Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, January 09, 2012

Guest Author: Kaye George

Author Kaye George joins us today to talk about writing mysteries. For writers, there are a lot of great tips and ones which I have also taken advantage of. If you haven't taken an online writing class with Mary Buckham or Margie Lawson, I highly recommend them. They are a wealth of information.

One of the things which has always struck me about writers is their generosity and Kaye is no exception. I don't know a lot of fields where folks are so willing to help each other out with whatever tidbits they've gleaned over the years to help make their books a success. Readers may also find this information illuminating, even if they never intend to write a book of their own. There's a lot of work that goes into even the shortest of short stories, but when you think about it, that's true of every job out there. If you want to do a good job, it requires learning. And sharing what you've learned has surprising benefits. Try it sometime. I think you'll go to bed happy that night.

So here's Kaye!
Kaye George

Why did you decide to write?
This was not really a decision. I've actually had to seek therapy when I'm not writing. It's my pressure valve, the thing that keeps me sane. So, not a decision, a necessity. Another thing that contributes to a writers' sanity is keeping company with other writers. Writing a short story anthology together with my regular writing partners has been a blast.
How much research do you do?
That depends on what I'm writing. I do like to get all the details right, so I'll look up the times of sunset and sunrise in the area I'm using as a setting so that I'll have it getting dark at the right hour for that time of year. I've been writing a lot of rodeo-related stuff lately for a novel and have had to look up videos so my descriptions won't be wrong.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
The most intense research I've had to do is for a mystery series that takes place thirty thousand years ago, among Neanderthals. Don't ask me why I'm writing this, I just feel I have to! I've ordered textbooks and saved every clipping on new discoveries, especially the insights being gained with DNA analysis. I'll admit I do look a lot of things up on the internet. But if I want to go into any degree of depth, I'll order a book on the subject.

I sometimes do almost as much research for a short story if there are details I want to get right. I love to set short stories in places I haven't been, so I need to research that. One of the short stories in our anthology has a colorist as a character. That's a career I read about in an airline magazine, *American Way* if I remember correctly. I saved the article. Didn't use much of it, but did use the occupation.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
I want my readers to have fun, to be entertained, and, if they have something going wrong in their lives, to able to escape for a few hours. With my short stories, my main goal is entertainment. I like to startle my readers with unexpected endings, maybe because I like to be startled that way myself. For the Neanderthal series (which is unpublished as yet), I want the reader to feel about them as I do, that they've gotten a bad rap for many years and were pretty interesting people. In my mystery, "Choke," I want to make people laugh, to take their minds off whatever their troubles are.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
I'm not a morning person, so I usually go through emails, write blogs, pay bills, that sort of thing, in the morning. More times than I like, I have to do grocery shopping, errands, laundry, that sort of thing, in the afternoons. So evenings are for writing. Unless I have a writers' group meeting. I'll sometimes write after meetings, though, late into the night. Sleep is a waste of time!
What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
Best advice: persist. The difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is that the published one didn't quit.

Worst advice? I guess the poetry class I took from Stephen Spender years ago was my worst writing experience. I didn't get any advice, but sure got shot down. We had one-on-one consultations at the end of the course. His comment was, "Why are you writing poetry?" I answered something, maybe that I liked doing it. He repeated his comment twice more and I walked out. I didn't write poetry for years. Still don't do it much.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I've gotten a system together, cobbled from many courses I've taken from Mary Buckham, Margie Lawson, Kris Neri, and Pat Kay.

First I fill out the plotting templates I got from Mary Buckham on the main characters (protagonist, antagonist, and villain) and main plot points. I get my opening and my ending (which, of course, is subject to change) from this.

Then, per Kris Neri, I write a blurb of what I think the book will be about. After that I write out the background necessary for the crime, the backstory and what she called the root story. This means I'm telling the story (to myself) from the villain's point of view before I start writing the book. These are all just a few paragraphs.

