Shifting into high(er) gear

You know that old ‘I Love Lucy’ episode with the conveyer belts and the chocolates? Remember how Lucy is just fine wrapping up those tasty treats until the speed overtakes her production and she starts stuffing them into her mouth so that the ‘extra’ chocolates don’t get past her (a crime for which she will be fired)?

Ok, so that is NOT what I am planning for Monday morning when I go from writing in my spare time around a full-time job to writing full-time. The conveyer belt needs to speed up but the rate of production needs to match it!

Creative Juices: a finite resource

Creative Juices: a finite resource
a finite resource

It is true my friends, there is a finite amount of creative juices and for the past few weeks, I’ve been deploying all my juice towards non-writing projects.
No, it’s true, I admit it!
First, it was my husband’s birthday and I threw myself into building a BBQ Buddy™. Yes, I am trade-marking that name because I [drumroll please!] invented it. Or at least I could not find such a thing at Home Depot, so I created one from scratch. It is a combination chest/table that sits next to our BBQ that can hold items such as charcoal and also be a resting place for plates and utensils. You can see the final product here if you are so inclined.

In addition, I have been attending a mosaic class to ascertain just how hard it would be to create a mosaic for my upstairs bathroom. NB: It is HARD. ‘Nuff said on that topic.

Finally, my parentals require my arms and Tetris skills in helping to build their outdoor patio (out of patio stone, hence the Tetris reference) so I have been spending any spare moments at their house hauling around 16×16″ stones with them.

Suffice to say that poor Portia has been sitting glumly on a streetcorner in downtown London waiting for me to refill my juice box and apply it to her latest casebook. As soon as I do, I will be back here fellow-bloggers, I swear. Until then, I hope you are all well, that you are enjoying the beautiful weather and that the juice is still flowing into your respective projects!

The Black Dragon Award

The Black Dragon award as created by Rami the Writer
The Black Dragon award

My lovely friend Rami over at Rami Ungar the Writer has nominated me for the first ever Black Dragon award!

These are the rules as listed on his post:

1. You must have written something scary or featuring something scary in the past year. (This can range from being a simple murder mystery to a full-on zombie novel with a wizard and serial killers mixed in for variety). Note that whatever work you’ve created will be the subject of several of the questions below.

2. You must thank the person who nominated you and then link back to their  blog.

3. You must answer the 10 questions below on your own blog post.

4. Finally, you must nominate at least 5 other authors for the award and then notify them of it

FIRST and most important, here are my five nominees for The Black Dragon Award:

Scary Structures
Waiting in the Kingdom
James McKenna
The Author’s Blog
The Real Sherlock

And now, in answer to the questions (and I encourage you to go read Rami’s answers to his questions here)

1. What is the premise of the novel you’ve written? Portia Adams is a young woman who has suddenly and mysteriously inherited 221 Baker Street. Her first year in London encompasses the first three cases in the book, and involve her discovering the linkages to the famous offices, and the development of her skills as a detective.

2. How long did it take you to write it? My books are divided into casebooks rather than chapters, so the first casebook called ‘Jewel of the Thames’ I wrote in about a month.

3. Which character(s) are you most like? My sister says I am most like Portia Adams, but honestly I think ALL my characters have facets of my personality – I’m analytical and social inept like Portia, I’m loyal and stoic like Brian, I’m a journalist like Annie, I’m sometimes sneaky and anti-establishment like Adler, and I can be rude and abrasive like Sergeant Michaels.

4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve read/seen lately? The news sadly. I can’t think of anything scarier than all the stories about these poor girls being raped and their attacks being taped and posted on social media.

5. What’s something you’re reluctant to write about? I guess gore? I’m not great at writing gore, and not great at reading it.

6. If you could take characters from other works and insert them into an original story of your own design, who would you take and what would you have them do? OOh, interesting one. Since I already have a couple of characters from Conan Doyle’s stories… I would love to somehow pull in villains from other stories I have loved. If I could figure out how, I would love for Portia to go up against one of the more intellectual Sith from the Star Wars books (not the movies where Sith are all physical) or a Lex Luthor type from the Superman stories.

7. Do you envision a sequel to your novel? Like I said, since my books are compilations of casebooks, there already is a series. I’ve written 8 casebooks listed here.

8. What first got you into writing? And what got you writing scary subject matter? I’m a writer, first published at 14, it’s what I do. In terms of writing scary stuff, unlike my nominator Rami, it’s not my primary genre, but part of writing mysteries is the subject matter, which has of course meandered into the murder/death/violent side over the course of cases. I enjoy reading scary stuff though, and have since I was a kid.

9. What scares you personally? Spiders, snakes, rats, wolves, the usual of course. Falling off high buildings. Losing my loved ones.

10. What are your future plans? Good gosh, who knows? Trying to get an agent and get published is the current plan, though as time goes by, I am more attracted to the idea of self-publishing as well.

Done writing CaseBook 8!

Mark Twain quote
Oh Mark Twain, you nailed it, Sir!

I don’t even have a working title for case book 8 (my next blog post will be a poll where I get your help again for naming it, like we did for Truth be Told ) but it’s done! Time to transcribe this puppy!

The dialogue that moves us

Let’s deepen this dialogue, shall we?

By and large when people suggest I ‘expand upon a scene’ they are asking for more dialogue (as opposed to more action or suspense). It seems to be trademark for me to have key points in the story in my head that I am dying to get to, sometimes at the expense of all that talking and character development.

So this long weekend (YAY MAY 2-4!) I am going to go back into some old scenes in Casebooks 1 thru 3 and expand on the dialogue, hopefully in a positive way.

