Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Killing Thing

by Janis Patterson

Perhaps it is the logical outcome of a disordered mind, but after several years of writing mysteries I tend to weaponize just about everything I see. My friends have become inured to this little quirk, but it sometimes does startle the people nearby.

I remember once going for a girls-only lunch at a trendy little cafe one of my girlfriends had heard about. The publicity had been wide-ranging, the food expensive but acceptable, the decor trendy - and very uncomfortable. Our table and chairs were made from metal tortured into shapes that few would believe were capable of supporting either food or human bodies. My friends either liked them or speculated if they were left over from the time of Torquemada. I speculated on using the chairs at least as a murder weapon, the table being too heavy to lift, saying that because of their strange configuration no one could ever describe them just from the wounds they would leave. The people at the next table left.

And it's not just me, either. When The Husband and I were staying at the dig house at the El Kab excavation in Egypt researching my book A Killing at El Kab the archaeologists and I were brainstorming about a murder weapon. I had almost decided on a broken chunk of statuary when the ceramologist (the pottery expert) had an idea and rushed out. He was back in a moment bearing one of the wickedest implements I ever did see. About a yard long, it was a heavy-duty caliper with a shaft of thick steel and a head vaguely resembling a pick-axe about 10 inches wide and an inch thick. It was perfect and because of the story and setting it was obviously the murder weapon (found covered with blood and lying next to the body) so I couldn't bring in the forensic 'What kind of implement could make this sort of wound?' trope... but it would have been so neat.

Once you become accustomed to looking at everyday objects through the lens of potential mayhem, the world indeed becomes a dangerous place. A gleaming sports trophy becomes a cudgel. A beautiful garden morphs into a buffet of potentially lethal plants. Sleek silk scarves make stylish but deadly garrotes.

My friends - mostly writers themselves but some not - have become accustomed to my whimsical forays into specialized slaughter and most find them amusing. I do tend to forget, though, that not everyone is privy to the basic innocence of my flights of fancy, viz the one time a group of us were sitting in a cafe (one with normal chairs, thank goodness) and I was speculating on the old trope of a piece of frozen meat being used as a blunt object and the ease of disposing of the murder weapon. My luncheon companions were becoming more and more uncomfortable, which I could not understand as we had had many similar conversations, until one of them revealed that the table behind me held a gaggle of uniformed police officers who were listening to our conversation with undisguised interest. Immediately our chatter switched to the intractability of our publishers, our current book release schedules, the necessity of finding good editors and other blatantly literary subjects. Luckily that day my luncheon expenses did not include bail. I even gave each officer one of my business cards as we left.

In real life most criminals are not smart - if they were, they wouldn't be criminals - and fiendish murderers with arcane methods and obscure weapons are very thin on the ground. Most real life murders are simple things - shot, strangled, stabbed, beaten; in fiction, though, we can let our imaginations soar. Our killers can use any of a million or more objects/methods to kill and get away with it until our intrepid sleuth tracks them down - and one of the glories of fiction is that the murderer is always brought to justice no matter how clever his killing.

Just be careful when you plot it in a public place.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Happy Writing to You - by Linda Thorne

There are all sorts of publicized studies concerning the unhealthy effect unhappiness and loneliness can have on people. Not just mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. I found the statistics for the frequency of damage to our health and the seriousness of that damage to be shockingly high. I’m not providing quotes or details because, if I did, I’d need to cite my sources and I want to keep this post short and light. Anyone who’s interested can find the same information I did online. It’s generally well known.

So, I’m curious. Does writing help you out of a funk? Does it make you happy? When you feel a little lonely, does that feeling go away when you write? I found a great deal of information that supports the idea writing makes people happy.

When I am writing on my work in progress, I see it as a mission. It takes my attention away from unhappy thoughts, worries, and sadness. I’m absorbed, I’m expressing myself, and I feel a sense of accomplishment even when I’m writing poorly in rough draft format.

