Monday, November 29, 2010

Progressive Mystery Begins Today by Morgan Mandel

I'm sure you've heard of Progressive Dinners, where guests go from house to house to partake of  various  food courses. Today, we're using the same concept here at Make Mine Mystery. We're calling it a Progressive Mystery. When it's finished, maybe we can find a better title for it. Or maybe not, if it's that bad.

So I'll start it off. Then you, the readers, please comment below to move the mystery along. It can be a sentence, a phrase or a paragraph or two. Have fun, but please keep it PG rated.


Part of Marilyn's nightly ritual before going upstairs to bed was to check and make sure all the doors were locked. She turned the knob on the back door and nodded with approval as she felt the familiar pressure of the dead bolt holding everything in place.

Next was the front door. She reached for the knob, then frowned, as it easily turned. Hadn't she locked it when she went out to get the mail that morning? Anyone could have gotten in during the day.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lonely Hearts

By Mark W. Danielson

It could have been a scene from a novel. An elderly couple dining on burgers, lost in thought. Neither exchanging glances. No words being spoken. When the man finished, he put his frosty to his mouth like an ice cream cone, his spoon in hand an unused accessory, slurping as he turned it while his wife forked her baked potato. Soon, the man gathered his trash, dumped it in the bin, and walked out to the car. But rather than follow, she remained behind, casually spooning her frosty, occasionally looking out the window, no doubt contemplating her marriage that died many years ago. Cruelly, Kerry Underwood’s song about how love, compared to everything else, seems small, played in the background.

Watching this scene play out from six feet away, I thought about past relationships. Lonely hearts of days gone by. There is noting worse than feeling alone while your mate is right there with you. And yet couples like this routinely stay together, for worse, not for better. In the case above, the old woman was still inside when I drove off; her husband still slurping his frosty in the car.

Encounters like this inspire heartfelt characters. Readers empathize because at one time or another, they have been there themselves. Well-written characters can launch readers into the past, or send them into the future. But to write about love, one must first experience it. To write about kids, one must first have them. Love and kids both create a range of emotion that would otherwise be impossible to describe.

As I watched this couple, my heart went out to them, and I thanked God I have a wife that loves and stands by me. Having seen both sides of the spectrum, I'll choose love over solidarity every time.

They say that writers are loners, and in part that’s true. A writer does not write well with constant interruptions or distractions. But soulless writers cannot write at all. They must still get out and live. This holiday season, don't sweat out your deadlines. Instead, get out, smile, share your love, and enjoy the company of your friends and family.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Three Rules of Dialogue

by Jean Henry Mead

I’m one of those writers who fills the page with dialogue rather than narrative because dialogue is my forte. Those of us with an ear for accents and speech patterns are fortunate to be able to transcribe them onto the page. But dialogue that doesn’t further the story or define characters will cause a manuscript to be rejected, no matter how well it’s written.

I remember reading Robyn Carr’s article years ago about the three rules of dialogue, which I copied onto 3 x 5 cards for future reference.

Rule #1: Dialogue should tell the reader something about the character’s personality or emotions, or at least reinforce something already established, like anger, timidity, cruelty, impatience or perfectionism. Instead of having a character greet someone by simply saying “hello,” have him say, “Where've you been?” or “Do you know what time it is?” while tapping his foot impatiently.

Rule #2: Dialogue needs to propel the plot forward while the reader gets to know the characters through the way they react to stimuli that directly affects their lives. Their conversations need to establish or reinforce their emotions, their relationships, and the roles they play in the plot to enhance conflict and tension. Even when writing comedy, the characters' reactions to one another are actually conflict in its truest sense.

Rule #3: Dialogue must individualize each character. No two characters should sound alike just as no two people use the same words or phrases. Each character needs to have his or her own expressions, dialects, euphemisms, speech styles and inflections. But that’s not all. They must also have their own value systems, motivations, personal habits and other traits that are expressed in dialogue.

For example, if you assigned each character a number instead of a name and gender, would they be distinguishable from one another?

Every line of dialogue has a job to do. When you’re editing and polishing a second draft, eliminate every word that doesn’t need to be there. People rarely speak in complete sentences so make sure your characters don’t sound as though they’re reciting an English lesson.

Creating a character sheet is a good way to establish who your characters really are. Describe each one physically and include his or her basic background information. Then consider pertinent information that will determine her dialogue. How well educated is she? Is her voice husky, squeaky, soft or loud? Does she have verbal ticks? Is she shy and does she stutter when she speaks? Does she use slang? Does she speak haltingly? Or is she articulate and chooses her words well?

How motivated is your protagonist? Is he aggressive, single-minded, abrasive, generous or power hungry? Any or all those traits should show up in his dialogue. Geographical differences also affect a character’s dialogue as does his education, or lack of schooling. If a character dropped out of school in the 5th grade, he won’t have an impressive vocabulary, unless he’s very motivated and is schooled on his own. If that’s the case, make sure your reader knows it. One way is to have other characters talk about it when he’s not around or praise him for it when he is.

According to Robin Carr, "Characters come alive when every bit of dialogue develops their personalities; when the action, tension and drama are heightened because of what they said, how they said it and when they chose to speak and when the characters’ complex individualism sets them apart from each other."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving Thanks

This week is a wonderful time to give thanks for all our wonderful staff of bloggers here who take the time to share their lives as authors and wealth of knowledge.

Thanks to everyone here who has stepped up to the plate and contributed to this blog. I appreciate each and every one of you!

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, November 21, 2010


By Earl Staggs

Sometimes writing is as easy as filling a glass with water. You turn a handle and it gushes out. Other times, it’s like growing a tree. You dig a hole, plant the seed, and it takes forever to grow.

A couple months ago, I saw a call for submissions for a short story anthology with a deadline of thirty days. Plenty of time. Problem was, I had no idea what to write. The idea didn’t come until the twenty-eighth day. Once I had the idea, however, the story flowed. I wrote it in one day, polished and tweaked it the next, and submitted it on the last day. Happily, it turned out to be – in my opinion – one of my best, and it was quickly accepted. Sweet.

