Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's All About Support

The Holidays are almost over. My next book seems to be finished, except I'm never sure when a book is done. I think it's good, but of course I do. I polish and polish and polish and there always seem to be just one or two more rough spots, where changing a word or something will magically make the sentence or concept or paragraph come alive. It's called editing.


Okay, I've got that out of my system. Today's amazing blog post comments on support. It also mentions sex. (Got your attention, didn't I?) If there is one thing an Indie author needs, it's support. In the search for ways to promote the work, we seek out others who have similar desires. If we're lucky, we find like-minded souls who will act with us as a cheering section and resource. Of course, it's mutual. As we give, so shall we receive. It's also fun.

I write thrillers. To my amazement, I find one of the most supportive groups around writes paranormal romance. You know, vampires, erotic vampires, sexy demons with huge sexual appetites. That kind of thing. I don't normally read romance books, much less paranormal romance. The Paranormal Romance Guild accepts all genres and is one of the best support groups going, with friendly members and humor. I was seeking out sites that would consider doing reviews and I stumbled onto this gold mine. You might check them out. The web address is here:

There is also the "Thriller, Mystery and Suspense" forum on Amazon. A great group to tune into, with folks like Ted Krever, Nash Black, Ian Fraser, Jenny Milchman and many others. Goodreads has many forums and groups. My favorite is The James Mason Community Book Club. Great for suspense and thriller writers, moderated by Rick, an excellent host.

I want to give a special mention to C. J. Ellisson: who goes out of her way to support others, has a nifty blog and website and gives away her stuff from time to time. Erotic, vampire books, for those who are interested. Highly explicit.

Male authors might want to read some of her books (and others by authors in the PRG) for a peek into the female mind when it comes to sex, something we men are usually not very good at. Women snort in contempt when they come across a stereotype sex scene in novels written by men. It can be a good sex scene and keep their attention, but there is usually something missing, from a woman's point of view. I gotta tell you, guys, it ain't easy to get it right. I'm still working on it. To be fair, I don't think women fully understand the male experience either.

Kind of goes with being human and the whole gender thing.

So, support each other and have a good time while you're doing it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writers to learn from: James Lee Burke

I'm convinced you can't write well unless you read books by writers who have figured it out and learn from them. Classic writers like Hemingway and Faulkner and Wolfe and Steinbeck. Present day writers like Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, C.J. Box, Lee Child, Stephen King and Robert Crais. All very different. All highly accomplished. All able to touch something human in us that goes beyond adventure and trouble and crime and spies and bad guys and good guys and all that.

I'm a big fan of James Lee Burke. I've read all of his Dave Robicheaux novels. I just finished Feast Day of Fools, Burke's latest in a series featuring an aging, small town Texas sheriff named Hackberry Holland.

So, what's so great about Burke's writing? What can I (and maybe you) learn from reading a book about dysfunctional, psychopathic characters who consistently carry out brutal and heinous acts as a routine day's work? Why would we want to read about people like this?

Because Burke is much more than a creative writer with the required skill sets of crafted scenes, powerful dialogue and twisting plots. He's a master at revealing the human heart and the demons that reside within all of us. He's an absolute master of natural description, immersing the reader in the desert harshness of Mexico and Texas or the lush coast of Louisiana or the hard streets of New Orleans. He's a master at revealing the depths of a character in a simple paragraph, of choosing exactly the right words.

Here's an example from Feast Day of Fools. Hackberry Holland, Burke's protagonist, is watching his deputy Pam Tibbs at a crime scene.

In moments like these, when she was totally unguarded and unmindful of herself, Hackberry knew in a private place in the back of his mind that Pam Tibbs belonged to that category of exceptional women whose beauty radiated outward through their skin and had little to do with the physical attributes of their birth. In these moments he felt an undefined longing in his heart that he refused to recognize.

It paints an instant picture of Pam Tibbs. From prior parts of the book we know she's not beautiful in the conventional sense. Burke could have just said she wasn't particularly pretty, not that her beauty had little to do with the physical attributes of her birth. I think the ability to describe a character with a phrase like this is as good as it gets for a writer. To me, it borders on genius.

The paragraph reveals Hackberry. It tells us the essence of who he is. He longs for connection he cannot define. More, he refuses to acknowledge it's there. He must control his emotions or things might turn bad for him. He fears their power.

Two characters defined. All in seventy words.

Hackberry, over seventy years old, struggles with unresolved feelings about Pam, who is half his age. Along with the dangerous and evil characters Burke spreads across the pages, we find ourselves engaged with a protagonist aware he is long past his prime, taking it one day at a time, struggling with unexpressed and powerful emotions and doing the best he can to see that justice is done.

Dave Robicheaux is another character any aspiring writer can learn from. He's gentle and full of love for his wives (they get killed every now and then) and his adopted daughter, Alafair. He's full of destructive anger that comes raging out past the walls of polite manners he's built to contain it. He's from a nightmare of a dysfunctional family that was laced with love, sex and alcohol. He's driven by demons many of us might find familiar. He's a Vietnam Vet. He struggles to stay sober and sometimes he slips. He has deep integrity. He cares. He seeks and believes in social justice. He sees Confederate ghosts slipping through the mists of the Bayou.

One hell of a character. Read James Lee Burke and learn.