Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Espresso Book Machine

I’m curious about this.

I’ve heard about these for a few years now. I’ve even seen video of them operating. I think they are quite noisy and they smell like…something. Maybe ink and paper?

Here’s a video:

(I chose this one because it starts out playing EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK:, and you can print my book EINE KLEINE MURDER on the machine! I don’t think it plays the music while it prints, though.)

Here are my two books that are available on them. (The only two I can find.)


But here’s my question. Has anyone ever used one? Has anyone ever seen one?

What’s your opinion, if so.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

by Jean Henry Mead

I spent nearly ten years researching and writing my first novel, after publishing five nonfiction books and an eight-year stint as a journalist. The experiences taught me the value of getting the facts right, no matter how long it takes to verify them. The novel was written after a two-year stint at a library microfilm machine, reading old newspapers to research a central Wyoming centennial book. I also relied on information from a book written in the early 1900s about troops stationed at an early army fort as well as another historical event which a museum curator challenged and the book was rewritten—after it was published. I’ve made other mistakes since that time, but they’ve been confined to typos, punctuation or missing words.

If I’d stayed the nonfiction course, I would probably have only written five or six books by now, instead of 21, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as I’ve had writing mystery novels. But you can’t write mysteries off the top of your head. There’s always some research involved.

The Internet has been a real research boon for writers, although there’s a lot of misinformation online. I’ve had enough books in my home library to answer most of my research questions, but I also had to run to the library for answers, or call the research librarian, B.C. (before computers).

I started my career as a news reporter, which is good experience for writing fiction. Getting the facts straight was ingrained from college journalism courses because your job is at stake if you write something erroneous which embarrasses the publisher, alienates an advertiser or leads to a lawsuit. And that, of course, carries over into fiction. A villain or devious character based on someone you know can lead to legal problems. Or a plot based on your next-door neighbors’ divorce can land you in court.

I’m reminded of a sixtyish widow, a confessions writer, who operated a small cafĂ© and two-pump gas station along a lonely Wyoming highway. She would listen to stories told by truckers and bus drivers who stopped in for one of her “sagebrush” ham sandwiches. She then used what she’d heard as plots for confession magazines. One day the wife of one of the truckers read a story written about her husband and knew it was him. Enraged, he confronted Betty during his next trip. Fortunately, he didn’t sue.

Misinformation included in a plot can earn the writer nasty comments from readers/reviewers as well as a loss of readership. I’m sure that Nelson DeMille heard from readers about his mistake in The Lion’s Game when he located Dover Air Force Base in Maryland instead of Delaware. I might not have noticed if I hadn’t lived at the base for two years while my husband was in the Air Force. But Dover AFB is often in the news when the remains of the overseas military is flown there.

I’ve learned as a journalist to check facts from at least two sources before I include them in my work. Fantasy writers can get away with iffy problem solutions that we mystery writers cannot. So taking time to make sure that technical jargon or facts are correct will help to ensure that my work won’t alienate readers. I recently read a promo ad from an author who said that when the power grid goes down, a certain device will ensure that you can still receive the Internet. I don’t think there will be an Internet if the national grid system fails although there is a proposed system called the Hinternet which can operate on a Ham radio channel, without traditional electricity. But I stopped reading because I wondered about other possible mistakes in his work.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Yes, I am Slowing Down

This morning I read two posts about writing conferences.

One was a report on Thrillerfest in New York where many writing celebreties appeared and spoke. And then on this blog abour the big romance writers convention.

I've never been to either one nor will I be going to either.

I used to attend at least three cons a year: Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, and Mayhem in the Midlands--which is no longer going on. (Way back, I attended other mystery and writing cons in California which are no longer in existence.) I've also been to Love is Murder in Nashville, and many Epicons all over the U.S.

Loved Left Coast Crime and am planning on attending next year's in Phoenix as it's an easy one to travel to. Met lots of reader friends there and at Bouchercon and traveled to many places I'd have never gone except that they were the location of the cons.

