Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sick Killers

By Mark W. Danielson

There’s an old saying that when you have your health, you have everything. Ben Small's post this week confirms how illness can affect your moods. The worse your physical condition, the more irrational and emotional you become. Think how rabid animals act, and then multiply this several times over for terminally or mentally ill people. If they are angry at the world and have nothing to live for, you have a recipe for disaster . . .

Sick killers leave sick crime scenes because they have lost their sense of morality. In an instant, minor annoyances can trigger violent and irrational behavior. Charles Manson and his followers proved this when they gruesomely murdered Sharon Tate.

Emotion also plays an enormous role in murders committed by sick people, which is why passionate crimes tend to be particularly gory. Think about Jack Nicholson’s infamous character in The Shining. The longer Nicholson's psychosis continued, the more frustrated he became, and the more determined he was to complete his murderous task. Death came to anyone who got in his way. His character was dead-on for people in desperate situations.

But even prescription medication can affect a person’s moods and rational thought. People who blow off their prescription warning labels are setting themselves up. Whether they commit a crime or become a crime victim matters not; taking drugs can impair their judgment and permanently change their lives.

Of course, alcohol and other mind-altering drugs will numb the brain and dull the senses. Too many people have committed acts of stupidity and/or become crime victims because they were doped up. Some drugs alter minds so deeply that the police must resort to using taser guns to contain them. If you're walking down the street and see someone with crazy eyes, avoid them at all cost.

The lesson here is that your murderous characters are likely to be affected directly or indirectly by any of these elements. As such, they are worth mentioning in your story. Novelists have a responsibility to enlighten their readers with reasons for their characters' behavior. The more your readers understand this, the more believable your story, and the more they can relate, the more likely they are to buy your next book.
One last thought -- if you're writing while you're ill, realize that while it may not be your best work, but it may provide some valuable insight into your characters' flaws.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Crime Scene

By Chester Campbell

Nope, this is not another CSI treatise. It has to do with scenes, the building blocks of a mystery, or a crime story. Chris Roerden, free-lance editor and author of Don't Murder Your Mystery, and its sequel, Don't Sabotage Your Submission, writes:

"Without conflict there is neither progress nor setback; consequently, no scene."

I once worked with Chris on the opening chapters of a manuscript and learned how she works with an author on an edit. She wants each scene in the book identified with what the characters' goal is for the scene, what the obstacle is to that goal, and what is the outcome. In short, you need to show the conflict in the scene.

Conflict breeds tension, and tension keeps the reader on edge, turning pages to find out what will happen next. So how do you get conflict into a scene? Put two characters together, each wanting something different from what they're doing, whether it's dialogue or action, and you have the potential for conflict. And what happens at the end of the scene lays the foundation for later conflict.

It doesn't necessarily require two characters to create conflict. A scene may only involve the hero in conflict with himself over a choice he must make, which direction he should take, or whether he should or shouldn't pursue some course of action.

Like the electricity in a high tension power line, competition between characters keeps the tension high in a scene and leaves the reader anticipating the next crucial turn of events. Suspense comes about when we anticipate the approach of danger, or when we're unsure just what may lie ahead.

Give us a scene that surprises and our anxiety level goes up. But keep the surprises at a minimum. Too much of that and it sounds contrived. One measure of conflict is the higher the stakes, the higher the tension. In a mystery where someone's life is threatened, there's no question about how tense things can get.

If you want to create a scene packed with tension, use the ticking clock method. It doesn't have to be a  bomb with a ticking clock attached. As long as there's a deadline involved, a specific time in the near future when something must be done or else, you have built-in tension that will keep the reader glued to the pages long past bedtime.

There are other ways to create conflicts in scenes, such as misdirection, or the familiar red herring. But the important things is to give us characters with goals to achieve and roadblocks to foil them. That's what good mysteries are made of. Have you read one lately?

Mystery Mania.

Monday, June 28, 2010


by Ben Small

Normally, I'd be writing a blog today, but somewhere between dry Arizona to humid Wisconsin, Revenge of the Sinus swelled my head. I should have realized the headaches building were impending sinus disasters, but like most folks I just assumed they were stress related. After all, I'd just driven over two thousand miles.

Nope. Not this time.

Little did I know my head was swelling.

(No cracks, please. My ears and eyes hurt,)

Three weeks of rain. My sinuses bloomed to intensive care status. I left the hospital three days ago.

So now the infection's dead, but I'm still light and sound sensitive and the pressure imbalance has reached my middle ear.I walk like a drunk, swaying to and fro.

Yeah, whole lotta fun being me right now.

So now I'll sign off and go back to bed. I'll rip off a new one for you next Monday.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some Advice On Critique Groups

By Pat Browning

Michael Larsen’s blog at
covers topics from storytelling to publishing and everything in between. This week I’m reprinting “Using OP’s Suggestions For Your Book,” a look at critique groups and how to know if you’re in the right one.

It makes me envious that I have no access to a face-to-face critique group. Trusting your own instincts is fine but it can get a tad confusing at times.

About Michael: The husband and wife team of Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada left New York for San Francisco and opened their own literary agency in 1972. They founded the prestigious San Francisco Writers Conference almost eight years ago.
The agency web site is full of helpful information for writers, and it’s great for browsing. Check it out at
Using OP’s Suggestions For Your Book
By Michael Larsen

Your book is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. --Samuel Johnson

If you want to write a book that is both good and original, the right critique group will help you. My previous post answered novelist Pam Chun’s question about critique groups, but Pam, author of When Strange Gods Call, had another question about them: How do you decide if the group has workable ideas for your book?

The short answer: Trust your instincts. If you think the ideas will strengthen your manuscript, try them. If they consistently don’t help you, you’re in the wrong group.

Your Book as a Frigate
Emily Dickinson was right: A book is a frigate. It’s hammered together with thousands of pieces of wood. Changing a piece at one end of it may affect the other end of the ship and make it less seaworthy.

An editor once said to me that a good writer always knows when an editor is right. But the more effort an idea will take, the surer you want to be about its effectiveness. Thinking through how an idea will affect the rest of your ship will help you decide if it’s worth pursuing.

The more effort trying an idea will take, the more reluctant you may be to try it. Yet you may not realize the value of the idea until you do, because its value may not be the idea itself but what it leads to.

One of the joys of writing is discovery: trying something that sparks a new idea that illuminates or transforms your work. If you don’t let your ship explore the high seas of creativity, you won’t discover the treasures your imagination has waiting for you to find. Let the spirit of play inspire you to explore new possibilities.

Getting Past Sweat Equity
The more you’ve done on your manuscript, the more committed you may feel to it, although your sweat equity may make you less able to judge its value. How far along you are with your manuscript, how many drafts you’ve already done, your patience, and your determination are also factors that may influence your decision to try an idea.

Jacqueline Susann did each draft of her novels on different colored paper. But computers make it easy to experiment and to keep track of your drafts by just numbering them in your header. It also simplifies making use of a previous version if you decide it’s stronger.

You will spend your life trying things, not all of which will work. You must trust your instincts and your common sense. Ultimately, it’s your book, you must decide how best to write it and whose advice to follow. As you mature as a writer, you will become better able to decide whether to set sail for parts unknown.

