Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Judge Rules

by Ben Small

I'm often asked, "What's the best self defense gun?"

And I always answer, "A shotgun." Regardless of guage or load, the answer is always the same. Well, not always. What if that shotgun is a revolver...?

What a concept.

Enter The Judge, a revolver so-named because of the number of judges who want one. Well, not just judges... Seems this is the hottest handgun in its distinguished maker's history. Yes, Taurus, one of the biggies.

Why so special? Why such demand? Because this revolver shoots both .410 shotgun shells and .45 Long Colts, a load for every villain.

Consider the possibilities. Want to scare somebody half to death, cause them unbelievable pain, yet not hurt them permanently? Load a shell with rock salt and aim low. Rock salt in the eye ain't funny.

So that's the first shot.

For an encore, try bird shot. At close range this will do great damage. At ten feet or more, assuming no BBs in the eye, the damage with be painful but not deadly.

Still doesn't get the hint, go for a more of a cross between bird and buck. More damage here, devastating up close.

Still coming on? Give him a load of full buckshot, each pellet a nine millimeter missile. That can finish a guy off at twenty feet or more.

At greater distances, one might want to go the .45 Long Colt route, or maybe, if you can handle the recoil, a slug. These rounds can be used for hunting.

The Judge comes in stainless steel or black, in regular two-and-a-half inch shells or three inch magnums.

Is it any wonder this gun is so popular with judges? A judge subject to a wild-eyed charge by an enraged party or the party's obnoxious lawyer, can apply variable and increased force, fend off the attack and instill abject fear in everyone watching the proceedings.

This is not a delicate gun. It does not go bang discretely.

Imagine the recoil when a shotgun shell goes off in a handgun with a three inch barrel.

Ouch. Shake that thing out.

But in truth, the perceived recoil is less than expected. That's because Taurus has applied a soft rubber grip to the revolver, and because the thing is heavy. In a pinch, this gun makes a good club.

And to make this cannon even more fearsome, consider that it's also available in its Tracker version, which is the same thing, just longer. A barrel six-and-a-half inches long. Carry that baby on the trail, and you'll get attention. But really, I don't see much reason for the longer barrel. Sure you get slightly better accuracy and less recoil, but how do you lift the thing?

These handguns are so popular that Federal, one of the largest ammo makers, has come out with a Premium line of shotgun shells... just for these guns. Now if you know your market theory, know about the costs of research and development, you know you must sell gobs of product to cover your costs and grow. These guns have been out for about four years, the three inch magnum versions less than a year. But already Federal is making special shells for them.

That's demand.

Me, I've got the "smaller" version, the two-and-a-half-inch chamber version with the three inch barrel. I'm giving that revolver to my brother-in-law, a judge. He hearts it bigtime. And I just bought the three inch chamber version. Not the longer Tracker. That's overkill.

Statistics show that most gun fights occur at close range. You may be outnumbered, and you will have to make quick decisions. The Judge gives you a number of options, progressive ones, selective self defense.

Or you can take it hunting. The Judge's got that covered, too.

Take this gun on the trail, or put it in your car -- assuming your laws permit. The Judge makes short work of car-jackers. Just don't select The Judge for everyday concealed carry... unless you're putting it on wheels.

For a video about The Judge, check this out: Taurus Judge

Or watch Kevin Bacon wheel The Judge in Death Sentence. Steel bathroom doors? They stand no chance when the Judge rules.

Better yet, give this gun to your perp or protag in your next novel.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Recession proofing your Writing? by Christine Duncan

Since the recession has taken its toll on our income, I have been taking temporary jobs to help out. I still do the books for my husband's business, just on my own time after my temp job. And I am taking a tax refresher course for six hours every Saturday so that I can get paid to do taxes come January. All of this has moved my writing to my off hours. Which means, I'm cutting back on any and all recreational time. I don't remember when I last had coffee with a friend, and my house could use a good cleaning--but all it gets right now is the proverbial lick and a promise.

I suspect that I'm not alone. Many of us are taking on other work or working extra hours at our regular day jobs to make ends meet. And thanking God fasting that we have those options.

I work in my writing late, after I've completed the homework for the tax course and maybe taken one of the on-line tests. My promotion work is done on the computer or by phone. I did shoe-horn in an interview recently for the local paper and was thrilled with it but I'm staying up later and getting less sleep to do the things I'm doing. Time to just goof off is a distant memory.
Let me make it clear--I'm not whining. I'm proud of myself and everyone else out there who is working harder and squeezing more out of their time and their money. But life has changed and it's worth noting.

So how are you adapting to this recession? Is it affecting your writing? What are your tips?

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Safe House, book two of the series was released last month.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Importance of Tension

There is an essential need to up the ante in a mystery – if there’s a murder, is there the threat of a second or a third? Could the investigator be at risk? Someone near and dear to him or her? If there isn’t the threat of a murder, could it be that the villain will “get away” with his or her plan? What effect will that have on the hero, the investigator or innocent bystanders.

We must increase the conflict and tension to have a satisfying denouement that the reader can believe in and be happy about. We can have conflict between characters if the investigator and the villain come face-to-face. Or the villain and another victim. Or the investigator and authorities, if the detective isn’t law enforcement.

We can also increase the tension with setting and atmosphere. A dark, deserted urban setting is much more intimidating than a peaceful country trail on a sunny day with dozens of hikers around. A dwelling with no power versus a homey bed & breakfast with a grandmotherly owner. A storm (whether wind, rain or snow) versus the perfect sunny day with puffy clouds.

I find it a “fun” part of the process to increase the tension and conflict – maybe because there are so many options. How do YOU increase tension in your stories to make them more enjoyable for your readers?

