If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our October Author Interviews--10/4 Wendy Tyson, 10/11 Marilyn Levinson, 10/18 Earl Javorski, 10/25 Linda Lovely. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


October Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/7 Mark Bacon, 10/14 Elaine Orr, 10/21 WWK's Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/28 Kait Carson, and E. B. Davis 10/31 to fill out our fifth Tuesday.


WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla! Look for Carla's blog this month to find out the winner.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Thursday, February 28, 2013

STARTING SOMETHING NEW






“It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.”
-          John Steinbeck, in a letter to Edith Ronald Mirrielees.

I think we all share those feelings to some extent. Sometimes something happens that inspires an opening sentence or the start of a poem. But unfortunately, that’s a rare experience. Most of the time that first scene is elusive. I have the general plot line for my book or story, but I don’t know exactly how I want to begin. And so I procrastinate. I’m not alone in this. Billy Collins has a humorous poem, “Advice to Writers,” in which he advises writers to wash walls and all sorts of other cleaning projects before even starting to write. He claims everything must be spotless first.

I have wanted to start my next book for quite some time – months and months, in fact. I know the plot and story line and where I want to go with it. I know my murderer’s reasoning for committing the dire deed, but I don’t have his name yet. My next step is to create a biography of him in some detail. It will be his story, his thoughts, feelings, and disappointments. In other words, it will give me insight into what leads him to murder.

Next I will create short biographies of new characters in my small town of Portage Falls or add more to the short biographies of returning characters if they’re going to play a more important part in this book.

All my characters have a simple one page character profile listing name, description, occupation, family, hobbies & interests, mannerisms and a line for anything else. Some of these profiles are very limited if they have a very minor role.

This stage of beginning a book is the easiest part for me, maybe because I don’t have to worry about perfect prose or the exact words I need to use. They are only for my use. The only drawback to this method is sometimes I start to feel sorry for my murderers – not because of what they end up doing, but for what has happened in their life to lead them to this decision. I guess it’s because I never make my murderer a cold-blooded psycho case.

As for my victims, their character is never well-developed unless it’s to show what a nasty person they are so no one feels sorry when they meet their end. That’s not totally true. I have had a few victims I developed more and felt sorry about their death, but in most cases the victims haven’t been anyone a reader would care much about.

And it’s not only writing that has me procrastinating, although it happened with every paper I had to write in college. Many years ago I used my S&H green stamps to get an artist’s kit with oil paints, brushes and canvases. It took me a whole year to actually touch a brush with paint to a bare canvas. It never got much better, either. I had ideas, but even with a rough sketch of what I wanted to paint, putting that first brush stroke on a blank canvas was as hard for me then as it is for me now putting those first words on a blank piece of paper.

 Do you have trouble starting something new?

How do you overcome this?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Donnell Ann Bell's Deadly Recall Released!


 Sex, politics and religion are not topics discussed in polite company. Donnell Ann Bell writes about all three in her new novel, Deadly Recall. When I heard that Donnell’s second novel was about to be released, my hands itched. I wanted to read the book and interview her. She’s won numerous awards for her writing, so when I found out that Donnell was a finalist in the 2010 Golden Heart® contest for unpublished novels with the manuscript for Deadly Recall, it was no surprise. Deadly Recall was meant to be published.

Here’s a teaser for everyone from Donnell’s website: “Seventeen years ago Eden Moran blocked out a murder. Heaven help her, she’s about to remember.”

Elaine: Parts of the book read like a romance, others, like a mystery and the remainder is suspense. How did you decide on the structure for Deadly Recall?

Donnell: Hi, Elaine. Whoa! Way to make me go and think. I wrote the book, in my opinion, the way it needed to be written. Deadly Recall is a romantic suspense, but there’s a strong mystery that needs to be told in its pages. In my mind it’s two subgenres. At least, the mysteries I read include suspense.

