Clues

Recently, I’ve been working on the sequel to my murder mystery An Unseen Current.  While thematically not that different from my other books (a young person struggles with unusual circumstances while navigating the choppy waters of family, love, and friends), mysteries bring a special level of challenge to the mix.  For one thing, people expect clues.  Oh, there’s a dead body?  Well, writer, where are the clues?  Chop, chop! Produce the clues!

However, it’s not just about clues; it’s about when to reveal those clues.  Too early and readers are bored because they already solved it.  Too late and it seems like the author is cheating and wedging information to justify who the killer is at the last second.  Then, even if the writer does pop a clue in the right place, she can’t be too precious about it.  The author can’t present it on a silver platter with a neon arrow stating: Clue Here!!  To accomplish the correct where and when of clue placement requires a stronger outline than other genres.  And that means that I must do what every writer hates doing—not writing.

Outlining and the synopsis are vital to a successful book.  But they aren’t the FUN part of writing.  The fun part is churning out scenes and spending time with the made up people who populate my brain.  Outlining requires problem solving and all the leg work of deciding back stories and motivations and the literal who, what, when, where and why of who was murdered. (It was Professor Plumb in the Library with the Candlestick, in case you were wondering.)  But mostly it leaves me thinking: Are we there yet? What about now?  Can I start writing now?

So wish me luck as I work out the kinks of how the dead body ended up behind a bar in Anacortes.

You never know what’s beneath the surface.
When Seattle native Tish Yearly finds herself fired and evicted all in one afternoon, she knows she’s in deep water. Unemployed and desperate, the 26 year old ex-actress heads for the one place she knows she’ll be welcome – the house of her cantankerous ex-CIA agent grandfather, Tobias Yearly, in the San Juan Islands. And when she discovers the strangled corpse of Tobias’s best friend, she knows she’s in over her head. Tish is thrown head-long into a mystery that pits her against a handsome but straight-laced Sheriff’s Deputy, a group of eccentric and clannish local residents, and a killer who knows the island far better than she does. Now Tish must swim against the current, depending on her nearly forgotten acting skills and her grandfather’s spy craft, to con a killer and keep them both alive.

Virtually IRL

I laughed when I read AB Plum’s recent post about unhooking from the virtual world.  It has been a long time since I didn’t enhance my RL (real life) experience with some sort of virtual interaction.  Photos on Facebook, the occasional witty comment on twitter, blogs and websites, they are all part of my life. Partially this is simply a function of my life and jobs.  As a graphic designer and a writer, social networking is part of the must do list. As a designer, it’s important that I be able to design ads for Facebook and other social media platforms and understand how the platforms function.  As a writer, it’s important that I use those platforms to reach an audience.

Which is not to say that I’m an expert.  As a designer, I get to create content and simply walk away.  The writer half of me definitely has it harder.  I have to remember to post (you wouldn’t think this was hard, but…), to come up with valuable and interesting content, and then not waste all of my writing time on marketing and social media.  On the other hand, for the last six months I’ve been swinging very much the other way.  I have not been doing a lot of marketing.  I have in fact been writing.  A lot.  A ton.  Lots of tons.  So much so that I’ve planned out my releases for 2018 and 2019. 

So, stay tuned for tons of updates later this summer.  Crime, sci-fi, a touch of fairy tales, and of course more than a little bit of romance are heading your way.  And strangely, I can’t wait to start marketing ALL of it.  If you want to get in on early give-aways (print and digital!) and announcements, join my mailing list at: bethanymaines.com/contact

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE STILETTO GANG 6.14.17

Reading vs. Writing

by Bethany Maines

On Monday night fellow Stiletto author J.M. Phillippe (visiting from Brooklyn) and I attended the local open mic night from Creative Colloquy.  The evening celebrated Creative Colloquy’s third anniversary and featured the Washington State poet laureate Dr. Tod Marshall. Creative Colloquy’s mission is to connect writers with their community and celebrate their works. And in keeping with that mission, Dr. Marshall reminded us in the audience to both battle for the arts and to rejoice in our creative communities.

