Monday, December 28, 2015

Do Crooks Take a Break Around the Holidays?

Clever crooks don't take a break around the holidays. They know people are distracted, not only getting ready before, but during the holidays.

On TV, I saw footage of robbers leaping over fences to access packages dropped off by the UPS. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, Fourth of July, and other celebration times provide excellent opportunities for robbers to invade empty homes.

A while back, our church lost it's Christmas collection to crooks. Since then, that important collection has been diligently safeguarded. 

Why not consider centering a mystery around a holiday? From your own experiences, you'll have a head start in the setting department, so why let that go to waste?

In Two Wrongs, my now perma-free mystery, I described the Christmas windows at what was then Marshall Field's, and is now called Macy's. I also included descriptions of their Walnut Room, where through the years many have visited the Big Tree and partaken in such goodies as ice cream snowmen. The hero's visit there figures greatly in the plot.

Can you think of other books where a holiday is part of a plot? If so, please share.

Find all of Morgan Mandel's mysteries
and romances at her Amazon Author Page:

Easy access to excerpts at: 

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Friday, December 25, 2015

Researching Christmas Customs

by Jean Henry Mead

Research is an important aspect of writing and I've always been fascinated with how Christmas is celebrated in other parts of the world. The following includes some of the customs I discovered:

The first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510 in Germany and Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). And in many countries Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas. In Latvia he places gifts under the tree and a special dinner is prepared of brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, sausages and cabbage.

In Finland, where children believe that Father Christmas lives above the Arctic Circle, they call him Korvatunturi. Their three holy days include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in many countries known as the second day of Christmas). Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits on Christmas Eve, then decorate a spruce tree in their homes. A "Christmas declaration" is broadcast throughout the country at mid-day via radio and television. And that evening a traditional Christmas dinner is served consisting of casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, potatoes and carrots with ham or turkey as well as various salads, sweet and spiced breads and cheeses. They also attend church and decorate the graves of their departed relatives. Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve from someone in the family dressed as Father Christmas.

In Hungary the Winter Grandfather (Santa Claus) arrives on the sixth of December when children place their carefully cleaned shoes outside the door or window before retiring for the night. The following morning they find candy and small toys in red bags placed inside their shoes. Youngsters who don't behave find a golden birch branch next to their shoes, which is meant for spanking, although it's rarely used. On Christmas Eve, children visit relatives or attend movies while baby Jesus delivers Christmas trees and presents to their homes. Candy and other edibles are hung on the tree as well as glass balls, candles and sparklers. Fresh fish with rice or potatoes and pastries are usually served that evening for dinner, after which the children are allowed to see their decorated tree for the first time. Christmas songs are then sung and gifts opened. Older children usually attend Christmas mass with their parents later that night and on Christmas Day the kids are allowed to eat the sweets hanging from their tree.

In Belgium Sinterklays (St. Nicholas) is also celebrated on December 6, and is observed separately from the Christmas holiday. Santa Claus is known as Kerstman or le Pere Noel because there are three languages spoken within the country—Dutch, French and German. Santa Claus brings gifts to the children on Christmas day and small presents for family members are placed beneath the tree or in stockings hung near the fireplace. Sweet breads called cougnour or cougnoleand and shaped like the baby Jesus are eaten at breakfast.

Romanian children receive small gifts on December 6 from St. Nicholas in their freshly-polished shoes. Rural families "sacrifice”a pig on December 20, and each part of the pig is cooked in a different way, such as sausage or mince meat cooked with rice, onions and spices. They also dress up as bears and goats to sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Children visit other homes, not unlike our Halloween, to sing carols and receive sweets, fruit or money. Transylvanians serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers for lunch the following day when they return from church services.

Brazilians call Father Christmas Papai Noel and the date of celebration differs in various regions of the country. Christmas trees are decorated by even the poor who have plastic trees or simple branches decorated with cotton to represent snow. Christmas dinners for the affluent usually consist of chicken, turkey, pork or ham served with rice, beans and fruit, often served with beer. The poor usually have chicken, rice and beans with  beer or colas. For desert they enjoy brigadeiro made of chocolate and condensed milk.