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
Also on Twitter, GoodReads & Facebook

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Future of Ficton Reading? by Austin S. Camacho

At Bouchercon I saw convincing evidence that the paper book was not dead, as hundreds of fans hauled away rolling cases filled with new acquisitions. But there was also much talk of the popularity of e-books, which got a dramatic boost from the Kindle.

A completely separate ongoing conversation had to do with the threatened death of the short mystery story. The most vocal proponents of this form belong to the Short Mystery Fiction Society which gives out the Derringer Award for the best short mystery of the year.The challenge with short stories is that there are precious few places to get them published. Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines have little competition these days. The Strand is a larger, slick magazine that also publishes some fiction among other things.So the question arises, will people buy short stories the way they buy novels in e-book format? Perhaps the short story form will gain even more popularity if the stories can be purchased individually.

If short fiction sold individually is the leading edge of the new wave of reading options, then Echelon Press is standing at that edge. Their new line of Echelon Shorts allows readers to download quick reads for small money – much like downloading the songs you like to make your own IPod mix instead of buying whole CDs.

I loved the idea so much I decided to submit a story myself and was pleased to be accepted. So now, for a couple of bucks, new readers can get the flavor of a Hannibal Jones novel in a few thousand words. My short story, “A Little Wildness” has all the basic elements of a Hannibal Jones novel in a bite-sized package.

Naturally, I hope you’ll give the story a try. But more to the point, I hope you and others will step further into the 21st century and sample other short stories on the site. This could be the reading plan of the future and we get to be there today.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fear of Writing

by Jean Henry Mead

The single most important drawback to a writer’s success is fear. Fear of criticism from one’s peers or condemnation from the general public. Fear of negative reviews or of spending a year or more writing a book that doesn’t sell. Fear of hiring an agent who won’t send your book to the right publishers. The list is endless.

Fear is a natural human response, especially when you step off into unknown territory such as a new genre, new publisher, new editor. Even bestselling authors fear losing their readers. So how does a writer overcome those fears?

By believing in your abilities and talents. Persistence or staying power must be a tool in every writer’s bag. Marcel Proust couldn’t finish his epic Remembrance of Things Past until his mother died because he feared hurting her feelings. How many other books have been set aside and never published because writers feared repercussions?

The writing profession kindles fear and involves taking risks but writers have to come to grips with their fears and channel them into their work such as thriller novelists who produce chilling stories for their readers. Writer Greg Lavoy advises fellow scribblers not to ignore fear. “Whatever is suppressed not only has power over you, but will help create obstacles to continually remind you of what you’re hiding from, where you feel you don’t measure up, and whether you don’t have faith in yourself. Success often has as much to do with finding what is standing in your way as with talent or persistence.”

Just as plugging in a night light for those who fear the dark doesn’t eliminate fear of the dark, only the darkness, not sending out submissions to new publishers only eliminates fear of rejection. It also eliminates the ladder to success.

The poet W.H. Auden said, “Believe in your pain. Take it seriously,know that it has meaning and utility, and that it grows a powerful kind of writing.” Unfortunately, most of us will do everything in our power to avoid fear and rejection so we don’t learn from it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Putting History in Your Mystery by Chester Campbell

Trousdale County, TN Courthouse

I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, which I suppose contributed to my love of research. The problem, as any conscientious researcher knows, is that you invariably come across some interesting tidbit that has no relation to the subject. However, it seems too intriguing to pass by, so you’re off on a tangent.

When that happens, I try to find some way to work it into the story.

Take, for instance, when I went to the small town of Hartsville, about forty miles northeast of Nashville, looking for good places to commit a few murders. I always consult AAA maps and Mapquest and Google maps before making such ventures. I had found a likely spot along a bend in the Cumberland River and decided to check it out.

To get there, I had to go through downtown Hartsville. You’d miss it if you blinked twice, but I stopped to admire the century-old Trousdale County Courthouse, which looks more like a very large red brick residence. Although it stands more than a mile from the river, it was deluged with several feet of water during the disastrous 1927 flood season. What I found most interesting was a tall granite obelisk in front bearing a tarnished metal plate that read:

HERE, DEC. 7TH 1862,

Though not a Civil War buff, I had heard of the famous John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry raiders. But I put that aside as I took a major highway south from downtown (in this area that means a nice, paved two-lane road). Shortly before reaching the river, I spotted a sign pointing toward the Battle of Hartsville Park. I detoured over to take a look.

I learned that Morgan’s advance had worn Union blue uniforms to fool the enemy sentinels. In less than two hours of fighting, the Confederate party of 1,500 had surrounded the Federals and convinced them to surrender, taking 1,800 prisoners. Casualties, dead and wounded, included 1,855 Union soldiers and 149 Confederates. Checking the battlefield maps, I found Morgan had placed his artillery across the river at the exact spot I planned to leave a corpse.

This had to go in the book. I had my protag, Greg McKenzie, visit the park and comment on the Union soldiers suffering their own Pearl Harbor, seventy-nine years to the day before Dec. 7, 1941. When he visits the murder site, he muses:

“Realizing a party of tired, half-frozen Rebel soldiers had fired cannons in this area nearly a century and a half ago, I wondered if any Confederate ghosts had lingered about Monday night when someone fired three shots into (the victim). If so, they weren’t talking.”

It was an opportunity to provide a little local color and add to the realism of the story. The moral: research is hardly ever wasted. If we look around, we can probably find a use for it. If not, hey, chalk it up to education. We can all use more of that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What does your main character's ride say about him or her?

Face it, America is car happy. The car we drive is part of our image. The first impression is often made by what we show up in. So it is with the characters in our stories, especially our main characters.

