Monday, January 30, 2012

Revenge of the Dentist

by Ben Small

I know why people shy away from dentists, professionally and socially. You don't want to get too close to those guys. They know pain; they inflict it.

You know the anticipatory sensations of an upcoming appointment: a slick sweat across the forehead; the stomach that just won't settle; those last few moments sitting in your car when you calculate any number of fake excuses only to realize nobody will believe you.

Face it: You're chicken, just like me. No dentists, thank you. I don't want no lolipops.

Not long ago, I reported on my ailing tooth problem, the filling which fell out and finally started throbbing on a Friday with no dentists working until Monday. I reported how I called a dentist only to discover he was skiing in Colorado, and that he suggested a temporary filling from Walgreen's until I could see him the next week.

Well, I saw him, and he scraped away the Walgreen's junk that had hardened around my teeth like some form of smooth cement, and squashed in his own temporary junk, then set me up for another appointment when he'd provide a permanent solution.

It's all about more appointments, you know, more fees to do the same thing he could have done a month ago. And no doubt, my dentist wanted me to sweat, to think about that big drill for a month or so.

I know this because during my first visit, when my dentist wasn't laughing at my predicament, he was twirling drilling irons and blood napkins like a cheerleader with a flag-draped baton and cackling like a mad Lawrence Olivier poised with a Black & Decker in a shaky hand.

Okay, so Olivier didn't cackle, just asked, "Is it safe?" Still, Olivier left me this impression, so ingrained in my throbbing jaw that every time I visit a dentist,  I look for chair-straps and a head-vice.

Well, tomorrow is the day of reckoning, and I'm busy arranging all my affairs, anticipating it may be a while -- if ever -- before I have another fear-free, clear-headed day. Post traumatic stress, you know. Yes, it's been known to happen to dental patients.

Another reason nobody likes dentists.

My sister is married to a dentist. Now, her husband has always been nice to me, but I do get an eerie feeling whenever I see him. Perhaps, it's because he always recommends a dentist whether I need one or not, then chuckles to himself each time I stare back at him.

"Painless," they say.

Right. Doc Holliday said the same thing, but instead of Novocaine, Doc used a Derringer to put his patients out of their misery. If they awoke, the pain of an aching tooth was nothing compared to a hole in the chest.

So I've developed a game-plan for tomorrow. First, I'll pop a couple Vicodin an hour before the appointment, followed by a maximum dose of Naproxin. Pain and inflammation anxiety: the tools to prevention -- maybe...

Okay, I'll add some Xanax.

Then, I'll hit the vodka bottle. Old timers used booze to null the pain of amputations. This combo -- if it doesn't kill me -- should work for an extraction, root canal, or thorough cleaning, don'cha think?

Of course, there's another advantage to this approach: If I get pulled over for DUI or pass out and go to the Emergency Room in an ambulance, that's an excuse any dentist will accept and I'll have a written record to prove it.

Or maybe this guy is really evil, and he'll check my temporary filling, tell me he's too busy, pass a cleaning pic over my pearlies, and schedule me for yet another visit, thereby ratcheting up the fear factor and the post traumatic stress for yet another period of weeks while finding another way to bill an extra appointment.

Now, I must admit, I'm not a total coward. I can take a needle. But someone poised just over my delicate facial features with a jack-hammer so big it must be held in two hands, with a whirling, buzzing blade that to my ear -- eyes, jaw and forehead too -- vibrates like a Norelco electric razor amplified so it's like I'm inside a cranked up Bose, well, the thought just terrifies me.

And meanwhile, some hairy-armed assistant that may have once been on the East German female shotputting team thirty years ago is reaching for my jaw, saying as sweetly as possible for someone with such a large Adam's Apple, "Now, open up, you."

I think of Rosa Klebb, the shoe-blade.

Then, when the procedure actually begins, and smoke rises in a white plume from my open and defenseless mouth, I think about my tongue.

My tongue. Where is it supposed to go? There's a war going on inside my mouth: shrapnel spraying, heat rising...

Did I mention the smoke?

How do I protect a tongue I can't see, touch or feel?

I panic.

And that's where the leather straps come in. I've seen them before. They leave welts, you know.

Since I didn't see straps on my first visit to this guy, I suspect he uses the Auto-Strap, a hidden robotic device that's the latest in dental office supplies. I saw an ADTA (American Dental Torture Association) catalog in the waiting room.

So tomorrow, I get strapped in and discover just how pissed my dentist really was that I called him during his vacation.

And this may be the last you hear of me...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

With Age Comes Wisdom

By Mark W. Danielson

Ever wonder why so many authors are older? Two reasons come to mind; experience and opportunity. Experience comes with age, and for many, the opportunity to write comes with retirement. For those of you who have achieved financial independence by writing novels, I salute you. For the rest of us who enjoy writing and are able to accept meager royalties, read on.

