Friday, May 22, 2015

FICTION AND FURNITURE


Most authors aren’t closet writers.  We want to have our books “out there” reaching as wide an audience as possible.  For that, as we all know, we need PR.  Good ol’ word of mouth, five star reviews (I’ll take four!), book signings, book club talks, blogs like this one, social media chitchat, in short anything to bring our work to the public eye.

 So when an innovative PR idea surfaces, why not grab for the gold ring?  One such golden PR opportunity came to me through a furniture store.  That’s right, a furniture store. 

 Here’s how it worked:  The store, co-sponsored by a local book seller and benefiting a local charity, created what they called a Writer’s Domain Event.  Ten writers were invited to participate and each was “nestled” in his/her personal “domain.”  These domains were scattered throughout the store, so as customers wandered around looking at mattresses and dining room tables and leather sofas, they “bumped into” the various authors.

 
After I answered some questions about what my writing environment was like, a “domain” was created for me that included a dining room table with a coffee service at one end, a wine bottle and stemmed glasses on the other, a vase of fresh roses and a leather-bound notebook.  Who couldn’t create, or at least daydream, in a spot like that?

 The Writers Domain event was well publicized in the local press, through ads and feature articles.  An evening cocktail party kicked off the celebration, and on Saturday afternoon, the general public was welcome.  Very welcome.  All books were sold by the book dealer, not the individual authors, which kept us free to meet people and talk about our latest releases.

 True, my Murders by Design Mystery Series features an amateur sleuth who is also an interior designer, so my stories fit the setting very well.  But fellow authors included writers of police forensic cases, sci-fi thrillers, a study of Caribbean architecture, a YA romance.  In other words,  any book would lend itself to an event of this type.


All you need is a local store—any good-sized retailer with significant foot traffic will do—and suggest a similar idea.  If you have books to sell, fine; if you don’t, give visitors to your “domain” postcards, book marks, pens, note pads, anything that publicizes your novels.
 
Furniture and books?  A new odd couple?  Perhaps.  But as I found out the easy way,  they do cohabit well together.
 
 
 
 


 
 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Building a Character—One Trait at a Time


In the midst of edits for book two of my Gulf Coast Rescue series, I’m revisiting some of my secondary characters with a critical eye. Is that character trait realistic? Is it the right trait?
With each book I write, my character development process is as varied as my plots. What worked for the last book doesn’t resonate for this one. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or not, but I have discovered a lot of ways to explore personalities and traits until I find the right combination for that particular character.
My villain, hero, and heroine receive the most attention since they tend to have the most “page” time. They also tend to be created from a combination of sources. I’ve melded traits from Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, archetypes (The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Cowden, LaFever, and Viders), personality types (Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Edelstein), birth signs and numerology (The Power of Birthdays, Stars, & Numbers by Crawford and Sullivan), and of course psychological studies (50 Psychology Classics by Butler-Bowdon) to name a few of my most common go to books. Another fun source is Enneagrams (from the Enneagram Institute). I attended a workshop on Enneagrams and have these very handy cards and decoder to help me pull together character traits. I especially like how they include healthy, average, and unhealthy traits for each personality. Because we all know, even our heroes have flaws, just as a villain can have a redeeming quality.
Enneagram Decoder
Enneagram Cards

 

 











One of my concerns when creating a character is how realistic those traits are. Some traits are simply incompatible. You can’t be a true extrovert one moment and an introvert in another. You could only share some traits in the middle (since they are a continuum), but if you are on one end or the other, you won’t. I also don’t want to create a character that looks and sounds like a dozen others. I may see similarities in the people I meet, but they are always unique—and I want all of my characters to be unique too. Even my secondary ones.

So, do you have any favorite characters? What characteristics make them memorable to you?

Monday, May 18, 2015

I haven't written much lately...

Years ago, a friend sent me this postcard and it never fails to make me smile. 



