The Savvy Author


Tuesday
May242016

Writers Need An 'Outside' Life Too!

If you’re in the field of writing the changes are good that you tend to face more rejection and less acceptance than those in any other profession. No other group of people face criticism and rejection as often as we do. Truthfully, though we may rant and rave, we have no choice but to accept it; it is after all part of the “game of publishing.”

Quitting this artistic profession we have chosen is not an option. Writers write because there is something inside us that drives us to create stories, write articles, and put ourselves out there for others to see, possibly reject, and comment negatively on our work. It is almost masochistic! How many rejections can you take before you quit? The answer is we’ll take them all and we will never quit.

A writer’s life is not without its occupational hazards. Writing can become all-consuming even though no author is the same when it comes to their own schedule of writing. Some write four to five hours a day straight through, some as much as eight. Some break up the hours; Dan Brown once said in an interview that after two hours of intense writing he would get up and use the vertical machine in his office to clear his head and get his body moving.

Then there are the writers who closet themselves in their writing areas almost 18 hours a day and rarely emerge outside of a quick bathroom run! Truthfully I did this with my first book, And Then I’ll Be Happy! I basically had no social life and my husband told me at one point that he saw me so little that my face was becoming just a blurred memory. But I didn’t care; I was on a creative roll and I had to get that book written! Now I write for two to three hours a day, more if I have a major deadline, but it is never an all-day marathon, not any more.

While it is fairly accurate that writers are misunderstood in general, (we’re artists!); not many people can, or want, to do what we do. The process of writing changes the way we look at the world, we see what others don’t and that often sets us apart. But the truth is that, being consumed by the writing muse can be detrimental to your writing.

Does that sound crazy? How can doing nothing but write hurt our writing? It can and it does.
Mental fatigue is one way that ruins an author’s creativity. Anyone who has had the exhausting experience of all-night cramming sessions for college exams knows all too well about mental fatigue. It has been shown to reduce the creative spark rather than enhance it. Then too there is the very real danger of depression; being alone all the time with very little outside contact can lead to this potentially dangerous evil in a writer’s life.

You need to have an outside life away from the writing one and surprisingly the two “lives” can not only co-exist very nicely but your “outside life” can be beneficial to your creative life by refreshing your thought processes. Too much alone time can lead to the dreaded writer’s block.

Getting off your computer, up from your chair, and out into the world is a bit scary because you’re “leaving work undone,” I agree but it is necessary for your metal and physical health. Just going for a walk, calling, not texting or emailing, a friend or family member to make a human connection is a productive time away from your computer.

And, if you’re like most writers, your author’s subconscious is creating and storing new ideas that will benefit your writing. Socializing by going out to dinner, a movie, or a museum are great places to observe people and settings for character development and story lines.Taking an exercise class, or seeing a film, is not wasted time. Besides refreshing you it will lead to some heretofore untried writing experiences.

As writers we will always be thinking about our characters, the current and next stories, the articles begging to be written, and the deadlines we face. Taking some time to live your “outside life” will make you a refreshed, relaxed person who faces the profession of writing with new eyes and a healthy perspective. Combining our creative and outside lives make us winners.

Happy writing!

Monday
May162016

Cozy Mysteries Rule

What's the difference between a mystery and a cozy mystery? Well...,the characters, more romance than sex, and a nice clean ending.

Those who commit murder in cozies are almost always rational, well-spoken, intelligent people. The crimes they commit, even murder, tend to be bloodless. If there is blood, there is no in-depth, stomach-churning description--just a few simple sentences, such as, "She found the victim with a screwdriver plunged through his heart. There was no sign of a struggle."  says it all.
 
There's also not a lot of sex in cozies. Sexual tension and flirting to be sure, but nothing overt. The protagonist, usually a woman, is educated and has a real job. She may be a professional private investigator or an amateur one. She does have romantic encounters, but sex scenes are kept pretty much behind closed doors.

