Monday, December 15, 2014

Cowboy-Author Maynard Lehman, Part III

Spring and fall roundups were the best of times. "Riding fence and checking on the cattle at calving time, but it was not all work you did in the saddle, There was hay to put up and feeding the cows in the winter, but I didn't mind that too much. I enjoyed breaking in the new saddle and work horses. When I worked at Venables, he's buy a bunch of horses and a lot of times there would be saddle horses. If it looked like there was a saddle mark on a horse, you'd grab it and ride."

Grooming them was a hit and miss practice, whenever the men had time. "We'd trim their hooves and pull a long hair and cockleburs out of their manes and tails. If we were riding in the dust, like working a herd, there would be a ring of muddy sweat around the saddle blanket that we would rub off. That was about the extent of grooming."

While Lehman worked the JK ranch he received $60 a month. After the financial crash of the Great Depression in 1929, "that changed things," he said. "Before the depression the going wage was forty to sixty dollars a month. After the crash you were lucky to find work at any wage. During the early thirties, cattle wasn't worth enough to ship to market. I broke horses for five and a ten dollars each and I broke horses for hay to feed my own horses. The JK Ranch was owned by some people who had a steel mill in Pittsburgh, and when the steel mill went broke so did the ranch in thirty-one. My  job went with it and they still owed me money, the only wages I ever lost. So from then until about nineteen-thirty-seven, it was whatever you could find  to do."

The cowboy worked two winters feeding sheep and hunting coyotes. "And I worked for twenty-five dollars a month. When I worked for CBC I got forty to forty-five a month, but they figured it by the day."

Feeding sheep was a cowboy's anathema. "My dad had a band of sheep, which is one of the reasons I left home," he said laughing. The CBC job was the only job available so he took it because it included hunting coyotes. He also managed to work cattle. The JK, located on the Tongue River, ran a thousand  head of cattle as well as Shire and Morgan horses. "We had one Shire that weighed twenty-four hundred pounds and a couple of other [heavyweights]." There were no real quarter horses. Most were range horses, Morgan and Arabian blood among them. The short-legged range horses, regardless of their bloodlines, were a cowboy's favorites. They were less likely to stumble over their own feet, and made better cutting horses, much like current quarter horses.

Lehman and his cohorts worked long hours during the depression. He worked for the CBC outfit, "and they always said, 'Sell your bedroll and buy a lantern,'" because we'd get in about ten o'clock at night and were up at four-thirty. I worked for them until they cleared the range of all their horses. They ran over two hundred thousand head in seven states, with headquarters in Rawlins, Wyoming. Most of the horse meat was shipped overseas."

The CBC was owned by the Chappel Brothers, who ran a packing plant in Rockford, Illinois, "And their horses were nothing by scrubs. They didn't have a decent horse on the range. Same way with our saddle horses." Most spreads, he said, like the LO and larger ranches, had 75-100 saddle horses available and each cowboy had seven in his string. Most of them, including the CBC, had no strings at all, and "you rode whatever you could catch, whether it was broke, wind broke, it didn't make any difference. You rode it. 

That was the general rule around most horse ranches.Spring and fall roundups were the best of times. "Riding fence and checking on the cattle at calving time, but it was not all work you did in the saddle, There was hay to put up and feeding the cows in the winter, but I didn't mind that too much. I enjoyed breaking in the new saddle and work horses. When I worked at Venables, he's buy a bunch of horses and a lot of times there would be saddle horses. If it looked like there was a saddle mark on a horse, you'd grab it and ride."

Grooming them was a hit and miss practice, whenever the men had time. "We'd trim their hooves and pull a long hair and cockleburs out of their manes and tails. If we were riding in the dust, like working a herd, there would be a ring of muddy sweat around the saddle blanket that we would rub off. That was about the extent of grooming."

While Lehman worked the JK ranch he received $60 a month. After the financial crash of the Great Depression in 1929, "that changed things," he said. "Before the depression the going wage was forty to sixty dollars a month. After the crash you were lucky to find work at any wage. During the early thirties, cattle wasn't worth enough to ship to market. I broke horses for five and a ten dollars each and I broke horses for hay to feed my own horses. 

The JK Ranch was owned by some people who had a steel mill in Pittsburgh, and when the steel mill went broke so did the ranch in thirty-one. My  job went with it and they still owed me money, the only wages I ever lost. So from then until about nineteen-thirty-seven, it was whatever you could find  to do."

The cowboy worked two winters feeding sheep and hunting coyotes. "And I worked for twenty-five dollars a month. When I worked for CBC I got forty to forty-five a month, but they figured it by the day."

Feeding sheep was a cowboy's anathema. "My dad had a band of sheep, which is one of the reasons I left home," he said laughing. The CBC job was the only job available so he took it because it included hunting coyotes. He also managed to work cattle. The JK, located on the Tongue River, ran a thousand  head of cattle as well as Shire and Morgan horses. "We had one Shire that weighed twenty-four hundred pounds and a couple of other [heavyweights]." There were no real quarter horses. Most were range horses, Morgan and Arabian blood among them. The short-legged range horses, regardless of their bloodlines, were a cowboy's favorites. They were less likely to stumble over their own feet, and made better cutting horses, much like current quarter horses.

Lehman and his cohorts worked long hours during the depression. He worked for the CBC outfit, "and they always said, 'Sell your bedroll and buy a lantern,'" because we'd get in about ten o'clock at night and were up at four-thirty. I worked for them until they cleared the range of all their horses. They ran over two hundred thousand head in seven states, with headquarters in Rawlins, Wyoming. Most of the horse meat was shipped overseas."

The CBC was owned by the Chappel Brothers, who ran a packing plant in Rockford, Illinois, "And their horses were nothing by scrubs. They didn't have a decent horse on the range. Same way with our saddle horses." Most spreads, he said, like the LO and larger ranches, had 75-100 saddle horses available and each cowboy had seven in his string. Most of them, including the CBC, had no strings at all, and "you rode whatever you could catch, whether it was broke, wind broke, it didn't make any difference. You rode it. That was the general rule around most horse ranches.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cowboy Author, Maynard Lehman, Part II

When Maynard Lehman was 16, he and two Indian boys his age decided to rescue horses from the Sioux Reservation. “Any horse not branded or not running with its mother was called a slick. It belonged to anyone who put a brand on it. That rule didn’t hold true on the reservation because slicks belonged to the agency. Every two years they held a roundup and the white guys who ran the roundup would take any horse that looked good for themselves. The Indians didn’t like the practice any more than I did, so we decided to hold our own roundup.”

Lehman paused to envision his small roan roping horse and the forty-five slicks they rounded up. Grinning, he said the three boys had first located an abandoned spread and repaired the pasture fence. Following the roundup they corralled the horses in the pasture until they learned that members of the Indian agency were on their trail.

“It was raining and dark as the inside of a boot when we got what we could out of the pasture. By  daylight we were across the state line, but we only had 36 head.“ The horses were driven to the Lehman’s North Dakota ranch where they were sold, and the Indian teens returned to the reservation. There they were arrested and placed in the county jail. Lehman wasn’t sure whether they were charged with horse theft and never returned to find out.

That spring the young cowpoke drove 12 horses on a triple plow to break up alfalfa sod that gone to grass. He said, “When we started I had four gentle horses and eight broncs. The boss rode alongside to keep them in line while I sat on the plow with a handful of reins.  After the second day the boss turned me loose with the outfit, so I learned to drive early on.”

