Category Archives: Novel

Enigma


January has a way of making everything new. A crisp calendar, a brand new notebook, and a post holiday purge of leftover candy paves the way for fresh creative endeavors.

To kick off the new year, here’s an excerpt from Enigma, the next installment in the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series.

Enjoy.

The Future Man | Paul Klee | 1933

The Future Man | Paul Klee | 1933

Enigma, A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Chapter One

The boat rocked in long swells which Jade felt roll from left to right, like a book she’d read enough times to memorize. It felt like Andre’s barge floating on the oily wash of the Seine, but it wasn’t. The damn sun was too hot for one, and the calming cacophony of the Paris waterfront was an ocean away.

“How much time are you planning to waste in that chair?”

She turned her eyes in the direction of the voice, John Young stood at the rail, hands on hips. “I don’t have a job,” she said, closing her eyes again.

He crossed the narrow wood deck and stood over her a moment before pulling a lounge chair closer and sitting. “It’s been over a year,” he said. “The statute of limitations is up on self-pity.” The chair squeaked under his weight as he settled back.

“Who let you on the dock?” she asked, “I’ll need to reprimand security.”

“Andre called and…”

“And wanted you to check on me,” she finished. “I’m happy, tell him that. Now go away.”

“Your father is dead, you can’t bring him back. Andre is alive, thanks to you.”

Jade sat up. Her skin felt tight, like leather tanned and stretched to dry. She had intentionally moved as far away as she could from the memories, and half remembered images of her past, spending months building up walls. An interruption was unneeded, unwanted. Her pulse thumped in her throat. “Whatever you want, I’m not interested.”

Her only comfort zone was now out of her reach. For five years she had walked into galleries, skirted security systems and guards, and walked out with Reniors. It had felt like a normal life to her, normal enough to black out all memories hidden from her by retrograde amnesia, a side effect of being attacked and left for dead, floating in the Seine. Certainly, if you have something to live for, it doesn’t get washed so easily from your mind, she thought. The temporal vacancy was home.

The only image she had of her life before the attack, was of her father laying on the floor, his blood painting the gray tiles of their small Chicago gallery. Even as she’d tried to not remember, it came back when the same madman, Jarvinen, had tried to kill Andre, the mentor who had taught her a use for her unusual skill set. He was like her second father—for a while at least.

Young shifted beside her. She glanced to her right. His legs stretched to the end of the lounge chair, and he had pulled a Braves baseball cap over his eyes.

“Suit yourself,” she said.

“I will,” he replied.

Jade closed her eyes, trying to block out his presence. Water lapped at the dock pilings, and further down, she heard a boat crew yelling to one another as they off loaded a fishing party. Young made no sound, and after a while she began to think he’d either left, or perhaps fallen asleep. She glanced at the chair. He was still there. Lean and tan, clad in tan cargo shorts and a Jimmy Buffett t-shirt, he fit into the surroundings. It was a marked improvement over the mud and blood crusted jacket and jeans he’d worn when they had exited the sewers of Paris. He reminded her of unfinished business.

“What have you heard of Morrell?” she asked. Simon Morrell, a career art thief, con man, and murderer with no moral compass, lived adrift in the money currents offered by organized crime. Last year, when his plans countered Jade’s, she’d helped the police capture him with solid evidence to put him away for life.

Unfortunately, he had quickly disappeared—as was his habit—during a custody exchange.

“There’s an occasional lead, but nothing turns up,” said Young. “I think someone in the ranks is helping him, but so far I don’t know who.”

“Is he in Europe or the States?”

Young smiled. “Both, but I’m always a step behind,” he said.

“With Morrell, you can’t follow leads, you have to figure out what he wants, and get to it first,” said Jade.

“Is that so?”

She stood up and wrapped a large dark towel around her waist. The contrast of the terry fabric against her tanned skin, drew Young’s eyes upward until they met hers, and he looked away, pulling his hat back in place.

“Why are you here, John?”

“Andre, forever in need of something to occupy his time, discovered a trail that may lead to a lost painting. You know how he can’t resist a challenge,” drifted Young’s voice from under his hat brim. He seemed to sink deeper into the chair. “He thinks you can find it.”

