Friday, September 24, 2010

Flinging with the Bard and Other Life Experiences

This week's guest is Donna Fletcher Crow, the author of the Monastery Murders Mystery series. She is the author of 35 astounding books! She's stopped by today to tell us about how her three latests mysteries have come about.

“Write what you know” is the oldest chestnut in the arsenal of advice to writers. And probably the silliest. How many of us could write any sort of novel— let alone a murder mystery— based on what we know?

And yet, I’d have to say that all of my books have grown out of my real life experiences. Again, except for the murders, you understand. The fact that so many of those experiences grew out of research trips once I had set the course for my novel makes me think that the far better advice would be “Write what you’re willing to research.” And not just willing, but really, really passionate about.

So, I believe, the best advice is “write from your passion.”

But to get back to how all three of my current books have grown out of life experiences, let me start with my ecclesiastical thriller A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, Book 1 The Monastery Murders, whose North American release I’m celebrating with this virtual tour. I was visiting Durham Cathedral more than 20 years ago (yes, as a side trip to another research project) when I first learned of St. Cuthbert. I knew immediately that I knew I wanted to tell his story. Over the years I proposed the story to three publishers— all of whom offered contracts. But the story didn’t get written. Other stories did, but not St. Cuthbert’s.
Then our daughter, a former ballerina and classics major who hated teaching school in London went off to a theological college in a monastery in Yorkshire. And my heroine Felicity was born. The setting for  A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE is a thinly fictionalized version of the community where Elizabeth studied. Many of the monks in my story are real life people, but fortunately, Fr. Dominic has not been brutally bludgeoned to death, but rather is still happily tending his roses in the monastery garden.
I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited, so all the wonderful, out-of-the-way sites Felicity and Antony visit whilst chasing and being chased by murderers and struggling to save a treasure for Fr. Dominic’s African Children’s Hospital are places I have had the great pleasure of visiting. But my visits were far more peaceful than Felicity’s. I was never shot at with a crossbow, fed ground glass or nearly drowned, for starters. I was, however side-railed as the only passenger on a tiny commuter train and walked up the track on foot by solicitous Britrail officials. All the while thinking, of course, “Oh, this is going to go in the novel!”

THE SHADOW OF REALITY Book 1, the Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, now available in Ebook and soon to be in print, is based entirely on a mystery weekend my husband and I attended several years ago at Mohonk Mountain House, high above the Hudson River Valley. That is to say, the structure of the mystery week, and therefore the structure of the novel, is the format of that week. The plot line and the characters are my own invention. The Eyrie is a fairly faithful representation of Mohonk Mountain House, but I moved it to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Elizabeth’s 1930’s style wardrobe, however, is an exact description of what I wore— in the case of the novel, fictionally designed by my heroine’s sister who is a costume designer for a Shakespeare festival.

A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, Book 2, The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, which will be out next spring, is the “fling with the bard” of the title of this piece. For more years that I can recall (I think Shakespeare was alive when we started) my husband and I have attended the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland, Oregon. So when the fictional Elizabeth’s sister Victoria begs her to come help her with strange goings-on backstage, I was able to use my years of festival-going including backstage tour, ventures out to the surrounding area and my life-long love of Shakespeare.
So, to get back to exploring the clichés of our craft, does art follow life; or does life follow art?

I’d have to answer, “Yes.”

About Donna Fletcher Crow

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 35 books, mostly novels of British history. The award-winning epic GLASTONBURY, is her best-known work, an Arthurian grail search covering 15 centuries of English history. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. THE SHADOW OF REALITY,Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on Ebook.

Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener and tea-drinker. To see the book video, to order A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, or to see pictures from Donna’s research trips, go to

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Than A Book: A Commitment To Our Wounded Warriors

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. ~Dr. Seuss
These simple words from my child's story book convince me that I was the one that needed to make a difference, not wait for others around me to do it.

Hello to all Lauren's World of Mystery Writing readers, I'm Jon Renaud, the author of the newly release fiction novel, Dereliction of Duty. An exciting action novel that was published with the intent to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization dedicating to helping wounded heroes returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and help them return to a normal and productive life.

Your friend and mine, Lauren, has allowed me to use her wonderful platform, not to promote my book, but to share with you a cause that is dear to my heart and hopefully bring it a little closer to yours.

First, a little about myself, I'm a retired U.S. Army Warrant Officer who served our nation for twenty years including tours in Panama, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. By the grace of God, I returned from those conflicts unharmed and able to enjoy a productive life. But I was one of the lucky ones. I saw the horror and devastation the wars brought to some of my brothers and sisters in uniform.

Shortly before retiring, I began to write many of my memories from my time in the service, more for history's sake, than to actually write a novel. At the urging of friends, I took those notes and transformed them into a fictionalized representation of my career. The true stories quickly faded away and an exciting series materialized, blending real life with fiction. It was around that time that I discovered the Wounded Warrior Project and came up with the idea of using my writing as a way to raise money for this incredible charity. Being blessed with a new career to support my family, I did not need to depend on my writing for financial support. I decided that if I could actually publish and sell these books, I could donate the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, and maybe, just maybe, I could create something that could provide support to this organization for years to come.

So, what is the Wounded Warrior Project and why should you care?

Here is a little of their history taken right from their website at

Wounded Warrior Project began when several individuals took small, inspired actions to help others in need.

One night while watching the evening news, a group of veterans and brothers were moved by the difficult stories of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq. They realized then and there that something needed to be done for these brave individuals beyond the brass bands and ticker tape parades

The resulting objective was to provide tangible support for the severely wounded and help them on the road to healing, both physically and mentally. What had been initially viewed as a small contribution (compared with what the warriors had sacrificed while serving our country) has become WWP's signature program:"WWP backpacks delivered bedside to wounded warriors."

What started as a few people sitting around watching television with great ideas grew into a nationwide movement to help our wounded soldiers. Just as Dr. Seuss said it should be.

The WWP doesn't just talk about helping, they role up their sleeves and get out there and make a difference. They sponsor sporting events, such as ski trips where they teach amputees that there is nothing they can't do. They work with national and international businesses and show them that these heroes, although wounded, still have incredible talents and would make great additions to their corporate teams. They don't just talk about what should be done, they do it!

I can't think of a more worthy cause than protecting those who protected us. And that was why my decision to help them was an easy one. If my book sells one copy or a million, I know it was worth it.

So I invite all of you to visit the WWP website and see if you can also find a way to help in your own special way. Make a donation, send a book to a recovering soldier, sponsor an event or just write an encouraging letter to soldier recovering in the hospital. There is nothing you can't do when you decide it is the right thing to do.

Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So... get on your way. ~Dr. Seuss

Many thanks to you, Lauren and all of your readers, for allowing me to share this wonderful organization.

My warmest regards,

Jon Renaud
Author of Dereliction of Duty
Colorado Springs, Colorado USA

Friday, August 13, 2010

Author Spotlight: Jack Everett and David Coles

Writing Team: David Coles (front) and Jack Everett

This week, we are being visited by Jack Everett, half of the writing team of David Coles and Jack Everett, the authors of a host of exciting thrillers and mysteries ranging from Roman times to present day international terrorism.

Hello, Jack! Can you tell our readers a little bit about you and David?

David's life has been mainly in computers and computer systems, programming and analyzing moving up into computer management. Now as well as writing he enjoys designing our covers and promotional banners.
I came via a much different route from apprentice plumber/heating engineer to Fireman, then to Royal Air Force Police Dog instructor and a member of the dog demonstration team. On leaving the forces I returned to construction and climbed the ladder from trade to supervision of workers to that of the work itself. I then left the hustle and bustle of the sites to become a Training Adviser within the construction industry. Finally when that began to bore me I bought a social club and ran that for some years.

You and David have a lot of books out right now. Tell us about them.

