Category Archives: Events

Make Mine Edgy

Bouchercon panel, October 11, 2015
Make Mine Edgy
Lori Roy (moderator), Nichole Christoff, Scott Nicholson, D.M. Pulley, Carole Mitchell (Caro Ramsey)

How near the edge is your current project?
NC: As a news producer you have to judge how far to take things, car accidents, children in harms way, etc.
SN: As a journalist and paranormal investigator, my children’s books generate the most controversy for their edginess.
DMP: I’m an engineer, my story was inspired by an old bank’s building inspection. It took ten years to write.
CR: My fiction is quite dark, there is nothing I can’t write about.

Are any subjects taboo?
CR: Anything goes as long as it’s treated with integrity.
DMP: Readers fill in details better than writers.
SN: Things change, skills change, so the edginess of a writer’s work can change over time.
NC: The reader is with the character as things happen to her.

What input have editors or agents given you in regard to edginess?
DMP: Don’t kill a certain character.
SN: “Make it trashier.”
CR: My agent said “kill ’em” and she was right.
NC: Readers give advice too.

What about considerations from readers?
CR: Certainly listen, but be true to yourself.
DMP: Readers have mentioned foul language, now its on my radar. Taking the Lord’s name in vain, a sexual affair with an unmarried man . . .
NC: There’s almost a double standard for women’s sexual behavior versus James Bond.

What have you been binge-watching on TV?
Noir, Drunk History, The Wire, White Pines.

Who are some favorite villains?
Dolores Umbridge, Hannibal Lector, Cruella De Vil, the nurse in Misery (Annie Wilkes)

Favorite book cover?
Steppenwolf, skeleton hand in a baby carriage, something red

Who are some favorite heroes?
James Lee Burke’s, Stephanie Plum, Kinsey Millhone, Philip Marlowe, Simon Brett’s.

Is what’s considered edgy changing?
NC: Be true to what is edgy to you.

Dialogue Writing Tips

Big Shoes by Jack Getze

Big Shoes by Jack Getze

Bouchercon panel, October 11, 2015
True Grit: Narrative Technique for Gritty, Pithy & Page-Turning Dialogue (paraphrased notes)
Jack Getze (moderator), Colin Campbell, David Terrenoire, Jack Bludis, Con Lehane

DT: When Elmore Leonard has two people talking, each has a different agenda.
Hemingway shows us you say more by what you leave out.

Writers cited as great with dialogue: Charlie Stella, John D. MacDonald, Joseph Wambaugh, George Peleconos, Ken Bruen
Pithy; concise, grit is dirt, tough, uncompromised
What characters are saying is not what they mean, the subtext is what they mean.

CL: I need to have my characters start talking before I find out who they are and what the story is about.
DT: I write the scene from each person’s perspective to get inside their heads.
CL: People often talk past each other.

JB: Readers get to understand the character from his speech. Listen to others, put yourself in the character. One may speak in a clipped voice, etc
DT: I put on my actor’s cap when writing dialogue.
JG: I read a book on method acting, and studied Stanislavski.

DT: My first draft is pretty heavy. I cut a lot in revision, leave what’s needed. “Start late, leave early,” as they say.

Character Facets

The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Ex by Alafair Burke

Bouchercon panel, October 10, 2015
The Facets of Character That Remain in a Reader’s Psyche (paraphrased notes)
Alafair Burke (moderator), David Putnam, David Swinson, Allison Leotta, Heather Graham

HG: Prefers not to read reviews. Read/inspired by John D. MacDonald. She writes tons of books and works on one book at a time.
AL: Former prosecutor
DP: Former cop
DS: Former cop, punk rock producer

What have you done to make a character memorable?
DP: Put a black character in a police station in Los Angeles to maximize the opportunity for conflict.
AL: A prosecutor has to “do the right thing.” They represent the USA.
AB: Finds prosecutor character limiting.
DS: Finds police procedures limiting, so writes about a PI instead.
HG: Writes about an FBI unit’s characters with special talents.

How much depth do you give in your character descriptions?
DP: Sometimes a light sketch, sometimes very detailed.
AL: Brief, unless it’s important for the reader.
HG: Characteristics are fun to play with, clothing helps define a character.

Misc. comments
AL: The prosecutor gets to interview everyone except the defense.
HG: Just don’t kill the dog.

National Novel Writing Month 2015

AJhSIF4CTzwV4rrAgRJXECcQdM0BRmC2igzWqDb8zgDkf0dfO8s3jyMCQsy8ytfeaIMbVA=w1248-h782Apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been somewhat obsessively focused on NaNoWriMo. There’s something about its daily target of 1667 words, and the joy of tracking your progress on the graph the website generates for you, that I find invigorating. Only a whisper from halfway, nearly a day early, at 24,541. My goal is to be a day ahead of pace by Thanksgiving, so I can take it off if too many other things compete.

