Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Never Forget the Author in Authority, Authenticity

A Newbie just finished her first historical novel, and she asks: Just how authentic does it have to be? How much accuracy is necessary? How do you keep from making horrible gaffs?

My initial response in my head is that if you are going to actually use a jock strap in your Roman Gladiator story, you had better do the minimum to find out first if gladiators used jock straps, and secondly, if they did, you need to know what they were made from--certainly not plastics or some mysterious material dropped on the Romans by aliens (unless you are simply go for goofy, fun, crazy laughs such as A Funny Thing Happened to me on the way to the Colosseum). If it is serious historical novel the authentic Roman jock strap must be determined unless you choose not to use it - the strap.

The entire idea of Historical Fiction is a somewhat schizophrenic label, history meaning somehow ground in fact while fiction is (from the Spanish ficciones) a "pack of lies" even if it is to "prove a truth"... so we historical fictionlists no less than our sister schizoid science fictionalists (science supposedly being fact), we are in a dither, a conundrum as it were, but some keeping our feet firmly aground helps.

What does EB White's Charlotte's Web have in common with historical fiction and indeed all fiction, this wild fantasy we adults read to our children only to find ourselves so drawn in as to be the ones in tears when Charlotte doesn't make it (you won't read that book again because the ending's just too hard to take...). What indeed makes this FANTASY fiction believable and in fact mesmerizingly so, a tale so crazily unbelievable. Come on, a story of a pig and a spider having a full-blown platonic love for one another, a relationship we'd all like to have, one of unconditional and sacrificial love all taking place in our own backyard? What makes it work? What makes Stephen King horror work?

Accuracy, authenticity, the authenticated voice - alongside accuracy and authenticity in background, backdrop, props, and in short DETAILS. The Devil is in the Details. Detailed accuracy makes a believer of us all both in film and in fiction. Setting the stage with the proper accoutrement's is absolutely necessary to make historical fiction truly come to life.

Below are the two from the hip responses the young novitiate got from my good friend Pat Brown and then from me the same day she asked the question (isn't the Internet something?)

On Tue, 3/29/11, Pat Brown, author of Absinthe of Malice (a great read by the way) wrote:

I've started writing historicals recently. The first two I finished were set in 1929 in Los Angeles. I'm writing one right now set in New York in the late 1880s. All you can do in terms of research is the best you can. The

20s, being Prohibition and all it brought is very well documented. Unless you have a major blunder, like put the wrong President in Washington or have the Titanic sink in 1969 (Hi Rob!!) most people won't call you on.

Or if you're like me, you spend a small fortune on books and things like old Sears, Roebuck catalogues. I was also lucky enough to go to L.A. to get some research there. Not knowing where your novel is set I can't say much more.

But really, story and characters trump research.

> To which I then wrote to support what Pat said on the same day:

I agree with all that Pat says here, esp. about story over research; research is part of the back-drop and like setting belongs back of characters and action as backdrop. Look at Gone With the Wind for an example. Scarlet's 'soap opera' is far more compelling and important than the lil ol Civil War, now isn't it? As for the best way to get CAUGHT in a blunder before it goes public, I have found my best avenue of defense are good early readers and editors - whom I love, one and all. I generally acknowledge them one and all on my ack page, and yes ebooks have ack pgs and dedication pgs if they so choose same as some having a eAutographed title page.

Like Pat, for props, I rely heavily on Sears and Roebuck but also Wards' Catalogues of the day along with all the many books consulted. If you have your character pick up a gun that does not yet exist, whoa, you will hear about it....sometimes you will hear about it and the person who flagged it is DEAD WRONG. But even if you do a contemporary novel as I did with my Edge Series and set it in a venue you have NEVER been to as in Houston, TX.....you will rile some folks up if you fail to call the Canals running through the city Channels....or visa-verse as I forget which was correct now but I sure HEARD about it from ONE disgruntled reader who did acknowledge that it was the only problem bothering him in FOUR novels of 80-90,000 words, and he loved my main character, a Texas bred Cherokee Indian named Lucas Stonecoat.

So you see....you do your best, you be as diligent about the research as humanly possible, and then you do like ten rewrites as your early readers pick it apart, going back to the well and your sources many times over. My problem with research is I always leap into the story and have to stop and start to go back to the research to be sure....to be sure....

PLEASE DO LEAVE a comment if nothing else to let me know you dropped by!

Rob Walker
Titanic 2012 - a hundred year old mystery with a horrific twist
Children of Salem - an ecumenical spy w/vendetta falls in love with the witch's daughter instead

Sunday, March 27, 2011


by Earl Staggs

Last Monday, the lovely and talented Morgan Mandel wrote here about writers doing research and, after reading what she said and the comments made by writers who commented on her post, I wondered if there’s something wrong with me.

