Saturday, August 31, 2013

How Do You Know When You Are Funny?

Kathleen Kaska
Fifth Saturday Blogger 

When you are at a party, do your friends ask you to tell your favorite jokes; are you still trying to live down your high school reputation as class clown; were you a standup comic in your past life?
            You might not write humor, but chances are your stories contain humorous lines, dialogue, or occurrences. So, how do you know when you’re funny?
            I could be modest and say when I started out writing my first Sydney Lockhart mystery, I’d planned for it to be lighthearted and humorous, but that would be a lie. I desperately wanted my story to be downright funny—outright side-achingly hilarious. But my answer to the above three questions would be a resounding “no.” I never remember jokes, even those that had me laughing until my mascara ran. While in high school, I tried my best to be invisible, and if I attempted to stand up in front of an audience and tell jokes, I’d get the hook immediately.
            I know I’m funny when I’m with my three sisters; we all are. We feed off one another and laugh at stupid things we say and do: wearing mismatched earrings, walking into doors, going out for the evening with our dress on inside out. My sisters aren’t with me when I’m writing, though. So when I began working on Murder at the Arlington, I had to muster enough confidence to plow ahead and hope for the best. I sent the manuscript to my sisters. They loved it; funniest thing they ever read, but then, they are my sisters, of course they’d say that. Then my first agent said she loved the humor in the story. But I still wasn’t convinced I’d pull it off until readers I didn’t know began telling me they had to put the book down several times because they laughed too hard to continue, or they read some of the funnier lines to a friend.
            Just as I was about to pat myself on my back, I had a rude awaking. I realized I could not take credit for the accomplishment. All I did was pay attention when Sydney Lockhart (my protagonist) walked into my life during during a stay at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Spring, Arkansas. The humor belongs to her and the zany characters she brought along. I merely eavesdropped and wrote it all down.
            I’d love to hear from you, all you clever, witty, funny guys. How do you know when you are funny?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Working on deadline

I've had an interesting month.  I'm working on edits that make me feel like I'm a new writer all over again. Is it just me, or do edits make everyone want to throw up their hands and walk away? The magic's in the work. I tell myself this over and over.  And yet, I still feel nervous opening the word document, adding and cutting.  Hoping my changes will make the story better. Deadline? October 1st.

I'm also writing a new story. Typically, I fly through the first 30K.  Not this time.  I've gotten a chapter done and I'm pretty happy with it. One chapter.  I need to write faster. This book actually has a deadline. October 31st. One that I plan on not missing.

I signed a contract for a short Christmas romance last weekend. Deadline October 15th.

See a pattern here?

So am I staying home writing? Deep into the edit cave?  No.

At work, I learned this last month how to present a new database training using computer webinars. On top of my normal duties.  :) Overtime was my friend.

Then The Cowboy and I went to Bristol this last weekend for the NASCAR race.

So back to the routine tomorrow.  Working out, writing 1000 words a day, working on my short during lunch, and editing an hour a day. At work, I'll be catching up from my days off.  For three days. Then I'm off again for four.

I could get used to this schedule.

How do you juggle multiple projects?


Monday, August 26, 2013

What Did I Get Myself Into?

I'd heard from various sources that series sell. Because of that, when I wrote my thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, I decided to promise a trilogy. Maybe I should have promised it after it was all written, because it takes time for me to write books, also lots of inspiration.

 Anyway, I finally finished the second in the trilogy, called the Blessing or Curse Collection. While the first is a thriller, the collection has a small thriller aspect toward the end, but is mainly based on how a pill that turns a person young again impacts the lives of not only the pill users, but also the spouses or significant others. Five short stories are included, tracing the lives of five very different people.

Why did I change genres? For some reason, that's where my muse told me to go, so I had no choice but to follow.

Then, why, after doing the collection, did I decide to make each story also available separately? Well, for one reason, readers do love choices. This way they can get the bargain Blessing or Curse Collection with all 5 stories, plus a small bit at the end featuring the bad guys, for $2.99, or, if they only want to read one or two of the stories, that can be done for 99 cents each.

Because I singled out each short story, that meant editing it side by side with the collection for discrepancies, as well as offering a sample of another of the stories at the end of each book, not to mention separate covers for the short stories.

It took some doing, but the project is done! The Blessing or Curse Collection is available on Amazon, as well as the separate short stories. Here's a recap of what's available in the collection or separately, also a peek at each short story cover in my panorama shot below:


Desperation forces Consuela to order the Forever Young pill to cure her husband, Diego, from Parkinson’s Disease; but is the cure really a curse?

Ezekiel, an African-American male, can't get it up for his lady love, Luana. Will the pill draw them closer together or drive her away?

Strawberry blonde model, Sherri, sees her popularity fading, along with her looks. The pill can bring her fame and fortune, but what about love?

Doormat, Dee Dee Marshall, takes a bold step when evidence points to her husband's infidelity. 

Overweight Chicago Police Officer Walinski must pass a new physical or lose his job, along with his beloved canine partner. Can the young pill offer security, when danger lurks in the line of duty?

And now, I've begun Always Young, the last of the trilogy. This will be in novel form, instead of as a collection,  because that's where my inspiration is now leading me.

