Conspiracy Theories – Everywhere?

Admittedly, I love conspiracy stories; either in book form or big screen. I can’t seem to get enough of them, so I guess it’s not surprising that is my favorite writing genre. With a very divisive election behind us and polarized masses, I think it has become even easier to envision a conspiracy on any number of levels.

So what makes for a good conspiracy? I believe it must have components that the reader can either relate to, or believe could be easily set in motion. Simply, it is taking something from our everyday lives and giving it a sinister shading or background.

My personal area of interest is the field of medicine. Given this, there is a lot of potential fodder in that category. There are the cries against GMO’s, chemical alterations in plants, added substances to food items, the growth of Big Pharma, and testing on pharmaceuticals that may not be totally ethical. My novel, Against Their Will dealt with ethical treatments and practices on unsuspecting patients.

There is also the component of money in medicine. Corrupt practitioners who may push a treatment on a patient, not for the best interests of the patient but more for the financial or other benefit of the practitioner is one area with potential. Other possibilities could include harvesting organs for the black market, or even the legitimate market but with non-legitimate means. Just think of motivating factors to obtain the end result, money or power, and you’ve got a story in the making.

Power and money are just two examples of motivators for characters. What other things could define your character and provide motivation for them? Is it love? Or, acceptance, or even hate that pushes someone into action?

The blank page is your canvas so they say. But sometimes we need a nudge to put something on that canvas. Think of what motivates you and what you would be willing, or even unwilling to do? There you have a beginning for a new character!

Happy writing, everyone!

Emerald Beach a novel by Nancy Livingstone

Against Their Will by Nancy Livingstone

 

 

 

 

Big Pharma, Friend or Enemy?

My "Big Pharma"

My “Big Pharma”

Everyday it seems we are subjected to yet another “new” study that insists we must do this or that to better our health. Sadly, so may accept these “announcements” as total truth without doing any background research on the subject. Being constantly bombarded by media, we tend to start believing everything we hear. Since it’s coming from the news, it has to be true. Does it? Really?

As I mentioned in my last post, most anyone can concoct a stunning web site and post most any information on it. And because it looks professional, it immediately gains credibility with the reader. Again, really?!!!

I too, have been fooled by snazzy sites and flashy reports that claim to have the “only” way to make my life better. A blog I follow, and have found to have mostly good information, recently came under attack for “selling” items and information on the site. The author responded with an apology, but said that was the only way he could afford to continue posting the info. It’s a shame that he has to do this, but certainly understandable. In today’s business models, profit is important, and even just generating enough to cover costs is necessary. A necessary evil we all live with.

But, I digress. I didn’t start this post to complain about business and the economy. Actually it is due to a recent article I saw on the web regarding cholesterol. As we age (and I’ve done my fair share of it!), we all get more and more concerned with the issue. Lately, I’ve read a number of articles slamming the mainstream cholesterol medications as being bad for us. And there are just as many out there preaching we must do (eat and take) all that the mainstream medical profession says we should.

We should all be aware of the fact that “Big Pharma” spends boat loads of money trying to influence the front line of health care providers to prescribe their drugs. Yes, there is very much a profit motive. But, at what cost, our health?

With new research and the spate of lawsuits regarding fairly recent drugs, (can you say Xarelto, Avandia, and many others?) those who are astute in following these developments have a very real reason to fear what might be forced on them by well meaning health care practitioners. Sadly, most people receiving health care don’t bother to read up on the drugs they are prescribed and many do not follow recent developments in the pharmaceutical industry.

Granted, there are many great drugs out there. And my heart goes to all front-line health care practitioners as they have a very difficult and stressful job. I believe they are following the guidelines given to them with the full intent of doing what is best for the patient. The trouble is, the Big Pharma companies don’t have the same goal. They are about money, and more money. And that is the conflict of it all.

In my book, Against Their Will, this mentality prevails. Scientists, hired in secret by the US Government, have discovered a new class of drugs that show serious potential to cure a lot of diseases. Even more importantly, they see how they can use their discoveries to make big money. It doesn’t matter to them the human life cost. They are immune. Their instructions are to produce the drug and multiply it at all costs.

When I first started writing this book, these assumptions were considered scandalous. Sadly, it is so much more believable today that it is downright frightening.

What can we do? Do we have any options? Or, do we have no choice but to comply? I believe it is up to each individual to determine this. However, there are things we can do.

We can find informative sources and research them to determine their credibility and therefore make our own decisions. We can search for and engage health care providers who understand our concerns and work with us to find solutions. And, we can say no. No to what is being prescribed. No to what is being strongly suggested we must take to save our lives. No, to those who don’t care about us and our health, but care more for their own pocketbook.

We need to open our eyes and decide for ourselves what is best for us and take advice from those we truly trust and know have our best interests in mind. Being responsible for our self in every way, especially our health, is the only hope we have.

