Saturday, May 29, 2010

Imus Prey

 by Ben Small



I tuned in to Imus in the Morning last week to watch his interview with my favorite author, John Sandford, he of the marvelous Prey police procedural series. As some of you know, Sandford's real name is John Camp. He won the Pulitzer in 1986 for a series of journalistic articles about a midwestern farm crisis, and has been writing best-selling thrillers ever since. His latest, Storm Prey, debuted as #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, as do all his books.

For a thriller writer, Sandford seems entirely too relaxed, a nice guy -- not that others, such as me, aren't -- and his books, while tense, suspenseful and thrilling, also have a laid-back attitude, dosed with plenty of humor and interesting side-materials, such as characters arguing as they're chasing down a brutal killer over the rankings of their top 100 all-time rock-'n'roll tunes. His protagonist, Lucas Davenport, a tough-guy cop with a soft soul, is rich, having made a fortune designing computer games. He drives a Porsche and wears designer suits, which he always seems to ruin. His wife, Weather, is a noted Minneapolis plastic surgeon, which may be a good thing, because Davenport or one of his subordinates almost always needs immediate medical attention.

I'd seen Sanford interviewed before, and he always seems like a polite, soft-spoken man, who in his spare time writes some of the best thrillers on the planet. I figured if anyone could break through and bring out some interesting facts about him, perhaps with a humorous flavor, it would be Don Imus.

It didn't work out that way. Sandford said he'd made a mistake marrying the former ladies-man Davenport to Weather. Davenport was a more interesting character when single, and Sandford writes mostly for women. So he's got to bump Weather off.

Imus, who admitted he hasn't and won't read any of Sandford's books -- he doesn't read fiction -- asked why he has to kill Weather, why not consider other alternatives? Sandford smiled and said, "No, I gotta kill her. That's the only way."

So Imus said, "What's your wife think about that? Are you married?"

Sandford hesitated, then said his wife died three years ago. He paused again and seemed to tear up a bit, then said, "I'm just about over it."

And then came the whammy. "You didn't kill her, did you?"

Sandford swallowed and his eyes watered. He said, "No... She died of cancer."

An awkward moment. A dead stop in the Imus studios. Nobody said a word, no quips from Bernie, Charles, Warner, Dagan, Jenna, Bigfoot, or the little guy in the control room. Uncomfortable. One of the few times I've seen Imus at a loss for words. Struggling to come up with something in an interview rapidly going downhill, he said, "What kind of cancer?" and made it worse.

"Breast," Sandford said softly. "It was bad."

Another pause, before Imus made the comment his audience no doubt was thinking. "Well, this interview is ending on a positive note, isn't it?"

The Imus staff came to his rescue, heaping deserved abuse on his shaggy locks. "Man, are you a jerk," Charles said. "You invite this nice man in here and then proceed to ask him all sorts of inappropriate personal questions. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Bernie chimed in with something similar, giving Sandford a much-needed breather, and finally Sandford managed a smile.

It was obvious that both Imus and Sandford were uncomfortable and that Imus felt bad about what he'd done. Recovering, they talked about Storm Prey, Sandford's latest, joked about running out of Prey title adjectives, and Imus asked about Sandford's writing methodology. He won Imus' heart even more when he said he writes with country music blaring in the background.

For a guy who loves beating up his guests with humorous insults, Imus clearly stepped into the poop during this interview. Sandford could have reacted with anger, but being every bit a gentle man, he handled himself with class and dignity. And Imus recovered well too, plugging Sandford and Storm Prey several times during the rest of his three hour program. He apologized several times for botching the interview and hurting a very nice man needlessly, admitted he had no idea why he'd asked such stupid questions, and he encouraged his staff to heap more abuse onto him.

John Sandford, a nice man and class act, a true writing talent who produces outstanding thrillers. I got a signed copy of Storm Prey the first day it was out, and read it in one sitting. I'd encourage anyone who enjoys thrillers to read his entire Prey series, from Rules of Prey to his twentieth, Storm Prey. And I recommend his other novels, too. They're all Best in Class.

I'm hoping John Sandford's next Lucas Davenport book will be entitled Imus Prey. And if I were Weather, Lucas Davenport's wife, I'd take a long, long vacation...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Characterization by Christine Duncan

When I was learning how to write credible characters, I took a short course in characterization from another writer. Her approach was simply to have us answer a list of questions about each character. The beginning of the list dealt with physical attributes (age, height, weight, hair color, etc.) then became more detailed. Later questions dealt with ethnic background, accent (South Philly Italian did not appear on her list of examples but it sure came to my mind.)and what kind of food the character liked. By the end of this list, you were answering things like what would your character do if he/she won the lottery, or how would your character react to losing a child to cancer.
Since that time, I've seen this approach, with minor variations, all over the web. I guess for some of us, it must work.
But it didn't for me. In off the cuff examples like that, I wanted to make my character--well heroic. The brave mother dealing with her child's disease for example (all in capital letters of course, as is fitting for an archtype.) Or I wanted the character to give away everything she had to the poor and needy.
That isn't a realistic character--at least not in the real world. In the world we really live in, as the Mom deals with the child getting chemo and crying because he doesn't want to, the Mom snaps and tells the child he HAS to have it because it's good for him. Then she goes off somewhere and cries because, she believes that good moms don't snap at their poor, sick children.
That's real. I don't know very many saints.
So the list part didn't work for me. I did take away one good thing from the exercise. There is a file on my computer labeled cast, where I list each character's full name and physical characteristics. This comes in handy for those times when I'm having a character gaze into a significant other's eyes and can't remember if I actually know what color they are. I have a separate copy of this file in each book's master file.
As for what my characters would do in a given situation--they tend to surprise me. I don't always know beforehand. In a way, I'm getting to know them along with the reader. But I don't know any other way to do it.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Safe House, the second book of the series is available now from Trebleheart books.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer Reading

I love summer reading – it’s like ice cream on a hot day without the calories! I move from genre to genre, somehow always coming back to the mystery or the suspense/thriller category, though. There’s just something about trying to figure out whodunit, while sitting in the shade of an oak or maple tree, even a shade umbrella, that relaxes me. I don’t consider summer reading the time for fluff either – I love books and reading at any time, but somehow, the relaxation of summer means it’s okay to spend an afternoon reading.

Right now, I have a couple of books on the go. I just finished the newest Elizabeth Peters’ offering A River in the Sky and, as always, enjoyed it. I also recently read Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter. Tried and true – I’m reading James Rollins’ Altar of Eden on my iPod Touch. Just getting started on this one, but I can always count on the perfect summer read from this author.

