Friday, October 29, 2010

Negative Image

Vicki Delany

By Jean Henry Mead

Vicki Delany delivers a powerful blow to her one of her prime series characters, Sergeant John Winters of the Trafalgar, British Columbia, Police Department. Winter's wife Eliza’s former lover is found murdered and her picture is found at the scene.

Famous photographer Rudolph Steiner arrives in town to allegedly photograph the small mountain town’s tourist trade, with his attractive young wife and assistant, only to be found murdered shortly thereafter. Was his real reason for traveling to Trafalgar to reconnect with Eliza Winters, the women he loved twenty-five years earlier? And who hated Steiner enough to kill him? Eliza Winters is the logical suspect.

Meanwhile, Constable Molly Smith, the series protagonist and friend of the Winters, finds herself in a dilemma as well, when a series of local burglaries and serious family problem confront her as she struggles to support Winters when the world seems to be caving in on him. Winters loves his wife, a beautiful former super model, and thinks he knows her, but does he really?

Molly Smith’s problems are compounded by her Royal Mounted Police boyfriend, who’s at odds with her fellow policemen as a stalker wreaks terror in Molly’s life. Delany skillfully ties up all the loose ends after dangling suspects in front of her readers’ eyes.

The fast-paced, suspenseful novel explores not only the question of spousal trust but the secrets of all those involved. Negative Image is a good book to curl up with a hot drink and few distractions because you won’t want to set it aside.

The book will officially be released November 2, but is currently available at and other online bookstores.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall Reading by Christine Duncan

Something about summer days makes reading a guilty pleasure. As the daylight hours get shorter, I get drawn inside to read and sip hot cocoa as I huddle on the couch under an afghan.

I just finished reading Lisa Gardner's, The Neighbor. Sergeant DD Warren is investigating the disappearance of a young mother who left the house while her four year old was sleeping and her husband, a journalist, was off at work. I've liked Gardner's other books and was drawn into this one immediately. And I kept reading, fascinated even though Gardner switched viewpoints which is a technique that can turn me off. The book was a definite page turner and yet, I have to say, I was disappointed. It's difficult to tell without giving away the book. The best I can do is say that the ending seemed contrived. I almost felt as though I could see authorial wheels turning and deciding that the whole thing needed to be more complicated to be a best seller or perhaps even a made for TV movie.

The other mystery I've read lately is Mariah Stewart's Until Dark. Kendra Smith, a sketch artist who is frequently employed by the FBI, is called in to do a sketch of the soccer mom killer. Kendra thinks her job is over when the sketch is done, but it becomes obvious that the killer wants her to stay involved. The action wasn't too graphic for my tastes, the romance doesn't overwhelm the mystery and Kendra is a likeable heroine, so I found this book to be more satisfying.

So what are you reading now? Share, please. I could use some new authors to explore.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two, Safe House is available now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Binge Writing - the 30 Day Novel!

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is NOT a line of lyrics from a Lady Gaga song.  It stand for National Novel Writing Month - a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. the idea is simple: start writing November 1 and complete a 50,000-word novel by midnight, November 30.

This is your chance to kick out a large number of words to finish a novel in record time. Many people start the challenge and end up with a sizeable number of pages by the end. Some are inspired to start writing for the first time. Others are inspired to finish something for the first time. Most of us find that writing at breakneck speed produces a lower quality of work that doesn’t reflect what is normally produced when writing within our own timing. But no matter - we have something to work with.

There are ways to make speed writing more effective. The overall goal is to produce more in a shorter period of time but if you keep it up, who knows?  Speed writing may become a habit.  Here are a few tips.


When you set out to write a novel in a short period of time, outlining is your friend. Take a week to write a detailed outline of the story. It will help to work out most of the kinks before you even sit down to write. Create character profiles of the main characters and review your outline before the start of your writing marathon.

Plan it

If you are going to focus on spitting out as many words as possible per day, then plan it. Block out your writing time for the month. Figure out when you are most productive. Is it in the morning, at night or midday? Make a rule – no sleep unless you have kicked out a minimum number of words. Make sure you schedule extra time for working out of corners or temporary writer’s blocks. Make your schedule somewhat flexible so you don’t get burned out and give up.

Write it

With your outline beside you and a bullet list of your character profile – start the race. Follow your outline. If you want to go rogue, go ahead, write until the road block. If you reach a road block – write anything, take some time off to think on it, then re-work your outline and get back to it. Whatever you do – don’t stop writing. Remember, you will always have to edit it anyway.

Don’t look back

Whatever you do, don’t read over what you’ve written until you are finished. That is an easy way to get distracted. Remember, you’ll have to edit the thing many times before your piece of art is perfected. Just write forward, don’t make corrections, don’t read over it, just push forward and write.  Writing is like driving at night.  You can only see a little ways ahead but you have to have faith that the road continues past there.  You might be surprised how much you can get done in 30 days if you just keep going. 
Get the details on NaNoWriMo, sign up and make the committment at 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

War Isn't Over!

By Mark W. Danielson

John Lennon would have turned 70 this month. As a Beatle, he was an international celebrity. As a peace activist, he was feared by the United States government. Interestingly, neither could have occurred without Lennon’s lifelong penchant for speaking his mind and standing by his beliefs.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, John used his celebrity status and musical talents to rally young people against the Vietnam War. The British pop singer’s ability to do this became a serious concern for the Nixon administration. They tailed him, tapped his phone, and spent millions of dollars trying to deport him. Once Nixon was reelected, their interest in the singer faded, but the bullet that claimed Lennon’s life in 1980 never stopped his message that peace was possible. All of this is documented in the movie, The US versus John Lennon. While watching it, I found some startling parallels to our current international affairs.

