Tag: missdemeanors

missdemeanors

Must A Main Character Be Like Me?

I am in the midst of rewriting large portions of my fourth book this week. There are three POV characters in this story. One is an African American female police officer, aged 27, single sans kids. She’s been a cop for three years and is very smart with a high EQ, but a troubled history. Another is a hugely successful 37-year-old Black female orthopedist of West Indian descent that armchair quarterbacks injuries on a sports network as a medical commentator. She’s in a heap of trouble. The third is a 35-year-old former Caucasian attorney turned stay-at-home mom to twin boys, one of whom is autistic and homeschooled. She’s a walking anxiety disorder with a sharp wit. All the characters are American. None of them are particularly like me, though I am sure my personality and observations bleed into all my characters. Specifically, their back stories and cultural heritages don’t match my own (though the orthopedist is of West Indian descent and so is the Jamaican half of my family).  I have things in common with all of my POV characters, though. And, most importantly, I’ve done my research.  All this writing has me thinking this week about character creation. How like me should my characters be? How much latitude do I have, as a fiction writer, to create characters that have different cultural heritages and American experiences than my own?   In practice, I tend to err on the side of a lot of latitude, providing I’ve done the research and have a connection to the character so that they come across as a real person and not caricature. For The Widower’s Wife, one of my characters was a white male insurance agent math whiz. I am not white. Not male. Not an insurance agent. And definitely not a math whiz. But, I interviewed a female friend insurance agent and am married to a former math major. I’d felt like I’d done my homework. Still, I’ve been known to take too much latitude in my life. So, I asked the MissDemeanors for their take.  Q. When you write main POV characters, do you create people that share your gender and ethnicity or do they come from other cultures? Why? Alexia: I write main characters who share my race, gender, and socioeconomic background because I spent the first 47-ish years of my life not finding many/any middle class, African American, female main characters and I got tired of not reading about anyone who looked like me. #representationmatters. Susan: I tend to write main characters who share my race, gender, etc. because I feel I have something authentic to say from that point of view. However, I did write a novel with a protagonist who was an Indian young woman, and that was a challenge, but I tried to get around it by making sure she and I had points of intersection. So I made her a Christian. I definitely populate my fictional world with a wide variety of people.  Michele: I’m going to sound apologetic here, but the truth is I don’t feel qualified to write from the point of view of someone ethnically or racially different from me. I do feel I can write from a male point of view and I’ve written gay characters with some authenticity, probably because I have gay family members and friends. What I try to do is appeal to the universal themes and desires that all human beings struggle with. I applaud those who can write with more diversity than I and enjoy reading those stories. Alison: I have an extremely detailed knowledge of my ancestry because I grew up Mormon. I can go onto a Family Search website and see my ancestry (including when everyone was baptized and received various temple ordinances), which is mostly English and Swedish, with a little Scottish, Irish and Welsh thrown in. If you go back several centuries, there is some French. Needless to say, my experience is that of a fish-belly white woman. My protagonist, Abish Taylor, is also white (but, wait for it, she has auburn hair). Before my editor convinced me to write Blessed be the Wicked entirely from Abbie’s PoV, my favorite voice was that of the male police officer and returned LDS missionary. He’s also descended from Mormon pioneer stock, which means some variation of the British/Scandinavian mix. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could convincingly write another ethnicity for three main reasons: ignorance (I don’t know what I don’t know), fear (I’d be afraid to get something really wrong), and anxiety (I wouldn’t want to offend someone if I did get some thing wrong). Tracee: Susan and Cate may remember we (or I) were asked a version of this at our book even last year in Manhattan. The specific question was how did I feel about writing from a man’s point of view. For me the intersection or commonalities of culture and sociology economic situation are more restrictive than gender. On the other hand, if I really felt a story needed a character outside my comfort zone I think I would try. On the other hand…. would I get it right? I would never write a character simple to check a diversity box. I don’t think that’s fair to who ever really lives in that box. We all deserve authenticity. Paula: It’s a tricky question. I believe literature should reflect the multicultural world we live in and as an agent I try to do my part to champion writers who contribute to that multiculturalism. As a writer I believe that writers should in theory be able write about anything or anybody, but in practice in my own writing I am more cautious. My mystery A Borrowing of Bones features characters of different genders and ethnicities, but so far I only feel comfortable writing from the point of view of characters ethnically similar to myself. I do write his and her points of view, but both my hero and my heroine are former military and having been raised in a military family I hope that helps me pull it off. Robin: Authenticity is important to me – if a character is unrelatable they’re not fun to write and less fun to read. I have no problem writing in the voice of different genders. My best friends have always been men and they’re used to me asking lots of (sometimes inappropriate) questions. Socioeconomic diversity isn’t a problem, either. I’ve personally experienced the gamut on that so I have my own life to draw on. I’m also comfortable with writing gay or straight characters, being gay myself and having grown up, lived, and worked around straight people. Ethnicities are trickier because I worry about getting it wrong or the character feeling 2-dimensional. That’s where I proceed with caution and get guidance from friends. Looking back at the stories I’ve written, all have been set in and around San Francisco so multiculturalism is part of the world-building. Not to mention one of the reasons I love the SF (and NYC). When it comes down to it, though, it’s service to the story. I agree with Tracee, I won’t go out of my way just to tick a particular diversity box.  

