Saturday, October 31, 2009

Robert Fate: Making His Own Luck, Part 1

2007 photo of Robert (Fate) Bealmear, Pat Browning and Fern Bealmear at Full Circle Books, Oklahoma City.

By Pat Browning

Robert Fate published BABY SHARK when he was 70. Got more than 60 rejections before Capital Crime Press picked it up in 2006. Characters: unforgettable. Writing: superb. It knocked my socks off.

BABY SHARK was an Anthony Award finalist at Bouchercon 2007, and was optioned by the producer Brad Wyman in the spring of 2008 to become a motion picture. A screenplay adapted from the book is scheduled to be in production by mid-2010. So much for those 60+ rejections.

Here’s a copy of the review I posted to DorothyL:
BABY SHARK is set in 1952 and begins with a massacre in a Texas pool hall.

Teen-aged Kristen sees her father murdered. She herself is beaten, gang raped and left for dead. The only other survivor is the pool hall owner, Henry Chinn, whose son is among the victims.

When Kristen is well enough to leave the hospital, Henry takes her to his farm to recuperate, and to keep her safely out of sight if the killers go looking for witnesses.

Henry's a gem, generous, shrewd and practical. He gives her a pistol to put under her pillow with instructions: "Point, pull trigger." He also knows some interesting people. When Kristen decides to avenge her father's death Henry hires a PI and calls in two trained killers as her teachers.

There's Sarge, a construction foreman who had parachuted into France on D-Day. His job is to teach Kristen fight strategy and body movement and the use of concealed hand weapons. His advice: "Look vulnerable.Never let them see your confidence."

There's Albert, a part-Comanche Marine who lost a leg in Korea and came home with medals. He's fast with a pistol. He says: "Tell lies with your eyes, Little Sister. ... give them a smile when they don't expect it, anything so they don't watch your hands."

Finally Harlan, her father's pool-hustling buddy, arrives to turn Kristen into Baby Shark. He tells her: "Show nothing. A poker face is the best face in a pool hall."

How they plan for and carry out their revenge, aided by a handful of trusted associates, kept me turning the pages. It's a cracking good story about the dish best served cold, but it seems to me that there's a secondary theme as well.

Kristen realizes that she's being trained to "kill without conscience." It's a case of kill or be killed, or walk away and live with it, which she will not do.

Sarge says, "It's just a job, Little Miss, and whoever does the best job gets to go home. Going home. That's the incentive."

I closed the book wondering if Sarge and Albert represent those who are called to war and learn the art of killing without pity, or if they represent everyone, with survival instincts built in at the start of human history and always lying close to the surface.

Fate grew up in Oklahoma City. When he and his wife Fern came to OKC’s Full Circle Bookstore in 2007 to launch his second book, BABY SHARK’S BEAUMONT BLUES, he was greeted by a hometown crowd.

Since then he has written three more books in the series, with tentative plans for a sixth to be published in 2011. His stand-alone, KILL THE GIGOLO, a contemporary noir novel, will be published in 2010.

Fate just e-mailed a letter to his “Oklahoma buds” in response to questions about his series, how he got started, how he’s progressing, and the realities of publishing, awards and marketing.

Some of the revelations surprised me, honest comments, for example, that sometimes he sells only 5 or 6 books at a signing. In contrast, a best-selling author like Lee Child sells a book somewhere in the world every 6 minutes. There are 49 glowing reviews on Fate’s web site, but he is still working toward a backlist. With his permission, I am posting his letter tomorrow (Sunday) as Part 2.

In back and forth e-mails, Fate added this about Lee Child and marketing:

“I was at an event where he spoke to an audience of 200+ mystery readers. He asked them to be honest about how many had ever read one of his books and maybe two dozen hands went up. He said he wasn't surprised and that's when he mentioned how his books were selling around the world. He said the lesson to any writer of mystery was that the marketing never stops … If you want to disappear as an author, quit marketing, quit contacting people, be too busy to go out and meet bookstore owners or go to conventions, and you'll get your wish.”

Fate’s crime writing career is just the latest chapter in a colorful life. Here’s his bio from his web site:
I'm a Marine Corps veteran who lived in Paris, studied at the Sorbonne, and can mangle the French language with the best of them. In my murky past, I have worked as an oilfield rough neck on a Texaco rig in Northeastern Oklahoma and a TV cameraman in Oklahoma City.

I was a fashion model in New York City for a few years to earn a living while I co-authored a stage play with my buddy Don Chastain. We never sold it. I was a project manager and later a sales exec in Las Vegas after working as a chef in a Los Angeles restaurant, where Gourmet Magazine asked for my Gingerbread recipe -- actually, it was my grandmother's recipe.

Along the way, I owned a company that airbrushed flowers on silk for the garment industry, and then I wrote scripts for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. With the support and encouragement of Bruce Cook, a good friend, I produced an independent feature film. As a Hollywood special effects technician, I won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement.

I live in Los Angeles with my wife Fern, a yoga enthusiast and ceramic artist. Our fabulous daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. We have a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

The books in my crime series are: BABY SHARK; Baby Shark's BEAUMONT BLUES; Baby Shark's HIGH PLAINS REDEMPTION; and Baby Shark's JUGGLERS AT THE BORDER. Some think of my writing as hard-boiled. Personally, I believe I write cozies with a few brutal murders. It's all point of view, isn't it?

You can download a free copy of BABY SHARK’S BEAUMONT BLUES at Fate’s web site:

Tomorrow: Robert Fate: Making His Own Luck, Part 2.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Writing in Solitude

by Jean Henry Mead

Now that I’m living on a mountain top, I can call myself a solitary writer. Compared to my fomer life in Los Angeles, it’s like living on another planet and I enjoy it immensely.

Gregg Lavoy said in his book, This Business of Writing, that “solitude gives us our best connection to the world, since writing is the way we connect, and writing for most writers only happens in solitude. It is, in fact, the fountainhead of a writer’s creativity, the silence out of which the art is born.” Or as the poet Rainer Rilke once said, “Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.”

I wonder how that applies to those who write on the train while commuting to work or on a plane during an intercontinental flight. It certainly doesn’t apply to news reporters who write to daily deadlines before the paper is put to bed. I can certainly testify to that. I’ve always said that journalists can write in the midst of a traffic jam, but how much would their work improve without the general chaos of a newsroom?

Andrew Storr wrote in his book, Solitude, “that for creative people their significant moments are those in which they attain some new insight, or make some new discovery, and those moments are chiefly, if not invariably, those in which they are alone.”

Some writers have created books while in prison. Sir Walter Raliegh, for example, penned his The History of the World while imprisoned for twelve years in the Tower of London. But too much solitude can result in a disconnect with society at large. Writers need feedback and that doesn’t happen until someone reads their work, whether or not it’s published.

If a fledgling is unable to gain feedback from even friends or family, Lavoy says they can give it to themselves by placing the manuscript in a drawer for a week before taking it out to read as though it were someone else's work. “When you come back to it, with renewed objectivity, you can see where it leaks.” Good advice although I feel a month is even better.

