What I’ve Been Doing, And Changes To Come

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I thought I’d give you an update on what’s going on and tell you about the change I’m going to make on the blog.

So what have I been up to? Hoo boy, let’s see.

In September I went to Bouchercon in New Orleans. It was a blast! I’d tell you more but what happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans. 🙂 But I can say it was cool meeting so many nice and talented people.

Laura Oles and I starting the road trip to Bouchercon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austin Mystery Writers is working on a new anthology. I’ve written a short story about a Texas Ranger who is asked to save a girl who has been kidnapped by a villain. (historical crime fiction.) I think the anthology will be out sometime this year.

 

 

A short story of mine, Kay Chart, was published by Mystery People. Here’s the link to it. (This one I’d categorize as historical suspense.) It’s really short, only a couple of pages long. I hope you like it. I had fun writing it. It’s creepy!  https://mysterypeople.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/crime-fiction-friday-kay-chart-by-valerie-p-chandler

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early November attended the 2nd Writer Unboxed UnCon in Salem! It was a blast to see my many friends again. It was filled with so much information and wisdom, that I couldn’t give it justice if I tried to explain it. So instead, I’ll provide a link that explains the events we had and lessons learned from the writers who attended. The conference focuses on the craft of writing. Writer Unboxed- Author in Progress.

My beloved Writer Unboxed Mod Squad fellows. <3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the conference was the launch of the Writer Unboxed book, Author In Progress. I’m honored they asked me to participate in the project. It’s full of essays on the process of writing. Lots of big names in there like Donald Maass and Lisa Cron. It’s available in all major books stores and online. Here’s a brief article about it. 

 

Author In Progress! I’m honored they asked me to provide some comments on essays.

 

 

Gale Albright

The week after the UnConference, Austin Mystery Writers did a presentation at the Wimberley, Texas Library. It was a small gathering but we had an interesting back and forth about the process of writing, and we talked about Murder on Wheels. After the event, members of AMW gathered at a local restaurant and had lunch. I’m glad we did that because we hadn’t gathered for a few months. Little did we know that a two days later we’d lose fellow member Gale Albright. She was participating in NaNoWriMo and suddenly had a heart attack. Gale was such a strong force in AMW (Yes, like a Gale force wind.) that suddenly losing her took the wind out of my sails. I had trouble writing anything for a couple of months. That’s another reason why I haven’t written a blog post in a long while. It’s still unreal to me. I hear her voice and her laugh. I can hear her telling me to get with it and get work done. I push things away so now, four months later, it’s starting to sink in.

 

 

In other news, I’ve made a few videos, and more are to come. I know they aren’t great, but I have fun thinking about them and making them.

  • Here’s one called Reflection (from Mulan), about my main character, Kay Stuart. Reflection
  • Here’s another. I was just having fun in my car. I like the vintage look I gave it. (It’s a horrible angle! But c’est la vie.) It’s one of my favorite songs, singing with Queen Latifah’s version of Baby Get Lost. 

I’ve got a couple of more videos coming soon.

 

So now I’ll talk about some changes I plan to make here on my blog. I plan to post about once a month, but instead of trying to come up with a topic, I’ll write a book review. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time. There are so many good books our there, I’d like to share them with you! Not all of the books I’ll be talking about will be mysteries. I’m more than just a mystery writer! I like all kinds of sub-genres of fiction. I also think this may provide some interesting discussions. Or maybe it will at least provide you with a new book for you to enjoy. Not all of the books will be new. In fact, I may just choose one at random from my Goodreads list.

I’ll also keep you up to date on the music I’m writing and the jewelry I’m making. That’s right. Because I don’t have enough to do, I want to try my hand at jewelry.

Oh yeah, and I’m still progressing on my book, Gilt Ridden. If you’d like to keep up to date with my progress, sign up for email notifications.

Ciao!


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How To Conduct A Masterful Story

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.

Links:

www.audiomachine.com

www.morrisnelms.com

http://www.pianobrothers.com

 


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Story Research – Letting the Brain Assist the Heart by Vaughn Roycroft

Today I’d like to share an article written by a friend, Vaughn Roycroft, who is currently working on his historical fantasy trilogy, The Broken Oaks trilogy. Today’s article is about the writer’s process of research and he hits the nail of the head. It spoke to me so much that I wanted to share it with you.

