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 cafĂ© 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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Games, Calories and Procrastination

by Janis Patterson

Whoever put games like Solitaire (Spider or Regular) and Free Cell on computers has a lot to answer for.

Now that’s a pretty harsh statement, but any writer can identify with it. You have a deadline. You have a tangled sentence, or a clunky paragraph, or a bit of action that just doesn’t ring true. You need to apply some heavy-duty brain power to it, but your mind won’t cooperate. Perhaps a bit of mindless hand eye action will aid in sharpening your concentration. Or maybe it’s a scene you really don’t want to write for whatever reason or it is so intense you need a break… a quick game of Solitaire wouldn’t hurt and it will give you a breathing space…

We’ve all done it, and before you know it, half an hour or even an hour has gone by, you’ve barely thought about your writing but you have upped your win percentage to 63%. Worse yet, you feel proud about it!

Let’s face it – writing is hard work. Even bad writing can be hard work. If the energy we put into writing burned calories (and WHY doesn’t it?) we would all be size 0 wraiths. We do need breaks occasionally just from the intensity of our stories and a quick game of (electronic) cards can be just the relief we need.

The key word in the sentence above is ‘game,’ which is most definitely singular. Games, unfortunately, are like potato chips. Taking just one is simply impossible. But, you say, all you need is self discipline. True, but how many of us have that kind of discipline? You’ve been working steadily for an hour or two, the words are tangled in an impenetrable Gordian knot, you have a deadline looming and your brain is fried mush. Sometimes discipline just isn’t enough – or, to use a more homely and telling comparison, it’s like putting a great big bowl of chocolate in front of a starving dieter. Surely just one piece… and before you know it the entire bowl is gone and you are rampaging through the kitchen looking for more.

Perhaps all of you have more self control than I; you probably do – both for writing and for chocolate. You could hardly have less. Still, we can but do our best, and that includes ignoring the siren call of mindless games… and chocolate.

Now I must go back to work, but the situation I have my characters in is daunting and must be straightened out. Maybe just one game before I start, just to clear my mind. Besides, it’s bothering me that that I dropped a point on my win percentage yesterday and I know that worrying about it will affect my writing…

Whoever put games like Solitaire (Spider or Regular) and Free Cell on computers should die!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My Love Affair with Morro Bay and Surroundings

One of the reviews for Not as it Seems, despite 5 stars, hinted at the fact that I might have gone overboard describing attractions and restaurants in Morro Bay.I think the above photo of Morro Rock may give you a bit of an idea why I love to visit the area.

Probably the reviewer was right. I mentioned several restaurants and the food eaten by Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her preacher husband Hutch.

Sunsets are spectacular on the ocean. Of course this is Morro Rock, and I've seen such sunsets from several restaurants there.

Another sunset down the road from a hotel in Pismo Beach.

And here's my favorite place to eat breakfast in Morro Bay, The Coffee Pot.

I'm afraid I couldn't help but write about all the places I know Tempe and Hutch would've visited. Yes, she's trying to discover a murderer, but this is also supposed to be a vacation. Tempe tries hard to focus on all the wonderful places they visit--but her mind is always on the clues.