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 Amazon.com.

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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: http://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com/

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.)