Tuesday, August 30, 2016

StorySlam and Stage Fright

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
A few nights ago, for the first time, I stepped in front of an audience of more than a hundred, without book, paper, or index card in hand, without a memorized song, dance, or play in my head. Just the mic and me. The place was in Los Angeles. The theme was Heat. The event was StorySlam. An organization called The Moth puts on these competitive events all over the country. The premise is: “True Stories Told Live”… no notes.

Are you kidding?!

When I first heard of StorySlam it sounded petrifying. I didn’t even want to watch. Why? It might be like watching amateur trapeze artists perform without a net: could be beautiful, could be painful.

Then I started taking long drives to visit my sister, and on the way back I listened to The Moth Radio Hour on NPR. These storytellers mesmerize. Each spends 10 to 15 minutes revealing their most frightening, embarrassing, grief-stricken, weird, dysfunctional moments. Their stories are inspiring, hilarious, intimate.

They call it The Moth because humans are attracted to stories like moths to flame. This is old-fashioned community: gathering around a fire to connect. 

Or maybe it’s like a circus, where the aerialists are my favorite. I’m too old to join the circus, but this I can do. Oral stories are my tightrope without a net.

At StorySlam, most people just listen. That’s what I did my first night. But if you dare, you can prep a five-minute story on the night’s theme, hope your name is one of the ten picked, tell your story to a crowd plied with drinks, and let three sets of amateurs with no credentials judge you.

Why would anyone do this?!

My second night, I entered the lottery. Every time someone pulled a name from the sack, my heart lurched. “Hope it’s me! Hope it’s not! Hope it’s me! Hope it’s not!”

Five times I spent days-on-end practicing. Five times they did not call my name.  

Phew! Then again: Come on!

One night, a performer delivered her first line, froze, and gave up. What if that happened to me?

For my sixth try, I prepared a story about fireworks for the theme Heat. I wasn’t feeling it. I originally wrote the story for print, and oral stories have a different rhythm, as I’ve discovered walking around my house talking to an invisible audience. I told my husband, “Maybe I’ll just listen this time.” Then, the night before, I remembered another story, about visiting India during a heat wave.

I knew better than to tell a story with so little time to prepare.

When I entered my name that night, I met a guy who produces literary salons in L.A. He was excited to learn I was an author, “but I don’t invite speakers until I’ve heard them perform.” I began to sweat.

The host called my name. My heart began a countdown to self-destruct.   

The lights were so bright I couldn’t see the audience. This was not a relief. When I do public speaking, which I normally enjoy, I seek friendly faces to connect with. Here there was only ominous breathing.

I told a story for the next six minutes and fifteen seconds. Remember, it was supposed to be five? I didn’t factor enough time for filler words when I lost my place, or for unexpected laughter. But the laughter was good. 

Then someone played a flute sound that means, “Wrap it up!” They give you an extra minute if you need it, and many storytellers use it. Then came the second flute sound. That’s when they deduct points. I had three more sentences. Even then, I didn’t hit my planned ending, just one that made sense.

My scores weren’t bad, but I was closer to the bottom of the pack than the top. All the stories were strong, so no shame in that. Still, the shame spiral went on for 24 hours: Did I score lower for going into overtime? Because I didn’t hit my stronger ending? Because my nerves showed? My story was weak? I’m not cut out for this?

But hey, I did it!

Next time, I’ll plan a 4.5-minute talk, so if I go over I’ll still finish on time. Next time, I’ll say my planned ending. Next time, I’ll do better. I’ll keep turning up the heat till I win, whatever that means. In storytelling, I’m always seeking the next challenge to reach an audience. In storytelling, what scares me is good. 

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation Press, Rivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Friday, August 26, 2016

My Detour into Erotica

First there were dozens, maybe hundreds, of rejections from queries I sent to agents for my suspense novels. Then when I got an agent, more rejections from editors.

“Not what we’re looking for at the moment.”

“Like it but don’t love it.”

“I could put it down. Not great for a suspense novel.”

Sheesh! You want to be a writer? You’d better develop a thick skin.

I had three or four finished novels at the time. I could keep writing or try something else—a different genre, for example. Around 2009, erotica was a big deal. Stories of successful erotic romance authors were all over the romance blogs. I’d never even read erotica. Could that be my ticket to publication? How hard could writing a sexy story be?

