Thursday, October 8, 2015

Weather as an Antagonist

by Jean Henry Mead

Weather can serve as an antagonist in any novel, whether it's mystery, suspense, thriller or other genres, and I've used precipitation in all its forms in my own books.

In my first mystery, A Village Shattered, the opaque San Joaquin fog hides a serial killer, but I didn’t even think about the fog until I was writing chapter three. Having lived in the valley for a dozen years, I know the horror of driving in pea soup (tule) fog, so I switched seasons and returned to chapter one to add fog to the plot. In doing so, it tied all aspects of the story together.

In Diary of Murder, my second mystery, I took my sleuths out of California and placed them in a motorhome in the middle of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. Fortunately, I had actually experienced the mishap so I could write convincingly about it. The blizzard starts the novel off with suspense, but my sleuths face a similar fate later in the plot, so I had to swap some snowy details between the first and later chapters to prevent repetition.Weather plays a large role in any northern state, and can provide an element of danger.

Murder on the Interstate follows with Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty getting caught in a flash flood in Arizona, where their rented Hummer is swept away. That actually happened to a friend whose experience convinced me to add the downpour to my storyline.

Snow also presents a problem for my intrepid amateur sleuths in Gray Wolf Mountain where they track a shooter who kills not only wolves but people. Victims of the shooter themselves, the two women are rescued by a quirky old man who rescues wounded wolves and nurses them back to health.

Murder in RV Paradise is set in Texas where the sun can fry tortillas on the hood of one's pickup truck. When my senior sleuths pull a woman's body from one of the small lakes the day of their arrival, they have to deal with not only the heat but suspicion that they committed the murder.

And, finally, Murder at the Mansion finds Dana and Sarah fleeing a killer in Wyoming after a tornado destroys Dana's mansion. The two women wind up in a snowy backwoods cabin in the Alaskan outback where they find themselves in even greater danger. My trip to Fairbanks, where I experienced an ice storm and extreme cold, helped to bring this sixth and final series novel to a suspenseful conclusion.

I had heard before I wrote my first novel that you should never start your book with weather, but I've found that severe weather can enhance a mystery/suspense novel by fine tuning characters' reactions to it. Man or woman against nature has always intrigued readers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Robo Murder

by Janis Patterson

Warning – I’m angry.

I’ll be upfront about this – I hate sales/solicitation calls and think that they should all be banned, even political and charitable ones – everything except debt collection. I also think that any robo call – anywhere, any time, any kind – should be illegal.

But now I’m mad. I was sitting at my desk today, typing away, and the phone rings. That’s unusual in itself, because our phone seldom rings during the day. I answered, only to hear the chirpy voice of a robo call. I immediately disconnected, then thinking that since I had been interrupted anyway, I might as well make a necessary call to my husband. I hit the ‘call’ button, but before I began to dial, I heard that same chirpy robo voice – and it was starting from the exact place I had disconnected.

Wanting to be sure of this, I listened carefully and then disconnected again. I waited a few moments, then clicked the talk button again… and the pitch started up at exactly the same spot where I had clicked off. This happened two more times. Only when the spiel was over was I allowed to use my telephone again. Neither was this a single-time fluke – I have had two more robo calls since that first one and they behaved exactly the same way.

It’s bad enough for these advertisers to use the telephone line for which I pay and then interrupt whatever I happen to be doing to tout their products/services whether I am interested in them or not, but how DARE they block my line and keep it from my use! Putting my rights as the line holder aside, what if I had to call 911? They could have been putting me or someone else in danger. No one should have that right.

Live calls, robo calls, charitable solicitations, political calls - they all should be illegal. No exceptions.

The Do-Not-Call lists were a great idea, but they are sublimely ineffectual. If they are not just plain ignored, they are useless in the one-number-after-another automation of the robo calls. I have reported all of these advertisers (pests!) to what was basically a great big yawn.

Such calls are also basically stupid. I mean, who is going to buy something just because an anonymous recorded voice or even some chirpy live person tells them to? I certainly wouldn’t. (For years I have had nothing to do with any company/service/whatever that bothers me on my telephone in my home.) If I need something, I go look for it, find the best quality, research the best price and then decide if I want to purchase. A recorded voice telling me I should buy something when they have no knowledge if I want or even need it insults my intelligence. For example, the last pest call was for carpet cleaning. We don’t have any carpet at all in our house – only hardwood. They don’t care. It’s just scattershot marketing calling one number after another, with the hope that sooner or later they will stumble across someone stupid enough to buy whatever it is they are pushing.

