Friday, January 27, 2023

Unclear on the Concept: A Blog by Warren Bull


 Image by Robbin Higgins on Pixabay




“We are all born ignorant but one must work very hard to remain stupid.” Benjamin Franklin


We all do things that backfire, or at least leave us aware of how badly a good idea can go. It is humbling to examine examples and to remember our own lapses such as the ones noted below.


Al Gore, when Vice President, attended a meeting with Asian-American business people in 1993 that was later criticized as possibly encouraging future campaign contributions from non-citizens. His reaction included the statements, “I did nothing wrong” and “I will not do it again.”


Kari Lake, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate is suing the state for election fraud and using attorneys who are presenting the same evidence, that, in an earlier case was described by the judge as “false” and resulted in Lake’s team being told to pay court costs for both sides as well as the judge referring the attorneys for professional sanctioning.


In 2021 u/ilan555 Posted “The moon is more useful than the sun since it gives light during the night, when it is dark. The sun shines only in the daytime when it is light anyway.


A caller phoned a talk radio program suggesting that highway road signs saying “Deer Crossing” should be relocated since there had been a number of accidents at those places and the deer must not have been reading the signs.  (I heard the call.)


“Yes, I’m sure the gun is unloaded.”


I did an evaluation for involuntary hospitalization with a person who would not answer questions, repeatedly shaking her head and pointing to her ear. It seemed to me to be a way to avoid being evaluated. As if it was a standard practice, which it was not, I handed her a pencil and motioned signing her name on a release of information form. She waved her hands around and said. “I can’t because I’m blind.”


39-year-old Charles Vacca, an instructor at an Arizona firing range showed a nine-year-old girl how to shoot a single bullet from an Uzi machine gun. After one shot, he took the weapon from her and switched it to fully automatic mode. The girl was unable to control the weapon. She shot and killed her instructor.  


Bullywatch, an organization that donated all its proceeds to families of bullying victims, came up with their own distinct wristband to be worn by anyone who was against bullying as a gesture of unity against the bullies, they had their heads in the right place. Unfortunately, one important thing they failed to consider was how a bully’s mind actually works. What others may have seen as a pretty powerful message against bullies and harassment, the bullies saw as a marker for who to bully next. Students wearing the wristband were much more likely to be targeted by bullies than students who did not.

  

 

Photos of dead marine animals found on the beach make their way into the viral cycle every couple of months or so these days, though back in 1970, something like that was less “further proof of everything bad we’ve done to the oceans” and more, “Huh, what the hell is that?” So, when a dead whale washed ashore in the town of Florence, Oregon, in 1970, the authorities tried to find the best way to get rid of it without causing any trouble for the nearby beachgoers. How did they go about it? By blowing it up with dynamite. 

Yup, a bunch of adults, presumably people qualified to deal with such situations, figured it would be better to just blow up one of the biggest mammals on the planet and act like nothing happened instead of just putting it back in the water and letting the natural ecosystem dispose of it or at least calling other authorities. They also used a lot of dynamite so as to vaporize the small chunks of the exploding whale. Needless to say, the incident was a disaster; the sprayed bits not only showered the people nearby with some unwelcome and presumably stinking whale fluids but also severely damaged one of the cars parked there.
Whenever colonization is mentioned, the Brits get most of the blame, as they admittedly had the biggest empire of them all. Yet, many other European powers dabbled in it, many times reaching close to or even overtaking Britain as the most prolific colonizer of them all. France was one of them, with the jewel of their empire in Hanoi, Vietnam (then known as Indochina).

Hanoi was set up to be one of the best cities under French rule, though there was a tiny problem: rats because of the 14 kilometers (9 mi) of sewer pipe the French had set up under the city to keep things in order, rats could now reach any part of the city through them, making the problem worse. Finally, having had enough of it, the French decided to put a bounty on the pesky creatures and asked the people to bring them dead rats for a small amount of money. Understandably not willing to go through rat carcasses at government offices, they decided to ask for only the tails of the rats.


At first, it seemed to be working quite well, as many tails were showing up, suggesting that the rats were dying, too. That wasn’t the case, though, as there were now even more rats than ever in the city. Unfortunately, the locals of Hanoi had actually turned it into a lucrative business, where they would only take the tail off the rats and let them go produce even more baby rats for profit. Because of that botched bounty scheme, rats remain a big problem for the city of Hanoi even today. 


Tasked with the problem of elementary school students who excitedly got out of their desks upon the slightest excuse, the young (anonymous) psychologist developed a plan seemingly without flaw. Every time a student resumed his or her seat, they got a gold star on a prominently displayed poster in the classroom. What could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, the problem was with the concept of “resuming.” In order to resume the sitting position, one had to out of the desk. The program brilliantly increased the wrong behavior. When the program was reinvented so that staying in the desk was rewarded, the desired behavior increased.  


What’s more: no rats were harmed under my new plan.







Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Imposter Syndrome by Connie Berry

 

Almost every author I know has it—the feeling, deep down, that whatever success they’ve achieved in their writing career won’t last; that the book they’re working on now will never come together; and that their next book will never be as good as their last one.

