Monday, January 31, 2011

Love Is Murder Mystery Conference

Just wanted to get a plug in today for the Love Is Murder Mystery Conference coming up very soon, starting Friday, February 4 through Sunday, February 6. I've  been to every one of their conferences and have always found it worthwhile. At one, I pitched to an editor and received contracts from her for my first two books. If any of you are coming, I'll be at the conference all day Saturday.

The Stellar Lineup Includes:
Featured Authors:

•Joe Konrath - ebook guru
•James Strauss
•Rhys Bowen
•Joseph Finder
•Carolyn Haines
•Joan Johnston
•Jon Land
•F. Paul Wilson

Local Guest of Honor: •Michael Allen Dymmoch
Ghost of Honor: •Chester Gould
Fan Guest of Honor: •Scott Doornbosch

Programs and Events:

•Pitch-a-Palooza • Lovey Awards
•Master Writing Classes
•Panels • Exhibits • Manuscript Critiques
•Expert Demonstrations
•Agents • Editors • Publishers
•MWA Writers’ Track
•Tea Party • Banquet
•Booksellers • Specialty Booths

•Intercontinental Chicago O'Hare
•Online Reservations use group code: LIM
•5300 N. River Rd, Rosemont, IL, 60018
•Room Rate: $89 - Parking rate: $5

Hope to see you at the Love is Murder Mystery Conference.

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career is 99 cents on

Sunday, January 30, 2011

They Could Have Been Somebody

By Mark W. Danielson
One of the most important monuments to freedom lies directly behind Notre Dame at the eastern tip of the Isle de Paris. It is also one of the least visited because its location below ground level. I stumbled onto it many years ago and pay homage whenever I visit Paris. The Monument to the Martyrs of World War II is a tribute to the 160,000 French deportees Hitler enslaved and never returned. Some were part of the French resistance citizen soldiers, but most were people like you and I. The monument’s courtyard is designed to give the visitor a sense of the emptiness experienced by these prisoners with nothing visible but river and sky. Its narrow entrance leads to a single light bead in the floor representing the eternal flame. Beyond that is a crypt lined with thousands of lights that represent these martyrs. To each side is a jail cell reminding us of how these people lived. Facing them are triangular shaped urns filled with ashes from concentration camps; the remains of shattered lives that could have been.
Had Hitler been as good a tactician as he was charismatic speaker, I would probably not be alive. Either that or I’d probably be speaking German. I visit these war memorials because I owe my freedom to those who fought and died. Imagine invaders pulling you from your home and sending you to a slave camp. It happened to these civilian men, women, and children. Sadly, most who visit Notre Dame never see this memorial because they don’t know it exists. Each day, thousands of people wait to walk through this historic cathedral, but few ever cross the street out back, open the gate to the grassy park, and walk down the stairs. For those who do, one visit leaves a lasting impression.

My intent here is not to sell tickets to Paris or discuss history. It is merely an opportunity to reflect on those who never had the opportunity to write as I do. Imagine how many authors are among the ashes in those triangular urns. Think of the stories they could have told. Imagine the things they could have achieved in their lifetime. Yes, they all could have been somebody, but Hitler robbed them of that.

Freedom isn’t free. We’ve all heard that before. But most of us also take freedom for granted. Our ability to post on this web site is a classic example. I post every two weeks, rain or shine, but I also realize I can because it’s a hard-fought privilege, not a right.

Should you get to Paris, I urge you to descend those steps and spend some time in that courtyard before entering the crypt. You won’t leave without needing to write your own story.

Friday, January 28, 2011

It Wasn't Easy . . .

by Jean Henry Mead

How difficult is it to write and publish a novel?

Now that there so many small presses and online writing courses, a fledgling writer has a smoother path to publication than those of us who began writing in the dark ages (before computers). I wrote my first novel in fourth grade—a chapter a day to entertain classmates—but it was many years before I actually published one, and not before five of my nonfiction books were in print. 

No novel writing courses were available when I served as editor of my college newspaper, so my logical career choice was journalism. I then wrote for three dailies, two in California before marrying a Wyomingite and moving to Casper, where I served as staff writer for the statewide newspaper. I was later editor of In Wyoming Magazine and freelanced for other publications, but what I really wanted to write were novels.

My forte has been interviews, which I still conduct to this day on my blog sites Mysterious Writers and Writers of the West. While I enjoyed interviewing interesting people, the yearning to write fiction was always there, like an itch I couldn’t quite scratch. I studied the work of Dean Koontz, whose stories horrified me (which they’re meant to do) until I read The Watchers, one of my favorite novels. I still like the poetic way Koontz strings his words together.

I spent two and a half years behind a microfilm machine during the mid-1980s to research my centennial history book, and had so many notes left over that I decided to incorporate them into an historical novel. The book, Escape on the Wind, took several years to write and rewrite, and has been published by three publishers since 1999. It remains my best selling book and was retitled: Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel. But writing the book was akin to climbing Mt. Everest.