Jade walked to boat cabin and pulled a cooler from under a bench. After sloshing through watered down ice, she returned with two dripping glass bottles, and held one over Young’s head. “Here,” she said.

He took the beer from her hand, and twisted off the cap. “Thanks.”

“Per my agreement with the French, British, and United States legal systems, I don’t find paintings anymore, but thanks for thinking of me.” She took a sip of her beer and sat. “Is Morrell involved?”

Young shook his head. “Not this one, it’s an old case, and a lot of years and people have done their damnedest to erase the trail. Just thought you might be bored hiding out, waiting for the rest of your life to happen. You can use your unique talents for something better.”

“What’s the catch?”

“It’s just a story, a few old letters,” he said. “And this.” He reached into his back pocket, then held an envelope out. “Take it.”

She paused, looking at it, recognizing the stationery from Andre’s desk. She could almost see the barge rocking on the currents of the river, beneath the shadows of Notre Dame. She took her time reaching for, it and pulled the envelope his from his fingers. The flap was partially glued from the humid air, and she slipped her finger under the edge to flip it open. A small black and white photograph with scalloped white edges, and the brown spots that come to old paper with age, slid into her fingers. A girl stared back at her, dark hair pulled back into a bun of some kind, with wild curls, breaking loose, suspended around her face. She wore a jacket and white blouse, and stood in the formal posture people took decades ago when posing for a picture.

“Who is she?” asked Jade.

“Keep looking,” Young replied.

The photo revealed little detail. The setting appeared to be in a home, a lace curtain peeked along the edge of the image, and a painting hung in the background. The girl seemed familiar, but Jade couldn’t pick any feature to connect a name or memory. “I’m sure I’ve never seen her, but there’s something about her… where and when was this taken?” she asked, flipping it over to scan the back.

“Dessau, Germany, 1938.”

Jade looked over at Young. “Name?”

“Look again,” he replied with a nod towards the photo. “I’m sure your father told you stories about her.” He paused to take a hit off his beer. “There was a reason he became an art collector and opened the gallery. If you haven’t remembered yet, I would think you’d want to look up your family.”

She let out a breath, “Family?” She slipped the photo into the envelope and tossed it onto his chest. “I don’t know the person I used to be, why would I waste time on a family tree?”

Young sat up, placing his bottle on the deck under the chair. He slid the photo from the envelope, and held it next to her face. “It’s the eyes and mouth that you find familiar,” he said, staring at her past its curved edge, his gaze challenging.

She looked at him, then at the deck over his shoulder, and then down at her beer bottle without answering.

“Why do you think that is?” he asked.

“You can hardly wait to tell me. I don’t know whether to be interested or annoyed.”

“You’re interested,” he replied in a softer tone. “You recognized her because her face looks a lot like yours.” He flipped the photo around so the image gazed at her.

Jade looked at the girl. She reached up and covered part of the image so only the eyes looked back. “Family photo?” she whispered.

“Your grandmother, Anna Blume.”

In the distance, a jet ski chopped over water sending its wake crashing. Suddenly, every sound seemed magnified, the shouts from the deck hands, and whistle calls from the seagulls competed for her attention. What had stumped her before, now was obvious. “Anna Blume.” She said the name, wondering if she’d said at another time in her life, perhaps before her memories were scrambled. The sound of the letters felt foreign.

“Anna left Germany shortly after this picture was taken. She was with her father, Jacob Werner, but somewhere along the way, they were separated.”

“My father was named after him,” she said. “Why is this important now? I’m sure she’s long dead.”

“She had a painting with her. She and her father, were running from the Nazi occupation when the train they were on was detained. Werner was taken away by German soldiers, but Anna hid with a group of women. She left the country, at least that’s what we believe. The history gets sketchy after that.”

“Wait a minute,” said Jade. “If you don’t know what happened to her, then how do you know she’s my grandmother? This sounds like some bullshit that you and Andre cooked up.”

“Why would we cook anything up? If you want to stay on this boat the rest of your life, I don’t care, but…” he paused with dramatic effect. “If we find out what happened to her, we find this.” He tapped the corner of the photo.

She looked at the eyes and face of Anna Blume, and then turned her attention to the painting hanging on the wall behind her shoulder. “I need a closer look,” she said.

