Friday, October 31, 2008

Are We Ghoulish Enough?

Are we ghoulish enough for you? If not, here's a ghoul for you. Still not scared? Will three do?


Morgan Mandel

Adult Trick or Treaters

These are members of our household getting ready to head out to a Halloween party. Chris is in the jumpsuit, grandson who lives with us. Holly lives next door in our rental with the others, she granddaughter Jessi, the next girl, Elaina is my daughter-in-law and the creature on the end is my youngest son.

This is what they're supposed to be: prisoner, Playboy Bunny though she's mostly covered up with her jacket, police officer--though I've never seen one before with a garter (her boyfriend, not in the pic is also a prisoner--the black and white striped variety), female boxer, note the pink boxing gloves and pink robe--covering a most sexy outfit, Gladiator--and he really looks scary.

Happy Halloween and I'm glad I'm staying home!


Well, the little trick or treaters will be here soon -- both of them! We have the pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern and set where they'll see it as soon as they enter. We have a selection of candy and McDonald's coupons for them! We're in the country, and although there are a few youngsters on the road, I think they all go into town to trick or treat with their friends, or at their relatives' homes!

Our god-children have always come, though, and they're always so cute in their costumes! It makes it worthwhile getting everything ready.

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge

Happy Halloween

Wishing you tons of candy, spooky fun and mystery. And may all the little trick or treaters at your door have as much fun as you do.

Welcome to Our House

Happy Halloween!! Enter If You Dare, But Beware!!!! There's No Escape. Once You Come In, You'll be Hooked and Not Want to Leave...

Happy Halloween!

My favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. It will be a quiet Halloween, watching horror movies with Dave and our friends...pasta shaped like jack-o-lanterns for food, Zombie Zinfandel for wine. I have a spooky skull shaped candy bowl which, if you press the nose, releases a skeletal hand to scrabble in the candy and attack anyone reaching for a piece. This is just in case we have any trick-or-treaters. We probably won't, if last year is any indication...but I can use it on my friends too.
I enjoyed reading the other Halloween posts today about trick-or-treating experiences when kids used to actually go house to house rather than group together at malls or schools for supervised, 'safe' trick-or-treating. There's something comforting about hanging out (even in cyber space) people who share similar memories and experiences. I will be raising a glass of my Zombie Zinfandel in all of your honors tonight, fellow Make Mine Mystery writers!

Trick or Treat?

Just reminiscing about Halloweens past. One thing that always comes to mind was the care my mother took when I was young to make homemade treats for the trick-or-treaters. My favorite was popcorn balls. Of course, back then you had to really pop the corn (no microwave bag thingies) and she cooked up some syrupy stuff and poured it onto the popcorn and then buttered up her hands and formed the balls. It was hot; we used to swear Mom had asbestos hands. Then we wrapped them in waxed paper and tied a ribbon to hold it closed. Those were the days before the $6 bags of mini chocolate bars; before razor blades were sliced into apples; when kids dressed as ghosts, witches, clowns and hobos instead of Britney, Hannah, the Hulk and Freddie Krueger (and I apologize if I misspelled Mr. K's name, never was a big fan.)

My dad got into the act, too, by donning a scary plastic mask to answer the door. They both got a big kick out of Halloween, and Mom would even keep a pad and pencil near the door to actually keep a tally of how many kids we got. There were usually well over a hundred. I went out, but always got back in time to help answer the door for awhile. I loved that part almost as much as getting the sweet loot.

Sadly, our doorbell hardly rings, despite the colorful pumpkin lights and jack o'lanterns we put out. Our street is a bit isolated, most of the children have grown and moved out. Some folks complain when the trick-or-treaters are teens, but I don't mind at all, as long as they are in costume. My own sons participated into their teens, and I loved that they still cared.

I still dress up myself, matter of fact. It's a natural, I think, for fiction writers to want to step into the role of a character, just for one night.

Have a fun night tonight, mateys!
The Dread Pirate Anne
See my blog for Halloween birthdays!

