Robust heroines, twisted plots, and passionate romances
Bookings essential, online or to 8336 0333
The Payneham Library, 2 Turner Street, Felixstow.
Chat with feisty local gals about their love of suspenseful stories and bold heroines.
We'll be sharing anecdotes about our journeys to publication, reading from our latest novels, and signing books.
Stay for a chat, glass of wine and light refreshments.
Books will be on sale at the discounted cash price of $20.00.
(A great Christmas present.)
Novelists go to great lengths for research gems
Good research can make or break a story, which is why you may have heard it said that you should ‘write what you know’.
One of my life mottos is I’ll try anything once. A philosophy that has provided me with a plethora of life experiences to draw on when I’m writing. Well recently I joined two-dozen romance writers for a gun day. Yes, you heard right.
We all traipsed into the wilderness (okay, that may be an exaggeration) to shoot thirteen different guns, all in the name of research. It was frightening and exhilarating, but there’s one thing for sure, there’ll be guns in our next books.
Research in general can be exhilarating, but there are two main pitfalls.
1) Most writers will tell you how easily they can be lead down the rabbit warren of investigation, following all sorts of interesting leads, and magically making hours at a time disappear.
2) Just because we’ve collated all this fascinating data, DOES NOT mean we should put it all in a book (unless it’s non-fiction). The iceberg principle is crucial when deciding what to include in a story. The writer may need to know the ins and outs of gunmanship, but the reader doesn’t care. They want only what is necessary to drive the story forward and make it come alive in their imaginations.
Of course, my research won’t stop here. When it comes to writing my next book, I’ll select the model of gun being used and I’ll do more detailed research about it. I might even talk to someone who owns one, in the hope that I’ll learn something you can’t read on the internet. Something that will take the use of that gun from a prop to a feature. And I might refer to the multitude of information snippets and links I have saved over the years for just such occasions. As Ryan Holiday says, “…you’re as rich as your database.”
So, when I write about guns, I not only have a better idea of some of the idiosyncrasies of different weapons, but know how they feel in my hand, how to load them, what they sound and smell like when fired. Oh the kick back!
A special thank you to the Myponga Pistol & Shooting Club Inc., who welcomed a gaggle of chatty women into their man cave (an impressively spacious affair with dining tables, a massive pot belly stove and a drinks bar) and took great care to teach us all the safety considerations associated with guns, as well as patiently answering our myriad of questions.
And did I mention they put on a mean barbeque lunch? You couldn’t find a more good-natured bunch.
Check out this fantastic article by Ryan Holiday: How I did research for 3 New York Times Best Selling Authors (in my spare time). I particularly like the bit about getting the most from your internet searches.
Over to you
What interesting life experience have you had that could make its way into a story?
Custody Combat is my next Romantic Suspense
My latest WIP is a romantic suspense story called 'Custody Combat'.
It all started with the question: how far would you go to save a child that wasn’t yours?
Kindergarten teacher, Neve, hates everything money stands for, since a drunk driver killed half her family and bribed her way out of jail.
She lives with her father, who has a Big Brother complex and can't cope with the modern world. Their home is secluded and simple, and their lifestyle relatively self-sufficient.
Micah is the seventh richest man in Australia. He controls a multi-billion dollar empire, but can't keep his ex-wife and their son on his radar, so hires a Private Investigator to track them.
When Micah, arrives in the rural town of Turners Gully, Neve is embroiled in a custody dispute. The situation becomes dire when Micah's son, Rowan, is kidnapped.
Neve and Micah will have to pool their resources to meet the ransom deadline and save Rowan. What they hadn't planned on was a confrontation where they'd have to choose which loved one they save. An impossible choice.
Read a sample here
I love courageous heroines who know how to take care of themselves. They don't need a man to sweep them off their feet or save them. They want a man who will fight beside them and see them as an equal.
Neve's father is a military veteran and taught her how to defend herself and live off the land. By day she takes care of four-year-old children. She has a heart of gold and is well loved in the rural township of Turners Gully. But don't underestimate her, because she can do as many chin-ups as any man, and knows her away around a gun.
Don't miss out on more news about Neve and Micah. Join my community: Sandy’s Spitfires get exclusive content and be the first to hear about new releases.
Include this link on your website (www.sandyvaile.com) and let me know, so I can return the favour.
Share this post with your social media friends.
