Friday, June 26, 2015

Storyboards and Living Documents

Hi all,

I'm reblogging a great post on Sue Coletta's crime writing blog. Craig Boyack talks about using outlines, storyboards and photo repositories to inspire his stories.  Hope you enjoy this.

Storyboards and Living Documents

Things are crazy right now for me, working with my editor and setting up a new computer — all these foreign keys make me feel like I’ve never used a computer before — but I didn’t want to leave you flat. Hearing my tales of woe, friend and fellow writer Craig Boyack sprang into action. Some of you are familiar with his site Entertaining Stories, where he shares some of the best short stories and flash fiction I’ve ever read, along with various other topics. If you get a chance stop by and say hello. While you’re there browse his Idea Mill — great fodder for creativity.
All yours, Craig!
When Sue asked me if I’d do a guest post I was ecstatic. Then it dawned on me that many of her readers are probably crime writers. I write speculative fiction; what the heck can I bring to crime writers?
Crime happens in speculative fiction too. It’s mostly in paranormal and science fiction, but fantasy isn’t immune. We tend to gloss over it, and build worlds that get more focus.
Then it dawned on me, writer is also part of the title. I can talk about writing. I tend to see things a bit differently than most, so I do things differently too. I’m going to mention some of them in this post.
will o' whisp
I’m an unashamed outliner. I like three act structure, but I use a storyboard for my outline. There are index cards for the beginning and end of each act, the rest get filled in as I brainstorm my story. I like this method, because I can add photos, maps, sticky notes and all kinds of things. It’s possible to get pretty elaborate with projected word count, plants and payoffs, pinch points, and more.
I don’t always get that elaborate, but I like the method. A different writer might adopt the heroes journey, or fairy tale structure to a storyboard. To tell the truth, I snipe from these all the time too.
I don’t use a physical storyboard. Turns out there’s an app for that. I can take my storyboard with me on my iPad.
I also use direct feeds like my RSS reader and something called Zite Magazine. These work by subscribing to content I like and the Internet sends me data. A writer has to get ideas from somewhere. Many of my coolest story elements came to me this way.
Zite is particularly fun, because it’s smart. When I first subscribe to a category, it sends me everything it can find. As an example, when I set up a category called “voodoo” I got articles about doughnuts, beer, Jimmy Hendrix, and more. Zite lets me give articles a thumb up or down. It corrects over time and now it’s all about mojo hands and dolls with pins.
I’m sure an enterprising crime writer could do something similar. When I get enough fun ones, I post something I call The Idea Mill. My blog followers seem to really enjoy those posts. I have enough right now for the next one.
The last thing I’ll mention is living documents. I keep living documents for various reasons. Writing advice is everywhere today, and it all gets a bit repetitive. Sometimes there is a real gem posted. When I get these, the data gets summarized in my living documents. My memory isn’t what it used to be.
I keep documents about editing, writing tips, cryptids, and fantasy. There are very brief notes about the villain’s journey, Pixar secrets, and the tidbits that help me in my projects. Most of these are helpful on the editing passes. I have a whole page on suspense tips.
Sue has something similar called “50 ways to murder your fictional character.” If she were to add to it on occasion, it would be a living document. (Note from Sue: I’ve been adding. I’ll send an update once there’s enough new information to make it worthwhile.)
I hope I’ve provided at least one nugget you can take home with you today. Looking at things differently might help you create a major hit one day.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have book I’m promoting right now. That’s part and parcel for guest posts. It’s called Will O’ the Wisp, and I think it’s my best so far. Here’s a little blurb:
There is something evil up Bergamot Holler, and it’s been targeting the Hall family for generations.
Patty Hall is fifteen years old. She loves stargazing, science fiction, and all things related to space exploration. This leaves her perfectly prepared for the wrong problem.
Patty is afraid her mother will send her to a care facility if she tells her what she’s seen. If she doesn’t figure things out soon, she’s going to join her father in the Hall family cemetery plot.
Patty has to come to grips with her own physical handicap, survive the wilderness, and face an ancient evil all alone if she’s going to survive.
Will O’ the Wisp is suitable for young adults. It involves strong elements of suspense, and is set in the mid 1970s.
Here are the Amazon links:
Northern American Continent
Thank you, Sue, for having me over today. It’s a real pleasure.
Craig Boyack
No man ever wetted clay and then left it, as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune. – Plutarch
Check out my novels here:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review: Eyes of the Innocent by Brad Parks

Eyes of the Innocent (Carter Ross Mystery #2)Eyes of the Innocent by Brad Parks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brad Parks delivers a character as funny as Stephanie Plum. Carter Ross, investigative reporter at the Newark Eagle-Examiner, shows up at a house fire where two boys died. At first he thinks this is a tragedy, two kids home alone, single mother working to put food on the table. He meets the boys' mother who should be a professional storyteller for all the lies she tells.

