Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THE NEXT BIG THING--blog chain!

The Next Big Thing is a blog chain in which participating authors answer ten questions about their current work in progress and their upcoming publications.

One of my new authorial "finds" and friends is author Susan Furlong Bolliger, who tagged me for this ongoing blog chain. You can read her cozy mystery, MURDER FOR BID, soon on the Kindle!

Susan writes from the Midwest where she lives with her husband and four children. Her articles and stories have appeared in national magazines such as Country magazine and Woman's World. Be sure to visit her website, where you'll find out much more about her work, at or read her occasional blogs at

Thank you, Susan, for including me in your lineup of tagged authors. I’m always quite loquacious anytime I can get someone buttonholed and make them listen to me blather about my writing methods and projects. Bwaa-ha-ha!

Because it's too creepy for me to interview MYSELF yet again, let's pretend that Grover (yes, from the Muppets--what, ya got something against Muppets?) is asking the questions.

What is the title of your work?

NICE WORK (A Jacquidon Carroll Mystery)

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Over the past couple of years, just about EVERYONE has been laid off or RIFfed (Reduction in Force) out of a job at least once. The experience is depressing and humiliating even if you didn't particularly like the job, and even if you weren't at fault and you were not let go for cause. Anger at those who so callously replaced or deleted you is inevitable. After my worst boss got rid of me, I thought, "Why not give my mystery heroine this experience?" So many readers have written to me crying after reading the opening scene of NICE WORK by Denise Weeks, telling me that I got it spot-on. They often miss all the clues I'm planting and all the groundwork that's being laid in that scene because of the emotional impact. I think that's good, though, because it makes it tougher for them to solve the mystery (GRIN), but also because one of the first jobs of a novelist is to arouse passions and evoke emotional responses in their readers.

My heroine, Jacquidon Carroll, and her intrepid sister Chantal must then clear Jacquidon of a possible accusation of murder . . . because the day after she exited the company "throwing a hissy fit" and making a scene, her ex-boss dies under suspicious circumstances. They uncover an elaborate web of deception involving a BDSM club and community that's not quite fair with all of its members. It's all played for laughs, not for lust, when the innocent (somewhat, anyway) sisters blunder into a couple of real live private sex clubs in order to track down some suspects. The book is a traditional/cozy with an edge--and with lots of Sister Sleuths banter. Remember the old "Snoop Sisters" television series starring Mildred Natwick and Ruth Gordon? (No, you're not old enough--but it was part of the same NBC Mystery Movies series as "Columbo," "McMillan and Wife," and "Banacek." Great classic stuff.) It was a real hoot. Well, this is the same sort of deal, only with twentyish sisters in the modern (and even more confusing) world. It's a romp and a trip!

What genre does your book fall under?

NICE WORK is a traditional (cozy) mystery with an edge.

I couldn't call it a straight "cozy" because of the BDSM substory and the sex club visits, and there's a somewhat larger cast of strangers involved than with the Agatha Christie-type "village" mysteries. We're in big D and its suburbs, not a refined English cottage. But the book has no gore or blood or icky stuff and is safe for those who will not read horrific things or books that snuff out innocent animals or children. No nightmares here!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Jacquidon and Chantal have to be played by actresses with sisterly chemistry. I guess you don't want me to reach into the past and cast geniuses like Claudette Colbert and Audrey Hepburn, so let's see. Jennifer Aniston for Jacquidon. Reese Witherspoon for Chantal! Aniston was wonderful in the little-known THE GOOD GIRL (a drama) and of course in OFFICE SPACE. Witherspoon has done so many comedies, including the LEGALLY BLONDE stuff. They would really make the film. But of course these are headliner stars, and it could be that I'll have to settle for others.

For Jacquidon, our beloved heroine . . . how about Kaley Cuoco from the Big Bang Theory? Or even the actress who plays Amy Farrah Fowler as Jacquidon and Kaley Cuoco as Chantal. I know they could do drama as well as comedy.

