About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Heart...and Sass. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, and Flight to Forever. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

True Crime Thursday – Motorized Surfboard Fraud

Photo credit: Brent Storm – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Cowabunga! was a popular exclamation by surfers in the 1960s. An earlier iteration, kawabunga, was coined on “The Howdy-Doody Show” in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the Ninja Turtles revived cowabunga’s popularity.

In 2016, Roberto Clark, 50, of Palm Bay, Florida, had a concept for motorized surfboards he called “Jetboards” that apparently caused some investors to holler “Cowabunga!”

Between 2016 and 2019, Clark convinced people he met in bars, restaurants, and adult entertainment establishments in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. to invest in his company, KRM Services. KRM was supposed to manufacture Jetboards to be sold at big profits to cruise lines and water sports companies. Clark had a patent, purchase orders, and signed, notarized contracts to prove substantial buyer interest. He collected more than $350,000 from 14 investors.

Only one problem: he never manufactured any Jetboards.

The patent, purchase orders, and buyer contracts were falsified.

Investors’ money went, not to build Jetboards, but to finance Clark’s luxurious lifestyle. According to court filings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he spent: “at least $41,000 to restaurants and bars; at least $19,000 to hotels; at least $15,000 to family members; at least $8,000 to department and clothing stores; at least $5,000 to convenience and gas stores; at least $3,000 to grocery and liquor stores; at least $1,000 to gyms; at least $1,500 to spas and beauty salons; at least $1,000 to pet stores and groomers; and at least $200 to a bail bondsman.

That last expense might have been incurred in March, 2018, when the Fairfax County Police Department arrested Clark.

Yet he brazenly continued to solicit more investors as late as 2019. When suspicious victims demanded return of their money, Clark paid some of them…with checks that bounced.

Photo credit: Kurt Anderson – Unsplash

The Jetboard scam wiped out once and for all in January, 2021, when Clark was found guilty of multiple charges including securities fraud. He was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $400,000.

Here’s hoping his victims were compensated and hollered, “Cowabunga!”

~~~

No TKZer would ever invest in a company whose owner they met in a bar or adult establishment, right? Do you know anyone who has?

~~~

 

 

 

If you invest in Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever, she absolutely guarantees she will yell: “Cowabunga!” Please check it out at this link.

+7

Public Domain Day 2021 and Writing Advice from 1925

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Public Domain Day was January 1, 2020. Although today is February 22, a tad late, it’s still a newsworthy event for writers and readers because books like The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf), Manhattan Transfer (John DosPassos), In Our Time (Ernest Hemingway), and An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser), among many others, came into the public domain.

Same with films like Buster Keaton’s Go West and songs like “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.”

Here is the link to Duke University Law School’s announcement and listing of many other artistic works whose copyrights expired as of January 1: https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2021/

One book in the bunch caught my attention: The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her 1920 novel The Age of Innocence.

Has fiction writing changed much since 1925? Are 95-year-old insights from the first female Pulitzer winner relevant to writers in 2021?

The Writing of Fiction is short, fewer than 150 pages, originally published by Scribner in 1925. Much of the beginning section is literary criticism, comparing Proust, Austen, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and other greats of the era, contrasting them with the new “stream-of-consciousness” trend that shook up readers at that time. I confess I skimmed those parts.

But elsewhere Wharton reveals her views on the art and craft of storytelling.

I found several passages I thought might provoke interesting discussion among TKZers.

Wharton calls the “modern” novel “that strange chameleon-creature which changes its shape and colour with every subject on which it rests.”

In the following paragraph, she describes what writers often call being in the zone:

“To the artist his world is as solidly real as the world of experience, or even more so, but in a way entirely different; it is a world to and from he passes without any sense of effort, but always with an uninterrupted awareness of the passing.”

Here at TKZ, we often work on point-of-view problems.

Wharton is critical of “the slovenly habit of some novelists of tumbling in and out their characters’ minds, and then suddenly drawing back to scrutinize them from the outside as the avowed Showman holding his puppets’ strings.”

About character development, she writes: “[they are] the creatures of [the author’s] imagination, more living to him than his own flesh-and-blood…”

Further, she studies the tightrope that writers must walk while creating characters. On one hand, she cautions against the “author [who] is slave to characters” while, on the other hand, who risks becoming a “puppeteer manipulating marionette strings…”

Conflict is another topic that she addresses:

“The conflict, the shock of forces, is latent in every attempt to detach a fragment of human experience and transpose it in terms of art, that is, of completion.”

This is what she has to say about an artist’s sensitivity:

“One good heart-break will furnish the poet with many songs, the novelist with a considerable number of novels. But they must have hearts that can break.”

On the focus of a story, she writes:

“…the only remedy is resolutely to abandon the larger for the smaller field, to narrow one’s vision to one’s pencil, and do the small thing closely and deeply rather than the big thing loosely and superficially.”

The topic of inspiration:

“Many people assume that the artist receives, at the onset of his career, the mysterious sealed orders known as ‘Inspiration,’ and has only to let that sovereign influence carry him where it will. Inspiration indeed comes at the outset to every creator but it comes most often as an infant, helpless, stumbling, inarticulate, to be taught and guided, and the beginner, during this time of training his gift, is as likely to misuse it as a young parent to make mistakes in teaching his first child.”

Writers often ponder if their concept, plot, or characters are original enough to capture readers’ tastes. Wharton’s answer:

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision. That new, that personal vision is attained only by looking long enough at the object represented to make it the writer’s own; and the mind which would bring this secret germ to fruition must be able to nourish it with an accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience.”

~~~

TKZers: Did any of Edith Wharton’s thoughts particularly strike you?

Are they out of date, no longer relevant?

Or does she express timeless truths about the art of writing fiction?

~~~

 

Debbie Burke is one of Montana’s Women of Mystery, along with Leslie Budewitz and Christine Carbo. Three crime novelists will reveal writing secrets and talk about their books during a Zoom appearance on Wednesday, February 24, at 3 p.m. mountain time. Email debbieburkewriter@gmail.com for the Zoom invitation.

+7

When Characters Talk – Interview with Author Assaph Mehr

 

Felix the Fox business card

By Debbie Burke

@burke_twitter

 

Recently a writer friend turned me onto a site called The Protagonist Speaks, created by author Assaph Mehr, who was born in Israel and now lives in Australia. He writes a series described as Stories of Togas, Daggers, and Magic for lovers of urban fantasy, detective mysteries, and ancient Rome.

His main character is Felix the Fox, part sleuth, part magician, part fixer who handles occult trouble for Rome’s upstanding citizens who don’t want to dirty their hands.

