Tag: mystery novel

Guest Post on Mystery Ink

relationshipsI’m delighted to have been invited over to the Mystery Ink site today. Please come visit me at the Mystery Ink Novels blog, where I’ll be discussing the roll of relationships in a mystery novel. Hope to see you there!

Do You See the Magic in the Small Things?

Did you ever see something that took your breath away? Something new to you, beautiful beyond compare?

We were out shopping at a home improvement store, something that makes everyone in our family grumpy. The kids were arguing, my husband and I had grown short-tempered, and we all really just wanted to go home. Then my daughter said, “Hey. What’s that in the sky?”

cloud anomalyWe all stopped and looked. There was a large cloud in the sky colored like a rainbow. It wasn’t raining; it wasn’t even overcast that day. It was a sunny afternoon, no chance of precipitation. But there it was: the rainbow cloud.

We all stopped and stood in the parking lot, staring at the anomaly. None of us had ever seen anything like it before.

And then I noticed the true benefit: we’d all stopped arguing. There was no sniping about the heat, no arguing over what to buy, no griping about how long we were out.

We all were silent taking in the beauty of the rainbow cloud.

Sometimes nature interrupts life and we need to just stop and take it in. (tweet this)

Once we got back in the car, the fighting was over. It was as though the spectacle had erased all feelings of ill will. We were quiet, and at peace.

I’m not saying it was a magic cloud. On the contrary, I believe there is a scientific explanation for what we saw. I don’t know what it was, but I know there is one.

What I am saying is: sometimes things intrude in our lives that make them better. (tweet this)

Take a moment today to look around, to stop and smell the roses, to listen to a symphony or just walk in the park. Open your mind to a new experience and you might be surprised at how you’re elevated.

mystery novelAnd writers: consider taking a break in the action to let your characters experience something momentous, something that changes their perspectives or just gives them time to breathe. Sometimes the best parts of your work can be found not in the action scenes, but in the downtime between them.

In my recently published novel, Mystery Heir, the most poignant scene doesn’t occur during the action. It occurs in the moments between, when protagonist Naomi reunites with her new friend, Aaron. Here is an excerpt:

Out in the waiting area, Penelope and Ryan were standing and talking. But Naomi’s eyes were drawn to the benches. That’s where Aaron sat, alone, waiting. She headed straight for him, and when he saw her, he leapt up and ran at her. He flung his arms around her waist, nearly taking them both down to the floor in the process. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and put her head down to his. She had a great rapport with all her college students, but she couldn’t remember the last time she had bonded so quickly or so fully with a younger child. She stood there, enveloped in his embrace, and marveled at her fondness for him.

“I was worried about you,” his muffled voice said from inside the hug.

She pulled away from him and looked into his eyes. “I’m fine. I was worried about you.” She pulled him down on the bench beside her.

“They couldn’t reach my mom last night. She was in surgery.”

“Oh no! Is she okay?” Penelope asked. She and Ryan had walked over and she heard Aaron’s last statements.

“She’s fine. She’s a nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital. I guess she was called into some surgical procedure, and they couldn’t get her out. They reached her this morning. She’s on her way here now.”

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you’re safe,” Penelope said.

He looked at her, then turned back to Naomi. “They’re bringing Social Services in, too.”

Naomi took his hand and squeezed it. His eyes were dry, but she could see the sadness and fear in them. “Everything will work out, Aaron. You wait and see.”

He shrugged. “I’m glad you’re okay. And I’m sorry I blamed you. I know it wasn’t your fault.”

She dropped his hand and put her arm around his shoulder, hugging him again. “No worries now.” No matter what he said, what anyone said, she’d always carry guilt for what happened to him.

Ryan said, “Aaron, Miss Williamson from Social Services is here. She’d like to see you before your mom arrives.”

Naomi gave his shoulders one more squeeze, then she turned him to face her. “Listen to me. You’re going to be fine. And you have my number. If you ever need anything, anything, you call me. Understand?”