I’m waiting for the new James Patterson and Maxine Paetro Women’s Murder Club novel – The 9th Judgment. I love this series (and wish the tv series had lasted longer). I also like how Patterson works with other authors – can you imagine the career boost (even if you’re already successful) of working with Patterson. It’s a guaranteed sale to the publisher and lots of sales, and thus royalties. I’m not sure how the collaboration works, but it would be fantastic to have the opportunity to work with an author like Patterson who has the process down to a fine art when it comes to writing, marketing, publicity, etc.

Anyway, what are your favorite summer reads that you’re either already indulging in or looking forward to reading?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Visit with Mystery Author Barbara Levenson




I was looking for a good summer mystery and actually found three in one novel - Barbara Levenson legal thriller, Justice in June, which gets released this week. Barbara knows how to cook up Florida criminal cases that will keep you guessing, and I love her protagonist, street smart defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz.

Barbara Levenson has lived in Miami for the past 32 years. A cum laude graduate of the University of Miami Law School, she has been a prosecutor, and run her own law practice focused on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. Barbara was elected to a judgeship in the circuit court of Miami-Dade County where she still serves as a senior judge. On the eve of her second novel’s release I got her to tell us a little about the book and herself.

ASC: What kind of protagonist is Mary Magruder Katz, and why will we like her?

Barbara Levenson: Mary is first and foremost the product of a Miami upbringing. She’s street smart, not afraid to speak her mind, and thoroughly adaptable to every ethnic and racial group. She has a mixed heritage which is the norm for Miamians. Her father is Jewish and her mother is a southern Baptist. Of course, she knows her way around the criminal justice system as a defense attorney. But she is not without flaws. She has an ingrained commitment problem, having had two previous fianc├ęs. Her current boyfriend, hotty Carlos Martin is ready to proceed to a wedding ceremony, but Mary just can’t bring herself to say yes to forever.

Most people can relate to Mary. She is so typical of today’s bright young women with a streak of independence but a love for her own family. I hope readers will feel that they have a new best friend.

ASC: In this book Mary is juggling three different cases. As a writer, how did you keep it all straight?

BL: It’s easy because of my background in the justice system. As a prosecutor, I always had at least fifty open cases and had to be ready on any given week to try two or three of them. As a defense attorney, I had multiple clients. (or I would have starved) This meant being completely familiar with each of their cases. As a judge with a heavy docket, I took many files home to study prior to days of hearing motions. I probably presided over hundreds of cases, so writing about just three wasn’t difficult.

ASC: After a full career in law, what made you decide to write fiction?

BL: I have always loved to write from the time I was a child, entertaining my friends with stories. Writing was always the career I had in mind when I wasn’t involved full time with the law. I also wanted to have a way to communicate what the real Miami is all about. Too many people believe that Miami is only South Beach and the club scene. I wanted to portray the working class of people who fight traffic, work, raise kids, pay taxes, etc. Iit’s just that we do it in good weather!

ASC: Are any of the cases in the book based on real life cases you’ve handled as a lawyer or judge?

BL: To some extent, they are compilations of the themes one sees in court, but none are based on real cases or actual living people. Like all fiction there are exaggerations of time-frames and responses.

ASC: Does Miami’s weather figure into the story, and if so, how? Is this city a big part of the story?

BL: Most definitely. The weather in Fatal February, the first Mary Magruder Katz mystery, told of endless sunshine. February is the most beautiful month, filled with blossoms, street fairs, and outdoor cafes. June, on the other hand is one of the two rainiest months, filled with two showers per day,. Humidity permeates your skin and hair. Temperatures hover in the high eighties. There is a different feel to life in June so the weather plays a huge role in Justice In June. The city of Miami and South Florida in general is as much a character as any of the human characters, because it is part of the psyche of the people.

ASC: What do you consider the most interesting or intriguing part of your novel?

BL: Mary is plagued by someone who is stalking her and threatening her. She is assaulted and battered outside of her office. Her home is broken into and a threatening message left. She gets a threatening call on her brand new cell phone. Because she is involved in three cases, she can only assume which case is subjecting her to these unnerving events , but she doesn’t know for sure and neither does the reader. You didn’t ask, but the most fun I had writing this book is the scene where the two families, Mary’s parents and Carlos’s parents, meet at a planned dinner. I was actually laughing out loud while I wrote those scenes.

ASC: When Bookviews reviewed your first novel, Fatal February, they said, “This novel just rocks from page one until the end. Put this book on your list of novels you must read this year.”“ The title makes it obvious that Justice In June is the next book in a series. How far will it go? What’s next for Mary Magruder Katz?

BL: Mary is exhausted from her law practice and still unsettled about a long term relationship with Carlos. Look for Mary to need some R and R which will take place in a mysterious Vermont village where unsolved murders cry out for Mary’s quick wits, and she may even find a new love influence. But don’t worry, all you females who are in love with Carlos. He has a way of turning up like a bad penny or a bit of a bad boy.

ASC: Barbara, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I’m sure everyone will enjoy Justice in June and look forward to your next novel.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I HATE THIS WRITER

By Earl Staggs

I know that’s a harsh thing to say and you may wonder why I’m saying it.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let me tell you how I reached this feeling about him.

It began when someone offered me a copy of THE GATES OF THE ALAMO, a novel by Stephen Harrrigan, published in hardcover by Alfred A Knopf in 2000 and in paperback by Penguin in 2001. According to the cover, it was a NY Times Bestseller. I’m a bit of a history buff and now that I’m living in Texas, the story of the Alamo is of particular interest. It’s a long book, 732 pages.

Before I begin reading a book, I read the cover front and back, as well as the acknowledgments page and any introduction provided. I learned this book combined heavily researched fact with fiction to look beyond the legends and give the true story. Good. I always like to know the real truth behind legends.

Did you know, for example, in those days, the Alamo was known as Mission Valero and the town was called Bexar, not San Antonio. Travis did not draw a line in the sand as the popular legend goes and ask those who wanted to stay and fight to step over. Also, Davy Crockett was a respected celebrity among the other Alamo defenders and wore an expensive dress suit more appropriate for a former Congressman rather than the deerskin and coonskin hat as we usually envision him. Of particular interest to me was learning that Crockett sneaked out of the fort before the final attack. . .but returned a few days later with reinforcements.

Anyway, the book develops a lot of characters on both sides of the battle in building up to the fall of the Alamo. I happened to be most interested in the events inside the Alamo during the siege and skimmed over a lot of that.

In skimming, however, many phrases and sentences leapt out at me. Here are some of them:

“. . .led across a flat coastal plain graced by an occasional rise of land no higher than an ocean wave.”