I do have a fantasy that someone somewhere will invent an electronic device that when clicked will instantly deactivate the robo machine, preferably for several days at least. I’d say destroy it, but that would be most definitely illegal - pity.

On the other hand, even as angry as I am, my writer’s mind has kicked into high gear. What if my character did have to call 911, but could not because of one of those d****d robo calls? What if he died because of it, but the investigation was skewed because no one can tell why he didn’t call for help? So many people have their internet and telephone and cable and even security alarm tied together; what if the robo call is a Trojan horse that limits the channels they can get on their TV, reprograms their security system or invades and pillages their computer? What if the robo call is a ‘click’ that turns a secretly programmed person (who probably doesn’t know he’s been compromised a la The Manchurian Candidate) into an unwitting assassin? The possibilities are endless.

Now if I could just make it happen to the people behind those calls…

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Back to Promotion

With the end of my blog tour for Not as it Seems my online promotion is slowing down. I have a winner to have a character named after her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree series--and I've come to some conclusions about how I'll go about a blog tour for my next mystery.

Now, with the holiday season coming, I'm booked for several book and craft fairs.

This coming weekend I'll have a table at the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca. (Saturday, October 10 from 10 to 4.) It's held outside near the Bass Pro store.This will be my 2nd time there. I'm also giving a talk at 10:30 a.m. about writing and sustaining a mystery series.

The following weekend on Saturday, October 17, from 10 to 4, I'll be in my publisher's booth at the big art festival in Visalia (downtown near the Bank of America). It's my second year for this one too.

On Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7, from 10 to 5, I'm participating in the Porterville Art Association's Holiday Boutique with a table in the Porterville Art Gallery, on Main St.

I may have a booth at the White Barn in Springville on Saturday, December 5, but that isn't finalized yet.

This is a great time to take advantage of the fact people are buying gifts for their friends and family and what's more unique than an autographed book.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Series Surrender

by Janis Patterson

As I’ve said many times before, it never ceases to astonish me how many – and how many times – people ask me where I get ideas for my books. Where DON’T you get ideas? They’re as thick, persistent and unavoidable as a mosquito storm in a swamp.

For example, I am in the final throes of finishing my Egyptian murder mystery A KILLING AT EL KAB. I tried to get it done before The Husband and I took off for Boston to attend the wedding of his battle buddy from his first Iraq deployment. (It was a beautiful and fantastic formal affair, by the way.) Well, I didn’t, and I didn’t even try while we were up North. We took a few days to sightsee, and of course my mind was far and away from murder and mayhem on an Egyptian archaeological dig.

Instead my mind latched onto murder and mayhem at a Massachusetts archaeological dig. (Yes, I know my mind tends to run in certain ways.) I had been teasing with the idea of doing a series with a globe-trotting anthropologist who finds murder and mayhem wherever she goes. (My kind of girl!) For those of you who don’t know, traditionally Old World excavators are called archaeologists and New World ones are called anthropologists, though in many cases they have almost the exact same training. At least, that’s the way I was taught it was, and if it has changed in the interim I apologize.

Now you’re probably saying, Wait a minute! This writer hates series. What’s she doing planning on writing one?

All I can do is plead habitual inconsistency.

However, in my defense I will say that the only constant in the series will be the heroine herself. Each setting will be different. Already I’ve started making notes on books to be set in Massachusetts, Peru, Midland Texas and England. Other characters from other books may make small cameo appearances through letters or phone calls, but the main cast of characters will be different each time. That, I hope, will keep me from getting bored, which is my main beef with series.

And there is a second inducement – money. As The Husband does some work as my assistant (for which I pay him, just to keep the I(nfernal) R S happy) he is a vital part of my writing business. That means whenever we travel to someplace where I am setting a novel, it becomes a deductible business expense. The more books, the more places we get to go. Sweet!

