Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tell Me a Story by Kathleen Delaney

My Christmas Tree is up. So are the lights, and there’s garland on the mantle. I don’t usually decorate this early, but two of my grandchildren were here over Thanksgiving and they wanted to decorate “their” trees.

Last year I bought two of those little fake trees that come with lights for the front porch. But things didn’t go quite the way I had planned. I barely made it home for Christmas, having spent a month in the hospital, and those trees were almost the only ones we had. The kids claimed them, and decorated them. For some reason they didn’t make the cover of Southern Living, but the kids loved them, and so did I.

This year they wanted to do it again. It seemed like a good idea, so we dragged them out, one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, we were Christmased.

It seems that decorating for Christmas requires more than ornaments and bows. Hot chocolate and stories are an integral part of the ritual. Family stories, mostly, and their favorites are stories about their mother and their aunts and uncles. One story in particular is required telling.

When their Uncle David was about eight, he ventured into forbidden territory, the main street a few blocks from where we lived, to buy me a Christmas present. How he ended up at the florist I don’t remember, and maybe never knew, but he came home with a small ceramic Santa’s boot, and in the boot was a fat red candle and fresh holly. My first thought was, of course, to ground him for life for scaring me half to death and my second was-where did he get the money?

It seems he had saved his allowance, which couldn’t have been very much, and I believe he did some special chores for his father. David didn’t get grounded, and the boot, now somewhat battered, comes out every Christmas. I still have the candle, but it gets fresh holly and the story gets a little better. David is now almost fifty-two, so that story has grown quite a bit.

This year we had a few new stories. Dalia, who is eight, took on the chore of story teller. The characters were familiar, but the story line—well, lets just say there were events I didn’t recognize, and I’m fairly happy about that. The child has a very vivid imagination.

It occurred to me, while we were retelling favorite stories and making up new ones, how important story telling is. We don’t often sit down and record our family history, it comes down to us through stories and it is through stories we really learn about the people that shaped our past world, and who influence who we are today. George Washington may not have really cut down the cherry tree, but that story tells us what kind of person he was, and serves to teach us the value of honesty.

But the stories about my Aunt Frank are true. She really did put on her hat and coat every time she opened the refrigerator. She was afraid she might catch cold. I dearly loved Frankie and spent many happy hours with her, listening to some pretty odd ideas, and learning that all people, even those that are a bit peculiar, have great value.

And that’s what story telling, or writing fiction, its all about. Stories about ordinary people and extraordinary people. Stories that make us laugh with someone, cry with someone else, and ones that make the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up.

The stories I like to write put ordinary people in traumatic circumstances, and then I can sit back and see how they handle whatever it is I throw at them. Mostly, its murder. Such fun.

We have to care about the characters. Peculiar people can’t be just peculiar, heroines can’t be just pretty faces, they have to anguish over something and grow through whatever trials and tribulations we put in front of them, and villains can’t be all evil. Unless you’re determined to do Hanibel Lector one better, of course. But you don’t usually want to read about pure evil, and it’s pretty hard to write about it.

Humans are complex. Sometimes mean, sometimes generous to a fault, sometimes happy, sometimes in agony. So are the characters in your story, or they should be.. Don’t fail them. Breath life into them. Remember, action springs out of character. So, don’t be afraid to give you characters a little—well—character.

Dalia has it right. Her characters live and breathe. Of course, her stories are mostly about an eight year old girl, her six year old brother, their mother, and sometimes their grandmother.

The stuff about the grandmother isn’t true.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Starting Over by Kathleen Delaney

It’s been almost exactly a year since it happened. The absolutely last thing in the world I would ever have imagined. I started out for Georgia, looking forward to spending some time with my daughter and my grandkids and to all the Thanksgiving festivities we had planned. Instead I ended up in the hospital and returned home, minus my left leg, right before Christmas. Talk about starting over.

There were times when I really didn’t think I could do it. How could I learn to walk again, drive, wash dishes, at the age of 73? I was too old to start over. Only that isn’t true. I’m doing everything, driving all over the country, going to the Y to exercise, having my family here for Thanksgiving and doing all the cooking, and probably a lot of the dishes. And I’m writing. I’m even starting a new series. Now, that’s starting over.

When I look back, I’ve started over constantly. Like everyone of us, there have been chapters in my life when the change I faced was joyous. Like having my first child. Talk about a life changer. Others were a lot harder, like the death of someone you love, or getting divorced. But you don’t give up. You start over.

But we start over in small ways as well. As I put on my leg this morning, (doesn’t that sound strange) I thought about all the times in my writing life that I’ve started over. When the book stunk, I’ve started over. When the next chapter just wouldn’t come, I’ve gone back to the beginning and started over. And when I got rejected by the agent I really wanted to work with, or my manuscript came back from the umpteenth publisher, I’ve started over. I may have cried a little, or cursed a lot, but eventually I’ve started over. Again.

So, for all you out there with a drawer full of rejection slips, don’t despair. Take another look at that manuscript, see if you can make it better, then get out the list of agents who handle your genre, check off the ones who said no, or take another look at the publishers who will look at unsolicited manuscripts, take a deep breath, now another, and start again. You can do it. I know you can.

Remember, the settlers at Jamestown did it. They started over when only a handful of them were left. And then they went out celebrated their good fortune, which consisted of the fact that they were still alive and finally had something to eat, with the first Thanksgiving. So, think about what you have to be thankful for. You’ve had your flu shot, the refrigerator is full, and you don’t have to pluck the feathers off the turkey.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birth Order—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Lunchtime--1914--Zinaida Serebriakova It was a great Thanksgiving. Our family enjoyed a trip to South Carolina to visit my parents.

My sister stayed in the Charlotte area to have dinner with her husband’s family there. I’ll be catching up with her in a couple of days.

My sister and I, although we get along really well together, are absolutely nothing alike.

I’m very introverted; she’s very extroverted. She chose a job in the financial sector where she deals with numbers daily. I chose to work with words, instead. She claims she has no creativity at all; I got more than my fair share. She is extremely coordinated and was a serious ballet and modern dancer in college. I have a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time and staircases remain a major challenge for me.

Most of those things are just genetic flukes. But there are definitely some behavioral differences that I believe result from the fact that I’m first-born and she’s second.

Birth order has always interested me. I read a book on it a few years ago and was surprised at some of the book’s claims. It stated that we frequently befriend people who share our birth order—we may not know their birth order, but we’re attracted to our common traits.

But, stated the book, we usually marry partners who don’t share our birth order. Opposites can attract, when it comes to romance.

I thought it was a load of hooey---but it just so happens that all my closest friends are first borns. My husband is a second-born.

I’m always interested in gaining a little insight into my characters or making them stronger. Birth order isn’t something I mention in my books, but the traits can be useful when inventing characters and studying personality traits.

(Oh, am I stirring up trouble! Now y’all….there are exceptions. And this isn’t necessarily scientific. But here goes. This is from the British paper, The Guardian.):


Oldest children

Typically responsible, confident and conscientious, they are more likely to mirror their parents' beliefs and attitudes, and often choose to spend more time with adults. Oldest children are often natural leaders, and their role at work may reflect this.

Because they are more likely to have authority over younger siblings, or take on the role of surrogate parent, they have a tendency to be bossy and want things to be done their way. Oldest children can be perfectionists and worriers, and may put pressure on themselves to succeed.

Middle children

Likely to be adaptable, diplomatic and good at bringing people together, middle children are often popular and patient. However, because their role in the family changes from youngest to middle, it is thought that they often struggle to establish a clear role for themselves, and many go through a period of rebellion.

Middle children can be competitive: they do not have the time on their own with their parents that oldest children enjoy, and their role as the baby of the family is supplanted, so they have to find other ways of getting their parents' attention.

Youngest children

Charming, impulsive and good at getting their own way, the youngest child's role as baby of the family means that he or she is likely to be indulged. This may mean fewer responsibilities and more opportunities for fun, but youngest children often find that they aren't taken as seriously or given the independence they crave. Youngest children often rebel as a way of distinguishing themselves from older brothers and sisters. They are more likely to take risks, and often choose a career that is different from other members of their family.

Only children

Only children enjoy the same parental attention as first-borns and are often confident, conscientious and socially mature, due to the amount of time they spend in a largely adult world. They may have a tendency to assume that others know how they are feeling, or think the same way as they do, without question. They may be dependent on their parents for longer than other children, spending more time at home and delaying decisions about their future.