Three Ways to Keep Making Your Group More Effective
•In the rapidly evolving world of publishing, you have to keep learning if you want to keep earning. You want to belong to a group whose members are committed to keeping themselves and each other up to date on industry news and trends.
•Have an annual get-together or retreat in a new setting to discuss how to improve the group.
•Some writers don’t like to read while they’re writing, because they’re afraid of being influenced by other authors. But one way to increase the value of your group is to make it a reading group as well. Discussing what writers can learn from favorite books and successful authors will improve your work and your ability to help others.

Talking about books—about writing and publishing as well as books the group discusses--can be a good way of auditioning each other before starting a group. It will give you a sense of how compatible members’ tastes are with yours, how perceptive they are, their ability to help you hone your craft,
their commitment to learning and growing as writers.

A critique group will enable you to be a better, more knowledgeable writer. It will also be a source of enduring relationships. For the sake of your craft and career, join or start one as soon as you have something to share.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Julie Kramer Silences Sam

by Jean Henry Mead

It's not just because I'm a journalist that I liked this book so much. The deadpan humor, sassy characters and authentic behind-the-scenes-broadcast relationships make it difficult to set aside.

Award-winning network producer Julie Kramer's third novel, Silencing Sam, is an intriguing tale of a TV reporter who becomes a suspect while investigating a sensational murder.

When Sam Pierce, a newspaper gossip columnist, is shot and killed at his Minneapolis home, there are plenty of logical suspects, all of whom he has embarrassed in print. But police focus on Riley Spartz, the TV reporter who threw a drink in Sam’s face following an article he’d written about her shortly before his death.

Another broadcast journalist arrives at Channel 3 from Texas. Clay Burrel, a cocky cowboy reporter, is a proverbial thorn in Riley’s side from the moment he appears. When Riley is sent to investigate destroyed wind turbines in farm country on the Minnesota-Iowa border, yet another murderous mystery unfolds. Riley is the widowed reporter-protagonist of all three Kramer mystery-suspense novels, including Stalking Susan and Missing Mark. Her previous novels follow cold cases Riley's investigating with information provided by Nick Garnett, a police detective she falls in love with.

Julie writes about her home territory, where she grew up on a farm along the Iowa border. “It was a hard knock life. And it taught me to work hard. And whatever job I've ever had, bosses and coworkers have marveled at my work ethic. I also grew up reading a lot of fiction, probably to escape the real world. Some of my best childhood memories involved waiting for the bookmobile to bring a new Phyllis A. Whitney book.”

When asked why her protagonist wasn't a producer, she explained that, “In television, a reporter works on camera; a producer works behind the scenes. But both are journalists, and both do their share of writing. As a career television news producer, I feel some guilt that I made my heroine, Riley Spartz, a reporter instead of a producer, but I decided that the role of a reporter gave my character more variety for plot and character development. And that now was not the time to give producers their due, no matter how deserved."

Kramer's first novel, Stalking Susan was nominated for an Anthony Award. It also won a Minnesota Book Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice for Best First Mystery, and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. “It's your basic serial killer story using the Bible and the calender. But many critics feel the strength of the story comes from the insider newsroom information I weave into the plot. That's something I felt I could do better than anyone else. If I had to build a fantasy world of wizards, I think I'd be stumped.”

Her day job includes assignments that involve “screening and booking guests for shows, or supervising live shots or feeds in the field, or conducting interviews for taped producing includes a wide range of skills.” Prior to working as a network freelancer, Julie was a national award-winning investigative producer at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. She left the station when her children were young because she didn't want to work full time.

“About six months later, NBC called with a freelance assignment. It was September 11th and the network had gotten a tip that something had happened at a flight school in Minnesota. All the airports were closed and they had no way to get a team on the ground. It ended up being a good long term arrangement for both of us. Part time work, but still good stories.

"Right now freelance work is slow because the media is in a meltdown as readers and viewers change how they get their news. Money is short, but I tell myself, this gives me time to concentrate on the world of publishing."

Read Julie Kramer's entire interview in Mysterious Writers.

Watch her book trailer at: Silencing Sam.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Little Voices

By Beth Terrell

I've been struggling with the third book in my Jared McKean series for awhile now. I had much of the plot laid out, and a number of chapters written, but it wasn't coming together the way I wanted it to. Then, a few nights ago, that little voice in the back of my head said:


"Hey, yourself," I said, hoping I could brush it off and get on with my story. But no. Like the guy in the cartoons that opens his coat to sell you a dozen fake Rolexes, the little voice was not to be denied.

You know what the problem with this book is?

"No, but I suppose you're going to tell me."

The problem with this book is that it isn't a Jared book.

"What do you mean, this isn't a Jared book? Jared's my series character. I love him!"

Yup. But this ain't his book.

"Then whose book is it?"

It's Emma's.

"But...I don't like Emma."

Well, you'd better learn to like her, because this is her book. And it's not gonna work until you give it to her.

"But...what about Jared? I'm not done with him yet."

You know that other book you've been thinking about? The one about human trafficking?


That one's his.


I'm tellin' ya, kid. This is how it's gotta be.


Trust me.

So I sit back and think it over, and darned if all those plot problems I'd been having didn't start to fall right into place. Not perfect yet, mind you, but getting there. I thought about Emma. She's prickly and opinionated and obstinate, and we don't see eye to eye on much of anything, but as I dig deeper into her character, I begin to find more and more things to like about her. The story begins to come into focus.

I find this annoying, because a friend in my critique group had suggested some time ago that this not be Jared's story, and I didn't want to hear it then any more than I want to hear it now. She's a gracious soul, though, and probably won't spend too much time on I-told-you-so's.

I think of that beautiful opening scene I've written for Jared and realize it's the perfect beginning for "that other book, the one on human trafficking."

Told ya so, says the voice in my head.

I pretend not to hear. I have writing to do.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Music and Writing

By Mark W. Danielson

Stephen King may write with hard rock blaring, but I prefer silence. If I’m riding as an airline passenger, I’ll listen to instrumentals to block out the noise while I type. I can’t listen to lyrical songs when I work, because they draw me in. Once that happens, I’ve broken my connection with my subconscious thoughts and my writing stagnates. A good lesson comes from this, though, for a mystery novel must consume its readers just as a song’s lyrics should command their listeners attention. In this regard, song writers and mystery authors share an inseparable bond.

Music has changed dramatically since I grew up. In a very real sense, music grew up with me. During the Fifties, rock music was fun and care free, in spite of the daily threat of nuclear war. But the Vietnam War sparked a new era of music with powerful lyrics on making love, not war, and protesting Yankee Imperialism and flawed politics. As the war dragged on, the Beatles sang about strawberry fields forever. To this day, the answer is still blowing in the wind. Few would argue that the Sixties produced some of the most thought provoking music in history. Because of its timeless value, I will sometimes include musical references from this era in my stories.

Whether you’re novels include rock, rap, or country music, adding lyrical references not only enhances your characters, but your readers can’t help reminiscing over the tune. Think about the words, “All the leaves are gone”. If you’re old enough to remember, your brain will recall The Mamas and Papas tune before realizing it’s describing a scene. The same holds true for, “I can’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction”. Those lyrics are as meaningful now as they were during the Vietnam War.

Use caution with lyrical references, though. Inappropriate phrases can turn your readers off as quickly as they were turned on. Tease your readers with music to get them in tune with your character. If your reader is not familiar with a particular lyric, the reference may not be as affective, but if they do relate, adding music can be one of your greatest assets.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Holy Land Revisited - by Characters

By Chester Campbell

It's been almost twelve years since my tour of the Holy Land that led to the writing of my first published mystery, Secret of the Scroll. I sent my characters Greg and Jill McKenzie on a similar trip, though I didn't detail all of the places they visited. A few stood out, however, and merited a mention in the story.

It began with the old biblical seaport of Jaffa, also known as Joppa and Yafo. Like most of the old towns in Israel, there are various spellings derived from transliteration of Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, and no telling what else. Located on the southern edge of modern Tel Aviv, Jaffa is a colorful place. Tourists are drawn to its open plaza paved in pale stone and surrounded by restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.

Leading off the square is the Artists' Quarter, a warren of colorful Turkish style buildings reached by narrow lanes that wander around the area. Down a flight of stone steps at one point you find the supposed home of Simon the tanner, where the Bible describes Saint Peter as staying at one point. When I was there, you couldn't go into the house because of a lawsuit over its ownership.

Tour buses park near the square, and this is where Greg is talked into buying a souvenir Dead Sea scroll that is the key event around which I built the plot of the book. My group was besieged by Palestinian souvenir sellers similar to the one the McKenzie's encounter.

A spot I found particularly interesting and used it in the story was the Jordan River crossing between Israel and Jordan. Our Israeli tour bus unloaded us and our luggage at the Israeli customs and immigration facility, where we went through a cursory check on leaving the country. Then we boarded a Jordanian bus for the ride across the Allenby Bridge (Israeli designation after the British general) or King Hussein Bridge, as it's called in Jordan. It's a heavily fortified crossing and provided a good place to get a plot point across.

Other intriguing sites Greg visits when he returns to Israel later in the book include the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu, which occupies the supposed spot where St. Peter denied knowing Christ three times before the cock crowed. It is also reputed to be the location of the home of Caiphas, the high priest, where Jesus was held after his arrest. I used it as a meeting place for Greg and Colonel Jarvis, his Air Force attache friend who shows up again in the fourth book.

Another spot I found most interesting was the Church of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It was built with alabaster windows. Made of translucent stone, the windows have something of the look of stained glass. This location provided the backdrop for Greg to meet the man responsible for Jill's abduction.

The final area I visited that served as a backdrop for the story was the seaport town of Caesarea, the headquarters of Herod the Great and an important city in Roman and Byzantine eras. Caesarea was the site chosen for a swap of Jill for the scroll. You'll have to read the book to find out what happened.

Using unique sites you've visited for key sites in a mystery is a good way to liven up your fiction. Tell us how you've used this technique.

Mystery Mania

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ghost Story

Timothy Hallinan is back, this time with a true-life ghost story from Thailand, where he lives six months every year.

Tim has written ten mysteries and thrillers under his own name and several others in disguise. His current series, set in Bangkok, features American "rough travel" writer Philip "Poke" Rafferty, who lives in Bangkok with his hand-assembled family: his Thai wife, Rose, a former Patpong bar dancer, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, who was eight years old and living on the sidewalk when she met Poke.

The first three Rafferty books, which have made Ten Best lists everywhere, are A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, THE FOURTH WATCHER, and BREATHING WATER.

The fourth, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, will be published in August by William Morrow and is available now for pre-sale on

Tim’s ghost story and explanation had me Googling “spiritual vortex,” which turns out to be a very complicated subject. When I asked Tim about spiritual vortices in Bali and Thailand, here’s what he said:

“The original title of A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART was HUNGRY GHOSTS, referring to the most fearsome of all Thai ghosts, women who have died in childbirth.

"You asked me why Thailand and Bali were spiritual vortices. That's a very good question. These places seem to arise everywhere -- Stonehenge and Angkor are two internationally known examples. But some societies, such as the Thai and the Balinese, share a single religion -- until recently 99% of Thais were Therevada Buddhists, and the same for the animist Hindu beliefs cooked up on Bali. And they not only believed the same thing together, but they believed it fervently.

"Every village has its temples, usually two or more. Every Thai male enters the priesthood at some time in his life. Balinese propitiate the gods with scattered offerings several times a day. 

Maybe, after a while the landscape becomes saturated with belief. In both places, unusual trees and stones are wrapped in monk's robes and offerings of flowers and food and whiskey are made regularly.

"I just think those worlds are saturated with belief and more open to manifestations than spiritually dryer locales.”

And here’s Tim’s ghost story.
Unlike most ghost stories, this one is absolutely true. I know because it happened to me. But first, some background.

Thai people, whether they're relatively uneducated villagers or sophisticated city-dwellers, take ghosts seriously. Most Thai people believe in a whole pantheon of ghosts, ranging from benign to horrific. I personally know four Thais who woke one night to see someone in their family -- someone who lived a considerable distance away -- standing in their room, usually at the end of the bed. Without exception, they learned the next day that the person they had seen -- a grandmother, an uncle, a mother -- had died. This is accepted. The spirit came to say farewell.

Other ghosts are not so harmless. There are many kinds of malign spirits, and they tend to take up residence where lives have ended badly.

From the beginning of construction on the new Bangkok airport (set on a piece of land that used to be called "cobra swamp") workers complained that there were ghosts everywhere. Many workers resigned rather than have to mingle with the dead. And when the airport opened and the computerized baggage retrieval system broke down, the malfunction was briefly blamed on ghosts. And I mean officially.

While I have no idea what, if anything, may have happened at the prime minister's official residence (sort of the Thai White House), I do know that almost no one ever spends the night there because of the house's ghostly guests. We are talking the highest realms of government here, folks. Prime ministers, cabinet ministers, generals. Nobody sleeps there. The general official, high-level reaction to the place seems to be brrrrrrrrr.

So with all that as a setting, here's what happened to me.

About 20, 21 years ago I was in Pattaya. This was when Pattaya was still a relatively quiet little town, although the nightlife that ultimately transformed into a thriving sewer was beginning to blossom.

I was staying in a small hotel set into a cliff overlooking the sea. I went to bed about midnight and drew the curtains so I could sleep in. That made the room extremely dark.

At about 3 AM I snapped awake, knowing I was no longer alone. Remember, the room was almost pitch-black. In one corner, diagonally across the room from me, was a figure.

I looked away. I looked back. I blinked heavily. It was still there.

I could only see it by looking slightly past it, but it was a female wearing a shapeless white dress that fell almost to her ankles, and black hair down to her waist. Her head was bent downward so she was facing the carpet, and her face was hidden by the fall of hair. Then, moving slowly, she grasped handfuls of hair and lifted them straight up and let them fall again. Then she reached down and did it again. The second time she pulled her hair into the air, she started to bring her face up.

I knew that if I saw her face, I was dead. I rolled over as fast as I could, snapping on the lights on the bed tables, and when they came on, she was gone. I lay there, fighting for breath, literally more frightened than I've ever been in my life. And I stayed there, wide awake, until the sun came up.