A member of Western Writers of America, I was fortunate to have two award-winning novelists take me under their wings during the writing process. The late Fred Grove and Richard S. Wheeler read my manuscript and offered advice. Fred allowed me to send him my chapters via snail mail, and made suggestions although he didn’t edit my work. Both writers were continuing the work of their own mentors by giving me advice and I promised to pass along the favor by mentoring on my own. Now that I'm blogging and writing for more than one publisher, I regret I no longer have the time. But now there are many blogs offering writing advice that we didn't have years ago, as well as online courses. There are also numerous small publishers receptive to new writers.

Writing and publishing novels has never been easy but it's now a far cry from the days of typewriters, carbon copies and white-out. I can imagine what writing a book was like with quills, inkwells and foolscap. We novelists have come a long way . . .

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life's A Mystery

I suppose there are some people in the world who do not like to read a good mystery. I just don’t know any, and when you’ve lived as long as I have, you know lots of people.

There’s something about trying to figure out things for ourselves that fascinates people. Look at crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, Rubik Cubes, crime shows, home decorating…

Wait! You don’t think home decorating creates a mystery? Then you don’t live in my house! What will look good where is a question I ask frequently—to the chagrin of my husband. What accent color should I use with my stuff. How can my living room improve with the benefit of Feng Shui?

A mystery causes brainwork. It makes me think. Some puzzles (read mysteries) are complicated while others are not. Readers want a mystery that challenges their thinking, yet is not so off-the-wall they won’t be able to figure it out, or at least come close to it.

What readers don’t like is when the author hasn’t given the reader all the information known by the protagonist. We want a fair chance to solve the puzzle before the end of the book. Of course, we also like to be surprised. It’s a catch-22. We want to figure it out before the end of the story, AND we want to be surprised as to who did it. Not an easy trick to pull off.

A mystery author must perfect the use of conflict, plot, foreshadowing, red herrings, and other clues. Readers also love for the story to take twists and turns that keep them just a little off balance. Bottom line, we like an intellectual challenge, but we also want to feel smart.

I read mystery, in contrast to other genres, because I love a challenge. I don’t want a story just laid out before me. Let me work on it and try to figure it out for myself. Come to think of it, I guess that’s why I write mystery! I want to be involved in the story. I want to know there will be a puzzle to be solved and that there will be twist and turns along the way that make me think, reason and try to figure out.

With a non-mystery fiction, I tend to identify with the characters rather than examine them. I don't usually question their motives unless the main character does. Essentially, I get caught up in the story, but with the mystery, I am trying to outsmart the characters.

Suffice it to say, I like a challenge.

How about you? What do you like about reading and writing mysteries?

Sunday, January 23, 2011


by Earl Staggs

After seeing so many success stories from authors in the incredibly rapid growth of epublishing, I’m finally taking the plunge. I’m a few steps behind a lot of others, but that’s typical for me. I do a lot of looking before I leap.

I’d love to make my novel MEMORY OF A MURDER available for ereaders, but I can’t. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

For now, two of my short stories have been accepted by Untreed Reads, a forerunner in the digital publishing industry. They’ve been doing it for a number of years and publish novels, novellas, and short stories in all genres. Their products are made available worldwide for Kindle, Nook, and every other reader out there.

I could have converted my stories to digital form on my own and uploaded them to Amazon/Kindle and other estores. Learning how would take time as would actually doing the uploading. I’ve heard horror stories from some who have gone that route. Some have paid someone else to do the conversion. Specialists have emerged to do that. I don’t know what they charge, but that would be the easiest way to go.

But then, there’s the promotion, advertising, and beating the bushes to sell my work after it’s available to the ereading public. I’d have to do that myself, which would take more time and, most likely, more expense. My head aches just thinking about all I’d have to do to attract buyers. My whole body aches when I think about all the time it would away from my writing.

That’s why I decided to let Untreed Reads do the converting and publishing. I'll still do a lot of promotion and bush beating on my own, but they’ve mastered the process and know what they’re doing. I'll have less time away from my writing, a process I’m still trying to master. Maybe I’d make more money per sale if I did it all myself, but I’m convinced their established network will result in more total sales that I could possibly achieve on my own.

Anyway, that’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.

As for getting my novel converted, my publisher is not interested in doing ebooks at this time. When I approached him about doing it myself, he made it clear I could not. The terms of the contract state ebook rights are his, not mine, and the contract does not have an expiration date. When I signed that contract, who knew ebooks would take off into the stratosphere as they have? Maybe some people knew, but not me.

For now, I’ll continue to make my backlist of short stories available in eform, maybe put a bunch of them together as a collection.

At the same time, I’ll be searching for a loophole to get out of the contract for my novel.

We’ll see how THAT goes, too.

Earl Staggs
MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N.
Want a signed copy? Write me. Read Chapter One at

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Birthday Present

by Ben Small

My friend -- let's call him Mike -- came by yesterday. I thought maybe his dog had died, he looked so pained. I waved him inside and met him at the door.

"What's wrong?" I said. "Something happen to Bootsie?" That's the dog.

Mike gave me a far-away stare. He raised his hands, then dropped them again, took a deep breath. He shrugged. "I blew the birthday present...somehow."

Amy, his wife of fifteen years. Her birthday was yesterday. I posted her a greeting on Facebook.