But then, there’s this novel I call JUSTIFIED ACTION. I came up with the idea ten years ago and just finished it last week.

The idea was a good one, I thought. My protagonist would track down and terminate terrorists. The unique thing about him is that he wouldn’t wait until they killed innocent people. Once he determined without a doubt they were going to, he’d take them out. It would be a Mystery/Thriller with tons of action and suspense. Think Jack Reacher meets Jason Bourne, and they watch Dirty Harry movies.

I came up with a great name for my protagonist. Actually, I borrowed his first name from an old John Wayne movie. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but in it, The Duke played a character named “Tall.” Perfect. I needed a last name for him, of course, and that took a little while. I wanted a name with strength and solidity, but not an overpowering one. Eventually, I settled on “Chambers.” He also needed motivation to do what he did. That came in a simple credo: “Kill one terrorist, save a hundred lives.”

So with a great idea and a character named Tall Chambers, I began writing the book.

And that’s where it bogged down. There had to be more to it than a guy running around killing bad guys to save innocent lives (even though that’s something most of us would do if we could). He had to be a real person with a real life, not a superhero with super powers. I wanted people to relate to and identify with him in other ways. That was the hard part, and that’s why it took ten years to write it.

I worked on it sporadically over the years, going back to it between other projects. I wrote a bunch of short stories, most of which were published, and a novel, which was also published. When I thought I had something for Tall, I’d go back to him and write more. I’d turn the handle, but the story didn’t flow. It trickled. I’d hit another dry hole and have to put it away again.

Eventually, but oh so slowly, Tall Chambers developed. He became a guy with twenty years in the Army. Over his military career, he became a man with strength and principles and rose to the rank of Captain. He taught hand-to-hand combat, small weapons, and explosives. His principles led him to punch out a superior officer, an act which resulted in his being demoted and assigned to a desk job. That’s where he was when the opportunity came along to leave the boring nine-to-five world of bureaucratic inanity and return to action with a special agency that dealt with terrorists.

But man cannot live on action alone. He needs something on the softer side of life. Like a woman. Tall fell in love – a forbidden love, mind you – with a woman who was off limits to him. They married against the wishes of her father, a powerful man who then became a powerful enemy.

And then. . .

Well, I won’t bore you with more of the story. But I will tell it all finally came together – after ten years -- and I’m happy with the way it did. I don’t mind telling you, I’m proud of the final product.

But ten years!!! Good golly, Miss Molly, that’s a long time.

I don’t care. It's okay. It feels good.

So celebrate with me. Raise a glass of something and toast my achievement. Smile with me, a smile so wide you have to turn sideways to go through a door. Join me in cartwheels out on the lawn.

But please don’t remind me that I now have to write the synopsis and query letter, send it out to agents and hope one of them likes it, then hope the agent can find a publisher.

That could take another ten years, but that’s okay, too. It still feels good.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Handgun Tips for Writers

by Ben Small
Dirty Harry S&W 629*
As a gunner myself, nothing (except maybe too many adverbs) makes me madder at an author than obvious mistakes about firearms, so easily corrected with a little research. I learned this first hand in Alibi On Ice, where I assumed all handguns had safeties. Luckily, my well-gunned editor safetied my error, then bounced it off my chest and learned me but good. "Son," he said, stretching out those three letters Southern-style, "if you're gonna write about fir' ought to go buy some."

I thought he went on a bit long, frankly. A minor detail, that safety. I didn't need the history of safeties, who'd invented them, their various types and styles. I get it.

But he drawled on, "Well, have you ever carried one?" Silence. "A handgun, I mean." More silence. "Do you know how it feels?" All I felt was an embarrassed blush, a hot-flash, sorta. I'm sure I stained my tee-shirt. "Well, do you know how you sit, whether you change your gait?"

I remember I looked out the window, wondered if leaping would hurt. Well, not the leap, really, but the other end of it, the part down on the flagstones, the squashed-flat part. How much would that hurt, or would I notice at all?

"Do you touch it for assurance?" he said.

That one caught me.

I ignored my dirty mind for once. If I were carrying a weapon and I got nervous, wouldn't I touch it? Of course I would; I'd wanna know that baby was there, especially if I were new to being armed. In fact, I'd be self-conscious of it, act a bit too casual. I'd look at people, wondering if they knew...

He came at me again. "Do you check whether you've been printed?" A beat. "Do you know what that term means?"

If on Jeopardy, I'd have pushed the button.

My answer wasn't his point. "Son," he said, "you don't piss off gunners. Or people who know about guns. There are a lot of them." He took a breath. "And they'll catch your errors every time, point them out to you, paint you the fool." He paused. "You can't do that."

I thought about a Bang Ben Blog, sponsored by the NRA maybe. [Yeah, we authors are a bit self-possessed. We think people read our books.]

So, lest you follow my fate, heads-up. Here are some pointers.

A .22 caliber bullet -- unless it's a .22 Magnum, an entirely different round -- will not pass through a skull. It'll rattle around inside like a BB in a bottle, causing massive damage while it bounces and disintegrates, which is why the .22 caliber round is in the Mob Hall of Fame.

There's an enormous difference between a .357 fired from a semi-automatic weapon and one fired from a revolver. While their ballistics may be nearly identical, put these shells next to each other and they're Mutt and Fat Jeff.. The .357 case is much longer than the .357 Sig, and the .357 Sig case is much wider -- squat -- than the .357's. The .357 is a revolver shell; the .357 Sig belongs only in semi-autos; they don't date.

Shoot either a .357 or a .357 Sig indoors in a confined space without hearing protection and you'll be deaf...probably forever. Magnum rounds of any caliber are loud. That's why I do not recommend these rounds for home defense. More likely than not, if you need this weapon, you will not be wearing ears. Even outdoors, a magnum round in .357  or .44 will deafen you for awhile. But .38 Special rounds can be used in place of .357s in revolvers, as .44 Special rounds can used in place of Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum round. Shoot either the .38 Special or the .44 Special indoors in a closed room, and you'll be deaf, but you'll likely recover.

.38 Special and the .38 Super are not the same rounds. Some fools don't understand this.

