Do You Need Hygge?

By Elaine Viets

The English language is expanding faster than waistlines during quarantine. This year, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has added another 520 new words.
English is a living language, so growth is good. Or as Webster says:
“The words we use—if they are new or relatively new—are the words we need to express and explain our world. If these words then also become widely used, it becomes the dictionary’s job to explain this use.”
The new crop includes words and abbreviations I’ve never used – including “hygge” and “ASMR.”
And words I hope we’ll never use, like the clunky “decarceration.”
Plus words that we’ve been using long before Webster got wise to them, including “silver fox.” (George Clooney, anyone?)


So what’s “ASMR”? It’s short for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” Uh, right. That clears it up. This example from Webster explains it better:
“It might sound like a bafflingly bizarre way to spend time on the internet. But for Maria’s viewers, her voice and movements hold a certain magic: they can instill tranquility, overcome insomnia—and induce a mysterious physical sensation known as … ‘ASMR’, wherein the body is flooded with waves of euphoric tingles.”
“Hygge” sounds like a type of Scandinavian salt fish. It’s actually a Danish word, meaning “a cozy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable.”
Here’s how the dictionary says it’s used: “During the long, dark winters when Danes retreat inside their homes, ‘hygge’ is what brings them a great sense of comfort and joy.” It’s sort of pronounced like “hugh-ga.”

“Hygge” and “ASMR” were used a lot in the past year, when we needed comfort. At least, that’s what Webster said. My friends used other comfort words, such as “Ben & Jerry’s” and “Johnnie Walker.”
Thanks to Covid, old words have taken on new meanings. “Long hauler” is not just an over-the-road trucker. Webster says it’s now “a person who experiences one or more long-term effects following initial improvement or recovery from a serious illness (such as COVID-19).”


“Pod” and “bubble” both gained new meanings. A “pod” is a small group of friends, relatives or co-workers that we can safely socialize with and avoid spreading COVID. Now that all my friends are vaccinated, my “pod” had an indoor party without masks.

Any sports fan knows the new meaning of “bubble.” Sports Washington wrote:

“To avoid COVID-19 infection, the NBA and NHL instituted strict ‘bubbles’ where players, coaches, media and staff are sequestered away from the general public. Major League Baseball . . . instead is asking its players to be responsible as they travel the country for games. It’s not working well, and in the case of the Miami Marlins, it’s been awful.”
Most of us are aware of the new words in corporate speak:
“Hard pass” is a firm refusal.

“‘Makerspace’ is a communal public workshop where makers – including artists, painters, jewelry designers – can work on small personal projects.
But don’t confuse “makerspace” with “coworking.” That means people are working in a building with many different kinds of tenants, including new start-ups, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits. These tenants rent their work space and use communal facilities.

I don’t have to explain “crowdfunding” or “gig worker.” You already know those words.


“Decarceration” is a new word that I wish would go away. It means “to release from prison” or to reduce the number of people housed by the “prison industrial complex” – and those three words are another new term. “Decarceration” ranks right up there with “deplane” as one of my most hated words.

“Second Gentleman” has been around since 1976, but Webster finally made it official after the 2020 election, when Kamala Harris was elected Vice President and her husband, Douglas Craig Emhoff, became the first Second Gentleman of the United States.
Wanna know my favorite new word?
“Sapiosexual.”
That means you’re attracted to smart people.

Love words? Logophiles can sign up for Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day. It’s free.

Enjoy forensic mysteries? Kirkus says this about DEATH GRIP, my new Angela Richman mystery: “Viets produces chills with a murder hunt turned on its head.” Buy it here: https://tinyurl.com/ya9q9tfm

+13

Character Descriptions – Part 2

Character Descriptions – Part 2
Terry Odell

character descriptionLast time, I gave some tips for character description. I’ll repeat them here:

  1. Remember the POV of the character.
  2. Avoid “mirror” type self-descriptions.
  3. Less can be more. Readers like to fill in the blanks.
  4. Don’t be afraid to wait for another character to do the describing.
  5. Have your descriptions do double-duty, such as revealing character.
  6. Don’t show the same traits for every character, and remember to make your characters different!

Today’s focus is on dealing with character descriptions in First Person or Deep/Close/Intimate Third (which are almost the same thing.)

I am a deep point of view person. I prefer everything to come from inside the character’s head, However, I will read—and enjoy—books written with a shallower point of view. It all comes down to the way the author handles things.

What are authors trying to convey to their readers with physical character descriptions? The obvious: hair color, length, style to some extent. Eye color. Height, weight, skin color. Moving forward, odds are the character is dressed, so there’s clothing to describe. This is all easier in a distant third POV. Using that POV, you can stop the story for a brief paragraph or two of description, a technique used by John Sandford. In a workshop, he said he didn’t like going into a lot of detail, and listed the basics that he conveys in each book, usually in a single paragraph. Here’s how he describes Lucas Davenport in Chapter 2 of Eyes of Prey, one of his early Davenport books:

Lucas wore a leather bomber jacket over a cashmere sweater, and  khaki slacks and cowboy boots. His dark hair was uncombed and fell forward over a square, hard face, pale with the departing winter. The pallor almost hid the white scar that slashed across his eyebrow and cheek; it became visible only when he clenched his jaw. When he did, it puckered, a groove, whiter on white.

But what if you want to write in deep point of view? Staying inside the character’s head for descriptions is a challenge. Is the following realistic?

Sally rushed down the avenue, her green-and-yellow silk skirt swirling in the breeze, floral chiffon scarf trailing behind her. She adjusted her Oakley sunglasses over her emerald-green eyes. When she reached the door of the office building, she finger combed her short-cropped auburn hair. Her full, red lips curved upward in a smile.

You’ve covered most of the “I want my readers to see Sally” bases, but be honest. Do you really think of yourself in those terms?

There are other ways to convey that information. First, trust that your reader will be willing to wait for descriptions. Make sure there’s a reason for the character to think about her clothes, or her hair. Maybe she just had a total makeover and isn’t used to the feel of short hair, or the new color, or the makeup job. Catching a glimpse of herself as she passes a mirror and doing a double-take is one of the few times the “Mirror” description could work for me.

Even better, use another character. Some examples of how I’ve handled it:

Here,  an ex-boyfriend has walked into Sarah’s shop and says to her:

“You look like you haven’t slept in a month. And your hair. Why did you cut it?”

“Well, thanks for making my morning.” Sarah fluffed her cropped do-it-yourself haircut. “It’s easier this way.”

Note: there’s no mention of the color. Someone else can bring it up later. Neither of these characters would be thinking of it in the context of the situation.

Later, Sarah is opening the door to Detective Detweiler. We’re still in her POV, but now we can see more about her as well as a description of the detective, and since it’s from her POV, there’s none of that ‘self-assessment’ going on.

