Saturday, June 28, 2014

Romance in Mysteries

June Shaw

Do you enjoy a little or a lot of romance in a mystery? I do because I believe mysteries should encompass all parts of a person's life.

I took part in a panel discussion about this once at a conference in Dallas. The author speaking before me said his detective main character always had romance and paid for it.

I then told that even though my mom was elderly at the time, she and her good friend always wore their lucky red panties to Bingo. Mom said they were for luck--but I knew better. Most people enjoy feeling sexy at times.

One audience member told me I should have seen the face of the man who'd spoken before me. When I mentioned my mom's red panties, he turned almost that color.

During my talk, I said that the main character in my humorous mystery series is a spunky widow who wants to avoid her hunky lover so she can rediscover herself. But he opens Cajun restaurants wherever she travels -- and she is so bad at avoiding tempting dishes and men. Fun, murder, and romance -- what's wrong with that?

What about you? Do you like your mysteries touched with a romantic interest? I look forward to hearing about what you think.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Advantages of a Brick and Mortar Booksigning

by Jackie King

One of the last independent book stores in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area is THE BOOK PLACE in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. This charming reader-haven is owned and operated by Janice Riker and her family. Janice sells both new and used books, and she discounts her new books by 15%.
Broken Arrow Oklahoma Independent Book Store

Saturday, June 21, 2014 a large group of area writers gathered for a book signing to celebrate Riker’s 20 years of success. This success is largely due to the warm and friendly atmosphere. And most especially, CHARM! Janice involves her whole family in running the place: her amiable husband, beautiful daughter and delightful grandson (aged 4).

Yes, yes, I know I just used too many adjectives. But I had such fun at their celebration and open house. We were there from 1pm until 5pm. I was sure this was too long for my patience and/or energy, and planned to leave about 3:00. What I didn’t count on was the fun I was going to have.

There’s nothing so delightful as talking about books, your own and other writer’s. Usually people’s eyes start to glaze over after about 15 minutes of this sort of chatting. Non-readers have a very low threshold of patience with glowing chatter about make-believe people whose company you enjoyed. Reader’s understand. And enjoy along with you.
2nd Book in my Series
Do most writers make a lot of money when they take a whole afternoon at a signing? No. At least not usually. Most of us make our money these days selling ebooks. What we gain at signings is personal contact with our readers. Many of the folk who dropped by my table had already downloaded my book(s) and told me so.

But I got to meet them! I got to put a face to a nameless number. And that’s both fun and helpful. These people articulate what they liked and disliked about my books. Writing is something you have to do all by yourself. And I don’t mind that, but still, in order to create, I need to interact with people. (I just love people. All sorts of people. Don’t you?)

Signings are one of the few times I get to chat with other writers. To exchange ideas, learn of new developments in publishing, and talk of story ideas. This can be done online too, but there’s something magical about personal bonding. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones.
First Book my my series

There was a whole table of young writers whom I had never met. These bright newcomers had formed their own horror-genre writing group. How cool is that? My granddaughter. Lauren Keithley, a film student at University of Texas dropped by and got acquainted with them. Some of her studies the previous year had included horror films.

Independent bookstores rock! If you have a favorite bookstore, I’d love to know about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book titles


Sorry, folks, I just don't have time to keep up with this blog. You might be interested in my post elsewhere about the difficulties of thinking up good titles--and then having them changed for you...

 The art department said my title, The Actress and the Rake was too long!

 The first in this trilogy was Miss Jacobson's Journey. I wanted to keep the pattern of the titles but Zebra decided otherwise.
 UK edition

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Evolution of a Series Character

by Jackie King

Long before I wrote my latest mystery, THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, I had one scene pop into my head. The vividness of this scene, along with a number of what if questions, started my inn-keeper series and birthed my character, Grace Cassidy.
I was vacationing at a Bed and Breakfast in Northern California, and the mansion had been built by a sea captain in 1870. My hostess was a professional inn-sitter who said that she loved her job, loved traveling from place to place, and loved working when she wanted. This woman, a Mrs. Smith, was booked for two years in advance.

