Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guest Blogger Lisa Diana Shapiro on: Noir for the Next Generation

Noir for the Next Generation

by Lisa Diana Shapiro

My new project, Samantha Spade, Ace Detective, has given me a mission.

When I was a kid, it was my mother’s rule that I was not allowed to watch any movies made after 1960. In her estimation, the only good movies were either black and white, MGM musicals, or Gone with the Wind.

So I knew nothing of Star Wars or E.T., but I could quote  Humphrey Bogart at length. Then I read Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books, and that pretty much sealed my fate - the girl too geeky to ever get a date. 

When I grew up I discovered that there were plenty of other geeks who knew references like, “You know how to whistle” and I eventually caught up on all the films I had missed growing up. But I never lost my love of those old black-and-white detective movies. 

Recently I was commissioned to write a new musical for Off-Broadway’s TADA! Youth Theater. I had worked with them before, writing book and lyrics for the tremendously successful family musical Princess Phooey (music by Eric Rockwell).

This time, I pitched them a film noir spoof. I thought, this will be fun - I’ll call it “The Maltball Falcon,” it will have obscure references to Sam Spade and Miles Archer, a sultry blonde with legs up to here, a tough-talking detective with all the answers.

I sat down with my 13-year-old niece to do some research, watching The Big Sleep (who could be cooler than Lauren Bacall?). I was writing a song that would use all the hard-boiled slang from the period - you know, jake and hoosegow and palooka. I asked my niece to let me know what words she didn’t understand.

Ten minutes into the movie, she told me she didn’t understand a thing that was going on. Not only did she not understand the slang, they talked too fast and she couldn’t follow the story at all.

Noir was a foreign language to her.

I realized at that moment that I couldn’t write a spoof. You can’t make fun of something if your audience doesn’t know what you’re making fun of. I realized that I had a bigger mission instead - not to spoof it, but to re-create it. I had to re-imagine noir for the next generation.

Samantha Spade, Ace Detective was born. Samantha’s a lonely kid, cripplingly shy, obsessed with old movies - but in her imagination, she is Samantha Spade, Ace Detective, tracking down clues and catching villains on the rain-washed streets of her black-and-white fantasy world.

The project grew. In order to reboot the genre for this generation, I needed a much bigger audience - I needed . . . the Internet. And I needed to make a film.

I wrote a short film based on a song from the show - “Slingin’ the Slang,” the very song I was working on that day I sat down to watch The Big Sleep. The music is by the divine Georgia Stitt.  

We’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund the film, and it will ultimately be the centerpiece of a website loaded with mysteries to solve, blogs from characters, recommendations of great books and movies - all designed to save the future of noir fiction and film - and create more little geeks who will grow up to use their creative powers for good and not evil.  

Log on and get involved. TADA! Youth Theater is a non-profit, so donations to the Kickstarter are tax-deductible! 

I gotta dangle now - the gumshoe’s waiting for me, and everything’s gonna be jake.

For more about Lisa and to get updates on the project, follow on Twitter @SamSpadeMystery

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In Toronto Politics, Truth really is Stranger than Fiction!

Toronto Crime Writer Rob Brunet
Toronto crime writer Rob Brunet had a piece called "Murder Most Mayoral" published in today's Toronto Standard.  In the article, Rob discusses how local politics and mayoral campaigns/candidates have inspired fictional foul play.  

As he mentions, in the last few years, Toronto politicos have been featured in or have inspired three mystery novels (including THE LIES HAVE IT - my 3rd Sasha Jackson Pi novel), a play, and a video series.  I had no idea that I live in such a deadly city!!!  Must be something in the water...  

The article states:  "Sometimes, the mayor’s a victim, and sometimes he’s a suspect, but whatever the story, the character’s never quite mayoral."

I agree the characters are not exactly filled with sober civic pride and gravitas, but they are nothing like our real mayor, in fact...

If the characters really did act like our current mayor, the books/plays/videos would never be published/produced, and readers/audiences would roll their eyes, the suspension of disbelief stretched beyond limits.

For those who have not been following the Ford Follies, well, these two stories give you the start, and Google will take you the rest of the way.

1.  The Mayor, the Crackpipe and the Video
2.  The Mayor's Brother and the Hash Trade

If you aren't laughing too hard (or crying too hard) to read more, check out:

Crowd Funding for Gawker
Jon Stewart - Daily Show

Follow Rob Brunet on Twitter @RRBrunet
and check out his website HERE

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guest Blogger Sarah Banham on Criticism

How Do You Respond To Criticism?