Since we only stop aging once in our lives, I’ll forego any further discussion on that topic and move on to experience. It is safe to say that our frame of reference comes from whatever we do and see. The more experience we gain, the more things we have to write about and describe with accuracy. Quality writing comes from being able to incorporate our experiences into meaningful settings and dialogue. To “write what you know” is more than an old adage. While it is possible to research topics and then write about them, the prose that follows is usually less exciting than if you had written with first-hand knowledge.

A lack of expertise becomes obvious when writing about technical items. To write and be technically wrong will cost you your credibility. To avoid this pitfall, consider interviewing experts and then write them into your story as characters. I have done this several times because I believe if I required an expert’s opinion on something, then my character probably did, too. Since my lead detective is an average guy, this technique works well. I prefer him not being all-knowing and seeing.

I would wager there are more novelists who are retired than not. I say this based on observation and without authority, but it makes perfect sense. After all, people with full-time jobs must choose how to spend their free time, and for some reason, most that have families tend to prefer spending time with their loved ones rather than pinging on a keyboard. This is where retired folks have the advantage. Their only downside is they never get a day off. Retired or not, creative writing always comes down to time management.

If you want to write, then open your eyes as if you are seeing something for the first time. Wherever you go, take in the scene, its sounds, its smells, its grit. Note the dust on the light bulbs, the scratches on the doors, the wafting drapes, the creaking floors. Build your experience one day at a time, and when you sit down to write, draw upon your experience and fill your pages with emotion. While age may provide more opportunities to write, it’s the words that count. In this respect, the playing field is level.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Readers, eh? Can't live with them, etc., etc.

One of the questions I find difficult to answer is the one about whether we have a reader in mind when we write. I know I go on about the characters being free to do what they like but that’s the way it feels. So, in a way, when I’m recording their activities and dialogue, I’m being the reader (sort of). OK, in the end, it’s the writer-me who’s changing things around, editing sentences and segments to get the rhythms ‘right’, but the characters take precedence over almost everything else.

The reason I bring this up, however, is that in the course of answering an email from Jean way back it struck me that once you’ve blogged a few times and got a few comments you’re aware of your potential (and actual) readers. Which means that the character you’re watching/creating/recording is you and you can begin to anticipate what sort of responses he/it might provoke in the ‘audience’.

Character-Me (CM):    OK, smartass, prove it.
Writer- Me (WM):       What?
CM:                      Make me do and say things for the Murderous Musings readers.
WM:                     It’s not that blatant. It’s more subtle.
(CM yawns.)
WM:                     Anyway, if I tried that, I’d be bound to offend someone.
CM:                      Oh, and we can’t have that, can we? Better to stay all bland and cowardly and non-controversial. You’re pathetic. Real writers upset people all the time.
WM:                     Well, I can do that in books and stories. No need for it here.
CM:                      Why not?
WM:                     Because when you start blogging you make … well, sort of friends.
CM:                      See? You’re a coward.
WM:                     Why?
CM:                      That false hesitation there – the ‘well, sort of’ bit. Why be so … apologetic about it? Why not just say friends? Why not commit? You’re afraid you’ll have to send them Christmas cards, aren’t you?
WM:                     No, I’m not. It’s … oh, you wouldn’t understand.
CM:                      Huh, I can read you like a book.
WM:                     Oh yeah?
CM:                      Yeah. Your pathetic habit of chucking in big words now and then and pretending to be clever.
WM:                     That’s not true.
CM:                      It is. You’re just covering your backside all the time. So busy not offending people you’re actually licking their…
WM:                     No I’m not.
CM:                      Course you are.
WM:                     You know, you’re one of the nastiest characters I’ve written for ages.
CM:                      (Sardonic grin.) Huh, you just don’t like the truth. You want them all to think you’re a young, vibrant…
WM:                     No I don’t. I’ve told them I’m a granddad. Even used a shot of my grandson to illustrate this.
CM:                      Yeah, why? For the sympathy vote. You just hope they’ll say ‘Poor old bugger’ and let you get away with stuff.
WM:                     You know what? You’re just spiteful, one of those guys who need to undermine others because of your own inadequacy.
CM:                      Hmmm. Interesting. You realise I’m you, don’t you?
WM:                     Er … well, yes. But…
CM:                      Better keep quiet about the inadequacies then, eh? Better change the subject. Do one of those wandering off at a tangent things to convince visitors the British have got a quirky way of thinking. Image, image, image – that’s all you care about.
WM:                     If that was true, I’d hardly have messed it up by letting them see you, would I?
CM:                      Who knows? You’re the writer. You’re the one responsible for this abstruse, rambling garbage.
WM:                     Hmmm, thanks. ‘Abstruse’ – nice. That should impress a few…
CM:                      Oh no, I’m not doing your obfuscation for you. Hey, stop it.
WM:                     What?
CM:                      Making me say stuff like ‘obfuscation’. Next you’ll have me questioning whether Schoenberg’s atonal music really was degenerate art. Damn.
WM:                     Right, instead of the hyper-criticism, what I’d really like you to do for me now is an exegetical analysis of  Joyce’s Ulysses, or perhaps a quick ‘Existentialism for Beginners’.

I’m sorry to say that, at that point, Character-Me clapped his hand over his mouth and refused to continue. See? The writer always gets his/her way.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ideas for Mysteries

I like that ideas to use in mystery novels can come from anywhere. I often find interesting tidbits in the newspaper. On Sunday there’s a section titled News of the Weird. This always has good stories about incompetent crooks and strange behavior. Even regular news articles provide excellent content. Several ideas I’ve used that were reported: 1. The police raided a senior center and arrested oldsters who were gambling. 2. Two women took out life insurance policies on homeless men, killed them in hit-and-run accidents and collected the life insurance money. Many years ago I was on a federal grand jury and we heard evidence to indict people. One of my favorites was a bank robbery. The police couldn’t find any suspects for two weeks. Then the teller who had been robbed came to the police and said she and her boyfriend had staged the robbery. He disappeared to Las Vegas with the money and another woman and now she wanted the police to go get him. Some of these are more farfetched than I can make up.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Choosing a Compatible Critique Group

by Jean Henry Mead

I recently formed a mystery writer's critique group with authors whose work is similar to mine. I hadn’t taken part in one since 1999, when I joined a large online group comprised of novice writers. As a journalist for more than a decade, making the transition to fiction was a real challenge. My years as a police reporter was a plus when I began writing mysteries but my prose was too terse and lacked description. So feedback from the group made the difference. The downside was that there were so many members in the group that my writing time consisted of critiquing their manuscripts. My lesson learned was to find a few like-minded writers whose work I admire.

How do you form a good critique group? If you write mysteries, don’t invite a science fiction writer to critique your work. It’s obviously not a match because the genres are so different. Even someone who writes mysteries may not be compatible. If you write cozies, a crime writer is not a good choice and you run the risk of boring your critique partner(s). Choose a small group of writers who are experienced with your subgenre and who enjoy it. Many books are genre specific, such as commercial romance novels, which have a common structure.

Select critique group members who can be flexible. You need reactions to your work, not what someone else thinks you should have written. And don’t join a critique group if you're sensitive to criticism. Some critique members insist on stark realism while others demand strong female characters and happy endings. Some may think you write too much dialogue and not enough narrative. So you must take criticism with a grain of salt. Toss whatever doesn’t apply over your shoulder.

Above all, choose fellow critiquers who don’t have an axe to grind or envy your publishing successes. Writer Nancy Kress has said that some people are less objective than others, “due to stubborn personality traits. Some people must find fault with everything in order to bolster their own superiority. They’re a bad source of constructive feedback. Conversely, others have such sweet natures that they hate to offend anyone. They will tell you everything in the novel works beautifully, even if it doesn’t.”

It’s your manuscript and you don’t have to accept every tidbit of advice, but at least listen with an open mind. Your fellow critiquers haven’t spent months with your characters and plot, and can be more objective, so take advantage of their expertise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Video interview

by Carola 
Gone West comes out on Tuesday, hardcover, Kindle, and Nook:
I'm now 5 months behind with my Work in Progress, so I hope you'll forgive me if the rest of this Wednesday's post is just a link to a video interview about my  career as a writer:

This was created by a couple who, on retiring, sold their house and bought a motor home with the intention of travelling about and interviewing authors. As they started from Portland, I was one of the earliest.

It's about half an hour long, so if you're interested allow time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Location, location, location

Where Do You Like a Book Located?

by June Shaw

When you read a book, do you care about the location of the story? Do you care whether the location is a real place or not?

I don't care about either.

Having said that, I consider a few books where I've cared, and where I prefer for the location to be real.

There are the Barbara Colley mysteries that feature a maid in the New Orleans famed Garden District. Those of us fortunate enough to have been in that area around the gorgeous monstrous homes can envision each house even more beautiful than the next one -- and a maid discovering what happens within their confines. These cozies are excellent reads for the stories and their unique people and setting.

Tell us only that a mystery is set in New Orleans, and readers' minds conjure various expectations. If it includes Bourbon Street, we have one mindset of what will occur and what we'll see. Tell us part of your story will take place in one of the cemeteries with large, above-ground tombs, and we'll envision one thing. Maybe shootings around the tombs. Maybe witches coming from them. Or zombies. How about voodoo?

Almost all of us can list large numbers of mysteries set in Los Angeles. New York. Chicago. Are any of them cozies? I haven't read one yet. A large majority of stories set in those states feature detectives and real, well-known streets and buildings.

Okay, it seems I do know what to expect from mysteries in many real places, and I do enjoy knowing what to expect.

I also realize I enjoy stories in which the author creates a setting, a community, the town's stores and streets. I have done both in my mystery series. I set the first book in a town I created outside Chicago, where I've enjoyed visiting. I love the Gatlinberg area and set the second book in a fictional place near there. I adore taking cruies, especially to Alaska, so gosh, guess the most recent place I needed to bring my spunky widowed protagonist and the hunky lover she tries to avoid so she can rediscover herself? (Of course the cruise line is fictional, although the ship's staff members enjoyed answering my questions like, "Where's a good place to find a body?")

Lots of readers here in south Louisiana have asked why I haven't set my books down here. Gosh, would it be more fun researching my city or a cruise ship?

We'll see. I am considering writing a future book or so set down here. And since Swamp People on the History Channel has become so popular, I might even give names of the real locations. Of course that's one of the things that's so enjoyable with writing fiction. We can decide and discover where we are and what will happen. I can't wait to find out what's coming up next in my books.

How about you? Do you like to read -- or write -- about a real location?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Writing Series Novels

by Jean Henry Mead

After you write that standalone novel, your publisher may suggest that it become a series. So it’s important that you like your protagonist(s) and want to continue writing about them. Agatha Christie grew tired of writing about Hercule Poirot and wanted to kill him off, just as Conan Doyle attempted to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes.

When I began my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, I named my two protagonists Shirley Lock and Dora Holmes. They were known as Shirl Lock & Holmes, a corny spin on the detective and his physician narrator. When my publisher closed its doors, I resold the series and changed the names to Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty. By that time my two women sleuths had become like old friends, whom I enjoy visiting to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Dana is a bit autobiographical while Sarah is like my friend Marge, who is outspoken and often so funny that she has me laughing tears. Dana is a mystery novel buff, who, with her friend Sarah, a private investigator’s widow, buy a motorhome to travel the West, as I’ve done.

Making the two women mobile provides them new settings in each novel. Although two of their motorhomes have been wrecked in the first three books, Dana’s wealthy sister dies and leaves her a considerable sum of money as well as a Wyoming mansion. The money allows them additional mystery solving opportunities as well as extensive travel.

Most protagonists have a job and the author needs to be knowledgeable about the occupation, or at least know the basics. And above all, enjoy writing about the job on a continuing basis, without becoming bored. Another pitfall is to change the tone of the writing. For instance, you shouldn't begin writing a cozy and decide in the middle of the series to darken it to a noir. Readers will complain. I’ve covered various subjects in my series, including adultery, drug gangs and homegrown terrorists, but with humor, so I’ve been able to get away with subjects not usually associated with two 60-year-old feisty amateur sleuths. And readers have fortunately told me that each book has been a fun read.

If your series becomes popular, you may have to continue writing it longer than you had planned. J. K. Rowling was able to discontinue her Harry Potter series after seven books but Sue Grafton is committed to 26. Her schedule has changed over the years and she now only writes three hours a day with one published novel every two years. At 71, she’ll be nearly 80 when Z is for Zero is released, but she plans to continue writing about her private investigator on a standalone basis after the series ends. She admits that Kinsey Millhone is her alter ego and that she enjoys writing about her.

I can't imagine writing 26 novels about someone you don't like and I'm glad that I enjoy my characters, especially my lovesick sheriff.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Writer's Paradise

By Mark W. Danielson
Hemingway would have loved this picturesque town on Spain’s southwest shore. Narrow cobblestone streets guide you through its laid back charm. Pristine beaches welcome the Atlantic’s gentle waves. The sun casts magnificent colors as it rises and sets over the ocean. Seagulls swarm over the fishing boats. Cafes overlooking the beach provide perfect settings for enjoying its temperate climate. Imagine sitting from a balcony watching a spectacular sunset and you’ll understand why Rota is an ideal location to kick back and write a tale.
But as tempted as one might be to stay glued to a keyboard, the lure of this town is too great to resist. Markets conduct business in much the same manner as they have always done. The public market offers fresh cuts of meat. The seafood market is located at the dock where fishing boats deliver their catch. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.

Time seems irrelevant here. During the day, the streets are eerily empty and the town seems to sleep, but once the ocean swallows the sun, the vampire-like residents awaken. Almost on cue, when darkness falls, they fill Rota’s town squares and restaurants, laughing and talking with the approval of their tail-wagging dogs. Tail wagging is highly encouraged throughout Spain.
While tourists flood Rota during the summer months, many shops and restaurants close in the winter due to a lack of business. For writers, this doesn’t matter, but for tourists you might want to consider September as an ideal month to visit. Bear in mind that Rota does not have an abundance of tourist activities, but its charm and beautiful beaches rival anywhere in the world. Whether you choose to write or not, this town is definitely worth visiting if you’re going to Spain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

As if it weren't hard enough already...

