Friday, August 28, 2015

Pitfalls of First-Person POV

by Chris Roerden

Whether you Twitter or talk, you’re communicating from your first-person point of view. So first-person is the most natural, easiest POV for writing fiction. But new writers underestimate its limitations. The “I” narrating your novel is not you, the author, and cannot know what’s in other characters’ heads.

Caution: slippery

Here’s a sentence I wrote to illustrate the error of a narrator’s presuming to know another’s intentions or feelings:

I tried to take my luggage, but she kept a firm grip, needing to keep her hands busy.

An “I” narrator knows her own thoughts and needs, no one else’s, and uses her five senses to perceive the signs revealed by others--their words, actions, body language. Based on behaviors shown, your narrator can speculate:

I tried to take my luggage, but she kept a firm grip, maybe needing to keep her hands busy.

Notice “maybe”--which is how June Shaw wrote this line in Killer Cousins, p. 26. It effectively maintains Cealie’s POV while she (1) observes the firm grip, then (2) interprets her cousin’s need. Shaw uses the technique again on p. 44:

Her hands swept around in jittery motions. . . . Probably now, after a meal, she wanted a cigarette.

More limitations

First-person POV means not withholding information from readers that the narrator discovers in the course of events. Nor can she see through walls, notice what’s behind her, or say A shadow crossed my face or The lines in my forehead deepened. Readers see only what the first-person narrator sees.

If you describe your protagonist-narrator, try to avoid the clich├ęd reflection-in-a-mirror device.

Moreover, the protagonist-narrator cannot experience scenes she’s not present for. That means she, and the reader, learn what happens from another character’s retelling of them, second-hand--a technique that steals a scene’s dramatic power and cancels the intimacy of a first-person POV.

First-person writing also tends to ramble, to rely on internal thoughts when dialogue could occur, and to rehash the same thoughts. In first-person more than any other POV, your main character should be so interesting, quirky, and insightful that readers will want to see the world through her eyes for an entire novel.

If your fiction reveals first-person weaknesses, fix them or select a more versatile POV--exemplified along with hundreds of solutions in Don't Murder Your Mystery (Agatha Award winner) and its all-genre version, Don't Sabotage Your Submission.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Has Your Writing Gone to the Dogs?

by Sue Owens Wright

How do you know when your life has gone totally to the dogs? It could be when you’re published in most of the wag mags, and your third dog lover’s mystery is about to be published. Another clue might be when you’re nominated eight times for a Mighty Maxwell, the coveted medallion awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America for the best writing about dogs, and you actually win a couple of those swell dog tags to wear around your neck. You also could be going to the dogs when you’re invited to Basset Hound Waddles, Slobberfests, and Droolapaloozas to autograph your books and to talk about them on TV and radio. For me, it’s all of the above.

At writers’ conferences I’ve attended over the years, I’ve heard the oft-repeated phrase: “Write what you know.” I never really understood what that meant. What those writing instructors should have told their students to do was write about what’s close to the heart. I believe the same advice applies to anyone who seeks fulfillment in life: Follow your heart.

Edith Wharton once wrote, “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.” There’s nothing closer to my heart than my dogs. Turns out that my best chance for literary success lay right at my feet all along. It was only when I began writing about what I have adored my entire life—dogs—that my work started gaining some recognition.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I was born on January 2, the day of the year when Sirius, the dog star in the constellation Canis Major, appears in the east and orbits across the northern hemisphere. Whenever I have felt a little lost on my life’s course, I like to think I’m being watched over by that bright blue eye of the dog leaping up in the night sky.

I keep a New Yorker cartoon by George Booth displayed near my computer. It shows a writer seated at his desk. Arms folded across his chest, he puffs on a pipe as he stares at the blank page in his typewriter. Clearly, he’s suffering from writer’s block. Surrounding him in his makeshift workspace on the back porch are a dozen or so dogs of various breeds. Through the open door, where his wife is standing and looking exasperated, you can see many more dogs inside the house and others running up and down the stairs. She declares in the caption, ”Write about dogs!” 

That cartoon has become my mantra. While I may not have that many dogs, you still have to move one to get the best seat in the house. Whenever I’ve been in doubt about which path I’m meant to follow—and like my bassets, I’ve strayed far afield now and then—Booth’s cartoon reminds me. My dogs continue to provide me with endless inspiration and inexhaustible material for my books and articles.

