Author Archives: Judith Gaines

About Judith Gaines

I enjoy the following (in no specific order): Harney & Sons ParisTea A stack of good books Slow walks through art galleries Hiking in areas with no cell phone reception Discovering new cities Playing Reversie and Mancala with my daughter Watching college football with my husband- Go Pack! Baking anything that has lots of sugar and butter ........ and writing

Layer by Layer Character Development


Bathroom Personality Assessment - Part 1There was a time when I read a lot of books on the craft of writing fiction. Today, I find the most insightful character development tips coming from psychology professors. We’re all a collection of layers made up of personal history, family, emotions, and unique experiences. If characters are developed with just one or two of these layers, then as writers, we miss the opportunity to make them feel real for our readers.

A few weeks ago I discovered a video in my weekly Pinterest update which uses forced perspective to illustrate the difference between assumption and reality. This led me to author and psychologist Richard Wiseman. His book Did You Spot The Gorilla? also talks about perception. I’ll let you read the book description yourself and instead focus on how I relate this to writing. How often are you so focused on getting your plot moving, and getting your characters from point A to point B that you miss opportunities to show character depth? This isn’t a wordy side trip for the sake of showing the character in gratuitous situations. This is an opportunity to develop a sub plot—you know the other problem your character has to figure out, that parallels the main theme or plot. No one has a single focus in life, including our characters. What did you do today? Now what was going on in the back of your mind during this time? Character also have inner dialogue and multiple tasks to juggle.

In Wired, Jade Weekes is trying to figure out why she’s been sent to steal a painting that is a forgery while at the same time piecing together lost memories washed from her mind when she was attacked on a Paris bridge. In the end, one problem is linked to the other furthering the plot, and adding a layer to her unique personality.

Understanding why we behave the way we do, and what motivates us can be helpful in creating characters who move the plot forward using a fully developed personality. In 59 Seconds, Wiseman talks about practical phycology we can use to improve our lives. I see this as a gold mine for character behavior and aligning their actions to their motives.

Below is a short list of books I’ve found insightful and also fun to read. Please leave a comment and share your favorite recommendations.

Did You Spot The Gorilla? Richard Wiseman
59 Seconds: Think A Little Change A Lot Richard Wiseman
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Susan Cain (related post)


Wired for the Weekend


A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Wired went live on Smashwords in the early hours of March 15th, and is already flying off the virtual shelves. It’s available for Free through March 29th as I tweak the formatting, cover image, and promo copy. While there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate for the official launch, I’m excited to finally have it available, and look forward to feedback from readers.

Wired is the first installment of the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series, with the 2nd novel, Enigma, scheduled for release late 2013. Set in Paris, St. Pete, and Chicago, this mystery unravels an organized crime gang, solves a murder, and reveals the haunting past of main character, Jade Weekes.

Here’s the promo copy from Smashwords:

Short description
Read for FREE through March 29, 2013! Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past.

Extended description
Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions?

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

No one is who they seem, most of all Jade Weekes.

You can download Wired for your e-reader here.

The Red PencilLook for me to return to blogging on a regular basis as I vet ideas for novel number 3 in the series (working title The Missing), and ramble on techniques for character development. Enjoy your weekend, and get outside to soak up the extra sunshine. ;)


When Your Characters Go Public


Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphi...

Salvador Dalí, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure this happens to all writers from time to time. It’s our curious nature that’s to blame and our quest to provide realism to our work. I’m talking about the odd stares from strangers for doing what comes so naturally to us, thinking like our characters in public.

While doing research for WIRED and ENIGMA, I came across an article profiling the behaviors museum staff and security are trained to spot as suspicious. It explains why there always seems to be a Docent close by, and when I leave an area, someone new takes up the post and I often spy them eyeing me as I wander around.

Jade Weekes, the main character in WIRED and ENIGMA is an art thief and a savant when it comes to museum security. If she could just get over her amnesia, she would remember she designed a very clever security system for her late father’s gallery. To walk in her shoes and let my imagination run with her personal obsession for impressionist art and all things Salvador Dali, helps me develop her personality and add concrete details to help readers see through her eyes.

When I’m channeling Jade, this is a bit of what I do:

  • I like to walk the floor plan of the exhibit several times to see the traffic flow, and what physical and psychological barriers have been implemented to keep the public in place. (I attended a great seminar on the Rembrandt exhibit last year and gained a lot of insight on the subject.)
  • I often take notes of these observations which include the placement of security cameras, staff and any climate sensing devices. Since photography is allowed (without flash) in most galleries, I use my phone to snap pictures for later scene building.
  • I usually step to the sides of painting to see how they are secured to the wall and determine if any wires or hardware are visibly attached (security devices).
  • I also note any missing gaps between paintings which could mean a work was removed for repair or other reasons.