"You didn't get her anything?" I waved Mike to a seat, half because I really wanted to hear this one, but also because he seemed wobbly on his feet.

He dropped like an anchor into the stuffed easy chair next to mine.

I groped for the clicker, pausing I Love Lucy. Yeah, I like that show. "So what happened?" I said, as Lucy stopped mid-wail. "I gotta hear this one."

"C'mon," Mike said. "This is serious."

"Okay," I said. I shot him a look. "So...tell me...what happened?"

Mike sat back. "You won't believe it. Hell, I don't understand it. I have no idea what I did wrong."

"Dammit, Mike," I said. "What did you do?" I held up a hand. "Sorry, want a beer? I should have asked first."

Mike shook his head. "See..."  He took a breath. "I've asked Amy for three weeks what she wanted for a birthday present." A beat. "In the past when I've bought her stuff -- a Kindle, for instance -- she sent it back." He took a breath. "Frugal. Yeah, and... well... she's picky, you know."

I'll admit, I've noticed a certain anal-retentiveness in Amy from time to time, stuff like all the bathroom towels folded exactly the same; you know, as if someone measured the drop with a ruler. And if I opened a silverware drawer, I'd find the, the knives all aligned -- fitted, and nary a stray fork. My goodness, Amy folded the lead sheet of toilet paper, in every bathroom, after every flush, by anybody. And not just that. Use the bathroom often, like during football game beer/pizza parties, and you'd hear the pitter-patter of her feet and just know where she was going. I tried to save her some steps and tell her I refolded, but she still had to check.

(Amy won't allow those football parties any more. Says she gets too tired. Now we have them at my house. Here, guys don't always use the facilities. There's a desert outside; human urine scares some predators, like skunks or bobcats and gives deer a fright below our fruit trees. I encourage spreading the... uh... wealth, so to speak. We consider our endeavors eco-friendly, especially in water scarce Arizona. I'd love to see Amy's water bill.)

I waved Mike to continue.

"Well, she wouldn't answer," he said, "at first, anyway. Then, the week before her birthday, she started saying she wanted a trip."

A trip. "Didn't you just get back from Las Vegas?" I said.

"Yeah. That's what I said."

"And weren't you two in Palm Springs a week or two before that?"

"Yeah. I said that too."

"And aren't you going to Europe in a few months for three or four weeks?"

"Yeah," he said. "I said that too." He rolled his palms, a WTF gesture.

"And wait a minute," I said, holding up a finger. "She went on a girls-only bike trip just a few months ago, too, didn't she?"

He nodded. "San Diego." Rolled his palms again.

I sat back. A toughie. "So where does she want to go and when?" Your whole family is coming  in a week or two, right?

"Yes." A breath. "Hell if I know... We talked about driving to Tubac or maybe to the hardware store for some new plumbing fixtures she wanted, but I couldn't sleep the night before her birthday -- you know, terrified and all -- and when I got up around Noon, she'd already gone."

"Oh, brother," I said. "You're marred for life. This will haunt you for years. You're a dead man walking."

Mike slapped a thigh. "No kidding. Amy hasn't spoken to me since, except to yell about how I showed her how unimportant she is."

"Oh, man," I said again. I knew that pit of husband-doom. He'd need more than luck to climb from that quicksand.

"Did you get her anything? I said, hoping for some wiggle-room.

"Yeah," Mike said. "See, I worried about this three weeks ago, so I stopped at her favorite 4th Ave. store and grabbed a shawl-like thing she'd admired at the fair. And I was going to pick up a Mexican pottery thingee from her favorite pottery store, but we went there last week buying something for somebody else and she nixed pottery for a birthday present."

Mike was on a roll, so I didn't interrupt.

"Then, after she left on birthday morning, I went to the florist and got a gorgeous lily arrangement. Musta been thirty lilies in that thing, blue, purple, name it." Cost me 80 bucks. He took a breath. "Amy loves lilies."

"And a card?" I said.

"Of course a card. Do you think I'm stupid? I even wrote nice stuff on it."

"Well, you gave it a good shot," I said, hoping to bring him out of the doldrums. "I mean, not having a clue and all."

"That's what I thought," Mike said. "But she threw the flowers into the trash and the shawl-like thing onto the garage floor."

My jaw dropped.

"Yeah," he said. "Then she started yelling and when I ran like hell, she started nasty-gramming me, hateful handscribbled notes, emails calling me awful names, calling you names, threatening to cancel our kids' trip here."

"Me?" I said with a jolt. "What do I have to do with this?"

"Hell, I don't know," the poor man said. "I don't know what I did wrong. How would I know what you did?"

My turn to roll the palms.

"Women!" we said, almost in unison.

"Mike," I said after a moment. "I'm gettin' you a beer." I rose, started walking and then turned back. "And Mike...?"


"You know that Geico Abe Lincoln commercial?" He looked a bit fuzzy. "The one that poses 'Was Abe Lincoln honest?' as Mary Todd Lincoln asks the biggie?"

"Oh... You mean, 'Does this make me look fat?'"

"Yeah." A beat, and then I smiled. "A piece of advice, hard-learned..."

