Tuesday, June 21, 2016

More on Titles by Marilyn Meredith

Thought I'd piggy-back on Linda Thorne's post about titles.

When I first started my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, I thought I'd keep the titles to 2 words: Deadly Trail, Deadly Omen,Unequally Yoked, then I went to one word, Intervention, followed by Wingbeat.

I began to realize that it was more important to use a title that somehow fit the books. Sometimes I know what the title will be before I begin. At others, I don't have a clue until I'm all done.

Because the Tempe books often center on or have some native legend or mystique in them, I've used part of a quote from an American Indian for a title. That's where I got the title for the next on due out in August--Seldom Traveled.

A couple of books I've had to ask my critique group for suggestions for titles, and received just the perfect one.

Someone gave me the title, Murder in the Worst Degree. I thought it was great, wrote the next book in the Rocky Bluff series planning to use the title, but it wasn't until the last two chapters did I realize how it fit the story.

My latest in that series, A Crushing Death was easy because it is the way someone dies. And the idea for the murder came from a fellow mystery writer.

The book I'm working on now, I have no clue about what the title should be--yet.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

About Book Titles

by Linda Thorne

If you follow suggestions for writing book titles, you will be discouraged from writing long titles (more than four or five words). The reasoning, keep them short so they’re easy to remember and easy to post anywhere. I talk about the exception to this, the one-word title, in the next paragraph. After you hear the lecture on size of title, the suggestions go on to include giving your title twists, humor, gusto, anything to find a way to make it memorable and provocative.

When considering short titles, one of the problems with the one-word title is the likelihood of it being duplicated by other people’s books. This is totally legal but many authors don’t want their books competing with a long list of the same title. Another problem is the difficulty of describing your book properly in a single word. Think about how much more defined a book title is when a second word is added. For example:

A couple of two-word titles in Marilyn Meredith's Tempe Crabtree series are Raging Water and River Spirits. The words Raging and River are meaningless standing alone as would be Water or Spirits. The dual words need each other to make sense and give these titles "oomph."

The same holds true of the debut novel by S.J. Francis, Shattered Lies. The two strong words, shattered and lies, would not mean much of anything if not coupled together. Either word as a single title would lose all its zest.  

I could go on and on: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Now, having spoken on the negatives of titles too long and one-word titles, does any of this matter in the big scheme of things if you find that perfect title? Take a look at these exceptions to the popular advice:


John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden and Good and Evil.
Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ©
Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Alan Brady’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie



I had the idea of writing a book long before I actually knew I’d really write one, so I was one of those people (annoying to some) who would occasionally tell others, “I’d like to write a book and I’d call it, The Termination of Jolene Cromwell. My lead character was a career human resources manager, so terminations were part of her job. This was the book in my head back then, in the years long before I started writing. The title is so, so, and rather plain. No oomph, no action, no underlying statement.

When I did start writing the book, the termination of the character named Jolene Cromwell was no longer the story. It was something that happened in back-story, something that gave motivation to my protagonist. The story starts when a no-call-no-show employee is found shot to death. My protagonist, like me, is a career human resources manager and regardless of how any employee leaves a company, they must be terminated. Then death itself is a type of termination. As writers, we’re told to stay away from the word just, but I thought it worked well in my title because it turns out to be anything but just another termination. The addition of the word, just also eliminates duplication of other book titles. When I Google Just Another Termination, I pull up one book and that’s the one I wrote.

The title of my second book, a work in progress, is A Promotion To Die For. My character gets a promotion that requires her to move to a place where she lived close to twenty-nine years earlier. She was in danger then and her move back puts her in danger again. This title is also a play on words. The promotion is a high paying “dream” job that could easily be referred to as a promotion to die for. In this case, the words could hold to their literal truth as well since someone plans to kill my lead character.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It Was Always In The Cards

by Janis Patterson

Do you ever feel that your destiny was foretold when you were still a child?

