Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sites and Sights for Murder

My parents are up visiting with a guest from Germany, so Dave and I had a chance to play tourist with them today. We went to Causality for lunch and then to Muir Woods. For those of you not familiar with Muir Woods, let me quote the website: it's the only old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area and one of the last on the planet. It is estimated that nearly 2 million acres of forest just like Muir Woods once covered a narrow strip along the coasts of California and Oregon. Today, 97% of this has been impaired or altered and most coastal redwoods now grow on protected second and third growth forests or managed timber plantations. Thanks to William Kent's preservation efforts, Muir Woods was spared this fate and remains as a very accessible yet prime example of an old-growth forest.

"This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world," declared conservationist John Muir when describing the majestic coast redwoods of Muir Woods.

I have to agree. I've only been there once before, back in 1995, before the trails were marked with wooden rails, keeping you on a boardwalk. No longer can tourist go into the Cathedral Grove and step inside these huge thousand year old trees, but the majesty and mystery is still evident from the trail. A creek runs next to the main trail, moss covering rocks and roots along its edge. Patches of over sized clover covers the ground and ferns reminiscent of JURASSIC PARK overhangs the creek. Gorgeous. Peaceful. And all I could think of was, "Wow, this would make a GREAT setting for a zombie story!"

Should I worry? Should I be concerned that I'm surrounded by all of this majestic beauty and all I can think of is "that huge hollowed tree would make a GREAT place to hide if you were being chased by zombies/murderers/tax collectors." My question to you all is, how often are you visiting some gorgeous or historically significant location and spend your time there thinking about using it as a setting for murder and mayhem? Given this group, I'm thinking the answer will be "Oh, heck, all the time!"

Dana Fredsti

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Things Writers Can't Do Without

by Jean Henry Mead

Some writers compose on a laptop at their kitchen table, others require an elaborately designed office like Mary Higgins Clark. But whether writing space is large or small, drafty or air conditioned, there are things that all of us need in order to create, although they differ widely.

Many writers need quiet with a capital Q. Then there are those of us who began our writing careers as news reporters and can literally write in the midst of traffic jam, so great is our ability to concentrate. So what do other writers require?

According to Bethane Kelly Patrick in her Writer’s magazine article, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s writing desk was filled with objects d’art, souvenirs and books. On the other hand, Henry David Thoreau’s sparsely furnished shelter by the pond was as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. He must have been easily distracted. And in those days, a quill and ink well were necessary tools. Now, a keyboard is all most of us need to create.

Writing is a lonely avocation and pets, especially well-mannered dogs, make great companions. Cats are also great companions although they’ve been known to walk the keyboard and create some interesting literature of their own.

Music is a requirement for some while others like a TV on in the background. Still others want to be surrounded by family photos to inspire them, or a jar of jelly beans or cup of stimulant, whether it’s coffee, tea or Pepsi/Coke.

Writers from the past were known for their drinking habits, among them Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Hemingway claimed that he never drank while he wrote but said that he could tell when Faulkner began drinking during the writing process by simply reading his prose.

A Christian novelist I know says that he has a special baseball cap that he wears while writing. Once misplaced, he developed writer’s block. A romance writer told me that she carries a charm in her pocket and that it helps her to develop her muse.

I write surrounded by book cases and a stacks of manuscripts and research notes. A neat, sterile environment just isn’t conducive to my creativity. As long as I have more than one work in progress, I know that I’m not going to bog down with writer’s block. Especially if I have a steaming cup of chai tea.

How about you? Which things do you keep handy to stimulate your creative juices and what’s your writing environment like?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review Sites Anyone? by Christine Duncan

I know it always sounds like such BS to any unpubbed author but learning how to promote your book when it is published is almost as time consuming and difficult as it was to learn to write the books. There are so many different aspects of promotion out there to keep in mind from arranging in-person talks and booksignings to doing blog tours. Blogging, twittering, talking on Facebook and Goodreads are familiar to me now, and I think I'm getting a little more efficient about my time on the net. (I can say that because I have touched Instant Messenger or personal email yet today. Catch me after I have and the update might be different.) Getting a buzz going about your mystery can be downright difficult

I thought I had promo down pat this time. I put together a media kit to email to bookstores so I could have that in front of them when I called to ask about a signing. I designed a press release customized several different ways so that one emphasized the local author aspect, one emphasized a news aspect and still another talked about the underlying theme of the book.
I arranged a virtual tour, printed up ARCS and sent them for review and talked up the book everywhere.

But I got my print copies of Safe House today and although I'm so excited, I'm also worried! Things have changed in the time since the first book came out. Review sites have disappeared. I have a couple of reviews for the e-book and I tried to send ARCS to anyone remotely interested late last year. And now, I need to send print copies out to the review sites who wanted to have books upon publication. I know to send to Mid-West book review but who else is there?
And I need to learn about making a book trailer. Fast. I guess what I really need is to figure out how to go without sleep for a couple of months. Too bad I don't like any of those energy shot things they have out now.
Do they still make No-doze?

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House is available now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Everybody Needs an Editor - Here are Three by Austin S. Camacho

More than most fiction, a mystery novel must hold together structurally. The author must reveal information at the right time, in the right order, and with the right degree of emphasis. For this and many other reasons, every writer needs an editor. I am frequently asked to recommend one. For those who are sincere and dedicated, I can.

Understand that you don’t hire a good editor to check your spelling and grammar or hunt for typos. We all need a real pro to look at structure, pacing, continuity and all those basics of the forest that we writers can’t see because we’re busy looking at the trees.

I’m pretty picky about editors – they have to have a sharp eye AND a good attitude. There’s an art to encouraging a writer while at the same time being honest about his or her work. Over the years I’ve only met three that I think enough of to recommend. Which might be better for you would depend on your personality and writing genre, and because they are all my friends I present them in alphabetical order:

Ally Peltier - - has a decade of experience, including several years acquiring and editing books for Simon & Schuster. Ally edited “New Lines From the Old Line State,” an anthology published by the Maryland Writers Association. She worked with the short story I and several others submitted to that volume and found the true potential in each.

Melanie Rigney - has more than 25 years in the business including nearly five years as editor of Writer's Digest, the leading magazine for writers. She was my choice to edit my last couple of novels and I soon came to rely on her storytelling instincts. She knows how to direct important improvements without losing my vision.

Beth Rubin - - has been at it… well… longer than her photo would suggest. Beth has been there and done that, with an award-winning novel in print, as well as travel books and essays. Beth worked on one of my manuscripts at a writers conference, and I’ve watched her share wisdom with dozens of others in intensive 15 minute sessions.

Aside from depth and breadth of experience and a death grip on the basics of craft, these ladies all come to their work with insight, empathy and a gentle sense of humor. They know agents and editors who work for major publishers and they know what those people are looking for. They’ve all presented at writers' conferences and they all love writers.