She unlocked the door to a tall, lanky man dressed in black denim pants and a gray sweater, gripping several bulky plastic bags. At five-four, Sarah didn’t consider herself exceptionally short, but she had to tilt her head to meet his eyes.

Sometimes, there are compromises. My editor knows I don’t like stopping the story, especially at the beginning to describe characters, but she knows readers might want at least a hint.

This was the original opening paragraph I sent to my editor:

Cecily Cooper’s heart pounded as she stood in the judge’s chambers, awaiting the appearance of Grady Fenton, the first subject in her pilot program, Helping Through Horses. She’d spent months working out the details, hustling endorsements, groveling for grant monies, and had done everything in her power to convince her brother, Derek, to give Grady a job at Derek’s Triple-D Ranch.

This was my editor’s comment to that opening: Can you add a personal physical tag for Cecily somewhere on the first page—hair, what she’s wearing? There’s a lot of detail that comes later, but there should be something here to help the reader connect with her right away.

So, I figured there’s a good reason I’m paying her, and added a bit more.

Shuffling footfalls announced Grady’s arrival. Cecily ran her damp palms along her denim skirt, wishing she could have worn jeans so she’d have pockets to hide the way her hands trembled.

My reasoning: I mentioned the skirt was denim, because the fabric helps set the “cowboy” theme for the book, but there’s no more detail than that. Not how many buttons, or whether it’s got lace trim at the hem. Now, let’s say she was wearing Sally’s “girly” skirt. For Cecily, that would be far enough out of character  for her to think about it, BUT, I’d make sure to show the reader her thoughts. Perhaps,

“She hated wearing this stupid yellow-and-green silk skirt—jeans were her thing—but Sabrina told her that skirt would impress the judge.”

See the difference between that and Sally’s self description earlier?

How do you handle describing your POV characters?


Blackthorne Inc. Bundle 1A brief moment of promotion–thanks to a BookBub Featured Deal, the box set of the first three novels in my Blackthorne, Inc. series is on special this week only for 99 cents instead of $6.99. Ends the 17th. Available at Kobo, Amazon, Apple & Nook.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

+9

First Page Critique – A Jealous God

Photo credit: Stefan Ringler, Unsplash

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Good morning, TKZers, and welcome to another Brave Author who submitted the first page of a domestic thriller entitled A Jealous God. Please enjoy then we’ll discuss.

~~~

Alice

1979

Preacher Gilroy slammed a fist against his Bible and declared God was not their friend. Thirty seconds into his sermon and sweat already dripped from his forehead. Black polyester stuck to his chest. Beside the pulpit, Alice’s father nodded in agreement from his throne, legs crossed and hands draped over the armrests and a rusty house fan buzzing at his feet. Poor Gilroy was about to melt into a puddle, but at least her father was comfortable.

“If I offer you an apple today,” Gilroy said. “Or promised you an orchard tomorrow, land and trees stretched out so far you can’t even count them all, just as certain as the sun rises in the East you’d choose the apple in my hand. Your hunger consumes you.”

Last week it was a penny over a dollar, the week before a lamb over the flock. God still wasn’t their friend.

Alice waited from her usual spot in the back pew near the side door where no one dared to join her. Her mother and four siblings squeezed into the front rows with the rest of the congregation, a line of sticky bodies shoved together like the candies in her Bozo the Clown Pez Dispenser she’d just bought for her seventeenth birthday. But that’s how it’s always been, even in the old church, before Tom and the accident. The closer everyone sat to her father and Gilroy, the further they were from eternal hellfire.

Gilroy held an apple up to the heavens. “You want—you need—something you can see, touch. You want to squeeze it in your hand, hear a crunch as you bite into the skin, feel the warmth in your empty belly.”

A man Alice had never seen before stood guarding the side door. After Tom went away, she noticed strangers, took inventory of their details to keep them real. Mid-twenties, short dark brown hair, clean-shaven, and a long thin scar above his right eye. A dry, starched white shirt buttoned to the collar and tucked into ironed dark blue trousers. Polished brown leather boots spared from the five inches of mud at the foot of the front steps.

“So you hold out your hand and take all that Satan has to give,” Gilroy said. “You’re proud, arrogant. Condemning your immortal soul into everlasting torment.”

Alice slid closer to the aisle. The stranger followed.

~~~

Okay, let’s dig in.

This is a strong example of how to start off a story with conflict and tension even though there’s minimal action. The scene is set, several characters are introduced with brief but effective descriptions, and questions are immediately raised in the reader’s mind.

What the heck is going on with a teenage girl in church who’s being shunned by family and perhaps menaced by a stranger?

What struck me most about this beginning was the author’s excellent use of sensory detail to set the scene. The reader feels the sticky, oppressive humidity and perspiration running down his or her torso. Not only is the temperature stifling, so is the mood. As the preacher instills fear of eternal damnation in his congregation, the reader feels something horrible will soon occur.

Let’s go through a few lines (in blue) in closer detail. My suggestions are in red.

Preacher Gilroy slammed a fist against his Bible and declared God was not their friend.

Punch up the first line by showing Gilroy’s exclamation rather than telling:

Preacher Gilroy slammed a fist against his Bible. “God is not your friend!”

 

Black polyester stuck to his chest.

That’s a great image—who hasn’t felt clinging, sweaty fabric that doesn’t breathe? But perhaps add a more specific detail:

The black polyester clergy shirt stuck to his chest.

The foreboding is already strong but Brave Author might add smell—the rank odor of nervous sweat.

When the focus shifts from Gilroy to Alice’s father, suggest you drop down and start a new paragraph:

Beside the pulpit, Alice’s father nodded in agreement from his throne, legs crossed and hands draped over the armrests and a rusty house fan buzzing at his feet. 

Maybe add a few words of explanation about the throne and why Alice’s father enjoys the elevated status.

Suggest you get inside Alice’s POV as soon as possible.

Alice watched her father nodding in agreement from his throne beside the pulpit. His legs were crossed and hands draped over the armrests, a rusty house fan buzzing at his feet.

 

Alice waited from her usual spot in the back pew near the side door where no one dared to join her.

“No one dared join her” nicely conveys not only her physical position in the church but also her social position in the congregation. She is separate from her family and shunned for reasons not yet known. The reader wants to find out why. Well done.

Nice job of slipping in Alice’s age, 17, as well as time reference with the Bozo the Clown Pez dispenser. Bozo adds irreverent humor—another hint at Alice’s attitude toward these pious folks.

…a line of sticky bodies shoved together like the candies in her Bozo the Clown Pez Dispenser she’d just bought for her seventeenth birthday. But that’s how it’s always been, even in the old church, before Tom and the accident. The closer everyone sat to her father and Gilroy, the further they were from eternal hellfire.