Jade left him on the deck while she rummaged through the cabin. When she returned, she had a small domed magnifier. She laid the photo on the arm of the chair and covered it with the glass. The painting curved upward, exaggerating the lines of the geometric patterns that crossed over the face…no, she thought, it was two faces staring at her. “Paul Klee.”

“That’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

“He was one of the artists deemed degenerate by Hitler.” She moved the dome along the image to take in more detail. “He was too modern and bold with his vision to fit into the Führer’s art horde.”

“You know a lot about art from that period?” he asked.

“You never answered my question. How do you know this woman is my grandmother?”

Young paused, collecting his thoughts before answering. “You really don’t remember any of this?” He turned the photo to get a better view through the magnifier. “After Anna fled Germany, we traced her to France.”

“We? How are you in this?”

“I have an extensive file on you and your father. Naturally, when I found a mystery in his past, I couldn’t resist looking closer. It fit Andre’s story,” he said, rubbing his hands together to remove the water that had dripped from his beer bottle. “I shared it with Andre because he knows the shadier sides of the European art market better than anyone. If this painting had been seen in the last seventy-five years, he would know.”

“You said there were letters.”

Young pulled a pack of papers from his shorts pocket and unfolded them before handing them over. “These are photocopies of letters Anna wrote to her husband before she disappeared. She left Germany, ending up in France where she married, and had your dad. The painting she smuggled out of Germany is worth around sixty-million euros. The story says she left her family to take the painting to a museum on the German border to sell. They were struggling for food and basics everywhere in France at the time. She never came back. The painting didn’t surface, and when her husband looked for her, he found out she had never arrived.”

“So she never surfaced,” said Jade, “and neither did the painting.” She pulled the papers apart, looking at the delicate script handwriting.

“The last page is our clue. It’s the last communication she had with her family. The painting was the only thing of value she had when they left Germany.”

“So, if I find the Klee, its mine, right?”

“That’s not so clear,” he said, “and you know it. This photo is the only proof of ownership.”

“And the stories and letters?”

“Only a bill of sale will stand up in court, especially on a case this old.” He shrugged. “Even if we find it, it may take years to clear ownership.”

“I see what you’re doing.” She shoved the papers and photo into the envelope and handed it over. “Believe me, I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need a diversion. I’m happy to hang on my boat and stay out of jail. You’re the last person who should be getting me involved on an art hunt.”

“You’re the last person who should be wasting their intelligence bobbing on this waterway.” He downed the last of his beer and pitched the bottle into a bucket beside the deck rail with a harsh clatter just short of shattering.

“What if I could guarantee you’re on the right side of the law. You won’t be arrested,” he added.

“I recall that line,” she replied, “just before my court appearance.”

“You never had jail time. I made the case that you helped take down Jarvinen’s gang which solved a murder case and a string of heists.” He paused and looked toward the cooler. “You have another beer in there?”

“Help yourself.”

He pulled the cooler open and grabbed two more bottles. “This is your mystery to solve. It’s your prize to win.”

“I keep the Klee?”

“You connect the dots for your past.” He passed the beer to her. “You’re hiding, trying to keep yourself from remembering who you were before you lost your memory. I’m suggesting you face it head on.” He pointed his beer toward her. “You’re not Jane Werner, or Jade Weekes.” He tapped his bottle against hers, “You need to figure out who you’re going to be today.”

She popped the cap off the beer and let it bounce under the chair. “If I help you, I want the painting.”

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “Are you in?”

“What’s in it for you and Andre?”

Young smiled, “This is strictly for fun.”

“Doesn’t it go against your job with the FBI?” she asked.

“The job is gone. I spent too many years living with the worst kind of people and seeing them walk on a technicality. It was time to retire.”

He stretched out on the chair, and Jade realized how much he had changed, aside from the clothing. The lines that had cut into his brow were softer, and he was relaxed. There was little sign of the John Young that had guided her through the Paris underground, ready to react to attack, and ready to kill if needed.

“How long have you been out?”

“A few months. It’s a nice pension too. I’m getting used to waking up knowing someone isn’t trying to kill me.”

“I’m flattered you trust me,” she said. “But I’m not interested.”

