Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting a Clue: How Suspense is Built into Books and Films--A Guest Post from author Vivian Rhodes

Today's Back Deck Blog post is by Vivian Rhodes, mystery novelist and award-winning television writer. Vivian will tell us about how suspense is built into a story and also about her latest book, "If You Should Read This, Mother". 

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I love good suspense, whether in the form of a book, a play, or a film.  Some of my favorite authors over the years have been those who have mastered the art of keeping me in suspense: Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Gillian Flynn, and of course the Mistress of Mystery, Agatha Christie. In fact, uppermost in my mind when I wrote my latest thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother, was how to balance telling a good story while keeping readers in suspense.

As far as films go, keeping the viewer in suspense entails a bit more and no one did it better than Alfred Hitchcock.  Unfortunately, not every director was as capable as Hitchcock, and often viewers could see things coming way before they were meant to.  Of course, many viewers actually enjoy the ride and figuring out the ending early on.

Do you love watching a suspense film and knowing what’s ‘around the corner’?  Many  movies, especially the vintage ones, offer the viewer plenty of clues as to what lies ahead. The obvious cliché, of course, is the young woman in the horror film who, alone in the house, decides to go down to the basement in order to ‘investigate a noise’. 

Ten giveaways that portend what is going to happen by the end of the movie:

1.   If someone is lying on his deathbed cheerfully relaying what his plans are for the immediate future, odds are there is no future in store, immediate or otherwise.

2.   If a questionable character poses the question, ‘Do you have any close family or friends, anyone who would miss you if, say, you disappeared?’ it would be best for our hero or heroine to proceed with caution.

3.   If we are only witness to a gloved hand committing a murder, the murderer is most likely a woman. (It also stands to reason that if a serial killer is not committing sex crimes, there’s a good chance that, here too, the killer is a woman.)

4.   In a mystery where someone has done something very, very evil, a look at the credits will often suggest who the heavy is even before the film has begun. (ie. Don Porter in older films and perhaps Christopher Walken in newer ones).

5.   A former bad guy who turns good and fingers his cronies will still have to die, but will die a ‘noble death’ (ie. saving the life of the heroine).

6.   If a woman lets go of her toddler’s hand for any reason (ie. to pay a cashier or to powder her nose) said toddler will inevitably wander into traffic with dire consequences.

7.   It is rarely the guy on the lower end of the food chain who is morally responsible for a crime committed. Usually the heavy is a man of influence (editor of a newspaper, politician, or corporate heavy).

8.   If a woman marries a man about whose background she knows very little, she will probably live to regret it. (This is particularly the case in films made prior to Google).

9.   If a beloved pet is introduced at the beginning of a murder mystery there is, unfortunately, a good chance that said pet will not be alive by the end of the film.

10. If a woman laughs at a furious man and he warns her to stop laughing at him, it’s a safe bet that the man, often a psychopath, will put an end to the laughing by either strangling or stabbing her to death.

            And of course, if a film ends in an intentionally ambiguous way, we can assume that the producers are thinking ‘sequel’.
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Blurb for "If You Should Read This, Mother", by Vivian Rhodes


Megan Daniels was only three years old the day President John F.  Kennedy was assassinated, but flashes of that day begin to trigger other disturbing memories that have lain dormant within her.  At first they are merely snippets, but as they begin to appear more frequently Megan has difficulty separating what is real from what is imagined. In her attempt to learn more, she sets out to find her biological mother, but keeps hitting brick walls. No adoption papers exist, and all she has to go on is her possible birthday: November 22. In the small town of Meredith, CA, Megan’s search takes on a dire, domino effect—one woman has already been murdered as a result of her inquiries. As she digs for the truth, Megan eventually unravels a sinister plot that began decades earlier, but in doing so she places her own life in jeopardy.





 Vivian Rhodes, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication, is a published mystery novelist and two time Emmy-nominated television writer, having written for daytime serials such as General Hospital and As the World Turns. Her Lifetime movie, Stolen from the Womb airs frequently, most recently in May 2016. Her suspense thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother is available at www.Blackopalbooks.com , and Amazon, and can be ordered through local bookstores as well. Her novel, Groomed for Murder is now available as an e-book on Amazon, Ms. Rhodes lives in Los Angeles, where she is an adjunct instructor at Cal Lutheran University. She is presently completing work on her next novel, Girl Obsessed, and writes about all things nostalgic- from film noir to vintage toys- on her blog, Rhodes Less Traveled. (VivianRhodes.blogspot.com)

Amazon links: https://www.amazon.com/You-Sould-Read-This-Mother/dp/1626946957/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497895444&sr=1-2&keywords=Rhodes%2C+Vivian

Monday, June 12, 2017

What Matters Most: The Readers

Time and again, I have discovered that the biggest reward of being an author has little to do with money.

