Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Character Development: The Protagonist

By Lynn McPherson

January is a great time for new beginnings, in life and in writing. Today I’m going to focus on the importance of writing a good protagonist in a mystery series. It is an essential part of a story and one that should be considered carefully.

There are a number of characteristics that must be decided about a central figure in a book. As a mystery writer, I always consider the sleuth first. Who am I going to be working with on a daily basis? Big question.

First of all, a writer must decide if their character is going to be a professional detective. If the crime solver is a police officer, they must follow official protocol. There are specific methods used by the detective, subject to the laws of the particular location where the story is based. It would belong to the sub-genre known as a police procedural. A great example is Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series. If you are interested in writing one, read these. They are fabulous.

If the detective is not a professional, the books fit into the Amateur Sleuth category. Do you want to create an insightful character who stumbles onto mysteries? Like Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote, or Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swensen Series? These are typically light-hearted whodunnits that incorporate fun into murder. The trick is to be mindful of how and why the sleuth is able to solve the mystery as opposed to the police. Amateur Sleuth books are my favourite. Mine fit into this category. My amateur sleuth, Izzy Walsh, is a busy 1950's homemaker who has great intuition and a knack for trouble.

Other considerations to consider are strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect so it is important to create a likeable yet flawed character. Are they observant but clumsy? Perceptive yet disorganized? You must decide how to give your character a leg up on others around them so they are successful in their quest to solve the crime. But make sure they are worth rooting for. If the main character is rude or arrogant, it’s a tough sell and makes it difficult to pull the reader into the story. Make sure you create someone who fans can cheer on and invest in.

Finally, you need to make sure there is a reason for the protagonist to be in the story. What is their motivation? If you are writing a police procedural, this is less of a concern, other than to have an understanding of what compelled them to become a police officer in the first place. For the Amateur Sleuth, we need to know why they are there. Has their friend been wrongly accused? Do they have a personal connection to the crime? Or, do they have a natural curiosity that drives their determination?

There are so many choices and decisions to consider when creating your protagonist. These are just a few suggestions of where to start.

Good luck and, most importantly, have fun with it!

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  

Monday, January 27, 2020

Remembering Earl Staggs

by Paula Gail Benson

When I became serious about writing short stories, I started seeing the name Earl Staggs mentioned frequently. From his website, I learned that he devoted himself to fiction writing after moving south from Baltimore, Maryland, finally settling in Fort Worth, Texas. As a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, he served as Vice President and President as well as twice receiving the Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.

Sadly, Earl passed away on January 3, 2020. He left a significant body of work, including a collection of his short stories and two novels, which received a list of 5-star reviews. He had been Managing Editor for Futures Mystery Magazine and contributed to the blogs Make Mine Murder and Murderous Musings.

I never had the chance to meet Earl in person, but I experienced his kindness on two occasions. First, in November 19, 2013, I wrote a blog message for Writers Who Kill comparing Christmas mystery stories that he, Barb Goffman, and B.K. Stevens had written. All had used similar elements, yet come up with very different plots and characters. Here's Earl's comment to the post: "I'm honored, Paula, to see my story included with Bonnie's and Barb's. They're two of the best short mystery writers around. I love writing the short stuff and if--make that when--my novels sell in the millions, I'll continue to write short stories. Thanks for this mention and best regards to you."

The second occasion occurred a few days later, November 26, 2013, when my story "Only the Sacrifice Knows" was published online in Kings River Life. Earl gave me this comment that I still treasure: "Good work, Paula. I had several ideas as to how it would end. All of them wrong. I love it when that happens. Thanks for a fun and interesting read."

I remain grateful for Earl's wonderful stories and kind words of encouragement. He has left an enduring legacy.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Forgivenss of Whales by T.K. Thorne

Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

Until recently, scientists thought humans were the only species with the specialty brain neurons responsible for higher cognitive functions like self-awareness, a sense of compassion and language.

They were wrong.

Fifteen million years before humans, whales began evolving these special cells*, and now a strange phenomenon is occurring off the Baja coast of Mexico.

Humans have been slaughtering Pacific whales there for a long time, first with harpoons, now with sonar from Navy ships. Whales live a long time, up to a hundred years. Some whales alive today still bear the scars of harpoons. Many scientists believe that it is implausible to think the whales do not remember this or associate humans with death and anguish.

Yet, in the same area where humans hunted them nearly to extinction, then tortured them with sonar, whales are approaching humans and initiating contact. A  N.Y. Times article detailed the experiences of the reporter and the stories of locals who tell about mother whales approaching their boats, sometimes swimming under it and lifting it, then setting it gently down. Almost all the stories involve the whale surfacing, rolling onto its side to watch the humans–reminiscent of the surreal moment in the movie, Cast Away, when a whale rises from the night sea to regard Tom Hanks with an eye cupped with starlight, an eerie intelligence, and a gentleness that moves us, for we know the massive creature could kill the castaway with a nudge or a flick of a tail fluke.

These real grey whales off Baja swim close enough that people invariably reach out to touch them, and they allow it. One person, reflecting on the experience said, “I have never felt more beheld.” It seems reasonable–given the position the whales place themselves in–that they seek the contact. In many cases, a mother whale will allow her calf to do the same. There is no food involved in these exchanges, only a brief interlude of inter-species contact and rudimentary communication:  I come as friend.


