17 September 2012

Happy Birthday, Baby!

by Fran Rizer

Today is SleuthSayers's first birthday– beginning the second year of life. Most of us view our creations somewhat as our infants, and to the writers, SleuthSayers is another of our children. Let's personify our professional association and take a look at our baby, SS.

Developmental milestones are accomplishments most children achieve by a certain age. During the first year, babies learn to focus, reach out, explore, and learn about the things and people around them. They also develop social and emotional attachments while physical milestones include sitting up, crawling, pulling up, and walking.

SS has definitely experienced a year of reaching out, exploring, and learning about people, including each other and our readers. Among other things, SS has explored writing methods and habits (along with writers' block), mystery books and films, locations, and exciting experiences including police and legal procedures. SS has taken a look at explosives, crimes and criminals, and amusing word-plays as well as delving into plot-driven vs. character-driven and genre vs. literary. Professional, social, and emotional attachments have formed. Physically, this baby has sat up, crawled, pulled up, and is walking.

According to Wikipedia, a September 17th birthday makes our childe a Virgo. I must confess I was hoping SS was a Libra. How cool it would have been for the astrological sign to be scales--as in scales of justice. Alas, we're stuck with Virgo, the only female symbol of the Zodiac, sometimes represented as a potentially creative girl, sometimes as a somewhat older woman, rather pedantic and spinsterish. What are the supposed characteristics of Virgos, whether male, female, or of a non-specific gender like our baby is?


Virgos are supposed to have considerable charm and dignity. "They are intellectually inquiring, methodical and logical, studious and teachable. They combine mental ingenuity with the abiliity to produce a clear analysis of the most complicated matters." After all, what is solving mysteries? Clearly, it involves analyzing complicated matters. These descriptors came from Astrology-Online, and I agree that SS has these traits.  (I left out the negative ones listed for Virgos because, as parents, we like to think of our children in positive terms.)

No time to go into all the other forms of Astrology, but as a great lover of moo goo gai pan, I'd be remiss not to mention our child's Chinese astrological associations. Once again, reality is not what I would have chosen. Don't you think SleuthSayers should be a tiger or a dragon? Not so. Yin. Metal. Rabbit. The only thing I can think of about our babe being a rabbit is that perhaps sometimes as the calendar gets away from us and we prepare our postings at the last minute, we have to be quick like bunnies. (You didn't think I was going elsewhere with that, did you?)

Numerologically, "SleuthSayers" adds up to the double digit 12, which reduces to 3. Though the playful articles on numerology in magazines stress the reduced number, a quick check of dreamtime.com/numerology reveals that serious numerologists consider both the double digit and reduced numbers.

Three is considered male, charming, outgoing, self-expressive, extroverted, active, energetic, and proud. The vibration of 12 is similar to the vibration of 3 raised to a higher level and with a little more idealism thrown in. Note that Virgo being represented by a female and 3 being male doesn't designate gender of the baby, but of the characteristics. SS exhibits all the good traits, but the comment I most appreciate is, "Gets along well with others." We love that comment when it appears on our kids' report cards--"Plays well with others"-- don't we?

If we were reading Cosmopolitan, we could look to see what other astrological signs are best suited to our Virgo baby, but that's really not necessary. After all, this babe isn't sitting on a bar stool in the eighties hoping someone of a compatible sign will offer to buy a drink.  We all know that SS is attractive to and attracted by writers, readers, and solvers of mysteries.

Checking out the pages of Woman's World, which is becoming almost as familiar to us as AHMM and EQMM and is being bought by more and more of my male friends to analyze John's stories to learn why WW keeps sending them polite rejections, I  find horoscopes. Do we really need to read magazines to learn SleuthSayers's future?  No way!

We're confident SS will continue to grow, expand, learn and develop friendships next year. Our baby sits, crawls, and walks. I predict that the coming year will be one in which SS runs and dances!


16 September 2012

SleuthSayers First Anniversary!

by Leigh Lundin and my fellow SleuthSayers

Tomorrow SleuthSayers will be one year old!

Our first year has been wonderful to us, our cadre of crime-writers and crime-fighters. A few of us have been together 51/2 years, although it's not longevity that makes a SleuthSayer, but camaraderie and a penchant for damn good writing.

We're pleased to count among our colleagues a police chief, a DEA Special Agent, a military explosives expert, a Washington lawyer and insider, and a crime scholar. We also feature cosy novelists, historical authors, and popular pasticheurs. While we embrace all genres of crime-writing, we probably have more short-fiction specialists thanks to our Criminal Brief days. With further ado, hear from my colleagues about the past year and the next.