Stir the Pot. Treat back story as a pungent spice.
When back story is sprinkled modestly onto your prose, stirred well to conceal its presence, and brewed until the flavours coalesce, you will create layered characters that your reader will engage with.
But, if back story is explained to the reader, or revealed in large lump, it can feel like SHOUTY CAPITALS. You will either make the reader roll their eyes at the obvious disclosure, or send them to sleep.
Benefits of seamless back story
* Maintain story pace.
* Reduce the amount of explaining (otherwise known as the dreaded telling instead of showing).
* Get the reader to empathise with the character enough to make them care about the outcome of her predicament.
* Make your reader eager to find out more.
What is back story?
Back story is the base line from which you can show a change in your character by the end of the story. Usually, back story includes secrets, shame and regrets — all powerful tools to create internal conflict — none of which the character wants to reveal. So, you’ll have to tease it out of her slowly.
It encompasses any event that occurred to any character in your story before the moment it starts. However, the author should only be concerned with significant events that shaped the character into the person he is today. All of these events have affected his personality, morals, innermost fears, hopes for the future, and misguided views of the world.
I like to look at back story as a nice filtered coffee. To avoid a bitter after taste, you need to let it percolate and permeate your story. (For more information about the “osmosis method”, enquire about doing my back story workshop).
The first step
I like to develop a character history for each of my characters, because it’s important to understand where each one of them is coming from. The story length and importance of the character in it, the more detailed the back story.
Context is critical
The reader doesn’t need to know about the horse riding lessons John had when he was six years old… unless he’s a jackaroo, or falling in love with a dressage master.
You may have created an amazing back story for your character, but the reader doesn’t care unless it’s related to what’s happening in the story.
For example, in Inheriting Fear, Mya suffered at the hands of an alcoholic father. The reader doesn’t need to see every time he came home drunk, or every argument, or every bruise on his wife’s cheek. Instead, I chose a single incident that had a profound effect on her.
Also take care to make back story relevant to the immediate situation. You don’t tend to think of a past event out of the blue, rather it is triggered by something you see, hear or do. So it should be with your characters, or the revelation will feel awkward.
How much is overpowering?
Remember, spices should be used modestly, or the strong flavours can overwhelm your dish. Back story should also be applied by the pinch.
The best method is to sprinkle a little back story often in the beginning. Intertwine it with the front story (that’s the life your character is living in the story), until it’s so infused with every other element of character, plot, setting and pace, that the reader doesn’t realise they’re getting to know him so well, until they feel his emotional pain.
For some reason, writers tend to forget the “show, don’t tell” mantra when they need to squeeze historic character information into their stories. Avoid large info dumps and giving too much away too soon.
* Perhaps the most obvious is flashbacks, where the character day dreams about something that happened to them in the past. Keep them brief. Here’s an example from Inheriting Fear: A long time ago she decided no man was going to beat her the way she’d watched her mother get beaten.
* Dialogue is a good, interactive way of revealing back story, but don’t be over obvious. Example: “As you know, Bob, I used to be a rodeo clown”.
* Other characters can be a very useful device, because they can ask lots of questions, or might even know a secret about the main character.
* Reflection and mirroring. Use what is happening in the front story to illustrate back story.
* Subtly hinting at back story, using the character’s physical and emotional responses to what’s happening around them.
Hopefully you are now suitably armed to give your latest story a stir to make sure the back story is well and truly blended, making for a mouth-watering read.
Don’t hesitate to ask me any other questions you have about back story.
Want to stay in touch? Join Sandy’s Spitfires: get behind the scenes content and be the first to hear about new releases.
Unearth story gems
Ever wondered how authors gather all the fascinating information you see in their stories? Is it fact or fiction? Well, put your ballet-flats on, because we’re going to sneak up on a few authors in action and peer over their shoulders to discover the truth.
Previously — in Artistic licence: from tweek a little to utter balderdash — I spoke about just how far an author can stretch reality and still get buy-in from readers. This time I’m going to investigate how to mine the truth from obscure sources, and use it like a smattering of diamonds to make your story sparkle.
Many authors expend a great deal of effort seeking the truth. (Some even utilise the librarian gene as a tool for procrastination.) Often gems of wisdom and previously un-thought-of details and subplots can emerge from the fascinating facts uncovered during research ventures. Still, there is a fine line to walk between adding authenticity and an information dump.