The truth is, I haven’t done much writing lately. When I had a day job, I’d dash to my desk and write as soon as I had a spare ten minutes. These days I have the luxury of being a full-time writer and I can - in theory - write all day. In theory. 

What I’ve lost, however, is my ability to dash to the desk and write for ten minutes. These days, I need a clear day. If I have an hour’s appointment in the middle of the day, that’s it. No writing done at all. 

Spookily, although I can’t write unless I have at least six uninterrupted hours stretching ahead of me, I can read. Boy, can I read! Give me a spare five minutes and out comes the Kindle, and the more books I get through, the more emails I receive from Amazon UK. Often they send me recommendations for my own books, which is great as they must be sending that same email to other customers. (Hopefully.) It was one of these emails that took me by surprise. This is probably old news  to all of you because I’m hopelessly behind the times but when I click on one of my Dylan Scott books on Amazon UK, I get offered the chance to buy all 8 books in the series. It lists all books in order too. How fantastic is that?




(Apologies for the naff screenshots.) Is this old news? 


Oh, and all tips for parking myself in front of my computer when I get a spare ten minutes will be gratefully received. Thank you. :)

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Mousetrap--a night to die for!


April was a busy month. First, my second novel Death at China Rose was published.  I barely had time to catch my breath, before my husband and I were off to Europe. Our first stop was Paris, where Steve ran the Paris Marathon while I somehow managed to keep busy drinking Bordeaux and sampling French cheeses. 
After a week or so of la bonne vie, we took the Chunnel train to London. I switched from French wine to English beer and got ready for The Mousetrap.

As every true mystery fan knows, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap holds the record for longest running play in the world, on stage since 1952, which adds up to over 25,000 performances. Seeing a production of The Mousetrap is on a lot of bucket lists, but it's never been on mine. This is mainly because I don't have a bucket list--I've never bought into the concept of delayed gratification--but also because I wasn't sure the play was still fresh enough to entertain. 

I mean, after 63 years everything gets a little creaky. 

But when our brief overlay in London coincided with a Saturday night performance of The Mousetrap, I knew I had to be there. 

Built in 1901, the cozy St. Martin's Theater is the perfect venue for a classic murder mystery. The interior is somehow both intimate and elegant, an Edwardian feast of burnished woods and heavy burgundy curtains flecked with gold. I overheard a woman complaining about the tight seating, but that is the price of communing with the past--a small price, in my view.

But as they say, the play's the thing, and in this classic who-done-it, Dame Agatha didn't disappoint.

Writing a mystery is a bit like juggling, only instead of balls, you're juggling suspects. The writer strives to keep as many suspects in play as possible so that the reader--or viewer--is never quite sure who the killer is, until the last possible moment. But as the plot grows in complexity, it becomes more and more difficult to keep everything moving--inevitably balls are dropped or discarded as the suspect pool shrinks.

The Mousetrap is a closed mystery. Because of a severe winter storm, the seven characters--along with the intrepid Detective Sergeant Trotter--are marooned at a guesthouse. One of them is a murderer, but which one?

Until the play's closing moments, any one of the suspects could have been the killer--that's the equivalent of juggling seven balls over two hours.

Believe me, that's a lot of balls! As a mystery writer, I can only stand back in awe.

So maybe The Mousetrap is old-school. And maybe it creaks with the conventions of an earlier time. But all the elements that made Agatha Christie great are in this play.

So take my advice, and put it on your bucket list.

Or even better, just hop the next plane to London.

Visit Daryl at her website and blogspot.

In this swamp of double-dealing, almost everyone has an agenda.

When Harry Pitts—owner of the rundown China Rose Fish Camp—is beaten to death in his home, the bloody scene suggests a frenzied, random act of violence. But PI Addie Gorsky believes the crime is connected to another case—the disappearance of Harry's daughter eleven years ago.

All murders begin in the past, but Addie soon realizes that this case is rooted in old Florida, back in the time of wily pirates and proud conquistadors, and the trove of treasure that legend claims is buried in this backwater.

