Please join me in welcoming Catherine Dilts today. She used some unique(to these guest blogs) descriptors about herself. She is a writer, a gardener, a Coloradan; she’s environmental and tech. Her writing is clean, and she writes murder mystery with an amateur sleuth. Her second Rock Shop Mystery, Stone Cold Case will be released in a week’s time. Now let’s see which questions Catherine chose:
What makes a great short story?
In my opinion, three elements combine to make a great short story. First, meeting the challenge of creating a compelling tale using as few words as possible. Second, well-developed characters. I have enjoyed many stories with twist endings, but a well-drawn, complex protagonist is what really keeps me reading. Third, the short story is wildly adaptable to a variety of styles, and so can be more experimental. A reader will go along with something written in second person, or from an insane person’s point of view, whereas the reader might not commit to something like that in novel length.
As a writer, I’ll take risks in short fiction I might hesitate to take in a novel. I am an avid reader of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and am honored to have a story appearing in the December 2015 issue, which goes on sale in October.
What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?
The sun rises, the birds start singing, and I have to get up. Morning is my most productive writing time. I work a day job as an environmental tech, so I try to wake around five am and write for an hour before heading to work. I enjoy an extra large mug of coffee first thing in the morning. I’m not a coffee connoisseur, and dose it liberally with non-dairy creamer. After lunchtime, I have to cut back on caffeine, unless I’m facing a deadline, external or self-imposed. I thrive on those super long days, dosed to the gills on caffeine, writing until I drop. Love it. But I can only do that on an as-needed basis before my body insists it is time for regular sleep cycles.
How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?
According to Goodreads, I read 36 books last year, so three books a month. That doesn’t count individual short stories. I do read in my genre while I’m writing, which doesn’t seem to throw me off. I read a smattering of non-fiction, and other genres. I enjoyed the non-fiction book Finding Zero by Amir Aczel, a mathematician hunting for the earliest image of a zero. I had somehow never read William Kent Krueger. This spring I read Ordinary Grace, and I’m hooked. I can see why Mr. Krueger is winning awards.
Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
I met Cathy Ace at Malice Domestic 2014, and became a fan of her amateur sleuth mysteries. Her protagonist is a middle-aged Welsh-Canadian woman with an idetic memory. Great fun, and great settings. I met Ovidia Yu at Bouchercon 2014. I read the second Auntie Lee novel, and became an instant fan of these amateur sleuth mysteries set in
with a protagonist that
reminds me a little bit of Mrs. Pollifax. I read Blood, Ash, and Bone by Tina
Whittle, and very much enjoyed this action-packed novel about a female gun
shop owner. Singapore
What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?
I like my characters, and I hate to make them suffer. However, that suffering is what makes a compelling story. I write a rough draft that is often lukewarm, then during rewrites and edits, I create more obstacles, tension, and pain. I write amateur sleuth fiction, which reliably comes to a positive conclusion.
Someone once accused me of writing yet another good conquers evil story. I gladly accept that criticism. I believe people read mysteries because real life all too often fails to deliver a satisfactory conclusion, or a comeuppance for the bad guys and gals. To really be satisfying, the fictional characters need to go through the wringer first. I have to remind myself that my protagonists will survive their ordeals, and then really dog-pile the travails on them.
What motivates you to write?
I am incredibly grateful to people I meet who say “I’m only a reader.” Only? Never say those words! Readers are the people who make my writing meaningful. And don’t forget – all writers are readers, too! As for why I write, I can’t imagine not writing fiction. Why would you not choose to create your own worlds, and populate them with people telling the story you invented? Writing fiction is my way of making sense of this crazy life.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
On a multi-family camping trip in the mountains, the adventurous young people discovered a dilapidated hunting blind. Branches had been placed across a narrow gully, and a blue plastic tarp hung over the entrance. Age and weather had worn it down, giving it an air of creepy decay. The kids had great fun dropping through the “roof” and sliding down the gully full of rotting leaves.
I had a “what if” moment. My imagination dreamed up a body buried under the leaves. That image stuck with me for a couple years before it worked into a story. I first tried writing a short story, but it wouldn’t gel. The idea bloomed for Stone Cold Case, the second novel in my Rock Shop Mystery series. The body is not found in a hunting blind exactly, but the blue tarp and the body became vital to the story.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?
Laura DiSilverio told me to read ten mysteries of the type I was attempting to write. I was to treat it like a college literature class, examining key points about each novel. I kept a notebook, jotting down the setting, on which page the first body appeared, the characters, murder weapon, and all manner of details in an attempt to dissect what worked and what didn’t. The exercise was time consuming, at times tedious, and a little painful. By the end, I had learned my genre inside and out. I also learned a lot about that elusive quality of voice, and how word choice, pacing, sentence length, and character develop unique voices.
For more information about Catherine’s short stories and novels, check out her website at http://www.catherinedilts.com/
And here’s a little blurb for Stone Cold Case:
Rock shop owner Morgan Iverson’s discovery of human remains reopens a sixteen-year-old cold case and unhealed wounds in a Colorado mountain town, while her find of a rare gemstone sparks a dangerous treasure hunt. A Sasquatch look-alike may hold the key to both a prom queen’s death and the location of the gemstone. As she begins to uncover the past, Morgan becomes the target of someone determined to keep the truth buried. In book two of the Rock Shop Mystery series, amateur sleuth Morgan Iverson digs into gemstone prospecting to solve a Stone Cold Case.