Sunday, July 31, 2011

Analyze This!

Have you ever read a novel for pleasure and then gone back to analyze exactly why the darned thing worked or didn’t?  I found it a good learning tool.

Here’s one I did a few years ago just for my own use. It’s a bit long for a blog post, so you may skim this just to get ideas. There are spoilers.

Analysis of A STAB IN THE DARK, by Lawrence Block
Main character
The main character is identified on page 1, halfway down the page.

He is an ex-cop with a mix of personal characteristics.  He is an alcoholic in denial (“I can quit any time I want to.”)  Whenever he comes into some money, he tithes, giving 10% to a church poor box, even though he is not religious.  He is not above stepping outside the law, but may feel bad about it later.  Alcohol affects his judgment.  For the most part he is honest, but he beats up and robs someone he thinks is a potential mugger.  He is not licensed as a p.i., because he doesn’t want to deal with all that paperwork.  He gets this case through the recommendation of a cop.

His strongest asset is that he is very, very persistent.  That is his reputation, and it is stated at the end of the first chapter.  He won’t even quit when his employer tells him to.  He keeps churning things up.  Stirring up trouble.  He has close ties with the NYC police.  He pays off a cop for info; there is never anything said about it.  The cop gives info as a favor, Scudder gives the cop money as a favor.  Five twenties.  Nine-year old murder case that his employer wants him to re-open.  It looks like an impossible case, with all leads gone cold.  The murder was similar to those committed by someone who is now in jail.
He also has a good memory.

Lots of detail, many clues and plot twists, lots of possible suspects.  The killer is someone I least expected, a former cop who killed someone as “practice” for killing his wife, but who then stopped when he was revolted by what he’d done.  Scudder figures it out by inconsistencies in the guy’s statements.  Also some misdirection complicates the story.

Scudder’s philosophy sprinkled throughout the book:  “A favor’s no good unless you pay for it.  One way or another, you always do.”

“When money comes with no strings on it, take it and put it in your pocket.  I was still enough of a cop at heart to remember that much.”

Point of view
POV is first person.

Lots of summary dialogue.  Less straight dialogue than Ed McBain.  Doesn’t shy away from “I” at all.  Plenty of paragraphs, sentences begin with it.

“He asked me if I was sure I didn’t want one for myself.  No thanks, I said.”

Stage setting
“He took a little sip of beer.  Over the top of the can he said, ...”

Near the end, a few specific memories of what people said, using parens, quotes, and italics:
(I never see him...I never see my former husband...I don’t see my husband and I don’t see the check.  Do you see?  Do you?”)

Lots of specific character descriptions.

There is a significant amount of narrative without dialogue.  Just a few telling quotes  Example: A Slavic woman says, “Only nice people get killed.”

Transitions and passage of time

“The next day was Friday.”

“It was a nice day out and I thought I’d kill a little time...As it turned out I walked all the way...
Plot points

p. 1  He is approached by the person who hires him.

p. 159 Confronts Burt Haverford and says “I know you killed her.”  This is 20 pages from the end of the story.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What, Me a Success?

Authors’ egos are easily bent/damaged. We are constantly rejected and reminded that we are inadequate. Over these past few years, I’ve taken heart after hearing the stories of famous authors and their rejections. Then comes a question from a friend: Are you disappointed that you have not yet become a name like King or Patterson? Well, after wrestling away depression, I started thinking. Am I successful? First answer – darn right I am. Then another bout with doubt. Why am I writing, and am I satisfied with my career?

After I had toiled in the corporate world for twenty-five years, the company decided they no longer needed me—or even my job. Cripes - rejection. I promoted myself to cobbler and owned my own business for eleven years. When the economy for cobblers (predating the economy for others) went south, I closed my business. Rejection number two.

I became a full time author in 2002. Since that time, I’ve had four mystery novels published by small, respected electronic publishers. Each of these submissions paralleled the process for publication by the big guys: query letter, first three chapters and then the entire manuscript.

I’ve had several short stories published, and am the owner of the Publishing and Promoting Yahoo group with more than 900 international members. My novels have garnered awards and wonderful reviews. So I considered myself successful. At least until the question from my friend.

