Thursday, February 28, 2013

Introducing Jackson Burnett

Jackson Burnett is a mysterious guy. He’s also the best kind of person to write a mystery. THE PAST NEVER ENDS is his first novel. Below is an anecdote from his road to publication.
Jackson Burnett

A Funny Thing Happened on My Road to Publication
By Jackson Burnett

"Finally," the respected New York agent wrote in her rejection note, "I don't find the important roles Marylin and Shawn play in the story to be very credible."

Marylin and Shawn are featured characters in the recently published legal mystery, The Past Never Ends by Jackson Burnett. Marylin works as Attorney Chester Morgan's legal secretary and Shawn, as his receptionist/office manager. Marylin is experienced, professional, subtle and intuitive; Shawn is youthful, brash, and fearless. Marylin is the yin to Shawn's yang. Both are dedicated to their boss. Without them, Chester Morgan would never solve the mystery of Tanya Everly's death.

Readers, as it turns out, love these two characters.

When Alan Kinman, a pathetic, young man, shows up at the law office of Chester Morgan upset at the death of his only friend, sex worker Tanya Everly, Marylin persuades Morgan stay with the case and not turn it away. When Morgan needs information otherwise unavailable, Shawn uses any and all means to get it.

The Past Never Ends is my first published novel. I like mysteries but generally find legal mysteries and thrillers lacking. Few attorneys solve cases by their own brilliance or incur the fatal wrath of some huge syndicate. I wanted my readers to have an authentic experience, what they might find if they practiced law as I do. Chance, hard work, and those you work with play critical roles in the success of any attorney.

Marylin and Shawn are strong and resourceful women, just like the women I've lived with and been around my entire life here in Oklahoma.

After Jackie King read the book cover to cover, I asked her what she thought about New York agent's remarks.

"She obviously doesn't know Oklahoma women," Jackie replied.

When I later asked my wife the same question, she gave the very same answer.

Luckily, another publisher, Deadly Niche Press, agreed with them.





Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blame it on the boogie

by Bill Kirton

When asked for advice in workshops, I usually say the same three things:
  1. Trust your own voice. You don’t necessarily need big, fancy or poetic words, or a huge vocabulary. Your way of putting things is unique, so trust it.
  2. Read what you’ve written aloud. This applies whether it’s a chapter, a poem or a letter of complaint to your electricity supplier. Reading aloud reveals mistakes, repetitions, places where punctuation’s absent and should be present and vice versa, and other things which just ‘don’t feel right’. It also makes you realise that your sentences are maybe all around the same length, so there’s a monotony about your delivery.
  3. Make writing and editing separate exercises. Finish the writing, set it aside for as long a period as you can, then return to it as an editor. And cut, cut, cut. Almost all writing is better for being cut.
It’s the reading aloud bit that I want to focus on here because, apart from the mistakes and omissions it reveals, it also brings home the importance of rhythm. Rhythm’s an obvious element in poetry but it’s just as important in stories, novels or the letter of complaint.

In more formal types of poetry, there are usually rules about where stresses should fall. For example, Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ is a typical iambic pentameter – di-dah di-dah di-dah-di-dah-di-dah. If you switch the stress to the second syllable, the iamb becomes a trochee – dah-di dah-di dah-di dah-di dah-di, as exemplified in Hiawatha:
‘By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,’

You can, of course, create other effects by mixing them up, and then there are the more complicated ones whose names I’ve forgotten, such as the galloping horses of:
‘The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.’

The point is that, in poetry and prose, rhythm gives you another string to your writing bow. As well as conveying your thinking and your effects through what the words mean, you can influence the reader by soothing or disturbing her by gentler or broken rhythms.
For example, I don’t think it matters in the slightest if you don’t know the meaning of:

‘And I shall pluck ’til time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.’

The combination of images and rhythms is enough to make you feel good.

And rhythms often give the meaning even greater resonance. Othello, for example, was a great orator, with plenty of noble lines such as ‘Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump, the spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife; the royal banner, and all quality, pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!’

But his self-assurance and conceit break down when Iago suggests that Desdemona’s unfaithful, and he loses control. See what happens to the rhythms in ‘It is not words that shake me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips. Is't possible?—Confess—handkerchief!—O devil!’

Rhythm works in all sorts of ways, even in humble prose. So read your stuff out loud to check that the rhythms are working for you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Volunteer Activity

Since I write mysteries about older characters, I’ve become involved in volunteer activity in support of the older population. This includes being co-chair for my county Aging Advisory Council and being a respite assistant. Our county provides excellent services for seniors but we are all concerned that if sequestration occurs, funds for senior services will be cut. Now I’m a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal and believe we need to spend money to assist those less fortunate through programs such as Medicaid. I’ve been concerned that our polarized political climate will impact people who are struggling to get by. I saw an article in the newspaper that the Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich supports increasing Medicaid for vulnerable people in his state. Part of his rationale is that, as a Christian, he supports this as the right thing to do. I was pleasantly surprised to read this report. I’ve been amazed at so many people on the Christian right who proclaim their faith, but oppose spending money on programs such as Medicaid. It strikes me that they seem to have lost the message of Jesus telling people to help those less fortunate. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Research with a Punch!

by guest debut author Colby Marshall

Today I went out to eat with my husband, and the owner of the restaurant happened to be someone who recently read my book. He asked me, “So, do people really get paid that much for performing a professional hit?” I laughed and told him yes, assassins of the caliber of those in CHAIN OF COMMAND can probably afford to either buy the silence of anyone who finds them out or to pay a dozen lesser hit men to get rid of the guy when he won’t take the hush money. The restaurant owner then asked me how the heck I knew that sort of thing. The answer to that question is both incredibly simple and insanely complicated at the same time: research.

It’s something every writer is familiar with to a degree, those who write mysteries and thrillers even more so. In stories set in the real world where crimes are committed, investigations are solved, and the bad guys are prosecuted, it’s important to get the details right. After all, your audience of readers may very well include a cop, a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse, a gun owner, a soldier—any person, in fact, who might just know you’re blowing smoke if you don’t know what you’re talking about when you lead your readers through the complex logic that explains whodunit and how. If you haven’t done your homework, a reader like that can poke holes in your masterpiece faster than an asteroid can poke holes in the Russian terrain. But never fear! You needn’t start raising money for med school so you’ll know about trauma wounds or recruiting your own personal team of special force operatives to train you in your backyard in order to make sure your story rings true. Here are five important tricks I’ve learned that help make sure your research packs a punch and is efficient at the same time:

1.) Bring in the nerds. Or, as most people would call them, “the experts.” If you’re writing about a cop, think about friends or family who might work in law enforcement or have a spouse, friend, or colleague who knows someone who does. You’ll quickly find that people, when asked, are happy to talk all about their jobs to someone who finds what they do intriguing.

2.) Read before you interview. Whether you pick up Crime Scenes for Dummies , an in depth book about the history of insider trading in the U.S., or read a dozen articles about the effects of cyanide on the bloodstream online, before you interview the expert in the field you need to know about, learn as much as you can about that field first. Don’t waste your interviewee’s or your time asking him or her questions you could find the answers to on Wikipedia. Gather a basic knowledge of the field you’re researching, because then you’ll know what to ask the expert in order to get those gritty details that will make readers think you’ve been analyzing blood spatter patterns since you exited the womb.

3.) Even if the knowledge you seek is so secret that it’s guarded better than the events surrounding Kennedy’s death, don’t let protected information be an excuse for laziness. Someone knows something about this clandestine knowledge you’re seeking, or else you yourself wouldn’t even know to write about it. It might not be easy to obtain the going rate for heroin on the street, but think outside the box. You don’t have to run out and try to buy something illegal to learn what it might cost. Again, law enforcement who deals in this type of thing every day will know how many mortgage payments that kilo of cocaine in your novel would make you miss. And if they don’t know, they know another person in law enforcement who does.