Addie dives headfirst into the wild heart of China Rose, surrounded by grinning gators, killer bees and gaping cottonmouths. But these predators pale in comparison to the cunning two-legged killer Addie is hunting…and who soon begins hunting her.
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Carina Press.

Guarding the manicured wilds of an exclusive retirement community might seem like exile to a homicide cop. But Addie Gorsky moved to Florida to live with her ailing father, not to chase criminals. In fact, her new job as head of Mystic Cove security is a nice break from all the big-city bloodshed.

But when the community's most despised resident is found dead in his tricked-out golf cart, Addie's ready for action. The local cops focus on the obvious suspect—the unhappy wife—but Addie knows there's more to the story. When the sheriff asks for assistance, she can't resist. Only the deeper she digs, the more questions she turns up.

Surrounded by secretive, tight-lipped residents, Addie soon finds herself hip-deep in a mystery as tangled as cypress roots—and directly in the sights of a cool, clever killer who has no compunction about killing again…

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Carina Press.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Setting - Your Own Backyard



They say 'write what you know.' As for setting, that usually means placing a story in my home state of Florida. For two of my favorite romantic suspense novels, that's exactly what I did. Not that I haven't taken steps out of my comfort zone and set stories in The Unites Arab Emirates, London, different US locales, but my setting of choice is always the Sunshine State.

Not only am I the most comfortable writing about Florida, but because I live in one of the vacation capitals of the world, I think people are interested in that setting. At least, I hope they are.

Several of my books are set in the hustle and bustle of Miami, but I've taken many out of the limelight and relocated them to the lesser known areas of the state, the northern, swampy part, which lends itself to creepier, and paranormal stories.

I rarely locate books in my hometown of Orlando, but BURNING TOUCH is one exception. I was looking for a wealthy bedroom community that would be close to an area that harbored a seedy underbelly of BDSM nightclubs. Welcome to Winter Park, Florida, right next door to Orlando, where one can find any flavor of perversion.

Yeah, it's that kind of book!

TROPIC OF TROUBLE takes place in Miami, and revolves around a valuable stolen Shakespeare volume and a bookworm in distress.

Both best-selling suspense novels are now bundled in one volume. BURNING TOUCH and TROPIC OF TROUBLE are together for $2.99.


Here's a little about BURNING TOUCH:

When Devon Wise’s massage clients start turning up dead, she reluctantly leans on the sexy guy next door to help her clear her name. Having lost her parents at an early age, she doesn’t trust that anyone she cares about will stick around. Devon never lets her feelings get involved, keeping everyone at arm’s length. But after their first sizzling night, she can’t get enough.


Real estate investor Ben Stafford can’t keep his mind—or his hands—off the earthy beauty who happens to be his new neighbor. When the bodies begin piling up, he wonders if she’s as innocent as she claims or if he’s been spending all those lust-filled nights with a killer.

And here's a little about TROPIC OF TROUBLE:

When Kelsey Ackerman’s assistant at her used bookstore is murdered, the police label it a botched robbery by a desperate drug addict. But Kelsey suspects the perpetrator was looking for a rare Shakespeare volume that someone unknowingly donated. Now a killer’s sights are set on Kelsey.


Jail guard Jason Jones only wants to protect her, but after suffering a controlling father and an abusive ex-husband, Kelsey wants nothing to do with the confident, hot sergeant. Until the danger becomes crystal clear, and the only man who can save her is the very man she can’t resist.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Killer You Don't Think About.


Villains come in all shapes and sizes. But when you think about it, one of the scariest villains never dies. Any idea what I’m talking about?

Natural disasters.

Earthquakes aren’t the only killers. Tornadoes, tsunamis, typhoons, cyclones, volcanoes… The list goes on. When I was thinking about the kind of villain I wanted to tackle for my Adrenaline Highs novella, A Little Danger, I wanted to make sure I gave the bad guy his due. The recent earthquake in Nepal is a frightening example of the devastation. The aftershocks alone made for sizeable earthquakes in their own right. 

