Saturday, 30 March 2013

A Character's Evil can Surprise even the Author - A Guest Post by Author Randy Attwood

Hi folks, on this strange little thing called Facebook, have you heard of it, I put the question out there asking other writer friends what they thought made a really good bad guy.  In my opinion the best ones are those average joe's who could be your neighbor, your kids soccer coach, your husband.  All the while they are talking to you about the weather they are thinking about the best way to dispose of your body.
Author Randy Attwood wrote a little something to give me his oppinion.  I will warn you that a little bit of it is for adult audiences.  Got you curious, doesn't it.
I am a pantser writer. I don't outline. Scenes come to me. Write by the seat of my pants. In "Blow Up the Roses" I really didn't know what an awful person Mr. Brown was and what was going on in his basement. Is there a worst kind of serial killer? That's Mr. Brown. He has a brown mustache and a lisp. After he has enjoyed himself, he takes a shower and mutters to himself: "Mother loveth me, Mother loveth me" and washes the blood from his penis.

Mr. Brown rents the other half of the duplex owned by the Keenes and when Mr. Keene disappears and abandons Mrs. Keene, she realizes she could kick Mr. Brown out divide that half of the duplex into two more units. Mr. Brown says he'll pay her more rent to keep things as they are. He doesn't want to have to remove all the sound proofing he's installed.

Mr. Brown likes young girls and they get younger and younger. He photographs what he does because he has found a distributor for his "art." Makes him money because there are other sickoes out there, too, who will buy such photos. And then he has an idea for a grand project.

Here is an excerpt about his inspiration:
"Mr. Brown found himself going more and more to look at Melissa in the downstairs freezer. He had left her eyes open and they were covered with ice crystals but still the blue sparkled at him. Her hair looked as if it would crackle and snap off if he touched it. He knew he shouldn't have killed her. He had had a perfect opportunity and hadn't realized it. He could have kept her with him forever. Watched her mature. Videotaped her maturing. What a collection of films that would provide! A product worthy dedicating your life to. Mr. Brown felt a grand purpose enter into his life. He closed the lid on the freezer.
"I'll have to find another little girl, he decided, and went to his van to start looking at school yards."

A writer can create a monster and I did that, but the best monster is one you can sort of not relate to, but understand. Mr. Brown did not have a normal mother:

"...he remembered how his mother used to use bags of crushed ice on his balls and penis and alternate them with warm moist towels. He remembered how she told him it would make him a man. That it was a secret treatment he should tell no one about. He would be a true man among men, not like his daddy who had deserted them, who was just a wimp anyway. Sometimes when she tended to him his little penis would harden, like a small stick and she would praise him and reward him by kissing it. She had taught him not to trust other people. To have no friends. The only friend he would need would be his mother."

Blow Up the Roses has been called by some reviewers a book you want to stop reading, but can't.
Published by Curiosity Quills, a small press in the D.C. area.:Blow Up the Roses on Amazon

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Don't let your Backstory take over your True Story

I’ve read a couple of novels lately that had really good stories that were ruined by buckets and buckets of backstory that were thrown on the reader right from the start.  They had opening chapters that could have been completely cut out with nothing being lost from the story.  Basically they had chapters that should have stayed in the author’s notebooks.

Twenty years ago I sat in a Creative Writing class that I still carry with me.  The teacher showed us the beginning sequence to the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  His lesson was on foreshadowing (you find out who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, that it’s a full blown action adventure, that the bad guy will do anything to kill the good guy, and that Indiana is afraid of snakes) This part of the film can also be used as a lesson in backstory.

Quick description of the opening of the film…Indiana Jones has a fedora, leather jacket, leather bag, gun, and whip that he uses in many ways.  He goes in a cave and narrowly gets through ancient traps to get an archeological treasure and get out.  Bad guy laughs at him and takes the treasure, “Dr. Jones, again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.”  Indiana gets away in his friends plane that also has a large snake in it.  “I hate snakes, Jacque, I hate em’”

As a viewer we don’t need to know where Indy got the whip or hat.  He’s afraid of snakes.  Is it going to change our enjoyment of the film if we knew that he once fell into a box full of snakes and since then has been terrified?  Nope.  Save that for the third movie.