These results, obviously, change in very large families, or if there is a large gap between children.

I will say that a lot of the above is related to family dynamics and how the parents treat each individual child.

But it’s interesting. And, for me, it’s fun to find perspectives on what motivates and drives my characters.

On a separate note, please pop over and see my fun interview at the Book Resort today. Thanks!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Thanksgiving

It’s turkey day and I’m not cooking! Well, that is nothing except the green beans. My daughter is supplying everything else. It feels great not to be chained to the stove today. Of course that might be easier than what I have to do.

The movers will be here at nine o’clock in the morning. I still have boxes to pack and things to put aside for Good Will. And I have to keep my cat, seventeen year old Jefferson, from going nuts in all these boxes. (See Jefferson above) But I'm sure he and I will make it. I hope.

Downsizing is not easy. My cat and I moved last January and thought I’d gotten rid of a lot of things, but I think they’ve somehow reproduced. When I moved from a fifteen hundred square foot condo to a twelve hundred square foot one, I thought I’d never be able to fit what I kept in. Now I’m moving to a 1 bedroom apartment (I had 3) and I’m stuck in a quandary about what to keep and what to give away.

In case you’re wondering why I’m moving down so drastically, let me explain. My son-in-law was a big builder and was in the process of constructing 3 developments, one which was to have 250 houses. After sinking a huge amount in these land deals, the crunch hit. Things were going great and suddenly he was bankrupt. My daughter hadn’t worked outside the home in ten years. She’s now back teaching school. To top it all off, my son-in-law suffers from Crone’s Disease and with all the stress it came back with a vengeance. I decided that they could use my help and I could use theirs because the stock market crash hit me hard, too.

They live in a big house and there are three rooms off to the side where he had his office and the activity room. Now the activity room is going to be my living room. His office is now my bedroom. There is also a bathroom. The area has its own private entrance. All this leads into the kitchen (which we’ll have to share), but that’s going to be easy to work out. She loves to cook and I don’t live the same hours they do. (For me getting up at six o’clock would be worse than torture.)

My two grandchildren – ages six and thirteen – are excited about me moving in. For some reason I have the reputation as the fun grandmother who they say is younger than their mother. (My daughter doesn’t like this comparison at all, but I love it.) They have been told that they have to knock on my door when they want to visit my part of the house. It remains to be seen if they’ll abide by this.

I know we all have a lot of adjusting to do, and this move may not be a permanent one. But it is an adventure that I’m looking forward to. At least it will be more feed for the writing appetite.
A mystery where the mother-in-law is knocked off with everyone at home and nobody finding her for a couple of days and ….

With all this, I'm still thankful for the many blessings in my life.

Wish me luck in this transition!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giving the Reader What They Want--by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Alexander Deineka---Young woman-- 1934

I was putting my daughter to bed the other night and she said, “I want to stay with you forever!”

Of course I told her she was sweet, and continued tucking her in. But she held onto my hand and said, “I really, really do, Mama. Can’t I always live here, even when I’m a grown-up?”

I smiled at her and gave her a hug. “I know you think that now. But you’ll be a teenager and won’t want to spend as much time with Mama. And then you’ll grow up and want to have a family and a house of your own.”

I kissed her goodnight.

The next night was a determined repeat of the last. “Can’t I always live here with you, Mama?”

I opened my mouth to give The Truth of the Matter, Part II, when it finally occurred to me that that was not the ending she wanted to hear. I wasn’t giving her what she wanted. She was going to keep trying for the alternate, better ending.

“You can always live here. Even when you’re a grown-up. You’ll always have a home here with Daddy and me, if you want it.”

Big smile and she was happily off to sleep.

Critics and movie goers frequently like different things. Critics see movies all the time and are bored stiff by formulaic movies. Movie goers are frequently happy with comfortable familiarity. Critics wouldn’t mind some really tragic endings to films. Movie goers are less tolerant of unhappy endings.

Are readers really any different?

What does a reader want? Frequently:

Unambiguous endings

Tied up sub-plots

No cliff-hanging endings

And….for many readers….happy endings.

I’ll admit that I try to plug into what readers want. I really want to make a career of this writing gig. I get emails from readers and read what readers have to say in comments on book blogs. I’m taking it all in. For me, satisfying a reader is priority #1. If I’ve satisfied readers, my editor is usually pretty happy, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Clues: Planning and Planting Clues for Your Mystery—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

blog8 To me, one of the most fun things about reading a mystery is the puzzle. I love finding the clues along with my sleuth...and being misdirected by the author's red herrings.

I also have fun writing in clues and distracting my readers from them in my own book. But I admit that planting clues is the hardest part of writing a mystery for me. I want them to point to the killer, but I also want to make sure the reader doesn't have a neon sign blinking "CLUE! CLUE!" whenever I plant a clue.

Agatha Christie did a great job writing in her clues. She frequently slipped in an important clue among some useless information that seemed more important than the actual clue. Or she would plant a clue, draw the reader's attention to it, then have two characters suddenly burst into the room in the midst of an argument that completely shifted the reader's attention.

There are some good websites out there that can help writers learn more about writing effective clues and red herrings:

Don't Drop Clues: Plant them Carefully! by Stephen Rogers does a great job covering the types of clues, how to misdirect your reader, and mistakes to avoid.

Suite 101 covers planting clues in different ways: tucking them in a paragraph, heightening the drama, clues of omission, missing weapons, and clues from real life.

Author Sandra Parshall's website explains how "Clues Drive the Mystery Plot."

The Christie Mystery website demonstrates how Agatha Christie used clues and other plot devices.

Stephen Rogers writes a different article on red herrings and how to use them effectively.

With a little thought, you can create an interesting puzzle for your reader to try to decipher. And have a lot of fun in the process!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

That Awful Query Letter

Unfortunately, unless you're a Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, or one of the other best selling authors, you'll have to write and mail that awful query letter someday. Let me assure you, seasoned writers hate them as much as you do. I know I do. Sometimes I think it's easier to write the book than the query letter. And then when you've sweated blood and think it's the best you can do, you send it off only to be ignored or worse still, they write you back and criticize what you suffered to write.

It happened to me this week and believe it on not I had to laugh. I admit that when I sweat and cry and work and finally produce a query, I send it to more than one editor or publisher. I do change the name to who it goes to and I make sure I have the right company named in the body of the letter.

I sent the same query letter to two different publishers a few weeks ago and both had asked for the manuscript with the query. I got a reply from both of them this week.

The first one said, we liked the way you presented your story in your query and we read the entire manuscript. On the basis of this, we would like to offer you a contract, if you would be interested. (Duh! I'm not crazy. I emailed them right back and said I'd be thrilled to get the contract. They emailed it and had me download a copy. I signed it and mailed it back today.)

From the second publisher I got a note that said to the effect that they couldn't get past the bad query and they would not be interested in publishing my book. (Oh, how I wanted to send them a copy of the email from the other publisher. Of course, I didn't. I might want to query them again sometime, maybe, someday, in the future, when I run out of other places to query.)

So it goes in the publishing world.

Write that query to the best of your ability, address it to a specific editor, and take your chances. And expect that some editors will like it and others won't like it at all. It all goes back to that age old saying - 'One man's junk, is another man's treasure.'


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sleuths--by Elizabeth Spann Craig

One of the most important elements in your mystery novel is your detective. Depending on the type of book you're writing (police procedural, thriller, cozy), your detective might be a member of the police department or a gifted amateur who unwittingly becomes involved in your case.

If you plan on writing a series, your detective's personality needs to be one that you can explore over the course of several books. There are many wonderful mystery series featuring the same detectives that you can read. It's nice to have a sense of how other authors create interesting characters for their readers to enjoy book after book. Interesting sleuths include: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock, Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, P.D. James' Adam Dalgleish, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Anne George's Southern Sisters, and Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity.

M.C. Beaton's series feature two intriguing detectives: Hamish McBeth (a police constable in a Scottish village) and Agatha Raisin (formerly a busybody, currently a private investigator.) Hamish is a lovable officer--a gangling man who loves his village and desperately tries to prevent his own promotion (which would mean he'd have to leave the place he loves.) The readers tune in each book to check in with the recurring characters, see what's happening with Hamish's disastrous love life, and see how he plays down the fact that he has solved another case. Agatha Raisin, on the other hand, sometimes causes as many problems for the police department as she solves. It's fun to pick up a new Agatha Raisin book and see what trouble Agatha is in this time.

