Thursday, January 30, 2014

Messy Story Ideas

[whispering] I always do introductions, so settle down, Lucy. Display some patience .... Jeez. 

Ahem. I first met Lucy Carol at Bookfest 2013. I had wandered over to the RWA table because I heard
they were giving away calendars with pretty pictures (see below). Lucy was standing demurely next to a stack of her books, Hot Scheming Mess. I caught sight of the bold cover (see right) and the title and hauled my butt to a halt. "LOVE your title," I said. And shortly after had a copy in my hand. Getting to know Lucy is about like reading her book -- you never know what's coming next ...

Susan: We have an eager guest today who writes hilarious madcap mysteries! With her crazy background in the performing arts she's probably chock-full of secrets to getting story ideas. Let's get right to it. Lucy, where do you get your story ideas?

Lucy: You did NOT just ask me that.

Susan: Well, actually, I did. I just did.

Lucy: You did NOT go there!

Susan: I'm there. Right now. You're here with me.

Lucy: You bitch.

Susan: Lucy! They're all here with us right now, reading you!

Lucy: What? Now? [sputter ...] Quick! Create a diversion!

Susan: Oh for God's sake. Come on. You promised.

Lucy: I'm sorting through my paperwork, I'll need a moment ...
Susan: Come on, just ...

Lucy: Here. Distract them with this picture while I search.

Susan: You should've been prepared before we ... Oh! H.e.l.l.o!

[stunned silence]

Lucy: Susan?

Susan: ...mmm ...

Lucy: I found it. I'm ready.

Susan: Hm? Oh. Oh good. Let me see it. [sound of rustling paper] What is this? A recipe for a dry martini? What's the matter with you?  

Lucy: You have your writing tools, I have mine.

Susan: You're not getting out of this.

Lucy: [sigh] I know. I'll try.

Susan: Why are you resisting this so much?

Lucy: Because there's no actual answer.

Susan: So ... where do you get your story ideas?

Lucy: Moment of truth. Ready?

Susan: I'm losing my patience.

Lucy: The truth is ... I DON'T KNOW. They bombard me. They come in the door as older ideas are leaving. I try to sort through them and figure out which ones are the keepers. I'm a distractible person with a short attention span. I'll be with a group of people, participating in a conversation like a normal grownup, and someone will say, "Lucy? Where did you go?" I come back to the present, embarrassed, and say something like, "I was just admiring that chair over there." Naturally, everyone turns to look at the stupid chair that has no interesting characteristics whatsoever. But the truth is, my mind was in a chase scene, ducking and dodging around corners, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guy, steal a kiss from the good guy, collect more clues, and save the kitten.

Susan: The uh ... the good guy you mentioned. Is that him in that picture by any chance?

Lucy: Him? Yeah, he's one of the two hot guys that chases Madison around in my first book, Hot Scheming Mess. His name is Xander Boyd, but his friends call him ExBoy.

Susan: [chewing on a pen]

Lucy: [snaps fingers in front of Susan] Hey. Can we get back to the discussion?

Susan: Hmm? Oh. I was just admiring that chair over there.

Lucy: So, anyway, it's not like getting an idea is the issue. It's more like taming it into something cohesive. That's the hard part for me. I can't be so in love with the idea that I forget to trim it down to something logical, believable, ripe for conflict. Oh and it has to bring out the urgency in the reader to want to see it all come together in a satisfying conclusion.

Susan: [sighs] ... satisfying conclusion ...

Lucy: [shaking head] You're impossible when you're like this. Let me make you a drink. [looking around]

Where's that recipe?


Lucy Carol's background is in the performing arts. She's been an actress, voiceover artist, professional dancer and done a stint doing singing telegrams -- which are every bit as crazy as you imagine, and provided plenty of material for her stories. Hot Scheming Mess is her debut, madcap mystery and Totally Running With Scissors, a short story, is due to be released any day.

Lucy's Motto: Hiding from the truth cuz I suspect its lying!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Inspiration -- Jane-style

Jane's pictureJane Isenberg was already a successful writer when I met her ... oh, several years ago, at my very first Sisters in Crime meeting. Her first book, a memoir titled Going by the Book, won the James N. Britton award. Her Bel Barrett Mystery Series was well-known and well-loved. She has degrees from Vassar College, Southern Connecticut State College and New York University. On top of that, she taught English for forty years. Was I intimidated? You bet. Should I have been? Not at all. Jane has a warm humor and a sincere kindness that she lavishes on those who know her. She's retired from teaching now and lives in Issaquah, Washington with her husband Phil Thompkins. She's still writing, and still winning awards, though. The Bones and The Book is her latest, and won the prestigious Willa Award in 2013.

Inspiration for Jane seems to me to have come from rising up and meeting challenges. Here's her story.


The Bones and the Book, a historical mystery set in Seattle's small Jewish community during the Gold Rush
and in 1965, was inspired by an idea I got 3,000 miles east of Seattle and a century and a century and a half later. In the mid-nineteen nineties I visited the Tenement Museum on Manhattan's Lower Eastside. The tour of the place where so many of our immigrant ancestors lived was fascinating and moving, but it wasn't until I hit the gift ship that inspiration struck. That's where I spotted a note card imprinted with a facsimile of the business card of a fortune teller named Dora Meltzer who had once lived in that very building. I assumed she was an Orthodox Jewish immigrant, and she intrigued me because fortune telling is prohibited by the rabbis. I figured she must have been very gutsy to disobey rabbinical strictures, and I've always had a soft spot for women who defy the rules men make for us. Standing there n line at the cash register with my credit card and that little note card in my hand, I figured this Dora Meltzer had a story and I wanted to know what it was. As I paid, it occurred to me that the only way I'd ever know her story was to make it up. That's when I decided that someday I'd write a book featuring an Orthodox immigrant girl who comes to New York's Lower Eastside at the turn of the Nineteenth Century and tells fortunes. Someday didn't come until I'd finished writing the last of my Bel Barrett Mystery Series in 2005.

