October 22, 2012
Several of the DEATH SPARKLES contributors were able to take the time to answer some questions about the process. It’s always fun to see how these things evolve!
Devon Ellington: How did the story spark from the prompt and grow?
KT Wagner: I was googling related phrases, desperately searching for inspiration, when I came across a news story about a young man in New Zealand who had purchased a diamond ring, and then his girlfriend rejected his proposal. He set up a treasure hunt and gave the ring away, but not before he created some controversy by profiting from click-throughs – money he donated to charity.
Faith Dincolo: I found the process of visualizing a dead woman with diamonds dangling from her hand, to be fertile ground for creativity. In “Persephone’s Progeny”, the diamond necklace was a catalyst for Persephone to grow as a robot. The prompt really helped me to think outside of my usual story telling process. I would recommend a prompt to anyone struggling with writer’s block, as it opens up the creative flow.
Diana Holdsworth: When we got the prompt, I was rusty at short story. My first version came out like the compressed outline of a novella. The necklace was used as an example of greed over common sense, and the prompt line was stapled in near the end of the story. I brushed up on my short story skills and realized the first version wouldn’t do. Starting from scratch, I tried again, but nothing came. I didn’t think I could manage it. Then I reached back into my life and a tale came to mind that resonates for me on a deeply emotional level. The story poured out with ease. The necklace in “A Girl’s Best Friend” stands for something quite different from the one in the first version. As for the prompt line, no staples required.
PJ Friel: I’m not a fan of horror so when I read the prompt, I knew it was going to be a challenge for me. My solution for this was to discuss the prompt with a friend, Jessica. I find that my imagination really kicks into gear during lively conversations. Focusing on the necklace and the meaning behind it was key for me. What was so important about that necklace? Jessica and I threw around some ideas and then I went home to begin my research. With some facts and pictures in hand (visuals are very important to me), the story started to flow. Oddly enough, I really didn’t know where the protagonist was going to take me. I always know the ending of my stories, but not so with this one.
Killion Slade: As soon as I read the prompt, I immediately knew I didn’t want to write a simple murder scene. My horror muse truly wanted to be fed and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wanted the piece to seem surreal, confusing, a bit disorientating, and downright uncomfortable. From initial beta readers, I was asked to take the story further, deeper, and then once I added sensory elements, it truly took off on a life of its own.
Nina Benneton: A day before the assignment was due, I’d listened to a conversation between two sisters and their dialogue was so rich, I went home and fictionalized the characters, taking advantage of the dialogue’s rhythm.
DE: What was the hardest thing about writing to the prompt?
NB: This particular prompt screamed mystery or thriller or horror to me, but my muse was not cooperating. She wanted humor instead, so I relented and let her be. After all, I had a deadline.
FD: How and where to place the prompt was a big issue for me. I wanted a seamless use of the prompt that didn’t jar the reader and make them say, “oh yeah, there is the prompt.” This was a challenge for me, because putting the prompt as the first, or last sentence, seemed very appealing. Make it obvious and blatant, then this little voice in me asked, “is the prompt more important than the story, or vice-versa?” When I wrote the story, the prompt fell naturally into place at the dark point of the story.
PJF: The hardest part about the prompt was that it didn’t come from within. It’s difficult for me to take someone else’s idea and build around it. This prompt was especially hard because it was drawing me into a genre that I avoid. I could have worked the sentence into a fantasy story, which is my chosen area, but I felt that the point of the prompt was to write something outside of the norm. I’m glad that I didn’t take the easy way out. I don’t think I would have been nearly as satisfied with the results.
DH: I knew the story I wanted to tell before I knew where to put the prompt line. The muse is a subtle creature: I believe my creative self understood where the prompt line was meant to go long before my conscious self did. During the writing process, my big worry was that the prompt sentence would stick up like a nail in the road. By the time the story was done, the prompt line slipped into place naturally.
KS: I would say the hardest thing about the prompt was the tense. Writing in first person created a challenge to meet the prompt. It also was the style of the death. Immediately, when I think of diamonds dangling from a dead woman’s hands, I think of her stealing them, getting caught, and being poisoned in some sort fashion. So trying to come up with a unique situation for this woman and why she was dead and had diamonds dangling that was not cliche’ in my mind was indeed a challenge.
