Home » Blog

Guest Blogger: Sandra Robson – How I Write Mysteries (click for comments)

HOW I WRITE MYSTERIES by Sandra Robson

When I start writing a new book, I begin with a blank piece of poster board and a strong sense of place. A three-story, desolate-looking house in Newport, Rhode Island, an ancient white stucco church in New Mexico, a London street in relentless rain—the aura of an intriguing settling triggers all kinds of plot ideas for me. Once place is determined, I take photos and attach them to a storyboard.

When I wrote False Impression, which takes place in Stuart, Florida, I tacked up pictures of a white sand beach, the Riverwalk at dawn, the Sailfish fountain in the traffic circle, a 1920s house being moved down the river by barge, and a famous county road whose Banyan trees formed a canopy overhead. The result? A spectacular setting. All it needed was people.

Each character I create is usually a blend of two people I know—one for physical description and one for personality. I give the combo-character a working name, like Abigail (which may change by the end of the book) and write a biography that includes eye and hair color, height, weight, age, birth sign (an Aries will be different than a Cancer) place of birth, who her parents were, marital status, manner of dress, education, job skills, speaking characteristics, etc. I do that for every character, then dig through a pile of disparate magazines searching for pictures that resemble each of them. From then on, every time I sit down at my desk to write I’m looking at the people and places in my book.

If that sounds like a lot of work just to get started, it is. But the fun part comes next. I go down to my favorite coffee shop and find a comfortable corner. Then I sit there sucking down cappuccinos, one ear attuned to all the fascinating conversations going on around me, and pound out the first and last chapters. That way I know how the book starts and I know how it ends.

After that, it’s merely a question of outlining chapters 2 thru 6 (I work about four chapters ahead), following the plot, and trying to remember all the important stuff I’ve learned from the world’s amazing writers. Such as:

1) When you can’t get started, write crap. Sift out the good later.
2) Use only ‘said’ to carry the conversation. **
3) Don’t use ‘ly’ words after said. (Ex: He said, lustily.)**
4) Keep the story moving. When readers are bored, they flip. Try not to write a flipping story.
5) Don’t over-explain or pander to the reader. Let him figure out some of it for himself.
6) Don’t write six pages of description about ancient Chinese porcelain even if you’re the world’s expert. Every paragraph you write should move the story along.
7) Don’t write beautifully—tell the story.
8) If all else fails, walking the beach will get you out of a slump faster than scotch.

**Elmore Leonard,l I love you!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sandra Robson is the author of three Keegan Shaw mystery novels: FALSE IMPRESSION, FALSE AS THE DAY IS LONG and FALSE PROMISES. She has lived in London and traveled extensively in the British Isles, France and Greece. Besides writing, she loves reading, traveling, practicing yoga and hanging out in really good coffee shops. She resides on the east coast of Florida with her orthodontist husband, who always offers to help her with the sex scenes.

 

Guest Blogger James M. Jackson – Finding Your Voice: Plotter or Pantser (click here to leave or read comments)

Finding Your Voice: Plotter or Pantser by James M. Jackson

Every author is told to “find your voice,” as though they left it under the hydrangea in the side yard. I suggest that if you write enough, your voice will find you. Voice is what comes naturally to you: the cadence of your sentences, the richness of your descriptions (or how sparse they are), how you use dialog, internal dialog, setting, and so on and so forth. Pick up a Hemingway novel with the cover pages removed, and you won’t confuse it for William Faulkner.

I propose that one aspect of your voice is whether you are a plotter or write by the seat of your pants. (And if you don’t like the term pantser, you can use the politically-correct term “organic author.”) I recently read a blog by someone who wrote a complete novel in less than a month. She had, however, earlier created a twenty-page outline.

For her, it was a great experience. For me, it would have been terrible. She is a plotter. Plotters are uncomfortable starting their writing until they have sorted out the major plot issues. Some need to also understand the subplot before they can begin to compose. I took an online course from a well-known author who plans his novels using a spreadsheet. If he anticipated writing an eighty-thousand-word novel, he’d have roughly sixty-six chapters averaging 1,200 words. HIs spreadsheet would divide the chapters into three equal-length acts. He’d have so many action scenes, so many reactions scenes, so many set up scenes. He’d put in the key events and then populate his scenes with characters and actions until his spreadsheet was completed. Only then could he begin writing.

Following his structured approach during the class was like strapping myself into a strait jacket. There are very few plotters who strictly follow their outline, even if it runs twenty pages. Most change their plots as the write because they have a better idea along the way. Later, their story editor may suggest additional changes that they incorporate before the final manuscript.

