When Writers Travel

Who else loves to travel?

We just returned from Southeast Asia. I’m not sure if this was a bucket list trip or simply an area of the world we were curious about. Both my husband and I were too young for what we call the Vietnam War, but I remember the protests and the horrors of the war shown on the nightly news. Soldiers being spit on and called “Baby Killers.” The MIA bracelets. Four Dead in Ohio. (My blogmate’s books are set in the era, by the way.) The guys in the deli where I worked during college with their bravissimo: “I was stoned the whole time,” and our church youth advisor, a then, newly-minted lieutenant, who would not talk about his time in Vietnam. My brother-in-law, a medic during the war, who also does not discuss his experiences there.

I could go on, but I think you get the drift. Or maybe you remember.

Then there’s Cambodia. A close friend’s daughter served there with the Peace Corp and kept me intrigued with a running series of Facebook posts. And who isn’t moved by the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge?

So we went.

And we loved Saigon.

The locals call District 1, which is the old town, “Saigon” while the sprawling city is referred to as Ho Chi Min City. There’s energy and optimism, friendly people, and 6 million scooters (mostly being driven by young, texting locals).

One of the things we did was a street food tour – vendors set up, legally or not so much, wherever there’s an open spot of pavement. Hygiene may be optional for some of those vendors. 😉

Our guide for the tour said Saigon is in to “Capitalistic Communism.” They relate to Cuba, consider Russia a socialist country, and think North Korea is a disgrace. By the way, they still don’t like the Chinese, even as China pours investment money into the country, and the French… well…the south doesn’t hate them as much as the north. But you know, we never ran into anyone who openly disliked Americans. Instead they all wanted to practice their English on us.

Go figure.

Although the War Remnants Museum, chronicling the “American War,” was a sobering reminder of what a horrible war this was for both sides.

North to Hanoi

We worked our way north with stops in Hanoi where we checked out the Hanoi Hilton and learned it was a massive torture prison built by the French (see “they hate the French” above, along with the 95 years of French oppression).

Ironically enough, the Vietnamese have huge respect for John McCain and his decision to stay with his men rather than using name and position to bail himself out. (cough, cough, bone spurs.)

But damn, the coffee and cheese were French and amazing.

We found the north more political and less entrepreneurial than the south. Interesting differences in culture.

Then it was on to Halong Bay, which was awe inspiring. Seriously. I thought it would be water, a small bay, with a few of those rock monoliths. A picture may be worth a few words here.

   

We traveled on, through Cambodia and down the Mekong, back to Vietnam.

So many glimpses of a different lifestyle. A third world country struggling to move ahead. Pride in the remnants of a kingdom in the past. Something beyond tolerance for the religious practices embodied by hundreds of temples. The quiet serenity of sunrise at Angkor Watt.

 

 

Terrifying safety issues in manufacturing. Yes, she’s hand feeding reeds into that machine, which snatches them from her fingers and zips the shuttle back across the machine.

Health and hygiene issues that made us cringe and wonder why we obsess over plastic straws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sadness of the long-term impact of the Khmer wiping out every person in the country who could read and write and the current struggle of the Cambodians to find their footing.

The search for foreign investment in the face of those struggles. Quiet disdain for the puppet government put in place by the Vietnamese, who also installed 8 million landmines to keep the Khmer out of Vietnam. (There are roughly 4 million mines still hidden in the ground. They pay children $1 for each turned in mine – people also use the explosives to blast fish in ponds, but that’s a separate story – and many bear the missing feet and hands as a sickening reminder of how dangerous those devices are.)

What can a writer learn?

A sensory overload? That iced Vietnamese coffee is wonderful? An appreciation for friends and a zest for life? A sobering realization three generations of Vietnamese live in an area roughly the size of my living room. An appreciation for air conditioning. (I grew up in the South and yeah, Robin Williams had it right. Vietnamese weather? Hot and damn hot.)

Maybe it’s getting outside our own heads for a while. Trying new things. New experiences. Learning about a new-to-me ancient culture. Meeting new friends and recapturing a curiosity about the rest of the world.

Whatever you want to call it, I’m glad I went. And I’m already eyeing another area of the globe…

What the most interesting place you’ve visited lately?

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Ready to Double Down?

“Double Down” used to mean a calculated gamble – and maybe it still does. The technique certainly can increase the odds of winning. These days the term can mean anything from a bold decision to an increased resolve to stick to a position. Of course, it can also be a media euphemism with huge political overtones about certain statements, but that’s a different discussion.