Not unlike our situation in Afghanistan, our involvement in Vietnam began slowly. Although the US already had military advisors in Vietnam when President Kennedy took office, Kennedy’s official policy was that the South Vietnamese forces must ultimately defeat their Communist aggressors. Kennedy was firmly against deploying American combat troops in Vietnam, and stated that, "to introduce U.S. forces in large numbers there today, while it might have an initially favorable military impact, would almost certainly lead to adverse political and, in the long run, adverse military consequences.” Following Kennedy’s assasination, President Johnson took the opposite tactic by escalating the number of US troops in Vietnam from 16,000 in 1963 to 553,000 by 1968, and still the war went on. It’s interesting to note that 40% of the US casualties occurred after Nixon was elected in 1968.

Our ongoing war in Afghanistan can be traced back to the US military advisors that were sent to aid the Taliban during the Russian occupation. Long after these advisors left, and in response to the September 11 al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center, the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom blitzed Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, defeating many of the same people they had trained. In late 2001, the United Nations Security Council approved to establish the International Security Assistance Force, which consisted of a coalition of 46 governments including Australia, Britian, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. At the time, the US had committed 29,950 military personnel to the cause. In December, 2009, after many coalition forces had withdrawn and with no end in sight, President Obama committed another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. The latest figure shows over 78,000 US troops are serving there.

The parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan take me back to the 1960s where I witnessed countless anti-war protests while working in Berkeley, California. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had co-written the song Revolution to encourage a peaceful end to the Vietnam War. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono later continued this message by placing banners and posters all over the world that read, “War is Over – if you want it”. Their three-week bed-in in Montreal spurred Lennon’s song, Give Peace a Chance, which became an anthem sung by millions of people during their anti-war rallies. The nation had not been this divided since the Civil War. By 1973, it was evident that superior technology and ground forces could not defeat a guerilla enemy that had unlimited reinforcements. As such, the US began withdrawing its forces from Vietnam. The Vietnam War may have been lost, but only its lessons have been forgotten.

Today, the US is heavily involved in an equally undefined and devastating war in the Middle East. I’ve written before about our nation’s apathy toward this war, but it’s worth reiterating that our young citizens are not protesting against it because it doesn’t concern them. This is easy to do when there is no threat of being drafted. However, the ramifications of their apathy extend beyond their lack of protests – it goes to the heart of their ability to communicate.

But rather than blame the kids, perhaps we should blame our high tech society, for these days, kids see little reason to verbally converse with each other. Instead, they stand next to each other or sit in restaurants, heads down, sending text messages. Somehow I doubt that a “Text-in” would have the same political impact as a 1960s “Sit-in”.

Our involvement in Afghanistan will never end until we recognize their distinct differences in ideologies. It matters not how many troops, tanks, or laser-guided missiles the US throws at its enemies, the US will always be viewed as the invader. Not unlike Vietnam, Afghanistan’s topography is too diverse and the resolve of its people too great for any foreign power prevail. The Russians figured this out after nine years. Sadly, after nine years, we haven’t.

I normally refrain from discussing political topics, but in this election year, it’s disturbing that our war in the Middle East is not being addressed in political ads or debates. How is this possible when millions were protesting against war just four decades ago? How is this possible when our soldiers are still dying over overseas? How is this possible when this war is draining our economy? These are questions worth asking in any election. Time is running out. Perhaps we should look into our past so that we can re-write our future.

Granted, John Lennon had a Utopian vision, but it was one he truly believed in. Because of this, his message lives on through the hearts of other believers. Without these people, we are doomed to eternal warfare. John and Yoko said, "War is over! – if we want it." If only the leaders of the world could give peace a chance.

Terrible, Terrible Tombstone

by Ben Small

Tombstone, Arizona had a short, eventful life before it became a ghost town. Ten years from its founding to a ghost town, all built on a mound of silver. But during that period, Tombstone left a legacy both sordid and romantic, one that's celebrated every year in Helldorado.
No, Helldorado is not the name of an Eagles' song. Rather, it's a three day celebration of Tombstone's wild and sordid past, complete with get-ups, stage coaches and lots of blank cartridges going off. Sorta like the old days, maybe, except this time the only missiles flying through the air are paper wads. Most everybody has heard of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. But that's just part of the Tombstone story.

Helldorado celebrates it all, from the discovery of silver to the shooting of Marshall Fred White by Curly Bill Brocius, the most notorious Southwest outlaw of his time. Johnny Ringo, arguably the fastest gun in the Southwest outside of Wild Bill, is also a main character. And then there are the Earps and Clantons and Doc Holliday, icing on the Wild West cake.

Most people are not aware that the importance of these events rose to such a level that three presidents -- two U.S., one Mexican -- got involved;  there was a threat of war, and permanent changes to our law enforcement structure resulted.

Yee haw.

While the truth is there were really no "good guys" in either the Earp or Clanton bunch, history, television and the movies have dictated that Wyatt Earp be crowned a hero and the Clantons, McLaurys, Curly Bill, Johnny Ringo and the rest of the Cowboys be branded villains. And there may be some truth to these labels, although there's plenty of exaggeration to go around.

Helldorado is the biggest event of the modern Tombstone year -- every year. Tombstone is a town that lives by tourism now, and Helldorado is the best time to experience the best and worst of what was and is called "the town too tough to die." Folks come from all over the country, don their getups and make-up and prance around, some participating in re-enactments of significant Tombstone events. Earp-alikes, Clantons -- descendants of the participants, still attempting to convict the Earps of murder -- and pretend Curly Bills, Doc Holidays, Johnny Ringos and John Behans abound. And there are period ladies, both proper and improper...if you get my drift.


And there are other characters as well, hundreds of them, all decked out in period costumes.

