Author Archives: Susan

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About Susan

Technical writer and engineer

Interview with mystery writer W. S. Gager

Humorous mystery writer W. S. Gager graciously agreed to be our first author interview for our reading and writing blog. I had fun coming up with questions to ask, but welcome any and all suggestions for future interviews.

1. What can you tell us about yourself?

I’ve always been a writer. My first writing memory was eighth grade when I was named editor of the English class paper. That was the first time I was ever recognized for my writing and that was enough. I was hooked. I’ve been writing ever since and starting novels and putting them aside. My jobs also have been writing related including a journalist, speech writer, and public relations writer. Five years ago I told myself I was chained to my desk until I finished a book. I was hooked and always have at least one novel in progress at all times. To help pay the bills I teach developmental English classes in reading and writing at Baker College. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life and love the Midwestern work ethic and friendliness.

2. What can you tell us about your book(s)?

I write mysteries but my first novel was a romance. I’ve read thousands of romance novels and thought I could write one. Turns out I wasn’t so hot on romantic entanglements but excelled at planting clues. My first mystery book called A Case of Infatuation won the Dark Oak Mystery Contest and then published. Go figure it was a mystery with a touch of romance, sort of.

Three books are out in the Mitch Malone Mystery Series featuring crime-beat reporter Mitch Malone as the amateur sleuth. The books are a throwback to the noir feel of the trench-coat-wearing private eye mixed with a bit of Pink Panther wit. The second book called A Case of Accidental Intersection won the Public Safety Writers Association award for unpublished fiction prior to print. A Case of Hometown Blues was released in July.

3. It seems that some writers have always known they were writers because they always had stories in their heads, and some writers started writing because they were frustrated with the lack of quality in published books. Have you always known you were a writer? Or was this a newly acquired inspiration? And if so, what made you start writing?

Both of them hold true for me. I have always been a writer but for many years I wrote nonfiction articles in newspapers and magazines. I always thought I would write a book someday. Every so often I would get an itch to start a book. I even entered a short story contest once. But I didn’t do it seriously. Then I had surgery and was laid up for eight weeks. I told myself that I was going to finish a book or I was going to quit trying to write them. I’d never gotten beyond halfway before. I did finish my first book. It was awful but I’ve been hooked ever since. My third one was published. As for the voices in my head. They are there. I’ve always looked at ordinary things and create fantastic stories in my head. Now I just put them down on paper.

4. Is there anything you can tell us about the source of your stories? Are the characters or events based on real-life events? Or as fictional as possible?

Many people that know me, can’t see me in the books I write. They only similarity between me and Mitch Malone who is the crime-beat-reporter sleuth is our occupation. I couldn’t figure that out for the longest time and I finally understand it. Mitch is the guilt-free, say-anything-I-want person I could never be. He is brash, smart, obnoxious with a dogged determination to get the story at any cost. As for the crimes in each book, the ideas come from something real but then are distorted so much they can’t be recognized.

5. I think a lot of beginning writers, and some readers, are interested in your particular method for writing novels. Do you work with an outline? Do you thoroughly define your characters before you write, or do you let interesting characters create themselves along the way? Do you start writing at the beginning and let the story unfold? Or do you write scenes out of order, then piece it back together?

I am a very seat-of-the-pants writer. I have an idea of where the story is going and where it starts. Then I just jump in and start writing. In A Case of Accidental Intersection Elsie Dobson had a small role as a witness in the opening scene. Elsie wasn’t happy about that. She kept coming up either by baking cookies for Mitch, hauling him across the coals for not pursuing the case or needing to be rescued. Every couple of chapters she came up. I finished the book and Elsie’s voice still wouldn’t leave me alone. I wrote a short story with her and Mitch and she finally started to be quiet.

6. Do you use any organizational software for writing?

No. Is there such a thing? I’m not very organized in my writing so I’m not sure it would help. The best I do for an organization system is I use sticky notes to help me complete all the plot lines.

7. Do you set specific daily hours or word count goals for yourself?

I do at times but then I take time off to recharge. When I’m working on a first draft, I usually work every day and try and write at least 1,000 words a day. When I’m working on a second draft or editing, I set goals specific to where I’m at. I can’t edit for hours at a time like I can when I write. After about an hour of editing, my eyes cloud over and I need a break.

8. In this day of print-on-demand publishing and ePubs, how do you promote your books?

I just try and get the word out anyway I can through guest blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and other Internet areas. I wish there was some secret formula but I haven’t found it yet.