Halloween, Bah humbug!

Is it just me, or does halloween seem to be lacking in purpose? Groups of kids, most of whom I don't know, will show up at my door with bags open while their parents wait in the car at the curb. Only about half of them will be in costume and few, if any, will show any imagination. Entertainment? Forget it. No songs, no jokes, no tricks. Most won't even know who they are supposed to be. Doesn't anyone discuss the significance of the costumes with them?

The big kids come without costume. They might wear a sweat shirt that lets me know their high school. What business do they have extorting candy? Now that cars no longer have hubcaps, kids seem to have lost their sense of mischief.

It's the adults that get me. You know the ones. They show up at the office in clothes that should have long ago been consigned to the thrift shop or the dumpster. So, who are you supposed to be? I'm a hippy from the 70's, man. Get real. If you want to dress obnoxiously, save it for Super Bowl Sunday.

I went to a Halloween party on Friday where a woman showed up in high heels, fishnet stockings, black skirt and white blouse open half way down. She said she was a sexy teacher. She was a little scary because she was well-endowed and threatened to spill out, but what does sexy teacher have to do with ghosts and goblins? I'm not against sexy costumes. I believe a little costume action can spice up a relationship, but there are more appropriate days on the calendar to take it public. Valentine's Day, May Day, and Midsummer's Eve come to mind.

With a sixteen-week football season in the fall and a month of spring break in March do we need another excuse to behave badly? My opinion is that Halloween has lost its meaning and is now just a run up to the season of greed. I say Halloween, bah humbug!

Happy Halloween!!!

Who said it wouldn't last? These two are proving everyone was wrong!!!!!!


Trick-or Treating in the Dark Ages (my dark ages)

My family didn’t have much money when I was a kid (during World War II) and candy wasn’t easy to come by. Halloween was the perfect time to collect a stash of goodies. My mom never worried about where I planned to go on my trick-or-treat trek, expecting me to be with a whole gang of kids. Usually this is what happened.

We’d start out going from door-to-door. As we ran into other kids we learned where the best treats were. Back in those days, it was the homemade cookies, candied apples and popcorn balls. We usually visited those houses more than once.

On this particular Halloween when I was around ten or eleven, my friends all tired out long before I was ready to quit–so I kept on knocking on doors by myself. I found myself in a neighborhood I didn’t know too well, about five blocks from home.

I had to climb a bunch of stairs and knocked boldly on the door. A mean looking man yanked the door open and it only took me a moment to see he was holding a rifle or shotgun. (I don’t know the difference to this day even if I do write mysteries.)

He squinted at me and said, “Do you know what I do to kids who come trick-or-treating?”

My heart was pounding so fast, I stammered out, “I don’t know.”

Of course I expected him to say, “I shoot them,” and I knew when my mom found out I was dead she’d be mad because I’d been trick-or-treating by myself.

Instead, he grinned and said, “I give them candy,” which he did.

That was enough for me. I said, “Thank you,” and high-tailed it home as fast as I could go. That was the only time I trick-or-treated by myself.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Mysterious Setting

There is a real talent to getting the setting right in a mystery. And really, there’s no single “right” way. But a setting can help define your characters and how they relate to what’s going on around them. It helps your reader “see” where the story is taking place.

I love Stephanie Plum, out and about in Trenton, NJ, having messy adventures, solving the whodunit as she goes along, and losing a car most times around. I’ve been known to laugh out loud, even as my brain cells are trying to process the clues so well laid down by Ms. Evanovich.

But I’m just as intrigued by the stripped-down lifestyle of Jack Reacher in a Lee Child’s novel. A stark farmhouse set in the midst of fields, a NYC apartment – it’s gritty, it’s tough, and the laughs are few and far between. But it suits Reacher to a tee – Mr. Child knows his hero understands the underbelly of man’s (and woman’s) motivations, and his settings reflect that.

