GUEST POST BY LESLIE NAGEL
ABOUT THE BOOKWhat’s the couple next door really hiding? Vintage fashionista and amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter finds out in this engrossing cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Book Club Murders.
In a small town like Oakwood, Ohio, everyone knows everyone else’s business—except for Charley Carpenter’s standoffish new neighbors, who tend to keep to themselves. But behind closed doors, Paxton Sharpe’s habit of screaming bloody murder at all hours of the day keeps Charley awake all night. Coupled with the stress of the increasingly delayed expansion of her shop, Old Hat Vintage Fashions, the insomnia is driving Charley crazy. Her only distraction? The local paper’s irreverent new advice column, “Ask Jackie.”
Jackie’s biting commentary usually leaves Charley and her employees rolling on the floor, but her latest column is no laughing matter. An oddly phrased query hinting at a child in peril immediately puts Charley on high alert. After arriving home to a bloodcurdling scream next door, she follows the noise into the basement and makes a grisly discovery: the body of Judith Sharpe’s adult daughter.
With Detective Marcus Trenault off in Chicago, Charley decides to take matters into her own hands. Convinced that the murder is connected to the desperate plea for help in “Ask Jackie,” she embarks on a twisted investigation that has her keeping up with the Sharpes—before a killer strikes again.
Title: The Advice Column Murders
Author: Leslie Nagel
Genre: Cozy mystery, 3rd in series
Series: The Oakwood Mystery series
Publisher: Alibi (April 3, 2018)
Print Length: 250 pages
On tour with: Great Escapes Book Tours
GUEST POST BY LESLIE NAGEL
Write What You Know? Yes . . . And No
Let’s talk about method acting. The core of “The Method” is emotional analogy. When you want to play a part in a convincing way, you must feel the emotions of your character. Sometimes that requires living the life of that character, literally walking a mile in her or his shoes. So, if you’re tasked with playing the part of a killer, do you go out and bump somebody off?
Thankfully, that won’t be necessary.
Instead, you try to resurrect the most homicidal feeling you’ve ever had and bring that sense of all-consuming rage to the part. It doesn’t take much – a memory of having your new car sideswiped in a parking lot could suffice, IF that memory is enough to bring your blood to the boiling point.
So how does emotional analogy apply to writing fiction?
“Write what you know” is both one of the best, and one of the most misunderstood, pieces of advice, ever. It encourages new writers to keep their setting and characters grounded in familiar territory, which hopefully translates into relatable, believable stories.
But it also paralyzes aspiring authors into thinking that authenticity in fiction means thinly veiled autobiography. If you’re a drunken, brawling adventurer like Hemingway, no problem. If you, like Jane Austen, are a gentlewoman living in a world obsessed with the marriageability of young women and the suitability of their admirers, you need merely to gaze out your window for inspiration.
But what about the rest of us? Do I only write books about being a part time teacher and raising a couple of kids? Of course not. How boring would that be to write, much less read? Conversely, have I ever killed a bunch of people and arranged them like scenes from favorite mystery books? I have not. But I wrote about it, and quite convincingly, according to my readers. How did I do that?
Well, has Andy Weir (The Martian) ever been stranded in space? Did Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) live in a future dominated by an immersive video game? NO, and NO. Yet both novels are authentic and convincing. How did they do that?
I don’t mean to suggest that writing about the world you know is a mistake. If you are a new writer still mastering your craft, I highly recommend it. After all, I set my Oakwood Mystery Series in my very real hometown. It’s relatively easy for me to describe the sights, smells, sounds, the people, even the weather, allowing me to focus on planting all those red herrings.
However, “write what you know” isn’t just about the five senses. It’s also about the six sense: emotions. You can write a scene about two people standing in your kitchen having an unexpected moment of romantic connection. You can describe their appearance. It’s your kitchen: you can describe the scene right down to the teacups, curtains and pot holders hanging on the wall.
But if you’ve never had a crazy crush, if you’ve never made eye contact with a sexy someone and felt the blush heat your cheeks before setting your pulse racing and your tummy fluttering, your scene will fall flat. However, if you connect emotionally with your characters, you can put your story on Pluto, and readers will buy into it one hundred percent.
I teach writing at a local college. Of the five steps of the writing process, I find prewriting is the most neglected. But prewriting is exactly how to get you where you want to go. Remember the emotional analogy of method acting?
As you prepare to write your scene:
1. Evoke a memory that mirrors the emotions your character is feeling. (Nobody feeling anything? Reduce that exposition to one line and get to the good stuff.)
2. When you have that memory, you need to dwell there for awhile. Think about the five senses you experienced while living it. Take your time. Then grab a pen and begin generating an emotional word bank.
Your heroine is walking down the hall toward a closed door. “She walked down the red carpeted hall toward the closed door.” Okay, despite the adjectives, I am asleep. WHY is she doing it? What is on the other side of that door?
Let’s say she’s heading in there to pick a fight. Before you write a line, you need to think of the last time you got in a good, heated shouting match. Then begin to generate emotional words for your word bank. Here are a few of mine (I fight a lot): Stomp, Shout, Heat, Black, Fury, Slam, Idiot, Stupid, Hands Sweating, Red, Tight Throat, Silently, Scream, Rejection, Anger, Fear, Burning, Interruption, Savagely, Slash.
This process should also take a while. Start with a few, leave it, come back. Ultimately you’ll have a lot of sensory words that stem from your emotions.
Notice that I’ve got adjectives, nouns, adverbs and verbs in there. This is a BRAIN DUMP; nothing is off limits. Anything and everything that remotely comes to mind as you live that scene in your head goes into your word bank.
Stuck? Try switching places with another player in the scenario. Who is waiting behind that closed door? Watch yourself reacting through their eyes as whatever happened, happens to you.
Take a look at your list. If you’ve worked it hard, you’ll discover something interesting. While you dwelt in that emotional memory, the other five senses crept in! And that is the secret of writing what you know. Armed with a list of sensory words brimming with the feelings you want your characters to convey, you are now equipped to write a scene that will vibrate with emotional authenticity, a scene that will come alive for your reader.
I leave you to imagine your heroines, hallways and everything that lies behind that closed door. If you’re feeling it as you write, your readers will, too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leslie Nagel is a writer and teacher of writing at a local community college. Her debut novel, The Book Club Murders, is the first in the Oakwood Mystery Series. Leslie lives in the all too real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where murders are rare but great stories lie thick on the ground. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son, and daughter, hiking, tennis, and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.
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