Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Circus and The Hustle

Who doesn't claim to hate--in some cases even sincerely--the circus surrounding the launch of an ebook?  Barnum & Bailey may have collapsed its tents after 146 years but the spirit is alive and well online on any day.



Introverted writers are forced to compete with the extros for reviews, blog tours and interviews. At the end of the day there are only two classes: the quick and the dead.

Until now I've been one of the haters, clinging stubbornly to notions of good old days that never were, when all the writers were good pals, supporting one another until the cows came home. And so I wrote and published book after book, with no sense of the business behind sales success or the method of getting reviews.

For the new year I made a solemn vow to get my hustle on. 




I'm still growing as I go, but here is my report so far:
1) I've lined up a second reading at Seattle's Noir at the Bar, a chance to meet more writers and perfect my live reading skills.
2) I'm slowly balancing my bank of Facebook Friends to include more mystery/thriller writers. Because of my past writing in horror, the Friend requests I first received were largely in the genre. 
3) In March I'll launch the first title in my new Seattle BOP series. The new direction needed a new look, so I've changed cover designers. 
4) In the past few weeks I've contacted some pro portrait photographers with an eye on obtaining the right one for a late summer shoot. I chose the right one yesterday.
5) I've cemented my timeline for moving...now May. I'm saving like a maniac and orchestrating like Leonard Bernstein. To make my own way in the circus, I need a place with an office...and, by God, a writer's desk.
6) I investigated thoroughly legitimate methods of getting reviews. Plus how and whom I should approach. 
7) Today I began to implement my Top Secret plan. 

Busy? You betcha. But the funny thing is you won't hear me singing the blues about this. To tell the truth, I dig the hustle.


Friday, February 2, 2018

The First 5 Pages: Series Interruptus: Chapter 2

So I downloaded the free sample of Claude Bouchard's 13th Vigilante thriller, Make It Happen. Now. as this blog made clear last week I was looking forward to reading it. Naturally, you'd assume that I plunged right into it. After all, samples usually run up to 25 pages, no more. But the reading didn't go that way. I held back till the following morning. Why?

1)  The first reason was a scary one, based on my memories of agents and my reading of one scary agent's horrifying book:


In Noah Lukeman's version of hell, agents coldbloodedly skim the first 5 pages of submissions. Now and then, they'll speed-check 5 pages outs of sequence, looking for howlers, typos or yawns. You don't get 50 pages...or 30...or 20...or 10. You get 5--and then the boot if you haven't hit the ground running.


I knew that my own thinking had grown a lot closer to Lukeman's... and I feared I might not be as easily hooked as I had been years ago.

2) Plus, I was six books behind in the series and I wanted a binary mindset: reading as both a truant Vigilante fan and a reader who was new to Bouchard.

Come morning, I felt ready ready to do so.  And now I present my own



--To begin at the end of the 23-page sample, I felt hooked enough to buy the book, on which I'll report next week. Today let's consider the purpose of samples and why this one succeeds.
--Though the sample concludes with a hell of a bang, Claude Bouchard starts on a quietly ominous note: a lone motorbike rider in Pakistan putters along a dirt road toward a dilapidated farmhouse, in truth little more than a shack. The tone is gravely measured: 'He was well aware that he might be heading into a trap and, if he was, he had nobody else to blame but himself. After all, he had set the wheels in motion which had eventually led to this impending meeting...which might...put him in peril and even result in his demise.' Within three more pages, he's led by armed guards to the man he's come to meet: Abdel Omar Al-Tashid, the self-appointed leader of the State of Islam.
--By steady and subtle degrees, we're brought closer and closer to the two men's objectives. Then the narrative cuts deftly to characters preparing for an air show in Canada. Then to a terrorist who's come to implement the plan. I emphasize the smoothness of the writing because a writer less skilled or confident than Bouchard would have felt the need to zip along and hurry to the Good Part. For Bouchard every page is a polished part of the book's procession.
--The Big Bang at the end of the sample is as powerfully 'shot' as a big budget film. The writing technique brings out the big guns of style. And yet I was moved to buy this book before the big bang. I dug the smoothness of the writing. The fine touches of characterization. The assured sense of pacing. Sold.
--And what of Series Interruptus, my arriving here so far behind? There's no sign, by the sample's end, of the former vigilante, Chris Barry, or his cop-friend Dave McCall. Though the story's easy to follow, I'm left with a pleasant sense of mystery. A Vigilant novel without Chris Barry and/or Dave McCall?
--The cover, by the way, does a mighty fine job in portraying the explosive storyline.
--And talk about ending on a cliffhanger: I don't know if Bouchard planned the sample cut-off point, but few readers of the sample are not going to need to read on.




Till next week!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Series Interruptus: a Claude Bouchard adventure: Chapter One

You know what it's like. At least you do if you have favorite authors who are extemely prolific. Tending to one list, you let your others fall behind. Then, in turn, you turn to another...And so on and so forth. Soon enough, you've fallen behind on nearly of them. And you have that sinking feeling: How can you ever get caught up with X or Y or Z? You're ready to play Reading Bingo.


