Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Waiting Game by Dana Fredsti

As writers we are all familiar with the Waiting Game (and the crying game as well although probably sans 'she is really a he!' at the end of it).

We wait for inspiration while sitting in front of our computers.

We wait for that SASE (self addressed stamped envelope for those who have only queried via email) or email response to come back, hopefully with a request for a partial or full read.

We wait for the phone call telling us yes, we want to publish your book/story/article.

We wait for editorial feedback to let us know how much of our beloved masterpiece needs to be rewritten.

We wait to hold that magical ARC in our hands for the first time.

We wait, sometimes over a year, for actual publication.

We wait for reviews.

Yup, lots of waiting.

In between all of the waiting, we work on our next project(s) or work on promotion for the current one. But no matter how busy we are, at no matter what stage of the writing career, we always are waiting for something. At least I am.

I'm currently waiting to hear back from two editors at a large publishing house. I spoke with them in early November about an outline/first fifty pages pitched to them by an editor/agent I work with at another publication. They loved my writing, loved the concept, would I be willing to change A, B and C? Could I sent them an updated outline and the rest of what I'd completed on the book? I could and I did. They hoped to push the project through the rest of the editorial staff/board (whatever it's called) at the publishing house. It would be for a three book contract. They hoped to have the answer by Thanksgiving. I'm still waiting.

I've been very zen about it for the most part. Things always take longer than expected in the world of publishing and film-making, at least in my experience, and getting frustrated and stressed over something I had no control over didn't make any sense. No, I'd just forge ahead on the first book and wait patiently (lak a black widow spidah! Points for anyone who can tell me where that quote comes from). It wasn't until about two weeks ago that I had a mini temper tantrum (you know, the inner child doesn't WANNA wait! She wants her toy NOW!) and lost said zen. Stressed out, sure the answer was 'no' and they just hadn't bothered to tell me. It was pointless, life sucks, blah blah blah.

I'm better now. Talked to the editor/agent, who is also waiting to hear back from them about a few things. They're busy, we just have to wait it out. The answer could still be 'no.' On the other hand, considering their enthusiasm, it could certainly be 'yes.' I just have to wait to find out.

How about you? What aspect of the waiting game do you hate the most? Or have you mastered the art of always living in the moment, never worrying about the outcome of any particular project? And if the latter, is there a prescription for this? :-)

Dana Fredsti

Friday, February 26, 2010

PRE-position-ED for Failure by Robert W. Walker

Can it be that Prepostional Phrases and Preps themselves are Deep-Sixing Your Sentences?  It is quite possible. This is one of the ten paths to confusion and the #1 Sin in writing is being UNclear.  Preps are all the directional words -- up for instance, a word that 99% of the time can be tossed without a second thought and the sentence works perfectly well with out it.  I stood, I stood.  Other directionals are: in, down, before, below, above, around, over, under, through, to, toward, and I think the word for comes into play as does into.  These are useful in and of themselves but when you string three or more back to back, they create a bloated sentence, and if you have a string of two or three prepostional phrases in the same sentence, whammo, it gets unwieldy fast.

Picture a grid with a continum from begiing of the sentence to end....Subject/Uppercase  -- Verb -- Object.
Prepositons normally come into play in the pre-position before the Subject position or before the object position (thus pre-position).  Thus we get such phrases AFTER the verb as these:  to whom it concerns...
for whom are you waiting....from whom all blessiings God we trust, etc.

Here is an example of a sentence bloated with prepostional phrases followed by a corrected version:

In the house on 9th street up over the hill beyond the white gate, Mark saw her through the curtained window below the awnings where Serena stood bathed in sunlight that filtered through her hair and reflected in his eye.

In the hosue/on 9th/up over the hill/beyond the white gate....all 4 prepositions BEFORE we get to Mark, the actor and his action....then after the action we get added on prepostionals: through the window/below the awnings/in sunlight/through her hair/in his eye --for a total of 5 more preps.  What is lost in a morass of prepositonal phrases is Mark, his action, and the object of his interest--Serena.

Do we need all these asides, all this added detail?  Some yes, some no.  Revised:

Beyond the white gate, Mark saw Serena through the curtained window where sunlight bathed her hair and reflected in his eye.

I just think a great serpentine sentence is wonderful when it works but not if it relies on a string atop a string of prepositionals like within she stood....and the worst offender at end of so many sentences and totally unneeded -- the dreaed TO ME.  And as I mentioned the usually useless UP as in up over....Over says it all.

Does it make sense?  I hope so.
OK, now get on out of the classroom and go enjoy some real sunlight and nature!

