Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Espresso Book Machine

I’m curious about this.

I’ve heard about these for a few years now. I’ve even seen video of them operating. I think they are quite noisy and they smell like…something. Maybe ink and paper?

Here’s a video:

(I chose this one because it starts out playing EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK:, and you can print my book EINE KLEINE MURDER on the machine! I don’t think it plays the music while it prints, though.)

Here are my two books that are available on them. (The only two I can find.)


But here’s my question. Has anyone ever used one? Has anyone ever seen one?

What’s your opinion, if so.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

by Jean Henry Mead

I spent nearly ten years researching and writing my first novel, after publishing five nonfiction books and an eight-year stint as a journalist. The experiences taught me the value of getting the facts right, no matter how long it takes to verify them. The novel was written after a two-year stint at a library microfilm machine, reading old newspapers to research a central Wyoming centennial book. I also relied on information from a book written in the early 1900s about troops stationed at an early army fort as well as another historical event which a museum curator challenged and the book was rewritten—after it was published. I’ve made other mistakes since that time, but they’ve been confined to typos, punctuation or missing words.

If I’d stayed the nonfiction course, I would probably have only written five or six books by now, instead of 21, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as I’ve had writing mystery novels. But you can’t write mysteries off the top of your head. There’s always some research involved.

The Internet has been a real research boon for writers, although there’s a lot of misinformation online. I’ve had enough books in my home library to answer most of my research questions, but I also had to run to the library for answers, or call the research librarian, B.C. (before computers).

I started my career as a news reporter, which is good experience for writing fiction. Getting the facts straight was ingrained from college journalism courses because your job is at stake if you write something erroneous which embarrasses the publisher, alienates an advertiser or leads to a lawsuit. And that, of course, carries over into fiction. A villain or devious character based on someone you know can lead to legal problems. Or a plot based on your next-door neighbors’ divorce can land you in court.

I’m reminded of a sixtyish widow, a confessions writer, who operated a small cafĂ© and two-pump gas station along a lonely Wyoming highway. She would listen to stories told by truckers and bus drivers who stopped in for one of her “sagebrush” ham sandwiches. She then used what she’d heard as plots for confession magazines. One day the wife of one of the truckers read a story written about her husband and knew it was him. Enraged, he confronted Betty during his next trip. Fortunately, he didn’t sue.

Misinformation included in a plot can earn the writer nasty comments from readers/reviewers as well as a loss of readership. I’m sure that Nelson DeMille heard from readers about his mistake in The Lion’s Game when he located Dover Air Force Base in Maryland instead of Delaware. I might not have noticed if I hadn’t lived at the base for two years while my husband was in the Air Force. But Dover AFB is often in the news when the remains of the overseas military is flown there.

I’ve learned as a journalist to check facts from at least two sources before I include them in my work. Fantasy writers can get away with iffy problem solutions that we mystery writers cannot. So taking time to make sure that technical jargon or facts are correct will help to ensure that my work won’t alienate readers. I recently read a promo ad from an author who said that when the power grid goes down, a certain device will ensure that you can still receive the Internet. I don’t think there will be an Internet if the national grid system fails although there is a proposed system called the Hinternet which can operate on a Ham radio channel, without traditional electricity. But I stopped reading because I wondered about other possible mistakes in his work.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Yes, I am Slowing Down

This morning I read two posts about writing conferences.

One was a report on Thrillerfest in New York where many writing celebreties appeared and spoke. And then on this blog abour the big romance writers convention.

I've never been to either one nor will I be going to either.

I used to attend at least three cons a year: Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, and Mayhem in the Midlands--which is no longer going on. (Way back, I attended other mystery and writing cons in California which are no longer in existence.) I've also been to Love is Murder in Nashville, and many Epicons all over the U.S.

Loved Left Coast Crime and am planning on attending next year's in Phoenix as it's an easy one to travel to. Met lots of reader friends there and at Bouchercon and traveled to many places I'd have never gone except that they were the location of the cons.