 

Suggest you move the line highlighted in red to its own paragraph. It’s clearly an important hint to the story conflict and shouldn’t be buried in the middle of a paragraph. The reader wonders who Tom is, what was his relationship with Alice, what accident, and did the accident happen in the “old” church.

…a line of sticky bodies shoved together like the candies in her Bozo the Clown Pez Dispenser she’d just bought for her seventeenth birthday. The closer everyone sat to her father and Gilroy, the further they were from eternal hellfire.

But that’s how it’s always been, even in the old church, before Tom and the accident.

 

The next paragraph offers more vivid sensory details.

Gilroy held an apple up to the heavens. “You want—you need—something you can see, touch. You want to squeeze it in your hand, hear a crunch as you bite into the skin, feel the warmth in your empty belly.”

While the pastor talks, the reader sees the image, feels the apple, hears and tastes the crunch. The verb choices squeeze and bite reinforce the underlying message of punishment. Good job.

 

A man Alice had never seen before stood guarding the side door. After Tom went away, she noticed strangers, took inventory of their details to keep them real. Mid-twenties, short dark brown hair, clean-shaven, and a long thin scar above his right eye. A dry, starched white shirt buttoned to the collar and tucked into ironed dark blue trousers. Polished brown leather boots spared from the five inches of mud at the foot of the front steps.

A stranger on guard foreshadows more conflict for Alice. Nice tight description of the man, especially the scar which makes him more threatening. His dry, starched shirt suggested he’s cool and removed, compared to everyone else who’s sweating.

But the last sentence of that paragraph was confusing.

Polished brown leather boots spared from the five inches of mud at the foot of the front steps.

The reader’s attention is jerked from the man’s description to five inches of mud at the foot of the front steps. Is the mud inside or outside the church? If there’s mud at the entrance, why are his boots still clean?

Suggested rewrite in Alice’s deep POV:

How had his brown leather boots stayed so polished and shiny after slogging through five inches of mud at the entrance steps?

 

This line was confusing: Alice slid closer to the aisle. The stranger followed.

The stranger is standing guard at the side door. Alice is sitting in the last pew. When she slides across the pew, apparently intending to escape, how does the stranger follow? Does he sit in the pew with her and slide closer? Rewrite so the reader can visualize exactly the position of each character and how they are moving in relation to each other, the pew, and the side door.

Big picture: This unfortunate teenager apparently committed an unknown sin and is shunned by her family and the congregation. The reader wants to find out what she did. Her wry comments on the fire and brimstone sermon, the minister, and her pompous father show her rebellious spirit and make her likable.

What transgression was so serious that a stranger follows Alice and tries to keep her from escaping?

The title A Jealous God is compelling and effective. It conjures up fearful wrath and vengeance, fitting themes for the domestic thriller genre. Deuteronomy 4:24 reads: “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”

I did a short search and found only two novels with that title, one by John Braine published in 1964, and one by Simon Mawer published in 1996. Surprisingly, the title hasn’t been used that often, making it a good choice.

The exact locale isn’t specified but I’m intrigued enough to wait a few pages to find out where the story happens.

The heading “Alice 1979” sets the time period. It also might indicate this scene is a flashback.

The tweaks are minor. Clarify a few points mentioned above. Rearrange several sentences to increase the dramatic impact.

The Brave Author starts with action, introduces a sympathetic character in trouble, sets the scene, shows conflict, and raises questions. A lot of tension and suspense thrum in this first page.

