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Posts Tagged ‘Arts’

author of provocative mysteries and thrillers

The next best thing to reading a great book is talking about it with your friends who’ve read it. That’s why book clubs are so popular and those discussions are so important to readers. I love these talks as much as the next reader, and I sometimes lead the activity for a mystery listserv I participate in. I also love to discuss my own books with groups who contact me, so I have some experience in asking and answering thought-provoking questions. I’ve even posted discussion questions on my website. I thought I’d share some of my insights on what makes for good book discussion questions.

Every novel has specific (and often conflicting) events and character actions that naturally seem ripe for discussion. Do you believe the mayor’s version of what happened to Jessie? Why or why not? And there’s nothing wrong with the standard questions that work for almost any novel. Did the setting enhance the plot or could the story have worked anywhere? What themes did the author weave into the story? Was the antagonist believable?

My favorite questions, though, go beyond specific settings or events:

Motivation. Any question that gets to the heart of a character’s motivation, especially to behave in a socially unacceptable way, will make for a lively discussion.  Jasmine shares privileged information with a reporter. Why Claire says she stole the painting to protect it, but what were her real reasons? I’ve discovered that readers bring their own experiences into a novel and often perceive things in characters that others don’t, even the author. It’s fascinating.

Fate. Questions that discuss the course of events and whether those events are inevitable generate strong reactions from readers. Did the young boy have to die in the end? Could the story have gone in another direction and still been effective?

Coincidence. Does the story rely on a major or minor coincidence? Was it believable and did it work for you? Was the story plausible overall?

Values/beliefs.  In what ways do the events and characters reveal the author’s values or world view? What is the author trying to say about this subject or theme? [Insert hot-button topic here: women, race, sexuality, discrimination.] Did the story make you question any of your own beliefs?

Some of the best book discussions are those in which readers disagree and perceive the story in different ways. Sometimes those talks can make you want to read the novel again and see what you missed.

Do you belong to a book club? What have been your favorite books or subjects to discuss?

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I’m heading off tomorrow to one of my favorite gigs – the San Diego edition of the Southern California Writers’ Conference.  I’m scheduled to conduct an in-depth presentation entitled: Writer Primer – Writer Responsibilities to the Reader and to lead several Read & Critique Workshops.  I’ll also meet privately for one-on-one Advance Submission sessions with aspiring writers whose work I’ve read and evaluated.  This conference, like many others, is devoted to the creative and business needs of aspiring writers.

Those of us who lead workshops are willing mentors to the next generation of writers.  I believe that the Directors of SCWC, Michael Stephen Gregory and Wes Albers, will forgive me if I reveal the fact that Workshop Leaders are not paid big bucks for sharing our experiences in the trenches of the writing/publishing world.

We participate at conferences, counsel students, and lead workshops for several reasons, among them a passion for our craft, the pleasure of finding the one or two or three golden nuggets of creative talent among the attendees, the chance to guide talented writers onto a path that will result in marketable books, and the opportunity to reconnect with our own peers in the writing community.  That last one probably doesn’t surprise you at all, since you realize that the life of the writer is a largely solitary one.

Given the length of my writing and editing career – 20 plus years – I’ve participated in countless writers’ conferences across the country.  I can accurately say that the two stand-outs for me are SCWC ( Southern California Writers’ Conference www.writersconference.com/ ) and SBWC ( Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference www.sbwritersconference.com/ ).  Both conferences allow me to share my experiences as a multi-published writer in both traditional print publishing and, more recently, in the digital publishing arena, as well as to utilize my skills as a veteran editor when critiquing student work.

And so, Readers, I want you to know that aspiring writers are in good hands as Workshop Leaders groom the next generation of writers – the same writers who are destined to entertain and delight you as they sweep you into the future, the distant past, or the here and now with their fiction, or inform you with their non-fiction.

