Saturday, September 28, 2013

Catch and Release

by Lawrence Block

Subterranean Press has begun shipping hardcover copies of my new short story collection, Catch and Release, and a beautiful book it is. While the entire edition is essentially sold out, you may be able to secure a copy, if not from the publisher then from an online bookseller or mystery specialty store. But don’t drag your feet; Subterranean’s printing is a small one, and when they’re gone, well, they’re gone.

I’ve just published the Catch and Release eBook, expertly formatted  by Jaye Manus, with Ken Laager’s great cover art. It’s eVailable right now at Amazon (for Kindle) Barnes & Noble (for Nook) and Smashwords (for virtually everything else—Kobo, Apple, Sony Reader, and your pop-up toaster.)

This is the book that led Publishers Weekly’s reviewer to enthuse, “If Block were a serial killer instead of one of the best storytellers of our time, we’d be in real trouble.” The book’s a big one, with 17 previously uncollected explorations of the dark side, including 13 short stories, two novellas, a one-act stage play, and a newspaper op-ed piece, and I have to say I’m pleased with it.
Will there be a paperback?

There will indeed, same size as the Subterranean hardcover, same cover as the eBook, and it’ll be coming soon to an online bookseller near you. Rest assured I’ll let you know about it. that’s all for now. I’ve got packing to do, I’m off to Bouchercon in Albany in the morning, but I wanted to get this to you first.


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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nancy Lynn Jarvis Talks About her AARP Gang

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Nancy. Tell us how  your senior  gang came about.
Mags and the AARP Gang Wasn’t My Idea.

I was finishing up the The Widow’s Walk League, the fourth book in my cozy-style real estate mysteries series, when an impatient female voice began speaking in my head. No, I’m not schizophrenic those of you who write understand what I mean. “I want you to tell my story,” she said.

I dismissed her voice and continued working on the climactic scene where my heroine, Regan McHenry, and the villain struggle with a syringe filled with a lethal dose of… “That can wait. I’m 83, who knows how much time I have left,” my mental intruder insisted. “It won’t take long: I’ll talk, you write down what I say.”

“You mean write in first person? I’ve never done that before, my mysteries are third person omniscient.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! Just write the first chapter and see how it goes. I’m not going to leave you alone until you do.”

She started dictating. “My name is Margaret Broadly Benson, née Spencer, but you can call me Mags. I should tell you I’ve been married three times, not twice…” She went on, telling me how her friend Harvey convinced her to help him rob the local bank it was that or find another place to live ― they needed money because their low income senior park was facing foreclosure. She was a reluctant participant initially, but when Harvey died unexpectedly days before the robbery was scheduled, she had to take over and run the operation. She told me how the robbery was supposed to work and, in spite of things going terribly wrong, how her band of renegade octogenarians pulled it off. I laughed a lot as Mags spoke; I don’t know if that’s what she intended.

There were a series of reveals in her story. I felt comfortable with them because I use the same technique in mystery writing. And there were plot twists, too, and an elaborate sting that Mags set up to catch the robbers who stole the heist money she and her AARP gang risked so much to steal.

Like all good cozies, Mags’ story had a tidy ending. She pulled everything together and explained, and then just for fun, she threw in a final twist that I didn’t see coming. Mags hasn’t spoken to me since and I’m back to legitimate mystery writing, but I’m glad she got in my head for a time.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis, a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years, gave up her license on May 5th. She now tells people she’s a writer, which is much more fun than being retired. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager for Shakespeare Santa Cruz at UCSC.

Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. “Mags and the AARP Gang” represents a new direction in her writing adventure. After four Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries, Nancy put her characters, Regan, Tom, and Dave, on hiatus so she could let Mags and her gang, characters who had been forming in her mind for the past year, tell you their story.

You can learn more about Nancy at her website:, her facebook book page and Amazon author page

I hate to moderate comments but Mysterious Writers continues to be spammed by a less than gentlemanly visitor in France. Please don't let that stop you from leaving comments for Nancy Jarvis. Thank you!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Guest Blog by Lesley Diehl

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Lesley. Tell us about your latest release.

This is the second in the Big Lake Mysteries (the first was Dumpster Dying) featuring Emily Rhodes, retired preschool teacher and bartender turned amateur snoop.

It seems as if Emily is destined to discover dead bodies.  This time she finds one of the contestants at the local barbeque cook-off dead and covered in barbeque sauce in a beer cooler.  She should be used to stumbling onto corpses by now and the question of who killed the guy should pique her curiosity, but Emily decides to let Detective Lewis handle this one, at least until she figures his theory of who did the deed is wrong, wrong, wrong.  

