Saturday, May 28, 2011


June Shaw

When you’re reading (or writing) a book, what age characters do you prefer?
As I’m getting older (see picture), I realize I search for more mature characters than I did when I was in my twenties. And thirties. And….

Okay, so maybe I can relate better to older characters—although I really love Janet Evanovitch’s books. Oh, but maybe that’s because of Grandma Mazur. Actually, I do adore Grandma, but the younger, sexier characters are fun, too.

I liked Murder She Wrote long before I was near the protagonist’s age. I was young and enjoyed all of the women on Golden Girls. One of my all-time favorite stage plays is Arsenic and Old Lace.

The nice thing is I don’t believe I am alone in my taste for characters. The popularity of those television programs and the play attest to that fact.
What I see as different now is that I can relate more to those characters. At present, I am reading and enjoying Susan Santangelo’s Retirement Can Be Murder. Possibly a few years ago I would not have been able to sympathize with her protagonist as well. Now I definitely understand.

Janet Evanovitch’s books made me decide to write a humorous mystery series because her books are so enjoyable. I chose to make my main character somewhat older and wiser than hers. Mine may not sell as well (whose do?), but writing them is really fun. Readers and reviewers say they love my protagonist, too.

And all of my readers and reviewers can’t possibly all be baby boomers or older—can they?

Friday, May 27, 2011


by Earl Staggs

In 1984, two girls, ages 14 and 15, were abducted at gunpoint, tied up and raped. Shortly afterward, they spotted a man driving a car and identified him as their attacker. He was convicted on their eyewitness testimony.

On May 12, 2011, Johnny Pinchback walked of a Texas prison a free man. Fortunately for him, Dallas County still had evidence which, when subjected to DNA testing, proved he was not the man who raped them.

Twenty-seven years behind bars. For a crime he did not commit.

Pinchback is now fifty-five years old and starting his life over again. He said, “It was pretty hard, but I trusted in God. I knew one day I would be a free man.” He also said he held no animosity toward the two girls who misidentified him. He plans to devote his life to helping others who suffered the same fate.

While I admire his attitude, I’m not sure I would be able to hold faith that long or be that forgiving. Like him, I wouldn’t hold hard feelings for the two teenage girls. They thought they were doing the right thing. I might have bad feelings for the defense attorney for not doing a better job, and I’d probably have bitter feelings toward the prosecutor for doing his too well.

There was no physical evidence linking Mr. Pinchback to the crime. He was convicted solely on eyewitness testimony, which is notorious for being wrong.

According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization which works to reopen criminal convictions that were made before DNA testing was available, "Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing."

The Dallas County District Attorney said this case illustrates the need for the Texas Legislature to pass bills reforming eyewitness identification procedures and rules on storage of evidence. He urges everyone to contact their representatives about passing such bills.

I think it illustrates much more than that.

DNA testing was not available in 1984, but has been in use since the early to mid 90’s. Why did it take so long to apply that testing in Mr. Pinchback’s case? Bureaucracy? Red tape? The incredibly slow movement of the courts in this type of situation? Probably all of those. And how many others are still in jail, fighting for such testing but are unable to get it? It is incomprehensibe that it takes years – many years – to have this kind of testing done. Knowing a large number of people are incarcerated who could be freed, something should be done to expedite the process.

I understand DNA testing labs are backed up and everyone must wait their turn. Okay, why not set up more labs? To me, that is an easy solution to a situation involving a great deal of injustice. There are certainly more people in prisons who will be freed in the future by DNA testing, and each one of them will, most likely, receive compensation. The amount varies with each state. In Texas, for example, the current law states exoneration is worth $80,000 per year of incarceration. That means the sooner these people are freed, the less it will cost the state. The savings over a short number of years would easily be more than the cost of establishing a DNA lab.

I’m not pushing for these people to receive less money, but I’m sure their freedom means more to them.

It makes sense to me. What do you think?

Earl Staggs

SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS now available for $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle and on Smashwords for other ereaders.

