Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ANOTHER DISASTER

The characters in my books do some quirky things, and strangers often ask, “Where on earth do you come up those insane ideas?” Friends never ask. They know.

I spend most of my days sitting at my computer and making up stories, interacting with imaginary people. I shop on the Internet. I visit with friends on Facebook and e-mail. I live a quiet life, a somewhat isolated life. Yet disasters find me.

The most recent was worse than last fall when was staining my porch and dumped oil based stain on my head, didn’t notice because it was the same color as my hair, and, hours later, had to soak my hair in paint thinner twice to be able to unbraid it.

A couple of weeks ago my back was hurting so I decided to clean the jets in the Jacuzzi so I could sit in it later that evening. I planned to fill the tub, dump in some bleach, turn on the jets and let it do its thing until I felt they were clean all the way through. But it’s a big tub and takes a very long time to fill, so I got bored waiting and came into my office to work on the book.

And lost track of time.

Until the smoke detectors started going off.

I charged through the house to the bathroom and found the water running over the top of the tub, across the bathroom floor and into the air conditioning vent in the floor.

Now, you’re probably asking, “If the tub was running over with water, why did the smoke detectors go off?”

And that's a very good question.

Swearing vehemently with a writer’s extensive vocabulary, I turned off the water, opened the drain in the tub, and tossed some towels on the bathroom floor. Still cursing (I do think I have an impressive vocabulary of swear words), I grabbed more towels and headed to the basement while the ten smoke detectors in the house continued to shriek at me.

In the basement I found the reason for the smoke detector outburst. Water was pouring through the one in the ceiling directly beneath the bathroom. I wasn’t sure about the ramifications of that, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t good.

I threw my pile of towels on the saturated carpet under the stream of water.

My cell phone rang. My roommate, Matt, calling from work.

“Hi, honey.” I tried to sound casual as I hurried to the closet downstairs for more towels.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“ADT just called to tell me the glass breakage detector in the basement is going off.”

Who knew ADT would be such a blabbermouth tattletale!

“Everything’s fine.”

“Why don’t you grab a gun and go check the basement, just in case?”

“Not necessary.” I moved the soggy towels out from under the urinating smoke detector and tossed down the dry ones. “I’m in the basement. There’s no one here but me.”

“What’s that noise in the background?”

“Oh, that’s just the smoke detector. That’s probably what set off the glass breakage alarm.”

Smoke detector? Is something on fire?” He gets excited very easily, and I could tell from his tone that he was moving up the excitation scale rapidly.

“No, nothing’s on fire.”

“Then why is the smoke detector going off?” Nearing the top of the excitability scale.

“It has a little water running through it.”

“What?! Do I need to come home?” He spilled over the top of that scale just like the water over the top of the Jacuzzi.

“No, no. The bathtub ran over a little. I’ve got everything under control.” I dragged the soggy towels into the downstairs bathroom with the intention of putting them in the bathtub. Water gushed from the ceiling through the light fixture above the tub. “I may not have everything under control.”

By the time he got home, all the towels in the house were soggy as well as the carpet in the basement. But the water had stopped running through the smoke detector. He was not as soothed by that fact as I thought he should be.

For the next five days industrial fans and dehumidifiers occupied the master bedroom upstairs as well as the hallway and bathroom downstairs. ServPro even drilled holes in the ceiling and ran tubes up through them to dry it out. The place looked like a sci fi movie and sounded like an airport. As of this date, we still have workmen coming and going. They finished the ceiling and walls in the downstairs bathroom a couple of days ago. Matt commented that it looked very nice, better than before what with the fresh paint.

Wanting to be helpful, I asked, “So do you want me to flood some more rooms so we can get them all fixed up too?”

I won’t repeat his answer, but it was a negative response.

I believe the moral of this story is that I should stick to writing and forget about cleaning.

 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Interviewing Short Story Writers


Alice Munro’s winning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature brought notice to the thriving short fiction community. Due to electronic publishing and online markets, the opportunities for placing short stories have multiplied. Authors are encouraged to write stories involving recurring characters in order to keep readers satisfied while waiting for the next book’s release.

Consider Robert Dugoni. He became a New York Times bestselling novelist writing about David Sloane, the lawyer who cannot lose, featured in five novels, The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm, Murder One, and The Conviction.  Robert’s new protagonist is former teacher and current homicide cop Tracy Crosswhite who appears in My Sister’s Grave and Her Final Breath, which debuted in September. Prior to the release of each Tracy Crosswhite novel, Robert published short stories about the character as Kindle shorts. In “The Academy,” Tracy makes the transition from being a teacher to law enforcement trainee. She encounters resistance from patronizing detective Johnny Nolasco, who she continues to contend with in the novels. She also has an opportunity to demonstrate her shooting skills and people managing capabilities. In “Third Watch,” Tracy has joined the force and finds herself alone responding to a critical situation. Robert bases both of his shorts in a time period prior to Tracy’s novels so he can allude to what she has to face without having to work around “spoilers.”