In the real world, a detective's ride should be economical and dependable, It should have plenty of power for fast getaways or chases. It should be able to turn on a dime to counter the evasive action of a fleeing suspect. It should have a cargo area for the detective's gear and change of clothing. It should have room for the detective and a sidekick to endure a long stakeout. Finally it should be so nondescript as to blend into the surroundings for moving or stationary surveillance. In other words, the ideal detective's ride is like a good pair of mommy jeans—roomy, serviceable and boring. A Ford or Volvo station wagon would fit the bill.

Fictional detectives don't wear mommy jeans and they don't drive Volvos, at least not Volvo station wagons. Here are some fictional detectives and their rides.

This first category shouts, “I've got more money than sense.” Amos Burke. LA Chief of Detectives arrived at crime scenes in his chauffeured Rolls Royce. We liked tis guy back in the sixties, but now we know he had to have been on the take to afford those wheels.
Jonathan and Jennifer Hart likewise did their detecting from the back of a Rolls Royce Corniche. For comfortable stakeouts there's nothing better if you don't mind being made right away. Pardon me, scumbag, do you have any Grey Poupon?

The "Mine's bigger than yours" department. How do you spot a two-fisted shamus? He's the wise-cracking guy in the loud sport coat driving some badass Detroit iron.
There's Bullitt tearing through the streets of San Francisco in his "Highland Green" 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback, in the car chase of car chases.

Hardboiled PI, Joe Mannix favored convertible models that included an Olds Toronado, a Dodge Dart and a '70 Barracuda.

Nash Bridges also liked that '70 Cuda, maybe because the color matched his jacket. Less than 300 '70 Cuda convertibles were made, so if you spot one of these in your rearview, pull over and spread 'em.

Tough guy Spenser chased the bad guys in his muscular '66 Mustang fastback on TV.
A.J. Simon, of Simon and Simon, tooled around San Diego in his Camaro IROC Z, a car that, according to A.J., attracted more women than a shoe sale. Other than a Toby Keith concert, just where would an IROC blend in?

An extra shot of testosterone. Crockett and Tubbs cleaned up Miami in their Ferrari Testarossa, (testosteronsa) and Thomas Magnum drove the mean streets of Honolulu in a Ferrari 308GTS. With a top speed of 180 mph, you can catch any bad boy if you can break out of the traffic gridlock of Miami and Honolulu. By comparison, Elvis Cole's yellow Corvette is a kiddie car.

Fear me. Rick Simon, the other half of Simon and Simon, drove a Dodge Power Wagon. This monster started off as a military vehicle and is alone in its class.

Girl's just wanna have fun Nervy, curvy PI, Honey West drove a 57 Corvette. The car was fast, sleek and sexy like Honey, herself. The chase was on when Honey "slammed fire into the 'Vette's carburetors." When she got to TV, she acquired even more va-voom with an AC Cobra. That's it on the left.
Chicago's own fast and dangerous V.I. Warshawski likes power under her foot. Her ride is a Pontiac TransAm.
Stunning PI Bridget Logan folds her six-foot frame into a Porsche Boxster.

Emma Peel envy. Emma Peel drove a little blue Lotus Elan. Not to be outpaced, Sharon McCone drives an MGB. No question that an MGB is cute and sporty, but reliable? When you're fleeing for your life from a bad guy, you want that car to start.
Where Honey West was fast and sexy, Laura Holt in Remington Steele was just cute and her car, a Volkswagon Golf convertible, reflected that. It was high in cute factor, like its driver, but bad guys needn't worry about getting away.

You came in what?
Don’t let the ride fool you. Columbo’s 1960 Peugeot 403 is wrinkled and woeful-looking, like its owner, but it gets the job done. Over 1,200,000 of these were sold.

Image is everything and the Remington Steele company car was not the Golf, but Steele's 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster. I’d love to see this baby shedding hubcaps on those jouncy San Francisco hills.

In my opinion, the weirdest duck in the detective motorcade belonged to Travis McGee. He drove an electric blue Rolls Royce that was converted to a pickup truck which McGee named Miss Agnes. Miss Agnes might have looked something like this.

The detective in my new series, Ava Rome, is in the class with Honey, V.I., and Bridget. She drives a red Mustang GT convertible because she likes power under her foot and wind in her hair. She likes the looks she gets stepping out of it.
So what does your character drive and what does it say about him or her?

Mark Troy
Crime Fiction by Mark Troy

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Deciding What Books to Take to a Book or Craft Fair

This is always a dilemma for me because I have copies of every book I've ever published and there are lots of them.

Of course I'll take my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Dispel the Mist, and a few copies of others in that series. I also have copies of No Sanctuary, the latest in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series--so I should bring earlier books too. There are a lot of readers who want to begin with the first in the series.

If I'm doing a festival on the coast, I'll bring copies of books that are set on the coast. When I'm doing books in my part of California, I want to be sure to bring books that are set here.

I always wonder if I should bring any copies of my Christian horror--but when I do, I always sell a few.

One thing I've learned over the years, you really can't tell who is going to buy a book--nor what book they are going to buy.

When I'm doing a festival or signing near where I live, I'm pretty confident that most will want my latest book because of publicity I've had in the paper. However, even then, sometimes a person will buy a book that I certainly didn't expect them to be interested in.

A big example is my psychological horror, Wishing Makes It So. It's about a very bad little girl. I'm surprised by how many mother's of little girls buy that book.

Never judge a book by a cover nor a book buyer by how they look.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Phobias by Morgan Mandel

Along with the usual murder and mayhem in a mystery, consider adding a phobia to heighten the tension. If you think of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark when he falls into the snakepit, you'll get the idea.

In Killer Career, a childhood incident left my main character, Julie, petrified about riding elevators. The villain learns of her phobia and plays that card in the book's climax. This forces Julie to face her worst fears in the most difficult of circumstances. Will she or her phobia win?

That's a current example of how phobia can play a part in a book. Can you think of any other book or movie where phobia figures in the plot? Maybe you've included one in your own book. Please share.

