NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fantasy and Shadows

Where does a book come from? Who knows? To write a book takes a combination of hard work, heavy thought, ruthless determination and a little magic. To sell a book takes all of the above and a healthy serving of luck, which is why when we writers do sell one we crow as proudly as new parents.

When said book is a bit of a stretch and takes you in directions you never dreamed, that just makes it the sweeter.

My Gothic hommage INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS is being released by Carina on 12 March. Frankly, I doubted I would ever finish it, and seriously never believed it would sell. It’s set in the indefinite present, may or may not have paranormal elements and the hero and heroine… oh, but I’m telling you too much.

It’s funny – I have loved traditional Gothic romances all my life, but have never cared much for high fantasy. I certainly never intended to write any, but… In INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS the heroine Aurora has come to Merrywood, the estate of her late father’s friend, to attend a convention honoring her late father’s books. She never knew her father and was raised with little or no knowledge of him. He wrote a series of high fantasy novels that have spawned a rabid fandom, intellectual debate and a series of fan-based conventions. He also committed suicide in front of her when she was barely three years old. Or did he? That is another mystery she must solve.

Things at the convention go wildly awry; first of all, Aurora’s former love shows up, intending to write a book about her father – the very thing that broke them up in the first place. Aurora begins having strange dreams where she is taking part in ceremonies her father wrote about. His friend, her host, and his colleagues are annoyingly possessive of her. The conventioneers regard her as a-not-quite-human icon, the essence of the books come to life. And she is not the only being from the books seemingly come to life; creatures from the books begin to materialize, creatures that appear to be real and not just costumed conventioneers. Aurora realizes that not only her sanity, but her very life may be in danger… but by then it is too late to leave. She must find out if the fantastic world her father created is totally and truly imaginary.

During editorial conferences (some call them editorial combat) with my wonderful editor Mallory Braus we both found that the idea of a snippet of one of Aurora’s father’s books at the beginning of each chapter would set the mood of that chapter wonderfully. I had wanted to do this from the beginning, but had not mentioned it because (1) I didn’t think it would sell and (2) I had no idea of or inclination towards writing high fantasy. However, with Mallory’s enthusiastic urging I tried, and was astonished when the varied stories of the non-human creatures of my imaginary world flowed easily from my fingertips. So easily, in fact, that some of these chapter head ‘snippets’ were two and three pages long!

After a lot of internal debate – and urging from both Mallory and my trusted beta readers to go ahead and write the seven book series – I agreed to rein in the snippets to a reasonable length instead of completely eliminating them. However, the idea of taking on the series – seven books in an unfamiliar genre!!! – is a bit daunting. I am much more comfortable with my good old-fashioned Gothics, cozy mysteries and a romance every now and then. As I should be. After all, one most intelligent and perspicacious reviewer said I was the obvious successor to Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt!

I’d like to know your opinion. INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS is being released by Carina Press on March 12, so let me hear what you think.


Janis Susan May

Monday, February 27, 2012

The English language - hilarious or brilliant?!

Ever thought learning a foreign language was too much of a challenge for you? Let's take a quick, fun look at our very own... :)



English - absolutely hilarious/brilliant!
We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!


Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
Neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England.

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
We find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing,
Grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them,
What do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
Should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.
In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship...
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
While a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
In which your house can burn up as it burns down,
In which you fill in a form by filling it out,
And in which an alarm goes off by going on.


And in closing..........



If Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop???







From Clare and all at Not Your Usual Suspects - HAPPY MONDAY! And isn't *that* a confusion in itself? :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

I Need a Hero

Actually, I need some help—and not just the kind a hero can provide. I’m looking to you, the NYUS readers, for a little assistance.


I write the Mindhunters series for Carina Press. I’m hoping it’ll become several books (currently, it’s two, with a third in the works). I have no shortage of heroes and heroines in my head that are screaming for their story to be told. But there's one character in particular who longs to be a hero...


Which leads me to my question: When creating or relating to a hero, does age matter?


As a parallel, I started thinking about the movies. Many actors are sixty-something (or more), and they can still make females swoon...








But does that work in books, too?