Because short stories are eligible for awards, they offer not only writing credits, but also the ability for an author to develop a higher profile in the writing community. The Short Mystery Fiction Society offers free membership through its website. In addition to a very informative list serv and opportunities to meet other members at mystery conferences, the Short Mystery Fiction Society presents the prestigious Derringer Awards, honoring different lengths of mystery shorts, each year at Bouchercon.

The encouraging aspects of writing short stories are: 

  • You can write a story in a shorter time frame than a novel.
  • You don’t need an agent to submit.  
  • You hear fairly quickly if your story has been accepted or rejected. Sometimes you may even be able to receive feedback and editorial assistance.
On the down side, crafting a short story may be as complex as developing a novel, renewed interest in the market has increased the competition, and the few markets that pay are not lucrative.

Personally, I’ve benefited greatly by submitting and being published as a short story writer. I’ve learned about the craft and discipline of writing and met some phenomenal authors. I asked my blogging partners here at The Stiletto Gang if I could invite some short story writers to be interviewed and the SG regulars were kind to agree. If you write shorts and would like to participate in our impromptu series let me know. I’m looking forward to introducing you to these talented authors and showcasing their work.

Friday, September 25, 2015

NCIS Anyone?

NCIS Anyone? by Debra H. Goldsein

I should be revising a manuscript today but instead I’m watching an NCIS marathon. Why? Because I’m intrigued trying to figure out why this show remains in the top ten despite its thirteenth season being about to begin.

Maybe it is the guest stars? Today’s marathon is older shows, but I recognize the faces of many bit part players as actors who went on to bigger roles. Also, there are several, like Ralph Waite, Lily Tomlin, Gena Rowlands, and Robert Wagner, whose characterizations are so good and so deep that for a moment I forget the movies and shows that brought them to public prominence. But then again, while some episodes use stars I recognize, most don’t so that can’t be what keeps people tuned in weekly.

Maybe it is the plots? Nah. They all stick to a standard format. A cute scene that results in a dead body being found that just happens to have a navy relationship so the NCIS team can be on the case, confusion and a beginning hypothesis that establishes a point for the team to begin investigating, lab and/or pathology findings that clarify the path the team should follow, an obstacle, and a clever resolution. In other words, writing’s three act concept: Act One – setup with an inciting incident and a plot point, Act Two – confrontation with a midpoint and a second plot point, and Act Three – the climax and resolution. After twelve years, the format is predictable so that can’t be what keeps the show in the top ten.

Maybe it is the NCIS team? Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Tony (Michael Weatherly who I acknowledge has a cute smile), Abby (Pauley Perrette), McGee (Sean Murray), Dr. Mallard (David McCallum), Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen), the director (Lauren Holly in many episodes and now Rocky Carroll) plus the different female members of the team (Ziva – Cote de Pablo, Cait-Sasha Alexander-who now stars in Rizzoli and Isles, and Bishop-Emily Wickersham) blend well. Each has a quirk or a specific personality characteristic that makes interaction with the others comical, impossible, challenging, and downright fun.

The interesting thing is that like a well-written series of fiction novels, watching a marathon lets one see how each character grows and matures over the years while also observing how even a slight modification impact the character’s interaction with the other members of the team. In my mind, it is the subtle character changes that keep this show in the top ten. If these characters never grew or matured, the show would have gone stale years ago.

Will I be watching the thirteenth season’s premiere? You bet. Gibbs was shot and while I know Mark Harmon’s character won’t die because Jon Cryer, playing against character, will successfully perform a surgery that saves Gibbs’ life, all of the trailers promise that this will be a season of introspection for all of the main characters. I’m hooked enough to want to go on the ride with Gibbs and his team. Will you be joining me?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Me Time

by Bethany Maines


The problem with releasing books on a schedule is that now I’m writing on a schedule. But you know, not actually. Because actually writing would require me to solve the plot problem that I’m stuck at, stop this blogging nonsense and get back to writing the novel, for work to stop coming along like a freight train, and for my family to stop wanting to see me. Except for the plot issue, none of that seems likely to happen.  How do you write when life is full of time constraints?

I have one author/mom friend who stole an hour to go write at the library only to discover it was closed and instead of going home again, she sat in the parking lot and sucked their wi-fi and worked on her laptop.  And I’m typing this from the couch as I woke up an hour early to sneak time to write before the wee monster (aka the lawn ornament aka Salazar the Destroyer aka Zoe) wakes up. Writing was so much easier when I was single and living in my parents upstairs. I would sneak down, get food, and retreat to my computer to make up an excitingworld about a girl who becomes a spy when she can’t find a job in her chosen field.  Not that anyone ever had that daydream.  Ahem.  Moving on. 


