Saturday, December 21, 2013
The Criminal Minds blog will be on vacation from December 21st through January 5th.
See you back here on January 6, 2014, with a couple of new faces, fun new questions and lively discussions.
We thank you for your continued support and wish you and yours a lovely holiday season and a Happy New Year.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Going With My Gut on the topic of book covers.
I want to thank you all, bloggers and readers, for welcoming me, especially Kelly Stanley who invited me to join the crew. It has been a blast and I will miss it, but it's time to move on and explore new possibilities.
For the time being, my blogging will be limited to my personal blog - BABBLE 'n BLOG - which has suffered since I started with CM, and to whatever guest posts present themselves.
Speaking of which, this is the first time in years when I don't have a book due the first of January. I'm almost giddy from not having a deadline looming over my holidays like a Grinch. I really get to go to all the parties? I can actually go on vacation in December and NOT write unless I want to? I can get drunk on New Year's Eve instead of proofreading a manuscript? The mind staggers at the possibilities!
Thanks for the memories, ghosts of Criminal Minds past, present, and even future. I have loved being a part of this wonderful blog.
Speaking of ghosts of Criminal Minds future, my Friday spot will not remain empty. Beginning in January, my good friend and Shamus winning author Paul Marks will be taking my place. Please give him a warm welcome, and a bit of shit from time-to-time.
Coming out in 2014!
Thursday, December 19, 2013
And this is my favourite way to lead into it. I'm about 5,000 words off finishing a first draft and tomorrow, Friday, I'll be writing THE END, spell-checking it, search-and-destroying my old friends "oft he" 'is aid" and "butt he" then printing it out and dancing around the room.
Then it's Christmas.
We'll go and cut down a Christmas tree - in a place where they let you do that - decorate it, fill the house with food and drink and then comes one of my most beloved Christmas traditions. Shopping! But with a twist.
When Neil and I were penniless students - back in the early Mesolithic age - we had jobs on the Christmas post. We got paid on Christmas Eve (it was eighty pounds each one year) and then went to buy presents, paper and ribbon for our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and one or two little nephews and nieces.
Then we counted up what was left, split it and went to buy a present for each other.
These days we have no grandparents anymore but we've got sixteen nephews and nieces, some quite big, and a great-nephew and -niece too. Yikes. Great-aunt Catriona.
And because life has been kind we don't need to count the remaining change before we buy a present for each other. We don't need to but we carry on anyway. Sentimental tradition or Scottish stinginess? Who can say.
We save change in a pot all year, count it on the 23rd of December, exchange it for notes, split them and hit the streets. The rules are that you can't overspend by a penny and you've got get something from an ironmongers (hardware store), something from a charity shop (Thrift Store) something useful and at least one complete surprise.
I might buy a CA Megamillions lottery ticket tonight. The rollover is up to 400M and think of the good you could do with all that. But even if I'm a billionaire on the 23rd of December this year, I'll be skulking around the hardware store in Davis, looking for bargains, not wafting about Tiffany's in San Francisco commissioning cufflinks. And I'll still spray my Thanksgiving pumpkins gold and make them work through another holiday too.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and a Happy New Year when it comes.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Me....by Clare O'Donohue
I decided we should take this free-for-all December to get to know each other better. Here's 10 things about me. Tell me something about you I might not know....
1. I meditate every day.
2. I just finished listening to "Lost" by Chris Young (and sang along- badly)
3. I order more courses from The Great Courses then I can possibly watch in this lifetime. My latest purchase is "How to Look At and Understand Great Art." I've downloaded classes on cooking, physics, music appreciation, ancient history... I'm a sucker for easy-to-digest learning.
4. If I could play a musical instrument, it would be the violin aka the fiddle. I just like how it sounds and how versatile it is, and that - unlike a piano - you can take it with you easily, and - unlike a guitar - it isn't the preferred instrument of every lonely teenage male in America. Sadly, I have a tin ear when it comes to music.
