Tuesday, July 23, 2019

My Favorite Writing Conference

By the time this is posted, I will have just returned from the Public Safety Writers Association's Conference.

At one time, I went to many writing and mystery conferences during the year, sometimes with my hubby and sometimes alone. We attended Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes all over the U.S. A favorite was Mayhem in the Midland, which is no longer. I have fond memories of Epicons from Florida, Virginia Beach VA in winter, Washington, and in Texas.

In fact, we've visited many states we'd have never seen because of conventions and cons.

Flying is no longer something I enjoy, and the price of hotel rooms has gone up so much, that I've chosen to only attend the PSWA Conference--much more for the dollar. And we are able to drive there.

I've been attending PSWA Conferences since its reorganization and served as program chair for many years. I handed the job over to the very talented and able retired police detective and fantastic writer, Michael A. Black.

Like with any convention or conference, if you attend regularly, I've made many friends who I look forward to seeing every year--and meeting new folks.

I still help with the pre-conference workshop, which is fun because I love helping writers as so many have helped me along the way.

Besides panels on various aspects of writing and promotion, there are always great presentations, sometimes about law enforcements work.


On my next post, I'll give you highlights of what happened at the conference.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Writing to Word Count

by Linda Thorne

If you’re an author who has ever entered a writing contest, you’ve been subjected to word count requirements. Submissions to agents and publishers normally have maximum word counts too, except sometimes the limit may be a number of chapters in a book rather than actual words.

It’s amazing how the number of our words can significantly be reduced without changing a story. I’ve managed to cut a 3500-word short story down to 1000 while keeping the story intact.

My debut novel, Just Another Termination, started off with a 120,000-word first draft. It was awful. I eliminated a couple of non-essential characters and their roles, but still more fat to trim. I’d fallen victim to the mistaken idea that readers need to know everything. For example, I wrote over four pages that described the different stages my protagonist’s husband went through to move from LA to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to take a better job. He left my protagonist behind to sell their Los Angeles home, moved into a hotel near his new job, and then bought a home in Mississippi and moved into it. This all happened prior to my lead character joining him. Too much information.

I took these four pages of information dump and turned it into a two-sentence summary blurb. That and another 40 words sprinkled into other sections of the book was all that needed to be said on this subject. I had several other places where I could scratch 90% of the descriptions I’d written.

Here are some other things I did to reduce word count and tighten my book: 

I dropped one of my subplots. I had to many in the first draft of my debut novel, Just Another Termination. In my second book yet to be published, A Promotion to Die For, I  think I’m right-on with the number of subplots.
I got rid of a few characters. I had to eliminate a couple of characters in Just Another Termination and hated it. I’ve already eliminated two characters in my current work-in-progress, A Promotion to Die For.

I’ve heard to watch the words used on backstory in the beginning. Cut them down and trickle the information throughout the book. This is more difficult with my current WIP, A Promotion to Die For because my inciting incident happened thirty years earlier but is pressing into the current time frame of the book. Sometimes authors must ignore the naysayers when their book doesn’t fit into the “rules.” Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Susan Isaacs wrote a book called, Lily White, where one chapter was in present time and the next in the past. To help differentiate, chapters in the present were written in regular font, where those in backstory were in italics. This went on with present/past chapters alternating until past and present met in time at the end of the book. Even though the author broke some (lots) of the “rules,” it seemed to work perfectly for this novel. I really enjoyed Lily White.

In A Promotion to Die For, I only have a few chapters that are written in back story, but I did need some full chapters to bring in the the inciting incident from three decades ago.

When my debut novel was finally published, it was closer to 80,000 words. I’m trying for the next one in the series to be about the same. Eighty thousand words is my general comfort level for mystery novels.

Amazon Buy Link 


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Problems of Color and Choice

by Janis Patterson

Where have all the colors gone? We're rapidly entering a sad and monochromatic world.

Maybe I had better back up and tell you what is behind this melancholy rant. You see, I have a pink bathroom. An ALL-pink bathroom, and as things will when they grow old our toilet (pink, to match the sink, the bathtub and the wall tiles) broke. Well, what can you do but buy a new one?

Except that no one makes pink (or any real color) toilets any more. We went to big box DIY stores, specialty plumbing houses, commercial plumbing suppliers, even contacted manufacturers. Most of them didn't laugh at us, but it made no difference - there is no such thing as a commercially available pink toilet. We were told by a manufacturer that we could order a specially made pink toilet - at a price that was a little better than tearing out the bathroom to the studs and starting over... but not by much.

What makes me angry is that there is so little choice. At all the outlets we found at least three shades of white, between four and seven variations of beige (called 'Biscuit') and a rather creepy solid, shiny black. And nothing else.

So we chose white. It looks really weird in our pink bathroom, but I hope to ameliorate the effect by painting flowers to match our shower curtain on the tank. Desperate measures, I know, but the whole situation is as depressing as when colored toilet tissue disappeared. When we heard on the news about this obscenity, my dad went out to at least six stores and bought every package of pink toilet tissue they had. His daughter liked pink, so she should have pink! Of course, as that was many decades in the past the supply ran out long ago, but alternating with white softened the impact of having no choice except white. (Biscuit - no way; black - ick!) I still resent the freedom of choice being taken from me.

In other areas of our lives freedom of choice is being slowly but definitely eroded. Look at cars; the vast majority are white/silver and black. Every so often there is a red and less often than that a blue - in new cars; customer-painted aftermarket is a different thing. It's boring, but thankfully in cars - at least for now - you can buy your way into individuality - sort of. The Husband's car is a 2011; mine is a 2013. His is brilliant red, mine a pale liquid blue. We had to pay $500 each (a small percentage of the total cost and would probably be more now) to get something that was not black, white or silver but at least we had the choice - however costly - of getting a color.

So what does this have to do with mystery writing? Ten-fifteen years ago when the big publishers controlled what was published, one by one lines tightened (or disappeared) and the choices of type of book decreased accordingly. This holds true for all genres, too - mystery, romance, science fiction, women's fiction, whatever.

Then the self-publishing revolution began and suddenly writers could write what they wanted to write and readers could read what they wanted to read, all without the oversight (or interference) of the New York publishing types. Now this does mean there is a ginormous amount of absolute rubbish being published almost daily, but it also guarantees that every reader can find the precise sub-set of book they want to read. It puts the freedom of choice back into the hands of the writers and the readers, proving that there is hope for the survival if not resurrection of personal choice.

Unfortunately for those of us who have colored bathrooms or hate white/silver/black cars, I doubt that there will ever be a situation where people can design/color their own bathroom fittings or choose whatever color of car they want to order... but that's by no means a guarantee. Twenty-five years ago who would have even imagined the scope and reach of self-publishing? Who knows what's going to happen regarding the available colors of bathroom furnishings or new car colors?

Whatever it is, it will probably be far too late for me to have my pink toilet, drat it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Make Mine Mystery

July 5, 2019

Research for 'Death on the Vine' not a bad 
place to delve into your writing.

by L Lee Kane


If you’re writing what you know or pursuing a different passion, research is a critical tool for developing the world of your novel. What you learn during your in-depth study allows you to engage your reader in your setting. It will help you in developing your characters, the novel’s moral gray area, and even the fundamental conflict of your story.
For those with new topics, the preliminary stage of research is generally exploratory and involves reading anything that interests you. As you delve deeper, you will find your research becoming more focused. You will begin asking questions about particular locations, histories, or scenarios that involve your subject matter.
At some point in your research will be necessary to reach out to others. Discuss information with an expert their expertise about their interests which can offer perspectives that you will not find in books. Their enthusiasm and authenticity about the subject will come through in your writing. It could also give you an idea for characters in your novel. Please do not expect that a specialist will train you about their work. Make sure you have done research first and prepared thoughtful questions for your interview subject. It shows respect for their time and allows you to go deeper with them. You might meet some fascinating people.
If possible, visit locations that interest you. I wrote a book about the Central Valley in California. I drove up to Oakhurst and without any recording devices, pen, or paper I allowed myself to absorb the space and to feel what it’s like being there. Take mental notes of the things that strike you the most. The next day I went back for a second visit with my notebook and camera to collect as much information as possible so I could refer back to it.

Time to Plan Another Mystery

One thing I can say honestly, is I'm never bored.

I just sent off my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery to the publisher so now it's time to plan another Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. At this point, I only have a few fuzzy ideas buzzing around in my head. I want to do something in the mountains, but not sure exactly what or how.

And at the same time, I need to be thinking about promotion for the other book.

Of course I have plenty on my calendar as far as book promotion is concerned.

In fact, when this post comes out I'll be on my way to San Luis Obispo where I'm going to give a presentation to the Night Writers about Writing and Sustaining a Mystery Series.

The following week, along with my husband and daughter, I'm headed to Las Vegas for the Public Safety Writers Association's conference. I'll be teaching at the before conference workshop, and I'm on two panels, and moderating another, so it'll be a busy time. Plus, the best part is seeing old friends.

Our annual family reunion always in August had to be canceled, so instead two of my daughters, their husbands, hubby and I are returning to Tehachapi for a mini vacation and see things we missed on previous trips. Tehachapi is the setting for Spirit Wind. 

So far in September I have nothing planned, October is the big Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca.

I  know other opportunities will arise, but any time without plans is writing time.

What plans do you have for this summer?