Tuesday, March 23, 2010

True Crimes and Inspirations

Peg: I don't know about you, Marilyn, but since I started writing mysteries, I've been collecting newspaper clippings of "interesting" crimes. I shudder to think what conclusions someone would jump to should they go through my files! I remember one case, and I believe it happened near you, where a couple went to sell their house and the realtor found a drum in their crawl space. They opened it and found a body! Do you remember that case? I thought it was unbelievably intriguing!

Marilyn: I sure do remember it, since the house in question was a few blocks from where we used to live. The body had been there for years. Can you believe that three or four families had lived there without knowing what was in a crawl space? Ugh! The incident stayed in my mind. I used a variation of it in a novel, though the body in my story is discovered when land is dug up for new construction.
Do you find you use real incidents in your stories?

Peg: I've thought back over my drawerful of manuscripts and none of the plots relate directly to anything I've read. I think news stories give me inspiration, but then my mind takes off and things end up going in a completely different direction. In one manuscript I have my victim run down by a car while he is out jogging. I'd read a story in the newspaper about a company that made its living picking bodies of dead animals (mostly deer) off NJ highways--they had a contract with the state. That sparked the opening of my novel--someone calls the company to say there is a dead deer at such and such a place. When the fellow arrives with his truck, he discovers it's not a deer, but a human body. How about you? Have you been inspired by any true stories?

Marilyn: I'm more like you, Peg -- I tend to be inspired by true crimes and use them differently in my stories. The very first crime-related novel I ever wrote came to me in a dream. My heroine is being chased by men who are after her gambling husband. After all these years the dream remains vivid, though I've no idea what inspired it. So much of what we draw on is a composite of situations. And who knows how all the movies and TV programs we watch, the books we read, factor in when we create our plots.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To Con or Not to Con

KD: With Boucherson and Malice Domestic coming up, the question arises: to con or not to con. I generally don't con. I have gone to two or three conventions, liked them, had a great time, come home and decided that they just weren't worth the money.

Kaye: I've gone to lots and I love them! At one point I was going to try to hit each one at least once. Economics have interfered and I'm back to one a year, two at the most if one of them is cheap (which means I have a place other than the hotel in which to stay).

KD: Meet people on-line and in person...nice to see the real person, but maybe not that important to me. I mean, I like people, but I have no particular desire to meet more and more people. To me, the old friends are the best friends.

Kaye: I do have lots of online friends and some of them are very dear to me. Some of them I've known, but only online, for year. I seem to like people even better after I've met them face to face. To me, there's nothing like going out for a drink with someone and chatting about family and hobbies, likes and dislikes.

KD: Get inspired. Yes, they work for that. I love the banquet I went to at Crime Bake a few years ago. The combination of Michelle Martinez and Lee Child was funny and inspiring! But lots of things inspire me, including going to a good movie or a good meeting of a local writer's group. I don't need a con for that.

Kaye: I don't think I attend to be inspired. When I first started attending cons I learned so much about how writers operate. I learned that I wasn't alone and that all writers go through many of the same things. I've gotten to the point where I'm on panels at every con I attend, and this is so good for me, I think. It stretches me, which can't be bad!

For a fan and a reader, as opposed to a writer, I'm sure the first few cons open many eyes. Readers tend to set writers, if not on a pedestal, at least apart. They think of them as different animals. And writers are a little different from other folks. But only like engineers are a little different, musicians a little different, librarians, programmers, and you could go on and on. Everyone at a mystery con loves reading and it IS inspiring to be among a group like that.

KD: Agents at a con. I guess there are pitch sessions at a conference, too, but I don't think they are much help. I believe the agents usually ask for a partial or a query, but you don't get a better reading by asking them in person. They say so themselves. I think pitching is a waste of time.

Kaye: I have been to a few cons that were set up for pitching and I agree that the hopeful writer is not going to snag an agent that way. The value of those pitch sessions for me has been that some of the agents know who I am and remember me from year to year. I concentrate on buying them drinks, not pitching them, especially when I'm not at a pitching con.

Here's the take on pitch sessions from a couple of agents, one of whom I have pitched to myself.

Janet Reid

Nathan Bransford

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plotters vs. Pantsers

Kaye: Readers often want to know how writers write. This is something
that is VERY hard to talk about. Because we just don't know. We just
do it. There are some broad differences in writing styles, though. One
is the writer who lays out the whole plot before hand versus the
writer who has an idea what she wants to say, and maybe where she
wants to end up, and some other details, but mainly writes "into the
mist." Which kind of writer are you Peg?

