Thursday, March 29, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
I'm a sucker for excellent dialogue. When an author paints a story through characters' words, I'm drawn like a bug down a storm drain into the story. I'm of the mind that the character needs to tell the scene more than the author. I'm also from the school that dialogue should be so distinct that a tag is inserted purely for beat, because the reader already knows who's speaking.
Hope is also author of Lowcountry Bribe, A Carolina Slade Mystery, from Bell Bridge Books, February 2012. Set in rural South Carolina, protagonist Carolina Slade faces crime in rural America, in stories the average urban dweller would never comprehend. Available via Amazon, B&N, on Kindle and Kobo, and through the publisher, www.bellbridgebooks.com. Learn more at www.chopeclark.com
As I've grown in the craft of writing, I've become pickier about the books I read--as I'm sure many of you have become. If the book doesn't hook me in 50pgs--I put it down. In my capacity of Co-Coordinator of the Crested Butte Writers Conference, I'm always looking for interesting authors--preferably bestsellers who are good speakers who aren't so crazy popular and busy that they command exorbitant amounts of money to attend events.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Five Scribe Readers, I’m often humbled and intimidated when I read fellow authors. Let me say, that Robert Spiller is no exception. RADICAL EQUATIONS is a fun, educational mystery. But, I’ll have my revenge on Mr. Spiller for making me feel inadequate. I’m about to ask how he does it. Please welcome my friend and major talent, Robert Spiller to The Five Scribes.
D.B.: Hi, Bob: I hate having to keep interviews short. So let’s get started. Radical Equations surrounds the irrepressible Bonnie Pinkwater. Bonnie is, in her mind, and in the minds of the town of East Plains, Colorado, I might add, the world's greatest math teacher. Now, maybe it’s because I write mystery that I can surmise, but you’re a retired math teacher, and Bonnie’s currently employed as a math teacher. How much is Missus Pinkwater like Mister Robert Spiller?
R.S.: Bonnie Pinkwater was supposed to be a clone of a good friend of mine, one Susan Smith, perhaps the finest teacher of Mathematics I have ever shared a school building with. Sue has many of the qualities that I have infused into Bonnie: She has a fantastic memory (which can be a real pain in the rear end); she loves teenagers; she owns a number of dogs and cats; she lives in Black Forest; she taught out on the plains of Colorado.
Unfortunately, Susan herself had one flaw. She was too nice. Bonnie Pinkwater was forced to become a blend of Susan and another truly gifted math teacher…myself. And I'm not nearly as nice. It turns out this worked out wonderfully. Bonnie can in turns be a saint, and then be someone you don't want to mess with. Since I'm a mathematician, let's quantize this question. I think Bonnie is 41% me and 51% Sue, and 8% pure invention.
D.B.: Always boils down to math for you, doesn't it, Bob? ;) A female protagonist. You’ve been with this woman through three novels now; is that correct? What drove you to want to write from a woman’s POV for not only one book, but for an entire series? Tell us how Bonnie came to be?
R.S.: Four novels and five is in the hopper. I only intended to write one Bonnie Pinkwater mystery and that just for a lark. As I mentioned above, I found the character of my friend Susan Smith ideal for a sleuth, so she became one. But before I knew it, I had written not one, but two East Plains mysteries: A Calculated Demise and The Witch of Agnesi. By then it was too late. I had fallen in love with Bonnie Pinkwater (considering she is part me, this revelation was a bit disturbing). I am currently working on the fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery Napier's Bones. If the universe is kind and permits me, I will write about East Plains High School until I sport that most attractive of male features, clumps of old man ear hair.
D.B.: Have you ever written a novel from a man’s POV, and why is Missus Pinkwater not a Mister Pinkwater? And while I’m on this subject, I’ve noticed that several of the Colorado Springs’ authors use missus instead of Mrs. Explain that for my personal curiosity, please.