Young smiled, but the expression didn’t reach all of this face. He let out a long breath, “Andre said you’d say no. Aren’t you at least a little curious to know what happened to Anna and the Klee?”

“I don’t know Anna, or the line of descendants you think leads to me. You and Andre know enough to move on without me.” She stood and walked to the deck rail facing the dock. “I’d like you to leave.”

Young stared at her, seeming to weigh if her request was genuine, and then walked to the rail. He adjusted his cap to shade his eyes, and stepped onto the dock. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

She watched him walk the weather washed boards until he disappeared into the parking lot. The whole idea that she’d jump at the chance to find a painting, or even search through her family history to satisfy Andre’s whims infuriated her. John was ex FBI, and with the deep undercover stretch he did with Andre, his art world connections were shadier than Morrell’s.

A shadow of guilt tinged her anger. She wouldn’t have found Andre in the labyrinth of catacombs beneath Paris without John’s connections. His cover had been deep enough to burn his relationship with most of his FBI colleagues, who believed he’d turned to the other side of the game. Was he really retired, or had he been forced out of the bureau? She could call Stewart Connor with the Boston FBI office and ask, but that would mean she cared if his story were true—that would mean she was actually considering taking up the challenge. Stewart was John’s only friend left at the FBI, and had tracked her and Morrell to Jarvinen. What were the chances even he would know John’s official status, or would it be more closed files, locked out of his security clearance?

“Damn it!” Why can’t I just stay out of it? She turned and noticed the pack of papers and photos on the chair. John was leaving bait, she thought.

She grabbed the pages and marched to the rail with the intention of throwing them over, but her fingers wouldn’t let go. This is all be fiction, she thought. It’s easy to fake letters and photos. She held them over the water again, but her own eyes stared back at her from the grainy image, and again, she hesitated.

Inside the cabin, her cell phone rang. After the fourth ring, it stopped and was followed by a chirp of a text message.

She tossed the papers onto the chair, reached in the door, and grabbed the phone off the counter.

“Why this painting? Why Blume?” the text read. The number was unfamiliar, and Jade was sure it would lead to a pay as you go phone with no account records. She typed and hit send. “Who is this?”.

The reply came quick, “Find me.”

She stared at the text message, her mind reeling over the possibilities. Morrell? Young? Andre? “I’m not playing your game,” she typed. There was no answer, and after a moment she set the phone down.

It was a good questions. Why now? Why this hunt?

She grabbed a backpack and shoved in a change of clothes and a toothbrush. When she emerged at the end of the dock, Young was sitting on the hood of a black SUV, eating a hot dog. He didn’t seem surprised to see her.

Jade cocked her head, resisting the comment she wanted to make. Instead, she said, “If I help you, I want the painting, and I call the plays. I’ve spent years building connections to information, and to people who know how to make transactions happen. I’m not going to risk that.”

“I thought you were out of the business.”

“Some skills translate to other career paths.” She opened the car door and tossed her pack into the floorboards.

“That’s all you need to know.”

“First steps?” he asked, throwing the food wrapper into a trash can. He opened the driver’s door and slid in.

“We go to Chicago.”

“To your father’s old apartment?” he asked.

She nodded, “Jacob had a storeroom full of boxes with family papers, photos…things passed down. It’s the logical place to start piecing together the story.”

“Will you be calling on old friends?” he asked.

“Alex Ford, you mean?” Alex, an action-figure of a movie star, had helped to track her father’s killer to Paris, and had risked his own life to save hers. All that, after she had broken into his house with the intention of plundering his art collection. “He’s in London working on a project. He’ll be gone another month, at least.”

“So you’re still an item.”

She shook her head, “We were never an item. We just play chess sometimes.”

“Is that an euphemism?”

She gave a shrug, “I think your job for now is to drive.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Paul Klee
Paul Klee was a German-Swiss painter and draftsman who’s artistic influence survives in modern graphic design and typography. His exploration of styles and mediums defied classification, taking in elements of Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstraction. This was enough for Hitler and his Reich Marshals to deem his work subversive. Klee’s paintings were part of the degenerate art exhibition, Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst” in Munich, November 1937.