He nodded. And without another word, he got up and went off with Deputy Ryan.

“Good kid,” Penelope said.

“Yeah,” Naomi said. Her voice was hoarse, and Penelope was wise enough not to comment on it.


So you see, the downtime between action scenes and plot progression is where readers learn the most about your characters. Make sure you use those slower moments to explore your characters’ depths.

If you’d like to read more of Mystery Heir, you can find it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

If you’d like to share something that stopped either you or one of your characters and led to a breakthrough moment, tell us about it in the comments below.

ABCs of Mystery Heir

ABCsSome writing friends recently participated in an alphabet blog challenge where every day for twenty-six days they wrote a post corresponding to a particular letter, each entry having to do with a work-in-progress or a recently released work. I didn’t participate; I figure one, maybe two posts a week is plenty. But I thought the premise was pretty cool. So here is my abridged take on the alphabetized postings. I have a mystery novel coming out soon. It’s a departure from my usual romance work, but it’s still heavy on family and relationships, so it’s not too big a stretch for me. In any event, I thought this might be a good way to introduce it to you. It’s called Mystery Heir.

  • Aaron Fields
    His presence humanizes the lead character and leads to a break in the case.
  • Baseball Cards
    A clue for both the police and the lead sleuth in the book.
  • Centerville
    The setting. The town seems to be haunted. Bad things keep happening there.
  • Daddy Issues
    The original title of the book and a recurring theme throughout the novel.
  • Everett Kerr
    Mayor of Centerville and someone who keeps popping up in Naomi’s life.
  • Food
    Healthy necessity or decadent indulgence, what girl doesn’t love to snack?
  • Grant Family
    One of the key families at the heart of the mystery.
  • Harbaugh Family
    Another family at the center of it all. The patriarch is the victim.
  • Incarcerate
    Who ends up in jail? Why? Is it justified?
  • Johnson Family
    How many families are tangled in this mess, anyway?
  • Kaolin
    Fancy little mineral. Wonder what it has to do with the murder of a councilman?
  • Lockwood Family
    Another family?
  • Myer Lake
    Centerville is a big town with a lot of regions. The lake area is just one part of the town.
  • Naomi Dotson
    The main character. She tends to stick her nose in where it doesn’t belong.
  • Oktoberfest
    Lovely start to a novel. Too bad the party couldn’t last.
  • Penelope Dotson
    Naomi’s twin. They aren’t that much alike.
  • Quest
    Naomi is on a quest to solve a mystery. Someone else is on a quest to stop her.
  • Rothschild Law Office
    Where all the fun begins. If you consider a robbery and a high strung lawyer fun.
  • Shoes
    Penelope has a thing for shoes. It’s kind of important.
  • Tae kwon do
    Both girls are talented martial artists. It’s a handy skill.
  • Undaunted
    Naomi won’t be deterred from getting answers. Sometimes at great cost.
  • Valuable
    A lot of people have a lot to lose in this book.
  • Will
    That’s probably why the will is so important. (Hint, hint.)
  • Xerox copies
    Naomi provides the police with important copies of evidence. They tend to ignore her.
  • Yoga
    Things get pretty stressful. Yoga can be relaxing in times of tension.
  • Zeal
    In the end, it’s Naomi’s zeal that puts the pieces together and solves the crime.

Okay, admittedly, some of the letters were difficult. But when you read the book, and I hope you do, you’ll understand that some of the letters could have had ten entries and others I had to reach for one. I’ll keep you updated as Mystery Heir comes closer to its release date. I don’t have any specifics yet; this is just something small to whet your appetites until the big day draws nearer.

Until then, think about your WIPs. Can you come up with ABCs for all of them? Let us know how easy it was for you.

