Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Failure to Communicate

By Maxx Danielson, Guest Blogger

Maxx here, and I’m hoppin’ mad! Dad’s on a trip, so I’m taking this opportunity to vent. While he was out on his last trip, Mom took me in for a “haircut” and I came out looking like a Poodle, not a Bichon! I mean, seriously – check out the photo below. Don’t I look like I just won the Biggest Loser – pet edition? I've been crying ever since! I mean, who wouldn't? The photo above was taken a month ago, and no, I didn't go on a diet. So how did my parents get stuck with a bill while I got so short-changed? What did I do to deserve this? Nothin, I tell ya. Nothin!

It just goes to show that no matter what I say or how I say it, no one listens. Sure, I’m young, but I still have plenty to say. I see the world, too, ya know. The only difference is I see it from a few inches off the ground while you see it from several feet. Now, think about that for a moment. I get to smell all the scents, and that makes me a lot more perceptive. I’m also at eye level with nearly every insect. If a leaf moves, I see it. When a rock is kicked, I chase it. If a Harley’s approaching, I hear it long before anyone else does. The same holds true for sirens. So the way I see it, I’m the perceptive one. So why not listen to me, for crying out loud?

My folks are always trying to get me to do things, but they don’t seem to understand that I’m my own person – or dog, as it were. Just because they feed me, love me, and provide me with a nice home, am I supposed to be at their beck and call 24/7? Do you think I have any say in what’s on TV or the stereo? Do I get to pick out my own collar? Nope – none of the above. It’s as though I’m their little play toy; and this, my friends, makes me madder than being shaved. Hmmm. No. Actually, being shaved still takes the treat.

My parents assure me that the next time I visit the salon, they will specify exactly what needs to be done. Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it. The only reason I even go to that salon is because my girlfriend works there. She’s a month younger than me, and boy to we have fun chasing each other around! Mom thinks she may be my half-sister, but I refuse to believe that. You see, sometimes there’s such a thing as too much information, and this revelation fits that category.

I guess I have to realize that communicating is a skill; not something we’re born with. It takes practice to make sure we get it right, whether it be in conversation or the written word. As for me, I’ll continue to voice my opinion, and I'm certain that sooner or later, my folks will understand me. I just have to work on them a bit longer, just like Cool Hand Luke. Some day, I’m certain I’ll get my point across.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beware the Jabberwock, an Agenting Tale

By Chester Campbell

A long-running thread on several lists for mystery writers is the old question of whether or not to try and find a literary agent. I’ve mentioned in several places that I had four agents back in the early days who sold nothing for me. After that, I went the small press route and got a three-book deal. With my last two books, I switched to a new publisher who comes under the category of a micro press.

It’s been nearly 20 years since my first book and first agent, and my memory was a bit hazy on the experience. So I dug back into my files and pulled out the one labeled “Beware the Jabberwock.” It was an enlightening experience. Strictly a neophyte at the time, I had little understanding of the publishing business except what I had picked up through Writer’s Digest and its Writer’s Market directory.

The first thing I noticed in going through the file was that the query letter didn’t correspond to what is currently recommended. My opening paragraph said:

“I am a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor and have served on active duty in the Air Force and in the Air Guard as an intelligence officer. I am now retired and devoting full time to writing.”

I then quoted Sen. Jim Sasser, who was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, as telling a local audience the previous night that Mikhail Gorbachev had told him, “I believe everybody who wants to leave the Soviet Union ought to be allowed to leave.” Sasser also said the Soviet Union was “verging on significant social and political instability” and its leaders “have absolutely no idea” how to shift to a market economy.

I then stated that those views tied in with the plot of my new suspense novel, which I proceeded to outline up to the last paragraph on page two, which concluded, “I am enclosing three sample chapters that introduce the plot and two of the main characters. The novel runs about 130,000 words. Please let me know if you would like to see the full manuscript.”

She did.

An associate handled the manuscript, and over the next few months he sent me interesting replies from several editors. Up to a point, I really enjoyed the first one, from Eamon Dolan at Harper-Collins.

“As discussed, I’m returning this manuscript to you. I simply can’t get over the timeliness of this book (I suppose I should say its prescience, given that it was written before the coup) and Mr. Campbell’s deep understanding of the American and Soviet systems is impressive. But this book’s writing and its characterizations seem very much in the traditions of the thriller genre. That’s hardly a bad thing, of course, but Harper, with its fledgling thriller line, looks specifically for books whose style and characterization are quite different from the genre as a whole.

“Thanks for letting me see BEWARE THE JABBERWOCK. I enjoyed it and I’m sorry I couldn’t quite see it for the Harper list.”

Then came this rejection from Natalee Rosenstein, Senior Editor at The Berkley Publishing Group:

“It is a very well written thriller, but this genre is just too hard to sell in mass market at the moment. Maybe this would work well in hardcover.”

Liza Dawson, Senior Editor at William Morrow, wrote:

“While Campbell’s scenario was creepily plausible and nicely audacious, this book did not seem quite as fast-paced and compelling as a thriller of this type should be. Also, given the speed with which global politics are changing these days, I’m reluctant to take on a thriller this topical—for fear that it would already be out of date by the time it sees print.”

Finally, this one from James G. Moser, Senior Editor for Grove Weidenfeld:

“As I mentioned yesterday, this isn’t the kind of novel we usually publish at Grove. It’s a competent and entertaining piece of work, however, and I wish you luck with it.”

The agent’s associate left after this one, and she decided to concentrate on non-fiction, leaving me dangling in the wind. What I found most interesting about this situation is that on re-reading the manuscript, which was lauded by all the editors, I found I had repeatedly violated many of the taboos I have since learned to avoid. Things like changing POVs within a scene (I think it was pretty clear whose head I was in, however) and using various dialogue attributions other than said and asked.

Granted, a lot of that could have been changed in the editing process had the book sold, but comments like “very well written” and “a competent and entertaining piece of work” left the impression that the editors were not put off by what seems currently unacceptable.

I continued to write topical thrillers that met the same fate in a market as tough as the present one. I’m wondering now, however, if Beware the Jabberwock might be resurrected as a near-historical thriller? It takes place in 1990. And I’ll always wonder what might have happened to my career if one of those editors had taken a chance and published that new 65-year-old author?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Murder Junkie

by Ben Small

C’mon, admit it: you – like me – are a murder junkie. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. C’mon, it’s not so hard to admit. Say after me: “I AM A MURDER JUNKIE.”

But let’s be clear: not just any murder. Spree killing doesn’t do much for me. Nor does routine domestic violence, or gang violence, or run-o-the-mill drug violence. For me, it’s gotta be intelligent murder, or unique murder, or clever murder, or tantalizing murder, or serial killer twisted murder, or murder for sport, or puzzle murder, or longtime festering grudge murder -- you know, stuff that titillates (Can I say that word?)

Okay, so whip me a wallop with a willow. I like that stuff.

Headshrinkers could and have written volumes on why so many of us are murder junkies. And what’s that solved? I still read ‘em; I still write ‘em, murder stories, that is. And so do you.

Pound sand, Doctor Freud.

But I cringe at CSI and House, won’t watch movie or television gore in general, and have no use for violent video games. I have a rule: If my flinch factor starts looking like a facial tic, I’m gone.

I think I understand why I enjoy murders. Freud may not “get” it, but I know what works for me. I like thrills and the abuse of power. I like the planning, the calculation of risk, the sick urges. There’s surprise, and yes, realization in the victim’s eyes. The murderer screws up, it’s over, he does not pass Go. Toast. The killer knows this, but he murders anyway. Oh goodie, goodie! Yeah, baby!

And look what comes next: The hunt. Righteousness. Everybody wants to be righteous, right? [Head nod required] More good stuff.