If you’re looking for an editor for your writing, check their web sites before making contact. Try to see who might be a good fit for you. And be prepared for possible rejection. These ladies are also looking for a good fit and you might not be the author they want to work with. Also, they are all very busy and won’t take on more clients than they can take good care of.

And if you decide to contact one of them, be sure to point out that you got their name from me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


By Earl Staggs

Nouns are strong, verbs can be strong, adjectives are semi-strong, but adverbs are weak and writers should avoid using them. So the writing gurus say. I agree.


Not all adverbs are bad. No secret agency will send men in black suits after us if we use them. Sometimes adverbs are a valid word choice. For instance, we might say, “His writing is bad” or we could say, “His writing is very bad.” The adverb “very” adds emphasis and more meaning to the statement. Or we might begin sentences with adverbs such as “Hopefully” or “Actually” and no black suits will come to our door.

On the other hand, we might have doors closed in our faces if we overuse adverbs. There are editors--and readers--who consider adverbs the sign of a poor writer or one too lazy to work harder to find better and stronger word choices.

Here's how I fell about it.

When we go into our editing and tightening mode, we should treat each adverb as a suspect and interrogate it. Keep your Thesaurus handy and don’t be too lazy to use it. Seek out each adverb, look up the verb or adjective it modifies and try to find a stronger word to replace the adverb combination. For example: “She stared angrily at him.” Both “glared” and “glowered” are strong verbs which mean “to stare angrily” and either one would do the job without the need for an adverb modifier.

Sometimes the adverb is unnecessary or redundant. Don't say “She ran quickly to the door.” “Ran“ tells us she moved fast, so “quickly” is not needed. Don't write that someone “clenched his fist tightly.” A “clench” is always tight and “tightly” is redundant.

The writing gurus also tell us: Never use an adverb to modify “said” or other dialogue tag. I agree.


Here are examples of the same line of dialogue said three different ways:

“I want to go,” she said firmly.
“I want to go,” she said hopefully.
“I want to go,” she said sadly.

I have three reasons for disliking this kind of sentence:

1. Although she’s saying the same words, her emotion is different each time. The reader doesn’t know how the words were said until the end of the sentence. Better to know her mood before reading her words so we read it in correct context the first time through.

2. Editors and readers who see a lot of this construction in our writing may be Adamant Anti-Adverbists and dismiss us as poor writers. Why take that risk when with a little more effort, we can make our work stronger and tighter and avoid rejection?

3. Using an “ly” adverb to modify a dialogue tag is telling, not showing. We all know the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule and this kind of sentence is a blatant offender. Instead, we should show her emotion first, then let her speak.

Here are examples of how we might revise those lines:

She crossed her arms and took a firm stance. “I want to go.”
I saw the glimmer of hope in her eyes when she said, “I want to go.”
She turned away but couldn’t hide her sadness when she spoke. “I want to go.”

Those may not be the best revisions to the lines. With more thought and effort, I know we could come up with better ones.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who me?

by Ben Small

I'm often asked if my protags are based upon me, i.e. is that really me they're reading about?

Well, duh. Maybe that's why all my protags are tall, good looking, rugged and wise. Or maybe that's why they sometimes do stupid things. I do that all the time.

But the truth is, they are not based upon me, except for minor stuff, maybe. Yes, I did climb Mount Rainier, and yes, I did go to Morocco and Spain, just like in my books. But the protags in these books are very different from me.

Alibi On Ice's John Whitney was a mountain of a man, a guy who'd spent his life climbing. While I've spent time mountain climbing, it's been day-to-day, weekend or in a couple cases, a couple weeks adventure, not a full time thing. And actually, the model for John Whitney was none other than Lou Whittaker, chief guide for Rainier Mountaineering. I know Lou and admire him; I thought he'd make a great protag. So I modified his character and changed his name and made up his actions out of whole cloth. There may have been a little me in John Whitney, but I'm sure he'd never reveal what. And no, I did not have sex on the mountain. I couldn't find any goats.

The Olive Horseshoe's Denton Wright bears little resemblance to me. In fact, Denton's business success was taken directly from Mark Cuban's success story. Mark did exactly what Denton did to get his money: set up an internet broadcasting site to pick up Indiana basketball games. The idea spread, as many folks are some distance from the teams they follow, and then Cuban sold the company at the height of the tech surge in the late 90s. I had no part in any of this, except to extract that story for Denton's business background.

But as for the rest of Denton, our only similarity is the love of Indiana basketball. The rest I made up. I know nothing about martial arts, have never worn a pony tail, and I don't have a Mandy.

As you know, Denton's drive comes from a frustrating life with his father. My relationship with my father was dramatically different from Denton's relationship with his. Denton's father was standoffish, my father was very much hands-on. We had a great relationship. I just used Denton's father's stubborness and estrangement to get Denton into the story, to give him some purpose.

So I cheated; I transposed my happy memories of my father onto Denton, and then I ripped the happy memories away, leaving a hole in Denton's heart.

So, yes, I borrowed a bit from myself, but not much, just enough to get the story going. If I wanted anybody to see me with all my faults and passions, I'd have included nude photographs. And trust me, you don't want to see that. Your sex life would dry up faster than if you took a date with Mickey Rourke.


Stephen King says to write what you know. I take that to mean careers, hobbies, interests, and locales, not so much what you know about yourself. Yes, writing from experience can be illuminating, can offer great insights. But I don't really want my readers to think I'm nuts, so I don't share with them my inner insecurities, my hopes, dreams or fears, or that Baron Sacha Cohen modeled Bruno after me.

Just kidding on that one.

So yes, some of my characters may be based in part on people I know or be caricatures of them, with some traits emphasized, others not so. But I don't want them to be recognizable. For instance, Paulie Corsano. I've got a good friend named Paul Corsaro, a former law partner. Paul is an excellent tax lawyer, from a great Sicilian family, one with a long tradition in the fruit markets of Indianapolis. Paul is one of the most honest and genuine people I know. But I liked his name.

So I asked permission to use a close copy of Paul's name. "Corsano" instead of "Corsaro." How was I to know his beautiful wife Fran called him "Paulie?" That was a surprise. But the Corsaro family got a kick out of my using Paul as a model and corrupting him so greatly. They gave him plenty of teasing during last year's Italian Festival in Indy.

And Emery Boyd? I used to know a lawyer by the name of Emerson Boyd. A find upstanding lawyer, so I borrowed part of that name, too. But the rest of Boyd was a total fiction. I don't even know anybody like him.

So, yes, there's some of me in my books, just not the inner depth and insights a person less shy might share. I don't really want to appear nude on my book covers, so I'd rather write about made-up people in made-up situations.