R.S.: I have written two YA historical mysteries from a teenage male perspective, a Sci-fi YA with a male protagonist, and a Sci-fi with double perspective, male and female. Truth is I puttered around for a short time with a male teacher but Bonnie wouldn't hear of it. She demanded to walk onto center stage and shout her lines out loud. Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way. As for Missus vs. Mrs., I learned that particular chop from one Jimmie Butler, the founder of the Pikes Peak Writers conference. He and I were in a critique group together. He believed Mrs. was fine for narrative but when spoken in dialogue it had a more pleasing presence on the page if written out as Missus. Thus, whenever anyone addresses Bonnie it is always "Missus P."
Talk to us about your secondary characters and their importance to a mystery? Also, they are each unique, how do you manage such great character traits? Any tips for writers?
R.S.: I don't keep a chart (It's an ego thing. As I get older I won't admit that I don't have the mind and memory I once had, but I pretend I do). I do however labor over the choice of names. I'm a big believer in the impact of names and their sound on the reader's inner ear. As for the secondary characters themselves, they are often asked to carry the burden of subplots. They need to be interesting and often go through major changes in the re-writes. On occasion, these characters are loosely based on folks I knew (and I do mean loosely). I had a Wiccan friend out in Ellicott. I taught her daughter and she in turn taught me a little about the Wiccan religion. I love having Rhiannon in a scene because she brings back to my mind this wonderful woman who unfortunately died a few years back.
TIPS FOR WRITERS: You're going to have secondary characters. It's unavoidable. Consider what they can add to a scene other than mere sounding boards for your protagonist or antagonist. Live with them as well as your main character.
D.B.: The plot. In my opinion your plot, is ingenious. Without giving too much away, politics are afoot, and the story opens the day after the vice principal has gotten himself into hot water. Bonnie and Rhiannon are on a hike, and a storm sets in. The two friends stumble into a cave and lo and behold, they spy the vice principal, Clarence, who is very dead. Bonnie and Rhiannon, know better than to interfere with a crime scene and they hightail it away, and barely escape a storm. Deputy Hickman appears and takes over, Bonnie returns to the high school, and gets trapped when a tornado passes through the town.
I have to mention here, readers, that if you ever want to read about weather being an antagonist, you must read this book. Robert Spiller wrote one of the best tornado scenes, I have ever read.
Have I got it fairly right so far, Bob? How much fun was it to write that nature scene and what gave you the idea?
R.S.: First of all, the tornado. In 2001, Ellicott Jr/Sr high school (the model for East Plains High) was destroyed by a monster tornado, and I mean totaled. A beloved teacher had died of cancer and her Wake was held that night in Colorado Springs. All school activities were cancelled, so folks could attend and therefore no one was in the building when the twister slammed into it.
I'd always wondered what it would have been like to be in the middle of that bad boy, soooooo I did the next best thing. I put Bonnie in there. I loved having her, first of all tossed around by this killer storm then emerging into the devastation. All in all it was fun as heck to write. As an aside, I had resigned from Ellicott six hours prior to the tornado to accept a teaching position in Monument.
D.B.: Then of course after the tornado has annihilated the East Plain school system, and Bonnie survives, while surveying the destruction, she discovers the most incredible find. The body she and Rhiannon discovered in the cave is sitting behind a desk amid the rubble and chaos. Great hooks by the way and so much fun to read. This was so well plotted, which leads me to ask: Are you a plotter, a panster or somewhere in between?
R.S.: I'm no Jeffrey Deaver, who I'm told, outlines and plots his books extensively before he ever sits down to write. That said, I love to know some basic things: who dies?, who did it?, who will be red herrings?, and how will I kill some of them? (I know this sounds morbid but it makes me happy), what distractions and mis-directions can I add that will make my reader smile at the end of the book?
And then something that is unique to my books, what historic mathematician will strut his or her stuff across the pages of my story, and how can these dead geniuses aid Bonnie in the solving of a series of murders? Once again, let me quantize this answer. I probably outline about 45% of the scenes (a writer friend of mine, Cindi Madsen calls this the spine). That means 55% or more than half will emerge and demand to be written so the story holds together and is fun to read.