That winter Lehman supplemented his meager income with coyote pelts. “The first winter we had pretty good luck. We got about 35.” The ranch owner had a pack of hounds “and we put ‘em on the front bobs with a rack on it. When we’d spot some coyotes, we’d open the rack and turn ‘em loose. Then they’d run the coyotes down. Coyotes weren’t that speedy but the dogs wouldn’t kill ‘em, so you had to have a killer among the pack, which was generally a Russian wolfhound. The dogs would knock the coyotes down and play with ‘em until the killer came along and grabbed ‘em.” The coyotes were skinned and sold to fur houses for $7-$8 apiece. “Pretty good pay in those days. If you could catch one a day, you were doing good.”

Good food depended on the ranch. “When I was working at the Venables, Herm had just married and his wife couldn’t boil water. She’d put on a pot of beans half an hour before dinner and they’d rattle on your plate. At the SY Ranch I was the cook so we ate pretty good. The ranch was 45 miles from town and I cooked for the haying crew, but we didn’t have bread or butter. We had syrup and I made sourdough biscuits all the time, but we had lots of good meat and potatoes.”

With abundant cattle the cowboys didn’t waste time hunting game animals, and there were always plenty of bacon and ham. “We had purtinear every kind of canned food and we’d butcher a critter, usually a two-year old and hang ‘em up at night, propped on a wagon tongue. Leave ‘em out overnight and wrap ‘em [the following morning] in a blanket or tarp  and put ‘em in the wagon. That meat would keep for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t spoil and the older it got, the better it was.”

Lehman rode herd accompanied by chuck wagons several times before they were fazed out of cattle roundups. “Most of the ranches were smaller by then and didn’t use one. But the JK went together with the Birchers, and some others still used them for a couple more years. He knew a man whose lower arm had been blown off during the Johnson County War. “He was the cook for the LO outfit for a time. He made sourdough biscuits that would melt in your mouth. He showed me how to make ‘em but over the years I must have forgotten, ‘cause mine don’t turn out like his.”

The best part of cowboying, he said, was the comraderie among the men. “I really enjoyed it. In fact, I never enjoyed anything I’ve ever done as well. I would have chucked any job I’ve had since to go back on the range.”

(Continued next week . . .)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Maynard Lehman, Cowboy-Author-Musician

Maynard Lehman missed the job he held in Montana in 1923. He didn’t mind the pay—$40-$60 a month—if he could hunt coyotes to supplement his income. He didn’t decide to write about his experiences as a cowboy until he was 75, but wrote more than twenty books well into his 90s.

Lehman grew up on his parent’s ranch in North Dakota, twenty miles south of the Canadian border. There his family raised and broke horses for the American Express Company in Milwaukee. His father was not “what you would call a regular cowboy,” he said, “but I guess I grew up with horses in my blood. I went to work as a cowboy away from home when I was thirteen.” Not exactly a tenderfoot, he had worked for a neighboring ranch the previous summer.

His first riding job was to help swim 300 horses across the Missouri River to Culberton, Montana. “I was a good-sized kid and could rope and ride with the best of ‘em.” Adding three years to his age, he told everyone he was sixteen. “I worked there until the horses more or less got used to the territory. Otherwise, they would have kept right on going. I then went to work for the Cantanio Ranch, downriver a ways, and I stayed there the rest of the summer.”

Cattle herds of 12,000 to 15,000 were not uncommon during the later years of the nineteenth century, but the Cantanio Ranch only ran 2,000 head, which grazed between the Red Water and Missouri River. The young cowpoke worked until the end of summer, then returned home to attend school. His classes were scheduled after his assigned chores, which included helping his father with thrashing and harvesting.

Young Maynard managed to complete eight grades in five years, but by the time he reached high school, the horseback ride was twelve miles through North Dakota snow. The weather, however, was not the reason he quit his studies. Unable to start school until after thrashing season, he couldn't catch up with the other students. “And nobody offered to help.” Frustrated and discouraged, he decided his education was over. The following January he left school in 40 degrees below zero weather to find a job.

That spring he arrived in Miles City, Montana, where he went to work for Van Venerable, a horse buyer for the Hansen Packing Plant at Butte. There he worked on horseback in the area between the Mespaw and Pumpkin Creek, which later became the first BLM Project.

“Van bought three thousand horses from the roundup and turned them out on Laney Creek on the Powder River with the rest of his herd. I worked for him until there were no more horses to bring in to ship,” Lehman said. The cowboy then worked several ranches in the Powder and Tongue River areas for the next 18 years.

He soon learned that he couldn’t keep a steady cowman’s job if he returned home each fall to help with the family harvest. “That’s when I went to work for the Quarter Circle JK Ranch and only went home for a visit.”

His fiddle was his most prized possession. He also owned “a saddle, bridle, chaps, 35-foot lariat, spurs, bedroll, extra pair of socks, and enough Bull Durham to last two weeks.” The fiddle often accompanied him, “but if it wasn’t standard equipment, it stayed behind in the bunkhouse.” From the age of 12, he played the violin and accordion for dances and later performed on the organ.

“The winter I was fourteen, I hung up my saddle and traveled with a road troupe that showed movies along the Canadian border in North Dakota and Montana. Joe Alberts traveled with us and wrestled the big bear. But when spring came, I was back in the saddle.”

(Continued next week . . . )

Monday, November 17, 2014

Now on Sale Through November 21st

The true story of a young couple hanged by greedy cattlemen to take over their land, as seen through the eyes of fictional character Susan Cameron, a single woman homesteader who leaves Missouri to find independence in Wyoming, where women have had the vote, served on juries and in public office since 1865. The following is an excerpt from the novel's first chapter:

Wyoming Territory: June 1, 1889

Susan Cameron awoke from her nap to the sound of gunfire. Bolting upright in her seat, she was surprised when two men rushed past as the train came to a jarring halt. Handguns were drawn and at the ready. Across the aisle, a small boy screamed in his mother’s arms. The woman glanced at Susan with frightened eyes as her young daughter crawled beneath the seat. 

The connecting door burst open and an aging conductor signaled for silence. “Train robbers blocked the tracks. When they come aboard, give ‘em whatever they want or somebody's liable to get killed. You men keep your guns holstered. There's women and children on board."

Heart pounding, Susan removed most of the money from her reticule. Loosening the laces of her high topped shoes, she slipped the bills into the sides of each one. Her dress was then arranged to hide her ankles.

Gunfire ceased as three men entered the coach. Their sweat-stained hats hung low over their brows, bandannas hiding all but their squinting eyes. They were dressed like photographs Susan had seen of working cowhands. 

"Hands up if you wanna live," the first man yelled in graveled voice.. 

The children screamed as their mother attempted to comfort them on the floor between the seats. She pulled their faces to her chest when one of the bandits yelled, "Shut them kids up."

Demanding that everyone stand, two of the disheveled men moved down the aisle, flipping open canvas sacks and ordering them filled. Susan got to her feet and glanced at the other passengers, whose trembling hands were held aloft. She and the young mother across the aisle were the only women occupying the coach. The other seats were filled with men of every description, including a number dressed as cowhands . She wondered if they were members of the gang. 

"Empty your pockets," the first bandit yelled.. "And you ladies open your bags." He offered his canvas sack in one hand while waving his gun with the other. Susan sighed with relief when he walked past to the middle of the coach.