These were a few of the questions:

 What if I were stranded in a strange town with no friends, no money, and no job skills? Oh, and let’s throw in a corpse—a naked one—in my bed. Could I survive using my own determination, brains, and moxie? These are the problems that started me writing my first Grace Cassidy story, THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE, published in 2009. I felt impelled to write this novel to find the answers. Then, just for fun, I added an older teenager and a cat. I always have to have a pet and a kid in any story.
First Grace Cassidy Mystery
Grace learns that she is made of a tougher fiber than she had thought. With the help of her zany new friends, she successfully earns her living as an inn sitter. Previously she chaired committees in social circles, now she bakes, cleans, and entertains paying guests.
me at work, wearing my writing uniform
THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR begins with Grace thinking that her life is almost back in order. She’s worried that her 19-year-old son, Brand, is getting too involved with the ditzy housemaid, Sandy Walker. Scary thoughts of becoming a grandma too soon, plague her. But still, life is good.

Grace is rebuilding her life and learning about the woman she really is, not the cardboard caricature of her former self. No wonder she bored her husband Charlie. She always did everything he expected. But that was in the past. Now she’s surprising and delighting herself with this new persona. Being a woman is a lot more interesting than being a perfect-lady, she decides.

Then life interferes with her well-laid plans.

The identical twin brother of her boss-from-hell, Wilbur Wimberly shows up at the family reunion. This black sheep, thought to be long dead, stirs up memories of deeply buried family secrets. Dangerous secrets. The Wimberly clan are snapping at each other’s throats, and then Grace’s cat Trouble finds a dead body in a bathroom. To make things worse her son is first accused of attempted murder and then of rape.

Once again, life unravels. Grace has a murder to solve and her son to defend.

I'd love to hear from readers!



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

CSI Scotland

Leith Hall
Recently, when I was researching for a short story, I came across an item that suggested that James Abernethy of Mayen had done me a great favour on December 21st 1763. That was the day he, John Leith, the Laird of Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and several others were in a pub carousing (I think that was what they called it at the time), and it degenerated into a brawl. They went outside, Abernethy shot Leith in the head and he died on Christmas Day. It seems that, on several occasions since then, John has appeared as one of the many ghosts which stroll around the house and grounds of Leith Hall. Apparently his head is heavily bandaged and he does a lot of groaning and moaning – which is understandable.

As I read all about the incident, I was getting quite excited because it would have fitted perfectly into one of my plans. To explain, let’s go back to the previous year. As well as doing my ‘Write a Crime Novel in an Hour’ workshop as part of the Aberdeenshire Crime and Mystery Festival, I had to think up a plot and provide clues for a murder mystery which was supposed to have taken place some time in the past at the stately home known as Haddo House. The idea was that families would be given the evidence collected at the time, walk through the relevant rooms, gather and interpret clues and decide whodunit. In other words, they would use the detection facilities available at the time. They would then be allowed to use modern methods – fingerprinting, DNA profiles, chemical analysis – to get a more accurate picture of what had happened. It would be a fun couple of hours and interesting to compare procedures and outcomes then and now.
Apparently, it was a highly popular event but results were very varied and, from what I’ve heard, I won’t need to be nearly as meticulous with my plotting in future since many of the amateur detectives relied on instinct and speculation rather than actual evidence. My favourite example was when one group decided that the murderer was the daughter of the laird. Bizarrely, she’d killed him because, according to them, she was a lesbian. There was nothing in any of my notes about her sexual orientation but, even more bizarrely, they’d deduced it from the fact that they’d seen a bowler hat in her bedroom.

So, to return to the killing of John Leith, I was going through the same processes but this time for a different property, Leith Hall, also in Aberdeenshire. It was a new location, so it needed a new crime and to find a real-life murder (for which Abernethy was never tried, by the way) was very serendipitous. The problem was that, disappointingly, it all happened in Aberdeen, rather than at Leith Hall, so I’ll have to fabricate something again.