Last Mission was released last week. It tells the story of a survey ship discovering a 66 years old U-boat on the ocean floor in the Caribbean, what they discover inside frightens them. Based on the premise that Hitler orders an elite team of German soldiers to steal an atomic bomb from Los Alamos in the last month of the war the story is then played out.
1/1:Jihad-Britain is our take on what would happen if insurgents planted five bombs in the UK timed to explode at 12 o'clock midnight one New Years Eve which exploded killing tens of thousands and most of the ruling government party who were attending a carol service inside St. Paul's Cathedral. This book is due out next month.

The Last Free Men is a historical action thriller that suggests what might have happened to the Roman 9th Legion, which mysteriously vanished in the 2nd century AD.
Do you have any other titles in the works?
Our writing took a new turn two years ago when we started writing a crime thriller about an ex-special forces guy recruited by the CIA and sent on several clandestine ops only to be brain damaged then hospitalized. His treatment includes being given false memories as a rock-something for his damaged mind to cling to. One of these memories is that he once loved his brother’s wife. Escaping from the hospital, he determines to find her. What better place than with his brother one suggests? But, on reaching his brother’s home in Florida he finds the woman he dreams of has argued with his brother and returned to her former home in England. He falls out with his brother and they fight with only one possible outcome. Using his brothers passport he travels to the UK and .......

This novel, entitled The Tourist, has been acquired by Virtual Tales and we are told due out sometime this year.
Do you have any other projects that you two are working on now?
Our next book now that we have a feel for the genre involves MI5 and MI6, an Italian count that thinks he is like his ancestor Machiavelli, who rules an estate in Tuscany bigger than a small country and funds everything by buying and selling information. One of his deeds, which involves payment in diamonds, goes wrong and the shockwaves are long reaching in years as well as distance. This manuscript is at the copy editing stage. Would you believe we are now talking about werewolves?
1/1:Jihad-Britain is about present day terrorism. How did you and David research this thriller?

Our research into terrorism I am afraid was done the old fashioned way, reading everything we could on the subject in the papers, watching 24 hour news programs and searching the Internet. still, far easier than sitting for days in the public reference library like we have had to do in the past. We found events were happening at such a pace we were having difficulty in writing the ideas down before they risked being dated.

From Roman times to present day terrorism? Where do you and David get your inspiration for such diverse plotlines?
I can't tell you, if I could I would probably have written a book about it and it might have become a New York Times best seller. You see, David and I started off writing Sci-Fi in the days when some people thought of you as visionaries while others thought you to be plain cuckoo. In fact that is how I met David by reading a short story he had had published but that is a tale for another time.

Thank you for visiting Lauren's World of Mystery Writing. Where can our readers get more information about you or your books?
All of our books including our medieval mystery The Abbot & the Acolyte and our YA fantasy Merlin's Kin which we haven't had time to discuss are available from or from , from any good online store or, in the case of Last Mission and 1/1:Jihad-Britain, these may also be ordered from Acclaimed Books.

Readers may e-mail Jack Everett at for more information about any of his books.

Thank you, Jack, for stopping by. It's been a lot of fun. Be sure to stop by again when your next book comes out, which should be next week!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Author Spotlight: Elizabeth Kolodziej

This week, Elizabeth Kolodziej, author of Vampyre Kisses is stopping by for a visit.

Elizabeth J Kolodziej, a young fiction writer originally from Torrance, California, is a smart and original thinker who has researched the origins of vampires, werewolves, and witches for many years. She writes her books from the knowledge she has gained while trying to be as original and inspiring as possible. Her books encompass both true folklore facts along with innovative ideas motivated by the great writers around her. This is the first book in Elizabeth's Vampyre Kisses series.

Welcome, Elizabeth, please tell us a little bit about your book Vampyre Kisses.
Well, Vampyre Kisses is a story about a young woman, Faith, who meets a sexy Irish vampire, Trent. Soon after this, Faith is told that she is a witch. The last witch in the world. Then I introduce the werewolf royalty and the master vampire. Gems are stolen that are important to both races and therefore they must work together to get them back. While all of this happens Faith is trying to gain more power through learning about all of the elements and trying to keep the slayers from killing her and her friends.

This is a love story about Faith, the last witch on Earth; and Trent, a 400-year-old Irish Vampire. How did you come up with such interesting characters? What inspired you?
I have always loved witches. Ever since I was little I wanted to fly and have fireballs come out of my hands. Then there are vampires, whose immortality and romance-ism attracts lots of young girls. So, from a young age, I was constantly reading books that either had witches or vampires in them.

Then one day when I was around the age of 18 I started writing this story. Actually, what is a fun fact is that Faith’s name when I began the story was Alex. I always liked names for girls that could be mistaken for a guy’s name. Anyways, when I was younger and read those stories I used to put myself into the story and fantasize what it would be like and how the story would end up if I were in it.

When I began Vampyre Kisses I think I started Faith out as being me but what happens is that these characters become their own individuals and they start talking to you. When Faith started talking, I started listening. The same thing goes for Trent. He started out as what my dream guy would be like, but then he ended up as someone more. He became his own person too.

When it comes to what inspires me there are actually many different things. Certain books inspire me. I’ll think, "Well that sounds neat, but what if this happens," and I will make something new happen all together. Then there are movies that do the same thing for me.

For example, I was trying to write out the synopsis for Vampyre Kisses and I just couldn’t get it flowing. I let it go and started watching Push, with Dakota Fanning, and all of a sudden in the middle of the movie the idea for the synopsis came to me.

But what inspires me a lot more is the people around me. I am a big people watcher and I get ideas for what characters should look like or gestures they might make by watching others. Family, friends, strangers, it doesn’t matter. I even take some of their personality traits and try them out on some of my characters.

Mostly, though, I have one particular friend of mine that is into writing like I am. We have known each other for years now and there is some sort of connection between the two of us. No matter the problem I am having he will talk it out with me and offer ideas or act out a scene and I will get inspired all over again.

Reviews for Vampyre Kisses comment on how skillfully you blended fact and fiction. How did you research your book?
From a very young age my parents were always supportive about my brother and I reading. We would make trips to the bookstore all the time. Well, due to my mother I found my interest in the supernatural. So I would get books on folklore or books that taught you how to use magic. For example, Dancing With Dragons by DJ Conway. I have tons of her books.

So when I started writing my book I wanted to include what is real (or folklore) and what is my own. So I just read whatever books I could find about vampires, witches, and werewolves. It is even much easier with the Internet being as vast as it is now.

I will say this though; researching werewolf history and folklore stories is not easy. There is much more information out there about vampires.

Also, I was very lucky. I wanted my book to end with them being in Ireland but I had never been there. I had just finished college though and my parents offered to send me out there for a month. Being able to really be in the place you are writing about is important.

I think research is just about reading everything you can on your subject along with having real life experiences. What I find so funny, is that I didn’t think of blending fact and fiction as being my hook but everyone seems to like that best about my book!

There is also a whole other mystical universe in Vampyre Kisses. Where did that come from? How much of that was from your imagination?
The universe in my book comes from my imagination, sort of. You see; it goes back to those fantasies I use to have when I was younger. It was like I would pick and choose different things from books that I liked and I would fantasize about a world like that.

For instance, I was always interested in the Greek Gods, no matter what religion I would look into, like the Norse Gods, the Greek always seemed to be my favorite. So those were the Gods I wanted in my own story. Like this, I would pick and choose certain abilities for my vampires to have that I read about. I wanted to be traditional so I kept the fact that they couldn’t go out in the daytime. However, I added my own spin to it by making them able to walk under the sun for the first 10 years of their life after being changed. That was purely my idea.

What it comes down to is what I grew up knowing and liking and then adding my own twist or new things to the mix. That is how I came up with the universe in Vampyre Kisses.