"Do not laugh at that commercial."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

R. Sargent Shriver, 1915-2011

I do not admit to having many heroes, but Sargent Shriver was my hero. He passed away yesterday at age 95. For most of this decade he suffered from Alzheimer's disease, a terrible condition for anyone, but especially sad for a man who gave this world so much. This post is not about writing or about mystery. It is about a man who left this world a more peaceful, more just and more compassionate world than when he entered it.

Following service in the Navy in World War II, Sargent Shriver was hired by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. to manage the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Through him, he met and married Eunice Kennedy, sister of John, Robert and Edward. Shriver served as JFK's Midwest campaign manager during the 1960 presidential campaign.

In 1961, Kennedy appointed him the first director of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was expected to be a huge fiasco. Kennedy reportedly told Shriver that he was given the job because it was easier to fire a relative than a friend. The Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2011. More than 200,000 volunteers have served around the world. Shriver directed the Peace Corps until 1966.

In 1963, President Johnson appointed Shriver to head the Office of Economic Opportunity while continuing to run the Peace Corps. As head of OEO, Shriver directed Johnson's war on poverty through a handful of agencies and programs, most of which he created. Shriver's brainchildren include Head Start, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents, Legal Services, The National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, Indian and Migrant Services, and Neighborhood Health Services.

From 1968 to 1970, Shriver served as ambassador to France. In 1972, he ran for Vice President as George McGovern's running mate.

Shriver's wife, Eunice Shriver, founded the Special Olympics International which provides athletic training and sponsors sporting events for people with intellectual disabilities. In 1984, Shriver became president of Special Olympics and, in 1990, Chairman of the Board. He was succeeded in that position by his son, Timothy.

In 2003, Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. His daughter Maria, the former first lady of California, wrote a children's book, What's Happening to Grandpa? to explain the disease to children. Eunice Shriver died in 2009. The Shriver's had five children.

Although I never met Sargent Shriver, he had a profound effect on me.  I served in the Peace Corps from 1972 to 1975 in what was the best job of my life. It allowed me to make, what I hope, is a small contribution to the world. That contribution would not have been possible without Sargent Shriver. Neither would the contributions of the hundreds of thousands of other volunteers in all of the agencies he founded or directed. The lives of countless numbers of people around the world have been made better by Sargent Shriver.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's A Mystery to Me

Actually, a lot of things are, some to do with writing, more to do with just living life. I'll concentrate on the writing things now.

Why, when I'm really revved up about the book I'm writing, do I have a million interruptions and all sorts of things that need to taken care of right now?

Why can't I remember the name of a new character I've just created, even though I've written it at least a dozen times? (I'll chalk that one up to age, or having too many things going at once, and I have the solution and that's to keep the names of all characters written down along with all important aspects about them.)

Why do I have such a hard time making a simple phone call to arrange an event? (This is a phobia I've had nearly all my life. I don't really like to make phone calls. Thank goodness for emails. What really frustrates me is when I can't find an email for someplace or person.)

Why, when I've just figured out how to use a new piece of software or my iPhone, do they invent something else that I have to learn how to use? Thinking back over the years I've had to exercise my brain so many times, first learning how to use a portable typewriter, then an electronic typewriter, then a computer with two floppy disks, then a new one with a little square diskette, all kinds of printers and copy machines, then copiers right in the printer, new email programs, and on and on. Makes by brain hurt just thinking about it.

Why, when I've learned to love blogging are people saying studies show that blogs don't sell books? That's not the only reason, I blog, but sure interesting people in my books is one reason I blog. Am I wasting my time?

The same goes for blog tours. That was the hot new thing--and now they (who the heck is "they" anyway?) say that blog tours don't work. They've worked for me--when ever I'm on a tour the Amazon numbers go way down which means something. Besides, blog tours are fun so I don't think I'll give up on them just yet.

What about Facebook and Twitter? Do they sell books? I enjoy doing both, but I've never really thought of them as a real selling tool--maybe for those who are on there over and over, but I don't have time for that. So that's another mystery? Why do we do Facebook and Twitter?

And why does a crowd come sometimes to a book launch or signing and only a few the next time? One thing I've learned if you serve food and drink, more will come--or if you give a talk about publishing, which brings up another mystery. Why are so many people writing books when it's so hard to sell them?

My answer to that mystery is I can't seem to help myself. I write two series, when I've finished a new book for one, I feel compelled to start a new book for the other. I always want to see what's going to happen next to the people I've created. I can't just leave them hanging, can I?

What are your personal mysteries?


Monday, January 17, 2011

Cut and Paste by Morgan Mandel

With the Love is Murder Mystery Conference looming ahead the first weekend of February, I've been working on my Boomer thriller, Forever Young, the past week.  Of course, I should have been working on it way before.  Now I have no excuse, since I don't have a job presently.

I had over 65,000 words done before I realized the manuscript just wouldn't fly in its present form. With very much regret, I cut the last 196 pages, leaving three main characters central to the plot, with also a few side characters.

The 196 pages cut will not be wasted.  I plan to include them in a bonus book or anthology with a similar theme featuring the characters that don't fit in the first book.

