Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hey! Where are we?

Setting. That Place where the book sends you, where -- if the author is fortunate and talented -- you want to stay. It's vivid and evocative and necessary to the story.

If you're a writer, one of the things you learn is how to create a setting that serves as a vehicle for visual and emotional impact, that helps define characters, that subtly influences the opinion of the reader.

If you're a reader, stick with me. This isn't just about writerly tips, but about how understand a bit more of what the writer does can add to your enjoyment of their work.

When author Joyce Yarrow talks about setting, she talks about the "Place of Place." It has been inspirational to her body of work. She bought a ticket and followed her P.I. protagonist from New York to Moscow, and from that experience populated her novel Russian Reckoning with fascinating characters as well as evocative surroundings. 

Author Jeanne Matthew as purchased several tickets -- from Austrailia to Norway to Greece and more -- and used the knowledge she gained to give purpose and depth to all her characters, not just her cultural anthropologist protagonist.

Kait Carson stays closer to home with her Florida-based novels, using setting as a character that can turn from benign and beckoning to dangerous. Her characters must learn to cope.

Author Lisa Stowe pulls the setting even closer -- within the confines of a valley in the mountains of Idaho -- to build tension and danger while showing the reader the worth of her characters. 

These authors (click on their names to find out more about them and their work) all make setting do "double duty" by being a character in and of itself, by showing aspects of their characters that make them more real to the reader, and to influence the opinion of the reader. 

Yes, we're a sneaky lot. We use sight, sound, touch and smell to access the reader's emotional triggers and draw them to a character or push them away. Dialog and action can sometimes be too obvious or overused.

So, how do we do it? I'll tell you my process. The authors above aren't much different -- I know because I've talked to them all about this very subject. 

I start with each scene and ask myself what it should accomplish. Are the characters in that scene brave, bored, excited, in love, frightened? A combination? Are the words coming out of their mouths truth? When I can answer that question for each character, I can then decide how to let the reader know. Their reactions to their environment can help me do that. When Thea walks into the cavernous archives at the Burke Museum (Levels of Deception), we learn a lot about her by her overwhelmed reaction and then resolve to figure out how to accomplish her task. Oh, and by the way, the reader has also been handed a gift: the scene is a foreshadowing the nature of the conflict yet to come and how Thea will tackle it. Cool, huh?

I can also use setting to show a character's comfort or discomfort level. Every time Thea goes to the barn and methodically goes through her riding routine we are reminded of how she reestablishes her own sanity. Paul Hudson feels at home getting his hands dirty on a paleontology dig. One wouldn't expect him to be comfortable in a billionaire's home. However, when we see him there we also see how he's comfortable enough in his own skin to not be overly impressed or be swayed from his goal. Good for him. We like him for that!

A character's "world view" is going to be reflected by their interaction with setting. Someone whose work, traditions and habits center around, for example, roaming the city streets in the week hours is going to have very different observations and feelings than a character whose work and habits have him frequenting the servant's domain in Downton Abbey -- even if they are both up to no good. 

Setting can show us a character's strengths and weaknesses, comfort and discomfort, motive, desires ... all without a single "tell". If you're a writer, make setting work for you. As a reader, you can smile when you catch the author being clever. A good writer won't mention anything that doesn't have a purpose. Setting is one of those things.

I highly encourage everyone, be you reader or both reader and writer, to check out the authors I've mentioned. They are talented women with wonderful stories, all there for your enjoyment. Catch them at being clever!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Kudos for Saving the Queen of Diamonds!

 Indie Book Of The Day has awarded my sixth Thea Campbell Mystery it's top prize for November 7, 2014! I'm thrilled, and seriously wasn't expecting it. It's especially good news because it means all of the Thea Campbell Mysteries will be reaching a wider audience -- and that's the real goal of every author, reaching readers who will enjoy their work.

Indie Book of the Day website is an excellent place to look for new books to read. They have a "Past Winners" list that can help you pick some more excellent books!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Meet My Character -- Blog Tour

I've been asked by author Kate Wyland, who writes wonderful romantic suspense novels, to participate in the "Meet My Character Blog Tour". You should pop over to her blog -- when you're done here, of course -- and see what she has to say about one of the characters she writes about. However, since you're here, allow me to introduce you to Thea Campbell, the protagonist in my mystery series.

1. What is the name of your character?
Thea Campbell ... unless you're her mother. Then her name is Theodora Bernadette Campbell. Big name for a little person.

2.Is she a fictional or historic person?
Totally fictional -- I swear.

3. When and where is the story set?
The setting is not fictional. It's present-day, in the real-life town of Snohomish, Washington -- at least in most of the books. Thea also will find herself in Montana, Issaquah, WA, and Seattle.

4.What should we know about her?
She's 29 when the series begins and single, owns her own accounting business that she operates out of her small Craftsman style house, and owns a horse she rides dressage. Her younger sister Juliet lives in town, too, as do her great aunt and uncle. Her sister is a bit of a wild-child, so Thea feels responsible for her (not an easy thing). Her aunt and uncle are transplanted Brits, and lend support to both the young women when trouble comes their way -- and her uncle (a former Olympic dressage rider for Great Britain) coaches Thea in dressage. I probably should mention, too, that Thea's horse seems to have a psychic connection with her.