It's hard to tell how many people attend the three day Helldorado celebration. On the Sunday my wife and I were there, there were gobs of people, hundreds if not thousands, spread all over town. Unfortunately, my wife and I stood out: We wore tee shirts and shorts.

There are stagecoach rides, mine tours, good food in the local saloons, and re-enactments all over town.

Of course, no visit to Tombstone would be complete without a tour of the world famous Bird Cage Theater, one of the few original buildings left in its original condition, bullet holes, furniture, brothel-rooms and all. All the great actors and actresses, from Lilly Langtrey, Sarah Bernhardt, Fatima, Eddie Foy, Lillian Russell, Lotta Crabtree, Florence Roberts, Richard Mansfield, Joe Bignon, Maude Adams, Margarita Silva and others played the Bird Cage, the nightly hangout for the Earps, Behan and the Clantons, and of course, the best brothel in town. The Bird Cage was where Wyatt slipped to when he wanted to escape his common law wife and diddle Sadie Jo Marcus, John Behan's eighteen year old girlfriend -- the runaway daughter of Neiman Marcus -- and later Wyatt's third wife. In her spare time, Sadie Jo worked in the brothel, both upstairs in the cheap one -- 20 bucks for the balcony room, more for the girl -- or the basement, where the double-bed room and girl rates doubled.

Sadie Jo gave Johnny Behan this picture, which only re-surfaced after Wyatt died.

One glance, and it's easy to see why Sadie didn't want Wyatt to see this photo. There was already enough bad blood between Behan and Wyatt stemming from Behan's political screwing of a trusting, naive Wyatt Earp. See, the feud -- and the events leading up to the great gunfight -- were really about politics. The Earps were the gambling, swindling Republicans, Behan and the Cowboys the cattle rustling, drunken Democrats, and at play was the lucrative position of Deputy County Marshall, the tax collector, who got to keep much of the tax-take. Earp dropped out of the County Marshall race upon Behan's promise to give him the tax collecting job, then once Behan was appointed, he named someone else, perhaps because of Earp's cuckholding.

Good times...

At the entrance of the Bird Cage hangs a famous painting of Fatima. If you look closely, you may notice Fatima has more than one navel. Yes, it was patched, but the bullet holes in the painting are still visible, a few of the one hundred-forty bullet holes, many of them .44 caliber, lodged still in the walls, ceilings and floors of the theater. Many came from drunken patrons just having a good time, like when one drunk didn't like a song and put three rounds into the wall of the stage. But there were also gunfights, sixteen of them, and twenty-six dead patrons, not including those killed by brawl or knife.

As I said, the furniture is original; everything inside the Bird Cage is original. So here is the Faro table the Earps owned, the site of the famous "duel" between Johnny Ringo and Doc Holiday, where Ringo twirled his pistol and Doc answered with a shot glass. Huckleberry, indeed...

Here's a picture of the interior of the Bird Cage, with a craps table centered in front of the stage, and the cheap balcony-brothels above. One can just imagine a drunken cowboy enjoying the show while he also enjoyed a bit of the nasty...

Along the walls of the Bird Cage are memorabilia of the times, pictures of those involved in the famous events of 1881. Here's a picture of Johnny Behan, and below that... Wyatt Earp.

After Tombstone, Wyatt lived with Sadie for the rest of his life. He died in 1929.

Many people associate Bat Masterson with Tombstone, and indeed, he was there periodically, but he wasn't a regular resident and he wasn't there for the famous gunfight. But after the fight, after the Earps and Holliday fled, Masterson played a significant role in saving Doc's life. Politics changed in Tombstone and the Earps and Holliday became wanted men. A McLaury brother hired a bounty hunter who had Doc arrested in Denver. Masterson, by then Sheriff of Pueblo, learned of the arrest, and he trotted over to Denver to trump up a Colorado charge to trump Arizona's claim. Then, when Bat took custody of Holliday, he released him as soon as they left the city limits.

Smart guy, Bat Masterson. He went on to be a celebrated sportscaster in New York City. Bat called Dempsey's most famous fight.

Heldorado is held yearly, in October, of course, the month of the great gunfight. As a growing city -- indeed the fastest growing city in the country during the 1880s, Tombstone had a short life. Ironically, Tombstone, a city with no water, became a ghost town after the great 1887 earthquake, which flooded all the silver mines. Still, its legacy lives on, and nowhere more so than during Helldorado.

And the Clantons now have a website. Doesn't everybody? Check here for their latest effort to once more win the argument who started the gun battle and who was at fault. It's a good read, even if their arguments still fall on deaf ears. Clanton Website

I invite you to come see for yourself. Helldorado is a throw-back to days gone by. And it's a rollicking good time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

TV and Newspapers Get Me Started

I just finished Chapter 1 in my new book, so I thought it would be a good time to answer that quintessential reader question, where do you get your ideas? Yet unnamed, this is the second in my new Sid Chance PI series. When I started casting about for a plot, I decided to use some current problem as the background for the story. About that time I saw a segment on the TV news detailing how FBI agents in Miami tracked down Medicare scammers.

It dealt with small companies that pop up and disappear just as suddenly, their aim to collect claims for expensive items like motorized chairs, hearing aids, handicap aids used around the home, etc. Trouble is, the claims are fake. And by the time Medicare gets around to questioning if they're fraudulent, the companies have closed shop and moved on. They're usually storefront operations that have been cleaned out by the time investigators arrive. According to the story, the racket is more lucrative than drug dealing and much less likely to result in an arrest.

New policies are being put into effect to slow the growth of Medicare fraud, but it's going to take a while to get the situation under control. Idea Number One checked off.