In every book I’ve written, there has come a time (usually late at night in the dark) when I think, “Nope. This time I can’t pull it off. I’ve written myself into a corner. I’ll have to give up.” Fortunately (so far), I haven’t given up. I’ve soldiered on, counting on my unconscious, creative brain to offer suggestions, fill in plot holes, and give me renewed hope.

January has been an encouraging month for me—mentions on several “Best Of” or “Favorites of 2022” lists. And then an Edgar nomination. Believe me, I’m thrilled. But that old imposter syndrome suggests it’s all been a fluke. I’m trying hard not to listen.

If you’re plagued by the imposter syndrome, I have some encouragement and a practical suggestion.

·       Encouragement: You can pull it off. Yes, you can. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. Stop fretting and get to work.

·       Suggestion: When plot holes loom and everything seems hopeless, make a list of possible solutions, the crazier and more off-the-wall the better. If familiarity breeds contempt, toss out the familiar. In my experience, desperation breeds creativity.

Have you experienced the imposter syndrome? How do you battle against it? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

An Interview with Annette Dashofy By E. B. Davis

With her short-cropped gray hair and dark skin, Cassie was

part mother hen, part Amazon warrior queen.

Annette Dashofy, Where the Guilty Hide, Kindle Loc. 78

 

On the shore of Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, a body lays half hidden, the waves slowly moving it with the rising tide…

 

In the early morning mist, freelance photographer Emma Anderson takes pictures of the rocky coastline. She moved to Erie to escape a past that haunts her but the last thing she expects to capture is a dead body.

 

Erie City Police Detective Matthias Honeywell has been investigating a spate of home invasions but when one of the robbery victims turns up dead, his case evolves into homicide. Emma’s first encounter with Detective Honeywell leaves her shaken when he reminds her of her ex-fiancĂ©-turned-stalker. Matthias misinterprets Emma’s anxiety and suspects she knows more than she’s letting on.

 

With the threat of another murder and no obvious leads, will Emma and Matthias overcome their mutual distrust and work together to capture a killer?

Amazon.com


I was glued to the pages of Annette Dashofy’s first book, Where the Guilty Hide, in her new series. Main characters photographer Emma Anderson and police detective Matthias Honeywell are equally compelling characters. However, Matthias’s boss/partner, Detective Cassie Malone, competes with them in popularity.

Emma’s on the run from an abusive relationship and trying to find her drug-addicted younger sister. Both women are damaged by their parents’ deaths. Matthias has family and women issues. Cassie is a grandmother, and she can’t seem to refrain from match-making single women and Matthias. It’s a triangle bound for trouble.

 

Please ask Annette questions using our comments area.      E. B. Davis

 

About your new publisher, Annette—One More Chapter is a global division of HarperCollins. I downloaded my copy from a UK site, but I noticed that your punctuation is American. How did the deal come about? Is it digital only? How did you decide about that?

 

My amazing agent, Dawn Dowdle, negotiated the deal with One More Chapter, and yes, they’re one of HarperCollins’s UK imprints. I’m definitely learning as I go. Having previously been published by a small press, I can tell you this is a whole new ballgame. OMC publishes digital FIRST, meaning Where the Guilty Hide will be released on January 20 in eBook format with print coming later. I know the UK print release date is March 2, but I haven’t heard when it will be available here. Thankfully, I’m content to let it play out and see how it goes. As for the formatting, I wrote the manuscript the same as I always do, and I wasn’t sure if they would convert it to UK formatting or not. I’m glad they left it. The series is set here after all. But if they’d changed it, hey, as long as they send the royalties to me here in the US, I’m fine with whatever!

 

The series is named A Detective Honeywell mystery. Does that mean he is the main character? Since the book is written from Matthias and Emma’s POV, I thought they shared the title.

This is another one of those learning curves, from small press to big-five, items. They have a team who makes decisions. When I submitted to them, I called it the Lake Erie Mystery Series, and my title was Rule of Thirds, because Emma is a photographer. The OMC/HC marketing team made the changes to both, with my consent, of course. Yes, while I’d thought of Matthias and Emma having joint “ownership” of the series, it does seem that Matthias is now the lead.

 

Your story is set in Erie, PA. Are you familiar with the city and area? Have you experienced the lake-effect snows?

 

My husband and I have been going to Erie and Presque Isle to vacation for decades. Plus I teach at a writing conference in Erie every October. I’ve wanted to set a series there for quite a while because of the diversity of locations. There are lakeside mansions and there are areas of deep poverty. I can find a place that makes sense for any type of story and stay within the city. I admit, I’ve never experienced winter at the lake, but even here in southwestern Pennsylvania, we get some of the lake-effect snowstorms. But we’ll get a foot, and they’ll get six!

 

This book had no horses. Why? When will they show up? If Emma can ride a bike, surely she knows how to ride horses.

 

And no cats either!

 

Yet.

 

Emma grew up on a farm and had horses. Matthias grew up in Oklahoma and his mom was a champion barrel racer (backstory that we haven’t gotten to yet), so he also grew up riding horses. While neither have horses right now, I can see their mutual love of equines coming into play in a future book.

