The Point of No Return

Dawn isola bella_gnuckx - Version 2Serafina, the main character of my mystery series, lives in Sicily in the nineteenth century. She’s a widow. She’s a midwife. She raises seven children. And she’s a sleuth with the mind of a wizard.

Her first mystery begins in 1866, and I chose to start her stories that year because Serafina was at a point of no return in her life.

In 1865 the year before DEATH OF A SERPENT begins, she loses her mother, her aunts and uncles, her sisters, her cousins, in a devastating epidemic of cholera that swept her town killing half the population in a day. Two months later, her husband dies suddenly. (While Serafina’s town is fictitious, it reflects Sicily in the nineteenth century and there were several waves of cholera in the 1860s.)

She says of her state of mind then, “I entered the flat, dead landscape we call grief.”

After her pain lifts somewhat, she has a choice—she can either sit back or fight. And in the end, she chooses to fight.

It’s her hallmark—she never gives up. She remains committed to supporting her children, committed to her quest for justice.

That doesn’t mean she’s perfect, not by a long chalk. She doesn’t want me to use the word ‘faults,’ says it’s too judgmental. But she does have her peccadillos and unique mannerisms. For instance,

  • she eats olives and cookies at the same time, stuffing her mouth with them
  • and her curls frizz the moment there’s a hint of rain.
  • Her toes are usually cold, even in a climate that’s hot enough to fry snakes on the streets.
  • As far as peccadillos go, many times her first response during the conversation around the table is to try to control, especially if she doesn’t like or understand the general drift of the tide, but that’s because she’s afraid of being left behind.
  • And she’s got a healthy jealous streak, although most of the time she doesn’t admit it. At one point she calls Inspector Colonna, “a no nothing lout.”

Life wasn’t easy for Serafina. In Sicily, the times were horrendous.

  • Ordinary people like me and you and Serafina endured hunger, war, bandits, paid exorbitant taxes, paid protection money to the mafia which was just beginning to get its start on the island.
  • Meanwhile, the economy was a collapsing sink hole. Crops failed. Banks failed. Most people were hungry most of the time.

So, in DEATH OF A SERPENT in addition to dealing with the mystery of who killed three women, Serafina deals with a lot of external conflict going on around her.

But in addition to all this external conflict, Serafina has a gnawing inner conflict. It’s her core conflict—she’s got that gender thingy going on. Is a woman more than a wife and mother? Does a woman deserve to enjoy the fullness of humanity the same as a man? In the end, this internal to-ing and  fro-ing informs all of her decisions and revisions and accounts for much of the tumult in her head.

One of these days I’m going to do a talking head on the subject of Serafina, if I can ever get my eyes to look straight into the camera and remain still while my mouth moves, but this will have to do for now.

Photo: Dawn on Isola Bella. Credit: gnuckx (Flickr), Creative Commons.

Edward Lorn: A Character Piece

image002“As writers of fiction, we owe it to our readers to give them the deepest possible players we can imagine.”

As part of Red Adept’s Wicked! tour, I am honored to welcome Edward Lorn to Writingsleuth today. His guest post, “A Character Piece,” is a paean to creative storytelling.

A Character Piece

Whether my work in progress is a short story or a novel, I start every tale the same way. I let my characters do the talking. I might have a plot concept in mind, a possible place the story might lead me, but if my character decides to deviate from the course, I give them the freedom to do so. If I find their logic in error, I can always go back and rewrite, but it’s rare when that happens. Let’s take my new novella, Hope for the Wicked, for example. The main thread of the story was to be about a young girl who’d been kidnapped by the Mexican cartel. The idea wasn’t completely original, but I’d always wanted to write a story based in Mexico. I sat down at my trusty old laptop and began typing away. I was introduced to a husband and wife, two retired contract killers who’d recently gone straight and opened a private investigation firm. Okay, so I had the people who’d be going after my missing girl, and everything seemed to be going as planned. Then I was introduced to the Trudeaus, an affluent family whose daughter, Amy, had been abducted. Bernice Trudeau had a little more in mind for my antagonists then I initially expected. Not only did the worried mother want her daughter found, but she also wanted the kidnappers dead. The first thing that popped into my mind was, “Of course. Why else would my main characters be retired killers?” See, this is the beauty of writing by the seat of your pants. If you let your characters tell the story, you will find a great deal of information hidden inside their imaginary heads. Like real people, fictional characters have backstories and motivations that can easily be missed if you don’t take the time to get to know them. I don’t character sketch for this exact reason. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain. When you meet someone for the first time, you automatically build preconceived notions about them before words are even exchanged. Maybe their clothes are stained and they smell like yesterday’s bowel movement come to life, so you assume they have bad personal hygiene, that they abhor showering, and can’t be bothered to wipe themselves properly. What you’ve just done is a character sketch. Now, let’s say you sit down, plug up your nose, and get to know this person. You find out he’s just dropped his nine-month-old off at daycare. Unfortunately, though, the father didn’t realize the kid’s diaper had leaked while he was holding the baby. You just happened to bump into him on his way home to change. Had you taken the time to let him tell his own story before jumping to conclusions, you wouldn’t feel like that stain on the father’s shirt right about now. I know plenty of good authors who character sketch and it ends up working out just great for them, but I can’t help but wonder what their characters would have told them, given the chance. As writers of fiction, we owe it to our readers to give them the deepest possible players we can imagine. No one likes a cardboard cutout or a character popped fresh from the Jell-O mold. Everyone in this world has his or her own unique quirks, likes, and dislikes. I have rarely bumped into two people who speak the same way. These things are what make your characters interesting. Not only that, but if you listen to these fictional entities, your story will be stronger for it. I know, I know, you think you’re the one writing the story, that you have control and all that nonsense, but the rabbit hole goes much further than the depths of your mind. These stories are there whether we choose to write them or not. I don’t know where they come from, but I’m glad they exist. If you aren’t already a pantser, then give it a try. I think you might enjoy where your characters take you.