If you do choose to have an amateur detective, make sure that he or she is involved in the case in a natural and believable way. It's a stretch to believe that the sleuth just decides to play detective one day, for example. It makes a lot more sense that they would become involved if they or someone close to them is a suspect (and they want to clear their name) or if the victim was someone important to them.

It's nice for the detectives, amateur or professional, to have their own foibles to deal with. I loved it when even Christie's brilliant Hercule Poirot had faulty reasoning or made an error. Of course, he always figured it out in the end, but when he took us along on a red herring it was always fun.

Some publishers and agents are looking for books with specific hooks for the readers (this is especially true in the cozy mystery genre.) Does your sleuth also do crosswords? Quilt? Scrapbook? Hobbies can be tools to reel in readers.

In Christie's books, Poirot usually explained his reasoning and unveiled the murderer in a room full of suspects. That's less common today in mysteries. The reader is more likely to find the detective locked into a dangerous confrontation with the killer at the book's denouement. In a police procedural, you might find a similar situation--perhaps the police are desperately trying to locate the murderer (once they discover his identity) before he kills someone else. Or maybe the police have realized who the killer is at the same time they're recognized that a particular person close to him will be in danger.

Whatever personality and foibles you create for your detective, remember that they can help to make or break your mystery novel.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Everything changes

Well, it's official. Our long-time agent, Jacky Sach, is leaving Bookends. We've known for a while already. All those telephone messages and emails assuring us that everything would be all right.

We raced up to Jersey last weekend, in the middle of a terrible storm, to meet with her partner, Kim Lionetti, about representing us. The irony is that Kim was our first editor at Berkley. We've joked for years about Jessica and Jacky stealing her.

This was the second surprise this year for us. In May, our long-time editor at Berkley, Sandy Harding, moved on. In that case, our editor, Faith Black, from Avalon, where we first started writing mysteries, came onboard to take her place.

And while we are reassured that everything will be fine, there is also a certain melancholy in the changes. No matter how wonderful both these changes may be for us, there is always a reluctance to go on, a part of ourselves we leave behind in the passing.

A wise man once said that there is no stability in life, only a chance to change for the better.

This will have to be our change for the better.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flying Solo, Day 2 by Kathleen Delaney

Flying Solo Day 2

It looked like rain. The radio said rain. But I had so many things I wanted to see, I decided to try positive thinking. I don’t know if it worked, but it didn’t do anything all day but spit, and be cold.

Today was to start at the Payton Randolph house. I had talked to the Food-ways director who said I could stay as long as I wanted in the kitchen and ask as many questions as I could think of. I started off, across the green, pushing my wheel chair and carrying my question list. Wheel chairs come in handy for more than sitting. They can carry your purse, your tote, and your jacket. They also are good when there is no bench free.

Payton Randolph was a very wealthy man and his house showed it. It’s beautiful, and except for the lack of indoor plumbing and a gas stove, I could move right in. Oh. And I’d need a vacuum cleaner. After the tour of the house, I headed for the outbuildings, mainly the kitchen. It is attached to the laundry, not a common thing, but it makes sense. In between loads of laundry, it could accommodate loads of dirty dishes and pots. It took days to do laundry, washing, scrubbing, boiling, rinsing, and then, drying. Everything had to be ironed. And they heated the iron on the fire. It probably didn’t stay hot very long so it wasn’t a fast process. I think I’ll add my washer and dryer to my list of things I’m keeping.

The woman in the kitchen was great. She was making what we would call French toast. She took slices of day old bread, and back then day old bread was pretty dry, dipped them into a bowl that contained white wine and then into beaten eggs, and fried them in melted lard. They smelled delicious. I asked where she got the lard, afraid I already knew the answer. Yep. She’d made it. If you really want, I’ll send you directions, but I’m not going to try it. She was also cooking a fish on a plank in front of the fire. Butter was the only thing she used to baste it with, which, of course, she’d churned. I don’t think she milked the cow, but probably most women did. I have. I’m not doing it again. All of the food turned out in that kitchen looked and smelled wonderful, even the baked goods. But how they knew when the cake was done is beyond me. Then she pulled some coals out of the fire onto the brick hearth, put a trivet over them, and a pot on top of it, and started another dish. I’ll never complain again about how much work Thanksgiving is.

The afternoon was spent in the barn. The horses are spectacular and so beautifully taken care of, and the carriages are awesome. They have old breeds of chickens, sheep and cattle. They have quit breeding the horses, mainly due to lack of pasture area, but we had a great time talking about them, and I learned a lot.

Benedict Arnold arrived at the capitol building in the late afternoon and raised the British flag to the boo’s of the towns people, helped out by the rest of us, and George Washington road into the armory right behind him and retook the town. We all cheered like crazy and the fife and drum corps played and the muskets were fired in salute. By that time it had started to drizzle, and it was getting cold. It was time for a glass of wine.

I finished the day by dining in the Regency Room in the Williamsburg Inn. The epitome of understated elegance. No wonder Queen Elizabeth elected to stay there.

The weather report was for rain. Lots of it. And I planed on leaving in the morning for Mt Vernon.

I was afraid my positive thinking had just run out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Starting Out—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

The Farm Pond--Henry Herbert La Thangue  1833--1929 On Friday evening, a friend of mine asked me some questions about mystery writing while I was at the Brownie Scout sleepover. Naturally, since this is my favorite thing to talk about, I was happily prattling off all kinds of info when it occurred to me that my non-writing friends aren’t ordinarily that interested in the process of writing. They’re incredibly supportive, but not usually asking the kinds of questions that my friend was asking.

I’m slow on the uptake, I’ll admit it. Especially in conversations. “Oh! You’re interested in writing.” Which was wonderful. Because if I could convert everyone into becoming a writer, I’d do it. The world would be a happier, if odder, place.

My friend wanted some ‘starting out’ information about writing. My mind really boggled. There’s such an incredible amount of information out there. Where do you start? What’s useful?

I think it’s good to do some research ahead of time. Some. Not enough to stifle the creativity. Not enough to feel like the process is too daunting. But enough so your first attempt isn’t way off course.

What genre do you want to write? What do you read? What do you like to read? Is it different from what you feel like you should be reading? You might even want to focus in on a particular subgenre—a paranormal mystery. An apocalyptic sci-fi. It would definitely make it easier to query later on because agents and editors want to know what kind of book you’ve got.

In that genre, what is the usual word count range? For a ballpark idea on what you should think about shooting for, try this article. Why is this useful? You need to think about whether your idea is sustainable for 75,000—95,000 words (which is likely the range of most adult books.) And you want to stop yourself before you write too much material. More usually isn’t better, as far as agents and editors are concerned.

Where do I start? At the beginning….or not. There’s no rule that you have to start at the beginning if that’s the part that’s tripping you up. Skip the beginning and move on to the next scene. You could even write the ending first.

Set a small, attainable goal. Otherwise, it’s like a New Year’s Resolution that ends up getting ditched. Even 10 minutes a day is good, as long as you’re looking at your manuscript and writing.

Don’t worry about agents and editors until your book is doneunless you’re writing nonfiction and want to send out a proposal for your project before writing it.

Aspiring mystery writers—and other genre-writers (since some of the info isn’t genre-specific)—here are some links I’ve thought were helpful in the past. Most of them I would only use if you get stuck. If you try to read a whole bunch of information before writing, it can really mess with your mind (at least, it does with mine.) Obviously, take what you need and ignore the rest. There is a formulaic aspect to writing mysteries, but we all infuse the process with our own personalities on paper.

Tripod.com's Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula This can give you an idea of what plotting a mystery is like if you’re not really sure where different elements come in. It’s by no means a Bible…and the word count is usually higher than 60,000 words.

Write That Novel , which has useful, printable sheets for characterization, plotting, storyboards, etc.

Book Crossroads , which has links to online mystery writing groups, hardboiled slang dictionaries, forensic information, and legal overviews.

Twenty Mystery Writing Rules

Writing Clues: Help for mystery writers

Don't Drop Clues: Plant them Carefully! by Stephen Rogers does a great job covering the types of clues, how to misdirect your reader, and mistakes to avoid.

