Friday, April 29, 2011

Murder on the Interstate Virtual Tour

by Jean Henry Mead

We just ended a great two-week RV vacation and are holed up six hours from home to wait out a late spring snowstorm. My latest release, Murder on the Interstate, is due out tomorrow and I have two virtual book tours planned starting May 2 and ending August 14. I still have four articles to write and lots of packing and moving to do before the end of May because our house finally sold. By then I'll need another vacation.

I'm fortunate to have 33 hosts for my first tour, which runs through May 27. The second tour begins May 23 and is comprised of 13 authors who feature each another at their own sites for a week until August 14. It's a lot of work writing the blog articles and submitting to interviews, but it's also fun to connect with my readers.

I'll be giving away three copies of Murder on the Interstate in a drawing from among visitors to the sites who leave comments. So, if you're interested in a humorous mystery-suspense series featuring two 60-year-old feisty women sleuths traveling the country in their motorhome and discovering murder victims, stop by and leave a comment at the following sites:

May 2nd:

May 3rd:

May 4th:

May 5th:

May 6th:

May 9th:


May 10th:

May 11th:

And many more.

My complete blog book schedule is available at:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tag Trade by Morgan Mandel

Ever since the Murder Must Advertise egroup decided to focus on tags for their Amazon books, I've been obsessed with amassing tags and reciprocating the favor. The effort does seem to pay off in more sales, judging from the jump in mine during the period when this was taking place.

If you haven't tagged your Amazon book yet, you're missing out on some great free publicity.

Please contact me at with Tag Trade in the subject line, if you'd wish to do a tag trade on a mystery or thriller. First, make sure you've already added your tags.

I only have a very few exceptions to those I won't tag, which I'd explain in a reply if needs be. 

Morgan Mandel signing Killer Career
stock at Barnes & Noble

Killer Career now 99 cents
on Kindle and Smashwords

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making a Mystery

I recently came across a short story by Lee Child called "The Bodyguard." Most readers will recognize Child as the author of the Jack Reacher stories. "The Bodyguard" is not a Reacher story. In fact, as far as I know, it is the only non-Reacher story Child has written.  I quickly got past my initial disappointment and got into the story. It's a good story. I wouldn't call it great, but it stuck with me. So much so that I put aside my novel-in-progress to write my own bodyguard story.

I couldn't stop thinking about Child's story and about my take on it. I even dreamt about it. I'm not finished with it, but I'm still going at it with the same passion I had when I began.

My story is not a rip-off of Child's story, but it is certainly influenced by it. Readers might recognize similar elements in both. If they do, great; if not, so be it.

There is a quote that is variously attributed to Hemingway, Picasso, Stravinsky, and others: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal."

I don't believe either borrowing or stealing captures the essence of what writers and other artists do. We communicate with each other. One author produces a story on a theme, concept, or even a shard of an idea, and other authors take off from that with their own spin on the concept.

This notion of communication among artists was brought home to me three years ago on a trip to Florence, Italy. Our guide at the Uffizi museum took us to a painting by an early Italian painter. It was a Madonna and Child. She pointed out some of the elements of the painting and showed us a painting by Giotto with similar elements, but with Giotto's own take on them. From Giotto we went to Botticelli, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo. The paintings changed on several different dimensions--no perspective to perspective, religious to secular, to name just a few. But in all of them, you could see a form of communication between an artist and his predecessors.

Story themes seem to flow and ebb because authors get into the conversation with their take on a theme and then move on when they have nothing more to say. I'm hoping authors will soon run out of things to say about zombies and vampires.

I don't expect a surge in bodyguard stories, but once you join a conversation, you never know how long it will last or who will jump in. Writing is a lot like a attending a cocktail party. There are a lot of conversations going on, some big, some small, and we move from one to other as they pique our interests.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Frustrating Stuff

In September I'm going to be an instructor for the Central Coast Writing Conference at Cuesta College. I've been asked to give to classes, one on Mystery Writing 101A and the other on Setting. I'm looking forward to it. This is a conference I've always wanted to attend, but awhile back I made up my mind I wouldn't go to any more writers conferences unless I was a presenter.

While over at the Morro Bay Library giving a joint presentation with several other writers I met the new chairman of the conference. She asked me if I planned to go. I gave her my new rule and guess what? Yep, she invited me to be on their line-up. I was thrilled. Not only is this a paying gig, it's a great conference with lots of good classes, a reception and a party at the end of the conference and it ties in with the Central Coast Book Festival the following day.