image004Where to buy HOPE FOR THE WICKED: KindleBarnes & Noble, Kobo

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Eris Kelli: How To Write A Book

ekplgt“If you were to write one page a day without fail you would have 365 page book at the end of one year. Hey, it’s a book more than no book at all next year, right? And I believe once you get rolling on it’ll  be more than just a page a day.”

As part of the Libertine Press Blog Tour in honor of Eris Kelli’s new release, PIPER LEVINE, A GYPSY’S TRUTH, running from January 25th – February 25, please welcome author Eris Kelli to Writingsleuth today.

With unbounded enthusiasm and a real gift for sharing with all of us, she gives us a foolproof method for writing a book. I found it fascinating, and I’m sure you will, too. So hop on and give a listen. It will blow away all your excuses for not starting your book today.

How to Write a Book from Beginning to End

By Eris Kelli

The most popular topic for authors to write about is how to get published. It’s a great topic, but so many of us jump the gun. You will never, ever, ever publish a book no matter how awesome it is, if it isn’t finished.

So why haven’t you finished your novel? Here are some of my old reasons and other that I’ve been given.

–       No time.

–       My computer is having problems.

–       I’m still working on my outline.

–       I can’t get started.

Here is my advice and you can take it or leave it.

As far as not having time goes, if you can carve twenty minutes out of your day, then you have time. It’s true just hang in there with me, and I’ll tell you.

If you were to write one page a day without fail you would have 365 page book at the end of one year. Hey, it’s a book more than no book at all next year, right? And I believe once you get rolling on it’ll  be more than just a page a day.

The thing is if you really want to write you’ll find a way.

I am a busy mother of two. If I were to try to sit down at my computer while my youngest was about, he’d attack the keyboard. I had to write! So, I carried a notebook with me and wrote the old-fashioned way. Typing it later once my little ones were down for the night was a chore, but now I have Piper LeVine, A Gypsy’s Truth.

If it’s trouble getting started, don’t stress it. Just begin and keep going. Nothing is in stone. You can return later and perfect your beginning, middle, or end. I went back and re-wrote the beginning for Piper LeVine, A Gypsy’s Truth, six times and even more with other books I’ve written.

If this sounds like work, you don’t want to do than writing may not be your thing. If you love it and want it, then you have to do the work which comes after the book is written, believe me!

I had the best time writing, Piper LeVine, A Gypsy’s Truth. Not only did I get to go on a great romantic adventure with Piper, who is a fun young woman to tag along with, but I got to explore the Gypsy culture and experience magic!

My wish for you is a great writing adventure of your own. I hope you’ll get the chance to read Piper Levine, A Gypsy’s Truth and feel free to find me on Facebook and tell me what you think. Until then, happy writing and exciting reading.

PLGTABOUT “PIPER LEVINE, A GYPSY’S TRUTH”

Piper LeVine is the daughter of wealthy Senator, Harold and Katrine, or so she thought. When a stranger arrives in the night and throws her identity into question, Piper must uncover the secrets of her true origin.

Treacherous demons from a past she never knew she had are coming for her and only the Gypsies know how to deal with the monsters of myth.

Nicholas proves less than truthful from the get-go, but who can she hold onto amongst a sea of mystic if not hostile strangers? He is dangerous, captivating, and the only one who she knows that will stand against the creatures of the dark that seek her.

In search for the truth Piper will find more than her identity. She will discover her destiny, what she is made of, and the family that determines her fate.

008ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eris Kelli grew up in the Pacific Northwest as the youngest of eight children. Her writing is fueled by her love of adventure, learning and her drive to explore an idea. She now resides in Midwest America, with her husband, 2 beautiful children, and happy old dog. Currently she is fast at work on the third book in the Piper LeVine Series.

CONNECT WITH ERIS KELLI:

My book is for sale on Amazon

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com

Borders or KOBO: http://www.kobobooks.com

GMTA Website: http://www.gmtapublishing.com/eris-kelli.

Follow me:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eris.kelli

Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/ErisKelliFansPage

Twitter: https://twitter.com/eris_kelli

My Author blog: www.eriskelliauthor.com

Second blog: http://www.authoreriskelli.blogspot.com

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/eriskelli

Pinterest: pinterest.com/eriskelli

Five Key Books

Dawn isola bella_gnuckx - Version 2There’s something sinister about a list of Key Anythings.

That said, I did like the recent article in The Guardian listing the 50 key moments in English Literature from Marlowe to JK Rowling.

Not that I agreed with them, but it got me thinking about my key everythings—key movies, key books in my life, teachers, milestone moments, the birth of a child, moves to different cities, different jobs.

My list would be long and writing it, a little bit like navel gazing, the chart filled with little points on a line stretching off the page.

But there are a miles of books that have shaped me. These are my all-time top five:

  1. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
  2. James Joyce, Ulysses
  3. James Joyce, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  5. William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

Yours?

Photo: Dawn on Isola Bella. Credit: gnuckx (Flickr), Creative Commons.

from FALSE IMPRESSIONS by Sandra Nikolai

False Impressions_Cover_SusanRA's Blog

Excerpt from False Impressions, as narrated by character Megan Scott:

I’d just hauled out the vacuum when the doorbell rang. I ignored it. I figured it was a pesky salesperson. But after the fourth ring, my patience ran out. I slammed the button on the intercom in the hallway and shouted, “Yes?”

“Madame Thomas Scott?” A male voice echoed in the foyer downstairs.

Who would use such an unusual version of my name? “Who is this?”

“I am Detective Lieutenant Moreau of the Sûreté du Québec.” I perceived a heavy French-Canadian accent this time. “I would like to see you about a grave personal matter.”

A grave personal matter?

A lump suddenly materialized in the pit of my stomach. I buzzed him in and opened the door to my apartment. My heart pounded as two men in plainclothes soon stepped out of the elevator, each wearing a badge on a chain around his neck. As they neared, I recognized the insignia as that of the Québec Provincial Police force, or QPP, as the English-speaking population knew it.

Bonjour, Madame Scott. I am Detective Lieutenant Jean Moreau. This is Detective Sergeant Claude Duchaine. May we come in?”

“Of course.” I caught the scent of cigarette smoke on Moreau’s clothes as he breezed past me into the living room. A tweed jacket, a lilac shirt, and a tie that looked as if it had been used to wipe off paintbrushes gave the impression he’d selected his clothes in the dark. While strands of mousy-brown hair made a futile attempt to cover the top of his head, a thick mustache filled the narrow space between thin lips and a pointy nose. Sporting a black attaché case, he could have passed for a fifty-year-old salesman peddling insurance door-to-door.

Duchaine stood at least four inches taller and that much wider than Moreau. A buttoned jacket strained to contain his beefy physique. His brown hair was cropped short, tinged blond on top, and balanced out a square jaw. I placed him at about thirty-five.

“Please sit down,” I said, indicating one of two black leather sofas.

Non, merci, Madame Scott,” Moreau answered for both of them, his dark eyes peering at me from under eyebrows as bushy as his mustache. “But perhaps you would like to sit down.”

I looked at their faces, grim with purpose. A sudden weakness hit my knees and I sunk into the sofa.

“We regret to inform you…” Moreau paused. “Your husband, Thomas Scott, is dead.”

Read the interview with Sandra Nikolai.

False Impressions by Sandra NikolaiBio:

Sandra Nikolai held careers in sales, finance, and high tech before destiny allowed her to pursue her lifelong dream. Sandra is the author of False Impressions, the first book in a mystery series featuring Megan Scott and Michael Elliott. She is currently working on Fatal Whispers, book #2 in the series. Sandra is a member of Crime Writers of Canada.

Sandra’s Links:

sandranikolaiauthor

@sandranikolai

Facebook

Goodreads

Where to purchase FALSE IMPRESSIONS:

AmazonCA

AmazonUS

AmazonUK

Smashwords

Nook

Kobo

Meet Author Sandra Nikolai

False Impressions_Cover_SusanRA's Blog False Impressions by Sandra Nikolai

“Writing short stories, especially mysteries, taught me how to get the story down using tight plot lines and concise text. I learned that I had to present the conflict early and wrap it up with a neat ending. There’s no place for wordiness or extra details in a short story.”