As with every time I go to a reading event I’m struck by what different skills reading and writing are. It’s difficult to differentiate the presentation from the work being presented. For every rushed reading, there’s one that gives space for the audience to savor the moment. For every mumbled poem, there’s one that echoes from the rafters.  For every awkward and misplaced laugh in the middle of a story, there’s one that ought to be a comedy special.  Delivery, timing, and pronunciation, all take a reading from blah to amazing.  Or at least important enough to make people stop talking to their friends at the table.  Are the amazing readings better?  Or just benefitting from better delivery?

It makes me wonder: what could I be doing to present my own work better in live readings? Should we authors all be forced to take public speaking classes? Improv classes? Should we be forced to listen to recordings of ourselves (God nooooooooooo!!!)?  Is there a secret trick that I could be using?  What if I just I hire an actor to read for me?  In all probability I shall simply have to rely on the very exclusive, top secret trick of practice and repetition.  As long as no one makes me watch a recording of it, that will probably be fine.

The Long and Short of It

I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was first on television. It was the first time I’d watched a show that combined the episodic weekly tale with a long-form, season long story arc. Whether or not you enjoy fantasy and teenagers killing things, the inclusion of a “big bad” (Buffy slang for the seasons main villain) made Buffy a tremendous innovator in TV.

It was an innovation that impressed and continues to impress me. The ability of the writers to maintain the critical pacing of the weeks mystery, while at the same time building a seasonal arc that culminates at the right point is a difficult writing feat. Most stories require that a character to fulfill a certain role to advance the story. But with multiple stories playing out at the same time the characters actions must serve several different purposes at once. Accomplishing these goals at all, let alone well, is something I aspire to. And while I have experimented with this type of writing before in my Tales from the City of Destiny, I have never tried to do a true over-arcing long form story across multiple novels. That is until now.

Starting last December, I have gone headlong into plotting and writing a new five book crime series. I’ll be excited when I can finally share more details about the series. But until then, I’m asking for inspiration to help keep my creative juices flowing. What TV shows do you love that combine short and long form elements and crime or action?

Resolution Failure

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions always seem to be negative statements.  They pit the resolver against something.  I resolve to lose weight, spend less, give up every fun thing ever, etc.

I much prefer to make goals. Goals take aim and move toward a change. I want to write more, be more healthy, learn French, wake up later.  I don’t think that last one’s going to happen, but it’s more of a lifelong goal.

And then there’s the artificial time construct of the New Year’s that tricks people into waiting to start a change until January first actually rolls on the calendar.  Of course, if I were resolving to do something horrible, I’d put it off as long as possible too.  But if I want to change my life for the better, then why would I wait? Now is always the perfect time to start.

Which is not to say that the turn of the year doesn’t cause me to reflect and take stock of how things are and how I would like them to go. Like a lot of people, I like to assess, predict, and then I make goals.  At the end of December, I jotted down some notes, made some plans and felt good about myself.  I’m usually pretty good at sticking to my plans and I didn’t expect this year to be any different.  But then I didn’t expect to be struck by inspiration that would send me furiously typing down the rabbit hole of a new story.

And now here it is the end of January and I feel like one of those people who’ve managed to blow up their diet and their resolution two weeks after starting.  I mean, I feel guilty about not sticking to the plan, but not really that bad as a shove another chapter in.  In fact, that chapter was delicious and really would it really hurt if I had another?

I can always get back on the plan later, right?

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Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang Blog 01.25.17

I Swear…

The title of today’s blog is not facetious.  I do swear.  Kind of a lot.

fbombI try not to in public.  Much like public displays of affection, I find it inelegant to be assaulted by profanity that I’m not participating in.  I think keeping a lid on my foul mouthed habit is only polite and try to reserve it for private situations and friends who have known me long enough to not take offense.  As a result, a few of my acquaintances have been surprised to find themselves on the receiving end of a periodic f-bomb.  (Yes, I’m the person who should receive this paperweight as a gift.) In the past curbing my tongue has not particularly onerous, but since my child has moved into speaking and comprehending, you know, actual words, life as a purveyor of profanity has become more difficult.  Now I can’t even swear in my own home?!  Word swaps and humming the Star Spangled Banner do not really help.  (Son of a goat monkey, keeping my swearing on the inside is hard!)