So why am I frustrated? Their publicity on the Cuesta College website hasn't really been updated since last year's conference. Though the date has changed, the speakers and schedule are from 2010. The reason is the serious illness of the person who takes care of the website. That's a shame, of course. My frustration comes from the fact that I'd love to help promote the conference, but I can't until they solve their website problem.

Hopefully they have a following who always attends the conference, because my personal opinion is it's a bit late to not have everything ready for attendees to see what's offered and to get registered.

Because I'm heavily involved with the planning and promotion of the PSWA conference I can tell you that the website information is correct. The main presenters are up on the blog. There will be panels for authors to be on, but that won't be finalized until June 1. We're already had more registrations than last year--and because we're small without any monetary backing, everyone pays to come--even the main speakers.

As soon as I know the website really is updated, I'll give you the webpage site. Not only is this a good writing conference, it is in a great location. If you've never been to the San Luis Obispo area, it's beautiful. Located close to the Central California Coast you can be sure of ocean breezes, and it's near Morro Bay, a unique coastal town right on the water.

Here's to writing conferences--I always learn something new and come back ready to write.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Cleaning for Writers and Readers by Morgan Mandel

Spring, a time for new beginnings, is also when I and many others get into the mood for cleaning and clearing out clutter accumulated during the hibernating winter months. The inspiration for this blog  is my coupon keeper, in which I was surprised to find coupons with October, 2010 expiration dates.

This year I'd like to take my cleaning a bit further and analyze accumulations from more than the past months, and include clutter from many years of saving items I no longer need. I don't know how many of my suggestions I'll actually follow, but I'm going to try.

Ways to Clean Writer Clutter:

1. If you belong to a critique group lilke I do, and have been saving every written critique on paper from every person who has ever participated, consider keeping one complete copy of the work, then save only the pages with writing on them. If you want, jot down the person's name on the pages where they made suggestions. Better yet, if you're not a saver and have already considered and accepted or rejected the suggestions, you may even be so bold as to throw them all out.

2. What about those papers you've saved with all those helpful tips you printed from websites and emails because they were so important you felt you needed a printed reminder? I've got tons of those all over the place. Have you followed any of those suggestions? I've followed some, but there are so many it's hard to keep track. In the changing publishing market, do the suggestions still make sense? If not, pitch them. Also, if you have duplicates addressing the same topic, pick the ones that seem most sensible and discard the others. Consider organizing the ones you do keep into folders with tabbed labels.

3. Do you have boxes with programs in them which you've never installed on your computer? Are they obsolute now? Is there some other reason you never installed them? If you can't use them, donate them to the library or a charitable organization and get a writeoff for next year. Be careful not to include any program discs already used which may contain personal data.

4. Do you have scraps of paper with email addresses on them, perhaps from people who bought your book at a booksigning, or someone you met at a conference? Isn't it about time you added them onto your contact list online? You can put them in a separate category for easy finding.

5. What about all those business cards accumulated from possible venues to sell books, or other writers you've met, etc., they can also go onto your computer.

6. Do you have a printed copy of your work in progress? I do, as well as any book I've every written. If it makes you feel good looking at it, keep it. Just don't forget to keep updated copies online and email them to yourself for safekeeping.

7. With all my recommendations for online saving, here's something else to remember: If you don't have a backup program, consider purchasing one to protect all the valuable information you've cleared out of the house and onto the computer. I've got Dell Data Safe, plus, plus Flicker, for saving data, but don't update as often as I should. The automatic updates don't work for me, since my well known service provider chooses to time out at various times and interrupt the flow.

8. Do you have a website? If so, make sure it's up to date with your latest happenings.One of these days very soon I'll need to do that again. This pertains to blogs too, though those are easier to keep up since they're more frequently used. While you're on your blog, check out the blogroll. Do all the links work, or did some of those blogs move?

