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Guest Blogger: Manning Wolfe – Song Lyrics: Using Them in Books

Song Lyrics: Using Them in Books by Manning Wolfe (click for comments)

Writers often include music references in their manuscripts to establish a mood or setting without consideration of the legal issues surrounding their use. Song lyrics are copyrighted, just like books. And, like books, the copyright is created the minute the tune is written, even prior to registration.

When I give my Legal Issues for Authors presentation, use of song lyrics is the number one area of discussion and chagrin at my response to questions.  I often hear: “It’s just one line;” or “I’m not planning to sell that many books, how would they know?” I respond: “Even one line is protected by the song writer’s copyright;” and “What if your book is a big hit and the music company holding the rights decides to enforce it?” It’s a vulnerable position to be in. I remind attendees that the same laws that protect their books from being pirated are the laws that protect a song writer’s lyrics.

Fair use: Even if an author squeezes in under the fair use statute (which is very limited for use in commentary, education, or parody), defending that position in a lawsuit may cost more than the book revenues.

Permission: If an author is determined to use particular song lyrics, permission can be obtained by sending a request to the music publisher and paying a fee. The cost may be higher than revenues from the sales of the books, and the process can be slow and frustrating.

Titles in Lieu of Lyrics: In my own writing, I try to find a way to get the same effect from the song lyrics I’ve quoted without using the actual lyrics. Most of the time, I use the song title and the artist’s name, which is acceptable under copyright statutes. For example, if I’ve written:

Boots drove along the highway singing (lyrics omitted).

I’ll replace that with:

Working Man’s Blues was playing on the radio.

“Merle Haggard really knows how to turn a phrase,” Boots thought.

Use of titles is permitted, and the reader can often create the mood of the song in their own mind.

(Note: Use of song titles on the cover or as the title of the book is protected.)

Original Lyrics: Another safe option is to write original lyrics. Often a mood can be created by song lyrics and the reader may feel that they know the song or at least the type of song even if it’s not a classic or current hit.

Public Domain: There are lyrics in the public domain that are free to use and may be appropriate to a scene. Any song published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923 is fair game.

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Manning Wolfe, an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas, writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first in her series, featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, is Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King. The second in the series, out in June of 2017 is Music Notes: Texas Lady Lawyer vs L.A. BaronA graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peak into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them. To request her presentation, Legal Issues For Authors. or to subscribe to her newsletter go to: www.manningwolfe.com

Guest Blogger C. A. Newsome – Discovering Your Secret Sauce (click for comments)

Discovering Your Secret Sauce by C. A. Newsome

There is a lot of advice geared to “writing to market.” In my opinion, that leaves you chasing both the cart and the horse with little likelihood to catch up. You might make a few dollars cloning “Twilight,” “Fifty Shades of Gray,” or Harry Potter, but you’ll have no sustainability after the market moves on and you’ll be back to square one because your backlist will not serve you

Better to find your own “secret sauce” and build your own audience.* To do this, you need to do what every breakthrough author has ever done: write what you love. You have to create a premise close to your heart, for four reasons:

  1. Your excitement about what you are writing will carry you through the frustrations that inevitably come with writing a book (and they always come!)
  2. You’ll know enough about this thing that your writing will be believable.
  3. Your love will shine through and engage readers.
  4. You won’t get so sick of the series by book 3 that you hate the idea of writing book 4 no matter how many readers are clamoring for it.

To be successful, you need to find a vehicle for all the things you want to say, one you can come back to year after year. How do you find that concept?

If you read five pages of “Fifty Shades of Gray” and thought, “any idiot can write that,” just stop. If you don’t love and respect a genre, you’ll never understand what pleased the people who made the author wealthy. Instead, take the authors and genre(s) you read the most and the books you read more than once.

If you are truly ready to write a book, you are an avid reader with a slightly jaundiced eye. While enjoying a book you’re also criticizing or admiring plot twists, the author’s skill, and the nature of the characters. You have random thoughts like, “Somebody should write about a woman who (Fill in the Blank)” and, “If I were a writer, I’d NEVER (Fill in the blank) to my readers.”