When Ross is assigned a perky, blond intern nicknamed Sweet Thang, he hands her a research project to check out the truth of the woman's story. It unravels just before the paper is to go to press with the heart-tugging story. Ross tries to stop it, because Sweet Thang has uncovered some of the woman's lies.

The complete story becomes so delicious that Ross can't stop investigating. Add the disappearance of a city councilman, rumors of corruption in house flipping and downright hilarious political corruption, and you have a book that will keep you turning pages until the last one. And then you'll want more.

To be transparent, I know Brad Parks. I know he's funny, profane, zany -- just like his main character. So, is Carter Ross really a thinly disguised Brad Parks? You'll have to ask him. My money is on "yes."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Author Interview with Michael Murphy

This originally appeared in the SplashesIntoBooks blog.

Author Interview: Michael Murphy

Michael MurphyMichael Murphy is the author of the superb ‘Jake and Laura’ mystery series of novels and kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog. His books in this series include:
1: The Yankee Club
2: All that Glitter
3: Wings in the Dark
The Yankee clubAll that GlittersWings in the Dark_Murphy
On July 18th, 2015 further information about these books will be available as part of the blog tour celebrating the release of‘Wings in the Dark’ by clicking here
Where did you get the inspiration for the series?
One day I noticed Turner Classic Movies was having a Thin Man marathon. My wife and I sat down and watched the first, then the second. I’d seen most of the movies years earlier but this time I focused on the interaction between William Powell and Myrna Loy; the humor, romance and sex appeal of a likable couple. It wasn’t the stories that drove the movie series, but that interaction between characters. I decided I wanted to create two characters with that same dynamic interaction. I hope I’ve succeeded with Jake and Laura.
What is your writing process?
My process has evolved over the years when I started out as a write by the seat of your pants kind of author. With a series, it’s necessary to organize the process since what happens to the characters in the first book impacts the characters in the second and so on. I started with detailed character studies of all major and secondary characters and I construct a chapter outline before I begin. Once I start, however, as long as I haven’t contradicted anything that’s happened before, I exercise enough freedom to tweak the plot by adding additional characters or conflict.
Do you write using pen and paper or on a computer?
When I’m writing, I use a computer and a legal pad for notes. However I learned early on that the most important tool for creating fiction is the sub-conscious. The creative part happens when I’m on a treadmill, driving, or sleeping. Ideas pop into my conscious so writing it down on a computer is really just a mechanical process, secondary to the creative process from my subconscious.
Who is your favourite character out of your stories and why?
Although I like Jake and Laura very much, secondary characters are more fun for me to write, especially sidekicks. Gino Santoro, in The Yankee Club, is that kind of guy, a scoundrel, quick with a joke, a guy who really who drinks too much and can’t commit to women. It might be unlikable, if he wasn’t such a nice guy.
If you were a character in your story, which would you like to be?
I’d like to be Jake Donovan. He’s smart, analytical, totally in love with one woman (like me), brave and resourceful and willing to use his fists when necessary (unlike me.)
How and why did you choose the names for your main characters?
No one’s ever asked me this question before, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but most of the names for my male leads often come from old John Wayne movies. By now, you probably know I’m a big fan of old movies. The Duke (Wayne) was always strong, tough and fair. His characters had names like Jake (Jacob McCandles) in Big Jake, Taw Jackson in The War Wagon and Cole Thornton in El Dorado. If my main character is strong, tough and fair, I want readers to picture them that way with a strong name. I often give secondary characters somewhat quirky names, like Gino. How did I name Laura? I just liked the name; had a classic Hollywood sound to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: Beneath the Stones by Susan Coryell

Beneath the StonesBeneath the Stones by Susan Coryell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Susan Coryell continues the saga of Ashby Overton she began in A WILD WILD ROSE. Five years later, Ashby prepares to marry her boyfriend Luke at her family estate, Overhome, which she discovers, much to her dismay, is deep in debt. It is up to her to find a way to save her horse farm.

Ashby sorts through mounds of bills run up by her aunt. Rather than holding a grudge, Ashby decides the only ways to save Overhome are to sell off 50 acres and expand her boarding and horse training business. When she hand her 12 yo nephew explore the acreage she want to sell, she discovers an old stone house and one very angry ghost. Ashby's only experience with ghosts has been with a benign spirit Rosabelle who saved her from peril in the first in this series.

To be able to more forward with her plans, Ashby must determine who the ghost is and why he wants to harm her.