I wish I were a plotter. I think it’s a more efficient method—but it’s not how my mind operates. In the Lowen Profiling System, I am a Conceptualizer: I build worlds out of abstract concepts. My process of figuring out a story is to start with an initial concept, put the characters in place, and let them take it away. I may not know who the victim is; I generally don’t know who the killer is. I figure it all out through my writing. I don’t write quickly. I may write 1,000-words a day and then move on to marketing tasks or revising an earlier story. Even though I am not consciously working on the story, my brain is mulling over the open questions and, like a mischievous genie, presents possible solutions when I least expect them.

Plotters find my approach chaotic, and for them it would be. My scenes can vary from a hundred words to twenty-five hundred. False trails I lay down in the first draft turn into red herrings. I joke that readers can’t guess ahead of time whodunit because I didn’t even know! Most important for me is that once I’ve completed my first draft, I understand what my novel is really about on an emotional level.

After we’ve completed our drafts, plotters and pantsers both must rewrite to sort out plot points, make sure every scene is effective, modify dialog, and deal with all the other aspects of rewriting. But the way we laid down that first track of the novel influences its final shape—and that is part of our voice.

If you are not sure if you should be a plotter or pantser, try writing both ways. Which feels more comfortable? More important, which leads to a better final result? When I tried plotting a short story, even the final product felt blah to me, lacking the spontaneity my pantser manuscripts maintained through their final edits. After a couple of misbegotten plotting attempts, I learned to embrace my pantser self, quit wasting time trying to plot, and stop worrying about it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.
You can order paperback versions of his books from your favorite physical or online bookstore (or from his website if you’d like them autographed). You can find his Kindle books here.

Getting Ready For Malice Domestic – Hope to See You There (click to read or leave comments)

Malice Domestic – Hope to See You There by Debra H. Goldstein

Normally, I post thoughts about writing or personal thoughts I hope capture your interest, but this is the week of Malice Domestic. For once, I’m overwhelmed getting everything ready to go.  Because this is a fan and author conference, I hope to see you there.  Let me tell you where you can find me:

Friday – 2 p.m. – Make it Snappy – a panel of the Agatha Award Short Story nominees moderated by Michael Bracken.  Do you know how excited I have been each time I read The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place by Debra H. Goldstein, which was printed in the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is one of the five finalists?  If that wasn’t enough, I’m in the company of four writers I admire:  Gretchen Archer, Barb Goffman, Gigi Pandian and Art Taylor.  (Pinch me, I think this is a dream!)

Friday – 7:45 a.m. – Guppy Get-Together Breakfast – so much fun to put names and faces with people I know online from our Guppy Chapter.

Friday – 5:00 p.m. – Malice Domestic Opening Ceremonies

I’ll also be dropping in to a few of the panels, will say “hey” at the dinner Teresa Inge has put together, and will be at the board dinner I need to attend, the Malice auction, and the drink with bloggers.

If you miss me on Friday, no problem. You can find me Saturday at the SinC breakfast, the SinC president’s meeting, the Kensington Reception and signing (btw, my new Kensington book, One Taste Too Many,  is already available for pre-order in print and e-book versions online and will be available in bookstores on December 18), some of the panels, and of course, at the Agatha Awards banquet.

I also always try to support the new authors by attending their Sunday breakfast. In my spare time, I’ll be hanging so come up and say “Hello.”

 

Guest Blogger: Judy Penz Sheluk – Instructing a Creative Writing Workshop (click to leave/read comments ).

Instructing a Creative Writing Workshop by Judy Penz Sheluk

I was recently approached to instruct a one-day Creative Writing Workshop at my town’s Arts Council. Now, for three years, I was a Creative Writing tutor for an online writing school, so I did have some experience, but the school provided the content. My role was simply to critique the assignments submitted as students worked towards a 20-unit certificate. This workshop was different. There were no guidelines, no previous workshops of similar nature (though there had been a few on painting, pottery, and sculpture), and to add to the pressure, the participants were all writers who had been together for two-plus years, meeting bi-weekly to share their work.

My primary concern was to provide value for their hard-earned registration money. My secondary concern, albeit a very real one, was to make sure I didn’t ruin my reputation! In my town of 18,000, being a published mystery author lands you in the “big fish, small pond” category. It’s an amazing privilege, but it does come with some high expectations.