Nothing sends me in search of a cup of tea faster than the obvious injection of mind-numbing facts into a fictional story. I want to be transported to an exciting and emotionally anguished story with my new imaginary friends. So, it’s time to break out the old ice-berg principal. An author may unearth an enormous chunk of cold hard facts, but it’s advisable to only sprinkle 10% of them into the story. Just enough to make the story real to the reader.
Luckily, authors use research material in all sorts of ways, so from a single research bender ideas may stem for multiple stories, characters, underlying themes, or just details to add to existing plots.
Now that we know the truth is out there (sorry couldn’t help this X-files reference), how do authors find it? An author needs to be her own private investigator, to track mere traces of interest and root out the cause and effect. By collecting copious amounts of subject matter the author can understand it thoroughly, but just because she knows how to select the best gun, field strip and fire it, doesn’t mean the reader needs to.
Many authors build a library of information that is relevant to their genre. (Being able to lay her hands on the right piece of information at the appropriate time is another blog all together, where organisational and cataloguing techniques come into play.) All kinds of good stuff is buried deep, and these are the facts you want. Everyone else can Google the same subject and come up with the same initial list of resources and facts. What authors want is to scrape the icing off the cake to find out what the flavour is underneath. To dig deep for gems of fruit and chocolate chips that will make their story stand out from the rest.
Knowing which trails to follow and which to disregard is a skill honed over time, but gut feeling and a dash of speed reading will help no end. It’s a gift to be able to see unlikely subject connections and where apparently unrelated ideas intersect.
For example, you may be researching bathing habits of the 1400’s when you stumble across a newspaper article about a gentleman who drowned in his bath tub and wet foot prints that were too small to be his, were found at the scene. As you follow this research trail you discover hearsay about a female serial murderer, whose MO is drowning. Now there’s a great story waiting to be told.
This is the most obvious and prolific tool for seeking information, but not everything out there is fact. An astute author will always double-check important facts. When using search engines remember, less is more with key words. Although, more specific words will help reduce the white noise of irrelevant information.
Seek out experts in the subject matter and interview them. Make sure you prepare some questions and know what you want to get out of the exchange, because the interviewees time is as precious as yours. One of the benefits of face-to-face interviews is that you can explain what you are trying to achieve in your book. Often these discussions bring forth tangents of information that you didn’t know existed.
Ask your friends and acquaintances if they can help. You’ll be surprised what obscure subjects they know about, from sports to musical instruments, operating a back hoe to yoga.
Remember those heavy paper things that smell a bit musty and woody? Visit a library and rediscover them, because there’s a book on every topic you can think of. Come to think of it, there’s probably a magazine and a club too. Don’t stop there, delve into science and scholarly journals.
Time to peek over shoulders
Carla Caruso had to do research for her Astonvale cosy suspense series with Harper Collins. Carla read a newspaper article about some local women who worked in the industry and how they often became ‘accidental counsellors’, because going through people’s possessions can also mean dealing with a tonne of emotional baggage. From that, the idea for a mystery series just took hold and wouldn’t let go. What other job would have you going through the deep, dark corners of another person’s closet, under their bed and beyond?
Before she started writing, Carla interviewed a few professional organisers to find out about the nitty-gritty of their day jobs. She also read Gail Blanke’s book, “Throw Out Fifty Things”, which encouraged Carla to do a bit of a clean-out of her own!
Rowena Holloway undertook a time consuming language study for her latest release ‘All That’s Left Unsaid’. Now that’s dedication! She wanted to capture the cadence of the language so that her Italian characters sounded authentic and didn’t slip into cliché accents or overused Italian phrases. What Rowena discovered was so much more than verb drills. Her teacher explained the language through examples of Italian culture: “I learned that cappuccino is only consumed at breakfast, that when meeting it is customary to shake hands over the phrase ‘piacere’, and that when first names are exchanged a native Italian will say ‘now we speak to each other as friends’—a sign to use the less formal ‘tu’ forms of verbs when speaking. I also learned it takes more than a year of weekly lessons to master the language!”
Sandy Vaile (yes that's me). I interviewed a detective, coroner and fireman for my latest book, as well as drawing on my own experience as a cook, motorbike enthusiast, and with the devastation of alcoholism on families. Check out 'Inheriting Fear' here.