In most of my books, I’ve minimized the swearing to a solid “hell” or “damn” because well, my grandmother likes to read my books.   But recently, I’ve begun working on a story that moves my swearing habit to the forefront.  Rather than really “messing some stuff up”, I am straight  “f***ing some s*** up” for a change.  And ooooh, does it feel good.  Ah profanity, how dost though trip lightly off my off my keyboard and onto the page?  Very lightly indeed.

fuckingladyMany comments on profanity seem to insist that profanity is the crutch of mind unable to think of something else to say.  I completely disagree.  To correctly use profanity one must have an understanding of language that allows you to use the f-word as a verb, a noun, and an adjective. (Yes, it really can – see examples here).

Will my completed manuscript stay chock full of profane goodness?  I don’t know, but I’m sure as **** interested to find out.

The Other Research

After reading Paffi Flood’s article about that new Beaver Bum smell, I don’t feel so bad about today’s google searches, which include best easy-open pocket knives, MAPP gas, and a variety of facts about the Tacoma Police Department in 1922. My search history may imply an interest in violence, safe breaking and the local politics of the early twentieth century, but at least I have not learned anything horrifying about ice cream.

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It has been noted on more than one occasion that mystery writers tend to have rather disturbing research patterns. But really, of course we do. No one wants to get that detail about corpse bloat wrong. So embarrassing – how could I face the other writers at the conventions? But the other, less disturbing, research rarely gets mentioned. What gets served in high-school lunches these days? Hint: tater tots are still going strong. What are the three laws of robotics again? (Answer here) What brand would a black, vegetarian, female computer hacker smoke? Turns out it’s either Newport Menthols or American Spirit Organics. What do ballet dancers do strengthen their feet? (Video here)

crediblehulkMy point? There’s a lot more research that goes into a work of fiction than just what happened to the dead guy. But that research isn’t particularly titillating. It’s simply the stuff we bore you with at cocktail parties. What I find interesting is that almost every person I’ve ever met has been an expert in something, from baking, bagpiping, needlepoint, and cars, to wood working, plumbing, or how the brakes on busses work. I never know when I’m going to need that expertise, but I like to keep track of my various experts. After all, I never know when I’m going to need to know how to crash a bus full of bagpipers. Not that I would ever publically admit to mentally cataloging my acquaintances by how useful they could be to future research…

 

Originally posted at the Stiletto Gang on 12.14.16

Binary Thanks

For me, Thanksgiving and the coming end of the year frequently combine to make me philosophical and prone to navel gazing.  Just what have I been doing with my life?  Am I grateful? Am I curating my life in the path of gratitude? Do I even want to?  Why should I have to? Is this my problem? Is this my fault?  Then I start humming Paul Simon’s “Gumboots” and then go shove some pumpkin pie in my face.

Tuesday’s Stiletto Gang post from J.M. Phillippe discussed the nature of gratitude, particularly in the face of difficult times – When Gratitude isn’t Easy – and struck a chord with me.  I thought she expressed beautifully the idea that gratitude is not a binary thing, it’s a plus thing.  Gratitude can be added like a spice to any recipe.  Even if I’m feeling other things, it doesn’t mean I can’t feel gratitude.

But the very concept of binary got me to thinking about our radically non-binary human nature and how it is so very at odds with our consistently binary thinking.  We all have that one relative who is “such a nice guy, except for (fill in the blank)” Fill in the blank could be anything from his random use of racial slurs, his insistence on patting the waitress on the behind, or the fact that he tells jokes about Asians.  He doesn’t cheat on his wife (but maybe on his taxes), he doesn’t use drugs, he holds open doors for people.  Except…

So is this character a good person or a bad person?  Binary says: yes/no.  Non-binary says: depends on other factors – I’ll have to really think about this.  I’ll have to think about my own moral stand on multiple issues.  And also, does he kick puppies? Because that’s a deal breaker.

