Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Plotting a Mystery When You're Not a Plotter

Guest Blogger: Karen McCullough
I an absolutely thrilled to have mystery writer Karen McCullough on my blog today as I adore mysteries. I'm anxious to read what she has to say about plotting mysteries, so I won't waste any more time...

Plotting a Mystery When You’re Not a Plotter

When it comes to writing a novel, writers tend to divide into two camps, the plotters and the pantsers. The plotters generally outline the story in some detail, from beginning to end, and do character charts or plot diagrams before they start writing. Pantsers get a good idea and sit down to start writing. Hence the term “pantsers.” They write by the seat of their pants.

Of course those are two extremes and most writers actually tend toward one side or the other but not necessarily all the way. Not all plotters do extensive character charts and not all pantsers fly into the mist without a clue about the story line.

It seems like a given that mystery novels benefit from the plotter approach. Don’t you have to know the answer to the puzzle to plant all the right clues in the right places?

My personal answer is yes—sort of. I generally describe myself as a pantser. I prefer not to know too much about a story when I start writing it. I’ll generally have a good idea of how it starts and how it ends, with a few ideas about what comes in between. I usually know enough to be able to write an outline for my editor, but just the bare bones of the structure. I once wrote a long, detailed outline for a story, but by the time I finished it, I’d lost all interest in actually writing the novel.

But mysteries do require careful construction. You do have to place the clues carefully, interspersed with an appropriate bunch of red herrings. The characters have to be right for the story and behave in believable ways. How can you do that when you don’t start with knowing all the intricacies?

No two writers do things exactly the same way, but I’ve developed a technique that works for me. I start with a general idea of how the story begins, usually the finding of a body or setting up the conflict that will result in a crime. I usually have a pretty good idea who the guilty party will turn out to be. And I know who my detective will be, and why he or she has an important stake in the solving of the mystery.

But I don’t always know how it was done or why or even which clues will turn out to be important for the solution.

I write around that problem by creating what I think of as a rich environment in the story. I create a set of character who might all have a motive to commit the crime. I show a number of events that might have a bearing on the crime. I offer a lot of details that circle around the crime, some of which could provide evidence or suggestions.

My decision to set my new mystery series at a trade show almost automatically provides a gushing well of possibilities to use in stories. So many things go on at trade shows, so many cross-currents of cooperation, jealousy, spying, bad-mouthing, back-stabbing, love affairs, and friendships develop.

Obviously not all of the things I show will turn out to be relevant. Some characters, events and objects will provide interesting and possibly related subplots, like the question of one character’s motivation for the help he provides my detective heroine in A GIFT FOR MURDER. And some things are there mostly to test the resolve of the detective and develop her character, like the whole popcorn machine subplot in the same book.

In truth I can’t really tell you how or why it actually comes together in the end. There’s a bit of trust involved in my investment in writing a mystery novel. But it seems like it always happens that somewhere about one half to two-thirds of the way through the story I have an “Aha” moment where I realize what my subconscious has been telling me throughout the writing. I know who did it and can show the chain of clues that led to that conclusion.

And, yes, it does sometimes mean that I have to go back and rewrite earlier chapters to plant a new clue here or there, put a new slant on an event or make subtle changes to the characters. But it comes together, sometimes in ways that even I find surprising. And that’s the real joy of writing for me, and why plotting too deeply ahead of time doesn’t work for me.

I want to learn the answer to the puzzle right along with the characters I’m writing about.

Thank you so much, Karen! That was a fascinating look at how a mystery writer tackles the creative process.
I hope folks will leave comments for Karen and visit her at her website at: 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winners of the Blog Tour...

Wild Rose Blog Tour
The Wild Rose Blog Tour has come to an end and I hope everyone enjoyed reading about our holiday traditions as much as I did. As promised, for my portion of the tour, I've awarded the following ladies prizes. The grand prize is an herbal bath and de-stressing kit just in time for the holidays, while the two "runners up" can select one of any of my e-books!

Grand Prize: Bianca Swan - please contact me so we can arrange for your gift to be sent to you!
Runners Up: Liz Flaherty and Mona Risk - please contact me and I'll send your ebook winging its way to you! (Mona already got her copy of The Bricklayer's Helper and I hope she enjoys it!)