D.B.: Robert Spiller does internal narrative just about better than any author I’ve ever read. You are so in Bonnie’s head. You have one POV throughout the book, which is highly effective. Was this a conscious choice; did you try multiple point of views?
R.S.: The one POV is a definite choice as is the internal dialogue. I noticed early on in my teaching career certain teachers could smile at demanding parents and disrespectful students and even say pleasant things. Later when I would talk to them I'd find out that behind this façade, they were thinking how nice it would be to drag these unreasonable people behind a horse.
This constant reminder of what Bonnie is thinking (which sometimes is the opposite of what she is saying) is my way of having my cake and eating it too. I get to be in third person but by staying deep in Bonnie's thoughts I get to have the flavor of first person. It works for me. As for multiple points of view, I do use it in sparingly as in the rare moments when the reader gets to peek in at the villain. That doesn't happen in Radical Equations but it does in other pieces I've written.
R.S.: Having taught Mathematics for 35 years, I was fortunate in that early on I discovered several important truths. Math can be deadly dull. I was in control of the environment of my classroom more than anyone else. That teenagers will only be unruly if they aren't being engaged. And lastly, if you can get people (and contrary to popular belief, teenagers are people) to laugh, you can get them to find value in what you're trying to teach. Bonnie and I share one important trait. We are stupidly fond of the younger members of our species. Bonnie loves her students with a fierce and terrible love. She will stand between them and harm's way. And gosh darn it, she thoroughly believes that math is definitely fun. But then again, I'm sure everyone believes that. Don't they?
R.S.: If we're talking about writers who inspired me, the list is long: Orson Scott Card, George R R Martin, Tolkien, Terry Brooks. All these Fantasy and Sci-fi authors have characters that breathe on the page. A lot of their characters come alive even in their short stories (Song for Lya by Martin I've read a half dozen times). In mystery and suspense there's the famous Donnell Bell, but that goes without saying. Other mystery authors who used extremely textured characters are Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly, Lee Child. I know their protagonists inside and out because these authors are so good at drawing them. Truth is, I listen to books in my car, and often as I'm driving, I'll hear some word the author puts in their hero's mouth and think, "Brilliant! In a few words you captured the essence of this person's character. I think I'll steal that."
D.B.: Five Scribes is geared toward writers. You are seeing massive changes in the industry. What advice would you give to writers who are seeking publication today?
Next, join a critique group. Put other authors eyes on your work. Gather with other authors at conferences and workshops. Here you will learn that others are struggling with issues that you thought were yours alone. Be bold! After making the best piece of art you can create, send it out to agents and publishers (I know I didn't do this with Radical Equations but sue me. Get professional eyes on your work).
D.B.: Mr. Spiller, it’s been a pleasure. Not only did I learn a lot about school politics, I learned a tremendous amount about a teacher’s passion. Will you be giving a book give away today? Are you doing any signings soon? Tell us what comes next for Robert Spiller and the world’s greatest math teacher, Missus Bonnie Pinkwater?
R.S.: I would love to give away a copy of the new book, Radical Equations. As for what I'm up to now, as I said I'm back in East Plains in Napier's Bones as Bonnie discovers a thirty-year-old corpse and is forced to re-visit a murder from her past.
Did you hear that, readers? Robert Spiller is giving away a copy of RADICAL EQUATIONS. We'll be drawing the winner on March 17th. So now's your chance to win a great who-dunit.
To learn more about RADICAL EQUATIONS check out the trailer!!! http://animoto.com/play/fETinOY3ShTnRWZyKjelBA
Also, please visit Robert Spiller's Facebook page where once a week he provides a math puzzle.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Five Scribes Readers, I’m in awe of our guest today. Not only is she one of the most generous women I’ve had the pleasure to meet, she’s savvy in the world of IT and marketing, she's an award-winning author, and her newest venture is to—get this—make all of our lives easier. See if you don’t agree. Please welcome the extraordinary and talented Amy Atwell.