As for the setup, because Eden, my protagonist, has repressed memories, I needed a catalyst to make her remember. When my police detective interviews Eden, he’s the spark that activates her heroine’s journey and Detective Kevin Dancer’s call to adventure. Trust is an issue for Eden, and for her to give in to her memories, she needed a confidant, a support system. Detective Dancer, in trying to solve his cold case, is attracted to Eden and fills that role. Kind of like the setup of Romancing the Stone with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. Joan Wilder has to trust Jack T. Colton before they can go after the jewel and save Joan’s sister. In Deadly Recall, Eden has to trust Detective Dancer, so we can get to the heart of the mystery and find out who killed Sister Beatrice.

Elaine: In categorizing novels for the market, mixing two genres seems acceptable. But what do you do when three (sub)genres are mixed?

Donnell: Again, I see Deadly Recall as two subgenres. Not so in The Past Came Hunting, where I incorporated a bit of Women’s Fiction and even Young Adult into my Romantic Suspense.

In the past, mixing genres has been discouraged by the major publishing houses because their marketing departments are tasked with labeling books for brick and mortar bookstores. Thanks to small presses and electronic publishing, publishers have branched out freeing authors to enlarge their storytelling parameters.

One of the reasons fellow Sisters in Crime author Ann Charles created her own publishing company (when she had plenty of offers) was because she had so many subgenres in her series. Note: I still prefer tight writing and pacing. And here might be a good place to mention in Catholic school I received checkmarks for ‘failure to conform.’

Elaine: The premise of Deadly Recall, an apt title, relies on the trauma repressed memories of female main character, Eden Moran. What did your research into this psychological phenomenon teach you?

Donnell: That it’s an inconclusive, misunderstood field, and that psychiatric and mental-health professionals still have a lot to learn. Law enforcement and the judicial system remain highly suspicious of people who use repressed memories as a defense. Something I can’t fault them with; it’s too inconclusive. Works great for a fiction plot, though.

While researching my plot, I read stories written by alleged victims with repressed memories. One that struck me was a case in California. A little girl watched her father abuse, murder and bury her best friend in the desert. As an adult, the daughter claims something triggered the event and her memories resurfaced. She testified against her father, sending him to prison and solving a decades-old cold case. That newspaper article definitely sparked my idea for Deadly Recall.

Elaine: Eden’s repressed memories include not only a murderous day’s memory, but also a talent that she failed to realize. Is this common in people who have trauma repressed memories?

Donnell: I have no idea if it’s common, only that to me it made sense. I formed Eden’s goal, motivation and conflict here. Eden’s gift was encouraged by a woman she loved, Sister Beatrice, and quashed by her regular music teacher, Sister Agnes. Eden loved playing the piano for Sister Beatrice, despised playing for Sister Agnes. With Sister Beatrice gone, and Eden blocking, one of the side effects she suffers is that she suppresses her talent.

Elaine: In Deadly Recall, you explore issues in the Catholic Church. Were you raised Catholic?

Donnell: I was raised Catholic and still am. I may touch on issues in the story, but I tried not to dwell, justify or preach on any of them. That would be author intrusion and not the purpose of this book. Deadly Recall is simply Eden’s journey (she’s definitely fallen away), a love story and a mystery.

The primary reason I chose the Catholic Church is that I’m a firm believer that every story has to have conflict. In my debut novel, a police lieutenant and ex-con fall in love. In Deadly Recall, two equally off-limit characters are drawn together. If I placed this story inside, say, the Baptist or Methodist Church, the conflict wouldn’t have been as great as their members don’t take a vow of celibacy.

Elaine: Eden’s horrible relationship to a nun contributes to her repressed memories. Do you think the Church confuses the concept of humility with humiliation?

Donnell: I can’t speak for the Church. I can, however, speak for human nature. People often bend a rule or a commandment to suit their purposes. In my Catholic school experience, and later when I entered public school, I had good teachers and bad teachers. Later, when I entered the working world, I had good bosses and bad bosses—and I should insert here, I was certainly no angel. Jealousy, belittling and bullying exist in every stage of life and in secular and non-secular organizations alike. Fortunately, goodness, kindness and generosity prevail as well. Human nature is that constant struggle of good versus evil, which happily keeps us writers in business.

Elaine: Eden Moran and the male main character, Kevin Dancer, both come from dysfunctional families. Both have issues from their past. How do they overcome those issues?