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?
In the first book, Death By A Dark Horse, Thea's horse is stolen and the thief is found murdered. The supposed thief also happens to be Thea's uncle's start student and Thea is suspected of offing the young woman. 

6. What is the personal goal of the character?
Thea believes she has her life all planned out. She likes her nice predictable life. A lot. She throws her energy into clearing herself of suspicion of murder. In the process more pieces of her life start to shift and fall out of her control, including her love life. Sure, she has a boyfriend ... a nice, safe (is he really?) attorney who doesn't inspire her. She doesn't expect to be blindsided by a paleontology professor with intense blue eyes and a tendency to wade into the middle of trouble.

7. What are the other books in the series?
Death By a Dark Horse is the first. In order are ...
Levels of Deception
An Error in Judgment
Shooting to Kill
Saving the Queen of Diamonds
and ... brand new, not a mystery, but a romantic comedy ... Carried Away

Next week look for Kait Carson, who writes mysteries set in the hot tropics of Florida, and Lisa Stowe whose mysteries are set in the beautiful but dangerous mountains of Idaho.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Carried Away -- Available Now!

You can preorder my new romantic comedy, Carried Away, right now, just in time for the holiday-crazy-season. Think of it as a little gift for yourself, to take a break from "too much to do and to little money to do it with." It's short (won't take but an evening to read) and only .99 -- and for that you get to laugh, gasp and sigh ... and maybe be glad your life isn't like Thea and Paul's. 

When you're getting married to the same man, what could possibly go wrong?

Struck by guilt after her and Paul Hudson's impulsive Las Vegas wedding, Thea Campbell plans a second, traditional affair while keeping the first secret. The last thing she'd wanted to do was hurt her friends and family by not including them. Too bad she didn't count on her ex-almost-fiance showing up at her door just hours before the ceremony. There's a good chance that at least one person will get a little carried away.

Available from Amazon in e-book format only

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Author Next Door

Sunday, November 2 is going to be icky and rainy. Come brighten your day at the Snohomish Library and meet a whole bunch of authors -- including me, Lisa Stowe, Carole Dagg, Aarene Storms, Lish McBride, Valerie Stein, Isle Smit and Dorothy Read. 

We're all part of the kick-off for Sno-Isle Library System's "Author Next Door" series that will be presented during the month of November at various libraries in Snohomish and Island Counties. If you live here, or are planning a visit, check out the Sno-Isle website to see what fun you can have! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's a ... BOOK!!

Saving the Queen of Diamonds is launched!

Family: Can't live with them ... but an uneasy alliance might be an option when murder is involved.

Thea and Paul have been married two months and have yet to tell his family. Now his parents have hit town with a vengance and an agenda: give Paul's beautiful ex-wife the opportunity to win him back and be a father to the teenage boy she claims is his son.

Thea panics and Paul is staggered. However, in less time than it takes the single-minded seductress to shed a tear she is arrested for murder.

At her son's insistence, Paul attempts to discover what happened. But all his inquiries are stonewalled. What little information has surfaced causes Paul to suspect a set-up. With or without Thea, he intends to investigate. Gurdgingly, she agrees to help -- with the caveat that every last one of them go back to where they came from. So little to ask, and yet ....

As Thea and Paul dig into the case, they find themselves pitted not only against a devious criminal and law enforcement who do not want their help, but dirty-dealing family members who have fabricated lies and deceptions of their own.


You can get it in ebook format, for now, at both Amazon and Smashwords. It's in process of being distributed to the other ebook retailers. Print will be available soon.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Another Thea Campbell Mystery!

It's almost here! The sixth Thea Campbell Mystery is on the home stretch and closing in fast on completion. Here's a peek at the cover for Saving the Queen of Diamonds.

Ohhh... I wonder what it's about!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blog Hop, Hop, Hop

Author Diane Vallere writes the Mad for Mod Mysteries and Style and Error Mystery series. They're as much fun as she is, and so I'm delighted she's asked me to join this Blog Hop! The questions (below) are passed from one blog to another and give the curious an oportunity to see a variety of answers. You can go back to Diane's post by clicking on her name, and next week ... well, why give that away right now? Read my answers to the four questions and you will be rewarded with the name of the next participant!

1. What am I working on?

Except for some final editing, I've finished the sixth Thea Campbell Mystery, Saving the Queen of Diamonds. It's quite a puzzle with a number of brand new characters and a very sticky problem. Look for it very soon!

While my editors have been having their way with STQOD, I've been working on a short story featuring the protagonists from my series, Thea Campbell and Paul Hudson. They get married (again) after book 5 (Shooting to Kill) and before book 6 (Saving the Queen of Diamonds). "Again?" you ask. Yes, it's true. If you've read Shooting to Kill, you know why ... if you haven't, well, like I said to one fan who asked (after book 3) are they ever going to get married? Yes, but it will be a disaster.

2. How does this differ from others in its genre?

It's a romance ... with characters from a mystery series. I wrote it in response to fans who wanted to know what happened at the "other" wedding. Thea and Paul are together at the beginning and at the end, which is an unusual tactic for a romance story since generally the co-protagonists are antagonistic at the beginning and must work through issues in order to get together at the end. Never fear, however. There is plenty of conflict. Mystery writers live for conflict!

