Heather and her husband Chris Dunbar are both members of a writing cabal that I belong to. They both have an author interview pending in the works, but I also invited Heather to do a writing space post here at No Wasted Ink. I think you’ll agree that her writing style and tools are unique.
I’m Heather Poinsett-Dunbar, one of the coauthors of the Morrigan’s Brood series. Where do I write books? I suppose the 64 thousand dollar question really is where don’t I write books.
I write the first draft with the hubby, Christopher Dunbar, at a variety of places. Generally, since we’re both trying to be gluten-free, we go to several Asian places in the neighborhood. We pull out a legal notepad from what we call the ‘man-purse’ (since Chris usually carries it) and a pen. Yes, we’re that old-school. Then we start writing. We go from one ‘scene’ to the next. Why do we go out? Because we share a house with three cats who talk a lot.
After our meal, I basically have notes that look like:
Mandi: Lamia, blah, blah, Strigoi, Deargh Du.
A: EI is not cooperating. Looks annoyed.
MA: Strides in and interrupts them. Who took all my #$@#$!ing bloodmead???
And so on.
Sometime after that, I generally go to my office (the HeatherCave), light incense and candles, turn off phones, and start typing or talking (I use a speech-to-text program that works for the most part, but it also translates Gaelic names into the most delightful nonsensical ravings). If I’m just typing out our notepads, I’ll play music. Generally, it has to be in a language I don’t know or instrumental, as I will start singing along if it’s in English. Right now, I listen to Corvus Corax, Omnia, Faun, Clannad, Dead Can Dance, Vas, and a lot of soundtracks and trailer music. However, I like to get a musical impression of the historical era that we are writing about.
At some point, I take time to kick out the cats and try to ignore their pleas for gooshy food. Sometimes one will sneak in and fall asleep in the extra chair.
Other times, I work on the road if we’re at an event or book signing. When I can, I type at lunch at work, but my office is my favorite place to type and think.
Right now, there is a pile of 10 notepads waiting to be transcribed, as my job is a tad stressful of late. Hopefully, I will get back into the flow of things very soon.
Generally, after typing out the dialogue that Chris and I wrote, I go through and add details. I am a librarian, which means I basically research as a hobby. So, I go through our print reference materials in my library at home and then I start accessing historical electronic databases that will help me add a bit of realism to our writings. We’re both history nerds, so this is a lot of fun for us both. Once I’m done, I send things back to Chris, he reads and adds to the draft, I accept or add changes, and boom, it scampers away to the editor.
If you’d like to read more about our adventures in authoring, be sure to visit our blog!
I’m busy working on book II of my Alice trilogy for Nanowrimo this month, however I don’t want to miss sharing some interesting writing links with you all. Pour yourself a nice cup of coffee, have a nice sit down, and enjoy these links from No Wasted Ink.
November is Nanowrimo month and like many writers, I’m busy plugging away at my great American novel. My machine of choice on the go is the Alphasmart Neo combined with a Logitech rubber lap board and a Mighty Bright dual lamp light. The only drawback to the Neo is that it does not have a means to download text onto the cloud since it was originally designed before such systems existed. Pen and paper is still a common choice for writers as well, but I’ve noticed that a growing number of participants have been turning to tablets combined with blu-tooth keyboards to write their novels. Whether you choose an iPad or an Android based tablet, writing with apps that are geared more for the writer instead of the casual phone user is to be preferred. The following are a few writing apps that I’ve seen other writers use at coffeehouse write-ins.
This is an app that purports to “turn your iPhone or iPad into a portable writing studio”. It does have a word count feature and is a good basic writing app. It has none of the frills you would find on a true computer, but for writing a rough draft on the go, you don’t always need that.
If you are looking for a text editor that is simple to read and has a visual organization, Daedalus Touch might be for you. This is an iPad app which features distraction free writing, huge import/export options including epub, textExpander and Markdown support, and best of all it includes dropbox sync.
One of the more recommended writing apps by my friends that use android tablets is Write. It has a minimalist text editor interface which makes it great for taking notes, writing chapters and it imports/exports to Dropbox and Evernote among others. It has a word count feature which is necessary for Nanowrimo, and a search function for your notes. CNET calls it the “best android notepad apps for students”.
One of the features of Nanowrimo is the word count graph on the website that helps to motivate you to reach your goals. However, what if you wanted to work on Camp Nanowrimo in June or August or simply have a similar graph to motivate you at other times of the year. This is the app that will do it for you. It is a simple, free app for your Android tablet that will help you keep on track at any time of the year.
These writing apps are only to get your started. There are a huge number of apps for your iPad or Android out there to help you write novels, blog posts, and journal entries. Look for apps that feature a word count, easy import and export of your text to your desktop, laptop, or the cloud of your choice, and have an interface that is as distraction free as possible. With these apps in your toolbox, you can win Nanowrimo!
I met Keith via my No Wasted Ink facebook page and am delighted to include him here on the blog. Welcome Keith to the readers of No Wasted Ink.
Hi, I’m Keith Dixon. I’ve had a varied career as a proofreader, copywriter, professor of English and business psychologist. I have a house in Cheshire in the UK but I’m currently spending a lot of time at my partner’s place in France. I hope eventually to sell up and live with her on a permanent basis!
