What Can’t You Write About? By Christine Duncan

I was on a crowd source work site, when I came across a work request for someone to edit a short story. Luckily the site was one where I could preview the work before accepting it, because it was not a job I could do.
That particular short story had a gruesomely graphic description of the death of a small child. And I simply could not do it.

I do not attach any particular morality to this. I can not write science fiction either, but I like it a lot. I think it’s always wise to know your limits.

There used to be rules, written or unwritten about what would not sell. The death of a child, it was widely held, was not something you wanted to write about if you wanted to sell. Animal abuse or death was also included in those rules. But now, those rules are long gone in some kind of search for reality.

But I am one of those people who use fiction to escape from reality.

One other reality it was hard to accept this week? The death of Leonard Nimoy. I don’t have anything to add to what millions have already written, but when I went to a meeting on local government this weekend and saw someone in a star trek shirt, I wanted to cry. People who I never thought were geeks felt that way this week. Some stories and some people cross genres. I love that.

Character Inside You

I read a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, one of the great crime writers of the 30s. An interview was quoted in it about how she created her characters. The interviewer wanted to know how someone like her could create murderers.

She said that she thought of an emotion she’d had, such as jealousy or anger. She would have that moment of being jealous, or angry, and then it would fade, and be replaced, or be reasoned away. But then she imagined, what if that emotion didn’t fade? What if the jealousy, and everything that went with it, grew and grew? And as that emotion grew, it blocked out reason and common sense. The jealousy would lead to anger, and thoughts of revenge, and then to the actual plotting of revenge, until you had a murderer.

We all understand feelings of anger and jealousy, and of love and happiness too. We, though, usually control those feelings. But it can be very easy to imagine what would happen if those feelings grew and grew and took us over completely. We may not go so far, but if we start from the same place as our characters, we can imagine our way into their extreme actions.

And working like this, it is also easier to imagine how a character we’ve created that we like, that is nice, or lovable can also be so consumed with an emotion they do something unthinkable.

I think what Dorothy L. Sayers was saying is that the potential for our characters actions is in all of us, but we restrain it. But with our characters we can intensify it, let it go and use it.

Personalize Your Promo? by Christine Duncan

I know that many authors are trying to think of different ways to promote. They join street teams, go on blogtours to other people’s blogs and write guest posts and do chats. Facebook, twitter and Pinterest have tons of authors and there is still Goodreads or websites like crimespace. It seems promotion is endless.
But I saw something simple this weekend that made me think. Colorado had a prediction of a big snowstorm with some cold. And Noodles & Company sent out emails to customers with a buy one get one promo for the storm. They knew people would need incentive to leave their warm houses and they provided it.
I liked that. It felt more personal. Now I know that Noodles & Company saw that weather report and predicted what it would do to their own bottom line, but it made me think. Why can’t I do that?
Romance writers often do promo on Valentine’s Day. But that doesn’t really say much. What if I figured out a way to do a sale on my book on one of these cold and stormy weekends that said to my readers, “Hey, I know you don’t want to go out. Stay in and read my book?” Or come the summer, “I have the perfect beach read for you. Here’s a sale on my book.”
Okay, it’s a thought. I haven’t quite figured out how I can get a sale at say, Bookbub at the spur of the moment and promote the way Noodles & Company did, but I’m thinking, ok?

Change of Scene

I had a particularly complicated murder to figure out (for a book, of course!). I had a vague idea of what it had to look like, and knew it had to be not immediately obviously a murder and yet had to be solvable, eventually. I sat at home, and thought, and got no-where.

So I took a book and went to a cafe and had a cup of tea, and sat there for three hours and read my book and bit by bit, it all came together in my head. How it was done. How it looked. How it could be solved. The neat trick. The ties to the suspects. All of it, and I came back and wrote it all up (only as notes at this stage, I haven’t started writing the book properly yet).

It wasn’t the book I was reading, or the cafe or the tea that prompted me. It was the change of scene. It was sitting there, concentrating on someone else’s words, looking out at a different scene. And as I read a little voice in my head piped up ‘what if….?’ and ‘perhaps it was…’.