Your frustration is compounded when you're hooked on several series. In my case, I got hooked on Claude Bouchard's Vigilante series: loving their quirky wit, shocking twists and stylish prose. At the same time, I admired two series by Russell Blake, who's capable of writing 8 or 9 novels a year. And I do like to try to keep up with James Patterson,,,Michael Connelly...Harlan Coben...Robert Crais...and on and on and on.

This would be no problem if I were Pam Stack, capable of reading 400 novels a year.


But aside from reading, I work full-time and write a few hours each day.

Which brings us back to Claude Bouchard, whose 13th Vigilante novel has just hit the online shelf. 



Make it Happen (Vigilante Series) (Volume 13)


The subject interests me and I really dig the fact that CB took his time with this, refusing to hurry the novel along. But I drifted about midway through the series--blame that on Russell Blake--and in time I starting wondering if I could recover from Series Interruptus

Still, now that I'd written a number of standalone Boss MacTavin mysteries...and have just finished a new spinoff series...I wanted to approach CB's #13 as a new reader--and see how cleverly and carefully he brings a new reader into the fold.

Step one: today I ordered a Kindle Sample.  Tonight, I'll see if the sample compels me to part with cold cash.

Tomorrow: my reaction.

Then, if all goes well: my end report of this book as a standalone...how it works as such--and why...and if it succeeds in sending me back to #6. 

Till then.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Noir at the Bar Seattle

It was the first time I'd set foot in a bar in over thirty years. And it left me wanting to shout three words I'd sworn would never again pass my lips:



But I hadn't gone to Seattle's Hotel Sorrento to drink. In fact, back in my drinking days, its Fireside Room wouldn't have been my kind of joint. A bit too rooty-tooty, I'd have thought, for a swaggering tough like myself. 



The old time decor might have been fine--I'd have told you way back when--for Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade but not for a fan of Bukowski or the Stones. But, older and dry now for decades, I was not only reading Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald et al...I'd written five mysteries and started my sixth.

Now I'd been invited to the Fireside Room to join Seattle's Noir at the Bar, affiliated with a nation-wide quarterly NATB events. And I decided to change my No Bar rule to allow some cool quarterly Noir Bar. So I went to the Fireside Room last night, 1/11, and was blown away.


It's hard to know where to start with the praise. But let me start with the room and the vibes. Instead of  the average horror or fantasy convention, the atmosphere evoked the genre perfectly. And, yes, Spade, Marlowe or Archer would have felt at home there. So did the crowd of readers and writers who'd come to celebrate Noir.

The lineup included writers at the start of their careers and those who've been around the track--not to say older--like me. And readings ranged mostly from 5-10 minutes. Just one exception, really, that ran close to twenty--but still held the room captive. 5-10, though, seemed ideal--enough to give a fair taste of our wares and leave them wanting more.

I left with the names of ten writers, including the host Will Viharo, whose work I'll be reading in the next few months. I also left with the joyous sense that I'd connected with readers who weren't there to party or fatten their bank of connections but to celebrate this genre with other kindred souls.

One of those ten names isn't listed on the above poster. Jim Thomsen had had to cancel at the last minute...and was replaced by Pearce Hansen, author of Street Raised and other classic cult mysteries. Ironically, Pearce had been living in Seattle but was moving out the next day. We talked briefly and exchanged books. I hope to keep in touch with him because, in a short time, we bonded.

One closing note: high praise for Will (The Thrill) Viharo, who kept it all running like a fine Swiss watch. Thanks, Will.

And oh, just one last final note: in the many years I've been writing, last night was the closest I've come to feeling I'd made my way home.




Monday, December 25, 2017

My Surprise Christmas Gift--to Myself



Have you ever given yourself a gift you never knew it was in you to give? I laid eyes upon mine this morning and cried out in a calm and dignified voice:



You see, I'd been facing a challenge that I couldn't guess how to beat. You all have yours and I had mine: how, as a busy writer with limited means, to transform my small, cluttered, barely furnished studio into a cool and cozy place...while looking for a better place and organizing what I have so that it's ready for use now--and when I do move. To begin with: the clutter was astonishing. Time and again, I would look, then give up, not knowing how or where to start. 

The place is in this photo's not mine, but my place could more than compete:



Actually, my situation was worse in that I had no file cabinets or even a book case because I knew that additional furnishings would cost additional hundreds of bucks with a mover. And despite my Seattle successes--the loss of 55 pounds...12 ebooks and 4 print editions...a new job in a dream location--despite all that, I'd given up on solving my clutter dilemma while I prepared to move.

But then I gave myself this gift: the idea of tackling one tiny section each day, beginning with a window sill piled with godawful clutter..the next day proceeding to the next....and, when the 5 window sills were cleared, I'd set in on a single stretch beginning with the bed and carrying on to the north wall. On the 5th night, when the sills were cleared, I began to feel--well, almost buoyant. And I began to see the real beauty of the gift:



If I followed what I now saw as the Single Strip Procedure--tackling one two-foot strip at a time--I could accomplish both goals at once: neatly boxing what I don't need and arranging impeccably everything else. Not only that, as I proceeded I'd buy the furniture and furnishings I needed for the single strip at hand: new linens, for instance, for the bed, plus a bookcase and/or racks for books and DVDs. 