Do you have any plans for a sequel with Faith and Trent?
Oh yes! What I have heard from my readers so far is that they want to find out more about the werewolves. Well, before people started telling me that I already had the sequel in mind that would revolve more about the werewolves than vampires. Mostly because I introduced a new kind of thing with werewolves in my book and a lot more explanation needs to be done.

The first book is just an introduction to the main characters. A little tease to say this is who they are and what they can do. The second book is going to take it further.

Hopefully it will be done by the end of this year and it will be out and published by the middle of next year just like the first one was. And don’t worry … I even have a third one in mind!

Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers?
The reason that I wrote my book and wanted to publish it is because I wanted to inspire people. So many authors, friends, family, and movie stars have inspired me. I wanted to do the same thing for someone else. Even if it is only one other person. I really hope I can do that.

Also, if there is something wrong with my book or something you don’t understand tell me. It is possible that I can explain what it is in the next book. I love getting feedback about my book no matter if it is negative or positive. But I prefer the positive. :0)
Where to buy the book:


Friday, July 30, 2010

Author Spotlight: W.S. Gager

Today's post is spotlighting W.S. Gager, author of the Mitch Malone Mysteries. Her latest is A Case of Accidental Intersection. W.S. Gager has lived in West Michigan for most of her life except for stints early in her career as a newspaper reporter and editor. Now she enjoys creating villains instead of crossing police lines to get the story. She teaches English at a local college and is a soccer chauffeur for her children. During her driving time she spins webs of intrigue for Mitch Malone's next crime-solving adventure.

Take it away, W.S.! Wait a minute! You're not W.S.!

Mitch Malone here. I’m subbing for W.S. Gager. She has her hands full trying to promote my latest escapade in A Case of Accidental Intersection. She wanted to do something long and boring on creating great dialogue. I had to put a stop to that. I’m also the best one to talk about listening to what people say and how they say it. You’ve got to have good dialogue if you are trying to show character. Stilted exchanges will kill the pace and tempo of a book. I’m an expert at dialogue on account of the fact that I quote people in my newspapers stories and when you do that, you see how people have different nuances to their speech.

Take politicians. I don’t cover them unless I have to but when I do, their quotes or dialogue in a book is smooth with flowery language. Of course they never say anything but they use a lot of words to do it. Lot of that this election year.

In A Case of Accidental Intersection I ran into Elsie Dobson. Now this is one tough old lady but her language I quoted in my story was unique. Elsie was upset the first time after witnessing and she rambled, but it was great emotion for my story. She also called me dear a lot and patted my cheek. I hated it when she started talking about her sainted husband Elmer because then I would never get any information. The thing is, Elsie used a lot of words in proper grammar. No slang, no jargon. It just wouldn’t have been right.

Now in my first big story, A Case of Infatuation, there was a kid named Joey. He never spoke in complete sentences, never more than a couple of words at a time unless he was excited and then they were all strung together and you couldn’t make any sense out of them.

If I were to quote either one of them in a news story and I did Elsie because she was the witness to one horrific accident between a sports car and a cement truck, you have to get the words precisely as they said them or they can claim they are misquoted or worse yet, your reader gets pulled out of your story because it just doesn’t sound right.

So, you heard it here from Mitch Malone, get into the head of your character and make sure your dialogue fits their personality.

(Lauren here.) Purchase either of W.S. Gager's Mitch Malone Mysteries at:
Robbins’ Booklist, Greenville
Country Squire Pharmacy, Fremont

Barnes & Noble, Norton Shores & Grand Rapids area stores
Schuyler’s Books, Grand Rapids

If you would like to contact W.S. Gager, you can do so at:
Phone: 231-327-2072
Facebook keyword: wsgager
ISBN: 978-1-892343-70-3

Thank you, W.S. Gager, and Mitch, for stopping by today. We all look forward to reading about your big story in the The Case of Accidental Intersection!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Living for a Writing

Back when my hair was naturally blond and my idea of dieting was only three scoops of chocolate ice cream drowning in hot fudge sauce instead of four, I went through a stage where I wanted to be an actress.

 I was pretty, had been in quite a few plays, and thought I had some potential to go professional at some point. Toward the end of this period, I confided to my acting coach that I dreamed of playing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, to which she responded with a hearty—and cruel—laugh. “You have a lot of living to do before you can ever play Blanche DuBois, dear.”

 My translation: “Don’t give up your day job, child. You ain’t got the talent.”

 So I went back to the school paper and never set foot on the stage again except when they called “Author! Author!” for a murder mystery I had written.

At that stage of my life I was a naïve teenager living at home with my mother. I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke. The character I had dreamed of portraying on the stage was an aging alcoholic Southern belle who lived in a state of perpetual panic about her fading beauty. Her life was completely at the other end of the spectrum from mine. How could I even begin to comprehend the depths of this character in order to portray her convincingly?

 I came to realize the source of that coach’s laughter recently when the opportunity presented itself for me to take a gun class. I jumped at the chance for a couple of reasons:
  1. I thought it would be fun, and it was;
  2. As the author of murder mysteries in which my main characters regularly carry and shoot guns, I believed it would be good research to find out about these weapons.
On the last night, the instructor took the class to the range for us to shoot a variety of guns on the range. When he placed the loaded 32 caliber semi-automatic in my hand, I had a feeling that I didn’t expect: Fear.

 I looked down at this thing in my hand and thought: I could kill someone with this.

The weapon wasn’t as heavy as I had expected, but it sure looked scary to me. I went up to the range and when the instructor called out, “Threat!” (He didn’t call out “Fire” because we were to shoot at our leisure, not on command.) I pulled the trigger and emptied the gun of six rounds.

 No one was as surprised as I was when I hit the center of the target with almost every shot. I was good!

 As I examined the target and all the holes that I had put in it, I looked down at the gun in my hand and felt a sense of power: I could kill someone with this.

Since I write murder mysteries, it goes without saying that people get killed in my books. Detectives with guns go after the bad guys, and bad guys with guns go after the good guys. Even though most murder mystery authors don’t really carry badges and guns and shoot real bullets at real bad guys (but many have), it doesn’t hurt to get out there and take a short walk in their shoes, even if only for play, in order to bring something authentic to the page.

By the time the instructor upgraded me to a 9 millimeter semi-automatic, I was able to put myself in the mind of Archie Monday when a murder suspect attempts to intimidate her in It’s Murder, My Son. As I aimed at the target with the same weapon I had her use, I envisioned the suspect in my sites. I was now present in the scene in a way I hadn’t been before.

I don’t think my acting coach meant that I had to become a lush in order to play Blanche DuBois. She probably meant that I should stay out after midnight at least one night in order to have something to draw on. Even the most talented actor with the vastest imagination can’t put himself in the character of a cat if he’s never even seen one. How can you write about a broken heart if your heart has never been broken? You can’t just imagine how it feels.

Many writers, I’m included, are introverts. They are most content when they’re home alone writing away on an intoxicating wave of imagination. But eventually that wave will come in. Imagination can take a writer only so far. Without some basis of reality to stand on they’re going to sink to the bottom.

That reality comes from getting out of the writer’s studio and collecting a stockpile of life experiences to store away and feed the imagination, even if only to draw upon it at a later time in another project further down the road.

So, put away that laptop. Brush your teeth. Take a gun class! Go bungee jumping or sky diving (that’s another blog post for a later time!). Go out into the world and do some living—then write about it!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Visiting Author of the Week: Marilyn Meredith: A Writer of Many Talents

Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Dispel the Mist from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind is the latest from Oak Tree Press.
She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America.