When the room was bright enough, I went into the bathroom, pulled the shower curtain, turned on the shower, and let the water hit me full in the face. When I'd had enough, I pulled back from the stream of water and opened my eyes, and something moved very fast on the other side of the shower curtain. I left the water running, grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me, and ran all the way to the lobby, where I demanded, and got, a new room, as far as possible from the old one.

Later that day, I went back with a maid to pack my things -- there was no way I was going in there alone -- and the maid said, yes, that woman had been seen before in the room, and she volunteered to take me to the temple later that day when her shift was over to burn some incense and do a brief ceremony to release that poor woman's spirit from whatever powerful force was holding it on this side of the curtain.

And we did, and I felt a little better. But that night -- even in my new room --I slept with my lights on.

And no, I had never previously believed in ghosts.
My thanks to Tim for sharing this experience!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The 17th Beijing International Book Fair

by Jean Henry Mead

The Beijing Book Fair begins August 30 and runs through September 3. According to the International Children’s Publishing Exhibit: “Due to China's rapid growth in the global economy, the Beijing International Book Fair has been called one of the four most important publishing events in the world. During last year's event, there were 43,000 square meters exhibition area, 2,146 stands and 1,762 publishing houses from China and the world. Over 160,000 titles were on show and around 200,000 visitors were present at the fair.”

I’m interested in the children’s section of the fair because I recently finished my first children’s mystery and have heard that English is now a required subject in all Chinese schools. For companies trying to break into the country's burgeoning children's and educational book markets, the International Children's Publishing Exhibit (ICPE) at Beijing reportedly offers an ideal exhibit opportunity.

I hadn’t seen much publicity about the Beijing Book Fair until recently when I received an email brochure from the Children’s Book Literary Agency offering to promote my unpublished children’s mystery for $298 at Beijing, or $998 if I’d like to appear for half a day in their “Author-in-Booth.” That doesn’t include travel, hotel and meals or an admission ticket. The booth purportedly will contain a translator, limited number of manuscripts on one of their “strategic shelves” and the authors' books they represent. It will also reportedly contain “numerous bookshelves featuring Chinese/English cover sheets of the books” they will be presenting.

There are no guarantees. Or as the ebrochure states: “Have you heard this line from an old grizzled CEO? ‘I know half of my advertising is completely wasted. I just don’t know which half?!’ We think that sums it up. This is marketing, and there are no promises. However, I can guarantee that some of the authors that participate will get a significant boost from their presence at the show.“ It also provides an interesting vacation for those who can afford the trip.

However, the following paragraph made me decide to do some research:


As writers, publishers, and participants in the publishing industry we are going to be witness to the largest and fastest ramp-up that the world has ever seen as China has decided that the book and publishing industry is strategic and a couple of billion people are going to learn how to read and/or expand their knowledge of English literature. We believe that the opening of the Chinese publishing business will be bigger than the current global publishing business which stands at about $40 billion worldwide. That’s another $40 BILLION.”

I found the company on the Internet and learned that they've changed names a number of times and haven't carried through on their promises to display customers' books and manuscripts, for which they’ve charged exorbitant fees. I called the company a number of times but never received a call-back, so I would advise anyone who receives an email from the Literary Agency Group, Eloquent or Strategic Publishing to be careful about doing business with them or any other company that makes questionable claims.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Playing God

By Mark W. Danielson

Mystery writers all play god. A non-denominational god, mind you. Throughout our stories, we decide who lives and who dies. That’s what makes writing them fun. If we don’t like a character, we can bump ’em off with no repercussions. What other job gives you that kind of fulfillment?

Over the years, I’ve gained a great deal of therapy from my writing. In fact, many of my stories have been conceived out of frustration. Give me a disturbing event and I can wrap a tale around it in no time. The more personal the story, the more emotional my characters become. But while it’s easy killing off evil characters, sometimes the good must also die. Those are the most difficult deaths to write about, but their demise replicates the real world. Suicides excepted, none of us can chose our fate. The same rules apply to our characters.

I once wrote a story about vigilante justice. Since I’ll never publish it, I’ll introduce it, but first a little background. Many years ago, the US Navy was developing a stealth bomber called the A-12. Even though it never got past the mockup stage, millions of dollars still poured into it. I decided to capitalize on this by creating a story that skimmed funds from the A-12 money pit to finance a government sponsored vigilante group that erased undesirables. I’m not talking about assassinating potential terrorists – I’m referring to ridding the corrupt politicians who rape this country. (Remember, this is fiction.) I was pretty happy with my story until a movie called Swordfish came along. Believing my plot similarities were too great, I decided not to pursue publication. In spite of my disappointment, it was rewarding to know I wasn’t alone in my feelings over the bribes and double-dealings in Washington DC. My story was called The Patriot. How ironic that Mel Gibson later chose that title for one of his movies.

What made my version of The Patriot even more interesting concerns an Air Force general that I bumped off in the story. Made to look like a suicide, his vigilante murder was successfully covered up. By coincidence, two weeks after I wrote that chapter, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations, actually did commit suicide. His death was a blow to the Navy because he was the first enlisted sailor to ever reach the rank of admiral. I remember him well because I had retired from the Navy the previous year. Unlike in my story, no foul play was involved, and out of respect for him, I won’t discuss the circumstances that lead to his fateful decision. However, his death did prove that my fictitious general’s “suicide” was indeed plausible.

By trade, murder mystery writers are killers, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. We just identify misdealings and try to set things right. If you’re an author and have ever disliked someone or are upset with someone’s actions, don’t get mad, get even. Base your characters on them and then send them straight to Hell. Bumping off bad guys is fun, and it always makes for happier endings.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Writer's Sanctuary

by Ben Small

I write in a different manner than most writers I know. I like to mull a plot over, scribble a few notes, know in my head where I want this book to go and how I want to get there. But I don't write much at home, not counting blogging, FB, emails and other routine stuff. I store my notes, my research and my story for my yearly visit to my Wisconsin lake cabin.

And there I work like a banshee.

I'm there now, on the east bank of Lake Waubesa, just three miles south of Madison. And I'm cranking out page after page, fifteen today, so far, seventeen two days ago, editing in between. I'll get most of Vendetta drafted here, and then edit after the long drive home.

Just my style. Have no idea why. Maybe it's the often cool summer breezes, the occasional gale force winds, the popping of the bass or carp as they break the surface when they sense a predator. Maybe it's the quiet, when the wind isn't howling. Fishermen don't make much noise, you know, except when they fire up their engines. But close to shore, most of them use the silent motors, the ones that buck the tides which push them toward shore.

Yes, it's quiet and beautiful here. We're on a dead-end, and across the street is a watershed connected to the lake, a place where the large fish spawn. Some days, one can walk the quarter mile to the end of our street, and cross a small bridge over a narrow channel. Enormous fresh water fish pass through this channel, mostly early in the morning, a part of the day I don't usually see.

That's another thing about the lake. There's no phone, and I didn't buy a digital converter, so the television doesn't work -- two fewer distractions. For some reason, I can't avoid these appliances at home. Just when I'm at the cottage.