Yesterday, I was once again in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Treasure House Books and Gifts, a small, independent bookstore that specializes in books about New Mexico and the Southwest. As always, the bookstore owners, Jim and John Hoffsis, were gracious and genuinely glad to see me. Not because I'm a huge draw and my book sales make enough for them to close shop early and take lavish vacations, but because I really enjoy visiting their shop and talking to their customers.

This time, I met readers from Oregon and Florida, newcomers to New Mexico and mystery readers. I was thrilled and touched that they chose, out of all the books in the shop, my first novel, "End of the Road", to introduce them to my beloved home state and the characters that are uniquely New Mexican. Of course, it wasn't purely choice that led them to my books; they practically tripped over me and my proffered cookie plate (I've said many times that authors WILL stoop to bribes, including gingersnaps, to entice readers!) But I did my best to present myself and my books in the best possible light. One woman, an English teacher from Carlsbad, listened to me talk about my books and she said, "You must really love what you do."

Did she mean the writing of the book? Or the selling? It's all about the creative process--creating characters and stories that connect with readers. Naturally, not every person on the planet will be enamored of my books, but that's okay. My Black Horse Campground readers ARE my world and they make it a fun place!

A few weeks ago, my husband surprised me with a party on the back deck of The Cellar Uncorked, one of Noisy Water Winery's tasting rooms (where I work part time), inviting, not only my friends and family, but a favorite local entertainer. After his show, he joined us at our table where we shared wonderful wine and conversation. Somehow, the talk turned to my books and a lively debate broke out among my family and friends--Team Rick vs. Team J.D.! It was a delight to hear these people--people who genuinely love and care about me--talk about something that means so much to me with such enthusiasm. They even voiced my rarely-spoken dream of someday seeing my books on film, either TV or movie. Someone mentioned audio book versions and Chris, the entertainer, offered to voice J.D. for the project!

No amount of money could equate what I felt on that afternoon or what I felt yesterday afternoon or what I feel every time I sign a book for a reader. It's far more humbling and satisfying and I am blessed to have the opportunity to experience that. I may never retire on my author earnings, but the memories will last me a lifetime. That's a far greater treasure.


Meeting a new reader at a previous book signing at Treasure House... it never gets old!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Move Over Toto: More Pets Belong in Fiction--A guest post by J.L. Greger

I hope you all are enjoying a relaxing Memorial Day, but I'm slinging vino at a wine fest and fellow Oak Tree Press author, J. L. (Janet) Greger, author of the Sara Almquist mysteries, is guest posting about pets in ficton!

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According to poll of social media users, almost two-thirds of pet owners claim they post two comments or photos of their pets on social media weekly. Half of these pet owners claim photos and notes on pets draw more responses than their other posts.

Are these bits of trivia relevant to fiction writers?
I think there are several reasons for including animals in fiction.

  • Animals increase the appeal of fiction to wider audiences. Cuddly pets are a staple of children’s books cozy mysteries. However, animals are legitimate secondary characters in serious adult fiction. Think of Cat in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Argos in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Probably, the most famous fictional dog is Toto in the Wizard of Oz. A Cairn Terrier, originally named Terry, played the role in the 1939 movie, Wizard of Oz He was so popular that Willard Carroll published his biography (I, Toto: The Autobiography of Terry, the Dog who was Toto) in 2001.

  • Pets can advance the plot. In my latest thriller, Riddled with Clues, Sara Almquist is able to help solve riddles left by a homeless veteran and hence solve murders in Albuquerque because she and her pet therapy dog, Bug, are volunteers at the VA hospital and clinics. They know a few of the intricacies of the VA campus of more seventy buildings and are known by staff and patients. Bug in my novels is based on my real life Japanese Chin pet therapy dog. Just look at him. I guarantee patients and staff notice him more than me.