Sandra, I am so excited to interview you at Writingsleuth, and look forward to reading the excerpt of False Impressions tomorrow. Congratulations on the creation of Megan Scott and the publication of her first mystery, False Impressions (Megan Scott/Michael Elliott mystery).

I absolutely LOVE the opening sentence of False Impressions. How long did it take you to write it?!

Susan, thank you for inviting me to Writingsleuth. I’m thrilled to be here! I wrote False Impressions a decade ago but dug it out years later and revised it several times before I was satisfied with the result. I knew that the first chapter, especially the opening sentence, had to hook readers in, so I worked on those segments of the book even more.

Tell us about Megan Scott and Michael Elliott.

Megan Scott is a ghostwriter whose job becomes the focus of her life when her husband increasingly travels out of town on business. Michael Elliott is a crime writer and investigative reporter who meets Megan when she’s assigned to work with him on a crime novel. Their growing friendship fills Megan’s lonely hours, and although she’s attracted to Michael, she remains loyal to her husband. While Michael didn’t set out to fall in love with a married woman, it’s clear Megan means more to him than just a friend. Their close relationship comes into question when Megan’s husband is murdered.

You chose Montreal, Québec as the main setting for False Impressions. Why?

I was raised and educated in Montreal and know it quite well. I thought the cosmopolitan aspect of the city—especially its French je ne sais quoi—would add interest to the story. Readers love to read about exotic places, and Montreal’s diversity in international cuisines, vibrant nightlife, shopping venues, and historic sites provided the backdrops I was looking for. Not to mention the hot, humid summers!

You are a distinguished short story writer, having published a dozen short stories and received an honorable mention from the Canadian Writer’s Journal. What has writing short stories taught you about writing novels? How do you think writing short stories is different from writing a novel?

Writing short stories, especially mysteries, taught me how to get the story down using tight plotlines and concise text. I learned that I had to present the conflict early and wrap it up with a neat ending. There’s no place for wordiness or extra details in a short story. A novel offers more flexibility for developing multiple plots and subplots; characters and their relationships; dialogue and thoughts; setting, POV, and other elements. A novel unfolds more gradually than a short story, allows for greater story depth, and provides more details. However, whether it’s a short story or a novel, readers will be just as unforgiving if there’s too much irrelevant information or the plot wanders for no logical reason.

How did you move from writing short stories to writing a mystery?

I learned all I could about writing mystery novels through how-to books, mystery writers’ conferences, and writers’ groups. Above all, I read a lot of mystery novels! When I felt I was ready for the challenge, I sat down and wrote False Impressions.

Do you write every day? In the morning or the afternoon or evening?

Yes, I write every day—usually in the morning or afternoon—but not more than several hours at a time. I take little breaks when the words stop flowing. Walking away from my work helps to clear my mind and often puts my writing back on track. I usually read and catch up on social media in the evening.

Who are the writers that have most influenced you?

Carolyn Keene for sure! Where would I be today without Nancy Drew and her friends?! I’ve read many authors in different genres, including the classics, so it’s hard to choose the ones that have influenced me the most. I’ve probably learned something from each one without realizing it! As far as current mystery writers go, I’d say Sue Grafton, Lisa Jackson, James Patterson…the list goes on. I’ve also discovered several independent writers whose work I admire and who will no doubt gain wider recognition with time.

Will there be a Megan Scott/Michael Elliott series?

Definitely! Fatal Whispers is the second book in the series and takes place in Portland, Maine. The theme revolves around the shocking deaths of a millionaire’s beautiful young wife, a homeless woman, and a priest. I visited Portland several times and was impressed by its quaint New England characteristics. I knew it would be the perfect setting for the mystery I had in mind. Look for it in the spring of 2013!

Thanks so much, Sandra, and I SO look forward to reading FATAL WHISPERS!

False Impressions by Sandra NikolaiBio:

Sandra Nikolai held careers in sales, finance, and high tech before destiny allowed her to pursue her lifelong dream. Sandra is the author of False Impressions, the first book in a mystery series featuring Megan Scott and Michael Elliott. She is currently working on Fatal Whispers, book #2 in the series. Sandra is a member of Crime Writers of Canada.

Sandra’s Links:

sandranikolaiauthor

@sandranikolai

Facebook

Goodreads

Where to purchase FALSE IMPRESSIONS:

AmazonCA

AmazonUS

AmazonUK

Smashwords

Nook

Kobo

Old Journals

Antique letter_600_iStockWhat do you do with your old journals—the diaries from high school, the notes from college, the journals half-filled, stuffed with pages, faded with old age? Do you keep them or foolishly, as I once did, throw them out during a frenetic move? Do you make time for reading them, refer to them and what do they do for you, your characters, the plot, a prompt?

Photo: Antique letter, iStock.