I would like to close by offering my own sincere and heartfelt thank you to Readers You’ve been amazingly supportive of my romantic suspense books during the last several months – so supportive, in fact, that INTIMATE STRANGERS, FALLEN ANGEL, DESERT ROSE, MIDNIGHT STORM, and HEARTBREAKER have all occupied (simultaneously, no less!) the Bestseller Top 100 Romantic Suspense List at Amazon.UK for the previous two weeks, and those same books all spent two months this winter on that same Bestseller Top 100 Romantic Suspense List at Amazon.com in the U.S.   Color me extremely appreciative of readers.

I’m going strong on Facebook, Google+, and at Twitter (AuthorLTaylor) these days, so reach out and we’ll connect.  Meantime, READERS RULE!

Hugs all around, Laura

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I want to start off my first READERS RULE blog posting with a “thank you” to my fellow authors at READERS RULE – Bob Mayer, J. Carson Black, L. J. Sellers, Joseph Nassise, Ruth Harris, Laura Landon, and C. J. Lyons.  I am proud to be included in a company of writers whose careers are hallmarked by their commitment to their writing and to their readers.

Each member of READERS RULE is a veteran writer.  We’ve all been, and continue to be, blessed with loyal readers who have supported our careers through good times and bad.  We all create and write about make-believe worlds – not a surprise, I know!  My point here is that, within the context of the stories constructed in those make-believe worlds and populated by characters we either love or hate, our readers invariably discover themes that personally resonate for them.  Call it the shared human experience.

The theme of a book – revenge, a quest for survival, love conquers all, triumph of good over evil, coming of age, etc. – establishes the initial common ground between the writer and the reader.  Along with a particular character or characters, the theme engages the emotions of the reader, which helps to form a part of the foundation for a long-term relationship between readers and writers.

The equation for me is a simple one.   READER  +  WRITER  =  A Committed Relationship   READERS RULE is all about respecting and honoring the relationship between readers and writers.

It will not surprise you to learn that I read constantly.  When I read the work of my fellow writers, my understanding of what readers expect of me as a writer is further expanded.  As well, I receive messages from readers across the globe, and I’m thankful for their willingness to express their appreciation of my efforts to meet their expectations when they purchase my books.

The Thanksgiving season is upon us, and I am particularly thankful to my romantic suspense readers.  They make it possible for me to touch their hearts as I write the stories I love to write.  In truth, I get back from you as much as I give, and for that I thank each and every one of you.

Stop in at my website ( http://www.AuthorandEditor.com ) and click on the link for a FREE copy of INTIMATE STRANGERS, a romantic suspense novel that “sizzles”.   Not bragging here – just quoting my READERS – they rule!  J

Happy Thanksgiving and a heartfelt thanks to all READERS – you continue to inspire me!  And to the remarkable men and women of our military who serve here at home and across the globe – I am thankful for you. You’re in my thoughts and prayers  – as always.

You’ll find me on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Hugs all around … Laura Taylor

