Thursday, April 28, 2016

Clicking Our Heels - Our Last Supper - Mystery Writer Style

Our Last Supper – Mystery Writer Style

Most of the Stiletto Gang enjoys food and murder, so it seemed natural to find out what some of us would want to eat for our Last Supper:

Marilyn Meredith – Crab cakes, lobster tail, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus

Jennae M. Phillippe – A series of small plates of delicious dishes, like the hangar steak I had at a French-Vietnamese restaurant the other day, each paired perfectly with wine, and finishing with at least three kinds of dessert, most of which included chocolate.  I would aim for as much flavor variety as possible.  And, no mushrooms!

Paffi Flood – A filet mignon, cooked medium well, with a Caesars salad and a vodka tonic

Sparkle Abbey – That’s so hard, we like all types of food.  Italian, Mediterranean inspired.  We do better with the drink.  For us that would be a margarita!

Bethany Maines – I would order something with a lot of courses that took a lot of time cook and eat.  Let’s just see how long we can make this last. J

Juliana Aragon Fatula – Tamales, arroz, frijoles, cheese, quacamole, sopapillas.  My mom was the greatest cook in my hometown. She sold tamales to make money for Christmas gifts.  She was very popular with the community because of her cooking. Tamales always remind me of the tamalera in my mom’s kitchen once or twice a year with all the Viejas, tias, cousins, comadres.  It was beer and chisme and I learned a lot about life from those parties.
Kay Kendall – Cold shrimp with cocktail sauce.  Hot French bread with lots of garlic butter. Hagen
Daz coffee ice cream.

Dru Ann Love – I would have collard greens, rice, fried chicken, baked macaroni & cheese and for dessert, chocolate frosted yellow cake.  This is the holiday meal I grew up with and its comfort food and makes me think of years past with the family.

Debra H. Goldstein – I’d keep it simple and in line with my usual cooking style: a cheese pizza followed by coffee, chocolate mint, or German chocolate cake ice cream.

Paula Benson - For my last supper, I would ask to go back in time to a place no longer existing called "The Captain's Kitchen." They served wonderful fried seafood in paper bowls and would bring all you could eat of shrimp, scallops, oysters, and perch (with delicious cocktail and tartar sauce) as well as hush puppies and cole slaw. Just when the servers thought my father had no room for more, he would ask for one last bowl of shrimp, "for dessert."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Bag of Tricks

By Bethany Maines
On my last blog I discussed how I keep the fictional worlds of my books organized (answer: spreadsheets and lists!), but recently I gave a talk on writing to a local high-school and they wanted to know the more nitty-gritty details. Since they are at the start of their writer journey they have yet to discover that many of the struggles of writing are shared by all writers.  What’s that? You have two great scenes, but you’re not sure how to connect them?  You have half a novel written, but you don’t know who the bad guy is yet? You really need the hot guy to land in the heroine’s life, but you don’t know how he gets there?  These are all questions with many possible answers, and like common core math, many possible ways of getting to the answer.
I thought Kimberly Jayne’s recent post about Mindful Daydreaming was a great way to answer many writing questions.  And yesterday’s post from Sally Berneathy’s post about “pantsing” vs. plotting a novel showed how she dives and discovers her book as she goes along.  I have discovered that being a plotter is usually a faster more efficient way for me to write.  When I have all the answers before I start writing, I can write even when I’m not feeling very creative or if I only have five minutes.  But recently, I found myself stuck on the outline.  I stared.  I hammered.  I picked.  I ignored it.  Nothing happened.  And at some point I decided to start writing because you know what happens when you don’t write? Nothing.  So I wrote all the way to where I had outlined and I was just as stuck as I was on the outline.  I was back to being a high-schooler – how do I connect those two scenes? How do I get the hero from point A to point B? Dear God, what happens nexxxxxxxt????
Which is when I decided to take my own advice.  I grabbed a notebook and a pen. Changing the medium can sometimes change my perspective.  I wrote a synopsis of the story from the villain’s point of view.  I wrote a synopsis from the love interests view point. I drew little diagrams about how the storylines connect. I wrote a few paragraphs about the villain’s history and motivation, really diving into what he thinks about the events of the story.  It’s an old saying that each of us is the hero in our own story, and that goes for villains too (see the great post from Jennae Phillippe about A Villain’s Voice).  How does a villain think that his actions are justified? As I answered that question, I discovered more and more about how my story moved forward.  Which is when I put down the pen and typed up my scrawling notes. 
Organizing a novel isn’t just about filing systems; it’s about herding all your characters and ideas into a coherent plot and making sure that everyone gets to the end (or the right end if they happen to be the designated dead body) in a satisfying manner.  But sometimes a writer needs to reach into her bag of tricks and try more than one technique to get the job done.  As I told my room full of high-schoolers, when in doubt…  try, try something else.