 

Describe the area of Presque Isle peninsula and its relationship to the city and lake for readers. I was at first confused by a bay within a lake. And that the peninsula, jutting out into the lake, was actually a state park.

 

As you say, Presque Isle is a peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie, but it also curves back toward the city, producing a bay. The northern side of the peninsula faces the lake. Canada is across the lake, but you can’t see it, so from the beach, Lake Erie looks a lot like the ocean. The city of Erie sits on the southern shores of the lake and bay. Presque Isle peninsula is indeed a state park and is gorgeous. Besides the beaches along the lakeside, there are hiking and biking trails, lagoons, and lots of wildlife. One time, while bike riding, we encountered a much-too-tame coyote that was eyeballing the wild geese at the shore’s edge. We immediately rode to the park office to report him to the rangers!

 

The scenario you describe of the home invasion can lead to confusing a victim with a perpetrator. I can understand why people could distrust the police in such a situation. How did the husband, Wesley, create police suspicion, at least Cassie’s, of his working with the home invaders?

Wesley’s escape from being tied up felt “too easy” to Cassie. She wanted to keep the possibility of him being an insider with the gang as an option to counter Matthias’s concerns about Wesley trying to be a hero. She knew Matthias’s history with a similar situation and feared he’d fixate on that one scenario.

 

Emma is on the run from an abusive boyfriend, Clay. Even though she was his victim, she’s trying to help her drug addicted little sister, Nell, who disappeared in Erie. Was Emma’s victim status temporary? How did Emma realize that she was a victim and get away?

 

Emma and her sister are both emotionally wounded. Nell turned to self-medicating to deal with her loss. Emma sought comfort in Clay’s charms. But like so many abusive men, while he started out charming, he soon revealed his true colors, cutting Emma off from her sister and her home. Ultimately, it took a while for Emma to see him as he truly was, at which point she planned her escape to Erie, a town she was familiar with and where she knew Nell had recently been. As for Emma’s victim status being temporary, I think she’s toughened up by the end of the book to some degree, but still has some work to do on herself.

 

Is it common that abuse victims “see” their tormentors everywhere?

 

I’m not a psychologist but I believe there’s an element of PTSD involved. Emma’s waiting for her nightmare to return. She wants to believe she’s safe but knows she’s not. So she expects Clay to jump out of the bushes at her at any moment.

 

What is the “rule of thirds composition?”

 

If you imagine a camera viewfinder (or a canvas in art) and draw imaginary lines in the form of a large hashtag (#) over the viewfinder or canvas, points of interest need to fall along the lines or where the lines intersect. For example, in a portrait, the subject’s eyes should align with the top horizontal line. In a landscape, the horizon should fall on one of those horizontal lines rather than in the middle. If a landscape has one tall tree, it should be placed on one of the vertical lines. That’s oversimplifying it, but it gives you an idea. In this book, “thirds” also seem to apply to the crime spree. The burglaries are happening three to a city.


When Emma first meets Matthias, she thinks that he is Clay, her abusive boyfriend. But even when she knows he’s a police detective, Matthias scares her with his intensity. Why is Matthias so intense?


Matthias has a very dark past, going back to his teen years, that hasn’t yet been revealed. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface with this guy. He doesn’t trust easily, partly because of his career, but largely because of what he’s lived through.

When Emma accidentally takes a picture of a murder victim hidden under floating junk at the water’s edge, she doesn’t realize that the murder victim is her neighbor Joe Platt’s son-in-law. Why don’t Joe and his daughter get along?

 

Joe’s son-in-law has some of the same traits as Emma’s ex-boyfriend in that he’s controlling. He has done his best to drive a wedge between Joe and his daughter. Joe sees the son-in-law for what he truly is, but his daughter is the dutiful wife who only sees Joe as critical of the man she married.

 

Matthias doesn’t have a great history with women. Hasn’t he sought counseling? He must consider himself an abuse victim, or can’t he see that?

 

Funny that you mention Matthias being a victim of abuse. He absolutely does not see himself that way. As I mentioned, he has a dark past that I hope to explore in book #3 when all his demons come calling. The only counseling he’s had was with the department’s therapist following his earlier partner’s death. Matthias tends to take out his frustration on the heavy bag in the gym. As for women, he’s been deeply hurt twice when he’s made bad choices.

 

The county has a coroner and a forensic pathologist? Where does one job end and the other begin?

 

The coroner is an elected official and may have medical training, but often does not. The forensic pathologist is a specially trained physician who is qualified to perform clinical autopsies. If the elected coroner doesn’t have these medical qualifications, a forensic pathologist is called in as needed and they work together. Some counties use a Medical Examiner system instead of a coroner system. In those cases, the ME, who is hired rather than elected, is also a forensic pathologist.

 

What’s next for Matthias, Emma, and Cassie?

 

As I write this, I’m working on the second Detective Honeywell mystery, which is due to my editor on February 1. In it, Matthias is working multiple cases when a man turns up shot to death in a residential alley after leaving his favorite bar with a mysterious blonde. Additionally, a young woman has vanished while walking home from work, although there’s some question as to whether her disappearance is a matter for law enforcement, or whether she simply ran off with a rich boyfriend. Emma’s drug-addicted sister Nell, however, remains missing and in danger. Emma continues to search for her, but it’s Matthias who finds more than Emma wants to know.

