How Real Are Your Characters to You?

Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you? This is the latest subject of Robin Round Blog. And it’s a doozy. Because when I write, I not only become the characters, I become every living thing. And not so living. Like a car. I don’t know how much I actually relate to the 1957 Chevy convertible owned by protagonist, Lee Alvarez (see left). But I do know if I hurt its fender, I will feel its pain. I pound on the keyboard switching between characters in a positively schizophrenic manner. It’s kinda frightening. I remember when I was writing Death Runs in the Family, the third book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries. I had just gotten to a place in the scene where two of the running characters, cats Tugger and Baba, were catnapped. I’m not sure why I had to – who can remember – but I abandoned my writing for several days. Thus the cats. Some silliness about the real world calling. Anyway, when I left the little darlings in the story, they’d been snatched and stowed in the back of a station wagon heading for Las Vegas. In fiction time, they were trapped in their carriers for less than four hours. But in Heather Time, it was days. The hours ticked by. It weighed on me. I would try to give myself an occasional sharp jolt of reality, but myself didn’t care. In the middle of the third night I jerked to a sitting position in bed, jostling my husband awake. He said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I have to go rescue the cats. They’ve had no food or water for three days.” There was a pause. “What cats? They’re sleeping at the foot of the bed.” Of course, he meant our real …

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Ellie’s Spa Days

Ellie (Elphaba Queen of da Nile) is my cat, one of two. I love her to pieces. She is a high maintenance cat, but it’s not her fault. When she was a kitten she got the standard upper respiratory infection kittens seem to get and get over. I know my other cat, Yulie (Yul Brenner, King of Siam),  got it first, gave it to Ellie, but he got well. She got worse, pneumonia. I worked like the devil around the clock to save her and I did. But she has scar tissue on her lungs which led to asthma. I write all this because one thing led to another and Ellie is what I would call a challenged kitty. She has to go about every six-weeks for steroid shots. If not, her lung fill up with fluid and she can’t breathe. Her eyes tend to run, her ears need to be cleaned – all from allergies – and she has dandruff. I brush her every day and she loves it. She’s tubby, due to the steroids. It’s not her fault, but she is a girl who likes her treats. One has to face it. Ellie was born with shortish legs, especially the front ones. She can’t do high leaps. Or even medium leaps. In fact, leaping is pretty much out. She sounds awful, right? Not so. I adore her. She is my doll baby. And just the sweetest. And to me she is beautiful. This might be a lesson in not only is beauty in the eyes of the beholder, but being challenged sometimes brings out the best in other people. I think I’m  better for having Ellie in my life.     On the other hand, Yulie, my boy, is gorgeous. He’s a Flame Point Siamese. He isn’t as challenged …

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Finding the Sweet Spot of Novel Writing

The idea of writing a novel can test the mettle of the best of us. I don’t care if it’s your first or your eleventh time out (like me, right now). It can be one overwhelming, oh-m’gawd-am-I-really-doing-this? Maybe it’s the blank screen of a computer. Even if you write in long hand, it’s still the blankness of a page staring at you. Just defying  you to write something down on it. Note Matt Haig’s solution to the right. As for me, I write murder mysteries. So on that level, I’m set. Somebody’s going to die, probably more than one somebody, and it’s my job to tease the reader into thinking it can be any one of the suspects, none of the suspects, or maybe, reminiscent of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, every danged one of them. It’s all in my approach. Whether you are A) a plotter – someone who plots out every scene in every chapter ahead of time or B) a pantster – someone who flies by the seat of their pants knowing the beginning and end but not much of the middle, most of writing a novel is all in the approach. When all else fails, I try to sneak up on it, like a farmer sneaks up on a spooked heifer when he’s trying to get her backside back in the barn.  Mooo. But in all seriousness, I have learned a few tricks along the way to finding the sweet spot to writing a novel. 1 – I make a realistic schedule for writing and stick to it. When you don’t write for a living, it’s hard to carve out time for it. Most people have full-time jobs and then some. But if you realistically view what your average day is like, there are often fifteen minutes …

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I Hold Charles Dickens Responsible

