Freedom isn’t Free

Today I am taking a break from writing about writing to say, “Thank you.”

This is Memorial weekend. It’s a weekend when we take stock of what we have as a country and thank the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. My family is not a particularly military family. I lost an Uncle in WWII on the USS Quincy at Savo Straits. I never knew him, of course. My mother’s brother was in D Day and survived. My father worked for Otis Elevator Company. He was an engineer and was instrumental in developing the Aeronautic division at Otis. They also built the lifts for the air craft carriers.

My husband’s father was in WWII, he served in the US and Greenland on sub patrol. My husband’s mother was one of the first WAAC’s.  There is a book there at some point. Although I never met the woman, I’ve heard so many stories over the years that a book is the only way to tell her tale.

My brother served in Viet Nam (as did E. Michael Helms, a blog mate) and my husband. My husband, also an engineer as was my father, stayed in and developed some of the missile systems that keep us safe today. None of these three men escaped the Viet Nam war unscathed. Their wounds are both physical and emotional. Part of the emotional wounds were war service itself, I’m sure. Part of it was the climate in the country when they returned home. My brother and husband both tell tales of being accosted in the streets and called “baby killers.” Pretty tough stuff when you are dealing with the physical aftermath of war. I can’t speak for Mike—well I can, he’s written books about it—but I know the effects on my brother and husband run deep.

Why this personal story? This is, after all, a blog on writing. It’s because we must always remember that the wounds of war go deep. And we must say, “Thank you.” Agree with the war/conflict/action or not. It doesn’t matter. The soldier did not get to choose his war. He is called to serve. For your benefit and for mine.

If you can read this, then the veterans have succeeded. We are living in a free country where we can write and say whatever is in our heart and mind.

Freedom isn’t free. Thank a living veteran. Remember the fallen veterans.

Thank you Mike, and Gary, and Karl, and so many more whose names I do not know.

How Can I Write Better Dialogue? 4 Quick Tips

Dialogue matters.  A lot.  In fact, I have stopped reading many an otherwise solid novel due to sub-par dialogue, and I wanted to provide a friendly warning to authors out there: even casual readers can sniff out sloppy dialogue, and that could cause said readers to stop reading, which could mean they write a bad review, or worse, no review at all.  And what happens to the novelist then?  Well, that lack of reviews could lead the writer in question to quit writing and take up drinking, which could lead to the downfall of his marriage, which could lead to him losing custody of his kids, which could lead to more drinking and financial problems, which could lead to getting behind on the mortgage.  The end result: the writer ends up homeless.  . . .all because he wrote piss-poor dialogue. Tragic.

dialogue new

Anyhew, I’m in the midst of new writing project, and to remind myself not to screw up dialogue and end up drunk, divorced, destitute, and only seeing my adorable son Harry on every other weekend, I’ve jotted down 4 quick tips. Enjoy.

tension

Tip #1: Dialogue creates tension.

  • Speaking in completely reductive but useful terms, I lump all novel writing to do with tension-building into two broad categories: characters either DO things that create tension, or characters SAY things that create tension. So when writing dialogue remember to allow a character’s true personality to come out to play. If they’re mysterious, dole out their words carefully, and with utmost attention paid to timing. If they’re a smartass, dialogue is an ideal place to showcase that particular talent (yes, it qualifies as a talent; otherwise, I would have no discernible talent). All of these should help increase tension between the characters.

character counts

Tip #2: Dialogue builds a character’s backstory.

  • It takes a seasoned novelist to achieve what I’m about to suggest, but it can be done and done well: use dialogue to help round out a character’s backstory. Now I’m not suggesting nor do I advocate for information dumps; those take readers out of the story, which defeats the purpose. But if you can weave in memorable (and, occasionally, important) bits about a character’s biography then dialogue is wonderfully efficient place to do so. Plus, it saves time and space. Being lazy, I like that.

dialogue new newTip #3: Dialogue helps create separate and unique characters.

  • Every character, from the protagonist to a minor character with only a few lines, should have a distinct way of speaking. This helps brand them as unique characters, and it helps readers differentiate between characters, especially recurring ones who have lots of dialogue. Find ways to make every character’s speech memorable. Does a character stutter? Talk really fast? Speak in clipped phrases? Whatever, just make it memorable.

feelings

Tip #4: Dialogue, on occasion, reveals a character’s most important thoughts and feelings.

