Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I love tea – especially quality loose tea, but I’ll sip whatever house brand a coffee shop offers when I’m out, even a grocery store brand. I’m not into flavoured teas or herbal teas…in fact, I dislike most scented or smoky teas like Earl Grey or Lapsang-Souchong, but tea is my hot drink of choice.
Are you that way with your choice of reading genre? In a blink, you can say what authors are your favourite, what genre keeps you up too late on a work night, who spins the best tale in your genre of choice. You can also quickly say what you don’t like – which authors, which genres, which plots that let you down.
However, what if you’ve never tried hot chocolate or Ovaltine? Do you know what you're missing? Maybe you’ll like it even better than tea or coffee! That’s why it’s great to join readers’ groups, to talk to friends about what they’re reading, to browse through a bookstore. You could find an author you’ve never read before, or one who also writes under another name as well and discover a whole new world of reading.
By all means, enjoy your tea or coffee, but take a few minutes every now and then to try out a different beverage or have a low-fat muffin with it. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Of course some days are more frustrating than others, but I've had quite a few of those days lately.
Maybe when someone reaches the age I am, she ought not to be writing two mystery series every year. That probably would be so difficult if when I was writing one, I had to be promoting the other.
Times like these I think how nice it would be to have a personal assistant--you know, one who would make sure you weren't interrupted while you were working, and who would take care of the laundry, put dinner in the oven, and see that you had everything packed for you next trip.
Maybe I could get my imaginary personal assistant to write the blogs I've promised and pop into Facebook and Twitter and leave a quick message or two.
My biggest issue right now is I'm in the middle of edits for the next Rocky Bluff P.D. that needs to be sent off to my publisher if it's going to come out after the first of the year. At the same time I'm also busy promoting Dispel the Mist the latest in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series.
We've been traveling nearly every weekend to one place or another for talks or book fairs. That I enjoy, but not all the catch-up I have to do when I get home. I bought a mini-computer so I could do blogs and all the social networking, but I find when I'm away from home and having fun, when I get back to my room I'm too tired to do much computering. (I don't care that the spell-check doesn't like that word, I do.)
Since I'm not willing to give anything up as yet, I guess my mystery will remain unsolved.
Monday, September 28, 2009
For the last three years, Wolfmont Press has published anthologies of short fiction involving crimes around the winter holiday season. Cover art and stories are donated, and all profits go to the Toys for Tots Foundation. To date, Wolfmont has raised more than $6,600 for this worthy cause.
This year’s book, "The Gift of Murder" contains 19 great stories featuring Christmas crime, Chanukah homicide, Kwanzaa killings, and some stories that combine all three! This is truly inspired short fiction from the likes of Agatha and Anthony award nominee Elizabeth Zelvin, Anthony Award winner Bill Crider, and Kris Neri (Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award nominee.) For the Hannibal Jones completist, my Washington-based private eye is there too.
I have to say I enjoyed every story in the book and am humbled to be among such talented writers. I think the cause alone is enough of a reason to order your copy of "The Gift of Murder," but even in you hate kids you owe it to yourself to check out this truly great read! It would also make a great stocking stuffer for those friends who would love a sampler of some of the best crime writers out there.
So give the Gift of Murder this year – toys for the kids, joy for the readers!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Readers need to understand your characters and why they react the way they do. The difference between a good story and a great one is the result of careful weaving of characterization and style.
Most important is to create characters that are totally human, unpredictable and involved in the action of the plot. Authors Nan Leslie and Jack Smith wrote in a Writer’s magazine article that “You begin with the principal physical and psychological traits of your characters. A plethora of commonplace details is not the answer. This is mind-numbing to your audience, and readers will not relate on an emotional level to your characters. Once you have in mind a few recognizable traits, make your characters come alive by suggesting these traits or qualities. Avoid direct statement. Rather than explain everything about your character, use dramatic action to imply what you, as the author, already know to be true.”
In other words, a few character traits—three or four—are enough to make your reader identify with your protagonist. A laundry list of character flaws does not endear your reader to those who people your books. By capturing your protagonist’s emotional state, you not only hook the reader with the anger, jealousy, suspicion or other emotion, you enlist his or her empathy. In order to do this, you must place your characters in scenes that reveal their thoughts and goals. Portray your main character’s struggles to make the right decisions. The more he struggles, the more your reader becomes involved in the plot.
Make the reader worry about your character and plunge her progressively deeper into danger (or other problems). Hang her over a cliff and have the villain stomp on her fingers. If she falls, don’t have the hero rush to her rescue. Allow her to save herself, if at all possible. But don’t make her rescue improbable. The protagonist’s salvation must not only be clever but believable. Don’t use coincidence as a way to solve your story’s problem. Suspension of disbelief is what you’re aiming for as well as a satisfying ending.
Point of view and characterization must blend well together. Which of your characters is best suited to tell the story? Writing mainly from inside your characters’ heads—their thoughts, feelings and fears—seeing events through their eyes not only makes the story believable but pulls the reader into the plot. Multiple POVs can add depth to your story but head hopping within a scene can confuse the reader and disengage him from the action. Keep him in focus as though viewing the scene through a movie camera.
Surprise your reader at every turn. If she guesses the outcome of a scene, you haven’t done your job well. Strive to not only produce unique characters but to find a better way of saying things. Never rely on time-worn phrases or portray your characters as blatant stereotypes or cardboard cutouts. And be sure to invent unusual circumstances in which to place your characters.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
My wife and I decided before the summer began that we would complete all of the Michael Connolly books. She came closer than I did to achieving that goal. Once you've read a few Connoly books, you discover that the characters move in and out in interesting ways and form unpredictable relationships with one another. Getting closure on those relationships was one reason why we tried to finish all of them. I have three to go: The Black Ice, The Brass Verdict, The Scarecrow, but now I find myself dragging my feet to the finish because I really don't want the closure. I want there to be always another bend in the road ahead.
