Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Fregoli Delusion: Progress Report #2

As I mentioned in my previous post last night, this week I began to write the third novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, The Fregoli Delusion, and I promised to provide a running commentary on my progress.

Today was a family-related day, so I spent less time than yesterday at the keyboard. As I mentioned in a much earlier post, I'm the primary caregiver for my remaining parent, who has Alzheimer's Disease. We've been fortunate to be able to arrange home care every day and now the amount of time I'm responsible for meal preparation, dispensing meds and so on has been reduced. Today I went over to the apartment and did the housework, vacuumed and cleaned the floors, did the dishes, prepared the meds for the week, went shopping for a few things missing from the fridge, then had a nice visit.

So today my output was only two pages. But I feel very good about it, and I'll tell you why. When I woke up this morning I felt terrific, energized. Although I knew a big chunk of time would be spent away from home, I also knew exactly what I would write today. I could feel it. I couldn't wait to get to the keyboard. The outline, you see, is my friend. It keeps the story living inside my brain like a shimmering, bright thread. It's like listening to your favourite song. An interruption comes and you press Pause, but the song is still bouncing in your head and when the interruption is over and you press Play, it carries on exactly where you left off.

I love this. When I'm writing a book, when it's Game On and the story is getting told, I feel very alive. Everything around me resonates. I turn on the radio and they're talking about something that catches my interest. I turn the pieces around in my head, wondering if I can fit them in somewhere. I see a face on the street and a character begins to stir in my mind. My brain is on hyperdrive and everything is fuel.

Today I began Chapter Five. This chapter is important in the early portion of the book because it will relate to a significant theme regarding Karen Stainer and her devotion to law enforcement. Karen is aggressive, tough, and self-confident but not everyone thinks it's a good idea to be a police Lifer. The Job can consume you, if you're not careful. Cross the line between cop and civilian, go too far, and you might never find your way back. Has this happened to Karen? This theme is part of the overall story arc of the series.

Chapters must begin well. Much has been said, in the context of literary agents and attracting notice, that the first five pages of your novel are crucially important. The axiom states that if the first five pages suck, chances are the rest of the manuscript will suck. There's a certain truth to this notion, at least as far as the corollary is concerned, in that if your first five pages are good, they set the tone for a good book. In the same way I believe that the first few pages of each chapter must also work well. They must establish the tone of the chapter, identify clearly to the reader what's happening next, and bring them right into the fun.

This chapter finds Hank Donaghue arriving at a particularly horrific crime scene in Chinatown where a home invasion has resulted in four homicides. It will turn out that the case belongs to someone else, but Hank is there to support one of his detectives, who is in distress. I needed to set the proper tone. I only got two pages in, but I found the tone. Short sentences, few modifiers, steady movement forward. Tomorrow is a full writing day, and the rest of the chapter should get written. We will see.

As a teaser before I go, I should explain the basic premise of The Fregoli Delusion.

Fregoli Syndrome is a rare delusional misidentification syndrome, or DMS, in which a person believes that they are being persecuted by a someone who assumes multiple disguises while stalking them. In other words, they have a paranoid belief that a specific person, say John Smith, has it in for them. They will see someone else on the street, a stranger or even someone they know, and believe that this person is John Smith in disguise, plotting to do them harm.

So what would you do if you were a homicide detective investigating the murder of a very important person, you had a single witness who saw a man running from the scene and no other concrete leads, and you were told this witness suffers from Fregoli Syndrome and his testimony is worthless because the man he has identified is the person he believes is persecuting him? If you're Karen Stainer, that is, and your gut tells you the witness is reliable, despite what everyone else says?

Stick around. You're going to want to read this one when it's done.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A New Novel Begins

This week I’ve begun to write the third novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, The Fregoli Delusion.

For those of you keeping score at home, Blood Passage is the first novel in the series, published this summer by The Plaid Raccoon Press. The second novel, Marcie’s Murder, is in pageproofs. After I hear back from one more reader it will receive a last revision and a final proofreading before going to press. Fregoli, the third in the series, will hopefully be finished in draft form by April, when Marcie’s Murder is published. After passing through my team of readers and going through the usual revision and proofreading process, it will hopefully go to press in Fall 2012. That’s the plan. The upcoming year will be a very busy one, I hope.