My point is, I may be a happier, more well-rounded individual with family and what not, but all those pleasant mental-health balancing things suck up time (with little adorable faces). Now writing is something that I have to fight for.  It’s a new and somewhat uncomfortable position to be in, because writing was always something that I did for me. But now “me things” are taking up time where family and friends and work things also need time. It’s hard to find the right mix and it’s almost impossible to keep everyone happy.  But I still keep trying because I think that me things are what make me who I am.  Now if only me could come up with a solution to that stupid plot problem…




Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Celebrating Author Susan F. Craft

I met Susan F. Craft when I joined the local Inkplots critique group. She spent a lifetime wanting to be a writer. She has said, “I cannot remember a time when I did not want to write. Somewhere in my attic I have a book, The Mystery of the Whistling Cave, which I wrote and bound myself when I was eight and enthralled with Nancy Drew.”

She developed a special love of history in school and, according to her bio, “researches her novels with the same excitement as Alan Quartermain hunting for King Solomon's Mines and with the persistence of Lewis and Clark enjoying the chase when a clue leads her from one ‘treasure’ to the next, to the next.” I have seen her give fascinating presentations where she brings a treasure chest of items she has acquired in research efforts. She enthralls audiences telling about her discoveries.

At the University of South Carolina, she received a degree in Broadcast Journalism, then had a distinguished 45-year career that included working for SC Educational Television, the SC Department of Mental Health, the SC College of Pharmacy, and the SC Senate. Her first novel, which she self-published with her own cover art, was A Perfect Tempest, a civil war story that took place on the grounds of the State Mental Health Hospital, known at that time as the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. Then, a small regional publisher released her Revolutionary War romantic suspense, The Chamomile, which also featured her cover art and won the respected Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s Okra Pick Award in 2011.

 
 
 
 
This year, in January and September, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas released the two post-Revolutionary War sequels, Laurel and Cassia, as well as acquiring the rights for The Chamomile and offering them as the Xanthakos family trilogy. In addition, Lighthouse employs Susan as an editor for other books, including The Yuletide Angel, by Sandra Ardoin.

In doing research for The Chamomile, Susan contacted members of the Long Riders’ Guild to learn more about a lengthy journey on horseback, which led to the organization asking her to write A Writer's Guide to Horses, available on the website of the Long Riders' Guild Academic Foundation, www.lrgaf.org. The Guide provides authors with comprehensive information to help them accurately portray horses and riders in their works.

Susan is married Rick, her high school sweetheart and now husband of more than 45 years. They have two wonderful adult children, an adored granddaughter, and a very special granddog named Steeler, who became the inspiration for a protective mastiff character in Cassia.

Like many people, Susan has a bucket list. “So far, I have screamed my way down the Nantahala River whitewater rafting (although the screaming part was not on the list); I parasailed (breathtaking experience); I scheduled a hot air balloon ride, which, sadly, was cancelled due to bad weather (this greatly relieved my sister whom I had cajoled into going with me); and I fulfilled a lifelong dream to learn how to play the drums by joining the University of South Carolina New Horizons Band. The clarinet is next, I think, as the percussion instruments are too heavy to haul around. I want to visit at least ten national parks, take a mule ride through the Grand Canyon, ride a gondola in Venice, and visit a winery in Tuscany, Italy.”

Represented by Linda S. Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency, Susan has become a dear friend who always is ready to offer support and encouragement. I’m celebrating her great success and looking forward to reading her future endeavors.
 

 
 

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Clock by Any Other Name








A Clock by Any Other Name

by Linda Rodriguez

I imagine most of you reading this will have seen the news stories about Ahmed Mohamed, the fourteen-year-old boy who built a digital clock in a pencil case and brought it to school to show his teacher, only to be handcuffed and publicly perp-walked out of school to a juvenile detention center where he was fingerprinted and detained for hours. This led to a huge social media outcry with #IStandWithAhmed trending on Twitter and an invitation to bring his “cool clock” to the White House to show the President.

This really struck home with me. My oldest son, Niles, was a kid much like Ahmed. When he was little, I used to go to the thrift store and buy old radios and small appliances for him to take apart to see how they worked and try to put together again. It beat buying new appliances for our home when he tried the same on our small appliances. Niles blew the lid off the Iowa Basics in math and science when he was in the fourth grade. His scores were the highest in the nation, and the testing company thought he’d been helped by his teacher, so they sent a representative to give him the test all over again. His scores were even higher that time.

