How Do You Feel About Controversy? (and my new release)

by Kassandra Lamb

Marcia’s busy today, so she gave me permission to play in her sandbox while she’s gone… 😀

I’ve taken some risks with my latest Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mystery, and I’d love to hear your take on it. Here’s the gist of it from a post I did earlier in the week.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CONTROVERSY?

Some people don’t mind controversy; a few even thrive on it. And with social media, these two groups seem to have found their voices more and more lately.

But I’m in the group that pretty much hates controversy. I sit on my hands at least once a day, resisting the temptation to get into it with someone on Facebook or Twitter. It just isn’t worth the stress.

ZeroHeroFinalSm

In my Kate Huntington mysteries, I have often touched on somewhat controversial social issues. I’ve been fortunate that they have been well received. I really enjoyed writing those books, but more recently I’ve been having fun with a lighter cozy mystery series about a service dog trainer.

I thought I had left the somewhat darker topics behind. My muse, however, had a different idea. She spun out a story in my head that involves two less-than-likeable characters who are members of groups that normally inspire high levels of sympathy in people.

In my new release, I have a crabby paraplegic veteran, who has an unhealthy obsession with his sister’s love life, and a brash, hard-to-like sexual assault survivor.

My main character, Marcia Banks, doesn’t particularly care for either of these people when she first meets them. And she feels guilty about that. How can you dislike a veteran in a wheelchair? she asks herself.

But the reality is that people in most groups come in all sizes, shapes, and personality types. And some of them aren’t going to be likeable. (READ MORE of original post)

Nonetheless, I’m feeling a bit of trepidation as this book releases. I know I will get blow-back from some folks. I hope it doesn’t get too nasty.

What do you think? Am I worrying for nothing?

Here’s the scoop on the new release:

Patches in the Rye cover

Patches in the Rye, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, Book 5

Nothing about her new client is what service dog trainer Marcia Banks expected—from the posh house that says family money to his paranoid preoccupation with his sister’s love life—but when he dangles a thousand-dollar retainer under her nose, she can’t resist playing private detective.

In between training sessions, Marcia digs into the sister’s boyfriend’s sketchy past. But the deeper she digs, the more questions arise. How is a disastrous fraternity party five years ago linked to blackmail, prostitutes, and murder today? And who’s driving the black SUV that keeps trying to turn Marcia and her dog Buddy into roadkill?

She can’t let it go, not when there are innocents at risk who are depending on her to find the truth. But the deepest, darkest truth is the one she wishes she never uncovered.

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From Pantser to Plotter, or Maybe Plantser? #FabulousFridayGuestBlogger

Marcia asked me to share this post with you all. It’s one I wrote recently for the Alliance of Independent Authors, on the need to occasionally revisit the pantser/plotter question as we progress through our writing careers.

From Pantser to Plotter, or Maybe Plantser?

by Kassandra Lamb

For eight years, I’ve been a die-hard pantser. No outline, no character sketches… just sit down and write.

But now I’m going over to the other side, or rather straddling the cusp.

I’ll always be grateful for my pantser roots. I didn’t successfully finish a manuscript until I realized I was a pantser. For years, I’d write the beginning of a story, outline the rest and then the whole thing would languish in my hard drive. I’d lost interest. The story had already been told.

In 2009, I sat down to once again tweak the opening of a novel I’d been playing with for fifteen years. (Yup, fifteen years!) But I couldn’t find the outline. Somehow I’d lost the file. So I started writing, and six weeks later the first draft was finished.

cover of Multiple Motives

My first finished novel, 15+ years in the making. Now it’s the permafree first book in a 9-book series.

Now it’s 2017. That book, Multiple Motives, is the first in a nine-book mystery series, and I’ve recently released Book 3 in a new series. But in recent years, it’s been like pulling teeth to get through a first draft.

While writing this last story (The Call of the Woof; Woof for short), I finally identified the problem. My motives for writing have changed.

Initially, the ideas arrived, the words flowed, and I wrote for the sheer pleasure of seeing what happened next.

Then the first-drafting process became more challenging. My editor said it was because I was a better writer. My stories were more complex, my characters had more depth, etc. She’s probably right, but something else was happening as well.

More and more, I was writing to a schedule, especially after I started the second series. If too much time passes without a new release, sales droop. The pressure is on to pump out more stories to keep readers interested.

Don’t get me wrong, this is good motivation. How can you not want to produce stories for your adoring fans?