So much for what I didn't read, here's what I did, in no particular order.
The Night Gardener
The Last Coyote
The Hard Way
You can read about some of them here and the rest on the Hawaiian Eye blog
Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane. This is a complex, scary thriller that will leave you wondering what's real and what isn't. A U.S. marshall goes to Shutter Island, an isolate hospital for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. This was an era when electroshock therapy, chemical therapy and lobotomies were cutting edge treatment. The ending will leave you wondering if there really is a line between reality and madness. It will be released later this year or early next year as a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. If you plan on seeing it, READ THE BOOK FIRST. I'm sorry for shouting, but you will do yourself a favor by reading the book before you see the movie. I can't imagine the movie capturing the complexity of this story, but if it does, it will be astounding.
Dogtown and Soultown, Mercedes Lambert. Whitney Logan is a struggling attorney in Los Angeles. In Dogtown, reviewed on my blog, Hawaiian Eye, she meets a streetwise hooker named Lupe and the two get caught up in the Latino revolutionary underworld. Soultown takes up six months later when we find Whitney waiting for Lupe to be released from prison. Whitney's obsession with Lupe grows intense as they become embroiled in a murder in Korea town. These are underrated classics. Lambert loves her city, her characters and her stories and makes us love them. The third book in the trilogy, Ghosttown, was published in 2007, five years after Lambert's death. I'm torn between wanting to read it right now and wanting to delay taking that last turn.
Dark Paradise, Lono Waiwaiole. My favorite place on the planet is Hawaii and I seek out any and all mysteries set in the Aloha State. Sadly, most Hawaiian mysteries read as though they were crafted in the offices of the Hawaiian Visitor's Bureau. the sunsets are magical, the people friendly, and the breezes are gentle. Dark Paradise breaks the mold. If your only knowledge of Hawaii is a seven-day, six night stay on Maui or Waikiki, you don't know Hawaii. Waiwaiole knows Hawaii and, in Dark Paradise, he nails it. Geronimo Souza is a Hawaiian-Portuguese detective on the Big Island. A member of the drug task force, he struggles with gambling and marital problems while trying to prevent an all-out war between the Japanese and Mexican gangs who are vying for control of the Big Island crystal meth trade. Waiwaiole extinguishes the gorgeous sunsets and tears up the glittering beaches to show the local people and society, a product of a century and a half of internal colonialism by the United States, as they really exist. Dis story is da real da kine, brah. Can you expect less from a guy who is named after the god of music and fertility?
Monday, September 21, 2009
Bill Walker is a graphic designer specializing in book and dust jacket design, and has worked on projects by Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Between his design work and his writing, he spends his spare time reading voraciously and playing very loud guitar, much to the chagrin of his lovely wife and two sons.
Everything changes the morning an e-mail arrives from Boston artist Joanna Richman. Her heartfelt note brings back all the poignant memories: the night their eyes met, the fiery passion of their short-lived affair, and the agonizing moment he was forced to leave Joanna forever. Now, fifteen years later, the guilt and anger threaten to overwhelm him. Vowing to make things right, Brian arranges a book-signing tour that will take him back to Boston. He is eager to see Joanna again, but remains unsure where their reunion will lead. One thing is certain: the forces that tore their love asunder will stop at nothing to keep them apart.
Filled with tender romance and taut suspense, A Note from an Old Acquaintance is an unforgettable story about fate, honor, and the power of true love.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I thought I'd bring a special guest to Make Mine Mystery today. Nadia Gordon (aka Julianne Balmain), the author of the Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley mysteries, chock full of food, wine and murder!
What was the original inspiration for your Sunny McCoskey mysteries?
I’m friends with an extraordinary group of people who started cooking in a very authentic, uncompromising way. In any other era, that would be a meaningless sentence. But in our time, when a food that smells and tastes like strawberry might not have any strawberries in it, the attempt to cook food that is what it purports to be is a very important undertaking, for the environment and for people. This topic—great food prepared from locally grown and gathered ingredients—is a real passion for me. I admire the people leading this movement and wanted to write about them. I wanted to explore a life where you spent the days cooking food from ingredients with a supply chain that was entirely transparent. You know the patch of earth where the potato is grown, and you know the guy who grew it, and you’ve been in his shed and seen what kind of jars and bags of stuff are in there. If you open a guy’s shed and see buckets of Roundup, you know you’re in the wrong place.
How much of you is in your protagonist?
Much less than readers tend to imagine. The writer’s life—my writer’s life—is pretty vicarious. I’m in the business of observation. Sunny actually does things. I might go along on the wild mushroom hunt, but Sunny is the one who knows the best places, knows which mushrooms are safe to eat. I might hang out in the kitchen, but Sunny is the one who cooks. I cowardly, cozy, and sleep like a stone. Sunny is a fearless maniac who is always up roaming the countryside half the night looking for dead bodies and murderers.
I just finished your new release, LETHAL VINTAGE, and was definitely taken aback by the behavior of one of the reoccurring characters (no names mentioned, no spoilers). Definitely some unresolved character arcs and relationships going on. How many more Sunny M. books in the series do you foresee? Keep in mind the higher the number, the happier you will make your interviewer.
This is Sunny’s baggage. She is very much in control, of everything, and very solid. Not much rocks her boat. But what if her boat needs to be rocked? I see the first four books as the spoon tap tap tapping at her shell. As the first book opens, Sunny is a happy woman, doing what she loves, with a successful restaurant in paradise. She’s in the world’s most lovely rut. By the end of book four, she’s made up her mind to change. There will definitely be more Sunny books, just not for the next year or two.
