Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!!! (Fascinating Japanese New Year Customs)

Among New Year's celebrations around the world, the Japanese shōgatsu is one of the longest in duration. The New Year is celebrated on January 1, but the holiday continues well into January. Just as we prepare for Christmas and Thanksgiving, the Japanese take their holiday preparations seriously, especially New Year's Eve, which is known as Omisoka.

Buddhist temples around the country ring their bells a total of 108 times on New Year’s Eve to symbolize the 108 human sins and to rid themselves of the 108 worldly desires. A major attraction is “The Watched Night Bell” in Tokyo, which is reminiscent of the Times Square ball drop. The Japanese believe that the ringing of bells can rid them of their sins of the previous year. After the bells stop ringing, they celebrate and feast on soba noodles.

The New Year season is also celebrated with a special selection of food called osechirvori, or osechi, which consists of boiled seaweed, fish cakes, chesnuts, sweet potatoes, burdock roots and sweetened black soybeans. Another popular dish is ozoni, a mocha rice cake, which is often eaten with sushi and later a seven herb rice soup that is prepared on Jimijitsu, the seventh day of January.

Japanese post offices are their busiest during the end of December and beginning of January, due to the country’s custom of sending postcards called nengjo. Like our oun custom of sending Christmas cards, the postcards are delivered on New Year’s Day. However, the cards are not sent if someone in the family has died during the year. Instead, a simple postcard called mochyyn hgaski is sent to friends and relatives.

Children are customarily given money on New Year’s Day, which is handed out in small decorated envelopes called pochibukuro, which are similar to the Chinese red envelopes and the Scottish handsel. The custom, called otoshidama, began during the Edo period when large stores and wealthy families gave children small bags of mochi, a boiled, sticky rice cake topped with a a slice of Mandarin orange. The amount of money they receive depends on the child’s age but has been known to exceed $120 U.S.

The custom of giving mochi is a dangerous one because it has caused a number of chocking deaths, especially in the elderly. The death toll from eating mochi is reported annually in newspapers following the New Year, yet the custom continues.

Games are also part of the New Year’s celebration, including kite flying, or hanetsuki, and a game called sugoaroku, fukunwarai, which resembles our “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” using paper facial parts to tack blindfolded to a wall. Other entertainment includes TV programming, which pits members of two teams of popular music artists against each other.

Another Japanese New Year's tradition is poetry, including haiku, a 17 syllable verse, as well as renga, or linked poetry. Some haiiku celebrates a number of “firsts” for the New Year, including the first sunrise, first laughter and first dream. And before sunrise on January 1, people often climb a mountain or drive to the coast to watch the first sunrise of the new year while others visit a shrine after midnight.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is played throughout Japan during the New Year’s season, often accompanied by a chorus. The symphony was introduced by German prisoners of war during World War 1, and was first played by the renowned NHK Symphony Orchestra in 1925. The Imperial government encouraged performances of the symphony during the Second World War, especially on New Year’s Eve, to promote Japanese nationalism because, at that time, Germany was an ally. The symphony became a tradition after the war and continues to this day.

No matter how you plan to celebrate the New Year, I hope that 2012 is the happiest and most successful ever!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Importance of Novel Settings

Setting is always an important element of fiction. Marlys Millhiser chooses settings before her characters. She once said that she spotted an old Victorian house and thought it needed a ghost, so she wrote a novel about it. Phyllis Whitney also planned her novels around a setting. She wanted a place that gave her fresh and interesting material, although it may have been in her own backyard. For her first mystery novel, Red is for Murder, she went to Chicago’s loop to get behind-the-scenes background on the window decorating business. But, because the book only sold 3,000 copies, she returned to writing for children. Years later, the book was reprinted in a number of paperback editions as The Red Carnelian.

For my own first mystery novel, A Village Shattered, I decided to set my story of a serial killer’s revenge in a San Joaquin Valley retirement village where retirees were dropping dead in the Tule fog. I lived in the valley for more than a dozen years and thought it was a great place to hide a murderer, although an unlikely place for a retirement village. However, I’ve since discovered several.

Diary of Murder, the second novel in my Logan and Cafferty series, is set in Wyoming, where I now reside. The state’s severe winter weather and isolated areas make it fertile ground for mystery novels. Unfortunately, it’s becoming one of the methamphetamine capitals of the nation and that serves as the background for my book.

Murder on the Interstate begins along I-40 in northern Arizona, where my protagonists, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. The plot takes them to the Phoenix-Scottsdale area and the Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, where a chemical spill contaminates the Arizona Canal as far west as Sun City. I set the novel in Arizona because of the state’s problems with illegal emigrants, murders, home invasions, kidnappings and the ever present drug problem. Again, fertile ground for mystery/suspense novels.

I write about areas where I’ve lived or visited and later Google them to ensure accuracy although I may be familiar with the setting. I’m currently working on an historical mystery based on an actual event, which took place here in Wyoming in 1889. I’ve visited the area often and have taken copious pictures, but will return again before I write the conclusion. It’s a breathtaking setting not far from Independence Rock, where hundreds of thousands of travelers stopped to carve their names along the Oregon Trail. A great many of them died along the way, which lends the area an eerie feeling—at least for me. I hope I’ll be able to convey that feeling to my readers.

In some novels, settings hold an equal footing with characters and subject matter. What would Hemingway’s Old Man have done without the Sea? Or Sherlock Holmes without Baker Street? A mystery set in a New York tenement has an entirely different tone than one set in a Beverly Hills mansion. So, when plotting a novel, consider where best to place your protagonist in order to produce maximum mystery, emotion, conflict and suspense.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My Writing Routine

I’m often ask about my writing routine. How it evolved, whether it breaks down from time to time and how I jump start it when it does.