Felix’s first interview appeared in 2016. The idea of an author interviewing the characters in his book intrigued readers. Soon, Assaph expanded the site to include other authors interviewing their characters.

The concept struck me as a fun, quirky marketing tool. I reached out to Assaph and requested an interview. That is today’s post, although I’m not quite sure who will show up—Assaph or Felix!

In Numina by Assaph Mehr

Debbie Burke: Please share a little about yourself and your background.

Assaph: I grew up on the shores of the Mediterranean, where every stone has a history – and the stone under it too, going back millennia. One of my favourite spots was an Ottoman citadel (we used to play LARP [live-action role-playing game] there), which is built on Mameluk foundation, laid on top of Roman village, which displaced older settlements to Egyptian times. Can’t grow up like that and not love history. Fantasy I discovered early on when introduced to The Hobbit, and thereafter I’ve been reading it voraciously. I now live in Oz (aka Australia), with various cats, kids, spiders, and water dragons.

Felix: I come from the city of Egretia, which Assaph assures me is very like your own ancient Rome. My father was in the antiquities trade, though I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the Collegium Incantatorum. My father died, the family fortune was lost, and I could no longer pay tuition so never graduated. So, after a brief stint in the legions, I came back and by a stroke of luck apprenticed with a couple of the city’s most renowned investigators. When they didn’t want to take a case that had occult elements, I seized my chance. I combined whatever education in the magical arts I gathered in the collegium with the investigative skills I learnt, and set out to solve paranormal problems for the proletariat.

Assaph: In Ancient Rome tradespeople often advertised by chalking messages on public walls. That’s how I met Felix, and got him to tell me his stories so I could write them down. For our world we couldn’t quite spray graffiti everywhere, so we made Felix some business cards. Please, pass them on to your readers.

DB: Your books sound like an interesting mashup of hard-boiled detective stories, fantasy, and history. How did you come up with that combination?

Assaph: Quite simply, that’s what I always liked to read. I grew up on classic detectives and thrillers, loved ancient Rome, and often escaped into fantasy and Sci-Fi. I always wanted to see my name in print, so when it was time to write I combined my favourite elements into the stories I wanted to read. (sotto voce) Don’t tell Felix he’s a figment of my imagination – he gets offended, and besides I’d rather he not ask uncomfortable questions about some of the misery I put him through.

Felix: For me it was a stroke of luck – my name, Felix, means lucky, so I attribute everything to my patron goddess Fortuna. As everyone will tell you – or, rather, whisper so she can’t hear – she can be a fickle and capricious goddess. I was accepted to the collegium, but had to terminate my studies; with no prospects I joined the legions, but escaped honorably without injury; the two investigators took me in, and I managed to carve out a unique niche for my business. So those stories are just the cases I handle for my customers, which Assaph publishes here. I’m still waiting on those royalties he promised.

Assaph: Skinflint. I told you, I had to pay the editor and the cover designer. We’re waiting on that movie deal for the big payout.

DB: What inspired the seed for The Protagonist Speaks?

Assaph: It was one of those 3 a.m. ideas that stuck. Every reader talks about favourite characters, I thought it would be an interesting idea to let them meet those characters in person, as it were. A bit like a celebrity talk show, but centered about the characters rather than the authors.

DB: How do readers respond to interviews with characters?

Assaph: The responses I get are overwhelmingly positive. Both authors and readers enjoy the quirky experience of letting the character sit on a guest couch and be interviewed. Both authors and readers also tell me that they are sometimes surprised by the answers they get.

Felix: For my part, I can say that it was a bit weird at the start. I didn’t quite get what it was all about, and I was reluctant to share secrets. Now I do have a better understanding of what’s involved, and I can say it can be a phenomenal experience for the character as well.

Assaph: Right, so that’s you agreeing to do another one – proper one – for the next book launch.

DB: What is the site’s primary purpose? Promote author name recognition? A way to increase book sales? Fun and entertainment?

Assaph: Yes – pretty much all of that. Authors and readers get to have a bit of fun, it helps increase exposure of the books to potential readers, and authors end up with long-life marketing collateral, something that can be shared to help increase buzz. Running the site is my way of giving back and helping fellow authors.

DB: Have you experienced an uptick in sales from The Protagonist Speaks?

Assaph: Modest, but yes. As with most marketing, it’s about repeatedly putting good content in front of potential buyers, till they make the decision to buy. Having these quirky interviews helps do just that – it’s a way to come across new authors, it’s a reason to share the books again, it gives more view-points into the author’s style that may help convince a reader that this is a book for them. There is definitely more engagement from authors who understand that, and I see more engagement when authors share it on social media and newsletters (beyond what I normally see when only I share the interviews).

DB: What is the process for an author to submit an interview with a character? Is there any cost?

Assaph: No costs. As said above, it’s my way of helping fellow authors. Heck, I half do it for myself – besides having an excuse to chat up authors I enjoy, I also discovered a few new favourites.

For anyone interested in joining, just fill out the Contact form on TheProtagonistSpeaks.com/Contact.

DB: Anything else you’d like to share with Kill Zone readers?

Assaph Mehr

Assaph: Thanks much for hosting us, Debbie! I promise I’m not as crazy as I sound, despite the voices in my head. Should any of your readers like to meet Felix more, there are a few free short stories and a free novella on my website here: egretia.com/short-stories. Those will give you an idea of the trials and tribulations of a private investigator during antiquity, dealing with the supernatural world (and why he wants to get paid, and I don’t want him to think I’m the cause of all his troubles).

Website: http://egretia.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/AssaphMehrAuthor

Twitter: @assaphmehr

~~~

As a side note, after chatting with Assaph, I dragged the male lead in my thriller series, Tillman Rosenbaum, kicking and screaming, to Assaph’s interview couch. Please check out Tillman’s reluctant answers on March 5 at The Protagonist Speaks

~~~

TKZers: Do you ever interview your characters? Do their answers surprise you?

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s characters really startled her in her new thriller Flight to Forever.  Discover the surprises here. 

 

Cover design by Brian Hoffman

+11

Want to Talk to a Kill Zone Author?

Photo credit: Chris Montgomery – unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Have you ever wanted to chat with the Crime Dogs at The Kill Zone?

Now, your book club, reading or writing group can meet with TKZ authors via Zoom, Facetime, Google Meeting, or Splash.

To give you hints what they might talk about at a virtual meeting, I posed two questions to each member.

Joe Hartlaub:

#1 – When you’re invited to speak, what do you plan to say?

I accept!