5. I plan trips I don't take. I love to travel but I travel so much for work that it's hard to find the time or money just to vacation. Sometimes I end up making a list of cool sights in places like Stockholm or Santiago but never actually get there. That changes in 2014.
6. My favorite TV shows are all over the place - Justified, Suits, The Middle. I already miss Breaking Bad, can't wait for the final season of Mad Men. The Sons of Anarchy season finale blew me away.
7. I've had a life long crush on Dean Martin. This is so well known among my loved ones that on the night he died, I received several condolence calls.
8. My major in college was International Studies with a minor in Economics.
9. My favorite meal is a diner breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast. Throw in some hot tea and an Irish sausage and I'm in heaven.
10. Favorite Christmas movie? It's a tie between Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck & Dennis Morgan.
Okay... your turn.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
This is my favorite yet. It's about a perfect housewife who decides to have an affair, so she starts an exclusive dinner club as a creative way to meet men. The cast of characters is delicious, and the book reads like a smart, sarcastic soap opera. (Like Gossip Girl for grown-ups.)
Monday, December 16, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
With Los Angeles experiencing a cold snap, the Holidays and all the bog savings sales on television, the pop-ups on my computer and ad slicks dropping out of the daily paper, Christmas is surely upon us faster than Miley Cyrus next twerking in public. For even I, a purveyor of crime and nefarious doings, hope for peace on Earth and goodwill toward all…and Santa Claus in a line-up. As a writer of hardboiled fictive fare, I can’t help myself but always wonder about what lies beneath the smile and twinkle in the eye. What sort of serpentine thoughts lay coiled in a corner of a given person’s brain? Do they take a journey now and then to the dark side? If by some crazy set of circumstances I got the gig to write, oh let’s say a bio-pic of a Sister Teresa-like woman, I’d have to show her doubling down at the craps fade line after washing lepers to show how she blows off steam. She gets in deep to a loan shark and in a pivotal scene, rips off the charity funds for the orphans.
I blame my warped yule outlook on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. This was an epic I saw as a kid about the Martian leader kidnapping Santa Claus and a couple of Earth kids to bring Xmas cheer to the children of Mars who lack, you know, Xmas cheer. According to the cast list on imdb.com, Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian leader’s kids, Girmar. You remember Pia don’t you? If not, I suggest renting The Butterfly based on the James M. Cain novel. In this flick, Ms. Zadora plays the scheming daughter of a lonely desert rat who returns all growed up with a butterfly tattoo to have an incestuous thing with pops. A dodge really so she can get her mitts on the silver in the mine he’s been guarding for years.
Anyway, back to the Claus. In the remake of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, ol’ St. Nick is gonna have to man up. I’m thinking not live action this time but the story is told in elegant, retro stop motion puppetry like the Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Martian leader again sends his minions – and you have to have a lead goon with a memorable quirk like a robot hand or some such as Rudolph, the red-Nosed Reindeer (with a laser ray emitted from his nose, natch) will have a showdown with this brigand. But the plot isn’t about kidnapping Santa but about retrieving this special toy his elves have made that’s harmless on our world, but a deadly weapon on Mars.
The henchmen get in a shootout with the elves, who of course use super soakers filled with mace, and some of the flying reindeer while Santa and Mrs. Claus (an older, but nonetheless sexy, brainy woman who is the backbone of the operation, handling inventory, toy recalls and the like) happen to be away from the workshop saving a polar bear and her children trapped on an ice floe. Indeed the couple are lamenting the effects of global warming when they hear the commotion from not too far away. By the time they get back to the workshop, the Martian goons have departed with the toy, though a few of them lay bleeding green blood into the white snow. And Blitzen, poor, brave, Blitzen, is mortally wounded and dies in Santa’s arms.
This time it’s personal, Santa vows, shaking his fist to the heavens. Not only is there the ticking clock of why the hero must achieve his goal in a set time or her can’t making his pending rounds, but he has to avenge Blitzen and save the Martian innocents. The elves work triple time and construct specialized weaponry for Kris Kringle including devices like iPods that emit bright pulsing light (Mars is a gloomy planet and the Martians are light-sensitive) and kung fu grip gloves. The remaining reindeer are outfitted with oxygen helmets and space suits, and with the missus riding shotgun hefting her special edition GI Joe pulse rifle, it’s on to set things right on Mars.
