Friday, November 22, 2019

Writing/Not Writing from London--Deborah Crombie

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are batting for naught this week on the writing front--except for Hank, who we hope is turning out those last ten elusive pages! And I am so not adding to the page count on my front. Between the pre-pub promotion for A BITTER FEAST, book tour, Bouchercon, then leaving for three weeks in London, I've barely had time to catch my breath, much less think, for the last couple of months.

I AM researching now, however, tromping around London! Background, setting, atmosphere, characters, for Kincaid/James#19. My process is much like Rhys's. I start with an idea for a setting and a basic story. Then I need to spend time in that place, taking loads of notes and photos, and just see where things take me. Where does an incident happen? Where do the characters live? Who do they live with? Where do they work? How do you get from point A to point B? And of course I want to know what people are eating! Just drool over these pastries from Paul's, the French bakery! There is one right across the road from my tube station, so I am in big trouble!

I know that a good part of the book takes place in central London, in Bloomsbury, Holborn, and Soho, so I have spent hours and hours walking "creatively" i.e. "not lost," just soaking things up.

I spent a good few hours in the British Museum, although I have no idea where or how or even if it might work into the story. But it is so amazing. You could spend weeks there, all day every day, and not see it all. 

I discovered the London Le Cordon Bleu! I think I was admiring the knives here. Hmm.

And next to it, the London Review of Books Shop, which is total book store heaven, and it has a wonderful cafe.

I walked through Russell Square at dusk, potentially the scene of a crime.

I have flashes of the book now. Scenes, locations, scraps of dialogue. The characters are taking on form, like holograms filling in. 

The challenge will be going home next week, right at the beginning of the holidays, and diving in without losing my focus. I promise next time on What We're Writing I will have some actual words to share.

REDs and readers, do you have a process for starting books or big projects?  Please share!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

What We're Writing @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: Obviously today's the day I tell you what I'm writing, and I don't suppose the answer should be "nothing." However, with two mystery conventions and the transition from Connecticut to Key West in my rearview mirror, it's been hard to concentrate. 

Hanging out with the Reds at Bouchercon

My rockstar pals at Crimebake

Tbone visiting the pet relief station in the airport

So how about "What I Should Be Writing?"

For Key West food critic mystery #11, I got approval from my publisher and agent to set part of the book in Scotland. I'm super excited about showing some of the gorgeous places I visited last summer. However, I've discovered that questions about why Hayley is there, and who is there with her, and how they might possibly get involved in solving a murder mystery are not so easy to answer. And I'm also realizing that my notes and photos from the trip are pretty darn skimpy. (Unless, I want to write a book about losing luggage--I'd be all over that.) I know there will be lots of scones, and thin places, and family, and jealousy, but beyond those themes, it's all rather vague. In summary, I've set myself a good challenge and I look forward to discovering the answers. Below is the tiniest beginning snippet:

I snickered. “We gave that up when we asked Miss Gloria to join us. And she’s going to make the trip so much richer. She’s so excited—she’s researching her family tree on Ancestry and she’s made a little map marking where all her relatives might be buried.” 
We were all headed to Scotland, a delayed honeymoon for Nathan and me, and the first trip abroad since her husband’s death for Miss Gloria. Nathan had offered to take me anywhere I wanted to go. I chose Scotland because of Outlander and Shetland, natch, and because I wanted to meet his mysterious sister whom I’d only recently learned about. When I’d broken the news to Miss Gloria, my fellow Outlander watcher fanatic, she’d said mournfully, “Scotland was the next trip Frank and I were going to take. And then poof, he was gone. Dead of a heart attack and not traveling anywhere but to the morgue. I’m so happy for you, Hayley,” she added. She really meant that but she had a shimmer of tears in her eyes.
Later that night, Nathan suggested that we should invite her along. I was shocked. “It’s our honeymoon,” I reminded him. I would have loved to have her travel with us, but I was afraid my new husband would regret it once we were on the road. Traveling with an old lady might be a challenge. Not that anyone who knew her would describe Miss Gloria as old. Some days she showed more zip than me—and I was fifty-something years younger. And if she did happen to droop, the tiniest catnap brought her roaring back to life.

“We’re already spending most of the week with my sister,” he said. “Miss G would only be an improvement.”

There will be lots more to come, and I'm glad that I feel excited about writing it when I read this part over. I have absolutely no idea about a title, so if anything smart comes to mind, please leave it in the comments.

And, I'm super-grateful to have my next book, THE KEY LIME CRIME (July 2020), available for pre-order!

You can order it at an independent bookstoreBarnes and Noble, Amazon, and anywhere books are sold!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

An Ode to Venice, by Rhys

RHYS BOWEN: It's always an emotional time for me when I'm about to start a new book. Anticipation? Fear? Dying to get started but not daring to put those first words on paper?  Is this the same for all writers?  I toy with the first sentence in my head for weeks. Then the first paragraph. I write out time lines and character descriptions and relationships and things that have to happen. Oh, and I have been doing my background research for months--lots of notes and photographs.
Then one day, I write that first sentence. And then I feel that the book is real.