The ABCs of Murder Weapons in Fiction

Pole weapons Szczyrzyc MonasteryIf you read or write mysteries, you know the importance of a good weapon for the villain to use to plot the demise of the victims. The problem is that sometimes, we writers sit at the computer and think, “How in the world can I kill these people off in a way that hasn’t been done to death?” (No pun intended there.)

So I’ve compiled a list of potential weapons, from the typical to the way out there, for inspiration when writer’s block slows down the deaths in your next murder mystery. Use them if you dare.

  1. Arnis sticks – Any martial arts sticks, really, would do. Escrima, kali, even a bo staff. No, most people don’t walk around with martial arts equipment in their hands, but if your bad guy is in a gym, owns a gym, studies the art, (is a ninja!), this option can work for you. Both of my kids are taekwondo black belts (second and first degrees) and they work with swords, sticks and staffs. Stars and nunchucks will follow. Your guy has options.
  2. Baton – Before you think majorettes and short skirts (although that could work too), picture the dim lighting of a symphony performance or the darkness of an orchestra pit… A conductor’s baton of course. It’s rigid and pointy and can be jammed into any opening or soft spot on the head or neck to cause brain trauma or fatal bleeding. Hopefully its use isn’t an indication of the quality of the music.
  3. Cord – This could be as simple as twine or as new-fangled as tech cords (phones, televisions, etc.), but wrapped around a victim’s neck, any cord can be fatal.
  4. Drowning – Unless your characters are land-locked without access to running water, drowning is an option for any villain. Oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, bathtubs, pools, hot tubs… A rain barrel or bucket would do in a pinch.
  5. Explosion – Yes, explosions might require a bit of technical savvy. But if your villain has Internet access, your villain can make a bomb. Molotov cocktails, fertilizer bombs, pipe bombs… C-4, digital timers. What’s your villain’s background and access?
  6. Fire – Cavemen had it, why can’t your bad guy? Pin somebody in somewhere and set the place ablaze; he’s going to die of smoke inhalation or the fire. Or just turn him into a human torch. Your bad guy would have to be really sadistic to do it, but maybe he’s into cannibalistic barbecue.
  7. Gun – Does this really need to be discussed in detail? There are numerous sites discussing all types of guns, from tiny palm-sized pistols to giant military-grade truck-mounted beasts. Figure out your need and look them up. And don’t forget the pistol-whipping option… The bad guy can always beat someone to death with his weapon.
  8. Hockey stick – Any sports gear with the potential for violence would do. Hockey: the stick, the blades of the ice skates, the Zamboni machine. Baseball: the bat, the ball pitching machine. Field events: javelin, shot put balls. You get the idea.
  9. Icicle – No evidence left behind with this one. The perfect weapon. Stab and melt.
  10. Jaguar – Well, any animal can be used to kill on behalf of the villain. The problem? Training the animals to obey. And, of course, where to keep the animals. This could work on some kind of reservation or a zoo. Or using a snake to bite someone or strangle someone (snakes you can easily keep at home). Work out the logistics of the animals, and you have a winner.
  11. Knife – Knives, swords, daggers… any kind of blade. Knives can be easily hidden on a person, made of materials other than metal (so they can be smuggled past metal detectors), and can even be weapons of passion. An innocent dinner could turn deadly over the main course. Just make sure the diners are eating steak, not pasta, so there are knives on the table.