Dale Andrews: Choosing a favorite mystery from the past year would be difficult– too many contenders. But my favorite mystery-related event is easily identifiable– the pre-Edgar Award cocktail party hosted by EQMM/AHMM that I attended in New York last April. I don’t make it to every one of these gatherings– the train ride from DC to NYC and back is a bit dear. But where else, in two short hours, does a mystery writer get the opportunity to visit such fascinating and revered comrades in arms? This year I chatted first with the sponsors of the event, Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan. Then I headed across the room to visit Frederic Dannay’s son Richard and his wife Gloria. We discussed Blood Relations, the recent collection of the letters of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee edited by Joseph Goodrich, and then shifted smoothly to Jeffrey Mark’s planned new biography of Dannay and Lee. After that it was great to re-connect with my SleuthSayers’ partner David Dean, who was an honored guest, an Edgar nominee for his short story Tomorrow’s Dead. While David and I held down the fort for SleuthSayers, our predecessor blog, Criminal Brief, was even better represented with James Lincoln Warren, Steven Steinbock and Melodie Johnson Howe all in attendance. The opportunity to visit with these folks and others during the party was easily worth the cost of those train tickets. But in many ways the best was yet to come. When the party ended I found myself in a fascinating three-way conversation on mysteries and Ellery Queen in particular on the walk back to Penn Station with Joe Goodrich, editor of the afore-mentioned Blood Relations, and my old friend Francis (Mike) Nevins, preeminent Ellery Queen scholar and the author of another upcoming retrospective of Dannay and Lee. As the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” says concerning the two party system, as between the two it is the after party that you really want to attend! Dale Andrews
David Dean David Dean: It has been an interesting year for me. Not only did I retire from police work last November, but after a mandatory visit to its corporate HQ (location undisclosed as per contractual agreement), I also signed on with SleuthSayers. It's a great gig, and with the checks that keep rolling in, I've made several additions to my collection of vintage British roadsters. No less exciting, my story, "Tomorrow's Dead," July 2011 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, was nominated for an Edgar. An obscure Brit took home the actual prize, perhaps in retaliation for my buying up all their good roadsters. My horror novel, "The Thirteenth Child" will be released Oct. 5th by Genius Book Publishing--as the name of the company suggests, they only publish works of genius, so please ignore any snarky reviews that may be forthcoming. Mostly, I continue to scribble away, trying to fashion something that people might read.
Deborah Elliott-Upton: Although I have been a writing instructor, I enjoy being on the opposite side of the desk, too. My life's goal is to never stop learning. A new piece of knowledge is like quality chocolate: delicious, appetizing and leaves one with a taste for more. Despite my other obligations, I decided to return to college. This summer, I took two courses: philosophy and psychology. Both proved interesting, both as a student and as a writer. Both of my instructors were writing books; one a nonfiction text, the other fiction. In classroom discussions, the fiction writer and I realized we had much in common and following the end of classes, we became fast friends. I have enjoyed introducing her to my other writer friends and we have attended a writer's workshop together. What is more fun than sharing your time with people of like interests? The nonfiction writer/instructor asked if I'd be interested in editing his book, so that may still come to pass, after I finishing editing my pastor's book. The great mystery in life is how to get everything finished, but as in writing any project, it will be done step-by-step by putting one foot in front of another. Deborah Elliott-Upton
Eve Fisher Eve Fisher: 2012 saw two notable things for me: (1) I started contributing to Sleuthsayers as a blogger and (2) I discovered a whole new fan base in China, where my works are being translated by a mystery man in Shanghai who loves Laskin, SD! I’m not getting paid for it – but he shared the web site with me. The most interesting crime-related event of 2012 was at our local prison, where I volunteer and found that I had one former student as an inmate and another as a prison guard. Both of them were happy to see me.
John Floyd: Of all the mystery/crime-related books and stories I've read this past year, my favorite is probably a novel by Steve Hamilton, called Die a Stranger– the ninth book in the Alex McKnight series, set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I've enjoyed all the McKnight mysteries, as well as Steve's two stand-alones (Night Work and The Lock Artist)– but in my opinion Die a Stranger is distinctive in that it has one of the best, most logical endings I've read in a long time. It's the kind of seamless wrap-up that makes readers gasp with delight and makes fellow writers wish they could do half as well. Personal-favorite event: I was fortunate enough to place short stories in three back-to-back issues of The Strand Magazine: the Oct. 2011-Jan. 2012 issue, the Feb.-May 2012 issue, and the (current) June-Sept. 2012 issue. I'm not sure if my stories were good or if The Strand had three slower-than-usual submission periods, but I prefer to believe the stories earned their keep. John Floyd
David Gates David Edgerley Gates: My earliest influence as a storyteller was Kipling, and then the duck stories from Carl Barks– if you don't know, I'll happily explain. My best read of last year was Alan Furst, Spies Of The Balkans, and this year, his new book, Mission to Paris (I almost said, Night Train to Paris. evocative of Eric Ambler, one of Furst's big influences). My favorite crime event was local, a stripper hired to discredit a mayoral candidate here in New Mexico: I wrote a story about it, "Heavy Breathing." I found some new writers, or new to me, and not necessarily generic, Orhan Pamiuk (his book about Istanbul), Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen's Union), and some old faves, Harlan Coben and Laura Lippman don't phone it in.
Jan Grape: One year ago, Sleuthsayers began. Strangely enough, my cats and I'd just moved from a 375ft2 RV into a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house. I'd barely settled with my furry felines, Nick and Nora, when we were joined by an Alien from the Planet Nashville in the Tennessee constellation– the youngest son of my daughter, Karla. Now I know exactly why she offered to buy this house for me. (Ha.) She thought I wouldn’t figure out her master plan. (Haha) Alien Cason and I managed to survive 8 months together and just before the men in the white coats with the straight jackets came for me, Cason and his female companion unit, Justine, who'd lived with us two months, headed back to his home planet. They’re doing well, both working and have their own apartment. I do miss the alien and not only on nights when it’s time to take out the garbage. Although my writing suffered from alien activities and ear/sinus infections punctuated by a Grape family reunion in NJ, I co-edited an American Crime Writers League anthology, Murder Here, Murder There, including my short story “The Confession”, inspired by a song by a friend, Thomas Michael Riley. I’m working to get my books on Nook and Kindle, and I hope to return to Broken Blue Badge, 3rd in the Zoe Barrow, Austin Policewoman series. Happy Birthday! Jan Grape
Dixon Hill Dixon Hill: This year has been rough for my “writing department,” due to extended family concerns. However, I’ve thankfully had time to read—quite a bit of it spent, unfortunately, in doctors’ offices and hospitals. The four top new writers I’ve run across include our own Fran Rizer and her wonderful Callie Parrish Mystery Series. What’s not to love when the protagonist wears an inflatable bra and her best friend is a phone sex operator? Well, actually, there’s a lot more to her stories, but I don’t want to give anything away—they’re great from stem to (ahem) stern! Then, there was Pistol Poets by Victor Gischler. Though it had a few technical flaws concerning weaponry and tactics, imho — I couldn’t help enjoying it. I’m now seeking time to enjoy a couple of his other titles: Gun Monkeys (Hey! Who wouldn’t wanna read a book named Gun Monkeys??) and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. I also recently read Jake Hinkson’s Hell on Church Street, a veritable fire-ball of murder that burned to the last page faster than Time Fuse and reminded me of some of the best of Jim Thompson’s work. Last, but far from least, I discovered Marcus Sakey’s excellent The Blade Itself and Good People, as well as a fantastic short story of his. Finally—here’s a toast: To next year being easier on everyone’s “writing department”!
Janice Law: It’s always nice to find a good new mystery, and this year so far, I’ve found two, neither from long time favorites. The Fear Index by Robert Harris is not only well plotted and timely, but works interesting changes on a favorite plot line. A sort of financial thriller, science fiction mashup it not only works very well but anticipated the recent runaway computer trading on Wall Street. Second is Mission to Paris by Alan Furst, whose well reviewed previous novels never clicked with me. This one is highly appealing with its movie star lead who, surprise, eventually falls for an age appropriate woman. Brisk and more realistic than usual this one could give nostalgia a good name. Janice Law
R.T. Lawton R.T. Lawton: This last year has been a time of re-reading old favorites, making new writing friends and getting a story into the MWA anthology. Some of my old favorite reads are the Chester Himes paperback novels featuring his Harlem Detectives, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones. I found those in a used book store in Washington, D.C. during 1971 when I had free time from BNDD Basic Agent Class #15 and wanted something to read other than training manuals. Three of his novels were later made into movies. As for the new writing friends, that’s those blogging at SleuthSayers, plus readers who chime in from time to time. Some of you I hope to meet at the annual EQMM/AHMM cocktail reception in NYC this coming April, and the rest of you at one of the future Bouchercons or Left Coast Crime Conferences. And lastly, after three attempts at the MWA anthology, I finally made it into the one for 2013.
Rob Lopresti: I debated displaying some false modesty but hell, you guys know me by now. My favorite mystery-related experience of the year was being on the cover of Alfred Hitchcock's. It's an honor and I felt honored (still do). I suspect one reason my story made the cover is that it was easy to find a file picture (as opposed to a commissioned artwork) that would work with my story. Not that I'm complaining; the picture worked fine. This reminds me: the thing that thrilled me most about my first published story was the fact that it was illustrated. After all, for all I know the editor could have purchased it without even looking at it, but damn it, the artist had actually read it. Rob Lopresti
Leigh Lundin Leigh Lundin: As I write this, I'm housesitting in a beautiful cliffside home on the Indian Ocean where whales and dolphins frolic in the waters below and the sound of the surf helps me write… 9th grade math textbooks in this case. It's been a great year launching SleuthSayers with the help of my colleagues and board members, which is where much of my creative energy's gone. During the Royal Show here (like a state fair), I chatted with a world-renown police rescuer Jack Haskins. Who knows– you might read about him on SleuthSayers! For some reason, authors names don't stick until I connect with them, and during the past year I now have a dozen more friends and colleagues. EQMM and AHMM are delivered every month to my door here in South Africa, so now when I see the author list you can hear me say, "So that's who that author is!" Here's to the next year…
Fran Rizer: The past year was traumatic for me and I escaped into reading. There were many exciting and intriguing mysteries by the big dogs, but the book that I enjoyed the most and read over and over is a collection of short stories that equal any I’ve ever taught on the college level— Blood in the Water by Janice Law. These pieces and the ones by other SleuthSayers that I read in AHMM, EQMM, and Woman’s World inspired more interest in writing short stories. Three of my recently written shorts were chosen to be included in the SC Screams Anthology. My thriller was published under a pen name that I’ll soon share, and the fifth Callie Parrish mystery, Mother Hubbard Has A Corpse in The Cupboard, will be released the first of 2013. Like several other SleuthSayers, I write music, too, and am proud as a peacock that Gene Holdway’s new CD, Train Whistle, includes six of my original songs. Fran Rizer
Louis Willis Louis Willis: For me, a reader and reviewer, the past 12 months reading articles of SleuthSayer members has been instructive. I've learned how writers of fiction think when creating a story. I’ve felt the agony they go through while writing; the anxiety they suffer after submitting it to an editor and waiting for a reply; the disappointment they feel when the rejection slip arrives. I've also felt the ecstasy they feel when the story is accepted and the excitement when it is published. When I receive my copies of the AHMM and EQMM, I search the contents for stories by SleuthSayer members. It has been fun. I look for to the next 12 months of delightful and insightful articles.
Liz Zelvin: SleuthSayers has given me some enjoyable new blogging experiences--sharing the virtual stage with crime fighters as well as crime writers and with blog brothers as well as blog sisters. It's been a good year for me in terms of creative projects too, with a couple of long-awaited publications: Death Will Extend Your Vacation, the third novel in my series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler, and "Shifting Is for the Goyim," my paranormal whodunit e-novella on Untreed Reads, as well as the release of my CD of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman, a dream thirty years or two years in the making, depending on whether you start counting at the point of writing the songs or recording the album. Elizabeth Zelvin