You see, I don’t enjoy doing research and stay as far away from it as I possibly can.

There are some exceptions to my malady. When I decided to write about a man with psychic abilities, I read several books and spent time with a number of real-life psychics. When I decided on the settings for the short story and novel featuring my psychic guy, I chose two cities I knew well enough to describe without having to research them.

For a short story I wrote, the research was accidental. My wife and I visited the tiny town of Hico, Texas, with friends. While there, I became enchanted by a legend the town harbors and promotes. They claim and have convincing evidence that Billy the Kid was not killed in New Mexico at the age of twenty-one as historians recount. He escaped that storied fate, they say, spent many years in Mexico, then moved to Hico where he died at the age of ninety in 1950. I’m a bit of a history buff -- as long as it doesn’t require research -- and that legend stayed with me. Later on, I wrote a story featuring a modern day bounty hunter who travels to Hico in search of a fugitive, also named Billy. In my story, the local legend of Billy the Kid and my bounty hunter’s quest become entangled and lead to an ending that pleased me a great deal.

Since I had to use the real setting of Hico, however, I had to be true to the details of the town. That only involved picking up free maps and pamphlets at the town’s Billy the Kid Museum and buying a small book written by a local historian.

I’ve written a number of short stories over the years and, of course, a story must take place somewhere. I may have a particular town or city in mind when I write, but getting the details correct would require research. To avoid that chore, I use whatever actual details of the actual town fit the story, invent the rest, and give the town a fictional name.

Yes, there is something wrong with me. After examining the symptoms, I’ve come up with an erstwhile diagnosis, and it’s simply that I don’t enjoy writing nonfiction. Nonfiction requires getting the facts and details right, and that takes time and uses up a lot of brain cells. I admire and respect those people who do the necessary research to blend nonfiction details and facts into their fictional stories. I applaud their ability to do that, but I prefer to use what little time and brain cells I have to write fiction in which the only other component I need add is my imagination.

Is there a cure for my problem? Probably not at this point in my life. My prognosis is that I’m destined to go on writing fiction and inventing details to fit the story.

After all, the reason I write fiction and not nonfiction is that, in fiction, I get to make up stuff.

Does anyone else share my problem? Perhaps we could organize a support group.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dead by Midnight

Carolyn Hart's new mystery/thriller, Dead by Midnight, features recurring characters in the Death on Demand series, Annie and Max Darling. Max's ditzy mother, Laurel, is usually up to something that surprises and confounds Annie. In Dead by Midnight, Laurel is creating Cat Truth Posters which she wants hung in the bookstore. Annie, of course, thinks books should be the focus of the store, but the posters enchant her. The author describes one of Laurel's posters, which features a photograph of a cat:

. . . a silky furred, mitted, and bicolored Ragdoll stretched out on a red silk cushion, looking as comfy as Eva Longoria in a Hanes ad: Go with the Flow.

One of the posters points to a killer.

In Carolyn Hart's 21st Death on Demand mystery, Annie Darling, owner of the Death on Demand mystery bookstore in South Carolina, doesn't believe the official report concerning the suicide of her newest employee, Pat Merridew.

Merridew had been fired from her previous job with a law firm and her suspicious conduct prior to her death, coupled with a planned cruise to Alaska she couldn't afford, raises Annie's suspicions. So she and her husband Max decide to investigate.When a law partner in the firm the victim worked for is found shot to death, there are plenty of suspects, including the lawyer's sister. The Darlings are convinced that's she protecting the real killer and set out to prove it. 
The plot is well-paced and Max's mother lends plenty of humor to the plot. Bookstore enthusiasts and readers from all venues will love this latest Death on Demand mystery/thriller.
Carolyn Hart has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards. She's the creator of the Henrie O series, featuring a retired reporter, and the Bailey Ruth series, starring an impetuous, redheaded ghost. One of the founders of Sisters in Crime, she lives in Oklahoma City.

Dead at Midnight will be officially released on March 29, but can be preordered online.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My favorite sidekicks

I am a bit under the weather this week and was unable to write a new post for today. I apologize for that. Instead, I am reprising a post from my other blog, Hawaiian Eye. This was originally posted on February 3, 2010. It is my list of the top-ten best sidekicks.

Main character: Sherlock Holmes, sidekick Dr. John Watson. Watson was portayed as something of a buffoon in the movies, but that does a great injustice to him. He is every bit the equal of Holmes in some respects. He is a scientist and a surgeon, a former military man who distinguished himself in Afghanistan. He is athletic and good with a gun. He might be a step behind Holmes in solving the mysteries, but it is a small step and he is always way ahead of everybody else.