What inspired a mystery writer to pen a ghostly love story. Is there any mystery in it?
The inspiration for Lingering Spirit is the inspiration behind my Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novels. My son-in-law was a 15 year veteran of a police department and transferred to a mountain community to become a deputy sheriff. When he was a new officer he came to my house after his shift and would tell me all his adventures. He even took me on a ride-along once. His mother was not in his life and his father was gone. He treated us like his parents and my husband and I loved him like a son. Six months after his transfer, he was killed in the line of duty leaving our daughter a widow with three young sons. Though Lingering Spirit has its roots in the truth, the story and the characters are fiction. I think writing this book was part of my grieving process.

I wrote Lingering Spirit a long time ago. Oak Tree Press asked me if I had any old books I'd like on Kindle and she put Lingering Spirit on there quite some time ago. At the beginning of this year she told me that was her favorite of my books and could she publish it as a trade paperback. Of course I said yes--and that's why I now am promoting a romance with a touch of the supernatural.

As to whether there is any mystery in Lingering Spirit, the answer is no.

Speaking of ghosts, I would love to know more about your Christian horror books. How did you come about writing Christian horror? What is Christian horror?
I wrote three Christian horror. I've always loved really scary movies, especially those with the devil in them, and often thought if only the hero or heroine was Christian, they'd have a better chance. So I decided to write a horror novel with a Christian hero and then two with Christian heroines. My definition of Christian horror, is really scary but with Christian elements. I probably will never write another because when I sent them out to publishers, the main stream publishers said they were really good, but far too Christian for their audiences and the Christian publishers also liked my writing but said they were far too scary for their audience. I did find small publishers for all three but the market just wasn't there.

Did you start out writing Christian horror and move on to mysteries, or was it the other way around? Is there a dividing line between the two genres, or do you find yourself blending the two?
My first published works were two historical family sagas with lots of romance--they were based on the genealogy of both sides of my family.
When I was through with those, I thought about what I should write next. Since I loved mysteries, I decided to try my hand at one. The Astral Gift, a mystery with a touch of the supernatural, was the first and it has had three different publishers. Now, I'm the only one who has copies. From there I went on to use what my son-in-law inspired, the Rocky Bluff P.D. series about a small police department on the California coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara. The latest is An Axe to Grind from Oak Tree Press. There is no supernatural aspects in that series.
When we moved from the coast to the foothills of the Sierra, I began writing the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series about a Native American resident deputy who is often called upon to solve crimes that involve Indians or the nearby Indian reservation. The latest in that series is Dispel the Mist. Those books have a lot of Indian legends and mysticism. In Dispel the Mist, Tempe has an encounter with a Big Foot-like creature on the reservation, called The Hairy Man.

To find out more about Marilyn Meredith be sure to visit her at and her blog at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's Murder, My Son Now Available

Here's a bit of self-promotion (Isn't that why we do this?)
It's Murder, My Son is now available!

Needless to say I'm thrilled and want to tell you all about it!

So take a minute and stop by my website to find out more about it  and order your copy today!

Kindle should be available in a couple of days. Audio is coming soon!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oops! I Did It Again!

Last week, the proof for It’s Murder, My Son arrived and I immediately poured a glass of iced tea, put up my feet, and proceeded to read it from cover to cover.

A book reads differently when you’re not reading it on a laptop screen or a stack of papers with a red pen in hand. The words flow differently when you are holding it bound in a cover, sitting with your feet up, and a glass of cranberry iced tea at your elbow. When it comes to the proof, the author needs to put themselves in reader mode and try to pick up on what their readers will pick up.

When I did this with It’s Murder, My Son, I sucked in a deep breath that comes with the feeling of horror when I reached page 74. Holding my breath, I reread the section praying that I was not reading it the way the average reader would read it. It didn’t do any good. No matter how many times and ways I read it, it read the same.

Multi-millionaire playboy Mac Faraday has come across a witness for Niles Holt’s murder. He calls police officer David O’Callaghan to inform him that said witness had given a statement to the police at the time, but his statement, which contained pertinent information, seems to have gotten buried. Why?

On page 74, David O’Callaghan goes to the file room to retrieve the case file. On this page I state that he had read over the file so many times that he had it memorized. A few paragraphs later, for the first time, he is reading the witness’s statement.

The question hit me: If David had reviewed the case file so many times that he had it memorized, why didn’t he know anything about that witness statement? Why didn’t he know anything about the witness? The statement was right there in the file.


Luckily, this was the proof and it was an easy fix before going public. It’s Murder, My Son has been through two editors, which means two fresh pair of eyes have looked at it, but still no one noticed that David missed that witness statement after memorizing the case file.

That is why authors must go over every proof even if they feel like their eyes are going to bleed if they have to read “that thing” one more time.

I take comfort in knowing that it happens to the best of us.

Celia Hayes, author of To Truckee's Trail and The Adelsverein Trilogy, calls proofing “the ritual humiliation of authors”. She confesses, “There was an essential part of a word omitted in Chapter 4 of To Truckee's Trail which still aggravates the heck out of me. On pg 60, there is a description of wagon-train emigrants breaking camp, and mention of 'the privy-pits with the last shovel thrown upon their contents’ when it should have been ‘last shovel-full’. I am still embarrassed by it.”

Celia recalls the most potentially embarrassing typo; which she mercifully did catch in the ARC, and was able to correct in the released book; was in Adelsverein: The Gathering. In the dedication and thanks, she had misspelled the name of a person who had been enormously helpful and encouraging. If she had not caught this error, Celia says it would have been “embarrassment of the most heinous.”

Recalling one of his own bloopers, Dr. John Yeoman suggests, “We worry too much about published 'mistakes' that the reader will probably never spot but we never see those errors, too late to amend, that they joy in disclosing to us.”

Yeoman recalls, “My PhD thesis in creative writing referred throughout to one 'K J Rowling' as the author of the Harry Potter novels. This mistake appeared in several places, although I had proofread the thesis umpteen times. My examiners awarded me a doctorate magna cum laude, but neither referred to my howler. This rather suggested they had not read my thesis. The error only came to light when my wife flipped through the bound volume, about to be lodged in the campus library, and whooped with delight. No, I did not correct it."

Maybe it is because of those who do delight in pointing out our mistakes after a book’s release, even in a jovial manner, that authors feel particularly sensitive to any literary misstep. It’s been ingrained in our psyche as writers that our work must be perfect. Literary agents and publishers only accept work that is error free. One mistake and you’re out, especially if that mistake goes live in a published book.

Authors can assume that those who make it to the best seller lists don’t make any mistakes like having a detective find a report tucked into a case file that he has long memorized, or not knowing the name of a famous author. After all, isn’t it their perfection that separates them from the rest of us?

Not necessarily.

Mistakes happen, even to the best of us. So many in fact that one website is dedicated to listing them for our enjoyment…and emotional support:

According to website the Best Book Mistakes, the master of suspense, Stephen King had trouble deciding which of Eddie’s arms was broken in his book IT. It went back and forth between the left and the right.

In the start of Part 6, in King’s The Green Mile, the men let Percy out of the closet. They take the tape off his mouth and he starts to rub his lips, then lowers his hand to speak. The problem is that he's in a straight-jacket at this point.

In Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, when Edward is telling Carlisle's history to Bella, he says that around 1660-1670 Carlisle found a coven of true vampires that lived hidden in the sewers of the city. According to Best Book Mistakes, the vampires couldn't have been hidden inside the sewers because there weren't any. The sewage system was only built around 1859.

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while being sorted into houses, Harry looks up at the Sorting Stool, and there are only three people left to be sorted. Professor McGonagall then calls out the names of four more kids.

So, boys and girls, the moral to this blog post is that we can take comfort in our imperfections. This is not to say that we can let down our guard and write with wreckless abandonment and a total disregard for facts, grammar, and continuity. But, if we do make a mistake, even if it goes public, we can shake our head, say, “Oops! I did it again,” and keep on writing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Am I Your Guest Blogger?