What about you? Do you sometimes wonder what you got yourself into?

Find all of Morgan Mandel's books at



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Working under deadlines

by Kaye George

I’ll admit, I work much better with a sword hanging over my head. Until the last few minutes, hours, or days, there’s still time, right?

Urban dictionary (not the best source, of course) says:

Designates the approximate point in time at which work begins in earnest; employee motivation is frequently observed to be "dead" before the deadline draws near.


The point at which work should held until, and then handed over to others all in one go.

Maybe that’s it, my motivation is dead until due date?

Nevertheless, I did get myself all ready for Killer Nashville in the last two days. Good thing I didn’t have to order books for consignment or this would not have worked. I’m also hoping to add at least 3, maybe 4, more scenes to my WIP and get it shaped up by my September 15th deadline. Why are these new scenes just occurring to me now? After I’ve shipped it out to several readers and have polished and analyzed all over the place? I really need them, though, so I’ll add them--after Killer Nashville.

Or should I wait a little longer?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Remembering Elmore "Dutch" Leonard


“Dutch” Leonard’s overnight success began in 1951, when he flipped a mental coin to decide between writing crime novels and westerns. “Westerns won because I liked western movies a lot,” he said, “and because there was a wonderful market for western short stories. You could aim at the Saturday Evening Post or Colliers, and if you missed there, try Argosy, Blue Book, and on down to the lesser paying pulp magazines, the most prestigious being Dime Western and Zane Grey. Right behind them were Ten-Story Western and Fifteen Western Tales.”

Leonard was always been an avowed reader. “A bookworm, yes,” he said, “beginning with The Bobbsey Twins and The Book House volumes of abridged classics that included everything from Beowulf to Treasure Island. In the fifth grade I read most of All Quiet on the Western Front, serialized in the Detroit Times, and I wrote a World War I play that was staged in the classroom, my first piece of writing.”

His first nine years were spent south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the youngest of two children. He lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Memphis before moving to Detroit in 1934, during the World Series. Raised a Catholic, he graduated from Detroit High School and the University of Detroit, both Jesuit institutions where he majored in English and philosophy.

A baseball player during high school, he acquired his nickname “Dutch” from teammates, who borrowed it from the Washington Senators knuckleball pitcher. The second Dutch Leonard served in the Navy during World War II with a Seabee unit in the South Pacific. Four years later, he acquired a bride and a new job with an advertising agency.

Leonard lusted for full-time writing, and remembers a letter from his agent in 1951, which attempted to discourage him from quitting his advertising copywriting job to freelance. He had concentrated on truck advertising for Chevrolet and, by that time, had a tank full of writing catchy ads. Getting out of bed at five o’clock, he wrote two pages of fiction before going to work “with the rule that I couldn’t put the water on for coffee until I’d started writing. I’ve been a disciplined writer ever since.”

While working for the ad agency, he supplemented his early morning writing by placing a pad of paper in his desk drawer. With the drawer partially open, he wrote fiction on the job. His first two short stories were rejected, so he decided to spend more time and effort on research. Although he had never set foot west of the Mississippi, he concentrated on the Southwest, Apaches, the cavalry and cowboys, while subscribing to Arizona Highways magazine to learn all he could about the arid terrain. His first sale the previous year was a novelette titled, “Trial of the Apache,” which sold to Argosy for their December issue. His next story, “Tizwin,” earned him a rejection letter from Argosy and a sale to Ten Story Western, which eventually appeared in print in 1952 under the title, “Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo.”

Thirty of his short stories sold during the 1950s, four of them to Argosy and the Saturday Evening Post, while the majority appeared in Dime Western and Zane Grey. Leonard sold everything he wrote with the exception of his first two short stories and several with contemporary settings. By the end of the fifties, television had taken over. “The pulps faded away and the book advances didn’t compare to what was once offered. It took nearly two years to sell Hombre, for an advance of $1,250.” Multiple printings followed, with the book listed among the twenty-five all-time best westerns. Hombre more than made up for its meager beginning, along with a film version starring Paul Newman, which earned the writer a modest $10,000.

Gunsight was his last western novel, written at the request of Marc Jaffe in 1979 for Bantam Books. Leonard then flipped his genre coin and found that crime can pay quite well. Stick and LaBrava made him an overnight success, nicely padding his wallet along with the 1985 film version of Stick, starring Burt Reynolds, a production he prefers to ignore. The writer’s innate humor is deadpan, he said, not slapstick.

Glitz sparkled for eighteen weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, ensuring him top billing on the literary marquee, but although the film rights were optioned by Lorimar, production stalled for more than two years.

His sudden popularity cut deeply into his writing time. “It’s nice to get fan mail,” he said, “a few letters a week, and being recognized on the street, but the interviews are wearing me out. I’m asked questions about writing, and about my purpose in the way I write that I’ve never thought of before. And I have to take time to think on the spot and come up with an answer. I’m learning quite a bit about what I do from recent interviews, and getting a few answers.

