Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers
As with many other books, I’ve been late on the scene with this series and author. A Dangerous Road made its debut in 2001 but I just discovered it recently. I was fortunate that my book club chose it. So not only did I get to read a great book, I got to read an intriguing mystery that kept me turning pages! And I got to discuss it with good friends.
I primarily write historical mysteries, usually Westerns, but this one takes place in Memphis in 1968. A turbulent time and place. There was a lot that I didn’t know about this time and I can tell that Nelscott did her homework. For example, there was a strike among the garbage collectors and trash began to pile up. The smell and inconvenience added to the tension of the story. The impending marches and the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are churning up hostilities between the races, and among the races. Add to that a black male P.I. who has a white, attractive, female client, Laura Hathaway, and the tension mounts!
The mystery part of the story is about $10,000. Laura Hathaway demands to know why her mother would leave $10,000 to Smokey. He has no idea. He doesn’t know the Hathaways. Could Mrs. Hathaway have been the anonymous benefactor who left him $10,000 ten year prior? It seems like too much of a coincidence. And why would she do that? Laura decides to hire Smokey to find out about her family background, what secrets they were hiding and how he is involved in it, if he is.
That’s what kept me turning pages. I had no idea where it was going to go!
The book starts with scenes from the premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1940 in Atlanta. (I didn’t know that it premiered there! Did you?) It takes a while until it becomes clear why this event was important to the story. But it’s pivotal.
Which gets me to what I admired most about the book. Not only was it a mystery, but it deftly maneuvered through and around the worlds of 1940 Atlanta and 1968 Memphis. Both eras are complicated. Dalton and the black community have to constantly be alert and careful what they say and do. And not all dangers are outside their own community.
Nelscott dances her way around and through the story, taking the reader with her. I was impressed with its complexity and how she was able to keep the tension throughout. I was not surprised to learn that it won the Herodotus Award for Best Historical Mystery and was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.
This reader and writer will definitely be reading more of the Smokey Dalton stories!
Posted in Writing and tagged A Dangerous Road, Austin Mystery Writers, Kris Nelscott, Smokey Dalton by VP with .
A big thank you to Hopeton Hay and his interest in our anthology, Lone Star Lawless. It was my first time to be on the radio! I was so nervous that I forgot to talk about more stories and I forgot to mention that all proceeds will go to the Port Aransas Library. I also want to thanks Scott Montgomery and Molly Odintz for letting me be a part of it.
KAZI Radio interview
Posted in Austin Mystery Writers, Interview and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Hopeton Hay, KAZI, Lone Star Lawless, Molly Odintz, Scott Montgomery by VP with .
I had so much fun last weekend! Letting me tell you all about it…
(Previously posted on Austin Mystery Writers)
Last Saturday I attended a writer’s workshop at Book People, sponsored by Mystery People and the Austin chapter of Sisters In Crime. I honestly didn’t think I’d learn much new. But I was wrong. *Note- Between classes we had drawings for giveaways like books and tote bags!
It started with George Wier speaking about writing action scenes. He’s literally a pro at this. Just read any of his books. (www.billtravismysteries.com) It wasn’t about how to describe a blow-by-blow fistfight. It was more about how to add tension to a scene, how to make it move along. I don’t know about you, but I like bullet points. So I’ll share my notes in that manner.
- Before you can add action, you must put the reader in the moment. They won’t follow anything if they aren’t there. To accomplish this, describe the lay of the land and the surroundings.
- What are the results of the action? There should be consequences or the reader won’t care.
- The scene must have a beginning, middle, and end.
- Don’t describe things in terms of time. (aka- three hours later). Believe it or not, that doesn’t do anything for the reader. Time isn’t as tangible as distance. “They walked down a flight of stairs.” Is much easier for the reader to see and instantly understand.
- Perception is everything. Use all the senses. Have your characters be aware of their breathing, their surroundings, sounds, pain, everything.
The idea of writing about distance instead of time interests me. All of the things listed above make sense, but the idea that the reader can intuitively understand distance better than the concept of time is fascinating.