However, I also love to wander the early twenty-century English villages and countryside of Agatha Christie mysteries – as great on a re-read as they were the first time around years ago. The details of life, the struggles, the joys and the search for the truth – for me, all surround the central mystery and add to the enjoyment of trying to figure it out. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, the mysteries are fun to try to unravel.

Like horses? Carolyn Banks’ novels with Robin and Jeet Vaughan are surrounded by equines as Robin solves the mysteries of who did the killing…and there’s always a smile or two as you canter along on the wonderful rhythm of Ms. Banks’ writing.

Want more horses? Tami Hoag gives readers some ugly crimes in the “beautiful people” and moneyed set of the Wellington winter horse circuit. From lonely canals with predatory alligators to private clubs with predatory men.

So…what’s your favorite mystery setting – the big city, a lonely farm setting, a Victorian mansion, a dressage barn or a childhood neighborhood? Whatever it is, enjoy the mysterious mood set by your favorite mystery author.

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's A Mystery to Me by Anne Carter

Everyone loves mystery. No, seriously. Even those who say they only read mainstream fiction, historical romance or Zane Grey westerns are mystery buffs—of a sort. For if every book written didn’t have some kind of unknown contained therein, there would be no point in reading it. The mystery is what happens between the covers.

I write romantic mystery. Some call it “mysterious romance”. It all depends on what grabs you as a reader. Because it is considered somewhat “cross-genre”, I have trouble deciding how to label it when I enter contests or categorize my work on marketing platforms. People ask, “is it more mystery, or more romance?” Darned if I know! Yet this can and will be an issue with some novels. Is it romantic enough to be called a romance? Or, is the mystery strong enough to appeal to mystery lovers?

Worse, my latest release has no body. No overt murder. No amateur sleuth or hard-boiled flatfoot. As a member of Sisters in Crime, I sometimes feel a bit fraudulent. But there is death, I insist, and yes, there is a crime and a mystery to be solved. There is a heroine who needs to know, a hero who knows too much, and a friendly, if restless, spirit subtly helping them to find answers.

Whoops! A spirit, too? Well now, what we might have here is a paranormal romantic mystery. Cross-genre just took on a whole new meaning. Now that I am mixing three genres, does my marketing appeal narrow, or am I winding my way into a new niche? I prefer to think the latter, and hope that my books are helping to create a new stratum of mystery fans.

Oh, did I mention my stories take place inside of lighthouses? Does that make them paranormal, romantic, lighthouse mysteries?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Books, books, books

Someone on a mystery listserv asked recently if any of us thought of ourselves as book hoarders. One woman thought it must surely be a rhetorical question. Another simply responded that she thought of it more as collecting. I simply have never thought of it. Is there life without books? I have--because I want them-bookcases in every room, but my husband drew a line at the bathroom. All of those bookcases are full. I like books. My husband does too, so I don't know why we can't cram one in the john.

Before I was ever a writer, I was a reader. I read cereal boxes, the small print warnings on cough syrup and anything else laying around. I like to read. But it has been brought to my attention lately that I have been reading more used books and books from the library. That's an okay strategy in this economy, but many small independent bookstores are hurting. I just heard about another today, in danger of having to turn off the lights.

I am an author from a small independent press. I need to support the industry that supports (or may someday anyway) support me. I'm going out tomorrow to buy a book from a small bookstore. Won't you join me? You can always wrap the books up as a Christmas present.

Monday, October 27, 2008

How Could I Forget?

I was racking my brains (stretched it out at LEAST twice its size) trying to think of a topic for my first Make Mine Mystery post when the lovely Vivian Zabel sent an email announcing her new mystery blog, Vivian's Mysteries. I went over for a peek and, after being the FIRST person to officially follow Vivian's blog (I have no idea why this pleases me so much or why my reaction, after hitting the 'be the first person to follow this blog' button, was a general "in your face!" towards...well, I honestly don't know towards who. This reaction simply illustrates a certain rich vein of immaturity running through my blood.