In writing, a backstory is there more for the author than the reader.  The author needs to know the why and how for whatever a character feels like or does.  The reader just needs to know that it is what it is.  For instance, if you look at the rest of my blog I am working on the backstory for a new suspense thriller.  I can fill pages and pages with backstory that the reader doesn’t need to know for the story at hand, or I can put little stuff in here and there that tells you the same thing.  I can write…

As Spencer lead the way into his back office his eyes barely noticed his culinary diploma framed on the wall.

…or I can write…

After high school Spencer went across the country to the Culinary Institute of Canada.  For two years he slaved in their kitchens and classrooms, as well as a couple of restaurants around the area.  Upon graduating he apprenticed at this restaurant and that restaurant.  About six years ago he came to be the Head Chef at his father’s restaurant…blah blah blah onto the next Castle novel.

Backstory is there to enrich the actual story.  A novel is just a scene in the character’s lives.  You aren’t telling the whole thing.  In my first snip it I didn’t even have to say Spencer was a chef at a restaurant, but I bet you were thinking it.  It was his office and there was a culinary diploma, enough said.  I have a main character whose mother disappeared – not important.  Not for this story anyway.  I may explore it later if the characters stick with me for another book or two, but for this story that I want to tell the reader is only going to know that Spencer and his sister Chrys are foster siblings.  Other than that, the reader doesn’t need to know much more.  Little bits and pieces thrown creatively into the story can tell wonders.  Carefully put little bits of the backstory in and you can add a whole lot of colour to your story without making it feel like the reader just opened a stuffed closet and had a whole lot of crap fall out on top of him.
Don't let your backstory ruin the story you are trying to tell.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Journey to a Story...Part Six: Introducing Chrys and Spencer

I’m just itching to write this story.  (for links to the other parts please check the bottom of this post)

The Cistern
Story Idea: 
Chrys and Spencer go out to a foreclosed house and find a woman inside a cistern in the basement.  Spencer wants to find out who she is and help her while Chrys wants to know what happened to the family.  They start getting bad feelings and noticing odd things happening.  A body in the restaurant oven is just one of them.  It isn’t what’s in the dark you need to be afraid of.

The Characters:

Spencer Alcrest – the chef/owner of The Alcrest Gastropub.  He took over the business upon his father’s death and is trying to make it a great success.

Chrys Wanderingspirit – foster sister to Spencer.  Her mother disappeared when she was young.  Now she is a free spirit enjoying life and bothering her brother.

To figure out characters I usually just take notes as I’m writing.  I will write in what a character is wearing and then write it down in a separate file or in my head the idea that he/she is a vegetarian – take note.  This time I wanted to do character sketches so that I know who these people are.  To do this I searched out different character charts and found this one that is 8 pages of details from the physical to what their day is like to how they relate to random kids and what their favorite TV show is.
Name:  Chrys Wanderingspirit
Nationality:  Native/Canadian
Brief description of home:  Apartment above The Alcrest Gastropub
Does she live with anyone?  Yes, her foster brother Spencer who is the chef/owner of The Alcrest
Pets:  Chihuahua named Breeze after her mother
Most traumatic event in life:  Day her mother disapeared.
Morning Routine:  Wakes late after hitting the snooze a lot.  Showers and takes care of hair which includes whipping her head back and forth spraying water.  Her breakfast is usually coffee.  Takes Breeze for a walk.
Any prominent features?  Full lips, especially the bottom one.  Birthmark on left cheek bone.
Basically by the time Spencer and Chrys go out and meet the public I will know almost everything I can about both of them.  Sure, there will be things that I don't know and will learn as the story is written and there are some things that will change or evolve.

What is left is to take what you have and write a small paragraph describing your characters to see what you have.