Suite 101 covers planting clues in different ways: tucking them in a paragraph, heightening the drama, clues of omission, missing weapons, and clues from real life.

Author Sandra Parshall's website explains how "Clues Drive the Mystery Plot."

The Christie Mystery website demonstrates how Agatha Christie used clues and other plot devices.

Stephen Rogers writes a different article on red herrings and how to use them effectively.

Hope these help and good luck with your writing journey!

Elizabeth Spann Craig
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—August 2009, Midnight Ink
Delicious and Suspicious—May 2010, Berkley Prime Crime

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kathleen Delaney - Flying Solo

Flying Solo Day One Blog for Carolina Conspiracy

It’s been ten months since the removal of my left leg, so its been that long since I’ve gone anywhere but the grocery store by myself. It was time.

I have an idea for a new series and wanted to do some research. The best place for it was Williamsburg. That I just happened to love going there had absolutely nothing to do with my decision. And, since I was going to be in Virginia, I thought I might as well go to Mt. Vernon and Monticello, places I somehow had never managed to see. So I started planning. It takes more, I’ve discovered, when you only have one leg. It also takes more guts. I almost backed out a couple of times, but I didn’t.

It is not easy to find wheelchair accessible rooms. That’s what they call them nowadays. Handicapped is out, accessible is in. I don’t know why, but it turns out to be confusing. Sometimes that just means you can get the wheelchair from the door to the bed, other times it means you have a roll-in shower and that you can reach the hairdryer. Booking on line doesn’t tell you, so you’d better ask someone, and hope to get someone who sort of speaks English. The person I got was very kind and helpful but had no idea where or what Virginia was. We both got an education during that conversation.

I started off Tue morning bright and early, prepared to enjoy the early fall drive north. Going alone has several advantages, one of which is there is more room to bring stuff. And to bring even more stuff home. And, there is room for the wheelchair, which takes up lots of room. The directions I had pulled off the Internet were, at best, confusing. I had no trouble as long as I kept on 85, but the closer I got to Williamsburg, the more I was convinced I was going the wrong, or possibly just the long, way. Why would I want to go through Richmond? I needed gas anyway, and the other comforts gas stations provide, so got off on Hwy 40. What a blessing that turned out to be. Just keep on 40, the woman said, and you’ll end up at the ferry that takes you across to York and Colonial Williamsburg.

I love ferries. It started when I was young and had cousins who lived in Coronado, just across from San Diego in California. That was before they built the bridge. Going on the ferry was the best part of visiting them. So, when she said ‘ferry’ there was no chance I was going back to the interstate. The road was two lanes and sort of meandered through fields and small towns. Wonderful. I passed cotton whose pods had split, the white fibers bursting out, ready for plucking. Other fields were stubble, freshly harvested of what I had no idea. There were fields of plants about three-four feet high whose leaves were turning all of the lush fall colors whose identity I never discovered, and then there was the swamp. Black stubs of trees sticking out of a huge field of equally black, and very still, water lent a surreal feel to the drive. Disney couldn’t have done it better. But then the clear cutting started. Field after field of nothing. You could see where trees had once stood, and some places where they were trying to grow back with little success. Pines of some kind were growing vigorously, along with lots of scrub of various kinds, but the big, beautiful old trees were gone. Not all, there are still long stretches of woods, but they seem to be slipping away. I soon drove into what I think is the reason. The welcoming sign on the small town proclaims it to be a company town, and right in the middle of it is the factory. They make particle board. I’m sure not all of the huge old trees I saw being trucked out go into that factory, but I bet some do. I’m hoping they can use the scrub growing so enthusiastically and leave what remains of the old trees to guard the forest.

Just a little further up the road I rounded a bend and there was the bay. And there sat the ferry. Going across was great, as usual, and it was free. That was not usual, but hooray for Virginia.

My room was in the historic part of Colonial Williamsburg and looked out on market square. It was great, and I was able to do several things before dark. I can walk on this artificial leg pretty well, but not long distances and not on cobblestones. Turns out rolling a wheelchair down a cobblestone street is a definite challenge as well. I ended that day with dinner at Shields. What fun and a great dinner. Our waiter regaled us with funny customs from the eighteenth century such as the fact that most people didn’t have spoons. Instead they scooped out the last of their soup or stew with a piece of dried bread called a sippett. I’ll keep my spoon. Met Mrs. Shields and she says her cornbread is the best in the town. If that be so---. Only disappointment is they no longer serve Syllabub. However, they do have a punch---.

A great day, and tomorrow the real reason I came begins.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stress and Tipping Points—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Self Portrait 1937--Rita Angus I’m one of those people who usually likes to go with the flow.  I think that’s because I’m in a writing fog half the day.  But once I come down off my happy imaginary high, reality hits.  And once I get my hackles up, watch out.

I’ve unfortunately been on a roll the past week of problems that needed to be addressed. The tipping point for each thing, the bit that spurred me into action?  My children, each time.

It started with a group my son volunteers for.  It was a school night, the day before a test.  Pouring down rain, very chilly.  He was with some other middle school boys, removing a barbeque pit that they’d help set up the week before for their yearly barbeque sale to raise funds for the group.

He had a nasty cold.  Two hours into the mandatory volunteer work in the cold rain, I called his cell phone.  “I’m on my way to get you.”

“Mom—they said I’m not allowed to go.”

“Well, I think you’ve done well to work for two hours.  I’m going to pick you up and you can work on studying for your test tomorrow.”

“Mom—he says I’m not excused. We have another hour to go.”

A pause.

“Tell this gentleman your Mama wants to talk to him.”

A moment and a quick conversation later, “He says it’s okay, Mom.  See you in a minute.”

Ohhh, I hate to act ugly.  Why is it that the squeaky wheel gets the grease?

Confrontations or getting ready for a confrontation is stressful to me. I’m a very different person when I’m stressed out or angry.

My characters reach their tipping points, too.  Everybody has something that’s going to set them off.  In a mystery, that straw that broke the camel’s back could result in a murder.

As I’ve mentioned before, our characters are stressed out.  Their lives are completely upside-down.  I wrote about the way the confusion they might feel a few posts ago.  Yes, they would feel very taken aback at the way their lives were running completely off track.

But what about stress?  What kinds of things might a character do under stress? 

  • They could say something they shouldn’t have said.  This could cause a ripple effect in many ways but could especially create a rift between characters during an argument. 
  • Stress could cause them to briefly act out of character.  Have you got a well-controlled, polite character?  Reacting to a stressful situation could make their temper flare up and open up some plot possibilities. 
  • A character might drink too much under stress.  This could create  a whole host of other problems and conflicts in our plots. They might start a bad habit, like smoking, again.
  • They could react in a very wholesome way—increasing the amount of exercise they’re getting, watching what they eat, and trying to work in more sleep.  (But really, what fun is that to write with? :) )

In my murder mysteries, stress causes my murderer to kill again.   Naturally, the killer wants to remain unknown and will eliminate anyone who knows his identity.

Stress causes my suspects to point the finger at other suspects—who had been their friends prior to the murder investigation.

Character stress causes arguments and conflicts in my small town settings and old grievances bubble up to the surface again. 

Got stress? 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fun to be interviewed!

I like being interviewed! Maybe I'm a ham. I know we're supposed to demure and lament the horrors of it, but that's not me.

It's fun to talk about your work and your life. You get to decide how intimate you want to be, after all. It's not like you have to tell your deep dark secrets, if you have any. I have three children and five grandchildren who all live within, five minutes of me. I don't have any deep or dark secrets.

If it's any consolation for my lack of modesty about this, I enjoy interviewing other people for the newspaper and magazines too. Listening to their stories about their lives is very motivating sometimes. Or a caution about how to live your life. Either way, it's fun. I really like when people get excited about it too! No one ever told them they weren't supposed to like it.

So here's a new interview with me and Jim. Nothing deep or dark but it was fun! Thanks, Don McCauley for a good time! I hope to interview you right back someday!

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How do you know when it's time to move on

How do you know when it's time to do something else? How can you tell when what you're doing isn't working for you anymore?

My week has been full of these questions.

It connects to writing but also to every other phase of our lives. When do you give up on a relationship? When do you decide you've tried as hard as you can to make a job work for you?

Sometimes you don't have any choice. Sometimes whatever it is comes up and kicks YOU out the door. The job you were thinking about leaving suddenly lays you off. The person you were beginning to think you could live without decides to leave you.