I can have more fun that way.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Aging Series Characters by Chester Campbell

The age of your character could become a problem if you’re writing a series. The best known current series character is Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Since I don’t have the early Spenser books, I’m not too sure how old he was when he started out, but it was at least mid-twenties. The Godwulf Manuscript was published in 1974 and the 2009 model, The Professional, will appear later this year.

With thirty-seven books in as many years, that would make the wisecracking, rough-and-tumble private detective almost sixty years old. He’s pretty agile for that age, but I’ll go along with it. My new protagonist, Sid Chance, is fifty-nine in the first book, The Surest Poison. He’s physically big and tosses a couple of guys off the porch.

Lee Child’s rugged Jack Reacher should be mid-forties in the thirteenth book, Gone Tomorrow. He would have been around thirty when he got out of the Army six months before Killing Floor chronicled his first brush with the law and the world of bad guys. Who knows how long he’ll be able to continue his superhuman escapades in wiping out a host of nasties in each book.

Sue Grafton took a different tack in dealing with her smart and headstrong PI, Kinsey Milhone. Since A Is for Alibi came out in 1983, there have been twenty-one books, including U Is for Undertow, due for publication later this year. As far as I know, Kinsey is still in her thirties. I believe the books are set in the seventies, before cell phones and DNA and a lot of other forensic stuff. It works well for Kinsey as she ages slowly.

When I wrote Secret of the Scroll, published in 2002, I didn’t have writing a series in mind. I liked the characters, though, and decided to keep them around. But age was a problem. Greg McKenzie was sixty-five. I didn’t plan on him tackling the villains like a football player, but I wanted him to be a physical challenge. The Sue Grafton method seemed like a good solution.

Designed to Kill took place a year later. Since then, the stories have been separated by three or four-month intervals. Book two was set in November, Deadly Illusions the following March, The Marathon Murders in August. The fifth book, now underway, takes place in December of the same year. So in Greg and Jill McKenzie time, it’s still 2004.

How do you feel about aging characters? Should they follow the calendar, or take their own sweet time?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Excerpt from Romantic Suspense by Vivian Zabel

I thought I'd share a sample of my writing today with the start of the first chapter of my romantic suspense Murder in the Mansion.

Chapter One

Amber pulled air into her lungs and gritted her teeth to keep from yelling back at the
people pushing toward the desk, It’s not our fault two people are down with the flu and one
person missing. She smiled at the man across the desk as she took his keycard.

“I’m sorry we didn’t do as you asked.” He grimaced. “We just thought it would be easier
to check in and out separately.”

“Mr. Kane, usually we would be better organized, but we’re short handed this morning.
Please have your people move to two lines. Darlene and I will check you out and have your
statements ready. Other staff will be here soon.”

Mr. Kane turned to the couple behind him. “You heard the lady. Pass the word, and we’ll
be out of here faster.”

The hundred and ten people grumbled and cursed but moved into two scraggly lines.
Darlene and Amber began accepting returned keys, printing out statements, and settling
accounts. Where in the world is Marlene?

When the phone rang, she raised one finger toward the woman in front of her. “Excuse
me, but we don’t have anyone to answer the phone right now.” She forced a smile into her voice.

“The Mansion Conference Center, would you hold, please?”

The voice in her ear answered, “Wait, Amber, we have a Homeland Security problem and
need your help. Kile Logan needs accommodations for his group this week.”

“Dad? I can’t talk now. We’re short handed, and we’re full.”

“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. I know you’ll do your best.”

“I’ve got to go. Call me later on my cell.” Amber placed the handset on its base more
gently than she wanted. She gave another smile, although strained, as she faced the woman.

“Thank you for waiting.”

A man shouldered his way in front of the guest. “I have an appointment with a Amber
Russell. My name is Titus Fallin.”

Amber shut her eyes a second before opening them to stare at the burly man. “Sir, this
lady was here first, and your appointment isn’t for another twenty minutes.”

“Are you Miz Russell?” The scowl on Fallin’s face deepened. “I don’t do business with
no underlings.”

“Mr. Fallin, I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” Amber leaned to one side so she could see
the waiting woman. “Mrs. Greene, your statement is printing. Since you had no extra charges.,
just leave your key on the counter, and your printout will be ready in a second. Thank you for
staying with us.”

“Look, girly, I don’t like getting a brush off.”

“Mr. Fallin, please wait over in the lobby area. Thank you.” Amber snatched the
statement from the printer and reached around him to hand it to Mrs. Greene. A hand on her
shoulder caused her to jerk and spin around. “Oh, Neil. Thank you for coming down. I hated to
call, but,” she waved a hand, “as you can see, things are rather hectic.”

“No word from Marlene?” The slender, soft-spoken black man took Amber’s place as he
smiled at the next person in line, only to see Fallin still standing there. “Excuse me, sir, but you
were asked to move over to the sitting area. Ms Russell will join you in a moment."

“Damn darkie,” Fallin muttered before stomping away from the desk.

Neil’s smile never wavered as he greeted the man who stared after Fallin, who pushed
people out of his way. “May I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I need to check out.” The man handed his key card to the assistant manager.

Neil typed the information into the computer while he told Amber, “Go see if you can
tame the beast. Carl and Tony are on their way. They’ll work double shifts until our sick folks
are back and Marlene shows up.”

“Thanks, Neil. I’ll go see what Mr. Fallin’s problem is.” A frown marred her usually
smooth brow. “His group isn’t due until this afternoon.” She strode away, shaking her head.

Before Amber could reach the sitting arrangement where Titus Fallin paced, he spun
toward her. “It’s about time. Now where is your boss? I told that gal on the phone I wanted to
talk to him.”

“Mr. Fallin, I am one of the owners of The Mansion. Please follow me to my office.” She
pursed her lips for a few seconds as she walked away, not looking back. She moved down a hall
on the right side of the long counter that made the front desk of her conference center. At the
second door, she entered and walked behind her desk before she faced Fallin.

“Now, what is the problem, Mr. Fallin? Your group isn’t scheduled to arrive until later.”

“I jest want to be sure you understand we don’t want no interference in our meetings.”

“Each conference room assigned to you will be set up before you’re scheduled to be
there, and no one will enter until the room is empty. I read the contract Ms. Cruthers made with
you.” Amber opened a folder titled “Minute Men” on her desk and removed the contract. “A few
things we need to be sure you and your people understand: Housekeeping cleans rooms between
the hours of ten in the morning and four in the afternoon. If the occupants won’t allow staff in
the rooms during that time, rooms will not be cleaned that day. Also, we have a clause that states
rudeness, racial or gender slurs, or violence toward any of our staff can result in a group being
required to leave.”

“Why are you telling me this? Are you picking on us ‘cause we’re members of a militia

“No, sir, you said no one was to enter a room while any of your group was there, and I
heard what you said about our assistant manager. We want to avoid problems whenever
possible.” Amber strode around the desk and followed Fallin as he stomped through the open
door and down the hall.