What do the words have to do with books?

Lots!  DOUBLE DOWN, a story set in the Holly Price mystery series world, is a recent release.

While this story was fun to write, I have a couple of confessions to make:

People always ask authors where we get our story ideas. Confession #1 – The premise for this story was a given. A group of us challenged each other to write a story where luck changed the protagonist’s life.  Of course, for a mystery writer this means someone is likely to die. That isn’t the life changing event in Double Down.

Really.

Characters are as important as the plot in my stories. My heroine, Maddie Larsson, leapt onto the page. The inspiration for Maddie came from a friend’s daughter—a single parent who works in a casino as a blackjack dealer. Maddie’s determination to forge a stable life for herself and her son draws the admiration of one of the casino’s gamblers, attention that changes her life for the better but also threatens to ruin—or end—it.

I wrestled a bit with the male lead character. So many readers wanted to see JC Dimitrak’s side of events (JC is the hero in So About the Money, book 1 in the Holly Price mystery series) I decided to put him in charge of the investigation. Maybe he was a little too charming since my beta readers …well, telling you would be a spoiler.

Confession #2 – I didn’t know anything about gambling. Honestly, I don’t understand the attraction but clearly it’s a popular pastime. Fortunately I had a willing “resource” (aka my friend’s daughter) to teach me the basics and give me insight into the dealers’ world.

Take all that and place your bets – DOUBLE DOWN!

Murder isn’t supposed to be in the cards for blackjack dealer Maddie Larsson. Busted takes on a new meaning when her favorite customer, a former Poker World Tour champion, is murdered. His family claims—loudly and often—Maddie is the gold-digging murderer. She better prove she’s on the level before the real killer cashes in her chips.

If the victim’s body had been dumped five hundred yards up the road, Franklin County Sheriff’s Detective JC Dimitrak wouldn’t have been assigned to the Tom Tom Casino murder case. Instead, he’s hunting for suspects and evidence while dealing with a nemesis from the past and trying to preserve his own future. He better play his cards correctly and find the killer before an innocent woman takes the ultimate hit.

Available at most online vendors.

Amazon       B&N      Kobo      iBooks

 

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When Justice Isn’t Served

I wrote this for our group blog in 2017, but Brock Turner was the first person I thought about when I saw the unbelievably lenient sentence Paul Manafort received. Disparity in sentencing is not justice and is simply wrong.

Original Post

You saw the Times cover for the Person(s) of the Year, right?

Maybe people are starting to hear the voices of women who have for years (and years) been wrestling with sexual harassment and assault.

Maybe it’s not being heard, if the players aren’t high profile in every day life.

Case in point: Did you see that Brock Turner is appealing his conviction?

You remember Brock, right? The Stanford University swimmer convicted of three (count ‘em, three) felonies (which normally carries a sentence of up to fourteen years) who was sentenced to a whopping six months and released after serving only three months in a county jail (instead of prison).

Yeah.

That guy.

In his appeal, Brock claims he didn’t get a fair trial for the following reasons:

1) The defense team, the one Mommy and Daddy paid for (You remember Dad and his infamous reaction: his son should not go to jail or have his life ruined for “20 minutes of action”) didn’t get to put characters witnesses on the stand to say what a great guy he is.

The great guy who found an unconscious woman outside on the ground and instead of calling for help, sexually assaulted her.

What a guy.

2) The prosecutor repeated used the word “Dumpster.” The defense says this “implied moral depravity, callousness, and culpability on the appellant’s part because of the inherent connotations of filth, garbage, detritus and criminal activity frequently generally associated with Dumpsters.”

I suspect the Dumpster makers didn’t appreciate that characterization.

In Brock case, the victim and “Mr. Turner” were found “in a three-sided structure that customarily houses”…wait for it… “a Dumpster.” They were discovered on the open side, facing a darkened basketball court, which by the way is where the prosecutor said the assault occurred. In the open.

Brock – hint – that big green box, the one usually housed in that structure, is called a Dumpster.

And you assaulted a woman in the open area in front of that structure.

3) Brock claims it was consensual sex.

Two graduate students caught him assaulting the UNCONSCIOUS woman and tackled him when he tried to run away.

Really hard to give consent when you’re UNCONSCIOUS.

