Thursday, September 29, 2011

A View to a Kilt by Chris Redding

Today author Chris Redding presents James Bond fans (or ace Google users) with a game. Answer 10 trivia questions and be entered in a drawing to win a prize. Simply paste your answers in a comment below. And have fun!

James Bond Trivia
  1. First Bond movie theme to appear on the Billboard Top Ten.
  2. Who was the second actor to play James Bond?
  3. Where did the title Goldeneye come from?
  4. Who was the oldest actor to play Bond?
  5. What film is considered an “unofficial” Bond film?
  6. Who starred in it?
  7. What movie is it a remake of?
  8. How many novels was James Bond featured in?
  9. What nationality is James Bond’s mother?
  10. What children’s book that was made into a movie did Ian Fleming write?

Commenters who answer all 10 questions correctly will be entered in a drawing for a prize. U.S. entrants only please.

Chris Redding lives in New Jersey with her husband, two kids, one dog and three rabbits. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Penn State. Her latest book, A View to a Kilt, an homage to James Bond, will be out October 1.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rickard DeMille

This may be one of the more unusual posts we've had in a while--a tutorial within the story of one author's approach to writing. If you've ever wondered how a writer makes one of those exotic locales in his story come alive, read on. Rickard DeMille is about to tell you. No, show you.


***

About seventeen hundred years ago, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

This statement is proof of two things. First, the condition of man hasn’t really changed that much in almost two millennia. Second, those who don’t travel probably have to work for a living. Even those fortunate enough to travel, usually don’t do it as much as they wish.

That’s where we come in. We are writers, and more than writers. We’re travel agents as well. The shelves of the local bookstore (the ones still in business) are like the brochure racks that line a travel agent’s wall. Our clients browse and sample, drawn in by the alluring images displayed on the covers. Eventually they decide where they want to go, and who they want to spend their vacation with.

Personally, I herein confess that I am also a reader - a vicarious vacationer - who frequents the ‘travel brochures’ of my local bookstore. Through my reading selections, I’ve recently searched the hills of Los Angeles for a lost boy with Robert Crais. I’ve sat, enthralled, while Robert Harris took me on a tour of Ancient Rome with none other than Tiro, Cicero’s scribe, as my guide. I spent hours on the edge of my seat as Nelson DeMille rushed me around the state of New York in a life and death quest to stop a brutal terrorist. I accomplished all this without a plane ticket or passport.

As writers, I believe we have the opportunity to expand on St. Augustine’s affirmation. We can say, “The book is a world, and those who read it can travel anywhere with every page.”

I am here to make that task easy, for everyone.

Right! If you believe that, I can make you a great deal on some prime real estate at the top of Mars Hill.

What I actually plan to do is introduce you to a tool that will make your travel planning easier – as in sitting comfortably at your computer while enjoying your highly caffeinated beverage of choice.

My novel, HELLFIRE, is set in Wales. I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Wales for the Six Nations Rugby championship a few years ago. I did a quick tour of South Wales during that visit, but it was only a quick tour. The idea for HELLFIRE came later, after I’d missed my chance for any real research.

Fortunately, I found a way around that. There are literally thousands of resources available to the writer, which offer an alternative to physical travel. While they are not as good, and will never be as enjoyable as a physical visit, they can add a more realistic feel to your setting.

I mentioned thousands of resources, and I truly believe there are at least that many, but here I will discuss just one – Google Maps with Street View.

I only have space to present one tool, and I sincerely believe this is the best.

Let’s start with an easy example. Where was Osama bin Laden’s hideout? Our first step is to open our browser, and type: <maps.google.com> into the address or URL line. This will take us to the main Google Maps page.

Here we enter the place we wish to find. In the search box we will now enter <osama bin laden’s hideout, Pakistan>. Make sure you enter the country and/or city. We enter Pakistan here to avoid Google showing us bin Laden’s hideout in the Hamptons, or his secret office at UC Berkeley.

This is what that line will look like after we’ve entered our search location:


We will now be directed to a page like this in Google Maps:




These are the same place, one a map view and the other a satellite image, of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden lived and died. The orange pin icon,labeled “0” in red, shows the location we searched for. If we zoom in, the compound is easier to see:



This is a good time to do a quick tour of the Google Maps screen, and how to use the various features. Here is a screen that has the elements numbered:




The first element I want to point out is in the upper right hand corner and indicated by a large red “5”, it is a box labeled “Satellite.” This will change the view from a map of the area, to a satellite view of the exact same location. Click on it now and watch the image change back and forth between a map and satellite image.