Christmas is called Noel in France and Father Christmas is known as Pere Noel. Christmas dinner is an important family gathering with the best of meats and finest wines. Christmas trees are often decorated with red ribbons and white candles, and electric lights adorn fir trees in the yard. Most people send New Year’s cards instead of at Christmas to wish friends luck, and Christmas lunch is celebrated with fois gras, a strong pate made of goose liver followed by a meal of seafood.

House windows are decorated in Germany with electric candles and color photographs as well as wreathes of leaves with candles called adventskrant, which signal the arrival of the four-weeks before Christmas. Additional candles are added as the holiday grows nearer. Father Christmas, called Der Wihnactsmann, delivers presents to the children during the late afternoon of Christmas Eve after celebrants return from church. A member of the family rings a bell to announce that presents are under the tree. Christmas Day is celebrated with a meal of carp or goose.

Father Christmas delivers gifts to Portuguese children on Christmas Eve. Gifts are left under the tree or in their shoes near the fireplace. Christmas dinner usually consists of dry cod fish and boiled potatoes at midnight.

During the reign of the Soviet Union, Christmas celebrations were prohibited. The New Year was celebrated instead when Father Frost brought gifts to the children. Now in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, or more often on January 7, the date the Russian Orthodox church reserves for religious observances. Christmas dinner consists of cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

New Zealanders celebrate by opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They then have Christmas lunch at home or a family member's house. A dinner of chicken or turkey is eaten, followed by tea time and dinner cooked on the barbie, served with beer or wine. And in Sweden, a special dinner is served on Christmas Eve of ham, herring and brown beans. Many attend church early on Christmas Day before gathering to exchange gifts with family members.

Christmas customs in this country are too numerous to list, and I'd like to wish all our blog visitors a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, no matter where you happen to live, or how you plan to celebrate the holiday.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

On The Road To St. Louis

By Linda Thorne

My husband and I drove from our Nashville home to St. Louis, Missouri last Friday for an early mini-Christmas with some of our kids and grandkids. Here we are at the pre-holiday get together:

Ever since I began writing, any time my husband and I took a road trip, we’d toss ideas back and forth along the way on whatever I was writing. Our most successful trip happened when we lived in the Central Valley of California and drove to Las Vegas. We spent hours trying to come up with the right clue for my protagonist to find to solve the murders. Every time we thought we had it, we’d realize it was either too obvious or something about it wouldn’t work. On the return trip from Vegas we hit pay dirt when my husband remembered a gadget from his past. The clue would initially send my protagonist in the wrong direction, but then lead her directly where she needed to go.

With my book now published, this time on the road to St. Louis we reflected on additions I’d made to my book because of history or family. A minor character in one scene had come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Denver. The city was chosen because we’d lived in Denver fifteen years, our son and his family still there. I gave Minneapolis for the hometown of another character who’d moved to my setting on the Mississippi Gulf Coast because our oldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids lived there at the time.

We also talked about things changed or altered in my book because of history or family. I’d been able to keep my establishments and landmarks status quo by setting it in pre-Katrina time (see last month’s post), but some changes just happened. For example, one of my characters had come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from St. Louis, a city I'd picked at random, one where no one we knew ever lived. Throughout the book, this character yearns to return to his St. Louis hometown. Then from out of the blue came a job opportunity for my Minneapolis son-in-law in of all places St. Louis, and our oldest and her family made the move.

A coincidence, but then came another requiring me to make a change. Our single daughter became engaged to a man with the same name as my St. Louis character. The last names identical, the first names sounding alike and differing by a single letter. I’d become attached to my character's long, unusual name, but before I submitted my book to the next publisher, I felt I had to swap it out for one less favorable. Good thing too. The publisher, Black Opal Books, chose to publish my book and our daughter married the man with my character’s original name and they now have a baby, also with that name.
Instead of simply reflecting on a book now published, perhaps we should’ve spent our road time batting around ideas needed for my second book. Then again, I’d toted a finished, but unpublished Just Another Termination around for years and thought I deserved a little reveling in this, the year it was finally published.

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to all!

