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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Finding My Voice

I was reading a book recently in which the two main characters - one male and one female - sounded so much like one another that it was difficult to tell them apart. This was compounded by the fact that the scenes switched back and forth between the characters, and each told their story in first person.

Every character in a book should have their own distinct voice. But how do you find it?

I often find that I must write about people with characteristics very different from me; yet, I have to get into their heads deeply enough to be able to write convincingly. One way I train my mind to think like another is by researching personality traits.

One of my favorite reference books is Linda Goodman's Love Signs. It doesn't matter if you believe in astrology. Just reading about women under each of the twelve zodiac signs provides a wealth of information. A Virgo woman will respond very differently to a set of circumstances, for example, than a Taurus woman. They maintain their homes quite differently. They speak differently, move differently, and they have very different strengths and weaknesses.

Add to that mix the twelve zodiac signs of males, and you have a treasure trove of possibilities.

An Aries man and a Virgo woman develop one type of relationship, while a Scorpio man and an Aquarias woman develop a very different one. Depending upon the plot, you can choose two people who are similar or compatible... or who become arch enemies in a heartbeat.

If you are a writer, what tools do you use to ensure each character is distinctly different?

If you are a reader, are there books you remember vividly because the characters left an imprint on your mind or your heart?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Setting

I am currently finishing up the fifth book in my Black Swamp Mysteries series, which takes place in Lumberton, North Carolina. This is a real town that straddles Interstate 95 in North Carolina from Exits 14 through 22.

My latest release, The Tempest Murders, contains completely different characters and plots, but it also takes place in Lumberton.

There are some places that stand out, and Lumberton is one of them. When you venture to the historic downtown area, it feels as if you're stepping into yesteryear. The Carolina Civic Center Historic Theatre, for example, was recently completed renovated in a style reminiscent of the days in which people dressed up to go to the movies... And a piano was played before every performance. The theatre is featured in Vicki's Key, the second book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, when psychic spy Vicki Boyd encounters a ghost walking across the theatre balcony.

In The Tempest Murders, it is featured again when Detective Ryan O'Clery investigates the killing of a young woman who had come to town with a theatre group.

The Robeson County Courthouse straddles two blocks. When you're driving across the Lumber River bridge into the historic downtown area, you are facing the courthouse steps. In The Tempest Murders, Ryan investigates another homicide along those river banks - and turns around to find people gathered on the courthouse steps, watching him.

I like writing about small towns. Readers can become familiar with them and the people who live there... And in a series, they can feel as if they're coming home when they open a book and remember the streets, the houses, and the descriptions of landmarks from past books.

I was recently reminded of this when I was reading a series that took place in a Scottish village during the 1500's. I began to feel as if I'd been to the village and visited the people there; they'd become that familiar.

If you have the chance, please join me in Lumberton, North Carolina next February 22, 2014. I'll be there with more than 75 authors, publishers and literary agents for the Third Annual Book 'Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair. It's free and it's open to the public. For more information, visit

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Cathleen Reilly

Last week I disclosed the actor's name who I thought would play an awesome Ryan O'Clery in my latest release, The Tempest Murders. Kevin Ryan is currently playing on the BBC America series Copper, but alas, just a few days after my blog, I learned that Copper is being cancelled.

The role of Ryan O'Clery's love interest, Cathleen Reilly, is more elusive. I wasn't able to think of any actress I'd have in mind for her - until I saw a recent episode of Copper in which a minor role played by Kendra Anderson brought to mind the late, great Vivien Leigh.

Cathleen Reilly is described with long, brunette hair with a touch of chestnut highlights. Unlike Vivien Leigh, however, she doesn't have green eyes but blue-gray eyes, the color of the Irish Sea.

When Cathleen appears in Ryan's back yard, searching for the Detective in charge of the serial murders in North Carolina, he thinks he's dreaming - because she is a dead ringer for the woman he's dreamed about ever since he can remember.

And when he stumbles upon a journal left by an uncle five generations back, he discovers the woman Rian Kelly loved and lost also looked identical to Cathleen. Convinced he is the reincarnation of Rian Kelly and Cathleen is the reincarnation of Caitlin O'Conor, his dreams blur with reality as the he discovers Rian was also investigating a series of murders--nearly two hundred years earlier and half a world away. Those murders ended with the loss of his beloved Caitlin.

And now Detective Ryan O'Clery must stop the killer in present day North Carolina - before history repeats itself.

The Tempest Murders is now available in paperback and in eBook. If you live in Lumberton, you can also purchase it from Just Teazin' Salon on Roberts Avenue.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Can You Ignore the Rules?

I recently read a book where the climactic scene - a murder - came 2/3 of the way through the book. The book had dragged a bit in the middle but if it had ended shortly after the climax, I would have considered it a good read.

But it didn't. It went on for nearly one hundred pages - with wrap-ups.

