Friday, February 28, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
As a writer and a reader I love to see the little things in books. Perhaps you’ve read a scene about a holiday tradition that brought back warm, long forgotten memories or there’s something a character does that reminds you of an event from your life. It’s those little things that make our lives special and the little things authors put in the pages of their books that makes them memorable. So be it fact or fiction I really do believe all the little things matter! How about you? What are some of the little things in life or from taken from the pages of a book that have made you smile?
Tracey J Lyons sold her first book on 9/9/99! She is the best selling author of the Women of Surprise Historical romance series, Montlake/Avalon Books and writes the contemporary Wine Country Vixen series as Tracey Sorel. You can learn more about Tracey and her books by visiting her websites.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Regional dialects lend authenticity to stories set in specific localities. Regional dialects give authors nightmares and headaches. Regional dialects give readers nightmares and frowns. Walking the narrow line between authenticity and insult is an art. Achieving a sense of place and depth of character without confusion or irritation is an art.
In my most recent endeavor, the novel-by-installment, Nights Before, I returned to my childhood home state, Maine. I had been working on an historical novel set in a small town in Oxford County, and was inspired then to write a contemporary romance as well. I had clear visions of the streets of Portland from childhood and more recent visits, but it is the Maine accent that distinguishes the sense of place more than the images of snow and falling leaves. The whole of the Northeast can boast the brilliant colors of Fall and the quiet of a snow-blanketed scene. Only Mainers talk like Mainers.
I was born into a family of native Mainers, I remain one myself though I've lived far away for most of my life. When I began this book-by-installments, I wanted to pay tribute to that distinctive way of speech, but, except for a few vague recollections of my mother saying 'cunning' or the proverbial 'down the rod apiece' and 'ya cahn't get theah from heah,' my Maine vocabulary was sadly lacking.
I realized I had to research my first language!
Fortunately, there are Internet sites for that. I went to several, including How to Talk Like a Mainer which was a lot of fun and reminded me of all I'm missing here on the West Coast. And I realized that the Maine accent is a serious topic for wide discussion. There is something about the way we talk that fascinates those who don't — or I'm just putting a proud face on what the rest of the English-speaking world thinks is plain 'odd'.
In any case, I had to get it right. The more I went through the pronunciations and the vocabulary, I heard the words in my head, spoken as they had been spoken by my parents and siblings before the great exodus to the other side of the country. They came more easily from my own lips. Ayuh is now my first response in the affirmative and has started to spread to other members of my west coast family. And as I developed the dialogue in the first story of the novel, I went all out.
Howevah, too much of a good thing spoils the affect. Here's an example:
“Sure. Take it easy goin’ over tah Rosemont. The road’s open now, but I’ve heard theah’s a dip where theah weren’t one.”
Not as easy. In Elements of Style, Strunk & White make it clear that an over abundance of apostrophes and colloquial spelling curtail the flow of reading. Giving a hint of a different dialect is desirable on all accounts relating to the senses of authenticity, place, time, character, personality. In this novel, I distinguish between native Mainers and those 'from away' or who've been away or have abandoned their roots.
Although I will never knowingly abandon my accent, the ability to talk like a Mainah fades, returning only when I write like a Mainah and I have to admit, I'm wicked glad I've had the opportunity.
Here is a taste of the vocabulary in these stories:
- bug - lobster
- cunnin' - cute, sweet
- finest - term of endearment, the best
- wicked - very
Monday, February 24, 2014
This statement is the opening "welcome" to my website and is a statement that I think applies to everyone. It doesn't matter if a person makes a living in the rat-race of the business world or stays at home to raise children, that person must be able to step away from his or her life to regenerate.
My place of escape is a quiet bayou harbor. The mirror slick surface of the black water and the swaying marsh grasses take me from season to season, not so much with changing colors, but with the wildlife it supports. Graceful herons, snowy white egrets, and crash-diving pelicans live alongside of alligators, blue crabs and playful otters. Thousands of minnows bring the water to life in the spring, and mullet jump across the water in summer and fall. It is my place of calm.
Today I'm retired and get to enjoy this setting everyday, but during my teaching career, by Friday afternoon, I needed to unwind, and my husband knew exactly what to do. He'd launch our small boat and take me on a cruise through the winding channels of the bayou. Sometimes we'd stay long enough to watch the sun set over the water, and by the time we were back at the dock, I felt revived and able to face my "real life."
Where do you go to regenerate? Is it a physical spot or is it only in your mind? If you can't physically get away, I hope you'll pick up a book and let yourself escape into a world where your problems are set aside for a few hours. Books are a wonderful "get-away." Emily Dickenson understood the value of books and compared them to a "frigate" that could take the reader "lands away." We may not be able to physically sail away to foreign lands, but we can travel across seas, across time and across continents through the pages of a book.
My husband still takes me on our bayou cruises, but when we can't do that, I can find that same elixir in the pages of a book or on the screen of my Kindle. I hope you too can find your own get-away as well.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
When I told people that my first novel was a romance set at a radio station, I got that reaction a lot. Yes, my husband is a disc jockey; yes, we did work at the same radio station together for seven years. But that happened after we were married.
