Thursday, August 27, 2015

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger Rocks!

by Jackie King

Long before I decided to write, I was a reader. I still am. I love everything about all books. Especially mysteries.

Books made of paper rock: their smell, their feel, their bright covers. Most of all, I love losing myself in a new world created by a gifted writer.

Virtual books rock: the ability to read the story immediately; the capability to make print larger for my aging eyes; the convenience of being able to read in dark places. Most of all, I love disappearing into a new domain shaped by a creative author.

William Kent Krueger
Currently I'm living in a biosphere molded by William Kent Krueger. His first words quickened my pulse, and instantly I cared about a teen-aged boy he had created. Here’s that paragraph from the prologue:

Cork O'Connor first heard the story of the Windigo in the fall of 1965 when he hunted the big bear with Sam Winter Moon. He was fourteen and his father was dead a year.

The pages flew and my knuckles turned as white as the Minnesota blizzard where the story was set.

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
The book itself features Cork as a grown man. Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota. His heart, wounded by a recent tragedy, seems unable to heal. Needless to say, I'm now in love with Cork, so Joe Pike can eat his heart out. (smile)

I bought this book at Killer Nashville in 2014, along with ORDINARY GRACE, which won the Edgar and other prestigious mystery awards. Krueger spoke at the conference and I was impressed by this kind, smart and eloquent man.

Ordinary Grace--an extraordinary novel
I read ORDINARY GRACE, first, since this book had won several prestigious mystery awards. ORDINARY GRACE, an exceptionally fine literary novel, wasn't a mystery.  At least not to me. Because of this, I was disappointed. (Will all those who loved the book as a mystery  please forgive me?) I do like literary novels, just not when my appetite is set for murder and mayhem.

This week IRON LAKE rose to the top of my To Be Read pile. And wow! This book is an outstanding mystery, and I'm loving it. As Hank Phillipi Ryan said at the same conference, "Every mystery needs to have three things: hook, stakes, and beautiful Writing. IRON LAKE has all three.

Mystery novels by William Kent Krueger will never again stay in my TBR pile for such a long time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kim Jong-un and Me by Bill Kirton

At last, the breakthrough! After all these years of writing all sorts of things, fame and riches are within reach. All I have to do is play my cards right and undertake an admittedly tricky piece of international diplomacy.

Let’s get the facts straight first. Kim Jong-un is a very nice man, a very nice man indeed. Yes, yes, we all know he’s First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, Supreme Leader, blah, blah, blah but I’m betting he’s basically a very thoughtful, caring individual who has his nation’s welfare, progress and general well-being at heart. You don’t get to be a top political leader of any of the world’s great powers or even of the minor ones, such as the United Kingdom, unless you’re a really nice guy. And, I repeat, Kim Jong-un, or KJ as I intend to call him from now on, is a very, very nice man.

He’s also the world’s youngest head of state and his youth is part of the reason I want so much to get to know him better. He was actually educated in Switzerland and his classmates there said he was a bit shy. But he was a good student and got on well with others. He was ambitious, enjoyed playing basketball and, like most students who know that education’s only a pretence for having a good time, he wasn’t all that meticulous about attendance and his grades suffered as a result. (These indisputable facts are essential to an understanding of my thesis and, needless to say, I owe them all to Wikipedia.)

But from those inauspicious, even mundane beginnings, he has progressed to a condition described by the Korean Central News Agency as ‘a great person born of heaven’ and inspired the ruling Workers' Party to declare in an editorial, ‘We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader’. (NOTE. ‘Bleeding’ in this context is not the same as its usage in such English expressions as ‘Oi, mate, what’s the bleedin game then? Leave it out, you bleedin tosser.’)

So where does KJ fit into my own plan for JK Rowling-style world domination? The answer’s easy. I ask you to picture one of those gatherings where thousands of those present and many millions watching on TV weep and wail and gnash simply because KJ exists and is among them. He has only to raise his hand for a silence to fall on the multitude (broken only by suppressed sobs of ineluctable joy), he has only to take one step and they will follow, however deep the abyss towards which he leads them.

Now I ask you to add just one element, one gesture and two words to the scene. In his hand he holds a book. He raises it for them to see and says just two words, ‘Buy this’. The resultant KJ-provoked sales would make JK look like a no-hoper. And that will be the effect of my diplomatic endeavours because recently, to my great surprise, I received two copies of one of my non-fiction books, Brilliant Study Skills, IN KOREAN! The attached illustrations are proof of its existence, and I’m hoping the one with the blurb about me conveys the fact that I am one of KJ’s greatest fans.

On the other hand (and this is where the tricky diplomacy comes in), I must be careful not to alienate South Korea and it may be that I have to indulge in a wee apostasy, denounce my erstwhile mate, KJ, and cut my losses because the population of South Korea is twice that of the North.

Democracy can be annoying at times.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Need to Write Every Day

When I sat down to write, I thought of a long ago interview with bestselling romance novelist Parris Afton Bonds for my book, Maverick Writers. Bonds emphasized the need for writers to write every day. The mother of five lively sons, she wrote between diaper changes as well as on the job, which cost her several secretarial positions before she decided to write full time.

“I write when I’m sick,” she said, “and even as I shove that turkey into the oven on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are no legal holidays for professional writers.”

A steady writing schedule is one of the most important aspects of publishing one’s work. Whether you rise two hours early to write before leaving for your day job, or at night before you go to bed, it needs to be done at least five days a week. Women with small children can schedule their writing time when the young ones are down for a nap, if only for an hour, but the same hour each day until it becomes a habit. But if you only have a few minutes now and then, use that time to jot down notes or bits of dialog as Don Coldsmith did on the backs of prescription pads during his daily medical practice.

Mystery novelist Marlys Millhiser echoed Bond’s work ethic. She began writing at 10:00 a.m. and continued until 4:00 in the afternoons. Both writers stressed the fact that you must stay at the computer (or note pad) no matter how difficult the writing is going that day.

“My first draft is pretty bad,” Millhiser said. “But no matter how difficult it is, I hang in there. Sometimes you have to backtrack and begin again, but don’t stop to polish a chapter until the first draft is finished. When I’m on a run and the plot floats along, the characters take over and it’s wonderful. But most of the time, I’m just sitting there and sweating it out. And I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, that the stuff I sweated out and got three pages by working my pants off, was about the same quality as when the story just flowed along and I’ve gotten ten pages.”

Brian Garfield, author of “Death Wish” and countless other novels and screenplays, said, “I took up writing partly because some of the stuff that was published seemed so awful and so easy to do, and of course it isn’t easy to do, as you find out when you sit down to try to do it. And it took a long time—a lot of apprenticeship practice before I could write anything that was worth publishing. But you don’t know that until you try. At the time of the interview, he wrote five hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. until back problems caused him to cut his hours.

Set your pace, as steady as walking on a treadmill. Before long you’ll feel that you must write during those hours. It becomes as important to those who want to succeed as breathing. Writing is a way of life and a regular schedule is necessary.

I'm at my computer by eight in the morning, with few exceptions, and write until three or later in the afternoon. A half hour treadmill break gives me a chance to loosen up and recharge my brain cells.

When do you write and how often?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Allingham, Simenon, and...Me?

by Carola

I've been keeping distinguished company lately. The Daily Mail, one of England's national newspapers, had a column of suggestions for summer reading, under the heading Classic Crime.

First came Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke.  Allingham's name is familiar to anyone who enjoys the mystery fiction of the so-called Golden Age. Her protagonist, Albert Campion, is similar to Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey in that he has an upper-class background and hides his keen brain behind a facade of foolishness. The columnist says of this book:

 "Allingham was well established as a leading light of crime fiction when she came to write Tiger In The Smoke. All the signs are of a gifted writer aiming higher than the formulaic mystery novel."

 Second in the list is Georges Simenon, creator of Maigret, surely the best known and most translated French detective ever, to English speakers/readers. The book chosen is titled simply Maigret, and was intended to be the last in a long series that the author was growing tired of. However,

 "In the event, Simenon did not give up on Maigret. After this eponymous novel there were another 56 mysteries for his hero to solve. Penguin is republishing them in new translations at a rate of one a month, an inestimable service to classic crime."

And third cometh moi, with the 22nd and most recent Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Superfluous Women.

"Strict feminists may not like the title. How can there be too many women? But the phrase, though derogatory, is based on historical truth: the plight of young women who lost their chance of marriage and family in the slaughter of the Great War...Superfluous Women is a good yarn with a strong period setting — spot on for relaxed summer reading."

Exalted company for Daisy! (And in my opinion, the best cover of the three.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Importance of First Sentences

by Jackie King

Are first sentences really that important? This topic is often discussed in a group called Smart Women Writers. One very successful author suggested that writers shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the first line, since all lines were important. Good point. But I still sweat over those first few words.

One writer posed this question to members: “What’s the all-time favorite first line that you’ve written?”

That writer’s name is Susan Shay, author of BLIND SIGHT, MAKE ME HOWL and TO SCHOOL A COWBOY. The line she picked came from a current work-in-progress:
Blind Sight by Susan Shay
“Lucy Lu’s dad was driving her crazy; since his death he just wouldn’t shut up.”

Is that great or what?

Most of us have a favorite opening line. Mine was written by Deborah Camp in her book, BLAZING EMBERS. (Awful title, she hated it too, but you know editors.):
Blazing Embers by Deborah Camp

“Burying a body is grave business.”


Below I’ve added the first line from my first Grace Cassidy mystery, THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE:
“Grace Cassidy stared at the stranger’s body; he was about sixty, pot-bellied, naked, and very dead.”

THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, the second in that series, had to be revised. Here’s the result:

“The knife dripped blood with each step that Grace Cassidy ran.”

Book three, THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE, starts like this:

“The last thing Grace Cassidy expected to see when she accepted a job as inn sitter in Tulsa, was a gathering of steely-eyed old men seated in the library of the B&B.”

First lines from some of my published novellas:

“It was madness. One didn’t buy a husband in the same way one bought a lumberyard.”

(Okay, that’s two sentences.) The Spinster, the Pig and the Orphan: from the anthology THE FOXY HENS AND MURDER MOST FOWL. Deadly Niche Press.
“I went on two first dates with my ex-husband.” 
Flirting at Fifty; from the anthology CHIK~LIT FOR FOXY HENS. Diva Publishing.

My current WIP, (working title switches between GOOSE OVER MY GRAVE and THE EDGE OF NOWHERE):

“Liz O’Brien’s day started with a feeling of wrongness.”

This is a suspense novel and will have a change of pace from my usual cozy mystery. If anyone out there has a preference for either of these titles, please let me know.


In conclusion let me quote a statement from Stephen King in a 2013 interview:

"An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story... it should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."

No one can say it better than the master-writer himself.

Does anyone out in cyberland have a favorite first line? If so, I’d love to hear it.



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

CSI in the 18th century by Bill Kirton

Leith Hall
Some months ago, I thought that James Abernethy of Mayen had done me a great favour on December 21st 1763. That was the day he, John Leith, the Laird of Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire, and several others were in a pub carousing (I think that was what they called it at the time), and it degenerated into a brawl. They went outside, Abernethy shot Leith in the head and he died on Christmas Day. It seems that, on several occasions since then, John has appeared as one of the many ghosts which stroll around the house and grounds of Leith Hall. Apparently his head is heavily bandaged and he does a lot of groaning and moaning – which is understandable.

As I read all about the incident, I was getting quite excited because it would have fitted perfectly into one of my plans. To explain, let’s go back just a  year before. As well as doing my ‘Write a Crime Novel in an Hour’ workshop as part of the Aberdeenshire Crime and Mystery Festival, I had to think up a plot and provide clues for a murder mystery which was supposed to have taken place some time in the past at a local stately home, Haddo House. The idea was that families would be given the evidence collected at the time, walk through the relevant rooms, gather and interpret clues and decide whodunit. In other words, they would use the detection facilities available at the time. They would then be allowed to use modern methods – fingerprinting, DNA profiles, chemical analysis – to get a more accurate picture of what had happened. It would be a fun couple of hours and interesting to compare procedures and outcomes then and now.

Apparently, it was a highly popular event but results were very varied
and, from what I’ve heard, I won’t need to be nearly as meticulous with my plotting in future since many of the amateur detectives relied on instinct and speculation rather than actual evidence. My favourite example was when one group decided that the murderer was the daughter of the laird. Bizarrely, she’d killed him because, according to them, she was a lesbian. There was nothing in any of my notes about her sexual orientation but, even more bizarrely, they’d deduced it from the fact that they’d seen a bowler hat in her bedroom.

So, to return to the killing of John Leith, I had to repeat the exercise at another famous house, Leith Hall – new location, new crime required. So when I read about James Abernethy and the real-life murder of the 18th century owner of Leith Hall (for which Abernethy was never tried, by the way) I got quite excited. But there was a problem: disappointingly, it all happened in Aberdeen, rather than at Leith Hall, so I’d have to fabricate something again.


The Hanging Tree
Very near the house, there’s a hanging tree, so it occurred to me that I could invent a tale of some unfortunate servant who was not only wrongly accused of the murder but also hanged within sight of the music room’s windows. I set it in the early 1700s, when justice was very harsh for those without the money to defend themselves. But the visitors again had access to modern techniques and there was enough evidence in the clues I gave to show that the guilty party was in fact an aristocrat, not a servant. They therefore had the satisfaction of clearing the poor servant, giving him a posthumous pardon, and identifying the real perpetrator, thereby righting a 400 year old wrong. And I made sure there were no stray bowler hats lying around.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Badly formatted Kindle

by Carola

 I found out via Amazon reviews (which I don't usually check) that the UK Kindle edition of Superfluous Women is really badly formatted. My apologies to everyone who's bought it. I've notified the publisher and hope they'll soon rectify it, and that you'll be able to download an update free. I was going to say in the meantime please complain to Little, Brown, who took over my UK publisher, Constable--but I've just looked and their site is down.

Happily, most people have given it ***** anyway!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The History of Mystery

by Jean Henry Mead

Edgar Allen Poe started it all with his first detective story, but as Carolyn Wheat asks in her book, How to Write Killer Fiction, "What’s happened to the mystery genre since [Sherlock] Holmes hung up his deerstalker hat and started keeping bees?” 

Wheat states that mysteries have been split into three distinct strands: the classic whodunit, the American hard-boiled detective story and the procedural. She divides up the whodunit category into the regional mystery, historical, comic relief and says you need a gimmick for niche mysteries and the dark cozies. Her book was published in 2003, and a number of subgenres have since been added to the list, including the science fiction mystery.

I love niche mysteries such as Carolyn Hart’s series featuring a red-haired ghost who returns to earth to solve murders following her own death in a boating accident. And former NASA payload specialist Stephanie Osborn not only taught astronauts what they needed to know about space travel, she wrote a mystery involving the disappearance of a space shuttle after her friend was killed in the Challenger explosion.

The American hard-boiled detective story has certainly evolved from The Great Detective who solved crimes with his intellect. The list isn’t complete without the books of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block. The plots take place in urban areas where murder and mayhem happen on a regular basis. You’d be hard pressed to find a hard-boiled detective story set in Cabot Cove, Maine, or St. Mary Mead, England. Or as Chandler once said, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid.” The phrase epitomizes the hard-boiled detective story that's alive and well in any number of currently written series.

The police procedural evolved when writers came to the conclusion that the majority of crimes were actually solved by detectives who used scientific methods to track down and apprehend criminals--much like Sherlock Holmes with modern equipment. They weren’t bunglers like the cops in Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead or mainly corrupt like the cops in Bay City, California. No one seems to know who first wrote procedurals although the genre was influenced by Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff in his book, The Moonstone, published in 1868, and TV’s Sgt. Joe Friday of the LAPD of the 1950s. Joseph Wambaugh and James Ellroy later refined the subgenre and placed a spotlight on the corruption, violence and racism of the Los Angeles police.

The dark cozy has lightened considerably in this country. I still love Christie’s sleuths and have concocted a few of my own, adding comic relief to my Logan and Cafferty amateur sleuth series. The dark cozy came into being with Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, the first novel to use fingerprinting as a method of detection, long before they were used in real-life police work.