Actually, I would discuss the steps that a writer goes through after finishing their manuscript and before being published. 

 

 

#2 – What would you like listeners to learn from you?

That they probably should have asked someone else! Seriously, I would hope they would come away encouraged, rather than discouraged. While the process of publishing seems overwhelming, people still do it. 

(BTW, we’ve asked Joe to leave his big knife at home when he zooms.)

~~~

Sue Coletta:

Most readers ask about the story behind the story, my characters or subjects (if nonfiction), research, and male vs. female serial killers. I also touch on forensic science (i.e. blood spatter analysis, decomposition, handwriting analysis, forensic psychology, the difference between a psychopath, sociopath, spree killer, etc. The seven stages of serial killing is a big hit, as it allows readers to peek into a killer’s mind. The psychology behind these monsters is a fascinating topic.

For writers: how to create believable characters, show vs. tell, understanding deep point of view, story structure, how to use research without slowing the pace. Also, my experience working with publishers.

Most of all, I want attendees to have fun. Laughter is good for the soul.

~~~

John Gilstrap:

I have several “canned” presentations that are fully described here, but I tailor every presentation to the individual audience. I’ve been doing this for over a quarter of a century, so I can discuss everything from character development to finding an agent to adapting stories for the screen. I’ve done full day seminars and I’ve done 20-minute chats.

I start every presentation by asking attendees what they want to take away from the seminar/meeting. In my experience, people who attend these kinds of presentations have one or two very specific itches that they’d like to have scratched, and my job is to scratch them.

~~~

Clare Langley-Hawthorne:

Most often my presentations start off with the history that inspired my stories and, depending on the audience, delve into my own personal connection to the events or characters in the book. Rarely do I go into the actual writing process but this is often a question I get asked so that’s when it comes up. I want listeners to come away inspired – either by history, reading, or to write their own stories.

~~~

James Scott Bell:

I speak on any of the 7 critical success factors of fiction: plot, structure, character, scenes, dialogue, voice, meaning.

Fiction writing can be learned, if one studies diligently and keeps practicing.

 

~~~

Terry Odell:

I’m flexible with what I’ll talk about. If it’s a writer’s group, I can talk about craft, including dialogue, point of view, voice, writing romantic suspense, or just the writing process. I can also share my experiences with small presses, digital presses, and independent publishing.

Book clubs are usually a whole different game, with them wanting to talk about specific books or series, or just general Q&A.

~~~


Garry Rodgers:

From my experience it’d be “talk about what you know.” Mine is crime, forensics, and death investigation and the worlds around them. My schtick would be about Joseph Wambaugh’s saying, “The best stories aren’t about how cops (and coroners) work on cases – it’s how the cases work on cops (and coroners).”

I see it from the reality human angle rather than the non-reality TV CSI stuff.

~~~

Steve Hooley:

My subject would be “Heritage, Writing, and Leaving a Legacy.” The discussion would center on the importance of passing on (in writing) to our descendants what we have learned from our ancestors – history, service, and values.

I would like to convince listeners that “passing the torch” is important, and maybe inspire some young people to become interested in writing.

I added a category: Who is my desired audience? Middle Grade Schools, High Schools, Parochial Schools, Christian Schools, Home School Groups, Senior Citizen Groups, and Writers’ Groups.

~~~

Elaine Viets:

My talks are tailored for the audience. If you want to be entertained, I talk about my light-hearted Dead-End Job mysteries. If the audience likes darker mysteries, I discuss my Angela Richman, Death Investigator mysteries. Death investigators are like paralegals for the medical examiner. They are in charge of the body and work for the ME.

I’ve also taught workshops and seminars for Sisters in Crime, MWA, and the Florida Writers Academy and other groups. Topics include: “Forensics for Mystery Writers.” “How to Murder Your Darlings — editing for writers.” “Who’s Talking? What voice is best for your novel?” and “Mystery Writing for Beginners.” All workshops come with handouts.

I’d like all my audiences to come away entertained, and if they’re taking a workshop, to leave it energized and ready to write.

~~~

P.J. Parrish (Kris Montee): 

The need to learn your craft and have patience, especially if you self-publish. A book that’s put out in public before it’s professionally ready will fail.

Perseverance. I’ve run the full gamut of publishing with huge NY legacy publishers, paperback imprints, foreign publishers, and Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer. I changed genres from romance to mysteries, reinventing a stalled career. I regained backlist rights and self-published them, also self-published an original series. Lots of success (bestseller lists and awards) and plenty of failure, but you keep going! You have to have a hard shell, lots of drive, and you can’t let the suckers get you down!

Topics I like to talk about: The difference being showing and telling. Making your settings/locations come alive. Series vs standalones.

~~~

 

Debbie Burke:

For writing groups—how to edit your own writing, how to survive rejections and keep writing, traditional publication vs. self-publication, tapping the subconscious for stories, confessions of a pantser.

For book clubs—A peek inside the warped mind of a writer. Behind the scenes anecdotes. How does a nice girl like me write such nasty villains? What does an author do when characters won’t behave?

~~~

How do you set up a virtual meeting with a TKZ author? It’s easy!

At the top of the screen on the left side of the menu banner, click on “Request a TKZ Speaker.” Fill out the form and hit submit. We’ll be in touch.

 We look forward to “seeing” you for a virtual chat!

+12

True Crime Thursday – COVID 19 Scams

Photo credit: Mika Baumeister – unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_twitter

The pandemic has provided new opportunities to enrich scammers. For today’s True Crime Thursday, I’m highlighting two popular schemes that thieves developed to profit from COVID 19.

First scheme: Economic Impact Payments. 

Your phone rings and caller ID says it’s the IRS.

Gulp! Your heart speeds up.

The caller claims to be an IRS agent. He or she sounds authoritative and convincing, offering a name (fake) and ID badge number (also fake). They may even already know some personal information about you.

They claim you owe the IRS money and demand you make immediate payment.

But, being compassionate, understanding folks, they offer several options they’ll accept for payment–such as a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer…

Or

You can sign over your economic stimulus payment check and send it to them, endorsing it as “payment for past debts.”

If you don’t comply, the formerly compassionate, understanding caller becomes aggressive and threatens you with arrest.

Variation: They claim you’re owed a refund but they need personal information before they send it to you.

Reality: Scammers can easily spoof the supposed IRS number. They often impersonate IRS agents, law enforcement, or other officials to intimidate their targeted victim. 

The IRS may call you but their first contact is generally by mail.

They do not demand payment by pre-paid debit cards. They do not request credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If the caller becomes abusive, the IRS advises you to hang up immediately.

Variation: phishing by email or text – You receive an email, text, or message through social media, claiming to be from the IRS. The sender address appears similar to IRS.gov but may be IRSgov (no dot).

It claims you need to update your information or that you’re owed a refund. It instructs you to click on a link that takes you to an official-appearing IRS site. There, you are prompted to enter personal information like Social Security number, bank accounts, PINs, etc.

Reality: The IRS will never contact you by text or social media. They do however use email to contact you. Always study the sender’s address carefully.

If you click on a phony link and answer the questions, thieves have your personal information. They can then file fraudulent tax returns to obtain refunds.

Even worse, clicking on the link may install malware that gives criminals access to your computer where they can steal sensitive information like passwords.

If you have doubts that a call or email is legitimate, the IRS advises you contact them directly through the IRS.gov website.

Here’s a link to IRS scam warnings: https://www.irs.gov/compliance/criminal-investigation/irs-warns-about-covid-19-economic-impact-payment-fraud

Another wrinkle in economic stimulus payments is causing confusion. Your second payment may come in a different form than your first payment did.

The first payment may have been direct-deposited into your bank account or you might have received a check from U.S. Treasury.

But the second payment may arrive by mail as a VISA debit card. Because the envelope does not look like the typical IRS check, many people think it’s advertising or a solicitation and toss it.

Here’s what it looks like (click to enlarge):

The return address on the envelope has a Dept. of Treasury logo and says Economic Impact Payment Card from a P.O. Box in Omaha, NE.

Even though it looks peculiar, the VISA card is valid. 