You see, Damian Manchester, head of the organization that is the backbone of my series, the group that hunts repeat violent offenders, was a victim himself twenty years ago, which is what motivated him to create the Society for the Study of the Aberrant Mind (a.k.a., SSAM). Now in his early sixties, he’s strong, fit, and takes on the criminal underbelly through his agency's resources. He sometimes works in the field, but is mostly a source of support and advice for his team.


I’d originally planned to explore Damian’s story as a substory that arcs across all of the books, so we get a little clearer picture of him and how he finds justice as each book progresses. But a reader recently approached me with the idea of giving him his own book. Though he’s fit and sexy at sixty, his age gave me pause. I want readers to see his happy ending, but would they read a book with a sixty-something hero as a main character? Or would it be better to keep his resolution as part of a substory?


So I thought I’d ask your opinion: As a romantic suspense reader (and/or writer), what makes a satisfying hero? How do you like to see them change? And does age matter when you’re reading a book?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Theme Braiding

When the idea for Her Dark Protector was a glimmer, I watched an interview of J.K. Rowling. She commented along the lines that at the core of the Harry Potter stories were the various characters' reactions to death.

Can we say writing lightbulb moment?

With Her Dark Protector's central concept of an international secret justice society with unlimted resources stepping in to help the legal system, the core theme is obviously justice.

For the heroine state attorney, her belief system is justice is society's glue.  For the hero who joined  the Justice Alliance after his wife is murdered, justice has failed.

Add a character who believes he is the law, a bad guy who follows the law of the jungle and a second bad guy who is above the law, I had five different character threads to braid action => reaction. If heroine acted in accordance with justice is society's glue then what would jungle law bad guy do?  How would 'I'm above the law' react to jungle law's action? Would the ensuing crisis reinforce the hero's conviction?

I used a sketch pad with columns representing each representation of justice and drew zigzagging lines from viewpoint to viewpoint.  I now use this approach on every book, current one in process.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling!

Have you ever had a writing light bulb moment from something another person said?

:) Carol Stephenson
Her Dark Protector,
A Carina Press March 26, 2012 release and Audible.com
Website; Facebook Fan Page

March


Monday, February 20, 2012

Can TV and Movies Help Your Writing?

Have you been following the brilliant BBC/PBS series Downton Abby? Those of you who don't know – and where have you been? –DA is about an aristocratic British family during the World War I era with an amazing ensemble cast. It has completely hooked me and millions of others. How can a story that takes place almost 100 years ago, about some rather stuffy people in ordinary situations, and okay, some are not so ordinary, sucker me in so completely? Last week I was yelling indignantly at Earl Robert Crawley. Yes, speaking out loud to the TV. Telling him (warning spoiler alert) to get his hands off the maid. Really? What the bloody hell did he think he was doing?
How are the writers of this show making it new and fresh to keep me interested?
Saturday Night Live depicts Downton Abby as a story about rich people living in either a church or a museum that don’t have Wi-Fi. The family has three daughters their names are: hot, way hot, and the other one. There's an old lady who looks like a chicken and you don't want to piss her off. There's also a bunch of tuxedo people who live in the basement and take care of the place.
Why am I watching each week? am I waiting for them to get Wi-Fi? Waiting to see just how messed up the love lives of the three sisters can get? Who will chicken lady go after next? Will the tuxedo people revolt and take over the museum? Whatever it is I'm waiting for I will be sitting in front of the TV at the appropriate time and watching the last episode. Then I'm going to watch all the episodes together on the Internet and take notes. Yes, take notes on foreshadowing, conflict, tension building, romance, ending hooks, and scene setting. It's all there and brilliantly done.
I began thinking about what other successful series and/or movies do to keep me coming back for more.
The Sopranos. Every time I thought things could not get worse- they did. Each time Tony did some rotten lowdown thing and you just wanted to see the authorities handcuff him and throw him into a jail cell he'd act human.
Same thing on Boardwalk Empire. Mr. Thompson can be a dirty bat rastard making you want the same thing for him that you wanted for Tony Soprano. Then he goes and does something nice. Dang. There is so much conniving on that show I don't know why it surprised me when somebody pulled out a gun or knife. The next thing you know there is blood everywhere and a hole is being dug to bury the body. Then you can’t miss next week cause you have to see what the consequences are.
Showtime's Dexter is a serial killer. Yawn, another serial killer you say. The catch is he only kills bad guys. People who are known to be guilty but have escaped the law. Here’s another just to make it interesting twist. He works for Miami-Dade Police Department and his sister is a detective. He comes close to getting caught and you have to watch nest week to see if he gets out of it or if he gets handcuffed and taken away.
Then there's Homeland. The lines are so blurred between who the bad and the good guys are I gave up trying to figure it out. I just watch and let it unfold in front of me. Well, that isn't exactly true. A friend and I have watched all the episodes twice and taken notes looking for clues. I got a headache.
What about taking historical events and adding a twist like Forrest Gump? Did any of you catch the HBO series Rome? It was the Forrest Gump story of the ancient world. The writers took stories that we already knew and inserted two men into them. These two guys interacted with everybody from Cleopatra to Caesar to Mark Anthony. Zowie! I loved it.
Then we have Titanic. Hey, everybody knows how that story came out. The ship sunk thousands of people died. Yet, we were all captivated by a beautiful love story and the many, many levels of conflict. And while I'm on James Cameron movies, what about Avatar? Break that down to greed and bigotry. It's a story that has been repeated around our globe many times. A more technologically advanced group moves in on an indigenous people to take resources from them. But Cameron took it and put it on another planet with blue people. Of course you could argue that War of the Worlds and Transformers is basically the same thing.
Anyhow, does anyone else deconstruct movies like this to help with their own writing? If so what movies have helped you?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Speak Your Piece