Niles was always tinkering or building machines, appliances, and electronic apparatuses. In high school, as computers became more important in the schools (this was back in the 1980s), one of his teachers pulled him into that field and made him an assistant teacher because he took to it so well. Niles went on to study computer science in college—after an interruption for Desert Storm—and was recruited by the major American firm designing and installing comprehensive hospital system software packages. He immediately became one of their top troubleshooters and traveled the country, even went to the United Kingdom to help with initial rollouts there. He was hired away by St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, which is a teaching and research hospital for children facing cancer and other dread diseases. He ran their system for seven years and still does consulting work for them.

Now, my son has his own consulting company with employees. He’s in high demand at large medical complexes, such as the Stanford Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center, a consortium of Detroit hospitals, and many other places. He’s quite successful, and a couple of years ago consulted me about setting up his own small foundation to fund the creation of educational software packages for inner-city and other disadvantaged schools.

The reason I’ve bragged so shamelessly about Niles is not just because I’m proud of him—I am—but because if the atmosphere of the country when he was in school had been filled with the artificial fear that has been pumped into it today, he could well have been another Ahmed. He’s brown-skinned with black hair and dark eyes and a dreaded Hispanic last name (though his ancestors have been born in this country clear back to before it was a country). I could easily see the boy I loved and raised in Ahmed, that eager mind, the excitement about managing to build something new and make it actually work, even the NASA T-shirt.

Software innovations my son helped design make it harder for nurses and doctors in hospitals to accidentally give the wrong medicines to patients and make it easier to integrate all the information about one patient from all the different departments of a hospital and different doctors into one accessible-to-all file to keep everyone involved in that patient’s care literally on the same page. Now, he’s also giving back to help educate new generations. This is what happens when we, as a country, are not blinded by xenophobic rhetoric and artificial fear ginned up by politicians for their own selfish purposes. On this day--my son's birthday--I hope we can get back to the kind of country we were when my son was able to take several inventions to school to show his teachers without getting arrested as a menace to society.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hanging Up My Stilettos

Hanging Up My Stilettos
By Laura Bradford

It's amazing how fast time flies, isn't it? 

Sometimes, it seems like just yesterday that Maggie Barbieri  and Susan McBride asked me to join them here at the Stiletto Gang. In reality though, it's been four years--four very busy years.  

When I first posted here, Dangerous Alterations (the 5th book in my Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey) had just released. Since then, five more in that series have come out (with two more on the way). Additionally, I wrote my 4th romance, Storybook Dad, and launched a second mystery series (A Churn for the Worse, the 5th book in my Amish Mysteries, will release in March). Oh, and I've written the first two books in a third mystery series that will debut in June.

Phew...

I've accomplished a lot since Susan and Maggie asked me to join them here and it was fun sharing that ride with the Stiletto Gang readers. But as Susan and Maggie have since done, it's time for me to take off my stilettos and move on.

I've enjoyed my time here very much. As for where I'll be...you can always find me on Facebook , my website , my personal blog, and over with the Whodunit Authors twice a month.

Hugs!

~Laura

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mystery Writers Who Inspired Me—Part 2

By Kay Kendall


Donna Leon is the author of 24 books in her mysteries series set in Venice, Italy. They feature an Italian policeman, Commissario Guido Brunetti , as he maneuvers among governmental corruption on all sides and tries to bring justice to a land where few people expect it. Although Leon is American by birth, she has lived in Venice for decades and knows the city well. Her books are especially popular in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Although translated into 20 languages, her work is not available in Italian because, she says, she dislikes being recognized when she is in public and considers it an intrusion.

 
The Grand Canal in Venice
Much of the charm of reading Leon’s police procedurals comes from immersion in another world so different in small ways from American or British policing. Brunetti is of a philosophical bent, returning home to read the classical greats of Roman literature to soothe his soul after viewing the worst that human nature can do. At his apartment on Calle Tiepolo in the San Polo district of Venice, he holds long discussions about life, literature, and various absurdities of the modern world with his wife Paolo, a professor of literature at the local university, and their two teenaged children, Raffi and Chiara. None of these reoccurring characters age in these books. The first was published in 1992, Death at La Fenice, and the most recent was published this year, Falling in Love.

