How to write 5,000 words

PeninsulaHotelTea
Photo Credit: Peninsula Hotel, Chicago

Tea. And bribery. These are the two secrets to successful novelists, as proven by a study of one writer.

After plying myself with tea and biscuits, I rewarded myself with 20 minutes of BBC’s Poirot and Marple episodes for each 500 words.

I hope it works tomorrow, too.

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The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

A bold, clever murder spirals into desperate measures. 

A clever Agatha Christie that’s lamentably too short, The Mirror Crack’d is almost like two stories. One is the classic mystery and the other is a dissertation of sorts on growing old, especially after WWII.

Set closer to the 1950s, Miss Marple is far less mobile and relies on the help of the annoyingly kind Mrs. Knight. Mary St. Mead is modernising, but not always for the better, as the townhouse style development shows. Like the last Poirot case, Miss Marple is definitely struggling with the physical indignities of growing old while her mind is still razor sharp.

The mystery itself is extremely clever, a classic Christie, where golden age Hollywood meets 1950s England. An innocent woman is poisoned by mistake when a beautiful, tragic actress was the intended victim. Who tried to kill Marina – her apparently devoted husband? The cool young secretary almost certainly in love with the husband? Or one of a slew of jilted lovers, ex-husbands or cast-off children?

This wasn’t my favourite book by Christie. My main complaint is how short it is – we don’t get as much chance to really dig into motives and personalities. The stakes could’ve been raised and the characters better explored with more length.

But there’s always the brilliant puzzle, so painfully obvious in retrospect, to buoy an otherwise decent read.

Giveaway: “The Darkness Knows” mystery!

I’m excited to share the first giveaway on the blog! This is for a copy of the delightful “The Darkness Knows“, which I originally read as an advance copy but liked so much that I bought it at my local bookstore.

A 1930s radio star is thrown together with a private eye when she’s next in line for murder. This is a very enjoyable historical mystery that isn’t too gritty while still keeping the stakes high. A lot of fun to read. And look at that gorgeous cover!

thedarkness

To enter, simply comment on this post by 8/21/2016. US shipping addresses only.

I’ll contact you to share your address with the publisher – if I don’t hear back within 2 days, I’ll draw another name.

Good luck!

Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro

cover87970-medium.pngIncredible true stories of the women who dared to fly, fighting for a spot in history.

Inspired by true events, Crossing the Horizon is the heartbreaking and lovely story of women fighting for a spot in history against tremendous odds. In the 1920s, before Amelia Earhart made history with her solo flight, each of these women wanted to be first.

Elsie was the fierce daughter of an English peer who was sucked out of a plane during a loop maneuver and managed to hold on to a wire until the pilot could land. Mabel was the beautiful cigar girl who married into wealth, determined to be first. Ruth was the epitome of the new American girl – brave, cheerful and feminine – saving her beauty pageant earnings to learn flying.

Despite a few bits being dry, the stories captured me and I soon fell in love with Ruth and Elsie. Frances Grayson wasn’t one of the main characters but her exploits were included. I found Mabel to be spoiled and whiny, but I cried as I read about Ruth and Elsie’s daring flights. Inspiring and delightful!

Thanks to NetGalley for the 30-day ebook loan.

Guest post: Writing an authentic historical mystery

I was thrilled to ask debut author Cheryl Honigford about how she researched the 1930s. Her novel, The Darkness Knows, is a vibrant murder mystery that sparkles with energy and authenticity. I love her answer!

“My debut novel, THE DARKNESS KNOWS, is set in 1938. I was not alive then and very few of the people in my life were either. I do have, however, a passion for the era and a passion for history, in general. To me, writing historical fiction is a way for me to spend inordinate amounts of time researching and “living in” an era that is not my own with the added bonus of being able to produce something tangible from all that research and daydreaming.

