Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blurting Out the Truth

A work of fiction has to be about something, doesn’t it? And really good books are about a lot of things, some of them heavy social issues. Raymond Chandler’s novels are about crime and corruption in the 1940s in a place he called Bay City, in truth, Santa Monica.

No Dice, my first novel published in 2010, is about crime and corruption in Santa Monica and the attempt by a casino consortium to build a high-rise casino downtown. Please know that it feels presumptuous to put my name on the same page as Raymond Chandler.

However, I write police procedural mysteries to entertain you. I want to provide a few hours of escape from humdrum reality and give you a picture of Santa Monica only a longtime resident and activist could. But let’s have some fun doing it. So I slide in a few snarky comments about social issues as well. I’m sure even Dan Brown and James Peterson think they engage seriously with heavy social issues.

I did the research, actual years of it, to write No Dice, ending about three years ago. I read the newspapers, kept track of certain stories as they developed in California, and set up a Google Alert for casino development issues.

I knew what I was talking about when I wrote the book. Then I was faced with a tough interviewer who notified me he wanted my opinion of new casinos and land use planning, and the ethical issues surrounding gambling. (The term the industry wants you to use by the way is gaming, not gambling.)

I am no expert on casinos. People seem to want to gamble. But I am an expert on Santa Monica.

Like most anxieties that never take shape in a real form neither he nor anyone else has ever asked me a thing about casinos. Not once! My nervousness comes from the unfortunate habit of blurting out the truth when someone asks me a disturbing question because I’m just not quick on my feet. Terrible things have been said in a fit of anxiety.

My dears, I want you to know: this is a trait that doesn’t always serve you well. I know I should never have said that snarky thing about Dan Brown. People will stone me.

Has blurting out the truth ever happened to you?

No Dice is available at at

Mar Preston is also the author of Rip-Off, the second in the series featuring Santa Monica Police Department Homicide Detective Dave Mason is available at

Payback, a third mystery set in a tranquil mountain town in the Sierras is available at

Saturday, June 29, 2013

To Save Herself, She Bit the Cop on the Leg

Kathleen Kaska

            I’m not a newspaper reader, never have been. But my husband more than makes up for it in our household. Since he discovered the pleasures of reading newspapers online, he now keeps tabs on dozens of small towns we fell in love with while on our cross-country trip a couple of years ago. I know the latest happenings in Rockport, Alpine, and Palacios, Texas, Marblehead, Massachutes, Cedar Key and Apalachola, Florida, and Nags Head, North Caroline, just to name a few. We find out who’s doing what and where. But the most entertaining reads come from the police blotters. And I realized these brief bits of bizarre news offer a wellspring of ideas for mystery writers.
            I imagine what fun the police detectives must have crafting these reports. Recently, the police in a nearby town uncovered a murder-for-hire plot by an inmate in the county jail who was enlisting the help of a fellow inmate to murder the man responsible for the guy’s incarceration. These were the instructions he gave to the would-be killer, “Wet him with gasoline; dry him with a match.” A pretty good line; right out of a Mickey Spillane novel. If this guy ever went straight, he might make it as a pulp fiction writer.
            Or how about this one? A few weeks ago, the police in my quiet little town were called to a
photo credit to
motel where a woman insisted they arrest her. She was hiding out from her ex-husband and current boyfriend who, according to the woman, were plotting to kill her. The cops explained they could not fulfill her wish because she hadn’t committed a crime. With a that’s-what-you-think attitude, she began pounding on the squad car’s windshield. When one of the officers tried to restrain her, she bit him on the leg. For the next few hours, the woman had the protection she’d requested.
            Or, here’s one; “Just say you’re sorry.” Several peopled complained about a homeless man who was causing a ruckus in a downtown square. The police arrived and realized the man was shouting profanities at someone only he could see. The cops told him to apologize to his imaginary friends. He did. End of story.
            Check your local police blotter. What strange tidbits can you share?
Stop by for a visit at Birds and Books.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mysteries Began with Vidocq

A Guset Blog by William Shepard

Mysteries have always appealed to me, from the Sherlock Holmes stories that I devoured as a teenager to the Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie books that expanded their audience through movie and television adaptations. As I began writing my own mysteries, the thought naturally arose to study the genre itself. Where did mystery stories begin? Who invented them, and what was the audience?

