Monday, March 03, 2014
My work in progress right now is the 8th volume in the Rafe Vincennes series. I'm always happy to get back to Rafe again after getting to know another character and telling their story. Rafe is my baby and I love him the best.
Having said that though, I begin to wonder how writers like Janet Evanovich continue so long with a series. She is now coming out with her 21st Stephanie Plum novel. How does she keep thinking of new, outrageous things for Stephanie and the crew to do after all this time? How long can Stephanie balance her twin attractions to Morelli and Ranger? Will she eventually have to make a decision and choose? If she does, one of the primary plot lines of the series will disappear.
Sometimes, the answer seems to be to start a new series with one of the characters from the first. That's what John Sandford has done with Virgil Flowers. He wrote about Lucas Davenport for years in the Prey novels. Now Virgil has his very own series. Since Lucas and Virgil are miles apart in personality and philosophy, that gives Sandford something new and intriguing to write about.
Sometimes that works out better than other times. Anne Rice did the same when she switched back and forth between her vampires and her witches. I was never able to make the transfer with her. I read all the vampire books and skipped the witches.
Jack Higgins has a whole group of spies and one book will concentrate on one of them, then the next will focus on another. I only read the ones in which Sean Dillon plays a central role.
I fall in love with characters, so I hate it when an author brings a series to a close. My heart was broken when Andrew Vachss put away Burke and the family (my favorite of all). I felt let down when Charlie Huston gave up on Joe Pitt, vampire. I want to see Jack Reacher and Myron Bolitar and Richard Jury and Thomas Lynley and Jamie Fraser and ...... go on forever but with Rafe, I'm beginning to understand how difficult that can be on the writer.
Friday, February 14, 2014
My cousin and I were discussing what provides the initial spark of inspiration for a new book. I told him that mine always begin when a main character's name pops into my head. Usually, that's a man but not always. In Magic Creek, it was a woman. The name usually comes with a general sense of who this person is and as I sit down to write, more and more about him or her is revealed.
My cousin, who writes science fiction mostly, said his books begin with a "what if" question and go from there.
I told him I thought my method was preferable to his because if you stall out in finding an answer to your "what if", you're just done. He admitted that many of his ideas do peter out like that.
By contrast, with a person as your starting point, the possibilities are limitless. He can be a cop or a race car driver, a doctor or a teacher, a devil or a saint (most of my characters are some of each). He can be from anywhere in the world, be of any religion or any sexual orientation.
Rafe Vincennes, hero (anti-hero) of the Rafe Vincennes series is an actor and a race car driver, a lover and a killer. Cole McCarren, in Sticks and Carrots, is Irish. He is a wealthy businessman but his heart belongs to his racing stable, McCarren Broad Farm. Ethan Pierce (How to Build a Killer) ends up fleeing to South America to escape U.S. law. Shea Rafferty goes west as a boy, becoming a cowboy and a saver of wild horses in Eureka Spills. In my latest book, Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya, Luca Quai is half/Jew and half/Gypsy. He begins his life in Romania before coming to New York. He is an assassin who finds his spiritual home in Louisiana, with a Creole townhouse in New Orleans and his refuge in the Atchafalaya.
The key, though, is that it wasn't vital for any of them to be who they were. Cole McCarren could have been French instead of Irish if that's where my imagination had taken me. Shea Rafferty could have saved wolves instead of horses. Luca Quai could have just as easily felt a bond to the Rockies rather than the Atchafalaya.
When you build a story around a person, you begin with a shadow and fill in the colors as you go along. You can look to the far horizon and know that you're not bound by any restrictions. You can simply take off and fly to see where your creativity takes you.
Perhaps some writers are uncomfortable without a basic structure to go by. They prefer to set their original plot up as a kind of paint-by-numbers canvas so that they are working within an outline that must be adhered to.
We are all different in the way we write but if you stuck for a a direction, imagine a person who fascinates you and see if you can take it from there.
Friday, January 31, 2014
Finally, my latest novel, Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya, is finished and published. (It is available at Amazon and smashwords). It kept having to take a back seat when Mom required so much care the last few months and after she died, it took me a while to get my mind settled enough to get back in the groove of writing.
Luca Quai, the main character in the book, is different and yet in some ways the same as my other heroes - Rafe, Ethan, Cole, Shea....
Luca Quai excelled at three things: seduction, sleight of hand and assassination.
Rarely did Luca meet anyone, male or female, who couldn’t be tempted into his bed. Partly that was because of his striking looks. Slightly above medium height, his lithe slenderness belied his strength. He was lean and hard and quick. His thick black hair curled down his neck. Mysterious eyes the color of pewter, the somewhat slanted shape of them hinting at a long-ago Mongol ancestor, were framed by thick brows and long lashes. The rest of his face featured high cheekbones, a straight aristocratic nose and a firm chin. His skin color was deeply tan. He could pass for Latino or Arabic or even African-American if the occasion called for it. Add to that a gleaming white slash of a smile and Luca ignited lust like a match ignites tinder.
