Tag Archives: writing

Predicting the Future

Many a book and film has predicted the future with varying levels of success. 1984 is the first title that comes to my mind, but there’s many, many more. And with the popularity of apocalyptic and dystopian stories, I kind of hope they DON’T get it right!

Occasionally someone does get pretty close to the bull’s eye. This time, it was, of all people, the marketing department at AT&T. Maybe you saw these ads back in the 90’s?
(Thank you to Peter Kafka at All Things D for highlighting this blast from the past.)

Do you see yourself in any of those commercials? I know I was stunned by how accurate they were. Unfortunately for AT&T, the one thing that was really off was the “Who’s going to bring it to you?” line. Okay, maybe the A was a little right (Apple, Amazon…?).

Technology is changing so fast, it’s hard to predict what will be around next month, let alone the next decade (see my post on that here). We now have 3D movies, phones that do everything, and cars that just about drive themselves. I’d love for the guys at AT&T to put out a new commercial showing us how we’ll be living in the 2020’s. Just so long as it doesn’t look like this:

Cosplay 5th Element

Image by flexgraph via Flickr

Meet an Author Monday

Check out what other authors are chatting about today. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, there’s a lot of great stories out there! Hosted today by Carol Oates.

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Photo Friday: Chipping Away

Wall of IceThis is the Marjerie Glacier, located in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. The face is about 250′ high (over 75m), and is constantly crumbling away as the river of ice pushes down from the ice field above. It’s breathtaking.

And intimidating. Like writing can be.

I’ve been working on the sequel to my first book, and some days, it feels like the screen in front of me is this advancing wall – and all I have is an ice pick. I know the story I want to write, but knowing it and getting it down are two different things. And the wall pushes toward me with other distractions. Email, Twitter, Facebook, and my blog all have legitimate claims on my time, but they also try and hijack it all. As soon as I chip away one, another pushes toward me with more.

It sounds depressing, but on the other hand, I have help. My critique partner may use a whip, rather than a jack hammer, but having someone to force me to focus on writing, and specific issues in my story is invaluable. Today I’m meeting up with another writer for a writing blitz – a no-talking, no-texting, no-internet get together to just write. Oh, did I mention no kids?

Margarita cocktail

Image via Wikipedia

So I continue to chip away. And if things go well today, the only ice I’ll face will be in a margarita!

Happy Friday!

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Combining Characters

Cover of "Water for Elephants: A Novel"

Cover of Water for Elephants: A Novel

I have a confession: As I work on the draft of my next book, I’m finding there’s just too many characters. I love them all, don’t get me wrong, but the last thing I want is a reader who has to make a set of crib notes to keep track of all the people who jump in and out of the story. Many in this cast are bit players – they come in, move the plot along, then exit, never to be seen again. So how do I thin down the cast?

One way is to combine similar characters into one persona. This happens a lot when books are converted to movies, and can be a very effective way of keeping the plot elements, and even character traits, but streamline the story. A very recent example of combining characters can be found in the screen adaptation of the book, Water for Elephants. I’ve seen the movie, read the book (loved it), and am now a even bigger fan of the movie. No, the movie is not identical, but it’s very true to the book. But two prominent characters in the book became one in the movie – in what I think was a stroke of genius.

Water for Elephants is primarily a story about a train circus in 1931. There’s danger, love, betrayal, and one fantastic elephant named Rosie. In the book, the main character, Jacob, jumps a circus train and becomes their vet, and eventually their elephant handler. The circus is run by two powerful and evil men, August and Uncle Al. Jacob falls for August’s wife, Marlena, but you’ll have to either read the book or see the movie to hear that part of the story.  It’s August and Uncle Al I want to talk about.

In the book, Uncle Al owns the circus and has a habit of throwing men off his moving train who cross him or are unproductive. His solitary motivation is the dollar. His role is important, but he’s a relatively minor character. August, on the other, is key to the story, the violent, schizophrenic equestrian director. One second he’s kind, the next vicious. Jacob encounters both throughout the book, but it’s August’s wife Jacob falls for.

Now, to the movie. In the movie, there is no Uncle Al (or I didn’t notice him, if he was there). August is both the psychopath and the owner – which blends into a character even more frightening than the two in the book. Is it the same? No. But it is extremely effective, and wow does it convey how dangerous a world Jacob has entered.

So back to my conundrum. Seeing how well the combining was done in Water for Elephants gives me hope that I can thin down my cast a little but keep all the key elements I need in the story. In some cases, it doesn’t matter quite so much who threatens the protagonist, just that they are threatened. I hope to take this to heart, and tighten up my story a bit more.

Readers: If you’ve seen the movie, what do you think? Do you agree that the movie August is as good as the August/Uncle Al in the book? Or did combining those characters compromise the story?

Writers: Have you had to combine characters before? How difficult was it? Were you happy with the results?

Click here to read the interview

Around the Internet: Bookish

The wonderful Evie at Bookish interviewed me over the weekend. She’s also giving away an e-copy of Whirlwind, so be sure and check it out. Thank you, Evie, you’re a sweetheart!