My book is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast pre-Katrina and tells the story of Judy Kenagy, the first career human resources manager to turn sleuth. At long last, she lands a job with a good employer, but the trouble is just beginning…
Judy hopes her days of running from bad bosses and guilt -ridden memories are over. But alas, she’s barely settled in when a young female employee is found shot to death, spinning her new workplace into turmoil. Small-town police chief, Carl Bombardier solicits Judy’s help in her role as the company’s HR Manager. While working with Judy, he shares his fanatical interest in a twenty-five-year-old double homicide he believes is linked to her last and worst bad boss. To make matters worse, the trusted assistant of her monster ex-boss starts showing up, keeping the unwanted connection going. When the pesky trusted assistant turns up murdered, Judy learns there’s a connection with the shooting death of the employee. She starts sleuthing at the crime scene and stumbles upon an
important piece of evidence. Can she solve all of the murders with this single find? If she does, will she finally be freed from the demons of her past? Or are things not as they seem?
Twitter:  @lindamthorne

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why Did He Do That?

by Janis Patterson

Okay, I’ll confess. I am a Jessica Fletcher junkie, and since our local ‘golden oldies’ station is running episodes of Murder, She Wrote in the afternoon I watch almost every day. In the opening credits of the last few seasons (where Jessica was teaching in New York, and which I consider vastly inferior to the earlier years) there is a flash of her wearing a hideous sweater and standing in front of a blackboard on which is written ‘Motive.’

Motive. That’s a fancy word for ‘why’d he do that?’ And let’s face it, without motive you don’t have a story. Not a good one, at least.

To have an interesting story you have to have conflict; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean people fighting with each other. It means that one character wants one thing and another something else. How a conclusion is reached is the story. Why each character wants whatever he wants is the motive. The action is what he does to ensure he gets what he wants. It’s why he does what he does, and it can encompass the entire human spectrum – from murder to gossip to theft to… whatever you need to tell your story.

Another thing about motive is it has to be believable and understandable – not to us, necessarily, but to the character. We may never think that the ritual slaughter of six blonde soprano co-eds is understandable, but if the killer truly believes that he is creating angels to protect him by killing these girls the act becomes believable – from his point of view. Horrible, but believable, because the perpetrator believes it absolutely. By the same token, if a beauty contest participant believes she can win if she puts India ink in her chief rival’s facial cleanser and she also believes she has to win or she is worth nothing, or if the bad guys will kill her, or her father will disown her, or whatever… as long as she truly believes whatever it is, it is a viable motive.

Motives don’t have to be sane or rational – except to the perpetrator. To them it must be the most natural thing in the world – they want it (whatever it is), so they will do whatever it takes to gain their objective. To the rest of us it could be horrible or amusing or anything else, but the perpetrator must believe it implicitly.

Motive is the generator of your story, and the motives of the characters create the conflict. The crook and the cop. Two women after the same man. Man versus nature. Whatever. Without motives and conflicts, you don’t have much of a story.

For example, take Pete. Pete gets up in the morning, showers, eats breakfast, goes to work, spends the day making actuarial tables, has a drink with friends, then takes his girl out to dinner before going home and going to bed. By now you’ve probably written about 1,000 words describing Pete’s day in erudite and deathless prose, but you haven’t really said anything. You’ve just described the action. Ho-hum. What does Pete want? What stands in the way of Pete’s getting what he wants?

But, you say, that’s the way life is. We don’t all have motives and conflicts, so most of our lives are just day-to-day minutiae. That’s not true. We all have motives – why do we work? So we can have the money to buy what we need. Or we’re saving for a special something. And we all have conflicts – traffic was horrible and kept us from getting to work on time. That jerk in accounting screwed up again, and has made it appear we were wrong. Whatever. Our motives and conflicts may be more mundane and on a smaller scale than our characters’, but they are there. Everyone has them. Fictional characters just have bigger, more spectacular ones, and it is our duty to provide them in a believable manner.

Remember, if all people wanted was real life, they’d all sit on the front porch watching their neighbors instead of reading our books!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Holiday Spirit

Yes, I do have it, and right now I'll say, Merry Christmas everyone.