Even more than his looks though was a kind of magnetism that surrounded him like an incandescent aura. It lured people into wanting to share in the sensuous golden glow of it.
His mastery of sleight of hand most often manifested itself through cheating at cards. He could palm a card, replacing it with another, with movements so smooth and quick that no one even noticed. His favorite game was poker although he’d play others if a high roller suggested a friendly wager.
And lastly, killing – almost always with a knife. Luca could smile while sticking a stiletto in your heart so that you were knocking on the Pearly Gates before you realized you were under attack. (Sleight of hand played a part in that too, of course). He was the favorite assassin of those who had a strongly emotional animus against the target, when a bullet from a distance simply wasn’t personal enough.
Luca shares qualities with the others in that they are all men who are capable of great good at the same time they are engaging in great bad. The theme of the first Rafe novel was: "are we are good as the best that we do or as bad as the worst that we do"? That question still fascinates me and so...Luca Quai.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Here is one of the coolest aspects of doing research for a book. In the novel, I'm writing now, my hero (half Jew/half Gypsy) was assaulted by neo-Nazis who carved a swastika into his chest. Of course, he always despised carrying this ugly symbol on his body so he went to a tattoo artist to have it covered over. I wanted his tattoo to be of a black eagle but so far as I knew there was no such thing.
So, I went to Google and put "black eagle" in the search box and lo and behold, it turns out there are not one, but two distinct species of black eagles. The first, the Indian black eagle's official name is Ictinaetus Malayensis and his range is from Pakistan and Indochina to the Malay Peninsula. The second, The Verreaux eagle is known as the African eagle.
Aren't they beauties?
So I was able to safely make my guy's tattoo a black eagle without eagle-eyed (pun intended) readers writing to say - "you made that up, there is no such thing as a black eagle!" Of course, writers make things up. That's what fiction is, after all, but I do usually try to be accurate about historic, scientific and natural facts.
In this book (which will be entitled Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya, I've learned about Jewish culture and holidays and food and Gypsies (though they call themselves Roma) and New Orleans and the Atchafalaya Basin and Sicilian stiletto fighting.
Through writing, I get a broader education than I ever got in school (though I still do everything possible to avoid math).
Sunday, January 12, 2014
My Grandmother's maiden name was Nussbaum which she swore wasn't Jewish. Maybe it wasn't. Nussbaum can be either a German or a Jewish name. On the other hand, being a Jew in her little rural community in Illinois coming up on the turn of the century wasn't a popular thing to be so no one could blame the family for fudging it. She looked almost exactly like this cartoon - iron gray hair in a bun, glasses, always with an apron (although she never would have worn heels or a necklace). She was sterner than she was sweet but she had to be, raising four children on her own in the early 1900's.
Grammie had a language all her own. We all picked up on it and my generation still uses many of the descriptive words from her vocabulary. Somehow, they just seem more fitting and colorful than ordinary terms. For instance, she often let things brutzle on the back of the stove. Brutzling was a little less than boiling and a little more than simmering. When she used the broom to give the kitchen a less than motivated lick and a promise, she swintzled it. Same thing with ironing. If you just pressed your blouse quickly, not paying much attention to detail, you roshpeled it. When you lay in your bed enjoying that dreamy state between sleep and full wakefulness, you were fowlencing.
To Grammie, an old worn-out robe that you clung to was a drunzel. A beat up old pair of shoes were dopas.
If you came home, having had too much to drink but not really drunk, you were pasoofah. Her circle of family and friends were the Carottles. In her lexicon, Carottles seemed to mean a rowdy, loving family that sometimes feuded but defended one another against outsiders no matter what. Sort of like the Duck Dynasty family if they really were the Duck Dynasty family instead of rich Yuppies in disguise.
Maybe these are all real German and/or Jewish words (if so, they are probably all spelled wrong). I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't Grammie providing us with a secret family language that started my lifelong fascination with words.
We moved a lot when I was a kid and I can remember loving to hear the rich accents of South Carolina, like fudge bubbling on the stove. And the soft drawl of Texas when a man in a cowboy hat leaned into car to give us directions. "Want some cow in that?" a Montanan once asked Dad, which meant, "would you like cream in your coffee?" And when we lived in the east among the regional dialects of Massachusetts and Maine, I sometimes had to ask people to repeat themselves before I understood them. When we moved to California, I was told Hoosiers talked through their nose although of course, I thought I had no accent at all.
Professions often have their own language too. When I worked for the Sheriff's Department, I learned a whole new set of harsh phrases - "cuff'em and stuff'em" and "hook'em and book'em" and "smash and grab". "That don't feed the bulldog" and "clusterfuck". "Holster-sniffer" and "'Scrotebag". "Drop a dime" and "zero-dark-thirty".
Becoming a NASCAR fan, I discovered terms like "drive it like ya' stole it" and "bump and run" and "pit lizard" (which is NASCAR's version of "holster sniffer") and "Boogity, boogity, boogity". I learned about The Big One and what a Darlington Stripe is and what it means to be "on the throttle". (Unlike NASCAR folks back in the day, fewer current drivers sound like they come from the South).
