Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Caper about a Caper

As I struggle through the third book in my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, I thought about the finished book waiting in the wings that I never published. I’m sure it needs a good edit and updating. I never published it because the book is fiction written around a real event, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, pulled off in Boston in 1990. This still remains one of the largest art thefts in history, valued at $500 million, and none of the 13 stolen pieces has been recovered. I’m from the Boston area, went to art school there, so the theft left a big hole in my heart, along with eleven empty frames still hanging in the museum.

I’ll certainly add a line or two in the preface to explain the creative license I took to write the book. But twenty-four years is a long time for a crime to remain unsolved, and I’m willing to take the risk. It is fiction, remember.

Another consideration was the arrest of master criminal, Whitey Bulger, a man thought to be involved, if not in the heist, as a middleman to raise money, specifically for the Irish Republican Army. If Bulger knows anything, he hasn’t disclosed the information to the public’s knowledge. Even though the FBI now claims to know who the culprits are, the statute of limitations has expired on pursuing their arrest and prosecution. However, anyone in possession of the art can still be brought to trial. The most anyone can hope for is a return of the stolen art.

My book, titled Cross Currents, is primarily a caper that revolves around one piece of the stolen artwork, Jan Vermeer’s The Concert. What makes the Vermeer, all the Vermeers, so valuable is that only thirty-four are known conclusively to be painted by the artist. The worth of that painting alone is $200 million. That’s a sizeable chunk when you consider the rest of the stolen art includes three Rembrandts, five Degas sketches, and a Manet.

Part of the fun in writing this book was that I learned about art forgers like Hans Van Meegeren, who replicated canvases of Vermeer and others to such perfection that they were hung in major European museum and found their way into the collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering during World War II. The development of modern scientific techniques such as gas chromatography tripped up Van Meegeren away because the pigments in paints had changed significantly since the seventeenth century. Still, he reaped millions and millions of dollars before he was caught. He died of a heart attack right before his trial.

I’ll return to Cross Currents as soon as I finish my work in progress. The book is filled with the trademark characters I love to write: those tempted to cross ethical lines, although in this book, some of them have made a career out of being on the wrong side of the law. Does my heroine, Zoe Swan, find the painting? Is it the real thing or a forgery, and will it fill the frame at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? I’m not telling.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Deja Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. 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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Making a Point or Three

Graphic courtesy of
Hello, dearies! Well, it seems that Mother Nature can’t make up her mind. Eighty summery degrees one day, snow the next. I must confess that I’m sorely tempted to simply toss my coats and T-shirts into one large pile and draw my wardrobe at random. It would make about as much sense as the latest weather patterns.

To spur the jet stream into sticking with a decision, let’s have a little look at ellipses versus periods, shall we? While some writers delight in the use of ellipses to trail off thoughtfully in a sentence, many editors (and readers) rail against this trail and demand closure. Firmness! Decisiveness! Like a good analyst, they seek closure in their sentences.

Here are a few tips to help nudge you in the appropriate direction when faced with the decision to dot or not.

1. Ellipsis points indicate the omission of some portion of a quoted passage. The omitted portion mustn’t be essential to said passage, or you run the risk of skewing the meaning.

2. Suspension points (same thing, different use) are used to show suspended or interrupted thought, much as an em dash indicates an abrupt shift.

3. A period, in the words of the CMOS, “marks the end of a declarative or imperative sentence” or a single-word response.

In the end, it all boils down to clarity. Is your character suffering from a derailed train of thought? Go for the ellipses. “Now then, I need to buy a pair of stockings. Heavens, what an awful plaid pattern on that coat! Hm, where was I? Something else I needed to get …”

If, on the other hand, your character has focus on par with the Hubble telescope, get to the point with a period. “I’m going to buy those shoes. Hand me my checkbook.”

That’s all for now; it’s nearly time to go out and watch the lunar eclipse. I don’t trust this ever-changing weather, so I believe I’ll wear a heavy coat while I’m outside. For the first ten minutes, at any rate. Until Mother Nature settles down, be sure to dress in layers and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo by Darrick Bartholomew
Faced with a choice between giving up King cake and buying a new (larger) wardrobe, the Style Maven opted to adapt the recipe into smaller portions, creating Epic Raisin Cinnamon Rolls. She is currently planning to install a treadmill in the kitchen.

