Author: Catherine Maiorisi

Creating Characters: No Right Way

Creating living, breathing characters that readers can love or hate and identify with is a huge part of every author’s mission. How they accomplish that, though, varies from author to author. Some develop detailed character sheets that describe parents, siblings, eye color, height, weight, favorite food and color, hobbies, most traumatic incident, relationships, and just about anything you can think of about a person. Others interview their characters or write journal entries for them. Those who are pantsers allow the character to emerge on the page as the story unfolds.  What About Using Real People? A recent article in The New York Times detailed the life and death of the son and stepson of three famous authors who all apparently used him as a character or based characters on him and his life. Whoa. In the very first fiction I wrote, I filled in detailed character worksheets to describe the main characters but not for the several characters I based on real people. For those characters I consciously changed their looks, their backgrounds and any traits that could identify them and drew on my impression of who they were: how they saw themselves in the world, how they treated others, […]

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On Persistence

Last week at the Golden Crown Literary Society’s annual conference my book, The Disappearance of Lindy James, won a Goldie for the Best General Fiction. Being a finalist, then winning for Disappearance was a surprise. This is my first award and it’s displayed on the bookcase in my line of vision whenever I raise my eyes from my computer. And, as I thought about what to write for my blog post, I stared at it and the word persistence popped into my mind.  Persistence? It’s Not a Mystery  We’ve all heard stories about writers and other artists who achieved despite the many obstacles they had to overcome. And, we’re probably all familiar with the following quotes or similar ones about the importance of persistence:   “Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not. The world is full of unsuccessful people with talent.” Calvin Coolidge “The secret to genius is not genetics but daily practice married with relentless perseverance.” Robin Sharma “With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance all things are attainable.” Thomas Fowell Buxton “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein When I started writing I understood these quotes and others like them to mean learn […]

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On Writing Intensives

Catherine Maiorisi In 2010 I was invited by a casual writing friend to take her place in an invitation only, one week intensive writing workshop with James N. Frey in Portland, Oregon. I was scared but I went. It turned out ten of the twelve writers had been working with Frey for years and they organized and held this workshop every year at the house of one of the participants. It really was intense. Each person read a chapter every other day. After the eleven other participants critiqued the reading, Frey offered his comments. Sometimes his comments were brutal, though he was pretty gentle with me. In between the morning and afternoon critique sessions, he taught a master class. Spending that much time in a room with other writers and a master teacher was exciting, energizing and exhausting. I’ve never done anything like that since but I think it’s something I would probably get even more out of at this point in my career. Have you ever participated in a writing intensive? Connie: A friend of mine went on an intensive writing retreat in Tuscany several years ago, led by Elizabeth George. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Catherine: That would be […]

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Talking About Writing Retreats

I often see author friends on Facebook renting cottages in the mountains, at lakes and at various beaches for private writing retreats. A Brooklyn friend checks into a lower Manhattan hotel from time to time for a private writing retreat. To my knowledge, these friends have spouses or partners, but none have young children. So why the need to get away?   I’ve asked authors Edith Maxwell and Anne Laughlin to discuss their retreats. Why do you retreat? Edith:  I need time away from home to get a big burst of work done.  Anne:  I’m attracted by the idea of going away and concentrating on nothing but writing, free of the minutia that fills so much of our lives. I can handle a lot of time on my own and that attracted me as well. It’s a way of honoring myself as a writer. The amount of work you can get done in two-four week residencies is astounding. Do you prefer a private or a group retreat? Edith:  I prefer private but have gone on several wonderful group retreats. Anne:  I’ve been to both and can say that in the earlier years I preferred the group and now I prefer private. Most people want to socialize […]

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Write What You Know

That is the advice many give to new authors. What does that mean? As a character driven author, I understood it to mean you shouldn’t write characters outside your own experience. For example, you can’t have doctor as a main character unless you have medical experience, or a detective main character unless you’ve been a police officer.  For several reasons, I’ve always ignored that advice. First, I write what I like to read. Second, other than the very first book I wrote where I thought in advance about the characters, my characters and their stories come from my unconscious. Third, I write fiction.  But. On Memorial Day Sherry and I went out to breakfast at Pier 1, an outdoor restaurant on the Hudson River in Riverside Park, that we haven’t been to since the summer of 2019 because of Covid19. Sherry went to place our order and I found us a table. And, just a few feet away was the table where Darcy and Andrea, the characters from my first romance, had dinner. I looked up and I could see the small park at the top of the long steep path down from Sixty-eighth street. Andrea stopped there before she rolled […]