What about you? Have you ever had to cut almost two-thirds of your manuscript for it to make sense? Or, maybe you wish an author you've read had cut lots of pages from his or her book before publishing. (g)

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career on Kindle for 99 cents.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's in a Name?

By Mark W. Danielson

We’ve all been warned not to judge books by their covers. The same can be said for musical groups’ names. For example, The Who is a rock band, not part of Abbot and Costello’s routine. So are XTC, The Kinks, Traffic, Black Uhuru, Nirvana, and Genesis. There are plenty of odd and unusual band names, and it’s rare when the name has any bearing on the quality of their music. Add Irish rock band Flogging Molly to the list of odd named bands that play great songs.

Last spring I was introduced to Flogging Molly, not through their music, but rather their bus idling beneath my hotel room in Tempe, Arizona. Curious, I looked out the window, saw a tour bus, watched some people step out for a smoke, climb back in, and then the bus departed. After getting dressed, I began my hike up nearby Hayden’s Butte and along the way saw a large green banner that read “Flogging Molly”. After my trek up the hill and enjoying the view, I returned to my room to check out the Flogging Molly web site ( Sure enough, the people I saw were Flogging Molly band mates. When I called my wife to tell her, she was so ecstatic that I checked out their tour schedule and saw that they were playing Denver. Without hesitation, I purchased two tickets.

I had no idea what to expect at the concert and literally suffered through the first two acts. Not only were they LOUD, they weren’t my style of music. With ear plugs in and hands pressed against my ears, there was still little defense against the noise powerful enough to vibrate my pants. But Flogging Molly was well worth the wait. Their musical talent is astounding, their lyrics powerful, and their stage presence exuberant. I've never seen a band pack so much energy into a single performance. Lead singer Dave King's humor intertwined with heart-pumping music at a pace fast enough to blur their hands had everyone in the audience stomping their feet. Few bands would even consider the blending banjo, accordion, and fiddle with guitars and drums, and yet they make it look effortless. No doubt these seven musicians captivate their fans wherever they go. Thanks to Flogging Molly, our musical night out was magical.

One day while browsing through Target, I spotted Flogging Molly’s Live at the Greek Theatre CD/DVD album and immediately purchased it. Without sounding like an advertisement, this is one of the finest live albums I own. The videography and sound quality in their DVD is as superb as their live performance. Including the DVD with the CD is nothing short of brilliant marketing.

So, how does this concert relate to writing? Simple. I learned some valuable lessons from my experience. First, prejudging usually proves me wrong. Character naming is as important as band naming. Staying within my comfort zone prevents me from experiencing new and wonderful things. Well-written lyrics inspire like well-written prose. Ans as for their name? Well, I you must admit that Flogging Molly sticks with you, so that’s pretty brilliant, too. Just be careful when checking out their web site and listening to their music -- you might find yourself doing an Irish jig.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Guest Blogger N. R. (Nancy) Williams

Tension and Humor in Fiction Writing.

I want to thank Jean for hosting me on this murder mystery blog spot. I write fantasy, but I love a good mystery just as much. There are two things a good murder mystery has and these two things are also found in fantasy and all genres. Tension and humor.

Picture if you will, your heroine rounding a corner in her home, on the street, down the stairs to the laundry room of her building, or just about anywhere and there is a dead body. Add tension. Does she know this person? Did she just notice how upset they were? Did she just exchange angry words with the victim? Or is this a completely random act that occurred in a place the heroine normally felt was safe.

More tension; does she notice bloody footprints leaving the scene? Maybe there’s broken glass, or a pipe wrench, candlestick, bowling ball. Okay, I had to throw that in there because I started thinking about the game Clue. You get the idea. The more tension, the shorter the sentence, the more you, the reader, or the author, are on the edge of your seat.

Now imagine if every sentence, every paragraph, and every chapter was full of this kind of tension. Yes, it’s too much. We love the tense moments, the scary edge of things unseen and hinted at, but if we don’t give you, the reader, or the author, a moment to pause, it’s over done.

Enter humor. What is humor? Every story should have some. Humor may be a character who acts out in a predictably funny manner. Think about the robots in Star Wars. Or the fool in medieval times, helping the king laugh. Humor might be a sentence or two in the middle of a difficult scene to help relieve the stress. Humor might be an animal. Remember Bambi slipping on ice?

In my high or epic fantasy, “The Treasures of Carmelidrium,” my heroine, Missie, is a modern American young woman, who finds herself in a French speaking medieval world. It’s a fantasy, so I get to play with this world and make it differ from our medieval history. In one scene, she is shouting out her frustration and says to the prince, “I am less then three months from graduation, but I won’t graduate. I have worked all my life, all my life, Healden, for the opportunities given to me by a music degree. But instead, I’m trapped in the twelfth century.”


“Whatever!” Once again she resumed pacing. “Have you any idea what my family is going through? I have disappeared off the face of the planet with no trace!”

In this scene, I use humor to break a stressful moment for my heroine and while she doesn’t react to the humor, I hope the reader will. I use this type of humor often in the story. I wrote my fantasy so readers, regardless of their favorite genre, would enjoy my book, “The Treasures of Carmelidrium.” I hope I’ve sparked enough curiosity for you all to give it a try.