“. . .a one-story building of shell concrete whose exterior was crumbling like a stale cake.”

“. . .the dangerous state of the country figured in her imagination as a stalled hurricane, a dark cloud gathering momentum for its first capricious surge.”

“. . .the water had a slumbering calm.”

“. . .went to her bed as weary as she could ever remember being, and as she went to sleep, her body felt like a stone falling through the deep waters of a lake.”

“. . .people going about their errands as if the day were spread out before them like a gift.”

“. . .watched him pass through the open doorway of the church. In the deepening shadows of this winter evening that arched opening looked like a human mouth in a frozen expression of anguish."

As you can see, Mr. Harrigan has an amazing ability to create vivid and striking imagery, not with flowery words, but in simple ones easily within reach and understanding. As hard as I try, I find it extremely difficult to write descriptions that are anywhere near as keen and smooth as his.

I’m sure you can understand now why I feel as I do about this highly skilled author. He’s too good. I’d give anything to achieve his level.

But rather than admit to pure, unadulterated envy, I say it this way: I hate him.

Don’t you?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

When to put the Die in Dialogue

Can We Talk? Dialogue Can Be So Romantic/Moving


by Rob Walker

Let’s start with the face but don’t forget the cuticles either.

Whose face? Why the face of the Speaker in the Rye, or rather the novel, and the features of the other speaker as dialogue means 2-logues, not one. Facial expressions and features are a starting point. Squints, ticks, licking of lips – it all becomes part and parcel of how it all comes off the page like life itself or remains on the page like a dead, dehydrated piece of road kill.

In other words, it is not only what she says to him, but how he reacts to it; his facial expressions, his hands moving, his breathing, and then how she looks in reaction to his reaction. In my Dead On I intended for the duo to have a Boggie and BaCall relationship while they are being hunted like animals! In Children of Salem the lovers are a great deal more tentative with one another; after all, they have not seen one another for ten years as Jere went off to make his mark in order to feel worthy of her.

Nowadays we know so much about non-verbal communication in men and women, that in my humble opinion, after penning some fifty novels from the POV of the female lead and the male lead and many shared leads, I feel strongly about one element in all mysteries – that there be an element of love and romance afoot alongside the dastardly stuff. That it is incumbent upon us writers of mystery to understand the greatest mystery of all is romance and historical romance. To that end we must absolutely get with the program and utilize from three to five non-verbal “triangulations” in a scene just as we would triangulate at least three to five senses in a scene.

In a dialogue scene eye contact is huge, facial expressions, big, sounds, sighs, rolling eyes, as well as gestures and even how a character sits, legs crossed or not, and how he stands, firm or shaky. Posture and proximity. These are all key to making dialogue action rather than feeling like inaction. Think of those steamy scenes between Boggie and BaCall wherein she says so much with so little and he does likewise.

So what does science tell us about body language? Here is a pretty good list of items that I use as I write:

Non-verbal signs of Cooperation:

Standing with feet apart, head tilted high.

Direct eye-contact

Uncrossed legs and arms

Open arms and palms out

Finger to face (as opposed to hand covering face)

Suspicion/Secretiveness:

Hand covering mouth or shading eyes

Head down

Throat clearing

Need for reassurance:

Sucking on pen, pencil, glasses or other item

Clenched hands

Cuticle picking, biting nails

Hand to throat

Defensiveness:

Hands in pockets

Hands locked at back

Hand rubbing back of neck

Body twisted away

Stalling for time by cleaning glasses, pipe, rearranging, etc.

Interest:

Hand to cheek

Chin stroking

Leaning forward

Scratching head

Doubt:

Pacing

Hand over nose

Brow furrowed

Anxiety:

Nail biting

Strained voice

Rapid eye movements

Open Gestures:

Smiles

Eye contact

Affirmative head nods

Rubbing hands together

Interim phrases of agreement or acknowledgement (Eh? Uh-huh? Hmmm, oh, etc.)

Closed Gestures:

Fidgeting

Leaning back (as opposed to forward)

Hand covering mouth

Peering over top of glasses



In other words, it is as important to see/hear what a character says but just as important to see and hear what is going on between the spoken lines, alternating with interesting actions the character is involved in and engaged in. This keeps the dialogue interwoven with the action, and the action engaged while speakers speak. Let your characters do the walking as well as the talking simultaneously as they have wine and a meal.

Action should not end when a character opens her mouth to “speak.” Same as with thinking; we are in real life normally involved in multi-tasking as we are thinking, no? Same as when speaking. Your dialogue needs to walk; your dialogue requires legs. When the man says, “Lights, action, camera” include in that list “dialogue” but ratchet it UP!

My latest madness is found at http://tinyurl.com/ykch9vf Dirty Deeds – Advice where you can keep tabs on the work in progress – Curse of the Titanic, or google Write Aide, or check out his blogs at http://www.acmeauthorslink.blogspot.com/ or look for free stuff at www.robertwalkerbooks.com

Do leave your comments please!

Rob
FREE example of romantic/moving dialogue at my website

Friday, May 21, 2010

Double, Double, Toil and Hubble


Credit: NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee

This concerns not mystery writing but mystery viewing. Namely, the greatest mystery of them all, the universe that surrounds us. I journeyed with grandson's sixth grade class to Huntsville, AL yesterday to visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, located adjacent to the Army's Redstone Arsenal and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. It was a fascinating trip.

The center's museum features actual rockets and space vehicles that show the development of space flight from its start in the 1950s. As a Nashville newspaper reporter in the late fifties, I visited Redstone Arsenal and sat in a concrete blockhouse to witness the testing of a rocket engine. That was before NASA and it's Cape Canaveral launchings, and I was overwhelmed by the explosive sound of the engine firing. This was when German rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team were designing rockets in Huntsville that would ultimately take men into space.

Mounted to the ceiling in a long corridor of the museum is a three-stage Saturn V rocket, longer than a football field (363 feet), the most powerful rocket ever built. It was used to send astronauts to the moon. The five engines in the first stage produced 7.5 million pounds of thrust using liquid oxygen and kerosene. Five engines in the second stage burned liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to produce 1.25 million pounds of thrust.

A lunar landing module was set up near the Saturn V, along with a moon buggy such as those used to travel on the moon. Our guide said there were three of them still on the moon, waiting for more astronauts to bring new batteries.

One of the Apollo space capsules, fished out of the ocean after a successful landing, was displayed along with samples of equipment used by the astronauts.