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Welcoming Pat Bertram to Make Mine Mystery!

Please join me in welcoming Pat Bertram to Make Mine Mystery! Pat has published three novels and leads regular lively writing and publishing discussions on Facebook and I'm delighted to have her as a guest today, and not only because she has done my work for me. :-) Thank you, Pat!

First, a quick blurb on her latest novel, DAUGHTER AM I.

"When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents-grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born-she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. Along the way she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians-former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. She meets and falls in love Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.

And now, without further ado, Pat Bertram on the subject of humor in fiction!

Alfred Hitchcock is often referred to as the master of suspense, but I find his movies dreary. The tension rises at a leisurely pace and there is nothing to relieve the single grey note of suspense. By the time I am halfway through one of his films, I hope that everyone dies and gets it over with.

For me, the problem with his movies is that he has no discernable sense of humor. A bit of comic relief would give the films color, would make the suspense more surprising by comparison and the revelations more shocking. Anyone who is familiar with color knows that this works. Yellow is brighter in the presence of purple, its direct opposite on the color wheel, than in the presence of any other color, and purple is more vibrant in the presence of yellow.

I am trying to cultivate humor so that I don't turn out to be a single-grey-note writer. I'm not planning to add slapstick to an otherwise serious story; nor am I planning to use a lot of clever quips and one-liners. They get annoying after a while, and overshadow the plot. A touch of quiet humor works just as well and makes readers (or film watchers) let down their guard so they are more susceptible to deadly thrusts.

There are many ways of being humorous. One can juxtapose different character types as I did in Daughter Am I. I did not intend for the book to be humorous, but parts of it ended up that way because of Mary's relationship with the old gangsters. The humor did not come from the age difference but from value differences. The old gangsters had no problem breaking the law, and Mary did.

One can also have a character say or do the opposite of what is expected. The classic Lou Grant remark from Mary Tyler Moore is a good example: "You've got spunk," a pause, then, "I hate spunk." Or one can have a character struggle to come up with a witty remark and finally come out with a simple "Hi."

Humor does not come naturally to me, but then, even funny people have to work at it. Maybe a bit of humor will make my characters more lovable. It will certainly make writing them more fun. At the very least, they (and my books) will not be colorless.

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Bertram is the author of Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire. All are available from Second Wind Publishing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


by Ben Small

I am amazed and sometimes flabbergasted by some of the new weapon technologies available, or soon to be available. How about this for a new one? A shotgun taser, capable of stunning its target at a distance of one hundred feet or more.

No, I'm not kidding. Mossberg and Taser have teamed up to provide you with the Mossberg Taser X-12, and it comes in designer colors.

Seriously, this weapon offers both close-range and distance utility. A great way to quell a threatening riot, perhaps.

The normal taser attachment can be seen hanging down below the barrel. But what makes this shotgun special are two things: the projectile, and the fact that Mossberg has come up with a way to make an accidental loading of a lethal shell impossible. This gun is not made for lethality, and without this safety measure, all sorts of bad things might happen. The shotgun might blow up; someone might accidentally be killed or maimed, and lawsuits would rain down all over everybody -- not that they won't anyway. We are a lawsuit-happy populace, aren't we?

The projectile is a marvelous feat of engineering. The Taser XREP (Extended Range Electronic Projectile) is a self-contained, wireless projectile that fires from a standard 12-gauge shotgun. It delivers the same Neuro-Muscular Incapacitation (NMI) bio-effect as the handheld Taser X26.

For now, this weapon is only available to police forces and the military. But it could soon be coming to a gun store near you. But this thing is not for me. Too great a chance my wife will pick me off as I bike down the driveway. Or maybe Little Tommy will see the pretty colored rifle and take down his sister. Or maybe some idiot will bring one to a Town Hall meeting.

Okay, now I'm scaring the hell out of myself. But you may want one for your mystery or thriller. Creates all sorts of new possibilities...

BTW, if you want more details, as far as legality, etc. you might want to check out Taser's Legal Page

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seasonal Reading by Christine Duncan

Other than taking a trip down Target's seasonal aisle and pushing all the "try me" buttons on their plastic skeletons that scream or their cackling witches, (and then going over one more aisle and checking out the Christmas decorations) there is nothing I like better than to read a good book about Halloween--or Christmas--or Fourth of July for that matter.

I've liked to read seasonal mysteries ever since I was a kid. As a matter of fact, I like it so much, I set my latest mystery, Safe House, at Thanksgiving time. But while it may be easy finding Halloween books to read to your little ones this time of year, it can be more difficult finding an adult mystery novel set then. I rely on sites like Myshelf with their special holiday lists or review sites like the GenreReview to find the books I need to get me in the mood for the seasons.

So if you're having trouble getting in the Halloween spirit right now, I can recommend Lesley Meier's Trick or Treat Murders. It's a cozy and Lucy Stone and her family feel like friendly neighbors that I like to visit, every time I read one of the series. Or maybe try an oldie but goodie, Barbara Michael's Prince of Darkness. I'll be scanning the lists myself for something new. So by all means, if you have a favorite seasonal mystery, tell me about it. I need something to get me in the mood--besides all this chocolate I'm buying for the Trick or Treaters.

Oh, and just a reminder, October is Domestic Violence awareness month. Pass the word--and if you have a bit to spare, send some money to your local shelter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Mysteries

We spend a lot of time constructing our mysteries, laying in the clues and red herrings, characterizing our hero/heroine and villain, plotting meticulously and creating a satisfying conclusion for our readers. But there are many, many unexplained mysteries out there. Here are a few intriguing ones:

Loch Ness Monster
Nessie has fascinated us for hundreds of years. First reported in 565 AD in the large, freshwater loch, interest renewed in the 1930s and has continued to today. This legendary water monster has had dedicated searchers hoping to find him or her, to no result – yet – despite photos, sonar and even a video.