Holding that first printed copy of my book was the realization of a life-long dream. Finally, when I was 65 years old, my book was published. I’d always wanted to be a writer, writing short stories all my life, and had the some-day dream of writing a novel. My very first goal was merely to finish a book. I had no desire or thought about getting it published. I’d read enough about authors to know that every one of the famous names has a first novel stashed in the back of a desk drawer.

A second book followed. An author friend in my writing group encouraged me to submit it to her publisher. I had already placed a rejection folder in my file cabinet. With my track record, rejection was a forgone conclusion. I should be ready for it. To my astonishment, they wanted to publish the book. Well, the bug had bitten me. I thought, “Hey, I have another book done, why not send it as well?” And three months after the first was in print, the second came out. I had no qualms saying I was a success. I even sold a bunch of them. Not thousands of copies, but actual people were reading my books. And liking them. Presto, I was a success. More books came.

But the question continues to taunt me. Am I a success? I ponder. And yes, by golly, at the moment I am a success. I’m doing what I believe I was meant to do--tell stories. I’m giving pleasure and smiles to readers and enjoying every minute of the journey, even the dreaded promotion and business side of writing. I have a wonderful writing group who help me overcome my grammatical ineptitude and a beautiful, supporting wife who is my biggest fan. And my “job” allows me time to volunteer and give back to my community.

When I listen to my characters talk to me and drive me to the finish line, I am in heaven on earth. I sometimes read what I have written and wonder where the heck that came from. I’ve made myself laugh and cry. Isn’t that what life is supposed to be about? Joy and sorrow? I thank you, God, for giving me the talent and tenacity to keep going. I am a success. Just ask me.

Friday, July 22, 2011


A guest blog by Sharon Ervin

The senior warden at church one Sunday morning asked for volunteers in our small-town Oklahoma congregation to write to people in our sister parish in Uganda. They were learning English. I wrote and the priest himself responded. We were happy pen pals for several years until he began insisting I come for a visit.

Americans were NOT advised to visit Uganda then. If one did, s/he must tour with a large group and stay only in cities. Father Charles Kapson, a young Anglican priest, insisted I visit his remote village. Few there had ever seen a white woman. I guess I was for show and tell.

Husband Bill is bolder than I and said he would take me if I wanted to go. I did not. My solution was to stop corresponding. Father Kapson began writing more often, more urgently.

By then, through his letters and pictures, I knew a lot about the priest, his family, his village, their lifestyle. He advised us to avoid coming during “the hungry season.” That did not encourage me. I had no intentions of visiting any place during the hungry season.

About that time, I had nightmares about losing Bill and visiting Uganda. A speaker at a writers’ conference suggested we write our worst nightmares. What an amazing idea.

My heroine had to be a strong woman with a strong name. Ruth! I borrowed the last name of a newly widowed friend, Pedigo, and Jusu and Mother Earth was born.

All my angst, my regard for Father Kapson, the nightmares, rolled easily onto the pages.

Jusu was my eighth novel-length manuscript. None had sold. After 17 years of trying, I was convinced I would never sell a book at all, so I wrote to suit myself. Anger, fear, sex, whatever motivated was what I wrote, after all, I was the only person, besides select family members or close friends, who would ever read it. Jusu was the first to sell. It was a miracle. Father Kapson and the villagers loved it. I sent several copies as gifts, more when they requested more.

I now have nine print-published novels and a backlist on Kindle. I’ve never been to Uganda. Bill is still fine. Our four children are grown.

Recently, a 14-year-old granddaughter sighed and said, “Nana, I can’t wait ‘til Mama says I’m old enough to read one of your books.”

Maybe I’ll write one for her...pretty soon.
About Sharon Ervin:

Sooner born, Sharon has a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Once a newspaper reporter, she now works in her husband and son’s law office half-days, gleaning material for her ongoing novels. She is married to McAlester, Oklahoma, attorney Bill Ervin and has four grown children.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Making Decisions About Your Writing Career

Sometimes I questions other people's decisions, and maybe they question mine.

Recently I heard of a newly published author who I don't even think has his book in hand who has made a decision I'd question.

He is going to be attending a writers' conference, is scheduled for a panel, but decided to leave early to attend a famous writers book signing so will miss the rest of the conference. He is truly excited about meeting this particular writer and has hopes to have a signing in the same bookstore.

Frankly, I think he's making a mistake. The famous author is on a book signing tour and will no doubt turn up somewhere else soon. Unless one is a famous author, bookstore signings are not the best venue for promotion.