From a writing standpoint, this is the kind of thing that’s fascinating to explore.  But in real life, during an election season, it’s made Thanksgiving a cringe worthy holiday where we all go and wonder if Republican Uncle Bob is going to get more than his turkey sliced if he brings up Trump to Democrat Aunt Jane.  I don’t have the answers.  I’m not sure any of us do.  That’s why binary is so attractive.  Make the decision,  yes/no, and then I don’t have to think about it anymore.  Non-binary means I have to keep revisiting the topic – to keep thinking.  If binary trims away the indecision, then it also trims away the additional factors – the pluses.   Good/bad.  Yes/no. Happy/sad. Grateful/non-grateful.  Is that what we want the answer to be?

If that’s the way it’s going to be, I’m going to call this whole thing to a halt.

— Gumboots, Paul Simon

And now if you’ll excuse, I hear a pumpkin pie calling my name.

Dystopian Games

You’re stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with 8 strangers and no food or water, who do you eat first?

Dystopian novels have held a prominent place on our national reading lists for the last few years and while I occasionally enjoy a jaunt into the horrific futures that we could create for ourselves they don’t really speak to me.  To me they frequently seem like the ultimate lifeboat game. While occasionally it’s fun to work through the logic of how to survive in a treacherous situation, the real answer to any lifeboat game is to not get stuck in the lifeboat in the first place.

zombie-id

I was reminded of this principle recently when I visited a conference for my day job (graphic design). The conference was for public works personnel (AKA everyone who keeps your city functioning) and their lunch speaker spoke on how their department had handled an earthquake.  From personnel rotation, calling in reinforcements, clearing roadways, reviewing housing safety, clean up – this department moved swiftly with the goal of maintaining safety and returning their town to normal in the shortest amount of time possible (and they did a great job).  But having just read a dystopian novel I was struck by the realization that not one person in the room was thinking… “Bob, I’d eat Bob.”  They weren’t playing the game – they were strategizing about how to not get stuck on the lifeboat.

All of this led to four thoughts.  One – I’m incredibly grateful for our public works personnel.  From sewer maintenance, to bridge engineers, to water management, they deserve more recognition than they get.  Two – All of you great public employees are screwing up a perfectly good dystopian plot line RIGHT NOW.   We’re not supposed to be coming together to overcome a natural disaster and working for the common good!  Come on, people.  Where is the divisive hatred and the reaching for the shotguns? That’s it; I’m breaking out the zombies.  Bob is going to be dinner if I have to have three plot contrivances before breakfast.  Three – We as society need to invest more in infrastructure.  And four – Because we don’t invest more in infrastructure we all need to have 3 days to 2 weeks of supplies on hand depending on where you live.  Be prepared. Don’t let a dystopian novel happen to you.

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Writers vs. Readers

Writer’s Group: to gather with others to read and critique excerpts of written work

Reading Group: to gather with others to read and critique books, drink and snack

When done correctly, a writer’s group can operate as an auxiliary brain or a training ground to push a writer forward in her craft.  They can be fun, inspiring and incredibly helpful. They can also be a sucking hole of negativity and wasted time.

With that in mind, it was with some trepidation that I recently tested out a new group. The hostess had a dog (bonus points) and they had established a rule of positivity and compliments before critiques (nice).  They had a time keeper and a word count on the segments we read (organized!). Each writer was doing different genres and styles, but that had the benefit of bringing diverse points of view to the table.  In general, it was great. It provided very valuable feedback and I can only hope that I was equally helpful to the other writers.

However, in specific, it was wee bit disappointing as there were no beverages or snacks.  The reasoning – that hosting the group was enough trouble and that we were here to do actual serious work, not carouse – makes total, logical, absolute sense.  But in the sense of “it’s been a long week, and Bethany wants a potato chip and a glass of something” it was less than I had hoped for.

I think, possibly what I was really hoping for was a Reading Group.  Every Reading Group I’ve ever attended came with crackers, cheese, and wine – the three low effort food groups. Now, in defense of the writer’s group, very few Reading Group’s I’ve ever attended actually stayed entirely on topic.  There was a lot of… uh… digression, shall we say.  And time keeping was absolute disaster.  And learning was sort of ancillary by-product of reading a book I didn’t pick out, but gosh darn it, the artichoke dip was fantastic.

So next month?  I’ll be packing my own snacks to the writers group.  After all, that group comes with a dog.