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.

The Creation of My Books

by Sally Berneathy

In real life, I’m a spontaneous, unorganized person. Want to go on a trip? Sure, I’m in! Airline reservations? Okay, sure, when I get time. Motels? Oh, we’ll find one.

Fortunately my boyfriend is very organized. He does all those things and I go along.

A couple of years ago I wanted to attend the Writers’ Police Academy. My mystery writer friends had been telling me all year how wonderful it is. They all signed up. I was so excited about going!

Usually I go to conferences with a friend who has the same personality as my boyfriend. She registers, gets a hotel room and a flight, then orders me to register for the conference and get on the same flight.

But she isn’t a mystery writer. When I finally got around to signing up for the Writers’ Police Academy, registration was closed. All spots taken. That sucked! Well, maybe next year.

Then a friend got word that they had a cancellation. Did I want it? Yes! She gave the conference organizer my name, so when I finally got around to contacting him, the slot was, amazingly, still open. Yay!

Then there was the matter of the hotel room. I got on the Internet and checked. No rooms available. Bummer. I called the hotel to find out the closest place I could stay and still get to the conference. Well, the hotel was kind of isolated. Not much else around. Yikes! But as we were talking, someone called and cancelled! I got a room!

In spite of being a pretty flaky person, I manage to get through life with a little luck and a lot of help from my friends.

My writing style follows my life style. There are two types of writers: (1) Plotters who create an outline of the entire story then write the book. (2) Pantsers who write by the seat of our pants. We begin with the beginning and write the book as it unfolds in our brain. I’m a pantser.

I get an idea for a new book. I create a new folder on my computer for that book then the first document entitled “Notes.” In that document I write whatever comes to mind. “Trent’s ex-wife is going to cause problems.” “A body appears on Lindsay’s lawn, and Henry didn’t drag this one in.” “Rick has a scheme for taking over the international chocolate market.” I also keep notebooks stashed around the house and in my car so I can make notes as ideas occur to me. “Rick GF bro drugs.” Those notes are often hard to decipher, especially the ones written while sitting in my car at a red light or in bed in the middle of the night when I don’t want to turn on the light and wake the boyfriend.

The first chapter unfolds in my head like a movie. I simply write it down.

Then I take that first chapter and my cluttered notes to my critique group and they say things like, “Are you crazy? Fred can’t have a secret baby!”

With a better understanding of what may or may not happen in my upcoming book, I go home and continue writing. Each scene is a surprise. Magic happens. I realize that the cast iron skillet I put in Chapter 2 has a purpose! It’s exactly what Lindsay needs in Chapter 9 to whack her ex over the head.

As I reach the halfway point of the first draft, new plot points come up as if by magic. I write a sticky note for each one. “Go back to Chapter 3 and insert something about the witch in the window.” “Check for references to Chaille and be sure each one shows she’s bat crap crazy.” “Give Chuck a gun in Chapter 7 but he doesn’t know which end the bullets come out of.”

When I do my first round of revisions, I throw away each sticky note as I make the designated change. When my desk is clean, I know my story line is logical.

I sometimes wish I could be a plotter. Like having airline and motel reservations in advance of a trip, an outline of my book would make writing it much easier and reduce the stress of wondering if the Scene Fairy will give me the next one.

When I wrote for Harlequin/Silhouette in the 1990s, I had to turn in a proposal for each new book. A proposal consisted of the first three chapters and a synopsis of the rest of the book. Writing the first three chapters was easy, but the synopsis was a nightmare. I’d call my editor almost every day and bounce ideas off her. She was The Best Editor and always willing to help. Finally after twice the time it took me to write those first three chapters, I’d finish a satisfactory synopsis and send it off. They’d buy the book and I’d write the rest of it…and from Chapter 4 through the end, it had nothing to do with that stupid synopsis.

Now that I write for myself, I don’t have to pretend I know the ending of the book until I get there. Amazingly, I always get there…with a little luck and a lot of help from my friends.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Meet the Authors of the 2015 Agatha Best Short Story Nominees!