The romantic interest, Fred Gordon, would have to be someone I have a crush on. David Spade could be great in the role, but maybe moviegoers look for a tall hottie when it comes to the romantic lead, so perhaps if Jim Parsons from the Big Bang Theory can play it straight, that's the guy to cast. We could go with Ray Romano, in a pinch--or maybe even Johnny Galecki. Am I glomming too hard on the BIG BANG THEORY? (Bazinga!)

I've always had a special place in my heart for Nick Bakay, the actor who had a bit part in Craig T. Nelson's series "Coach" and who voiced Salem the cat/witch in "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." I think it would be a real hoot to put him in as Detective Mueller, my heroine's nemesis.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After being accused of the murder of her ex-boss, Jacquidon Carroll must navigate a maze of BDSM clubs and online sites frequented (and abused) by the late supervisor as she searches for the real killer.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My agent and I parted company amicably earlier this year, when I decided to go with small/indie presses instead of beating my head against the wall of traditional New York publishing. However, small presses are far from self-publishing. Self-publishing has exploded recently, which has good points and bad points, but has certainly glutted the market with new books to choose from.

I am now under contract with three small presses. Oak Tree Press has more than 200 stellar novelists, many of them writing mystery and romance and producing more than one book a year. Muse Harbor Press is starting up with some of the most edgy young adult fiction around. Pandora Press has branched out from its origins as an occult/New Age house and is now carrying chick lit and romantic suspense as well as traditional mystery and suspense titles. Publishing has completely changed over the past year or two, and nothing's guaranteed today, what with everything in such turmoil. Readers now must be their own gatekeepers, as all those "free" e-books may not be of the highest quality, and it's inevitable that readers will get burned while picking out titles by authors new to them--as well as running across wonderful books that wouldn't have been found by the traditional presses, books readers adore. This is a very exciting time for authors and readers, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

NICE WORK took over a year to finish in draft form. That was almost ten years ago. I began by running it through a workshop and having critique partners give me feedback. It then underwent a serious revision and was vetted by my best beta readers. I entered it in the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic contest, where it finaled among the top five entries, but was not chosen as a winner. I let it percolate for a year while I worked actively on the Ariadne French mysteries (beginning with a book that will now be the second in that series, not yet out). Then I went through again to fix details that were outdated (computer-related stuff that had changed, cell phone technology that had improved) and submitted it again to the St. Martin's contest. I got a very nice letter from my judge in the initial round, and the book went to the final round again, but still didn't light their fires. I put the book aside for a while again. Last year I heard about the Oak Tree Press Dark Oak Mystery Contest and entered. The book won! Now the series is in print, and a sequel is in progress. So don't give up.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It's a longer book like those by Diane Mott Davidson, and is a little like her books in that the characters' lives play an important role. It has a spirit of whimsy like the Joan Hess "Claire Malloy" series. It's like the old Anne George "Southern Sisters" mysteries, and I hope it fills the void left by the ending of her series.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The idea that in fiction, I could make justice triumph and love conquer all. I like the way that a traditional mystery is actually a morality play, one in which evil deeds and intent get exposed and restitution is made. I also thought that the world needed the banter of the sister sleuths again, and a series that didn't rely on gross yucky scenes to titillate the groundlings, but on an intellectual puzzle and funny romp.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Many people know nothing about the BDSM lifestyle. I teetered on a tightrope as far as balancing the "funny" stuff that I needed to come out of this one and the task of NOT mocking or jeering at the alternative lifestyle, which is all that BDSM is. One of my sleuths keeps reminding people that it's not evil, not a perversion, and so forth--it's just a preference or choice. At the same time, someone inside the lifestyle DOES betray the trust of others in this story, and that can happen in ANY situation where relationships are built on trust. So it's also a cautionary tale about looking before you leap and about protecting yourself without hurting others.

