Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer 2017 Newschat

Zestful Blog Post #221

If you also follow my Newschats, this will be a duplication, unavoidable. I’m posting it here first, so if you see the Newschat come in later to your inbox, you can disregard.

Oh, so much to tell! Got a giveaway going, an invitation to be a beta, and more. Gonna be quick on each of these:

In honor of the dead of summer, get the third in the Rita Farmer mystery series, On Location, free through this weekend here. The rain and cold of the Pacific Northwest in storm season—apart from Rita’s mad adventures—should take you away from whatever swelter-zone you might be inhabiting. Like south Florida. So sweltering…

A new Lillian Byrd is waiting in the wings, and I need beta readers! No don’t get horribly worked up; it’s not the sixth in the series, it’s a shortie. But it’s Lillian! Here’s the brief:

When Lillian Byrd’s friend Billie calls for help liquidating her beloved vinyl record collection to get her car out of the police pound, Lillian hustles right over. Trouble is, getting rid of great music’s hard to do! This short novelette (about 30 pages) gets Lillian out of her upper flat and, once again, into the lower regions of subterfuge.

A solution beckons when another of Lillian’s pals, auto-biz heiress Flora Pomeroy, calls with an offer: If Lillian can help her win a thousand-dollar bet with another Detroit blueblood, she’ll be richly rewarded. With the money, she can help Billie get her car and preserve her record collection!

However, the bet involves climbing aboard a sailboat with a hard-drinking, vulgar businessman and an assortment of other, perhaps more refined, passengers. Deep water leads to deep trouble—and a lot of grief for Lillian if she can’t pull this one out.


[Sneak peek.]

If you’re interested in joining my Special Team of Advance Readers (S.T.A.R.), just shoot me an email (esims at elizabethsims dot com) and say, “Add me!” You’ll get a link to your choice of e-reader file and my sincere thanks. You’ll also get a link for a free copy once the novelette is released, with my request for a fair and honest rating or review. Please join! The world needs more good fiction, and you can be part of the glorious process of creation by being a STAR.

I’ll be giving the luxury version of my workshop “How to Write a Dynamite Mystery or Thriller that Sells” deep in the heart of Texas, and you can be there. It’s the Permian Basin Writers’ Workshop, September 15-17, 2017. I’ll be doing my two-parter on Saturday the 16th. We’re talking Midland, Texas; we’re talking cowboy boots; we’re talking beef for dinner, I hope. Am thinking of a guy I overheard at a restaurant in Amarillo who, when asked how he wanted his steak, said, “Jes drahve it in and awl bite it off.”

And here’s the main link. To see registration options, click the ‘Seminar Selections’ rotating thing in the right-side bar of stuff.

On the same subject, I’ll be joining the adjunct faculty at Ringling College of Art + Design in Sarasota to teach the fall term Short Story Workshop. Have not been around that many young people at once since I was experimenting with herbal and pharmaceutical remedies for ennui in my own college days. To answer a question that’s already come up, nonstudents may not audit the class, sorry. But I hope to have some new experiences to add to my inner compost pile of material…

If you’re a Novelists, Inc. author too, we can eddy out for coffee at the conference in St. Petersburg, Florida the first weekend in October. (Yeah, Neil, I’m going!)

I contributed an essay about being a Midwestern writer to Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Journal, Spring 2017 issue. My piece is called “The Lake Effect,” and it’s about—what else?—the Great Lakes and their mysterious power. I know I don’t live in the Mitten these days…but sure am thinking fondly of it as the heat index here climbs daily into the hundreds. This magazine’s not free, so if you buy one, consider it support for the arts.

Here’s a (free) link to a nice interview you might have missed from ManyBooks, during a springtime promo for The Actress.

Fellow Mensans, my latest novel, Crimes in a Second Language is rumored to be reviewed in next month’s Mensa Bulletin. Just a heads-up.

And last but way not least, here’s a link to a super nice interview in Sarasota’s SCENE magazine, by my special bud Ryan Van Cleave, a talented writer in his own right—and, as head of the creative writing program at Ringling, my new boss there!

