Thursday, October 31, 2013


Argg, me as a Pirate
There are those who hate Halloween and feel it is evil: and then there are those who love it and find it a lot of fun. I’m in the latter group although I don’t celebrate it anymore.

Three grandchildren now grown up.
When I was a child we went trick-or-treating for more than one night, and we went in groups without our parents. We didn’t start until we were old enough to go to school and we wore costumes we made. The first night my brother, cousins, neighbor kids and I headed north to hit the houses beyond my grandparents’ farm and several short side streets connected to the road we lived on. The following night we headed south to cover those houses and two more short side streets.  When we came home we shared our candy, popcorn balls, homemade cookies or a few apples with our parents and younger siblings until our little sisters were old enough to go with us. As for tricks, as we got older, but not yet teenagers, before Halloween we’d roam through the back yards and toss hard corn kernels at windows sometimes or turn over lawn chairs. Oh, we were daring and brave and naughty.  Of course, we were nothing like our older uncles who told tales of turning over an outhouse with a neighbor man in it one night.

Two of my students - quite scary
It is thought by some that Halloween originated in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning summer’s end, dating back 2000 years. It was a time when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to frighten away ghosts.  People believed supernatural things could happen at this time of the year. The word Halloween, is a contraction of All Hallows Eve meaning the day before All Hallows Day. which came about in the eighth century when Pope Gregory III, declared November 1 to be All Saints Day, a day to honor saints and martyrs. It was followed later by All Souls Day on November 2, to honor all those who had departed this life.

In early Colonial America, Halloween was not practiced in New England because of the rigid Protestant belief that it was an ungodly practice. However, in Maryland and southern colonies people combined beliefs from different European ethnic groups as well as Native American traditions to create an American version of the holiday that grew with parties and games. Things in New England changed in the nineteenth century with the influx of many immigrants from Europe and Halloween became a largely accepted holiday there, too. By the 1920s and 1930s there were Halloween parties, parades and the century old practice of the trick-or-treat tradition revived throughout our country.

My grandson a few years ago and his younger cousin
When I had children, I took them trick-or-treating until they were old enough to go in a group of neighborhood kids, usually accompanied by at least one adult. I made many of their costumes once they were in school and Scouts and there were prizes awarded for the costumes. My husband and I hosted an adult Halloween party every year and some of the costumes were amazing. Once when two outhouses arrived, they had a difficult time going down our basement steps to the rec room.

Unfortunately, times have changed. Not too many years ago there were people who hated Halloween, or kids, and tampered with the treats. Not many, but enough so that parents went with their kids and no more were home baked cookies or popcorn balls passed out. Everything was closely checked to see if it had been tampered with. Parents also now worry about sexual predators. There must have been some when we were kids, but no one ever read about it in the paper. Many churches and communities have replaced door to door trick-or-treating with a party in their meeting area. Then there was a contingent of those who thought anything dealing with Halloween was anti-Christ, so many schools no longer have Halloween parties or parades. No excited kids bringing costumes to school to put on after lunch to parade through the halls or towns in their costumes.  I was disappointed that I could no longer dress up at least one day a year in a costume. Instead it’s something like an autumn celebration, or whatever generic name they come up with.  It wasn’t the same, and even though Halloween celebrations were hectic and often chaotic, I loved the excitement and laughter of the kids. 

Here I'm a nurse leading my students around the playground.
I don’t decorate my house and I don’t pass out candy on Halloween anymore. I haven’t had a kid dressed up in their costume come to my door in at least ten years now. I live on a rather busy highway with no sidewalks and houses not close together. There are few children living close and those who do go to one of the parties instead, I think. I used to buy candy just in case someone would come; Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a candy I love. But I don’t need to eat a whole bag of them. Even though I hid them away, on stressful days they were there tempting me and my resistance is all too often weak. Maybe I should buy some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups this year. Just in case.

Do you enjoy Halloween?  What Halloween memories do you have?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Leslie Budewitz Interview

Leslie Budewitz writes The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana. “It takes a village to catch a killer.” The books feature Erin Murphy, proprietor of The Merc, a market specializing in regional foods, in her family’s century-old former grocery. Erin’s passion for pasta, retail, and huckleberry chocolates leads to an unexpected talent for solving murder.                                

Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Leslie. Your first book, Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Nonfiction. As a mystery writer, what prompted you to write nonfiction?

Thanks for the warm welcome, Elaine.

Why nonfiction? I’m also a lawyer, in practice since 1984. Over the years, other writers have asked me questions about using the law in their stories, so I started writing regular columns in writers’ newsletters – primarily First Draft, the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter newsletter, and InSinc, SinC National’s quarterly – and working directly with writers, providing research and reviewing manuscripts. My focus is everyday plot problems, like when a fictional police officer needs to warn a suspect, how to get a search warrant, and whether a character can inherit from another. Eventually that led to a blog and a book. It’s possible to get the facts right AND tell a good story, but sometimes writers need a little help.

What was the best fiction-writing instruction you ever received?

Ah, so much to choose from! Write – er, right now, I’m keeping in mind advice from Dennis Palumbo, mystery writer, therapist, and former screenwriter, at a presentation at Bouchercon in 2010: You have all you need to be the writer you want. And, you can only solve writing problems by writing.

What is your favorite mystery genre and why?

I’m loving writing cozies! What strikes me most is that the murder disrupts the social order of the community. Law enforcement is necessary to restore external order – aka obtain justice -- but the amateur sleuth has the inside knowledge necessary to identify the critical clues, solve the crime, and restore the internal order of the community. And community is at the heart of the cozy.

How did the deal with Berkley Publishing Group for the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries come about, and did you obtain a three-book deal?

The series sold on proposal---meaning a short overview of the series and each of the first three books, and a synopsis and first three chapters of the first book. No outline required, although I am an outliner and wrote one for myself so that I could dive back into the story easily when it sold. I love that Berkley offers three-book deals for new series, to give writers time to find their audience.

In Death Al Dente, main character Erin Murphy hasn’t chosen an easy position. She’s working in a family-owned business with her mother, the foibles of a mother/daughter relationship included, to save and change the Glacier Mercantile; she’s replaced the long-time manager, who wasn’t suited for the job and who becomes a murder victim; and she’s changing the focus of the business, which creates hard feelings with old venders. Why did she take the job?

Erin is 32, a critical age for a young woman. If she’s not married yet, and focused on her career, she’s rethinking. Erin’s come to realize that while city life’s been fun, and she’s enjoyed her work, it’s not what she really wants for the future. And as with a lot of Montana kids – maybe small-town kids world-wide, she’s thinking that the town she couldn’t wait to leave is looking more attractive.

Plus there’s still that matter of her father’s death in an unsolved hit-and-run ….

 “Every victim has a good side. But they’re often the folks who live on the edges, and find themselves
on the wrong side of luck.” (Kindle 3863, Death Al Dente) Do you believe in luck?

What’s that old line, “fortune favors the well-prepared”?

Why does Erin have three stars tattooed on her left wrist, and what color are the stars?

Ah. I’m going to make you wait until a future book for the “why”! I see them in primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. 

Erin’s cat is a Burmese. What attracts you to this species?

Because there’s one sitting on the couch next to me! Seriously, Burmese are wonderful pets – a sweet mix of friendliness and feline independence. 

Erin has labored under a false assumption concerning her former best friend and now police detective, Kim Caldwell. Is timing an important element in life? Does coincidence happen?

More to come on that story line. I tend to agree that there are no coincidences – but we often don’t know all the forces behind some of life’s more mysterious events.

Would you share the promotional blurb of your next Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, CRIME RIB, which will be released in July, 2014?

“Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…

Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.

But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…”

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with non-published fiction writers?

Read, write, analyze, and keep working. As Dennis Palumbo says, you have what you need inside you – and you can only write the books you want by writing.

As a lawyer, are there any legal thrillers in your writing future?

Not for a while. I’ve got at least one more Food Lovers’ Village Mystery to write, and also have a
three-book contract with Berkley Prime Crime for the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries. The first, tentatively titled Spiced to Death, will be out in March 2015.