The Great Pyramids
Who built the great pyramids? How were they constructed using the tools and knowledge available at the time? Man has spent a great deal of time since the mid-19th century exploring the pyramids, without coming up with definitive answers.

Plato teased us with stories of a great seafaring civilization whose island world sank into the sea, leaving no trace. There have been stories, movies and endless discussions about the mysterious world of Atlantis since.

Jimmy Hoffa
Head of the influential Teamsters union, Jimmy Hoffa disappeared one day in Detroit, Michigan, in July, 1975. No trace has ever been found of Hoffa, but there are plenty of theories and rumors about what happened to him.

Bermuda Triangle
How many aircraft, ships and people have simply vanished in the famed Bermuda Triangle. Is it a wormhole, piracy, weather phenomenon or something else entirely?

Just a few mysteries that intrigue and puzzle us – do you have a different favorite mystery?

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
Also on Twitter, GoodReads & Facebook

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bouchercon - a world of mystery - by Austin Camacho

This year the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention will be in Indianapolis October 15 through 18... And so will I! For me, it's the party of the year. This time, I'll even have my lovely wife Denise along.

The program starts Thursday at 9:00 a.m. and for 3 and a half days there will be four, five or sometimes six different 55-minute sessions running at a time, followed by 25-minute book signing times, leaving 5 minutes to get to the next presentation. There will also be a few sessions with no conflicts, like the Guest of Honor interview with Michael Connelly, and the Anthony Awards Ceremony and Reception.

I’ll be easy to find there. Thursday at 1:30 pm I get to moderate a panel on "TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PRIVATE EYES." I will discuss current and future trends in the private eye novel with four of the best practitioners of the art: Jack Fredrickson, Greg Herren, Adrian Magson and Michael Wiley.

I'll also have the chance to have lunch with my fellow Echelon Press authors. Echelon publishes a lot of mystery, so we’ll be a large team. Then I’ll gather with a second group of mystery writers – the contributors to this year’s Wolfmont Press holiday anthology, “The Gift of Murder.” As Earl Staggs told you yesterday, all the profits from this book go to the Toys for Tots foundation and if you find our gathering you can get us all to sign your copy.

In addition, I’ll attend the Private eye Writers of America Banquet where this year’s Shamus awards will be handed out. Sadly, I wasn’t nominated but I’ll be there cheering for my favorites anyway. ;-)

I’ll also turn up in the occasional small group discussion, author conversation or lecture. And I hope to be part of the Continuous Conversation, the on-going, roundtable discussion that involves three writers at a time who are replaces, one at a time, at regular intervals all day, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

At the very end of Bouchercon I’ll be sitting in at the Author’s Bazaar with free copies of one of my Hannibal Jones mysteries. On Sunday morning, fans will come into the room and get free tickets. They can wander through the room, meet and chat with the authors, then turn in a ticket for a free book. How cool is that?

So if you’re a real mystery lover you need to be at Bouchercon. And if you are there, please find me and say hello. If you read this blog I want to know you.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writers Giving Back - to the Kids

By Earl Staggs

Tony Burton, through his Wolfmont Press and with popular and prolific short story author John Floyd in the editor‘s seat, has produced the fourth annual anthology of short mystery stories with a Winter Holiday theme. None of the nineteen authors who contributed to this edition will receive a nickel for their efforts. Neither will Tony or John. Every nickel of profit goes to Toys For Tots.

The first three editions amassed a total of about $6600 for the kids. This year the goal is to bump that figure over $10,000.

Here are some reasons why everyone should participate in this project:

. . .You’ll have nineteen good short mysteries to read by some of the best writers around.

. . .You’ll help provide a respectable donation to the Toys For Tots campaign.

. . .You’ll have a tax deduction to enter in your books as a charitable contribution.

I urge everyone to order a copy of THE GIFT OF MURDER. The retail price is $15, but you can order it for $14 from the publisher at:

You’ll also find there a list of all the authors included. I‘m thrilled and honored to be among them.

You can also order THE GIFT OF MURDER from Amazon or your favorite bookstore. You may even order direct from one of the participating authors if you’d like a signed copy from them.

So treat yourself and order one. Then order a few more to give as Christmas gifts.

And tell them Earl sent you. But please don’t tell them where to find me. The FBI may be listening and you know how they are. You rob a few little banks and they never stop hounding you.

Earl Staggs

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Manuscript Repair

by Jean Henry Mead

Something’s not quite right with your manuscript but how do you solve the problem? There’s so much to consider: characterization, pacing, theme, plot, rhythm, style and more. Early drafts only sketch in the story while final drafts define your characters and fine tune the plot.

First of all, you need to compartmentalize your approach, according to editor Raymond Obstfeld. His plan is to revise one step at a time by ignoring other aspects of the story while focusing on characters or plot. He also advices revising in short contained sections such as scenes or chapters. The sense is that while revising, you’re rethinking what you’ve written and who your characters really are. By beginning the scene anew, you can rethink the process and eliminate any unnecessary asides or uncharacteristic dialogue. Take your time to figure out what in the storyline is bothering you.

Develop a clear and engaging storyline. Then look for passive, talking-head characters. Also look for a lack of plot build-up and anti-climatic action. If your characters are just sitting around talking with a lack of tension or conflict in a scene, stir some up. Place your characters in traffic and have them arguing. Maybe the wife is tired of her husband’s careless driving or she’s dragging him to a dinner with people he doesn’t like.

Each scene should be a mini-story with a beginning, middle and end. A scene should be like a boxing match, with plenty of conflict and a winner or "knockout" at the end of each one. Obstfeld says that every scene should have a “hot spot,” a “point in which the action and/or emotions reach an apex. When revising for structure, make sure you locate the hot spot—and that it generates enough heat to justify the scene.”

Once the entire story is complete, you need to revise the structure of the entire manuscript. Before playing musical chairs with your scenes, make note cards of each one, noting which characters are in the scene or chapter and briefly summarize the action. This can be done on the computer by filing each scene separately. You may find that you've strung too many passive scenes together and need to insert some tension and conflict.

Mystery writer Marlys Millhiser once showed me her charts for each scene. Using colored pencils, she drew a graft of different aspects of the plot in various colors to prevent melodrama as well as passivity. Other writers have different techniques to hold a reader’s interest.

Some novelists use a lot of description, others very little. There’s no rule of thumb unless description gets in the way of action and the plot moving forward. I write little description, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination. Of course, too little description can leave the reader feeling left out of the scene entirely. It’s a careful balancing act at best.

Too much technical information can frustrate the reader and information dump can accomplish the same result. Don’t try to use all your research in one manuscript. Save most of it for future projects.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Musings of a News Junkie by Chester Campbell

I'm a news junkie. I suppose it comes from my journalistic background. I read the morning paper, not completely, but at least the first section. All too frequently these days there isn't a lot beyond that. I also watch the network news at night (I'm a CBS fan since the days of Edward R. Murrow) and the ten o'clock local news. Sometimes I'll see the early evening news as well.

When I'm in the car alone, chances are I'll turn on WPLN, the local public radio affiliate, which plays classical music during the day. If it's in the afternoon, I'll listen to NPR's All Things Considered. At other times I'll go to WPLN's all-day news station.

My newspaper reading as a kid was mostly confined to the comics. I religiously followed Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie. Another favorite was Terry and the Pirates. I began to follow the news in high school and really got into it when the war started (that's World War II, of course). It was my own service in the Army Air Forces that led to my choice of journalism as a career. I had never considered it until a fellow Aviation Cadet who'd put in a year at Yale told me he'd study journalism if he had it to do over again.

I liked the idea. After getting my discharge, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee under the G.I. Bill. I intended to spend two years there, then transfer to a journalism school like Missouri or Wisconsin. But UT started a journalism school and I stayed put. My Class of 1949 was the first to complete the J-school curriculum. I had also taken a sophomore reporting course taught by an editor from The Knoxville Journal, which led to my being hired as a reporter during my junior year.

I spent four years at The Journal, covering most of the beats and doing general assignments, then took a year-and-a-half sabbatical thanks to the North Koreans and Fifth Air Force. I served as an intelligence officer at the headquarters in Seoul and got a ringside seat for the air war. I spent many a night in the Air Control Center listening through earphones as airmen with long sticks pushed symbols around a large map of Korea showing the location of all aircraft, friendly and enemy. Radar had come into its element.

Back in the states, wearing civvies, I moved home to Nashville and joined The Nashville Banner for a five-year stint. Among other things I became the first Education Reporter, attending a six-week seminar at Harvard. I didn't learn any Boston-speak, however. I loved feature stories and wrote about two adventures thanks to my Air Force background. I had remained in the Air National Guard and was intelliigence officer for the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at the Nashville airport.

In 1956 I got permission to fly a familiarization mission in a B-47 jet bomber at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, LA. This was a time when the Cold War was heating up, and the big jets were on alert to be loaded with nuclear weapons. Though they didn't talk about it, a section of the field called Bossier Base was obviously the weapons storage area. An alert siren sounded while I was there and large armored vehicles headed for the flight line. It really brought the Cold War home.

About a year later, I was one of the first reporters to fly on the new B-52, which had become (and still is) the Air Force's major heavy bomber. I flew a mission out of Carswell AFB at Austin, TX. Since I had a Top Secret clearance, I was allowed to sit in on the crew briefing. We took off in the afternoon, heading northwest to Denver. From there we continued west to Salt Lake City, turned north up to the Canadian border, and west again to the Pacific Coast. Turning south, we flew most of the length of the coastline and made a bomb run on Los Angeles. It was a target that electronically calculated our accuracy. Bullseye!

After that we flew southeastward back to Texas, landing at Austin around midnight. I asked the pilot what we'd have done if we couldn't land there. "We had enough fuel to get back to California," he said.

Leaving the newspaper, I freelanced articles for national magazines, then started one of my own called Nashville Magazine. Though I didn't deal in the daily news, we covered lots of goings-on around town at a more leisurely pace.

When I took up novel writing after retirement, my news and features background came in handy. I had used a lot of the same techniques I now employ in fiction--cogent quotes, colorful descriptions, a spare style that keeps the story moving. To paraphrase, you can take the old newshound out of the newsroom, but you can't take the newsroom out of the old newshound.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A very fine cat.

This weekend, we had the sad job of putting our cat to sleep. Tida was nineteen years old and his health had been failing for a long time. He reached a point where he no longer groomed himself, could not find the litter box, and seemed to be in constant discomfort, if not pain, when he was awake. He was suffering from renal failure and there was nothing anybody could do to make him better.

Tida is a girl's name because we thought he was a girl when we got him. It was only when we went to have him neutered that the vet discovered he was a boy. We didn't change his name because he never answered to his name anyway. Early on he figured out that if he went out at night, he could get back in at anytime, usually around 4:00 AM by jumping up to our bedroom windowsill and poking at the screen. In his later years, he stopped jumping up to the windowsill, and, finally, stopped going out.

He was a black, long haired cat with a smoky undercoat that grayed as he aged. We'll miss him around the house. As Samuel Johnson said of his own cat, Hodge, "He was a very fine cat, indeed."

So what does this have to do with mysteries?

The popularity of cats in mysteries astounds me. I sometimes think I missed the boat by not writing cat stories like Lillian Jackson Braun's "Cat Who" series, or Rita Mae Brown's series co-authored with and starring Sneaky Pie Brown, or Carole Nelson Douglas's Midnight Louie series. Of all those, I like Midnight Louie the best.

The truth is, however, that I don't like stories with cute or clever animals. I tend to skip over the parts of the Spencer novels when Pearl shows up. I'm fine with the cat coming onto Elvis Cole's deck because all he does is lick his balls and keep his distance. Kind of a hardboiled cat, but that's about all I can take of a cat in a story. I heave the book when the action of a little fur ball has an impact on the story. Anthropomorphism? Fuggedaboutit.

Tida hasn't appeared in any of my stories and never will. I precluded his appearance by making my main character allergic to cats. He wouldn't fit into a story, anyway. He wasn't much of an adventurer, wasn't adept at hunting, certainly wasn't a detective. He was quick to let you know when he was dissatisfied, but a hero? Fuggedaboutit.

When he was well, he liked to lick himself, to stick his head over the sink when we brushed our teeth, and to stretch out on the back of the easy chair behind our heads as we read. If we left him alone for any length of time, he let us know his displeasure when we returned, but soon he'd be back to stretching out on the chair. He was a very fine cat, indeed.

Mark Troy
Crime Fiction by Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jury Duty

As a crime fiction writer and publisher, I probably should be ecstatic that this week is my chance to serve on a trial jury. I received my notice about a month ago, and have been wondering all along what might be in store.

Would it be something thrilling? Something boring? Something repellent and disgusting? Maybe it would be the case involved that fellow who was found beaten to death in the home not so far from my own! If so, would I need to recuse myself?

However, it hasn't yet turned out to be that thrilling. I'm writing this on Tuesday afternoon. Yesterday I spent much of the morning being "empanelled" at the court house, where we are separated into panels of fifteen or so, and those panels are used to build the pool of potential jurors. We went back in the afternoon, and were told by the judge that a flurry of guilty pleas late in the morning had made our presence unnecessary for the rest of the day, but that we needed to call in that night after 6:00 PM to discover what the next day would hold.

At 7:00 PM I called the recorded message, and a bland voice said that panels 4, 5, 6 and 7 should call back the next day after 10:30 AM to see what we should do. (I am part of panel 7.)

At 10:45 AM today I called, and was informed by the recorded voice that all panels of jurors were excused for the day, but that we should call back in after 6:00 PM today to see what the next day held. It's about 4:15 now, so I have yet to discover the future.

We are paid the munificent sum of $30 per day for this service... as long as we are not excused for the day. Thus far, I have earned $30 from the county for my service as a potential juror, and have yet to do anything except show up, sit in the jury box briefly, go home, and call in. No wages today, though.

We'll see how the rest of the week goes, although I must post this by late tomorrow night. More information to follow!

Later... Wednesday afternoon.

At about 6:45 last night (Tuesday night) I called the phone and got the recorded message to show up for jury duty this morning at 9:00 AM. I did so, and at about 9:15 the judge entered the courtroom and announced the case they would be trying. The case involved terroristic threats and actions, as well as harassing telephone calls. "Hmmm!" I thought, "Could be intriguing!" The defendant was called in, and my jaw (figuratively) dropped. The defendant was the plumber who did such a lousy, terrible, incompetent job on our new house, one that was fraught with errors and that is still going to cost a few thousand more dollars to get corrected. I've seen sharper billiard balls than this guy, and my jaw received another exercise in obeying gravity when it was announced that he was going to act as his own trial counsel.

They called fifteen people from the jury pool and allowed the prosecuting attorney to choose from among them. The plumber seemed to go sort of hog-wild with turning down jurors, and even the judge gave him an incredulous look when he had turned down seven of the fifteen jurors. They called in the second panel and he refused two more. Four were then excused by virtue of not being needed, and the trial began. I did not end up being one of the jurors, and I guess it's a good thing because I would definitely have been prejudiced against the defendant.

There is an old chestnut that goes something like this: "Any attorney who defends himself in court, has a fool for a client." Well, I have news for you: it goes double when it's a plumber who is acting as an attorney and defending himself.

I won't go into all the screw-ups the plumber made in his defense procedure, but here are a few salient points:
  • He never addressed the judge as "Sir" or "Your honor," but always answered with "OK, OK, OK..."
  • He repeatedly (even after more than fifteen reprimands by the judge) made statements to the witnesses rather than asking them questions
  • He got into an argument with one witness and had to be called down by the judge
  • He repeatedly addressed the jury instead of the witness when he was examining a witness
  • He repeatedly offered to have a polygraph run on himself, both while testifying and while examining witnesses, even though polygraph results are not admissible in this court
  • His primary witness was late arriving for the trial, so he kept trying to stall the trial process by repeating himself. At one point he asked to be allowed to testify in his own defense, said the same things over and over, and was reprimanded by the judge for so doing
How do I know all this? Because even though I was not part of the jury, I found the whole concept of this... this... *sigh* OK, this PERSON trying to defend himself in court, to be highly interesting. It was instructional. (All right, fine... it was schadenfreude! There, happy now??)

I saw how patient a judge can be, even when confronted with a stubborn and obviously clueless individual trying to act as his own lawyer. I saw how humor can be injected into a real-world trial when the prosecuting attorney, in his summation, called the whole situation that initiated the charges a "sideshow" and the judge only smiled.

But! I haven't seen the final act. I have no idea how the trial jury has decided. They went out to deliberate, and I left. I considered hanging around, but I had important things to do. Besides, it could be delayed. After all, someone in the jury might think that the complainant lied about being threatened, and that the policeman who handled the complaint might have lied about the plumber also threatening him with grievous bodily harm and death, too. I mean... it's possible, right? Right??