“I didn't know you were trying to be a writer.” 

“Have you ever been published?”

“How good can you be if you don't have an agent?”

I've been a writer for over 25 years.  I've accomplished a lot in that time but the majority of it has been through sheer hard work.  Nothing in my literary career has ever been handed to me on a plate.  The comments above are the just the tip of the iceberg.

Two really tough ones I received early on in my career were:

“Do the world a favour and don't continue.”

“You cannot be a writer, you are not educated enough.”

But for some irritating reason the comments that attack you, that bypass all those emotional barriers you put up and hit you straight in the heart, those ones get through.  Worse than that, they stay with you too.  On those frequent days when you feel a bit low, those comments are repeated inside your head.  The great comments don't get a look in on those days.

So what is my point?

Simple.  Criticism.  Every Creative needs to hear it, even when its delivery leaves something to be desired.  Every Creative needs to hear encouragement, support and enthusiasm too.  After all, who doesn't?

I tend to think the people who deliver ruthless criticism have had it given to them in the past and it toughened them up so much they've actually forgotten how to be sensitive to others.  For those dark-hearted folk, criticism becomes a free pass to knock other Creatives delivering it through 'professionalism' which makes it horribly acceptable. 

I'd love to live in a world where we didn't need to hand out bad news.  A world where we focused on the positive, highlighted the great things we've achieved and not the one or two things we got wrong.  And I think we can.  In fact, a lot of my creative friends agree with me.  Tired are we who endure the misery of life, who take on board with weariness the voice of the negative speaker. 

So, feedback/criticism, whatever you like to call it, my suggestion and recommendation would be 'give it only to those who request it and give it with professionalism but above all give it with sensitivity'.  And receive it with dignity.  Take on what you feel is useful to your work but discard the rest. 

Creative people are creative because they have a certain amount of sensitivity within their souls.  This sensitivity allows them to be in constant touch with their creativity producing some incredibly beautiful results.  They write, they paint, they draw, they act, they dance, they see the world in a different way to those who use their analytical, mathematical and straight forward minds professionally. 

That isn't to say Creatives don't have those traits, just as analytical people are often creative. I just feel some people have a more colourful approach to the world.  For example, I have a very analytical mind but to the point where I use it only for creative writing and photography.  I do tend to mis-use it too, occasionally I over-analyse comedy to the point that I stop finding the joke funny and start looking for the point at which it became funny.  My theory is if I work this out, I can apply the formula to my writing (I've never been able to write comedy except for the odd one-liner).

And here I find myself criticising my own work.  Self criticism can be even worse than criticism from others, though it is often fuelled by the words of others.  The trick is to learn what to take on board and what to discard.  I learned this early on. 

It is important, and vital, to take on the points of others because they see your work with fresh eyes where you are often still inside the piece. If it is for the good of the writing, then you should accept their recommendations, although if it is given with malice, through jealousy or just a throw-away knee-jerk comment, ignore it.

Learning these skills early on in your writing career (or hobby) will stand you in good stead should you decide to submit your work to literary agents.  Even if you prefer to take the independently published option as I have many times, you still need to learn to accept professional feedback. Fortunately for me, I've reached a level in my career where others request my critique.  It gives me a warm feeling to know that, remembering my early setbacks, I respond with sensitivity and constructively.

I hope whatever route your writing takes, learning to cope with criticism moulds you into the type of writer who is respectful and sensitive to the feelings of other Creatives. Because kicking each other is not conducive to a happy world.

Be nice, be helpful and be pleasant to everyone you meet.  With a little luck they will return the compliment.

Happy writing!

Sarah Banham

About Me

I run a small business in Essex, UK called FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS where I offer several creative writing services including business blogging, web content, proofreading, creative writing workshops and ghost writing.  I also write a monthly column for an online magazine.   

Among my many literary projects and writing services, ( I present Writer's Block on community radio ( every Tuesday night from 7pm.  The purpose of the show is to highlight what the county offers the world of writing. 

You can get in touch with me via my website, on Face Book at Sarah Banham 
or on Twitter @sjbwrites

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Guest Blogger Vanessa Wester on: Ideas, Ideas and More Ideas!

Over the years, I have come up with many creative story ideas which I jotted down on the computer or paper.  Truth, I never saw them as anything other than silly scribbles.  When I watched an author interview back in 2010 a switch flicked in my brain.  I had permission to write – I was not being silly if I wrote.  Lots of people write, why not me?

My first novel was a chick flick type story, which I bravely posted on Booksie and then shared with a few friends.  To my shock and surprise they liked it!  I had a lot to learn though.  It took another year before I joined The Word Cloud and learnt about critique, prose, and the right things to do!

I wrote my debut novel, HYBRID, next.  It went from under 70,000 words to over 100,000 in a
few months and I published it in March 2012 via Smashwords (mainly to share it with friends).  I moved to Amazon in May, after demands from Kindle users.   

I published the second book COMPLICATIONS in November 2012.  The reason it only took 6 months was that whilst I edited Hybrid, I wrote Complications.

I joined Twitter and created a blog in the summer 2012, and realised I should have thought of that earlier… saying that, social networking is addictive and time consuming so I was relieved it took me so long to hook up.

I also started to publish short story anthologies, in aid of charity, from October 2012.  I have made friends and connected with many authors through this and I welcome new submissions.

I find it hard to believe that I have only been in the writing game for over 3 years.  I can’t imagine my life without it now.  My aim?  To share stories in the hope that some of you take something away from them.  A thought, a smile, a tear… an emotion!

I hope you all enjoy THE EVOLUTION TRILOGY, which will be completed this year (I am getting closer), and perhaps, go through some of the emotional journey I have experienced whilst writing it.

Smiles and best wishes,
Vanessa xx

Main Blog

The Evolution Trilogy Blog


A Reader’s Perspective

Short Stories Group


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writing Believable Characters - By Carol Holland March

Yes, it’s true. My characters talk to me.  
Sometimes they sit in my office. In a circle. Nodding yes. Shaking their heads no.

Yes, they have lives of their own. They go off on tangents I wouldn’t have expected. They do things I don’t always understand.  They have inexplicable needs. 

But, given all that, it doesn’t mean they come to me as completely formed and complex as they need to be to interest a reader for a whole story or a whole novel. Sometimes they have blind spots. Sometimes they’re too nice. Others are too angry. And heaven forbid, some are too much like me!

An interesting character has a point of view. Thoughts, feelings, opinions, prejudices. Blind spots. Weak spots. Things she doesn’t know about herself. 

But how do you know what makes sense for a given character? You don’t want a character whose actions are completely unpredictable or your readers will just shake their heads and put the book down. Internal consistency matters, especially in a long work. 

One method I’ve used to develop characters is a tool I’ve used for years in my day job as a career transition and life coach. The best personality tests can give great insight into how people behave in the real world. The one I use the most is the Meyers-Briggs Type indicator which gives information on four polar dimensions: 

  • Intuition and Sensing
  • Thinking and Feelings
  • Judging and Perception
  • Introversion and Extroversion 

When you look at the combinations of theses preferences, sixteen distinct personality types emerge. 

And no, introverts are not always shy. And thinkers do have feelings. Personality is more complex than the clich├ęs and stereotypes. Nothing is more boring than the hero who is always stalwart or the heroine who is one-dimensional, so the more complex you can make your characters, the better.  

I’ve found it useful to figure out the personality types of my main characters. Not before I’ve written them. First I let them frolic, and tell me who they are. Then, after the first draft is done, and I’m working on character development and nuance, not just the basic plot, I map out what their preferences and needs are, their desires and blind spots. 

One element I’ve found helpful is the idea that every person has a predominant preference. And whatever that preference is, its opposite is often the weak link for that character. For a character who is primarily a thinker, that person can be most easily undone by emotion. So, an intellectual man is more susceptible to unresolved feelings aroused by in him by another character because he is not as familiar with his own emotional needs. 

A highly intuitive character, who can easily come up with new ideas and envision possibilities, may have serious deficits in dealing with the physical world. In the extreme, she may not know where her body is in relation to objects around her. The absent-minded professor comes to mind. 

A character who is highly attuned to emotional understanding can be fooled more easily by faulty logic because the thinking function is the opposite of feeling and hence less developed. Have you ever known anyone who was easily convinced by arguments that sounded logical but really made no sense?

The idea is not to come up with formulas for your characters, but to give you a tool to explore the complexity that is personality, so your characters will come to life on the page but also be consistent enough that your readers will relate to them as real people.
There are lots of resources, many free, where you can learn about the sixteen personality types derived from this system.

To learn more, check out the book Please Understand Me, by David Kiersey, which goes into character, temperament, and relationships. Full of great information and an easy read.  Two websites where you can take a short (and free) version of the test and learn about all the personality types are:


Carol Holland March writes speculative fiction that has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies. An excerpt of her novel, The Dreamwalkers of Larreta, has appeared in bosque (the magazine).  She blogs at or follow her @cmarch555