The other tools on the page are as follows:

  1. Panning Tool – this will shift the image in the direction of the arrows around the outside of the circle.
  2. Street View Tool – The small orange figure changes the image from map or satellite, to Street View (I’ll talk about that shortly). We simply drag it onto the map. If there are ground level images available, they will appear as blue lines or dots.
  3. Zoom Tool – As the name indicates, this allows us to zoom in (clicking higher on the bar or on the “+” symbol at the top), or zoom out (by clicking lower on the bar or on the “-“ symbol at the bottom).
  4. Legend – allows us to measure distances.
  5. Map / Satellite tool – This changes from map to satellite view, and back.
  6. Photo tool – This lets us look at photos, videos, or any other resources associated with this location.
Now that we know our way around, let’s play. Click on the “+” symbol at the top of the zoom bar and watch the white indicator bar move upward toward the top. After several clicks, it will reach the top indicating maximum magnification. If you want to give it a test drive, click on the “-“ sign and zoom out.

Now let’s try the Street View. Make sure you have zoomed back in as far as it will go before continuing. Put your cursor on the Street View figure, he will lean slightly toward the image. Left click and hold the mouse button down, and you can start to drag it toward the bin Laden love hut.

At this point, you will notice that several blue dots have appeared. These are places where images are available. Sometimes there will be blue lines as well; this indicates where an entire road has been recorded. Now move the orange icon over one of the dots (or lines) and drop it by releasing the button.



You will now see a view of the bin Laden compound from where the dot indicates. The picture above is not from Street View, but a public domain pictureinstead. You can click on the “X” in the upper right hand corner of the picture and return to the Satellite View to check out other images.

Right now I want to show you one more feature. On the search line, where we typed “osama bin laden’s hideout, Pakistan,” delete that and type “sake toro frisco texas.” When the image loads, zoom in (“+” symbol) all the way and you should go into Street View and see an image like this:



If you don’t have an image similar to this, drag the Street View icon (the little orange figure) to the blue line in the middle of the screen. The photo below is a current picture of the same location. It is important to keep in mind that the Street View images are often several years old, and there may have been changes. Notice the awning and foliage on the trees:



Now that you are in street view, you can use the Panning Tool to “look around.” If you want to “drive around,” put the cursor in one of the streets ahead, put the little white oval in the spot you want to move to, and click:



By panning (using the circle with the arrows in the upper left corner) and moving you can go on a tour of much of the world. From the sushi in Texas, to the hideout of the world’s most wanted terrorist (formerly most wanted that is).

I apologize if this blog entry was longer than normal. It was still a frustratingly short amount of space to explain something so powerful. I’m going to expand this into a booklet, offering more complete and detailed instruction and examples. VIRTUALLY ANYWHERE will also go into other tools I have used or know about to help writers successfully research their settings.

***


A few years ago, I began to write seriously. Since then, I’ve had short stories and articles published, in print and online, and done well in various competitions. Recently I finished my first novel, set in Wales, which was a finalist in the 2010 Debut Dagger contest. In 2011, I signed a contract with Transit Publishing, and HELLFIRE will be published in September of 2011.

Visit Rickard at
http://www.rickardbdemille.com.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

VENTRILOQUISM by Timothy Hallinan

I am thrilled (ha) to welcome Timothy Hallinan, author of the Poke Rafferty series of tense, sinister thrillers set in Thailand, to The Thrill Begins. Not only is Tim a wonderful writer who manages to make the exotic universal, but he's also a terrific friend to emerging writers, and he knows this crazy, wonderful, tumultuous biz as deeply as anyone does. Reading Tim's body of work is a great way to get to know him. Today's post below will show you a slightly different side.

***


Most of my books begin with an idea. It's usually not much of an idea – most often, a person in a situation. I usually don't know how the person got into the situation, and I never know how he/she will get out of it. I figure that out by writing the book.