A mock-up outside the museum showed a space shuttle (actually, only a shell) atop its main fuel tank, with solid fuel boosters (they were real) and rocket engines attached. Another exhibit, in trailers, held a mock-up of the International Space Station. It showed the crew living quarters and experiment stations. The kids particularly enjoyed the sleeping bag tethered to the wall, to keep astronauts from floating around while asleep.

The most exciting feature of the trip was the IMAX movie, Hubble, which has just been released. It showed the launch of the space telescope in 1990 and three space shuttle missions where astronauts made repairs. The last one, a year ago, installed equipment that made the device 100 times more powerful. The giant screen came alive with spectacular views when animated Hubble photographs showed countless stars and galaxies spreading across the universe.

Distances depicted were mind-boggling. One picture on a Hubble website showed a towering dust cloud that was three light years tall. That's a cool eighteen trillion miles. The feeling you get watching the movie is that you're barely an infinitesimal speck in the midst of all that.

In it's first twenty years, as of April 22, the Hubble has depicted more than 30,000 celestial targets and produced more than half a million pictures. If you'd like to read more about the Hubble, I suggest this NASA site or HubbleSite.org.

Chester Campbell.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shamus time

There are a number of awards for excellence in the mystery field--the Edgar, the Anthony, the Macavity, the Derringer, the Agatha, to name some of the most important.

The Shamus, given by the Private Eye Writers of America is particularly important to me. When I was starting out writing mysteries, I discovered the Shamus Award. I looked at the list of past winners and nominees and realized that they represented the authors and stories I read most. Until then, I had not thought of writing private eye stories. But, I believe writers should write what they like to read, so I set out to write them myself.  I also set myself a goal of winning a Shamus.

Winning a Shamus is a high bar, a very high bar, indeed. The list of winners include Dennis Lehane, S. J. Rozan, Bill Pronzini, Lawrence Block, hell, just about every mystery writer worth reading. But, if you don't try for the high bar, you will never know what you can accomplish.

The PWA just announced that it is accepting submissions for the award for the 2010 Shamus Awards for works published in 2009. The deadline for submission is June 20, 2010. If you have a PI novel or short story published in 2009 contact the awards chair, Ted Fitzgerald with the contact information for your editor or publicist. Ted's email address is Tecfitz@msn.com.

One of our own Makeminemystery bloggers, Austin Camacho, is a judge this year in the Best First P.I. Novel category.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian-Eye

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Unusual Development

I've been writing mysteries for years. However, my first published books were two historical family sagas. From there I started writing mysteries, but I also wrote some other genres and one romance with supernatural elements called Lingering Spirit.

That book was one of my first e-books published by a house I broke ties with a few years back.

Through the years, I've had some interesting experiences with publishers: two died, one never paid any royalties even though I knew books had sold, one I really liked decided to quit the publishing business, and early on, I had dealings with a couple of crooks--one skipped the country, the other landed in jail.

Oak Tree Press is now the publisher of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, An Axe to Grind being the latest. The publisher put the two books on Kindle and asked if I had any other books that she could put on Kindle. Of course there were the previous books in that series and I had this romance, Lingering Spirits.

I sent it to her and she fell in love with the book and put it on Kindle. It's had moderate sales. Every time I ran into her at a conference, she told me, "I just love Lingering Spirits."

Now, she's decided to put it out as a regular book. That's kind of backwards from how it usually works--the book out first then the e-book (except for E-publishers who usually do both at the same time).

I just received the page proofs and went over them. The first few pages made me cry as I read them. Hopefully they'll affect other readers the same way.

Now my problem is, how do I promote this book? I'm so used to promoting mysteries, this is kind of a challenge.

Oh, I'll sell it right along with my mysteries when I do in-person events, but except for Facebook and Twitter, not sure how to approach the on-line promotion.

As I titled this blog, it is an unusual development.

Marilyn
http://fictionforyou.com

Monday, May 17, 2010

Plug Your Book by Morgan Mandel

Since my brain is toast today due to a vicious virus, I'm handing the floor over to you. In one or two sentences, leave a comment plugging your book. Don't forget to give us a buy link with your web and/or/blogspot.

Mine is - Killer Career - a romantic suspense about a lawyer whose career change could be a killer when her mentor does more than write about murders. Signed copies available at http://digital-bookshop.com/

Thanks,
Morgan Mandel
http://www.morganmandel.com/
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Illegal

by Ben Small






By now, surely everyone is aware that Arizona has passed into law a bill making illegal presence in this state a felony. Boycotts in response to this legislation are in process, and demonstrations against Arizona and the law are occurring in various cities across the country.

But what to boycott? Arizona Tea? It's manufactured in the Northeast. The Diamondbacks? Would anybody care? I've been boycotting baseball since the 1994 strike/lockout, whichever -- I don't remember who closed down that season. Baseball lost me then, and they haven't recaptured my interest. Lettuce? How do you know where your restaurant salad came from?

It all seems a bit silly to me. Especially when those who are urging boycotts, for the most part, don't live in Arizona and have no idea what's going on here.

Arizona is being overrun by illegal smuggling. It's everywhere, and the effects of it are being felt throughout Arizona. No doubt you've heard of the murder of prominent rancher Robert Krenze. Krenze had found tons of marijuana on his vast, thirty-five thousand acre ranch and turned it over to the Border Patrol. He'd suffered the destruction of his fences, his cattle and damage to his grounds, not to mention a vast amount of littering. Then last week, a deputy sheriff in Pinal County, just north of Tucson at Case Grande, was on regular patrol when he discovered bales of marijuana and five smugglers. They shot him with an AK-47. The deputy will survive, but the next day, a sweep of the area discovered seventeen more smugglers, all of whom were arrested, three of whom fit the descriptions of those who'd shot the sheriff.

Arizonans see this sort of crime every single day. It's not unusual at all; it's become a part of life in southern Arizona. Streets in my neighborhood have signs erected by the Feds warning of illegal smuggling activity. Drive just about anywhere in southern Arizona and you will see these signs. They're hard to miss. They're large and bright orange.

Both humans and drugs are being smuggled through Arizona. Phoenix has the highest kidnapping rate in the world. Drop houses are common, and the violence associated with these activities (rape, murder,  torture) is becoming an everyday occurrence. I-19, which runs from Nogales to Tucson, is commonly known as Smuggler's Alley, but these activities extend far beyond interstate 19. Interstates 10 and 8 are also frequent passages for the smuggled goods and people. Arizona has become part of the ongoing Mexican drug lord battleground.