But I needed another. My protag is a former National Park ranger and small town police chief turned private investigator. He would not be involved in chasing down Medicare fraud. I looked for a character with some other problem whose presence could propel my PI into another case that involved one of these illegitimate medical supply operations.

I found my character on the front page of the newspaper a couple of Sundays ago. He was Metro Nashville's youngest murderer. He shot a man during a late night drug deal when he was twelve years old. Released from prison after spending more than half his life behind bars, he is back home now in his mid-twenties. The young man's life was chronicled in a series of articles exploring the question is there hope for children who kill?

He is faced with the problem  of starting his life over. He insists he will not go back to prison and wants to prove a person can change. But he hasn't found anyone willing to hire him, and he struggles to find his role in the community. Siblings who were three and four when he was locked up are now grown and have kids of their own.

He seemed like an ideal character to get my story moving, and that's what he did. He gets charged with another murder. I just need to find another 70,000 words to get him to the end. I think most writers would agree that generating ideas to initiate a story is one of the easiest parts of the job. What you accomplish with those ideas is where the hard part comes in. I'll have to let you know in a few months just how hard it was.

Or, as I like to say, now the fun begins.

Chester Campbell

Mystery Mania

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In an early scene in Monday's episode of Hawaii Five-O, McGarrett is in bed with a woman. We would never have seen this in the original Five-O. In that series, we knew nothing of McGarrett's personal life. In fact, he seemed rather monkish in his dedication to fighting crime without entanglements.

Agatha Christi, the Grande Dame of mysteries, proclaimed that mysteries should have no sex. Her famous detective, Hercule Poirot, was a lot like the first McGarrett in that regard. In the all the many stories, he appears to have been smitten by only one woman, Countess Vera Roussakoff, but nothing appears to have developed from it.

Sex appears often in modern mysteries, sometimes gratuitous, but sometimes to a point. I happen to like characters with passion and messy lives. I like plots which are complicated by the main character's personal story. In Monday's episode, the sex was probably more gratuitous than pointed. It gave McGarrett a backstory, but didn't complicate the plot. In fact, the sex provided an easy out. When he needed a military satellite retasked for surveillance, he simply called his paramour, who conveniently works in a naval communications center. I'm hoping to see more of this particular backstory, but with some real complications.

I find sex hard to write about, so I tend to avoid the graphic. Instead, I try to inject it with some humor and then turn out the lights as in this passage from Pilikia Is My Business:

He gestured to the table set for two. “Do we really want this now?” he asked.
“I think it can wait.”
“Race you to the bedroom?”
“Okay,” I said, “but it’s the only point you’ll get for speed.”

So, as a reader, how do you feel about sex in a story? As a writer, how do you handle it?

Mark Troy

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Only in San Francisco

While attending Bouchercon, I went on a three hour long cable car tour of San Francisco. The cable cars we toured in had actually been turned into busses. We went everywhere you'd expect to go, Fisherman's Wharf, we had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, Chinatown, lots of wonderful parks and classy neighborhoods and some not so classy neighborhoods. We visited Golden Gate Park and the ocean with surfers. We also drove through Haight Ashbury, which hasn't really changed a lot since the 60s and through the rainbow flag decorated Castro district contrasting a lot with the austere buildings in the financial district. Each of these places had distinct types of inhabitants as well as the tourists gawking at the sights and the people.

One place we passed that brought back old memories was the hotel I'd stayed in during the early 60s when I attended a PTA convention. Some things hadn't changed a lot, while others had definitely changed, one being back in my earlier visit cable car rides were free, this time it cost $5 one way.

I've reported about the actual Bouchercon in other places, but to make this mystery related, one thing I noticed were the many homeless people who parked themselves around the beautiful Hyatt Regency Embarcadaro where the con was held. Some, I'm positive because of their actions, were crazy.

One night, my roommate, Gay Kinman, and I went to a P.I. awards dinner in Chinatown. We took the cable car and the only way we knew it was time to get off was when I spotted all the Chinese lanterns decorating the very steep hill into the tourist part of Chinatown. After the great dinner upstairs in the old Empress restaurant which had been there long before my fist visit to San Francisco, we headed home. No cable cars were availabel though we waited in a marked cable car stop, and despite Gay's valiant efforts, no cabs wanted to stop for us. Finally, we decided to walk back to the hotel which fortunately was downhill, unfortunately, several very long blocks.

It was about 10 p.m. and there were others on the street, mainly young folks going into local pubs and dancing establishments. We also passed some of the aforementioned homeless. And no cable cars passed on the way downhill so it was a good thing we hadn't waited. Was it safe for us to be walking on the street at that hour? Probably not, but we made it.

My ride to the airport Sunday a.m. was also an adventure. I'd been told to wait in the street in front of the hotel. The valet said not to do that but to wait on a bench in front of the hotel. The van arrived early. He had a horrible time maneuvering around to get to his next pick-up because many streets had been barricaded because of a pending marathon race. Finally we arrived in front of a rather seedy hotel in Chinatown to pick up the next traveler, a young woman from Columbia who was here because of job training. While we drove, I spotted homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk in both good and bad parts of town. Next we parked on a very steep hill while the driver looked for an address--was glad when he got back in because I'm not sure I could have made it into the front seat to steer the van if the emergency brake hadn't held, in which case we would have zoomed down the hill to end up in a concrete wall. The passenger was waiting in front of a house at the bottom of the hill--a Chinese woman heading home to Seattle after visiting friends.

A note about Bouchercon itself, nearly 2000 people attended and a large percent were mystery writers (famous and not so), those who wanted to be mystery writers, and the largest group were readers and fans. The best places to find people to talk with was in hospitality room where refreshments were free, or in the bar where nothing was free.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Character or Plot Driven Mysteries by Morgan Mandel

This question has to have been asked before, but I'm still curious of your opinions. Which do you prefer, character or plot driven mysteries?