15 September 2012

The Washed and the Unwashed

by John M. Floyd


Literary fiction, genre fiction.  What are the differences?

I realize we've already made trips to this well many times, but I think it's a fascinating topic.  Talking about fiction and what makes it good or interesting is always fascinating, to me.  As for the importance of the literary/genre issue, I'm honestly not sure how useful the whole argument is, except maybe to those of us who try to write for publication.  Anyone who hopes to regularly sell short fiction to magazines or novels to book publishers should have a fair understanding of the difference between literary and genre, because--after all--most markets' guidelines include phrases like "no genre submissions" or "literary fiction only" or "genre stories welcome."  In order to get past the gatekeeper, we need to be able to accurately categorize our work.  Or at least know how editors/agents/publishers might categorize it.

"Okay, then," says the beginning writer, or the hopelessly bored dinner companion, "what IS the difference between literary and genre?"

Food for thought, or guilty pleasure?

Some have said literary fiction is an Oprah's Book Club pick and genre fiction is a "beach read."  (It's hard to argue with that.)  Others say lit fic is what you find in The New Yorker and gen fic is what you find in EQMMAsimov's, etc.  (Can you spell cop-out?)  I once read someplace that literary stories are good for you and genre stories just taste good.  (I like that one.)  My wife says literary stories are what she watches on TV and genre shows are what I watch.  (As usual, she's right.)  The clearest definition I've heard, although it's wrong, is that genre fiction is mystery, Western, sci-fi, romance, and horror, and that lit fic is everything else.

I've even heard some rude folks say that literary fiction is for those who want to be challenged mentally, and that genre fiction should be read only by the mentally challenged.  Others, just as rude and not to be outdone, say that reading too much lit fic can make you mentally challenged.