If any of you have had a chance to check out my Facebook page you will see my plea: Am I your Guest Blogger?

For the last week I have been struggling with my current crisis: My laptop crashed.

No, when it happened I didn’t scream and run around in circles with my hands on my head like one of those cartoon characters my son watches on Nick. I was prepared. I had a backup. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover until I restored my files that my backup didn’t include my Outlook. So I lost my e-mails, contacts, and calendar. It didn’t hit me until much later how bad it really was.

Two days after the crash, I was drinking my coffee feeling mighty pleased with myself over being so prepared for the crash and not losing any of my books when I realized something: When I lost my Outlook files, I also lost my calendar and in doing so…my guest blog schedule and blogger contacts.

That was when I started running around in circles and screaming like one of those cartoon characters that my son watches on Nick.

Why don’t I use a proper organizer? I tried. I do admire those who I see whip out one of those leather bound notebooks that are broken up into various sections: one for addresses and phone numbers, the other for the calendar in which to record your dates, and then the section in which to slip in business cards. They look so…so… ORGANIZED. They even smell impressive.

As soon as I get one of those I’ll fill out the front page with my information on the first page. I’ll write it out carefully using my best penmanship. Then I’ll fill out some of the contact information and put in a couple of dates on the calendar so that it will look like I lead a life in which appointments are made and kept in a premeditated manner; anything to create the illusion that my life is not a hodgepodge of happenstance.

I am usually able to maintain this illusion for three and a half days. Then I will tire of breaking out my organizer to write things down and decide to save time jotting notes down on a yellow stickie that happens to be within reach of the phone. Why waste time writing said note twice? Why not just stick the yellow stickie (Hey! They call it a stickie for a reason!) to the appropriate page on the calendar in the organizer.

At least I’m using the organizer!

Then, I’ll slip the organizer into my Mommy bag, where it will fall to the bottom and get buried under old grocery shopping lists written out on yellow stickies. Yes, I know the organizer has a writing pad on which to make up said lists, but first I would have to dig it out from the bottom of my purse to use the writing pad.

At the bottom of my purse, my organizer will remain along with my lost open pens that will mark up the pages and the leather cover, which in no time starts smelling like the back of my closet.

It is usually rediscovered around September.

After thirteen organizers and fifteen years of trying to get organized, I gave up. That was about the time I discovered Outlook.

This I can handle. I do most of my communication with e-mail anyway. So, when I get a date that I have to remember, with a couple of keystrokes I simply save the email, along with all the contact information into my Outlook calendar and with another keystroke, I’m back in my e-mail. No hunting down pads of yellow stickies and working pens to write out my stuff. That organizer can stay at the bottom of my purse for discovery by the archeologists in a couple hundred years to land in the Museum of Natural History. Then I’ll be famous.

I thought I had it all figured out—until my computer crashed and I discovered that the Windows 7 backup does not include Outlook, which includes my calendar, with all my contact information, including my Guest Blog dates and the contact information for the Bloggers.

So, this week I have been feeling like a fool hunting down bloggers to ask: Are you missing a guest blogger?

Please pass this message and e-mail link around to any bloggers you may know who are missing a guest blogger. My missing guest spots were for sites about books and writing. The dates and contact information I am missing are in August. I am to send the post in at the beginning of July.

In the meantime, I’m going out to buy an iPhone.

UPDATE: Great News! I have found my mystery blogger. It was Jeffrey Marks, Little Blog of Mystery, August 8!

Thank you to everyone who contacted me offering to let me guest on your blogs even though you weren't my mystery blogger. I will be in touch since I am setting up a blogging tour with the release of It's Murder My Son on July 1!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mom Replaced by Free Download

It happens every year.

Every major school project is due the same week in May. Now that Tristan is in middle school, it is worse than it was before; and I don’t see it getting any better until he graduates from graduate school and starts taking care of us.

Until then, Jack and I will just have to bare with it.

Last week, Tristan’s social studies project was due. It was on the country of Poland, where his ancestors originated. It was very last minute. He only received the assignment right before Christmas in December.

Don’t get me wrong. For the last five months he has been working on it. He’s been doing the fun stuff: research and putting together a PowerPoint presentation complete with audio and special effects for his oral report. However, forty-eight hours before the project was due, he only had the rough draft of his twenty page research paper completed.

In came Mom, the professional writer, to the rescue. With the rough draft completed, I could have edited and polished it in a matter of hours, but I had visions of Tristan in graduate school. “Mom, my three-hundred page dissertation on the chemical components of the beagle nebula is due the day after tomorrow. I have the rough draft done and some really cool pictures. Can you help?”

Sorry, kid, they don’t have computers here in the nursing home.

So last weekend, Tristan and I sweated together, as mother and son, to complete his sixth-grade social studies project. By noon, he cried out, “Mom, can I have a break? I’m hungry.”

“Okay, twenty minutes.” I continued on. Three pages and an hour later, I realized that Tristan was nowhere to be found. I woke up Jack, who was thinking with his eyes closed on the sofa. “Where’s Tristan?”

“He went to Bronson’s house.” The kid escaped!

An hour later, I tracked him down and dragged him back to the computer to teach him more about the fine art of punctuation. “Did any of your teachers ever introduce you to a comma?”

It was with a big sigh of relief that I sent Tristan off to school on Monday morning. That was over. I could now sit and relax with my own writing projects.

At three-thirty, Tristan returned home with tears in his eyes.

Language Arts: The assignment was a twenty-five page story assigned over a month ago. Tristan was excited about this project. He had been researching and writing it for the whole month. He had the twenty-five pages written—in long hand—which were now missing!

When was this story due? Wednesday!

Unfortunately, Mom had her own deadline. So I told Tristan to start typing and when he got home the next day he could dictate what he didn’t have done to me and we’d get it done.

Before he went to bed, I asked Tristan how many pages had he typed: A whole three pages!

What had the kid been doing since he got home from school? Researching a speech to text software to help him finish the project. “Mom, can I download it onto my computer?”

I bristled. That’s cheating!

“How?” Tristan wanted to know.

It was cheating the same way word processing was to the electric typewriters, and electric typewriters were to manual typewriters, and manual typewriters were to the pen.

Tristan failed to see my logic. The next day, as soon as he got home from school, he downloaded a freeware of a speech to text program. While he dictated his story to his laptop, I fumed in the kitchen while cooking dinner.

Where was this free download when he was sobbing over his missing pages? Was it able to give him the benefit of its life experience and advice directly from the bottom of its heart? Was it going to give him a hug and an “atta boy” when he brought home his “A”? Did this free download even care enough about Tristan to brag about him on its blog?

How dare he replace ME with a free download?

By dinner, Tristan had printed up his story and presented it to me to review. It had a thrilling beginning, an intriguing plot, and a cliffhanger ending. Unfortunately, it lacked capital letters, periods, commas, and paragraph breaks. This, I firmly believe, his language arts teacher would want him to use.

“Where’s Tristan?” I asked Jack when he came to the dinner table.

“He went to James’ house.”

So, I went in search of Tristan and dragged him back to his computer where I sat on him until he finished his story, after which we celebrated with hot fudge sundaes.

There are some things you just can’t replace with a free download.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kill Me Please

Most writers, like me, are die-hard introverts. We are most content when we are home alone with our imagination, laptop, and dog or cat or goldfish or whatever it is that keeps us company without making too many demands.

I don’t get cabin fever. This past February, I cursed when the snow plow came through three days after the blizzard. It was so unfair. My friend Jill who lives in the “flatlands” as I call the valley below our mountain got to stay snowed in for two more days. She does get cabin fever.