"Guns, money and jewelry," the second man said as he approached Susan's seat. His body odor made her recoil as he stood opposite her. Holding her breath, she emptied the contents of her reticule onto the seat.

"No jewelry?" 

"Single women can't afford jewelry." He wasn’t much taller than Susan and she curbed the urge to grab his gun. 

"Where's the rest of your money? Maybe I oughta search ya."

"While you're doing that, I assure you the men in this coach will disarm you." Susan hoped her voice didn’t belie her bravado.

Grunting, he turned to demand cash from the young woman across the aisle. When she released her children, their screaming increased in volume until passengers' upraised hands were covering their ears. Placing the sack beneath his arm, the burly bandit stooped to reprimand the boy, who promptly bit his hand. 

"What kind of monster are you, slapping that child?" Susan cried.

"Didn't do nuthin' to the brat." Shaking his injured hand, he moved on to passengers in the next row. Amanda Turner dipped her head and smiled her gratitude.

Susan drew a sharp breath. While the bandits were collecting their bounty, she wondered what had happened to the passengers who had rushed from the train. Imaging them lying on their backs, bleeding from multiple wounds, she shook her head to dislodge the disturbing image. 

The third bandit stood guard at the front of the coach, waving his pistol while watching as passengers were relieved of their possessions. When his companions left the train, he fired a shot through the roof and ordered everyone down on the floor. Moments later they were back in their seats, watching the trio ride south through the sagebrush toward the mountains. As she took her seat, Susan heard a chorus of men’s low-voiced cursing.

The conductor mopped his perspiring brow. "Stay in your seats. We're lucky no one was hurt.." Susan yelled above the din. "Where are the missing passengers?" 

The conductor turned back at the connecting door. "Gang members, ma’am. I just watched 'em ride off with the rest of the bunch."

"Why didn't they stay and rob us?"

"I reckon they didn't want anybody to recognize ‘em. They boarded the train down the tracks in Douglas, and probably robbed the adjoining coach. They were wearing masks when they left but I recognized their clothes." He turned and grumbled his way through the connecting door between the coaches.

Susan pulled the money from her shoes and returned the bills to her reticule. No one had warned her about train robbers. What had she gotten herself into? She thought of homesteading as a peaceful venture, and knew that other single women had proved up on land of their own. Could she carve out a living on her homestead, without being robbed? Wyoming Territory had seemed a panacea for a single woman seeking independence. The territorial government had granted women suffrage more than twenty years earlier, allowing them to not only vote, but serve on juries and hold public office. Those privileges alone had brought her to the territory.

Less than an hour later, the train whistle shrieked, signaling the conductor to announce their arrival in Casper. Tired of traveling, Susan rose from her seat, lifted her reticule and made her way down the steps. Standing on a makeshift platform were more than a dozen men, most of them in dusty, wrinkled clothing that must have slept in for quite some time. Several had missing teeth and stringy, shoulder-length hair. Horrified, she drew back when one of them offered his hand. 

"Welcome to Casper, ma’am .”

No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy is an historical mystery-suspense novel available at:

Friday, October 31, 2014

English Doctor, Novelist, Medical Journalist and Nonfiction Writer

Keith Souter is a part time doctor, medical journalist, non-fiction writer and novelist. He's the current vice President of Western Fictioneers and is a member of Western Writers of America as well as  several other writers’ organizations. He also writes in four genres – westerns as Clay More, crime as Keith Moray and historicals and YA as Keith Souter. He's won prizes for his short stories, including a Fish Award in 2006 for his short historical fiction. He lives with his wife in England, "within arrow-shot of the ruins of a medieval castle."

When did you decide to write Westerns, Keith?

A few years ago I received an invitation to join a fledgling organisation called Western Fictioneers. This was based in the USA and included many prominent authors in the Western genre. The membership requirement was to have been paid for writing Western fiction, but not merely be self-published. By that time I  had published five Western novels with Robert Hale, a London based publisher of Westerns, so I joined. I must confess that I did so with some trepidation, as I was unsure whether I could actually cut it as a Western writer in the USA.

Almost immediately I heard that the Western Fictioneers were putting together an anthology of short stories by its members and everyone was invited to submit  a tale. So I threw caution to the wind and wrote a story, entitled Boot Hill Neighbors, which appeared in the anthology The Traditional West. That gave me a buzz to have a story in there with so many prize-winning authors in the genre.

Is the western written from England any different from those written in the USA? That is a difficult one to answer. When you watch a movie and you hear an actor trying to do an American accent, it may jar. But does the same thing happen with a writing style? Again, I am not sure that it does.

Of course, people may spot an inaccuracy about horses, gun lore, ranching practices and feel that it spoils the book. Yet those errors can occur just as easily in homegrown books. It all comes down to research, in my opinion. If the research is done adequately, then those jarring moments should not occur.

My own approach when writing a Western is to steep myself in research into all aspects of a locality. I study the flora, the fauna, the geography, geology and the history of the area. Then I set it against the history of the time and then I begin to build my story. And nowadays with the Internet you can research anywhere anytime. You can find newspapers of the epoch you are writing about and you can get instant pictures of the terrain. I have to say that I love this aspect of my work as a writer. I write medical and all manner of non-fiction books and I am a medical journalist, so I have a good nose for research. In medicine you have to get things right and I try to do that with everything that I write about.

I use the old writing adage – write about what you know. I think it is a piece of advice that is often misunderstood. It doesn’t just mean that you should only write about the places you are familiar with, or about the background that you come from. What it means to me, is use the things you know about and let that give your writing authenticity. I am a doctor and I use my expertise in medicine and in surgery to good effect in my stories. Virtually all of my novels have a doctor in the story somewhere and I can make things seem real. I can make wounds and operations seem plausible.

I think that I have always had a love of the old west. I was brought up with all the old Western TV shows.  You may have guessed that my choice of pen-name is a homage to Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger. I loved those shows, along with Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, the Virginian and The High Chaparral. My father was a western aficionado and we had loads of books by Zane Grey, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour. I read voraciously, so they were all a great influence on me. Yet  I would have to single out the works of Elmore Leonard. Goodness, what a superb writer he was.

I have a couple of on-going writing projects at the moment. Firstly, I write the character of Doctor Logan Munro in the Wolf Creek series of novels for Western Fictioneers Library. These are collaborative novels featuring five or six authors at a time. Each author writes one or two chapters from the viewpoint of his or her character. Logan Munro is a Scottish doctor, as am I, so I can get authenticity in my stories from both the medical viewpoint and with my voice as a Scotsman. We have published ten of these so far, with the eleventh due out next month.
Adventures from the case book of Dr. Marcus Quigley

The other project is a series of short stories about Doctor Marcus Quigley, a qualified dentist, gambler and bounty hunter, who is on a long-time quest to find the man who murdered a friend some years ago. Here I use my knowledge of dental history, my knowledge of dice and gambling and I structure it as I do a crime novel. In fact, all of my Westerns are really mysteries. There is no ‘shoot ‘em up’ allowed in my tales. The protagonists have to solve the mystery and extricate themselves from danger using their brains rather than their brawn or their speed with a gun. And there is usually some love-interest along the way.

My latest book is due out in mid-April from high Noon Press. It is the collection of my short stories, Adventures from the Case Book of Doctor Marcus Quigley. Each story is self-contained, but linked into a greater quest.