From 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast, credited for first depicting an American version of Santa Claus, Frank Castle, the killing machine known as the Punisher in comics who has donned Santa’s gala garb so as to inflict his mayhem on unsuspecting mobsters, old school illustrations with the Claus selling Pepsi or Lucky Strike cigarettes (my dad’s brand), to my man David Walker's Badazz Mofo Productions, Black Santa’s Revenge: He Knows When You’ve Been Naughty, Santa is a man for all seasons and tastes.
Time to get your nog on.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Last week, I finished the first draft of a new novel. It’s a slightly different genre than most of my books, and I had a fun time writing it. However, it looks a lot like most of my first drafts.
That is to say (depending on my mood): putrid, puerile, bad, awful, mediocre, stilted, too short, too long, infantile, off-the-wall,
brilliant, boring, too fast paced, nonsensical, unsalvageable, too slow-paced, and/or hideous. I followed Ann Lamott’s priceless advice and gave myself permission to write a $#!^^y first draft. I’m proud to say that I succeeded!
When I write a first draft, I plow through, from beginning to end. I don’t go back and edit what I’ve written along the way. If I change a character’s name halfway through, I don’t go back and change it. If I add a subplot or change a location or introduce a new character altogether, I don’t go back and fix things up. If I don’t know the name of something (or if I forget the name of a character), I put in XXXX and keep on typing, knowing I’ll take care of it later. Ever forward.
This strategy was borne of laziness. I don’t want to spend time editing and revising something that’s going to get cut in the second draft. So I put on my blinders, sit down, and pound out the best story I can (I do outline, which keeps me somewhat on track). As I go along, I note all the changes I’ve made so I can go back and fix things. Once I’ve finished, I can step back and take an objective look at the entire hot mess. Invariably, it needs a lot of work.
But I guess that’s what the revision process is for.
How about you, writers? Do you fix/edit/revise as you go? Or do you wait until everything’s done and go back and fix it then, once you see the big picture?
Top Ten Best Things About A First Draft
10. You can test-drive a few adverbs without getting yelled at.
9. It actually sounds better when read aloud with an Inspector Clouseau accent.
8. It provides amusement for your critique partners.
7. You can use lame jokes, stereotypes, bad grammar, and stilted dialogue, knowing (hoping?) they'll disappear during the revision process.
6. It's a good way to use up scratch paper.
5. You don't have to show it to your agent, editor, or spouse.
4. Your dog/cat/gerbil thinks it's terrific, no matter how many words are misspelled.
3. It makes good kindling.
2. It helps support the market for red pens.
And the number one best thing about a first draft:
1. There's only one place to go from there: Up.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Monday, December 9, 2013
We had freezing rain on Sunday here in Virginia and there was major panic from my fellow locals. They all ran out and bought extra milk, bread, water, batteries and toilet paper. And what did I do? I stayed home and revised my book (making sure my laptop was fully charged--just in case we lost power) because I am a writer and that's what writers do.
Revisions always take way longer than I think they will. For a first draft I usually give myself a word count goal and I feel elated as I watch the number of words pile up every day. But when I get to the end, it's time to take a cold hard look at what I've written. And most of it has to go.
I just finished teaching a novel writing class, and I always try to be honest with my students. "How many revisions do you do?" they ask me. And I realize that I have no idea. Does a partial rewrite of the first 30 pages count? Does going through to make sure some detail got changed throughout the book count? But if you're talking full revisions where I go through and try to make each detail as strong and true as possible, I would guess at least 9 times. But it could be more...
Revising does not sound like fun to most people, and my many of my novel writing students' eyes glaze over at the thought. Even some professional writers hate revising passionately. But I love to dig deep and see my story get better and better.
