Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Pets are amusing. Except sometimes.
Last night, before I went to bed, I thought I’d play with the cats. I picked up one of Schooner’s toys and tossed it. Normally he plays an energetic game of fetch, but last night he just sauntered over to the toy and tapped it.
"Fine,” I said. “I was saving this for Christmas, but here is a new toy.” I dropped a new plastic ball with an obnoxious bell inside, and Schooner went crazy, batting it all over the house before running out of steam. He clamped his jaws around it and trotted to my feet, dropping the ball and glancing up. I scooped it up and hurled it into the kitchen, Schooner close behind. He batted it around for another two minutes before bringing it back. We did this several times before he dropped it too far for my reach. This seems to be the difference between a dog’s fetch game and a cat’s fetch game. The cat will call a halt when he’s had enough.
In the dark, the distant tinkle of a bell woke me. It got louder and louder and I knew. Schooner was batting the ball down the hall toward my door. I glanced at the red numbers on the digital clock: 4:10 AM.
The bell stopped for an instant, then began again; jingle, jingle, thwack; jingle, jingle, thwack; jingle jingle, thwack. He bounced the ball against my door repeatedly for about five minutes until he finally gave up the hope I’d come out and play.
Maybe that pet rock thing was a good idea.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
We humans are comfort-seeking creatures. Being a Virgo, there’s nothing I find more comforting than a routine—unless it’s the thrill of checking items off a list. My writing days are marked off by coffee in my favorite mug, peanut butter on homemade bread, reading the comics in a specific order, walks in a counter-clockwise pattern, water aerobics, cheese crackers, and a set number of pages written by nightfall.
• Write in new and unfamiliar places. Leave that cushy chair, the coffee shop, the air-conditioned office. Drive to the airport and write in the lounge, cram yourself into a bathtub, pick out a park bench, writing standing up beside the washer. (Legend has it that Thomas Wolfe wrote in longhand, using the top of a refrigerator as a desk. Granted, refrigerators were shorter then, but he was 6’ 6” tall. I’m 5’ 2”. That’s why I suggested a washer.)
• Write with new materials. Shut down the computer and grab a legal pad. Toss aside the legal pad and pen and write on a paper bag with a nub of a pencil. Try finger-painting your next novel or grab a stylus and a clay tablet or a chisel and a block of stone.
• Write hungry. Skip breakfast and forego that cup of coffee.
• Treat food as a reward for meeting your writing goal, not an entitlement.
(But set small goals. Try to knock out 100 pages before breakfast and your blood sugar will be lower than the winter temperature in
• Start a conversation with a stranger. Make it even tougher—pick out someone with a scowl, someone who appears unapproachable. (I suggest a well-lit public area for this one. Approaching the wrong person on a dark street could result in more pain than you bargained for.)
• Read challenging material. Pick up something by Henry James, James Joyce, or Stephen Hawking. Get a copy of the health care bill and take Cornell notes.
• Create artificial deadlines. Set an oven timer. Tell yourself you work for a newspaper, you’re on deadline, and the editor is breathing down your neck and checking his watch. (Use a hairdryer aimed at the back of your head to simulate that breath. Use the scent of your choice to further enhance the effect. Back in the day, many of my editors carried the scent of cigarettes or adult beverages.)
• Change critique groups. Group members can become too supportive or too snarky. Find a group where you’ll be “the new kid” and see what a fresh audience has to say.
• Invite a reader to beat you up. Ask for criticism from someone who will mangle your manuscript—an ex-lover, the neighbor who complained when your dog pooped on his lawn, a politician you heckled.
• Try a different style or voice. Write in the style of William Faulkner or Jonathan Lethem. Write in the voice of Huckleberry Finn or Stephanie
• Try a different genre. If you write science fiction, try romance. If you write romance, try your hand at a western, if you’re all about mystery, try out fantasy.
When you challenge yourself, you’ll challenge your characters. When you ratchet up the tension, they could surprise you by how creative they become. And, after a few weeks of pain, you’ll look in the rearview mirror and see that the rut is far behind you.
Bio: Carolyn J. Rose grew up in
She is the author of eight mysteries,
Following her own advice, she and her husband co-authored a young-adult fantasy, The Hermit of Humbug Mountain. In this epic battle between good and evil, the fate of the world depends on a teenage boy with a flair for drumming and his precocious sister.
Visit her virtual home at www.deadlyduomysteries.com
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
My protagonist wants to go to college. What in the world is she thinking? Women did not go to college in 1805/1806. Does anyone have any ideas what a gently-raised woman would do who wanted to earn her own living? Is it possible to go back and change history?
It is unfortunate, but I’ll just have to dash all her hopes and plans, not because I want to, you understand, but because historically, society would have done so. Somehow, this pleases me. Mwahahaha. I feel better already. Writing is fun. In what other occupation can one take pleasure from making someone absolutely and completely miserable and still be accepted at cocktail parties?
Perhaps I'll toss in a couple of fabulous things she never expected, just to be nice. I am a nice person at heart, even though I'll be as mean as possible to her. Honest.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
She waved a pair of scissors. "Look what I forgot to give back to Mr. Applegate."