3. Why do I write?

I started writing, seriously (by which I mean "to produce a novel") because I needed something to do for a creative outlet. I'd had to step away from a career I loved and to fill the void and keep from feeling terribly sorry for myself I decided to see if I could write a whole mystery. It took me three years to produce my first book, and I still love it. Now I write because I enjoy it. It's challenging and fulfilling. And I've met so many wonderful, intelligent people I never would have met otherwise.

4. How does my writing process work?

My writing process is always being refined. Way back when, I started by just ... starting. However, over the years I've become a big fan of plotting my stories. I like a road map, as do my characters and my muse. I'll often start with a body or a crime, then build the story of the victim and the antagonist before I figure out how my protagonist will interact with them. It's much easier for me to write my protagonists' story if I know what the bad guys want and what they're willing to do to get it.

Next week Lisa Stowe, author of The Mountain Mystery Series (The Memory Keeper, Sparrow's Silence, and coming soon, Ghost Road) answers to these questions will be on her blog The Story River.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Painful Truth -- or part of it

So, you want to get published, huh?

Well, I’ve never met Elizabeth Peters.

For that matter, I’ve never even glimpsed Agatha Christie, Rex Stout or a myriad of other authors whose work I enjoy. Do I wish I had? Maybe. Would it have been fun, or disappointing? I don’t know. However, I’m okay with just reading their books.

Pardon the literary equivalent of whip-lash. If you’ve made it this far into my column, you’re undoubtedly wondering if I have a point. Well, of course I do. Here it is: It’s expected these days – meeting people, that is. In person, in social media, in newsletters and especially in large, impersonal quantities. It’s a part of selling books. Does it work? That’s hard to say. Anybody who knows anything about marketing also knows “presence” is required if your “target audience” is to know you exist so they can throw money in your direction.

Does that make you cringe? Yeah, me too. In fact, I don’t know too many authors who are chomping at the bit to go out and self-promote. The “large quantities” are an elusive, daunting goal. Especially for us introverts (read “writers”).
Joyce Yarrow, Jeanne Matthews and me at a recent event.
You should read their books ... and mine. 

Why do we persist in doing this thing that so many of us hate and feel so inadequate in doing? Why force ourselves to think of new, attention-getting activities, and a lot of old ones that publishers used to do to promote their authors? Because we’re trying to reach those people who will smack themselves in the head and declare to their friends and acquaintances, "I've just finished a book that you have to read!”

Word of mouth. It’s the best marketing tool there is, and tapping into it is a bitch. 

Yup. That's THE reason I’ve read all of Elizabeth Peters’ books (including those under her other names), Agatha Christie, Rex Stout et al. It's because someone suggested them to me in the first place, and I took it from there.

That’s what we all try to do, write the best book we can and then pray to the god of mystery readers that people like it – especially that person who will tell their friends. Have you told a friend about a book you’ve read and enjoyed? Go ahead and do it. You’ll be doing the author a favor that costs you nothing, and chances are that initial book you bought cost less than the Thigh Master® sitting in the back of your closet you don’t want anyone to know you have. 

So, those of you who long to publish (indie or otherwise), do you still want to do it?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Clues & Red Herrings -- Part IV

We've arrived, at last, to my final post on Clues and Red Herrings. It's quite a list, and surely not exhaustive -- although if you've been following this from Part I there's a good chance you're exhausted by now. So, without further ado, here's the last four;

The use of “sympathetic traits” to characterize the “bad guy” – the reader will assume innocent motive. You could probably have him confess to the murder and if you play it right, only a fraction of your readers will believe it. But do be careful that the clue that he’s capable is also provided – otherwise your reader will toss your baby across the room.

For example: 

The arrogant womanizer who, although divorced, spends four nights a week of quality time and every Saturday with his eight-year-old daughter, never misses a school function and remembers birthdays and special occasions. He’d never have killed that librarian!

Body language that speaks of a lie, anxiety, or discomfort to a degree that is inappropriate … and then omitting the reason for it until a later time. Reader and characters alike will be suspicious!

**This is a whole course in itself, but it helps to put yourself in the character’s head. What are they trying to hide? It may or may not be related to the crime, but it should show in their body language.

For example:

True story. I watched, on TV and several years ago, the trial of a woman accused of plotting the murder of her daughter. What mother would do that? It couldn’t be true! The woman denied the accusations, swore she had nothing to do with the attack on her daughter. Then the prosecutor asked her directly if she tried to kill her daughter. She said no. And nodded her head repeatedly. 


You try this. Have someone ask you a question, “Did you ___?” Answer it knowing the truth is “yes”, but try to say “no.” If you’ve been raised in a culture where head nodding is “yes” then this will be very hard to do.

Just in case you were wondering, the woman was convicted. Phew.

The “Lie Sandwich” aka The “Truth Sandwich: To make a lie appear more believable, insert it between things known to be true. The same can be said for having a truth dismissed as inconsequential or an outright lie – hide it within other falsehoods, or among things the reader will discover are untrue.