I was amazed to discover that a very odd Frenchman, Eugène François Vidocq, laid the basis for the modern detective story. He was a criminal, in fact a galley slave, who turned on his fellow criminals and became a police informant, then a police officer! He was so skilled that his work produced a descending crime rate in Paris, and he was responsible for many methods that criminologists today employ. Vidocq became the model for many authors, including Victor Hugo, whose “Les Miserables” used Vidocq as the model for BOTH Jean Valjean and his police nemesis, Inspector Javert!

The first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” by Edgar Allan Poe, was modeled in part after Vidocq’s bestselling “Memoirs.” Meanwhile, Vidocq established the world’s first detective agency in Paris, and as an international celebrity had actually consulted on the formation of Scotland Yard.
It All Began with Vidocq!
From there, the detective story started to grow. Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle broadened the detective story with their immortal sleuths, and in the twentieth century the development of the “cozy” mystery by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers reached new audiences. In America the competing “hardboiled” genre featured Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Gradually the detective story took new forms, including short mysteries for readers to solve on their own.           

 And so my latest work, “The Master Detective Trio,” combines three Ebooks. First, “The Great Detectives: From Vidocq to Sam Spade,” traces the detective story from its origins. And there are some interesting byways – just where did the name Sherlock come from, anyway? And who did murder the Sternwood chauffeur in “The Big Sleep?”

Then, “Coffee Break Mysteries” is a collection of twenty short mysteries, for those days when the reader wants a short reading break. The settings are varied and interesting. We first have “The Plot to Poison George Washington.” The London of Dickens and Salem, Massachusetts during the witchcraft hysteria are both found here.

In “More Coffee Break Mysteries: The Sherlock Holmes Edition,” there are twenty new short mysteries to solve. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, like me, you’ll be pleased to find five brand new adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, all of which were approved by the literary estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

William Shepard felt that there was something missing in crime novels. And that was the world of diplomacy, a real world for all its glamour. He invites readers to "Come into that world and solve a crime or two, while you explore with me the Embassy life, its risks and rewards, and yes, its occasional murders! His novels include include Vintage Murder, Murder On The Danube, and Murder In Dordogne. Also, Diplomatic Tales, a memoir of life at American Embassies, is also available. For those who want to know more about enjoying fine wines, Shepard's Guide to Mastering French Wines is a reliable and entertaining guide to the regions and wines of France.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Adding a little spirit to your mystery...

And I don’t mean drinks.

So who writes mysteries with a touch of the other world?  I’m playing with a cozy that has a paranormal twist.
I have to say, I love a good dark gothic romance.  Give me an old house with creaks and groans, a flicker of light that may or may not be a ghost, and a tortured hero, and I’m in heaven.  I grew up watching Dark Shadows and always felt a little sad for the lonely, unloved vampire. 

Zombies, not so much. Zombies remind me of the slasher films, Halloween, Friday the 13th, those types, where evil is going to win. Every time.  Even in Final Destination, death won.  Maybe not in movie number one but eventually.

I've got books of spells around the house for research purposes. Which brings up a side note, does it bother anyone that spell books so easy to obtain?  I didn't have to go to the Voodoo R Us store in the bad section of town, just down to my favorite paper bookstore.  I’m sure I could have found tons more books on line.  Is it because more people believe? 

Now, I’m researching rune stones and the ancient gods they represented.

I brought home a voodoo zombie doll from my last trip to Nashville.  She’s dressed in a ballerina outfit over her mummy wrap.  The doll is supposed to help me bring out my natural talents.  She does make me smile every time I see her pink tutu so out of place on the bandages.