Bonus Question: I have a feeling that my next question is a no-brainer, but do you prefer beach or mountain, and why?

Oh, I’m a mountain girl, no question. That’s where my heart soars.

Thanks for letting me visit Writers Who Kill!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Personality of Place by Carla Damron

The Personality of Place
One of the challenges brought about by our move across town was switching gyms. I loved my old gym, PF. At PF, the people who work out look like me. There were no gazelles—you know, the size-two women who coif their hair and don eyeliner before climbing on the elliptical for a sixty-minute workout. (If you think my gazelle comment comes from jealousy, you’d probably be right, but that’s whole nuther blog). No, the PF gym rats came in all ages, shapes and sizes. Many had gray hair, wore mismatched workout clothes, and smiled at me and said hello. 

Not a gazelle

But staying with PF wasn’t practical. The closest gym to my new home , GG, is a very different experience. It’s bigger and glitzier, with a bar that makes protein shakes and TVs on each treadmill. Gazelles dart along on every piece of equipment. (I don’t have a word for the male version, but they are lean and well-muscled and, like the gazelles, suck on water bottles like newly-weaned infants). There’s a yoga studio and a “cardio theater” that plays movies, which is great if you plan on two-and-a half hours of aerobics. (I hope there’s a defibrillator in there somewhere.)

It’s been a tough adjustment. At PF, people ALWAYS held the door for me when I arrived, as I did when others came through. At GG, they don’t hold the door open. Nor do the other gym members say “hi” or make any kind of eye-contact. I don’t think they mean to be rude, they’re just always futzing with their smartphones.
I actually bought a new pair of gym pants because my PF ones seemed too ratty for GG.
The contrast between the two places made me think about the personality a place can exude. My favorite restaurant is a pizza dive with sticky floors and stupid art on the walls, but it always makes me feel welcome. I love having a glass of pinot grigio placed at my spot at the table as soon as I sit down. Eating at this place is like visiting a favorite aunt—she may look a little worn and dumpy but her smile and cozy furniture warm you up inside.
My protagonist, Caleb Knowles, tunes into the feel of place, so I like to introduce locations via his perspective. He once visited a formal-style corporate office that he claims projected the feeling: “I can bust your balls if I need to.” He loathes any venue that requires a tie and rates restaurants on the quality of their coffee.
Allowing a setting to have a personality can make descriptions more interesting for both the writer and the reader. Have you ever tried this technique?
And PS: things are better at the GG gym. I make it a point to hold the door and say hello to people. Now and then, a perky little gazelle will look up from her iPhone and say “hi” back.
This makes me proud.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Art of Writing a Pitch

One of the most difficult things for most writers to do after writing a novel is to distill those thousands of words enough to be able to have a reasonable answer to the question, “So, what’s your book about?”

Usually, when people ask that question of a writer, it’s to be nice, unless that person is an industry professional (read: agent or editor), in which case whatever spills out of your mouth could make or break a fledgling career.

Yes, seriously.

There’s a reason they call these elevator pitches: You could wind up in an elevator—or on a plane, or at a restaurant, or just plain old conference—with an agent or editor perfect for your manuscript.

So, though it’s extremely difficult, it’s really important to come up with a short pitch for your manuscript. Even if you never use it, it’s important to have it in your back pocket. Moreover, if you plan on querying, having an even shorter description of your novel can help get your query on the right track.

Writing a fabulous pitch—both short and long (query-style)—was the focus of this month’s meeting of the Kansas Writers Group. Organized and run by the lovely Natalie C. Parker, this group gets together every other month and aims to allow writers of all levels to share information. Natalie asked my super smart PitchWars mentor, Rebecca A. Weston, and me to help unagented writers with their pitches at the session.

Mostly, I just sat there and smiled and nodded along as Natalie and Becca said genius things because they are waaaaay smarter than me, though I did contribute a bit in talking about very short pitches and how I go about writing them. Then, afterward, the three of us looked at individual pitches and query letters of all genres—I had a YA, sci-fi, playwright and adult general fiction in short order—and gave feedback.

