Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Writing what you don't know

As with every rule, the 'write what you know' advice to authors is often broken. Over the course of a novel, an author is bound to run into a circumstance, law, technology, setting, or activity that they're unfamiliar with in real life.

Of course some genres require less research and accuracy than others. For example, a fantasy author would have more leeway with facts than a writer of historical romance.

Russell Brooks wrote an interesting blog "I’ve never held a gun, but I still shoot people" (http://criminalmindsatwork.blogspot.com/ ) about the firearms research he did for his crime novels.

I, too, write crime fiction. The heroine of my Back Tracker series solves cyberspace and computer crimes. Now, although I've had a computer since PCs first came out in the early 80's, since one needed to know dos to run one, and even though I have been online since online became a word--I really know tweet all about today's computer technology and even less about the Internet, networking, intranet, and other such things that are part of our interconnectedness. I'm also not in any mood to listen to lectures on this subject or enroll in a techie course.

All the same, my novels are quite accurate, have been at times prophetic, and will, I'm sure, prove believable to the geekiest of computer geeks.

For an example of what kind of research I do to ensure I stay within the realm of believability on this subject of which I know so little, check out my blog Cyber Crime Villains on http://criminalmindsatwork.blogspot.com/

Scanning news headlines for story ideas is one of my favourite pastimes. It's a much more 'Eileen-friendly' research option than listening to even 10 minutes of a computer nut's expose.

Headlines about software gliches in Iran's nuclear reactor and America's F-35 fighter jet beg to be turned into novels about espionage, or sabotage, or...the possibilities are endless.

Intriguing stories can be build around international crimes via computer technology and secret technology peeking over the horizon. Online sex scandals, internet luring, child porn, and cyberspace hate crimes provide the juice needed to create gripping, emotional tales.

Behind every computer is a vulnerable human who can be blackmailed, bought, seduced, or...the possibilities are endless. Which may be why I was able to draft 10 novels in my Back Tracker series and never run out of inspiration and never repeat a plot.

For more information on my Back Tracker novels visit my website: http://www.eileenschuh.com

Eileen Schuh, Author
"Schrodinger's Cat"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Whale Song: A book review

I was captured by Cheryl Kaye Tardif’s emotional tale, “Whale Song” the moment the Nootka elder gave Sarah her Indian name: Hai Nai Yu―The Wise One of the One Who Knows.

This is an adolescent story with two very obvious differences. Firstly, although it’s about a young girl growing up, it is narrated from an adult’s point of view. And secondly, although it is brimming with the wisdom that comes only with age, the story is written for a child.

It’s an ageless story, though, and appeals to readers across generations. Whale Song teaches us not only about the traditions and lore of Canada’s west coast Indians, but also about ourselves—about the children we once were and the wise elders we are destined to become.

Cheryl so capably captures the essence of the aboriginal oral tradition of story-telling. There are those who say kids don’t take to tales designed to instil life lessons. Yet cultures across the world know otherwise. The best way to pass wisdom from generation to generation is to wrap it in a good story.

I remember interviewing a Cree elder during my days as a journalist. I was confounded by the woman’s simplistic sentence structures (after all, she had a university doctorate), the abundant seemingly-unrelated details in her answers, her slow speech, the antiquated clichés.

An hour in and I was becoming increasingly embarrassed by both my impatience and the patience of the orator. About then I realized I ought to relax into Dr. Makokis' compelling story and quit interrupting. I was speaking too loudly, talking too quickly, and begging for short answers that would fit nicely into a column inch.

Whale Song is narrated in a similar manner to this honourable tradition of oral story-telling.

It seems to ramble and take its time as all great lessons do. (Why do I need to know how Sarah’s parents met all those years ago and that Sarah’s birth was preceded by a miscarriage?).

It contains multitudinous details that at first glance seem irrelevant but are really symbolic. (What pre-teen kid notices “...a cedar shelf was mounted to the peach-coloured wall...the walls were painted the palest sage green and along the ceiling edge ran a soft leafy border...”?)

And then there are the clichés. (“I froze, dead in my tracks...the bustling city of San Francisco...the wide-open plains...A sharp crack of thunder...From that moment on, we were inseparable...I raced downstairs...my stomach twisted into tight knots...”)

