Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What we're writing--multitasking Rhys

If you have a vision of the writer, sitting in a lonely garret, waiting for the muse the strike, please think again. I am trying to keep on schedule for my new Royal Spyness book, due at the end of September. And then I get the edits from my other editor for the next Molly Murphy book, THE EDGE OF DREAMS, coming out next March. She wants them by the end of July. They are not huge but they involve moving some action around to bring it nearer the beginning of the book. So a trifle complicated.

Oh, and did I mention that I have had up to 16 people in my house this week? My son got married on Saturday and we had family from all over the world staying here. Not the most conducive atmosphere to letting the muse hover around my shoulders.

Also my next Lady Georgie novel QUEEN OF HEARTS comes out on August 5th, and guess what--I'm off on a book tour. Help!

It's hard to write when real life intervenes. When I'm writing I am really caught up in the lives of my characters. I think through upcoming scenes in the book when I am driving, when I am throwing clothes into the washer, or when I awake in the middle of the night. If I have no quiet downtime I can't be creative. So I'm trying to be patient this week and enjoy family and not worry about getting those edits done and staying on schedule for the next Lady Georgie book, which is called, can you guess......MALICE AT THE PALACE.

It takes place at Kensington Palace (you know, home of William and Kate, and, as it turns out, quite a number of distinguished ghosts)

And if you'd like a tiny peek at what has happened so far:

                It was not raining for once as the car drew up outside Kensington Palace, but a large puddle had formed outside the entrance to our apartment. “I’ll stop a little further down, your royal highness,” the chauffeur said, “ so that you don’t get your feet wet. There’s a raised pavement beside the house where you can walk back.”
                “How kind. Thank you,” Marina replied.
                We climbed out of the back seat. Marina went ahead of me. I was about to follow when I glanced back and thought I saw that strange greenish glow coming from the archway below the clock tower. I had to see for myself where the light was coming from and began to walk toward it. Then I stared harder. Surely something was lying there? Something white. My heart was beating faster and I wanted to turn and hurry into the safety of our apartment but I couldn’t help myself. I was drawn toward it. If it was the ghost of Princess Sophia I had to see it for myself. But why would a ghost be lying anywhere? Surely ghosts wafted about as they wished. As I approached the thing lying on the cobbles I saw it was indeed a dark haired young woman in a white silk dress, lying slumped over, face down. I kept moving closer, walking more slowly now. Surely the specter would vanish when I came too close?
                But it didn’t. I stood there, taking in every detail—the rather flashy rings on the hand that lay outstretched a few inches from my foot, the very modern short haircut with its permanent waves, and then, as I moved around to get a better view I saw her eyes, open and staring at me blankly from a deathly white face, contrasting with the bright red lips.
                Whoever she was she was no ghost. She had been recently alive and now she was very dead.

And I'm very proud of myself. I've managed to kill somebody on page 70. Usually in my books nobody dies for at least a hundred pages!  And I'm curious to now how other Jungle Reds handle multi-tasking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What AM I writing? Getting started... again, sigh

HALLIE EPHRON: There are so many daunting moments in writing. Usually at around page 50 I hit a wall and wonder what made me think I knew how to do this. At the end of Act II (aka dark night of the soul in the story as well as in my head) it hits me that though I have some idea of the grand finale, I have only a vague idea how to get there.

And so I try to keep writing. As anyone who knows me knows my mantra: Just hold your nose and write. 

So what AM I writing now? As I wait for NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT to come back with copyedits, I'm starting something new. Writing "page 1" has its own challenges. Right now I'm in the throes of throwing (throe/throw... ACK) a new main character on the page. Sometimes it feels like I'm slapping a mound of clay on a potter's wheel and seeing how the thing shapes up. Building order from chaos...

What I know so far is that Vanessa (I don't know her last name) is a single woman in her mid-thirties. She's a scientist with her feet planted in terra firma. She studies sleep and dreaming, often using herself as the research subject. The scientific skeptic in her will be challenged by what she learns in her dreams.

Loving the premise.

Word count zero. Start writing.
First draft, opening scene:

Vanessa awoke in terror....
"NO NO NO!." The writing teacher in me howls. Thou canst not open with a character waking up from a dream. Cliche cliche cliche. Not to mention that it's a huge tell. To paraphrase, don't just say she "awoke in terror," put her on the page and let her quake. 

Plus why start AFTER something has happened and have to immediately pull the reader into back story?

Slap own wrist. Start an OUT file. Dump what I've written into it. Save.