The lonely writer has benefited greatly since the birth of the Internet although too many writers forums, blog sites and social networks can cut deeply into one’s writing time. Communication with other people who speak our language is important, if carefully scheduled.

An old Hebrew proverb says that God created people because He loves stories. He may even have created support groups because these stories can’t be told to just anyone. Writers’ support groups are comprised of people who can empathize and “swap juices” as Mark Twain once said. But, as Lavoy warns, “Make sure it’s your own work that emerges from writers’ support groups and not a group effort."

We're currently snowed in with an accumulation of two feet on the level, if you can find a flat area, and up to six feet of snowdrifts surrounding the house. I now know what novelist Loren Estleman meant when he said that he did his best writing when the snow was deepest around his old Michigan farmhouse. There are certainly few distractions.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Those Elusive Reviews

By Beth Terrell

Awhile back, Jean mentioned a famous author who sent out 50 review books. He attributed much of his book's success to this. Then Chester, one of my heroes, told me he'd done the same. Thus armed with advice from Those Who Are In the Know, I obtained 50 review copies and proceeded to search for 50 places to send them.

It's not as easy as it sounds. I got off to a quick start, because Chester kindly gave me a few names and addresses, and as always, I shamelessly dropped his name. Then I added to my list by Googling "mystery reviews" and "mystery reviewers" and also by offering ARCs (Advance Review Copies) to the first five people on the DorothyL list who emailed me asking for one. One, Theresa de Valence, wrote a lovely review and posted it to the listserve. Our own Pat Browning was kind enough to read a copy and give a review. My list grew, then shrunk as I went to review sites only discover that some were defunct, some only reviewed books by the BIG SIX, some only reviewed books published by Lulu or Createspace, some had long lists of reviews but no discernible way of submitting books, and so on. I searched for more, and my list grew again. I sent emails to some Amazon reviewers and one to a reviewer I found on Books'n'Bytes. All of them bounced, sending me scrambling for more recent email addresses. Many of the sites and reviewers I queried simply never replied. Maybe they have a backlog and will get to me eventually.

On the other hand, I checked back on the Thrilling Detective site and found my protagonist, Jared McKean, listed under "Detectives M-Z." That was a serious thrill, especially when I clicked on the link and read, a very nice review that began, "This Nashville cat just may be worth watching." Sending a thank-you note to the reviewer immediately went on my to-do list.

By the way, Chester's Greg and Jill McKenzie are there too, but Sid Chance isn't on the list yet.

Within a few weeks, I'm sure I'll have sent out 50 or more review copies. Will it make a difference? Well, it certainly couldn't hurt. With each online review, my search engine stock goes up. It's even better if I link to the reviews, and better still if I can find some kindly folks to link back to me. My husband thinks I'll be lucky if I ever reach a point where I make as much from my books as I spend trying to promote them. He may be right. Personally, I'd love to move comfortably into the black. But the only way to get there will be to build a readership one Tweet, one Facebook post, one review, one precious reader at a time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Man of Two Faces

By Mark W. Danielson

I always love Jean Henry Mead’s interviews because they introduce us to known as well as lesser-known people. So, for this week, I decided to highlight a misunderstood and brilliant historical figure – Genghis the Great, a man known more as a barbarian than a statesman. A master strategist, he created his empire by uniting warring tribes of the Central Asian steppes, melding his defeated foes into his own forces. Just the mention of his name stuck terror as he advanced his army, turning towns into wastelands. As incredible as it seems, CNN and The Washington Post recently voted Genghis Khan “The Man of the Millennium.” From an impoverished, illiterate and isolated youth, Genghis Khan rose to become the most powerful man of his time. In time, his descendants would build the largest contiguous land empire the world has ever known.

I learned much about this man during a recent visit to the Denver Natural History Museum. Genghis Khan, the exhibit, was developed by Don Lessem, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This travelling display incorporated historical treasures from many lenders including the National Museum of Mongolian History, the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, the National Library of Mongolia, the Military Museum of Mongolia, the Dornod Province Museum in Mongolia, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Kooros and Gotuaco families, the Xinhuan Collection, and Arthur Leeper. Museum guests experience life in 13th-century Mongolia, entering the tents, battlegrounds, and marketplaces of a vanished world. The informative display gives a sense of Genghis Khan’s life and those of his sons and grandsons during the formation, peak, and decline of the Mongol Empire. There are many interactive, family-friendly activities, as well as live cultural performances by traditional Mongolian singers and musicians. Some two hundred rare treasures from 13th-century Mongolia illustrate Khan’s rein, including gold jewelry and ornaments, silk robes, musical instruments, pottery, sophisticated weaponry, and other fascinating artifacts.

Near the end of the exhibit, a short film details Khan’s conquests in a different light. Recent population studies have discovered that over three million men share Genghis Khan’s DNA. This was determined by the genetic material on the “Y” chromosome, which is passed from father to son, intact, so this lineage is with near certainty. Not only did Khan conquer the world, he also helped to populate it through his six wives, five hundred concubines, and first choice of women in townships he conquered.

As one of the world’s most visionary geniuses, Genghis Khan created a nation, a language, religious and political freedoms, a post office, the original Pony Express, diplomatic immunity, a network of international toll roads and a host of other innovations. His military organization was ahead of its time, appointing his best warriors as officers as opposed to maintaining the family hierarchy. It is remarkable that all these innovations sprang from the mind of an illiterate outcast.

Genghis Khan's laws for society and guidelines for personal behavior were communicated through a book of commandments he called the Yasa. The word “yasa” means “order, decree,” but it is much more. It is considered one of the most comprehensive codes of law and morality ever developed. Don Lessem paraphrases these commandments in his booklet, The Wit and Wisdom of Genghis Khan. Khan’s rules not only demonstrate exemplary leadership, but also timeless wisdom. Here are a few of his guidelines.

Religion: Even dying I never forget these highest words: let the Eternal Heaven decide. Destiny is determined by the Eternal Heaven.

Khan believed in God and tolerated all religions. His beliefs in Buddhism and later Taoism had no impact on whatever god his followers chose to worship. Our Forefathers also believed in God and tolerated all religions, and yet today there are movements to remove all references of God from our currency, schools, and politics.

Hygiene: Whoever urinates into water or ashes is also to be put to death. Do not dip hands into water, but use some vessel for the drawing of water. Do not wash clothes until they are completely worn out. Do not say anything unclean.

With the exception of not washing clothes, the rest remains sound advice today. I suppose if you smell like your horse, the enemy might not know you were nearby. Then again, it’s hard to hide thousands of men on horses. As for speaking clean, we seem to have completely lost sight of this notion.

Fiscal responsibility: Whoever takes goods on credit and becomes bankrupt, then again takes goods and becomes bankrupt, then takes goods again and yet again becomes bankrupt is to be put to death after the third time.

Imagine how few politicians would be alive today if our nation had adopted this law. Khan would never have tolerated our national deficit. It’s always interesting how the citizens of this country are expected to maintain a positive cash flow while their government keeps adding to the red.