For example: 

A conniving little witch pouts as her husband grows angry over how much money she’s just spent. She interrupts his lecture, saying, “I love you and I think of you every moment of the day. I’m sorry I spent your Christmas bonus on these shoes, but I saw how you couldn’t take your eyes off Mary when she had on those red Jimmy Choos with the three inch heels and I wanted you to look at me like that, too.”

Sorry? Right. One of them is going to end up dead – do you think?

The sub plot: Another case of Know Your Characters and Your Story. Sub plots have their own arcs. This can be especially effective if there is ongoing suspense to divert reader attention from the subplot. that subplot will come across as a “break” for the reader in the tension when it is actually the villain in action.

As examples, I'll use two of my own mysteries. If you've read them, you'll know if they're red herrings or clues. If you haven't, well ... who can blame me for enticing you?

In An Error in Judgment, is the disarray in Sig's private fossil collection that co-protagonist Paul is helping to straighten out related to the murder or is it simply a device to showcase a character’s personality and abilities? 

In Shooting to Kill, is Andrea's wealth related to Don's death? What about Thea's secret? 

Not every subplot has to be related to the crime -- nor should they be. It's fun for the reader to figure out if there's a connection.

How'd You Do?

To find out if you've succeeded, get beta readers lined up and ask their opinions. Specifically, at what point did they figure out who committed the crime. And while they're at it, have them point out the clues and red herrings they notice along the way. 

I hope you've enjoyed this rather lengthy series of posts and gained some tools to add to your writing (and reading!) arsenal. Did I miss something? Add your thoughts in the comment section!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Clues & Red Herrings -- Part III

When I first started writing, a dear friend (and author of many books) gave me a piece of excellent advice. He said, “When things are going smoothly, put your protagonist in a tree and throw rocks at him.” In addition to torturing your protagonist in the usual confrontational manner, a mystery writer has the ability to frustrate the living daylights out of their characters with clues that make no sense and red herrings to lead them on unproductive goose chases and push them to the edge of defeat. To that end, we shall continue;

The contradiction: He said/she said. This is any information, subtle or obvious, and imparted by at least two different characters that gives lie to an event. Who’s lying? Who knows! Put them together in a room for a fight, put them in separate scenes to confuse the sleuth.

For example:

A witness might declare, “It was exactly three o’clock when I saw him go into the bank. I know this because I had an appointment with my doctor two doors down at three and I was running late.”
The man in question might say, “I left the bank at two fifty-five to catch the bus at the stop on the next block.”

If this is critical information in solving the crime, you can have fun driving your sleuth nuts with it.
The omission: A character doesn’t mention something when they should – well at least when the reader expects them to because it’s consistent with their character to say something.
For example:

A catty woman tells her co-worker, “I saw your husband last night at Smitty’s Diner with a red head.”
The co-worker, a woman we know needs to believe in her husband’s fidelity, shuffles some papers and says, “He loves their hash browns.”

Uh oh. Trouble is brewing. Is the wife planning it … or will she be the victim? 

The misinterpretation: In real life, people can be given the same information and, for various reasons, interpret that information differently. This goes for your characters, as well. You can use all things/people/situations both familiar and unfamiliar (and therefore dismissed as commonplace or given too much importance), but misinterpreted to the writer's advantage. When specifics are missing, the possibilities are your oyster.

For example:

What does it mean if someone says to you; “You have to do more if you expect to get ahead here”?

“More” is hardly specific, and delightfully common. We think we know what it means; Work longer hours, work harder. But to someone else it could it mean; Arrange an unfortunate accident for your supervisor. Sabotage the competition. Have an affair with the boss.

See what I mean?

The outright lie: Good standby. But watch who uses it (someone who normally tells the truth or is a habitual liar?) Again, know your characters.

Do you really need an example? Thought not.

The tantalizing hint: the partial, intriguing  bit of information that leaves out the most important stuff.  These things happen all the time in real life. In your novel, it’s the equivalent of an end-of-chapter cliff hanger, but in a bite-sized form. Keep in mind you don’t have to spill all the information you possess. Putting off the moment you let your reader in on the rest of the tidbit will keep them turning the page and give you multiple opportunities to torture your sleuth.

For example, your friend’s FaceBook post:

I knew I shouldn’t have opened the letter I got today.

Not only do you NOT know what happened because of it (although it seems it wasn’t good), but you don’t know who the letter was from or what it said (Frankly if your friend does too much of this nonsense you’d be justified in unfriending them. It’s annoying).

Here’s another famous example from comedian Louis Black: “If it weren’t for my horse I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” As the man says, there is no conceivable logic to that statement and if you think too hard about it your mind will explode.

The common thread is; Only additional explanation will satisfy the reader. 


You might think that this is it – the final list … but … like the ad says, there’s more! Digest this and we’ll move along to the next bit in a couple of days. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Clues & Red Herrings -- Part II

Ready for Part II of Clues and Red Herrings?

Great! Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Remember, don’t lose sight of your story or your characters as we discuss places to hide clues and showcase red herrings. The places are the same, as are the techniques. It’s a matter of (see Part I) character and story that will aide in these.

The lists: Pay attention to the weight of the items in the list. A good clue will seem inconsequential or at least blend in with the other items. Should there be a clue or a red herring in the list? Yes! Otherwise you need a different, excellent, reason for including a list in your discourse. Your reader isn’t on a trip to the grocery store.