  • Again, a seasoned novelist will do this sparingly. Unless, of course, the character in question is someone who wears his or her heart on his or her sleeve and keeps up a constant monologue. But still, dialogue is a nice place to, on occasion, toss in how a character feels about an issue (say, the crime in question, for example). This will help cement a reader’s feelings toward the character, and it will also help other characters who are involved in the dialogue parse their own feelings.

talk

So how important is dialogue to you as a reader? Got any tips on how to create meaningful and memorable dialogue? Have any Italian sandwiches you’d like to send my way? (What, I’m hungry.) Would love to hear from you. Drop a comment.

 

What’s YOUR Favorite PI Packin’?

Throughout the long history of the private investigator, the weapons they carry (or don’t) tell a fascinating story. In today’s post we’ll take a look at my very own humble PI, Mac McClellan, and his choice of weaponry.  Let’s do some snooping and see what we can turn up. Hmm, where to begin? Ah, the obvious—

Arm & handlaughing-teeth


Mac is armed to the teeth!  

S&W .357 Mag. #606

Given his background as a career Marine with extensive combat service, Mac doesn’t take weapons lightly. He wants something reliable and that packs a punch. No pea-shooters for him. That’s why his carry weapon of choice is a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver. Why a revolver instead of a semi-automatic? Jamming problems. During combat deployments to Iraq, Mac observed many jamming issues with the M9 Beretta, the current standard handgun of the USMC. Kept cleaned and lubed, it’s a fine weapon. But in the dust and grit of desert warfare, that’s not easy to do. The M9 semi-automatic also lacks the punch of the .357 Mag. When Mac is forced to shoot at another armed human being, he wants to make sure the bad guy stays down.

 

“But semi-autoloaders are much quicker to reload,” you say. “Isn’t the ability to quickly reload a worthwhile tradeoff?”

 

S&W .357 mag and quickloads

 

Well, yes and no. It’s true the semi-autos can be loaded faster. Just click the magazine release and snap in a fresh magazine (or clip, if you prefer). Quick and simple. However, most revolvers (including Mac’s S&W .357 Magnum) have speedloaders available which can quickly replace an empty cylinder. Open the cylinder, dump the empties, line up the speedloader containing the fresh cartridges, and twist the knob. Voila—all loaded and ready to fire. Mac carries a couple of spares in his Tundra, but he rarely packs one on his person. He’s not in a war zone situation with numerous bad guys. If he ever does find himself in such a pinch, he has a backup weapon near at hand.

 

Mossberg Maverick 88

 

Allow me to introduce you to Mac’s badass backup for when things really get dicey: the Mossberg Maverick 88 pump shotgun. It’s an inexpensive, no frills, and reliable weapon. Mossberg makes good stuff. You can load this baby with eight double-ought 2 ¾” shells. That’s seven in the tube magazine and one in the chamber. With its 20” barrel, flat black color, and synthetic stock, it’s one helluva whoopass weapon. Mac carried a similar shotgun in Iraq which came in handy while clearing and securing buildings during the close-up combat in Fallujah. Don’t leave home without it.

 

Up close and personal!

 

ka-bar-knife-LO

 

There are times and circumstances when a firearm might be unavailable, out of reach, or stealth is called for to take out a “baddie.” Introducing the USMC KA-BAR combat knife, the choice of fighting knives by Marines since World War II. Mac owns a fancy engraved KA-BAR given to him by his last command during his retirement ceremony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Although a true KA-BAR with deadly capabilities, it’s for show and memories only. He also has the KA-BAR he carried into every combat situation since he was an eighteen-year-old lance corporal in the First Gulf War. A knife he’s used to survive on more than one occasion. Mac doesn’t routinely carry it, but when called for he won’t hesitate to strap it to his belt or his ankle. It’s a down and dirty weapon, and not for the feint of heart.

 

S&W Model_642_11_350

 

So, there you have it, a brief look at Mac McClellan’s personal arsenal. Of course he’s always on the lookout for additional weapons, just in case. Right now Mac’s got his eye on a S&W Model 642 .38 Special revolver. With its small frame, short barrel, and internal hammer, he thinks it would make a perfect hideaway piece to back up the Mag.

What’s your favorite PI packin’?

