Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Congratulations to Marilyn Levinson, who won a copy of A Murder in Paradise!

The fifth novel in my Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series was released this week on Kindle. The print edition will be available next week. The series features Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, two feisty, 60-year-old amateur sleuths who travel in their motorhome, discovering bodies along the way. Not that they want to stumble over victims, but they seem to be murder magents.

During their vacation trip to northern Texas, they discover a woman's body floating in one of the RV resort lakes not long after they arrive. Immediately the sheriff's prime suspects, they attempt to prove their innocence while the killer continues to plant incriminating evidence against them. During their own investigation, they learn that the woman was hated by nearly everyone in the resort and that she was blackmailing wealthy resort residents. So many suspects and so little time to prove their innocence. . .

Leave a comment with your email address to win a print copy of A Murder in Paradise. Or sign on as a blog site follower.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

On Writing Dialogue

While cleaning out a closet, I found an old copy of The Writer magazine, which contains an article titled, “Your Ultimate Fiction Workout.” I thought I’d paraphrase the section on writing dialogue and pass along some tips that took me years to learn.

Dialogue is the illusion of real conversations, a distilled yet genuine version of how people actually speak. It’s also what isn’t spoken.  If someone says, “Of course I don’t mind,” and throws something to the floor, you know he’s lying.  The old adage that ‘actions speak louder than words’ is true and combining action with dialogue creates a more vivid image.
Dialogue should be precise and to the point. Skip the pleasantries and any unnecessary chit chat. Unless a tornado’s on its way, don’t have your characters discussing the weather, or ask how someone’s feeling unless she's swaddled in bandages.  Skip the speeches and keep dialogue short. A little goes a long way.
Dialogue tags should be kept to a minimum as well as low key.  “He saids” and “she saids” have a way of disappearing into the text, if not used too often, while “he growled” or “she yelled” seem to stand out like stripes on a Hereford.  Few tags are necessary when two people are talking, but three or more speakers need occasional tags.
As for punctuation, a rare exclamation point doesn’t need he emphasized or she shouted following the statement any more than she asked is necessary following a question mark. But most writers, including myself, write unnecessary tags.
Each speaker deserves his own paragraph, and should have a distinctive voice, which includes word choices, accents, cadences and slang.  A reader should be able to determine the character’s age, education, and background from the way he speaks, without writing his words phonetically.
Reading dialogue aloud or tape recording and listening to how speak patterns sound is a good way to learn how to write believable dialogue.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Invisible Ink by Tim Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of the traditionally-published Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers (most recently THE QUEEN OF PATPONG), and the Junior Bender mysteries, which are ebook originals. The newest Junior book is LITTLE ELVISES. Earlier this year, Hallinan conceived and edited a volume of original short stories by twenty first-rate mystery writers, SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, which is available for the Kindle at $3.99, with every penny of the price going to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. (Please buy it.) He lives in Santa Monica and Southeast Asia, and he is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy. His website is

Jean asked for a short piece on “the craft of writing,” and the first thing I did was summon up the questions people ask most often at fan events and bookstores.  And then I thought, no, let's write about the thing nobody asks about: prose style.

Much of the time, I think people confuse fine writing with fancy writing.  (I know I do.)  The phrase that stops the reader in her tracks, the perfectly structured paragraph, the word used in such a striking way the reader thinks, “I want to remember that.”

Well, I'm a contrarian.  I don't like that stuff very much.  I think the ideal prose is pretty much invisible; it's a clean, transparent window through which the reader sees the characters and the action.  Enjoying a book, I believe, is a one-on-one relationship: reader and book.  When the prose calls attention to itself, I think it reminds the reader that there's a third person present, a writer, and that reminds the reader that this world she's caught up in is actually something that someone, probably caffeinated to the gills, sat down and made up for hours and hours.

In other words, these people are just marks on paper.

This was brought home forcefully to me when I heard someone—a professional actor—read the audiobook of my first Poke Rafferty thriller, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART.  In the first chapter, just as all heck breaks loose on a crowded Bangkok sidewalk and and Rafferty realizes his adopted daughter has disappeared after bolting across the street, he pauses and takes stock, and this is what I wrote.

“When in doubt, Rafferty thinks, stop.

“The sky is low enough to scrape a nail against, that peculiar sullen gray that usually precedes one of Bangkok’s frequent rainstorms.”
When the actor got to the line about the sky, he became Orson Welles:  “The sky is low enough to scrape-a-nail-against . . .” and I winced with shame.  The sky was gray and low, okay?  It was gonna rain.  The rest of it is all showing off.
This kind of stuff comes easily to me.  I'm Irish.  I can turn anything into greeting-card poetry, and I do, if I'm not careful.

That's not to say that writing should read like assembly instructions for a barbecue.  It needs to have energy, I think, and personality—but it should be the characters' personality, not the writer's.  When I'm reading something in third person and there's a really snappy description in the narrative, I always think, “Who said that?”  And you know what?  It's not that difficult for the writer to attribute the thought to a character:  “The sky looked to Rafferty as though it were low enough to scrape a nail against.”  It's still not good, but at least we know where it comes from, and the perspective tells us something about Rafferty.

I'm not going to beat this to death.  I think the best prose in fiction is prose that stays out of the way.  The author may be able to turn handstands, but I'm actually interested in the characters, not the author, and the last thing I want when I'm enjoying a book is some five-year-old with an inferiority complex continually yelling, “Look at me.”

When I want to look at you, Mr. or Ms. Author, I'll check out your photo on the back of the book.
I'm appearing today at Mike Orenduff's site:
I'm appearing