So how did I write characters that are products of a time I have no first-hand knowledge of? First, I sought out media (movies, radio shows, newspapers, magazines, etc…) of the actual time period. Immersion in the pop culture of the period was key for me – the music, the hairstyles, the fashions. That gave me a good overall impression of life during the 1930s, but it didn’t tell me how people actually lived. The next thing I did was find memoirs and first person narratives of those that were living in the 1930s. For example, I found a memoir of a radio actor written only ten years or so after that time period. That gave me mundane details about how shows were produced and simply what it was like to be an actor/actress for the radio in the late 1930s. It was invaluable since most information about radio in the era has more of a history text book feel – focused on dates, and names and events. History books, in general, don’t usually document the average details of people’s daily lives, and it’s those details that will bring your historical fiction to life. Diaries and letters can be helpful – especially if you’re dealing with a time period pre-mass media. And if you’re lucky enough to be writing a time period in the not so distant past there are probably people all around you that actually lived it. They’re likely more than happy to share what high school was like in 1963, or how they started and drove a car in 1980.

My two main characters, Vivian and Charlie, are fictional but they are products of a very specific time in history. They were born in the early 1910s and came of age in the late 1920s. Vivian, especially, was formed by the devil-may-care atmosphere of 1920s. Their speech, their interests, their references need to be firmly rooted in that time. My only advice for getting something like that right is to immerse yourself in the time period so that it becomes second nature to you to write in that “voice”. Luckily for me, a lot of pop culture source material of the late 1930s still exists – magazines, movies, old radio shows themselves. I’ve watched countless old movies and listening to hundreds of hours of period radio broadcasts. It’s become second nature to me to know when what’s “period” 1930s or 1940s speech, and I can tell in a heartbeat if something is off or anachronistic (just ask my husband who has to suffer through my pointing them out if we’re watching anything set prior to 1950). Still, it’s difficult to get everything right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve googled “First usage of <insert word here>”. Words have a way of worming their way into the language and acting like they’ve always been there.

Having said all of that, I think it’s also important to remember that people are people. Human beings’ main motivations remain the same no matter the time period. Love, hate, jealousy – that’s what makes the world go round. It’s the way your characters go about expressing those motivations, however, that may be a bit different depending on your time period. Vivian’s arch rival, Frances, can’t start name-calling on social media in 1938, for example, but she can wage a gossip war behind the scenes at the radio station that’s just as effective in undermining Vivian’s reputation. As long as you are true to your characters base emotions and motivations the historical voice is something that will fall into place if you’ve done your research.”

An excellent journey into writing historical fiction, thank you so much Cheryl!

Pitching at a writer’s conference

Over the past few days I’ve been attending PNWA 2016 in Seattle. I’ve attended many technical conferences but never one for writing. It was a very rewarding experience, especially as I’d done a lot of prep ahead of time.

A writer’s conference lets you meet the local community, learn from others and pitch to agents and editors. I had business cards printed and I got more active on Twitter since so many book folks are there. I definitely met a lot of great writers and hope to stay in touch with them.

One thing I wanted to focus on was the pitch…

Preparing my pitch

I spent weeks scouring the internet for tips about writing a pitch, a query letter and a synopsis. I found help everywhere from Writer’s Digest to personal blogs. I got advice from a friend who was also attending.

I finally realized that the pitch should be more of a conversation – starting with why I was interested in the agent, a quick sentence about my book, then answer their questions.

Finding the right agents and editors to pitch

Mystery commonly gets lumped in with thriller and suspense. Mystery is a whodunnit (starts with the crime), thriller is how to stop them, and suspense often has elements of both. Cozy and historical mystery are their own sub-genre, and someone who represents might not like noir, for instance.

So I looked at the list of agents and editors who would be there. I really wanted to find great matches – people who were interested in cozy / historical mystery and whose companies had represented similar books.

Once I narrowed down to about 6 people, I researched their agencies, bought books they’d represented or edited and honed an individual pitch for each of them.

The result?

I’m excited to say that all of them expressed interest in seeing more!!

Now I need to re-read my query letter, get a fresh pair of eyes on it and send it out. This is just the beginning of a long road – even if I am lucky enough to land an agent in this round, it’s going to take a while to get published.