When and why did you begin writing?
My first memory of taking writing seriously was as a teen, making up stories and scripting episodes of The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel, on British TV. I never got as far as sending in these scripts, which is probably just as well. In my late teens I bought an old manual typewriter and started writing short stories and, eventually, novels. I think many writers have a didactic streak which comes to the fore in one’s teenage years – you think you see the world much more clearly than the ‘old folk’ around you, and want to set them straight. So you start making up stories that somehow embody the immortal life lessons you’ve learned at age sixteen …
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote 7 novels between the ages of 20-22, but of course none of them was any good. But in my late twenties I won a playwriting competition which led to the play – about Isaac Newton – receiving ‘rehearsed readings’ at two major theatres in Manchester and Chester. That was when I started to think I knew how to put words together. Unfortunately it was then a long time before I had the freedom to write books again.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
The Private Lie is the second in my series of ‘Sam Dyke Investigations’. Sam is a tough private eye based in the North West of England who gets caught up in the malevolent activities of two thuggish twins. Sam is trying to help his son, whom he hadn’t met before the beginning of the book. The son turns up after eighteen years and demands that Sam must help him. So Sam agrees to find his son’s missing girlfriend but before he knows it is engaged in a battle with two gangland twins. Mayhem ensues.
What inspired you to write this book?
Two things: I’d read about two men in Manchester who ran a building/construction company, but were in fact gangsters smuggling dope and so forth. The construction business was more or less a cover. Secondly, I’d seen a guy in a coffee shop in a mall. He had on a tight black tee-shirt and bulging muscles, with a shaved head showing just a little hair. And he was with a delicate woman who I took to be his wife. I wondered why someone got themselves muscled up like that, and what it was like for them to be out on a shopping expedition in a mall. This became the basis for my two steroidal twins.
Do you have a specific writing style?
The genre I write in is the hard-boiled, noir private eye school, and there is a kind of style associated with that – wisecracks, first-person narration, dames and bad guys. From Chandler and Hammett through Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer and on to Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, there is a kind of ‘perspective’ that the private eye must take in order to justify what he does (and though there are of course exceptions, it is usually a he). So the style focuses on actions at the expense of reflection and uncovers individual motivations as the book progresses. There are helpers, comic characters, danger and moments of drama. The writer’s job is to harmonise all these elements into a ‘voice’ that makes sense as a person speaking to you, and also has some kind of moral vision or understanding of what’s going on. I’m becoming more interested in that aspect as I write more. Another wrinkle is that of course these books are usually written by Americans, with all the vivid language that entails – a challenge for me was to transfer that into the UK.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
The Private Lie is obviously a pun on Private Eye, but I also built in several references to the ways in which people lie to themselves or sometimes keep the truth from others – so it’s not an outright lie but perhaps a sin of omission instead.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t actually believe in an abstract ‘evil’ as I know some people – and some writers – do. My experience as a psychologist tells me that people act on motives and drives that they’re not always aware of – they justify their actions to themselves or do things – even bad things – as a way of coping with the world they find themselves in. So I hope that some of the bad guys in the book are shown to have some redeeming features or vulnerabilities that they can’t help, any more than they can help the behaviours that we would call wicked or malicious.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I think it’s true that practically everything in this book is made up! In my first novel, Altered Life, I did use my background in business psychology and consultancy to create an environment for the story. Here, it’s research and knowing the physical places in which the events happen, and that’s all.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
An endless list. Mostly American writers – Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Salinger, Steinbeck, Heller. More recently, James Lee Burke. As a writer, what I find inspirational is their ability to capture lived experience in sentences. Trying to write well AND write within the constraints of a genre is an interesting task and one that needs constant study. That’s one reason I started my blog, Crime Writing Confidential – subtitled ‘What crime writers do, and how they’ve done it.’
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
At the moment, it’s James Lee Burke. Every sentence is heavy with meaning. He writes dialogue that jumps off the page and grabs you around the neck. His descriptive passages add depth and resonance to his characters’ actions. And he has a moral purpose behind his books. Plus, he’s probably the greatest writer of action sequences currently writing. The last 100 pages of his new book, Creole Belle, is one extended action sequence of the sort you might find in a Bruce Willis film. Only better.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I’ve used photographs that I’ve taken myself for my books because they have some relevance – for me, if not for the reader!
Do you have any advice for other writers?
The usual advice is to read and read and read. But it’s more than that. It’s read, then think. Read, then think. Look back at a page or a paragraph and analyze how it achieved its effects. How did he get from that section or thought to this one? How does the writer structure scenes? Where’s the conflict? So it’s a mixture of reading, thinking, analyzing and then trying it out.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
To those who have already read the books, thank you and I hope it wasn’t too painful! To those who haven’t, please take a chance.
Cheshire, UK and central France (occasionally)
A writer of crime novels that are bitterly comic but deadly serious, with a hero who doesn’t know how to give up.
The Private Lie, published by Semiologic Ltd, photo by Keith Dixon.
Nanowrimo season is upon us again and in honor of this, I have chosen a majority of links this week that feature National Novel Writing Month related posts for the writer’s links here on No Wasted Ink.