I’ll stop by to read your comments and answer your questions all day. Thank you for spending this time with me.

N. R. Williams (Nancy)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Singing Bone Collector

Hello, I'm excited to join Make Mine Mystery. Today is my debut appearance (other than as a guest once when Earl Staggs interviewed me.) As a way to celebrate this day, my post takes a different approach--I wrote a folktale-like story, adapted from the keynote speech I presented in May to our Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime after being awarded the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Annual Award.

There’s an old woman—a wild woman—who lives in a hidden place that everyone knows about, but few have ever seen. She’s hairy and fat and makes more animal sounds than human. She crows and cackles and wails over would-be mystery writers, begging them to come to her hiding place and sing along with her, for storytellers of the mystery genre are the only company she allows into her cave.

She’s a wild woman all right, but I call her The Singing Bonecollector.

Folks say she lives in the Texas Hill Country among the limestone slopes of the Llano Uplift. But others believe she’s buried near an abandoned well outside Tucson, Arizona. A man said once he’d seen her traveling south in a burnt out car with the back window shot out. Then a woman said, no, she’d seen her standing alongside the highway just outside El Paso waiting to ride shotgun in the big trucks crossing the desert headed to California. Another woman claimed she’d seen her standing outside her door in the ghetto, taking notes.

Her only work is to wander from here to there, collecting the bones of unfinished or never-told mystery stories, scattered remnants that are in danger of being lost to the world. She fills her cave with these bones she’s collected, bones of delightful, yet unidentified characters, both good and bad, of half-done settings, of unfinished plots, of point of view problems, of a strong sense of place.

She creeps and crawls and sifts through the dry riverbeds, across mesas, through forests, and mountaintops, and across fields of wildflowers looking for such bones.

When she has assembled an entire skeleton, when she has the last bone in place and the beautiful white creature is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing.

After she decides—after she is sure, she stands over the creature, raises both her arms over it, and sings out. And while she sings, the bones begin to come together, the rib bones and leg bones of the creature begin to flesh out and it becomes covered in fur.

She sings longer and the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong. The more the bonecollector sings, the more the creature begins to breathe.

Still she sings. She sings until the floor of the hill country shakes. And as she sings, the creature opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs down through the canyon. Somewhere, whether by the speed of it’s running or by splashing its way into the river, or by a ray of sunlight, or moonlight hitting it just right, the creature is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon, a published mystery book in her hand.

So it is said that if you wander the wilderness and it is near sundown, and you are perhaps a little lost, and certainly tired, that you are lucky, for this wild woman—this bone collector—may take a liking to you and show you something—something of the soul.

Our stories start as a bundle of bones collected from the wilds. It is our work to recover the parts.
It is a painstaking process best done when the shadows are just right, for it takes much looking.

The singing bone collector shows us what to look for—that indestructible life force—the bones—the foundation of our tales. She promises if we sing the songs and call up that life force within us, our stories will take shape. This singing bone collector who lives inside the desert of each of us crisscrosses all nations down through the centuries.

To sing—to write the story within us—we must sing over the bones that we collect. We must descend into that wild part of ourselves—of great feeling—emotion—to capture and create that song. Her whiskers sense the future, knows the past as well as the present. She has the far-seeing eye of the old crone. She lives backward and forward in time simultaneously, correcting for one side by dancing with the other.

The old wild woman lives within each of us, leaving us the moral obligation—and the delight—to live and write what we perceive, to allow ourselves to be breathed upon—to show it in our stories.

Within each of us is the old woman who collects bones. The soul-bones, as it were, for story.
Bones with the potential to be fleshed out, bones to challenge ourselves, and then to challenge our world. The writer must have freedom to move, to speak, to be angry, and to create.

Today, that singing wild woman inside of you collects bones. She is the soul self, the builder of story. She makes and remakes story.

What story is she making in you?

Climb up into the cave. Crawl through the doorway or window of a dream. Sift through the sand and see what you find.

Go gather bones.

Sylvia Dickey Smith

Sunday, January 9, 2011


by Earl Staggs

I’ll never write about vampires. Or werewolves, mummies, ghosts, or any other creature that is supposed to be dead, but isn’t. I have nothing against those who do write about them and do not mean to deride or demean them in any way. Let’s face it. There are many books, TV shows and movies about them doing quite well, and I applaud all those who are writing them and enjoying success.

It’s just not for me. I won’t write about them, and I don’t read about them or watch them on a screen of any size.

If you’re wondering why, read on. If you don’t care why, stop here.

My problem stems from the scary movies I watched as a kid. The old black and white, low budget ones about Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, and others. I loved going to the movie theater with the other kids in the neighborhood and being scared out of my knickers. Later on, I saw the movies again when, every night, usually after the eleven o’clock news, local TV channels ran them. I only got to see them on weekends, of course, because I couldn’t stay up that late on school nights. They scared me all over again, and I loved them as much as before.

