Saturday, March 28, 2015

Writing with Your Grandkids

by June Shaw

"We'd like to write a book with you," my two teen granddaughters told me.

"Do y'all just want money, or do you really want to write a book?"

"No, it would be fun to write a book. That's what we'd like to do."

Hmm, they were fourteen and sixteen and both avid readers, although the older sister had gotten much more involved in extra-curricular activities. We thought about what we might write. They both really enjoyed The Hunger Games. So did I, so we decided we would create that type novel.

Since they were in school and taking part in various sports, dancing and gymnastics, I did most of the writing. I asked for lots of input from them about things like different sports, characters, descriptions.... Often I'd get in a jam and ask what might happen next, or how could the character get out of that situation, or what might happen that's even worse than the previous one. How great it was to get responses from sweet young ladies who have read widely.

Now it's finally happened. They are published authors! Our science fiction JUST ONE FRIEND takes place after warfare has destroyed most of the country. Since only one area is known where life can  exist, the leader decreed that each person is only allowed to have one friend. A teenage girl believes things should be otherwise.

Our novel is available for e-readers and in print. We are really proud of our work. I am one proud grandmother.

I forgot the link:

Being a grandmother means... well, sometimes I forget something. In this case I forgot to add a link for people who might want to learn more about the book I wrote with my granddaughters  -- or possibly order it. They'd love you forever for doing that.

On Amazon JUST ONE FRIEND is here:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Truth or Consequences

Telling the Truth Is Hard
Even When You’re Making It Up As You Go
I’m a private person. A friend says it’s because I’m a Pisces. I think it’s because I was always in trouble as a kid for saying things that annoyed grownups. So I learned to hide my true thoughts and said what others wanted to hear. It was neither interesting nor fun, but I got pretty good at it. That skill worked well for getting along with adults and later on, bosses and coworkers. But when I started writing, this acquired fa├žade turned into my biggest Nemesis.
As a beginning writer my protagonist (hero or heroine), did the same thing, but without the saving-grace of inner thoughts. I made my characters ‘nice,’ because this had worked well for me as a person. But the result on paper produced cardboard people that even I didn’t like.
For some time I soldiered on, not quite knowing how to fix my problem. Then one day while working at my computer (the place where best ideas spring to life) I realized that my aversion to showing flaws, wasn’t to protect my characters, it was to protect myself! (As if anyone really cared.)
No wonder I had plastic people in my stories. I decided to TELL THE TRUTH as I saw it. This decision improved my writing overnight. I started to speak straight from my heart, without worrying about how it sounded. Suddenly my characters turned into flesh and blood. These imaginary playmates didn’t blab their faults to other characters; they tormented themselves with these inner doubts. Flaws were vocalized inside their heads, where readers could identify with this common human trait.
Note to beginning writers: This is called inner dialogue, or a private conversation between the character and the reader. 
To develop this and other writing skills, spend as much time as possible writing. Also it’s essential to read continually. After you finish reading a mystery (or other book) that you love, go back and study how that author set you up for the ride. Especially observe the character’s inner dialogue—especially those with no attributions.
I was astonished at how hard telling the truth was at first. These thoughts exposed me. It felt a bit like walking about naked. What would my church friends think? What would my children or mother think? But by that time I was at the point where writing had become more important to me than anyone’s opinion. I figured that if they liked me, they’d forgive me. So I forged on.

Telling the truth on paper has been the most freeing thing I’ve ever done as a writer. If you haven’t already discovered the joy of being yourself in your work, try it. Incidentally, this skill is also part of what’s called ‘voice.’ Dare to be outrageous, if that’s your true self. Or fearful, or timid, or cowardly. Your readers will love you for it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The strange effects of prompts by Bill Kirton

Back in January, I wrote a blog about the usefulness of prompts to get a story going. On that occasion it was a picture prompt for The Word Count Podcast. This time, it’s another Word Count podcast but the prompt was simply three words – Glass, Bed, Bow – and it teased some very different stories from nine writers. The words themselves aren’t particularly evocative, either individually or as a group. Nonetheless, when I started thinking how I might approach the task, the idea of a fairy story came into my head and refused to be shifted. You can hear it and the other 8 stories here but for those who prefer reading it silently for themselves, this is it. It’s called Princess.