Interviewers ask Leonard for advice for budding writers. He usually responds with: “The worst thing a novice can do is to try to sound like a writer. I guess the first thing you have to learn is how not to overwrite.” His advice is simply to write. “Don’t talk about it, do it. Read constantly, study the authors you like, pick one and imitate him, the way a painter learns fine art by copying the masters. I studied Hemingway, as several thousand other writers have done. I feel that I learned to write westerns by reading and rereading For Whom the Bells Toll.”

A portrait of Hemingway hung on the wall of his office, reminding him that he studied the revered novelist’s work for “construction, for what you leave out as well as what you put in. But I was not influenced by his attitude, thank God. My attitude is much less serious. I see absurdities in serious situations, influenced in this regard by Vonnegut, Richard Bissel, and Mark Harris, and this shows in my writing. It’s your attitude that determines your sound, not style.”

Leonard wrote for many years in longhand on specially-ordered yellow sheets, rewriting and revising until he was ready to type his final draft. “I’ll do a few pages this way and then put it in my Olympia manual office-model typewriter,” he said. “I hate to change ribbons, but have no interest in electronic advances. How the words are eventually reproduced is not my concern. I revise as I type, aiming for five or six clean pages a day. Then I continue to go back and revise and the pages begin to pile up. Sometimes I’ll go back and add a scene or shift scenes around, but most of the revising has to do with simplifying, cutting out excess words, trimming to make it lean or to adjust the rhythm of the prose.”

(This was an early interview with Dutch Leonard and can be read in it's entirity in my book,  Maverick Writers.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Refrigerators, Birthdays and Onion Dip

by Janis Patterson
My refrigerator died Friday. After being coddled and fixed and theoretically repaired, it simply gave a loud bang, blew a wisp of smoke from underneath and quit completely. The Husband and I scrambled to clean it out and save what we could before we rushed out to buy another. Talk about sticker shock! We paid more for the new refrigerator than I did for my first car.
Friday was also my birthday. It was a big one, and I would have been depressed if I hadn’t been rushing about trying to save a refrigerator’s worth of food. Neither was it fun to spend the day after my birthday moving furniture so that when the retailer finally decides to deliver the new fridge they will be able to get it into the kitchen.
Also on Friday, before the refrigerator’s suicide, to celebrate my birthday I released one of my backlist, a traditional Regency romance called THE FAIR AMAZON. Moving by how quickly my previous self-published books went up, I did a boatload of publicity. Lots of sales? Huh? Every other book I’ve published has gone live within a few hours, but this time Amazon would not play nicely. There’s been some change in the genre notations – changes Amazon did not notify its authors about, at least not this author – and the book was hung in some vague never-never-land of pixiliation until Monday, all the while fans, having seen the release announcement, chastised me that the book wasn’t available on Amazon.
Needless to say, this last clutch of days has not been particularly fun for me nor for my work in progress. I haven’t made my word count in days.
If that weren’t enough, The Husband and I were at a long-planned meeting on Saturday. (I would have rather stayed home and nursed both my accruing years and aching muscles.) And the unspeakable happened.
I was at the buffet, happily noshing on jumbo shrimp, which I love, when this person comes up and says he’s heard I write books. This is not an unusual situation, so I said yes and prepared to answer the same, somewhat banal questions of “Where do you get your ideas?” and “How do you keep all the characters straight?” and suchlike that people always ask as if they think they’re being original.
“Boy, have you got a soft job,” he said in a civilized snarl, scooping up half the onion dip on a single cracker. “Most of us have to work for a living.”
“Soft?” I asked. “Writing is hard work.”
He laughed enthusiastically, showing the unlovely remnants of his mouthful of onion dip. “Sure it is. You sit at home in your pajamas and churn out a bunch of words for an hour or two and then run play all day while most people are doing real work.”
Being a mystery writer, it’s not surprising that my first thought was homicidal. The butter spreader in the onion dip was too dull, the cheese knives too short. Even the toothpicks in the shrimp were too flimsy to be of any real use. Drat. I considered dumping the onion dip over his head, but after his second scoop there wasn’t enough left to make a statement. There was no way I was going to sacrifice the shrimp (I love shrimp, did I tell you?) and flinging peanuts at him would be plain silly, like something out of the Three Stooges.
At last my abortive murderous rage abated somewhat and I was able to answer in honeyed tones, “Then I wonder that you haven’t written a book.”
He winked at me as if we shared some cosmic secret. “I’m going to – just as soon as I get time. Maybe I’ll knock one out over my next vacation.”
I didn’t tell him I wasn’t going to hold my breath. At least he didn’t make a thoughtless and blatantly ignorant comment about how all writers were filthy rich. It would have made an interesting experiment in just how lethal a butter knife could be.
Some people never learn, do they? No matter what it looks like, writing isn’t easy; creating worlds and people out of nothing more than caffeine and imagination is as hard or harder than any profession in the world. Still, real life happens. Refrigerators blow up. People get sick. People get older. Accidents happen. Families need attention.
Every instance of life that happens happens to writers, but still we write.
We have to take precious writing time to do publicity, but still we write.
The ideas dry up, we become nothing but stuttering jackdaws, but still we write.
The car develops an ominous squeak, Aunt Violet comes to visit, Mother breaks her arm, Junior needs a chaperone for a school trip, we get pneumonia – but still we write. It’s hard work, but still we write.
And even sometimes in our pajamas. So what? We still write.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Deadly Feast, A Resurrected Mystery

Deadly Feast had a former life.