Make a list of things you think when you’re reading, all the things you’d like to see that you’re missing, all the things you hate and never want to see.

List your favorite authors. What do you love about their books? What makes you roll your eyes? Who have you quit reading and why did you stop?

Think about genre norms. Are there tropes you’d like to blow up, or at least violate? What elements of your genre keep you reading those books?

If you sort through these things you’ll find the elements of your own secret sauce. Focus especially on what you’d like to see in a book that you aren’t finding elsewhere. Pile on everything you gleaned from your lists. Hone this down to your idea of the perfect book.

“But what if nobody else likes it?” Seth Grahame-Smith found an audience for Jane Austen and zombies. If it pleases you, love it enough and it will please someone else.

*      The advent of self-publishing makes this increasingly easier to do, as you don’t need to convince an agent, who has to convince an editor, that your book will sell. Instead you can market directly to readers. A quirky premise that won’t sustain the immense feeding chain of a publishing house can provide a nice living for a self-published author.

C. A. Newsome is the author of the Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries. Her newest book, Fur Boys is available for pre-order on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0727RFDK1/ . She lives in Cincinnati with a chow-mix street urchin named Shadda and a furry piranha named Gypsy Foo La Beenz. You can find her website at http://canewsome.com and her Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/AShotInTheBark/.

Malice and Me (click for comments)

When you read this, I’ll be getting ready to attend my fifth Malice Domestic. Although I didn’t leave the bench until two years later, this conference marks the fifth year of my formal commitment to a writing career.

Malice is a mystery fan and writer conference. While there, I will wear both hats while appearing on a panel, networking with writers and fans, attending the Sisters in Crime breakfast, having lunch with the Guppies, sharing a drink with the Short Mystery Writers Group, and holding my breath at the banquet hoping nominated friends take home an Agatha. The conference is a busy few days, but it doesn’t end there because invariably I go home having new people I stay in contact with.

The other thing special about the 2012 conference was being invited to be one of the twenty-four authors showcased at the new authors breakfast. I arrived at the room and discovered there were twenty-four round tables each set for ten people. The authors were expected to grab a table and act as its host or hostess, except for the few minutes the author went to the microphone to answer a question and give a book blurb.

My table was in the back of the room. Not being well known, it wasn’t one of the first to fill.  Two women, looking for seats together, sat with me when the next table didn’t have room for them. From their faces, I knew they were disappointed at being unable to sit with that author. That changed when I comically handled my interview question. When I returned to the table, I had two devoted fans who I have enjoyed spending time with at each Malice since then. Although I have developed other fans, those two are very special to me.

Since that first Malice Domestic, I have been fortunate to be a panelist or a moderator at every Malice I’ve attended. Between the panels and my seating at the banquets, I have the opportunity to earn fans for Maze in Blue, Should Have Played Poker, and my short stories (this Malice, I’ll be on a short story panel and you can be sure I’ll mention the May/June Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine features, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” my first story accepted by AHMM) and I am able to mingle and become a fan and friend of established and starting writers

I love the books I bring home and the memories created, but I treasure the friends I make.  That’s what Malice is to me.

Guest Blogger: Carolyn Mulford: How I Chose My Imaginary Best Friend (click here – comments)

How I Chose My Imaginary Best Friend by Carolyn Mulford

When I write my Show Me mysteries, I spend many more hours with my characters than with anyone else. I choose them carefully, for they have to entertain me through a series.

Unlike some writers, I don’t write about people I know. I prefer creating my imaginary friends by combining traits of many individuals who’ve intrigued me over decades.

Developing a real or imaginary friendship takes time. Here’s how my protagonist came into being.

I was looking for an action-oriented woman to anchor a series when the Bush administration outed CIA covert operative Valerie Plame. The illegal outing put her in danger, ended her career, and exposed casual friends to charges of working with the CIA. Plame’s plight resonated with me. While working in Vienna during the Cold War, I accidentally discovered that a friend was living the dangerous double life of a covert operative. I was extremely curious and a little scared.