  12. Lasso – Cowboys aren’t always the hero. That lasso can easily become a noose. Don’t pretend you haven’t considered it when looking at those horrid rodeo clowns.
  13. Mine – Don’t forget about mines. Booby traps are a great way to get rid of secondary characters. They go snooping where they shouldn’t be and they meet an untimely end.
  14. Nail file – Villains shouldn’t always be the bad guy. Or maybe girls shouldn’t always be the ones getting the manicures. A sharp nail file to an artery can make an effective weapon — for a boy or a girl.
  15. Obsidian – That’s one of my new favorite minerals. It’s gorgeous. But that’s not the only one to consider. Think of all the stones that artwork can be carved out of… obsidian, marble, limestone, alabaster. If your villain is around statuary, he has a weapon.
  16. Pool cue – A billiard room is rife with weaponry. The pool cue, the balls. Even the racks and the table can be used… imagine using the triangle to strangle a victim or smashing a head off the slate of the table. Yank down the pendant light and wield it like a club, or use the exposed wires to electrocute someone.
  17. Quiver – Sure, arrows are weapons. Everyone knows that. But the quiver? Pah-ha, you say. Get creative. The arrows are gone, the bow is broken. How to improvise? Strangle the victim with the strap of the quiver.
  18. Ricin – Ricin is one of many poisons that grows in the wild. Learn or look up deadly poisons. A crafty villain can learn about wild poisons and figure out how to use them.
  19. Scarf – Scarves, neckties, belts, hosiery… any lengthy clothing or clothing accessories can be used to strangle someone in a pinch.
  20. Telephone – Land lines have cords. House phone or cell phone can be treated with poison that’s transmitted through touch. Sound can be transmitted through the phone to burst an ear drum, rendering a person helpless (or at least quite miserable and disoriented) until the killer can arrive to finish the job.
  21. Umbrella – Ah, pointy objects. An umbrella is so innocuous that anyone can carry it, but with a filed point, it’s an effective weapon. Also, it can conceal other weapons. Quite an effective little gadget.
  22. Vehicles – It’s inelegant, but running someone over gets the job done.
  23. Window – Push someone out a window. Drop a window down on someone’s head, guillotine-style. Put a head through a window and use the broken glass as a blade to sever arteries. You have a window of opportunity there… use it. (Even I groaned at that one.)
  24. Xiphos – Bet you didn’t think I had one for X. Bet you don’t know what “xiphos” is. Well, if your bad guy is into history or happens to be in a museum, you’re in luck. Xiphos is an ancient Greek sword with a double-edged blade. If you’re into stabbing or decapitation, think xiphos. More to the point, if your bad guy is into artifacts, look into all the old weaponry.
  25. Yule log – Ah, family holidays can get a bit sticky, can’t they? We’ve all heard about the frozen leg of lamb as a weapon. Surely there are other options at a holiday dinner? The knife-sharpening steel. The electric knife. The marble rolling pin. The Yule log – flaming or not. Strands of garland. A wishbone. Get creative. Sadists would.
  26. Zebu horn – Bet you didn’t think I’d have a Z entry either. But how could I leave off the zebu horn? Everyone has those sitting around, right? Oh, you don’t know what a zebu is? That’s okay. I didn’t either until I looked it up. (I needed a Z.) It’s a type of cattle with a curved horn. But any animal horn or antler will do. Yak, ram, elk… An outdoorsman could have a good time with this one.

