Friday, July 24, 2015

A Visit with Margaret Coel

Tony Hillerman's heir apparent, award-winning and bestselling author, Margaret Coel, writes about the Arapaho people of Colorado and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation. Her latest release, The Spider's Web, is the 15th book in her series.

Margaret, you’ve said that the Arapahos are your dream people. Why are you so fascinated with them?

The Arapahos lived on the plains of Colorado in what they call “the old time.” I’m a 4th generation Coloradan who grew up on the stories of our area, including stories about the native peoples. Something about them just drew me in, and the more I researched and got to know them, the more fascinated I became. My first book was a non-fiction book, titled Chief Left Hand, which is a biography of one of their leading men in the 19th century and a history of the people in Colorado. That was the book that took me into their world. It was published in 1981 by The University of Oklahoma Press and has never gone out of print.

How were you able to research the crimes and customs of the tribe? Have they allowed you to interview them or have you researched them mainly in libraries and newspaper articles?

All of the above. I do a lot of research in newspaper articles, and I spent 5 years in library archives researching the Arapahos. I visit the Wind River Reservation every year, and have for the past 30 years, and I visit with my friends.

How did your protagonists, Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden come about? Were they based on real people?

They were the kind of sleuths I needed for my novels. Amateurs, yet the kind of people that those in trouble would turn to and would trust. Father John is an outsider, like me. I wanted a character who would come to know the Arapahos and appreciate their history and culture, as I did. My thought was that the reader could come along on his journey. As for Vicky I wanted to write from a woman’s point of view, and I wanted a strong Arapaho voice in the stories. No, they are not based on real people, but I’m told one of the ongoing games on the rez is trying to figure out who they really are!

What is the most interesting fact that you learned about the Arapaho tribe?

They were traders, called the “businessmen of the plains,” in the early days. They were very sharp business people, and still are. They are also very spiritual.

Why did you leave Father O’Malley in Rome to write Blood Memory, a departure from your Arapaho series?

I thought he should go to Romewhile I write Blood Memory, and then I would have a tax-deductible excuse to visit Rome as well.

Were Tony Hillerman’s books your inspiration to write your own series?

Oh, yes, and so was Tony Hillerman. He really created the market for mysteries set among native tribes. Peope who read all of his books—and loved them—started looking around for similar mysteries in different locations. And there mine were!

What’s your writing schedule like? 

I write 6 days a week—this is a real job. Usually I write for 4 or 5 hours, then spend a couple hours on the “business” part of the writing business—dealing with editors, agents, publicist, requests for interviews and speeches. The type of thing I am now doing. Then I also do a lot of research and reading for each book.

How many books did you publish before you acquired an agent? And was acquiring an agent difficult?

With the mystery novels, I acquired an agent right away. The agent liked the manuscript of The Eagle Catcher, my first novel, and sold it to Berkley Publishing, still my publisher. I signed a 3-book contract, and I was off and running.

Which of your nonfiction books or novels was the most difficult to write? Which is your favorite? And why?

I wouldn’t say my non-fiction book, Chief Left Hand, was difficult, but it required a tremendous amount of research and documentation, as well as travel to the places I wrote about. So it took a chunk out of my life. But it was a terrific experience, and it allows me to write the mystery novels. As for my favorite book, it is always the book I am in the midst of writing. It fills up my head and consumes my life. When it is done, I send it on its way into the world and hunker down with my next “favorite” book.

Advice for aspiring writers?

One important word: Persistence. You have to keep at it no matter what. Keep writing and honing your craft. Keep getting better and better. Keep searching for the readers out there who are waiting for your stories.

Thank you, Margaret, for taking part in the series.

Margaret's website:
She's also on Facebook and invites everyone to join her there:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sixteen Steps To Plotting A Thriller

International bestselling thriller novelist Rick Mofina says that writing has been a livelong affliction. One of the world's leading crime writers, Rick's work is what James Patterson has termed "tense, realistic and scary in all the right places." He graciously agreed to share his 16 steps to plotting a successful thriller novel:

1. A problem befalls the protagonist that will change/threaten her/his life.

2. Define the stakes. Establish a deadline. The clock is ticking.

3. Who is your protagonist? Give readers what they need to know to empathize.

4. Who/what is your antagonist? Give readers what they need to understand or fear.

5. Action = Character. Conflict = Tension. Tension = Drama. Time is slipping by.

6. Hooks compel readers to turn pages. Otherwise, what's the point?

7. Hope emerges. A resolution is in sight. Or is it?

8. Protagonist’s credibility. Use what you know personally to build a solid frame.

9. Story plausibility. Use what you know personally to reinforce that frame.

10. Make readers feel the story, smell it, taste it, live it.

11. Dialogue and details must reveal character, drive the story.

12. The clock is ticking. Urgency is critical.

13. Things just got a whole lot worse. The reader sweats it out with the protagonist.

14. Time is up. The antagonist will triumph.

15. All hope appears to be gone but the protagonist battles on against the odds.

16. The protagonist defeats the antagonist in a life-changing resolution of the problem.

© RickMofina

(Excerpted from Mysterious Writers, Poisoned Pen Press, where you can read Rick's interview as well as 74 other authors.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

10 Tips for Attending Book Fairs

by Austin Camacho

The side of book marketing that I enjoy the most is the face-to-face contact with readers, and bookstores aren’t the only place to have that fun experience. As we move into the warmer weather, small press and even self-published authors will have more chances to display and sell our work at book fairs and other events.

But it’s one thing when you’re the star of a book signing at Borders or the speaker at the Rotary Club breakfast. It is a very different thing when you’re one of many authors greeting the same potential buyers. When you are invited to attend a book fair, please remember that you are there as part of a community of writers, not a crowd of competitors. Also, remember that you are a guest there. For that reason:

1. Be on time - Often traffic flow can make getting set up in a narrow hall or at a street fair challenging if people don’t abide by the organizer’s set up schedule.

2. Respect your hosts - Every little rule established by the show hosts has a reason. Follow the rules and if you have questions ask them respectfully. You are much more likely to get what you need, and you won’t put them in a bad mood that could affect the rest of us.

3. Don’t pitch to authors - Don’t practice your sales technique on me. I’m not there to talk about your book; I’m there to talk about mine.