Reading about Sunny's dishes for her restaurant generally has me drooling (in a good way!) and casting about for the perfect food/wine pairings. What is your background as a cook and/or an oenephile?
I’m a good voyeur and a great eater. I think the most important thing I bring to the table, so to speak, is a blank slate. I learn very slowly. The upside is an enduring state of Zen-style beginner mind. I still come at a glass of wine like a complete beginner, which means I can keep learning, keep tasting. Food and wine and how to make them are areas you can study for a lifetime. I was once at a dinner with a bunch of foodies that started early and went late. There were many, many good wines. Late in the evening, someone ordered an older, very expensive wine. The steward poured, someone tasted, and glasses were poured and happily consumed. There was a guy from Italy who had definitely had enough already. I thought that it was rather a waste we were all drinking a great wine no one could really taste anymore. He took one whiff and declared the bottle corked. It was. There is always plenty to learn.
What’s your perfect environment for writing and do you have a process you follow each time you write?
It’s pretty grim. The planning of a book is a great joy. I wax poetic. I am consumed by a passion to research the most minute details. My characters carry me away to an imaginary land. Then it’s time to execute and that means huge quantities of Peet’s coffee, lots of pacing, frenzied cleaning of the house, catching up on every bit of correspondence, agony, panic, etc. And then, at last, the incredibly satisfying plunge into the heart of it.
How do you balance out your role as a mother with your writing? As someone who only has cats (and finds them quite distracting), I would really like to know...
It’s difficult. My passion for my work is as strong as ever—stronger, even, since I have all this great new material—but I have much less time to write. Moms are forced to become extremely efficient. I get much more done in a hour these days than I used to, but I have far fewer hours! I became a mom rather late in the mom game, so I’d had plenty of time to explore the world and get to know myself. I had so much time on my hands I was doing yoga, surfing, rock climbing, mountain biking. All in one day! Well, not really, but a bunch. Now I’m lucky if I can score twelve minutes for a jog-walk around the park. But how sweet to have a child to steal you away from your work. There’s a Rumi poem that goes, “Before now I wanted/ to be paid for what I said,/ but now I need you/ to buy me from my words.” My son does that great service for me.
How do you promote your books? Do you blog/Facebook/Twitter and if so, do you think it's worthwhile?
I do think Facebook and Twitter are worthwhile means of getting the word out about your books, certainly right now. They can be extremely effective if you really engage with it. Personally, I don’t tweet and my Facebook participation is minimal. It’s an issue of time and privacy. I have a website that may one day soon include a blog of some sort. Back when the Internet was new, I had a column called “The Ex-Model Files” on Spiv, a Turner Broadcasting website that vanished with the Time Warner merger in the nineties. I wrote it under the pen name Cara Friedrichs. It was sort of a proto-blog, and I loved doing it. I might start doing something like that again—basically a weekly column I publish on my website.
What do you love about writing and what, if anything, do you hate about the business?
I love the deep dive of fiction writing. The way you sink down, down, down into the sea of story and bring back otherworldly treasure. I don’t particularly like the part of the process where you’re looking for a deal and negotiating it. That’s nerve racking. I also don’t love sitting down indoors all day. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a pencil and paper in the meadow?
Do you write in other genres? If so, which ones? If not, do you want to?
I write pop culture nonfiction from time to time, meaning humor, light commentary, and how-to on a variety of topics. The next novel I write may not have a dead body in it.
If you weren't a writer, what would you be?
Marine biologist. My science career was cut short back in high school, but the sea and its critters, particularly the whales, have always been of huge interest. And I daydream the line of clothes I would present for each season, always have, so perhaps fashion designer. Fashion designer to the whales?
If you haven't read Nadia's Napa Valley mysteries yet and you love wine, food and myseries, hie thyself hence and check out her books! Thank you, Nadia!
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Many folks don't understand the 1994 Clinton Assault Weapons Ban, nor do they understand what are meant by the terms "Assault Weapons" or "pre-ban," nor do they understand what risks still await one who wants to add some cosmetic touches to their so-called Assault Weapon, even though the 1994 ban expired on September 13, 2004. I'll try to explain the basics here. But before I begin, please pardon the complexity and idiotic nature of these measures. Congress passed them, not me. And these laws have done just about nothing to stop crime.
The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban pushed by Clinton and enacted by Congress banned specific guns made by specific manufacturers. These weapons, all semi-automatic in nature - meaning they fire one shot with one trigger pull - included the specific models and manufacturers' names, and it included a catch-all for any other weapons which carried characteristics of those weapons. So, the definition of weapons included those specifically named and any others which fit this language:
A semi-automatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following:
1) a folding or telescoping stock;
2) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
3) a bayonet mount;
4) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor,, and
5) a grenade launcher.
All but the grenade launcher are regarded by gunners as cosmetic issues. But having a grenade launcher itself, as long as your rifle didn't have one of the other listed cosmetic parts, was not banned.
Oh goodie! I could use a grenade launcher on my rifles, and Congress doesn't seem to think that, alone, is a bad thing...
Similarly, the ban with respect to pistols covered a semi-automatic that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following:
1) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
2) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer. (Nevermind that silencers are regulated anyway by the National Firearms Act);
3) a shroud that is attached to, or partial or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned;
4) a manufactured weight of fifty ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded,; and
5) a semi-automatic version of an automatic firearm (popularly called a "machine gun")
These definitions were taken directly from the Act. Additionally, magazines were banned if they could hold more than ten rounds, but of course, there was no limit to the number of ten-round magazines one could buy or carry.
There were also provisions covering certain kinds of shotguns, but enough is enough. You'll get the picture without adding the restrictions on shotguns.