In my short-story classes, I tell students that so-called literary works deal mainly with relationships, emotions, and "the meaning of life," while genre works deal mostly with action, excitement, and adventure.  An extreme example of a literary story might be Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River."  It's a short piece about a guy who hikes into a pine forest, pitches a tent beside a river, spends the night, and fishes for trout, and that's it.  There's no plot, no conflict, nothing except one character doing a lot of thinking and (hopefully) making the reader think as well, about implied but never-mentioned subjects like war and rehabilitation.  I think the opposite extreme, the ultimate genre story, is a tale someone told me in high school called "The Hook."  You've all heard it: (1) a teenaged boy and girl go out parking despite warnings that a deranged killer with a prosthetic hook is on the loose, (2) they think they hear someone sneaking around outside their car while they're necking, (3) they bug out for the dugout, screaming and spraying gravel, (4) they later decide they overreacted and probably really didn't hear anything, and (5) when they get to the girl's house and the boy walks around the car to open her door for her, there's a hook hanging from the passenger-side door handle.  No deep meanings there, no profound messages, no disillusioned or dying or suicidal characters.  The whole story is plot--a twist-ending plot designed to scare the hell out of you--and the characters are there only to carry out the storyline.  And it works.

Straddling the fence

Sometimes the difference between literary and genre is obvious: The Grapes of Wrath on one end of the field, let's say, and a Rambo movie on the other.  But sometimes, as is true of most things in this life, the lines can get a little blurry.

James Lee Burke's mystery novel Cimarron Rose is considered by some to be both genre fiction and literary, mainly because of his use of elegant, descriptive language; the crime novels Mystic River and The Silence of the Lambs combine the categories because of the strength and depth of their characters; and classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Shane are a mix of lit and genre mostly because of the life lessons that they teach.  Scout Finch and Bobby Starrett both undergo extreme changes in the way they look at life and their fellow man, and many consider this process of "becoming a different person during the course of the story" to be the single most important gauge of whether a piece of fiction belongs on the literary side of the courtroom.

Lucky with critics, unlucky at love

One thing you can count on: the critics will like you if you succeed at writing lit fic, and the public will adore you if you succeed at writing gen fic.  There's a reason that genre fiction is also called "commercial" fiction and "popular" fiction: it sells.  Stephen King once said, and I'm paraphrasing, that if you specialize in writing literary fiction there's a good chance you might find yourself sitting down with your family one night to an Alpo-and-noodles casserole.

Does that mean that all of us who actually want to earn something (rather than just learn something) should try to write only genre fiction?  Of course not.  I think you must write the kind of stories and novels that you most enjoy reading, and feel comfortable writing.  If you try to do otherwise . . . well, you'll probably fail.

It's sometimes not even safe to try to write in more than one genre.  Some can do it effectively (Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb with her romances and mysteries, Loren Estleman with his mysteries and Westerns, etc.), but it's not easy.  I don't know either of those authors, but I would bet my iPad that both of them enjoy reading the two genres they've chosen to write in.  And my hat's really off to those who can successfully write both literary novels and genre novels.  There are many, but Larry McMurtry and Ed McBain/Evan Hunter come first to (my) mind.

More opinions

The oft-stated view that literary fiction is character-driven and genre fiction is plot-driven is correct, I think, but it's an oversimplification. To be successful, both categories need engaging plots and interesting characters.  But I do agree that in lit fic the characters are probably more important than whatever it is they're doing, and in gen fic what they're doing is more important than who they are.  I love to quote Stephen King, and I often find myself thinking about his observation of lit vs. genre.  "Literary fiction," King once said in an interview, "is about extraordinary people doing ordinary things.  Genre fiction is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things."

Here's another quote that I wrote down in a notebook long ago--I think it's attributed to Bill Stephens: "The characters in literary fiction spend so much time thinking, they never get around to doing anything.  They constantly are confronted with deep issues of: Who am I?  Why am I here?  What should I do?  Where am I going?  Why can I not love/be loved? . . . and a myriad of other 'Woe is me' considerations.  There just is no time left to do much."

Alas, there is also no time left to do much in this column.  Let me say, however, that I am primarily a genre reader and a genre writer.  I admit it.  I do occasionally read and enjoy literary works, I appreciate the effort and talent that it took to write them (I've actually sold some stories to literary journals--even a blind hog can root up an acorn now and then), and I understand that many folks prefer to always read and write that kind of fiction.  As Seinfeld would say, "There's nothing wrong with that."

But, God help me, I usually prefer to wallow among the unwashed.  I simply LOVE stories like Die HardJawsPsycho, and The Big Lebowski.  And I love the goosebumps I get when I think of "The Hook."


I still remember the childlike excitement I felt a couple years ago when I heard about an upcoming movie called Cowboys and Aliens, featuring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.  Good grief, I thought--James Bond and Indiana Jones, teaming up to fight it out with E.T.'s evil cousins?  How could that not be fun?

Sorry, Mom.  Maybe one of these days I'll grow up …

14 September 2012

Strings and Singles

by R.T. Lawton
In the October 2010 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, its editor, Linda Landrigan, mentioned that approximately half the issue is comprised of series installments, while standalone stories make up the other half. She discussed some of the pros and cons of each type, which then served to arouse my curiosity.

To date, I've sold twenty-five stories to AHMM and each of them, except for the very first one, has been an installment in one of my four mystery series. It seems that when I find myself facing that vast, empty page on my computer screen, it is easier for me to begin a new story with characters I already know. These ongoing protagonists, and some recurring antagonists, are almost fully formed in my mind, which means they are ready to tell me how they will normally act at most given times, and sometimes, in advance, how they will react to a new set of circumstances in whatever is about to become my latest story. This works well for me, up to a point.

Somewhere about the fourth or fifth installment, the characters have acquired a lot of baggage to carry forward. This means I have to create a chronological cheat sheet as each character develops. Guess you could say, that lacking a certain amount of memory refreshment, the author can't tell all the players without a program.

This cheat sheet also includes some physical attributes and habit tags which allows the Series Reader to say to himself: "Oh yeah, I remember this guy." And, in that one attribute or tag, the Series Reader gets a more complete image of my continued character as if a small compressed file were suddenly unzipped. As for the First Time Reader, he gets his own mental picture of that same character, plus starts building a fuller image to be unzipped whenever he reads the next installment in the series.

To keep my writing enthusiasm at a higher pitch, I try to have three stories going at the same time, in different series. That way, if I hit a speed bump in one story, or the characters feel like they're dragging, then I can jump to one of the other stories where everything feels fresher and more exciting, and I can keep on writing instead of puzzling over what to do next in a story that's temporarily stuck. My unconscious mind can work on that stuck part.