I've had the opportunity to meet and have conversations with some of the well-know mystery writers beginning with Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. Because of Mayhem in the Midlands, I became friends with William Kent Krueger who is also one of my favorite writers. Because of these cons I've also become friends with other not quite so famous mystery authors and enjoy their books too. Even more important are the mystery readers I've met and become friends with who also are fans of my books.

The big cons are fun, but sometimes overwhelming. Frankly, I prefer the smaller ones where it's much easier to find and meet people.

To bring this around to the slowing down part--it's no longer as much fun to fly. When I was younger I thought nothing of running to catch a plane, or even switching terminals and walking and walking and walking to get there, not something I want to do today.

Fortunately, I have many great memories of all the cons I have attended.

What are some of your favorite conferences?


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Ethics of Murder

by Janis Patterson

I’ll admit it – I’m terrible. When people ask me what I do, I smile sweetly, give them my best grandmotherly twinkle and say in soft, mellifluous tones, “I kill people.” It’s a great shtick, makes them remember me and gives me an opening to talk about my writing and books.

But the act of killing is not lighthearted and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As mystery writers we are very dangerous people. We know how to get rid of people in so many ways it’s a wonder that anyone ever talks to us, let alone comes to visit. Still we continue to research and study and learn about ways to kill people, all the while trying to improve our books and our craft. What we must never forget is that there are people out there who care nothing about books or craft – they are interested in killing. For real.

But I can hear someone saying, “If we can find the information, why can’t they? Why should we be made responsible?”

Yes, they could find the same information, but the question is, would they? Perhaps they’re too stupid. Perhaps they’re too lazy or it’s too much work. Perhaps … any number of reasons. Maybe they will anyway. I’m just saying that mystery writers have an obligation not to help them.

So how do we have a story? Well, a lot of things are in our collective consciousness. Anyone knows that a gun or a knife will kill. Using one of them is generally pretty simple. Poisons are more problematic. We all know that arsenic kills, but as writers we don’t have to give out the product and brand name and how to get the arsenic out of it. We can outline a murder, but leave out a crucial step or two. We’re writing entertainment, not training manuals.

This is definitely a self-policing step, and sometimes we have to exercise self-control to use it. A couple of years ago The Husband and I went to the national NRA convention. (Fascinating and great fun!) Once there, a gun manufacturer was enthralled that I wrote mysteries and was most helpful about answering a couple of questions I had. Then he started telling me things – a few I’ve used in the intervening years – and one thing that absolutely horrified me.

This man told me how to commit a murder with a fairly large bullet and yet leave no ballistic trace. No rifling on the projectile. A completely clean and untraceable bullet. I found that fascinating, but I’ll never use it. It’s too simple and can be done by anyone – and leave no trace by which the murderer can be found. He was absolutely gleeful and was hinting about having his name in the book as a reference source. I thanked him for the information, told him I would never use it, and begged him not to tell anyone else. He was startled, but after I explained that such information could be used by criminals, I think he understood. How odd that he couldn’t see that for himself, but other people’s thought processes are often strange and inexplicable things.

Have I ever used this handy tidbit? No. Have I thought about it? Oh, yes – it’s one of my favorite fantasies. A book about an unprecedented and untraceable way of shooting someone and – if you’re the slightest bit smart – getting away with it. Boy, that’s a formula for an Edgar if I ever heard one.

But fantasies are nothing but between-the-ears dreams and of harm to no one. I have accepted my dream Edgar for that unwritten book several times, and enjoyed it thoroughly each time. If I were to use such a device in a real book, however, I would be on tenterhooks fearing to hear that it had been used in reality, and that I could not bear. It would make me at best an accomplice, at worst… well, something horrible that I don’t want to be. That’s why I’ll never use that tantalizing bit of information in a book – and why all mystery writers should be very careful what they write.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Conference season starts for Lynn Cahoon

Hi gang, 

Where will I be next week?  NYC, baby. I'm so excited for this trip to the Big Apple. I'm a member of RWA (Romance Writer's of America) and their Nat'l convention is next week. 

I've been a club girl since I started high school. I so wanted to be a girl scout, but my junior high troop fizzled out after a couple of years. When I found FHA (Future Homemakers of America) and OEA (Office Education Association) in high school, I was hooked. I loved being around people who liked to set goals and reach them. 

