Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Weather As Character

by Janis Patterson


As you probably know, I'm out of the country now, enjoying my Very Big Trip, so I'm reprinting one of my more popular blog posts from not-too-long ago. I'll be back in October and remember, I'll be writing about the VBT in my newsletter, in case you want to subscribe! There's a sign-up box on my website. 


Picture a bright blue sky glowing with golden sunshine and dotted with friendly, fluffy clouds. Now picture dark grey looming clouds hanging so low you can almost grab a handful of them, while an icy wind scours the land with frigid teeth.


Which would you think of as setting for a lighthearted romantic comedy and which for an angst-filled mystery where terrible things lurk just under the next breeze?


Admittedly, those are two extreme examples, but weather does affect our perception of genre and tone. Now before you jump all over me crying that so-and-so did a terribly horrifying story set on a sunny beach or a rom-com in a storm-lashed castle, I will agree with you. There are always those writers who can take a trope and turn it on its head with great effectiveness. A truly skilled writer can do almost anything – as all of you skilled writers know – but the stormy rom-con and the sun-drenched murder have been done so often that they are almost tropes in themselves. 


It’s a lot harder to take a pleasant, sunny location and make it a place of crime, apprehension and horror. I say let your setting work for you – sometimes. Never do anything exactly the same way every time. Keep your reader on her mental toes. And let’s face it, it’s easier to ratchet up the tension in a dark and shadowy place where who knows what is lurking in that lightless corner we must traverse, just as it’s delightful to see the hero’s eyes crinkle in appreciation on a sunny beach. Proper use of the weather can almost turn it into a character in and of itself, and give both depth and foreshadowing to your story.


People have certain expectations and reactions to the weather. I say use them, or, if you use them in reverse, do it whole-heartedly. One of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever watched was the end of the old movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where George Peppard (a singularly interesting bit of casting) and Audrey Hepburn find the cat and declare their love in an ugly NYC alley in a pouring rain. Switch upon switch upon switch. 


On the other hand, most readers have certain expectations; I’m a firm believer that as writers, especially genre writers, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. At least, not every time.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

I'm Woefully Behind

 


And I blame it on birthdays. We had one after another--geat grands, mine, my sister's and my hubby's/

Mine was fun and different. Grandaughter who lives with us, along with her three girls, treated me to a haircut at the beauty school where another great-granddaughter is a student. Of course, she's the one who cut my hair. She always has unusual hair--this time it was half blonde and half dark brown. After, we all had lunch at a hole-in-the wall Chinese restaurant with wonderful food. We had a great visit.

From there we went to a bakery and picked out my birthday cake which we had after dinner that night.

For hubby's birthday, first he was celebrated at church and received a miniature pie for himself. After we went to Thai Kitchen and shared our favorites.  The next day, which was his actual birthday, he received lots of phone calls, even one from one of his old Seabee buddies. They haven't seen each other for years.

I am doing a bit of writing on my new and probably last Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, but have been so busy with other tasks, I've not gotten very far.

I really thought End of the Trail would be the last one, but then I came up with the idea for The Trash Harem and just had to write it. Then my friend, who has appeared in several of the Tempe mysteries under a fictional name, has asked to be in another, with a special request, so that's what I'm working on now. 

And I supposed to be honest, I should just admit, I'm slowing down.

Happy Reading,

Marilyn



Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Apologies...

by Janis Patterson

Today as I write this (yesterday as you read this) it is my birthday. A birthday with a distressingly large number attached, which I do not intend to reveal. Let it suffice to say that instead of celebrating birthdays, I’m ready to start handing them back!

I have been working frantically to finish the new book - and it’s going to be a photo finish, I’m afraid, as I’m up to my earlobes in trying to get ready for a Very Big Trip. Sorry, no other information at the moment.

Which brings me to the subject of this sadly truncated post. Deadlines happen. Birthdays happen. Very Big Trips happen. LIFE happens, and all we can do is handle them the best we can. Sometimes it’s good enough, sometimes it isn’t. The verdict is still out on this one.