Erotica embraces all the genres, including sub-genres and sub-sub genres—BDSM, gay, contemporary, paranormal, etc. To keep it simple, I needed to write story lines that were as close to what I’m comfortable writing as possible, only with more, um, sex. After all, would Janet Evanovich or Carl Hiaasen write political thrillers? Would John Sanford or Daniel Silva write cozy mysteries? Though I wrote suspense, my books were also character-driven. I’d concentrate more on the relationships between my characters instead of full-on twisted murderous plots.

The premise of my first effort, Sexual Persuasion, told the story of Charlotte Stone, a home furnishings store owner in Boston. The setup was easy. I’m from Boston, and at the time I owned a home furnishings store in South Carolina. Write what you know, isn’t that what some people say? I wanted to write a compelling story that made the abundance of sex natural. Okay, maybe not exactly natural but not hop-in-and-out-of-bed boring. I had read some of those.

At a museum auction, Charlotte is eyed by Alex Andros, an attractive man her lawyer girlfriend describes as the attorney/lover of a Boston mob figure. Alex saves her from an unwanted assault by an old boyfriend at the auction and makes no bones that he’s interested in Charlotte. In spite of what she knows about him, his allure is hard to ignore. Is he straight or is he gay? Should she run the other way?

When I finished the book to my satisfaction, I sent it off to a few of the best online erotic romance publishers, and Loose Id accepted it. They also accepted the next book, The Escort,
about a divorced woman buried under medical bills from her sick daughter, who takes a job as an escort for a weekend. She doesn’t realize until she meets her employer that he’s a blind war hero. Rich too. He doesn’t realize she’s not a professional, since his assistant makes all his “appointments.” The weekend turns out to be a mission to help two soldiers under our hero’s command who were hurt at the same time he was. Complications.

My third book, Dark Side Night, was published by Ellora’s Cave.
It’s a double story. One takes place in 1910, the other present day. It’s probably the most fun of the three books with protagonists over forty. There’s submission and domination, but it’s never clear who’s in control of their game of one-upmanship at any given time. There are a few surprises in this one.

All these books were fun to write but tricky too. For erotica to work, there has to be genuine chemistry between the characters so the sex has meaning. All three stories take place within a short time period, which makes it more of a challenge for readers to care for the characters, root for them, and feel their passion.

Since their publications, I’ve retained the rights to all three, redid the covers, and self-published them. (Notice I wrote them using a pseudonym.) I’m not sure they’re the kind of erotic work readers of the genre crave. My books are tame compared to some I’ve read. The more erotic, hard-core domination/submission books do far better than mine do. It was a worthy experiment and allowed me to have my books published by good publishers. I even have another almost finished that I might publish one day.

Most writers keep sex scenes “behind closed doors” because a good sensual sex scene is difficult to write. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime.


Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

In the heat of the moment—

Image by Mr Clementi, via Flickr
Mysteries/crime fiction are sometimes called “murder mysteries”, but one or more murders are not really necessary. “Homicide” or “Unnatural death mysteries” would be more appropriate.

I just looked up Homicide in my grandmother’s UK-published encyclopaedia, published in the UK in 1913, a useful resource for me as my Daisy Dalrymple mysteries are set in England in the 1920s. It directs me to two other entries: Manslaughter and Murder. My 1964 American encyclopedia agrees.

Disregarding accidental homicide, what is the difference? Basically, it’s “in the heat of the moment” versus “malice aforethought.”

I have no statistics—I doubt anyone has ever compiled any-but based on my own writing and reading I’d guess a large proportion of mysteries have homicides that can be classified as manslaughter, not murder.

This doesn’t make the chase any less urgent, however. Usually the detective can’t tell which he is dealing with, and in any case, he doesn’t decide. That’s up to the courts, once the arrest has been made. The suspicious death has to be investigated just the same whichever it looks like at first sight.

The uncertainty can be used to add to the suspense, especially if the main suspects are likeable, so that the reader is rooting for them.