The entire process should take me roughly a month. But I'm telling you, my friends: those window sill sure look terrific! And the first, bed-wide, strip is comin' right along.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Serial Thrillin': Conclusion and Bitchinest Surprise





Welcome  back.

Five knights. One theme, of interest to writers and readers alike: the rewards and challenges of a writing a mystery series...and succeeding at giving it legs. The five knights are listed in alphabetical order. 

Carolyn Arnold
International bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series and has written nearly thirty books: from cozy to hard-boiled mysteries, and thrillers to action adventures.

Claude Bouchard
USA Today Bestselling author of the fourteen volume Vigilante Series as well as Nasty in NiceASYLUM and Something's Cooking. Other interests include reading, playing guitar, painting, cooking, traveling and trying to stay in reasonable shape.

Joe Clifford
He is the author of several books, including Junkie Love, Lamentation, December Boys and Give Up the Dead, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. He lives in Oakland, CA.

Bill Kirton
University lecturer, TV presenter, wood carver, playwright, actor, director, RLF Writing Fellow, novelist. Crap at marketing or promotional work and possibly the laziest knight at the table (so says he). 

Brad Strickland
Author of 80 published books, including the ones he writes under the pen name of Ken McKea. These follow Florida detective Jim Dallas, who despite being retired on disability somehow can’t help running across murders. Brad lives in Georgia with his wife Barbara and a small assortment of varmints.






7) Any truth to the claim that readers want to see at least 5-6 entries in a mystery series before they’ll invest in a new author?


ARNOLD
Personally, I’ve never heard that before. And not to create any debate here—well, maybe some is good—but I read in a recent reader survey (not from my readers) that it doesn’t matter to most readers whether a book is part of a series or a stand-alone. And, yes, I realize this contradicts my earlier statement about readers being able to attach themselves to series characters. But I think what really matters to readers are strong and relatable characters that they want to spend time with and get to know better.

BOUCHARD
That’s hard to say because when I first published in 2009, I already had three titles and was at the 5-6 mark by the time Amazon opened Kindle to non-American writers in late 2010. I can certainly say having a number of titles has had a favourable impact on my sales when promoting a particular book or releasing a new one. Invariably, sales increase across the board.

CLIFFORD
I don’t know what that even fucking means. My sales have been good. Not great. But good. Very good. The people who like me seem to really like me. And like my ex-wives, there are plenty who don’t.

KIRTON
I have no idea. What occurred to me when answering the previous question, however, was that such topics are as much about the author as his/her creations. Carston might be quite happy to carry on his successful career as a detective, but do I want to be the one who reports his thoughts and actions? Would I rather probe into the mind of a mud-spattered, 35-year-old woman who rides a unicycle, works in a crematorium and knits rainbows while waiting for her partner to finish building the launchpad at the bottom of the garden?

STRICKLAND
Maybe, maybe not. I hit problems with number 5 that have nothing to do with the books—a close relative went into hospice care and I was one of the primary caregivers for three years. Then I suddnely got a couple of irresistible contracts for other books, so, man, I’m WAY behind. Check back with me when six books are out!



8) How important is writing speed to a mystery series writer? And have you had to compromise to achieve that speed?


ARNOLD
Quality always trumps speed. I compromise nothing.

BOUCHARD
I understand the concept that a higher frequency of new releases can have a positive impact on sustaining sales (though quality obviously remains an important factor). However, I’ve always taken the time required to write each of my novels and I do not set deadlines. I don’t work with outlines so my writing speed varies depending on how quickly the storyline comes to together or not. As a result, I have ended up releasing three titles within a year at some point and only releasing one in a year at other times. I don’t compromise.

CLIFFORD
The biggest perk to writing a series is the speed. Soon as I start a Porter novel, I am back in that skin. For better or worse. Meaning, Jay Porter is not the most pleasant man to spend time with. He encapsulates the more frustrating aspects of my personality. That said, I know him like I know me. So the drafting process by book 5 is pretty quick.

KIRTON
Once I get into writing a new novel, it takes over. I want to know what happens. Most ‘normal’ activities (socializing, eating, sleeping) are an interruption of the fictional reality I’m living. I have no sense of time passing, of speed or lethargy. I’m in that moment of constant narration which can last many hours yet seem like an instant.

STRICKLAND

Well, I’d rather write it good than fast, but times winged chariot does hasten nigh, so basically it’s a question of get up, have a cup of coffee, write, wake up my wife, have breakfast, write, and then knock off to deal with real life—yardwork, repairs, paying bills, and so on. So it’s a compromise, really. If I buckle down, I can really knock out prose—in three years, for another project that I can’t say much about except it was written under contract, I did nearly three-quarters of a million words. However, that’s a lot of writing AND rewriting!


9) How much of you does your hero contain? Would you like to hang with him or her—and why? If you don’t, then why should we?