Main character: Han Solo, 
sidekick: Chewbacca. 
Chewy is the reincarnation of Hanuman, the monkey god from the Ramayana. Who wouldn't want a Wookie for a sidekick? He doesn't speak English so you don't have to listen to him complain and with those bandaleros, he's never out of ammo.

Main character: Encyclopedia Brown, sidekick: Sally Kimball. 
Sally, the prettiest, toughest girl in fifth grade, is an intelligent character, though she doesn't have Encyclopedia's storehouse of facts. She's also tough. When Encyclopedia needs a bully punched out, Sally does it. I imagine Sally grows up to be a lot like my main character, Ava Rome.

Main character: Spenser, sidekick: Hawk. Hawk is sometimes called a sociopath. He doesn’t have Spenser's moral center, but he does have one. He's a former mob enforcer, though his criminal activities are never shown. The difference in ethnicity is the source of banter between them.

Main character, Modesty Blaise, sidekick: Willie Garvin
Willie was sprung from jail by Modesty and became her right hand man, first in her criminal organization and later in her spy adventures. His sense of right and wrong is governed by morality rather than laws. There is no sexual tension between Modesty and Willie. Although Willie is a lady's man and Modesty is attractive, Willie feels he owes her too much to consider a physical relationship.

Main character: Elvis Cole, sidekick: Joe Pike. Sometimes I wonder why these two are friends. Elvis is a smart mouth and Joe seems to barely tolerate his jokes. If you're in a fight, however, Joe is the guy you want on your side.

Main character: Rick Hunter, sidekick: Dee Dee McCall. 
Dee Dee was a police detective with the rank of sergeant. She was one of the first truly professional women police detectives on television. She knew what she was doing and she could take care of herself. She was more likely to do things by the book than Hunter, but she wasn't afraid to do what was necessary to stop the bad guys. There was always some smirking sexual tension between them, but their relationship didn't get physical until the end of the series. And look at that hair. Who's her stylist? A Wookie?

Main character: Xena, sidekick: Gabrielle. 
Gabrielle started out as a chronicler of Xena's exploits but developed into a warrior in her own right. She had to rescue Xena on several occasions. Did their relationship go beyond trust and loyalty to something romantic? Most people think so. This is a family blog or I'd show you a picture of "the kiss."

Main character: Hap Collins, sidekick: Leonard Pine. How did these two get together? Leonard and Hap are opposites in many ways. Leonard is black, Hap is white. Leonard is a hard-headed conservative, Hap is a bleeding-heart liberal. Leonard is gay, Hap is straight. What they both like to do is fight. They banter constantly about sex and race. Somehow, it all works together.

Main character: The Cisco Kid, sidekick Pancho. 
Cisco liked women and Pancho liked food. Both were likely to get them into trouble. Pancho was no slouch when it cam to action. His weapon of choice was the bullwhip. At the end of every adventure, Cisco would say, "Eh, Pancho," and Pancho replied, "Eh, Cisco," and they would ride off laughing into the sunset.

Who are your favorites?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm On a Blog Tour Too

Like Beth Groundwater from yesterday's post, I'm also on a blog tour this month. I'll put a few of the upcoming stops at the end of my blog.

Like Beth, I believe covers are extremely important. I love the cover for Angel Lost. The publisher and I did go back and forth a bit because the first jogger on the cover had long hair, since this is supposed to be Stacey Milligan jogging who has short hair, I asked for a new silhouette and got it. Jogging plays an important part in the book--but Stacey always jogs in the morning and this is obviously a late afternoon sky and since the book is set in the West--well that has to be a sunset. But it does make a beautiful background which certainly adds to the cover so no argument about that.

So far the reviews coming in have been great--but I have to tell you that two emails from readers have pleased me the most.

The first was a friend and fellow author who said, "I stayed up all night to read Angel Lost and I don't do that often."

The second was also from a friend who is a retired New York cop and he gave me an idea for one of the plot threads, he said, "This is the best Rocky Bluff P.D. story yet. Keep on writing."

Now here are the stops for the rest of the tour. I do hope you might take a peek at one or another and leave a comment.

Monday, March 21
Interviewed at Examiner
Tuesday, March 22
Book reviewed at Paperback Writer
Wednesday, March 23
Guest blogging at Acme Authors Link
Guest blogging at Writers Who Kill
Thursday, March 24
Interviewed at Broowaha
Friday, March 25
Book reviewed at Book Reviews by Molly

Books by Marilyn

Monday, March 21, 2011

How Far Will You Go To Write A Manuscript? by Morgan Mandel

When I worked on my debut novel, Two Wrongs, my intention was to have one of the climactic scenes take place at Marshall Field's in Downtown Chicago, Illinois. It wasn't a great hardship to get there, since at the time I also worked Downtown. I took photos and examined the balconies, where a scene takes place between the hero and villain, and also another setting, at the Walnut Room there, the home of the Big Tree during Christmas Season. I also spoke to staff and wrote getting permission to use the place as a setting.

