RESEARCH: ON-SITE LOCALES

When you research an area in person for your story, observe your surroundings with the Writer’s Eye. What does this mean? Use the five senses in recording your observations. Back up your notes with photos and recordings if you wish. But later, when you have plenty of reference materials, you might forget just how hot it was outside or what sounds    you heard unless you’ve jotted it down. So what are you looking for in your on-site research?                                      

SIGHT means more than just seeing with your eyes. It means looking at things with a critical view. Examine the buildings along your route. What color are they? Is the paint fresh or peeling? What are the construction materials? How well is the roof maintained? What do the windows remind you of? Think in terms of analogies. Are they yawning windows like open mouths? Or blank like vacant eyes?

How does this object make you feel? Layering your observations with attitude or emotion contributes to the experience. Describe the front door. Is there a doorbell or knocker, and how does it characterize the occupant if it’s a house? Examine the lawn. Does the grass need a trim? Are weeds taking over? Note elements like overhead electric wires, stray cats, tilted street signs, cracked sidewalks. These details make the setting come alive in your mind after you go home.

Be observant of nature: plants, animals, weather.  Inside a place, note the furniture, art work, knickknacks, room layout, decorating accessories. Look for new ways to describe things, such as objects possessing reflective nature like water, glistening like a cobweb in sunlight, moist with dew, glossy like a polished piano, and so on. You’re not only writing down what you see, but also its characteristics.

What SMELLS do you notice: Stale cigarette smoke? Floral perfume? Barrel-aged Cabernet? Beer and pretzels? Pine wood smoke? Vanilla and nutmeg? Heated asphalt, or rain-tinged ozone? Newly cut grass, or fresh paint? Tar or diesel fumes? What emotional reaction do these scents evoke in you? You can use these smells to convey mood in a story. A honeyed scent will make the reader feel differently than the odor of burnt toast.

SOUNDS:  Close your eyes and listen to what you hear. Birds singing (melodious, raucous, or warbling?), ducks quacking, pounding construction, car engines, airplanes zooming overhead, trickling water, rustling branches, droning air-conditioners, loud grass blowers. See how many different sounds you can distinguish. Are these pleasant or unpleasant to you?

While your eyes are closed, consider your sense of TOUCH.  How does the air contact your skin? Is it warm or cool? Does a breeze lift the hairs on your arm? Ruffle your skirt against your legs? Does the sun beat upon your back and raise perspiration on your brow? Do you feel an insect crawling over your ankle? When you are walking, do you feel the uneven pavement underfoot? Do you trip over an unseen rock? Or is the ground wet sand with a spongy surface? Now consider objects that you encounter. Are they rough or smooth? Silken or thorny? Describe the texture along with the temperature, and if the sensation is welcome or not.

TASTE  is often related to your nose. If you smell sea air, you may taste salt on your tongue. If you smell ripe grapes, you may taste wine. We’re not talking about describing only what you eat. That’s too easy, although you can note the temperature and texture in that regard. This is where you try to detect a taste where there may be none obvious. It’s just another way bringing the scene alive for you when you’re back home.

When you meet people along the way, note their physical appearance, mode of dress, dialect, gestures, gait, and accessories. Take photos so you can remember details later. Ditto for street scenes. A picture can be worth a thousand words as long as you record the sensory details.                                               

Collect useful resources as you go, such as maps, tourist brochures, history books, guides to the flora and fauna, menus, and postcards.

Virtual tours online can get anywhere these days, but they will not convey the five senses that you need to bring your scene alive. Steep yourself in the sensory details, and readers will exclaim how real the place feels when they read your story.

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FRW CRUISE CONFERENCE

FLORIDA ROMANCE WRITERS FUN IN THE SUN CONFERENCE ABOARD A CARNIVAL CRUISE SHIP!  

The Florida Romance Writers are proud to present              

Independence of the Seas
Independence of the Seas

Heather Graham, Joan Johnston and Sally Schoeneweiss
as the keynote speakers for the 2011 Fun in the Sun Conference.

Join us and Cruise with your Muse January 20th-24th, 2011
on-board the Carnival Destiny
Departs from Miami, Fl.
Ports-of-Call: Key West, Fl. & Cozumel, Mexico

Confirmed Agents and Editors are:
Wanda Ottewell- Harlequin,
Erica Tsang- Avon,
Lucienne Diver- The Knight Agency, and
Lucy Childs- Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency.

Current pricing valid thru June 15th, 2010, register today!               

Other Highlights include:
A sampling of events and workshops is available on our website at:
http://frwfuninthesunworkshops.blogspot.com/
* Sizzling Workshops
* Floridian Idol, Season 4
* Shipboard Entertainment
* Panoramic Ocean Views

Conference with FRW on our 25th Anniversary!
We promise to make it an amazing experience!