Layer by Layer Character Development


Bathroom Personality Assessment - Part 1There was a time when I read a lot of books on the craft of writing fiction. Today, I find the most insightful character development tips coming from psychology professors. We’re all a collection of layers made up of personal history, family, emotions, and unique experiences. If characters are developed with just one or two of these layers, then as writers, we miss the opportunity to make them feel real for our readers.

A few weeks ago I discovered a video in my weekly Pinterest update which uses forced perspective to illustrate the difference between assumption and reality. This led me to author and psychologist Richard Wiseman. His book Did You Spot The Gorilla? also talks about perception. I’ll let you read the book description yourself and instead focus on how I relate this to writing. How often are you so focused on getting your plot moving, and getting your characters from point A to point B that you miss opportunities to show character depth? This isn’t a wordy side trip for the sake of showing the character in gratuitous situations. This is an opportunity to develop a sub plot—you know the other problem your character has to figure out, that parallels the main theme or plot. No one has a single focus in life, including our characters. What did you do today? Now what was going on in the back of your mind during this time? Character also have inner dialogue and multiple tasks to juggle.

In Wired, Jade Weekes is trying to figure out why she’s been sent to steal a painting that is a forgery while at the same time piecing together lost memories washed from her mind when she was attacked on a Paris bridge. In the end, one problem is linked to the other furthering the plot, and adding a layer to her unique personality.

Understanding why we behave the way we do, and what motivates us can be helpful in creating characters who move the plot forward using a fully developed personality. In 59 Seconds, Wiseman talks about practical phycology we can use to improve our lives. I see this as a gold mine for character behavior and aligning their actions to their motives.

Below is a short list of books I’ve found insightful and also fun to read. Please leave a comment and share your favorite recommendations.

Did You Spot The Gorilla? Richard Wiseman
59 Seconds: Think A Little Change A Lot Richard Wiseman
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain (related post)


Wired for the Weekend


A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Wired went live on Smashwords in the early hours of March 15th, and is already flying off the virtual shelves. It’s available for Free through March 29th as I tweak the formatting, cover image, and promo copy. While there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate for the official launch, I’m excited to finally have it available, and look forward to feedback from readers.

Wired is the first installment of the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series, with the 2nd novel, Enigma, scheduled for release late 2013. Set in Paris, St. Pete, and Chicago, this mystery unravels an organized crime gang, solves a murder, and reveals the haunting past of main character, Jade Weekes.

Here’s the promo copy from Smashwords:

Short description
Read for FREE through March 29, 2013! Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past.

Extended description
Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions?

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

No one is who they seem, most of all Jade Weekes.

You can download Wired for your e-reader here.

The Red PencilLook for me to return to blogging on a regular basis as I vet ideas for novel number 3 in the series (working title The Missing), and ramble on techniques for character development. Enjoy your weekend, and get outside to soak up the extra sunshine. ;)


When Your Characters Go Public


Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphi...

Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure this happens to all writers from time to time. It’s our curious nature that’s to blame and our quest to provide realism to our work. I’m talking about the odd stares from strangers for doing what comes so naturally to us, thinking like our characters in public.

While doing research for WIRED and ENIGMA, I came across an article profiling the behaviors museum staff and security are trained to spot as suspicious. It explains why there always seems to be a Docent close by, and when I leave an area, someone new takes up the post and I often spy them eyeing me as I wander around.

Jade Weekes, the main character in WIRED and ENIGMA is an art thief and a savant when it comes to museum security. If she could just get over her amnesia, she would remember she designed a very clever security system for her late father’s gallery. To walk in her shoes and let my imagination run with her personal obsession for impressionist art and all things Salvador Dali, helps me develop her personality and add concrete details to help readers see through her eyes.

When I’m channeling Jade, this is a bit of what I do:

  • I like to walk the floor plan of the exhibit several times to see the traffic flow, and what physical and psychological barriers have been implemented to keep the public in place. (I attended a great seminar on the Rembrandt exhibit last year and gained a lot of insight on the subject.)
  • I often take notes of these observations which include the placement of security cameras, staff and any climate sensing devices. Since photography is allowed (without flash) in most galleries, I use my phone to snap pictures for later scene building.
  • I usually step to the sides of painting to see how they are secured to the wall and determine if any wires or hardware are visibly attached (security devices).
  • I also note any missing gaps between paintings which could mean a work was removed for repair or other reasons.