Wondering why I’ve been off the radar lately, barely able to keep up with packing lunch boxes, putting gas in the car or replying to the messages stacking up in my in-box? (Ok --who said that’s nothing new? Wise-guy.)

I coach High School forensics. This does not involve the dissection of bodies. My forensics is public speaking. There are acting and oratory type events. Some events are funny, some sad and some are seriously nerdly.

Working with the team reflects lessons for my writing, every time I coach.

Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You need a judge’s response to improve and grow. You need teammates too.

There are rules. Some are absolute. Some can be pushed. Beware the ones you push, you need both skill and absolute confidence to walk that dog.

You can’t control the judges’ response. All you can control is how hard you work.

Sometimes, feedback helps. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

Every week, I try to help the kids process these lessons. Every week, I help myself with the same lessons.

The speech competition season runs from November to February. The last three weeks of the season are reserved for the state series: regionals, sectionals and (drum roll) state.

I’ve been working with the team for four years. This is my first year coaching Radio Speaking, which some consider the red-headed step-child of forensics. No one knows how to judge it (so the scores can be wildly different.) It’s hard to do (you need kids who are smart and culturally literate. You try pronouncing all the names of the leaders of the world & all the foreign cities in the news from their spelling on paper!) and it’s weird to coach, because it’s both oddly physical and yet, all about voice technique. All my experience came from the news broadcast I did in college, back when dinosaurs roamed the land. Which meant my teaching motto was: That’s a good question, I’ll find out.

I trot over to the school several days a week, as well as most Saturdays, to practice or compete. Over the course of the season, five out of eight of my kids finaled or placed 1st , 2nd or 3rd. The remaining kids were getting solid scores by the end of the year. Considering the fact that most were underclassmen or new to Radio Speaking, I’m really proud of how well they’ve done.

For the state series, we’re allowed to enter one student per event. I chose a sophomore girl who has been gradually improving all year. She squeaked through the regional competition, just making the cut, (whew,) which left Sectionals looming in front of us.

Some coaches consider our sectional tougher than the state meet—because at sectionals we compete against the best kids from the old speech powerhouse schools, mostly wealthy, citified parts of our state. At the state competition, the students face sectional winners from many rural areas with smaller schools. There are always wildcard, great performers in the mix, but kids from smaller schools don’t always have the stamina of the kids from big schools with the money and the coaching staff to go out and compete every Saturday for months. Stamina matters when you get up at 5am, drive for an hour (or three) and then perform three or four times in a day.

There’s another lesson: if you want to do your best, working consistently matters. Stamina matters.

Our Sectional was last weekend. Never mind the kids, I was so sweaty with nerves by the time the finals started, I couldn’t take my coat off.