Oh, and I live in one of the most haunted towns in America. The picture above is the remnants of the first prison in Illinois- after 1860 when prisoners were transferred to Joliet, then the site was used to incarcerate captured confederate soldiers.  Being on the Mississippi, the prison often flooded and the daily death rate was 6-8 men. The site is said to be haunted by the ghosts of these men.

So what books or movies do you love that brings in a touch of the woo woo? Or are you a realist in your reading and writing?  


Sunday, June 23, 2013


by Earl Staggs

I’m working on the opening chapter of a sequel to my novel MEMORY OF A MURDER.  When I began, I thought it would be easy.  After all, I knew the main character, Adam Kingston, quite well.  He first saw life in a short story and everyone who read that story liked him so much I decided to put him in a novel. When you consider the initial writing plus the rewriting, getting MEMORY OF A MURDER into publishable shape consumed about three years of my life. Yes, Adam and I spent a lot of time together and since I already had the plot of the sequel worked out in my mind, the opening chapter would be a breeze.

Then I began thinking about all I wanted to do in the first chapter.

I have to introduce Adam, of course, so readers can visualize him as soon as possible. How old he is, whether he’s tall, short, thin, fat, that sort of thing.

Then, I need to explain that Adam is a private investigator with a unique twist.  He has a psychic gift.  When he visits a crime scene or touches an object related to a crime, short, swift images flash in his mind. Sometimes these images contain clues which help him solve a case.  Sometimes they only leave him confused because he has no idea what they mean.  That’s how it is with real-life psychics. It’s not an exact science. 

And, no, he does not see or talk to dead people.  A medium does that, not a psychic.

Anyway, in the first chapter, I wanted to explain Adam’s gift and how it works without doing it as an info dump. 

Next, some characters from the first book will appear in the first chapter of the sequel.  I want to introduce them and describe them and tell readers about their relationship with Adam. Naturally, I don’t want to do that in one big boring narrative clump.  I also don’t  want to repeat it exactly as I did it in the first book.  People who read the first book might remember and think I’m cheating.

Brenda McCort is a recurring character, for example.  She’s a homicide detective Adam met in the first book.  They’ve been dating for about a year now.  There’s a subplot about their relationship I want to introduce in the first chapter.

There’s also setting.  Adam lives in Ocean City, a family resort town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  His place is on the sixth floor, overlooking the Boardwalk, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.  That’s where Adam happens to be when the story begins, so I need to describe all that in the first chapter.

Naturally, I need to include something about the main plot of the story.  Not much, of course, but enough to let the reader know Adam is going to get involved in something  interesting very soon.  If I do it right, readers will want to continue reading.  Yes, we call that a “hook.”

I think that covers all the important points I want to put in the first chapter.  I want to write all that in such a way that readers will be intrigued and drawn into the story and not even realize I’ve pumped so much into it.  I don’t want readers to suspect I’ve stuffed an elephant in a sock.

Easy peazy piece of cake, right?  Maybe if I fold the trunk and pin the ears back. . .

 Someone is leaving a trail of bodies from Baltimore to Ocean City, and only Adan Kingston can stop him.

"A stunning book, beautifully plotted, and its characters jump off the page with life.  There’ no putting this book down."

"The story is smart, laden with suspenseful twists, and capably laid out. . .an extremely credible novel." 

MEMORY OF A MURDER available online at Amazon and B&N 
Read Chapter 1 at


Saturday, June 22, 2013


by Kaye George

I had an attack of vertigo last week. These aren’t rare, for me, but it had been a few months since I’d had one and it took me by surprise.

It gave rise to some musings on balance. I do lose balance in other ways, too.

Sometimes I allow my computer time to take over my whole day. Notice, I didn’t say my writing. I can’t really write for a whole day, but I CAN spend all my waking hours on the dang ‘puter. Most of it is wasting time. Let’s not talk about my Solitaire addiction. Leaving that aside, there’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, news posts, links to interesting articles, blogs--wish I read more of those--I’m sure I miss some good ones.