My favorite are the character driven mysteries. I'm drawn to the hero or heroine first before I'm sucked in by the plots. Though I like to know how a plot will end, what keeps me reading is a character's thoughts and feelings about what's happening.

That goes for whether I'm reading a mystery or writing one. What about you?

Morgan Mandel

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pull Your Reader into the Plot

by Jean Henry Mead

A strong opening sentence is obviously the best way to drag your reader into the story:

~The body was hanging at eye level when Carolyn entered the room.

~ The snow was so deep that only Snerdly’s cap was visible.

~ A foot hung from Fido’s mouth.

~Today is probably the last day of my life.

I’m sure you can think of better opening sentences to suspend disbelief while inviting your reader into your fictional world. It’s a writer’s job to seduce and lure--one carefully crafted step at a time to an adventure away from the real world.

The reader needs to know where you’re taking him and why. Is your fictional world believable? Fantasy writers can get away with great stretches of the imagination but mystery writers need to stick to the facts. So don’t have a body suspended in mid-air unless you have a logical reason to do so.

Your opening sentence had better lead into the main theme of the plot. Don’t start with a couple kissing on a park bench unless one or both are shot or witness a nearby killing. And don’t start with boring backstory or it won’t be long before you lose your reader. Jump immediately into the action. Keep your reader breathless for pages before you let her up for air.

Motivation and goals are essential in developing your plot. Another good way to lose your reader is to have your protagonist risk his life simply because he had his foot stepped on. If the killer murdered the character’s mother, you then have a believable reason for him to go after the culprit. Some amateur sleuth stories border on the ridiculous when ordinary people decide to trap a killer simply because they think they can. Give them good reasons to place their own lives in danger.

Don’t people your plots with too many characters. Mark Twain wrote that the best way to get rid of characters when they’re no longer needed is to have them jump down a well. Better yet, make sure characters are only there to further the plot and can be eliminated when you tie up all the story’s loose ends.

Killing off characters can be painful for the writer but extraneous side plots can kill a story. In the old western films cowboys used to ride off into the sunset with the townspeople staring after them. Not so with mystery novels, no matter what the sub genre. We want to leave the reader wanting more. Readers like to solve the mystery on their own before the conclusion, so don’t make the killer’s identity the most unlikely candidate in your plot. Be fair when you plant red herrings and clues so that the reader will be able say, “Aha, I should have known it was him (or her). “

What’s the best opening sentence you’ve written or read?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The New Publishing Reality by Christine Duncan

I had lunch recently with a friend who writes. She had been trying to sell her mystery and although she got good feedback, the manuscript kept being returned to her with notes that said something like, "loved this, but don't think I can sell it." What did they want? She asked.

My take? Simple. They want a writer who has a platform that will sell the book. Now if you are not already famous in some other venue, just how do you do that?

Establish an internet presence. Join Facebook and Twitter and start a fan page. Blog. No, don't just start a blog--be disciplined about it and do it religiously.

Investigate bookstores, blogs and groups that are about your topic. In other words, if you write mystery check out places like Stopyourekillingme and Crimespace (and makeminemystery!)Check out places where you could speak, or give talks. Learning to promote takes almost as much time as learning to write, and it changes all the time. Put in the effort.

Make yourself a marketing plan and submit it with the book. Don't promise what you have no means or intention of delivering. But show off your hard won knowledge of what it will take to promote and let the publisher/editor/or agent know that you know that it is part of your job.

Don't quit with the first (or thirteenth or twentieth rejection.) It's a hard market out there and selling the book to the publisher is just the first hurdle.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Bereano mystery series. Book Two, Safe House is available now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Weather Forecasts

It’s the time of year when I start to think about the cold ahead – and don’t look forward to it. Except for the extra, guilt-free reading time it gives me! Really, who can feel too bad about curling up inside when the temp dips below freezing and the wind is blowing? It’s the perfect time to try out some new authors. And I’m actively looking for some writers I’d like to spend time with this winter. A friend has recommended David Rosenfelt – I like dog mysteries, so will give him a read.

I’m also looking at some horse mysteries. I love the Carolyn Banks’ dressage-themed horse mysteries and have read Sara Gruen’s Riding Lessons and enjoyed it as well. So I’m picking up more Sara Gruen, along with Horseplay: A Novel by Judy Reene Singer.

I’m going to explore some more cozy mysteries – I’ve been finding I really like them, too…and for some reason the cooking and tea ones are the ones I’m drawn to. So, I’m looking for authors in that genre as well. Joanne Fluke is one writer I want to try.

My Kindle also has some titles by authors I’ve always enjoyed reading: Lee Child, Agatha Christie, Laura Childs. I know I’ll enjoy a snowy afternoon defeating the bad guys and finding the guilty parties with these titles, and that’s always fun.

But it’s also very rewarding to find a favorite new author…so, go ahead, load up your ereader or your shopping cart with some “sure-to-please” or some “new-to-me” authors. That way, you don’t have to dread the weather forecast.

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Case for Copyright

By Mark W. Danielson

Certainly, the most important aspect of writing is for an author to register his or her work with the Library of Congress. Doing so copyrights your work and, in theory, protects you from infringement and plagiarism. The process has never been easier since it can be accomplished on line at: For a mere thirty five dollars, your work is instantly protected. Your confirmation letter will come via snail mail.