Spencer wiped the prep table down with a cloth.  It was almost time to put his chef coat on.  His defined jaw line was clean shaven, the restaurant owner, while his strong arms were tattooed, the rock star chef.  His blond hair was short and spiked on top with just a touch of product.  Soft aqua marine eyes searched around for anything out of place.  He was blessed with his Father’s hometown good looks and strong body, the only two things the man gave him without having to be asked for.  Spencer’s mottos were inked onto his forearms, “Suck the Marrow,” on his left from the Thoreau quote about seizing the day and on the right a quote from Whiting, “God sends meat, but the devil sends cooks.”  The first sits under the tattoo of a pig and the other is between the claws of a lobster crawling down from his upper arm.  At first they were to rebel against the image his parents had for him, but then he just enjoyed it.  He flashed a smile making dimples appear in each cheek.  He got a lot more looks from the ladies than he would ever admit to.

Does my description do her justice?
Chrys combed her fingers back through her hair as she crossed the room.  The mane of dark brown, black in the dim light, fell softly over her shoulders.  Anyone would say she was good-looking, but she could be downright gorgeous if given the right motivation.  Today she wore a little mascara around her oval eyes.  Those and her light caramel skin were signs of her Native Canadian heritage.  She smiled with full lips and white teeth.  The only chink in her armor was maybe the slightly prominent two front teeth, but those were usually not noticed.  Her body was trim and tight from workouts at the gym and playing sports at the park with her friends.  There was nothing too “out there.”  Her breasts were small and she never showed much skin, but she did often get second looks.  She was the image of the girl next door.
 So if you have been reading the Journey of a Story you know that Spencer owns The Alcrest Gastropub.  In order to run a restaurant you need staff.  Chrys is one of the servers, but two people can't run it.  There are cooks and servers and dishwashers..etc.  I already have some ideas for a couple of them, but I need ideas for more and of course names.  If anyone out there is interested in naming a character in a future novel please leave me a comment here or connect with me through the link up options on the side.
Coming Soon:  The Prologue

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Review of the Novel Corktown by Ty Hutchinson

Corktown, by Ty Hutchinson, is the story of an FBI agent trying to solve serial killings in Detroit that closely resembles a solved serial killing from years before.  Copycat or political cover-up?

I won a signed copy of Corktown in a recent blog hop.  It is the first Indie book I have been able to physically hold and author Ty Hutchinson also sent along a couple of bookmarks so I had some high hopes.  The basic story is good, but I wasn’t a fan of the entire book as a whole.  There were a lot of point0s of view which at times became confusing and there was a lot of telling the story instead of showing.

For me personally, I didn’t like the first chapter and given a crabby mood might have stopped there.  To me it was a lot of background that could have been spread out in small snip-its through the book.  I also wasn’t a fan of the short chapters that seemed to stop midway through a scene only to continue on the next page with the exact same thoughts.  Also in the first couple of chapters there were some cliché remarks.  For instance:  starting a chapter with “That same day” or having a character say, “Just as I suspected.”  It reminded me of Scooby-Doo cartoons.  And as far as the end went, it seemed very drawn out and by the time I got to the last few chapters I wanted to hurry up.

That all sounds harsh doesn’t it?  As I’ve said in other reviews the beginning and ending are what make it or break it for me.  This one broke.  I liked the middle and would like to read some more of Ty’s other books, but I’m not sure if I would read Corktown again.

As for those who complained about the sexual content in other reviews – get over it.  A lot of it is what the bad guy does and out there in real life it isn’t pretty.  It doesn’t cut to commercial.  The most unbelievable part for me was two people having sex in the front seat of a Mini.
I give Corktown 3 stars

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Just a Taste - Red Serge prologue

Just to tease those who are looking forward to my second novel I thought I would put up the prologue for the book to be titled RED SERGE after the Mountie red uniform.  I'm currently working through the second draft of it and getting it ready to head to the editors.  I'd like to have it published by Canada Day, but we shall see.