I have a solution, but don’t always use it. My solution is to set my timer to 50 minutes. I have a clever one that remembers what setting I used last time. The 10 minutes is for my hourly break, but I’m flexible on that. The important thing is not to sit for 2 or 3 hours at a time, like I did yesterday.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Do You Feel About Homophones?

by Janis Patterson
I will admit to being picky, but I believe that words should be respected.
Words are how we communicate. The slightest difference in word choice can change the meaning of a sentence completely. The exact right word makes our writings sing. However – there is a plague worming its way through our world, destroying our ability to communicate accurately – Homophones.
Homonyms – words spelled just alike but having different meanings and perhaps different pronunciations – are bad enough, but at least you can get the idea from context. When someone writes ‘he rose from the chair’ you can be pretty sure they’re not talking about the flower.
Homophones share the same pronunciation, but are spelled differently and have different definitions, which – if misused, as they are all too often – makes comprehension into rhythm-breaking work. Think ‘we went two the mall’ or ‘the horse pulled at the reigns.’ See? It sounds okay if you read it aloud, but as far as reading purposes go the reader is jerked right out of the story.
For example, something that sends me up the wall is when someone talks about ‘brooching a cask of something-or-other’ or ‘giving someone a beautiful broach.’ These both happen all too often in historical romances. ‘Broach’ means to open, whereas ‘brooch’ is a piece of jewelry. I have these incredible visions of a wooden cask decorated with a diamond pin…
It gets even worse when three spellings/meanings get involved. For an example that I see far much too much of, ‘Take a sneak peak!’ For Heaven’s sake, what does the top of a mountain have to do with sneaking? It conjures up visions of sneaker-clad climbers tiptoeing to the top. Didn’t the writer realize that ‘peak’ is the top and ‘peek’ is a quick look? To say nothing of pique (curiosity or prickly emotion)… Then there’s vain–vein–vane and pare–pear–pair and lots of other examples. Each is a perfectly good word in itself and each has its own meaning. I don’t care how much it sounds like another word, they aren’t interchangeable.
Sheer and shear have totally different meanings. So do coarse and course, and seamen and semen. (Don’t worry – I’m not going there!) Rhyme is a totally different word from rime, Samuel Taylor Coleridge notwithstanding! Raise and raze are total opposites
What makes it truly bad is that some of the most egregious examples of homophonic mayhem I have ever seen come from writers. (Unlike the cruelties often perpetrated upon apostrophes, which terrible in the world in general. That form of ignorance is why I began the AAAAA – the American Association Against Apostrophe Abuse. Someday I hope it will have another member.)
I will accept that everyone makes a mistake now and then, usually in an email or short note when the capture of an elusive idea is more important than the form, and I am lenient about such. A private communication is one thing, but a public presentation is another. What makes me howl is seeing these ignorant mistakes in theoretically formal writing that is meant to communicate ideas and communicate them correctly – books and articles and advertising. How likely is someone to think that a book is good when the blurb enticing us to buy it contains such errors?
Words are precious; they are our stock and trade as well as our tools. We should use them accurately and treat them with respect, just as by using them correctly we show respect to our readers. Language is a wondrous thing. We shouldn’t abuse it.

PS : for a fun and incredibly long list of  homophones, go take a look at

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Raging Water Featured at Book Tea

Every year the Springville Community Club puts on a book tea. Different women choose a book they want to talk about and decorate a table to go along with the theme of the book. There is room for 8 women at each table and tickets sell for $20 apiece. Attendees are served tea (of course) and three courses: teeny tiny appetizers, teeny tiny sandwiches, and teeny tiny desserts. Though quite attractive and delicious, though there are several each go around, no one leaves too full.