Means means it’s gotta make sense.

The title of this blog is motive, means, opportunity. We’ve talked about motive already, but what about means? That’s a biggie and often difficult to come up with.

What do I mean? How hard can it be? Blast ‘em and be on your way. Err…no. I write on the cozy end of the spectrum. My perps are probably not carrying guns, or knives for that matter. Most likely they are not martial arts experts either. So, how do I come up with means?leg of lamb-18h53m15s58

How would you kill someone? Oh, I know. We’re talking hypothetical here, but I bet you’ve considered it—hypothetically. The most believable cozy deaths use every day means. These deaths are often not premeditated. They are spur of the moment. The weapons something close at hand based on circumstance, not a grander plan. The death is the result of a tragic accident and it’s the cover-up attempt that calls attention to the killer, not the circumstances of the death.

In Zoned for Murder, the victim was hung, after he was incapacitated by blunt force trauma. Had the killer dialed 911—my vic would have lived. Instead, the killer took matters into his own hands and tried to make a dreadful accident look like a suicide. He almost succeeded. In Murder in the Multiples a drug overdose was at fault. Self-administered? Maybe. That was what the killer hoped it looked like.

In Death by Blue Water the victim drowned, he was found with an anchor line wrapped around his ankle and the anchor nearby. Those boating tragedies do happen, but not this time. Then in Death by Sunken Treasure the victim’s scuba air source was turned off when he was found. Suicide? Nah.

In all of these books the deaths could be easily explained away by the circumstances in the victim’s lives. In all of these cases, the killers took advantage of those facts, and of items at hand, to do the deed. No guns, no knives, no killing stars, or kung fu footwork. Means. It’s what you have at hand.

Hitchcoclamb-2015-02-23-18h54m26s254k had the best example of this. Writers are still trying to imitate Roald Dahl’s short story premise and Hitch’s depiction in Lamb to the Slaughter. The weapon, a frozen leg of lamb, later eaten by the murderer, with the detectives enjoying the meal as well. Means—what have you got in your freezer!

Do you prefer books with obvious means of death, or like me, do you prefer to have to puzzle it out?

 

 

What Is A Novel? And Why Does It Matter? And To Whom?

According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, a novel is “a long, printed story about imaginary characters and events.” I find that definition, while technically accurate, woefully vague. Dictionary.com, thankfully, has a more precise definition: “a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.” Formal language aside, this is much better. Far more specific and comprehensive. However, neither definition concretely addresses what is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of a novel: length. So allow me to synthesize parts of the above definitions with one of my own.   A novel is a piece of fiction that is 60,000 words or more.

important

But what’s more relevant than the definition itself are the reasons why readers and writers alike should care.  So let’s discuss, briefly, what some of those reasons are, why they matter, and to whom they matter. First off, I’ve yet to come across a literary agent or a publisher that will even consider a manuscript that is less than 60,000 words, so length is paramount.  My guess is that’s to do with marketing.  Agents must sell manuscripts in order to make any money, and publishers big and small are not willing to spend the time, energy, and resources on any manuscript, regardless of quality, that cannot be labeled a novel, which is, by leaps and bounds, the most popular form of fiction read today.  It’s supply and demand. Simple as that.  That said, I love short stories and novellas, but generally speaking, people don’t read them. Truth be told, I don’t read them much, unless it is for a literature or creative writing class I happen to be teaching.  In short, readers read novels. Period.

money

Money is another reason writers should be keenly aware of the definition of a novel.  Everything, in the end, gets back to money. Sad, but true.  And if publishers are going to go to the trouble of publishing a book, it needs to be of substance and of a certain length, i.e. novel-length. Quick hypothetical: imagine you’re a Kindle reader, and you purchase a “novel” that looks good, but then soon discover the book is less than a hundred pages.  You feel cheated, right? Betrayed, maybe even enough to not bother with the rest of the book.  And if you do read on, that sense of betrayal can and will color your opinion of the book in question, especially since you paid good money for it.  Now consider the cost of printing a hardback or paperback.  After paying editors and proofreaders and book cover designers, a publisher has to then send a typeset manuscript to a printer, and that costs even more money.  Publishers must be selective in what they publish. Highly selective.  It’s not just a question of money, but time as well. For all the time a publisher spends on one book, that same publisher is missing out on a whole slew of other books, all potential bestsellers. For you business types out there, you’ll know there is a name for this: FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out.