Best wishes to any other NaNoLanders—past or current. Keep going. Tomorrow will break 25K for thousands of people around the world. The cumulative total for Portland is over 15M, per the latest word.

Game Changers

Bouchercon panel, October 10, 2015
The Crime, Mystery & Thriller Novels: The Game Changers (paraphrased notes)
James Scott Bell (moderator), David Bell, M. Ruth Myers, Stefanie Pintoff, Michael (?)

What is a game changer?
SP: Readers come to a thriller (for example), with certain expectations, so the writer must meet those expectations, but also bring something new.
M: I think everything’s been done—character is what’s different and memorable.
MRM: You can develop a unique voice.
DB: There are only seven different plots, so it’s your character, and how the writer’s life experience informs their work, that makes your novel unique, makes readers care.

Where do your ideas come from?
MRM: Ideas seek me out, a news item will spark something, the snatch of a conversation, either one can start the “what if” process. Sometimes it’s just a the germ of a story.
SP: I take walks to stimulate ideas.
DB: Something happens, you can just flip the facts and go.
M: I like to say my ideas are “seeded,” rather than inspired by real life.

Does your story have to end with closure?
M: There has to be some justice by the end.
DB: At least 51% justice. The characters have to survive, but they aren’t the same people by the end.
MRM: The character wants to help justice along.
SP: Give readers some understanding of your villain—why he came to be.

And what about the villain?
M: “Society gets the killers it deserves.”
MRM: Villains of mysteries and thrillers are different, readers have different expectations for different genres.
JSB: Readers want villains with dimension, like The Wolfman. A classic villain whom readers sympathize with, but also don’t like what he does.

Hostage Taker by Stefanie Pintoff

Hostage Taker by Stefanie Pintoff

Stefanie Pintoff’s handout (pictured) was a pack of five cards. Front sides are identical, but each back features a nice biographical sketch of a different character from her book—very cool—one of the best handouts at the convention IMHO.

Writing Violent Fiction

Run by Andrew Grant

Run by Andrew Grant

Bouchercon panel, October 10, 2015
The Mechanics of Writing Violent Fiction
Andrew Grant (moderator), John Billheimer, Jamie Freveletti, Taylor Stevens, Zoe Sharp

Paraphrased notes from the panelists’ comments
ZS: There’s no violence quota, right?. I begin with a basic outline, but the specifics are more spontaneous.
TS: Yes, what Zoe said.
JF: Failing nations are settings for violence.

TS: The important thing is the way violence affects characters, not the violence itself.
JB: I interviewed a pilot in my research to get accurate details about crashes.

ZS: In truth, street fights go by in a flash. In a real fight, your aim is see it end as quickly as possible.
TS: Write just enough for the reader to “see” the action. Write action/violence in short sentences.
JF: Good to foreshadow a character’s skills before a fight scene occurs, so the reader has some background. It can make the fight more realistic.

ZS: If a character is forced into violence, their response needs to fit their character.
TS: If a character is ex-military or special forces, their skills should match their training.

JF: Violence should fit the location too–drone strikes versus hostages, etc.
TS: Yes, and the consequences of violence are also determined by the location and circumstances.
TS: I do enough research to avoid pitfalls, enough that an expert won’t balk. Then I ask an expert to review a scene before it’s done.

Narrative Pacing

sokoloff_w500Bouchercon panel, October 10, 2015
Keeping it Moving/Maintaining Pace in the Narrative
Alex Sokoloff (moderator), Meg Gardiner, Glen Erik Hamilton, Terrence McCauley, S.J. Rozan
Paraphrased notes (In several cases I neglected to track who said what, apologizes….)

Opening remarks
Use the big question that’s driving your story to assist you with pacing.
Understand who’s the villain?
In my novel, a skip tracer uses her knowledge to disappear.
My book is a Who Dun It in which the hero has to overcome his criminal past.
Who’s the murderer? Why was the victim killed?
A thriller is always a race.

Why should a reader care about your character(s)?
Plot is the result of the choices your characters’ make. Readers want to watch characters rise to the occasion, or get/gain something.
The antihero character is not necessarily liked but must be interesting enough to keep readers’ involved.
SJR: One character’s view of being “good” conflicts with another’s. Everyone is a good person in their own opinion.
GEH: The hero must solve the problem. Readers put themselves in the hero’s place.

How do you keep things moving?
GHE: Short chapters, more dialogue than exposition.
SJR: Tension—false release—then more tension.
MG: Chapter endings always end with tension.
TM: Every scene must move the plot and/or story forward.

Comments on Point of View
Third person POV enables you to switch scenes quickly.
In first person the reader knows the narrator lived to tell the story.

