Thursday 27 November 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Has This Been Done Before?

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Has This Been Done Before?

Every writer, no matter whether they are published or not, is looking for the original idea. The one thing that hasn't been done before. A lot of the books I've read on the subject say that there simply aren't any original ideas anymore. They've all been used in one way or another, and that you just have to look at how to turn your unoriginal plot into something with a twist. I don't necessarily agree that there are no more original ideas, after all, history has changed the way things in the world work, and with all that history, there has to have been new things happening. The other bit that bugs me is that every single person is different, is unique and therefore the majority of us don't all act the same when placed in the exact same circumstances. I think that means that there are plenty of ways to turn a previously used plot into something original, or to think up something completely off the wall that hasn't been done before.

Of course though, this is more about my trials as a crime writer, and therefore what I'm mostly talking about is the central plot or theme that runs through each crime novel. When you're thinking up ways for people to break the law, the motives can be as unique as you want, but sometimes the crimes tend to repeat themselves. It's a fact of life that people kill each other in many different ways, but also that most police officers don't deal with serial killers, nor do they deal with unique crimes every single day. The motive may be something they haven't heard before, but the crime itself is usually the same no matter how different you try to make it.

Having said that, it doesn't stop me from trying to make sure that the motives behind each central crime - whether they be a serial rapist, murderer or petty thief - all have their own unique twist on them. Sometimes you can't do that because there are rarely convoluted reasons for why someone stole drugs from a drug dealer and then got murdered for it. As a crime writer, you have to be aware that by not repeating the crimes, by trying to make them all different and unique, you've already started to stretch the boundaries of what is and isn't believable. So while it's a good idea to not have every victim act, respond and/or die in the same way, there are patterns to crime and if you want your book to hold a reader's interest, you have to be sure that you follow some of the laws of the world.

Yet when I sit and write my chapter notes before I start a book, or read through what I think makes a good crime to talk about, I still try to make each case somewhat different. It's a difficult trap to avoid, but at the same time it's something you have to be flexible with. Outside of the pages of crime novels and the Hollywood movies, you have to realise that the majority of police officers will never really deal with a serial killer. They make for good fiction, but are not as common as fiction and the media would love to make out. That said, they are a great way to tell a story and have the characters work towards a common goal. After all, fiction is a way for the unimaginable to happen and although there are unimaginable things done to people by others, sometimes it's nice to believe that the only horrible crimes happen between the pages of books, where you can see that justice prevails and all ends well (hopefully!)

Usually I deal with multiple cases when writing a DYING THOUGHTS book, with Tara helping the police, and there needs to be some level of difficulty in the cases she's called in on. Otherwise it gets to the point where I, and the reader will be asking if her gift is really needed or if the police are just lazy. The joy of fiction is that there is some level of being able to suspend belief. The aim is to not push it so far that it snaps in two. So, as I sit here at 1am, writing a piece about believable and unique crimes, I find myself wondering if it is possible to achieve both those without breaking the believability of the scenes. To be honest, I'm not really sure, but that doesn't mean that I won't continue to try!

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Thursday 20 November 2014

Spoonie Writer: Worrying About Deadlines

Spoonie Writer: Worrying About Deadlines.

One of the first things I realised after being published, was that I was going to have to do some serious thinking about how I'd handle the stress related to deadlines. It was one of the reasons I ultimatey chose to go with Indie publishing. It allowed me to control when I had a deadline, and it also allowed me to work around anything that popped up health or life-wise that would stop me meeting that deadline. I did a piece about schedules and deadlines, (found here) and in it I talked about how I set my own deadlines - such as the four chapters I do each fortnight, which make up a big part of my writing work.

As a spoonie though, you'll be very aware that stress is bad, and you'll also be aware that your health and ability to do things such as write are unreliable. Sometimes you'll be able to meet your deadlines (self set or not) and other times you'll have to miss them. The trick as an indie author, and as a spoonie, is to allow your deadlines to be as flexible as they can be without them becoming completely meaningless. By now, you'll have read a number of pieces about my life as a spoonie writer, and you'll be aware of the term "pacing". My advice for this piece is similar, so much so that it's become one of my life's mantras.

Stress is bad for anyone in large enough doses. For some people, their everyday stress level is higher and for others it's lower. What you personally can deal with depends on you alone and as a spoonie you will be very aware of knowing your own body and how it reacts to certain triggers, stress being one of them. I know that in all my time being chronically ill - and I mean back towards the time when I just had Brittle Asthma - I have been inherently aware that I do not do stress well, like at all. If I put myself under too much pressure, my lungs goes splat, I wheeze, get chest pains and feel dreadful. Add to that two newer conditions (Fibro and M.E) that also don't go well with stress and you can imagine the trembling ball that is me on the floor in the throes of both an asthma attack, a pain flare and an M.E relapse. Stress for me is not good, and it doesn't even have to be in large doses.

