Monday, January 28, 2013


Steam escapes from my humidifier. Magic? Well, not really. Care went into achieving this phenomenon. First, someone a while ago figured out how to construct a product a certain way to make steam occur, turning dry air moist.

That wasn't all. A company had to gather each part either by making them or through purchase. Then, it all had to be put together. The humidifier is ready. Still, if no one knows of this particular brand, how can its benefits be enjoyed?

Using advertising methods, be they word of mouth, written, e-mail or snail mail, someone from the company has to inform buyers this particular humidifier is available at a particular price. Someone at Walgreen's has to make the decision to buy that brand and how many.

Walgreen's then keeps an amount of humidifiers in the stores, keeps circulars in its stores and also sends out copies of the circulars in the Sunday papers.

I see the ad in the paper. I buy the humidifier, take it home, put water in it, place it on the table, and turned it on. Steam comes out. This particular day the sun from the window shines on it, highlighting the steam even more.

Not exactly magic.Actually, lots of work from many people before this product got down to me, the consumer, to enjoy its benefits.

Books aren't magic either, although their inspiration might seem to be. Authors need to not only get an idea, but also master grammar, use common sense, research the genre, settings and/or plot points, plus spend however many hours it takes to put that book together. That could take months, or years, but very rarely only a day or two.

After a book is written, whether indie or traditional, it still needs to go to an editor to catch what the author missed. That editor offers suggestions for improvement, which the author agrees to or not. Changes are  done to make the book stronger.

At some point, preferably early on, a designer puts together a cover provided by an artist or stock source. Sometimes authors do this themselves, but whoever does it must take care to achieve a professional look.

Once the book is done, whether indie or traditional, it needs to be formatted for e-book and/or print. If e-book, it will usually be put up at Amazon and/or Smashwords. If print, some popular places to use are Createspace through Amazon and/or Lightning Source.

The book  is then available for purchase, but no one knows about it. If an author and/or publicist is on the ball, word has already leaked out about the upcoming release.

When the book is actually ready, more publicity results through websites, blogs, publicity releases, and popular social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn and Goodreads. If print copies are on hand, an author might arrange a book launch party or book signings at brick and mortar stores.

Then, wonder of wonders, light shines down. A reader sees the book. Magic?  Not really.

Find Morgan Mandel's current Thriller,
Forever Young: Blessing or Curse on
Amazon at

Like romantic comedy? Try Morgan's latest, Her Handyman,

Find all of Morgan's books at

Connect at Twitter: @MorganMandel

Sunday, January 27, 2013


by Earl Staggs
The idea came to me shortly after the tragedy of 9-11 when terrorists left a scar across the world that will never heal. I was equally horrified, heartbroken and angry. The angry part of me wanted to go out and find anyone planning to commit such a horrible, unspeakable act and exterminate them.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought, “What if a group of people did exactly that?”   What if a group tracked potential terrorists, and if they planned to take innocent lives, stop them before they committed their murderous act? Yes, there are agencies with that responsibility, the CIA, FBI, NSA and others, but they have their hands full with the major groups everyone knows about.  My group would concentrate on smaller groups operating under the radar.

The agency taking form in my mind would be secretive and also operate under the radar. If they were absolutely certain a terrorist group would attack and kill, this agency would stop them first – permanently with great prejudice.

I felt it was an incredible idea, but could I actually build a novel around it? Only one way to find out. Try it and see what happens. I worked on it along with other projects for ten years.

I created a main character with experience in Special Forces and named him Tall Chambers. When Tall retires from the Army at the age of 38, he joins the special agency. The agency has eyes and ears all over the world, and other operatives with skills and backgrounds similar to Tall’s fill out the unit.

As the story rolled out, the primary focus shifted from chasing terrorists and centered more to how the job affected him and those around him. The agency became only a backdrop for Tall’s personal story.  
When Tall loses someone very close to him, his focus becomes entirely personal. He uses the agency’s resources and contacts to find the people responsible and make it possible to get past his devastating loss. 

