Thursday, June 21, 2018

Learn and Learn Again

I welcome mystery writer Kathleen Kaska as my guest blogger today. Kathleen is not a newcomer to Make Mine Mystery. She was the 5th Saturday blogger for two years. After taking a position as the marketing director for Cave Art Press, Kathleen was left with less time to write, so she bowed out in order to complete several works in progress. A Two Horse Town, the second book in her Kate Caraway animal-rights mystery series will be released by Black Opal Books later this year. Let’s hear what Kathleen has to say today on a return visit to her old stomping grounds, Make Mine Mystery blogspot. Linda Thorne

By Kathleen Kaska

A few weeks ago, I attended the Chanticleer Authors Conference. My latest mystery, Run Dog Run, had made the “Mystery and Mayhem” short list. I attended hoping my book would win, but knowing the competition was fierce. I didn’t come home with the grand prize, but at least I came home with helpful writing tools.

On the last day of the conference, I attended Jessica Page Morrell’s all-day class, “Writing Craft Sessions that Will Take Your Work to the Next Level.” It was the best six hours of the entire three days and it was just what I needed. The morning session focused on the details of plotting, and the afternoon dealt with the necessity of learning from great writers. The information was so useful, I bought her book, Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. Chapter three, “Cliffhangers and Thrusters,” caused me to take a closer look at my WIP, a hardboiled detective novel set in the 1940s.

Morrell describes thrusters as structural devices, usually at the beginning of a chapter or scene that push the story ahead and keeps readers turning the pages. Cliffhangers, of which I’m sure you are familiar, are actually thrusters that occur at the end of a chapter or scene, or even a book if you’re writing a series. This technique was not new to me, but it was something I needed to revisit.

After reading this chapter, I noted that my cliffhangers weren’t too bad. Here are three examples:

“The only thing he accomplished since taking this case was screwing his client’s wife.”

“The next time Kendrick laid eyes on Roman, he promised himself he’d slit the guy’s throat.”

“The snarl on her lip had disappeared, but the look of disdain had hardened.”

My thrusters need work, however. Here are three examples:
“Kendrick took a taxi back to the hotel.”

“It was just past nine when Kendrick called Damien Carver at his office.”

“New York City was a great place to live.” (This one made me cringe.)

Now, take a look at three cliffhangers and three thrusters from New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben’s The Stranger:


“Did you fake your pregnancy?”

“It was two in the morning when Adam remembered something—or, to be more precise, someone.”

“She attached the image to the e-mail and typed two words before hitting send: HE KNOWS.”


“The stranger didn’t shatter Adam’s world all at once.” (This is the opening line of the book!)

“The stranger hated to do this one.”

“It was amazing how many things could happen in a single moment.”

The message: no matter how much you absorb, no matter how much you write, no matter how many books you’ve gotten published, the learning process never stops.

That terrible thruster, “New York City was a great place to live,” now reads: “It was ten in the morning. Kendrick didn’t care. He ordered an ice-cold draft and toasted the Big Apple.”


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Seeing the Light

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Every possible morning I go out to the hot tub for what I call my attitude adjustment hour. Actually, it's a time of exercise designed to keep my problem back working and reasonably flexible. As I loathe exercising in or out of water I never dreamed it would become one of the most pleasant times of my day.

About two or three houses to the East of mine is an absolutely enormous tree - some kind of oak, I think. Like most trees it has thin spots and holes in its leafy body. Some days - depending on clouds, haze, perhaps even how the breeze rearranges the leaves - the rising sun will shine through those holes and thin spots, turning them to glowing embers of the most brilliant gold. It is incredibly beautiful and so inspiring. For a precious few minutes - sometimes less than a minute - I am treated to one of the most gorgeous displays nature can provide. Then the sun shifts and what was a look 'beneath the skin of a glowing orb' turns into a very prosaic tree - still beautiful, but nothing except a tree after all.

So what does this have to do with writing? Nothing much, unless you take into account a writer's attitude toward her work. Most days we plod along, putting one word after another - sometimes well, sometimes just because we have to keep going and hope what we put down can be remade into something worthwhile - but then suddenly, like the sun turning the voids of a tree into brilliant and glowing gold, something transcendent happens and for a few incredible moments we can see everything about our story. We have a glimpse of the wonderfulness our story can become. We know where we're going and why, and sometimes even how. We have seen the light. Literally.

Not that writing is a magical process. It's hard work. You sit at a computer for hours, creating worlds and populations from nothing but imagination and caffeine, taking pure ideas and transforming them into words that hopefully will share what you see and feel with readers. Sometimes magic comes from books, but there's nothing magical about making them. Still, those magical moments of transcendent insight are worth working and waiting for, with or without a rising sun and a convenient tree.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Fun of Research

If all goes well, when this appears I'll be on the road to Tehachapi. For those of you who have no idea where or what Tehachapi is, it's a mountain community off Highway 58 between Bakersfield and Mojave.

It is famous for it's huge wind farm--monstrous wind turbines cover the hillsides.

And something called The Loop also draws visitors. It's a place where freight trains over a mile long go around a hillside, and if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you can watch the locomotives (four or more) pass over the end of the train.

The reason I'm going to visit is because my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is set in Tehachapi. Though I've been there several times, I want to make sure I get descriptions of places right--and also that the places I've made up could be where I've set them.

It should be a fun and rewarding trip.

I'm woefully behind writing this book. My Tempe Crabtree books usually come out in August, but this year not only have I been re-editing some of the earlier ones, I've been doing the same thing with my Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series. Plus, of course, life has intervened as well.

My intention, of course, is to make this next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery the best it can be. More about the trip next time.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Make Mine Mystery

June 5, 2018
Linda Lee Kane
Writer's Block: Can You Use it as a Tool?
Writing is both fulfilling and frustrating. There are days, that no matter how much I want and need to make progress on a book, I am unable to put words on the page. Or, if I do force myself to write, every word feels wrong. I know I'll be deleting most of them the next day.
When I first starting writing, this terrified me. But over the past ten years, I've learned that writer's block is my subconscious telling me that something has gone wrong in my book. There a plot hole issue or a problem with a character arc. I need to back up and reassess.
  I often will go back to the beginning and read the entire manuscript. So that I don't feel as if I'm wasting time, I use this time to edit. When I return to the stopping point, sometimes I've recognized the problem and put the book back on track. If I'm still stuck, I reach out to a writer friend and talk through the issue.
So next time you're struggling with writer's block, give your WIP a good edit. Reassess your plot, make sure your characters are following their arcs, and then reach out to a friend to talk about why you're having trouble. It's possible your story has wandered off course and needs to be redirected.

MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of Death on the Vine, Chilled to the Bones and an upcoming re-release of the The Black Madonna. 

Okay Folks, is Blogging a Thing of the Past?

On several of the email lists people are writing about blogs and many think they are no longer useful. I'd like to hear your opinion.

Here's mine.

I love blogs. I enjoy writing posts and reading what others have written.

I've been a regular on this blog for a long time and I enjoy what others have written. So many different topics and all have been interesting.

Some say that blogs don't sell books. Well, I've never written blog posts to sell books except when I'm on a blog tour. And like anything else, some blog tours have sold books, others not so much. How do I know, by tracking my numbers on Amazon while I'm on a tour. Though I often mention a book or books, especially if I have a new one out, that isn't why I participate on blogs.

I do it because I like to write. For me it's fun to come up with a new topic and write about it. Having a place to write about something I'm interested in is important to me. I love reading mysteries and writing them--and this is a good place to discuss all things mysterious.

I know that changes come along all the time, especially in the promotion part of writing. What once was "the thing to do" might not be now. 

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to stick with the things that make me happy. Reading and writing blogs give me pleasure, insight, and make me think. So I guess I'll keep on blogging.

What is your opinion about blogs and blogging?


And here I am a bit younger and with red hair instead of the white I now sport--doing one of the other things I like to do, give talks at bookstores.