Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing Mistakes

by Jean Henry Mead

It’s often difficult for novices to break the writing habits they've learned in school. Perfect grammar, especially when writing dialogue, is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make. I was in an online critique group a dozen years ago, comprised mainly of unpublished writers. I’ll never forget a critique that said, “You need to clean up your characters’ grammar.” The characters were uneducated farmers.

Author William Noble once said, “The grammar rules we learned in eighth grade should never be followed absolutely. At best they are one choice among several, and at worst, they will dampen our creative instincts.”

The use of clichés is another fledgling blunder. The rule of thumb is: if it sounds familiar, don’t use it. If you can’t come up with something original and your muse is tugging you on, type in a row of Xs and write it later during the second draft. But if you must use a cliché, add the word proverbial as in "as profitable as the proverbial golden goose."

Of course there are rules that must be followed, such as adding commas for clarity and periods at the end of sentences. Some writers have felt that innovative sentence structure signals creativity, but the practice is only acceptable now in poetry. In Ulysses, for example, James Joyce’s last chapter begins with:

Yes, because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting to that old faggot Mrs. Riordan that he thought he had a great leg of and she never left us a farthing all for the masses for herself and her soul greatest miser ever. . .

Joyce’s stream of conscience continues for forty pages without a single period. I wonder how many people actually read it to the end. Creative and innovative? In my opinion, anything that slows the reader for even a few words may cause him to abandon the book.

On the opposite end of the sentence spectrum, Hemingway taught novices to write declarative sentences: “The day had been hot.” “The rifle was long and cold and strange.” “She wore black shoes, a red cape and a white tunic. . .” However, short, choppy sentences must be interspersed with longer ones to make them read well. A good practice for beginning writers is to read one’s work aloud to avoid clumsy phrasing. If words don’t flow well together and your reader stumbles over them, you’ve lost her.

Reading the classics doesn't prepare anyone well to write for today’s market. I’ve judged writing contest entries that contain the most formal language I’ve seen since reading War and Peace. Some fledglings avoid contractions entirely, even when writing dialogue. The result is stilted language.

Studying the bestsellers for style, content, description and characterization helps the beginner gain a handhold in the current market. Some writing teachers advise copying your favorite author’s work, as artists have done with the masters—as long as it’s only practice and doesn't result in plagiarism.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


by Jackie King

People have asked if there's a specific book that changed my life, and that question always stumps me. Many books have influenced me but what transformed my life was discovering books in general.

I remember the first time that I fell into the pages of a book all by myself. I can still recall the awe of it all. Between my hands I held the promise of a lifetime filled with adventure and pleasure and comfort. I was overcome by the wonder of it all, and, much like Dorothy in The Wonderful   Wizard of Oz, my world turned Technicolor.

My mother had read books to me, and I had loved that. But hearing those stories was limited by Mother having time available, and she was a busy woman.

The ability to read my very own hardcover book was a thrill that I’ll never forget.
I was seven years old and riding home on a school bus filled with high school kids who were Mother’s English students. Being a teacher's kid automatically made me a stationary target. All of the contempt these teens felt for being forced to write complete sentences without using double negatives found its way to me. The short ride to our small house in the country was usually an ordeal. But suddenly I had found a hiding place.

God smiled on me in the third grade when Miss Hinkle, an aging old maid whose life was teaching her students, put a book into my hands and encouraged me to read it as a way to entertain myself.

My earlier experience with reading books had featured the perfect world of Dick, Jane and Spot. While I admired these siblings and their pet, I didn’t have one thing in common with them.
Dick and Jane never got into trouble, and I did. Their parents agreed on most everything. Mine were divorced. Their mother stayed home with them, and mine had to work. While I admired such paragons of virtue, I couldn't identify with them.

In the book I read that day on the bus, the girl telling the story got into all kinds of trouble, and suddenly, magically, I was that girl!

The terrors of the bus didn’t disappear, but I had found a hiding place. Each time after that, when I opened the pages of a book, I found my life filled with excitement. That was the year I read my first mystery, one about the Bobbsey Twins. In another year or two came Nancy Drew. And when I was eighteen I discovered Agatha Christie and I was a goner.


What I'm reading now:

If I’m able to give my readers even an ounce of the pleasure that I have received from other authors, then I will have made Miss Hinkle proud.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Technically Challenged

by June Shaw

This is for all of us who were born technically challenged. I mean, Bob tells my sons not to use mechanical equipment--like a wheel barrel.

When computers became the thing (okay, I have to admit the first one was in our local college, and it took up two walls and was kept in a cold, locked room--but we could see it through all the windows), I said whoever knew how to work that thing was certainly brilliant. (Hint: I should have known then it wasn't going to be me.)

Fast forward awhile, and computers changed. They grew smaller, did not need to be kept in really cold conditions, and a few businesses had them.

"I think it's great that my children will probably learn how to use one of those things when they're in college," I'd tell everyone, so glad I would never have to go through that immense learning curve. After all, I'd given birth to five children, completed a B.A. plus in college, and began teaching whatever from my school's textbooks. There was one computer, and it was in the office, and as a lowly English teacher, I certainly did not learn to use it. (Remember the wheel barrel?)

Okay, but I did want to become a writer. I wanted to write novels, and yes, I had paper and a typewriter that usually worked, but did not have much extra time.

Getting to the point: Yes, I learned the basics of using a computer, which is so much easier to work with than a typewriter (but not the paper and pen), and I'm thrilled that I know what I do. I've written a number of books--maybe nine or ten--and they all come out of a computer until they come out in print or as e-books.

So why can't I use this blog? I'm on it with a number of great mystery authors who post regularly when they're supposed to, but my posts? Sometimes I think I've gotten one written and scheduled to show, and a week later I discover nope, that didn't happen. Now I'm trying again. I hope you'll all cheer for things to work out for me this time because, okay, I am better than a wheel barrel (although I do not want to use one.)

Am I the only one technically challenged? Gosh, one of my sons teaches computer usage to a group of people who work with him and one of my grandsons writes programs.

Please tell me some other person like me is out there. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Don't blame the author!

by Carola

I'm in the middle of checking the galleys (known these days as First Pass Pages) for the third of my Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, Requiem for a Mezzo. It's going to be reissued with new artwork next January.
The process involves re-typesetting the text. I'm very glad I've been given a chance to go over it. You wouldn't believe how many fresh errors have crept in. There are letters missing from the middle of words; letters replaced with a different one; transpositions; and even one four-word phrase printed twice consecutively.

Last week I was checking the first pass pages of Buried in the Country, my fourth Cornish mystery, due out in December.

The manuscript went through my own final edit before sending it off, my editor's reading, the copyeditor's reading, my reading and editing of the copyeditor's corrections and suggestions, and then typesetting. The result was--not unexpectedly--considerably worse than Requiem's. Besides a few things all the editing eyes had missed, I found the horrid results of the typesetter's trying to make sense of my red-pencil changes to the copyeditor's brown-pencil changes. But as well as those, there were several introduced errors such as missing letters (as for was, offical for official), a name not capitalized, and oddest of all, scotch for splotch!

I hope I caught everything, but I wouldn't swear to it. Nor can I be certain that my corrections will make it correctly into print.

It's a complicated business going from a .doc file to a book. If the end result isn't perfect, don't blame the author!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A guest blog by Marja McGraw

Jean asked me what inspired the personalities in the book, and this is the short version.

One of my favorite authors, Dorothy Bodoin, and I discussed that we’d both like to try our skills on a time travel book. Further inspired by two songs, Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce, and That Sunday, That Summer as sung by Natalie Cole, I took a step out in faith. I could do this, or at least I’d try my best to write a time travel story.

I thought about people I know and how they might react to life if they lived in another time period; specifically, 1909. Honestly, I have no idea what led me to choose that year. I remembered older people I’ve known throughout my life. They loved to share stories about growing up in an earlier era. Somehow it all came together.

The main character in Choosing One Moment is Carrie McFerrin. I had to give her a lot of thought and determined she must be a mystery writer whose skills someone wanted to put to use. There had to be a purpose for her time travel. Is she based on me? Not at all. Well, she is a bit clumsy, and that’s a trait we share.

She traveled to 1909 as the request of her great-aunt Genny, who’d traveled before her. I might add that Carrie didn’t travel willingly. Genny reminds me a bit of my own aunt.

My husband inspired more than one character because of the many sides to his personality (the good guys). Inspired is the key word. The world needs good men, and he was one of them.

The book includes an aged woman called Mother Possum. When I was a child there was a woman in her nineties who was called Mother Possum, and I’ve never forgotten her. The name alone made her fodder for a character. And, yes, her surname was actually Possum.

I could go through character by character, but that would be too time-consuming. In my other mysteries, the people are purely fictional, for the most part. I can’t explain it, but this time travel story felt more personal. It begged for personalities that I’m familiar with and people who have played a role in my life.

Yes, the characters are fictional, but they’re inspired by the best, and the worst (don’t forget the bad guys). And remember, there’s a killer on the loose in the fictional town of Little Creek.

One last thought, and that’s that an old crank phone hangs in my guest room. It was begging to be in a story. I couldn’t resist. It’s a link to the past.

Jean also asked about research for the story. As I mentioned, I grew up hearing stories related by elderly people. Those led me to read old newspaper articles, books about the time period, research (and images) of clothing in and around 1909, and anything else I could lay my hands on. The fact that people from that time period didn’t have the amenities we have today played a large part, too. Can you imagine what they might think if they saw today’s appliances, cell phones, cars or jetliners? What about a microwave oven or a dishwasher? A man on the moon? They’d probably laugh at at that idea.

Ah, the differences are too many to think about. If we traveled in time, imagine what it would be like to suddenly have things that we take for granted disappear from our lives.

Thank you, Jean, for allowing me to give a little background on Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery. It was an experience I enjoyed, and I think readers will, too.

About the story:

Mystery writer Carrie McFerrin has inherited an old family house and all of its contents from her Great Aunt Genny.

While taking inventory of the attic contents, she comes across an old wooden crank telephone. Thinking the old phone would look perfect in her vintage kitchen, she hangs it on the wall by the back door, and an old, yellowed piece of paper asking for help falls to the floor.

The impossible happens when the disconnected old phone rings – three rings, a pause, and three more rings.

Carrie picks up the receiver, wondering what’s going on, and her life suddenly changes – forever.

Nothing will ever be the same.

Author Bio:

My friend Marja McGraw was born and raised in Southern California. She worked in both civil and criminal law, state transportation, and a city building department.  She has lived and worked in California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona.

She wrote a weekly column for a small town newspaper in Northern Nevada, and conducted a Writers’ Support Group in Northern Arizona. A past member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), she was also the Editor for the SinC-Internet Newsletter for a year and a half.

Marja writes two mystery series: The Sandi Webster Mysteries and The Bogey Man Mysteries, which are light reading with a touch of humor. She also occasionally writes stories that aren’t part of a series.

Marja says that each of her mysteries contains a little humor, a little romance and A Little Murder!

She now lives in Washington, where life is good.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


by Jackie King

I’ve come to that wonderful/dreadful time between books that every author must face. I use antonyms to describe how I feel, and both fit. I’m excited about brainstorming new story ideas. I’m fearful that I’ll never be able to pull together the plot for another complete novel . (I always have this angst before I find an idea I like.) I’m eager to send out my latest book to readers. I’m reluctant to send out my latest book. What if the world of readers find my “child” ugly and uninteresting?

Did I mention that writers are sometimes a bit neurotic? Insecure? Apprehensive? We’re also curious, eager, and interested. Who else would choose to earn money by sitting alone in front of a terrifyingly blank computer screen?

Okay. That’s enough angst for now. That emotion will reappear at three in the morning to haunt me. Now it's time to plan promotion for the finished product and brainstorm plot ideas for the upcoming project. I love this. I hate this. Grrrr…

The book I’ve just finished is titled MURDER ON THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, and it’s set in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The town is fictional, but near the real town of Beaver and seventy miles from Guymon. The land is flat and the horizons stretch on forever; to my eyes this view is lovely. A good many people don’t agree. My ex-husband called it bleak. And it is, but bleak has character—and beauty—and strength.

I was born on these plains and spent a large amount of my childhood at my grandparent’s farm. I love the natives who are strong and smart and resilient. My characters are fictional, but they came alive in my mind in this made-up story.

First paragraph from the prologue:

“Everyone has something they want to hide, but you have more than most.” Christabel Steele flipped her hair backwards, a thing that she knew mesmerized men and annoyed women. She pictured her sleek, golden hair fanning in practiced perfection over her right shoulder. Her quarry’s eyes glazed with fear, and Christabel licked her lips, savoring the moment. Like an antelope caught in underbrush, but instead of blood, I’ll taste money.

MURDER ON THE EDGE OF NOWHERE is a story of a small town where people harbor deadly secrets from their past: blackmail, child abuse, and murder.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Linking the Past 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, murder and terrorism. 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 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 in digital and print editions.