There are plenty of examples of writers who’ve produced great stuff by imposing restrictions on themselves. Beckett wrote in French to stop himself giving in to his facility with English. The French classical dramatists interpreted the ‘rules’ of Aristotle very tightly and had to write in Alexandrines and stick to the 3 unities. But their constraints were easy to cope with compared with the things the members of a group called Oulipo do. I’d vaguely heard about them before but they were featured in a recent BBC podcast and I was amazed to hear the sort of difficulties they create to make the writing process even trickier.

The name comes from  a French expression meaning ‘workshop for potential literature’. (It could only be French, couldn’t it?) The group’s been going for fifty years and you can only join if you’re invited to. If you ask to become a member, that guarantees that you never will. Mind you, when you hear the sort of constraints they impose on themselves, you probably decide a visit to the supermarket or a few hours spent staring at a wall would be a better way to spend your time.

I’d heard of Georges Perec’s novel La Disparition, which doesn’t have the letter ‘e’ in it. What I didn’t know was that it had been translated into English by Gilbert Adair (again with no ‘e’s). He then used all those ‘e’s  that he’d ‘saved’ to write a novella called Les Revenentes which uses ‘e’ but no other vowels. A Canadian poet, Christian Bök, was interviewed on the programme and he’d written a lipogram that uses only one vowel in each of its five chapters. Michel Thaler wrote a novel with no verbs in it. And so it goes on. One poet, whose name I’ve forgotten, wrote a book of ten sonnets whose pages were cut in such a way that you can create any 14-line sequence you like out of them. To see what he meant, imagine those kids’ books which have a head, body and legs on 3 separate segments of the page so that you can create different combinations by matching the different heads, bodies and feet. The mathematical permutations when you have 10 poems of 14 lines each are such that it’s effectively a book you can never finish reading.

The theory is that this triggers ideas, inspiration, and forces you to ‘think outside the box’ (apologies for such a gross cliché). But, apart from it being an entertaining sort of game to play for one’s own amusement or a way of saying to the world ‘Look how clever I am’, it’s hard to warm to the idea. I think imposing restrictions is valuable. I often get students to remove all the adjectives and adverbs from a piece to show them how it affects the narrative tone and pace and, indeed, changes meanings, but these arbitrary and very severe restrictions seem to work against full creativity. You may produce something which obeys all the rules but I can’t help but think that, in doing so, you must surely have had to discard insights and images that would have added to the message you were conveying. It’s form taking precedence over meaning , and the two shouldn’t (and can’t, in my book) be separated.

To finish, another example of an Oulipo-type product. One of their techniques is called n+7. It involves replacing each noun in a text by the noun which comes 7 places after it in the dictionary. The programme gave one about the Creation which ended with God saying ‘Let there be limit’, which I rather liked. So I’ve just recast perhaps the most famous opening novel sentence as follows: It is a tube universally acknowledged, that a single mandala in possession of a good founder, must be in want of a wildebeest.

Monday, January 9, 2012


One of the fun parts about being a mystery writer is doing research. Clearly, there are the basic forms including searching the Internet, going to the library and interviewing people. Then comes another whole realm of research—visiting specific locations you are writing about. My three published mysteries take place in Hawaii, Colorado and California. Since I grew up in Hawaii, spent time in California and now live in Colorado, I’m acquainted with all three locations. But for my recently published Senior Moments Are Murder, I needed to become more familiar with Venice Beach, California. Fortunately, my daughter lived there for several years, so my wife and I went to visit a number of times. I spent my spare time wandering around Venice Beach. You couldn’t ask for a better place to people watch. Along the boardwalk you’ll find every imaginable size, shape, and type of people in any costume you can or can’t imagine. There are rollerskaters, street performers, sellers hawking their wares, graffiti artists, beachgoers and gawkers. There are also canals in Venice Beach that are worth seeing—only a three block stretch but beautiful.
My upcoming novel, Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder, takes place on an Alaskan cruise ship, so my wife and I went on an Alaskan cruise as a research expedition for me (tough tour of duty).

The other form of research I get involved in is experimentation. As an example, I had a scene where someone my weight (150 pounds), would need to float in water using only inflated toy balloons. So my research question was: how many balloons would it take to support me in the water? Before you read further, make your guess. At the time I needed an answer to this question, I was still working full time and traveling several times a month to Orange County, California. On one of my trips I bought some balloons and some fishing net. When I got back to the motel that night, I went down to the pool to experiment. I blew up some balloons, stuffed them in the netting and jumped in the pool to see how many balloons would be needed to hold me up in the water. When I did this, there were a group of people in the hot tub watching this weird guy play with balloons. Undeterred, I performed my experiment. I thought it would take about six balloons to keep my afloat, so I started with six and found that number provided more than enough buoyancy. Then I eliminated balloons, one at a time, until I discovered the answer—one balloon could keep me afloat. Afterwards, I went over to the hot tub, which led to a number of questions and a chance for me to pitch my books to a new audience. Hey, everything is an opportunity when you’re a writer.

Mike Befeler

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Holiday Season

 by Leighton Gage

Down here in Brazil, we had four significant events to mark our holiday season.

One: On the 26th of November a floating Christmas tree was erected in the lagoon of Rio de Janeiro.

It was 83 meters tall, weighed 542 tons and remained in place until yesterday.

Two: On the 27th of December, I launched my latest book, “A Vine In The Blood”.

And, in that short time, it’s already garnered a number of stellar reviews:

Gage knows Brazil well and has a cast of characters so amusing and so skillfully constructed that this novel is irresistible.Toronto Globe and Mail.

Rising above Brazilian brutality, corruption, and bribery with uncommon wit and the help of his colorful, appealing colleagues, (Silva) scores a winning goal in an enormously complex kidnap payoff scheme. – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Let’s take a moment to celebrate excellence…(“A Vine in the Blood” is) a great story, well told. New Mystery Reader

Mr. Gage is a master of the procedural who paints with a fine brush, using the tools he needs to craft a fine novel—and no more. – The New York Journal of Books

Whether it's characterization, plot or setting, “A Vine in the Blood” is possibly the best book in this series. Rating A+Kittling Books

Three: The annual run took place on St. Silvester’s Day.

Featuring more than15,000 participants, and including practically all of the great long-distance runners in the world, it’s the most famous race in South America.

Four: Two million people rang in the New Year with a stupendous show of fireworks on Copacabana Beach.

If you missed the tree, the race and the fireworks, all is not lost.

You can still console yourself with the book.

And click on the "Look Inside" feature, to see if you like the writing.
A Somewhat Belated Happy New Year To All!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Now Write Mysteries!

By Jaden Terrell

About a year and a half ago, a friend and fellow writer, Philip Cioffari, sent me an email saying he was contributing an exercise to a book on writing and that the editor had asked him to recommend another contributor. "Are you interested?" he asked.

Was I interested? Is our papillon, Luca (aka His Lordship of Eternal Cuteness, Light of a Thousand Suns) a beautiful, shining being of goodness and light? Well...yeah.

The book, the fourth of a series called Now Write, is called Now Write Mysteries, edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. I chose my topic, character development, because it's the thing reviewers who read my books comment on most often and most favorably. I wrote about using character relationships to create depth and ended with a series of questions designed to reveal the complexities of a character

A few months ago, I got an email from the editor saying the book would be published on December 29th. I clicked through to the list of contributors and realized I was in the company of some of my favorite authors. In addition to Philip, whose vivid, elegant writing makes me sick with envy, the list includes such powerhouses as:

Graham Brown
Reed Farrel Coleman
Bill Crider
Bruce DeSilva
Wayne Dundee
Hallie Ephron
Chris Knopf
William Kent Krueger
Sophie Littlefield
Louise Penny
Twist Phelan
Cathy Pickins
Marcia Talley
Elizabeth Zelvin

And many more.

Seeing my name on a list packed with bestsellers and award winners was quite a thrill. I checked out the sample writing exercises and was glad to see that I would want this book even if I weren't in it.

If you're a crime fiction writer, Now Write Mysteries might be a good addition to your writing library. I'm off to spend my Christmas gift cards buying mine.

Happy 2012, all. May this coming year bring you joy and fulfill your dreams.

The joys of research

by Carola Dunn

Sometimes it's a real struggle to find information you desperately need for your story. Sometimes information you didn't even know you wanted just falls into your lap--more information, in fact, than you can possibly use.

My next book, GONE WEST, comes out this month, January 17th to be precise, in hardcover and for Kindle and Nook. It's the 20th in my Daisy Dalrymple series, set in England in 1926.

The story takes place in the Matlock district of Derbyshire. When I started to research the area, I came across mention of a huge health spa, Smedley's Hydro.

The building dominates the small town, so Daisy couldn't avoid noticing it. And lo and behold, there on the web was Smedley's visitors' handbook for the mid 1920s. I couldn't resist using some of the wonderful information, and the hydro ended up playing an important part in the story, though I hadn't ever heard of it when I began planning the book.

Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:


Bath Arrangements - continued

    Galvanic or Faradaic          per application 1/6
    Both Galvanic and Faradaic                    2/-
    High Frequency                                2/6
    Diathermy                                     5/-
    Ultra Violet Rays                             5/-
    Electric Ionization                           5/-
    Bath                                          2/-
An installation of these baths has been in constant use for some years, and the results obtained have been very satisfactory. Recently the full bath of the latest pattern has been added. The heat is produced by Electricity, and there is consequently no vitiation of the atmosphere by products of combustion. These baths are especially useful in cases where the patient is enfeebled or crippled, or from any cause unfit for the ordinary Turkish or other form of hot-air bath.
    For a Single Bath           7/6
    Course of Three Baths     £1/1/-
    Course of Six Baths       £1/10/-
(If booked at one time and taken within one month.) £ s. d.
     Bath only                                      0 4 6
     Bath and Schott Exercises                      0 5 6
PLOMBIERES TREATMENT, per application               0 2 6
PINE BATH                                           0 3 6
AIX DOUCHE                                          0 3 0
VICHY DOUCHE                                        0 3 0
Night Attendance for Invalids.-The night watchmen are qualified to give simple treatment in case of need. If required, they will summon medical assistance. BATHS TO VISITORS.
Ladies and Gentlemen desirous of taking baths on their own account, and without consultation, are requested to apply to Head Bath Attendants. Time and place will be arranged so as to avoid interference with Patients going by prescription. Baths in the bedroom, and private baths, are subject to a small special charge in the case of visitors.
For Massage and such other of the foregoing treatments as may be taken by non-patients, the charges are 50 % higher.
Baths to persons not staying in the Establishment., £ s. d.
Turkish or Russian Bath per single bath             0 3 6
                        per series of six           0 18 0

Page 26

The Baths, &c

N0 description can do justice to Smedley's unrivalled suite of baths, renowned all over the world for completeness of equipment and efficiency. Nothing but a tour of inspection, or, better still, actual experience of the incomparable treatment, can convey any adequate conception of the astonishing scope of the health-restoration and health-maintenance facilities, aggregated during many years, and vigilantly modernised to the moment. . . . THE BATHS ARE UNDER THE SAME ROOF AS THE ESTABLISHMENT, THUS DISPOSING OF ANY NECESSITY TO GO OUT OF DOORS, WITH CONSEQUENT RISK OF CHILLS.


Take a look at the rest--it's fascinating!

Unfortunately I was too far along in the plotting to use the Galvanic or Faradaic bath to bump someone off. Another time...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Writing About Foreign Locations

By Chester Campbell

Writing mysteries with foreign locations can cause some difficulties, but when I started penning novels in the early nineties, I plunged ahead without hesitation. You do that when you're young (I was only sixty-seven then). My second book, still unpublished, was set largely in Korea, with smaller sections in Hungary and Thailand. I'm currently revising it with a new market in mind.

For the Korean part, I had the advantage of having spent a year in Seoul during the Korean War in 1952-53, plus a visit there during a tour of the Far East in 1987. I also had a Korean daughter-in-law who provided some information on customs in the country. I read lots of other views of the Hermit Kingdom, including those in various travel books.

The title of the book is The Poksu Conspiracy. Poksu in Korean means "vengeance." I found enough expressions in phrase books to give the story a realistic feel. Transliterations of Oriental languages with odd alphabets are notably inconsistent, but I tried to stick with spellings used in the media for better known words. After completion of the manuscript, I had it read by a Korean college student to catch any inaccuracies.

For the portion set in Thailand, I used the area around Chaing Mai, a popular tourist destination in the northern part of the country. In checking on Google, I found the city has grown tremendously in the past quarter century. The metropolitan area now includes a million population. I had visited Chaing Mai as part of that month-long Far East tour in 1987.

The Hungarian setting was a bit different. I had never visited that part of Europe. I read several books to get a feel for the people and the country. My chapters were set in Budapest, and I found a copy of National Geographic that included lots of good photos and details of locations I used in the story.

Using foreign locations in mysteries isn't all that difficult if you're willing to do the research. As best I recall, Martin Cruz Smith wrote Gorky Park without ever visiting the Soviet Union. Reading the book, you'd have thought he had lived there. Have you written foreign locations? If so, how did you handle it?

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Monday, January 2, 2012

Useful Software for Writers

by Ben Small
I confess to being a computer and software junkie. Yep, guilty as charged. I about wet myself when Apple first came out with the Apple 2, and was one of the first in line when its 2e came out. Since then, I've always had at least one computer, and currently I run four (two desktops, two laptops). And funny thing, none of these computers are Apples. The reason: I don't know anybody who uses Apple, so have no one to turn to when I need help. Yes, Microsoft is maddening, but at least I understand most of Microsoft logic by now and can cure most problems I experience. If not, I have friends who can.

And since I love computers and I write, I'm always looking for software to help me do just that. I use Microsoft Word as a word processor, but when I work on a novel, I use Write-Brain's Power Writer. I'll tell you why a bit later, since I've blogged about Power Writer before.