So bring it on. Shock me, titillate (Am I in more trouble?) me, make me say, “Oh!” And then let me chase you and bring you down. Let me get my justice and rub your face in it. Face it, folks, this is adult play time, a form of Hide And Seek.

Do I want people hurt? Not real people. No, of course not. This is fantasy world I’m talking about. I can make it as dark as I want and nobody gets hurt.

Just entertained.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Night Visitors

Photos: I took this snapshot of Hap and Marilyn Meredith at the 2004 EpiCon convention in Oklahoma City; the cover of DISPEL THE MIST, Marilyn’s newest Tempe Crabtree mystery.

By Pat Browning

In all of Marilyn Meredith’s books there’s a bit of romance. Who better to write it than a lady who’s been married for more than 50 years? Marilyn and her husband Hap are a team, a familiar sight at writers’ conventions and conferences.

Now retired from the residential care business, Marilyn and Hap live on the Tule River in Central California’s Sierra foothills. They met on a blind date in Southern California, in what sounds like an episode of “Happy Days.”

Hap was in the navy at Port Hueneme. Marilyn was a high school senior in Eagle Rock. With two other couples they took the streetcar to Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, where they danced the hours away. Later they took a taxi to one friend’s house, but the final ride never showed up, so Hap walked Marilyn home, a short distance of three miles.

They arrived about 3 a.m., and Marilyn recalls that her parents “were wild.” It had never occurred to her to telephone them. Hap had no transportation at that hour so her parents let him sleep on the couch in the den. A few weeks later, he and Marilyn tied the knot.

They lived in Oxnard for more than 20 years, where four of their five children were born. Hap served in the Seabees, going to Vietnam three times. When Oxnard got too big and busy for them, they moved to the Sierra foothills, where Marilyn’s forbears had settled in the early 1850s, and they have lived there ever since.

Marilyn sets her Tempe Crabtree mysteries in those foothills, which are just above the Valley flatlands where I lived for so many years. Reading one of her books is like a visit “home” for me.

Marilyn is a prolific writer. Her books are available in hardcover, paperback and electronic downloads. The latest is DISPEL THE MIST, woven from an Indian legend of the Hairy Man.

But sometimes you just have to laugh, and Marilyn’s real life is every bit as colorful as her fictional life. This is a blog Marilyn posted on September 18, and the images it evokes are priceless. If you can picture Hap, stark naked, chasing a prowler across the rooftops … read on …

From Marilyn’s Musings (, reprinted with her permission.
Friday, September 18, 2009

It's been awhile since we lived in a city or a real neighborhood--but I was thinking back about some of the excitement I remember from back then.

One night, while I was asleep in our back bedroom -- with the drapes open, after all we had a six foot high fence all around the yard -- a police chase ended right outside the sliding glass door. I never woke despite the fact our dog, a German Shepherd, cornered the suspect right there. The police, one of whom was my son-in-law, arrested and hauled the guy away. My dear son-in-law told me that my nightgown had hiked up and I mooned the whole bunch. Dear hubby affirmed this. (Why on earth didn't he come inside and cover me up?)

Another time, our whole family was sleeping and my middle daughter (a teenager at the time) came in to tell us someone was on the roof. Once we were good and awake, we could actually hear someone clomping around up there.

At the time hubby slept in the altogether. He leapt out of bed, dashed out the back door, grabbed an ax he had there, climbed a ladder and got on the roof. We could hear him yelling and chasing the intruder. Daughter and I fell into fits of laughter picturing hubby and father running across the roof, buck naked, hollering and waving an ax.

We hoped he neighbors wouldn't see him and call the police. He didn't catch the guy but, no doubt traumatized, the roof walker jumped to the ground and hightailed it down the street.

And that's my two prowler stories. No doubt there were more; it was a wild neighborhood despite the fact several police officers lived there, but those are the ones I remember, and probably the funniest.
Now we live in the foothills and our intruders have been limited to bobcats, possums and raccoons.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tasering Senior Citizens

by Jean Henry Mead

Tasering by police has become almost epidemic, even in a small rural town not far from where I live. Residents of Glenrock, Wyoming, held a town meeting to protest the tasering of 76-year-old man who had been driving a tractor in the annual Deer Creek Days Parade on August 1 of this year.

Riding on the tractor with him was a nine-year-old boy.

When Bud Grose decided to take a short cut on his tractor following the parade, failing to follow the traffic directions of police officer Michael Kavenius, he was tasered five times, although he reportedly has a heart condition. The ancient tractor, which doesn’t have the best breaking system, ran into a pursuing patrol car driven by Sgt. Paul Brown, which pulled across in front of the tractor before it could stop. Grose was then repeatedly tasered by both officers.

After local residents held a town meeting, the two officers were placed on paid administrative leave and the case was reviewed by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. Despite the uproar from local residents, the county attorney’s office refused to file charges. However, both police officers have since been fired.

The officers’ attorney issued a statement that his clients will appeal the decision to fire them and that they’re grateful for the widespread support they’ve received from around the state. I seriously doubt that anyone supported the two officer’s laser attack because people in this part of the country have been angered by the tasering and I’ve even heard talk of retaliatory measures.

Police issued tasers have killed more than a few victims with the electroshock weapon which uses a current to disrupt muscle control. Taser International, which manufactures the weapon, terms the effects of its product “neuromuscular incapacitation.” Anyone struck with a taser experiences strong involuntary muscle contractions, including heart muscles.

Tasers don’t just rely on pain compliance except when used in Drive Stun mode, according to the Wikipedia. They’re preferred weapons in many law enforcement agencies over non-taser stun guns. There are currently two tasers in use, the M26 and X26, which have accessories such as laser sites and mounted digital video cameras. The company is also marketing a civilian model called the C2. This past summer Taser International introduced the X3, which is capable of subduing up to three suspects without reloading.

“Tasers were introduced as less lethal weapons to be used by police to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous subjects, often when what they consider to be a more lethal weapon would have otherwise been used.” But taser use has gotten out of hand, resulting in serious injuries and death. Although they’re less lethal than other weapons, the U.N. is reportedly concerned that the use of tasers amounts to torture, and Amnesty International has reported cases that amount to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is absolutely prohibited under international law."

How long will it be before there is widespread use of tasers by the general public as well?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


By Beth Terrell

Today, I came across not one, but two different blogs complaining about the use of the term pre-published to refer to writers with no published works. It seems a number of aspiring writers are referring to themselves as pre-published and that a number of published authors are taking offense at the practice.

One commenter compared pre-published to pre-med and pre-law, but that the latter two were valid terms because they implied a specific course of study and an implication that the pre-med/pre-law student was expressing a serious intent to attend medical/law school. Thus, even if he or she never actually entered the medical/legal profession, the student had fulfilled the promise of the "pre" label by entering the medical or law program. However, there is no specific course of study for the aspiring author. With no program to enter, the only way to fulfill the promise of the label would be to actually BE published. Since there is no guarantee that the writer in question has what it takes to become published (the argument goes), claiming to be pre-published is akin to claiming to be pre-rich, pre-thin, or a pre-Nobel-Prize-winner. (Hmm. I wouldn't mind being pre-rich or pre-thin, either.) Apparently, a lot of people think anyone who would describe himself or herself as pre-published is: arrogant, delusional, full of false hope, pathetic, or all of the above. Unpublished writers, they say, should just call themselves what they are: unpublished.

But when I first started hearing the term, it was being used by published authors to described other writers who hadn't (or hadn't yet) signed publishing contracts. Some were in the query process, and others had never completed so much as a short story, but all dreamed of one day becoming professional authors. The published authors who used the term weren't trying to be cute or coy. They used the "pre-published" as a sort of "attaboy," or "hang in there" or "You'll make it, just don't give up." The term was inclusive. It was created as a kindness.

"Pre-published" sounds like hope. "Unpublished," on the other hand, is reminiscent of all those other "un" words: unloved, unwanted, unfortunate, unworthy. Nobody wants to be an "un."