My high school sophomore, who’d only competed as a novice at three tournaments last year, who couldn’t get through three rounds without cracking at the start of the season, well…she won. The announcer called: “And your Sectional Grand Champion in Radio Speaking is….” And “Shut the f*#! up,” was my wordsmith response.

Coaching has taught me so much. I tell the kids: you can do this. You’re good at this! I tell them: you are not the best judge of your performance. Let it go. Try again. I tell them: have fun today!

How many times have I heard these lessons echoing in my own old brain and come home energized for my work?

So forgive me, if I’m slow responding to messages today. I’ll be traveling downstate, through cornfields full of no satellite service, to join my team at the state competition.

Feeling pretty lucky today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I-Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery (Intro)

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet; hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy Writing the Gay Mystery ... with Josh Lanyon


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The gay sleuth symbolically confronts the ultimate mystery every gay man must face at some point in his life: his difference from his family and the general society into which he has been born.
The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film, Drewey Wayne Gunn

One of the hottest genres to come out of the ebook revolution is that of male-male fiction, and one of the noticeably bestselling sub-genres of m/m fiction is that of the “gay mystery.”

Gay mystery is something of a misnomer since every conceivable subset of crime fiction including thriller, romantic-suspense, action-adventure and mystery are all lumped under the same bent umbrella. To complicate matters, there exists a legitimate challenge as to whether m/m romance, which currently dominates the gay fiction market, is in fact, the same thing as gay fiction.

I expect we could argue that last all day. My interest here at NYUS is primarily one of craft, and my focus in coming months will be to demonstrate how to write a top-notch gay (or m/m) mystery novel.
To that end we’ll be covering the following:



Characterization in the Gay Mystery Novel - March 15
Setting in the Gay Mystery Novel - April 15
Plotting the Gay Mystery Novel - May 15
Theme in the Gay Mystery Novel - June 15
Clues and Red Herrings - July 15
Dialog in the Gay Mystery Novel - August 15
Sex and the Gay Mystery Novel - September 15
Writing a Gay Mystery Series - October 15
Pulling it all together - Final Question & Answer Session - November 15


In addition, each month I’ll be listing several books that I consider essential reading for those truly interested in understanding the antecedents of the gay mystery novel -- and honing their own craft.
But before we go any further, let’s consider what the gay mystery or crime novel actually is and how it contrasts with its mainstream counterpart.


A common misconception is that a gay mystery is merely a mystery featuring a gay protagonist. Yes, the protagonist of a gay mystery must himself be gay. Drewey Wayne Gunn writes, “A gay mystery must feature a gay protagonist: one who is out at least to himself, perhaps to his friends and others, and absolutely to readers.”*

Remember that in early gay mystery, the protagonist was himself an outlaw -- a sexual outlaw -- and an outsider. To some extent, that outsider POV continues to this day. It’s a distinctly different mindset than that of a mainstream sleuth.

Sexuality is never incidental in the gay mystery. The same exact story could not be told just as easily from the viewpoint of a heterosexual character. Through the course of solving the case at hand, the gay protagonist will explore and come to a greater understanding of his own sexuality -- and thus his identity as a gay man. His investigation is as much one of self-actualization as it is crime-solving. Through his new understanding, his awakening, the gay protagonist comes to unlock the secrets of his own heart.

Romance is not so much a subplot in gay mystery as it is a theme. To paraphrase Gunn (because I agree with him), unlike his straight counterpart who often swings from promiscuity to celibacy, the romantic quest in a gay mystery novel is both more romantic (in the classic sense) and idealistic than we typically see in mainstream mystery. The gay sleuth is not merely seeking sex, but love and mutual commitment.

It’s important to note here that this quest does not always end successfully. This is the crux of the difference between gay mystery and m/m mystery. All m/m fiction is romantic fiction and there is a genre expectation for romantic fiction. In m/m mystery, the romance plot will share equal page time with the mystery plot. In the gay mystery, the romantic quest is a subplot and that quest may just as easily be ongoing or even end badly.

Other than that crucial difference, all that we discuss in the coming weeks can be applied as easily to penning the m/m mystery as the gay mystery. And in fact, later on in the series, we’ll discuss handling eroticism and romance.