Whether you are researching current police procedures or rituals of ancient Rome, every writer has to do research. Roycroft talks about his process and the pros and cons of getting lost down the rabbit hole.

I’ve included the article here, but if you’d like to share it or see it on his blog, complete with writers’ comments, (And I share a little something in the comments section), go to:

http://vaughnroycroftblog.com/2014/05/02/story-research-letting-the-brain-assist-the-heart/

 

Enjoy!

 

Story Research – Letting the Brain Assist the Heart

Research BooksAn Intricate Mess:

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”~Albert Einstein

I’ve written about my approach to world-building before, in general here, and in regards to names and naming here. But my friend Heather Reed recently undertook a new historical fantasy project, and she asked me specifically about my approach to researching the Broken Oaths trilogy. In looking back at my notes, I’m both excited for her and amazed.

Excited because they remind me of the adventure of the hunt, and the thrill of discovery. But amazed by the wide and disparate variety of sources that I mined for my story elements. In wading through what can only be called a disorganized mess, it’s a wonder that I was able to arrive at anything coherent.

This is one of the reasons I subscribe to the notion of a story muse. I’m the antithesis of organized, which seems contrary to being a good researcher. And yet somehow I was able to pull a story out of my intricate mess.

As an example, I give you my namey-namer cheat-sheet (see photo). It’s a simple 81/2” x 11” sheet of plainLOBO Cheat-sheet white paper that started out as a short list of possible character names. It’s now covered, front and back, with hundreds of names and obscure references. Please note there is very little means of organization, other than a handful of breakdowns by character group. And yet it continues to serve me well. I’m not sure how I find such a crazy resource helpful, but every time I need to check a name, this is my go-to reference. Honestly, I rarely need it. It’s mostly in issues such as: “Now what’s that secondary character’s grandmother’s name again?” And somehow I know what part of which side to look to find gramma’s name. This from a guy who honestly can’t recall his own phone number. Go figure.

Getting Wet:

“Pearls do not lie on the seashore. He who desires one must dive.” ~Chinese Proverb

We’re in the information age, right? And with so much access to a mighty river of information, the toughest part is going to be finding the tributaries and offshoots that apply to your story. In order to do that, sticking your toe in will not do. You’re going to have to get wet.

JORDANES Origins & Deeds of the GothsAnd you never know where the currents will carry you. For example, my quest for original source material about the Goths swiftly revealed a scarcity. Which is why I was so excited to find one of the few existing documents about the Goths by a Goth—Jordanes’ The Origin and Deeds of the Goths. Although I quickly realized Jordanes was writing about previous generations with few specific references and an obvious quantity of bluster, one note caught my attention and held it. He claimed that the Greek myth of the Amazons originated with the Ancient Greeks’ discovery of a group of Goth women whose husbands and sons had left them on the north shore of the Black Sea to raid in Persia and Egypt. I was fascinated, and it led to months of study of the Amazons and related myths and topics. And ultimately, to my creation of the Skolani—an all-female warrior sect that plays a prominent role in all of my work. All from a paragraph in an ancient treatise. There were no kickass warrior women on my radar at the onset, but oh-how-glad I am that I was willing to dive and found my way to them. They are most certainly a pearl.

There’s a lot to take in, on most any subject. But it’s difficult to pick and choose your sources. I say dive in and let it wash over you. Go with the flow. You might end up somewhere you like.

Panning For Gold:

“The subconscious is a hundred times smarter than we are. We’re just taking dictation.”~Steven Pressfield

In hindsight, I wish I’d worried less about delving for specifics. I wish I’d gone in with only the idea that I was going to educate myself and feed my enthusiasm, knowing the rest would more or less take care of itself. Because that’s what ended up happening.

