions.

Not just the media and fascinated public were watching. The CIA was watching as well; specifically Sam Mazoli, the supervisor of an office working with psychic spies. For the first time, he had an opportunity to take a child and mold her into a psychic operative. So when Vicki arrived home from school one day, she found a strange man waiting for her; a man who had adopted her but brought her to an imposing, secure facility resembling an institution. During her teen years, she didn’t have school and girlfriends, proms and boyfriends, and her thoughts didn’t range from getting the keys to the car to hanging out at the mall.

Her teens and early twenties were spent learning how to be the best psychic spy the CIA had ever employed. With just a simple latitude and longitude, she could travel in her mind to any location on Earth, providing information to operatives on nuclear facilities, threats to governments, blueprints of enemy weapons—or anything the CIA wanted but couldn’t physically reach.

But when she is sent on a mission deep in the Amazon jungles and it results in the deaths of innocent children, she’s had enough. She quits the CIA and is determined to start life over in a small town helping an elderly lady who advertised for summer help. It’s her first chance on her own, but she isn’t alone for long… Between Irishman Dylan Maguire and the CIA, who refuse to let her go, she’s in for the ride of her life.

If the Black Swamp Mysteries series was made into a movie, who do I see playing the part of Vicki? Amy Adams would be my pick.

Next Tuesday: Dylan Maguire.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Editing

I just finished reading a fabulous book by a New York Times bestselling author. I won't mention the name of the author or the book. While I loved the storyline, the characters, and the backdrop and history of Scotland during the 15th century, I found errors jumping out at me on almost every page.

It's become customary for authors who have had their backlist discontinued by the original publishers to reissue them as eBooks themselves. And it appears that this particular author must have released a draft of her work and not the final, edited version. It's possible that her publisher gave her the rights to her unedited backlisted books but perhaps claimed the rights of the final, edited version - especially if there were extensive edits and the publisher paid a lot for those services.

Before any author releases a book - whether it's self-published or through a traditional publisher - they owe it to their audience to issue as close to an error-free book as possible. Some of the errors that jumped out at me in this book were common punctuation errors - sentences missing periods, too many commas in the middle of a sentence, open quotations without closed quotes, and colons or semi-colons hanging in sentences like they were dropped from outer-space. Others were the use of the wrong word - such as the phrase "he was on her tale" when he should have been "on her tail" - there were so many of those errors it became quite comical. These errors should have been picked up by any decent editor and fixed immediately.

But reading this book by this very well known, New York Times bestselling author gave me a glimpse into something I very rarely see: how horrible a successful author's writing can be without the polishing every manuscript should go through. The last time I saw something like this was when another NYT bestselling author offered to sell his first draft, chapter by chapter, to anyone who wanted to read it. I admit I purchased the first two (I think they were going for a dollar a chapter) and they were so God-awful, I couldn't get through them. He stopped selling the rough draft at chapter four.

You have to wonder: why are most mainstream authors told that publishers want good writing when those publishers must do so much editing and polishing to make their chosen few acceptable? How did those authors ever get a reading? How did all those errors ever make it past their literary agent?

Reading this book made me feel even better about my own writing, and I am not a literary genius by any means.

Have you encountered this problem? Is it more prevalent with eBooks as authors self-publish, even if the original release was terrific?