Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Coroner's Role

So What Happens Next: The Coroner

As most of you know, I write mysteries set in the early years of the 19th century, the Regency period. As I mentioned in my previous blog about law enforcement during that period, I’m fascinated by the processes at play in the process of catching a murderer. I mean, I’d better be, since I write mysteries, right?

So here’s a bit more detail about what happens when a murder is committed before the days of CSI or even a regular police force, Scotland Yard, and all those wonderful detectives.

Make a Hue and Cry

If James Everyman witnesses a murder or finds a dead body, the first thing he has to do is make “hue and cry,” the equivalent of calling 9-1-1 (emergency services) today. Hue and cry is actually required by law, first instituted in 1285 by the Statute of Winchester. The purpose was to alert folks to the crime and catch the criminal (theoretically fleeing). Anyone who witnessed a crime was required to make hue and cry, not just constables, and the alarm would spread through the countryside in an effort to alert folks and catch the bad guy.

The interesting part to modern folks who are used to calling 9-1-1 and then leaving matters in the hands of law enforcement officials, is that historically, all able-bodied men who heard the hue and cry (it included, literally, shouting to notify folks to the crime and the fleeing criminal) were required to help in the pursuit. Just like a posse in a western.

By the Regency, there was actually a police magazine, Police Gazette, often called The Hue and Cry which gave details about folks wanted for crimes. The magazine was started in 1772 by John Fielding (chief magistrate of the Bow Street Court at that time) and initially called The Quarterly Pursuit. It went through several names to eventually settle on Police Gazette or Hue and Cry by 1828. The magazine included information about rewards offered for information or the capture of criminals, notices about criminals, and requests for information.

It’s still published today through Scotland Yard.

Coroner’s Jury – The Inquest

So what does John Everyman do, now? Well, we’re going to assume there’s no murderer standing over the body clutching a bloody knife and babbling his confession. So John Everyman has discovered a body and made hue and cry. The constable and the coroner respond to the hue and cry and round up a dozen or so men to view the body in situ (if possible). Between twelve and twenty-four men will make up this coroner’s jury and they are required to examine the body in any case of suspicious death. The dead person can’t be buried until this is done, therefore the law stipulates that it must be done within a few days of finding the body.

And this may seem odd to us today, but the jury examines the corpse, and I do mean literally examines, for signs of violence or clues that could assist in coming to the right verdict. Since there was no refrigeration in the 19th century, the inquest had to be held as quickly as possible, usually within a day or so of the death. The jury could also ask questions of witnesses during the inquest—they are active participants in the proceedings. Remember, this is the coroner’s jury and inquest and their only mission is to categorize the death as one of the following: murder (or manslaughter); suicide (self-murder); accidental death; or natural causes. They aren’t concerned with identifying the murderer, if it was murder, although if that comes out in the inquest, the responsible party would be bound over for trial.

In fact, the purpose of the inquest was very specific. They are only intended to establish the following facts:

• The identity of the deceased;

• How, when and where the death occurred; and

• Draw attention to anything that might lead to further deaths.

When the inquest is concluded, the findings are recorded in a formal document called the inquisition and include an attestation signed by the coroner and the jury. The inquisition must contain: the name of the deceased; the injury/disease causing the death; the date, time, place & circumstances of the death; and the conclusion (or verdict). Naturally, if the condition of the body precludes identification, that shall be duly noted.

We'll continue with this look at law enforcement, forensics and other fun facts about catching murderers in the 19th century in the next few blogs. Stay tuned!

And note, on Feb 1 and 2, 2012, The Vital Principle will be free on Amazon! So be sure to mark your calendars and grab a copy if you've been dying to read book 1 in the Second Sons Inquiry Agency series of Regency mysteries.

The Vital Principle
A cold draft, a candle extinguished, darkness…and yet…nothing except a suggestion, a touch of the unknown. Did they truly contact the spirit world or is it all an illusion? Perhaps it’s simply a clever fraud perpetrated by spiritualist, Prudence Barnard. Their host, Lord Crowley, certainly suspects her. He hired an inquiry agent to prove it and yet the agent has proved nothing.

The truth remains as illusive as the fading smoke from the candle.

With shaking hands the small group of guests relight the candles and turn to each other in relief. All returns to normal until Lord Crowley suddenly dies, poisoned by an unseen killer. Who would do such a thing? Someone, or some thing, in the shadowy room? Everyone present is well-known, a longtime friend, except Prudence and the inquiry agent.

It must be the spiritualist. She is guilty, she’s the stranger in the room, the unknown entity.