I've had the opportunity to meet and have conversations with some of the well-know mystery writers beginning with Mary Higgins Clark and Sue Grafton. Because of Mayhem in the Midlands, I became friends with William Kent Krueger who is also one of my favorite writers. Because of these cons I've also become friends with other not quite so famous mystery authors and enjoy their books too. Even more important are the mystery readers I've met and become friends with who also are fans of my books.

The big cons are fun, but sometimes overwhelming. Frankly, I prefer the smaller ones where it's much easier to find and meet people.

To bring this around to the slowing down part--it's no longer as much fun to fly. When I was younger I thought nothing of running to catch a plane, or even switching terminals and walking and walking and walking to get there, not something I want to do today.

Fortunately, I have many great memories of all the cons I have attended.

What are some of your favorite conferences?


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Ethics of Murder

by Janis Patterson

I’ll admit it – I’m terrible. When people ask me what I do, I smile sweetly, give them my best grandmotherly twinkle and say in soft, mellifluous tones, “I kill people.” It’s a great shtick, makes them remember me and gives me an opening to talk about my writing and books.

But the act of killing is not lighthearted and shouldn’t be taken lightly. As mystery writers we are very dangerous people. We know how to get rid of people in so many ways it’s a wonder that anyone ever talks to us, let alone comes to visit. Still we continue to research and study and learn about ways to kill people, all the while trying to improve our books and our craft. What we must never forget is that there are people out there who care nothing about books or craft – they are interested in killing. For real.

But I can hear someone saying, “If we can find the information, why can’t they? Why should we be made responsible?”

Yes, they could find the same information, but the question is, would they? Perhaps they’re too stupid. Perhaps they’re too lazy or it’s too much work. Perhaps … any number of reasons. Maybe they will anyway. I’m just saying that mystery writers have an obligation not to help them.

So how do we have a story? Well, a lot of things are in our collective consciousness. Anyone knows that a gun or a knife will kill. Using one of them is generally pretty simple. Poisons are more problematic. We all know that arsenic kills, but as writers we don’t have to give out the product and brand name and how to get the arsenic out of it. We can outline a murder, but leave out a crucial step or two. We’re writing entertainment, not training manuals.

This is definitely a self-policing step, and sometimes we have to exercise self-control to use it. A couple of years ago The Husband and I went to the national NRA convention. (Fascinating and great fun!) Once there, a gun manufacturer was enthralled that I wrote mysteries and was most helpful about answering a couple of questions I had. Then he started telling me things – a few I’ve used in the intervening years – and one thing that absolutely horrified me.

This man told me how to commit a murder with a fairly large bullet and yet leave no ballistic trace. No rifling on the projectile. A completely clean and untraceable bullet. I found that fascinating, but I’ll never use it. It’s too simple and can be done by anyone – and leave no trace by which the murderer can be found. He was absolutely gleeful and was hinting about having his name in the book as a reference source. I thanked him for the information, told him I would never use it, and begged him not to tell anyone else. He was startled, but after I explained that such information could be used by criminals, I think he understood. How odd that he couldn’t see that for himself, but other people’s thought processes are often strange and inexplicable things.

Have I ever used this handy tidbit? No. Have I thought about it? Oh, yes – it’s one of my favorite fantasies. A book about an unprecedented and untraceable way of shooting someone and – if you’re the slightest bit smart – getting away with it. Boy, that’s a formula for an Edgar if I ever heard one.