Readers and Writers Can Remove Clutter These Ways:

1. Have you saved books you thought you might read again, yet haven't in years? I have, but I'm getting better on that score, though I really wish now I'd kept those Nancy Drew books. Do you really want to read some of those books again, when there are so many new ones out there? If not, donate them to the library or a charity and get a deduction. I purged the house of four bags of books a few months ago, but am considering doing more.
2. What about those autographed books? I've saved every autographed book by every friend or acquaintance who has ever gotten published, plus autographed books from conferences and book signings. I plan on sorting through my collection and deciding which books are written by people who are my very best friends and which books are signed by people I barely know. Of course, I'll still keep books signed by Sidney Sheldon and anyone else who was or is very popular,because it makes me feel good to have even that small contact with someone who made it.

3. Another reason to discard print books - I now have a kindle, which means I hardly ever bring a print book when I go somewhere which requires a wait. On my last vacation, my kindle came with, but no print books. I suspect at the most I'll include one print book on the next vacation as well. Speaking of the kindle, Amazon can store books already read, so it's a good idea to remove the read ones off the kindle so it's easier to find the ones unread. I've got over 100 to still to read, but have also read many which are getting in the way of finding the unread ones.

4. If you use email, and who doesn't these days, delete messages as soon as you've read them, unless they're very important to save. Those you can red flag to find easier when you need them.

5. If you've fallen behind deleting messages, make it your goal to delete each day a certain amount of unread messages you thought you'd read, but are now months or years old. I'm too embarrassed to offer the total of my unread messages. I did that about a year or so ago on one of my blogs, but unfortunately the number has escalated since then.

Now you've gotten the hang of it, make you can think of other clutter removers, or maybe you'd like to agree or expand on one I've mentioned. Please do.

Morgan Mandel

Killer Career is now 99 cents
on Kindle and Smashwords

Sunday, April 17, 2011


By Mark W. Danielson

People read books because stories offer escapes. Some prefer fantasy, others like Westerns, still others love mysteries and horror. But as different as these genre are, every novel shares the same fundamentals of writing. Words must define the story, keep them interested, and define who is speaking. Smooth transitions are of the essence, but they don’t come without experience.

Transitions occur in many ways. Commas, paragraphs, and chapters are all examples. In good writing, the reader will barely notice as they read, but bad transitions are like skunks in the middle of the road. Our job as authors is to avoid the stinkers and keep things rolling.

In writing, sentences and paragraphs may look fine as your fingers hammer the keyboard, but when you read them aloud, they don’t always flow. This is where editing comes in. Somehow, you must find a means of melting everything together so it sounds as smooth on audiotape as it reads.

As a general rule, each chapter should begin anew and end as a cliffhanger. Think of chapter endings as commercial breaks in TV shows and you’re on the right track. Give the reader a reason to come back after the break.

When you have several characters talking, it’s easy to get into the “he said, she said” mode. Sometimes it’s necessary to use the “said” word, but you can generally avoid it with description preceding paragraph that identifies who is speaking. Having that person identify who they are speaking to can eliminate another “said” word. When you think you’re finished, do a word search to see how well you did. He said, she said may be fine for children’s books, but it should be avoided in adult novels. Enough said.

Editors will agree that volumes can be written on this subject, but applying these basic principles will make yours smile.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


by Ben Small

In my own Stupid Kindle Story, a topic I've seen covered before, I think I've got a winner. I bought a new Kindle, 3G and all, because I got tired of losing my place on the old one. You know: a twitch, a bump, whatever... No idea where I'd been.

So I pulled my new Kindle out of the package, only to drop it because I had no idea how the hard cover with slots -- ordered separately, mind you - worked..

Yeah, duh.

One return later, still unable to work the stupid cover, I ordered another hard cover, one with a built-in light running off the Kindle battery.

Cool. I can read in the dark.

So the package arrives, and it's the same cover I'd already bought, the one with the slot I couldn't figure out.

Donkey duh.

Maybe I should read directions...
Charles McCord
Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippin, Johnny Carson had Ed McMahon, and for about thirty years Don Imus has had Charles McCord. Charles doing the news, sidekick superb, a joke-writer, a stand-up-quality comedian; Charles, whose rants back against the ever-insulting Imus as either a voice of reason or a total nutjob should someday grace my iTunes library. 

McCord announced his retirement Friday, effective May 6.

As a key piece of what has become three of the most entertaining radio and television programming hours five days a week for thirty years, Charles will be missed. And as he made Charles' announcement, Imus snorted that after forty-eight years of going home to  his family early each and every afternoon, Charles has decided to see them less. He's going to sit on some Arkansas lake, alone in a boat, fishing... Then, mentioning his prostate cancer -- for maybe the hundredth time that hour -- Imus compared Charles to Newt Gingrich, who served his wife with divorce papers while she was in the hospital. 