Bela Lugosi was Dracula. He wasn’t a good looking young stud with rock solid abs, and he certainly wasn’t a sex symbol. He was a monster. He came into your room at night to bite you in the neck and suck your blood. You were scared out of your mind until someone finally drove a stake through his heart. You could feel some amount of sympathy for The Wolfman with Lon Chaney, Jr. playing the role of Lawrence Talbott. The poor guy was bitten by a werewolf one dark night in the woods and every time there was a full moon, he would change into one. Okay, you could feel a little sorry for the Frankenstein monster, too, usually played by Boris Karloff. It wasn’t his fault the crazy doctor threw him together with spare parts. Still, they were not intended to be anything but scary.

Those images were burned into my mind and are still there. That’s why I can’t get interested in the way these monsters are presented these days.

Perhaps, you might say, it’s a personal problem, and I should get over it. You may be right. Maybe I should and maybe someday I will. For now, I barely have time to keep up with the mystery and crime stories and heroes I read and write about, so I’ll leave things the way they are. Vampires, werewolves and other monsters will remain the black and white, one-dimensional villains I lovingly enjoyed in my youth.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Critiquing the Critiquers by Chester Campbell

After belonging to a writers critique group for around 20 years, I have come to a number of conclusions about how they work best. If you are thinking of joining one, or perhaps starting a new group, here are my suggestions for ways to make the experience more fruitful.

1. Choose a Genre
- A group can be more effective if everyone writes in the same genre. In the past, we had members writing in the fantasy field, one that I know nothing about. I didn't feel qualified to critique the books. Now we're primarily mystery writers. It makes for a more cohesive group.

2. Limit Membership - In the early life of my group, we had as many as 15 or more members. People came and went, though seldom more than 10 attended a meeting. The group now has a limit of eight, but the last one to leave has not been replaced. We average five in attendance, which allows for a good discussion.

3. Avoid Bruised Egos - By its very nature, a critique group involves criticism. Make sure your members know the necessity for giving constructive criticism. Avoid making someone feel their writing is subpar. Some people have thin skins and can't take the mildest criticism. They need to find another route for sharing their work.

4. Meeting Interval - It's best to gather at least twice a month. Even at that interval, it's sometimes difficult to keep up with characters and situations from chapter to chapter.

5. Meeting Time - This has to be adjusted to the needs of the group. We had been meeting at 6:00 p.m. but recently changed to 6:30 to accommodate members' work situation. We have switched between Tuesdays and Thursdays a couple of times, but I know of some groups that operate successfully on Saturdays.

6. Swap Manuscripts - For several years we brought copies of manuscript pages for each person and read chapters, then everyone discussed them. When several members read chapters, we ran over our normal two-hour limit. We switched to sending out chapters by email before the meeting. This allows us to get right into the critiquing process, plus it saves on printing copies for everyone.

7. Support Your Members - When someone gets a book published, buy it. Don't expect to get a complimentary copy. Writers know that books cost the author and giving them away should be done as promotion. Send copies for review or to bookstores that ask for them. Giving them to friends and relatives can wind up costing you bigtime. One member of my critique group buys several copies of each new book I write, and her suggestions have helped improve them considerably.

If you have some other suggestions, let us know.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Anne Francis/Honey West

I was drafting this post on Monday when the news came that actress Anne Francis had died. The topic of the post was to be guilty pleasures, the books I don't admit, at least publicly, to enjoying. Among those are the Honey West books. Since Ms Francis is perhaps best known for playing Honey West on TV, the news of her passing imbued the topic with a degree of poignancy. I had planned to write about several books and authors, but in light of her passing, I'll confine this post to Honey West.

The Honey West stories appeared when a woman private eye, especially one who could fend off bad guys with a gun or judo, was a rarity.  There were eleven books in the series beginning with This Girl For Hire in 1957 and ending with Stiff As A Broad in 1971. They were created by a husband and wife team, Forrest E. "Skip" and Gloria Fickling writing as G.G. Fickling. The novelty of a woman P.I. and the first-person narration were the strongest features of the series. This was not high-concept. Think Marilyn Monroe playing Mike Hammer.

The Honey West series falls in the goof-ball private eye tradition with plenty of odd-ball characters, improbable plots and snappy dialogue. Honey is gorgeous, a fact which the reader is reminded of early and often in every book. She manages to lose some or all of her clothing at least once a book, often at gunpoint, but sometimes through her own (un)doing as when she engages some men in a game of strip poker in order to determine if one of them is a heroin addict. Guess who loses? Both good guys and bad guys are given to such statements as, "Honey, you have more curves than a mountain road."

Sexual innuendo drips off every page, but the books are remarkably free of sex. Honey has an on-again, off-again relationship with Lt. Mark Storm of the LA County Sheriff's office and it is implied that they make love at the end of the sixth book, Kiss For A Killer. Many other men try to bed her, and she uses a lot of energy and some judo to fend them off. If a man does grab her fancy, some plot contrivance will usually prevent consummation.

The Ficklings wrote in the era when thin paperbacks with lurid covers abounded on drugstore racks. The stories have little to recommend them in terms of style and originality except for the novelty of the female private eye. However, they brought the Ficklings fame and fortune. The couple lived in a four-story, cliff-hanging house in Laguna Beach known as the house that Honey built.