I keep reading about writers, fictional (for some reason I’ve been reading a lot of books about murdered writers lately) and real that have to go somewhere to write. At first I could never understand this – surely a writer can write anywhere? But I think I am coming to understand – the change of scene is necessary not to write, but to think differently. A new place is needed for new thoughts.

I was reading posts on MurderMustAdvertise (check it out–it`s a Yahoogroups and it can be a big help to give new ideas on how to promote your book) when I came across a discussion on Twitter. One author said she could not trace a single book sale to Twitter, and she thinks people just tune out the relentless “buy my book” chatter that many authors do. Y(ou should have seen me nodding agreement to that one–my head was in danger of coming off. Twitter authors irritate the stuffing out of me.) She went on to say that she herself would never see a single tweet unless someone directly messaged her as that is the way she has set her preferences on Twitter. She never reads the thing, she just tweets.
I have this blog set to post on Twitter, and that made me think. You see, someone would have to email me for me to see it as my original Twitter account was linked to a very old email account and I can`t for the life of me remember the password. I don`t have access to the old email account anymore, so if they email me the password, I can`t read it. This would normally be okay in most other social media, they would ask you a couple of questions and send you a new password to your current email. On Twitter, they don`t do that. So this blog posts every week to a Twitter account I can’t access.
I got a new Twitter account and I think I have followed a lot of the people I was following before, but i can`t be sure. Meanwhile since I think Twitter only closes accounts that have no posts for a while the other account will probably go on and on until this blog closes up shop.
And I wonder how many people are tweeting and wondering why I`m not responding. But hey, at least I’m not tweeting “buy my book.”

Reading for School

I did English as an O-level and an A-level (old style exams in Britain) and a degree, and as a result, I had to read a lot of set texts. People have said to me that reading for exams destroyed reading for them. They disliked being forced to read a book, and they disliked being forced to deconstruct a book. They say children should not be forced to read books for exams. They say it destroys the pleasure in books.

Personally, I loved it. The books I read changed my life.

The first was Jane Eyre. My class had a choice between reading Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. We could take one home to read, and I took Jane Eyre. It was wonderful. I had never read a heroine like her before. I had never read a heroine so like myself. I had never read anything like Jane’s cry for equality from the top of Thornfield Hall. I had discovered Jane and the Brontes, and I was hooked.

My class went with Great Expectations (which I also enjoy, but didn’t quite change my life the same way).

The Shakespeare play we did was Macbeth. We read it out loud, and I understood the rhythms. I understood Shakespeare should be spoken, not read. I understood that Shakespeare did all the best movie moments before movies were invented.

The poem was Do Not Go Gentle Into The Good Night, by Dylan Thomas, about the death of his father. My father had died recently. The poem gave words to my inarticulate pain. I understood then that poetry could put feelings into words and rhythms.

During my degree I read To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Someone said that nothing happened, and I found myself saying it’s not a book about events, it’s a book about people. I hadn’t understood that a whole book could be just about people and the way they feel and think before. I hadn’t known prose could be so beautiful. It introduced me to Virginia Woolf, and the beauty of a phrase that lingers.

If I hadn’t been forced to read these for exams, I might never have discovered them, or discovered them a lot later in life. If I hadn’t discovered them during school or university, I wouldn’t have had teachers around to help me learn about these books, what they meant, what the background was, what the hidden meanings were, what I could read next.

My exams and my degrees didn’t destroy reading for me, they illuminated it.

Writing Organizations by Christine Duncan

I used to belong to several writer’s organizations.  I attended conferences too, and spent a great deal of money and time on these things. I don’t anymore.  And I can`t tell you exactly when that all changed.

I think I got help and information from conferences and from my writer’s groups.  But now, I feel I can get the same thing online for free.  I still love books about writing, still follow many of my writing friends on Facebook, but I no longer bother with the meetings, and the conferences.

So I’m wondering…Am I the only one?  If you still belong to a writer`s group, or still attend conferences,  can you articulate just what there is that you get from this that you don`t get online?  Maybe I’m missing out.