When I get back I’m going to write a good account of the Very Big Trip as a lead article for my new newsletter. If you’re interested you can subscribe by going to https://bit.ly/jsmnews . I’ll even give you your choice of a mystery short story or a short romance novella. If you don’t want to subscribe, I’ll put something about the trip on my website as well. 

This trip is half vacation and half research - but then I do research on every trip we take. You never know when something is going to spark an idea or even just provide an interesting snippet of verisimilitude. 

Anyway, that’s the reason this post is so short and disjointed. Thanks for reading this far, and hopefully forgiving me. More to come...


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHY? and HOW?

My guest is J. L Greger today: 


The key questions in any newspaper article are how, what, when, why, and how. In most murder investigations, the how and what questions are answered when a dead body with bullet holes or stab wounds is found. Accordingly, most murder mysteries address the questions of who and why.

How becomes a key question in medical mysteries.

The question of how becomes important when a poison is used to kill one or more individuals. In my new mystery FAIR COMPROMISES, twenty resident in New Mexico come into clinics and doctors’ offices complaining of double or blurred vision, sagging eyelids, and headaches the day after a political rally. Public health workers quickly hypothesize the cause was botulism toxin in improperly home canned food served at the rally.

There’s just one problem. One individual’s symptoms are much more severe. She is suffering paralysis of her arms and legs and having trouble breathing. New Mexico health officials contact the FBI because that patient is a candidate for the U.S. Senate and they fear she may have been targeted. Moreover, the available botulinum antitoxin can prevent worsening of symptoms but cannot repair nerves damaged by the toxin. The Senate candidate is apt to die or be permanently disabled.

The mystery turns from being the analysis of a severe food safety breach to the investigation of a diabolical murder attempt using “cosmetic” botulism toxin when scientist Sara Almquist with the help of a talented FBI lab crew discover a more sinister source of the toxin at a health and beauty spa in Santa Fe.

A little science is needed to explain the how in this mystery.

Scientists have known for a hundred years that a bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) could grow in improperly canned vegetables and meats and produce a poison that was lethal. However, this bacteria was sensitive to acid and didn’t produce the toxin in acidic canned tomatoes and fruits. Despite the education efforts of  Cooperative Extension agents, a few home canners have continued not to use pressure cookers when canning non-acidic vegetables and have killed their relatives.

In the 1980 and 1990s, physcians discovered they could cure certain neurological conditions by injecting tiny amount amounts of botulinum toxin into spasmed muscles of patients. Scientists also figured out tiny injections of botulinum toxin would prevent the muscles contractions that caused crow’s feet around the eyes and worry wrinkles on the forehead. Thus a whole new cosmetic product line (BOTOX and other botulinum toxin products) was discovered.

Back to FAIR COMPROMISES.

After the how is answered, Sara and her FBI colleagues must discover the who and why  in this mystery. It’s not easy. The villain or villains are clever and ruthless.

BLURB:

Sara Almquist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who endangered the lives of a hundred attendees at a political rally by poisoning the food with botulism toxin. The poisoners’ target was a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate; the rest were just collateral damage. As these agents track clues from a veterans’ hall in Clovis, New Mexico to health spas in Santa Fe, they must make a multitude of personal and professional (perhaps too many) compromises.

FAIR COMPROMISES is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Compromises-Science-Traveler-Greger/dp/1735421421

Bio: J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes tidbits of science in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Malignancy, Games for Couples, Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and six others. https://www.jlgreger.com

 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

I'm Home After a Great PSWA Writing Conference

 No, I didn't take any pictures. Many did, however, and I'll probably "borrow" some as they get posted.

One thing I learned that kind of goes along wiht Janis Patterson's last post, is one of the publishers who spoke said that for her house they would like 3 or more books from an author a year. And her specifics for the books were 80,000 words or more. This was for the Christian Imprint for Wolfpack publishing.

Never, ever could I put out three of more books a year--not even when I was much younger.

When would the author who churns out one book after another have time to live?

I need to write one more Tempe Crabtree mystery, and I've been gathering ideas, but I have so much other stuff to do that I haven't had time for much more than that. Even though I don'thave to cook dinner anymore there are still two other meals to prepare. My husband needs my help these days. And I have other jobs that make more money than writing and need to be done as they come in.