Emma was Danny’s princess. That’s what he’d always called her, right from the time they did that first dance and he said she had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. She’d always known she was beautiful and she’d learned very early to make the most of it by lowering her eyelids and looking up at the boys, then the men, through her dark lashes. From the expressions she’d seen on their faces when she did that, she knew the power she had. They caught their breaths and their eyes became hungry. Danny was right. She was a princess. The word suited her. Mind you, princesses didn’t live in the sort of place she and Danny had bought when they decided to move in together, but that was OK. They both pretended. He even wrote stories about her, changing the one small damp room into the many different halls and chambers they’d find in a palace, and the TK-Maxx skirts and tee shirts into gowns made of silver threads and studded with emeralds.

His love was like all the songs said love should be – sometimes a furnace but mostly a refuge, a gentle warmth that surrounded her, a rising mist that slid over surfaces, softening them, colouring them as in a fairy tale.

Each week, on the couple of days before payday, when there was no money for
the cinema or a bottle of wine, she’d lie with her head in his lap and he’d make up a new story, using events that happened during that week. Once, when the postman had delivered a parcel which wasn’t for them but for a neighbour, his story was called Mistaken Identity and it was about a princess who was so beautiful that everyone she saw, and even the objects among which she moved, wanted to be with her all the time. The postman became a wizard – not one of those with a black cloak with stars on it and a pointed hat, but one who drove a black Aston Martin and searched the city for girls who looked good enough to appear on his television show. He knew nothing of Emma, had never seen her, and was looking for another girl, called Elizabeth, whom he’d met at a club the night before and who’d given him her address. They’d talked of movies, stars, fame, and the wizard coveted her. But she wanted more than words so, knowing that she was a dreamer, he’d brought her a gift. It was a glass slipper.

But as he’d driven slowly along the street, looking for Elizabeth’s house, the bow in the golden silk tassel which was wrapped round the slipper had begun to loosen. He was driving slowly and watched as the ends of the bow slid towards the passenger door and seemed to want to pull the slipper with them. He stopped, parked, picked up the gift and got out. Immediately, he felt the power begin to pulse from the silk and the slipper drew him along until he was standing before a glass palace. Through the walls he could see a beautiful princess lying on a bed draped with satin the colour of peaches. All thoughts of Elizabeth drained from him and the force flowing from his gift became his own impulse as he walked between the rows of guards lining the corridors leading to the princess’s chamber.

When he reached her, the gift tore itself from his hand and landed between her breasts, the folds of silk settling among those of her nightgown, drawing the slipper closer and closer to her heart. The tassel slithered over the sheet, gathering it up, wrapping around it and retying itself into a bow.

Danny stopped.
‘Go on,’ said Emma. ‘What happened then?’
‘Nothing,’ said Danny. ‘The slipper was where it wanted to be. It was part of her and that was perfect.’
But Emma wanted more and so Danny, who was quite pleased with that ending, had to describe how the princess unwrapped the slipper, slid her foot into it, draped the gold tassel and bow around her neck and danced with the wizard until she fell exhausted onto the bed and the wizard knelt beside it gazing at her.
‘Then what?’ said Emma.
‘Oh, I don’t know. He turned into a pumpkin,’ said Danny.
They both laughed. Emma switched on the TV and they watched wannabe contestants being insulted by a panel of judges.

But the images of the glass palace, the folds of satin on the bed, the silk bow at her throat and the rows of guards watching the dancing princess persisted and, in response to Emma’s childlike requests for another story, Danny embroidered on them more and more. The wizard and his Aston Martin vanished but the princess continued to lie there, her delicate fingers stroking the silk of her gift and feeling the shape of the glass slipper beneath it. More gifts piled up around her, crystals and diamonds, bracelets, rings and jade necklaces, love songs scratched by quills on vellum.

It was a stark contrast with the reality of their dismal flat and the endless hours she had to spend as receptionist for an offshore company, repeating hundreds of times a day:
‘Good morning. Anstey Oil. How can I help you?’
‘Good afternoon, Anstey Oil. How can I help you?’
Her soul was stifled by its dullness and, while Danny’s words spun her into magical dreams, they never lasted and her need for the images to endure, to condense into a reality was never satisfied. Her perpetual question ‘What happened then?’ eventually found Danny’s inventions being repeated and the beautiful, pampered princess left her silks and satins, the bow and the glass slipper on the bed as she stalked along the rows of guards looking for something new.

Through the glass walls of the palace she saw fields stretching away, dark clumps of trees on hillsides, a cloudless sky, all inaccessible.
‘So the palace is a prison,’" said Emma, as Danny became silent.
‘Will she escape?’
‘Well, she could, but where would she go?’
‘I don’t know.’

It was the end of the story telling. Danny and Emma only visited the palace once more. It was a Thursday evening after a damp, driech day of perpetual telephones. Emma lay back and rested her head in Danny’s lap.
‘Tell me about the glass slipper,’ she said, ‘and the silk bow and the bed with its satin sheets. Tell me about the princess.’
Danny was silent for a while, his fingers stroking her hair, which felt coarse under his touch.
‘The princess picked up the slipper,’ he said at last, ‘and noticed for the first time that it was cracked. A long filament wound around it, clouding its surfaces. She reached for the tassel to bind it, felt a stickiness on the material and saw that the bow was frayed, its sheen disappearing under a dullness that had spread over the silk. She wrapped it carefully around the slipper and, holding it to her breast, she stood and looked at the long rows of guards stretching away along the glass walls of the palace corridors. Wearily, she walked to the end of the row on her left and stood before the first guard.
‘Good evening. How can I help you?’ she said.
The guard said nothing. The princess moved to the next in the row.
‘Good evening. How can I help you?’ she asked again.

As Danny quietly described the princess’s progress along the line, Emma’s eyes glistened.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Series Writing

by Jean Henry Mead

Writing a series can be an asset as well as a hindrance. An asset because your readers look forward to each new novel and your continuing characters. But you can become bored with your character(s) as Agatha Christie did with Hercule Poirot. In fact, she came to hate the arrogant little detective. 

My protagonists have become old friends that I enjoy tuning into each day to listen in on their conversations, no matter how scatterbrained they happen to be. But I've also become bored at times writing about my two older women amateur sleuths, who get themselves into situations that I have a difficult time writing them out of. 

I don't outline, unless it's a nonfiction book, and my characters have free rein, so they lead me on some wild adventures. Murder at the Mansion is my wildest novel to date, with my protagonists, Dana and Sarah, running for their lives from Wyoming to Texas, Alaska, Colorado, and back again. 

The more I get to know my characters, the more I trust that they won't paint me into a corner or refuse to do what I want them to. In my new release, some of the people they helped to place in prison return to seek revenge, and Sarah decides to dissolve a hasty marriage that she regrets. None of these things occurred to me when I sat down to write, so I blame the devious minds of my two protagonists. 

Combine mystery, humor, romance, murder, a quirky character or two, and you have the Logan and Cafferty series, which I hope to continue writing for quite some time.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Three of My Writing Rules

More Writing Tips--some redundant.

by Jackie King

Rule 1: Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Books are written one word at a time, one sentence at a time, and one paragraph at a time. Each day remind yourself that all you have to do is write one sentence, and then one more, and then one more…

Rule 2: Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft. This removes the fear of failure. You can’t fail because it’s okay to write sucky pages. What’s hard is putting your heart on paper. Don’t listen to your internal monitor that says, “You can’t even spell.” (Like that makes any difference? Many successful writers can’t. That’s why God made dictionaries.)

Rule 3: Write every day. Determine to write even in chaos or tragedy, because life is seldom perfect. No matter how busy you are, you have a right to some time of your own; learn to recognize and grasp these moments. Keep either index cards or a notebook close at all times. (I prefer index cards and always carry some in my purse, pocket and car.

For instance: Modern men and women spend a huge amount of time standing in lines, waiting at the doctor’s office, or the dentist or hairdresser, or for a child at private lessons or activities. Apprehend these moments to make character sketches, brainstorm writing ideas, or write a scene or part of a scene. It’s possible to write a scene in 20 minutes. I know one author who wrote her second book waiting at the airport for her next plane.

Other stuff: Get a large collapsible file to keep all of your notes, character sketches, newspaper clippings, etc., together. Writing time shouldn’t be wasted searching for lost notes. Keep that file somewhere handy and drop each scrap of paper or index card into it.

Writing a book doesn’t always happen in an organized way. Writers are creative folk and there are different ways to begin. Many things can trigger a germ of an idea from which a novel can develop: an overheard snatch of conversation; a newspaper or magazine article; a scene flashing through your mind unexpectedly.

Never forget: Trust yourself and follow your intuition while you’re writing. This brings out that precious quality called “voice.”

  • Discipline is primary. 
  • Talent is secondary.
  • Luck is nice, but a lack of luck can be overcome by persistence.
  • Use your experiences plus your imagination.

The Most Important Rule:


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mind the gap by Bill Kirton

Last year I was one of the adjudicators at the Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference in Cumbernauld. I spent time with old friends, made some new ones, learned more things about writing and generally had a great time with plenty of laughs. Despite the fact that perhaps most of those present had submitted entries for the various writing categories and were, therefore, in competition with one another, winners were greeted warmly and there were no negative notes or anything other than friends being together and sharing their pleasure in a common interest – i.e. good writing. My brief was to assess entries in the General Article category. There were 61, all interesting and covering a wide range of subjects. Choosing first, second, third, three highly commendeds and three commendeds was hard because standards in all the submissions were high. I was pretty confident that I’d got the right winner, though; a fact that was confirmed when the writer read it aloud to the gathered delegates. Hearing it made it even better.

I had to give a short summary about the submissions. It included my usual mantra of:
  • Trust your own voice.
  • Read your work aloud as part of the editing process.
  • Separate the functions of writer and editor.

But I also called attention to a couple of points which had let some of the entries down. Part of my ‘advice’ was about giving an argument (or a narrative) a tighter structure and a smoother flow, and I suggested that a way of achieving this was to focus on the gaps between sentences.

Here’s an example for you to try. I’ve taken some sentences from an exercise in the book Just Write, which I co-authored with my friend Kathleen McMillan. They’re separate, random notes on the topic of immigration which might form a paragraph in a broader article or essay. The exercise involves putting these notes in a sequence that makes sense and then, crucially, finding words and/or expressions to link them so that, rather than isolated observations on the topic, they cohere into a fluid, unified presentation, all contributing to a central argument. Leave the gaps unplugged or partially plugged and you have a jerky, scattered style which detracts from their impact. And those bits of linguistic mortar which hold the sentences together to give structure to your presentation can be as simple as ‘but’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘paradoxically’, ‘so’ and many others.

The notes are:
  • For some Americans, the influx of different ethnicities appears to run counter to God’s intentions.
  • Multi-culturalism is a feature of most societies in the modern world.
  • It could be argued that America is a nation made up entirely of immigrants.
  • Despite its ethnic diversity, the self-image of the USA seems to project the notion of a singular, predominantly ‘American’ culture.
  • The USA prides itself on being able to absorb and embrace the most varied arrivals.

You can put them in any sequence you like and when you do, notice how, rather than the notes themselves, it’s your linking words and expressions that ease the reader in the direction you want her to follow. The observations have power and impact in isolation, but it’s the things in the gaps between them that harness and deliver that power. They bring them into closer relationships. Just read them aloud and feel how the flow and rhythms are improved. Don’t lose sight of the simple things.

Friday, March 6, 2015

How Now Purple Cow

A guest blog by Marja McGraw

It seems that something unexpected usually inspires a story for me. I won’t go into titles, for the most part, in the interest of space.

In my Sandi Webster series, stories were inspired by (get this) the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles, something that actually happened to me in another book, meeting an elderly female private investigator, a photo of a vintage, abandoned house in Nevada, and an admiration for Humphrey Bogart. Another was inspired by what used to be an ostrich ranch in Arizona. An ostrich ranch? It became a llama ranch in short order and included ghostly sightings and a house with character.

Back to the admiration for Humphrey Bogart, a book titled, The Bogey Man was so well received that I started another series involving a Bogart look-alike who wanted nothing more than to become a private investigator. In his case, not all of his dreams came true, but he, his wife and young son went on to become involved in crimes, although against his better judgment.

Chris Cross, known as the Bogey Man, started a forties-themed restaurant with his wife, Pamela. Right off the bat they discovered a body in a basement. That was the beginning of an interesting life. In one book, some Church Ladies tried his patience and skills when they wanted him to find a missing friend. Some Church Ladies in my own life inspired that one. Chris’s eccentric mother came to town and more adventures followed. Yes, I know a few eccentric people, and I should probably include myself in that category.

However, let me tell you that I never expected ceramic purple cows and a dream to inspire a story, but that’s exactly what happened. Many years ago my grandmother gave me some old ceramic figurines, including two purple cows. There should have been three, but apparently the bull was broken somewhere along the way. They were begging to be included in a book. I can’t explain it, but the idea simply wouldn’t let go of my imagination.

How could a writer use purple cows in a mystery? Well, if you add a dream about two close friends being spies, all kinds of doors can open.

After doing a lot of research about spies and spying, I found that only a minimal part of that research would fit the story. However, it gave me a feel for what things were like during the Cold War and what agents were up against. Maybe I’ve watched too much television, but it all seemed to fit together in a neat little story package.

Purple cows and elderly spies were a natural. Oh, and they needed just a little humor to pull it all together. If you include the young son and two Labrador retrievers in the mix, you’ve got some unusual puzzle pieces to fit together.


What could purple cows and elderly spies possibly have to do with each other?

When young Mikey Cross discovers ceramic purple cows, a ring, and investigative notes left by a mystery writer popular in the 1950s, his parents’ and grandparents’ lives are turned upside down.

Pamela and Chris Cross become involved in vintage intrigue with trepidation and more than a little angst when they find out there’s an elderly assassin on the prowl and the situation isn’t quite as vintage as they thought.

The dead just may come back as the living when it’s least expected.


I’ve tried to write all of my books so they can be read in any order. The only thing you might miss by reading them haphazardly would be the growth of the characters. That’s livable.

I enjoy being entertained when I read, and that’s what I’ve tried to do for readers of my books. I hope I can make you laugh, or at least chuckle, and in addition I hope the puzzles keep you guessing.

Hmm. I did write one book where the killer was fairly easy to spot. Ah, yes, there was an unexpected twist at the end. Always keep the reader guessing.

So, if you’re inspired as a reader, you might try How Now Purple Cow to see how purple cows and elderly spies fit together.

Jean, thank you so much for inviting me in today. I had a wonderful time talking about inspired stories.

Marja McGraw was born and raised in Southern California. She worked in both civil and criminal law, state transportation, and most recently for a city building department.  A resident and employee in California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona, she wrote a weekly column for a small town newspaper in Northern Nevada, and conducted a Writers’ Support Group in Northern Arizona. A past member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), she was also the Editor for the SinC-Internet Newsletter for a year and a half.

Marja has appeared on KOLO-TV in Reno, Nevada, and KLBC in Laughlin, Nevada, and various radio talk shows. She says that each of her mysteries contains a little humor, a little romance and a little murder! She and her husband now live in Arizona, where life is good.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

20 years, 25 mysteries

by Carola

I had been writing Regencies for 15 years when my first mystery came out, in 1994.  The 25th comes out in June.  I've been working with the same editor at St Martin's Minotaur for TWENTY years, the longest of any of his authors!

Just in time for that anniversary, the first of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries is being reissued in trade paperback with a brand-new cover, by the artist who has been doing the art for the series since the 12th, Die Laughing.

In comparison, here is the original hardcover, as well as the large print, audio, UK, Polish, and a couple of German translation covers:

large print

first German edition
second German edition

US paperback

Interesting to see what different artists make of the story--or at least of whatever they've been told about it! I think the new one is far and away the best, though I don't recall giving Daisy a red scarf. I've already been asked for suggestions for the reissue of the second in the series, The Winter Garden Mystery, and I can't wait to see it (not coming out till Dec. 2016 so I guess I'll have to wait!).

Death at Wentwater Court trade pb due out March 17th, available for preorder.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Putting Yourself in Your Book

By Chester Campbell

I'm often asked how much of myself gets into my books. Obviously an author's ideas fill his or her work, but not much of the writer's personal life winds up in the fictional world. My new book out shortly turns all of that around.

Hellbound is a suspense story that, except for the ending, takes place over a five-day period. The action during that time occurs in settings that mirror almost exactly a similar five days of my life back around 1995. The book's plot involves a busload of seniors from a suburban Nashville church who head down the Natchez Trace on a carefree journey to The Big Easy. By the fourth day they become aware that a Mafia hit squad has been playing a deadly game of tag with them.

Except for the Mafia angle and the hurricane and its aftermath, the bus journey to New Orleans follows exactly the trip my wife and I took with a group from City Road Chapel United Methodist Church in Madison, TN twenty years ago. It includes the tour of the French Quarter we took aboard a mule-drawn carriage, right down to some of the driver's spiel that I taped with a small recorder. I changed the name of the church and created new characters for the driver and bus passengers, although a few resemble actual people.

This book is more personal to me than anything I’ve written. It’s almost biographical in some respects. One of the two main characters, Marge Hunter, lived in East Nashville on Gartland Avenue in a house similar to the one in which I grew up. She attended East Nashville High School in the early years of World War II, as I did. She graduated from the University of Tennessee and moved to Madison after she was married. Same as me.

The seniors on the bus know one passenger as Bryce Reynolds, a retiree who lives not far from the church. He is really Pat Pagano, a successful Las Vegas stockbroker who was lured into handling investments for a New York crime family. After his two grown sons are killed in an attack by a rival gang and his wife succumbs to cancer, Pagano decimates the mob with his testimony in federal court. He disappears, then resurfaces in Nashville as Reynolds, a retired businessman from Oklahoma. But after years of searching, an old Mafia capo tracks Pagano to the church bus en route to New Orleans.

Hellbound is currently available for pre-order as an ebook for the Kindle at this link. It will be available shortly in paperback.
Mystery Mania blog