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New Year's Resolutions

2018 is fast approaching. Now is the time to take stock of 2017 and figure out what to do better next year. In addition to my annual, post-holiday binge pledge to reduce my consumption in a variety of ways, I also hope to be gentler with my family and myself in 2018. Slower to anger. Kinder. More patient.  I asked the MissDemeanors for their resolutions. This is what they said.  Michele Dorsey: To practice forgiveness and remember it is a gift you give yourself. D.A. Bartley: To err on the side of kindness. May 2018 be a year of compassion and peace. Robin Stuart: Breathe. Literally. Just pause each afternoon for 5-10 minutes to focus only on breathing to quiet the noise, reflect, re-center. Paula Munier: Ritualize my life. Starting with my morning routine: Instead of stumbling around the house and the Internet until the caffeine kicks in, I’m going to establish a more productive and inspiring way to begin my day: tea, yoga, walk the dog. I’ve got the electric tea pot and the yoga dice and the dog, so all I need now is a little good karma. Alexia Gordon: I resolve to choose a one-a-day or one-a-week challenge (e.g. a stitch a day, a book a week, a letter a week, a journal entry a day) and stick to it for the entire year, be more disciplined about my writing and write every day (no excuses), even if it’s only 100 words, and send out a monthly newsletter. I also resolve to do one new thing, just for fun and personal enrichment. Susan Breen: This year my resolution is to read the Bible from start to finish. I got one of those 15-minute-a-day Bibles and I’ve done a fairly good job, though I seem to be mired in November. Beyond the religious reasons, I just love all the stories and words. (I’m reading the King James version.) I’ve also found some incredible titles. Tracee de Hahn: These have all been so wonderful! I was thinking of being more healthful- but I think it’s more along the lines of what Alexia and Paula are suggesting- more purposeful. Which spills over into healthy start to the day, and improving habits in general (including the ones that are about writing). What’s your resolution?   

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Make A Book Trailer Worth WatchingWithout Breaking The Bank

 The best movie trailer that I ever saw was Quentin Tarantino’s for Pulp Fiction. It starts out with slow classical music and an authoritative voice detailing the movie’s awards—interrupted by a gun shot. What follows is a variety of scenes from the movie overlaid with the film’s now iconic soundtrack. It lasts three minutes and features enough stars to populate the Pacific Palisades. A book trailer—particularly an author-financed one—can’t be anything like that. Forget dreams of a fast montage that gives viewers a sense of how the story flows. Setting up each scene and hiring the actors necessary is cost-prohibitive. I’ve learned that the hard way after producing three book trailers for my first three thrillers: Dark Turns, The Widower’s Wife, and Lies She Told, all published by Crooked Lane Books. For a reasonable book trailer that doesn’t look like a hodgepodge of stock photos strung together with a Ken Burns effect (as so many do), you get one scene, one setting, and one actor to tell your story. For my latest book trailer, I hired Alice Teeple, a NYC-based photographer and videographer to come to my house and take a series of still shots that she would turn into the trailer. We found rights free, stock sound on YouTube of a camera flash. I play the dead body and wrote the music. The original plan was to have my husband write the reviews on my body with marker. Right before filming, however, he realized he could project them with a mini projector that we use to watch movies outside in the summer. My skin thanks him. Scrubbing off permanent marker is no easy feat.  The whole thing cost less than $600 to make. It has since been featured on Crime By The Book and other blogs, helping reinvigorate some of the publicity surrounding the novel.  Have you ever made a book trailer? How did you do it and how much did it cost? 