 


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

2023 Personal Predictions ... and Lessons Learned by Martha Reed

Some folks make New Year’s Day resolutions. I start earlier, in the week after the holidays but before the New Year begins.

I like sitting down in a quiet space with a nice cup of coffee or a sweet milky mug of Earl Gray or Constant Comment tea and having a good think. The trick is to absolutely refuse to dwell on anything negative even to the point of silencing the steadfast inner critic’s voice in my head.

I purposefully dwell on writerly achievements since being a writer is my life’s mission statement.

I distinctly recall my first newbie foray in my writer’s life almost twenty years ago when I drove across the Hulton Bridge in Oakmont, PA, to the Mystery Lovers Bookshop. Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman, the owners, must have thought that they hooked a live one when I stepped into their store, clutching 300 loose manuscript pages in my hands, and asking, “I wrote a book. What do I do next?” Thankfully, they pointed me to the Mary Roberts Rinehart chapter of Sisters in Crime, Inc. The rest, as they say, is history.

Good times. Good times.

Fast forward to 2023. What have I learned?

I’ve learned you can take your creative writing with you, wherever you go. I’ve written in airports, lakefront cottages, public libraries, the front seat of my car, and while staring at a blank brick warehouse wall.

Once you develop your daily writing habit, where you write doesn’t matter. Getting your daily 1,000 words on the page does. Even when you’re stuck, think of this. Writing one page a day gets you a 365-page book in one year. You can find the time to write one page a day, right?

Honor your creative space and the time it takes you to get there. There is some training involved in this. Not only did I need to train myself, I needed to train everyone else in my world to understand that when I’m writing, I’m working. Creative world-building isn’t something I can pick up and put down. To get to the really good stuff, I need to intently focus on the story I’m telling. Yes, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work that there is.

So, let’s look at my writerly 2023 projects. Last year, at Malice Domestic 32-33-34, Rosalie Spielman and I wrangled 14 other Writers Who Kill authors into adding their individual and additional chapters (and awesome creative talents) to “Broken Hearted Killers,” a serial novella that will start being published on this blog beginning on February 1, 2023. Yes, it took a lot of organizational work to reach the finish line. Was it worth it? I invite you to read “Broken Hearted Killers” and judge for yourself.

Next up, I wrote a short story under deadline and from scratch for “Paradise is Deadly,” the 2023 (and initial) anthology from the Florida Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime. Somehow, and additionally, I volunteered to serve as one of the anthology’s co-editors. Joking aside, I am deeply honored by this trust.

Here’s an aside: Those of you who know me know that stepping off into deep and unknown holes is my superpower, but I’ve learned to trust the universe and to try new things. Plus, I have an amazing group of writer friends who will toss me a rope if and when I need one. Besides, the great unknown is where all the fun is.

The 2023 trifecta project is my self-imposed October 2023 self-publishing date for Crescent City NOLA Mystery #2, my mystery series relating the adventures of disgraced ex-detective Jane Byrne and Gigi Pascoe, my transgender sleuth. I can’t reveal the title yet until my editing is done. It’s one of my few superstitions, but I promise to share any news ASAP.

Looking down the road then, for 2023? Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!

 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Something Else Not Improved by Technology by Nancy L. Eady

 I have some work I want to do on my computer, but McAfee decided to disimprove my life by unilaterally deciding to re-enlist my account (after I specifically cancelled the last attempt at automatic enrollment). Then Microsoft decided to improve my life by announcing (another) update. So far, it’s been 20 minutes and the download has reached 33%. Even though I know I need my computer to be able to write, right now I’m tempted to throw everything out the window and find a pen and paper. 

But because I can’t really afford to do that, and because it’s too rainy and cold outside to destroy my computer properly, I thought I’d share with you moments in my life that technology couldn’t improve. 

Our adult daughter moved out in July. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, she returned permanently with one addition – a cat. We can’t keep a cat in the house because of my husband’s allergies and asthma, but we tolerated it for a few weeks because Kayla was fragile and couldn’t handle parting with her immediately. Finally we reached the point where it had to go, so my husband and Kayla worked out a compromise – the cat would be re-homed with my sister and we would get a puppy for Kayla. (For those of you worried about the cat, I am thrilled to report that Luna is doing very well, ecstatic at having the run of my sister’s house and making good friends with their other three cats.) Luna went to my sister’s the day before Christmas, so December 27th found me at the animal shelter with my daughter to see what they had that was adoptable. (Coincidentally, the 27th is my birthday). So, we acquired Max.

Max Comes Home

 



Max Comes Home 2

For the record, Max is the first dog that has ever entered our house that I did not ask for. The other eight over the years (the last two of which you met a couple of months ago in https://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2022/08/something-not-improved-by-technology-by.html) I lobbied for hard, but Max is here solely because of my husband and Kayla. And that’s okay. He also is the youngest dog we have adopted, only three months old, since 1994, when we adopted J.P. Wooflesnort who was six weeks old. Unfortunately, Kayla miscalculated the effect he would have on her social life. And since her social life has not been curtailed, he is every bit as much our dog as hers now.