I was pleased with how this story turned out and feel it could be my best work to date. I call it JUSTIFIED ACTION, and I’ll be announcing its publication in both ebook and print format very soon.  

This project has been in the works for a long time, but I’d happy to say it’s almost there, and that’s a good feeling.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guest Scammer, I mean Blogger, Terry Ambrose

Kaye George

My guest today is Terry Ambrose. His own life has been colorful enough for a thriller autobiography, I think. But he's turned to fiction to tell his stories. Here's a bit about him:

Terry Ambrose started out skip tracing and collecting money from deadbeats and quickly learned that liars come from all walks of life. He never actually stole a car, but sometimes hired big guys with tow trucks and a penchant for working in the dark when “negotiations” failed. You can learn more about Terry on his website at

Terry’s latest book, License to Lie, is about a con artist and a criminologist who join forces and learn that with $5,000,000 and their lives on the line, they can’t trust a soul—even their own.

“License to Lie is fast and well written, almost sure to satisfy discerning readers of thrillers.  There’s a verve to Ambrose’s language and the story moves with assurance, defying easy predictions.” — T. Jefferson Parker, Author of “The Jaguar” and “The Border Lords”

And here is Terry's post! 

The scam—it’s all about stimulus and response. A good con artist creates a world that makes you believe what she’s telling you. Wait…isn’t that what writers do? Create worlds where our readers can escape? Is there a difference?

In a mystery, the story typically focuses on a murder, but could also begin with a kidnapping, a theft, or any other act that garners the protagonist’s interest.  Once that hook has been set, our protagonist, and probably the reader, must see the story through to the end. Again, such similarity, but also a difference. A good con appeals to the basest of human emotions, greed. The con artist might offer quick riches, or maybe just the promise of easy money. Either way, the mark wants something so badly he’ll take risks he knows he shouldn’t. He is, pure and simple, caught on the hook and can’t let go.

Con artists know that scams typically succeed or fail because of the emotional responses they evoke, not the logic. Even the most ridiculous and farfetched scam will succeed if that’s what the mark wants most. In fiction, I’m drawn to stories with complex characters and sharp dialog. Does there need to be a murder to get things started? Maybe, maybe not. If the characters are strong and have captured my interest, the crime doesn’t need to be that severe. What’s important for me as a reader is that the crime is something that captures the main character’s interest. Because I’m interested in that character, I’m also hooked.

A scam that involves huge sums of money grabs everyone’s interest. Why? Not because it’s complex. Not because it’s ingenious. It gains attention because of scope. Madoff’s scheme operated on exactly the same principles as the smaller ones: establish rapport, provide a stimulus, and evoke a response. He just thought bigger than most. But, he also gave us a model for stories.

When you think about the last book you read that you really liked, did it not draw you in by establishing rapport in some way? I just started reading T. Jefferson Parker’s “LA Outlaws.” I’m very grateful to Mr. Parker for reading (and writing a blurb for) my latest novel, but that’s not why I’ve included him here. The truth is that I didn’t read “LA Outlaws” when it first came out. However, I’d heard about it many times and when it cropped up (again) in another discussion, I decided that it was high time I read it. The book begins, not with us meeting the hero of the story, Charlie Hood, but in the mind of a thief. She’s smart, sexy, and despite the fact that she’s an outlaw, we like her. I’ve only finished four chapters, but I’m absolutely hooked and will have to finish this one. There are no maybe’s here, Parker immediately established rapport with his character’s voice and provided the stimulus of putting her into a situation that can only lead to more trouble. In essence, he triggered the basest of my reading responses, the desire to bask in the joy of being reeled in by a master.

What do you like in your fiction? Are you a character person? Do you prefer the plot? For you, what’s the stimulus that creates that “must read” response?