Odd behavior for sure, but do I merit being tailed? A small vase or Rembrandt isn’t safe around Jade or the underworld types she deals with, but they are perfectly secure in my company. I need them on display so I can let my characters fight over them and scheme ways to ferry them from the museum without notice. That’s the part of the puzzle I love to work out as I note the emergency exits and service elevators.

So far, Jade has never been arrested, but she is well-known to law enforcement in three countries.

As writers, we should think and behave a bit odd, because that’s how fiction turns from isolated ideas to page-turning stories.

Suspicious? I think not… just creativity at play.


Catching Fire


What does getting fired up mean to you? Are you red-faced as you sprint into action? Perhaps you’re a slow burner, allowing your ideas to percolate to a rich hue before you take the next step.

letters

letters (Photo credit: nate steiner)

The end of each year leads inevitably to promises we make to ourselves to be healthier, more productive, finish a project, start a project, lose weight, eat better, clean out the garage, stop procrastinating…..well, you know the scene.

Two books come to mind, both of which I’ve mentioned before:

In their own ways, each talks about the creative fire everyone has inside. Bradbury advises digging in and writing about what terrifies us, letting the fear we feel quaking inside spill into our characters and plot. Cain talks about the spark of passion in ourselves which we can tap into to find our own power and confidence.

Imagine a meeting of the two; a gift of fears and passions pushing your characters past obstacles and forcing them to confrontation. I gave Jade, the main character in WIRED, doubts and insecurities to make her falter, correct herself and make choices which will move her and the plot forward. Sometimes, I let her make poor choices so she can figure out her mis-step and grow. Letting her fears and passions run amuck on the page is to let her be human and perhaps a little more real to readers.

My goal for 2013 is to allow my characters to be human, flawed, brave, fearful and then press on despite their self-doubts. (Also a sound course of action for writers battling their self-critic.)

Good luck catching your own spark, nurture it well.


Gearing up for NaNoWriMo2012


The days are getting darker, colder. Evenings feature heavier meals and perhaps a dark fermented beverage to keep us warm. What better time to deprive ourselves of sleep and relaxation?

November is National Book Writing Month, a global challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. It is possible, but it takes sacrifice and determination. You must be willing to shirk your house cleaning duties and stock up on frozen pizza to cut down time wasted in the kitchen (you would just burn everything anyway because you’re distracted by your novel). You must be willing to either rise hours before dawn or stay up well after midnight to keep up the daily word count that will get you to 50,000 by midnight November 30, 2012.

I’ve participated twice in NaNoWriMo, each time falling short by a paltry 5,000 words. Usually, about two weeks in, I skip a few days of writing and never catch up. I may have a 3k word sprint, but once you fall behind it takes an incredible effort to catch up. Worst part? The word count is on the NaNoWriMo web site for all to see. That’s a lot of peer pressure.

The NaNo novels I’ve written have grown into full novels which aren’t half bad. It’s a great way to free up your inner critic and crank out some much-needed creativity. It’s amazing how much your writing improves once you stop agonizing over each word or phrase. NaNo dictates that you keep moving forward with your story instead of reaching backward to revise.

If you are serious about making a living as a writer, you already know that the best way to learn how to write your best is to write a lot. This is a skill that can only be developed by practice. Books and classes will only teach you the mechanics, but they won’t help you find your voice or personal writing style.

There are a lot of folks in the world with the opinion that NaNoWriMo is a lark for wanna-be authors, but there are so many more talented writers who embrace the challenge and see it for the benefits it offers:

  • Imposing a daily word count goal forces you into a daily writing habit that continues beyond November.
  • Writing quickly slays your inner critic so you can experiment, screw up and make mistakes…the best way to find your writing voice.
  • And best of all, it builds your confidence as a writer. You will be able to see leaps in your ability to plot a novel length story, dig into a character’s personality and know that you really are a writer.

Check out the NaNoWriMo website and get yourself geared up for November 2012. NaNo founder, Chris Baty has great advice  on surviving the month, while the forums offer support and a healthy dose of commiserating.

You can track my word count here, where I’ll post weekly survival updates, or on my NaNoWriMo page.