Peg: I'm definitely more of a plotter than a pantser. I need to have all
my plot points planned out before I begin writing. I find that laying
them out along an ascending line helps me make sure that I am ramping up the
tension as the story moves along and that I'm providing enough twists and
turns. I don't have every single, last scene plotted out though. I like
surprises, and there always are some during the actual writing process!
If I have too much planned out in advance I feel like I've already written
the book. Not enough planned and I flounder around feeling destination-less!
How about you, Kaye?

Kaye: For novel writing, we're probably very similar. I'm at the half-way
point of one now. At least I HOPE it's the half-way point. I tend to
write short and always worry the manuscript won't be long enough. I've
run through a lot of my plot points/happenings/projected scenes. But,
as has always happened before, things are popping up. I realize I
haven't dwelt nearly enough on some of the red herrings, and my
characters have just decided to do a rodeo. Since I had already
planned a trampling by an enraged bull, this makes perfect sense.

In spite of my careful planning, I usually finish up the first draft
well shy of 60K. On rewrites it bumps up to 65-85K.

Do you have a length problem, Peg?

Peg: Yes, I definitely write "short." I think part of it stems not from
having enough "plot" but from the desire to pare scenes down to their most
important components. I don't want the reader skimming or skipping over the
"boring parts." Tends to make for a rather short scene! I've discovered
that reminding myself to include the character's *feelings* helps add length
and depth without adding extraneous bits that don't belong in the scene.

Kaye: That works well for me, too. Plus, I always strive to get as
many of the five senses as I can into each scene. I can't usually do
taste, but it's surprising how often I can when I search for a way to
get it in there. I think we both like to leave out, as Elmore Leonard
says, the parts that readers skip.

Short stories, for me, are a whole 'nother thing. I hardly ever plot
them out. They just happen as they happen. I can relax with them
because they can be as short as they want to be. And some of mine want
to be VERY short.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Favorite Sleuths

KD: I don't actually have a favorite sleuth. My favorite sleuth is the protagonist of the book I read last (assuming I liked the book.) On the other hand, I admire Dick Francis's heroes for suffering but being heroic. I love Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache because he loves his wife, he is so kind, he is insightful about people. And he eats that inspiring French Canadian food! I love Kinsey Milhone, of course, for her awareness.

I think I need a certain quality of awareness and bravery to get into a story. I just noticed that both male and female sleuths made it on to my list. Not surprising, but maybe it is for people who think Mysteries are for Women and Thrillers are for Men.

Marilyn, who are your favorite protagonists, and why do you like them?

Marilyn: Like you, KD, my favorite sleuth is the sleuth in the book I'm currently reading. I do have some long-time favorites, though: Katherine Hall Page's Faith Fairchild; Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody, whose progeny seems to grow with each novel; and Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe. These three sleuths are clever, resourceful, and likable characters. And I must include Lisbeth Salander, who features in Stieg Larsson's trilogy THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST. Lisbeth is brilliant, an ace hacker who doesn't like most people, and a super hero who solves problems her own way. I can't wait to read the third book in the series. I intend to see the movie of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO as soon as it comes out.

KD. I should read the Dragon Tattoo books, because I have smart but crabby protagonist in my work-in-progress! And I forgot about Precious Ramotswe. She is a wonderful sleuth, both traditional and modern. And her assistant, the one who had the high score in the secretarial school is great, so very hopeful and alive! I love the book titles, also. Who can resist MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS as a title?

Do any of the protagonists remind you of your own work?

Marilyn: My protagonist tries to follow in the footsteps of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's most famous sleuths. Alas, Lexie's not as adept as they are and manages to upset many of the people in the upscale community where she's living. But, of course, she unearths the murderer in the end.
I think it's more interesting when the sleuth has some quirk or distinguishing characteristic like your crabby protagonist. And Nero Wolfe, who refuses to leave his home.

KD. Your slightly inept sleuth reminds me of Donald Westlake books that I have enjoyed, especially GOD SAVE THE MARK. It is so much fun to read a funny book, as the protagonist stumbles forward to solve the crime. I can hardly wait to read your book!

To wrap up, I guess there all kinds of protagonists we enjoy: heroic, inept, crabby, well-fed. The reason we can go from one type to another, enjoying them all- -well, it's a mystery!