ARNOLD
Guess I better say I want to hang out with them then! LOL But, of course, I want to hang out with my characters. That’s why I write stories with them over and over again. They all have qualities that, in part, reflect my own to an extent. So who doesn’t like hanging around with themselves? But, in all seriousness, my characters have many redeeming qualities and traits. I’ll touch on the main characters from my series.

Madison Knight is strong-willed and has a desire to right wrongs. She’s not going to let anyone pressure her into cutting corners on a murder investigation or stop her from following every single lead. She’s committed to finding justice no matter the sacrifice required from her.

Brandon Fisher is objective, while at the same time, he has empathy for the families of murder victims. I love his ragged determination to better himself, both as a person and as an FBI agent.

Sean and Sara McKinley are such genuinely nice and down-to-earth people, and their self-sacrificing spirit is something that really draws me to them. That and how they work well together, complimenting the other’s strengths.

BOUCHARD
If by hero, you mean my main protagonist, Chris Barry, I’d say he contains 100% of me albeit in a better looking and fitter package. We share the same initials, although that’s likely coincidence, and we think very much alike. I tend to believe he picked up his smart-assery and wit from hanging around with me for a number of years. We get along marvellously and he clearly trusts me enough to let me plan most of his life.

CLIFFORD
I seem to be anticipating these questions. Jay Porter is me. But I am not Jay Porter.  

KIRTON
There’s lots of me in him – good and bad. Maybe putting our own fears and feelings into a fictional character is a form of therapy. I think if you put these questions to Carston, he’d say the same sort of things I’ve been saying. (But, equally, he might tell you to mind your own business.)

STRICKLAND
The qualities that I give to Jim are those I’d like to have myself. Yeah, I’d like to have a beer with him, shoot the breeze—but since I know him, I know he wouldn’t reveal too much of his inner thoughts and opinions to me or to anybody. He has a dark side, and he keeps it dark for his own reasons.

Me, what you see is pretty much it. Not saying I’d LIKE to have a dark side like Dallas—but I can see it would intrigue his friends (especially Sam, who is bright, cheerful, and brutal, though his brutality is packed away, and above all—curious). Might intrigue his women, too—though if one pries too much into what makes him moody, that will lead to a break-up.

What I’m saying, he’s flawed. Admirable in many ways, but—yeah, he’s flawed.



10) The death thing. Hell, let’s hit it too. Do you ever feel tempted to kill of your lead because s/he’s taking over?

ARNOLD
I’ve never felt like killing them. I have had to step away from my computer because they’ve done something that either angered or saddened me. But it’s those instances when they “derail” from where I think they’re headed that make for the best scenes!

BOUCHARD
As mentioned in the previous response, Chris pretty much lets me run his life so I can’t accuse the man of trying to run the show. I have another character, Leslie Robb, who showed up in Book 5 and ended up taking much more room than I expected. While I thought she would be present only in that installment, she decided otherwise and has played integral roles in each book ever since. I’d never even think of killing her off though because she’d likely find out and I would be the one to go.

CLIFFORD
Tempted? Sure. Everything is on the table. But if you know, like me, that you are signed through at least five books, you can rest assured I’m not (*SPOILER ALERT) killing Jay Porter in book four.

KIRTON
In connection with the need to write the final Carston, I said to my wife I wasn’t sure what sort of ‘ending’ it should be. Her suggestion was that his wife should die. I was appalled. Kath is a terrific foil for Carston. Killing her (or him) would be like condoning all the evil things some of my villains have got up to.

STRICKLAND
Nope. He stays where he is until I need him, so I don’t feel tempted.


11) Be a villain for a moment, please. Might any parts of your history or personality add up to a memorable foe for your series hero?

ARNOLD
Maybe… But on the grounds of incriminating myself, I’ll keep quiet. 😉


BOUCHARD
I’ll give you a short answer on this one by asking a simple question. Do you think I just make up everything I write?! Anyhow, if I gave you any more information, I’d have to kill you. *wink*

CLIFFORD
The trick with villains is simple: even the villain doesn’t think of himself as the villain. Or to flip it around: everyone is the hero in their own story. To make a villain believable, and ultimately menacing, you need to keep this in mind. Dr. Evil is funny because he’s the villain in an absurd comedy. But to have a villain resonate in the sort of thriller I write, I need to see the world through his/her eyes. And that isn’t so hard. When you break it down, we all really want the same things. We want recognition for our actions. We have beliefs, and most of us, when push comes to shove, will fight like hell to defend them.

KIRTON
Easy to answer. Just read The Darkness, the third in my series. It came about because a waiter in a restaurant here in Scotland had the accent of the part of England where I grew up. I remarked on it and said he was a long way from home. He then said he had to get away from there because of a drunk driving incident which had killed his wife and young daughters. I felt so sorry for him that I wanted to find the man responsible and make him suffer in some way. That is exactly why the book was written and I confess that the parts of the story told in the 1st person are the closest I’ve ever come to putting myself into a book.

STRICKLAND
My wife says I am an accomplished liar. I love to spin stories, and sometimes for fun I’ll embroider something I’ve read, building some fantastic story up until it collapses of its own ridiculous weight. I think if I were a villain for Jim, I could string him along (though he’s a suspicious bastard) and lead him into misjudging people and situations.

