Liberal or Conservative: Bad Words?

donkey

Presidential elections bring out the worst in people.  I’ve observed that every fourth year an alarmingly high number of people ramp up their usage of the L-word and the C-word. Republicans are quick to label those with opposing viewpoints as liberals, while Democrats refer to their political rivals as conservatives.  For better or worse, those two words have, in my opinion, devolved over time, and now, they hold mostly negative connotations, even though both words, by definition, are inherently positive.

To my proof.

liberal

According to Merriam-Webster’s Online, a liberal is defined as someone “believing that government should be active in supporting social and political change.” Another definition reads as someone “not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving that are not traditional or widely accepted.” Going by these definitions, I am a liberal. . .and proud of it. I like to think of myself as actively supporting social and political change. And I’m not opposed to new ideas. Like, for example, term limits for all elected officials in local, state, and federal government. There’s an idea that is certainly not widely accepted.

conservative

And what about the other nasty word, conservative?

From Merriam-Webster’s Online: a conservative is someone “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society.” It goes on to state that a conservative is “not liking or accepting of new ideas.”  Interesting.  It would appear I am a conservative, too. . .and proud of it.  I believe in a great many established and traditional practices in politics. Democratic elections and freedom of speech, to name but two obvious ones.  But I also do not accept or like certain new ideas, such as Obamacare, which, while well-intentioned, is quite burdensome on small to moderate-size businesses in America.

don

Look, I’m not naïve, nor am I Don Quixote on his high horse.  I don’t expect people’s attitudes about those on the opposite end of the political spectrum to change any time soon.  However, I would like to make a suggestion: the next time someone calls you a liberal or a conservative, simply smile and say, “Yup, I sure am.”

DRIFTWOOD in paperback!

Folks, Driftwood, a first-rate novel by my friend and colleague Elizabeth Dutton, is now out in paperback! Only $9, so snag it here. To celebrate the occasion, and, hopefully, entice more to buy and review this excellent book, I’m re-posting my review of Driftwood. Also, if you’re so inclined, check out her website here.

ocd

I’ve been a serial obsessive for most of my life, and many of the things I’ve obsessed over–eating shrimp two meals a day, wearing green sweat pants, and dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, to name but three–I’ve managed to, more or less, move past.  But music and California are two obsessions that will always dominate my imagination. And in Driftwood, the debut novel by Elizabeth Dutton, I can indulge in both of those long-standing obsessions.

Here’s the basic set-up: Clem Jasper (great f-ing name!) is an L.A. trust fund kid with a well-known rock musician for a father who dies suddenly while playing ping-pong.  Still reeling from the loss and trying to figure out her place in the world, Clem receives a rather strange inheritance: a bundle of letters from her father instructing her to visit several meaningful yet mysterious destinations around California.

cali

Clem’s a quirky and relentlessly self-commenting narrator, but an oddly likeable one.  She is one part misanthrope and one part romantic.   As a reader, I sympathized with her, gobbled up her irreverent remarks and witticisms and spot-on commentary about, well, everything. In short, Clem is that often-talked-about-but-rarely-realized round character.

road trip

The other brilliant aspect of this book is the setting: California. In Dutton’s hands, California comes alive, becomes something more real, more interesting, more quirky than the glittering yet static version of California that’s lived in my imagination for so long. I particularly enjoyed the oddball characters Clem meets in the towns she visits; I relished the descriptions of the landscape, the weather, the vibe of each new place she goes in search of gaining a deeper connection with her father. And, of course, there is the music. Yes, many songs and bands (both real and fictional) are mentioned, discussed, and evaluated, but what struck me the most was the (forgive me) music of the road.  Throughout Clem’s journey, she is attempting to find a rhythm for her life, to write her own song, one that redefines who she is and what family means.

Bottom line, I highly recommend this book.

Thanks Private Eye Writers of America: SPLIT TO SPLINTERS is a 2016 Shamus Award Finalist!

split_to_splinters

Grateful is my word of the day because Split to Splinters (Eli Sharpe #2) is a finalist in the Best P.I. Paperback Original category for the 2016 Shamus Awards.

Bill Pronzini.  Ross MacDonald. Harlan Coben. Robert Crais. Dennis Lehane. Michael Connelly. Alison Gaylin. Paul D. Marks. M. Ruth Myers. These are just some of the many previous Shamus Award winners whose work I greatly admire, whose books have entertained, thrilled, challenged, and inspired me.  My love of reading is the main reason I started writing, and today, I’m feeling particularly grateful to all the aforementioned novelists for providing the blueprint on how to craft a first-rate mystery.  But, perhaps more importantly, I’m grateful to my publisher Camel Press. Thank you Catherine Treadgold for taking a chance on an unknown writer, and thank you Jennifer McCord for the editorial guidance.

private_detective_canada_194212

I’m also grateful to The Private Eye Writers of America, not only for selecting my book as a finalist, but for staying committed to celebrating, recognizing, and elevating the sometimes maligned P.I. genre.  Without PEWA, an organization that I use as a source for book recommendations, I might never have discovered many of my favorite sleuths such as Elvis Cole, Myron Bolitar, and Maggie Sullivan. For that, too, I thank you.

