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

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

You can’t just call them seagulls anymore

I’m a bird watcher; Jan is not, but bit by bit that is changing as my habits rub off on her. She, of course, is still waiting for the day when her neatness habit rubs off on me.

When we are in Savannah we like to walk the winter beach. Mostly devoid of people, the beach allows us a pleasant meander, and I get to watch the birds through binoculars or a scope. A few years ago she pointed at a bird flying past and asked what kind of seagull it was. It seemed different to her, and it was different—it was a tern, not a gull.

I hauled the bird book from the back of my pants and flipped to the page with Forster’s Tern in winter plumage. 

From Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds
I showed her the markings, we looked at other possibilities and she concluded it was indeed a Forster’s Tern. I then flipped to the gull portion of the book and pointed out the differences in wing shape and beaks between terns and gulls. Terns have narrower wings than gulls and their beaks tend to be sharply pointed; gulls’ beaks are often hooked. Relative to their overall size, gulls have longer legs than terns.

The differences relate primarily to feeding. Terns fish for dinner by diving straight into the water and catching fish. Gulls are scavengers (thank you landfills for their geographical expansion) and when they fish they do it in a swooping manner. Sometimes they’ll land on the surface and paddle around like a duck. Gulls, not terns, are the pests who come begging at your picnic.

For a while, that’s where we left it. Jan figured out which birds were gulls and which were terns. Then one day a small gull and large gull were standing together. They were not parent and child, but Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull. Viewed together their size difference is significant. 

From Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds
Seen separately in winter they do look similar, although Herring Gulls have pinkish legs and Ring-billed Gulls have yellow-green legs. But to know which is which when only one is present, you need to look for the differences or have a good ingrained sense of bird-size. Just as Jan was getting good at distinguishing Herring Gulls from Ring-billed Gulls a third common winter gull in Savannah showed up: the Laughing Gull.

As Jan continued to watch she realized that not only did terns behave differently than gulls, but each of the gull species had different behavioral characteristics as well. That’s when she commented that, “You can’t just call them seagulls anymore.”

For me, that realization is where the fun really starts. Until that discovery, naming a bird is more akin to attaching a label to something to gain mastery over it, a habit in which we homo sapiens excel. Afterward recognizing individual differences, the birds become friends. Oh yes, you remember, the Herring Gulls often stand farther away from the surf than Laughing Gulls and you can get nearer to them before they frighten. You can watch for hours the way Forester Terns fold their wings just so before diving.

When you read a story and it talks about a flock of seagulls, you want to know what kind because you are unwilling to settle for just calling them seagulls anymore. And if a writer describes a sleek bird with pointy wings and beak diving into the water as a seagull and not a tern, you immediately lose respect for the writing—even if it has no effect on the story and a tern would have done just as well as a seagull.

I like nature and so tend to feature it in my writing. I only include animals I have observed myself because unlike characters, I can’t invent them out of whole cloth. This fanaticism on my part will limit the geography of my stories, but I’m comfortable with the tradeoff – and did I mention I’m planning a futuristic novel where I’ll have no constraints.

Question for you: Does it bother you when writers get something wrong, and if so, what bothers you the most?

~ Jim


E. B. Davis said...

Blogger is such a creep! It wiped out a three paragraph comment I was about to post!!

As I tried to say--Your question, Jim, depends on the level of detail necessary in the story.

I did a lot of research on a specific topic one time and included it all in my manuscript because I found it fascinating. It was redlined because it was unnecessary to the story. No one cared about the details as much as I did. You can lose readers by going into too much detail. I have trepidation reading Michener novels because his level of detail makes my eyes glaze. He also had a research staff that few authors can afford.

If the level of detail is necessary to the story, if the plot hinges on minute details on a particular subject--then writers must do their research and get it right. But, unlike you, if it isn't necessary, I'm fine knowing a flock of seagulls pecked at a corpse.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

EB,sorry about the blogger glitch.

You've hit on a key point that within a story the level of detail must fit the needs of the storytelling.

Some books (Michener's and almost all procedurals) contain bushels of details because readers expect them in that genre.

