Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Self-Publishing the Key to Publishing Success?

By Jean Henry Mead

Not everyone agrees that independent publishing is the key to writing success, but a growing number of authors are proving the naysayers wrong. More and more writers are leaving their publishers to strike out on their own, some with unparalleled success, such as Robert Walker, who has repeatedly said that the secret to success is to consistently turn out quality work on a regular basis.

But even Rob will admit that there’s more to it than that. We’ve all heard that writers need a platform and a fan base of readers who trust the author to turn out quality work. But how does one acquire a fan base? Not by hermitting him or herself at the computer without making contact with the outside world. Those days are over.

When I put together my second volume of mystery writer interviews, I met some successful new writers, among them Canadian International bestselling author Cheryl Kaye Tardif, who publishes not only her own work but others with her Imajin Press from Alberta.

Cheryl says in my new book,The Mystery Writers: “In 2010 Amazon opened KDP to Canadian authors and I went back to my roots—to indie publishing. For me it's probably the best fit. I am by nature very independent and a strong marketer. Plus I'm ‘an idea person.’ Even my old publisher saw this in me and often called me a "guru" or "marketing genius." While I don't consider myself a ‘genius’ I do know that I'm a risk-taker.”

Tim Hallinan, award-winning author of the traditionally published Poke Rafferty mystery/thriller series, decided to self-publish his Junior Bender series—humorous stories of a burglar with a “moral code who works as a private eye for crooks.” Tim’s earlier novels earned him critical acclaim but not enough money to retire from a day job. He now earns thousands of dollars a month with his self-published ebooks.

He said the reason he decided to leave his agent and publisher is because “the money we were offered by the publishers wasn’t very good. I looked at the offers and thought, ‘I’d rather own my books.”

Rebecca Dahlke once managed her father’s crop dusting service in Modesto, California, and decided that her protagonist—a beautiful former model—should also be a crop duster. She then decided to independently publish her novels, with successful results. Rebecca, like Cheryl, is a promoter and a humorous one at that. She says, “Self-publishing is no longer a dirty word. . . Eons ago, back in the dark ages (of publishing)—was it really only five years ago?—all we authors could hope for was a good agent, a decent publisher, a slowly growing fan base, and a list of book stores that might, or might not, keep our books on their shelves for three to six months before returning the unsold copies to the publisher. We could send in Advanced Reader Copies to prestigious reviewers or magazines and hope they would say nice things about our books, or pay a publicist to tout it, take our dog and pony show on the road, eat bad food, stay in crappy hotels, be at that next book store, book fair, conference, and smile till our cheeks ached. .

“The changes have been exciting, and for this author, validation that I too can write books that readers enjoy. So, for all the august veterans who see the Internet as an encroachment onto their hard-won personal turf, let me paraphrase one of my favorite movie lines: ‘Saddle up boys and girls, it’s going to be a bumpy ride’!” You can read how Rebecca accomplished her success in The Mystery Writers.

And, after ten publishers of my own over the years, I decided to independently publish The Mystery Writers with my own small press. The 406-page book is featured on Createspace and is also available on and Barnes and Noble.

The Mystery Writers is a veritable bible for fledgling writers because the advice offered by 58 bestselling, award-winning and midlist writers is invaluable for any genre. Twelve subgenres are represented and the authors write from as far away as South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, the U.S. and England.

Independent publishing isn’t for everyone. It requires not only writing talent but good marketing skills and industry know-how to succeed. A number of self- publishers are included in The Mystery Writers as well as bestselling traditionally published novelists such as Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, J.A. Jance, Vicki Hinze and James Scott Bell (former Writer’s Digest fiction columnist).

To promote the book, I’ll be blog tourng from April 16-28 with the "Mystery We Write" blog group. My blog tour schedule is available online and I’ll be giving away a print copy of the book and an e-book copy in a drawing at the conclusion of the tour to visitors who leave comments with their email addresses throughout the tour.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nail Storm

By Mark W. Danielson

Nail storm: Endless machinegun fire driving through roofs and into hammering one’s brain. Frequency: Within months of latest hail storm.
Recommendation: Tolerate it or move where it never hails.

There you have it – my post summarized in three sentences. But there is actually much more to this story. You see, it really began three years ago when a small tornado passed directly behind our house. (see photo.) Mind you, large or small, any tornado will do damage if it hits your house, so I’m grateful this one snaked its way around our neighborhood. Of course, that didn’t keep the hail from falling – enough to wipe out most of our plants, many of which were planted only days before.

As with every post-severe storm event, you lick your wounds and get your roof inspected. In our case, three inspectors came out and said the shingles were shot, but hey, it looks like a manufacturer’s defect so they won’t cover it. Really? I hadn’t realized the manufacturer ordered the tornado and hail storm. Shows how much I know.

Time passes too quickly and before long we have more hail storms – some severe enough to require the snow plows come out to clear the streets. I figure it was that same tile manufacturer again, trying to drum up business. And it must have worked because most of our neighbors got new roofs – but ours held on like a dog in a tug of war contest in spite of its sub-par singles.

I’m not one to take no for an answer, though, and another roofer decided to tackle the issue with wind damage versus hail damage. After all, here in Colorado, we get hurricane force winds every spring – you just don’t hear about it because it’s a fact of life. This time my insurance company decided that yes, there is wind damage, but he would only allow replacing the back slope. Wow – that’s like driving on four bald tires and only buying two. Take the deductible out and the insurance company didn’t have to shell out much. But I needed a new roof and since I’m trying to sell the house, I wanted to get it on now so it wouldn’t become an issue later.