I am posting a challenge, however, to anyone and everyone to watch me publicly write my next novel at  Dirty Deeds - Mystery/Suspense Author's Advice wherein I am keeping a Julia&Julia styled Journal in which I set myself the task of a finished novel in a year.  You can lurk, comment, toss in questions and enter a contest soon to be placed there, a contest for an Alternative Title to my workign title on this work in progress, PlagueShip Titanic. Winner gets signed copy of one of my published books. At same time you get some professional whose shoulder you can look over the entire proceess.  Hope to see you there. You can find the url at my website --

Happy Writing Days -- Rob

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mystery Networks by Christine Duncan

I love social networking for its ease. In a lot of cases for me, it takes the place of several in-person writer's groups that I used to belong to. I think all writers should belong to at least a few social networks just for the exchange of info that goes on there.

Naturally I have a few favorites in mind that I want to tell you about. But none of this is set in stone. What works for me may not be good for you and then there is the odd fact that these things tend to change faster than your first grader's smile once those teeth start falling out.

And I'm not just talking about what network is currently in fashion. Have you ever noticed that just when you get used to a social network site they change it? Recent changes to Facebook come to mind. it seems to make it easier to play games or use apps. Nevermind the thousands of us in the I don't care about your farm or mafia family group. It made it harder for me, on dialup, to see and interact with the different groups I have set up there. Still I like Facebook; it lets me interact with writing friends across the country.

I like crimespace too. The on-going dialogue there assumes we are all writers and mystery writers at that--so it's not a place for Bsp. You'll see some of that of course, but it is more of a writer's community. I like it for some of the same reasons I used to love Dorothy l. I tend to lurk on Dot L now, catching up on digests way too late to participate much. I don't know why. I still love it for getting suggestions on books to read, but tend to prefer that some of those suggestions would come from folks other than the author of the books.

I'm on Twitter and I like it but it feels a little bit like being in the crowd in Target right before Christmas. You are there with a bunch of other people and you might recognize some but you probably will not catch your best friend or sit for a long chat. Plus after having my account taken over early last year probably because of responding to a "bad" direct message, I'm a little leery there now.

The last group I love is Jeff Mark's murder must advertise. You can sign up on yahoo too if you like. I skim the list many days but I tend to keep it because of the ability to brainstorm with a bunch of other authors on something that we're all up against--promotion.

None of these groups is new anymore. These are just my keepers. Places where I can go and be a writer. What about you? Where do you network and why?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mixing It Up In Mysteries

Well, I could claim I was laying in the clues, red herrings, false paths and beefing up my villain, but truth be told, time got away from me. I was editing (pays the bills so I can write) and it seems like there’s always something interesting on the Olympics coverage, so there you go!

A while back I read a book and I don’t know if it’s a mystery or chick lit – maybe it’s a new genre – chick mystery? There is a mystery involved, although somewhat of a mystery of relationships and the acts they can precipitate, the emotions they can engage and the guilt that trickles down through the years. But it keeps me coming back to find out what happens, and that’s the goal of any writer for her or his reader. It is the mystery, the characters or the flow of the story that keeps me turning the pages?

What other cross-genres do we like to read in mystery – historical mystery, science, legal and sci/fi mysteries. What about paranormal mystery? And one of my favorites – romantic mystery, often known as romantic suspense!

What else can we come up with? What favorite authors?

Libby McKinmer
Also at Twitter, MySpace & GoodReads

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Promotional "Next Big Thing"...? by Austin S. Camacho

When I saw the first couple of book trailers I thought it was a quantum leap in book promotion. Now that almost everyone has a trailer or two for their book, I see little hard evidence that they spur sales for most writers. I was beginning to think that internet technology simply wasn’t the answer, but now I’m thinking that maybe it just went too far too fast.
I just listened to what may be the next great idea and it’s a techie step back. Medallion Press is doing something called the “action interview” as an audio download. Interview probably isn’t the right word. Instead of the author discussing his or her work with an interviewer, the author is joined by actors and sound effects to create more of a radio play feel.
The one I listened to, which I think is the first, featured Kathy Carmichael talking us through her book Diary of a Confessions Queen. The book is a mystery with lots of humor, and the action interview has that feel. We hear the interviewer (who really makes the production IMHO) walk into a crowded tavern to meet the author. Crowd noise and general babble put you into the location immediately. After he sits with Ms Carmichael she actually introduces him to the characters in her book and they play through a couple of scenes.
This way she doesn’t just tell you what her book is about, but you experience it. It’s hard to imagine a better way to pull a reader into the story. The interview/performance ran nearly 15 minutes but it felt much shorter. More importantly, it was FUN and made me want to pick up Diary of a Confessions Queen. I think this idea may motivate a lot more people to seek out a book than a 2 or 3 minute trailer regardless of the production quality.I think every writer check out the action interview and consider if they can get on this bandwagon early.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Extreme Makeover, Mall Style

This is mystery-related, in an odd sort of way. One mystery is how do you save our shopping malls when the money drought reaches extreme proportions? To take an example, we'll use RiverGate Mall near my home in Madison, TN. That gives it another mystery hook, since my latest book, The Surest Poison, features a PI who has his office in a building next to the mall.