You can learn more about Keith Souter at his website: 
 as well as at his Western blog – More on the Range:
and Western Fictioneers://

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Scottish Author Discusses Crime and Mystery Fiction

by Bill Kirton

I’m a fan of both crime fiction and mystery novels and I know that they’re the same thing. It just depends which side of the Atlantic you live. It was only when my first book was published in the USA, in 2007, that I started to wonder whether the different labels signified a difference in readers too. I still don’t know, but it’s made me think about the genre there and here. And guess what? I’ve come to no conclusions.

It all started with an American, Edgar Allan Poe, in 1841. Then a Scotsman gave it a boost with his Sherlock Holmes later in the century. Between the wars, the UK started its Golden Age, typified by cosy tales, with amateurs making the police look silly and clever old ladies riding on bikes past thatched cottages stuffed with eviscerated corpses. In the USA, Hammett, Spillane and Chandler created their private eye archetypes and started crafting the gritty, hard-boiled version. For the Brits, it was a game, a puzzle; for the Americans, it was serious.

I’m generalising, but from the start there seemed to be a contrast: on the one hand reflective, genteel stories in a rural setting; on the other violent, fast-moving accounts in the mean streets of cities. Restraint versus mayhem.

Nowadays, it’s not that simple. Leaving aside the TV series such as CSI, the preference in the States still seems to be for Private Eyes – male and female (although Ed McBain and others focus on team efforts). And the British produce police procedurals.


Statistics seem to suggest that there’s a strong cult appreciation of the hard-boiled genre in Europe while readers in the USA gobble up cosies and Golden Age-style mysteries. Maybe staid Brits with their alleged sang-froid and taciturnity long for the brash, up-front individuality of the American Way. Maybe helter-skelter Americans, surrounded by technological expertise and the responsibilities of being the sole remaining superpower dream of sipping Earl Grey on the village green.

Or perhaps it’s the exoticism of the differences between us. The mysterious implications of the distinctions between felonies and misdemeanors (or, as we’d call them, misdemeanours), the quaint notion that an Attorney General actually has to solicit votes. Or, over here, the arcane role of the Procurator Fiscal in the Scottish system or the plusses and minuses attaching to Scotland’s ‘Not proven’ verdict, and the striking differences between police procedures north and south of the border.

If only it were that easy. No, in the end, there’s no future in trying to second guess readers. Wherever they are, you either entertain or you bore them. In a recent email, an English reader wasn’t impressed with me because, as he wrote, ‘your story disturbed me, and do readers really want to be disturbed?’ Well, I’m not sure, but do they really expect laughs in a story which exploits the fear of being buried alive? I guess I’d better work out how to turn it into an Edgar Allan Feelgood tale.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

How to Become a Successful TV Journalist

by Hank Phillipi Ryan, bestselling novelist and award-winning journalist 

Here's what you need to produce a successful television story. Develop memorable characters. Build suspense. Show conflict. Tell a compelling story. Find justice. Change lives.

Here's what you need to become a successful television journalist. Never miss your deadline. Be fair. Get people to tell you things they wouldn't tell anyone else. Understand how the world works.Work with an editor. Create a brilliant and flawless product every time. Be completely devoted to your job.

As I began to write my first novel, I realized the number of parallels between writing for television and writing a mystery novel. Your primary focus is telling a great story, right? With compelling characters. And centering around an important problem. You dig for leads, track down documents, conduct intensive research, and see where the clues take you. You want the good guys to win, and bad guys to get what's coming to them. You want a satisfying and fair ending, and you want some justice. And if you're lucky, you get to change the world. 

Here's a new way of looking at your work as a journalist. And it doesn't matter if you've never written a news story in your life. 

You won't use every news story every day. Some you won't realize you need, until you do. On those days, there are journalism-based questions you can ask yourself to prod your brain into story telling--kind of a who-what-when-where-why and why-not that just might get you out of that pre-deadline panic.

Why do I Care?

If you're in a scene that seems to be flabby, or boring, or simply not compelling, there may be there's no reason to write it. Se your intention before you write the scene. What's the point of these next 200 words? Why do we care about these next 200 words? Why do we care about what's going to happen next? Figure that out. It may be that you're writing a scene that you don't need. You may be writing a scene that needs to move faster, or go a different direction, or wind up in a different place. 

Am I in the Right Place?

Not only the right place geographically, but the right place in time or space. If you've got two guys sitting around talking, or someone looking up a name on a computer, or talking on the phone, or if it's the fourth scene in a row that's taking place in an office--hmmm. Television is all about good video. Can you place your characters somewhere more cinematic? What would happen to your characters when you do?

Who said that?

Maybe you've got the wrong person talking, or using the wrong point of view. Placing the same scene in the point of view of a different person changes the perspective and as a result, shows you motivation in a different way. What's at stake in your scene? Who has the most to lose? Sometimes even thinking about a scene through a different character's eyes can open your own to different ideas.

What's the goal?

Are you at the beginning of the book where you need a big compelling hook? In the middle of the book where you need to twist and turn and keep the readers turning the pages? Or near the end, when you need to ratchet up the suspense and come up with the big finish or happy ever-after ending? Make sure you're clear on your goal. Think about what you should write to accomplish that.

(You can read more of Hank Phillipi Ryan's article as well as her  interview in The Mystery Writers.)

You can also learn more at her website:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writing About Women Amateur Sleuths

Writing about two 60-year old women amateur sleuths has been fun, but I always attempt to involve them in social issues. Dana Logan, a mystery novel buff, and Sarah Cafferty, a private investigator’s widow,  inhabited my brain for a couple of years before they were given birth on my computer. Living in my home state of California at the time, I placed them in the San Joaquin Valley in the central area of the state, where dense Tule fog, agricultural sprays and bay area pollution have become health hazards. It’s also a place where a serial killer can hide and kill at his leisure.

I lived in the valley for more than a dozen years and envisioned a killer disappearing into the fog after taking someone’s life. In fact, it actually happened half a mile from where I lived in a rural area, when a young woman was strangled in her ranch house. It could have been me.

In A Village Shattered, the first book in the series, I placed my aging sleuths in a retirement village  where their Sew and So club members are mysteriously dropping dead alphabetically. When Dana and Sarah realize what is happening, they suspect that their own names are on the killer’s list. The newly-elected sheriff—whose only previous experience was training police dogs—is bungling the case, so Logan & Cafferty decide to put their crime solving knowledge to work in order to not only save their remaining friends’ lives, but their own. Meanwhile, Dana’s journalist daughter shows up on her doorstep, complicating matters.

I placed the widows in a motorhome in Diary of Murder, second book in the 

series, after they sold their homes in the retirement village. While vacationing 
in Colorado, they encounter a Rocky Mountain blizzard after learning that 
Dana’s sister, a mystery writer, has died. Her husband claims it was suicide 
but Dana knows better. When they arrive in Wyoming, they go through the 
sister’s possessions and find her diary, which details her husband’s infidelities 
as well as her unhappiness at having married him. Dana then learns that her 
former brother-in-law is involved in a vicious drug gang, and she and Sarah 
are nearly killed themselves when they investigate.

The murdered sister willed her mansion to Dana and the two women take up residence in Wyoming. During a picture-taking trip to Gray Wolf Mountain, their Escalade is shot at, resulting in a rollover. An old man comes to their rescue in his decrepit pickup truck and they learn that he travels the mountain to find wounded wolves to nurse back to health. Someone has been deliberately shooting them and has recently begun shooting people. Logan & Cafferty decide to help the old man, once again placing their own lives in danger.

In Murder on the Interstate, the two women are traveling in northern Arizona, where they discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. Her killer shoots out their motorhome tires and a trucker who calls herself “Big Ruby” McCurdy comes to their rescue. The three women follow the killer during torrential rain in
Ruby’s 18-wheeler, and discover that the killer is involved in a homegrown terrorist group who plan to overthrow the government. While attempting to discover how the murder victim is connected to the group leads them into a flash flood and capture by the group.

In the fifth novel, Murder in RV Paradise, Dana and Sarah decide to vacation in an exclusive resort in northern Texas, where they find the body of a beautiful woman who has entraps wealthy men to blackmail them. There are more than a thousand residents of the resort so anyone could have killed her. Interviewing the right ones seems an insurmountable task and the amateur sleuths became suspects, themselves, in the murder. Sarah finds love with a retired rancher and Dana’s quest to maintain her friendship status with long-time pursuer, Sheriff Walter Campbell, is in serious jeopardy. When the sheriff is seriously wounded, Dana rushes to his side and is persuaded to marry him. But will she?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Conversation with British Novelist Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards is a Liverpool attorney (soliticitor) who writes English crime novels. He's a member of the Murder Squad and is chairman of the nominations sub-committee for the most prestigious crime novel award, the CWA Diamond Dagger. He's also the archivist for the Crime Writers Association.

Martin will be featured in the forthcoming book, The Mystery Writers, along with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and many others.

Martin, what does membership in the Murder Squad entail?

It’s a group of six Northern crime writers, set up by Margaret Murphy. Members include Ann Cleeves and Cath Staincliffe, who have both had their books televised in recent years. We do events either jointly, in duos, or singly, all around the UK. We’ve produced an anthology, ingeniously entitled Murder Squad, and a CD sampler of our work. We have a website, I’m proud to be part of such a super gang.

How do crime novels in the UK differ from those written in the US?

Difficult to generalise, I think. We have plenty in common,, and I am certainly delighted with feedback on my books from the US. Americans like Deborah Crombie write very good crime novels set in the UK. Lee Child is a Brit who sets his bestsellers in the States. I suppose that there are fewer good private eye novels in the UK, and perhaps not quite as many serial killers – though we are catching up!

What was it like growing up in Knutsford, Cheshire, England, and did you write as a child?

I was born in Knutsford, famous as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (a Victorian era novelist and short story writer], though in fact I grew up a few miles away in Northwich. I still live close by. It’s a terrifically attractive market town, packed with history and there’s plenty of culture too. I’ve featured the town briefly in one novel, and more extensively in a short story featuring Mrs. Gaskell. I did write as a child. I think my first detective story was written when I was about 10, heavily influenced by the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films.

Are you still practicing law in Liverpool and how has your legal background influenced your novels?

Yep, I still have the day job. My first series, featuring Harry Devlin, also a lawyer, was set in Liverpool, a truly unique and fascinating city which everyone should visit! The most recent book, Waterloo Sunset, is a personal favourite. My legal background also influenced a stand alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, but it is less relevant to the Lake District Mysteries, although sad to say, a lawyer does meet a very unpleasant fate in The Serpent Pool.

You’re involved in a number of crime writer organizations. Tell us about them.

I was elected to the Detection Club a couple of years ago, which was gratifying, because of its fantastic history and the fact that almost all the members except me are superstars of the genre.

I’ve been a member of the Crime Writers’ Association for over twenty years, and I edit their annual anthology. I’m also chair of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger nominations committee. It was via the Northern Chapter of the CWA that the members of Murder Squad first met. It’s a very good social organisation.

You have an interesting, informative blog site titled, “Do You Write Under Your Own Name?” How did the name come about and has blogging helped sales of your books?

Glad you like the blog! When people – such as clients – meet me and learn that I write books, they often ask if I write under my own name. A polite way of saying they have never heard of my novels! I’m sure blogging has been good for my profile. Since it started I have won a Dagger and been elected to the Detection Club, but I’m not sure it’s cause and effect...

Tell us about your series and your latest novel?
My main current series is the Lake District Mysteries. The first book in the series, The Coffin Trail, was shortlisted for the Theakston’s prize for best crime novel of 2006. The series features cold case cop DCI Hannah Scarlett and the historian Daniel Kind. The developing relationship between them is a key element in the series, and so are the landscape, history and literature of the Lakes. The fourth and latest book in the series is The Serpent Pool, which draws on Thomas De Quincey’s years in the Lakes and above all on his fascination with murder as a fine art, has received terrific reviews since publication earlier this year.

What’s the most important ingredient in a crime novel?

Tricky question, but I’m tempted to say the key ingredient is making the reader want to keep turning the pages.

What’s your writing schedule like?

Overloaded! Because I work full time, I tend to write whenever I can snatch a few minutes in the evening and at weekends.

Advice to fledgling crime writers?

Keep at it, and don’t be disheartened too much by rejection.

Thanks, Martin. You can visit Martin Edwards at his website: and his blog blogsite:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dog enthusiast, Sue Owens Wright has dedicated her writing career to canines. Her hundreds of articles about dogs have won some awards and she's written three mystery novels featuring a basset hound sleuth and his writer owner.

Sue, as a fellow dog lover, I like your book titles: Howling Bloody MurderSirius About Murder, and Embarking on Murder. When and why did you decide to write about dogs?

I’ve had dogs my entire life and had the aptitude and desire to write from a very young age, but I didn’t start writing about dogs until my first basset hound, Butterscotch, died in 1987. Writing about her helped me to heal from her loss. Poems and stories poured out of me, and some were published in pet magazines. From then on I figured I’d do best to write about what I loved most in the world, my dogs.

Tell us about your writing background?

I majored in English in college and took some creative writing courses, but I didn’t write seriously for publication until many years later. In 1986, I attended my first writer’s conference, a weeklong summer camp in the mountains for aspiring writers. That lit a fire in me. I knew for the first time in my life what I really wanted to do with the rest of it. For the next few years, I wrote tirelessly, submitted my work to publishers, and collected a fat folder of rejection slips, just like every beginning writer does. I had some successes, too, which kept me going.

Then I decided to enter a “Murder You Write” contest in Family Circle magazine. As a child I’d once tried to write a mystery similar to the Judy Bolton mysteries I loved reading, so I gave mystery writing another shot. I didn’t win the contest, but I went on to complete my first mystery novel, Howling Bloody Murder, which eventually sold to a publisher. That was the happiest day of my life. When I found out I’d sold my first book, I was howling for joy, along with my two basset hounds, Bubba Gump and Daisy.

That first book sale happened not long after I attended a writing course abroad in 1998. It was a summer study program through Florida International University with acclaimed novelist John Dufresne at Trinity College and University Galway in Ireland and University College London in England. Besides being the best vacation of my life in lively, literary Dublin, I learned the finer points of fiction writing from a master of the craft. I’ve attended other writer’s conferences, but none can compare to that one.

I've read your first book, Howling Bloody Murder, and like your protagonist, Beanie, and her dog, Cruiser. How did you come up with those characters and to what extent are they autobiographical?

Thank you. A lot of people seem to like my characters, especially the hound dog. They came about through that “Murder You Write” contest I mentioned. In a way, I did win the contest because it gave me Beanie and Cruiser, the characters in my dog lover’s mystery series. Some people assume both are dogs, but Elsie MacBean or “Beanie” is the human sleuth, and Cruiser is her canine crime-busting sidekick. I think there’s probably a lot of me to be found in Beanie. I have drawn from my own life experiences for her character, especially where dogs are concerned. We definitely share that passion. She’s a writer, too, although she’s Native American (Washoe tribe) and a vegetarian and has a grown daughter, Nona.