The ban prohibited manufacture, transfer, or possession of a "semi-automatic assault weapon." But there were some exceptions to this part. It was legal to possess a weapon owned prior to the date of enactment, and it was legal to purchase a weapon made before October 1, 1993.
The legislation was largely regarded as a joke. So much notice was provided of these provisions, and the Act took so long to pass that manufacturers ramped up production of banned weapons prior to October 1, 1993 such that weapons covered by the act and manufactured before that date are still easy to find in new, unfired condition even now. Indeed, I bought a new pre-ban Bushmaster AR-15 legally in 2000. And the gun store from which I bought it had a huge collection of new, unfired pre-ban weapons for sale.
Interpretation of the Act is tricky. For instance, if you bought a kit, pre-October 1, 1993, which if assembled before that date would be a legal Semi-automatic Assault Weapon, but waited until after that date to assemble the kit into a weapon, your completed weapon assembly would violate federal law, because the law covered complete weapons, not kits or parts for them.
So, your perp or protag has a kit for an imported AK-47, or already has one and wants to add some cosmetic features. Is he going to violate federal law if he does so, now that the infamous Clinton Assault Weapons Ban has expired?
Well, gee, he'd better be damn careful, or the ATF (remember Waco?) will come knocking on his door. Why? Because of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and BATFE regulations thereunder, which make criminal the assembly of a rifle or shotgun using more than ten of the following imported parts:
(1) Frames, receivers, receiver
castings, forgings, or castings.
(3) Barrel extensions.
(4) Mounting blocks (trunnions).
(5) Muzzle attachments.
(7) Bolt carriers.
(8) Operating rods.
(9) Gas pistons.
(10) Trigger housings.
(16) Pistol grips.
(17) Forearms, handguards.
(18) Magazine bodies.
(20) Floor plates.
Understand, it's perfectly legal to add these parts or build a kit, as long as they're U.S.-made parts, which of course, are identical or better than the foreign parts. You just can't build or modify any semi-automatic assault weapon if doing so will mean you then have more than ten of these imported parts on your weapon. You can buy a completely assembled imported new pre-ban AK-47; you just can't build or assemble one with more than ten of these parts imported.
How much sense does this make? How would you like to do ten years in federal prison and pay an enormous fine just because you decided to replace your U.S.-made unfinished wood stock on your AK-47 with a nice laminated foreign stock? Or, as reflected in this picture, you wanted to match your fore-ends to your stock, and replaced one or the other (or maybe both) with a foreign-made part?
How's that for Buy America enforcement?
Thursday, September 17, 2009
So anyway, I wanted to share two mysteries I read recently and loved. The first is the latest in Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series, Sand Sharks. I wait, not all that patiently, for each book in this series to come out. In this book, newly married Deborah is still adjusting to being a step-mother as well as a wife. So when a conference for judges gives her a chance to leave home and family for a stay at the coast, she jumps on it. And of course, given the mystery genre, stumbles on a dead body while she's there.
The thing I loved about this book, as I do about all of Maron's Deborah Knott series is that the woman lives in the same world I do. No, I don't live in the South and I'm not a lawyer let alone a judge but I have been a step-mother. And I could very much identify with Deborah's feelings on the matter. And since I couldn't get to the shore myself this summer, I really enjoyed Deborah's trip to the beach too.
The second book I read and loved this summer was Janet LaPierre's Run a Crooked Mile. The heroine, Rosemary Mendes, is a widow settling into a new home in a small Northern California community. The setting is what originally drew me to the book, since I went to college in Arcata many more moons ago than I like to admit and I wanted to see if . But the heroine kept me reading. Rosemary is roped into caring for a dog whose mistress has been found dead. Everyone thinks the woman was killed in some sort of hunting accident but really no one knows much about the woman at all as she is also somewhat new to the community. Rosemary's curiousity about the other outsider leads her into somewhat dangerous territory--and to make new friends in her new hometown.
I am going to be looking for more from Janet LaPierre.
So what are you escaping er--reading right now? Give me a heads up on something fun.
Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Safe House, the second book in the series was just released in trade paper by Trebleheartbooks.
Perhaps some the methods I've found that help me might help others who write mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and/or detective stories and books.
My first mystery/suspense novel, which came out last fall, Midnight Hours takes place in Oklahoma City, and three of the main characters are members of the OKC police department. Much what I wrote about the police department came from my imagination and from my experiences mainly with the country sheriff's department. I realize now that I needed a resource inside the department in order to be sure the details add to the believability of the plot if and when someone who "knows" reads the book. I can at least have that information for the next book in the series.
Ways to discover facts and possibilities to help with writing any type of mystery (including the sub-genres) are many.
Have a resource person in a police department. I now have one in the OKC department. If I decide to use another city or county entity, I will contact them and ask for help.
Join email groups in the crime/mystery genre. I'm a member of Sister in Crime (http://sistersincrime.org} and their Yahoo email group, as well as the crimescenewriters Yahoo email group. Many experts, including police and forensics experts, are parts of each group and answer questions posed about material needed for plots, deaths, discovery, and procedures. I started printing many pages of responses for my mystery file. I have at least three new possible ways to commit murder, investigate them, and solve them.
Read, read, read. Read mysteries of all kinds. Note which plots, characters, and details work and which don't. Analyze why or why not.
Read writing magazines, and articles which cover writing different types of mysteries.
Attend conferences with mystery sessions. I have two conferences on my wish list: Scene of the Crime, held in Wichita, Kansas, and Telling Your Story hosted by Mystery author William Bernhardt, held in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Muse Online Writing Conference last year had a complete list of forums, authors, and editors dealing with mystery. Wonder what they will have this year (next month)?
The more prepared we are, the better chance our mystery will have details and information that will make our stories and novels believable.