The other important point to remember is that gay mysteries do not get a pass from readers merely because they feature gay protaganists. The standards for the gay mystery are every bit as strict as for any other and crime fiction sub-genre. Today's readers are far too sophisticated and too spoiled for choice to be satisfied with mediocre plotting, pacing, and characterization out of gratitude to find gay characters. Gay characters are a dime a dozen now days. Your mystery fiction has to be top shelf in every respect.


Anyway, that’s enough to start with. I hope you’re looking forward to the months and the discussions ahead as much as I am!

I’ll leave you with this month’s recommended reading.

Classic Gay Mystery Must Read list:
The Heart in Exile by Rodney Garland
Goodbye, My Lover by Victor J. Banis
The Butterscotch Prince by Richard Hall
Pretty Boy Dead by Joseph Hansen
The Night G.A.A. Died by Jack Ricardo



*Drewey Wayne Gunn, "Down These Queer Streets a Man Must Go," The Golden Age of Gay Fiction (New York: MLR Press, 2009), 197

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A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.




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FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wearing My Writer’s Hat: Writing Effective Dialogue


Whenever I teach a workshop on writing, the two most common questions I’m asked are, “How do you write interesting and effective narrative” and “How do you get your characters to use dialogue that sounds normal and yet moves the story forward?” I’m going to address the second question in this blog by sharing my top ten dialogue tips that I believe will help strengthen your story.

1. Use dialogue to break up long narrative passages.

2. Incorporate dialogue so that it creates, and then heightens the drama/conflict.

3. Use dialogue to make your characters more human, more realistic. Remember narrative writing can describe a character, but dialogue makes them real.

4. Remember that dialogue is not conversation. Conversation can be meaningless, full of redundancies and irrelevant information. Dialogue is important and must move your story forward.

5. If the pacing seems slow, use dialogue to jump-start your scene. Dialogue moves the plot forward.

6. Use tags to help the reader identify who is speaking. Remember, however, to use them sparingly and effectively.

7. If your character is a policeman, a cowboy, an English aristocrat – make certain they speak in the appropriate manner. Police have specific terms for actions and items, so do cowboys, and so do aristocrats. Make certain you know them.

8. Use dialect sparingly. A little goes a long way.

9. Be careful in your choice of words. Don’t try to impress the reader – they will only feel intimidated and jerked from the story if they have to continually consult the dictionary.

10. Avoid dialogue that is too stiff or too formal. Most people use contractions in their speech, your characters should, too.

For those of you who are writers, do you use any of these more than others? Are there any I forgot? As readers, are there any books you feel have outstanding examples of dialogue?

Friday, February 10, 2012

What’s In Your TBR Pile?


I don’t have as much time for leisure reading as I used to. I have a 9 to 5 job and I always have multiple writing projects going. There just aren't enough hours in the day. But I’m currently between projects so guess what? Time to dig into the old TBR pile, which is actually multiple piles in my office at work and my bedroom. So what’s in my TBR pile? I’m so glad you asked! Here’s a sample of some of the books I can't wait to dive into:

The Lantern By Deborah Lawrenson-A modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder—set against the lush backdrop of Provence.

The Watchtower By Lee Carroll-Jewelry designer Garet James is still coming to terms with the astounding revelation in BLACK SWAN RISING that she is the last in a long line of women sworn to protect the world from evil.

The Long Fall By Walter Mosley-Introduces Walter Mosley’s new PI bad-guy-turned-good Leonid McGill.

Murder in Passy By Cara Black-The village-like neighborhood of Passy, home to many of Paris’s wealthiest residents, is the last place one would expect a murder. But when Aimée Leduc’s godfather, Morbier, a police commissaire, asks her to check on his girlfriend at her home there, that’s exactly what Aimée finds.

Silver Sparrow By Tayari Jones-With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.

The Shirt On His Back By Barbara Hambly-The new 'Benjamin January' novel from the best-selling author - Abishag Shaw is seeking vengeance for his brother’s murder – and Benjamin January is seeking money after his bank crashes.

Ready Player One By Ernest Cline-Part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

Okay, it’s your turn! What’s on your TBR pile? 

Angela ; )

Wednesday, February 8, 2012



WHO IS YOUR CHARACTER CHANNELLING?