When they reached the lobby, the man glared at her before he swaggered to the doors,
yanked one open, and left the building. Oh, Marlene, what have you gotten us into, and where
are you? “What a way to start a Monday,” she muttered.

When her cell vibrated against her leg, Amber pulled the phone from her slacks pocket.
“Great,” she mumbled when she saw her father’s name on the display. She snapped the phone
open. “Hello, Dad.”

“Amber, I’m serious. You have to find facilities for Kile Logan and his people.”

“I’m serious, Dad. We’re full.” She brushed her dark hair back from her face.

“As I said, if the situation wasn’t so important, I wouldn’t ask. They’ll need maybe one
or two small conference rooms, maybe two that can open into one larger one, and maybe ten
guest rooms. There’ll be about 25 people, but they can share rooms.”

“Okay, Dad, what’s going on? Does this have something to do with the militia group due
to register in a bit?”

“I can’t give any more details, gave you more information that I should.” After a pause,
he suggested, “Any apartments empty?”

“We have three, but …”

“Any single rooms at all? Please work out something. This is Homeland Security

“Oh, great, just what I need, to be involved in some terrorist plot or something.” With a
shake of her head, which caused her shoulder-length hair to swing, Amber sighed. “Okay, Dad,
I’ll work something out, but I need a little time.”

“Sorry, sweetheart, but Kile will be there any minute.” Her father disconnected.

Amber sighed again as she jammed the phone in her pocket. Movement by the main
doors jolted Amber from her reverie. She felt herself pulled into his orbit, this man whose dark
blond hair barely brushed his shirt collar as he glanced around the lobby. Just as quickly, she
shrugged as she figured this gorgeous hunk was probably Kile Logan. Most likely thinks he’s
God’s gift to women, the thought flashed through her mind. In a whisper she added, “That’s not
nice. Just because he’s the cause of another problem.”

The man’s visual tour reached her, slowly frisked her from foot to head, sending shivers
of awareness along the path his eyes took. Stop it, Amber, he’s just a man – one you don’t know.
One corner of his lips turned up in a grin as he turned toward the desk, where the final
two people checked out after a weekend’s conference. With a sigh, which she thought she
needed to stop doing so often, Amber walked toward him. “Mr. Logan?” she asked a few steps

He turned pale eyes, a silver gray, toward her. “Yes?”

“I’m Amber Russell. I’m expecting you.” A smile began to form across her face, but his
frown stopped it.

“You’re A. Russell? I wasn’t told you were a woman.”

“Yes, sir, I’m A. Russell, but rather than discuss this here, let’s go to my office.” She
whirled on her heel and marched toward her office for the second confrontation of the morning.

Irritation built as Kile Logan chuckled behind her. What does he think is so funny? Grrr …
“Help, help! Somebody, please.” A woman, wearing a towel and swimming-suit over her
chubby body, stumbled into the lobby from the atrium, bare feet slapping against the tiles.
“There’s a body in the fish deal, fountain, whatever it’s called.”

Amber and Kile reached the woman at the same time. Before Kile could speak, Amber
asked, “The fish pool?” She laid a hand on the woman’s arm. “Come sit down and tell us about

She glanced toward the desk and motioned for Neil to join her. When he stopped beside
her, she whispered, “Go check the fish pool. If there’s a body, call my dad.”

Neil nodded and hurried off.

Turning to the woman, who now slumped in a stuffed chair, Amber realized that Kile
hadn’t tried to talk to the gray faced, panting woman, but strode to the table with glasses and a
pitcher of water, poured a glass, and hurried back.

Amber knelt beside the woman. “Mr. Logan has a glass of water. Please sip a bit before
you try to speak.”

With trembling hands holding the glass, the woman sipped. She swallowed before saying,

“I was … I was cutting across the atrium to the swimming pool. I always stop to watch the fish.”
She looked around before sitting the glass on a round table beside her chair and raised trembling
fingers to her mouth. She shivered. “I … I never saw a dead body … she was floating face down,
just floating, her blond hair spread out … Oh, dear God, I …” She covered her face and sobbed
as she tried to continue talking. “She just lay there … lay in the water…”


Does that cause you to want to read more? Why? What writing guidelines did I use? Did the excerpt give you any help in starting your own writing?

Vivian Zabel

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Story Behind The Story by Mark Troy

One of my short stories, Kill Leader, is being released as an audio short in September on Sniplits. It will be in mp3 format for downloading to a variety of audio devices. Kill Leader was originally published in 1999 on Plots With Guns.

The idea forKill Leader came to me at a volleyball match. The program noted that one of the players was leading the conference in kills. I thought, “She’s the kill leader.” Could any mystery writer worth his salt pass up a title like that?

I already had a character for the story, Val Lyon, a private eye who appears in seven short stories and one novel. I changed the venue from indoor college volleyball to professional beach volleyball, (Just doing my part to make beach volleyball the national pastime.) The story is about Paula Evangelista, the kill leader of the title, who receives death threats and hires Val to protect her.

By coincidence, pro beach volleyball player Gabby Reece had just come out with her autobiography Big Girl In The Middle. I ordered it from my local bookstore, thinking it would provide valuable background research. That was a mistake.

A critical point in the story comes when Val discovers a trove of family photos belonging to Paula and recognizes something about them that resonates with her own life and her own motivation. I won’t tell you what she recognized (you’ll have to buy the story). Suffice it to say that it’s an important clue.

I was nearly finished with the first draft when Big Girl In The Middle arrived. I’d been looking forward to reading it, of course, because I had a lot of questions about the pro volleyball tour. I opened the book to a set of Gabby’s family photos. It didn’t take long to discover the same clue that Val had found in Paula’s photos.

I shut the book immediately. Kill Leader was supposed to be Paula’s story and Val’s story. I was afraid that, if I read any further, it would become Gabby’s story. The book sat on my desk, untouched, through the six or seven revisions it took to get the story in shape, and through the entire process of submission and rejection.

It wasn’t until Plots With Guns published Kill Leader that I read Big Girl In The Middle. I can happily report that Kill Leader is not Gabby Reece’s story anymore than Big Girl In The Middle is Val or Paula’s story. For what it’s worth, Big Girl In The Middle is an engaging book. It is most powerful when it discusses the balance Reece seeks between aggression and emotion, beauty and brains, masculinity and femininity. I referred to it frequently for nuances to Val’s character in later stories.

The experience taught me that there is a danger in too much research. To thine own story be true.

You can read other Val Lyon stories at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PSWA Conference

The photo is from this year's Public Safety Writers Conference on the last day and some of the people had already gone home. The reason I'm writing about it now is because plans are already underway for the conference in June from the 17th to the 20th at the Orleans hotel in Las Vegas.