My novel Midnight Hours started as a novella entered in a contest on Writing.Com. The novel and long short story have a few things in common, but the novel expands and changes some of the characters and plot. However, I did my best to make characters, plot, and setting as realistic and believable as possible.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
What’s the best way – open with dialogue? That can be an attention grabber for sure, depending on how provocative or intriguing those words are! Open with a fast-moving action scene? It definitely gets your readers’ adrenaline pumping. Open with a description that pulls your reader into the atmosphere of the story? That can be very effective.
But the reader feels let down if a great hook degenerates into a mediocre narrative. Therefore, it’s our job as authors to keep that energy of a great first line moving. You must engage your reader and don’t let that oomph stop. Keep the reader’s interest piqued and the story and characters moving forward at a consistent clip. Of course, there have to be moments where everyone catches his or her breath, but the reader is counting on you to deliver from that great opening line…right through to the final syllable.
So, tell me in the Comments section as well – what is your favorite closing line?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
In all of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries there is an element of the supernatural usually in the form of Native American mysticism or legends.
In Calling Back the Dead Tempe did just that. Do I know how to call back the dead or would I do such a thing? Absolutely not. But as every writer knows, you can research anything.
Ghosts of murder victims have tormented Tempe, Kindred Spirits and in several books dreams she can't interpret have predicted dire things to come.
Also in Kindred Spirits Tempe learns about the Tolowa people's belief in Big Foot. Research about Big Foot led me to the discovery that our local Indians, a branch of the Yokuts, had their own version of Big Foot called the Hairy Man.
Of course I had to learn more about this Hairy Man. A pictograph of him is located on the reservation in a rock shelter. I was fortunate to be invited on a field trip with the college's anthropology class to visit the Painted Rock site. Once I'd this painting I knew I had to learn more and include him in a Tempe Crabtree mystery.
The result is Dispel the Mist. Of course the cover of the book is a depiction of the pictograph on the painted rock site though it doesn't begin to convey what I felt when I saw this eight foot tall Hairy Man. I was warned not to visit the site at night because there are too many spirits around--I wouldn't but in the book, Tempe does.
I've used other supernatural elements and legends, but I had the most fun writing about the Hairy Man. And if you're wondering, no I've never seen him, but there have been some recent sightings reported.
Dispel the Mist is available from the usual places as well as from the publisher http://www.mundaniapress.com as a trade paperback and an e-book.
Monday, September 14, 2009
But New York City is closer to that fantasy than I realized, until I learned about the Real Time Crime Center. It’s like a super detective help desk, the nerve center for technology to help the detectives out there on the streets with the kind of information that helps them develop leads and solve crimes. The Real Time Crime Center’s primary purpose is to give field officers and detectives instant and comprehensive information to help identify patterns and stop emerging crime. It’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world of law enforcement.
You know how on TV the cops can just type stuff in and get instant info? That’s what they’re trying to do with the Real Time Crime Center. Information networking they call it, but to me it’s just good old crime analysis. COMPSTAT, for Computerized Statistics, is a weekly precinct-by-precinct analysis of crime trends and hot spots. In New York, they can reduce violent crimes by putting 1,500 cops into a targeted location. That’s how NYC got to be the safest large city in the USA.
The next step is to look at crime data and intel in real time and shoot it out to the cops so they can see crime patterns and trends. Not only can they use their resources better to fight crime, but they can support investigators better to ID and catch the bad guys faster.
I’m amazed at how they’ve made different sources electronically searchable and user friendly. The department has at least 50 huge databases, all crime data warehouse from IBM to put all that info into a common format. They hooked the last 10 years of complaints, arrests and detective case information into a real-time feed from the 911 system.
The RTCC opened on July 18, 2005 and provides support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Today it has access to more than 5 million New York State criminal records, parole and probation files, more than 20 million New York City criminal complaints, arrests, 911/311 calls and summonses spanning five years, more than 31 million national crime records and over 33 billion public records!
The Crime Center uses satellite imaging and sophisticated mapping of New York City precinct-by-precinct. The link analysis capacity of the RTCC can track suspects to all of their known addresses and point detectives to the locations where they are most likely to flee.
Detectives can search the data sources easily, almost like using Google. If you can search for, say, “a white male, 5-foot-8-inches to 6-foot, doing robberies, in the Bronx, uses a silver gun, and targets old ladies," well, that can save a lot of the grunt work gathering your list of suspects.
The NYPD sends an incident response vehicle with every homicide squad in the five boroughs and one major case squad. These vans are on scene for all serious stabbings, shootings and homicides. With secure wireless access to the Real Time Crime Center, detectives can access and print out anything they need, out in the field.
Think about it. Before the detective starts to canvas the area, he’s got details about his location. incidents and arrests within a given distance of this crime, parolees, probationers and wanted felons in the area, open narcotics investigations, gang activity, the whole ball of wax. This is the stuff I’d love to know at a murder scene. Have there been a lot of drug arrests in the area? Is there a sexual predator nearby? Who the nosey neighbor that calls 911 all the time? The kind of stuff beat cops used to know.
And the Real Time Crime Center can put it all up on a screen. The detective gets a visual representation of the suspect or the location. He can see the relationships the suspect has with other criminals, other crimes, other cases, guns, and so on. It’s called a link analysis, with one person or location at the center. Then, graphical links are shown to phone numbers, known addresses, relatives, criminal records, whatever.
Another new trick is called crime mapping. The Real Time Crime Center identifies crimes and trends that used to require days for analysts to dope out. The Geographic Information System lets you even show where all the complaints are that make up what you think is a pattern. You can see all the crimes near bus stations, for example or near schools. This kind of pattern analysis is great for robberies or sex crimes.