Of course, I’m not the Joker, so I’d have to be motivated by more than wanting to screw up an investigator’s life.


12) Bonus question. Give us a question that I haven’t asked...along with a ripsnorting answer.

ARNOLD
None come to mind.

BOUCHARD
I’m going the lazy route with a question I asked when I interviewed myself on someone’s blog several years ago:

Question: Do you prefer briefs or boxers?

Answer: I’ve never practiced law but I do know briefs are documents containing all the facts and points of law pertinent to specific cases which are filed by attorneys before arguing said cases in court. Boxers, on the other hand, are people who wear big gloves and baggy shorts and punch each other out until one is down, a rather violent sport in my opinion. Since neither interest me much, I’d say I have no preference.

CLIFFORD
Question: How do you do with the never-ending, constant stream of rejection?

Answer: No matter what level of success you achieve in this professional, it has been my experience, that the lows and the failures are going to far outweigh the high points. And for this, I’d like to turn to something I just read by mystery master Dennis Lehane. Lehane says he keeps in his pocket a little note that reads, “Nobody cares.” Now the first way to interpret that is the negative. Poor me. Nobody cares. All these rejections come in, and you want to quit. And still it is true: nobody cares. Nobody will care if you write another book, another story, another blog post. Oh, maybe a few diehard fans will wonder, “Where did so and so go?” But life will carry on, until you and your work are but a distant memory. But there’s the other side too. And that’s where I choose to focus my attention. Because let’s face it: writing is going to kick your ass. And the profession of writing, to quote Rocky Balboa, will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it. But here’s the good part: NOBODY CARES. You are free to do whatever the fuck you want, however you want to do it. No one is sitting on your shoulder. The fate of the free world does not hang in the balance. Nobody cares, so you can write your book, how you want to write it. And, yeah, Lehane is right. Nobody cares. Until they do. Until you make them. When I read this about Lehane, it filled me with way more hope than dread. One, it means even a guy like Lehane takes his knocks. But, moreover, I got the spirit of that little note to himself. I’ve evoked it frequently since I read that a few weeks again. It’s become sort of a mantra for me. Nobody cares. This is something I do because I decided to do it. And success resides with me and my effort. And that, my friends, is pretty fucking empowering.

KIRTON
Question: How can bookstores fix a date for a talk and book signing for you?

Answer: Simply send a ticket for a first class return flight from Aberdeen to wherever they are, book a suite at the best hotel in their town/city for an indefinite period, and guarantee sales of at least 3000 books on the day of my visit. I have simple tastes.

STRICKLAND
Question: You can wave a wand and bring your series character to life. Can he deal with the real world?

Answer: Yeah, within limits—if he were still an active-duty policeman, Jim would hate the bad press that cops get—and the bad cops that get that press for everyone else. He’d have a tough time fitting in, I think. For instance, on the question of football players kneeling during the National Anthem, I don’t think he’d be fond of the gesture—too theatrical for his taste—but on the other hand, he’d be firmly against making a rule that they have to stand. That’s his sense of irony—“You’re going to force them to celebrate freedom, huh?” That would leave a sour taste in his mouth, and he’d see the hypocrisy of it as worse than the theatrical gesture.

I can see him having problems with professional and personal relationships, but hell, everybody does. He’s not a regimented sort of guy, at heart; he’s suspicious of nearly everyone, and it would take a lot to get under his skin (if you’re a woman) or beside him in a bad situation (if you’re a partner). And the trouble is that policemen who set out to be loners set out to be failures.


But he’s smart, too—not as smart as his friend Sam, but he’s got a different kind of savvy—and I think as long as he saw benefits outweighing the psychic costs, yeah, he could force himself to fit in. He could get the job done, but it would take a lot out of him. I know it would do that.



                                                                  *****

 


And now for our surprise sixth knight. Robert W. Walker, author of 74 novels and a terrific writing guide, Dead On Writing, sums up his own experience.

Once you really get rolling on a series, it can go easier, faster, quicker, simpler and all those other ER words. The first in series work is the hardest, as it establishes your main character, the others in his/her web of influence, both positive and negative, from mother to nemesis, and it is a time to craft the setting, the workplace, the props – if he uses a cane, what kind of car she drives, what is the attitude that drives your main character.

Compare your series to an ongoing TV drama. Take for instance Star Trek or Columbo or your favorite TV program. Give thought to the bedrock character of each of the main characters, and possibly what each ‘represents’, flaws and all. Once such bedrock work is done, we go to work challenging that bedrock. For example, the setting may appear a safe place, a technological wonderment, so how do we go about making it unsafe and scary rather than wonderful. Take that notion to the characters. Captain James T. Kirk is a man of action, somewhat impulsive, and not given to studying a problem before he leaps in, whereas Spock is just the opposite in terms of bedrock characterization. The question then becomes, how can we again challenge these characters and this setting be it a space ship or East L.A.?