Okay, the link is rather tenuous, but it'll suffice. The problem came about when last year's recession went into overdrive. The mall claims over 150 stores, which includes eateries in the Food Court and all the kiosks and booth setups along the corridors. As retail outlets began closing their doors from the lack of customers, store after store in the mall became vacant.

RiverGate is the second-oldest mall in Nashville and serves an area that has become a magnet for Hispanics. Not a place known for big spenders. By last summer, more than twenty stores had folded. Some went into bankruptcy, some closed here to concentrate on more profitable locations elsewhere. To dress up the darkened storefronts, they placed large cutouts inside the windows made from blow-ups of historic buildings painted by a popular local artist.

My wife and I are mall walkers at RiverGate, and like others we began to wonder if it would go the way of shopping centers that had closed or completely changed their character. Much of the oldest mall in town has been taken over by Vanderbilt Hospital's health clinics.

Then we began to hear rumors of something planned for one end of the mall that doesn't include an anchor tenant, such as Macy's, Dillard's, Sears or J.C. Penney. Some thought Dave and Buster's, which has a location at Opry Mills Mall beside the Opryland Hotel, was coming to RiverGate. Then in late fall signs began appearing on stores that were moving out of that end into spots vacated by out-of-business stores. Finally, about a month ago, they put up signs all along the area announcing Incredible Dave's is coming in Fall 2010.

I don't know if Incredible is any relation to Buster's Dave, but the only location shown on their website is in Louisville, KY. That one has bowling, bumper cars, and all sorts of games, plus a coffee shop and full-service restaurant. I've heard they're extending that end of the mall to take over part of the parking lot. I also heard one rumor that it would include ice skating.

People in the shops we've talked to have high hopes that it will rejuvenate the mall and bring back the crowds that have been dwindling. With all the recent moves, the place looks virtually full now. It'll be interesting to see how it turns out. Our only concern is what it will do to our "walking track." Up to now, one turn around the mall, including the Food Court, is approximately one mile. I do two turns most days, walking a fifteen-minute mile. As of the end of February, that end will be shut off for the construction crews.

It's about time to get to work on my next Sid Chance mystery. Maybe I'll have him involved in some sort of skullduggery around Incredible Dave's. Just a thought.

Chester Campbell

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another mystery author gone - Dick Francis by Vivian Zabel

According to the Telegraph, mystery/thriller author Dick Francis, 89, passed away at his home in Grand Cayman today, February 14, 2010.

Francis not only had a successful career at a National Hunt jockey, but he became a best selling author, drawing on his experience and expertise as a jockey. I remember reading one of his books that had a jockey crashed beneath him and thinking, "That sounds so realistic." His descriptions and details were believable because he had lived them.

He wrote 42 thrillers over 40 years and had worldwide sales of over 60 million, according his his obituary.

Quoting from the obituary in the Telegraph: Where other thriller writers probed the darker crannies of the soul, Francis reaffirmed the values of human decency and the struggle between the man of good against the forces of lust for power, dishonesty and greed. Heroes can expect to be chained, beaten, burned or flayed two or three times per book – but good always triumphs in the end.

Dick's beloved wife, Mary, died in 2000, and many rumors have her actually writing the books with his name on the covers. He said he could never have written without her, and that he wished she would allow him to have "by Dick and Mary Francis" on the books. Again from the obituary: "It is not the case that Mary writes the books," claimed her husband. "I do all the stories. I write them out in longhand. She then reads and edits them, because she can manage my handwriting, and I put them into the computer."

Dick Francis is survived by two sons, Merrick and Felix. Felix helped write his father's last four novels. Even Money came out in September and Crossfire is due to be released this autumn.

Good bye, Dick. I, for one, will miss your novels. You gave me a glimpse into another world and allowed me to enjoy it.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the bleak midwinter by Mark Troy

Ah February. What better month for a mystery writer? The middle of winter is the time to get some writing done with fewer distractions than other times of the year. It’s too cold to work in the yard in most parts of the country, too severe to even go outside in some places. Football has ended. Baseball hasn’t begun. Basketball is in the boring middle part of the season. The Academy Awards are still weeks away.

This February we have the Winter Olympics, an event that can be as much inspiration as distraction. The writer who knows where to look will find plenty of fertile ground for a story. Probably no other event, except perhaps a bullfight, combines artistry, grace, courage, and the threat of serious injury or death. In ski cross and snowboard cross, athletes chase each other at high speed down snow covered mountains. It's like watching two weeks of James Bond. The spin outs and tumbles are just as horrific. What about those people skiing through the forests with rifles on their backs, stopping every so often to shoot? An Alistair MacLean story? No, it's the biathlon.

We already have a tragic death in the Olympics with the accident suffered by a Georgian luger when he slammed into a trackside pole at 90 miles an hour. The sad event was made worse by the actions of authorities who denied the track was unsafe and attempted to shift the blame to the victim while covering their own asses.

