Monday, October 28, 2013

A Messy House Plot

I almost forgot to blog here today. Actually, I remembered this morning, along with so many others things I was supposed to remember. Primary on the list was getting the house ready for Wednesday. Not an easy task, considering I'm getting the living room and dining room painted on that day, an inconvenience which is long overdue, by the way.

I've had to pack up tons of stuff, some necessary, some unnecessary, and shift it all into other rooms in the house. Those rooms are not happy with the other items cluttering them up. Nothing seems to want to fit nicely, and I confess the rooms other than the living room and dining room are looking pretty messy.

What does all this botheration have to do with mysteries?

Well, it's not a bad idea to add everyday activities, and not so everyday activities in a book to round out the story and make it seem more real.

An example might be: A messy house makes it harder to find something you've misplaced, and not finding it could have disastrous consequences. It could make a person just late enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, either at home when a burglar makes an appearance, or maybe at a crime scene when the coast might have otherwise been clear.

If you think of other examples, please mention them.

Morgan Mandel at a friend's house, which
never seems to look messy!
Morgan Mandel

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Let's Put on a Show!

Did you know that there’s a Let’s Put on a Show subgenre in musical theater? (Why don’t people tap dance any more?)

The one who made the most lasting impression on me (and lots of other people) was Mickey Rooney

I’m not doing musical theater, though, I writing mysteries, as are most of you reading this, I suspect. What’s the equivalent in our field? Let’s put on a conference!

My former critique team in Austin TX is doing just this on November 6th. They’ve had great good luck getting local authors to donate time and talent and the sign ups are going well. I predict a block buster event. Take a gander at what’s going on: (Click on that header to get the whole picture.)

Have you ever thought about putting on an event like this? On this scale--or a bigger or smaller one? These gals have been organizing this for months and have thought of all the details, down to designing a logo for the event.

Hey, if you’re anywhere near Austin, you might want to sign up to attend this. If not, you might want to pay close attention and say, Let’s Put on a Conference!

Friday, October 25, 2013

What's a Writer Look Like?

Once upon a time I was ticketed for turning a corner on a yellow light which turned red before I had completely driven onto the side street. The rookie cop was known for writing up his own grandmother for a minor infraction, so I knew my unblemished driving record was about to take a hit. When he asked what I did for a living, I said I was a writer. He wrote down housewife. I wanted to ask him what a writer looks like but bit my tongue, fearing that he would find other violations to ticket me for.

Technically, I don’t earn enough money to support myself with writing, although I did while working as a news reporter. But I still consider myself a writer after publishing 20 books. How many of us are able to earn a living writing at our craft now that the market is flooded with well over a million books, many of them from non writers? And all those freebies.  But that’s another subject.

What does a writer look like in the eyes of the general public? William Shakespeare, Agatha Chrisite,  Lee Child,  Danielle Steele, Stephen King?  Most readers would probably answer that it’s their favorite author(s).
Do attractive writers sell more books? I’ve heard they do, but more than the original purchase?  I don’t think romance readers care what the author looks like as long as a handsome hunk with a well developed torso graces the book's cover.   

My own conception of what a writer looks like is Henry Allen, aka Will Henry (1912 -1991). The bestselling author of more than 15 million books not only wrote beautifully penned prose of the American West as well as Hollywood film scripts, he looked like a cross between Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and William Shakespeare.  Even the Wyoming cop woudn’t have questioned his occupation.

Who epitomizes what a writer unquestionably looks like to you?
~Jean Henry Mead

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

First Chapter Back Story - what's too much?

Last weekend, I took a class about back story in a first chapter.  I know, the first answer to how much back story to add is none. Except...

The reader wants to know your character. They want to know your heroine's (We'll call her Deb) track record with men. They want to know she's a twice-widowed woman who in both cases has been a suspect in the guy's untimely death.  Especially if she's walking up the aisle to husband number three.  Her soul mate. The one who got away in college.

The trick is how much information to bring.  Is having the police detective from the suspicious death investigation sitting in the pew as she walks into the church filled with family and friend enough?

Deb's goals right now, first page, is to get through this wedding ceremony without freaking out. Ultimately, she'd like to have a marriage that lasts more than a year and where the man she loves doesn't leave in a hearse. Especially this man.

Christie Craig (award winning romance and young adult writer) says you have to show some back story because our characters, like us, are who we are because of the events and relationships in our past.  And we can't care about Deb as a reader, until we realize she's not the black widow everyone (except husband #3) believes her to be.

And we have to believe in Deb's motivation to marry this guy instead of just shacking up and hopefully keeping him safe. Maybe his job (a pastor, a senator, a principal) requires him to be 'respectable' in the community. And Deb loves him enough to try one more time.

Which we all know, isn't going to work. Which is the promise to the reader.

What do you think? Is romantic relationship status one of those must have's in a first chapter? Or could you have waited until the reception to meet the grizzled police detective who's convinced of Deb's guilt?


Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Your Protagonist Your Alter Ego?

Many years ago, after reading the first novel I’d just finished writing, someone told me she could see me in every page. There were many similarities between me and my protagonist. We both wore glasses. (Now I wear contact lenses.) We liked the same foods and had many of the same hang ups. Soon after I started writing books for kids. Since I have two sons, my protagonist was usually a boy. I’d simply put myself inside the head of a boy and imagine how it feels to have an older brother with neurological problems (And Don’t Bring Jeremy.) I imagined how it would feel to suddenly have magical powers (Rufus and Magic Run Amok.)

The more books I wrote, the more my protagonists developed traits of their own. But certain personality and character traits of mine cling to each of my sleuths. Sometimes fiction precedes real life. In my Twin Lake mysteries, Lydia Krause is newly widowed and starting a new life in a gated community. She beat me there, as I became a widow after I wrote the book. Still, we both have a cat and we both live in a gated community.

Gabbie Meyerson in Giving Up the Ghost is also starting a new life. She’s divorced her husband, something I never did, after helping to send him to prison. (Didn't do that, either.) She takes a job teaching English (I taught Spanish) in a small Long Island community, and discovers she’s sharing a cottage with the ghost of Cameron Leeds. Pressed into service, Gabbie finds out who murdered Cam.

Ardin Wesley in Dangerous Relations bears the emotional scars of an abusive marriage, something I’ve never experienced. She finds herself wanting to adopt her murdered cousin’s little girl, which pits her against her cousin’s widower. She tries to ignore the fact that she’s falling for the guy, telling herself she doesn’t want anything to do with romance. In the course of the novel, Ardin comes face-to-face with her ex-husband. Even more painful is overhearing him tell his current wife that he'd never loved Ardin. Through it all, Ardin grows stronger and is able to love again.

There’s no question that Lexie Driscoll in Murder a la Christie is intelligent (she’s an English college professor). But Lexie’s not always wise when it comes to choosing the men in her life. Her first husband left her when she was pregnant with their son. When she decided to divorce her crazy second husband, he burned down her house with himself inside. Lexie finds herself spending the summer housesitting in affluent Old Cadfield, blocks from her college roommate and best friend, Rosie. Rosie is married to one of Lexie’s rejects and lives the life of luxury. Lexie realizes that this life could have hers. But would she have done things differently if she'd known how everything turned out?

The more books we write, the more our characters take on lives of their own. I suppose we subconsciously borrow traits from people we know, from characters in TV series, books and movies. How they behave and interact with one another are offshoots of their personalities and characters. My sleuths vary in age and social position, but they are all strong, intelligent women. Of course they’re all bolder than I am – never afraid to ask questions or to follow up on a clue, which often gets them into trouble as they go about solving murders.

In what ways are your sleuths like you? How are they different?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


by Janis Patterson

Halloween! The time of skeletons, ghosts, cookies shaped like bats and scary stories. We wear costumes of witches and zombies and pay money to have frightening things jump out of the dark at us in haunted houses.

So why? Some of the prime directives hardwired into our brain are to survive, to stay safe, to avoid danger. Again, so why on Halloween do we try to scare ourselves witless?

Because it is all play-like. No matter how much we scream and jump in the haunted house, we know that it is only an actor or a mechanical illusion. If we were really hurt by something, everything would stop and care would be showered on us. We wouldn’t really eat a bat, but a bat-shaped cookie is a harmless bit of set dressing – to say nothing of being tasty. The sinister monster or axe-murderer in the corner at the party is really your harmless neighbor from down the block. No one would like to live in a house with skeletons hung around or a mummy in the window (ok, I do know one who does, but though weird she’s basically harmless), hung in thick cobwebs and crawling with velveteen spiders. It’s the same reason we read horror stories at any time of year. We are scared, yes, but we can control the circumstances and therefore control our fear.