So after becoming Vivian's follower (I'm hoping she issues cool Monk-like robes or something), I read her post, which mentioned her love of Nancy Drew. This reminded me that the first mystery I read was actually The Secret of the Old Clock, #1 in Carolyn Keene's (pen name!) Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series.

I received Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery for Christmas when I was 6 or 7 (the same year, I also scored the Dark Shadows board game). At first I was disappointed (with the books, not the board game); I hadn't gotten to the stage where I actually asked for books as gifts. But after I read the first book, I was hooked. Mom gave me a bunch of her old Nancy Drew books (the blue bound editions). I plowed my way through those and by the time I was in my early teens, I'd amassed most of the books in the series.

When I hit my '20s, I'd fallen out of love with Ms. Drew and her irritating habit of doing everything perfectly. I still understand why the books were and are so popular, although I admit to having problems when they were updated to meet the current times' politically correct standards. The formerly swarthy villains (ALL bad guys were described as 'swarthy') joined the Rainbow Coalition, Nancy's already feminist leanings became more prominent, and the adventure were modernized to appeal to a more sophisticated readership. These are all good things, I realize that. But my childhood memories felt betrayed and I was quite happy when they reissued the original versions of some of the books for those of us who enjoy things for what they were and as a sign of the times they were originally written or filmed.

On a sad note, my entire collection of Nancy Drews died a stinky death when one of our cats peed on and in the box I'd stored them in, in my parents' garage. There is no bringing back a book from a dousing in cat urine.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A few mystery writing tips by Vivian Zabel

As a lover of mysteries since I was a child, I started on Nancy Drew books and kept on reading. Now my favorite mystery authors are Tony Hillerman, Anne Perry, William Bernhardt, Stuart Woods, J. A. Jance, and Carolyn Hart.

As I've read mysteries over the years, I studied them because I wanted to be able to write them. Finally, I succeeded after many tries and much study.

A few tips I've learned include the following:

Between a good beginning and a powerful end, a well-written mystery has to keep the reader's attention through the use of foreshadowing, tension, drama, and action. The reader has to want to turn the page or go to the next chapter to find out what happens next. Only the writer can accomplish that with good writing, dialogue, believable characters and action.

Write a good story: Huh? What does that mean? That means that no matter what tips or tricks or whatevers may be in a mystery, if the story isn't well-written, with correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure, the story won't fly. Kathy Pohl (The Writer June 2007) states it's important to learn the craft, the basics, of writing. Without knowing the basics of writing, one can't write a good story.

All the wonderful ideas found in the mind can't become written stories if the creator can't write the words so that they can be enjoyed and understood by others.

Create strong, believable characters: In a mystery, the writer knows one thing about one character before writing: The killer, if there is a murder, will kill someone. Other than that one fact about the antagonist, nothing else is know about any of the characters. The writer must develop each one thoroughly so that he or she is real, rounded, and believable to the reader.

Flat, one dimensional characters cause stero-types and boring reading. Multi-dimensional characters cause readers to care about them. Even an evil killer can have traits or background that will allow the reader to see him as a person.

Don't rely on a technique: Using a technique such as outlining or storyboarding should be an aid, not a master. Outlining never worked for me, because I work out the story/plot so thoroughly in my head, that it's real before I start writing. Bestselling crime author Tony Hillerman says that outlining doesn't work for him. He tried with the first three novels he wrote and failed and felt guilt-ridden and inadequate. When he decided not to try to outline, he found success.

If outlining works for you, great, but don't become a slave to a technique.

Have a strong plot: Any story must have a plot, a storyline. A conflict is necessary, a climax, a resolution, an ending. In a mystery, there must be a crime or some other type of mystery to be solved. A good book has a major plot and at least two or three sub-plots. For example, a couple who meet as a result of the mystery and who are attracted to each other
create a sub-plot inside the main plot of solving the mystery.

So far I've written three mysteries: The Base Stealers Club, Case of the Missing Coach, and Midnight Hours. The first two are young adult and the last a mystery/suspense novel.