And now we’re caught up. I’ve got lots more stuff in the pipeline, so best keep your finger on this pulse.

Love,
Elizabeth

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Close Listening for Writers

Zestful Blog Post #220
                                                                            
If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you’ve seen my posts on ‘close reading’ for improving as a writer. (Posts 163, 171, 177, and 203.)  Thanks to my friend Jay, whom some of you met in post 209 a couple of months ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘close listening,’ and how it can enrich a writer’s life and work.

Jay was born with empty sockets instead of eyes, so naturally much of his interaction with the world is through sound. He’s a talented musician, piano tuner, change ringer (church steeple bells), typewriter restorer, and composer.
  


 [Here’s Jay with his dog Willow, who leads him on daily walks that include impromptu cross-country segments. Unlike a trained guide dog who waits for voice commands, Willow takes charge when they go out. As backup, Jay carries his collapsible white cane and phone, but has never had to resort to them. Willow always gets everybody home safely—though sometimes muddily. Note super secure leash hold.]

We correspond via email and the occasional phone call. (We live in different states.) Lately we’ve been sharing audio files back and forth, and talking about them.

I realize that blind people not only develop more acute hearing than the rest of us; they develop a greater ability to distinguish multiple sounds, or multiple auditory events, at once. A soundscape really does unfold in layers, or more like a 3-D texture, and they can perceive it so well:

A slamming car door isn’t just a slamming car door. It’s either nearby or farther away. It’s a big car—or maybe, come to think of it, it’s not a door slam after all, but the deeper and more final sound of a trunk slam, like maybe that Cadillac we rode in once. The clarity of the slam indicates the car’s position near the curb, because if it’s clear, it’s directly out front here. But if it’s muffled slightly, it’s parked a little bit over that way, because there’s that thicket of chokecherry in between, which, because it’s October, has lost many of its leaves, but maybe only about fifty percent, as of today. But if it rains, as it smells like it’s going to, well then a lot more leaves will drop and blow around and we’ll feel them on the sidewalk tomorrow when we go out. We can pick up a few and explore their structure and texture. Meanwhile, the FedEx truck has driven by, the three young girls who always walk home from school together have gone past, and some kind of hawk is making a kill nearby because, tiny little squirky death sounds.

With just this example, do we begin to understand the richness?

Jay talks about “reading” voices to detect their basic temperaments. He talks about timbre, modulation, complexity. He can characterize any voice, which can be a little unnerving when you realize he’s reading you.

I got this from him the other day:
“The guy that recently got my attention is Elliot Rodger, who went on that killing spree in California. He left a potload of videos on youtube and, if I had no idea of who he was, I would say that he sounds like an unimaginative actor trying to do his best with a very poor script. He will start by describing a scene such as a park that he’s near and he sounds rather cheerful and that’s the best part of the “script.” Then he starts his usual whine about how, no matter how he spruces himself up, the girls still flock to average dudes. A wee trickle of emotion creeps in when, just once, he puts some diaphragm into ‘It’s not fair!’ Otherwise, he has a gentle, tenor voice and even when he says that this is the ‘day of retribution’ he sounds hollow.”

Isn’t all this so goddam magical? I happen to think Jay is an extraordinary person, eyes or no eyes. I’m lucky to know him, and just wanted to share a little bit of our friendship with you. He’s cool with it.

Here’s something to try. Think about a scene you’re writing. Momentarily visualize it, then close your eyes and chillax. Consider sounds. Consider little bits of the scene one at a time, as they overlap and appear and disappear, not the scene as a whole. There will be sounds from things visible and not immediately visible. A jet overhead. Some guy banging with a hammer, trying to tear out the rusted muffler on his car. Softer sounds mixed with louder ones. Someone setting up a tent, someone sorting cards, drawing with a steel pen, gossiping quietly, sighing, laughing nastily, striking a match, making change, loading ammo, turning on the air conditioner.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Showing vs Overshowing

Zestful Blog Post #219

A comment on my post ‘Extrapolation for Writers’ asked about sharing enough versus oversharing—a question of detail. What’s the perfect amount of detail to give your reader? You want enough so that he feels fully anchored in the scene, yet not too much that he gets bored or restless. (Thanks for prompting this post, Liz B.)