I have written some ten separate series, and there is no one formula that works for all, but if the writer crafts a set of characters who have strongly held beliefs and are bent on a goal, then throwing obstacles at them works and works well. The fully-realized character(s) work best. Why? Because we have spent a lot of time with them in developing them. The fully-imagined character will become far easier to challenge than the one we are unclear on, confused about, unsure of. Makes sense.

To fully-imagine a character so as to craft a fully-realized character, the author spends a great deal of time with the lead and his or her cadre of friends, acquaintances, and relatives. A web of relationships is established while you, the author, is showering, hoeing, trading bubble gum cards, sweeping your porch, feeding your dog, etc….


How does series work get done? Can it be as simple as the plan I outline here? Well yes. It has worked for me for my Dr. Jessica Coran series, my Abe Stroud series, my Lucas Stonecoat series, my Alastair Ransom series, and all the rest, from my Instinct Series to my Edge Series and my Bloodscreams Series as well as my novella series – Chicaghosts Series. Give it a try. Once you are ‘hard-wired’ to your main character(s) it becomes faster, easier, cleaner. Just as when Dickens got the name of Ebenezer Scrooge and Scrooge’s bedrock character, he was off and running with A Christmas Carol.

                                                               *****

To learn more about these authors and their books, click on the

following links:

Carolyn Arnold
New title releasing November 28: http://carol0ynarnold.net/power-struggle/

Claude Bouchard

Vigilante Series Box set - Books 1 to 6: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EPE926Y

Joe Clifford
Website: http://www.joeclifford.com

Bill Kirton
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2xz2wSN
Website: hhtp://www.billkirton.com
Book to introduce readers to my work: The Darkness (see answer 11 in Part 2)
http://amzn.to/2gtWVqX

Brad Strickland
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Ken-McKea/e/B00J22N6PS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1508850962&sr=1-2-ent

Robert W. Walker
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Robert-w.-Walker/e/B000APAUAU/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1511972985&sr=1-2-ent

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Serial Thrillin': The Bitchinest Ripsnorting Round Table Joust: 1



Five knights. One theme, of interest to writers and readers alike: the rewards and challenges of a writing a mystery series...and succeeding at giving it legs. The five knights, in alphabetical order:

Carolyn Arnold
International bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series and has written nearly thirty books: from cozy to hard-boiled mysteries, and thrillers to action adventures.

Claude Bouchard
USA Today Bestselling author of the fourteen volume Vigilante Series as well as Nasty in Nice, ASYLUM and Something's Cooking. Other interests include reading, playing guitar, painting, cooking, traveling and trying to stay in reasonable shape.

Joe Clifford
He is the author of several books, including Junkie Love, Lamentation, December Boys and Give Up the Dead, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. He lives in Oakland, CA.

Bill Kirton
University lecturer, TV presenter, wood carver, playwright, actor, director, RLF Writing Fellow, novelist. Crap at marketing or promotional work and possibly the laziest knight at the table (so says he). 

Brad Strickland
Author of 80 published books, including the ones he writes under the pen name of Ken McKea. These follow Florida detective Jim Dallas, who despite being retired on disability somehow can’t help running across murders. Brad lives in Georgia with his wife Barbara and a small assortment of varmints.





1) Why write a mystery series instead of a series of mysteries? 

Is commerce the main factor or is some other payoff at play?

ARNOLD
I love being able to torture my characters over a longer stretch of time. And I don’t like saying goodbye to them. By writing a series, at least I know when I’m wrapping up a book, I’ll be with them again soon. I also believe readers love to get attached to characters and when you’re providing them with a series, they can do so knowing there will be more books coming.

BOUCHARD
From the time I started reading and then going forward, series have always been attractive, in large part due to growing familiarity of the main characters – think ‘Cat in the Hat’, ‘Bobbsey Twins’, ‘Hardy Boys’ and ‘Tom Swift’ before even getting to adult fiction. The same holds true with writing where one can develop and build one’s principal protagonists from one adventure to the next as compared to creating new, unknown characters with each new novel. Increased comfort exists when working with ‘people’ one already knows. The commerce factor obviously comes into play as many readers also enjoy said comfort and familiarity.

CLIFFORD
Like with any venture, there are pros and cons. The biggest “pro” is, if a series takes off, you have a built-in readership. Also in the plus column, a series allows you to examine a character and world a little deeper. Think Star Wars vs., say, well, any one-off sci-fi film. Most of all publishers love a series. Less risk, established commodity, etc. The downside is:  if you don't have a series as popular as Lee Child, the average series writer often sees a dip in sales with each book and finds the critical response to be harsher, despite each book getting "better." At least that has been my experience.

KIRTON
I suspect that a mystery series is the better bet. If you can create one or more characters that intrigue the reader, characters they’d like to spend time with, that’s more likely to draw them into buying more of the books in which they appear. I suppose that’s why I call my series The Jack Carston Mysteries.

On the other hand, if you find a stand-alone mystery to be gripping, you instinctively trust the author to deliver again on suspense, thrills, horror, whatever.

STRICKLAND
A series allows a deeper exploration of the characters’ personality—strengths, flaws, problems, solutions. I like the notion of a broad canvas that gives a kind of epic sweep. In the case of Jim Dallas, Jim has issues to deal with and resolve. Through all the stories arcs the tale of his smoldering anger and bottled-up desire for vengeance, which will eventually pay off.  I’m approaching a kind of midpoint which will begin the overall climax of the series.