And those two grad students made really good witnesses for the prosecutor since they caught him in the act.

4) And incredibly (as if the above isn’t already incredulous) 60 pages (yes SIXTY) of the appeal focus on how much the VICTIM drank that night.

‘Cause in Predator Land, it always the victim’s fault.

And you always blame the victim.

Live with it Brock.

Read more

The impact statement (which is incredibly powerful)  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/06/stanford-sexual-assault-case-victim-impact-statement-in-full

His appeal attempt  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/us/brock-turner-appeal.html

And  https://www.salon.com/2017/12/04/brock-turner-is-appealing-his-conviction-because-the-prosecutor-used-the-word-dumpster/

 

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Focus on the Good Stuff

What can you say about a year that’s a Dog in the Chinese calendar? Whose Pantone color of the year kinda looked like a smushed plum?

Thank goodness 2018’s over?

The year was the pits in too many ways, with too many people focused on the things that divide us rather than looking for common goals, values or ideas. So today, I want to focus on the good stuff.

2018 held wonderful times for my family – a wedding, a new baby, and I chose to retire early from a career I’ve enjoyed for years. All of these are thresholds to new adventures, new stages of life.

I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds – even if it’s the Year of the Pig, because the color is Living Coral.

What about you? What was the best thing that happened during 2018?

 

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Behind the Bodyguard

By Jacki Delecki

In my new military romantic suspense series, The Impossible Mission, Delta Force operatives fight not just for their country but to win the hearts of the women they love. This team is highly trained, and incredibly loyal—as seen in book one, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TO RESIST. Aiden Foster takes on a short assignment as a bodyguard to fulfill a promise to a friend. Jordan Dean is nothing like the high-value assets he’s protected before. The beautiful, intelligent researcher ignores his directives, and challenges him in ways he never expected. And, at six foot six, Aiden doesn’t blend in to the background like bodyguards are trained to do.

In book 2 of the series, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TO SURRENDER, out on February 21st, Finn Jenkins will do whatever it takes to keep Sophie Dean safe. For Sophie, trusting her best friend Finn as her bodyguard is easy—it’s trusting him with her heart that she’s not so sure about. Whoever thought guarding bodies could prove so difficult?

When writing these books, I did some research on professional bodyguards. Here are five facts that surprised me.

  1. Not all bodyguards are armed. One expert explained that a bodyguard’s best strategy is to remove the person they’re protecting from dangerous situations, not fight off attackers.
  2. TMZ.com is a great source for news about celebrities. Some protection specialists use TMZ.com for information about which celebrities are uncooperative with their bodyguards or who’s having trouble and might be in need of services.
  3. Social media makes their job harder. Celebrities and entertainers can inadvertently expose themselves to risk by sharing personal information that reveals travel schedules, upcoming appearances and details about their routines and private life. Professional bodyguards often monitor clients’ social media accounts to identify and minimize risk.
  4. No glitz and glamour for bodyguards. Protection specialists are often part of a luxury lifestyle, but they are not living that lifestyle. Their job might include international travel on private jets to exotic locations, but they are there to do a job, not enjoy the amenities.
  5. Bodyguard is not their preferred title. Professionals don’t refer to themselves as bodyguards. The preferred term, according to the president and CEO of a company that provides such services, is “executive protection agents.”

I have huge respect for anyone who puts themselves between danger and others, but I’m sticking with “bodyguard.” Executive Protection Agent just doesn’t have the same allure.

 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TO RESIST

Book 1 in the Impossible Mission Series

Available October 18, 2018

 

Amazon | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play

 

 

 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TO SURRENDER

Book 2 in the Impossible Mission Series

Available February 21, 2019

 

 

Amazon | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play

 

 

About Jacki Delecki

Jacki Delecki is a bestselling romantic suspense author whose stories are filled with heart-pounding adventure, danger, intrigue, and romance. Her books have consistently received rave reviews, and AN INNER FIRE was chosen as an Editor’s Selection by USA Today. Currently, she has three series: the contemporary romantic suspense Impossible Mission, featuring Delta Force operatives; Grayce Walters, contemporary romantic suspense following a Seattle animal acupuncturist with a nose for crime; and the Code Breakers, Regency suspense set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. Delecki’s stories reflect her lifelong love affair with the arts and history. When not writing, she volunteers for Seattle’s Ballet and Opera Companies, and leads children’s tours of Pike Street Market.