No matter what, when you leave something behind, there is a certain melancholy, even when it's something good for you. We too often look at the end rather than the beginning.

We are creatures of habit and want to continue doing what we're used to doing. But sometimes, we have to move out, move forward.

As writers, we sometimes find ourselves feeling trapped in what we're writing. An agent wants us to write mysteries but we yearn to write fantasy. We seem to be very good at writing nonfiction, but we want to write romance.

It is a trap of our own making, especially if you are successful, even moderately successful. What if we do something different and no one wants to read what we've written? What if we are dumped by our publisher or agent and left to manage alone?

Sometimes, we just have to let go and let ourselves move forward. We might be afraid. Maybe we'd rather keep things the same despite our yearnings. But if we want to grow, we have to step forward. We have to be willing to take chances.

Am I willing to take those chances?

Joyce Lavene

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shopping for the Right Publisher—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

blog1 For the first time ever, my son asked to go shopping with me on Sunday. This was a real jaw-dropper, since our usual modus operandi has involved my going to the store, buying clothes, and forcing him to try them on later at home. Then I’d return what didn’t fit or what he didn’t like. And this was worth it to me because he was such an unhappy shopper and made the experience miserable for both of us.

But this time he was raring to go. He wanted a new pair of jeans, some new shorts (we’re entering a cold streak, but it’s still pretty warm on normal days), a sweatshirt, and some other things.

That day, he got hungry at 2:00 in the afternoon (two hours after eating a filling lunch of a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, yogurt, chips, and a plum). He ate a barbeque sandwich, edamame, and grapes. Two hours later, he ate a huge plate of alfredo pasta.

He’s thin as a rail.

I’m guessing he’s growing.

This influenced where we were going to shop. He wanted cool clothes. I figured he would outgrow them very, very soon. Old Navy was my pick…no Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch on this shopping trip.

When I was shopping for a publisher for Pretty is as Pretty Dies (necessary, because my first book from five years ago was with a small publisher that has—as many small publishers have lately—unfortunately gone under), I had a shopping plan, too. I needed a larger publisher with a more substantial print run. I needed to approach a publisher that wouldn’t require me to have an agent--which, at the time, I didn’t have. I needed someone that was currently open to admissions. I needed a publisher that published humorous cozies. I looked to ensure the publisher published regional mysteries, too. I found Midnight Ink and they were a perfect match for my manuscript.

All the writers I’ve ever spoken to have had similar shopping trips. You increase your chances substantially by not sending your YA book to a romance publisher. Or by not sending your 120,000 word mystery to a cozy publisher (who will be looking in the 75,000 word range.)

Publishers are shopping too, of course. Some of the things they’re looking for: conflict, hooks, riveting beginnings, original characters, and a strong voice.

They’re also looking for basic things like correct spelling, good grammar, active voice, showing-not-telling (some of the time, anyway), and some indication you’ve done your homework (their name is on the query, you’ve spelled their name correctly, you know the type of books the house publishes, your manuscript isn’t extremely long or extremely short, your query doesn’t state that your neighbor/child/cat loved your manuscript, etc.)

If I’d been looking for a suit for my son, we wouldn’t have gone to Old Navy.

If a publisher is looking for non-fiction, they’re not going to come to me. If I’m looking for a cozy mystery publisher, I’m not going to submit to Forge.

But if we do our research and have the merchandise publishers are looking for, both sides will get what they want.

Shopping Tools:

Writer's Market : Online, or in bookstores and libraries (be sure it's this year's edition)
Literary Market Place: Same as above

Online searches--Have a publisher you're interested in? Google the publisher's name + submission guidelines. Then, look at the publisher's website and see what their most recent releases are. Check those books out from the library or look for them in a bookstore and compare them to your own.

Elizabeth Spann Craig
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—Aug. 2009
Memphis BBQ series—May 2010

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writers Workshops

Every time I do a workshop with my fellow Conspirators I consider it a learning experience for not only the members of the audience but for mysef.

We have done workshops where it was almost SRO (there were 75 at the Gastonia Library) to 5 at Waldenbooks at the mall in Concord, to a captive audience of 1 at the Mint Hill Library. No matter the size of the group everyone is there to hear what each of the conspirators has to say about different aspects of writing.

I am really looking forward to doing a Novello Writers Workshop on Oct. 25th at the Hickory Library. A group of about 40 writers have accepted the library's challenge to write a novel in 30 days! The library has asked the Conspiracy group to do a round table discussion with them on our writing experiences.

Well that is all for now. I am getting ready for a vacation in Atlanta from 10/16-10/24. Keep fighting the good fight! Doug The Executioner Walker

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I was watching the News Hour last night and they had a special correspondent on from NPR. I am always interested in putting a face on the people I hear so often on the radio, and was especially interested in what she had to say, so was paying close attention. However, I quickly started to pay attention to something else.

Clichés. Her piece was filled with them.

Now, I probably wouldn’t have been so struck with them if I hadn’t attended all those writing classes. Don’t use clichés, we were told. Go through your manuscript and take them all out. They are the lazy person’s way to express themselves and an editor will immediately reject you if you use them. Besides, they mark you as uneducated, uninformed, not willing to go the extra mile to properly express yourself. So, for a long time I have had a horror of those innocent little expressions.

Only, are they really so awful? Didn’t they come into being because they were a good shortcut to express a very real sentiment?

I’ve known as many people with college degrees whose speech is littered with clichés as those who still are struggling to get their GED. Maybe more. And, when writing dialog, they can come in handy when you are drawing the profile of a character. And that character doesn’t have to come across as lazy, ignorant, or anything other than that’s the way they talk.

It’s the way we all talk. If we didn’t use them so often, they wouldn’t be clichés. Of course, if you are going to use them, it’s a good idea to use them appropriately. I knew someone who kept referring to a relative as “my shirttail relative.” That usually means someone who hangs onto your shirttail while you drag them along behind. It’s a faintly disparaging term. Only, in this case, the relative was pretty rich and handed out possessions and money to the rest of the family.

So, if we are going to use phrases that are termed clichés, it might be a good idea to at least know what they mean.

Kathleen Delaney

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to . . .

Last night, mystery author Cathy Pickens and I were talking about funny things that people have said to us about our work. We were at Uwharrie Books where Cathy was signing books and talking about her writing.

Okay, maybe everyone won't find it funny that Cathy has received threatening letters and I've had a stalker come to my house, but we had a good laugh over it.

Every author has some stories to tell about strange emails they've received or people contacting them in ways that made them cringe. There are also the review stories that we tell like old war tales, showing our private and public scars from words that hurt our feelings.

You have to learn to have a thick skin when you write for a living and let other people read and buy it. There is always going to be someone who loves it and someone who hates it. In between there are the people who like it but wish you'd have gotten a quote right that was wrong (according to them) and people who disagree with what REALLY happened in your story.

Recently, I had woman email me to say she didn't like the Renaissance Faire Mysteries because she hated Renaissance Faires and Festivals in general. I wondered what made her read Wicked Weaves when it's pretty clear what the book is about.

She answered my email by saying she'd hoped the events would be different than she recalled when she'd gone to a Ren Faire years ago. "I was hoping Ren Faires had changed, but I can tell from your book that they haven't. It's just like being at one of those events," she said in a return email. "I'll read the next book that comes out in that series and hope for the best."

You never know what to expect next and I guess that's part of what makes it fun!

Thanks for the laugh, Cathy!

Joyce Lavene
Ghastly Glass
Yes, it is JUST like being at the Renaissance Faire!

Monday, September 28, 2009

An epiphany . . . of sorts

This morning I had an epiphany of sorts.

I actually got out of bed, showered, dressed, got breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, started the laundry---get the picture? You do and you are saying, so what? We all do that, every day of our lives and we don’t even think about it.

But that is exactly the point. I didn’t either. At least, I didn’t until I lost my leg. Then I wondered if I would ever be able to do those things, or anything else, again without a struggle. Have just another day. And this morning, it happened.

I was thinking about other things, actually a great many other things, and I went through all of those meaningless tasks automatically. Of course, months of practice went into this morning. Hours at therapy, weeks of wheeling myself around in a chair, more learning to walk upright once more. And while I still have a long way to go, I’m a lot better.