So congratulations to all the nominees this year, and I like forward to meeting everyone in New Orleans at Bouchercon.

 

Slumpbusters: Using Flash Fiction to Break out of a Writing Funk

Originally published at MotiveMeansOpportunity.

Prepare for some shameless self-congratulation: a story I wrote last month was just accepted for publication by Shotgun Honey, an excellent website that features crime/noir/mystery flash fiction.

Why do I care, you might ask, and rightly so.

Answer: you shouldn’t. Unless you’re a writer who is or ever has been in a writing “funk.”

If you are, fear not. I have a solution for what ails you, one that helped me break the cycle of bad writing and even worse moods. (By the way, writers tend to be moody SOBs, or DOBs, if you’re a female scribe. My old man has somewhat charitably labeled me mercurial, which is a college man’s way of saying I’m a moody SOB.)

Oh yeah, back to my point: write a flash fiction piece to help get out of a writer’s funk. Below are some bullet-pointed reasons why.

inspire

Benefits of Writing Flash Fiction

  • They’re short. No s—, Sherlock. But yeah, for those who don’t know, flash fiction stories are 1,000 words or less, and that is advantageous, particularly for a novelist struggling to break out of a funk. Because of its abbreviated length, flash fiction is a manageable goal; it’s easy to see the finish line while working on it, and when you finish one, you feel a much-needed sense of accomplishment.
  • They’re stories. Meaning they still must have a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. They must have interesting and dynamic characters. They must, on some level, “mean something.” Sounds similar to a novel, no? Also, flash fiction forces you to focus on the story, on writing a scene or scenes with no fat, no filler, no frills. That, too, will aid in your novel writing, especially those penning fast-paced mystery novels, which is what we here at MMO pride ourselves on writing, and writing well.
  • They’re fun. This is crucial because whenever I’m in a writing funk, I’m definitely not having any fun. I get bogged down on deadlines and bad reviews; I shrink under the weight of self-doubt, and whenever I wrote my flash fiction piece, all of that crap went away, and I had fun writing again, which is why I started this hobby in the first place.

So give it try. Write a flash fiction piece. Best part is, if it sucks, at least it didn’t take that long to write.

 

4 Dialogue Commandments

Originally published at MotiveMeansOpportunity.

Dialogue matters.  A lot.  In fact, I have stopped reading many an otherwise solid novel due to subpar dialogue, and I wanted to provide a friendly warning to authors out there: even casual readers can sniff out sloppy dialogue, and that could cause said readers to stop reading, which could mean they write a bad review, or worse, no review at all.  And what happens to the novelist then?  Well, that lack of reviews could lead the writer in question to quit writing and take up drinking, which could lead to the downfall of his marriage, which could lead to him losing custody of his kids, which could lead to more drinking and financial problems, which could lead to getting behind on the mortgage.  The end result: the writer ends up homeless.  . . .all because he wrote piss-poor dialogue. Tragic.

dialogue new

Anyhew, I’m in the midst of new writing project, and to remind myself not to screw up dialogue and end up drunk, divorced, destitute, and only seeing my adorable son Harry on every other weekend, I’ve jotted down what I’m calling the 4 Dialogue Commandments. Go forth and spread the good word.

tension

Commandment #1: Dialogue creates tension.

  • Speaking in completely reductive but useful terms, I lump all novel writing to do with tension-building into two broad categories: characters either DO things that create tension, or characters SAY things that create tension. So when writing dialogue remember to allow a character’s true personality come out to play. If they’re mysterious, dole out their words carefully, and with utmost attention paid to timing. If they’re a smartass, dialogue is an ideal place to showcase that particular talent (yes, it qualifies as a talent; otherwise, I would have no discernable talent).

character counts

Commandment #2: Dialogue builds a character’s backstory.

  • It takes a seasoned novelist to achieve what I’m about to suggest, but it can be done and done well: use dialogue to help round out a character’s backstory. Now I’m not suggesting nor do I advocate for information dumps; those take readers out of the story, and defeat the purpose. But if you can weave in memorable (and, occasionally, important) bits about a character’s biography then dialogue is wonderfully efficient place to do so.

dialogue new newCommandment #3: Dialogue helps create separate and unique characters.

  • Every character, from the protagonist to a minor character with only a few lines, should have a distinct way of speaking. This helps brand them as unique characters, and it helps readers differentiate between characters, especially recurring ones who have lots of dialogue.

feelings

Commandment #4: Dialogue, on occasion, reveals a character’s thoughts and feelings.

  • Again, a seasoned novelist will do this sparingly. Unless, of course, the character in question is someone who wears his or her heart on his or her sleeve and keeps up a constant monologue. But still, dialogue is a nice place to, on occasion, toss in how a character feels about an issue (say, the crime in question, for example). This will help cement a reader’s feelings toward the character, and it will also help other characters who are involved in the dialogue parse their own feelings.

talk

So how important is dialogue to you as a reader? Got any tips on how to create meaningful and memorable dialogue? Would love to hear from you. Drop us a comment.