Odd behavior for sure, but do I merit being tailed? A small vase or Rembrandt isn’t safe around Jade or the underworld types she deals with, but they are perfectly secure in my company. I need them on display so I can let my characters fight over them and scheme ways to ferry them from the museum without notice. That’s the part of the puzzle I love to work out as I note the emergency exits and service elevators.

So far, Jade has never been arrested, but she is well-known to law enforcement in three countries.

As writers, we should think and behave a bit odd, because that’s how fiction turns from isolated ideas to page-turning stories.

Suspicious? I think not… just creativity at play.


Catching Fire


What does getting fired up mean to you? Are you red-faced as you sprint into action? Perhaps you’re a slow burner, allowing your ideas to percolate to a rich hue before you take the next step.

letters

letters (Photo credit: nate steiner)

The end of each year leads inevitably to promises we make to ourselves to be healthier, more productive, finish a project, start a project, lose weight, eat better, clean out the garage, stop procrastinating…..well, you know the scene.

Two books come to mind, both of which I’ve mentioned before:

In their own ways, each talks about the creative fire everyone has inside. Bradbury advises digging in and writing about what terrifies us, letting the fear we feel quaking inside spill into our characters and plot. Cain talks about the spark of passion in ourselves which we can tap into to find our own power and confidence.

Imagine a meeting of the two; a gift of fears and passions pushing your characters past obstacles and forcing them to confrontation. I gave Jade, the main character in WIRED, doubts and insecurities to make her falter, correct herself and make choices which will move her and the plot forward. Sometimes, I let her make poor choices so she can figure out her mis-step and grow. Letting her fears and passions run amuck on the page is to let her be human and perhaps a little more real to readers.

My goal for 2013 is to allow my characters to be human, flawed, brave, fearful and then press on despite their self-doubts. (Also a sound course of action for writers battling their self-critic.)

Good luck catching your own spark, nurture it well.


Gearing up for NaNoWriMo2012


The days are getting darker, colder. Evenings feature heavier meals and perhaps a dark fermented beverage to keep us warm. What better time to deprive ourselves of sleep and relaxation?

November is National Book Writing Month, a global challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. It is possible, but it takes sacrifice and determination. You must be willing to shirk your house cleaning duties and stock up on frozen pizza to cut down time wasted in the kitchen (you would just burn everything anyway because you’re distracted by your novel). You must be willing to either rise hours before dawn or stay up well after midnight to keep up the daily word count that will get you to 50,000 by midnight November 30, 2012.

I’ve participated twice in NaNoWriMo, each time falling short by a paltry 5,000 words. Usually, about two weeks in, I skip a few days of writing and never catch up. I may have a 3k word sprint, but once you fall behind it takes an incredible effort to catch up. Worst part? The word count is on the NaNoWriMo web site for all to see. That’s a lot of peer pressure.

The NaNo novels I’ve written have grown into full novels which aren’t half bad. It’s a great way to free up your inner critic and crank out some much-needed creativity. It’s amazing how much your writing improves once you stop agonizing over each word or phrase. NaNo dictates that you keep moving forward with your story instead of reaching backward to revise.

If you are serious about making a living as a writer, you already know that the best way to learn how to write your best is to write a lot. This is a skill that can only be developed by practice. Books and classes will only teach you the mechanics, but they won’t help you find your voice or personal writing style.

There are a lot of folks in the world with the opinion that NaNoWriMo is a lark for wanna-be authors, but there are so many more talented writers who embrace the challenge and see it for the benefits it offers:

  • Imposing a daily word count goal forces you into a daily writing habit that continues beyond November.
  • Writing quickly slays your inner critic so you can experiment, screw up and make mistakes…the best way to find your writing voice.
  • And best of all, it builds your confidence as a writer. You will be able to see leaps in your ability to plot a novel length story, dig into a character’s personality and know that you really are a writer.

Check out the NaNoWriMo website and get yourself geared up for November 2012. NaNo founder, Chris Baty has great advice  on surviving the month, while the forums offer support and a healthy dose of commiserating.

You can track my word count here, where I’ll post weekly survival updates, or on my NaNoWriMo page.

You should consider joining the madness and who knows, by December 1st you may be able to call yourself a novelist. :)


The Power of Quiet


 My idea of a perfect afternoon is this:

The sky is overcast and there is a chill in the air that hints at a hard freeze by nightfall. The house is unnaturally quiet and I like that. I pull a blanket from its drawer, the light blue polar fleece with snowflakes, and curl up in my favorite chair. I prefer the chair over the sofa or even the recliner. It hugs me and makes me feel secure and I am small enough to almost lie sideways and nap. But today I take advantage of the quiet and write. I may take a break to read or look up a reference, but mainly I am cruising through my own imagination creating problems for my characters. I lose track of time this way. An hour isn’t enough; two maybe; a whole afternoon even better.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my family—they’re the solid foundation that keeps me sane—it’s just that 99% of the time I am surrounded by people. Being alone helps me discharge stress and recharge my mental energy.