Mark and Max

 
With two dogs in the house, life is never boring. With three dogs under the age of 4, life is nearly chaotic.

Play Time

Snack Time


Fortunately, there are times when they run out of steam, and then life gets really, really cuddly.


From Top to Bottom:  Me, Max, Penny and Daisy

When I look at the three of them, I am forced to admit, yet again, that there are things in life that technology cannot improve upon. And that’s the thought I’ll take with me into the week.

Pack Time


As well as the knowledge that I am very well loved.

 






Sunday, January 22, 2023

Recycled Houses by Annette Dashofy

You might say, after making up a story full of characters, murder, and mayhem, I would run out of imagination when it comes to houses and cars. However, I prefer to think I simply use my writing to relive happy memories.


In the first three books of the Zoe Chambers series, Zoe lived in half of a big old farmhouse. In Death By Equine, Dr. Jessie Cameron lived in a big old farmhouse too. Both are, in fact, the same house, although Zoe lives in one half and Jessie lives in the other.

Confused?

My grandparents' farmhouse 

 Let me explain. The house is based on my grandparents’ farmhouse. Prior to its demolition, it perched on the hillside across the road from my current home. I spent a lot of my youth in that house. Divided by a center hallway with two rooms on each side downstairs and two more on each side upstairs, the house had at one time been used as a pseudo duplex. My grandparents let their nephew and family live in half. Hence the idea of Zoe renting half of the house. Her side was the side my cousins lived in. When I was writing Death By Equine, Jessie lived in the side my grandparents used and was renovating the other half. 

So while it’s the same house, it really isn’t. Both Jessie and Zoe live in Monongahela County, but they don’t live in the same area. 

Still confused? 

Basically, in my mind, I planted a duplicate house in two different spots. 

Now we have the Detective Honeywell series set in Erie. The farmhouse didn’t move north, but I still used a familiar home for Emma Anderson’s character. She currently lives in a seventeen-foot camper, based on one which my husband and I used to own. Once again, in my mind, I picked it up and placed it somewhere else. We had it set up in Confluence, Pennsylvania, on a permanent campsite near the Youghiogheny River where my husband likes to fish. Emma’s camper is on a permanent site at Sara’s Campground near Lake Erie.

Camper NOT at Sara's Campground

 
Camper kitchen



Emma doesn't have a cat, but we do! #KensiKitty

Let me clarify one point. Sara’s Campground is real. I am very grateful to the owners for giving me their blessing to use it and their restaurant. However, don’t go there and drive around looking for Emma’s site number. It doesn’t exist. I made up a fictional area in the campground to protect the real residents’ privacy. 

Houses aren’t the only thing I recycle for my fiction. I do it with vehicles too. Has anyone noticed that Zoe and Jessie both drive Chevy pickups? Until recently, I owned that pickup. 

Not our proudest moment but one 
of the most memorable

It’s gone now and I miss it as much as I miss the farmhouse and the camper. But pay attention. Zoe now drives a white Subaru Forester. So does Emma.

"Our" Subaru

Guess what. So do I! 

I really intended to change Emma’s vehicle to something else, but forgot to make the switch before the manuscript went to my editor. Oh, well. 

From here on, I promise there will be no more old Chevy pickups, Subaru Foresters, or seventeen-foot Terry camper trailers in any additional series. Nor will Grandpap’s farmhouse show up anywhere other than future Dr. Jessie Cameron stories. I think I’ve recycled all of those houses and cars as much as I reasonably can. 

Fellow Writers Who Kill, do you use actual houses or cars you’ve owned in your fiction? 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

But Is It A Mystery? By Sharon L. Dean

I’ve published two traditional mystery series that I’ve marketed as whodunits or cozy mysteries. Is it a mystery if an author doesn’t kill a character? I argue that there are lots of ways of killing.


On March 28, 2022, I published a piece in Mystery and Suspense Magazine called “The Classics are Mysteries, Too.” Although my fiction will never become a classic, like the books I wrote about, all of the pieces in my new collection Six Old Women and Other Stories are mysteries, though in some I’ve killed no one. What are the backgrounds of my six ninety-three-year-old women in the title story? They’ve chosen to live together on an isolated island. They’re old. How will they die or how will they live in this new environment that they know will be their last exit? Questions get raised in the other pieces in the collection. What happened at that lakeside resort nearly seventy years ago (“Shuffleboard”)? What happened thirty years ago on Cannon Mountain (“Hardscrabble”)? What prompted an old woman and an old man to become recluses (“Pavlov’s Puppies,” “The Man Who Loved Cribbage”)? Can a book be a mystery even if there’s no crime to solve?

 

Novelist Bobbie Ann Mason once wrote that "a scholar is a version of a sleuth." That was certainly the case when I edited a collection of letters by the nineteenth-century writer Constance Fenimore Woolson. Where would I find the letters? How would I date so many that had no dates? How would I identify the names of so many people, both well-known and obscure? What was Woolson’s relationship to these people and to the events of her world? These were mysteries. I solved many and left others unresolved, especially the mystery of whether Woolson accidentally fell out of a window in Venice or jumped to her death.