Website:  http://jackidelecki.com/

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2D7yoFt

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JDelecki/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/jackidelecki

Book+Main Bites:  https://bookandmainbites.com/users/20961

Bookbub:  https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jacki-delecki

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Jacki-Delecki/e/B00G9BC9YE/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7394357.Jacki_Delecki

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Copy. Cut. Paste.

Have you heard about the latest scandal rocking RomanceLandia? A woman has been caught lifting sentences, paragraphs, pages from multiple (up to 20 and counting) authors and stringing them together into a new book.

Copy. Cut. Paste.

Plagiarism.

I thought about this while I walked the dogs and see the following spectrum from the benign to the terrible.

The Same, But Different

How many times have we seen that phrase as to what an agent/publisher wants? It’s why tropes are so popular in RomanceLandia: friends to lovers; secret baby. The mystery world has its own familiar plots. The protagonist who races to save the world before the villain takes over/destroys it. The serial killer; can the hero stop him before he kills again? The small-town heroine who a body and must investigate to remove herself from the prime suspect position.
Shoot, I’m part of a Common Elements Project where we’re all given the same five required elements, and then told Go! 
What makes all of these “work” is each author will tell the story in a different way, with their unique voice.

So, the same…but different.

The Inadvertent

This may be every author’s secret fear. Or maybe it’s just mine.
I read. A lot.
There’s always the concern a story’s clever phrase has tucked away in a memory cell and will reappear in a similar fashion on my page. I can’t point to a particular phrase—if I recognized it, I’d change it—but I fear it could happen. I remember reading—somewhere—that this is more common than expected. Or maybe the point of the article was it happens a lot more than we realize.

But, again, I stress it’s inadvertent.

And the Ugly

Stealing. Deliberately.
Plagiarism hurts authors at a deeper level than the whack-a-mole, steal-a-book in a “free” download sites. Those sites and the people who use them are stealing from authors financially.

Plagiarism takes an author’s soul. Words we’ve sweated over, melded into scenes to convey action, character and theme are casually stolen with no thought to the crafting that underlies them.
And worse, it’s done with full knowledge of the theft.
One of the authors impacted by Serruya is a friend—Courtney Milan. She’s written a post about her experience and her reaction. Because the hurt is so personal, I won’t presume to tell you about it. Instead, I urge you to read her words.

Authors – Have you worried about the inadvertent? Found your work ripped off?
Readers – Have you read something you felt was a little too close to something else you’ve read?

On a completely different note, I put DOUBLE DOWN on sale this week because it’s my birthday and I like to share (legally).

DOUBLE DOWN is the second book in the Holly Price series, written because readers wanted to see events from Detective JC Dimitrak’s perspective.
Murder isn’t supposed to be in the cards for blackjack dealer Maddie Larsson. Busted takes on a new meaning when her favorite customer, a former Poker World Tour champion, is murdered. His family claims—loudly and often—Maddie is the gold-digging murderer. She better prove she’s on the level before the real killer cashes in her chips. 

If the victim’s body had been dumped five hundred yards up the road, Franklin County Sheriff’s Detective JC Dimitrak wouldn’t have been assigned to the Tom Tom Casino murder case. Instead, he’s hunting for suspects and evidence while dealing with a nemesis from the past and trying to preserve his own future. He better play his hand correctly and find the killer before an innocent woman takes the ultimate hit.

Find it here from your favorite store. books2read.com/DoubleDown 

And because I forgot to put it on my calendar, HONOR CODE is also on sale this weekend, with a group promo.

In a small southern town where everyone normally knows each other’s business, veteran detective Larry Robbins must solve the disappearance of eighty-year-old widower, African-American George Beason.

 

When evidence arises that Beason may have left town on his own, it would be easy for Robbins to close the case, but his gut instinct tells him more’s at stake. As he uncovers clues about Beason’s deceased wife and his estranged daughter, Robbins must untangle conflicting motives and hidden agendas to bring Beason home alive. 

HONOR CODE hit #1 in its category at release. You can pick up a copy here or here.

Happy Reading!

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Hiding Your Identity Just Isn’t as Easy as It Used To Be

By Sally Bayless

Hi Everyone!