But fantasies are nothing but between-the-ears dreams and of harm to no one. I have accepted my dream Edgar for that unwritten book several times, and enjoyed it thoroughly each time. If I were to use such a device in a real book, however, I would be on tenterhooks fearing to hear that it had been used in reality, and that I could not bear. It would make me at best an accomplice, at worst… well, something horrible that I don’t want to be. That’s why I’ll never use that tantalizing bit of information in a book – and why all mystery writers should be very careful what they write.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

How To Get Your Dream Accomplished

by Kaye George

1. Have a dream first! Ours was a short story anthology, since our group, Austin Mystery Writers, was made up of both published and unpublished writers. Our idea arose out of a bantering session about a trip my husband took on the Mega Bus. It looked like a good place for a murder to me: finite number of suspects, isolated location (the bus makes only one short stop between Knoxville and Washington DC), and a long time period for everyone to get on everyone else’s nerves. The others came up with other ideas that involved vehicles, then we branches out to wheels, and we had our theme. Our dream was to get an anthology of wheel-related stories published.

2. Map out the steps. I’m not saying you’ll always follow the map, but it’s good to have one. We put together a time table. It included story deadlines, critique deadlines, date to hand off to a professional editor, and a publishing timetable with a period of time for submitting, then a schedule for self-publishing if that didn’t happen.

3. Get going. The dream will never happen if you don’t work toward it. OK, maybe it won’t happen even if you do, but it sure won’t if you don’t. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, right? Since our group ranged from unpublished to multi-published, we thought we could add some polish with some well-known names. So we invited a couple of Texas authors to join us, Reavis Worttham and Earl Staggs. They both accepted! We were on our way.

4. Try to hit your milestones. We stuck to our schedule for writing, critiquing, and editing. Meanwhile, we had gathered names of likely publishers. When our edits came back from Ramona Defelice Long, we started querying with Wildside Press. I liked them because they had done the Guppy anthologies and we were happy with them.

5. Celebrate when you get there! We were VERY pleased when Wildside accepted our stories. We threw away the rest of the schedule and left everything in their capable hands. What a thrill it was when MURDER ON WHEELS was published in April with a perfect cover for the project. Now we’re endeavoring to promote our volume and make Wildside glad they took us on.

If you’d like to check out the stories, here are some links:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Do You Agree with Elmore Leonard's Writing Rules?

Elmore Leonard's writing rules have been quoted many times and I agree with most of them. How about you?

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

I've found that weather can serve as an antagonist, which I've used several times in my Logan & Cafferty series, such as Rocky Mountain blizzards, San Joaquin Valley fog, Southwestern flash floods, etc.; essentially man or woman against nature or a deterrent to reaching one's goals.

2. Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

I agree as long as backstory is spooned in lightly.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

LOL. I agree but still like to occasionally use "gasped" or "lied."

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”: he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.

Agreed. ("Dutch" Leonard had a good sense of humor.)

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

Excessive exclamation points is a sure sign of a fledgling writer,

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

Also agree on this one. And we all know about the use of cliches.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

I think he was referring to Mark Twain.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

A few words go a long way.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

I think it depends on where your novel is set. If a foreign or exotic place, I personally like enough detail to be able to imagine the setting as long as it doesn't slow the pace to a crawl.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue. My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)


You'll find the above rules as well as my interview with Elmore Leonard in my book, Mysterious Writers.

~Jean Henry Mead

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Is it Time to Quit?

Radine Trees just wrote a similar post, but I think mine is enough different to go ahead with this one.

Lately I've been reading post from mystery writers who've decided to quit writing or to at least take a break from writing.

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised. I've never felt like that. I've been forced to take a break when family emergenies arose and when I broke my ankle a few years ago, I just couldn't get into the frame of mind to write for a long time.

But to decide I'm not longer going to write just because has never entered my mind--and certainly not for the reasons some of the authors stated. I've listed them here.

1. I'm not making enough money after all the time I've put in.

2. I haven't become famous or received the recognition that I hoped for.

3. I'm retiring and just going to enjoy life.

Though I'd certainly like to be making more money, that has never been my motivation for writing. I write because I just love doing it. I also want to find out what my characters are up to next--and the only way to do that is write the next book.

Oh, my, I don't think I ever aspired to being famous. Of course, my hope has always been that I'd interest some readers who really liked my books--and I've done that. I doubt many readers recognize my name, but I love those readers who've told me they love my books and those who've written wonderful reviews for them.