Recently, however, noting trends of writers preparing book trailers and posting them on their websites, Facebook and on YouTube, I started exploring easy options to allow me to do just that. Problem is, I don't know much about video technology, about video or audio formats.

And then, I stumbled upon Camtica, from Jiteco. Camtica.

Here's what attracted me to Camtica:

"Camtica enables you to create professional screen recordings, presentations, tutorials and more. You can record any desktop activity with voice, webcam and animated mouse clicks. The resulting video can be saved in various formats including AVI and WMV. 
"Why do you need Camtica?
 * To create professional screen recordings, demonstrations, presentations, screencasts, tutorials and more 
 * To generate effective videos that help you train, teach, sell and more
* To create demonstration videos for any software program
 * To show customers how to use your product
* To create on-demand interactive training, tutorials for school or college class
 * To create a set of videos answering your most frequently asked questions
 * To share your recordings on YouTube, and other videos sites
 * Records entire desktop, selected rectangle region, dynamic region around mouse cursor, webcam
 * Records anything on the screen including windows, objects, menus, full screen and rectangular regions
 * Records desktop screen with audio and webcam together - personalizing your videos by including a webcam movie of yourself over your desktop at any position
 * Records video chats, Skype video calls, games, flash movies played on sites
 * Mouse highlighting spotlights the location of the cursor
 * Records video in many video file formats including AVI and WMV
 * Supports various video and audio codecs
 * Free support and advice
 * Free lifetime updates and upgrades
 * System requirements: Windows XP/2000/2003/Vista/Windows 7

"It’s easy to use as one, two, three."
Then I looked at the software controls, the so-called "ease of operation" aspects. I hate complex software, like Dramatica. Life is complex enough without having to spend countless hours learning the ins-and-outs of software I'll use occasionally. These looked simple enough. And Camtica is priced right: $9.95. {Can you believe that price? You can even get it free if you jump through a couple hoops and act immediately.} You can see screen shots of these controls at the website I've linked. 

So imagine you have some photos relating to your book's setting or topic. Or a video you want to produce. You want a trailer. Or maybe you got some good reviews, either on video or somewhere else. You want to display these. Camtica gives you simple flexibility, putting some muscle into your creative arts. Sure, you can spend thousands of dollars for complex software to do this, or hire a publicist, graphics artist and a webmaster. But why? In most cases, you'll pay these costs yourself, and if you want to create your own promotional stuff, you'll spend mucho hours in a classroom somewhere.

If you own a quality video camera -- even some smartphone cameras -- and some basic and simple editing program, you've got the tools for quality trailers, just not the software to put it all together. 

Camtica gives you that tool.

Check out Camtica. Like me, I think you'll like it.

As for the novel itself, I've used Power Writer for years, have bought more than one copy -- remember, I use four computers. Why? Because Power Writer give me tools Microsoft Word does not, the ability to create a character database, outline-as-I-go and compose screens all connected together. Plus it's got a decent thesaurus and is connectable to Power Structure, Write-Brain's structure assistance software. While this latter program sounded good, however, and indeed, I bought it, I've never used it, because PowerWriter contains enough of these features I haven't needed what Power Structure offers. And Power Writer is easy to use; it follows most of Microsoft Word's features, and when my novel is finished, I convert it to Word before transforming it into any other format I need. Power Writer

Ever forget which eyebrow bears a character's scar? Just copy and paste that description into your character database in the lower screen (expandable), and have no trouble manipulating Search commands to find it again. And Plot points of your outline are automatically grayed into your composition screen or you can enter them into your composition screen and they automatically appear in your outline. Print up either or both.

For character development, I usually turn to books, but I've also used Character Pro 5, which I understand has now been merged with Quick Story into a new software program called Character Writer. Truth be told, I haven't shelled out yet for Character Writer -- although as a software junkie I may do so someday -- because as a trait-tracker and character-depth generator, Character Pro 5 works just fine. Character Writer

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Resolutions

by Susan Santangelo

Happy Healthy 2012 to one and all. For me, the healthy part comes first, and then positive thoughts and happiness will follow. I hope.

My 8-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, told me over the holidays that 2012 is the year for me to "get my sparkle on." Hmm. I wasn't quite sure what she meant by that. More sequins? Rhinestones? Perhaps wearing a tiara now and then?

Well, why not?? Each day is, after all, a celebration and, as the old saying goes, that's why it's called the present.

I've chosen to apply my wise granddaughter's advice to my writing rather than my wardrobe. I've vowed that 2012 is the year my writing will sparkle. I will finish Book 3 in the Baby Boomer mysteries and even start cracking on Book 4.

And, what the heck, I may borrow one of Rebecca's tiaras to wear while I write. It couldn't hurt.