Bottom line, writers need to be aware of what publishers and agents mean when they ask for novels, and act accordingly. Because if writers don’t, they’ll get something even worse than a boilerplate rejection notice in their inbox: they’ll get no response at all.

talk

So what’s your definition of a novel? Why do you think readers prefer novels over other forms of fiction such as novellas and short stories? I’d love to hear what you think.

FINALLY I’M A AUTHOR!!!

Or, when is an author an author?

published 1

Yes, you read the title correctly, I kid you not. Last week I was perusing a Google+ writers’ community and there it was, posted in all its inglorious splendor—a writer shouting to the literary world that s/he had finally fulfilled her/his (“he/his” from here on) lifelong dream of becoming a published author. I read the euphoric pronouncement which was also somewhat grammatically-challenged; perhaps in his excitement the author’s fingers leapt ahead of his brain. This new contribution to literature was a PI mystery, one of my favorite genres.

John D. MacDonald

I clicked the link to the author’s title, available as an ebook only, from “A” large venue—no name-dropping here. In celebration of its release, the novel was on sale for a measly $0.99, limited time only. Hmm, the cover was so-so. Okay, I’m being kind; it whispered, “Amateurish!” but I scrolled down to check out some of the twenty-seven reviews (all four & five stars) the book had garnered in only its third day of publication. Not bad—pretty darn good actually. There were comparisons to John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Lee Child, even Raymond Chandler. “Bold, witty.” “Didn’t see the ending coming.” “The action is fast-paced, like a runaway train.” “Couldn’t put it down,” etc., etc.

dollar bill 1

Wow, what’s not to like, and for less than a buck! But wait . . . I scrolled back up. Only 96 pages. Come on, this was touted as a novel, not a novella, the first in a continuing series of Blankety Blank Mysteries. That <dollar was stretching a little thin. But what the hey, it might turn out to be a great read. I wasn’t going to give up on what promised to be an exciting new PI series simply because the first course was a little on the light side.

It was nitty-gritty time, the “Look inside” feature. As I left-clicked on the cover, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” ran through my mind. I scrolled past the cover, the usual copyright, acknowledgments, dedication, and those annoying chapters one-through-whatever in blue.

Ah, finally—Chapter 1.

fancy font 2

Yikes! The entire first line was set in some almost illegible script font. Each paragraph was indented a third of the way across the page. No justification, and the text of this 96-page tome were generously double-spaced, with additional double-spacing between each paragraph. The word count instantly shrunk by half, and the price shot up. This wasn’t such a bargain after all. But not to worry.

the glass key 2

By page 4 I gave up. Not only did I find seven typos, but the opening sentence—after I painstakingly deciphered it—proved to be an exact word-for-word rip-off of Dashiell Hammet’s The Glass Key, with one exception: the dice in our newly published author’s story were white, not green. (I had re-read Hammet’s classic a couple of weeks earlier after watching the film version starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. While Ms. Lake is very easy on the eyes, I still prefer the book.)

Alas, no sale and no review for our new author.

the point 2

Which brings me to my point, which might piss-off some people, a risk I’m willing to take: when is an author an author? With the explosion of digital technology ebooks have proliferated beyond what most could’ve imagined a few short years ago. Anyone with a little money and enough intelligence to string sentences together (typos, punctuation, or proper layout be damned!) can, in short order, have an ebook on the market and ready to sell. Voila—another published author!

blackeye 1

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to give self-publishing a black eye, or to denigrate the process in any way, shape, or form. What I am trying to point out is that there are tons of poorly written self-published works flooding the marketplace. The majority are hastily flung together and published with little—if any—thought as to proper editing. The number of typos, punctuation, and other errors is astounding. A lot of the writing is simply atrocious. Books (I use the term loosely) like these make it more difficult for traditionally published and self-published authors who’ve paid their dues by learning the craft and producing quality products. They must compete with all the garbage—ebooks and printed books—on the virtual shelves of online booksellers.