~~~

Second scheme: Vaccine scams

You receive a phone call from the Social Security Administration or Pfizer, the drug company manufacturing COVID 19 vaccines.

At least that’s what Caller ID says.

The caller invites you to sign up to receive the vaccine.You only need to give them your Social Security number, Medicare number, bank account, and credit card information.

Further, the caller claims you can be placed higher on the priority list to receive the vaccine if you pay a fee.

Reality: According to attorney Steve Weisman in a recent Saturday Evening Post article

“The truth is that the Social Security Administration is not calling anyone about getting the vaccine, and no one is being asked to pay a fee to be put on a priority list to receive the vaccine. This is just a scam to get your personal information and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.”

Vaccine scammers also employ email messages and texts, like those described above by the IRS, to trick the recipient into clicking on malicious links.

~~~

Yes, in fact, there is a special list that gives preferential attention to seniors. Unfortunately, it’s the Scammers’ Roster of Favorite Prey.

Please watch out for vulnerable friends and family who might be on that most-favored list.

~~~

TKZers: Have you been contacted by someone impersonating the IRS, Social Security Administration, or a drug manufacturer?

Do you know anyone who’s been defrauded by COVID 19 scams? Please share that experience.

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever features a pair of plucky senior outlaws on the lam. Please check out the book here.

 

+8

In Praise of Experts

Photo credit: Luke Jones, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

In fiction, you often walk into different worlds. Perhaps you speak a few words of the language but you’re not fluent. You have a general idea of the architecture and geographic layout. But there are secret passageways in which you can become lost and unseen chasms into which you can tumble.

But you’re committed. You must go forward on your story quest. So, you seek out natives from those worlds to guide you. 

Today, I’d like to introduce you to several insiders who shepherded me through unfamiliar terrain in my new thriller, Flight to Forever, which launches today. 

The story takes place in the rugged mountains of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. I’ve hiked and explored the area but am far from a hardcore outdoorswoman. I needed to call upon experts in various fields to fill in the gritty details.

Here’s an overview of Flight to Forever:

Main characters: investigator Tawny Lindholm and her husband, criminal defense attorney Tillman Rosenbaum.

Inciting incident: When the pandemic prevents a Vietnam veteran from seeing his wife of 50 years in a memory care lock-down, he busts her out. Because an off-duty cop is injured during their escape, law enforcement is hellbent on capturing the aging fugitives.

The couple flees into the mountains where they’ve gone camping for years. Their daughter begs Tawny and Tillman to help her parents. The determined veteran won’t go down without a fight, increasing the urgency for Tawny to find them before the cops do.

Setting: The fugitives choose an abandoned fire tower as their hideout.

In bygone days, fire spotters spent summers in isolation living on mountain summits in small wooden cottages built on high stilts.

When lightning sparked forest fires, the spotters used a mechanical device called a fire finder to pin down the exact map coordinates. Then they called in the report and crews were dispatched to fight the fires.

Satellites and advanced technology have now rendered the towers obsolete. A handful are preserved and have been renovated into vacation rentals. For $50/night, adventurous campers pack in supplies and stay in a lookout with staggering views from on top of the planet. Most lookouts have fallen into disrepair or been destroyed by fire.

One of those abandoned towers becomes the hideout for my fugitives.

My guide into that remote world is retired Forest Service employee Kjell Petersen, a former fire spotter.  He now volunteers to maintain the few surviving lookouts. Kjell is also a gifted photographer who’s snapped thousands of gorgeous mountain shots with wild critters and wild weather, taken during his career. He not only told me fascinating stories, he graciously offered a selection of his photos for the cover.

For hours, Kjell shared anecdotes full of details only a true insider knows. As he described being in a tower when it was struck by lightning, the hair on my arms stood up.

Kjell Petersen and friends

After the first draft of Flight to Forever was finished, Kjell reviewed it and fixed my goofs. At one point, I wrote that avalanches had destroyed many old lookouts. With a kind smile, Kjell gently corrected me. “Lookouts are built on top of mountains. There’s nothing above them. Avalanches happen below them.”

Well, duh.

Thanks for the save, Kjell!

Sue Purvis in Central Park

To research the setting, I could have slogged through grizzly territory in mud up to my artificial titanium knees.

While authenticity is important, with age comes wisdom. I know my limitations. 

Instead, I tapped another expert, Susan Purvis. She’s a geologist, search dog handler, and former search-and-rescue volunteer with more than her share of risky escapades. She also wrote the bestselling memoir, Go Find.

Sue gave me a quickie course about sedimentary limestone and sandstone cliffs. Harsh weather shears the rock off in massive slabs that crash down mountain sides. When rock crumbles into loose, unstable rubble, it’s called talus or scree, which is treacherous to hike or drive on–turning Tawny’s search into a white-knuckle adventure.

In conversation, Sue happened to mention she’d once slid her truck off an icy bridge and wound up hanging over the edge.

That anecdote was too good to pass up. I appropriated Sue’s harrowing experience to inflict on poor Tawny.