  

Of my three covers here, one has malice-aforethought murder, one has in-the-heat-of-the moment manslaughter, and one remains questionable in spite of multiple unnatural deaths. At least, that’s my opinion, standing in for the Coroner’s jury.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies. The paperback edition of Superfluous Women is now available to pre-order. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It’s a Hot Time in My Office Tonight

WAIT! Before you gasp and hide your eyes, you should know this is NOT an X (or R) rated post. Instead, it honors this month’s theme on Blood Red Pencil: The Heat Is On — as that applies to writing.

by adwinda on morguefile

When thinking of heat, the first thing that come to this writer’s mind is a sizzling romance. After some contemplation, however, I conclude that “sizzling” need not be synonymous with explicit bedroom adventures. In fact, a romantic scene that ends with the reader standing outside the closing bedroom door may sizzle even more than a show-all, tell-all bird’s eye view of the action. How so? Imagination. Every reader’s experience is different, so the scene becomes personalized based on individual knowledge and lifestyle. Furthermore, the scene after the fact will speak volumes about what went on behind that closed door.

The next possibility that presents itself is fire. A roaring conflagration adds tension to almost any story as firefighters battle house fires, wild fires, burning high rises, shipboard blazes, and assorted other infernos. However, fire isn’t always destructive. Logs crackling in a fireplace on a chilly night warm those who sit close by. A bonfire beckons all comers to roast hot dogs, corn on the cob, foil-wrapped potatoes, and finish the meal with the sweet deliciousness of s’mores. A fire on a beach or a rocky ledge may signal searchers that lost hikers have been found. Every one of these scenarios can play a significant role in a great story.

by KFs on morguefile


Living in southern Colorado during this summer’s heat wave inspires more possibilities for story lines. What if a day trip into the desert ends with a vehicle breakdown many miles from civilization? Bottles of water in the cooler, ample for a day and a few extras for the evening, won’t keep anyone hydrated much longer than that in temperatures consistently running in three digits. A major interruption in power stops evaporative coolers and air conditioners alike, creating dangerous conditions for the elderly and others affected by high heat. Then what if the hospital’s back-up system breaks down before the power outage is repaired? Are potential stories coming to mind?

by David P. Whelan on Morguefile

Bottom line: The heat is on. The computer is fired up. Creative juices are broiling. It’s a hot time in my office tonight.

How about you? What’s under the broiler at your place?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

Friday, August 19, 2016

It's the Heat - Honest #FridayReads

There are some parts of the country where it is hotter than it is here in Texas. I know that, but it always seems the hottest where you are, especially when you have to go outside and feed animals, mow pastures, and clear the endless debris that comes with owning property with trees that shed limbs like dogs shed fur.

This is my dog, Poppy, who leaves enough hair around, I could make another dog when I sweep. She also loves to play with Harry.
So I am blaming my curmudgeonry - is that even a word? - on the heat.

Back in May, I posted here about what I learned listening to audio books. I have been doing that - listening not posting - for 7 months now since my eyes are impaired and I am not able to read for long periods. In May, I was confident that the health issue would resolve quickly, but quickly has not even been on the radar. While I am better, the better has come slowly, and I still have no idea when, or if, I will get back to 100%.

Maybe it isn't all the heat?

Anyway, the more I listen to audio books, the more I notice little mistakes that grate on my very last nerve. In the May post, I wrote about the irritation of listening to all the "he saids" "she saids" in books by Robert B. Parker. And the irritation is still strong. When reading the books, those dialogue attributives are easily overlooked. Aloud, they end up sounding like fingernails scraping on glass after a while.

I broke my vow not to listen to another Parker novel when Painted Ladies became available in audio at my local library. It is the final book that Parker wrote before he died in 2010, and since I had read, and enjoyed, so many of his books, I wanted to give this one a try.

I have long been a fan of Parker's stories, and for many of us mystery writers, he was our teacher. Not literally, of course, but by reading his books where we learned about spare writing, revealing character through dialogue, and twisting a plot into such a knot, the reader wonders if it will ever get untangled by reading his books.Those are just a few of the many reasons that Parker won prestigious awards for his writing: The Shamus, The Edger and the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award.



So it is again, hard for me to say anything negative about his work. However, I am struggling to stay with it. The story line is good. The banter is pure Spenser, maybe not at his best, but certainly in character. And I really do want to know why the art history professor was blown up, but the fingernails are reaching for the windowpane.

Thinking about how much better it would be for most of those dialogue attributives to be skipped, I wondered why people who are narrating a book for audio versions don't automatically make changes that would make the listening experience better. Or how come they don't correct a mistake that the author made, and the editor did not catch.

For instance, in another book I listened to, a character was called by the wrong name for several exchanges in a scene and then went back to the real name. As a narrator you would think that they could say, "Oh that's not the right name I should probably not say it even though the author wrote it."