The best part of Christmas is spending time with family. I have a big one, so no matter where some are going a few will end up at our house on Christmas Eve for dinner and gifting.

I've done all the decorating I'm going to do. Hubby can't help me drag things out of the closet anymore, so I've kept the decorations at a minimum. We have a couple of table-top trees, three Nativity Scene, and around the fireplace my collection of stuffed animals, primarily moose.

Since we have little great-grandkids who come over often, my moose become popular play toys--and I love it.

A ceramic village adorns the mantle, and that's also where I display Christmas cards. So much fun to hear from friends and relatives we haven't seen for years.

We went to our first and only Christmas party at our church. This is not a sedate bunch. Everyone brought great food to share and a wrapped Christmas ornament. One by one people chose a package to unwrap and either kept what they got or stole someone else's that they liked better. Much laughter ensued.

And to insert something about mysteries, I attended a brand new chapter of Sisters in Crime in Bakersfield and shared what it takes to write nearly 40 books. What a welcoming group they were. They greeted me warmly, listened intently, asked great questions, and bought many books.

I'd like to hear you holiday plans whether it be for Christmas or some other celebration.

Marilyn aka F. M.

My two latest mysteries are Not as it Seems and Violent Departures.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Converting Blog Articles into Books

by Jean Henry Mead

I never dreamed of converting interviews from my Mysterious Writers blog into a book when I established the site in 2008. But such good advice and life stories evolved that I couldn’t allow the material to disappear into cyber space.So  I recycled a great many interviews and decided to make them available to all readers.

Before the interviews were accepted for publication by Poisoned Pen Press, I submitted them to three publishers, all of whom accepted, so I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go with PPP, which only offered to publish a Kindle version, or two small, well respected presses, which offered a print version but wanted to make changes. I finally decided to accept Poisoned Pen’s contract with the hope they would also publish a print edition or sell the print rights to another publisher. Eventually they released a large print edition (shown above),

Interviews with unknown writers usually don't sell books, and I found the best time to approach a bestselling author is just before a new release, which is probably why Sue Grafton agreed to an interview when V is for Vengeance was released. Embolded from acceptances from Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block,Carolyn Hart,  Nancy Pickard, J.A. Jance and other publishing giants, I asked Janet Evanovich for an interview. So far I haven’t received an answer, but you can’t win them all.

I’ve featured quotes from interviewees on one of my Facebook pages. Among my favorites is one from Nancy Means Wright: "Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher nails up rejection slips and adverse reviews on the side of his barn and shoots holes in them. I just leave mine in a cardboard box and let my Maine Coon cats make a nest or pee on them. So send that manuscript out again!"

And from Louise Penny: "Finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don't be one of those. Do it, for God's sake. You have nothing to fear--it won't kill you. It won't even bite you. This is your dream--this is your chance. You sure don't want to be lying on your death bed regretting that you didn't finish the book." Lawrence Block was more succinct with his advice: "Write to please yourself. And don't expect too much."

I've had so many good interviews since Mysterious Writers was accepted that I published another, The Mystery Writers. I began my writing career a news reporter so interviewing is second nature. And the rewards are immeasurable.

I hope aspiring writers will discover something in these collections to help them in their struggle to publication, which is the main reason for the blog site as well as these books. Mystery readers also enjoy reading about their favorite authors.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

I am bewildered

I write an "every fifth Monday" blog here, so, last Monday I wrote "We all need a little more KOH-ZEE" and hit publish.

A couple of days later I checked in to MMM to see if there were comments to answer.  No comments, and NO blog.  When I click my desk top connection to Make Mine Mystery here, (created by my tech) the completed blog comes up in our regular format, but it's alone.  Says 15 views, no comments. When I go to Make Mine Mystery itself, no post!  I have tried and tried to figure out what happened, and even tried to re-post it (out of date) but nothing. 

The record shows I began a draft on 11-22.  That was me, only checking to make sure my connection to MMM at my new email address still worked  (  It worked, so, not realizing I had left my mark, I left the site and waited until the 30th.

