Monday, October 23, 2017

Purloined Prose or Synchronicity?

This is an article I wrote for the Mostly Mystery blog in 2015. Recently the subject surfaced during a meeting, so I've dredged it up from the archives.

How many times have you read a book, seen a movie, or watched a TV show that bore an uncanny resemblance to others you've encountered? I'm not talking about those endless remakes. Nor am I talking about deja vu. 

When a story line follows another so closely that you recognize the plot, does that mean that the author as stolen the plot form someone else? Probably not. could it be synchronicity? Google defines synchronicity as the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Although both suppositions might be true, the more reasonable explanation has to do with the reinvention of a successful formula. That's right--a formula. Okay, you may not be surprised, but I was shocked. I had no idea that most fiction writing could be boiled down to a formula. When an agent described my urban fantasy as following the typical formula--protagonist receives powers on her birthday, finds a mentor, falls in love, and battles a villain, I wanted to cry. I thought it was a bad thing. Turns out everybody does it. Why? Because it works. 

From the age of understanding, we've been influenced by every story we've ever heard, every TV program or movie we've ever seen, and everything we've ever read. Of course we've picked up on the winning formulas that make up a good story. And, the plots that go into our stories reflect the history, science, and technology of our time or the era that interest us. How often have you heard about some technological breakthrough or strange occurrence and gotten an idea for a story?

How many others do yo think had the same idea? I can't even begin to guestimate--millions, billions? All those people probably aren't writers. But, of those who are, the ones who've been exposed to the same information and think it would make a good story will undoubtedly have different story ideas. We all have our own unique style of writing, our own voice, and our own sense of plot.

Stories like Cinderella have been told over and over again with a unique and creative twist. Look at the movie Pretty Woman. You have Cinderella/the amiable prostitute, treated like trash by "polite" and "not-so-polite" society. The prince/businessman takes his time recognizing her worth, but in the end, comes through, and she lives (one supposes) happily ever after. Julia Roberts' character was quite a different protagonist from Cinderella, but the basic formula flows through the two stories. 

Now, let's look at mysteries. Mysteries, in general, consist of a dead body or two, a sleuth, suspects, red herrings, danger, and a satisfying conclusion. Mysteries, like all genres, can be divided into sub-groups, each with its own formula. Use keywords like "mystery types" or "mystery genres" to find the various categories. Some examples:   Genres of Mystery and Crime FictionHard-Boiled to Cozy: Types of Mystery NovelsMurder by 4: Thirteen Types of Mysteries.

Some of the sub-genres can be broken down again into more specific types. One of my favorites under mystery is cozy. Cozies feature amateur sleuths who have a compelling reason to solve the crime. There is no gratuitous blood, sex or gore--think Agatha Christie. Once you decide to read a cozy, the next step is to decide what type of cozy you want. These books are often broken down into household categories having to do with hobbies, crafts, pets, or cooking. Sometimes the book is based on the sleuth's employment. Again, use your search engine to discover books based on specific criteria i.e., "knitting mysteries", "gardening mysteries", or my first choice, "psychic mysteries".

Today, the internet makes it easy to find what you want. You don't have to despair if you run out of books by your favorite author. An internet search sill bring up other books, similar to those. You may find that some stories come very close to those we've previously read. Does that mean one author copied another/ "Yes" and "no".

For instance, take this scenario. One author, specializing in gardening, has her protagonist find dead bodies in the gardens of homes where she works. How many other ideas might there be for our gardening detective to discover the victim? Probably not a whole lot of choices out there. Therefore, the plot might mirror others you've read. 

Check out how many books are out there with a green-thumb sleuth. It stands to reason that you will see plot overlap. The major differences will center around the author's voice and the characters. And, of course, the plant genus.

Think synchronicity, formula, overwhelming tide of writers, and underwhelming possible scenarios. the next time someone tells you that your manuscript, short story or book is suspiciously like the latest best seller or movie, lift up your head, smile and say, "Thank you." It means you've followed the formula to perfection.