Romance, however, is a key element. Even the greatest cozy mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie, once made the statement that her books sold better if she threw in a little romance--"not much, just a little." Besides being an incredible writer, Ms. Christie was very astute in the marketing of her books. Romance adds a nice touch to a cozy mystery

I have loved mysteries since I was a child, and so it wasn't surprising that I became an author who writes them. As a crime/mystery author, I do as others before me have done. Deleted the old adage taught in creative writing classes that says you should write what you know and began to write the kind of book I enjoy reading myself.

The crime, the motive, the clues, and solving the case are what motivate the cozy crime writer. I love it all, and that's why I write them. I created the character of PI Cate Harlow in the A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series and live vicariously through her adventures.

Cozy mystery thrillers, (despite the description of "cozy," they are still thrillers), have a history that dates back to a story in the Arabian Nights titled "The Three Apples." The story describes the clues and details surrounding the discovery of a female body found inside a chest in the river Tigris and how the real murderer is finally brought to justice. An ancient, but cozy, mystery.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of the person who writes such stories? A lot of readers do.The mind of the mystery writer is surprisingly not all that mysterious, we just see everyday occurrences in a different light. We deal in the real possibility of crime. The reader knows that the crime the author is describing could possibly happen to anyone, even them. There's that thrill of fear and a distinct desire to have the crime solved. Cozies do that nicely.

At book readings  readers like to ask what goes on in the author's mind when writing about murder mysteries; basically, what makes authors of mystery novels tick?

I know that they eagerly want to hear that we're slightly skewed to the crazy side to be able to write mystery thrillers with such conviction, but I have to disappoint them. Except for being passionate about writing, we're normal,or as normal as anyone who spends hours every day alone with the imaginary characters in her head can be. I mean, there's a long line of mystery/crime writers who really were kind of crazy!

Finding ideas for a cozy mystery is easy. Just listen to the news on while you're drinking your morning coffee and getting ready for work. Kidnapings, murder for hire, abductions; it's a scary world out there, and even more so because it's real and possible.The cozy mystery author takes these ideas and creates a safer haven for the actual story, cutting out the gore and horror and making sure that the crime always gets solved.

The criminal element in society makes for great writing fodder. The fact that most novels have an ending where the crime is solved and some type of justice will prevail gives the writer "author satisfaction." It's the cozy author's special world and the writer likes to, and does, tie up all loose ends. Maybe there's more than a little bit of big ego involved in a mystery writer's mind because, unlike real life, they're in control of events.

The popularity of the cozy mystery continues to soar, and readers of them particularly like the cozies to be in series form. It's like having a night out with a funny, smart, good friend who just happens to solve murders. As a writer, you may want to give it a try.

Happy writing!

Friday
Apr222016

Writing is an Ageless Profession-Thank God!

Okay here's the deal and the wonderful news for all authors; age has nothing to do with writing. We're not Olympic gymnasts where youth and physical flexibility are key to our professional success. We don't need to cash out at a young age because our bodies tell us they simply can't do what they used to do; our brains are our muscles. Truthfully there's no real physical side to our profession other than typing fingers and sitting in a chair reading a computer screen. We're writers, we don't need youth to help us in our chosen profession, and that's great news for us.

You can write and get published at any age; your creative juices don't let you down. You can write at forty, fifty, sixty, seventy and beyond. To quote British author and scholar, C.S. Lewis, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."

While most of society's professions are obsessed with youth, writing escapes that obsession.  There's no age limit on creating our literary works.  Frank McCourt, the author of the acclaimed Angela's Ashes did not start writing until he'd retired from teaching. Angela's Ashes was published when he was sixty-six years old and he started writing it only after his wife, Ellen, told him to stop telling his stories for free at his favorite pub and put them down in writing for posterity.


Dracula,the book that put Bram Stoker's name on the literary map was published when Stoker was fifty years old. Before he passed away at the age of sixty-four he was to have seven more novels published.