The 10 mm is a hunting handgiun round. It's got good range. Originally developed after a disastrous FBI bank robbery in Miami, where agents died through blunder, bad luck and insufficient weaponry, the 10 mm got axed because too powerful, carried too far. Some ammo tinkerer at Smith & Wesson cut down the round case and powder charge, and the .40 S&W caliber debuted. A reasonable compromise: more stopping power than the .38 Special and 9mm,  but not as lethal as the 10 mm or the Mighty .45.

Shoot any gun inside a car, and say goodbye to your hearing.

Don't shoot a handgun sideways, you know, the way gangs wave them on TV. Even idiots should realize muzzle-flip will spray bullets sideways. Shoot your wife, and the second shot hits her mother. Uh, wait... There's an exception to this rule...

When firing a semi-auto, you will probably hold your support hand under your shooting hand, perhaps a bit forward so as to control muzzle-flip, which occurs when firing any handgun. Doing so with a revolver will leave your support hand burned, as hot gases release  from the side of the chamber. So when firing a revolver, put your support hand slightly behind your shooting hand, under it. Or shoot one-handed, called "Point and Shoot." Some pistols are better at Point and Shoot than others. Glocks, for instance. A Glock pistol grip is slanted differently than revolvers or most other handguns. Some like this Glock feature; some hate it. But if your perp or protag isn't used to shooting a Glock, the difference may affect his or her accuracy. Glocks shoot point-and-shoot well. So do Springfield XDs and XDms, or S&W M&Ps. Beretta, not so much. Yet, Berettas are supplied to our infantry troops.

Some guns will bite you, especially if you grip the pistol high or place your support hand too high. The Sig P210, perhaps the most accurate production handgun ever manufactured, is known for this, as is the Browning.
Sig P210
The thingee under the Sig above is a lanyard hole. You can wear the gun as a necklace, or tie it to a belt. The French like them.

Some manufacturers add a Beavertail to protect against hammer-bite. A Beavertail is shown below, immediately under the gun's hammer. The man who invented the Beavertail, Ed Brown, is perhaps the premier semi-auto handgun manufacturer in the world. The gun shown is one of Brown's. One of these new will set you back well over three grand.

All handguns are oily, some more so than others. The more premium the pistol, the more oily it will be. Semi-autos have numerous rubbing metal parts. So semi-autos are oilier than revolvers, Glocks being an exception. (More about Glocks later.) Premium guns are made to extremely tight tolerances, which is why they're so accurate. By the same token, because of these tight tolerances, you get oily.

Revolvers are often more accurate than semi-autos. That's because the cylinder is in a direct line with the barrel. Semi-autos must perform more functions than a simple revolver cylinder rotation and hammer release. They must extract a cartridge, lift another one, and line it up into the barrel. If you open a semi-auto up and take the barrel out, you'll see a wider area at the cylinder end than at the muzzle. Unless the semi-auto is made to extremely tight tolerances, as with the rare and very expensive Sig P-210, expect larger firing groups than with a revolver.

Most handguns, revolver or semi-auto, are more accurate than the shooter. Handguns are not accurate inherently. They have shorter barrel lengths than rifles, so have shorter sight-lines. In a NYC police shooting study performed some years ago, analysts determined that at a distance of under ten feet, only about twelve percent of police shots hit their target. But then, it's a fallacy that cops are good shooters. Most only shoot their firearms when forced to qualify, often only once a year. And in some cities, firing ranges are non-existent. So range time is hard to come by.

Hollow point bullets are safer than full metal jacket bullets. That's because a hollow point bullet will usually stay within the victim, causing massive damage. It usually will not penetrate and cause harm to bystanders behind the target. A full metal jacket bullet will usually pass through the target, causing harm to those even several hundred feet behind the target.

Glocks are abundant because they're cheap, they require little maintenance and they always go bang. Many shooters never bother to clean a Glock, and their pistols just keep firing. For this reason, one may not find much lube on a Glock. It doesn't require much. Ask what pistol cops prefer, and they'll probably respond Sig Sauer. That's because Sigs fit the hand so well. But a classic Sig will cost you almost double what you pay for a Glock, which is why police forces buy them.
Glocks are ugly, but they work

Glocks come in a variety of sizes and calibers, more so than any other pistol. For a Glock model chart, see below.

179 mm177.32"5.43"1.18"6.49"4.49"22.04 oz2.75 oz~9.87 oz~5.5lbs
17L9 mm178.85"5.43"1.18"8.07"6.02"23.63 oz2.75 oz~9.87 oz~4.5 lbs
199 mm156.85"5.00"1.18"6.02"4.02"20.99 oz2.46 oz~8.99 oz~5.5 lbs
2010 mm157.59"5.47"1.27"6.77"4.60"27.68 oz2.64 oz~11.46 oz~5.5 lbs
21.45 ACP137.59"5.47"1.27"6.77"4.60"~5.5 lbs
21SF.45 ACP137.59"5.47"1.27"6.77"4.60"26.28 oz3.1 oz~12 oz~5.5 lbs
22.40157.32"5.43"1.18"6.49"4.49"22.92 oz2.75 oz~11.46 oz~5.5 lbs
23.40136.85"5.00"1.18"6.02"4.02"21.16 oz2.46 oz~9.87 oz~5.5 lbs
24.40158.85"5.43"1.18"8.07"6.02"26.70 oz2.75 oz~11.46 oz~4.5 lbs
25.380 ACP156.85"5.00"1.18"6.02"4.02"20.11 oz2.40 oz~7.2 oz~5.5 lbs
269 mm106.29"4.17"1.18"5.67"3.46"19.75 oz1.98 oz~6.35 oz~5.5 lbs
27.4096.29"4.17"1.18"5.67"3.46"19.75 oz2.12 oz~7.23 oz~5.5 lbs
28.380 ACP106.29"4.17"1.18"5.67"3.46"18.66 oz1.98 oz~5.11 oz~5.5 lbs
2910 mm106.77"4.45"1.27"5.95"3.78"24.69 oz2.40 oz~8.29 oz~5.5 lbs
30.45 ACP106.77"4.76"1.27"5.95"3.78"23.99 oz2.50 oz~9.87 oz~5.5 lbs
31.357 sig157.32"5.43"1.18"6.49"4.49"23.28 oz2.75 oz~9.87 oz~5.5 lbs
32.357 sig136.85"5.00"1.18"6.02"4.02"21.52 oz2.46 oz~8.64 oz~5.5 lbs
33.357 sig96.29"4.17"1.18"5.67"3.46"19.75 oz2.12 oz~6.88 oz~5.5 lbs
349 mm178.15"5.43"1.18"7.56"5.32"22.92 oz2.75 oz~9.87 oz~4.5 lbs
35.40158.15"5.43"1.18"7.56"5.32"24.52 oz2.75 oz~11.46 oz~4.5 lbs
36.45 ACP66.77"4.76"1.13"6.18"3.78"20.11 oz2.40 oz~6.88 oz~5.5 lbs
37.45 GAP107.32"5.51"1.18"6.49"4.49"25.95 oz2.68 oz~9.53 oz~5.5lbs
38.45 GAP86.85"5.00"1.18"6.02"4.02"24.16 oz~7.76 oz~5.5lbs
39.45 GAP66.30"4.17"1.18"5.67"3.46"19.33 oz7.76 oz~5.5lbs