I’m not saying I don’t sometimes get frustrated. There are times when I can’t get the words out to reflect what’s needed, but when this happens, I learned a long time ago to just walk away from it. I either figure it out and get over the hurdle or back off. It may be for a day, a week, or longer. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up. Far from it. I’ll keep all that's frustrating me in my mind when I’m walking, driving, sitting around. I’ll mull over what got in my way and search for solutions, alternatives. It’s amazing what I can resolve when I take a break from writing the problem areas and just let my mind continue to play with it for a period.    

I don’t think I’ve ever felt lonely when I’ve been writing. I’m too in tune with my characters. I’ve worried for them, been excited for them, and always bonded with even the minor characters and bad guys. I’ve had the feelings of a romantic crush on a few of my male characters and some of my other characters have infuriated me. When writing, you call on your past experiences to produce the material for your present and future in your story. Loneliness would not fare well in this mixture of writing about activities and involvement in the past, present, and future.

Between the characters you’ve created and their activities, you should have a strong sense of connection, caring consideration, and inspiration. All strengtheners to our immune systems.

For me personally, I’ve found writing makes me feel younger, keeps me active and mentally on the move. It perks me up and gives me purpose and a sense of pride.
                                                                                      My 1st author panel 2015 Southern Fest of Bks
So, I’m obviously one of the statistics of the many people writing makes happy. How about you?

How does writing make you feel?

Amazon Author Page

Just Another Termination Amazon

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Highlights from the PSWA Conference

For those of you who have no idea what the PSWA is all about, take a look at the website:

I've belonged to this group for years, ever since it was the Police Writers Club. I joined because I wanted to be where I could learn more about how cops operate. Now PSWA is open to mystery writers and every type of public safety person such as FBI, Police Dispatchers, SWAT team members, military, dog handler, doctors, nurses, firepersons, scientists, private detectives, postal inspector, prison warden, parole and probation, newspaper reporter, medic/crisis counselor, Department of Defense, CIA, every type of law enforcement as well as editors and publishers.

The conference had a good mix of writing and law enforcement topics. Here is the list:

Featured Speaker: John Schembra on Pursuit/Emergency Response Driving--Getting it Right
Panel--The Truth is Out There. Writers discussed legends and scientific information used in their stories.
Panel--The Short and Long of it--All About Anthologies.
Featured Speaker: Mysti Berry on Focusing your Story on the Dramatic Question.
Panel--Media Promotion and Press Releases
Panel--Telling You Where to Go--All About Police Dispatchers.
Featured Speaker: Dave Freedland--Topic: SWAT Concepts for the Patrol Officer
Panel--Publishers ' Croner
Featured Speaker: Michael A. Black--The Battle Between Showing and Telling
Panel--The Author and Editor Relationship
Panel--Writing Historicals
Panel--Writing Action Scenes
Panel--Gathering the Evidence
Panel--Keeping Order and Preventing Discord
Panel--Perfecting Your Writing

Excellent conference-I learned a lot from everything, and yes, I will use some in future books.
One big thing from those who work in law enforcement--what they show in TV and movies is often far from how things are really done.

The most entertaining was the radio show put on Friday at the end of the day--volunteers from the conference were the stars.

My favorite of all, seeing old friends and making new ones. One highlight, one of the authors grew up in Springville CA (where I live.) Reading his book now and it's outstanding.

This is the most affordable conference (including the hotel).


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Make Mine Mystery

August 5, 2019
 Linda Lee Kane

Usually I try to give some insight to writing and what I’ve learned but this time I am trying to figure out why I keep losing my writing on my computer. Computers have always been my enemy, as well as sewing machines. I quit sewing which I’m sure helps the economy but when I lose the words I so carefully work on, a sentence, and a paragraph I want to cry.

Back in January my new book, Death Is An Illusion was completed. I just had to send it to my editor. I waiting for a week to make sure every T was crossed and every I doted. Just before I sent it off, I looked at the page count, it was way off. It went from 603 pages to 400 or there-about. I had one hundred and thirteen chapters and it went down to fifty-eight. I was devasted but I got over it and began again.