I contemplated using a covert operative as a protagonist. I couldn’t afford to research settings and CIA operations in Eastern Europe, but the idea of a former operative who applied her tradecraft to crime investigations appealed to me. Besides, I was planning to move from the D.C. area to Missouri, my home state. My main character would return there, too.

Before imagining a specific person, I needed a broad profile. I read former operatives’ autobiographies and attended meetings at which they spoke. I concluded that typical operatives were intelligent verging on brilliant, daring but not foolhardy, energetic and committed enough to do two jobs, and self-confident to the point of arrogance. Not exactly warm and fuzzy. On the plus side, my friend in Vienna had been witty and charming and, seemingly, relaxed.

I began to picture my character: a fit 55-year-old, five foot six so she could pass for a short man, short black wavy hair that easily scrunches under a wig, brown eyes, skin that always looks tanned and allows her to blend in well in many crowds, regular features so no particular one makes her memorable.

Then I sketched a backstory. She grew up in a financially strapped but loving family that stressed personal loyalty and community service. She joined the CIA after her cheating husband shook her assumptions about people. For years she led two lives in Vienna, employed as an expert on Eastern European economies as a cover for her CIA job. Her dual career complicated her relationships. Survival required her to deceive friends, colleagues, and assets.  As a covert operative, she dealt with scum and accepted that the ends justify the means. In her post-CIA career, matching venture capitalists with Eastern European start-ups, she made a fortune.

This tough, cynical woman didn’t sound like great company, so I allotted her some saving graces: loyalty to friends, an obsession with fairness, empathy for the innocent and powerless. Drawing on my own experience, I knew that she’s stayed in Vienna because she loves music. An accomplished pianist, she’s used her talent to “become the life of many communist parties.”

All along I’d been considering what to call her. I couldn’t know her well until she had a name. Naming an imaginary friend is as difficult as naming a child. I use a baby book that gives the meanings of names and an online site that lists each year’s top names.

The right name didn’t come to me until I envisioned the incidents that brought her back to her hometown and compelled her to investigate a murder. So what happened? She was severely wounded during a post-retirement freelance mission in Istanbul and sent home to recover off the shooter’s radar. She adapts her tradecraft to help a lifelong friend unearth the truth about her husband’s violent death

I named my imaginary best friend Phoenix Smith. Phoenix symbolizes crashing and rising again from flames. Smith is a good name for a spy because it sounds fake.

Over five books—Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, Show Me the Gold, Show Me the Ashes, Show Me the Sinister Snowman—I’ve come to know Phoenix well. Her experiences and relationships have softened her a bit, but she remains a force. I enjoy spending time with her. I hope readers feel the same way.

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Carolyn Mulford worked on four continents as a nonfiction writer/editor before turning to fiction. Her award-winning Show Me series features Phoenix Smith, a former CIA covert operative who returns to rural Missouri and adapts her tradecraft to solve crimes with two old friends and a K-9 dropout. In Show Me the Sinister Snowman, the fifth book, a blizzard traps Phoenix in an isolated antebellum mansion with an abusive husband outside and an unknown killer inside. You can read the first chapters of the Show Me mysteries and of two middle grade/YA historical mysteries on her website: http://CarolynMulford.com.

Today You Are A Man (click here to read or leave comments)

Today You Are a Man by Debra H. Goldstein

Last weekend, our oldest grandson had his Bar Mitzvah.  When he was called to the Torah, he became a man in the eyes of our religion. In my mind’s eye, he still is the infant his grandfathers supported on a pillow during his Bris. Somewhere, along the way, I blinked and thirteen years passed.

I kid that I’m not old enough to be the grandmother of a Bar Mitzvah boy, but that isn’t true. His mother (and her brother) were part of the package when I married their father. That gave me an edge on having a grandchild sooner than might have been the case, but the reality is many of my high school and college friends, who didn’t go to grad school or work, have grandchildren in this age range or older.

