Research Suggestion For Writers To Better Their Story

Research is an important tool for writers. Whether you are writing a western or a police procedural story, for example, you want details to be accurate. But there is another type of research that is just as important.

You want your characters to be real, ones readers can identify with. They have a type of personality, they have motivations,  they have strengths and insecurities. So in creating a character there is also research involved. Let me give an example.

I am writing a murder mystery. The victim is a young woman. We know nothing about her. She is fished out of a canal on the first page. During the course of the novel we learn about her and not just facts, more about who she is behind the facts.

I need to research the type of woman I want her to be. So I look at a book entitled Women Who Run With the Wolves.  The book contains myths and stories of the wild woman archetype. I focus on four chapters. One contains mythical stories about women as naïve prey. Another chapter is Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The point is to learn about the mythical and psychological aspects of who this woman is, to give flesh and blood to her.

I am also reading Love and Limerence which is providing some great insight into men and women, about what love is and what it might not be.

I am also checking through Games People Play by Dr. Eric Byrne, about the psychological games we play-and there are many. This will help when her friends talk about her, telling specific stories indicating something of her character, her nature.

There are many books to chose from, not just books like The Meaning of Persons or Please Understand Mebut books on mythology from countries around the world.

The more research you do about the psychology of people, of archetypes, of mythology, the more you see who your character is going to become. The character will be real, will be someone readers can understand. All because of research.

Of course, since my story takes place in 1928, I need to research fashion, automobiles, all the little details, something of the times, making sure nobody watch’s TV or uses a cellphone. Writers always take the time to get those things correct, but we should never take for granted the characters to be created. Not how to create them.

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What You Can Learn From a Confused Lion

In a recent Clint Hurdle blog James Clear told the story about Clyde Beatty, famous lion tamer. He was the first to use a chair and whip to go into a cage with a lion. I had assumed all my life the chair was for protection. It wasn’t. Beaty knew the Lion, seeing the chair with 4 legs in his face, would be confused as he could not decide which leg to attack, so the lion was essentially paralyzed by indecision.

I think we all are faced with so many choices at times that we can’t figure out how to proceed.

In 1999 I bought my first computer. I knew nothing about them, but I wanted one. So I decided to buy one and figure out through trial and error how to use it. The computer was a Gateway, a popular company at the time. I followed the instructions and assembled it which was a miracle in itself as I have trouble understanding instructions. Fortunately the instructions had pretty pictures that showed what to do.

It came time to push start, so I pushed it. I was unaware that their computer, when it came on, would have a series of loud musical notes. It caught me by surprise and I nearly fell backwards off my chair. But I was online and part of the new world.

The point is to make a decision, then figure things out.

Take writing for example. Nobody really knows how to begin because too many people say do this, not that. Too many conflicting opinions. I recall reading books and articles when I first said ‘I want to write’. In the end I decided to trust my instincts. Just start a story. I can change things later, I can edit, I can add scenes, I can take out passages. I just had to ignore the legs of the chair with so many opinions on how to write and just attack on my own.

Trying to learn is good, nothing wrong about that, but in the end, at some point, you take the plunge and go for it. Whatever you decide you will learn more by trial and error because you must get into whatever you choose and learn for yourself.

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Need Your Help and Opinion

The image below is a possible cover for my new e-book to be published on Amazon. Original title was Head on a Grave, thus the cemetery setting. It is a murder mystery set in 1928 with more than one murder. I would like to know your thoughts about the cover. Because of the brightness, is it wrong for a mystery? Or should there be something more sinister? I like the idea of the not so perfect lettering, but that is only one opinion. So if you like it or not I would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

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One Simple Lesson For A Happy Life

In Travels with Epicurus, subtitled A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life, the following story was told by the author Daniel Klein, who learned it had been told by Aegean islanders for a long time.

A prosperous Greek American was visiting one of the Aegean islands one day when “he comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the seas. The American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek, but that they are untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground. He asks who the trees belong to.

“They’re mine,” the Greek replies.

“Don’t you gather the olives?” the American asks.

“I just pick one when I want one,” the old man says.

“But don’t you realize that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them? In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it.”

“What would I do with the money?” the old Greek asks.

“Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you.”

“And then what would I do?

“You could do anything you want.”

“You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?”

The above story is not unlike the old adage about stopping to smell the roses. If you are young, ambitious, want the big house and servants you are unlikely to take the advice. It is only the elders among us, who realize that sitting on the beach at sunset, drinking wine, watching the sun set, that truly appreciate what life offers. Simple pleasures are the great rewards, bringing peace and serenity. Stay calm, enjoy.

Skol!

 

 

Cortes, Burning Ships, Excuses, Writing goals

In Roger Van Oech’s book A Whack on the side of the Head, a book on how to be creative that is still going strong since it was published in 1983, he writes something I did not know about the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes that is, shall we say disarming.

When Cortes landed his ships at Veracruz he burned all his ships. He did this to eliminate one option, leaving his men with only two. You either fight, he told them, or you die. Going home was no longer an option.

