Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Writing Fiction Isn't Rocket Science

By Mark W. Danielson

I just returned from another wonderful Men of Mystery event. For authors and attendees, this Irvine, California event is always fun, and as a general rule, is the only author event I attend. Here, two keynote speakers and nearly fifty mystery authors enjoy lunch with hundreds of avid mystery readers. Over the years, I have listened to many wonderful keynote speakers, but this year’s William Kent Krueger was particularly delightful. Perhaps it was because he and I share the same beliefs that writing should be fun, that it is nothing more than storytelling, that the motivation for writing should come from the joy of it, not for financial gain. And should financial success come your way, then congratulations, but don’t forget why you started writing. Kent is a very approachable and equally likeable gentleman whose genuine smile and easy manner certainly add to his success.

But not every author shares Kent’s jocular demeanor. Some want you to believe only a select few can create interesting stories. Honestly, anyone willing to put in long solitary hours and subject themselves to harsh criticism CAN write. But regardless of how much effort one puts in, professional writing does not come easy in this constantly evolving marketplace. While vampires may currently be in vogue, ten years from now these stories may not be marketable. If you want to be published, know the market before you begin the first chapter.

With my Gypsy lifestyle, flying to California to take part in Men of Mystery can be challenging, but it is worthwhile because I enjoy meeting people like Kent and reuniting friendships, and you can't put a price on that. Authors like Kent reaffirm that men (and women) authors who have achieved financial success and commercial notoriety still enjoy writing as much as they did when they first started. And while they take their craft seriously, they don’t view themselves that way. Folks, writing fiction isn’t rocket science, it’s just words, so keep your writing accomplishments in perspective and enjoy the ride. Doing so will ensure your characters have hearts as big as your own.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Granddad's revenge

by Bill Kirton

It’s 1975. Aberdeen, Scotland. The beginning of the school year. My daughter (aged 11) needs new shoes. I take her into town. We visit many shoe shops and the silences between us grow longer, the tension mounts higher in each shop. I want her to have shoes that’ll withstand the rigours of school playgrounds whereas she wants things with sparkly bits on them. The expedition ends with nothing having been bought, a ride home in a simmering silence shot through with electric menace, and a resolution on my part never ever to go near a shop with her again.

Now we’re into another century. This time it’s Brighton, England. The beginning of another school year. That same daughter, who now has four children of her own, needs to get shoes for the eldest. I accompany them. My daughter is far more reasonable than I am as her efforts to persuade her daughter to accept sensible shoes are met with downcast eyes and ‘proofs’ that they’re ugly and that the sparkly ones would be a much better investment. This time, I’m in the sparkly camp. The expedition ends shoeless and in relative silence, broken only by my barely-suppressed, self-satisfied chuckles.

I always liked schadenfreude but when it has a personal twist, it’s even more profoundly satisfying. Grandchildren restore the balance of families.

The picture, by the way, is of a 'Garbo' by Carvela  which retails at a very reasonable £150. (Aye, right.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

History’s 9 Most Notorious Crimes of Passion

by Ben Small
[Jay Smith, with Criminal Justice Degrees Guide, sent me this article from his site, asking if I'd like to run it on Murderous Musings.  Congrats to Jay for an excellent article. I hope we hear more from him.]
History is plagued by all types of crime, but crimes of passion, in particular, have caused a great deal of heartache and have left so many people asking "why?" Crimes of passion typically involve assault or murder and are fueled by rage, heartbreak, and revenge. Out of all the tragic crimes of passion that have happened, these nine are the most notorious.
  1. Murder of Phil Hartman

    On May 28, 1998, comedian Phil Hartman was shot and killed by his wife, Brynn, who committed suicide hours after the murder. The shocking murder-suicide that left the couple’s two children orphaned stunned family and friends. The Hartmans had been married for 10 years, but Brynn was deeply troubled and the marriage was suffering because of her drug use. On the night of the murder, Brynn returned home intoxicated and got into a heated argument with Phil. He threatened to leave her if she started using drugs again. While Hartman was sleeping, Brynn shot him three times with a handgun. After the shooting, Brynn drove to a friend’s house and confessed to her crime, but he did not believe her. When they returned to Brynn’s home, her friend called the police and she went into the bedroom, where she committed suicide.
  2. Dismemberment of John Wayne Bobbitt