But, I digress from the most important thing – our grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. With grace, humor, wit, and intelligence, he stood on the pulpit before friends and family and became a man. He spoke from the heart, he recited time honored prayers, and he made his parents and grandparents proud.  He was perfect.

During the past thirteen years, he hasn’t always been perfect.  There are times he’s been rude, sloppy, bossy and occasionally mean to his sister.  At other times, he stood up for his sister, was considerate and sweet, and did an act of kindness without being asked. His curiosity and intellect prompted him to be a reader, challenge ideas, and explore new worlds.

His grandfather and I alternated smiling and frowning as he matured, but since the day his parents and he were assigned his Bar Mitzvah date, we tingled with anticipation. Yet, our excitement was tinged with nagging thoughts about the passage of time.

The Bar Mitzvah was everything we wished and prayed for him. Deep voiced and with a sense of confidence, he became a man, but I couldn’t help wiping away a tear remembering him as a boy

The Crud (click here for comments)

girl with runny noseThe Crud by Debra H. Goldstein

Well, I finally got back on my feet (literally) and what happened? The Crud. In case you have been lucky enough to miss it this season, and I hope you have, it is a stuffed head or runny nose (in my case, think two to three boxes of Kleenex), deep chested cough, chills, low grade temp, lethargic feeling bug. Apologies for the language, but I can only best express it by saying, “It sucks.”

For a week, I didn’t want to do anything except feel sorry for myself. Talking to others who have had The Crud, dr. teddy bearthis apparently is another fairly common symptom until the achy feeling goes away. I did manage, when I wasn’t hacking or blowing, to read a few books, watch some TV, and cuddle under my favorite blankie. So, I can’t say it was all bad. It might even have been a nice break had I not been laid up for the past few months.

In fact, in the old days, when I put in long hours at the office, ran from meeting to meeting, and structured almost every waking hour, The Crud, once I’d give in to it, often proved to be a nice break. Sort of a mental health day or two off. Of course, in that life, I only took the days off until I was beyond being contagious because I had obligations. Things were scheduled, people were depending on me, and every day I took off meant others had to step in for me or add to their workloads rearranging mine. This time, there was no office to run to, no scheduled hearings to be held, nor any reason not to cancel all social activities.

blowing nose smily faceIt took a good week to get rid of The Crud. I wonder how long there would have been a residual cough, the need for another box of tissue, or evenings of exhaustion if this was three years ago? I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. Having The Crud wasn’t fun, but the flexibility of this new life of following my passion for writing certainly is.

Supporting My Local Retailers vs. Convenience (Click for Comments)

computer shoppingSupporting My Local Retailers vs. Convenience by Debra H. Goldstein

I believe in supporting local stores and merchants. After all, my family’s quality of life was tied to the fact my father and his father were retailers. I grew up in towns where there were small stores where store owners knew us and where the salespeople and owners of the few large department stores were friends or recognizable faces because of their activism and interaction with the community.

Big box stores and chains destroyed some of this community closeness, but still provided jobs and money tied to the local economy. In the past few years, news reports regularly report the closing of these stores, as well as mom and pop operations. Much of the blame for the demise of these retailers has been placed on a shift to internet sales.

I know I’m guilty of shifting much of my shopping to running my fingers over my keyboard. There are so many advantages. I can shop whenever I want; compare prices and goods in seconds; and find brands and merchandise in stock rather than discovering I’ve missed the store’s one to show and one to go.

Many of you know that between November and the last two or three weeks, I was bedridden/housebound post reconstructive foot surgery. Shopping online became a way of life. Amazon became my best friend.

It started when I wanted a better picker upper than the one we had in the house. No problem, it was here within two days. I ran out of stationary for the thank you notes I needed to write to the many friends who brought dinners and lunches throughout November and December. No problem, delivered within two days. Realizing I wasn’t going to get out to purchase holiday cards, it was no problem. Two styles arrived within two days. Any moment I heard about a book that might be interesting, no problem, I ordered it before I forgot the title. It even reached a point I started doing my grocery shopping online.