Organization: Everything must be in its own place. A commander is to personally examine the troops and armament before going to battle, to supply the troops with everything they need for the campaign, and if any soldiers lack a necessary thing, that commander is to be punished.

Too often, our troops have been sent to war unprepared to face their enemy. Our war in Vietnam, and our current war in the Mideast prove that technological superiority is the right weapon for the campaign. I find it enlightening that Khan held his leaders so accountable for their troops.

Justice: Lies, theft, treachery, and adultery are forbidden, and one ought to love one’s neighbor as one’s self . . . Whoever violates these commands is to be put to death.

Again, one must wonder how many of our politicians would survive this commandment. As previously mentioned, it is clear that adultery did not apply to the one making the rules.)

Leadership: For a king it is a shame to not live up to his word. After having conquered . . . it is required to seek the way of mutual understanding. The state for citizens, citizens for the state. The king must be loyal to the state. Commanders must understand the fatigue and discomfort of their soldiers by experiencing it themselves.

These are some of Kahn’s most powerful words. No leader can successfully command an army from a position thousands of miles away, nor understand the hardships of their troops. Some of our worst failures have come from past presidents trying to do just that. A warrior to the end, Khan is rumored to have died on the battlefield.

Unity: The main base of building of the Mongolian state is . . . bringing together many nationalities in agreement.

Although this was the original doctrine of the United States of America, we have lost sight of it somewhere along the line. Two hundred years ago, immigrants came to build a new country. They did so through hard work and learning the common language. Too many of today’s immigrants wave their flags of origin rather than hail this nation’s colors, and make little attempt to learn our language. National pride is at an all-time low. Khan would have never allowed this to happen.

Relationships: My people I consider my children and my soldiers my brothers.

Every successful leader has shared this philosophy because triumph cannot come without the support of the people. George Washington was hailed as “god-like” because he led his troops into battle and later recognized his citizens as equals. No other president has achieved Washington’s success.

Although there are conflicting stories about his death, a hunting accident was thought to be the end of this great warrior. Buried somewhere in the far-off mountains of his childhood, legend has it that all living things along the route were killed, as was his cortege, so that no one could locate his grave site. To this day, his final resting place remains a mystery.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How I Came to Be a Murderer

By Chester Campbell

I participated in a murder mystery party game last Friday night at the Barnes & Noble store in Brentwood, TN. Robbie Bryan, the Community Relations Manager, had asked my help in getting some Sisters in Crime members to take part as suspects. I had never been to one of these events and had no idea what it was like. As it turned out, it was a lot of fun.
I don't recall the title of the game. It was something like Murder in the Vineyard (could have been Sour Grapes in the Vineyard). It took place at a California winery where the owner had disappeared five years before. His body had just been discovered beneath planks in the floor of the winery cellar. Being short on suspects, Robbie played one role along with me and four other mystery writers. Each of us had a booklet that described our character and included sample dialogue for three sets of comments or questions we would direct at one another, along with our replies as we tried to alibi out.

No one knew the identity of the murderer but Robbie and me. He had sent me an email advising that I would be the killer. I was Papa Vito, an old Italian (age 81, a little younger than me) who had been brought over many years ago to work in the vineyard by the victim's grandfather. I was resentful, but that was a clue I could not divulge unless asked directly. We were not supposed to lie  in answering the questions.

Robbie played a DVD that came with the game. On it a "Miss Bordeaux" introduced the game, then commented after each of the three sets of questions. The comments and questions brought out a variety of accusations against the characters, who included a cousin of the dead man and now operator of the winery, his sneaky wife, a rival vineyard owner, a Marilyn Monroe-type  former Hollywood star, and a German involved in shady business dealings.

At various points  in the dialogue, one of the characters would reveal a clue (included with our booklet) that would accuse someone of skullduggery. They included such things as handwritten notes that had been discovered. After the final round of dialogue, the audience was allowed to ask questions. Then Robbie took a vote on who everyone thought was the murderer. Opinions were varied. A couple of people picked me. Then he played the final part of the disk that revealed what had happened to the dead man.

The real purpose of the event was to advertise the interactive murder mystery games that could be purchased at the store. Robbie held a drawing and presented the game set to the winner. Besides all the materials, it included invitations and envelopes that could be sent to invite friends to the party. But as far as that game was concerned, the set given away was the last  one available.

The mystery game was quite entertaining and would be a great idea for a party with friends. Have you ever attended such an event? What did you think of it?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Picky, Picky

by Ben Small

Ever had a run-in with a pickpocket?

I'd seen them before, gangs of little kids harassing tourists in the streets of Florence or Naples, while others in their band slipped in and out, tugging at backpack zippers, brushing one's wallet pocket. My sister had fallen victim on a tube train in France when a crowd pushed together as the exit door jammed up. Someone slipped a hand inside my sister's backpack and removed her wallet and passport.

From all these experiences, I'd learned to keep my valuables in front cargo pockets, where buttons would serve as added protection.

And that may have helped... a bit.

So there I was in Split, Croatia, a nation usually crime-free, where cops are hard to find and usually not needed. A tour group was approaching as I was preparing to snap off one last picture of a fifteenth century sculpture high on the edge of a building on a narrow street corner. I wasn't getting the shadows right, and needed a position adjustment. Just a little to the right. But the tour group was closing in around me.

So I stepped back, hoping to let the tour group pass. I could take my time; we had three days left in Split. But like most tour groups, this one moved slowly, especially so in front of this sculpture. Seems most of them wanted shots of it, too.

There was a large man in front of me. Very large, about six feet, three hundred pounds. A wall of black clothing. And he was on my side of the tour group, pushing his way through, making slow but steady progress.

My eyes turned back to the sculpture and I drew a deep breath, a "be patient" breath, waiting for the group to pass. Meanwhile, the great black whale was pressing along on his way, still heading toward me, slightly to my rear. I stepped forward a bit, risked the small margin between myself and the tour group, hoping I'd given the man enough room for his girth.

But the man didn't try to step around me; he was walking through me. "Hey," I said, a bit peeved now. "Move over."

I had no idea if the man spoke English, and of course, I had no clue how to speak Hrvatski, the Croatian language. Sounded like a bunch of grunts to me.

The man kept pressing. I felt his girth surrounding me. I was losing my balance.

I stepped forward again, trying once more to get out of the man's way. I'm a big guy, six-foot-six, two hundred twenty-five pounds. But I was no match for this guy. He was pushing me along.

I felt pressure along my right leg, my wallet leg. I slid my hand around the side of my pants to my front cargo pocket for a reassuring pat to my wallet buttoned inside.

A man's hand was there, pulling my wallet out of my pants pocket. My hand met his, and I felt the rough rattlesnake skin of my wallet inside his beefy maw. I jerked down hard, and freed my wallet.

"Thief!" I yelled, and then I pushed. Not "pushed," really, sort of a hard shove. The man barely moved.

"You a$$-h%%e!" I bellowed. And then I struck. A hard thrust to his chest, aiming for his throat but striking his massive chest instead. The man's shirt was slick with sweat, and my hand slid up to his neck, and I thrust once more. The man went down in a pile, sliding off to his right.

I looked for a cop, but as usual, none were to be found. Another man came to me, a fat, older guy. He looked concerned. "What happened?" he said. He spoke with an American accent. I figured him for the tour guide.

"Pickpocket," I said, pointing down to the behemoth I'd felled. The perp had rolled under a cafe-style restaurant's retaining bar and was struggling to his feet. "Had his hand in my pocket and was pulling my wallet out."

I glanced over at my wife, who was on the other side of the tour group. She looked concerned.

The pickpocket was now on his feet, and scurrying. The tour guide charged after him. Briefly I thought of following, but I was in a strange country, didn't speak the language, and he was a native. How would the police react, especially when it was my word against his, and I had my wallet? I deferred.

The pickpocket exited the cafe portion of the restaurant, and hurried down the street away from us. The tour guide followed him, gaining. Just as the pickpocket turned the corner on the other side of the restaurant and was about to enter another street, the tour guide caught up with them. I couldn't hear the conversation, just some yelling. I saw the tour guide reach out, grab the man's shoulder, saw the pickpocket shrug the hand off violently. The tour guide backed off.

My wife broke through the remaining members of the tour group to stand by my side. "What happened?"

I told her, showed her how my cargo pants pocket was unbuttoned, showed her my wallet, still in my hand. By now, I was re-thinking everything, feeling a bit guilty I hadn't done the macho thing and gone after the pickpocket myself. Feeling even more guilty that the tour guide -- or someone I thought was the tour guide -- had felt obliged to go after the pickpocket while I'd stood there stunned. Well, I thought, trying to justify my lack of action, I had pushed the guy down, big though he was.

I told my wife what I was thinking.

"Are you crazy?" she said. Then she proceeded to give me reasons I should not have gone after the guy, a few of which hadn't yet dawned on me. Like the possibility the guy had a knife or gun. Or maybe he had an accomplice. Or maybe the cops, if any were around, were paid off and would be on his side.

My wife was right, of course. She's always right. Sometimes I'm a dummy. But every once in a while common sense takes over and I do the right thing. Besides, I'd kept my wallet, and I'd pushed the guy down.

Macho enough for me...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Once Upon a Time

By Pat Browning

The local library has been filled with kids this summer – story hours for toddlers and on up. What do you bet at least some of the storybooks began with those magic words “Once upon a time …”

Times change. Contemporary children’s books include that atrociously titled “Walter The Farting Dog.” Still, many if not most writers write in hopes of being read, and so they move with the times.

That’s one reason I hang onto writers like Jonathan Harrington and the late William Tapply. They write well, and their themes are thoughtful and timeless.

Harrington is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Troy University, Alabama. His most recent work is THE CLIMATE DIET: HOW YOU CAN CUT CARBON, CUT COSTS AND SAVE THE PLANET (2008). It’s listed “in stock” at

At the tail end of the 20th century he wrote three Danny O’Flaherty mysteries: THE DEATH OF COUSIN ROSE (1996), THE SECOND SORROWFUL MYSTERY (1999), and A GREAT DAY FOR DYING (2001). He began his series just in time to get on with Write Way publishing. Write Way signed up a lot of good writers and then went belly up.

About that time Harrington gave an interview to Charlotte Austin, in which he said:

“When I am gone, all that will be left are the stories I tried to tell in my writing. When the world is no more, all that will be left is a story that begins: Once upon a time a group of people lived on a place called Earth … We are writing the story of our existence. When everything else is gone, all that will remain is the story of who we were.”

Words to live by. Today we have computers and word processing software, but in a sense we are still drawing pictures on the walls of the cave, leaving proof of our existence and the way we see the world around us.

William Tapply, who died in July, had a writing career that was all over the map. Name a subject and he probably wrote about it. His more than 40 books included the Brady Coyne mystery series. My favorite is PAST TENSE, No. 18 in the series.

In my review I wrote: “The fact that I haven’t read the first 17 was not a problem. Tapply gets right into the story and moves it along so smoothly that I simply sat and read until I finished at 3 a. m.”

On March 31, 2007, Tapply posted this to DorothyL:
Subject: Why we read (and write) mysteries
1) Because they have actual plots.
2) Because some of our best writers are writing them.
3) Because they feature heroes and heroines and villains.
4) Because they conform to Joseph Campbell’s classic story formulation, and Aristotle’s, too.
5) Because they begin with a disruption of the status quo, descend into uncertainty, and end with the restoration of order, fulfilling our fantasies about real-world chaos.

In spite of publishing turmoil, this is a good time to be a writer. I need look no further than my first (and so far only) mystery for proof of that. I posted this to Helen Ginger’s blog in February and reprint it here with her blessing.
In December 2008, FULL CIRCLE by Pat Browning was revised and reissued by Krill Press as ABSINTHE OF MALICE.

It came out of the blue. It was a three-month ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl, and I'm still dizzy. Krill Press is a new small press in Oregon, with a multi-tasking publisher who puts the pedal to the metal. As in:

SEPT. 1, 2008 -- Krill Press was formed, more or less in the mind of said publisher, after the idea was kicked around in an Internet group we both belong to.

First bump in the road: He asked for a Synopsis of FULL CIRCLE, which I self-published in 2001, and also one for my half-finished second book, working title SOLSTICE. I started to sweat out that horror of horrors, the synopsis, for not one but two books.

SEPT. 6 -- Publisher said forget the synopses. He was reading FULL CIRCLE and liked it. He had already read the first three chapters of SOLSTICE on my web site.

SEPT. 14 -- Publisher loved FULL CIRCLE, suggested bringing out an "updated, refreshed 2nd edition" with a new title and new cover. Offered me an advance.

I fell over laughing when I read the proposed new title, ABSINTHE OF MALICE, and saw the jazzy, sexy new cover proposed. But the more I thought about it, the better I liked it. We jumped right into proposed changes and details of a business relationship.

SEPT. 17 - We signed a two-year contract for publication in trade paperback, E-book and other electronic download formats, and Amazon's Kindle.

SEPT. 24 - Advance check. I printed out a copy suitable for framing.

Second bump in the road: Publisher wanted manuscript by E-mail, in Word. I couldn't find my computer file anywhere. I did have a printout of my iUniverse proof sheet from 2001. Nothing to do but make a new Word file by scanning in that proof sheet, one page at a time. More than 200 pages, one - page - at - a - time.

OCT. 26 - Publisher finished book block and e-mailed it to me for proofing. Last minute updating of cover blurbs and reviews for Krill Press web site, which was still under construction.

NOV. 3 - Book uploaded to printer (Lightning Source). Publisher signed contracts with Lightning Source and Ingram Book Group to have book distributed in Canada, the UK and Europe.

NOV. 6 - Lightning Source sent proof copy to publisher via UPS 2nd Day Air. Publisher made plans for virtual launch party on NETDRAG podcast.

NOV. 7 - Pursuant to my notice of cancellation of contract, iUniverse gave me written acknowledgment and washed their hands of it. It's no longer listed on their web site.

Ongoing blip: FULL CIRCLE is still listed for sale by online booksellers and will be until they get rid of their last copy. If I could afford it, I would buy them all up.

DEC. 4 - I had copies of my brand new book on hand for a book signing at the local library.

Krill Press is promoting ABSINTHE OF MALICE in every known market. It's displayed on Google Books, as far afield as an Italian library. has it displayed for sale in the UK, Germany, France, China, Japan ... It's print-on-demand but the publisher, bowing to marketplace realities, offers a heavy discount to bookstores and makes it returnable. He's sending sell sheets and queries to Internet book review sites.

The publisher is doing his share and then some. I'm more of a hand-seller: "Pssst! Wanna buy a good book?"

It's an ill wind, as the saying goes. Having to scan the book a page at a time gave me a chance to polish it up, tighten it up, and generally shape it up. It also gave me a chance to rewrite a couple of key scenes.

One has to do with my protagonist, Penny Mackenzie, a baby boomer whose first love shows up after a long absence. I had written her as a bit of a schlump, in a rut. The publisher picked up on a short scene where she whacks off her hair and throws her dowdy duds into a wastebasket. He took it a step further, seeing her as a woman whose long-suppressed vanity reappears when her old flame shows up. I rewrote the scene to fit the sassy, sexy new book cover.

The other has to do with DNA testing of an old bone. When I wrote the book in 1999-2001, DNA testing was fairly new. I misinterpreted a news article I read about a portable DNA machine developed by the military for battlefield use. Since then I've learned that DNA from old bones is mitochondrial DNA, passed down only through female ancestors. The test destroys the bone, making it impossible for a character to run it through a portable machine and then replace it in the police department's evidence room. I feel a lot better for having rewritten the scene to reflect the differences in DNA, keeping a character from subjecting an old bone to the wrong kind of testing.

While all this was going on, my work-in-progress was shoved to one side. Now I'm picking up where I left off. Touching base with a friend, I mentioned that finishing the second book is essential to the success of the first one. His e-mail reply is taped to my computer monitor.

He wrote: "And if I were you I'd finish that second book. There's only so much promotion you can do without turning into a used-car salesman, and there's hardly anything worse than a used-car salesman who only has one car to sell."
Note: Krill Press has grown rapidly in its first year. There are 3 books in its catalog, a new one coming out in November and another in December. Check out the web site at:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Writer's Retreat

By Beth Terrell

I'm writing this post in my favorite writer's getaway, a cabin in the mountains not far from Gatlinburg. There's a fire burning in the fireplace and a mug of hot chocolate on the coffee table, and if I step out on the back deck, I can see a waterfall shimmering in the moonlight. I take a deep breath and smell damp leaves and burning cedar, the slight chlorine smell of the hot tub on the deck. It's the perfect writer's retreat, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to come here whenever I like.

Yesterday, my writer's retreat was a little bungalow on the beach. My bare toes curled into sand still warm from the afternoon sun, and when I licked my lips, I felt and tasted the grit of salt. Tomorrow, I think I'll write on a houseboat on the lake. The day after, a cottage in Scotland.

Money is no object, not because I'm wealthy enough to rub elbows with Bill Gates, but because I carry my writer's retreat with me wherever I go. As a figment of my imagination, it's whatever and wherever I want it to be. I can close my eyes and summon up the sights, smells, textures, and tastes. A crisp apple, a bowl of steaming oatmeal sprinkled with melting brown sugar, a threadbare quilt smelling of lavender.

This ability to conjure up a total sensory experience is good for more than creating imaginary cabins. It's what makes it possible for a writer to bring a setting to life. Does your character, pursued by a killer, plunge through an overgrown meadow? Can you feel the tall grass whipping across her legs? Feel her heart pounding? Can you smell rain in the air, hear the killer panting behind her? Can you bring that experience to life for your reader?

Through the magic of words, you can. You can take your readers anywhere, show them anything. You can make them love, feel...and believe. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Name Game

By Mark W. Danielson

Everybody sing it!

Shirley!Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo FirleyFee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!
Lincoln!Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo FincolnFee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!
Come on everybody!I say now let's play a game . . .

Wow, even remembering that song dates me! But the name game in this blog is really about choosing good names. Bad names not only affect your story, but they can be a real pain to change.

No one can argue that the personal computer made writing easy. Not only is it simple to edit, it will also spell and grammar check your work, go to any page you want, find any word you want, and even remove and replace words. Of course, everything has its limitations. Computer experts refer to this as “garbage in/garbage out”. In other words, while your spell check does a good job of finding misspelled words, the grammar check has no way of knowing whether you actually used the correct word. Wright? Write? I mean, right?

I’m sure that most of you have discovered these annoyances on your own, but here’s how the name game can add to your frustration. For example, what happens when you name a character Ed and then decide to change it after you’ve completed the manuscript? Simple, right? Just remove and replace it. Well, that’s what you would hope, except computers don’t see words that way. Instead, it changes every “ed” to whatever you told it to. (Garbage in, garbage out.) So let’s say you want to replace Ed with Sib. Now every “hoped” becomes “hopSib”, every “worked” becomes “workSib”, every “completed” becomes “completSib”, every “fired” becomes “firSib”. Not exactly what you wanted, was it? Then after you painstakingly go through the manuscript and correct all of these errors, you decide that Sib isn’t right either, so you replace Sib with Bud. Now every “possible” reads “posBudle”. Get the idea? It’s hardly amusing.

Then how do you choose suitable names? Besides referencing character naming books, you can look through phone books, or pay attention to the names in the movie credits. Combining first and last names can create some fun character names, but you should remember that names can date people as quickly as a song. In other words, women named Midge or Evelyn suggest they are elderly while Kelly or Amanda could be any female from five to thirty-five. So, how do you avoid selecting the wrong names? Outlining is probably the best way, for there is usually sufficient detail to identify most of your characters. It also allows you to change the names without investing a significant amount of time.

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. Then again, I’m sure I’m not alone. Regardless, have fun with the name game, and make your characters shine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Being a Pro-Crastinator

By Chester Campbell

My wife calls me a procrastinator. I say, heck, it's good to be a "pro" at something. But I suppose she's right in one respect. I should be writing on my current WIP (Work in Progress, for the uninitiated), but here I sit chatting up the blogosphere.

My Murderous Musings colleague Beth Terrell is getting ready to take part in NaNoWriMo, pounding out 50,000 words during the month of November. If I could mirror that feat with my fifth Greg McKenzie mystery, I'd be in high cotton, as they say in these parts. Since I'm currently at the 18,423-word mark, that would take me almost to 70,000 words. My books don't usually run much longer than that.

NaNoWriMo, as you may or may not know, is National Novel Writing Month, when authors around the globe are challenged to turn out 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. The object is to take an idea and plug away at it, just to get all the words on paper, or in the computer. There's no time for editing. Just keep the pot (or plot) boiling. After all is done, you can go back and clean it up, patching the holes and prettying up the language.