Approaching Holidays
With the holidays almost upon us, I'm dashing through the snow (er, sleet) to finish all those last minute things. Today, I'm printing out our holiday letter and stuffing envelopes (which I'm pretty good at since the first job I ever had was stuffing envelopes for a small business in our neighborhood). With luck, our holiday cards will all be in the mail tomorrow.

Thankfully, many of our friends have sent us the best gifts such as boxes of fruits, most of which we've already devoured. In fact, if it wasn't for the bratwursts, pears, and other delights we've received over the last couple of days, we might not have had any dinner last night! Sadly, we've already finished off all the pears and almost all the apples--both my husband and I are fiends for fruit so it doesn't last long around here.

As for writing--I'm now on the final edits (YAY!) of my second paranormal romance. Still not sure what title to use for it when I submit it to my publisher in January. Maybe Vampire Negotiator to "go along with" my first paranormal, Vampire Protector. At one point, I'd also use the working title of Quicksilver, but in the end, we'll see what my editor says.

If I can get that manuscript to the publisher soon, I'll also try to finish writing a short historical romance with a Christmas theme (although not the ooey-gooey normal Christmas theme, but the older spookier Christmas theme of ghost stories). My publisher gave us a deadline of March if we want something out in time for next Christmas and I'm not sure I can manage that. If not, well, there's always the year after!

After that, I've got drafts of four manuscripts (3 historical, 1 contemporary mystery) and I'll have to decide which one to concentrate on. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Speaking of manuscripts...

Archer Family Series
The first three books of the Archer family series are finally all out, so you can read them in order if you have a hankering to do so. The series is loosely connected through a minor character, John Archer, who appears in the books with the seemingly sole purpose of wrecking havoc in the lives of other members of his family.

You see, John Archer, the irrepressible rogue and senior member of the family, is saddled with two problems: a love of adventure and far too many unmarried neices and nephews. As you might expect, John finds ways to indulge his adventurous spirit by playing matchmaker and thereby getting his family members in deep trouble. Sadly, his masterful efforts to make the lives of those around him more exciting are rarely, if ever, truly appreciated!

So here are the books (in order) that are now available in both print and ebook forms.

The Necklace - a young woman, a scoundrel, and a family heirloom that might possibly be cursed!

When Oriana's uncle, John Archer, brings home a wounded friend for her to nurse, she can't help but wonder what sort of scoundrel he might be. Her uncle has a long and sad history of befriending miscreants of the worst sort. Then, she finds a necklace thought lost and her worries only increase. The necklace bears a curse promising a hideous death to anyone who posses it, and it starts coming true when she's blamed for the murder of a stranger when the necklace is found on the body.

It's up to her uncle's friend, Chilton Dacy, to prove her innocence and save her from an overly personal encounter with the hangman's noose!

For more info and buy links:

I Bid One American - an American heiress nobody wants, a duke every woman desires, and a murder no one expects!

When Nathaniel, Duke of Peckham, meets American heiress Charlotte, he's suspicious of her indifference. Too many women have sought--and failed--to catch is attention. But Charlotte seems more interested in dead Pharaohs than English dukes, despite what her guardian, John Archer, says.

Unfortunately, when a debutante seeking to entrap Nathaniel is murdeered, his reputation as a misogynist focuses suspicion on him! On impulse, Charlotte comes to his aide, unaware that her actions place her in harm's way.

Danger mounts when a highwayman interested in rich heiresses turns his attention to Charlotte and another debutante is found dead in Nathaniel's carriage...

For more info and buy links:

The Bricklayer's Helper - a masquerade turns deadly when a murderer discovers one of his victims survived...

After her family perishes in a suspicious fire, Sarah hides her identity by working as a bricklayer's helper. But her disguise can't keep her safe when someone discovers she survived and follows her to London. Alone and terrified, Sarah pins her hopes on William Trenchard, an inquiry agent with Second Sons. William, however, seems far too attractive for Sarah's peace of mind, and she soon fears that involving him may be her final--and fatal--mistake.

Could John Archer really be the villian of the piece, or is he only trying to keep Sarah alive?