    One of the most bizarre and unforgettable crimes of passion occurred on June 23, 1993, when Lorena Bobbitt attacked her husband and cut off approximately 2.5 cm of his penis after he allegedly raped her. According to her court testimony, Lorena left the house and threw his severed penis along the side of the highway. She realized the seriousness of the incident and called 911. Surgeons were able to reattach Bobbitt’s penis. and the jury found Lorena not guilty due to her husband’s sexual abuse — and her insanity that spurred this wild crime of passion.
  3. Attempted murder of Mary Jo Buttafuoco

    The infamous love triangle between Joey Buttafuoco, his wife Mary Jo, and his mistress Amy Fisher became one of the biggest news stories of the ’90s. Joey Buttafuoco, a New York auto body shop owner, was having an affair with 17-year-old Amy Fisher, who subsequently shot his wife, Mary Jo, in the face. On May 19, 1992, Fisher, then nicknamed the "Long Island Lolita," had an accomplice take her to Joey’s house to confront the wife. Mary Jo answered the door and Amy told her that Joey was having an affair with her 16-year-old sister. When Mary Jo brushed her off and told her to leave, Amy came inside and shot her in the head. Mary Jo survived the shooting and suffered a loss of hearing in one ear and partial paralysis on one side of her face. Fisher’s jealousy turned deadly and she served seven years in prison for first-degree attempted murder. Joey served six months in jail for statutory rape.
  4. Steve McNair murder

    The brutal murder of Steve McNair was a crime of passion that shocked the sports world and beyond. On July 4, 2009, McNair was shot and killed by his 20-year-old girlfriend Sahel Kazemi, who immediately turned the gun on herself. Detectives said Kazemi was struggling to make ends meet and had recently been arrested for driving under the influence. She also made comments to co-workers about ending her life. Kazemi discovered that McNair was in another extramarital relationship and she decided to take his life in revenge.
  5. Arturo Gatti Murder

    On July 11, 2009, Canadian boxer Arturo Gatti was found dead in a Brazilian hotel while on vacation with his wife, Amanda, and their infant son. Amanda spent 10 hours in the hotel before realizing that her husband was dead, and her blood-stained purse strap led authorities to believe she murdered him. His widow vehemently denied the allegations and claimed Arturo committed suicide. Brazilian police let her go and ruled his death as suicide, but the Canadian government required further investigation. In 2011, private investigators reported Arturo’s death as a homicide, but no arrests have been made.
  6. Lisa Nowak

    In 2007, astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping, burglary, and battery of Colleen Shipman, a woman who was involved with Nowak’s love interest. In a rage of jealousy, Nowak drove from Houston to Orlando to follow Shipman from the airport and talk to her about her relationship with Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, pilot of the 2006 Discovery flight. The crazed Nowak packed a wig, trench coat, pepper spray, a BB gun, knife, and garbage bags on her trip to see Shipman. A disguised Nowak followed Shipman to her car and sprayed her with a chemical. She was caught and arrested by police and was later charged with attempted first degree murder.
  7. Marvin Gaye murder

    Famous singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye was killed by his father during a heated argument at his parents’ LA home. Marvin Jr. and his father, Marvin Sr., had a long history of conflicts that were worsened by the singer’s personal problems. Tension continued to grow between the two men, and Marvin Jr. began collecting guns to protect himself. On April 1, 1984, the two men got into a heated argument that quickly turned physical. The fight was broken up by Gaye’s mother, but Marvin Sr. returned with the .38 pistol that his son gave him and shot his son in the chest and fired again. Marvin Sr. killed his son in the heat of the moment and he was sentenced to five years of probation.
  8. Murder of Alfred T. Elliot

    Crimes of passion became more common during the Great Depression, and the murder of Alfred T. Elliot became one of the most notable cases. Bibeau murdered Elliot because he was having an affair with Elliot’s wife and he wanted him out of the picture. What further spurred this crime of passion was the fact that Elliot was handling some of Bibeau’s finances, which could have turned detrimental if Eliott found out about their secret romance.
  9. Murder of Philip Barton Key

    U.S. Congressman and Union general Daniel Sickles committed a crime of passion when he killed his wife’s lover, district attorney Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, in 1859. Sickles shot and killed Key in Lafayette Park, which is across the street from the White House, because he was having an affair with his wife. Sickles is also famous for being the first person to use "temporary insanity" as a legal defense. Sickles’ defense told the jury that he was driven insane by his wife’s infidelities and he was later acquitted of his crime of passion.