I don’t normally talk about what I’m writing until after it’s done. This time, however, I’m going to try an experiment of sorts. I have now moved my blogging from the morning, which is when I write best, to the evenings, when I write the worst. Hold on, though, that’s not the experiment I meant. Some writers, such as David Hewson for example, blog while they’re writing their next book, and David also tweets while writing, often telling us how many words he produced that day. I plan to post a few of my experiences here on The Overnight Bestseller while writing Fregoli in the hopes that you may find it interesting to follow the ups and downs of the novel-writing process as I happen to live it over the next few months.

I’m nervous making this kind of commitment because it’s something of a risk. I could conceivably crash and burn, the story could abandon me, I could jinx myself and develop a severe case of writer’s block. Who knows?

Might be interesting to stay tuned, though, to see how it goes. Don’t you think?

UPDATE #1: This week gets it off to a good start. Today I finished the fourth chapter and my word count currently stands at just over 10 k.  That's all right, I suppose, given that I hope to finish in the mid-90s. I'm not going to worry about the word count, however. I intend to follow my outline, tell this story as I want to tell it, and deal with the length of the MS afterwards.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Photo: MJ McCann
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! It's been a pleasure to make contact with so many wonderful people around the world through this amazing technological medium, and I've greatly enjoyed interacting with each and every one of you.

I wish you all good health and happiness. While we all aspire to be rich and successful in our lives, it's important at times like these to remember that our primary ambition should be to be good husbands and wives, good fathers and mothers, good sons and daughters, and good to everyone around us. Be patient, be kind, be peaceful, be loving, be good.


Friday, 23 December 2011

Follow Friday, Dec. 23, 2011

It's another edition of Follow Friday, as hosted by and This week their featured blogs are from the shadows i review and Cece's Garden of Reviews. Be sure to hop over to these fine blogs and take a look.

Today's question is: If you had to spend eternity inside the pages of a book, which book would you choose, and why?

This question definitely strikes a chord with me. When I was a kid I spent most of my spare time reading. The worlds I entered through those SF, historical and sports novels were wonderful places to be and I still remember how wistful I felt when I finished the last page and had to close the book. Soon I began to choose my books based in part on the width of the spine: the larger the book, the longer I could spend in that wonderful world.

If I had to choose one of those worlds, the one that has stayed with me the most, I'd have to choose the one created by Samuel R. Delany in his Fall of the Towers trilogy. I realize this is reaching back a ways through the years, as the three novels were published in the late 1960s and re-published in revised form as a single book under the title The Fall of the Towers in 1970, but I think if you were to find a copy today and started to read it, you'd understand what I mean when I say that this is a world not to be missed. Given that Delany wrote his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, when he was 19 and published the first novel in the Towers trilogy, Captives of the Flame, when he was 21, you can perhaps understand why this story resonated so strongly with me when I was 15.

I identified with the young fisherman's son, Tel, who ran away to the island city of Toron, capital of Toromon, and fell in with an amazing assortment of people, including the mesmerizing young acrobat Alter, Prince Let, Tel's opposite, the intellectual Clea, the poet Vol Nonik, the giant Quorl and the dwarf Lug, and of course the protagonist, Jon Koshar.  I thrilled at the danger of the plot against the young king and the risk of going into the radiation zone, I savored the poetry of Delany's prose (since he is dyslexic, it was a marvel that he wrote so magnificently!), and I brooded over the secret meaning of the Lord of the Flames. It was a wonderful place.

As an adult I enjoy re-reading many of the stories I loved when I was younger, but to be honest with you I've not been able to re-read The Fall of the Towers for a long time. In the 70s Delany made radical changes in his fiction and lost the poetry and magic that had infused his work when he was young, so I stopped following him. Toromon is now my Arcadia, remembered paradise, sacred in the past, still so very close, but now, alas, unattainable.

But I would love very much to go back there.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Writer's Methods: Point of View

You’ve been there, admit it – trying to follow a story that hops around from character to character so many times you eventually give up trying to keep them all straight. Or the story where the first-person narrator knows things about other characters he or she shouldn’t know. Or even the best-seller that switches back and forth between first-person and third-person narrative so often you lose track of which character currently holds the stage.

Point of view is, without a doubt, one of the most important elements of fiction. How you choose to narrate your story determines how your readers experience it, and for the most part the best narration is transparent and seamless: it doesn’t intrude, distract or confuse.