For more info and buy links:

Happy Holidays and Good Reading!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Traditions - Rae Summers

This is the final week of the Wild Rose Press Authors Blog Tour! This week, I'm hosting Rae Summers and she's talking about her favorite Christmas Traditions. Hope you enjoyed the blog tour and will leave a lot of comments. Don't forget that folks who comment will be entered to win some exciting prizes just in time for the holidays!

Week 4: My favourite Christmas Tradition

There are a lot of great things about having a German heritage, but the best is Christmas. Weihnachten is a big deal for Germans, and for me the best part is the fact that it starts weeks before. And I’m not just talking about when the promotional Christmas stuff appears on the supermarket shelves (currently around mid-October!)

The Germans celebrate Advent, which runs for the four Sundays before Christmas. It was a great deal more fun when I was a kid, before the family diaspora, when Sunday evenings were an excuse for all the extended family to get together, dozens of cousins squabbling over the special Christmas biscuits. We’d sing Christmas carols, each getting a turn to choose our favourite, starting with the youngest and ending with my Omi. Looking back, when we were all together she didn’t get much choice. There are only so many Christmas carols, even when you sing them in two languages!

These days, with the cousins scattered across the planet rather than all living in the same seaside town, the gatherings are smaller and a lot less noisy. But the important elements remain: the candles on the real pine wreath, music, family … and special Christmas biscuits.

My characters in Let’s Misbehave are very English and would have celebrated Christmas a little differently, but the great thing about writing of a period before microwave ovens, plastic Christmas trees and flashing lights is that I know the things they’d treasure about Christmas would be a lot like mine!

* * *

I’m running a contest over on my blog at where two winners will each win traditional Christmas tree ornaments. In order to enter you need to become a follower of my blog or my fan page, or re-tweet my posts – and don’t forget to leave me a comment letting me know you’ve entered!

Let’s Misbehave Blurb

Gabrielle is the quintessential Flapper, a wild child who turns her back on home and a resentful and unloving mother to become a nightclub singer. She wants nothing more from life than freedom and pleasure.

Sebastian is a dutiful son, following in his father’s footsteps and on the verge of marrying a suitable bride. But as the Twenties roar to their conclusion, he finds himself torn between duty and the urge to indulge his adventurous streak.

From the moment Gabrielle and Sebastian meet, the tension between them simmers. When he rescues her from a boorish suitor, Gabrielle discovers a kindred spirit beneath Sebastian’s serious demeanour, and she sets out to seduce him into one last passionate fling before he settles for a loveless marriage.

But the fire that burns between them threatens to consume her. Will Gabrielle survive falling in love with the one man she cannot have?

Buy Links

The Wild Rose Press:


All Romance Ebooks:

Thanks Rae, I really enjoyed having you here and your book sounds fantastic! I love that era--my mom was a child during the flapper days so they really fascinate me.

Happy Holidays to everyone!
Amy Corwin

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So You Want To Be A Writer?

Happy Holidays!

Heads up! Starting with the New Year, I'll be writing monthly blogs on writing fiction. Sure, lots of folks are already doing that, but each of us has a different "take" on publishing and the publishing industry. There are some things I've learned (the hard way) that I haven't seen mentioned, or at least only seem to be glossed over when they appear to me to deserve more attention.

Why blog about it? Well, while there is a certain amount of altruism involved, it's really more about making sure I don't forget things that are important. If you want to really learn and remember something, try teaching it to others. LOL

So in the coming months, I hope to cover things like writing fiction for publication (as opposed to writing for yourself or your family); grammar; promotion; and the craft of writing. There's no set syllabus. I'll pretty much cover topics as the ideas hit me.

And, as I mentioned, there really are a lot of other blogs out there on the art and craft of writing. Here are a few to get you started:
JA Konrath's "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing"
Crusie and Mayer's "He Wrote, She Wrote" (these are blog archives, but worth looking at)
Writer Unboxed
Evil Editor

That's not a lot of links, but it's a start. Blogs come and go. LOL

So, on to...CONTESTS!
Don't forget that Night Owl Reviews has one more month of web hunts--it ends December 31! I'm giving away a gorgeous necklace in honor of my new Regency romantic mystery, The Necklace, so be sure to join the hunt. It's not difficult and you may find a few new authors to get to know. Join the NOR Winter Hunt!

Several Wild Rose Press authors are having a blog tour, complete with prizes! It ends on Dec 15, so be sure to check it out. I'm giving away a holiday de-stresser kit and there are a lot of other lovely gifts. Here's the main link for the Wild Rose Press Blog Tour.

Finally, I'm so thrilled to see my latest book released on FictionWise and Smashwords from Highland Press.

The Necklace
When Oriana's uncle brings home a wounded associate, Mr. Chilton Dacy, to nurse, she can't help but wonder what sort of scoundrel he might be. Her uncle has a long and sad history of befriending miscreants of the worst sort. Then she finds a long lost necklace and her worries only increase. The necklace bears a curse promising a hideous death to anyone who possesses it, and it seems as if it might come true when she's blamed for the murder of a virtual stranger.

Can Chilton prove her innocence, or is Oriana destined for a personal relationship with the hangman's noose?


In this scene, Chilton is angry to find that his valet has kissed Oriana, when Chilton very much wants to do so, himself...

She laughed at his outraged expression. “He knew I wouldn’t get upset. Quite the contrary. I had two garter snakes for several years, named Emily and Heloise. They were lovely and quite friendly. Unfortunately, they got out one day and were very naughty.” She peeked at him through her lashes, her eyes glimmering with golden laughter. “It seems they developed a liking for beds, probably due to having been placed in mine so many times by Joshua. So they crawled into one. Unfortunately, the bed they selected belonged to my mamma. She was not as fond of them as I was.”

He could only imagine the uproar. “And they forbade you to have any more?”
“Oh, yes. I was very upset for several months afterwards. My parents utterly forbade us from having any creatures of any sort. They were very specific. No frogs, toads, polliwogs, butterflies, caterpillars, or snakes. Joshua was forced to use extreme measures when he wished to disconcert me. In fact, I blame his inability to bring any of the aforementioned creatures into the house for his kiss.”

“He kissed you? Joshua?” Chilton asked, appalled and angry at the same time. His valet had kissed Miss Archer?

“I was seven or eight, I suppose. It was indeed dreadful.”

“Oh. You were children.” This information should have amused him, but he found it profoundly irritating.

“Yes, we often played together, Andrew, Joshua and I.”

“I see.”

She gave him a stern glance. “It was quite proper. The Archers are a very distinguished and proper family. And Helen and I do have a maid, you know.” The return of the bland expression to her face let him know she had forgiven him enough to adopt a teasing tone.

An answering grin pulled at the corners of his mouth.

Have a wonderful holiday season!
Amy Corwin

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Maya's Holiday Traditions

We have another Wild Rose Press author, Maya Blake, joining us to talk about Holiday Traditions. I hope you'll welcome her!

Hi, I’m Maya Blake, I’m a thirty-something romance writer whose life-long dream of writing finally came to true last year when my debut novel was published by The Wild Rose Press. I’m the fourth of five siblings and I live in Kent, England with my husband and two (sometimes, lol) adorable kids.

Christmas at home tends to be like most, I expect. There’s the excitement of Christmas morning when the kids dance around the presents with eager anticipation of opening them after lunch. Then there's getting the bird ready for the oven, the madness of lunch, the opening of presents...then of course, the semi-comatose vegging on the sofa afterwards.

That’s when the TV/DVD comes on. Anyone who watches TV in England knows without fail there’s a James Bond movie played on one channel or the other on Christmas Day. I especially LOVE the pre-digital ones featuring Roger Moore or Sean Connery because of the humour angle (my mother-in-law’s post mulled wine cackle when she hears the name Pussy Galore has become a Christmas tradition).

After James Bond comes another firm family favourite – anything featuring the Stargate series. Yes, we’re unashamed die-hard sci-fi fans and really there’s nothing better to eat mince pies with than an episode or two of Stargate SG-1 or Stargate Atlantis!

And then to top it all off, we watch Last Of The Summer Wine. This happens to be the longest running comedy series in the world which unfortunately came to an end this year. The antics of Compo, Norman and Nora Batty never fails to bring hilarity! I’d love to hear what your family favourite movie or book is.

Happy holidays!