Everything became a matter of convenience. I hate to think how much money went to online merchants versus my local shopkeepers. Now that I am a bit more mobile, my intent was to shop in town, but convenience is hard to give up. This was brought home this week when I needed to buy a bag of marbles to use for a physical therapy assigned exercise. Neither the nearby Dollar Store nor our “we have everything” novelty shop nor the big box toy store had any in stock. Frustrated and needing to elevate my foot, I went home and picked up my computer. Within minutes, my computer was powered up, I’d reviewed four pages of marble choices, an order was placed, and I went on to do something else.


As you can guess, the marbles arrived within two days. My shopping habits have changed. How about yours?

Guest Blogger: Dr. Shirley B. Garrett – What Makes Great Characters Outstanding (click for comments)

What Makes Great Characters Outstanding

by Dr. Shirley B. Garrett

shirleyI’m a psychologist as well as a writer, so characterization is important to me in both the characters I write and the ones I enjoy reading. My personal goal as a writer is for the psychology of each character to be accurate and provide satisfaction to the reader, without becoming too technical.

The secret to good characterization is to understand each character before you begin writing. My characters are so real to me in my mind; I know how they speak, move, and dress.

One of my favorite characters is Lula in Janet Evanovich’s, Stephanie Plum novels. She was a minor character in, One for the Money and has become an important secondary player, providing comedic relief throughout the series. Everything from her ever-changing hair color down to her too tight, poison green mini skirt says reformed “ho” trying to make a fashion statement in her new straight lifestyle. Janet doesn’t have to tell the reader that this character is anything but subtle. She shows it by having Lula drive a red Firebird, bling everything in sight, and navigate life in four-inch, knock-off, designer heels.

Know what drives each main and supporting character both inside and out. Lula’s internal drive is to heal her past and gain a healthy self-esteem. Like so many, she believes if she puts enough shiny red nail polish over the stinky stuff of her life, that she’ll achieve her external goal of acceptance, respect, and maybe even love. Despite this external focus, (If I look beautiful, I must be fantastic) the writer manages to let the reader understand deep rivers of light and dark run beneath her unique, bedazzled wardrobe.

You relay a good deal of information about a character by the people and places they frequent.  Lula made her debut in the series as a prostitute working a corner on Stark Street.  She changed her life after a near-death assault and now works for a bail bondsman by assisting Stephanie Plum, an inept, yet persistent bounty hunter. Lula still lives in the same place but operates on the right side of the law.

A character’s coping mechanisms are also revealing. In Sizzling Sixteen Lula stated, “There’s four ways to handle stress. There’s drugs, there’s alcohol, there’s sex, and there’s doughnuts. I go with sex and doughnuts.”

Another coping mechanism, denial about her size, is revealed by her insistence on squeezing her plus-size body into clothes so small they present a ripping hazard. While denying she’s overweight, and rationalizing it with numerous excuses, she reveals the truth by her constant shift from one crazy diet to another.

All of these behaviors are important, but a true craftsman has such a strong voice for each character, the reader knows who’s talking by the way they speak, the pronunciation, word choice, and cadence of the speech.

Bringing main and supporting characters to life in a reader’s mind does take a bit of effort—but it brings much pleasure to them. Happy readers want to revisit their favorite characters again and again.


Dr. Shirley B. Garrett, Psy.D, LPC, DAC, ASG is a writer, professional speaker, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and a nationally certified Doctoral Addictions Counselor. Her self-help book, Stop the Craziness: Simple Life Solutions is an easy to read toolbox of simple solutions to help people improve the quality of their lives, and is available on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats. She has completed her first psychological thriller/mystery, Deadly Compulsions, and her first chick lit novel, Hot Flash Divas.  Both are seeking adoption by an agent or publisher.