Donnell: One of the things I got out of writing this book is that every single character, save the killer, finds forgiveness or forgives someone. Eden, who has been estranged from her family, is reunited with them. Kevin forgives his stepfather and vice versa. Kevin also realizes that although Eden shares his stepfather’s profession, she is nothing like him. Kevin aka Detective Dancer also changes his mindset that not everyone accused of a crime is guilty. Finally, when the bishop asks Eden to forgive Sister Agnes, and to free her memories of Sister Beatrice, Eden turns a page. This freedom allows her to regain her gift. In my mind, forgiveness is what enables people to move forward, and that is what I hope readers take away from this story.  

Elaine: Do you think past problems have to be resolved in order to have functional relationships in the present—can you really leave the past behind?
Donnell: Although I took psychology in college, and have training as a volunteer victims’ advocate, I’m speculating when I say some people possess the character and willpower to overcome; others regress, refuse, lash out and/or seek addiction. So many factors determine your question and my inability to answer it—brain, environment, prenatal care, heredity. I will say analyzing the human condition is why I write.

Elaine: After reading The Past Came Hunting, your first published novel in 2011 and Deadly Recall, haunting is a common theme of your work. Why, and will you ever write a supernatural novel?

Donnell: While the characters are definitely “haunted,” and although I enjoy reading otherworldly novels, I enjoy dealing with real world events more. I do have a reincarnation story, called “The Memory Maker,” that took first place in the Gothic Romance Writers Chapter, in – oh, no—The Haunted Hearts Contest.  I may drag it out of mothballs someday.

Elaine: Did you stay with Bell Bridge Books, the publisher of The Past Came Hunting or move to a new publisher? Why?

Donnell: I stayed with Bell Bridge and signed a two-book contract with them in which Deadly Recall was book one. I love working with Bell Bridge Books and the wonderful staff, including my editor Pat Van Wie. The main reason is because Debra Dixon and Deborah Smith are not only publishers, but they are successful authors and widely respected in the industry. They also understand authors. When Debra Dixon said she had a vested interest in seeing both publisher and author succeed, I was like. . .where do I sign?

Elaine: What comes next, Donnell?

Donnell: I just turned in book two of my contract, working title called, “Betrayed.” This book takes place in Denver, keeping with my theme Too Close to Home and should come out late 2013. I’m excited about Betrayed. I learned a lot from this book and stretched as an author to write it.

Bonus: Salty or Sweet? Not sure what this means, but, I’ll bite, especially if they’re chocolate-covered pretzels. Thanks so much for having me, Elaine.

Elaine: You fudged!

Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist. Her debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high as #6 on the paid overall list and finaling in 2012 Gayle Wilson Award for Excellence, RWA’s® Greater Detroit Bookseller’s Best, and the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Deadly Recall, brought to you by Bell Bridge Books, is her second published novel. Learn more about Donnell at www.donnellannbell.com

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Novel Pets


In books, a pet can be a confidant, cause trouble or be a savior. I recall few unusual pets in mysteries--dogs, cats and horses are usually featured. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum character has a pet hamster, although I don’t think Rex ever helped solve a crime. I have read one murder mystery with a pet parrot but don’t remember the title. I do remember that the parrot mimicked human language and said words that led to the killer.

My family and I have had unusual pets and I know other people have too. Perhaps with some creativity, these novel pets might lead to a clue, a murderer or complicate a case. Here are four ideas:

When I was young I had a snail named Pearl. At that time there was a trend where snails were sold with rhinestones glued on their backs—probably not allowed today. My friends quipped, “Poor little rich snail.” Pearl liked to crawl out of her bowl and wander around at night but it was easy to find her by following the slime trail the next morning. Maybe a character with a missing pet snail could follow the slime trail and stumble on a clue or a dead body?

My niece has a snake that enjoys studying with her. What if a character’s pet snake escaped its enclosure? Perhaps it could slide under the killer’s door and wrap itself around his ankle. If the killer had ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), direct contact might force a confession.

 
Many years ago my sister went on a Girl Scout trip to Papago Park in Arizona. She found what she thought was an abandoned kitten and brought it home to nurse back to health. The kitten thrived, gained weight…and began growing fangs. My parents took it back to the veterinarian who said that the kitten was probably part bobcat. The vet advised them to keep Fluffy because he wouldn’t be able to fend for himself in the wild. Fluffy lived a long, happy life but retained some wild animal behaviors like eating raw meat off the kitchen countertop when my mother had her back turned.

If a character owned an exotic but domesticated animal it might be falsely accused of a crime and the owner would need to track down the real culprit. If the killer threatens the owner, the pet could tap into its wild side and save him.

Many years ago our family was house hunting. In one house my mother walked in a bathroom and screamed. There was an alligator in the bathtub! It turned out to be the owner’s pet. I’ve often wondered if the alligator was a trained movie animal since a number of people in the entertainment industry lived in that town.

Perhaps a pet alligator could swallow something (or part of someone) and hinder a detective from solving a case.

Can you think of unusual pets featured in mysteries? Do you have or write about unusual animals?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Blank Page

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Not much intimidates me. I face a blank page every week when I write this blog. When I wrote eight short stories last year, I faced the blank page without qualms. If I were starting the tenth chapter hesitation wouldn’t occur. But I’m starting my fourth new WIP. I know my story. I know the objectives of my first chapter. I’ve taken pictures of the setting. But writing the first page, when you have to grab the reader’s attention, captivate them, set the tone and push the story forward—hopefully in the first paragraph—that I find intimidating.

The first thing I ask is: Am I starting in the right place? Is the scene necessary? Could it be incorporated later in the story as a retrospective? What should my MC think? Should I just start with action, like a movie director yelling “Action?” I know writing any backstory at this point is verboten, but what about my MC’s mindset and feelings? Nope, none of that, it’s backstory. She’s in a place discovering. I need to show that action and her reaction—but then her reaction brings in backstory, her predisposition. I’m going in circles. Lashing out at her significant other when he enters the scene midway could be the way around presenting backstory, but then the reader might assume she's just a bitch. A dilemma. She’s not insensitive. How to make the MC likeable while presenting her in the last situation she wants to be in without bringing in a backstory explanation?

I’ve decided to write this manuscript in first person. It will be my first novel written in that POV. I’ve written shorts in first person and third person, but my previous novels were written in third person because I switched POVs in different chapters. In those novels, I needed to present the action outside of my main character’s POV. This time I don’t, which means that I can present my main character intimately and narrowly. The reader will only have my MC’s perspective, they’ll come to know her well, and that’s what I want. I’m looking forward to utilizing this first person perspective. I’ll have to avoid writing too many of my MC’s thoughts, a pratfall of this POV. No one wants a neurotic or compulsive MC, unless his name is Monk. I remember editing a script once for another writer and in every other sentence I redlined the words, “I thought,” as in “I thought about….” If she’s thinking she doesn’t have to think about thinking.   

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s my fourth WIP, and in the previous three, I repeatedly rewrote the first chapter after I’d finished the entire manuscript. However I decide to start, it’s a given that I will rewrite it about twenty times, and even then I won’t be sure that I got it right. I’m reading opening paragraphs and analyzing them.

How do you approach that first paragraph? Is there a way to determine how to get it right? What is your measure?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Writer's Yard Sale


Today on Salad Bowl Saturday we welcome author Ellen Kennedy. I love the setting she chose to talk about "writing techniques."

~ Jim

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HERE IT IS! TODAY ONLY!

WRITER’S YARD SALE!

Slightly used author’s items available at bargain prices!

Welcome! Did you see my sign? Is it close enough to the road? Good.

Well, yes, we do have a lot of stuff here. Let me show you what I’ve got. You can get some great buys. Just take a look around.

For instance, over here, I have a large, slightly shop-worn ego. No, I don’t have the original box, but it’s still in working order. It took a lot of hits over the past year. I regret that I put it out where it was so vulnerable to the elements. Even in this condition, it’ll give you quite a few more good years. It’s yours, if the price is right.