It was a great learning session, and even though I was one of the leaders, I learned quite a bit, too, about how to explain the art of writing a good pitch. Because, honestly, I’m not very good at explaining why things aren’t working in a pitch or query. I was a newspaper copy editor for a long time and that job involved taking someone else’s work and summarizing it into a headline, subhead, captions, etc. Because of that experience, I’m pretty good at taking both my own stuff and other people’s and summarizing it into a pitch. I kind of do it on autopilot. But having to talk to a group about it, plus hearing Natalie and Becca explain their thoughts, made everything much more clear in how to convey the mechanics of a pitch.

And, lucky you, I’m going to share exactly what we told the group of querying writers.

Make your pitch specific but not too specific: Here’s the thing with pitches, large (query) or small (Twitter pitch), they have to have a hook. Something that sets it apart from everything else an agent or editor will be reading or hearing. So, be specific. It isn’t just “A boy and girl fall in love” it’s “The homecoming king falls for the ghost tormenting his little sister”—just a little something to give us an idea of what’s going on here.

But, don’t be too specific. Example: If your book takes place on another planet, that’s great. Say something like, “The homecoming king falls for the ghost tormenting his little sister on a scorched cousin of earth” but not “The homecoming king falls for the ghost tormenting his family home on Nietchzeland, the penultimate planet in the solar system Huron.” When you get that specific, it’s just as confusing and off-putting as being far too vague.

Don’t forget voice: While you’re working on that pitch, try to think of words that show off the voice in your manuscript. Remember that post I did about scoring my agent in PitchWars? You’ll notice there are a ton of food-related words in that tiny pitch (butchering, ice-cold, stew). The manuscript is a “foodie thriller”—something those words help to drive home. Your little winks at voice and subject don’t have to be that obvious, but it helps to choose words that represent your manuscript when you have so few words to work with.

Stuck? Start with a “Movie Voiceover Pitch”: Think of all the movie trailers you’ve seen in your lifetime. You know, “In a world where …” blah, blah, blah. Now, use that to summarize your story, in the fashion of “When XXX happens, (Character Name) must XXXX or/while/before XXXXX.” Example: “When a big bad wolf devours and then impersonates her grandma, Red must avenge her grandmother’s death while avoiding the same horrible fate.”

Create a parallel: Another tactic is to show both sides of an equation central to your manuscript. Using the pitch from above as an example, you could write: “Red lost her grandma, her woods and her feeling of security to the big bad wolf. But she’s got her wits, an axe and a will to live.”

Get opinions: Before using your pitch (or query) for real, show it to a few writer friends—both those who’ve read the manuscript and those who haven’t. The combined opinion of your readers should give you an idea if you’ve hit the nail on the head in explaining yourself and if your pitch is confusing in any way.

How do you write a pitch? What’s the most difficult part of it for you?

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Salad Bowl Saturday welcomes Matt Iden today to talk  his experience of finding the right place to set his novels.

Like any other would-be John D. MacDonald or Robert B. Parker, I’d studied enough writers’ guides to hear the old saw, setting as character. The concept gets drummed into us as much as show don’t tell and get to the action and write what you know, but sometimes it takes more than just hearing or reading to learn the lesson.

For some reason I still can’t explain, when I started writing, I set my novels in places I’d never been, or only had been once….briefly. I had a particular penchant for choosing Phoenix and rural New Mexico, though I once plunked a detective down in east Philly (for the record, I’ve been to Phoenix once for four days, New Mexico never, and the only part of Philadelphia I’ve seen are the suburbs an hour west of the city where my mother-in-law lives).

I had the sense, which I think we can all relate to, that my own environment was too boring, too pedestrian, too known to be the setting for a whiz-bang story. How could I possibly thrill the reader—and make the setting as character—with such a ho-hum, try-not-to-yawn location?

Where does this guy live, you ask yourself. The Gobi desert? A bubble? The moon?

I live across the Potomac River from Washington DC.