I then put some plot points on a spreadsheet in a loose three-act structure. A good number is 24, but for the project I'm on now, I just have 9. I'll write in the direction of the next plot point, but will veer off course sometimes as new things crop up.

After I've started writing some of it, maybe one or two chapters, I'll stop and make some notes to myself on who the characters are. I don't really know them until then.

Short stories are an entirely different matter. They often come to me fully formed. They're much easier for me.

How do you develop your characters?
As implied above, they develop as I'm writing them, especially the secondary characters (who sometimes move to the forefront unexpectedly). But my starting point is the name. If I don't have the name right, but character doesn't come alive for me. If the character is lying flat on the page, I fool around with the name and, when I've found a good one, that guy or gal will pop.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
That's a very hard question! Ann Rule is my favorite true crime author. I like lots of different mystery authors in lots of different sub-genres. I like to read biographies and autobiographies and history, as well as mainstream and literary fiction (although I'm not certain of the difference between those last two). I love humor, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Addams, David Sedaris, and Carl Hiaasen.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
To call a book great, it has to be something that stays with me long after I've put it down and after I've read a lot more books in the meantime. Sandra Parshall's mysteries are like that.
 Amy's note: I'm so glad to hear you mention Sandra Parshall. She's a fabulous writer and a long-time friend. I first met Sandra when I volunteered to work on the local Audubon Society newsletter. She was the editor and did an absolutely unbelievable job. She is a skilled writer and I agree with Kaye, her books are wonderful. And so are Kaye's.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
Oh gosh, maybe a feeling that they hadn't wasted their time and money. You know how insecure we writers are! A feeling that they had fun reading the book. The stories are all dark, but in varied genres since we three all write in different genres.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Don't give up. Take some courses. If what is taught doesn't resonate with you, toss it and take another course. Try to find a community of writers, either in person or online, that you're comfortable with. That will make a big difference.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
I hope to have published the two sequels to "Choke" and to have published lots more short stories. I'd like to have gotten another series into publication by then, too. Maybe two more.

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
That's up for grabs, isn't it? I'd like to do at least one more anthology with Mary Ann and Steve, and publish more mysteries with my present small press, Mainly Murder Press. I'd love to move up to a larger press eventually if things hold together at all in the industry. If not, I'll strike out on my own and self-publish, hoping the following I have will, well, keep following.

Contact Info
My webpage:
My solo blog:
My group blog:
Website for our anthology

Thirteen horror, mystery, and urban fantasy short stories by Austin authors with a distinctly dark side.

"Keep an eye on these authors. You'll be seeing their names for a long time to come." --AJ Hayes, featured author in the noir anthology, PULP INK.


Edith Maxwell said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Kaye. Always fascinating to find out how a fellow writer does things!

I just finished reading Choke and LOVED it.


Kaye George said...

Thanks, Edith! Amy is a good interviewer and I enjoyed doing the post.

Amy said...

Hi Edith:
Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by. I'm glad to hear you loved "Choke".


Anonymous said...

"Choke" certainly made me laugh. I'm hoping for five or six sequels.

Stephen Spender? I was impressed until I read what he said to you. The "I've done it but you don't have a chance" school of pedagogy. No one deserves that.

Kaye George said...

I wouldn't have minded Spender's opaque comments if he'd given me a good grade. Just to show him, I decided I don't like HIS poetry. :) I love Frost and Emily Dickinson and Billie Collins, though.

E. B. Davis said...

I loved Choke too, Kaye, and I hope that the sequel isn't too long in coming. Your method of writing seems logical to me. Characters develop with the writing, making me wonder if on revision, I'll have a lot to rewrite. On page 250, I know them so much better now than I did on page 15. Finally read your Barvarian Krisp Caper--such a fun read--but peanut butter long johns are my favorite!

Kaye George said...

Peanut butter long johns? What's the world coming to? To each his own, and thanks so much for the comments, E. B.