Web Conspiracies Everywhere? –

Just because a building looks official or imposing, does that mean everyone it represents is honest and trustworthy?

Just because a building looks official or imposing, does that mean everyone it represents is honest and trustworthy?

If you’ve read my book, Against Their Will, you know I’m into conspiracy stories. When the first stirrings of ideas for the book formed in my brain, it was still a bit inconceivable that normal, everyday citizens should ever have to worry about any type of conspiracy, much less ones government induced.

Now after the advent of Edward Snowden, the NSA, WikiLeaks, Drone spying, claims that vaccines harm us and that Wal-Mart is closing stores in the Southwest to make room for Chinese troops to come train on US soil and more, it is much more conceivable that things might be going on that we don’t really want to know are going on.

Granted there are all sorts of ideas floating on the web about who did what to whom. I will admit, some make a lot of sense. Others are discredited almost immediately when I see a lack substantiation or proof as to what the writer is claiming. Merely “preaching an idea” does not necessarily make that idea true. Nor does a credible looking website that states something is true without facts or references to back it up really mean that what is said is true.

Jazzy web-designs, easily obtained today in numerous places, can make a site credible looking. Formats that appear to be news-worthy can draw in visitors quite easily, and if the content is presented in the right manner, can even deceive the reader into believing all that is said is true.

This just emphasizes the ease with which a modern day web-surfer can be misled or down-right lied to. Fiction belongs in a book that is labeled as fiction and not pushed on the public in ways that deceive the reader into believing they are true, or fact.

Have I been stung by truthful-looking web-sites? Maybe. . . But, despite what I think about what I read on the web, I will say, there is an abundance of material out there that churns up a pot-full of ideas for plotting my next novel. No doubt, there is probably enough truth mixed in with the screaming headlines and provocative intros that even those ideas that are not true, may certainly seem true.

What’s good about all this? Well, this makes the beauty of fiction writing all the more alluring. It doesn’t matter! A fiction writer can craft just about any story, and given a few exceptions, never have to prove its merit or truthfulness!

But, as with all things, moderation is key. It all depends on the story being told and the audience to which it is pitched. Still, the internet makes for one huge world of interest just waiting to be manipulated into a best-seller. Thriller style!

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Most people don’t like bad guys. After all, they spend their real or fictional lives antagonizing others or themselves!

The epitome of a "bad guy" stage!

The epitome of a “bad guy” stage!

Bad guys make us sit on the edges of our seats, get sweaty palms, or even raise our heart rates. But are they really necessary for a good story?

YES! It’s been stated many times that conflict makes a story engaging or engrossing. What better way to create conflict than to have a bad guy antagonizing our hero. The greatest thrillers use this model and even dramatic stories successfully incorporate the bad guys into the plot line.

I’m a fan of Diana Galbadon (The Outlander Series and Starz Network Show). She has successfully created a number of bad guys that really set my teeth on edge and make my fingernails grow a couple of inches; all the better to claw their eyes out with! I hate the bad guys. I want them dead, gone, kaput! But, if they left the scene right away, what consequences would ensue? Sure, the protagonist would be “okay” but, would the story be as interesting if there was nothing to fear or be angry about? Would the reader really want to continue reading?

Not all stories use human characters to facilitate the bad guy persona. While many do, many authors are quite adept at using events and inanimate objects to antagonize the protagonists. A hurricane, health scare or disease outbreak, or financial crisis are just a few situations that are “bad” and can do much to facilitate character development and story interest. Situations a reader can relate to also help to grow interest and empathy from a reader. An author is not limited to human, breathing bad guys, but objects and events can be drafted to do the job.

I must admit I love “pulling the chains” of my “bad” characters. It is fulfilling, at times, to inflict emotional and/or physical distress on them. No, I’m not a sadist! But, writing in this manner is a great release of frustrations in my own life. I find it very cathartic and liberating. However, it is also rewarding to let some bad guys find redemption and become someone who is forgiven, loved, or even a savior of the protagonist. Either scenario, letting the bad guy stay bad and resolve the issues encountered with tragedy or letting him or her change and resolve the story in a more positive note make for writing that is captivating.

And if it makes for a best seller, all the better!

Until next time . . .

Making Characters Work for You

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

We’ve discussed memorable characters and briefly touched on some of the qualities that make them work. But what really makes a character work in a story, movie or book?

For those of you who watched the tv series, Breaking Bad, you’ve seen great characters at work. The series has characters you can relate to; love, hate and even feel sorry for. But, if you were really into the series, you can say one thing, there is no character there that does not elicit some type of reaction from the viewer. Hmmm, wonder why that is?