Perhaps that is the prime point – control. We know the skull cups aren’t real, because one, they are made of cheap plastic and two, we bought them at the local discount store a couple of days ago. Probably if at any other time of the year anyone offered us a bubbling, fog-shrouded drink in a cup made of a skull (real or fake), we’d scream and run like the dickens. At Halloween we know it’s all make-believe and therefore just part of the fun. Sort of like reading mysteries or thrillers where – no matter how scary or exciting the action is or how much the world is threatened – we always know all the way through that everything will be all right in the end.

Some things seem to be so intrinsic to us as humans that they are universal; we fear the spirits of the dead and believe (even if just a little) in curses. So did the Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. In spite of our sophistication and knowledge and advanced culture, put us in a shadowy place and let a cold hand touch our flesh, or even just see an amorphous form of white vapor go past and we’re gulping and cringing and perhaps yelling, whether we profess to believe in ghosts or not.

Personally, I am firmly ambivalent. Intellectually I cannot accept the idea of a recognizable specter, head tucked securely under his arm, trotting down the corridor of some ancient pile on a regular schedule. Such a possibility goes against both logic and religion. On the other hand, I have had a few personal experiences that not only cannot be explained by either logic or religion, they were scary as heck! (And those of you who know me personally know that I do not scare easily.) I was alone, there were things going on I could neither explain nor control, and it was flat spooky. I couldn’t wait to get back to the safe world of normalcy.

Therefore, even though I prefer a solid world of rules and explainable phenomena, I will enjoy Halloween to the fullest, wearing wild costumes and eating yummies made to look distinctly unwholesome. I will dance with Death (who is reality is an accountant), laugh at ghosts who flit through the dark and hand out lashings of candy to all kinds of small hobgoblins.

At least, I will as long as I can control the light switch!

Happy Halloween!

And – Boooooo!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Write What You Don't Know

I decided to use my day on Make Mine Mystery as one of my blog stops on my tour for my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Spirit Shapes. Coming up with new topics to write about has been a challenge. For this one, I thought I’d go against the usual advice of writing what you know.

Truthfully, don’t most of write about what we don’t know as well as what we do know? J.K. Rowling didn’t know about wizards, magic and a school of wizardry, she made most of it up. Same thing with the Twilight series, did the author have first-hand knowledge about vampires and werewolves? What these authors did know is how people act during all sorts of disasters and calamities, and how much a person will do to reach a goal. As an author we use what we do know and our personal experience and build on that with our imaginations and any necessary research.

We take what we do know and use it to write what we don’t know. With today’s technology we are able to research anything and find out at least enough to make us sound like we know what we are writing about.

In my own case, I’ve never been a resident deputy sheriff like my heroine Tempe Crabtree. But I have known several, interviewed one, and talked to others. I have relatives and friends in law enforcement and for the most part, I know they are like all the rest of us.

I’m also not an Indian like Tempe, but again I have friends and relatives who are. I can research Indian legends and lore to use in my mysteries.

When it comes to haunted houses and ghosts, I have had some personal experience, but that was the topic of another blog.

Of course it’s much easier if you do know what you’re writing about, but when you have a good story idea, let your imagination go wild.  Do the research you need later. And remember, less is more. I’ve read too many stories where the author was so knowledgeable about what he or she was writing, the story suffered because of too many facts.

Marilyn Meredith

Blurb for Spirit Shapes: Ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house. Deputy Tempe Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits, good and evil, intertwined with the past and the present, and demons and angels at war.

To buy direction from the publisher in all formats:
And of course, Amazon.

I've been putting up different photos of me on each blog, so here's today's:

Middle daughter Lisa and me
 Bio: Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, including the nearby Tule River Indian Reservation. She does like to remind everyone that she is writing fiction. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at


The person who comments on the most blogs on this blog tour will have the opportunity to have a character named after him or her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting here:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Big City Excitements with Sisters-in-Crime

                                                            Mar Preston

I live and write in a mountain village in Central California about seventy miles from the edge of the Los Angeles sprawl. Today I’m excited about heading into the city for the Sisters-in-Crime meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter.

I used to be sophisticated, spending the twenty years in Santa Monica before moving to the village. Things happen in Santa Monica. Like many other coastal cities, big ideas bubble up and take shape, things like food, fashion, lifestyle, new ways of being and self-expression.