I created Cruiser before I adopted my male basset, Bubba Gump, but he has since inspired much of Cruiser’s character in my books. What happens to Cruiser in the second book was mined from an experience with one of my other bassets, Dolly. Through Cruiser I was able to rewrite a happier ending to a sad chapter in my own life. That’s pretty powerful stuff and part of what keeps me writing.

You've earned special recognition from the Humane Society for your articles about animal welfare. What are the main problems concerning animals today?

The current economy is causing people to surrender their pets in record numbers at already overcrowded shelters, either because they can’t afford to pay for their animal’s care or have to leave their homes to live in apartments that don’t accept pets. I can’t think of anything worse than losing your home unless it’s having to lose your best friend, too. Unfortunately, some owners don’t even bother trying to place their pets in another home. They simply discard them like old furniture and sometimes leave them behind to starve. Budget cuts are causing shelters to have to cut back on their services, and many are filled to capacity. There are fewer adopters and donations to help support shelters and rescue organizations, and we know what that means for homeless animals.

There are so many other reasons why pets end up at shelters. Littering is one big reason. People fail to spay or neuter their dogs and cats before they can reproduce and by so doing increase the unwanted pet population. Buying dogs from backyard breeders or pet shops fuels the cruel puppy mill industry and ultimately creates more homeless pets. The problem is that people don’t bother to research what breed of dog is best for their personality and lifestyle and too often succumb to Fido fads. Can you guess which kind of dog is currently most common in shelters, besides pit bulls? Beverly Hills Chihuahuas. Owners are dumping them in droves, either because they grew tired of their novelty purse puppies or simply didn’t understand the characteristics of the breed. Next will come all the Marleys, I suppose.
Bottom line, pet problems are always people problems.

You've also written hundreds of articles for a number of dog magazines. What's your main focus?

I’ve written everything from breed profiles for Dog Fancy to the plight of stray dogs in Greece to how to host a Basset Hound Picnic, which I used to do years ago in my neighborhood. I write an award-winning monthly newspaper column called "Pets & Their People", which provides me a forum for writing about important issues pertaining to companion animals. I also contribute to the "Healthy Pet" column for the AKC Gazette. The article I most enjoyed writing was “Waddling in Dwight,” the one I wrote about attending the Illinois Basset Waddle. It is posted on my Web site.

Tell us about the Illinois Basset Waddle.

In 2002, I was invited to be a guest speaker at one of the largest canine events in the country, which is held in the little town of Dwight, Illinois, about an hour away from Chicago. The Basset Waddle is an annual event hosted by Guardian Angel Basset Rescue, which has rescued and re-homed thousands of abandoned and abused basset hounds. There were over 1,000 basset hounds and their adoring humans in attendance, and I was staying at the nearby Days Inn Hotel, which kindly housed the hounds during the event. I knew I was in for a wacky weekend when I heard bassets howling down the hallways and even rode in the elevator with a basset pack.

Saturday was the Basset Bash, a fun day of food, raffles, silent auctions, and various basset contests: longest ears, lowest ground clearance, best treat catch, etc. On Sunday was the Waddle through the town, and it’s a sight you really have to see to appreciate. Leading the parade of costumed hounds was a float bearing the Waddle King and Queen, the most deserving rescue dogs that were crowned the night before. The Waddle King that year was Sonny, whose former owner wired his mouth shut with barbed wire to keep him from howling. The scars left on Sonny’s muzzle from that horrendous abuse looked like tears. It’s enough to make you cry.

Your nonfiction books include What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs, and People’s Guide to Pets. How can you determine your dog's IQ?

Besides doing the fun tests with your own dog in What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, a dog’s intelligence is the best determined by its breed. For instance, the Border collie is generally considered to be the most intelligent breed. Basset hounds rank nearly at the bottom of the scale. Because of their notorious stubborn streak, which I prefer to think of as tenacity and unflappable focus (not bad traits for writers, either), bassets are not as trainable as terriers or poodles, which also rank high in intelligence. To be fair, though, a dog’s IQ should be rated according to what he was bred to do. Some dogs are not as easily trained as others, but that doesn’t mean they are dumb. You can’t expect a scent hound to do what a collie was bred to do. Bassets don’t herd sheep, but they are doggone good at tracking rabbits (and treats), and in Cruiser’s case, criminals.

You've won some awards for your canine writings. Which one is your favorite and why?

My favorite award has to be the first Maxwell I ever won in 2003 for the article published in Mystery Scene magazine about the Illinois Basset Waddle. To date, that is still my most unforgettable experience on the book promotion trail. I was so thrilled to be awarded the beautiful Maxwell medallion from among so many exceptional entrants in the writing competition. It’s the first award I ever won, and I won it for something I love doing; therefore, it’s very special to me.

What's your favorite way of promoting your books?

Any time I have the opportunity to talk with fellow dog lovers and especially basset fanciers is my favorite way to promote my books. That has included book signings at other doggy events besides the Waddle, such as Dogtoberfests, our local SPCA Doggy Dash and at pet stores. The best part is being around all the dogs. I’ve judged canine costume contests and also judged contests at the Waddle. Another way I like to promote my books is through donations of autographed copies to various fundraisers. Even if I can’t attend every Waddle, Droolapalooza and Slobberfest, donations of my books and also the pastel artwork I enjoy painting of dogs, help raise money for homeless pets. If donating my books and art to these and other welfare organizations helps improve the life of any animal, then I have succeeded far beyond my wildest dreams.

Sue's web and blog sites:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Conversation with Carolyn Hart

A bestselling author with more than three million books sold, Carolyn Hart is best known for her Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins (Henrie O) series. Her new mystery/thriller, Dead by Midnight, features recurring characters in the Death on Demand series, Annie and Max Darling. And her latest series featrues a red-haired ghost who returns to earth to help solve mysteries.

Carolyn, when did your Death on Demand mystery series originate?

In 1985, I attended a meeting of the southwest chapter of MWA in Houston and visited Murder by the Book. I had never been to a mystery bookstore and I was enchanted. I had just started a new mystery set in a bookstore. I immediately decided to have a mystery bookstore named Death on Demand.

How much of your series is autobiographical?

Henrietta O’Dwyer Collins, a retired newspaper reporter, is the protagonist of the Henrie O series. Henrie O is taller, thinner, smarter, and braver than I but she reflects the author’s attitudes.

I’m intrigued with your impetuous red-haired ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Adelaide, Oklahoma. How did the series come about?

I loved the Topper books and films when I was growing up. I see ghosts as reflections of the person who lived. I always wanted to write about a fun-loving, energetic, impetuous ghost returning to earth to help someone in trouble and Bailey Ruth answered the call.

You’ve received an amazing number of awards including the Malice Domestic Lifetime Achievement Award. Has the recognition resulted in increased book sales and reader awareness of your work?

I hope that the awards, which I very much appreciate, help to attract readers. It’s hard to know whether such awards increase sales but any mention of a book or books is helpful to an author.

What's your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day, no matter how long it takes?

I try to write five pages a day (approx. 1,500 words) when working on a book. Some days I meet that goal. Some days I don’t. When I am stuck, I take a long walk and usually something will occur to me.