The Hanging Tree
Very near the house, there’s a hanging tree, so I was able to tell the tale of an unfortunate servant who was not only wrongly accused of the murder but also hanged within sight of the music room’s windows. I set it in the early 1700s and, on the contemporary evidence available, most visitors also found him guilty. However, when they were given access to other clues, which were found thanks to modern procedures (fingerprints, DNA, ballistics), they realised he’d been a scapegoat and they were able to eliminate him. I’m not sure how much value there is, however, in the man receiving a pardon 400 years after he’d been hoisted on the hanging tree. At least he wasn’t convicted on the basis of a stray bowler hat.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Trashing an Office―Tough Work

By Chester Campbell

We're planning on moving soon, so my wife and I tackled one of the major hurdles to getting prepared―my office. I knew it would be difficult, but I had no idea just how much. First we turned to one of four bookshelves, the metal one with the bent shelves.

There were numerous hardcovers that included several early James Patterson novels, before I tired of his antics, early John Grishams, nearly a full set of P.J.Parish books, some Nelson DeMille thrillers and lots of others by more or less well-known authors. I handed them to my wife, who piled them into boxes. I hated to part with the lot but, pushing 89, the chances of my reading any of them in the future is practically nil.

Some I gave to a granddaughter's husband. Most we turned over to a seventeen-year-old grandson to sell at McKay's for gas money.

As my wife kept needling me to get rid of stuff, I began tossing items willy-nilly. Bookmarks I had ordered too many of, magazines and books and folders on places I had used in early noveks such as the Post Cold War Political Trilogy, old news clippings about signings and other events, posters displayed at bookstores, you name it.

I don't know why I had kept all that stuff, unless I harbored delusions of becoming famous enough to one day donate my "papers" to a university. I still have several boxes containing copies of manuscripts for all of my books. Some are heavily marked-up by editors. I'm still reluctant to trash them, but the closer we get to moving time, the more pressure I'll get to start dumping.

And I still have a box full of various things I saved from my college newspaper days and early stories I wrote on my first daily newspaper job. But, whatcha gonna do?

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

By Mark W. Danielson 
  I was flattered when Shamus Award winner Paul Marks tagged me to join the Writing Process Blog Hop. I encourage you to check out Paul’s books and writing methods at  At the end of this post I will tag mystery romance author Terry Odell who will post about her writing process on her blog on June 9th.  Every author's responses are unique, so please take a moment to read and enjoy them.

What am I working on?

Spectral Gallows, the second in the Maxx Watts detective series, was released in October, 2013.  Since then, several personal drawn-out medical issues gave me a taste of what our wounded warriors experience on a daily basis.  Although my back surgery wasn’t so bad, hand surgery made me appreciate having all my limbs.  But physical challenges of are only part of what our returning soldiers experience.  The cost of their emotional and psychological pain is staggering, and the damage unknown.  I explored this element with a Vietnam veteran in Spectral Gallows where he is ignored when speaking of a decades-old murder in Fort Worth’s haunted Scott Theater because he is a society drop-out.  Based on a true incident, it was fun exploring the paranormal in this twisted cold-case novel.    

Although I was well into a sequel, I have put it on hold so I can focus on my colorful grandfather, Maynard Owen Williams.  While working as a foreign correspondent to the Christian Science Herald and the National Geographic’s first foreign correspondent National Geographic, Williams was a true Indiana Jones having dined with T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, witnessed the first shots of World War I in the Ottoman Empire, served as a military attaché in China, and was among the first Anglos to enter King Tut’s tomb.  He claimed that those who entered the tomb were all cursed with death, and true to his word, he passed away – decades later.   He passed when I was eleven, but I’ve gotten to know him through his writing and photographs, which are still available on line.  Whether I can do him justice in a biography remains to be seen.  Regardless, it will be nice getting to know the man behind the lens and typewriter.    