You should consider joining the madness and who knows, by December 1st you may be able to call yourself a novelist. :)


What’s in a Title?


The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at ...

The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at the front of the machine, below the keys. When in use, there can be up to 13 connections. In this photograph, two pairs of letters are swapped (S↔O and A↔J). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am soooooo indecisive at times. I finally decide to eat out, but can’t decide where to go. I want to paint a room, but come to a stand still when selecting a color. It’s easier for me to make decisions for my characters than myself.  Afterall, their choices are governed by the personality I give them and has to give the reader clues to their inner world. That’s merely laying out puzzle pieces.

There are now 3 working titles for the follow-up novel to WIRED: Enigma, Persistence of Vision and Persistence of Time.  Each works for different reasons.

Enigma play on the plot theme of art looted by the Nazis during WWII.  The Enigma machine encoded German communications which was later cracked by Alan Turing.  Jade is in pursuit of a painting that was auctioned in 1939, only to find it leads her to her father’s killer, thus cracking the code of her past.

Persistence of Vision refers to the phenomenon of the eye to hold an after image.  Jade’s dreams are revealing the after image of the past she’s buried deep in her subconscious.

Diagram of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spoc...

Lastly, Persistence of Time…. also a Salvador Dali painting, refers to the artist to whom Jade has a strange affinity. It is one of his lost works she’s trying to uncover. 

Usually, when you find the right title it resonates for you.  This time I can’t decide which fits best. I may have to resort to Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. (sigh)

Now, back to writing….


Time Stand Still


“Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each impression a little bit stronger.” ~ Rush

I love to travel and any place I visit is open game as a story setting. I often take photos to remember the details of a place and to jog my memory of the sensory bits that add realism to a description.

This first photo was taken from Notre Dame in Paris.  In case you’re wondering, the buses and trailers were part of a production set for the TV series Highlander with Adrian Paul. Looking at this, I remember how incredibly cold it was.  The wind blew along the river with a ferocity that cut through my coat and several layers of sweaters. The water smelled pas frais as it swirled in eddys along the wall.

The images and memories formed a basis for the setting of WIRED which begins and ends in Paris.  The final scene takes place on the bridge in the distance.  There are also scenes that take you into the catacombs underneath the city and introduces another side of Paris usually not mentioned in the tour guides.  For those locations, I relied on research and discovered there’s a French Police unit that patrols the underground keeping peace and deterring criminal behavior. Photos become valuable tools for writing and enhances your ability to convey mood and let the setting take on its own character role.

The second photo is a church yard in England, but my memory is faulty on the exact location.  I’m thinking it may be in Suffolk. I do recall the church was well over 1,000 years old and was marred by medieval graffiti on the ancient floor tiles.  This will be in the follow-up novel to WIRED which has the working title Persistence of Time.

Now that the digital age is upon us, I snap photos constantly with my phone, trying to capture fleeting moments and emotions I can use later.

I also freeze bits of time by being completely present in the moment and noting everything around me. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve been able to later recall details that would have likely gone unnoticed… such as Ray Davies changing his wrist watch mid concert in 1983 or a woman in a black sweater doing yoga in Russell Square while a breeze blew spray from the fountain across the stone walk (2007).

By adding realism and sensory detail, your readers will be able to escape into your writing. Photos help me make time stand still long enough to share it with you.


13 Titles – An Incomplete List of Books I Love


The Monster at the End of this Book13

I don’t think I could count how many books I’ve read over the years, but some stand out in my memory for various reasons.  Instead of telling you what’s special about each, I’ll let you enjoy them for yourself. 

The Professor’s House Willa Cather
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
Walden Henry David Thoreau
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Lost Michael Robotham
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
A Parchment of Leaves Silas House
Books A through V Sue Grafton
Far and Away; A Prize Every Time Neil Peart
Outlander Diana Gabaldon
The Monster at the end of this Book Jon Stone & Michael Smollin
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

Look Around


  Settings and descriptions are easy to find. Look around. Did you notice anything while driving to work this morning? How about the guy in the car next to you? I bet he picked his nose without even considering someone would see him. By the way, there are a couple of teenage boys walking along the sidewalk, but it’s a school day, so why are they out and about? Observations can lead to interesting questions for writers. Small details in description allow your readers to experience the story, not just read it. Where do you find these details?