Word count still zero. Start over:

It was nearly midnight when Vanessa pulled into the nearly empty parking lot behind the Milborne Inn. She parked under the one streetlight in the vast and nearly empty parking lot and looked across at minimalist 50's brick that had a whole lot more in common with your average motel off I-95 than it did with a country inn. 
She got out of her car and locked the door. Mist had settled over piles of melting snow plowed into the far corners of the lot, optimistically cleared for crowds that had dwindled since a new conference center was built a few miles away, downtown .
So this is better, but still I'm thinking, Is this weather? Because rule says you can't open with weather. And something had better happen soon or this reader is baling. Or is it bailing?

Time out to check with my friend Merriam Webster... which it turns out these days is Merriam-Webster (hyphenated) while my ancient 6-inch thick dictionary on my office floor gathering dust is "Webster's Third International Dictionary." Must have been a merger.

You get the idea. The world of this writer is a messy place fraught with detours that do not add to the word count. No wonder it took me two years to write my last book.

Can you just sit down at the computer, put on blinders and WRITE? Or are you like me, your own worst enemy when it comes to wracking up word count? I try to hold my nose and just keep writing. Really I do.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Truth about TRUTH BE TOLD

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  It’s “what we’re writing” week!  And I am deeply in the midst of (you heard it here first) WHAT YOU SEE, the next Jake and Jane novel.

I am also deeply into author-crazy.  TRUTH BE TOLD comes out October 7 (you may hear a bit more about that around these parts), and the author-crazy comes from knowing the reviews are about to start.  And I’ve just received advance notice of two of them…and I’ll reveal (!!!) below.

But first.  There’s a question that some authors loathe...but I love. And that is: where do your stories come from? Some authors answer with caustic throw-aways—Schenectady, says one very famous guy. The grocery, says another.

But I think “where do your stories come from” is fascinating. I recently heard Jacqueline Winspear talk about her new book, and she has an amazing book-birth story.  Hallie, too. And Susan.

And as for TRUTH BE TOLD, (And oh, did I tell you it it’s a Library Journal Editor's Pick? Whoo hoo!) I can tell you exactly where it came from.

It’s a puzzle of four parts.

The first? My husband is a criminal defense attorney. When we first met, I asked: Have you ever had a murder case where the defendant was convicted, but you still thought they were innocent?" His eyes softened a bit, and then he said: “Yes.”   The man was charged with murder in the death of a young woman—the prosecution said he had lured her to a forest, and tied her to a tree.  

The first time Jonathan represented the man, the case ended in a hung jury. The state brought the charges again, and again Jonathan represented him, and again, a hung jury.

The state brought the charges again, and the defendant—well, let’s just say he decided he wanted to handle the case his own way this time. Jonathan disagreed.  The man got a different lawyer. He was convicted, and is still in prison.
Jonathan told me he still, to this day, thinks the man is innocent.

Hmmm.  Idea.

Another puzzle piece? Another of Jonathan’s cases. A man in prison, incarcerated with a life sentence for shaking a baby to death, recently confessed to a cold-case murder. It’s very unlikely that he actually did it—so why would he confess? 

Hmmm. Idea.

Another puzzle piece.  We recently did a big story on abandoned homes in Boston. They are all places the banks have foreclosed on, where the owners have been evicted, and the houses are now empty. All are for sale.  Many of them are neglected, with broken windows and overgrown lawns. But some are in good shape.  While I was interviewing the head of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department about this, I began to wonder. What could be going on inside those forgotten empty houses?

Hmmmm.  Idea.

I also thought about the people who had been evicted from those homes. People who’d gotten mortgages from banks with lots of money, but who through some failure of their lives, some catastrophe or disaster, some wrong decision or bad luck had not been able to keep up the payments.  Wouldn’t there be something that could have ben done to prevent that? If a banker-type really cared about their customers, wouldn’t there be something that could be done to keep people out of foreclosure?

Hmmmm.  Idea.

And finally, I was sitting at the computer in my TV station office, writing a story, and thinking about why I do what I do as a reporter.  It’s making history, I decided. It’s creating the record of what happened in our lives, the comings and goings, that issues and the solutions, the documentation of how we live.  And people believe it, right? What’s on TV and in the newspapers becomes a resource by which all is remembered and relied on.

And then I thought—what if some reporter decided not to tell the truth? Not big discoverable lie, but simply—little things. A sound bite, a reaction, a quote.  Who would know? What difference might that make?  And what would happen when the truth was finally told?

Hmmm.  Idea.

And in the way we all do as authors, by spinning and polishing and twisting and turning, and shooting it full of a lot of adrenaline and a little romance, I got the key elements of TRUTH BE TOLD:
 A mortgage banker turned Robin Hood decides to manipulate bank records to keep people out of foreclosure, a murder victim is found in a foreclosed home, a man confesses to the unsolved Lilac Sunday murder, and a reporter makes stuff up.   