In dissecting the issue, let’s look at some of the character traits. Walter White is faced with a life threatening situation. He also is strongly motivated to provide for his family. He’s so motivated that he is willing to do just about anything to accomplish his goal. In seeking that goal, he goes out on many limbs and does things that no one, well at least most anyone would ever expect of him.

Then, look at Jesse. He is also pulled into Walter’s world and while his motivations are drastically different, he embarks on a journey with Walter that changes him profoundly. They have conflict, dramatically different views on many things, but as they progress through their journey together, they also learn how the other looks at things. Even when they disagree, they slowly develop a semblance of respect for the other.

Okay, so I’ve oversimplified things – I didn’t want to do any “spoiling” for those who have not seen the show. But, these characters are very complex. There are no simple solutions to their dilemmas and their motivations are not all about any one thing, but arise from different layers in each of their lives. They are not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted. They can feel sympathy for something simple or complex. They can react with rage over big or small events. They can withdraw or lash out because of situations encountered. And all of these things can create tension; between the characters and between the characters and events, or objects, that create some dissonance in their psyche.  All of these add interest and tension.

Interest and tension. One creates the other. Create tension between two or more characters and interest blooms. Create even more tension, distress, conflict, or whatever to put characters at odds with each other or their environment, and interest grows. Interest keeps the viewer and the reader engaged.

Much has been said about making sure characters encounter conflict. It is true that this is the basis for tension which is what keeps people on the edges of their seats, or as an author wants more than anything, readers turning the pages!

Food for thought and hopefully, a little stirring of the juices here! Until next time – happy writing!

We have so much right at our fingers. Do we know or care?

What some call weeds, others call medicine.

What some call weeds, others call medicine.We have been blessed with so much, not just the material things in our lives, but the things Nature has given us.

We have been blessed with so much, not just the material things in our lives, but the things Nature has given us.

Those in past generations knew about some of the naturally occurring medicines provided by nature; things such as berries, roots, bark, leaves, etc. But as humankind advanced and began to make our own medicines, it became very convenient to forget about what was given to us by Nature.

Today, there seems to be a rising awareness as to the bounty of natural substances that are ready and waiting to be discovered and used. New interest is growing in the use of herbs, nuts, various plants, trees, and shrubs to cure, heal and even enhance our lives. Books are proliferating on shelves that discuss and dissect the entire topic of herbal and natural healing.

When our world was created, we were given all we would ever need to survive. But, we were challenged to discover and perfect our knowledge on our own. All the medicines to overcome the frailties inherent in our species were provided, but cloaked or hidden in various plants or in nature itself. This is a great thing to realize we have it all, but mankind is too often blinded by his or her overblown sense of self.

Those with determination, the will and the ability can study and learn how to use these medicines and how best to harness their power. Win-win, right? Not necessarily. Humans aren’t perfect and our inner core screams out to take care of self first. From there it is a slippery slope into outright deviation from doing good, to just doing what is best for the self. I think we all have a point of corruption. Given enough rope, (some need more than others) we would all hang ourselves. Given no boundaries to stop us, we would all eventually self-destruct, all in the pursuit of self pleasure.

In Against Their Will, scientists have discovered a natural substance in pine rosin that shows promise to cure many diseases and even enhance the human life. They develop a series of compounds that can cure multiple dreaded diseases, change personality traits and even give extraordinary longevity to humans. Sounds great, right? Sadly, these wondrous discoveries fall into greedy hands and are manipulated to serve selfish interests, not the greater good.

Should the abuse by some cancel the good that is done by others? That is the question, both in my book and in life. If seeing how this dilemma is played out in one scenario, read the book Against Their Will. If you’re interested in learning about some of the valuable plants that can benefit your life, read more at the following Healthy Holistic Living

Memorable Characters?

I love books, tv shows, and movies that develop characters that I can relate to one way or another.

Even characters from different centuries have the same basic needs as we do. Use that to make relatable characters.

Even characters from different centuries have the same basic needs as we do. Use that to make relatable characters.

As humans we love knowing we’re not alone. Seeing someone in a situation similar to one we’ve experienced, or in one that we’re glad not to be experiencing, helps us to develop empathy for the character. When we connect in such a manner, then most anything that happens in the story becomes interesting as we become eager to see how that character responds, or even survives.

In Against Their Will, I tried to make the characters human as we all are while instilling thrills, suspense and even some dreams into the equation. Who wouldn’t want to have success in Hollywood and garner fame and fortune from doing something one is driven and loves to do? Who wouldn’t want to have a charming and attractive hunk seek us out and devote his resources to saving (us) our female character?

So, I wrote about the things I like in a story! Fast paced, suspenseful, a little romance tossed in and the fear and rapid heart-beat of not knowing who or what is after our protagonists.

Lynn McCane is a strong-willed but beaten up reporter who has had more than her fair share of hard knocks tossed her way. She’s fighting to survive in more ways than one. Don’t we all? Matt Grayson is riding the rocket to blazing stardom and yet, he’s most concerned with the more important things in life, family, legacy and ultimately love.