Van Oech writes “Sometimes it takes more creativity to get rid of the excuses we put in the way than it does to come up with the idea in the first place.”

I must admit I am guilty of using excuses to get in the way of writing and my excuses are very creative, along the lines of the kid who told his teacher, “The dog ate my homework.”

Cortes took away an excuse about whether to fight or not. His men really had no choice. I suppose I could burn my house down and write at the library with my laptop, but that option would not solve the problem as I would still find more excuses, then have to burn down the library.

The thing of it is, we procrastinators, we excuse makers, know we are avoiding what we should be doing. We are not fooling ourselves.

Van Oech asks the question of what three factors will make it difficult for you to reach your objective? How can you get rid of excuses?

Getting rid of excuses requires self discipline. Take Map Quest or any other app that gives your destination with directions. You follow them-and if they are correct, not always the case-you arrive at your destination. In the process of reaching your destination you took each turn along the path.

Perhaps each writer, or anyone with a goal, should create a type of map with a starting point, an end destination, then fill in the steps to take in order to reach the goal. And if, like the occasional misinformation on the directional map, you run into a burning ship, you adjust and continue your journey; you either fight the fight or your goals die.

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How Writing Nothing Is Good For Writers

An intelligent man, or perhaps it was a woman, once said, “Do nothing and nothing will happen.” That makes sense. If you’re hungry and do nothing, you won’t eat. You have  to do something, like fix your meal, or at least, grab a bag of chips. If you want to write a story, you must sit down and write. . .

But that does not always work. I believe it was Winnie-the-Pooh who said “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

And there is truth in what Winnie said and it has to do with your brain. The best creative ideas come about when your brain is idle, uncluttered with random thoughts, white noise, distractive thoughts; anything that gets in your way. Sometimes writers overthink, try to hard and your mind is stuck in muck. You must listen to “things you can’t hear.”

But how?

Case in point from personal experience. I had trouble coming up with an acceptable ending to my e-mystery Loonies in Hollywood. The story is based on the actual murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922. The case remains unsolved. I selected one of the many suspects (I read four non-fiction books on the murder, each had a different killer), but could not figure out how to place the person at the crime scene because another person was standing outside the bungalow and there was a witness who saw someone walk away from the residence. It was going to be tricky. I thought and thought. Then thought some more. I gave up. Then a week or two later after ‘doing nothing’ I woke up one morning and the ending emerged in its entirety without any pop-up blocker to stop it. It was so simple. Why did I not see it before?

So I know from experience that by doing nothing, something will happen. That by not thinking of a solution your brain works behind the scenes, just like some things your computer does for you.

Don’t force your brain to a solution by overloading it, trust in nothing and it will work out the solution for you. It requires patience and a leap of faith but it works. Think about it. When was Winnie-the-Pooh ever wrong.

Never!

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Bookman’s Promise, Lichtenberg, and Me

I am only 74 pages into The Bookman’s Promise by John Dunning, the third book of five in the Cliff Janeway novels and I already know I will buy the other four. The reason is simple. The writing.

In the story Janeway is talking about Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. He mentions that after his death, Burton’s wife “torched. . .forty years of unpublished manuscripts, journals, and notes. . .to purify his image.” She did not want anything to taint his image with the Church, though it was a bit late. But that is another story.

Then Janeway says “This is why I am not religious. If and when we do learn the true secret of the universe, some kind of religion will be there to hide it. To cover it up. To persecute and shred, to burn and destroy. They stay in business by keeping us in the Dark Ages. Darkness is what they sell.”

This is strong writing. Comparing what Burton’s wife did to her husband’s unpublished works (bad girl) to a conspiratorial view of religious purpose, and making it short, concise and clear. There need be no elaboration.

This is the joy for me of reading. Not just the craft of writing done well, but learning about Burton, whose published  books, now rare, factor into the story as part of the plot. One should not assume you learn nothing in reading fiction.

Later, Janeway, an ex-cop, now rare bookseller is talking how the computer leveled the playing field in rare book seling. It tells people what books are selling for around the world, but not “how to identify a true first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Then Janeway quotes Lichtenberg, German physicist, who said, “A book is a mirror. If an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”  A computer, like the mirror, can only do so much. A computer can’t make us experts in rare books, and if both book and mirror are reflective, neither will make us more than we are.

Lichtenberg was also a satirist who said, “I thank the Lord a thousand times for having made me become an atheist.” He gave credit where credit was due.

So this was my joy of reading the first 74 pages of Dunning’s book this Sunday afternoon that I wanted to share. Now back to reading.

life is like a book

Spillane’s Assault and Insult On Why We Read

Mickey Spillane, famous for creating Mike Hammer, wrote hard boiled, tough, sexy  crime novels. The stories were short, packed a violent punch, and were big sellers, popular with men, but not with the critics or the literary world. Spillane didn’t care. Like Hammer, Spillane was a tough guy too.