But make no mistake about it, a copyright is not a guarantee. The high-profile case of author/Claimants Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh versus author Dan Brown and powerhouse publisher Random House proves this. You see, Baigent and Leigh had filed a non-textual infringement suit against Random House claiming that Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was inspired by their non-fiction book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (HBHG). The law suit eventually made its way to the high courts where it was heard before Justice Smith. Unfortunately, this case didn’t bode well for the Claimants. Here are some excerpts from Justice Smith’s 51 page report and the OUT-LAW News report on Why The Da Vinci Code Lawsuit Failed. (10/04/2006)

While Baigent and Leigh acknowledged that copyright should not protect against the borrowing of an idea contained in a work, they argued that their book consisted of a sequence of connections no one had previously made. Among them was that the Holy Grail was actually a metaphor for Mary Magdalene rather than a physical artefact. According to the Claimants, Dan Brown copied this conjecture along with 15 other key points that formed The Da Vinci Code’s “central theme”.

Justice Smith accepted that "the facts and the themes and the ideas cannot be protected, but how those facts, themes and ideas are put together … can be." He later added that, "It must be shown that the architecture or structure is substantially copied."

Drawing on other cases, Justice Smith observed, "When a book is put forward as being non-fictional and contains a large number of facts and ideas, it is always going to be a difficult exercise in trying to protect against copying those facts and ideas because they cannot be protected. It is the effort and time that has gone into the way in which those ideas and facts are presented that is capable of protection."

Later, Smith added, "It seems to me … that the Central Theme is not a genuine Central Theme of HBHG and I do not accept that the Claimants genuinely believe it as such. In my view, it is an artificial contrivance designed to create an illusion of a Central Theme for the purpose of alleging infringement of a substantial part of HBHG."

The one central theme that Justice Smith did identify in HBHG was the merger of the Merovingian bloodline with the Royal Bloodline of Mary Magdalene. "As such, it is self evident in my view that is an idea which is of a too general level of an abstraction to be capable of protection. Nor is there any architecture or design in HBHG if that were the theme which can be said to have been appropriated. The Claimants simply do not reveal how they came to their idea or conjecture as they prefer to call it. It not being revealed, it cannot be appropriated."

Lee Curtis, an intellectual property specialist with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said the ruling came as "no surprise to lawyers and authors." Pointing out that copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Curtis added that, "Brown didn't infringe copyright in the earlier book, he just created a new expression of its idea."

Now, here’s the kicker: As a result of this law suit, Baigent and Leigh face paying their own legal costs plus 85% of Random House's legal costs. Their total bill has been estimated by The Times at £2 million. Clearly, there was no divine intervention in this case. I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t afford this expense.

So, what can authors learn from this? That a copyright can protect you from infringement, and that your chances of winning a suit against someone who you perceive has created a smilar novel is slim. Interestingly, this has happened to me twice now. First, in my novel whose central theme paralleled the movie Swordfish. In this case, I chose not to seek publication because I may have been accused of infringement, even though my copyright was registered long before the movie came out. Second, a year after my Diablo’s Shadow novel was released, another book was released with a strikingly similar plot. Here, I chose to ignore it.

The bottom line is authors can certainly have similar thoughts, and as such, can create similar stories. What sets them apart is the author’s ability to convey their thoughts in a thoughtful and entertaining manner.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Eyes, My Eyes!

by Ben Small

Momma done told' me I'd get cataracts. Said it was just a matter of time. Said those smoke rings I was blowing around her head, tossed out from pursed lips and settling around her ears like a lasso around a steer, would come back to haunt me. Mom wasn't being nasty, just looking for non-smoking leverage, even though she was a smoker herself and ended up dying of smoking-related causes.

So, yeah, I got 'em. Cataracts. Got 'em a bit earlier than I expected. Another nice side effect of Rheumatoid Arthritis, I'm told.

"You're too young for cataracts," my doctor said, smiling of course, as he'd be the principal beneficiary of the diagnosis. But I'd already come to realize the inevitability of his diagnosis. Cataracts grow slowly, most times, but grow they do, spreading a translucent drop-cloth over my eyes, clouding and blurring my vision. Got so bad, I couldn't read road signs when I sat in front of them, all in a matter of months.

So off to the doc I trudged.

I'd never researched cataracts, just assumed the removal would be simple, like carving off a thin slice of apple with a razor blade, so of course, I was terrified, which is why I hadn't researched them in the first place.

Don't like reading about stuff like that. Squeamish. Can't get through House some episodes. Call me a baby; you won't be the first.

So this doctor was gonna knock me out, stand on my shoulders, stick some sort of de-plugger into my eyeball and yank. Then, once the lens was gone, he'd stand on my shoulders again, grab some industrial-sized plunger and jam some new lens into its place.

A writer. Active imagination, you know.

Well, the surgery was nothing like I feared. First of all, it only qualifies as "surgery" because there's a pin-prick. After that, it's pound, suck and blow.


Ultrasound. The prick doubles as an ultrasound shaker and a suction/blower, which first breaks up the cloudy lens like a crushed crack, then sucks it out before finalizing the procedure with a whooshed-in new lens.

They didn't even knock me out. Just dripped me some drops of happy-juice. Indeed! I was so happy, I chattered through the whole procedure like the nurses, doc and staff had all grown up with me.

There was no pain, none at all, not even a twinge I could inflate into a blazing story of bravery under fire. Sure, there was light, even pretty colors to stare at during the surgery. But no stars, no burning, no loss of sight at all. The only thing I felt was a slight pressure as the new lens was pushed into place. Pressure, like when I rub my eye over some imagined itch. Ten minutes after we started, the surgery was over.

I was waiting for it to begin. Thought the slight pressure had been the doc's first touch. I said, "That it?" thinking, Time to brace? 

"Yes," he said, "you're done."

Huh? What? 

Where was the pain, the blood, the bruising -- all the horrors I'd been anticipating?

Well, there weren't any. No big deal. Nothing to even write home about. No stories of courage demonstrated I could relate to my kids or to my granddaughter for years to come. Nothing

What could I whine about? Having to put drops in my eyes for a week or two? Hardly a test of character, of my endurance and bravery under fire.