Apologies, and I did try--and try--and try.  I'll get my tech to see if he can figure out what is happening next time he comes.  I sure hope to get this fixed before my next blog date--on Feb. 29!!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Good Grief! Today is What???

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

This year the Christmas elves have morphed into malign gremlins, entangling me in strings of tinsel and lights and sending me crashing flat on my face. I try not to post just one essay to both my first Wednesday blogs, preferring to do two different posts on two different subjects, but this time I really have no choice. You see, I forgot. It is now almost half an hour after they should have gone up online, and I am sitting desperately writing in a dark cold office while every other creature in the house is contentedly sleeping, including The Husband.

I do have good excuses/reasons – many of them. Christmas shopping. Out of town family come to visit. Self-indulgently, parties. A couple of meetings that could not be missed. Two hard deadlines breathing fire down my neck – one to finish a book, the other to finish edits. A chronic physical health problem flaring up, as usual at the most inconvenient time. And, perhaps the most annoying of all, this is our seventh week of having no internet at home, meaning that I will be breakfasting at my favorite internet café as soon as it opens in order to get this posted. I really don’t know whether to go ‘sigh’ or ‘grrrr.’ Or both.

As I have said before, do not marry an overly-analytical man. It does get ugly.

So now what shall I say to redeem myself? Nothing, because the forgetting of such a long-standing and treasured responsibility is unacceptable. Hand to heart, I promise to be better.

With any luck at all, all our Christmas shopping will be done this week. Except for my own present, I do all the shopping for the family, but I have been known to have to buy my own occasionally. In both The Husband’s and my families we only give token gifts as we are all blessed with what we really need, but the list is long and it is hard to find even tokens that are not outrageously expensive. As I lurch from store to store, happily shrinking list and traumatized credit card in hand, it is a painful mental gymnastic to think of something appropriate to give each individual. I predict that the gift-card people will be getting most if not all of our business this year.

So, dear reader, the hour is wee, the office is cold, and I am tired. Again, I beg your pardon for such culpable behavior, do promise to be better, and wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas!

(And if you see a couple of elves with sinister expressions carrying ropes of tinsel and lights, please don’t tell them that you’ve seen me!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Trying Something New with an Older Book

For a Christmas surprise I decided to offer Lingering Spirit for .99 cents on Amazon's Kindle. The sale will be from December 7 through the 11th.

Though this book is more of a romantic suspense with supernatural elements, it is one of my favorites.

It won an Eppie award for best supernatural e-book the year it came out.

One of the reasons I'm so fond of it, it is based on something that really happened in our family. Of course it's been fictionalized--but much of what I wrote about did happen. I loved writing it and must confess, it was sort of a healing process for me.

My publisher claims it's one of her favorite books and she's reread it numerous times--especially when she's down in the dumps.

I do hope some of the readers of this blog will try Lingering Spirit.


After her police officer husband is killed in the line of duty, Nicole Ainsworth struggles with the changes forced on her life. Her efforts to focus on her daughters and cope with her grief are kept off-balance by images of Steve, her deceased husband who seems to be trying to communicate with her. Eventually, Nicole finds that Steve isn't the only one watching over her, and discovers a second chance at happiness.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Writing the End - Mar Preston

Finishing: this subject is much with me as I labor towards the end of my sixth murder mystery, this one set in a tranquil village in the mountains of Central California.  A sequel to Payback, the debut of a second series that takes place in a village somewhat like where I live, it hasn’t come easily.  In fact it’s the most difficult of my six crime fiction novels. 

My editor returned my first draft with comments. I knew the draft had faults but I couldn’t figure out how to fix them. If I was ever going to write The End I needed to get past the gaping plot holes and somewhat peculiar motivations for the Killer. 

She pounced on all the faults, of course, because she’s a superb editor. We had a phone meeting and I did my best not to whimper. I know that critique is not criticism.  What lies ahead to fix the problems is a painstaking restructuring of the characters and plot.

What is keeping me going at this point? Certainly not the money.  I hear you all laughing. 

The fame?  I am famous on my block. They love me here. Not the fame then. 