In the case of my new book--working title THE VENICE SKETCHBOOKS--it was an idea I have toyed with for several years, but never had an opportunity to write it. A story that takes place in Venice over many decades... 1928, then 1938, then 39-46 and then 2001. A story of a woman's secret life that her family never knew about and will only be revealed if her great niece can unlock the secrets of two sketchbooks and a box of keys.

So I did what any good writer has to do: I went to Venice last summer. I stayed at the Pensione my aunt always favored: The Pensione Accademica. I spent a day in the library of the Correr museum, surrounded by stacks of books (all in Italian!) . I walked up and down certain areas, traversed them by boat, looking for the house where my heroine will live, and the palazzo where the man she loves lives, and the places they will meet.

Venice is not new to me. When I was a teenager my parents rented a small villa in Treviso, about half an hour outside Venice. Every day they drove to the Venice parking garage, handed me and my brother some money and said, "See you at five o'clock". And the world was ours. We wandered, tried every gelateria, ate pasta and watermelon and had a great time. I took my eldest daughter when she graduated from high school. John and I have been back three or four times since. But every time I find something new, I try a new dish... spaghetti cooked in octopus ink? veal with tuna? 
This time all my senses were fine tuned. What am I hearing? Seeing? Smelling? All fodder for my book.

So I was about to start in earnest when the the latest aqua alta struck last week. Second highest ever. And I realized with a jolt that I might be writing an ode to something that will not be there forever. A somber thought. I hope I bring it to life for my readers. I hope I do it justice.

Here is a snippet from the prologue, which is as far as I have come so far:

May 21, 1928
I was awoken by more bells. It seems there are an awful lot of churches in this city. Nobody is allowed to sleep late! I went to the window and opened the shutters that Aunt H had insisted on closing against mosquitos. The sky was a perfect pale blue and the sound of bells echoed over the whole city. Swallows darted and swooped across the sky like tiny Maltese crosses, while seagulls screeched and below on the courtyard pigeons strutted and cooed. A city of bells and birds.
After a breakfast of rolls, cheese and fruit as well as coffee instead of tea, we went out exploring. Luckily Aunt H has visited several times before and knew her way or I should have become hopelessly lost in minutes. It is a complete maze of alleys, canals, bridges. Nothing is straight or straightforward. Some streets end at canals with no way across. To go right one must first go left. But Aunt H. led us unerringly to St Mark’s Square. Gosh. I think for the first time in my eighteen years my breath was taken away. I had never seen anything so magnificent as that great open space with the church at one end and the bell tower rising impossibly tall on one side. There were outdoor cafes with a small orchestra playing but Aunt H. declare we had too much to see to waste time with pastries

RHYS: So, dear friends, I need help. I need a title! It has to do with Venice Secrets, a Venice inheritance, Venice long ago... I've toyed with so many. Any flash of brilliance will be warmly accepted and I'll thank you in the dedication page!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What Hank's (Trying to Be) Writing

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Three parts to today’s what we're writing! 

 And ah, only some of it is writing.

Part one. I’m writing: Thank you notes. I have been on the road, can you believe it, since August 20th. Seriously! Today, after arriving back from New Orleans (teaching a seminar in how to jumpstart your writing), I not only unpacked my suitcase, but I put it away. It was quite the moment, and I will reveal to you, I almost burst into tears.

#HankOnTour (as it’s called on Instagram, do you follow me and Jungle Red and all the Reds there?) for THE MURDER LIST is, truly, the magical mystery tour! From my stint as guest of honor at Bouchercon, can you believe it?

 To interviewing James Patterson, to being interviewed by Lisa Unger, to sharing the stage with everyone from Kimberley Belle to Jennifer Hillier to J. Ryan Stradal (that’s his full name) 

to Meg Waite Clayton to Andre Dubus III  to some standing room only crowds in bookstores and libraries across the country, 

to see (for 10 whole minutes), Mount Rushmore at the South Dakota Festival of the Book. For so many many room service dinners, under the covers in hotel rooms that are either too hot or too cold, thrilled with my room service dinner of salad and hamburgers and a glass of red wine. I’m loving it, every bit, and have made so many new friends.

And hooray! The MURDER LIST was just named a BEST of 2019 by both of the Strand Magazine and Suspense Magazine. So, hooray! Also many other wonderful things, too long to list here. But thank you thank you thank you.

And truly, it’s a good thing, because I do need fuel for:

Part two. Writing a book. oh dear, yes indeed. Someone at Crime Bake asked my panel--with Ann Cleeves, Hallie Ephron and Julia Spencer-Fleming! Yikes!—“What the hardest book you’ve ever written?” I can tell you, truly and deeply, it is the one I am writing right now. It is called THE FIRST TO LIE. And it comes out August 4, 2020.