As usual with Imus in the Morning, hilarity ensued.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Is Your Audience? by Morgan Mandel

Some people say to write what you know. Others say write for the market. Still others say write the book of your heart.

I have to go with the last advice. Too much time and effort is involved to write a book I don't have any interest in. There's no way I can get into my characters' heads unless I'm fully engaged. Still, even if I become emotionally involved, that doesn't mean during and after the process I should ignore potential marketing areas.

To me, what good is a book if no one reads it? By the time my manuscript is finished, I need to figure out what likely candidates will read it.

Here are some questions I ask myself to figure out the market:

What genre or cross-genres does my book belong to?
Where does the action take place? 
What occupations do the characters pursue, or are they retired, or incapacitated?
Do the characters have any hobbies?
Are any organizations featured in the book?
What about causes or volunteer work?
What about financial class?

Those are a few clues I use for finding markets for a book. Do any of them work for you? Do you know any others?

Sunday, April 10, 2011


by Earl Staggs

The Tenth Day of the Fourth Month has rolled around again. Both my wonderful daughters have called me already today. My Facebook page is filled with terrific friends who took the time to send notes. My wife promised to bake my favorite cake. (Hot Milk Cake, in case you’re wondering. I’d invite y’all over but then I’d have to share it.) She’s also taking me out to dinner at one of my favorite places. A day can’t get any better than that.

So how old am I today? Hmmmm. Let me think about that. I try not to dwell on how many years I’ve been kicking around this old rock. Seems like every time I acknowledge that number, I get a year older. I don’t want to get a year older because if you do that enough times, you get old. I can’t get old. There’s too much I haven’t done yet. So let’s not think about how old I am on the outside. On the inside, I’m thirty-five. And holding.

It’s been a good year overall. I finally reached the end of a book I’ve been nibbling away at for a number of years. I can’t really say it’s finished just because I typed “The End.” I’ve decided to make a drastic change in the darn thing, so I’ll be chomping away at it for a while longer. It’ll be done when it’s done. (Which is what my wife just said about my Hot Milk Cake, by the way.) When it’s done (the book, not the cake), I’m 95% certain I’m going to self-publish it in ebook and print form. Given the state of the traditional publishing industry, if I try to land an agent and then a publisher, I’ll most definitely be old by that time. And, like I said, I can’t get old yet.

For this new book, I’m inventing a new sub-genre. I’m going to call it “Action Mystery.” There’s a solid mystery thread running from beginning to end with lots of physical action along the way. Not the kind of supercharged, non-stop, breathtaking action that I'd call a thriller, but plenty of bad guys doing plenty of things to keep my protag from surviving till the end of the story.

I’m also only a few days away from uploading a collection of my old short stories to Kindle, Nook, et al, and I have two new shorts close enough to done I’m already thinking about markets to send them to.

So as the twelve month period since my last birthday ends, I have to say. . .

Sorry, but that’ll have to wait. Gotta go. I smell cake.

Earl Staggs

Visit my Homesite at: and read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER plus a short story called "The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer."

Friday, April 8, 2011

By Chester Campbell

Driving while under the influence is a serious matter, but the subject can keep an audience laughing and giggling when delivered by a natural comic. Our speaker at the Metro Nashville Citizen Police Academy this week was a veteran of twenty-two years as a DUI officer. He was a hoot.

He started by showing a CollegeHumor video of a drunk trying to buy beer. He had an edited version that wasn't as long as the one I Googled and found here. The last frame shows the man doing out the door of the store. The officer said it made him wonder if the guy got inhis car and drove off. He didn't report encountering any drivers that impaired, but he described some doozies. There was the woman who could pass the DUI tests with a blood alcohol level above 2.0.

He explained the history behind the DUI tests, which once included things like touching your finger to your nose. After much research and debate, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued a standard set of three tasks for use in field sobriety testing. First is the Walk and Turn. The subject is told to walk ten steps following a straight line, heel to toe, then stop, turn around, and walk the same back to the starting point. They are told it is important to do it exactly as instructed. Drunks will often stop and ask how many steps they've taken or just keep going for fourteen or more.