I consider myself fortunate to live on a mountaintop at 7,000 feet—and no, I don’t need oxygen. (I’ve been asked that question.) What better place to write? I rise between six and seven each morning and go straight to my computer in my pajamas with a bowl of cereal. By fortunate I mean all those hours of uninterrupted writing. We only have cell phone service available here and that doesn’t work half the time, so I’m usually not bothered by telemarketers. My life may sound boring to some but my husband and I are basically hermits who make a trip to town once or twice once or twice a month to buy supplies and visit friends; less often during the winter. It takes planning but the solitude and beauty of the landscape are well worth any inconveniences isolation may cause.

A cup of chai tea topped with whipped cream opens my eyes in the mornings while I answer email and check on my books’ sales numbers. I then launch into one of three books I’m currently working on: my fourth Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novel, (tentatively titled Magnets for Murder), second historical (No Escape: the Sweetwater Tragedy), and another book of interviews (The Mystery Writers) from my blog, Mysterious Writers. So, when I occasionally hit a blank wall—I hate the term “writer’s block”—I switch from the manuscript I’m currently working on to another. And if all else fails, I sit on the back deck and watch deer and antelope roam our land. I also enjoy watching the neighboring rancher’s horses as well as the mountain scenery, whether green with grass or covered in snow. That always gets my creative juices flowing. But, because I began my writing career as a journalist and was trained to sit down and write, I rarely hit a snag.

I’m also asked how I develop my ideas. Do I plot in advance or write by the seat of my pants?

I’m defintely a pantser. My characters are so familiar by now that they’re old friends whom I look forward to visiting every day. I always read the chapter I worked on the day before, making minor changes, which carries me into that day’s work. I use the film strip method, which means I watch and listen to my characters in my mind’s eye and type as fast as I can to keep up with them. I rarely plot in advance and only outline my nonfiction books. I sometimes write myself into a corner although not very often. I also enjoy doing research at night while working on a book.

When asked for advice from fledgling writers I usually tell them that when I finish a book I place it aside for a few weeks, then take it out and read it as though someone else had written it. I then edit again before I consider it finished.

The best advice I’ve received from other writers over the years is to never send out a manuscript before it’s finished. Aspiring writers are so anxious to see their books in print that they send them out too soon. If a freelance editor is affordable, by all means hire one before you seek publication. And make sure that your manuscript is the very best you can produce before you send it to a publisher or go the indie route. Especially if you self publish.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I received this from my brother and I'm passing it along:

MERRY CHRISTMAS

I'm making a conscious effort to wish everyone
a Merry Christmas this year ...

My way of saying that I am celebrating
the birth Of Jesus Christ.
So I am asking my email friends,
if you agree with me,
to please do the same.
And if you'll pass this on to
your email friends, and so on...
maybe we can prevent one more
American tradition from being lost in the sea of
"Political Correctness."



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A White Christmas


It’s snowing up a storm here on the mountain—pun intended—our eighth storm of the season,  and from the amount of accumulation, it’s sure to be a White Christmas.  Unless, of course, one of our famous Wyoming windstorms comes up and blows all this white stuff to Nebraska.
Having grown up in Los Angeles, where it only snowed once duirng my formative years, it doesn’t bring  back memories of Christmas past, although I do remember scooping up an inch or two of snow with my bunny fur mittens (and ruining them) while in junior high. The storm caused multiple car accidents in southern California that day although the kids had the snow well scooped up and thrown at each other before the noon lunch break. We also made snowballs to stash in the freezer for a hot summer day.
I didn’t grow up in an affluent family but Santa always brought us several nice gifts—not great by today’s standards—by enough to get excited about.  On Christmas Eve, Dad would read us the poem, “The Night Before Christmas” and I can still almost recite it entirely  by heart.  I later read the poem to my own five children.
Mom always prepared a gigantic turkey with a large table full of festive food and the best homemade dinner rolls I’ve ever eaten. No wonder we always had a houseful of relatives and friends for dinner. And since I was usually the only girl present, it was my job to clear the table and wash the dishes. That was during the dark ages— before dishwashers—and the other kids always managed to disappear. With my hands in the soaps suds, I dreamed up stories that I later wrote down, including my first novel when I was nine. (Thank goodness it was never published.)

My four younger brothers and I were close in age and I was a tomboy because I was the only girl in the neighborhood, with the exception of my friend, Diane, who lived half a mile away on another hill, and is still my friend to this day.  I remember sitting at her player piano and pretending to play when we were five or six years old. Now I can’t remember what I had for lunch. But the Christmas holidays bring back fond memories of family togetherness and the best food I’ve ever eaten.
When all this frenetic shopping and gift wrapping is over and everyone’s stuffed with Christmas feasts, I hope we’ll all take a moment to remember why we celebrate CHRISTmas. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wyoming "Firsts"



I recently edited an unusual book,Wyoming Historical Trivia, by J. J. Hammond, which contains some interesting, disturbing and amusing facts about Wyoming, including the state's many "firsts."

Which state first gave women the right to vote?

A bill granting Wyoming women the right to vote was signed into law by John Campbell, first territorial governor on December 10, 1869, but it was a Utah woman who cast the first vote on February 14, 1870. The Utah Territorial Legislature had passed its suffrage law four days earlier. Wyoming women didn’t vote until August of that year, but they, unlike Utah women, were allowed to hold public office.

Who was this nation’s first woman bailiff?

Mary Atkinson of Albany County, Wyoming, was appointed to her job in 1870, as was Esther Hobart Morris, this nation’s first woman justice of the peace.

When did the first all-women jury serve?

They were sworn in on March 7, 1870, in the town of Laramie, Wyoming.

Which Wyoming town was governed entirely by women?

Jackson was governed from 1920-1921 entirely by women. Grace Miller was elected mayor and Rose Crabtree defeated her husband, Henry, the former mayor, for a city council seat. The all-women council also approved the election of Pearl Williams as town marshal and Edna Huff as the Jackson health officer, among others.