And all eyes turn to inquiry agent, Knighton Gaunt, to uncover the truth.

But is Prudence really a murderess, or an innocent bystander? Knighton isn’t sure. She might be a charlatan, but his instincts warn him that there are other forces at play at Rosecrest, forces that remain hidden beneath a jovial fa├žade. He takes a chance on Prudence to set a trap for the murderer.

But will the murderer take the bait or will someone else at Rosecrest die before Knighton can work his way through the maze of deceit and lies woven by the innocent-seeming guests?

“The Vital Principle” is the first in the Second Son’s Inquiry Agency series of mysteries, featuring the agency’s coolly intellectual founder, Knighton Gaunt. Other books include a variety of inquiry agents associated with Second Sons, or the illustrious founder. The series is set in England’s fascinating Regency period in the early years of the 19th century, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and the Prince Regent, the eventual George IV, ruled in his stead.

Each volume stands alone as a mystery touched with romance.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Guest Author: Lois Winston

Today we have mystery writer, Lois Winston, joining us. She is starting a virtual tour to celebrate the release of her latest book, Death by Killer Mop Doll. I'm really pleased to have her because I'm a big fan of the cozy mystery genre and the fun sub-genre of craft mystery stories.

I grew up in an era where girls spent a lot of time learning handicrafts, and I spent a lot of enjoyable hours with my parents, the Girl Scouts, and at summer camp learning a wide variety of crafts. At one time or another, I've run a tumbler to polish rocks to make jewelry (I still have some of it!); learning to knit, sew, build a fire, cook over a campfire, make lanyards, sit-upons, pottery, string beads, beeswax candles, soap, butter, and any one of a number of things. I'm not sure if children spend as many hours now doing these things, but I get a huge wave of nostalgia when I think about them, and craft mystery stories tend to bring back all my most cherished memories.  Somehow, I just can't think that computer games will have the same nostalia value for kids of today, but.... In any event, here is Lois!
Lois Winston
Amy, before we begin the interview, I want to thank you for inviting me to your Fiction Writing and Other Oddities blog as part of my virtual tour for the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries.

I’d also like your readers to know that I’ll be giving away 5 signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll at the end of the tour. To enter the drawing to win a copy, readers only need to post a comment to any of the blogs on the tour. The full tour schedule can be found at my website, , and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, . In addition, I’m giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, .

Why did you decide to write?
The voices in my head decided for me. Seriously. I hadn’t written any fiction since Freshman Comp in college. And that was a loooong time ago. Then one day, these characters popped into my head and wouldn’t go away. So I finally decided to tell their story. Once I did, they contacted all their character friends and relatives, and before I knew it, there was a long line of characters demanding I write about them, too. And the line shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, so along with hoping I’m providing a great mystery plot, I want my readers to laugh. I think there’s too much in the real world that scares the you-know-what out of us on a daily basis. Laughter helps us get through all that you-know-what.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
The best advice I ever received: “Every scene in a book MUST do one of two things: either advance the story or tell the reader something essential about the character that the reader needs to know AT THAT GIVEN MOMENT. If the scene does neither, it’s filler and doesn’t belong in the book.”

The worst advice I ever received: “You shouldn’t bother trying to write; you’ll never sell a book.”

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I don’t outline. I probably should because it would make my writing life a lot easier, but I like the spontaneity and excitement that comes from not quite knowing where my characters will take me. I begin with an idea for an opening scene and a general concept of how the book will end. Then I write a few paragraphs of blurb. From there I just start writing. I do maintain a timeline as I write, though, to keep track of events as they unfold.

How do you develop your characters?
People I’ve known have given me the inspiration for many of my characters. For instance, Lucille, Anastasia’s curmudgeon of a communist mother-in-law, is loosely based on my own mother-in-law, a diehard commie to her dying day. Only my mother-in-law never owned a French bulldog.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
For me, a great book is one that hooks me with the opening sentence, doesn’t let me go until the last word on the last page, and leaves me saying, “Wow! I wish I’d written that!” In mysteries, it’s also got to be a book that keeps me guessing. I hate when I’ve figured out whodunit early into the story.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
That I’ve provided the reader with a few hours of enjoyable entertainment.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Never give up! It took me ten years from the day I started writing until I sold my first book. This is not a business of instant gratification. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul if you expect to succeed.

Also, if you’re writing because you think it’s a quick path to riches, you’d have better luck playing the stock market -- with a monkey throwing darts at a dart board to pick your stocks. I have friends who consistently make the NY Times list and still can’t afford to quit their day jobs. For every James Patterson, there are tens of thousands of authors making barely enough to cover their weekly Starbucks habit. Writers write because they have to, not because they think it will make them wealthy.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
I’d like to see myself on the NY Times list (what author wouldn’t?)

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
Wow! If only someone had a crystal ball…I wish I knew the answers to those questions. Publishing used to be an industry that never changed, something authors and readers alike could always count on for being a constant in our lives. Now publishing is changing be the hour. More and more authors are turning to self-publishing their work as more and more publishers slash their midlist budgets and buy fewer new authors. Life in the publishing world as we knew it up to a few years ago will never be the same, but there will always be readers in search of good books. I think as the price of eReaders continues to come down and newer ones become available, eBooks will gain a larger share of the marketplace. I hope that all the changes coming to the industry will open more doors for authors, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens.

As for me, I hope I’m still writing and selling books.

Brief Bio
Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at . Visit Lois at her website:  and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: . You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Overdue bills and constant mother vs. mother-in-law battles at home are bad enough. But crafts editor Anastasia Pollack's stress level is maxed out when she and her fellow American Woman editors get roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show. Before the glue is dry on Anastasia's mop dolls, morning TV turns crime drama when the studio is trashed and the producer is murdered. Former co-hosts Vince and Monica—sleazy D-list celebrities—stand out among a lengthy lineup of suspects, all furious over the show's new format. And Anastasia has no clue her snooping has landed her directly in the killer's unforgiving spotlight.

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog:
Twitter: @anasleuth

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Thank you so much!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Law Enforcement in Historical Mysteries

Law Enforcement in Historical Mysteries...What to do?

I’ve been doing a blog tour (and I’m giving away one $25 Amazon gift certificate for Jan, Feb and Mar, 2012, so be sure to check it out, the list of blogs is on my News page) and one of the question that a lot of folks ask me in my interviews is why I chose to write during the first half of the 19th century. This period in England is often called the Regency period, although technically that only lasted from 1811 through 1820 when the Prince of Wales ruled as Prince Regent when his father, King George III, was considered unfit to do so.

The sort answer to the question of "Why the Regency?" is that it was a pretty darn interesting period. The roots of policing, forensics, medicine, and most branches of science as we know them started to develop along modern lines. What I’d like to do is reveal a bit about these developments through blogs to describe some interesting background information for my Regency mysteries. While the Second Sons Inquiry Agency in many of my books is entirely fictional, it is an organization that could have existed. At that period, law enforcement was largely funded privately. Odd as it might seem today, private individuals (most often the victim) were responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminals.

It’s a fascinating subject, and for this blog, I’d like to talk about law enforcement, although it will be in sort of generalized terms to avoid the high eye-glaze coefficient that this topic can engender. Law enforcement hasn’t always been as formalized as it is today.

It wasn’t until 1829, that Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel’s leadership established the modern British police force through an Act of English Parliament. It even specified the use of the word “police.” For those who have heard the term “peelers” or “bobbies” for British police, this is also the origin for those terms. The Bow Street runners were charged with keeping the King’s (or Queen’s) peace, just like bobbies do today.

At first, this mostly consisted of The Bow Street Patrols (Bow Street runners); Police Office constables under the control of the Magistrates; and the Marine police (river police). These groups were later melded into the Metropolitan Police Force in 1839 for the City of London.

But if the police force didn’t exist before 1829, how were laws enforced and criminals caught?

Initially, sheriffs, reeves and groups of men acting as juries provided law enforcement. Most of us have heard of sheriffs from Robin Hood movies. They basically kept order and maintained the King’s interests locally. From 1500 onward, private watchmen, thief-takers, etc. performed law enforcement activities. Watchmen were often funded by private individuals or organization and rewarded for catching criminals.

By the 17th and 18th centuries, there were parish constables and the Justice of the Peace. The constable was appointed to serve for a period of one year. He wasn’t paid and he worked in co-operation with the Justice of the peace to maintain order. In larger towns, there were guilds that became known as The Watch who were paid to patrol the streets at night. By 1663 in London, the night watchmen became the first paid law enforcement officers.

A gradual shift to government control over law enforcement really got underway in 1737. King George II initiated a scheme to pay London and Middlesex watchmen, using taxes as funding. Then in 1749, Henry Fielding’s famous Bow Street Runners were organized. They were essentially professional constables and by 1828 were the largest privately financed police force covering 45 parishes within a ten-mile radius of London.

In the early years of the 19th century, if a person wanted a constable to help him or her apprehend the perpetrator of a crime he had to pay the expenses of the investigation. Any English citizen could prosecute a crime and the prosecutor was often the victim of the crime. He had to file charges with the magistrate, present evidence to the grand jury and provide evidence. In the 18th century, rewards for the conviction of criminals ensured that citizens had incentive to prosecute, but they also led to abuses where people were accused of crimes they didn’t commit simply to collect the reward.

There was a particularly famous case of a thief-taker in 1720 who epitomized the corruption that led to Sir Robert Peel’s reforms. In London in 1720, Jonathan Wild had a gang of thieves under his control. When they stole, he’d often arrange to return the property and hand over someone, sometimes even a member of his gang who displeased him, and collect the reward. His shenanigans came to an end though when his perfidy was discovered and he was hung in 1725.

But thief-takers remained tainted with corruption. In 1754, there was another scandal similar to Wild’s where Stephen MacDaniel was caught prosecuting innocent men in order to collect the rewards. Again, this was another incentive to eliminate the system of rewards from victims hoping to regain their stolen property or gain justice. A salaried police force, i.e. Sir Robert Peel’s bobbies, seemed like the answer to cut the dependence upon rewards and their corrupting effect.

So there you have a few glimpses into the early history of law enforcement. I hope you found it interesting, as bits and pieces of my research have found their way into my historical mysteries, include The Vital Principle and A Rose Before Dying. I'll be talking more about law enforcement, forensics, and other such fascinating topics in future blogs (assuming I don't get a lot of comments like: "What the HECK are you THINKING?")

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest Author: Eloise Hill

Most of my readers will be stunned to know that I have not one, but two tarot card decks. One is a deck with pictures from the Regency period and the other is the more traditional tarot deck. So it seems natural to invite Eloise Hill to join us today, as a real psychic, as well as a mystery writer.

Eloise Hill

What made you decide to write?
I think the seed was planted, in the back of my mind, at the age of nine. I remember pulling a gothic romance off of the shelf, at a local drugstore, and hearing a voice in my head say, “You’re going to write books someday.” Someday turned out to be forty-three years and a nursing career later, after my mother’s sudden, unexpected death from cancer. She was a very dynamic woman, seemngly immortal to friends and family, and her passing left me thinking about opportunities I knew she had denied herself, my own mortality, and how authentically I was living my own life. Some advice from an acquaintance triggered the memory of my nine-year-old self standing in the drugstore, paperback in hand, and, within six months, I had quit my job and was writing my first paranormal cozy, The Eight of Pentacles. So, I guess you could say the time had come.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
My nursing career and thirty years experience working as a psychic have both taught me the value of taking the time to listen to my inner voice and value my intuition. So my protagonist, Eileen McGrath, represents the more fearless aspect of living like that: pushing her dimunitive self past her polite Southern upbringing and against the powers that be, if what’s being presented to her doesn’t ring true. I also teach a variety of tarot classes and I know there are a lot of readers and collectors out there who share my love of the cards, so it seemed a natural fit to incorporate into Eileen’s intuitive practice, weave into the story line, and use as a theme. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to “create” my own deck for the series: something I had wanted to do for a long time.
What is your favorite method for researching?
I start my research with the murder setting and build out from there; I am fortunate to live in Northern California, where there is no lack of eye candy to hang a story on: both scenic and not so. The setting for the murder in The Eight of Pentacles was a five minute walk from my home, at the time: a wildlife sanctuary and man made salt-water lake on the edge of Oakland, California’s uptown. It’s a lush, placid spot ideally suited for working-out, bird-watching, sailing, and family gatherings, but also a place with a history of drug-dealing, prostitution, and outbreaks of violence, after sundown. The contrast between the two faces of Lake Merritt appealed to the crime writer in me, so I visited the nature center and gathered all the available information the employees there had to offer, checked out several books from the library by local authors on the lake’s history, and finished up on the internet. Like most writers, I’m guilty of getting a little too absorbed in my research and ended up injecting only about twenty percent of what I learned into the story.

How do you develop your characters?
I developed the base personalities for the characters before I wrote the book. I needed Eileen to be a middle-aged protagonist who was a psychic and a nurse: a single woman, deprived of her ability to make a good income and forced to use her intuitive abilites to help make ends meet. Daniel Burnette, the antagonist/homicide investigator, was based on a favorite Irish actor who has a penchant for brooding intensity and Atticus Spencer, the more layed back p.i. character, was inspired by my ex-boss and my partner; he started out as a hybrid and gradually morphed into his own man as the book progressed. Like so many of us who live in urban areas and away from the families we grew up with, Eileen is very much on her own and I wanted her to find an extended family in her neighbors, Tessa and Jessamae: both amalgams of co-workers I have known and loved. I spent several weeks listening to rap music and watching locally produced “crunk” videos and interviewed a Bay Area rap artist to get a better sense of how to create the prime suspect, FoZ. And, Audie, Eileen’s cat, was inspired my by an ex-roomate’s Blue Russian, Sundance, who preferred “murping” to meowing, as his favored form of communication.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?
Two pieces of advice come to mind. The first came from a Bay Area sports writer, who was incredibly kind and encouraging when he found out I was working on my first novel. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something along the lines of “Do your first draft, your second, your third, complete all your edits…and then go back and take out everything that isn’t absolutely essential to the story.” Killing your darlings can be a painful process, but I think the bare bones approach makes, in the end, for honest writing and a more fluid read.