Yes, you read correctly. Washington DC. The most powerful city in the world. The home of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and other Neo-Classical buildings used on the cover of far too many spy novels. The murder capital of the country, once upon a time. This was the place that I was afraid wasn’t thrilling enough to keep my readers’ attention.

Even more importantly, I didn’t have a sense of the other places at all, the ones that I thought were more interesting. I was using Google Earth, travel blogs, and local newspaper websites to cobble together the feel for places I was pretending to know intimately.

As wonderful as these resources are, they don’t give you the little details that often make the story. What’s the local grocery chain? Where does traffic back up at rush hour? What neighborhood can you visit during the day…but not at night? Where other writers were getting stuck on character or plot, I was getting tripped up—maddeningly—at a much more basic level: where my book took place.

National Law Enforcement
 Officers Memorial
The epiphany hit when I found myself at the library, looking for Lonely Planet guides for Arizona and New Mexico. This was stupid, I said to myself. I wasn’t going to get my setting from a book or a website. I needed to find it by putting my shoes on and walking it. And I could only do that, for the most part, in the place where I lived.

Since then, I’ve set four novels, one novella, and several short stories in and around D.C. Readers who know the D.C. Metro area often cite the accuracy of my descriptions, while people who don’t, say they feel like they do after reading one of my books. From my side of things, I’ve stopped agonizing about the where of my scenes and instead get to spend time on the quirky and memorable details of a setting instead.

Sure, I hear you say, you live in one of the most identifiable cities in the world. Setting is easy. I’ll admit, it’s easier to plug into reader expectation when you’re dealing with a place like our nation’s capital than trying to describe a failing steel town outside Pittsburgh or fisherman’s village on the Chesapeake Bay.

But I actually find myself avoiding the clichés of my city. The Capital building is stunning at night, but what use is it when describing a murder scene? We all know what the White House looks like from news reports, but it might as well be in Phoenix for all I know about it personally (like Phoenix, I’ve only been there once).

So, instead I’ve found myself walking the DC waterfront or the revitalized neighborhood around the new baseball stadium. I’ve discovered landmarks that never make it onto the six o’clock news, like the moving National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which figures prominently in my second novel, Blueblood. I get the feel for a neighborhood by being part of it, not by ordering up tired views of monuments the world knows already from CNN.

If you’re having trouble with setting, my best advice is: go for a walk. Write where you know. Someday you may be lucky enough to take a research junket for that thriller you’ve set along the canals of Venice, but until then, I guarantee you’ll find it more rewarding—and your reader will, too—if you write where you are taking place.


Matthew Iden writes crime fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary literary fiction with a psychological twist. His debut detective series–A Reason to Live, Blueblood, One Right Thing, and The Spike (Fall 2013)–features retired DC Homicide cop Marty Singer.

The Marty Singer detective series

Twitter: @CrimeRighter
Amazon author page:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fiction and Reality

Fiction and Reality

I don’t know if the experiences I had are common to historical fiction writers or not but I feel certain they have happened before.  When I wrote Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, a novel based on an actual murder trial in which Abraham Lincoln acted as one the defense attorneys, the available historical documents left some issues unclear.  I developed three possible scenarios and chose the dramatic for the book because it was also the most probable.

The story line required me to make certain assumption, or more accurately certain guesses based on flimsy evidence or no evidence at all about two men who played major roles in the trial.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop here if you want the mystery to remain a mystery. 
One man was James Maxey.  In history and in my novel, he was the deputy sent to pick up William Trailor. In historical records I noted that other suspects living in or close to Springfield, Illinois were brought to jail by more than one lawman.  William Trailor lived the farthest from town.  He was rumored to be one of the killers and the mastermind of the crime.  Yet Maxey was sent alone to pick him up and return him to Springfield for trial.  Based on that one detail I decided to portray him as an experienced deputy with strong ethical beliefs.  I even had him decide to run for the office of Sherriff. With the names of the historical persons etched into my mind, some years after the publication of my novel I chanced across a mention of James Maxey and discovered that after the trial the Deputy Sherriff became a Marshall and served in that position with distinction for many years.  My guess of Sheriff was close to reality.

The other man was Josiah Lamborn. Both in history and in my novel he was Attorney General of the state of Illinois and prosecutor in the murder trial.  I had almost no other information about him.  Without going into boring detail, it advanced my plot to describe him as an alcoholic.  Again some years after the novel was published, I found an obituary for him that included the information that the promise he once showed was destroyed by his excessive use of alcohol. Again, sadly my guess was right on the money.

So, historical mystery writers out there, have you had similar experiences?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Accidental Research Helps a Plot

Rosemary Krupar, a third grade teacher I taught with who has remained a friend, asked me if I’d like to go on a field trip on a day when there was no school. She’d set up three local stops with Matt Sorrick, a professor of science education from Hiram College who would lead and instruct the students in the world that exists in nature. Well, I didn’t have the time to give up a whole day, but I was too tempted by what seemed like a fun day to refuse her offer.

So last Friday we met in the school parking lot. Rosemary was there when I arrived as well as one student. Soon six more students came along with one father, who took the day off to experience this with his daughter, and Matt pulled up in the college van.  Everyone piled into the van while I followed in my car since the last stop was only about five miles from my home.

Our first stop was at the Monroe Orchard and Farm Market. It was far more interesting than I’d thought it would be. Sue Monroe told us everything we could possibly want to know about running a large orchard of fruit trees – 27 varieties of apples alone, as well as peaches, cherries and pears. They also grow raspberries and strawberries and have a large field of pumpkins, and they make maple syrup during maple syrup season. She gave us some of the history of the farm which has been in her husband’s family since 1938, but it was much older than that.

After we walked around a bit in the orchards we went inside through their selling area with so many delicious things to choose from. From there we entered the area where the apples are sorted and cleaned. Her daughter Amanda was working there. Amanda and her sister were former students of mine. She got a degree in botany and is now working in the family business in that capacity as well as doing other things that needed done. Apples were in a machine being washed with water. When they came out they bounced down rollers until they got on a big circular drum like table with a felt top where they were again jostled about as they dried. 

Amanda picked each one up, inspected it for any defects and then only if it was perfect, did she put it in a plastic bag for sale. Any blemished apples were relegated to a separate container for cider.  To make the best cider, I learned, there should be at least four different kinds of apples. Using only one variety makes a cider that isn’t as tasty. From there we went into a large insulated room filled with huge crates of apples going up to the ceiling. Those had to be put in place by fork lifts. The next room had tall shelves filled with bagged apples ready for sale. Our next stop was a working area where we were each given a fresh, crunchy, juicy apple to eat and a small cup of cider while Sue Monroe answered any questions the students or adults had. Before we left, we went outside and up a large embankment to the doors the barn we’d been in that’s more than a century old. There we saw that it was jam-packed full of wooden crates they make in the winter months.

Our next stop was the Hiram Biology Field Lab where we looked at snakes, toads, frogs, fish and salamanders before our lunch. 

After eating we explored the woods looking at various things Matt  pointed out. The kids hunted for and found numerous salamanders. Matt instructed them on how to handle them carefully, identify the type, and to return them to the place where they were found as well as replacing any log turned over to its original position since under each log is a mini habitat.
Our final stop was Nelson Ledges State Park with large rocks, crevices, cliffs, a waterfall, and narrow tunnels between huge rocks; a fun, but very dangerous place for kids who don’t listen and insist on climbing and running. Matt told us the geology of the rocks brought down by the huge glaciers and what in many places caused a split between what was once a single huge rock formation into two separate ones.

Our seven students were actively involved and interested, but kept the four adults on their toes as we moved on from place to place. I think I was a little more nervous than the other three because one of my former students fell to his death there when he was a fifteen year old Boy Scout on a hike with his troop. His father was the Boy Scout leader. There have also been a lot of other accidental deaths and serious injuries from falls there over the years.

It was a good day. The weather was cool, but sunny. I got my kid fix, and they were good even though they were dashing around like playful puppies everywhere we went. The adults were pleasant companions and the young father and I really hit it off getting acquainted. He was also kind enough to help me across rocks as we crossed back and forth across the stream at the field station and also around and over rocks blocking paths at the ledges. One narrow crevice we went through ended in a rock too high for me to step up on so Matt gave me a hand there. The kids just shimmied up. We’d had a lot of rain the previous week making the rocks and leaves on the ground slippery in places so I moved carefully.

So what part of this fun day is going to be used in a book? I doubt if Nelson Ledges will be or the Hiram Biology Field Station, at least for now. In book five “Murder in the Corn Maze” which has no plot yet. I am going to use what I’ve learned about running a huge orchard business. It’s the right time of year; they’re busy, and I know where to go when I need more questions answered. Next week I’m also planning on going to a corn maze for the first time for more research for that book.

What fun things have you done that ended up being in a book or short story?

Or if you’re not a writer, what have you done that you think would work well in a plot?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Photo by Joe Henson
In preparing this series, I solicited answers to ten survey questions from members of the Writers Who Kill blog and authors who are well-known for their wonderful mystery short stories. These authors have been so generous, detailed, and insightful in sharing their views and providing excellent information that I wanted the WWK readers to have the full benefit of their replies.

Today, G. M. Malliet, author of the St. Just and Max Tudor novels, offers her perspective.

G.M. Malliet did post-graduate work at Oxford University after earning a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge, the setting for her earlier series, the St. Just mysteries.

Raised in a military family, she spent her childhood in Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Hawaii and has lived in places ranging from Japan to Europe, but she most enjoyed living in the U.K. She and her husband now live in the Washington, D.C. area, but often visit Europe.

She writes full time every day but Sunday, and is currently writing a screenplay in addition to her mystery novels and short stories. She changes her mind frequently about who would be the best actor to portray St. Just or Max Tudor. Currently, Hugh Grant for Max Tudor is tied with Colin Firth and Rufus Sewell. She feels Jude Law would make a perfect DCI Cotton (Max's crime-solving sidekick).

Gin’s third Max Tudor novel, Pagan Spring, has just been published. She has two short stories that will be published soon. In “Home for the Holidays” (to appear in January’s Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine), a routine break-in is anything but - when it ends in murder. In “Yuletide” (to appear in the holiday issue of the Strand Magazine), a French amateur sleuth vacationing in a small English village realizes death never breaks for the holidays. 

Gin, thank you for being with us and taking the time to answer the survey questions.

How has being part of a short story writing community influenced your writing?

My first published fiction credit was for a short story I submitted to the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a professional association for mystery writers, male and female. Acceptance into the anthology was just the sort of reinforcement I needed at the time, to keep me going.

What is your thought process when you submit or select stores for a themed anthology?

I try to avoid the obvious. For a holiday mystery anthology for example, you have to figure nearly everyone is going to write a Christmas or Hanukkah story.

When do you know an idea is suited for a short story instead of a longer work?

When the ending is a "gimmick," a sort of one-off solution that couldn't be sustained by a longer narrative arc.

Have you written flash fiction? What do you think of flash fiction as a literary form?

I really can't write flash. I can barely write short.

How many characters can be in a short story?

One to five or six. And two of those should be a couple or a team of some sort, to help the reader keep everyone sorted.

How long have you been writing short stories?

All my life, beginning age five or six. I was inspired by my best friend, a little girl with literary aspirations. We wrote and "published" illustrated children's stories. Our parents were our only audience as I recall. Some things never change.

What is good/bad about the current short story market?

Not enough print magazines.

Should an unpublished author self-publish short stories?

Never say never, but it's risky. A lot of what gets published online gets stolen from online and you need a team of lawyers on call to track down the pirates.

The reason I write short stories is:

To cleanse the palate after a long slog of writing a novel. I just handed in the fourth Max Tudor book and all the while I was writing it new ideas, unsuitable for the series, kept popping into my head. You have to channel the extraneous stuff somewhere. The short story is ideal for that.

The most important aspect of writing a mystery short story is:

Entertaining and surprising the reader.

Again, thanks for joining us and providing us with such terrific insight, Gin. Best wishes for your continuing success.