Fans of slam bang thrillers may find these mysteries a bit languid. For me, however, they offer a visit to a charming city that reeks of art and antiquity. Brunetti understands human nature and is often sorrowful when he uncovers the motives of killers. He dislikes the moneyed elite that has run Venice for centuries, even though his wife Paolo is a daughter of Count Falier, who lives in an elegant historic palazzo on the Grand Canal. Paolo would like nothing better than to sit all day reading and rereading the tomes of Henry James. Occasionally she too goes on a rampage for justice. She is no spoiled rich daughter, despite her being from ancient aristocracy.
Mystery author Donna Leon
I was once blessed to meet with Donna Leon when she visited Houston for a book talk. Sitting by her side at lunch, I was delighted to soak up her upbeat spirit she maintains despite the gloomy view of human nature evident in her books. When asked about how she displays justice in her mysteries, she stated that she believes Italians have no illusions, that they expect all politicians to be corrupt. That given of Italian life she believes is “refreshing.”
The interplay among the big personalities in Guido Brunetti’s office is fascinating. His boss Vice-Questore Patta dresses in Armani, hails from the crooked and Mafia-ridden south, and lunches daily with Venetian bigwigs.  He may be shallow, vain, and a climber, yet he is not all bad, nor is he evil. Patta’s secretary Signorina Elettra left a lucrative financial job to employ her computer wizardry for serving justice, and Brunetti never hesitates to ask her to hack into someone’s bank records. The morals in these books are a little slippery, yet there is a consistent decency to the actions of Brunetti, his family, secretary Signorina Elettra, and Brunetti’s friend on the police force, Vianello. An air of sad resignation and melancholy resides in the pages of these unique mysteries.
If you have not yet discovered the books of Donna Leon, I recommend them to you. You will learn much about the fascinating and labyrinthine world of Venice, both the high life and the low, and of human nature and all its dark foibles. Her books have inspired my writing because they delve into philosophical and moral questions as well as present a richly detailed account of a famous city. When I finally visited Venice three years ago, I felt I understood it better because of Donna Leon’s writing. I have read all 24 books to date and look forward to the next in 2016. The only thing that makes me turn green with envy is when Donna Leon says she never does rewrites.
~~~~~~~

Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published on July 7. It is the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audio-book will debut soon. 
http://www.amazon.com/Rainy-Day-Women-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00W2X5SCS

 

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Some Mystery Related Influences from my Childhood

Many mystery authors attribute reading Nancy Drew mysteries for the writing they do now. I also read Nancy Drew, but looking back, I believe many other things from my childhood had a greater influence on what I do today.

Most of you know I'm much older than all the rest of the contributors to this blog. I grew up during World War II--and when I was about 10 I was convinced I would be asked to be a spy if the enemy landed on our shores. I lived in Los Angeles and we had black-outs, air raid drills at school, and I was highly influenced by the newsreels at the movies.

As for movies, we went every Friday night and stayed for both features. The 2nd one was always a B movie usually about gangsters, but often a mystery. My parents never questioned whether anyting was appropriate for their daughter or her 5 year younger sister.

At home, I listened to the radio faithfully. Having my own radio (a Christmas present) in my room meant I heard nearly every episode of all the mystery shows: The Whistler, Suspense Theater, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum.

My little Philco radio also picked up police calls--which I was forbidden to listen to, once my mom found out about them. However, I still listened to them at night--and I heard the reports when the Black Dahlia's body was found. Gave me nightmares for weeks.

My family subscribed to three newspapers: The L.A. Times, The Herald Examiner and The Daily News. I don't think my dad ever read them--but my mother did. The Daily News had the most gossip and "best" photos. The articles I remember most were about the Black Dahlia murder and also the murder of Lana Turner's boyfriend--by her daughter. Any death reported in their pages always carried the lurid details and graphic photographs. I didn't pay much attention to the other news, but devoured all the reports about murder.

And one last memory. One of my mother's church friends murdered her husband. While he slept on the couch, she hit in in the head with an axe. I was young and don't remember many details though I do know she was put into a mental institution. One more thing, I heard one of my mother's friends say, "He was the most boring man I ever met. If I'd been married to him, I might have done the same thing."

Okay, you other authors, any similar childhood memories influence you?

And readers, what happened in your childhood that might have influenced you to read mysteries?

Marilyn


P.S. Yes, I do use some of what I remember in my books--old and newer memories.



Monday, September 14, 2015

It's about the Journey

Recently, I visited The Girl with Book Lungs and told her about the detours I take when writing a book. They are many--just today they included seventies bands, Pet Rocks and a trip back to a previous book because I'd forgotten Mother's housekeeper's name.

When I was a child, every August my parents would pile my sister and me into the back of the station wagon and drive to Colorado.

Our family trips usually involved leaving Kansas City at an unholy hour, with us children still asleep and tucked in amongst the suitcases.