I have two outlier novels. Leaving Freedom will be reissued in 2023 by Encircle Publications. It’s a quest novel that was generated by my academic work on Constance Woolson. It has elements of mystery­­––where does my Connie’s mother get a scar on her stomach? What happened to Connie’s Uncle Charlie? The sequel, Finding Freedom, will be even harder to categorize. It’s a last-chance-for-adventure novel as Connie, now eighty years old travels across the United States alone to decide if she should move back to the town of Freedom where she was born.

 

Think about Moby-Dick for a moment. It isn’t just a sea yarn as Melville originally conceived it. It’s a story about the hunt for the whale Captain Ahab sees as a villain. For him, Moby Dick is the incarnation of evil. But the whale is more than that. He’s a physical representation of the inscrutable universe. He’s a mystery just as the universe and our lives in it are mysteries. Melville is a writer who kills––everyone except Ishmael and the whale.

           

I don’t like to get locked in genres. I like to let them bleed into one another. I don’t like to go into a bookstore and find a separate section labeled “Literary Fiction.” Mysteries, whatever the subgenre, can be literary fiction as well. Whatever Six Old Women and Other Stories is, I’ll make Amazon happy and categorize it as a mystery and as a collection of haunted stories.

           

What do you want in a book for it to qualify as a mystery?

 

Six Old Women

Six old women living on an isolated island in Lake Winnipesaukee, teenagers vacationing on Newfound Lake in 1959, paragliders and skiers on Cannon Mountain, an old woman in a house covered in gypsy moths, a man living off the grid in a shack he built himself. The characters in these stories all keep secrets. They are as tough and rugged as New Hampshire’s iconic Old Man in the Mountain. And like The Old Man who fell in 2003, their pasts survive only in memory. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

 

Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of New Hampshire, a state she lived and taught in before moving to Oregon. Although she has given up writing scholarly books that require footnotes, she incorporates much of her academic research as background in her mysteries. She is the author of three Susan Warner mysteries and of a literary novel titled Leaving Freedom. Her Deborah Strong mysteries include The Barn, The Wicked Bible, and Calderwood Cove. Dean continues to write about New England while she is discovering the beauty of the West.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Evolution of a Song: A blog by Warren Bull


 Image by Mohamed Hassar on Pixabay



It has been my experience as a writer, that my work bubbles and percolates on its own. I am frequently not consciously involved in the process. One of my novels, Heartland. came about when the same characters involved in a series of short stories finally informed me that if I put the stories in order, I would have a novel.  There was a gap or two to fill and a few inconsistencies to resolve, but they were correct.


I had the storyline about a hapless, lovelorn cowboy for quite a while before I had the skills to put it into a simple tune. Believe me, it is a simple tune.  I sang Jackson’s Daughter for two skilled music teachers both of whom are committed feminists. One thought it was hilarious. One thought it was offensively misogynistic. 


A cowboy song about a pretty girl he hasn’t even met. I tried to think of cowboy songs where the protagonist expresses respect and admiration for more than the physical appearance of a woman.  I discovered enough songs to make a pile of albums in which a cowboy on a phone call expressed love and acknowledged the importance of his wife and children. However, in those songs, the lyrics that followed the introductions are variations on a theme that can be described as, “Gotta go. They just called for my rodeo event to start.  Wish me luck on making the next round of competition. I’ll be home real soon … in about six months unless I qualify to compete in the National Finals Rodeo. Then I’ll be gone longer.” 


I decided those songs did not qualify as non-misogynistic. 


I expanded my search for songs of any genre where men do not patronize or totally idealize women. It turned out to be a short list. I will keep looking in hopes of eventually finding enough to put in a blog.


Of course. there are some touching and romantic songs by cowboy, country, and popular singers about their wives. Garth Brooks, and co-writer Kent Blazy, wrote a sweet tribute to Brooks’ wife Sandy. If Tomorrow Never Comes. That was before Sandy divorced him because he was almost never home.  John Denver wrote the delightful Annie’s Song to his wife. Then Annie divorced him because he was on the road most of the time. 


The Captain & Tennille had their first hit with Love Will Keep Us Together. They were married for 39 years until “Captain” Daryl Dragon’s poor health and health insurance issues led to Toni 

Tennille getting a divorce. They remained good friends until Dragon’s death. So maybe that song qualifies.



In my original song, the cowboy, the girl, and her father are characters.  Working to avoid sexism, I gave each of the three a set of lyrics. Pretty soon it became evident that Jackson’s daughter could hold her own and more.


So, now I have a very short (five-minute) musical ends with the hapless, lovelorn cowboy still 

looking for love.




Thursday, January 19, 2023

A Few Thoughts About Plotting by Marilyn Levinson

For me, plotting is the hardest part of writing a novel. Writing mysteries require extra special diligence when it comes to plotting because situations and scenes that occur at the beginning of the book must be followed up and addressed in what follows. I have no trouble coming up with an inciting event to start my story. It carries me several chapters. And then I run out of steam.