I've retired from many jobs--teaching in pre-schools and day care centers and my last occupation was owning and operating a licensed care home for developmentally disabled women; hubby and I did this for 23 years. No matter what "job" I had, I always managed to write and get published.

Now the only job I have, besides being a wife, mom, grandma and great grandma, is writing, and I am not ready to give it up. If I did, what would I do? Writing has been a big part of my life since I was a kid.

To the writers out there, have you considered retiring? And if so why?

And to your readers, would you be disappointed if your favorite authors decided to quit writing?

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

My latest books:


Monday, July 6, 2015

What I Write When I’m Not Writing My Novel

Though I’m a fiction writer, I bet the number of words I write each day in the service of promotion and communication far surpass the daily output of my WIP. We writers are a garrulous group and keep in touch with one another via email, listservs, Facebook, blogs, twitter, Pinterest, et al. 

I start every day off reading my emails. One reason is I can’t resist the urge to find out what miraculous bit of good news has come my way. I’m ever optimistic despite the fact that most emails are advertisements offering me free and discounted books, items of clothing, and trips to faraway places. Still, my writing groups/ listservs keep me informed regarding who’s winning prizes, signing new contracts, reporting on various conferences. Gladly, I send out many congratulations to my colleagues. They also keep me informed re what’s new in the ever-changing publishing industry. I skip through the many offers to promote my books, noting how many companies have recently formed to “help” authors as a way of making money for themselves. If only they could really achieve the wonderful results they promis.
Still, almost every day I come upon a valuable piece of information regarding promotion and book sales. I take the time to read the Book Marketing Expert Newsletter and Joan Stewart’s The Publicity Hound because of their wonderful offer wonderful promotion ideas. Other emails might include an invitation to write a guest blog, a free way to publicize my books, or an invitation to take part in a book fair. Blog posts and articles related to writing or promotion are wonderful sources of information. I often tweet those I find most helpful to share with my fellow writers. Sometimes I read the article on the spot. Doing this is like turning down new paths in the forest. I always have to remember to return to the main road. Or in this case, be aware of how much time is passing, time I’m not working on my novel.

Like most authors I read and review friends’ novels as well as novels I’ve gotten from sites like Net Galley and Shelf Awareness. And I when I post a blog of my own, I have to announce it to the writing world and respond to readers’ comments.

Promoting a new book means getting the word out to readers—tweeting, writing guest blogs, doing interviews, and talking up your book on social media. Communicating with readers and fellow writers, in person or online, is a lovely reprise from the lonely pursuit of writing. Which makes it all the more difficult to get back to the nitty gritty of writing the next novel. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Colorado, Small Swords, HNS and Elizabeth Peters

by Janis Patterson

Greetings from the beautiful state of Colorado! Now you’re probably wondering what a dedicated flat-lander Texas girl like me is doing high up in the mountains. Well, right now I’m having fun.

Seriously, the reason we (The Husband and I) came up to Denver was to attend the Historical Novel Society conference. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to one of these conferences, so I didn’t know what to expect, but when I was invited to speak I had to go – especially since the panel was on Egyptology (one of my main interests, as you  know) and Elizabeth Peters (who was not only one of my favorite authors but a treasured friend.)

Actually, I felt sort of a cheat being there as a conferee let alone a speaker, as so few of my books are historical by any stretch of the imagination – a handful of Victorian gothics, a time travel to Ancient Egypt, a few traditional Regencies, a mystery set right after WWI. I mean, these people are the ones who write stories about medieval royalty and Minoan mysteries and how to do historical research and the problems of linguistics. I felt totally overwhelmed.