These clichés, though, are the vessels of traditional knowledge and lore—the keepers of truths. Because clichés say it best, these phrases stay with us from generation to generation.

Although it may be challenging to find the time to traverse the strange loops and twists that eventually lead to the truth, I have no doubt that we ought to make the time. We also ought to teach our children to have the patience for wisdom.

The young and the young at heart will savour Whale Song’s slow and thoughtful use of words. They’ll enjoy how the story circles back into itself and will find comfort in the rhythmic placement of familiar ancient phrases.

Whatever state of mind we’re in when we first open the book, it doesn’t take long to be lured into Sarah’s painful and courageous journey. We soon feel compelled to discover how 11-year-old Sarah evolves into Hai Nai Yu―The Wise One of the One Who Knows.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, your words made me weep. Whale Song.

A word from Cheryl:
Whale Song is what I call "my heart book". There is so much of me in Sarah, but the novel is not biographical. I am emotionally invested in this novel, like no other, probably because it was my first novel and definitely because of the story itself. Whale Song was inspired by my love for killer whales and the ocean. I'm a BC girl living in Alberta now, and the call of the ocean is always strong.

Whale Song is available in ebook edition and can be purchased in various formats via Amazon's Kindle Store, KoboBooks, Smashwords and more. It is out of print as a trade paperback, however it will be back in print in a few months with bonus content.

I've recently detoured from suspense and YA to romantic suspense with my new release Lancelot's Lady (Sept. 27th), and I invite you to check it out along with my other books--Skeletons in the Closet & Other Creepy Stories, The River, Divine Intervention and Remote Control. ~ CKT

You can learn more about Lancelot's Lady and Cherish D'Angelo (aka Cheryl Kaye Tardif) at http://www.cherishdangelo.com and http://www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com.

Prizes & Giveaways: Follow Cherish from September 27 to October 10 on her Cherish the Romance Virtual Book Tour and win prizes.

Leave a comment here with your email address and you will receive a free ebook and automatically be entered into Cheryl’s draws for other great prizes including a Kobo ereader. Winners will be announced after October 10th.

Eileen Schuh,Canadian writerhttp://www.eileenschuh.com/

Monday, October 4, 2010

Juvenile Crime Characters

Using juvenile characters as either victims or perpetrators in crime novels adds many dimensions to a story. In both my young adult and adult novels, I’m especially prone to characterizing ‘criminal kids’.
Click to Sample/Purchase

Youngsters cast in evil roles pull at caring adults’ heart strings, especially if traumatic life circumstances precede their acts of violence and criminality. The nurture/sympathy vs hatred/fear ambivalence that juvenile criminals arouse can be used to create tension both in co-starring adult characters and in readers.

In addition to the more commonly portrayed child/child and adult/adult relationships, a story with a criminal kid character provides an opportunity to explore the special adult/child relationship. That “position of trust” can be portrayed as protector/protected, teacher/student, leader/follower or perhaps even abuser/abused.

The possibility that one bad choice by a child is going to forever ruin her life creates emotional intensity. A writer can deepen that suspense by having an evil adult character manipulating that criminal child.

Because laws are often much gentler toward youth than adults, the criminal behaviour of kid characters can easily be portrayed as resulting in redemption, salvation, remorse, growth, and learning, which opens the opportunity for creative and fulfilling endings—the story can be about so much more than “crime doesn’t pay” or “the cops always get their man.”

A human being’s brain doesn’t physically develop the full capacity to anticipate the results of one’s actions until one is around 25-years-old. A writer, by exploring the results of poor choices, parasitic relationships, and adult weaknesses and manipulations, can help youngsters avoid making costly and/or deadly mistakes.

Written correctly, novels that include juvenile characters can serve as learning tools not only for children but also for the adults in their lives.

For a peek at some “real” criminal kids in the news check http://criminalmindsatwork.blogspot.com/2010/09/criminal-kids.html
For more information on my novels, visit my website at http://www.eileenschuh.com/

Eileen Schuh,Author
"Schrodinger's Cat"