Monday, June 25, 2012

A matter of point of view

How many times have you been in a situation where something happened and everyone who witnessed the event told a slightly different version of events?

Ground zero, or the incident itself, is at a physical location. Witnesses range from nearby to further away. They also may or may not have a personal relationship with one of the individuals involved.

Both proximity and "insider knowledge" greatly affect how someone sees an event. For instance, if you observe a person running through the grocery store that knocks displays over and makes a mess of the store, you're upset with that person. But if you know his dog jumped out of the car and is dying in the parking lot, you're less likely to  paint his action in the grocery store in such a negative light.

That point of view, or how you see the world, is greatly influenced by what you know and what you see. One problem with this is that what we know may not be the entire truth. In most cases, knowing something new about a person changes our opinion of that person, shading it anywhere from less favorable to more favorable.

And let's not forget perspective. If you stand on a deserted road, the margins of the road at the horizon will converge to a vanishing point, making the road wider looking where you're standing and narrower the further away you look. The road doesn't change shape, but your point of view does.

In the same way, different characters in a book will rarely have the same perspective. The issue of what's at stake will be different for each person. Each person will have goals, dreams, agendas, flaws, and personal vendettas. That's the nature of humanity.

Pouring all of this into a character infuses life into a story. Point of view is a craft element that's more than one entity narrating the story. POV brings us into the mindset of the character on center stage. It grants us access to his/her knowledge, physical location, and personal history with the other characters in the scene.

Take the instance of two sisters. Molly has the family that Clarice wants. Molly has a handsome, successful husband who adores her. When Clarice can't obtain those things for herself, she goes after what Molly has.

Not such a nice sister, is she? But these situations happen in real life. This particular rivalry of Molly and Clarice is played out in my murder mystery, Murder in the Buff.

By making the stakes matter, readers empathize with Molly and despise Clarice for her interference. I write mysteries in first person POV, which makes Molly my only POV character, but through actions and dialogue, the perspective of the other characters come through.

This marriage-wrecking scheme of Clarice's affects more than the three people involved; it includes the whole family - from Molly and Hadley's son, to their parents and grandparents, to Molly's workplace. A ripple in the pond is more than a ripple when the stakes are high.

Point of view.
It makes us care.
It makes us want to know what happens next.
It makes us demand justice.

Maggie Toussaint

Murder in the Buff is available now.
Buy links:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sisterhood of the Frying Pan

It was one of those church affairs that I got my comeuppance. The leader of the young moms' group handed out recipes. We were all supposed to follow the recipe and bring this specific all-in-one egg casserole dish for the church-wide Sunday brunch.

Understand that I've never claimed to be a great cook, but I know how to read. And I'd been cooking for my family for a few years without poisoning anyone. Plus, I followed step-wise procedures all the time in the world of science. I could do this.

I followed the recipe to the letter, and it wasn't easy with an infant and a toddler attached to me like rogue octopi, let me tell you, but I wanted to do my part.

Come Sunday morning, the 9x12 casserole dishes were laid out on the counter like a holy jack o'lantern smile. I took some of mine and a few unsuspecting others did as well, but most of the other dishes emptied out.

Come to find out, "follow the recipe" doesn't mean that. Folks substituted lots of things, added more flavors, threw in a little extra this and that. My plain-jane casserole didn't measure up.

That's when I knew.

There was a secret society, one of which I was not a member.

The Sisterhood of the Frying Pan met in out of the way places, they swapped recipes, they watched cooking shows, they even experimented with foods. Ye gads. I was a cooking failure before I even lifted a spatula.

At one cookie-making event I attended, one of the sisters noticed me struggling as I carved the Crisco out of the measuring cup for my gingerbread men. "Don't you know nothing, girl?" she said. "Always crack your egg in the measuring cup to coat it before you measure out the shortening."

Dumbfounded, I watched her execute this move and not a trace of Crisco remained in her measuring cup afterward.

But the sisterhood was wise to the leak. No more tips came my way because I didn't know the secret handshake. But I didn't mind, I'd learned the true secret. Find out who the best cooks were, then only eat their dishes at pot luck functions. I'm more than happy to eat food the sisterhood makes.

Recently, another "sister" let slip a tip that made me realize I'm an amateur on a professional playing field. After spending the night at her place, she pulled out what she called her egg dish and proceeded to crack her eggs on the bottom of the pan. For more than 30 years, I've been cracking eggs on the side of this or that, and there's always that telltale dribble of white everywhere. Cracking eggs in the bottom of the dish. Imagine that.

Since I'm not a member of the sisterhood, I can't be sanctioned for sharing this leaked  tip. From now on, I will always crack my eggs in the bottom of a bowl. No more egg white cast-offs for me!

If you'd like to share a kitchen tip, and aren't afraid of being drummed out of the sisterhood, please leave a comment. You can only dine so many years on perfectly Criscoed gingerbread men....

Maggie Toussaint

large print edition of Death Island Style out now
Murder in the Buff, a naturalist mystery with organic produce, is available now as an ebook. check it out at  BarnesandNoble   Muse It Up Publishing

Monday, June 11, 2012

I've got news!

Nothing like news to put a spark in our heart and pep in our step. I've been sitting on my news waiting for just the right moment and here it is.

Granddog Missie stars in this series
BIG NEWS for me: I've signed a new contract with Five Star for the third book in my Cleopatra Jones series. Since Cleo's an accountant, my books have a money theme. DIME IF I KNOW follows On the Nickel and In for a Penny. This time around Cleo's golf pro boyfriend is suspected of murdering a former girlfriend. The release date is still to be announced, but it's party time in Maggie-World!