Who was Wyoming’s first woman doctor?

Lillian Heath Nelson was one of three doctors in 1881 to perform an autopsy on outlaw George Manuse, aka “Big Nose George” Parrott. The autopsy was performed by removing the top of the outlaw’s skull to determine any criminal abnormalities. None apparently was found. Nelson reportedly dressed like a man and wore pistols strapped to her hips while studying obstetrics with a Wyoming doctor. (I’m not making this up.)

Who had shoes made from Big Nose George’s hide?

Dr. J. E. Osborne, who performed the outlaw’s autopsy, had shoes and a medical bag crafted from” Big Nose” George’s hide. The doctor, who became Wyoming’s governor (1893-95) is said to have worn the shoes while holding office. The shoes and George’s skull are on display at the Carbon County Museum. (I  believe that’s another first, and hopefully the only time it happened.)

There are many other firsts: Yellowstone Park was the first nationally designated park, Devil’s Tower the first national monument, and the nation’s first ranger station was established 30 miles west of Cody, Wyoming, in 1903, in the Shoshone National Forest. Also, the first library system was established in Laramie County in 1886.

And last but certainly not least, the first woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, was elected in 1925 and was later appointed by FDR to head the U.S. Mint, a position she held  until 1953.

Wyoming Historical Trivia is on sale for 99 cents on Kindle
 and Nook and will be available in print before Christmas.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Holidays!

The "Mystery We Write" Virtual Book Tour ended last night at midnight, and it was both fun and exhilarating. We made new friends and acquired new readers as well as giving away over 60 of our mystery novels, in the spirit of Christmas.

I'd like to thank Anne K. Albert for arranging the tour as well as my fellow mystery writers:

Tim Hallinan http://www.timothyhallinan.com/blog/
Jackie King http://bnbmysteries.blogspot.com/
M. M. Gornell http://mmgornell.wordpress.com/
Mike Orenduff http://thepotthief.blogspot.com/
Earl Staggs: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com/
Beth Anderson http://www.bethanderson-hotclue.com/blog/
Ron Benrey http://blog.benrey.com/
John M. Daniel http://johnmdaniel.blogspot.com/
Pat Browning http://pbrowning.blogspot.com/

 I hope you'll continue to visit our blog sites and read and share our books. And most of all, I wish everyone the happiest and merriest Christmas and New Year!

A list of my ebook and print winners are on the right side panel. Please get in touch at MedallionBooks@aol.com if you haven't heard from me.

Best wishes,

Jean

Make a Writer happy: Buy books for Christmas!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Novel Settings by Marilyn Meredith


Welcome to the mountain, Marilyn, on this last day of our "Mystery We Write" Holiday tour. It's been a lot of fun and it's great to have you here. Please tell us why novel settings are so  important.

I judge a lot of writing contests and read many books by new writers they’ve self-published and I often see the same problem—a lack of setting. It’s very disconcerting to read about two or three people having a conversation or doing something in an unmentioned location. I want to know where people are while they’re talking. Are they in a kitchen? If so whose kitchen and what does it look like? What does it smell like? So much can be added to what’s going on by including the setting.

Setting is important. Readers like to learn about new places whether they are real or fictional. If you’re going to use a real place be sure you are accurate when describing places and how to get there. If you aren’t, someone will let you know about your errors.

If you make up a place, be sure to keep track of where you put things, the names of the places, and the geography. If it’s in a certain place in a particular state, be sure to have trees and flowers and geographical details that are true to that area.

What’s in the location and setting can add another dimension to your story. Think about the obstacles your character will face because to what’s around him or her.

Don’t forget weather. Weather can add to the tension and the atmosphere of the story. Decide on the time of year for your tale and what weather goes along with it in the area you’ve placed your characters.

Smells can add a lot too. Take a deep breath every time you enter someone’s home. What does it smell like? What about when you’re in the city? Or the country? You are always surrounded by smells, use them in your writing.

And when is your story taking place? Is it a period piece? If so, be sure to be accurate about the technology that is or isn’t available, what is going on politically and historically, what kind of clothes people wear and foods they eat.

If it’s present day, let the reader know right away. Have your characters use the technology that everyone uses today—unless of course, one of them absolutely hates cell phones, or won’t touch a computer as one of his character traits.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series is set in the Southern Sierra of California. The town of Bear Creek has a definite resemblance to the town I live in though I’ve moved it a 1000 feet higher in the mountains—giving the area better trees and the possibility of more snow in winter. Another reason I wanted to change the name of the town was because businesses change too often in my town. By the time a book came out where I named a particular restaurant it might be closed.

Nearby is the Bear Creek Indian Reservation which is quite similar to the Tule River Indian Reservation that is close to where I live. In Bears Are Us, Tempe doesn’t have a reason to visit the reservation though she does in several of the other books in the series. I do use some of the Tule River Indian’s legends in my books.

Obviously, there are bears in Bears Are Us. We have an occasionally bear visit in the lower elevations—but having Bear Creek be higher makes if more plausible that bears would become a nuisance and in some cases a threat.

Deputy Tempe Crabtree has her hands full when bears turn up in and around Bear Creek, a young teen commits suicide and his parents’ actions are suspicious, a prominent woman files a complaint against Tempe and her preacher husband Hutch, a love affair from long ago comes to light, and a woman suffering from dementia disappears.



Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Bears With Us from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel is Angel Lost, the third from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Central Coast chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dialog Tags by Award-Winning J. Michael Orenduff

Welcome to my mountaintop, Mike. I've been a reader-fan since I read The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein. You arrived at a good time. The sun's shining and the snow's melting. Have a cuppa coffee and tell us about dialog tags.

Robert Parker was one of the most successful crime writers of all time, having penned almost seventy books in the Spenser, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall series.  He wrote a thousand words every day, no more and no less. His many books in the pipeline led me to quip a year after his death that he had published more books dead than I have alive. 
           
In a review of one of Parker’s books shortly before he died, I was surprised by the reviewer’s criticism of Parker’s reliance on “he said” and “I said” in dialog. I had read all his books and never noticed any overuse of dialog tags. So I grabbed a Parker off the shelf and started reading. The reviewer was right. Parker ended most sentences in his dialogs with “he said,” “she said” or “I said.” I was astonished that I had never noticed. I finally put it down to Parker’s prose being so good that he could get away with it.
           
If I could miss that in Robert Parker, maybe I could also miss it in my own writing. So I reviewed my own use of dialog tags. I found I didn’t use them as frequently as Parker.  But I did notice in my review of my dialogs that my most successful ones used fewer or no tags at all.
            
In the time since I read that review, I’ve given a lot of thought to dialog tags. I always notice them when I read. I have come to believe the best dialog has no tags.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“It’s the restaurant syndrome, Hubie.”
“Restaurant syndrome? I’ve never heard of it."
“Maybe you know it by its original name, le syndrome de restaurant.”
I groaned. “Please, no more French words and phrases."
“But that’s it. That’s the syndrome. You start working in a restaurant, and you have to learn all those French terms. It begins to affect your thinking, like the twins thing.”
“The twins thing?”
“Yeah. You know, like how twins have this special language that makes it easy for them to communicate with each other, but it messes them up when they try to deal with normal people. Restaurant workers are like that. We may start out normal, but after you begin using words like prix fixe, hors-d’œuvres, à la carte, escargots, and raison d'être, you get a little crazy.”
Raison d'être?”
“I think it’s a raisin soufflé.”

This passage is a conversation between my protagonist, Hubie, and his sidekick, Susannah. The context makes it clear they are alone at a table in their favorite watering hole. How does the reader know the first speaker is Hubie? Because he is the one having problems. But even if the reader didn’t make the connection, it is clear Hubie is speaking because the response mentions him. If could have started the dialog with: “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” I said


That would not be bad. But I like it better without the tag. People don’t use dialog tags when they speak, so keeping tags out of your dialog makes it easier for the reader to fall into that perfect state of mind when reading dialog – thinking you are there listening to the characters.

***

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson wrote of Michael Orenhuff's mystery: "The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras has all the components of a great read – an intricate plot, quirky characters, crackling dialog, and a surprise ending. What’s more, Orenduff successfully captures the essence of New Mexico through humor, romance, and even a little philosophical musing. New Mexico’s rich history, people, food, and landscape come alive on its pages. . ." 

You can visit the Lefty award-winning author at his website: http://www.orenduff.org/

Monday, December 5, 2011

When It All Comes Together by Earl Staggs


Hey, Earl, I'm glad you braved the icy roads and foot of snow to visit us here on the mountain. I just finished reading your  book of short stories and enjoyed them very much. Have a  seat by the fire and a cup of coffee to warm you. Then you can tell us about your work. 

Sometimes the planets align and all is right with the world. Sometimes your gravy and your biscuit end up at the same time for one last mouthful. Sometimes, for writers, a story idea comes along, you write it, and it all comes together perfectly at the end. That happened to me with a story called “Where Billy Died.”

The story idea came when my wife and I took a day trip with friends to the tiny town of Hico, Texas. There I learned a local legend. They have convincing evidence that one of the most famous outlaws of the old west did not die at the wrong end of a gun as the history books claim.  

Nope, they insist, he lived out his final years in Hico and died there in 1950, a month after his 90th birthday. I visited the museum devoted to him and stood on the exact spot where they say he dropped dead of a heart attack. Whether the legend is true or not didn’t matter. I was fascinated and knew I had to use it in a story someday. 

But, I reminded myself, I don’t write westerns.

So I came up with a contemporary story about a modern day bounty hunter named Jack who travels to Hico to bring back a young bail jumper named Billy Joe Raynor. Piece of cake, thinks Jack, until he discovers he has a tail. The chief bonebreaker for a New Jersey mobster has followed Jack to Hico.  Is it because Jack beat up the mobster’s brother, or because of something young Billy did before he skipped town? Jack only knows he’s tangled with the hulking bruiser before and will have to again. Jack doesn’t know he’ll also get tangled up in Hico’s legend about another young outlaw named Billy and that the past and present will merge in a surprising conclusion.

I’m sure all writers feel the same when a story comes together as well as this one did for me. I hope it happens again someday.

“Where Billy Died” was published by Untreed Reads and is available for $1.99 at:

Now, to everyone who read all the way to here, you’re invited to drop by my Blog/Website at: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com/and visit with my special guest for the day. While you're there, you can read Chapter One of Memory of a Murder, my first mystery novel, which earned thirteen Five Star reviews. Also while you’re there, don't forget to sign up for the drawing on December 9. The first name drawn from those who leave a comment will receive a print copy of Memory of a Murder.  The second name drawn will have a choice of an ebook or print copy of Short Stories by Earl Staggs, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.

*****
Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel Memory of a Murder earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conferences and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups.

You can email earlstaggs@sbglobal.net.
His website is: http://earlwstaggs.worpress.com/

Sunday, December 4, 2011

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Frank, Incense and Muriel by Anne K. Albert

Welcome to the Laramie Mountains, Anne. It's 11 degres and more snow coming down, but there's a crackling fire and a pot of coffee as well as plenty of chai tea. It's  good to have you brave the cold to visit. I've enjoyed your award-winning book and look forward to the next in your Muriel Reeves mystery series.

Thanks for featuring me today, Jean. It’s hard to believe today is Day 10 of the second 2011 "Mystery We Write Blog Tour."

The holiday season is here, which is rather fitting because Frank, Incense and Muriel is set the week before Christmas when the stress of the holidays is enough to frazzle anyone’s nerves. Tensions increase when a friend begs Muriel to team up with a sexy private investigator to find a missing woman. Forced to deal with an embezzler, kidnapper, and femme fatale is bad enough, but add Muriel’s zany yet loveable family to the mix and their desire to win the coveted D-DAY (Death Defying Act of the Year) Award, and the situation can only get worse. This cozy, comedic mystery is recipient of the prestigious 2011 Holt Medallion Award of Merit.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Why are you here, Frankie?”
“My client wants you to help with the investigation.”

“Who’s your client?”
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I’d rather not say until after you make up your mind.”
“Ah. Client confidentiality. I get it. So tell me about Rachel.”
“She didn’t show up for work this morning and my client hopes you’ll be able to shed some light on what happened to her.”
“Me?”
“You knew her.”
So did most of the football team, but I kept that to myself. “Forget Rachel. I’m curious why you’d agree to let me–someone you haven’t seen in fifteen years, as well as a complete novice–work on one of your investigations?”

He fixed me with a level stare but before he could reply, the outside door, that lead from the kitchen to the backyard, swung open.

“You-hoo, Muriel.”
“It’s my Aunt Val,” I explained. “We’re supposed to go to the mall after we drop off her dog at-”
Loud, frantic yowls drowned out the remainder of my sentence. The massive, furry creature galloped toward us. Long legs a blur, its claws scraped the ceramic tile like fingernails on a blackboard. Thick blobs of drool splattered in all directions. I braced myself for the inevitable gooey assault, but the animal bypassed me completely.
Frankie bolted to his feet. “What the–?” 

The dog pinned him against the kitchen counter. Prancing on hind legs with uncontrollable delight, it plastered his snout against Frankie’s crotch. A damp spot spread out from the zipper of his trousers and slowly stretched across his groin.
Oblivious to the confrontation between man and beast, my aunt ambled inside the kitchen, and handed me a round cookie tin. A rosy-cheeked Santa smiled up at me.
I gave the tin a gentle shake and asked, “Day two?”

The dog made yelping sounds. At least I think it was the dog. It was hard to tell with his muzzle embedded beneath Frankie’s thighs.

“You bet,” Val said, referring to her gift. “I made a dozen mincemeat tarts. Each decorated with two of the cutest little ceramic turtledoves you’ve ever seen.” She shrugged off her coat and gloves, and then spun in a circle as she patted her hair. “What do you think?”
I wasn’t certain if neon red curls coated with multiple layers of hairspray until each strand glistened like polished brass suited a short, plump Caucasian woman nearing her sixty-fifth birthday, but I decided to throw caution to the wind. “I like it.”

“Me, too.” With that, she turned her attention to Frankie. “He doesn’t bite, you know.”

“That’s reassuring.” P Placing his hand between his fly and the calico-colored dog, he nudged the animal away. It refused to take the hint, and wedged its nose deeper. The yelping sounds continued.

Yeah. It was the dog. I was sure of it now.
I watched the process repeated three more times. Nudge, nudge. Sniff. Sniff. Yelp. The damp spot on Frankie’s slacks now stretched all the way to his knees. A thick layer of mucous coated his hands. I might have laughed out loud, but I’d been on the receiving end of that goop more times than I cared to recall.
Val strolled over to Frankie. “Hey, Big Boy.”
He grinned. I rolled my eyes.

“That’s the name of the dog,” I told him.

To read more of Frank, Incense and Muriel click here: http://amzn.to/pg67sx.
Thanks for featuring me, Jean. Before I say adios, I’d like to encourage readers to enter my Comment-to-Win Contest!
CONTEST DETAILS: Three names will be selected at random from comments on all 14 of Anne’s Mystery We Write Blog Tour guest appearances. Winners will receive an e-copy of Frank, Incense and Muriel, and book one of the Muriel Reeves Mysteries. Visit http://tinyurl.com/3hzpqvv for her schedule and contest details. Good luck!

* * *
Anne K. Albert’s award winning stories chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul…all with a delightful touch of humor. A member of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and married to her high school sweetheart for more than a quarter of a century, it's a given she'd write mystery and romantic suspense. When not writing she loves to travel, visit friends and family, and of course, read using ‘Threegio’ her cherished and much beloved Kindle 3G!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is it Mystery, Suspense or a Thriller? by Beth Anderson



Welcome to my snowy mountaintop, Beth, on this ninth day of the "Mystery We Write" virtual holiday tour. Have a cuppa chai tea to warm up and tell us about the differences between mysteries, suspense and thriller novels while I toss another log on the fire. Then I'll show you my porcelain doll collection.

Okay, first a few notes to new writers trying to decide whether your book will be a mystery or a suspense. At the outset, there are two big differences. A traditionally published mystery is shorter, the norm is around 70 to 75,000 words. With digital publishing, the word count doesn’t matter so much anymore until you get into the hundred thousand word range. At that point the publisher, no matter who it is, has to make a decision because now you’re going into a bigger print version, which will cost more to print.
A traditionally published suspense, on the other hand, has a much higher word count, anywhere from 85,000 words up to over a hundred thousand, depending on how long you’ve been writing and for whom. Also, in a suspense, you often (but not always) know who the criminal is, or at least see him in action from almost the beginning, and the book is involved with following both criminal and detective/heroine/hero through the process of catching the criminal.
Suspense is also split out into more sub-sub-genres. Female in Jeopardy, femjep, was big a few years ago, but there's not so much emphasis on that anymore because by and large, people don’t really like to see women in serious physical danger. Nowadays, they expect women to be stronger and smarter than any villain, so make sure your suspense protagonist is sharp and strong, or at least working toward that. (Actually, that’s good advice no matter what you’re writing.)
Then there’s Romantic Suspense, which often contains a scenario where the heroine is never sure, until the last moment, whether the man she’s attracted to is the hero or the villain. Those books can and generally do contain sex, and they will almost always be promoted as Romantic Suspense so that the reader will know what she’s getting. The market in women’s fiction is always pretty good for romantic suspense because no matter what, people love romance, and the more the better, to that audience.
A lot of what you do here depends on who—thinking ahead to your long term career goals—you want your eventual market to be. If you want mainly women, by all means hang a lot of romance and hot sex in there, but if you’re aiming for the mainstream market, be aware that most men won’t voluntarily read books promoted as romantic suspense. I didn’t say all men, but I do say most.
Also be aware that in a traditionally published category romantic suspense, as in a Harlequin Superromance, romance takes precedence, with a very strong suspense subplot.
In mainstream/single title romantic suspense, suspense takes precedence. Your own sense of pacing, with your publisher’s guidelines, will determine how much of each element you should have. But generally speaking, just so you know, you don’t want sex between the protagonists to be your ultra-main focus in any mainstream mystery or suspense novel because it distracts from the mystery and becomes primarily a romance, also limiting your male audience.
Pure suspense is a longer book in which the reader often knows almost from the beginning who the killer is, and the suspense comes from trying to keep the hero or heroine (maybe both) from getting killed while they figure it out. The stakes are very high, uncertainty is constant and enormous, and has to be kept that way throughout the whole story. These sell well and almost certainly will for a long, long time.
In pure suspense novels, romance is allowed, but don’t try writing any of those eight-page detailed love scenes in this type of book if you’re aiming at the mainstream audience because for one thing, if you do and it’s bought, particularly by any traditional publisher, it’s going to be promoted as a romantic suspense, and your market will automatically become mainly women. Just so you know.
That’s not all bad, because women buy the majority of books. But if you want the word “romantic” left out of your promotion, leave the romance out of the book, or only have a hint of it. In other words, if you want to hit the mainstream market, your suspense novel shouldn’t be full of one hot and heavy love scene after another because to many traditional suspense readers, as I already mentioned, the sex distracts from the plot. I’ve heard them say this time and again, although there may be exceptions and truly, sex in mysteries is more and more accepted now than it was ten years ago. So it’s up to you to decide who you want your reading audience to be.
But also be aware, pacing has a lot to do with how your book is perceived. If you have a large chunk of nothing but mystery, your reader is going to be expecting it to be mostly mystery. If you switch to long, protracted sex scenes right in the middle of this book, which started out all mystery, you’ve got a huge pacing problem that throws the whole story out of whack. So decide at the beginning which it’s going to be, and pace your love scenes accordingly, weaving them in and out of the main plot, which is the mystery.
Of course there are exceptions. Brand name romance authors who have branched out into mainstream suspense, Nora Roberts for one. There are quite a few big name former strictly romance authors who are doing this now, with long, long sex scenes, but keep in mind, they’ve made their bones. Their names are already built and their names will sell the book both to publisher and public.
So let your protags have sex if you want, but don’t let them have overly graphic sex or it can easily turn into erotica and that's a whole ‘nother discussion (by someone other than me).
Next we have thrillers, which can be considered either general fiction or crime fiction, depending on the plot. Steve King is a master at this category, as is Dean Koontz, but there’s plenty of room for more because the American public loves thrillers and the good ones out there are making big money.
To further complicate this issue, consider Jurassic Park, a thriller for sure, although the villains are prehistoric animals. This would fall under general fiction, not mystery, if you’re looking for it in the library.
The main thread to watch for in a thriller is that an extremely high level of mind-blowing excitement is maintained all the way throughout the novel—with small dips from time to time to allow the reader time to catch his breath. If you can do that and keep doing it for five hundred pages or so, you’ve got the potential of having yourself a major bidding-war blockbuster.
Thrillers also make great movies because they’re so visual, and publishers love books that have a high chance of becoming a movie because it increases their book sales. So in writing one of these, keep in mind the level of sophistication of your potential readers, and realize that these books will appeal to the mainstream reader even though they’re basically part of the mystery genre.
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Beth Anderson is the author of seven crime novels. Two of her books have been nominated for the International Frankfurt Award and two were EPPIE finalists in their e-book editions. Her bestselling release, Second Generation, won the AllAboutMurder Bloody Dagger Award, the Rendezvous Review Magazine Rosebud Award, and the FMAM (Futures Magazine) Fire to Fly Award.

 

"Mystery We Write" Holiday Virtual Book Tour, Nov. 25-Dec. 9

The virtual tour features 15 mystery writers and a 60 plus novel giveaway. Blog visitors who leave comments at the individual sites are eligible to win mystery novels from writers: Marilyn Meredith, Earl Staggs, Tim Hallinan, J. Michael Orenduff, Anne K. Albert, Beth Anderson, Alice Duncan, John Daniel, M.M. Gornell, Wendy Gager, Jackie King, Jinx Schwartz, Pat Browning, Ron Benrey and me.

I’m giving away 14 Kindle or Nook books—one at each blog site--as well as three print copies at the conclusion of the tour. I would love to be eligible to win some of the great books offered by my fellow tour writers.

A lot of good writing advice and interviews are going to be featured, including book excerpts and photos of the writers’ latest books and work spaces. You can win one or more mystery novels by leaving a comment and email address at as many host sites as you have time to visit during the next two weeks. The tour ends on December 8.
My tour schedule is listed at: "Mystery We Write" Holiday Tour along with links to all the other blog sites. There's also a slideshow of all our books on the site, created by our tour coordinator Anne K. Albert.

I’m appearing at Pat Browning's site, talking about some of  the strange ways I've researched my novels.

I’ll also be signing books December 3 at Tomcat Learning Center in the Sunrise Mall , Casper, Wyoming, from 1-3 p.m., so if you’re in the area, please stop in to say hello (if you can find a parking space during the Craft's Fair).

We wish you the happiest of holidays and hope to see you along the tour.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite First Lines by Pat Browning


Pat Browning was born and raised in Oklahoma. A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, her professional writing credits go back to the 1960s, when she was a stringer for The Fresno Bee while working full time in a Hanford law office.

Her globetrotting in the 1970s led her into the travel business, first as a travel agent, then as a correspondent for TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco. In the 1990s, she signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel.

Pat's first mystery, Full Circle, was set in a fictional version of Hanford, and published through iUniverse in 2001. It was revised and reissued as Absinthe of Malice by Krill Press in 2008. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books:
http://tinyurl.com/23pojdm.

Welcome to my snowy mountaintop, Pat,  on this 6th day of our holiday virtual tour. Grab a cuppa chai tea to warm yourself before you tell us what attracts you to books.

The first question I have is always: What is this book about? You can’t depend on cover blurbs to tell you. Often they’re so much gush. I’m not impressed when some famous author says the book in question is the best book ever written. How do I know the famous author even read it?

For me, the easiest way to find out what a book’s about is to check online at Amazon.com. If a book has been published it will be listed there with some kind of story line or summary. Yet even when I know what a book’s about, I like to hold it in my hand. I like to riffle through the pages to get a feeling for writing style, characters, dialogue.

I always open a book to the first page. A funny first line gets my attention. Other than that I can’t really say why the first few lines pull me into a book or turn me off, but here are some opening lines that I love, for whatever reason.

My favorite first line of all time:

“He loved to watch fat women dance.” -- From Goodnight, Irene by Jan Burke:

Some others I like:

"I was a nice Jewish boy who had gone astray." -- Tropic of Murder by Lev Raphael.

"My mind was on Steinbeck; my foot was on a hand." --Till the End of Tom by Gillian Roberts.

"Afterwards, Sarah could never be quite sure whether it was the moonlight or that soft, furtive sound that had awakened her." -- Death in  Kashmir by M.M. Kaye.

"Through the slit in the closed drapes, a thin bar of afternoon sunlight fell across the soldier's chest, highlighting the small, dark bullet hole." – Some Welcome Home by Sharon Wildwind.

”My back’s broken,” I said. “I’m too old to sit in a cotton field in the middle of the night.” Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning.

Not a complete list, but it’s a start. Writers take note: The first line is the hardest but it may sell your book.

Metaphor for Murder is my work in progress. Log line: Small town reporter Penny Mackenzie tracks an offbeat Christmas story and finds herself in the middle of a murder and the mysterious desecration of an old Chinese cemetery. Stay tuned …

Praise for Absinthe of Malice: “Browning's obvious knowledge of the small town newspaper business is a perfect background for the savvy Penny Mackenzie, who by the end of the book has not only solved the mystery of several deaths and disappearances, righted an ancient wrong or two, but also has her personal life set on a most interesting track.” – Donna Fletcher Crow, author of The Shadow of Reality, Book 1 of The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, and A Midsummer Eve's Nightmare, Book 2 in the series.

ABSINTHE OF MALICE can be ordered through any bookstore or online from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
Barnes and Noble, print and Nook
http://tinyurl.com/43lgk5u
Amazon, print and Kindle
http://tinyurl.com/3ry9gya

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Falling in Love With Wordsmithing by Jackie King



Jackie King loves books, words, and writing tall tales. She especially enjoys murdering the people she dislikes on paper. She's a full time writer who sometimes teaches writing at Tulsa Community College. Her latest novel, The Inconveninet Corpse, is a traditional mystery. She's  also written five novellas as co-author of the Foxy Hens Series. Warm Love on Cold Streets is her latest novella and is included in the anthology The Foxy Hens Meet an Adventurer. Her nonfiction book is Devoted to Cooking. She's a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Oklahoma Writers Federation, and Tulsa Night Writers.

Jackie, it's great to have you join us here on this first day of the "Mystery We Write Holiday Book Tour." We've been planning the tour for months and it's finally arrived.

Jean, what a delight to visit your mountaintop. A cyber-hug to you and to each writer and reader who stops by. (Yes, I’m one of those ‘huggers,’ so grit your teeth, close your eyes and endure a quick trespass into your private cyberspace.)

Today I’d like to share an anecdote from my writing past. I was 22 and visiting my mother in the tiny town of Tipton, Oklahoma, when on a bright summer day, I learned the importance of revision. (Warning to authors and would-be authors: I started writing early in my life and then allowed other things to interfere with my love for the craft of storytelling. Don’t let this happen to you.) I’ll call my little story:

Falling in Love with Wordsmithing

Do you love or hate revision? When I first started writing I hated what seemed to me a tedious and mostly unnecessary exercise. What could need correcting except perhaps, punctuation and spelling? I had stories to tell and a passion to write these tales from the depth of my heart. I did a fair job of it, too, I thought. I even managed to sell a couple of short stories. (This was some time ago and the short story market was good.)

My mother, an English teacher, also wrote and hung around with folks having the same inclination. One of her more successful writer friends, a local journalist named Vera Holding, dropped by with a draft she’d just banged out on her typewriter. (Those were the clickety-clackety, non-electrical machines that writers, businesses and students used for letters, manuscripts and such back in the dark ages.)

“Would you listen to my story and give me so me feedback?” Vera asked, and we agreed, so she began to read aloud. I had seen this woman’s published work and expected smooth and polished prose, but that didn’t happen. Her story was so bad I couldn’t think of anything to suggest that might help. Her work was unsalable in my opinion. So I decided to be kind and lie. “That’s just fine,” I said, and smiled.