The writing is vivid and full of sensory detail that puts the reader into the stifling, oppressive atmosphere beside Alice. I want to escape as much as she does. I also want to find why she’s in this situation and if she can get out of it. Compelling start!

~~~

TKZers: What do you think of this first page? Would you keep reading? Any suggestions for the Brave Author?

 

+7

First Page Critique: The Meaning of Life

Happy Monday! Today’s first page critique is for a novel entitled 00 Miles in My Shoes: The Meaning of Life – which is certainly an intriguing title! My comments follow and, as always, I look forward to everyone’s feedback on this first page.

00 Miles in My Shoes: The Meaning of Life

Journal of Michaela Isabel Abel

July 6, Monday – 1970 –  Sunrise –

The clouds blaze red above the mountains. Chickadees and bluebirds sing.  The freshest air in the world! Good morning to me!

Last night Wally tied me to the bloodwood again.  The flash kept flashing, and when he stopped taking pictures, I feared what he would demand next.

Wally keeps a book of positions in his nightstand drawer. He showed me a picture of a girl getting a spanking. He says I have to do what he wants to keep him happy or I’ll go to hell. He says since I am his wife, I belong to him.

After he finished taking pictures of me, he pushed the bloodwood under the bed and set the alarm clock to six for me to get up and make his breakfast. I lay beside him wearing only the garter belt and black stockings he made me wear.

My punishment went on long after Wally was done – bad memories hurtled through my mind.   I stared at the light fixture hanging from the middle of the ceiling, shiny points in the dark. I prayed for my memories to die —  my whole mind speaking to God. My heart pounded so loud I was afraid the sound would wake Wally.

But he snored and made clicking sounds in his throat. I imagined the bloodwood flying back to Brazil like a magic carpet. I imagined the girl in Wally’s book standing up and swinging her arm back and slapping the man spanking her with all her might. I counted past a thousand, wanting sleep, but then God spoke to me – like a flash of light in my mind:  GO.

General Comments

Overall this first page lays a good foundation for an effective and compelling start to what could be a gripping novel (assuming it centers around Michaela’s escape). I liked the way the reader is immediately caught off guard – from the chirpy first line to the darker entries that follow. Initially I wasn’t completely convinced by the journal entry device (see my specific comments on this) but I did think the use of the first person POV was effective at drawing the reader into Michaela’s world of abuse right from the start. That being said, I do have some specific feedback for our brave submitter that I think might make this first page even more compelling.

Specific Comments

Journal Device

I have two major concerns about the journal device in this first page. First I wasn’t entirely convinced that Michaela would write such a journal entry. The first line seems so cheerfully at odds with the rest of the journal it made me wonder who Michaela thought would read this – would she really be writing “The freshest air in the world! Good morning to me!” when she’s clearly being abused and terrified? My second concern was given what she was writing about Wally, would she really be able to keep a journal from him? He sounds way too controlling for that…and if that’s the case then she would hardly be confessing that God told her to leave him. My suggestion to our brave submitter is to consider using a first person stream of consciousness approach and maybe interspersing Michaela’s thoughts with direct action of what took place the night before. This approach could help introduce a heightened level of dramatic tension – especially if this first page is setting the stage for Michaela’s decision to run.

Grounding

While the reader doesn’t need much in the way of details, I do feel like I need a better sense of place to understand Michaela’s predicament. At the moment all we know is that it’s 1970, she’s somewhere in the mountains, married to an abusive controlling religious freak who likes taking photos and threatening punishment, and that she wishes she was back in Brazil. What we don’t get a good sense of though is exactly where she is (Utah? Colorado? Outside the US?, how she got there (just a hint perhaps of how she ended up married to him), or what kind of bad ‘memories’ are hurtling through her mind. Just a few added details would help ground the reader in the landscape of this first scene and allow us to visualize her predicament (is she miles from anyone else? How easy is it for her to leave? Is there a religious community surrounding her?) I’m not suggesting a lot of detail or background but just a few more specifics to give the reader a better grounding for the drama to follow. This leads to my final comment, on specificity.

Specificity

This first page is designed (I assume) to shock and gain the reader’s sympathy for Michaela’s plight right from the start. It certainly goes a long way to achieving this but I feel it loses some of its effectiveness by speaking in generalities rather than specifics. Not to get too lurid, but I think if the author wants the reader to be appalled and genuinely concerned for Michaela then we need more horrible specifics and less generalities like: “I feared what he would demand next”, “bad memories” or visions of her simply slapping the man (I would definitely be thinking of a far worse fate for dear Wally!). My suggestion for the author would be to step back and consider the intended genre and target audience for this book. At this point I can’t really tell how ‘dark’ this book is going to get, but if the author is going for a darker thriller, then the details are going to matter in a different way (because the audience is harder to shock) than if this is more women’s fiction focused on  Michaela’s escape from her abusive situation. I also can’t tell how much religion is going to play a role in the novel but if it is, then maybe we need to have a better sense of whether Wally a member of some specific religious group or if his penchant for abuse emerged only after they were married. Specifics matter. They add nuance and tension to a first page, so I think just a few more details would help clearly define the predicament and set up for the novel in this first page.

NB: I also noticed the repetition of ‘flash’ (The flash kept flashing; like a flash of light) and was also unsure whether ‘hell’ should be capitalized as ‘Hell.’

Overall though this is a promising start and the set up for a potentially gripping novel – so well done to our brave submitter!  TKZers, what other advice and/or feedback would you offer? Those of you that write darker thrillers might also have better advice when it comes to specifics (I tend to be very gore-averse!)

+7

What Makes A Good Author Newsletter?

By John Gilstrap

Every email I send includes an invitation to subscribe to my author newsletter. I have amassed a pleasing number of subscribers, and I appreciate every single one of them. But I have no idea what to do with them.

I get the idea of sending out newsletters to people who are interested in my books and, I guess, in me. But I rarely publish newsletters because I don’t know what to say. I mean, let’s face it, a self- aggrandizing look-at-my-shining-new-book email is not exactly an engaging communication. It’s self-promotion. And there’s a place for that.

But I think a newsletter should be something people find informative, interesting and engaging. This is where things fall apart for me. I recently broke a toe. It hurt like the dickens, my foot swelled to the point that I had to wear one of those stupid boots, and now it’s getting better. That was very much the focus of my attention for a couple of weeks, but do people want to read about that? They have their own problems, after all, and many of them would trade theirs for the relative nuisance of my hurts-like-hell fractured toe.

My wife and I are building our dream home in West Virginia. That’s interesting to us, but the books I write are all about heroics and high stakes. Is the new house interesting for others to read in a newsletter from a guy who writes thrillers?

Dear TKZ family, this blog post is all about your comments. What would you like to see in an author newsletter? Not necessarily mine in particular, but in the larger sense? First-time authors and decades-long veterans are all seeking to grab the attention of readers, but I think it’s destructive to bang one’s own bell continuously. So, where’s the balance? What would you like to see? Are there any author newsletters that you think knock it out of the park? If so, share the links.

On the flip side, what kind of newsletter sends you straight to the mark as spam button? (No need to share those links.)

+11

The Pros and Cons of Using Profanity In Your Stories

By PJ Parrish

Note: This post contains some salty language. 

Got an interesting fan email the other day. It was from a long-time reader who had just gotten around to getting our most recent Louis Kincaid book The Damage Done. She started off by telling us how much she loved our books but then went on to lament our use of…blue language. Here’s the nut graph of the letter:

I’m not a prude and my reading tastes go more toward more hardboiled authors than cozies.  In your latest book I counted 35 “damns” or “dammits,” 40 “hells,” almost as many “sh*ts” and 10 f-bombs. I realize that criminals and police officers use profanity. But I wonder if in your attempt to be realistic in your writing, you go too far in trying to mimic their speech.

First, I was sort of impressed that she took the time to count all the bad words. But second, and more important, I understood what she is saying. And it got me thinking — not for the first time because I’ve gotten letters like this before — about how we crime dogs deal with profanity in our novels.

Early in our series, my sister and I salted our dialogue with more profanity than we did later. I think it was because we did, indeed, get sucked into the notion that such language gave our books the imprimatur of “hardboiled.” (read that as “serious,” which is a really misguided distinction that many in our business still cling to.)

But as we got better at our craft, we realized that while yes, cops and bad guys swear and use un-PC vulgarities, we didn’t have to. At least as much as we were doing. Profanity, like adjectives, needs to be used sparingly, in my humble writer-opinion. You don’t need purple prose descriptions. So maybe you don’t need blue language crutches?

My writing life seems peppered with synchronicities, and sure enough, as I was working on this post yesterday, I happened upon a TV interview with John McWhorter, an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University. He was on TV to promote his latest book, Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter — Then, Now, and Forever.

Fascinating guy. He talked about how our favorite nasty words (up two from George Carlins’ infamous Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television) have evolved over time to the point that even the shock value of the f-bomb has become diluted and it’s now commonplace.

He pointed out that, over the centuries, what we think of as nasty has evolved. In medieval times, when religion was the center of life, swearing to God was “a big deal.” But over the years, “God damn him” was shortened to “damn” and became less a “command to condemn,” as much as a “mere bark of annoyance,” McWhorter says.  To my mind, “damn” has faded from navy blue to soft denim.

McWhorter went on to say that as the power of religion waned, our obsession with our body functions — especially sex and excrement — became the focus of our profanity. Growing up in the Fifties, I remember just some kid whispering “fart” brought on a spasm of giggles. I don’t think I ever even heard the f-bomb until late high school. I suspect most elementary school kids today have a working, if clandestine, relationship with it.

Digression alert: If you want to blame someone for f—k, you can look to the Vikings, McWhorter says. When they invaded England in 787, they came armed with the f-bomb.

“A now obsolete Norwegian word like fukka would have been a fine candidate for what became our four-letter word of choice,” he said in an interview with the New York Post. “No squinting is necessary — fukka meant exactly what it looks like.”

It became common in England after that. One of the earliest recorded uses was in 1528 when a nameless monk was critiquing Cicero’s De Officiis and lamented the annoying  annotations of “a f-kin’ abbott.”

“After the 1500s, ‘f–k’ is rarely printed, not even appearing in dictionaries from 1795 to 1965,” McWhorter writes. I just checked my own 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1 and no f-bomb. The English have apparently cleaned up their act. Although I don’t think my English friend Crazy Tim got the memo since he peppers his emails with such a panoply of purple prose that I have to resort to Googling “Dirty Brit Slang” to translate.  I’ve learned such useful insults as pillock, wanker, tosser to add to my favorite — twit.

Digression alert: Children’s author Roald Dahl wrote a book called The Twits – a twisted tale of a vicious married couple who love to torment their pet monkeys and each other. (Mrs. Twit loves to take out her glass eye and drop it in Mr. Twit’s beer.) “Twit” has lost its original punch, and now is used, rather sweetly, for someone who’s being silly.

McWhorter thinks we make too much of profanity. In our long evolution of what we accept, he thinks the real forbidden words today are slurs, such as the N-word or “f—-t,” which originally meant a bundle of sticks but morphed into an insult for homosexuals.

So what does this mean for us crime dogs? Well, as I said, I thought it was good for me to clean up my act. Any time I find myself typing a blue word, I stop and think: “Do I really need this here?” I think it’s up to each of us to find our own paths, based on our writing styles, the tone of our books and yes, our personal beliefs.

Your writing should never call undue attention to itself, I think. Sure, your protag or bad guy might be profane, and well-placed small doses of profanity can add verisimilitude to your story. But your goal is to create believable characters, not make your readers get their knickers in a twist.

I have good friends who cringe when I let out a modest “damn” because they are deeply religious and consider it blasphemous. I try to respect that. I have other friends who use the f-bomb in daily speech with complete abandon. I myself use it. I guess because, as Professor McWhorter notes, swearing sometimes just feels good. He says that’s the way our brains process language and studies have shown that when humans swear, the right side of our brains — the area associated with emotion and cathartic expression — lights up on imaging scans.

“Curse words are not words, in a sense,” McWhorter says. “They’re eruptions.”

So, before I leave and let you all weigh in on where you stand about eruptions in your writing, I give you one last thing. It is from Monty Python, who elevate irreverence to a high art. I love this skit. But then, I am such a twit…

 

+12

In Praise of the Antikythera Mechanism!

When I was last here two weeks ago I discussed ancient books and authors. I was gratified to receive a number of comments on the topic, including one from Dan Phalen, who wondered what would become of our digital prose. Dan used the example of an archeologist coming upon an iPhone a thousand years from now who would be faced with the task of coaxing digital text from the device.  

Dan’s example isn’t going to have to wait for one thousand years to occur. It’s happening right now. Remember floppy disks? Some of you may not. They were and are these square things that were read by something known, by amazing coincidence, as a floppy disk drive. If some of you have a bunch taking up space in a forgotten corner of your office you might be surprised and disappointed to find that the data on them is corrupted or bye-bye. On the other hand, some companies, like Boeing, the airplane people, still use them.  Think about that the next time you are in the air and you hear your pilot say “Uh-oh” on a hot mike, followed by an extended period of turbulence.

There are also .art files. Back when AOL was (almost) the only game in town and you downloaded pictures from the internet using AOL those pictures were saved in the form of an .art file. A great many of those are corrupted as well. I have tried several programs to open them but none have worked. AMF. That said, the unknown of the obsolete goes back much, much further than the most recent turn of the century. More on that in a minute.

I did another research deep dive — this one into the topic of information storage retrieval — and almost didn’t get this post written because of it. I was in so deep and had to come up so fast that I am still recovering from the bends. I did find a number of interesting websites dealing with the topic of retrieving data from obsolete technical doo-dahs. I’ll (attempt to) limit my discussion to two of them, which hopefully will be particularly relevant for those of you who labor in the historical fiction grammar mine. As an aside, let me note that there doesn’t seem to be an agreed-upon definition of what “historical fiction” is. For our purposes, we’ll call it a story set at least twenty-five years before the year in which the story is written. That would be from the beginning of all of this around us to…um…1996. That is disconcerting because I can remember a number of major events in my life from that year but not what I had for lunch yesterday. Oh, the humanity!

Onward. There is a wonderfully nerdy (and I say that with the highest respect) site named the Museum of Obsolete Media which is a time bandit of the highest order. If you look under the “Popular Tags” section you will see links to decades beginning with the 1860s. If you are neck-deep in writing a series set in the 1900s and want to see what was there in 1906 that ain’t no more and want to use it as a starting point for some element of your novel, this is the place to go for that and so much more. I was surprised when looking through my own timeline to note how many cutting-edge items (at that time) were listed that seemed futuristic but are now practically forgotten. Anyone want to buy a non-functioning Apple Newton?