Glocks, and models based upon the Glock design, like the Springfield XD and XDm, are striker-fired pistols. Experts debate whether a Glock is a single-action pistol, which must first be cocked to fire, or double-action, in which cocking is part of the trigger action. The Glock is actually neither. As a striker-fired pistol, it and its brethren, are in a class by themselves.

Double-action, single-action pistols, often preferred by shooters, start in double-action, then once the first shot is fired, the pistol cocks itself for another shot. The DAK pistol, patented by Sig, is double-action only. The "K" stands for "Konstant," at least to most shooters. (It actually stands for the name of its inventor). DAK trigger-pulls don't vary. They're always the same, so a cop knows exactly where the trigger-break occurs in the shooting cycle. With double-action, single-action pistols, the trigger pull-weight for the first shot, unless cocked, will be greater than for the single-action shot. The difference adds variety and may surprise a novice -- or one who forgets the gun is cocked. The pull weight variable can be a much as six pounds or more.

Oops, forgot my finger was on the trigger. Just blew out my knee.

The longer the barrel of any pistol, the less recoil experienced. Trust me, shooting a short barrel .44 Magnum is not fun. I've seen videos of unsuspecting first-time shooters, and I chuckle as the barrel strikes their noggin.

Shoot any semi-auto with less than a firm grip and you won't get a second shot. That's because the action requires a firm resistance in order to cycle. What you'll end up with if you limp-wrist the shot, is what's called a stove-top, where the shell only partially ejects. You'll have to eject the magazine, clear the jam, re-insert the mag and re-jack the slide for the pistol to become operative again. And some semi-autos come with a grip safety, which will not permit the pistol to fire unless firmly grasped.

Speaking of jacking the slide, you cannot just insert a magazine and pull the trigger in a semi-auto and expect the gun to bang. First, you must rack (or jack) the slide. Professional trainers will instruct you to do this by pulling on the serrated back of the slide, rather than pushing back over the breech from the front serrations. That's because if you jack the slide from the front, you may catch part of your hand in the open breach. A very painful pinch, which will probably break the skin. I did it last weekend. Ouch! Talk about blood blisters... I turned to my shooting buddy and showed him my wound. He laughed and said, "Happens to us all, dude."

And it does.

Professional trainers recommend not using the slide-release button on the side of the pistol to rack the slide. There's no guarantee the buttoned release-pressure will be sufficient to load a round. Jacking the slide, i.e. pulling it back and releasing, does the best job. You know that round is ready.

Never, ever flip a revolver's cylinder back into place. You'll likely damage the cylinder, preventing rotation. You see this done on television and in the movies, but those folks don't care about reality; they're entertainment. Try that with someone else's revolver, and you'll make the owner very unhappy. Try it in a gun shop, and you may buy a new gun.

Classic Sigs and Glocks don't have safeties. Neither do revolvers.

The Colt Python has the smoothest revolver action ever created. No longer manufactured, they are the definition of "revolver cool."

Never carry an expensive gun, unless you want to lose it if you fire it at someone. Doesn't matter if you hit your target or not. The cops will take it, and they don't maintain custodial guns with quality care.

There are now four generations of Glocks, each one varying from the one before it. The latest, the fourth generation, is only available now in two models. This will change as Glock refurbishes their entire line. The primary difference in the fourth generation pistol is the choice of backstraps, i.e. the back of the grip. The intent is to allow shooters to choose a backstrap to fit their hand. It's a modification Glock picked up from Springfield's XD and XDm lines.

Much has been made of the new Springfield XD and XDm models, and rightfully so. The XD is a plastic gun like the Glock, and its design is based upon the Glock, but the Springfield has some refinements, notably three choices of backstrap, a Glock-like price, and a hard case, an auto-loader and a holster -- right-hand only -- all thrown in. The XDm is a similar gun, but with some additional refinements, such as a match barrel; smoother trigger; more capacity, and de-burring... so you don't catch in your draw.

More and more semi-autos are plastic, with steel barrels and slides. While some purists prefer all-steel semi-autos, the reasons for these changes are production cost related, and they're lighter than full metal versions -- an advantage if you carry in summer. There's no difference in quality, however, just weight, cost and a slight increase in perceived recoil.

After much deliberation and experimentation, the pistols I carry are a Glock 26 for concealed carry and car-gun, and a Springfield XDm when I carry openly, like at the range. (I don't usually carry concealed, just when I'm writing. I notice how I walk, sit and act. It's called practice. So I know what I'm writing about.)

One of the more interesting revolver designs in the last hundred years is Taurus the Judge, a five round pistol that shoots a .45 Colt Wild West style... or a .410 shotgun shell. Mix 'em up: bird, buck, slug or bullet. This revolver comes in various barrel lengths and in either a 2 1/2" chamber or a 3" chamber. I've owned both, and gave my brother in law -- a judge -- the smaller one. The pistol gets its name because judges like them. Varied, escalating rounds are measured responses to perceived threat levels -- just what you'd expect from a judge.