Which made me think about writing. Or, more accurately, rewriting. Someone whose name escapes me once said, fiction isn’t written, it’s re-written. And that should be the first rule of writing. Accept the fact that if you want to be good, you are going to re-write. And why not?

Baseball players practice hitting and throwing until I’m sure they think their arms are going to fall off. Dancers practice one step over and over until their toes bleed. Good cooks quietly throw out as many dishes as they, finally, proudly serve. So what makes writers think they are so different?

The Carolina Conspiracy has been giving workshops lately, and Joyce and Jim Lavene have been talking about re-writing, how we need to get over our fear of the delete button, and they are right. Get out that red pen and take out all of the words, sentences, paragraphs, that don’t fit, read too long, or make the same point fifteen times. Take out that cute description about how the cat ripped out the back of the sofa. It doesn’t move the story forward, and, if truth be told, it isn’t all that cute.

Writers have to practice their craft just like the dancer, the ball player, and the cook. And just like I had to, learning to walk again. It takes time, our toes bleed, and the garbage can overflows with our failures, but if we keep at it, paring down those sentences, ruthlessly throwing out those little gems we thought were so great but in our heart of hears know aren’t, tightening up that plot and pouring our hearts and souls into making our characters live and breath, we will eventually produce something publishable.

Or, more important, something we are really proud of.

Kathlenn Delaney
And Murder for dessert

Monday, September 21, 2009

A writer is a writer

I have been recently been involved with writing policies for the Town of Midland where I live. I have also written press releases for myself and others, webpage content, resumes and newsletters. People look at me and say, "You can write. You should be able to do this."

To a certain extent that's true, but there's a big difference between writing about killing people and writing how the Town of Midland should engage in environmentally sound practices.

Writing for the newspaper is different too but a writer friend of mine subsidizes her fiction by writing grants for companies. She feels like if you can write one thing, you can write another.

And she must be right because here we are doing it.

I frequently wonder if artists feel the same way. Are they called on to paint houses because they can paint landscapes? Or is stringing words together less impressive than doodling?

Back to writing soup labels . . .

Joyce Lavene
Ghastly Glass

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hendersonville NC Apple Festival

Today we went to Hendersonville and enjoyed the annual Apple Festival. The crowd was huge and parking was hard to find, but we had a good time.

There were lots of exhibits, music and, of course apples. They also had several live bands.

While we were there we stopped by Mountain Lore Books and More, which is owned by Joslyn Bleick. They were set up to host another author's signing, so I introduced myself. She is very excited and has a copy of my book to read. She will contact myself and the group about doing future signings at the store!

Thats all for now. Fight the Good Fight! Have a safe and wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Doug The Executioner Walker

Friday, September 4, 2009

Marketing Conspiracy

Here is an article by author Linda Faulkner (click on title) about marketing the Conspiracy!

Look for us in Gastonia, NC at the library on September 26 at 2 pm!

Joyce Lavene

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Twysted Tayles

Ever since I was young I have loved The Twilight Zone. It was always exciting watching the storylines unfold, not knowing what the endings would be.

As I have gotten older I have enjoyed reading the works of Stephen King. He is the master of horror fiction, from the postapocalyptic world of The Stand to the psycho clown of It, he is one of the best in the world.

I have been writing short stories off and on for years. My first one, Hell No! We Wont Go! was actually rejected for a short story contest by Twilight Zone magazine. Undaunted, I have continued writing, and Twysted Tayles has been born.

At this point I have finished 8 stories, and will probably have a total of 16 when it goes to my publisher. So far the storylines are 1. A high school janitor has a spooky encounter during a dance, 2. Earth's first encounter with aliens (not counting Roswell), 3. an unusual wedding ceremony, 4. the real reason why Nixon got out of Vietnam, 5. a friday night poker game, 6. a family trip to the zoo, 7. a holocaust denying teen visits Auschwitz, and 8. a published author returns home for a book signing.

I will caution my readers of one thing: Dont get too comfortable with how you think each story will end. I promise that, like The Twilight Zone, you will not see the endings coming.

I will keep everyone posted as the book proceeds.

In the meantime, keep on reading and writing.

Best Wishes, Doug The Executioner Walker

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Went to a book signing, fight broke out

I was invited to do a book signing at a wrestling event in York, SC . There were about 150 fans in attendance. We got there a couple of hours early, got to meet the wrestlers, and watch them prepare for their matches.

The Main Event was a Tag Team Iron Man Match: The team that won the most falls in a one hour time period was the winner. This match didnt even start until 11 PM. About 1/2 way throgh the match Wendy said she needed to go to the restroom, and left me to my own devices.

I was sitting there minding my own business, and watching the match. The action suddenly spilled out of the ring, and the wrestlers were fighting in the back next to me! I was scrambling for my life, grabbing books and money and anything I could get my hands on!

I suddenly realized that I was holding a metal chair in one hand. One of the good guys was standing near me. I looked at him, he looked at me. I handed him the chair. "Do you want me to hit one of them with it?" He asked. "Sure." He hit the bad guy in the back with it. He then handed the chair to me, and announced, "Put that in your next book!"

In the meantime Wendy was watching the goings on from the concession area. She said to the manager, "You wont believe what my husband just did!" "What?" She told him. He replied, "I'm gonna kill em!" And stormed in to keep a better eye on things.

According to Wendy she is surprised we have not been banned for life from that group! But I have actually done a couple of other signings with them since then.

Until next time, Fight the Good Fight!

Doug The Executioner Walker

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Introducing myself

My name is Doug Walker, and my pen name is D L Walker. My wife, Wendy, and I live in Kannapolis, NC, and I have worked for GE Capital for almost 29 years. I realized this weekend that I have been a member of the Carolina Conspiracy for 3 years now, and have loved every minute of it!

My first novel, Scaffold, came out on August 20th, 2007. It is set in Charlotte in the world of Pro Wrestling. A terrible incident occurs during a PPV that is put on by a very corrupt fictional wrestling group, and the book tells of the incident and the investigation that follows.

I am currently working on Twysted Tayles, which is a collection collection of short stories that are a combination of Stephen King meets the Twilight Zone. If you like stories that have unexpected endings I think you will like these.

Well, it is getting late, and I do need to do some writing before bed. Will keep you posted.

Doug "The Executioner" Walker

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Today Is Tomorrow

Jim and I met with a small group of beginning writers last week. There are always plenty of questions at events lke this. How did you get published? What was your first book? What do I have to do to get published?

The last question, What do I have to do to get published? is always hard to answer. It's different for every writer. Every writer has a story of how it happened for them.

The one thing we all agree on is that you have to WRITE! And I'm not talking about thinking about writing. It's always easier to think about doing anything than actually doing it. I like to think about cleaning my house a lot. That way I don't have to work too hard at it!

We always tell everyone that you have to write every day, even if it's only for 15 minutes. Most people can find a way around that. "Oh it wouldn't work for me to do that." or "I'm too busy to do that."

Author Janet Dailey (yes, that Janet Dailey) was our inspiration on this problem. We saw her at a conference where she said something that changed our lives and got us published, at least that's how I feel.

Janet said get up early, stay up late, do whatever you have to do to get something written. She said you'll be tired but there is always a price for getting what you want. "If you really want to do this thing, you have to sacrifice something like sleep, security, personal comfort, to get it done. It's not going to come to you any other way."

We took that to heart and went to work, early in the morning AND late at night. Within two years of hearing that statement, we had our first book contract.

Coincidence? I think not.

The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your dream of being published? How important is it to you? That is where the answer lies to the question, "What do I have to do to get published?"

You'll know when you get there.

Joyce Lavene
Ghastly Glass
September 1

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Overused Words

At out last Carolina Conspiracy workshop Jim and Joyce asked everyone to be mindful of words they overuse in their writing. I made a list of words I use and my list was longer than I though it would be. I ran them through search and find and was amazed at the number of unnecessary words I found in my work in progress. I decided to do a little editing as I went along so it wouldn’t be as hard when the serious editing started.

That: I knew I overused the word that, but I didn’t know how much. The best test to see if it is necessary is to say the sentence without it and see if it works. ‘She knew that the candy melted in her pocket.’ – ‘She knew the candy melted in her pocket.’ At other times the word which does as well.

Just: This word crept up everywhere in my writing. So ‘I put it near the top of this list just to remind myself not to use just so often.’ It would read better if I wrote, ‘I put it near the top of the list to remind myself not to use just so often.’ Many times the sentences are better without the word just or words like only or merely can be substituted.

