Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Winter Is Coming

by Janis Patterson

Right now, when the temperature is so close to the triple digits they almost touch, the above statement is pretty much an act of faith. Yes, we know winter will come again – at least, it always has in the past – but it’s hard to take much comfort from that knowledge when sweat drips off our nose and the entire garden is brown and crispy.

But winter is coming – and even though we know it will bring bitter weather that makes us long for summer again, it is a promise of change. Of lovely grey days instead of piercingly brilliant ones, when the blistering sunlight is literally a weight on your shoulders. Of late mornings and early evenings. Of snuggly warm sweaters and hot chocolate instead of shorts and iced tea. (Though if you are a Southerner, the season makes no difference – you drink iced tea summer, winter and every season in between!)

But, I can hear you saying, it’s hot outside. It’s still summer, and will be for at least another month or so. That’s true, but it’s also true the weather has changed. Just weeks ago the sunlight used to be blinding when I awoke, but now mornings are a subdued pearly grey. When I step onto the patio, coffee in hand, the temperature does not scald my skin. It’s still warm, but it’s a cooler warm, if you know what I mean. Whatever the time of day or the temperature, all of a sudden the air just feels different. And I like it.

I know that around late January I will probably have had it with cold toes and bulky winter clothing and not being able to run out to the hot tub in the early mornings and having to put on coats and scarves and hats just to go to the store, and will be longing for the bright warmth and freedom of summer. (Perhaps that’s a world record for the number of ‘ands’ in a single sentence!) However, that is symptomatic of the human race. We always want what we don’t have at the moment.

So what does this have to do with mystery writing? Not much, if anything. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the fact that the next book we’re going to write is always going to be so superior to the one we’re currently writing.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m lazy, and didn’t want to work at doing a post on craft or imagery or whatever it is I’m always writing about. And that’s fine with me. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and be glad that winter is coming, because there will always be a summer following that. It’s a certainty, and certainties ground us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Something New for Me--Using a Real Setting

Not as it Seems, the latest in my Deputy Tempe series is located in a real place, Morro Bay and it's surroundings. Tempe and her husband, Hutch, even eat in real restaurants.

In fact this photo was taken out a window at a real restaurant that's in the story.

When I write about Tempe in her home surroundings, it's a fictional place that is quite similar to the place I live in the Southern Sierra--but not quite. For one thing, I've moved the town higher in the mountains and the restaurants and other places of business are fictious. The reason I did that, business don't seem to stay very long.

Morro Bay is a place that my husband I like to visit. I even belong to the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime which gives me good excuses to visit the area from time to time.

I'll be headed over there to particpate in the Central Coast Author and Book Fair on Sunday, September 20 from 10 to 4 at the Seacrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach.

Though not in an official capacity, Tempe investigates a murder and the investigation takes her to Pismo, Los Osos, San Luis Obispo, Nipomo, Avila Beach, and Arroyo Grande. Now, that the book is out, we'll see if I got everything right or not.

It's much easier to write about an imaginary place--at least it is for me.

You can check out Not as it Seems on Amazon:

and on Barnes and Noble:


And if you do buy the book and read it, it would be great if you'd put a review up on either Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Some time ago Carolyn Hart, an author whose mystery novels I have long enjoyed reading, said something that has stuck in my head. She compared her novels and others in the same genre to medieval morality plays. There is a problem (in the plays, most often a sin). The problem is presented as part of an entertaining story. There is a clear path to redemption, and by the end of the novel or play the sinner (villain)  is either punished or redeemed, and justice is served.

I understood that. It made sense, and explained how I think of and form my own novels.

They were about redemption.

Though many people think of redemption only in relation to theology or commerce, that's not all it can apply to. The five dictionaries I consulted, including Noah Webster's from the early nineteenth century, allow for deliverance from some type of evil or threat, for rescue, for the improvement in condition of any thing or any one. To my way of thinking, that can refer to many types of writing, and certainly does in the field of mysteries.