But that's just the side of smuggling commonly reported. What is not reported, except locally, are the number of people killed on the state's highways because of smuggling activities. It's commonplace for a van or bus loaded with illegals to wreck on one of these highways -- usually I-10 -- tossing dead bodies across the roads, medians and berms. One such accident killed twenty-four illegals, another last week killed twelve. Often, other vehicles are involved, as these smuggling vans and buses usually travel at night, sometimes without lights.




Arizona residents are scared, and efforts by the Feds to curb or control the border have failed.  In many areas of the Arizona border region, an illegal can just walk across the border line. Indeed, Robert Krenze's murderer was tracked back to Mexico; he just stepped across the barrier.The Fence Project, which was to build a high, difficult to cross barrier, was stopped by environmentalists and those who want an open border. So many of the areas of the southeastern Arizona border, particularly those areas east of Nogales, have a barrier a cripple could cross without breaking a sweat. Home invasions, destroyed fences and robbers lying in wait for smugglers are on the increase. Homeowners who live along these smuggling routes are finding spent and unfired AK-47 rounds in their backyards, near their kids' swingsets. The border inspection stations send many smugglers through housing districts, moving much of the smuggling activity from the highways to the housing districts around them.

The Feds have been unable to stop the flow. The Border Patrol does what it can, but much of their activity is spent rescuing illegals who are dumb or desperate enough to attempt to walk across the Arizona desert in summer. The Border Patrol rescues numbers not in the hundreds but in the thousands each year in this state. And many of these poor people don't make it; they die in the desert. The death toll is unknown, but bodies are found each and every day, regardless of season.

Ironically, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, demanded the National Guard patrol our borders when she was governor of Arizona. She got no response. But now that Janet's the Homeland Security Secretary, she's changed her mind and refused to bring in the Guard. And Eric Holder, our U.S. Attorney General, says he's against the law, but hasn't read it. It's eighteen pages long.

You can speed-read it in two minutes, Eric. In case nobody's provided you a copy, you can read it HERE.

No doubt, politics are involved. The current federal administration seems more focused on attracting Hispanic voters and granting amnesty than they are in protecting our borders. They talk of immigration reform, of a path to citizenship. But how can one have an effective immigration policy if one cannot control one's border? The Feds oppose Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County (Phoenix) policies of sweeping up illegals, claiming he's guilty of racial profiling.  The Administration even went so far as to deny Sheriff Joe the assistance of ICE, those agents who are supposed to be focusing on smuggling.

None of this makes any sense unless one looks at it from the political side.

So, lacking any effective federal response, Arizona's legislature passed a law which many, including myself, think will eventually be overturned. It's a stupid law. Instead of just passing a simple law making an unlawful presence in Arizona a felony, the state legislature added nebulous, ambiguous language ("reasonable suspicion" instead of "probable cause," a term cops know well) which guarantees that anyone attempting to enforce the law -- or refusing to enforce the law -- will get sued. Then, faced with near universal  criticism over the bill's language, they amended the statute and made the language worse. The lawsuit risk is so prominent, some county sheriffs have said they won't enforce the law, because they're in trouble no matter what they do.

And sure enough, there will be cowboy sheriff deputies who make dubious arrests. Count on it. Lawyers will flock to the courts filing cases on all sides of the issues.  The law should have been called the Lawyer's Economic Recovery Act.

Why oh why couldn't the Arizona legislature have made the law simple? If you're here unlawfully, you're here illegally. What does the term "illegal" mean? It means you're not here legally. Simple as that.

But of course, politicians rarely do anything simply.

The legislature did do one thing simply though: They approved driver's licenses as proof of legal entry. How much of a burden is it to produce your driver's license upon demand? Heck, I have to produce mine every time I make a purchase at Best Buy. Indeed, a Hispanic woman in Tucson went before the Tucson City Council last week and made the same point. She produced her license, and said, "There. How hard was that?" She went on to say she followed the route to become a naturalized citizen. She said she resents those who seek what America has to offer, but do so illegally.

I agree with her, as do most Arizonans. Indeed, while many Arizonans agree with me that the language of the new statute sucks, over seventy percent of the Arizona population agreed with the bill's intention: We must control our borders.

So what are we to do with all these illegals we're going to arrest? Arizona is hurting just like every other state. While Sheriff Joe has no problems adding tents to his Tent City Jail, other counties won't approve that option. One suggestion I liked -- which of course has no chance of passage -- was to dump these illegals at either the California or New Mexico state lines. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Albuquerque have all declared themselves to be Sanctuary Cities. Okay, if these cities want our illegals, maybe we should accommodate them.

Meanwhile, Arizona is a war zone. Gun sales are at record levels, and a new militia has formed and claims it will enforce the laws, patrolling the border armed to the teeth. Now, that's something to worry about. 

The problem is not Mexicans or other Hispanics. You can't live in Arizona without encountering Hispanics. They're everywhere, and by and large, they're hard-working, good people, with family values, and deserving of respect and admiration. The war is not against them; it's against those who are entering our country illegally. And not all of these illegals are Hispanic. Believe it or not, there are a large number of Chinese illegally slipping across our borders. And it's not unusual to find copies of the Quran spread across the smuggling trails. The porous Arizona border makes for easy access for would-be terrorists, and there are plenty of coyotes who know the routes and will take them across for a fee.

So... while I don't support the language of the new Arizona law, which will be effective July 29, I fully support the intention behind it: controlling our border.

But as is often the case, our legislators screwed it up.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Promotion by Christine Duncan

I did a conference a while back where I was on a panel with a bunch of other authors to talk about promotion. Most of us were published by small press; a couple had made it to NY pubs, and one was self-pubbed but the theme we all hammered was the same. Promotion is the author's job.
An older lady in the back of the room caught my sympathy though. She wanted nothing to do with it. It made her blush, she said, to even ask us the question in front of an audience, but really, couldn't she hire someone to do the promo for her?
I can sooo relate. Before I was published I had a deal with one of my older sisters. I would write the book, and she would do the promo. She promised to do signings, any talks that would be necessary and all the interviews.
So now I'm published and where is my sister???? I'd seriously like to know.
Even though promo has changed in recent years in that much can be accomplished over the internet, it's still a hard game. Authors anxiously scan places like Novelrank and fixate on sales, trying to figure out how to affect them in a positive way.
The more promo I do, the more I know--I haven't got a clue.
A friend of mine saw an interview I did for the local paper and was upset with me. I should do more to promote my books, he said. And here I thought I was doing something by arranging for and doing the interview. To hear him tell it, I should drag the topic into every conversation I have with friends and co-workers.
The other thing I know about promo is that it gets old. Fast. I know at least two authors that I tend to avoid mainly because they can talk about nothing else but their books with the underlying theme being that we should all buy them. I will never ever buy either author's books. But that's me.
Besides, I don't want friends and relatives to buy my books out of curiosity or even because they want to help me out. I want real mystery readers to read my books--because they want saw it in the library or the bookstore and wanted to read the books.
I guess promotion, like so much else in this life, is a juggling act. Or maybe I mean a tightrope walk. You can definitely overbalance one way or the other.


Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House has been recently released.
Christine Duncan

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Plot Fizzles

If the plot fizzles out partway through your manuscript, what do you do? It’s a worry faced by writers since we first put stylus to wax, ink to papyrus. We do many things to try to avoid this – we plot, storyboard, brainstorm, journal and sweat! Sometimes we fly by the seat of our pants, letting the plot unfold as it sees fit, then we can add/delete/modify as needed. Some of us detail each movement of the plot, with every move carefully orchestrated.

No matter our best intentions, we can stall. Is it the plot, or has one of our characters gone off track? Do we write our way forward, or go back and check all the threads, finding the one that we lost or dropped? Do you use plotting software? Writing software? Critique partners? Writers' groups?

There are great suggestions for getting around these kinds of problems – and most writers run into them every once in a while – so dish! What is your best way to keep your plot storming along, and what do you do when it mires down, even momentarily? Makes no difference if you’re a seat-of-your-pants plotter or a plotter who lays out every twist and turn.

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
www.libbymckinmer.com
libby@libbymckinmer.com

Monday, May 10, 2010

Face to Facebook


by Austin Camacho



I try not to talk marketing TOO often here, but I've gotten this question several times in the last few weeks and thought I'd post a response here for all my fellow scribes. One typical email said:


My publisher is pushing me (and rightfully so) to make better use of Facebook, but I find I'm reluctant to do a big promo push when I have so many personal contacts and communications on my profile (young family members, church friends, etc.). I know that I can do an "Author Page" (like a fan page, although it doesn't have to be called that), but I think maybe I should have an Author Page, and Author Profile, and then a whole separate profile for personal contacts and family networking, etc. Do you have any advice?


I understand this conflict concerning Facebook. I mean, everyone who reads Make Mine Mystery knows what to expect, but on social sites people might expect just to hear about your family and pals. It's all networking I guess, but I think it’s good to separate “social” networking from “business” networking.

I personally have only one Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=594201666 - but as you can see if you visit it, there is very little there about my personal life. My page was created primarily as a marketing vehicle although I hope it’s a friendly one.

Authors who really ARE social on Facebook should establish a separate author fan page. Your profile and postings should be oriented to your writing, and it’s a good place to keep people up to date on your writing career.

Each Facebook page should be established based on a different email address. After you set up your Author page you should send a notice to all your friends at the original page suggesting they become a “fan” as well, at the new page. I would also suggest that you place restrictions on your original Facebook page so that no one can access the information unless they know your email address. That way, strangers who are looking for you on Facebook will flow to your fan page, and only actual friends will be checking out your personal page.

When you have free time, you can go to the profile of each of your fans and friends and message their friends with something like, “We have a friend in common – XXXX - and I’d like to be your friend too.” I did that until I got to 500 and now have people finding me (I currently have 658 friends.)


Just be sure on your new page that you work in some personal stuff that’s writing related: how you feel about the manuscript you’re working on now, who you met that inspired you, etc. Even on your writing site, people want to know YOU, not just your stories.


And if any of you have different (or better) advice, please share a comment.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Settings R Us...Generic or Unique?

Settings are so important or their generic and of little importance, depending on the author's interest in making the setting another and interesting character in and of itself, or simple and quick and easy with little or no reason to be inserted into the storyline anymore than necessary.

I have read books wherein the setting is a generic city--any town USA, a rural setting that could be anywhere on the continent, and I have read books where the city or the town or the country dominates the story. What's the difference? Why make the setting "all important" to begin with?  Isn't that a lot of work, making the setting unique and special to your character?

I have a habit of going more John Grisham than Elmore Leonard, while I respect both methods; I have great admiration for those who can quick-sketch a scene and a setting and move on with story.  By the same token, I am compelled myself to make a scene come alive via the five senses and perceptions of my characters, be it Dr. Jessica Coran in Hawaii or Inspector Alastair Ransom in 1893 Chicago with the World's Fair a thorn in his side.  For me setting has to be another and important character in the story, one with which the main characters interact.  Sure a classroom is a classroom is a classroom and often it is best to move on, but the overall setting, say New Orleans must come alive in my tales.

As a reader, for me it can go either way; I respect the Elmore Leonard approach to making Arizona in 1844 come alive with a few quick brush strokes, but I also love the detail of a John Grisham describing a courtroom - a special courtroom to Grisham and his readers--an Oxford, Mississippi courtroom.  Leonard would just call it a courtroom while Grishan would spend three or four pages on the place.

What about you? Which do you prefer? The quick-sketch setting or the fat, juicy, larger than life setting?


Robert W. Walker
Children of Salem - 1st 20 pgs. free @ http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/

How Much Explosive Is Enough?

Mystery writers always try to get their facts straight and keep their plots as realistic as possible. Writers who like the technical side of things, such as Tom Clancy, go to great lengths (too great for me) to explain exactly how things work. Is all that really necessary?

In my new novel, due out in October, I wanted the bad guy to rig a bomb that would damage a car but not seriously injure the passengers. I consulted a certified arson investigator for how to do it. We discussed several options and chose the one most popular among terrorists: ANFO, ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

Used in large enough portions, it can demolish a major building, such as the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But the typical IED (Improvised Explosive Device) used in Iraq and Afghanistan is much smaller. And the strength of the resultant blast depends upon the mixture. Put together by an inexperienced bomber, my source said, the bomb can be as powerful (or lack thereof) as you wish.

I have found the same thing true in dealing with forensics. Dr. Doug Lyle, the medical forensic guru, makes that point frequently in answering writers' questions. Within limits, you can make a blow to the head or a shot through the midsection do as much or as little damage as you desire. The same thing goes for time of death. Medical examiners can bracket a time frame, but this is no exact science. Things like ambient temperature or how long a body has been in water can make a big difference.

I try to set up the situation and let my experts give comments that indicate what I want to happen is plausible. Some explosives pro or weapons expert may challenge your premise, but if you've done your due dilligence, most readers will readily go along with you. I think they're more interested in the action and the suspense than in details best left to a technical manual or a medical textbook.

My advice is to tailor the scenario to what you need plotwise. Show it to somebody knowledgable in the field and get their comments. If it sounds good to them, go with it. Otherwise, make adjustments as needed. Just like a recipe. Put in a little more sugar or leave off the salt.