If I want inspiration for characters, I need look only to Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn. Miller is the flawed hero. Need a model for a screw-up cop or detective with a checkered past? Miller's your man. His story is one of redemption. He’s a talented athlete trying to atone for letting the country down in 2006 with his disappointing performance and his bad behavior. He wraps the package in a zen attitude that would drive superiors crazy. What does Bode think about winning medals?
"You don't want to go the Tonya Harding route of winning medals," Miller said. "If you wanted just strictly to win medals, you could go through a whole long start list of racers and just go to their house in the offseason — break a leg..."

If Miller is a flawed hero, Vonn is the perfect action heroine. She’s skilled, courageous, and beautiful. She doesn’t hesitate to hurl herself down mountains at high speed, risking serious injury, to be best of the best. Injuries? You name it, she’s had it. The pain from a shin injury was so bad she couldn’t even put on her ski boots to practice. When asked how she’ll handle the pain in the Alpine events, she said, “I’ll just have to grit my teeth and push through it.” That's the kind of fighter I want on my side. I want her in my stories

Vonn appears in a sexy picture on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic Preview issue. She appears in equally sexy photos inside the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue (pages 84, 87, and 98). S.I. Swimsuit definitely counts as a February distraction. But wait, there’s also the germ of a mystery story in those pages.

The Olympics have already given us the elements of a potboiler: setting, action, likable heroes and a cover-up by people in high places. What else do we need? We need a macguffin. A macguffin is something that gets the plot moving. It could be the object of a heist like the jeweled dagger in Topkapi. It could be the briefcase with unidentified, but glowing contents in Pulp Fiction. Whatever it is, it's worth stealing, worth killing for. What could be so valuable? Gold? Yes. Olympic gold? No. The honor and prestige aside, an Olympic gold medal is worth between $200 and $250 dollars. So what is this object? I already gave you a hint. It can be found on page 164 of the S.I. Swimsuit issue. It’s a bikini. Not just any bikini. This one is worth a million dollars. It’s made out of 24 karat gold.

I don't know how this story will end, yet, but I have five more weeks of winter to work it out. Me and my itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, million dollar macguffin.

I love February.

Mark Troy

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

About to Launch a New Book

In a couple of weeks I should have copies of the latest in my Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind.

As yet, I haven't planned the exact dates for my book launches, but have talked to the two places where they'll be held--a fairly new deli/bakery in my little town and in a used bookstore in the nearest city. I don't like to set actual dates until I know the books are really going to arrive on time.

I've been busily writing blogs for my blog tour that will go on during the month of March. I've written on topics like why I write about a fictional town, Rocky Bluff is on the Southern California coast between Santa Barbara and Ventura. I've interviewed one of my characters, told where my ideas come from, espcially for the Axe to Grind, among other subjects.

Of course I'll be posting to Facebook and Twitter and all the lists that I'm on.

I'm going to several conferences: Epic, Mayhem in the Midlands, PSWA and Bouchercon. I've been asked to speak at a couple of libraries and I'm doing several craft shows including a Jane Austen Festival. Though my books have nothing to do with Jane Austen, the organizers thought it would be fun to have a local author and I'm happy to oblige. I'm going to speak to a couple of writers groups too.

As the year progresses, I'm sure I'll find other places to promote An Axe to Grind.

I must admit I had fun writing the book and I suspect I'll have even more fun promoting it.

Anyone who is interested can pre-order it from my website:

The book that came before this one No Sanctuary is a finalist for best e-book from Epic in the mystery/suspense category. Unfortunately, it's up against three other very excellent books--but I'm thrilled to be a finalist.

Marilyn, who wrote the Rocky Bluff P.D. series as F.M. Meredith

Monday, February 15, 2010

Local Flavor by Morgan Mandel

While listening to Mark Everett this morning on WJJQ 92.5 FM Northwoods Radio streaming audio on the computer, I couldn't help but enjoy the station's local flavor. Although national and world news are mentioned, the emphasis is on what's happening near the station. That means I hear about births, deaths, accidents, fires, area events, grammar and high school sports, all as they relate to Tomahawk, WI. Snow is welcome in that area, where snowmobilers congregate and lake levels depend on it.

Here I am with Mark Everett last October, when the DH and I visited the statuion. Since we own a cottage in Arbor Vitae, not far from Tomahawk, I'm considered a local author. Mark will be interviewing me about Killer Career on WJJQ on May 6, at 9:35 am. You'll hear more about that later.

I was also listening to Don Wade and Roma this morning on WLS 890 AM. There, along with national and world news, I heard about Chicago area politics, a fire in Chicago where building codes are being investigated, labor disputes, murders, the debate about whether or not the Illinois Lieutenant Governor position should be eliminated because Illinois is way in debt, the CTA money crisis, and the Chicago Blackhawks, the professional hocky team. I didn't hear anything about grammar or high school sports teams.