That table over there? Those are the hats I’ve worn. This publicist’s hat, for instance. I had to wear it a lot this year. It was pretty expensive, let me tell you. I can give you a deal on it. Oh, that eyeshade? That’s my editor’s hat. It’s gotten a lot of use. That pointy hat? No, it’s not Harry Potter’s. It’s my thinking cap. I used that as much as my editor’s shade. It kept slipping over my eyes so I couldn’t see the clock. I missed a lot of deadlines that way. But it works. Boy, does it work!

Check out this coffee can here. Give me a reasonable price and you can have everything that’s in it: almost a pound of miscellaneous adverbs. They’re perfectly good, just superfluous. I cleaned them out of my most recent story. Too many of those things and the work is done for, you know. They’d work perfectly well for a story that needs them, though.

That box of grandiose adjectives? Those are free for the taking. They’re extravagantly pretty, but a little too fancy for me. I tend to be a little more plain when it comes to writing. Sure, it’s yours; just put the carton in your trunk.

Well, I’d like to get something for those used similes. They’re a little worn around the edges, but serviceable. So are those idioms. Colorful, aren’t they? Pretty decorative when you use ‘em right.

Look at this box of paper over here. I’d say it’s about a ream. Those sheets would be great for scrap paper. No, you don’t need to turn that over…well, yes, it’s a rejection. They all are. Got a fireplace? You could twist them and use them to get the logs burning. The twisting part is very therapeutic, I’ve found. So is the burning part, come to think of it.

Could you use these empty liquor bottles? They’d make pretty good candle holders. That’s about all they’re good for. I tried looking for plots at the bottom of them, but no luck.

Oh, that’s the garbage can. It’s where I threw the double negatives, dangling participles and wasted time. I couldn’t even give those to charity in good conscience. You can’t use ‘em.

That? I’m giving that away, too. No, it’s not a footstool or a door stop. It’s a giant economy size writer’s block. So far, I haven’t had any takers. You want it? Make an offer? No?

Well, anyway, it was good of you to stop by. I’ll be here ‘til long past midnight.
Tell your friends!



(Originally published August 15, 2012 at  www.thewordsmithjournalmagazine.com )

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EE Kennedy (aka EEK) is a former award-winning TV/radio copywriter and public speaker. Her mystery, Irregardless of Murder, was published in August by Sheaf House and the sequel, Death Dangles a Participle, will be released next September. Her Christian novella, The Applesauce War, will be featured in Barbour’s upcoming anthology, The Farmer’s Bride.  She lives with her husband near Raleigh, NC.

And her weekly blog is “Behind the Mystery” at www.thewordsmithjournalmagazine.com

Friday, February 22, 2013

Signs of the Times











Signs of the Times


During my recent trips I saw a number of signs that puzzled me.

At one storage facility I saw a sign that offered, “Free Rent.” Fair enough, I understand that. A 

customer can get storage space for a specified time rent-free.


At a second storage facility that had a sign reading:   

“Free Rent

20% off.”

So… the facility pays you to rent a space?  Maybe the renter pays 8/10ths of the original price. You get 

a reduction of 20% in price.  0$ reduced is still 0$. I think. I’m about 80% certain it is.


In a restaurant there was a sign on a door.  “Keep This Door Closed At All Times” Really? At all

times? Why not just take the door and doorframe down and brick up the opening?

I saw an apartment building that advertised, “Distinctive Apartment Living.” Apparently if you want

vague apartment living, you have to look elsewhere.


In the men’s room at a bookstore I found literary graffiti written between the wall titles. I found, the

words “Grout Expectations,” “All Creatures Grout and Small” and “The Grouts of Wrath.” 


Arriving back in Kansas City at approximately 10:00 PM. the description of the weather included the 

temperature and the notation: “Sunny.” This is Kansas City, Missouri not Juno, Alaska.  We don’t get 

sunshine at night. Shouldn’t the description be: “Moony?”