As another example, in my research of the Goths, I began by broadly perusing subjects pertaining to the Germanic Tribes at the height of the Roman Empire. I studied their social structure and kingship. I went on to study their laws and mores, settlement layouts, agriculture, games and amusements, clothing and jewelry, migration (causes and effects), and their weapons and warfare. What I really wanted was more specific information about how they governed themselves. Sadly, there is little information, and much of it is conflicting.

futhark ring hiltsBut in the course of my search, as I studied the last topic—weapons and warfare—I now see what became the roots of my solution. There is an entry in my notes from a book called Battle-ax People, by Olivia Vlahos. The note pertains to the expense and significance of swords, and how certain swords became important relics passed from father to son, occasionally symbolizing a legacy of chieftainship. From another book called The Everyday Life of Barbarians: Goths, Franks, and Vandals, by Malcom Todd, I note that some important swords are inscribed with oaths, and occasionally such oaths appeared in the form of rune rings, attached to the hilt. The two notes are only a few sentences each, and were taken several months apart. And yet they clearly led to the Futhark swords of the Gottari ruling clans—the symbolic relics which represent the leadership of my two ruling clans.

I don’t see any notation that I’d put the two together—inherited swords symbolic of leadership and rune rings on hilts—at the time. But when it came time to outline, a symbol was needed, and there they were: the Futhark swords. I invented much of the rest of the elements of their governance from other tidbits gleaned over the course of my research, and it all fell into place once I had the Futhark swords. So I’d advise you not to bother looking for bright baubles as you go. Just scoop it in. Your muse (or your subconscious) will sift through for the gems.

Take It From Me (Or Don’t):

It might seem silly, now that you’ve read this far, that a guy who admits he’s a disorganized and somewhat aimless researcher is now going to give you advice on researching. But I am (going to give advice, not silly—or is it both?). Take it or leave it. It’s all in good fun (as any research for fiction should be).

*Find your passion! As I say, this should be fun. If you’re passionate about your subject or era, your research will not only be easy, but a pleasure—something you’ll look forward to doing.

*Give yourself ENOUGH time, but not ENDLESS time. If you’re having fun researching, as you should, you might find a point of diminishing returns. At some point we all have to stop researching and start writing.

*Start online, but zero in with books. Nothing beats the internet for gaining a broader understanding of a topic or era. But you’ll soon realize that if you want any depth and citation, you need to go to books. I buy as many as I can, but for most of us, trips to the library become an indispensable part of any major research project.

*Don’t be afraid to follow the rabbit down the hole. I think I’ve pretty well illustrated this point. If you’re writing about Goths and Romans in the 4th Century AD, don’t be afraid to spend a few months chasing Amazons across Ancient Greece and beyond. Or something along those lines.LOBO Research Notes

 Let Your Brain Assist Your Heart:

“I’ve noticed this effect: When writers undertake to write a story, the insights and information they need to write it well tend to arrive unasked for. Those things arrive at the right moments, perfectly timed gifts from the story god.

Or, is it rather that an author’s brain, working on a story, begins to grab available information and synthesize it, which is to say bend, blend and meld it to the purposes of the story?

Is it magic, serendipity or synthesis? Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s accidental. I think authors make it happen. It’s the brain assisting the heart.” ~Donald Maass

Don’s quote above is from a comment he made on a wonderful WU post this week. The post is largely about the mysterious and seemingly random serendipity of the power of the brain, by Maureen Seaberg, the co-author of Struck by Genius. And, as he often does, for me Don took the post to a whole new level.

The Dreamer, by Caspar David Friedrich (1835)I allotted a year to research when I began my manuscript in earnest. And I ended up with a pile of notebooks even larger than the one pictured above. But once I started writing, I rarely dug through that disorganized mess (perhaps in part because it was disorganized). The insights and information I needed tended to arrive as perfectly timed gifts from the story god. Or did my brain somehow know better than my conscious self which bits to grasp and gather, to then “bend, blend and meld to the purposes of the story”? Either way, I’m glad I somehow found my way to allowing my brain to assist my heart.

Moving forward, I’m hoping I can repeat the process, but I’m not too worried. I’ve already stumbled onto streams that have led my subconscious to begin the bending, blending and melding all over again.

Now it’s your turn. Is your research organized? Do your notebooks have color-coded tabs and an index? Do you trust that your brain will know better than your conscious self, and will assist your heart?


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