Sunday, July 31, 2016

Purpose Vs. Point in Fiction

I used to be a fan of The Walking Dead TV series. I was totally enthralled with the first year, but not so much after the second, and even less so after the third. This had nothing to do with the gore and horror; after all, this is a zombie-focused survival story, so it comes with the territory. I also liked the characters and their backstories.

By the fourth season, I found the show increasing difficult to watch as more key characters were being picked off by zombies and others. Admittedly, it was interesting to see the change in the main characters as they learned to live with fear and loss, and sharpen their survival skills.

Clearly, the characters’ purpose was to stay alive, and there were plenty of internal and external conflicts providing huge obstacles to do so. So, why did I lose interest? Because I started to wonder what was the point of all this constant fighting and running away, only to settle somewhere else and have hopes dashed again?

Periodically, the series provided a glimmer of hope that there were safe places to go to, that someone competent and sane would be in charge and offer a safe haven, but efforts to find it inevitably failed, at least during the seasons I watched.

All of this got me to thinking about other stories, where the stakes are high, the conflict and tension immense, and the characters intriguing. Why did those stories work for me while this one didn’t? The answer is that there was always an end-game, a final success that would end the misery, leaving the hero triumphant, albeit physically and/or emotionally damaged.

Sure, some will argue that each storyline in The Walking Dead ends in triumph as Rick and company live to fight another day. But, I still say, why bother? During the years I watched, there wasn’t a cure on the horizon and adequate help was nonexistent.

I realize that everyone has their own definition of what a story’s point is. Why is something being written? What is the reader, or viewer, getting out of it? Is the satisfaction strong enough to keep watching?

My favorite genre is mysteries and they have been since I was a girl. I love that the bad guys get caught and that justice is served. For me this is emotionally satisfying. The story has a point as the protagonist struggles to find the killer and winds up triumphant.

Regardless of whether you’re writing scripts, novels, or nonfiction, make sure your stories have a point, or readers might not stick with you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Where the Real Magic Happens

Back in April, I wrote a blog called The Joy and Purpose of Solitude, for which I received some positive comments by readers who related to my preference for solitude, especially when it comes to the need to create. An article in Quartz, which I mentioned in that blog, focused on how creative people understand the importance of being alone.

Recently, a second article in Brain Pickings, emphasized how important solitude is to the creative process. To paraphrase a quote by Adam Phillips in the piece, if we don’t unburden ourselves of daily noise and social strain, we can’t fully inhabit our interior life, which is the source of all art.

But I’ve discovered something since I wrote that blog. While I’ve managed to carve out more solitude for myself, it’s been a much bigger struggle to free my mind to tap into the creative part of me.

Just because I’m sitting alone in my quiet basement office, hands on the keyboard, doesn’t mean that thoughts are completely on the work at hand. There’s a lot going on in my life, as there is in almost everyone’s life, and sometimes I find it to struggle to put some of those things aside. It can be done, but I have to work at it.

There are tricks, though, many of which I’ve been using for years. For example, if I need to free my mind to focus on a particular scene I’ve been struggling to write, I’ll go for a walk, preferably near water.

Mundane household chores also help. Doing dishes, weeding the garden, folding laundry, sweeping, and vacuuming all allow me to relax my brain. It’s the main reason I’ve never hired a housekeeper. Sure, thoughts can easily stray to family and work issues, but if I start a mundane task right after I’ve been writing, the ideas and connections keep on coming for many minutes after I’ve walked away from the keyboard.

The important thing is to give yourself sufficient time to be alone. In other words, step away from social networking, put the smartphone down, and go try some non-writing activity…sports, knitting, gardening, music; housework, anything that will allow your mind to relax sufficiently to tap into the creative part of your brain. For many writers, that’s where the real magic happens.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Some Writing Resources

Instead of just giving my own opinion today, to share some other bloggers' posts of the writing process and the writing life. Then I'll give my own opinion.

Damyanti Biswas hosts an intriguing post on the science of story structure. Takeaway: Structuring your book can help you not make a mess, but feel free to play around with it.

I'm learning to use the structuring features of Scrivener and yWriter5, in place of big sheets of paper with grids drawn on them. Although the grid worked peachy, I suspect a program will prove more useful.

Megan Morgan lays down the basics on point-of-view, for those who don't know what "first person" and "second person" mean. Hey, everybody learns about everything for the first time sometime, amIright?

I like writing first person, because then I can crawl into somebody's head and inhabit it. On the other hand, I also like third person, because then I don't have to crawl into one person's head and inhabit it. Second person? You don't really want to write in second person, do you?

The fabulous Katina French reminded me of some thoughts she posted about writing metaphor/theme/allegory into your fiction.