As a child I loved to read. My parents don’t know when I started reading, but they said I could read them stories from the Saturday Evening Post (remember that?) when I was around three. I can remember liking to read more than anything and my mother telling me to do something else because I’d ruin my eyes. Which is probably true – I’ve worn glasses since before starting school at six, and have been blind as the proverbial bat (nearsighted) all my life.

The only thing was, most of the year she couldn’t tell me to go outside and play. Where we lived then was bitterly cold and during the winter the snow was several inches above my curly blonde locks. (Neither the curliness nor the whitish blonde color survived my childhood – darn it!)

So, when my books were temporarily removed, I had to think of something to do. Mother had no objection to my playing solitaire, which my dad had taught me, so I would take the shabby deck that was ‘my cards’ and sit in the floor to play. I didn’t play traditional solitaire, though, despite the fact I knew how to quite well. Instead I made up stories.

The king of spades was the villain and his queen was somewhere along the lines of the Wicked Queen in the Snow White movie. (The sequence of her cursing Snow White on top of the dark mountain while the lightning plays around her was one of the very few things that has ever frightened me – still can, as a matter of fact.) The royal spades wanted the four of hearts – the delicate, gentle heroine, who was me, of course – to marry their slimy nephew, the seven of spades, but she was tenderly in love with a perfect young man, the five of hearts.

The king and queen of hearts were her good-natured but ineffectual parents (now I wonder if by that reasoning young four might be too closely related to the five of hearts for comfort, but at the time I was too young to think of that sort of thing). The king and queen of clubs were rulers of a nearby country who were related to the spades but didn’t like them. I don’t remember where the king and queen of diamonds nor any of the jacks or aces fit in; they had to be around, but didn’t seem to have played substantial roles in any of my scenarios. All the other cards were either servants or courtiers and seemed pretty much interchangeable as the story needed them.

I would sit for hours and play my ‘solitaire’ and my mother was happy because I wasn’t ruining my eyes by reading. What neither one of us realized at the time was that I was writing. Without words or paper (that came the following summer, when at four I wrote my first ‘book’) but still I was creating a storyline with crudely delineated characters and definite action. Apparently some of us are just cursed from birth with their future.

And I still like the spades the least of any suit in the deck. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Newsletter Le Coeur de l’Artiste, and Why I Created It.

I'm happy to  have D.J. Adamson as my guest today on Make Mine Mystery. Diann is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series. She is also the publisher of Le Coeur d'Artiste, a monthly newsletter that reviews books and interviews authors. I was lucky to have her review my YA horror-suspense, The Devil's Pawn. 
Marilyn Levinson

As writers, we're told you must write a blog so people can get to know you.  I tried that. I've had  many blogs. I’ve written about writing, positive thinking, and my life. Boy, was that a mistake. I ran out of things to say. I felt I was forced to take on an additional job for the sake of my writing. I already have a day job I love and my writing schedule.

Some authors have a group blog. Well, no one asked me to write one with them. Since I’m pretty shy, I didn’t ask to join one. Another idea ditched.

Instead, I started a newsletter.  The first newsletter echoed lectures from my classroom. I began including students’ creative work. I published my first poem at the age of twelve, but there are few outlets for students/beginners to publish. I wanted to offer that accessibility.  They began offering their poems, photography, song lyrics. Some told me it was the first time they’d ever shown anyone their work. One student excelled beyond my newsletter and published in a UCLA literary journal.

It was a great start, but I was promoting myself to a small audience.  Two hundred a semester, but still relatively small. I closed down that newsletter and started Le Coeur de l’Artiste. I took on the mantel that to do for others is to do for yourself. I review an author’s work and interview them to a readership of almost two thousand.  I have interviewed celebrated Indie authors like Hugh Howie, Edgar Award nominees and winners. At the last conference I attended, writers came to me saying, “I know you.”  Of course, I thought they were referring to my Lillian Dove Mystery series. Instead, they said, “I read Le Coeur every month.

