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