And, remember, keep writing.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


for Friday Fictioneers

They think we can't reach them from within this iron fence. 
"We're safe out here," they say. "No ghosts can get us."
And each day they come closer. Soon, someone will grab the fence to peer through the bars. We can wait.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Creep Factor

Oh yes! The Creep Factor is important to my writing. I worried that I wouldn't find it in my new home in Florida, but all I had to do was look around. I'm very visual. Lush foliage is everywhere. It's beautiful--I love it... Of course there's a "but". It's in the density of the bushes and the types of critters they hide. Sometimes it has to do with the presentation. For instance, my husband and I went on a paddle boat ride in a nearby park. Pretty tame, huh? I wasn't expecting to be spooked. That's when it's the worst--when you least expect it. In the middle of this sweet little pond/lake we came across a chilling sight. 

Well, maybe chilling is a little strong, but I thought it was spooky with all those roots tangled in the water and the moss dripping from the trees, sometimes touching the roof of the boat. There was even a raven-like bird watching us.

That was it. That was all it took to get my muse back into action. I simply changed the sunny day to a moonlit night and added some eerie sounds to give me a nice backdrop for a lively little horror story.

I love when some place or some thing arouses my literary interest. Usually I find the fodder for my unholy stories on the internet. Plugging in words like strange, unusual, or weird will bring up the most amazing stories . For instance, this:

This picture could give me a nightmare!

I keep these stories in a file, ready to use when I need to jump-start something I'm writing or add a little excitement. Sometimes, inspiration comes from a photo. Case in point, Creep Clown above. 

Whether you're into the bizarre or the mundane, look around you. Inspiration is everywhere just waiting to be found.

Enjoy the research, and remember, keep writing! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Whew! I have a moment to breathe. My husband and I are in the
middle of a move from MA to FL. It’s been crazy! Picture a little blue Prius with a black canvas rooftop carrier and two stressed individuals scanning the road for turnoffs. In the back, you can see the seat folded down to accommodate a large black animal carrier, dishes for food and water, and a box with kitty litter. Wait a minute. Where are the kitties? If you stretch your imagination just a bit, you can hear the sound of two terrified felines mewling underneath my seat.

The trip lasted eight days, five of which were spent trying to drag the cats back and forth from the car, a tricky exercise at best. At the very beginning, not 15 minutes into the 1400 mile event, we discovered we were missing one cat. On the last day, that same cat, Sammy, dug his claws in. almost taking out the rug under the bed. They were not happy campers, although they now seem content in the place we rented. Of course we haven’t told them that it’s only temporary. Hopefully, Sammy (color of midnight) and Jasper (our Maine Coon boy) will survive one more

We’re presently in limbo, living between two places. A break in unpacking at our new house gives me time to squeeze in some much-needed writing time. One of my first Florida purchases was a new desk, and here I sit. It feels good to relax and write for a bit. All alone. Not even the cats. Mmm.

My mind has been in turmoil with all we have to do for this relocation, but one day at a time we are getting things done. As I prepare to write this, just me and my laptop, I feel a little lost. My buds, my pals, my trusted friends—the people who make up my writing group are back in Massachusetts. No more cozy discussions on Friday night at Barnes and Noble. No more brainstorming plot, character arc, motivation. No more caring critiques. Okay, we can still email, but it won’t be the same. How am I ever going to find a new writing group? It hurts to think about it.

So, the move to Florida has been tough, but, did I mention the heat? No more snow! I love the swimming pool, and there’s plenty of room for me to ride my bike (no hills). We’re both retired now, so no deadlines. We’ve met quite a few really nice people, and we love our new home. That brings me back to being able to breathe.
Right now, I’m looking out the window in my soon-to-be office. The fan that’s whirring above my head feels heavenly, and the view fills me with comfort. I can feel my Muse grinning. 

Time to write.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Does Geography Affect Writing?

If it’s scary—nerve endings screaming, heart banging against your chest, cross your legs to keep from wetting yourself scary—I want to write about it. I’ve penned stories about ghosts, physical possession, mind control, demons, black magic, psychic powers, and even fairies. And, most of the fodder for the dark places in my mind has originated with stories about the area where I grew up. For instance, a ten minutes’ drive from my home brings me to Salem, MA. No reason to think anything dark or scary ever happened there!

Then there are the stories. I’ve grown up hearing
all kinds of stories about haunted happenings in Salem as well as my own home town, Marblehead. Ideas percolate as I drive through the neighborhoods, where some old house with multiple gables will pique my sense of horror. I can absolutely believe that something unsavory existed or still exists inside. Sometimes, the sight of a creepy house or place will trigger my memory about some old ghost story. And my imagination is off!

Writers like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft have also been a huge influence on my horror and paranormal writing. Again, both men wrote about the North Shore where I live, so I have no problem believing that the unbelievable here could be real.