Another is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test. The officer moves an object across in front of the subject's face and watches the way his eyes track. A drunk will tend to have jerky eye movements. The other is the One-Leg-Stand Test. The suspect stands with feet together, arms at the side, and is told to raise one leg about six inches, toe straight, and count "one thousand and one, one thousand and two" up to thirty while holding the leg up.

The officer said repeat offenders can get pretty smart. They will practice the tests in preparation for the next DUI stop. He demonstrated the two voices he uses when stopping people. The first was very soft and polite when he asks to see their driver's license. The second was quite forceful when he says, "Sir, you are under arrest for driving under the influence."

He says they never use the term "drunk driving." DUI refers to under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When asked about his most scary stop, he told of pulling a car over one night in the tunnel on Murfreesboro Road, about 100 yards long, that runs beneath an airport runway. The tunnel is lighted, with three lanes on each side. He got out and went back to talk to the driver. As he did, he noticed a car coming toward them. It was in his lane and showed no sign of slowing. He yelled at the driver to get out and jumped out of the way just before the oncoming car slammed into the one he had stopped. It oncoming driver was drunk.

A fatal crash investigator talked to us before the DUI officer. He used a term I hadn't heard before, referring to the white and yellow lines on the road as "mayonnaise and mustard." He spoke of all the exhaustive investigation done at a fatal crash scene, which is why traffic can be tied up at length.

He said drivers give all sorts of excuses for why accidents happen, but the "proximate" or factual cause comes from one of three sources: driver failure, transportation system failure (lack of proper signage, etc.), or mechanical failure. There can be many contributing factors, but those are the real causes of accidents, or crashes as traffic cops call them.

One fact he mentioned that will make you think about your driving habits concerns following the vehicle ahead too closely. It takes 1.6 seconds of reaction time to perceive a threat and start to take action. If you're traveling at 70 mph on the interstate and a truck stops in front of you, you'll travel a little over 100 feet before you get your foot on the brake.

I've been a lot more careful in judging distances and speeds since then.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

J. Michael Orenduff's Winning Pot Thief

by Jean Henry Mead

Michael Orenduff won a 2011 Lefty Award for his novel, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, published by Oak Tree Press. Another book in his series was reviewed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who wrote: "The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras has all the components of a great read – an intricate plot, quirky characters, crackling dialog, and a surprise ending. What’s more, Orenduff successfully captures the essence of New Mexico through humor, romance, and even a little philosophical musing. New Mexico’s rich history, people, food, and landscape come alive on its pages. . ."

Mike, you’ve had some great reviews, but how did you manage the one from Governor Bill Richardson?

I served as president of New Mexico State University back in the nineties when he was one of our Congressional Representatives. He was very supportive of higher education, and I worked with him (mostly his staff) on several projects, including one for Hispanic-serving institutions that tied NMSU with the University of Puerto Rico and some other universities in a federal project. So when I retired and started writing books, I asked him for the review and he graciously consented. And it didn’t hurt that my books attract attention for the state.

Tell us about your award-winning Pot Thief Mystery series.

The protagonist was a “pot hunter” in his early days, digging up and selling ancient pottery. When that practice was outlawed, he was rebranded as a pot thief, but he rationalizes what he does. Unfortunately, his clandestine excavations often tie him to a murder which he must solve to clear himself. He’s somewhat clueless but often gets inspiration and assistance from his sidekick Susannah who acquired her mystery solving skills by reading murder mysteries.

How important is humor in a mystery series?

I think every mystery, no matter how noir, must have some humor if for no other reason than to break the tension. In my books, even the tension is funny. At least I hope it is.

Your series has been described as a “thinking man’s mystery.” How would you describe it?

The protagonist is part thief, part social critic who finds popular culture unfathomable. He cherishes the naïve belief that reason works.

Why does someone with your advanced education decide to write mystery novels?

Because writing fiction is fun.

What are you working on now? And is there some project in the back of your mind you’d like to write about?

I also write plays. I have written two comedies, but now I am trying my hand at a serious play.

Who most influenced your own work?

Michael Bond, Lawrence Saunders, and Lawrence Block.

Advice to fledgling writers?