Some links: 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unsolved Mysteries

We spend a lot of time constructing our mysteries, laying in the clues and red herrings, characterizing our hero/heroine and villain, plotting meticulously and creating a satisfying conclusion for our readers. But there are many, many unexplained mysteries out there. Here are a few intriguing ones:

Loch Ness Monster
Nessie has fascinated us for hundreds of years. First reported in 565 AD in the large, freshwater loch, interest renewed in the 1930s and has continued to today. This legendary water monster has had dedicated searchers hoping to find him or her, to no result – yet – despite photos, sonar and even a video.

The Great Pyramids
Who built the great pyramids? How were they constructed using the tools and knowledge available at the time? Man has spent a great deal of time since the mid-19th century exploring the pyramids, without coming up with definitive answers.

Plato teased us with stories of a great seafaring civilization whose island world sank into the sea, leaving no trace. There have been stories, movies and endless discussions about the mysterious world of Atlantis since.

Jimmy Hoffa
Head of the influential Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa disappeared one day in Detroit, Michigan, in July, 1975. No trace has ever been found of Hoffa, but there are plenty of theories and rumors about what happened to him.

Bermuda Triangle
How many aircraft, ships and people have simply vanished in the famed Bermuda Triangle? Is it a wormhole, piracy, weather phenomenon or something else entirely?

Just a few of the many mysteries that intrigue and puzzle us – do you have a different favorite mystery -- solved or unsolved?

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Finding Time to Write

Being successful as a writer sometimes comes down to one thing.

Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Or for those who love acronyms, BICHOK.

Easy, right?  Maybe not.  Finding that perfect time when you’re calm and ready to go may be impossible based on your lifestyle.  Or your choices.

When a co-worker came to me to complain about her supervisor harping on her, I let her vent for a while, then asked, “How did you choose to feel after she said that?”

Dumbfounded, the woman explained, she wasn't choosing to feel a certain way, the supervisor made her feel that way.

I beg to differ.  No one can make you feel anything.  You do that all on your own.

So, what’s choosing got to do with finding time to write?  Everything.

Make a list of what you’ll do today, heck, plan it out for the week.  Then go over the list.  Is there room, even thirty minutes where you can sit and write (either on a computer or longhand?)If yes, congrats, go forth and write during that found time.

If not, then let’s look at your list.

Some things, like work, commute, meals, sleep, are pretty mandatory.  I know my job counts on me to show up every day, so, I do.  Mostly because I like the paycheck.  But could I change my commute? Could I ride the train into work or move closer to save a few minutes on each end of the day?  Or could I carpool and take the days when I’m not driving as my personal writing time? 

Sleep, I won’t tell you to mess with that.  I do love my eight hours.  But maybe you could get up early one day a week or thirty minutes early on workdays. Whatever you carve out, don’t let the internet or a chatty neighbor take your time.  Be ruthless.

What else is on your list?  Volunteer work? Television?  Working out?  Making gourmet dinners every night?  Baking your own bread?

If your list is long, maybe you have to consider if you really want to write or not?  Volunteering is great karma, unless it eats up your personal time and you aren't getting BICHOK time. But they need me.  I can hear the cry now.  So does your manuscript.

I’m going the kill two birds route and limiting my television time to only time I’m working out.  If my butt’s not on the exercise bike, no television. And I can move that time to my writing. 

What are you willing to give up to finish your novel this year?  


Monday, January 21, 2013

Twelve Elements to Consider When Writing a Mystery Series

1. Your sleuth should be likable, interesting and resourceful, with a definite personality that includes quirks and personal issues that have yet to be resolved. Your sleuth needs to have a personal stake in solving the mystery.

2. Consider your setting a major character. Use your setting well--its geography and flavor, its contrasting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and restaurants. Set your scenes in various locales to avoid monotony.

3. Occasionally change your setting. If most of the books in your series take place in a small town, you might have you sleuth solve a murder in Manhattan.