Unfortunately, my desk is stacked to the skies with stuff that must be finished before I can really progress beyond the notes stage. There’s A KILLING AT EL KAB, of course, and the idea of finishing that breaks my heart. It is a world I love, one which I have actually visited (sans murders, of course, darn it) and when I leave I’ll never really be able to go back again. After that, I must finish the final re-write of THE MASTER OF MORECAMBE HALL, a tasty modern Gothic set in a stately home in England, then get it edited, formatted and a cover made. And I must do a final read-through of MURDER AND MISS WRIGHT, a contemporary cozy mystery set at a scholarly Egyptological conference in Chicago. This has been superbly edited by my wonderful editor Laree Bryant and has a marvelous cover by the inimitable Dawn Charles of Bookgraphics and all it lacks is formatting and the back cover copy finalized. It should have been out for sale at the beginning of summer – I am the one falling down on the job.

A writer, however, can usually tell when an idea has legs or when it is just a flash in the pan that tempts and bedazzles for a week or so. My anthropologist/excavator/sleuth has been hanging around at the fringes of my consciousness for long enough now that I believe she has legs. I hope so. I’m ready to travel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Location, Location, Location by Linda Thorne

Linda Thorne is my guest today. I'm happy to give her my space. My next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Not as it Seems, has a character in it called Linda Thorne. 

Linda has some interesting tidbits about the place she lived and writes about.

When you hear “the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” what comes to mind? Katrina? It’s been a full decade now, but that storm brought the entire Gulf Coast region into our homes with lasting memories. Casinos? Gambling in Mississippi is centuries old, but it was in the early 1990s that dockside casinos began popping up along the Mississippi Gulf Coast starting in Biloxi with the Isle of Capri in 1992.

In 1994, my husband was offered a career opportunity at the Grand Casino Biloxi, located beside Casino Magic, and the third casino in what was called Casino Row.

We relocated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Denver. I’d lived in the Southwest before, but neither of us had ever lived in what is referred to as the South, usually defined as the southeastern and south-central United States. Those first years of Southern living pretty well ruined us for living anywhere else.

Upon our arrival, neighbors came knocking at our door with what was called friendship cakes. People called me Miss Linda for the first time in my life, so my husband and I began calling our dog, Buffy, Miss Buffy. I worked at a company in Gulfport where Mardi Gras was a paid holiday as it was at many other companies along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. When the Mardi Gras season began, Mardi Gras King Cakes with a little doll inside were brought into the workplace for all employees, a custom I’d never heard of. I was invited to my first Mardi Gras Ball and went.

What a strange and spectacular place I lived in.

I went to parties where we ate crawfish, something that looked like cockroaches to me.
I found myself at Halloween costume parties, the creativity of the costumes amazing me. The whole Mississippi Gulf Coast was a party region with history and traditions unfamiliar to me. I felt like I was living in a different world, a weird and wonderful place.

So, when I decided to write a book, what other location could I choose for my setting? Or, could the location have pushed me to write a book? Who knows. As they say, “Location, location, location.”

My debut novel, Just Another Termination, is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast prior to Hurricane Katrina. Although the characters are fictional, many of the landmarks and structures in the story existed before Katrina devastated the coastline. Some of the structures survived, many did not but are preserved the way they were within this book.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Going dark...

The hardest part of life is choosing. Choosing what to eat for dinner when the menu is filled with amazing food you have to try.

Choosing where to take your career when the world is filled with stories you want to write.

And choosing where to spend the 24 hours every writer gets a day.

This is my last post for MMM. I've loved my time here but I'm struggling to fit everything in, especially the most important part, the writing. :)

I know many of you struggle with the same dilemma, fitting in time for you and your own dreams.

Let me just leave you with one last story.

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to become a writer. Being very literal, she searched for a college degree that would lead her down the right path. Not finding that, she took the practical way out, and went to work for the state after getting her degree.

Many years later, the girl found herself fighting breast cancer. While she sat and waited for doctors, and tests, and chemo, and radiation, she read. As she read, the stories she'd been carrying around for years started to bubble up. The stories she would write, someday.

The girl made a decision. Since someday wasn't looking too promising, she sat at her little kitchen table and wrote. Then she sent out those two essays and sold them to the world.

Then she started again.

That was 2007, in 2012, my first book was published and in 2014, Guidebook to Murder hit the NYT list.

Make today your someday.

Much love,

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.