I hope that my portrayal of Jacquidon as a newly diagnosed diabetic will resonate with the many readers who have diabetes. She goes through a period of adjustment (that's a great movie, BTW--"Period of Adjustment") and even experiences some lapses due to her "cheating on eating," both purposely and inadvertently. One plot point teeters around the fulcrum of her having really poor judgment one evening and making a few phone calls that the police later claim point towards her guilt. It makes just one more hassle in her already complicated life, and it's something that many diabetics will relate to.

OH, and she's unemployed . . . and goes to employment counseling, where the additional stress of budding romance threatens her serenity. Everyone likes a nice romantic subplot, and many people will recognize the stages of looking for another job (and accepting that the old one is gone.)


I’ve invited several talented writers to participate in The Next Big Thing blog chain. Watch for their posts next week!

James R. Callan is the author of several non-fiction books and four mysteries, including two released in 2012: Cleansed by Fire and Murder a Cappella. Long the leader of the Northeast Texas Writers Group (and their neat-o conference in the Piney Woods of Texas), Jim writes the Sweet Adelines mystery series as well as the Father Frank mysteries. Visit his blog at, where he posts every Friday (usually with an interview of another published author.) He is a fellow Oak Tree Press mystery authog. Check out as well as and (the latter two being sites devoted to each of his mystery series.)

Lesley Diehl is another Oak Tree Press author who also writes for MainlyMurder press and Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmettoo, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work. She is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled (to be released late in 2012). She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder. For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth. Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping. She invites readers to visit her on her website at and her blog at

Dennis Havens is not only a gifted writer, but one of my oldest (that means "longest-kept," not "older than dirt," even though he's also that!) and dearest friends. His many mystery/thriller novels include COLOR RADIO, FLASH FLOOD WARNING, and REGARDS, B. T.. Most of his books are currently available from XLibris Press. His current project is GINGERS, an exploration of what would happen if someone started stalking and killing all the redheads and strawberry blondes. He guest-blogs here next week!

Lisa Peppan is another of my long-time writing buddies who posts from the great wilderness of Canada. Her novel SOME WHEN OVER THE RAIN CLOUDS is now out from Amazon, and is well worth your attention if you have any affinity for taxi drivers (and their daily woes), time travel, or fantasy/science fiction. You'll encounter new ideas in her work, I guarantee. She will also be guest-blogging here as her entry in the NEXT BIG THING blog circle!

NICE WORK for the Kindle

Live long and prosper!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Plot Your Mystery--Part II

Before we begin, I need to announce that my contest-winning traditional mystery NICE WORK is now out for the Kindle, at last!

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks--Oak Tree Press Kindle edition, $3.99

Do you have a Kindle or Kindle reader? Isn't it HUNGRY?

Frankly, I NEED people to download this Kindle version, or at least try the sample (WHICH IS FREE) to show that this series has an audience (and I believe it does). At only $3, the book costs less than many fast-food burgers.

Now everyone who said they were waiting for the Kindle edition can get it for post-Turkey Feast reading!! While the others are watching the football festival, you can be glancing down at a FUN humorous mystery with touches of BDSM (but played for fun, not for lust).

ANYWAY! Let's chat a bit more about plotting a mystery versus plotting a romance or other non-mystery.

The mystery must play a game with the reader. The game's afoot!

Okay, all fiction plays a game, especially fantasy. Fantasy invites the reader in to play a game of willing, suspended disbelief and have a sense of wonder invoked. In fantasy, the reader has to go along, or she can't enjoy reading the work.

But in a mystery, there's a crime to be solved, and it has to be solved by your amateur sleuth by circumventing the usual ways and outwitting the baddies and probably the police . . . *and* the whole time you need to let the reader have a fair chance of guessing, while making it fun to guess. And you have to play the game such that at the end, the reader says, "Oh! I would've never guessed. But now that you've told me, I see it. How could I have missed that?" You have to deliberately put in clues and red herrings that lead to plausible alternative theories.

This means that, whereas the scenes for Dulcinea and my other books just came to me "because that's what happened next" or "that's what was needed and what had to happen because of the characters," I had to actually think of places my sleuth could go and reasons she could give for being there, places she could get information about this crime. And since she didn't do the deed, she had to guess who to go to and what questions to ask.