Every month. I think that is the key. I publish the newsletter monthly. I read at least five books to review, reviewing those I feel are 3+ stars. You don’t have to be a great writer to get into my newsletter, but you have to have the potential to be a good writer. I don’t ask for money. I don’t ask for a book. Generally, authors send me a pdf or mobi file to read.

I started reviewing only mysteries, but my audience and reading expanded. I review fiction, genre and literary, and non-fiction. I review authors I know, dead authors considered classic writers—it's good to remind people of their talents—and authors I only know from the covers of their books. The newsletter is launched on the 15th of every month.

I have learned more about writing from reading books and interviewing authors than from reading books on the craft. Though I don’t promote myself in the newsletter, more and more people know my name. I believe it's my responsibility as a writer to extend a hand to other writers. I do this by  promoting them.

There’s a saying:  Give Service and Receive. That’s what my newsletter has done for me. I have received knowledge, friendships, networking, promotion, and maybe a few sales.


D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy.  Suppose, the second in the Lillian series has just been released.  She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter Le Coeur de l’Artiste, that go to http://www.djadamson.com. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Reader’s Attention Span

How long do you give a new book to hook you? Readers of contemporary fiction don’t have the attention span and discretionary time that readers had in the 1900s. Or even a decade ago. Now, readers will skim until they get to the point where something interesting happens. Or they put down the book and never finish it.

freee ebook download
If your fiction–short story, personal essay, or novel—doesn’t connect, the editor or agent will never get to the good part where the story really takes off. It may be there in chapter two, around page 20, but if there’s a typo, or a dream sequence, a flashback, your piece is flipped face down on a towering pile of rejects.

Sometimes there’s a typo on page one. A misspelled word. A clichĂ© that’s so old and hoary the agent—or reader—groans. Something like:  “Little did I know that today would be the day I would meet _____ and my life would change forever.” These are strong indicators that bad writing, more cliches and typos are piled high in the pages ahead.

Today we start the story when something happens to tip the protagonist—the teller of the story—into a world of trouble. He’s been sailing along in the world of finance, say, or kick boxing or Tenth Grade when something happens.  Something big that’s going to knock him flying. This captures the reader’s attention.

The protagonist is presented with a problem that will carry him to the finish of the story, where to some extent he has solved the problem, done something that he couldn’t do in the first pages, grown and changed along the way.

New writers think they have to work in the back story, fill in what’s been happening to the central character or characters or readers for the last five years. They worry that readers will be left not knowing what’s going on. I’m of the opinion that readers are at least as smart as I am. What went before can be implied, or filled in later in the story.

But if I open with my character rambling around in his head about Wall Street or the Indochinese family of kickboxing sports, I’m losing readers who couldn’t care less.  They want to see something happen.

They don’t have to know how my protagonist—the detective in my case—got his first job as a stockbroker, or became a kick boxing champion. If I throw a likable character into the fire in the first few pages, they’ll keep reading. We fill in ourselves. What would I do if I discovered a major fraud by my trusted employer friend? How would I enter the cage if I knew my opponent had all but killed the last guy who went up against him?

That’s part of the joy of picking up a new book. What would I do? Would I catch the clue the murderer left? Would you? After all the research you've done, do you think you could run a crime scene?

Check out for yourself how long you give a new book to hook you. Check out my first three Santa Monica crime novels in a boxed set. 

Have I followed my own advice?

 boxed set-4

Friday, June 10, 2016

Linking Historical Events to the Present

by  Jean Henry Mead

I enjoy research, especially when I can link historical events to the present. So when I came across the Teutonic Knights, a group established in the year 1190, as well as the Heart Mountain internment camp of World War II, I worked them both into my recent release, Mystery of the Black Cross. The Teutonic Knights was formed to establish hospitals and escort pilgrimages to the Baltics and the Holy Land. The organization evolved, however, into anarchist groups, abbreviated ABC, which still support political prisoners worldwide.

During this seventh Logan and Cafferty novel, my senior women amateur sleuths discover a black cross painted on their front door, which they learn has marked them for arson and murder. The police chief and a rogue detective, who considers himself a latter day Don Juan, figure prominently in the plot, which led me to Wyoming's Heart Mountain internment camp for some 14,000 Japanese during WW II.

I made a trip to northern Wyoming to witness the former internment camp, which I consider a concentration camp. Four of the barracks where the internees lived still remain along with a guard tower. The living conditions were deplorable, and I read interviews with some of the people who had lived there, which I included in the book.

When the war ended, each former prisoner was given a train ticket back to the West Coast and $25 to begin a new life. And Congress finally decided in 1988 and 1992 to compensate the survivors for the loss of their homes and livelihoods. The state of Wyoming also erected a monument years later to commemorate those who enlisted from within the camp to serve in the army during the war. 

Working both histories into the novel was easier than I had anticipated. I also included some humor and a bit of romance to hopefully balance the seriousness and relevancy to the history we're producing today.

Mystery of the Black Cross is available at http://amzn.to/1X63EHE in digital and print editions. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Life of This Writer

Because all writers are different, I'm only going to describe what my life is like as a writer.

I'm fortunate in that my publisher for my Rocky Bluff P.D. series lives close enough that we can get together for lunch ever so often. In the above photo I'm signing the contract for A Crushing Death.

Over the last few months, I've been busily promoting that book through a blog tour, lots of postings on Facebook, and of course a launch party, and numerous in person events.

In the meantime, I finished writing the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery and sent it off to the publisher, fixed the edits, and it's due out in August sometime--so that means I need to start working on the publicity for it.

Because that's not my sole roll in life, I've gone on a vacation to see relatives and friends (wonderful!), visited with and played with great-grands, taught my 5th grade Sunday School class, attended church, cooked many dinners, done the laundry, shopped etc.

I'm also judging manuscripts for two different writing contests and I write 2 monthly newsletters, mine and one for a provider organization, and the quarterly newsletter for PSWA. (Public Safety Writers Association.)

What it all adds up to is I'm busy--and as I like to tell people, I'm never bored.

To be honest, I love to watch movies too--and I do that in the evening when my mind has turned to mush.

And I'm sure you've noticed that there isn't any glamor involved in this writer's life.

Do keep on reading.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Problems of Living With A Goddess

by Janis Patterson

I was born a Leo, so it naturally follows that I love cats and have had at least one for most of my adult life. My mother, of course, disliked any kind of indoor animal, which accounted for a lot of our conflicts.

Of all the cats I have had, Sakhmet was the most memorable. Some backstory – sometimes back in the 1940s someone had dumped a pair of Siamese cats out in the country behind my grandparents’ barn. They had stayed and interbred until over the generations a recessive gene had become dominant, resulting in a tribe of pure-black Siamese.

I had just moved into my own place and was determined to have a cat, so – with a little cunning, a lot of luck and a great deal of smelly cat food – I captured a tiny little black kitten. I didn’t know what I was getting. Born feral, she never really domesticated. We lived in an uneasy truce for the next 20 years. I named her Sakhmet after the unpredictable lion-headed Egyptian goddess, and the name fit her to a T. Sakhmet could easily have been the last living saber-tooth!

Her vet, who both respected and feared her, said that she had all the Siamese traits – small feet, a heart-shaped face, a voice that sounded like a baby being skinned – but she was completely black (and never got a gray hair!) with enormous eyes that went from green (happy) to gold (better leave until she calms down).

Sakhmet hated people. I was tolerated because I was the bringer of food, but whenever visitors came to my apartment she vanished. People I had known for years swore up and down I didn’t have a cat, that I merely went outside, gathered tufts of hair from the bushes and rubbed them on the carpet so that people would think I had a cat!

Sakhmet was also the most intelligent creature (including some of the two-legged ones I dated) I’ve ever seen. She could turn lights on and off, loved to answer the telephone and could open any door in the place. I had to keep the front and back outside doors key-deadbolted just to be sure.