Legal eagle Phyllis Quatman

Since the male lead, Tillman, is an attorney, legal conundrums happen often. For that, I consult attorney Phyllis Quatman, who writes suspense under the name P.A. Moore.

Sometimes dodgy actions are necessary to move the plot forward even when they push my characters into gray areas of what’s legal vs. what’s moral.

Phyllis is an author as well as a lawyer. She understands the need to achieve story goals while also keeping the heroes out of serious legal trouble.

If I’m ever arrested, I know who to call.

Dr. Betty Kuffel

 

The unlucky folks in my thrillers get hurt a lot—drugged, beat up, knifed, shot, etc. Retired ER doctor Betty Kuffel has seen every injury known to humans. She is an encyclopedia of mayhem and murder methods. She also writes medical thrillers.

Paging Dr. Betty.

A subplot involves Tillman and his teenage son. While Tawny is busy tracking the fugitives up a mountain, Tillman must travel to the other side of the state when his boy is injured in an accident.

Betty upped the story stakes by suggesting complications that turned the son’s broken leg into a life-threatening crisis. She also infused realism with her insider knowledge of pandemic restrictions that keep frantic Tillman away from the bedside of his critically-ill son.

Sue, Phyllis, and Betty are my longtime critique partners and cherished friends. So it’s expected that we help each other.

But I’m constantly amazed at the willingness of complete strangers to assist a curious writer.

When I contact experts and introduce myself as an author doing research, they are almost always generous and helpful.

They’re eager to talk to an interested listener about their specialties. Plus, they like to be part of the creative process of writing a book.

As long as a writer is polite, respectful, and mindful of the expert’s time constraints, most pros are happy to go the extra mile to assist you.

A small gesture of appreciation is a customary courtesy. The people who help me are listed on the acknowledgement page and I always give them an inscribed copy of the book.

Today, I raise my coffee mug in a toast to the experts who helped with Flight to Forever: Kjell, Sue, Phyllis, and Betty.

~~~

TKZers: Have you consulted experts in your research?

What sort of assistance did they provide?

~~~

 

 

Today is launch day for Flight to Forever. 

Now that you know what happened behind the scenes, I invite you to check the book out at this link. 

+14

First Page Critique – Rene Out on a Limb

Photo credit: evilpeacock cc by-nc-sa 2.0

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 Happy 2021 and welcome back to TKZ after the annual holiday break!

Today, we kick off the new year with the first page of Rene Out on a Limb, a humorous middle-grade mystery. Please enjoy this submission then we’ll discuss it:

 

 

 

Rene Out on a Limb – First 400 words

The branch of the tree makes a creaky noise when I wriggle out on it, and the ground looks really far away. I’m not worried, though. Oak tree limbs don’t break … do they?

“Psst.” My cousin Joanie tries to whisper, but it sounds more like a moose wheezing. Joanie is nine years old, but she never learned how to whisper properly. She’s sitting on a low branch like she’s glued to the trunk.  A squirrel pokes its head out of a knothole and gnaws on an acorn while he stares at me. Like he’s surprised to see a girl halfway out on a limb. But this is my life. An investigative reporter knows no fear.

“Psst. Rene, stop.” Joanie’s voice gets a little louder and scaredier as I inch my way along the branch.

“Shh.” I whisper back with much better form. “I want to hear what they’re saying.” It’s good practice for a reporter to eavesdrop on possible subjects, and I’d radared in on Nate Peterson as he walked across campus with his girlfriend. They were so wrapped up in each other, they didn’t even see us. They stopped next to that big elm tree a few feet away, and the girl stood with her back against the trunk while he leaned toward her with his hand on the tree and a goofy expression on his face.

I’ll never understand adults. If Nate’s trying to impress his girlfriend, he’d do better if he stood on his head or did a couple of cartwheels. At least it would show a little talent. Maybe he could buy a yo-yo.

I creep another couple of inches forward, ease the notebook out of my pocket, and strain to hear. He calls the girl “Cassie.” I write it down.

Cassie was saying something about Reverend Newton. I know him. He’s the minister at the university chapel. She says, “He asked me to stop by today after lunch. It’s about Mr. Myet.”

Mr. Myet? Wasn’t he the librarian who died in that fire?

Cassie frowns. “Reverend Newton thinks there may have been foul play.”

Murder! My heart pounds and my ears become antennae. Maybe I can solve the mystery and expose the killer. I could be famous. I’ll be the youngest person who ever won a Pulitzer Prize!