But three years ago, when I was writing the third Poke Rafferty book, BREATHING WATER, I began to hear a voice. I heard it in snatches of dialogue, and then it began to tell me bits of story. That was my first glimmering of Junior Bender, the burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks, and who is now at the center of two books, CRASHED and LITTLE ELVISES.

BREATHING WATER had been a difficult book to write, and it was just beginning to resolve itself. I sometimes visualize writing a book as climbing a long slope, picking up things you think you'll need when you go down. The uphill portion is often tough, and in BREATHING WATER it had just barely been on the good side of possible. So I'd crested the hill and started down, and I was at the point where speed was picking up and I could sense the shape of the book and see half a dozen possible endings, and . . .

. . . and this voice wouldn't shut up.

Not only wouldn't it shut up while I was writing, but it obviously napped while I was having dinner and then had a great big pot of coffee, because it went into filibuster mode the moment I tried to go to sleep. One night, I gave up and went downstairs and wrote a long scene about a burglar trying to steal an ugly painting in a house full of Rottweilers, and the only weapons he has is a shelf full of “marital aids” over the bed in the room he's burglarizing. When it's over—and I will say, with all immodesty, that it's a very exciting and very funny scene—he gets into his car and someone in the back seat pushes an automatic into the back of his neck.

At four in the morning, I made a decision: I put BREATHING WATER aside for what I thought would be four weeks, and wrote CRASHED.

It turned out to be five weeks, which is still the fastest I've ever written a book. And I didn't actually feel like I was writing; I felt like a ventriloquist's dummy. Junior never let up until I'd (or we'd) finished, and then he went to the Bahamas or something, and I went back to BREATHING WATER. I finished that book, edited and published CRASHED as an ebook because I couldn't get a good enough offer from a traditional publisher, and wrote THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, the fourth in the Poke Rafferty series.

Ninety minutes after I finished that book, Junior started talking again.

The Junior books are written (obviously) in first-person, but he's very generous about sharing the page. He's brought a whole gallery of supporting characters with him, crooks mostly, whom I hear just as vividly as I do Junior.

One of my favorites is his friend Louie the Lost, who earned his nickname when a getaway car he was driving with four nervous crooks in front and two million in stolen diamonds in the back wound up stuck in traffic in Compton with half the black population of Los Angeles staring in through the windows. Louie is a free-associator, which is heaven for a writer. For example:


“This is a hypothetical,” I said into the phone. The light in the intersection where I was going to turn left went from green to yellow, and I slowed behind two massive SUVs whose owners were doing everything in their power to ensure the future prosperity of Saudi Arabia. “So. Let's say you're suspected of murder. Let's say you know you're suspected of murder. Let's say you're sort of sitting around waiting for the cops to come and get you. You even hire someone to try to do something about it, try to get you off the hook.”

“This has a familiar ring,” Louie said.


“And now let's say that it turns out you have a perfectly good alibi.”


After a beat, Louie said, “For?”


“For the murder. Let's say several people can place you at home the entire day when Derek Bigelow, your hypothetical victim, got made dead.”


I could hear Louie working on his cigar. “How hypothetical is this?”


“Actually, not at all.”


“This is like a word problem,” Louie said. “Remember word problems? If Karen gets on the train in Chicago going West and Harvey gets on another train in San Francisco going East and the two trains are on the same track and one of them's going 59 miles an hour and the other one is doing 83 miles an hour, and it's 1600 miles from Chicago to San Francisco, and Harvey's in the front car when the trains crash into each other, then how much did Karen weigh?”


I said, “It's like that? How is it like that?”

“Because it doesn't make any sense,” Louie said.

So Junior has talked me through two books now, and I have to say they're the most fun I've ever had with my fingers on a keyboard. It's been three years now since he started yammering in my ear, and he remains unique—no other character has done it. And as long as he wants to talk to me, I'll continue to write it down.

So far, other people seem to like him, too. Of the 32 reviews CRASHED and BREATHING WATER have received on Amazon, 32 are 5-star and one is 4-star. A third book, MUTHER'S DAY, is about one-fifth written but has been parked while I write the next Poke Rafferty, THE FEAR ARTIST.

And this time, Junior seems to understand. He's shut up for the present.