Eventually, I do get weary of all these same characters, in which case I write something completely new. Yep, this new story starts out as a standalone. But guess what? If it sells, then it runs the risk of being turned into a series, because I already know these characters and supposedly how they will act in their normal life and how they will react when their life gets abnormal. Time for another cheat sheet.

No doubt, you have your own opinions on reading or writing strings and/or singles. So, am I missing anything here? As the English comedian Benny Hill used to say in one of his skits on TV, "Always learning, always learning."

13 September 2012

From the Bristol Blotter

by Eve Fisher

I get to spend the weekend at the pen - I know, I need to start behaving better - so I am busy getting ready for that.  So, to prove that there are just as many crazies outside as in, (as well as to give myself a little breathing room) I submit the following.  These are all from a friend of mine in Tennessee, who provides me with "The Bristol Blotter" - available on-line and on Facebook.  All true, sadly, hilariously true:

From the "it's so hard to get off their radar" list:
* Someone called from to report “a suspicious black sports car that followed him home from Walmart [and] keeps riding by his residence.”

You have something that I want:
* A guy reported that his “baby’s momma locked him out and took the tags off his car.”

* "his girlfriend threw him out and he needs to get in and get his clothes because he has an interview tomorrow."

One man's exam is another man's...
* A man told police that another guy assaulted him “while attempting to give him medical treatment.”

Buyer's remorse takes various forms:
* Police went to a car lot where an “irate customer,” upset over his recently purchased car, threatened to run over the sales manager. Store employees said the angry customer “circled the parking lot, stopping in front of the sales manager, began revving up the engine causing excessive smoke, and lurched forward stopping short of striking the sales manager.” The manager in question was afraid that the unsatisfied customer would return “because of his explosive demeanor.”

With friends like these:
* A man reported that his “friend” of four years pulled into a nearby alley, got halfway out of the car wielding a knife and said, “I got something for you.” The man, who knew only his friend’s first name, responded: “If you want to fight, come on” and started toward his antagonist. The friend then scurried into his Oldsmobile and left.

From the "if it were only that easy department":
* When a man had his sister’s cell phone turned off “due to payment issues,” the sister got mad and threatened to vandalize his car. The sister, in turn, told officers that the brother “had been leaving threatening letters on the windshield of her vehicle.” Police told them to stop leaving one another messages.

Also known as, "You called us for WHAT?":
* Some kids were “playing baseball in the road.”

* Someone came in to report they’d lost their license plate, but weren’t sure where or when.

* "she advised she'd been drinking all day..."

* A man "found a bird in his yard and it can't fly ... wants to speak to an officer."

* A woman told police she was taking some medicine that she's been taking daily for about a month but she doesn't know why she's taking it.

And my favorite:
*Someone called to report a suspicious squirrel... 
 
Good luck with that one, officer! 

12 September 2012

MANNING COLES: A Toast to Tomorrow



by David Edgerley Gates

The first spy stories I remember reading were the Tommy Hambledon books, written by Manning Coles.  I was probably nine or so.  I took an omnibus edition of three Hambledon novels out of the Hancock Point library one summer, and gobbled them up.  It was like eating Fritos, but the books were more nourishing.  I don’t think Ian Fleming was much on the radar at that point.  CASINO ROYALE came out in 1953, but Fleming didn’t really get legs until Jack Kennedy told an interviewer Fleming was his favorite writer.  DR. NO, the first of the Bond movies, was released in 1962, so that was later.  I might have picked up an E. Phillips Oppenheim sooner than Coles---my grandmother had them by the yard---but Oppenheim was pretty lukewarm stuff even then, effete and unconvincing: imagine Lord Peter Wimsey without the wit, and no Bunter.  And a writer like Eric Ambler would have gone over my head.  A MASK FOR DEMETRIOS, say.  Too sophisticated. Tommy Hambledon was just right.


Manning Coles was a pseudonym.  They were a writing team, Adelaide Manning and Cyril Coles.  Coles the man, vice Coles the pen-name, was a spy in both wars, and Tommy’s adventures were based on real behind-the-lines derring-do.  The first of the books (there would be two dozen) was DRINK TO YESTERDAY, about a secret mission in the first war, and it’s pretty sharp, with a zinger of a finish, but it was their second book, A TOAST TO TOMORROW, about the next war, when they hit one over the fence.

The premise of TOAST TO TOMORROW is immediately arresting.  Hambledon, washed ashore near Ostend at the end of the earlier book, half-dead, has lost his memory.  He has a head wound, and his face is badly scarred.  The nurse at the Belgian naval hospital remarks that after the scars heal, they’ll look “too Heidelberg for words.”  Slowly, he recovers.  Amnesiac, but speaking the language fluently, Tommy is taken for a wounded German officer.  Tommy himself believes this, a terrific hook for the story that follows.  A later shock brings bits and pieces of his memory back, and he realizes he was once a British intelligence covert operative.  By this time, however, having been recruited by German intelligence, who think he’s a war hero, he’s risen to senior command.  Tommy is now positioned to be a British agent-in-place, at the heart of the Wehrmacht.  His cover is near-perfect, but not quite---nobody actually remembers him from Heidelberg, or officers’ school at Potsdam---and his back story begins to unravel as a canny Nazi spycatcher picks up his scent.  The novel turns into a cat-and-mouse game, and a real stem-winder, at that, with Tommy trying to .stay one jump ahead of the hangman. 

Re-reading the book, fifty-odd years later, you could be forgiven for thinking it hadn’t aged that well.  There are a few too many arched eyebrows and afternoon sherries and old Oxbridge dons with gnomic comments, but what stands up is the tradecraft.  Somebody once asked John LeCarré whether the lingo and the secret handshakes, the culture of the clandestine world, in other words, that LeCarré so lovingly mirrors, was in fact authentic.  LeCarré said, It doesn’t have to be authentic; it has to be convincing.  And here’s where A TOAST TO TOMORROW pays off in spades.  The first clue the Brits get, for example, that they might have a highly–placed asset inside the Reich comes in a radio broadcast.  British communications intercept is monitoring German broadcasts of any description.  This is a propaganda piece, a half-hour radio drama about a wireless operator, and it opens and closes with a burst of Morse, simple background noise, to set the stage, dah-dah-dit, but it begins with a callsign, and the brief message that follows is broken into five-letter stutter groups.  The callsign belongs to a British agent long thought blown, since 1918 and the Armistice, and the coded groups, once recognized as such, can be decrypted.  The scriptwriter is of course Tommy Hambledon in Berlin, and this is how he makes himself known to his former masters in Whitehall.