9. What do you like to read? Were you a reader before you turned to writing?

Reading books was my life for many years. From middle school through college I read at least four books during a weekend and depending on what was going on, another few books during the week. I loved books and would read anything I could get my hands on. As I became older I had less time and became pickier because I could drive myself to the library or bookstore. I enjoy mysteries and thrillers but only read them when I’m not writing my first draft. I’m afraid I will grab ideas from them. When I’m writing I read romances, they are my ultimate escapism form.

W.S. Gager

Author of Humorous Whodunits
A Case of Infatuation and A Case of Accidental Intersection - Now Available
A Case of Hometown Blues – Coming this summer!

www.wsgager.com

Purchase A Case of Infatuation today at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Websites and Comments

I’ve come to the conclusion that most websites need to hire a vast array of moderators for their online comments section. Mostly to delete the stupid comments.

Although I fully protect everyone’s freedom of speech and their freedom to come across as an absolute idiot in public or private, some of these news websites need to step up and delete most of the comments their stories generate.

It is disappointing to see the type of comments that appear on websites.

Even on CNNMoney, the majority of the comments are crude, rude, or grossily illiterate. I would expect to see stupid comments on many websites, even the news-based ones, but I was disappointed to see that even CNNMoney’s news articles also collected their share of stupidity.

What has happened to polite behavior? It is really necessary to post whatever your empty brains are thinking after you read an article when it has nothing to do with the topic and adds nothing to the reader’s understanding or appreciation of the topic? Are these commenters not embarrassed by the things they post?

I just read an interesting article on CNNMoney titled: “Want a Minion? There’s an App for That.” Apparently there are several small companies that have created a way for people who need small tasks done to hire out the work to people near them. The work ranges from picking up dry cleaning or groceries to moving couches or writing thank you notes. The “minions” can pick up extra money performing these tasks for the people who are too busy or just too lazy to do it themselves. Clever, no?

The first comment for this article was some idiot posting that he wanted someone to rub the bump in his shorts for a small fee. Was this really necessary? This is the kind of comment that needs to be deleted. Yes, moderating these comments would likely be a full time job for a small army of people, but think of the minimum wages jobs that could be created for college students looking for extra work.

And think of how much more enjoyable it would be to read the comments section of articles. We’d only be left with the “real” comments that would be posting alternative information or discussing the actual contents of the article.

For now, however, I think I’m going to stop looking at the bottom of the pages. It’s just too depressing to realize most people can’t control their impulse to look like an idiot, are obsessed with the latest trending conspiracy, or can barely read/write in English (and sometimes all three at the same time).

My complaints about the poor quality of writing and lack of editing for the actual articles will have to wait for another post.

Online Dictionaries

Normally, I would have a digital dictionary installed on my computer, but when my work computer was upgraded a few months ago, I didn’t reinstall the program on the new system.

For about two weeks, my office is packed up and I’m working in a temporary location while the floors and cubicles are being replaced. The lack of a printed dictionary and my favorite style guides drove me to search for a good online dictionary. I hadn’t realized just how much I use a dictionary until I didn’t have one readily available.

My first (disappointing) discovery was the Merriam-Webster dictionary. After using it for a just over a week, I grew to dislike the slowness of the search and I was disappointed by the brevity of the definitions. I wanted more information about word origins, roots, and a more accurate (and complete) definition.

Of course, I can’t afford a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary (the only dictionary worth owning), so I continued searching for something better than Merriam-Webster.

In true word-geek fashion, I was squealing (internally) with delight when I found the Cambridge Online Dictionary. This dictionary has less clutter on the screen and a much quicker search time. I wish the definitions were a little more complete, but I’m satisfied with the online dictionary so far.

The Cambridge Online Dictionary also includes an iGoogle widget, a toolbar dictionary for most browsers, an About Words blog about how the English language behaves, and a New Words list that is updated weekly.

Of course, there’s nothing like the OED. I have submitted a question to my county library system asking if they have a subscription to the OED. Apparently, if the library has a subscription and I have a library card, I should be able to access the OED. Otherwise, I’m hoping my husband’s university has a subscription and I’ll be able to access the online OED using his credentials.

That would REALLY have me squealing (audibly) with excitement.

Disappointing Books

I’ve been disappointed in most of the books I’ve read lately and I can’t figure out why. I’m hoping I’ve just run into a bad batch of books because the alternative is that I’ve lost interest in reading. And that isn’t possible.