Actually, though the theme of redemption has always been present in my writing, I didn't see it as a strong factor until I was part way through my latest "To Die For" novel, A Portrait to Die For, (to appear in print and e-book by early 2016).  In this story, eighth in the series, redemption touches almost every character, beginning with an Iraq veteran suffering horrors as a result of his war experience. Others in the process of being subtly redeemed include his bitter and confused twin sister, and even my protagonists, Carrie McCrite and Henry King.

A satisfactory resolution is guaranteed in most novels like this, whether romance, mystery, western, history, slice of life, or one of many more types. Satisfactory endings yes, but not emotion free. Recently my husband and a former editor at St Kitts Press, publisher of my first five novels, worked to bring Music to Die For, number two in the series, back into print. During the process I needed to re-read the manuscript twice. And even for me, the happy ending (created out of my own ideas, mind you) ended up being a three-hanky one, because, I realized, of redemption.

As a reader or writer, have you ever thought of redeeming features in at least some of what you read or write?  For me, the word--the topic--has really opened up new ideas that I can apply to my writing--and to myself.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fedoras and Ferragamos: The Color of Noir

Kathleen Kaska
            I love the word “noir.” I like the way it sounds as it rolls off the tongue; the way it looks on paper, demanding bold, black print. If a mystery is classified as noir, I’ll read it; a movie billed as noir, I’ll watch it. But what exactly is noir? The word has become trendy. The color of my mascara is “black noir,” the shade of shoe polish I use on my boots is also “black noir.” Redundant, but understandable, since the word means,“black” in French. For me, it conjures up images of women in stilettos and men in fedoras. But as a literary adjective, what does it really mean? 

            A Google search, resulted in these colorful definitions and cheeky delineations:
“A genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.”
“Crime noir are stories of people who decide to cross an invisible but palpable moral line.”
My favorite comes from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary; “Crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.” 
            I’m working on a new mystery series that fits the noir subgenre. It takes place in the mid-forties in New York City. My protagonist is a hard-boiled detective, a cynic who’s suffering from PTS, a guy with a vigilante streak who’s pissed off by what life has dished out. He lives in a sleazy apartment building, in a sleazy neighborhood, and frequents sleazy bars. He has a degree in classic literature. What? Where did that come from?
            Ted Kendrick has another side, making this “crossing over that moral line,” palpable. He’s fallen on hard times, and his anger takes him to the edge of who-the-hell-cares. He puts himself in situations that threaten to destroy and sabotage what little success he’s manage to achieve; there’s the fatalism. He hopes for the good life he had before things came crashing down, but feels it’s unattainable; hence the ambiguity.
            I’m still learning about this fellow even through he’s been brewing in my brain for most of my adult life. And as I write these mysteries, I think he’ll teach me a lot more about what “noir” really means.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Writing Every Day

by Jean Henry Mead

When I sat down to write, I thought of a long ago interview with bestselling romance novelist Parris Afton Bonds for my book, Maverick Writers. Bonds emphasized the need for writers to write every day. The mother of five lively sons, she wrote between diaper changes as well as on the job, which cost her several secretarial positions before she decided to write full time.

“I write when I’m sick,” she said, “and even as I shove that turkey into the oven on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are no legal holidays for professional writers.”

A steady writing schedule is one of the most important aspects of publishing one’s work. Whether you rise two hours early to write before leaving for your day job, or at night before you go to bed, it needs to be done at least five days a week. Women with small children can schedule their writing time when the young ones are down for a nap, if only for an hour, but the same hour each day until it becomes a habit. But if you only have a few minutes now and then, use that time to jot down notes or bits of dialog as Don Coldsmith did on the backs of prescription pads during his daily medical practice.

Mystery novelist Marlys Millhiser echoed Bond’s work ethic. She began writing at 10:00 a.m. and continued until 4:00 in the afternoons. Both writers stressed the fact that you must stay at the computer (or notepad) no matter how difficult the writing is going that day.