What he wrote on the first page of his novel My Gun is Quick caught my attention. It is something we readers and movie goers know, but ignore, pushing it to the back of our minds. But Spillane confronts us with the following:

“You pick up a book and read about things and stuff, getting a vicarious kick from people and events that never happened. You’re doing it now, getting ready to fill in a normal life with the details of someone else’s experiences. Fun isn’t it? You read about life on the outside thinking of how maybe you’d like it to happen to you, or at least how you’d like to watch it. Even the old Romans did it, spiced their life with action when they sat in the coliseum and watched wild animals rip a bunch of humans apart, reveling in the night of blood and terror. They screamed for joy and slapped each other on the back when murderous claws tore into the live flesh of slaves and cheered when the kill was made. Oh, it’s great to watch, all right. Life through a keyhole. But day after day goes by and nothing like that ever happens to you so you think that it’s all in books and not in reality at all and that’s that. Still good reading though. Tomorrow night you’ll find another book, forgetting what was in the last one and live some more in your imagination.”

Spillane is right of course, but what struck me, and it may not have been his intent, is that it seems an answer to his critics, a defiant explanation of why people read and that he is writing for what his readers want, that being action, plenty of it, and a dame of course, nothing serious, just another vicarious experience. Mike Hammer will get involved with some tough guys, get in brawling fights, but we never will. Hammer will help out some blonde, the type we will never meet. But we will live through it in our imagination.

But there is something else going on in the quoted passage. “Life through a keyhole,” is  a punch in our face, like a blow from Hammer, telling us we have a dull life. Therefore we get ready to “fill in a normal life. . .someone else’s experiences. . .you’d like it to happen to you. . . nothing like that happens to you. . .”

Spillane manages to tell us why we read and insult us at the same time. I like that in a tough guy. We need not take it personally. Howard Cosell said, “I tell it like it is.” So does Spillane. I read a book or two of his years ago, so long ago I remember nothing of what I read. But I picked up a used book that contained three of his memorable novels, I the Jury, My Gun is Quick, and Vengeance is mine. So the stories are there for when I need a vicarious thrill. And I will read someone else’s adventure and be happy.

reader

 

 

 

TWO WEEKS UNTIL I . . .

Yesterday, Tuesday the 17th of July, I did it. I submitted, per guidelines of the publisher, my query letter and first two chapters of my next book, Blood Will Have Blood. 

On their website it says if they are interested they will contact you within two weeks. So two weeks until I know if they are interested or not.

I will be happy either way. If they reject-and the odds are they will-I can publish the e-mystery on Amazon where my other books are. But it would be nice if they said “We want to read the final two chapters.” It would mean getting more feedback during the process of getting into ink print, rather than digital print.

I have had rejections from agents and publisher with other submissions, so rejection is not a problem. It happens to all of us. But every time you try, you have hope and now I have hope for two weeks.

But I will not be idle. I am making progress on my next mystery by researching painting styles and what artists may have been doing in the mid 1920’s, writing character profiles, expanding and editing the first chapter, and determining how many characters I should have, not wanting the reader to juggle too many. I also have short stories to write for another collection.

So I will not be staring at the phone waiting for the call, nor checking my inbox to see if they will use email to contact me. On the other hand, though it has been less than 24 hours since I submitted, I think they should have contacted me by now. After all, those were really good chapters. Can’t imagine what the hold up is.

Getting back to reality, I found the publisher through a free subscription to Authors publish Magazine. They provide lots of information on publishers, markets for all types of writing, and free downloads of information. It is a good place to get leads of who is accepting submissions, whether in print or online. I get no kickbacks for telling you about them, no hidden agenda. Just pointing to something that can provide help for  writers.

And now back to working on my next book-whether in ink or digital format.

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A WRITERS CIRCLE OF GUILT

As I write this sentence I feel guilty because I should be working on my next novel, creating character profiles and expanding chapter one.

But I know if I shift to that project I will feel guilty because I should be researching events of spring 1928 that occurred in and around Hood Canal as well as Washington State, and America as well.

But if I shift to researching I will feel guilty as I must edit two chapters before sending to a prospective publisher, rewrite my query letter, and sent my email to them.

But if I do that I will feel guilty as I should do more social media, blogging, tweeting, liking your blogs, uploading new photos to Instagram, going to Pinterest, as well as other undiscovered sites where I can increase my guilt.

But if I to that I will feel guilt for not pulling weeds. If I put on my gardening gloves, grab my clippers and pullers, I will feel guilt before I hit the backyard because I hate pulling weeds.

Sometimes guilt is welcome. See above paragraph. So I put down my tools, pull off my gloves, happy to feel guilt (for once) and start the process all over again. As I write this I am currently in the social media phase. It is going to be in the 90’s today so the weeds can flourish.

That means skipping weed pulling to work on my next novel. But this is Sunday and I only do that Monday thru Friday. So that is out until tomorrow. I could research, but I must send that email to a prospective publisher, so more important to edit the two chapters and query letter.

Or, since it will be in the 90’s I could head to the beach where I can feel guilty about everything. That is a plan. A writer’s life is not easy.

put down the book