KTW: Other than some terrible cliched ideas, I floundered around seeking inspiration for far too long. I remember one night lying in bed staring at the ceiling and playing word association games when I should have been sleeping.
DE: Do you see these characters in any other pieces besides this story?
DH: In a sense, yes. My recent Victorian Gothic short, “No Tongue Can Tell,” is similarly themed, with similar characters in parallel situations. Writing “A Girl’s Best Friend” allowed “No Tongue Can Tell” to pour out with ease, even though I’d never written a Victorian Gothic before. Creativity feeds on itself.
NB: Not until this question. Hmm. I think I might like to see Catarina and Nipolita showing up to help the priest at the orphanage in Guatemala.
KS: Devon Ellington taught us how we can use our short stories to ‘put the feelers out’ for new characters. Let them try on their story, so to speak. We also learned how to incorporate older characters into new situations where we normally wouldn’t see them in, to find out more about what drives them. I have not considered writing more for these two characters in “The Trophy Wife”, but it could becomes a twisted little mini-series of short stories based around the unique world built for them.
PJF: While the protagonist is certainly an interesting character, I don’t think I could spend an entire novel inside her head. It’s a rather scary place inside her noggin and I’m a big chicken.
KTW: The motivations and rationalizations of people like the main character fascinate me, but no, I won’t be writing about these particular characters again.
FD: I always see my stories as bigger pieces. Short stories really turn on the creative flow, and get me thinking about all the possibilities that I could do with that story. I find that it can be very difficult to write a short story, because the story wants to grow. I envy short story writers that can see their stories in a few pages.
Nina Benneton always wanted to be a priest and save orphans in third-word countries, but ends up writing romantic comedies; for now. Visit her at www.NinaBenneton.com.
Faith Dincolo writes horror, sci-fi comedy, and creative non-fiction. She can be found at https://www.facebook.com/FYDincolo.
PJ Friel is a writer and artist, dwelling in the land of fantasy. Visit her online at http://www.amberstar.net.
Diana Holdsworth writes novels, novellas, short stories and memoir. Visit her at http://www.DianaHoldsworth.com.
Killion Slade comprises of a married writing team who met in the virtual realms of Second Life and virtually enjoy everything. Read More at http://www.killionslade.com.
KT Wagner writes science fiction, Gothic horror and steampunk, novels and short stories, with the occasional forays into other genres and her garden. Visit her on-line at http://www.northernlightsgothic.com
Purchase DEATH SPARKLES here.
October 20, 2012
And Faith Dincolo, who wrote “Persephone’s Progeny” in this collection, passes the baton to me.
One of the joys about working with a group of writers is how differently we are inspired by the same foundation.
“The diamond necklace dangled from the dead woman’s hand.”
What I find exciting about this anthology is in how many different directions this prompt took each of us, yet still had that single sentence as a fulcrum. Contemporary, mystery, gothic, horror, science fiction — this collection has it all.
I admit, the first few drafts of this story were very different. They had to do with a small town beach community and a woman murdered less for the diamond than for other reasons.
The story didn’t work.
In the middle of the night, the character of Fiona Steele plopped down on the edge of the bed, woke me up, and said, “Yo, writer girl! Wake up. Got something to say to you.”
And there it was.
The first draft poured out quickly. It needed serious rewriting, smoothing out, getting rid of qualifiers, tightening — all the stuff you’ve got to do to make something submission-ready. The terrific writer, KT Wagner, was kind enough to be my Trusted Reader on it, and pointed out a few more flaws that got smoothed out. For a short story experience, it was terrifically satisfying.
Fiona, I promise, will be back. She’s definitely got more to say!
And so we circle back to Kelly Whitley, who started us on this journey of DEATH SPARKLES.
Excerpt from “Sea Diamond” in DEATH SPARKLES:
I felt the presence rather than the dramatic “a shadow fell across the bar.” Although dim inside The Wicky Cog, the lighting was uniform and didn’t create shadows with only me and my erstwhile companion as patrons. Even the bartender was virtual, until the next transport landed, or until the clock chimed Happy Hour. Time measurement differed from system to system, but Happy Hour was universal.
“What’re you doing on Sandegarde?”
“Drinking.” I didn’t even look up. I recognized the voice, I recognized the vibe.
“There are a hundred and forty bars just in this station, Steele,” he retorted.