Besides, the look, smoke and fire of this dragon might scare an attacker to death. Just look at the size of the cylinder. Think of a three inch shotgun shell. Taurus the Judge might not kill a bear, but the bear would certainly take notice. Check out Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence, blowing off steel bathroom doors, or watch this video.

Taurus the Judge
Yes, it's a large pistol, not easily concealed. But the recoil of Taurus the Judge is less than you'd expect. It's got a soft rubber grip that absorbs much of the shock. The Judge is Taurus' fastest selling handgun ever. It's so popular as a home defense gun that three major ammo manufacturers now make special "Judge" rounds. While any shotgun shells of proper size will work in the Judge, these rounds take advantage of Taurus the Judge's rifled barrel. Most shotguns are smooth inside. The Judge has rifling, so important to make bullets spiral. These manufacturers now make rounds that hold .410 loads in a tighter pattern, taking advantage of the rifling. The Judge is lethal to twenty feet or so, unless loaded with .45 Colt or a slug. It's devastating at close range.

For some reason, .380s are all the rage. Just find ammo for one. But almost nobody recommends a .380 for defense, for while the bullet itself is almost the same as the 9mm, the .38 Special and the .357, the case and type and amount of powder behind the bullet make it the shrimp of the family. A hollow point .380 shell might not pierce a leather jacket, or even a heavy sweatshirt. And there's no guarantee a full metal jacketed round will penetrate far enough to do damage to an attacker. If pros or cops use them at all, it's usually as a third backup gun only -- for when all else has failed.

No, most cops will tell you the minimum caliber for home defense should be a 9mm or a .38 Special. A .45? Anyone shot by a .45 caliber bullet will go down. None of the smaller calibers provide that assurance. And over-penetration? Studies in ballistic jelly show a 9mm more likely to penetrate and keep going, because its got a smaller mass than a .45. Still, experts can argue about the issue all they want. Everybody knows the best home defense gun is a shotgun. But in a handgun, I'll take the .40 S&W or the .45. The Judge is loud, and I might burn the bedding. No, the .40 S&W looks like a good trade-off to me, unless one's talking about revolvers, in which case, I'd go .45. I don't think revolvers shoot the .40 S&W bullet.

9mm Parabellum = 9mm Luger = 9mm NATO. They're the same thing.

A .380 round would appear between the two little guys on the right
And yes, handguns even come in .223 (5.56 NATO). An AR-15 with no butt stock. Haven't seen a holster. Don't need one. Just put a sling on the thing and throw it over your shoulder.

Never put your finger on the trigger before you're ready to shoot. It just isn't done. Somebody says boo, you'll shoot your foot.

For a Rightie, shots patterning to the left mean either too much wind or too much trigger-finger. Shots patterning right mean too much wind or too little finger. Shots all over the place, mean you flinched. Warning: Flinch times vary; some people never open their eyes. People may die; maybe the flincher.

Don't make up a grain number, for powder or bullet, unless it's a wildcat round you know is feasible or it's a commercial or military round. If you don't know what "wildcat round" means, Google it. Some things are easy.

Any forensics expert will tell you, if you fire a handgun, you'll leave powder residue on your body and your clothing. If you're gonna have your perp wear plastic gloves, make sure of two things: They cover exposed skin, and your finger fits in the trigger-guard. Playtex long-arm plastic gloves might not be feasible. And don't go through an airport screener the day after you've been shooting. Those machine sensors are as sensitive to gun-gas as TSA junk-grabbers are to what Kim Kardashian's crammed in her cleavage.

And if you have questions, don't bother me. I'm in TSA training.

* Dirty Harry's gun was this model in blued form, known as the Model 29. In Stainless, it's the 629.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Old-Fashioned Outlook

By Chester Campbell

I'm scheduled to appear in this spot on the first and third Fridays of each month. This means that by the time I show up again, I'll have passed another milestone. I don't know that this one has any particular significance, but it sounds pretty formidable to me. On November 30 I'll turn 85. To give it a little local perspective, since I'm a native Nashvillian, country music's venerable Grand Ole Opry, longest running radio show in America, started two days before I was born.

But we're talking mystery writing here, so what does all this have to do with anything? I think a writer's age colors his writing.

I readily confess to an old-fashioned outlook. I try to keep up with most aspects of what's going on about me, but I live at a more leisurely pace these days and don't find time to indulge much of things like watching TV series and movies. I don't tune in the Oscars so don't recognize most of today's stars. I'm an avid newspaper reader, having started my career as a reporter, so I see a few names in print now and then, but they don't mean much to me. I recognize few beyond Tom Hanks.

I heard a statistic on NBC News last night that 39 percent of Americans think marriage is obsolete. One in three American children is living with a divorced, separated or never married parent. Things like this run completely counter to my concept of how our society should be behaving.

Like I said, I'm old fashioned. I prefer the big bands to rock music. I don't find the current crop of sitcoms nearly as amusing as ones I watched years ago. Admittedly, I haven't watched all that much of them lately.

How does all this affect my writing? For one thing, my books are populated with many more characters beyond 40 than those of a more tender age. My wife and I are raising a 13-year-old grandson, so I know what goes on with the younger set. I don't feel comfortable writing about kids, however. I would probably paint them in darker tones than they deserve.

My current work in progress has a 25-year-old man as a central figure, which has caused me to widen my perspective a bit. We'll have a house full of several generations for Thanksgiving next week, with my four kids (all over 40) here, plus several grandchildren and at least two great-grandsons. It'll be an opportunity to observe younger folks in action.

When it's all said and done, though, I'll enjoy getting back to my characters "of a certain age" who've been around the block almost as many times as I have. Although I've found younger ones among them, my fans seem to be mostly of the more mature set. I suppose they can better understand, or at least sympathize with, my point of view.

I've always considered myself an eternal optimist, but my optimism is becoming a bit clouded these days. I still have hopes that people will come back to their senses and straighten things out. We have a way to go to in repairing our views of morality and fairness and treatment of our fellow man. Those are things that will probably turn up in my writing. And they may sound old fashioned to some.