Again, I'll be doing some research for my new book, Forever Young-Blessing or Curse. This time I'm leaving my homestate, Illinois, and visiting the book's setting, Scottsdale, Arizona. I'll see the sights, take photos, and get some of the area's flavor so the book will seem more authentic. I haven't been there for a while and am looking forward to refreshing my memory.

I know many writers go to far reaches of the world for the sake of research. What about you? Have you ever gone somewhere to research a book, be it across town, to a store, a state, or country?

Morgan Mandel

Killer Career now 99 cents on

Sunday, March 20, 2011

To Outline or Not?

By Mark W. Danielson

To outline, or not is a question frequently asked at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. The answer not only differs between authors, it depends on whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. SF Writer's Conference speakers repeatedly emphasized that nonfiction writers must use outlines. This makes sense because their facts must be accurate, sequential, and have relevance. To properly convey a topic, nonfiction builds like a math problem. I’m no mathematician, but I do understand that X times Y equals Z. In writing, if the reader doesn’t understand the X or the Y, they will never come up with Z.

In fiction, the principles remain the same except that fiction allows more twists and turns. Because fiction writing is inventive, many authors feel an outline will stifle their creative thoughts. But then you have James Patterson, one of the best outliners in the business, who cannot work without them because he has others writing his stories for him. The more detailed an outline, the easier it is for Patterson’s co-writers to mimic his thoughts. But what about the writers who have had stories gelling in their heads for months or years, and when he/she finally sits down at the computer, their stories flow like molasses? Judging from the raised hands I saw at the SF Writer’s Conference, it seems the majority of fiction writers prefer shooting from their hips than using outlines.

The “pro” of no outlining is the freedom to write uninhibited. The “con” of no outlining is authors must go back and create their outline to ensure everything flows, makes sense, and summarizes their story for queries and book descriptions. In this regard, outlining seems inescapable. So, for the benefit of other writers, let’s take a poll. How many draft their novels using outlines, how many don’t, and why?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Writer in search of a mystery...

Mystery conference, that is. I think there is a great deal to be said for getting together with other mystery writers and readers. It’s like we’re in our own world – a favorite place filled with questions, clues, villains and heroes! And what better place to find our way than at a conference for mystery writers and readers. Now, given the economy, you have to pick and choose carefully to get the most bang for your buck. Who are the presenters? What workshops are available? What is new and challenging for you? Where is the conference held?

So, with those criteria in mind – I’m open to suggestions for some of your favorite mystery conferences. Here are a few I’ve found online, but I’d love to get real-life feedback from some of you who have been to a conference you found outstanding. That pumped you up, taught you things, was worth the travel, time and money spent.

Here are some I’ve found:

• Sleuthfest (over for this year) every March in Fort Lauderdale http://www.mwaflorida.org/sleuthfest.htm

• Thrillerfest VI in NYC http://www.thrillerfest.com/

• Boucheron in St. Louis http://www.bouchercon2011.com

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

Monday, March 14, 2011


by Earl Staggs

My guest today, Beth Groundwater, says, "I think it's vital to fight for good cover art." Here she talks about some of her battles.

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket, 2009) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, will be released March 8th. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine! Please visit her website at http://bethgroundwater.com/ and her blog at http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/.

My Cover Story

I'm here at Make Mine Mystery today to talk about cover art. Unlike some authors, I've had fairly good luck with my publishers regarding the cover art for my books. And, when I haven't agreed with the initial cover artwork, I've had good luck in getting changes made.

The cover art for my recent March 8th release, Deadly Currents, is shown below. The mystery is the first in my new RM Outdoor Adventures series featuring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. Running rapids in rafts or kayaks plays a major role in the book, and I wanted the cover to reflect that. When Midnight Ink, the publisher, asked for input on the cover, I suggested they use just the type of photo they selected. I gave them links to various Arkansas River outfitters, so they could contact them about getting permission to use one of their photos.

I'm very pleased with the cover, because it illustrates the opening scene of Deadly Currents beautifully. The raft is about to plunge sideways over the precipice of a killer class V (extremely difficult) rapid and spill out most of its occupants. That prompts Mandy to initiate a deadly rescue. I love the contrast of the warm colors of the letters superimposed on the cool colors of the rushing water of the rapid. I don't know where the Midnight Ink art department got the stock photo from, and I really don't care. Even if it wasn't taken on the Arkansas River, it reflects the action you'll find when you run that river. When I saw this cover, I decided it was perfect and had no changes to suggest.