Here’s a passage I made up (that isn’t in a story);

If you didn’t know you were in a small town, our weekly paper would tip you off. The pitiful lack of pulse pounding events had most stories sharing the first page. Today, Pamela’s murder shared the above-fold space with the city council meeting’s debate over the wetlands, while a suspected arson fire and a lengthy report on a successful neighborhood garage sale rubbed shoulders below.

Which is a clue or a red herring? I don’t know, but there should be one or the other.

Proximity: Something happens, an object discovered, or something is said that is then overshadowed by unrelated emotions or circumstances. The reader’s attention is then diverted from the clue to something “more important”. A crisis in a sub plot works well here.

You can use this technique with a red herring also, but you’ll want to bring up the event/object/something-said later on to give it some weight as a red herring. Otherwise, you’re just building word count – no one is impressed with that (even your characters).

The physical item: The fact that it is noticed or mentioned is powerful. You don't have to do things to it, it doesn't have to be out of place, but those are options.

Here’s an interesting point; the more you (or your characters) mention the object, the less intriguing or powerful it becomes (unless you’re meaning it as a joke, then that’s a whole other blog subject). However, if you mention it on page eleven and don’t bother to do so again until page three-hundred and twenty, your reader will probably have forgotten about it. Learn to strike a balance. 

The Setting: The actual place the story occurs can provide significant cles and red herring opportunities. Time of day, day of the week, weather, time of year -- all can contribute. The added bonus is they make your setting more alive, more vital to the story and, some say, a "character." If you have a strong setting consider incorporating some elements of it into your clues or red herrings. 

For example, if the weather is particularly hot of cold and the body is found outdoors, time of death may be difficult to determine. 

If a character typically gets a day off on Wednesdays and that's when the crime occurs, who's going to believe he actually sneaked into his office to finish up reports in the morning? 

Authors like Nevada Barr, who sets her series in different National Parks, uses setting as a major character. Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes mysteries are set in a number of different locations -- the moors, a gypsy camp, the Middle East -- and all contribute important clues to solving they mystery. 

Remember, if your point of view character is new to the setting they will likely notice things that could misdirect or direct. If the setting is their usual haunt, then your reader may notice things that make useful red herrings. 


Is there more? You bet there is! Part III is coming soon. There's many more ways to be nefarious (as a writer, of course!). You'll want to go through your draft and see if any of the above mentioned techniques can work to your advantage. Remember -- don't force. Weave!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Clues & Red Herrings -- Part I

Everyone knows what clues and red herrings are, right? A clue is anything that leads to the truth. A red herring deceives and misleads. If everyone knows what they are, then why do I keep hearing variations of these questions?

How do you build them into your mystery?
How do you hide the bad guy?
How do you plant clues a reader may miss?
How do you construct red herrings to misdirect?
Where should the clues of means, motive and opportunity as well as the red herrings be planted?
How many should there be?

Over the course of six books, I’ve learned one or two things that will help answer these questions. One is that clues and red herrings don’t just spring into being. You have to be as deliberate in hiding and misguiding as you are to adhering to the slavish demands of the creative process.

The other is, no matter how clever you are, not every reader will miss the clues you plant, and not every red herring you plant will be swallowed. On the flip side, some readers will see clues and red herrings where there aren’t any. You have no control over this. You can work on what you do have control over; your story, your characters and how you put them together. This is the basis of well hidden clues and believable red herrings.

A mystery is a distillation of many stories – the protagonist’s, the antagonist’s, the villain’s, the secondary characters’, the victim’s. Understanding all your characters’ stories well will help you weave in clues and red herrings.

While it is possible, and some say preferable, to know what kinds of clues and red herrings you’re going to include in your story before you type the first word of the first draft, it’s probably in subsequent editing passes where you’ll insert, or rearrange those items – or find opportunities you didn’t realize would be there. To be successful clues and red herrings should be part of the weave of the story.

So, what do you do first?

A little analysis helps give a starting point. Knowing how your protagonist is going to proceed will help you decide where the clues and red herrings should be placed. Whether you’ve finished your first draft or are ready to start plotting, figuring out what kind of a mystery you are working with will help you sprinkle in clues to motive, means and opportunity in the right places.

Know your story

Here are the three basic types of set-ups for the mystery story;

Fair play: There is more than one suspect – often times a lot more. Each character has motives the sleuth investigates and dismisses one after another until the bad guy is caught.

Quest: As the sleuth uncovers one clue it will inevitably lead to another. The red herrings lead to dead ends.

Puzzle: the sleuth uncovers pieces which are in no particular order until the whole picture fits together. It will also be at that time that the red herrings will become evident


Know your characters

You will have gotten to know the players in your drama either by walking with them through the story’s first draft of by constructing a dossier before hand – or through a combination. However you’ve done it (and character building is a volume in and of itself) you should be able to answer these questions for all of your main characters and probably several of your secondary ones as well. 

What do they want? Goals, needs, desires.
What do they notice in the story & how important is it to them?
What kinds of things will divert them from seeing the truth?
What are their limits, strengths, weaknesses – and what do they believe them to be?
How do they react to conflict?

Remember, although you write your story from your point-of-view character's goals, actions and reactions, the other characters have them, too, and will influence the obstacles your sleuth must overcome.