Where will humans be in another hundred years? I suspect we will be technologically advanced, but emotionally pretty much the same, even in a thousand years or ten thousand. But what about a million years? Can we evolve (if we survive) to a more sane, more rational, more loving species with a broader sense of our place in the universe and in life itself? Is it possible that these creatures with 15 million years of intelligent evolution on us, might regard us as a young species, children who don’t really know better,  and grant us leeway for our mistakes? Grant us . . . forgiveness?

If we humans could only do such a thing!  Beat our swords into ploughshares, at least among ourselves. It’s unlikely, but we might yet be targeted by alien invaders, so we shouldn’t throw away all of our weapons. Even whales have enemies, and they do not hesitate to defend themselves when attacked and even take the battle to the enemy! Recently, there are increasing reports of whales, specifically humpbacks, who are defending not only their own against attacks of orcas, but other mammals, such as other whales, sea lions, fur seals or walruses. They only attack mammal-eating killer whales, not orcas that primarily feed on fish. They feed and fight in a coordinated manner, communicating with each other.

There is proof that we humans are capable of realizing the power of peaceful cooperation and partnerships. Not long ago, for example, a team of over 2,000 scientists representing six countries worked to determine the human genome, all 3 billion parts, and then made that data freely available on the Web.

Perhaps one day we will stop slaughtering the fellow creatures on this blue-and-cream jewel that is our world; perhaps we will make friends and share discoveries, meeting whales on the mutual ground (or sea) of respect.

Our survival may depend on it.

*New research is indicating that glial cells may be responsible for imagination, creativity and probably play a role in consciousness. Einstein’s brain had an abundance of these cells, especially in the area responsible for spacial awareness and mathematics. Mice injected with human glial cells became 4x smarter. Glial cells can communicate with each other (via calcium waves) and with neurons, even signalling neurons to fire. Although whales don’t have all the “levels” of a human brain (and so their thought processes are probably distinctly different), whales have a much higher ratio of glial cells to neurons than humans in the neocortex, the area thought to be responsible for intelligence.

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch.

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list.

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with a dog and a cat vying for her lap.

More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

I Probably Shouldn't Tell You This by Juliana Aragón Fatula

colorado encyclopedia poet Juliana
check out some of my poetry

January 22, 2020

Dear Reader, 

I’ve been struggling with writing a synopsis for my mystery novel. I’m a novice novelist. I lack the confidence of say a Linda Rodriguez who is a master writer and has successfully written several novels and a book on writing mysteries. And even though I read her book, Stephen King’s book On Writing, and Ernest Hemmingway’s book on writing, I am just learning what they have been doing for decades. 

I have many writer friends and they all write great books, poetry, screenplays, non-fiction, memoirs, even songs. They inspire me. So does Shakespeare. I want to be dead for hundreds of years and still being read and loved.  I named my first character in my first novel, Shakespeare. I adore him. He is the giant, Rock Hudson, character only her has long hair, a beard, tattoo sleeves, and rides a Triumph. He’s sexy. And I named the other male character, Tony, and thought about killing him off, but all my beta readers begged me not to kill him and to write a love story, instead of a homicidal murder who dunnit. I settled for both.

My sisters, L.A. and Eva are not super-heroes but they are sheroes of sorts and I modeled them after compilations of chingonas I’ve known in my lifetime. Some are friends, relatives, strangers, and women like Gloria Anzaldüa. I tried to give them attitude and strength but also human flaws like we all have. One is scarred for life, the other exercises and kick boxes her angst away and hacks computers. The private investigators, L.A. and Eva, are the best Chicana P.I. team in the U.S.A.

I added gay uncles, a transgender woman, an Asian and Jamaican Detective because I love Asian and Jamaican culture, religion, language and the LGBTQ community. I want my characters to represent the world and country I live in and my friends are anything but straight, narrow, or conservative. My friends are the rabble razzers, the misfits, the irrerverent, the mystical, the curious, the bipartisan, liberal, educated, and compassionate humans that inhabit the planet.

So, if my writing offends you, you are not my audience and I did not write this book or poetry or plays or letters or emails, or texts, or tweets fo you. So, don’t buy this book. Don’t buy copies to gift to your friends and colleagues because they won’t read my book either. They don’t want to hear what I have to say. My mom said if you don’t have anything good to say… 

Synopsis for The Colorado Sisters by Juliana Aragón Fatula

The love of money, sex, revenge, jealousy, and a border wall divide our humanity from the most important kind of kindness. This love story reveals secrets, mysteries, crimes, sins, and memories for two Chicana Private Investigators, sisters, L.A. and Eva, who love each other and their uncle, T.O. Eddie and his husband Lawrence who love and supervise the girls’ adolescence when their parents die and leave them orphans in Denver. And the two white boys, Tony and Shakespeare, who love the two Chicana sisters, L.A. and Eva, through grade school, high school, college, grad school and follow each other’s careers into adulthood and life’s adversities and celebrations. And the love story about a transgender woman, Dotie, who saves lives and rescues suicidal teenagers who are discarded and forgotten because they dare to sashay out of the fucking closet and into the daylight. And the love story of two therapy pets, Border Collie puppies, Wesson and Smith, and their undying devotion and loyalty to their pet parents.

Denver, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia are worlds apart and the Chicanas, L.A. and Eva, and the white boys, Tony and Shakespeare, keep their long distance love romances from blossoming until the Atlanta Butcher murders the playboy billionaire and Tony attends the wrong party at the wrong time and is the last person to see his boss alive, but not the only suspect: the escorts, the wife, the ex-wife, the neighbor, and the mystery night-stalker top Detective Chan’s and Jones’ list of possible homicidal maniacs capable of decapitating and mutilating the body of Reggie Hartless.