Last month I finished the story again and sent it off to my editor. I received it back two weeks ago and worked on tightening it up, I made sure everything was lined up perfectly in regard to the story-line. I decided not to send it to the publisher that evening but wait until the next day. I saved it, I accept all changes and all of my 571 changes disappeared. I still don’t have a clue to what I did wrong. Someone said it’s there, somewhere, but where?
I’m back at it again, maybe it will be even better, but at this point I’m completely confused.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

My Favorite Writing Conference

By the time this is posted, I will have just returned from the Public Safety Writers Association's Conference.

At one time, I went to many writing and mystery conferences during the year, sometimes with my hubby and sometimes alone. We attended Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes all over the U.S. A favorite was Mayhem in the Midland, which is no longer. I have fond memories of Epicons from Florida, Virginia Beach VA in winter, Washington, and in Texas.

In fact, we've visited many states we'd have never seen because of conventions and cons.

Flying is no longer something I enjoy, and the price of hotel rooms has gone up so much, that I've chosen to only attend the PSWA Conference--much more for the dollar. And we are able to drive there.

I've been attending PSWA Conferences since its reorganization and served as program chair for many years. I handed the job over to the very talented and able retired police detective and fantastic writer, Michael A. Black.

Like with any convention or conference, if you attend regularly, I've made many friends who I look forward to seeing every year--and meeting new folks.

I still help with the pre-conference workshop, which is fun because I love helping writers as so many have helped me along the way.

Besides panels on various aspects of writing and promotion, there are always great presentations, sometimes about law enforcements work.

On my next post, I'll give you highlights of what happened at the conference.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Writing to Word Count

by Linda Thorne

If you’re an author who has ever entered a writing contest, you’ve been subjected to word count requirements. Submissions to agents and publishers normally have maximum word counts too, except sometimes the limit may be a number of chapters in a book rather than actual words.

It’s amazing how the number of our words can significantly be reduced without changing a story. I’ve managed to cut a 3500-word short story down to 1000 while keeping the story intact.

My debut novel, Just Another Termination, started off with a 120,000-word first draft. It was awful. I eliminated a couple of non-essential characters and their roles, but still more fat to trim. I’d fallen victim to the mistaken idea that readers need to know everything. For example, I wrote over four pages that described the different stages my protagonist’s husband went through to move from LA to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to take a better job. He left my protagonist behind to sell their Los Angeles home, moved into a hotel near his new job, and then bought a home in Mississippi and moved into it. This all happened prior to my lead character joining him. Too much information.

I took these four pages of information dump and turned it into a two-sentence summary blurb. That and another 40 words sprinkled into other sections of the book was all that needed to be said on this subject. I had several other places where I could scratch 90% of the descriptions I’d written.

Here are some other things I did to reduce word count and tighten my book: 

I dropped one of my subplots. I had to many in the first draft of my debut novel, Just Another Termination. In my second book yet to be published, A Promotion to Die For, I  think I’m right-on with the number of subplots.
I got rid of a few characters. I had to eliminate a couple of characters in Just Another Termination and hated it. I’ve already eliminated two characters in my current work-in-progress, A Promotion to Die For.

I’ve heard to watch the words used on backstory in the beginning. Cut them down and trickle the information throughout the book. This is more difficult with my current WIP, A Promotion to Die For because my inciting incident happened thirty years earlier but is pressing into the current time frame of the book. Sometimes authors must ignore the naysayers when their book doesn’t fit into the “rules.” Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Susan Isaacs wrote a book called, Lily White, where one chapter was in present time and the next in the past. To help differentiate, chapters in the present were written in regular font, where those in backstory were in italics. This went on with present/past chapters alternating until past and present met in time at the end of the book. Even though the author broke some (lots) of the “rules,” it seemed to work perfectly for this novel. I really enjoyed Lily White.