So bring on the bad winter weather (just leave on the heat and electricity, please). I will use it as an excuse to stay home and get my next book polished. And hopefully I'll have my book all finished soon. At least this draft.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
So I took a day off work. Actually two. And taking two days off work when you're a self-employed writer is not like taking a day off from an office, shop, factory or farm.
On the upside, you don't have to ask anyone or fill in any forms. On the downside, nobody does your work for you while you're ill; it's all still there when you're better. (But what a great idea - substitute writers!)
On the unexpected side was how quickly I came to believe I'd found my new calling. The undergardener brought me story discs (Stephen King, Alexander McCall Smith, Kate Atkinson and Patricia Cornwell), DVDs (Midsomer Murders), a bunch of flowers and a box of lotion-soft hankies.
There was coffee, soup, ice-cream, ibuprofen and pillows and by lunchtime yesterday I had decided I was never getting up, getting dressed or going outside ever again. Bed is bliss - soft, warm, comforting; there are fifteen seasons of Midsomer Murders - soft, warm, comforting - available to download or stream (and since I fell asleep for big chunks of every episode anyway, I would literally never run out of new bits to watch); jammies are better than all other clothes in every way - soft, warm, comforting - no waistbands or buttons, no need for earrings.
This was my new life. Probably the undergardener would take some persuading, but even if he refused to keep bringing me supplies of ice-cream and story discs, I could order everything online. I had plenty of time to cancel Left Coast Crime, Malice and Bouchercon. I wouldn't even suffer financially for a while - my next two books are written and it'd be a year before anyone even noticed I'd become a recluse.
Okay, I'd probably end up as one of those people who, when they die, contractors come and remove one of the walls of their house and winch them out with a crane, but it was so soft and warm and comforting.
And I had all the zeal of the convert. I laughed at my former self - cycling, walking up and down hills for no reason at all, gardening instead of just keeping the curtains closed, cooking things when there's perfectly good food already made for you in the supermarkets, turning pages and swiveling my eyes when there are stories on CDs and DVDs that let you just slump. Yep, this was it. This was the future.
Then about five o'clock today the rot set in. I was asleep when the phone binged to say I had a text. It was the undergardener and he was bringing home a Chinese carry-out. I put the phone down, paused Midsomer Murders and, before I knew what had happened, I was in the kitchen, putting plates in the oven to warm, setting out napkins and chopsticks, filling the dishwasher, sorting out the junk mail for recycling.
So my new life as a happy slob looks to be over, only two days after it began. I'm better. It wasn't even proper flu. Tomorrow - waistband, buttons, earrings and swiveling eyes. But it was fun while it lasted and I've still got the cough to remember it by.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
GOING BLANKby Clare O'Donohue
This month we're writing whatever we want... and naturally this felt exciting. No, that's not it. Free-ing. Nope, wrong again. Filled with dread and panic. Yep. That's what I felt when I saw this as the "topic".
Why? Cause it's the blank page. Writers face the blank page every day and are filled with the same fear. Some are so overwhelmed by it that they head to Facebook for comfort and let the day, the month, the year, slip by without ever writing a word.
Sure, a blank page doesn't seem all that terrifying up against, say, a charging lion. But it is. Especially when you consider the odds of a lion coming toward me, teeth bared, are slim, while the blank page on my computer screen is daily and on-going.
If I were a wise person I would note that life is like that too - the first day of school, a new job, a new relationship, moving to a new city... all blank pages that are teeth-baring lions. And once we face them, they usually turn out to have all the terror of purring kittens.
So I look right at my blank page and kill its creamy white nothingness.
I put words on a page, sometimes coherent, sometimes rambling. I don't worry about writing a masterpiece, or even a good book. It's just a first draft. Time for worry about "good" later. For now I turn words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and pages, and chapters, and the first draft of books.
You can deal with a charging lion by turning to run (in fact, if you encounter an ACTUAL charging lion, running is probably not the worst idea) or you can deal with it by facing it head on - killing the blank scary page, one word at a time.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Monday, December 2, 2013