I don't entirely agree that subtext works better if it grows rather than if it's intentional, any more than a dress is better if you make it by cutting material and sewing it together and then discovering that the stripes go the same way on both sides of the garment. Not that I sew. The last time I sewed anything was.... Well, it wasn't pretty.

ANYWAY, I think you can weave meaning into your story and layer resonance with your deliberate detail and word choice.

I do, however, absolutely agree that, "They work better as questions you raise in the reader’s mind than they do as answers you try to force-feed them." Trying to force-feed your reader is just Bad Writing.

Good Writing is like this:
Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fatal Encryption Back in Ebook Format!

Last month I reissued one of my favourite mysteries, Fatal Encryption, as an ebook, using Draft 2 Digital (which was quite user friendly). The book was published in 2008 and I still sell print copies locally. I’d thought about letting this one go out of print, but as it turns out the topic of computer hacking is more timely than ever. I knew hacking incidents would increase over the years, but I had no idea by how much!

Of my seven published novels, this is the one that incorporates scenes of Port Moody, where I’ve lived for nearly thirty years. With the extension of the SkyTrain (our above rail transit system), now just a five minute walk from my house and the enormous number of construction that’s happening in this city, I’m really glad to have captured certain sites back then. The Port Moody I’d be writing about today is quite different.

After much debating with myself and consulting with colleagues about price point, I’ve decided to set the book at $1.99 US. Time will tell if this was a good idea or not.

If you like whodunits with a bit of romance and humor than try FATAL ENCRYPTION at any of the links listed below, and thank you!

Blurb Promo:

Dressed as Kermit the Frog on Halloween, unemployed Alex Bellamy wonders where his life went wrong. It could be worse. A few miles away, Zachary Ternoway is stabbed to death at his front door. In need of cash, Alex agrees to help catch a computer hacker at McKinleys’ Department Store. But things turn serious when the hacker threatens to permanently encrypt the store’s data and torch the building unless ten million dollars is handed over fast. Alex knows there’s a connection between the murder and the extortionist, yet time’s running out. People are questioning his competency, and a killer’s threatening his life.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Brexit: Adapting in Uncertain Times

An interesting article by Liz Thompson in Publishers Weekly (read HERE) outlines the potential problems now facing the British publishing thanks to the Brexit situation.

As Thomson states, uncertainty is always bad for business. She reports that some publishers have already put new projects and contracts on hold. And she predicts that there will be reorganizing and downsizing. European sales will slump. So will British sales as the cost of living rises. Down the road, there will talk of readdressing copyright laws.

Not a pretty picture, is it? But it is a familiar one. Raise your hand if your remember the 2008 crash. How many people had spare cash to spend on books back then? How many bookstores closed and publishers downsized?

But this was also the period when ebooks and self-publishing really took hold. As the old tried and true ways of publishing, marketing and selling were being tested, new ways were being found.

This is the British writer's opportunity to think outside the box, to adapt, create new models, and embrace rather than run away and hide. I’ve been writing for well over thirty-years. I’ve seen a lot of change. I’ve also seen how publishers, writers, and booksellers can adapt and flourish.

Change and obstacles are part of a writer’s life. Economic pundits warn that another big crash is coming sooner rather than later. People will lose their jobs, their homes, and spare cash for books will dry up once again. It’s the nature of the world we live in.

Each of us will have to decide how we adapt and survive the storms. My advice? Have a backup plan, or two or three. My plan is to keep the part-time job I really enjoy until I’m ready to retire once and for all. I also intend to step up my promotion efforts for the titles I’ve already released while writing brand new books. I’ll also be researching reasonably priced book cover designers and holding back on print releases until the economy picks up again. That’s the general idea. I’ll fine tune things as things unfold.

I don’t live in Britain, but if I did, I wouldn’t be counting on traditional publishers to see me through. I’d seek out other indie writers to share ideas and create our own opportunities. I’d write, write, write while keeping a close watch on what’s happening with traditional publishers, booksellers, and conferences. I’d build my platform and reach out globally. The good news is that many British writers are already doing this. Let’s hope they thrive, despite the daunting obstacles.

Writers need to apply their creative natures to the business of publishing, distributing, and marketing. New ideas are out there, waiting to be tried. Looking at the big picture and planning your own strategy is the surest way to survive. After all, real writers never quit.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Featuring Guest Blogger, Alison Bruce

As part of our Summer Sizzle book sale celebration, I’m delighted to host fellow crime writer, Alison Bruce. Alison has had many careers and writing has always been one of them. Copywriter, editor and graphic designer since 1992, Alison has also been a comic store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and arithmetically challenged bookkeeper. Three of her novels have been finalists for genre awards. DEADLY SEASON was shortlisted for the Lou Allin Memorial Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella.