There are rules to writing. Some are written; some are taught at universities and through online writing courses. Some are unwritten and simply understood by the industry at large.

One of those rules is the climactic scene occurs near the end of the book. It is followed by a wrap-up, but the wrap-up needs to be tight and short.

When I asked the author about it, I discovered he'd self-published and his attitude was he didn't have to follow any rules, because he was his own publisher.

Ah. Is that so?

The problem with such maverick thinking is the arguments most often don't work in reality. The name of the game is selling books - and unless an author has millions of personal acquaintances or a platform similar to a celebrity's, it means often people will read the book who have no ties to the author. They expect a certain rhythm, which includes a climactic scene toward the end of the book and a short cool-down period - "the wrap-up". When the book goes on and on explaining what should have occurred prior to the climax, what incentive exists for the reader to continue reading? There is no suspense. The story is really over. Why explain what we just read?

Have you ever read a book like that? How did you feel about it?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Haunted Houses

I love haunted houses. So I am having a lot of fun writing about the old, rambling home that Vicki Boyd shares with Dylan Maguire - and occasionally with her sister, Brenda Carnegie - in the Black Swamp Mysteries series. In The Pendulum Files, set for release next spring, the house comes alive again with ghostly activities.

I am often asked if I believe in ghosts. The answer is yes. And I guarantee that you will, too, once you've seen one.

I do believe there are times when a soul has unfinished business on Earth. It could be because their life was cut short due to an accident...or a murder. It could be that the threads that bind them to another are so strong, the soul can't let go. Perhaps there is a child left behind or a spouse, and the deceased feels the need to watch over them to make sure they're okay.

Just as living beings can be good or evil or anything in between, I believe ghosts are the same way. Some times they are benevolent... sometimes malevolent... sometimes they are compassionate and protective... sometimes they are satanic.

You'll have to read The Pendulum Files to find out which type of ghost haunts the old home now that Aunt Laurel Maguire is no longer walking the halls late at night...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Ryan O'Clery

I was asked recently if The Tempest Murders was made into a movie, who would play the lead?

I have to say one Irishman has grabbed my attention: Kevin Ryan. Kevin is currently playing Francis Maguire in BBC America's series Copper. Francis and The Tempest Murders' protagonist Ryan O'Clery are a bit similar. Both can be rough and tumble, capable of murder when the circumstances warrant it. Yet both are incredibly passionate and capable of deep love.

Ryan O'Clery is an educated man from Dublin whose family has a long history of working in law enforcement. In The Tempest Murders, he is a detective with a small town police department in present-day North Carolina. He's working a series of murders in which every victim bears a striking resemblance... And when Ryan discovers the journal of an uncle five generations before his time, he discovers he was also working a serial murder case - nearly identical to Ryan's.

The official release date is September 30, 2013, but the book is available in advance on Kindle. It will soon be available on all eBook platforms as well as in print.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Suspense: It's All in the Timing

I was reading a suspense this weekend that had me on the edge of my seat. There was a series of arsons being set and the suspense was ramping up. It took place in a rural area before the invention of electricity so when night fell and darkness descended, each family was left to their own devices as some evil force was roaming the hills and the valleys, torching thatch roofs and burning the crops that would mean life or death to a starving population...

Then I reached this sentence:

Months passed. And in the darkness, there were eyes...


Months passed?

You have me on the edge of my seat, not knowing whether the evil forces will strike tonight - who they will strike - whether they will destroy everything the villagers work for and live for - whether they will rip apart two lovers - who will die and who will live and whose lives will be destroyed because of them --

And then months passed?


This author lost me with those two words.

You see, suspense is all in the timing. Three Days of the Condor was originally Seven Days of the Condor - but it was shortened to three action-packed days because suspense heightens when time shortens.

Out of Time is masterful at showing what can happen in the briefest of periods; how the suspense can have the reader literally on the edge of their seats, afraid to fall asleep, and not wanting to set the book aside.

When the author wrote "months passed" it had the effect of saying "nothing happened... for MONTHS." The suspense died. Then the next sentence, "And in the darkness, there were eyes..." just wasn't creepy anymore. It wasn't frightening. The whole edge-of-my-seat experience had to start all over again, months later.

A good editor would have caught that. A good editor would have tightened up that book into a shorter time frame so the readers would be on a roller coaster ride the whole way.

If you're an author reading this, the lesson should be: suspense heightens when time shortens.

If you're a reader, have you ever encountered an experience like mine?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

WIP Wednesday - The Pendulum Files

With The Tempest Murders out of my hands and heading into the book stores, I have turned my attention to the final editing of the next book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, The Pendulum Files.

Ironically, I discovered my last two books both have nautical-themed covers: in the case of The Tempest Murders, it depicts a scene out of the book when Ryan O'Clery has stolen a boat to reach the Outer Banks of North Carolina before a serial killer reaches his lover, Cathleen Reilly.