Maggie, on left, with Polly Iyer
GOOD NEWS - the fourth outing of my pacing workshop, this time at the Upstate SC Sisters in Crime monthly meeting, was met with smiles all around. My friend Terri Ridgell prompted me to create this workshop for the Amelia Island Book Festival in 2007. Since then, I've given it at the Florida Heritage Book Festival, the Ancient City Romance Writers, and now, SINC. I get a big kick out of showing things with terrible pacing and then taking them apart to make the pacing better.

Here's an example of poor pacing from my workshop: On December 24, no, wait, I think it was the 23rd. No, I was right the first time, it was the 24th because that's the day Amy skinned her knee. Anyway, my insomnia was acting up again. My wife was sound asleep. The kids were snoozing. Even Benjie's teenage anorexic mouse was sawing zees.

If you get rid of the extraneous stuff to keep it in the moment, it pares down to: On Dec 24 I couldn't sleep. My wife, kids and the mouse were out cold. -- bottom line, not very interesting. More fun before, but too dithery for an opening of my work. (The opening of a story is a promise from the author that the rest of the work will be written in the same style)

If you look at the word choices and consider meter and beat, you might end up with something like Clement Moore wrote: Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse... It's all about the word choice.

There's a place and a time for having wandering prose. The secret is knowing when and where to be lean and when to dally. That's the whole point of pacing.

The end of my workshop is a creative writing exercise and folks really get into it. I hope you enjoy the photos of some of the group at work. And thanks, SINC Upstate SC, for such a warm welcome.

MORE GOOD NEWS - My work-in-progress has been through the plot edit, the characterization edit, the Margie Lawson color-coded edit, and most of it has been critiqued. Now I'm letting it rest a week while I work on the synopsis. Then it will get another read, this time on my Kindle, before it heads out to my editor. I'm pretty psyched about this story. It follows the adventures of the cop from Muddy Waters and a hunky arson investigator. Lots of action and romance in HOT WATER!

EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS - The large print edition of Death, Island Style is available now. Here's the listing at Amazon if large print is your thing: I've ordered postcard mailers for library notification, and those should arrive any day now.

This book is flying off the shelf (big smile here) with great reviews like these:

“an exciting whodunit” – Publishers Weekly
“Toussaint creates a gutsy heroine whose struggles with murder and romance add up to a very enjoyable read” – Kirkus Reviews
“Eccentric and fun, this book is definitely worth a read” – Romantic Times
“Toussaint's feel-good stand-alone flies by as her initially wimpy heroine develops a backbone and comes out a winner on all fronts. Nice regional flair.” – Library Journal

Thanks for sharing in  my good news! Wishing everyone a happy June.

Maggie Toussaint
Like me on facebook:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The cabana boy

Admit it. We all have secret fantasies. In these moments, we stretch beyond our fears and limitations. We become the person we always knew we could be.

Successful. Brazen. Powerful. Rich. Seductive. Unblemished.

In private inner thoughts, our potential unfolds without boundaries.

Let’s consider Molly, a woman whose marriage is on the rocks. A woman who has always felt inferior to bustier types. A woman who needs reassurance that someone loves her unconditionally. A woman who needs an escape from reality.

Molly might have this dream:

Gentle waves lapped the pristine white sand. The sun warmed my bronzed skin as a muscular cabana boy walked toward me carrying a tray of umbrella-topped drinks. He was much too young for me, but he seemed riveted by my svelte body, his dark brown eyes boring into me with animal-like fascination.

I flushed under his rapt attention. He caressed my cheeks with long languid stokes, and my heart rejoiced. His breath came faster and faster, and it thrilled me that he was so attentive to my every desire.

There was something familiar about his scent. I inhaled deeply, freeing all the pent-up tension in my lungs, straining toward his heat. My eyelids drifted shut with pleasure at his repeated caress.

We are all cheering for Molly, right? She’s inhabiting a world where everything is exactly as she wishes. A world where good things come to her by virtue of her existence.

Her rich fantasy of a cabana boy who worships her body with his eyes and hands is likely a near universal ideal among women of a certain age. Having a fantasy like this, particularly in light of a horrible mess in real life, provides an escape into a world where happiness reigns supreme.

However, Molly’s liaison with the cabana boy is in question. Read on:

Something hard, cold, and wet touched my face. I startled awake, surfacing from my cocoon of sleep. I shoved the object away, blinking against the blinding sunlight filling my bedroom. As my brain booted up from dream mode, I was filled with a sense of profound loss.

I wanted to be back on that tropical island with my handsome cabana boy.

“Five more minutes,” I murmured, scrunching my eyes closed and burrowing into my fluffy comforter. The heavy object rolled up to my nose with a thud.

My eyelids popped open at the unexpected impact. Goldie’s slobbery rock lay on my pillow. I groaned and then shoved the rock away, blinking against the bright sunshine. I squinted over at the clock. Seven.

By now you may have guessed Molly is a character in a book and that the snips above are excerpts from Murder in the Buff. The book is a campy, offbeat mystery in which her father is accused of murdering a nudist.

Molly’s dream of adoration by her cabana boy, in this case, her son’s golden lab, link back to her deep-seated feelings of betrayal. Those play into her fears of physical inadequacy, giving a double wallop to this flawed character.

In addition, she’s blindsided by the entire situation. Molly’s a woman in jeopardy of falling apart at the seams.

I wrote her that way because so many times in life, women get caught up in a double boiler of balancing career and family. We know we aren’t keeping all the juggling balls in the air. We can’t. It’s physically impossible. But we try it anyway.

Molly gets a happy ending, but she has to work for it. She has to process her feelings and learn to trust her reactions again. She has to decide what she wants and then she has to go out and get it.

In finding herself again, Molly becomes empowered. Gosh, we could all use a bit more of that!

Maggie Toussaint

Murder in the Buff e-book buy links: