Sunday, August 30, 2009

Talk About Evil...

by Ben Small

I'm always looking for new stuff writers can use to liven up their work... in this case, murder. Today, I looked no further than my safe.

Enter the Mosin Nagant 91-30, a piece of history still being written.

The Mosin Nagant action is one of the best ever designed, on a par with the Mauser and the Mauser-derived Winchester Model 70, the Rifleman's Rifle. And the term "91-30" means just what it says. It's an 1891 Russian design upgraded in 1930. Its pappy fought in the Russian Revolution and World War I. This version was the standard Russian infantry rifle during World War II, and it enforced the entire Soviet Bloc thereafter.

So there... You've got a rifle with history. An intriguing fact, or maybe something more. Sprinkle in a bit of ethnicity, old family grudges, maybe a previous crime... and these rifles can be your ms missile-launchers.

Or maybe that's just me...

Anyway, the rifle with bayo attached, as you see in this photo I took yesterday, stands about five feet long. The bayo is about a foot-and-a-half. Imposing. And the design and weighting are such that the rifle shoots best with bayo fixed.

Take a closer look at the bayonet...

Yes, it would make a good flat-head screwdriver. But the rifle's length might pose a problem if you use it that way. You'd get torque, all right, but lining everything up would be an issue, and for goodness sake, do not put your finger inside the trigger-guard if the thing is loaded. You'd find you don't need a screwdriver anymore. A carpenter or plumber, maybe...

(Psst. These things make great ice picks. Just don't try this in low-ceiling rooms, and don't be the one holding the bucket.)

Mosin Nagant 91/30s are both beautiful and functional. Deadly so. They're accurate as hell and pack a punch -- at both ends. They fire a 7.62 x 54R cartridge.

Spooky looking, huh?

The 7.62 x 54R cartridge -- the "R" stands for "Russian" -- is larger and more powerful than the standard NATO thirty-caliber cartridge, the round our soldiers prefer over what they fire in their arguably underpowered little M-16s and M-4s. The Russian round will not just power through body armor; it'll make Swiss cheese out of cement houses. It's the round our soldiers often face in Afghanistan, and it's the round we're giving the Iraqi Army.

Recoil? Yes, but the weight of the rifle dampens that, even with the steel butt-plate -- usually a reliable predictor of an approaching ouch. And there's a good side to recoil: If your perp gets the bayo stuck in a victim, all he has to do is pull the trigger. Problem solved.

But there are some other reasons this rifle makes a good perp-weapon, other than the fearsome size of the bayo and the blockbuster round. These things are cheap; millions were made and are out in the marketplace. You can often find a serviceable, complete rifle for under a hundred bucks. And you get cool stuff with it -- ammo bag, oil can, maybe even a sling, although a real Russian period-sling will set you back more than the rifle. And there are parts available galore. Shoot the victim, replace the barrel. You can get replacement barrels at any gun show, and most of these rifles don't have matched barrels anyway. See, the round's primer is usually corrosive. Fail to clean the chamber after firing... let it sit -- the primer's chems munch metal -- and, well... you'll be wantin' to replace the barrel.

Take that, Ballistics.

One cautionary note. The Mosin Nagant 91/30 makes a very big bang. People are gonna hear it. Best fire it when folks are asleep or on New Year's Eve or the Fourth of July. Ignore this warning at perp's peril: The cops will come before he can replace the barrel or throw El Cheapo away.

For some excellent Mosin Nagant humor, check out this site:

The Eyes Have It

By Pat Browning

I had a raging ear ache all week. Friday I gave up and went to see a doctor, taking along a book to read -- PRELUDE TO TERROR by Helen MacInnes, a 1978 Fawcett Crest paperback. International intrigue and art theft, set in Vienna and Budapest.

Couldn’t miss. I’m fascinated by the looting of art that went on during World War II. I was a tourist in Budapest and Vienna in 1979 so the setting would be a thrill. The book turned out to be a good choice, but not for the reasons I picked it. I’m still trying to read it. It is now Saturday night and into Sunday morning. I’m on page 150 and I still don’t know what’s going on.

MacInnes was a longtime best selling author before her death in 1985. Several of her books became movies. Her 1968 book THE SALZBURG CONNECTION oozes with atmosphere. Not so, PRELUDE TO TERROR. So far, it’s like a skeleton. You have to imagine the flesh.

If the author were anyone but MacInnes I would simply turn to the ending and save myself a slog through the entire book. But I keep reading. Surely there will be a surprise, a shock, a twist. Until then I’m easily distracted. Is that an ant walking across the sidewalk?

The hero is Grant, an American art expert, in Vienna to buy a famous Dutch masterpiece for a reclusive art collector. The complication is that the painting is being sold on the sly by a Hungarian trying to escape to the West. Since the Cold War government of Hungary owns all art in private hands and looks askance at citizens trying to escape – well, you see the problem. This may turn out to be the longest set up in literary history.

There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, involving the State Department, the Israeli Mossad, unidentified spies in disguise, cryptic messages and absolutely no eye contact. Don’t turn around … don’t look at me … pretend you don’t see me … Grant can’t figure it out and neither can I.

On page 67, a sentence gets my attention: “If I were a Viennese, thought Grant … I’d always be conscious that Czechoslovakia’s barbed wire and Hungary’s armed watchtowers were less than thirty miles away.”

A cloud of memories flies up. 1979: I remember Hungary’s borders. Our tour guide gave us detailed instructions on how to fold our passports and visas, what to say, how to avoid eye contact. Above all, avoid eye contact. Scared us half to death.

And then a young soldier boarded the bus and walked slowly down the aisle, checking papers and avoiding eye contact. He was sweating. He surely wasn’t more than 18, and he looked scared half to death.

My impression of Budapest was, that in spite of its history, beauty, Gabor sisters and magnificent Hilton Hotel, its people were whistling past the graveyard. At the Citadella, an old fortress overlooking the Danube, the walls were pocked with shell holes and there was a towering Russian statue on the roof.

From a travel agent in the Hilton, I learned that Hungarians could leave the country once every three years, but could only take the cash equivalent of $40 with them. Catch 22. Hungarian eyes were a little wary, a little sad.

In Spain in 1975, eyes were merely watchful. The old dictator Franco was on his deathbed. Spain was a country of dark eyes, watching, waiting. The next time I went to Spain, Franco was dead and the country was wide open. Japanese tourists were hogging the best seats in flamenco clubs, and newsstands were actually displaying girlie magazines. Give Franco credit for grooming a young Juan Carlos to take back the throne. Apparently it was a peaceful transition.

For a writer, eyes can speak volumes. One of my few books on writing is EYE LANGUAGE: UNDERSTANDING THE ELOQUENT EYE by Evan Marshall, first published in 1983. He published THE EYES HAVE IT, an updated version, in 2003. The chapters appear to be the same: “ … loving and lying eyes, the etiquette of staring, the ‘evil eye,’ pupillometry, iridology, trends in eye adornment, and ‘the vital blink.’”

You see what I’m up against – a thriller set in Budapest and Vienna that reminds me of everything except Budapest and Vienna. But I keep reading.. Surely there will be a surprise, a shocker, a twist and … somebody … will … make… eye … contact …

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Joys of Moving

by Jean Henry Mead

The words “residential move” strike terror in the hearts of us homebodies—at the least, a number of deep gutteral groans. All that sorting, tossing and packing are back-breaking jobs and saying goodbye to a house you’ve lived in for more than a dozen years is like biding an old friend farewell. Permanently.

To say packing is time consuming is an understatement. My husband and I are the eldest of our families and have inherited picture albums as well as old photos stored in large boxes. You just have to take a peek and wind up spending the rest of the day reminiscing over each photograph as though you had all the time in the world.