This was during the heyday of the dinner theatre, when you could have a buffet dinner and then see a play with some of the older luminaries of Hollywood. I was an actress then and was delighted to be cast in UNDER PAPA’S PICTURE, a piece of froth starring the late great Eve Arden. There are several blogs worth of stories from that play’s six-week run, but I’m going to tell only one.

It’s a well known fact that Miss Arden was a great animal lover, and as we had to spend a fair amount of time in the green room waiting for our cues, we would regale each other with tales of our furbabies. She became entranced with some of Sakhmet’s adventures, but I never dreamed where it would lead.

The play ran over the Christmas holidays, so I decided I would have a great big party for the cast and crew. The party was a success, until someone asked where Miss Arden was. Well, I had seen her and her husband Brooks West arrive, and he was in the living room talking to someone, but there was no sign of Miss Arden.

I went looking. It was not that big a place, so I soon found her, and my heart almost stopped. She was in my bedroom, lying flat on the floor and scrunched about three-quarters of the way under my bed, cooing to Sakhmet, who was doubtless as far into the corner as she could get.

I thought I might die. Not only was Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks!) under my bed, she was under there not only with a half-wild cat who hated everyone but  a generous herd of killer dustbunnies as well!

It all worked out all right. She just got one clawing from Sakhmet, and it only took a minute or two to detach most of the dustbunnies. For the rest of the play she talked again and again about meeting the legendary Sakhmet. She never mentioned the dustbunnies. Thank goodness.

Once when I had to take a trip I frankly blackmailed a police officer friend of mine into taking care of her at his house. He was a patrolman, over 6 ft tall and very fit, but he was no match for Sakhmet. I came home to find her back in my apartment, with a shredded pillowcase and a tray of food and water just barely beyond the swing of the front door. She had lasted exactly two days at his place before terrorizing his family so much that he gave in and brought her back. For the remaining three weeks of my trip he drove almost ten miles each way every day to feed and water her.

One Thanksgiving I came home to stay the holiday with my widowed mother. I brought Sakhmet because the weather was deteriorating and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get home again to feed her. The three of us ended up being snowed in for a number of days. Before it was over the war between Mother and Sakhmet made me think seriously of simply abandoning the two of them and hiking back to my apartment through the snow. It was only four miles…

Sakhmet always liked to lie on shiny, slick fabric. In the den Mother had two antique chairs that were covered in a glorious satin. Sakhmet loved them. Mother was afraid she would have an ‘accident’ on them. Mother covered the chairs with towels, but the next morning the towels had been scraped off onto the floor and Sakhmet was spread in luxurious abandon over the satin. The next night Mother tried pillows. The next morning they were on the floor. The next night Mother gave up and moved both chairs into the living room and shut the door.

The den was carpeted in a beige shag (this was a number of years ago) and there were definite impressions of each chair’s four legs. In the morning – as neatly as if it had been plotted with a ruler – in the middle of each chair’s impressions was a small, brown gift. Mother said she had been right, that Sakhmet had had an accident. I said no, that was no accident, it was a deliberate! The next day the snow melted – thank you, God! – and Sakhmet and I went home.

Though she was sometimes difficult and often downright weird, Sakhmet was also a loving companion. She would lie on my desk while I wrote and slept every night in the small of my back. She was a big part of my life.

Sakhmet lived for 21 years. Toward the end she was very frail and ill, and I was so selfish I could not bring myself to do the right thing and have her put to sleep. She took the decision out of my hands. I had to be out of town, so Mother – unwilling to have Sakhmet in her home again, though this was many years later – drove the 4 miles to my apartment every day to feed her. Sakhmet waited until I was out of town to die. Mother buried her in the most beautiful part of her back garden and put flowers in her grave.

I’ll never forget the feeling of coming home to that empty, empty apartment. I’ve had many other cats since Sakhmet’s passing, but none have equaled her in intelligence or personality. Or temperament. Unfortunately, all my pictures of her perished in the disaster of a flood caused by a burst pipe, so all I have of her is memories. Sleep well, my dear old friend. I still miss you.