Here’s a free one – Read "The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer," a short story good for a few laughs at

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writing Advice for Fledgling Authors

Marilyn Meredith is guest blogging today as part of the 13-writer Mystery We Write Book Tour. She's published nearly thirty books, including her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel, Angel Lost, and the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the Invisible Path. written as F. M. Meredith. The following is her advice for fledgling writers:

Begin by reading the kind of books that you want to write. Pay attention to how the books begin, how the characters are introduced, how the suspense rises, the dialogue and what makes you like the book.
Attend writers’ conferences and read books on writing. Many people have the mistaken idea that just because they know how to “write” that they can sit down in front of a computer and write a book without learning how. There are many rules about writing a book—yes, some can be broken, but not until you know what they are.

If possible, join a writing group. It’s helpful if the members are writing in the same genre as you, but not absolutely necessary. What you mainly need are people who know about writing and will give you constructive feedback on what you’re written. Listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to take all their advice, but think about it. Frankly, I learned the most about writing from the members of my critique group—the same one I still belong to after 30 years. Develop believable characters. Keep notes about them so they don’t suddenly change eye color or the spelling of their names. Speaking of character names be careful to pick names that don’t rhyme with the other character names, or start with the same letter, or all have the same number of syllables.

Write regularly. If you can, write every day even if it’s only for a short while. The more you write, the better you’ll write.

When you think you’ve finished your novel, it’s time to start the rewriting process. Print it out and go over each page diligently. Check that you’ve been consistent through out. Make sure the dialogue sounds natural but either moves the plot along or reveals character. Are the characters three dimensional?

Don’t rely on the spell and grammar checker. You’ll need to check on the printed page. Many common words have different spellings and meanings. And if you’ve used fragments in dialogue because that’s how a character speaks, you don’t want to make the changes suggested.

When you think you’re done, the manuscript is polished, have someone take a look at it who is a professional. You never want to send something off to a publisher or agent that isn’t as close to perfect as you can make it.

Submitting to publishers is a whole other topic, but just let me say this: follow each agent’s or publisher’s guidelines exactly. They receive so many submissions they’re looking for a reason for rejection.

Never give up. With my first book I received nearly 30 rejections before it was accepted. I did a lot of rewriting in-between those rejections. I’ve had plenty of rejections since, but I never gave up. Rejections are part of being a writer. Sometimes you can learn from the rejection.

Write, write, write.

About Angel Lost: As plans for her perfect wedding fill her mind, Officer Stacey Wilbur is sent out to trap a flasher, the new hire realizes Rocky Bluff P.D. is not the answer to his problems, Abel Navarro’s can’t concentrate on the job because of worry about his mother, Officer Gordon Butler has his usual upsets, the sudden appearance of an angel in the window of a furniture store captures everyone’s imagination and causes problems for RBPD, and then the worst possible happens—will Stacey and Doug’s wedding take place?

Marilyn's website:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


By Mark W. Danielson

It’s hard to believe, but at least two generations have no idea what a rotary phone is. It was a simple communicating device. Just ten digits on a round dial. Stick your finger into the numbered slot, spin it until it stopped, and it dialed as it unwound. The 1946 Bell Telephone ad pictured above reads, “Some day, Bell Laboratories will make it possible for you to dial across the United States as simply and promptly as you dial a neighbor now.” Imagine that. But as late as 1971, I shared a phone line in Greeley, Colorado. They called it a “party line”, though I never heard one when I picked up the line. If a neighbor was talking on the line, I hung up and waited until they were finished. If something was pressing, I could ask that they end their call so I could use the phone, but nothing short of an emergency was so important it couldn’t wait.

But technology changed everything in just a few decades. Music went from LP albums to 8-Track players to Cassette players to CDs to iPods and iPads that sync with our car’s radio. Telephones went from hardwire pulse-dial to digital-dial to portable phones to pagers to car phones to cell phones to smart phones that let you talk while surfing the Internet. Will this rush in technology ever end? With ongoing research on digital information implants and pilotless aircraft, it’s quite possible there is a Terminator in our future.

Technology has also changed how we obtain news. For centuries, newspapers were the sole source of information. Back then, newspaper accounts were highly respected because they were heavily scrutinized by editors who demanded accuracy. Once news became instantaneous with the Internet and 24/7 news channels, quality reporting diminished. Newscasters soon found that retractions were easier than accurate reporting. Blame it on their producers who are so eager to find the next greatest story, ongoing stories such as the Gulf oil spill recovery, Japan’s March 11, 2011, nuclear power plant disaster, or the recent weather related destruction in the Southern United States are soon forgotten.

While on-line banking and e-trading revolutionized the speed of commerce, our electronic leashes now hold us captive. Like Pavlov’s dog, we salivate whenever the phone rings, and regardless of who is currently on the line, we ask that person to pause while we take the next call or answer a text. Somewhere along the line, we surrendered our freedom to employers who expect instant responses. Sadly, the tools intended to simplify our lives complicated them.

Authors are among the fortunate few who can use technology to create worlds without it. In the fictional world, no one rushes to answer phones or risks colliding with other cars while texting or talking on the phone. If someone is talking on the line, our characters on the other end will hear a busy signal. There is no option to press 1 for English or to leave a message. Yet in the real world, these authors can use instant information sources such as the Internet and satellite imagery to create accurate stories and scenes. Some authors like Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz illustrated life with and without technology in their respective novels, Timeline and Lightning. Both books became instant successes.

We can’t stop technology, but we can choose how we use it in our daily lives. At the same time, authors can choose how their characters will use this technology to their advantage. If you are writing a period novel, it is essential that you keep the technology period-correct. For example, a character in the 1980s wouldn’t know what a laptop or cell phone is. To them, Gateway is an entry point, and Dell is a valley. In the 80’s, phone booths had rotary-dial phones, and Collect Calls were an accepted form of communicating. Perhaps it’s time we re-wind the clocks and slowed our pace. At the rate we’re going, technology may be the death of us all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Where do you get your ideas?

by Bill Kirton

It’s the question we’re always asked and, sometimes, it’s very easy to answer. My first radio play was broadcast on the BBC many years ago but I still have a very clear recollection of how it came about. It didn’t have just the one source but two. It was only when they came together that the idea formed.

The play was called An Old Man and Some People. The main substance of it came from an incident which happened when we were at a friend’s for dinner. This was many years ago. I was young and, astonishingly, drinking and driving didn’t seem mutually exclusive. The friends lived in a new house on a fairly posh estate but one which still had houses being built on it. We’d eaten and drunk well and there was a knock at the door. It was a policeman asking whether the grey van outside belonged to any of us. It was mine.

The policeman was very polite. He just wanted me to park the van around the corner off the main road. Apparently, the night watchman on the building site had ‘reported’ it. God knows why. There were no parking restrictions or anything. In fact, he was just doing his job. But when the policeman left, I was angry. I was all for going out and telling the man what I thought of him. It didn’t help that our hosts said he was a nosy old bugger.

But the following day – sober, of course – I was ashamed of the way I’d felt. I was young, having a good time, eating great food and swallowing litres (probably gallons in those days come to think of it) of wine. He was old, alone, stuck in a hut on a building site. And I wanted to go and shout at him. I disgusted me.

Then, several months later, I was looking through some newspaper cuttings. I clip out things which seem out of the ordinary, absurd, sad or anything which makes them stand out. This one was in the tragic category. A man was accused of the manslaughter of his wife. She’d been terminally ill for a while and was always asking him to finish her off to stop the pain. He couldn’t do it. Then, one day, she fell and was just lying there, so he took a pillow and held it over her face. Then he phoned the police and told them he’d killed her. The irony was that he was acquitted because the autopsy showed that his wife was already dead before he held the pillow to her face.