Siriusly, my life has gone completely to the dogs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Birth of a Novel

by L.C. Hayden
I like to travel. So when I decided to start a new series, I knew my protagonist would not be the stay-at-home type—or even the stay in one place type. Each novel would find my character in a different city. Since I’m the author, I would naturally have to visit those places in order to capture the atmosphere that is so unique to each area. How convenient. I like this idea.
Next, I had to decide: should my character be male or female? I have another series, the award-winning Harry Bronson Mystery Series. I didn’t want my new character to be similar to Bronson. That concept became the major influencing factor as far as selecting gender. This new series would have a female protagonist.

I focused on Aimee Brent’s job selection. Aimee needed a profession that would naturally lead her to mayhem. Since Bronson is a retired detective, I immediately ruled out policemen, detectives, F.B.I. agents, or any other similar job. I also wanted her to have a vocation that would be easy to research or even better, have one that I knew a bit about.

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. That would work. Aimee, the reporter, would make an excellent journalist. Not only do I have a concept of what the job requires, Aimee would often find that in order to follow her leads, she would have to travel, and I, of course, would have to visit that state park or city or country in order to correctly write about it.

There you go: a new character is born at age 25. Now that I had my protagonist, I could focus on the plot. I wanted a complex character that at one point would be strong, but the next, weak.  Consequently, I gave Aimee a deep, dark secret that she keeps buried deep within her heart.

Aimee is unaware of all of the dark details from her past because she blocked them a long time ago. Now, her current major assignment, an important murder case, causes her to face her fears. She wants to succeed as a journalist. She wants to be the one who helps solve the major murder case she is currently covering. But because she travels into the unknown, the steps she takes only brings her closer to the killer.

Thus the premise for ILL Conceived is born. The story begins when Grandma Louise hears a scream in the middle of the night. When no one else does, the police dismiss it as an old woman’s ravings. Aimee Brent, an ambitious, dedicated reporter for the North Shore Carrier, the Lake Tahoe newspaper, sets out to prove Grandma Louise right. In so doing, Aimee is forced to face her past, a past filled with so much darkness that it threatens her very existence and leads her down a twisted, dangerous road from which she may never return.

For more details about Aimee or about me, please visit my website at and like my author page on Facebook. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Conversation with Lee Goldberg

Television script writer and author of the Monk series, Lee Goldberg gives us his honest and candid insights into the publishing and broadcast industries as well as his own industrious climb up the ladder to success.

Lee, when did you realize you were a writer?

I've always known. When I was ten or eleven, I was already pecking novels out on my Mom's old typewriters. The first one was a futuristic tale about a cop born in an underwater sperm bank. I don't know why the bank was underwater, or how deposits were made, but I thought it was very cool. I followed that up with a series of books about gentleman thief Brian Lockwood, aka "The Perfect Sinner,” a thinly disguised rip-off of Simon Templar, aka "The Saint." I sold these stories for a dime to my friends and even managed to make a dollar or two. In fact, I think my royalties per book were better then than they are now.

I continued writing novels all through my teenage years. I still have most of those novels today in boxes in my garage (some were destroyed in flooding a few years back).

By the time I was 17, I was writing articles for The Contra Costa Times and other Bay Area newspapers and applying to colleges. I didn't get a book published, but my detective stories got me into UCLA's School of Communications. My grades weren't wonderful, so I knew I had to kick ass on my application essay. I wrote it first person as a hard-boiled detective story. The committee, at first, had doubts that I actually wrote it myself--until they reviewed articles I'd written for the Times, including one that used the same device as my essay. Once I got into UCLA, I put myself through school as a freelance writer...for American Film, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, UPI, Newsweek. Anybody who would pay me. I had a girlfriend at Playgirl and she got me a gig writing sexually explicit Letters-to-the-Editor at Playgirl for $25 each.

Did you sell your first book while a student at UCLA? If so, how did that come about?

I had a journalism advisor at UCLA who wrote spy novels. We became friends and talked a lot about mysteries, thrillers, plotting, etc. One day in the early 80s his publisher came to him and asked him if he’d write a “men’s action adventure series,” sort of the male equivalent of the Harlequin romance. He said he wasn’t desperate enough, hungry enough, or stupid enough to do it. . .but he knew someone who was: Me. So I wrote an outline and some sample chapters and they bought it. The book was called .357 Vigilante I wrote it as “Ian Ludlow” so I'd be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum and had plenty of Letter-to-the-Editor-of-Playgirl quality sex in it.