4. Don’t ask for trades - It is not my intent to leave the book fair with the same number of books I arrived with, and if I say yes to you I’d feel funny saying no to others. Besides, if I wanted your book I’d offer you money like everyone else.

5. Don’t steal buyers - If someone is already talking to me it is rude to start talking to them about your book. Odds are they don’t want to offend anyone and so they’ll leave with neither book.

6. Stay in your zone - Similarly, don’t stand in front of my table or booth. You have a space assigned to you. When people wander into that area, speak to them. Not before. Absolutely not after.

7. Don’t chase people down - If she was interested in your book she wouldn’t have walked away. If you make her angry she’ll think we’re all like that and will be afraid to speak to anyone.

8. Don’t whine - If you don’t think the organizers advertised enough, or if you don’t like the weather, the venue, the patrons or the rules, keep it to yourself. The rest of us are trying to remain cheerful and positive, because that’s what attracts potential book buyers.

9. Focus on your book - No one wants to hear about your heart transplant, unless perhaps your book is about surviving a heart transplant. Likewise no one cares that you’re a war hero - unless you wrote a war book.

10. Share - your ideas, your thoughts, your lemonade and most of all your enthusiasm. Positive mental attitude is contagious and if you help create a cheerful and pleasant atmosphere, we may even recommend your book to the lady who doesn’t like ours.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mysteries Don't Need Murders

by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Every mystery writer who has stood at a podium for long gets asked about murder: Why must there be a murder in a mystery? Why is murder so fascinating? Could you actually murder someone?

No, there doesn’t have to be a murder in a mystery, but it’s the best source of conflict I, and most mystery writers, can think of. That accounts for the fact that murder often appears in books not classified as mysteries. I figured out a long time ago that murder mysteries aren’t about murder, per se, and that a murder mystery must possess a plotline that stands alone with or without the murder.

Characters must drive the story and be people with whom readers identify and believe in. Their story (plot) needs to be dynamic, have conflict, and a puzzle they eventually solve. From the pen of a good writer, crime plays an important role in these elements regardless of genre. At the heart of the story, actions are created by a set of circumstances that drive reactions that lead to the inevitable resolution. Different subgenres require different resolutions. The cozy mystery requires at least a satisfactory resolution while a romantic suspense needs a happy ending.

On the other hand, a noir murder mystery lends itself to unresolved conflict and even the death of the hero.

It’s axiomatic that readers must identify with the hero or antihero in a murder mystery (and to a lesser degree develop opinions on secondary characters)—again depending on the genre. In that the reader may see himself as a beaten down hero trying to resolve his own personality issues, or in the traditional mystery she can see herself as the copy hero out to save the world from evil. In these vehicles, readers will naturally wonder how they would react in the situations, given their own personal peculiarities.

Yet readers play a guessing game with the unknown evil-doers and the heroes. They play every angle to figure out who did it, but are pleased when they don’t. In my novel, The End Game, I got this reaction quite often: “I never guessed. Well, I considered everyone, but I overlooked the obvious one. I was shocked.”

In the end, for readers to feel fulfilled, everything must be revealed. And reveal styles change. In the modern mystery, the clues are scattered so that the denouncement isn’t a la Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. In those stories everyone gathers in his old brownstone where he lays out the conclusion and how he got  to it.

So there you have it; the reason the murder mystery isn’t about murder after all. You could say it’s about how readers process their lives through the most traumatic thing that can happen to characters they’ve come to know, and with whom they identify, understand, sympathize, love and or hate.

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers: Interviews and Advice, where you can read Gerrie’s interview as well as many others, including Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block. James Scott Bell,  J.A. Jance, and Julie Garwood.)

You can visit Gerrie Ferris Finger’s website at and her blog site at

Friday, June 26, 2015

Writing a Mystery Series

by Patricia Gligor

When I decided to write my first novel, Mixed Messages, I had no intention of writing a series. The book was supposed to be a mystery/suspense standalone. But, as I was writing it, I realized there was more to the story and I needed to finish what I’d started. So, I wrote Unfinished Business and, by the time I’d finished that book,  I’d become so attached to my characters there was no way I was letting them go. I had to know what would happen to them as time went by and I wanted to watch them change and grow. The only way to do that was to write a series. I now think of my Malone mystery series as Family Drama mysteries because my books are about more than the mystery. They’re about the lives of the characters I’ve come to know and care about.

With each book, new situations and characters crop up that propel me forward and, in a series, there are always loose ends that need to be tied up. Sometimes, I deliberately plant something in a book which will lead to the next one but, other times, the subject for the next book is a surprise to me. For example, in Unfinished Business, the casual reference to a news story about a little girl who had gone missing led me to write Desperate Deeds where my main character’s young son, Davey, goes missing too. When I wrote about the news story, I had no idea that would happen. 
So, how did Mistaken Identity, my fourth Malone mystery, come about? Well, I decided that, with all the problems and stress I gave Ann in the first three books, she deserved to get away from Cincinnati for a while and to have a peaceful, relaxing vacation on Fripp Island in South Carolina. So, that’s what I gave her. Well, sort of.

About the book: Ann feels like she’s in Paradise as she digs her toes into the soft, white sand and gazes out at the ocean. She’s looked forward to this trip to South Carolina for a long time and all she wants to do is bask in the sun, resting and relaxing.

She and her two young children are enjoying their time on Fripp Island with Ann’s sister, Marnie, and Marnie’s elderly friend and former neighbor, Clara Brunner, a long time resident with a vast knowledge of the island and the people who live there. At the fourth of July fireworks, Clara introduces them to newlyweds Jenny and Mark Hall and their families.

But Ann’s plans for a peaceful vacation are shattered the next morning. When she goes for a solitary walk on the beach, she discovers the body of a young woman with the chain of a gold locket twisted around her neck and she immediately recognizes the locket as the one Jenny Hall was wearing the night before.

Shocked and saddened, Ann is determined to try to find the killer and to see them brought to justice. She convinces Marnie and Clara to join her in conducting an investigation but, in the process, she places her own life in jeopardy.