That awful image of the poor man, after months of suffering, ‘suffocating’ his wife’s body had haunted me but I’d forgotten about it. But now, suddenly, by making it a part of my night watchman’s past, I had a play which wasn’t just a petty subjective record of my unreasonable anger and consequent shame, but something which worked at a different level. Its resonance was wider, its conclusions less facile and it might involve listeners at a deeper level.

As I said, it was the first play I had broadcast. I still think it was possibly the best I ever wrote, too.

(PS. I realise that this begs another question. What’s the morality of me using a true, tragic story to give substance to my writing? Not an easy one to answer.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Unusual Life

By Shane Cashion

I'm reading the book, Holy War, Unholy Victory by Kurt Lohbeck with a forward by Dan Rather. As much as I can tell, the book recounts the various Afghan resistance groups efforts to drive Soviet troops from their homeland in the 1980's. It's definitely not the type of book I typically read, but in light of current events and the fact that the author is my great uncle and the subject of family lore, I thought I'd give it a try.

Despite my best efforts, after only a couple of chapters, I'm already bored with the book, which is probably more of an indictment on my intellect and lack of maturity than Kurt's writing. Be that as it may, I wish he would have written a memoir of his life instead of a book about his time in Afghanistan. From what I've heard, he was quite a character.

As far as families go, mine's fairly unremarkable. We've never held high positions in business or politics or been inducted to any halls of fame, and our crimes, while relatively frequent, always allow for probation. We're more or less a loosely knit group that's fairly content inhabiting the lower ranks of the middle class. There are worse fates to be sure.

The lone exception to our run of the mill family appears to be Kurt. When news broke that Bin Laden had been killed, I remembered that Kurt had spent a considerable amount of time working in that part of the world as a reporter. With a quick Google search, I found the book he had written as well as a wealth of information about his life.

As a young man he moved from St. Louis to New Mexico where he quickly became a character on the New Mexico political scene. In 1966 he hooked up with Dave Cargo and helped him to win the governor's seat. In the mid-seventies he served a term in the New Mexico House of Representatives. Not long after leaving the legislature he spent six months in a New Mexico prison for passing bad checks. He then went to D.C. where he worked as an aide to U.S. Representative Manuel Lujan Jr.

Kurt spent the lion's share of the eighties in Afghanistan as a reporter for CBS News. He was purported to be the only full-time U.S. correspondent on the ground in Afghanistan, and one of the few westerners to meet the infamous Osama Bin Laden. Kurt is pictured second from the right above and Bin Laden front left. By the early 1990's Kurt was back in the States and into politics working on Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign.

Kurt's entire adult career was unique. He was an Albuquerque TV and radio announcer and newsman, founded a bank, owned nightclubs and a pub, and was a professional magician who had played Vegas' showrooms. He was also intimately involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The lasting impression I got from my grandparents about Kurt was that he was exceptionally bright, but a shyster of the highest order who kept his friends close and his enemies even closer. I only met him once when I was a kid, so I have no opinion of my own to share. What I do know is that in my research I was sorry to learn that he had died around this time last year. I wouldn't have minded having a beer with him someday at his pub. I suspect he had a story or two worth hearing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


by Leighton Gage

Here I am, folks, standing on a street in Paraty, a little town, on the Brazilian coast, about halfway between the cites Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Back in colonial times, Paraty was the deep water port from which much of Brazil’s gold was sent “home” to Portugal. These days, though, there’s barely enough draft in the main channel for small fishing boats and pleasure craft.  

The city fronts on a bay where the turquoise water is studded with more than three hundred islands. And, beyond it, a dense rain forest covers mountains that rise to heights of more than five thousand feet.

But, for the Brazilian literary world, Paraty has a significance that goes beyond its colonial architecture and  picture-perfect setting. Paraty is the site of the FLIP, Festa Literária Internacional deParaty, The Paraty International Literary Festival. Guest authors from the past have included Dennis Lehane, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Coe, J.M. Coetzee, Amos Oz and Nadine Gordimer. And, each year, it attracts about 500 writers, 200 publishers and 13,000 enthusiastic readers.