In A Promotion to Die For, I only have a few chapters that are written in back story, but I did need some full chapters to bring in the the inciting incident from three decades ago.

When my debut novel was finally published, it was closer to 80,000 words. I’m trying for the next one in the series to be about the same. Eighty thousand words is my general comfort level for mystery novels.

Amazon Buy Link

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Problems of Color and Choice

by Janis Patterson

Where have all the colors gone? We're rapidly entering a sad and monochromatic world.

Maybe I had better back up and tell you what is behind this melancholy rant. You see, I have a pink bathroom. An ALL-pink bathroom, and as things will when they grow old our toilet (pink, to match the sink, the bathtub and the wall tiles) broke. Well, what can you do but buy a new one?

Except that no one makes pink (or any real color) toilets any more. We went to big box DIY stores, specialty plumbing houses, commercial plumbing suppliers, even contacted manufacturers. Most of them didn't laugh at us, but it made no difference - there is no such thing as a commercially available pink toilet. We were told by a manufacturer that we could order a specially made pink toilet - at a price that was a little better than tearing out the bathroom to the studs and starting over... but not by much.

What makes me angry is that there is so little choice. At all the outlets we found at least three shades of white, between four and seven variations of beige (called 'Biscuit') and a rather creepy solid, shiny black. And nothing else.

So we chose white. It looks really weird in our pink bathroom, but I hope to ameliorate the effect by painting flowers to match our shower curtain on the tank. Desperate measures, I know, but the whole situation is as depressing as when colored toilet tissue disappeared. When we heard on the news about this obscenity, my dad went out to at least six stores and bought every package of pink toilet tissue they had. His daughter liked pink, so she should have pink! Of course, as that was many decades in the past the supply ran out long ago, but alternating with white softened the impact of having no choice except white. (Biscuit - no way; black - ick!) I still resent the freedom of choice being taken from me.

In other areas of our lives freedom of choice is being slowly but definitely eroded. Look at cars; the vast majority are white/silver and black. Every so often there is a red and less often than that a blue - in new cars; customer-painted aftermarket is a different thing. It's boring, but thankfully in cars - at least for now - you can buy your way into individuality - sort of. The Husband's car is a 2011; mine is a 2013. His is brilliant red, mine a pale liquid blue. We had to pay $500 each (a small percentage of the total cost and would probably be more now) to get something that was not black, white or silver but at least we had the choice - however costly - of getting a color.

So what does this have to do with mystery writing? Ten-fifteen years ago when the big publishers controlled what was published, one by one lines tightened (or disappeared) and the choices of type of book decreased accordingly. This holds true for all genres, too - mystery, romance, science fiction, women's fiction, whatever.

Then the self-publishing revolution began and suddenly writers could write what they wanted to write and readers could read what they wanted to read, all without the oversight (or interference) of the New York publishing types. Now this does mean there is a ginormous amount of absolute rubbish being published almost daily, but it also guarantees that every reader can find the precise sub-set of book they want to read. It puts the freedom of choice back into the hands of the writers and the readers, proving that there is hope for the survival if not resurrection of personal choice.

Unfortunately for those of us who have colored bathrooms or hate white/silver/black cars, I doubt that there will ever be a situation where people can design/color their own bathroom fittings or choose whatever color of car they want to order... but that's by no means a guarantee. Twenty-five years ago who would have even imagined the scope and reach of self-publishing? Who knows what's going to happen regarding the available colors of bathroom furnishings or new car colors?