That’s why I set my police procedural series in the Santa Monica Police Department. The cops there are no stranger to high-tech crime, celebrity, and the crimes that involve runaways and homelessness. Everybody likes the sunshine and seashore.

Now I live in a village of less than a thousand, a lot of them retirees like myself.  Seeing the small-scale scandals that take place here prompted my second series, featuring a homicide detective from the Kern County Sheriff’s department in Bakersfield.

I’ve gotten pretty pokey myself since I moved to the village. My big excitement yesterday was seeing a bear shamble right past my office window.

But today I’ll search around in the back of the closet for something made of silk and head out to the Sisters-in-Crime meeting in Pasadena. I hope that all of you reading this are aware of the many resources you have available as a member of Sisters-in-Crime  Started by Sara Paretsky in the 80’s, the organization offers networking, advice and support to mystery authors and was founded to “promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.” Guppies offers an online critique group for new writers within Sisters-in-Crime.  And there are a significant number of Misters within Sisters-in-Crime.

The Los Angeles Chapter puts on an excellent conference every two years and has monthly meetings bringing in speakers from every niche within the crime-fighting spectrum.

Today Sally Carpenter is speaking on “An Actor/Writer Creates a Character.” I had lunch with her at a writing seminar and look forward to seeing her again.  These monthly meetings draw together the known and unknown authors in a casual networking scene where you have fun and learn something new.

I won’t forget my astonishment at trying to put coins in a parking meter and realizing they now take credit cards.  As I say, I used to be sophisticated. 

Payback is my novel set in the village, currently priced at .99 cents.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halloween Story For You

I'd like to give you a story as a Halloween present today. This was first published in BJ Bourg's greatly missed magazine, Mouth Full of Bullets, in December of 2007. It's taken from the time we lived in the Detroit area and based on a very real, if tragic, tradition. I'm told this no longer happens, but it was horrible while it did. (If you'd like a much funnier ghost story, try my third Imogene Duckworthy book, BROKE.) Without further ado,


By Kaye George

“Evie, help me. I think... I don’t...” I struggled to understand Nora’s words through the poor phone connection and her hysterical sobs. "I'm afraid he's…" Why was she calling me?

“Nora. Stop. Just tell me where you are.” She gulped twice, great, noisy breaths, then managed to give me directions to where she was experiencing her latest crisis.

Crisis-prone Nora often needed rescuing from one of her magnified molehills. But this time was different. My gut twisted in the wake of her call.

I revved up my Mustang and headed out toward 12 Mile Road. She had said to turn off Interstate 75 and make a couple more turns to end up on an obscure lane. It wasn’t too cold yet, considering it was late October, so I had the top down.

In spite of the warmth, the night was wild. Bare, waving branches clutched at the scudding clouds that played peek-a-boo with the cold moon.

I heard, in the distance, flailing sirens, rushing to quench the countless fires set by troubled Detroit youth. I always assumed they set them out of their inner city frustration. But there was also a tradition to uphold. The hellish tradition of Devil’s Night, Halloween Eve. Detroit was famous for it. Every year firefighters were called in from surrounding states to help keep Detroit from burning to the ground. This was considered a good training ground for new firefighters. But so much damage was done every year to the property of innocent people.

The sirens echoed the turmoil of my racing heart. And I drove through chiaroscuro strips laid by the moon, wondering why Nora was still alive.

We had met an hour ago, as usual, at shift change meeting at the nursing home where Nora and I both worked as nurses. I had managed to put enough barbiturates into her coffee, I thought, and succeeded in doing it undetected. And she had drunk the whole cup.

After the meeting I had walked her out to her car, thinking she might need help. Sure enough, the drugs started to take effect and she leaned against me for the last ten feet. I managed to help her slump into the driver’s seat, then I slammed the door, stepped back and watched her stab her key at the starter a couple of times, turn it, and drive off.

I wasn’t able to suppress a grin. I did so look forward to seeing her dead, that bitch who was screwing my husband, Todd. They thought I didn't know. Ha!

Now I sped to see what had happened, puzzled. Wasn't her car wrecked? Why was she still alive? And why was she phoning me--me, of all people, to come rescue her?

It should be coming up soon, I thought. Then I skidded to a stop just beyond where she stood, so close to the road I could easily have hit her. And I thought about it, but that would have left evidence on my car. I wasn’t interested in going to prison.