Space is limited, so don’t delay. Reserve your spot and get those passports ready.

For more information visit our website at http://frwfuninthesunmain.blogspot.com/

Passport is required!

You can also find us on Facebook @ FRW Cruise With Your Muse
http://www.facebook .com/group. php?gid=33410248 0558#!/group.php? v=wall&gid= 334102480558

We look forward to seeing you in January,
Kimberly Burke
Conference Coordinator
Email: FRWfuninthesun@yahoo.com

BRITTANY MURPHY

As a mystery writer, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Well, here’s one for you: how about the local newspaper? Consider this story: Celebrity actress found dead at home; no signs of foul play; pneumonia following flu-like symptoms suspected as cause of death. Within months, husband dies from possible heart attack. Strange coincidence or not?

My mystery mind goes into high gear. If I were writing this story, how would it play out? Naturally, the celebrity (and it doesn’t have to be a movie actress. It can be anybody like a famous chef or athlete or stage star) leaves a substantial estate. If someone knocks the husband out of the way, who stands to inherit? I’m not familiar with all the hangers-on of the rich and famous, so I’ll have to make up my own list of fictional suspects. Disclaimer: This is totally fiction and made up from my own devious creative mind:

The Crooked Manager, who wants to cover up that he’s been pilfering from the celebrity’s funds.

The Greedy Relative, who inherits the estate because the celebrity couple is childless.

The Jealous Best Friend, who discovered the celebrity was having an affair with her husband.

The Financial Advisor, who’s in cahoots with the manager, and who needs money to feed his gambling habit or to pay for his insurmountable medical bills for the illness he’s been hiding.

The Makeup Artist, whom no one would suspect but who was always around the couple. She hates the celebrity and is getting revenge for a past wrong.

You get the idea? Who would you add to the list and why?

We have the Motives. Now we need Means and Opportunity. How would someone kill these two to make it look like natural deaths? Poison comes to mind. It would have to be something not detectable in toxicology texts, perhaps a substance that dissipates in the body. It cannot be injected so has to be absorbed either through ingestion or the skin or even eyedrops.

I like this! If my new mystery series gets picked up, you’re looking at book number four.

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SETTING THE SCENE

Have you ever written your characters into a hole? I did this recently and had to pause in my writing schedule to figure out a way to salvage the situation. Jennifer and Paz, the only passengers on a private jet in my story, are     attacked midair by the villains who set off an electromagnetic pulse grenade. The blast disables the plane’s electronics and the aircraft plummets toward Earth. The pilots have been shot, and Paz is supposed to save the day.  

Since he has knowledge of advanced technology, I figured he’d use Jen’s diamond earrings for their inherent crystal properties and power the airplane.

Problem #1: When I researched diamonds, I read they can conduct electricity but they do not produce it (correct me if I’m wrong here). If anything, it might be quartz that has more undiscovered properties.         

Problem #2: Even if he finds a power source, isn’t the wiring on the aircraft fried from the EM pulse? (Research topic: non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons)

Problem #3: In the opening chapter, he shows up naked. O-kay, you’ll have to read the story to learn the particulars, but this means he has no futuristic gizmos on his person to help him out.

Solution #1: Allow him to keep his personal comm unit that looks like a wrist watch in chapter one even if his clothes have been ripped off by….sorry, spoiler alert.  That info is classified for now.  Anyway, he uses the comm unit as a power source and the diamonds as a wireless transmitter to power the engines.

Problem #4: Hero successfully lands aircraft. (Research source: Star Trek: The Starfleet Survival Guide). But where do they land? (Research topic: The Pacific Ring of Fire and the Izu Islands)

Problem #5: The villain has a fortress complex on this island. Is it Mediterranean in style? That’s illogical since we’re in Asian territory. Have the villains brought in native materials from their homeland and built it from scratch? Or maybe they took over an estate from a previous occupant.

I recall a couple of James Bond films with confrontations on islands. (Research James Bond). These are The Man with the Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice. Or maybe the estate should be Japanese since our heroes originated their journey in Tokyo. (Research topic: Asian castle fortress estates). I discover Himeji Castle. (Research: Construction, Maps, Interiors).  Very cool place.            

Yes! I can land my people, describe the island, get them inside the villain’s lair. Next up: They hitch a ride on a Chinese junk to escape the island. Uh oh, more research required. And although I can now have my hero land the airplane, I’d better look up what the basic controls on a private jet are called. A visit to http://science.howstuffworks.com/ is on order plus a look at the reference books on my office shelves.

As you have gathered by now, I research as I go along. I just do enough to be able to formulate my synopsis but the details wait for the scene itself. Then I have to stop, study the materials I’ve collected, visualize the setting, and write.

Oh, and this is for a paranormal romance, so don’t ever say we fiction writers make everything up. I just might have to challenge you to a duel.