Each year at Malice Domestic, writing excellence is recognized by the Agatha awards. This year’s nominees for Best Short Story are:

“A Joy Forever” (PDF) by B.K. Stevens (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2015)
“Suffer the Poor” (PDF) by Harriette Sackler, History & Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
“A Killing at the Beausoleil” (PDF) by Terrie Farley Moran (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2015)
“A Questionable Death” (PDF) by Edith Maxwell, History & Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
“A Year Without Santa Claus?” (PDF) by Barb Goffman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2015)

Please enjoy the opportunity to read these stories, if you haven’t already. We are so fortunate to have with us today B.K. Stevens, Harriette Sackler, Terrie Farley Moran, Edith Maxwell, and Barb Goffman. All are not only fabulous writers, but also delightful people. Thanks, Bonnie, Harriette, Terrie, Edith, and Barb for stopping by to share your work and thoughts with us!Paula Gail Benson

What are your writing habits?

B.K. Stevens
B.K. STEVENS:         Usually, I spend a lot of time planning, especially if I’m working on a whodunit and have to make sure all the evidence will come together. I may or may not make some sort of outline, but I almost always take a lot of notes on the computer—exploring various plot possibilities, planning clues, writing profiles of characters and describing their backstories, and so on. Usually, my notes are much longer than the final story; for the last story I submitted to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, they’re over three times as long. I like to have a clear idea of where I’m headed before I begin to write, even though I usually end up making lots of changes during drafting and revising. I draft fairly quickly and try (often not successfully) to resist the temptation to revise while I’m drafting. Once the first draft is done, I put it aside for at least a week and then spend a long time revising and editing. For me, revising always involves a lot of cutting—my first drafts are always much too long. I try to have at least two projects in progress at all times. That way, if I get stuck on one, I can put it aside for a while and focus on the other.

HARRIETTE SACKLER:      Since I’m involved in many different projects, I write when I can. Once I have a kernel of a story idea in my mind, I put it down on paper. I do seem to accomplish more when I’m under deadline. I’m a great procrastinator.

Terrie Farley Moran
TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: I write seven days a week. I get up every morning leave the house and do some kind of exercise (walking, visit the gym, water aerobics or bike ride) then I come home and sit at the keyboard. I write until I break to eat lunch and watch a few minutes of news. Then I go back to the keyboard until about six o’clock when I go out for a walk or a bike ride. If I am falling behind on a deadline I write after dinner until bedtime. Under the heading “writing” I include all writing related chores: editing, research, website, blog posts, etc. And, of course, I still try to have an actual life!

EDITH MAXWELL:  I am a full-time fiction writer now and I treat it like a job. I’m always up by six AM and am working by seven. Whether I’m working on the first draft of a book, a short story, or revision, I do my creative work before noon. Then I head out for my brisk long walkoften plotting the next day’s scene as I go – and reserve the afternoon for admin jobs like writing blog posts, arranging author events, and other items of author business. So far it’s workingI have three multi-book contracts, so I have to write three books a year, plus one or more short stories.

Barb Goffman
BARB GOFFMAN:    When I come up with a story idea—be it organically, or more often, in response to a story call—and don’t have the time to write the story immediately (that’s ninety-nine percent of the time), I’ll write some notes about the idea: the beginning, the end, maybe a bit of dialogue or the voice I hear in my head. Then those notes will sit, sometimes for a long time, until I find the time to write that story. I prefer to write in large chunks rather than a few minutes a day, so I can go a long time between writing stretches when my day job keeps me busy.

Once I start writing, I’ll write a few paragraphs, then read them out loud, revising them before I go forward. Any time I take a break or get stuck, I’ll re-read the last few paragraphs out loud, trying to get a feel for what comes next (and, of course, revising as I go). While I’m writing a story, I may also sleep on it, take a short drive, or a hot shower, trying to think on it—consider if I have plot holes, how I could spice up the dialogue, create a plot twist, and more. Once I finish, I try to let the finished story sit for a few days (or longer if I have the time) before I read it again and try to spot and fix any problems. And then I send the story out to a trusted friend or two for feedback before I revise once more and then send the story out for submission. (Though I must admit I’m often so eager to see what my friends think that I may send a story to them before I’ve cleaned it up perfectly. Letting the story sit for a few days is hard, even though I know that’s the best way to proceed. I keep trying to reign myself in. It’s a work in progress.)

How long does it take to plan and complete a short story?