The two biggest Allied secrets of the Second World War were the Manhattan Project and the code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park, ENIGMA.  The atom bomb wasn’t long a secret after the Japanese surrender, but ENIGMA was still closely held thirty years later.  Cryptography has been a part of war as long as spies have, but the concentration of effort that broke the U-boat codes went on with even greater force into the Cold War.  Bletchley Park was a secret that couldn’t be surrendered, its sources and methods deployed against a different target, Soviet Russia.  For a writer in 1940, or perhaps Cyril, the guy on the team with hands-on experience, to make such an educated guess about the use and importance of encrypted communications, is nothing short of astonishing.  Or perhaps it wasn’t exactly a guess, but an interpolation, filling in the obvious gaps.  A TOAST TO TOMORROW, then, becomes more than a simple story of espionage and pursuit.  It borders on the clairvoyant.

11 September 2012

Settings

by Dale C. Andrews

     Fiction, at its best, does more than just tell a story -- it tells a story in a setting.  Good fiction immerses the reader – we are propelled into the narrative and into its setting.  And the setting crafted by the author reflects the world around the author, or the author’s characters, at the time of the story.  The story told in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is part and parcel with the French Revolution.  A Dickens novel is often almost as much about setting as it is about story.  Oliver Twist is dependent on the injustices that were a side effect, and a very real side effect, of the industrial revolution.  And as I noted some months back, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in fact grew out of a non-fiction essay that Dickens wrote addressing the deplorable mid-nineteenth century working conditions in England and the need for child labor reform.

    No surprise, then, that setting is also a major component of great mysteries.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes cannot be separated from Victorian England.  I add the proviso of “Doyle’s Sherlock” since, to my mind, the BBC series Sherlock does a sensational job of re-imagining Holmes in modern day London.  But even there, it is modern day London, with its Blackberries and computers, that provides the setting backbone to the stories. 

The Doorbell Rang (NOT the newest Clint Eastwood sequel!)

    In Rex Stout’s 1965 Nero Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang, which The Nation described as “the best civil liberties mystery of all time” the story is dependent on then-current FBI abuses under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover who, famously, Wolfe leaves standing on the stoop of his brownstone at the end of the book.  Similarly, Ellery Queen’s The Glass Village, and its theme that accusation must never be a substitute for evidence, is dependent on its setting -- the McCarthy era that pervaded the mid-1950s when the novel was written. 

    To read these books is to experience what it was like to live in the eras depicted. It is no surprise that all of this remains true today.  Two recent (and sensational) new mysteries by a pair of gifted writers, Tana French and Gillian Flynn, who are separated by many thousands of miles, tell stories in different  settings, but settings that are still eerily analogous and in each case reflective of our time.  More on that below, but first, some background on each author.

Tana French
Gillian Flynn
    Gillian Flynn grew up in Kansas City Missouri, a state in which her three mystery novels are set.  Before she became a novelist Flynn was was a television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She was educated at the University of Kansas, and received a masters degree from Northwestern.  Her first novel, Sharp Objects, was a 2007 Edgar nominee for best first novel.

    Tana French in fact received the Edgar for best first novel when In the Woods, was published the following year  Although she was born in the United States, Tana French spent most of her early years abroad.  She received a degree in acting from the University of Dublin, and since 1990 has resided in Dublin, where each of her four mystery novels is set. 

    So, other than leaping into the world of mystery fiction within one year of each other there is very little that either of these women share.  Yet each has crafted their most recent novel in settings that, while thousands of miles apart, nevertheless resonate with common themes.

    A teaser on Gillian Flynn’s website describes her new book, Gone Girl, as follows:
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.
And here is the description of Tana French’s new book, Broken Harbor, as set forth on her website:  
On one of the half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.
    The principal setting of each novel is therefore very different.  What, after all, does a small Missouri town  have in common with the outskirts of Dublin?  But there is an undercurrent in each setting that is the same and that is reflective of the times in which we live.  Each author has taken the pulse of the present and has built a setting for her novel that rings true and, as a result, ensures that each story rings true. 

    Broken Harbor is set in a community of new homes on the coast of Ireland that failed as a result of the economic downturn that has shaped many lives in recent years.  The home that the unfortunate family lives in is surrounded by abandoned or half finished homes, and the couple at the heart of the novel has had to grapple with the horrors of losing a job in an economy where jobs are increasingly hard to find.  From that setting, which is to say from their world, the story springs.

    And that community of “McMansions” that is the setting for Gone Girl?  Well, there are remarkable similarities between Gillian Flynn’s Missouri housing development and that depicted in Tana French’s novel.  The couple at the heart of Gillian Flynn’s novel also find themselves in a development that is a casualty of world-wide economic downturn.  Like the family in Broken Harbor, the couple in Gone Girl is surrounded by homes that are abandoned and in foreclosure, and other homes that stand as half completed derelicts.  As in Broken Harbor neighboring homes are abandoned as a result of foreclosure, or sit half completed.  And in each book there are wandering homeless people living or gathering in the empty homes.  And here, too, the central characters in the mystery have lost their own jobs as a result of economic downturn. 

    I have written before that I hate spoilers.  So you will get no more of the plots of these wonderful newly-published novels from me.  But they are both great reads, and like many mysteries and other well written books over the years, they gain strength from the fact that they are set in a world that we know.  The heart of each story beats to the world’s pulse.  The setting may be a bit bleak in each case, but, after all, that never stopped Dickens. 

10 September 2012

Short Stories or Novels?

by Jan Grape
 

Sometimes people ask me why it took so long for me to write a novel? I was writing and selling short stories. Well, the honest answer is, I was writing novels they just weren't selling. I wrote two or three novels that didn't sell. One came really close about three times to being published but the editor left or the publishing house went out of business or the novel buyer at the publishing house who was supposed to recommend my book got sick and died. Yep, that all happened. All with one novel. I think it's called being snake bit.

But in stead of giving up, I kept plodding along and because I was selling short stories, I found a editor who liked my work. That person was Ed Gorman and at that time he and the late Marty Greenberg were selling anthologies right and left and actually both of them liked my short stories, interviews, articles, reviews, etc. I was writing a regular column for Mystery Scene magazine.