Other Comments
Writers need to ask, “What does each character in a scene want?”
The hero is always thinking: “What do I think is going on? What do I need to know?”

More grit anyone?

what-the-fly-sawBouchercon panel, October 10, 2015
How much grit do you want in your mystery? (paraphrased notes)
Lise McClendon (moderator), Laura DiSilverio, Frankie Bailey, Maggie King, Lynn Cahoon

What do we mean by “grit?”
LD: Language and sex.
FB: The dictionary definition is about courage.
LC: I must be the anti-grit person on panel.

Is the level of grit defined by your book’s category?
MK: I write what I want, then my publisher and I decide what category it fits into.
LC: It’s important to consider the promise you make to the reader—set expectations early on.
LD: In work for hire, the publisher sets the ”grit level” for their audience.
FD: I think the “grit level” is driven by the characters telling the story.
LM: In historicals, the times influence the language in the story.

What about readers?
LM: Largest group reading mysteries are women, 45 and older.
LD: My editor took an f-bomb out of my book, but I generally try to edit out any “issues” before I send it to the editor.
LD: I think the writer is always deciding what to include and what not to include. The interest for readers is in her character’s reaction to sex and violence, rather than descriptions of the sex and violence itself.
MK: Murders are all about relationships gone awry.

Other comments:
LD: A murder is the ultimate act of control—control over the victim. Then society steps in with the intent to restore order/control of the situation.
LC: You can’t figure out today’s world, but in fiction things are more orderly. I think that’s a big part of the appeal of fiction and mystery.

Before and After Technology

Bouchercon panel, October 9, 2015
Crime, Mystery and Thriller: Writing before and after the Internet and Smartphones (paraphrased notes)
Brian Panowich (moderator), Max Allan Collins, Barbara Collins, Sam Reaves

Comments (mostly related to technology)
MAC: I work on one project at a time.
BC: Understand your readers, are they tech savvy or not so much? Try to have your story’s technical depth reflect its audience.
SR: New technology enables things that could not have gone on before. But consider its dramatic limitations—a face-to-face encounter is far more dramatic than a text exchange.
MAC: Some technology makes things happen quick and easy—a great tool to keep pacing crisp.
BC: A mother may ask her child how to use technology. Stories are about character, technology is only there for realism.

SR: With instant information (search) available, technology eliminates a lot of a detective’s footwork.
MAC: Writers too—researching an historical novel is much easier today.
SR: Web research is great, but visiting a location, interviewing people gives you info you can’t get online—it gives you texture.

MAC: Don’t get sucked into responding to negative comments or reviews. Nobody ever won an internet argument.

Masters in Crime & Mystery

bill_criderBouchercon panel, October 9, 2015
The “Masters” that influenced the “Masters” in Crime and Mystery
Mark Coggins (moderator), Bill Crider, Karin Slaughter, Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block

(I’ll have to plead “star-struck” on this one, please excuse any gibberish in the following paraphrased notes.)

What books or authors have influenced your work?
KS: For true crime: Ann Rule. In my writing I try to show crime for what it is and how it affects people.
MA: For true crime: Helter Skelter, Ann Rule. True crime reflects the underlying social conditions of the times.

BC: Harry Whittington is my favorite author.
LB: I was influenced by my role as editor at a lit agency early on in my career. Learned a lot about writing from reading inferior work—it teaches you what doesn’t work. (Block’s personal reminiscences of the crime fiction field and some of its leading practitioners: The Crime of Our Lives.)

MA: Movies influenced me, helped me form ideas about how stories work, dialogue, romance, film noir, the sets and the costumes. Twin Peaks was the perfect mix of melodrama and crime (a noir tribute).
KS: I read a lot of non-fiction. Stephen King is amazing at characterization.

BC: My favorite heroes are Phillip Marlow, Sam Spade and Lew Archer.
MA: Antiheroes appeal to me, like the protagonist in Double Indemnity.

BC: What do I choose to reread? I think the author’s voice has a lot to do with it.
MA: Who would I invite to dinner (if it could be anyone)?  Raymond Chandler, Shirley Jackson, Poe, Lovecraft.

Recommended reading:
KS: Lee Child’s latest is the best of the year.
BC: Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, The Big Sleep
MA: Chris Holms’ newest. In a Lonely Place—both book and movie are great

Guilty (reading) pleasures:
BC: Paperback originals and digests
LB: Digests like Sure Fire, Off Beat
[I was thrilled that both Bill and Larry mentioned digests—yes!]

Misc comments:
MA: Currently reading Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter—recommended.
KS: A good series hero has to be interesting, have a moral compass. People change incrementally not transformational.

After the panel I caught a few moments with Bill Crider, who signed a copy of his latest book: Between the Living and the Dead—thrilling!