Here's a shot from the bay area earthquake many years ago:
 Disasters are certainly good for external conflict, but I think there still needs to be an internal conflict. The one thing about a disaster is that they make you realize what’s important in life and just how fragile our lives really are. It can all go away in the blink of an eye. The characters in this story were reminded of that fact in a very scary way.
I’ve been trying to come up with disaster movies where the villain was a natural disaster. The Perfect Storm, for instance, or Earthquake (naturally). I know the upcoming San Andreas with Dwayne Johnson looks like a doozie. Can you think of any others?  I’m curious what your thoughts are about using natural disasters as the bad guy, too.

In case you're interested in checking out A Little Danger, now's the time to grab it for 99 cents before the price goes up.

Amazon | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | ARe
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

CHOICES



Photo courtesy of Americasroof at en.wikipedia

     In High School—many long years ago—I had to make a decision. If a student’s grades were high enough, he or she could take a special English class that either focused on theatre or writing. I offered to drop math in return for both classes but for reasons I could never understand my offer was refused. After a heated debate with myself I opted for theatre and never regretted my decision. Years later when I was singing at Radio City Music Hall I thought wouldn’t the Music Hall be a perfect setting for a play and between shows I began to jot down bits of dialogue, incidents that took place in the dressing room, anything that seemed possible in a small notebook which led to ... which led to ... which led to ... well here I am.

Courtesy of Dreamstime

     During rehearsals for shows I realized methods used in theatre could be applied when writing. When I write, I think of the protagonist as the star of my story in conflict with the antagonist who has his own motivation and tries to find his or her place in the spotlight. Most actors work on their motivation for hours, some for weeks, many for the entire run of a play. There’s a hoary theatre story about the actor who asks the director what his motivation is for making an exit. The director replies, “Your paycheck.”
     Actors improvise and often add a line or two or three; if the director disagrees with the actor’s “improvement.” The lines are cut unless the actor is a star in which case the stage manager tears out strands of her hair. My characters often develop minds of their own. I begin with an idea of what the characters should do, why they’re doing it, what stands in the characters way and what the story and the theme is about. Then, sometimes without any warning, my characters decide they want to go in another direction. My villain doesn’t want to be my villain anymore, an unlikely heroine emerges, pages and chapters need to be revised or cut. I may fight to keep my original idea but my characters are stubborn and after a sleepless night I think—maybe they’re right and try it their way.
     Some actors work from the inside out—motivation, background, and the reason why he is crossing from stage left to stage right. Others change their hair until they find the one that fits their character; they may rehearse with a long skirt, grow a mustache, walk with a limp, develop a twitch, gain weight or lose a few pounds—anything that will add to their portrayal. An idea, a conversation overheard, someone an author can’t forget begins the process of writing. We also use the senses as we work on the background, the characters, and who, why, what, when and where.
     First drafts are like readings where friends are corralled and the author listens and takes notes—was that a laugh, a tear, a yawn or ... oh, my God ... a cough?
     A director works with the actors, author, scenic and costume designer sometimes harmoniously ... sometimes not ... to get the results he wants. The writer works with an editor who will give a gentle push  ... or maybe a not so gentle shove to help the writer find the better book that lies within.
     The Producer of a play or show wants a hit, a chance at a Tony and someday his name on a Marquee. A Publisher doesn’t mind his books listed on the N.Y. Times Best Seller List and a prestigious award presented to one of his authors is always valued.


Monday, May 4, 2015

True Crime



I recently finished two nonfiction books by John Douglas, a former FBI profiler. It’s rumored that Jodie Foster’s character’s boss in Silence of the Lambs is based on him. His book Mind Hunter details his history in FBI’s profiling unit. 