Check my website to see how I handle my "mature" characters.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who Do You Love? by Mark Troy

It's no secret that I love women in mysteries and crime stories. Women who are smart, sexy, tough, I'm there. Here are a few of the women I love on television.

Henrietta "Hetty" Lange, the diminutive, witty head of the NCIS Los Angeles team, not only has to battle enemies of the nation, she has to keep her group of alpha males and an alpha female working as a team. Hetty, played by Linda Hunt, is like a female Yoda with managerial skills. 
"Wushu is the Chinese Martial Art with 18 arms or weapons. I prefer the steel whip or the Meteor Hammer. But you have to stay in practice with all of them."

Kensi Blye would be an alpha female in any unit, but in the NCIS-LA unit, there is room for only one A-F. With Hetty in charge, Kensi (Daniela Ruah) has to take a second role, but not second to the other agents. When the team needs infiltration, it's usually up to Kensi, but she can handle a weapon and kick ass like the male agents. 
"I'm a text book example right? Girl who can't commit because every man in her life dies."

Fiona Glenanne is the chaotic, trigger-happy, ex-girlfriend of Michael Westen in Burn Notice. She is a former IRA operator who knows explosives. Played by Gabrielle Anwar, she is a complement to Michael and his equal in most respects. Where most women would be afraid of what Michael does, Fiona actually seems turned on by it. For Fiona, violence is foreplay.
"Hitting someone with a brick takes a lot of skill."

Detective Olivia Benson of Law and Order SVU has slugged through the wreckage of human lives for eleven years. It's a wonder she can maintain her emotional balance, much less her dedication to the job and compassion for the victims. Her personal life is in shambles. Her past is a disaster. The child of a rapist, she never knew her father, but struggles to suppress her violent heritage. Mariska Hargitay gives Olivia a tough exterior with a sensitive core. Who better to have on your side? Who worse to have against you? 
 "'Stand By Your Man' sounds much better when Tammy Wynette sings it."

Kono Kalakaua, the rookie member of Steve McGarrett's special Hawaii Five-O unit is a former world-class surfer. The team is supposed to be made up of elite investigators so what's a fresh-from-the-academy cop doing on the team? Anything she has to, and very well, too. Like Kensi, she takes on the infiltration roles, but she's also adept at dispatching bad guys with a gun, a punch or a kick. Grace Park plays Kono. 
"Think twice before you drop in on someone else's wave."

So who do you love?

Read "Pilikia Is My Business" in ebook on iPad, Kindle, Nook and others, featuring smart, sexy, tough, Val Lyon. Find out more here: View the book trailer here:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Second Half of My Blog Tour

While you're reading this I'll be on a cruise ship heading down the coast of Mexico. We're on a mystery cruise which means the three days at sea we will be having a mystery writing conference. I'm going to be on two panels and plan to attend the rest.

The publisher of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series is going as well as another publisher I have books with and of course, other authors, many of whom are my friends. What a great way to spend a vacation.

Hubby and I will be celebrating our wedding anniversary on the cruise as well.

And here's the rest of my blog tour stops.

Friday, November 19
Guest blogging at Thoughts in Progress

Monday, November 22
Book reviewed at C.N. Nevets.QST

Tuesday, November 23
Book reviewed at Thoughts in Progress

Guest blogging at Writing Daze
Wednesday, November 24
Guest blogging at Review from Here
Book reviewed at Ohio Girl Talks

Friday, November 26
Book reviewed at My Favorite Things

Don't forget, if you'd like to enter the contest to have me use your name in my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, leave comments on as many blogs as possible.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Trending by Morgan Mandel

Sometimes it seems I'm the only one on the planet who enjoys a particular something. When I first got into country music, not so many people shared that interest. Now, there are tons of us out there. I had a great time Wedneaday evening tweeting back and forth on Twitter about the winners ,the songs and the outfits at the Country Music Awards. (How romantic that Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, her fiance, won for best female and male vocalists, how sweet that Brad Paisley was humble enough to be so moved at receiving the Entertainer of the Year Award)  Also, a new movie, Country Strong, will be coming out January 7, 2011 starring Gwyneth Paltrow & Tim McGraw. So, country really is strong these days.

Something else strong and getting stronger is the e-book industry, especially Amazon Kindles. I've been seeing more and more of them, plus people constantly ask me about my Kindle when I whip it out at lunchtime to catch some reading in. 

I've done some blogs on this topic before, as have other writers, because e-books are trending right now. If you want to read more about the various aspects of e-book publishing, will be offering a wealth of knowledge on the topic this week. I do know something about e-books, and have three of mine available on Kindle, but I'm still looking forward to learning more by reading the blogs there. Meet you over there.

Morgan Mandel
PS - If you like bargain prices, my romantic suspense, Killer Career, is now on Kindle for 99 cents.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Giving Something Back

By Mark W. Danielson

Recently, two elementary school teachers told me how their students love to write mysteries. I could hardly believe it. At a time when so many young people prefer texting or listening to I-tunes rather than engage in conversation, to hear that students were interested in developing their creative side was heartwarming. But what makes this even more intriguing is these future writers are third and fourth graders. If their interest in writing can be ignited now, these kids will excel at anything. Stifle it and they will cross over to technology's Dark Side before they reach middle school. As a writer, they asked if I would speak to their students. I gladly accepted.
In addressing elementary school kids, I’ve learned that to be effective, I must hold their attention and keep them involved. I do this by first explaining that story writing is no different from story telling. Too much thought spoils creativity. I then lead the class through a story exercise where ideas flow while the teacher writes them on the white board. Soon, hands reach for the sky from kids eager to share their thoughts. Once we have agreed on the story’s premise, I solicit ideas for the beginning. After a good line is created, we move quickly to complete six or seven more that describe the story, and then wrap it up with a conclusion. Because kids are visual people, drawing the story in picture form can stir their creativity. Any extra class time can be spent on editing and teaching the value of words.