Decided to share this again. Since I was a child, I would watch countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol on TV and in the movies. I’ve seen variations of the character of Scrooge played by the likes of Alec Guinness, Susan Lucci, Jim Carrey, Vanessa Williams, and Scrooge McDuck. I even read the novel way back, when I was into a Reading the Classics Phase, which is a great phase to be in, frankly. We learn from the masters. In 25-words or less, A Christmas Carol is a story of a mean, hard-hearted person who hates Christmas and all it stands for i.e. love, charity, and warm fuzzy slippers. On that fateful Christmas Eve, if antacids had been around, the novel might have taken a different turn. Ebenezer Scrooge might have uttered, “Cripes! It was an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. Someone pass me a Tums.” But being a genius writer, Dickens has Scrooge find his inner self, thanks to an unending supply of colorful and inventive ghosts who are out to show he doesn’t have to be the rat-fink he thinks himself to be. It is touch and go for awhile, but kindness and mercy win out. Love of fellowman scores a touchdown. And we, the readers, cheer from the sidelines. Yes, you can be a B&BP (bigger and better person) if only you try. Taking this story to heart since I was around five-years old, I was convinced it was possible to help change a person’s character. Yes, enlighten them as to the good in everyone, help them to see the gentler part of humankind, that which sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and you’ve got something. Although, according to Lila Hamilton Alvarez, the matriarch of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, what sets us apart from …

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Sisters in Crime, My Kinda Gals

Yesterday I attended the Sisters in Crime Northern California Chapter’s Annual Showcase. Authors of newly published books – one of which was me – were offered the opportunity of either reading an excerpt from the book, or in Camille Minichino‘s case, reading an essay one of her character’s had ‘written’ for the occasion. It was all upbeat, supportive, and charming. I think charm and talent pretty much describes this group. Walk a mile in our writing shoes we could say, and you’d know success in this field doesn’t come easily. But it has come to many within the group. Collectively and individually, we are all proud of any and all achievements. I tend to be nervous when I have to read my work. Furthermore, I never know what I’m going to ad-lib during the occasion. I often have babble-breath, whatever’s going on inside comes burbling up. And unedited. It is the stuff nightmares are made of. However, most of the women who read yesterday did their work credit. Calm and rational were they. And unbelievably charming. For the ones whose work I’ve already read, I said ‘Yup, they do it credit. It’s that good’. For the ones whose work I have yet to read, I said, “Gotta get that book’. And I did. Here’s a list of the other participating authors, whose new work was featured. Just click on each name for more info and to buy their novels via Amazon: Elin Barnes – A sweetheart, one of the heartbeats of SinC, and a mighty fine writer. I’ve read the first two books of the Darcy Lynch Series, and have pre-ordered the 3rd. I only have to wait until Nov 10th for it to arrive. Warning: Her series is addictive! Janet Dawson – This prolific writer was unable to come, but some lucky duck won …

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Naming A Book Is Almost As Important As Naming A Child

If you are less well known than Stephen King, your book titles (and covers) are of paramount importance in attracting new readers. Allowing for a slight exaggeration, each week about a million new books are published, glutting the market. Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and so forth make it easy to publish a book. It’s pretty cheap, too.  Expect your dry cleaner or local dog walker to be putting one out any minute. Vanity Publishing. It’s all the rage. In fact, there are even programs for sale on the internet that will write the book for you. You merely provide a subject matter and it’s off. It will write paragraph after paragraph and keep on going until you tell it to stop. 15,000 words? 30? Just plug it in, baby, and go to a movie. A double feature if you want an 85K book. So we have arrived. Now the ‘author’ no longer needs to write a sentence in order to produce a book. Actually, you don’t even need to be in the same room. Naming a book is super important. This can cause a certain amount of trouble for actual writers trying to write actual books. Nowadays, you not only have to write a damned good book, you have to make people notice and choose it from the multitudes. To that end, you cannot spend too much time or thought in choosing the right book title (and cover). 1 – The title should be short and catchy – dare I say clever – pulling the reader in immediately. Even if they don’t know who the devil you are, ideally, the thumbnail image of the book should make them pause for a moment to look it over. My latest book, The CEO Came DOA, book five of the Alvarez Family Mysteries, I believe accomplishes …

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Halloween is Coming! And It’s Double Double Toil and Trouble!