Alison’s topic is Using Fear

All kinds of things scare me and I am remarkably good at scaring other people. I think the two go hand-in-hand. Once the threat (real or imagined) passes, it goes from being scary to more grist for the writing mill.

For example, a few years ago I was in a five-car pile-up. I was driving the fourth car behind someone making a left hand turn off a county road. The fifth car was an SUV. It didn't notice we were stopped and plowed into us. I got squeezed into the oncoming lane and just managed to straighten out so the next oncoming car didn't hit me. This wasn't easy since my car was now an accordion.

This was not my biggest scare —although it is up there in the top five cases of pain I've endured. My biggest scare came a week later when I was driving down that same road at about the same time in the evening. A pickup truck came up behind me quickly and I almost freaked. I was shaking and on the edge of tears. As soon as I could, I pulled over so it could pass.

Until then I hadn’t realized how deeply the collision had affected me. Pain and the effects of shock left little room for fear. It’s an experience I’ve drawn on when I’ve put my characters in danger. It also gave me a taste of what post-traumatic stress is like.

It took a year or more before I was comfortable driving down that road at night. I couldn’t avoid it. It was on the route to my father’s nursing home. I travelled it three to four times a week until he died. Eventually it stopped giving me the shakes, but I still have a frisson of fear every time someone tailgates me after dark.


Last month Kate Garrett was a Police Detective. Now she’s a Pet P.I.?

Kate recently inherited half her father’s private investigation company and a partner who is as irritating as he is attractive. Kate has been avoiding Jake Carmedy for years, but now her life might depend on him.


“I’m missing Senior Idol,” said Mrs. Parnell, checking her watch for the umpteenth time. “Paulo isn’t going to be happy.”
I’d only been half listening to Mrs. Parnell’s running commentary on her neighbours. It was my second time out with the woman and most of the stories were reruns, but something didn’t jibe.
“Isn’t your husband’s name Graydon?
“Of course, dear. Paulo’s our neighbour. He watches Senior Idol with me—sometimes World’s Funniest Vids too.”
“Can’t he come over later? You can stream them whenever you want.”
She poked me in the arm. “Oh he doesn’t come over dear. He watches through the window. I think he has limited access at home, and I’m sure our wall screen has better resolution.”
When Mr. “Just call me Gray like my hair” Parnell took his turn on patrol, I asked him about Paulo.
“Can’t stand the little snot!” He stopped, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Sorry. I’m sure he has reasons for being the way he is. I’m sure it’s not his fault he’s creepy.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything. Stella feels sorry for him. I suppose I do too.” He started walking again. “That doesn’t mean I have to like him.”
“Of course not. What does he do that strikes you as creepy?”
Mr. Parnell looked heavenward, as if for guidance.
“You’ll think I’m crazy, but I think he has a thing for my wife.”
Only professional training kept me from smiling.
“She thinks he’s watching our vid. But I caught him watching her. I don’t think she’s the only one either.”
That was nothing to smile about.

DEADLY SEASON by Alison Bruce

An Imajin Qwickies™ Mystery/Crime Novella 
A Carmedy & Garrett Mini-Mystery #1

Kindle eBook on sale for 99 cents at Amazon  
Other digital formats available via Smashwords. Go to Imajin Books for the sale codes.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Imajin Books’ Summer Sizzle Sale is Here!

My publisher, Imajin Books loves to host seasonal sales and this summer is no exception. Until July 7th, several novels and novellas will be on sale for just $.99 on Smashwords and Amazon. If you need to load up on terrific summer reads for your vacation, then Imajin has a great selection in a variety of genres.

My Evan Dunstan mystery, Dead Man Floating is one of the books on sale. You can purchase it from Smashwords HERE and use the code NR87V

It can be found on Amazon, HERE

This is the back cover blurb:

 One wrong decision…

Security guard Evan Dunstan didn’t expect to find a body floating in a campus stream. An empty vodka bottle nearby suggests that the highly despised George Krenn, head of the plumbing department, had drunkenly fallen in. Refusing to let the death of a vile man ruin his romantic plans, Evan decides to leave the body for the next shift to find.

One friend in trouble…

When it’s discovered that Krenn was murdered, Evan has a lot of explaining to do. So does his friend Sully, Krenn’s least favourite student. Evan uses his hacking skills and campus knowledge to keep them both out of jail, but the investigation forces him to question Sully’s innocence.

One mystery to solve…

Uncovering the truth proves to be more than challenging. It may cost Evan his job, his friendship, and his woman. Will Evan find the killer, or will the killer find him first?