I still have my high school and college yearbooks, which I helped to create, so taking a walk down memory lane is mandatory. OMG, is that really me with that huge bouffant hairdo? I also have stacks of campus newspapers that I edited in college while President Johnson was in his waning days in office. I wrote a humorous column about him teaching elocution lessons when he returned to Texas, and my handwriting analysis articles were halted by the professors because their students were critiquing their blackboard writings. But I'm straying from the subject . . .

Bill and I are packrats who can’t seem to part with memorabilia, but moving into a smaller house means that some of it has to go. Not my books or writer magazines and certainly not his museum-sized collections of tools, old guns and miscellaneous "non essentials." I gave most of my porcelain dolls to my granddaughters and vintage clothing to the Salvation Army, but what to do with all this office equipment? We’ll try to cram most of it into a spare bedroom. We can’t survive without our computers, fax machine and other electronics.

Or can we? We recently learned that the telephone company won’t provide us with service until there are four other customers in the area. Not much chance of that because we’ll be surrounded by ranchers who have been there for eons. Cell service is sketchy so boosters are in order but fax machines can be operated from cell phones.

After watching the home and garden channel, we learned what we needed to do to prepare our current house for sale, which was a major undertaking. We bought a large fixer-upper and didn’t quite complete the renovations. So we started again by repainting 3,000 square feet of living space, replacing baseboards and flooring, appliances, siding and windows, roofing and drapes by doing most of the work ourselves.

Twelve years older and a whole lot creakier, we decided that this was our last move. And now that the house looks so nice, I really don’t want to leave it.

Our new place is perched atop a mountain, a stopping place for sheriff’s deputies to report in on their radios, so our house will become an unofficial espresso cafe. I’ll have to learn to make doughnuts and keep the coffee pot perking. But what better research for a mystery writer than to listen to visiting lawmen? They may even take a bead on some of our unwelcome rattlers. . .

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave

By Beth Terrell

Heard any good tweets lately?

If you haven't been living under a rock (I almost have, but that's another story), you've probably been hearing a lot about social networking lately. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, CrimeSpace, LiveJournal, and a host of other sites that encourage cyber-communication are now being used by authors to connect with potential readers and --hopefully--broaden their fan bases.

Social networking is weaving a virtual web of relationships for friendship, entertainment, and yes, business, but with all the options, how do you know which is best? And what's the most effective way to use these social networking tools without alienating the very people you're hoping to connect with? There's been a lot of discussion about social networks on the Murder Must Advertise list lately, and most people seem to agree that the soft sell is the way to go. Make friends, participate in discussions, post some "This is what I've been doing with my book" updates, and you can build an audience without feeling like a snake oil salesman. I succumbed to Facebook, after months of resistance, and have made contact with friends I haven't seen in years, like the guy who was in my Sunday School class when we were kids and whom I haven't seen in...ahem...quite a long time. A lot of those friends ask about my book. Some of them buy it. This is nice, but it's a perk. The relationships are worth cultivating, even if they don't result in book sales.

Still, I know I'm not making the most of the medium, so while I was at Killer Nashville, I picked up a book called Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day by Dave Evans. This immensely readable book is chock full of information about building a platform through social networks such as the ones I mentioned earlier. Most important, it teaches you how to do it without spamming others or engaging in otherwise obnoxious behaviors.

I'd tell you more about it, but I'm just beginning to delve into it. With my book being reissued in October, I'm going to need all the help I can get, and weaving a virtual web of friends and readers seems like a good start.

See you on Facebook?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Which Way To Albuquerque?

By Mark W. Danielson

Here’s a Wrong Way Corrigan story for you. Well, not Wrong Way, per say, but maybe Part Way. You see, the pilot of this bi-plane didn’t have much room to unfold maps so he made a strip chart – a map that covered his route, but little more. All was fine until an ominous cold front forced him to deviate off his chart. Now flying off memory and with a strong tailwind pushing him over Arizona’s mountains, he suddenly came upon an impenetrable gray curtain. Having limited fuel reserves and unsure of his position, the pilot was forced to land to wait out the weather.

The rain-soaked earth made a two-lane highway the only viable option. The bi-plane was seen making several passes along the highway before landing behind a large RV. The pilot then pulled his airplane off the road at the intersection of Marker 81 in the above photo. Now all that remained was waiting out the weather and getting directions.

One might think that a red, white, and blue bi-plane would attract attention, but in this case, it may as well have been nuclear waste. People stopped way up and down the road, but no one dared come near the airplane. Clearly, the denim-clad pilot was chilled by the seven thousand foot altitude. Two hours passed before he ventured to the ranch across the street. After parting cattle like Moses did the Red Sea, he found the house deserted and retraced his steps. Encouraged by a car that had stopped near his plane, he darted for his plane, flinging mud from his shoes, but ten yards short, the car took off like a frightened grouse. Gazing to the sky, the perturbed pilot contemplated his next move when he heard a pickup coming down the dirt road he had blocked. When the driver stopped, the pilot asked for directions to Albuquerque. Without hesitation, the dazed driver pointed toward a knoll. The pilot then thanked him, climbed into his plane, and took off. Fortunately, the driver’s sense of direction was right and I landed safely at my Alamagordo destination, a little south of Albuquerque.

This story is but one of my many misadventures in the airplane I built. My plane and I performed numerous airshows together, but one day we had to part ways so I could buy a house. I look back on this particular experience with both amusement and guilt because I was supposed to be a “professional pilot”. I’ve always wondered if the RV driver I landed behind ever met up with the pickup driver and shared a beer over this crazy experience. Looking back, I suppose that’s the best part of this story -- that I keep thinking about its ending. In that regard, it’s like a novel where every reader has their own take. Stories need that, for without that element, they may as well be text books. As for my lessons learned, I’ve never flown with another strip chart.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Many Faces of Sid Chance

By Chester Campbell

Well, maybe not all that many faces, but you get the idea. Characters are created from a smorgasbord of features that emanate from many sources. In the case of Sid Chance, the protagonist in The Surest Poison, I pulled him together from lots of different places.

The first thing you notice about a person is outward appearance, mainly size. For Sid, think of my Murderous Musings colleague, Ben Small. If you’ve ever met him, Ben is a large presence. I modeled Sid’s size after him. Sid is six-foot-six and wears a number 16 shoe (it’s featured in the story). But unlike Ben, I gave him a black beard. He had been living like a hermit in the backwoods the past three years, and hermits don’t fool with shaving.

Sid’s love of the outdoors, along with his homemade cabin on the hillside, came from my younger son, Mark. Like Sid, Mark served in Army Special Forces, though his service was post-Vietnam. That’s where his early-rising habit originated. Though nearly twenty years out of the Army, Mark (like Sid) still gets up in the wee hours. The cabin idea and its location came from Mark. Several years ago he bought 85 acres of hillside in Smith County, east of Nashville. He hauled the materials, including plywood sheets and 40-pound sacks of Quikrete, up the hill on his back, with some help from his two sons. Mark’s cabin is not as commodious as Sid’s, but he only stays there a few days at a time.

Sid’s background as a National Park ranger came courtesy of Tom Howell, a former ranger at the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Perdido Key, FL. I interviewed Howell while working on the second Greg McKenzie mystery, Designed to Kill. He gave me a basic understanding of what the job entails.

I didn’t do anything with it in this book, but the fact that Sid’s mother insisted he learn to play the piano may be followed up later. That part of his character came from my own experience. My mother’s sister was a piano teacher and organist at our church. My older brother and I got mandatory piano lessons as youngsters. Playing in recitals was my worst nightmare. Aunt Rosie wanted to teach me organ, but I was getting into my teens and didn’t want to bother with that. Of course, now I dearly wish I had. I haven’t played in ages, though I have an electronic keyboard (I gave my piano to my younger daughter).

