Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: How Many Ways Can You Kill Someone?

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: How Many Ways Can You Kill Someone?

I was thinking about this today as I wrote one of Tara's many visions. I was also thinking about it as I wrote the piece about my search history (found here) and the one about the things I really shouldn't know (found here). As a crime writer, there are some things that cross both of those subjects and then there's others than come into their own little bubble. Working out a myriad of different ways to kill someone is one of those things.

I wasn't always someone who would look at a case on TV and wonder how to describe that kind of murder. I was always someone who liked crime and mystery media - both books and TV shows - but I like to think that I didn't always wonder about death and destruction and the many different ways you could inflict harm upon a person. Of course, my parents would probably disagree as I was always kinda fascinated by death. I would probably have called it childhood intrigue, but it was rather unhealthy.

So, I decided that when it came to writing my own books, I would delve into the dark recesses of my mind and exploit my own little "hobby" and start to put fictional characters through these things. I know that makes it sound like I'm both a psychopath and a sociopath in that I'm admitting that I enjoy putting people through pain and eventually killing them. I'm not, and I can assure you that I'd never actually do this to a living soul.

My biggest problem now is not that I can't get creative with death, murder and all other kinds of grisly things, more that while I am creative, I have my limits. There is only so much torment a human body can bear and bringing someone to the brink of death and then pulling them back is something that you can only do a handful of times before it starts to get a bit ridiculous. I know that when writing the DYING THOUGHTS series, I have sometimes found myself struggling to make Tara's cases both unique yet believable. I don't like to repeat myself too much, but at the same time, these are generally cases that I'm saying regular people in the police force would see and sometimes, let's face it, murder repeats.

For me it's not just about finding a new way to kill someone, but it's also about the killer's motives behind choosing that manner of death. Is it revenge? Spur of the moment? Are they actually a serial killer who has chosen their own mode of operations and stuck to it? How much forensic evidence are they leaving? Why is Mike calling on Tara? Is there another way it could have happened? What would the victim feel and see at this point? These are all valid questions that I have to answer on a case by case basis and sometimes, it's hard to know the answers until you're actually writing the story.

That said, when it comes to the regular cases that Tara works, I usually have them all planned out before I even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard in my case). I'm a meticulous planner as mentioned before (a piece about my planning can be found here) and so once I've done the chapter plan and know exactly how many "normal" cases she'll work, I make a note card with all the details about it there ready to be used when I come to that point in the story. However, like I said, some details about it all don't come to me until I've got to the point writing where she's about to have the vision (and sometimes it's WHILE she has the vision) and for those things, it's back to my old friend - Google.

Of course though, there are only a limited number of ways to kill someone even when you do get creative. Shooting, stabbing, poisoning, bludgeoning and suffocation are just a small selection of the ways a person can be killed, but if you're going to do all of those things, pretty soon you'll have a dead person with whom you're just going through the motions. As Tara's gift only works until the person expires, I find that there is little need for me to work out all the details of the crime. Mike's job is to find all of that and mine is to plant the seed, which I have to admit is one of the perks of the job.

When it comes to the overall plot and "case of the book" as it were, that's when things can start to get creative. It's not always a murder that runs through the book and sometimes it's not even a crime that Tara can solve on her own with her visions. As she's developed as a character, I've found other ways to keep her focused on what matters - catching the bad guy without getting killed herself. If you look at some of my other books, BLACKOUT or LYNNE & HOPE for example, they both have crimes that would have been outside of Tara's purview and so while I like to give Tara a good murder or two to work through, I also enjoy putting other characters in situations that don't involve blood and gore.

I think it was a friend of mine who said that one of the perks of being a crime writer is getting to kill people for a living...I don't disagree, it's just that with me writing young adult fiction, people kinda look at you sideways when you say you enjoy torturing teenagers! Can you really blame them?

