Where I get my ideas Part 6 Million: photos

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My publisher threw a shindig at Bouchercon in New Orleans. When guests walked in, a Polaroid-style camera was available for everybody to use. This is roughly what happened when I found it.

Me: I love Polaroids! Okay, these are actually mini Fujifilm pics, but I love them!

The Husband: Sure. Whatever makes you happy. I’m just arm candy.

[click]

[photo develops]

Me: Wow. Uh. It looks like something you’d find in a serial killer’s garage.

Journalist friend: And everyone asks, “Who are these people?”

And so my next novel is born. To all involved: Thanks.

(And yes, in the novel, when the cache of photos is found in the garage, the people in them won’t be wearing name tags. But I have to start somewhere.)

Hello from New Orleans

Bonjour, y’all. Hello from New Orleans, where I’m enjoying Bouchercon: Blood on the Bayou. I have not had my fill of authors, great novels, pralines, or jambalaya. I never will.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going in search of all of those.

Bouchercon 2016: Blood on the Bayou

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Today I’m heading to New Orleans for Bouchercon 2016: Blood on the Bayou.

Here’s my schedule:

NOIR AT THE BAR – Welcome to Bouchercon
WEDNESDAY, 4:30-6PM LaGalleries 6

WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES – Diversity, Disorder and Detection
THURSDAY, 9:00AM-9:50AM LaGalleries 6

DOIN’ WHAT COMES NATUR’LLY – Writing believable characters
SATURDAY, 1:30PM-2:20PM LaGalleries 1

ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES — Author group signing
SATURDAY, 4PM Book Room

If you see me wandering the French Quarter with my face covered in powdered sugar, you’ll know I’ve raided Cafe DuMonde for their entire supply of beignets. Stop me and say hi.

When characters tell each other things

I love to receive mail from readers. A recent message pointed out something about my novels that I wasn’t consciously aware of.

Thank you for what I think is almost a unique point in your books – your characters actually tell each other things. It seems to be a common plot device for people to keep things to themselves for various reasons, but the underlying reason is that the author wants to keep the story going by causing confusion or discord. You would not believe the number of books I’ve read (or TV programmes I’ve shouted at) thinking just tell X or Y or the police what has just happened.

My sister-in-arms! I also shout at TV programs. To the point that my kids sometimes point the remote at me and hit MUTE.

Sometimes I throw books across the room, too. But that’s another story.

Back to the reader’s point.

That is what your characters do – they tell their relatives and friends what is happening and report things to the police. They might not always be believed and the discord and confusion is caused by this but not by an unnatural secretiveness. Every time it happens it stops me in my tracks, I think “yes” and my mind does a little happy dance.

Dear Reader: Thank you. I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying my novels, and I’m glad you think the characters act both believably and responsibly.

In general, I avoid the don’t-talk tactic because I find it annoying. In particular, I toss aside any book where a woman sees the man she’s attracted to speaking to another woman, jumps to the conclusion that they’re romantically involved, and spends the next 100 pages fuming/flouncing/bitching at him in a fit of jealousy. Of course it turns out that the “other woman” is his boss, or his sister, or his doctor. The whole thing smacks me as contrived, juvenile and, worst, cliched.

If I hate reading something in a story, I try to keep from writing it into my own.

I’m just telling you all this, so you’ll write books to suit me.

However, I’ll allow characters the following reasons for not talking:

  1. They’re little kids, too scared to tell anybody what they saw
  2. They’re teenagers, who get distracted and forget
  3. They fear that if they talk to the police, word will get back to the perpetrator and they’ll be put in danger
  4. The community enforces a “don’t snitch” standard

And I appreciate the idea that “unnatural secretiveness” can trip up a story. Remember that, folks.

Noir at the Bar Bouchercon

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Next week at Bouchercon New Orleans, I’m taking part in Noir at the Bar. A bunch of authors will read — for just one minute apiece, so you know we’re going to dive straight into the juiciest, hardest-hitting, noir-iest, crazy wild bits of our writing — and give away a copy of one of our books.

If you’re attending the convention, come on by. It should be a blast.

August Editing

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I’m finishing a major round of edits on my new novel. To give you a glimpse of the process, here are a few of the comments my editor wrote in the margins of my first draft.

“I would put this conversation under the microscope and consider making it more emotionally charged.”

Translation: Cut the characters’ too-clever banter. Instead, consider their emotional distress, think about the conflict between them, and dig deep to give this scene some real impact.

“Does the sartorial choice make her seem too cartoonish?”

Yes. I’ll cut the description. Even though, when I picture the character in my mind, she actually does wear Hello Kitty sneakers.

“I think having this uttered in two lines is a little awkward and maybe too much. How about: ‘F*** me, Mother Mary.’ Or ‘F*** me with a telephone pole.'”

Translation: My editor is awesome. (Also: in the manuscript, those aren’t asterisks.)

“I feel like he would notice the heavy bleeding immediately…”

Oops. Right. Fixed.

“I love this.”

Thank you. This comment makes all the hours of work worth it.

And so you know: The photo above signifies nothing metaphorical. I just liked the sight of last night’s clouds getting feisty around sundown.

Editing, Olympics, Family Reunion

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This week I’m editing my new novel. As I work, this is my view. It is. Really. It’s my office window. I’m looking at it, not at the TV in the living room. Where OLYMPICS OLYMPICS OLYMPICS are on. And please don’t remind me that I can live stream the Rio games straight from my computer or phone. I am editing.

Hang on while I check the men’s beach volleyball score.

Okay, back.

I’m also prepping for my family reunion in Austin this weekend. Dinner’s at six. If you want to see the bats, they take off at sunset from the Congress Street Bridge. Did anybody pick up Uncle Charlie from the airport? I warned you all: If you argue politics, I’m climbing to the roof of the hotel and ripping down the satellite dish so you can’t watch cable news anymore.

But mostly I’m editing. For those who wonder what kind of editorial notes I get on the early drafts of a novel, here’s a taste:

“This chapter needs a better out. There’s no escalation, complication, decision, cliffhanger or revelation but there ought to be.”

I fixed it.

And I’m going to print out that comment and nail it to the wall, to remind myself how every chapter in a novel needs to end.

Back later.