I'm much more apt to hear about a deer accident on WJJQ than on WLS, but on WLS I'm more likely to hear about a protest march. Below zero in the winter is more likely to be reported as normal on WJJQ than on WLS, although the weather can hover near zero in the Chicago area. Both stations are mentioning the Olympics today, but on WJJQ they're asking people to register for a bus to go to a regional wrestling match. That's something I didn't hear and doubt if I'd ever hear on WLS.

Like the radio stations do, when writing, be sure to include local flavor so the reader can tell what part of the country or world your novel takes place. Do this by inserting references to items and events unique to that area so you can pull the reader into the setting.

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Inspired or Driven?

Since my dad passed away over the holidays I've been doing a lot of thinking and processing about various issues. I've also been doing a ton of walking, during which I do my best thinking/processing. One of the issues I've spent a lot of time on over the last month and a half is my writing and, quite specifically, how my relationship with my father affected my attitude towards my writing achievements and my ability to enjoy each step along the way.

I go into this at length here if you're interested in the details. For this post, however, I want to focus on what makes writers write. Is it inspiration from the muse? Is it fun and joyful? Do they feel driven by external or internal forces? Does it hurt like swallowing broken glass?

Honestly, if it was as painful as the writer makes out in the above link, I would buy myself a couple of whips and just scourge myself if I was into that kind of masochism. Of course, he may be being facetious in the post. But even still, some writers contend that the creative process is painful for them. We're not just talking writer's block (and boy, if you want to start a debate, ask a group of authors what they think of the concept of writer's block) or a bad writing day; we're talking gut-wrenching, soul-crushing pain to get the words out.

Other writers I know talk happily about inspiration found in other books, movies, dreams, nature, random snippets of overheard conversation. No pain, just the pure pleasure of creation. On a good day, this is what it's like for me. I'm inspired by my story or my characters, or both, and the process is is fun.

I used to lie in bed and daydream my way into stories. It was a cross between dreaming and watching a movie; I could conjure characters and the worlds they inhabited in 3D, surround sound, and scratch-and-sniff smell-o-vision. The worlds in my head were as real as my every day life and I could not wait to write down the adventures of my characters (sometimes my alter-egos) when I drifted back to reality.

I'm working to get back to that mindset. When I wake up stressed in the middle of the night, I try and dream walk into my current WIP and capture that sense of magic I used to have. Dealing with the issues concerning writing/my father has definitely helped. But I still wonder what drives or inspires you all to spend your spare time on your books or stories. Are you inspired or driven? Is there really a difference? Inquiring minds still working out their own issues really want to know...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Meet Our New Every Other Saturday Blogger, Robert W. Walker

We're happy to welcome a terrific mystery author and teacher here at Make Mine Mystery. Every other Saturday Rob Walker will offer advice and observations from his years of experience as an author, along with brand new insights on the latest marketing ideas. Here's a brief introduction of our new blogger:

 Award-winning author, ROBERT W. WALKER created his highly acclaimed INSTINCT and EDGE SERIES between 1982 and 2005. Rob has since written his award-winning historical series featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom with CITY FOR RANSOM (2006), SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY (2007), and CITY OF THE ABSENT (2008). This history-mystery hybrid straddles the Chicago World’s Fair circa 1893, and has had enthusiastic reviews from Chicago historians and the Chicago Tribune, which likened “the witticism to Mark Twain, the social consciousness to Dickens, and the ghoulish atmosphere to Poe!” Rob’s current work in progress is THE DIRTY OLD HARRY SQUAD, a Cold Case concept meshed with an aging police force. His next historical fiction, CHILDREN of SALEM, while an historical romance and suspense novel exposes the many sad truths surrounding Salem Witchcraft, 1692.
also on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

Don't miss Rob's Journal where he shares the writing of his new book at his own blogspot called Dirty Deeds. You can travel through the process with him at

Welcome Aboard, Rob!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogging by Christine Duncan

A while back I took an internet course on blogging. The gist of the course seemed to be how to network with your blog. I liked that idea as I had been on the net a relatively long while and was used to discussion group lists and bulletin boards where I got to know the participants. I have been thinking about the course lately due a question posed by Julie Lamoe on Crimespace.

Julie had a question about guest bloggers. Do you just invite anyone? What if you don't like their books?

First let me state that I am in awe of anyone organized enough to read the books of all the people who guest blog for them. Although I do the job of requesting (begging for) guest bloggers for my other blog with a very few exceptions, I neither request nor receive copies of the guest's books. I do check out their blogs and am a little tough on their guest posts. Any guest post that smacks too hard of self-promo is declined. But generally speaking, I've looked on it as a chance to get to "know" other writers. And I've learned one heck of a lot from them.

I know the idea is to network to some "better" publishing position.

But the concept offends me.