If—if—my parents were lucky, they got several hours of driving in before we woke. It was then, the sun behind us in the east, the questions began.

“When will we be there?”

“When can we stop for a bathroom break?” (If my father was driving, the answer was when the needle on the fuel gauge hovered above E).

“I’m thirsty. When can we stop for a drink?” Not a chance. Drinks were too closely related to bathroom breaks.

Such were the distractions that began a quarter of the way to our destination.

If you have not driven I-70 across the state of Kansas, you have missed 424 miles of big skies and wheat fields. You have also missed a giant ball of twine. And, at least when I was a child, the world’s largest prairie dog. I never saw the twine or the prairie dog; my father wouldn’t pull over.

Goodland, Kansas, was our stopping point. We always stayed in a little motel with a little pool in the middle of a barren parking lot. Jumping into that pool was heaven after a stifling day in the car. We’d passed the halfway point. From that point on, things would change (rather like the halfway point of a book).

The next morning we’d load into the car and cross the state line into Colorado. So began the scanning of the horizon. Where were the mountains? Who would be the first to see them? They appeared, a distant promise of hiking and horses and the scent of pine.

Then came Denver with its traffic and billboards and a radio station that played decent music. I remember spotting a woman in a red convertible, her head wrapped in flowing scarf √° la Grace Kelly. She sped down the highway, racing a rain cloud, the most sophisticated, mysterious woman I’d ever seen.

We climbed into the mountains, so close we could taste our impending fun in the thinner air.

Finally, we reached our destination. My mother unpacked. My father fixed cocktails. My sister and I, freed from the car, claimed our beds and scampered around the cabin.

I write like a road trip. I know where I’ve started and, in general, where I’m going, but, unlike my father, I’m willing to take a detour, see the prairie dog, and check out the dragon made of farm equipment. I’m also willing to make frequent stops. You never know what you’ll find in those marts that line the highway—homemade fudge, mood rings, local art…

When I’m writing a mystery in the Country Club Murders, those detours have included researching make-up colors popular in 1974, the Kansas City Museum (field trip!) and Thea Porter caftans.
If I knew every inch of the journey, I’d be too bored to write. The magic is in the discovery.

color-correct-coffee

As for mechanics, I write at my kitchen table. Early. The dog, the children and the husband sleep for hours after I rise. I am fueled by coffee. I print pages, carry them with me, and write long-hand in the margins at Chipotle for lunch, when I’m waiting to meet someone for coffee, or while the oil is being changed… Each Thursday I send my pages, hopefully at least twenty, to my intrepid critique partners. A little bragging here—my partners are so good that, aside from a few minor changes, my first draft is the draft I send to the gang at Henery Press.

The next time you’re up before five, think of me. I’m probably at my kitchen table, writing words I’ll change on my lunch break. That or I’m admiring a prairie dog.

***


Julie Mulhern is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

Her first romance was a finalist in the 2014 Golden Heart® contest. That book, A Haunting Desire, released July 28, 2015.

Julie also writes mysteries. The Deep End (available now) is her first mystery and is the winner of The Sheila Award. Look for book two, Guaranteed to Bleed, October 13, 2015.




Friday, September 11, 2015

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect by Debra H. Goldstein

Cause and effect. I find the philosophy of causality, that B immediately results from event A interesting conceptually; but as a mystery writer, I don’t believe things happen in a perfectly linear way. My vision is skewed. For me, rather than the main path being A to B, there always seems to be a few A++ along the way.

For example, my “A” this week was the receipt of editorial comments on a first draft. “B” should have been my rewrite. It hasn’t happened yet. Oh, I’ve been thinking about the changes I need to make, but the pluses I referred to have kept B from becoming anything more than a thought in my head. I wonder if your cause and effect ever runs like this:

A – Receipt of Editorial comments
A+ - Read the comments and scratch head to understand them
A++-Go to gym to clear head
A+++-Stop in gym cafeteria for a smoothie and think about how much I hate exercise
A++++-Go home and look at manuscript and manuscript comments. Play solitaire
A+++++-Glance at printer next to computer and remember the paper tray is broken
A++++++-Check e-mail. Notice, conveniently, Best Buy has new printer on sale
A+++++++-Run to Best Buy and purchase printer during twenty-four hour sale
A++++++++-Get it up to my office but notice the office is dusty and cluttered
A+++++++++-Begin two day cleaning-purge four boxes and a bag. Play solitaire
A++++++++++-Set up new printer but have to figure out how to do wireless set-up
A+++++++++++-Shower. Rush not to be late for Mah jongg game
A++++++++++++-Throw concepts around with editor. Play solitaire. Gym
A++++++++++++++-Research and draft remarks for Temple Selichot program
A+++++++++++++++-Review notes, deliver speech and participate in panel. Exhausted
A++++++++++++++++-Write Stiletto blogs and set up It’s Not a Mystery blog
A+++++++++++++++++-Take a nap. Worn out, but mind keeps working overtime
B – Adopt Scarlett O’Hara’s philosophy: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Mystery writing compares to my A to B. Red herrings, turns and twists, and unforeseen character demands prevent the story from merely being simple cause and effect. I’m glad. Think how boring going only from A to B would be.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Take a C.A.R.D.

by Bethany Maines