The West Coast Review of Books called my literary debut "as stunning as the report of a .357 Magnum, a dynamic premiere effort," singling the book out as "The Best New Paperback Series" of the year. I ended up writing four books in the series. Naturally, the publisher promptly went bankrupt and I never saw a dime in royalties.

But New World Pictures bought the movie rights to .357 Vigilante and hired me to write the screenplay. I didn’t know anything about writing scripts. . .luckily, I had a good friend who did, William Rabkin. We worked together on the UCLA Daily Bruin. So the two of us teamed up. The movie never got made, but we had so much fun that we were writing partners for over 20 years. . .and remain best friends to this day. (He writes the novels based on the TV series "PSYCH").

Why were you selected to write the Mr. Monk books?

I was already writing for the TV series "Monk" when Andy Breckman, the series creator and executive producer, was approached about doing original Monk novels. He immediately recommended me for the job, since I was already familiar with the character and he'd read my original Diagnosis Murder novels. He knew he could trust me to capture the character, and the tone of the series, and do a good job with the books.

Part of the fun of doing these books for me is the chance to explore aspects of Monk's character that haven't been dealt with yet on the TV series or, as is the case with MR. Monk Goes to Hawaii and MR. Monk Goes to Germany, go to places and do things that the TV series can't for various logistical and production reasons.

I believe there's one thing that stops the Monk episodes and the books
from becoming a slapstick cartoon, that prevents his character from becoming Maxwell Smart or Inspector Clouseau. It's this: amidst all the comedic situations that arise from his OCD, there's always something emotionally true about the stories...something that reveals Monk's essential sadness and grounds the character in reality. Maybe not our reality, but a reality just the same.

The hardest thing for me with the books isn't the mystery or the's coming up with that emotional center, the heart-felt conflict that gives some shading to the broad humor. I always try to find something in the story that will put Monk and Natalie's relationship to the test, that will reveal something about who they are, and that will bring them closer together (or give them a deeper understanding of one another). I don't consciously think of a theme, but one seems to reveal itself to me along the way...and then I try not to belabor it or pay attention to it...I prefer to let it emerge on its own as a strand within scenes or in lines of dialogue.

What was really great is that it has come full circle--I was able to adapt one of my Monk books into an episode of the show. My novel Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse became the episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing."

Which form do you prefer, novels or scriptwriting? And why?

They are entirely different experiences. Television is very much a group effort and what you are writing is a blueprint that lots of other people are going to use as the basis for their creative work, whether it’s the actor, the director, the production designer. And when you write a script it’s not locked in stone. It’s going to change. It’s going to change because everybody has notes. It’s going to change because production concerns force rewrites. It’s going to change because of actors and directors. It’s in fluid motion all the time.

A book is entirely my own and unaffected by production concerns or actors. I’m the actors, the director, the production designer. . .it’s entirely mine. It’s not a blueprint. It is the finished product and it won’t change much once I am done with it. It’s not a group effort--I plot it myself and I write it by myself. It’s entirely in my head and I live it for months.

Creatively speaking, there’s a big difference between writing prose and writing a script. In a book, you are seducing the reader. You are bringing them into your imagination and holding them there for as long as they’re reading the book. You construct everything. You construct the sets, the wardrobe, the world. You’re God. You can even read a character’s thoughts. In a script, everything that happens and everything the characters do has to be revealed through action and dialogue.

In a script, you could introduce a scene like this:


It’s a cheap Chinese restaurant with very few customers. There’s an aquarium with live lobsters, fish, etc. in the window. Monk is disgusted by what he sees...

But in a book, you have to describe the restaurant in detail. You have to tell us everything that’s going on. You have to set the scene for the reader. It’s an entirely different skill. That’s why some novelists are terrible screen writers and why some screen writers can’t write a book. They can’t jump back and forth.

The only thing that TV and books have in common is that both are mediums for sharing books, you tell stories, in TV you show them. That simple distinction is a difficult one for many writers to overcome when moving into one field from the other.

If books paid me as well as screenwriting, I might stick with books only because I could do it all at home and not have to answer to a lot of other people. On the other hand, I love being in a writers room plotting with a dozen other writers on an episodic TV series. . .it is so much fun.

What’s your next project?

I am writing an action movie, a co-production between a German studio and a Chinese studio, that will be shot in English in Berlin and Shanghai. And I've got a new Monk book, Mr. Monk in Trouble, coming out in December and am hard at work on the one that follows that...

