Friday, May 26, 2017

Finding a Better Word

Finding a Better Word by Debra H. Goldstein

This week, I’ve been taking an excellent Guppy Dramatic Tension course taught by none other than our own Linda Rodriguez (who really goes the extra mile for her students). Although life has interfered with my “performance” on some of the assignments, her concepts have really hit home.
I now find myself searching everything to go beyond plot for key emotional words and hints, emotional consequences, and getting into the psych of my individual characters and their interaction with the other characters from a new perspective. It is humbling to see how much I don’t know and to wonder how I will ever absorb even a small aspect of what she is teaching, but it has helped me to understand why I think Linda’s books are so good.

Emotions and their consequences play a big role in writing and in life. Choosing the right words conveys to readers what is going on in an author’s head and in the story. As I’m writing this blog, another horror story of death and tragic injuries occurring in Manchester, England is flashing across my TV set. I don’t usually write political pieces, but today I condemn those who caused this incident and the others like it. My heart goes out to those who were enjoying concerts, vacation trips, or other activities in peace only to be caught up in moments of terror.

Using what I’ve already learned in class about words that produce dramatic tension, I think I can characterize what is going through my head: I am angered, saddened, disgusted, fearful, and surprised. It shows through agitation, amazement, despair, depression, disapproval, frustration, frightened, threatened, and anxiousness. The consequences as I travel and look around me in the future will be a loss of innocence replaced by attitudes of suspicion, skepticism, aversion, and behaviors reflecting being powerless and vulnerable.

Is this what I want my children to see? Is this the world I want them to live in? We all dream that the next generation will have things easier and better, but words like happy, joyful, and hopeful have been replaced by reality. It sucks.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - Social Media

Clicking Our Heels – Social Media

In this age of social media, we thought it would be interesting to ascertain how social media enhances or distracts from writing. Here are the various Stiletto Gang member thoughts:
Bethany Maines – Social media has enhanced my writing by connecting me to readers and writers I wouldn’t have otherwise met. But it’s so easy to use as a distraction from, you know, actually writing.

Cathy Perkins – Social media lets me interact with people on a daily basis but it’s a distraction when time is so precious.

Paula Gail Benson – Both. It helps me to learn about things more quickly, like current events, modern speech patterns, or in-vogue abbreviations. It also is very addictive. I have to limit my time with it or I’ve suddenly lost hours.

Sparkle Abbey – Social media is definitely both a wonderful connection and at times a distraction. It’s so great to be able to connect with readers and other writers, but it certainly can suck you in and then you wonder where that hour went!

Kay Kendall – Social media enhances my writing. As an extrovert, there is no way I could sit in a room day after day and not communicate with people. With social media, however, I can still communicate to the outside world. This keeps me at my desk…and happy.

Paffi S. Flood – Oh, definitely, social media has distracted me, especially twitter. With the election in full swing, I couldn’t seem to tear myself away, but I really needed to. 

Kimberly Jayne – Social media is a double-edged sword. You need it to engage with people and, in particular, your readers/fans, but it’s easy to spend too much time doing that instead of the harder job of writing. You can dedicate an hour a day to social media; then, in the process look up at the clock and find you’ve overshot by an extra hour. And I can’t imagine that the extra hour gives you any more ROI for your efforts than the one- hour goal would have. 

Debra H. Goldstein – Social media is my nemesis. I know I need it to connect with readers and fans, as well as to attract new ones, but the time spent on it distracts from doing other things – usually because instead of using it for work, I check the news and gossip J

Linda Rodriguez – I would have answered this question differently not very long ago, but right now, I’d have to say social media does distract me from my writing. This is primarily because of the election and also a number of volatile situations involving African American, Latino, and Native civil rights in the new news. I happen to be passionately involved with those issues. 