Lewis’ denigration of Emily’s speculations is condescending enough to stimulate her dormant snooping skills.  As the two of them go on their separate paths to find the killer, Lewis’ old partner, Toby the dirty, tobacco-spitting cop interferes in the investigation leaving Lewis with the wrong man in jail. Killers, bootleggers, barbeque and feral pigs—it’s a lethal game of hide and seek in the Florida swamp.

A Biased Review of My Writing

Author’s note:  My protagonist, Emily Rhodes insisted on writing this blog.  She said she had a right to tell it from her point of view.  So here’s what she thinks of my writing:

I’ll probably get in trouble with the author, but I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about what I like in her books and what I don’t like.  You’ll note from my remarks that some of what is positive in my character and my situation can also be problematic.  Let me get right to it.

She created me as a senior which is great because it gives me a wealth of experience upon which I can draw for my understanding of others.  It doesn’t quite make me a wise old woman, but it gives me some heft, and people listen to me perhaps more than a twenty year old—even twenty years olds listen to me, but maybe that’s because I’m a groovy, with-it kind of retired person. 

My career as a preschool teacher was both a plus and a minus.  It taught me how to wrestle three and four year olds into behaving nicely, a great trait which can be applied to seniors who are just as unruly at times and to men.  Those I’ve met can use a little wrestling into submission.  Read on about the men thing.

On the other hand, all those years of experience also point up some of my less admirable traits.  I picked the wrong guy in college and ended up pregnant.  And some might point out that I picked the wrong guy in my senior years and ended up alone, but that happens whether the guy marries you or not.  In my case, I think Fred was a little too naïve about how fit he was at age sixty-five or so.  It’s best to make a will and make it early!

Because she has profound respect for women and is one herself, the author gave me some of the best friends any gal could ask for.  They are supportive, adventurous, noncompetitive and truth tellers.  Of course, she also created some gals I don’t give a hoot about, especially the one who accused me of trying to take her man.  What I didn’t have a chance to say to that one was, why would I want him? 

I have a next-door neighbor who bakes like a dream and since I’m just a little thing, I can get away with eating anything she makes.  Unfortunately, the author isn’t so fortunate, and she’s a little snarky right now as she’s been dieting to take off those unwanted winter pounds, a difficult task when you’re nudging seventy (don’t tell her I told you that).

Then there are the guys she wrote into my stories, two of them in particular, a detective who’s cute enough to make my toes curl and a bass fisherman, sarcastic enough to make my head hurt.  Both of them like me, perhaps too much.  After Fred, my life partner died leaving me with nothing, I’m really not in the mood for another relationship.  I know, I know.  Women say that all the time, but that’s younger women.  At my sage age, it’s true.  A gal wants to think long and hard about getting involved with someone who has a lot of miles on him.  And these two guys do. 

The detective is a real know-it-all.  He thinks he’s an expert on human nature and therefore a great sleuth, but what he understands about women probably wouldn’t fill a shot glass at my favorite cowboy bar.  Yet he tries to pull rank on me all the time.  You’d think after I solved two murders he would show a little respect, but all I get is an evening with candlelight and wine.  Well, and a bottle of shower gel.  I might share it with him.

The bass fisherman is too prickly to get too close although he did save me from an alligator once.  For that he expects me to be grateful.  I have him where I want him.  I’m the bar manager at the Big Lake Country Club, and he works as a part-time bartender for me.  It does not set will with him.  I can tell.  What really rankles him is the detective.  I think he’s displaying something like jealousy but it’s hard to tell with him.  It could just be indigestion.

So that’s the pickle this author put me in. Stuck with experience that might make me smart but surrounded by two guys determined to dummy down my insights and skills.  I’ve heard she intends to do a third book.  I hope in this one she realizes I don’t need the help of these two guys.  Although the story might be better if she kept them in it.  Oh, well.

Here’s a hint:  She says she thinking of entitling the next one Scream Muddy Murder.  Unlike the others, she says she won’t have me blunder onto a body.  This time it will only be part of a body, the head.  Oh goody.

So thanks for letting me talk.  See you around the cowboy bars. And stay out of the swamps!

Respectfully submitted,

Emily Rhodes, Protagonist in Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Chilled and Killed

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Write Tighter by Earl Staggs

The mystery author recently received his second Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year for his Short Stories by Earl Staggs, a collection of 16 mystery tales, available in print and ebook forms.  His Derringer Award-wining novel, Memory of a Murder, earned a long list of Five Star reviews and he served as managing editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He’s a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery as well as a frequent speaker at conferences.