The roofing company gave me a good price because I was paying out of pocket, and to reduce costs, they were supposed to leave the covered porch alone. However, my roofer forgot to add that stipulation to the contract so the roofers unknowingly began ripping it off. They tried to fix it, but naturally it didn’t match, so now they had to tear off the roof and start over at their expense. Bummer for them, better for me. On the down side, that extended our nail storm by two days, and since two of the four days were weekends, the neighbors must have been were thrilled – especially since they came at 7 AM on Sunday. Thankfully I apologized in advance, and so far have not seen any eggs on my house.

So now have a new roof and can list the property, but this has been a very odd weather year. Four times the normal snowfall in February, no snow in March, and temperatures in the 70s is a great recipe for severe weather. I can only hope this new roof manufacturer will not order another tornado.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leader of the Pack

I’ve had another career-change idea. If I’m honest, I want something which doesn’t involve that strange concept of a work ethic. I’m not looking, either, for a luxury yacht, a Monte Carlo pad (do people still say ‘pad’?) or a cellar full of Château Pétrus. And I really do want to keep my carbon footprint as small as possible.

So I think I need to become a guru. It’s nice having virtual followers but it’s no substitute for followers in the flesh who come to my hut to ask for guidance, waft about singing ethereal songs, making Peace signs and, basically, worshipping me. Or not even that. They can worship someone else if they like. The only problem with that is, if I’m their guru, then it’s up to me to tell them whom or what to worship, and I don’t want to create a religion. All I want is a little sect. (Ah, think of the gags I could have written if, grammatically, it had been legitimate to make that noun plural.)

So, how do I get to be a guru? I don’t think there are courses or degrees in it yet but it seems that all I need is some gullible people (Reality TV suggests there are plenty of those about), and stuff to preach. The last bit’s easy; I’m a writer so I can just make stuff up. So what do I need? Gnomic utterances. OK. How about ‘The sweetness of the butterfly is the only true way’? Hmmm, not great because to some people that might seem to make sense. How about ‘The sweetness of the butterfly drowns daily in the morning’s echoes’? Yes, that’s better.

So a follower (let’s call her Helen) stands at the open door of my hut. I smile and beckon her in. She sits beside me on the goose-quill bed (no, I don’t know what that is either) and says: ‘I’m troubled’.
I smile again and say ‘The sweetness of the butterfly drowns daily in the morning’s echoes’.
She nods quietly, head bowed. ‘I know,’ she says, ‘but what does it all mean?’
I take her hands in mine.
‘Helen,’ I say. ‘Feel the swan in your blood.’
We sit there for twenty minutes. Not another word passes between us. At last she smiles again, kisses my fingers and says ‘Thank you’.
‘No sweat,’ I reply, before realising that’s not a guru thing and adding ‘Inhabit the crystal’.
‘I will,’ she says, and goes to water the cannabis.

See? It’s not hard. I might have to expand on some of these little pearls, make them into sermons. No, not sermons – they explain stuff, draw conclusions. Parables are better. Just have to remember to get the context right. None of the people working in vineyards stuff. They’d better be IT consultants or media studies tutors. Something like …
‘A lifestyle coach was walking along a country lane when she passed a garage. Inside, a mechanic was leaning over an engine. She stopped and asked him what he was doing. “Cleaning a carburettor,” he said.
“Have you cleaned many?” she asked.
“Hundreds,” said the man.
“Different types?’ she said.
“SUVs, Jeeps, Dodge 58s with the old-style overhead camshafts, more or less everything,” he said.
The woman stepped towards him and laid her white hand over his.
“I have a collection of over three hundred Barbies,” she said.
The man looked at her and a tear formed in his left eye. The woman raised her finger, collected the tear, placed it on his grease-smeared lip and turned away to continue her walk.
The mechanic watched her go, the tears welling in his eyes once more. He reached for a hammer and began hitting the carburettor with fierce, unrelenting blows.’

OK, I think I’m ready. Just need maybe twenty or thirty followers and a hut.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hackers and Painters

Fellow Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America author Bonnie Ramthun pointed me to a book called Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham. Discussing computer programming and creative activities such as writing, it had some interesting observations for writers. One statement: programming consists of debugging, and writing consists of editing. A corollary is: good design is redesign. And as stated by E.B. White, “The best writing is rewriting.” The book includes a clear dictate to show rather than tell: instead of telling how things look, tell a story so well that readers envision the scene for themselves. Although this book is primarily about the world of computer programming, it has much to offer our world of writing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stories Are My Earliest Memory

By Jackie King

Hi Readers,

It was suggested to me that you might like some information about me that my characters didn’t cover in their interviews. So here is my life in a nutshell:

I was born in the Oklahoma Panhandle back in the dark ages, and my earliest memories are of listening to or imagining stories. Mother was a single, divorced parent back when such a status raised eyebrows. She was an actress, a story-teller and a writer who lived in Beaver, Oklahoma. Later, in order to earn a living, she taught school. When I was very young she couldn’t find a teaching job, so we lived on government commodities; forerunner to food stamps, and what she could earn as a speaker and private drama teacher.

Mother could concoct a story about any subject, and she told my sister, brother and me, an exciting tale each night. She also read books from the library to us. I don’t remember having any toys, and entertained myself during the day by telling stories to myself. In these tales I starred as the heroine, of course, and was usually a princess. Because of Mother’s artistic temperament, we moved around a lot. (Translation: her teaching contract was often not renewed.) This may sound hard, and sometimes it was, but life was also exciting, adventurous and fun. Although we were usually cash-strapped, we never considered ourselves ‘poor.’