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Every one of my fictional stories uses real situations and settings because it helps people relate.  In Day Stalker, a map of Redwood Regional Park helped readers follow where things were happening.  Oddly, numerous coincidences have occurred over the years.  A tree I wrote about in Day Stalker actually fell as I had described years later.  In Danger Within, I needed to ditch an airliner near southern California’s Channel Islands because salvage divers had to find out why the plane went down.  Years later, a real airliner crashed within two miles of where I wrote about.  Considering how large the ocean is, the odds of that happening seem quite small.  In the early 90s, I wrote about an Air Force general who was murdered, but left to appear a suicide. Two weeks later, the actual Chief of Naval Operations took his own life.  (For a variety of reasons, I never sought publication on this book.)  While these and other coincidences have led some to believe I am psychic, I assure you that isn’t the case.  However, each occurrence is uniquely interesting.

To better answer the question, though, everyone’s life experiences are different so our writing styles reflect that.  Over the past twenty-five years I have written over twenty novels, but only chosen to submit five.  Two of my unpublished stories concern actual wildfires and earthquakes, and while fascinating to research and write, the publishing world generally frowns on Mother Nature as the antagonist.  I’ve also found it more interesting writing new novels rather than invest time in numerous re-writes.  As with so many things in life, it is better to move forward than look back.    

Why do I write what I do? 

Whether made up or real, everything I write has been churning inside for a long time.  When I do sit down to write, the words flow naturally.  As for topics, I never search for them.  Whether they come from media bombardment or my dreams, my stories allow me to vent and resolve problems that could never happen in real life.  I will add that my stories are often very personal and the result of frustration.  As an active airline pilot, I am offended at how the media reports aircraft mishaps.  When passengers are involved, their coverage is non-stop coverage, even if the information is unverified or erroneous, but when a cargo jet goes down and pilots are lost, it barely rates a mention.  Danger Within was the result of a poorly handled investigation, as was The Innocent Never Knew, which boldly tells the story of the cover-up of President Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown’s crash in the Balkans.  Day Stalker was the hardest to write because it involves a missing child, and yet this story of hope came to life through a very real search and rescue.  In Writer’s Block, I killed off a publisher, which is something many authors would love to do.  As mentioned earlier, Spectral Gallows discusses war-torn veterans and the paranormal in Maxx Watts’ attempt to solve a cold-case death.  On occasion I will put a story on hold if another piques my interest, but I never forget where I was.  Normally, one sentence or idea is all I need to write a story.  
How does my writing process work?

Two words – subliminal thoughts.  I say this because when I sit down to write a first draft there is a direct connection between my subliminal thoughts and my keyboard.  I prefer writing in a quiet room to avoid distractions.  A ringing phone scares the hell out of me because it brings me back to reality.  Most of the time I get back into the zone, but there are times when I must walk away. 
I am much more prolific on the road than at home.  I once wrote 148 pages in four days in Almaty, Kazakhstan, because there were few distractions.  Of course, airline layovers are normally a day or less, but in this case, writing was a great way to pass the time.  

While some authors outline their stories, I let my characters tell their side with no restrictions.  The first draft is always fun because is I have no idea who lives, dies or gets lucky.  This approach keeps my stories fresh, and since I never know who committed the crime until the end, I doubt anyone else will.

I switched to series writing because it is fun expanding characters and sub-plots.  I have no idea how long the vicious Skinheads in Writer’s Block and Spectral Gallows will torment Maxx Watts, but it is always good having unresolved elements in a story.  The best thing about protagonist detectives is their plots and locations are endless.     

Thank you, Paul Marks for including me.  Now I’ll turn it over to romance mystery author Terry Odell.  

From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly.  Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one.  Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships."  She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, and the Mapleton Mystery series.  Her latest work is Deadly Puzzles.  You can find her high in the Colorado Rockies—or at