Whatever it is, it will probably be far too late for me to have my pink toilet, drat it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Make Mine Mystery

July 5, 2019

Research for 'Death on the Vine' not a bad 
place to delve into your writing.

by L Lee Kane


If you’re writing what you know or pursuing a different passion, research is a critical tool for developing the world of your novel. What you learn during your in-depth study allows you to engage your reader in your setting. It will help you in developing your characters, the novel’s moral gray area, and even the fundamental conflict of your story.
For those with new topics, the preliminary stage of research is generally exploratory and involves reading anything that interests you. As you delve deeper, you will find your research becoming more focused. You will begin asking questions about particular locations, histories, or scenarios that involve your subject matter.
At some point in your research will be necessary to reach out to others. Discuss information with an expert their expertise about their interests which can offer perspectives that you will not find in books. Their enthusiasm and authenticity about the subject will come through in your writing. It could also give you an idea for characters in your novel. Please do not expect that a specialist will train you about their work. Make sure you have done research first and prepared thoughtful questions for your interview subject. It shows respect for their time and allows you to go deeper with them. You might meet some fascinating people.
If possible, visit locations that interest you. I wrote a book about the Central Valley in California. I drove up to Oakhurst and without any recording devices, pen, or paper I allowed myself to absorb the space and to feel what it’s like being there. Take mental notes of the things that strike you the most. The next day I went back for a second visit with my notebook and camera to collect as much information as possible so I could refer back to it.

Time to Plan Another Mystery

One thing I can say honestly, is I'm never bored.

I just sent off my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery to the publisher so now it's time to plan another Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. At this point, I only have a few fuzzy ideas buzzing around in my head. I want to do something in the mountains, but not sure exactly what or how.

And at the same time, I need to be thinking about promotion for the other book.

Of course I have plenty on my calendar as far as book promotion is concerned.

In fact, when this post comes out I'll be on my way to San Luis Obispo where I'm going to give a presentation to the Night Writers about Writing and Sustaining a Mystery Series.

The following week, along with my husband and daughter, I'm headed to Las Vegas for the Public Safety Writers Association's conference. I'll be teaching at the before conference workshop, and I'm on two panels, and moderating another, so it'll be a busy time. Plus, the best part is seeing old friends.

Our annual family reunion always in August had to be canceled, so instead two of my daughters, their husbands, hubby and I are returning to Tehachapi for a mini vacation and see things we missed on previous trips. Tehachapi is the setting for Spirit Wind. 

So far in September I have nothing planned, October is the big Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca.

I  know other opportunities will arise, but any time without plans is writing time.

What plans do you have for this summer?


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Signing at the Tehachapi Museum was Wonderful!

Truly, when my daughter, Lisa, and I began our drive up the highway into the mountains toward Tehachapi, I had no idea who the day would turn out. I brought lots of copies of Spirit World and some of the other books in the series.

Though Spirit World is set in Tehachapi, I wasn't sure if anyone in the area would be interested in a fictional mystery.

We arrived early and Lisa spotted a rummage sale and visited that. We located the library, then went to the most wonderful bakery for lunch.

We headed to the library and I wasn't optimistic because there wasn't many place to park. Inside we were greeted by the gracious woman who had invited me. She pointed out they had lemonade and cookies set up, and led me to a back room where a table, chair, and two benches were. I arranged my books, but really didn't expect to do much more than sit there for two hours.

The room we were in was filled with displays of the Kawiiasu Indians who are mentioned in my book. So I spent a few minutes perusing the baskets and photographs.

The famous Tehachapi Loop
Then the first person arrived a woman from the library who'd already bought the book for the library and read it. She purchased another for herself.

From then on, people began arriving at nice intervals, one at a time, or in pairs. Everyone sat down and visited with me, some giving a history of why they'd moved to Tehachapi, or something interesting about themselves, and they asked a lot of questions.

Everyone who came in bought a book, some two or more. The  museum purchased five.

It was a fun and rewarding day.

From this, my advice to authors is look for unusual places to have a signing, especially if no book stores are in your area. I've had a successful signing in a handmade chocolate store, and next up, I'm headed to a coffee shop.


Friday, June 21, 2019

The Red Herring of the Mystery Genre

 by Linda Thorne

One of the critical but perhaps the most entertaining part of any mystery is the continual misdirection of the reader. That ploy ensures a satisfying surprise at the end. To prevent premature exposure to who done it, writers often use a literary tool called a red herring, which leads the reader astray in two ways. One way presents false, distorted, or ambiguous information. The other distracts from the subject at hand either by changing to a new topic or allowing a new event to disrupt the current scene.