“And why did I walk into yours?” I shot back. I looked at him now. For a cop, Rowan Wilde wasn’t bad. Not bad-looking, with the dark hair and blue eyes, strong physique, a brain to match, and wasn’t so bound by the rules he couldn’t see reason. On occasion. “Between jobs.”
“Good. I need your help, Fiona.” He sat on the stool next to me and tapped the screen on the bar surface, ordering his drink. An instant later, a panel opened, and a glass of beer rose up to meet his hand. I wasn’t sure what time it was, heck, I’d been traveling so long, I wasn’t even sure what time management segment it was, but the sight of Rowan Wilde drinking in a nearly empty bar, and the fact he’d used my given name rather than just my surname told me he was worried.
“Am I gonna need another drink for this?”
“Rather you didn’t. I need you on your game.”
“I’m always on my game, dickhead.”
He grinned. “Nice to know you’re still so fond of me.”
I let that pass. Not going down that road right now. Water under the bed, and all that.
DEATH SPARKLES is one of the top 100 sellers on Amazon.com, and is available here.
Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in fiction and non-fiction, including the Jain Lazarus Adventures (http://hexbreaker.devonellingtonwork.com) and romantic suspense as Annabel Aidan. Visit her sites www.devonellingtonwork.com and her blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee, http://devonellington.wordpress.com.
October 12, 2012
It’s here! The Death Sparkles Anthology is available. Here’s the Kindle link, and it will also be available on B&N and Smashwords. I wrote the introduction and have the final story, “Sea Diamond” , a science-fiction mystery that introduces the ass-kicking, take-no prisoners Fiona Steele. We WILL see more of her.
Nine authors contributed to this anthology, inspired from the prompt “the diamond necklace dangled from the dead woman’s hand” and nine very different interpretations of that. The wonderful PJ Friel did the cover AND is a contributor, with “The Needing”.
October 2, 2012
Posted by devonellington under Uncategorized
I met CE Lawrence in August of 2012, taking her Mystery and Thriller Workshop at the Cape Cod Writers Conference. The class was terrific, and once I picked up her books, I was hooked. In fact, her class helped get me on the right track with one of my own upcoming books.
Carol was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions – and I highly recommend her books!
Devon Ellington: What draws you to write in this genre?
CE Lawrence: I’ve always been interested in hidden behavior, in people’s dark side, maybe because in my family no one was supposed to have a dark side. These things were never talked about, so that made me even more curious. Also, I think most writers have a natural interest in psychology, in human behavior, and what is more intriguing than extreme behavior? And it seems to me that serial killers are about as extreme as it gets. Also, I wanted to write books people would actually buy.
DE: The subject matter in these books is different than in your Claire Rawlings books. Did you find the process of writing the books different, other than different types of research? Did you have to structure your time differently, or do anything else differently, or was it, basically, just showing up at the desk at the designated time and place and getting down to it?
CEL: I love that you think I have a designated time to write… or that I write at a desk. Mostly I write lying on my back on the couch, at any hour or time of day. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.
The only difference is that the thrillers are darker; as time goes by I’ve become attracted to darker subjects. And after a few novels under my belt, I no longer outline everything before writing; I’m more comfortable writing by the seat of my pants (or, as I call it, the Harold and the Purple Crayon method, a reference to the wonderful children’s book by that name.) But that’s more a question of experience than genre.
DE: The Lee Campbell books take place primarily in New York City, post-9/11. Your depiction of how 9/11 effects daily life and its continuing spectre over the lives of those who live there is, in my opinion, one of the most forthright and resonant of any fiction that deals with 9/11’s aftermath. How do you manage to keep it from overshadowing the books themselves?
CEL: Well, first of all, thank you very much. I thought I might get a lot of flack for trying to incorporate that into my stories, but it was something I lived through and that we all lived through in New York. It affected the city in such profound ways I didn’t see how I could not write about it.
To answer your question, I just tried to keep it an element in the story, part of the setting, but I tried to keep the pursuit of the killer always in the foreground. I think it’s just a matter of focus, like the subject of a painting versus the background.
DE: Setting is a character in your books, another of the things I love about them. How do you choose the settings? For instance, in SILENT KILLS, they travel up to a Steampunk Ball in Troy, NY. How did you pick Troy? How do you integrate your fictional locations into the actual geography?