A Little Bit About Maya's book, Hostage to Love...
Crushed by betrayal, Belle Winkworth-Jones flees the shambles of her short-lived marriage, only to be kidnapped by a vicious rebel soldier determined to keep her for himself. Nick Andreakos mounts a ruthless rescue to save the wife who walked away from him, even though he's resentful Belle could dismiss their marriage so easily.

On Althea, their private Greek island where Belle recuperates, passion ignites, taking hold with relentless force. But in the shadows, danger lurks. The rebel soldier is determined to recapture Belle.

Can Belle and Nick set aside their differences in time to fight this threat and save their love, or will it be too late…?

Excerpt from Hostage to Love

Belle jerked awake as a loud blast ripped through the cave, her eyes unprepared for the blinding, strobe flashes of light that lit up the dark cavern a second later. Squinting, she saw the flashes continue intermittently for several seconds, then stop. She lurched from her position propped up against the wall and wondered for a moment if she was still dreaming.

The screams from a few feet away told her she wasn’t.

She’d stayed awake long after the rebel leader retired behind his curtain, unable to sleep for fear he might vent his anger on Father Tom.

She’d also contemplated what she would do after nature ran its course. She’d bought them three days, four at the most. What would happen after that? Could she willingly to let the loathsome man touch her for the sake of keeping one or all of them alive? And what guarantee did she have that he wouldn’t harm Father Tom?

The idea that perhaps they could overpower two of the soldiers, steal their weapons and make a run for it, she immediately discarded as foolish, and dangerous. She’d slumped, dejected, against the wall of the cave. That’s when she must’ve fallen asleep.

Dizzy and momentarily blinded by the flashes, she jumped as Edda screamed again. What was happening? Had the rebel leader decided they weren’t worth keeping and blasted the cave, burying them alive? Curiously though, the walls of the cave remained intact. She blinked a few times to dispel the blindness. Nothing happened.

A staccato burst of muffled gunfire sounded close by. But the gunfire was inside the cave, not outside. Which meant the rebels were still inside. Something brushed against her and she bit back a scream.

‘It’s all right lass, it’s me,’ Father Tom whispered close to her. ‘I told yer we’d be rescued today.’

Rescued! Why hadn’t she thought of that? Her spirits soared. Then plummeted.

Who would rescue them? Only Liz knew where she was, and she knew her friend wouldn’t give up her whereabouts lightly. Besides, she wasn’t due to make her weekly phone call to her best friend until Monday, so she wouldn’t guess Belle might be in trouble until after she failed to make the call. As for Father Tom, having lived and run the mission in Nawaka for the last seventeen years, he wouldn’t be missed back in his native Scotland. The same went for Edda and Hendrik, who’d been travelling around Africa for the past two years. As for the Nawakan government, it had enough on its plate with its fight to prevent the gold and diamond mines from being looted to mount rescue operations of kidnapped foreigners.

So rescue was not an option.

The only other conclusion she could reach was that another rebel faction had caught wind of Captain Mwana’s bounty and intended to claim them. It wasn’t unheard of for one rebel group to seize another’s hostages if they could profit from it. Sometimes rebels within the same group rose up against each other. Was that what was happening here? Had Mwana’s subordinates staged a coup against him?

If so, they had to take advantage of the gunfight.

‘Father, I don’t think we’re being rescued, but I still think we should make a run for it. This may be our only chance.’ God, she prayed she was right.

He gave a nervous chuckle. ‘I’m with you, lass, but unfortunately, these old eyes cannot see a thing at the moment. I think I’m blind.’

She stopped herself from telling him she suffered the same ailment, although she could just about make out shadowy images in her periphery. ‘It’s all right Father. Just hold onto my hand and I’ll guide you. Keep your head down. Hendrik, Edda, are you okay?’

‘Yes,’ Hendrik responded.

She took a deep breath and edged forward, her hand clamped around Father Tom’s. They’d travelled only a few feet when a bullet slapped the cave wall beside her. Small rocks struck her cheek and she cried out. Fear strangling her, she crouched down, eyes shut, beside Father Tom.

‘We have to keep moving,’ Hendrik urged from behind her.