Mistaken Identity is now available at


Patricia Gligor is a Cincinnati native. She enjoys reading mystery/suspense novels, touring and photographing old houses and traveling. She has worked as an administrative assistant, the sole proprietor of a resume writing service and the manager of a sporting goods department but her passion has always been writing fiction. Ms. Gligor writes the Malone Mystery series. The first three books, Mixed Messages, Unfinished Business, and Desperate Deeds take place in Cincinnati but in Mistaken Identity, the fourth book, her characters are vacationing on Fripp Island in South Carolina.

Her books are available at:

Visit her website at:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Treasure Beneath the Alamo

Mysterious Writer

by Landon Wallace

Many historians and Alamo devotees have long speculated that a substantial treasure was buried beneath the Alamo just before the Mexicans laid siege to the mission.  

The idea that this treasure still lays hidden somewhere under the fortress some 180 years later intrigued me to do more research. When reading the many detailed accounts of the Alamo battle and the men who died defending it, I was struck by the fact that these deaths left the treasure mystery all but unanswerable.  This sole survivor of the battle of the Alamo was a slave named Joe. A modern day descendant of Joe inspired my novel.

The fictional characters in my novel grew out of Joe the slave’s story. Brewton, Alabama, had a prominent role in the real post-Alamo life of Joe and once I’d decided the first hints of the mystery would unfold in that town, I constructed my protagonist, Nat, in and around that environment. His companion in the search for the treasure, Renee, needed a background that lent itself to the pursuit of a mystery as well. Her character evolved from that key consideration.

The other characters in the fictional modern day pursuit of the treasure have a piece or two of their lives connected to real history.  For instance, Angelina de Zavala Gentry, a key adversary of Nat and Renee, is a fictional descendant of the real-life Angel of the Alamo, Adina de Zavala.

The historical characters in the story, on the other hand, were heavily researched and their actions follow naturally from the real events that unfolded in their lives. Each of these characters had some possible role in secreting the treasure and protecting it from the Mexican invaders.  My goal was to share their thoughts and motivations in doing so.

The Alamo has been written about so many times that the most difficult part of my research was deciding which accounts to rely upon when describing the historical elements of the novel.  In the end, I looked to as many source documents as possible, a majority of which were compiled in my most valuable resource—the Alamo Reader by Todd Hansen.  Much of the writing about the long-speculated treasure of San Saba (otherwise known as Bowie’s Treasure) could be found in the works of renowned Texas writers like J. Frank Dobie.

The story revolves around the events of March 6, 1836, the date the Mexican army stormed the Alamo and killed every one of the defenders except William Barret Travis's slave Joe. A fearful Joe then escapes in the night while the Mexican army is celebrating, carrying a prize far more valuable than anything inside the creaky Spanish mission.
The present story ramps forward to September 2013.

Joe's modern descendant, a 93-year-old World War II veteran living alone in Brewton, Alabama, is dying after being attacked by intruders. With his last breath, the old man defiantly shouts, "Come and take it!" And with his demise, the last living person who knows about Joe's prize is gone forever. While investigating the old man's death, grandson Nat uncovers clues about a long-hidden secret dating back to the Alamo. With the help of a beautiful history professor named Renee, Nat begins to unravel the mystery of his grandfather's murder, and in the process discovers another mystery of far greater scale. 
The great thing about creating characters is that you never know what they might do next. It’s possible that Nat and Renee show up in another mystery in the future.  Many unanswered questions remain about Santa Anna’s life even after he was defeated and captured by Sam Houston at the battle of San Jacinto.  Maybe Nat and Renee need to figure out why.

 I’m a native Texan and trial attorney with a penchant for telling stories inside and outside the courtroom.  I currently live in North Texas with my wife, children, and two dogs.  Come and Take It is my first novel but I’m busily working on a second with a scheduled publication date in early 2016.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Search for the Real Craig Rice

by Jeffrey Marks

Some people ask if beginning writers should look at doing biography. I’ll agree that it’s a daunting task for someone new to writing. It usually takes me 3-5 years to complete a biography. That means that you’d better enjoy reading and writing about this person for a long time. I was fortunate in picking Craig Rice for a subject my first time out.

Part of the fun is selecting who to write about. While it would be nice to see every author be memorialized by a good biographer, there are only so many authors who have made an impact significant enough to be the subject of a biography. There are many authors who have made an impact without achieving best-sellerdom. Craig Rice achieved this status. She nearly beat Agatha Christie for paperback copies sold just after World War II.

Yet it’s more than that. Rice had a unique place in the genre. She wrote comedic mysteries that bordered on the surreal. She was the first woman mystery author to appear on the cover of Time Magazine in 1946. She was rumored to have written the Gypsy Rose Lee mysteries. All items that make Rice worth writing about.

I also look at what has been written before about this author. With Rice, I located 3-4 paragraph long biographies of the woman. In each one, all the salient facts (from name to number of husbands to number of children) were all different. That intrigued me. Why didn’t anyone know more about this woman, when she’d lived at the beginning of the information age? It seemed impossible to me, and something I wanted to learn more about. That mystery within the mystery appealed to me.

So I went on an expedition. I often say that it took me from Venice Italy (where her brother lived) to Venice California (where her ex-husband lived.) Not that I minded at all. With a woman like Rice who shed husbands and documents, the source documents about Rice were few and far between. There are approximately 365 pages of correspondence between Rice and Ned Guymon, the mystery book collector, at Bowling Green State University, which is only three hours from my home.

However, for the most part, I went back to the sources. I was very fortunate. Many of the Rice’s contemporaries were still living back in the early 1990s when I started the book. Imagine the thrill of talking to Dorothy Hughes, Margaret Millar and Harold Q. Masur about their works and what they knew about Rice. It was a joy to interview each of them. They provided me with hours of fascinating research for the book.

Rice’s family also provided material. They were surprised to find that people still read her books and were interested in what happened to her. Of course, they knew all the details and laughed to find out the permutations regarding her name and her husbands over the years.

And finally, that time period appeals to me. When I was growing up in the 1970s, I could only afford so many books. I made $2.10 an hour working at a roller disco, of all places. That money all went for books. I learned early on that I could buy a new paperback for $1.50 or I could buy 8 used paperbacks at a quarter each. Given that I read a book a day, my choice was easy.

All of those 25¢ books were written in the 1940s and 1950s. I read numerous authors back then who are nearly forgotten today. Those authors are the ones I go to first when I want a new biography subject. Rice was one such author; Boucher was another. It’s a little slice of my youth and my early enthusiasm for the genre that I get to relive every time I write a biography.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What a character!

 by Jinx Schwartz

How many times have we heard that phrase, what exactly does it mean, and how does it apply to my writing?

For starters, I have a lot of characters in my life. Not the ones in my books, but living, breathing characters, the kind defined by Webster as a person with many eccentricities.

I admit that my lifestyle fairly screams for character encounters. We live half the year in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez aboard our boat, and there cruisers abound from all over the world and all walks of life. One thing they have in common is that they are adventurous types who have chosen a life way outside the box. I can pick up enough material from one potluck on the beach (which happens at the drop of a hat) to fuel many a book. When in port, a walk down the dock or a beer at a local watering hole and I have new best friends, from, well, everywhere. Tuning into the daily ham radio nets, with boats checking in from all over Mexico and the Pacific Coast with the tale of the day, has me jotting notes for future plots, or idiosyncratic scenarios.

And then there is the other half of my life, living smak dab on the Arizona/Mexico border. Not only do we make the headlines frequently, the city of Bisbee has been named by a national organization as one of the quirkiest places to live in the United States, and they are right. My gardener packs a .380 in his boot, my Zumba instructor is a retired, gay, exotic dancer, and my nearest neighbor is a Rottweiler who lives alone. Her owner shows up with food and water once a day and I give her lots of treats, but otherwise, she has house and yard to herself most of the time. Rosa is an equal opportunity barker; she targets illegal crossers and Border Patrol agents with equal hostility. She’s the best dog I never owned.

Even my more formal friends (you notice I used the word more?) are great book fodder. When one of them was barred from visiting the Kremlin because she set off the radiation detectors (she’d recently had a nuclear stress test), I filed that away, et voila, and it became part of a plot point in Just Deserts, fourth novel in my Hetta Coffey mystery series.

And then there is Hetta Coffey. She’s a woman with a yacht, and she’s not afraid to use it. Okay, so she isn’t real, but boy, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Many of my readers actually think I am Hetta, or that Hetta is me. Since almost everyone says I am a real character, maybe we are one.
The plot thickens . . .

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you can read Jinx Schwartz’s interview along with 59 other authors, who offer excellent writing advice.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Writer's Sandbox (the Joys of Reading and Writing)

by Beth Terrell

Years ago, when I first entered the teaching profession, I asked one of my co-workers if she’d read a particular book. She cocked an eyebrow and said, in a voice that can only be described as supercilious, “I never read anything but professional journals.”

One after another, my fellow teachers made it clear that reading for pleasure was something they rarely, if ever did. I remember thinking, “How will we ever teach our kids to love reading if we don’t love it ourselves?” What were they learning, except that reading was a chore?

True, there are those who think of reading as hard work, and maybe it is—in the beginning. Then after a lot of practice, it becomes both easy and exciting. Novels are like movies we can carry around with us everywhere, but unlike the kind of movies we see in the theater or on T.V., when we’re reading a book, we can decide what the characters look like and how their voices sound. We’re the ones who make the writer’s words come to life.

A good book can take us into another world or help us understand what it would be like to live in another person’s skin. I hope I’m never lost in the woods and forced to survive with only a hatchet and what few things I can scrounge from a crashed airplane, but when I read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, I can imagine what it would be like from the safety of my own living room. I can explore Oz with Dorothy or save Middle Earth with Frodo and Sam. I have read The Lord of the Rings an average of once a year for the last thirty-three years. I still cry when Boromir dies. That’s powerful stuff.

That ability to touch a reader’s heart is part of what draws many of us to the profession. There are some books that, as a writer, break my heart. I think, “Why couldn’t I have written that?” and, “I’ll never be that good.” To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. If there’s a more perfect book in the English language, I don’t know what it is. Over the years, the list of books that take my breath away have grown. A Separate Peace, The Outsiders. Mystic River. The Time Traveler’s Wife. We Need to Talk About Kevin. Books that touch something deep in the reader’s soul, make us think, make us feel. What writer doesn’t dream of accomplishing that?

“I can’t write,” my students used to tell me. “I can’t spell. I can’t put the commas in the right place.”

“Spelling and punctuation aren’t writing,” I would tell them. “Spelling and punctuation are editing.” Editing is a courtesy to the reader, to make a story easier to read. Writing is just about putting ideas down on paper in the first place. That first draft is like a block of artist’s clay or stone. Michelangelo didn’t make David from thin air. He started with a block of marble and carved away everything that wasn’t David. By the same token, most writers don’t spin completed novels from nothing. They write a loose first draft—the kind that make you worry that, if you die before it’s finished, people will find this horrid mishmash of a story and think, “What?! And she thought she was a writer?” Then they trim a bit here, polish a bit there, move this to an earlier spot, add some foreshadowing...A draft or so later (or ten or even twenty), there is a sparking, shining novel. Easy, no? Well…no.

But there is another reason to write, one that is valid whether you are a professional author, an aspiring professional, a teacher, a student, a mechanic, or a professional bull rider, and that is that writing is just plain fun. As professionals, sometimes we forget how much fun it is just to play with words and stories. I write and publish suspense novels, but I also write fantasy novels. Maybe they will be published one day. Maybe not. Either way, I love creating the world and the events that happen in it. I love capturing ideas; like monarch butterflies in a field of milkweed, they are everywhere.

You might enjoy writing, too. Mystery, romance, sf/fantasy, or literary, choose what appeals to you, make up a character, decide what he or she wants and why he or she can’t have it, and start writing. If you get stuck, ask yourself, “And then what happened?” You’ll probably get a lot of good ideas about what comes next. You don’t have to be a professional author to have fun writing, and you don’t have to give up the pleasure of writing when you become a professional.

Happy Writing!

(Excerpted from Mysterious Writers, where you can read Beth Terrell's interview. The book is also available in a large print edition.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Key to Success Isn't Luck

by Marta Stephens

A few months ago, I was leading a chat for a group of writers when the question of luck came up.

How much does luck have to do with an author’s writing success?

Some may argue that good fortune has everything to do with a writer being at the right place at the right time. For example, what writer doesn’t dream of attending a particular conference and meeting an agent/editor who happens to be in a generous mood? The agent listens to the writer’s elevator pitch and immediately gives him the thumbs up. Okay, it could happen, I’m sure it has, but ask that author if it was a lucky break that got him published and I’m sure he’ll recite the number of years he’d studied the craft, how many hours a day he spends writing and perfecting his prose, and the countless revisions it took to polish his final manuscript.

Success doesn’t fall from heaven—you make it. Work for it. Study the craft, practice, read everything you can get you hands on, and write every day--not just when the mood strikes you either and success will happen.

So when asked what I’d say to an aspiring writer, I pull out my top ten list.

1. Nothing worth doing is without sacrifice. Are you willing and ready?
2. Never stop learning. It’s the key to keeping ideas fresh.
3. Know the mechanics of writing. Practice them until they become second nature to you.
4. Find your voice. It’s what will make you stand out from the crowd.
5. From beginning to end, the quality of the story depends on you. There are no magic wands, no shortcuts, or easy answers only hard work. Love what you do though and it won’t feel like drudgery.
6. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few selfless souls who will guide you along the way. Network, give back, and pay forward as much or more than you have received because you never know where the road will lead or who you’ll meet along the way.
7. Listen to the advice given by those whose works you admire, but be sure to give your inner voice equal time.
8. Falling in love with your words can stifle improvement.
9. Find a critique partner who will offer constructive feedback. A fresh pair of eyes or two or three or four are key to a polished read.
10. The limelight is brief so remember your "please" and "thank you" (see number 6).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Promoting Your Book on TV

by Carl Brookins

So now you’re touring with your book. You’re booked for a local TV appearance. Good deal. I’m a former TV professional so here are some observations and tips drawn from years of experience.

Be prompt, especially if it’s live. Producers are paranoid and if a guest isn’t present well in advance of the segment, you’ll likely be cut. Realize that you might not get on. Stuff happens. That’s part of the attraction of live television.

Study a few interview programs to note deportment and what guests wear that works. Wear a becoming blouse or shirt in a soft pastel. Don’t clutter it with dangly bright metal neck wear. Avoid neck wear or finger, ear or nose rings of polished metal. They reflect light into the eye of the camera and thence into the eyes of the viewers, sending them fleeing from the room.

Be sensitive to your image. Even seated at a table watch your posture. Keep your knees together, sit up straight and look alert. It doesn’t matter whether you are wearing pants or a skirt, keep your knees together. Wide-spread knees on an open set can be distracting as Hell to the interviewer and viewers.
The program may be repeated at different times of the day or night. If you show up on the tube at six a.m. wearing clothes more appropriate to a local night club, the impression you impart may be damaging.

Ask the show’s producer if you can have a straight chair or a hard cushion. Lie if you have to; you have a bad back from all those hours hunched over a hot word processor. Soft, overstuffed chairs and couches are guaranteed to make you look rumpled, overweight and out of sorts. If there’s no choice, sit straight, legs crossed at the ankle, and don’t let your shoulders touch the back of the couch.If you have to walk onto the set after the show has started, remember posture and your smile. Unless you have great hips and legs and don’t mind showing them to everyone, avoid tight, short skirts or tight pants.

Smile, look happy even if it is five a.m. Assume people are watching, even then (they are). You still have a chance to win over four or five technicians in the crew. Smear a tiny dab of cold cream on your upper front teeth to keep your lip from sticking. Try not to drink anything while on camera. Use the toilet before the program starts.

Now we’re in the studio, bright and perky, waiting for a cue. Assume, from the moment you enter the studio until you depart, that there is a live microphone somewhere near you. Stories abound about the sorry and vulgar things said in unguarded moments, that have ruined careers. Avoid becoming another of those legends.

Unless your interviewer turns out to be a total jerk, avoid giving short or one-word answers. Interviewers use the time during your answers to find the next question, or perhaps try to work that bit of breakfast bacon out of the crack between their bicuspids. Avoid saying, “Gosh, these are bright lights. I don’t know how you can work under these conditions.” Be polite.

Speak in your normal voice at a conversational level. Projecting, the technique learned in elocution or theater class won’t get your voice out there farther, it’ll just irritate the sound engineer. Talk to your host. As early as possible, mention the name and location of the store where you are or were signing. If you wait for the host to ask, unless the bookstore is the program sponsor, it won’t happen. If you do it early enough in the interview, you may get a chance to repeat.
Become aware of the social/political climate. Here you are in an uptight law-and-order community where the son of the mayor has just embezzled the city treasury and decamped to South America. Gosh, it sounds just like the plot of your book. Could the jerk have gotten his idea from your book? Don’t go there! You came here to sell yourself and your novel, not get lynched.

When the host asks you what you meant by the scene on page 47, don’t reveal you wrote that scene three years earlier and haven’t seen it since the galleys went to the publisher two years ago. Keep two scenes in mind, one near the beginning and one toward the end. If the question arises you can say, “You mean the scene when John lures Mary to the barn.” The host probably won’t recall what’s on page 47 anyway, and certainly won’t say so even if s/he has actually read your novel. Assume the host has not read it. Avoid swearing, blaspheming, bad grammar and jargon. Howard Stern you ain’t.

Park your ego at the door and complete your personal toilette before going on camera. Pulling, tugging, tucking, twitching, scratching, hair-combing, nose picking, or removal of wax or shower soap from ones ears is terribly distracting to the viewer. Don’t be self-deprecating. You worked hard writing, polishing, and editing your book. Thank everyone after the program is over, including the studio crew. Keep a record so when you are back flogging your next novel, you’ll know whom to contact. If they remember you with pleasure, they’ll invite you back. And they might just buy your book.

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you can read Carl Brookins' interview.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why Write About Geezers?

by Mike Befeler

On television or in movies, it’s the glamorous young people that you primarily see. But there is a worldwide revolution taking place. The population is aging. On a worldwide basis, the median age today is twenty-six but by the year 2050 this will increase to thirty-six. By the year 2030 in the United States alone there will be seventy-one million people aged sixty-five and older, of which nine million will be eighty-five and above, a doubling of this population from the current time.

So as a mystery writer, I’ve chosen to write about this increasing demographic—geezers and geezerettes. My writing has been inspired by people I’ve met in retirement communities and in the general populace. Some people have criticized me for adopting the term “geezer,” but I use it affectionately since I’m a geezer-in-training.

I’ve also focused my volunteer time to address issues of aging. I’m on the Outreach Committee of the Countywide Leadership Council and on the Aging Advisory Council for Boulder County where I live. Through these organizations I’m speaking to groups to promote a positive image of aging and reviewing funding for services provided to the older population.

So in spite of the problems that older citizens may face with health, finance, family, transportation, housing and retirement decisions, there is also something very important that older people have to offer—wisdom. Life experiences can be shared with younger generations in a positive and meaningful way. Also creativity may increase in the later years. As an example, the majority of folk artists began their careers after the age of sixty. My own personal experience is that I published my first novel at the age of sixty-two.

In my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, my protagonist is an octogenarian with short-term memory loss. It would be so easy to write off someone like this who can’t remember yesterday, but Paul has a love of life, steps up to the challenge of solving a crime he is unjustly accused of, experiences romance with a young chick in her seventies and trades quips with his precocious preteen granddaughter. I’ve found that when I strike up a conversation with a group of people in a retirement home I’m visiting, that I always encounter an engaging discussion on a wide variety of topics.

So in my writing I try to present a balance of the problems and opportunities for older people. Things aren’t always rosy and there are many challenges as we age. But life doesn’t stop after sixty—there is much to be experienced and shared.

So remember the importance of an older citizen. It may be the person you see in the mirror every morning.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Stay in Front of Your Audience

by Morgan St. James

Posting blogs on multiple sites can be extremely time-consuming, but let’s face it—that’s what drives readers to your website. So here are a couple of hints to make it a little more effective.

Compose your post in Word, off-line instead of doing it directly on the site. Save it as an HTML document which will help preserve the formatting. Then copy it and paste it into each of the blogs or journals you submit posts to. Customize certain parts of it for the particular readership before you do the final post. That way you only have to do some edits on the same post for multiple sites to personalize them rather than writing a separate piece for each.
Did you know that through an RSS feed your Live Journal can automatically post to your author’s page on and All you have to do is click the RSS syndication button one time and from that time on, whenever you post to Live Journal it will automatically appear on the Amazon and Borders sites as well.

Readers like to think of you as a person as well as an author. When you post on various sites, mention some personal facts or experiences that you think would be interesting. It’s important to be able to connect in that way with your readers and future readers and writers. After a library authors’ panel, a girl about eleven years old approached me. Her father said she was shy but he encouraged her to go for it. I was delighted to spend some time with her.

One of the things I told this young girl was to start writing and not to worry about whether it was perfect. Just get into the habit of putting her thoughts on paper and being able to read them later. I posted how important it was to me to be able to share what I’ve learned with others. That post produced several comments from readers.

Save as many e-mail addresses as you can in a special address book file. I learned that the hard way. Either I didn’t save the addresses, or did without any note about why I had them. When it came time to send out announcements, my list was very slim. Now I have an address file called “Book Announcements.” I don’t have to wonder why those names are on that list, and notify them every time I have new publication.

If you don’t already use one, create a signature with your websites or blog addresses, current books, stories and announcements of upcoming ones. You might want to store more than one type of signature, depending upon the content of your message. I keep one for Silver Sisters, a personal one and one for Sisters in Crime. That makes it easy to choose which one to use. Happy posting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Linda Barnes Revisited

Bestselling author of the Carlotta Carlyle and Michael Spraggue series, Linda Barnes's novels have won or been nominated for The Anthony, Shamus, America Mystery Award, and the Edgar as well as named one of the "Outstanding Books of the Year" by the London Times.

Linda, how did 6 ft. 1 in. red haired private eye Carlotta Carlyle come to life? Tell us about her and do you share characteristics with Carlotta?-

She came knocking at my door while I was writing a mystery with a male detective, Michael Spraggue. Spraggue was an actor. I'd intended him as a one-off, a break-in book, so that I could get my foot in the publishing door before writing a female PI. When I finally sold that first book, my publisher insisted that a woman PI would never sell. He wanted a sequel and I wound up writing four Spraggue novels, but all the while Carlotta was screaming in my ear, demanding to be heard. She and I are both tall, stubborn, and wear size 11 shoes.

Why crime fiction? What prepared you to write the subgenre?

Growing up in Detroit. That's the light response, but it has serious underpinnings. I lived next door to a cop who killed someone on my front lawn when I was very young. Then when I was 21, a dear friend killed himself. When I wrote my first mystery, I was trying to make sense of his death.

Do you prefer writing about Carlotta or Michael Spraggue? And how do their crime detection techniques differ?

Absolutely Carlotta, although I have a warm spot for Spraggue. Carlotta's a pro; she's been a cop; she knows cops. She knows investigation techniques.

Over the years you’ve won or been nominated for a number of awards. Which one means the most to you?

Each means a great deal. Awards from your peers, like the Edgar, are wonderful. Awards from fans, like the Anthony, are even better. And awards from critics, like Publishers Weekly naming Lie Down With the Devil one of the best mysteries of the year, are incredibly helpful in terms of publicity.

Which of your books was the most difficult to write?

None of them are easy. How I wish they were. Heart of the World posed a special challenge because it was set in Colombia, a country I both love and fear.

What are the most important ingredients in a bestselling novel?

It's all character, plot, and language. But the most important of these is character.

Tips on acquiring an agent?

Real agents live in New York. Troll the Internet till you find a reliable list of literary agents. (Their association used to be called the Society of Authors' Representatives, but now it has a different name.) Write a one-page killer letter saying who you are and why your book will sell. Send it to any ten names on the list. If your letter's any good, you'll get a least one request to read your manuscript.

The writer(s) who most influenced your own work?

Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Advice for fledgling writers?

Keep at it.

Who would you like to be trapped in an elevator with, past or present?

Dashiell Hammett or Dorothy L. Sayers.

Thanks, Linda, for taking part in the Mysterious Writers series.

Linda's blog site:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Reflections of a Pack Rat

by Tim Maleeny

When I was a kid I collected everything — baseball cards, comics, bottle caps, key chains, action figures, coins, stamps, even pieces of wood, electrical circuits and plastic tubing in case I had to build a rocket ship or teleportation device. Boxes and bins filled my room, the closets, and the bookshelves, along with hundreds of books (which were probably the second thing I started collecting, after stuffed animals).