That was a very different case for other covers of mine.

When I saw the first version of the cover art for the hardcover version of A Real Basket Case, which was published by Five Star, I sat stunned in disbelief. My suggestion had been to show a wicker or straw basket flipped over on its side with a hole in it, blood dripping out of the hole, and a smoking handgun lying nearby. Instead, the cover showed a woman's hand holding a wire hand-held grocery shopping basket, and a kid's dart gun with stick-on darts scattered about. Huh?

After I recovered from the shock, I sent a detailed email outlining my concerns to the acquisition editor. She replied that she agreed with me and sent a request for revision to the art department. Thank goodness! The second cover, which was the one they used, was much, much better (see below). The bow makes it look like the book itself is a gift basket, and the gun is there to show that it is a murder mystery, after all.

A few weeks ago, I received the initial cover art design for the trade paperback and ebook formats of the same book, to be published by Midnight Ink in November. The cover's cartoonish design was targeted at the craft cozy market, and I thought it was very cute. There was only one problem. The book is set in Colorado Springs, which is located in a high alpine desert setting within sight of the Rocky Mountains. The view out the window of the book cover art, however, was of rolling green hills. Those don't exist in Colorado Springs! So, yet again, I suggested a change to the acquisition editor, though this time it was a small one—please put some mountains in that window view.

The revised and final cover art is below. I think the artist did a great job with the gift basket theme for the series--gift tag, bow, basket. Plus, the Colorado Springs setting is reflected in the mountain view out the window. And, the location where Claire Hanover, my gift basket designer, meets the future victim—a neighborhood gym—is reflected in the contents of the gift basket. The artwork and title font definitely have a craft cozy mystery subgenre feel to them.

Of the five covers that have been presented to me for my books, I've asked for a complete redo on one and minor changes on two. In all cases, my suggestions were listened to and the cover art was changed. Many authors say they have no control over their cover art. But I've found that if I present a good case for making a change and back it up with an explanation that makes sense, I've been able to convince the art department to try again.

I think it's vital to fight for good cover art, because it's so important. It elicits an emotional response in the reader when they see it. They can either hate it or love it. And, they get a sense of what the book is about and its genre. Those feelings and senses drive the buy decision. You would never think that Deadly Currents is a craft cozy or that A Real Basket Case is an adventurous soft-boiled mystery from their covers, but the reverse is certainly true.

About Beth's new one, DEADLY CURRENTS, just out March 8, 2011:

The Arkansas River, heart and soul of Salida, Colorado, fuels the small town’s economy and thrums in the blood of river ranger Mandy Tanner. When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, she deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. Turns out, it wasn’t the rapids that killed him—it was murder. Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and infuriated environmentalists. Mandy’s world is upended again when tragedy strikes closer to home. Suspicious that the most recent death is connected to Tom King’s murder, she goes on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in dangerous waters.

If you’d like to see what the other stops are on Beth Groundwater’s virtual book tour, go to: http://bethgroundwater.com/2011_Virtual_Book_Tour.html , and if you’d like to order an autographed copy of Deadly Currents, go to the website for Black Cat Books (http://manitoubooks.com/) and click on "Contact Us”. Either call the phone number or fill out the form with your contact information.

What do you think, readers of Make Mine Mystery? How are you influenced by covers when it comes to choosing a book? Do particular colors or styles of cover art turn you on—or off? And if you're an author, do you have a particularly juicy cover art story to relate? Remember, everyone who comments will be entered into a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I Write Senior Sleuth Novels

by Jean Henry Mead

I write senior sleuth novels because there’s a growing market for retirees who like to read in their own age group. I was intrigued years ago by Miss Marple and Hercule Periot, who were wise and perceptive, but never seemed to have any fun. That’s not true of today’s seniors who are less inclined to retire to their rocking chairs than previous generations.

A senior writer, Pat Browning, said: “A St. Martin's editor gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: ‘Be careful not to turn your characters into cartoons.’ I try to picture older characters as they are--the same people they always were, only older. This is especially true when it comes to romance and sex. For all the jokes about senior sex, it is a very real part of senior life, and it's no joke to those lucky enough to have a romantic partner late in life.”

I agree. Not unlike Janet Evanovich’s character, Grandma Mazur, who is eccentric enough for a cartoon character, most seniors have the same interests they’ve always had, with the possible exception of roller blading and downhill skiing. On second thought, I once interviewed Buffalo Bill’s grandson Bill Cody, who learned to donwhill ski at 65 to keep up with his much younger wife.