And while it may have taken Mark Twain almost ten years to complete The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, due mainly to his constant compulsive revisions, this now classic book was published when he was almost the ripe young age of fifty.    
                                 
Writing is a passion; all writers will tell you that it is the only thing they want to do. But sometimes life gets in the way of being a full-time author. We may have jobs that have nothing to do with writing at all or we may have a position where we write in another medium. That doesn't mean the passion or dream to write a novel dies; far from it. No matter what a writer is doing to make a living, the writing passion is strong and many will say that they write whenever they can.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, Little House in the Woods, the book that sapwned the book and televsion series didn't come to be printed until just after her sixty-fourth birthday and she didn't start writing seriously until she was forty-four. However, she never forgot the stories she wrote as a child in pencil in her school copy books and hoped to see in print one day.

Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe at fifty-eight after successful careers as a merchant, journalist, writer of inflammatory political pamphlets, and even as a spy.

Other famous "older" authors include Anna Sewell who saw her book, the classic Black Beauty published when she was fifty-seven and Raymond Chandler was fifty-one when The Big Sleep, one of the best detective novels ever written, was published,

Last but certainly not least on the list of late-blooming authors there is Norman Maclean. Remember the beautiful and poignant movie A River Run Through It? It's based on the book of the same name by Maclean who, at the wonderfully productive age of seventy-four, published it as his first, and only novel. See? The profession of writing truly is ageless.

Happy writing!

Thursday
Apr142016

The Seriously Real Female Character in Fiction Eats Real Food

My character PI Cate Harlow eats. I mean really eats; normal food like pizza, panini, and pasta. And she likes her Merlot too. Add to that she’s got a damned good sex life with her ex-husband, a hot charming NYPD detective. I wrote her that way because she is a normal, healthy woman and normal, healthy women eat, drink wine and enjoy sex.

On top of that she’s a top-notch private investigator who tells her clients, “Trust me, I’m very good at what I do.” That’s my girl!

With all the hype over Sports Illustrated finally putting plus-size, (they say plus-size, most women say normal-size), model Ashley Graham in a bikini within the pages of their magazine, it may be time to note that many female characters in fiction would simply say it was about time. They would probably add that it should have been done well before now. Real women, real food, real bodies.

Truthfully I have never read a book where the male and female characters go out to eat and all the woman orders is a diet soda. They both eat and eat well.

The thing is that the female characters in popular books are not exactly following the road to diet Hell and they never have. If they work out it’s to maintain a body that can do the job it needs to do. In Cate’s case, she plays tennis to strengthen her legs and stamina so she is able to outrun the bad guys and to physically defend herself when necessary. She doesn’t worry if her body fits the stereotype of what’s acceptable today and she’s not the only one.

Sara Paretsky writes her character of V.I. Warshawski as a woman who drinks Johnny Walker Black Label, and definitely enjoys a good meal. V.I. keeps herself in shape, (she runs) and, like Cate Harlow, she has sex and packs a pistol. Thankfully the fictional female character has been coming into her own for quite a few years. Society needs to play catch-up.

Several years ago, a new genre in romance as well as some crime /thriller books began featuring what some publishers refer to as “plus-size heroines.” Women readers were tired of swooning, starving women to whom they could not relate. No one really wants to read, “John put his strong, muscular arm around Jane’s tiny waist to keep her from falling to the floor in a faint.” Of course, to be fair, with all the fainting and everything she may just not have time to eat and that can account for a tiny waist. But seriously, why should John be the strong character and not Jane? I say we give Jane a good dinner and a glass of wine. Even Scarlett O’Hara, a woman with the fabled corseted 17-inch waist, liked to eat and imbibe.

Most women are, in reality, larger than size eight, let alone a size zero. Shouldn’t our fictional women reflect that? When the statement was made in my book that Cate Harlow wore a size eight and a half shoe my editor asked if I could change that to a size six. When I asked why he said, “Well, a size six just sounds daintier.” Needless to say, I did not change her shoe size.