By the way, there MUST be a great story for one of the authors in this blog, somewhere in all this mess. If you want more sordid details, ask me. I have no compunctions about telling anything except the names of the persons involved. That might get me into trouble.

Late addition: I called the recording tonight and discovered that I don't have to go in for possible jury duty tomorrow. But, I'll try to find out the final verdict and leave it here in a comment. That is, if anyone really cares.

Reminiscing about Mystery Cons

For a blog I was writing about going to cons and conferences for my upcoming blog tour, I started reminiscing about all the good times, the fun places we've visited, and the great people, authors and readers, we've met along the way.

At Left Coast Crime in Alaska, I met two young Native sisters--or as they prefer, Eskimos, who came to the con as mystery fans. I spent quite a bit of time with them. The older sister, Katina, and I have kept in contact since then via email. I always send her my latest book and she's sent me all sorts of things including an Eskimo cook book and several smoked salmons. When Bouchercon went to Anchorage, I let her know I was coming and she invited me to stay a few days with her in Wasilla. We had a grand time together.

When Left Coast was in El Paso TX, a place we'd never considered visiting, I became friends with David Cole who writes wonderfully dark mysteries with Native American threads running through.

Bouchercon is the biggest mystery con and of course I've run into and made friends with all sorts of people at this one. My very first one was in Monterey where I was on a panel and had no idea what I was doing there as I had no copies of my book with me. Penny Warner's husband took pity on me and visited with me during the booksigning phase where I sat all by myself with nothing for anyone to sign.
Other places we've visited for Bouchercon are Milwaukee and Madison WI--loved both places. Got to see Joe Konrath's car all decorated with the cover of his book and was duly impressed. A Bouchercon in Las Vegas began our friendship with former private eye and now author as well as other exciting pursuits, Joyce Spizer Foy. We even had breakfast with Joyce in her penthouse suite. We've run into each other from time to time and she graciously came to the Public Safety Writers Conference in Las Vegas this year as one of our keynote speakers.

Really got to see Joe in action at Love is Murder in Chicago. Getting there was exciting because we flew in along with a snow storm. This is also where I met Morgan Mandel and visited Mary Welk's home. Mary had become a friend at several conferences, including Malice Domestic. I also got to meet Robert Walker and read some of his wonderful books.

Going to Epicon has taken us many interesting places and we've stayed in a couple of very haunted hotels: the Queen Mary in Long Beach and an old hotel across from the Alamo in San Antonio TX. Epicon has also taken us to Oklahoma City, Bellevue Washington, Henderson NV, Tampa FL where we spent a lot of time with the famous Piers Anthony, and our first trip to Omaha NE was because of Epicon. Usually my husband is my roommate, but not always. My first Epicon I stayed with Gaye Totl Kinman and we've been roommates since. We even went to New York to the Edgars together, visited the Museum of Modern Art and headed down to DC to go to Malice. I met new publisher of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, Dan Rietz of Mundania Press at Epicon.

Omaha NE was not a place we'd ever had a desire to visit. At a Bouchercon I ran into a bookstore owner who told me she'd give me the best booksigning I'd ever had if I came there--and she did. We have fallen in love with Omaha and returned many times to attend Mayhem in the Midlands. Because it's a small conference compared to LCC and Bourchercon, I've had the opportunity to meet some great people including Evelyn David who I post with on the Stiletto Gang blog, and Mary Welk, Radine Trees Nehring, Jan Burke, Wm. Kent Krueger, and many more whom I now consider my friends. Other good friends from Mayhem include the mother and daughter team of Benay and Sara Weiss. At a con in Austin, Sara took me and a couple of others on the wildest ride to the very best barbecue in Texas.

Of course I'm heavily involved with promoting and handling the program for the Public Safety Writers Association's conference which has been in Las Vegas the last few years. I've been thrilled with the caliber of writers and speakers we've been able to recruit including Betty Webb and forensic handwriting expert, Sheila Lowe. It's also where I met the publisher for my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Billie Johnson of Oaktree Press. Mystery author Michael Black came this year and has agreed to give a presentation for next. We have a whole slew of folks willing to share their talents next June. Take a look at to check them out.

I can't remember all of the wonderful places and people I've met and if I did this blog would be far too long. As you can probably tell, my life has been enriched because of mystery cons.

Don't forget, my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Dispel the Mist, is now available from the publisher and all the usual places.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Creativity = Barren Desert Landscape

I have to be honest here.

I have nothing.

I've been working overtime, trying to write on my current WIP with a vague deadline, and dealing with financial issues at home. I'm driving to Los Angeles for a book fair in West Hollywood, requiring me to get up at 4am Sunday morning to get there in time. Saturday (I'm working backwards in time here) I'm hosting a Sisters in Crime Nor Cal meeting at my house with guest speaker Nathan Bransford, so have been shopping for refreshments and making sure the house is in order. I'm quite tired. I'm creatively drained. Writing is difficult. Writing a blog post feels like trying to extract water from the desert during the dry season.

How do you all do it? When you're so busy/tired/stressed that life feels like it's battering you to pieces on a daily basis... how do you find the creative energy to write?

Inquiring minds REALLY want to know.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What To Do If She Says No...

by Ben Small

Flex some muscle, flash a wicked grin.
Pout and moan about how long it’s been.


Wail and cry… or beg and plead.
Snarl and scratch, watch myself bleed.


I could be silent, stare her down.
I could be quiet, fix her a frown.


Open her mail, throw it around.
Call her fat, “ one round mound.”


Drive off, take it somewhere.
Spin it on Facebook, spread it everywhere.


Plot a payback, less than a crime.
Cover her undies with gun oil and grime.


I could be steadfast, insistent and firm.
I could plot murder, body on the berm.


I do none of that, no, not at all.
I give her my back and walk down the hall.

And then…

I take out the trash... myself.