But it wasn’t the same. I still loved the writing process—when the words were flowing. But all too often they weren’t. Before, the scenes would unfold in my mind as I went along. Now, I’d get to the end of a scene and think “What’s next?” And no answer would come. Often that would be the end of new words for that day.

With Woof, as I got closer to the end and had a clearer idea of what scenes still needed to happen, the writing pace picked up. Instead of forcing out a few hundred words a day, I was breezing through several thousand.

The story was flowing and I was having fun again!

Then I thought about the next project coming up, and felt nothing but dread as I faced the void between the opening and the climax. So I experimented with outlining. While Woof was “resting” before the editing process, I did a bare-bones outline for that next story.

And I’m excited about writing it! Indeed, I found myself stealing an hour here and there to pluck away at it, when I was supposed to be editing Woof (and I love editing).

With the plot points already thought out that will get me through the murky middle, all I have to do is enjoy the flow of the words.

I doubt I’ll ever be a full-blown plotter with character sketches and beat sheets (not even sure what those are) and such. But if I have a better idea of where I’m going, I think I will get there a lot easier and faster in the future.

And have more fun doing it!

k - IMG_0004 lighter-on1

Kassandra Lamb is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer who spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The portal to this universe, aka her computer, is located in North Central Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.

She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida, and a guide for novice authors, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book.

cover of book

This easy-to-read, how-to guide is full of both practical advice and emotional support. Psychotherapist turned successful mystery writer, Kassandra Lamb takes novice writers by the hand and walks with them on their journey, pointing out pitfalls along the way, some of which she discovered through stumbled-head-first-into-them experience.

From the decisions to be made before setting pen to paper to whether to submit to agents or self-publish, from the basics of writing craft to the nuts and bolts of copyrighting and ISBNs, from promotion strategies to the perseverance needed to make your writing business a success, this overview of the writing and publishing process is a must-read for new authors who aren’t sure what they’re getting themselves into.

 

8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction #FabulousFridayGuestBlogger

by Kassandra Lamb

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While editing the book I’m releasing tomorrow, and especially while trying to pare down the scenes that beta readers and my editor said were dragging, I truly came to appreciate the importance of a finely honed description.

Descriptions in fiction are needed to ground the reader in the setting and allow him/her to visualize characters. But they can also bog down the pace and bore the reader if they are too long, and they can be jarring if they’re in the wrong spot. Today I’d like to share some thoughts about how to make descriptions concise and effective.

1. Why descriptions are so important. People’s brains tend to show a preference for one sense over the others when processing information, and which sense is in the lead varies from person to person. Some people are primarily auditory (30% of U.S. population); they process words and sounds far easier than what they see or sense in other ways. Others are primarily kinesthetic, i.e., movement and touch-oriented (3%). A rare few are primarily smell and taste-oriented. Continue reading

#MidWeekPOV #wwwblogs – Let’s Talk

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Let’s get a conversation going this morning. I’ll start. 😀 I have a new mantra: It takes what it takes to tell the tale that needs tellin’. Bulky, yeah. Probably won’t look so great on a t-shirt. But I’ve finally realized that it embodies the way I write.

My beloved beta readers often ask me how many chapters will be in a book I’m working on. My answer is, I don’t have the slightest clue. I don’t work out the number of chapters at the start of my draft, because I never know where the story might take me. I know what it will be about, in general–where  it will start, and where it will end. As for all the stuff that happens in between, not so much.

I may have one or two things I know must occur, but overall, the characters tell me what they want to do and why. And I let them. Not because it’s how it should be done, but because it’s the only way I, personally, can travel from point to point. I turn my characters loose in a setting and see what they decide to do, and write it down. They almost always surprise me.

In my current WIP, That Darkest Place, all I knew going in was that I’d left one of my characters from Finding Hunter in a horrible mess, and another one unharmed, but unhappy. I knew what I needed to do to fix the first one, and that the second one needed to find an HEA by book’s end. And that’s all I knew. As the story began to grow, the details came pouring into my mind, and the overall theme of the book came to me:

“There are dark places in every heart, in every head. Some you turn away from. Some you light a candle within. But there is one place so black, it consumes all light. It will pull you in, and swallow you whole. You don’t leave your brother stranded in that darkest place.” (Hunter Painter)

That Darkest Place is a book about brothers–how  they stand together in the worst of times, and help each other make it out of those black holes of despair. As I wrap up my draft, and get ready for editing, I hope I’ve been able to tell their story in a way that will resonate with readers everywhere. But whether it works out that way or not, I’ve been true to who the characters are, and how they relate to each other, in good times and in bad. I’ve told the tale that needed tellin’, and I hope I’ve done it well.