While I was reading Sparkle Abbey’s recent blog post about how real her characters in their Pampered Pets Mystery series, I laughed and sympathized with the authors who are clearly suffering from C.A.R.D. – Character / Author Reality Disorder.  Most authors I know suffer from this.  We invest a lot of time in these people and we go through a lot together. Of course it’s only natural that they start to take on a life, even if it’s only a virtual life, of their own.  Sparkle Abbey described their characters as the best (fictional) friends a girl could have.  But what happens when you don’t like one of your characters?  It’s possible that I created a character to be an excellent villain and now they… Just. Won’t.  Die.

The third novel in my Carrie Mae Mystery series High-Caliber Concealer (on sale November 17 – available for pre-order now!) brings back all the girls.  Nikki, the heroine, and linguistics major, with a nagging mother who tries to keep her job as an independent espionage agent for Carrie Mae a secret from her CIA Agent boyfriend.  Jenny, the bombshell blonde with a beauty pageant history and a love of firearms.  Ellen, the grandmother of two, and well-trained sniper.  And Jane, the geeky Intelligence Analyst  who keeps the team up to speed, but fails at keeping them politically correct. But at the very end of the book, I also bring back a character that’s been kicking around for two books now insisting on getting more “screen” time, and of course, that segued right into book four – Glossed Cause.  And I have this thought: Oh, now I remember why killed you.  It’s because you are SO ANNOYING. 


Is it ok to fight with your characters?  Just punch them in their virtual face a little bit?  Or do I need to check myself into the library and get a stiff dose of non-fiction to combat the raging C.A.R.D. outbreak I’m clearly suffering from?


    
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Doctor is Out. The Writer is In.

By Marjorie Brody

A fellow author asked me a question typically asked by readers: “Where do you get your characters?” Before I could answer, she shook her head and said, “No, what I really want to know is, are you writing about your patients?”

My gut tightened and a sadness settled in my chest. I knew this question would come—especially from people who didn’t know me well, and didn’t understand the depth of confidentiality. I feared people would make this assumption as soon as they found out I left the mental health field to write fiction.

For close to three decades, I worked in psychiatric facilities— outpatient clinics, residential treatment centers, crisis centers, and psychiatric hospitals. I’ve worked with hundreds of patients and their families. Some much less stable than others. Some, downright dangerous.

When I first thought about writing a story where a sexual assault incites everything that follows, I shoved the idea aside. Within the population I worked, such violence was way too common. But even in the general population, one in every four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). I wanted to expose, not individuals, but the conditions that surround such trauma.

I wrote a first version of Twisted and put it away--for a year. I really wasn’t ready to bring the story to light. I wasn’t ready to expose myself as such a gritty writer. But the characters wouldn't leave me alone. They beseeched me:
    “Speak out.”
    “Enlighten.”
    “Be courageous.”
    "Entertain."

I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer and revised it. I flipped character roles, probed into my characters’ minds—how could I not, with my background?—and controlled their actions to increase story tension. The resulting psychological suspense accomplished what I intended: a story of hope, of triumph, of empowerment.

Do I still carry the fear that a dysfunctional prior patient will accuse me of writing his or her story? That concern is fading. If I want to give free rein to my creativity, I can’t stifle my writing with that fear.

Sarah and the other characters in the novel grew and developed as I blended characters from one manuscript to another, as I pushed them to make the choices I needed for the story. But make no mistake, situations like theirs exist in real life, to real people.

Twisted is entertainment, as is all fiction at its core. And yet . . .

And yet . . .

I receive letters from strangers—strangers!—who thank me for understanding their experiences. For giving them a voice. For telling their story.

 ~Discussions welcome.

Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at http://tinyurl.com/cvl5why or http://tinyurl.com/bqcgywlMarjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com

Thursday, September 3, 2015

When Fictional People Seem Real

by Sparkle Abbey

We had a conversation recently with a reader who asked about some of the fashions mentioned in our books. She wondered where we got the ideas for what Caro and Mel wear. Though this reader confessed she didn’t know many of the designers, she still loved reading the descriptions of the fashions. She wanted to know, did we shop for Caro and Mel.

The answer is that in a way, we do. We often look through magazines such as Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar in search of looks appropriate for these two former Texas beauty queens turned pet therapist and pet boutique owner. They each have their favorite designers so we may also haunt the online sites of the likes of Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdales. (And not just the sale racks.) Sometimes we’ll look at a particular outfit and say, “Caro would never wear that.” Or “That’s just not Mel.” They each have their own style and we know it well. Caro loves classic and vintage. Mel’s look is a little edgier and more daring. And, of course, then there's Betty Foxx and her own unique and very individual look.

That got us thinking about how real these characters seem to us – and we hope to you.