Scott Montgomery of Book People recommended the book, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. He said it was a good example of what Wier was talking about.
Cutting up between classes. Friend and author Billy Kring dropped by. He’s trying to distract me while George Wier looks on.
The guys behaving for Terry’s talk.
Next at the workshop was Terry Shames. She gave us many tips on how to writing compelling settings. And she should know. She does an excellent job of describing the Texas town where her Samuel Craddock series takes place. (www.terryshames.com) I came away with the concept of interior settings and exterior settings. No, not what a living room looks like, interior as in what’s going on inside a character. (More bullet points!)
- Treat your scenes as characters.
- The way to make your story interesting is to show how the interior setting (of characters) intersect with the exterior setting. How would someone from a Texas ranch interact with the people and setting of New York city? How would that same person act in their own hometown?
- The devil is in the details. Immerse the reader in the setting. You don’t have to do an information dump. (Please don’t.) But you can provide things like smells and sounds.
- If you aren’t familiar with a place, research it. Talk to people who know the place.
- Above all, know how your characters would interact with the setting. Someone who almost drowned would have a different reaction to falling in the water than someone who is an Olympic swimmer. So Know Your Characters!
- Every scene should try to have-
- Physical description of setting
- Physical description of characters
- Internal thinking
- Internal physical descriptions.
- A good rhythm of a scene would be: 2/1/2, 4/3/5, 6/2/1. Try it and see what happens.
Brent and James. Looking forward to reading their books.
After lunch we gathered for the last class about collaboration. Brent Douglass and James Dennis, two of the three authors who make up the persona of Miles Arecenaux (www.milesarceneaux.com), led a funny discussion on their journey of collaborative writing. They started their first book back in the days before email. Thank goodness the days of mailing a manuscript back and forth are gone. Thank you email! So what are their tips?
- Don’t be afraid to be honest with each other. Actually, they said to be brutally honest. Treat each other like siblings.
- Play up to your partners’ strengths. You are different people with different experiences. You that to your advantage.
- Work to maintain “one voice” for your book. It will get easier with practice but it will also take many edits to achieve this.
- Defer to people with experience. (Again, take advantage of your partner’s strengths.)
- It helps to build accountability. If you know that you’re expected to get your part done by a certain time and the others are counting on you, you better do it.
- Broadcast gratitude. Not only show gratitude to your partners, show gratitude to other writers.
(Collaborating sounds interesting. I think I’d like to take a stab at that just for fun.)
The last event was a panel discussion that was very informal. It was about publishing, marketing, and networking. Honestly, I was so caught up in listening, I forgot to take notes! All the speakers were charming, personable, and informative. It was worth every moment that I was there.
Gale Albright helped put it all together and did the raffle.
George answering questions between classes.
Terry and Scott
I’d like to say thank you to Book People and Scott Montgomery of Mystery People for hosting us!
Posted in Event and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Billy Kring, Book People, Brent Douglass, Gale Albright, George Wier, James Dennis, Laura Oles, Miles Areceneaux, Mystery People, Samuel Craddock, Scott Montgomery, Terry Shames by VP with .
Are we looking dignified at our table?
Today I joined Austin Mystery Writers members Kathy Waller and Gale Albright at the Hutto Library for the first annual Local Author and Artist Reception.
Waiting for the crowd!
It was a lot of fun and they rolled out the red carpet for us. Paula, one of the librarians, is so nice and enthusiastic. She made us all feel special.
Paula had crazy boots too!
This was the first book selling “event” I’ve ever been to.
I made some keychains.
We sold a few copies of Murder on Wheels and it was fun meeting the other participants.
We’re bandying about the notion of doing another anthology. So stay tuned!
For now we’re having fun promoting and hawking MOW.
What do you mean you haven’t bought a copy? Buy one! Or else…
Posted in Event and tagged Austin Mystery Writers, Gale Albright, Kathy Waller by VP with .
I had a lot of fun writing this post. It was a bit of an “aha” moment for me to think of music structure and story structure as being similar.
Originally posted on Austin Mystery Writers.