This year my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Raging Water, was featured at two of the tables. The reason was my friend who begged and begged me to put her in one of my books was featrued in Raging Water as the character Miqui Sherwood. Now I've had several contests where the winner's name gets to be used for a character in a book, but this was different. Miqui Sherwood had the very essence and personality of my friend. Everyone who read it said I nailed her perfectly--and she plays an important part.

So when she told me she was going to decorate two tables in honor of Raging Water of course I bought a ticket. (She'd done this once before for a previous Deputy Tempe Crabtree book where she dressed up like Tempe even to the point of wearing a black wig.)

Because Raging Water takes place right after Christmas, both tables were Christmas themed. In the books Miqui is known for wearing sweaters with the theme of whatever holiday is closest (and that is what she does in real life too), but since it was 107 degrees in Springville that afternoon, she wore a lightweight T-shirt with a Christmas design.

Here are the two tables:

As you can see each table had a Christmas tree, appropriate table cloth, Christmas china, and lots of decorations, including a copy of my book, and she also had a photograph of her two dogs who also had important parts in the story.

Each table hostess gave a brief summary of the particular book they'd chosen, and my friend did a great job telling all about Raging Water.

Despite the heat, I think everyone who came had a great time, I know I certainly did.


Monday, June 17, 2013

An interview with James M. Jackson

Today I'm interviewing James M. Jackson, author of Bad Policy.

1. Give Us a brief bio—where you grew up, went to school, the kind of work you did before you became a writer or still do.

I grew up in the Rochester, New York. I attended Lafayette College in Easton, PA. then transferred to the State University of New York at Albany because I thought I wanted to be a high school math teacher. Instead, I stumbled into a job as an actuarial trainee and thirty years later I retired from the profession. The firms I worked for consulted with large corporations, not-for-profits and governments. I designed and determined the funding for retirement plans and post-retirement medical plans.

2. When did you start to write fiction? Why a murder mystery?

After retiring, I took six months to decide what I wanted to do. Writing kept popping up to the top of the list. They say to write what you know. As a life-long lover of crime novels that was what I knew.

3. Tell us about your novel, Bad Policy. How did you c
ome to write that particular book?

I enjoy the mental challenge of figuring out how to game a system, and financial systems are the most fun. If I had been born a generation later, I would have been hacker. Fortunately, the moral code Mom instilled (and being chicken about being caught) kept me on the up-and-up.

The bad policy in Bad Policy has to do with insurance products sold by a crooked insurance agency. The main character, Seamus McCree, comes home from a business meeting and finds cops swarming his place because someone has stored a tortured body in his basement. He was acquainted with the guy (who owned that insurance agency), and consequently he’s the main suspect. Since the police are focused on him, Seamus needs to find out who is setting him up and why. Seamus uncovers secrets about his father’s death many years earlier.

I was interested in exploring how an event years ago affected different people and what happens when those people intersect in present time. I also wanted to discover how a basically decent person would react once his family is threatened. How far would he go to protect them? What lines would he cross or refuse to cross?

4. What is your connection to bridge?

I was writing my “practice” novel and playing a lot of online backgammon when a neighbor called because she needed a bridge partner for that afternoon. Though I hadn't played for 35 years, I didn’t embarrass myself. Another player asked me to play at the local duplicate bridge club. I had been looking for a bit more social outlet than online backgammon provided and this fit the bill.

I loved bridge and began to play tournament bridge shortly thereafter. After a few years, I realized I could write a helpful book targeted at intermediate players, out of which came One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge. Happily, the world’s largest bridge book publisher agreed and published the book to excellent reviews.

5. Is setting important to your book? Why did you set the book in Boston?

In the sequel, Cabin Fever,  the setting and its attendant winter weather is almost a character. In contrast, Bad Policy could have been set elsewhere and been equally effective. The story starts in Cincinnati, where I lived at the time of its writing, and moves to Boston because of the link to the death of Seamus’s father, who was a Boston cop.

I lived in the Boston area for two years, so I knew and liked the area. I wanted a place where Seamus could grow up Irish Catholic and Boston fit the bill.