Many years ago this story was called Guilt by Association and the publisher did not want it to be on Kindle though it was available as an ebook downloadable from the publisher's website. Not an easy sale. The publisher has now folded up shop and given rights back to all her authors.

So, now under the new name of Deadly Feast the story has been resurrected. The former title, Guilt by Association, though a good one, is being used on several other books now and I decided this one needed a new name.

There is even more of a history here. When I first wrote the book it was intended to be a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. However, when I finished, I realized it wasn't Tempe at all. So I changed all the characters and the setting, though the story was still the same.

While working on it for Kindle, I found errors to fix and did a bit of updating.

It might be called a "locked-room" mystery, because all the characters are trapped on one side of a flooding river and the bridge is out.

Blurb: While investigating a murder, Leslie York, the resident deputy of the mining town of Copper Creek, finds herself stranded on the wrong side of the creek when it turns into a raging torrent. Others driven from their homes by the flood gather together, but one of them turns up dead.When Leslie begins to suspect the victim's death was murder, she suddenly finds herself in peril, struggling for life in the angry floodwaters.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Writer's Conferences - Five tips to make the experience your own.

Writer’s conferences.  Love them or hate them, they are part of this crazy business.  I attend at least one a year- this year I hit the road and spoke at a conference in Shreveport. (No, that fountain isn't in Louisiana. That's found in Orlando in 2008, my first conference ever. 

I'm more focused on pitch opportunities now than classes.  But I've been surprised at the quality of craft classes, even at small conferences.  Even classes focused more on freelance writers than novelists, I came away with something to think about and improve my writing.  

Now, without further ado,(Filler words) Here are my top five secrets to personalizing a conference so it feels like the weekend was programmed just for you.

Secret One:  Sign up early.  At a local conference last year, I got my first, second, and third choice in pitch assignments.  Why?  I took advantage of early registration rather than waiting to the last minute.  Bonus-I got early bird pricing.

Sometimes it’s hard to commit to a conference.  Especially for people with personalities matching my Libra mentality (read wishy-washy).  This is where effective goals help.  I knew I was attending a local conference as soon as my annual goals were written.  Why not get the registration process done and mark one thing off the to do list?

Secret Two: Search the website for any and all information as soon as it’s available.  I copied off a draft workshop schedule months before which allowed me to focus on which workshops I was attending.  Of course, I switched a couple once I’d been introduced to the faculty, but I had a game plan to put into action as soon as I walked in the door. Many conferences also have a Facebook page for status reports.

Secret Three:  Look for contests attached to the conference.  Some are for members only, but others open to registered participants.  Take advantage of these contests.  Often the entry fees are reasonable and the feedback amazing.  And if you win, you get attention at the presentation ceremony, in front of all those agents and editors who you’re sending your requested submissions.  Free publicity.

Secret Four: You don’t have to be an extrovert to meet new people.  I’m shy in new settings.  I knew four or five people at this conference.  But I wasn't alone.  Talking to the people sitting next to me at lunch, I met two people who were born in Idaho (my home state.) I've lived in Missouri for five years without meeting another native Idahoan.  What are the odds I’d meet two in one day?

Secret Five: Dress well.  One conference I attended started at noon on Friday.  Friday’s are casual at my day job.  Even with the blazer thrown over my silk shirt and jeans, I felt under-dressed with all the suits in attendance.  Business casual is never a bad idea. 

Don’t know what business casual is?  Dress pants with a soft shirt.  Dressy skirts that don’t cross the line into cocktail wear.  Basically what you would wear to work in a nice office not including bankers or lawyers.  Google the term for more ideas on whether or not your look is date night dressy, picnic casual, or business casual.

So now you have my five secrets.  Anyone  have their own secret on making the most of a writer’s conference that they’d like to share? 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Parker, a Not So Perfect Hero

Through engaging in quite a few critiques, I learned that a hero should behave heroically. It's okay to throw in a few flaws or foibles to show he or she is human, but be sure not to include too many, or the reader won't bond with the character.

Last night, the DH and I watched the movie, Parker, adapted from Flashfire, the 19th novel in the Parker series by Donald Westlake a/k/a Richard Stark, the 1993 Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America.

What struck me about the movie was that Parker, the hero, was far from perfect. For one thing, he dressed as a priest to commit a robbery at a state fair. That was far from heroic. He also managed to kill off more people than I could count.

Then, why did I root for him, other than the fact he was portrayed by Jason Statham, a guy not too difficult to look at?

Here are a few methods which I believe turned this far from perfect man into a hero:
  • Though skewed, he did possess a moral code, which he expected others to also follow. When they didn't, he felt it his duty to right the wrong.
  • The author cleverly turned Parker into a victim by having him shot and left for dead. Right then and there he became an underdog, and who doesn't root for the underdog?
  • Though attracted to another woman, he remained faithful to his girlfriend.  
  • He couldn't bring himself to kill someone close to him, not only for his friend's sake, but also the friend's family's. 
Can you think of any other ways to portray a not so perfect person as a hero, or maybe you'd like to offer another example from a book or movie? Hint: One clue is in my photo below.