You know how some songs are more appealing than others? They just seem to have that “something” that people like. I think the same thing is true for books. Obviously a book should have good writing, unlike some blockbusters. But I won’t be tacky and mention anything about supernatural animals or domineering billionaires. Nope, I won’t stoop that low. My inner goddess says it’s not polite.
I’ve recently tried my hand at writing music, so I’ve been studying the structure of songs. The way the verses and chorus are laid out are comparable to poetry. Then one day I noticed that the music itself is similar to story structure. Even different types of songs can compare to different genres. (All links provided are from “official” Youtube channels or websites.)
Typically most pop, rock, or standard music that we listen to follows a pattern:
Intro, Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3 [Usually a variation of the tune], (Maybe Verse 4) Chorus [Maybe with a variation to change it up a bit.]
For instance, here’s Real Gone by Sheryl Crow
I love that song! The intro does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It sets the tone for the piece. The variations on the theme and the constant fast beat keep it from getting boring.
I think it’s like a lot of popular books out there. It’s got a good beat and the tempo doesn’t let up for the whole story. I think of thrillers that have constant action. A variation on theme helps to keep things interesting. Maybe like James Bond and his extra curricular activities? He’s still James Bond, just a variation on the spy theme.
Is your song funny, fast-paced? Do crazy things happen throughout? Sounds like it might be a jazz piece. This style works great with crazy chords and countermelodies. Melodies are deconstructed but always return to the melody. So remember, don’t be distracted by tangents, always return to the melody, but keep it fun.
Here’s a perfect example of some swingy jazz.
Morris Nelms- Love To Swing.
But what about other songs, like maybe orchestral pieces? How do composers keep them interesting? Do they follow a pattern too? Is it similar to a story arc or story structure?
Breath and Life by Audiomachine.
The intro sets the mood. The pulsing beat keeps it moving. The melody plays then repeats. (Verse 1 and Verse 2) Then after a short change, the music grows and they vary the tune. It grows and grows with intensity, volume, and moves higher. It finally reaches the ultimate point. Then it dies off. The structure is not so much an arc, more like a wedge that just grows then drops off. Personally, I prefer a story to grow to almost the very end.
And here’s the part that absolutely fascinates me. Notice that while the singers and the main melody have long notes, there are always the underlying beats that keep it moving? I like to call this microtension.. I believe I first heard the term from Donald Maas.http://absolutewrite.com/maas_fire_excerpt.html
Good writing, no matter what genre, has microtension to keep the story flowing. It’s what keeps your characters growing and interesting.
Here’s another song by Audiomachine called Equinox
While you listen to it, think about the pulsing under the long notes and feel how it grows. Now imagine your story or any story. Does it grow like this? Do your secondary characters highlight your antagonist and protagonist, like the chorus and instruments provide harmony? What is height of your story? I like the little tag at the end. It’s an echo of the theme. I think the best stories have a little scene at the end that sums up the journey, whatever it may have been. (I mean good grief! Don’t you want to read the story that fits this music?)
I can’t help myself. Here’s another called The Fire Within
And one last song. This isn’t as dramatic as the others. But I think it’s a perfect example of the relationship between a protagonist and an antagonist. The relationship of the two should mirror and echo each other. This is a relaxing song, like I said, not dramatic. But I love the echo of the piano and the harmony of the flute.
The Gift of Love by The O’Neill Brothers
So I’ll leave you with this. In the first words of your story, write an intro that gives your reader a taste of what’s to come. Set the melody. Support your story and characters with harmonies, and counter melodies. Don’t keep things the same. Grow by changing the key signature and keep the beat pulsing. Grow, grow, grow! Make it bigger! Give it a dramatic finale and end with a reflection, a bit of the original melody to remind the reader of the journey. Good luck. And if you have a favorite song that makes a perfect story, feel free to share with us in the comments! I’m always on the lookout for new music.
Posted in Writing and tagged Audiomachine, Austin Mystery Writers, Donald Maas, Morris Nelms, Sheryl Crow, The Piano Brothers by VP with .