A week or so after my class session, I usually receive an envelope filled with hand-crafted thank you notes. Although these kids were required to make them, some notes show genuine creativity and honesty. The kids who made these are the ones most likely to develop a passion for reading and writing. Few things are more rewarding than influencing kids toward writing.

Kids need role models, and authors fit that category. Each year at Irvine, California's Men of Mystery event, four high school students from Orange County schools are recognized for their outstanding creative writing abilities. During their acceptance speeches, many refer to a single teacher or author who sparked their interest in writing. That’s pretty powerful stuff. Imagine how much better off we would be if every published author reached just one child.

I strongly encourage authors to make guest appearances at schools. Kids need to understand that race, religion, economic status, or physical conditions can never limit their creative writing. They should also know that writing isn’t about book sales, but rather the fulfillment of ideas. If you have been successful in writing, then try giving something back. You can’t reach every student, but the ones you do will never forget your name.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Invisible Path

by Jean Henry Mead

Marilyn Meredith’s engrossing new mystery, Invisible Path, interrupts Deputy Crabtree’s Christmas preparations when a popular young Indian man is found shot to death near the reservation. His former friend, Jesus Running Bear, is thought to be the killer, and is threatened by other friends of the deceased. Running Bear’s girlfriend is the murdered man’s cousin and, because he’s the prime suspect, her parents won’t allow them to marry.

To complicate matters, a pseudo-military group has set up headquarters in the nearby forest and Crabtree learns that the murder victim had been spying on them as well as attempting to locate the infamous Hairy Man of Indian legend, reportedly living in the area. She then wonders why the victim was so popular when she uncovers the truth about his true relationships with his friends. The discovery leads to a number of suspects who had reason to kill him.

Meredith skillfully weaves her knowledge of Indian customs and law enforcement into an intriguing plot as various suspects are investigated as well as the murder scene. Deputy Crabtree stubbornly follows leads that place her own life, and that of Running Bear, in danger as all the mysterious elements come together in a surprising conclusion.

Readers who have been following the series are sure to want this book and recommend it to others. I'm certainly looking forward to the next one.

Meredith lives in the Sierra foothills of central California, the area where she places her Deputy Crabtree mysteries. She also writes the Rocky Bluff PD series as F.M. Meredith. The mother of five, grandmother of 18 and great-grandmother of 11 once lived in a beach community that she says resembles Rocky Bluff.

How she finds time to travel extensively to actively promote her books is a mystery unto itself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Making Extra Money by Writing???? by Christine Duncan

Although the end of this recession was supposed to be July of 09 many of us are still looking for a little extra cash. And it's only natural to look at our writing to see if something could happen there, right?
I have several friends who have tried the Examiner route. They write a blog for their local area Examiner. It looked like a good deal to me, so I sat one of them down a few weeks ago to see how it was working out for her. She raved about the job!
She loves it. But when I pressed on the money issue, she was frank--she doesn't exactly pay for the groceries this way. She writes in another genre and that is what her column for the Examiner is on. She gets movie passes for films in her genre and goes to see the films before they are officially out. She gets to go to conferences in her genre for free because she will write about them and so she is satisfied. The money? Maybe 100.00--200.00 a month.
A twitter friend told me about Real writing jobs . com. You are purposely not getting a link there. I know nothing about the place but that now I have signed up, I get a bunch of email. I'm afraid to do more.
I'd love to make more money off my writing, but I'm not turning up anything new right now. How about you?

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery novels. Safe House, the second book in the series is available now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What are you reading….on?

It’s become the question of the new century. No longer are we reading only hard cover or paperback….now we can read also on our smartphones, computers, laptops, MP3 players, tablets and dedicated readers. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Some people still prefer the feel of a book in their hands. A friend was telling me the other day she loves the bindings, the smell of the paper and ink and it’s part of the comfortable feeling of reading for her. Others find holding a traditional book can become uncomfortable or even painful after a while. But they don’t want to give up the joy of reading.

The various electronic ways of reading have their benefits and drawbacks as well. A desktop keeps you sitting in your office chair. A laptop is more portable, but still heavy compared to an ereader. A tablet like an iPad is very light and easy to hold, but more the size of a hardcover book. An MP3 player, iPod or smartphone is super-portable, but some find the screen small for reading. All these devices have a lot of glare on their screens if you want to sit outside on a nice day to read.

The new eInk readers like the Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony Reader are light, portable, easy to tuck in a purse or commuter bag. They have dedicated bookstores and it’s quick and straightforward to download a new book. However, they’re not backlit, so low light presents a problem. However, there are lots of clip-on lights to get around that. Some people don’t want to have to buy another device to cart with them and there isn’t one yet under $100, so they’re not for everyone either.

Bottom line – find the device that works best for you and whether it’s traditional or the newest thing, keep on reading!!

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
On Twitter, Facebook & GoodReads too

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It Was Bound to Happen

By Mark W. Danielson

Recently, a bomb was discovered on a cargo plane bound for Chicago. Whether this bomb was intended to explode en route or at its Jewish destination is a moot point. Either way, this scenario was inevitable.

Many years ago, I wrote about a similar situation in my fictional thriller Danger Within. As a cargo pilot, this story stemmed from my cargo safety concerns following an actual in-flight fire aboard a FedEx DC-10 caused by undeclared hazardous material. Later in my story, a bomb sends another cargo jet into the ocean. And when divers fin their way down to investigate, men die. No one expected it was a time bomb. Danger Within is a wild ride, but also a realistic one. And while cargo screening has improved since this book was published, our system still has holes. No doubt, security authorities are seeking ways to plug them.

But there is another problem associated with this failed bombing. Fear. Of course, fear is to be expected. Who wouldn’t be concerned about falling debris from blown-up airplanes? But the reality is the odds still favor an airplane’s safe arrival over your journey home from the airport. After climbing into your vehicle, you will now face texting drivers, drunk drivers, angry drivers, smoking drivers, drivers applying makeup or shaving, car jacking, and even snipers, and yet we accept these risks without a fleeting thought because we expect auto accidents. Fear is only effective if the outcome was unexpected. The objective of terrorism is for fear to override logic. That’s the terror behind terrorism. I’m not a fatalist, but I do believe that when my time is up, there won’t be a thing I can do about it. I also know that if I truly considered what might be in the 180,000 pounds of cargo I’m supposed to fly back from overseas, I would never climb into the cockpit and start the engines.