Now. Your turn. How do you do it? Do you work out every scene in advance, or go with the flow? Do you have an overall theme in mind when you begin, or does it grow out of the story in a more organic way? I’m hereby inviting you to share your thoughts and ideas today, so we can enjoy getting to know more about each other, and possibly learn a few new tricks along the way.

Let’s talk!

 

Making the Case for Indie AND Traditional Publishing (For Writers and Readers)

(Part II… again sharing here with Marcia’s permission. Did I leave anything out?)

by Kassandra Lamb

I envy writers under thirty. Not for their youth, but because they have never known a publishing world where indie publishing wasn’t a viable alternative.

But I’ve heard even some younger writers make comments that indicate they think indie is what you do if you can’t get a traditional publishing contract. In other words, it’s a second choice.

Actually, for some of us, it was a first choice.

And sadly there are a few traditionally published authors who like to judge indies from the other side of the fence. (See Part I of this series: Creativity, Sensitivity, Laziness and Courage.)

For the newbie authors out there (or those considering jumping the fence), I will try to spell out the differences between the two paths. Also, I want to mention the pros of each for readers, the most important people in this whole arena!

I will try to be balanced, but I’ll warn you all up front, I am biased toward the indie path, since that’s the one I chose. To help counter that bias I’ll let trad publishing go first. And I’m trying to stay positive by focusing on the “pros” of each (the cons are mostly implied).

K.B. Owen, one of my sister authors over at misterio press, generously offered the graphic she developed for a presentation on publishing she gave recently. It gives us a great jumping off point.

chart of pros of each

(Chart created by K.B. Owen, (c) 2016)

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING PROS

Validation: The author can feel confident that their story idea is worthy and that their writing is good. Trad publishing gives it the stamp of approval of the industry.

For the reader, this means the odds are good that you will enjoy reading this book, that it will abide by the expectations for its genre and will only have the good kind of twists and turns, not the kind that leave you thinking “Huh?” or have you dangling off the edge of an unexpected cliffhanger.

READ MORE

Creativity, Sensitivity, Laziness and Courage

(Reblogging here with Marcia’s permission)

In which I make the point that it is horribly hard to send our “babies” out to agents and publishers, something I think is overlooked in the ongoing debate re: indie vs. traditional publishing… Would love to hear you all’s thoughts on the topic.

by Kassandra Lamb

Please note that this is not a post about the pros and cons of indie vs. traditional publishing per se (I will cover those in a later post). Rather this post is about the “between a rock and a hard place” spot where new writers often find themselves as they explore how to get their words in front of readers’ eyes.

The indie vs. traditional publishing controversy was resurrected in December, 2016, by a Huffington Post article with the rather obnoxious title, Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word? by Laurie Gough.

Quite a few indie authors immediately responded with some eloquent replies. And then the Alliance of Independent Authors published their New Year’s post: Successful Indie Authors 2016: Part One.

These two posts, along with the responding comments, represent the two sides of this controversy, but I noted that one thing was missing from the discussion. Indeed, I have never heard this point made during debates about the issue.

Creatives are, by definition, sensitive souls.

Van Gogh

One of Van Gogh’s self portraits, this one with a bandage where his ear once was. Creatives’ sensitivity sometimes leads to madness. (public domain)

It’s a cliché really—the tortured artistic poet/painter/musician/actor/author who drinks too much, uses drugs, suffers for their art with an angst-filled life, etc.

But like all clichés, this one has a kernel of truth at its core.

So why would we require that these sensitive souls endure months or years of rejection before they are allowed to show their work to the world?

The author of the Huff Post article calls literary agents and traditional publishers the “gatekeepers” of the written word. Indeed, that term is bandied about a lot in the world of trad publishing. The implication is that they are saving the unwashed masses of readers from bad literature by carefully vetting new works of fiction.

In addition to the implied insult to readers, the reality is that all too often these days agents and publishers are not always as concerned about the quality of a story as they are about whether or not they think it will sell.

That’s not just my perspective; I’ve heard agents say this at conferences. With regret in their voices, because they know good stories are being rejected and good writers are being discouraged by those rejections.

No one deals well with rejection. And the more important an achievement or some aspect of ourselves is to us, the greater the blow to our spirits if it is rejected… READ MORE