We already have an impressive lineup of speakers and presenters:

Simon Wood who is going to tell us how to create suspense.
Michael A. Wood who will show us how to create a plot in one hour.
Michael Orenduff who, along with his artist wife, is going to show us what makes a good cover and what doesn't.
Joyce Spizer Foy is going to ask, "Is your Hero to Good and your Villain too Bad?"
Sunny Frazier is going to tell us, "How Much Sex is too Much."
And, Forensic Expert Steve Scarborough will be back but hasn't quite decided what new topic he will present.

That's just the beginning. We'll have panels for authors who'd like to be on one.

And yes, you can bring your books for sale.

There is an early bird registration fee for anyone who signs up before October 31st. All the information should be appearing on the website this week:


Monday, August 17, 2009

Blog Book Tour Stops

Hi Gang,
I'm on my Killer Career Blog Book Tour through the 30th, maybe longer, since I have a few other offers to consider.

So far, my hosts have left my posts displayed prominently, so if you'd liked to check them out, here are the links: - STILL UP FROM LAST WEEK - Villains and Heroes - Gotta Love 'Em - host Mary Welk - SUNDAY'S POST - ALL WEEK STOP - Interview, plus 2nd part coming this week. Topic - How I Named My Baby - host Mary Cunningham - MONDAY - Libraries - are they good or bad for sales? - host Jeff Marks - TUESDAY - Interview - Host Hagelrat - I can't divulge her actual name. I have that top secret information, but you'd have to torture me to get it. Maybe you can do detective work to find out. Stop in to read what she skillfully got me to tell.

For more tour stops, consult
for more tour stops

For information on prizes, yes there are prizes, consult

If there is any confusion, reporting back to me that you commented goes to for the contest, but, as always, you're welcome to comment here as well. We love comments on our blogs.

I hope to see some of you at a stop or two.

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Today was my day to post! Due to a rather amazingly hectic work/writing/social schedule this last week, I completely forgot I was up.

To appease the mighty Blog Gods, I offer several links: Libba Bray's marvelous post on writing a novel and literary agent Nathan Bransford's post on This Week in Publishing. The first post had me snorting coffee (good for the sinuses, but embarrassing) and the second is especially near and dear to my heart because it pictures the cover of Lisa Brackmann's upcoming book Rock, Paper, Tiger. Lisa is in my online writing group (and we're related) and I personally think this is one of the best cover designs I've ever seen.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Michele Gagnon interview

by Jean Henry Mead

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer. Her parents were happy when she gave all that up to become a crime fiction writer.

Michele, when did you conceive Boneyard, your chilling police procedural about two dueling serial killers? And how long did it take to research and write the novel?

I first came up with the idea for Boneyard while researching Ted Bundy. One of the cops called the field where he dumped his victims "a boneyard,” and the title was born. Then I was reading Steve Eggers’s book on serial killers, and he discussed the reasons why they frequently operated unfettered for years, including the “missing missing” and “linkage blindness.” I thought all of that was fascinating, especially since my cop friends often complain about jurisdictional conflicts when a case crosses county or state boundaries. Plus it’s sad but true that some victims’ deaths aren’t investigated as intensively as others, despite how things are portrayed on television.

Most women don't write police procedurals. Why did you decide on the genre?

I didn’t, really. I just write about whatever interests me, so each book has gone in a very different direction. I did make the decision to create an FBI agent heroine, mainly because I couldn’t see myself writing an amateur sleuth. There are people who do that, and do it well, but I figured at some point I’d hit a situation where any sane layperson would simply call 911, effectively handing over the case. I wanted a heroine who had a reason to be involved from start to finish, and who possessed the flexibility to travel to different parts of the country.

My next book is actually more of a true thriller in the Lee Child vein, since it involves a domestic dirty bomb plot by an anti-immigration hate group.

Your first book, The Tunnels, has been described as “Silence of the Lamb meets the wicker man.” Tell us about the book.

It’s about a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel system beneath a college campus. The Tunnels storyline combines elements of Norse mythology, neo-paganism, and ivory tower politics. Lots of fun research involved with that one.

Which author most influenced your own work? And who are you reading most often now?

I can never pinpoint any one writer who influenced my work. I tend to go on reading jags. Recently I read the first two books written by Tana French, Chelsea Cain, and Brent Ghelfi. Can't wait for the third in each series.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you still have a day job?

I’m fortunate that this is now more or less my full time job. That being said, I tend to spend the morning handling emails and all the minutiae of both life and my writing career, and afternoons writing.

You’ve had a variety of jobs. Have any of them crept into your novels? Not so far, although I look forward to the day when a bartending, dogwalking, Russian supper club performer waltzes on to the page.

What’s the best way to promote your books?

If you know, send me an email and I’ll split all future proceeds with you fifty-fifty. That’s the problem with marketing--half of it works, you just never know which half. So I always feel as though many of my marketing dollars are wasted, and it’s hard to say which were effective. Was it the blog tour? The sample chapters? Darned if I know.

How do you feel about the publishing downturn? What do you think publishers should do to prevent going the way of newspaper failures?

I think we need a “Got Books?” campaign along the lines of the "Got Milk?" one. If publishers banded together to remind people that books provide the most bang for your money in terms of entertainment, we might see those numbers hold steady, or even grow. I also think they need to figure out a way to capitalize on ebooks, incorporating them in with the other formats in a way that makes sense. The new Harper imprint seems like a good start toward doing just that.

What do you like most about writing and what really turns you off?

I love everything about writing, the only thing that surprised me was that after you sell a manuscript, subsequently much of your time is devoted to marketing it. I’d prefer to sit in a room hammering away at a keyboard. Trying to figure out the vagaries of photoshop in order to design bookmarks is always so frustrating.

Anything else you’d like to comment on?

The third book in the series, The Gatekeeper, will be released in November 2009. I’ll have more information and contests posting on my website soon.

Michele's webpage:
and blog site:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inside the Legal System by Christine Duncan

This week, I had something no red-blooded mystery author would want to miss, a chance to look inside the legal system in the form of a jury duty summons. Except as the judge of the case that I was (almost) selected for remarked, there is a reason why there has never been a T.V. show made about jury selection.1

I'm not sure I agree with his implication that it was boring. Maybe, if you're going through it every day. But I spent the morning engrossed and I'm pretty sure that having recently gone through the process, that I could write a scene or two on the process should I need to, for my work in progress. I do believe on hands-on research!

The logic at the civil trial I was looking at was all too apparent. I knew that the prospective juror who declared he was having his own problems with one of the litigants (a company) would never make it to the jury. It was obvious that the company's lawyer wished that particular guy never made it out of bed that morning, although to be fair, it wasn't the guy's fault the lawyer wasn't paying close attention when the matter first came up. "So you've had this problem for five years now, but it's been resolved?" asked the lawyer.

"No," barked the juror, having just explained that very thing.

"But you're satisfied with the company's actions in its attempts to resolve the matter?" asked the lawyer.

"Not at all." he said, bending his head toward the mic.

"But you could be impartial toward the company?"

"Of course."

Yeah, right.

It was just as clear that the woman who declared straight out that she was biased toward the company was never going to make it past the other attorney, although he managed not to ask any self-incriminating questions.

I didn't know court could be so funny. The benches they make the prospective jurors sit on, on the other hand, are not at all humorous--but I'm sure my heroine's complaints about them would be in the cozy I'm writing. She tends to be out front about creature comforts.

I was impressed with the other prospective jurors as a whole, not including the snarky woman who had been chosen for jury duty five, count 'em, five times before and made it clear that though she believed in civic duty, it must be someone else's turn by now.

And I was impressed with the judge, a man who declared openly that he'd been married forty years and still found his wife the best thing since sliced bread.

Next week, I go to have my fingerprints taken by the FBI, no less, in connection with a government job I'm trying for (no, the job is not with the FBI, I'm just a lowly bean counter type. But apparently the government wants to know exactly who is counting its beans which seems like a good idea, I guess.) Now if jury duty was this interesting, that experience should be down right fascinating. Who knows where my book will end up going with after that?

1 But then I wondered, is that true? Surely, I remember something about the people who help select jurors? There was something a while back, giving us all a glimpse into what lawyers are thinking about and the logic behind jury selection. I remember it only because I had not realized before seeing it that there was an actual profession helping lawyers size up juror candidates.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House will be released later this summter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's Official

Okay, it’s official – we need a nanny! I always thought it would be great to have someone to take care of us, but I tell you, it’s could actually be more a necessity than a luxury these days. We grew up believing that by now we’d have four-day work weeks, people would retire earlier and what-the-hay, there might even be flying cars!!

Well, reality strikes. We work six to seven days a week. Often my husband and I are both at our desks in the evening (we’ve converted one side of the family room to a joint office) and hard at work. At least we’re together – LOL! It’s really quite cozy on a winter evening with the gas fireplace going and some music playing.
But just imagine -- how nice would it be to have someone call out, “Dinner is ready!” and you head to the table to enjoy a balanced meal, including a salad and dessert, with real linen napkins and a glass of wine?

Each morning when you go to your sock drawer, there would be all your socks, matched and waiting for you to simply pick a pair and slip them on. No looking for that missing blue sock so you have a pair that matches to wear. No stacks of laundry waiting to be washed, folded – or, as is the case with me, taken out of the basket and put into the drawers. Can you imagine a coffee table with no dust, a floor freshly washed, windows so clean they sparkle?

It’s important to have dreams – anyone know of a good nanny looking for a gig?

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
Also on Facebook, Twitter & GoodReads

Monday, August 10, 2009


by Earl Staggs

This weekend, I treated myself to an old western movie. My wife doesn’t share my enjoyment of a good old fashioned shoot-em-up cowboy yarn, so I don’t do it often. I taped this movie weeks ago and waited for the right time to watch it. Yesterday, when my wife went off to a girls-only farewell dinner for a coworker moving out of state, I seized the opportunity.

The movie was “The Man From Laramie” starring James Stewart. Filmed in the
early 50's, it was one of a string of westerns Stewart made during that period. I’d seen it many years ago, but I wasn’t a writer then. Now that I’ve written mysteries for a number of years, I was amazed at how much like a contemporary mystery story this movie played out.

The story begins with a stranger (Stewart) arriving in town. He only gives his last name, but we soon learn he’s looking for a man and when he finds that man, he plans to kill him. We don’t know why he wants to kill the man, only that nothing else matters to him and nothing will stop him. At this point, we don’t even know if Stewart is a good guy or a bad guy. That sets the hook and, naturally, we stick around to see who’s who and what’s what. As the story unfolds, we meet the rich and powerful old man who owns and runs the town, his spoiled son, and the pretty girl who is engaged to the old man’s second-in-command, the toughest man in town. Stewart is told to leave town, gets beaten up a couple times, has a gunfight or two, but nothing deters him from his quest. Little by little, we learn why he’s there, who he is searching for and why, and the story builds to an exciting showdown. And, of course, there’s the romance thing with the pretty girl.

You could easily take that same plot and, with a few changes, make it a contemporary mystery story. Instead of Stewart riding into an old western cattle town on his horse (the same horse, by the way, he rode in every western he ever made), the stranger could ride into a modern-day town behind the wheel of a Ford or Chevrolet or on a Greyhound bus. The fistfights and gunfights would be about the same except the men would wear suits with Glocks in shoulder holsters instead of chaps, boots and six-guns on their hips.

Come to think of it, it’s already been done, hasn’t it? Many times. We’ve all read books and seen movies with a similar storyline.

There are two points to this ramble.

First, there are only so many plots we can use, even if they’ve been used before. We can change the characters, the setting , the time period and tell the same story in a new way.

Second, when I saw the movie before, I didn’t break it down to the basic storyline and think of it from that perspective. But I wasn’t a writer then.

Funny how that changes the way we view a story, isn’t it?

Where Do Character Traits Come From by Austin S. Camacho

Each fictional character should have a full spectrum of personality traits based on his or her background and experiences. A character inventory sheet is a good place to start but I must admit I don’t always pull these people out of thin air. I use a number of brain starters - places you can look for descriptions of character traits, and some ideas about what traits generally travel together. None of these is THE answer, just a place to start.

Yourself: Yes, every character will have some of you in him. It’s okay for one or two to be mostly you, but you have to stretch yourself. Add one trait you’d like to have or magnify a trait you dislike about yourself and you’ll be amazed at how different that person becomes. A twisted funhouse mirror image of you is a fun character to play with.

Your family members: These are the real life people you know best. You’ve seen them at their best and at their worst. If you choose a brother or cousin don’t sugar coat them. If you’ve been close to an alcoholic, a drug user, an adulterer or a bigot and still love them anyway then you can show them to your readers in a way that will help the care about that flawed character. Just be sure to fictionalize them enough so that they are not recognizable. You can put that familiar personality into a whole new body, and that’s usually enough.

Public contact: The people you see in bars and restaurants, on the bus or in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles all have stories that we can only guess at. But they each show us a piece of their personality and if we are observant we will see traits that we can add to fictional characters to make them more familiar and believable.

Other People’s Books: I may hear disagreement from my peers here, but I say don’t be shy about borrowing personality traits from your favorite fictional characters. If another writer developed a person with a consistent and interesting personality you can use the same traits but drop your character into a different situation. In some cases you might even use someone else’s character whole. Excellent novels have been written featuring Dr. Jeckyll’s maid (Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin) Captain Ahab’s wife (Ahab's Wife or, The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund) and Sherlock Holmes’ favorite woman (The Irene Adler series by Carole Nelson Douglas.)

