Book Giveaway!! (and the Origin of “Bombs Away”)

Low Down Dirty Vote is out in the world and available to readers. My story, Bombs Away, is one of the eleven stories and is my first published work. www.lowdowndirtyvote.com

Readers may be wondering why I chose to step out of my white woman lane and write a black woman protagonist. I usually write white women narrators, fictional characters informed by my own experiences. I believe the world needs stories about people of color, and that those stories are best written by people of color.

So why did I make a different choice for this story?

Reason One: The theme of the anthology is fighting voter suppression. Historically and at present, black people are a major target of voter suppression efforts. Examples are here and here and the Google machine will give you many more. Writing a white character getting their vote suppressed in the modern-day felt disingenuous at best. At worst, it erases the current climate of hostility against black people and other people of color.

Reason Two: Most mysteries/crime stories I like to read and write have a satisfying ending. The bad guy is caught, secrets are revealed, and justice prevails. I wanted to write that kind of story. But…

I didn’t want to write a white savior story. You know the kind. White protagonist swoops in to save people of color from oppression/violence/problems caused by…other white people/white supremacy. This kind of story centers the white protagonist at the expense of the characters of color.

So I wrote a story about Olivia, a black woman who kicks butt and saves the day.

Bombs Away won first prize at the San Mateo County Literary Arts contest, Adult Mystery/Thriller category, and was chosen for inclusion in the Low Down Dirty Vote Anthology. I’m grateful and honored for the recognition, but it doesn’t change the fact that the world needs diverse books written by diverse authors.

Which brings me to the book giveaway. You’re probably thinking I’m going to give away a copy of Low Down Dirty Vote–and I am!—but not today.

Today, I’m offering you the chance to win Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett. This award-winning mystery features Dayna Anderson, who decides to solve a hit-and-run murder for the reward money despite having no investigative experience or skills. This book is hilarious and I know you’ll love it. And it features a black woman protagonist written by a black woman author.

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Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing. I’ll select from commenters on August 5, so check back and if you were selected, send me an email to mariah@mariahklein.com. And if you win, but have already read this book, I’ll get you the sequel, Hollywood Ending, set to publish next month!

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Bringing the monsters to life

I don’t normally think of myself as Dr. Frankenstein. Occasionally when my kids are running around the house buck-naked and screaming about poop, I do wonder what sort of monsters I’ve given life to. But usually I can blame my husband for those kinds of behaviors.

Being an author, you don’t always create monsters (depends on the genre) but you do create characters. And characters have to come to life on the page as clearly as the characters who live in your everyday life. They have to have quirks, likes, dislikes, and histories. They have to be fully realized in your mind or they won’t be fully realized on the page and in the reader’s mind.

So how do you do this?

One way is to plan. Create a chart, color-coded spreadsheet, list, rambling page of thoughts, or intricate and detailed mind map, whatever suits your style. Start brainstorming who your character is and what makes them unique. Interview your characters, and try to respond in their voice. Beth Barany at Writers Fun Zone has a useful list of essential elements to think about when creating characters.

If you’re not into planning, try imagining a character, then start writing. Put the character in a situation and go for it. Don’t over think, but let the character reveal themselves through your writing. You might end up with a hot mess, or you might discover a gem of a character you never knew was hiding inside your mind. Letting the story come through naturally can be a good alternative to overplanning, especially if you’re feeling stuck. And of course, you’ll always need to go back and revise once your characters have revealed themselves to make sure the story hangs together.

Whichever way you develop characters, make sure to give them a dark side. An Achille’s heel. What are they terrible at? What are their deepest, most intense fears? Then make your characters confront them. I know, it sounds so cruel. But a character without flaws is a Mary Sue–an idealized version of humanity, AKA uninteresting. Unless your readers are under the age of 5, they don’t want to read about Jane Doe’s fabulous, predictable life where everything always happens as it should. Great for her. Boring for us. There’s no story there.

Characters need to be tested by facing up to the bad/scary/hard things that happen to them. Readers need the excitement of living vicariously through someone else’s disaster while reclining comfortably on their couch eating chocolate bon bons. Unfair, but that’s how it goes.

Do you have any tips for developing character? Please share!