This never used to happen when I was a plotter and I'd figure out my entire plot while allowing for changes as I wrote. But I have turned into a quasi-pantser. Now, often after writing a third of my WIP with more than two hundred pages to go, I'm not sure how to move on. I know that my two storylines will converge; I even know my killer. But how to fill the next two hundred plus pages with logical, exciting, well-paced prose that ends on a satisfactory note requires serious thinking.

It's a good thing I have a few techniques that have served me well over the years and set me on the right track so I can finish my book.

1. I reread what I've written. After all, the first third of my mystery introduces the situation, the setting, my characters as well as the first murder. I'm lucky that whenever I go back to page one, I find I'm happy with what I've written. Also, I discover places where I can further my plot. Unbeknownst to me, my subconscious has been setting down important hints and clues that I'm quick to follow up in upcoming chapters. Think of Anton Chekov's famous quote “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." (Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.) Then of course, there are the red herrings to be added that serve to misdirect the mystery reader. Knowing that my WIP is in good shape so far gives me the inspiration and confidence to move on.

2. Plotting requires both logic and creativity—the ability to consider various possibilities and to choose the one that best suits your story. I am grateful that I belong to a group of mystery authors I can count on to help when I get stuck. Often one of their ideas will be the perfect solution. Other times the simple act of explaining the problem and asking for help stimulates my own creativity and I come up with the plotting solution all on my own.

3. I'm not good at sitting down to focus on a plot problem. My mind starts to wander. I check my email, my Amazon standings. Facebook. Instagram. I find that solutions to my plot problems come when I'm walking by myself. In the shower. Even in a doctor's waiting room. It's always when I'm doing something that doesn't require much thinking. I imagine it's different for everyone, the time when one's mind is receptive to finding new solutions.

4. Finally, I have faith that the necessary solution(s) will come to me and I'll finish the book in a satisfactory way. Why? Because I've done it before. Plotting a novel is a series of solving problems. I've come to trust my writing instinct because I've set up my What If? situation carefully and with much thought. Some of that thought process has developed over the years and now works on an unconscious level. Writing a novel is never easy, but somehow the procedure becomes part of the mind's inner workings. The mind cooperates and helps us along. I've yet to give up on a work in progress because I couldn't work out the plot. Far be it from me to know how this miracle works, but somehow it always comes through in the end.


Wednesday, January 18, 2023

An Interview With Kait Carson

by Grace Topping

Kait Carson is one of the members of the Writers Who Kill blog group. Early in my writing career, Kait reached out to me through the Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter and offered to review and comment on my work in progress. She helped me turn it into a much better manuscript. Over the years, we have exchanged manuscripts, offering and taking advice from each other about what works and what could be improved. Although we have never met in person, we have become good friends. So when Kait regained the rights to several of her books and decided to reissue them herself, I was thrilled for her and wanted our readers to learn more about them and about Kait. The first book to be reissued, Death by Blue Water, comes out on January 24, 2023.

 

Death by Blue Water

Hayden Kent takes to the world beneath the sea to come to terms with her broken heart. Instead of peace, she discovers the body of her ex’s brother clad in a swimsuit and anchor chain. How did Richard end up in the wheelhouse of the Humboldt, and why do the cops claim she was the last person to see him alive? He never showed at Faulkner Marina, or did he? A vicious migraine robbed Hayden of her memory of that night. The clues she follows to save herself uncover criminal activity at the highest level. Can she find the killer before he drowns out her life?

 


Welcome, Kait.


With your background working for a law firm, what inspired you to write a murder mystery? 

 

There’s the old saying of write what you know. I’d been working in the legal field since 1989. Our firm enjoyed a lively trusts and estates practice. We also had our fair share of probate litigations, Bits and pieces of those practice areas show up in Death by Blue Water, but the inspiration was a dive I made on the wreck of the Thunderbolt. I was circling the wheelhouse and something floated up, peeked through the wheelhouse window, and then dropped from sight. It turned out to be a plastic bag, but at first glance, it looked like a hand. The scene lodged in my imagination, and murder was the only explanation for a hand at that depth.

 

In Death by Blue Water, you have some suspenseful underwater action scenes with terrific details about diving. Are you an experienced diver or just really good doing research?

 

Thank you. I fell in love with the underwater world in college and was certified as a diver in January of 1972. I currently hold an advanced certificate, and my first love is diving deep wrecks. 

In the middle of January, I enjoyed reading Death in Blue Water with its setting in the Florida Keys. I could almost feel the warm waters off the coast. Why the Florida Keys?

 

That’s another case of write what you know. The Humbolt is based on the Thunderbolt. She was sunk near Marathon as part of the artificial reef program. I dove the area most weekends when I lived in south Florida. It seemed natural to make Hayden a Conch (generational native of the Keys) and set the story there.

 

You mention Hayden seeing a green flash at sunset. What exactly is it, and have you seen it? 

 

As the sun dips into the sea, if the conditions are perfect, the horizon flashes green. The phenomenon lasts little more than a second. It’s magical, and I have been fortunate to see it. Traditional holds viewers will have luck for the rest of their life. 

 

Hayden experiences severe migraine headaches—to such a degree she experiences blackouts and can’t recall things she’s done and places she’s been. It definitely adds suspense to the plot. Is there such a thing as migraine blackouts, where someone can do things and not recall them?