Suddenly: In mysteries things happen fast and we tend to say things like, ‘Suddenly the car lurched backward,’ but it is more effective if we write ‘The car lurched backward.’

To The: Example – ‘The door to the office squeaked.’ Better- ‘The office door squeaked.’

Up & Down: These two words are often implied and are not necessary. ‘She stood’ instead of ‘She stood up.’ And ‘He sat’ instead of ‘He sat down.’

Began: ‘She picked up the pen and began to write’ is not as good as ‘She picked up the pen and wrote.’

Of the: ‘Most guys wore jeans to the party’ is better than ‘Most of the guys wore jeans to the party.’

To Be: ‘He needs to be scrubbing behind his ears’ –‘He needs to scrub behind his ears.’

Out: ‘She spread the cloth out on the picnic table’ – ‘She spread the cloth on the picnic table.’

I bet if you check your manuscript as you go, you’ll find many of these and other pet words you tend to use. The best writing tends to show up after rewriting and editing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Social Media Report

I thought I’d give a little lowdown for anyone out there who is looking at social media as a way to connect with friends/family, or as a promotional tool.

Facebook: Facebook is a wonderful way to connect with family and reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with.  Basically, you load a picture of yourself (or not), put up links, tell a little about yourself, and use their tools to find old college buddies.

I did set up a different Facebook page for promoting and am not letting the two spheres meet.  After all, I don’t think my readers really need to see silly sorority pictures of me from over 15 years ago.

Twitter:  I was not excited to sign up for Twitter at first.  All I’d originally heard about it was that celebrities were using it and people were using it to say what they’d eaten for supper.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how useful it’s been.  I’ve gotten book review offers from it, reader connections, and have networked with other writers.  On a local level, I get news and weather updates on my community.

Blogging.  Blogging does take a good deal of time.  You want to put up posts that people want to read, after all. But it’s become a very satisfying way to connect with other people and share ideas on writing. I also use my blog as a vehicle to share my Facebook and Twitter addresses and network there.

My information: On Facebook, I’m Elizabeth Spann Craig, Author
On Twitter—ElizabethSCraig
My blog--- http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My First Trip Without a Real Leg - Kathleen Delaney

I just got back from California. My middle daughter got her PhD and we were having a gathering of the clan to celebrate. I was really looking forward to this party, but, I must admit, I was also filled with apprehension. I can hear you now, so-what’s the big deal? Never been on a plane before? Actually, quite a few, but always with two legs. Only having one complicates things.

I left Atlanta with my youngest daughter and two grandchildren. We were meeting the rest of the clan that evening for dinner in California. At least, that was the plan. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Our plane left, or was scheduled to leave, at 11:00 AM. Plenty of time to get the kids up, make sure they had breakfast, get to the airport and leave the car in long-term park, and go through security, which now means I get hauled off to a corner and get patted down. All over patted down. They even take swabs of the wheelchair and off the metal bar that is now my leg, as well as both shoes.

But, we got to our gate in time to board the children, my daughter, me, and my wheelchair. Things take longer with only one leg. Of course, as I counted who had which carryon as we left security, I found I’d left the autograph hound I’d bought for everybody to sign on the back seat of the car, but at least I’d remembered the floppy bonnet that goes with the PhD regalia, so I wasn’t too upset. At least we were at the gate on time, and I’d think of something else for everyone to sign.

My wheelchair was safely stowed in the front closet of the plane and we were all seated, the kids next to the window, me on the aisle with the fond, but futile hope that I could prop my unforgiving prosthesis in the aisle. The plane loaded, all of the overhead bins were closed, and nothing happened. We sat. I kept looking at my watch. We only had 45 minutes in Dallas to change planes, a much too tight time frame at the best of times, and with two small children and a woman with a fake leg and a wheelchair, our chances were marginal at best.

By the time we finally made it off the ground I was sure any chance of making our connection was gone. I was right.

Dallas is a rotten place to try to make up a missed flight, even if it’s not your fault. The only place worse is St Louis. They close the terminal down around ten o’clock and you get to sit up all night, hoping you can get on a morning flight out.

Because there were four of us, we were doing a St Louis repeat. The best we could do, according to one not very helpful attendant, was a flight out the next morning. As it was about 2:00 in the afternoon, this was not a very appealing prospect. He then said he could get three of us on a soon to leave for LA plane. My daughter was getting a bit testy by that time and asked which one of us he suggested we leave behind, the six year old or her handicapped mother.

His only suggestion was to go out to the main ticket window and see what they could do. We finally got confirmed seats on the six o’clock flight, which left at nine that night. In the meantime, we went back through security three more times. Each time, I was patted down, twice by the same woman. Not once did they find traces of whatever it is they look for, but the soles of my shoes were sure clean.

Security is not the only place you get slowed down. Public bathrooms, I find, have only one handicapped stall and its almost always full. I have waited outside for quite some time, to find that the people using it walk out just fine. I never thought much about this before, but if you’re left wiggling in a wheelchair, waiting for someone who actually has a choice of places to visit, it can be more than aggravating. It can be downright potentially embarrassing.

However, the trip was overall a great one. The party was great, family came from all over the country, we invaded Disneyland and I found out I can go on Indiana Jones just fine, but the Log Ride is not a good idea. I also found out how much I can do, things I really didn’t think I would be able to master, I did, and I’m ready to go again. This time with a lot less apprehension.

One note a caution, however, for any of you who are also missing a leg. Try not to let small children wheel you. Especially at Disneyland. They have a tendency not to pay much attention and the trashcans there are pretty solid.

Kathleen Delaney
And Murder for Dessert

Friday, July 31, 2009

Uwharrie Books

Jim and I always wanted to open a bookstore. Probably because we love books! We talked about it all the time right after we were first married, but so many things got in the way. Somewhere along the way, we decided to write instead and have never looked back

We've spent the last few weeks helping our daughter and son-in-law get their bookstore, Uwharrie Books, open for this weekend, August 1. It's been a big job but the store is so cute! It reminds me why we wanted to open a bookstore when we were much younger.

Handling all those books, deciding where they go, and putting them on shelves reminds me all over again why I love books. It's great that our kids love them too.

It's exciting seeing the store come together. I hope Uwharrie Books prospers. I'm happy to have our books there and look forward to seeing Ghastly Glass for sale there in September!

Joyce Lavene

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Release and General Craziness

Pretty Is as Pretty I’ve decided that having a book released is a little like having a baby.  Sometimes it’s great, sometimes there are complications, and it’s always a real rush to prepare for the new arrival.

Like a new mom, I’m excited to have Pretty is as Pretty Dies release on Saturday (August 1.)  Everything seems to be in place…I’ve got my promotional materials in hand, I’ve sent out the press releases to the local media, I’ve got  reviews and guest blogs lined up.

In many ways, though, I’ll be glad when junior is able to do more things himself.  It’ll be a relief to be able to focus a little more on my next deadline, which is approaching alarmingly fast on September 1.

Life has been pretty busy here, and I feel like I haven’t had as much time to connect with friends and family while I’m answering phone calls and emails.  I’m hoping to catch up with everyone really soon once the baby sleeps through the night….

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time to Update!

I love when it's time to update our website because that means it's time for a new book! In this case, it's Ghastly Glass, the second book in the Renaissance Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. Jessie's back in the Village!

I'd like to tell you this book was made up of blood, sweat and tears, but it would be a lie. Jim and I laughed until we cried while we were writing it. We wanted to write this series to remind people of the good times they have at Ren Faires and festivals across the world. It's one of the best times we know of, like a playground for adults!

So if you're expecting to read something introspective or something that will make you cry, this is NOT the book for you. If you like Ren Faires, you'll enjoy it. With GHASTLY GLASS, if you like Halloween; ghosts, ghouls, goblins, vampires and werewolves, it's the place for you too.

Jim and I both loved Halloween growing up and were thrilled when Berkley liked the idea of setting this mystery during that time.

Halloween and Ren Faires are a match made in heaven. Our local Ren Festival in Huntersville, NC has a Halloween night event while they're open in the fall each year. When you read this book, you'll know why Jim and I try to be there!

So take a look at our updates and sign up to win a free copy of Ghastly Glass while you're there. We hope to see all of you at the faire this year!