Monday, November 8, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
As a writer, it is important to supply just the right word at the right time to carry a paragraph, a page, a scene. There have been times I've studied a Thesaurus, called friends, debated with critique members, and rewritten a scene ten times before I realized it was one word, one lousy, detestable word snarling the scene.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
On a Friday in October of 2007 my mother called from back East and mentioned they'd had a fire in the basement. She and my father were fine, and the fire department had put the fire out before it got to the first floor. They were going to spend the night at a hotel, but everything was okay.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
In this episode of "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?", we learn that story ideas do sometimes come from dreams. Alas, my own dreams have never found the essential narrative rigor. For that, I've had to turn to others.
When I wrote Lost Dog, I had no long range plan. It was my first mystery, after attempting science-fiction, literary (whatever that means), and fantasy. The first three books will never see the light of day, for good reason, but as practice they were invaluable. By Lost Dog, I was actually starting to develop some chops and so, with help from critiquing co-conspirators, it was my first manuscript to become a book.
Other writers may have that long range plan. They may have goals, an arc mapped out in advance—perhaps years in advance—of actually being published. Me? Uh.
As Lost Dog was going through the pre-publication process, editing and marketing, my agent asked, "What are you working on next? We need to keep this train moving." And my response was …
It was …
Yeah, see. No long range plan.
I wrote my first novel, the science-fiction one, because I read and loved science-fiction. I wrote the literary novel because, well, I was in a college creative writing program and that's what you did. I wrote the fantasy because I loved fantasy. And when I wrote Lost Dog, it was because I loved mystery too. But beyond that, there was no coherent forethought. I was telling stories I wanted to tell.
So, what would I work on next? A historical novel? Comic narrative non-fiction? (I love those too.) Haiku collection? Well, it turns out I needed another mystery novel because, well, I was a published mystery author. Okay. No problem. I love mystery.
Here's the thing. I am not a font of ideas. Those writers who have twelve ideas before breakfast? Yeah, I hate them. I had no ideas for a next mystery novel. What I did have was a character I liked, Detective Skin Kadash, an important but supporting player in Lost Dog. He had a great voice, a distinctive characteristic, and I knew I'd enjoy going forward with him.
Fortunately, one morning my wife said to me, "I dreamed a group of men—all cancers patients—were dying, and I had to investigate their deaths." There was more to the dream, but I can't tell you the rest because if I did it would be a big spoiler for what would become my second mystery, Chasing Smoke.
Yes, Chasing Smoke is based on my wife's dream. Of course, I switched her with Skin. I also introduced a number of my own touches and jiggered the narrative to the point she actually said, "You got it wrong." But the essential story foundation grew out of her dream, and a series was born.
In my defense, I would like to say that the idea for my follow-up, Day One, was actually my own idea. But I can't say Chasing Smoke is the first time I raided someone else's dreams for story fodder.
In 1981, I was a freshman at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio (NOT Florida), and one morning at breakfast one of my dorm buddies—fellow named Joe Miller—described a dream. His mother ruled like a tyrant from the top floor of a huge house, issuing orders from above by intercom. Joe offered lots of rich details, and I hung on every word. At last I said, "Can I steal your dream for a story?" Joe graciously granted permission.
Over the next 25 or so years, "A Tall House" would go through many incarnations. I turned in a version in a creative writing class in 1982. I re-worked it again in 1983-85. In 1990, I moved from Ohio to Portland and in the process lost the original manuscript, as well as the floppy disk the working copy resided on. Alas.
All was not lost, however. Joe's dream was always there, and the story remained one I wanted to somehow tell. Off and on in the 90s I tinkered with a new version. But it never quite came together. It was Joe's dream, after all, and unlike Chasing Smoke and Skin Kadash, I had no hook of my own to hang it on.
Then in 2006, shortly after I signed the contract for Lost Dog, I met the editor of Spinetingler magazine, fellow mystery writer Sandra Ruttan, who suggested I enter the "Spinetingler Cozy Noir Contest." The requirement of the contest was that stories entered merge the essence of the cozy mystery—oft defined as a mystery where someone dies but no one gets hurt—with noir—dark and cynical and gritty.
Suddenly I had the hook I needed for "A Tall House," floundering all those years. I rewrote Joe's dream again, and for the first time the story stopped being entirely his and at last become more mine. I entered the story and had the great pleasure of winning. You can read the dream-to-story, a quarter century in the making, at Spinetingler here.
What does all this mean? It means ideas can come from anywhere. The old standard, "Where do you get your ideas?" has as many answers as there are people, and then some. Lost Dog grew out of an exercise in a writing class. Chasing Smoke and "A Tall House" came from someone else's dream. I knitted Day One together out of my own thoughts, a few news stories, and characters I'd been developing for a decade. My next book, County Line (due out summer 2011) grew out of a comment a reviewer made about Lost Dog.
All valid starting points, just a few out of many possible sources. Wherever your ideas come from, through the alchemical mix of imagination and writing, you can make them your own.
Bill Cameron is the author of the dark, Portland-based mysteries Day One, Chasing Smoke, and Lost Dog. His next Skin Kadash mystery, County Line, will be released in June 2011. His stories have appeared in Killer Year, Portland Noir, and the 2010 ITW anthology First Thrills. Lost Dog and Chasing Smoke were both finalists for the Spotted Owl Award for Best Northwest Mystery. Cameron lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is currently working on his fifth mystery.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I haven't any idea why there is this need to admit my own shortcomings. A wise woman would keep her mouth shut, but today there is an urge to humiliate myself.