As stated earlier, I have nothing against self-publishing and those who choose that path to publication. There are many hundreds if not thousands of self-publishing authors whose work is every bit as good—often better—as authors who’ve traveled the traditional route. I’ve considered self-pubbing myself, and might very well choose to do so in the future. Those doing things the right way, those who’ve worked hard and spent untold hours trying to master the craft (which none of us fully will) have every right to stand tall and be proud of their labor and product.

question mark 2

So, when is an author really an author? When he uploads an inferior, error-riddled ebook to the marketplace? I suppose by strict definition that qualifies. But what if I go out and buy a stethoscope and other medical tools of the trade—does that qualify me to the title of doctor? If I can wire and install a ceiling fan in my own home, am I then an electrician? If I go to a NASCAR facility and pay to drive a few high-speed laps around the track, am I a bona-fide racecar driver?

I think not.

As reader and/or writer, what’s your opinion?

The Windows of my Discontent

Writers write.  That’s what we do. Most of us write on computers. And many of us use writing programs. I’m a Scrivener aficionado. Love it. For me, it’s the perfect program. It lets me write very stream of consciousness and then put everything in order later. Got a great idea for an ending, or a scene that should have been in the first few chapters? Write it, then drag and drop it where you want to. Scrivener also lets me make index cards in what they call the “corkboard” that I can mark by point of view character and mark them by story function. So, I know that if I have five red herrings, I need to have five red herrings resolved. It’s a great program for writers.Scrivener

But that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about Windows. Specifically, Windows 10. A bit of backstory. Back when Windows 7 came out—late 2009, my laptop was giving me trouble so, I bought a brand new Asus laptop. 17” all the bells and whistles. Yum. It’s a great laptop. Notice the present tense. The thing is still ticking along. And it’s working well. No complaints. So, why change? Research shows that laptops have a five-year life. At the outside. Mine was rapidly approaching seven. Little things were beginning to happen. Nothing terrible, and nothing that could not be attributed to operator error. Fear was beginning to invade my writing life. Writing is hard enough without that.

Then, as everyone knows, Windows 10 came out. Wasn’t too big a stretch to realize that Windows 7 was going the way of Vista and XP. Pretty soon, it would be impossible to update programs or buy newer peripherals. The handwriting was on the wall. Instead of rushing out and buying a new laptop with either Windows 7 or Windows 8 (God forbid) I decided to wait until the preloads were available. And they had to be available on an Asus laptop. You just can’t argue with seven years of service!Asus

The big day happened last month. I waited until I had an uncommitted weekend (after tax season—couldn’t risk my Quicken information) and I decided to buy a Windows 10 laptop. Best Buy also had a deal on the Microsoft Office suite so I got that too. Friday night I sat down to do the program downloads (piece of cake, they went like silk). Saturday, I decided to download my Mozy backup. 9,200 files—who knew! That took until Sunday afternoon since I did not stay up to push a button every time the laptop went to sleep. And therein lies the story.

I do not trust “the Cloud.” The Cloud is nothing more than a server located God knows where. I don’t want my information on the Cloud. I want my information local, and backed up regularly to the secure servers of Mozy. Never a breach since I’ve been using them. I trust them. OK, I downloaded my files to the computer, not the Cloud. And then I discover, I do not have administrator privileges to OPEN them in any of the programs. Cover your ears, those of you faint of heart—WTF! I own the computer, I bought the computer, I am the sole user of the computer, what does Microsoft mean I DON’T HAVE ADMINISTRATOR PRIVILIGES!

Things get worse. I am not a technology savvy person, and it’s Sunday. I tried searching, on Microsoft and on Google. Most of what I found were similar complaints. OK, no help there. So, taking my courage in both hands, I went to…the settings section. No joy. Following that, and an ever increasing vocabulary that would make a truck driver proud, I went to C drive, users, my name, my documents and right clicked. Low and behold, there was a place called properties. I took a deep breath and clicked. Once there, I found security options. Though some trial and error, I managed to give myself editor rights. I clicked apply. The drive began showing all of my files, one after another. Not sure what hell I might have unleashed, I broke out in a cold sweat. Finally, it finished and I opened Scrivener. GLORY BE—I was able to open my saved stories. Including my current WIP that’s 50% done.WINDOWS-10-wallpaper

I did it! I conquered Windows 10. Now that I figured out how to get to my stuff, know what. I LIKE this program. It’s clean and easy to use. Yes, I think Windows 10 and I may have at least a five-year future together.

Have you taken the Windows 10 plunge yet? What do you think?

Kait loves to hear from fans, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.