CEL: I had an acting job in Troy, doing a hospital training video, and I was just captivated by the place. (I live in Woodstock in the summer, so it’s less than an hour to Troy.) I visited their famous cemetery, where Uncle Sam actually IS buried, and I thought that would be a fabulous place for a final chase scene. They have this great crematorium, and the whole place is so 19th century – which fit right in with the Steampunk theme. When I found that Herman Melville’s house is in Troy, I felt like I’d won the lottery. What a great place for a Steampunk ball! For the actual chase, I used Google Maps! I followed the route the cars were taking via satellite photos. Otherwise, I would have had to drive back to Troy and drive the whole route. Bless the internet – thank you, Al Gore.
DE: You’re a poet and a playwright as well as a novelist. How do you move between genres? Do you find the material chooses the genre, or do you choose the genre first?
CEL: For me, the material choses the genre. It feels like some stories are just begging to be plays, while others really need the pages of a novel in order to be properly explored. And then others strike me as screenplays. For instance, I just finished a screenplay about magicians. The title is The Assistant.
For example, transition in a screenplay is a whole different technique than transition in a novel, or even a play. But I find it stimulating to move between the different forms. In a novel you have so much space – you can gas on about this and that (within reason, of course), whereas a screenplay is like an epic poem – so condensed, so streamlined. It’s story in its most essential form. And you have to think visually, which is great discipline for someone like me.
I think one of the greatest dangers to a writer, who by definition is someone who loves language, is to be “drunk with words.” Look out – danger, Will Robinson! That can lead to undisciplined, flaccid writing. Screenplay forces you out of that really quickly – you’re always looking how to condense, condense, condense.
And when you’re writing a play you have to show everything through dialogue and character interaction – I think it helps you to write better scenes when you’re working in prose fiction. You try to make your dialogue character-specific and pithy, just as you would in writing a play.
As for poems, my experience is that they fall out of the sky – I rarely say “today I’m going to write a poem.” More often, something will happen in my life, something as important as death of my father or as mundane as a great cup of tea, and suddenly the poem is there. It’s the form I turn to when life presents itself to me at its most profound and mysterious.
C.E. Lawrence is the byline of a New York-based suspense writer, performer, composer and prize-winning playwright and poet whose previous books have been praised as “lively. . .” (Publishers Weekly); “constantly absorbing. . .” (starred Kirkus Review); and “superbly crafted prose” (Boston Herald). Silent Screams, Silent Victim, Silent Kills, and recently released Silent Slaughter are the first four books in her Lee Campbell thriller series.
Her other works have been published under the name of Carole Buggé.
Titan Press recently reissued her first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Star of India.
She has also been a featured guest on Canned Laughter and Coffee with Renee Bernard, Comedy Concepts with Nancy Lombardo, ITW Thriller Roundtable Online Forum, WBAI FM 99.5 in NYC “In the Moment” with Ibrahim Gonzalez & Ahmad Adali, and Cafe Ali, WUSB FM 90.1.
Most recently C.E. Lawrence was selected as one of 21 authors featured in the 2012 anthology edited by Lee Child, and published by Mystery Writers of America Presents, called Vengeance.
Her story The Vly has also be chosen for the 2013 anthology titled What Lies Inside published byMystery Writers of America and edited by Brad Meltzer schedule for release in 2013.
C.E. Lawrence also teaches classes at NYU, and holds regular writers workshops, all while writing, lecturing and writing about the craft of writing. She most recently taught a crime writing class at the San Miguel Writers Conference held in the lovely historic town of San Miguel d’Allende, Mexico and she had a cover article titled The Moral of the Story published in the July 2012 Mystery Writers of America’s National Newsletter.
CE Lawrence’s newest release is SILENT SLAUGHTER:
There is a method to his madness.
He chooses his tools with precision. Stalks his victims with cold efficiency. Plans his attack using mathematcial logic. And now he is ready to play . . .
There are rules to his game.
When the killer’s first letter arrives at the station, NYPD profiler Lee Campbell suspects the writer is daring him to match wits with a dangerous – and brillaint—criminal mind. But once this “Alleyway Strangler” starts leaving specially targeted messages with each surgically carved corpse, Campbell realizes it’s not just personal. It’s perfectly calculated – to destroy him. . . .
Released from Pinnacle Books.