Since each one of my students were working on a variety of projects, I decided to place the focus on writing a short story with a single underlying theme. Enter THEMA, http://themaliterarysociety.com, my absolutely favorite literary publication. Based out of New Orleans, THEMA publishes three issues of short stories and poetry each year: March, July and November. Each issue has a theme, a deadline to submit, a promise to hear back (yes or no) AND payment of $10 to $25 depending on length.
Before the day of our course, each registrant was given the guidelines for the July 2018 issue (deadline March 1). Theme: New Neighbors.

The day of the course, participants handed a print copy of their story to the rest of us. After reading out loud, we would critique in an honest, but constructive manner, with me going last so as not to influence others. At first, the group was timid in their critiques, something that surprised me since they’d been together for so long. It seemed they’d become friends, and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Here’s the thing. A good friend, and a great beta reader, is above all else honest. It’s not about bashing the writing, but helping to hone it. “What if Jane cried, instead of saying, ‘You hurt my feelings.’”

At the end of the day, the group became more comfortable speaking out, and I hope they continue to do that in their future meetings. As for THEMA, all but two writers decided to submit, once they’d fine-tuned their story based on our feedback. Will they be successful? Maybe, maybe not…but even if they receive a rejection letter, at least they tried. That, in my opinion, is the most important thing. Because every writer, even the bit names out there, have faced rejection. You just have to take it as encouragement to keep on trying. Write on!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC)
Judy’s short crime fiction appears is several collections, including Unhappy Endings, three flash fiction stories previously published in THEMA. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.

Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. You can also find all of her books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Judy-Penz-Sheluk/e/B00O74NX04

 

Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein (click to leave/read comments)

Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein

Do you remember when telephones rang? When rotary dialed objects sat on a table or hung on a wall made a ring sound? Was it that long ago before we relied on phones that fit in our purses or pockets and have individualized ringtones?

I didn’t think it was.

Or at least I didn’t think it was until I recently read two articles. The first one, in last week’s TV Guide, was a story about the television show, Young Sheldon. The second, an article dated February 16, 2018, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call.

According to the showrunners, because Young Sheldon is set in 1989, the set and props must be appropriate to the time. This has caused some comical problems with the show’s nine-year-old star, Ian Armitage. The most recent problem occurred when the script required Ian to make a telephone call. The prop master handed him a rotary phone and he stared at it. He had never seen one and didn’t know how it worked. After he was shown how to dial the phone, taping began. Moments later, the director called “Cut.” Ian didn’t know that in 1989 only seven digits or rotations were needed to dial a phone number.

The second article recounted how on February 16, 1968, at two p.m., the first 9-1-1 call in the United States was made in Haleyville, Alabama. Haleyville’s state Representative Rankin Fite placed the call from Mayor James Whitt’s office to the Haleyville police station where U.S. Representative Tom Bevill answered it on a red telephone given to the city by the Alabama Telephone Company.

I can’t remember a time there wasn’t 9-1-1, but I can remember rotary phones, manual and then electric typewriters, main frame computers, the first Mac, and the New York World’s Fair’s G.E. Exhibit of what the future would bring. FYI, all of the things demonstrated at that exhibit have come to be and, things that existed, like the 1989 rotary phone or the red phone are now in the Smithsonian.

Tell me, what are you surprised to hear nine-year-olds like Ian have never seen – and what do you miss?

 

Knowing When to Say “The End” by Debra H. Goldstein (Click for Comments)

Knowing When to Say “The End” by Debra H. Goldstein

Five days ago, I typed the words “The End” at the conclusion of eighty thousand plus other words I wrote during the past few months. I rejoiced.

Those eighty thousand plus words were probably more like one hundred plus words because on one day, I had twenty thousand words, the next fifteen thousand. The seesaw process of up and down went on a week at a time. Some days I wrote in spurts and actually liked two to five thousand words. Often, the next day when I reread what I’d written, I killed the little darlings. Other days, I completely avoided my computer or sat and stared at it wishing it to demonstrate artificial intelligence and write something for me.

The day after I wrote “The End,” I chilled. I worked on our taxes, got the car washed, went through the coffee drive through window, and while my oven cleaned itself, I watched all the shows I DVR’d for two weeks. It was heaven.

By Friday, the computer called to me. I pulled up the manuscript and again went through it looking for plot holes, spelling and punctuation errors, point of view problems, and repetitiveness. I caught a few of those things, but knew I was too close to my work product. Time to send it off to other eyes. When I hit send, it was out of my hands – temporarily. I went to bed and slept well.

Saturday, I woke refreshed and able to focus on writing blogs, columns, and the beginning of a short story. All of these were things, except one short story I dashed off in three houses because of its submission deadline, that eluded me during the past few weeks while I saw myself getting closer and closer to typing “The End.” By mid-day, I rested. The world was good, and I could do something unrelated to writing.

Sometimes, one needs to close the computer and simply say “The End.”

Guest Blogger: Kathryn Lane – It All Starts With the Subconscious (click to leave or read comments)

It All Starts with the Subconscious by Kathryn Lane

A recurring question I’m asked when I speak at book clubs is whether I plot the entire novel before I start writing. I usually respond by defining the two basic types of writers – detailed plotters or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantstypes. Once I’ve decided to begin a new book and have established the type of novel, such as a suspense thriller, I definitely fall into the seat-of-your-pants-type. I let the characters talk to me and take me along for the adventure. A few steps do happen, though, before the characters scoop me away!

At this point, it all starts with allowing subconscious thoughts to bubble up to my conscious mind. After I allow my brain a rest from a full day of activity, I lie in bed, and on lucky evenings, ideas go off like firecrackers in my conscious mind. From these mental pyrotechnics, I gather concepts and insights my busy day brain cannot possibly bring to light. I keep a notepad on my nightstand to record important concepts.

My next step consists of multi-layered research with copious notetaking. This step goes from on-line investigation and reading a selection of books on related topics to traveling to specific locations I’ve selected for the novel and speaking with people who may be experts on a topic included in the book. Traveling is by far the most fun and at times the most difficult part of the research. It is fun since I choose locations my husband and I want to visit, like northern Spain and southern France, and it is difficult as I usually fall in love with some spot or another making it nearly impossible to leave. Why not rent a cottage and remain there to write the novel? Oh, impossible for various reasons, yet an enticing idea for the future!

There’s another reason my travel research is important – it’s a globalized world. If I place a novel in Barcelona, Spain, the reader must breathe the air, feel the atmosphere, see the sights, and watch the action as if present alongside the protagonist. Too many people have traveled to Barcelona for me to let my descriptions of streets, monuments, neighborhoods, or other details be wrong.

In addition to traveling for research purposes, another reason to travel pops into my mind from an article I read recently – people who engage in activities they love, live longer. Nothing particularly new about that thought, but it came with a twist from a 104-year-old doctor in Tokyo, Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara*” who stated: “Energy comes from feeling good, not from eating well or sleeping a lot.” His twist is instead of feeling good to be happy, turn it around: “Be happy and you will feel good.” Travel does precisely that for me – it makes me happy. Travel and writing – that combination makes me even happier!

Getting back to my writing style, by the time I have completed initial travel, performed research, kept copious notes, written descriptions of my main characters, and taken photos of specific spots to be mentioned in the book, I don’t feel the need to plot out the novel – I can see the “big picture” in my mind and I write the story, allowing my characters to lead the way.

*Dr. Hinohara passed away in July 2017 at the age of 105.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Originally from Mexico, Kathryn Lane was a painter in oils but changed to accounting and international finance after she discovered the artistic path led her to a starving artist existence. To cement her ability to earn a living, she became a CPA and a CMA, and worked for a multinational corporation where she traveled extensively for two decades. After jetting to over 90 countries, her travels gave her the opportunity to fulfill another passion – to write fiction.

Kathryn is a graduate of the University of New Mexico. She has been honored with a Montie Award for the Pursuit of Excellence by The Greater Conroe Arts Alliance and two Paul Harris awards from The Rotary Club of The Woodlands for her service to the community. She also serves on the Montgomery County Literary Arts Council and resides in Texas, with her husband, Bob Hurt.

Kathryn Lane is the award-winning author of the Nikki Garcia Thriller Series. Her debut novel, Waking Up in Medellin, has been named:

 Best Fiction Book of the Year 2017 by Killer Nashville
 Best Fiction Adult Suspense 2017 by Killer Nashville
 Silver Medal in Fiction/Thriller – Readers Favorite Book Awards 2017
 RONE Award Finalist 2017 by InD’Tale Magazine

Coyote Zone (October 2017) is the second novel in the Nikki Garcia Thriller Series. A mystery of high stakes danger in a kidnapping and human trafficking story with subplots, such as romance, woven into the story.

Kathryn’s collection of short stories, Backyard Volcano and Other Mysteries of the Heart (April 2017) gives you the fusion between fantasy and reality, punctuated by hints of surrealism, and symbolism with unusual twists and turns – in other words, everyday occurrences in Latin cultures.