Obsoletemedia.org is a labor of love. If you want to get up to your neck in things, however, the oft-forgotten but absolutely indispensable National Archives has an area — a very, very large area — devoted to “special media preservation.” That area has everything from wire recordings and machines to play them on to that new iPhone that you’ll brick in two years. It is particularly noteworthy that you can email questions to them about such topics and the worker bees there will happily email you back with everything you ever wanted to know about, say, wax cylinder recordings, the same way that your local library still does for more mundane topics. 

It all sounds very cool. The problem, though,  is that all of that data, particularly the digital type on collections such as the ones in the National Archives, is sitting on a time bomb. The immediate problem with contemporary “media preservation” is that digital media isn’t built to last. It is fragile coming out of the box and deteriorates relatively rapidly.  That is but one reason that I can’t open .art files I made twenty years ago but I can go on eBay and buy photographs taken in the 1800s. As far as digital information is concerned, there is more and more of it being made, lost, and found even as there are fewer people dedicated to exploring the obsolete storage mechanisms and preserving what they find. Information is being lost, as is the ability to retrieve it in the first place. Meanwhile, wire recordings made by Thomas Alva Edison still work and can be repaired.

Getting back to archeologists and the like…this photo may look like the water shutoff valve in your basement

but it is something called the “Antikythera Mechanism,” considered to be the world’s oldest computer. It is believed to have predated Bill Gates’ monster by around two thousand years. The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered amidst the ruins of an ancient shipwreck in 1901. It was not until 2008 that it was recognized for what it was (“Why…that’s an Antikythera Mechanism!”). Yes. It took a looong time for archeologists and scientists to figure out what the f-heck it was and what it could do, which was predicting solar eclipses and organizing calendars (“Meet Lycastra on the down-low. 4P by the sundial”). It can probably do a heck of a lot more, such as spontaneously opening dimensions between our reality and the netherworld on July 11, 2021.  What I find particularly interesting is that our contemporary technology had to catch up with the Antikythera Mechanism so that it could be recognized for what it was. Otherwise, it would probably be a paperweight on a desk of a Greek fishing boat.

Sobering, isn’t it?

 I had a conversation last week with my granddaughter, who is starting high school next year. We talked about fields of study. My advice to her was to master computer systems and storage retrieval. “This is all going to break down,” I said. “All of it. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when.’ When all the king’s horses and men need those digital bits put back together be ready to be the one to do it. You’ll be able to name your own price. Settle for nothing less than your own island and a bunch of people — well paid, but well paid by somebody else — to look after it.” 

When I think about the Antikythera Mechanism, that advice looks better with each day. 

So what technological device, program, or storage entity do you miss? Windows 7 is an okay answer.

 

+10

Ethics, Integrity & Trust for Writers

Several days ago, my writer friend Adam Croft and I were exchanging emails. We keep in regular touch, and Adam serves as a mentor to me. For those of you who don’t know the name, Adam Croft is a highly successful indie crime writer from the UK. I brag that Adam and I go back long before he became famous and when I still had hair.

Adam had just come off a bad experience with an online scammer who offered kick-back money—big money—to other unethical online scammers who recommend scams like useless writing courses sold at ridiculous prices. Adam vented to me about the downward spiral of suckering-ins going on, and how well-intended, trusting writers get thoroughly hosed by unscrupulous shysters.

“With you, dude,” I replied to Adam, as the old cop in me has long detected some of these writing “gurus” who produce online courses sell snake oil from Brother Love’s Travellin’ Salvation Show. Then, yesterday morning, I clicked on the Indie Author Mindset Facebook Group that Adam Croft facilitates and saw this post. I PM’d Adam and asked if I could share it with Kill Zoners and he said, “Yes, absolutely fine posting stuff on the blog.”

So here it is:

——

Ethics, Integrity & Trust. (By Adam Croft)

Last night, I received an email which — for me — summed up many of the ways in which this industry has taken a wrong turn.

I’ve attached a screenshot (with names redacted) as an image on this post.

It’s nothing new or revolutionary. These things come through all the time. But it symbolizes something we need to address.

Look at the wording. There’s no mention whatsoever of helping authors, providing education, or doing our best to help those at the start of their journey. Instead, the main (and only) selling point is that it’ll ‘generate big payouts’ for me.

I repeat: this email is nothing new or revolutionary. And do you know why? Because our industry is absolutely full of this.

Promoting and referring other people’s products and services is big business. I know providers and ‘gurus’ who make thousands upon thousands each month purely by telling new and inexperienced authors to take certain courses or buy certain products.

Many courses — even the really expensive ones — pay referrers 50% as a kickback. Of course these people recommend them to their followers — they get hundreds of dollars each time someone signs up. Why wouldn’t they?

Because when you see someone recommending a product, you will likely assume it’s a genuine recommendation. Sometimes it might be. But the vast majority of products and services in this industry are recommended because they pay well for the person recommending them.

When I started The Indie Author Mindset, I was very clear that I would only recommend products and services I’ve used myself, and would recommend otherwise. Affiliate and referral fees were irrelevant. Money and ‘big payouts’ don’t motivate me. Ethics, integrity, and trust do.

Those three words have always been difficult ones. They’re the reason I wavered for two years before setting up The Indie Author Mindset. They’re the reason I was extraordinarily cautious about what paid content I offered for a short while. And they’re the reason I stopped doing so.

So let me be clear about a few things:

1. I receive absolutely no financial inducements, incentives, or rewards from any products, services or resources I recommend. My integrity and your trust mean far more to me than money.

2. I do not provide paid courses, coaching, or any other form of ‘upsold’ products. You are not a commodity to me.

3. I have always modelled my career on ensuring I am financially — or otherwise — beholden to nobody, allowing me to speak freely and honestly.

I choose to operate this way for three reasons:

1: It allows me to give advice with complete integrity and transparency.

2. It allows you to trust my advice. You know absolutely that my only interest is in helping you and your books, not lining my pockets.

3. My fiction books do very well indeed, so I don’t need to top up my earnings by taking money from other authors.

I love helping authors at all stages of their careers. When I started publishing more than a decade ago, the advice just wasn’t there. I was one of the early writers fumbling through the mists, trying to work out how on earth we could make this work.

The issue then was a lack of information. Now the opposite is true. Many authors mention being overwhelmed with stuff. And the reason for a lot of that is because it’s impossible to know what’s good advice and what someone is pretending to advise because they get a financial kickback for doing so.

I hope The Indie Author Mindset helps you cut through that crap. I hope that by sharing this email and writing this post I can reinforce that I won’t have any part in it. That I put my personal integrity and your trust before all else.

I’ve spent too many years at the forefront of this industry to prioritize ‘big payouts’. My focus will always be on levelling, improving, and preserving a strong indie publishing industry for authors like you for years to come. I’d far rather my legacy be visible in that way, than on a balance sheet. My fiction books do just fine on that front, and I don’t need to exploit anybody in doing so.

It all comes back to those three words: Ethics. Integrity. Trust.

——

Bio from Adam Croft’s Website

With over two million books sold to date, Adam Croft is one of the most successful independently published authors in the world, and one of the biggest selling authors of the past few years, having sold books in over 138 different countries.