Confession time. I once wrote a whole novel just so I could kill a character. She was based on a woman who had stolen my boyfriend. It was cathartic, and fun (oh, so much fun). I was young and inexperienced and didn’t realize you could get into Serious Trouble doing that. Fortunately, it was a lousy novel and never saw the light of day. :-)

Since then, I’ve learned discretion. Now, I borrow traits from people I know, not the entire person. People I don’t know, too. That woman with the oversized black sweater and the skinny legs? Looks like a raven when she walks? Great look for the mother of my main character. The boss who does that weird clicking thing with his tongue when he’s concentrating? Would fit perfectly on my teenage character.

It’s seductive, really. I keep a notebook to jot down the quirks I spot. Sometimes a total stranger will inspire a whole new character thanks to an odd habit. I once had a neighbor who would always wait a beat too long before answering a question. It was disconcerting. Off-putting. But boy, it made a great character trait for a police interrogator.

Nowadays, I rarely remember the origins of my characters. My subconscious does all the heavy lifting and my “people” only emerge when they’re ready. For instance, I’m not really sure where Kate Williams, the chief of police in my latest mystery release, The Tuxedoed Man (the follow up to
The Shoeless Kid), came from. She’s tough and rational, but is riddled with insecurities and is a soft touch for the vulnerable ones.

I catch a glimpse of my aunt in the way Kate always wants her hair out of the way; of a man I once worked with in her impatience for people who waste her time; and of my sister in the way she raises an eyebrow oh-so-sardonically.

Who knows who else is hiding in Kate? Me, maybe? Do you have origin stories for your characters?

GIVEAWAY: In honour of
The Shoeless Kid becoming available as a pocket book from World Wide Mysteries, I will give away a copy to one person who comments on this blog today. I'll post the name of the winner here tomorrow.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Supernatural Stakes

I've just started adding something extra to my romantic suspense work-in-progress. I set the book in the world of witchcraft. The addition of the occult setting is a game changer, both for the reader and for the author.

As readers, as soon as we learn that a story contains elements of anything supernatural, we know all the rules have changed and we can't possibly know what the new rules are. Best of all, neither do the characters! The rug can be pulled out from under any character at any time, and thus, it can shake up the reader and add dimension to the experience of the book.

As a writer, giving my story an occult spin makes me an all-powerful god of sorts. Not only can I manipulate the characters and the situation, but I can manipulate their total reality. I can turn up the evil in villains and the heroism in the protagonists. 

I'm having fun with my heroine, the witch character. After a hard bump on her head, suddenly her powers have increased and her magic is now on overdrive. And the villain? She's even more fun with a dash of black magic. 

What about you? Do you enjoy reading books with paranormal elements? Do you love it or hate it when the author pulls the rug out from under you?

Friday, February 3, 2012

What’s a Writer’s Biggest Challenge?

Above all else, writing calls on an author to be an “imagineer.”  To repeat the same old, same old, or to structure each new project on the tried and true, means an author’s not being true to himself.  He’s holding fast to somebody else’s rules of writing’s right and wrongs.  He’s playing in the shallow end of the pool, afraid to take chances, to color outside the lines.
 