Yeah, it’s work. And in all likelihood, you’ve got some heavy thinking to do. The laying in of clues and red herrings is not a small topic, so it’s going to take me several blog posts to cover the specific techniques, and all of the techniques are based on story type and character. So … do your homework and hang on to what you find out.

Next time: The tools to conceal and mislead.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Long, Strange Road from Gonzo

Jeanne Matthews is one of my favorite authors. Her world-view, and subsequent wit, hit close enough to home to make me identify with her characters and are just enough off-center to make me see with with new awareness. I've often wondered how she does it, where that ability to perceive the commonplace with fresh clarity comes from. I asked her to write a piece for me and she graciously has provided a peek into her process. 


While excavating my garage in an attempt to bring order to the midden I call home, I found a few disintegrating pages of a story I wrote in 1969 during a road trip from my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia to Seattle, Washington.  The yellowed, handwritten pages lay moldering at the bottom of a cardboard box that had obviously provided shelter and nutrition to generations of mice and moths.  I tried to remember how many garages in how many towns that box had been stored over the decades – too many to recall off the top of my head.  In a misty-eyed glow of nostalgia, I sat down on a crate of old Betamax tapes and other relics of the past, and started to read.  The first few lines yanked me back in time and mood.  “We gazed out at the deserted highway that stretched across a barren waste into infinity.  Time dragged, as if our little car were being pushed back by the relentless winds.  When at last we pulled into the one-pump town of Bill, Pat said, ‘God, if I lived here I’d kill myself.’” 
  Pat was my traveling companion and the catalyst behind our odyssey across the country.  Her boyfriend David, a second lieutenant in Uncle Sam’s army, had been stationed at Fort Lewis, from whence he was soon to ship out to Vietnam and he yearned for a summer of love before heading off to war.  Both Pat and I taught school and had the summer free.  I owned the most road-worthy vehicle, a ’68 VW bug.  Pat owned the maps and AAA guidebooks.  We decided to make the drive an adventure, taking in as many sights along the way as possible.  We included on our zigzag itinerary Mark Twain’s old stomping grounds in Hannibal, Missouri; Will Cather’s childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska; and Hunter Thompson’s home in Aspen, Colorado. At the time, Hunter was gearing up to run for Pitkin County Sheriff on the Freak Power ticket and he was also inventing a new writing style called Gonzo – exaggerated, wildly subjective, and shamelessly self-conscious.  He’s the guy, by the way, who said that the only people who know where the edge is are the ones who have gone over it.  In both his personal life and his writing, Hunter sought the dangerous edge of things and wasn’t afraid to dive off.  It was his belief that the journey to the grave should not be a safe ride.  He wanted to “skid in broadside, shouting ‘Wow!’” 
As I reread my long-ago account of that summer of ‘69, I detected an undeniable strain of Gonzo.  The landscapes smacked us in the eye with their transcendent beauty, or else pierced us to the heart with their desolate bleakness.  The characters we encountered riveted and revolutionized.  They didn’t just introduce us to some interesting new ideas.  They transformed us forever.  The action whipped along at breakneck pace from the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the folly of Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley, and the dialogue was dense with exclamations of imminent peril and “kill myself” moments.
   A charitable reviewer might describe the story as “fraught.”  A less charitable one, well . . . a number of less charitable assessments come to mind.  But don’t let’s go there.  I was young.  It was my first go at a novel and no writing is ever wasted.  It’s a learning experience.  Time brings perspective.  It also brings less breathless verbs and histrionic adjectives.  The days of Gonzo recede in the rear view mirror.  Still I can’t help but feel a sort of wistfulness for those girls who drove 3,000 miles across the country looking for the edge, and for the wannabe writer who was so thrilled by the adventure that she skidded into her story broadside, shouting “Wow!” 


Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin Mystery series; Bones of Contention, Bet Your Bones, Bonereapers, and Her Boyfriend's Bones. Read them in that order (if you're one of those people) (otherwise, have at it. You'll enjoy the books regardless of the order). She lives in Renton, Washington with her husband and enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures and their mythology. Along with authors Joyce Yarrow, Lisa Stowe, Jane Isenberg and yours truly, Jeanne is part of Women Who Kill -- a group of intrepid authors who visit libraries, bookstores and other venues (that are brave enough) to entertain and impart writerly wisdom to the curious.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Read an E-Book Week

Hey! Listen up! It's Read an E-Book Week over at Smashwords! No matter what format you prefer, Smashwords has it ... and yes, you can get every last one of the Thea Campbell Mysteries in every last format!

Yes, yes, I know, you've been meaning to read them all ... 

Well, you don't want to miss this chance. Why? 
Because Every Single book in the Thea Campbell Mystery Series is .....


Book 1
No, I'm not crazy. I've decided to take a chance, jump up and down and light off fireworks to get the attention of readers who haven't noticed the books yet. They're fun, they have mystery, suspense, romance, danger, humor, nutty characters, hot guys, and horses. What better way to escape? 

Tell your friends. Seriously. Do it! Indulge. This is like Zero Calorie Brownies.

Click on the link below or the book cover you want and use the Coupon Code in the
Purchase Box. Oh, yeah, and Tell Your Friends! This is good for one week only! Hey, I'm not crazy!