Tell us about your writing background.

I worked on school newspapers and majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma. When we started a family, I didn’t return to reporting but decided to try fiction. I wrote juvenile fiction, then YA, and in the 1970s began writing adult suspense and mystery.

How much research do you conduct before you begin a novel and do you always visit the locale?

The novel dictates the amount of research. I wrote several early novels, preceding the Death on Demand books, which had World War II backgrounds and required extensive research. I’ve visited the locales of all the books written since Death on Demand. Once I set a book partly in the Philippines which I have never visited and a woman who grew up there asked me how many years I’d spent in the islands and I knew my library research had been successful.

What lies ahead for your well-known character Henrie O? How did her character come about?

My original ambition was to be a foreign correspondent. Henrie O enjoyed the career I didn’t have. One of the joys of writing fiction is living out lives that appeal to you. I am currently committed to write one Death on Demand and one ghost book each year so Henrie O is currently "resting," as they say in Hollywood.

Advice for novice writers?

Care passionately about what you write. If you care, somewhere an editor will care.

Thank you, Carolyn.

Carolyn's website:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Advice From a Literary Agent

by Lois Winston

Whether you're writing mysteries or another genre, your manuscript needs a great story, great characters and great writing. The quality of the writing determines the difference between an acceptance and rejection. As a literary agent and author, I see too many submissions where the writer needs to place her manuscript on a diet.

Before you submit your manuscript, make sure it's not bloated with excess wordage that drags down the pacing and bores the very people you want to impress. Your writing must be crisp as well as succinct to catch an editor's or agent's eyes.

The Bloated Manuscript Diet:

1. Reread your manuscript. Is every scene essential to the plot, or goals, motivations or conflicts of your characters? Does each scene advance the plot or does it tell the reader something she needs to know about the characters? If not, the scene is filler, and you need to get rid of it. Each scene must serve a purpose. No purpose? No scene.

2. Repeat #1 for all dialogue. If the dialogue is nothing but chit chat, ditch it.

3. Do a search of "ly" words. Whenever possible, substitute a more active, descriptive word to replace an existing verb and the adverb that modifies it.

4. Instead of using many verbs to describe a noun, use one all-encompassing adjective or a more descriptive noun.

5. Say it once, then move on. It's not necessary to repeat an idea or image in different words in the next sentence, next paragraph or next page.

6. Identify needless words and eliminate them. Every writer has at least one or two pet words that need to be eliminated.

7. Avoid a laundry list of descriptions by substituting more descriptive nouns and adjectives.

8. Do a search for "was." Whenever it's linked with an "ing" verb, omit the "was" and change the tense of the verb.

9. Choose  more descriptive verbs and omit the additional words that enhance the verb.

10. Omit extraneous tag lines. If it's obvious which character is speaking, omit the tag.

11. Show, don't tell. Whenever possible, you want to "show" your story through dialogue and active narrative, rather than "telling" the story.

12. Let your characters' words convey their emotions, not the tag line. Also, keep to the unobtrusive "said" in tags. You can't grimace, laugh or sigh dialogue. The character can grimace, laugh or sigh before or afterward, but not while speaking.

13. Avoid non-specific things like "it" and "thing."

14. Describe body movements only when they are essential to the scene. Don't break up dialogue every other sentence with having your characters shrug, giggle, smirk, glance, nod or drum their fingers.

15. Don't fill dialogue with interjections. We might have the bad habit of filling our speech with "well" and "like" but having a character constantly adding those words makes for lousy dialogue.

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers,  now in print, ebook and audiobooks editions, which includes Lois Winston's interview.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Mountaintop Paradise Is For Sale

Looking for a quiet summer retreat or full time living with panoramic mountain views? My 58-acre ranch is for sale. The 2,280 sq. ft. house was built in 2009, has four bedrooms and three baths, a family room with fireplace, hardwood floors, porcelain tile back splash in the kitchen, crown molding, stainless steel appliances, family room with wood burning fireplace, oversized three-car garage, new metal roof, a 12' x 20' deck with the awesome view pictured above. The 64' x 40' x 14' shop has a concrete floor and storage area. There are no covenants or homeowners fees and annual property taxes are as low as $1,500. The ranch is located in the Laramie Mountains at 6,700 ft. in Central Wyoming.

There are also two wells on the property, the domestic one over 600 ft. deep, producing more than 15 gal. of water a minute, and good tasting water it is. The other is a solar-generated stock well in the lower pasture. You can contact me here or my realtor, Val Lathrop, at Equity Brokers: For an array of photos click on the following link: House photos.

Deer grazing in the side yard.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

So What Are You Waiting For?

by Robert Liparulo (bestselling author whose books have been adapted to film.)

Write! Nothing takes the place of writing for learning the craft. Not formal education, not seminars or conferences or books about writing Not critique groups or deep conversations with like-minded friends, not studying the markets, not reading. All are valuable, but they're insignificant when compared to experientially learning how to get what's in your head on the page in a way that gets your ideas into another's head. 

Not everything you write will be or should be published but you have to rack up enough words to learn the craft to attract editors and eventually readers. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell uses the Beatles and Bill Gates to validate "The 10,000-Rule," which says that highly successful people in any field have to put in 10,000 hours practicing their craft before they hit their stride or rise above the competition. The average full-time work year is 2,040 hours, so we're talking about five solid years of writing, and only writing. At 500 words per hour, that's 500,000,000 words committed to paper.

But let's be realistic and admit that telling a story is more than slamming out words. You have to think through a story, maybe outline it; research it, write it, then edit, revise and polish. If we give equal time to planning, researching, writing and editing, 10,000 hours still mean 125,000,000 words on page or screen.

The words can take any form of communication--personal letters, practice stories, blog posts, proposals, articles and short fiction published in magazines. (Sure, you can score some cash during this time; the Beatles were paid to play in Liverpool and Hamburg almost nonstop for three years while they honed their craft.) All of it moves you closer to the brass ring, a publishing contract or bestseller. 

Thing is, it's easy to fool ourselves that a pseudo-writing endeavor like attending a conference and  talking about writing is writing. It's not.

One million, two hundred and fifty thousand words! How far along are you? If you knew, really knew that upon reaching that figure (give or take some) you'd be the best of the best and no editor would dream of rejecting you, wouldn't you choose to write over doing those has-something-to-do-with-writing-but-isn't writing things? 

So what are you waiting for?

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you can read Robert Liparulo's interview as well as access his writing tips for fledgling writers.)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Tatoosh Islands Adventure

I was invited to the Tatoosh Islands by my brother Bob, a career coast guardsman, who was in charge of the small island group collectively named for a chief of the Makah Indian nation. The three small islands are the most northwesterly point of the continental U.S. and located in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, half a mile from the coast of Neah Bay, Washington. The lighthouse, Cape Flattery, is located on Tatoosh's main island.

My vacation on Tatoosh was an adventure from the start. My first plane belly-dived onto the runway in Stockton, California, because the landing gear failed to release. A rough landing but, fortunately, no one was hurt. It did, however, result in a six-hour delay before a replacement plane arrived after two in the morning. We landed in Seattle-Tacoma airport at about four and at 6:30 a.m. I learned that I was to fly the remainder of the trip on a three-seater, single engine Cessna--no larger than my car--over the Olympic Mountains to Neah Bay. By the way, it was my first ever trip by plane.

