Tuesday, April 26, 2022

MeToo Moments Develop Characters


One of the reasons I wanted to write novels was a #MeToo moment that occurred when I was a young scientist. However, I didn’t want my writing about this incident to be an exposé on sexual harassment but rather a way to show a character’s motivation. I also didn’t want to rush to write about this incident until I was an experienced author. Hence, I included the incident in my tenth novel Games for Couples.

I think you will be surprised as you learn which characters were sexually harassed in this murder mystery. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of Games for Couples: 

A biotechnology company is desperately racing to develop cultured meat products—meat made from cells in a test tube—-before their competitors. Disaster strikes. A subject in a clinical trial testing one of their new cultured meat product dies. Was his death caused by lethal compounds in the cultured meat, sabotage by a competitor, or the spite of battling couples? 

I hope that convinced you the plot is strong. Now let’s talk about Me Too moments and why they might be good writing tools.

Consider this:

Sexual harassment in the workplace is common. A 2017 poll found that 54% of American women report receiving "unwanted and inappropriate" sexual advances with 95% saying that such behavior usually goes unpunished. A number of well-publicized cases have occurred in the entertainment industry, but many have also been documented in the scientific community.

One purpose of the Me Too Movement is to highlight the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is understanding someone else’s misfortunes from your own perspective. Empathy is understanding the plight of others by putting yourself in their shoes.

All authors struggle to engage readers by developing multi-dimensional characters. A plot is generally not believable without realistic characters. A common maxim among writers is: Don’t tell me. Show me. In essence, that’s a simplistic way of saying authors need to build empathy for their characters, not make them objects of pity.

Many Americans think sexual harassment is bad because it is painful and illegal. They forget that harassment has long-term consequences and affects many important life decisions made by women.

In Games for Couples, I tried to show how several characters developed because of MeToo moments. I hope you’ll be surprised and agree MToo moments can supply the motivation for many actions by characters.

Book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735421405/


Bio: J. L. Greger writes is a biologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who consulted internationally. The pet therapy dog Bug in her Science Traveler Series novels is exactly like her own stoical Japanese Chin. https://www.jlgreger.com

Marilyn Meredith says, Janet is my guest today, she's a good friend and Games for Couples is a fascinating mystery--Do give it a try.


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What Makes A Professional?

by Janis Patterson

Not long ago on another forum there was a discussion (really it wasn’t that polite, I’m just using that word because I’m a lady) about what makes a writer. A professional writer. I suppose anyone who scribbles down the idea for a book they’re going to write when they have the time or even pens a grocery list can technically be considered a writer because they have committed the act of scribing words in a line... just not, in my estimation, a professional one.

Writing is unfortunately like the other artistic professions such as musician or dancer or actor in that what seems like everyone in the world wants to do it - or more honestly, to reap the rewards for having done it - but they don’t want to put in the time and effort necessary. To them it looks easy, so they should be able to do it right out of the box, shouldn’t they? (This is when I usually start to growl...)

On the internet there is a photograph of two views of a ballerina’s feet. One side shows how they appear on stage - delicate white hose, pink toe shoes intricately tied with perky pink ribbons, feet delicately arched as she stands gracefully en pointe. On the other side is a picture of those same feet naked - blisters and raw spots, bloody band-aids, deformed toes and other horrors. This is the price ballerinas pay for those seemingly perfect moments on stage leaping apparently weightless from toe to toe.

Writing is not as physically brutal but is equally demanding in other ways. First you have to learn your craft, and for some people that is the hardest part of all. Writing a book is a lot more than writing X number of words about a series of incidents that may or may not make sense. You have to know grammar and spelling - and while editors and proofreaders are there to catch our mistakes and omissions, they are not there to do the heavy lifting. Word choice is important, for with it comes nuance, and so much of telling a good story is nuance.

Even assuming you have the soul and skills of an English teacher and can spell obscure words and place every comma correctly (an art in itself!) does not make you a writer. You have to be able to craft a story that is logical, cohesive and interesting, which is an intimidating juggling act. Understanding and properly using backstory, foreshadowing, pacing, characterization, research, character interaction and a hundred other different tools go into making a good book. These are skills which do not come automatically, no matter how much one wants to be a writer.

And don’t forget imagination, the ability to create believable, relatable worlds and populations out of little more than imagination and (in my case) caffeine. It’s amazing how many people cannot think of anything outside of the pedestrian everyday.

But writing is so simple, cry the wanna-bes. It’s just English, and I speak English. 

No, it’s not, and even having a book out there does not make you a professional, as the flood of self-published dreck flooding the internet proves. Now there are wonderful things about self-publishing - it broadens the readers’ choices, which before the self-publishing revolution were pretty much confined to what the traditional publishers thought would be profitable for themselves. Even though there are expenses to be borne, self-publishing gives the writer more money, and so many truly professional writers are expanding into this brave new world. On the other hand, it allows a bunch of ‘writers’ who should not be doing anything more than a Christmas card or a grocery list to say “See? I’m a published author.”

Desire does not equate professionalism. For confirmation, just think about someone walking into a hospital saying, “I want to be a surgeon, and I’ve watched hundreds of tv medical shows so I’m ready to do an operation now.” Perhaps an extreme example - no one dies of a badly written book - but the principle is the same.