As a procrastinator, I can't work like that. Each time I sit down, I have to go back over what I wrote last time out and make it sound better. Chances are I've had a new thought that requires me to go back and add something I neglected to do earlier. Like the other day I thought of a question the detective should have asked, so I backtracked to the proper spot in the story and beefed up the dialogue. Keeps readers from thinking why didn't the idiot pursue such-and-such?

My daily, when I can arrange it, walk at the mall provides a fertile time for thinking about the plot and searching out those holes that need to be filled. Sometimes I come up with ideas on new twists to put more strain on my poor protagonists. I'm a remorseless taskmaster. They don't get time to procrastinate.

But me? I have an excuse. I spent the past five days, including travel, atternding Bouchercon 2009, pushing my published work and trying to convince the good folks who read mysteries that I'm working on more to come. And I am. As soon as I finish this little tome, I'm heading for the living room and my laptop to plunge headlong into Chapter 13. Hmm, that's an ominous note. But what's even more ominous is that it will probably be nearly ten o'clock. That means local news, followed by a DVD recording of the early evening national news. Than it'll be bedtime. We have to arise at 6:15 to get grandson ready for school.

Okay, no more procrastination. As soon as he's off to school, I'm battening down the hatches (good old naval cliche) and battling away at the laptop. That's a promise. Unless something unforseen comes  up, of course.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Exploring Croatia

by Ben Small

I just returned from a three week journey to Croatia.

Research, I swear.

And it worked. I'm putting the Arizona sequel I'd been working on aside, and I'm going with a story that came to me in Dubrovnik. My Croatian memories are fresh and the images -- you may want to glance at my Facebook photo albums -- vivid.

Yup. I'd go back in a minute; the beauty of Croatia speaks for itself -- again, check out my pictures.

You can learn a lot from a trip like this. Stuff you won't find on the internet. I think visiting a site important to a story aids a fuller development of character and story. Little stuff, like realizing that locals are friendlier in northern Croatia than in the South.

Dubrovniks and Splits are not unfriendly; they're just busy, focused on their work, on making money. Yugoslavia used to be Communist, you know...

As you may know, Slovenia has been the most successful of the former Yugo states. Slovenia occupied eight percent of the former Yugoslavia's population and territory, but was responsible for sixty percent of the Yugoslav economy. Slovenia is an engine that not only broke free from its chasis; hell, this dynamo took off to the races. Of the eight new European Union members admitted in 2004, Slovenia was the only contributor to EU coffers. Slovenia was the first of the new admittees to adopt the Euro. It's an economic powerhouse.

Croatia, in turn, is a little further back on the economic scale. Its primary industry is tourism. But Croatia's a long drive, two days at least, and you gotta go through five miles of Bosnia. Granted, the five kilometer drive along the Bosnian Coast and the Great Wall of Bosnia are impressive, but the border inspection folks flash their disapproval and sneer. Some car rental companies won't permit a Bosnian border crossing. You can go by boat, but again, this is a long coastline. The ferry from Split to Dubrovnik is an over-night.

We traveled Croatia by car, South-to-North through Dubrovnik, Jadronova, Hrka National Park, Hvar Island, Split, Montovon, Rovinj and countless seacoast and interior villages and towns. We saw history and culture, and we engaged the people. Thankfully, most of them understood some English.

We saw five star hotels and small villages, Communist-built common structures -- something a Chicagoan might compare to his city's "projects" -- and ages-old stone homes. We saw poverty, the middle class and the wealthy.

But nowhere did we see an unkempt house; nowhere someone with nothing to do. I watched a Dubrovnik man of fifty, weathered and bent, as he rolled granite load after load up a slight hill and on down an old stone road. A wheel cart, two hundred fifty, three hundred pounds of rock. Many, many trips. Every residence we saw, backcountry, seacoast, mountain, or city, showed the pride of its occupants. A tough pride, for sure, one tested and earned. Croatia's been invaded and occupied so many times, by so many different peoples, you can't blame its citizens if they focus on surviving. Croatian people, we saw, work hard, but they take pride in their community. Strong religious and family ties. A well kept house reflects success, pride, honor. Even in the poorest areas, we saw flowers in yards, in windows, fresh paint, maintained wood and stone and glass. Their residences reflect care and loving attention -- even the Communistic towers. You will see laundry on lines beneath windows, but you won't see Detroit.

We talked to Americans who live there now. They love Croatia. I can understand why.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fireside Chat

The recliner seen ‘round the world. Photo from The Washington Post.
(No photo credit given but the AP photographer was Sue Ogrocki of Okahoma City)

By Pat Browning

Fresh from my debut as the Associated Press poster girl for fine furniture … in case you haven’t heard … last May I used my federal stimulus check to buy a $199 recliner at Big Lots! I mentioned it on my blog, along with the merry tale of acquiring a big coffee table by dumpster diving.

An AP business reporter in Raleigh, NC picked up on the recliner bit, called me, and sent out a photog from OKC. I tried to get a copy of my book, ABSINTHE OF MALICE, in the photo, but no luck. Probably my feet take up too much room.

The reporter gave me 8 lines at the end of his story. As reporters past and present know, editors cut a story from the bottom to fit available space. So far, so good, though. The reporter gave me a nice 8 lines:

“Mystery book author and retiree Pat Browning said she cashed in her stimulus check this spring and bought a $199 blue microfiber recliner at Big Lots! in May.

“‘The comfort level is important because I am home all the time,” said Browning, 80, of Yukon, Okla. “I spend my life sitting at a computer, writing and doing endless research, but the mind can absorb only what the seat can endure. My best writing takes shape when I'm drowsing and dreaming at nap time in my new recliner.’”

Ooops. He got my age wrong, but not by much. My fault. I should know better than to joke with a reporter. I said I would never tell my age or my weight and then I popped off … oh-well. When I get to be 95, I’ll either start lying about my age or start bragging.

In some kind of harmonic convergence my essay, Blogging 101, is a text presentation at PPWebCon Oct. 24. In it I talk about the long reach of a blog. The AP story is just the latest example. You can see the AP article by Emery Dalesio at:

among other places.

Holy mackerel, Andy, I’m falling in love with myself. I just Googled “Pat Browning AP” and up popped the Charleston, WV Daily Mail; (Philadelphia Enquirer connected); Houston Chronicle;; Miami Herald; Fort Worth Star-Telegram;; Columbus GA Ledger-Enquirer; Omaha World Herald;; Newsday; The Washington Post … the Washington Post?

Horrors! The Post used 2 photos, one of them truly awful. My hair looks like two cats had a fight in it. I look like a 400-pound bag lady. Your Honor, I just came inside to get out of the cold. Sat down to rest for a minute in this nice recliner. It tuckers me out, shoving that shopping cart all over town, all day long, every day of the week.

Now why on earth would the Post use such a terrible picture? Must have been a slow news day. The photo editor probably fell down laughing. I fell out of love with myself. No wonder celebrities pay people to keep stuff like that out of the papers.