Sadly, the people responsible for this latest bomb event “won” even though their bomb never exploded. In fact, because it didn’t explode, this story will receive more attention than it would have had the cargo plane exploded and been lost at sea. The recent UPS Boeing 747 crash in Dubai from an in-flight fire confirmed that killing a couple of cargo pilots was barely newsworthy, and yet the fear of airliners carrying in-flight bombs will last for weeks. Even worse, the government now has to divert millions of dollars earmarked for other projects to further enhance cargo screening.

Writers are influenced by events, but can also influence events. I stopped writing one terrorism book because it contained too much sensitive information, and I don’t need to create scenarios for those willing to harm us. On the other hand, it’s important to keep everything in perspective as we live our lives. We haven’t gone back to the Dark Ages yet. Keeping our eyes open, our heads on a swivel, and our fear in check will ensure we never get there.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


by Ben Small

Normally, I write about something other than books, because it seems just about every writer scribbles about writing and, like my friend Mark Danielson, I want to be different. But I stumbled across a thriller the other day I really enjoyed, so I thought I'd write about it, instead.

As you can probably guess, this week, I'm writing about Velocity, by Alan Jacobson.

First, a little about its author.

Alan Jacobson is the national bestselling author of the critically acclaimed thrillers False AccusationsThe HuntedCrushVelocity. and The 7th Victim, which was named to Library Journal's "Best Books of the Year" list. Alan's years of research and training with law enforcement have influenced him both personally and professionally. and have helped shape the stories he tells and the diverse characters that populate his novels. 

Alan's books have sold internationally. and both The 7th Victim and one of his forthcoming thrillers, Hard Target. are currently under development as major feature films. He lives in Northern California.

Here's what Alan has to say about Velocity, I thought it best to let him describe it because he does a much better job of it than I could.

When I sat down to write my new thrillers, Crush and Velocity, the color red was prominent in my thoughts. Given that both novels revolve around a serial killer, you might think the red represented blood. Right?

Not exactly. Crush and Velocity bring my heroine, FBI profiler Karen Vail, to the Napa Valley. Yes, you're getting it now . . . red, as in wine. Those of you who've read my prior novels know that I immerse myself in the subject matter to learn everything I can -- a process that helps me create real characters who experience real problems that arise from who they are, where they live, and what they do.

For Crush, my exhaustive research took me to the Napa Valley -- so "immersing myself in wine" has you breaking out the violins, I'm sure. And though I was working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, it was also tremendous fun. I enjoy wine and know the valley well and have always wanted to set a story there. But when you look under the covers of something you hold dear, you might stumble across things you weren't expecting . . . things that lead to emotions, conflict, action, suspense . . . and thrills for my readers.

When planning a visit to the wine country, you're sold on picturesque landscapes, fun and romance. Glossy marketing brochures and flashy websites talk of tasting wine with hints of "grapefruit," "dark chocolate" and "anise," with bouquets of "black currant" and "truffles." While an experienced palate and nose would certainly verify such claims, there are deeper forces at work beneath the surface, lurking at the bottom like sediment in a used French Oak barrel. Napa, like any region built largely around its tourism, is a business. And where there's business in play, there's money to be made. And where there's money to be made . . . well, you have the recipe for the kind of tasty dish we thriller writers crave.

But I have to come clean with you about something. Both Crush and Velocity aren't just about the wine country. They're not only about the Napa Valley's underlying politics or business deals.Crush takes FBI profiler Karen Vail on her first trip to Napa to help solve -- you guessed it -- a case involving serial murder. If you've read my first Karen Vail novel, The 7th Victim, you might recall that I spent seven years researching, and working with, the FBI profiling unit before writing a novel that would take years to complete. But when I typed that final period, I felt I knew what made the profilers tick. Equally important, I felt I understood who these serial killers were, and what stirred their drink. Ah, yes -- drink. Wine. The Napa Valley.

Crush and Velocity might be about more than "just" the wine country, but the setting does serve as a character in the story -- in fact, the region's inherent vagaries are so tightly integrated in the novel that these two thrillers could not have been set anywhere else.

In Crush, Karen Vail arrives in the Napa Valley and stumbles on a fresh victim in the deepest reaches of an exclusive wine cave. Vail sees the trademark signs of a serial killer. She can't resist, and reasoning that local law enforcement is out of their league when it comes to serial murder, she jumps at the opportunity to offer her expertise. The sheriff's department is less than thrilled with her involvement, but after a second body is unearthed, Vail is named to the Napa County Major Crimes task force. She soon learns she is in over her head, because Vail and her colleagues must navigate powerful forces that serve to interfere with their work -- and this is where the politics and behind-the-scenes maneuverings that I mentioned earlier come into play. Making matters worse, Vail finds it impossible to accurately profile the Crush Killer because he's unlike any serial offender the Behavioral Analysis Unit has encountered.

Crush ends with a bang -- but not before launching a story thread that sets the stage for a seamless transition to its follow-up novel, Velocity. The idea behind Velocity came to me as a result of an innocent remark the CEO of (deliciously addictive) Opus One made while taking me on a private tour of his winery early in my research for Crush (queue the violins). I realized I had an unusual opportunity to do things no other novelist has done. It inspired me to dig deeper, which led me to uncover things embedded in the wine country's culture -- and Napa's history -- to bring my reader fascinating behind-the-scenes intrigues that few people know about. Like the noses and palates of a fine Cabernet, these little-known aspects of the industry will enhance your experience as a reader. They became an integral part of Velocity, affecting Vail and her colleagues in ways no one can predict.

Crush and Velocity will take you on two wine country tours unlike any you've experienced. And after you've finished "tasting" Velocity, check out for wine country related activities, tidbits and tips I learned along the way.

Visit Alan Jacobson at www.AlanJacobson.comLearn more about Velocity and Karen Vail novels at