So in a sense, a series is simply a group of oversized chapters in a longer story. There is, of course, also the consideration that a writer can invite readers to climb aboard for the whole journey—so a series tends to build readership. Have to say that commercial concerns aren’t the greatest with me, though they do factor in. From the get-go, I’ve had a definite goal in mind for the Jim Dallas stories.


2) For perspective,  give us a few names of your favorite 

mystery series writers.


ARNOLD
I loved David Baldacci’s Camel Club series, and have also enjoyed some of the books in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

BOUCHARD
Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Jonathan Kellerman… Oh, you said a couple of names… Sorry. Anyhow, this is just a handful of writers who have consistently produced well developed, intricate storylines with strong, believable, three-dimensional characters. I never read a book by any of these authors which left me disappointed. I could mention that Child may have pushed it a bit on occasion but, then again, we are talking Jack Reacher.

CLIFFORD
I like what Lehane (more on him later), Sara J. Henry, Allen Eskens, and Matt Coyle are doing with their respective series. Of course there’s the granddaddy of them all: Phillip Marlowe.

KIRTON
Dalziel and Pascoe, created by the late Reg Hill, are great examples of powerful characterization and the dynamic created by a close friendship between different personalities. (Humour also helps a lot.) 

I’m not sure whether Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum novels qualify as mysteries, but the characters are so memorable and so funny (especially Grandma Mazur) that I need a regular 
therapeutic dose of them.

STRICKLAND
Jim Dallas owes a clear debt to Travis McGee and his creator, John D. Macdonald. I like the narrative voice in these—McGee is a principled, if “tarnished” hero (MacDonald’s own word) who teeters between wishing to resign from the over-complicated modern world with a drive to become involved with the victims of it. Similarly, Dallas pulled out of everything to lick his wounds (physical and psychological) after a traumatic encounter with organized evil, but he finds that campaigning for justice among the helpless cast-aside members of society helps him heal, and gets him ready for the challenge he knows is coming.

Another MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, is another inspiration. He took the tough-guy private-eye story to literary heights with his Lew Archer novels. I like his way with words and also his gift at plotting, which is not always on high display in this kind of story—for all his accomplishment, Raymond Chandler famously plotted by “having a guy come through the door with a gun” when things got slow. I don’t think there’s a finer, more jewel-like plot in private-eye fiction than in Ross MacDonald’s brilliant The Chill.

Both of these gentlemen give us a wry, world-weary, but game character who gives a problem his all—something I try to emulate.





3) Now to you...What is the most distinctive thing about your 

mystery series?

ARNOLD
I offer readers a strong female protagonist detective, a male rookie FBI agent, and a married, murder-solving duo. In every book I strive for procedural accuracy, and as a result have been praised by law enforcement. This has led me to take on the brand line POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT.™

BOUCHARD
Likely the most distinctive thing about my mystery series is all my main characters are Canadian yet none of them say, “Eh,” at least not when I’m around. Also, the members of the ‘Discreet Activities’ team are all well educated with respectable, professional backgrounds as well as smart, witty and highly sociable yet they kill for a living.

CLIFFORD
That they work both as standalones and part of an overarching storyline. Also I am hoping to shine a light on the grave injustice perpetuated against my father, namely that the Manafort family (yes, those Manaforts) and their greedy, gross misconduct directly led to my father’s premature death.

KIRTON
Hard to say. Humor's essential, even (or maybe especially) in the more gruesome cases, and I like the idea that people don’t automatically divide into goodies and baddies. My detective has no particular vices. He’s happily married to a wife who matches him for wisecracks, and yet constantly finds himself thinking politically incorrect things and chastising himself for it. I also end each book with a little scene designed to say ‘OK, reader. The mystery was solved and everything’s back in place – except that’s not the way the world works – different bad things keep on happening.

STRICKLAND
I think it might be the blend of humor and detail. I get letters about how real the background is—“I ate in that restaurant!” “I know exactly where that river is!” and so on. Having Sam Lyons as a foil character gives me a chance for a lot of repartee and shaggy-dog jokes, which I love. But capturing something of the Florida milieu (changed even from the days of Travis McGee) also gives the stories a kind of flavor. Still to come are a story that takes place, partly, at a theme park (I have relatives who worked for two of the biggest ones) and one that will feature intrigue at a posh Miami hotel, secretly falling on hard times but keeping up a front. I think the details in these will ring true. I have my informants. . . . 


But the truth of the background is meant to reinforce the psychological truth of the characters.



4) Can your books be read as stand-alones or should/must

they be read in sequence?

ARNOLD
They can be read as stand-alones.

BOUCHARD
Each of the thirteen installments of my Vigilante series to date is a complete story and can therefore be read as a standalone. However, as with most series, reading them in sequence allows for a better flow in terms of character introduction and development. In addition, past events are occasionally referenced or directly related to the plotlines of later installments which also supports sequential reading as the best option.