A new character, a Civil War

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: Weakest Lynx by Fiona Quinn

Weakest LynxWeakest Lynx by Fiona Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fiona Quinn has crafted a unique new crime fighter in Lexi Sobado. At just twenty, she has more skills than any normal human being should have. She's a Reiki master. She's a master shot. She's a martial arts expert. And, by the way, she's psychic. When she finds herself stalked, she calls on all of her skills to protect her.

Her stalker sends familiar poems rewritten to send her a message. Newly married with a husband deployed in Afghanistan, she turns to Dave, an old friend and mentor to help her. She buys a house in a run-down neighborhood to be near him. Her neighbors form a loose protective barrier around her, while Dave brings in experts to provide physical and electronic security. The security breaks down when the stalker gets inside her house and slashes her. He's driven off before he can kill her, leaving her for dead in pools of her own blood.

One of her mentors works for a private security firm, a cross between the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI. They take her to a safe house where they put her under round-the-clock monitoring. Lexi exposes layers of her backstory when Spider, the head of her team, lets her help with a couple of kidnapping cases. What happens next is the stuff of reading late into the night. The reader roots for Lexi to solve the kidnappings and identify the stalker even though she nearly dies trying to go behind the Veil and see through the victims' and kidnappers' eyes.

I tried to find similar characters to Lexi. She's not Stephanie Plum, but she is funny at times. She's not a female Jack Reacher, because she has family and friends who care for her. She's not normal, but she is unique. Quinn's is a fresh voice in the often overpopulated thriller genre.

I highly recommend Weakest Lynx. I can hardly wait for the next book in the series to be available.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Tom Named by Horse by Dutch Henry

Tom Named By HorseTom Named By Horse by Dutch Henry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dutch Henry delivers another well-told story set in the Old West this time as opposed to the current West of WE'LL HAVE THE SUMMER. Filled with fully developed characters, beautiful descriptions of the landscape and clashes between cultures, TOM NAMED BY HORSE is well worth reading.

Henry brings us a main character who has no name. Orphaned at birth, he is traded from buffalo hunter to buffalo hunter and called nothing but "boy." After years of abuse, Boy kills his tormenter and takes his horse. Shortly after he is free, Boy happens upon another buffalo hunter surrounded by a group of young Sioux braves. The hunter fells two of the young men. Boy shoots the hunter and rescues the injured braves. He takes them to their village for treatment. His act of kindness earns the respect of the Sioux chief whose son he's rescued.

When asked what his name is, Boy says it's Tom, which is the name of his tall gray horse. He feels safe in the village where he not only becomes friends with the chief's family but also with a half-white young woman to whom he is attracted.

Against a backdrop of encroaching settlers and cavalry that want to take the land from the Native Americans, Tom finds himself torn between wanting to help his new friends and protect the settlers from renegades. The story unwinds at a leisurely pace with high-tension action scenes interspersed with quiet interludes.

If there was anything I would change about this book it would be to have a better editor. I don't think Henry used the same editor he did for WE'LL HAVE THE SUMMER. While the ending seems rushed, the story sets itself up for a sequel.

Anyone who likes romance set in the Old West will surely want to read this book.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Book Review: Cahas Mountain by Linda Kay Stevens

Cahas MountainCahas Mountain by Linda Kay Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simmons introduces Rhodessa Rose, a child born into poverty in Appalachia before WWII. Living on a family farm on Cahas Mountain, Rhodessa Rose moves to the rhythm of the mountain's spirit. She feels safe and home only when she's on her beloved mountain.

Enter a dashing moonshine operator, older than she, with few if any scruples. Willard Grimes courts Rhodessa Rose and marries her. She wants life with this man who drives a flashy car to be full of love and happiness. Instead, he's more interested in running moonshine than in running a house. Willard introduces Rhodessa Rose to a criminal element which puts her life in danger.

Willard is drafted, leaving Rhodessa Rose alone with his family. She nurses her two sisters and mother during a tuberculosis epidemic.

To say more would be to give spoilers.

Simmons comes from the oral story-telling tradition. In the cadence of her language, you hear echoes of tales spun around pot-bellied stoves. The voice is both fresh and familiar.

The book suffers from needing to be better formatted and edited. If you can overlook these two problems, you'll find an enjoyable read.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Book Review: Missing Person by Patrick Modiano

Missing PersonMissing Person by Patrick Modiano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I made a mistake in looking at a few reviews of this novel before I read it. I was taken by the idea of a lyrical novel about what is identity. I was looking forward to reading a mystery by a Nobel Prize winner.

Had I not read the reviews and description of the novel, I'd have enjoyed it for what I thought it was: a modern existentialist novel in the style of Camus and Sartre. Once I gave up looking for a genre novel, I loved this book.