6. What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to read both fiction and nonfiction. I still play tournament bridge, which can be a big time suck. I enjoy being outdoors, whether it’s taking a hike, bird watching, improving my photography skills or simply relaxing.

7. What do you do when you get writer’s block or have a difficult plotting problem?

With plotting problems I think hard about the problem and then tuck it away and work on something else. My brain continues to work on the problem without my encouragement and minutes, hours, days or weeks later it provides at least one answer.

I always have multiple projects going, so writer’s block is rarely a problem. When I hit a stumbling block I let it sit and pick up something else. Again, my brain comes to the rescue with alternative solutions to the problem.

I believe strongly that I can be most creative when I have done my research and then let it percolate. Answers arrive on walks, long drives, in a hot shower. The key for me is to give things time and not press the resolution.

8. How do you market your book?

Not as well as I’d like. I have participated in a number of blogs such as this one to spread the word. I did a Goodreads giveaway and garnered a good deal of interest. I am waiting for the next royalties statement to determine if it resulted in any sales. I have and will continue to participate on panels at mystery conferences to gain exposure, and I spend some time on various social networks.

I ask everyone who tell me they’ve enjoyed the book to tell their friends. Ultimately, satisfied readers will be my best marketing. To better connect with my readers, I redesigned my website and now write a quarterly newsletter in which I provide extra features such as character interviews not otherwise available.

9. What is your next writing project?

Cabin Fever, the sequel to Bad Policy, is with the publisher, with an expected publication date of March 2014. Seamus retreats to his cabin deep in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan woods for the winter and ends up tangling with the Michigan Militia after a woman who suffers from frostbite, amnesia and Legionnaire’s disease shows up on his stoop.

I am about 30,000 words into the first draft of the third book in the series with a working title, Doubtful Relations. The current husband of Seamus’s ex-wife has gone missing, and she enlists his help in uncovering the real story.

10. What advice would you give to a new writer? What writing group helped you the most?

Earlier this month I wrote a blog for Writers Who Kill about my best writing advice titled Two Secrets to Writing Success. A synopsis is Read and Write—a lot. Without a reading foundation it’s difficult to know how people write well. Without actual writing time, you can’t learn to write well.

New writers also need appropriate feedback. When I started writing I lived in Cincinnati and was fortunate to discover the Cincinnati Writers Project, a weekly critique group. In retrospect, I probably learned as much by critiquing others as I did from the critiques I received. Writing critiques forced me to think about why something did or did not work, and if it didn’t how it could be fixed.

If a critique group is not meeting your needs, find another. These days online critique groups can be very successful.

Thanks very much for inviting me to your blog, Marilyn. I appreciate the opportunity to meet new people and I’ll happily answer any questions your readers pose.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Guilty Pleasure of Crime Fiction

I've asked myself countless times why I’m fascinated enough with murder and mayhem to write three crime fiction novels about Santa Monica? Why do I feel such glee in learning the forensic details of death and dying?

I happily confess my guilty pleasure in crime fiction but I also know that crime in real life ripples outward and causes misery and suffering.  A mass shooting left five dead recently in Santa Monica.

What kind of fantasies does a young man raised on television and action movies have as he barrels across town dressed in black, wearing body armor and a helmet and brandishing a military-style assault rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and an ammunition belt? What stories is he telling himself as he shoots up a bus, a SUV and the college library, then dies in a glorious blaze of gunfire at the hands of a cop?

That cop or cops—however the story is finally told—will never forget or get over what he or she has done in the line of duty. Everyone involved will still be processing some kind of what if question. What if I had been in that library? Riding that bus? Many of them will still be shaking, wondering, going over it and over it, unable to let it go.

We enjoy writing about reading crime fiction with its thrill me, chill me, scare-me- to-death aspect of getting up close to Hannibal Lecter on the printed page. We love Halloween, death-defying roller coasters, tornadoes.  Don't we?