Seated behind the pilot and another passenger, I could see the mountain peaks protruding through the clouds and I’ve never been so frightened in my life because air currents had us falling dangeously close to the peaks. When we reached the tiny airport some miles from Neah Bay, the landing strip looked like a narrow, cracked sidewalk with weeds growing up between the cracks.

My brother wasn’t there to meet me, so I hitched a ride with the other passenger, who was stationed at the coast guard base located on the Makah Indian reservation at Neah Bay. 

We then proceeded to the base where I met my brother and we waited for a small boat to come from the island to pick us up. When we reached the main island of Tatoosh, an inexperienced coastie was operating the crane that lowered the boatswain’s “chair” to the ocean.. The wooden box was about two feet square and connected to a cable. I was lifted from the boat up a sheer rock face that was a hundred feet high. I screamed like a wounded water buffalo. When I reached the top, the box was swung to a wooden platform, landing hard enough to nearly break both my ankles.

Did I mention that the airline lost my luggage? I wore my brother’s coast guard uniforms for a week, and fortunately, one of the coasties had a pair of tennis shoes that fit me. The fog horn woke me repeatedly during the night although the other inhabitants of the island said they were able to sleep through it.

I loved the lighthouse at Cape Flattery, located at the western end of the half mile by quarter mile island. Built in 1857, the island has alternatively been inhabited by Makah Indian fishing parties, the coast guard, weather bureau employees and the navy. The guest book is fascinating to read and I wish I had been able to photograph some of the entries. It tells of 19th century fishermen and explorers who visited the island by climbing the damp rocks to the surface. Some of their companions drowned or were killed from falls in the process.

I nearly lost my own life when I volunteered to mow the jungle-like undergrowth that threatens to take over the island. The tractor slid backward down an embankment and nearly went over the edge onto the rocks a hundred feet below. Once was enough. It still gives me chiils thinking about it.

A bird sanctuary is located adjacent to the main island and I watched a variety of colorful sea birds take off and land, as well as seals and other marine life. Across the Straits of Juan de Fuca is Vancouver Island, Canada, which I could see on a clear day, which is not very often. When I wasn’t watching sea birds and visiting the lighthouse, I enjoyed playing cards and billards with the coasties and watching films in their small basement movie theater.

We were fogged in the morning I was scheduled to leave, so I was able to stay two extra days. The morning I left, a small coast guard cutter arrived with my luggage, and I dressed like a civilian and boarded the cutter for the trip back to the mainland. Five minutes later, a wave swamped the boat and I looked like a drowned rat when I boarded the small plane for the trip back to Seattle. During the subsequent trip home, my plane left without me in Stockton, California, so I waited again for another plane.

I'd been expected to start my first newspaper reporting job several days before I returned home and was nearly fired before I began.The publisher said he'd traveled to northwestern Washington several times and had never heard of the Tatoosh Islands. Thankfully, I was able to whip out an island postcard, which saved my job. I also wrote a feature story about my trip for the newspaper.

The island is no longer inhabited and no coast guardsmen or weather station employees remain.Tatoosh has become one of the most intensively studied field sites for marine life in the world. Studies have discovered how various species are linked to one another through a network of interactions, and how environmental changes resulting in the extinction of certain species, have affected the marine life food chain.

Anyone who now wants to visit the Tatoosh islands must ask permission from the Makah Indian Reservation officials at Neah Bay on Washington’s beautiful Olympia Penninsula.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Visit with Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton published ‘A’ is for Alibi in 1982, following 15 years in Hollywood as a television script writer. The Louisville, Kentucky, native was publicizing her 22nd novel in the series, ‘V’ is for Vengeance, when I interviewed her. She's been published in 28 countries in 26 languages, her books selling in the millions. She's featured in my recently released book, The Mystery Writers, from Medallion Books in print, Kindle and Nook.

Sue, does ’V’ is for Vengeance differ significantly from your previous novels?

It does, indeed, differ from the other novels in the series. In writing these books over a span of some twenty-eight years, I’ve kept detailed charts, which denote the gender of every killer I write about, the gender of the victim, the motive for the crime, and the nature of the climax. I also keep a set of log lines for each novel, describing the set-up for each book.
In ‘A’ . . . Kinsey’s hired to prove the innocence of a woman just out of prison after serving seven years for the murder of her husband.

In ‘B’ . . . Kinsey’s hired to find a woman whose signature is required on a minor document.

In ‘C’ . . . Kinsey’s hired by a kid to find out who’s been trying to murder him.

And so on. This way, I can be certain I’m not inadvertently repeating myself. In ‘V,’ Kinsey witnesses a shoplifting incident and alerts a sales clerk who notifies store security. The shoplifter is arrested and two days after her fiancĂ©  makes bail, she dies from a leap off a 400 foot high bridge. While it appears to be a suicide, the woman’s fiancĂ© is convinced she was murdered and hires Kinsey to look into her death. Kinsey’s investigation uncovers an organized retail theft ring with which the shoplifter has been working. There are two other subplots woven into the overall storyline and all connect at the end.

How do you and Kinsey Millhone differ and which characteristics do you share?
As for Kinsey, I think of her as my alter-ego . . . the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. We’re like one soul in two bodies and she got the good one. The ’68 VW she drove (until ‘G’ is For Gumshoe) was a car I owned some years ago. In ‘H’ is for Homicide, she acquires the 1974 VW that was sitting out behind my house until I donated it to a local charity that raffled it off. That car was pale blue with only one minor ding in the left rear fender

I own both handguns she talks about and in fact, I learned to shoot so that I would know what it felt like. I also own the all-purpose back dress she wears. Like Kinsey, I’ve been married and divorced twice, though I’m now married to husband number three and intend to remain so for life. I’m much more domestic than she is and I cuss just as much, if not more.

What’s going to happen to Kinsey when you‘ve finished ‘Z’ is for Zero?

It’s going to take me another eight to ten years to complete the series at the pace I’ve settled on so I have close to a decade to decide what I’ll do after ‘Z’ is for Zero. I may well continue to chronicle her adventures, but I’ll do so as stand-alone novels. No more linking titles!

What’s your work schedule like?
I usually arrive at my desk at 9:00 am, check e-mails and Facebook, and then log into the current working journal for the novel I’m in the process of writing. I use these journals to talk to myself about the story, the characters, the pacing, problems I foresee, and any scene that worries me. Any research I do is recorded in the journal as well. I break briefly for lunch and then return to my desk and work until mid-afternoon when I stop and do a walk of three to five miles. My guess is that on a good day, I work productively for two hours. The rest is writer’s block and Free Cell. I’ve been known to work by page count and on that theory, I consider two pages a day a good run. In fact, I consider page count a better way to operate. It’s way too easy to claim you’ve worked for six hours when in reality you’ve talked on the phone, cleaned your desk drawers, and dawdled the time away.

What do you want your readers to experience from your novels?

I’d like for my readers to experience an entire range of emotions, from laughter to fear, to suspense to anxiety to tears depending on where they are in any given book. I want them to feel connected to Kinsey Millhone, to see the world as she sees it, and to come away from a story understanding how it’s affected her. These are the same emotions I look for in any book I read. I want to be touched and moved and I want to come away from a writer’s work feeling renewed and refreshed.
Thank you, Sue.

You can read the entire interview in The Mystery Writers along with 59 other bestselling, award-winning and journeymen writers. The advice they offer is invaluable for any genre.  And you can communicate with Sue Grafton on Facebook.