***

Timothy Hallinan, the 2011 Edgar and Macavity nominee for Best Novel, will have his fifth Poke Rafferty novel published by Soho in 2012, and brings back Junior Bender, the crook who made his debut in last year's highly-praised CRASHED, in this year's LITTLE ELVISES.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Developing Characters, by Adrianne Sainte Eve

Creating characters is the most rewarding part of writing, because life is full of endless inspiration. As human beings none of us can live without each other, yet we are all self-centered, maddeningly unreliable, emotional and unpredictable. We are hypocritical, pretentious, annoying and rampant with contradictions. Nobody is consistent, which is what makes us all fascinating. Naturally, our fictitious characters must have some of these qualities. They must have their own delusions, hopes, fears, and subtle nuances, and they must have some admirable as well as some shameful traits. They come to life when we give them physical descriptions, nicknames and distinguishing marks. I love to dress and accessorize them, like imaginary paper dolls.

It is always easier to see the worst traits in other people, so I find that someone in life who really aggravates me is a great starting point for a character. Certainly some of us are truly vile. Though there may be no excuse for this, but there is always a reason. We are complex creatures and everyone has some redeeming qualities through the stench of pain that shrouds us.

Delving into insanity is the best of all challenges. I believe most of us start with similar mental equipment, which becomes warped in different ways. It is entertaining to wallow in the bizarre, contemplate some loathsome and disturbing ideas, when you can attach them to someone else. I have once been told this is sick, though I think not. As authors, we have the freedom to paint in whatever shades of gray seem entertaining.

I enjoy deciding how the various goings on will affect my characters individually. It intrigues me that none of us ever get anything right. We live in our own worlds, always misunderstand everything, put our own skew on it, and run off to act rashly under some misperception. I find that the most rudimentary idea for a story develops itself once I have created my characters and decided how they will fit together. It is a rare and challenging power to determine all their fates. Everyone can relate when terrible things happen to a character, especially when they are undeserved. All the clich├ęs; i.e.: life is tough, good guys finish last, no good deed seems to go unpunished, are about us feeling sorry for ourselves. So some of us must die young, for the sake of a good story, but conversely, some people just have all the luck. It happens. Though never to us, it seems. Still, the truly despicable are often nondescript, blend into the crowd and live their lives without incident. One might even find it therapeutic to get even with a rival, if only in one’s imagination. We have total license to exaggerate, hold up to ridicule, construct a grisly end and chuckle about it, though I admit nothing.

I recently read some opinions on whether or not it is better to write a story in the first person through the protagonist. There’s no doubt that this adds originality to the story. I always wonder how much of the protagonist is based on the author. Naturally, if narcissism demands, you can base the character on your very best self, though he or she must have some blemishes in the interest of genuineness. There is also an excellent opportunity here to sneak in your own personal rants without risk, or the occasion to develop the dark side of yourself, which would be amusing. Some freshness is lost when writing in the third person, but it often makes for a much clearer read. Sometimes it is better to disassociate. As the author, you can be the impartial watcher, just the record keeper, and can be as clinical as you desire.

I like the idea of writing from several people’s perspectives, each with an I voice. This can be confusing, but I say, so what? I personally don’t mind a bit of confusion because it makes me concentrate more. That said, I admit that I have been criticized for having so many characters in my book that it becomes hard to keep track of them. My publisher made me construct a directory as in certain Russian novels. But I felt they were all essential, and all I can say is pay attention.

The point is that as writers, it’s our own story and our own universe. We have free reign to create entire populations. It’s an incredible privilege.

* * *

Adrianne Sainte-Eve was born in Budapest Hungary, and spent her childhood in, Quebec, Regina, Saskatchewan, and Vancouver, B.C. in Canada. She is a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and Northern Illinois University, and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

An Interview with Thriller Author Linwood Barclay, by Carla Buckley

Linwood Barclay is the #1 Internationally Bestselling author of nine novels, a novella, and a memoir. His latest release, The Accident, features Glen Garber, a contractor who stumbles upon a terrible car accident late one night, only to recognize his wife's car among the wreckage. Reeling from his wife's death, taking care of their eight-year-old daughter, Kelly, and trying to keep his business afloat, Glen soon realizes that the accident that claimed his wife's life was, in fact, no ordinary accident. Kirkus Reviews calls it a "home run," and Stephen King has it on his summer reading list.

We’re delighted he agreed to be interviewed by Carla Buckley for The Thrill Begins.