In 1998 one of my short stories, "A Front Row Seat," published in the Vengeance is Hers anthology edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins was nominated and won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

A project came along that Ed and Marty had working. It was to be a coffee table style book about women mystery writers. There were to be interviews, articles and articles, by, about, and written by women mystery authors. They asked me to co-edit with Ellen Nehr and the book was titled Deadly Women. Unfortunately, Ellen got sick and passed away when we were about half-way into the project. Dean James took over in Ellen's slot and we continued the project. We were fortunate enough to be nominated for an Edgar for Best-Non Fiction and at Bouchercon we won a mccavity Award.

About then is when Ed and Marty formed a company, Tekno, and began working out a package deal with Five Star Mysteries. They would find the book for Five Star to buy, and once Five Star editor read and liked the book, Tekno would get the contract and get it signed, get the book copy-edited, get a cover, the blurbs, jacket copy,and whatever else was needed to get the book ready to be published.

Eventually, I had a chance to send my book, Austin City Blue, featuring my Austin policewoman, Zoe Barrow to Mr. Gorman and he recommended to Five Star they buy it. Five Star liked it and as they say, the rest is history. Soon I also had a contract for Five Star to publish a collection of my short stories, Found Dead In Texas. And soon after a contract for the second novel, Dark Blue Death, in my Zoe Barrow series.

In the meantime, I kept writing short stories and getting those published. Yet shortly after my husband passed away, and I began having health problems. I had a really rough four years. I had one novel I had written earlier which had never been published, I dusted it off, did some rewrite and in 2010 Five Star published, What Doesn't Kill You, a non-series or stand alone as some people call them. I certainly didn't do much other writing. My creative muse was trying to reassert itself I guess.

About four years ago, the American Crime Writers League, of which I was President, decided we needed to help get our name out a bit more and also wanted to earn a little money to go into our treasury. We came up with the idea of an anthology of original stories, all written by our ACWL members. I volunteered to co-edit and my co-editor was R. Barri Flowers. Barri was the one who had suggested the anthology. His agent sold the project to Twilight Times and our title was ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present. It was published in 2009. I wrote a short story for it, titled, "The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong."

In May of this year, ACWLs second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There was published by Twilight Times. Again the anthology was co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and myself. My short story this time was, "The Confession." The story featured my long-time female Private-Eye characters from several short stories, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. It was a lot of fun to visit with the PIs from G & G Investigations once again.

So most of my writing career has been both short stories and novels. In some ways I like short stories better because you can usually write one in a very short time. I've had ideas and written a story in a day and the longest only took about a week. However, because you do only have a short frame work to write in you have to be more precise, more determined to have characters who seem real and you have to be ready to work and rework until the story is finally finished. It helps to have a great or even a twisted, you never saw that coming ending.

With a novel you have more room to develop your plot and sub-plots as well as develop your characters. There are many more characters and more scenes and it definitely takes much more time to write a novel. It takes me a year or so. But it's so satisfying when you get that book complete and polished and you send it out. There are more chances to make better money (at least that's what I've heard.) More chances for people to believe you are a "real" writer if you have a novel published.

I actually enjoy doing both and since my writing career first began with short stories I love doing them. But I also love that feeling you get when you go into a book store and see your novel on the shelf. Your own...the book your wrote.

I guess it's all how you feel about it. I remember an author telling me years ago, that he didn't write short stories because he only had one idea a year and didn't want to waste that idea. He felt he needed to spend his time on a novel. I can understand but I'd hate to give up either one.

How do you feel? Writers? Bloggers?

09 September 2012

Locke and Leather

by Leigh Lundin

Consider this paragraph by Edward Tenner in The Atlantic:
If you were trying to discredit [the] self-publishing model aimed at eliminating conventional publishers as obsolete “gatekeepers,” relying instead on crowd-sourced reviews, what would you do? Here’s a thought: Why not work from within?
The sentiment hints at the deep resentment, distrust, and paranoia 'self-pubbers' harbor against the establishment, traditional publishing, 'gatekeepers' being a pejorative term for editors and publishers who, in the eyes of vanity press proponents, refuse to recognize truly great works of literature. But more than that, the article documents a few authors manipulating the publishing industry.

City of Lies
Some time back, Stephen Kelner and I among others took part in a LinkedIn discussion about self-publishing 'democratization', another code word aimed at wrenching righteous control from the publishing barons. Respected reputable authors thought it scandalous that fly-by-night entrepreneurs offered 'positive reviews' for sale, but self-pubbers, many who put in days, even weeks of labor (oops, my sarcasm is dripping), saw nothing wrong and everything right with buying positive reviews, part of their weaponry in their battle to bring down the giant publishing industry conspiracy. Why risk a tough but possibly honest reviewer like Liz Bourke?

Some paid reviewers advertise blatantly, but other don't. It's not unusual to see 'full service' self-publishing consultants and some of these include positive reviews as part of their services packages.

But wait… there's more. Once mainline publishers understood what the vanity press knew all along– that some people will pay actual money for the privilege of being seen in print– publishers began to cash in. Harlequin was among the first, selling their rejected authors on the pay-to-publish idea. The RWA and MWA forced them to alter their business model– they now outsource that end of their business– but the profit motive is still there. Kirkus and Amazon followed– they sell reviews although they don't guarantee a happy result like Darcie Chan's.

It turns out many of the so-called indie self-pubbers were shocked, shocked I tell you, that vanity presses don't provide the publicity and marketing like the big houses that they worked so hard to bring to their knees. Publishing houses were worse than ever suspected– surely there had to be collusion and conspiracy if some authors were not only published for free, but were actually paid. But eBooks… eBooks could set you free. As Christopher Moore said,
[T]he eBook business was never about books. It hides in the book world; wants to be accepted as a book world that readers and authors can trust.

In Review

Not so long ago, romance author and Highland Press owner Deborah MacGillivray built up a Yahoo group called Ladies in Waiting whose purpose was to promote MacGillivray's novels and trash naysayers. The group used 'clickies' to deride any negative or even tepid Amazon reviews, triggering Amazon's computers to nullify the mildest of critical reviewers and disable their accounts.

Griffin
Romance author Emily Giffin (the one who whines about being only #2 on the New York Times Bestseller List) and her clan reportedly attacked a couple of reviewers– one professional, one not– for daring to besmirch one of her books with 1-star reviews, then demanded the reviewers remove them for their own safety. Legions of fans began harassing reviewers to the point of death threats, yet the hubris of Griffin's response implied the fault lay with the victim– the reviewer.