I try to ease forward, but my foot gets caught.

~~~

This story blasts right out of the gate. In three short paragraphs, the author introduces Rene, the first-person protagonist, establishes her approximate age, and introduces her goal—she wants to be a famous investigative reporter.

By the ninth paragraph, she presents the mysterious death of the librarian, Mr. Myet. Rene’s mission grows more ambitious with that revelation. She’s determined to solve the crime.

The Brave Author includes another important detail: Rene is already in danger because the tree limb she’s clinging to could break. If that happens (and I’m fairly sure it will in the next page or two), Rene might be injured. But a more serious consequence: she will be discovered by the people she is surveilling. Her covert mission is blown.

That sense of risk propels the reader to turn the page. We need to find out Rene’s fate.

Does she survive? Once she’s discovered, can she talk her way out of her dilemma? Can she continue with her mystery-solving mission?

The Brave Author sidestepped the common problems we see on many TKZ first pages—lack of conflict, lack of action, too much backstory, difficulty with point of view (POV), unclear characterizations. In this excerpt, character, action, and conflict combine smoothly to engage the reader immediately. Effective pacing moves the story forward, inducing the reader to keep turning pages. Well done!

Humor is a bonus in writing stories for most age groups but particularly, it seems, for young readers. Rene’s voice is wry, witty, and delightful. She makes observations that sound appropriate for an intelligent child without being too advanced. Although her exact age is not mentioned, her mildly superior attitude toward her nine-year-old cousin suggests she’s perhaps a year older.

Joanie as the cautious sidekick contrasts with the fearless Rene, showing the personalities of both characters quickly and efficiently.

Rene pokes fun at Nate’s attempts to impress Cassie. Further, she inserts her own suggestions that standing on his head, turning cartwheels, or doing yo-yo tricks would be much more effective. Young readers can follow her child’s logic and older readers should find her lack of sophistication amusing and endearing.

I do suggest rearranging that paragraph a little, grouping all Rene’s suggested alternatives together and then drawing her conclusion.

I’ll never understand adults. If Nate’s trying to impress his girlfriend, he’d do better if he stood on his head or did a couple of cartwheels. If he’s super cool, he could demonstrate yo-yo tricks like The Elevator or Walking the Dog. At least that would show a little talent. Maybe he could buy a yo-yo.

 

 

The paragraph below works better if it’s split into two paragraphs. Joanie’s inability to whisper should be a separate thought from the squirrel’s action and Rene’s reaction.

“Psst.” My cousin Joanie tries to whisper, but it sounds more like a moose wheezing. Joanie is nine years old, but she never learned how to whisper properly. She’s sitting on a low branch like she’s glued to the trunk. 

A squirrel pokes its head out of a knothole and gnaws on an acorn while he stares at me. Like he’s surprised to see a girl halfway out on a limb. But this is my life. An investigative reporter knows no fear.

Let’s talk about verb tense. The story begins in present tense, which is common in children’s books. That sense of immediacy appeals to young readers.

Then there’s a switch to past tense. That is understandable for events that have already happened, like this paragraph:

I’d radared in on Nate Peterson as he walked across campus with his girlfriend. They were so wrapped up in each other, they didn’t even see us. They stopped next to that big elm tree a few feet away, and the girl stood with her back against the trunk while he leaned toward her with his hand on the tree and a goofy expression on his face.

Then the tense switches back to present as Rene makes her entertaining observations about how Nate should impress his girlfriend. Present tense is appropriate because the reader is inside her head, thinking her thoughts as they occur to her.

This is followed by Rene’s actions of creeping further out on the branch and taking notes, also in present tense.

But then, in the next paragraph, a change to past tense causes a slight clunk:

Cassie was saying something about Reverend Newton.

It might read more smoothly this way:

Cassie is saying something about Reverend Newton.

Here’s another tense change that tripped me:

Mr. Myet? Wasn’t he the librarian who died in that fire? 

The thought in Rene’s head should be in present tense, in the moment that it occurs to her:

Mr. Myet? Isn’t he the librarian who died in that fire?

These nits are tiny. Yet they make a subtle difference. When the author avoids small bumps like these, the reader stays totally engaged in the story, without even a millisecond’s distraction from the fictive dream.

I had a hard time finding ways to improve on this already-excellent submission. Maybe other readers can see places to change but I was entirely caught up in the story and would read further.

A young girl who wants to become a crime-solving reporter is an appealing premise. I discovered Rene has a real-life counterpart, Hilde Lysiak.

The ambitious young lady, originally from Selinsgrove, PA, started a local newspaper when she was seven as a homeschooling assignment. By age ten, she had scooped conventional media with her coverage of a grisly murder committed with a hammer.

Because of that story, she was publicly criticized on social media. Her response to criticism from (so-called) adults was posted on You Tube and went viral.

Hilde made headlines again when the marshal in Patagonia, Arizona (where she now lives) challenged her right to shoot video, claiming she broke the law. She repeatedly asked him what law she had broken.

She did not back down despite his threats. Gutsy Hilde was acting within her First Amendment rights.

The officer’s false assertion led to a formal apology from the town mayor.

Along with her father, former NY Daily News reporter, Matthew Lysiak, Hilde scored a six-book series, along with a new Apple TV show chronicling her adventures as a kid reporter.

Judging by Hilde’s success, the appeal of a young female reporter who solves crime is certainly commercially viable.

With the excellent quality of writing and storytelling skills in Rene Out on a Limb, the Brave Author should be able to grab the attention of children’s publishers and enthusiastic young readers.

Thank you for submitting this fun piece, Brave Author. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