Some of those collections were put on display, many were played with, but there was something magical about having a collection just in case. Nothing was more exciting than playing a game which suddenly called for a contraption that could only be made with fifty bottle caps and ten yards of old string, knowing you had those essential ingredients somewhere in your closet, in the blue box with the Batman sticker.

Years later my desk and the walls of my office look a lot like my childhood shelves, with scraps of paper, scribbled notes, photographs, articles torn from newspapers, and file folders everywhere. Some of the information is new, dug up at the library or printed from my computer, but many items were found years ago and have only recently been pulled from a drawer or taken from a bulletin board to become part of my next novel.

One of my books, which has the unlikely title Greasing The Piñata, was called by Library Journal “a cracking good mystery!” When I look at some of the disparate elements that comprise the plot, they include a missing U.S. Senator, a trip to Burning Man, a bipolar drug lord, a clergyman-turned hitman, an female assassin raised by the Hong Kong Triads, a trip across Mexico, and a financial scam that begins in corporate boardrooms and ends somewhere in the heart of the environmental movement. (Those are just a few of the major players or settings, because I forgot to mention San Francisco, the box jellyfish, the magic act and the castle on the beach.)

So the question is how these seemingly unrelated items ended up in the same book, and how do they work seamlessly in a story that Publishers Weekly said, “smoothly mixes wry humor with a serious plot.” Did I know I was going to use them all when I started writing? Absolutely not. But more importantly, I didn’t realize I was going to use any of that information when I first discovered it-—I just collected it as I went along, putting each experience, article or thought into its own bin to retrieve later, just like those bits of plastic and electrical circuits from my youth. As a writer, you never know when you’ll have to build a time machine.

I used to travel for work to places like Hong Kong and Mexico, and though I wasn’t writing then, I did collect those experiences, along with some snapshots, stories and memories that came in handy when I decided to set my novel there. A file folder stuffed with articles about deadly sea creatures came in handy when I decided a box jellyfish should make an appearance. And a box of magic tricks I performed as a child, which I’ve since taken from the attic and given to my daughter, provided the inspiration for one of the more memorable scenes in the novel.

I see my daughters collecting things, both of them already interested in writing their own stories even as they are learning to read, and though I occasionally step on a bottle cap, it always makes me smile.

Lefty Award winner Tim Maleeny appears in Mysterious Writers where his interview can also be read. The book is available in ebook and large print editions at

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Don't Go Home

by Caroline Hart                                             
In the spring of 1985, I was a failed author. I’d had seven books published but another seven manuscripts were stacked, gathering dust, turned down by a raft of publishers. This was the heyday of steamy romance novels. I tried that. No sale. I wrote WWII novels. Escape from Paris, the story of two American sisters in Paris in1940 who help British airmen flee the Gestapo, is possibly the best suspense novel I ever wrote.  Escape from Paris later sold to a small publishing house in England, then to Doubleday in the U.S. and has been reprinted now by Seventh Street Books. But in 1985, it was in the unsold stack of seven.
1985 marked a turning point in mystery publishing for American women. Until then, publishers considered the American mystery to be the hard-boiled male (of course) private eye written by men. That mold was broken by Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton.They wrote hard-boiled books but the protagonists were women. Publishers saw their sales and decided American women readers were interested in books by and about American women.
As a writer living in Oklahoma, I didn’t know a sea change was occurring. All I knew was that I’d written book after book and no one was interested. I was teaching at the time and attended a meeting of Mystery Writers of America in Houston. Wonderful Joan Lowery Nixon, a renowned Houston YA writer, had a cocktail party for the MWA members.
I attended though I felt out of place even though I’d had seven books published. There was that stack of seven unsold and nothing on the horizon. Everyone was friendly and kind, as writers generally are. I met Bill Crider who had just sold his first book. As we talked, he asked if I’d been to Murder by the Book. I asked him what that was. He said, “A mystery bookstore.” I’d never heard of a mystery bookstore. The next day I took a cab from the hotel to Murder by the Book. The owner was there, gracious and appealing Martha Farrington. I didn’t introduce myself or mention my previous books. Instead I gloried in the store, row after row of shelves filled with mysteries of all kinds, suspense, thrillers, traditional mysteries, crime novels, British mysteries, and a whole wall of used books. In Oklahoma when we like something we say, “I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.” That, to me, was Murder by the Book. (Martha has since retired but fabulous Murder by the Book continues to be a Houston triumph.)
I returned home, energized by friendly writers talking about the books we loved to read and loved to write and by visiting Murder by the Book. I’d just started a new book (the triumph of hope over experience) set in a bookstore. I made it a mystery bookstore. I wrote the kind of book I love to read, about ordinary people and the passions and heartache that lead to murder and about a young couple, Annie Laurence and Max Darling, who truly love each other. I called the book Death on Demand. 

In New York, publishers were looking for books by American women. The book sold to Kate Miciak at Bantam, one of the mystery world’s most fabulous editors. I had written it more in defiance than in hope. The possibility that anyone would publish it seemed remote. It never occurred to me to think in terms of a series. Kate called to talk and asked, “It’s the first in a series, isn’t it?” I immediately said of course it was. I wrote the next and the next and readers read them and I kept going. The 25th in the Death on Demand series - Don’t Go Home - will be published May 8. 

Annie Darling tries hard to keep her promise to Max that she will never again put herself in danger but their good friend Gazette Reporter Marian Kenyon faces scandal and heartbreak when an author’s return to the island ends in murder. He knew too much about too many. Choices are made by Annie about the importance of friendship and by Marian about what kind of truth matters.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

An Icy Death

Vickie Britton
Loretta Jackson

by Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson

Wyoming winters are often a challenge with temperatures dropping to zero and wind chill. Experiencing these harsh weather conditions personally and the panic that sets in during an emergency inspired us to write this book. 