Language, in general, is getting more generic, like the exits off the interstate in so many American cities. Distinctive regional dialects and accents are disappearing and all news reporters sound like they came from Nowhere-in-Particular, USA. But it doesn't have to be that way in writing. We can make our characters sound as colorful as we like in our stories. Maybe, in the end, it will be up to us to keep this rich and picturesque part of our national heritage alive.
Thursday, January 02, 2014
My favorite thing about a brand new year has always been calendars. I love the fresh newness of them, the unlimited potential they contain in all those blank spaces. I love the way they tell you where you're going and where you've been and how, when the year is over, they are a small journal of your life in 365 days.
The calendars they choose to live by are a clue to their owner's psyche. If they are devout, they will often have a calendar that contains inspirational Bible verses. If they are animal lovers, their calendar will feature precious puppies or cunning kittens or beautiful horses. If they yearn for Big Water in a year mostly filled with the mundane of flat cornfields, their calendars will show pictures of beaches and hammocks and palm trees to illustrate where they wish they were instead of where they are. If they need a small lift each day, Maxine may share a humorously, cynical message. Back in the day, Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorites.
There are calendars filled with sexy, scantily-clad women or men and calendars glorifying fast cars or Harley Davidson motorcycles or, for that matter, John Deere tractors. The selections are endless in picking a calendar to suit your personality - sports and tigers, dolls and porches, birdhouses and roses, movie stars and history and babies. Each month is a new photo to daydream over and another new start.
If you go out of your way to buy a calendar, you probably put your money where your heart is. My main calendar for the last many years, has been a Jimmie Johnson calendar. It sits on my desk and reminds me that it will soon be the weekend. I feel a small thrill of anticipation each time I think of seeing the 48 car taking to the track at Daytona or Darlington or Talladega.
Free calendars often tell a tale of what charities touch you in your deepest self. My options were from among the ones that come as a result of donations Mom or I made to the Wildlife Defense Fund (wolves or wild horses being my first choices) or the Wounded Warriors Project or Greenpeace or the ASPCA or any charity that helps children.... We kept our favorites and gave the rest away.....letting our friends choose between birds and flowers and mountains and waterfalls.
Some unimaginative people see calendars as simply practical objects. They put up one that comes to them at work....photos of car parts or something.....or perhaps car parts are interesting and exciting to them because they love what they do. Those are the luckiest people of all - those who look forward to each day because their lives are satisfying and fulfilling.
That is my wish for you in 2014. Build good karma because karma is only a bitch if you are.
Monday, November 25, 2013
I read Atlas Shrugged when I was in high school and I loved it. Of course, as a sophomore, I was interested in the story and the characters, not the political philosophy.
Now, since Ayn Rand has become the darling of the right-wingers, I'm trying to read it again to see what they find so compelling. It is a struggle this time. I can see why Ayn would appeal to teenagers and conservatives because it is simplistic in its black and whiteness. There are no shades of gray, no nuances in Atlas Shrugged. It is 1009 pages of tiny, dense lettering of straight-on pedantry.
Every character is either a man among men (including the heroine, Dagny Taggart) or a worthless little wimp. None of Rand's characters are multi-faceted, complex beings who agonize about their life's decisions. In her own philosophy, which she called Objectivism, Ayn Rand lauded rational self-interest. She believed that by doing what makes you happy, it will automatically follow that your acts will serve as a benefit for others as well. She applauded the virtue of selfishness.
Re-reading Rand, it is easy to see where Mitt Romney came up with the "makers and the takers". We are all one or the other in the world according to Ayn. Her style fits the Tea Party - "if a man doesn't work, he doesn't eat" attitude of today. You really don't do anyone any favors by giving them assistance. Food stamps and subsidized housing only makes people weak and dependent.
Ironically, Ayn Rand rejected all religions and intimations of a spiritual life. Reason was her God. Laissez faire capitalism was her mantra. I don't know how the Religious Right gets around that aspect of her teachings, ignores it, I suppose. Rand believed your destiny was in your own hands - no excuses. She glosses over the misfortunes that befall human beings. Her heroes succeeded by the strength of their determination and confidence. Orphans came up through the ranks and before you knew it, they were able to buy the steel mill. You too could do this, she implied, if only you were strong enough. But oddly enough, all of Ayn's main characters were gifted with supreme intelligence to go along with their iron will, which I imagine helps immensely.
I'm only about one/third of the way through Atlas Shrugged. I can only slog through so much at one time. I put it down for a while, then go back to it. I wanted to write a review when I finished but I'm really not sure I ever will finish so I'm doing it now.
I can honestly see how some people would latch onto Ayn and her philosophy. It makes a world made up of myriad complications seem simple. The path forward is so clear. She gives people permission for people to be selfish. Finding your own happiness is your highest calling. Heck, who wouldn't like to believe that was true? Rand was one of the original Prosperity Theologists.
It is all up to you, she tells you, and if you don't make it, its your own damn fault, weakling.