And wwhat about just living? Chores need to be done, bills have to be paid, all the little things of life that pile up if you don't tackle them right away.

Everyone needs to take the time to be with loved ones and friends, to enjoy good conversations and read other authors books. Reading is probably what got you hooked on writing in the first place. 

Taking 6 days off to attend the PSWA Conference was wonderful. I got to see many old friends and catch up with them, and I made several new friends. The food was great everyplace we ate, and most especially the conference's spectacular lunches. The speakers were great as were the panels, and I learned a lot.

I'm still not totally unpacked--have books to put away--I'll get around to them eventually.

I will get back to writing, but have a long list to complete before I can.

Happy Writing and Reading,

Marilyn

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Inviolate Writing Schedules and Other Fictions

by Janis Patterson


There are those who say that the success to writing lies only in following a strict schedule. So many words per day, every day, or writing X number of hours without deviation, or... whatever. On the other hand, there are an equal number of equally fervid writers who are convinced that no good writing ever comes from being forced. One should wait for the magic touch of the muse, as anything which is worked at, which happens without fiery and flowing inspiration is unnatural and bad writing.  


Give me a break. Or two.


That said, I will admit that my writing is easier when I am in the throes of inspiration, and that I do try to write a certain number of words every day. Keywords here are 'easier' and 'try.'


Like all of life writing is uncertain. You can vow that you will write a minimum of 5,000 words a day, every single day without fail. If you can, good on you. The rest of us have lives. We have families, cars, homes, jobs... all of which seem to go maniacally wonky just at the worst times. There are things in life that should come before writing - family comes to mind first.


So - you've set a schedule and stuck to it pretty well, then something overwhelming happens and until it is resolved the writing goes out the window. Then what? Your rhythm is off. You haven't kept your word, and if you're so unreliable why go on? Obviously you aren't a real writer unless you .... whatever.


Yes, there are people who actually believe that. I look at writing schedules sort of like I do at a diet. They can be wonderful things from which you can benefit greatly. Depending on your attitude, they can also make your life miserable. If you break a diet, you don't just give up and wallow in a slough of chocolate (however delightful that might seem), you admit what happened, then pick up and go on. Or at least you should. At least, I do. Most of the time. 


Being a writer is a life and career choice - it shouldn't be a sentence. Yes, we have deadlines, and yes, if we've given our word that so-and-so will be done by such-and-such a time, we should honor it, no matter what it takes. That's a sprint, though, not a way of life. 


So am I advocating heedlessness, hedonism, laziness? No. If you are a writer, you must write. But... if you are a human, you must also live. As the Facebook meme says, Eat the chocolate, drink the wine, smell the roses. 


It's all about balance. I am a firm advocate that family comes first. Yes, you owe dedication to your craft, but you also owe dedication to your Self. And your family. And your life, however you choose to live it. But you must also be disciplined and productive in the way that is right for you.


Besides, there is a extra - if rather naughty - benefit to having a writing schedule. When something comes up that you should do, but don't really want to, but can't say no gracefully, you can always say, "I'd love to, but I haven't made my word count for today." Works every time.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

I'm Busy Packing Today

I'll be headed to Las Vegas and the PSWA Conference early tomorrow morning. 

This will be my only writer's conference this year, but fortunately it's my favorite. It will be like seeing family--and there are new people coming too, so I plan to make some new friends.

The first day I'll be helping with the pre-conference workshop and giving some tips on dialogue. I also critiqued three partial manuscripts and will meet with the authors to give them some ideas about what they can do to make what they've written even better.

That evening there is a get-acquainted gathering with food and drinks available. Always fun.

The conference begins Friday morning. There are some great speakers and lots of panels. I'm on three panels--more when I get home.

There is another plus to this conference, my sister lives in Vegas, so I'll get to see her too.

While I'm gone, our son will care for my husband here at home. 

I am truly hoping to get my imagination fed so I can come up with ideas for a new Tempe Crabtree mystery.

I'll give a report when I return.

Marilyn