 

Migraines do cause blackouts in a small percentage of sufferers. Hayden’s blackout is a memory lapse caused by the all-encompassing pain of the migraine and is quite frightening.

 

Now that you’ve moved north, are you going to continue with the Florida setting, or have you been inspired to use a different setting?

 

The answer is both. There’s a saying in Florida that once you get sand in your shoes, you will always return. My shoes are exceptionally sandy! The first book in the Southernmost Secrets series, set in the Florida Keys, is drafted and has been submitted for consideration to Berkeley. I’m in the process of drafting a new series set at an artist’s colony and lodge in the northern Maine woods. One can do interesting things with a palette knife.

 

You also write the Catherine Swope mysteries. Please tell us about that series?

 

The Catherine Swope mysteries are responsible for my using a pen name. You see, I killed a lawyer in the first one and didn’t want anyone to wonder if life was imitating vicarious art! 

 

The series is set in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Catherine is a former cop fighting her demons while she struggles to find her place in the world. Certain of her love of animals, she builds a dog walking service. When she finds a client dead, she becomes the prime suspect and must use her law enforcement knowledge to clear her name.

 

Which came first, your Hayden Kent mysteries or your Catherine Swope mysteries? How do they differ?

 

Oh, great question. Hayden came first. I wrote the book while participating in my first National Novel Writing Month (NANO). It was also my first winter in Maine. I was longing for blue water and soft breezes. The Swope series came after I returned to Florida and was inexplicably written in the Keys. 

 

The Kent mysteries are traditional mysteries with a cozy edge. Hayden is a paralegal by profession and a reluctant amateur sleuth. The Swope series is darker. Catherine left the police force after a self-defense shooting of a teen. The shoot was justifiable, but she could not absolve herself. She’s a loner who prefers to spend her time with animals and only turns sleuth when other options fail.

 

Congratulations on your short story that was included in the Sisters in Crime Guppy Anthology, Hook, Line, and Sinker. Please tell us about it.

 

Thank you! It’s not often I get to write something where no one dies. “Gutted, Filleted, and Fried” was such fun to write. The story is about a marital con. We all like to think we know our partners and spouses, but do we really? I wanted to explore the consequences of a marriage where nothing is as it seems and then turn the tables. 

 

In addition to writing mysteries, you’ve written some short pieces for some well-known and lesser-known publications. Please tell us about them. 

 

Grace, are you referring to my checkered past as a writer for the True Confessions magazines? Yes, it’s true. I began as a romance writer. The Trues were a wonderful market, and magazine covers featuring my stories line my office walls. Alas, they are no longer in business. I’ve also written Woman’s World Five Minute Mysteries and non-fiction essays in Chicken Soup anthologies. My essay, “Blood is Thicker than Water,” appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul Lessons Learned from My Cat, which releases on Valentine’s Day. 

 

While balancing home life and a grueling work schedule, you took a break from writing. What drew you back to writing again?

 

Writing is a labor of love. It’s the only profession I’ve ever wanted from the time I read Little Women

 

Your series had been traditionally published, and now you are reissuing your books. Please tell us about going indie and the challenges this move presented?

 

We are so lucky to live in an age where publishing options are so diverse. 

 

Re-releasing the Hayden Kent books as an indie made sense. It’s hard to find a traditional publisher to take on a pre-released series. The books were already edited. I was immensely fortunate to have the very talented Polly Iyer offer to do my covers. The stars aligned. 

 

The challenges were knowing what the indie options were and the mechanics of making it happen. I purchased and devoured Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula class and the Atticus formatting program to help put the pieces together. 

 

What advice would you give writers who are thinking about going indie?

 

Do your homework. This is your business. Invest in yourself. Your books will be your face to your readers. Be comfortable that they are as professional as you are. 

 

Since you started writing, what has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?

 

You can’t edit a blank page. Set a writing schedule and stick to it. I confess, it’s a work in progress, but I do try. 

 

What’s next after Death by Blue Water? Will we see more books in that series?

 

Oh, yes! I will be re-releasing Death by Sunken Treasure in the spring. A third book in the series, Death Dive, is drafted and on my editing schedule.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I’m turning my attention from the tropics to the Maine woods and am drafting the first of the Maine mysteries. I’m excited about sharing my love of this beautiful state. I’m also working on polishing and editing Death Dive. It’s fun to spend time with Hayden again.

 

Thank you, Kait.

 

Bio:

Kait Carson writes two series set in the steamy tropical heat of Florida. The Catherine Swope series is set in greater Miami, and the Hayden Kent series is set in the Fabulous Florida Keys. A new series, the Maine Lodge mysteries, features Sassy Romano, a newly divorced thirty-something, who puts her past behind her when she inherits her family's Inn and artist retreat located deep in the Maine woods. 

Like her protagonists, Kait is an accomplished SCUBA diver, hiker, and critter lover. She lives with her husband, four rescue cats and a flock of conures in the Crown of Maine, where long, dark, nights give birth to flights of fictional fantasies.

You can reach Kait and sign up for her newsletter at kait@kaitcarson.com

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