So, when I decided to go down the Indie author route, I was very glad to know that I'd have more control over when I published which book and what chapters were due whenever. As I've been writing for near enough thirteen years, I've learnt that I don't have the ability to deal with pressure mounting from missed deadlines. It's one of the reasons I took my uni courses the way I did, I liked being able to get ahead and then not have to worry if I needed time off. I am the same with writing. By the time this piece is published on my blog, my seventh book will have been released and meanwhile, I recently finished my twelfth book and started writing my thirteenth and fourteenth. I still only plan to release one book a year, unless circumstances change. By doing all of this it means that in a way, I am ahead with my book writing already. It allows me to leave a book to sit for a while after being written before I go back, with fresh eyes and start the editing after process.

Now, that won't work for everyone, and it's not always the best way to do things, but it's what works for me. I know that when I set up my fortnightly to-do list and I add those four chapters, I also add four bonus ones just in case. Sometimes I manage them and other times I don't manage any. It really is all dependant on how my health is and how I'm doing both physically and mentally. Some fortnights I even manage to go further and do more chapters than expected on both the to-do list AND the bonus one! It really does depend on how I'm doing.

Pacing myself has always been a big thing for me since I fell sick with the Fibro and M.E. I was always someone who was organised and I liked things done in a certain way. I'm the same now, but I have learnt to be more flexible. While I would love to be able to write all day, all night, and then all day again, it's just not something I can do (though not many people can!) I need a certain level of sleep and rest breaks. If I push myself too far one day, I pay for it the next and that is not conducive to a schedule or deadline of any kind. So, I try to pace myself, and if you can find something that works for you, then try to keep yourself into some kind of schedule or routine. After all, you are the only one who knows how it feels to be you and the best one to know what your body needs. It may take time away from actual work, but it will also possibly take away time you would have spent in a flare or relapse. You know you best, and you have to work with that!

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Friday 14 November 2014

A Joey-Approved Update

This is a Joey approved update. Just to let you all know that there'll be a few blog posts popping up over the next week or so as Joey recovers from surgery. Nothing major, but it will still mean some time away from the blog, writing and all things that keep Joey going. So, do not be alarmed if you only see blog posts on Facebook etc. Your normally scheduled Joey will re-appear soon!

Thanks for your patience

Joey Paul Online

Sunday 9 November 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: When Your Friends Ask You About Murder

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: When Your Friends Ask You About Murder

It's a running joke between me and some of my friends that if they were ever to be driven to the point of committing a crime, such as murder, then I would be the best person to ask about how to get away with it. It's true that for a lot of crimes, I have done extensive research, I even own the "Forensics for Dummies" book which I have used in the past to help  me with plot lines. I also really recommend "The Crime Writer's Guide to Police Practice and Procedure" (link here) if you're in the UK and looking for down to earth and simple explanations of how the police force works. However, while I'd never claim to be an expert, and because the majority of my criminals get caught, I don't actually know the way to commit the perfect crime.

I would imagine that it would take a lot of forethought and planning. While getting ready to write a book about someone who works in a Forensics lab took a lot of research, I don't think I have the commitment, or the stomach for a life of crime. The added knowledge of watching shows such as NCIS or Castle, is that no matter how careful you are there is always going to be something you leave behind which will lead the cops right to your door. I have though, in the past, thought about the validity of so called unsolved crimes. On TV they usually get their guy...eventually, but in real life there are so many "cold cases" which may go unsolved for decades if not longer. So, how does one go about committing the perfect crime?

Well, I have some ideas, but feel the need to make it clear to everyone reading that I'm not planning to ever use these ideas in anything other than fiction. First you'd need to pick a victim who is, in no way connected to you. The first thing police will look for is an identification of the victim and then anyone who may have had a reason to want them dead. So, if you're desperate to commit a murder, then you need to make sure there is no way for the police to join the dots from them to you. The problem is that most people are not the kind of people to just randomly murder someone, which is why the perfect crime is so hard to achieve. Unless you're a psychopath or serial killer, you generally would need some kind of motive before you go around murdering random people. The motive is usually your downfall.

The second thing to remember is that if they can't identify your victim then they can't always connect the dots that will lead them to your door. This means you'll need to get rid of the hands, head and any other distinguishing marks that could leave a hint as to who the victim is. That's grisly work, I've never had to amputate or disfigure a body (and I don't think I ever will have need to) but I imagine that it takes a lot of strength and a strong stomach to deal with all the blood, guts and gore. You also need to cut through bone and remember that the CSI people will be able to tell what kind of instrument was used from the cut marks, so you'll have to be extra careful in your choice of hacking instrument.