~~~

TKZers: Does this first page capture your interest? What suggestions can you offer the Brave Author?

~~~

Flight to Forever by Debbie Burke is coming soon!

Nobody tells Vietnam veteran Lou Belmonte he can’t hug his wife of 50 years. When pandemic restrictions won’t let him visit his beloved Cameo in a memory care lockdown, he busts her out, injuring two employees who try to stop him. The couple flees to a remote fire lookout in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness.

With cops in pursuit, investigator Tawny Lindholm and her defense attorney husband, Tillman Rosenbaum, race to find the aging outlaws first because Lou won’t go down without a fight.

Flight to Forever is the sixth book in Debbie Burke’s Tawny Lindholm Thriller series. Check out a sneak preview at this link.  

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The “Other” Debbie Burke

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Debbie Burke is not that unusual a name. But what if there are two Debbie Burkes who are both authors? Hmm.

About a year ago, I googled “Debbie Burke.” As expected, my thrillers, TKZ blog posts, news articles, and website came up.

But I did a double-take when I saw “Debbie Burke” was the author of jazz articles and a novel entitled Glissando.

I hadn’t written any of those.

Dug a little deeper and checked out the other Debbie Burke’s website which is debbieburkeauthor.com. Mine is debbieburkewriter.com. How confusing is that!

I discovered she is from the Poconos and now lives in Virginia Beach, VA.

For simplicity’s sake, from here on, I’ll refer to us at “Montana Debbie Burke (MT DB)” and “Virginia Debbie Burke (VA DB).”

A few months ago, I started to receive odd emails addressed to “Debbie Burke” that I initially thought were spam and deleted. More messages came from someone named Magdalena, who said she had texted me several times and wanted to talk about a jazz award. I realized Magdalena must be trying to reach VA Debbie. I replied that she had contacted the wrong Debbie Burke but I didn’t know an address for VA Debbie.

Then I received an email from “Debbie Burke” and, no, I wasn’t cc’ing myself.

VA Debbie had seen a comment by “Debbie Burke” on the Authors Guild discussion thread that she didn’t write, so she reached out to me. Turns out we’re both AG members. How confusing must that be for AG?

We had a good laugh about the mix-up and struck up a correspondence. Being writers, we inevitably played “What if?”

What if Debbie Burke interviews Debbie Burke?

So, today, here we are.

 

 

 

It’s my pleasure to introduce…Debbie Burke from Virginia. 

 

 

 

MT DB: I’ve described how I learned about you. How did you first learn about me?

VA DB: I was setting up my profile in Goodreads and saw that your name popped up with a book…something about the devil…I said hey, that’s not me!

MT DB: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

VA DB: Born in Brooklyn, now living in Virginia Beach. Most of my career has been in communications, either in printing, publishing, PR, media and so on. I was a columnist for my local paper when we lived in Pennsylvania and I became the editor of a regional business journal there, then the editor of a lifestyle magazine.

My first book came about in 2011 when I joined a community band at a local university, playing sax (I had lessons in at The New School for Social Research in NYC the 1980s. Yes, I’m dating myself).

Anyway, I was in the band and hearing all about these very famous musicians who were said to live nearby. Wow, I thought, I’d love to find out more about the jazz legacy of this area, where can I find a book on that? Surely the local library had something on it. But nobody had written about it. The more I dug, the more I found out about the area’s connections to jazz from the 1920s onward. No book? No problem, I decided to write my own. That was the start of something beautiful. That was The Poconos in B Flat and others have followed. I love writing about jazz.

MT DB:  Where can your articles and blog posts be found?

VA DB: My blog (www.debbieburkeauthor.com) is all about the jazz world. I’ve done over 400 interviews of not just musicians but also jazz photographers, artists, record execs, promotions people and authors. I have published some articles that are deep in the archives at All About Jazz and wrote for the Jamey Aebersold blog a while back.

MT DB: Your first novel is Glissando. What inspired you to write it? How did you develop the main character Ellie? 

VA DB: Ellie is a composite of a middle-aged woman who’s found that she’s had just about enough of men, period. She joins a university band (that is the only similarity, I promise) where she meets a musician whom she falls very, very hard for. He’s married, and his wife has just graduated from college. A whole lot of drama ensues and Ellie has to make some tough choices about the musician and another man she’s become involved with.

I was inspired, I am inspired, by the dating (mis)adventures of women my age. The difficulties of finding somebody good, the idea of falling in love and in lust when you’re past your mid-point. It’s fascinating to me. I like to write strong women who are more than a little flawed. I don’t agree with all the things Ellie does in the book, but she sure feels real to me.

MT DB: You’re working your second novel. Care to share details?

VA DB: Sure! It’s about a stolen song, a stolen kiss and a stunning family legacy. A jazz bassist finds out his ancestor was enslaved on one of the biggest plantations in Georgia, and miraculously comes across a song that he had written. A shocking secret bubbles up and he embarks on a journey to face it and make things right.

MT DB: You also collaborated on a book that was published in the UK about under-representation of women in the field of jazz. What was that experience like?

VA DB: Yes, Gender Disparity in UK Jazz – A Discussion. The experience was amazing times two. Sammy Stein is the consummate interviewer and knows the UK jazz scene with an enviable thoroughness. She’s a great writer and has excellent contacts who made the content very honest and accessible.

 

I needed to deal first with the logistics of the language itself; avoiding the instinct to “correct” certain words that are spelled differently in the UK than in the US, and the same goes for idioms and expressions of speech. The other major task was creating it and developmentally editing it as we went along. I think we hit all the right notes, if you pardon the pun. Within three days of uploading it to Amazon, it made number 6 in the very competitive category of “Jazz Books.” 

MT DB: What is your main strength as a writer?

VA DB: Hearing my characters’ voices telling me the story.

MT DB: What quality as a writer do you need to work on?

VA DB: I’m a “pantser” – no outline in my fiction, writing by the seat of my pants. Well, I’ve come to find out the hard way that the more story threads you have, the more challenging this is. Actually, for me right now as I finish my WIP, it’s hellish. Though I feel like an outline could be suffocating, one guy I watch on YouTube (Michael LaRonn) made a great suggestion in one of his videos, which is to make the outline as you go. So it’s a roadmap that’s informed by your ongoing experiences of writing, not something that had been imposed on you before you knew how the book was going to unfurl.

MT DB: You recently started an editing business. What prompted you to hang out an editing shingle? What type of editing do you offer?

VA DB: I’ve been doing this for many years, and just decided to formalize it with Queen Esther Publishing LLC. It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, but also very intimidating. Being organized is the key. I have an idea of what I’ll work on each day, and even if everything doesn’t pan out exactly, I’ve stuck to it with broad strokes.

The editing I do – book manuscripts, professional articles, theses, and anything else really – goes all the way from proofing to line edits to developmental editing. I also coach authors in self-publishing and building an author platform.

MT DB: Any other information you’d like to add? 

VA DB: It was so nice to “meet” you and read some of your books. I had no idea how you wrote or what you wrote about and was hoping I wouldn’t have to change my name! I’m kidding of course, but I’m sure you felt the same relief. If somebody were to mix us up and look for our books on Amazon, they’d be in for a treat, regardless of which Debbie they got.

 MT DB: I couldn’t agree more!

On Twitter: @jazzauthor

On Instagram: @jazzauthor

On Facebook: debbieburkejazzauthor

Blog: www.debbieburkeauthor.com

Editing Services: www.queenestherpublishing.com

~~~

Recently VA Debbie posted her interview with me on her blog. If you’d like to read it, here’s the link: https://bit.ly/DebbieBurkethrillerwriter 

~~~

To paraphrase P.T. Barnum: “Say anything about us as long as you spell our name right.”

That’s D-E-B-B-I-E    B-U-R-K-E! 

~~~

Holiday note: Today is my last post for 2020 before the annual two-week break. Warmest wishes to the TKZ family for happy holidays. May you share this season with loved ones and enjoy it in good health! See you in 2021. 

~~~

 TKZers: Do you have a “name twin,” or “alter ego,” or “doppelganger”?

~~~

Please check out Tawny Lindholm Thrillers by the Debbie Burke from Montana.

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True Crime Thursday – How Not to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: TheKohser CC by SA-3

Happy Thanksgiving!

In case you haven’t yet put your turkey in the oven, here are a couple of new variations on cooking poultry—one legal, one illegal.

The legal technique:

Instant pots are the current go-to appliance for many meals but I hadn’t thought about trying to cram a turkey into one. According to this blog, apparently, it is doable.

Since today is True Crime Thursday, I’m compelled to also include the illegal technique:

This case involves chickens rather than turkeys. But I suspect, if enough alcohol is involved, someone will eventually try this with the larger bird.

Last August, Eric Romriell and Eric Roberts, both of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Dallas Roberts, of West Valley City, Utah, visited Yellowstone National Park. The three men are in their forties and fifties. Romriell is an ophthalmologist.

Photo credit: Clarence Alford-Pixabay

While there, they decided to cook dinner…by boiling two chickens in the hot springs at Shoshone Geyser Basin.

They were observed carrying cooking pots to a remote location. There, they put two whole raw chickens into a burlap sack and lowered them into the steaming water.

A park ranger responded to the location. When asked what their intention was, Eric Roberts answered, “Make dinner.”

The ranger probed further and inquired which one had come up with this idea. Roberts answered, “It was kind of joint thing.”

Hmm.

The article didn’t say but one guess is the “joint” idea was cooked up with the help of an unidentified adult beverage.

Earlier this November, the judge ordered fines of $540 and $1250 and banned the three would-be chefs from Yellowstone for two years.