Of course, readers’ tastes and preferences vary, so Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with its surpassing level of detail, is one reader’s heaven, another’s hell. Gregory McDonald’s Fletch books, with their paucity of description (yet fast action and plentiful dialogue), might represent the reverse. So, we are left with subjectivity.

I’ve thought and thought about this issue, and have come to realize that to get it right, an author needs experience writing and reading, especially close reading. And while there’s no master formula, I’ve come up with a couple of guidelines. Stick with me.

First, experience. A professional author must read not only for pleasure, but for self-education. That might seem obvious, but I’m always a little surprised when I’m discussing books with an aspiring author who says, “Oh, I didn’t like that book. Couldn’t get into it. Why? I don’t know why.” Or, “I just love all her novels!! Always have. Why? I guess—well, I can’t really say.”
  

Bear down when you read. Intuition is good, but don’t stop there. Drill into what makes a passage work or not work. Very often, you respond to the details of a scene, whether in description or dialogue. (Examples to follow.) There’s no right or wrong here—just what seems right or wrong to you. In this way, close reading helps you get to know your own style. I keep recommending the practice of copying passages of good books, longhand or on the keyboard. I call it ‘Writing with the Masters,’ though I’m not the first to ever think of it. And keep writing, and keep showing your work to readers you respect. Listen to what they say.

Going, now, beyond those general admonitions, which really apply to any aspect of writing, and into the showing of details. I’m a believer in learning from examples, so here are some:

Which of the following three do you prefer?:

“Consider it a loan, then,” I said. “Let’s be real.”
She said OK.

“Consider it a loan, then,” I said. “Let’s be real.”
She blew a strand of her dyed-red hair out of her eyes and poured some brandy into my coffee cup. “All right, then.”

“Consider it a loan, then,” I said. “Let’s be real.”
She got up and went to the cabinet above the sink on the left-hand side. She opened the cupboard door with her right hand, took out a bottle of brandy with her left, and returned to the table. She took the cap off the bottle and tipped it so that some brandy ran into my coffee cup. After that, she set the bottle down on the table and sat down. The chairs had blue vinyl coverings. Blowing a strand of her dyed-red hair out of her eyes, she said, “All right, then.”

We agree. Number two, right?

The key I’ve used for so long that it’s become almost unconscious, is to give at least one, and rarely more than two details, per chunk of story. The first example above gives zero details. The second gives two: the dyed-red hair and the pouring of the brandy, which bring that portion of the scene to life. The third gives like a thousand, and the preponderance makes the passage heavy and boring. (The second passage is from a long short story I’m finishing up, involving Lillian Byrd and some deep trouble…)

Furthermore, I’ve found that pace is an important regulator for making decisions about detail. If you need to pick up the pace, just show us the punch to the jaw and get on with it. But if things are moving along nicely, you might have the punchee see the fist coming as if in slow motion, before knuckles contact lower mandible. If the punch is going to be an important one, and the action has already been fast, you might wish to decelerate further by having the punchee also realize his back is already against the wall, and it’s going to be impossible to roll with this one—just gonna have to brace for it and keep looking for a way out. And then the impact, and you might want to describe the feeling of that.

So, in sum:

Give at least one or two details per chunk of story (and of course you are the one to decide what makes a chunk);
When in doubt, limit yourself to one or two details per chunk; and
Permit pace to help with decisions of detail.

And that’s enough for today. Is there anything you’d like to share about this topic? We’re all keen to learn!

Lastly, a note from one of us. Faithful reader and commenter BJ Phillips has a new novel out called
SNOWBIRD SEASON. We think it could appeal to the romantic side of women-lovin' women!


If you’d like me to mention your new book, just shoot me an email with a link. And if I’ve overlooked posting your link, please nudge me again. It was inadvertent.

To post a comment or question, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever. [photo by ES]

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