Though Honey was the first commercially successful female eye, she doesn't fit in well with the in-group of Warshawski, McCone, Milhone et al, although she might get along with Stephanie Plum. Yes, she fought her own fights and solved her cases with her own wits and fists, without relying on male counterparts to extricate her from trouble, but all her efforts seem like something of a burlesque. The books span an era when American attitudes were changing. Today, they seem anachronistic and even somewhat misogynistic. At Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas, a panel of writers, all women, talked about Honey's influence. Only one had read more than a few of the stories and two had not even heard of her until being invited on the panel.

Honey made her TV debut in an episode of Burke's Law in 1965 with Anne Francis as the classy LA private eye matching wits with Amos Burke. Ms Francis, with her good looks and blonde hair, was perfectly cast for the role, right down to the beauty mark beside her mouth. Aaron Spelling spun the episode into the series with which Ms Francis remains identified. For most people, it was their only knowledge of Honey West, but for people like me, the respectability of a TV series meant we could at last bring our Honey West books out from behind the brown paper covers.

In moving to TV, the series lost some of its racy elements, but retained Honey's stylishness and martial arts ability. She gained a pet ocelot named Bruce and a lot of Bond-style gadgetry. She also gained a partner who mainly provided technical support while Ms. Francis, dressed in bathing suits, cat suits or slinky gowns, dispatched the bad guys with a high-kick, judo-flip or well-placed karate chop. She was equally adept with a gun or exploding compact. 
Ms Francis won a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination for her role, but the series lasted only one season. Honey got knocked out by another kick-ass babe, Emma Peel, when the network execs decided they could import the Avengers for less than the cost of producing Honey West.

Despite its early demise, the series is credited with a number of television firsts:

  • It was the first dramatic TV series in the U.S. with a female star in an action-adventure role traditionally played by a male actor.
  • Honey was television's first modern, independent, self-sufficient woman.
  • She was the first character, male or female, on U.S. television to use martial arts as self-defense.
The series set the stage for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E, The Bionic Woman, and of course, Charlie's Angels, another Aaron Spelling production.

Anne Francis once said about Honey West, “The character made young women think there was more they could reach for. It encouraged a lot of people.”

I, for one, think it's a shame the series didn't last longer. The Honey West stories are a pleasure that I don't feel so guilty about. Anne Francis, rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Planning for Writing Conferences? My Favorite

First off, I have to confess I have a vested interest in this particular conference because I'm the program chair.

The Public Safety Writers Association's annual conference is from July 14-17 at the Orleans Hotel in July. Yep, July. The time of year makes for low hotel rates.

This conference is for anyone writing fiction or non-fiction in the public safety fields (police, fire, ambulance, lawyers, FBI, CIA, etc.) and this includes mystery writers. We have speakers this year talking about all different phases of writing including screen writing, and lots of professionals in the field will be attending.

Because this is a small conference, we only have one track, so you don't have to choose between two things you want to see at the same time. If you want to be on a panel, you'll get to be on at least one. You can bring your books for sale and PSWA only takes 10% of sales.

You'll make friends that you can call on for research long after the conference is over.

And best of all, you'll have a great time while learning a lot.

Hope to see some of you there.

Though the date for the early bird rate is over--that is in the process of being extended until the end of March, so don't let that hold you back.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Changes For Me and For Make Mine Mystery

A New Year brings changes. One drastic change in my life was being let go from the law firm I worked for as an administrative assistant over 38 years. I'll be on unemployment for a bit until I can find another job, so I won't make as much money. I won't spend as much either, which is probably a good thing. My closet is too full, and I have tons of items with no place to put them.

The change will mean more time for writing and getting caught up on neglected housework, so it could be a very good thing.

A change is also occurring here at Make Mine Mystery, and I know it will be a good thing. We now have found a blogger to take over the 2nd and 4th Mondays slot. Her name is Sylvia Dickey Smith, and she'll be an excellent fit for our group.

In the meantime, before she does her first post, you can check out more about Sylvia by clicking on her picture, which I've put at the head of the righthand column here, so you can't miss her. I hope you come back often to read our posts and also be sure to welcome Sylvia on her first blog day here at Make Mine Mystery  next Monday, January 10.

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career on kindle for 99 cents at Amazon

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Writer's New Year's Resolutions

By Mark W. Danielson
Never run out of paper. (It’s okay to run out of ideas.)
Never run out of ink. (It’s okay to run out of energy.)
Never throw a tantrum. (With any witnesses nearby.)
Never call tech support. (No, I really mean that.)
Never miss a blog post. (Unless in critical condition.)
Never miss a deadline. (But it’s okay not to set them.)
Never forget to jot an idea. (A note usually brings it back.)
Never fake facts. (Credibility is at stake.)
Never plagiarize another author’s words. (It’s okay being inspired by them.)
Never whine in public. (It’s okay to sip the beverage.)
Never boast of accomplishments. (People who care already know of them.)
Never speak ill of others. (One day it will haunt you.)
Never doubt your editor. (Doubts mean you have the wrong editor.)
Never send a critical document Priority Mail. (FedEx delivers the world on time.)
Never forget how lucky we are to express our ideas. (Freedom is not universal.)
Never forget to smile and love. (Frowning takes more effort.)
Happy New Year everyone!