Yet, there is a danger to giving into your solitary ways when you are a writer. Inspiration comes from being “out there”. How else can you come up with interesting characters or story lines? You can’t count on anyone worthy of being put in your next masterpiece crossing your path while sitting in your recliner in your bathrobe and slippers. Agatha Christie based Hercule Poirot on a gentleman she saw at a café. Sherlock Holmes was based on one of Sir Conan Doyle’s college professors.

Don’t assume that being called a character is an insult. I am often asked to be put in my books. It seems to be a toss-up between wanting to be the innocent accused, or the suspect that the reader hopes did it so they will go to jail, or the actual killer.

Only once, a young man asked after one of my speaking engagements if he could be a murder victim. Never before, and never since, has anyone requested to be the victim--unless you want to count the request to be killed off coming from one’s behavior.

Have you ever seen someone incredibly ill dressed and thought, “Do they ever look in the mirror?” Well, sometimes I will meet someone and wonder, “Do they have any idea of how their behavior looks to others?”

Through my years of people watching, I have met some people who seem to beg, “Kill me! Please!” They aren’t asking the neighborhood psychopath to take an ax to them, but they do seem to be begging the local mystery writer to make them the subject of a fictional murder investigation.

Recently, in my quest for inspiration, I got out of bed, kicked off my fluffy slippers, brushed my teeth, put on my bra, and went off to census training for the United States government. (If I can get paid for people watching, so much the better.) Here I was in a large room with twenty-five other adults all awaiting the opportunity to learn how to go door to door to count people…and to meet characters.

My training class was a virtual garden of characters ripe for the picking. There was the mom wanting to earn enough money to take her children to Disney World; the wife hoping to make enough money to pay her husband’s medical bills, the dog trainer who was short on funds, and the elderly couple wanting to make enough money to drive across country in their RV this summer.

Let’s not forget the mystery writer in search of inspiration.

Add to this mix an executive recently retired from a position that had two hundred employees working under her. I know this because she broadcast it several times over the course of the week. She was also the recipient of numerous awards for excellence. She said that it was important that everyone, including the instructor, know this information. Why? Her awards were real evidence of how truly far beneath her we all were.

By the end of the first day, it became clear that I had found a potential murder victim.

An hour into the training, The Executive balked at the one hour allotted for lunch during the eight-hour day. “I find that unacceptable. It violates my employment agreement.” The Executive wanted the thirty minute lunch that she had agreed to and to leave a half hour earlier, even if it was inconvenient for the other twenty-five people in the room. Since none of us ever had two hundred men working under us, our lunch plans didn’t matter.

By the end of the week, I had a room filled with readers waiting in line to buy the book I write in which the murder victim is The Award Winning Executive.

It was during The Great Lunch Negotiations that the mother trying to get to Disney World turned to me. “There’s a reason I’m a stay-at-home mom.” Like the Disney Mom, I work at home alone for a reason. Maybe it’s because my mother drilled manners into my psyche that I have never mixed well with corporate America. I actually care about the other people in the room.

I don’t actually lift a whole character and put them into a book. Rather, I will pick up looks, styles, or traits to use. I will also store away situations that I have encountered to use in a plotline.

For example, the one home I visited for the census in which the wife screamed at me about how she refused to take part. Okay, I said. But when I turned to leave she called me back. Maybe her husband will answer my questions. After bellowing for her husband, she resumed yelling at me. It seemed to take an eternity for her husband to come to the door while she continued screaming about how she was not going to participate in the census. When I once again offered to leave, she told me to wait because her husband was coming. After he arrived, she went to get a beer while he answered my questions between comments about how nosy the government is.

It was during this interview that I put together a plotline in which a couple is murdered by a door-to-door sales rep pushed over the edge by…

After all my years of people watching, I have yet to answer this question: When characters like these end up between the covers of a book, do they actually see themselves the way the writer saw them?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Thirty-Page Labor

I haven’t been blogging the last few weeks because I have been working diligently on completing the rough draft of my next Mac Faraday Mystery, Old Loves Die Hard (working title) while recovering from my gallbladder surgery. Now comes the hard part. Revising and editing.
One of the most gratifying feelings in writing is finishing the first draft. It’s like child birth. There’s the pregnancy where everything comes together. Then there is the getting it out. That’s the rough draft. After giving birth to the book, the writer’s next job is to mold and shape it to maturity while praying that it doesn’t end up killing anyone.
Old Loves Die Hard was born after a three day long labor. Trying to push those last 30 pages out was harder than the first 200 pages.
By the time the writer reaches the ending pages of a book the words seem to flow from the fingertips to the keyboard onto the page. I was in the zone the other night when I had reached that point. However, I am not only a writer, I am also a Mom and my son has to get up at 5:45 am to go to school. So, I went to bed with the words of those last 30 pages dancing in my head.
Jack suggested that I stay up and finish them, but I said no. “I’ll finish it tomorrow.”
I should have listened to Jack.
At 5:00 am a noise came clattering through the walls into our bedroom.
“What was that?” Jack sat up in bed.
Beagle Bailey woke up with a noise that resembled a mixture of a beagle bay and howl. Ziggy just plain wanted to kill it, whatever it was.
IT was a guinea hen that had decided to take up residence on the porch rail outside our front door.
I like wildlife. That’s why I live in the woods on our mountain in West Virginia. I love to look out the picture windows in my studio to see a herd of deer grazing in our backyard.
I don’t like wildlife when it is a loud fifty-pound bird sitting at our front door going CLACK-ACK-ACK-ACK!
It was still there at 7 am when I had to take Tristan to the bus stop. “Do something,” I told Jack.
“I’m not going out there,” my brave husband replied. “That thing’s big.”
So, I did the only thing I could do. I released the hounds. Beagle Bailey is no dummy. That bird was bigger than he is. He launched his attack verbally from the safety of our home.
Fearless, Ziggy shot like a bullet out the door and chased the bird up into a tree on the other side of the driveway while Tristan and I made a run for it. I had to chase the bus halfway down the mountain, but I got him to school. When I returned, the guinea hen was still up in the tree and she was not happy.
They were at it for an hour until Ziggy tired of fighting with a bird that refused to come down and fight like a dog. After breakfast and a drink of water he went back out for round two. Then round three. Then round four, etc. They continued all day long. The only time I had peace was when Ziggy came in to gargle.
All day, that bird taunted me while I tried to concentrate on pushing those thirty pages from my mind to my fingertips to the keyboard and onto the paper.
Ziggy and Bailey would answer back. WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF!
Try giving birth to a literary masterpiece with CLACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK! WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF!
That bird remained in our front yard for three days! Every morning I would have to send out Ziggy to chase her away in order to get Tristan to the bus stop. Then I would continue pushing those last thirty pages out to the tune of CLACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK! WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF-WHOOF!
But now, looking at my latest Mac Faraday Mystery, Old Loves Die Hard, like every proud mother, it was worth it.
I can’t wait for all of you to see my new baby.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Story Ideas: Out of the Mouth of Babes

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
I think every author is asked this question. My answer: I get them from anywhere.
The premise for A Small Case of Murder sprang from my first and only purchase at an antique shop in Copper Harbor, Michigan. (Not because I have anything against antiques. It’s shopping I hate.) One day it was pouring rain and we had nothing better to do that cruise the shops on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan.
I found a beautiful silver tea set. The shop owner, a very nice gentleman, told me how he had acquired the set:
It was part of an estate purchased from a young woman whose elderly mother had died. He had purchased the contents of her home for one price. He was packing up the master bedroom while chatting away with the daughter when he tossed the box springs off the bed frame to reveal a cardboard box underneath. The daughter asked, “What is that?”
He told her, “Whatever it is, it’s mine.”
The box contained a silver tea set, still in its original packaging, along with letters and postcards dating back to 1968, thirty-five years earlier. The daughter never knew any of those things was there.
After hearing this story, I started to think. What if one of those letters that the daughter had never seen implicated someone in a murder? I had A Small Case of Murder written in my head by the time we returned home from our vacation.
These ideas can strike at anytime. Sometimes they hit suddenly, and sometimes they incubate in the mind. A Reunion to Die For was based on a tragic suicide of a classmate of mine in high school. It was a couple decades later that I started wondering, “What if it was really a murder?”
Mystery writers are always on the lookout for great story ideas. Every time I see an episode of Hoarders on A&E, I wonder, “What if the cleaning crews find a dead body under all that stuff? Say, a husband that the wife thought had run out on her years ago?”
I have discovered that such active imaginations can be hereditary.

Yesterday, I had my gallbladder taken out. That is one of the reasons I haven’t been quite so diligent in keeping up with my blog. I was getting my affairs in order, so to speak. Actually getting everything done before going under the knife because Jack, my husband, and Tristan, my eleven year old son are less than capable of taking care of themselves.
Last night I was lying in bed. Tristan was sitting up next to me while I recounted in detail about my experience at the hospital. After I had shown him the incisions on my stomach, he asked, “How do you know they took really it out?”
That question left me speechless. Finally, I told him it was because they said they did.
“Did they show it to you?” Before I could answer, Tristan said, “I guess that wouldn’t prove that they had taken it out. You don’t know what your gallbladder looked like. I guess they all look the same. They could have shown you any gallbladder. How would you know it was yours?”
“I have the holes in my body,” I argued. Even as I said the words, I was already thinking the same scenario that Tristan was already voicing.
“They could have just put you under and poked a bunch of holes in you.”
“Why would they do that?” I asked.
Tristan shrugged. “To make money. Or maybe your doctor is a psycho. You won’t recover because he didn’t take it out. After a bunch more tests, which you have to pay for, to find out what your problem is, the doctor says that he has to open you up again to take out something else. So the next time you go under the knife, he really does take out your gallbladder. In the end, you pay for two sets of tests and two surgeries—all for one gallbladder.” His story went on and on.
That’s my boy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

How to Get That Deer-In-The-Headlights-Look on Lauren’s Face

I just read my friend Sunny Frazier’s informative post, Welcome to Your World about a writer’s pet peeve: Meeting people who say they have a book in them, but are just too busy to write it. If you are a budding writer who simply can’t seem to get your book on paper, I suggest you read it.

This week I have been dealing with my own writer’s pet peeve: Unpublished manuscripts from those who managed to get their books onto paper.

Flooded with manuscripts, both agents and publishers tell writers that their best bet to get their foot in the door is to have their manuscript recommended by someone they know, like a published author.

I met my first unpublished writer at my very first booksigning for my very first book, A Small Case of Murder. The booksigning was held at the general store in Chester, WV. When I arrived on the scene, I was thrilled to find a line of people waiting to buy my book, written by their local author.

Clutching his manuscript, this writer had been waiting for close to an hour to beg me to read it. Nowhere had I read in my research about booksigning etiquette anything about this type of situation.

In the heat of the moment, I had no idea what to say. With that deer-in-the-headlights expression that I have perfected over the years (We can thank motherhood for that.), I stammered out some pleasantries while trying to ease him over to the side to let the next customer in line come forward. But this writer was not to be deterred from this opportunity to get his work noticed. He pulled up a chair and sat behind the table next to me! After several minutes of my ignoring him in order to concentrate on readers who had come out to meet me, he left. At least he bought a copy of my book on the way out.

I feel honored when a fellow writer asks me for advice. It’s a pat on the back that says they recognize that I have come a far way, baby! However, when a writer asks me to read his work, I have to confess that feeling of honor is drowned by a tidal wave of fear.

This is how it is supposed to happen:
  1. Writer gives unpublished manuscript to published author. That’s supposed to be me.
  2. Published author reads manuscript and recognizes that it is the next great American novel.
  3. Published author calls their big New York City literary agent.
  4. Big New York City literary agent breaks leg rushing to sign up the next Dan Brown.
  5. Writer becomes published author.
As the published author, I’m having problems fulfilling Steps 2 and 3. Let’s address Step 3 first: I don’t have a big New York City literary agent.

Many inexperienced writers assume that every published author has a literary agent. Almost always, when a manuscript is thrust at me, the writer will say, “…and if you like it, maybe you can pass it on to your agent...” at which point I hang my head, look at my feet, and confess, “I don’t have an agent.” Then, I feel like I have to defend my status as an author by explaining that a lot of us don’t have agents. At which point the writer will say, “Well, maybe you can call SOMEBODY!”

Who? My publisher? In some cases, that might work. Unfortunately, almost every manuscript that has been given to me has been out of my, and my publisher’s, genre, which brings me to my problem in fulfilling Step 2.

I write murder mysteries. The vast majority of books I read have a dead body in them and detectives trying to find out who made that dead body that way. Yes, I have degrees in literature and I am very well read, but, when it comes to judging the quality of unpublished works outside my genre, I can’t offer a critique beyond character development, plot flow, and sentence structure.

The manuscript I have minimized on my desktop right now is about cannibalistic vampires. Unfortunately, this writer chose the last living and not yet undead person on the face of this earth who has not read any of the hundreds of vampire books that have come out recently. For all I know about this genre, this manuscript could be the next Dracula. Maybe it is. I don’t know.

Understanding the frustration and, sometimes, desperation of the unpublished writer in trying to get their foot in the door, most authors want to help if we can. But sometimes, we fear the consequences if we can’t. I know one author who got her own book slammed on Amazon and every other book site that accepts amateur reviews by an angry writer after giving his manuscript an unfavorable critique.

Right now, I have a manuscript on my desk written by a teacher my son will have next year. It’s extremely good, but I can’t help but ask what I would do if it wasn’t. Would I have to start homeschooling my son?

Many published authors won’t read other writer’s manuscripts. They simply don’t have the time between families, jobs, and writing careers. However, many of us will make the effort.

If you want to submit your manuscript to an author, please keep a few rules in mind:
  1. If you want an honest critique, it is best to get it from an author in your genre. Also, they are more likely to have the connections you need.
  2. Don’t approach the author at a book signing event. The author is there to publicize their book. This isn’t to say you can’t make contact. The most appropriate way is to introduce yourself, mention that you are a writer, and even give her your business card. Say nothing else about your writing unless you are asked. E-mail the author with your request later.
  3. Be gracious if the author fails to meet your expectations either by giving you a poor critique, not being able to introduce you to the right people, or simply declining to read your manuscript.
My last and most important piece of advice: Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In a Setting Far, Far Away Only in My Mind, Or--

What’s a writer to do when she wants to humiliate someone but they won’t go along willingly?

During my writing career, I have discovered that people are both thrilled and anxious about the prospect of ending up in a book involving murder and mayhem. After meeting me, some have to wonder, “How does she see me in one of her books? A detective? A suspect? Oh, my heavens, certainly not a corpse!”

The Joshua Thornton mysteries are set in Chester, West Virginia; the small town where I had grown up. In A Small Case of Murder, Joshua’s parents discover a dead body in the barn on my brother’s farm. Mark has fun telling people that actually no dead body was ever found on his farm. When researching A Reunion to Die For, I took a tour of the county prosecutor’s office. Hancock County’s prosecuting attorney thinks it’s a kick having a fictional counterpart.

However, while writing the Mac Faraday mysteries, I learned that when it strikes too close to home, some people would rather the author take her murder elsewhere.

My sister-in-law had asked me to set a murder mystery in her home town, a sweet summer place in Wisconsin called Pelican Lake. At the time, I was working on a storyline that wasn’t a good fit for Joshua Thornton. So I went to work on a new series set on a lake in a resort town modeled after Pelican Lake.