I’m Sally Bayless and I write contemporary Christian romance. I’m a huge lover of mysteries as well, and for my latest release, Love, Lies, and Homemade Pie, I wanted my heroine to be hiding her past. The more I researched how to do that, the more the story idea gelled with my desire to write a prequel to the other books in my series, which are set in the present day. Let me tell you, hiding your identity was a lot easier in 1980! Here’s the story I came up with:

Love, Lies, and Homemade Pie

When a woman who’s keeping secrets falls for a journalist who’s digging for the truth, does the attraction between them stand a chance?

Cara Smith has a whole new life planned—a new name, a new look, and a new hometown in Abundance, Missouri. If she can just avoid questions from that intriguing guy at the newspaper, no one will ever find out about her past.

Will Hamlin, editor of the local paper, can’t help but wonder about the mayor’s new secretary. She’s clearly hiding something—something that could be the big story the newspaper desperately needs to stay afloat. But after Will’s initial inquiries fail to turn up anything, he grows less interested in Cara’s past and more interested in winning her heart with slices of pie and stolen kisses.

When a crime is uncovered at city hall just as Will unearths Cara’s dark secret, the repercussions shatter their romance. Has Cara really left her past behind? Can Will finally find a way to save the paper? And can they each place their trust in God and together find freedom in the truth and overcome the obstacles to their love?

“Love, Lies, and Homemade Pie” is a stand-alone contemporary Christian romance novel and is the prequel to the Abundance Series by Sally Bayless. If you like a sweet, small-town romance with a touch of humor and characters with real-world problems, you’ll love this heartwarming story.

This book is available on Amazon for Kindle, Paperback, and in Kindle Unlimited

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N31GM6S

About the Author 

Sally Bayless is the author of five contemporary Christian romance books—Love, Lies, and Homemade Pie, Love at Sunset Lake, Love and Harmony, Love and Roses, and Christmas in Abundance. She lives in a small town in the beautiful hills of Appalachian Ohio and has two grown children. When not working on her next book, she enjoys watching BBC television with her husband, swimming, baking, and shopping for cute shoes.

To connect with Sally: Join her newsletter (and get a free family tree of the characters in the Abundance Series as well as a free insider’s guide to her books):

Follow her on Facebook, TwitterPinterest (to which she is rapidly developing an addiction), or join her Facebook group (to get even more of an inside scoop).

 

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Top Ten Writing Tips

I can’t believe it’s already the middle of January! How are you coming with your New Year’s Resolutions?

One of my resolutions was to transfer the organization I always implemented in my day job to my writing life. Since my writing space and habits were a bit (cough, a lot) disorganized, I got together with some author friends. What quickly evolved was a set of writing tips. Many of these I’ve done without conscious thought. I’m attempting to be more mindful, however, and plan to use this structure as additional motivation to, as one friend puts it, finish the damn book.

So, without further fanfare – the writing tips:

Ten – Make lists. Every day I make a list of the things I want to accomplish that day. (I’m not sure what it says about me that I love drawing a line through an item when it’s done.) The first line (every day but Sunday) is always, Write. Long-term-goals are listed on my white board: things I want to be sure I don’t forget, but I don’t have to do today.

Nine – Sprint.  A group of us grabs our first, or next, cup of coffee and checks in, then we all ignore each other, turn off the internet and the phone, and work steadily for an hour. It’s a writing club, a mutual support group, and a fabulous technique for working without interruption. I write until I meet my word count goal for the day. (Thank Steven King for this one.)

Eight – Work on one series at a time. I try my best to immerse myself in one setting, one set of characters, one story, whether I’m working on a first draft or revising a draft. Avoiding the “new shiny” keeps me focused.

Seven – Finish what’s due first. Except #8 blows up sometimes. I’ll be in first draft mode on Pony Ring and edits will come in from Beaver Pond. I operate on the First Due principle. I knock out the edits, because they’re due in a week or two, then get back to the longer work. The problem with doing that, of course, is getting back up to speed with the work-in-process, so I can re-immerse myself in that world.

Six – Take time away from the desk. By the end of a writing session, my creative brain is mush. I usually go for what I call my plotting walk, especially if I’m writing a first draft. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that brings the next scene or a plot problem into focus. It makes the dogs happy to get out of the house, too.

Five – Separate creative time from admin time. I’m most creative in the early morning, so I do my writing then. A corollary is, Keep creative time sacred. I don’t schedule anything else for mornings. I try to keep writing blog posts, scheduling author events, record-keeping, and all the other business stuff for the evenings.