Morgan Mandel writes mysteries, thrillers and


Amazon Author Central:



Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Mystery Writer as Expert by Mar Preston

What happens when an idea for a book strikes and won't leave you alone? What if it's something you know nothing about? Such as banjo picking, as in the second book of my second series set in the tranquil mountain town where I live in Central California?

I heard a blue grass band and saw my fictional Detective Stafford of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department clear as daylight. The music  set my toes tapping, my mind dancing, and my little ears going ping, ping, ping with a new idea!

For Rip-Off  set in Santa Monica I read Chechen newspapers in English for three years and everything else I could find on the people in this fascinating, war-torn country. For my third Dave Mason mystery I drove to Riverside, some hundred plus miles away, to talk to a cop about Kurds living in Turkey.

 And it's just background because both books take place in Santa Monica.

 I marvel at Christopher Meek's book, Love at Absolute Zero We met and started talking at the Ventura County Book fair and traded books when buyers were few. I was hooked within a few pages, couldn't wait to finish it. One of those.

 Christopher Meeks is an English professor at Santa Monica College, not a physicist writing what he knows. You wouldn't know that reading this book. Large dollops of quantum physics appear in digestible and even enjoyable hunks.

Meeks insisted he knew nothing about physics but he had an idea and he learned what he needed to convince the reader he was a scientific naïf  who sets out to find his soul mate using the scientific method, within three days.

What would a storyteller do nowadays without the Internet where you can read about your idea in ever-widening circles? And when are you simply procrastinating the writing by contacting yet one more expert?

Part of the joy of writing mysteries is entitlement it gives you to ask nosy questions and poke your nose down all strange rat holes.

What's the strangest research quest you've ever embarked on? 


by Earl Staggs

Best-selling author John Foxjohn epitomizes the phrase "been there—done that." Born and raised in the rural East Texas town of Nacogdoches, he quit high school and joined the Army at seventeen. He's a Viet Nam veteran, former Army Airborne Ranger, policeman, homicide detective, retired teacher and coach.  Now he's a multi-published author.
With all that behind him, you can easily imagine John has a lot of stories to write.
He talks about one of them here today.  After you read what he has to say, you'll understand why he had to write KILLER NURSE.
You might also think twice next time you need medical assistance.
Here's John.
by John Foxjohn
I’m an author who writes detective novels, mysteries, suspense, legal thrillers, and even romantic suspense—at least that is what I was published under until my first true crime, Killer Nurse came out.
When I first began writing, experienced writers gave me a piece of advice that I never forgot: they told me to write what I know. Because of my background in law enforcement and homicide investigations, I naturally gravitated in that direction. It also helped that I liked to read these types of books.   
My gravitating to the genre was as close to paranormal or fantasy that I have ever gotten, and no offense intended, ever wanted to. If that is what people like, then it’s not up to me to judge, but I know nothing about it and don’t read it. Thus I don’t write it, either.
However, circumstances forced me to look at and even include a small part of paranormal in my true crime, Killer Nurse.
Writing fiction is about creating people and situations, and the author can take them and those events he or she creates any direction he chooses. But true crime is totally different. The author has to take real people and real events and write them the way they actually happened but in a way that creates a good read.
I could have left out the paranormal event that I came across in the process of writing Killer Nurse, and few if anyone would have known about it. However, I was faced with two problems: first, it was extremely interesting and came about from an obscure employee of the Lufkin Police Department—one that no one even knew about before the book came out. She was an unknown entity because she didn’t testify in the trial and her name was never
mentioned. I came across her simply because I talked to so many people that one just happened to mention her with the suggestion that I should talk to her.
The second problem, even though there was an element of the paranormal involved, it was the single most important thing that turned the case. Here’s the background that led to this event:
On Saturday, April 26, 2008, Ms. Opal Mae Few, a ninety-one-year-old patient at the DaVita Dialysis Center in Lufkin, Texas, was at home with her family. She had an appointment later that afternoon to go to DaVita and take her dialysis treatment. However, that morning she received a call from DaVita. It seemed that they had some cancellations and could get her in that morning if she wanted to.
Ms. Few, who was a spirited little old lady, jumped at the chance to get it over with. Her son dropped her off, and she began treatments at 9:30 Saturday morning on April 26. That would be the last time the family saw Ms. Few alive. She died while hooked up to the dialysis machine.   
The fact that she died hooked up to the machine is in itself a little scary. The odds of a patient dying while hooked up is 1/700,000. The dialysis patients are in a medical facility with doctors and nurses present and monitoring them, and they are within a minute of two hospitals.
1/700,000 is high odds, but as it happened, Ms. Few was the fifth patient who died while hooked up to the machine at DaVita Clinic in Lufkin in twenty-six days. Don’t bother trying to calculate those odds—your calculator doesn’t have enough numbers.
Two days after Ms. Few died, two patients saw a DaVita nurse inject two other patients with bleach. The two witnesses’ stories brought on an investigation like no one had ever seen before. The Lufkin police, led by Sergeant Stephen Abbott, a supervisor of the detective division, began what they believed was an investigation for aggravated assault. The two patients actually survived the bleach injections.
Abbott brought in the crime scene unit and they began to collect evidence. The two witnesses had not only seen the nurse inject the patients with bleach, but also observed her throw the syringes away in two different sharps containers. The law requires that all syringes be disposed in sealed containers known as “sharps containers” to prevent staff and patients from accidental exposure to bio hazardous material.
Abbott did something that wasn’t necessary but would become one of the most important decisions in the entire scenario. Instead of just retrieving the two sharps containers the witnesses had indicated, Abbott directed CSU tech Christy Pate to collect all thirty-two sharps containers in the clinic.
While Pate collected them and other evidence, she inadvertently saw a list DaVita officials gave Abbott. The list was the five patients who’d died while hooked up to the dialysis machines.
The next day, Abbott and another detective supervisor named Mike Shurley interviewed the nurse, Kimberly Clark Saenz (pronounced Signs). In the process of the interview, Saenz told them she had never injected a patient with bleach but had used a 10cc syringe to measure bleach. Because Saenz said this, Abbott directed Pate to test every 10cc syringe for bleach in those 32 full sharps containers.
Tuesday morning, April 29, 2008, Pate began the arduous task of testing hundreds of syringes. By Friday afternoon, she’d completed the task. They didn’t find any more syringes that tested positive—they’d already found the ones the witnesses had claimed Saenz threw into the containers, and they had contained bleach.
Pate had done what Abbott directed her to do and done it well, but she couldn’t get past a deep feeling that she’d missed something. Something kept telling her she had to go back. She would later say it was almost like a force had invaded her.
Even though she was off on Saturday, May 3, she got up early because she was having a hard time sleeping. That feeling just wouldn’t leave her alone. Finally, she succumbed to the feeling and went to the police department.
Pate opened the door to the crime scene unit at 9:30 that morning. On the table were all the sharps containers that she’d examined, but one had the top off. As Pate looked at the open sharps container, she spotted a syringe right on top that she knew for a fact she hadn’t tested. It was a 3ml syringe and not the size the nurse had said she used. It was way too small to measure bleach with.
However, that wasn’t what took Pate’s breath away. The syringe was clearly marked with the DaVita patient’s name on it. Pate had accidently seen the list of patients who’d died while hooked up to the machine.
Exactly one week earlier at the exact same time, Ms. Opal Few walked into DaVita to receive her treatments.
Christy said her hand shook as she reached for Ms. Few’s 3ml syringe to test it. She pulled the plunger out of the syringe and with trembling fingers, put a small test strip inside the syringe. The color changing to purple took her breath away—it was positive for bleach.
           Almost in tears from the strain, she grabbed the phone to call her boss, Sgt. Abbott.
           They now had a murder investigation on their hands.
# # # # #
Learn more about John and his other books:






Saturday, August 10, 2013

Quotes for writing and living

by Kaye George

Today, I’d like to share some thoughts I’ve gathered over the past months and years. Maybe some of these will resonate with you and maybe some will make your day brighter.

“When you choose your friends, don't be short-changed by choosing personality over character.”

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I will try again tomorrow.”
Old Irish Saying

“I'm thinking literary focuses on the moment when the character changes, and the genre focuses on what the character does with that change.”
Stephen D. Rogers

"Writing is a lot like prostitution. First you do it for love. Then you do it for money. Then you recruit others."

“How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterwards.”
Spanish proverb

"Every time you sit down to write, you should be afraid of losing the reader at any moment of any page."
Playwright William Gibson

"Be  kind, because everyone you meet is fighting some sort of  battle."
Betty Webb: Author of THE KOALA OF DEATH and DESERT  LOST.
_www.bettywebb-mystery.com_ (

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”

“That was the moment I changed from an amateur to a professional.  I assumed the burden of the professional which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing and aren’t writing particularly well.”

"When you compare your inside with someone else's outside, it isn't a fair comparison."
Leslie Budewitz

“Fairytales are not written to tell children that dragons exist. Children know full well that dragons exist. Fairytales are written to show children that sometimes dragons can be defeated.”
G. K. Chesterton

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Martha Graham

Friday, August 9, 2013

Every Word Should Count

One of my early writing instructors stressed the need to make every word count. He said each word needs to pull its own weight and every unnecessary word should be culled from the plot. Good advice that I've followed over the years, although, coupled with my journalism training, I'm sometimes too brief, leaving out desirable descriptions.

I've found that writers need to engage readers, not simply enlighten and entertain them. Creating strong word images that readers can relate to is preferable to forcing them to fill in the blanks. For example, a military Hummer conveys a much stronger image than having a protagonist ride to the rescue in a Volkswagen bug. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone was a notable exception..

Strong verbs are necessary to give one’s plot a dynamic, energetic tone. Words such as hurried, leaped and flew as opposed to passive words like walked fast, made his way or became airborne. And as we’ve all been told, stay away from the verb to be in all its forms because it’s the weakest of words. But I confess that I still use all forms of to be in dialogue. Some rules are made to be broken, often at your own risk.

Adverbs that end in –ly also weaken a writer's prose. Use them sparingly. On the other hand, strong specific verbs give writing vitality. I’m reminded of my interview with A.B. Guthrie, Jr. who said, “The adjective is the enemy of the noun and the adverb is the enemy of damn near everything else. Writers use too many descriptive words." As for adjectives, author Lois J. Peterson once said, “One well-chosen adjective can be more effective than two or more, which used together might weaken the idea or image.” I agree.

Do we really need adverbs? Not unless it's impossible to come up with strong verbs. Eliminate the adverbs in a second draft and replace them with muscular verbs. As for adjectives, the rundown house can be rewritten as a hovel or shack. That's why every writer should have access to a thesaurus, especially an electronic one.

Word choices affect the plot’s pace. If every symphony movement maintained the same pace, the audience would fall asleep before the finale. So writers need to think of themselves as conductors, controlling the pace with word choices, syntax and variety. Long sentences and paragraphs slow the pace and seem introspective while short, choppy sentences are much more dramatic and conducive to action scenes. So, in order to keep a reader reading, sentences and paragraphs should vary in length.

Sentence rhythm is important, so reading one's work aloud before committing it to a final draft can prevent clumsy sentence structure. Some word choices bring a sentence to an abrupt halt and should be rewritten or replaced, along with all unnecessary words. The musical analogy is a good one (not my own) because sentence flow is so important.

~Jeann Henry Mead
  No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Time, Money and Choices

by Janis Patterson
I grew up in a do-it-yourself family. Okay, I grew up poor, where if you didn’t do it yourself, it probably didn’t get done. Money was to be used only if you couldn’t cobble whatever it was together at all. My mother made both hers and my clothes and even my father’s dress shirts for a while. Going out to eat was silly, since we could cook better food cheaper at home. It was almost a dictum in our house that just about anything could be fixed with duct tape, bailing wire and determination.
Our fortunes changed, of course, and money became more plentiful. We went out to eat occasionally and my dad bought store-made shirts. As an adult I am fortunate enough to be able to live comfortably and even buy all my clothes. (Which is a blessing, because though Mother was a gifted seamstress, I am a total klutz. No one in their right mind would wear what I can sew!) Still, however, the we-can-do-it-ourselves mentality was so deeply ingrained that to this day I call a repairman only when I know I cannot fix it myself. (This is written as I wait for the refrigerator serviceman.)
So what does this have to do with writing?
I am in the process of bringing out a few more books of my backlist to which I have just had the rights reverted. Since they were professionally edited at major houses back when major houses really edited, there’s little I have to do about that. I am tweaking somewhat, as I hope I am a better writer now than I was then, but nothing major enough to justify paying for the services of an editor.
But then there is the process of converting my newly-vetted document into a book. Now there are simplified processes for ebooks, one that even a complete techno-naif such as I can do, but when I began there were sheets and sheets of instructions written in a techno-speak only slightly less incomprehensible than Urdu. While now I can click a few buttons and some kind electronic server somewhere does the work for me, there is the terra incognita of print awaiting me.
So – where this long and convoluted post is going is that I am going to – gasp – hire the conversions done, as I did when first dipping my toe into the epublishing pond. Yes, there are those technologically gifted who sail through formatting et al and who look askance when I announce I am hiring it done, all the while telling me how simple the process is. I can only say ‘joy go with them.’ If it could be done with duct tape and bailing wire I might fare better.
I also send my apologies to the self-sufficient, do-it-yourself stalwarts of my ancestry, even as their shades look down with disapproval. “There are instructions right there!” they shout. “All you have to do is read them and follow them!”
Yeah. Right.
Both my parents (the greatest do-it-yourselfers ever born) passed away before the computer-in-every-room era, so their ghosts have no idea of what is necessary, or how much time it would take to learn what all those odd words and acronyms mean, to say nothing of what to do with them.
Yes, I could learn everything in those instructions and do it myself. For that matter, I could learn how to repair my ailing refrigerator, and, given enough time, probably learn how to build a more efficient jet engine or CAT machine. There is nothing wrong with my brain-box and I am considered to be reasonably intelligent. On the other hand, I have come to believe in the law of diminishing returns. While I could learn these things, doing so would take time, time that would be better spent writing and caring for my family.
All of life is a trade-off, so I trade money for formatting skills that I have neither time nor desire to learn and spend that time gained doing what is better for me, my career and my family. It works – even if I doubt my parents would have approved. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

August was Once my Favorite Month

When I was a kid, August was a long, long month. Full of time to do whatever I wanted which meant lots of reading and writing. (Yes, I was writing back then.)

We always went on vacation in August too. Usually to Bass Lake where we tent camped--two tents, one for mom and dad and one for me and my sis--swam and went water skiing. I also managed to have a couple of summer romances after I became a teen.

August is my birthday month which also mean a celebration of some sort. My mom was good at planning theme birthday parties, often a lunch with appropriate food and decorations. Only my close friends and female cousins were invited.

Now that I am much, much older August is still full of reading and writing--with an emphasis on the writing. This month it's writing posts for the blogs I'll be on while blog touring in October. Hubby and I don't take long vacations--instead it's a few days here and there, and quite often around some book selling event or a conference.