The Real Time Crime Center even helps the cops when crimes cross jurisdictions. New York has been able to hook up with other agencies in and out of New York State, like the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Regional Intelligence Center. (Good stuff for a later blog.)
New York is THE big city, but I think the concept of the Real Time Crime Center can work for any police force. It saves more man-hours than anybody can count. And it gets the technology down to the street. Right now information in the center is available to the 37,000 police officers of the New York City Police Department.
If this keeps up, old fashioned private eyes like Hannibal Jones might end up out of business.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The first thing I noticed was the cops. Ordinarily I will encounter one, at the most two, mall security types in their spiffy uniforms with their Smokey Bear hats. My wife and I call them Barney Fifes after the Don Knotts character on the Andy Griffith Show. But, yesterday, I entered the Food Court to find a pair of blue-clad Metro Nashville policemen standing there. Once in a while I find a lone cop around but seldom two.
They were talking to the mall security chief, a guy who’s normally dressed in jacket and tie. He probably packs heat, although the Barneys aren’t allowed to.
As I continued, across the way I spotted two more of Metro’s finest walking along the concourse. One of these was female. They were chatting away more like shoppers than cops on the beat. I walk too fast for my wife, so when I ran into her a little later and mentioned the uniforms, I learned she had encountered yet another pair. She was concerned about what dire emergency might be in the making.
Recalling the youthful looks on their faces, I realized there was no crisis afoot. Several days ago, the nightly news covered the graduation ceremony for a new class at the Metro Police Academy. Before the new cops are sent onto the streets, they put in familiarization time in various venues. This batch was getting a taste of the mall.
So, nothing to go in my WIP.
Speaking of the security chief, I spotted him at a new kiosk being handed a couple of brass looking cylinders by a smiling, sexy wench. Signs on display advertised “Stress Test.” The tell-tale clue, though, was the “Dianetics” sign above the kiosk and the display of books by L. Ron Hubbard.
It had been awhile since I gave any thought to Scientology, except when reading about Tom Cruise, so I went to Google to refresh my memory. The device the young woman used is called an E-Meter. Wikipedia describes it this way:
“The Church of Scientology restricts the use of the E-meter to trained professionals, treating it as ‘a religious artifact used to measure the state of electrical characteristics of the “static field” surrounding the body’. The meter is believed to reflect or indicate whether or not a person has been relieved from spiritual impediment of past experiences. It can only be used by Scientology ministers or ministers-in-training and does not diagnose or cure anything. The E-meters used by the Church of Scientology are manufactured at the Church of Scientology's Golden Era Productions facility.”
I don’t know if she was a minister or a minister-in-training, but a few days before a neatly-dressed, tall black guy had been at the booth observing the performance. I had been invited to take a test but declined with a smile. When I’m walking, I don’t stop for anything, even a chance to be Scientologically “cleared” and freed from all my ailments.
Hubbard has been hailed as a fairly decent science fiction writer, though not being into sci-fi I can’t vouch for it. But from what I’ve read about his “religion,” it sounds more like fiction than science.
Have you observed anything interesting in a mall lately?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I knew I'd get your interest, you bunch of perverts! (Heh-heh...)
This post is about how to get readers to notice your book and purchase it, so if that's not of interest to you, "Move along, move along... nothing to see here!"
There has been some discussion lately on one of the online groups to which I belong about the ROI of various promotional methods. One problem is, unless you have a very specific target audience that you can track minutely, it’s very hard to get a reliable view of the ROI on advertising and promotion. How do you know, for example, that it was the postcard, the bookmark, the book teaser video, the flyer, the blog entry, the tweet, the… whatever, that was the tipping point to persuading someone to buy your book.
Or if we look at it another way, which one actually gained the reader’s attention on a subliminal level?
Some authors have said that they saw definite increases in purchases after this or that promotional action... but do you know if this was the second or third or twentieth time the purchasers saw an ad or a mention of your book? Maybe it was the postcard laying on their desk from a month ago that really did it, not the ad they saw yesterday.
If you have the money to spend on sophisticated tracking methods to find out what works best… well, you probably don’t need to worry about your personal book sales very much, do you?
Al that being said, people who pooh-pooh using postcards, bookmarks, video teasers, blogs, etc., are forgetting a couple of very important points.
First of all, not everyone is hardwired to respond to the same sort of stimuli. Just as some people are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are kinesthetic-tactile learners, and some are evenly split across two or all three methods, not everyone will respond to the same sort of promotional methods. For some people, finding and handling that bookmark in their bag of goodies may be the thing that triggers their interest. Others may be intrigued by seeing a colorful flyer, or their attention may be captured by a multimedia mix of sound and movement that comes from a video teaser.
Secondly, it takes more than one mention of a product to get most folks’ interest. Marketing pros say that it takes multiple stimuli from the same product to evoke a “purchase response,” and the various numbers I have seen range from ten to forty-plus. So seeing that book cover or title once, or even twice, may not get through the wall of built-in resistance that most of us have to spending money! That doesn’t mean you should spam everyone repeatedly about your book, but it certainly means that if people see multiple mentions of the book, it will increase their chances of remembering and purchasing the title the next time they are in their local bookstore or browsing Amazon.*
One specific question asked in an online forum was, “What do you do with a book trailer or video, anyway?” Book trailers or video teasers are very useful in ways some of us don't seem to think about. Here are some ways you can use a book video.
1. Put it on your laptop and have it on your signing desk, playing at low or no volume while you are signing books. I've used mine that way and generated a lot of interest from people who otherwise probably would have walked right on by.
2. Offer to send it out in advance to venues where you plan on having a signing or reading. They can (if they choose) put it on a computer or on their web site and have it running or available to generate interest in the upcoming event.