To ease my descent from Mount Olympus, I did a little long overdue filing. The first tattered sheet of paper I picked up was covered with scribbled quotes. Wisdom of the world, not all of it pretty. I’ll share.

“The past is forever with me and I remember it all.” – Nien Cheng, LIFE AND DEATH IN SHANGHAI.

“There is no apology that can ever atone for what I saw.” – Ray Leopold, 28th Infantry Div. US Army, World War II, on Nazi death camps.

“It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over.” --Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950).

“Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go.” --e. e. cummings

“How was it that people never noticed the immediate improvement in their inner being that followed a session of throwing things away.” --Nury Vittachi, THE FENG SHUI DETECTIVE.

“Memory opens on small hinges.” James Sallis, CRIPPLE CREEK.

“The horse could be out of Secretariat … who knows what those horses do when nobody’s watching them?” – Stuart Margolin in “The No-Cut Contract” (The Rockford Files).

“A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.” – Chuckles the Clown eulogy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

And finally: “If the AP calls, don’t hang up.” – Pat Browning.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Research That Blew Me Away!

by Jean Henry Mead

I was working on my latest book project when a tornado abruptly blew onto the page, forcing me to do some storm research.

Tornadoes are infrequent here on the high plains but whenever they’ve happened, the after affects have usually been deadly. One of the most notable occurrences was when several residents of Wright, Wyoming, living in a mobile home park, were killed by a tornado. Last year a woman pilot was killed while attending a baseball game near Casper. But the most widely reported tornado was the one that blew the spout from Teapot Rock, which has symbolized the infamous Teapot Dome bribery Scandal of the Warren Harding Administration in 1921.

From my research, I learned that the U.S. has more tornadoes than any other nation and that the only country that hasn’t recorded them is Antarctica. That doesn’t mean they haven’t happened but the Penguins haven’t reported them.

I happened upon a report from Germany, which stated that America has twenty times more funnel clouds than Germany, Austria and Switzerland combined. The statistics were gathered from 1587 through 1999, although, admittedly, some had gone unreported during the early years.

Most tornadoes happen east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer. In an average year, according to the Department of Commerce, some 800 are reported nationwide, which cause an average 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries. The DC calls them the most destructive storms on the planet with wind speeds in access of 250 mph.The damage paths can exceed a mile wide and up to 50 miles long. To illustrate a tornado's power, a motel sign in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, was once carried 30 miles and deposited in Arkansas.

But what causes tornadoes? Thunderstorms which develop in warm, moist air collide with eastward-moving cold fronts. Large hail, strong winds and tornadoes are usually the byproduct. However, tornadoes that develop in winter and early spring are often caused by strong, frontal systems that form in the Midwest and move eastward. Sometimes, a large outbreak of tornadoes occur during the cooler months and several states may be affected.

During the spring in the central plains, thunderstorms frequently develop along a "dryline," which separates very warm, moist air to the east from hot, dry air to the west. Tornado-producing thunderstorms may form as the dryline moves east during the afternoon hours.

Along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, in the Texas panhandle, and in the southern high plains, thunderstorms frequently form as air near the ground flows upslope toward higher terrain. If other favorable conditions exist, the thunderstorms can produce tornadoes.

Before I put my readers to sleep, I’ll abandon further research to return to my struggling novel characters as they crawl beneath a wagon to escape the storm. Little do they know that they may blown to Kansas. But that's another story . . .

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Loving Your Inner Editor

By Beth Terrell

November is approaching, and with it comes National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). More than 100,000 people from all over the world will write a 50,000-word first draft of a novel between 12:01 A.M. November 1 and midnight of November 30. The writers range from teenagers to octogenarians. Some are professional authors who will later edit their NaNo novels into something worth publishing. (Sara Gruen's award-winning novel Water for Elephants began as a NaNo novel.) Some will populate their stories with time-traveling ninjas, flying monkeys, and random song lyrics. It's a month-long writing exercise and a month-long celebration of creativity. It's a little bit crazy. And it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Soon the "I Hate NaNoWriMo" blog posts will begin to spring up like mushrooms across the internet. These are generally written by aspiring or little-known authors who believe the flood of dreadful NaNo manuscripts will somehow keep their masterpieces from being published. Successful writers rarely feel this way; Sue Grafton and Neil Gaiman are two of the many well-known authors who provide the pep talks that go out to participants each week of the event.

The NaNoWiMo forums mention muses a lot. How to attract your muse, how to keep your muse happy and busy, the care and feeding of a muse. NaNo is all about the muse, which is as it should be. The exercise is about messy first drafts, raw and unpolished but fresh and genuine. That first draft is to a writer what a block of clay is to a sculptor. You can't make art without it. Yay, Muse!

There was one thread, though, that gave me pause. It was about all the ways in which people might keep their metaphorical inner editors away during November. All I can say is, there's a lot of resentment toward inner editors out there. Most of the suggestions involved stuffing Inner Editor (generally bound with ropes or chains) into a closet or trunk, locking the door or lid, and hiding the key until December 1.

I fully understand the need to keep Inner Editor from interfering during the first draft process, but all this talk of binding and stuffing makes me (and MY inner editor) a little uncomfortable. After all, Inner Editor has valuable skills we're going to need when it's time to make something beautiful from that big lump of first-draft clay. Maybe, instead of gagging her and handcuffing her to a radiator, we could take a different approach.

When Creative Self and I are working on an early draft, Inner Editor leans over our shoulder and mutters, "You call that writing? Hemingway would turn over in his grave," I remind her that her turn will come--Creative Self is busy making a beautiful, flawed first draft for Inner Editor to carve and polish into a thing of beauty. She gets starry-eyed at the prospect, and I give her chocolate and send her away to bask on a beach somewhere until Creative Self proudly calls her back and plops a finished draft into her hands.

Inner Editor can be critical and sarcastic, but when treated gently and reminded that constructive criticism can still be kind, she's a team player. Assured that her turn will come, she's content to let Creative Self play, with only an occasional nudge ("Hey, you just wrote paedcpm. Didn't you mean peacock?"). As she works her magic, she's happy to let Creative Self watch and weave in a little magic of her own. The editing process becomes a dance between the analytical ("This back story is interesting, but does it really move the story?") and the creative ("Wait, I have a better idea!").

In our celebration of the Muse, let's not forget a kind word for the oft-maligned Inner Editor. Come December, we're going to need her.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shady Characters in a Colorful World

By Mark W. Danielson

Without light, color cannot exist, but its absence can create stunning suspense. Mysteries like Dracula, Batman, Frankenstein, and The Shadow use darkness to raise tension and fear. However, real-life criminals don’t always operate in the dark. In fact, our world has become so packed with psychos, beasts, and murderers, it’s enough to make Dracula scream. While these people unknowingly inspire fictional murder mysteries, their characters can only be effective if they are portrayed in living color. After all, in darkness, red blood on a white carpet means nothing until a character steps on something soggy and then turns on a light. In that moment, their discovery changes their world forever.