    -- Jay Smith, Criminal Justice Degrees Guide  Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

Saturday, November 19, 2011


by Leighton Gage

Yo no creo en las brujas,
pero que las hay, las hay

That’s a Spanish proverb that doesn’t translate well into either English or Portuguese. A close approximation of the meaning is “I don’t believe in witches, but they really do exist”.

I quote it here because I can think of no more succinct way to sum up the attitude of most Brazilians about the power of magic to intervene in their daily lives.

The intervention can come in the form of “white magic”, in which spirits are enlisted to do good, or it can come in the form of “black magic”, where spirits are enlisted to do evil. Either way, it’s not the kind of magic practiced by people like David Copperfield or Houdini. It’s the real stuff, the magic of primitive peoples, the magic of five hundred, a thousand, ten-thousand years ago. It came here as  part of the cultural baggage of over three million Africans, imported into Brazil as slaves, and it's a magic as old as man.

Nobody in this country believes that a trabalho (ritual) carried out by a Pai do Santo (think of him as  someone who intercedes with the spirits)...

...or a Mãe do Santo (his female equivalent) can bring love, cement a relationship, give success in business, punish an enemy or cure a disease.

Except that almost everybody really does.
And everyone has a story to tell.

We have a friend, a well-educated woman, who is convinced that her brother was cured of a serious eye disease by spiritual intervention. She had a trabalho performed in Salvador, Bahia, on a day when her brother was in the city of São Paulo, almost fifteen hundred kilometers away. She told the Mãe do Santo only that her brother had a problem with his eye. She didn’t say which one. The woman “received the spirits” bent over and began shrieking in pain, her hand over her right eye. (The same one in which our friend’s brother was afflicted.) After about fifteen minutes she quieted down, sat up straight and pronounced him cured. Our friend went home, called him, and he was. 
Just like that.

As a young teenager, my wife knew a girl in her neighborhood who paid a Pai do Santo to have a boy fall in love with her and then, when she tired of him, paid again to have him fall out-of-love with her. My wife accompanied the business at first hand. Each event happened from one day to the next.
Just like that.

Of course they are.
Or maybe not.

The one thing I can tell you for sure is that the casting of spells in this country is big business. Every town and village has at least one person adept in the black arts. Every big city has many hundreds, sometimes thousands.

And, these days, if you’re in an isolated spot, it’s even possible to enlist help via the internet.

Consultation with your local practitioner often begins with the casting of the buzios.

You have questions about your life or your future? You ask, and the practitioner throws the shells. The spirits direct the way they fall. You can’t read the answer directly, of course. You need the practitioner for that.

Sometimes, the spirits advise that your problem, whatever it is, has to do with a spell cast against you. You’re advised to react, to protect yourself. Sometimes, the spirits know exactly what you need, but they want you to fess up, to ask for it, to obtain their intervention.

Protection often requires procedures like bathing in foul-smelling mixtures of herbs and oils.

More proactive trabalhos, like achieving success in business, or getting someone to fall in love with you, might require a more complicated procedure. Either way, some stuff is going to be required to perform the ritual (or series of rituals).

Shops like this one stock everything necessary. They’re to be found all over the country.

And, as you'll note if you carefully inspect the photo above, they even accept credit cards.

Of course I know, Dear Reader, that you don’t believe in any of this silly business.
And never will.

But, just on a lark, if you come to Brazil,

I'd be delighted to refer you to the lady who throws the buziosfor me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts from New Orleans

By Jaden Terrell

I'm writing this post from a quaint little New Orleans hotel called The Prytania Park Hotel. Lace curtains over the window, pineapple-colored walls, antique green armoire, desk, and dresser, wrought-iron chairs and tables in a courtyard draped in ivy. Mike and I just had got back from dinner at The Irish House, where we shared a bowl of the most delicious lobster bisque I've ever had, followed by a fig-and-brie-stuffed duck breast. It doesn't get much better than this. I can even enjoy it without guilt because I wrote a chapter of the third Jared McKean novel on the way down. (Fortunately, Mike was driving.)