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Connecting With Readers

So, the AMA on Snapchat was fun yesterday. More than thirty readers weighed in with questions asking everything from how I create characters to my personal political views (it’s Twitter, where so much tends to skew Trump. What can you do?). You can check it out here.   In keeping with the social media-centric posts this week, I asked the MissDemeanors to weigh in on their favorite tools were to connect with readers. Here’s what they said.  Susan Breen: I love twitter. I’ve come to the conclusion that I see the world in 140 character bites. I love the whole retweeting thing, which allows me to interact with people I might not otherwise. It’s a sort of living diary, for me. Alexia Gordon: I like Facebook and Instagram as my go-to social media tools. Conferences are how I meet readers face-to-face. Paula Munier: I interact with readers on Facebook and twitter—and that’s fun. But I really love meeting readers (and writers!) in person at conferences and bookstores and library events. Robin Stuart: Twitter is my go-to for online interactions. I’ve tinkered with InstaFaceSnap but have had the most consistent experiences with readers and writers on Twitter. I also agree with Paula. The networking and mingling at conferences and workshops can’t be beat. I meet a surprising number of crime fiction fans at Sisters in Crime and MWA events. Prior to joining the organizations I expected the events to attract only writers. Meeting and hearing from enthusiastic readers is a happy bonus. Another tool that I like (and keep hoping mentions my latest book) is The Skimm. A daily email that summarizes the news for its five million readers, The Skimm also highlights books of interest on Fridays. The newsletter was started by two, now 30-something, NBC News producers for millennials that need to know what’s going on in a nutshell before heading to the office.     

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Reviews: To Read or Not To Read

My third thriller, Lies She Told, launched Sept. 12 and the reviews have been coming in fast and furious. Last I checked, there are about forty-five on Amazon and 470 reviews/ratings on GoodReads. There are also reviews on Instagram, which I am learning about and just started obsessing over.  And I am reading all of them.  Why? The true artist might ask. The book can’t be changed now. As long as I feel good about my work, what does it matter what other people think?  There are a couple reasons that I read nearly all my reviews. The first is that, like any insecure creative, I must know what people are saying about my brainchild and, by extension, me. I’m as bad as any high school girl with a new haircut. I’ll pretend that it doesn’t matter if the popular kids think my bangs are cute because I like them, but I desperately want the validation.  The far more important, non-ego-centric reason that I read reviews is because they are the second part of the conversation that I initiated with my imagined readers when I started writing my latest novel. I told a tale intending for particular themes to emerge and for my characters to resonate in certain ways. I put in twists and turns that I crafted to be believable red herrings. I aspired, above all, to entertain. Now the readers get to react. I have to listen to their interpretation of the story. I need to know what I succeeded in communicating and where I might have fallen short.  Crossing my fingers that I’m in for a good conversation. Do you read reviews?   

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Where do you read?

I’ll read anywhere, though I particularly enjoyed reading during my last vacation. I went to St. Lucia and finished Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which I truly enjoyed. The hype is worth it.  So is the hype about St. Lucia. Here I am reading my own book in this picture because The Widower’s Wife is coming out in paperback and, you know, marketing.Most of the time, I was actually reading Big Little Lies, though.  Inspired by my vacation reading, my challenge for The MissDemeanors this week was to show themselves reading in a favorite place. See their photos below! Tracee de Hahn: I love to read in cafes and particularly in cafes in cities, and even better in a cafe in Paris near a bookstore where I have bought a new book. I’ve spent many many hours and days reading at one of the cafes at St Michel, just across from this Gilbert Jeune bookstore. As a testament to this, I have many many books in French which I apparently couldn’t live without. Most histories. Surely one day I will read them all! (Cate: Tracee, C’est magnifique! J’espere qu’un jour je pourrai aller visiter les librairies Francaises.)  C. Michele Dorsey: I have loved reading at the beach since I was old enough to read, although I will read anywhere. Here I am at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts enraptured by Brian Thiem’s first book, “Red Line” using a No Virgin Island bookmark. (Cate: Red Line is such a great read, as is Michele’s acclaimed, Publishers Weekly STARRED reviewed, Sabrina Salter mystery series.)    Susan Breen loves reading in the woods. (Cate: Who wouldn’t love reading in these woods? Is one of those trees where Maggie Dove found Marcus Bender? ;-))     D.A. Bartley: Reading Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners in front of Blue Polyvitro Crystals by Dale Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden. (Cate: Great SETTING!) Gardens are favorite places of the MissDemeanors. The picture below is of our lovely agent and acclaimed author Paula Munier reading in Cherasco Italy. (Che Bello!)  Robin Stuart was recently reading in Sooke, British Columbia (the importance of will be revealed in an upcoming blog post).  When traveling, she reads outside–cafes, poolside or, as in this case, beachside. When she’d home, she most often reads in bed where the yard work can’t distract her.  (CATE: I want to know what was happening in that intriguing setting)  And below is a favorite reading nook of Lefty Award winning author Alexia Gordon. All you need to know is that it has good food and beverages. What else does a writer need?Tell us, where do you read? 

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