B.K. STEVENS:         Generally, it takes a long, long time. Once in a while, I’ll get an idea, do only a little planning, and sit down and write the story straight through. That doesn’t happen often, though—maybe four or five times in the last thirty years, usually for flash fiction stories, and even then I’ll spend days cutting and revising. Most of the time, depending on the length and complexity of the story, the whole process takes several weeks or several months. (But remember, I work on more than one project at a time.) If I’m not satisfied with a story, I may put it aside for months or even years until I think of a way to fix it. Right now, I’ve got a half-written story that’s been sitting in a folder for at least three years, waiting until I come up with a better murder method.

Harriette Sackler
HARRIETTE SACKLER:      I’m not one to churn out stories in a short time. It takes me a while from conception to finished story. But that feels fine to me.

TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: I am a very slow writer and writing is a very contrarian occupation. If I think a story is going to take a long time to write, it usually gets itself down on paper without a problem. If I expect the story to be a quick slam dunk, it generally turns out to be torturous to write. Basically when I see a call for submissions that interests me, or when I get an idea for a potential story, I tend to think about it for a good long while. Once I think of a direction the story could take, I begin to research anything that could possibly relate. I do far more research than necessary because…I love research. Then I think some more. While all this thinking and research is going on I am generally working on another project or two. Eventually I write the story. I don’t outline, I just plunge into it. Of course if there is a deadline that sets the time frame.

Edith Maxwell
EDITH MAXWELL:  That really varies. Once the story emerges in my head, sometimes I can talk it through on my hour walk (see previous question, and yes, I’m the crazy author lady who talks out loud to herself on the rail trail). Then I take a day or two to write the first draft. But the finishing, editing down, and making sure it works can take a lot longer. And with historical stories set in a real location, there’s always more research to be done, too.

BARB GOFFMAN:    It varies. If I get a detailed idea, I might finish the first draft in a few days. (That’s how I prefer to proceed. I like to know the beginning, a few high points, and the end before I start writing. It makes the process easier.) But sometimes I’ll hear a voice in my head—a story’s beginning—and I’ll start writing. I might write a couple of paragraphs or a page or two, and then I’ll get stuck, really stuck, because I have no plot to go with the voice. Those stories can become big problems because I’ve found my writing flows best when I come up with conflict first and let character react to it, and the plot unfolds from there. When characters show up first without the conflict—those are my problem children.

That’s what happened with my nominated story “A Year Without Santa Claus?” I saw a call for whodunit stories set in New Jersey. I woke up soon thereafter with the main character’s voice in my head. I wrote the first page, and that was all I wrote on that story—for years. Whodunits are hard to write (at least for me). I needed a mystery and suspects and all that good stuff. I needed a plot in which my character could solve the crime when the police couldn’t. And I had none of that. Perhaps three years later, one morning out of the blue, I had an idea in the shower—a plot that worked. I hurried to my computer (thank goodness I had the time to write that day and week) and banged out a solid draft within a few days. So sometimes it takes a few days to come up with an idea and write a story. Sometimes the planning can take a few years and then the writing a few days. It’s nice when it all comes together fast.

What shoes would you, your protagonist, or another character from your story wear to the Agathas banquet?

B.K. STEVENS:         I’ll wear boring, sensible shoes, because I always wear boring, sensible shoes. Gwen seems like the type to wear boring, sensible shoes, too. Considering the way the story ends, though, this time she might just wear stilettos.

HARRIETTE SACKLER:      I’m at the age when comfort is my most important priority. Gone are the days of high heels and pointed toes.

I’ll be at the banquet in a pair of strappy and low-heeled shoes.

TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: I intend to wear this pair of MUNRO AMERICAN bright red shoes. I think Sassy and Bridgy would wear similar bright red shoes but with fewer straps and a higher heel.

EDITH MAXWELL:  I’m SO not a shoe person. And my Quaker midwife Rose Carroll from “A Questionable Death” would wear something very modest, as well. But her unconventional friend and co-conspirator, postmistress Bertie Winslow? She loves fancy hats and colorful clothes. She’ll wear these satin embroidered evening slippers to the banquet.

BARB GOFFMAN:    Kyle Coyote, my main character’s security chief, would wear rocket skates from the Acme Company because when something goes wrong, he needs to reach his destination fast. Plus, he loves Acme’s innovative products (how many companies are selling rideable rockets?), despite his boss’s concerns about defects.

I’ll be wearing open-heeled black shoes with a tiny heel because I believe in comfort.