And that brings me to my birthday. It's a biggie--so big that I can't believe I've actually lived so long. My daughters asked me what I wanted to do--go someplace or what? I considered a trip. Hubby doesn't like to fly anymore and driving in big cities is too darn scary.

My decision, a small get-together at youngest daughter's home (hers is the biggest and in the middle for us and the eldest daughter). She and her hubby are cooking dinner, my favorites. What we'll do I'm not sure, but I suspect it'll be a lot of gabbing. I'm hoping our son will come too--though he sees us all the time--because I'd like to have all my kids together for my birthday.

Change is inevitable--and it seems to happen more often when we get older. Some of it is good, some is harder to accept.

Fortunately, as a writer, my characters continue to do all the things that I can't or don't want to do anymore. My own life might not be so active anymore but the one in my imagination that spills out over the page is still filled with adventure, peril, thrills and chills.

Marilyn aka F.M. Meredith

a partial shot of my table at the Nipomo Library this past Saturday

Monday, August 5, 2013

I No Longer Fight It

I find it impossible to turn on my computer and not go straight to email. Sure, I give myself a lecture each morning, stressing the fact that AN AUTHENTIC WRITER puts work before play. She writes a few pages before indulging in social contact. Or at least a few paragraphs before checking her e-mail. But no matter how strongly the Jiminy Cricket part of me makes the case, I blithely ignore him and start wading through the seventy or so electronic missives awaiting my attention.

The number always causes a jolt of alarm, but my system has been honed. I’ve learned to weed out the many pleas to “buy my book,” the other ads that have escaped my “junk” radar, and repeat messages. Still, a good portion of my mail comes in digest form from writers’ listservs. These I quickly scan, reading those I consider important. News that someone’s sold a book or won a contest is important. I send congratulations, because that’s important, too.

Then it happens. Though I can’t possibly read or respond to the many blog posts that come my way, I stop to read those that strike my interest. Then, more often than not, I’ll leave a comment. Sure, occasionally it’s to get the chance to win a free book, but more often it’s because the subject hits a nerve and discusses a topic dear to my heart. We writers forge close alliances and good friendships. Leaving comments on blogs and Facebook is an important way of staying in touch with the people who best understand what we do all day.

The writing world is in constant flux. Emails keep me informed of the new marketing outlets and tools we writers must master to get the word out about our books. I ignore the ones that cost money, but so many are free.

And who can resist the offers of free books for my Kindle? I ask for ARCs of books that appeal to me. I do my best to read them all, but I’ll have to live to at least two hundred before I can read all the books—paper and ebooks—awaiting my attention. Of well, this should be my worst addiction.

And there’s the genuine work-related emails that require immediate attention: Filling out a marketing questionnaire for a possible sale to a new publisher. Responding to bloggers looking for guest bloggers. Signing up for an occasional free webinar. Putting up my own blogs and emailing everyone about it.

I’m in constant touch with a group of fellow writers. So many of our exchanges are off topic. We joke, discuss outrageous things we’ve read in the news, complain about what’s bothering us, and share recipes. Of course we help one another with all writer-ly matters. One needs only to toss out a question and the suggestions and support come racing back. Where does one draw the line between what’s important for a writer’s well-being and what’s good for her craft?

Actually, I feel like a Twenty-First Jane Austen when I go through my email each morning. She wrote her letters by hand and sent them on their way. Emails are faster. I often get responses from my fellow writers who are also sitting at their computers. With all this support and bolstering, I feel better equipped to start my writing day.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Terrible Review

By Mar Preston

I have only received one terrible review and that’s too bad because I learned a lot from the experience. I was green as grass at the new business of self-publishing in 2010 and did not hire a professional proofreader at the end of the process of publishing my first Santa Monica mystery, No Dice

I also thought I had to publish the book to get reviews. My worst mistake was that I didn’t know how green I was.

I hit “publish” and lived to rue the day. Cue sinister organ music.

The review still sits on Amazon. Please don’t read it. Please.  I’ve tried to get Amazon to pull it with no success.

The reviewer was someone I’d been in writing class with, who to this day has a slight and undistinguished publishing track record. He’d read what was the first paperback version of No Dice and told me on the phone everything that he later wrote in the review. I never dreamed he’d go to the lengths of posting the review under a woman’s name. I thought we were friends. This “woman” has not since posted any other reviews, which tells you something. Okay, sour grapes.

But he was right in ninety per cent of his comments. I unpublished that book so fast it made Amazon’s head spin. And I corrected those flaws. I hired two proofreaders and I rewrote whole sections according to his very helpful criticisms. Thank you. It’s a better book now as the other reviews of No Dice demonstrate.

It’s hardly the case that most writers are blinded by self-confidence. Sitting inside your own head you can’t see things clearly.  

It doesn’t help when everybody says nice things.  Sometimes a pointed comment or two from a reader can cause an author to reassess the impact of a work. And nowadays with an author controlling print on demand publication, further editing of a completed work (which was once a grandiose expense) is now feasible. 

There are fewer and fewer excuses for bad books and worse editing.