To me, a writer who says "I am pre-published" IS expressing a serious intent. He (or she) is saying , "I will do whatever it takes to raise the quality of my writing to a publishable level, and then I will do what is necessary to find a publisher and an audience for that work." Does every writer who calls himself or herself pre-published go on to be published? Of course not, just as not every pre-law student goes to law school.

But I say, what's the harm? In this difficult profession, the "pre-published" label gives some aspiring writers a little hope. I don't know about you, but to me, that doesn't sound like a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fixin' It

By Mark W. Danielson

There’s an old phrase that says, “Ya can’t fix what ain’t broke.” While this may pertain to assorted things around a farm, it hardly pertains to “fixing” manuscripts. You see, in writing, the problem is most authors are too close to the problems to see them. For lack of a better word, let’s call it tunnel vision.

Anyone that’s ever given driving lessons to a teenager knows that as an observer, you see plenty of room for improvement. When you safely reach your destination, hopefully you share words of wisdom that will help the teen drive better the next time. But when you put yourself in the driver’s seat, suddenly you’re the only safe driver on the road. Isn’t it funny how our perspective changes from seat to seat? Isn’t it amazing how everyone else suddenly becomes a bad driver? If you see some parallels to writing, then we’re on the same track.

Getting back to manuscripts, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from another writer who had proof read Diablo’s Shadow for me. She thoroughly enjoyed the book, but then said I didn’t need the first chapter. What say you? I thought to myself. The first chapter is the whole setup. But truth be told, she was right, so I deleted it. Afterwards, I looked back on it wondering how I could have been so blind. The answer is I was so emotionally attached to that setup that I couldn’t see the forest through the trees.

Letting that chapter go was easier than I thought, though. After all, I had a lot of respect for this lady. After all, she does chair our MWA chapter’s critique group. Once I deleted it and re-read the story, everything made perfect sense.

Each week, I spent a lot of time writing articles on various topics and not enough on my manuscripts. True, it slows progress, but diversity also allows me more objectivity. In other words, when I do go back to my manuscript, my tunnel vision has expanded. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re driving, keep your eyes on the center of the road and note the difference in your peripheral vision between twenty miles per hour and eighty. The same holds true in writing. If you keep hammering away without every taking an objective look, you may miss the obvious. Too often, manuscripts that are sent off without that objective look are returned. To correct this, take heart, find someone who will provide an honest critique, and listen to what they say. Remember that if your goal is to produce a solid story, then time is always on your side. The caveat is you must plan ahead if you’re meeting a deadline.

If there is anything I’ve learned in this business, it’s that there is a distinct difference between writing for yourself and writing for publication. By necessity, publishers are most interested in a book’s marketability, therefore, if they want you to make changes, so be it. If you’re not willing to make their changes, then withdraw your manuscript and walk away. It’s as simple as that.

Keep writing, stay focused, and have fun, but always remember, when it comes to professional writing, your job is to please others.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Solitary (Sometimes) Writer

The popular notion is that writing is a solitary endeavor. And in most senses it is. Even when it involves co-authors, and I’m personally acquainted with a pair of sisters and a mother-son duo, the writers work alone except when discussing the story. I’m a little different.

I occasionally work on a book in my above-the-garage bonus room office. That’s where my mystery novel collection resides, plus reference books, PC, printers and scanner. You’d think this hideaway would be a more friendly location for the creative muse. However, it also harbors more distractions, more opportunities to find something besides writing to occupy my time.

For one thing, there’s email. As I’m working on this piece, that enticing female voice keeps breaking in to announce “Mail truck.” It only takes a quick click of the mouse to switch to the email program.

Okay, I’m back now. I just checked into the latest flurry of posts on Murder Must Advertise about whether to ignore the pain of knocking your head against a brick wall by querying agents or go the small press route. Unfortunately, that’s not the subject of this article, so back to the current program.

When I’m writing a book, I do most of it on my laptop. I don’t use the email program there unless I’m out of town. So no mail trucks running around. I also don’t keep it up in my office but down in the living room. I sit in my recliner beside my wife’s identical chair. I used to fight that accursed finger-flicking cursor control but finally bought a USB mouse. I use the chair arm as a mouse pad. Works great.

Sitting there I face the TV hardly a dozen feet away, and most of the time my wife or grandson has it on. Does it bother me? Nah. I started my writing career as a newspaper reporter back in the days of manual typewriters. There was no librarian around shushing people. With the clatter of typewriters and people talking on telephones and city editors yelling for somebody to hurry up, you either learned to block it out or got another job.

I can concentrate on what I’m writing and have no idea what’s being said on the TV or by my wife beside me, which sometimes irritates her. The only thing that really bugged me as a newspaper reporter was writing an important story on deadline. The city editor would stand behind me, grabbing pages out of the typewriter as fast as I wrote them. I wanted to say “get the hell out from behind me if you want this thing finished.” But I was young back then with no feeling of importance so suffered through it.

It follows then that my writing is solitary from the standpoint that I’m the only one punching the keys on the computer. But I’m in the midst of things as far as the household goes. My friend Tim Hallinan does his writing in a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s probably a lot like my situation, though maybe not as noisy.

If you can stand the heat, get in the kitchen…uh, living room.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Site Work

by Ben Small

Some weeks ago, Pat Browning blogged about how many times she doesn't have a clue about plotting her mysteries until she visits a site, or something like that. Well, that registered with me. Granted, I'd already been to Mount Rainier before I wrote Alibi On Ice, but having been to that site, having climbed that mountain, provided all the inspiration I needed for the story. It just flowed, naturally.

And when I was ready to write a second book, I had no idea what I wanted to write about, except that I wanted Morocco and Spain to be a part of it. My wife and I literally mapped the book's plot out over the course of a couple days on our hotel's cliff-side terrace in Arcos. The site we were in, and the sites and sights we'd seen, fed our imaginations. And maybe the wine we were sipping and the cheeses we nibbled helped a bit, too.

Same with my third book. I knew it would be a Denton Wright book, but I wasn't ready to wag the tail I'd left in The Olive Horseshoe. That will happen in the fourth book, set in Croatia and Slovenia, where we're heading now. The third book? I took a drive south of Tucson over the course of several days. Took lots of pictures. Then, looking at the pictures I'd taken on my computer, the plot just popped off the page, ran through my head, and then fell onto my word processor.

It's true, one can write a book about a place one's never visited. Many people do it. Not me. I want to go there, talk to the locals, take pictures, and soak up as much local color as I can. To me, that adds a realism one can't get from the internet alone.

But then that's just me.

Maybe Pat and I were related in another life...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"A Scar On All Of Us"

Photo of Raymond Clark and one of his attorneys, from the New Haven Register

By Pat Browning

Few mystery novels can match the unutterable sadness of the real life drama going on around the murder of Annie Le at Yale University.

I was reading John Lescroart’s legal thriller, A PLAGUE OF SECRETS, when the Annie Le story began to unfold, so I was already attuned to what the police can and can’t do. I thought it odd that they handcuffed Raymond Clark, “a person of interest,” and hauled him down to the station while they searched his apartment, then turned him loose but staked him out.

Turns out I wasn’t the only person puzzling over it. Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz weighed in Friday on The Huffington Post. Quoting his article:

With the arrest of Raymond Clark on charges of murdering Annie Le, the New Haven police now seem to be acknowledging that he was more than a mere "person of interest" when they handcuffed him and took him into custody two days earlier. He was surely a suspect then, despite the police disclaimers.

The only definite way of knowing what his status was at the time of his initial detention is to see the search warrants signed by the judge and the affidavit submitted in support of that search warrant. If the affidavit alleged, and the warrant found, "probable cause," then his initial detention was probably valid.

If, however, the judge authorized his arrest in handcuffs based on him merely being a "person of interest," then serious constitutional problems arise. But, according to the Yale Daily News, the authorities have refused to disclose any of these documents, even the name of the judge who signed the warrant.

It would be a sad day in America if anyone deemed by the police to be a "person of interest" -- which could include anyone who worked with, knew, or came in contact with the victim -- could be handcuffed, placed in a police car and hauled down to the police station, even if only for a few hours.

This is precisely the sort of conduct that we, as a nation, condemn when carried out in other parts of the world. Our Constitution demands that a seizure -- roughly the equivalent of an arrest -- not be unreasonable. In general that means that the police must demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause for believing that the person may be guilty of a crime.

The evidence of Clark's complicity in Le's death now seems substantial, if there was in fact a DNA match and if his card swipe and e-mails confirm his contact with her just prior to her disappearance. But the evidence that he murdered her in premeditated fashion seems sparse.

Indeed, the manner by which her body was hidden appears to be inconsistent with long term planning. As a matter of law, however, premeditation can occur over a very short period of time. Moreover, if we ultimately learn that Le was sexually assaulted by Clark -- and I've heard nothing to suggest this -- her death would be classified as felony murder under the law of most states.

There is much yet to be learned about this horrible crime, most particularly with regard to the motive of the killer. At trial, if there is a trial rather than a plea, Clark will benefit from a presumption of innocence, not only with regard to whether he committed the crime, but also with regard to whether the crime was murder, manslaughter or something else. Stay tuned.

A further brief note appeared on The Huffington Post:
“Hartford news station WTIC/Fox61 reports that police are questioning a second suspect in the murder of Annie Le. Sources tell the station that a second person may have helped Raymond Clark III, who was arrested and charged yesterday, hide Le's body behind the wall of a lab building. Clark's fiancée, sister and brother-in-law all work at the lab.”

Stay tuned indeed.

A fairly tight lid has been kept on the case, but details leak out. Clark played in a softball game the day Le’s body was found. Some saw him as a control freak. As a lab technician responsible for the welfare of research animals he was reportedly rude and demanding of students doing the research.

According to a story in the New York Times, the arrest warrant runs to 1,000 pages, but it’s sealed for two weeks because of an ongoing investigation. The police chief is quoted as saying we may never know the motive and all theories are speculation.

From the Times story: “Chief James Lewis of the New Haven police would not speak about a possible motive, but said, ‘It is important to note that this is not about urban crime, university crime, domestic crime, but an issue of workplace violence, which is becoming a growing concern around the country.’”

The Times also quotes Richard Levin, university president: “This killing could have happened in any city, in any university. It says more about the dark side of the human soul than it does about the extent of security measures.”

The human toll taken by the Yale murder cannot be measured. Clark had scratches and bruises on his face and chest – defensive wounds, if he is indeed the killer, and evidence of how hard Annie Le fought for her life. Her family, her friends, her fiancé and his family, must live with that. The killer and his family, too, are caught in a nightmare.

The case reminds Scott Herhold, a columnist for the (San Jose) Mercury News of an unsolved 1974 murder at Stanford University. He says it still nags at the Sheriff’s Office, and adds: “There's a reason murder has no statute of limitations. It leaves a scar on all of us, even 35 years later.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Perfect Grammar?

by Jean Henry Mead

While I was writing my first novel, Escape on the Wind, I joined an online critique group on AOL. The book concerns a young girl kidnapped by members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, and one of the comments I received was, “You need to clean up your grammar.”

The critiquer was referring to my outlaw characters, whom I had spent researching for several years. Because I live in former outlaw territory, there are still plenty of people in the area with the same speech patterns--in fact, I interviewed several oldtimers who had actually known some of the aging outlaws. So I felt certain that I was getting their speech patterns right.

Mark Twain’s phonetically spelled dialogue slows down reading but a few choice colloquallisms not only add color and authenticity to a story, a few words of dialogue tell more about the person speaking than paragraphs of description.

“I ain’t got nobody,” tells readers that the speaker is probably unloved, uneducated and lonely, in only four words. Try explaining the same conditions in narrative in the same amount of words.

Gary Provost, the author of Make Every Word Count, said there are two groups of people who get it wrong about grammar, “and generally speaking, neither group produces good writers.” One group completely ignores the rules of grammar while the other group discusses the subject as though grammar were some sort of religion that has to be rigidly followed, sacrificing style as well as originality. “They would rather be right than write well.”

Good narrative grammar is essential to good writing although the rules have relaxed over the years. Carlos Baker wrote that “Ernest Hemingway’s personal trademark was to use nor instead of or after a previous negative. He also retained an e when adding ing or able, as in loveing or comeing or in the phrase immortialized in the tile of A Moveable Feast. He also didn’t care about the distinctions between who and whom, lying and laying.”

“The last thing I remember about English in high school,” Hemingway once wrote, “was a big controversy on whether it was 'already' or 'all ready.' How did it ever come out?”

Andy Rooney wrote in one of his newspaper columns: “I wouldn’t think of using the word data as a plural word, which it is. I often find myself using the word hard when I should be writing difficult. It’s hard to stick to the rules when the rules make you sound more formal than you want to be. I seldom use the subjunctive were for was.”

Rooney also wrote: “I know a lot about using the language. Still, there are times when I’m stumped. I was wondering the other day what part of speech the word please is in the sentence, as in 'Please don’t take me seriously.’”

Seriously is how most of us took the lessons of our English teachers who taught us that each sentence must have a subject and predicate and that the absence of those elements render the sentence unacceptable.

I disagree as did Gary Provost, who said, "Good writing often consists of partial sentences, especially when written in dialogue. Although partial sentences don’t fare well in large numbers, a few well placed partials can invigorate your work. Like a chime. Or the beat of a drum."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Steady Climb

By Mark W. Danielson

“Climb” is a word with many meanings. In Miley Cyrus’ song, it refers to her reaching her dreams. In the entertainment industry, it frequently describes sales progression. In this article, it compares fiction writing to climbing Seoul’s Mount Namsan; the largest mountain within the city.

As with drafting manuscripts, Namsan’s gradient is steep and constant. Its endless steps can be intimidating, and yet I climb them because of the elderly. Though I could ride a gondola to the top, I prefer following the senior Koreans who still climb Namsan. These people inspire me to follow their lead in much the same way as my writing mentors have challenged me to write. Anyone facing obstacles always smiles after achieving their goals.

In this regard, scaling Namsan parallels my efforts in drafting manuscripts. While I'm elated when it’s finished, I still find plenty of challenges along the way. Editing is often more difficult than writing the initial draft, and when it's done, I’m not confident it’s perfect. The ecstatic feeling I get when a book has been picked up by a publisher is easily diminished when dealing with the business aspect. But that’s when reminiscing about the elderly Namsan climbers helps to keep things in perspective. Their images constantly remind me that as much as I enjoy writing, there is more to life than writing and selling books, and that moving forward, regardless of the struggles, is the best way to live life while still achieving goals. These lessons have stayed with me as long as those of my mentors'.

For as long as I’m able, I will continue to climb mountains and draft manuscripts. Perhaps when I’m old enough, others might follow in my footsteps. I haven’t caught up with Namsan’s elderly yet, but I’m getting there. So far they’ve taught me that life is a series of steps, and that all I can do is stay focused and climb them one at a time. Perhaps that's what Miley Cyrus had in mind in her song, too. That being said, I eagerly await my next lesson, and hope I have many years left.

Monday, September 14, 2009


by Ben Small

I am amazed and sometimes flabbergasted by some of the new weapon technologies available, or soon to be available. How about this for a new one? A shotgun taser, capable of stunning its target at a distance of one hundred feet or more.

No, I'm not kidding. Mossberg and Taser have teamed up to provide you with the Mossberg Taser X-12, and it comes in designer colors.

Seriously, this weapon offers both close-range and distance utility. A great way to quell a threatening riot, perhaps.

The normal taser attachment can be seen hanging down below the barrel. But what makes this shotgun special is two things: the projectile, and the fact that Mossberg has come up with a way to make an accidental loading of a lethal shell impossible. This gun is not made for lethality, and without this safety measure, all sorts of bad things might happen. The shotgun might blow up; someone might accidentally be killed or maimed, and lawsuits would rain down all over everybody -- not that they won't anyway. We are a lawsuit-happy populace, aren't we?

The projectile is a marvelous feat of engineering. The Taser XREP (Extended Range Electronic Projectile) is a self-contained, wireless projectile that fires from a standard 12-gauge shotgun. It delivers the same Neuro-Muscular Incapacitation (NMI) bio-effect as the handheld Taser X26.

For now, this weapon is only available to police forces and the military. But it could soon be coming to a gun store near you. But this thing is not for me. Too great a chance my wife will pick me off as I bike down the driveway. Or maybe Little Tommy will see the pretty colored rifle and take down his sister. Or maybe some idiot will bring one to a Town Hall meeting.

Okay, now I'm scaring the hell out of myself. But you may want one for your mystery or thriller. Creates all sorts of new possibilities...

BTW, if you want more details, as far as legality, etc. you might want to check out Taser's Legal Page

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Call Me A Weenie

Mug shots: Pix of Thomas B. Sawyer (top) and William Bernhardt (bottom) came from the Web. I snapped the photo of Ridley Pearson at Left Coast Crime-Monterey 2004.

By Pat Browning

I’m a weenie. Can’t stand suspense. Makes my skin itch. I’ve been known to turn to the last page of a book to find out who lives, who dies, and then go back and finish reading the book. A story is a story. Even if I know how it ends, I want to know how it gets there from here.

I’ve recently read three excellent suspense novels by seasoned authors. All three books are different, but all three are page-turners.

You might assume from the riveting first pages of Thomas B. Sawyer’s NO PLACE TO RUN that a guy named Bill Lawrence is the protagonist. You might be right. You might be wrong. Things are not always what they seem in this Byzantine tale of the discovery of certain facts about the events leading to 9/11 – and the desperate, damn-the-costs attempt to prevent them from emerging.

What rogue federal agents do to protect a powerful Washington figure with a connection to the terror attacks of 9/11 makes for nasty business. Sawyer brings it down to human levels with a 24 year-old sister and her young brother running for their lives, trusting no one, not even the agent intent on saving them, as they try to solve cryptic evidence uncovered by their father.

Sawyer is a TV/film veteran and it shows in the quick cuts from scene to scene, with no wasted motion. Along about page 50 the story stretches out a little with a bit of back-story. But don’t get comfortable. The whole thing blows up with a shocking twist, and takes off in a different, unexpected direction.

NO PLACE TO RUN is an exciting, satisfying, thought-provoking stomach-churner, one worth staying up late to finish.

Ridley Pearson’s KILLER SUMMER is a kind of “Mission Impossible” in reverse. The bad guys are the derring-do team, led by master thief Cantell, planning the perfect heist down to the smallest detail. Idaho’s Sun Valley and environs (towns Hailey and Ketchum) make a perfect setting. The occasion is the annual wine auction, a high society fundraiser. At stake are three old bottles of wine, said to be gifts from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams.

The stage is set. What can possibly go wrong? Just about everything, beginning with a scholar who claims the wines are fakes. Sheriff Walt Fleming and his deputies are a half step behind all the way.

Walt Fleming is an interesting character. Nothing flashy about him, but he’s a good, solid lawman and an expert tracker of those on the wrong side of the law. The last part of the book gives a totally unexpected twist to the heist, ending in a nail-biting pursuit through Idaho’s rugged terrain.

I tried to look up the places where the action takes place, but Idaho looks like one big national forest and wilderness area in a road atlas. Even online maps were no help. This is one time I would have enjoyed seeing a map at the front of the book. I’m a fan of Pearson’s Lou Boldt series, and have added his newer Walt Fleming series to my favorites list.

CAPITOL CONSPIRACY by William Bernhardt has two settings, Oklahoma and Washington D.C. Bernhardt’s contemporary Oklahoma settings are so real it’s like being set down in a particular neighborhood, being part of the action. Offhand I can’t think of another writer who does it as well, except for Robert Fate in his BABY SHARK books.

What kept me turning the pages of CAPITOL CONSPIRACY was the depiction of Washington shenanigans out of sight of reporters and cameras. It’s revolting, and ultimately discouraging. This book was published in 2008 but it might have been written this morning. The tenor of the times is the same.

In Oklahoma City for an anniversary commemoration of the Murrah Building bombing, the President is caught squarely in the midst of an apparent terrorist attack, barely escaping with his life. Others are not so lucky, or well protected.

The country is paralyzed by shock and fear. The President calls on Congress to amend the Constitution by suspending the Bill of Rights. At the center of the action is Ben Kincaid, a newly appointed senator filling an unexpired term.

Kincaid is a low-profile Tulsa lawyer. He’s married to his chief of staff who’s a real firecracker. Together they negotiate the treacherous halls of Congress and the national uproar over constitutional rights. The surprise ending is a testament to greed and ambition at high levels.

CAPITOL CONSPIRACY is 16th in Bernhardt’s Ben Kincaid series. Number 17, CAPITOL OFFENSE, will be released Sept. 29, and 18 in the series, CAPITOL BETRAYAL, is due out from Ballantine in March 2010. I hope to go back through the list and read some of the earlier ones.

All of a sudden I seem to be hooked on suspense novels. Right now I’m two-thirds of the way through A PLAGUE OF SECRETS, a legal drama by John Lescroart. If Lescroart knows what he’s talking about, a U.S. attorney’s reach and power is worse than scary.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Grande Dame of Western Literature

By Jean Henry Mead

While I was interviewing for my third book, Maverick Writers, I was devastated when Dorothy Johnson died in 1984 before I could make the trip to Montana to see her. I still have two of her letters tucked away as keepsakes, written on humorous stationery picturing Dorothy mounting a horse, her dog covering his eyes with his paws.

Miss Johnson is best known for three short stories that were adapted to film: “The Hanging Tree," which starred fellow Montanan Gary Cooper; “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” which partnered John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; and “A Man Called Horse,” which was so successful that several sequels followed.

A prolific writer of stories set in the frontier West, she also wrote novels, non-fiction books and articles. “Lost Sister” won the 1956 Spur Award from Western Writers of America as “Best Short Story” of the year. Well known for her painstaking research of the pre-1890s West, she often said she preferred the 19th century to the 20th, “because we know how it all came out.” In her novels of Plains Indian life, Buffalo Woman and All the Buffalo Returning, she wrote about the changes of both landscape and lifestyle that resulted from white settlement of the western U.S.

While a senior at Whitefish High School, class of ’22, she began her professional writing career, serving as a stringer for The Kalispell Daily Inter Lake. She attended Montana State College, later renamed Montana State University, to major in pre-med until she realized that she would have to dissect a cat. Transferring to the University of Montana, she majored in English and was taken under the wing of Professor H.G. Merriam, who founded The Frontier, a campus literary magazine, for which Dorothy contributed articles throughout her college years, switching form poetry to prose. She then worked for nine years at Gregg Publishing Company before joining the staff of The Woman magazine as managing editor and contributor under a number of pseudonyms.

In her free time she continued to write fiction. Her first sale was in 1930 to the Saturday Evening Post, which paid her $400 for a story about Bonnie George Campbell. It was eleven years before she sold another.

In 1950 she resigned her editorial post with The Woman to return to Whitefish as a reporter-photographer for The Whitefish Pilot, but confessed that her reporting skills were inadequate because she was too shy to interview people she didn't know. But during the years she served as secretary-manager of the Montana Press Association (1953–1967), her successes as a novelist continued to grow. She was also teaching at her alma mater as an assistant professor of journalism. She later worked in New York for 15 years as a magazine editor before returning to Big Sky Country in 1950, where she taught magazine writing at the University of Montana.

A 1982 Writer’s Digest article written by Kathy Crump described Dorothy Johnson as “Petite, animated, witty, crusty and feisty” as well as someone who didn’t "fit the rough-and-tumble image of a teller of tales about outlaws and Indians and cowboys," although she kept a pistol nearby when writing western short stories.

“There’s something about a Colt .44 beside the typewriter that inspires me,” she said.

Branching out into novels and historicals when the western short story markets began to dry up, she sold her antique pistol collection, including her Colt .44, but kept a .38 “hawg laig,” loaded with scattershot, which she used to clear rattlesnakes from her land in Rattlesnake Gulch on the outskirts of Missoula, Montana.

Not all her books were about the West. Three of her later books were about Greece, which she called her "heart's home." She visited the country five times and said she was "just mad about it." She was "overwhelmed" by the reception she received in Athens during the showing of the film "A Man Called Horse." She said, laughing, "To think a kid from Whitefish was speaking in Athens, the city of Pericles and Socrates and Plato. Of course, they weren't there anymore, so Athens had to take what it could get."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Writing is Easy...

By Beth Terrell

Gene Fowler once said, "Writing is easy. Just stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." Or how about Ben Hecht's, "Writing is easy. Just open a vein." We've talked a lot about how much fun writing is (and it is!). None of us seems to have too much trouble with writer's block. I have a dear friend, a brilliant writer, who has been unable to write creatively for years. I've been fortunate that, when I do get stuck, I can usually find a way through it pretty easily. I write fiction, which is a joy to me; if I wrote two books a year and never had another new idea, I would still be writing for the next fifty years. I sometimes get busy; I sometimes have to find my way through a section that isn't working; but I don't get blocked.

But this week, I've had a very specific type of writer's block: Blogger's Block. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has it, since when I thought I'd coined the name and Googled it, I got 44,000 hits. That's a lot of blockage.

Take yesterday for example. I spent much of the day coming up with and discarding ideas. At 8:00, I sat down in front of my computer fully intending to write my blog post a day ahead of time. At 11:30, when I had to go to bed because I had to get up and travel, I still had a blank title box and "By Beth Terrell" in the composition box. Not an auspicious beginning. Not a single idea had been able to gasp past the finish line.

Today, I my mom, brother, and I drove from Nashville to a little town just north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (we'll finish the last leg of our trip tomorrow). We checked into a Country Hearth Inn & Suites and ate at a nearby Italian restaurant (crab manicotti!). Then I came back to the room and pulled up the composition box again. No title. "By Beth Terrell." Bleh.

Took a shower while mom checked her email. Checked my own email and responded to the ones that couldn't wait. Made a couple of false starts on the blog entry and couldn't for the life of me think of anything to write that anybody would particularly want to read about. Checked email again and found a link from my sister-in-law to a video of a group of people at Dragoncon (a fantasy and sf convention) trying to break the world's record for the number of people dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in one place. The previous record was a 242 by students at William and Mary. Dragoncon had 902. Now this, I could not resist.

If you're the least bit curious to see zombies, Klingons, a man dressed as a giant silver glove, sort of tentacled creature with eyestalks, and a host of other costumed and plainclothes folks dancing in semi-unison to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," you can see it here:

I came back to the composition page refreshed and a great deal more amused. Made a couple more false starts. Chuckled about the Dragoncon dancers. Called my husband and complained that I couldn't think of anything to write that anybody would want to read. Apparently, I'm in a funk. He said it didn't matter. Write anything. Just write something.

This is the something, and the point of it is, my husband is a wise man. I often meet writers who say they would love to write if...They would write if only...They have this great idea, but...How do I start? What do I do? What if a publisher won't buy it? What if no one reads it?

The answer is always the same. Just write something.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Worthy Cause

By Mark W. Danielson

A recent People magazine I was thumbing through at a doctor’s office carried a story about a noteworthy organization that concerns every author and reader. The Oasis Coalition “seeks to support, empower, and give voice to the homeless and poor of Boston.” They do this through a book club, now in its 10th month, which began with an unlikely friendship between two men from different worlds: Peter Resnik, a high-powered lawyer on his way to work, and Rob, a homeless man guarding a friend’s shopping cart on Boston Common. The Bostom Globe’s Jenna Russell best describes this coalition in the following paraphrased story: (The complete version is available at

This book club has proved its power to reach homeless people and build their confidence. Emboldened by its success, Ron Tibbetts, a Beacon Hill church deacon and longtime homeless outreach worker, has launched plans to replicate it. His new nonprofit group, the Oasis Coalition, aims to establish dozens of small social groups citywide, filling the gaps left by large, institutional programs that offer the homeless food and shelter but little or no personal connection.
When talk flows at the book club, the dynamic that emerges is pure and powerful. The members are equals, linked by what they read and respected for their insights. Their discussions, held at Swedenborgian Church on the Hill, are both a stimulus and a respite for people used to staying focused on survival - where to sleep and how to stay dry - rather than the themes and symbols of fiction.

To Peter Resnik, the downtown lawyer on his way to work, the homeless people he saw on the Common did not become real all at once. He talked to Rob and Rob’s friend Chris for months - often, in the beginning, about basketball - before he saw them as friends, and worked up the courage to ask whether they wanted to get off the streets.
The lawyer says he wasn’t on a philanthropic mission. He struggles to explain what it was that drew his interest. But day after day, talking with Rob and Rob’s friend, what he found was not what he expected. The homeless men kept up-to-date on sports and current events. They looked after each other, and watched out for others on the streets. And Rob, he discovered - Rob liked to read.

Resnik brought him a copy of “Water for Elephants,’’ a novel set during the Great Depression, about a veterinary student who joins a traveling circus. Then he brought him “The Kite Runner.’’ Standing on the Common, they talked about the books. And, there the idea for the book club was born.

Resnik buys the books, Rob makes the coffee, and Tibbetts leads the discussions and recruits readers, toting extra volumes in his backpack when he roams the streets. Because their lives are unstable, the roster of participants is always changing. The club has included people staying in shelters and with friends, and others given rooms through city or state programs. The number has ranged from four or five to a dozen.

For Rob, the unexpected friendship he forged on the Common has been transformative. When Resnik learned that an old traffic ticket had blocked his homeless friend from getting a room through the city, he drove him to a court in Palmer, where he represented him pro bono and resolved the case. Because of that kindness, Rob is off the streets. He has found a part-time job as a church custodian and volunteers his time serving meals to homeless people.
Resnik, meanwhile, is helping to raise money to replicate the book club.

“You can walk by somebody who you know is going to ask you for a buck, but if you know their name, you can’t walk by,’’ the lawyer said. “You can’t sleep comfortably if someone you know is sleeping outside.’’

Jenna Russell can be reached at

I will be donating seven copies of each my books to this organization and hope other authors will do the same. If you're not an author, then how about donating some of your best sellers that are just gathering dust? If everyone does this, there should be enough duplicate books to make this work. With winter fast approaching, it’s even more important that these people have a sense of worth. Books can be mailed to The Oasis Coalition of Boston, c/o Ron Tibbetts, 140 Bowdoin St., Boston, MA 02108

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting Re-Acquainted with Characters

By Chester Campbell

An interesting facet of series writing is dealing with characters who wander in and out of the stories as the protagonists face a variety of circumstances. I’m working on the fifth book in my Greg McKenzie series, about a retired Air Force OSI agent and his wife, and the Gannons have just turned up again. They took a prominent role in the first couple of books as Greg and Jill McKenzie’s best friends. After a minor role in book three, they pulled a disappearing act in the last one.