However, when it comes to your seagulls pecking the eyes out of the corpse -- I'd love to see them called Laughing gulls and hear their ha-ha-ha as they scattered from the body on your approach.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

You must be a Hitchcock fan, Jim! Watching movies isn't too bad, but reading horror scares me too much--seems backward--but most written details are more chilling to me than watching. Writers can set off our own fears and spin our imaginations.

Okay-you've got a point and Laughing Gulls are huge--but that detail has an effect within the story--if the authors wants to add that horror element. If not--it's extraneous.

Warren Bull said...

One of the things that really annoys me, as a former psychologist, is when the motivation of the killer is revealed and (gasp) the killer is bonkers. That explains absolutely nothing. People with mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims than perps. And people with major mental illnesses have symptoms. If a character shows no symptoms, he or she has no mental illness. So nobody acts completely normal and develops a mental illness in the last chapter except in badly-written books.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, if it's an area where I'm knowledgeable, a mistake of fact can really turn me off. Sometimes if I'm really enjoying the book and the writing is excellent--and that's the ONLY mistake--I'll give it a pass.

I agree with you that the type of gulls feeding on the body would add depth and emotional power to the story, but I won't get turned off by its omission, unless the viewpoint character is supposed to be a local fisherman or ornithologist or birdwatcher. If the character should know what kind of gull and doesn't mention it, a warning buzzer goes off in the back of my head.

E. B. Davis said...

Yes, Warren, the one thing I've learned in the last twenty years is that the ones in therapy are usually the sane ones trying to cope with a sick person. The truely sick don't see themselves that way and staunchly deny it and defend his/her abusive behavior. Spot on--but then if you don't know, no one would.

Gloria Alden said...

Like you, Jim, I like watching birds and love all things connected with nature - well maybe not mosquitoes, deer flies, slugs, Japanese beetles, etc. I use them in my writing, too. Actually, I use the nasties, too,to make it more realistic.

If a writer is totally out in left field, I'm turned off. One author has her book set in Amish country but has never livee there, and I'm thinking never visited the area her books are placed in, either. She has a character, a teenage boy, who lives in the small town, totally freaking out by what he called some weird guy with a white beard who came to town in a buggy. I wanted to throw the book. No one who lives in Amish country would not know what an Amish person looks like.

Anita Page said...

I agree that too many details can be deadly, but I also think that the details we use should be accurate.

A reader recently caught a mistake of mine in a short story set in Brooklyn. I mentioned that two characters had seen each other "around town," and she correctly pointed out that in the boroughs it would be correct to say "in the neighborhood." An embarrassing mistake for someone who's a Brooklyn native.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Warren, Linda and Gloria,

To summarize -- it bugs you when you know better and the author screws up. For em the lesson as a writer is to be factually correct since you never know who your reader is going to be.


Don't you just hate it when someone catches your goof? I learned in my business life that in any long written piece there will be at least one error. I keep my fingers crossed that it will be a small one.

~ Jim

Deb Romano said...

Jim, as a birdwacher myself, I was annoyed when an author placed a bird in the story that almost definitely would NOT have been in that part of the country. If anything like that DID happen, birdwatchers would be flocking (ha)to that town from all over the state and it would be in all the newspapers. It just irked me.

Warren, there is a mystery author whose books I will no longer read because the killer is nearly always mentally ill. As a family member of someone with a serious mental illness, I find that to be quite offensive. As you said,mentally ill people are much more likely to be victims than killers. I also don't like it when a character is a suspect because he or she takes antidepressants. Seems to ME that someone taking antidepressants knows that he or she has a health problem and is responsible about keeping the problem under control. The person is certainly not evil because of having certain kind of illness. The author needs to do a bit more homework. I don't want to buy books that are poorly researched.

James Montgomery Jackson said...


And to get slightly off topic, don't you just love it when you hear the tremolo call of loons in movies set in the tropics or in the middle of a desert? I guess if a loon were there it might well want to give its "alarm" call.

That said, I do remember when I was living in a New York town on the Connecticut border and one of my birding buddies at the National Audubon Society had to rescue a Common Loon who had landed during a hurricane on I-95, which had been closed because of flooding!

~ Jim