Have you seen any interesting signs lately?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Remembering a Great Poet



                                                                                   
On January 29th of this year it was the 50th anniversary of Robert Frost’s death. America’s favorite poet died several months before his 89th birthday. Two years before Frost’s death, John F. Kennedy requested this poet he greatly admired to read one of his poems at his Inauguration. Thus Robert Frost became the first inaugural poet of many to follow including Richard Blanco for Obama’s Inauguration this year. It was a cold, blustery January day when Frost tried to read the introduction he’d written to precede his poem, but he had trouble seeing the words from the glare of the sun and holding on to the papers in the wind. After putting them aside, his voice gained assurance as he recited a poem he’d written two days before Pearl Harbor, “The Gift Outright.” He made one change to the original poem in the last line. Instead of “such as she would become” he changed it to “such as she will become” referring to our land.


Frost is considered a master-poet because his poems worked, not only in cadence but in word choice. He didn’t plan his poems in advance, but believed those that came about unexpectedly in what he termed “a state of grace” were those poems that would succeed.  Another aspect that made him a master-poet to my mind is he wrote poems from personal experience and with a seeming simplicity appealing even to those who don’t regularly read poetry. Many of his poems tell a story like “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” or “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” – one of his most popular poems and one of his favorites, too.

When I was taking a poetry class as an undergraduate, we were asked to bring in a poem by our favorite author to share with the class and pass out copies of it, too. What a difficult assignment. I had more than one poet I liked, but decided Robert Frost would be at the top of the list.  What poem should I choose out of his hundreds and hundreds of poems? Not something everyone there had heard of.  Robert Frost had been a chicken farmer in his younger years. I had a flock of chickens, too. So I chose “A Blue Ribbon at Amesbury” which turned out to also be one of Robert Frost’s sixteen favorite poems.


On the day I was to read my selected poem, I plucked a Polish hen – one with a feathered topknot – and put her in a cloth book bag and covered her lightly with a towel. For those of you not familiar with chickens and most birds, if you cover them up and make it dark, they become very quiet and subdued.  I sat in an outside row and put the bag with hen on the floor beside me. She stayed quiet and only moved slightly once in a while. When my turn came, I took my hen out and went to the front of the room and placed her on the floor and then handed my copies of the poem  to the other students. Meanwhile, my hen did what any fowl would do in a new environment; she fouled the floor and clucked as she strutted about looking things over. I’d like to say everyone appreciated my reading of this excellent poem, but the truth is they were all laughing so hard (including Professor Hubler) that I don’t think anyone heard a word I said.

A little footnote to this story, another professor, Mary Turzillo, a wonderful poet, came in shortly after I finished reading my Frost poem with several of her poems to share. I don’t remember their titles, but one was a poem about the death of a rooster. This was, of course, a perfect ending to the class that day.

Robert Frost’s accomplishments in his life were many. He published eleven books of poetry, received numerous awards including a Pulitzer. He taught at several colleges including Amherst, University of Michigan, Harvard and Dartmouth. He also went on several good will missions for the U.S. Department of State to England, Ireland and Russia and left behind a wealth of other writings and letters in addition to his much loved poetry.

Who is your favorite poet and what about their poetry appeals to you?


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getting Into the Role

Like most authors, I knew I wanted to write from the time I was a kid.  I don't remember if I wrote mysteries back then--though I definitely enjoyed reading and watching them--but I did something else that was very indicative of my future writing projects.  I used to pretend that any car following me at night was the "bad guy" to my role as "hero."



I did this more as a kid riding in the back of my mom's car, and not so much as an adult, but a couple weeks ago, I found myself treating a car that was behind me as though it were actually following me; like they were my "tail" or something. 

As a kid, my brother and I would duck our heads down in the seat, so any car "following" us couldn't see us.  Sometimes we'd even pretend they were shooting at us, and we'd shoot back through the window with the "hand" guns that every kid uses.  We would keep an eye on the car behind us, and when they turned off, we'd pretend that we had successfully evaded them.

In my teen years, this morphed into some sort of spy game whenever I was home alone.  Except for the killing part, I always thought I'd make a great spy, and I would enter rooms in the house with my arms outstretched, the hair dryer my gun.  I would scan the room efficiently and then back myself against the nearest corner or wall, like you see in cop and spy shows.

