Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Name is Courtney and I am a...

Welcome to my new weekly Bookaholics Anonymous session. My name is Courtney. You get the drift...

It all started when I learned how to read. I was officially dubbed "bookworm" at the age of seven. It's only gotten worse since...especially considering two facts. One, I can now afford to buy books. Two, I am an English major and as such have a mandate to buy books. Sigh.

Lately the bookshelves in my room are overcrowded and slightly messy. I reorganize them and then end up buying more books. It seems to be a self-sabotaging impulse.

I know my attempts at blogging multiple times a week have been dismal in the past, but I am now attempting to establish a weekly random Bookaholics Anonymous post. We'll see how it goes.

So, to get this ball rolling, tell me: what is your favorite "classic" (aka pre 20th century) novel and why?

I'll start it off. My favorite classic novel is Donal Grant by George MacDonald. It is somewhat slow and rambly, like many classics, but it has a Gothic storyline and a Victorian aura that work well together. There are many other classics that I love, such as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens, but I think Donal Grant gets the grand prize this time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Holiday and Question Sets

If you're reading this, I'm currently on holiday (read, at another bluegrass festival, being mobbed by banjo players). In lieu of my usual post, I've decided to present to you an excellent chapter plotting technique. Okay, so I'll admit that I learned this during Literary Theory class--it's actually an excellent paper writing prep. Nevertheless, here's introducing the wonderful entity called the Question Set.

Basically, pick a topic (i.e., you chapter "topic") and force yourself to write a paragraph (100+ words) in question format. You'd be surprised at what ideas may come to you--and the cool part is, your ideas are open ended. You don't answer the question, only pose them.


What kind of injuries does Collette get in her auto accident? Are any life threatening? When will she be able to continue work on the case? In what capacity will she be able to work? If she is stuck in the hospital for awhile, how will I have her work on the case? Can a witness or evidence expert come to her? Will she be doing any deep thinking? Will she remember something important? What is Clacher doing while Collette is in the hospital? Has he followed up on the current main suspect? Will he stumble across anything else? Should the information he stumbles across be obviously connected or should the connection become apparent later? Do I have enough main suspects in my novel this far? Should I go back and insert one in chapter seven? Does Collette see a suspicious individual before Clacher stumbles across information implicating him? Will Collette stay in the hospital as long as she is supposed to?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oops, and other ramblings.

So, I missed a day--but it was an honest mistake! I was being held for ransom by a mob of crazed banjo players. Seriously. I'm not kidding. It was torture.

Well, actually, I was performing at a bluegrass festival with a mob of crazed banjo players (and bass players, fellow guitar players fiddle players, mandolin players, etc).

However, I have been hard at work over the past couple of days studying mystery writing techniques and market niches. What have I discovered? I have a brilliant idea for a short mystery story that I may write and submit to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Sorry, I can't go into detail here, it's classified.

I also realized that, despite the fact that my plot and story are not entirely original, my mystery cannot be classified in a single mystery subgenre. It's almost a hybrid--a mix between a P.I. and Amateur mystery with just a hint of cozy. We'll see how it goes...

Here are some links I've found helpful in my recent research extravaganza:



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Character Development

There's a lot of truth in music. Not only does music offer classic, universal advice ("You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run,") it also offers just plain good writing advice: "You gotta dig a little deeper if that girl [book, story]'s a keeper." Here are a few questions that will help you to dig a little deeper and get to know your characters:

Does this character have brothers or sisters?

How important are family relationships to your character?

What does your character do for a living? Is this job temporary or a career?

Is work important to your character?

Where does your character live?

How is your character's house/apartment/room decorated?

Does your character have a pet?

What are her important possessions?

What are his hobbies?

Why does he wash his socks on Sundays and underwear on Tuesdays?

Does she own a vehicle? What kind? Does she know anything about it?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

COFFEE: Certifiably Odd Fictitious Freewheeling Ensuing Emphatically

I'm beginning to wonder if a writer needs coffee like a hobo needs patched clothing and holey socks. Really. Is there even such a thing as a writer without coffee? Can a person get into the mindset, the persona, of 'writer' without a cup of caffeinated goodness?

I'm convinced the answer to the above questions is a resounding NO. At least, I am convinced of it at this moment: The smell of coffee just belongs with books. Coffee is delicious. Coffee gives me energy when I'd rather take a nap than finish the chapter I realized I had to add just last week. Yeah, I'll admit, I'm brewing it as I type.

In honor of coffee and all it has done for the public images of writers everywhere, I've decided to post an excerpt from my book, TO DIE FOR. Mmmm, coffee...

Collette pulled to a stop at one of the few stoplights in town and frowned. Flo was another person she hadn’t seen since her dad’s death. She groaned and considered slamming her head against the steering wheel then and there. Talk about burning bridges. If she could find Leah and get her to safety without stumbling across any more estranged friends she’d…well, she’d consider herself lucky.

The light turned green. Collette accelerated and shook her head, clearing the unwanted thoughts from her mind. She checked her rear-view mirror, noted Clacher’s unmarked car, and turned into a small corner parking lot under the flickering, faded sign that read The Coffee Creamer.

At least Flo was still in business. Collette’s few visits during the past ten years had revealed a painful truth: many of her favorite places had become vacant buildings during her absence. Unfortunately, a tiny population and the advent of online shopping had taken their tolls on local businesses.