4.) Prepare open ended, discussion-oriented inquiries rather than asking yes or no questions. While most people, if asked, will agree to an interview and be happy to talk to you about their work, everyone is different. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself interviewing a subject who, for all of their valuable know-how of the area of expertise you seek and their willingness to sit down with you at Starbucks, might be about as outgoing as a prisoner sentenced to life without parole. Sticking to questions like, “Can you find out whether or not someone is narcissistic from their handwriting?” will only lead to frustration with Dr. I. M. Quiet. Instead, pass him a piece of paper and ask him to give you some examples of what types of loops or slants he’s seen in the past that have caused him to determine the subject of the analysis had an overly-inflated ego. Steer clear of questions like, “Have you ever known someone to want an entire face transplant?” because a quick shake of the head might be the end of that line of inquiry. Rather, try asking Dr. Anita Plastic to tell you about the most extreme plastic surgery request she’s ever had or heard of in her line of work.

5.) Be ready with your bad pickup line. While “Have you been lost? Because I’ve been looking for you all year” might not be the perfect way to go, stand poised at the end of your interview to hit up your interview subject for his or her e-mail address and ask if, during the course of research a new question should arise, would he or she mind if you snapped off a quick e-mail to ask a follow-up. Chances are your subject will agree. That said, don’t abuse the privilege. Refer back to item number two and make sure Google doesn’t have the answer before you call for a second date. Quick questions to an expert won’t bother this person who has already invested time in helping you out, but just like calling a potential romantic interest, if it’s too aggressive or imposes too much, your subject will start avoiding you like you did that annoying blind date who blew up your voice mailbox ten minutes after you got home from date one.

And don’t forget: when all that research comes to fruition, give credit where credit is due. If you have an acknowledgements section in your book, make sure to include your fantastic interview subject and if possible, send him a copy of the book containing his well-earned shout out. Not only will it nearly always guarantee he’ll feel appreciated enough to grant future consultations, but your newest expert pal will finally understand exactly why you needed to know if the color of urine changes when someone is poisoned with too much Excedrin PM.

What books have most impressed you with respect to the author’s attention to detail? What have you read that left you thinking the writer fell short in the research department?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Free short stories

by Carola Dunn

My deadline is rushing ever closer, so I'm just going to post links to three free mystery short stories. I wrote these for anthologies, two of which were published and the third never came to fruition. They're available for download in a variety of formats.

The published ones are both Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, set in London in the 1920s, featuring the main character of my 20-book series (it's the deadline of #21 that is almost upon me).

STORM IN A TEA SHOPPE: Daisy and her friend Lucy go out to lunch and find themselves in the soup...

UNHAPPY MEDIUM: A seance takes a deadly turn:

 The third story is set in 1830, at the opening of the first public passenger railway in the world, from Liverpool to Manchester. It's closely based on the real event, but my elderly sleuth, Miss Primrose, discovers that the accidental death of the local Member of Parliament was no accident:



You can find a list of all my mysteries in the correct order at:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Misleading Covers

By Chester Campbell

My first Sleuthfest, Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter's annual crime writing soiree, featured Harlan Coben as the guest speaker. He was just coming into his own with his first standalone novel out. He gave his usual highly humorous presentation, but it contained a lot of good into for writers, too. One thing I remember was his complaint about a cover of one of his Myron Bolitar books that got it all wrong.

My memory is a little hazy after a decade of listening to countless speakers, but it may have been his second book in the series, Drop Shot. That story involves a tennis pro Myron is representing. Seems the cover included a basketball, which is what Myron played before being injured, but it didn't tell the real story of the book.

I've had a couple of experiences with that sort of thing. I love the covers, but they've been a bit misleading for some folks. The first was my initial foray into publishing, the first of my Greg McKenzie mystery series. The plot was built around an ancient Hebrew parchment, and the artist did a great job with the cover, as you can see here.

The only trouble was there's nothing to distinguish it as a mystery. Too many people glanced at it and figured the book was another story about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I cured the problem in the second edition which kept the same basic design but added copy in the lower right that said "An International Thriller, Greg McKenzie Mystery No 1."

The second of my covers that can be misleading is the one for The Marathon Murders. However, it only misleads people who don't pay attention to both the front and back covers. I've had people glance at it during a signing and say something like, "Does it take place during a marathon?" Well, no. The story is built around the old Marathon Motor Works that produced the only automobile made completely in the South. It was in business in Nashville between 1910 and 1914, when it was forced into bankruptcy court.

The cover features artwork of a Marathon touring car similar to one that currently appears in the old showroom  of the company's headquarters building. Both the long-abandoned plant and office buildings have been restored to provide space for artists, photographers, and musicians, among others. The book cover shows a skeleton sitting in the car, which is where the victim of a 90-year-old cold case was found. Still-fresh memories of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics was credited with the impetus for naming the company and the automobile Marathon.

The Marathon Murders' ebook will be available free for the Kindle next Monday through Wednesday (February 25-27). You'll find it in the Kindle Store at this link.

Monday, February 18, 2013


By Mark W. Danielson

In today’s world there is a significant difference between the words honesty and honestly.  Where honestly once meant someone was speaking with honest intentions, in recent years the adverb is often being used as a substitute for Ah, or Hmm, or Well.  Whether this is a result of our society being less honest or the term has degraded into slang is unknown.  However, what is clear is our society has and will continue to change.  Certainly the way we now view honesty is a far stretch from how it was one hundred years ago.

In the early 1900s a man’s word could buy supplies, a horse, and in some cases even get on a loan.  I reference man’s word because during that time the women stayed home to tend to the kids while their men worked their jobs.  But in today’s age of cyber-crime and bank scams, personal trust is a thing of the past as no one is expected to be honest.  In this regard our society has been in steady decline.

Having no intent or interest to further discuss the changes in our society or its generational differences, it is extremely important for writers to grasp society’s changes because they deeply affect your characters and how they interact with each other.  For example, not long ago a child would never think about talking back to their parents or lying about where they’ve been, but today we celebrate disrespect and lying by featuring these people in so-called reality television shows and movies.  But lying protagonists can be as useful in a mystery as a dishonest antagonist, and this means good and evil are not well defined. 

If you are writing in present day, then use our mistrust for one another to add tension and throw curves.  It’s a crazy world, but there is a wealth of opportunity for those willing to look and write outside the box.     

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Perfect Hatred

by leighton Gage

In just two day's time, on Tuesday, the 19th of February, I'll be launching my first book in fifteeen months.

It's this one:

The sixth in my Chief Inspector Mario Silva series.

And part of the action takes place in one of the most scenic places in all of Brazil.

There was a time when I was constantly shuttling back-and-forth between São Paulo and Buenos Aires.

In those days, there was (probably still is) an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight between the two cities that always got my preference. It wasn’t the fastest, because it wasn’t direct, but it was the most convenient. It left at a reasonable hour in the morning and still got me to BA in time for meetings in the afternoon.

But convenience wasn’t the only reason I preferred that flight. I preferred it, too, because it made a stop in Iguaçu – and, from the aircraft, I always had a spectacular view of the waterfalls.

There are 275 of them, stretching over a distance of three kilometers.

The average height is eighty meters. (Niagara’s average height is 53.)

At one place, the Devil’s Throat, 13,000 cubic meters of water, per second, flow over a horseshoe-shaped 90 meter cliff. (About five times what flows over Niagara.)  You can rent a helicopter, if you like, and get really close. It’s an adrenaline rush to be surrounded by tons of falling water on three sides.

August through November is the best time to go. That’s the period of heaviest rainfall, when things are at their most spectacular.

As you’ll note from the map, part of the falls are in Brazil and part in Argentina. Which side should you go to? Well, actually, you should go to both. 

From Brazil, you get the best general views.

From Argentina, you get closer to the action.
The tripartite border between ArgentinaBrazil and Paraguay is only about twenty kilometers from the falls.

To get to the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este all you have to do is walk across the Friendship Bridge.
Why would you want to?
Well, aside from the unique opportunity to chalk-up a visit to three South American countries in a single day, it’s because you get to visit the greatest smuggling center in all of the Americas.

You can get anything in Ciudad del Este.
Had enough of the sleaze?
Return to the falls to cleanse your mind.
Brazilian side, Argentinean side, it doesn’t matter. Rainbows, spray, roaring water, parrots flying over green jungle, they’ve all been wowing visitors since 1541.

That’s when the Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (pictured above) first set eyes on them. And it was an Indian burial ground for untold centuries before that.
The waterfalls of Iguaçu/Iguazu. (The Argentineans spell it with a “z”.)

Thr falls are waiting for you.

And, in three days, the book will be as well.

PERFECT HATRED will be available in hard cover, in audio as an ebook.

The paperbacks?

Unfortunately, only some time in the fall -- on a date as yet to be determined.

Thursday, February 14, 2013



By Jackie Kramer

 People are always asking me, what’s the secret of becoming a published author?” Actually, there is no secret, but there are six basic things that will go a long way towards success.

 1. Be a reader. Most writers do this already, but it’s amazing how many people don’t read, think they have a book somewhere in them. Also important is to read in the genre you want to write…read and love it. The market tends to change and sometimes authors find the genre they are famous for has dried up. Many of them will attempt to write to the new market with disastrous results. Do you quit? No, find a way to make the new genre work with your chosen love. After all, do you read only ONE type of book? Unlikely! So if you like to write historical romances and romantic suspense is king, why not write a historical romantic suspense?

2. Learn the craft. Start with Basic English (or whatever is the language of your target audience). Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are YOUR responsibility, not the editor’s. Also, learn the how to plot, how to build characters to care for, how to write believable dialogue. Learn scene and sequel, all about hooks, pro and cons of series, all the “have-to’s” of producing a selling novel.

3. Learn the business of publishing. Not just which editor is with what publisher or which agent is accepting unsolicited manuscripts, but so much more. Should you shoot for traditional or indie? Even if you have an agent, what’s a good contract? And once you’ve sold, what about taxes? What is effective promotion and how much time and money should you invest in it?

4. Persistence. Most important, how far are you willing to go? I’ve heard writers state that if they don’t sell within five years, they’re giving up. Study the history of other authors, friends. Rejections are merely compost, to be considered as a way of improving your writing. Most well-known authors have tons of rejections under their belts. Some even have only one well-known book. The key to writer’s success is to never give up.

5. Belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else? Okay, there will be days when you feel you can’t do this anymore. Have some chocolate and/or wine (or both) and move past the doubt. If YOU believe you can succeed, then you can!

6. Luck. Yeah, you still have to have a certain amount of luck. That one editor who likes your work. The contest win that puts you in the spotlight. The underdog manuscript that finds an instant crowd of admiring readers. But, like the lottery, to win, you have to buy a ticket. You have to do the other five things so you’re ready with Lady Luck is there to smile on you.

  Jackie Kramer

Jackie Kramer recently retired from over 30 years of working her first love, pediatric nursing, to pursue a career in her second love, writing. She is presently working on indie-publishing her backlist while working on a time-travel romance. Watch for the electronic version of her first book CHRISTMAS BONUS, soon to be available on as many electronic formats as she can learn.

Available soon on

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Writer as Superhero

A couple of years back, I wrote a blog about being commissioned to write a non-fiction book. As usual, it swayed back and forth between expressing gratitude for getting any sort of commission at all and moaning about deadlines and time scales. In the end, it led me to claim a sort of parity between writers and superheroes. It was written in a plane on the way home from London.

London’s not my favourite city (Paris is way ahead in that race) but, for a provincial like me, it’s still an exciting, fascinating place to be. The impression everywhere is that things are happening, people are on their way somewhere.  Even the Trafalgar Square tourists and the Regent Street shoppers seem purposeful. Actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s why I prefer Paris. Over there, they stop and sit sipping coffee and Pastis to watch others go by. I know it’s a cliché but they do linger over seemingly endless lunches and, rather than try to catch up with time, they’re savouring it as it passes. It  suits my preference for languor over action.

However, one of the reasons for my London trip was business-related. I was there to meet with a publisher to discuss writing the non-fiction book I mentioned, all 145,000 words of it. It was an interesting, challenging project and, unlike with fiction, there was a guarantee of publication. In the end, as a wee bonus, it turned out to be ‘only’ 110,000 words long but it still meant setting aside my preferred state of languor and working full time to meet the deadline.

It was as I was thinking ruefully about having to give up all my time to the project for the foreseeable future that the notion came to me that the business of writing fits into all the superhero stereotypes. People such as Billy Batson and Clark Kent live along their ordinary lives, lost in the crowd. Suddenly, duty calls and, with a quick detour to a phone box (harder and harder in these days of mobiles/cell phones) or a cry of ‘Shazam’, they’re transformed into an extraordinary being.

It’s the same with writers.

There they are tweeting, trying to remember the lead singer of some forgotten 70s group for a Facebook challenge and generally behaving like all the other feckless mortals around them when suddenly they get the tap on the shoulder from their muse, agent or publisher and Blat! they morph into creators of new universes, using their powers to help others escape the mediocre. Only when the job is done do they switch off their power source or put down their pen and disappear back into the humdrum.

The only trouble is that it takes Captain Marvel and Superman just a few minutes to stop Jupiter crashing into the McDonald’s where some 5 year old kids are celebrating a birthday party. The poor writers have to keep it up for months. At this point, I set aside the comparison because I realised that I was exhibiting symptoms you never see in Batman and the rest – self-pity. But then I got home, opened up the emails and was faced with a nice, polite message from the publisher saying it would be good if the book could be finished by the end of the year. (This was in June.) I resisted the temptation to ask which year he had in mind. But it did put the final nail in the coffin of my superhero comparison.

I must learn to resist the temptation to whinge. You never hear Superman begging Lex Luthor to take a time-out, do you?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Writers' Rules and Breaking Them

When I started writing mystery novels, a number of rules for beginning writers were beat into my thick skull. Here are a few:

  • Do not insert yourself as an author in your work, e.g., editorial comments or things that would take the reader out of the story
  • Show don’t tell
  • Maintain a consistent point of view
  • Keep a consistent tense
  • Choose a person first or third and stick with it and don’t even consider second person
  • Wrap up all the story threads and don’t leave them hanging
These are excellent guidelines for a starting writer, but an experienced writer can violate them knowingly. I just finished reading an intriguing book: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. I highly recommend it as a commentary on the publishing and writing world and an entertaining romp through rule violations. The whole story is based on author intrusion and interrupting the story to remind you that you’re a reader and to pull you out of the story. It’s full of telling and lecturing. It jumps from a narrator, to a reader to ten other points of view. It mixes both present and past tense. It shifts from first person to third person and even to the dreaded second person. It presents ten stories that are never completed.

This said it’s a wonderful read. It comments on the vagaries of the publishing industry that we can all relate to. It demonstrates that an experienced writer can violate numerous rules and turn a book into a masterpiece.

Mike Befeler

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pet peeves

by Carola Dunn

Trying to get ms finished as there is now a pub. date (December) which, though far in the future, is not far enough for me.

They've already produced the cover art!

 So here is a link to a blog about "pet peeves" in mysteries.  Chester and I both contributed via DorothyL.

Do leave a comment about your own particular pet peeves--so that we can try to avoid them! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Missed Opportunity

By Mark W. Danielson

A couple of years ago I missed an opportunity while addressing a group of aspiring writers.  As I discussed details of a factual White House conspiracy and how it became one of my books, an attractive blonde walked in, listened to a few of my words without ever taking a seat, asked if I honestly believed it, and stormed out when I replied, “yes”.  My only regret was failing to ask the members of the audience to describe what they just observed.  After all, good writers are equally good at observing, and had I taken the opportunity, it is likely the audience may have collectively remembered her hair flip and quick spin as she stormed out, nose high, with a look of disgust from insulting her favorite politician.  In my mind, I still hear her fashion boots stomping down the hall as clear as the day it happened, and I remain amused by her polished act – one I suspect she perfected from years of having things her way.  Then again, I realize my assumption is based solely on her few seconds in the room.  Even so, I feel certain her behavior has echoed some characters’ behavior in my subsequent books.

Although detailed observing is an acquired skill, it becomes habitual if you practice writing what you see.  Viewing the world this way leads to believable scenes and characters.  Next time you find yourself in a public place, note how people speak, smell, gesture, and dress.  Dialects, accents, clothing, and hair styles can help identify where people are from.  Note their shoe heels to get a better picture of the person’s actual height.  If you witness a crime, your power of observation can help identify the culprit.  If you see a suspicious person, note their build, size, voice, gestures, tattoos, and other significant features.  Test your abilities by observing someone for a second or two.  In tense situations, that may be all the time you have.  (Having encountered an armed robber up close, I assure you such memories never fade.)  Now write a scene based upon what you observed.  Doing so will give you an understanding of your personal power of observation and what you can do to improve.

The benefits of enhancing your observation skills are endless.  Once they become a habit, your writing will become spontaneous and require fewer re-writes.