The Act of Writing

I’ve always been an inveterate list-maker. Maybe it’s because list-making reduces my stress. Or maybe it’s because I have to write things down in order to believe they are real.

About twenty years ago, I was undergoing a particularly stressful time.  I was in the throes of changing jobs, moving to a new state, selling my house and buying a new one, hunting for a new school for my daughter, and saying goodbye to friends. There was a lot to do. My lists were long, and getting longer.

No matter how diligently I wrote everything I had to do on my ever-growing lists, I was haunted by the feeling that there was something I was forgetting. I was sure it was an important something.

But the only time I remembered what that something was, was when I was asleep. Nearly every night I’d have the same dream – I dreamt I remembered the something. I would wake up, breathe a sigh of relief, and go back to sleep.

The next mornings I remembered having the dream, remembered waking up, remembered the relief -- but I never remembered the “something” itself.

This cycle repeated three, four, sometimes five times a week for two or three months. I spent many of my waking moments trying to remember my dreams or figure out what the something was that I was forgetting.

Finally one night when I woke up after the dream, I got out of bed, stumbled across the room to my desk, and scribbled “the something” down on a scrap of paper, making a list. Then I stumbled back to bed and fell back to sleep.

In the morning when I awoke, again I remembered the dream, remembered waking up, and still did not remember the something. Ah, but that didn’t matter now! I had written it down on a list! Saved at last! I scampered over to my desk, excited and filled with curiosity about what I would find. 

This is what my list said: 


???? To this day I have not figured out what those words meant. I do not know what my subconscious was trying to tell me. Maybe it was just playing a joke on my conscious mind – you know, kind of a “gotcha.” But the really interesting thing is that from that time onward, my feeling of having forgotten something important went away and never came back.

I have come to believe that the point of this story is that what you write is not as important as the act of writing.
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, April 11, 2014

Opening Hooks

Grabbing the reader’s attention in the first few lines of a book is essential. Below are two examples of openers from my writing manual. Which of the two do you like better? Why? How would you open this scene?

Scene 1:
Stretching long pink fingers across the horizon, the sun scurried away from ominous thunderheads that rolled across the sky. Sharp winds charged the air with chilling expectation. Dusk yielded too
early to the dark.

Maria sat on the window seat and shuddered as jagged bolts dissected the air. Putting her hands over her ears, she tried to shut out the thunderous roars that followed.

The storm matched her mood, her life. Hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, she knew them all. They defined her existence.

Scene 2:
Streaking across the black sky, lightning dazzled the dark room with eerie brightness. Thunder answered in earsplitting claps.

Maria stared out the window. Where was Hannah? Her daughter had promised to come home before the storm hit. Maria punched the redial button on her cell phone. No service.

Another flash chased a gust of angry wind. Grotesque shadows skittered across the limb-littered yard. Dangling in haphazard fashion over the bare branches of several trees, a broken power line shot sparks toward the rushing stream that, moments before, had been the street.

“Mommy! Mommy!” The rain beat so hard against the window she almost missed her son’s words. “Where are you, Mommy?”

“I’m here, Danny, on the window seat.” She stretched her arms toward him as another flash brightened the room. “Is Devon with you?”

“He’s under the bed. I’m scared.” His voice quivered.

“Come over here and sit on my lap. I’ll keep you safe.”

“I have to go be with Devon. He’s scared, too.” Danny bolted from the room.

She jumped up and hurried after him.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Establishing Character

Last month, I got together with a big group of friends. We’re all writers of one kind or another and you couldn’t ask for a better convergence of personalities. We meet at various houses, supposedly for lunch, but it goes beyond that since “lunch” usually lasts around 3 or 4 hours.

We gathered at a perfect house. Not a humongous house like those around a country club. Not a cozy lake house overlooking Lake Travis. The house was perfect because it so very much reflects the owner. It’s bright; it’s funky; it’s elegant; it’s colorful; it’s warm; it’s inviting. It’s HER. You could be blindfolded, taken to this house, and when you saw it, you’d know whose home you were at.

 Now that’s something to keep in mind when you’re establishing character. The character’s home tells a lot about that person. It’s not black or white. It tells you about the character. Also keep in mind that every character’s home, office, car, etc. doesn’t have to match your tastes. They should match the tastes and lifestyle of the character and his/her personality. Even more than that, they should reflect the character; they should be an extension of the character.