Crime fiction has its appeal because we’re assured that in the end goodness will prevail over evil and the villain will be punished. Things will end up right.

Sometimes there is no closure. The villain goes unpunished. The good guy doesn't always win and we are left burning  with a sense of injustice. Such is the world of victims of crime.

It will take months to uncover the backstory and assess what happened at the nine different crime scenes.

And will we be any further ahead then in preventing or dealing with this kind of craziness? That’s up to us to answer—and then do something about.

Mar Preston is the author of No Dice, Rip-Off, and the upcoming On Behalf of the family, crime fiction novels in which the hero is a Santa Monica Police Department Homicide Detective. They are available on

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Amazing Alexandra Sokoloff

I've interviewed well over a thousand people since I began my writing career as a journalist back in the dark ages, and one of the most amazing is Alexandra Sokoloff.
Alex is the bestselling, thriller award-winning, Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author of nine supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers. The New York Times has called her "a daughter of Mary Shelley," and her books "Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre."
The California native grew up in both northern and southern California, the daughter of a scientist and educator, which, she says, drove her into the musical theater at an early age. She acted, sang, danced and played classical piano through the turbulent tween years, and began directing plays at age sixteen, the year she also lived in Istanbul as an AFS exchange student and started college.
At U.C. Berkeley, she majored in theater and minored in everything that Berkeley is known for. She also wrote, directed, and acted in productions from Shakespeare to street theater; trained in modern and jazz dance; directed and choreographed four full-scale musicals; spent a summer singing backup vocals in a bar at Glacier National Park, and audited at least three times as many classes in various subjects as she was actually taking. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
As a screenwriter she has sold original suspense and horror scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios (Sony, Fox, Disney, Miramax), for producers such as Michael Bay, David Heyman, Laura Ziskin and Neal Moritz. She's also the workshop leader of the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops, based on her screenwriting workbooks and blog.
Her debut ghost story The Harrowing was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award (horror) and an Anthony award (mystery), for Best First Novel. Her second novel of dark suspense, The Price, explores troubling questions of what people will do for love, or personal survival, in the eerie setting of a labyrinthine Boston hospital.
Since that time she has published The Unseen, which features a team of psychology researchers who decide to replicate a long-buried poltergeist investigation, and is based on the real-life ESP experiments and poltergeist studies conducted in the Rhine parapsychology department at Duke University.
In her fourth thriller, Book of Shadows, a Boston homicide detective must join forces with a beautiful, mysterious witch from Salem in a race to solve a Satanic killing. Her paranormal thrillers are The Shifters and Keeper of the Shadows (from The Keepers trilogy, with bestselling authors Heather Graham and Harley Jane Kozak), her edgy supernatural YA thriller, The Space Between, and the suspense thrillers Huntress Moon and Blood Moon, books 1 and 2 in the bestselling, Thriller Award-nominated Huntress/FBI series.
In her spare time, Alex enjoys adventure travel and various kinds of dance, which she has also taught and performs with Heather Graham's all-author Slush Pile Players. She's a former member of the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, west, and of the Board of the Mystery Writers of America. She's also the founder of, "a large and unruly online community of over 2,000 professional screenwriters" as well as a member of the Killer Thrillers! author collective.
Alex can be found blogging at and teaching her popular Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop on her Screenwriting Tricks For Authors blog.
She's also active on Facebook and Twitter, but says she's not an addict. "No, seriously," she says. "it's under control."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When is a coroner like a writing desk?

Sometimes I’m surprised at the things I thought I knew and didn't. 

Like the difference between coroner and medical examiner.  

Growing up, I knew that Quincy was a medical examiner and Idaho had coroners.  I knew that fact about Idaho because at Girl’s State (a program designed for high school juniors – the leaders of tomorrow, I had to run for an office.  Knowing I wouldn't be successful in a popularity vote (think shy bookworm) I chose the one office I didn't think anyone else would want.  Creepy coroner. 