It may sound crazy, but the truth is we know not only clothes they’d buy, but we could order for them in a restaurant, tell you their favorite music, and choose the movie each would pick for a night out. It’s kind of like we have these best friends…only they’re fictional.

What about you? Are there fictional characters who are so real to you that you feel like you could shop for them? (Or are we crazy?)

In our most recent book, we revisit lovely Laguna Beach with Caro and Mel as well as some of the other colorful characters we have come to know and love.

One Amazon reviewer has this to say about Downton Tabby:

How would you like to find a dead body in a swimming pool, have two friends disappear, be followed by a black SUV and have your ex try to take away your clients?

That’s what Laguna Beach’s animal therapist and sometime sleuth, Caro Lamont, faces in another page turning, suspense filled, and occasional humorous adventure as she tries to find a killer, solve the disappearances of two friends, and deal with a scurvy ex.

Need a treat today? Of course you do! Grab some snacks, your fav drink, turn off your phone and settle down in a comfy place and relish this latest mystery that’s pet friendly too!

Next up? Book 8: Raiders of the Lost Bark

As always, if you'd like to stay up on the latest news, new releases or upcoming appearances, sign up for the Sparkle Abbey newsletter at www.SparkleAbbey.com




Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mystery Writers Who Inspired Me—Part 1

By Kay Kendall

Jacqueline Winspear is a marvelous author whose books have been inspiring me for more than a decade. Most of the stories in her Maisie Dobbs mystery series are set in England, and the series begins after the War to End All Wars, which is alas now called World War One. The eleventh book in the series came out this year.

Maisie Dobbs was a young nurse at the front, and her fianc√© was wounded in the fighting. In the first book, he is a hopeless invalid, unable to speak and suffering from the gas attacks that occurred during the infamous trench warfare. The initial offering—simply titled Maisie Dobbs—won many prizes for first novel and wide spread praise from both reviewers and readers alike.

Author Jacqueline Winspear
What drew me into this mystery series was the depiction of the ravages of war on those who did not fight. Winspear describes long-lasting horrors that saddled a whole society after the war was won by the British and their allies, the Americans, French and Russians. Calamitous events arose from that disastrous war—the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and Hitler’s rise.

Maisie becomes a private investigator and is taught how to approach her cases from a psychological perspective by a wise, older male mentor. The first books are set in the late 1920s and then carry into  the 1930s. We readers know that Europe is crawling steadily toward another world war, and we see how Maisie adapts to changing conditions and threats. Although several young men wish to wed her, she shies away from commitment and maintains her independence steadfastly.  She helps others find happiness but doesn’t seem able to do that for herself, at least in the area of romance.

I began reading these fine, unique mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear before I began writing my own mysteries, and the more I read, the more they inspired me. I wanted to develop my own tales to show another young woman challenged by her own era’s battles—of war, politics, and changing values. It is no exaggeration to say that without reading about Maisie Dobbs, I might never have written about my own female amateur sleuth, Austin Starr.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to hear Jacqueline Winspear speak several times about the genesis of her series, how her own grandfather survived his participation in World War One and how his military service deeply affected her family. Plus, one of her grandmothers worked in a munitions arsenal during the war and was partially blinded in an explosion. To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the war, Winspear published a standalone novel last year set during the cataclysm. Her historical research is personal and impeccable.

Recently, a funny thing happened. I believed that I had read all the volumes in order and that I was totally up to date with Maisie’s doings—with the exception of the eleventh escapade. I bought it and added it to my to-be-read pile—the enormous stack at my bedside. Yet, one thing had always puzzled me. There was a jump in Winspear’s storytelling. A squabble between Maisie and her mentor was referenced, and I didn’t know what to make of it or where it came from. There was also the introduction in the middle books of a character treated as continuing but one I had not been introduced to before. I double-checked to ensure I had read all the books in order and kept on reading them.

And then last week, a sale grabbed me. The audiobook version of the third mystery, Pardonable Lies, was offered at a deep discount. Since it had been about a decade since I first read that book—or so I believed—I bought the CD and popped it into my car’s audio disc player. Imagine my surprise—no, my shock!—when the plot was new. I had never read Pardonable Lies. In it Maisie and her mentor quarrel over national security matters and she reconnects with an old friend from college. No wonder I didn’t know about those threads in Maisie’s story. I had missed them entirely.

This is delightful serendipity, stumbling upon a lost treasure that I didn’t even know I had misplaced. Now when I get into the car and face Houston’s clogged traffic, I enjoy the ride. Perhaps I will reread all the books, or listen to them in traffic.   

I heartily recommend this series to you. Find Maisie’s stories listed in order here: http://www.jacquelinewinspear.com/novels.php
~~~~~~~
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published in July. It is the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audiobook debuts soon. 
http://www.amazon.com/Rainy-Day-Women-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00W2X5SCS