4. Your sleuth needs a best friend or confidant with whom to brainstorm. Consider his/her having a nemesis, as well, to up the tension and add red herrings to the mix.

5. A love interest or interests spices up your plot and adds another dimension. While your reader enjoys the puzzle-mystery aspect of your novel, his/her ties to your sleuth are even stronger.

6. Choose your victim carefully. Why was he/she murdered? What connects the victim to the suspects? Why was the second victim murdered?

7. As for suspects, have many, with various motives, and with varying connections to the victim(s). Don’t telescope the identity of the murderer, but let your murderer appear often enough so that your reader doesn’t feel cheated when all is revealed.

8. Secrets relating to the past are like chunks of dark Belgian chocolate in a chocolate brownie. Every character should have a secret or two. Reveal each secret only when necessary. Use them to your advantage.

9. Every mystery should have a theme. Be it a dispute regarding an inheritance, collecting butterflies or coins, each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of the village or the outside world.

10. Decide what role official crime solvers play in your mystery. Even if you’re writing a cozy series, the police must appear in your books. Is your sleuth friendly with the homicide detective? Do they have an adversarial relationship?

11. Sub plots are essential to any novel, including your mystery. They arise from the theme such as a dispute over land development, or from an issue in your sleuth’s personal life.

12. Make sure your personal viewpoint comes through in your writing. You are unique. Your take on the human condition will help make your series stand out.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Murder by Magnet

By Chester Campbell

It's pretty difficult for a mystery writer to come up with a new way to do in a victim. Authors have used about every means of destroying lives you could imagine. But I've come up with one I don't think has been used before.

My wife, who has suffered with atrial fibrillation for several years, is having a pacemaker implanted in her chest today. Her heart has been out of rhythm for several months. They shocked it back into rhythm twice before, but her cardiologist was as bit reluctant to go that route again. After she kept getting breathless from simply working around the house, they put her on a heart monitor and found her heart wasn't beating faster when it should. The doctor said she was a candidate for a pacemaker.

When she went to the beauty shop recently and told about her coming surgery, some of the women said, "Oh, you won't be able to use the microwave anymore." She didn't believe that, so I looked up a medical site and checked into pacemakers.

In case you aren't familiar with the device, it's a watch-sized gadget powered by a battery that is implanted under the skin in your chest and connected to your heart by tiny wires. The pacemaker is a computer that monitors your activity and sends impulses to keep your heart rate at a steady pace depending on what's required.

The information on the website assured us that the microwave would not interfere with the pacemaker under normal conditions. The same applies to other household appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, etc. But it cautioned about working around machines like generators and anything that produces a strong magnetic field. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a no-no.

So, being a mystery writer accustomed to thinking "what if?" I came up with the idea of using a device called a magnetizer. The murderer would place it close to the victim's chest, causing the pacemaker to go wild, throwing the unlucky person into cardiac arrest. The death would be blamed on a faulty minicomputer.

Okay, I'd have to check this out with the good Dr. Doug Lyle to be sure of it's feasibility, but it sounds good. You can always find a reason to give your character a pacemaker, can't you?. They're quite popular these days.

Visit me at Mystery Mania.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Clue, Clue, Who’s Got the Clue, or How to Sneak Your Way to a Good Mystery