Newspapers and magazines: You can use any interview you find useful as the basis for a fictional character. One plus is that some of the usual research becomes unnecessary. Often people written up in The Washingtonian become thinly disguised minor characters in my work. Magazines like Men’s Journal and Redbook often carry short character sketches as part of a feature promoting clothes or cool new toys. Why not use them.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – This personality test divides humanity into 16 types using four parameters. According to this test we are all either extroverts or introverts, intuitive or sensing, thinking or feeling, and we either make judgments or open our perceptions. I’m not sure if I believe the science, but it doesn’t matter. Each of the 16 types is a collection of personality traits that’s easy to work with. You can create a character by choosing any one of them.

Horoscopes: Personally, I think this is nonsense too, but the typical description of the Ares male does sound an awful lot like me. These are familiar trait sets, and it’s a place to start, which is the point.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mystery is all around us

You know, I live way out in the country. I'm not an urban dweller with the constant sound of police sirens in my ears. But even out here in the boonies, mysterious things happen. As the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes observed in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches":

"It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.… The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."

As much as I love my country dwelling, there is much truth in that statement (though less than in Arthur Conan Doyle's time), and as such, it makes my job as a writer of mysterious tales that much easier. There is a lot of inspiration out here, you see.

For example, last month a man was found beaten to death in a home not so far from where I live. It was not his home, but his girlfriend's. They don't know who did this deed, but the man was beaten so severely that he had several broken bones. (It does not help matters that this female acquaintance of his has had two husbands to die under mysterious circumstances in the past, and that she uses, and occasionally sells, illegal substances.)

But who did it?

Was it the woman? She is not a large woman, but if he were "under the influence" at the time, she might be able to manage it. Was it another love interest, perhaps a jealous ex-boyfriend? Was it a drug deal gone bad? Or was it something totally out of this range of possibilities, something so outré (another of Holmes' favorite expressions) that we simply don't bring it to mind?

By the way, I didn't get this from the newspapers. Rather, the news came to me via the grapevine, from a reliable source. (Great journalistic expression, that!) I have verified the facts, though. The listing in the local obituaries was simple and made no mention of the method of his death. The only odd thing in the obituary was that he was a member of one small Baptist Church, but his funeral was conducted at a different, small, non-denominational church, and he was interred at the cemetery of a third small church. Perhaps there is something there to explore in a storyline, as well! Was there someone who "knew something" about the poor sod, and didn't want him buried in his home church's cemetery? Was his pastor unwilling to deliver the eulogy for some reason?

Though the paper wasn't the source for this idea, I read the local newspaper each time it comes out. I have a notebook filled with clippings of the odd, the unusual, and sometimes the humorous happenings of my local community and state. Sometimes when my well of stories is drier than usual, I take that notebook down from the shelf and use its contents to prime my well. Usually, it works.

We writers of mysteries often plumb the depths of human misery for our stories. At least we don't have to roam far afield to find fertile sources to feed our imaginations!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What Good Are Awards? by Mark Troy

I raise this question because this is the time of year when the Private Eye Writers of America announce the nominees for the Shamus Awards. These are given to the best novels or stories featuring a private investigator as the main character. The categories are Best Short Story, Best First Novel, Best Novel, and Best Paperback Original.

So what good are awards? For me, the answer is simple: motivation. It's because of the Shamus Awards that I write private eye stories. I had decided I wanted to write a mystery, but not sure what kind. That my first efforts featured amateur sleuths probably had more to do with my own amateurish efforts at writing than anything else. In the midst of the struggle to find my muse, I heard about the Shamus Awards and looked up the previous nominees and winners. That led to an epiphany. I recognized most of the names on the list, had read many of the books. These were the books I liked to read. Why not write that kind of book? That led to the formation of my first writing goal: winning a Shamus Award.

Why that goal? Why not a goal of landing on the New York Times Bestseller lists perhaps? Or a goal of getting an Edgar Award? Certainly those are worthy goals. Winning an Edgar, in particular, is high on my list of things to accomplish, but in aiming for the Shamus, I find it easier to identify the competition. The Edgar pool is any mystery published in the preceding year. It could be a cozy, a police procedural, amateur, detective, or any other sub genre. Competing for the Edgar is like trying to play five sports at the same time. I don’t want to take anything away from Edgar winners. It’s quite an accomplishment, but not one that is easy to aim for.

Awards set the bar. Just because the Shamus pool is smaller and more tightly defined doesn't mean that the quality of competition is any less. You’re competing against the likes of Dennis Lehane and S. J. Rozan, to name just two. I’m a firm believer that competing against the best only makes you a better writer.

The awards provide direction by helping an author identify the cutting edge of the field. The nominees, for the most part, have some quality or element that lifts them out of the pile of like novels. That’s today’s cutting edge. By the time your novel is finished readers will be looking for something different. It’s not easy to anticipate what will be fresh in the future, but knowing what’s fresh today, can tell you what won’t be fresh tomorrow.

Awards aren’t perfect at identifying the best in the field. In any list of awards there will be a few that have you scratching your head wondering why they were included. Inevitably, there will be the glaring omissions of a book or author who by every measure is deserving, but for unknown reasons did not make the list. The procedures for selecting the nominees are imperfect. If the nominees are selected by popular vote of the membership of some organization, then marketing, sales and distribution come into play. If a committee selects them, then personal preferences or biases can influence the selection. Nevertheless, the best awards can be a huge help to a writer’s craft by providing motivation, direction, and a standard to aim for.

Besides the Shamus, some other awards for mystery writers to note are the Agatha Awards given for cozy (traditional) mysteries by members of Malice Domestic, and the Thriller Awards given by the International Thriller Writers.

What awards do you aim for and why?

Mark Troy

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

From Conception to Birth

While trying to decide what kind of mystery I was going to entangle Native American Deputy Tempe Crabtree in next, I held a contest for plot ideas. I received a lot of good ideas and incorporated bits and pieces as I began writing.

I always like to find some Indian legends to include in each one of the series that will play a part in the story. While surfing the Internet, I came across a webpage about the Hairy Man pictograph located on a Painted Rock on the Tule River Indians Reservation. This is the reservation I more or less write about, though I've changed the name to the Bear Creek Indian Reservation.

Wanting to no more, I contacted the anthropolgy professor at Porterville College and asked him what it looked like around the Painted Rock. He invited me to go with his class on a field trip out to the Painted Rock on the rez. Of course I jumped on the chance. I might not have been so eager if I'd known how hard it was to get to the actual spot where the pictograph is.

With lot of help from the students, I climbed up and over the boulders into the shelter where the Hairy Man pictograph is located. All of the pictographs in this shelter created by gigantic boulders are thought to be between 500 and 1000 years old.

While there I knew that Tempe would have an encounter with the Hairy Man. The Indian explaining everything, informed me, "Don't come here at night." I asked why and his answer was, "There are too many spirits here at night." Of course I'd never go there at night, I had enough trouble managing in the daytime, but I knew Tempe would certainly go there at night.

