Thursday, March 30, 2017

Guest author Scorchia DuBois: In Defense of First Person

Scorchia DuBois
Lately, I’ve heard a number of people express an abiding prejudice against any book written in first person. They say they will toss a book aside as soon as the evil “I” signals a first person narrator.

Since I make use of first person POV, I am naturally concerned that one of my babies might be disqualified straight out of the gate. Tell me—from whence does this hatred spring?

Don’t get me wrong, no POV is generally superior to another, as far as I can tell. Sometimes that story has to be gotten straight from the horse’s mouth—first person. Sometimes the story comes to you by a roundabout way—third person. Sometimes you need to know many things at once to really get the story—omniscient. It all depends.

So let me explain why I sometimes use first person.

First person is a challenge. To those who say first person is easy, I say “Pah!” I have to stay in one person’s head and tell her story as only she sees it. I can’t fall back on an omniscient source to clear up bits of the plot or to find out what’s happening in another part of town. And I have to make the story as interesting to readers as it is to the protagonist.

Let’s not even mention the technical bits like how do you get a physical description of your first person narrator without sounding stupid or without resorting to the old “ I walked past a mirror and . . .?” And how do you avoid starting every sentence with “I” or filling your prose with “me” and “my”? How much reflection is too much? How do you keep the plot moving when things happen off-stage?

First person is more immediate. I can show the action as she experiences the plot twists I gleefully toss at her.  I use present tense sometimes and that increases the immediacy but creates another monkey puzzle of how to avoid the pitfalls of tense along with the pitfalls of first person.

First person is more intimate. My character—like any human—processes the things that happen to her. She reflects and talks to herself. This presents another challenge because the temptation is to constantly tell her thoughts instead of show them. In a deep first person POV, I can let her work through her problems and illustrate her true nature.

First person doesn’t have to be reliable. Oh, the tricksy tales we tell ourselves to rationalize our own actions. As a teacher, I loved teaching about Edgar Alan Poe and his unreliable first person narrators. You know the guy--the narrator who tells us how sane and normal he is while relating his deviant behavior. People often lie to themselves just as they lie to others and I want my characters to do the same. A first person narrator is, after all, a person telling a story to a room full of other people.

Sometimes that story has to be gotten straight from the horse’s mouth—first person. Sometimes the story comes to you by a roundabout way—third person. Sometimes you need to know many things at once to really get the story—omniscient. It all depends.

A great many classic novels make use of first person. To name only a few:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Gulliver’s Travels
Huck Finn
Catcher in the Rye
The Invisible Man

More modern uses of a first person narrator achieved best seller status. A few of these:

The Lovely Bones
The Stephanie Plum books
Outlander

I won’t change my first person stripes just yet though I don’t put myself in league with any of these authors. Still, I want to know what I can do to lure first person POV haters to give this kind of narrator another chance.

As a matter of fact, I’m presenting a brand new short story in first person for a blog challenge during the April. If you are up for it, follow me at www.sorchiadubois.com to receive every episode of this witchy little tale. Or grab my latest book, Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones. Tell me what you think of my brand of first person narrator.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Murder anyone?

This may sound cynical but I believe that most of us are capable of murder. The question is how far would the average Joe--not a psychopath or otherwise mentally ill person--have to be pushed in order to actually go through with murdering someone?

I'm asking this question, not because I have any plans to commit murder myself, but because I am writing my first murder mystery. I know that there are some seasoned mystery writers on this blog so it's a great place to look for advice.

I love mysteries. Hercule Poirot was one of my heroes when I was a child and I still love a good mystery to this day. In fact, when I recently read eight young adult murder mysteries in a row to get a feel for what's on the market, it was the best fun I've had in a while...yes, I do need to get out a bit more. :-).

For my mystery, I know the how and the who. I have a line up of suspects to keep things interesting, but the thing that I find most challenging is the why. Money, jealousy, revenge, self-defense, to protect a loved one, and to cover up a secret are some of the more common motives for murder, but despite their problems and their flaws, my characters have not quite convinced me that they would be moved to murder by any one of these factors.

This is probably my pet peeve about murder mysteries. There is nothing I hate more than to find out that the murderer killed to solve a problem that 1. could have been addressed in a much less complicated manner, or 2. remained unsolved even after the murder. I also hate if the murderer is suddenly framed as being crazy despite acting rationally until that final reveal. I do think that in some cases the problem is not the motive, but that the character of the murderer has not been developed sufficiently so the reader believes the motive. But other times the motive is the issue. Would someone risk a lifetime in jail to stop a politician from changing a law that would destroy their business prospects? Would a 'sane' person kill their brother to cover up a thirty-year old secret that would cause a ripple across society at best?

I have it a bit easier writing a YA mystery because teens are notoriously self-centered and more likely to think their problems are a matter of life and death. I don't think that gives me a pass on developing a good motive so I am throwing out the question to you. Dig deep, answer anonymously if you must...just in case... What would move you to commit murder?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stopping by my Window on a Snowy Morning


A week ago, we had one of our few snowfalls of this winter. Not a lot of snow fell, but the panorama of white flakes and overcast inspired me to walk around the house with a cup of tea reciting one of my favorite poems, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. I memorized it for a sixth-grade assignment. (I don’t recall the teacher’s name, but I remember the inspiration he was to me.)

It begins:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

His horse, like some people, who might think my day-dreaming a waste of time, didn’t understand.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The final stanza of the poem kept repeating in my head.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Then, a brain neuron synapse brought another poem to mind--Trees by Joyce Kilmer. During my senior year, my high school English teacher challenged the class to analyze that poem—its figures of speech, imagery, etc.

I praised the dickens out of the poem. It’d been turned into a song, for goodness sake. The stanza “A tree that may in summer wear/a nest of robins in her hair” might be an image Walt Disney would have used in a magical forest animation. I’m a tree-hugger—literally. That image of a tree proudly displaying nests of baby robins among its leaves still appeals to me.

Ah, but the teacher trashed my glowing critique. “It’s very rhythmic,” he said, “but the metaphor doesn’t work. Are the leaves hair on the tree’s head adorned with nests, or are they green growth on her arms? (‘A tree that looks at God all day,/And lifts her leafy arms to pray;’)Why is her bosom above her mouth?” (‘A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;’ vs. ‘Upon whose bosom snow has lain;/Who intimately lives with rain.’) He had others.

I didn’t take it as a personal attack—in this introductory lesson most of the students missed the mixed metaphors. I couldn’t believe, though, that I had taken the poem’s merits for granted because it was famous. For me, the lesson opened a new world of literary appreciation. I read widely, with an eye to appreciating literary devices. I write with an eye to never mixing metaphors. Ha.

My reveries that morning took me back and helped me appreciate my mentors anew. Of course, there was still that repetitious line: “Miles to go before I sleep/Miles to go before I sleep.” You said it, Robert Frost. Watching the snow fall and thinking beautiful thoughts might bring peace, joy, and happiness. But I had work to do.

I went to my desk and wrote for hours, glances out my window reminding me of my brief, energizing “stop.” Today is sunny and warmer, and look what my little break inspired—this blog post. Are you stopping along your way to “watch your woods fill up with snow”, even when your “horse” thinks it “queer”?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Writer's Dream

            I had an opportunity last week to visit a place that authors’ dreams are made of: the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.


            I wasn’t going to blog about my visit, but it was so amazing I decided to share my experience and encourage other authors to visit the LOC if they ever get the chance.

            The Library of Congress is tucked behind the Capitol Building in the SW section of the city. The main building, the Jefferson Building, is located next door to the Supreme Court. A pretty hallowed neighborhood, no doubt, and well-deserved digs for one of the greatest libraries in the world.

 

            The LOC is made up of three main buildings: the Jefferson Building, the Madison Building, and the Adams Building. Though I didn’t make it to the Adams Building, I spent a combined many hours in the Madison and Jefferson Buildings.

            I started my day in the Madison Building, where anyone who wishes to do research at the Library of Congress must go to obtain a Reader Identification Card. I registered online before visiting, then all I had to do when I got to the Madison Building was visit the Reader Registration office, present my identification, get my photo taken for my ID card, and pick up the card. I got lost trying to find the Reader Registration office, so I got the chance to walk the halls of the Madison Building and see what kinds of things go on there: there is a newspaper reading room, the Law Library of Congress reading room, the performing arts reading room, a geography and map room, and hundreds of other offices doing who-knows-what to further enhance readers’ and researchers’ experiences at the Library.

            There is a tunnel connecting the Madison Building to the Jefferson Building, and I explored that to get from one building to the other. When I found myself in the Jefferson Building, I headed for the Main Reading Room (after depositing my computer bag and coat at the coat check, since no bags of any kind are allowed in the reading rooms). I didn’t get to work right away once I found the Main Reading Room because there was so much to take in. There are marble columns supporting a magnificent domed ceiling, statues, arched stained glass windows, and a gorgeous skylight. There are scores of wooden desks, arranged in concentric circles, where researchers can work. Each desk is crowned by a brass reading lamp and has an outlet for computers and cell phones.

  

            No photography is allowed in the Main Reading Room, but there is an observation area accessible from the Great Hall where visitors are allows to take photos of the space. I was pleased to see that the Main Reading Room was not at all crowded—since people have to obtain a Reader ID card from the Madison Building to be admitted into the room, only people serious about research generally bother to get the card.

            After I worked in the Main Reading Room for a few hours, I moved my research up to the Rare Book Reading Room, which was a hushed space where the oldest materials can be viewed under the watchful eyes of the librarians (who, by the way, are wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly). I had the chance to look at one of the rare books I was researching, but I was afraid to touch it. Instead, I took pictures of the book while the librarian opened it for me (I could have touched it, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that), then told her I would find the books I needed in the microfilm collection, where many of the rare books can be found so their contents can be preserved.

  


            I decided a tour of the Great Hall would be my reward for a day spent researching, so I meandered to the Great Hall when I was finished with my work in the microfilm room.

            The Jefferson Building, and the Great Hall in particular, is an architectural testament to the importance of knowledge and learning in every imaginable field. The Great Hall is a kaleidoscope of color, pattern, and texture. The vaulted ceilings, the mosaics on the floors, the statues, and the friezes all combine to create a sensory experience that highlights the importance of scholarship, history, wisdom, and education and learning. There are tributes to some of the world’s greatest philosophers, scientists, teachers, and writers.  

  


            I wish I had more time and space to devote to my visit, but I want to encourage all of you to visit the Library of Congress if you ever have the chance. The website is https://www.loc.gov/ if you want to browse their collections online. In person, it’s easily accessible by the Blue and Orange lines on the Washington Metro, and you are within short walking distance to other DC landmarks. If you ever find yourself in the nation’s capital, you won’t regret a visit to the Library.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

50 Shades of Cabernet: Mysteries with a Glass of Wine



http://amzn.to/2mGudY1
50 Shades of Cabernet is an anthology of wine-themed mysteries created by 18 authors. The stories range from light-hearted puzzles to darker, heavier tales of deceit and murder.

“Wine, Women, and Wrong” is my contribution to this stellar collection:

Tommy Bradshaw has two items on his bucket list: to solve a murder mystery and to marry Camille Pettit. Fat chance of either happening. Then, when Camille attends a wine-tasting fundraiser and the wine merchant is found in the parking lot, impaled by a hunting knife, Tommy gets his chance to play one of the Hardy Boys. In the process of finding the stabber, Tommy is besieged by women: the glamorous and sexy oenophile who’s hell-bent on seducing him; and the cop who would love to woo him away from Camille. In addition, Tommy finds that detecting isn’t as easy as it is in books.

Authors, do you write short stories? If so, you know how satisfying and enjoyable they can be. But for the past three or four decades many writers and readers have turned their backs on these literary gems, considering them mere writing class exercises. Not any more—shorts are back with a vengeance, due in large part to the e-book. Author and blogger Anne R. Allen says we’re in a new golden age of short fiction. See her complete post here.  

Here are just a few reasons to try this time-honored medium:
  • After struggling with your novel, writing short can give you a feeling of accomplishment
  • It helps you to hone your writing skills
  • It keeps you fresh material to promote while you’re working on your novel, keeping your readers engaged
  • In a short piece, you can resurrect scenes and characters that got edited out of your novel
  • You can further develop a minor character from your novel in a short piece
  • You can experiment with new genres

Ready to get started on this exciting and rewarding writing medium? Read and study the works of the greats in the mystery genre: Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ruth Rendell. Many Sisters in Crime chapters publish anthologies. Learn more about this organization that support crimes writers (despite the name, both sisters and “misters” are represented) here

Circling back to 50 Shades of Cabernet: these 17 authors join me in this stellar anthology: Betsy Ashton, Lyn Brittan, Barb Goffman, Debbiann Holmes, Maria Hudgins, Teresa Inge, Jim Jackson, Kristin Kisska, Douglas Lutz, Nancy Naigle, Alan Orloff, Jayne Ormerod, Rosemary Shomaker, Jenny Sparks, Heather Weidner, Tina Whittle, Ken Wingate.

Purchase 50 Shades of Cabernet here
 
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Friday, March 17, 2017

My Life Gone Awry - Missing Out

By Linda Thorne

I miss the groups I’ve had to basically drop out of because of huge changes at my day job.

When I moved to the Nashville area in 2008, I joined the Middle Tennessee Sisters in Crime group. I went to the most recent meeting on March 14th, but it was the first time since last September.
I also joined the Nashville Writers Meetup group in 2008 and was active in attending at least one of their meets every month. The last meeting I attended was in October of 2016.







What happened? Something I’ve been through before in my human resources management career. We were purchased by another company and lots of sudden changes and confusion. This is not what I had in mind for my later years of working. I am torn. I need my day job because everything costs so much, but the demands there are keeping me from writing my series, keeping me away from my author events and networking. I don't see an end to it. I stopped writing short stories some time ago to devote my available time to writing novels. I have the first one in the series done and published, and the second one in rough draft form, but I can't get to it.

Just Another Termination is a traditional mystery with numerous twists and turns. I'd love to publish the next mystery in the series, A Promotion to Die For, then keep going with number 3, 4, and on and on.

I do not know how to resolve this dilemma. When and if I do, I will let you know.


http://www.lindathorne.com/

 

Friday, March 10, 2017


This is a short blog to expose my naiveté and also to warn others.
I wanted to get a drone.  I read a number of reviews and finally selected the make and model I felt would be good for me.  It had a video camera with good resolution, excellent range, and an automated take off and landing setting.  Perfect for the novice pilot.

I checked on several places to buy it on line. On Amazon, I found a third-party seller who had a good price.  It also had a place to click for more  technical details.  I clicked on that link, read all the details and decided to make the purchase.  They required an Amazon Gift Card to pay for it.  I secured the gift card and gave them the information.  Delivery should be in a few days.
A few days passed and then some more.  I was not worried.  To my mind, I had purchased this through Amazon and I knew I could trust Amazon.  When more days passed, I started checking further.  But now, I could not find the ad on Amazon. Nor in all of the various emails related to this purchase could I  find a telephone number for this vendor.

When I finally got through to an actual person at Amazon, they asked me if I had purchased it through their shopping cart.  Well, not exactly.  Had I gotten off their site to make the purchase?  I tried to visualize what I had done. I had clicked on a link in this ad. It had taken me to another page which looked like it could have been from Amazon - maybe.  But I was looking for the technical information and not at that point concerned with other details.
 
It seemed I had actually left the Amazon site and gone to a site that was a scam. 

When I asked about the Amazon Gift Card and could it be checked, the answer was no.  There are Internet sites where Amazon Gift Cards are sold at a discount.  That is, someone gives you an Amazon Gift Card you do not want. So, you go to this Internet site and sell it at a discount to someone who really wants such a card.

The money had flown but no drone would come flying in anytime, soon or otherwise.

Since I had (inadvertently) left Amazon. They were out of the picture.  My objection at this point was that Amazon should vet third-party sites they allow to sell, or at least advertise, on the Amazon site.

Plain and simple, I was scammed.  Perhaps I should put this down as "Educational Expense."  Let's hope that bit of tuition pays off in avoiding scammers in the future.