I did a bit of surfing on the Internet to see if I could find information on what a narrator can change, or not change, in a book, and was not able to find anything. From performing in live theatre, I know that actors are not supposed to change words in plays, especially those that are published by the majors like Samuel French. However, I have been in productions where some words were taken out or changed, but only a tiny fraction of the overall play. That seems to be okay, as long as the percentage is so low it is hardly noticed.

So the actress in me wonders why an audio book narrator can't smooth out awkwardness, like the "saids", and fix the mistakes.


What do you think? Should narrators fix mistakes, or simply read what the author wrote?

 Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Heat is on to Finish My Book!

It's August, and the heat is on, in more ways than one. I'm outside every morning in the early morning hours taking long walks with Buster, my miniature pinscher. Then, I sit in the shade for about an hour afterward and watch Buster enjoy the great outdoors. I'm just not into the sun and heat like I used to be.

Buster, who likes the sun more than I do.
Strangely enough, though I've been avoiding the sun, it's still catching up with me. My arms sport a decent suntan, which is even more apparent when I take off my watch.

While inside, I've been wasting too much time on mundane things, like housework. Then I tell myself I'll spend only half an hour on Facebook, and it turns out to be way past an hour. I need to get out my kitchen timer and put it right by my desk and stop fooling around when it goes off.

Tentative cover for Awake, A Good Twin, Bad Twin Thriller
I must get Awake, my good twin,bad twin thriller, finished. So far, progress is eking along. That's not enough. It should have been finished years ago, when I started and abandoned it in favor of another.

To make matters worse, another voice keeps whispering for me to write another, far different book, a non-fiction one about dogs. I've succumbed to that kind of temptation before, so I must resist now. I know from experience it's more fun starting a book, when inspiration runs high. Not as much fun getting down to the nitty gritty and actually finishing it. Right now, I actually have to think out some plot twists, incorporate them, and polish up what's already done. Once all that has been accomplished, I can type "The End," and send Awake out to some beta readers.

So, right now, the heat is on to finish my book. What about you? Do you sometimes share my difficulties?


Experience Morgan Mandel's diversity and versatility. Check Out Her Standalone Romantic Comedy,  Girl of My Dreams, the romantic comedy series, Her Handyman, and A Perfect Angel. For Mystery/Suspense, try Killer Career or Two Wrongs. For the small town of Deerview series: Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? and Christmas   Carol.Websites:Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.ComTwitter:@MorganMandel

Friday, August 12, 2016

#FridayReads - Shantaram

Mumbai, photo by Ben Garrison, via Flickr
To kick off our new #FridayReads segment and tie in to August’s The Heat is On theme, I thought I would introduce our Blood-Red Pencil readers to a fellow Australian – Gregory Smith, aka Gregory David Roberts, aka “The Gentleman Bandit”, aka Shantaram.

Roberts’ real-life story is crazy enough - he robbed banks, politely, with a toy pistol while wearing a three-piece suit, was caught, convicted, and sentenced to 23 years in prison, broke out of jail MacGyver-style in broad daylight, fled the country with police hot on his tail, and ended up living in a slum in Mumbai, India.

Shantaram is Roberts’ heavily-fictionalized account of the decade when he seemingly vanished from the face of the earth. Arriving just as a devastating fire rips through a Mumbai slum, Marty-Stu the protagonist, driven by a Messiah-complex desire to atone for his crimes, opens a make-shift medical clinic (with just a first-aid course under his belt), infiltrates the Indian mafia, orchestrates a daring rescue, becomes a Bollywood agent and movie extra, and resorts to smuggling weapons into Afghanistan. If the idea of a Hulk Hogan lookalike taking on Bollywood makes you laugh, this book is for you. It’s not a beach read (at nearly 1000 pages, what it is is a work out), but it is as hot as an Indian curry, and, if you read it along with a large packet of salt, it’s alternately rollicking good fun, sweetly romantic, horrifically confronting, and tear-jerkingly moving. The protagonist might be a caricature, but the supporting cast is richly drawn and very memorable, and these characters and Roberts’ writing skill are what lift the book above one man’s attempt to explain and atone and nudge it into the literary sphere.

Photo by Ben Garrison, via Flickr
“One of the reasons we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.” ~ Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
The sequel to Shantaram, The Mountain Shadow, was published last year. Visit Gregory David Roberts on Amazon for details of both books.


Reviewed by Elle Carter Neal

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