By then, I'd moved from the east coast to Issaquah, Washington where, to my astonishment, for the first time in my life, I often found myself the only Jew in the room! Oy vey! This proved daunting, because my new
Jane, getting acquainted with the
neighbors were curious about Jews and asked me many questions. If I found being Jewish here challenging in 2005, what had it been like for those 
Jews who came a hundred and fifty years ago? I began to explore Washington State history and the history of Jews in Washington. I focused on Seattle where Jewish hisotry is exciting because of all the conflict within the small Jewish community itself. As a conflict-averse Jew, I was upset to learn that Seattle's Jews didn't always play nicely together, but as a mystery writer I was delighted! Without conflict people don't get murdered. Free to begin my mystery about the immigrant Jewish fortune teller, I decided to move her to Seattle where the action was. Besides, the story of Jews on the Lower Eastside has been told many times, while the story of Seattle's Jews had yet to be fictionalized. I'd be researching and writing what I didn't
Jane, hanging with the local
know, and that was a little scary, but also intriguing. My dicey decision was validated in 2013 when The Bones and the Book won a Will Award for Original Softcover Fiction from Women Writing in The West!


If you want to find out more about Jane Isenberg and her books, here's a Link To Her Website and Jane's Blog - Notes to My Muses (you'll love this, I promise!)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ideas from the Ooze, and Adjacent Locations

Author Kaye George is a powerhouse. I've known her for almost the entire span of my writing career and am continually amazed at her ability to not only produce a quantity of excellent work, but a broad spectrum as well. Her humorous Imogene Duckworthy mystery series is set in down-and-out Saltlick, Texas and will make you laugh outloud, her Cressa Carraway musical mystery series speaks to one of her great loves -- music. The People of the Wind series is about Neanderthals. The Fat Cat cozy mystery series will be coming out in 2014. 
A Patchwork of Stories is her collection of short stories, but you'll find her in several anthologies and magazines. Not only that, she reviews for "Suspense Magazine," writes for newsletter and blogs, gives workshops on short story writing and promotion. And she has time for her friends and family. When I figure out how she does it, I'm going to bottle it and make a million. 

So, here she is. Take notes -- and be sure to ask some questions!


Where do ideas come from?

Sometimes I know where my ideas came from and sometimes I don’t.

Well, they all come from inside my head, I know that.

I figure that everything a writer hears, sees, smells, touches, and tastes goes into what I call the primordial ooze in our brains and we’re not entirely responsible for what comes out.

I do know that my Imogene Duckworthy series arose from frustration. I was tired of getting rejection after rejection--hundreds of them--and decided to write something over the top to amuse myself.

Apparently I amused other people, too, because my readers are asked for a 4th book. I hope it gets done sometime this year or next! Since I was going for humor, I couldn’t think of a better place to set it than the one we had just moved from, a tiny town outside Wichita Falls. That city is named for a man-made water fall, since the original one (which was more of a steep rapids) washed away in a storm a long time ago.

Pretty funny to me!

My Neanderthal series, People of the Wind, arose from my life-long fascination with
Neanderthals and the fact that so many discoveries are being made about them recently. I get so excited about all this, I just had to write about it. I even had a DNA test and found that I’m 2.9 percent Neanderthal. And I have the t-shirt to prove it.

That was the hardest project I ever did, though. It involved tons of research (which, I admit, I loved) I had to decide whether they really could speak (that’s up for grabs), how their society was organized (also debated), whether the buried their dead (some think so, other don’t), and most importantly what kind of style could I use to convey that kind of world.

Tough, but fun! Can’t wait to get back to that world, 30,000 years ago, for a sequel.

This brings me to my Cressa Carraway Musical Mystery series. That was the source of much of the frustration mentioned above. I heard, over and over, to write what you know. I’m a musician so, in the first serious project I tackled, I wrote an amateur sleuth who is a musician.

Should be a cinch, right?

After those hundred of rejections, I realized this might not be so easy. Well, in the midst of them I figured that out. With the help of writing groups, writing courses, and an awesome publisher, Barking Rain Press, Eine Kleine Murder came into being. I’m so pleased it was so well received.

Still writing what I know, I used my mom’s cabin and the actual Illinois lake resort for the setting. I grew up swimming there as a child and love the place. Where all those weird characters came from is anybody’s guess, but no one like them lives there--good thing. They’re a bunch of weirdos.

As for my short stories, telling how they came into being would take a long, long time. From anywhere and everywhere. One thing I’ll never do is run out of ideas. I have folders full of them--so many ideas that I’ll never live long enough to write all of them. That good old primordial ooze.

Kaye at the site of some inspiration!

Visit Kaye at her blog Kaye George, There's links to her books. Here's another link to Kaye's Books -- this one to Amazon, where you'll find a complete list.