And when it all comes together in the end: TRUTH BE TOLD.

And now you know exactly where it came from.

Reviews? So far—so fabulous.  Publisher’s Weekly says:

"Smart, well-paced…Ryan cleverly ties the plot together, offers surprising but believable plot twists, and skillfully characterizes the supporting cast."

And whew, Kirkus says:

"Foreclosure fraud entwines with a 20-year-old murder case in the latest knotty, engrossing mystery-thriller by an award-winning Boston journalist...  Ryan seasons her mix with vivid Boston local color and caustic observations on new media—which one would expect from a journalist who's won even more awards for her TV reporting than she has for her mysteries. Ryland and Brogan are such a cute couple that you wonder how long it'll be before somebody makes a TV series out of them." 

And here’s a tiny bit from Chapter 2.

                                                        Chapter 2
          “Why would he confess if he didn’t do it?” Detective Jake Brogan peered through the smoky one-way glass at the guy slumped in the folding chair of Boston Police Department’s interrogation room E. What Jane would probably call “skeevy,” too-long hair scraggling over one ear; ratty jacket; black T-shirt; tired tan pants. Thin. Late thirties, at least, more like forty. How old would Gordon Thorley have been in 1994, when Carley Marie Schaefer was killed? Late teens, at most. Around the same age as Carley. “This guy Thorley just shows up here at HQ and insists he’s guilty? You ever seen that? Heard of that?”
 “Let’s get some lunch. Ask questions later.” DeLuca jammed his empty paper coffee cup into the overflowing metal trash bin in the hall outside the interrogation room. “Sherrey will get all we need, give us his intake notes after. Could be a bird in the hand.”
“Not exactly ‘in the hand,’” Jake said. “If he’s a whack job. There’s also that old ‘innocent till proven guilty’ thing.”

HANK: So, Reds and readers, do you like to know where a story came from? Or would you rather believe it’s all a product of the author’s imagination?
And pssst. I have an ARC of TRUTH BE TOLD for one commenter! 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

And Now, Your Moment of Zen....

I have to credit John Stewart (The Daily Show, one of my faves) with the phrase, but the idea is as old as time. 

The photo below is one of my favorites, by Amy J. Putnam. I find the little pansy so poignant.

Thanks for all your support this week and enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Keep Calm and Have Faith

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers for Miss Edna. She has been admitted to the hospital and is relatively comfortable in a private room. 

When the doctor came by to examine her, he said, "So, tell me what happened?" 

To which she replied, "Let me start from the beginning. You see, I'm a Gemini..."

You can't make this up.

(She is suffering from edema, so her thought is that because Gemini is an air sign, and it's been humid lately — she, like the air, has been taking on water.)

OK, back to fun Jungle Reds stuff! 

I recently learned from the wonderful blog World War II in Color about Faith, the Church Cat of St. Augustine's in London, who was awarded a medal for bravery during the Battle of Britain, for shielding her kitten during the Blitz. 

JR at World War II in Color says it better than I ever could:

"This is Faith, church cat at Church of England (Episcopalean) Church of St Augustine's and St Faith's, Watling Street, London. 

She was awarded the Dicken Medal in Silver, and a silver medal from the Greenwich Village Humane Society of New York, for her her courage in sheltering her kitten (Panda - he was black and white) in a hidey-hole in the rectory basement, to which she had retreated from her more comfortable position upstairs, in the course of a severe bombing raid on the night of 9 September, 1940. 

The church and rectory were, basically, battered and burned to destruction by the Luftwaffe, but Faith continued to shield her kitten, under a heap of smouldering rubble, until rescued by her human friends the following day. Shortly afterwards, the remainder of the church fell down, destroying her position of refuge. 

Faith resumed her life as church cat, dying peacefully some years later on her mat in front of an ecclesiastical fireplace. The kitten, Panda, went on to a successful career as resident cat in a care home. 

Yes, I know - this will seem silly to many In Here. 

But consider. 

Apart from the fact that it is true, Faith's story became widely known in London at the time, and must have contributed to the morale of many hard-pressed Londoners. Her courage and endurance reflected something that Londoners hoped to find in themselves - and generally did. 

I am a cat person, by the way ... 

Best regards, JR."

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Reds and lovely readers, how many of you have pets? Have you ever witnessed them doing something extraordinary? What do you think of the story of Faith and Panda? 

P.S. Post first published on my personal blog a while ago. Yes, I give myself permission to reprint it here....