I wish I had some sage advice to pass along, but I don’t. One learns the craft of writing like one learns most skill – long hours of practice. Write, write, write. Take a break and read – you’ll see things in what you read that you wouldn’t have noticed before you started writing. Then repeat the cycle for a few years, always getting people to read your work and give you feedback. At some point you will look at your early attempts and shudder. That means you are making progress.

You can drop in on Mike anytime at his website:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One for History

Quick question: What landmark events for women occurred in 1972?
Answer: Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law and P.D. James published An Unsuitable Job For A Woman.

Unsuitable introduced Cordelia Gray, a woman who owned a private detective agency. There had been women sleuths before her, but most of them were amateurs. The few women private eyes who preceded her were written by men. Cordelia was the beginning of a sub-genre of women private eyes written by women and who appealed to women. She was quickly followed by Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski and many, many more.

Title IX was the section of the education act that mandated equality for women in athletics. Because of Title IX, women have opportunities in high school and college to play team sports such as basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball.

At this point, I should confess that the reason this post is late is because last night I watched the Texas A&M women beat Notre Dame for the NCAA basketball championship. 76 to 70, in case you're wondering. It is the first basketball championship in school history. There was no way I was going to let something like writing interfere with my enjoyment of the game. Afterwards, it was all celebration. It was the best basketball championship game of the year, certainly better played than the men's championship, which was ugly beyond words. The two teams last night had been seeded number two in the tournament, which meant that both took on the underdog role and had to fight two number-one seeded, traditional powerhouses to get to the championship game.

To bring this back to mysteries, I like reading about scrappy underdogs; I love it when the mighty are brought low. I cheer when the person who wasn't supposed to be there is the last girl standing. Is there a connection between Title IX and women sleuths? Sure. One word: Guts. 

During the game last night we talked about how women's basketball had changed since our days in college. We all remembered when women played six on a team--3 on offense and 3 on defense. Each player played on only half of the court. If you were on offense, you couldn't cross the line to the defensive side. You had to wait for the ball to come to you. No driving 94 feet for the last-second layup, no going after a loose ball, no contact. It was unladylike. Last night there was plenty of unladylike behavior. Bodies hit the floor. Bodies hit other bodies. There were charging fouls, blocking fouls, and a foul for swinging an elbow too high (and colliding with a chin). Players limped to the line to take their foul shots. It's the new definition of ladylike.

Billie Jean King, in an interview about Title IX, said that the best thing about the act was the effect it had on team sports.  There had been plenty of women athletes before Title IX, but they were mainly individual sports like tennis, golf, swimming and figure skating.  They were certainly not contact sports.  Last night's game was exactly what the opponents of Title IX feared would happen: women sacrificing their bodies for the team, getting knocked down seven times and getting up eight.

Isn't that the essence of character?

When I was creating my first main character, my wife said, give her a team sport like basketball. So I did. I took inspiration from women who suffered adversity to play. Women such as all the collegiate athletes who, before the WNBA, had to leave their country if they wanted to keep playing, who battled homesickness for the love of the game. I took inspiration from Sheila Tighe, who after 14 years away from basketball, gave up a lucrative career to try to make a come back. Here is what Sports Illustrated said about her:

If you happened to be pool-side at La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, Calif., a couple of weeks ago, perhaps you noticed the 36-year-old woman wearing the god-awful black toenail polish—black because, she joked, she'd just been to war. Or perhaps you glimpsed the bruises exploding like tiny fireworks on her arms, or the angry red scratches around them. Perhaps you gasped at the half-dollar-sized blisters on the bottoms of her feet, or the parchment-colored dead skin that was peeling off because of the countless miles she'd recently run. As she lay there on her chaise longue for four days, reading a mystery novel and not wanting to move, those marks were the only clues to who she once was. Or to what she'd just been through.

Read more:
What makes someone put themselves through that? What makes these women athletes put up with so much pain to play for less glory and money than is lavished on the men? What makes a woman detective stay on the hunt when the odds are against her? I know how the Aggies won the championship. On guts. They didn't quit. That motivation is the core of the characters I want to write about and read about.

Don't you love the irony in the title, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman? Prior to 1972, private investigator and basketball player were unsuitable jobs for women. Now women are going hard at it in the best stories and on the biggest stage. Last night was one for history, but there's much more to come.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Feeling Overwhelmed

Usually I plod along doing each thing on my list and moving to the next without any feeling of stress or urgency. Yep, I keep a list of all the things I need to accomplish--never knowing whether I'll get it all done in one day or not, but not worrying about it. If something is particularly important, I'll do that first. My list consists of everything I need to do promotion, household stuff, bills, etc.