Website: www.kathryn-lane.com
Points of Sale

Waking Up in Medellin
o Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1942428944/
o Barnes and Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waking-up-in-medellin-kathryn-lane/1123516497?ean=9781683130147
o Pen-L Publishing – http://www.pen-l.com/WakingUpInMedellin.html
o iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/waking-up-in-medellin/id1093054173?mt=11
o Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=Waking+Up+in+Medellin
Coyote Zone
o Amazon – www.amazon.com/dp/1683131088
o Pen-L Publishing – www.Pen-L.com/CoyoteZone.html
Backyard Volcano
o Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1943306044/

My Favorite Shirt is Torn by Debra H. Goldstein

My favorite shirt is torn.

The minute the dryer buzzed, I stopped what I was doing and went to retrieve my shirt, so it wouldn’t wrinkle. I pulled it out, shook it, hung it, and saw the pinprick sized hole at the edge of the pocket. Perhaps it was a spot? No, a hole going all the way through the fabric at a location that makes patching or simply wearing it again in public impossible.

What will I do?

I wear that shirt when I don’t feel up to par, when I think the weather is going to be cold, when I write and things aren’t working, or when it is one of those days. It is my comfort shirt. Oversized, blue-green and white plaid, with sleeves that stay rolled up because it has little buttons and tabs to keep them in place, it would never be mistaken as high fashion. My shirt serves only two purposes: it keeps me covered and makes me feel secure.

My writing is like my shirt. I write comfort books and short stories. Readers are meant to feel embraced by the wealth of my words. The language may not be highfaluting, but it always is understandable. Whether the tale is dark or light, it hopefully wraps the reader in a different world.

Time has changed my written works, hopefully for the better. It is an inevitable evolution, comparable to life. I’ll mourn the loss of my shirt, but I’ll buy another. It won’t be the same, but different can still be comfortable.

Guest Blogger: Warren Moore – The Pinocchio Process (click to see comments)

The Pinocchio Process by Warren Moore

I’ve been writing since before I knew how to write – no, really. There are reel-to-reel tapes of a three-year-old me reciting songs and stories. My dad asks, “Did you make that up?” I say I did, and he says, “Pretty weird, kid.”

It really hasn’t changed too much since then. Although my parents aren’t around anymore, I still make up songs and stories, and sometimes, they’re pretty weird. One thing that has changed a bit over the years, however, is that some of them have been published, both traditionally and online. And in fact, that’s happened often enough in the last five years or so that I’m kind of having to reassess some things.

I have a day job: I’m an English professor at a small liberal-arts college in a small town in South Carolina, and I’ve been doing that for almost fifteen years. Make no mistake – that’s how I make my living. But since I started placing stories, and since my novel came out a few years ago, I’ve started thinking of myself a little differently. I’m still an English prof, but I’m coming to realize that I’m something else as well.

I’m a writer.

At this point, you can take a moment to shrug and say, “Well, duh.” But I think some of you may know what I mean. Five years ago, I saw myself as – I was – an English professor who did other things as a hobby – playing drums, writing stories. I still do those things, so what’s different?
Well, the way the world and I see what I do, for one. And examples of that form what I call Pinocchio moments, when I start to realize that I’m a real boy – I mean, a real writer. My stories are published (sometimes) alongside writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and Stephen King. I get paid for that work. (And that’s a big one – when someone tells you that they like the stuff you make up so much that they will make you a gift of money for it? That’s an affirmation.) I’ve had stories positively reviewed in USA Today and the New York Times. I’ve appeared on panels at conferences and conventions, and I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest at a signing at Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. Perhaps best of all, some of my favorite writers, the folks who inspired me to write, have told me they like my work. I’m a Real Boy, it seems.

But unlike Mr. Collodi’s fictional puppet, there wasn’t a Blue Fairy to effect my transformation. I had been a Real Writer all along, even though I didn’t recognize it for a long time. What caused those Pinocchio moments? The fact that I put the work in, and that I put that work Out There. Once I did that, the world let me know what I might not have been willing to admit. And if you’re writing, you should do that as well. Reach out – let people see that, whatever else you do, you’re also a Real Writer. You may very well have been one all along. Pretty weird, huh?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

WARREN MOORE is Professor of English at Newberry College in Newberry, SC. His novel Broken Glass Waltzes was recently republished by Down & Out Books, and his short fiction has appeared in several online venues, magazines, and anthologies, including Dark City Lights (2015), In Sunlight or In Shadow (2016), and Alive in Shape and Color (2017), all edited by Lawrence Block. He blogs as “Professor Mondo” at http://profmondo.wordpress.com, and tweets as @profmondo. His work is available via Amazon and other retailers.