So please tell us, what do YOU do when you’ve written your characters into a hole?

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Florida Library Association

I was happy to participate in a panel discussion at the Florida Library Association Convention in Orlando recently. The evening before, local MWA members met for dinner at Hot Olives in Winter Park. Located on New England Avenue, this trendy restaurant sat us outside on their shady patio amid bamboo, lit torches, and tropical trees. I tried their famous chopped olive appetizer and ordered pecan crusted salmon while chatting with fellow MWAers. We all had a great time in a relaxed atmosphere.  

Grace Kone & Nancy Cohen
Ann Meier & Sharon Potts
MWA1
Neil Plakcy, James Born, Julie Compton
Neil Plakcy & Bob Morris
Dean Murphy, Joan Bond, Gerry Wolfson-Grande, Frances Palmingiano
Linda Hengerer & Olive Pollak

Early the following morning, six of us appeared at an MWA sponsored breakfast at the FLA convention. Over 150 librarians ate the sit-down meal while we introduced ourselves and answered questions from the guests. James Born, Neil Plakcy, Julie Compton, Deborah Sharp, Sharon Potts, and Moi then spoke on a panel about Florida mysteries and why we like living and writing about this vast state. We all agreed Florida has such a diverse population, ecology, and climate, not to mention kooky characters, that it’s the perfect setting for our stories.               

Julie Compton, Neil Plakcy, Nancy Cohen, Sharon Potts, James Born, Deborah Sharp
                 
                                                                 
Sharon Potts & Nancy Cohen with Librarian Judy Buckland

 

BOOKSIGNING CHECKLIST

What should writers bring when going to a booksigning?  Here’s a checklist:

Autographed by Author stickers   (optional; not all readers want a sticker on their precious signed book)

Book cover of upcoming release

Bookmarks

Book to donate  (optional; for library donation or for a door prize if you’re a guest speaker at a community event)

Box of Books (for when you sell your own; otherwise keep in car trunk in case bookseller doesn’t come through)

Bottle of Water

Business Cards

Calculator

Camera  (if you want to put pix of your event on website)

Cash

Flyers/Brochures/Postcards

Mailing List Sign-up Sheet

“Meet the Author” Poster 

Notices of upcoming appearances at other local events

Sharpie ultra fine point black ink permanent markers

Wheels  (to carry boxes of books when you bring your own; look in luggage store for folding wheels)

What else would you add?

REFILLING THE CREATIVE WELL

Every now and then, the muse needs to take a rest. Over the holidays is as good a time as any, especially with the frenzy of out-of-town visitors, parties, and gift exchanges. Rather than figuring what your characters are going to do next, think about what shows to attend, which exhibits to check out, and what friends to call. Come January, it’ll be time to get down to business again, but for the next few weeks, try to relax and have fun. New experiences will add to the creative well so that when 2010 rolls around, you’ll be ready to sit down at the computer for some intense work. Periodically it pays to step back, enjoy life, and push aside the worry about what to write next. In other words, try not to feel guilty that you’re away from the office. Sometimes ideas have to stew in the subconscious before they’re ready to bubble forth, and too much concentration can cloud the mixture. It’s also a good time for reorganizing your office, reviewing your new idea files, and catching up on writing-related articles. So relax and savor the season. It’s only once a year.

A WRITER’S THANKS

What does a writer have to be thankful for in these days of shrinking lists, cut print runs, lower advances, and fewer markets? If we stop to think about it, I’m sure we can come up with several items. So here’s my list. I am grateful for:

  • My fans, first and foremost. I write stories to please you, to sweep you into my worlds, to offer you an escape from daily toil. Your feedback gives me the encouragement to keep writing despite the highs and lows of the publishing business. Your feedback shows me what you respond to in my writing and my blogs. Your feedback lifts my spirits.
  • My writing talent. I am grateful that I have been gifted with storytelling ability, that I can lose myself in imaginary worlds, and envision scenes in my head with people I’ve created. The drive to write cannot be taught. Writing craft can be learned, but the urge that makes a writer pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard comes from the heart.
  • A love of reading fiction. I can look at printed words on the page and soar into the zone where a story unfolds. It’s such a glorious feeling that I feel bad for people who read non-fiction and don’t understand what they’re missing. Not everyone has this ability. Consider it a gift, too.
  • The publishers who have accepted my work so that I could share my stories with you. So thanks to Dorchester, Kensington, and The Wild Rose Press. SILVER SERENADE will be my fifteenth published book.
  • My husband whose support has allowed me to pursue this career. He helps with the errands, often with the cooking, and this frees my time to write. He drives me to signings and other events. He listens to me whine. I realize not all spouses are this supportive or generous, and I am grateful for our 33 years together.
  • My kids who give out my bookmarks to their co-workers.

What are you, my fellow writers, grateful for today?