I’m a very visual writer. Before I write about a setting, I have to be able to picture it in my mind. The houses in my stories are usually based on actual places or a mixture of places I’ve seen. My choices are endless. But all that is going to change, soon. My
husband and I are moving to Florida! Southeast Florida! We’ve driven around the neighborhoods looking at real estate for sale, and have even found some we love. My dilemma? Have you ever looked at a villa, condo, or home in Florida and gotten chills? Goosebumps? A feeling of being watched? Don’t think so. And I’m not a light-hearted kind of chick. What will happen to my writing?

I went online looking for help. Where were the creepy places in Florida? Swamps! All kinds of creatures live in swamps. I found some stories about a Swamp Skunk, like a smelly Big Foot. That didn’t really get my fingers twitching, although a story with dark humid bogs of muck might work. Or, graveyards. I can always get a few shivers about graveyards. Okay, but wait. There was also something about St Augustine and the most haunted hotel. That sounded promising. Picture an old hotel flanked by trees dripping with moss. Imagine what might happen there in the dark when souls are helplessly asleep. Oooh! Redemption?

Maybe all I have to do is travel a bit and find a new horror channel for my mind. Once I see a few places and connect them with creepy stories, I might be able to come up with ideas. Of course, I know that any place can be a conduit for mind-altering terror. That's always a possibility. And, if that doesn’t work, I guess I
can always go to my heroes Edgar and H.P. I’ll just picture them sloughing through the sand with a beach chair and umbrella. Wherever they land, can horror be far away?

If you know of any places in Florida where I might get inspiration, please let me know. In the meantime, keep writing!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Writer’s Friends—Conferences and Contests

Yikes! It’s a new year and I’ve been so busy editing that I’ve neglected this wonderful blog. Never mind. I’ll bring you up-to-date. I finished off the year with a writing conference. Every writer should avail herself or himself of the chance to mingle with like-minded individuals, and published authors who offer educational insights as well as personal advice. Some conferences for 2016

Crime Bake!
Once again, the November conference put on by Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America was wonderful. Elizabeth George, the guest author, proved to be witty, friendly, and happy to share her writing knowledge and experience. All the authors made themselves available and the panels were informative and humorous. The Master Classes provided up-to-date information on a variety of subjects and made time for Q and A. It was also a great time to catch up with all those writers I haven’t seen for a while.

Conference Opportunities: One of the perks of conferences is pitching your manuscript. This year, Crime Bake held a pitch slam or the chance to pitch to multiple agents. What an opportunity. Two agents asked me to send in partials. Another perk is a manuscript critique. I had an excellent twenty-page critique with Lucy Burdette, who gave me an in-depth review and a written assessment.

Contests: For the Crime Bake Flash
Words contest, a story having to do with crime, and no more than 150 words with 10 chosen from a list of 20 (ashes, blood, body, careless, consequences, death, deception, edge, enemy, evil, hiding, memory, missing, murder, payment, pursuit, shadows, traitor, vengeance, witness).  I was a winner for the fourth year in a row. What an exciting moment, especially sweet after reading all the other excellent submissions. Here is my winner:

Sweet Thing
I was at the River’s Edge Café when he spoke to me—the same chilling words that dogged my nightmares, “Hey there, sweet thing.”
Memories flooded my mind. I was thirteen years old, hiding to spy on my sister and her date. She’d always been careless about boys, and Mom had warned her of the consequences. That night, payment came due, and I was the witness. From the shadows, I’d listened. I’d listened as she laughed. I’d listened as she died. Since her death, I’d thirsted for vengeance.
I blinked and looked at him. The fire in his eyes almost undid me. His honeyed tongue dripped evil. “I was just headed outside for a smoke. Care to join me?”
I sucked back the fear and followed him. Tonight would be different. Tonight I was the one with the gun and the badge to back it up.

I’m beginning the new year on a high note with a Submission. On the heels of Crime Bake, I sat down and began re-editing my manuscript, Trace of Evil, to send in to a Ghostwoods Books, as they were accepting submissions until the end of the year. That done, I’m working on a synopsis for the same book to send to RWA’s Golden Heart contest. Once that is out (before 1/11/16), I will work on the changes one of the agents suggested in “Watcher Clan”. Some excellent free writing contests 

This is the year! I'm going to be published. All I have to do is keep on writing.