I like to blog because I'm so...well I prefer the word opinionated, but feel free to insert whatever came to your mind. I like reading the blogs of other folks to see their opinions. Some of the people whose blogs I enjoy reading aren't even mystery writers. But I know that if I tune into their blogs, they will have a post there that will make me think, or laugh, or comment.

Why do you blog? Seriously, if you are an author, it is expected that you blog or at least guest blog. But because something is expected of us has never been a reason to really want to do it.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Time to Write

To be honest, it can be difficult to find the time to write – life intrudes, responsibilities call and chores demand. Sometimes writing is crammed into spare moments. Some writers stay up late or get up early, write on their transit ride to work and home, or even carve out small islands of time between loads of laundry, checking homework and paying the bills.

There are no shortcuts to solid storytelling, but there are some helpful tools out there to help make the technical part of writing less of a chore. It’s smart to make use of what we can find to give us more time to tell our stories. Here are a few ideas to check out and see if they would work for your next writing session.
lots of tips, research tips, an online group & forum, glossary of slang, etc
a review of some popular writing software
from software to collaborative documents and more
writing resources specifically for mystery writers
rules for mystery writers

There are lots more resources out there, but this will get you started. Please, add your favorite mystery writer links!

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

Monday, February 8, 2010


The mystery genre has faced a number of tragic losses in recent months. We will see no new books from Robert B. Parker. We will have a much harder time finding Waldenbooks or Borders Express stores. And now, we will never be able to buy another book from The Mystery Company. That means something to me because this particular independent bookstore was the first to order my novel Blood and Bone. On a less personal note, Jim Huang was a great friend of mystery writers.

Don’t know Jim Huang? Then you probably didn’t attend Bouchercon 2009, which Jim worked hard on. Nor did you attend the smaller but equally fun Magna Cum Murder mystery conference in Muncie, which Jim helped to organize. Jim ran The Mystery Company in Carmel, Indiana for seven years until he was forced to close its doors in the last few days. For those seven years Jim Huang was a great friend to mystery authors and a voice of reason in the industry. His love of the genre was evident, as was his leadership among the small fraternity of mystery booksellers.

The store’s closing had nothing to do with Jim’s business acumen, level of effort or determination. I’m sure it had everything to do with the economic downturn, the consumer shift to online shopping, the huge discounts big book retailers can offer, and the slow but steady growth of e-books which cuts the brick-and-mortar retailer out of the sale entirely. In other words, the loss of The Mystery Company is a symptom of what’s happening in the industry in general.

My understanding is that Jim hasn’t abandoned book selling, but that in a few days he will be managing a college bookstore - at Kenyon College in Ohio to be exact. We wish him the best.I know that Jim gave The Mystery Company everything he had. More to the point, he gave mystery writers and their work everything he had. I hope he maintains a presence at conventions and conferences, and I look forward to shaking his hand again at a future event and thanking him for his years of support.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up...

by Ben Small

For mystery writers, these are tough times. Not only is the economy in the tank, the outlook for traditional publishing bleak, confusion as to new technologies and how to market oneself, but we see real life examples of torture-creativity we never would have thought of occurring every day.

It's hard to keep up.

Folks, there are some real sickos out there. If you wrote a novel featuring a bad guy who kept a young girl prisoner in his backyard for eighteen years, fathered a child by her, all while being on parole for federal kidnapping and assault charges, you'd have a hard time selling that improbable tale to your parents. You'd get a roll of the eyes, a mumbled "Right," and then a long lecture about the use of your time.

Bank on it. Even your dog wouldn't eat that book.

So who would have come up with the idea of playing on an estranged wife's musophobia - an unreasonable and disproportionate fear of rats and mice - by creeping to her house early one Sunday and playing nineteen white mice from a paper bag through her mail-slot?

Man, that's evil. And it happened in a Stockholm suburb. Where's Mickey?

Sure, the guy was arrested, charged by mice-huggers no doubt, and let out on bail. The mice are being held at the local police station, awaiting word on handling from the county vet. Meanwhile, the bad guy has demanded his mice be returned, and the authorities are considering his request.

I mean, who could make this stuff up?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Time for Courage

Characters in mysteries lie all the time. The bad guys deny they did it. The cops lie in an effort to make them admit it. So lying is a time-honored device in the field of mystery writing. The problem is that lies can have far-reaching consequences, particularly when they are indulged in by our leaders.

This isn't a political discourse, at least not of a partisan nature, as the ability to skirt the truth seems to be an endemic disease in Washington, if not around the all the world's capitals. I get several daily newsletters from groups offering financial advice. I don't always read them, unless the headline catches my fancy. This morning one snagged me with this:

A Time for Honesty, Sacrifice, and a Serious Financial Course Change

The author, who lives in Florida, had just returned from a vacation trip to New York, London and Paris. The most memorable spot he visited was the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms off St. James Park in Westminster. He described the low-ceiling, cramped quarters in the basement of the UK Treasury where Churchill and his staff worked during the Nazi bombings of London. And he wrote:

"You can listen to the speeches Churchill delivered even as the bombs fell — never lying to the British public about the dire straits they were in ... but also never failing to inspire."