My granddaughter would fall asleep as I relayed this heroic epic.

But I got a choice of lenses. Cool.

I selected a specialty item: extreme far-sighted lenses. A shooter, you see. Don't want to lose the beer round at the range. So now, when my eyes stop gobbing up with the various drop-goos I'm forced to apply, I'm assured of spotting bugs on the underwing of an eagle at three thousand feet. Heck, I'll be spotting my wife flashing her credit card from across the mall.

I'd drop my momma a note if she were still alive. Tell her those cataracts were no big deal. But I can't yet see. Too much goo in my eye. Besides, I'm too worried about the second eye procedure.

Maybe the first one was the easy one. Maybe all the pain, the blood, the bruising are all associated with the second eye. Maybe they'll break out the de-pluggers and plungers this time around.

My god! Why didn't Momma warn me?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Entertainer or Philospher?

By Chester Campbell

It may be a bit simplistic, but basically that's the question we face as mystery writers. Do we want to write stories that keep the action going and entertain the readers, making them frantic to turn the next page? Or do we want to philosophize a bit, educate people as to what's wrong with the way life is going on about us? Sure, some writers do quite well combining the two. Betty Webb created quite a stir in Arizona and Utah with her novel about bigamy among a Mormon sect.

I consider myself a pure storyteller, an entertainer, if you will. A  little philosophizing might creep in on occasion, but it's never the central theme. In the first Sid Chance mystery, the case involves a toxic chemical spill behind a small plant. Sid, a former National Park ranger, is concerned about the environmental impact and interviews people who have suffered from the water contamination. However, he spends most of the book chasing down the people responsible for the spill.

My characters deal with the emotional impact of murder and such personal characteristics as greed, hunger for power, and total disregard for the welfare of others, motivations that lead to mayhem. In the new book, A Sporting Murder, Greg and Jill McKenzie are grieved by the slaying of a young German friend. Gambling plays a key role in the story, but I deal with it only as it relates to tracking down the killer. I don't have my characters fretting over whether gambling per se is good or bad.

A little enlightenment on a particular problem is okay by me, but I prefer mysteries that deal with raw emotion, putting the protags in peril and letting them claw their way out of the corners I lead them into. I'll leave the philosophy to the literary types who like to spend page after page telling us all about the characters and how they got themselves into whatever mess they're dealing with.

If readers see one of my stories as a microcosm of some larger social problem, great. It just means I told a good story. And for a storyteller, what more can you ask?

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old Wine, New Bottle by Mark Troy

My first novel, Pilikia Is My Business, has just been released in ebook format and soon in trade paperback.

Pilikia was originally published by LTDBooks as an ebook followed by trade paperback in 2001. LTDB was in the vanguard of ebook publishing when ebooks were a miniscule segment of the market and the only device was the Rocket ebook reader. I have to give LTDB credit for foreseeing the future. Unfortunately, the company didn't survive to see their vision become reality. When the  company went out of business in 2005, all of the rights returned to me. I did publish it in the Kindle store, but held off doing any big release until the time was right. Now that the iPad is here, I believe the time for a re-release is now.

The cover needed an update. I wanted something that would stand out among all the little thumbnails in the iBookstore, so I contacted David Shackelford, a comic book artist. Shackelford was easy to work with and reasonably priced. Okay, his bid was far and away lower than the other graphic artists I contacted. So, if you are looking for a cover artist, I highly recommend David. You can check out his work here:

Pilikia is currently available in the Smashwords store I hope to have it in the iBookstore and Kindle store soon. After that, it will be published in trade paperback.

This new edition is published by Ilium Books.

Here's a tip for those of you making your own covers. To make a barcode for your ISBN, go to and enter "ISBN barcode" followed by your ISBN into the search window. Wolfram will produce a gif of the barcode instantly.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog
My website:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What are Your Writing Goals?

For some, I know the answer is to get published. Achieving that goal is easier than ever these days--there are so many more small publishers out there than ever before, if you have a good manuscript you'll probably be able to find a good match for it.

If you are already published, is making a lot of money what you're hoping for? I know there are some mystery writers who do very well financially. Unfortunately, the percentage of those compared to the rest of us is small.

When I add up how much I spend attending conferences, attending book fairs, and paying for things like transportation, food and lodging when I'm away from home, tools of the trade (computers and printers because yes, they do break-down and need to be replaced), and other writing expenses, I must confess these all come to a much higher total then my royalties and the books I've sold on my own.

So what is my writing goal? If it was just to make money, I lost out on that a long time ago.

Because I can't seem to help myself when it comes to writing, it's a habit or maybe even an addiction that I can't quit, then I have to look a bit farther to see what my goals really are.

First, to finish whatever book I'm working on and to make it the best I possibly can.

Second, to have a good relationship with my publishers. (Believe it or not, I've been reading lately about authors who actually have been making derogatory remarks about their publishers on-line. How dumb is that?)

Third, to promote each book when it's published to the best of my ability and in as many different ways as possible.

Fourth, to have become friends with people who read my books even if it is only an online friendship. (This is something that was not possible in the past, but so much easier to do nowadays with the Internet.)

Fifth, to be helpful to other writers when asked. I love to spotlight other writers and their books on my own blog:

Okay, that's five goals. And, to be honest, sure I'd love to be making lots of money with my writing. I wouldn't mind having someone love one of my books enough to option it for a movie. It doesn't really matter though, no matter what, as long as I'm able I'm going to keep on writing.

So, tell me, what are your writing goals?


Monday, October 4, 2010

How Will You Publish? by Morgan Mandel

Now that you have more freedom, how will you publish? Will you go for Kindle, as David Morell is doing?