In previous posts I’ve discussed the use of outlines and characterization. In the former I suggested that an outline ensures control over your narrative and the objectives of each chapter you write. In the latter I discussed the difference between round characters, which are complex and can surprise you, and flat characters, which are stereotypic and predictable. Point of view takes your story to an even higher level of consistency and control where you determine exactly what the reader learns and experiences each step of the way.

Almost everyone is familiar with the basics of point of view, but it doesn’t hurt to review them briefly so that we’re all on the same page (pun intended). As M.H. Abrams explains in A Glossary of Literary Terms, “point of view signifies the way a story gets told – the perspective or perspectives established by an author through which the reader is presented with the characters, actions, setting, and events which constitute the narrative in a work of fiction.”

As an author you can use first-person narrative to bring the reader very close to the main character whose point of view they will follow throughout the story. Tone of voice, vocabulary, regional expressions, level of awareness and other elements used in first-person narrative contribute to our understanding of the personality and outlook of the hero, and they must be carefully controlled. How many times have I read a book where the first-person hero uses words in descriptive passages they would never use in dialogue? Or randomly slips in and out of slang? When using first-person, the author must maintain careful control of the narrative, because it is the very embodiment of their main character and readers demand consistency.

Third-person narrative offers another set of choices. The narrator may be omniscient, godlike in their knowledge of all things happening in the universe of this story. Omniscient narrators can be impersonal, reporting without bias, or intrusive, providing us with editorial comments, judgments and opinions in little speeches here and there, functioning almost as another character, albeit at a superior level.

Alternatively, a third-person narrator may take a limited approach, restricting our view to the main character only, telling a story much the same way as in first person but maintaining a distance, often ironic, between the narrator and the third-person central character.

How to decide among these many ways to tell your story? Many beginning writers choose first person because they don’t feel a great deal of difference between themselves as author and their narrator as hero. Sometimes, then, the inconsistencies I mentioned above creep into the story. But if a writer maintains a solid control over first person, and understands the importance of keeping a bit of distance between author and narrator (there is a difference, because this is fiction), this choice can be extremely effective because it can engage the reader much more intimately than third person. The gap between narrator and reader becomes quite small, and the reader readily identifies with your hero. Mission accomplished!

Third-person narrative gives you much more room to maneuver as a storyteller. It allows you, for example, to shift between the perspectives of hero and antagonist, or among several key characters, while still maintaining the omniscient control of the godlike narrator. Your narrator functions like the conductor of a symphony orchestra, bringing each section into the foreground in turn as the music dictates. But you must be careful not to shift among too many characters, or it will become too confusing.

This was a mistake I made in early drafts of Blood Passage, the first in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series. While using a third-person omniscient narrator, I initially told the story from the perspective of too many characters. The impulse was to allow the reader to follow the footsteps of all these characters so they would understand them better. Through the revision process I realized that some of these characters were better handled from the “outside,” rather than the “inside,” because they just weren’t important enough to drag the reader away from Donaghue and Stainer themselves. Additionally, Donaghue and Stainer were detectives, so why not let them “detect” the motivations and actions of these characters? Ah, the light begins to dawn.

Now the series is told from the perspectives of Hank Donaghue and Karen Stainer themselves, and an additional character as necessary. In Blood Passage the additional perspective is that of Peter Mah, the young traditionalist Triad figure. The objective is to present Peter as a round character and have him develop a complicated relationship with Hank  Donaghue. In Marcie’s Murder, the second novel in the series which will be published in April 2012, the additional perspective is that of Chief Billy Askew of the Harmony, Virginia police department. The perspectives of Donaghue and Stainer provide a counterpoint between two very different points of view, and the additional perspective allows my omniscient narrator a bit of room to develop the story outside the immediate awareness of the two protagonists.

We all have different comfort zones as writers. Some of us can work in either first- or third-person point of view, and some of us prefer to stick to one. Lee Child is an example of an author who can write well either way. Some of his Reacher novels are written in third person and others in first. Both approaches are very effective.

Unfortunately, some bestselling authors try to use both in the same novel. This fall Michael Connelly’s The Reversal combined his two best-known protagonists, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, in a single book. To keep them apart, Connelly told the story in first person from Mickey’s point of view – it was billed as a Lincoln Lawyer mystery, after all – and in third person from Bosch’s point of view. The result, to my mind, was a confusing patchwork quilt in which the transitions were jarring and frustrating. With each new chapter it took me a page or two to adjust to which character’s point of view was now on stage. I would definitely not recommend that you try this at home!

To me, it reinforced the importance of remaining consistent in whatever approach you choose. Consistency proves to your reader that you have a solid level of craftsmanship and that you have control over the story you want them to read. If they feel this way, they’ll trust you and commit to the fictional world through which you want to lead them.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Follow Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

It's another edition of Follow Friday, as hosted by and This week their featured blogs are Books Are Vital and Once Upon a Time. Be sure to hop over to these fine blogs and take a look.

Today's question is: When you've read a book, what do you do with it? (Keep it, give it away, donate it, sell it, swap it...?)

Oh boy, if you could see my house, you'd know I've kept pretty much every book I've ever brought home since high school. That, folks, is a lot of books. There have been days I've looked at the stacks of bestsellers and thought, you know, if you could soak those fat paperbacks in something like resin that would make them hard and water-resistant, you could build a really, really big house with them.

I've started to cut down though, more through necessity than choice, giving away bag after bag to library book sales, the Goodwill, neighbours.... There is a core collection, though, that will always be with me. A selection (okay, a BIG selection) that I treasure along with my vinyl LPs as my most valued possessions. Now, if only I can find that one in particular I've been hunting for over the past week.....!

Don't forget, loves! Today is Free Shipping Day in the USA and it's your chance to add BLOOD PASSAGE to your own collection by following this LINK to Barnes and Noble and placing your order today, just in time for Christmas!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Free Shipping Day on Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

A brief reminder to all my followers and readers in the United States that tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 16, 2011) is Free Shipping Day. This is the day on which more than 2,000 participating merchants will offer free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve in the contiguous United States.

For more information on Free Shipping Day and to find the place where I swiped the previous sentence, follow this link.

The point of this post, of course, is to draw to your attention the fact that Barnes & Noble is one of the retailers in the "Books and Media" category participating in this event tomorrow according to (apparently the other, bigger guy isn't). Which means that the opportunity has arrived to order your copy of Blood Passage in trade paperback now from Barnes & Noble and receive free shipping AND delivery of the book in time to stuff it in the stocking of your favorite crime fiction reader!

Don't pass up this opportunity to get your hands on a real, physical, glossy-cover-cream-pages-perfect-bound copy of the first novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel Series!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Indie Music Note: Dec. 11/11

Beck Goldsmith's home page
Regular followers of this blog will know that from time to time I like to post a short feature on indie musicians I happen to come across during my cyber-travels. On October 24 of this year I made note of Indie Music Filter, a terrific blog spotlighting indies such as Savoir Adore, Adam & The Amethysts, M83, and the High Highs, and on November 6 I posted on Michael Martyn of Orillia, Ontario.

Today I'd like to draw your attention to a remarkable talent I came across while reading a blog post by Karen de Lange, an indie writer whose website and short stories deserve your attention. Karen describes how she was inspired by a song recorded by Beck Goldsmith, an English indie musician originally from Nottingham. I followed the link she provided in her blog and discovered a sound I could instantly fall in love with.

Beck Goldsmith's website describes the "soundscape" she creates as "uncharacteristic of the traditional singer-songwriter. Growling textures, shifting time signatures and instrumental peculiarities all create an atmospheric backdrop to Beck’s stark lyrics and haunting voice." There are four songs available for play, and all I had to do was listen to "Shards," the song that in particular inspired Karen de Lange, and I was hooked. But just to be sure, I then listened to "Stella's Telescope." Okay. Wow. These songs are innovative, creepy, engaging and exciting all at once. When I listen to "Stella's Telesecope" again, as I just did now as I was writing this post, I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me I'm listening to something exceptionally good. All I can say is, go go go, click on the link above and listen for yourself!

I've said it before and I'll say it again (repeatedly, no doubt): the world is teeming with innovative, fresh, new independent talent that you will enjoy reading and listening to, so take a few moments to look them up and give them a try!

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Walk in the Snow

This morning the weather decided to make another attempt to cover eastern Ontario with snow. It has been a very mild fall and the snow that has fallen so far hasn't stayed. It's mild again today, hovering close to the freezing mark, but the landscape when I got up this morning was white, rather than dull green and brown, and perhaps this time it will stay.

This afternoon, after my errands in town were all done, I took my border collie out with me for a walk to the back of our property. We own a seven-acre strip in the Limerick Forest, and I thought I'd bring the camera with me to share some of the sights with you.

As I followed my path back into the forest my border collie ran on ahead, as he always does. When we go on these walks he runs like a fool the entire time and is usually out of sight. I don't worry because when I call he comes running along the path, buzzing me like a jet on a fly-over, and disappears again up ahead. It's in his nature as a border collie to love to run.

As I walked I thought about my work and what I might be able to accomplish this afternoon. I'm outlining the third novel in the Donaghue and Stainer crime novel series, and I mulled over a few decisions I need to make. By the time I took this picture on the right, however, I was thinking mostly about how quiet it was around me and how free of stress I suddenly felt. Although the snow was starting to melt in the branches above me and drip down onto my head, I decided to keep the camera out, rather than put it back into my jacket pocket as I had been doing. I was becoming completely involved in my surroundings. My brain was becoming very quiet, as quiet as the forest around me.

Once I reached the rear of my property the cigar I was smoking was half-finished. I try to time my walks accordingly, lighting the cigar in the yard when I begin a walk and putting it out when I return, so I felt I was in a good rhythm. The property behind mine consists of several hundred acres of pasture in gently rolling hills. My border collie loves this part, running in wide figure eights as though herding invisible sheep. He was out of the frame when I took this final picture, though. I was fascinated by the dusting of white snow against the dark mid-afternoon sky.

It was silent back there. I felt very much at peace. Very happy to be a participant in this remarkable world.

Monday, 5 December 2011

A Writer’s Methods: Characterization

Illustration: Tim D. McCann
 This past Friday I participated in a blog hop that featured an interesting question: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to books? As I toured the many participating book blogs I was very interested to see that a common peeve centred on poor characterization.

Many bloggers complained about stereotypically weak heroines (The Write Obsession), mean girls and cardboard villains (Alison Can Read), and protagonists who are so dumb you spend more time mentally head-slapping them than following the story (Fiction Book Reviews).

Readers crave believable characters that will hold their attention and offer  more food for thought than what you’ll find in Saturday morning cartoons.

As a former lit student I’ve always kept in mind the distinction E.M. Forster made in Aspects of the Novel between flat characters and round characters. A flat character is built around a “single quality or idea” and doesn’t receive much development through the course of the novel, whereas a round character is “complex in temperament and motivation” and is capable of surprising us as the novel progresses. In other words, you could describe a flat character with a single sentence but would struggle to sum up a round character in a paragraph. (See M.H. Abrams, “Character and Characterization,” A Glossary of Literary Terms, for a good summary.)

As a reader I grow bored very quickly with predictable, flat characters, particularly in fiction that is meant to challenge me as an educated adult. As a writer I try very hard to ensure my characters have a roundness that will sustain and engage readers. Homicide Lieutenant Hank Donaghue and Detective Karen Stainer might appear on the surface to be a typical male-female odd couple, with Donaghue as the cultured, calm one and Stainer as his hot-blooded, foul-mouthed foil, but readers will find they have depths and complexities only glimpsed at in the first novel and follow-up short stories such as “Knock and Talk” and “The Long Snapper.” In the same way, readers are cautioned not to assume that Triad Red Pole Peter Mah is simply a cold-blooded, vengeful executioner. His relationships with other people, particularly with Donaghue, make him difficult to pigeon-hole. The story arc of this series will provide many opportunities to explore these characters in more depth, to decide whether you like them or dislike them, with plenty of time to change your mind before you're done.

Life sometimes seems to be the same story told over and over again, but people are always complex. We can never be entirely sure we understand the human being next to us. Shouldn’t our fictional characters engage us the same way?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Follow Friday, Dec. 2, 2011

It's another edition of Follow Friday, as hosted by and This week their featured blogs are Lalane's Fiction Book Reviews and Lauren Gets Literal. Be sure to hop over to these fine blogs and take a look.

Today's question is one to get us up and hoppin' for sure. What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to books?

1. Prologues. I can't stand picking up a book I haven't read before and thumbing to the first page to get that first delicious taste, only to discover I have to get through a bunch of preliminary stuff before I can start reading the actual story. I went on about this in an earlier post.....

2. Stories that spend too much time on the point of view of the evil, insane bad guy. To take one quick example, I was much more interested in the point of view of Clarisse Starling than Hannibal Lecter....