So maybe I spent a little too much time thinking this through. Maybe computer banks at Langley are spinning and spitting my name through databanks and search filters. But maybe something here will get you thinking and spark your creative juices enough so that the next time your villain is going to kill someone, he grabs Hemingway’s prize zebu horn instead of a pet rock or a paperweight that says “Someone went to Carlsbad Caverns and all they brought me was this paperweight.” Now, if that paperweight looks like a rock…

Oh, and don’t forget, your good guy can use these weapons, too! People probably love him more than to give him a pet rock paperweight, though.

photo courtesy of Piotrus, Creative Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pole_weapons_in_Szczyrzyc_monastery_museum_02.JPG

It’s Up To You New York, New York

Ah, Old Blue Eyes. I fell in love with Frank Sinatra when I was a young girl and saw Guys and Dolls on television. That’s when I also fell in love with Marlon Brando, but that’s a subject for another post. This post is about New York. Specifically the Big Six publishers. When Sinatra sang “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York” I’m sure he wasn’t singing from a writer’s perspective talking about getting a publishing contract. But I hear that song and it’s like it’s coming from my heart and soul.

I don’t know what route my published works are going to take. I have one finished novel currently with a small publisher, and I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. I have a finished first draft that I’m currently revising, and I don’t know if I’m going to go the self-publish, small-publish, or New York route with it when I’m done. I see merits to all three.

Self-publishing is great because you have complete control and reap the most rewards. However, all the work and responsibility is yours. Sure, the writing and revising is a given. But cover design, marketing, extra editing, conversion to e-format… all on you. No help. And, while it’s getting better, there has been a stigma in the past with self-publishing because anyone can self-publish (hence the name), so there is no quality control. There are some really bad books out there. Some people assume if you self-publish it’s because you weren’t good enough for a publisher to take a chance on you. Writers know that isn’t the case, but not all readers are on board with that premise yet. It’s getting better. Cream does rise to the top. I’m just not sure yet when the readers will find the cream. I want them to know I’m the cream and I want them to know where to find me.

Small publishers are becoming a popular choice for writers. It’s the route I chose for my first manuscript (knock on wood). They seem to be a nice middle ground between self-publishing and getting that elusive New York contract. Some accept electronic submissions, which is a big plus. Also, they will handle the cover design, the copy editing, the e-format conversion, and even some marketing for you (check your contracts!) but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Distribution will be severely limited to regional stores, if they print books at all, and you’ll still be expected to do a lot of marketing on your own. Plus, you’ll have to share more of the profits than if you self-publish. At this level, an agent is a good idea, as a contract is involved. At the very least, get a lawyer to review the paperwork.

Agents are a definite if you choose to go the New York route. You aren’t going to get your manuscript on an editor’s desk unless an agent puts it there, and it will definitely be a bulky paper copy. Another bonus is the big publishing houses will do all of the heavy lifting for you — above and beyond the efforts of the small publishing houses — but be aware. You have the least control when you go through the Big Six and you share a bigger percentage of the profits than in self-publishing or with small publishers. They’re also the slowest to pay the royalties out, although you do often get an advance. (New authors will get much smaller advances than established authors. Of course, new authors have trouble getting in with the Big Six to begin with.) What is the biggest benefit you get from going the New York route? The backing of one of the Big Six. If you can say that New York is willing to take a chance on you, then cautious readers are more likely to take a chance on you.

So with the trend going to eBooks and the Big Six hesitant to sell eBooks to libraries and having a tenuous relationship with Amazon… it’s hard to know which way to go. Small publishers look like a bargain, but they look like a lot of work, too, when you consider that for just a little more work you get complete autonomy. Still, I hear Sinatra crooning, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere, New York, New York.”

At the end of the day, I probably should finish my revisions before I make any decisions. What have you decided, and how is it working for you?

Short Story Class Completed

Originally posted May 10, 2012

So last night was the final night of the short story seminar. It was so different from what I expected. I thought we were going to learn how to develop characters and plot and dialogue, etc. But it was really more of an analysis class. Which, in and of itself, isn’t bad. You can learn a lot from analysis. But I did more than my fair share of analysis when I was in college. I didn’t really want to do more of it now, especially when we didn’t get in depth with it in the class. We only scratched the surface, and analysis is only fun when you dig in. Still, I made some contacts and practiced my craft, which is really all you can ask of a seminar. So, all in all, I’d consider it a success. Now I have to get back to my novel. I’m about 60 pages away from the end, and I’m getting excited!

The Other Novel

Originally posted April 23, 2012

I’ve put my novel on hold to begin work on a mystery. I’m calling it Daddy Issues, but we all know that’s subject to change. I answered a call for writers to write mysteries for a publisher starting a sleuthing series. It’s been an interesting project so far. It’s difficult to write under someone else’s constraints, but I’m rising to the challenge. It’s helping me flex my writing muscles. I highly recommend breaking out of the norms and trying something new once in a while. Not only is it liberating, it helps us reach parts of our minds and hearts that we haven’t tapped in a while. It makes us better writers, and maybe better people. And it’s fun!

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