Yeah, I know, dork city. But I've learned to embrace the geek in me. Like me or hate me, it's who I am. 

So back to next week. Why am I in a professional romance organizational? I have to admit, when I joined, I didn't think I wrote romance. I wanted the educational components of the group. Of course, knowing what I was getting, I did my giving back early in my membership. I ran the Gateway (our writing contest one year), I served on the board, and I do at least one presentation a year to the membership on a variety of topics. 

But what I get back is ten fold. Our chapter this year has already brought in author speakers like Jeffe Kennedy, Barbara O'Neil (love!), and in October, Michael Hauge (fancy a trip to St. Louis in the fall?). Next week is writers education on crack. You can do a craft, businesses, writing, or even self publishing sessions. If you just want to play fan girl, there are tons of signings. 

I'll be signing at the literary signing on Wednesday night, free to the public. 

And if'you're a conference attendee, I'll be signing Dressed to Kill at the Kensington signing on Thursday from 3-4:30.

Stop by and chat. I'd love to meet you. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

How To Get Your Dream Accomplished

by Kaye George

1. Have a dream first! Ours was a short story anthology, since our group, Austin Mystery Writers, was made up of both published and unpublished writers. Our idea arose out of a bantering session about a trip my husband took on the Mega Bus. It looked like a good place for a murder to me: finite number of suspects, isolated location (the bus makes only one short stop between Knoxville and Washington DC), and a long time period for everyone to get on everyone else’s nerves. The others came up with other ideas that involved vehicles, then we branches out to wheels, and we had our theme. Our dream was to get an anthology of wheel-related stories published.

2. Map out the steps. I’m not saying you’ll always follow the map, but it’s good to have one. We put together a time table. It included story deadlines, critique deadlines, date to hand off to a professional editor, and a publishing timetable with a period of time for submitting, then a schedule for self-publishing if that didn’t happen.

3. Get going. The dream will never happen if you don’t work toward it. OK, maybe it won’t happen even if you do, but it sure won’t if you don’t. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, right? Since our group ranged from unpublished to multi-published, we thought we could add some polish with some well-known names. So we invited a couple of Texas authors to join us, Reavis Worttham and Earl Staggs. They both accepted! We were on our way.

4. Try to hit your milestones. We stuck to our schedule for writing, critiquing, and editing. Meanwhile, we had gathered names of likely publishers. When our edits came back from Ramona Defelice Long, we started querying with Wildside Press. I liked them because they had done the Guppy anthologies and we were happy with them.

5. Celebrate when you get there! We were VERY pleased when Wildside accepted our stories. We threw away the rest of the schedule and left everything in their capable hands. What a thrill it was when MURDER ON WHEELS was published in April with a perfect cover for the project. Now we’re endeavoring to promote our volume and make Wildside glad they took us on.

If you’d like to check out the stories, here are some links:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Do You Agree with Elmore Leonard's Writing Rules?

Elmore Leonard's writing rules have been quoted many times and I agree with most of them. How about you?

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

I've found that weather can serve as an antagonist, which I've used several times in my Logan & Cafferty series, such as Rocky Mountain blizzards, San Joaquin Valley fog, Southwestern flash floods, etc.; essentially man or woman against nature or a deterrent to reaching one's goals.

2. Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

I agree as long as backstory is spooned in lightly.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

LOL. I agree but still like to occasionally use "gasped" or "lied."

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”: he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.

Agreed. ("Dutch" Leonard had a good sense of humor.)

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

Excessive exclamation points is a sure sign of a fledgling writer,

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

Also agree on this one. And we all know about the use of cliches.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

I think he was referring to Mark Twain.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

A few words go a long way.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

I think it depends on where your novel is set. If a foreign or exotic place, I personally like enough detail to be able to imagine the setting as long as it doesn't slow the pace to a crawl.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue. My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)


You'll find the above rules as well as my interview with Elmore Leonard in my book, Mysterious Writers.

~Jean Henry Mead