While writing the book I was reading it chapter by chapter to my critique group. When I thought I was finished, I sent it off to be edited. Once I'd made the suggested changes, I sent it off to my publisher, Mundania Press.

It took awhile for the book to be assigned to an editor, but when it was I again had lots of changes and corrections to be made. The editor was wonderful, by the way; the first time I'd worked with her.

Now it's being set for the printing and I'll have a chance to go over the galley proofs looking for typos and other errors. Once that's done, it'll be off to the printer for the September release.

While I'm waiting, I've been setting up my physical promotion stops beginning in September, from library talks, bookfests and craft fairs, and even arranging a booksigning in the hotel where I'll be attending a family reunion. In October, I'll be doing a virtual book tour.

Oh yes, I've already finished the one that will come out in 2010 and I'm collecting notes for the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, not sure about the plot as yet, but I know it will have bears in it.

And I'm nearly finished with another Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel.

I suppose the point I'm making is, if you're a writer, you write.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, August 3, 2009

How Many Are Too Many? What Do I Do With Them? By Morgan Mandel

I've sent out for reviews for Killer Career like crazy. Now, I have to stop and think. How many are too many?

So far, one is out, a very nice one, at

I've told lots of people about it online and will use snippets on my website, in my postcards, etc., but what else can I do with it and any other nice ones that come?

If I get ten more, will people get tired about hearing of my reviews, or should I keep telling everyone?

How many reviews do you try to get? What do you do with them?

Please share.

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career Now Released at Amazon.Com

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Little Music, Please!

I am pleased to introduce Allyson Roy, husband and wife writing team, as my guests on Make Mine Mystery today. I'm pleased for several reasons: one, having them as guests got me out of my scheduled post today and I am, as per usual, behind in my writing due to the usual reasons (work, cats, life). Second, I absolutely adore the Saylor Oz books and am delighted to help promote them any way I can.

If you enjoy a large dollop of humor in your mysteries and haven't read APHRODISIAC (first in the Saylor Oz series), hie yourself hence to your local bookstore, pick it up and settle in for a rollicking read. Then when you're done with that, grab the second book BABYDOLL, which is even funnier than APHRODISIAC. Saylor, sex therapist and amateur sleuth, is one of the most original heroines I've ever encountered. I'm not gonna say anything else for fear of accidental spoilers, other than please welcome Allyson Roy!

First of all, a big thank you to Dana, Morgan and the authors of Make Mine Mystery for hosting us here today.

We thought it would be fun to talk about background music. Yes, in books. Don’t you ever imagine a soundtrack to go with the books you’re reading? Or writing?

We expect it in film. And over the years musical accompaniment has proven to be a major influence in increasing a film’s impact on its audience. Certain sounds can rev up the emotions. And a particular song can take us back to a time and place in our past. It’s powerful medicine.

Hearing a soundtrack in your head is a great tool for helping a writer create a mood or capture the feeling of a particular scene or setting. We like using music to help identify certain places in our books, conjuring up the atmosphere of a dark street in the rain or a windy beach or a cramped, musty cellar.

We also like to come up with songs for some of the characters in our books. It’s safe to say the most memorable personalities in both literature and film have an aura that makes them captivating, whether they’re heroes or heavies. If you stop and think about your favorite characters, you can almost hear certain music floating around them.

In BABYDOLL, our second book in the Saylor Oz series, we introduce Terry Carew. He’s an Irish pretty boy who’s good with the ladies and with a knife. While Terry’s done some nasty things, he’s a complicated young man. A sad, lost orphan with a tragic past. Terry is sick of being screwed over by the slippery dudes in fancy suits who hire him to do their “darty work.” Irish charm and handsome looks combine with a mentally unstable, vulnerable and dangerously unpredictable nature.

No, we didn’t choose one of the many disturbingly gorgeous Irish tunes for him. Terry is an illegal immigrant, immersed in the best and worst of the American dream. Our choice was an old rendition of Patsy Cline’s hit song “Sweet Dreams,” sung by Swamp Pop legend, Tommy McLain. His soulful tenor voice in the 1966 version is positively angelic. And there is an eerie, angry, yet helplessly resigned quality to this sorrowful lament.

How people handle broken dreams is the thematic thread that runs throughout BABYDOLL. So we decided to let Terry’s song follow him onto the pages, where he is obsessed with hearing it over and over. Tommy McLain’s 1966 cover of “Sweet Dreams” can be heard on YouTube and we think some of our readers might get off on listening to it as part of their soundtrack for BABYDOLL.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear which music matches up to your favorite characters.

Allyson Roy translates as Alice and Roy, husband and wife collaborating authors and winners of a 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

Their Saylor Oz mystery series combines gritty, urban suspense with wacky comedy and a dash of romance in a style they call Madcap Noir. Their second book, BABYDOLL, hits the shelves on August 4th.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

High Tech Crime Detection

by Jean Henry Mead

White collar crime is on the rise and made easier through the internet. Few people are now taken in by Nigerian email promising millions of dollars if only you will help them transfer money to the U.S.

But phishing is a relatively new crime that involves criminals who send email requesting the recipient’s passwords and account numbers for various bank accounts and other financial institutions. It may be a fraudulent credit card offer or various merchandise with a legitimate appearing logo implanted in the email. However, the links they provide go directly to the crooks' computers. If the unsuspecting victim provides a credit card number or checking account number, within hours large purchases will no doubt be charged to the account. And the victim will spend years trying to clear his corrupted credit.

Highly trained investigators are taught the laws of search and seizure and are well acquainted with computer fraud. They know how data is stored and how to recover deleted files, examine hard drives, break passwords, detect computer viruses and how to discover devises that can destroy a computer's inner workings, according to Lee Lofland in his book Police Procedure and Investigation.

Cyber criminals have devised ways to prevent investigators from discovering their illegal activities by drilling holes in their hard drives or smashing them with sledge hammers. They’ve also submerged the hard drives in acid, the only effective way to destroy the data. Forensic computers are normally used to scan computers seized in raids on illegal operations and the hardware write blocker or HWD is a necessary tool in high-tech crime detection. The forensic computer operates by extracting information from the criminal’s computer and storing it for future investigation and evidence collection.

Lofland says the ”HWD functions much like the foot valve in a water line that’s connected to a pump and well system. The valve opens when the pump (HWD) pulls water (information) toward a house (forensic computer) but closes tightly when the pumping stops so the leftover water in the lines can’t return to the well (suspect’s computer). The one-way action of the HWD is designed to prevent cross-contamination of evidence."

It also prevents any evidence of the HWD probe in the suspect’s computer, which an attorney could use as defense. Lofland added: “It could be compared to planting evidence, such as a bloody knife or glove at a homicide scene.”