Four – Work ahead. Know what you want to accomplish. I’ve written my goals for the year and set up a time table to implement them. That means I work now on upcoming items instead of waiting and scrambling at the last minute.

Three – Outsource what I can’t do. While I tinker with art and photo-editing, I know my limits with graphic design. I hire a wonderful cover artist. I like formatting my books, but it’s something I can do in the evening while my husband watches TV. The key point is identifying what I’m good at and enjoy, versus what I can outsource. Why waste time on things it would take me forever to do and rob me of the hours I need to do what I’m good at – writing stories?

Two – Stay healthy. I always have a full flask of water on my desk. Fluids in, fluids out. It makes me get up and move around every hour or so. And if I forget, my Fitbit buzzes at me with a reminder. I try to eat lean fresh foods, and I get regular exercise even if it isn’t always a sweaty gym workout. And the exercise doubles as creative time – see #6!

One – Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. This is really the most important one. If I get distracted, schedule other things, or simply don’t do the writing, then…I’m not doing the writing. And that’s my job. Of all the varied jobs I’ve held, I’m lucky and blessed to have this one I love.

What tips can you add?

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Is Noir Hard-Boiled? Or Tough?

By Dana King

Debating noir vs. hard-boiled is a popular panel subject at conferences. I think it’s a false choice. Noir is a genre, a type of story; hard-boiled is a writing style. Much noir is hard-boiled, but it doesn’t have to be. If we consider noir to be a story where the protagonist comes to a bad end, often through his own ill-considered actions, then Hamlet is noir, as is Richard III. Shakespeare’s writing was a lot of things; hard-boiled was not one of them.

I’ve struggled for years with hard-boiled as a description of my writing. Not that I take it as a pejorative; far from it. It’s used as a compliment far more often than not. It’s the term itself I don’t care for. Strikes me too much of dames and gams and gats and yeggs and things that were written for pulps by writers who were often more interested in being pulpy than good.

I was on one of the panels mentioned above when moderator Ted Fitzgerald used the term I like best: tough. “Hard-boiled” too often shows evidence of the effort the author put in to make it so; “tough” just is. Not that I always achieve that, but the real work is in expending as little effort as possible to write what seems natural. That’s not to say one types up a first draft and sends off whatever dreck results. The heavy lifting is shaping that first draft into something worth reading while retaining the seeming effortlessness that comes with whatever your imagination brought to mind, warts and all; removing the warts while leaving no visible scars.

My favorite and most durable quote about writing, my go-to quote when I feel I’m missing the voice, is from James M. Cain:

I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort.

You can’t try to write like anything or anyone. That’s what it will sound like: trying. It’s easy to spot writers who have spent little or no time with working-class men in bars when they try to craft dialog for working-class men in a bar. What I object to most strongly in what I call “bestseller style” is dialog that reads like how people think other people talk instead of how people actually talk. That’s why I’ll never write a book (or even a scene) about teenaged girls talking among themselves; I don’t know what teenaged girls say among themselves when I’m not around and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. I could take a guess. Might even get away with it until one of two things happens:

  1. Someone who actually does know reads the book;
  2. Anyone who has read Megan Abbott reads it.

It’s a losing proposition for me, not unlike Danny DeVito playing volleyball or Tom Waits singing opera. Both men are substantial talents, just not in those fields.

Not that I am particularly tough, either, but I grew up working class and almost literally in a bar. My mother worked as a cook and sometimes had me behind the bar in a bassinet when I was an infant if her work schedule didn’t quite mesh with Dad’s. In high school when I needed a car for something and Mom and Dad both worked evenings, I’d drop Mom off and met Dad and his friends at the bar to leave a car for Mom. Dad and the boys drank a few beers and I drank a couple of Cokes and got a truly immersive experience in bar talk.

It’s plain-spoken language with rough humor and not all that concerned if someone’s feelings are ruffled; those with excessive sensitivity can drink at home. We call it bullshitting, but actual bullshit is rapidly and sometimes pointedly called out. It’s a euphemism-free zone. People don’t drink too much; they’re drunks. They don’t pass; they die. They may even fucking die. It’s not language for the faint of heart, but neither is it put on. It is what it is.

Tough.

 

This blog was cross posted to Do Some Damage a group blog with an inside look at crime fiction.

*  *  *

 

Dana King has earned Shamus Award nominations for two of his Nick Forte novels, A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. He also writes the Penns River novels, of which the fourth novel in the series, Ten-Seven, releases from Down & Out Books.