The conference has many people attending who are promotion experts, frankly, I think he'd be better served to spend his time brainstorming with his fellow authors. But, of course, that's just my opinion.

I know the famous author who is a delightful person and will certainly exchange kind words with him. Not sure this will net him what he's hoping for.

Over the years I've had to make lots of decisions and I suspect some of them have been wrong. After no success with several agents, I opted to seek publishers on my own. I've signed contracts I might have been better served not to sign.

At the moment though, I'm happy with where I am. No, I'm not a famous author, but I do have two series being published by small publishers I like, I receive regular royalty checks, I do well at book and craft fairs, I'm asked to speak at writer's groups and conferences, and I've met a lot of wonderful writers along the way, both famous and not quite so famous. Best of all I've met readers who love my books.

I hope I continue to make good decisions.

Can you think of a decision you maybe shouldn't have made? Or one that really panned out the way you hoped?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Google+ Something Else to Figure Out by Morgan Mandel

Well, now I've been roped into another site called Google+. Once again, I'm fumbling around, trying to figure out what to do. For one thing they want a gmail address. I had to get one, since I've been using my domain email address here at blogger.

So, I got that all set up with a new email address there of, since I couldn't seem to get one with my own name. For all I know, maybe I got one before and forgot about it. I am on a lot of sites and have tons of usernames and passwords floating around.

In the process, somehow I changed my password for the domain email and couldn't remember where I put it, so I had to get a new one to post again. Now I think things are kind of in hand, though I have lots to learn about Google+, which seems a combination of Twitter, and Yahoo and a little Facebook thrown in. Anyway, when I figure more out, I can let you know.

In the meantime, if you have a gmail address and need an invite to Google+, or if you're already on there, drop me an email at and we'll see if we can connect in one of the Circles over there. 

Always something new to figure out.

Killer Career by Morgan Mandel
now 99 cents on
Kindle, also on Smashwords

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Little Marketing Music Please

A guest blog by Pat Browning

I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just when I was ready to write a few words on marketing, Vickie Britton’s new mini-ebook, Writing and Selling a Mystery Novel: A Simple Step-by-Step Plan, fell into my hands.

She also writes fiction. Vickie and her sister, Loretta Jackson, have co-authored more than 30 novels, most of them mysteries, mystery-romances, and westerns. Besides print editions, many are available on Kindle.

Vickie’s new mini e-book is a blueprint for writing a mystery from start to finish. Her segment on marketing sums up in three rules: Get it finished; get it out there, get it to the right market. Please note: The first rule is

Here’s an excerpt from the marketing segment, reprinted with Vickie Britton’s permission:

Why Most Books Don’t Sell

Yes, being a writer is tough, and it is a competitive market. But there are three rules that will greatly increase your odds of success.

■ Get it Finished

Most people don’t sell their novel for one simple reason: they never get it finished. They attend writer’s conferences and critique groups, talk about their project incessantly, and maybe even jot down a few ideas or chapters. But when it comes down to the wire, they don’t have a finished product to offer.

Half a book will never sell. True, when you get established you may be able to sell on the basis of a synopsis and three sample chapters, but at some point in time the editor is going to ask for the completed manuscript. You had better be ready and able to produce one. Usually, editors want completed manuscripts from new authors so that they know the writer can finish what he started. Once you’ve written a completed manuscript you've already eliminated over half of the competition.

■ Get it Out There

No manuscript has ever sold sitting in the bottom of a filing cabinet. Once you feel you've written the book to the best of your ability, get it circulating – by either querying an agent or sending it directly to a publisher.

■ Get it to the Right Market

Not only do you have to get your manuscript out there, but targeting the right market greatly increases your chances of a sale. If you have a mystery, don’t send it to a romance market. If you've written a police procedural, don’t send it to a tea cozy market. You'll get nothing but rejection. Study the publisher’s book list. You'll find that all publishers have a certain image they project to target a certain type of reader. They can vary greatly. Even if you have written the great American novel, the publisher won't change his publishing list for you.

■ Finding an Agent

This is the question authors get asked the most. No, it isn't necessary to have an agent in order to sell a book. An agent can help you reach larger publishing houses that don't accept unsolicited material, and they can help you get a better book deal once you have reached the stage where you want to sign multiple contracts. They can handle foreign rights for you and do all the bookwork.