Want to know more?

My blogs: Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap Vivian's Mysteries
website: Vivian Gilbert Zabel

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Psychic Mysteries by Jean Henry Mead

A Ouija board introduced me to the realm of mystery. As a young teen, my cousins and I also discovered table tapping. Sitting around a small table with our hands lightly resting on its top, we asked the table questions. The room was dark with the exception of a burning candle.

After the question was asked, the table would lift high enough to tap two legs on the floor, once for yes, twice for no. Each of us swore we weren't causing the table to move, but tap the floor it did, causing some of us to run from the room screaming. But that didn't stop us from repeating our spooky game every chance we could.
The Ouija board was supposed to predict the future, but my cousin Mary didn't marry Sam Gufstason, the name spelled out on the board more than once. It was during this period that I discovered my psychic ability. One night before spending the night at Mary's house, I dreamed she would be waiting to scare me in a dark, L-shaped hallway.

The following night, after leaving the bathroom to return to bed, I knew that she was there in the hall, although I couldn't see her. From then on, I had premonitions of things to come. Once, unbeknown to me, my sister-in-law gave birth to a premature baby. When the phone rang, I grasped the receiver, saying, "It's a boy." When I put the phone to my ear, I heard my brother-in-law say exactly the same thing. I always seemed know who was on the phone years before caller I.D. was available. I have to admit it was a bit unnerving.

A news reporter during the Vietnam War, my beat was the nation's largest Naval Air Station in Lemoore, California. I instinctively knew which pilots would never return home. I didn't want to know and did my best to block out any psychic revelations that came my way. Eventually, I was successful. Now, I welcome them and the premonitions are beginning to return.
I also found that I could accurately read palms and people appeared at my door asking for readings. I obliged them and probably could have made a career of it, but foretelling unfortunate events really takes its toll.

I haven't read a palm since visiting my brother at his coast guard station years ago. One night at the base in Neah Bay, I did an impromptu reading at the NCO club. A young man asked if I knew when he had been born. When I told him, he backed away, yelling, "You're a witch." Another reason I blocked my psychic power. I don't look good in tall, black, pointed hats.
I now realize that I was probably responsible for the table taping as a teen, and years later I actually met Sam Gufstason, who was married to a woman named Mary.

By the way, I'm writing a book about my mysterious psychic experiences.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thinking About Poe by Mark Troy

Edgar Allen Poe was born January 19, 1809 and died October 7, 1849. Next year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth and Virginia will remember him with statewide events.

I was in the seventh grade when I discovered a collection of Poe’s stories and poems in a box of books that belonged to my dad. I can still see the book. It had a cloth cover and inside were marvelous prints. Talk about sleeping with the light on! The Masque of the Red Death, in particular, scared the bejeezus out of me. I kept imagining the Red Death , himself, showing up.

The story that stuck with me, however, was The Cask of Amontillado. Some scholars say that story is Poe’s best story, possibly the best in American literature because there are no wasted words.

The story details a horrific act of revenge. The narrator, Montresor, gets back at his enemy, Fortunato, by sealing him up alive in the wall of a wine cellar. What did Fortunato do to deserve such a fate? Montresor claims he suffered insults from Fortunato. Insults? They must have been doozies.

Montresor says he bore the insults as best he could and continued to smile in Fortunato’s face. Here’s a note to everybody. Vent! Don’t keep your feelings bottled up! If Montresor had vented once or twice, this whole incident could have been avoided.

Fortunato isn’t the most likeable guy. He’s something of a wine snob. Montresor uses that snobbery to lure Fortunato to his end. But does snobbery, even wine snobbery, merit immurement? I hardly think so.

By the way, I think immurement is a great word for an act of murder. It rolls easily off the tongue, like defenestration, another great word. So architectural, both of them. But, I digress.

There’s an imbalance in The Cask of Amontillado that needs to be corrected. As Montresor says in the beginning, “A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.” Since first reading the story, I believed somebody needed to unredress the wrong.