Between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Laramie, Wyoming, a distance of about fifty miles, the weather can change dramatically from sunny to severe snow as the elevation increases, and despite weather warnings a sudden whiteout between destinations often catches travelers by total surprise.  One time, we tried to get through the mountains before the storm hit.  Halfway home, the blizzard struck.  In these conditions it is impossible to slow down because other traffic such as big trucks cannot see you and the risk of a collision is imminent.  Stopping is also out of the question because you might get struck by a passing vehicle or get hopelessly stuck.  If you slid off the road into one of the deep embankments, you might not be found and unable to summon help.

On that night, the blowing snow made it almost impossible to see the road and the steep drop-offs.  We were in a position where underlying ice made braking impossible and many trucks on the road were swerving wildly out of control.  We hit a patch of ice and barely escaped a bad crash into the canyon.  This experience led us to write An Icy Death. 
In Wyoming most travelers are warned to bring food, water and extra blankets in case of an emergency.  But sometimes people are caught unaware, or even these precautions aren’t enough to guarantee safety. Every winter in the area, despite weather watches and road closings, there are casualties from exposure and hypothermia. A person can freeze to death in a very short time. 

We have read newspaper accounts of people getting out of their car and losing track of direction, or staying in their vehicle and freezing to death. Wrecked or stranded cars leave travelers faced with a life or death decision to remain or to go for help.  And such was the case of our fictional characters, the wealthy, middle-aged couple, Arthur and Margaret Burnell.

Our story begins when Sheriff Jeff McQuede hears about a stalled vehicle and leaves the highway to find a woman frozen to death in a car.  Footsteps in the snow indicate that someone has gone after help, and McQuede expects to find the second part of a tragedy.

McQuede soon learns that Margaret and Arthur Burnell have traveled from Casper and taken a shortcut to Durmont.  Margaret is a partner in the Trevino Sporting Goods store chain, the local store which has recently been robbed.  While she is in town, she plans to have an audit of the books.  Because Arthur Burnell has signed a prenup, part of her fortune remains with the business, yet her husband would still profit enough to make him a prime suspect.   But he’s not the only one with motive and opportunity.  
In his pursuit of the killer, McQuede faces many grave dangers. In An Icy Death, in order to solve the crime he must face the brutal elements as well as a deadly killer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Standalones vs. Series

by Vicki Delany

I thought it might be fun to take a step back and have a look at the most basic structure of the mystery novel.

There are, basically, two types of mystery novels: standalones, in which characters appear once, never to be seen again, and series, in which characters feature in book after book.

As a reader as well as a writer, I am torn as to which I prefer. I believe that in real life a person, unless they’re a secret agent or bodyguard to a crime boss, has only one great adventure in them. Police officers will tell you that the job’s pretty boring most of the time, and crimes, even murders, are mundane things, easily solved.

I am a realist, and I seek realism in the books I read. Which is why, personally speaking, I am not too fond of amateur sleuth books, such as the popular hobby or pet novels in which a mild-mannered middle-aged lady decides that the police in her town can’t do their job and she must solve the murder for them. This character has adventure after adventure, but it just doesn’t ring true to me, and in a lot of cases there is not real emotional involvement anyway.

A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them.

Or not.

My first books were standalone novels of suspense. In Scare the Light Away the main character confronts, for one last time, the debris of her traumatic childhood. In Burden of Memory, the protagonist faces down the ghost of a past that is not hers, but is still threatening what she holds dear.

Then I switched to writing a series. And found that series novels present a different challenge. The central character, or characters, confront their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.

In the Constable Molly Smith novels (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Valley of the Lost) Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancé, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on.

Series or standalone? Ultimately it is up to you and me, the readers to decide. I suspect we’ll vote for both.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What Did She Say?

by Chester D. Campbell

More to the point, was what she said worth saying? Dialogue can be a valuable tool for the mystery writer, but poorly done it can be a major stumbling block.

The usual advice for handling dialogue is to make it sound natural. That’s true, but far from the whole story. People can be boring when they talk, but dialogue can’t. In her book Don’t Murder Your Mystery, Chris Roerden says:

“Sadly, much of what passes for dialogue in the typical submission is little more than chitchat and data dumping.”

If a character has a long story to tell, it’s best to start it with a paragraph of dialogue and follow up with exposition. You can summarize the story without straining to make it sound part of a conversation.

Sometimes we get too wrapped up in our own thinking and don’t realize that what we have a character say doesn’t fit the conversational mode. A critique group colleague or a first reader can spot these and warn, “I don’t think he’d talk like that.”

Robert B. Parker is one of my favorite authors for dialogue. His short, snappy style is perfect for a mystery. It’s good for raising tension and creating conflict. Here’s a snippet from School Days with Spenser talking to a small town police chief:

“Optics are amazing, aren’t they?” I said. “We can see out fine through the tint, but people outside can’t really see as much.”

“Shut up,” Cromwell said.

The eyes behind the rimless glasses narrowed some more. I squinted back at him.

“Hard to see, isn’t it,” I said, “with your eyes three quarters shut.”

“This is your last chance,” Cromwell said finally.

“It is?”

“After this, it gets very rough.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s when.”

Parker is not averse to throwing in an adverb once in a while. I do it rarely. He sticks to he said, she said, or he asked, she asked for attribution. It appears to be the preferred style for editors, and anything else should be used with caution.

My books are heavy with dialogue, which appears to be the case with most P.I. novels. In Writing the Modern Mystery, Barbara Norville says:

“A good example of moving the story forward with dialogue is found in the private eye novel. The P.I. gathers his information by moving from one suspect to the next, and the plot builds as he moves.”

That is the key to dialogue. It should move the plot and develop character. It can add to the creation of tension and suspense. And, occasionally, as with Parker’s Spenser, it can provide a breather by That is the key to dialogue. It should move the plot and develop character. It can add to the creation of tension and suspense. And, occasionally, as with Parker’s Spenser, it can provide a breather by making us laugh or grin like a kid in a sack race.

This is one area of writing where it pays to be a voyeur. When you’re sitting in a restaurant, shopping in the mall, waiting in line somewhere, listen to the conversation around you. You’ll not only pick up ideas on how real people talk, you’re likely to hear some good lines you can use in your novel.

I’ve grabbed snatches of conversation here and there that included some doozies. Here’s one I’m still looking for a place to use:

“I’d offer my child $10,000 on a house if they’d elope.”

Like everything else about writing, have fun with your dialogue. If you do, I’m sure the reader will have run reading it.