“My first draft is pretty bad,” Millhiser said. “But no matter how difficult it is, I hang in there. Sometimes you have to backtrack and begin again, but don’t stop to polish a chapter until the first draft is finished. When I’m on a run and the plot floats along, the characters take over and it’s wonderful. But most of the time, I’m just sitting there and sweating it out. And I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, that the stuff I sweated out and got three pages by working my pants off, was about the same quality as when the story just flowed along and I’ve gotten ten pages.”

Brian Garfield, author of “Death Wish” and countless other novels and screenplays, said, “I took up writing partly because some of the stuff that was published seemed so awful and so easy to do, and of course it isn’t easy to do, as you find out when you sit down to try to do it. And it took a long time—a lot of apprenticeship practice before I could write anything that was worth publishing. But you don’t know that until you try. At the time of the interview, he wrote five hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. until back problems caused him to cut his hours.

Setting a steady pace becomes a habit and as important to those who want to succeed as breathing. Writing is a way of life and a regular schedule is necessary.

When do you write and how often?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Final Stretch

by Janis Patterson

There’s a certain feeling when you’re almost through writing a book. 

No, that’s wrong. There are lots of feelings when you’re almost through writing a book. Delight that the d*****d thing is almost done and you don’t have to wrestle with tying things up any more. Fear that there are things you haven’t tied up. Sadness that you’re on the verge of leaving a world and characters you created, ones that feel familiar. Happiness that you don’t have to work with these uncooperative and headstrong people in a suddenly tiresome setting again. Anticipation that after the polishing and editing are done you can move on to a new idea, a better idea, a bright shiny enticing idea that will be better and easier to write than this one.

Having always been enticed by bright, shiny things, I’m inevitably looking forward to the new project. That’s also the reason I never have less than four projects going at a time. The new shiny thing is always a better idea, and it will be easier to write, and sometimes it makes me feel better to get it started and even just a little bit written. It’s a new world and new people, all just waiting for me to explore, just as soon as I finish this horrible, uncooperative piece of junk I’ve been wrestling with.

It’s very easy to forget that I felt the exact same way about this book when winding up the one before it.

From talking to other writers I gather that most of them feel the same way close to the end of each book. I cannot comprehend the thought processes of those who write series – especially long-running series – when faced with yet another story in the same world utilizing a lot of the same characters. I would die of boredom. However – it seems I am in the minority, as series are very popular now both with readers and writers. It escapes me how people could be so in love with a set of characters in the same general setting that they demand story after story about the original hero’s brothers and cousins and such. Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of series, though it boggles the mind how one set of characters can believably stumble over body after body. I think it’s called the Jessica Fletcher syndrome. After someone discovers their fourth or fifth body, I would do my best to keep me and my loved ones far away from that murder-magnet. However, if people like that sort of thing – and they obviously do – then I say joy go with them.

Because I am basically a weakling – and because I need to perk up my sales – I have sort of changed direction and am considering writing a series. This will be a different sort of series, though – there will be one central character, but with a different setting and a different set of people in every book. Some of the characters from other books will appear, usually very briefly or only in phone calls or that sort of thing, just to have some sense of continuity and my character’s world. Each book will take place in a different part of the globe and will have its own feel. It’s a very different and exciting concept, and I am gleefully looking forward to working on it.

As soon as I finish this complicated, uncooperative tangle I’m working on now, that is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Feeling Birthing Pains by Marilyn Meredith

What? Birthing pains at your age?

Of course I'm not refering to giving birth in the usual sense, but my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Not as it Seems,  is about to make it's appearance.

I've been planning the promotion for quite some time--a blog tour and some book fairs are scheduled.

Every chapter of the book was heard by my critique group. I sent it off to the publisher, the editor sent it to me with her edits, I fixed what needed to be fixed and sent it back. Got it to check over again and I found more mistakes.

The galley proof arrived--and guess what? More fixes needed.

The cover was sent to me for approval and it looks great!

Now, when the book comes out will I (or readers) discover more mistakes?

I wrote about places I've only visited, did I get all that information right?

Will people like the story?

I'm sure you authors out there know exactly what I'm going through.

Until I actually see the book and get some reader feedback, I'll continue experiencing the birthing pains.