I haven't done either of those things in over 20 years, so it was interesting that I reverted to my childhood game recently.

It was really early in the morning this time, rather than at night, and I was on my way to work.  The sun had risen, but it was early enough that the road hadn't become too clogged with parents driving children to school.  In fact, I had a mile-long stretch of back road all to myself, until the car began following me.

Now, in truth, it probably wasn't following me at all, it just happened to be going the same way I was, but each time I made a turn, so did my tail.  When I finally encountered another car and passed it, so did the car behind me.  In fact, the driver kept so close that at one point the conspiracy theorist in me stopped thinking it was a game.

As I neared the last stoplight before my office, I saw it turning yellow.  I made sure I went fast enough that I sailed through the light, and my tail had to stop and wait.  Then I even decided to take a different path through the parking lot, in case my pursuer caught up before I could hide my car among the others already parked.

In truth, if said car really HAD been following me, I'm sure s/he would've gotten my license plate, which would've exposed my ruse for the child's play that it was.  However, the kid in me reveled in the thought that I'd successfully ditched my pursuer.  I felt that same elation that I had in the back seat of Mom's car whenever my brother and I would successfully evade the bad guys.  It probably ties in somehow with the notion of "You never feel more alive than when you've faced death" (I probably don't have the wording right, but you get the gist).  Even an imaginary accomplishment like that can make you feel great about yourself.

I'm sure I'm not the only mystery writer who does that sort of thing.  So please share your adventures with us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Judging Taught Me by Carla Damron

Judging a contest is both an honor and a curse. I spent last year as a judge for a national contest, reviewing “fact crime” books from all over the country. Our small committee received sixty volumes over the twelve months—hardbacks, trade paperbacks, and mass markets—with the task of selecting an overall winner and four finalists.  We had no control over the flow; some weeks, we’d receive five books, other weeks, nada. Keeping up became quite a challenge. I worried one of the towering stacks of tomes in my office might topple over and crush me.  “A Literary Death,” the obituary would say.
At times, it became overwhelming. I wanted to give every writer a fair chance. I wanted to approach each book with fresh eyes, not comparing it to what I’d already read but rating it objectively based on set criteria. But it proved hard NOT to compare them. Some books resonated with me, making me think about them between readings. Others I found so tedious that reading them became an unpleasant chore. Most fell in the middle: they had solid strengths, but lacked creative narrative, fell victim to detail cluttering, or over-sensationalized the crimes written about.
One weekend, when six packages arrived at my house (and I was ready to curse the mail carrier) I had a mini-epiphany: this is what literary agencies face every day. Stacks and stacks of submissions come their way, some great, some good, some neither. Yet they can only accept the smallest percentage for representation. How do they decide?
I wonder if they approached their task the way I did mine: as I began each book, I felt I was saying to it: “Don’t let me reject you.”  Poor editing? You go into the rejection pile. Canned descriptions and overused clichés? Take a seat over there. Stale or overly formulaic structure?  You don’t make the cut.
When we query agents, what do they look for? Any error—typing, spelling, punctuation—might be the death knell. A stereotypical character or pacing that’s bumpy or off could land us in the “no” stack.
But I learned something else during my judging experience. Even the book that seemed close to perfect—that made me want to call the author to congratulate him on his remarkable writing—didn’t make the cut. Why? Because we had six books that fit that description. The small group of judges rated, discussed, argued, rated again, and ultimately had to choose one overall winner.  One of my very favorites wasn’t even a finalist.
An agent might reject you because your manuscript still needs work.  Or she may reject you because she already accepted something wonderful that day. Or she may reject you because she had too many submissions and didn’t feel like she had an “opening” in her stable.  Or she’s sleepy after lunch and does not have the energy to give your work a fair shake.
What do we learn from this? ALL we have control over is the quality of what we submit.  When the agent looks at what we’ve sent him, when he says to it, “Don’t let me reject you,” heed that advice. Send only your very best.
 And if we do get rejected, it may very well be for reasons beyond our control.  There’s frustration—but also comfort—in that.
 Have you ever had to judge a contest? What did you learn from it?