Needing inspiration of course, I will start my morning with reading some scenes known for their moving dialogue; I’m thinking about:

  1. the back-and-forth between Ophelia and Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1, when their fathers are hiding behind a tapestry listening in.
  2. the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Lady Catherine de Bourge confronts Lizzie at her parents’ home is some great dialogue.
  3. there is a scene in Firefly: Serenity with the Operative, Captain Mal and Inara in the Temple that I’ve always found super-clever but I couldn’t find a link to post to. If you get a chance, watch it, as I will today.
  4. The scene with Watson and Holmes in the new BBC series in the back of the cab when Holmes gets offended when Watson sniffs and says “The Police don’t consult amateurs” is a brilliantly written little piece of dialogue that I’ve watched over and over again.
  5. I could post any scene from the first three years of the West Wing and you’d get a great example of dialogue to aspire to, but I picked one of the first that really made me laugh (from Season 1, Episode 3):

Josh Lyman: You know what, C.J.? I really think I’m the best judge of what I mean, you paranoid Berkeley shiksa feminista… Wow, that was way too far.
C.J. Cregg: No, no. Well, I’ve got a staff meeting to go to and so do you, you elitist, Harvard, fascist, missed-the-dean’s-list-two-semesters-in-a-row Yankee jackass.
Josh Lyman: Feel better getting that off your chest there, C.J.?
C.J. Cregg: I’m a whole new woman.

And then there is all the internet has to offer us:

Do you guys have any other suggestions? I’m getting some great bubbling ideas from all this already, but I could always use more inspiration! the time you read this…

Plane taking off in the sunset
Leaving’ on a jet plane!

dun dun duuuuuuun!

That title sounds way more ominous than ‘Leaving’ on a jet plane’ so forgive me (I’m a writer), but by the time you read this, I will be leaving on a jet plane.

To where you ask, kind readers? Why to do some research for the latest case book: Principessa.

Ok, not entirely true, but I had this trip to Rome booked back in January to meet up with my good friend Quade for a week of food, fun, and catching up. As I was planning the trip, I started writing casebook 7, and lo and behold, Portia Adams has found herself travelling to Italy! What a happy coincidence. Maybe someday if I ever make a few bucks off this venture, I can claim the trip as research?

We’ll see.

Regardless, it is off to Rome I go, and hopefully I will come back with some great stories to share and some beautiful scenes committed to paper!

The fine line between an homage and copying an idea

Formula for an effective homage

Thanks to Keith Sawyer over at the Creativity and Inspiration blog who chased down this quote from T.S. Eliot:

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”

In other words, Good writers borrow, great writers steal.

This is one of those fine-line, grey area parts of writing I find, especially when you are writing a series that spins off  from another author’s work – in my case the great Arthur Conan Doyle.

So, when I decided it was time in Book 7 for Portia Adams to have a slightly more prominent client, I remembered of course The Adventure of the Illustrious Client from the original canon.

I reread it today because the only part of the story I was planning to emulate was Portia taking on a case with someone ‘illustrious,’ not the premise for the mystery or the solution of the crime — in fact I want to head in an opposite direction from that.

Holmes is hired in the Illustrious Client to convince young Violet not to marry a murderous Baron (who has not been successfully linked to his previous crimes) which he does with the help of the Baron’s former lover.

No problem, I’m planning for Book 7 to be about a client who is blackmailed for political information.

Hopefully, this formula (see image above) I just came up with holds true:

The original idea (an illustrious client)  +  my respect for Conan Doyle’s work + a new take (blackmail) = an effective homage.

Writing a secret note … or how to feel really stupid for a half hour

Edward Larsson's runic cipher
Edward Larsson's runic cipher

I’ll let you in on a little secret: if I were in charge of cracking codes in the second world war, everyone on the Canadian side of the war would be dead.

I have the ‘code’ such as it is, I have the hidden message… why is it so hard to put that together?

This is what the hidden message needs to say:
Please send help. Being black mailed. Don’t know by whom. Don’t tell parents.
And if the ‘code’ is every fifth word, here’s what the message hidden in the rest of the note looks like:
Word word word word PLEASE word word word word SEND word word word word HELP word word word word BEING Word word word word BLACK word word word word MAILED word word word word DON’T word word word word KNOW word word word word BY word word word word WHOM word word word word DON’T word word word word TELL word word word word PARENTS.
A half hour later (30 minutes filled with cuss words in at least two languages):
Dear Elaine:
If it please you, remember to send some wedding photos to help me imagine attending and being with you. Did Rosie Black attend? She had earlier mailed that she intended to; don’t think you told me? Know that I miss you by the way, for whom else would I write?! Don’t stay away long, Elaine, tell Mr.Ridley that my parents request your presence here!
Love, Frannie
Oh, and then I realized that the second ‘secret word’ only had three letters between please and send. Aaargh!

Phossy jaw and Phosphorus

question on quora
Share your answers to my question!

I’m doing some more research, this time on a condition known as Phossy Jaw (description of symptoms below are taken from the Wikipedia article here):

Phossy jaw, formally phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, is an occupational disease of those who work with white phosphorus, also known as yellow phosphorus, without proper safeguards. It was most commonly seen in workers in the match industry in the 19th and early 20th century. Modern occupational hygiene practices have eliminated the working conditions which caused this disease.

So if we assume our antagonist has Phossy Jaw (noted by our brilliant detective Portia Adams) and it was caused by handling white phosphorous, then we now need something that expels a great amount of oxygen for it to interact with.

I’ve got a question out there on Quora right now, trying to see if this is feasible.