Guest Blogger Susan Van Kirk – Making it Personal (click for comments)

marryinhastefrontMaking It Personal by Susan Van Kirk

Have you ever wondered whether books you read have names, places, or events that are personal to the author? It’s like thinking about songs you love and wondering how they came to be written or what they mean to the composer.

My Endurance mysteries do have personal associations, and the series has themes and writing choices that permeate all four books. Three May Keep a Secret (2014), The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, an e-book novella (2016), and Marry in Haste (2016), are the first three books in the series, and the fourth, Death Takes No Bribes, will be out in late May 2017. Each title is taken from a Benjamin Franklin proverb in Poor Richard’s Almanac. He’s a favorite of mine, and also of my retired-teacher protagonist, Grace Kimball.

In each of my novels, I’ve used words provided by my children. Some of these words are tundra, helicopter, instrumental, disingenuous, and little pumpkin. The last one was not easy! They all think they can stump me with words that won’t fit into my plots. But so far, I have triumphed.

I was a public-school teacher for thirty-four years, and, like my Grace, I see former students every day in my small Midwest town. She, like me, remembers the crazy things they did in their adolescent years, memories that lighten the mood of the murders. Here’s an example: Grace is walking down the corridor of Endurance Hospital when she sees a hospital aide pushing a patient in a wheelchair. Andrew Weathersby. His locker was right outside my classroom his sophomore year. One day I heard a commotion and walked out my door to the hallway. It was a girl fight—the worst kind. Andrew nonchalantly leaned against the wall and pointed out his twin sister, Ally. “She’s the one on the top, beating the crap out of Lisa Watkins.” Then he leaned forward and shouted, “Hit her again, Ally!” Now, at least, he is using his muscles in a good cause.

Each book in the series has items, events, dates, places, and people who are special to me. In Threemonmouth-public-sq-circle May Keep a Secret, I described the Public Square (which is more like a circle) in the small town where I live  No one knows quite how to drive around it without driving defensively. I also borrowed the history of my town to use for the history of Endurance, a small town on the edge of the Illinois prairie, built by Scotch Presbyterians in the 1830s, civilized by women, and surrounding a college. This book introduces the characters, the town, and the dark secrets that end up causing two murders.

The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is a novella about a strange case my detective, TJ Sweeney, solved. Workers who are digging the foundation for a building find a skeleton, and Sweeney discovers that it dates to the 1940s. Who was this woman and how did she die? The last place she was seen was the Roof Garden, fashioned after an actual dance venue for the Big Bands in the 1940s. My parents used to go to such a building where they danced on the roof top during World War II when my dad was home on leave. I interviewed an 87-year-old woman who still remembered dancing there starting at age thirteen, and her excellent memories contributed wonderful details to this story.

My most recent book, Marry in Haste, takes place partly in a house I lived in for five years when I firstallen-house-jpg moved to Monmouth, Illinois. It was a huge Victorian built in the late 1800s. Marry in Haste is the story of two marriages, a hundred years apart. Each story contains a murder, and both plots share a dark secret that connects the marriages and the murders. Grace’s boyfriend, Jeff Maitlin, buys Lockwood House to restore it to its former beauty. He and Grace discover a diary written by a young girl, Olivia Lockwood, a hundred years earlier. Her story is both bittersweet and terrifying. In the present day, one of Grace’s former students is accused of murdering her philandering husband. The real house that connects the two plots was razed in 1990, but I kept the original house number—402—and it lives on in my book.

The final book, Death Takes No Bribes, takes place at Endurance High School. Grace has retired and her replacement, Ms. Jaski, is named for my first-grade teacher—a young woman I admired at age six, and who taught me to love reading. She hugged us every day when we left for home. Alas, she left to get married after that year, but I used her name because I’ve never forgotten her or what she did for us. When Grace returns to her old classroom, one of the things she notices is a “2002” carved on the teacher’s desk. She never found out who the artist was. That did not happen to me, but I retired from a teaching career I loved in 2002, just like Grace. So, I chose that date for a reason. In Death Takes No Bribes, the principal of Endurance High School, John Hardy, is murdered, and Grace must face the possibility that one of her former colleagues and friends may be a murderer. This last book in the series will be out this coming May.