It was very much a case of having the book planned out, and then saying, "Well, I have to have a scene of finding out this clue without making that the obvious purpose of the scene . . . we must distract them by dangling this false bait in front of them, with just enough finesse that they *think* they're being clever because they believe THAT is what I'm hiding, when it really isn't!"

I was also constrained by being in the real world rather than in my alternate-universe fantasy, and thus I had to let the police react the way they really plausibly would (meaning research--I talked to two Richardson detectives and one lady who investigates for the DA's office in Collin County and one social worker who knew about what happens to children who go into protective custody.) I had to figure out how much of this to put into the book without making the reader bored (but some had to go in to explain why she had to do things a certain way.)

In fact, in the final revision for MARFA LIGHTS I realized I had never had Ariadne (my sleuth) meet the victim's husband's parents, although they could be a great vehicle for giving some information that I hadn't figured out how to work in yet. I knew this revelation had to come before a certain event and after she'd been to the police to turn in what she'd found (and gotten into trouble, because they thought it incriminated her). Whew!

I also had to be careful how much detail I gave about locations. When Ari arrives at various places, there are clues to be seen in the environment, and I had to give those clues a place in the text . . . without making them the ONLY detail given. And without overdescribing. Whew, twice!

It was so much easier just to know what was happening to Dulcie, or to my other heroine Starla the waitress/singer, or to my other-other heroine Paige the jingle writer. Because what happened to them was organic, coming out of their actions in the face of circumstances, and because of what others did (according to their natures) and what they prompted as dilemmas or responses for Starla or Dulcie.

For example, when Dulcinea's father throws the jealous hissyfit over Raz stealing his customers (in his own shop--this is a quirk of Da, because he oughtn't to have been jealous of the younger man he had hired, but oh well, that's Da for you), she has to mediate without alienating Raz and while still making Da happy (she has to live with the man, after all, and obey, as long as she's under his roof, in that culture) and not hurting his ego too much. And she has to smooth it over with the customer, who gets upset over their scenemaking. This led to the scene of Dulcie alone with Raz in which he confides in her his doubts about their safety and why he is doing what he does . . . and this leads to her getting caught talking to Raz about "secrets," which makes her father feel they're plotting against him and trying to run the shop THEIR way . . . anyhow, then he accuses Raz of stealing something from him and Raz finds it by magic, and then he says, "But you were the one who took it, so of course you found it, that proves nothing," and then Raz quits his job and leaves, and Dulcie is heartbroken (being in love with Raz), and then the next morning when Da misses his mage's sack, they assume Raz took it, and that leads to Dulcinea sneaking away to try to catch Raz on the road before he gets far away so she can quietly give it back . . . and then she gets into trouble by meeting that false monk on the road, and she's too young/immature to curb her mouth and then he casts that spell to make her tell her intended mission, and. . . .

Um, ahem. *At any rate*, that story was organic and grew out of its seeds and its characters and their secrets and aims. My protagonist was MAKING it all happen, in a way, so it revolved around her naturally. With the mystery, this stuff happened to someone my protagonist sort of knew, and she got herself involved as a suspect, so she had to investigate in a systematic way as self-defense, but she wasn't really INTEGRAL to it, other than being the one who comes up with the solution and has to (on her own) confront the criminal and rescue herself. (Whew, yet again.) That seemed far tougher to me, because she had to insert herself into other's lives and ask questions, and I had to make up three ways this could have happened and "believe" them myself in order to make that mystery reader see them, and then I had to let my heroine rule out the other two and get in trouble proving the third. It was way, way tougher, and I always felt that most scenes could be replaced with similar ones --- as if there were many ways through that puzzle maze. Whereas with Dulcinea, what happened had to happen that way. It couldn't have happened otherwise to tell that story. I mean . . . what do I mean?

Does this make any sense?