Mike Befeler writes what he calls “Geezer-lit.” His first novel features his octogenarian protagonist, “who is short on memory but has a sense of humor and love of life. He accepts his ‘geezerhood,’ solves a mystery and enjoys romance along the way "with a young chick of 72.” 

My first senior sleuth mystery, A Village Shattered, takes place in a California retirement village. The plot is generously sprinkled with humor but none of the seniors resemble cartoon characters, although a couple come close, a redneck Casanova and love starved widow. Diary of Murder followed and I portrayed the two 60-year-old protagonist widows as quite capable of traveling the country in their motorhome as well as chasing down killers who happened to be drug dealers. The third novel in the series, due out later this month, Murder on the Interstate, takes place along I-40 in northern Arizona, and involves homegrown terrorism.

Another senior writer, Beth Solheim, spent years working in a nursing home and says she loves the elderly and their “humorous, quirky insight to life, love and longevity.” Her protagonists are 64-year-old twins in her humorous, paranormal cozy series, The Fifi Witt Mysteries.

Chester Campbell, an octogenarian, writes the Greg McKenzie Mysteries. He said, “My friends in this [age] bracket are out going places and doing things. Some, like me, continue to work at jobs they enjoy. I chose to use a senior couple in my books who are long married, get along fine, and do a competent job as private investigators. Greg, who narrates the books, is aware of his limitations from age and makes up for physical shortcomings by outsmarting his adversaries. My hope is to dispel some of the absurdity of the stereotypes about seniors that are all too familiar. Like the old song says, "Anything you can do I can do better." Chester also has another series featuring 59-year-old private investigator Sid Chase.

Like so many other novelists, I write what I enjoy reading. My readers are mainly retirees and baby boomers who number over 78 million. Some 8,000 boomers are moving into the senior column every day, the fastest growing potential book buying market on record.

We’re experiencing the graying of America. What better subgenre to write for?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Update: What's your work in progress?

Morgan asked for updates on our works in progress, so here's mine. I'm working on a detective novel in which my detective is hired by an elderly man to find out how his best friend died. His best friend, it turns out, was a second generation Japanese American who died under mysterious circumstances in the Tule Lake Japanese concentration camp in 1944.

The story is contemporary. It involves an old diary and interviews with people whose memories are fading. During the investigation, the detective uncovers evidence of a serial rapist who might still be alive. She also unearths a 70 year old secret that is still worth killing for.

This is a difficult story to write. The circumstances and conditions of Japanese American internment are fascinating and disturbing. There is a lot of material to research and the more I research it, the angrier I become. The first draft is filled with a lot of my research and feelings. I know I need to get that under control because it gets in the way of the story telling. I also feel an urgency to get the story done quickly because we are losing so many of the people from that era.

If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend the Densho Archives. Sometimes I find myself spending so much time there, I run out of time to write.

Today, I'm putting that research aside and doing some other research. I'm heading to Los Angeles to see my nephew play volleyball on the USC team. He's a senior so this is the last chance we'll have to see him for awhile. He expects to play in Europe after graduation, but doesn't expect to make the Olympics until 2016. Between matches my wife and I plan to do some sight-seeing, maybe even a Harry Bosch tour. At the least we will taste the martinis at Musso and Franks. That's the research.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian-Eye Blog

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One of the Big Pluses of My Life as a Writer

I took these as we were driving to Ridgecrest for my talk with the Ridgewriters group, which went well by the way. Despite the fact that only about 12 people were there, and at least two were residents of the senior facility where the meeting was held, I sold 6 books. We had a great trip to a fro, a lovely dinner with several of the members of Ridgewriters, and stayed in a comfortable older hotel that served a free breakfast.

The real highlight of the trip was after the meeting when I was signing books, the young man probably in his very early twenties, purchased a book and told me that the last time I'd come to speak I'd given him the incentive and courage to write a book which he's published. Believe me, that's what really made the trip totally worthwhile.

The downside of making a trip is all the things I didn't get done. Though I did a bit of promoting of the blog tour, I couldn't do all that I wanted so I played catch up when I got home. And as always, many emails arrived with jobs I needed to do. I'll manage, I always do.

Here are the next stops on my blog tour:

Monday, March 7
Book trailer featured at If Books Could Talk
Tuesday, March 8
Guest blogging at Thoughts in Progress
Wednesday, March 9
Interviewed at Blogcritics
Thursday, March 10
Book spotlighted at The Plot
Book spotlighted at Books, Products and More!
Friday, March 11
Character interviewed at The Plot
Monday, March 14
Book reviewed at Thoughts in Progress
Tuesday, March 15
Book reviewed at Lynn’s Reading Corner
Wednesday, March 16
Book reviewed at By the Book
Thursday, March 17
Guest blogging at Nevets.QST
Friday, March 18
Interviewed at Murderous Musings

If you get a chance, it'd be great if you visited one or two and left a comment.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Time for An Update - What's Your Work In Progress?