While the subject matter is often morbid and sad, I admit that every few pages a real-life incident sparks a fictional idea in my mind. It’s not just the realistic killers, but the often innovative ways that they are finally brought to justice. For example, one of Douglas’ colleagues had trouble cracking a triple homicide of a mother and two daughters who were on vacation in Florida. The only promising piece of evidence was a note they found in the victims’ car with directions to the location where their car was found. But the note revealed little else.

The FBI agent blew up the note on billboards, with advertising space that was donated by local businesses, and asked people to call the FBI if they recognized the hand writing. Three people did, and they were able to catch the killer.

Before I read MindHunter, I got caught up in The Casesthat Haunt Us, which analyzes prior cases, such as Jack the Ripper, with modern profiling techniques.  For example, while Jack the Ripper is often “romanticized,” (think suave sociopath), it is likely he was so insane at the point that he committee the murders he would have had difficulty carrying on normal conversations.

I think we’d all agree it’s more “fun” to read fictional mysteries. The evil killers don’t live in our world. The victims didn’t die, because they never lived. But reading true crime, while often disturbing, can also help you craft more authentic stories with more depth. 

What about you? Do you have any true crime books you’d recommend? Do you find reading true crime helps you write fictional stories?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Characters. Research. Moral Ambiguity.

May is my favorite month of the year. It's a completely selfish and self-centered preference based on the fact it's my birthday month. Happy May :)

For the last two weeks, I've been doing research. One of my favorite forms of research is reading/listening to biographies and interviews of people who do similar things to what my characters do. My current hero is a secondary character in my previous Cold Justice books, but for once this isn't an FBI book.

The problem I have is my hero is part of what is a controversial part of US history--he's a CIA Intelligence Officer and started his career when the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques was the new big thing. I've been reading opinions on both sides of EIT and, frankly, there are well written arguments for both sides. There's the fact that it might go against international law and the Geneva Convention, that pain and fear might not produce reliable information, versus the fact the 'enemies' do not worry about the Geneva Convention and 'what they do to prisoners makes the black camps look like Butlins' argument. Then there's the 'what constitutes torture'? question. If interrogators do to detainees the same thing they do during SERES training, then is the US torturing its soldiers and operatives on a weekly basis? Obviously there are layers and subtleties to these issues, and not to mention the question of having the right person in custody, legal process, ticking bomb scenario, and, and...

These are my favorite things to deal with from a character development point of view--where issues of moral ambiguity meet practical considerations, but also common sense issues. It was the same thing researching the death penalty for A COLD DARK PLACE (currently free BTW). I find characters who can only see one point of view generally to be rigid and uncompromising. They make good background opposition but rarely make interesting characters we can empathize with or grow to love--unless they change/grow. Of course, having characters, especially character who are falling in love, have conflicting opinions can create the best can of tension on the written page.

I'm not going to ask what you believe in. I don't want to open up a political quagmire. My question is--have you ever learned a new appreciation of another side of an argument from reading a book? Has a story ever made you rethink your stance on a subject?

And, because I have a new release this month (COLD FEAR) I created a **FREE SAMPLER** for new readers where you can read the first three chapters of each Cold Justice story. It also contains the first 3 chapters of COLD FEAR, released May 26th (for those who can't wait to read Lincoln Frazer's story).


Nook | Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spring Motivation


Back when I became interested in writing, few authors other than Stephen King or Danielle Steel actually earned a living writing. I worked a 9-5 job, so my aim was to accumulate jewelry. Seems my first writer's checks garnered me topaz and amethyst rings and earrings. Tires for the Radillac convertible, a good used washer and dryer, and the occasional writer's conference.

I've learned to gamble on what I can accomplish without the what-ifs connected to the business. In other words, I trust myself to an extent but not the biz per se. That said, I've met my writing goals the past two years, and I'm upping my game. In 2015 I'd like to start a new charm bracelet, as long as buying doesn't interfere with living expenses, those conferences, and seeing Lex.