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Things I Shouldn't Know

The Trials of a Cirme Writer: Things I Shouldn't Know

As with my last piece on this subject about my internet search history (found here), there are things about certain topics that I shouldn't have any knowledge of. I mean, the average crime reader these days has some idea about Forensics - even someone who casually watches something like CSI or NCIS knows that too. People often say that criminals are getting smarter, but I think it has more to do with the fact that there is often a play book on the TV or online that shows how to do certain things and not get caught.

Now the majority of my books that deal with crime have a murder plot. It's rare that I deal with any other kinds of crime, other than in passing. My latest book, WAITING ON YOU, is one of the exceptions to that rule. While I wouldn't class it as a crime or mystery book at all, it does include some aspects of criminal behaviour, which of course means that you have to either have watched enough of CASTLE or THE BILL to have some idea about what the police would do in those circumstances. It's not all blood, guts and gore.

However, there are some things that I have no business knowing. I touched on it slightly when writing the other piece in this series about search histories. I shouldn't know that there may not be something called the "perfect" crime, but there are possibilities that come pretty damn close. I am an avid consumer of procedural crime show - I love NCIS and CASTLE and will pretty much give anything a watch a few times if it's crime related and has piqued my interest. I also have numerous books on the subject - both fact and fiction and use those to plot murders (I'll have another piece talking about that) as well as what kind of things police look for when they arrive at the scene of a crime.

Due to the fact that the DYING THOUGHTS series focuses on Tara's ability to see the last moments of someone's life, I do deal a lot with the grisly details of death. I have a pretty good idea how long it would take to alert passers-by to a body on a hot summer day. I know the various stages of decomp, and while I'm nowhere near ready to start separating DNA samples and comparing them to suspects, I also have some idea how a crime lab works from my book, LYNNE & HOPE. These are all things that interest me, and are relevant to my job, but still, I wonder how much of it I just shouldn't know!

In one of the books I'm working on now, there have been a string of violent assaults and deaths. While the deaths are pretty straight forward, the beatings and violence have needed a creative mind. I didn't want the attackers to have a plan. I wanted them to try new things and use different weapons, so at one point they will have used bleach to blind and chemically burn someone, another time they will have just kicked, hit and slashed until they were happy with the damage caused. In another work in progress, I am dealing with a series of violent sexual assaults and murders. Whilst I did want an MO for these attacks, I also wanted them to escalate, starting with just kidnappings, moving onto violent rape, and then onto murder.

These are subjects that require a lot of creative thought and I don't know whether to be proud or horrified that I haven't really struggled to think up new scenarios for each of these pieces. There are some parts of the job that make me question the state of my own mind and staring at bodies in different states of decomposition is one of them. I guess you could say that I've always been rather morbid and at least I'm only killing people in print. Still, you do have to wonder. As they say in CASTLE, there are two kinds of people who sit around thinking up ways to kill people: Mystery writers and psychopaths. I think to think I'm the first.

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Monday, 14 April 2014

Author Blog Tour: The Writing Process


Firstly I'd like to thank Kerry Kijewski who invited me to join her on this blog hop. She introduced me last week on her blog here. Here's some info about Kerry!

I was born blind, but have never allowed anything to stop me from doing what I love. I love to write. It is how I express myself and attempt to make sense of the world around me.
I have a Certificate in Creative Writing. I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and am working on my first book. I also write short stories, memoir, and a blog. My motto has always been to share my view of the world with others through my writing. You can find Kerry on her blog or on Facebook, or Twitter.

Now onto the questions!

1) What am I working on?
Right now I'm working on two different books - approaching the end with both. One is a standalone about four teens looking to end a string of attacks and murders within the LGBTQIPA+ community and finding that they themselves may fall victim to them. The second is the sixth in the DYING THOUGHTS series. Tara, having recently gone through a trauma of her own is learning how life changes. She's out of school and in college with her dad rising back up to fame.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
All of my books are young adult fiction and while they don't always stick to the same pattern, they do have their own uniqueness about them. One reviewer of my work has likened me to Judy Blume, where another says my books are little snippets of teenage life. I feel that I have a different perspective to bring to young adult crime and paranormal fiction. I like to go different places than other writers.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write YA because I love the period in life when you're faced with all these different opportunities but don't have the know how or life experience to make them and know they are the right ones for you. I love being able to send young teens on an adventure and allow them to get to know where they draw the line between right and wrong. How much is too much? When do the risks stop outweighing the benefits? I've always also been interested in some aspects of the paranormal and my writing allows me to explore some of that.