I borrow from my life. I freely admit it. My stories are filled with first and last names borrowed from family members and friends. The afghan my aunt crocheted for me is in the first chapter of "Love on the Air." And that radio station is filled with small items and incidents from the station where I worked. We really did have a CD player we had to stick a butter knife into to rescue a disc that got stuck. And a break room where there was always danger of coming around the corner and crashing into someone (a perfect accident for my hero and heroine!).
I plant pieces of myself into my stories, and I love it.
But if people were to assume that everything in my books really happened to me ... brrr! That could open a can of worms. If my next hero were an auto mechanic, what if people started thinking I had eyes for the guy who fixes my car? Come to think of it, we have been seeing a lot more of each other lately, as my car gets older.... See? Instant gossip!
I wonder if people who write murder mysteries run into the same reaction. Do people realize it's fiction, since there are no bodies turning up on the author's doorstep? Or do friends start eying them uneasily, wondering if a character who resembles them might turn up as a victim in the next book?
Of course, no one ever said writing fiction was for the faint of heart.
The beauty of writing, as with reading, is that we get to escape into another world and experience it vicariously. Writing can have a tremendous advantage because we control this universe. On the other hand, sometimes it sends us down blind alleys or requires us to cause pain for those characters we love so much.
When I'm doing my job right, I experience the story every bit as much as my readers do. There's great joy in taking just a pinch of my favorite things, a dash of personal experience, and stirring it into a great big bowl of fantasy.
So, if any of you notice a good-lookin' grocery checker in my next book, why, pay it no mind.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
My daughter turned me on to the Republic of Tea when she went away to school a few years ago and needed her tea fix on a regular basis. I would send her shipments with new flavors and some of them sounded so good, I had to try them for myself. A few sips of Caramel Apple and Pomegranate Vanilla, and I was hooked. So, yes, every month, my girl (now living home again) and I sit with the catalog, fight over the free sample that comes with it, and try to limit ourselves to no more than six flavors per order. It's not easy. They have black tea, green tea, red tea, white tea, herbal tea, and matcha. There's oolong, rooibos, and decaf. Loose tea or bagged. The possibilities are endless! Last month, they started a Downton Abbey collection with specific teas and flavors based on the popular television show. It's enough to make an Anglophile dizzy.
This time around, we grabbed the usual Caramel Apple for me, along with a Kiwi Pear and a Caramel Vanilla; she opted for Goji Raspberry, Chamomile Lemon, and Vanilla Apple Hibiscus.
I have separate love affairs with tea and coffee. Coffee is my writing beverage. It's an adrenaline rush, a jolt that gets my creative spark awake and sends my fingers flying over the keys. Tea is my reading beverage. It's a slower, settling-in drink. There's something comforting in a cup of tea and a good book--especially when it's cold outside and I'm toasty warm inside. The word "cozy" leaps to mind.
So, yes, while the snow swirls and the wind howls outside, think of me, cozy in front of a roaring fire, a cup of caramel apple tea by my side, my current book open on my lap, a cat purring beside me. Now, if only I could get my husband to wear a waistcoat...
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Have you noticed lately how many cozy mysteries have cats on the cover? Cats and cozies go together well, perhaps because cats can look so very cozy just about anywhere. Obviously, there are tons of cat-loving readers who have contributed to the success of cat-centered cozy mysteries. Some of my favorite fictional cats are Chablis, Syrah, and Merlot of Leann Sweeney's Cats in Trouble mysteries and Diesel of Miranda James' Cat in the Stacks mysteries. I'm prejudiced because Leann and Miranda (aka Dean) are dear friends who have been in my critique group for many years and who have both become New York Times best-selling authors. Thanks to Leann, I met my agent who urged me to write my new Bad Luck Cat series to be published by Berkley beginning in 2015. So now I'm enjoying my new feline friend, Hitchcock, the purported Bad Luck Cat, and I'm having great fun writing about him.
This morning I was wrapping a birthday gift for our five-year-old grandson (a gift which includes books, of course). My cat appeared at my feet within seconds of me pulling out the ribbon. How did she know I was working with ribbon? Does she know the sound of that particular drawer opening means ribbon is about to appear the way she knows the sound of me picking up a can of tuna as opposed to picking up any other canned food in the pantry? Cats are smart, and curious, and cautious. Nothing escapes their attention. They can squish into places they ought not be. They play with objects that aren't meant to be toys. They're dare-devils and fast runners. It's no wonder that cats make great sidekicks for amateur sleuth protagonists.
The combination of a warm purring cat nestled in my lap while I read a cozy cat mystery can't be beat. I love to immerse myself in a fictional world and forget, for a little while, all of life's little problems. Which is why I will always surround myself with cats and books, keeping them close.
Mystery author Kay Finch is currently writing her new Bad Luck cat Mystery series set in the Texas Hill Country. Her Klutter Killer mystery, Relative Chaos, features a professional organizer who finds a dead body in a hoarder's garage. Kay lives in a Houston, Texas suburb with her husband, two rescue dogs and a cat. Visit her web site at www.kayfinch.com.