How has the publishing downturn affected you personally? And what’s the best way, in your opinion, for the industry to pull itself out of its current slump?

I wrote a 100 pages and an outline on a new, standalone novel. But the days when a publisher would buy a book, even from an author they know well, based on a proposal has passed. So my agent is holding on to it...and suggesting that maybe I should just finish the book. On the other hand, the market is so tight, I could end up writing the book and not finding a home for it. I have to give serious thought to whether I want to complete it or not...or wait until the publishing industry recovers and is buying manuscripts again in a big way. For now, I am happy writing my successful Monk novels.

I don't know how the industry can recover. There are so many factors that are simply outside the industry's control. You can't make people buy books if they don't have the money to spend.

How important are writer organizations and online social networking? And do you prefer promoting your books online or in person?

I think you can get way too bogged down in self-promotion and forget what's really important: THE WRITING. Word of mouth is the best promotion of all. I believe the best advertising you can do is to buy 50 copies of your book and send them, with a personal cover letter, to key reviewers, bloggers, fans, booksellers and other opinion-makers to get them talking. A successful author once told me that the biggest mistake she ever made was hiring a publicist--that she should have spent that money on books and postage.

You shouldn't join writers organizations with the intention of promoting yourself and your work. You should do it because you want to interact with fellow writers, for the support, the camaraderie, gleaning knowledge about the craft and industry, etc. Yes, you will make contacts, and you might introduce more people to you and your work...but going into it with the mercenary intent to promote yourself always leads to disaster. That said, I think writers organizations are terrific on so many levels...not just what they can bring you personally and professionally, but what they can do for writers in general. For instance, the MWA, SFWA, and RWA have done so much to generate attention and respect for their genres...and to educate people about writing and how to avoid predatory publishing practices.

You shouldn't attend conferences with the obvious intent to promote your books, either. The best promotion you can do is to be yourself, be engaging, and write good books. That will sell you better than handing out leaflets, bookmarks, and incessant huckstering. In fact, you can self-promote yourself out of sales by doing that.

That's not to say you shouldn't sent out mailings to your mailing list or let people know you have a book out...but it's very easy to cross the line into being annoying and counter-productive. I know, because I have been guilty of it myself.

Advice to fledgling novelists and scriptwriters?

For novelists, write a lot. Read a lot. Don't EVER pay to be published. Don't EVER pay an agent to read your work. As for my advice on breaking into television…you can find it all in my book Successful Television Writing, which I wrote with William Rabkin.

Everybody’s story of breaking in is unique. Most of those stories, however, share one common element. You have to put yourself in the right place to get your lucky break. And it’s easier than you think.

The first thing you have to do is learn your craft. Take classes,
preferably taught by people who have had some success as TV writers.
There’s no point taking a class from someone who isn’t an experienced
TV writer themselves.

You’d think that would be common sense, but you’d be astonished how many TV courses are taught by people who don’t know the first thing about writing for television. Even more surprising is how many desperate people shell out money to take courses from instructors who should be taking TV writing courses themselves.

There’s another reason to take a TV writing course besides learning the basics of the craft. If you’re the least bit likable, you’ll make a few friends among the other classmates. This is good, because you’ll have other people you can show your work to. This is also good because somebody in the class may sell his or her first script before you do. . . and suddenly you’ll have a friend in the business.

Many of my writer/producer friends today are writers I knew back when I was in college, when we were all dreaming of breaking into TV someday.

A writer we hired on staff on the first season of Missing was in a Santa Monica screenwriters group. . .and was the first member of her class to get a paying writing gig. Now her friends in the class suddenly had a friend on a network TV show who could share her knowledge, give them practical advice and even recommend them to her new agent and the writer/producers she was working with.

Another route is to try and get a job as a writer/producer’s assistant on an hour-long drama. Not only will you get a meager salary, but you will see how a show works from the inside. You’ll read lots of scripts and revisions and, simply by observation, get a graduate course in TV writing. More important, you’ll establish relationships with the writers on the show and the freelancers who come through the door. Many of today’s top TV producers were writer/producer assistants once.

All of the assistants we’ve had have gone on to become working TV writers themselves… and not because we gave them a script assignment or recommended them for one. We didn’t do either.

But the one thing you simply have to do is write a spec episodic teleplay. There are lots of books out there--including mine--that will tell you how to do that.

Thank you, Lee.

Lee Goldberg's website is

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: