Peg Herring's Blog – February 2009 Archive (20)

The Last Question...for a While

At the beginning of February I announced that I'd dedicate the month to questions, since I'm traveling and they're short and fairly easy. It's hard to believe this is the last one, but Monday is March.

So the last question to reflect on is if you were forced to return to an earlier age (let's say at least 100 years ago), what would you choose?

I love certain eras for reading about, but that doesn't mean I'd be comfortable living there. I guess I'd look for something fairly… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 27, 2009 at 11:20pm — 6 Comments

Don't Want to Blow Up Dana's Brain...

So we'll make it an easy one today. What's the last "great" historical novel you read?
Mine is MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH by Ariana Franklin.

Added by Peg Herring on February 26, 2009 at 11:03pm — 7 Comments

A Question of Character

Yesterday I suggested that authors of historical fiction need to clarify somewhere in their work how much liberty they took with the fact of whatever matter they take on. There is, however, a fascinating area of history left in a sort of no-man's land: the questions with no answers.

Did Richard III have anything to do with his nephews' disappearance from the Tower of London? Was Richard the Lionheart a homosexual? Did Lizzie Borden really "take an ax..."

Such questions are… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 25, 2009 at 7:30pm — 1 Comment

What's Historical and What's Novel?

I've been speaking a lot on historical novels this week, and the question always comes up: how does the reader tell what's true and what isn't? It seems that the avid reader gobbles up book after book, and in the end may not consider much whether the author has a bias, wants to influence his audience's thinking, or just skews things to make a good story.

I think authors should clarify somewhere, in the foreword or the afterword e.g., what is true and what isn't in a book. History… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 24, 2009 at 9:17pm — 6 Comments

How Did I Get So Dependent?

No Internet where I'm staying (but a great view of the ocean). And last night my cell phone called in sick. Now there I am, unable to communicate. How quickly I've become used to the things I had no inkling of a while back! So the question in my title is rhetorical. I think.

Added by Peg Herring on February 24, 2009 at 12:55am — No Comments

Good News & A Question

Just received news that DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND, the short story anthology I contributed to last fall, is one of 2008's top ten bestselling books among independent bookstores.

I will confess that I contributed without a great deal of consideration: the cause was good, Toys for Tots. The tease was fun: a mystery that involves one of the winter holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. And a short story never seems like work. It's more like a break from the harder work (for me)… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 20, 2009 at 11:14pm — 3 Comments

Asking Thursday, Revealing Wednesday

Yesterday I asked what a writer gets from watching people at a place like Epcot. Yesterday we went to Busch Gardens, so I have a two-day supply of answers.

What we see in crowds is snapshots of behavior, and as authors we collect and file those snaps for future reference. The elderly couple who reveal with startling clarity who is in control by their walking pattern. The young family in which Dad feels responsible for everyone having a good time, including Mom-in-law. He sounds like… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 19, 2009 at 9:09pm — No Comments

Is It Wednesday Already?

Yesterday was Epcot. We're not frequent visitors, but every few years we go because we enjoy the different nations' cultural displays. And what a great place to people-watch! The question is, therefore, what can a writer learn from observing at a place where thousands of people are gathered together? My answers for this particular instance tomorrow.

Added by Peg Herring on February 18, 2009 at 8:32pm — No Comments

Tuesday's Query

Still on the road, so the question is, why aren't all gas pumps and credit card readers set up the same way. How hard could it be to standardize so the newcomers to your business don't have to puzzle it out? Okay, that's two questions, but still.

Added by Peg Herring on February 17, 2009 at 9:35pm — 1 Comment

Monday & New Kind of Question

Okay, I'm traveling, so the question of the day is, WHY do so many people talk, text, and make calls while driving when we KNOW how dangerous it is? Okay, maybe you do it when you're on the open road and relaxed, but we've been cut off by so many people in the middle of a city who are dialing, driving, and changing lanes at will. If I ruled the world...

Added by Peg Herring on February 17, 2009 at 11:34am — 4 Comments

Smart Aleck Question

Name three things you mother was wrong about.

Name three things your mother was right about.

My mother?

She was wrong to doubt my choice of husband (and later admitted it).

That whole waiting-to-go-swimming-after-a-meal thing (not her fault.)

...there is no third thing. She was right about everything else.

Added by Peg Herring on February 13, 2009 at 10:00pm — 1 Comment

Damsels & Daggers

That's the name of my panel at Sleuthfest on Feb. 27, so the question today concerns historical mysteries. When (if) you read historicals, do you choose by time period, e.g. the Renaissance or ancient Rome, or by author, no matter what era he/she chooses as setting?

Added by Peg Herring on February 12, 2009 at 9:30pm — 1 Comment

Wednesday's Question: When Setting Is a Character

I'm reading Nevada Barr's A SUPERIOR DEATH, and being a native Michigander, enjoying the way she brings Lake Superior into the story and makes it one of the cast. How about some other mysteries where the setting is essential to the solution and excellently drawn? (I know, it's almost too easy!)

Added by Peg Herring on February 11, 2009 at 9:44pm — 6 Comments

A Question of Character

Now that I've made a case for plot, I'll move on to character. Which character in today's mystery writing would you most like to sit and talk with, listening to what he/she has to say about things? And conversely, which character would you most like to tell off if you had the chance to force him/her to listen to you?

Added by Peg Herring on February 10, 2009 at 10:17pm — 2 Comments

An Answer & Another Question

I promised my answer to the question of which element is most important. Even though I admitted it was an impossible question, I asked for your best answer. Now here's mine.

In mystery, I argue that plot is most important. The whole premise of mystery is a story in which the reader must follow the plot and solve the crime before or along with the protag. If follows then that without a good plot, we don't have a mystery at all. As Dana pointed out, there are lots of successful writers… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 9, 2009 at 10:37pm — 6 Comments

An "Elementary" Question

Here's today's question: in a mystery, which element is most important?

I know, I know: it's impossible to choose one. But just for fun, consider which element an author should work on most carefully. Plot? Character? Setting? Irony? Tone? Something else?

I actually have a pretty strong opinion on this one, and I'll express it on Monday, but (being a fair, open-minded sort) I'm willing to hear what everyone else thinks first. But be prepared for an argument!

Added by Peg Herring on February 6, 2009 at 10:41pm — 4 Comments

The Where of Creation

Another question that I get a lot, which I'm passing on to you: Where do your story ideas come from? A subset of that, I guess, is how do they evolve from the "I have an idea!" stage to a full-blown story?

I suppose I should be answering my own questions, at least some of them. This one is easy for me. My ideas almost always come when I have an extended period of time alone, usually in the car. The details almost always work themselves out on long drives or long walks.

Added by Peg Herring on February 5, 2009 at 9:44pm — 1 Comment

The Unanswerable Question for Writers

Yesterday's question got several good answers, and one I'd never thought of: changing the font. I'll add that to my repetoire!

Today's question is one I have trouble answering, probably because before publication, a writer has all the time in the world to write. It seems I always get "How long did/does it take you to write the book?" With or without stops and starts? The first draft, the polished draft, or the final, ready-to-be published version? There are lots of variables, so… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 4, 2009 at 9:21pm — 5 Comments

A Question for Writers

As I present workshops for wanna-be writers, I try to give them as many ways as possible to see the faults in early drafts. I have all the English-teacher tricks, of course, and the writers' secrets I've picked up along the way. But everyone is different, and what works for some doesn't appeal to others at all. So the question today is:

What do you do to make editing/rewriting/polishing productive?

Added by Peg Herring on February 3, 2009 at 10:21pm — 4 Comments

February Is Different; I'm Asking You

This is going to be a weird month for me for two reasons. Right now my PC is at the repair shop, always a tense time. I wonder if it will recover from its ailments, if I will lose stuff I forgot to back up, and if the week they promised will turn plural. Using the laptop is okay, but it doesn't feel the same as going up to my office, sitting in the ergonomically correct position (well, I try), and getting down to business.

The second half of the month we'll be traveling, doing a… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on February 2, 2009 at 10:06pm — No Comments

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