Take a peak at the prologue and let me know what you think.  Lorne

Red Serge

Bright red blood grew pregnant on the giant white rabbit’s fangs.  It growled deeply with every hot breath.  It stared down at the girl.  Eyes of a dark red iris encircled in pink. 
Kayla stared back. 
She had to run. 
She knew she had to run, but something in her didn’t want to let her body take flight.  Fear tensed every muscle.  Her feet kicked at the ground crawling her back away from the beast, the earth lifted her shirt up and scratched her back.  Grey eyes watched the pregnant bubble of red engorge itself on the end of the fangs.  It was as if she couldn’t move until something happened.  She stared at the blood and held her breath. 
The blood dropped. 
It disappeared into the fur of the rabbit’s belly staining it all pink. 
Kayla was off.

Leigh rolled onto her front. 
The family dog opened one eye to check on what she was doing.  Its paws stretched out from where they had been scratching Leigh’s back.  It closed its eye again and went back to snoring.

The girl ran and ran as fast as she could.  Arms pumped at her sides.  With every step Kayla felt twenty pounds heavier.  Her chest hurt.  Her heart pounded in her ears.  She looked back over her shoulder at the white rabbit following her.  She was only ten. 
There was tall grass and overgrown walkways.  Trees were taking it back.  There were waves.  Light in the distance behind trees and blackness.

Leigh knew this area, she had been there before. 

But Kayla never had.  Where was it? 
Her legs couldn’t go much longer.  No matter how hard she ran the rabbit was getting closer.  It was like in a scary movie.  No matter how fast she ran the walking bad guy, boogie man, was getting closer.  
More blood dripped from his fangs.  The pink of its chest was brightening to a brilliant red.

Leigh completely twisted around as she tried to get comfortable in her sleep.  Her face went next to the dog’s getting the animal’s hot breath against her nose and eyes.  The blankets bound up under her thigh.

Kayla tripped. 
Her body flew through the air, hands stretched out like a super hero reject.  Her thigh hit something hard.  Pain shot through her leg.  Her body was instantly chilled from the wet ground.   Auburn hair matted to her forehead.  There was no other emotion inside of her except fear.  It was overtaking her.  She heard something behind her. 
It was the rabbit. 
It was there.  She didn’t want to roll over but had to.  She had to. 
Kayla rolled onto her back.  The giant rabbit was there.  The blood had run and stained it a red bib beneath its chin.  
Where was the blood from?  Who’s blood was it?  Was it her blood?
The rabbit bent at the waist and breathed its hot breath into the girl’s face.  She closed her eyes from the snorting air.  It smelled like a mixture of earth and meat.  She wanted to scream, but nothing would come out.  She had to scream. 
She had to scream.
The rabbit opened its mouth, “little girl.”

Leigh’s brown eyes opened wide. 
For one second she laid in bed staring straight up at the splash of light sprayed across the ceiling from somewhere outside. 
She sat up. 
She looked first at the window then at the picture on her wall beside the window.  The street lamp light glinted off the glass covering the picture of a red coated Mountie on a large black horse.  Her father and Handcuf.  She realized she wasn’t breathing and started up the rhythmic act that usually didn’t require thought.  Frix laid beside her.  The old Springer Spaniel’s sleep was barely interrupted by her sudden rise.  Her nightlight lit up the space in the room between her bed and the door.  She was eleven, too old for a nightlight, but two years ago a man, a killer had been in her room.  He had been in the entire house.  He was the reason for the state of the art security system and the bars on their windows.  Her hand pushed her long brown hair from her face. 
Why was she suddenly awake?  A dream?  She couldn’t remember what it had been about.  Someone had been running.  Something had been chasing.  There was screaming.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Journey of a Story...Part Five: Scene Ideas

I don’t know how other writer’s do things.  I only know what I do.  Right now I am still working on the second draft for my newest novel and have to edit Red Island before it goes to print, so I really don’t want to start this new story until those are taken care of.  But no matter how many times I tell myself this, my creative brain doesn’t really want to listen.  I still have a lot of work to do on this story before I start anything anyway.  For instance I want to completely build out the characters of Spencer and Chrys first. (can you guess what part 6 is going to be about?)