It’s been fun putting personal memories into books that strangers will read, not realizing the origin of some of my choices. I hope you’ll come along on some of Grace’s murderous adventures and see that being a public-school teacher in a small Midwest town is anything but dull.

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005-color-1Susan Van Kirk grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, and received degrees from Knox College and the University of Illinois. She taught high school English for thirty-four years, then spent an additional ten years teaching at Monmouth College.

Her first Endurance mystery novel, Three May Keep a Secret, was published in 2014 by Five Star Publishing/Cengage.  In April, 2016, she published an Endurance e-book novella titled The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. Marry in Haste (Nov. 2016) will be followed by Death Takes No Bribes in May 2017.

Social Media:

Website and blog:  http://www.susanvankirk.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor/

Twitter:  https://www.twitter.com/susan_vankirk

GoodReads:  www.goodreads.com/author/show/586.Susan_VanKirk

Guest Blogger – Susan Oleksiw – Finding The Ending (click for comments)

susan-1Finding the Ending by Susan Oleksiw
I recently finished a mystery novel that was hard to end, not because I wanted to keep working on the story but because I couldn’t seem to understand where the characters would end up and how they would feel about the change in their lives. The plot suggested several possibilities, but none seemed quite right. I rewrote this part several times, and every time I picked it up to work on any aspect of the manuscript, I wanted to rewrite the ending again. It is a common rule that the ending should fulfill the promise of the beginning, but that isn’t as simple as it sounds.
In three earlier books I struggled with the ending in the same way. susan-book-3In Family Album, I wanted Chief Joe Silva to reach out to Gwen McDuffy in a way that was clear to the reader as well as the characters. I reworked that ending so many times I thought I’d never finish the book. But I did. It’s not giving anything away to say that Joe proposes obliquely and Gwen accepts. There is, of course, more to come in their relationship in the following books.
The ending of Friends and Enemies was even harder because the character I followed in the and at the end, Eliot Keogh, was meant to be a minor character. Eliot’s return to Mellingham for a high school reunion after many years turned out to be the arc of the story. His growth from a man with a grudge to a completely different person happened without my even noticing until I came to the end. The susan-book-4challenge was to show how much he had grown from the man driving into town in chapter one. This is the ending both readers and editors have most remarked upon.
Endings in a traditional mystery novel or a cozy mystery would seem to be straightforward and almost easy—the murderer or other criminal is captured, features of the crime are explained if not already clear, characters reassess their position in relation to each other, and the reader is reassured that all is well with the world once again. This is the standard ending of comedy—the reconstitution of society. But in a mystery I like to see a deeper change in the individuals who have been at the heart of the story.
The general graph of a mystery shows the rise and fall of action, mimicking the rise and fall of emotion. But I see the graph of a character growing through the story as a steady rise as if on a staircase. The discovery of dark feelings isn’t a low point; it’s a step to a more honest understanding susan-book-2of experience.
In the most recent Mellingham/Joe Silva mystery, Come About for Murder, the trajectory of the story is partly Joe revealing himself as a deeply devoted stepfather to Philip. But the story itself opens with Annie Beckwith at the funeral for her sister and brother-in-law. She thinks throughout the novel about her sister’s marriage, and the fidelity husband and wife felt for each other. In the end she discovers this devotion in another pair, and she learns about her own capacity to understand and support it.
Some writers begin writing only when they know what the ending will be. In one sense I know pretty much who is guilty and how that will be uncovered. But the more important ending, the revelation of character and personal growth and understanding, eludes me until the last few pages, and then I write and rewrite and rewrite again until it becomes clear what has happened to the character, from beginning to ending.
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Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian-American photographer in South India. In When Krishna Calls (2016), Anita and her aunt face the loss of their hotel and everything they care about. The Mellingham series features Chief Joe Silva. In Come About for Murder (2016), a member of a prominent family dies in a sailing accident. Susan’s stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.