 The reader should be able to enter their home and learn more about the character than what’s been told to them. Yes, as someone said, it’s all in the details. But for you to use the environment to establish character, you don’t have to have a lot of details. The room doesn’t have to be described ad nauseum. One or two things will tell the reader more than you could describe in a page. Like the delicate, porcelain, hooting owl on the coffee table. Or the twirling, kicking, pom-pom Barbie on the bookshelf.

 Or the blue and yellow office with the upside-down shelves on the ceiling. (My office.)

Helen Ginger
is an author and blogger. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2014.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fun Times with Editors

In 35 years of writing, I've dealt with quite a few editors, even if you don't count the ones who only sent rejections--as I'd much rather not.

My first editor, Fredda Isaacson at Warner Books, bought my first Regency, Toblethorpe Manor. She then told me it was about 20,000 words too long for their format and would have to be cut. (Writing longhand and then typing, I hadn't a clue how long it was: 96,000 words, apparently.)

If I hadn't been totally ignorant of the publishing business, I'd have replied that I'd see what I could do. As it was, I left it to her. It turned out to be a good thing. Goodness knows what sort of a mess I'd have made of it, whereas she got back to me some time later to say she had been able to cut only about a page and half. The story was so tightly woven any more would have wrecked it. Warner published it at $1 more than their usual price!

My second editor was Ruth Cavin, later doyenne of mystery editors at St. Martin's. An amazing lady, she went on working into her 90s and still remembered having helped my early career. As Regency editor at Walker & Co., she bought my 3rd and 4th Regencies, skipping the second, which naturally did not please me. then taking it later, along with several others. In retrospect, she was right. Lavender Lady is a stronger book and remains just about every month the best seller of all my Regency e-books. Sometimes I wonder whether it hasn't by now been read by every Regency reader in existence.

In case you're wondering, I'm not conceding editors are always right.

Ruth moved on after buying Miss Hartwell's Dilemma. I didn't get on so well with her successor, who, on taking over production of that title, addressed me as Dear Author. When you've sold eight books, you kind of expect your editor to know your name—or at least to look it up before writing to you. It did not augur well for our relationship.

Fortunately, she lasted for only one more book. I won't go into painful details, just say that it was the first and last time any editor has ever asked me to rewrite more than a scene or two, and I had to rewrite twice.

She'd asked for an adventure story, then wanted less adventure. My heroine, growing up in Costa Rica, had a pet monkey and a pet parrot. The editor thought that made it seem like a children's book. They were quite important to my story. I took out the monkey but fought for the parrot. Worst of all, to my terse last sentence: At last their lips met she added a long coda—in the sweetest kiss that ever was in all the five continents and seven seas they would travel in their future life together. So-o-o not me. I told my agent I'd put up with all the rest if she left that off.

Though the published result was a choppy mess, at least it didn't end with that soppy sentimental slush.

Before it came out as an e-book, I rewrote for the third time, attempting to restore the original. But that's another story.

How about you? Share some interesting stories about editors in the comments!

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

People Don't Think Alike

People don't think alike, and the strangest of all are writers.

To prove it,
here are some examples:

A child:  What fun. Snowball fights, sledding, ice skating, snow forts. 
A stay-at-home adult: How pretty. Great time to hibernate. 
A worker: Please, not more of that stuff. It'll take forever to get to work today.
An animal lover: The poor dears can't get to their food. Time for me to feed them.
A writer: It's hard to hear footsteps in the snow. Perfect for my villain to sneak up.

A child: Can't wait for my Easter Basket. Hope it has good candy in it. 
A woman: Can I find a new outfit in time, or will someone notice if I wore the same thing as last year?
A worker: Will the boss let me out early the Friday before, or by some miracle, give me the whole day off?
An animal lover: Easter Bunny decorations are so adorable.
A clergyman: Why is Easter so secularized?
A writer: I've got to write this great idea down before I forget, but I have no paper. Will anyone notice if I use the napkin from the brunch buffet to write on?

A child: School's out, schools out, teacher let the monkeys out.
A stay-at home adult: How can I entertain this dear child until the school year mercifully starts again?
A worker: Can't wait for vacation. Where should I go this time?
An animal lover: I must remember to fill the bird bath. It can get hot out there.
A writer: Hmm, people open windows at night to save on air conditioning. Easy access for bad guys. That should work well in my plot.

Can you think of other examples? Please share.

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 


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