Writing a mystery means walking a very fine line.
You want to play fair with the reader and give him the chance to solve the mystery. 
Sort of.
Readers love to play along and see if they can match/beat your sleuth to the correct solution. In almost every case (so said because there is an exception to everything) nothing makes readers angrier than the solution just coming out of the blue with nothing leading up to it. Worse than that, it’s lazy writing.
So how do you do play fair and still mystify the reader?
Be sneaky.
Put your clues out there, but make them appear to be inconsequential, throw-away things that have no relation to the case. Also put out fake clues leading to a different conclusion (some call them red herrings, but I don’t like fish), but put them out in two ways – some as inconsequentials and some as great big whacking things that might as well have CLUE in blinking neon above them.
No one said you had to play completely fair, did they?
There’s also a traditional ploy called a MacGuffin. Sounds sort of like it should be some kind of fast food, but it’s real – trust me. The MacGuffin is a lovely tool of misdirection. That’s the word I’ve been looking for – misdirection! Just like a magician, you direct the reader’s attention in one direction with one hand while the other hand – in semi-plain view – is actually doing the trick, but no one is really looking at it.
Anyway, the MacGuffin is what everyone in the book seems to want – such as everyone believes the vicar was murdered in a foiled robbery attempt to steal an ancient chalice. All the characters go rushing around trying to figure out who wanted to steal the chalice and why, while the vicar was really murdered because his tulips were certain to win the annual flower show away from the Grande Dame of the village who dislikes losing. The chalice is only a MacGuffin. Now that’s an extremely simplistic example, but in reality the MacGuffin is one of the best tools in the mystery writer’s arsenal.
MacGuffins and misdirection – use them well, and you will keep your reader happily amused and hopefully confused. Or is it the other way around?

          Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
          Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
          Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.

Time is Shrinking

At least that's what it feels like to me.

What I used to be able to do with ease, seems to take much, much longer. I guess I could blame that on old age and the fact that I need to do anything that uses my brain in the morning. To do that, I get up around 4:30 a.m. every day. Which results in me having to go to bed around 8. Though I try to watch at least one TV show, I never see the end.

I probably have "bitten off more than I can chew" as the saying goes.

I've been working on the blog tour for my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Dangerous Impulses. It's very time-consuming and uses a lot of brain cells. (Wondering if I've lost a few over the years.) I'll be telling you what all that entails (the tour not my brain cells) on one of my blogs in March.

I also decided to self-publish an e-book, The Devil's Foothold, which I needed lots of help doing. I offered it free for 2 days (also needed help doing that too), and the promoting of the book itself and then the free days took more time than I wanted. (Not sure it helped all that much either.)

While all this was going on Christmas and New Years arrived at their usual times and I had to take some time off to celebrate, of course. Though, thank goodness, I don't celebrate with as much folderol as I used to.
(Meaning decorating, gift giving, baking, visiting, and parties.)

And doesn't it seem as though there are far more emails than ever, more lists to be on, more Facebook groups that are fun to visit? And I do have to look at Facebook ever so often because my grand kids put up some great photos of their kids. I also find out what's going on with my various family members this way.

I've hardly had time to read--one of my favorite past times. I've got a book to read in the bathroom and one on the dining room table and way too many on Kindle.

Right in the middle of all this, I went to a three-day board meeting for the Public Safety Writers Association in Ventura. Though fun, it's also a lot of work and really is three days, days I can't write. Evenings I did look at my email and Facebook and gave my new iPad a workout. (Have my Kindle books on their too.) I had a couple of short visits with my youngest daughter. Hubby spent most of his time with her and her family.

What about you? Have you got enough time to do all the things you need/want to do?

Marilyn aka F.M. Meredith

Monday, January 14, 2013

I See You, But You Don't See Me

By accident I discovered I can look out my dining room window, see two blocks away, yet no one can see me looking. I know this, because I've checked outside from that distance and can't see into that window. I'm not an expert, but the reason appears to be a combination of the shrub blocking over 50% of the window, plus the way the light hits the glass.

It's kind of fun watching people walk down the street, some with their dogs, some on their way to work, some to other destinations.

This scenario fits well into mystery books in various instances. Here are some:

A person witnesses a crime, yet the criminal can't see the witness. Perhaps it was a case of looking out a window like mine, or inattentiveness by the criminal in not casing the area for bystanders, or various other factors.

Or, the reverse. A victim doesn't see the criminal, perhaps a stalker, who hides behind doorways, or hides behind cars in traffic lanes, sneaks into a house while the door is open, or uses other methods. Or, perhaps the victim is so engrossed in some other problem or event the criminal goes unnoticed.