Mother, who knew the woman and her work much better than I did, made some suggestions to strengthen the plot, but nothing could save that story. Or so I thought. Her work had no plot; her characters were shallow and her writing seemed lifeless. But bless her heart, I thought, she’d not learn that from me.

The next day Vera came back and asked to read her revised story aloud. I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes, disappointed that I had to listen to that drivel a second time. But I was raised to be polite, so I folded my hands in my lap, crossed my ankles, and pasted a smile on my lips.

When Vera began to read something magical happened. The day before I’d been bored and even a little embarrassed by her writing. Now I was transfixed. Somehow this author had breathed life into her characters, their dialogue and the narration. The plot was still weak, but the protagonist was so compelling that I knew the story would sell. And it did.

That day I became a devotee to the power of revision. I also learned the difference between a wanna-be writer and a professional writer. Learning and applying good writing technique takes time and many, many hours of writing. But anyone who is willing to make the effort and to revise their work until its right, can master this skill.

Years have passed and wordsmithing is my favorite part of writing.

Thanks, Jackie. Great story.

Jean, thanks a million for inviting me to visit. I hope each person who visits your site will leave a comment!

My pleasure.

You can learn more about Jackie by visiting her website: www.jacqking.com

Her blogsite: Cozy Mysteries and Other Madness: http://bnbmysteries.blogspot.com

Her novel, Inconvenient Corpse : (including Kindle for $2.99)  http://amzn.to/gMv7CH

Barnes & Noble (including Nook for $2.99)  http://bit.ly/fovbLR

Jackie would like to have readers ‘friend’ her on Facebook where she's listed as Jacqueline King.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Mystery We Write" Holiday Virtual Book Tour Begins Friday!

The virtual tour kicks off Friday with 15 mystery writers taking part--and a 60 plus novel giveaway. Blog visitors who leave comments at the individual sites are eligible to win mystery novels from writers: Marilyn Meredith, Earl Staggs, Tim Hallinan, J. Michael Orenduff, Anne K. Albert, Beth Anderson, Alice Duncan, John Daniel, M.M. Gornell, Wendy Gager, Jackie King, Jinx Schwartz, Pat Browning, Ron Benrey and me.

I’m giving away 14 Kindle or Nook books—one at each blog site--as well as three print copies at the conclusion of the tour. I would love to be eligible to win some of the great books offered by my fellow tour writers.
A lot of good writing advice and interviews are going to be featured, including book excerpts and photos of the writers’ latest books and work spaces. You can win one or more mystery novels by leaving a comment and email address at as many host sites as you have time to visit during the next two weeks. The tour ends on December 8.
My tour schedule is listed at: "Mystery We Write" Holiday Tour along with links to all the other blog sites. There's also a slideshow of all our books on the site, created by our tour coordinator Anne K. Albert.

I’m appearing at Marilyn Meredith’s blog site Friday to talk about the importance of novel settings, and Jackie King is featured on my blog site to tell us why she fell in love with “wordsmithing.”

I’m also signing books Friday at the Blue Heron bookstore in downtown Casper, Wyoming, from 1-3 p.m., so if you’re in the area, please stop in to say hello (if you can find a parking space on Black Friday).

We wish you the happiest of holidays and hope to see you along the tour.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Impress an Agent (or an Editor)


I was going through a stack of writer magazines, trying to decide whether to toss or keep them when I discovered an article written by agent Lori Perkins. Her essay on impressing an agent made me laugh because the tips are obvious. But I’ve been writing a long time and maybe there’s someone reading this article who doesn’t know the basics.

The most important thing you can do to impress an agent is to submit a cleanly typed and professional query. And never longer than one page because editors are very busy people who read a lot of queries and successful agents receive a thousand or more a month. Make sure your letter of inquiry is on white paper—colored stationery doesn’t impress an agent or grab the right kind of attention. Use 8.5 by 11 inch 20 bond paper. Absolutely nothing lighter.

Perkins said, “A dirty, tattered, handwritten letter” just doesn’t impress," no matter how good your manuscript happens to be. Because she represents a number of horror writers, Perkins receives some strange queries. Some have been written on black paper with white ink or red ink to represent blood. She’s also received computer-generated stationery with vampire bats, skulls and coffin decorations, which wind up buried in the trash.

Use 10 or 12-point type and Times New Roman or Courier typefaces. The agent said not to type chapter heads as they appear in a book. And don’t try to bribe the agent with booze, Cuban cigars, coffee mugs or a box of Vidalia onions. (I’m not making this up.) Your work has to stand on its own merit. Never tell the agent that you have ten completed manuscripts in your closet that you’re willing to share. And wait six to eight weeks to call after you’ve submitted three chapters for her approval. Another NEVER is to tell the agent you’ve tried to sell the book yourself or have been rejected by every editor listed in Writer’s Market. Sounds silly but some would-be writers have done just that.

For heaven sake, don’t lie to impress the agent. There’s a well-told story about a writer who made up a quote from a bestselling novelist, which helped his agent sell the book for a six-figure book deal. When the bestseller heard about it and called The New York Times to repute the quote, the publisher dropped the writer before the ink was dry on his contract.

Perkins also said too much personal information call kill the deal. Wait until an agent-writer relationship has been established before you talk about your ex-spouse or that your car's been repossessed. If it doesn’t pertain to your book, don’t talk about it.

Don’t make assumptions about your book before you’ve even signed the contract. And don’t ask the agent about whether a movie deal will be in the works or how large an advance a publishing company is willing to pay. Start work on your next book and let the agent do her work. Give her your phone number, email address and enclose an S.A.S. E. (self-addressed envelope). And get those three chapters in the mail as soon as possible after they’ve been requested. Or an email attachment, if the agent accepts them. If there’s some kind of delay, be sure to let the agent know.

Don’t forget to briefly list your literary credits. Perkins said, “Don’t be afraid to blow your own horn,” but do it as briefly as possible.