On the downside, they charge up to 15 percent. So yes, you should try to get an agent if you want one. There are plenty of legitimate agents listed in the Writer’s Market. Another way to find a good agent is through word of mouth. Never pay a reading fee. Agents who ask for money up front make their living by charging fees, not by selling books.

■ Going Solo

If you either can’t get an agent to take you on because you're a new author or you simply don’t want one, you can query the editors at publishing houses yourself. Read their submission guidelines carefully and don’t try to change rules.

Guidelines can be found in the Writer’s Market, or by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to a specific publisher. Most editors want to see a synopsis and three sample chapters. The synopsis shouldn't be more than three pages. People disagree whether the outcome of a mystery should be revealed in the synopsis. I believe when selling a book you should tell how the story unfolds so the editor can get an idea of the plot’s plausibility. The sample chapters should be the first three chapters and not picked randomly from the book. If a publisher will accept a completed manuscript, then send the entire book.


Writing and selling a Mystery Novel: A Simple Step-by-Step Plan by Vickie Britton is available for purchase at Smashwords: . It’s available in ten e-book formats.


About the Author:

A veteran traveler, Pat Browning's.globetrotting of the 1970s led to her work as a travel agent and correspondent for TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco. During the 1990s, she served as a newspaper reporter and columnist. Her mystery novel, Full Circle, first of her Penny McKenzie mystery series, was later republished as Absinthe of Malice. She's currently hard at work on the second novel in the series.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Where Do You Find Your Villain?

All writers have a different style – some are plotters, some write by the seats of their pants, some work with a combo of the above or their very own construct. It doesn’t matter how the author creates, but what the author creates – and what the writer creates is a story filled with characters we root for and against.

There is a great deal of information available about heroes – alpha or beta, romantic or hard-boiled. Is he tall, athletic and handsome, or do the ladies adore his geekiness?

Our favorite heroines are generally smart, funny, and accomplished. But then again, there are the Stephanie Plums of the world, too! She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s klutzy!

But villains – where do the villains come from? Are they archetypes, constructs from our days of hearing fairy tales and myths? Are they the product of nightmares or do we pick our boss’ least appealing characteristics and make them bigger than life? Do we build him or her from people we read or hear about in the news? In documentaries? Or are they only a product of the writer's fertile imagination?

As far back as man has created, the villain has been a crucial component of the storyteller’s craft. The villain – or villainess, as the case may be – creates a great deal of stress and angst for our lovely hero and heroine. The villain will thwart them at every turn, for a while, and then their brilliance, bravery and moxie will shine as the villain is conquered.

What was our bad guy’s fatal flaw – hubris, stupidity, inexperience? Whatever it is, it brings him down in the end.

And isn’t that what we all want – to see justice done, the villain stopped and our hero or heroine win the day?

Who is your favorite villain and why?

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
Find me on Facebook, Twitter & Goodreads

Monday, July 11, 2011

Somewhere Over My Rainbow

Once achieving “senior” status, new worlds open up. The term senior discount becomes user-friendly. Ticket prices, restaurant food and geriatric aids are reduced. This is easily accepted as a deserved benefit earned by merely surviving. A bit of tarnish, also accepted, is the next plateau, reached when you are no longer asked for an ID to verify senior status.

Spattered among these benefits are inescapable side effects. Joints and muscles don’t react as they once did before seniority. Aches and pains become companions instead of occasional visitors. Doctor visits become necessary, as opposed to only valid when bones are broken. You spend an inordinate amount of time searching side effects, and then weighing the pros and cons.

But a pet peeve is the addition of an abundance of pills to the medicine cabinet. They come in a rainbow of colors. What I call the over-the-hill-take-your-pills stage of life. My wife and I have our own separate shelves for medication and supplements. We have familiarized ourselves with Omega oil (sounds much better than fish oil), CoQ10, one a day vitamins (which now irritatingly have a “senior” product), Red Yeast Rice, Niacin, and aspirin. Aspirin used to be for a rare headache. Not any more.