Others frame their book covers. I collect jewelry. I'm too old to get tats and piercings where anyone would care to see, so Tiffany's, here I come!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Inspiration Needs A New Form

All writers need inspiration. Where do you find yours?

For me, inspiration comes from the “what if” scenario: What if your neighbor turns out to be a serial killer? What if the supermarket at the end of your street is a cover for an international drugs cartel? What if the pale-skinned old man who owns the second-hand bookshop is actually a ghost?

Most writers relish these observations and use them as a launching pad for stories. When my husband and I were battling through a dense thicket of bushes and small trees wedged between the Snake River and the cliff bank soaring above us, I remember telling him, “Wouldn’t this be a great place to find a body?” 

That remark grew into So About The Money, a fun, amateur sleuth my agent currently has on submission.

Recently, I been crazy busy between the day job and packing (shredding, wrapping, tossing, gifting) everything we own in preparation for a move into a place 1/4th the size of our current digs, while we build a new house. Well, while assorted crews of craftsmen build the house, but I digress.

So… there’s no time to write, other than in snatched moments. Those snatched moments, however, can lend humor. I’ve discovered the voice recorder on my phone returns gibberish – or maybe it’s my Southern accent that turns reasonable statements into sentences that…well…aren’t remotely reasonable.

But the resulting text is enough that I can at least, sorta remember where I was going with the scene idea.  Then there are the scribbles on the backs of envelopes and sticky notes. Where would we be without sticky notes?

And I’m dreaming like mad. For some weird reason (I’m sure the mental health people can analyze, except I’d really hate it if they did), when I don’t have the creative outlet from writing (or painting or fusing glass or oops, another tangent), all those wild ideas invade my sleep.

What about you? How do you handle it when the rest of your life is overwhelming your writing time? 



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rebelliousness and Redemption

Okay, so I have a confession that probably won’t shock anyone who knows me: I’m a rule-follower. And a people-pleaser, to boot. I color within the lines, obey traffic laws (mostly), and pay my bills on time. 

Don't hate me. Life just runs much smoother when I'm organized, and I'm all about avoiding conflict whenever and wherever I can.

But in my writing, I tend to be the opposite, at least when it comes to plotting and character-building. Of course, writers have to have conflict in their stories, and there's a certain cadence and pattern to romantic suspense, but when I began creating my new series (Redemption Club), and compared it to my older one (The Mindhunters), I realized how much I loathe having to create characters who are bound by rules. 

Both series lack what I'd term the "classic" romantic suspense heroes and heroines—cops and detectives, FBI agents, SEALs, and so forth. From my very first book, I'd already realized I didn’t like the constraints of writing characters who have to obey the law to the letter because of their career choice. Sometimes, my characters have a background in military or law enforcement, but they've moved on, were hurt by their career in some way, or became disgruntled or even jaded. 

Time for another confession: I thought this choice was because I was lazy. I don't enjoy spending a lot of time researching rulebooks and procedural manuals.

I created a private agency in my Mindhunters series, and the Redemption Club series focuses more on the criminal side, where bending the law is acceptable if it gets you what you want. My heroes and heroines try to be upstanding people, but they may have a blight or two on their records that they need to overcome.

However... I recently realized that it’s not laziness that kept me from going with the traditional types of heroes and heroines. (Okay, it might be a little laziness.) My choices are due, in part, to the restrictions in my normal life. Anne Becker doesn't get to break the rules. As a valedictorian, student role model, oldest sibling, doting wife, perfect mother (yeah, right!) to three children, and law-abiding citizen, I have to follow so many guidelines that it’s no wonder I don’t run off screaming into the woods and become a hermit.

In my books, however… There, "Anne Marie Becker, Author" gets to break any rule she wants—via her characters. As long as she makes her characters likeable and redeemable.

A little rebelliousness, a dash of redemption. That’s what my latest batch of characters are made of.


How about you? Do you like to read/write about characters who have to walk the line, work within boundaries, or do you like the rogues who have sins to make up for?