The joy of writing?  Not hardly. I actually considered falling madly, foolishly in love with an unsuitable man just so I would have the excuse not to finish this wretched thing. 

But something must keep me going. I like my characters. That must be it. The setting, yes, that too. The novel features a murder in a well-funded cattery, that’s a sanctuary for cats of all sorts: kittens that get adopted the same day they come in; cats who are frisky and cute; and senior cats who have beautiful markings.  And it provides shelter for the sickly and  unadoptables. 

I have in mind Cat House on the Kings near Fresno, California, which I visited this summer when I got my American citizenship. I could not speak more highly of the work they do. That visit was a joy.
I do care about the subject matter of animal rescue. There are things I want to say. 

Writing a book is a marathon exercise. It will drain from you every scrap of inborn talent, memories, dreams, fantasies and life experience. You may have come to the point where there’s nothing left but heart. Raw guts. 

I suspect I’m at the 23- mile mark and can’t see the finish. That’s what I say to myself as I sit down every day to work on it. I will finish this and it will be good. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Double Whammy

By Linda Thorne

Early in the morning on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast with a direct hit on the little town of Waveland. A decade later, while the tenth anniversary of Katrina was underway, my debut novel, Just Another Termination, was published. The time of its release—early morning August 29, 2015, exactly ten years after Hurricane Katrina. No connection has been made between the two events by anyone other than me, but upon recognizing this coincidence in timing, I publically shrieked the words, “Say what?”

Why? I set my book on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and completed my first draft shortly before Katrina hit. Although only in first-draft format, it was written with scenes solidified in real places, many destroyed or changed by the catastrophic storm. How would I recreate them? I couldn’t. I’d used places I’d been to many times when I lived on the Gulf Coast. My lead character’s feelings toward these venues came from my own personal experiences. The structures would have to be repaired or rebuilt and I didn’t know what they’d be like. Some would end up at new locations. I could not sidestep Katrina. Her history would have to be brought into my book. A major overhaul, unless . . .

I left my book set pre-Katrina, 2004 to 2005. It was the easiest way, and if I’d found a publisher in the next year or two, it would not be so far in the past, but it took me ten years to publish. If Hurricane Katrina had not hit that August morning a decade ago, I’d have been bringing my book current with each edit prior to publication. Without Katrina’s history, these changes would’ve been minor. Flat screen TVs would’ve replaced big screens, I-phones instead of cell phones, social media would’ve played its role.

The unexpected intrusion of this hurricane, her double whammy, changed my series to forever be set in the past. So, when I realized the uncanny coincidence of my debut novel coming out with Katrina’s tenth anniversary on the exact day in the same morning hours, I’d say my “say, what?” moment was apropos.


Just Another Termination is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast prior to Hurricane Katrina. The characters are fictional, but many of the landmarks and structures in the story existed before Katrina barreled through the region in August of 2005, devastating the coastline. Although some of the structures survived, many did not but are preserved the way they were within these pages.

At long last, she lands a job with a good employer, but the trouble is just beginning...
Human resources manager Judy Kenagy hopes her days of running from bad bosses and guilt-ridden memories are over. But alas, she's barely settled in when a young female employee is found shot to death, spinning her new workplace into turmoil. Small-town police chief, Carl Bombardier solicits Judy's help in her role as the company's HR Manager. While working with Judy, he shares his fanatical interest in a twenty-five-year-old double homicide he believes is linked to her last and worst bad boss. To make matters worse, the trusted assistant of her monster ex-boss starts showing up, keeping the unwanted connection going. When the pesky trusted assistant turns up murdered, Judy learns there's a connection with the shooting death of the employee. She starts sleuthing at the crime scene and stumbles upon an important piece of evidence. Can she solve all of the murders with this single find? If she does, will she finally be freed from the demons of her past? Or are things not as they seem?