Lately though, my list is growing and contains too much that needs to be done right away.

I'm doing a different blog tour with 13 authors which has required something a bit different for each one, though I've asked the same thing from the other authors. As each list of requirements has come in from a blog host I've created that particular post. When an author sent me what I wanted, I've put it on my blog with the right day as soon as possible--mainly because I didn't want their information to disappear.

Because I always jump at the chance to be on someone's blog, I've got several of these coming up. I keep track on my calendar and when the day comes I make sure to promote that blog and check it ever so often to acknowledge anyone's comment.

I do a monthly newsletter and usually I'm good about writing a bit on it whenever I do something that might be interesting--during the month of March I didn't write a thing. I know why, income tax weighed heavily on my mind. I did five other income tax returns for family members, but mine was problematic. There was one thing I absolutely couldn't figure out how to report. After much stewing, I headed down to H & R Block. A nice lady there showed me exactly what I need to do and didn't charge me. Big surprise in this day and age. After I followed her directions and they worked, I stopped back in and gave her an autographed copy of my latest book. She seemed pleased--not have as pleased as I was.

Looming ahead are all sorts of in-person events, each one requiring something different.

The first is the 50th Anniversary of the Jackass Mail Run--requires a tent, table, chairs, books, and money box.

Second, a Reading Club in a town about 2 1/2 hours a way. I plan to give them books and I'm taking some for sale.

Third, a panel with the L.A. Chapter of Sisters in Crime. A bookstore is supposed to be providing books, but to be on the safe side, I'll take some along with me. Because this one is about 1/1/2 hours away, we're going from there to spend the night with one of our daughters.

And the last and at the end of the month, I'm giving a reading and talk about what gave me the idea for each book to a college group about 3 hours away. (Of course I won't do them all, we'd have to stay 2 days.) We'll stay in a motel and the plan is to visit an ailing and very aged aunt the next morning before we head home.

That's April--well that's the writing part of April, haven't even mentioned all the other things I have to do as far as my personal life is concerned.

So--what about you, do you ever feel overwhelmed?


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Deadlines Versus Dead Lines

By Mark W. Danielson

For authors, deadlines are expected. For mystery authors, dead lines are good if they kill your antagonist, or bad if they kill your story. Since we have all had our share of successes and failures in writing, this seems like a worthwhile topic to explore. Your publisher’s deadline may stir productivity, but if you haven’t prepared for it, what you turn in may be less than your best writing. Face it, authors are disciplined, but personal issues such as health, children, jobs, and whatever else we face in our daily lives can distract us from creating all that we must. I dare say that most authors, even some of the biggest in the business, have at one time or another submitted stories that weren’t ready. Perhaps they expected their editors to throw it back in their face, but in some cases, it got published as-is. Stories like this are easy to identify. They start off very well, but suddenly the pace changes, it sounds rushed, and its anticlimactic finish makes you feel cheated. I suspect the reason for this so-so novel is the author had not adequately prepared for the deadline.

The problem with turning in less-than-optimum work is the author may have fulfilled the obligation, but the sour book may not sell enough copies to pay for the advance. It doesn’t take long before books like this end up on deeply discounted displays faster than a bad big-screen movie goes to DVD. Soon after, the author can expect to be dropped by the publisher. With stakes this high, why would anyone turn in substandard work? The solution is to pace your writing. Do a few pages every day. If you skip a day, then make up for it. Allow sufficient time for the editing process. This isn’t college. You can’t cram for a novel like you would a final exam.

Stephen King’s book, On Writing, suggests that you write your manuscript straight through and hide it for weeks or months. If you can afford the time, I recommend stashing it for six months. It is amazing how different your “perfect” manuscript looks once it has fermented. During this time, clear your head by writing about something else. If you can think of this approach as a novel production line, then you’re on the right track. If you aren’t ready to begin another novel, then write short stories, blog articles—anything that will take your mind off your last project. When you revive your novel, edit it and then stash it again so you can give it a final fresh review before sending it to your professional editor. Remember that editing is an on-going process. Remember that if your editor isn’t thrilled, your book won’t go anywhere. Also remember that publishing house editors are the ones who determine whether your story is marketable. You only get one shot so your manuscript had better be perfect.