The final character trait I had to consider was the way Sid thinks. He isn’t totally me, but a lot of his philosophy on life mirrors my own. I suspect most writers imbue their protagonists with much of their own views. Of course, a lot of his thoughts and actions reflect the way I would like to be. I am not so bold or confrontational. I would not likely have made a good cop.

My characters are pulled together from lots of people I know or know about. They’re not close enough for anybody to sue me (I hope), but they come across as real people because they’re a hodgepodge of actual people.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What To Do If She Says No

by Ben Small

Flex some muscle, flash a wicked grin.
Pout and moan about how long it’s been.


Wail and cry… or beg and plead.
Snarl and scratch, watch myself bleed.


I could be silent, stare her down.
I could be quiet, fix her a frown.


Open her mail, throw it around.
Call her fat, “ one round mound.”


Drive off, take it somewhere.
Spin it on Facebook, spread it everywhere.


Plot a payback, less than a crime.
Cover her undies with gun oil and grime.


I could be steadfast, insistent and firm.
I could plot murder, body on the berm.


I do none of that, no, not at all.
I give her my back and walk down the hall.

And then…

I take out the trash... myself.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer Shorts: The Way We Were

The late Katherine Shephard standing before a wall mural outside the Kingsburg, CA library, May 20, 2004.
Katherine and her little red car, Kingsburg.
Katherine and Bowie Aloysia Dog, Left Coast Crime-Monterey, Feb. 21, 2003.

By Pat Browning

Rolling down the highway on a moonless night, hugging a white line to nowhere. Nothing on either side except shades of Black and Empty. Ahead and behind, the lights of long-haul trucks, drivers trying to get the hell out of California before fuel prices took another jump …

The distance between Katherine Shephard’s library program in one little town to her motel in another little town was about 15 miles, 20 max, but it’s easy to get lost on country roads at night. Cotton fields on one side of a two-laner, vineyards on the other, irrigation ditches waiting to reach out and pull you in. We made one wrong turn after another, but finally found that old workhorse, Highway 99, and headed south to find a road going west, laughing all the way.

“Thelma and Louise, Part Deux,” Katherine said.

Meeting people is part of the fun of belonging to the mystery community. I first met that bright spirit Katherine Shephard when we did a signing together at the Foster City Library in San Francisco’s Bay Area on October 7, 2003.

The appearance was arranged by PJ Nunn’s Breakthrough Promotions. The librarian made a poster on butcher paper and taped it to a sandwich board. “Mystery Tuesdays,” the sign said. “Meet up and coming mystery writers …”

After our program Katherine took the poster down, gave it to me and said, "I keep things like this around my computer to remind me of happy times." I still have the poster. One of these days I'll find a frame big enough and hang it behind my computer.

We met again at Left Coast Crime 2004 in Monterey. Katherine was just getting started in her career as a mystery writer. She had written two novels in what was to be a series. In FRATERNITY OF SILENCE and BETRAYED BY SILENCE she blended romantic comedy and mystery, with politics as the backdrop.

Though she wrote about political corruption, her books are warm-hearted, even cozy. Newlyweds Beth and Bob Larken are a delightful couple, devoted to each other and a feisty little dog named Bowie Aloysia Dog, or B.A.D. for short. Katherine carried a toy version of B.A.D. to all her appearances.

She spent much of 2004 on the road promoting her books. I was delighted when she let me know she had scheduled a program at the library in Kingsburg, a small town near Fresno. I lived close by in Hanford, so she picked me up for dinner and then we tooled off to Kingsburg in her little red car.

Katherine really connected with an audience, and it came naturally. She was “on stage” for most of her life in the worlds of entertainment and politics. Her technique was to speak quietly. Plainly, but quietly. Chit-chat simmered down and before long you could have heard a pin drop, except for the sound of Katherine’s voice. The audience seemed to lean forward as one, so as not to miss anything she was saying.

As usual, she charmed everyone. And as usual, she got a variation of the question: "How did you make the leap from writing political speeches to writing fiction?" She took a beat and said, "What leap?"

It cracked us up and led her into the story of “the mole in the hole,” or how she got the idea for her mystery series from overheard conversations in the women's restroom at a political convention. She called her fiction “faction” -- fact-based fiction.

Katherine packed a lot into her too-short life. Here are bio highlights still posted at Murder Express:

“Author Katherine Shephard was born and raised in Northwest Detroit, Michigan. She is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Criminal Justice. After graduation she moved to east Grand Rapids where she worked in criminal law. Her involvement in politics began during those years in Grand Rapids when she volunteered for several campaigns in 1976. She has been involved in politics and writing ever since, winning a Christian speech contest that led to her addressing the UN in New York on the role of youth in world affairs.

“Her writing career began in kindergarten when she would tell her mother to ‘grab a pencil and write down this story.’ Those stories would always involve a puppy and usually a princess. She also began entertaining at a young age. She sang and danced her way onto local Michigan television as well as the national arena during the Tournament of Roses in 1969.

“That same year she traveled to Europe with Youth Understanding, as well as playing violin with the Scandinavian Symphony across the United States. For relaxation and entertainment, Ms. Shephard still plays the piano and violin. Music has played a major role in her life and deep throughout her novel, ‘Fraternity of Silence.’”

Impressive as all that is, my favorite memory of Katherine will always be of the wild ride through the Central Valley boonies and down Highway 99, laughing all the way. She died two years later from a rare form of cancer, but she is remembered fondly and with pleasure.

Now September’s upon us and the year will wind down so fast it will be a blur. This is my last trip down Memory Lane with Summer Shorts. Time again to look ahead!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gillian Phillip, Scottish YA Novelist

Gillian Philip lives and writes in the Scottish Highlands and is one of my favorite author interviews. The Aberdeen native began her writing career while living in Barbados, and her YA mystery/thrillers have been written for Hothouse Fiction, a UK book packager.

Gillian, I love your web site quote: “Taking dictation from people who don’t exist.” It sounds as though you give your characters free rein. How much do you know about a book before you begin writing?

Sometimes I know very little for certain, but I have a stew of ideas simmering away, and they won’t be pinned down to the page till they’re nicely cooked (this metaphor is losing its way). I like to have my main characters in place – and named with exactly the right names – even if I don’t know very much about them, or the secrets they’re keeping. So long as they have the right names, I know they’ll talk to me eventually.

And I absolutely have to have a title I like. I’m usually happy to change it eventually, but the story itself needs a name, just like the characters. I can’t relate to a file called ‘Working Title’ or ‘Book’. It’s like calling the dog ‘Dog’.

Why did living in Barbados for twelve years make you decide to write professionally? And what were you writing at that time?

We moved out to Barbados for my husband’s work, so there was no work permit for me. I went to the gym a lot, and went to the beach bar a lot more... and eventually I realised there was no excuse not to give my writing (or my liver) a chance. After all, I could hardly say I was pushed for time. So I wrote a short story, and sent it off to the People’s Friend, a UK story magazine. I was gobsmacked, and thrilled, when they accepted it. I wrote some more, and eventually they accepted another, and then more. I started writing for other magazines too, My Weekly and Woman’s Weekly.

I was happy to be selling stuff but I wasn’t all that happy writing short stories; I wanted to stay with my characters for a whole book. So I tried writing romance, and failed – it’s incredibly hard to get right – but it was all good practice, and it really gave me the novel bug. When we came back to Scotland in 2001, and I was buying children’s books for my new twins, I discovered modern Young Adult novels. And wham bam, I realised what really I wanted to write.

Tell us about your first YA mystery novel, Bad Faith, published last October, which sounds pretty street savvy.