CB: Linwood, thank you for stopping by to talk about your writing! I'd like to start off by asking if you could tell us a little about your path to publication. Many debut authors find writing their second novel a struggle, mostly because they're facing now deadlines and answering to an audience. Was that your experience?

LB: Depends what you consider the second novel. The first one that got me any real attention was No Time for Goodbye, so I felt some pressure with the following book, Too Close to Home, particularly in the UK, where none of my earlier books had been published, and No Time had been a monstrous hit. But in fact, Too Close to Home was my sixth novel, so that also eased the pressure. I knew I would be able to write it. It was more a sense of apprehension waiting for it to come out, how it would be judged after No Time for Goodbye. (Thankfully, not too badly.) My real second novel was Bad Guys, the second novel featuring Zack Walker. Considering that the preceding novel, Bad Move, had sold about nine copies (at the time) I didn't feel as though thousands of readers were waiting to judge me.

CB: Would you talk about your writing process--are you a writer who outlines, or who starts with a concept and runs with it?

LB: I need to come up with a great opening hook that I really like, and feel has potential to sustain an entire book. Once I have that, I spend a week or two making notes about what's actually going on and who the main players are. So have a semi-outline, and have a pretty good idea where I am going to end up. But then I reach a point where I just have to start writing, because it's only during the writing that I see the opportunities, the different ways I can go, and the twists I can work in. I usually do a first draft in two to three months. There can be a few more weeks, or a few more months, of work, depending on how good that first draft turns out to be.

CB: Would you say that your journalism background (with the Toronto Star) has influenced or shaped your work? Would you encourage other writers starting out to consider journalism as a career?

LB: Working in newspapers has had a profound effect on how I write novels. First, I appreciate deadlines. They are real and they mean something. So I always deliver books on time, or way ahead of time. And I think I approach writing books in a very professional, realistic, unromantic way. It's a job (a great job), so get it done. People always ask if you get "writer's block" but no one ever asks a plumber if he gets "plumber's block." Writing is a job. When you work in newspapers, no one cares if you just didn't feel creative one day, or the muse wasn't there. You do the work.

Also, working in newspapers teaches you to write clearly. Some critics have complained that my writing is simple, not terribly complex. I can live with that. I want my readers to understand my story, not have them get lost in a lot of flowery description that they're probably going to skip anyway.

CB: You're a master at taking ordinary people and placing them in extraordinary situations. Could you tell us how you came up with the idea for The Accident?

LB: My agent and I had been talking for some time about this huge business in knockoff purses. But to my mind, it was the backdrop for another story. Then I hit upon the idea of a man whose wife dies in a car accident that kills two other people, and police conclude she was at fault, drunk behind the wheel. I saw a way to put all that together. And the other background story, of course, is the disastrous downturn in the US economy, and how some people have decided to deal with it.

CB: One of the qualities I most love about your work is your deft and honest exploration of domestic life. How do you balance that quality with the pulse-pounding thriller heartbeat that runs through your stories?

LB: I don't really think about balancing it. But for years I wrote a humor column for the Toronto Star that was often about the funny side of domestic life. It wasn't difficult to turn things upside down and tackle the same subject matter in a dark, instead of humorous, way.

CB: Your premises are always high concept: a girl returns home from school to find her entire family missing (No Time For Goodbye); a man takes his family to an amusement park only to have his wife disappear (Never Look Away); a car salesman races to find his teenaged daughter who's vanished without a trace (Fear The Worst). May I ask whether Hollywood has noticed?

LB: Eric McCormack, who was Will in Will & Grace, has just renewed an option on No Time for Goodbye and when I last heard from him -- a couple of days ago -- he seems determined to get this film made. Fingers crossed. Fear the Worst has been optioned for film in Spain, and it least one production company has been sniffing around Never Look Away, but nothing definite there yet.

CB: I’ll keep my fingers crossed, too! Thank you, Linwood, for stopping by to speak with the debut authors and congratulations on the UK publication today of The Accident!

* * *

Interviewed by Carla Buckley

Carla Buckley is the debut author of the award-nominated The Things That Keep Us Here (Random House, 2010). Her next novel, Invisible, will be released by Random House in 2012. She chairs the ITW Debut Authors Program, and lives in Ohio with her husband, children, and two bossy little dogs.

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