He brought this up because of a feeling that politicians have lost the ability to level with us, particularly when it comes to financial matters. He said there's no Churchill on the scene telling it like it is and asking us for personal sacrifice. "Instead, politicians keep promising the sun, the moon, and the stars — even though we simply can't afford it. We're SPENDING like there's a massive world war going on even though there isn't! And no one seems to want to change this course we're on."

The author pointed out that projections by the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and CBO (Congressional Budget Office) project the deficit will increase to 18.1 trillion dollars by 2020, with the interest jumping from $188 billion to $840 billion. That's interest, folks, money that doesn't buy you one penny of anything.

But ever hopeful, the article states:

"We CAN still turn things around. We can pull our nation out of this fiscal tail spin. Heck, if the average Londoner could pick himself out of the rubble of his home, brush himself off, and head to work in the middle of the Blitz, then we can show the same stoic resolve here. But that will take real political courage and real sacrifices. There is no easy way out."

Lying may be the thing that ramps up a mystery, but it ain't good when indulged in by our leaders of all stripes. Come to think of it, there ought to be a good mystery plot in there.

Chester Campbell

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Life In the Slow Lane

Do you ever have one of those...

Nope, I'm not going to use that hackneyed expression to start this blog. No. Wait... does that count? I don't think so. Anyway.

Life has been interesting lately, and mostly in the sense that it seems that every time I turn around, there is something there to slow me down. I mean, I'd like to make daily progress on my writing, on the editing jobs I'm doing right now, on the house
my wife and I are building with our own four hands, but no-o-o. Just ain't gonna happen.

Case in point: The recent spate of preternaturally cold weather we have had here in the
Southeastern U.S. has wrought havoc on many farmers, and tens of thousands of people were without power in North Carolina and Tennessee. While we didn't lose power, we did have a problem with water pipes. They froze and burst, and of course it would not be so simple as a single pipe somewhere. Oh, no... it had to be a burst complex water manifold that I managed to create for our homestead's water supply. (You can't see it, but that entire arm of the manifold is split all the way up the back. *sigh*)

Of course this would happen while we have our backup well pump pulled out of the well for repair, too, so no water at the building site at all. This isn't good when you are using concrete and mortar for most of the construction.

Now, you'd think this would mean I could focus on other things, like writing, editing, and so on. Well, not really. I've had one unexpected obligation after another pop up lately, and
generally they are spaced out just far enough to keep me from focusing very much on the jobs I need to do. When I have to be somewhere that is an hour's drive away at 1:00 PM, and I'll spend two hours or more there, basically that afternoon is shot. Reminds me of driving in Atlanta traffic.

Sometimes when I'm on I-75, or I-285, in afternoon traffic, I get stuck in that slow lane behind someone who's lumbering along, oblivious. I am usually antsy to get around them and get home, but for some reason everyone in the world seems to be buzzing by me in the left-hand lane, just far enough apart to be annoyingly tempting, but too close to allow me to speed up and get around the lummox in front of me. So, I'm stuck in that slow lane. Amazingly enough, it happens with life, too.

It's at that point that I can begin to sympathize with the desperate person who texts while driving. "Am stuk n trafik. Tryin 2 gt hom. C u soon." Maybe that's what Twitter is for--the desperate texts of a person stuck in the slow lane of life, trying to get things done but not quite succeeding.

Problem is, I hardly even have time to tweet any more.

Here is the point where I'm supposed to wax philosophical and creative, and come up with some pithy homily about how we can make use of the time we have given to us... about how we can relax and do what we need to do, and let the rest of it take care of itself... about some remarkable way I manage to get things done in spite of being stuck in the slow lane.

It ain't gonna happen. I'm fresh out of pithy homilies and inspirational twaddle. I guess the best I can do is this: Folks, I'm gonna grin and bear it even if it means gritting my teeth. But if that fool behind me keeps honking his dang horn, I'm eventually going to haul out that 9mm semiautomatic I keep in the dash (legally registered and licensed) and go all "24" on him.

Jack's got nothing on me.

Sidekicks by Mark Troy

Recently someone asked me if my detective has a sidekick. The answer is, "yes." My main character, Ava Rome, undertakes her adventures with the aid of Moon Ito, a tough guy sidekick who kicks ass when called upon.

Sidekick comes from a 17th century gambling term, side-kicker, meaning a strong card held in reserve. The sidekick’s role is to provide backup for a fictional hero. Although the sidekick assumes a subordinate status, his or her abilities are not necessarily inferior. Often the sidekick is equal to or superior to the main character. Little John was better than Robin Hood in their fight with the staff. Tonto was as good a horseman and shot as the Lone Ranger, and he was a better tracker.