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Back in the twentieth century when I started out in publishing, publishers did not insist that all submissions be agented, and direct submissions, aka the slush pile, served as training wheels (more like hamster wheels as it turned out) for young editors. I was assigned a desk in the secretarial bullpen and a monster stack of manuscripts waited for me on my new desk. My job was to read them to see if any might be worth passing on to one of the older, more experienced editors. Conscientious and wanting to impress the senior editor who was my boss, I began to read, at first assiduously finishing one manuscript (I had learned by then they were referred to as “ms” in book reports) after another.
The quasi-literate (they were the ones who loved “big” words and used them incorrectly), sub-literate and illiterate were sandwiched at random between the religious visionaries, the sexually shall-we-say peculiar, and the politically febrile. There were the demented, the deranged and the delusional, submissions from jails and penitentiaries. Most of all there were would-be writers who had never met a comma or, sometimes, even a paragraph, who had no idea how to shape a scene or introduce a character much less write a line of dialogue that any human being might actually have uttered. To those wannabes (that word didn’t exist then), quote marks also often seemed a galactic mystery as did sentences containing both a subject and a verb. I was no literary snob and my reading choices embraced everything from Willa Cather to Mickey Spillane—but the slush pile did me in.
No matter how fast I plowed through the mss (that’s the plural of ms), attaching Bantam’s form rejection letter to the top and placing them in the required SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope), the pile never diminished. Every morning and every afternoon (two mail deliveries a day back then) the mail room guy dumped another stack of mss on my desk. They were typewritten, smeary, often single-spaced, sans margins, punctuation or paragraphing; some were hand written, scrawled on old-fashioned school notebooks, the kind with the marbelized black-and-white cover. They were held together by rubber bands, string, yarn and, once in a while, ribbon. The pages were occasionally pristine but more predictably smudged, dog eared, defaced by icky, unidentifiable substances, or dotted with coffee stains and cookie crumbs left by previous editors who had read—or made a valiant effort to read—the submission in question and, as they say in the trade, “passed.” 
I quickly learned to read the first one or two pages, maybe scan a few more, then flip to somewhere around the middle to see if anything had improved and, if any shred of hope remained, look at the last page to see if a more careful reading might be called for. (Dream on.) The only response from these would-be authors was an occasional complaint that they’d left a piece of white thread on page 125 and, when the ms came bouncing back, the piece of white thread remained in place. Why, they wanted to know, hadn’t the entire ms been read? How could we (the nameless editors because no one ever signed a name to a form rejection) reject their masterpiece without reading it in its entirety?
Let me count the ways.
I moved on and so did the slush pile: to agents who weren’t about to pay to get the slush sorted—often it was their unpaid interns who slogged through the mess. (As opposed to the mss.) There was a double benefit: publishers no longer had to pay salaried employees to sift through the slush pile and, in the bargain, submissions had now been vetted before appearing on an editor’s desk.
As time passed, we arrived somewhere in first decade of the twenty-first century and reading the slush pile had gone from paid labor to unpaid labor. A sort of progress, I guess, but one last glimmer of progress beckoned: the internet. The quick and easy upload that earned Amazon a 70% cut every time a 99c book was purchased. Amazon had managed what seemed the impossible: it  turned a time and money sink into a profit center. Or, as my Mom would say: Someone had finally figured out how to turn shit into Shinola.
And guess what? The same problems that beset me years ago at my piled-to-the-rafters desk persist today. Mangled grammar? Check. Run on sentences and run on paragraphs? Check. Typo infestations? Check. Also: terrible formatting, no discernable plot, “characters” unrecognizable as human beings, blobs, clunks and chunks of back story bulldozed in, hopeless attempts at description, even more hopeless efforts at narrative, character names that change from one chapter to the next. And so on. And on.
About the only thing that’s different is that today’s digitized slush pile comes sans icky unidentifiable splotches and previous readers’ coffee stains and cookie crumbs. And the little piece of white thread on page 125.
PS: Lest you think me excessively bitter and cynical, I will add that the SP is not absolutely, totally 1000% hopeless. There are writers who have made it out. Stephanie Meyers (Twilight) was rescued from an agent’s SP. Philip Roth back in 1958 from a Paris Review SP (you can look it up on Google). And I seem to remember that Kathleen Woodiwiss, one of the queens of the Bodice Rippers, was originally pulled out of the SP as was Rosemary Rogers. At Avon. (Anyone with info or memory better than mine, please confirm or refute.)

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Why is a crime fiction author writing a futuristic thriller? Because I’ve always wanted to, and I finally found the time, the story, and the courage. As a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural, produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. My husband isn’t much of a reader, but I suggested it to him (back then) and he read it in a weekend and loved it. Most important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic thrillers, which I distinguish from dystopian fiction, in which society has broken down.

Another of my favorite novels is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, published ten years after TTF and typically labeled dystopian. The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

I don’t mean to imply that The Arranger compares to either of those brilliant and creative works, both of which imagine a shockingly different future. My story is set only 13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant, government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely fictitious scenarios. I had a blast writing those scenes, and my editor said they left her breathless.

The Arranger is predominately a crime story and a character study. Although it’s different from anything else I’ve written, readers familiar with my work will recognize certain elements that crop up in most of my novels: a strong female protagonist struggling to overcome a troubled past and a complex plot that moves at a rapid pace.

What are your favorite futuristic novels? What themes do like to see in futurism?

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