4) How does your writing process work?
My writing process is complicated and easy at the same time. I don't have any set days where I write, I am a uni student as well and that always takes precedence. Some days I'll write for hours, others I'll sit and type a bit here and a bit there. I set myself four chapters a fortnight - two of each book - and sometimes I'll manage them as well as bonus ones, other times it's like pulling teeth to get the words onto the page. I write because I love it, I love creating and I love knowing that people read and enjoy my work. Some days I just have to remind myself to breath, that the words will come and the story will be told. It just takes time.

Now, I've passed the torch to three other talented authors. Their profiles are below.

First we have Amber Skye Forbes, author of "WHEN STARS DIE"

Amber is a dancing writer who prefers pointe shoes over street shoes, leotards over skirts, and ballet buns over hairstyles. She loves striped tights and bows and will edit your face with a Sharpie if she doesn't like your attitude. She lives in Augusta, Georgia where she writes dark fiction that will one day put her in a psychiatric ward...again. But she doesn't care because her cat is a super hero who will break her out.  Check out her website, her blog, on Tumblr, or follow her on Facebook. You can also add her book on Goodreads here.

Second is Erin Rycer, author of "MARKED FILE"

E.J. Rycer lives north of Boston in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley with her husband. With his support and the support of her close friends and family, E.J. finally decided to follow her life-long dream of becoming an author.

For updates on upcoming work and to follow E.J.’s continuing journey as an author you can find her online in the following places: Facebook, her blog, and Goodreads 

And finally is Angella Graff, author of the "JUDAS CURSE" series, as well as the "ALEXANDRA FRY: PRIVATE EYE" series. Her books can be found on Amazon here.

Angella Graff was born and raised in the desert city of Tucson, Arizona. She married and became a mother very young, and after getting started with her family, began her University studies where she found her passion for creative writing, history and theology.

She now resides in Tucson with her husband Joshua, three children, Christian, Isabella and Adia, and their two cats, Archive (Ivy), and Lasciel. She prefers to spend her days writing, gardening, and reading non-fiction theology theory books. Angella is also an avid, if not fanatic fan of Doctor Who and BBC Sherlock, which tend to dominate her dry, sarcastic humor, a lot of which is apparent in her writing.

Currently Angella is working on an Urban Fantasy series called The Judas Curse, involving extensive research into Mythos, Christianity and history.

You can follow Angella on Facebook, her blog, or her official website.

Remember to check out these three awesome writers next Monday for their own pieces on their writing process!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Search History

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Search History

I often wonder what would happen if I were to be suspected of a crime, and the police were to seize my computer and check what I'd been looking at. Is the fact that
I'm a crime writer really going to answer to their queries as to why I was wondering how much damage industrial strength bleach could do to a person? What about when they discover the pages I looked at telling me what happens in the moments after death? Or the ones about how much acid would be needing to dissolve a body? Or even the ones looking for answers as to whether there is such as thing as a perfect murder?

Sure, I write YA fiction, but that doesn't mean the facts have to be any less accurate! I do wonder though, if I became famous, would I get away with killing a few people and claiming my search history was research? I'm not a psychopath, officer, I was just checking for my latest novel! I also wonder about the times that I've tested a theory. I'm sure those who have written their own crime novels have done something similar. They've handcuffed themselves and worked out how easy it would be to pick the lock, or they've put a tight zip tie binding their wrists and have to stay sat down whilst they slowly saw their way out with a pen knife...or is that just me?

It's all part of the learning curve and while it does take some time, you eventually start to realise that if you were to go on a murder spree, you would probably have a better idea about what to do with the body or bodies than the average person. I won't give you my perfect murder because I might need to use it one day and I find that putting these things online make the lawyers start the throw around the word "premeditated"!