Come to think of it, the sheriff and his posse in Westerns couldn’t chase and capture the bad guys without their horses.

  • Authors can often show a different side of human characters by allowing characters to interact with their pets. For example, my world-traveling scientist and heroine, Sara Almquist, is a no-nonsense woman, except when it comes to Bug. Her cute, bundle of fur brings out her softer side. Asta, the wire-haired terrier, makes the rather stiff William Powell more likeable in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

  • Pets are fun to write about. I enjoy including Bug, my Japanese Chin, in my thriller series (Coming Flu, Ignore the Pain, Malignancy, and I Saw You in Beirut, Riddled with Clues). Besides being beautiful, he’s smart. (Don’t I sound like the typical pet owner in the survey?) Similarly, Amy Bennett enjoys writing about an ancient Black Lab named Renfro in her Black Horse Campground Mysteries.

Maybe, you should include a dog or cat in your next writing project. Or be creative and give your human character a more unusual alter ego, like a fish or a raccoon.

 
Blurb for Riddled with Clues: A hospitalized friend gives Sara Almquist a note, which he received just before he was severely injured while investigating the movement of drugs into the U.S. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. The friend is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the secret war in Laos fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust besides Bug: the local cops, FBI agents, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues all across the VA Campus in Albuquerque. 
Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237



Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include "sound bites" on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Gift of Experiences

Having just celebrated my 50th birthday, I resisted the urge to write just another blog post about the passage of time and the changes one experiences as they get older and blah, blah, blah. What I actually want to talk about is gifts.

When a person celebrates a birthday or anniversary, the automatic reaction of their friends and family is to find a perfect gift, especially if it happens to be a milestone event (like turning 50!) However, as the years have passed, the attraction and need for material gifts has faded for me. Not to say I'm not pleased with receiving a material gift, but a lot depends on what it is and what it means.

There are few "things" that I really need and if I do need--or want--something, I'll usually get it for myself. I'm at the point in my life that I don't need or want material expressions of affection or just token gifts. I'm looking at de-cluttering my home and life and nothing makes that harder than to be faced with the situation where most of the clutter is from gifts that people gave you because they care about you. It's not that one doesn't appreciate them, but one does feel a bit guilty when having to get rid of them because they are taking over the living spaces, creating more work (such as dusting) when one is already strapped for time, and stashing them away makes no sense since one gets no enjoyment from a gift in storage.

One thing I've come to learn is that, as I get older, and house space gets smaller is that space for memories gets bigger. The kind of gifts I enjoy are experiences. This was brought home to me this past weekend. I wanted nothing more than to spend an afternoon on the back deck of The Cellar Uncorked, a wine bar/tasting room where I work part time, and enjoy some glasses of wine and food with close friends and family. This is what we did and it was wonderful, especially since my husband had contacted a friend who is an entertainer with a busy schedule and was able to arrange to have him perform at the The Cellar that afternoon. Wine, food, music, friends and family... it was perfect! The best part was that, not only did I get to add memories but my friends and family did and I hope they will enjoy looking back on this one as much as I will!

I think the expression on my face says it all!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Busy, Busy, Busy

Somewhere I read a quote stating that if one wanted to get something done, assign the task to the busiest person. 

Some days, I feel like I'm the designated busiest person.

This is the month of May which, anyone who has ever worked in the bakery business knows, is the busiest month of the year for cake decorators. With Mother's Day, graduations, and weddings (no, it's really not June that's the busiest month for weddings) along with several religious occasions (First Holy Communions and Confirmations), it's the one time of the year that management turns a blind eye to a little overtime and when I tell my husband and son (and the rest of my family) that we'll see each other in June. The fact that my birthday falls almost exactly in the middle of the month, doesn't matter. We'll celebrate in June.

So why on earth would I schedule the launch of my fifth book, "A Summer to Remember", not just in May, but on Mother's Day, of all days??? After working an early morning six-hour shift at the bakery, no less?

Well, it's going to make a great story to include in my bio when I hit it big, that's for sure. I should have a section where I drag my weary body home after a 12-hour shift, on my seventh straight day of work, to find a letter telling me that my book series has been optioned by Hollywood and I've become a millionaire overnight (yes, I've already written that section, after said 12-hour seventh day and two glasses of wine. Go ahead and judge.)