If you haven’t read On Writing, buy it. If you have a copy, re-read it while your manuscript ferments. Authors learn from each other and it’s rare when someone like Stephen King is willing to share his insight. Pace your writing, review it often, edit, let it ferment, then repeat as necessary. That’s the formula for killer submissions.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mad About Hunter

by Ben Small

I started reading Stephen Hunter before I adopted shooting as a hobby and before I realized I'd best learn something about guns if I wanted to include them as part of my plotting. Yes, the old putting a safety on a Detective's Special .38 Special thing again -- they don't have one. Peeling my editor off the wall thing.

And frankly, I didn't have much of a clue what Hunter was writing about. While I found his story intriguing, fast-moving and a page-turner, I skipped many of his gunnery details because I didn't know enough about guns to even fire one.

After my editor's outburst and very long lecture thereafter, I bought a few guns, primarily for their manuals, so I could ensure at least some details would be accurate. Then I took one of them -- an AR-15 -- out to the woods, fired one round -- not realizing I needed hearing protection -- and scared the hell out of myself. I hit the milk carton, I think, but was too busy scrambling back toward the house -- scared to death that my inability to hear would be permanent -- to look.

I should have read more Hunter.

Stephen Hunter is recognized as the best sniper novelist on the planet. His character, Bob Lee Swagger, a retired Marine sniper, is beloved by shooters everywhere -- hunter or paper-popper like me. As a shooter, I learn more about guns and how to use them from Hunter's novels than I do from subscriptions to Guns & Ammo or Shooting Times, magazine staples for most trigger-pullers. Because Stephen Hunter has a nose for details, the minute parts of a complex story that one doesn't realize are important until they're assembled into a slap-the-side-of-your head denouement.

Novel after novel -- one exception, The 47th Samurai, where for some reason Swagger journeys to Japan for a sword-fight with a legendary Japanese Samurai -- Hunter finds gun details (scopes, firing pins, ammo, calibers, sniping artistry, ballistics, accurizing, setups and other variables) that may seem insignificant to most, but are critical to a satisfying, can't-put-down story.

Take Shooter, for instance, the movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger, which is based upon Hunter's novel Point of Impact. If you watch the movie, you may feel you need not read the book. Au contraire. For while the movie covers the book's premise -- albeit with some differences -- the movie settles for simplicity rather than the careful piecing together of a complex puzzle assembled by Hunter. Yes, the movie has a brilliant denouement, a masterful piece of crafting no doubt supplied by Hunter, but the revelations, settings and step-by-step plotting -- not to mention the finale -- vary by order of magnitude, like comparing a .22lr round to a ..22-250. (Both are .22 caliber bullets. But one is rimfire, the other is center-fire; one for gophers, the other for coyotes or deer; one gives a small pop, the other will deafen you; and finally, one costs $6/100, the other a buck per round.)

You may have heard of Stephen Hunter. He won a Pulitzer a film critic. I haven't read one of Hunter's film pieces, but I'm working my way through all of his twenty-two acclaimed books, most of them Bob Lee Swagger novels.

And the funny thing is, Stephen Hunter has never been a sniper. Hunter grew up in a Chicago suburb to academic parents who forbade guns in the house. After becoming hooked on Dragnet, Hunter started sketching out gun designs on notepads and writing gun novels at age ten. Then he attended college, and like most college students, Hunter drifted Left and actually protested for gun bans. Finally, as an adult, Hunter stopped denying his inner voices, and he returned to his first love -- guns.

And Hunter's been firing off highly acclaimed novels ever since.

Writers often ask me about gun details, and I've penned a few blogs about them. Why? Because, like Hunter, I've become fascinated by weaponry in general and guns specifically. And it's a shame so many authors miss plot opportunities associated with their chosen weaponry or get details about the weapon (or its use) flat-out wrong. Yet Stephen Hunter takes me to school, about writing and about how to make details -- in this instance, gun details -- important. He's also taught me that if one is going to make a gun important to a plot, you can bet the book's shooter paid attention to detail. And if we're following the steps of the shooter, we should know how he prepared for what may be the critical book event.

So yes, I'm mad about Stephen Hunter. So much so, I may even read one of his film pieces.