Like I said, look around.

Driving through North Carolina, there is a vast landscape of imagery apt for writing. The Research Triangle Park (RTP), surrounded by prominent universities and corporate headquarters, is ripe for a high-tech setting. Drive a few miles out and you find tobacco and corn fields burning under an early summer heat wave. I recently discovered a few gems and have tucked them away for a future project:

  • A Baptist church with brick framed sign advertising “Massage Therapy. Walk Ins Welcome”
  • A farm-house with a perfectly manicured lawn sporting a 70’s era tan sedan in the car port nearly invisible under a growth of kudzu
  • Stumpy’s Taxidermy (do I really need to explain that one?)

I translated some of the scenery and the questions it invoked into the passage below. By writing without a plot in mind, this exercise lets my imagination explore the “what if’s”. Sometimes it even turns into a new story.

“The two-lane highway curved in and around woods, past weedy horse pastures, and bordered fields freshly plowed for late spring crops. Each sign of animal habitation was mirrored by human habitation in the form of wood-frame houses void of paint or posh. This isn’t the part of the country big on appearances. Labor was born of the need to feed families, pay off back debt on acreage and to scrape out a living. There was no money for house painting or landscaping beyond a mower.

Casey turned her ten-year old Ford pickup onto a gravel road, wincing at the sharp ruts that bucked the truck like a rodeo bull. Sweet tea sloshed over the top of her Hardee’s cup and left a glistening rivulet across her arm. She ignored it.

The white outline of the church revealed itself through a veil of dark green leaves. A downburst of wind parted branches for just a second and she could see the modest wooden steeple against a Carolina blue sky.

Craven Baptist Church was founded in 1823 and had stood facing the eastern sunrise ever since. First, her four times great-grandfather cut a clearing and laid in pine benches and a slab of granite for an altar. Sixteen years later, his son built a small church on the same site. The building now in its place was a young 75 years old. Vines twisted along the roof edge and the air was thick with honey suckle. Plywood sealed the windows and the front door, while padded locked on one side, stood ajar from its hinges on the other.

The cemetery would be in the back, hidden in the undergrowth and guarded by snakes.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever use this in a project, but the exercise is a good writing warm up so you can sneak past your inner critic:).


Yes, I fell off the face of the earth.


Well, at least my sense of balance was off kilter.  Life does that to you.  I just find it ironic that I last wrote about Tweeting and Blogging and yet hardly touched my apps in two weeks.  I did read the witty comments of others on the stream and enjoyed Anne Charles’ Optical Delusions in Deadwood… really too funny to put down.

The more complicated my life becomes, the more I want humor and a good mystery to help me escape.  But now I am emerging from my quiet corner to work on novels at hand and follow through on my writing commitments.  Here’s my list of priorities:

  • Update Amazon with new edited version of Perfect Copy. Let me know if you’d like a free read:)funny happens
  • Shape up WIRED to send to my editor by April 15 (Yes, I borrowed the deadline from the IRS)
  • Get on board more blog tours for the summer
  • Be a better IBC (Indie Book Collective) member and help with the workload

That should be enough for the moment.

While on sabbatical, I listened to several audio books, paying close attention to how the author wove multiple plot lines for the main character. Everyone has a lot going on these days, so why not the characters in our stories? Just today, I’m juggling a dozen client projects/calls/setting video shoots, writing a blog post, planning a vacation, making a mental grocery list, managed to fit in a haircut at lunch so no eating = starving, and what comes next?  I don’t know; it’s too much to track without a TO DO list. 

If that’s my boring life, imagine what your over-achieving super clever hero is doing. He’s piecing together clues while wondering if the strange tapping coming from the bath pipes means anything.  She just wanted a frappucinno when she got pulled for driving mph in a school zone. The police detective couldn’t help but notice the location of the crime scene looks like the house where he grew up.

Humans are so funny….in a good way.  Our brains can’t stay in one place, we want to daydream and worry and notice odd things as we go through our day.  To steal a line from the movie “Up”, “Squirrel!” Yep, we are easily distracted.

Have fun with your characters this week and let their minds wander.  You may end up with a brilliant twist to your story.


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