I was on a panel with Bill Chirf, Libby Hawker and Lindsay Davis – all proven and respected historical novelists. And me. We had sort of informally split the subject up – Bill took Elizabeth Peters’ (also known as Dr. Barbara Mertz and Barbara Michaels) early life and the attitudes of the times; I took her career from the sale of her first book (a non-fiction Egyptology book called TOMBS, TEMPLES AND HIEROGLYPHS) through her career as a best-selling multi-genre novelist and on to her much-regretted passing in 2013. Libby analyzed how her success affected the market for Egyptian fiction, which was fascinating – even a devotee such as I didn’t realize how she had made it soar. Finally, Lindsay talked about the problems of research. We had a pretty good crowd and some very interesting questions afterward, but what really impressed me was how many people came up to me from the end of the workshop to the close of the conference to tell me how much they liked my presentation. Boy, that felt good!

One fun thing we did was take David Blixt’s Rapier, Short Sword and Dagger workshop. He also did a broadsword workshop, but those things are heavy, and this was very much a hands-on workshop. You do not know what fear is until you are in a fairly small meeting room with about 40 amateurs armed with short swords, rapiers and daggers! We advanced, we fell back, we did forward and back passos (that’s what it sounded like) all the while thrusting and parrying. For some strange reason (because it was an historical conference, perhaps?) I had worn a skirt. A long skirt. I had forgotten how difficult and uncomfortable those things were to wear. Also, to ‘fight’ we in sandals had to remove them and fight barefoot. Unfortunately, The Husband and I were in the same sessions – not everyone could participate at once – so he couldn’t take pictures of me dueling barefoot in a long skirt. Maybe that’s a good thing. David, however, was an excellent teacher (and a bear about safety) so the workshop was a joy.

One thing that was not a joy was the booksigning. There were close to 100 authors by my estimation who were in the signing. The entire second floor atrium of the hotel was lined with tables and authors with big smiles and pens at the ready. The keynote speaker was Diana Gabaldon, of OUTLANDER fame. The booksigning had been advertised locally and we were told a good crowd was expected. And a good crowd came. Miss Gabaldon’s table was set aside at the other end of the room from the rest of us, which was not a bad idea as the aisles were narrow. Except – when the crowd came, they lined up to get to Miss Gabaldon’s table, got their book signed and then left. Very few even glanced at the hundred or so other authors. The most books I heard of being sold by an author other than Miss Gabaldon was four. Four! There was a lot of mutterings and gripings among the authors that a woman who has sold at least a bazillion books was syphoning off potential sales from the rest of us. Sour grapes? Probably, but still very true. It did leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths.

However, the conference ended Sunday at noon, and here we are still in Colorado until the end of the week. It’s called being a tourist. The Husband and I decided it was ridiculous to come all the way to Denver from Dallas just for two and a half days, so after the conference was over we moved down to Colorado Springs. Yesterday we spent at the Garden of the Gods. The Husband had never seen it, and I had only been there once years ago – back when I was a girl in high school.

Wow! Is that a fantastic place. Great shards of rock sticking straight out of the earth. Gargoyle figures sculpted by Nature itself. Rocks the size of a hamlet. All incredibly beautiful. We had planned to spend the morning there and then go on to a mine tour in the afternoon, but at 6:30 we were still in the park. Thinking solely of the conference, I had not brought my camera, but The Husband – a photo-holic – had his, and spent most of the day climbing over rocks and up trails taking pictures. I don’t climb well, so I sat a lot and enjoyed the scenery. It was one of the best days I’ve spent.

We’ve spent hours driving around, exploring the little towns both known and obscure. And shopping. Don’t forget shopping. I have some lovely t-shirts to wear when I want to feel a little bit of Colorado.

And plots. I’ve made notes (skeletal, to be sure, but still viable) on no fewer than three new books. As if I needed more plots. I’m already backed up over four books worth. I need more time, not plots!

But not just yet. Tomorrow we are going to make the mine tour, and perhaps a silver shop and take a look at the Royal Gorge and perhaps the dinosaur museum and… Who knows? Carpe diem, especially when in glorious Colorado.