Because, no matter how tired I am, I love what I do. Yes, even the bakery job. I get to be creative and I get paid for it. I sling vino part time and I love that, too. And I write. Not as often as I would like, but I do it and it gets published and people read it and they like it. Sometimes I even get some money from it, but that has nothing to do with the love.

Busy people are happy people. I treasure my down time, however little it is, and because I know the likelihood of my fantasy scene from my bio coming true is extremely slim. I will probably be working for most of my life. And that's okay. Because the work I do is fun. And I don't mind doing it for the rest of my life. 

That includes the cake decorating, too.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Meet My Friend, Marilyn Meredith, and her Rocky Bluff P.D. Mystery Series!

Today, I'm turning the Back Deck Blog over to my friend and fellow Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith. Sit back and relax with a cup of coffee (or chai, Marilyn's preference!) while Marilyn tells us about herself and her Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series, including her latest release, "Unresolved'!



This is the topic Amy asked for—so I’ll tell you what’s not in the bio.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Getting married young to a Seabee who wasn’t home a lot and raising five kids, didn’t leave much time for fiction writing. However, I did write PTA newsletters and plays for my Camp Fire Girls to perform. I didn’t start writing fiction until I was a grandmother and was published for the first time in 1982. I’ve had many jobs and endeavors over the years from being a telephone operator, a pre-school and day care center teacher, owned and administrated a six bed home for developmentally disabled women, but all the time I wrote a lot, concentrating on mysteries because that’s what I liked to read.

The first book in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Final Respects, came about because of the stories my police officer son-in-law told me about his job. I knew I had to write about police officers and their families. While we lived in the small beach community I based the RBPD setting on, we had many police families in our neighborhood. I also became a member of the Public Safety Writers Association and made friends with many law enforcement officers who have become a great resource to me.

Of course when I was writing that first book, I had no idea that eventually there’d be 13 books in the series. What happened is once I was finished with one book, I wanted to know what happened next to the people I’d created. The only way to find out was to write another book.

I’ve always told people that the books are as much about the families as the crimes that are committed. In my experience, the police officers I know are for the most part nothing like those I see depicted in movies and TV. And that’s probably the reason that some folks say that the series borders on being cozy. I must admit the books have become a bit “softer” since the first four.

Each book is written so it can be read as a stand-alone, but the lives of the police officers and their families are ongoing.

I hope you’ll try # 13, Unresolved.

F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith


#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved Blurb:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing bookandtablevaldosta@gmail.com with a 10% discount and free shipping as well as all the usual places.

Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/


And tomorrow’s topic, May 9, Research.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Defining Success as a Writer

Success is a word that can be defined in many ways. Most people would believe that an author would define success in terms of New York Times best-seller list rankings. Or the amount of money made from book sales. Or winning Pulitzer or Nobel prizes.

Writers, for the most part, undertake the task of putting thoughts, ideas, and stories down on paper for the purpose of being heard and hopefully understood. I don't know many writers who purposely sit down to write for the sole purpose of making money. Even the best-selling authors whose books get turned into movies didn't start their writing career because they wanted to get rich. They wrote because they had stories to tell. 

It would be easy to quote Harvey MacKay: "Find something you love to do, and you'll never work a day in your life." However, unless you've figured how to make a living taking naps, even the things you love to do require a great deal of work. Writing is no exception. Becoming a successful writer requires even more work. It's not enough just to put words down on paper. Or even to have a book or novel published (that can be done for free these days, with minimal talent.)

I've been a published writer for almost five years now and the success I've had has little to do with finances or literary prizes. This past weekend, my husband and I traveled about 200 miles to attend a book signing in a small, independent bookstore in Albuquerque, NM. It was a slow weekend and, as the shop owners told me, business has been hurt by nearby road construction which discourages people from venturing in to the Old Town area. Any money I made on that trip didn't even cover the cost of the trip (gas, parking fees, and one meal.)

The success came in the form of having the bookstore owners happy to see me. They like my work and it sells. Customers who came in and ventured over to meet a "real" author expressed interest in my books and a few bought copies (and hopefully will purchase the rest of the series.) Others merely congratulated me and wished me well. And when I walked up to the store, there, on a poster, was my book cover and the words "Author Signing Today". Not every writer gets that privilege.

That's what I call success.

Me, at a previous signing at Treasure House. It's always worth the trip!