I started college at 16 and was married by 18. (What can I say? My brain hadn’t stopped growing by that time, at least according to Dr. Phil.)
At the University of Oklahoma I studied journalism. For the next 30 odd years I laid aside my own dreams to become a wife and the mother of three children. I also worked full time as an accountant and was too busy to write for a very long time.

I started writing again when I found myself suddenly single. (I was happily married…guess he wasn’t.) My first published novella, FLIRTING AT FIFTY, is a humorous account of my divorce. (The divorce wasn’t very funny, but who wants to read about that?) This tale was included in an anthology titled CHIK~LIT FOR FOXY HENS, stories for women of a certain age.

My cozy mystery THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE features Grace Cassidy, who also found herself suddenly single…and broke…and friendless in a strange town. I always have fun writing my stories; I make my characters very human and show them warts and all. Grace gets through life by making lemonade from the lemons that come her way.

All of my books are available in trade paperback at book stores everywhere. They're also on Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook for $2.99 each.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To sign or not to sign

by Carola Dunn

                   South Pasadena,
                                   Thousand Oaks,
                                                  Huntington Beach,
                                                                   San Diego

Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Mysteries to Die For, Mysterious Galaxy, Mystery Ink, Book'Em Mysteries--independent mystery bookstores and I love them all. But after getting home from driving up and down I-5, I start wondering whether it was worth the time, money and energy to sell a few books.

Mysterious Galaxy

Mystery Ink
Mystery Ink

There are pluses, though. For a start, my publisher can claim--in the catalog and other publicity materials--that I'm doing a West Coast tour. Looks good. I get to know booksellers and vice versa, so they feel a personal connection that may lead them to recommend my books.

And last but not least, I love meeting my readers. I love telling them about the books, listening to their comments, trying to answer their questions. I seem to have a particularly intelligent lot of readers, and we usually end up with a lively discussion.

It's fun. So I'll probably do it again when the next book comes out!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Growing Popularity Merits Some Hornblowing

By Chester Campbell

I was out of town the past couple of days and am getting to this a bit late. I thought it would be enlightening, though, to blow our horn a bit. With our great lineup of talent, Murderous Musings has been packing in the readers. While most people decline to comment on blogs, they're definitely out there looking.

We use a program caller Statcounter to keep track of who visits us each day, and the recent results have been outstanding. Looking back at last month, February being the shortest, here are the results:

Total Page Loads (number of times the page was visited): 11,131
Unique Visitors: 7,499
First Time Visits: 7,216

The average day's results were 384 page loads, 259 unique visitors, and 249 first time visits.

The month's biggest day was Monday, February 27. Due to a slight mixup, we had a double feature that day, Mike Befeler's interview with mystery author Robert Spiller, and Ben Small's piece on Range Day Lessons. The record for that day was:

Page Loads - 514
Unique Visitors - 342
First Time Visits - 319.

Thanks to all our visitors who are heating up the blogosphere for Murderous Musings. We hope you'll keep returning for more interesting thoughts by our great group of mystery writers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Researching Mysteries

by Susan Santangelo Greetings from sunny Cape Cod, where spring is making an early, welcome appearance. I'm taking a giant leap this week and starting at the Citizens Police Academy sponsored by the Dennis (MA) Police Department. I've decided that, if I'm going to continue on this new career path, I should learn more about how our local police actually do their job. I'm pretty excited! The course is once a week until mid-May. Session One, the basic introduction, will cover the role of the police, community policing, and a tour of the police station. Lots more in-depth things as the course continues, including a firearms demonstration at the local police range where we'll have the opportunity to shoot a gun. Not sure if I want to do that, but we'll see. Graduation is May 17, when we get an official Certificate. I hope I don't flunk out! Has anyone else every taken a course like this? I'm curious to know if this helped with your writing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Magic Online

by Leighton Gage

Want to “make yourself irresistible even if you’re ugly”?
Or “cause someone you don’t like to lose their teeth”?
From the comfort of your own home”
At zero cost?
Well, now you can.

Here’s what you do:

1.      Grab your Portuguese/English dictionary.
2.      Go to and register.
3.      Choose a spell.
4.      Fill-in the email address of the individual to be blessed or cursed.
5.      Hit enter.

There are 86 different mandigas (spells) you can choose from, about equally divided between achieving one’s heart’s desire and complicating the lives of people you don’t like.

In the former department you’ll find things like coming into money, getting a job, becoming pregnant and having your team win their next football (soccer) game.
(No, I don't know if it works with American football, baseball, or basketball, but you can try.)

In the category of complicating lives, you can cause someone to acquire permanent body odor, go bankrupt, have hair grow on their backside, or have their male organ fall off.

Yeah,, that’s what the folks call it in Haiti.
(We, here in Brazil, don't stick pins in dolls like the Haitians do.)
That’s Cuba.
We call it macumba.

All three refer to spiritualist religions derived from the Yorubá people of central Africa.

All three enjoy a high degree of credence in their individual countries, even among the best-educated of people.
And all three make ample use of spells.

Here are some (loosely) translated excerpts from the home page of the site:

Ever think about casting a spell? Don’t want to go to the trouble to visit a terreiro? (Translator’s note: a terreiro is a place where the orixas, the spirits, are worshipped.) Like home deliveries? Whatever your motive for wanting to use magic, you’ve come to the right place. On this site you can cast spells for yourself, or send a curse to your neighbor, your mother-in-law, your cat, or anyone else you think deserves it. Best of all, it’s free! Do it the easy way. Everything you can get by visiting a terreiro, you can get here. Let us do the work. Macumba Online, to make your life easier.

Up to now, the site has had more than 2.5 million unique visitors. On the home page, there’s a listing of the most popular spells to date. The top three are:

  1. Securing the affection of a loved one.
  2. Losing weight.
  3. Coming into money.
The top three curses are:

  1. Giving someone diarrhea.
  2. The screwing up (it’s not stated that politely) of someone’s life.
  3. The separation of someone from their current partner.
Some of the ones that make me think there’s a story behind them are:

  1. Causing someone to choke on semen.
  2. Causing someone to stop lying.
  3. Causing someone to be expelled from the country.
On the left of the home page, you’ve got the public spells, the ones you want everyone to know about. Recently, a woman by the name of Adriana Flavia Carvalho Timotéo cursed someone with chronic laziness, separation from their mate, contracting an inflammation, to be cheated upon by the selfsame mate and to gain at least 100 kilograms. And she did it all within the space of five minutes. It is not specified who the recipient was of all this venom, but considering the 100 kilogram item, I suspect it was a female.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

War is for Winning

By Mark W. Danielson

I generally sidestep political topics, but the possibility of entering yet another Middle East war demands that I shed my cloak of silence. At a time when our nation’s economy is suffering enormous debt due to war, how can our presidential candidates ignore this subject?

There are a lot of definitions of war, but most agree it is a conflict between nations or between parties within a nation, prosecuted by force and having the purpose of compelling the defeated side to do the will of the victor. General Patton put it a little more bluntly. You don’t win wars by dying for your country – you win by making the other poor bastard die for his. In this sense, the last part of the previously mentioned definition must be emphasized. Nations go to war to win. If the intent is to influence and not win, then it will fail with horrible and lingering ramifications. Anyone who doubts this has not been following our war in the Middle East.

World War II was the last true war to be fought with US involvement. Our survival was depended on winning. During this conflict, every theater had clear boundaries for opposing sides. Military uniforms defined the enemy, and mass casualties were expected on both sides. The only acceptable surrender was unconditional, and when the enemy was defeated, new political structures were put in place to ensure peace. A few years later, the US became involved in the Korean conflict to prevent the spread of Communism. A decade later, we began sending advisors into Vietnam to prevent the Communists from taking over the region. The end result is Korea remains divided at the 38th parallel, and Vietnam now is united and a thriving trade partner. Communist China has blended Capitalism into its society and is now an economic superpower that heavily depends on trade with the United States. A lot has changed since 1945.

But in recent years, it’s the Middle East that has consumed our politics and stifled our economy. Where wars were common between Iran and Iraq, India and Pakistan, and Israel and various Arab nations, the United States has spearheaded military involvement in nearly every conflict in this part of the world. In doing so, the US is often viewed as the catalyst for war occupations, not unlike those seen in medieval times. Granted, the unprovoked attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon sparked a military response in Afghanistan, but I remain confused over our invasion of Iraq. Would we have gone in if we weren’t already there? The same can be said for our involvement in Libya and our potential for involvement in Syria. Clearly, none of these nations requested our forces, and our continued presence can only lead to further economic decline while elevating our status as the world’s most despised country.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I only know that the apathy in this country has exceeded my expectations. While we continue to see Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, no one seems to care that our soldiers are dying every day in the deserts of the Middle East. To think the US can win loyalty by occupying a foreign country is ludicrous. To think we can buy loyalty by sending billions of borrowed dollars is absolute lunacy.

I am sending this to my elected representatives because it is time we insist on bi-partisan discussions about withdrawing from unwinnable wars. It is time we start taking care of our own citizens and realize that other countries must fight their own battles. It is time our presidential candidates stopped ignoring our wars and start bringing our entire force home. Russia learned this lesson after nine years in Afghanistan. After our experience in Vietnam, we never should have gone in without the intent to demand complete and unconditional surrender. Without winning as its goal, no country has any business being involved in warfare.

Permission is granted for anyone wishing to use any or all of this post to send to their elected representatives.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A standing-still on the wild side

This is a sort of companion piece to my last post. It also gives me an excuse to use another illustration of the village we stayed in at Christmas, but this time in sunshine.

It’s so long since I played Cluedo that I don’t remember all the possible weapons. Poison, rope, probably dagger, maybe gun, and definitely the imaginative lead pipe (which might be less detectable if the lead was used as a poison rather than the pipe as a blunt instrument). With respect to the creators of the game, though, they’re all pretty obvious – the sort of thing a murderer would be offered if he went to the local store to get ‘something for the wife’. But, for a crime writer, that store is full of  items with even deadlier potential – things such as toothbrushes, vitamins or yoghurt.

To show what I mean, try this. Tomorrow, go through part of the day looking for clues and plots. Set yourself up as a victim. Notice how many ways you could be murdered – not by any grandiose scheming, bombs, terrorist attacks, etc. but by the normal trappings of the way you live. Let’s assume you get up and, to give the day an early freshness, you clean your teeth. Who’s had access to your toothbrush since you last used it? Your partner, obviously, and all the other people living in the house. Oh, and the people you had round for dinner yesterday evening. If somebody put the tiniest drop of that stuff from the castor oil plant – Ricin – on the bristles, it would turn your blood into …

(Commercial break begins:
… well, for a full account of what would happen to you, if you haven’t already done so, read The Darkness.
Commercial break ends.)

Next, you maybe pop a vitamin pill or some medication before or after breakfast. Who might know what they are and what contra-indications there are? Again, your partner is the first suspect but no doubt some friends know about it too. The most blatant use of the information would be to tamper with the pills, introduce something nasty which looked like the capsule in question. More subtle, though, would be to find out what reacts badly with them and somehow serve that up to you. Again, it’s something that could be done by any visitor to the house, including guys who come to service the boiler, read the gas or electric meters, or try to get you to become a Jehovah’s Witness. (I like the idea of one well-dressed young man sitting quoting the Bible at you while his companion, who’s asked to use your bathroom, quietly adds a deadly tincture to the open wine bottle in the kitchen.)

Then there’s breakfast itself. Is your routine such that anyone watching you shopping can see that you regularly buy a particular breakfast cereal? If so, you’re making it easy for them to target you. And so it goes on through the day. Who knows what foodstuffs you prefer? Or where you shop? Who’s watching your movements in and out of the house? Who has access to your dustbins? And what about all the things in your garden shed that you use without suspecting how they might have been contaminated? Why is there a ladder against your  neighbour’s wall? What’s in the box they’ve put out with their garbage? Multiply all these questions by the number of people who have access to the various items and you have a complex set of relationships and too many uncomfortable possibilities.

But, you may protest, I’m an ideal husband/wife/partner, a model citizen, a hugely respected and admired pillar of the community. Who on earth would wish me such ill? Why would anyone do such things? Well, your reputation, motives and actions may be impeccable but you’ve no idea how others are interpreting them. Remember Estragon’s observation ‘People are bloody ignorant apes’.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t go round in a perpetual state of fear but it’s true that, since I started writing crime novels and stories, I’m always seeing openings and inventing motives where before there were just innocent Jehovah’s Witnesses and boiler maintenance men.

So try it tomorrow. Stop as you’re doing a familiar thing and ask how it could be used against you, then ask who could do it, then why. Always ask why. Every action has (or can have) reasons and consequences. There are stories waiting everywhere.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mystery Conferences

I went to my first mystery conference in 2007. When I mention mystery conferences to some people I get questions such as, “What is it? Do you have to figure out clues to determine where the conference is?” I try to attend at least two mystery fan conferences a year. I’ll be going to the Left Coast Crime Conference in Sacramento March 29 through April 1. I’ll be moderating the Meet the New Writers Breakfast on Friday morning. This is an enjoyable event where I have the privilege of introducing twenty-two writers who published their first mystery novel in 2011. Here’s the list of writers with their books:

Wayne Arthurson Fall from Grace
Saylor Billings St. Charles Place
Kathy Bennett A Dozen Deadly Roses
Audrey Braun A Small Fortune
Sally Carpenter The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper
Robert Downs Falling Immortality
Michele Drier Edited for Death
Susan Goldstein Hollywood Forever
Heather Haven Murder Is a Family Business
Darrell James Nazareth Child
Tammy Kaehler Dead Man’s Switch
Clark Lohr Devil’s Kitchen
Elle Lothlorien Virgin
Elaine Macko Armed
Robert O’Hanneson Possum Belly Queen
Christopher Allan Poe The Portal
Amy Rogers Petroplague
Charles Rosenberg Death on a High Floor
Johnny Shaw Dove Season
Rochelle Staab Who Do, Voodoo?
Susan Tornga Seashells in the Desert
Tina Whittle The Dangerous Edge of Things

If you enjoy finding new mystery authors, add these to your list. I’ll also be on a Men of Mystery panel and a panel titled Retirement Can Kill You, right up the alley for my geezer-lit mysteries.
From April 27 through April 29 I’ll be attending the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda. There, I’ll be on a panel titled Occupy Malice.

In addition to the two mystery fan conferences, I’ll be attending one writer’s conference this year, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in Denver September 7 through 9. I’m very loyal to this conference because I sold my first novel at a pitch session there in 2005.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pantser or Plotter?

By June Shaw

If you write books, short stories, or plays, do you prefer to plot them or write them by the seat of your pants?

There is no right or wrong answer.

Authors do both, often depending on their preference or the stage of writing in which they find themselves. The genre in which they write sometimes makes a difference, too.

In a recent lively discussion between many published and unpublished writers and a popular literary agent, I heard unpublished writers mainly say they wrote without having a plan of where they were going. Most of the published writers, however, said they were pantsers when they first started writing, but then discovered writing a basic plot first helped most.

Our agent in attendance said romance writers were often pantsers but that mystery authors, whom she mainly represents, create a plot first.

One of my major deficiencies is organizing -- almost anything. I wish I didn't have that problem. But one friend I taught with does the opposite -- even her pantry is alphabetized. I'd like to keep parts of me and parts of her and fit about halfway between us with my home. And my writing.

I am plotting more with my novels now than I did when I first started with novels. It's a little easier for me as time passes.

What do you prefer? Sitting at the computer and dashing out words without knowing where you're going? Or having a plan ahead of time and fitting your creative words in their proper places?

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Hello, Mystery Lovers. Today, as promised, Grace Cassidy my lead character in THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE, has volunteered to interview me. On my last posting her sidekick, Theodora Westmacott, insisted on doing the interviewing, and that conversation got a little out of hand.

 Grace: I don’t understand why you let that happen, Jackie. After all, you’re the author, you created us, why don't you just make us say whatever you want? I have some suggestions for both Theodora and Wilbur Wimberly, my odious boss.

Jackie: If I only said "nice" things, my readers would be bored to tears. Anyway, my characters always do whatever they want. That's just what happens inside a writer's head.

Grace: Are you sure that you’re not just letting us take the blame for the way the conversation goes?

 Jackie: (Eye-roll here) Listen Grace, I had enough of this nonsense from Theodora, and I expected better from you. At least I thought you'd be more polite.

Grace: Don’t you mean wishy-washy? People do say that you modeled me after yourself.

Jackie: Not at all, you’re younger and slimmer and to date, no one has ever yet been murdered in my house!

Grace: Except on paper.

Jackie: Paper is all that counts in your world, dear Grace.

Grace: You can’t kill me off, I’m your heroine!

Jackie: We writers call you a protagonist, and the truth is that I can.

 Grace: That’s an empty threat and we both know it. But I will ask a question: I was very close to my mother, why don’t you tell us about how you grew up?

 Jackie: My earliest memories are of stories, either listening to or imagining stories. Mother was a single, divorced parent back when such a status raised eyebrows. She was an actress, a story-teller and a writer in Beaver, a small town in the Oklahoma panhandle. (To earn a living, she also taught school.) When I was very young she couldn’t find a teaching job, so we lived on government commodities; forerunner of food stamps.

Mother could concoct a story about any subject, and she told my sister, brother and me, an exciting tale each night. She also read books from the library to us. I don’t remember having any toys, and entertained myself during the day by telling stories to myself. I starred as the heroine, of course, and was most usually, a princess. Because of Mother’s artistic temperament, we moved around a lot. (Translation: her teaching contract was often not renewed.) This may sound hard, and sometimes it was, but life was also exciting, adventurous and fun. Although we were usually cash-strapped, we never considered ourselves ‘poor.’

Grace: One of my first memories was you stripping me of all of my wealth.

Jackie: There was a reason for that, it's called plotting.

Grace: It was still most inconvenient...Oh, mercy, look at the time! It’s time to bake something delicious for afternoon tea. I do have guests to look after, you know. But don’t worry, I can finish the interview later tonight and you can publish it the next time it’s your turn to blog. Bye now...

Jackie: Wait....Oh darn! Urgh. They never listen.

Sorry for the interruption readers, but I’ve told you about my characters. They’re worse than cats when it comes to following orders. But Grace is right, we’ll carry on this conversation on March 22.
Hope you each enjoy many hours of Murderous Reading.


Jackie King

 I’m on Facebook as Jacqueline King, and would love it if readers would “friend” me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mission San Juan Capistrano

by Carola Dunn

 I'm on a signing trip and presently staying with my son and family in Southern California. We went to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in aid of a school project of my granddaughter's. The California missions were built in the 18th century by Spanish missionaries, known collectively as the padres, the best known being Padre Junipero Serra. They're set at intervals along the Camino Real, from San Diego to San Francisco.

 The Mision San Juan Capistrano had a fairly disastrous history, having been destroyed several times by earthquake and fire. Perhaps it was a judgment from above because the missions were built by the slave labour of the native population, in the old story of destroying their way of life in order to save their souls.

This mission may be the best known of them all because of the myth that the swallows return to nest on the same date every year, as glorified in song. In actual fact, the swallows start returning well before that date, but the tourists come to see them then anyway. In fact it was swarming with tourists when we were there. It's a pleasant enough place to visit, and the cloistered courtyards are beautiful, but you don't really get much sense of the history.

Love that roof!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Unintended Consequences

By Chester Campbell

The so-called Law of Unintended Consequences is usually quoted regarding some unfortunate occurrence that came out of a well-intended action. In my case, however, the results were quite favorable all the way around. The case in point was a month-long junket about the Far East my wife, Alma, and I took in the spring of 1987 with our younger son and his Korean wife. Mark had just completed a tour as an Army Special Forces team leader based in Okinawa. He had spent most of his time helping train Special Forces troops in Thailand. We arranged to meet them in Seoul to begin our wandering journey.

I had retired a couple of years earlier from the Air Force Reserve and took a month off from my association management job (from which I would retire a couple of years later) to make the trip. With my new retiree ID card, we decided to travel space available to South Korea. At the time, it cost $10 each for the transportation. We flew commercial air to San Francisco and took a bus to Travis Air Force Base, the jump-off point.

C-5 Galaxy

Our experiences on the trip over would fill an article in itself, but I'll make it brief. We flew one afternoon to Hawaii on an Oklahoma Air National Guard C-130, lounging on web seats like paratroopers. After an overnight stay near Hickam AFB, we caught a C-5 headed for Tokyo. If you're unfamiliar with the aircraft, it's a monster, the largest flown by the USAF. Its cargo hold can carry five of the Army's huge Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and it has seating for seventy-three passengers on the upper deck. Looking out the window, you're nearly sixty-five feet above the runway. You have to climb spiral stairs to get there. I tried to swing Alma's carryon over my shoulder, but they said she had to be able to carry it herself. Though in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, she made it like a trooper.

We overnighted on Guam for crew rest, then flew on to Tokyo the next day. After a few hours at the Military Airlift Command terminal, we caught a C-141 bound for Korea. Landing there, we spent the night in Suwon, then met our son at a Seoul hotel run by the American military. Although the calendar said early spring, the weather was cold. Our first visit was to the home of our daughter-in-law's parents in Inchon, the port city on the west side of the capital. It was a typical home of Koreans who shunned Western styles and lived as their ancestors had for centuries. Shoes were left at the entrance door and we sat on pillows on the floor, which was heated by ondol,under-the-floor brick flues that carried the warmth from a wood fire in the miniscule kitchen.

Mark and I Pun had married a few years earlier when he was stationed at the DMZ (demilitarized zone) separating North and South Korea. It was the only place where soldiers got combat pay at the time. The wedding was a civil ceremony. She took advantage of our visit in 1987 to have a full-blown ceremony at a Wedding House in Inchon, a place with chapels, room for many guests, and a videographer to record the event.

The visit to a Korean home and the wedding ceremony turned out to be among the unintended consequences of that trip. At the time, I didn't think of our tour as involving research for novels. It would be the middle of 1989, when I retired from the Tennessee Association of Life Underwriters, that I started to tackle the job of mystery writing in earnest. The first two manuscripts I wrote found a home for many of the locations and events I encountered while roaming about the Far East.

One of the more fascinating places we visited that I used in the second book was Chiang Mai, Thailand, which was known as Chiangmai back then. The first place my character saw on his arrival was ours also, the Top North Guest House. It catered to trekkers who were accustomed to roughing it. As a Ranger-qualified Special Forces officer, Mark had found it quite adequate on previous visits. We were used to a bit more upscale accommodations, but we toughed it out. The room had only enough space for two single beds. Jalousie windows opened on either side, and a large ceiling fan loomed overhead. Chiang Mai wasn't as bad as Bangkok, where the temperature hovered close to 100 degrees, but we didn't need any cover at night.

Steps to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

We were fascinated with the local transportation, which was mostly a device called a samlor, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a canopy and a bench seat in back. The slang term is tuk tuk. We puttered around town on them, and for longer ventures took a samlor, literally "two benches." It was a pickup truck with a wooden bench on either side. That was our conveyance when we visited Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the famed Buddhist temple high up the mountain west of the city. Getting there from the parking area required ascending 290 steps flanked by the undulating forms of naga, or serpentine, balustrades. Dragon-like multiple heads reared up at the base of the stairway.

I used all of this and more in the book titled The Poksu Conspiracy, much of which takes place in South Korea. I'm currently revising the manuscript with the intent of putting it up as an ebook. The first book featured a later part of our trip when we visited Hong Kong. During the month we went from South Korea to Okinawa, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Manila in the Philippines. I shot scores of color slides, which helped greatly when I took my characters on their fictional journeys.

Visit me at Mystery Mania

Monday, March 5, 2012


by Ben Small

Mercenaries -- guns for hire -- have existed for thousands of years, dating back at least to the ancient Romans, but a recent website, sent to me by a former SEAL interested in a mercenary career after his military service, caused me to open my eyes. Here's the website. The World's Most Powerful Armies

I suggest you take a look, and I wonder if you're as surprised as I was. Yes, I'd seen the furor over Blackwater's activities, seen the hub-bub over private contractors' work in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, frankly, I had no idea the extent to which highly-trained retired warriors are being used and funded around the world. I had no idea the business of being a well-equipped mercenary is a growth industry.

But the trend makes sense. The military training our elite warriors receive is extraordinary. The SEALs, Delta Force, Green Berets, Marines, Revolutionary guards, Legionaries, etc. all receive rigorous conditioning, are mult-weapon functional, and the weapons available to these modern warriors are highly functional and effective -- deadly. Plus, there's a world-wide weapons trade to support them. Want to buy AK-47s in bulk? They're available just about anywhere. South and Central America do a booming trade in them. Want a rile that fires an air-burst, a round that sprays shrapnel above a target? It's available. Want a computer operated rifle, one that determines range and balances load automatically? It's available. Grenades? Sure, why not. A rocket launcher? No sweat. A battle helicopter, no problemo. A nuke? Who knows...

For years, we -- and others -- have been training and utilizing these highly effective warriors and incorporating them into a military machine like no other in the world. The best equipment: ordnance, weapons and protective equipment. The best conditioning: strength, stamina, stealth and speed.

And while we train our warriors to the nth degree, in the U.S. we tend to pay them squat and run them in and out of service. Plus, we saddle our soldiers with Rules of Engagement intended to walk the wavy, gray line of political correctness, a line that changes with the need to placate whomever our actions have offended. Then, when someone alleges we've violated an enemy's honor, or "tortured" however that term is defined, we investigate and vilify those we've hardened into effective soldiers.

Under these circumstances, why wouldn't our very best and most trained warriors decide to further their pursuits elsewhere, somewhere for instance where these oppressive rules don't apply and where the pay can make them rich? They'd be foolish to do otherwise. What else are these veterans to do? What's their job market look like in other endeavors? We've conditioned these people to kill quickly, silently and effectively. That's what they do best. And if we won't let them do it the way they've been trained, if we won't pay them for the risks they incur, and if we're going to give them proctoscopic treatment whenever they come back from a mission,  and provide them no jobs, why wouldn't they look elsewhere, utilize their skills in the way they know best -- and profit from it?

And hiring mercenaries offers our government, among others, an out. You can hire someone to do what you cannot do and then claim when you learn what they've done, that you didn't know. Torture is a difficult definition, one that changes over time. Water-boarding is now torture, so is causing pain or injury or putting a prisoner under duress. Playing loud, heavy music is torture. That one's obvious. You learned it from your teenager.

But these restrictions apply to our military, not necessarily to those serving as a contractor. Distinctions tend to blur when issues arise as to who did what to whom and under what authority and where. Employment and duty records may be kept overseas or encrypted. Access to them may not be possible. And whose law governs a mercenary in foreign lands?

And there's another benefit to our government. We can claim to the American people that we're leaving a country, scaling back our military, and then hire contractors -- albeit at higher cost -- sell them weaponry, even aircraft and artillery, and bury these costs under one of our many covert accounts. Want to claim we've left Iraq? Okay, just hire contractors to replace them.