Share the Wealth Giveaway

Can you believe May is almost over? Let me know what you think about this or any of my posts in May and you’re entered to win. Click below for details.

Meet an Author Monday

Check out what other authors are chatting about today. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, there’s a lot of great stories out there!

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Committing a Criminal Act: Forensics 101

I highly recommend this for anyone including crime in their writing

When I sat down to listen to D.P. Lyle lecture for two hours on forensics for writers, I made sure I was on the aisle so I could duck out if I started to nod off. Now, I love science and have watched a ton of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, so I wasn’t sure I’d get too much out of the workshop. But Lyle is an entertaining speaker with his hint of Southern drawl and quick wit, and his interpretation of the science of forensics is definitely what I needed as a writer. Here’s just a few things I picked up.

Gil Grissom isn’t waiting in the wings

The lecture started out with one fact overlooked by many authors: there isn’t a high-tech crime lab in every city. Yeah, I know, DUH. But stop and think a second. That means that if I wanted a character to get a DNA profile on blood found at a scene in a tiny little town, they’d have to send it out to a larger lab, probably the FBI. When would they get the results back? MONTHS later. Is this a good thing? Depends on your story line – but as a writer, knowing what’s real and what’s not is priceless.

Forensic scientists don’t interview witnesses or carry guns in the real world, they analyze evidence. I’d guess most do wear lab coats, though.

Coroner vs. Medical Examiner

Did you know that anyone can be a coroner? No medical experience or forensics knowledge is required for a position with the title coroner. The person must only be appointable or electable! Remember that blood drop in the tiny town? If they only had a coroner, the guy might be a garbage man who just happened to be around when the mayor needed to appoint someone. Wow – does that open some doors plot-wise. Maybe it closes a few, too.

A Medical Examiner (ME) is another story. As suggested by the title, some medical experience is required, and quite possibly some training in forensic science. When faced with the blood drop, I’m guessing he’d have a few more ideas about what it means and what to do with it than the local trash man.

As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but I’d never considered the difference before.

Time of Death

Something I took for granted was estimating the time of death. Things like rigor mortis, lividity, body temperature – those are all indicators that make it easy to pin down the time of death, right? Um, sort of. Temperature, whether the body was moved, humidity, weather…those are just a few of the variables that affect how long it takes for rigor or lividity to set in. In short, unless there’s some other definitive evidence is found (like an eyewitness or in the case of my book, Whirlwind, the pre-programmed sprinklers coming on), a window of a few hours for the time of death is pretty darn good. For a body found in the woods days or weeks after death, the estimate may be just that: a range of days or weeks.

Two tenets of evidence became very clear, very early in the workshop. First was Locard’s Exchange Principle. Basically, when two objects come into contact, there will be an exchange of matter, each leaving a trace of themselves on the other. This applies to objects, animals, and people. Everything leaves a trace.

Second is the idea that evidence, by and large, excludes, rather than incriminates. If our friend the blood drop turns out to be type A, then everyone who is not type A is excluded. The DNA profile will exclude everyone who doesn’t match – but if your suspect has an identical twin, then there will be at least two people with that DNA. (Fun fact: did you know that even though identical twins have indistinguishable DNA, they don’t have the same fingerprints?)

This is just a little snippet of the information covered in this workshop. Lyle discussed everything from DNA to poison to gunshots to search warrants to search patterns to fibers. I stayed for the full two hours, and when it was over, went directly to the bookstore and purchase D.P. Lyle’s book, Howdunit Forensics. More comprehensive than his more recognizable title, Forensics for Dummies, Howdunit Forensics will sit next to my Chicago Manual of Style as one of my favorite reference books.

Meet an Author Monday

Be sure and check out Meet an Author Monday, hosted on the lovely Lisa Sanchez’s blog. Just click on the photo below to check out what other authors are blogging about. Are you an author? Join the hop with us and meet new readers!

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March Madness

Writing

Image via Wikipedia

Can you believe it’s March already? Okay, not till tomorrow, but wow, has the year been flying by! I keep waiting for things to calm down around me, but they never seem to. Which brings me to today’s title.

March Madness for me has nothing to do with basketball, but everything to do with writing. The last year was devoted to publishing and marketing, and writing took a back seat. NO MORE! My madness revolves around my goal of getting the first draft of my next book completed, and thanks to my dear critique partner, I’m being held accountable to that deadline.

So if you don’t see me around as much, don’t despair – it means good things are happening!

Win a Copy of Whirlwind in March

Are you as tired of winter as I am?  How about a little spice and romance to welcome spring?  I’m giving away FOUR copies of Whirlwind in March on Goodreads and LibraryThing (yup, I’m on LibraryThing now!).  Sign up now and you could get your copy of Whirlwind for FREE!

First up:  Goodreads.  Two copies are up for grabs during the first half of March. Winners will be selected on March 14th.  You must be a Goodreads member (FREE) to enter.

Meet an Author Monday

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