The earliest sidekick in literature might be Hanuman, the monkey god, in Valmiki's Ramayana, the 4th century B.C. Hindu epic. Hanuman is smart and capable with abilities such as leaping over the ocean and lifting mountains. He and his monkey army gave essential help to Rama in rescuing his wife, Sita, from the evil lord Ravana.

In many cases, the sidekick has skills, ability or temperament that complement the main character in some way. Sancho Panza provided realism to counter Don Quixote's idealism. Falstaff was comic relief to Prince Hal's seriousness. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, Watson provides an emotional connection that makes it easier for the reader to get to like Holmes.

Sidekicks are frequently distinguished from the main character by class, ethnicity, culture, or language. They might even be a different species. The alien sidekick is a common feature of science fiction.

The primary bond between the sidekick and the main character is trust and loyalty. Bad guys don't have sidekicks. They have henchmen and minions who are seldom trustworthy.

If the sidekick is a different gender, romantic or sexual tension can wreck the bond of trust and loyalty. The hero seldom has an intimate relationship with a sidekick. Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, for example, were completely platonic, even though their adventures brought them into close proximity. On those occasions when Willie sees Modesty naked, he is surprisingly dispassionate. What are we to make of Fiona Glenanne in Burn Notice? She's Michael Westen's ex-girlfriend. Presumably the intimacy has ended. Is she a sidekick? Who would deny anything to a girl with a gun like that?

The sidekick is generally a well-developed character who serves more than one function in the story. He or she might provide information or counsel, but that is not their sole function. In general they perform those tasks that would be inappropriate or difficult for the hero to perform. Often, they are called upon to rescue the hero. Regardless of function, however, the sidekick shares most of the adventure with the hero.

In my stories, Moon Ito watches Ava's back in dangerous situations. His primary occupation is providing VIP security, so he has access to weapons, vehicles, and communication devices if Ava needs them. Because Ava works in a state with stringent gun laws, Moon's ability to obtain guns is very useful to her. He is not a criminal, but he can call on a number of thugs for support. If a criminal act needs to be performed, Moon can get it done.

Like Hawk and Spenser, there is an ethnic and cultural difference between Moon and Ava. Moon is Japanese-American, born in Hawaii while Ava is Caucasian, a haole. Like Willie and Modesty, there is a gender difference between them without a romantic or sexual component. Moon, however, is not as high-minded about it as Willie. He just knows that Ava isn't interested in him. Like Willie Garvin, Moon speaks a non-standard dialect. For Willie, it's Cockney English, for Moon, it's Hawaiian pidgin English.

Does your main character have a sidekick? Tell us about him or her. Also hop over to my Hawaiian-eye blog for my top ten list of favorite sidekicks.

Mark Troy

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Balancing, balancing, balancing

We've talked about this before, but since I've been doing so much of this lately I decided to approach the subject again.

I'm working on a new Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery and have written fifteen chapters.

While I'm doing that I've also been working on the program for the Public Safety Writers Association's conference, which is from June 10 to 17 in Las Vegas. We have so many wonderful speakers I'm really excited about it. The speakers have to pay to come to the conference and their expenses like anyone else so it's a real coup when they agree to come. Besides the speakers we also have an agent and three small press publishers who will give one-on-ones. Anyone who signs up before March 31 can be on a panel if they want to be on one.

Because of these great speakers, I've been promoting the conference like crazy, I don't want anyone to miss out.

And...while I'm doing that I am planning the promotion for my next Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel, An Axe to Grind. I don't have copies of it yet, so can't set dates for my book launch as yet, but I do have events lined up already.

January has already been busy. Spent one weekend in Ventura with the PSWA Board doing business--and have a bit of fun and some great food. Love the Ventura, CA area--lived there for over twenty years. While we were there, got to see my two daughters and their hubbys who live close by.

We went to the coast this past weekend again, this time to Morro Bay. I belong to the Central Coast chapter of Sisters in Crime and joined with them to put on a writing workshop. Whenever you have an event away from home it means planning what you need to take with you and getting a hotel reservation somewhere that doesn't cost much. Fortunately, going to small coast communities off season is really the best time.

A blog tour is planned for March. So far haven't had any interviews or questionnaires to do for that, but when they start coming in, that'll take some juggling too.

On my personal blog, every Friday I'm interviewing members of PSWA, and I try to have something new every day.

Once a week I attend the writers critique group I've belonged to since 1981.

Believe it or not, I also have a life. My hubby expects a bit of time with me each day and we try to go to the movies and out to eat two or three times a month. I'm also the chief cook around here and always have extra folks joining us for dinner. I have four adult children (two live really close by) and lots of grandkids and great grandkids. I teach Sunday School, I'm the Church Clerk and participate in many church activities.

I'm sure I've missed something, but you get the idea, it's a lot to juggle.