I was struck by one thing that seems to have escaped the notice of most. Apparently Amazon quietly de-linked those reviews. Was it to protect the reviewers or protect sales of a top-selling author?

More recently, we learn John Locke, the first self-pubber to sell more than a million books on Amazon, wasn't so Indy after all. Similar to those exposed by New York Times' David Streitfeld and spotlighted by our friends Lee Goldberg and Leighton Gage, Steve Mosby, Dan Waddell, Stuart Neville, Jeri Westerson, and spy master Jeremy Duns among others, Locke paid for more than 4500 scintillating fake reviews to pave his way onto the bestsellers list. A former door-to-door salesman, Locke said,
Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful, but it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.
Like Kevin Wignall, my greater concern isn't about Locke buying votes who merely manipulated the system, it's the playground bullying of MacGillivray and Griffin, authors who've come to represent the darkest side of this new world of ePublishing.

Bestseller Switch back to the UK where literary bury-your-critics has become a rampant low art form, symbolized by historian Orlando Figes. Yet another scandal is brewing. Top best-selling author Stephen Leather not only admits to fabricating positive reviews for his own novel, some allege he set up shell reviewers ('socks') to trash competitors while others accuse him of relentlessly bullying those who got in his way. The modus operandi isn't unlike suspicions leveled against Roger J. Ellory and Matt Lynn, the latter a business journalist who should know better.

I don't know the men and I hope the accusations are wrong, but I smell a cesspool when a stench reaches my nostrils. As much as I detest vanity presses that exploit desperate wannabees, at least CreateSpace, AuthorHouse, and PublishAmerica offer a seamless if hollow illusion of being published. Clients who consider themselves ground-breaking 'indies' must comprehend they're preyed upon even as they dream they're striking blows for that illusive 'democratization', in what author David Hewson calls the 'phony revolution'. The successful don't buy one review, they buy thousands, then, if they don't like tepid reviews, they kick the crap out of critics.

Some in the self-pub trenches will be disappointed, but others will say, "Damn! So that's how it's done!" While bad reviews can be disturbing, they don't have to be a death sentence. Jason Boog surveyed bestsellers, some with up to hundreds of 1-star reviews, with surprising results.

Stephen Leather
Stephen Leather
Peculiarly to many of us, Leather and his ilk not only seem unfazed by the revelations, but they appear proud of their accomplishments. To bring out the buying fools, they seed the mines with fool's gold and kneecap challengers. They aren't so much sock-puppets as puppet-masters. As they pointed out, their efforts might be unethical, but they aren't illegal– they're calculated business decisions. All they did was ruthlessly manipulate a willing market to 'create a buzz' and become tax-paying millionaires.

This rough, raw, rapacious law of the land isn't about the books. It's about connivers who, in the words of Christopher Moore, have become 'superior tribe accumulators'. They bought a larger tribe, and the rest of us fail to understand:
[Once] books were read and admired across class, religious and political divides… writers didn’t write down to their audience. And that audience was book orientated, cohesive, and quality minded. In their day, books were an important part of the intellectual domain that educated people were expected to read and expected those in their circle to read. When the content of books were the subject of conversation.

That time has gone.
Perhaps true, but still, I lament…

Fool us once, shame on them. Fool a million, shame on us. Shame.

Note: As with all articles in SleuthSayers, the above are opinions of the author based upon the latest available research and alleged actions of persons involved. Parties are considered innocent until proven otherwise.

08 September 2012

A Taste for Killing


by Elizabeth Zelvin

Books have always provided a way for both readers and writers to live vicariously. They sweep us off into another place and time, invite us inside the heads of people we’re unlikely ever to meet, and make our hearts ache and soar for strangers who exist only on the page. But only mystery writers routinely get to kill. A mostly law-abiding and compassionate bunch in RL, as Internet users call real life, we are not merely permitted but required by our trade to knock off at least one victim in every book. We even get to choose our murderees, so we can seize the occasion to get rid of those who displease us blamelessly and with great satisfaction.

In the first mystery I ever wrote (thirty years ago, unpublished and unpublishable today), I killed off the wife of a young man I knew, in fictional guise, of course. She was not a very nice person, and her existence was the reason that particular friendship never blossomed into romance. In the long run, I can say now with perfect hindsight, it was for the best, since we have remained friends all these years. He’s now married to someone much nicer—and so am I. But man, it felt good to let my murderer kill her. (Hmm, maybe I’m the one who’s not so nice. But mystery readers will surely understand.)

The victim in a mystery is not necessarily an unsympathetic character. Murdering a good person can elicit a strong desire for justice in both reader and protagonist. Or the victim may be deeply flawed but likable, so that the protagonist cares enough about his or her death to be driven to find out what happened.

The first draft of my first book had only one victim. I didn’t start talking with other mystery writers about our craft and how it had changed until after I finished the manuscript. I learned that the leisurely build-up, letting the reader get thoroughly acquainted with the characters before anything happens, is passé. Editors and especially agents nowadays want to be gripped on the first page, preferably by a body. I also learned that many traditional mysteries solve the problem of “sagging middle” in a book-length story by killing off a second character—often the prime suspect, so that his or her death forces the investigation to take a new turn.

The basic premise and circumstances of the plot did not allow me to kill off my original victim any sooner. I brought the death as far forward as I could by eliminating a lot of backstory—another thing I learned from other writers. But to kick-start the action, literally, I had my protagonist stumble over a body at the end of what at that time was Chapter One. I then needed a reason for this new death. That led to other victims. At the same time, I added suspense to the ongoing investigation by killing off some of the suspects along the way. I found that murder was addictive. By the time I was through, my simple one-victim mystery had turned into one of which Edgar-winning author Julie Smith (who kindly gave me a great blurb) said that my characters “maneuver their way through a forest of bodies.”

A forest? How did that spring up? I only spit out a single murder seed! In succeeding books in the series, I’ve kept the body count down to an initial victim with motivation for plenty of suspects and a mid-book body or two to keep reader interest up and confuse the issue. In my whodunit short stories, I’ve rationed myself to one victim and three suspects. Now I’m wondering if I’m getting too predictable. Hmm, maybe it’s time to break a rule or two again.