Nora sank to her knees when I ran up, her shoulders quaking with her unceasing sobs.

"Evie, I'm so, so sorry."

I grabbed a shoulder and shook her.

“Nora! Stop it. What’s going on?”

She pointed to her car. It had slued off the road – the passenger side was wrapped around an ancient corkscrew willow tree. So she had in fact had an accident, but had lived through it. Damn! What a waste of barbiturates. Now I'd have to think of another way to get rid of her.

“Okay, you wrecked your car. That’s not the end of the world.” I wished I had some cold water to splash onto her face. Besides snapping her out of it, I would enjoy it.

“Just look, just look,” she repeated over and over, clawing at the dry leaves the wind whipped up around her with one hand and continuing to point at the car with the other. Her outstretched arm quivered and her pointing finger traced little circles in the night air.

"Yes, I see, Nora." I smacked her arm down. The undamaged driver’s door stood open. I walked over to it. The bad feeling in my stomach was intensifying. I grabbed the frame above the door to steady myself--my knees giving way--then ducked down, and peered in.

A lifeless form, a bloody mess, was crushed between the dash and the crumpled door. The sickness in my stomach rose to my throat. I squinted to make out the features of the battered face. It was too dark.

Then a fire truck rumbled by and threw a wash of garish red light onto him.

I finally understood. Nora wasn’t dead; my husband Todd was, staring past me into eternity. I hoped he was seeing Hell.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Ghost Gone Wild

Image of Carolyn Hart

Bestselling author Carolyn Hart's fourth ghost mystery was released last week featuring Bailey Ruth, a readheaded ghost who returns to earth to solve mysteries. 
Carolyn, what prompted you to write the series?
I grew up loving Topper and Blithe Spirit. I always wanted to write a book with a happy fun ghost.

I had an idea about a young woman, rather prim, who was in the attic not long before her wedding. She finds an old trunk and while exploring it, discovers that she was a twin but her twin died at birth. This realization brings back her twin, who is feisty, unconventional, and a bit on the wild side.
But then I realized I needed to think about ghosts. Who are they and how could this ghost appear? I pondered the fact that a ghost is the spirit of someone who has died and gone to Heavan. That led to thinking about Heaven and before I knew it, I'd popped in my mind to Heaven and around a cumulous cloud came a freewheeling redheaded ghost and her name was Bailey Ruith Raeburn and she wasn't anyboy's twin and here was her story . . .

That was Ghost at Work. Now Bailey Ruth appears in her fourth adventure and she's still having fun.
 Thank you, Carolyn. Here's what
Thank you, Carolyn. Publisher's Weekly has this to say about Ghost Gone Wild:

Carolyn Hart’s “irresistible cozy sleuth” is back—good-hearted ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn just can’t say no to an earthly rescue, even when maybe she should.

Bailey Ruth loves to return to earth as an emissary from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions. Problem is, she’s a bit of a loose cannon as far as ghosts go—forgetting to remain invisible, alarming earthly creatures—so she’s far from the top of department head Wiggins’s go-to list for assignments.

That’s why she’s surprised when the Heaven-sent Rescue Express drops her off at a frame house on the outskirts of her old hometown, Adelaide, Oklahoma, where a young man is playing the drums. What kind of rescuing does he need—drum lessons? But when a window cracks and a rifle barrel is thrust inside, only Bailey Ruth’s hasty intervention saves Nick Magruder from taking a bullet. When she materializes to reassure him, she finds she can’t go back to vanishing. What gives?

It turns out she’s been tricked by Nick’s late aunt—Delilah Delahunt Duvall—to come to the young man’s rescue, which means she isn’t back on earth in service of the department. Wiggins has no idea where she is—and now she may be trapped in Adelaide forever. Unless she can help Aunt Dee snare the person who wants her nephew dead.

Nick's doting Aunt Dee engineered this mission on the sly, Bailey Ruth must operate on earth without her otherworldly powers. When Nick is accused of a murder, she must rely on her wits alone to clear him. Though not fully developed, the secondary characters have some amusing quirks, and even the villain, who's not readily identifiable, has a certain charm. The well-constructed plot offers an ample supply of red herrings. Fans of benign ghosts such as those in Blithe Spirit and Topper will find a lot to like.  

~Jean Henry Mead