After that comes the forensics, the human body sheds DNA through skin cells and hair. All it takes is one stray hair and if you're in the system, you're caught. Hell, even if you're  *not* in the system they have something to match you to that body should they catch up with you. All in all, I'm not really sure how you'd go about making sure that there was nothing incriminating left behind. You also have to take into account "Locard's Exchange Principle" that states that for every place you go you not only take something with you, but leave part of yourself behind. So, even if you manage to pick a random victim, remove their identity, the forensics are probably going to get you in the end.

So, while my friends and I joke about the perfect hiding place for a body, the chances are that we'll be caught before it's even cold. There is nothing like the perfect crime, and with my search history, I'd probably get the death penalty, if that was still around in the UK. For the time being, I'll stick to fictional murder, it's less messy and doesn't carry a life sentence!

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Tuesday 4 November 2014

Spoonie Writer: Worrying About The Future And Your Writing

Spoonie Writer: Worrying About The Future And Your Writing

As long as I've been a writer, I've been sick. Even before I was medically retired and writing became my job, even when I was writing as a teenager in school, I was still chronically ill. I hadn't embraced it the way I do now because this was before the wonders of the online chronic illness community. I have a lot of respect for my fellow spoonies and the ways in which they have helped me. However, as I was saying, I've always been sick as a writer. I have never known any other way to be a writer, I've always needed to move my schedule around and fit writing stuff inbetween the hospital stays, the stuck in bed days and the days when I just can't. I'm not saying that because I want you to look at me and say "Oh wow, she never got to live a different life", or to throw myself a pity party and be all "woe is me. I've always been sick". I'm telling you because my writing journey has been affected by the fact that I have, for as long as I can remember, been chronically ill.

When I was still in school, before the Fibromyalgia and M.E were in my life, I wrote a lot. I wrote poems, I wrote short stories and I did all that because I had a passion for the written word. I loved choosing my pen, my ink and paper and letting all the scenes in my head out into the world. To me, a big part of writing was the act of picking up a pen and actually, y'know, writing! However, things changed after school and my diagnoses. I found that writing hurt. It wasn't the good hurt either, the one where you had written and written and your hand was cramping in protest. I mean, it started like that but eventually the sentences got shorter and the bulk of what I could handwrite was interjected with breaks every few minutes because the pain was *that* bad. I eventually had to accept that I would no longer be able to handwrite my stories because I thought a lot faster than I could ever write. It hadn't always been like that, but it was one of those things that I had to let go of.

I adapted and started to type, which is what a lot of writers - spoonie or otherwise - do. It's so much easier in the world of the internet and all this technology to write with a keyboard. Having been typing for as long as I could form words, I am lucky enough to be able to touch type with some speed. It was a change that a lot of people would look at and say, "your point?" My point is not that I had to make this big change; after all, everything that was handwritten would eventually get typed into my computer anyway. My point is this: when you're chronically ill, you adapt your life around your conditions because if you don't adapt, you have to stop doing things you love.

About a year ago, I developed symptoms that were worrying to me, though not all that uncommon for people with my conditions. My legs would tingle and I'd be unable to bear weight on them. I was becoming more and more reliant on a wheelchair to get around. It was hard for me because I had always kept some level of mobility through my own terms, but now it was all different and I was reliant on being pushed, pushing myself, or using my electric wheelchair to get around. It wasn't how I wanted to be, but the fact that my conditions had gotten worse wasn't all that unexpected. I have been "lucky" in that for a couple of years prior to this new symptom, I had been having very few flares, relapses and new problems. It seemed that my conditions were just getting worse and once again, I adapted.

Which brings me to the point of this piece: I have started to show similar symptoms in my arms. The thought of losing the use of my arms and therefore my hands terrifies me because without the ability to type, I would become very silent. I use my keyboard to do so many things, writing, commenting, research and all of that. The only thing that I keep thinking is that I will find a way and adapt. I'll have to. That's just part of having a chronic illness and/or disability. You find a way to adapt. I know of some people that are bed bound, and they still are as active as they can be doing what they love. They have adapted because they *had* to. A friend of mine is bed bound and is still very active in writing. She has gotten the technology that will enable her to continue writing despite the fact that she doesn't always have use of her hands.

The joy of living in the age of technology means that even if we have to change how we get the words onto the paper, there are always ways of adapting your life so that you can continue to do the things you did before. The fact that things have worsened with my conditions doesn't mean that I have to give up what I love doing. There are voice recognition programs that will allow me to talk and the words will appear on the page. I've used them before and while they take some getting used to, they're not out of the realms of possibility. Just because I'm chronically ill, it doesn't mean that I'm any less able to do what I consider to be my career. I make the times when I'm well enough to work count, and the times when I'm not, I try not to beat myself up about it too much. After all, I didn't choose this for me, but I also can't change that it's happened. So, even though I'm able to type these words myself, it doesn't mean that I can't adapt and change the way I work in the future should the need arise. I can adapt, and so can you.

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