Bad Faith is the story of Cassandra, who lives in a society run by the dictatorial One Church and its violent militias. She’s a privileged girl – her father is a cleric – but she has a dangerously subversive boyfriend, who’s an infidel. It all goes wrong for the pair of them when they discover the corpse of an important bishop, and – for reasons that seem perfectly sensible at the time–decide to hide it.

Meanwhile Cass is finding that her family has terrible secrets: some of them relating to the dead bishop, and some to a serial killer who once terrorised the country. Bad Faith is part murder mystery, part love story, and part political thriller. It was great fun to write – for half the book I was wondering myself whodunnit.

Your latest book, Crossing the Line, is due out this month. Tell us about your protagonist and the setting. And how important is humor?

Like Bad Faith, Crossing the Line is set in an unspecified Scottish town (though I confess that Aberdeen – where I grew up – had a big influence). Nick Geddes is a former bully and thug who’s trying to turn his life round, but it’s complicated. His old gang was responsible for the death of his sister Allie’s boyfriend. Now he not only has to look after the unstable Allie, and deal with his sometimes monstrous family - he’s also in love with the unattainable Orla Mahon, the dead boy’s sister.

I threw an awful lot at Nick, so it’s just as well he turned out to have a sense of humour. I do think the darker the story, the funnier it can be – it’s a matter of balance. I’m happy that Crossing the Line has been called ‘gruesome’ – but also ‘funny and touching’.

Working for a successful book packaging house must be an interesting job. What exactly does your job entail?

Hothouse Fiction is the book packaging company who created the Darkside books, about a parallel London where the children of Jack the Ripper live. The creative guys at Hothouse brainstorm concepts, come up with stories and great characters, and then put the ideas out to various writers, who tender for the books by writing sample chapters.

I’ve been contracted to write a series called Darke Academy. Hothouse gives me an outline and the characters, I write a draft, and then we work on the editing together. For me it’s a really different way of working, and I enjoy it.

With seven-year-old twins, when do you find time to write? What’s your schedule like?

I try to write in the mornings and, if I’m lucky, into the afternoon – even after the kids have come home from school, I’m a bit naughty about letting them sit in front of the Xbox or the television while I finish a chapter. If things are going really well, or I’m up against a deadline, I’ll work in the evenings. I try to keep weekends for family, but I tend to sneak back to the laptop... I confess, though, the writing quite often gets pushed aside for the joys of Facebook. That’s a temptation I really need to resist!

Which mystery sub genres are most popular in Scotland? And how do Agatha Christie’s amateur sleuth novels fare in today’s market?

There still seems to be a big demand for the gritty, ‘tartan noir’ side of crime fiction. I think Val McDermid and Ian Rankin will always be popular. Stuart MacBride is very dark, and he’s huge at the moment. But Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books are popular too, and they are very gentle in subject matter. There’s always room for both, I reckon. Agatha Christie is much more an English writer, of course, but I can’t imagine she will ever fall out of favour. She was featured in a recent episode of "Doctor Who", a wonderful and clever and wildly popular sci-fi series, so I hope that brought her yet another new generation of readers.

Which authors most influenced your own writing and why?

To an extent it depends on what I’m writing. Ruth Rendell is one of my favourite authors in any genre, and when I’m writing about crime I think I’ve been influenced by her non-Wexford novels in subject matter and viewpoint. I’m crazy about Malorie Blackman, a fabulous YA author who can do politics that make you cry. But I write fantasy too, and where that’s concerned, I’m influenced by everything from Alan Garner to the Marvel Comics and graphic novels of my teenage years. I was a huge fan of the X-Men, and I adored Wolverine even before he was Hugh Jackman in black leather (I adore him even more now that he is Hugh Jackman...)

Tell us about the Darke Academy Series that you’re currently writing.

The Hothouse series Darke Academy is about ancient spirits living in the bodies of modern teenagers. The students come from all over the world, and the Academy moves to a different exotic city every term – mostly because things tend to go horribly wrong for pupils who aren’t in on the secret. I’ve had a lot of fun locating adventures in Paris, New York, and (next time) in Istanbul. My heroine Cassie is a girl from a care home who thinks her life is changing when she wins a scholarship to the prestigious school – but she doesn’t realise, of course, just how big the ‘changes’ are going to be.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Killer Nashville and the Silver Falchion

By Beth Terrell

This past weekend, the Killer Nashville Crime Literature Conference went by in a blur for me. As one of the conference organizers, I rarely get to see or hear the sessions, but I have the time of my life anyway. This year, I was thrilled to meet guest of honor J.A. Jance and law enforcement expert Lee Lofland, whom I've been wanting to snag for the conference for years. (Lee did six presentations that blew the attendees away.)

The high point of the conference for me, though, was Saturday's Guest of Honor/award dinner. There were a number of great moments at the dinner, including the look of surprise and utter delight on J.A. Jance's face when she was presented with the traditional Killer Nashville guitar. Of course, being given the SEMWA Magnolia Award for service to the chapter made me tingle from head to toe. (I've worn the little silver magnolia every single day since then.) But of all the wonderful things that happened at the dinner--and, in fact, the whole conference--the best was when event founder Clay Stafford announced the 2009 winner of the Silver Falchion.

The Silver Falchion is awarded to the attending author of the best novel published during the current or previous year, as voted on by the other conference attendees. With approximately 175 people in attendance, that's quite an honor. There were 14 fine authors nominated for the award, and the competition was fierce. Then Clay held up the shiny black-and-silver plaque and said, "And the winner is...Chester D. Campbell, for The Surest Poison."

Chester is the author of two mystery series, one featuring private detectives Greg and Jill McKenzie and the other, of which The Surest Poison is the first, featuring PI Sid Chance. Chester is a classy writer. His books are crisp, clean, and always professional. He's also a classy guy. "He'll do anything for anybody," his wife, Sarah said to me, and that is the absolute truth. Chester and I have been in the same critique group for more than a decade, and he has helped me every step of the way. He helped me get my first agent, he helped me get my self-published book reissued by a better publisher, and he's helped me become a better writer. He's also a role model when it comes to marketing and promotion: twittering, tweeting, Facebooking, Crimespacing, blog touring, live touring...whatever it takes, he's out there doing it, tirelessly and with gentility and grace.

Chester is a true gentleman, in the very best sense of the word. He's always been a winner, and now he has the plaque to prove it. I'm honored that he is my friend.

And congratulations, Chester. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stumbling Along

By Mark W. Danielson

Last week, Beth wrote about authors’ humble beginnings. My story is I stumbled into writing. In fact, I’m probably the most unlikely author in our blog group because my initial passions were painting, flying, and downhill skiing. As a student, I read only what was required, and having had zero interest in English or journalism, the fact that I’m even writing is nothing short of a miracle. But what made me an author is somewhere along the way I discovered that I possessed an essential writing trait – a willingness to share my thoughts on paper. And so began my love affair with the written word.

College was easy, so long as my assignments involved essays. Even so, I never imagined that one day I’d be writing novels. Sure, I cranked out some articles for the college paper, and later, some non-fiction articles for magazines, but I never thought much of it. I suppose that seeing them published encouraged me to write more, but it wasn’t until the United States Navy forced me to become computer literate that I truly became interested. Had they not sent me to computer school, I’d probably still be using my typewriter. There is no way that I’d draft a novel in hard-copy, but I salute those who have.

The Personal Computer definitely piqued my interest in writing. Suddenly, my thoughts appeared on screen as fast as I could think. Even better, my flying fingers impressed my superior officers with how hard I was working. Thankfully, they never looked over my shoulder to see I was writing novels on company time. (Oh, please – like I’m the first author to do that! For the record, I conducted plenty of Navy business, too.)

The great thing about writing is there are no age requirements, and it requires minimal mobility. So long as you can prop your head up and reach a keyboard, you can write. While it’s true that some people are born to write, it’s great that people like me can stumble into it later in life. And with all this texting and blogging, it’s a wonder there aren’t more young authors. By adding a few more keystrokes, they could be writing short stories. Building on them would make them novels.

Some of our best writing comes from subconscious thoughts. They key is writing them down before they’re lost. Allowing your thoughts to flow, just as you do in conversation or texting, will make you a creative writer. All it takes is perseverance and a lot of editing. Good luck, and have fun with it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Magnolia Award Goes To . . .

By Chester Campbell

One of our own was honored last Saturday night at the 2009 Killer Nashville Mystery Conference dinner. The Magnolia Award, which is given annually in recognition of outstanding dedication and service to the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (SEMWA), was presented to Beth Terrell, who blogs here on Thursdays.

The award was presented by Karen McCullough, president of the Chapter. Beth worked tirelessly for months helping put together the myriad of details required to get the conference and its program ready. Clay Stafford, conference producer, said Beth was the indispensable person he could not have done without.

Killer Nashville is co-sponsored by SEMWA and serves as the Chapter’s main educational event for the year. McCullough was host for a Chapter gathering at the hotel on Friday night.

Beth and I have been members of a Nashville writers group for the past 15 or so years. She is an accomplished mystery writer and a great editor. At our twice-monthly meetings, she can be counted on to offer both encouraging praise and focused criticism that suggests ways the story can be improved.

She works fulltime, and the effort required to get everything ready for the conference severely reduced the amount of time she could devote to her writing. During the days leading up to the opening of Killer Nashville, she was lucky to get in four hours of sleep.

In addition to all her other duties, Beth is serving in her second year as Vice President of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I nominate her for the Murderous Musings Tenacious Spirit of the Year Award.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Killer Handguns

by Ben Small

So... what if your perp or protag’s got money and wants the best shooter he can buy? Handguns, that is... Where would he go, what would he carry?

We’re talking high end, here.*

Consider Ed Brown.

Ed's top 'o the line. Some models, you can wear Baby on a large link silver chain. Maybe Sean Combs will adopt you...

But let's be fair. Ed's designed and produced so many improvements to John Moses Browning's 1911 model .45 acp caliber pistol, they bear his name. Other manufacturers of high end pistols buy these parts from Ed. What does that say...?

Cost? These pistols will set you back twenty-five to thirty-five hundred dollars, maybe more. But many gunners consider Ed Brown pistols the absolute best. If your guy knows much about guns, he'll know about Ed Brown.

Not that there aren't others at Brown's level...

Take Les Baer, for instance. Cops think Les Baer pistols are the holy grail. Only Les, to my knowledge, offers models guaranteed to shoot a half inch, five shot grouping at fifty yards.

Yeah, Wild Bill Hickok shot Davis Tutt with a .32 caliber revolver at an estimated distance of seventy-five yards. Through the heart. But Wild Bill was lucky. Bet'cha he couldn't have made that shot twice, back-to-back.

No sweat for a Baer... assuming the shooter is up to it.

Other knowledgeable gunners will argue for Wilson Combat (, or -- God forbid! -- Nighthawk Custom (

Why the drama? Because the principal behind Nighthawk Custom used to be one of Wilson's top men, maybe his best gunsmith. Some folks left with him.

And they're all in Berryville, AR...

Think Hatfields and McCoys. Small town. Arkansas. Two top-end gun manufacturers who don't like each other -- bigtime. I sometimes wonder if Christmas trees cause all the late December Berryville flashing lights. Do Christmas trees shoot back?

Okay, so I made up the Berryville shootings. Let's just say the town is divided... Can you imagine the stress associated with addressing Christmas party invitations? Sorta Wallenda-like, huh?

Some other high-end pistol matters to consider...

You don't get handgun accuracy and reliability without two things: tight tolerances and lots of gun oil. The pistols I've mentioned are high precision instruments. So, if you're gonna drape your Ed Brown Baby on a large silver chain... wear black. Baby leaves stains. And try racking the slide on one of those Les-Baer-fifty-yard-guaranteed pistols. You better be Stallone or bring a weighty wrench.

These pistols break-in after a while, but they will certainly be wet and tight at first. How much so may be a way to age your perp/protag's preferred pistol to your preference. Go to these websites, look at the descriptions. Sprinkle details like blown snowflakes. But realize, these pistols will never be as loose as a Glock, a Sig or a Beretta. And that point alone makes them good story fodder...

We're talking different leagues, here. Think Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Elkart College.

Of course, each of these manufacturers has a fan base, indeed a well-heeled -- get it? -- and knowledgeable one. And if somebody ever says they'd prefer a Springfield Loaded over one of these pistols, just laugh at them. Chances are they're masking desire... for adequacy. Sure, most pistols are better than their shooters, but for those who can afford them, nothing beats the Browns, the Baers, the Wilson Combats and the Nighthawk Customs.

Sorta like the Rolexes and Patek Phillipes -- handgun category. But these artful machines... are American.

Perp, protag: Pick your pistols.

Me, I want a Nighthawk Custom Predator.


Because... That's all. I just want one.

Yeah, and I want a Gulfstream, too...

But a comment: You've probably realized that women might not like these guns. First, there's the caliber, not one typically enjoyed by women. Second, the oil -- gooey. Ruins the Hermes. Third, they're big. Just try fitting Baby in your purse. Yes, they make smaller versions, for Concealed Carry, for instance, but they're still big... and heavy. Consider a roller purse... Finally, a woman needs the arm strength of a pre-Reagan, East German shotputter to rack these slides. I'd give a dime to see Kyra Sedgewick try it.

Now here's a weapon a woman might like...

The Pink Lady, by Charter Arms.

The gun's not expensive, and sales are going through the roof. .38 Special +P, a good caliber and load. A taste thing, me thinks. Or maybe their hubbies thought they'd like one. Men sometimes have no clue, do they...?And they make one in lavender.

Shhh... Please. Please don't tell Venice Beach. Don't think I can handle pix of lavender pistols in pink thongs...

And don't put your purse where your kids can get it.


* Many folks, me included, think the Sig Sauer P-210 is the finest production handgun ever made. And Sig Sauer P-210s are as or more expensive than the gun manufacturers' products discussed here. The reason I didn't mention the P-210 in the main article body is... they're no longer in production. I've seen some advertised at twenty-five thousand dollars. Engraved, carved rosewood grips. The P-210 I've got is plain, much cheaper, with just the non-carved rosewood grips. Same gun, just fancier trimmings on the other one. But mine is good enough for me. Its tolerances are as tight as the other high-end guns above, and it's not a joy to rack. If you grip it high, its hammer will bite you. But then... Ed Brown's got a cure for that, too.

The Sig P-210 hits what it's shot at, dead-center... every time.

And that's the most important of all.

Say goodbye, Davis Tutt. I've got my Sig in my Speedo....

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer Shorts: Small World

Skadarlija, Belgrade’s old Bohemian quarter, photo from Wikipedia.
Tasmajan Park, Belgrade, photo from Tourist Organization of Belgrade online.
Typical street in the old walled city of Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian Coast.

By Pat Browning

The e-mail made my day, my week, my month. A Serbian named Andrej Godjevac was surfing the net, came across my book, and recognized his artwork on the cover. I shot off a question to Krill Press, and, sure enough, Andrej’s name is in small print on the back cover.

He wrote: “I saw the book by chance, I must say. While googling I came upon the "Poe's Deadly Daughters" blog and there was a post about crime books covers of 2008. Since I am a big fan of crime/horror/mystery films and books I really liked the use of the image.”

A voice from the past. No, a voice from the future. In this weird, wired 21st century, Andrej uses the same e-mail server as mine, and Belgrade is just a click away. Small world.

The last time I was in Belgrade it was a strange and exotic part of a big and faraway world. Marshal Tito’s marble vault sat in a bower of flowers in a small memorial center on the wooded slopes of his suburban estate. The Moscow Circus was in town. Boys played soccer at the base of the Istanbul Gates. Old men strolled in the parks. I climbed a couple of flights of stairs to a small millinery shop and, with the help of sign language and smiles, bought a hat.

There was an energy crisis, with rolling blackouts in parts of the city. On a Saturday night, cafes in Skadarlija , the lamplit, cobblestoned Bohemian quarter, were packed. At nine o’clock the lights went out. Waiters brought candles, and the wining, dining and singing went on.

For a brief time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Yugoslavia was golden. It was cheap, it was beautiful, it was historic, and its republics were like jewels on a necklace. The natives were friendly and feisty. Tourists were welcome.

Then it all fell apart. Far be it from me to try to explain the Balkans. I am just a tourist. For the curious, infoplease has a timeline at:
Old ethnic tensions led to the Yugoslav Wars in 1990. Even when the bombardments stopped, the wrangling continued, with NATO and the U.N. weighing in.

Today the former republics are independent countries. I have irreplaceable memories of all of them. I found excellent YouTube videos for Split, a wonderful old seaport on what is called the Dalmatian Coast, and for the beautiful walled city of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is a World Heritage city and a longtime cultural destination for the rest of the world. The YouTube video makes me cringe. It includes actual footage of the bombardment of the city, with citizens taking refuge inside the old wall. When the war was over, a worldwide movement helped replace the picturesque tiles of shattered roofs. Today’s crusade is to save Dubrovnik from developers and the hordes of summer tourists.

The YouTube video for Split (by Rick Steves) is at

Saving Dubrovnik, the You Tube video for Dubrovnik, is at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Carolyn Hart Interview

by Jean Henry Mead

With more than three million copies of her mystery novels in print, Carolyn Hart is best known for her Henrie O and Death on Demand series. Her most recent series features red-haired ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Oklahoma, Carolyn's home town.

Carolyn, when did your Death on Demand mystery series originate?

In 1985, I attended a meeting of the southwest chapter of MWA in Houston and visited Murder by the Book. I had never been to a mystery bookstore and I was enchanted. I had just started a new mystery set in a bookstore. I immediately decided to have a mystery bookstore named Death on Demand.

Tell us about Dare to Die.

Dare to Die is the 19th title in the Death on Demand series which is set on an idyllic South Carolina sea island. My protagonists are Annie Darling, who owns the Death on Demand mystery bookstore, and her husband Max Darling, who runs Confidential Commissions, a small business devoted to helping people solve problems. Annie and Max’s move into a refurbished antebellum home is on hold after water damage and they are staying at Nightingale Courts, the resort cabins managed by Ingrid Webb, Annie’s clerk, and Ingrid’s husband Duane. Annie and Max agree to take care of the Courts when Ingrid and Duane are called away by a family emergency. As they are leaving, Duane asks Annie to keep an eye on the young woman who checked in yesterday. "She came in the rain. Alone. On a bicycle." Annie befriends the young woman. When she is murdered, Annie and Max are plunged into fear and danger.

How much of your series is autobiographical?

Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, a retired newspaper reporter, is the protagonist of the Henrie O series. Henrie O is taller, thinner, smarter, and braver than I but she reflects the author’s attitudes.

I’m intrigued with your impetuous red-haired ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Oklahoma. How did the series come about?

I loved the Topper books and films when I was growing up. I see ghosts as reflections of the person who lived. I always wanted to write about a fun-loving, energetic, impetuous ghost returning to earth to help someone in trouble and Bailey Ruth answered the call.

You’ve received an amazing number of awards including the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award. Has the recognition resulted in increased book sales and reader awareness of your work?

I hope that the awards, which I very much appreciate, help to attract readers. It’s hard to know whether such awards increase sales but any mention of a book or books is helpful to an author.

What's your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day, no matter how long it takes?

I try to write five pages a day (approx. 1,500 words) when working on a book. Some days I meet that goal. Some days I don’t. When I am stuck, I take a long walk and usually something will occur to me.

Tell us about your writing background.

I worked on school newspapers and majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma. When we started a family, I didn’t return to reporting but decided to try fiction. I wrote juvenile fiction, then YA, and in the 1970s began writing adult suspense and mystery.

How much research do you conduct before you begin a novel and do you always visit the locale?

The novel dictates the amount of research. I wrote several early novels, preceding the Death on Demand books, which had World War II backgrounds and required extensive research. I’ve visited the locales of all the books written since Death on Demand. Once I set a book partly in the Philippines which I have never visited and a woman who grew up there asked me how many years I’d spent in the islands and I knew my library research had been successful.

What lies ahead for your well-known character Henrie O? How did her character come about?

My original ambition was to be a foreign correspondent. Henrie O enjoyed the career I didn’t have. One of the joys of writing fiction is living out lives that appeal to you. I am currently committed to write one Death on Demand and one ghost book each year so Henrie O is currently "resting," as they say in Hollywood.

Advice for novice writers?

Care passionately about what you write. If you care, somewhere an editor will care.

Copyright © 2009 Jean Henry Mead

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Humble Beginnings

By Beth Terrell

Last night, at our Sisters in Crime meeting, Chapter President Chester Campbell arranged a Q&A session with several of the published authors in our group. Because Chester is a generous guy, I was invited to be on the panel, which also included Chester, Jennie Bentley, and J.T. Ellison.

One of the questions asked was, "What inspired you to start writing?"

We all had different answers. Chester had never considered being a writer until a friend mentioned that, if he could do it all over, he would be a journalist. (The rest is history.) J.T wrote poetry and short stories in college, where a professor told her she had no talent and would never be published. (Really? J.T has a successful series, which is selling like hotcakes, thank you very much.) She turned to writing again after reading John Sandford's books and realizing she could do that too. Bente can't remember ever NOT writing; for her, it's like breathing.

I'm a lot like Bente in that respect; from the time I could hold a pencil, I scribbled "stories" onto notebook paper. I was fortunate to spend much of my time with my grandmother and three elderly great-aunts. Aunt Augusta (Dossie) and I would cut out figures from the Spiegel catalog, sort them into families, and use them to act out stories. Aunt Frances taught me to read when I could hardly walk. Aunt Genevieve (J-wee) and I acted out stories with a collection of tiny glass figurines. My grandmother and I filled the car with imaginary animals. When we crossed the Kanawa River bridge, I would wrap my arms around an imaginary sea turtle and hang on for dear life. When I woke up with tangles in my hair, we made up the adventures of the little mouse who had tangled it. ("Wow. Marty must have had a time last night. What do you think he was doing up there?) My mother told me stories of her childhood until I almost felt they were my own. These wonderful women filled my life with books and love.

Is it any wonder I grew up to love stories?

We all come to writing through different paths. This is why you can give a dozen writers the same topic to write on and end up with a dozen different stories. Our experiences affect our perceptions, which color our writing.

How about you? What led you to writing? Why do you write about the things you do?

The Empty Nest Syndrome

By Mark W. Danielson

Most people equate the “empty nest syndrome” with their kids leaving home. All of a sudden – or maybe not so suddenly – parents are abandoned, left rocking in their porch chairs, contemplating their navels. At least that’s the festered image. After all, kids would be scarred for life if they saw their parents celebrating their departure. But fear not -- this story is about a dove that shouldn’t have been a mother, so it has nothing to do with people.

Let’s face it; doves are the symbol of peace because they are clueless about everything. When hawks attack, doves are the first to be picked off. When walking your dog down the street, they fly twenty feet ahead and land, repeating the process five or six times. Sure, doves are pretty, but they’re also pretty stupid. Thus, I present to you the empty nest with two eggs.

Now, in her defense, this dove did sit on her eggs for a couple of weeks, but she didn’t pick a great location for her nest. Located just below our bedroom window, the fireplace vent seemed an unlikely place for a nest. Unprotected from the rain and sun, we watched her every day, thankful that it was summer so no one turned on the fireplace. Still, we were hopeful that the birds would hatch. But for some reason, the mother just took off and left her eggs exposed to the elements. She came back once or twice, as if she was having second thoughts, but then she was gone forever. In all fairness, I suppose she realized she messed up and these birds probably wouldn’t survive the morning sun, day after day. From this perspective, her leaving these un-hatched eggs was an act of kindness. Then again, I’m not sure doves think things through.

Sometimes manuscripts can be like un-hatched eggs. The intent was good, but the follow-through wasn’t. If left unattended for long periods of time, the thoughts will die and it will never see the light of day. Likewise, there may be times when it’s best to hit “DELETE ALL”. Then again, if rescued early enough, you may be able to restore life to your manuscript.

The good news is authors are generally smarter than doves. You don’t believe me? Then show me one manuscript that’s ever been published by one – and don’t tell me it’s Lonesome Dove!

One surefire way to evaluate your work is to tuck it away for at least six months, and then give it a fresh look. Now when you read it, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether it’s worth more of your time. Oh, by the way, it never hurts to take a break and look out the window. You might just spot a nest egg.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Metaphorical Musings

By Chester Campbell

I’ve had an off-and-on toothache for the past two or three months. You know the feeling. A toothache is like having a bunch of little old men working around your gum line with miniature jackhammers. That’s a simile, of course, one of the most commonly used figures of speech. We use them all the time in conversation as well as our writing.

Did you know there are hundreds of different figures of speech? I don’t recall learning more than a dozen, at most. That was back in high school 60-plus years ago, so I’m not sure what they teach now. Here’s the simple definition for figure of speech from my resident computer dictionary:

“An expression such as a metaphor or simile or a device such as personification or hyperbole in which words are used in a nonliteral way to achieve an effect beyond the range of ordinary language.” gives an even simpler definition: “a rhetorical device that achieves a special effect by using words in distinctive ways.”

Besides the aforementioned metaphor, simile, personification, and hyperbole, the figures of speech I recall most vividly include:

Alliteration – repetition of an initial consonant sound
Antithesis – placing contrasting ideas next to each other in balanced phrases
Euphemism – using a term that sounds less offensive
Irony – using words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning
Onomatopoeia (I used to love that word) – using words that mimic the sounds of the objects they refer to
Oxymoron – placing incompatible or contradictory terms side by side
Paradox – a statement that appears to contradict itself
Pun - a play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.

They say Shakespeare had to memorize more than 200 figures of speech in grammar school, and he probably used all of them in his writing. Ever drop a letter from the end of a word? You were being Shakespearian. It’s called apocope. The Bard used it in The Merchant of Venice with I am Sir Oracle,/ And when I ope my lips let no dog bark!

One I’ve used occasionally and never knew it was a figure of speech is epizeuxis. It’s the emphatic repetition of a word with no others between, as in Location, Location, Location! I’ll bet you’ve used prosopopoeia at sometime or other. It means to represent an imaginary or absent person as speaking or acting; attribute life, speech or inanimate qualities to dumb or inanimate objects. Shakespeare used it here:

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies,
How silently, and with how wan a face!

Figures of speech were originally cataloged by the Greeks and Romans, who referred to them under the categories of schemes and tropes. A scheme is an artful deviation from the ordinary arrangement of words, while the trope refers to an artful deviation from the ordinary or principal signification of words. Personification is a scheme; a simile is a trope.

Google “figures of speech” and you’ll find links to all kinds of arcane listings. A lot of things we write come under that heading, although we were unaware they had a name. Do you make a conscious effort to include figures of speech in your writing, or just let them fall where they may?

Monday, August 10, 2009


by Ben Small

I am sorry I don't have a post today. I thought of a good one on Thursday, but unfortunately didn't write it then, and then today, I just plain forgot. I'd love to have a whopper of an excuse, but the truth is I was out all day doing errands. Sprint took half a day to figure out my new Palm Pre wasn't working correctly, finally just replacing it, and then I had to drive thirty miles to have a mechanic friend fix my car. After that, it was off to Office Max because we ran out of paper and folders necessary to copy all the freaking documents the IRS needs to prove my Summer Book Tour, 2006 was legit. Since my first publisher went belly up and didn't pay me for all the books I sold, they wondered why I had expenses and only the book income from books sold out of my trunk, so to speak. Think we've got everything covered, but the only way to do all the receipt organization was to cut and paste onto sheets of paper and then scan everything. Then when I started printing, my toner died and we ran out of paper. When dealing with the IRS, I've learned it's best to organize everything and hit them with a mountain of organized paper, cross-referenced to our tax lawyer's work papers.

Fun stuff.... But at least we found some deductions we should've claimed but didn't.

And then the pool pump quit, so we spent time deciding that the pump wasn't working... I'm about as mechanical as Don Knotts. Three calls pestering the pool expert, no doubt sounding like a whale out of water, and nobody will talk to us. Did I mention it's 105 outside?

Yeah, it's a dry heat... especially when there's no pool. Just the green creeping in and some floater-frogs.

So I have no excuse except to say I forgot and am so freaking tired -- did I mention I did a 7:00 A.M. workout? -- and headachy that I may pull a LiLo and just collapse in a pile. To relieve my frontal lobe drum beat, I may need a lobotomy. I'd try an Excedrin injection, but the amount I need would bleed me out.

So, I apologize and promise to be back next Monday.

As for my Murderous Musings today, I spent them all on Sprint.

But at least Facebook reinstated me, even going so far as to apologize. Seems they thought I had too many Friends.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summer Shorts: Casablanca, Fact and Fiction


Oriental Lilies -- “As Time Goes By Casa Blanca Lilies and Ferns” from White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Conn. (

Production shots, 1942 movie “Casablanca,” from Yahoo! Movies

By Pat Browning

My friend Marlene called while I was reading Wendy Bartlett’s Comment on last week’s blog. Marlene and I laughed ourselves silly remembering our 1984 trip to New Orleans. She reminded me that we always meant to put that week into a mystery novel. Maybe it’s not too late. In fact, I have an idea …

Besides the 1984 World’s Fair, New Orleans was hosting a medical convention. French Quarter hotels were booked solid so we got a room at the Airport Hilton. It was a perfect choice for two fancy-free women who meant to go to Marrakech and wound up in New Orleans, thanks to a scheduling disaster at the Denver airport.

First crack out of the box, we checked into the Hilton and headed for the bar. The sign over the door read CASABLANCA. We fell up against the wall laughing. Finally composed, we went through the swinging door, and five minutes after we slid into a booth some guy named Rudy tried to buy us a drink. Oldest pickup line in the world: “Don’t I know you?” We spent the rest of the week dodging him.

Our first day out we were adopted by a freelance cab driver who wore brass knuckles wrapped around his fist. It’s true. I couldn’t make that up. For the whole week he was at our beck and call, hauling us back and forth to the French Quarter and the Fair. I never felt so safe in my life, and we tipped him handsomely. Why not? It was only money, and a lot cheaper than plane fare to Morocco.

The French Quarter was a small place. Everywhere we went, there was Rudy, hanging out the window of a limousine yelling, “Marlene!” He wanted her to call him. He wanted her to take a cruise on his yacht. Yeah, right. But Rudy is a story of his own, as is everyone we ran into.

My phone conversation with Marlene about the bar named Casablanca reminded me of a story I wrote for The Hanford Sentinel in 1978. I went to Morocco twice that year, first, with a group of travel agents, and again with Marlene and some other friends.

It’s a long story, so here are excerpts:

In the case of “Casa,” as everyone calls it, if you liked the movie, the city may be something of a disappointment. It’s like meeting a lovely lady with a shady past – your imagination keeps trying to bridge the gap between appearance and reputation.

There is, alas, no “Rick’s Place” in Casablanca. Nobody named Sam plays piano and the plane to Lisbon is a Boeing jet. … On boulevards lined with palm trees, businessmen in dark suits mingle with local folk wearing djellabas, burnooses and caftans. A veil here, a fez there, slippers and sunglasses everywhere …

The city center is reminiscent of San Francisco’s Union Square in the fifties. … On the map, Morocco lies due east of the Carolinas. In climate, topography and architecture it could be California. …

And what of the old image? Well, if you knock on the door of a disco at midnight, you may see a pair of dark eyes peering through a slot, while you stand there wondering if “American” is a proper password. (It is.) You may hear an occasional guarded reference to the “white market,” which apparently still exists, like a skeleton that keeps falling out of the closet. Guides warn against “long fingers,” as they call pickpockets.

But this is tame stuff in today’s world. You are as safe in Casablanca as you are in your own hometown, and how safe that is depends to some extent on you. …

Morocco’s recorded history goes back 3,000 years, to the Phoenicians, and its legendary history even further back, to Hercules. At one time or another, everyone has had a piece of the country – the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Portuguese … the Spanish, the French. Perhaps that is why the people, who have seen them all come and go, are so cool and so hip.

They are honest, courteous and hospitable. They are also clever, canny and shrewd. An outraged tourist who feels cheated in the market, in most cases, has simply been outwitted or outlasted. The merchant, after all, comes from a long line of camel traders. …
The whole country is a stage. The whole country is a canvas. And in Morocco, to the dismay of tourists conditioned by the sights of Western Europe, that’s all there is. No Westminster Abbey, no Louvre, no Basilica of St. Peter or castles on the Rhine.

In Morocco, there is only the land, the people and time – time and a sense of timeliness. It hangs like a haze above the clay-colored countryside, an endless landscape both harsh and beautiful. It falls like a shadow over the cities, which are little more than oases. …

Casablanca, for all its charm, is a better place to be than to see. For more exotic sights, you must leave Casa and go inland to Fez or south to Marrakech.

Keep in mind that was written 30 years ago. How much, if at all, Casablanca may have changed is not for me to say.

But thank our lucky stars – we’ll always have Bogie and Bergman – as time goes by. And at least in memory – and possibly in that mystery waiting to be written -- there will always be a New Orleans bar named Casablanca.

Copyright © by Pat Browning 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009


by Jean Henry Mead

Telemarketing calls are not only disruptive and annoying, they’ve been known to cause marital problems. A friend sent me a list of suggestions to handle telemarketers, who always seem to call ten minutes before the alarm goes off or halfway through our dinner.

Rather than hanging up on the caller, the list suggests saying: “Hold on, please . . .” Put the phone down, walk away and return the receiver to its cradle only after the party has disconnected. Or, if you have more than one line, say: “I have a caller on the other line. Please hold.” Then click to the other line.

We’ve been plagued with hang up calls from a “Private Caller” who's never there. The practice brings to mind the old saying, “Hang up if a man answers,” referring to an illicit call which can lead to marital problems. It’s a telemarketing technique which utilizes a devise that records the time of day when a resident answers the phone, so a telemarketer knows when to call.

To discourage such calls, immediately hit the pound key (#) on your phone six or seven times in quick succession, which confuses the dialing devise and eliminates your phone number from their system.

Telemarketing calls are not the only bothersome intrusions. I’m on everyone’s mailing list and receive stacks of junk mail nearly every day. My friend’s list also suggests ways to eliminate the problem.

Return the advertisements enclosed with your payment. And when you receive 'pre-approved' letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to second mortgages, send them back in their post-paid envelopes. According to my source, it costs more than the regular postage if the company receives them back, and hopefully you’ll be removed from their mailing list. It costs them nothing if you toss unwanted mail.

"Sixty Minutes’" Andy Rooney broadcast the following tips:

1. Send an ad for your local chimney cleaner to Bank of America.
2. Send a pizza coupon to Citibank. If you don't receive anything else that day, mail them back their blank application.
3. Send the envelope back empty if you want to keep them guessing. It still costs them postal rates.
4. The banks and credit card companies are currently receiving their own junk mail, but they need to be overwhelmed. Let's let them know what it's like to get lots of junk mail, and best of all, they're paying for it...Twice!
5. Keep our postal service busy. They’re complaining that e-mail is cutting into their profits, and that's why postage rates are constantly increasing. So help them out by increasing the volume of mail.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction

By Mark W. Danielson

The truth is stranger than fiction, so the saying goes. As a fiction writer, it’s sometimes difficult competing with the daily news. Fortunately, authors can benefit from these odd events for they stimulate our brains and sometimes spill into our manuscripts. Here are a few of my favorite true events from days gone by as well as some recent oddities.

I doubt that anyone will forget the Nicole Simpson, Ron Goldman murders that led to OJ’s slow-speed freeway chase. While OJ’s Bronco never made it to Mexico, it did prove that his SUV could reach freeway speed, even with money and guns on board. OJ’s trial held the media’s attention for months, and although his lawyers won the criminal suit, they lost the Brown’s civil suit. Now, you’d think that a person who has had such a brush with the law might be scared straight, but not OJ. Nope, he just can’t stay out of trouble and now he’s behind bars. No one made these things up, but if they had, no one would buy it.

Certainly Michael Jackson’s plight wins an honorable mention in the peculiar category, but don’t blame him. People love putting celebrities on pedestals just so they can knock ’em down. I never knew Michael personally, so my only comment on his Peter Pan lifestyle is he was probably doing everything possible to capture the childhood he never had. Unfortunately, his attempts at sharing that with others was often misunderstood and misjudged. Love him or leave him, Michael was an enormous musical influence, but if I were to create a fictional character like him, my readers would say I went too far.

Of course, everyone knows about these two celebrities, so how about some of my local quirks? The first one occurred on a recent trip to the coffee shop. We ordered two foo-foo drinks at the drive-through; one decaf sugar-free caramel macchiato and one white chocolate mocha. When we arrived at the window, the coffee chef asked if we wanted whipped cream. Assuming she meant for the white chocolate mocha, I replied yes. The lady then handed me a lid piled with whipped cream, and then handed us our coffees. Now, does this belong in a story or what? I think so.

For the next, hand it to the cities of Thornton and Westminster, Colorado, to create a traffic nightmare over the 128th Street Bridge they share that crosses over I-25. First, they shut the bridge down for six months for renovation, then six months later shut it down to replace it. When it opened a year later, the new bridge was four lanes wide, but only had one lane leading into it on either side. Now, with economic stimulus money, Thornton is widening their side to two lanes in each direction, yet the Westminster side remains unchanged. If this makes any sense to anyone, please explain it to me. Certainly, this is another ingredient for a future novel.

Last, but not least is personal license plates. Some are clever, some require interpretation, and others you just have to wonder about. We recently saw one that read, “MOM2TED”. Now, the question remains whether Ted is Mom’s son or whether Mom passes a lot of gas. Either way, this plate needs clarification. Too bad we didn’t meet at the traffic light – I would have asked her.

I’m sure everyone has a favorite story of their own, and I’d love to hear them. Some great ideas come from the news. All you have to do is evaluate the situation and build on it. So while the truth may be stranger than fiction, nothing says we can’t stretch it.