What Do You Do about Writer’s Block?

By Elaine Vietswriters block4

My grandfather was a security guard. He worked weekends, holidays, and nights when temperatures plummeted below zero and frozen winds blasted the empty parking lots. He never said, “I don’t feel like guarding the warehouse tonight. I’m blocked.”
My grandmother babysat. She never said, “I’m not watching those brats today. I’m blocked.”
When I spoke at Fort Lauderdale High School, a student asked, “What do you do about writer’s block?”
“Writer’s block doesn’t exist,” I said. “It’s an indulgence.”writers block3Writing is a job, and working writers cannot afford writer’s block. It’s a luxury. Pros know that inspiration won’t strike like lightning. We can’t wait for it to hit us. We have to write.
I wish I had a dollar for every day I didn’t feel like dragging my sorry carcass to the computer. I could retire.
But I write because it’s my job. Even on the worst days, I love being a writer.
Many former newspaper reporters become mystery writers, including Michael Connelly, Kris Montee (PJ Parrish), and me. We’re trained to respect deadlines. Writing is our work and we sit down and do it.writers block1Early in my newspaper career, I told my editor, “I’m blocked. I can’t write this story.”

“Write something,” he said, waving the blank layouts. “We have pages to fill. We’re a newspaper, not a high school theater program: We can’t leave blank spaces on the page with ‘COMPLIMENTS OF A FRIEND.’ ”
Some days, the words flow, gushing in fertile streams. I feel alive and electric. Other days the words trickle out like water in a rusty, clogged pipe.
But I still write.
What do I do when the words don’t come?

flowers-for-algernon-daniel-keyesI remember what Daniel Keyes, who wrote Flowers for Algernon, said at a speech:
“When I feel blocked I start typing – anything,” he said. “It doesn’t have to make sense: ababababsjsjsjfjfjfhhshshshkaka.
“Then I start typing words. Any words. The first words that come to mind.
“Next I start writing sentences. Again, they don’t have to make sense. But I keep on typing and eventually they do make sense and I’ve started writing. I may throw out ninety percent of what I wrote that day.
“But I wrote.”
You can, too.

winged pen
Win Killer Cuts, my 8th Dead-End Job mystery set at a high-end hair salon. Read about Helen Hawthorne’s wedding. www.elaineviets.com and click Contests.Killer Cuts

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Evolution of a Bad Guy

Maggie Toussaint

When I began plotting my second paranormal mystery, Bubba Done It, I knew one thing for sure. All the suspects had the nickname of Bubba. Other than that, I didn’t have a clue.

Bubba Done It

Before I could cast men in the suspect roles, I considered my setting and the types of characters I needed. I’m familiar with the setting as I use a fictional locale that’s similar to where I live in coastal Georgia. We have townies and imports. We have people with plenty and people with nothing. We have blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, even Native Americans. We have a stalled economy and our share of foreclosures.

All of the top suspects needed a motive to kill the banker. Some motives I considered were previous criminal record, financial trouble, and love.

The sheriff immediately adds four Bubbas to his suspect list. Since seafood is the main industry around here, it would be good to have a fisherman Bubba. I also wanted someone who’d moved to the county as a retiree, someone who didn’t quite get locals or their customs. That worked. Two Bubbas down, two to go.

Drugs are a universal problem in today’s world. I decided upon a Bubba with a bad track record as a crackhead, but who had allegedly reformed into an evangelist.

Lastly, I wanted to ensure my sleuth Baxley Powell had a definite call to action. She’d taken the heat in Book 1 as the top suspect, so for Book 2, I found a patsy in her brother-in-law. Why would he want to kill the banker? Baxley knew her Bubba was a dreamer who often needed money for get-rich-quick ventures. Baxley and her husband had bailed Bubba Powell out of financial scrapes for years.

With her husband dead, the task of saving Bubba fell to Baxley. She’s certain he couldn’t have done it.

Or at least she feels that way at first. With each layer of story revealed, she discovers more reasons for the Bubbas to have killed the banker. Her challenge is to sort through the evidence, in this world and the next, to finger the killer.

To summarize:
Populate your suspect list with characters fitting to your setting and situation.
Give the suspects motives to kill your victim.
Layer the suspects’ relationship with the victim to create complex characters.
Make sure the sleuth has a clear call to action.

Buy links for Bubba Done It:
Kindle
Amazon hardcover
B&N hardcover

Connect with Maggie on the web:
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MaggieToussaint_LargeSouthern author Maggie Toussaint is published in mystery, romantic suspense, and science fiction (writing as Rigel Carson). The third book in her Cleopatra Jones mystery series recently won the Silver Falchion Award, while her romances have won the National Readers’ Choice Award and the EPIC eBook Award for Romantic Suspense. Her latest mystery is a book two of her paranormal cozy series about a psychic sleuth, Bubba Done It.

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Religion in Mysteries

While at Malice, I was on a panel about Religion in Mysteries. It’s a topic I really hadn’t thought about before. So how do mystery writers handle this subject? Fellow panelists were authors whose protagonists included a hospital chaplain (Mindy Quigley), a minister (Stephanie Jaye Evans), a rabbi (Ilene Schneider), and a Scotland Yard Detective (Anne Cleeland).

clergy  priest  rabbi

What made my series different was that my sleuth Marla is a hairdresser. As I told the crowd, women see their stylists a lot more often than their clergymen. They willingly confide in their hairdressers and overhear juicy conversations in the salon, whereas people confess to priests or to chaplains on their deathbeds. So while people approach the ministry to be absolved for their sins, Marla has to worm their secrets out of them. Thank goodness she’s a skilled conversationalist.

The moderator posed some interesting questions. If those other protags were not clergy, would it matter to the series? And if my heroine was more religious, how would that change things? Ask yourself this question about your main character. In Marla’s case, it would make a big difference. She’s not particularly religious but she has a basic belief in Judaism and follows the traditional holidays. As the series progresses, so does her romantic relationship with Detective Dalton Vail who isn’t Jewish. This probably wouldn’t happen if she were more devout. They enter into an interfaith marriage where they respect each other’s traditions and beliefs.

Here’s another question to pose to your characters: How does their view of religion color their view of the world? Marla’s outlook is more expansive. She encompasses other viewpoints with tolerance and understanding. A priest or rabbi’s attitude will be focused on their own kind, while a hospital chaplain has to minister to patients of all faiths.

What role does religion play in your books? Is it a central or peripheral part of your plot? Does religion influence your protagonists’ search for justice?

How important are your protagonists’ careers to the stories? Would the slant be different if they were police professionals or hairdressers or members of the clergy?

Do holidays play a role in your stories? I’ve had Passover, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and New Year’s in my series, if you count the book I just turned in. Holidays in my books are where friends and families gather and where their ties are strengthened. But you could easily have a contentious family gathering where tensions escalate instead.

seder table    seder wine

Perhaps this thematic content is something you haven’t considered before. But as a writer, your views of religion and sense of right from wrong color your perceptions. Do they influence your protagonist’s view as well?

Read my report on Malice 2015 here: Malice 2015

Contest Alert!
Enter May 7– 21 to win a signed copy of bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan’s historical mystery, Death of a Dowager, and a $15 FANDANGO gift card to enjoy a movie this summer. Two runners-up will each win an ebook copy of Hair Raiser (Bad Hair Day Mystery #2). http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

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