She opened her eyes and thankfully, most of her vision had been restored. But what little she saw stilled her heart. Since whoever was attacking the rebels was doing so from outside the cave whilst the guerrillas defended themselves from inside, there’d be no way to escape without being caught in the crossfire.

Another bullet whizzed past her and struck a lantern on the far side of the cave, igniting it. A huge plume of acrid smoke bellowed up towards the craggy ceiling of the cave.

Their situation had just worsened a hundred-fold.

She knew they only had a matter of minutes to live. Because if the bullets didn’t get them, the smoke and fire would. There was enough bedding, ammunition and lamps to set the place ablaze in seconds.

Just then the gunfire ceased.

‘Come on,’ she whispered desperately to Father Tom. She grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the entrance of the cave, trying not to let the sight of the bloodied bodies disturb her. She focused on the discarded guns instead. If they could arm themselves, they’d increase their chances considerably.

But as she reached for the nearest rifle, she heard the crunch of feet approaching.

Another burst of gunfire. Then silence.

Through the smoky light she saw a figure, tall and male, enter the cave, followed by two more. In silence, the men advanced towards them. Belle’s throat closed up, fear completely seizing her. She turned to Father Tom. Her hand gripped his and she tried to shield him with her body.

Someone crouched behind her. She squeezed her eyes shut.

This is it. This is it.

‘Hello, Tinkerbelle,’ a deep voice purred in her ear.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sally's Favorite Holiday Recipe

Sally Clements, author of Catch Me a Catch, is here to share a wonderful holiday recipe. In fact, it sounds so yummy that I'm thinking about making it for New Years! So please welcome Sally!

Hello Amy, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today as part of the Wild Rose Blog Tour! It’s very cold with snow on the ground here today in Ireland, very Christmassy! And I’m here today to share one of my favourite Christmas recipes – Spiced Beef.

Spiced beef is a real local speciality here (I live about 14 miles from Dublin) and you can buy it ready to cook in all the supermarkets, but I always spice the beef myself with this recipe passed down from my mother. The suggested marinade time of 15 days can be modified, I often only marinade for 9 days, and it takes just as wonderful.

So, Take 5 ½ lbs of corned beef (also called ‘silverside’ here) and put it in a large plastic bowl. Rub it with 4oz of soft brown sugar cover the bowl with a tea towel, and put it in the bottom of the fridge for 24 hours.

In a pestle and mortar, crush:
1 ½ oz black peppercorns
¾ oz allspice berries
½ cloves
½ oz cardamom seeds

And mix these in a bowl with 6 oz sea salt and 2 crumbled bay leaves.

Pat this dry mixture all over the beef, cover with the tea towel, and put in the bottom of the fridge. Turn the beef every 2 days.

The day before you want to serve the spice beef, remove it from the bowl, place it in a giant saucepan, and cover with cold water. Simmer gently until cooked (usually around 2 hours).

Then remove the beef from the cooking liquid, wrap in greaseproof paper, and put it on a plate and flatten with the heaviest weights you’ve got, and leave it in the fridge.

The next day, serve the spiced beef in wafer thin slices cold. It is wonderful with baked potatoes and Christmas vegetables!

In order to be in with a chance to win my prize of a Swarovski necklace and matching earrings in either festive red or holly green (you choose!), please do follow my blog here I have Caroline Clemmons guesting on my blog today – so do pop in and read her recipe too!

Sally Clements – Catch Me A Catch

Book Blurb:

She had the perfect life - and all she wanted was to escape it.

Artisan chocolatier and reluctant matchmaker Annie Devine wants to survive the annual Durna Matchmaking Festival without messing up. She's useless at relationships, and the whole village know it. They've known ever since the day she was left at the altar in her wedding dress.

When Jack Miller, charismatic head of Miller Advertising is forced to make an emergency stop on his transatlantic crossing, she mistakes him for a love-lorn bachelor, and sparks fly.

Jack's in Ireland to discover his roots, while Annie's desperate to escape hers. Annie longs to win the coveted Chocolate Oscar competition, and claim the ultimate prize, her own shop in Dublin. But with the deadline for Jack's return to New York looming, is she making the right choice?

Blog Link:

Thanks you so much for having me here today, Amy.

You're welcome and I have to say, both your book and recipe sound fantastic!