Ghastly Glass
Ren Faire Village Mystery, #2
September 1

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Gaffney Serial Killer

The Gaffney Serial Killer

Mystery writers deal in death. Some of us write “cozies” which means we leave out the more gruesome details of how our victims died. No graphic sex, no graphic gore. Some of us write thrillers and then its no holds bared. You can strew the landscape with body parts as well as bodies, crank up the tension as high as you can get it, and deliberately create a climate of fear. But its all make believe. Even when we write about sorrow and loss, about horror and fear, there is always that very real distance from actual horror and fear.

Well, Gaffney, South Carolina, came face to face with real horror and real fear a couple of weeks ago. I live in Gaffney, have for a little over two years.

This is a town where you don’t worry about locking your doors. Where you sit out on your front porch and talk to whoever passes by, whether you know them or not. And if you don’t know them, you will by the time they walk on. A town where the people in the bank know you by name and where the people in the library welcome you as if you were a guest in their home, where the people in the grocery will tell you that the kind of ice cream you like is on sale and would you like some.

It’s not the kind of town where people get murdered by strangers for no immediately obvious reason. But that’s what happened.

A murderer came to town and before he was finished, five people were dead. Innocent people. Good people. And the rest of us were scared to death.

People were frantically going through their junk drawers, looking for the house key. Front porches were empty. So were the parks. Guns came down off the shelf in the bedroom closet and out of the gun racks in the cabs of the pick ups. The gun store and Walmart sold out of ammunition.

I don’t own a gun, preferring the protection afforded by my German Shepard. But I seem to be in the minority. And, frankly, for the first time in my life, I thought about it. Not for long, but the thought was there. Instead, I moved chairs and boxes up against the doors at night and piled noisy things on them. Lots of my friends admitted to the same thing.

The relief when we found out that the killer was dead was palpable in this town. Storeowners no longer looked at each new person who walked into their store with open suspicion. Children appeared on their bikes again. Women no longer looked at each man they passed in the grocery aisle or on the street with trepidation. I put the chairs back where they belonged.

Things are back to normal. Only, they’re not. The grief the victims families carry will never go away. We can only imagine what they are going through, and will continue to go through, and our hearts grieve with them. But we have all lost someone at sometime, a mother or father whose life came to its natural end, a sibling or other relative or close friend to accident or illness, and as tragic as that has been, we have learned to cope.

There was nothing natural about any of this, and I wonder if these families will ever be able to, how they will go about putting their lives back together again. I wonder how this town will cope with the jolt of fear we have all shared this awful month. How soon will it be before the house keys go back in the kitchen drawer, the guns back up on the bedroom shelf? How long will it be before we let our kid’s bike to the park without following them in the car? People in cities have lived like that for years. We have been spared. But no longer, and I wonder if that carefree time will come back. I hope so, but fear it may not. The Gaffney serial killer destroyed five lives. He may have also destroyed a way of life.

As for me, I am locking my doors. The house keys were indeed in the kitchen drawer but they are now on my key ring. I resent it each time I click the dead bolt, but I don’t forget to do it. I am more conscious of who walks down the street and not so willing to engage any stranger in conversation, even though my dog never leaves my side.

And, when I write about fear, it will be with a ring of experience it never had before.

Kathleen Delaney
And Murder For Dessert
Poisoned Pen Press

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back from Vacation, sort of

Well, we're back from Myrtle beach and hating it.

Not that we didn't have a good time but it takes so long to get back into the groove of your life again. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE my life and wouldn't change anything.

I guess my head being blank for so long while I floated around in a pool or lazy river, watching my kids play and contemplating the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, didn't prepare me for the real world. Kind of like college.

But here I am faced with deadlines and committments that involve actual thought and it's taking too long to figure out how it all went together in the first place.

Next year, I might stay home and avoid all of this.

Or I might just bring my laptop and actually look at it!

Joyce Lavene
Ghastly Glass
September 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Appeal of Small Town Settings


On the Poe’s Deadly Daughters blog, there was a post recently about using small town settings. 

Sandra Parshall mentions several appealing aspects of these settings: descriptions of attractive scenery, reader nostalgia for simpler times, and limited suspects. 

I love the gossipy elements that small-town settings provide.  I grew up in Anderson, SC (pictured above….my kids and I went to see my family over July 4th) and well remember how everyone knew everyone else.  And, actually, how they could put this knowledge in context with their family. Like: “Oh, well.  Yes, he was messing around.  But his daddy messed around and his granddaddy messed around and I can remember that his grandMAMA messed around, too.  It’s in his blood….”

When you have an amateur sleuth and no forensic lab helping him or her out, gossip and scuttlebutt is incredibly important.  It can supply red herrings or actual clues….the reader and the sleuth won’t know which is which until the end of the book.

Books I’m reading:  The Private Patient by P.D. James

Cool Sites for Writers and Readers: http://themysterybookshelf.blogspot.com/ , http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/ , http://coffeecanine.blogspot.com/

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Newton, NC Workshop

Last weekend, the Carolina Conspiracy gave a writing workshop at the Catawba County Library in Newton, NC.

There was a great turnout and many people took notes as different authors talked about setting, the revision process, keeping motivated, agents and editors, and creating characters.

I took notes, too. There are so many different ways to come up with a finished manuscript. I love to hear different ideas from authors on getting the job done. Trying someone else's approach, even if it may not work as well for me, keeps me interested in my project and helps me look at my manuscript with fresh eyes.

I'm looking forward to the other writing workshops the Conspiracy is giving: August 8 in Concord, NC and October 3 in Mint Hill, NC. Check out our website at www.carolinaconspiracy.com for updates.

On other topics---it's summer reading time! What's on your list? Right now, I'm getting caught up on books I wanted to read earlier. P.D. James' The Private Patient is currently on my nightstand and I'm hoping to pick up the sequel to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo next.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Keeping your stories straight

One of the most frequent questions people ask is how Jim and I keep our stories straight. When you write more than one book a year, it's a valid question.

I guess to me it's like anything else in life. It calls for a plan and committment. Once you have a plan, you've done half of it. Then you just follow through.

Our plan was always to write everything down and we do; characters, places, plots, red herrings. We keep it all in a file for each story and take it out before we start on a new book in each series. We have notes on each book, maps of the places we talk about and series notes.

Most things you can recall. It's the details that will bite you in the butt if you're not careful.

We also keep photos we took for the book (people, places), newspaper articles or anything else we used for research. We write down where our ideas came from and how we formulated them. It's a big help when you want to review. You understand the ideas behind the story as well as what you've written.

We usually have at least two or three versions of the beginning of each book. We keep those too. Sometimes the character is there but the rest has to come out as you go along. It's right when you know it's right. The early versions show us where we've been and what we've done.

If that seems like a lot, sometimes it is. But writing is a job, not always an easy one either. You have to be willing to do what it takes to get the job done right!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Decision is Yours

At some point in your writing, you’re going to have to make a decision whether or not this is going to be your career or if it'll always remain a hobby. And if you fail to make a conscious choice, don’t worry (or maybe you should worry) the decision has been made for you. Not deciding is a decision itself – the decision that you’re going to let fate decide for you without any input or action from you. And that’s okay, if that is what you want – BUT if you really want to be a writer, you’re going to have to decide to be one.

As Dr. Phil often says, “Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but these exceptions are rare. I don’t know of many famous writers who slid into the profession without any conscious decision or preparation on their part. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure many writers have held down other positions before they decided to write for a living. But if you check, I wouldn’t be afraid to bet that somewhere in their history you’ll find they harbored the desire to write a book or story and made the decision to write if only part-time.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of people have said at one time or another, “I’d like to write a book someday” or “I’ve thought of writing a book but I just don’t have the time” or even “I might write a book someday” or some variation of these statements. Are these people writers? Unless they actually sit down and do it the answer is NO, they’re not. They’re in the same category as the people who say “I’d like to travel in Europe and maybe live there someday” or “Sometimes I think I’d like to chuck it all and join the circus” or “If I became president, things sure would be different.” All legitimate thoughts, thoughts many of us have had, but are they decisions to do these things. Of course not. They are just whims or passing fancies.

If you want a writing career don’t let it be a passing fancy. Make the decision to do it. Your children can’t make the decision for you! Your parents can’t make the decision for you! Your husband can’t make the decision for you! Your friends can’t make the decision for you! This is one you have to make for yourself. It is YOUR decision and whatever you decide will be the right decision for you.