Tomorrow, we explore New Orleans, and on Saturday, we embark on a cruise to the Caribbean, a 25th anniversary gift from both our mothers. It's a first for both of us--we'll visit the falls in Jamaica, swim with wild stingrays and go to the turtle sanctuary in Grand Cayman, and tour the Mayan ruins in Cozumel. I don't know if Jared will be traveling to any of those places, but I'll be taking notes in our cabin afterward, just in case.

This month of Thanksgiving reminds me to be conscious of the things that bring happiness and not to take them for granted. Sitting here in this charming hotel room, I'm reminded not just to be grateful, but to express that gratitude.I'm grateful for this opportunity to experience new things, have time to write on the ship, and spend a week alone with someone I love. I'm grateful for my mom and his, not only for giving us this incredible gift, but for all the love and support they give us every day.

What else am I grateful for? Family, friends (old and new, real-world and online), my publisher, Martin Shepard, my agent, Jill Marr. I'm grateful for our dogs, who love us unconditionally, and for our jobs, which help us pay the bills--at least until that six million dollar (after taxes!) movie deal comes through. I'm grateful for the Quill and Dagger critique group and for Clay Stafford and Killer Nashville.

I'm grateful for all of you who read and write this blog. You're the best.

Above all, I'm grateful for this great adventure that is life, especially the writing life. The cruise doesn't end when we return to the dock. In a metaphorical sense, it begins the day we're born and ends...well, does it ever end? Or do we just disembark at another port?

What are your thoughts? And what are you grateful for?

Bon voyage!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I kid you not

by Carola Dunn

Last week, I gave a talk at Willamette University in Salem (Oregon), part of a community education series for seniors. One interesting question that came up afterwards was about kids in mysteries.

The woman posing the question had read several of my Daisy Dalrymple mysteries. She really liked Belinda, Daisy's stepdaughter, and wondered why she doesn't appear in more of the books. She said she prefers mysteries with a protagonist who has children. They seem more realistic, the characters more real.

The US hardcover of Fall of a Philanderer is the only cover in which Belinda is shown, in the distant background.

These two covers for Gunpowder Plot (US hardcover and paperback) show respectively:

<--- a bunch of children who have nothing to do with either Daisy or the plot (apart from their mere presence);
and a presage of future half-siblings for Belinda!                             ---->

Out of twenty books in the series, Belinda appears in seven, usually playing quite an important part in the story. Apart from the audience member cited above, and entirely coincidentally, I've just heard from several people on an email list that the best of the Daisy books are the ones with Belinda.

So why didn't I put her in all of them? Why do so many mystery writers avoid giving their protagonists children?

Writers--do you have children in your books?

Readers--do you like mysteries with children?

Let me know what you think and I'll tell you my thoughts next time.


Monday, November 14, 2011

RIP Evans Erikson

by Ben Small

It's not everyday one receives a telephone call from an Undersecretary of Treasury. Even rarer when he tells you that if you persist in your notified defiance of a Treasury Department Iranian assets seizure order, he'll tell the New York Times you're endangering the lives of U.S. hostages held in Iran.

Jimmy Carter's administration had just upped the ante.

My former employer made aircraft parts and components, lots of different ones, used in many different aircraft systems, some of them integrated to system-level; parts, components and systems critical to aircraft manufacture, flight and repair. Indeed, at the time, we owned the only technology capable of converting the variable power of an aircraft engine into electrical power required for all other flight systems.

In other words, we had a lock on the market in aircraft electric power generation. But since it was a technological monopoly, protected by patent rights, the exclusivity was legal. If you flew a jet, you had our equipment on board. You couldn't fly without it.

And Iran Air, an Iranian government-owned commercial airline, owned jets, lots of them. Repairs and spare parts came from us, from our French subsidiary. And, turns out, Iran Air had lots of repaired or purchased product on hand, already paid for, in France, ready for shipment.

Iran Air needed its parts. They were grounding aircraft without them.

Trust me: Instructing our French sub not to ship did not make me popular in France. Each morning, I stared at my Gillette wondering the origin of its inventor.

Our French sub was mad, hopping so. The French government had decreed it would not honor Carter's seizure order, and they'd reminded our French management that under French law, refusal to honor a contract is a criminal offense. Our employees were in a pickle.

And I'd tried to avoid this problem. Consulting with my boss and our CEO, Evans Erikson, I'd written the Secretary of Treasury, explaining our French problem and asking for a window -- just ten days -- in which to ship our product. I explained that Treasury had issued its order with no advance warning. I'd warned that our French employees were subject to prosecution if we honored Treasury's seizure.

The phone call, some weeks later, was Treasury's response.

I beat a path to our CEO's office. Evans Erikson, the inventor of many of our products. A tall, handsome, commanding man, with an intellect that could astound, Evans Erikson was Chair of the Aerospace Industries Association and on the board of the Machinery and Allied Products Institute, both leading international industry groups. A man of substance.

Together, we called the Undersecretary back. It was a long conversation. Summary: They'd put us in a spot, with no window and no way out, and if they didn't rectify this, we'd do so ourselves. We gave them ten days notice of our intent to ship, and I followed the ultimatum up with a confirming letter.

The clock ticked...

On the morning of the tenth day, as I arrived for work, ready to tell our French sub to ship, the Treasury Department amended its regs and provided a ten day window for those with Iranian property on hand, paid for and required by contract to ship.

We shipped and never heard another word.

Evans Erikson died last week. I admired him greatly. He will reign long in my memories.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

by June Shaw

During this time, I am thankful for my faith, family, and friends. And for all readers who care about the work I love to do.

I remember and give thanks for my mom, who moved on to celebrate with others in heaven two years ago. She danced till the end. And I am fortunate enough to have written a book about her that just came out called NORA 102 1/2: A Lesson on Aging Well. While not a mystery in the usual sense, the way she lived her life, mainly during her senior years, had almost everyone who met her say, "You're my mentor. I want to be just like you."

An ordinary woman in most ways, Mom lived to be over 102--and never had a headache. Ever. She didn't have pains and started dating after she was seventy. Her mother waited up for her to come in the house and wouldn't give her a house key.

Mom took one pill a day. When she was in her mid-nineties, a man asked what it was for. She said, "Birth control."

So I was extremely lucky. I was the daughter. In the book about her, I tried to unravel clues as to how she became such a vibrant woman.

I hope you and yours have cause to celebrate and also give thanks this season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

by Earl Staggs

I’m excited to be part of the Mystery We Write Blog Tour set to kickoff on November 25. Apparently, the other authors involved decided they needed a wrinkled, weathered, worn-out writer in the mix and invited me to join them.

Run down this list of the other fourteen authors involved in the round robin tour and you’ll see why I felt honored to be asked.

Anne K. Albert

Beth Anderson

Ron Benrey

Pat Browning

John M. Daniel

Alice Duncan

Wendy Gager

M. M. Gornell

Timothy Hallinan

Jackie King

Jean Henry Mead

Marilyn Meredith

Mike Orenduff

Jinx Schwartz

Here’s how it will work. Each day for fourteen days, I’ll host one of the authors on my blogsite and on each day, I’ll be a guest on the blog site of one of the other writers. It’s going to be a monumental, whirlwind tour. Each day, each writer will discuss something different on a different site until it wraps up on December 8.

On my site each day, the guest author will answer the question, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?” I’m anxious to see their responses.

And there’s more. The authors are giving away books. All told, some sixty books will be given away during the tour. All you have to do to win books is visit the sites and leave a comment. The more sites you visit, the more books you’ll have a chance to win.

For my part, I’ll draw two names on December 9 from those who leave a comment on my site. The first name drawn will receive a signed print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER, my first mystery novel. The second name drawn will have a choice of an ebook or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.

To find out who’s appearing where during the tour, watch for announcements on your favorite elist group and other popular sites. You can also stop by my website at and see the schedule.

While you're there, you can read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER.

Also while you’re there, you can read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” which some say is the funniest story I’ve ever written. There’s also one called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.

So for now, we wait until November 25, the kickoff date for the Biggest, Bestest, Boldest Blog Tour ever and the largest book giveaway ever. I hope you’ll join us.

Earl Staggs