CLIFFORD
As stated above, both, although obviously reading in order is preferable. You simply get more.

KIRTON
Mine are conceived as stand-alones, but in the knowledge that I have a group of people I know quite well and whom I trust to be themselves.

On the other hand, my two historical mysteries are only a pair because readers asked for a sequel to the first one in order to know how a particular relationship developed. I still think each is self-contained but reading them in sequence would add to the pleasure. (Some readers have now asked for a third, so it may become a series after all.)

STRICKLAND
I have no trouble writing them so they’re stand-alones, though I think they may make more emotional sense if read as part of an extended story. That’s when you begin to make the connections and to see the character development.



5) As a series writer, how do you handle back story from book 

to book—scatter shot or concentrated loads? How do you 

contrive to give just enough details for anchors?

ARNOLD
I’m definitely more a “scatter shot” when it comes to backstory. I provide just enough—and what’s needed—for the current story I’m telling. Obviously if a tidbit about a character’s history is irrelevant to the current plot line, I leave it out.

BOUCHARD
Concentrated loads were used in earlier books with a gradual transition to scatter shots as required as the series progressed. With the fourteenth installment in the works, it becomes somewhat repetitive and redundant to present readers with too much detail relating to ancient history. Sufficient albeit brief data is supplied to new readers in later books to identify characters with the assumption (and hope) that curiosity will lead them to read past installments they’ve missed. As an example from my current WIP, the reader learns of Chris Barry’s financial success years earlier from a line or two of simple dialogue.

CLIFFORD
This is the challenge with each book, and I’ve tackled this task in different ways. You want to avoid the dreaded “auto-dump.” In the latest Jay Porter novel, BROKEN GROUND, for instance, we begin at an AA meeting with Jay speaking, which allowed me to get in a lot of the back-story organically.

KIRTON
leave it to the characters – which sounds, but isn’t, glib. Each member of Jack Carston’s team has distinct characteristics. Their idiosyncrasies provide the familiarity and continuity to suggest a well-established team who are used to and respond to one another’s behaviours. They are the back story.

STRICKLAND
I leak a little at a time. In the current one, the one I’m writing, we’re going to find out a bit more about the rough ride that Jim had when he worked for Internal Affairs back during his police days. He hasn’t talked much about that—but let’s say that his involvement may have made him say and do a few things that he deeply regrets, that go against his character. More of this will come out as the books go on. In the end, I think a reader can jigsaw together a valid portrait of him that will seem true to life.


6) The age thing. Hell, let’s hit it. Does your hero age/change 

very little over the course of the series (Hercule Poirot, Kinsey 

Malone, James Bond, Spenser)...or age and change 

progressively (Harry Bosch)?

ARNOLD
There’s definite growth to the characters in all my series. Detective Madison Knight started off really rough around the edges. She’s still a hard-nosed detective who will do whatever it takes to find justice for murder victims, but she’s softened on a personal level. She used to be terrified of committing herself to a romantic relationship, but that’s a thing of the past. I think I might even hear wedding bells in her future. But that’s still a few more books out from—if it does happen.

Brandon Fisher started out as a new agent with the FBI in book one. As readers progress in the series, they are taken along the journey of him becoming a full-fledged agent with the BAU.

The McKinleys went from being homicide detectives for Albany PD to amateur sleuths to private investigators. That involved a lot of growth.

BOUCHARD
Chapter headings in each of my books include actual dates to establish a timeline. Book 1 was written in 1995 and set in 1996 while my last release took place in 2016, twenty years later so, yes, my characters have aged. Luckily, they were young enough at the start and I make damned sure they stay in shape from one story to the next.


CLIFFORD
Each book in the Porter series is a year later, which brings us up to the current year

KIRTON
Interesting question because the next Carston story will be the last. Without me trying to impose ageing on him, he’s been changed by the experiences of the crimes he’s solved and the individuals he’s met in the process. I’ve no idea what he’ll do in retirement, but his tendency to try to make light of things and just enjoy life has been severely eroded by the ongoing evidence of man’s inhumanity to man (and especially woman).

STRICKLAND
Heh. Ellery Queen was always 35, until somewhere between books he had a growth spurt and wound up being 57. Jim is aging—the stories are set along a time line of five or six years, and he’ll reflect that in the stories.


                                                              *****




Take seven, as in seven days, to stretch and think about Part 1. Next week we'll return with the provocative conclusion. Among other things you'll learn--but no, mustn't ruin the surprise. You'll also meet a surprise guest. Arrive early for guaranteed seating.

                                                         *****


To learn more about these authors and their books, click on the

following links:

Carolyn Arnold
New title releasing November 28: http://carol0ynarnold.net/power-struggle/

Claude Bouchard

Vigilante Series Box set - Books 1 to 6: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EPE926Y

Joe Clifford
Website: http://www.joeclifford.com

Bill Kirton
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2xz2wSN
Website: hhtp://www.billkirton.com
Book to introduce readers to my work: The Darkness (see answer 11 in Part 2)
http://amzn.to/2gtWVqX

Brad Strickland
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Ken-McKea/e/B00J22N6PS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1508850962&sr=1-2-ent