Hi, Earl. It's great to have you join us here. 
Hi, Jean. When you invited us to your stop on the Mystery We Write Blog Tour, you asked us to talk about some aspect of mystery writing. A favorite topic of mine is writing tight. Here are my thoughts on one way to tighten by minimizing the number of those pesky interlopers that creep into our manuscripts, sometimes without our realizing it.

 Tell us about writing tighter and ousting adverbs. 

 Tightening our writing isn’t only about using fewer words but as much about using stronger words.

 Nouns are strong, verbs can be strong, adjectives are semi-strong, but adverbs are weak and writers should avoid using them. So the writing gurus say. I agree. Mostly.

 Not all adverbs are bad. There’s no secret agency who will send men in black suits and shades after you if your use them. Sometimes adverbs are a valid word choice. For instance, we might say, “His writing is bad” or we could say, “His writing is very bad.” The adverb “very” adds emphasis and more meaning to the statement. Or we might begin sentences with adverbs such as “Hopefully” or “Actually” and no black suits will come to our door.

 On the other hand, we might have doors closed in our faces if we overuse adverbs. There are readers -- and editors -- who consider adverbs the sign of a poor writer or one too lazy to work harder to find better and stronger word choices.

 Strong writing is tight writing so if we eliminate weak adverbs whenever possible, our writing becomes tighter.

 When we go into editing and tightening mode, we should treat each adverb as a suspect and interrogate it. Keep your Thesaurus handy and don’t be too lazy to use it. Seek out each adverb, look up the verb it modifies and try to find a stronger verb to replace the verb/adverb combination. For example: “She stared angrily at him.” Both “glared” and “glowered” are strong verbs which mean “to stare angrily” and either one could replace “stared” without the need for an adverb modifier.

 Sometimes the adverb is unnecessary. Don't say “She ran quickly to the door.” “Ran“ tells us she moved fast, so “quickly” is not needed. Don't write that someone “clenched his fist tightly.” A “clench” is always tight and “tightly” is redundant.

 The writing gurus also tell us: Never use an adverb to modify “said” or other dialogue tag. I agree. Completely.
 Here are examples:

 “I want to go,” she said firmly.

“I want to go,” she said hopefully.

“I want to go,” she said sadly.

 I have three reasons for disliking this kind of sentence:

 1. She’s saying the same line of dialogue, but she’s saying it a different way each time. The reader doesn’t know how the words were said until the end of the sentence. Better to know her mood before reading her words so we read it in correct context the first time through.

 2. Editors and readers who see a lot of this construction in our writing may be Adamant Anti-Adverbists and dismiss us as poor writers. Why take that risk when with a little more effort, we can make our work stronger and tighter and avoid rejection?
3. Using an “ly” adverb to modify a dialogue tag is telling, not showing. We all know the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule and this kind of sentence is a blatant offender. Instead, we should show her emotion first, then let her speak.
Here are examples of how we might revise those lines:
She crossed her arms and took a firm stance. “I want to go.”

I saw the glimmer of hope in her eyes when she said, “I want to go.”

She turned away, but couldn’t disguise the sadness in her voice. “I want to go.”

 Those may not be the best revisions to the lines. With some thought and effort, you can come up with better ones. Hopefully.
Thanks again, Jean, for letting me drop in with this topic. And thanks to everyone who comes by to read it. I’d love to hear other opinions, so leave a comment below. If you do, you may win a free book. At the end of the tour, I’ll draw two names from those who left comments. The first name drawn will receive a signed print copy of Memory of a Murder, a mystery novel with a long list of Five Star Reviews. The second name drawn will receive their choice of a signed print copy or an ebook of Short Stories of Earl Staggs, a collection of 16 of my published short stories.
Thanks, Earl. Very good advice (Edit that to excellent advice).

You can learn more about Earl at his website: where you can read chapter one of his mystery novel, Memory of a Murder.

You can also read a short story called “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer.” Earl has been told that it’s the funniest story he's ever written.  And ”White Hats and Happy Trails"  a story about the day Earl spent with his boyhood idol, Roy Rogers. There’s even a picture of Earl and his wife with Roy to prove it’s all true.

Check out Short Stories of Earl Staggs, a collection of 16 of his published tales of mystery, ranging from hardboiled to humorous, available in print and ebook form.

 You can write to Earl Staggs at