Then again, it's not just the grisly crime stuff that litters my bookmarked pages and recently viewed history. I also have a pretty good idea about how an autopsy is performed, the manner of a corner's inquest in the UK and the pecking order in the CID branch of a police station. I also know, after years of wondering, what CID actually stands for: Criminal Investigative Division, though technically, isn't that the job of every police

I know where to hide a body to aid decomp, I know how to estimate time of death and I know various other tests to work out drug levels and other interesting facts once someone has died. I know how to hide the taste of certain poisons, or how to make a murder look accidental and I also know that if I keep going, then one day I may end up regretting posting this piece on the internet for all the world to see.

So, let's be honest. I could probably pick my way out of handcuffs and I know how a lock works, but at the same time, it's purely research. I don't intend to break into someone's house and commit the perfect crime. For one, I think it would be a lot more effort than just writing about it. I've seen a lot of quotes about crime writers and their search histories. One that springs to mind is this: "I became a writer because kidnapping people and forcing them to act out your plots is technically illegal". Only technically because if done right, no one would ever have to know!

I've killed a lot of people, all in print, all in various different ways. I have another piece planned about how many different ways you can kill someone. It's rather interesting when I'm writing the case details for Tara in the DYING THOUGHTS series because I don't like to repeat too many scenarios, I like to keep people guessing, which means that I have to go on the internet and search - or at least I do for the ones I haven't already thought of. Be warned though, I may not be a danger in person, but in print? My keyboard is loaded
and I'm not afraid to use it.

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Monday, 7 April 2014

Why Is Representation Important? - The Creative Process

(Image Source)

Why is Representation Important?
If I'm only able to achieve one thing with my writing, I would be happy for it to be the opportunity to show people that they can see themselves in my characters. One thing that's important for all forms of media is that they portray everyday people. Whether they are disabled or able bodied; black or white; religious or not; gay, straight, transgendered or bisexual; man, woman or gender-queer; from all different ethnicities. It's important for people of all ages to be able to read, watch and play media that allows them to see themselves in the story. Representation in the media is important for everyone.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about how few female characters there are that are anything but white. Of how many disabled people are equally represented in the films they see, the games they play and the books they read. I could go on and list all the minorities in the world who face oppression and erasure from these platforms, but I think you can tell who I'm talking about. As a white, bisexual, disabled female, I have experienced some of that erasure. While I cannot and will not talk for those who are not me, I can say that in general terms, there is a need to be recognised as a person. That means that there is a need for people reading books to be able to see their own struggles and achievements shown in their genre of choice.

I recently wrote a piece on being a disabled writer (found here) and have spoken somewhat about how young disabled adults and children need to see that just because you have a disability, it doesn't mean your life is over and that you will never amount to anything. As a young adult author, it is important to me that I am able to share characters who have disabilities. As a bisexual woman, I need to be able to do the same there as well. Diversity in fiction is not a bad thing. Why should the default character be a white man or woman? A young black teenager should be able to read a book and not have to accept that they will always be a background character, nor should a gender-queer teenager, or a disabled teenager. I'm not saying that all my characters are from minority groups, but I like to think that there is a mixture of them. I know that one of the books I am working on at the moment has people from a whole array of different ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. I can't speak for people from ethnic minorities using my own voice, as that is not my story to tell, but that doesn't mean I should ignore their oppression when I write about these characters and so there has been a lot of research involved, including a large amount of discussion with people from minority groups.

I am disabled though, and I do see a minor amount of disabled characters who don't fit a certain stereotype. I can think of three or four of my books that either have a major character who has a disability of some kind and I know that I will continue to write those characters because I feel that it is my duty to show the young disabled people of this generation that there are people like them who achieve greatness and that with a disability, you are not always condemned to living in the background, out of the limelight. I'm not saying all of this to toot my own horn and collect my trophy for making some of my characters deal with disability. I'm saying this because it's high time that the number of main characters in fiction reflect the number of disabled people in real life. The same goes for those who are a part of any other minority.