Frankly, society is never happy about a woman’s shape, even if that woman is fictional. If there’s not too much meat on the bones, there’s not enough. If there’s “a bit more” she needs to traverse diet hell, and if the weight is right, society will see the measurements somehow are not. Real women deserve to take the lead in literature and be the strong protagonist.

I will continue to write my female characters as strong and representative of real women. Cate will continue to eat, grab that bottle of Merlot, and keep herself strong. I will also continue to read authors who write strong relatable female protagonists and encourage readers to do the same.
Real women do eat real food and so do fictional ones. And I, for one, say it’s about time.

Happy writing!

Sunday
Apr102016

The Writer's Green-Eyed Monster

My character PI Cate Harlow eats. I mean really eats; normal food like pizza, panini, and pasta. And she likes her Merlot too. Add to that she’s got a damned good sex life with her ex-husband, a hot charming NYPD detective. I wrote her that way because she is a normal, healthy woman and normal, healthy women eat, drink wine and enjoy sex.

On top of that she’s a top-notch private investigator who tells her clients, “Trust me, I’m very good at what I do.” That’s my girl!

With all the hype over Sports Illustrated finally putting plus-size, (they say plus-size, most women say normal-size), model Ashley Graham in a bikini within the pages of their magazine, it may be time to note that many female characters in fiction would simply say it was about time. They would probably add that it should have been done well before now. Real women, real food, real bodies.

Truthfully I have never read a book where the male and female characters go out to eat and all the woman orders is a diet soda. They both eat and eat well.

The thing is that the female characters in popular books are not exactly following the road to diet Hell and they never have. If they work out it’s to maintain a body that can do the job it needs to do. In Cate’s case, she plays tennis to strengthen her legs and stamina so she is able to outrun the bad guys and to physically defend herself when necessary. She doesn’t worry if her body fits the stereotype of what’s acceptable today and she’s not the only one.

Sara Paretsky writes her character of V.I. Warshawski as a woman who drinks Johnny Walker Black Label, and definitely enjoys a good meal. V.I. keeps herself in shape, (she runs) and, like Cate Harlow, she has sex and packs a pistol. Thankfully the fictional female character has been coming into her own for quite a few years. Society needs to play catch-up.

Several years ago, a new genre in romance as well as some crime /thriller books began featuring what some publishers refer to as “plus-size heroines.” Women readers were tired of swooning, starving women to whom they could not relate. No one really wants to read, “John put his strong, muscular arm around Jane’s tiny waist to keep her from falling to the floor in a faint.” Of course, to be fair, with all the fainting and everything she may just not have time to eat and that can account for a tiny waist. But seriously, why should John be the strong character and not Jane? I say we give Jane a good dinner and a glass of wine. Even Scarlett O’Hara, a woman with the fabled corseted 17-inch waist, liked to eat and imbibe.

Most women are, in reality, larger than size eight, let alone a size zero. Shouldn’t our fictional women reflect that? When the statement was made in my book that Cate Harlow wore a size eight and a half shoe my editor asked if I could change that to a size six. When I asked why he said, “Well, a size six just sounds daintier.” Needless to say, I did not change her shoe size.

Frankly, society is never happy about a woman’s shape, even if that woman is fictional. If there’s not too much meat on the bones, there’s not enough. If there’s “a bit more” she needs to traverse diet hell, and if the weight is right, society will see the measurements somehow are not. Real women deserve to take the lead in literature and be the strong protagonist.

I will continue to write my female characters as strong and representative of real women. Cate will continue to eat, grab that bottle of Merlot, and keep herself strong. I will also continue to read authors who write strong relatable female protagonists and encourage readers to do the same.
Real women do eat real food and so do fictional ones. And I, for one, say it’s about time.

Happy writing!