In The Pendulum Files, the cover depicts something quite different: an international plot to stop goods from reaching the United States. Ships are being bombed in the open seas and no one seems able to stop the attacks. Vicki Boyd and Dylan Maguire team up again in another CIA assignment: to find who is responsible for the bombings - and stop them.

Vicki is expecting a child with Dylan Maguire, and the old, rambling house they live in has come alive once more. But this time, each time apparitions make their appearance, Vicki hears the constant, rhythmic ticking of a pendulum...

This book is the fifth in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, and is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2014.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Kindle Release of The Tempest Murders

The official release date for my latest book, The Tempest Murders, is September 30. However, the book is now available at Kindle and will soon be available in all eBook formats.

This book introduces Irishman Ryan O'Clery. Born and raised and educated in Dublin, he moved to North Carolina when his sister Claire decided to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ryan is from a long line of law enforcement officers, including a great-uncle five generations before his time named Rian Kelly. He's the man Detective Ryan Kelly O'Clery is named after. And when Ryan discovers Rian's journal detailing a series of murders identical to homicides he's working now, he begins to wonder if he isn't the reincarnation of Rian Kelly himself.

In 1839, Rian Kelly lost his soul mate, a woman he was set to marry during the Night of the Big Wind, a storm with hurricane force winds that swept the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland's western shores all the way to the Irish Sea. Before the water rushed in, taking everything in its path, the killer was seen just outside her door.

Now he's back in 2011 North Carolina as Hurricane Irene is slamming ashore. As Ryan tries to close in on the killer, Diallo Delport closes in on Cathleen Reilly, the woman Ryan has fallen madly in love with.

Is history destined to repeat itself?

Or can Ryan stop the killer and change their destinies?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - What a Mouth!

When reading a book, we are often more focused on what the character is saying than on how their mouth appears, but the way in which a character's jawline and mouth is described can round out the image the reader has of him or her.

A jawline can be set and rigid, firm and unyielding, square and determined.

Or it can be soft, angular, receding...

Or fleshy, sharp, covered in hair, or waggling.

Lips can be thick, voluptuous, puffy, like pillows, or swollen...

Or they can be thin, nearly invisible or non-existent, pale, weak, set and straight...

The lines around a character's mouth can show a lifetime of laughter or of sadness; they can be down-turned, deep, dimpled, upturned...

And they can be red or pink, anemic-white or pale, chapped, smooth, silky or rough...

A character's mouth can draw you in or push you away, and it can change your perception of them from one scene to the next.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Sight

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but when a writer is conjuring the image of a scene in the reader's mind, every word must count.

Though descriptions are comprised of all the senses, the one used the most is that of sight.

At any time, there are hundreds if not thousands of images in front of you. Your mind filters those images so you see what you want to see. But look more closely and you might become more aware of the hard, sleek lines of your computer monitor... The color of your desk and those things on top of it... The walls around you, or the scene outside your window...

You may see the fields in the distance or the uneven bark of the tree in front of you... Lush pink blossoms or the bees and hummingbirds attracted to it... Technology, such as phones, eReaders, televisions, radios, printers... Or papers, calendars, pens, eyeglasses...

What a writer describes in each scene must have significance, either to set the stage or to provide information that will be significant in that scene and upcoming ones. If they describe every little thing, the reader becomes overwhelmed with what they should remember versus what may be insignificant.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Sam Mazoli

This is the fifth Tuesday in which I'm profiling the main characters in my Black Swamp Mysteries series. Today it's Sam Mazoli, the head of the psychic spy program for the CIA.

There was never any doubt in my mind who would play Sam Mazoli, the head of the psychic spy program for the CIA, Vicki’s boss—and also the man who adopted her—as well as Dylan Maguire’s boss.

I always pictured Robert De Niro when I thought of Sam. Sam is brusque, no-nonsense, the kind of boss that you don’t joke around with and you don’t even attempt to take liberties. He is experienced, jaded, a cynic and a skeptic. He also has an eye for talent, whether it’s taking a 12-year-old girl with psychic abilities and turning her into a spy—or recognizing the opportunistic, chameleon-like qualities of an Irishman who can pretend to be someone else.

There is much to Sam just below the surface but carefully hidden lest people discover his true nature. He can make life-or-death decisions, interrogate suspects, turn a blind eye to torture, and appear bored even during the most sensitive and gut-wrenching missions. But he can also rescue a cat down-on-her-luck, care for angelfish and their babies, recognize an illegal immigrant’s dilemma and give her a job, and help care for a dog who needs a friend.

Sam first appears in Vicki’s Key and continues through the rest of the series, sometimes making life difficult for everyone involved, sometimes lending a hand when it’s least expected… and always arriving with a new CIA mission in hand.