            Say you’re baking sugar cookies.  You measure the ingredients carefully, mix them well, and time the baking perfectly.  The result is round, bland and predictable cookies.  Instead, consider taking a muffin pan, turning it upside down and baking the sugar cookie dough over the bottom of the muffin wells.  What you end up with are sugar cook cups.  Fill them with ice cream, sorbet, pudding, fruit, top them with whipped cream, strawberries, sprinkles, butterscotch sauce or the queen of flavors, chocolate.  Now you’ve taken the boring and predictable and morphed it into a glam dessert.
Why not do the same with your writing?  Why not experiment with breaking the “rules” all writers are advised to obey if they ever wish to be published?  I don’t mean all the rules of course, ala James Joyce or Samuel Beckett, but some.
A case in point:  I recently wrote a blog on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in which she does exactly that, breaks some of the rules.  In the first 20 pages of the book she introduces 11 major characters.  Count ‘em, eleven.  And for 10 of them, she piles on backstory.  Pages of backstory right at the book’s beginning.  Imagine.  Haven’t you been told to avoid doing so, that it’s tantamount to an authorial crime?
Best of all, she gets away with it.  The book is a literary icon.
The truth is some rules deserve to be broken.  The antihero can act heroically, the heroine can have mousey brown hair, the cozy mystery can have—gasp--sex and a guitar player as the protag.  For me, being able to make unexpected changes like this is what makes the writing game worthwhile. 
That said, some rules remain virtually inviolate especially in the mystery form.  Justice prevails.  The culprit is caught.  The good guys win.  In And Then There Were None, all 10 victims are killed because they had committed crimes.  So Christie retained a vital rule.  She served justice while breaking enough other rules to give her book an interesting edge.          I’ve tried to emulate her example.  In Designed for Death I had my heroine work in an arty business, made her a grieving widow with sexy, showgirl legs, and tossed in a few wild characters of a type not usually found in cozy mysteries  But . . . and we all know nothing matters till we reach the but . . . the good guys do win in the end.
So a lot of innovation can take place within the boundaries of a form.  I’m learning to keep what has been proven to work but to put a fresh spin on it.  Sometimes you want a round sugar cookie to dunk in your milk.  Other times, you transform that raw dough into a little vessel that will hold all manner of surprises.  The chance to choose between the two, not to have to follow the well-trodden path, is what makes writing such an exciting journey.
Now I’m off to find the kitchen.   
   
Check out DESIGNED FOR DEATH by Jean Harrington

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Professor Winner!


And the winner is -
Jane!
Please contact me through my website www.cperkinswrites.com for your copy
Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and helped celebrate The Professor's release!
Cathy Perkins

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest Author: Alanna Coca and Giveaway!

Hello! Thanks for having me today. My name is Alanna Coca, and although I've only published one romantic suspense so far, it is certainly my favorite genre to read, and I'd love to write more. My idol is Sandra Brown, who started out writing genre romance, and now has these twisty and engrossing books that make me want to grovel at her feet and beg for paper scraps.
I won't do that though. I have some pride.
My stumbling block is the fact that I'm a pantser. Now, flying by the seat of my pants works fine when I write contemporary romance, and it's very easy when I write erotic romance under my alter ego Olivia Brynn. Those characters have no problem talking me through their plot as I'm typing away. I like to add a little bit of mystery and a few twists to those books as well, but a romantic suspense needs a little (okay, a lot) more thought beforehand.
For example, I wrote PreView back in 2008. In my mind it was going to be a straight up mystery. I thought I'd write a series of books starring this heroine as she goes through her everyday life solving crimes that have yet to occur using her prophetic dreams.
This is the first book where I started with chapter one, because that's what woke me from a sound sleep one autumn morning.
 Before the "new wip glow" wore off, I immediately wrote the last chapter, because I knew just how I wanted the whole conflict resolved. Back to chapter two, where the heroine informed me that she's got a love interest.
Oh, okay. So it's a romance. Got it.
*Tweak the final chapter*
This is when I see that Trevor, the love interest, is a difficult guy to like. (One reviewer describes him as dark chocolate, "a bitter treat") So I tried to talk Ryann, the heroine, out of a happily ever after with this guy, but she's got her sights set. So I bounced from beginning to end, and worked my way to the middle. This involved a lot of tweaking, a little hero-slapping, and several scene rewrites. 
Sigh.
If only I could plot!
But finally, I finished the book, and ended up falling for the hero right along with Ryann. and couldn't have been happier when Carina Press took it. To have PreView sitting on the virtual shelves with the amazing authors and books you'll find at Carina was a thrill. I'll admit to a little bit of happy dancing, and maybe more than a little bit of liquid-spirit-lifting.
For more of a taste of PreView, you can visit my website where I have a trailer and excerpt set up.
To thank the lovely Not Your Usual Suspects authors for letting me crash their blog, I'd like to give a copy of PreView away to a NYUS reader.  Just comment here with a snippet of the last dream you remember having. Now, if it's a sex dream, I probably don't want details, but the weirder the better. I'll choose one random commenter to win a digital copy of PreView.
I'll start: The last dream I remember involved my friend's tiny baby who for some reason was no bigger than a mouse. I had to change her poopy diaper.
Sometimes I wonder about me.
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