In the meantime things happen that give me ideas for scenes.  Much like the original idea they just show up out of the blue and an entire scene shows up in my head and plays through over and over until I work out the kinks.

Chrys Wanderingspirit
Idea/Scene #1 (this one isn’t so much of a scene but part of some character background)  Chrys is a foster child that came into Spencer’s family when she was young, but I wasn’t sure how.  I work at a daycare.  One day nobody showed to pick up a little girl.  Social Services had to be called to come get her.  The moment she saw their white van she flipped out.  In the end it turned out to be a mix-up on who was supposed to pick her up. 

IDEA:  Chrys’s mother never shows up again.  She just disappeared so Spencer’s family is all that she gets to know.  (Of course this means in book 2 or 3 they try to find out what happened to her)

Idea/Scene #2 My wife works at a locksmiths and last week one of the locksmiths had to go to a house to unlock the door for the police because nobody had seen the lady that lived there.  Unfortunately it turned out that she had passed away in her sleep. 

IDEA: Before this book starts Chrys went with a locksmith to the creepy house to change the locks and then he comes back later in the book (see #3).  In a future book he could come to them with the news of a suspicious death that they can solve.

That oven behind us is where the
origional idea is from.
(I'm the one with the hat)
Idea/Scene #3 I was thinking of writing a quick short story with the characters to work them out and get some interest.  Back when I worked at the Urban Eatery I had a story idea about finding a body in the 650 degree brick pizza oven.  (I’m great at parties)  So why not do a short story staring Spencer and Chrys and a body found in the restaurant oven.  But then I had to wonder…how would a restaurant recover from some random body found in an oven?  I don’t think I’d want to go eat in a place that had roast him/her…unless they had a kickass hamburger.

IDEA:  Make it a scene in the bigger story.  Bad guy starts going after Spencer and Chrys.

Spencer wakes up on a Sunday morning to the smell of something cooking downstairs. (did I mention they live in an apartment above the restaurant?)  He figures it is just the brunch chef that runs the Sunday brunch so that he has a day off.  And then she screams.  Spencer runs downstairs and discovers that there is a body in the oven.  The brunch chef turned it on in passing without looking inside.  Spencer opens the oven and sees the black mess of burned limbs and a skull, but he can’t tell who it is.  Then he sees the bracelet that his sister owns.  Spencer runs back up the stairs, crashes into his sister’s bedroom, and finds her having sex.  I so want to write this scene.  You don’t understand how much I want to write the confusion of waking up, the fear of why the chef is screaming, the sudden stun of what is in the oven, followed quickly by hysterical terror that it could be his sister, and finally embarrassment, relief, and confusion.

Ideas can come from anywhere.  Someone can say or do something, IDEA.  This past winter a snow plow uncovered a body in a snow bank.  I can make a whole novel out of that.  Last weekend we went to a city just 4 hours away and got stuck there for two extra days because of an ice storm that closed the highways down.  That alone can be an idea, but there were also people coming to the hotel that can be a cornucopia of story characters.  You have to be open to letting your imagination take you places and build on the simplest of things.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words…take a picture and write a story about what you see.  It doesn't have to be about mystery, crime, or suspense but you shouldn't let anything get in your way.  Imagination is the freedom to write whetever is inside you.  The only rule for me is to keep it as real as fiction can be.  Basically I make up stuff that could really happen.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think of the Journey of a Story blog.

To catch up on any you may have missed please click on the links below.
Part One: The Idea               Part Two: The Characters            
 Part Three: Character Development             Part Four: The Place

Friday, 8 March 2013

My Love of a Mystery

I didn’t always want to write mysteries.  My genre is mystery/suspense/thriller, but it really boils down to mystery.  I remember reading Chose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid.  Reading long passages wasn’t easy for me so the short bits that you got to choose how the story continued worked for me.  I picked the wrong path more often than not. 