In the last few months I’ve read Ghouls Just Haunt to Have Fun and Ghouls Gone Wild, both by Victoria Laurie. And by that, I mean to say I finished Ghouls Just Haunt to Have Fun, but haven’t managed to finish Ghouls Gone Wild. I liked this series when the first book was published, but had a hard time finishing these last two. For some reason, the main character has become annoying, shallow, and stuck in place. I cannot see any character development. To be fair, I’ll probably try to re-read the first two books in the series, and I’m hoping I won’t suddenly hate them, also. Either way, I probably will not purchase any more books in this series.

I’ve had the same problem with Victoria Laurie’s other series, Psychic Eye Mysteries. The main character, Abby, is no longer interesting and Abby’s FBI agent boyfriend is downright irritating. I especially hate his nicknames for Abby. (What kind of nickname is “Sweet Hot?”) I have no interest in reading any additional books in this series.

I’ve also had a problem with the last Mary Janice Davidson book I read in the Undead series. I’ve grown to dislike the main character. Again, she’s shallow, which was originally part of her charm, but now it has just gone on too long. After reading the first six books in this series, I have no interest in purchasing any more books with these characters. I think this may be an excellent example of milking a series that should have stopped when it was a trilogy.

Reading the GeekMom blogs led me to try the Arcane Society series by Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle. I liked the first book, Second Sight, enough to try additional books in the series, but I was also a little disappointed in the book. Maybe Nora Roberts and Linda Howard are spoiling me for great stories, but I expected better from Quick/Krentz/Castle. I did like Second Sight enough that I’m going to try more books in this series, but I’m going to purchase them from a used bookstore.

I’ve actually started reading non-fiction books after this series of disappointments. I purchased a couple of basic physics books to refresh my memory and I recently purchased some nature books that I am looking forward to reading.

I know it cannot be all me because I still love J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas series and there are more than 30 books in the series. The mysteries are still interesting and the character development is consistent and believable. I also have read the Shirley Damsgaard “Witch” series and am still enjoying the stories.

Books on CD

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but instead of wasting the daily commute time on radio stations, I finally got a library card and began checking books on CD out of the local library. So far I’ve checked out non-fiction books that I own, but have not yet managed to read in my spare time, and I have to admit, this is the best use of that otherwise wasted time spent in traffic.

Though I’ve only listened to about six or seven audio books so far, I’ve noticed a few things.

First, books read by the authors are much easier to understand and more pleasant to listen to. Maybe it is a coincidence and the authors I’ve listened to just happen to be better at reading out loud, but is likely their greater familiarity with and interest in the subject makes for a smoother delivery.

When the authors read their own work, there were fewer changes in tone, pitch, and tempo of reading, and it was more difficult to detect where the different recording sessions were spliced. This smoothness of delivery was most obvious when listening to Malcolm Gladwell reading Blink, and Stephen J. Dubner reading Freakonomics. Both authors were pleasant to listen to and their delivery made it easy to follow the book. I look forward to listening to SuperFreakonomics (Dubner) and Outliers and The Tipping Point (Gladwell).

In contrast, listening to Johnny Heller reading Liberal Fascism was painful. Although the topic was interesting (and scary), the delivery was mediocre or worse. The tone of the narrator changed so often it was difficult to tell when he was reading text from the book or reading a quote from the book. I was constantly changing the volume on my car radio to accommodate the changes in the narrator’s volume. One of the more grating habits was when Johnny Heller imitated a Boston accent when reading a quote from John F. Kennedy, and mimicked the distinct upper class accent of Franklin D. Roosevelt when reading his quotes. Liberal Fascism was difficult to complete, partly because of the narrator chosen.

I loved listening to Jared Diamond‘s Guns, Germs, and Steel, because I am interested in history and, though I own this book in print, will probably listen to the audio book again someday. This was the first audio book I listened to, which may be why I do not recall noticing any problems with either the writing or the delivery.

While listening to a second book by Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, I’m noticing too many style issues that the editor in me just itches to correct.

The use of “in order to” on almost every page is driving me crazy, as is the frequent incorrect use of “due to,” at least one instance of “situated on,” some which/that misuse (at least in America), and a few other wordy, unnecessary phrases.

Another pertinent observation is the use of foreign words. When reading the book, it is easy for a reader to flip back and forth between the pages using unfamiliar foreign words and the pages containing the definition. This is not possible in an audio book. In the chapter about Easter Island and its basalt statues, I was confusing the many Polynesian terms Diamond used, especially when several of the words were used in the same sentence. It would have been easier to follow if he’d used “statue” and “platform” to describe the statue and the platform on which it rested instead of using the native terms.

I enjoy reading or listening to books that combine history, archaeology, and science, but some of these authors with something interesting to say need to work with good editors to improve their writing.

Oct 2009