I've been enmeshed with writing Forever Young, my paranormal thriller about a widow who takes an age reversing pill to turn 24 forever. You'd think that would be a good thing, but she gets into all kinds of difficulties because of it.

What about you? It's been a while since I've made a call out. What's your work in progress?

Morgan Mandel

Killer Career is now 99 cents on
Kindle and Smashwords.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dissecting Stories

By Mark W. Danielson

Forget high school biology, this dissecting pertains to storytelling. I emphasize the word storytelling because whether a story is told over a campfire, written in prose, or sung, it remains a story, and for each story, there must be a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sure, every writer knows that, but sometimes the creative process sidetracks us. To retain audiences, our stories must be compelling, logical, and unique.

To prove my point, consider this line, “Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed.” For some, grins emerge as images flash of an old TV series, but younger people are probably saying, “And?” This first line from The Beverly Hillbillies theme song is an excellent example of storytelling because of how it draws you in. Certainly, it helps that the male singer is likeable and sounds like he’s sitting across from you at a campfire, but the lyrics are what invites us to listen to his story. Since novels don’t normally have audible narration, its first words must immediately captivate the reader’s interest with the same intensity as The Beverly Hillbillies’ tune.

The middle of your story contains the key points you want your readers to know. If I was to quote the entire Hillbillies theme song, you would know that Jed was hunting, shoots his gun, his bullet goes into the ground, and up comes crude oil. This song packs a lot of information into a few words, and when combined with the visual images on screen, leaves an indelible mark. If a writer’s intent is to convey a message, then the story’s middle must express clear elements that are interesting enough to carry the story to its conclusion. In this regard, every word must count. If it doesn’t sound right when you read it aloud, then re-write until it does.

Stories end with summaries from the beginning and explanations of the middle. The Beverly Hillbillies theme song ends with the Clampets moving to Beverly Hills where neither the Clampets nor Beverly Hills is ready for their lifestyle clashes. Did this thirty second song captivate its audience and tell this story? Considering the show’s longevity and the fact that we still remember it, I’d say yes. In fact, the black and white Beverly Hillbillies sitcom is sustainable enough to be back on Retro TV. Imagine that.

I chose this theme song as an example because it still sticks with me after all these years. How many books can you name that have this same effect? For me, it’s Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum because of the images it summons. Few books have piqued my interest that way, but that’s the difference between a classic tale and just another read.

Understanding story composition is easier than ridding a catchy theme song from your head. If you don’t believe, see how long it takes before The Beverly Hillbillies goes away. That’s the power of well-scripted words.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Writing My First Children's Mystery

by Jean Henry Mead

I considered writing an autobiographical children’s book for years before I finally sat down and wrote it. Solstice Publishing released it last week as Mystery of Spider Mountain and I’m well into the second book of the Hamilton Kids' mystery series.

Fiction is rooted in fact and my three protagonists spent their formative years at the foot of a large hill in southern California, as I did with four younger brothers. Because the hill was inhabited by trap door spiders and an occasional tarantula that arrived on a banana boat from Central America, I called it Spider Mountain.

My brothers and I were close in age and and explored our "mountain" together. The apron was filled with tall, blue lupines which bloomed nearly year round, and halfway up the hill was Dead Man’s Tree. We called it that because a thick knotted rope hung from a limb that we swung on. At the end was a large loop. That prompted stories about horsethieves which we imagined had been hanged there.

A dirt road encircled the hill at three levels but was so chocked with rocks and clumps of weeds that even a bicycle would have had difficult passage. So we wondered how the people who lived at the summit were able to reach their home, and imagined everything from rock climbers to space ships and helicopters, although we’d never heard one in the area.

When I was twelve and old enough to babysit brothers who were nearly my own size, we climbed our mountain to spy on the mysterious house. What we found was a chain link fence restraining four large vicious-appearing dogs with mouths large enough to swallow a child. Or so we thought. It didn’t take us long to scramble back down the hill to our own house. And, of course, we never told our parents.

When I began to write, I wondered again who those people were and how they arrived at their hilltop home. The house itself was a mystery but I had to decide which crime(s) the residents of the house had committed. And how the Hamilton kids would be able to bring them to justice. I then thought of the Ouija board we used to play with. That’s when the spirit Bagnomi materialized and talked to the kids via the board.