It wasn’t anything planned. The story just moved in a way that didn’t call for any interaction with the folks who normally make contact with my main characters, particularly on weekends. My books take place on a pretty tight schedule, usually over a span of no more than a week. If the action doesn’t call for a little leisure activity, close friends get crowded out.

The Gannons, Sam and Wilma, took a prominent role in Secret of the Scroll as fellow travelers on the Holy Land tour where the trouble began. A retired Air Force pilot, Sam helped plan the trip for their Sunday School class. It was a mix-up that left the “souvenir” scroll at the Gannons' house that resulted in Jill’s being taken hostage by local cohorts of a Palestinian terrorist group.

In the second book, Designed to Kill, the Gannons' son died at Perdido Key, Florida in what police chose to call a suicide. Sam asked Greg to go down and try to find what really happened. As you might guess, it wasn’t suicide. But it was that investigation, and Jill’s participation in it, that led to the establishment of McKenzie Investigations shortly before the opening of book three, Deadly Illusions.

The Gannons played a minor role in Illusions, but the next book, The Marathon Murders, moved at such a pace that they got squeezed out. It involved a character who played a crucial role in the latter part of Secret of the Scroll. I suppose it’s a case of having room to deal with only one close friend at a time.

The new book, as yet unnamed, takes place around Christmastime. My characters, being good church-goers, take a break from the current case to attend the Sunday School class Christmas Party, part of which takes place at the Gannons' home. I have no idea how it will affect the plot. It will be as much of a surprise to me as to anybody. My current task is to re-introduce Sam and Wilma with enough background to satisfy new readers to the series without boring those who’ve been around from the start.

As a side note, the ranks of those starting with the first book grows each time I do a signing with all of my backlist on the table. Two people bought all four McKenzie books last Saturday when I signed at the Cheatham County Public Library. Ya gotta love those folks.

And it’ll be interesting getting re-acquainted with the Gannons.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Judge Rules

by Ben Small

I'm often asked, "What's the best self defense gun?"

And I always answer, "A shotgun." Regardless of guage or load, the answer is always the same. Well, not always. What if that shotgun is a revolver...?

What a concept.

Enter The Judge, a revolver so-named because of the number of judges who want one. Well, not just judges... Seems this is the hottest handgun in its distinguished maker's history. Yes, Taurus, one of the biggies.

Why so special? Why such demand? Because this revolver shoots both .410 shotgun shells and .45 Long Colts, a load for every villain.

Consider the possibilities. Want to scare somebody half to death, cause them unbelievable pain, yet not hurt them permanently? Load a shell with rock salt and aim low. Rock salt in the eye ain't funny.

So that's the first shot.

For an encore, try bird shot. At close range this will do great damage. At ten feet or more, assuming no BBs in the eye, the damage with be painful but not deadly.

Still doesn't get the hint, go for a more of a cross between bird and buck. More damage here, devastating up close.

Still coming on? Give him a load of full buckshot, each pellet a nine millimeter missile. That can finish a guy off at twenty feet or more.

At greater distances, one might want to go the .45 Long Colt route, or maybe, if you can handle the recoil, a slug. These rounds can be used for hunting.

The Judge comes in stainless steel or black, in regular two-and-a-half inch shells or three inch magnums.

Is it any wonder this gun is so popular with judges? A judge subject to a wild-eyed charge by an enraged party or the party's obnoxious lawyer, can apply variable and increased force, fend off the attack and instill abject fear in everyone watching the proceedings.

This is not a delicate gun. It does not go bang discretely.

Imagine the recoil when a shotgun shell goes off in a handgun with a three inch barrel.

Ouch. Shake that thing out.

But in truth, the perceived recoil is less than expected. That's because Taurus has applied a soft rubber grip to the revolver, and because the thing is heavy. In a pinch, this gun makes a good club.

And to make this cannon even more fearsome, consider that it's also available in its Tracker version, which is the same thing, just longer. A barrel six-and-a-half inches long. Carry that baby on the trail, and you'll get attention. But really, I don't see much reason for the longer barrel. Sure you get slightly better accuracy and less recoil, but how do you lift the thing?

These handguns are so popular that Federal, one of the largest ammo makers, has come out with a Premium line of shotgun shells... just for these guns. Now if you know your market theory, know about the costs of research and development, you know you must sell gobs of product to cover your costs and grow. These guns have been out for about four years, the three inch magnum versions less than a year. But already Federal is making special shells for them.

That's demand.

Me, I've got the "smaller" version, the two-and-a-half inch chamber version with the three inch barrel. I'm giving that revolver to my brother-in-law, a judge. He hearts it bigtime. And I'm buying the three inch chambered version. Not the longer Tracker, though. That's overkill.

Statistics show that most gun fights occur at close range. You may be outnumbered, and you will have to make quick decisions. The Judge gives you a number of options, progressive ones, selective self defense.

Or you can take it hunting. The Judge's got that covered, too.

Take this gun on the trail, or put it in your car -- assuming your laws permit. The Judge makes short work of car-jackers. Just don't select The Judge for everyday concealed carry... unless you're putting it on wheels.

For a video about The Judge, check out this: Taurus Judge

Or watch Kevin Bacon wheel The Judge in Death Sentence. Steel bathroom doors? They stand no chance.

Better yet, give this gun to your perp or protag in your next novel.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fame, Fortune and Chapter One

By Pat Browning

Writing. What’s it all about? Dozens of books will tell you how to do it, but nobody can do it for you. Sure, you can hire a ghostwriter, but then it’s not really your book, is it?

Advice? I have some advice for anyone starting to write a first book.

1.Don't take rejection personally, just keep working on it. Quoting Sue Grafton, who spoke at a conference in Boise a few years ago: "The free world does not hang in the balance. You are only writing a book."

2.Talent, like murder, will out, but be prepared to wait. What I heard repeatedly when I started was, "Don't give up your day job." If you’re addicted to food and shelter, that’s good advice.

3.Write for the thrill of it, and what you learn from it. Quoting Holly Lisle in HOW TO FINISH A NOVEL: "Write what you love, not 'what sells.' ... What you will not do for love, you should not do for money."

Plan and plot? I swear, one of these days I'm going to try that. Maybe then I'll write a best seller. In the meantime ... Settings usually present themselves, because I love places. Characters seem to arrive, probably from my lifelong love of people watching. That’s it. I can't plot my way out of a paper bag. After I've done pages and pages of drafts I start thinking, what will I do with this mess?

Recently, I enrolled in "Discovering Story Magic," an online workshop presented by Robin Perini and Laura Baker through A story board I made for my work-in-progress is marked off like a calendar, with yellow sticky notes for First Turning Point, Second Turning Point, Third Turning Point, and Fourth Turning Point ( Black Moment, and Realization). It keeps me on track.

Nothing, but nothing, inspires me like reading a good book. Some of my favorite authors may or may not struggle to get those words on paper, but for reading enjoyment it’s best not to look for sweat and tears between the lines. Better to accept it as magic.

I have too many favorite books to list but here are four.

NICE TRY by Shane Maloney (2001 Arcade Publishing, First published in Australia in 1998)
Maloney wraps social commentary around a mystery featuring Murray Whelan, a political dogsbody in Melbourne, Australia. Recruited to help with the government's bid to host the Summer Olympics, he ends up trying to outwit an Aboriginal activist while investigating the death of a promising young triathlete.

SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI by Naomi Hirahara (Bantam 2004)
Mas Arai is an aging California gardener who harbors a secret going all the way back to Hiroshima before the A-bomb dropped. There is a murder, but the story belongs to Mas and the way he puts his long-held secret to rest.