Most of the action takes place in a huge air-conditioned tent. There’s a café on one side, a bookstore on the other and, inside, authors do their stuff by participating in a series of panels. There’s simultaneous translation into English, Portuguese, Spanish and other languages when necessary. The FLIP’s opening shows feature performers like Chico Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia, all famous names in Brazilian Popular Music.

And then there’s the parallel event, the Flipinha (little FLIP) for kids. Books dangle from shade trees, storytellers spin tales, and writers read from their works. 

Check out the insect. No kid who saw that will forget Gregor Samsa.

Dates vary from year to year, but the FLIP is always in (Brazilian) mid-winter, July or August. In Paraty, there are plenty of cheap hotels, restaurants and bars. And, for a small fee, a fisherman is always willing to take you out to a deserted beach on one of the islands. Even at that time of the year, the water is comfortably warm.

Thinking of coming down for a visit to Brazil? Do it when you can attend the FLIP.
It’s only a three hour drive (or a four hour bus ride) from either São Paulo or Rio.

Their website:


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review--Escape: A Wyoming Historical Novel by Jean Henry Mead

Review by Jaden Terrell

Adventure, romance, and a glimpse into the lives of some of the West's most famous outlaws are hallmarks of Jean Henry Mead's Escape: A Wyoming Historical Novel. The book begins with the arrival of outlaws at the cabin where teenaged Andrea Bordeaux lives with her grandparents. Thinking quickly, Andrea's grandmother shears the girl's long blond hair and dresses her in a pair of her grandfather's overalls, transforming her into "Andy" and leading the outlaws to believe she's a lad.

The plan works--to a degree. Andrea's virtue is safe, at least for the moment, but the outlaws injure her grandparents and take "Andy" hostage. Uncertain of her grandparents' fate, Andy must use all her wits to survive and escape. When one of the outlaws, Billy, learns her secret, things seem hopeless, but he agrees to keep her secret. She comes to believe he can be redeemed.

During her ordeal, Andy meets vicious killers and gentleman outlaws, including the famous Butch Cassidy, who promises to let her return home after their next big robbery. But will he keep his promise?

Mead keeps the suspense high throughout the book, which is reminiscent of a Louis L'Amour western, rich with descriptions of frontier life and rugged terrain. The characters are multifaceted and the dialogue authentic. It's clear the author has done her research, which is seamlessly woven into the story. The epilogue, which ties up the loose ends and delves into the fates of Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, was one of my favorite parts of Escape, which is not only an entertaining read, but an informative one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scene of the Crime

by Carola Dunn
Sorry, this was supposed to post last Wednesday and the dashboard showed me it was scheduled, but it didn't work, so here it is, with apologies (once more) to whomever I'm interrupting.
This is my alma mater, the Friends School in the ancient Essex town of Saffron Walden. I decided several books ago that it would be a good place for the stepdaughter of my 1920s protagonist, Daisy, to go to school. I should have foreseen that the decision would inevitably lead to murder in Saffron Walden.

Long before the Romans came to Britain, the fertile area supported a settlement here, which became a flourishing town in AngloSaxon times. The Norman Conquest added a castle and a stone church to the attractions.

A great many medieval and Tudor buildings have been preserved.

This plasterwork, known as pargetting, is typical of East Anglian buildings.

This is the entrance to Bridge End Garden, and below is the "Dutch" garden, viewed from a lookout concealed in a hedge.

And this is my friend disappearing into the maze where the body is found in Anthem for Doomed Youth:

She and I failed to find our way to the centre, but we did manage to get ourselves out safely. I really needed to see what was in the middle so I could describe it for the story. I went and found a gardener, who led us to the centre (and out again). It has another lookout, from which lost explorers can be directed to the exit. It boasts this delightfully frivolous ornament:

And this is Saffron Walden Police Station, an appropriate end to the tour of the town!