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Book 5

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Second Chance for the Written Word

Joyce Yarrow is an amazingly talented woman. Not only is she a writer of considerable ability, but she is a singer-songwriter, screenwriter, multi-media performance artist and member of the world vocal ensemble, AbrĂ¡ce

She is also an adventurous traveler having done research for her book  
Code of Thieves (previously published as The Last Matryoshka) in Moscow and getting to know the local police (no, she wasn't arrested, but did get to tour a prison). India was one of her more recent destinations, where she was asked to lecture on "The Place of Place in Mystery Writing" at the University of Allahabad. Pretty impressive stuff for a girl raised in the south east Bronx, New York!

Not surprisingly, the accomplishments of other talented individuals interest her. With the Olympics in full swing just this past few weeks, Joyce found herself drawn into a kind of kinship with figure skaters. Writing and skating ... so different, yet -- well, I'll let Joyce explain. In her well-chosen words, the writer in you will likely find some inspiration and the reader in you will gain appreciation.


Recently I posted the following status on Facebook:

As a novelist, no wonder I love the idea of figure skating so much – you start off with a jump that propels the storyline, lead into some fast fancy footwork accompanied by longer arcs of character development, finish with a giant leap into the unknown and a dizzying spin - and then you’re judged!

Fact is, I’ve got structure on my brain due to a rewrite I’m doing of a literary/crime novel.  A feeling of barely controlled chaos is inevitable when approaching a task like this and questions abound: – What plot points do I change and why? Are some of these characters I worked so hard to create actually expendable?  Is pace more important than lyricism? Why is this SO hard?

In the midst of this angst, clarity has gradually emerged. In a work of fiction, the author continually makes choices that change what happens next. As I slowed down and examined the important crossroads in my protagonist’s story, I began to see that I could actually enjoy this! I mean, how many second chances do we get in ‘real life’ – here was an opportunity to open some doors that had been left closed, to confront an adversary more forcefully, to take a few more risks than before in the endeavor to end up in a better place. Who wouldn’t want to do this if given a choice?

The most unexpected arrival has been a new adversary who will keep my protagonist on her toes. He scares me – a good sign – but my heroine will rise to the occasion. I’m happy to say I’ve made  some ‘clean jumps’ and will skate to the finish in spite of a few slips on the ice.

I’d better get back to it – since I have a deadline. To my writer friends – happy revising. To my reader friends – enjoy the results!


Joyce's published novels include Ask the Dead (Martin Brown Publishers) and Code of Thieves, Istoria Books e-book edition (published as The Last Matryoshka by Five Star Mysteries in hardcover). She is a Pushcart Nominee whose stories have appeared in Inkwell Journal, Whistling Shade, Descant, Arabesques, and Weber: The Contemporary West. You can find her at JoyceYarrow.com . Her books can be found online and in book stores everywhere. Her newest book, a romantic suspense co-authored with Indian writer Arindam Roy, is awaiting a title. Keep your ear to the ground -- you wont want to miss it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Look! Up in the sky ... or right in front of you

Kait in the cockpit 
Kait Carson is another wonderfully talented author I have known for years and consider a good friend. However, because about 3,000 miles separate us, we have never had the pleasure of hacking out plot lines over coffee at the local Starbucks. Nevertheless, I often pick her brain knowing she has the ability to see an array of story possibilities in any given situation. She pushes and prods and coaxes the writer's standard "What if" question into giving up the details. 

Take it away, Kait! Let us in on your secret!


Ideas are everywhere

Driving down the road a few weeks ago, I saw a young man on a bicycle. Not unusual. He turned to look over his shoulder at the car approaching and I saw the most spectacular jaw line I have ever seen. Strong, chiseled. He is clearly someone you can lean on in an emergency. I knew instantly that he’s a character in my next book. I also know he’s got piercing blue eyes. A muscle in his jaw jumps when he’s angry. He’s a lawyer and he has a secret that he guards with his life. The same secret that can cost him his life and that my sleuth, Hayden Kent, must uncover. All that from a glimpse of a jaw.  Go figure!

My first book, Zoned for Murder came from a real life incident. It was 2005, the height of the housing boom in South Florida and one of my friends was the local zoning officer. She had the thankless job of citing the folks doing below standard work on homes to insure quick sales. She also needed to ride herd on the rest of the community for more typical zoning violations. One day she mentioned receiving death threats. Both against herself and her dogs. Zoned for Murder was born from that comment. I wondered what if. What if someone did try to murder a zoning official? What would push someone over the edge from disgruntled citizen to murderer? It didn’t take long before I had the answers to the questions and my sleuth, Catherine Swope was caught up in a murder investigation that threatened her own life.

Murder in the Multiples, the second in the Swope series, sprang from a photo of a mansion up for auction.
The home was gorgeous. It was confiscated by federal agents as spoils of drug profits. That’s all it took to play the “what if” game. What would happen if a Realtor bought the house for re-sale? What would happen if the re-sale buyer of the house were the rival bidder’s husband? A doting and well-meaning man who was blind to his wife’s secrets? What would happen when Catherine found her rival dead in the bathtub on the day of the closing? Who gains, who loses?  My husband created a dummy cover for Murder in the Multiples to help me visualize the house and the day of the murder. He drew his inspiration from what I told him of the story.