That is, if I can finish. I can feel the ending, I can picture the ending, but I haven’t written it yet. Reds, it is due this Thursday. I mean, day after tomorrow. Ten pages to go. Seriously. So we shall see.

Part 3. Writing a TedX talk, and then a short story. Due soon. And now I am laughing so hard at the impossibility that I might go take a nap.

What’s your schedule like these days? Are you susceptible to taking on too many responsibilities? How do you handle that? (But do you love it like I do?)

Monday, November 18, 2019

When not writing, Hallie's teaching...

HALLIE EPHRON: Welcome to another week-long episode of WHAT WE'RE WRITING! I get to kick off with another installment of WHAT I'M NOT WRITING. Promoting and teaching have been keeping more than busy these last few months.

Since CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR launched, I’ve been running around speaking at bookstores and libraries and events and teaching at writing conferences. Since August I’ve given writing workshops at:

  • Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver, BC, teaching a new workshop I call "Classic Fiction Writing Rules and When You Can Break Them" plus "Suspense 3 Ways" (which turned out to be Suspense 5 Ways.)

I love to teach, and I’ve been a teacher for far longer than I’ve been a writer. I think of my book on how to write a mystery novel as my ‘ticket to ride.’ 

There's no greater thrill than returning to a writing conference, meeting writers whom I met with a year or two earlier, and hearing how their work is progressing and the epiphanies they've had along the way. 

You’d think by now I’d have at least a dozen ‘canned’ presentations ready to go, but I hate teaching exactly the same thing twice, and each time out I have new things to say about those old chestnuts: character, setting, plot, dialogue, suspense, viewpoint… 

Recently I noticed one of the problem many aspiring writers had was figuring out what exactly they were writing. It often boiled down to: mystery, thriller, or suspense? Of course most crime novels are a mixture but when you’re pitching your idea, it’s good to know where it most comfortably fits. It’s not that easy to articulate the differences. Like porn, you know it when you see it.

But I gave it a shot. Beginning with the idea that some novels fit neatly into one category. Then starting with some examples, we went from the cover, to the author photo, to the jacket copy, talking about mystery/suspense/thriller, and the fundamental question the novels addresses:
Whodunnit? A mystery
What’s going on here? Suspense
What’s going to happen next? Thriller

Some novels fit neatly into one category. 

Others are a blend.

And, most importantly, each of us has a sweet spot, somewhere in that Venn diagram. As a writer or as a reader, what’s yours?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

She Persisted...Relax, We're Talking Macarons!

JENN McKINLAY: Bonjour! Recently, I went to Paris to research my upcoming stand alone novel PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA

Here's the cover - yes, I'm thrilled! And you can pre-order from Barnes and Noble at 23% off - just sayin'! Click: HERE

Now while in Paris -- yes, yes, I know it sounds fabulous but let me reality check you, I brought the Hooligans with me, who are teenagers. Teenagers in Paris! I'm only surprised we weren't deported. Enough said? 

Okay, then. While there, I ate my body weight in pastry, as you do, and even managed to stop in the famous Laduree on the Champs-Élysées to salivate all over their bakery case. 

Needless to say I bought a box of the famous macarons (research!) and they were so good! A crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside cookie with a not too sweet filling. Mon Dieu! Love at first bite.

Once at home, I longed for the sweet air of Paris, the c'est la vie attitude, and the view of the Eiffel Tower from my hotel room. Sigh.

Naturally, baking therapy was in order, so I decided to attempt the macaron! Yes, you can say it. Heck, I'll say it myself. What was I thinking???

This is the sort of baking Paul Hollywood throws at the poor tent dwellers on the Great British Baking Show during the technical challenge! I mean I can make a mean snickerdoodle, but come on, this was all new levels as my first attempts show.

                          My first attempt: NOT GOOD.

What went wrong? They cracked. They didn't acquire feet. Yes, feet. I know, kind of weird, but I'll explain in attempt number two. And they were a bit overcooked. Wah!

Now, a normal person would re-evaluate their skill set, realize they're in over their head, admit defeat, and gain their Sunday back. But not me. This was like a worm in my head. I must master the macaron. My personal baking honor depended upon it!

This time I tried a recipe recommended by one of my FB followers (Hi, Margie!) who read up on my epic fail. This time, I blended the batter until it fell in ribbons off of the spoon. I do believe this was my biggest mistake in trial one. I didn't incorporate the meringue into the dry ingredients enough.

My second attempt: Nailed it!

See those ridges along the bottom of the cookie? Those are the "feet". Still weird. But the key to the macaron is that it has to air dry before baking, allowing a skin to form over the top so that when it bakes it's forced to rise, thus making the macaron feet. Skin and feet, yuuuuum!

So, what is the whole point of this post? Well, to share the recipe that worked:

And to remind us all, that if we can think it, we can do it. We just may have to suffer a fail or two along the way.

So, Reds and Readers, what's something you failed at but kept going until you found success?