Four decades later, I got my chance. I wrote a story, The Montressor Hit, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Poe’s death. It was published in Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine in 1999 and remains one of my favorite short stories. It is now up on my website, though I’m not urging you to go read it. It’s really just a humble effort. (And yes, I did misspell Montresor, and no, it was not intentional.) Instead, go read The Cask of Amontillado again. Published in November, 1846, The Cask of Amontillado hasn’t lost a bit of luster in 162 years.

Celebrating My Anniversary

Today we're jumping in the car and heading for Las Vegas. No, we don't go for the usual gambling and shows. My sis and her hubby live there and we're going to spend our anniversary with them. They're taking us out to dinner.

On Saturday, I'll be giving a talk at the most wonderful bookstore, Cheesecake and Crime, in Henderson NV. I'm going to tell what I do to research for my Native American elements in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series--and most especially the latest, Kindred Spirits, which has a lot about the Tolowa people in it.

We plan to spend the whole weekend with them, won't be doing much writing related stuff.

Now the mystery is, how did the cute sailor I met 57 years ago on a blind date and I actually make it for 57 years as a married couple? (Everyone said it wouldn't last.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Who's Afraid of the Dark? By Morgan Mandel

I don't like coming home to a dark house. I don't like going into the yard when it's dark. I don't like walking the dog when it's dark.

When it's time to go to sleep, there's no way the house will be completely without light. Nightlights are posted in strategic areas like by the kitchen counter, the hallway, the bedroom, even the room where the dog sleeps because Rascal's afraid of the dark also. Why she's afraid is another story which I'll share elsewhere.

For some reason light has magical powers of reducing fear.

I know I'm not the only one who's afraid of the dark. Other mystery authors also know that. It's not surprising that many scary scenes are played out on a dark landscape. Also, the reverse can be true. Witnessing evil in broad daylight can have a chilling effect, since it's so unexpected.

What about you? Are you afraid of the dark? I wonder how many of you use nightlights?
I've put up a quiz here for you to 'fess up.

Also, please leave a comment about what works better for you in your mystery or someone else's - a scary scene played out in the dark or in the light.

Morgan Mandel

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Loving All Things Mysterious

I've always been a fan of mysteries, movie and book, spooky stories, ghosts, haunted houses. My grandkids insist that our house is haunted--and it may well be, since it's old. Doors do open and shut on their own--but if we're sharing the premises with other beings, they are not the least bit threatening.

Hubby and I have gone out of our way to stay in haunted hotels. We've stayed on the Queen Mary a couple of times and it definitely has a spooky aura. We also spent a weekend in the old hotel across the street from the Alamo in San Antonio. All night long someone was knocking on doors--and that someone wasn't visible.

One of our favorite Bed and Breakfast hotels in Ventura, the Bella Maggiore, has a haunted room. We stayed in it one night and didn't have a visitation. However, on a previous weekend, we definitely felt that eerie feeling when ghosts are about.

The Springville Inn where we live boasts of three ghosts. I don't think they visit any of the hotel guests but prefer to hang around the kitchen and back staircase.

Though I primarily write mysteries now, I always have some sort of Native American spiritual or mystic happenings in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. (Kindred Spirits, http://www.mundnia press. com/.) In the past, I wrote a book called Kachima Spirit which is all about a haunted house and several ghosts which is still available as an e-book and trade paperback from

With Halloween coming on, maybe some of the rest of you would like to share about any ghosts you've experienced.


ENTER IF YOU DARE By Morgan Mandel

Hi Mystery Lovers,
Anyone who reads mysteries enjoys suspense, so we'll do our best to offer it. We invite you to follow our mysterious road and see where it leads.

Some days, you may discover a post from a member blogger. Other times, a turn in the road could lead you to a post from a guest with distracting links to follow. Just make sure you come back. We don't want you to get lost along the way. Otherwise, something bad might happen to you.