Chester Campbell

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What makes a writer a professional?

What defines a “professional author?”

Recently I got into a discussion with someone about the restrictive admission requirements of a particular writers’ organization, and we had quite a few (very civil) exchanges of emails about the subject. I don’t think we convinced each other, but we did get to air out some opinions, and maybe make each other think.

Let’s look at what defines a profession, first, and then look at the word professional.

According to my two-volume Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary, a profession is: “(1) an occupation requiring special education, such as law, medicine, teaching or the ministry. (2) an calling or occupation by which a person habitually earns his living.”

I think we can agree that being a writer doesn’t necessarily require a special degree or certificate from a college or university. It definitely does require a special aptitude, a love for words, and (ultimately) a thick skin to handle all the rejections. But there is no requirement that a person have special education or training to be a writer. So, I guess we can leave that one out of the picture.

How about earning a living? Holy cow, that will restrict things a lot. I don’t know too many people who earn their entire living from writing… well, let me back up. I know many technical writers who make really good money (I was once one), and there are copy writers who make a decent living, too, creating advertising verbiage.

But we’re talking about fiction writers here. The last figures I saw from the Authors’ Guild said that there were a little over 300 people in the U.S. who make their living strictly as novelists. I don’t know how accurate that is, but the AG does have its finger on the pulse of writing in America, as it were. That doesn’t include short-story writers, or poets, but I think we can agree that it’s pretty darn hard to make a living at those things, too.

OK. Let’s move on to the definition of professional, from the same source. As a noun, there are two definitions: “(1) a person who makes a business or trade of something that others do for pleasure, such as singing or dancing. (2) a person engaged in a profession.”

I think we’ve finally hit on it with definition (1) there. A writer who writes just for fun or as a hobby, and really doesn’t worry about getting paid for it, is an amateur. But a writer who gets paid for his or her work is a professional.

But I think it goes beyond that, too.

If a guy gets out on the golf course a lot, and even wins a local tourney or two, he won't have the temerity to call himself a professional. If a woman bakes cakes and sells them at bake sales to raise money for the local school, she probably won't call herself a professional. If a guy likes woodworking and occasionally does some work for a neighbor and gets paid for it, he probably won't say he is a professional woodworker.

It has to do not only with money received, I believe, but also with an attitude.

If I look at the definition of a third word in that dictionary, it points this out. The word is professionalism and it is defined as “the practice or methods of a professional as distinguished from those of an amateur.” There it is. Professional writers not only get paid for their work, but they are always trying to meet standards that are higher than those for an amateur.

I hope that every time I write, I am working at being more professional, at achieving a higher level of expertise. I may not always make it--even pro golfers sometimes miss a shot. But I’m trying.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Peter O'Donnell, 1920-2010

Modesty Blaise creator, Peter O'Donnell died Monday. He was 90. O'Donnell was a master of the cold-war era spy thriller. His stories were international adventures with a strong female protagonist--Modesty Blaise.  The Modesty Blaise books and short stories spanned thirty years and the comic strip lasted nearly forty until O'Donnell's retirement in 2001.


Although he wrote them at a time when interest in spy thrillers was at a peak following on the success of Ian Fleming, Modesty was not a female James Bond and and the stories were not Fleming rip-offs.

O'Donnell's thirteen Modesty Blaise books were suspenseful, charming, stylish and witty. When other writers were filling their stories with sex and outlandish plot devices, O'Donnell remained true to the essential humanity that cemented the bond between Modesty and her companion, Willie Garvin. Kingsley Amis called Modesty and Willie, "one of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparison with that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."

I was hooked (or should I say, 'nailed') on the stories from the publication of the first book in 1965. I didn't know about the comic strip until I got to Thailand in 1972 and found them in the Bangkok Post. Not only did they have O'Donnell's great stories, they were richly drawn by Enrique Romero. I have heard that O'Donnell was busy writing the introductions to some reprint books of the comics. If so, I intend to find them.

O'Donnel showed me that it is possible to write a strong female protagonist in an adventure series without sinking to the misogynistic burlesque of Carter Brown's Mavis Seidlitz and others of that era. O'Donnell treated his protagonist with love and respect. His portrayal of the relationship based on respect, not sex, between Modesty and Willie was another powerful influence on me. and the model for the  relationship between Ava and Moon in my stories.

Besides the Modesty Blaise stories, O'Donnell wrote other comics for British newspapers, screenplays, dramas, and childrens books. He was a successful writer of Gothic romances under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent, all of which featured strong women, usually searching for identity in a tough world.

Peter O'Donnell will be missed, but Modesty will live long after him.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mystery Convention Time

The Edgars were this week and Malice Domestic this weekend, and I've been hearing all kinds of banter about both on Facebook and all the lists that I'm on. Obviously, I didn't go to either.

I've been to Malice twice and once to the Edgars. Enjoyed both, but living in a dinky place in the middle of California, traveling to the East coast can be a pain. I've decide that from now on, I'm only going to events that are easy to get to.

Having said that, the mystery convention I'm headed to next is Mayhem in the Midlands. It used to be an easier trip than it is now. Last year we were stranded in Denver overnight due to some weather and missing the only plane out of Denver to Bakersfield and there wasn't another the next day. We ended up flying to Fresno and having to ask a relative to pick us up there and drive us to Bakersfield airport to pick up our car.

This year, we're still coming back through Denver, but will be flying from there to San Francisco and then Bakersfield. (Haven't broken that news to my husband yet.)

We love Mayhem and Omaha so hope we have so much fun it won't matter that we're making this weird trip to get home. And I'm on two panels, moderating another, and doing an author chat with two others.

In June, it's the Public Safety Writers Conference which is a writers conference with a lot of speakers and panels geared toward the whole writing experience as well as writing mysteries. Because I'm in charge of the program, I'm a bit anxious but also looking forward to it. It's the only place where I can boss police officers, FBI men and others in the law enforcement field around. Kind of heady for an old lady.

I'm also planning on going to San Francisco in the fall to Bouchercon. A good friend asked me to be her roommate and I figured it was a sign that I ought to go. Bouchercons are always a bit overwhelming, but lots of fun.

What conventions/conferences to like to attend?

Marilyn
http://fictionforyou.com

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Visit with J. A. Jance

by Jean Henry Mead

Bestselling novelist J. A. Jance has two recently released novels, Fire and Ice from HarperCollins and Trial by Fire by Simon and Schuster. (She's pictured with one of her two dogs, which she named Aggie and Daph, for Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. )

When asked when Jance first realized she wanted to be a mystery writeer, she said, "I knew from the time I was in second grade. I didn't specifically want to be a mystery writer but because I always read mysteries it was a natural fit."