My four brothers had to be reduced to two to make the story manageable. Even so, they were as unmanageable as my own brothers had been, so their widowed grandmother came to live with them—as ours had done. However, our grandmother didn’t have bright red curly hair like Ronald McDonald, and wasn’t interested in finding a husband. Even children’s books need humor and the Hamilton Kids’ grandmother provides that and more, along with an adopted Australian Sheppard with a penchant for chewing furniture.

Writing for children has opened a new vista which I hope my young readers will enjoy as much as I enjoyed the writing. I'm well into the second novel in the series, The Ghost of Crimson Dawn, which takes place here in Wyoming, where the Hamilton Kids visit their Uncle Harry at his mountaintop ranch. There's a bit of autobiographical plotting in that book as well.

The book is currently available on Kindle and will be released in print later this month.


by Ben Small

There's a burgeoning scandal from the last few days that has nothing to do with Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan. Rather, it's about corruption within the Department of Justice, ATF Division. You know, those responsible for enforcing our gun laws.

You remember the ATF, the Ruby Ridge and Waco bunglers. Partly because of those fiascoes,  the ATF got transferred from the Treasury Department -- they issue $200 tax stamps to approve machine guns and silencers -- to the Justice Department, the hope being that one of the lowest prestige law enforcement agencies would take a step up in class and effectiveness.

Sadly, it hasn't worked out. It appears the ATF has bungled again.

Remember those reports from the Border Patrol, another Homeland Security unit sharing Justice Department parenthood with the ATF, that drugs were moving north of the border and guns were moving south of the border? Surely you remember the headlines, when a few Phoenix gun dealers were accused of selling bundles of AK-47s to multiple people, which weapons were then used by Mexican cartel members in their bloody attacks south of the border.

We were appalled. There was noise in Washington for additional gun sale curbs.

Turns out, the ATF helped create the problems its masters then complained about. The dealers had called the ATF and reported the attempted sales and their suspicions that the buyers were gunrunning smugglers. ATF agents say, publicly now, that higher management ordered them to approve these sales, despite dealer fears. Higher management wanted the sales.

And all this without even notifying the Mexican government. No "Lookout below!"

And the guns, hundreds of them, spread all over Mexico. People died.

The Mexican government complained. Obama and Calderon met. Then Obama and Eric Holder, Attorney General -- responsible for the Justice Department -- went public, promising to shut down the gun runners sending automatic and semi-automatic weapons from the U.S. to Mexico.

But Mexican government complaints continued, as smuggled weapons shed more blood in cartel wars.

The ATF is on record saying they've never approved an illegal sale. Their agents say otherwise. Now, the ATF is announcing an investigation. So is Congress.

Oh, the mystery, the intrigue.

Stay tuned, folks. This may be a good one.

Articles reporting this recent news development are linked here. ATF ScandalCBS NewsAgency InvestigationUSA TodayCNNArizona Daily Star

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Snow in Central California and the Whirlwind Begins

Okay, I know snow is no big deal to the rest of you, but here in the foothills of the Central Valley to wake up to snow on the ground was pretty exciting. It's gone from the surround hills now, but plenty in the higher country.

The whirlwind I'm referring to is the promotion for Angel Lost the next in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, which I wrote as F. M. Meredith.

The trade paperback form is up on Amazon, not sure when the Kindle version will appear. On Friday, the 100 copies I ordered arrived and I must say they look terrific. I offered 3 copies to the first persons on DorothyL who contacted me and heard from more than three right away.

Beginning this week I'll be on a blog tour. These are the first stops:

Tuesday, March 1
Book reviewed and giveaway at The Book Connection
Wednesday, March 2
Guest blogging at The Hot Author Report
Thursday, March 3
Guest blogging at Lori’s Reading Corner
Friday, March 4

On Wednesday, hubby and I are heading to Ridgecrest, which means driving through the Tehachapi mountains and taking a turn right before Mojave and heading across the high desert to the town of Ridgecrest that's big claim to fame is the China Lake Naval Air Station. Most of the people who live there are support for the NAS or engineers or Navy personnel and their families and retirees--and of course some folks who just love the desert.

My reason for going is to speak to the Ridgewriters, a branch of California Writers Club. I've been making a pilgrimage to this group for several years--but this time I'm going to take the place of a good friend of mine who was scheduled to speak that same night--Wednesday, March 2 and 7 p.m.--but there was a mix-up of dates, so I'm filling in. My topic is going to be Blogging and Blog Tours. I gave this same talk to Writers of Kern, another branch of the California Writers Club, last weekend.

Except for visiting all the blogs on my tour, the next in-person event isn't until the last Saturday of the month from 1 to 4 which I"m having my official book launch for Angel Lost at Books Off Main, on Oak St. in Porterville. This is a great little used bookstore where I've held my last three book launches.

So--perhaps I might have a bit of time to write, do you think?