Amy, thank you! Social networking for many authors is intimidating and overwhelming. Not only is Author E.M.S. designed to make our lives easier, it's an extraordinarily manageable cost compared to what we might pay to join a chapter or enter a contest. Best wishes on your start up. Readers, any questions for Amy?
Hannah Bowman joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2011. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, summa cum laude in English and magna cum laude in Mathematics. While a student, she spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, before eventually deciding her true interest was books (after side-trips into poetic theory and dead languages, among other things!). Hanna will be attending the 2012 Crested Butte Writers Conference, June 22-24, 2012.
1.Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category has a special/constant place in your heart?
Answer: I'm looking for all kinds of commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, romance, cozy mysteries, historicals, women's fiction, and young adult. I'm also looking for nonfiction about science or religion. Science fiction and fantasy (YA or adult) will always have a place in my heart!
2.What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial? Single spaced or double?
Answer: I think a synopsis should be 2-4 pages single-spaced. Shorter is fine, as long as it covers all the major plot points (but it should have more detail than a query!); longer than 5 pages usually isn't necessary.
3.In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: I see a lot of similar stories in YA: not-well-fleshed-out dystopians, fantasy where the main character discovers they're really the prince/princess of a secret world, etc. I'd love to see more YA secondworld/high fantasy, YA contemporaries a la John Green, and true YA science fiction. On the adult side, there's nothing I'm sick of, but I would love to see more funny, high-concept women's fiction and upmarket romances with a strong sense of place (whether contemporary, historical, or fantastical).
4. What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good read? What particularly grabs your attention?
Answer: I'm a very plot-driven reader. I love twists and turns, revelations of secrets, betrayals by trusted characters, unlikely redemptions, and good, tragic characters forced to make bad decisions by circumstances. Not that all (or any!) or these elements are necessary in every project, but they tend to be elements I gravitate towards.
5. For you, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice?
a. Voice--Terminal. The voice has to be there, and right for the book. It's hard to fix.
b. Weak Grammar--Depends on how extensive it is. Occasional mistakes are no problem, but major grammatical problems usually come with other signs of weak writing..
c. Common plot--I'm willing to work with the author on plot changes, but if the premise doesn't excite me, I won't take something on.
d. Poor character development--The characters have to be sympathetic and interesting so the reader can relate to them. More specific changes/character arc issues I'm willing to work on.
e. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)--I'm skeptical of projects that have an axe to grind. Controversial elements have to serve the story first.
f. Mediocre / uninspired writing--Terminal. I have to love the writing in projects I take on.
g. Excessive use of violence or cursing--I'm willing to work with this. It's fairly easy to fix, if the author is willing.
h. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building--Unless a project is really exceptional in other ways, I usually won't take something on which is missing a key element of its genre. I like genre tropes and seeing how they play out in different projects, and generally speaking they're common tropes because they're effective. But of course it depends on the particular project!
i. Pacing is off—plot is too slow--I'm willing to work on this. It's usually fairly easy to fix.
j. Story starts in wrong spot--I'll definitely work on this. It's easy to fix.
k. Ending is unsatisfactory--I'll take on a project and work on this.
6. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?
Answer: Yes, I try to respond more quickly to submissions from conferences and I offer feedback if I can. But it doesn't make a huge difference.
7. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?
Answer: For me, it's really mostly about the writing itself. But I also need to get along well enough personally with the writer that we can work together. And since I'm an agent who tends to be very hands-on and editorial, I tend to "click" better with writers who are interested in that sort of agent.
8. Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: Not really!
9. What are you addicted to?
Answer: Tragedy, in the Greek sense. Not necessarily sad books, but great characters forced into impossible situations. I can't get enough of that.
10. What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: I would love to travel north of the Arctic circle at midsummer to see the midnight sun. And in the winter, to see the Northern Lights!
11. Do you have a favorite quote?
Answer: I don't really. But my favorite literary concept is Tolkien's idea of "eucatastrophe": the happy ending that occurs only when all hope is lost and things are at their absolute worst.