My stories are typically organic and come out of the character. The character has a situation, and one day something changes that really zaps her, and events start rolling out of control, and she has to answer the call to adventure by coping with it and doing what she can. The mystery was a puzzle. Things did start happening when my sleuth poked and probed, but she was never the integral center of events. The victim and criminal were, and had been in a pre-story drama of their own leading up to the crime. So the story of solving the murder was much more a story *about* a story that happened in the past, one she had to uncover bit by bit. While Dulcie and Star and Paige were telling their OWN stories about and by themselves, pretty much as they were happening.

This doesn't negate what I said about readers needing to like and be invested in the success of your sleuth/detective. It's just that in most mysteries, the sleuth is not the center of the puzzle, but the catalyst that finally blows the ruse apart and lets us click the last puzzle piece into place instead of forcing it in where it doesn't belong (the way SOME PEOPLE used to do with all my jigsaw puzzles as a kid, *grrr*.)

My perception of the process may have to do with my method of "beginning at the beginning, or very close to it" (thank goodness for that), but then getting the ending, and then having to get there from here. With me, and thank goodness I have *this * much structure to my chaos, when a novel comes to me, I usually "get" the first scene, the opening scene, and the premise right away, and as I scribble or type this out, the ultimate ending scene comes to me and the "theme" of the novel with it. Weird, but I kid you not. (It sure beats writing five chapters and then realizing the story starts *there*.)

Then I get about ten pages or so into that opening and I say, "What the heck? How do we get there from here?" (I may find that the only part I keep of this original opening is that first sentence which sparked it all, or I may delete that and begin with the third paragraph, or I may just rearrange it all in the proper order--but I always do use this opening in some way, even if I delete the next ten pages and connect it with chapter three.)

And then I start to freewrite some ideas I have about the middle of the book. I may get an inkling about a scene here or there that will be a major turning point (usually plot point 1, plot point 2, a vague idea about the crisis and black moment and resolution, some of the other scenes that are more colorful.) Then I have to go back and fill it all in. Usually, there's a character driving all this. Either my main character is having an adventurous conflict with some colorful type, or she's about to get head-to-head in anger with another one . . . you know. And that colorful character begins to act or talk, and we suddenly get the next event that's tied into the story or subplot. Then we have to make this all a novel that flows. Work, work, work, that's all we ever do around this slave camp!

But you can't really do that as much with a mystery. Well, you CAN, but you also have to stop and PLAN the CRIME and how it happened, and then you need to justify why and how your sleuth stumbles across it, and you have to make her have a stake in solving it (why would she, unless she's the accused, or the victim was her best friend, or her friend is accused and she's convinced he's innocent, or whatever?). You have to think up a few clues and a few false clues. And you have to insert her somehow into the world of the crime so that she can get info. It's so different from having events that just grow out of previous events and mushroom into a huge worldchange and character change for your hero or heroine.

OR you could just start typing something that interests you and keep going until you hit THE END. It works for some people.

Or so I am told.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Plot Your Mystery In A Day--Part I

You've written books. That's not the problem. The difficulty you're having is that a MYSTERY has to be done partly with the left brain, the logical/spreadsheet side, while a regular book can come mostly from the right side, with prodding from the Girls in the Basement and the Muses you are channeling.

So now you're going to try a mystery. And this means you'll have to sit down early and do a little outlining. Ouch! Let's just call it "plotting." That's what our perp has been doing, after all. We'll assume you have been living with your sleuth and his/her milieu for some time now, and you've got a reason for him/her to be involved in solving this crime.

You've decided on your crime/victim (and method: hitting, strangling, etc.) and perp and at least two other people who will be suspects. But your READER can't figure this out until your sleuth does!

I always sit down and figure out three ways that the crime COULD have plausibly been committed, or hidden, or whatever. Then my sleuth has three theories she can hit upon, and the third of them can be "pretty close." I never ever give her the EXACT crime, because then what would Our Villain have to spill at the end where she confronts her/him and gets the full story? (grin)

The intrepid mystery writer now needs to make up real and false clues that will point to the villain AND ALSO point to the other suspects to keep the reader guessing. Don't be afraid to make these off-the-wall; when you're actually writing the scenes, you can always change them or tone them down.

Once you have a list of clues and red herrings (or fake clues), you will need a timeline for the book, showing the order in which the clues will appear. ALL the major clues pointing to the real perp (motive, means, opportunity) MUST be planted in the first third of the book. (I am NOT making this up.) This is part of the "fair play" sort of mystery so that your reader has a chance to figure out whodunit. Clues must be planted in such a way that they're hidden or their meaning isn't known till the end of the book.

So how in the world will you keep readers from seeing those clues and flinging the book against the wall? You'll need to use subterfuge and sneakiness. Fortunately, these are major traits of most writers.

Our first trick is to HIDE THEM IN PLAIN SIGHT. Remember Poe's purloined letter. They have to be sitting there on the mantel, but seem part of the collection of Star Trek toys that is arrayed around them. If you're going to skewer the victim by having shishkabob speared through with (deadly) oleander branches, have him wander through someone's water-feature-filled back yard or go to a picnic--and notice the flowering oleander all around. It's right there in plain sight.

Another trick is to hide the clue in an inventory, litany, or other pile of ordinary items. Let's say that a scratched Swiss army knife is a major clue. Then when the sleuth goes through someone's pockets--all right, you don't want people to hate the sleuth for snooping, so make it that she is leaving an office party and goes into the bedroom where everyone's coats are piled on a bed and grabs up her purse and her windbreaker/raincoat, only it ISN'T hers, and she does notice that it's getting a little tight and thinks that's because she gorged on those little dates filled with cream cheese and crackers with Brie and jam . . . but when she gets home and shoves her hand into that pocket to get her keys, or whatever, she finds that they are not there BECAUSE it's actually someone else's coat. Nothing's in the pocket but a pocket knife and some stale sticks of gum. She has to get into her house, so she digs out the hidden key in the garden or calls someone--the plot drives us forward. And the coat and knife are forgotten until you want her to remember them.

I've been dinged in the past for having a character take inventory of a purse, knapsack, or other container, but it is a great boon to a writer. You can show character by what is being carried. You can show what is important in the story by what's found. And you can hide something the character will need later, such as a flashlight or bus token or diary! But I digress.

When you can't hide a clue, just show it with flair RIGHT BEFORE some BIG THING happens. IMMEDIATELY grab the reader's attention and focus it on something big that seems really important at the time. For example, your hero overhears the perp's phone conversation and hears a big clue. He is shocked, but before he has time to think overmuch about it and fit it into the puzzle, a siren goes off outside or a deafening crash is heard upstairs. The old masters loved to use a SCREEEEEAM or the dousing of the house lights. Our Intrepid Sleuth dashes upstairs or outside to take care of the crisis--neighborhood fire, broken mirror upstairs, second dead body discovered by young screamer--and by the time this is dealt with, both your hero and your reader have forgotten the overheard conversation UNTIL near the end, when he is putting two and two together. Maybe even four and four. Aha! He (and your reader) remember now.

As far as putting some numbers to it: a cozy series mystery is expected to be 85K words, or at least between 80K and 90K. This is 360 pages. As I mentioned before, ALL the clues have been put in by the 30,000th word--the end of the first one-third of the text--which should fall on or about the 120th manuscript page. The last two-thirds of the text is spent tracking down clues, following rabbit trails, suspecting the wrong people, etc. The last five chapters MUST ramp up the tension. Either your sleuth has guessed the perp (and is wrong, and is about to be confronted with the truth), or is very close. If your chapters are about 15 pages, then you have 10-11 chapters full of clues and red herrings, and chapter 25 is your final wrap-up.

I am a pantser and not a plotter. This means I don't rely overmuch on an outline per se (that's PER SE, Latin, not "per say," BTW, if you're following along in the home game), but I do keep a list of scenes sometimes or even just a list of details. I need to know the general shape of the story in brief. Sometimes I will even have a file or synopsis that is expanded, including what I think each chapter will probably hold. ("We need to have her learn to sight-read before she discovers the Mystical Sheet Music and plays it to open the hidden bookcase in chapter 4!")