Oh, I know a lot of this is wishful thinking; to have these things in life. But, I believe the human condition is made up of hope and looking for better things, and by giving these to the characters while putting them through the ringer is a way of capturing readers’ attention.

Not everyone likes this kind of story. I get that. But, the process of building characters so they can be related to, appreciated, sympathized with, and even hated, draws the readers’ emotions into the process and an emotional tie is hard to break.

My challenge to you, and to myself, is this; think hard and long about how you can make your characters relatable to your target audience. Not every audience will relate to your characters and we all like and are attracted to different personality types. So if one person doesn’t like your characters, it’s not the end of their world or yours. It just means that person does not represent the target audience you want to write for. And that is okay!

What can Book Clubs do for you?

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Many of you may belong to book clubs, others may have utilized their exposure to boost name recognition and sales.

I recently made myself available to book clubs as a speaker and guest. It remains to be seen how profitable this will be (not just in sales made, but in gaining more exposure to future readers), but regardless, I think it will produce some helpful insight in how readers look for books, how they digest them and what they are looking for in a book.

I know, I know, we’re creative types, but business intrudes into our fantasy world, especially if we want to keep creating those fantasies for others to read. So, I feel this is a viable tool to help us research hot topics, see what is “happening” with readers as well as get a little much needed recognition.

Most of all, I would love to hear from others about his or her experiences in dealing with book clubs. Do you feel it is worth the time or effort? What did you find to be the best or the worst experiences?

Thanks for your insight!

Happy reading and writing!
http://bookclubreading.com/against-their-will/

 

Books waiting to be autographed.

Books waiting to be autographed.

Writer’s Block? Naaah…

Even when things seem mundane, look for the possibilities.

Even when things seem mundane, look for the possibilities.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions and this year is no exception with one exception. I’m making one resolution. And this is one that I encourage all writers out there to embrace as well. That’s it, just one. Write. That’s right, write!

What’s so hard about sticking to this one demand? Well, I for one can wrangle just about every type of procrastination angle out there. I’ve written about procrastination before. I’m sure I will again, especially when I’m ready to beat myself up over it!

This year, I plan to change my ways. I plan to make time each day to write at least a paragraph on my latest book; hopefully more. Do I think I’ll be successful? I should, but who knows what sort of roadblocks will come my way. The cat wants out, so while I’m at it I should take the trash out. Then I see a stack of junk that needs to be hauled to the garbage, from there I find I’m now cleaning out my closet. By the time that is finished, it’s midnight and I’m pooped. Another day gone and no time at the computer. See how I think?!

Just write!

I challenge each of you to do the same. I would especially love to hear your thoughts on this and any tricks you come up with to overcome roadblocks (aka excuses) to keep you from creating those magical words that can transform any of us into a new place or thought pattern.

Focus! Just write!

Happy New Year and let the writing begin!

Winter’s cold or Frigid air with swirls of frosty breath that left ice crystals on his beard that soon became icicles – Huh?

As I write this, it is spitting out the first winter precipitation for our area (North Carolina Piedmont). We tend to get overly excited over just one flake or ice pellet. The bread flies off the grocery store shelves with just a hint of winter in the forecast. Milk is equally in high demand. We all learned that lesson several years ago when we had a whopper snow that kept all of us in our homes for ten days.

A rare event in NC - enough to clear grocery store shelves!

A rare event in NC – enough to clear grocery store shelves!

Okay, I know all of you who live in colder climates are laughing at us. And believe me, even we who are snow starved cried in sympathy with the folks in Buffalo over the excess snow they had earlier this season. Too much of anything is bad, just as is too little. Which brings me to my point; what does this have to do with writing?

I recently read an excellent blog about the proper amount of description to use when developing a story, characters, or setting. There were points made on both sides of the issue; all of them valid.

For me, less is more. I believe in the reader’s ability to fill in the details according to their take on the written word. Now, I’m not talking basics here. We all need to know the character’s sex, age, location setting, and basic personality traits. But beyond that, what is needed?

There is a very prolific author whose stories I enjoy. But, I’ve noticed that in more recent books, some of the descriptions are overkill; way too many words to describe a relatively unimportant action, or trait. And that is when I start skipping pages to get on to the meat of the story.

There is another prolific author that I also enjoy reading and this person has a skill I truly admire; that of minimal description. With one or two words, this author paints a complete picture that I can not only see in my head, but feel as if I know the character or scene in question.

So, which way should an author go to be successful in writing? My preference is obvious. But, what about yours? Next time I will discuss some ideas about developing one’s descriptive skills. Meanwhile, I hope each and every one of you has the best Christmas holiday ever and a New Year filled with the best of the best of God’s blessings!