I am an introvert.

I’ve always known I was introverted, with brief periods of sociableness. Now I know why.

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...I’ve been listening to the Audible version of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This non-fiction examination of what makes each of us an introvert or extrovert gives engaging stories of some of the most famous introverts (think Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Steve Wazniak) and how their quiet contributions have changed our lives. Extroverts are not left out. In fact, we learn a great deal about our out-going friends and how their minds work.

What’s to be gleaned is how, as introverts, we can trust our instincts and insights gained from listening and observing before acting. We are thinkers, planners and love to have as much information as possible before voicing opinions in public.

As I’ve listened, two thoughts have been swirling in the back of my mind:

  • How do I harness my focus to improve my writing and productivity? I know that when I shut my “office door” to interruptions and noise I can accomplish a greater amount of work and at a higher quality. I’m also happier because my sense of accomplishment comes from completing a task without skipping steps to race to the finish.
  • Next, I wonder how I can use these insights to develop my characters. Cain goes into great detail of how introverts and extroverts differ in behavior and habits, but then takes it even further with an examination of the physiological differences. We are wired and evolved for the temperament we have and it can even be measured with FMIR, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Being introverted or extroverted is not a choice, but simply how our bodies and brain function. Now I’ve added to my “writing tool kit” ways to strengthen my characters convictions with habits to match their personality type. I can make their hearts palpitate in crowds and raise their stress level as a restaurant becomes noisy with boisterous partygoers.

Are you introverted or extroverted? Have you given it much thought? “Quiet” will give you a lot to think about and a lot of information to help build your character’s inner world. The scene at the beginning of this article describes my “flow”, a state at which I feel most energized and able to do my best work with seemingly little effort. Learning to create this more often and in different settings for myself and my characters will lead to a mutual understanding that if I put them on the page, they can find their preferred state of social engagement too.

Just as a footnote, there are many great resource books on personality and behavior that aren’t in the writing reference section of your bookstore. Go to your favorite bookstore website and look up “Quiet”, then check out the “Customers Also Bought” section for ideas on  multi-faceted traits you can give your characters. SavvyAuthors.com also has great workshops. I am looking forward to “PTSD & Victims & Multi-Personalities”.

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon and what does it say about you:)


Inner Critic Sentenced to Maximum Security Facility


Inner Critic

The writing process is hard. No one is telling you to get up an hour early to finish your chapter or polish your final draft. No one is cheering every time you find the write way to right a scene. No one cherishes your words or admires the sweat it took to type them. We love to write, yet it is torture of our own creating. As writers, we wake up every morning thinking about writing, wishing we had more time to write and agonizing over what we haven’t written.

I’m there with you. It’s hard every time I face my WIP. My subconscious turns small tasks such as a blog post into a giant time-consuming monster. When will I find the time? What will I write? Does anyone care about what I write?

I’m learning how to break that down by stopping the noise in my head that pulls me away from being creative. You see, as writers, we need creative time. It is the medicine that keeps us balanced and happy.

Mindfulness is a widely used stress reduction technique which can do wonders. I stop worrying about what I didn’t do or what’s happening next week. I take a few deep breaths and visualize what I have in front of me. Sometimes it’s my day job and I actually get more done than I thought I could because my mind is focused. Other times it is my beautiful daughter, and I am focused on her words and how wonderful she is at 7 years old and how she will only be this way this minute and if I don’t pay attention I’ll miss it.

When I sit to write, I focus on the characters and their issues and what they need to work through and accomplish. I leave the tension on the page. Killing your inner critic is hard.

Ray Bradbury - The Martian Chronicles ...Sci-F...If you think this sounds like New Age hogwash, try reading it from Ray Bradbury’s perspective in “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Writers are creating worlds, giving birth to characters and controlling the fates of every soul in their writing. Writing is supposed to be hard work, but our self-doubt should not be part of the process. Show up and put in the work, don’t worry if it’s any good or wonder if anyone will ever read it. Write for yourself and be present in the moment for your characters. You can be critical when you go into editing mode, but then, isn’t that another opportunity to be present and creative? You’re shaping the clay of your writing to a polished reading experience.

Take five-minutes right now to stop the distractions and breathe, be present and write without expectations or doubt. Perhaps a mystery about a mutilated inner critic found floating in a sea of Alka-Seltzer.

Random Thoughts NOT on Writing

The world is getting smaller and bigger at the same time. Our everyday lives, media and technology are fusing to create a new group-think that influences our choices and behaviors. What if we harnessed that power for good rather than distraction?