No report what happened to the chicken dinner.

~~~

TKZers, what are your favorite culinary tips for Thanksgiving?

~~~

Today—and every day—I give thanks for the energetic, talented, and encouraging TKZ community. You make writing fun and I’m constantly learning.

Wishing everyone in the TKZ family a healthy and happy Thanksgiving!

+8

The Perfect Word – Eight Qualities to Look For

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Image purchased from Shutterstock

I can now claim credit for contributing to a TED talk about the search for life on distant planets. Sounds impressive, right? 

My contribution?

One word.

Not an important insight. Not a blinding revelation. Not a ground-breaking development.

Nope.

One word, and not a particularly important one.

But it was the right word.

Dr. Sarah Rugheimer, an astrophysicist at Oxford (whom I’m privileged to call friend) was selected to give a TED talk about her research into detecting alien life. While preparing her speech, one line she’d written bothered her. She sent it to me for suggestions.

The concept was complicated. The sentence was awkward and ambiguous with double negatives. It lacked parallel construction.

We spent the morning texting variations back and forth. We finally whittled it down to an easy-to-understand line except for one stinkin’ word—something.

Something in fact means nothing. It’s a convenient catch phrase that’s vague and can refer any number of things. We fall back on it in conversation because it’s easy and we’re too lazy to be specific.

But this talk was too important to take the lazy way out.

The discussion with Sarah made me think more deeply into how to find the perfect word. I’ve edited a lot but never really analyzed the process.

In early drafts, don’t worry about perfection. Use whatever words come to mind, even if they’re not very good. These tips are useful after you’ve completed the manuscript when you edit and fine-tune.

What qualities does a writer and/or editor search for that make up perfect word choices?

Here are eight I came up with:

  1. Specific

Take a common word like road. That doesn’t convey much to readers. To create a vivid picture in their mind, consider alternatives: lane, trail, byway, path, street, interstate, thoroughfare, boulevard, avenue, alley, artery.

All mean road but notice how each variation conjures a different type of road.

Laser focus on exactly what you want to express. She wore a sexy dress becomes The silk chemise clung to her body.

Keep narrowing your list of possible words until you hit on the word that exactly reflects what you want the reader to visualize.  

  1. Descriptive

Verbs are perhaps the most important word choices writers make because they push, shove, and elbow the characters into actions that advance the plot. To convey action vividly requires precise verbs.

Crime writers have particular vocabulary needs.

How many ways can you say kill, murder, slaughter, butcher, dispatch, smoke, stab, strangle, garrote, assassinate, terminate, rub out?

How about kidnap, abduct, snatch, capture, shanghai, victimize?

Or con, bilk, swindle, bamboozle, fool, defraud, sham, exploit, deceive?

Jim Bell recently discussed using a thesaurus. I use it often to find verbs that are vivid …as long as they’re not pretentious!

  1. Appropriate

I’m not talking about adult language or NSFW (not suitable for work), although those are important considerations for a writer.

Rather, is a particular word in keeping with the setting, character, and circumstances?

A rural farm locale has a different cadence and rhythm than a noisy, bustling street in Hong Kong.

A preschool teacher probably won’t talk the same way a construction worker does.

In the middle of the flashing strobes of a rave, the character likely isn’t meditating about the meaning of life…although the setting may prompt an existential question: What the &*$# am I doing here?

Choose words that are appropriate for each scene.

  1. Sensory

Smell, taste, and touch are often neglected yet they add great texture to storytelling.

Smell can be flowery, acrid, pungent, stinky, musky, fragrant, mouth-watering, decaying, cloying, wet-dog.

Taste can be bitter, tart, sweet, salty, peppery, sour, rotten, nauseating, rich, creamy.

Touch can be a slap, blow, swat, caress, stroke, punch, slam, hug.

  1. Evocative

What kind of mood do you want to create for different scenes in your story? If a scene is mysterious, chilling, and foreboding, word choices are far different from a cheerful, sunny, carefree picnic.

Is the character slogging through a sweltering, stifling, claustrophobic jungle?

Or hiking in crisp, bracing, autumn air?

Is the character melancholy over the loss of a loved one?

Enraged by a driver who cuts him/her off?

Quivering with anticipation for a reunion with a lover?

  1. Emotional

Saying Rose felt sad or Bill was elated is not good enough. Telling emotions rather than showing them makes flat characters and flat writing.

Readers seek a vicarious emotional experience in books. Our quest as writers is to make readers feel as if they’re inside the character’s skin.

No one wants to be pushed off a cliff in real life. But when they read about a character whose hands are torn by sharp rocks and whose feet flail to stop their free fall, they get to have that experience vicariously…without broken bones and traumatic brain injuries!

Music is an effective conveyor of emotion. Think of songs that make goosebumps rise or carry you back to a forgotten time or experience.

The goal is to find words that evoke emotional reactions as strongly as music does.

In this 2014 article from Frontiers in Psychology, authors Ai Kawakami, Kiyoshi Furakawa, and Kazuo Okunoya state:

“We consider musically evoked emotion vicarious, as we are not threatened when we experience it, in the way that we can be during the course of experiencing emotion in daily life. When we listen to sad music, we experience vicarious sadness.”

What do you want the reader to feel in any given scene? Heartened, hopeful, distressed, depressed, ecstatic, puzzled, disappointed, awed, furious, impatient, frustrated, terrified. Choose the emotion then find ways to depict that feeling through carefully selected words that show the emotion.

  1. Accurate

When using jargon, be sure to use it correctly. Readers are fussy about terminology, meaning writers have to be fussier.

Is it a gun, rifle, shotgun, carbine, pistol, revolver? If you slip up and call a magazine a clip, John Gilstrap will bust you.

Is your character going to arraignment, trial, hearing, sentencing, inquiry, tribunal, proceeding?  Is s/he being questioned, deposed, interrogated, grilled?

Is the job title a prosecutor, county attorney, state’s attorney, district attorney, solicitor?

Is the character facing jail time or prison time? One hint: jail generally indicates minor offenses for a term less than a year. Prison generally means felony offenses with sentences for more than a year.

Even if you think you know the meaning of a particular term, double check.

  1. Resonant

When you find the perfect word, it’s like hitting a high note or that special crack of a bat that sends the ball into the stands.

You know it when you find it.

And readers know because your story is on pitch and memorable.

 

My one-word contribution to Sarah’s TED talk?

Clue.

See, I told you it wasn’t earth-shattering. But if we’d settled for a lazy, sloppy, meaningless word like something, listeners might not notice but they would be aware that something was off.

 

TKZers: Please share the resources and tricks you use to find The Perfect Word.

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