This can all change during the writing, of course, but I always know the ending of my books before I start writing. Otherwise, to me, it's like starting off on a trip without a map and wandering around hoping you finally get to somewhere interesting that will make it all worthwhile. You might get there, but it can sure take a lot longer. You might instead run out of gas before you get anywhere. Or end up on the South Side of town without a paddle . . . or even a baseball bat for self-defense.

Even though the plot is the main thing to many mystery readers (or at least to the reviewers, especially the ones on Amazon), remember that a mystery is not "what happened" ("the jewelry store was smash-robbed"), but WHAT HAPPENED TO A PERSON OR PEOPLE ("Joe lost his shirt when those thugs smash-robbed his store and the insurance dragged its feet about paying up fair and square").

Readers MUST care about your detective and somewhat about your victim or his/her mourners or what he/she leaves unfinished. Sometimes readers should even care about the suspects and perps. WHY does she want or need to solve the mystery? (Usually, she or her sister is a suspect. Or something like that.) What is the connection she has to the victim or to his/her relatives or organization? She has to care about what happened if you want your reader to care. Will it matter that much if she comes up with the REAL PERP? It'd better.

You may think that a bad guy is a bad guy, but don't forget that most people think they are doing the reasonable thing, that they are in the right or are at least justified in their actions and beliefs. Most "baddies" do not see themselves as baddies. They are just on the other side of what YOU think of as the right and proper action. They see themselves as doing God's work, getting revenge, putting things right, or whatever--not just "getting away with something," usually, although that can play in as a factor. So when you make up the motivations and reasoning for your perp, be sure it is reasonable from HIS or HER point of view, however stinky that POV may be for you and your sleuth. People have reasons for what they do. People ALWAYS have a reason for their actions, even if you think it is a bad or false reason.

Most villians (unfortunately) look like the guy next door, or are handsome/beautiful, or whatever. They aren't a Snidely Whiplash in black leather and a twirling waxed mustache. They look like normal people: a relative, your neighbor, someone who works at the same job or goes to the same school as your heroine, is on the hero's sports team (maybe even as the coach or sponsor), etc. She is on the PTA committee with your victim. He used to date your victim or her sister. What I'm getting it is that the real perp should be connected to your victim in one of these "normal" people-trees. Don't just make him an anonymous stranger who blows into town and commits a random crime. PLEASE don't do another serial killer sociopath with multiple personalities!

Don't forget the victim(s), even though they may die in the opening. A victim can be sympathetic or detestable. If everyone hated him, it is easier to create a big list of suspects. On the other hand, if nobody seemed to hate him, you have a tougher mystery for the reader to solve.

If the victim is your old boss . . . that can work. It worked in that crazy movie I caught on cable the other night, HORRIBLE BOSSES. Even though that was a pretty screwed-up black comedy. It also worked in my novel NICE WORK, available now on Amazon and in all bus station restrooms.

This should give you some idea how different it is to write a traditional mystery. Maybe you ought to stick to romance . . . or maybe you'll try your hand at this. After all, if *I* do it, how hard could it be? LOL!

(I know this was "TL;DR," but the right type of person read through to the end. I commend you. Now go write a mystery. Send me the link when you're in print!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No such thing as bad publicity

At least that's what my dad always said. I think he had it right! People remember your name, and then say, "Why do I know this person?" They might just pick up your book or album because the title rings a bell.

This week I'm featured on the Romancing the Heart interview site. Be sure to visit and LEAVE A COMMENT!

My other mystery, MARFA LIGHTS, is included in the All Mystery E-Newsletter. I'm on the bottom of the list with "W" there, but it's still good.

I grow weary of having to promote all the time. I have other books to write. I need to work on the books I already have under contract. I am not an extrovert. Why, O Why? But we have to toot our own horns. No one else will blow them for us. So to speak.