Death by Blue Water, the first in the Hayden Kent series, sprang from one of my passions. Scuba diving. I am a rabid wreck diver. One day, at 120 feet, a plastic bag floated out of a cabin and past my face. What if the bag was a hand, floating up to a window from the cabin floor attached to a very dead man? What if I had an appointment to meet this man? What if this man was the brother of the man who recently jilted me? What if, what if, what if. My husband created a dummy cover for Death by Blue Water based on how he sees the inciting incident.

So, where do my ideas come from? Everywhere. Sometimes it’s something as concrete as a news story, other times it can be as nebulous as a glimpse of a biker’s jaw. The most important part of the process for me is the what if question, and how my imagination answers that. Things are never what they seem to be.


Kait Carson currently lives in an airpark in Florida, where she mixes scuba diving, flying and a day job in with her writing. Her work has appeared in "Chicken Soup For The Soul" (writing as Kim A. Hoyo), "Cup Of Comfort" (writing as Kim H. Striker ), "True Confessions", "True Romance", "True Stories" and "Women's World". Zoned For Murder is her first full length mystery. Death by Blue Water and Murder in the Multiples will be available soon.

You can catch Kait any time at http://www.kaitcarson.com

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Messy Story Ideas

[whispering] I always do introductions, so settle down, Lucy. Display some patience .... Jeez. 

Ahem. I first met Lucy Carol at Bookfest 2013. I had wandered over to the RWA table because I heard
they were giving away calendars with pretty pictures (see below). Lucy was standing demurely next to a stack of her books, Hot Scheming Mess. I caught sight of the bold cover (see right) and the title and hauled my butt to a halt. "LOVE your title," I said. And shortly after had a copy in my hand. Getting to know Lucy is about like reading her book -- you never know what's coming next ...

Susan: We have an eager guest today who writes hilarious madcap mysteries! With her crazy background in the performing arts she's probably chock-full of secrets to getting story ideas. Let's get right to it. Lucy, where do you get your story ideas?

Lucy: You did NOT just ask me that.

Susan: Well, actually, I did. I just did.

Lucy: You did NOT go there!

Susan: I'm there. Right now. You're here with me.

Lucy: You bitch.

Susan: Lucy! They're all here with us right now, reading you!

Lucy: What? Now? [sputter ...] Quick! Create a diversion!

Susan: Oh for God's sake. Come on. You promised.

Lucy: I'm sorting through my paperwork, I'll need a moment ...
Susan: Come on, just ...

Lucy: Here. Distract them with this picture while I search.

Susan: You should've been prepared before we ... Oh! H.e.l.l.o!

[stunned silence]

Lucy: Susan?

Susan: ...mmm ...

Lucy: I found it. I'm ready.

Susan: Hm? Oh. Oh good. Let me see it. [sound of rustling paper] What is this? A recipe for a dry martini? What's the matter with you?  

Lucy: You have your writing tools, I have mine.

Susan: You're not getting out of this.

Lucy: [sigh] I know. I'll try.

Susan: Why are you resisting this so much?

Lucy: Because there's no actual answer.

Susan: So ... where do you get your story ideas?

Lucy: Moment of truth. Ready?

Susan: I'm losing my patience.

Lucy: The truth is ... I DON'T KNOW. They bombard me. They come in the door as older ideas are leaving. I try to sort through them and figure out which ones are the keepers. I'm a distractible person with a short attention span. I'll be with a group of people, participating in a conversation like a normal grownup, and someone will say, "Lucy? Where did you go?" I come back to the present, embarrassed, and say something like, "I was just admiring that chair over there." Naturally, everyone turns to look at the stupid chair that has no interesting characteristics whatsoever. But the truth is, my mind was in a chase scene, ducking and dodging around corners, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guy, steal a kiss from the good guy, collect more clues, and save the kitten.

Susan: The uh ... the good guy you mentioned. Is that him in that picture by any chance?

Lucy: Him? Yeah, he's one of the two hot guys that chases Madison around in my first book, Hot Scheming Mess. His name is Xander Boyd, but his friends call him ExBoy.

Susan: [chewing on a pen]

Lucy: [snaps fingers in front of Susan] Hey. Can we get back to the discussion?

Susan: Hmm? Oh. I was just admiring that chair over there.

Lucy: So, anyway, it's not like getting an idea is the issue. It's more like taming it into something cohesive. That's the hard part for me. I can't be so in love with the idea that I forget to trim it down to something logical, believable, ripe for conflict. Oh and it has to bring out the urgency in the reader to want to see it all come together in a satisfying conclusion.

Susan: [sighs] ... satisfying conclusion ...

Lucy: [shaking head] You're impossible when you're like this. Let me make you a drink. [looking around]

Where's that recipe?


Lucy Carol's background is in the performing arts. She's been an actress, voiceover artist, professional dancer and done a stint doing singing telegrams -- which are every bit as crazy as you imagine, and provided plenty of material for her stories. Hot Scheming Mess is her debut, madcap mystery and Totally Running With Scissors, a short story, is due to be released any day.

Lucy's Motto: Hiding from the truth cuz I suspect its lying!