Think Haliburton.

Yes, Blackwater folded. But other similar training agencies and mercenary services popped up to replace Blackwater. Mercenary training and employment have become growth industries. Google "mercenary." You don't have to be more specific. You'll find all sorts of employment and training opportunities. As I said, a growth industry. And one that pays well.

Given this plethora of mercenary opportunities, and the growing trend of hiring them...everywhere, another natural question arises: To what degree are we fighting ourselves? In other words, a case of we train 'em, you hire 'em, for whatever, whomever, wherever. Sell them what they want and let them use it against each other, perhaps both sides funded from the same source: us.

Hamid Karsai hires these mercenaries and so do other Middle East and third world countries. It seems every petty dictator and dictator-in-training has them. And what's more, if Americans cannot satisfy international demand for them, there are plenty of third world nationals that we've trained and equipped who can.

Some may claim that mercenaries fighting mercenaries is the way battles should be fought. Not me. Mercenaries have loyalty to only one god: money. In many cases, there's no love of country or god; they'll fight for who pays them. And what happens if these highly trained warriors organize and decide to take over a country? There are certainly enough of them to do so, and they can buy the weapons they need on the open or black market.

Yes, Dick Cheney utilized mercenaries to good advantage, at least from his point of view. But Obama promised change. What change have we seen? While we've imposed ridiculous Rules of Engagement on our official troops, we've encouraged and turned the mercenary industry into a very profitable, growth endeavor. Indeed, covert operations and government lies about them are exploding like bees from a burning barrel.

Is this change we can believe in? Is anything about this trend positive? Frankly, the claims coming out of Washington are about as believable as the picture of President Obama riding in the back seat of the Chevy Volt he says he's buying. Right. Jammed in there with his Secret Service driver and agents. Comfy.

Sure. I'll believe that. Just like I believe we're out of Iraq and that Eric Holder didn't know about Fast and Furious. Like I believe that Black Panthers intimidating Ohio voters broke no federal laws. Like I believe our Southwestern borders are safer than ever.

Robert Ludlum should be alive today. His grandiose conspiracy theories don't sound so implausible now.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of hiring my own mercenary. My driver's license needs renewing, and I don't wanna wait in line. I'll equip Chuck Norris with this:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beating The Dreaded Writer's Block

My characters in the third baby Boomer mystery, Marriage Can Be Murder, are giving me a hard time. Well, to be honest, they're not giving me any of their time at all. Yes, here I am at Chapter 26 of this mystery, and I have DWB -- Dreaded Writer's Block! And there's no vaccine, no antibiotic, nothing on the market today at the local pharmacy, that will cure the darned thing. Sigh. What to do? Just sit here at my desk, stare at a blank computer screen and pray for inspiration? Go through what I call my Itch List -- a list of ideas I've been saving in no apparent order for no apparent reason except to draw on them for a situation like this? Well, I've gone over my Itch List. Several times. Nada. Zilch. Big fat zero inspiration-wise. Even staring at the water, conveniently located outside my office window, isn't helping. Unless I plan to throw myself in it. Nah, bad plan. Too cold here on Cape Cod. It is March, after all, which here on the Cape can last at least 3 months. It's grey and gloomy here, just like my mood. So, Murderous Musers, what do you do when you contract DWB? All tips gratefully accepted. And where the heck to those characters disappear too, anyway? Susan Santangelo

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Churches of Salvador

by Leighton Gage

Salvador is the capital of the Brazilian State of Bahia.
And has the distinction of having been the capital of the nation for many more years than either Brasilia or Rio de Janeiro.

Back then, the Portuguese empire was nominally, and almost exclusively, Catholic.
A fact which led to the construction of many, many churches.

In the old city of Salvador, the residents say, there was a different one for every day in the year.
Let me show you a few of them.
Over on my other blog, you’ll find an article I wrote back in February of 2010. It's all about Brazilian Wish Ribbons and how they are linked to a certain statue:

The statue is to be found here, in the Basilica of Our Lord of Bomfim. It’s the most popular church in the city, but it is, by no means, the oldest, or the most beautiful.

The Monastery of Our Lady of Mont Serrat is located on a peninsula extending into the sea and contains some splendid seventeenth century woodcarvings.

The Church of Lady of Rosário of the Blacks is in the historical heart of the city on Pelourinho Square. Pelourinho means pillory and it was here, right in front of the church, that slaves were publicly whipped and subjected to other punishments. 

The construction of the building was carried on at night by slaves and free blacks. The black priests of Bahia are always ordained in this church.

The Church of Our Lady of Victory was founded in 1531.

The Church and Convent of São Francisco is considered to be (literally) the jewel of all of the churches in the city. Not so much for the outside…

…as for the interior. The “Church of Gold”, as it’s sometimes called, is considered to be the most magnificent example of baroque art in all of the Americas. That’s the real stuff you’re looking at. It’s on the walls, the columns, the roof and the altars. It’s everywhere. And the gold isn’t all. Numerous tiles adorn the corridors. They depict the entire Bible – both the new and old testaments.
Finally, if you want a great façade, it’s got to be this one:

The Church of the Third Order of São Francisco.
All of these carvings were, for many years, covered with a layer of smoothed stucco.
People had forgotten about what lay beneath.
Then, one day, an electrician was called-in to install some wiring.
Turns out he was drunk, and he had a sledgehammer.
He hit the façade much harder than he’d intended to.
And part of the stucco crumbled away.
I have often lifted a glass in his honor.