The first mystery book I ever owned was a Hardy Boy’s mystery called The Crisscross Shadow by Franklin W. Dixon given to me by my grandmother for one of my birthdays.  It was a few more years before I ever read it, even though I had a jigsaw puzzle of the 70’s TV Hardy Boy’s, Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy.  I’m pretty sure it was my older sisters.  I didn’t really get into their stories until the newer version came out.  They were basic mysteries with a little bit about their lives.  They always gave you just enough to maybe figure out who-done-it before you got to the big reveal.

My friend’s Dad liked to buy Ellery Queen’s Mystery magazine and the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine so I got to read some really great short stories.  And when I was in high school I also did an English project on Canadian mystery writer Eric Wright.  Okay he’s British and immigrated to Canada so claimed him.  When I did my project he only had the Charlie Salter Mysteries which were good basic mysteries that had a Canadian cop as the hero.  A Canadian hero.  There aren’t that many of those out there in the literary world.  And still not too many have heard of him.

Finally I have to give it up to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  You have to show respect to a fictional character that hundreds of people mourned when he was killed in the stories.  The public outcry was enough that the author had to bring him back for more stories.  In 2002 I got the chance to go to England and was taken around London by my cousin.  The one place I wanted to go to was Sherlock Holmes apartments at 221B Baker St.  You walk in through the front door and step right into the stories.

What gets me going about mysteries is the game of it all.  You want to try and figure it out from the clues the main character finds.  This is why I hate those books that reveal a sudden clue that nobody knew and boom story is over.  As a reader you have an ending but you are so, so unsatisfied.  Nobody likes to be unsatisfied, but they do like to win.  Solving the crime before the hero is a win.  Not solving it before the hero but realising how simple it was and that you should have got it can be even better.  You feel like Watson after Holmes explains how he came to his deductions.

221B Baker St. (after seeing the picture I looked
closely and saw something in the fireplace)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Journey of a Story...Part Four: The Place

In case you've missed it I've been blogging about where a writer's story ideas come from and how a novel comes about.  Click on these links if you wish to check out the earlier parts.

From the jump I knew I wanted the main characters to be coming out of a restaurant.  One of my favorite books is Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdaine.  My life working in restaurants hasn't been as crazy as his, but the restaurant world is something that is interesting.  Not everyone knows about what goes on and it is a place that one can interact with a lot of different people.  In Steven King's On Writing he says you can write about whatever job you do and people will find it interesting if the situation is interesting.

To take the restaurant back a few years I had written about one in the story Living Off Chris Isaak Dreams and Ethan Hawke Fantasy.  It was an "artisans cafe."  Local artists could put their works on the walls, a writer's group met once a week, singer/songwriter's came on Saturdays.  Then a year after that I had to plan out a restaurant in culinary school so I used he same basic place.  That was The Alcrest.  (For those who don't know my Aunt's place in England has the name Alcrest instead of a house number)  ALCREST stands for After Labor Comes REST.  Of course I've had to be artistic with it and also use After Love Comes REST and After Life Comes REST.

The restaurant in this new story is going to be more like a cross between the fictional Alcrest, the first restaurant I ever worked in that was called Giorg, and Chuck Hughes' restaurant Garde Manger in Montreal.  Of course I'm just going off of pictures for that one.  Basically the kitchen is going to be in the dining room and it will be homey and rugged all at the same time.

As for the name?  What's in a name?  A rose by any other blah blah blah.  For the restaurant I needed a name that would be the name for a potential mystery thriller series.  Did I really want The Alcrest again?  I'm not really sure.

Comment below if you like the name The Alcrest for a rugged gastropubby restaurant with home cooked food plated in a nice way.  Or if you have a better idea for a name please leave that.  Remember the restuarants name will probably not only be the title of the series but could also be Spencer's last name (if appropriate)