3. Post it on your CrimeSpace, MySpace, FaceBook, blog, ad infinitum web page so that anyone who goes there has the OPTION of viewing it. But don't make it automatically run, which is very annoying to those who are in a work environment or who have dialup connections.
4. At least one author I know (p.m. terrell) uses the video I created for her as a pre-presentation display, projecting it onto a screen from her laptop before getting up to talk about her book, SONGBIRDS ARE FREE. She reports that it really gets people's attention.
When you are thinking about advertising, marketing and promotion, think outside the book.
* Yes, I know there are people who will adamantly affirm that no advertising, review, video, postcard or whatever will EVER influence them to buy a book! Yep, and there's no such thing as behavioral conditioning, either, and advertisers who pay for time during the Super Bowl are just pouring millions down the drain, too. Uh-huh. We are ALL affected by advertisements, whether we like to admit it or not.
Watch for the 2009 Toys for Tots anthology coming out in October-
THE GIFT OF MURDER
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
How does one find the fresh voices? I look to the major awards—the Edgar and Shamus awards. Because I write private detective stories, I go to the Shamus award for best first PI novel. Some of the past nominees, which include Walter Moseley, Laura Lippman and Denis Lehane, have transformed the genre.
The Shamus nominees for 2009 have just been announced. Here are the nominees for Best First PI Novel. According to the Shamus judges, these five are the freshest voices in private eye fiction. It’s too early to tell what impact they will have on the genre, but it’s a safe bet that writers and readers will be talking about one or more of these authors for years to come.
If you're thinking private eye stories are about two-fisted gumshoes in New York, Boston or Los Angeles tracking cheaters and discovering murders, this group will change your mind. The 2009 crop of newcomers brings us sleuths who walk the means streets of Minneapolis, New York, Beijing, Belize and 14th century London.
The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (Simon & Schuster)
Mei Wang resigns from China’s Ministry of Public Security to go out on her own, a move that causes consternation among her family, friends and the important people of Beijing. Her first case, the search for an ancient jade missing since the Cultural Revolution reveals secrets about her own family and creates a crisis for Mei, her mother and sister.
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (Doubleday)
Minneapolis TV reporter, Riley Spartz, discovers that a serial killer is targeting women named Susan and killing one on the same day each year. For Riley, it’s all about lives, but, for her boss, it’s about TV ratings and, for the mayor, it’s about the city’s image.
In the Heat by Ian Vasquez (St. Martins Minotaur)
Boxer Miles Young is at home in Belize, looking for a last big fight. Isabelle Gilmore wants Miles to find her daughter, who’s run off with some of her mother’s money and her no-good boyfriend. Isabelle’s afraid Rian’s going to marry the kid, the only son of corrupt ex--police chief Marlon Tablada, and she wants Rian---and the money---found. In return, Miles gets put on a fight card with a $30,000 payday.
Swann’s Last Song by Charles Salzberg (Five Star)
Skip tracer Harry Swann cares only about money, so when a beautiful woman from the Upper East Side asks him to find her missing husband, he happily takes the case. The story moves from new York to Los Angeles, to Acapulco and Berlin.
Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson (St Martins Minotaur)
In late 14th century England, Crispin Guest is a man adrift in a culture where position is rigidly defined. Once a knight, a member of the upper tiers of society, Crispin was convicted of treason and stripped of his rank and his honor for plotting against King Richard II. Having lost his patron, his friends, and his position at court, and with no trade to support him and no family willing to acknowledge him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has—his wits—to scrape a living on the mean streets of London as a “Tracker,” i.e. a personal sheriff.
The winner will be announced at Bouchercon. I hope to have read them all by then.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
With great pleasure, I welcome today’s guest, Sylvia Dickey Smith, who will talk about marketing. I know Sylvia to be an excellent writer and a world-class marketer of her books. I also know she once sold 170 books in one weekend, so I think every writer would be wise to read what she has to say on the subject.
Marketing Tip: Have Fun
Often, I’m asked to speak on the topic of marketing and promotion. I call my presentation Marketing For Fun & Profit. (Of course, we know it takes a long time to get to the profit part of that equation.) My philosophy on marketing is if you’re not having fun doing what you’re doing—stop—do something different. Try another strategy, learn to enjoy just being. Relax, don’t get hung up on sales, simply enjoy the event. Yeah, I know, that sounds rather Pollyannaish, but it works.
At a recent Barnes & Noble book signing in Beaumont, Texas, I wore a pirate costume and toted a wooden treasure chest filled with “play” jewels, skulls, gold-wrapped fun-size Snickers, a pirate rally flag, and coordinating paraphernalia. The B&N CRM, Cindy, walked up to me and said, “I just love when you come to do a signing. You put yourself into it. You bring something to the table. You’d be surprised how many authors show up and sit behind a newspaper. They never look up or speak to anyone the whole two hours.”
Now that’s a mystery. Why would anyone take up space in a bookstore and not try to meet the customers, invite them to take a look at their books, enjoy free candy, and then wish them a nice day whether they buy their books or not? If I were a CRM, I wouldn’t be happy if an author came in and sat there like a blob, breathing my air and taking up floor space that could be well-used by someone else.
Speaking of mystery, folks tell me I’m one because I not only market for myself, but for other authors as well. Why? I embrace the belief that what goes around comes around. What I put out I get back.
That is why I conduct Murder, She Writes, a radio talk show where I interview mystery writers. Web address: www.blogtalkradio.com/murdershewrites.*
After taking on a newspaper column with Examiner.com interviewing authors of both fiction and non-fiction, I decided to cancel the radio program due to time shortage. Soon as I started notifying scheduled folks of my intent to discontinue the show at the end of the month, I received word that the program has been selected a listener favorite. Now, how can I quit with that? So, for the foreseeable future, I will keep doing both. If readers are interested in being featured on either one, email me at email@example.com for more information. And if you were scheduled, you still are. I’ll be in touch.