So what does constitute professionalism? In a broad sense, control of the writerly tools - spelling, grammar, story construction - and a willingness to work, both at learning the craft and the acceptance that it is a job. No one works at a job only when they feel like it (at least, not if they want to keep their job) or their private muse graces them with the urge. No, being a professional means you work at it like any other job, which means you will miss lunches with friends and other pleasurable amenities because you are working. Writing is even more demanding, because the majority of it is done inside your brain, which means you are working pretty much all the time. 

To make it even more confusing, there are different kinds of professionalism. I know of a woman who for many years made very good money as a top-notch corporate PR person doing all kinds of writing and doing it extremely well. She has been working on a novel - the same novel - for almost nine years, and it still isn’t finished. Is she a writing professional? Definitely. She is just not a professional novelist, which is a shame, as she is a gifted wordsmith. There is more to being a novelist than just writing skills and the ability to craft a believable story.

Obviously I am finding it difficult to define exactly what makes a writer a professional novelist. Making money? That’s one metric, but a sort of shaky one; there are working novelists who turn out exquisite books but who are making little more than coffee change. There are writers who churn out undeniable schlock yet bring in the money hand over fist. Unfortunately, writing is one of those arts which is totally dependent on public acceptance and let’s face it, the public is sometimes an unreliable judge. 

Perhaps the best defining attribute of professionalism is attitude - the willingness to learn the craft and to work at it like the job it is instead of a glorified hobby. And believe me, it isn’t easy.

Friday, April 15, 2022


    You haven't seen me blogging here very often. It's a mystery to me, but lately it seems I'm more interested in writing romances. Since this is a mystery blog, I can't pretend my current romance books could be classified as mysteries.

    Still, I can share one mystery about writing. It seems many books are geared toward a younger generation. That's not me anymore. True, some older people want to escape and pretend they're younger while immersed in fiction. 

    Often I find when a book does contain an older person as a main or secondary character, the author uses depictions of people that may have been true years ago, but not anymore. It's time for some writers to look around and discover that the older people of today are not cardboard cutouts, but people much like themselves, just older. 

    Granny, Grandma, Grandpa, etc. to describe a character is missing the essence of what today's older folks are really all about. We're not all sitting around knitting, though I don't knock that hobby for those who have the talent. We're not sitting around in rocking chairs all day and imparting wisdom when called for. 

    Sure, some of our clothes don't fit like they used to, but they're not much different than anyone else's. We don't need a younger person to help with computers. We can do fine on our own.  

    Many, depending on our age, can still drive. We attend festivals, even participate at times. Some of us even know how to play instruments, such as pianos or guitars. Others decorate, paint or do repairs. We like going to Fitness Classes to stay in shape. We go out to eat when we feel like it.

    Shopping is a fun sport for many of us, though finding the right clothes to fit is sometimes a challenge. We bond with our neighbors. Some of us still have jobs, though in my case I'm retired and just write books when I feel like it. 

    Many of us own dogs or cats, even both, or birds or other animals. We like to read, watch movies and TV. Some of us even like cooking, though I admit that long ago I did, but now it bores me. Luckily, I have a hubby who likes taking over that chore. 

    Yes, some are married still, while some have lost their spouse. Others are looking for a soul mate or don't want one. Anyway, you get the picture. We're normal people, not stereotypies.     

    Now that I've had my say, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in Found At the Pound, A Senior Romance Featuring 2 Dog Lovers, you'll find ordinary people, who just happen to be seniors. I'm also in the midst of a spinoff on one of the characters in that book.

Thanks for letting me vent a little. 

                               Morgan Mandel



Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Fun Part of My Writing Life has Changed

Back in the day, I went to many writing conferences and mystery conventions. I never missed a Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime and my all time favorite smaller con, Mayhem in the Midlands, which is now defunct.

Because Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime move around, hubby and I saw a lot more of the country, visiting places we'd have never gone to otherwise.

I can't say I ever sold many books, but I always learned a lot, laughed a lot, enjoyed meeting many famous authors: Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Wm. Kent Krueger, Lee Childs, J.A. Jance, and so many more. I made lots of friends both writers and readers, and it was so much fun to see them again at the each con.

I belonged to three Sisters in Crime groups: the Los Angeles chapter and actually visited several meetings and was the speaker at one, explaining about E-books which people weren't ready to embrace at the time. I met Naomi Hirahara there, way back before she'd done much writing. Because of this membership, I went to three  different LA Times Book Festivals.

I was one of the founding members of the San Joaquin Sisters in Crime chapters who met in Fresno. I went to as many meetings as possible and gave many presentations. Sadly, the Covid wiped out the chapter.

Nearly the same fate has befallen the Central Coast Sisters in Crime. I loved going to their meetings and staying on the coast and visiting with the friends I've made in the chapter. They've dwindled in size and are not having regular meetings though they've attempted some Podcasts. 

Other conferences that were planned were cancelled because of Covid, and now some, but not all, are being revived.

Sadly, I won't be going for many reasons: I can't afford the expense of the conference and the hotel to stay in and another biggie, I no longer fly.

There is one writer's conference I do still attend and that's the Public Safety Writers Association annual conference. They had one last year even though none of the other cons had been revived. It was small but wonderful. (My daughter is willing to drive me there and she helps out with the book sales.) I'm signed up for this year: https://policewriter.com if you're interested. There is also a very inexpensive workshop before the conference, and the first night's reception and all the conference lunches are included in the price. 

And i guess I should admit one of the big reasons I haven't mentioned yet, is I'm just getting old.