I had completed the first draft of It’s Murder, My Son in time for a visit from my sister-in-law. Excited about a murder set in her town at her request, she asked for all the details. When I mentioned that the murder victim was killed in her house, I was surprised to see horror in her eyes. Since her home and property had a unique design and layout, anyone knowing her could easily tell that the murder took place in her home.

For the sake of family harmony, I decided to do a re-write.

As luck would have it, my family had started vacationing at Deep Creek Lake. Like Pelican Lake, this Maryland town is a resort area. It was child’s play to pick up my murder in Pelican Lake and plop it down in Deep Creek Lake, until I asked the local police department to let me portray them as a bunch of idiots.

In It’s Murder, My Son, homicide detective Mac Faraday discovers that his birth mother is the late Robin Spencer, America’s Queen of Mystery, and he is her sole heir. Upon learning that he has a half brother, police officer David O’Callaghan, he moves to Deep Creek Lake to meet him.

Mac is drawn into the murder investigation of his neighbor after Gnarly, his inherited German shepherd, drags home a dismembered head. When he sees that the chief detective is an incompetent, Mac joins David in the investigation. It is the perfect opportunity to get to know his brother better. But, as luck would have it, Mac ends up making David the prime suspect.

While rewriting It’s Murder, My Son, I was surprised when the local police department refused to cooperate in my research. Unlike the Hancock County sheriff (a protagonist) in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, the police in Deep Creek Lake (an antagonist) would only give me a tour of the jail if I brought my toothbrush and planned to stay a while. Their resistance was understandable. Even though I promised disclaimers in my acknowledgements about my work being completely fiction and not based on anyone real, the police department was concern about their image.

So, out of respect for the real law enforcement, I created a fictional resort town resting on the shores of the real Deep Creek Lake and had a blast doing it.

In my previous series, my imagination was fenced in by the boundaries of Chester’s realities. While I was able to move the barn on my brother’s farm, I couldn’t get away with placing a twenty-five story high-rise on Carolina Avenue. Nor could I change the town’s history to fit a storyline.

When a murder mystery is set in a real town, readers expect the writer to be true to the facts. Even with a work of fiction, readers familiar with the area have a hard time forgiving authors when they rewrite their hometown’s history or change the streets. Even if the author had a legitimate reason for making the change, to the reader, it looks like sloppy research. For example, a woman once told me that she had stopped reading a series set in Washington DC when the writer had placed an exit ramp off Rock Creek Parkway that wasn’t there.

When I sat down to create the setting for It’s Murder, My Son, like a bird set free from a cage, my imagination opened its wings and soared. Since this was my town, I had the freedom to do with it as I saw fit.

Thus, Spencer, Maryland, was founded.

Nestled in a corner of Deep Creek Lake, Spencer is named after my protagonist’s ancestors. As the descendent of the town’s founders, the character of Mac Faraday has political influence that he otherwise couldn’t have inherited.

Since my first draft had already been on a lake in Wisconsin, I duplicated that setting in Spencer, but added some of my own touches. Mac Faraday’s cedar and stone home rests at the end of the most expensive piece of real estate on Deep Creek Lake. The peninsula houses a half-dozen lake houses that grow in size and grandeur along the stretch of Spencer Court, which ends at the stone pillars marking the multi-million dollar estate that had been the birthplace and home of one of the world’s most famous authors.

My fictional setting’s affluence is born out of necessity. While this lakeside town is small, it also has its own police department. In order to make that feasible, I had to make Spencer a getaway for the rich and famous.

From the lakeshore, Spencer’s border stretches up and over a mountain, on top of which rests the Spencer Inn, a resort and spa, which is also part of Mac’s inheritance. Ironically, before his windfall, he couldn’t have afforded to eat there.

While it is fun to create a fictional setting, the writer does need to keep hold on the reins. The setting needs to fit with the surrounding area. Readers familiar with Deep Creek Lake would never buy an exclusive resort town like Spencer on their shores if in fact the area was an impoverished swamp. In reality, Deep Creek Lake is a popular vacation spot for people from Washington, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and all the surrounding areas. The million dollar homes in my setting fit right in with the other vacation houses that dot the lake and mountainside.

Writing It’s Murder, My Son was an amazing ride. As a writer, it is exhilarating to let your imagination go free without the reins of reality. Who knows, maybe in Max Faraday’s next adventure, I’ll have him go into a galaxy far, far away—or was that already done?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Where Has The Time Gone?

My family has been snowed in six days. Today, a second blizzard is dumping another two feet of the white stuff. With Jack, my husband, immersed in his imaginary world of HO-scale trains; and Tristan, my son, conquering empires in the world of Wii, I should have the first draft of the great American mystery novel completed by the time we’re dug out around Easter. Don’t you think?

When it comes to explaining my lack of progress, I like to recount how on Sunday I offered to make my men a nice hot breakfast. Jack declined. As soon as the kitchen was clean, after I turned off the light, he asked, “What are you fixing me?” How else can I explain only a few readable paragraphs after clicking away on my laptop all afternoon?

My family has been wrongfully accused. The true thief that has been stealing chunks of time is a gang called Technology. Its members (E-mail; Facebook, Ipod, and Twitter) sneak in through the portals of cyber space to rob us of uninterrupted progress.

Produced by PBS, Digital Nation addresses the monumental changes in our society, both enlightening, and some disturbing, since we have plunged into the digital age. While viewing Digital Nation, I was hit by how technological advances have adversely affected my writing habits.

Thirty years ago, I wrote my first book on an electric typewriter. Determined to be a novelist, I devoted all of my spare time to banging away on my IBM Selectra. The television was off. Meals consisted of peanut butter sandwiches that were quick and easy to make. Hours that I used to sunbathe for a golden tan were spent composing my masterpiece. I stopped going out with my friends. Not a minute that could be devoted to literary creation was wasted. At the end of the summer, I proudly emerged from my bachelorette apartment pale, thin, and socially bankrupt.

In three months, I had written the Great American Catastrophe, all 846 pages of it in hardcopy.

We have come so far in just the last twenty years that there is no excuse for anyone to not be a writer (except for complete lack of talent). So, with no place to go and no demands on me, why is it so hard to compose a simple strangling in Windows 7 when three decades ago I was able to kill off the whole membership of the Screen Actors Guild over three short months without the benefit of a spellchecker?

While the delete button has opened a whole new world, it has also slashed my attention span to the length of an inch-worm. While we sit in front of our laptops thinking that we are actually writing and doing it well, in reality we are constantly being distracted and giving in to those distractions freely. We feel like hotshots being able to check e-mails; program our DVR; make dozens of new friends who we’ve never met or most likely ever will; download the latest tunes; write a job proposal; IM our spouse in the bathroom about what he wants for dinner; spy to see what our son is really doing on his laptop in his room; and google to find out what had become of that teen idol we had pledged our luv-4-ever while in our underwear. Then, at the end of the day, we scratch our heads and wonder why we’ve only written seven paragraphs in the last seven hours.

As much as I would like to blame technology, or even my family, the problem doesn’t lie with the distractions. There were distractions back when I wrote the Great American Catastrophe. They just weren’t as convenient to give into. With the click of the button, I can escape choreographing a shootout in a parking garage to check out Jill’s dog Elvis in the snow on Facebook. Swooning over Elvis should only take thirty seconds, but before going back to the shootout I need to accept Shanti’s friend request. Suddenly, I have only six minutes to forward an e-mail to eleven friends or suffer the curse of Mother Theresa. By the end of the day, that moment has turned into three hours with only one hour spent doing actual writing.

I have had to be reminded that writing takes discipline. It is the same discipline I had back when I was a teenager when I gave up Fantasy Island to become the next Jackie Collins. Today, I have to tell my thumb, "Don’t touch that button! Keep on writing until Mac Faraday catches up with his killer."

Elvis will still be on Facebook.