Have fun marketing!
*NOTE: If anyone has a marketing question, I am happy to correspond in the Comments section of this blog, or at the above email address. As a friend often said, two heads are better than one, even if one is a goat head. (The goat head being me.)
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Lately, I've been seeing articles, ads and television programs on the Sportsman Channel (DirecTV) and others about new gas systems for AR style rifles, both the AR-15 and AR-10, and of course, their military counterparts, the M-16, the M4 and the M14.
While AR-style rifles are considered much more accurate than the AK rifles most insurgents and third world bad guys use, they're also more fallible, i.e. they fail a lot. ARs are notorious for two aspects: They must be clean and they must be wet. If these two criteria aren't met, the guns may not fire, especially when it's hot outside or the rifle's fired a number of rounds between cleanings.
If a rifle doesn't fire, the shooter may die.
Contrast this with the AK-47, a simplistic design that will fire every time, even if the rifle's never been cleaned. The AK-47's design is so simple -- intended to be so -- that a kid can assemble and operate one.
Why the difference? Two reasons, really. ARs have tight tolerances and a direct gas impingement system, whereas the AKs have loose tolerances and are gas-piston driven.
Big deal? You betcha.
The problem with ARs is fouling. There's a small hole in the barrel which directs some of the gases from a fired round all the way back through the rifle's upper, forcing the bolt back into battery so it's ready for the next shot. But when the gases come back to the receiver and bolt, they bring unburned powder and other contaminants, thereby fouling the bolt. Over time, due to the tight tolerances of the ARs, the gun will cease to operate. Sprinkling some gun oil into the bolt and receiver area will free it up for more rounds, but the receiver and bolt chamber will be filthy, and each round fired will make them more so. Eventually, the gun will malfunction again unless cleaned and re-oiled, a messy proposition.
In the AK, however, a hole in the barrel directs the gases and contaminants to a spring loaded piston, which drives the bolt back. No contaminants reach the receiver or the bolt, and because of that and the loose tolerances, the bolt doesn't need oil. Some AKs, fired for years, may never have been cleaned and oiled.
Top end manufacturers have caught on to this AR issue, and now they're starting to produce ARs that are gas-piston driven, much like the AKs. FNH is now making ARs with gas-piston uppers, as is Les Baer. Same with Sig Sauer, with its new 556 line of rifles.
When Sig first came out with its 556 line -- a version of its war-proven 55X rifles -- many internet gun bullies corrected those who called the 556 an AR-style rifle, saying the 556 was more of an AK design than an AR design. Because of the gas-piston system. But now other AR manufacturers are releasing gas-piston driven AR rifles, so the nomenclature bullies are being driven back into their internet holes.
The beauty of an AR with a gas-piston system should be self-evident: The gun is accurate and clean. Tolerances remain tight, but contaminants can't reach the receiver and bolt. Less chance of a malfunction. And the Sig has an added benefit; you can adjust the gas system. Say, for instance, you've shot many mags through your rifle and due to heat and maybe some burned oil, and the rifle is acting sluggish, maybe not slipping fully into battery. Just turn the nozzle at the end of the upper and increase the gas level. Position one to position two. Problem solved. Shoot three hundred more bad guys.
So... why tell you all this? Because for a novelist, the devil is in the details. And some of these details may just give you an important plot point.
For a good discussion of this important and developing design change in military and commercial "black" rifles, see Direct Gas Impingement vs. Gas Piston Driven
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I grew up in Los Angeles and we got two morning newspapers and one in the evening. I remember one of the papers covered all the sensational news that was going on, murders and movie stars that weren't behaving themselves.
I've always had a fascination with mystery books and when I was a kid, I listened to all the mystery radio programs. My sister and I had a little portable radio that for some unknown reason picked up radio calls at night. We loved to listen to them, though we weren't supposed to. One night while we listened, he heard the police talking about a woman's body they'd found in a vacant lot and that she'd been hacked up. They described what they'd found in vivid detail. It was the Black Dahlia. Needless to say, sis and I both had nightmares.
One day when I was riding to downtown L.A. by myself (yes, my mother let me traipse all over the place by myself), I saw a dead body lying in a pool of blood right outside the open door of a bar.
During the war years, one of our neighbors' son hung himself in the garage. People only talked about that in hushed tones.
The young woman across the street married a Navy Surgeon and her mother bragged about it all over the neighborhood. One day they came home to visit, as it turned out, the Navy Surgeon wasn't one at all. He turned out to be one of those imposters and he was found out, we turned the lights off in the house and watched as the authorities chased him all over the hillside. Yes, they did catch him, but I don't really remember the details.
One of the worst memories I have is from the newsreels, horrible things being done by Japanese soldiers to the Chinese people--and the people in the German prison camps. I was a kid when I saw those, but I remember them vividly.
One Sunday evening I came home from church alone, my parents had stayed. I went into the house and headed for the bathroom. When I was looking in the mirror at myself, someone ran down the hall. Scared me. I went after the person hollering after him. Dumb. Have no idea what I would have done. He went out the back door. I sat on the front porch till my parents came home. Why I thought that was safer I have no idea.
Once I was babysitting the kids of the policeman and his wife who lived two doors up the street. They told me about the gun they had in a drawer. Someone tried to get it, rattled the door. I got the gun and shouted, "I've got a gun and I'll shoot you."
I was about twelve. I had no idea how to shoot it. I called my dad, after he put his clothes on he came up but couldn't find anyone around.
That's all I can remember. I'm sure there was more, but no doubt all this had an influence on me loving to read mysteries and writing them.
Marilyn, feeling nostalgic.