Friday, February 28, 2014

To Series or Not to Series. That Was the Question

by J.J. and Betty Golden Lamb
After our first co-authored medical thriller (BONE DRY) was published, we started work on our second collaboration… although we should have started much sooner than that!

It was a time of thinking, thinking, thinking about whether to do a sequel, or write something totally different. We agreed that what we didn’t want was to get involved in all the details, strictures, and rigmarole of doing a series. You know, free spirits, too many things to write about.

So, the second collaboration (Heir Today…) was a suspense-adventure novel, with romantic overtones. Both books followed that well-worn – and accurate – axiom, write about what you know. With one of us an RN and the other a journalist, well, you get the gist.

Still, while writing that second book, we never stopped thinking and talking about our first book’s lead character, RN Gina Mazzio.  We liked her … so did a lot of other people. And we kept speculating about other criminal/medical plots where Gina could get involved … without being tossed out of her hospital for being a magnet for trouble … deadly trouble.

Pulled in two directions – stand-alones or series – we compromised with an off-beat medical thriller (Sisters in Silence), where the lead character would be the killer. Certainly not a role for our favorite RN, Gina Mazzio.

One would think that long before this we would have given in to all the published evidence that readers like series, and many writers do quite well with them. (With our inherent stubbornness, we were still working on stand-alones, together and individually!)

But … Gina kept popping up, in thought and conversation. We just couldn’t abandon her. She cried out for a new adventure, to be pushed to new limits. Thus was born the second Gina Mazzio, RN medical thriller (Sin and Bone).

There it was – we had a sequel, and possibly were on our way to what we’d tried to avoid from the beginning – a series!

After two books and two attempts on her life, Gina needed a break, not from us, but from San Francisco’s Ridgewood Hospital … and all the deadly memories associated with it.
What better plan than to take off on twin travel nurse assignments with fiancĂ© Harry Lucke, who’s been doing this sort of thing virtually his whole career. Their destination: a rehab center for Alzheimer’s patients in an area we know quite well – the country in and around Virginia CityNV.

On arrival at the Comstock Medical Auxiliary Facility, the first thing Gina notices are iron bars across all the second-floor windows. Before the day is out, her ever-present curiosity draws her and Harry into the midst of an illegal scheme to manipulate test results for an experimental drug being touted as a cure for Alzheimer’s.

It’s medicine, mines, madness, and murder.

Bette Golden Lamb, a registered nurse, has developed parallel careers as a painter, sculptor, and ceramist. Her art works can be found in a number of galleries and private collections.

Bone Pit is the third book in the Gina Mazzio, RN medical thriller series, which includes Bone Dry and Sin and  Bone. These, along with Sisters in Silence and Heir Today, were co-authored with husband J.J.

J. J. Lamb is a career writer – journalism, short stories, and novels. In addition to fiction co-authored with Bette, he is the creator of the Zachariah Tobias Rolfe III private eye series, the latest of which, No Pat Hands, is scheduled to appear in 2013.

The Lambs live in Northern California and are members of international Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

~Submitted by Jean Henry Mead

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Stranger Within Me...My Fascination with Serial Killers

Is it just me who loves a good serial killer plot? I seem to be drawn to the stories of these people. 

Ted Bundy grabbed some of his victims by pretending to be injured. A broken winged bird, leading his prey away from the crowd. I think of Ann Rule working next to the charmer, and never knowing his true identity.

I think of all the times I did something really stupid hanging out in bars, meeting new people, and making horrible choices. I was the girl in the slasher movies that decides to go to the basement to check out the creaking noises that has to be an open window letting in the rain. But it’s not in the movies. Thankfully the window was causing the sound in real life.

I’m too young to tell you where I was when Kennedy was shot; instead, I know when they arrested Jeffrey Dahmer. It was the morning after I had gall bladder surgery.

When I visited my sister in coastal California, driving the week away trying to figure out what I was going to do with my newly divorced life, a serial killer was stalking and killing women in the exact area where I took long walks, alone.

He, too, was visiting from Idaho – after they arrested him in California, local law enforcement dug up what appeared to be his first kills on a farm in a small town north of my home.

Maybe I’ve outgrown my fascination with these villains. Now, I rarely watch the news, tired of hearing about the shootings and drug related crimes. Now, I like my murder off the page. Like in a cozy mystery.

What about you? True Crime or cozy mystery? Or somewhere in between?

Monday, February 24, 2014

What I've Learned From TV's Castle

After floundering around, and not finding any mystery programs I liked, I finally happened on one to enjoy. It's still running, but also has quite a backlog of reruns. The old shows are a bonus, since I put them on my DVR and speed through the commercials. I have no idea why I never noticed this one before, but now I'm glad I have.

So, for today's exercise, I'm analyzing how to apply my favorite mystery show, Castle, to writing a mystery.

Rick Castle is a mega bestselling author, who not only has connections with the mayor and members of the  hoi polloi, but also likes using real life material in his mysteries. To that end, he convinces the mayor to allow him to tag along on cases with a female detective named Beckett.

Though this is a TV program, there's much to learn and apply to writing.

  • Through watching Castle, I live vicariously as a bestselling author, and hope I'll become one some day. Not every person watching the show is an author, but the glamor and notoriety Castle enjoys has a certain appeal to audiences. Readers live vicariously and many like to pretend they're famous, so you may wish to include a larger than life main character in your mystery.  
  • I love romantic elements in stories, so I enjoy the give and take romance between Castle and Beckett.   Love makes the world go round, so an author can't go wrong by including some kind of romantic element in a mystery. 
  • Each episode also includes something about his family life, and that makes Castle a more rounded character. When writing, don't forget to mention the families of any main characters, and how they relate.
  • The secondary characters at the precinct and also in Castle's home are unique and interesting. It's a good idea to make each character unique in your book, so the reader can tell them apart. If you're aiming to write a series, secondary characters are even more important.
  • Castle is self-assured, sometimes cocky, but has soft spots. It's okay if your main character has some flaws, as long as you also include evidence of the hero or heroine's worthiness.
  • Of course, the show does include a dead body or more, and Castle and Beckett use great deductive skills to solve the mystery of how and why the person(s) died. Though I'm not an expert, for the most part, what they do and say seems to makes sense and follow protocol. It's important when we construct and unravel our mystery to also make sense, so be sure to do enough research.
  • Okay, I did find what I considered a flaw in one of the episodes. It got to me, although others may not have cared. When Castle and Beckett were locked in this freezing cold storage place, they huddle up with each other. That makes sense. However, when all seemed lost, I saw her cold hands reaching out to clutch his jacket. My immediate thought was, why did she place her hands on top, and not under his jacket, or at least why didn't they hold hands for more body warmth? I suppose the director wanted the scene to be dramatic, but I also wondered why she didn't keep her hands inside her own clothes somewhere. I couldn't tell if she had pockets, which would have been the logical place to keep her hands warm. Another reason to use common sense. Make sure your characters not only make sense when solving a crime, but also in other thoughts and actions.  
So, that's how I've dissected the Castle shows I've watched so far.  I've still got about 40 left on my DVR to view. 

What about you? Do you watch Castle? Or, what particular mystery show resonates for you?

Morgan Mandel
Twitter: @MorganMandel

Amazon Author Page:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Facts about Wymee Falls and Wichita Falls

The action in my Imogene Duckworthy novels take place in and around Wymee Falls. The town of Wymee Falls is fictional, but it’s based on the real Texas town of Wichita Falls. I lived in that part of the world for a few years. If you’ve read one or all of the three books so far, you may have come into contact with some of the below. I’d like to elaborate, though, on just what the town is about. Personally, the waterfall, below, is hilarious. It’s why I decided to base the series there. I haven’t worked the World’s Smallest Skyscraper, another very funny thing,  into a plot yet, but there’s plenty of time for that in later books.

Some interesting facts about Wichita Falls, Texas.

The town of Wichita Falls, called Wymee Falls in my Imogene Duckworthy mysteries, has a colorful history.

Some early history & the story of the waterfall

The Choctaw Indians were there since the early 1700s. White settlers showed up in the 1860s and ranched cattle. The town was named after a small waterfall on the Wichita River, really more of a rapids. A flood in1886 destroyed the fragile water works. After visitors asked to see the waterfall, fruitlessly, for about a hundred years, the town elders decided to build one. Just off I44, in Lucy Park, the nice-looking, medium-sized waterfall (54 feet high) runs on a pump, except when the water level gets low and the water gets too silty. Gotta be careful not to damage the pump.

The World's Smallest Skyscraper

The city also houses the World's Smallest Skyscraper. A swindler collected funds to build an actual skyscraper, then constructed a four-story building with one room 9x12 on each floor. A fourth of that space is taken up by staircases between the floors. This was during the boom after the discovery of oil nearby. I suppose it was logical that the city could use more office space. The con man, J.D. McMahon, drew up blueprints for a building 480" tall. He didn't point out that his scale used inches, not feet. After construction got started, his investors suspected something. They tried to sue, but lost. They had signed off on the blueprints, clearly drawn in inches. When the "skyscraper" was finished, McMahon left town with most of the money. This was an embarrassment to the town until it was featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not and got its billing as World's Smallest Skyscraper. Now it's a tourist attraction--along with the fake waterfall.


The town is in a major tornado path. We spent a good deal of time cowering in the bath tub, listening to the sirens, when we lived there. It's been hit by two major tornados, in 1964 and 1979. Seven people died in the first one, but 42 perished in the later storm. Twenty-five of those were in vehicles, since it hit during afternoon rush hour.


Temperature records range from a high of 117 in June of 1947 to -12 in January of 1924, from the records I found, but those don't include last year. In 2011, July was an average 92.9 degrees, with 52 straight days over 100 from late June to early August. I call this area a place of harsh climate with warm-hearted people. None of them resemble the characters in the Imogene Duckworthy books!

Most of the above is from wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Villains and the Nature of Evil

by Janis Patterson

I admit it. I’m a cartoon junkie. I love watching weird little animated creatures dancing across the screen in all kinds of improbable story lines. In my opinion, the older cartoons are preferable, with better storylines. And better art. Give me a Rocky and Bullwinkle marathon and I am in pure heaven.
Something I have never understood, though, is the villain – human, hybrid, alien or animal – shouting that he is doing whatever he is doing solely for the sake of evil. Skeletor of the lamented He-Man franchise did that a lot.
Now I believe in evil. I know it is real, and I’ve actually seen it a time or two. But I must also believe that doing something solely for the sake of evil makes no sense, at least not in a mystery or thriller novel. Even the darkest dye villain does what he does for a reason, and in my opinion doing evil just for the sake of evil is not a reason. People do bad things, yes, and they do them for money, or power, or love, or some distorted and ugly thing in their brain, but to them it is a logical (sort of) and effective way to fulfill their vision… whatever twisted form that might take.
For example, a man who slaughters a schoolbus load of children is definitely evil, but is he doing it solely for the sake of purposefully serving evil? Or is he doing it to get publicity so that people will have to think of him? Or to avenge a real or perceived wrong? The end result is the same, but that’s a totally different thought process and rationale.
We believe in and accept heroes because in our culture it is accepted that it is right and desirable to do the ‘right’ thing. As a people we find it difficult to believe that one can do evil simply for no other reason than it is evil, and therefore we must attribute motives and desires to our villains. This renders them understandable to us – in our minds, at least.
But in our books do our villains really do evil, or do they merely go after what they want in a way that is unacceptable to our culture? Does the villain rob the store simply because we are not supposed to rob stores, or is it because they want something the store has – goods or money or whatever? Or, in a horrible extension, the life of someone in the store, perhaps in return for some real or perceived slight? Perhaps when looking in the news media you find stories of someone saying they wanted to do a crime just to have done one, or some similar rationale of evil, but that is real life. We deal in fiction, and fiction has rules. Real life doesn’t.
Genre writers have worked long and hard to make their heroes (and heroines) real and believable people with flaws and dreams and quirks. We can do no less for our villains, for if we don’t we run the risk of having our corporate raider morph into Snidely Whiplash, a two-dimensional sketch who twirls his mustache and threatens to foreclose the mortgage. Just pick the villainish clichĂ© of your choice.

A hero who is real deserves an antagonist who is real, and it is our job as writers to make them both as believable as possible. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Talking to Third Graders About Writing a Story

 On Wednesday, I've been invited to speak to great-grandson's third grade class about being a writer and how to write a story.

Over the years, I've spoken to many school groups. One of my granddaughters had me come to every class she was in from first grade through the eighth. Because all the kids were the same, I had to come up with something new to present each year.

Several times I've gone to a school and spoken to every single class in one day, or given a presentation in the auditorium or library to two or three grades at a time.

And yes, I've spoken to high school classes several times, not always an English class either--once I was invited to a computer class to tell how I used a computer to write and promote.

The photos of my great-grandson are a bit old. He used to be enamored of firemen and firetrucks, and of course there was the Lego phase, then he moved onto pilots and flying. Now he's been racing soap box derby cars and playing basketball.

What I've planned is to show them a few of my books so they know I'm a "real" author even though I'm a great-grandma and ancient. Then I'm going to tell them how to write a story--and together we'll come up with some ideas for a story. I'm looking forward to it because kids have such great imaginations.

Of course while I'm off on this trip, I won't be doing any writing, I plan to do a lot of catch-up visiting. I haven't seen my eldest daughter since January, and one granddaughter and her two kids since Septembers and my grandson and his family since sometime in early summer.

I think every author needs to take some time off for a renewal of the spirit. What do you do that keeps you going?

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Coming in March, Murder in the Worst Degree, #10 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why This One Is Special

I love all the books I’ve written. I really do. My characters and their stories live forever in my heart. But I felt a unique surge of joy when Billie Johnson, my publisher at Oak Tree Press, sent me my finished cover and told me that Murder a la Christie was ready for the printers.

I write my mysteries, well aware of the history of the genre and of the Golden Age of Mystery, which took place here and in England, loosely between the two World Wars. My sleuth, Lexie Driscoll, is an English professor. But more importantly for my series, she leads a Golden Age of Mystery book club where murder and mayhem abound.

I decided that the first book in my series would be a tribute to Agatha Christie. By far the most
popular author of her time, Dame Agatha’s books are as enjoyable today as when they were written almost one hundred years ago. My characters discuss some of Dame Agatha’s novels. In ways, the arc of the novel follows an Agatha Christie novel. The setting is an insular village whose residents know each other almost took well. And Lexie exposes the murderer at the end of a book club meeting when all the suspects are present. There are also many differences. Murder a la Christie is a mystery novel of the twenty-first century, with its own twists and turns, secrets and romance.

Murder a la Christie was a Malice Domestic finalist the year no winner was declared. An agent sent it around to the big houses. No takers. Eventually I signed on with a small press, and the book was scheduled to come out this past summer. It was edited and ready for a cover, when one of the two publishers died and the other decided to close shop.

I was delighted with Oak Tree Press offered to publish the book. By then I was beginning to sense a buzz. I’d already received some wonderful reviews. When I put out a call for more, I was astonished by the number of people who offered to read and review Murder a la Christie. More wonderful comments and reviews made me start to think that this book was special! And when I saw the finished cover, my spirits soared. Maybe this was the one. The book that people noticed and wanted to read for the mere fun of it.

For the first time I’ll be having a real launch party. And I’ll be doing web radio interviews, guest blogs, and a blog tour. I’m hoping many people will read Murder a la Christie. And when they finish it, tell me that they can’t read its sequel, Murder the Tey Way, my tribute to Josephine Tey.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rogue Critique Sessions by Mar Preston

Here I am at the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego for the weekend. I ventured out of the hotel this evening looking for some dinner, using my GPS to drive to an unfamiliar location. Not only was it dark and scary, but then thick fog rolled in off the ocean. I crept along and finally found Souplantation when it began to rain.

I'm exaggerating only a little. People were dancing naked in the streets to welcome the rain. We're in the middle of a 500-year drought here in California, folks. It was a joyful end to the first day of the conference.

This is what is called a craft conference, the how to mechanics of writing well, publishing, and marketing your work. Janis Thomas wrote two books of women's fiction (and now they won't publish her murder mystery because it would be “brand confusion” for the reader). She was an entertaining evening speaker. There's more new writers here than old hacks like myself.

Now what happens next on the program is the “Rogue” sessions that take place far into the night. Writers distribute a few pages for critique. The secret hope is that every listener will say, “I love it. It's brilliant. I wouldn't change a word.” That doesn't happen in my experience. Some listeners will have incisive, helpful criticism. Others will say a few words about what they heard and then talk about their own work. Others will be vague and inarticulate, and maddening to listen to. We all learn something nonetheless, even if it's clearly what not to do.
When I was very new I distributed a sweet story that I was proud of for critique. This man screamed at me, "Where are the cocks and balls in this story?" Now what on earth do you say to that? I think I was so new that big tears came to my eyes and I blubbed like a baby.  

I'd love to include a photo of all the goings on at the conference. But I spilled coffee on my camera last week and jumped up to get the blue and red can of compressed air to blow the coffee away. Instead I grabbed the blue and yellow can of WD-40 and squirted it into the camera.

That managed to kill it pretty good and dead.

You might like to see enthusiastic reviews for my new murder mystery: On Behalf of the Family

Friday, February 14, 2014

An Unlovable Character

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. I hope you're enjoying this day with loved ones.

Instead of  writing about romance, as most bloggers are posting today, I decided to write about people who love themselves more, or instead of, others. They may even be incapable of true love.

While I was conducting research, I came across the narcissistic personality disorder, which I thought would conger up a good villain for a future novel. I had no idea that the disorder was so complex or that it bordered on psychosis.

A person suffering from the disorder is characterized by an excessive need to be admired as well as feelings of grandiosity—probably what used to be called “The Napoleon complex.” I couldn’t quite picture my villain running around with his hand stuffed in his shirt, so I looked for further symptoms.

This is what I found:

~People with the disorder have achieved great things because they consider themselves so special that they can’t possibly fail.
~They confine their relationships to only those people they feel are worthy of them.
~They have no qualms about taking advantage of others.
~They’re so self absorbed that they have no empathy for anyone.
~They feel that everyone envies them.
~They’re preoccupied with fantasies of power and success.
~They think they deserve adoration from everyone.
~They have a sense of entitlement to everything they desire.
~They’re arrogant in the extreme.

Know anyone with some or all of the above characteristics? Before I began writing mystery novels,  I thought that narcissistic people spent a lot of time in front of mirrors, totally in love with themselves. I didn't think of them as having the characteristics for fictional villains until the "aha" light bulb snapped on.recently.

Psychologist Phyllis Beren revealed red flags that alert her to someone with the disorder: a desire to control other people, excessive lying, running other people down, an attitude of “my way or the highway,” sadistic behavior and over development of one area of the personality at the expense of others.

So, if someone values himself over others, has little empathy, grandiose ideas and little self-awareness, he might not hesitate to commit a crime to achieve his goals. He’s like Raskolnikov’s extraordinary man in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and above the law.

I think I’ve found my perfect villain.

~Jean Henry Mead

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Writing out of Season

I like writing short stories.  They give me a break from the longer projects and a way to feel like I’m accomplishing something, even when my WIP won’t move out of the muddled middle.

The problem with writing (and submitting) shorts, is the one’s I’m writing now, in the dead of winter, will be considered for publication in mid-summer. Instead of focusing on the snow that’s scheduled to arrive tomorrow and keep me from driving to the day job, I have to be thinking of fun, sun, and maybe a little sand.

My feet are freezing even in my heavy socks and winter boots. The thought of flip flops makes me shiver.

But my character needs to be in shorts and a t-shirt, ready to run into the surf at a moment’s notice. Or enjoying a warm summer night with the new love of her life.  Not cuddled in sweats and blankets watching movies, baking brownies, and whipping up a new soup. (Stuffed Green Pepper soup is a-maz-ing – by the way.)

If I was more organized, I’d write winter stories in the winter and summer stories in the summer and just hold off submitting.  My fear is I’d never submit because I’d lose the story or, worse, totally forget about it.

Instead, I’m firing up the barbecue under the carport and drinking a frozen margarita tonight. 

I’ll be back after my fingers unfreeze.

What about you – do you read out of season? Are you devouring hot summer romances while the wind drifts the snow outside your door? 


Small town Shawnee isn't where Cash Dillon planned on spending his vacation, even after his short reunion with June Palmer, the girl who got away in high school. But Cash learns sometimes, living in the moment, isn't half bad.

Shawnee Holiday now available for your Kindle - 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Secret Addiction by Mar Preston

I like to live dangerously, tinkering with the edge of old addictions.  I just laid a jigsaw puzzle out on my dining room table. Now what earthly good are jigsaw puzzles? What does hours hunched over a scattering of brightly-colored puzzle pieces accomplish?

You might say nothing, but it scares me a little. Am I in danger of awakening other addictions?  Will I become a compulsive gambler? A shopper? At my age it’s unlikely I’ll have the opportunity to become a sex addict.  

But I make deals with myself that when I find a particular edge piece I’ll go to bed.  And then I don’t. Just one more. Just one more.  I lie to myself and keep going. I’m already cheating.

 You see there’s a buzz when I pounce upon a piece and it links up with another one and the cat’s ear or the roof line or the man’s face falls together. And I’m hooked.  

 Does it sharpen my spatial relations skills?  My color sense? My fine motor skills? It does give me an illusion of control when life seems so disordered. My Bose radio is playing beautiful classical music and I truly listen instead of giving music my distracted attention. The fire is crackling across the room and there’s a cat and a dog lying in front of it, and another cat in my lap. They love it when I sit still for once.

Is this a harmless addiction. Is it a waste of time? Not everyone thinks so. The Queen is a reported jigsaw puzzle addict.

 I’m supposed to be promoting my current murder mystery and writing another one.  Not wasting time.

 Are you a secret jigsaw puzzle addict? Please tell me I’m not alone. Please.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Groundhogs, Facts, and Literature

A few years ago Mysterical-E published my only ever Groundhog Day story. I started with Punxsutawney Phil, moved the venue slightly, and renamed my rodent Levittown Louis.

Here’s a link if you want some light reading, suitable for a winter’s day:

Interesting (to me) groundhog facts:

They are also known as whistle-pigs and woodchucks.

To my knowledge, no one has ever determined exactly how much wood they would chuck if the could chuck wood.

They are officially members of the marmot family.

They sit up and eat nuts like squirrels do, but they don’t bury them.

They don’t drink water, but get enough from eating leafy plants.

They dig holes, burrows, and make nuisances of themselves that way. (Not an interesting fact, just a fact.)

Lastly, Robert Frost wrote an allegorical poem called “A Drumlin Woodchuck.” Here’s a copy with commentary:

I don’t know if there are a lot of other literary references beside mine and Frost’s. Do you know any?

pictures from
some info from wikipedia

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On the Value of Workshops

by Janis Patterson
Recently I was fortunate enough to attend MWA U (Mystery Writers of America University), a one day seminar with some of the highest powered mystery writers on the planet, including my heroines Hank Phillippi Ryan and Hallie Ephron. Since then  I was even more fortunate to attend a full day workshop with that same Hallie Ephron.

By the way, both events were simply superb. I wish that every writer could attend one, no matter if they write mystery and suspense or not.

Now there are some who will say, “You’re published. You’ve been published for a long time. You’ve published a lot of books. Why do you need to go to a conference/seminar/workshop/whatever?”

Sorry, but those are dumb questions. If you stop learning, you stagnate. It’s an unflattering comparison, but sharks will die of suffocation if there is not a steady stream of water going through their gills even when they’re sleeping. They must either keep swimming or lie in a place where the current flows against them.

So it is with writers. We need a certain amount of information, of mental stimulation, of simply being with other writers in order to feed our own writing. Otherwise we wither. Yes, this can be supplied with newspapers and other people’s books and intra-personal contact on an individual level, but a workshop with a superb teacher (like Hallie) is even better. It is informative, and energizing, and simply enjoyable. There is always something of pure pleasure when writers – a solitary bunch most of the time – get together to talk shop.

It is to my deep shame that I almost didn’t go. I was in the last, wrung-out stages of a miserable cold – not at all contagious, but still drippy and stuffy and exhausted. My voice sounded as if I were working at channeling Andy Devine. To make it worse, the workshop started at eight in the morning. It is one of my deepest beliefs that nothing good happens before ten, but this was Hallie Ephron. The Hallie Ephron! I got up, fortified myself with multiple mugs of strong coffee and off I went.

And am I glad I did. Less than half an hour into her presentation I was energized, all manifestations of a slow recuperation gone. By the end of the day I could have moved mountains. It was one of the best days I had ever spent. (And an email from Entangled Publications received during one of the breaks offering me a contract on my new gothic romance CURSE OF THE EXILE didn’t hurt, either!)

I can’t promise you’ll get a contract when you attend a workshop. (At least, it’s never happened to me before!) I do believe that workshops/seminars/whatever are essential to a writer’s growth. At every one you should find at least one new way of looking at something, one new technique to make your writing better, a deeper appreciation of the potentials of our craft. Add in the chance to network with and learn from other writers, and it becomes a marvelously enriching experience.

Oh – and I almost forgot the best thing – as continuing professional education, they’re tax deductible!

 PS – I would like to send a thank you to all who contacted me both by comment and private email in support of my attempts to get my rights back. The letters requesting reversion have been sent, both by certified, registered, return receipt requested snail mail as well as by email, but so far without comment or even any reaction, The date specified for official reversion is March 15, so unless there is a challenge, on that date I shall start notifying any retailers still carrying them that the rights have reverted to me and, if necessary, send them a copy of the official reversion letter. I would rather this be handled without lawyers, but do have one on standby in case there is a problem with any of the publishers or sales outlets. Thank Goodness I knew enough to copyright each book with the government before beginning this unholy circus. I'll let you know what transpires.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Did I Ever Have a Lulu of a Dream!

Besides doing promo for my coming Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Murder in the Worst Degree, I've been working on the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, as yet unnamed.

Yes, I've had a murder, but the investigation has mostly been questioning witnesses (none, really) and suspects (lots) and I know I need some big action. I've been toying with different scenarios, and last night I had a lulu of a dream.

I was camping in the mountains, surrounded by big trees and lots of other people (similar location as in the book) and my grandson was working as cowboy with a bunch of other people. He and his fellow workers came to talk to me, have no idea what about.(Grandson is not a cowboy and nothing like this is in the manuscript.)

All of a sudden we heard a thundering noise and here comes a whole bunch of horses galloping towards and past us. Behind them was a huge bear also coming fast.

Some of the cowboys started running, and I shouted, "Don't run, you can't out run a bear!"

End of dream.

Now I wonder exactly what part of that I might be able to incorporate into the story.

I've written about bears before and there are plenty of them in the area I'm writing about. 

Maybe I'll have another dream tonight that will give me some insight into how I should proceed.

Have you ever had a dream that you put into a story?


Monday, February 3, 2014

Going Modern

I finally did it--joined the twenty-first electronic century! I bought a smart phone. Of course I owned a cell phone for years, though the truth is I barely knew how to use it. I kept it on hand for safety reasons—while out driving, or if I had to contact someone while I was away from the house. I found it most useful when the electricity went out as it did during Super Storm Sandy. But I kept hearing about all the wonderful things a smart phone can do – take great photos, be connected to the internet, text. (I knew my other phone was capable of texting, but I never bothered to do it.)

And so I bought an iphone to go along with my Mac and Mac Air. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a trip to the Apple store for me to unravel the mystery of my numerous Apple passwords. But I’m sure they’ll figure that one out. Then I’ll be connected to the internet. Meanwhile, I’m learning the ins and outs of what my phone can do, aside from taking on the role of a simple telephone. The feature I love best, so far, is speaking into the phone to ask Siri a question. She doesn’t always give me the correct answer, but the fact that she responds makes me think of the movie “Her.” After all, if my smart phone speaks to me, can operating systems for everyone be far behind?

Today I received a notice of a class in three-dimentional printers. Just think of that! Forming 3 D creations. My novels turned into plays before my eyes! Afraid I’ll have to wait at least forty years for that.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Knowing You’re Stirring up Controversy

My new book, On Behalf of the Family, is the third in a series featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department. He is presented with a complex car arson death of a beautiful and rich Turkish girl. The question is whether this young girl's death is domestic abuse, a hate crime, or an honor killing? Either way he turns, the political blow back with scorch him.

Most people think that honor killings only happen in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. While these crimes happen there much more frequently, they are not unknown in the United States. I wanted to bring attention to this because it horrified me and I’ve been browsing headlines for years. An idea gets stuck in your head and won’t let go.

An honor killing is the murder or maiming of a woman who has violated the norms of the community, whether it is talking to a man outside the family, immodest appearance, or suspected “loose” behavior. An old Arab proverb states that the “woman carries the honor of the family between her legs.”

I write about Kurds in Eastern Anatolia, a province of Turkey, one of the more secular countries in the middle east. Turkey, however, is changing.  Anatolia is located right up next to Iran and Iraq.

It’s a common misperception that honor killings are dictated by Islamic belief. Not always. Sometimes the behavior violations that lead to honor killings are the cultural beliefs of men—and women—in the more conservative areas of the world. Remember, here in America, we have parts of the country that have very conservative beliefs as well that sometimes lead to reported criminal behavior toward women.

You can yank out verses of the Bible that are vicious towards women, just as you can from the Quran, but that does not mean either Christianity or Islam is vicious and hateful towards women at its core. And this does not mean that women cannot be vicious toward one another.

What was hardest of all in writing this book was to write about a family who carries out an honor killing. and convey at the same time that they are good people at heart, and most importantly, that this is an extremist act in the Kurdish community. Of course there are Kurds who would be horrified at the notion. And the family I write about is hardly unified in their views.

Extremism of any kind fascinates me. The experiences needed to move from the soft center of any opinion—or practice−to the hard outer edge are where the best stories lie.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Interview with Barbara Levinson

                                                             Interview with Barbara Levinson
                                                                       by Randy Rawls

     Today, I'm honored to present my interview with Barbara Levinson. Barbara is a multi-published author who, as you will see, bounces from South to North to find locations. Here's hoping you enjoy the interview and will be inspired to rush out and buy Barbara's books. Her latest is Outrageous October.
Q — Who or what inspired you to start writing, and when did you start?
A — I have always loved to write. I started in elementary school writing stories to entertain my friends and plays for my class to perform. The inspiration for this was that the writings made me popular and “cool”.

Q — How do you categorize your writing? Genre? Mystery? Mainstream? Western? How?
A — The genre is mystery and/or romantic suspense.

Q — What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
A — The characters in the Mary Magruder Katz Mystery series are based on numerous personalities I’ve observed over the years. The protagonist, Mary, is the prototype of young women litigators I observed over the years that I sat as a judge. I was a litigator as well so I know the stress and angst that goes with the job. I can’t say that I use any tools. The characters have come to life over the books that I have written. They seem to speak to me. I read chapters aloud and if they don’t sound like real people talking, they are deleted and rewritten.

Q — How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
A — I don’t outline. I think about a book as a whole for a long time before I begin so that I know all of the main themes before I begin. I always say my best ideas have come to me while I am standing over my ironing board.

Q — In the age-old argument of character versus plot, which one do you think is more important and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?
A — Character and plot are both important, but mystery writing demands a coherent plot or there is no mystery. In a series, there is time for characters to evolve.

Q — What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
A — The biggest challenge is the allocation of time. Once a book is published, an author can be consumed with book promotion. Just answering e-mails and guest blogging can eat all available time. The next biggest challenge is keeping family and friends from encroaching on time. My motivation is selfish. I never feel as happy and fulfilled as when I am writing. There is something about seeing the words marching across the paper that is mesmerizing.

Q — What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
A — Of course, everyone says the most exciting thing is when you see your book in print with your name on the cover. I think the continuing exciting happening is sitting in a restaurant and having a reader walk up to your table, ask if you are who she thinks you are and tells you how much fun she had reading one of your books.

Q — With more books being released each month, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
A — It’s true that there are a glut of books on the market today. But every book is different because it came from a person whose experiences are unique. Especially in the mystery genre, how each author perceives a mystery and its solution differs. My plots encompass people charged with crimes and how the defense attorney arrives at a just solution. This involves the police, the courts, forensic evidence, digging for facts, finding witnesses. While all these things are percolating, there is a backdrop of family and romance through the eyes of the protagonist.

Q — What is your latest book and how are you promoting it? Give us a nibble to make it appetizing.
A — My last book, Outrageous October, had a change of venue from Miami to Vermont. Mary finds her hot Latin lover cheating on her and “runs away from home” to stay in a friend’s borrowed summer house. She finds the house was the scene of an unsolved murder. The reason I used this change of venue is that I spend summers in our second home in Vermont. Our many friends there asked when they would have a book reflecting their home territory. Promotion of this book was a little different. Although my regular readers were alerted to the book through e-mail blasts, and social media, the big push took place in Northern New England, through television, book signings, and book club appearances throughout the summer and fall of 2013. 
Q — What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?
A — Social media is the most challenging to me. I have to force myself to use it. I like relating to people, but in today’s world, one has to “go with the flow.”

Q — Have you used a professional publicist? If so, is it working for you?
A — I have used a professional publicist. The main person who has been with me since my first book does a great job. I have used some peripheral people for particular projects and they have not been successful. The best way to find an honest publicist who is not just “blowing smoke” is by word of mouth. A recommendation from another author with good results works.

Q — What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day—or week—do you devote to writing?
A — I try to get everything out of the way during the morning; promotion, answering e-mails, household musts. The afternoon is for writing. I usually write four afternoons a week.

Q — Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
A — The writing life is very different. I have been used to interacting with people, both as a judge and as a lawyer. Writing is so solitary that it almost seems unhealthy to be lost in one’s thoughts so many hours a day. Additionally, I never envisioned having to be consumed with publicizing my books.

Q — Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
A — I would be more careful about contracts with publishers or agents, and that’s the advice I would give to a new author. Get the best legal advice. It’s money well spent.

Q — What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
A — My next book is Neurotic November and I am trying to release the book after that simultaneously. That one is Daring December. I hope to take a sabbatical from the series and write some more general fiction that I actually do have in outline form with two chapters written.

Q — Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
A — My website is I do love to speak to groups. I always learn from the questions posed by readers. When I’m not writing, I’m working with my German Shepherd. My husband and I bred and trained shepherds for twenty years as a hobby and finished eleven champions in the show ring. I also love hockey and attend the Florida Panthers games as often as I can. I attend all the women’s and men’s basketball games at the University of Miami. I am an alumna of the University of Miami School of Law and have donated a scholarship there which is awarded annually to a woman who is returning to law school after another career. It is a joy to meet these young women and follow their careers.

Thank you, Barbara. And here's wishing you much success in all you attempt.