THE SIXTEENTH MAN by Thomas B. Sawyer (iUniverse 2001)
Sawyer weaves together parallel lines of history and present time, with an intriguing JFK assassination angle and the best "what if" ending ever. Sawyer was head writer and co-producer of the TV show MURDER SHE WROTE so he knows how to keep a story moving.

PLAY MELANCHOLY BABY by John Daniel (Perseverance Press 1986)
In 1977, lounge pianist Casey Jones tickles the ivories for customers who love the songs of The Great Depression and World War II. Then a mystery woman yanks him back into a past he wanted to forget. It's a mystery in a time capsule, beautifully written.

Note: I found this blog while trying to clean up My Documents. I posted it six months ago, but it seems worth repeating. Hope you agree.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Irish Matchmaker Festival

by Jean Henry Mead

'Tis that month again in the Emerald Isle when matrimonial hopefuls have spouses chosen for them at the Matchmaker Festival in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare.

The ancient art of matchmaking has regained popularity not only in Ireland, but around the world. The custom of having a third party match people for marriage has gained new momentum and those looking for a perfect partner are also seeking the perfect Irish matchmaker.

Lisdoonvarna’s Willie Daly is the one who matches up the bachelors and bachelorettes. "The 65-year-old charmer is the third generation in his family to practice the art of matchmaking," according to the online bulletin, Irish Central.

“Willie has drawn on his extensive files, notebooks and ledgers, on his remarkable memory, and applied his highly attuned antennae to offer hope to the thousands who ply him with their details,” according to the Matchmaking Festival’s web site,

Those who are seeking matrimony make the pilgrimage to County Clare for the annual Matchmaking Festival. Touted as “Europe’s biggest singles festival,” the event began on August 28 in the world capital of matchmaking, the small, scenic Irish town of Lisdoonvarna.

The annual 5-6 weeks festival is one of Ireland's oldest traditions. Matchmakers were known to be found in nearly every Irish town for hundreds of years but the practice is now limited to the Matchmaker Bar in Lisdoonarna during the months of September and early October.

Although matchmaking services are available in Lisdoonvarna all year round, the Matchmaking Festival has been transformed into an event more about music, dance and good old-fashioned "Irish debauchery."

During September, the dances take place from noon each day until the wee hours of the following morning. There are also fortune tellers who reveal hopeful lovers' fates, Irish set dancing exhibitions and live Irish music in most of the local taverns.

September has always been a traditional month for matchmaking because it was then that harvests were stored and bachelor farmers traveled to County Clare in search of a wife.

Lisdoonvarna is a small spa town on Ireland's west coast, 250 km from Dublin and 35 km from Ennis. Inhabited by some one thousand residents, the population swells each September to nearly 40,000 romantic hopefuls. A now-defunct music festival, which took place near the town until the early 1980s, is currently celebrated in a song of the same name, written by Irish folk singer, Christy Moore.

The present town is a comparatively new one by Irish standards, dating mainly from the eighteenth century. Lisdoonvarna developed as a tourist center when a Limerick surgeon discovered the beneficial effects of the area's mineral water, which is rich in magnesium, sulphur and iron. The water's curative ingredients were purported to provide relief from symptoms of various diseases such as rheumatism and glandular fever.

There are no guarantees that you'll find a mate in Lisdoovarna, but there are those who have attended the festival who will tell you that while enjoying the craic, they found their perfect mate. If you find yours, please let us know.

If you're interested in attending the event, you can call the Irish Tourist Board at 1-800-223-6470 or Marcus White at the Hydro Hotel, Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland at 011-353-65-74405; Fax 011-353-65-74406. You can travel there by air, landing at Shannon Airport. Bus connections can then be made via Ennis or Limerick.

Happy matchmaking!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It Was an Honor, But Not a Lifetime

By Mark W. Danielson

Everyone has had defining moments in their lives. One of my most memorable was escorting my daughter through the bullets at my Navy retirement ceremony. Whenever I reflect on this photo, I’m taken back to that special day when heavy thunderstorms failed to deter a room full of people dear to me; most importantly being my father and my children. Smiling proudly, my older daughter carried two flower bouquets; hers and her younger sister’s, who was too shy to take the march with me. It was so great having them there.

But as much as I love this photo, the honors bestowed upon me on that August 1995 afternoon remind me of how quickly time flies. The shadow box presented to me which contains my rank, silver Air Force wings, gold Navy wings, medals, ribbons, and the American flag that flew over the base I helped establish, sits on my office shelf next to the above photo. On the opposite side sits the wood-encased Texas flag the Navy Chiefs presented to me. The A-4 model a civilian gave me stands next to the shadow box. Behind that is the General Dynamics Lifetime Achievement Award another civilian gave me. I wish I could say that I deserved all this praise, but every officer knows it’s the people you work with who truly earned these awards.

Not a day has gone by when I haven't thought about that Lifetime Achievement Award, for I have barely scratched the surface of what I hope to accomplish. Such awards normally come when you have one foot in the grave; not when you’re in your early forties. Whatever I’ve accomplished or works that I’ve published belong to my past. As such, I rarely give them much thought. Instead, I concentrate on my current projects while contemplating new ones. In writing, this method keeps me creative. In flying, staying focused keeps me safe.

In eight years I will be forced to retire from the airlines, and I’m sure that time will fly faster than the space shuttle. I have no idea what I’ll accomplish between now and then, but one thing’s for sure; my inevitable retirement from professional flying will allow more time for writing and painting. In that regard, I say, bring it on for I still have a lot of living to do.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How Writers Come Up with All That Stuff

By Chester Campbell

I was talking with a friend about my books the other day, and she said, “I don’t know how you come up with all this stuff you write about. You must have a really vivid imagination.”

Just for the heck of it, I looked up the definition of “vivid.” Among its meanings are:

Full of the vigor and freshness of immediate experience; evoking lifelike images within the mind; heard, seen, or felt as if real: a vivid description. I suppose that pretty well sums up where it all comes from. What we mystery writers write about is the sum of all the things we have experienced, things we’ve heard, seen, and felt. It’s the product of the stuff that builds up in our minds over a lifetime. The longer we live, the more of it there is.

Should I want to describe a sunset, all I have to do is think back over the hundreds of such phenomena I’ve witnessed. Skipping the first ten years of my life, when I wasn’t thinking a lot about sunsets, and allowing only one a month the rest of the time, that would give me nearly 900 to choose from. One I recall vividly (there’s that word again) took place over the Eastern Mediterranean one November evening in 1998 as I watched from the balcony of a beachside hotel in Netanya, Israel. As the sun sank slowly toward the churning sea, through a bank of dark clouds, streaks shot up like flames, turning the sky a blazing red. I sat entranced and watched until the shimmering ball disappeared as if swallowed by the waves.

A lot of what comes out when we sit at the keyboard involves our unique take on things we’ve read about in newspapers, books, magazines. A story about a disastrous balcony collapse in a hotel got me thinking how it might happen at a high-rise condo. The result was the opening scene in Designed to Kill, where two people are killed when a poorly constructed balcony falls.

A neighbor mentioned her visit to the restored plant and office building of a long-defunct auto manufacturer in Nashville. When I made a similar visit, I saw things in a different light, and The Marathon Murders became a reality.

Imagination is a major factor in the process. Without the curiosity to take a set of circumstances and consider what might have been had things occurred a bit differently, these stories wouldn’t have taken shape. All these words seemingly pouring out from nowhere may sound like magic to a non-writer, but they’re all part of a day’s work in transferring those imaginative images onto the page.

Set up a situation, put some characters into it, and turn them loose. It helps to have a vocabulary nurtured over the years by continuous reading and listening to others. Some few authors have an innate ability to shape their ideas into striking patterns of language. The rest of us spend years working on ways to give our prose the extra oomph that we hope will put us in that elite category.

Let’s celebrate our imaginations and continue to give them a good workout. Provide the readers with a good story and take a bow.