Buy Links:                                                                                                

2015 Killer Nashville Conference. Debut Novelist panel October 30, 2015

Moderator Kay Elam (left), Amy Ray, Janet Finsilver, and me on the right.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

There Are Those Nights....

by Janis Patterson

There are those nights. You know the kind I mean, the nights you just can’t sleep. Nothing’s wrong – the house is a comfortable temperature, the covers aren’t too heavy, you aren’t worried about anything, your spouse isn’t snoring any more than usual – but you just can’t sleep. You don’t have any of those nasty little aches and pains that don’t seem to appear anytime except when you go to bed, you haven’t had anything with caffeine since that Dr. Pepper with lunch many hours ago, you’ve done the nightly lock-and-alarm routine just like always – but you just can’t sleep. There isn’t even a noisy party in the neighborhood.

But you just can’t sleep.

The Husband is an ideal sleeper. After we go to bed it’s kiss-kiss, breathe-breathe, snore-snore and he’s out like the proverbial light. I have always had a much more difficult time going to sleep, perhaps because I have regarded sleep as a waste of time. My late mother always loved to sleep and said with much regret that after the age of three months I never took a nap. For years I took that as a point of pride, but as I get (much) older, I begin to sympathize with her. Naps can be wonderful, invigorating things. They can always refresh and revitalize – especially when you’re trying to work through a particularly knotty plot problem. However, I had not taken a nap that day, nor for several days previously.

So the writer-me took over. Sometimes when this happens I simply get up and get back to work, but not this night. I was too physically tired. So while I lay there in perfect Sleep-Number comfort, I decided to think, which is as we all know the hardest part of writing.

Except it didn’t work. My characters just wouldn’t behave. I guess I drifted close enough to sleep to shut down my brain-control, but not enough to really be asleep, and the darker side of my imagination got the upper hand. Oh, the things those characters did! They morphed into completely different creatures (and I use that word advisedly, as some were most definitely not human) and ran riot through my poor, sodden brain.

Sometimes that can be a good thing. You can get a fresh perspective, an idea of new plot twists or even completely new plots. Sometimes it is not a good thing. Sometimes I find it frightening what is lurking in the dark corners of my supposedly civilized brain. (And The Husband wonders why I find TV boring…)

Needless to say I didn’t get any work done last night. Neither did I get any sleep. Now I have to drag my protesting body down to the local internet café to get this scheduled for tomorrow, as for reasons too personal and too complicated to go into we have not had the internet in our home for the last month. (Never marry an overly-analytical man, ladies. It can get ugly.) It is terrifying, though, how quickly we can become dependent on technology. I wrote my first books on an ancient manual typewriter. When I needed information, I looked it up in a book, because that was the only way to find it.  Just the thought of that now is enough to give me nightmares, which might not be too bad a thing – at least then I would be asleep!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Write a Day-in-the-Life of Your Character - Mar Preston

In my current, and as yet untitled mystery, I changed the killer in the middle of the book. No one knew but me, until my editor commented that the killer was unconvincing.  He just seemed to float in the air until he pounced on the victim. It made me think even harder than Id already done to finish this book.

Yes, he was unconvincing because I didnt really know himand it showed. 

Time for character sketches.  Yes, he grew more real to me in writing five or six pages about him. But I still couldnt nail him to the paper so I tried another technique which Id read about.

I used the third person omniscient point of view. It went something like the following. Character name is an early riser, waking as the newspaper slaps up against the front door, setting his two Rottweilers barking. Coffee first, then the dogs get fed. He made a pot of organic, fair trade coffee from Kenya and poured it into a blue ceramic cup. 

And it just came as though I was taking dictation. Whew! Where did the Rottweilers and the fair trade coffee come from? I dont know. It just happened.

In writing your own day-in-the-life you might discover a female character wears jeans and a red scrunchie in her thick, curly hair. She goes to the office and snarls at a co-worker. And on it goes. You cant write fast enough to keep up with your imagination. Whoops, a contradiction. Suddenly youre writing that she loves her job. Now youre off in another direction.

Just keep writing. One character attribute that you uncover will be stronger than another. Simply said, you get further and further into your character description and a better idea surfaces.

Ive always trusted that the psyche has an unlimited supply of characters and plots for me to use. I needed to make friends with her and ask for her help.

And once again, she came through. 

I've written three short eBooks on the subject of writing your first mystery.  The first one is available FREE on my website at