After teasing readers with clues of the mystery's true ending, a skilled writer often throws in a red herring to pull his audience away temporarily. This planned postponement adds deeper layers to the the plot and weaves in more doubts about previous suspects. However, the writer intends to reintroduce the same subject matter during the climax. At that point, the reader will likely remember many, if not all earlier hints, clues, diversions, and distractions, which can help him say, “Of course, I should’ve known that!”

Admittedly, in my first book I had almost too many red herrings and too many innocent characters for the reader to suspect. I started to remove one of the planted questionable characters, but decided in the end to keep them all because I did have logical reasons to to explain their innocence that would eliminate each as a suspect. Yet in revising my second book, A Promotion to Die For, I have found a shortage of innocent characters that look guilty. I have also found too few diversions and distractions. So, with book one, the red herrings came easily, but book two will take some work.

I’ve always wondered why this literary technique of trickery appropriated the name of a fish, a herring no less. More research revealed a long history of red herrings being dragged over ground to create scent trails to train dogs, and possibly horses. Apparently, red herring, a very smelly fish when dead, proved useful for distracting ardent searchers. One theory going all the way back to the 1600s included fugitives using red herrings to cover their own scent, thus, throwing off bloodhounds that were chasing them.

The turning point that popularized the name as an extended metaphor came to fruition in the early 1800s. An English journalist named William Cobbett wrote a story that told how he, as a boy, had used a red herring to mislead hounds that were following a rabbit. Though a fictional story, Cobbett used it to criticize what he believed was a naive press that fell for false information about a defeat of Napoleon. Supposedly, Corbett’s criticism caused the repeated republishing of versions of this tale for many years.

I think as writers, we may all appreciate how red herrings serve in the mystery genre. But, if you didn’t know the back story on how this term evolved, you now know as much as I do.

Amazon Link

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Do You Ever Scare Yourself?

by Janis Patterson

Not too long ago a writer friend posted that she was having trouble figuring out how to poison a character. Nothing seemed to work, either through symptoms (she wanted the character to live), or availability, or treatment.

A bunch of us replied, trying to help find a substance that would fit her story's parameters. I contributed, reeling off a list of reasonably available poisons as well as their symptoms and antidotes. From memory.

I was sort of shocked. Yes, I've known for years that there is a lot of really weird knowledge tucked here and there in the messy storage of my brain, but for the first time it really hit me that I really do know this stuff to a frightening degree. Of course, anyone could look it up either at the library or on the internet, but to be able to rattle it all off from memory... it shook me.

Now I'm really rather a good person. I don't kick puppies, kittens or children (with one notable exception, but the animal torturing little brat totally deserved it!) ; I obey the law and take my fair turn at a 4 way stop sign; I recycle and give to charity. But I also know how to eliminate scores of people without even thinking hard. What on earth is St. Peter going to say - assuming, of course, that I get that far.

Which brings up another question: going on the assumption that I never commit a criminal act with my rather esoteric knowledge, what if someone reads my book and uses it as a blueprint to commit a crime? A real one? Does that make me some sort of accessory before the fact? While the idea is admittedly a stretching of probability, even if I were innocent in the eyes of the court, I don't think I would be innocent in the eyes of my own honor. Yes, the murderer could have just gone to the library or internet to do his research, but why should he do so much work when I've laid it all out predigested for him?

I can hear some of you scoffing now, saying I'm too sensitive and other, probably more unattractive epithets, but this is my mind and heart and sense of ethics we're talking about. However, I love writing mysteries and have no intention of giving it up.

So, I take refuge in following the footsteps of some of my betters and cheat. I use exotic poisons and poisons you can find in your kitchen cabinet now. I describe the symptoms and the dosages... but not all of the process. I always leave a little something out. People will always kill other people, but not with my help. If they want to poison someone, let them do the work on finding out. Leave me out of it. I'm just a storyteller.