In the morning I take an oval orange vitamin, and a pretty gold Omega oil tablet. At night with a meal a small baby aspirin, orange flavored no less. I wonder if the term baby aspirin is like the name change for calf to veal – roasted baby calf would not be good to put on a menu, but veal is delicious. Before bed I get a pink pill which I was warned could induce flushing. I knew not what flushing was. Until I flushed. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t hurt. You are just HOT. And uncomfortable. My sympathy now blossoms when my wife emits the hot flash warning. So, I have a rainbow of colors I ingest. My wife takes some of the same pills and additional little white ones for a variety of problems. Oh, and an oval canary yellow pill for high blood pressure.

For those of you still in your youth - to me that’s under 60 - and refuse to take pills, get ready. If you cannot physically swallow a pill, I suggest you research the Kevorkian method of termination. In my younger days I bragged about not having to take a pill. I vowed never to take any – period. Be careful about vowing anything.

This is supposed to be a mystery blog. Well, the mystery is how the heck did I get to this point so quickly? Watch out, you’re next if you’re not there already. Peek over your shoulder every once in a while. Seniority is coming. It ain’t for sissies.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Plotting from the News

By Chester Campbell

Many authors use newspapers to find ideas for plots. Mine come from a variety of sources, but I sometimes turn to the news for possibilities. The way it gets twisted during the writing process may depend on lots of factors.

The new Sid Chance mystery I just finished, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous, got its start from a segment I saw on CBS about FBI agents in Miami who chased down Medicare fraud. It showed storefront operations supposedly providing durable medical equipment that were in reality Medicare scams. They billed the government for such items as battery-powered wheel chairs that were neither ordered nor delivered. It costs Medicare millions and millions of dollars yearly.

That was my initial plot idea but, of course, it had to involve a murder. So I decided to kill off the crook who ran it. Then I saw a newspaper feature (actually several stories one Sunday) about kids who commit murder and are sent to prison. It told of Nashville's youngest murderer recently released from prison at age twenty-five. He had shot a man during a drug deal at age twelve.

I created a character based on him, having the newly-released prisoner falsely accused of murdering the medical equipment store owner. My PI and his sometimes partner, wealthy ex-cop Jaz LeMieux, are hired by the young man's grandmother to prove his innocence.

The child murderer in the newspaper story was black, and so was my character. To complicate matters for my PI's, I had Jaz facing false accusations of racial harassment in connection with her role as chairman of a chain of travel centers.

Adding another plot twist from the news, I brought in links to a Mexican drug gang. One advantage of using subjects currently in the news is the ability to promote the book as "ripped from the headlines." Okay, maybe not in those words, but you get the idea.

The novel, my second Sid Chance mystery, will be out in the fall.

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How old is your sleuth?

Recently a question was posed on DorothyL about the age of series sleuths. The question inevitably arises because a series might last years or decades. Readers have aged over that time, should the sleuth age at the same rate?

One of the arguments for having a sleuth age is that readers like to see their favorite characters change or evolve. A series sleuth might change very little in the course of a single story, but will evolve over the length of the series. Consequently readers can expect their favorite sleuths to show evidence of change over time.

We might ask, however, if the change is due to aging or to an accumulation of life events. Have we grown because we have added years to our lives or because we have experienced love and the loss of love, have had accomplishments and failures, have been sick or injured, have faced death or watched others die? In the real world we tend to go through these events over time, adding years as we go. It doesn't have to be like that in the fictional world. With the exception of child-rearing, most life events are episodic.

Does it really matter to the reader if the sleuth ages? It certainly won't matter once the series has ended. If we know the sleuth won't age anymore, it doesn't matter if the sleuth ages at all. In my mind, Sherlock Holmes is in his mid-thirties, even though he was said to be 60 in his last story. He has been fixed in my mind at a certain age and that's where he stays with each story I read.

It would make some sense for the sleuth to age along with readers if readers read the series as they are written. But except for the most loyal readers, that is probably not the case. I can't think of any series I have read in order. Two years ago, my wife and I decided to devote the summer to catching up on Michael Connelly's novels. Over a three-month period we read all that we hadn't read and re-read some that we had. We didn't read them in order, but took them as we found them in new and used bookstores. Harry Bosch first appeared in 1992, so the stories spanned 17 years, but since we read them in 3 months, did Harry age 17 years or did he age 3 months. Or did he age at all?

Does aging help readers identify with the sleuth? Each of has an ideal age, an age that doesn't match the age on our driver's license. It's the age we would be if we didn't know when we were born. I believe we are more likely to identify with a sleuth of that age than with one our actual age. Our ideal age doesn't change much. It's usually the age when we were at our best. It makes sense that we would identify with characters who are at their best.