I’m not saying that darkness doesn’t create spectacular settings. After all, the majority of Batman, the Dark Knight was filmed using dark sets. But to make Batman’s character relatable, he had to be portrayed as someone with the same emotions as the rest of us, except on a grander scale. Without this emotional bond, the audience cannot relate to his character. The same holds true for the empathy given to Heath Ledger’s Joker character in the same movie. Soulless characters add nothing to novels or films.

In comparing these fictional characters to Susan Smith who in 1994 intentionally drowned her children in her car demonstrates how anyone can be evil. Imagine this daylight scene: bubbles breaking the surface over her submerged car, then the tow truck’s chain grinding as it pulls the vehicle from its murky grave. Observers wearing tees and jeans and perhaps a few in summer dresses shed tears as the two infants who were trapped inside are removed. Emergency lights flash while police officers stretch yellow perimeter tape. Divers’ footprints emerge from the water under an overcast sky. No one notices the barking dog or the rattling leaves, yet they are both part of the scene. And so murder goes in our colorful world.

The above example proves that we don’t need bloodshed to create anxiety, fear, sorrow, empathy, or even hatred. All we need is a believable scene, and to do that, we must include the dust-covered light bulbs, the helicopters that stir the air, and the diesel fumes that choke us. Add our lack of trust and lost faith in God from a world perceived to be nearing its end and anything is possible. Whether writing about fictional Gotham City or Southside Chicago, believable shady characters will always generate fear.

Authors must present their characters in sufficient detail to make readers care. Readers want to know what drove a character to murder a fellow human being, or as in the example, why a mother drowned her own children. At the same time, scenes must be vivid enough so our readers can delve into them. In this sense, the background setting becomes as important as a character’s dialogue or actions. To accomplish this, writers must learn to observe the tiniest details and then infuse them into a scene.

Observation is a leaned skill, but anyone is capable. Many MWA chapters sponsor “rabbit” activities where you can learn to ditch or track someone. I encourage everyone to engage in these opportunities, but most of all, have fun writing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Most Mysterious Weekend

By Chester Campbell

Most mysterious eyes will be on Indianapolis this weekend, where the 40th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention kicks off on Thursday. With the economy still in the tank, it probably won’t draw the usual 2,000 readers and authors, although at last report registrations were running well. Under the sure hand of Jim Huang, owner of The Mystery Company in Carmel, IN, a prodigious program has been organized, including a wealth of side events. Jim has had many years of experience in planning Magna Cum Murder in Muncie.

Wife Sarah and I will be there for our third Bouchercon (Las Vegas and Madison, WI previously). I’ll be on a panel Saturday at 1:00 p.m. titled GEEZER LIT COMES OF AGE, The graying of the genre. Others on the panel are Mike Befeler, Naomi Hirahara, fellow Nashvillian Mary Saums, and Patricia Stoltey. It should be fun as we explore the boom in older protags and the aging mystery readership.

I have met lots of mystery writers at previous outings and will get reacquainted with numerous others I haven’t encountered in a while. That networking process is one of the main attractions of conferences and conventions like this. The other, of course, is the opportunity to choose from a multitude of panel subjects for further enlightenment. After nearly a decade of attending such sessions, I rarely hear anything new but get different slants on old topics and am reminded of things I should be doing but aren’t.

One of the closing features, new this year, will be The Bazaar. More than 100 authors will sit at tables and give away 50 books to readers who bring tickets (five free, five more for $5). The event will be hosted by its originator, Joe Konrath, who can be counted on to turn up anywhere at anytime. I will give away copies of my third Greg McKenzie mystery, Deadly Illusions. The idea is that people can choose which books they want to take home. In the past, everyone received a bunch of books in their bags at registration, and many were left behind, unwanted.

I hope to see some of you in Indianapolis this weekend. If you encounter a geezer with CHESTER on his nametag, chances are it’ll be me. Stop and say “Hi!”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Got Gas...?

by Ben Small

Lately, I've been seeing articles, ads and television programs on the Sportsman Channel (DirecTV) and others about new gas systems for AR style rifles, both the AR-15 and AR-10, and of course, their military counterparts, the M-16, the M4 and the M14.

While AR-style rifles are considered much more accurate than the AK rifles most insurgents and third world bad guys use, they're also more fallible, i.e. they fail a lot. ARs are notorious for two aspects: They must be clean and they must be wet. If these two criteria aren't met, the guns may not fire, especially when it's hot outside or the rifle's fired a number of rounds between cleanings.

If a rifle doesn't fire, the shooter may die.

Contrast this with the AK-47, a simplistic design that will fire every time, even if the rifle's never been cleaned. The AK-47's design is so simple -- intended to be so -- that a kid can assemble and operate one.

Why the difference? Two reasons, really. ARs have tight tolerances and a direct gas impingement system, whereas the AKs have loose tolerances and are gas-piston driven.

Big deal? You betcha.

The problem with ARs is fouling. There's a small hole in the barrel which directs some of the gases from a fired round all the way back through the rifle's upper, forcing the bolt back into battery so it's ready for the next shot. But when the gases come back to the receiver and bolt, they bring unburned powder and other contaminants, thereby fouling the bolt. Over time, due to the tight tolerances of the ARs, the gun will cease to operate. Sprinkling some gun oil into the bolt and receiver area will free it up for more rounds, but the receiver and bolt chamber will be filthy, and each round fired will make them more so. Eventually, the gun will malfunction again unless cleaned and re-oiled, a messy proposition.

In the AK, however, a hole in the barrel directs the gases and contaminants to a spring loaded piston, which drives the bolt back. No contaminants reach the receiver or the bolt, and because of that and the loose tolerances, the bolt doesn't need oil. Some AKs, fired for years, may never have been cleaned and oiled.

Top end manufacturers have caught on to this AR issue, and now they're starting to produce ARs that are gas-piston driven, much like the AKs. FNH is now making ARs with gas-piston uppers, as is Les Baer. Same with Sig Sauer, with its new 556 line of rifles.

When Sig first came out with its 556 line -- a version of its war-proven 55X rifles -- many internet gun bullies corrected those who called the 556 an AR-style rifle, saying the 556 was more of an AK design than an AR design. Because of the gas-piston system. But now other AR manufacturers are releasing gas-piston driven AR rifles, so the nomenclature bullies are being driven back into their internet holes.

The beauty of an AR with a gas-piston system should be self-evident: The gun is accurate and clean. Tolerances remain tight, but contaminants can't reach the receiver and bolt. Less chance of a malfunction. And the Sig has an added benefit; you can adjust the gas system. Say, for instance, you've shot many mags through your rifle and due to heat and maybe some burned oil, and the rifle is acting sluggish, maybe not slipping fully into battery. Just turn the nozzle at the end of the upper and increase the gas level. Position one to position two. Problem solved. Shoot three hundred more bad guys.

So... why tell you all this? Because for a novelist, the devil is in the details. And some of these details may just give you an important plot point.

For a good discussion of this important and developing design change in military and commercial "black" rifles, see Direct Gas Impingement vs. Gas Piston Driven