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The Mystery of Endings

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Right? Not always. Have you ever had the bad luck of happily reading a book, reaching the climax, turning the page to find out what happens and seeing a message, something like, buy book two to find out what happens? I have. In both romances and mysteries. And I’ll tell you what happens for me: I never buy that author again. But those ransom kinds of endings are just the most egregious examples of bad endings.  More of them are like the one described in a comment posted today in a Facebook reader’s group. I don’t have permission to quote the comment so here’s the gist of it. The ending “stunk.” After a big buildup it seemed like they suddenly remembered they had a deadline, made something up and spit it out. I’ve read a number of books that ended like the one referenced in that Facebook comment. It seems as if the author was bored or tired and just stopped writing when he or she hit the climax and failed to provide a denouement, “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot […]

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I Knew That: The Mystery of the Mind

I learned two things this week. Two things I knew but seem to have forgotten. Both are important to my work as a writer. I may have to get a tattoo as a permanent reminder. First: It’s the Characters, Stupid. Duh, of course I know this. I’m a reader and a writer so why was I surprised when that thought occurred to me after I finished reading the latest two books in a historical mystery series of around fifteen books that I’ve loved for years.  Thinking about the series, I suddenly clearly saw the skeleton of the books, the bones on which the author has hung the flesh of every story in the series. And, for the first time, I found the books repetitive and boring. I noticed the research dumps, such as detailed descriptions of historical places incidental to the story and the lists of every item of clothing every man or woman was wearing. I also noted the similar verbiage used from book to book to describe recurring characters. Was I seeing it because I read the books back-to-back? Or had the author gotten careless, and it was more obvious? I don’t know. Now I know how hard […]

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How Important are awards?

Catherine Maiorisi In the last few weeks the mystery community has celebrated colleagues awarded a Leftie, an Agatha, or an Edgar. And I’m sure you all heard my excited screams and saw my posts when I learned that two of my books, A Message in Blood and The Disappearance of Lindy James, are finalists for Goldie awards.  The winners of the Lefty and the Agatha are determined by vote of attendees at the conferences that award them, the Edgars and the Goldies by secret committees who read all the books submitted in a category and rate them to come up with a winner.  My question is, how do you view these awards? Do they influence your reading? Would you buy a book because it won an award?  Connie Berry I wouldn’t buy a book just because it got an award, but I would definitely take a look. Books are nominated because they have made an impression. Winners are often chosen because they are better known. That’s why, in my opinion, a nomination is a big win. I love the awards our industry gives out. And congratulations on the Goldies’ nominations, Catherine! Well done. Susan Breen  I am impressed by anyone […]

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It’s a Mystery: Why I Love Criticism

When I wrote “the end” on the first fiction I’d ever written, I asked my wife to read it. She’s a theater director who has worked with playwrights to improve their plays and I knew I’d get an honest evaluation. She pointed out problems in my writing style and asked questions that got me thinking about the story. I went back to my computer. After several more drafts, I gave the manuscript to friends and a couple of family members to read. Everyone loved it. I felt terrific. But… In my heart I knew it wasn’t good enough. It’s A Mystery: Finding Objective Readers I wanted readers who weren’t invested in my success to tell me what needed to improve to make the manuscript better. But I was new to writing and there was no one in my circle of friends and acquaintances knowledgeable in the art of writing a novel. Lucky for me, I had joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime hoping their meetings would provide the knowledge I was missing. And the Mentor Program offered by the New York chapter of MWA was just what I needed. At that time, for fifty dollars an unpublished […]

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Grabbing Mystery Plots from the Headlines

Read about it in the newspapers or see it on TV news and a few weeks later you’re watching a fictionalized account on TV. The weekly Law & Order show is probably the best example of that approach.  I read the New York Times every day and occasionally watch TV news. My mysteries and my romances are influenced by what I read and see, not just the scandalous headline stories but by everyday events and human interest articles. As you may know, I’m a pantser and I do no advance planning or plotting before starting to write. So even though I may have a particular news story in mind when I type the first words of a novel or a short story, the reality is that my subconscious is in charge and that news story is just the jumping off point. Like most authors I devote months and, in some cases, years, plotting and writing a novel. Because of my pantser process, the extended writing time and the more complex exploration possible in the hundreds of pages of a novel, my books are more complex than a forty-five-minute TV show. And by the time I write The End, the book I’ve written […]

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