Are you self-publishing in other e-book formats, or maybe in print on demand?

Will you submit to a traditional publisher, or maybe you already have and your book will be out soon? If so, will it also be in ebook forms, including Kindle?

Are you going print on demand with a small publisher with or without Kindle/ebook?

So many choices. What's yours?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Advice From Freelance Editor Helen Ginger

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor based in Austin, Texas. A book consultant and writer with three nonfiction books to her credit, she hosts a popular blog, Straight From Hel. She also teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. Her ezine, Doing It Write!, goes out to subscribers around the globe. It's now in its eleventh year of publication. She's also an owner/partner and the Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds® as well as serving as executive director of the Writers' League of Texas from 2003-2005.

Helen, what have you found to be the worst mistakes writers make, whether novice or experienced?

A common mistake novice writers make is to start the story by settling the readers into the book’s “world.” For example, the writer puts us into the head of John who’s in Cabo San Lucas on a fishing excursion. He’s sitting at the back of the boat, fishing pole in hand, waiting for a tuna to latch onto his bait. His best friend, Jack, stands beside him. They watch the water and talk about how long John has wanted to go on this trip and how they’ll ship the tuna back to the States. John anchors the pole and walks around the deck to loosen his tense muscles, then grabs a beer before buckling himself back into his seat. They stare out at the water frothing behind the boat and John licks his lips, tasting the salt in the air.

By this time, readers have fallen asleep and agents have already tossed aside the manuscript. Sure, all that lets your readers see the setting, smell the water, know John, but what good is it if they don’t continue reading? It used to be that you had the first chapter to hook your reader. Then it was the first page. Then the first paragraph. Now it’s the first sentence. Okay, I’ll give you the first page to hook us, but from the opening sentence you better give us a tingle that says, something’s going on here, keep reading. By the end of the first page, you want the reader to quickly turn the page and read on.

Writers may not like it when they turn to page 16 and find a note from me that says, This is where your book starts. But that’s better than getting a rejection from an agent that says, Not for me.

What in your background prepared you to edit other writer's work?

Like most writers, I’ve written since I was a child. In college, I double majored with Bachelor degrees in English and in Speech Communication, and a Master’s in Oral Interpretation. I also worked as a grader and assistant for my English prof, Dr. Steadman. It’s easy to see how the English degrees factor into editing. The Speech degrees taught me how to hear the words, not just write them, to understand how sentences are put together to create a flow, a rhythm, and how to construct pictures through words.

In addition to being in many critique groups, both small and large, I started a screenwriting critique group of working screenwriters. Screenwriting is a great way to practice writing dialogue. You have to get down to the core of expressing hidden meaning and coming up with the fewest words possible to convey what you need to get across.

I’ve been editing writers for years. Most of the time working via email. I also have started doing one-on-one coaching for beginning writers.

Does anyone edit your work? And does every writer need an independent editor?

I don’t belong to a formal critique group anymore, but I do have others who edit my work. Several of my friends are willing to read for me. I don’t usually ask them until I feel it’s ready to go to an agent since most of them are published authors who have their own deadlines and projects. I can trust them to tell me what works, what doesn’t, what sucks and what sings.

In my opinion, every writer needs an independent editor. Even best-selling authors have a house editor who bleeds on their manuscripts. Don’t ever think it only happens to new writers. If what you want is someone who will say they love your manuscript and you shouldn’t change a word, you can find someone to boost your ego that way. But when your book comes out with mistakes and problems, you’re going to lose readers and sales, both with that book and future books.

Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a small or big press, you need an editor.

Which types of books do you write and do you travel to promote them?

I have three books with TSTC Publishing. All non-fiction, all in their TechCareers series. Texas State Technical College (TSTC) hires writers to produce books for each career they teach. The research for each book is intense, since the timeline is short and the information broad. Included is the outlook for the career, all the schools in the U.S. that teach that career and what classes have to be taken for the degrees, and twelve to sixteen interviews and profiles with people in those careers across the U.S. and, in some cases, other countries. For each book, I have a four-inch notebook filled with research as well as hours of tapes.

I started by contributing interviews and profiles for Biomedical Equipment Technicians, then signed on to do three on my own: Automotive Technicians, Avionics, and Computer Gaming. My name is on the books, but I receive no royalties, since these were Work for Hire books. Although I don’t travel to promote them, I’m proud to have them on my bio and website.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Three things: Write, Learn, Share.

To be a writer, you have to write. If you can do a thousand words a day, write them. If you only have time to do fifty words on the train to work, write them. If you have no time to write, turn off the TV … and write.

To be a published writer, you have to learn. You have to learn to be a better writer, through practice, advice, editing, classes, tutoring, critiques, books, reading, mistakes, and successes. You have to learn to promote yourself. That means developing a platform, before you’re published, and building an online presence through a blog, a website, and social networking sites, and expanding your bio with contest wins, or published short stories and articles, or other ways to build your credibility. You need to be filling folders on your computer with information you gather about agents and small presses, bookstores and libraries, online sites, and other bloggers who can help you when you need to put together a virtual book tour.

To be a selling writer, you have to share. Yourself. Your time. Your knowledge. You share via your blog or your comments on other blogs. It’s a win-win. You learn as you share. And those you share with learn from you and about you. The more someone knows and connects with you, the more likely they are to buy your book when it comes out. At the same time, you’re meeting new friends, people who can help you, not just by buying your book, but possibly recommending an agent or an editor, or offering to read your manuscript or write a blurb for you, or encouraging you when you’re down and having trouble writing.

Do these things now. Don’t wait until that magical day in the future when you’ll be published. Develop relationships and skills as you grow from an aspiring writer to a best-selling author.