His work has appeared in the anthologies The Black Car Business, Unloaded 2, The Shamus Sampler 2, and Blood, Guts, and Whiskey. You can get to know him better on his website, blog, or Facebook page, which he promises to update more often.

 

 

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Are Writing Contests Relevant?

Are writing contests relevant? Worth the money?

Those questions surface periodically on loops and blogs, but I’ve heard from other contest coordinators that entries are down, perhaps in response to the lingering effects of a crummy economy, but maybe because people aren’t sure it’s something they should do.

Whether a contest is relevant or worth the money depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish. If you expect to get an agent or a book contract from them, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It does happen. Final judges often request full or partial manuscripts. Some people do sign with an agent or sell to an editor based upon a contest.

If you’re entering for feedback on your manuscript, then you may feel you’ve won something, regardless of your entry’s final placement. Even if you aren’t a finalist, you may receive enough positive responses to keep you encouraged.

What if your comments are less than stellar? Do the judges mention the same things? These strangers, who haven’t seen ten versions of your story like your critique partners, can tell you if what’s in your head is hitting the page. Allow for different tastes and perspectives, but if there are consistent references to… whatever, try to find a class or online workshop that can help you in those areas. Good critique partners or a good writers’ workshop can also help as you learn the craft of writing.

But let’s do the happy dance because maybe the contest coordinator just called and said your entry reached the finals. Does it really have an impact on your writing career?

Possibly.

Several years ago, one of my critique partners encouraged me to enter The Professor in an RWA contest. The first round judges pointed out spots to polish and I’m sure that helped my manuscript final in the Golden Heart. Of course the contest wins don’t guarantee a sale, but I suspect having those contest credentials in my query letter helped move the manuscript over the first set of hurdles when I sought publication. I’m happy to say Carina Press acquired The Professor, which became my debut novel.

For me, those early contest finals were an affirmation by other professional and a much needed ego-boost when I wondered if I was beating my head against the proverbial brick wall. People liked the characters, the story, my voice – the encouragement I needed.

So what if things don’t go as you’d hoped? We’ve all heard the story of “that judge,” the grammar police who treat your paper as if it were part of English 101 (Side bar, I use sentence fragments. A lot. It’s fiction. Deal with it.) or the one who wants to rewrite your story the way they would write it.

They happen. Just like the rest of your life, chance is an element in contests. As a coordinator for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense contest (deadline is March 15, get your entry turned in!) I can tell you most judges are trying to give back to the writing community, taking time away from their writing, family, the rest of their life, in an attempt to nurture other authors. I can also share that the overwhelming majority of our contest judges offer constructive feedback. (As the coordinator, I see all the entries) Any judge who isn’t doing so will not be invited back the next year. On the very positive side, our rate of returning judges is incredibly high.

There are numerous contests in addition to the Romance Writers of America ones I’ve mentioned. Check around and you’ll find legitimate contests in every literary genre. If you enter a contest, make sure you know who is actually sponsoring it, read the fine print and watch out for the scams.

With the explosive growth of self-publishing, I’ve heard people question whether contests add any value. Why try to attract an editor or agent if you plan to “do it yourself?”

Feedback.

Is your material ready for the harsh reality of publication? Are there still holes you need to patch in the all-important opening?

One last point. I’ve seen some concern about someone “stealing” your contest material. An important thing to remember is your voice, the way you tell a story, is as unique as you are. Generally contests only cover the first 15 -25 pages. Even with a synopsis, no one is going to tell the story the same way you would. So put that worry aside and concentrate on writing the story of your heart.

I polled a number of friends about this topic and this is the summary of their advice:

Benefits:

1) Inexpensive way to get impartial feedback

2) Learn how to work with negative feedback – protect your voice but stay open to constructive criticism

3) Compare your work/skill level to your peers

Potential drawbacks:

1) Subjective comments may not be consistent – learn to trust your voice after you acquire sufficient skills

2) Feedback can be overwhelming – and confidence shaking – to a new writer; make sure you and your manuscript are ready before entering a contest

3) Don’t turn into a contest junky – don’t endlessly polish the beginning and neglect the rest of the manuscript. You need the whole book to sell it.

What has your contest experience – as a judge, contestant or coordinator – been?

Can you add to the benefits or offer another caution?

 

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