Carrying this scenario to a different level, here are some instances between authors and readers:

An author creates a book and puts it online, or it's carried in a bookstore. Readers don't see it. Why? Perhaps an author gets caught up in having the book published and expects the literary world to rush out and get it. However, that author hasn't set up any publicity, or hired someone to do so, either through social media or other methods. Unless readers know a book is available by seeing the cover or description somewhere, or hearing about it, the author can see the book, but no one else does.

Or, in another case, a reader notices an author, purchases a book, yet no one, including the author, knows whether or not that reader enjoyed the read. The only person who knows this is the reader. If only the reader had shared the experience, either through word-of-mouth, a comment somewhere on social media, or even by going so far as to write a review, that would have made the difference. Then, the author would know the effect of the book on that reader.

Can you think of other instances? Or, perhaps you just want to agree or expand on one of mine.

Morgan's current thriller is
Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.
A 55 year old widow takes a pill to be 24 forever, but
learns that being old might not be the only way to die.

Soon, the villains and the law are after her.

In the works is a sequel to Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,
called Blessing or Curse.

Consuela's husband has Parkinson's. Would the pills help him?

Ezekial suffers from E.D. Will the pills cure his curse?

Police officer, Mike, has let himself go. His physical is coming up. Maybe the pill will help.

Dee Dee wonders if her husband is cheating. Will the pill make her more attractive? 

Sherri's washed out as a model. Can the pill reignite her career?

If you like romantic comedy, check out Her Handyman,
and be amused by the adventures of Jake, the handyman, who answers a frantic call by Zoe, the rich artist, to stop a bathroom flood in her penthouse.

Find all of Morgan Mandel's mysteries, thrillers and romances at:

Amazon Author Page:

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Adventure and Genes and Nomads and Neanderthals

by Kaye George

In college, the old Nature or Nurture thing was debated on and on. I don’t think anyone ever reached a conclusion, because it’s more complicated than that. It’s both, or it’s something else, or whatever.

Nevertheless, a new discovery may explain another dichotomy: Settler or Nomad. Some people are born, raised, and live their whole lives in one limited area. Others have to get up and go. Across the state, across the country, around the world. I’m the second kind, a Nomad. My family is scattered all over, too, at least the one’s on my dad’s side. One of my kids stuck close, but the other two took off and ventured into the unknown.

My husband and I have moved many times, usually to a different state. Only once did we move where we knew anyone else, and that was Michigan, where I knew two people, just by coincidence. We’re doing it again this month, moving across the country from Texas to Tennessee, but this one is different. Hubby is retiring and we’re chasing those far-flung kids of ours. Why are we doing this? Why did my dad’s family go from Germany to Ireland in the 1700s, from Ireland to the US in the 1800s (OK, that was because of the Potato Famine)? Why did they roam from Pennsylvania to Kansas in covered wagons, then spread from Washington state to Illinois to California and, briefly for one of them, to India?

An article in the latest National Geographic has an answer! The magazine, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, has put out a special issue devoted to the topic of why we explore. I call our tendency to want to move after a few years, our desire to see someplace new, Itchy Feet. National Geographic calls it Restless Genes. There is a genetic mutation that was discovered several years ago, a variant of a gene called DRD4, that possibly is responsible. This gene helps control dopamine, the chemical brain substance that figures in learning and reward. The variant, called DRD4-7R, is carried by about 20 percent of humans, and has been tied to curiosity and restlessness. So, I guess, we can’t help it.
Here are some links to articles about this:
“ nomadic populations had higher frequencies of 7R alleles than sedentary ones. “

Dear to my heart is the tie to Neanderthals:
Although this article is not entirely complimentary to them! The gene mutation is also tied to things like ADHD, bipolarism, addiction, and other conditions.

All Neanderthal images are in the public domain.