The Waze app on my phone uses crowd sourcing to help me navigate around construction and traffic snarls, even warning me when there’s a car parked on the shoulder of the road. This has saved me time and headaches even while driving familiar routes.

Roger Water

Roger Water (Photo credit: Serjao Carvalho)

During the intermission of Roger Water’s concert, I searched Twitter and found dozens of other concert goers posting comments and pictures of the show. Suddenly the sea of strangers transformed to a welcoming, shared experience.

We are a virtual herd, changing direction and changing each other in the process. What are your thoughts?


A Walk in the Art


Cool Toys Pic of the day - Google Art Project

Cool Toys Pic of the day – Google Art Project (Photo credit: rosefirerising)

Art Insitute of Chicago on Museum Monday.

This wonderful post from Mary Joe Gibson and this write life goes inside the Art Institute of Chicago. The galleries are also featured in the Google Art Project.

Happy Memorial Day.


What’s in a Title?


The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at ...

The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at the front of the machine, below the keys. When in use, there can be up to 13 connections. In this photograph, two pairs of letters are swapped (S↔O and A↔J). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am soooooo indecisive at times. I finally decide to eat out, but can’t decide where to go. I want to paint a room, but come to a stand still when selecting a color. It’s easier for me to make decisions for my characters than myself.  Afterall, their choices are governed by the personality I give them and has to give the reader clues to their inner world. That’s merely laying out puzzle pieces.

There are now 3 working titles for the follow-up novel to WIRED: Enigma, Persistence of Vision and Persistence of Time.  Each works for different reasons.

Enigma play on the plot theme of art looted by the Nazis during WWII.  The Enigma machine encoded German communications which was later cracked by Alan Turing.  Jade is in pursuit of a painting that was auctioned in 1939, only to find it leads her to her father’s killer, thus cracking the code of her past.

Persistence of Vision refers to the phenomenon of the eye to hold an after image.  Jade’s dreams are revealing the after image of the past she’s buried deep in her subconscious.

Diagram of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spoc...

Lastly, Persistence of Time…. also a Salvador Dali painting, refers to the artist to whom Jade has a strange affinity. It is one of his lost works she’s trying to uncover. 

Usually, when you find the right title it resonates for you.  This time I can’t decide which fits best. I may have to resort to Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. (sigh)

Now, back to writing….


Time Stand Still


“Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each impression a little bit stronger.” ~ Rush

I love to travel and any place I visit is open game as a story setting. I often take photos to remember the details of a place and to jog my memory of the sensory bits that add realism to a description.

This first photo was taken from Notre Dame in Paris.  In case you’re wondering, the buses and trailers were part of a production set for the TV series Highlander with Adrian Paul. Looking at this, I remember how incredibly cold it was.  The wind blew along the river with a ferocity that cut through my coat and several layers of sweaters. The water smelled pas frais as it swirled in eddys along the wall.

The images and memories formed a basis for the setting of WIRED which begins and ends in Paris.  The final scene takes place on the bridge in the distance.  There are also scenes that take you into the catacombs underneath the city and introduces another side of Paris usually not mentioned in the tour guides.  For those locations, I relied on research and discovered there’s a French Police unit that patrols the underground keeping peace and deterring criminal behavior. Photos become valuable tools for writing and enhances your ability to convey mood and let the setting take on its own character role.

The second photo is a church yard in England, but my memory is faulty on the exact location.  I’m thinking it may be in Suffolk. I do recall the church was well over 1,000 years old and was marred by medieval graffiti on the ancient floor tiles.  This will be in the follow-up novel to WIRED which has the working title Persistence of Time.

Now that the digital age is upon us, I snap photos constantly with my phone, trying to capture fleeting moments and emotions I can use later.

I also freeze bits of time by being completely present in the moment and noting everything around me. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve been able to later recall details that would have likely gone unnoticed… such as Ray Davies changing his wrist watch mid concert in 1983 or a woman in a black sweater doing yoga in Russell Square while a breeze blew spray from the fountain across the stone walk (2007).

By adding realism and sensory detail, your readers will be able to escape into your writing. Photos help me make time stand still long enough to share it with you.


13 Titles – An Incomplete List of Books I Love


The Monster at the End of this Book13

I don’t think I could count how many books I’ve read over the years, but some stand out in my memory for various reasons.  Instead of telling you what’s special about each, I’ll let you enjoy them for yourself. 

The Professor’s House Willa Cather
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
Walden Henry David Thoreau
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Lost Michael Robotham
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
A Parchment of Leaves Silas House
Books A through V Sue Grafton
Far and Away; A Prize Every Time Neil Peart
Outlander Diana Gabaldon
The Monster at the end of this Book Jon Stone & Michael Smollin
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

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