To date, Adam has achieved seven Amazon storewide number 1 bestsellers, in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia.

His 2015 worldwide bestseller Her Last Tomorrow became one of the bestselling books of the year, peaking at number 12 in the combined paperback fiction and non-fiction chart.

His Knight & Culverhouse crime thriller series has seen huge popularity worldwide, with his Kempston Hardwick mystery books being adapted as audio plays starring some of the biggest names in British TV.

In 2016, the Knight & Culverhouse Box Set reached storewide number 1 in Canada, knocking J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child off the top spot only weeks after Her Last Tomorrow was also number 1 in the same country.

During the summer of 2016, two of Adam’s books hit the USA Today bestseller list only weeks apart, making them two of the most-purchased books in the United States over the summer.

In February 2017, Only The Truth became a worldwide bestseller, reaching storewide number 1 at both Amazon US and Amazon UK, making it the bestselling book in the world at that moment in time. The same day, Amazon’s overall Author Rankings placed Adam as the most widely read author in the world, with J.K. Rowling in second place.

In January 2018, Adam’s bestselling book to date, Tell Me I’m Wrong became a worldwide bestseller and quickly went on to outsell Her Last Tomorrow.

Adam is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on independent publishing and has been featured on BBC television, BBC Radio 4BBC Radio 5 Live, the BBC World ServiceThe GuardianThe Huffington PostThe Bookseller and a number of other news and media outlets.

In March 2018, Adam was conferred as an Honorary Doctor of Arts, the highest academic qualification in the UK, by the University of Bedfordshire in recognition of his services to literature.

Adam presents the regular crime fiction podcast Partners in Crime with fellow bestselling author Robert Daws.

——

Note from Garry Rodgers: I’ve known Adam Croft for nearly a decade and I can personally vouch for his outstanding ethics, integrity, and trustworthiness. Two years ago, Adam developed his Indie Author Mindset program which was completely game-changing for me. The program consisted of two books, a series of tutorial articles, and a Facebook group page.

Adam Croft’s two books, The Indie Author Mindset and The Indie Author Checklist, are available through major online retailers. Unfortunately, Adam has discontinued his tutorials, but his Facebook site still thrives and is open to everyone who believes in making the indie writing world a better place.

Kill Zoners — What’s your experience with paid-content recommendations sent your way? And poor-value material? We’d all like to hear.

+6

Character Descriptions – Part 1

Character Descriptions, Part 1
Terry Odell

When I decided to address self-description, I found that it would make for a very long post. Since everyone’s time is valuable, I opted to split it into two posts, so you’ll get more on the topic when it’s my turn again. Today, it’s a few tips for writing character descriptions.

A while back, I started reading a book I’d received at a conference. I’d never heard of the author, and was looking forward to adding this one to my collection. I love discovering new authors and new characters, and since this book was part of a series, I knew, if I enjoyed it, there would be more.

I settled in to meet the characters. The first paragraph immediately punched some of my buttons. I prefer a “deep” or “close” point of view, and if the first time I meet a character, she’s brushing her thick auburn hair away from her face, I get antsy. People don’t normally think of themselves that way. This says, “outside narrator” to me. Not a deal-breaker, but not my taste. I’m a Deep POV person.

These descriptions went on with more self description—shoving white hands into the pockets of her black jeans. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought about what color my hands are—unless I’ve been painting.

I moved on to Chapter 2. My twitchiness increased when in the first paragraph, the introduction to the character had her capturing her long raven hair and fastening it into a ponytail. When the first sentence of chapter 3 introduced a new character pulling her long blond hair into a ponytail, I hit my limit.

Yes, understand that readers like to “see” characters, and if you’re not writing in a close POV, you can describe them the way an outside narrator would see them, but readers would like to see that you can get beyond hair—or at least vary more than the color. By now, I’m not seeing different characters, I’m seeing pages full of clones of faceless, shapeless, long-haired women with ponytails.

There’s more to describing a character than hair color. There are other physical features one can mention, as well as emotional states. Here are a couple of examples, all including hair and more.

From “An Unquiet Grave,” by PJ Parrish, where the protagonist is observing another character, one he knows from the past:

“She was standing at the stove, her hands clasped in front of her apron. She had put on a few more pounds, her face round and flushed from the heat of the oven. Her hairstyle was the same, a halo of light brown hair, a few curls sweat-plastered to her forehead.”

Another, this from “Rapture in Death” by JD Robb, who writes in an omniscient POV:

“The man was as bright as Roarke was dark. Long golden hair flowed over the shoulders of a snug blue jacket. The face was square and handsome with lips just slightly too thin, but the contrast of his dark brown eyes kept the observer from noticing.”

Or here, from “Rain Fall” by Barry Eisler, written in 1st person POV, where hair is a major part of the description of the main POV character, but it’s showing more than a simply physical description—and readers haven’t “seen” the POV character before this from page 7—we don’t need to know what he looks like from page 1, paragraph 1.

“When I returned to Tokyo in the early eighties, my brown hair, a legacy from my mother, worked for me the way a fluorescent vest does for a hunter, and I had to dye it black to develop the anonymity that protects me now.”

When I’m writing, I prefer to use very broad strokes and wait until another character does the describing. My editor and I go back and forth about how much time I should spend describing my heroine in my opening paragraphs “because readers like it” versus “it’s not how people think of themselves.” I know we’ll see her through the hero’s eyes in chapter 2, just as we’ll see him through her eyes. So, in my first chapter, in paragraph 1, readers see her emotional state. The only description comes in the second paragraph:

Or (not to put myself in a league with the above quoted authors), a quick sample from one of my books. The character is on her way to a job interview.

“She refreshed her makeup, then finger-combed her hair, trying to get her curls to behave.”

Does it matter what color her hair is? She certainly knows and isn’t going to be thinking of it—unless she’s changed it for a reason, such as in the Eisler quote. We know she cares about grooming because she’s stopped to check her appearance before her interview. She wears makeup, which reveals something about her character, and she’s got unruly curls. That’s enough for page 1.

My tips:

  1. Remember the POV of the character.
  2. Avoid “mirror” type self-descriptions.
  3. Less can be more. Readers like to fill in the blanks.
  4. Don’t be afraid to wait for another character to do the describing.
  5. Have your descriptions do double-duty, such as revealing character.
  6. Don’t show the same traits for every character, and remember to make your characters different!

Do you have any other tips to share? Pet peeves?


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Deadly Options

Are Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.

+9

Introducing Audiobook Narrator Eve Passeltiner

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Audiobook narrator Eve Passeltiner

Gifts sometimes fall into my lap from benevolent angels who watch out for writers. During a book appearance last summer, good fortune smiled on me.

The venue was an outdoor bar/café on the shoreline of the Swan River in Bigfork, Montana.

About 30 people sat on socially-distanced lawn chairs, noshing, sipping, and soaking up sunshine while listening to me and three other authors chat about our books. For most of us, it was the first gathering since the pandemic began and everyone’s spirits were high.

Afterward a woman approached me and introduced herself as Eve Passeltiner, a stage actress who’d performed for years in New York and New England. She’d recently moved to Montana, had read my work, and said, “I’d like to narrate your books.”

Well!

Although I was flattered, I sidestepped. Readers often ask about audio versions but I wasn’t ready to take the plunge yet.

When we later met for coffee, I let her know my concerns but, bless Eve, she persisted. She had more faith in my books than I did and convinced me that an audiobook was worthwhile.

Market stats back her up and mirror the continued rise in audiobook popularity. According to a June, 2020 article in Publishers Weekly:

The Audio Publishers Association’s [APA] annual sales survey found that sales from 24 reporting companies rose 16% in 2019 over 2018, reaching $1.2 billion. The survey also found that unit sales increased by 16%. The gain in 2019 was the eighth consecutive year in which audiobook revenue rose by double digits, the APA said.

Another PW article about the 2020 online BookExpo stated:

APA retail member Chirp reported an initial dip in listening during commuting hours at the start of the lockdown, but it rebounded quickly as people discovered their new routines at home, and listenership has in fact increased to above the pre-shutdown level.

Authors need to put ourselves into the minds of our readers and figure out what they want.

Although I personally prefer written words over spoken ones, many book buyers choose to listen.

Eve convinced me I need to consider those buyers…and the sales I was missing.

During more coffee dates, I learned that Eve had been a flashlight-under-covers young reader who saved her babysitting money to buy books. Her early love of reading provides a solid grounding for audiobook creation.

In addition to performing and directing theatre, Eve is also an accomplished voice-over actor (video games, commercials and more). One of her most treasured projects was being the featured voice actor for the Washington Post’s Webby Award Honoree multimedia piece “The Women of Kabul” where she portrayed three different Afghan women, bringing each to life with a unique vocal quality and energy.

Eve Passeltiner with her Audie medal

In 2020, she was part of audiobooks that were nominated for awards including the Audie (the Oscars of the audiobook world) and an Independent Audiobook Award from the Audiobook Publishers Association (think Sundance Film Festival). She has also been reviewed in AudioFile Magazine, the source for everything audiobook.

Because Eve has traveled extensively, lived in big cities and small towns, and speaks several languages, she is skillful with accents and dialects (British, Irish, Scottish, Spanish, German, French, Russian, New York, Southern and more). She says, “Accents are a wonderful flavor that add to the work, but they shouldn’t overpower the storytelling.”

What is a day in the life of a narrator like?

Like most narrators, Eve wears several hats—researcher, actor, director, and engineer. Roughly half of Eve’s jobs come from publishers and half from indie authors. Although she does the initial engineering to record the book, publishers either have in-house staff or contract out the final editing, mastering, and proofing of the audiobook.

When I visited her home studio, it was a beautiful, carpeted, walk-in closet with a high ceiling. Eve says its unusual trapezoid shape is ideal because of the way sound waves move, making it preferable to a square room.

Hanging garments, covered with curtains, surround a desk with recording equipment. Eve says, “Clothing is a great sound dampener, along with the carpet.” Sound-absorbing pillows and blankets give the room a tranquil feeling. The studio is in the center of the house which acts as a natural barrier to noises from the outside world.

“What you want,” she says, “is a good dead sound, not boxy [echo or hollow].”

Dead sounds appropriate for crime fiction, doesn’t it?

When recording, Eve turns off the furnace, leaves her phone in another part of the house, and shoos Marco the cat out of the bedroom.

“Narrators are always looking for the sweet spot in terms of hydration and eating,” Eve says. “I start drinking water hours before I record—but not too much. And, of course as far as food goes, I want to avoid stomach gurgles. It is amazing how many sounds the body can make once you tune in to them.”

Eve does extensive preparation before she even starts to record. She reads the book, maps the story, casts the characters in her mind, studies relationships, character and story arcs, and looks up unfamiliar words and locations. She does a lot of the same in-depth research that writers do.

One of her favorite tools is her iPad. From it, Eve creates the master document for performance and recording. Using a special application, she inserts character notes, differentiates narration from dialogue, and includes correct pronunciation of names, places, or foreign words. She adds either an audio clip with pronunciation or types out the phonetic spelling.

For example, the name Kahlil Sharivar is noted as Kaw-LEEL SHAH-ree-var. She’ll be saying that name a lot as she records Instrument of the Devil, the first thriller in my series.

For each character’s dialogue, she color-codes the script: women’s voices are often highlighted in pink, orange, or purple, with the female lead in yellow. Men’s voices are often blue, green, or brown. She uses harsher colors for dangerous characters.

In addition to the script on the iPad screen, she monitors another screen in her studio that displays Twisted Wave, an editing software program for audio. Punch and roll is the industry standard for recording long-form audio and allows her to re-record or make changes to the audio file. If Eve misspeaks, coughs, or hears a car drag-racing in the distance, she can go back, reset the cursor, and start recording again. This allows for a seamless wave file that is ideal for editing, mastering, and proofing once the book is recorded.

On the tech equipment side, Eve is a big fan of Audio-Technica AT4047 microphones (she has two, one as a backup) because it perfectly matches her rich alto voice. Her Beyerdynamic headphones are easy (literally) on the ears and her pre-amp (a magic box that is a conduit between mic and computer) is an Audient iD4.

She prefers to sit when recording because it gives a more intimate feel, like telling a story to a good friend over coffee. Sessions last between 45-90 minutes, usually to the end of a chapter. During breaks, she stretches and uses a foam roller for massage. Then it’s back to the studio.

When asked how long it takes to record an audiobook, Eve gives the same answer that authors often give when asked how long it takes to write a book: “It depends.”  Variables include how many accents, the number of characters, and the writing style of the author. Plus, of course, the length.

Similar to acting, the narrator “lives” in the world the author created. She must get to know characters well enough to portray them with convincing, engaging voices. To differentiate the sound of a character, she uses pitch, speed, and even body placement to create an individual voice. To indicate internal thoughts, she may change her tone or volume.

My Tawny Lindholm Thrillers are set in northwest Montana where both Eve and I live. To further capture the story mood, Eve went the extra mile, checking out locations in the series, including the classic Craftsman bungalow that I’d used as a model for Tawny’s home and Hungry Horse Dam, the scene of the climax in the first book.

As a self-described “student of humanity,” Eve travels extensively and has a lifelong love of learning. New experiences help her relate to characters and make them feel more real.

Eve performs in three dimensions as if she’s on stage. Her body position and facial expression reflect what’s happening in a scene, whether she arches her back or hunches over, is wide-eyed or squints, etc. She says, “Stage actors make great narrators because they have endurance and know how to inhabit the character.”

During one of our visits, I saw firsthand how convincingly Eve inhabits a character.

The male lead in my series is a brilliant, intimidating lawyer named Tillman Rosenbaum who’s 6’7”, with a James Earl Jones voice, and an intense, dark stare that skewers his opponents.

How the heck could this pretty, petite, blue-eyed woman pull that off?

At the time, she was reading the second book in the series, Stalking Midas. She mentioned how much she liked my female lead, Tawny, and hated to see her suffer.

I made the smartass crack, “Wait until you read the later books where I really beat her up.”

Eve’s entire demeanor changed. In a flash, she grew larger and imposing. She leaned toward me and pierced me with a stare that was so threatening, it sent a shiver up my neck.

She became Tillman—a man who would kill to protect his beloved Tawny. 

At that moment, any doubts I’d had about Eve’s ability to capture Tillman  evaporatedNow we joke often about the “Tillman Stare.” 

Hearing my book for the first time is an author’s milestone that feels much the same as the first time holding the physical copy of my published books.

Here’s a small sample performed by Eve:

I didn’t go in search of an audio narrator but, by good fortune, I found one. Eve is not only hard-working and talented but is also a genuinely nice person who’s become a good friend.

How did I get so lucky? 

~~~

TKZers: Do you listen to audiobooks? What do you like most about them? What, if anything, do you dislike?

Any authors with audio versions, please chime in with your experiences.

~~~

Stay tuned for the launch of the audio version of Instrument of the Devil. 

 

Meanwhile you can read ebooks or paperbacks in the series, Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart…and Sass.

For sale at Amazon and online retailers. 

+12