And just to set the record straight – the girl who won, cheated.  She used a ventriloquist dummy in her campaign speeches.  Totally against the rules, but maybe even creepier than the girl who haunted the library most of her academic 

So when I penned my first cozy – set on the central California coast, I chose a mortician in a nearby town to be my coroner character. 

Today, reading an interview with a Colorado retired coroner made me question the use of the role. So back to Google I went, and found a chart here (Thanks NPR) that breaks down by state who handles the states dead. 

Coroners are elected.  And in some states, a popular vote and a ventriloquist dummy, (yes, I do hold a grudge, why?) will get you the position.  Medical examiners are professionals, trained and hired. 

I can see how authors get lost in research, trying to make their books accurate.  Whether it’s a contemporary setting, or historical, there are always going to be things you thought you knew.

And that’s the fun of writing.  Learning more than you’ll ever say about a subject.  Like coroners. Now, luckily, California uses both, so my small town coroner, Doc Ames, can rest comfortably in the pages of the book without being revised. 

So, MMM readers and authors, what did your favorite author get wrong? Or right? No names please, we’ll protect the innocent. J


Monday, June 10, 2013

Someone Is Always to Blame

I caught a cold over the weekend. I don't know how I got it. That aspect bugs me in a way. I'm usually careful and keep away from germy people, but this time I don't know who passed on the germ to me. Already the DH is saying things like, "I  hope I don't catch your cold." If he does, at least he'll know where to assign blame.

Why do we read mysteries? I think one reason is to solve the same type of mind puzzle. A fictional character gets killed or threatened bodily harm. The reader is sent on a search with the object being where to assign blame. It's a great guessing game to see if speculations are correct.

In the case of thrillers, readers sometimes even know the bad guy, but still are on pins and needles wondering if the hero or heroine will figure it out in time before more dire happenings occur.

Someone is Always to Blame.

In most mysteries, we learn the answer. In others, such as my cold case, we'll never know.

Morgan Mandel
Find Excepts & Buy Links to my
mysteries, thrillers & romances at
Twitter: @MorganMandel

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Quotes for Writers (and others)

My friend, Jan Christensen, recently did a blog on helpful quotes she’s collected. Hers are on writing advice and I loved the post!

It got me thinking about the mishmash of quotes I’ve collected over the years. On the chance that some of them may interest you, I’ll throw a bunch out here. These aren’t all writing advice. Many are inspiration (I seem to need that often). Some are just funny (I need that, too.)

“Write like a shark. Keep moving or you die.” My paraphrase from a Neil Gaiman article. This one is currently taped to my monitor.

Others are gathered into files with various names because I forget I already have a file for quotes.

This one resurfaced on the Short Mystery Fiction list recently:
"Writing is a lot like prostitution. First you do it for love. Then you do it for money. Then you recruit others." --Moliere

This one also came from a discussion on the Short Mystery Fiction List.
I'm thinking literary focuses on the moment when the character changes, and the genre focuses on what the character does with that change. --Stephen D. Rogers

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working." --Pablo Picasso

"It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop." – Confucius

"You have seen, but you have not observed." --Sherlock Holmes

"I have lost all sense of home, having moved about so much. It means to me now -- only the place where the books are kept." That's my favorite Steinbeck quote. --Elaine Viets

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I will try again tomorrow.” --Old Irish Saying

"Change is a dragon. You can ignore it, which is futile. You can fight it, in which case you will lose. Or you can ride it.” -- Arianne Wing on the closing of the world-famous Imperial Dynasty restaurant in Hanford, CA; quoted in The Hanford Sentinel, Dec. 17, 2005.

"No one in this world is useless if he lightens the burden of it for someone else." -Charles Dickens

"I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better." --Ernest Hemingway

"Every time you sit down to write, you should be afraid of losing the reader at any moment of any page."-- Playwright William Gibson:

What are your favorites for inspiration, guidance, amusement?

All photos public domain from