Yes, there is a mystery in that the missing person, the narrator, has no idea who he is. His search is for identity, the "who am I" question. His conflict lies in desperately wanting to belong somewhere to the extent he tries on different names to see if he is that person.

If a reader is looking for a mystery, this is probably not the book for you. If, however, you are looking for a study in the meaning of identity, this slim volume will entertain and inform.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review: Mercedes Wore Black by Andrea Brunais

Mercedes Wore BlackMercedes Wore Black by Andrea Brunais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Andrea Brunais has jumped into the realm of Florida-based mysteries with a well-written, finely-plotted addition to the subgenre. Along with Randy Wayne White, Carl Hiaasen and John MacDonald, Brunais has her own cast of quirky Florida characters, environmental issues and a mystery what leaves the reader wondering what is going to happen until the very end.

Janis Pearl Hawk, newly fired from her job on a central Florida newspaper, needs work. When a friend offers her a chance to write a blog covering everything from local politics to corruption to environmental issues, she leaps on the opportunity. She meets with her friend, Mercedes of the title, who tells her all about the candidate for governor she works for.

Enter the potential hunky maybe love interest in the guise of the gubernatorial candidate. When he offers her a job on his staff, she faces an ethical dilemma: should she give up her new-found freedom to pursue corruption or work for the man who shares much of her worldview.

Tallahassee politicos, sleazy political influencers, a gay best friend and fellow journalist, several committed ecologists who are too afraid of the special interest groups provide a cast of characters that keep the reader turning pages until the grand reveal at the end. One can only hope that this is the first in a series of great Florida mysteries, this time with a female sleuth.

Monday, February 9, 2015

RedeploymentRedeployment by Phil Klay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Klay may have won the National Book Award for fiction with this short story collection, he breaks no new ground it. War stories abound from WWI to Iraqistan. Some offer deep insights into the life of a soldier. Some are blatantly anti or pro-war. Some exalt warriors as heroes. Some are well written; some aren't.

Had my book club not selected this work, I might not have finished it. The language in one story was little more than a list of acronyms a non-military reader wouldn't understand. I didn't "get" it. Some were little more than rehashings of Vietnam-era motifs with the desert substituted for the jungle.

One touched my heart. The last one focused on a young Marine in a battery company whose long-range artillery had taken out a nest of insurgents. Or had it? The Marine's battery mates discuss how many bad guys it had killed. One wanted to see the bodies for proof. The narrator goes on a search for the dead insurgents, only to find that the hospital on his base only handled coalition casualties. The closing scene with soldiers standing silently while a fallen comrade is carried past for transport home borders on the maudlin, but just misses it.

Had I not had to finish the book, I would have missed what I consider the one gem in it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review: Return to Me by Kelly Moran

Return to Me (Covington Cove, #1)Return to Me by Kelly Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I asked for and received an ARC for this novel. While I don't read romance all that much, I've become Kelly Moran's fan. Here she returns to a familiar theme of two broken people coming together and learning to trust each other.

Ten years after Cole Covington and Mia Galdon fall in love and are torn apart by Cole’s mother, they meet again. Cole returns from the war in the Middle East with post traumatic stress disorder. When he was severely wounded, his rescuers find him holding a picture of Mia. So broken is he by the loss of some of his men in combat and by nearly losing his life that he refuses to leave his coastal home near Wilmington.

Cole’s sister contacts Mia and asks her to care for Cole in his home. Unsure if she wants to see the man who broke her heart, she finally agrees to nurse Cole back to health. Her job is to get him well enough to care for himself, leave the house and return to a functional life.

Romance readers will enjoy the journey of the two main characters as they try to deny they still love each other. Moran renders familiar tropes with intensity and a fresh voice.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher, #12)Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lee Child's twelfth Jack Reacher novel isn't as good as the earlier ones. Reacher is always himself: the loner who walks into town and routs out the bad guys.

In Nothing to Lose, Reacher walks through the town of Hope, Colorado, and out the same highway to the next town, Despair. When he arrives in Despair, he stops for a cup of coffee, is arrested and charged with vagrancy, because he has no job. The fact that he doesn't want to work in Despair and take away a job from a local makes no difference to the police. Reacher is driven to the halfway point between Hope and Despair and dumped to walk back to Hope.

If you know Reacher, he's not going to take this lying down, or walking around. He decides to return and find out what the town is hiding. Okay, his making a decision that the town has something to hide isn't based on anything in the book. From this point onward, it's Reacher against the town of Despair. A local female policeman provides support and a brief love interest.

Plotting, scheming, trespassing, bombs. Child throws these and more into what is more of a mash up than the type of thriller he normally writes. A reader new to the Jack Reacher stories will wonder what all the fuss is about.