It’s odd what can give birth to a series. The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries happened after years of research for my stand-alone circus noir mystery, Death of a Clown. I didn’t want all of the knowledge I’d gleaned of the nineteen-forties to go to waste! In addition, I had been challenged to write a mystery with a protagonist who wasn’t an ideal beauty, i.e. young, svelte, and beautiful. So I came up with Persephone (Percy) Cole, who I believe fills the criteria. Thirty-five years old – considered middle-aged in the forties – Percy is a five-foot eleven, full-figured gal, with a wicked sense of humor, and a take no prisoners’ attitude. Her one soft spot is her eight-year old son, Oliver, a child that gives her life meaning. Fortunately, when I created a character physically larger than most men of seventy plus years ago, I was offering up a woman who was quite comfortable with being a female Sam Spade. As one of the country’s first female private investigators, Percy fits into a man’s world at a time when few women did. The first of the series, The Dagger Before Me, takes place over Halloween in a Broadway theater during a production of Macbeth. I chose a Broadway theater because I worked backstage in most of them for many years. I am very familiar with what is often considered an exotic job in an exotic world. Celebrating Halloween, The Dagger Before Me is on sale from October 3 through 10 for only 99¢. Iced Diamonds takes place in the Diamond District of Manhattan, although sadly, I don’t know diamonds nearly as well as I know Broadway. However, I found the idea of a dead elf in the storefront window of a jeweler’s during the Christmas season mad fun to write about. The Chocolate Kiss-Off revolves around chocolate and murder. What could be better? Valentine’s Day is upon …

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Am I Emotionally Involved In Some Scenes I Write? Nooooo, Never!

Pretty much everyone knows the phrase ‘4th wall’ refers to that make-believe wall which separates those onstage from the audience in a theater. Theoretical, the ‘4th wall’ has been removed so the audience can vicariously experience whatever is happening onstage from a safe and neutral distance. But pish-tosh. Vicarious is not a part of my working vocabulary. Neutral is merely a gear on my car. When a character suffers, I suffer. If everyone onstage is sad and melancholy, that’s my lot in life, too, at least until the final curtain call. I am that audience member who weeps so loudly my sobs disturb everyone else. Sorry. I remember when I was writing the third book of the Alvarez Family Mystery Series, Death Runs in the Family. There  was a scene involving Lee Alvarez, protagonist, and the catnapping of her cat, Tugger, and his playmate, Baba. The two stolen felines were in the back of a station wagon on their way from Palo Alto, CA, to Las Vegas, NV. It would be around an eight hour drive, bad enough for two cats trapped in their carrier in the real world, but this was make believe, right? Well, not really. I had to stop in the middle of the scene, leaving it unfinished for the next three days. I don’t remember why, but at the time it was necessary. On the third night I awoke from a deep sleep completely distraught. Lying beside me, my husband sleepily asked what was wrong. “Darling,” I said, “I left those two cats in the back of the station wagon without food and water for three days! I have to go rescue them!” “You mean the cats in your book? The one’s you’re writing about? The fictional ones?” “Yes, but I can’t stand it. I have to free them. I have to finish the …

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Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries

For the past two weeks, nine authors and I have been either posting or commenting on posts regarding our newly released set of 10 books, Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries.  Boosting over 3,000 pages of fine reading at $2.99, I had to buy a copy for myself. I just couldn’t pass it up. During the past 14-days, I’ve had the opportunity to got to know authors I hadn’t met before and become reacquainted with the ones I do. I’m pretty proud of being a part of this series. Putting me aside, it includes  women whose talent and credentials are impressive. And they all are pretty danged nice. If you are into the world of mysteries, whether it be humorous, light-weight, serious or deep, there is something here for everyone. Give it a gander: Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries is a collection of 10 full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by 10 critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in this set is the first book in an established multi-book series–a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston–Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder… Murder Among Neighbors, a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths–and handsome detective Michael …

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American Association of University Women

The AAUW has been empowering women since 1881. Women who have accomplished something, anything, reach out to help other women, especially the younger ones. It’s a tradition among these fine, learned women and a noble one, at that. As a writer, I am proud to say that I have been moderating some author events, mainly the ones chaired by Barbara Evans for the past four years taking place at Michaels At Shoreline Restaurant. On behalf of the the Palo Alto AAUW Luncheon, this event will benefit tech trek program for middle school girls. This year the lineup of authors is astounding. They are amazingly gifted writers, recipients of a multitude of awards, and I look forward to spending an hour or so with them. Please join us on Saturday, April 9, at 11 am. for an informative and fabulous luncheon event! M. P. Cooley, author of Ice Shear    NoViolet Bulawayo, author of  We Need New Names       Elizabeth Rosner, author of Electric City       Azadeh Tabazadeh, author of The Sky Detective   Save