Fire and Ice is the second pairing of her two detectives, Joanna Brady in Arizona and J. P. Beaumont in Seattle. They're working seemingly separate cases but, by the end of the book, they find the two are definitely connected. Beaumont's parts of the story are told in first person. Joanna's are narrated in third.

"Trial by Fire, Ali number five, has her working as a newly appointed Media Relations Officer for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department [in Arizona]. When eco-terrorists burn down a supposedly unoccupied house, Ali is part of the investigation that first must identify the victim before locating the killer."

I wondered how the J.P. Beaumont, Joanna Brady and Ali Reynolds series come into being. She explained that "Until Proven Guilty, the first Beaumont book, was published in 1985. When I wrote it, I thought I was writing a one-time book. I was new to Seattle, but the character was a Seattle native. I had to do a lot of research to make that work, and writing it from a male first person point of view was challenging. After writing nine Beaumonts in a row, I was growing tired of the character.

"My editor suggested I come up with some other character so I could alternate. When I wrote the first Joanna Brady, Desert Heat, I knew I was writing a series but I used my experiences of being a single parent, of living in the Arizona desert, and of working in a non-traditional job to create her character. Ali Reynolds grew out of seeing a longtime Tucson female newscaster pushed out of her job due to age factors."

I also wondered what in her background prepared her to write grisly crime and horror novels? Her explanation was that she had the dubious honor of having spent sixty days of her life during the early seventies literally stalked by a serial killer, someone who is still in prison to this day.

"During that time I wore a loaded weapon, and I was fully prepared to use it. I used some of what I learned from that investigation to create the background for Hour of the Hunter, Kiss of the Bees, and Day of the Dead.

She writes in both Seattle and Tucson. "It remains to be seen which writing is best. And I don't have to be in Arizona to write about Arizona. It was in trying to turn the landscape around Bisbee into words when I finally realized why, with the red shale hills and the limestone cliffs, that Bisbee High School's colors are red and gray."
Judy produces two books a year and writes every day. "I don't have a set number of words. I'm also a wife, mother and grandmother. I like having a life."

Her books first made the bestseller list fifteen or twenty books ago, "but making the lists is entirely arbitrary," she said, "and based on decisions that are made far away from the author's effort. I don't think the books I wrote before making the list were of any lesser quality than the ones that have."

Jance donates a percentage of her bookstore earnings to charities such as the YWCA, Humane Society, Relay for Life and ALS research. And her advice to fledgling writers involves a sign posted on her computer screen:

"When I bought my first computer in1983, the guy who installed my word processing program fixed it so every time I booted up the computer, these were the words that flashed across the screen: "A writer is someone who has written TODAY!" Those were words I clung to when I was a pre-published writer and that still resonate with me today. Today I AM a writer. I'm working on Chapter five of the next Ali book. "

Her website is www.jajance.com. She has a blog on her website as well as at www.Seattlepi.com in the City Brights section.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Critique Groups - Yay or Nay?

Today was our May Sisters in Crime meeting with guest speaker Becky Levine. Becky is the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Give and Receive Feedback, Self-Edit, and Make Revisions. The Survival Guide was published by Writer’s Digest in January, 2010. (I stole that directly off her website). After the usual forty-five minutes of snacks and socializing, Becky gave a great presentation on the importance of critique groups, segueing into tips on how to critique and how to take critique. She stressed the importance of giving critique as a 'sandwich' (my sister calls this a 'shit sandwich') - start and end your critique with something positive, layering the actual criticism (constructive criticism, mind you) between the praise.

Most of us in attendance agreed that a good critique partner or group is important. Some writers like to submit the first chapter of their first draft for critique, while others prefer to wait until they have a finished first -- or even second -- draft. Personally I like to get a good start on a project before giving it to anyone else to read. It's easy to get derailed by other opinions right off the bat when I'm still getting a handle on characters and plot.

My least favorite type of feedback is when someone tries to mold my story into one they would write instead of trying to help me write the best possible story I want to write. They want to stamp their own style onto my work and this doesn't help me become a better writer. It also pisses me off, which doesn't make for friendly relations.

How do you all feel about critique groups? Do you find them helpful? Or do you create your masterpieces without feedback?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Don't Try This At Home

by Ben Small



Your perp has a loaded semi-automatic pistol pushed against your protagonist's stomach and has his finger on the trigger.

What should your protagonist do?

Simple. Move against the gun, push his belly hard against the muzzle.

Counter intuitive, isn't it?  But it's an effective maneuver.

Why? Because a semi-auto pistol can only fire if it's locked up. Pushing hard against the muzzle will cause the slide to slip back ever so slightly, thus preventing the pistol from going into battery.  More likely than not, the perp will not understand what has happened and will panic. Yes, you could accomplish the same thing by grabbing the slide and pushing it back, but that's obvious, and a slap of the hand holding the slide or counter pressure on it will cause the slide to slip back into lockup. 

Bang. Call the coroner.

The belly-push gives your protagonist an opportunity to slap the gun away while the perp is still trying to figure out what went wrong.  Those extra tacos your protag had for lunch may just save his life.

How much pressure is needed? Depends on the gun. A Beretta 92FS, the commercial version of the military pistol, has a slide that moves easily. In fact, there have been occasions where the person on the wrong end of a Beretta muzzle has pushed back on the pistol's slide and pushed the slide off the pistol. Sig Sauers and Glocks and 1911s, however, have more resistant slides and require more pressure. Depends on the gun and how well it's been maintained. Slides tend to loosen over time, so a new gun's slide will usually require more pressure than a well-used pistol.

Obviously, if your protagonist is a bit on the heavy side, muzzle-sink is easier to accomplish. Hard bodies may have to push harder. But even Skinny Minny can do this, just requires more pressure. Lean into it, stringbean.

A smart perp, one who knows guns, may counteract this move, however, by grabbing the slide and holding it into place. But I wouldn't worry too much about this happening. Most perps -- indeed, nost people, cops included -- don't know much about guns.

I have to admit: I have not tried this, nor do I intend to. I relied on Massad Aboud, a cop and head of the Lethal Force Institute in Connecticut. for this information. Mas Aboud is regarded as a gun expert; he's frequently called as an expert witness in criminal and civil trials involving guns. He's also a regular contributor to several gun magazines. If Massad Aboud says something, I believe him.  His book IN THE GRAVEST EXTREME should be required reading for every gun owner and for mystery writers who include guns in their stories.

So maybe your protagonist should order some supersized McDonald's meals, huh?