She climbed out of her jeep and trudged into the building. Its scuffed black and white tiles and worn red countertops looked unchanged from her last visit. She slid into a booth in the back corner and kept an eye on the parking lot—Clacher pulled in a minute later.

“What can I get you, honey?” Flo towered above the table. Collette glanced up and smiled.

“Dark roast with raspberries,” she said. Flo scribbled on her pad and glanced down in astonishment.

“Only one girl I know would order that combo!” she slid her order book into the pocket of her apron and clapped Collette on the shoulder. “Long time no see! How are ya?”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Every writer's best friend: EGO

I just passed 18,000 words on my novel. My goal, which I just set spur-of-the moment, is to reach 32,500 words by the end of the month.


Because that is exactly half of the minimum word count I'm shooting for. And because it sounds big--which is important because my ego needs boosting. It's been under the weather. It needs the equivalent of a get-well card and roses. Or a vacation in a new, exciting place.

Now, it may sound like I'm rambling, but I have a point to make. Ego, my dear readers, is a writer's best friend. Unless said writer is doing edits. In that case, it's a writer's worst enemy. Let me try again:

Ego is a writer's best friend when a writer is writing his or her first draft.

Why, you ask?

Well, creative writing is a hard job. First, you have to believe that you have a brilliant idea. Second, you have to have the courage to actually write the darn book. That courage is hard to come by. Believe me.

When you are wavering on the cliff of egolessness and despair, convinced that your work is trite, cliche, formulaic, ego comes to the rescue. It steps in and rather pompously declares to your beleaguered writing brain that your work is amazing, the world/people/story you have created are intensely interesting, devastatingly funny, charming, brilliant, witty...you get the picture.

Of course, Ego tends to be an insanely fair-weather friend. Like it's infamous cousin, Muse, it runs off at the darnedest times. At those times, I refer to it as Egor. It makes me feel better. Although, it can get rather awkward calling, "Egor, come back!"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Edited prologue and part of Chapter One!


Leah Chaloupek shivered as the night breeze swept into her room through the open window, carrying with it the hard-driving rain that had been falling in torrents for over an hour. She tossed in her sleep and moaned as several drops of rain met her sweat soaked skin.

“Martin!” She gasped and lurched into a sitting position. Her hands trembled as she threw the quilt off of her body and crawled out of bed. She’d dreamed her cousin dead, surrounded by a pool of his own blood. The sight was an awful repetition of the all-too-real bodies she’d seen only hours before: her best friends, Reb and Scarlet, lying dead in their new suburban home.

Martin would be next. The thought sent her stomach tumbling. She rushed the last few steps into the bathroom, knelt beside the toilet, and vomited.
Why had Martin come to her? Why couldn’t he have gone to the police? She’d been powerless to stop the first two deaths, what made him think she could help this time?

Leah stood, shaking, afraid to leave the toilet—she knew she’d need it again.
Martin said he’d found a note—threatening his life. The same kind of note Reb and Scarlet had found exactly twenty-four hours before they died. He’d sobbed and asked for help. Maybe the police could stop this. Maybe they could save him.

She closed her eyes and sat on the edge of the bathtub.

Why couldn’t he have kept it to himself? She couldn’t stop it and neither could the police—she knew that without a doubt. It was too big, had been going on for way too long. Her friends, Scarlet, Reb, Martin, they were all just footnotes in a larger game. So was she.

She didn’t bother to explain it to Martin, though. She’d just hugged, comforted, lied. Anything to get him to leave.

She had enough to worry about. She’d found a note too.

Chapter One

Santa Fe, NM.

Collette Chaloupek rolled down the window of her four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee and stared across the street. The ice-cream shop on the corner called to her, taunting her with her knowledge of its ice-cold bounty.

“Yes, I know I need the vacation,” she said. She shifted the small black Motorola phone at her ear. Her sister-in-law’s voice took on a high pitch as she responded. “I know I promised!” Collette said. She sighed. “Shelley, I’ll be there! I just have a few things to take care of before I leave town.” She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and gazed at the ice-cream shop. Her niece’s high school graduation would be in two days and her sister-in-law would not rest easy until every out-of-town guest had arrived.

“I’m heading out first thing in the morning,” Collette said. She rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. Ten minutes until she had to be in her office to meet with a student. There was still time to run into the ice-cream shop and buy a cone—if Shelley would stop talking.

“Listen, Shel, I have to go,” she said. The voice on the other end of the line protested, sighed, and gave up. “Love you too,” Collette said. She snapped her phone shut, rolled up the window, and bolted through the door.

Chocolate chip? Café Olé? Maybe just some Vanilla…she let her mind wander in anticipation of the treat as she crossed the busy, two-lane street and headed into the Taos Cow. She decided on the Café Olé, minus the waffle cone she never ate, and headed back to her Jeep. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, alerting her that she’d received a text message. She tucked her wallet under her chin and switched her ice-cream to her other hand in an effort to fish the phone out of her right front pocket. It was a message from Shelley:

Two teens found dead in Ebbson, NM. Police say murder.

The words seemed too large for the small screen. Collette dropped her wallet and stared at the phone. Ebbson? That couldn’t be right. Who would be crazy, or motivated, enough to commit murder in a town with less than one-thousand residents? She shook her head and bent to retrieve her wallet, tucking the disturbing thoughts away as she slipped the wallet into her back pocket. She checked her watch and all but dove into the Jeep. One of her students would be waiting at her office within minutes, and she still had to get to the campus.