Representation matters and it's down to people in charge of the flow of media, such as writers, artists, record labels, toy companies, game designers and so on to start realising that it's no longer acceptable to push people from minority groups into the background, to make them 'redshirts', loveless extras, or the butt of jokes. The young people growing up now need to be able to see a character on the screen at the cinema or on the TV or in their favourite book or even simply in magazine adverts and think "that person's just like me!"

It is 2014, the twenty-first century, and racism is still rampant, gay rights are still being fought for, transgendered and gender-queer people are still scared for their lives, are still abused and ignored, and there is still a wage gap between men and woman. Isn't it time we took a step back and thought about all of this? Realised what we are telling the next generation? That unless they are a white, Western man, then they don't matter. Their needs are not important. They don't need role models because they're always going to be "background" characters. Is that really what we should be telling our children? I, for one, don't think so.

So, yes, representation is very important. The internet is full of places to research and opportunities to talk to people from minority groups, and while it is not their job to educate us just because we demand they do, there are still numerous resources to access to be able to write these characters realistically and give the next generation a chance to realise that yes, they are different, but they are not any less important or any less awesome. That's why representation matters to me.

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Being A Disabled Writer - The Creative Process

Being a disabled writer

I don't really talk much about being disabled in regards to my writing. I have done some posts on having a chronic illness (found here and here) as well as having chronic pain (found here). It's not that I don't like to talk about it, just that I write a lot of pieces and don't want to be seen as going on about the fact that I am also disabled.

There is a lot of negativity surrounding disability in the media. Whether it's books, TV shows or films, usually the disabled person is either a minor character or they're the villain, turned bad when their life was destroyed because of an accident/illness that caused them to become disabled. There's a big need for disabled characters who are shown not just in a positive light, but in a general every day one. Disabled people exist and children and young people facing any kind of disability need to be able to find themselves in fiction. They also need to know that just because you're disabled, doesn't mean that you will rot away in a cupboard somewhere and never amount to anything. We need to remove the stigma of disability and show people that we are just as normal as everyone else. We just have additional needs.

I know that in the chronic illness community, there is a lot of talk about how you shouldn't let your condition "define" you, that you should overcome them and be who you are in spite of it. While that is true, there is also nothing wrong with identifying as disabled and not hiding it from people. As you all know, I have several chronic conditions and all of them effect my life, from the amount of sleep I get to the level of pain I am in, and while I do not think that I am my disease, I also see nothing wrong with saying that I am a disabled person; a writer, a student, an amateur musician, but also disabled.

In my uni courses I have done a lot of reading about what makes up a person's self identity. My last course had a whole section on it and the one I am doing right now does as well. I choose to see myself as disabled, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad thing. We should be removing the taboo from the word and we should be allowed to be proud of both what we've accomplished in life - as a student or a singer or a doctor or whatever - but also not be scared to add the words "I'm disabled" into any of that.

I have written a handful of disabled characters, some as main ones and others as minor characters. I have included disabilities that affect mobility as well as other conditions, such as blindness or mental illness. These are all things that affect everyday people and sometimes just looking at a person will not tell you that they are disabled. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to identify as having a disability, but the opposite it true as well. There are writer's in the Young Adult genre such as John Green, who have written disabled characters and written them well. However, for the number of people affected by a chronic illness or disability in the UK alone (over 11 million according to the Fair Treatment at Work survey in 2008), there are surprisingly few disabled characters in young adult or even adult fiction and those who are often have their disabilities hidden or erased. For example, as great as The Hunger Games books are, it's very easy to forget that Peeta has a prosthetic leg after the first book and it's not even mentioned in the movies.

So yes, I am both chronically ill and disabled. I'm not ashamed of it and while at times, I wish for some aspects of my life to be different (who doesn't?), I'm not going to deny it either. I am proud to say that along with being a published author, I am also living with a disability, there's nothing wrong with that.

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