I wrote Alibi On Ice here, edited most of The Olive Horseshoe here, and while I was lawyering, I'd often sneak away to write important memos or other documents here.

I've owned this place for twenty-five years. Good and bad things have happened here. The place carries with it so many memories. And maybe that's why I love writing here so much. I get lost in myself and in my characters and their story. I bring those emotions from the past and insert them into my characters.

No, I'm not saying any of my characters are me. Perish the thought. Rather, that I tune myself up here, inject myself with the memories, and then project some of the emotions I felt at various times into my characters.

Most writers I know work on schedules, often rigorous schedules. Like Stephen King, for instance. In On Writing, King says he writes from the early morning every day until about Noon, then handles other business in the afternoon, and reads at night, although from reading his columns in Entertainment Weekly, I think King watches a lot of television and movies, too.

But I hate schedules. Can't stand them. Too many years of having to track my hours for billing purposes -- hour by hour -- and too much time-management, so everything got scheduled and done.

Likewise, I've learned I do my best work at weird hours. My boss used to laugh at receiving emails or work product from me at 3 A. M. And I can't help this. It's partly inherited, partly learned behavior on my part. My parents had insomnia, so do my sons. And I trained myself during college and law school to stay up all night studying and schedule late classes. And then when I'd start a trial, I'd stay up all night the night before it began, just going over my notes and making sure I had all the variables I expected covered. And during my company in-house lawyer period, I'd stay up all night working on important presentations or projects.

Old habits die hard.

So yes, I'm weird. But I like writing this way, and I love writing at the cottage, all eight hundred square feet of it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's A Wired, Wired World

By Pat Browning
My new computer came with Windows 7 and Word 2003. I'm struggling with them both. I wondered about using my old disks to install Windows XP Home and Word 2000, both of them user-friendly.
I consulted the FAQs from the site of Leo Notenboom, who sends out a newsletter answering computer questions from clueless people like me. I learned that using the old disks is not a good idea, but I think my problem with Windows 7 might be that I took the 64 bit option. That could be why I get notices of “incompatibility,” why Windows just stops running in some web programs, and why my printer balks.

According to Leo:
“Virtual machines might actually be an answer! Windows 7 is already coming with a ‘Windows XP mode’, which as I understand it is nothing more than Microsoft's own virtual machine technology running Windows XP within Windows 7. If you do have an application that is for whatever reason problematic in 64 bits, running it in a 32 bit virtual machine might (I do have to stress might) be a viable solution.”

Well, that blows me backwards. Obviously, I need to call in a real computer expert to look over this system. My TV, computer and telephone land line are all hooked into the same modem. Yikes! Talk about a wired, wired world.

Notenboom has a collection of columns that are free for reprinting and distribution. I chose one about the ease of tracing people through e-mail addresses, and protecting your identity on social networking sites. Here it is.
Can you be traced by your e-mail address?
By Leo Notenboom
When you communicate with people or post online, chances are you don't think twice about sharing your email address. But should you? Is there a way your phone number and address can be tracked by someone who only has your email address?
The short answer is yes. It could be very easy for you to be found by just your email address... or it could be quite difficult. Exactly how difficult it might be depends on three things: how you've used your email address, what information you've put in public places, and whether or not you've broken the law.
You can test the security of your email address by searching for it on the internet. Most search engines don't let you search for your exact email address, as they treat "@" and "." as spaces, but it's still a good place to start (especially if your email address is unique). Now realize that everything your search just returned can just as easily be found by anyone trying to track you down.
The worst case scenario would be a standard "name and address" listing, which includes your name, email address, physical address and phone number. If this information has been posted online (by you or someone else) then absolutely anyone can find you with a quick and easy search.
If someone is trying to track you down it's more than likely they already know several other things about you in addition to your email address. They probably know your name and at least your general location. Add those two bits of information and your tracker has even more to go on.
When it comes to protecting yourself social networking sites are often overlooked. And it's not just Myspace and Facebook -- it's other niche sites as well. With any of the information above (usually name and city are enough), there is often a lot of information available to the public. Try this: log out of any social media sites you are a member of, search for yourself by just name and city and see what information is available to anyone about you now.
If you have a fairly unique email address or perhaps unique handle for logging into some sites, people might not only find out where you live, but perhaps also view pictures of you, learn where you work or go to school, and see what sites you've visited recently. And they can do it in about 5 minutes. A more dedicated searcher could find even more.
The real concern is not what people can find, but rather how easy you've made it for them to find it. So what can you do?
Use a "throw-away" email address when doing things like placing ads or using any public site where the contact could eventually lead to meeting new people, or people wanting to find you for some reason. This throw-away address should be completely unique, unrelated to you, and should be created with completely fake information. That way at least the casual searchers will find very little from just that email address.
But what do you do about the not-so-casual searchers?
If you've broken the law even a throw-away email address may not be bullet proof.
Just like IP address tracing, it is possible that in the course of investigating a crime, authorities could use a court order to get additional information from the email service you've used for your throw-away account. They can get the IP address or other information about the computer or location from which the account was created, and they could potentially use it to locate you. It's not something that's taken lightly, but if crime warrants it, it is certainly possible.
The bottom line? Be aware that your email address may not provide you with the anonymity you think; used in conjunction with other readily available information much can be discovered about you. When it's important, risky or otherwise prudent make sure to take steps to appropriately anonymize the trail back to the real you.
Get more free tech help and advice from Leo Notenboom by visiting
With over 30 years of industry experience, including an 18 year career as a software engineer with Microsoft, Leo gives real answers to real questions from ordinary computer users at Ask Leo! Subscribe to Leo's weekly newsletter now and receive a free ebook: "Internet Safety - Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet", a collection of steps, tools and concepts you need to know to keep your computer and your information safe.
Article Source:
And speaking of social networks, will it surprise you to know that divorce lawyers do their research on Facebook? I found a fascinating article on about that very subject.

Before the explosion of social media, Ken Altshuler, a divorce lawyer in Maine, dug up dirt on his client's spouses the old-fashioned way: with private investigators and subpoenas. Now the first place his team checks for evidence is Facebook.
Consider a recent story of a female client in her 30s, who came to Altshuler seeking a divorce from husband. She claimed her husband, an alcoholic, was drinking again. The husband denied it. It was her word against his word, Altshuler says, until a mutual friend of the couple stumbled across Facebook photos of the husband drinking beer at a party a few weeks earlier.
It was the kind of "gotcha moment" Altshuler knew would undermine the husband's credibility in court. His firm presented the photos to the judge, and the wife won the case in April, he said.
You can read the whole story at:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Turning a Blog into a Book

By Jean Henry Mead

I never dreamed of converting my interviews at Mysterious People into a book when I started the blog site last year. But such good advice and life stories evolved that I couldn’t allow the material go to waste. I recycled a great many interviews and saving them for posterity seemed the right thing to do, especially after Carolyn Hart and Jeffrey Deaver agreed to contribute to the series.

I interviewed more than a hundred mystery writers and, unfortunately, not all of them made the cut, although my entire blog team here at Murderous Musings are included in the electronic edition: Chester Campbell, Beth Terrell, Ben Small, Mark W. Danielson and Pat Browning.

Since the interviews were accepted for publication by Poisoned Pen Press, I’ve seen Internet ads offering to turn blogs into books for $14.95. A great idea for a blogger’s memoirs but it's not very profitable for resale. I offered my book to three publishers, all of which accepted, so I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go with PPP, which only offered to publish for Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Sony readers? Two small, well respected presses also offered a print version but wanted to make changes. I finally decided to accept Poisoned Pen’s contract with the hope they would also publish a print edition or sell the print rights to another publisher.

Interviews with unknown writers usually don't sell books and I found the best time to approach a bestseller is just before a new release, which is probably why Sue Grafton agreed to an interview when V is for (Victim?) hits the market. Embolded from acceptances from Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Nancy Pickard, J.A. Jance and other publishing giants, I ask Janet Evanovich for an interview. So far no answer but someone from her hometown repeatedly appears on my visitor screen. I'd love to ask how some of her quirky characters came about.

I’ve been featuring quotes from interviewees at my Facebook site. Among my favorites is one from Nancy Means Wright: "Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher nails up rejection slips and adverse reviews on the side of his barn and shoots holes in them. I just leave mine in a cardboard box and let my Maine Coon cats make a nest or pee on them. So send that manuscript out again!"

And from Louise Penny: "Finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don't be one of those. Do it, for God's sake. You have nothing to fear--it won't kill you. It won't even bite you. This is your dream--this is your chance. You sure don't want to be lying on your death bed regretting you didn't finish the book." Lawrence Block was more succinct with his advice: "Write to please yourself. And don't expect too much."

If starting that first novel has you discouraged or you think you'll never get it finished, read what some of these writers have also gone through. Their stories are not only inspiring, they'll make you laugh and you'll wonder how the publishing business ever survived. (We writers must have inspired the invention of the straight jacket.)

I’ve had so many good interviews since Mysterious Writers was accepted that I’ll have to do another collection. I’d really rather be writing mystery novels but I began my writing career a news reporter, so interviewing comes easily. And the rewards are immeasurable.

I hope aspiring writers will discover something in this collection to help them in their struggle to publication, which is the main reason for the blog site as well as this book. Mystery readers will also enjoy reading about their favorite authors.

(Click on the blog title to read further about Mysterious Writers.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Freelancer's Survival Guide

By Beth Terrell

As many of you know, I love discovering new sources for information on writing and marketing books. Recently, I discovered Kristine Katheryn Rusch's Freelancer's Survival Guide. Rusch is an award-winning writer in several genres, including science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery. She was also, for a time, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The Guide has 63 chapters in it so far. Rusch is offering it as a free download, but there is a "donate" button so that readers who feel they have benefited from the Guide can help subsidize it.

It's full of useful information about scheduling, networking, motivation, money management, and more. Any writer who aspires to make a living at his or her craft is sure to find something of use in it.

The Guide has links to other articles, as well as to an e-book by Rusch's husband, Dean Wesley Smith. Smith's Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing has some interesting information in it, but it also contains some advice that should probably be used with caution. Smith and Rusch are advocates for taking control of one's own career and researching the advice others give you thoroughly. That goes for theirs as well, but bearing that in mind, these two books are a gold mine for writers.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Immigration Reform

By Mark W. Danielson

Along our southern borders, tempers are flaring and guns are blazing over the tide of illegal immigrants. The National Guard has been deployed to help stem the flow, but their presence has been as effective as British Petroleum’s oil spill remedies. Mexican leaders deplore our border actions and warn of consequences. On our side of the border, conventions planned for Arizona have relocated to other states while tensions continue to mount. Regardless of one’s political views, it is clear that immigration reform is needed.

Certainly, the illegal drug trade is responsible for most of the Mexican border violence, but US citizens are becoming increasingly fed up with illegal immigrants draining their resources. But what most Americans forget is there is also an unstoppable migration of illegal aliens flying across our northern border. Far more so than in the south, these undesirables come and go as they please, and set up camp in our wetlands and grasslands so they can raise their young on US soil. Local governments have fought back using air guns and other noise makers to discourage this, but these measures have failed to make a difference. The Canadian immigration problem has been compounded by extraordinary multiple births. There is no question we are being overrun.

With this in mind, the uproar over people having to produce their personal documents along our southern borders seems superfluous, as I must comply with these same requests whenever I visit a foreign country. In fact, I can be thrown in jail for losing my shore pass or failing to produce my passport when asked. From my vantage, US authorities should be paying equal attention to those entering from Canada as they do Mexico. For whatever reason, no one seems even remotely concerned about those flocking in below radar coverage, and in spite of numerous cases of them downing aircraft, not a single Canadian culprit has been detained.

The West was won with justice served by Smith and Wesson's and thick ropes. Some citizens are already taking pot shots at these illegals, and it seems likely that kidnappings, neck ringings, and murder can’t be far off. This is a serious issue, indeed.

Recently, I spotted a huge camp of young illegal Canadians at a nearby park, lying around without a care while two adults watched over them. Seeing thirty youngsters under one couple’s supervision was astounding. After returning with my camera, I cautiously maneuvered to document the event while carefully avoiding the adults. My zoom lens captured some good shots, but even at close range, there are too hard to identify. My photos prove that they all look alike to the untrained eye.

Homeland Security, it’s time that we protect all of our nation’s borders! We cannot afford to be overrun by such unchecked population growth! If nothing is done, our citizens will certainly hunt them down, and violence is never the answer.

If you agree with this assessment, then write your state and federal representatives. Don’t wait for these illegals to bomb or spread disease in your neighborhood. Our health, security, and way of life are at stake.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Face of a Thriller

I recently finished reading Face of a Killer, a well-written thriller by Robin Burcell, whose progress I have watched over the years via posts on various Internet lists. She worked in the San Franciso area for more than two decades as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. An FBI-trained forensic artist, Robin used that talent with her character Sydney Fitzpatrick in this book, written after producing four Kate Gillespie mysteries..

An FBI agent and forensic artist, Sydney is called on to reconstruct the face of a mutilated rape-murder victim and finds herself entangled in another murder case, that of her father killed more than two decades ago. She visits the death row inmate about to die for the murder and has doubts about his guilt.

A photo sent to her by a friend of her father's, who then commits suicide, adds more complications. When attempts are made on her life, Sydney begins to mistrust a fellow agent she had formerly lived with. The plot moves rapidly as people and events from years ago resurface, and it appears some hidden government group may be responsible for her problems.

In an Author's Note, Robin mentioned that her fictional rogue international financial institution was modeled after the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), target of the biggest banking scandal in history back in 1991. It was called the "Bank of Crooks and Criminals" by the feds. After its closure, a "black network" division was allegedly still in operation using Mafia-like tactics, extortion, kidnapping, even murder, by some accounts.

Robin has some great characters and does an excellent job in keeping the excitement at a high level. I highly recommend Face of a Killer.

Chester Campbell

Mystery Mania

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Imus Prey

by Ben Small

I tuned in to Imus in the Morning last week to watch his interview with my favorite author, John Sandford, he of the marvelous Prey police procedural series. As some of you know, Sandford's real name is John Camp. He won the Pulitzer in 1986 for a series of journalistic articles about a midwestern farm crisis, and has been writing best-selling thrillers ever since. His latest, Storm Prey, debuted as #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, as do all his books.

For a thriller writer, Sandford seems entirely too relaxed, a nice guy -- not that others, such as me, aren't -- and his books, while tense, suspenseful and thrilling, also have a laid-back attitude, dosed with plenty of humor and interesting side-materials, such as characters arguing as they're chasing down a brutal killer over the rankings of their top 100 all-time rock-'n'roll tunes. His protagonist, Lucas Davenport, a tough-guy cop with a soft soul, is rich, having made a fortune designing computer games. He drives a Porsche and wears designer suits, which he always seems to ruin. His wife, Weather, is a noted Minneapolis plastic surgeon, which may be a good thing, because Davenport or one of his subordinates almost always needs immediate medical attention.

I'd seen Sanford interviewed before, and he always seems like a polite, soft-spoken man, who in his spare time writes some of the best thrillers on the planet. I figured if anyone could break through and bring out some interesting facts about him, perhaps with a humorous flavor, it would be Don Imus.

It didn't work out that way. Sandford said he'd made a mistake marrying the former ladies-man Davenport to Weather. Davenport was a more interesting character when single, and Sandford writes mostly for women. So he's got to bump Weather off.

Imus, who admitted he hasn't and won't read any of Sandford's books -- he doesn't read fiction -- asked why he has to kill Weather, why not consider other alternatives? Sandford smiled and said, "No, I gotta kill her. That's the only way."

So Imus said, "What's your wife think about that? Are you married?"

Sandford hesitated, then said his wife died three years ago. He paused again and seemed to tear up a bit, then said, "I'm just about over it."

And then came the whammy. "You didn't kill her, did you?"

Sandford swallowed and his eyes watered. He said, "No... She died of cancer."

An awkward moment. A dead stop in the Imus studios. Nobody said a word, no quips from Bernie, Charles, Warner, Dagan, Jenna, Bigfoot, or the little guy in the control room. Uncomfortable. One of the few times I've seen Imus at a loss for words. Struggling to come up with something in an interview rapidly going downhill, he said, "What kind of cancer?" and made it worse.

"Breast," Sandford said softly. "It was bad."

Another pause, before Imus made the comment his audience no doubt was thinking. "Well, this interview is ending on a positive note, isn't it?"

The Imus staff came to his rescue, heaping deserved abuse on his shaggy locks. "Man, are you a jerk," Charles said. "You invite this nice man in here and then proceed to ask him all sorts of inappropriate personal questions. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Bernie chimed in with something similar, giving Sandford a much-needed breather, and finally Sandford managed a smile.

It was obvious that both Imus and Sandford were uncomfortable and that Imus felt bad about what he'd done. Recovering, they talked about Storm Prey, Sandford's latest, joked about running out of Prey title adjectives, and Imus asked about Sandford's writing methodology. He won Imus' heart even more when he said he writes with country music blaring in the background.

For a guy who loves beating up his guests with humorous insults, Imus clearly stepped into the poop during this interview. Sandford could have reacted with anger, but being every bit a gentle man, he handled himself with class and dignity. And Imus recovered well too, plugging Sandford and Storm Prey several times during the rest of his three hour program. He apologized several times for botching the interview and hurting a very nice man needlessly, admitted he had no idea why he'd asked such stupid questions, and he encouraged his staff to heap more abuse onto him.

John Sandford, a nice man and class act, a true writing talent who produces outstanding thrillers. I got a signed copy of Storm Prey the first day it was out, and read it in one sitting. I'd encourage anyone who enjoys thrillers to read his entire Prey series, from Rules of Prey to his twentieth, Storm Prey. And I recommend his other novels, too. They're all Best in Class.

I'm hoping John Sandford's next Lucas Davenport book will be entitled Imus Prey. And if I were Weather, Lucas Davenport's wife, I'd take a long, long vacation...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"The S Theory of Storytelling"

By Pat Browning

Michael Larsen’s blog at
covers topics from storytelling to publishing and everything in between. This week, with his permission, I’m reprinting his “The S Theory of Storytelling,” a short, sweet summary of what it takes to write a compelling story.

The husband and wife team of Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada left New York for San Francisco and opened their own literary agency in 1972. They founded the prestigious San Francisco Writers Conference almost eight years ago.

The next conference is scheduled for February 18- 20, 2011. It will feature nearly 100 agents, authors, editors and book industry professionals. Attendees will have access to more than 50 “how to" sessions, panels, and workshops taught by authors. Speed Dating for Agents and Ask a Pro offer one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work directly to publishing professionals.
The web site at
is kept updated.

The agency web site is full of helpful information for writers, and it’s great for browsing. Check it out at

This entry on Michael Larsen’s blog was posted on Friday, March 19th, 2010
“The S Theory of Storytelling” by Michael Larsen
Forcing Fiction and Narrative Nonfiction Readers to Turn the Page

“The first page sells the book.” –Mickey Spillane

Agents, editors and book buyers only read far enough to make a decision. If they don’t like what they read on page one, they won’t turn the page. Book buyers may not read the second sentence of a book in a bookstore. This leads to “The S Theory of Storytelling” for fiction and narrative nonfiction that writers want to read like novels:

Something Said
or Something Else

on page one must be compelling enough to make agents, editors, and book buyers turn the page.

Your book will compete with the growing number of ways consumers can use their free time and discretionary income. So every word you write is an audition to get your readers to read the next word. Every line you write must convince your readers to read the next line.

Assume you have only one sentence to convince browsers to keep reading. Every page you write must arouse enough interest to keep readers turning the pages. And you face that challenge on every page you write except the last one.

“The last page sells the next book.” –Mickey Spillane

Friday, June 4, 2010

Conquering Writer’s Block

by Jean Henry Mead

I rarely suffer from writer’s block, thanks to my journalism training, but I’m told many writers do. While packing to move, I found an article concerning the malady, written, ironically, by Lawrence Block, an MWA Grandmaster.

Block asked the question: “What’s the biggest factor in determining writing success? “ Not just talent, “but a feel for language, an intuitive understanding of how to arrange words in their best order, a sense of what is and is not dramatically effective.”

Perseverance and the courage to continue writing, no matter how many walls you’ve papered with rejection slips, are also contributing factors. Block credits believing in your ability to write as the most important aspect of successful writing. Comparing writers to athletes, he said, “Mental attitude and preparation make the difference. It plays precisely the same role for us that it does for the runner and the weight lifter. The more completely I believe in myself, the more I am able to employ the talent I possess. My belief in my ability and in the worth of my work will enable me to work to the limit of my capacity."

He recommends sitting at the computer for fifteen minutes before beginning to write. Spend that time telling yourself what a good writer you are and that you do excellent work. Erasing negative thoughts before you begin is a huge step in getting those words down on paper. Negative beliefs, whether or not you’re aware of them, can sabotage your work. Thoughts such as: I’m not a good writer, what I’ve written is crap, I never finish what I start, no one will publish my work, etc.

As so often happens, the first third of your book goes well but when you get to the middle you’re stuck, particularly if you don’t outline the plot (which I don’t). During my current work in progress, I wrote myself into a corner and had to put my story in reverse and back up some 20,000 words. It was not only discouraging, it briefly made me lose confidence in my ability to write. But once I took off in another direction, the writing has gone quite well.

I’ve also found that reading the previous chapter before starting to write helps to carry me forward into the next chapter. Bestselling novelists I’ve interviewed have said to stop writing when you’re over the “hump”—when a plot problem is solved--so that you’re ready to finish the scene the following day. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially for me, because you want your muse to run its course before you quit for the day.

I aim for five pages and sometimes find that it’s like pulling teeth to meet my goal, so I stop, hoping to take up the slack the following day. Writing fast and making changes in the second draft seems to work for most successful writers.

Negative beliefs can be damaging as well as paralyzing, resulting in long term writer’s block. But how do you pull yourself out of writer’s depression? Lawrence Block recommends putting your negative thoughts on paper. When you read them, tell yourself they’re all LIES. Rejection won’t destroy you, he said. “Nobody ever died of a rejection slip, and nobody every succeeded without accumulating plenty of them along the way."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review: Revenge Served Cold

By Beth Terrell

Revenge Served Cold is a cozy mystery with a touch of the paranormal. Written by Ohio businesswoman and attorney Jackie Fullerton, the novel features court reporter and part-time law student Anne Marshall solving the hit-and-run murder of one of her professors, Elliott Spence. Spence's wife, Kathy, is the prime--and only--suspect in the crime, but Anne becomes convinced of her innocence. This is largely through the influence of Anne's father's ghost. Her father, James, died several years before, but occasionally returns to involve his daughter in a bit of amateur sleuthing. Though a bit cavalier with his daughter's safety (understandable perhaps, for a man who knows from experience that life does not end with death), James is a likable character, and the interplay between Anne and her father provides some touching moments.

The book is a fast, light read by an author who clearly cares about her characters. Though it was clear from almost the beginning who had committed the crime and why, this did really not bother me because of book's focus on the relationships between characters rather than the mystery itself.

One challenge for writers of PI or amateur sleuth mysteries is how to give the protagonist the bulk of the work without depicting law enforcement officials as either corrupt, power-hungry bullies or incompetent fools. To her credit, Fullerton's police detectives are
decent and sympathetic human beings. However, they seemed ill equipped for criminal investigation, and I wished they had been more competent. I also wondered why Anne was so averse to sharing pivotal information with Kathy's defense attorney, but since this book is the second in a series, the groundwork for some of Anne's more questionable decisions may have been laid in the first installment, Piercing the Veil.

Here's an excerpt:

Anne drove in silence, enjoying the company of her father. She took in the tobacco aroma and felt the assurance of him by her side. Memories of baseball games floated through her mind. When she was thirteen she had been part of the girls' traveling team and was wild about anything to do with baseball. That summer, her dad took her to every game he could. She particularly enjoyed the night games. It was magical to her when the lights came on and the stadium lit up like a stage. She remembered sitting there on those warm summer nights with her dad, a stadium hot dog covered with mustard and onions in one hand and a soda in the other. And that was just the start.

You can learn more about Jackie and her books at

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the author's publicist in return for an impartial review.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Sixth Floor

By Mark W. Danielson

For those old enough to remember, November 22, 1963 and The Sixth Floor will forever stir emotion. On this day, from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was struck down by two bullets fired by Depository employee Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy had just finished parading through downtown Dallas in his Lincoln convertible after landing at Love Field. Less than four hours later, Air Force One was flying our new Commander-in-Chief to Washington DC. To this date, Kennedy’s assassination remains one of the world's greatest murder mysteries.

With Jackie Kennedy at his side, Vice President Johnson took the Presidential Oath aboard Air Force One; Jackie still wearing her blood-stained pink suit. Concerned over the potential international turmoil, there was an urgent need for President Johnson to return to Washington DC, but he refused to leave without Jackie and her husband’s body. Once Kennedy’s casket was on board, the Presidential Boeing 707 took flight.

The Warren Commission’s report of the Kennedy assassination is still one of the most controversial documents ever to be released. Some of its findings are so implausible, even fiction writers wouldn’t use them. Take, for example, the “magic bullet” reportedly found on the hospital floor after it fell from a gurney. This near perfectly shaped bullet, positively linked to the rifle found on the sixth floor and Oswald, supposedly pierced Kennedy’s neck, and then continued through Governor John Connally’s back, ribs, and wrist, fracturing several bones. Now, I’m not saying this didn’t happen; only that I don’t believe it. I base this on my observation that every bullet I’ve ever fired has been distorted after hitting a solid object. Bone certainly qualifies as solid.

Back in Dealey Plaza, law enforcement officers converged on the Depository after hearing the shots. They briefly detained Oswald, but released him once he proved he was an employee. This decision led to the murder of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit who was questioning Oswald. A witness to this slaying used Tippit’s police car radio to describe Oswald as the killer. Further tips led to Oswald’s arrest in a movie theater.

Oswald, a disgruntled former Marine sniper who had spent time in Cuba, lived in Russia, and taken a Russian wife, denied any involvement in the killings, but before the truth could be determined, the unthinkable happened. While Oswald was being transported on live television through the tunnel beneath the police department, nightclub owner Jack Ruby stepped out of the crowd and shot Oswald point blank. But how did Ruby get there, and how did he get so close? Did Oswald recognize Ruby, as some have claimed? The only certainty is Jack Ruby successfully silenced Oswald, and later died in prison of cancer. Both he and Oswald took their secrets to the grave.

Jack Ruby’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination is as puzzling as Oswald’s. Ruby was known to have connections with “The Mob”, he and Oswald both spent time in Louisiana, the Organized Crime bosses hated John Kennedy, and yet any Mob connection was dismissed by the Warren Commission.

There has always been speculation about a second gunman shooting from the grassy knoll. Footage of Kennedy’s head movement supports this theory, and yet there is no confirmation that a second gunman existed. Many re-enactments have occurred, including on the Mythbusters television show, but no one has ever provided conclusive evidence that disclaims the Warren Commission’s finding that Oswald acted alone. Today, an X on the street marks the spot where Kennedy was shot. From The Sixth Floor Museum, this X provides a clear view of Oswald’s vantage. But how likely is it for one man firing a blot-action rifle to squeeze off four shots that would hit a moving target? Even our best marksmen using their military sniper weapons would have a difficult time replicating this task.

Many books have been written on the Kennedy assassination, but rather than provide answers, they stimulate more questions. Sad memories flow from visitors to The Sixth Floor Museum as images flash back to the day when live news reporting came of age. Who could have imagined that in a 48 hour period, two assassinations would occur on live TV? From the Dallas parade to “John-John Kennedy’s” salute as his father’s horse-drawn casket was paraded through Washington DC, the world’s eyes were glued to its television sets.

Forty seven years has failed to dim memories or answer the many disturbing questions. Perhaps President Johnson said it best when he remarked that he never doubted that Oswald fired the fatal bullet, but he also never believed he acted alone. There is no question that we will never know the truth about what really happened on that fateful day in Dallas.