Who ages most in a series? The author. We get better and more experienced as we age which shows up in our writing style. We accumulate life experiences which show up in our stories. We accumulate wrinkles and gray hair which show up in the picture on the back cover. If the author shows signs of aging, does the reader expect that aging to show up in the sleuth? Maybe the secret is to make our sleuths the age we would be if we did not know when we were born and keep our birth dates out of the author bios and our pictures off the back cover.

What do you think?

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Book Coming

The scheduled date for Bears With Us to appear is in August, however, having had lots of new books come out with a certain date and not getting the books in time for an event, or having to pay air freight to get them, I will wait a month before getting too much going.

I have scheduled a blog tour for October, figured that would be safe.

And I'm already signed up for several things that if I get books in time I can promote there. In September I'm an instructor at the Central Coast Writers Conference and the Central Coast Book Festival follows, it would be nice if I had the new book then.

We also have a family reunion in September, I can always count on selling a few books there.

And in my own town in October is the wonderful Apple Festival, a two day event that attracts upwards of 3000 people each day and sometimes more. Of course I'll have a booth.

I always do a book launch at a used book store in the next city, but will hold off on setting the date.

While all this is going on, I'm about 3/4 through next year's Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery and still promoting Angel Lost in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series.

Back to Bears With Us, I do have to say, I love the cover. I've loved all the covers for this series, but I'm particularly fond of this one.

Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed, at other times I just feel blessed that I'm able to do what I love.


Monday, July 4, 2011

It's a Mystery to Me, but I'm Grateful to Them by Morgan Mandel

Long ago when I was young, we had a draft. Young men were called up by a lottery system to serve in the unpopular Vietnam War. Some with low numbers became draft dodgers and fled to Canada. Many who  served didn't return home.

With the abolishment of the draft and the inclusion of women in the armed forces, those physically fit have a choice of whether or not to serve. I understand it's a steady paycheck, but still it's a risky occupation.

It's a mystery to me why anyone would want to serve, putting his or her life on the line, being apart from family and friends, going through strenuous training, answering to strict bosses, putting up with uncomfortable conditions, sometimes not even knowing who's your friend or enemy.

It takes guts to sign up for the armed forces, especially in our present wartime conditions. I'm afraid I couldn't do it, even if I were younger.

My hats go off to our armed forces people for their love of country and courage. Though they've never met me or almost everyone else they're protecting, that doesn't stop them.

They are a special breed, and I'm eternally grateful to them.

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Be a people watcher

Our fictional characters are all around us if we’re willing to look and to speculate. Today a man we’ve seen before waited at a crosswalk for traffic to ease. Slightly stooped, he had a white beard and deep wrinkles, a denim jacket and dirty slacks. Earlier in the week, the desert heat had risen to 106, and I wondered how he’d managed. Assuming he’s homeless—he wouldn’t be the only one in town—he might sleep in a shelter or in a quiet alley, washing himself in a public restroom.  But this man didn’t come out of nowhere. I imagine that back in the day, he’d shown promise in high school football but joined the Army with two buddies and came home from Nam with shrapnel in his skull, which was better luck than his friends had.  In and out of bars and VA hospitals, he could never hold a woman or a job for long. The pawn shop in Flint had given him fifty dollars for his Purple Heart, and he thumbed his way south where he might not freeze solid in the winter. He’d never meant to kill that guy in Metairie, but he doubted the police saw it his way, so he hit the road again. Now he’s here in Las Cruces with a chronic pain in his gut that he fears is cancer. The other day he saw a guy dash out of a Walgreen’s, and their eyes met briefly before the guy drove away in a hurry. Then through the glass door he saw a body lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Calling the police couldn’t end well for him, so he walked away. Apparently only one person has seen him, and that’s the guy who was in a hurry—the killer? And now our street person feels vulnerable out in the open. Will the killer go after the only witness?

If you keep a notebook, try to notice the people around as you go about your daily business. Describe them in your notes, but by all means change the details as much as it suits you. Then imagine interesting backgrounds for them. Don’t worry about story lines or plot. Right now you’re working in your laboratory, creating characters who might come in handy later. And, as with my homeless vet, your characters may well offer you a story line.