Jennae Phillippe – Oh man, it is SUCH a distraction. Honestly, I think about quitting social media on a semi-regular basis because it is such a time suck. And while I rely on it to keep me informed, sometimes the sheer quantity of horrible things shared feels very overwhelming and draining. If I didn’t need it to connect to readers, I think I would abandon it completely.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sources of the Mystery Short Story

by Paula Gail Benson

Continuing the celebration of May as Short Story Month (see and, here are a few sources where you can find excellent short stories and receive encouragement or ideas for marketing short stories.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (,
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (, and The Strand ( are perhaps the best known monthly publications that feature stories, interviews, and reviews. Woman’s World ( is a weekly periodical that features a short solve-it-yourself mystery, often written by well-known mystery writers such as John Floyd and B.K. Stevens.

Wildside Press ( offers the monthly Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine as well as anthologies produced for the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional and Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical) and the Guppy and Chesapeake Chapters of Sisters in Crime. Wildside has also published single author short story collections, like Barb Goffman’s Don’t Get Mad, Get Even and B.K. Stevens’ Her Infinite Variety.

Level Best Books ( is well known for publishing the Best New England Crime Stories series and is currently seeking submissions (which close May 31, 2017) for the 15th anthology, to be titled, Snowbound. Now under new editors, Level Best has branched out with a law enforcement anthology, Busted! Arresting Stories from the Beat, and an upcoming culinary collection, Noir at the Salad Bar.

Two excellent online magazines are Mysterical E (, published quarterly, and Kings River Life (, issued weekly. If you look at the Mystery Rats Maze portion of Kings River Life (, you’ll find interviews with mystery authors, book reviews, and short stories. Sometimes there’s even a give-away offer!

Finally, both for its list of online resources and its continuous updates of contests and calls for submissions, Sandra Seamans’ blog ( can’t be beat. In addition, the Short Mystery Fiction Society ( has been commemorating the short story month with selected stories from its member authors, including our own Debra Goldstein.

If you love short stories, particularly mystery ones, please be sure to check out these great sites!  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Plotting vs. Pantsing

by Linda Rodriguez

In the mystery-writing community, people tend to divide themselves into plotters or pantsers. This seems to me to set up a false dichotomy where real authors either write out rigid, detailed outlines of their entire books before they begin their first draft or they start with nothing but perhaps an image or a line and then wing their way through the entire book. I know this divide isn't true, and if you look, you can find plenty of interviews with and articles by established mystery writers saying this isn't true, but still, this either-or myth seems to fill the air and create problems, especially for fairly new writers.

I'd like to suggest that there are myriad ways to write a mystery or thriller that partake to varying degrees of both methods and yet are neither. Probably the initial freeing knowledge in this arena that I encountered was from best-selling and award-winning Elizabeth George. George has also written a great book on writing the novel, especially the mystery, Write Away: One Writer’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, in which she discusses the way she writes her own highly successful mysteries. She plots out in broad general terms what will happen over the first 50 pages, goes into more detail about what will happen in each scene right before she writes it, and then she changes that rough 50-page outline to adhere to what she actually wrote in those first 50 or so pages, plots out in general terms the next 50 pages, and proceeds this way through the first draft of the entire book. At the end, her outline shows the basic structure of what she's actually written, providing a tool she can use in revision.

George's practical method was very close to what I was actually doing. I felt like a failure because I couldn't stick to a pre-determined outline of a whole book, nor could I just wing it without finding I'd often left out the drama my book needed. But, hey, if Elizabeth George did it, too, maybe I wasn't such a failure.

The truth of the matter is that any way you can get a good book written is the right way for that book. Some people love those detailed outlines—I've heard some authors claim their original outlines are longer than the books themselves. Some people can fly across the page on a wing and a prayer with no preparation, never knowing where they're going until they reach the end, without later having to throw away huge chunks of draft and spend ages on major revisions to try to inject some action and drama into their manuscripts. As far as I can tell, however, both extremes are fairly rare. Usually, in talking with writers, I find they use some mixture of the two methods. Perhaps they think a great deal and even make notes about the world of the book, the dramatic situation, and the characters—notes they may later refer to or not, as the case may be—and then they just start writing, having gassed up the story machine in their unconscious with their earlier thinking, and just keep going until the end. Perhaps they wing it until they get into trouble and then they work on figuring out what happens next before winging it again for a while, cycling in and out of that process throughout the book. This is a strategy I have also used before and may well use again.

We find what works for us for this particular book—and the thing is, that tends to change with certain books—and that becomes our method, until it no longer works for the book we're on now. So I urge all of you to eschew the seeming requirement for rigid extremes. Try some of these hybrid methods and see if any one of them will work well for you with the book you're writing now, keeping in mind that it's not the only one and you can change to another of them when it no longer helps. You might make up a hybrid method that I haven't mentioned that will work well for your book, or you might find another that I haven't mentioned in an interview with a writer you admire. Use what works for you at the stage you're at right now.

New novelists, especially, can find it difficult to successfully juggle all the plates of character, conflict, action, motivation, background and setting, dialogue, scene structure, plot points, emotional turning points, plot complications, subplots, and a million more from the beginning. Thinking ahead and planning for effective use of some of these aspects of the novel is a completely successful way to work, even if you want to wing the rest of it.

These are my two cents on the whole plotter vs pantser thing. How do you work?

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Box Set Funeral

Box sets have been a marketing staple in the publishing industry, but a lot of people are ready to call the technique dead and bury it. Queue the band and plan the funeral.

Or not.

The opportunities presented by setting up a box set remain as numerous—and practical—as ever. The sets offer a chance to collaborate with other authors to reach a different group of readers. 

In well run ventures, many hands mean a combined promotional effort that expands the reach of an individual. And on a practical level, the book is already written, so the set adds another potential income stream.

Genres sets tend to perform better than literary sets, especially if the books share a similar audience. Many of the current box sets share a theme, setting, or type of hero/heroine.

Does that mean you should dive into the next set you hear about? 

Probably not. 

From the author’s perspective, understand why you’re joining the set and who you’re teaming with. Are their readers potentially your readers? On a more personal level, will the other members of the team pull their weight and take responsibility for their marketing or preparation tasks? Other decisions include financial management of royalties and/or required buy-in of advertising dollars.

Let’s say you’ve considered the options and assembled a team, chosen a theme and established a time line. What’s not to like about this decision?

The biggest criticism of the box sets is the same disdain leveled at other forms of “cheap marketing”—i.e. free or very inexpensive books. 
“They devalue the written word.” 
“They’re destroying the industry.

Yeah, yeah, the sky is falling.

There’s also the naysayers’ claim the book hoarders simply snap up the inexpensive sets and place them on their e-reader, where they disappear among the pixels. 

That may happen. But there are also readers who dip and sample through the set (or even better, voraciously read all the stories). And they just might tell their friends about a new –to-them author (you!).

Because word of mouth marketing is still the best kind.
I’m sure you’re surprised to hear I joined a box set that released this week. LUCK OF THE DRAW features thirteen brand new stories centered on a life-changing stroke of luck. (Special release week price at Amazon
My contribution to the set is DOUBLE DOWN. Murder isn’t supposed to be in the cards for blackjack dealer Maddie Larsson. A single mom, struggling to make ends meet, dealing at the Tom Tom Casino pays better than anything else she’s currently qualified to do. Busted takes on a new meaning, however, when her favorite customer, a former Poker World Tour champion, is murdered. His family claims—loudly and often—that Maddie is a gold-digging murderer. She better prove she's on the level before the real killer cashes in her chips.
If the victim’s body had been dumped five hundred yards up the road, Franklin County Sheriff’s Detective JC Dimitrak wouldn’t have been assigned to the Tom Tom Casino murder case. Instead, he’s hunting for suspects and evidence while dealing with a nemesis from the past and trying to preserve his own future. He better play his cards correctly and find the killer before an innocent woman takes the ultimate hit.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Austin Starr's Bad Day

by Kay Kendall

The protagonist-turned-amateur-sleuth in my two mysteries is Austin Starr. Here she shares her thoughts about the problems she faces in my first book, DESOLATION ROW, and hints at ongoing issues that develop further in my second, RAINY DAY WOMEN.

This year, 1968, looked so promising at first. I married my college boyfriend David. He’s kind, smart, handsome…and taller than me. That’s a real plus.
Unfortunately, today I can’t see him because he’s in jail. And if that’s not bad enough already, he’s in jail in a foreign country.
OK, OK, so we’ve only moved to Canada…but we Americans aren’t supposed to feel any culture shock up here in Canada. Ha! Not true. I’ve got news for you. Canada is not the 51st state.
Now, please, don’t get the wrong idea about me. Just because the man I married became a draft resister, don’t think I’m a hippie, or anything like that. Really, I’m just a good Texas girl from a small town who followed my mother’s advice—to get married and settle down, do what your husband tells you. Mother simply never dreamed I’d end up living in such a cold climate, in a strange place. Canada.
I’m so homesick. I miss my family and friends back in Texas. And I’m scared. So very scared. They say the Mounties always get their man…and the Mounties now have got my husband.
They’re sure David murdered another draft resister. But I know he didn’t do it. After all, we came to Canada because David was against killing—against all killing—even in the war in Vietnam.
Today I’m setting out to prove my husband isn’t the killer. I’m nosey, curious, and had some training from the CIA. My handler, “Mr. Smith,” was sorry to see me leave the program. He warned I might not be happy and said he’d keep the door open for me, in case I ever wanted to return. Smith says the Agency needs my Russian language skills.
Shhh, please don’t tell David. He doesn’t know about this part of my life. I don’t think he would approve.
Here’s the strangest thing about this murder case. I was the one who found the body—literally fell over it, in a church basement. Yes, me. And it turns out the corpse was the draft-resisting son of a United States Senator. That’s why the Mounties moved so fast to jail my poor David. The senator called the prime minister of Canada and demanded the killer be caught, fast.
Now everyone is satisfied the murderer is in jail—everyone but me, that is.
So now I’m on a mission…even though I’m alone, homesick, scared…and only 22 years old…I have to prove David’s innocence. I’m his only hope.
I’m Austin Starr, and I’m hunting for a brutal killer. Wish me luck.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RAINY DAY WOMEN here! Her book won 2 awards at Killer Nashville in 2016.
Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing,
Kay Kendall & Wills AKA King William
DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook at                     


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Flying of Time

by J.M. Phillippe

There comes a point in a new position where everything begins to feel routine. Where the schedule is pretty locked in, the tasks rote, and the days start to blend together. I always worry when this happens, because as the weeks whirl into months, I feel my life passes before my eyes at an almost numbing speed. I become complacent.

Writing is the only thing that seems to help keep the flying of time in check, because it is a measurable use of time. Most of my tasks disappear, as it were, by the next week. As a therapist, I see the same people over and over again, marking their progress with notes written weekly and treatment plans written every three months. But the progress in therapy is sometimes is small, and hard to see from week to week, like tracking the growth of a child. You know they are growing, but it takes a while to actually see it.

At the breakneck speed of a mental health clinic where I see clients one right after another, with one short break midway through a stretch of 9 clients in a row, it's hard to spend a lot of time processing each session to look for those moments of growth or change. Each week picks up on the topics of the previous, so it feels sometimes like I am binging other people's lives.

And it sometimes feels like in doing so I am neglecting my own. Again, writing is one of the few things that keeps me grounded in my own goals and dreams, and helps me see my own growth. I can see the pages that mark the passing of time, see the drafts build, one on another, and when I hit that final draft, have an actual product to give people that is a physical manifestation of "how I used my time."

However, I struggle to make time for writing. It often comes after -- after work, after chores, after general life maintenance. It's been hard to put writing first. When I look back over a stretch of time and see how few pages I have to show for that period of time, I know my priorities have drifted away from me, and that my routine has taken over.

You'd think that the natural thing to do is to make writing part of that routine, and that has always been my goal. But with so little time, and so many other things going on, it continues to be very hard to make the kind of dedicated writing time I want. I end up getting snatches of time here and there, which never seem to let me get to the place I want to get to, where the words just flow and the story takes over. That is what I miss, more than anything, when I say I miss writing. I miss being a conduit instead of a work horse. I miss feeling inspired instead of feeling obligated. I miss getting quality time with my own imaginary adventures.

So, now that I see that my time management has gotten away from me, it's time to make adjustments and put writing back up on the priority list. I know doing that though means that some other things may start to slide. There simply just isn't enough time for everything. I have to use the time I have better.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.