The second piece came from the actor, Peter Riegert, at a writer’s conference I attended several years ago. He referred to the part of the Pesach Seder where children are asked “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and suggested applying that model to your writing. That really stuck with me, the idea of checking in, as you were preparing a scene and asking yourself “What makes this character and the response to whatever I’m subjecting them to unique?”

What makes a great read in your opinion?
Obviously this varies a bit depending on whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, but I generally look for two things in a book: I want to be transported and I want to come away from the experience having learned something new, including more about the craft of writing. I don’t like a novel that reads like a textbook, but I do like enough well chosen detail to drop me into the whatever alternative reality the author has created. And I love books where the writer has planted little “enlightment bombs”: asides that make me stop and re-think the world.
Eloise Hill grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, resides in Northern California and is a writer, nurse, and psychic who has been in love with the Tarot, and all things metaphysical, since she picked up her first Rider-Waite deck at the age of eighteen. In addition to the tarot, she teaches classes on a variety of subjects including Candle Magic for Muggles and The Womanly Art of Tea Leaf Reading.

Amazon link:
Digital format available (for Amazon Prime members) in Kindle Lending
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Thanks Eloise!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guest Author: Eleanor Sullivan

Eleanor Sullivan joins us today to talk about writing and her latest mystery, Cover Her Body, and although she may not realize it, we have a lot of the same interests. We're both interested in life in the 19th century and have a fascination for the kinds of medical details you always seem to need in a mystery. And it's sort of funny that she mentions a distant grandfather who left Germany to establish a villiage in Ohio. I also had a German grandfather who married an Irish woman and settled in North Dakota. I wonder if it's something to do with our German genes that make us both want to write historical mysteries? Weird.

Anyway, enough oddball speculation. Here's Eleanor!
Eleanor Sullivan
Why did you decide to write?
After winning awards for my nonfiction books for nurses, I decided to write a mystery series featuring a nurse. Few books, TV shows, or movies show nurses’ work accurately. (Nurse Jackie is the exception.) With 20 years success in nonfiction, how hard could it be? I found out: very difficult! But, numerous workshops, classes, and critiques later, my series of three nurse-themed mysteries were published. That inspired me to turn to a historical mystery fiction series.

Why historical fiction?
I grew up hearing stories about my distant grandfather who led a beleaguered band of religious dissenters safely out of Germany to establish a village in the Ohio wilderness in 1817. Why not set a series in the quaint village, I thought. It remains a historic town, complete with museums and reenacters who demonstrate the work and lives of the settlers.

Uncovering the beliefs and practices of this unusual group of believers surprised me. Named Zoar, it was one of the lesser known utopias, idyllic settlements where disenchanted Europeans (in this case, Germans) found refuge from religious persecution in the new world. Of course, all was not perfect in this Garden of Eden, I discovered after researching the lives and religious practices of the inhabitants and by visiting the town.

How much research do you do?
Lots! I’m a former professor and author of scientific articles so accuracy is paramount to me. The medical situations in my first series are accurately portrayed, but research for the historicals is much more difficult. Not only did I have to reconstruct 19th century life, I needed to know such esoteric facts as what the men’s suspenders were made of (fabric, if you want to know).
I was helped by a 1930s dissertation from Ohio State University that chronicled the lives of the people who settled the town and by the historian who spent more than 30 years as the town’s site manager. Both sources could be counted on to be accurate. Here’s a photo of my ancestor’s cabin today.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
Of course the internet has revolutionized research even if some sources may be suspect. Primary sources, often transcribed and posted online, were invaluable.
Traveling to the location is a must for me. I made several visits to Zoar, Ohio to take photos of buildings (interior and exterior) and walk about gardens and take paths through the woods. I interviewed a tinsmith, cabinet maker, and blacksmith. Also I visited other historical towns of the same vintage—New Harmony, Williamsburg, VA, and Amish country. Finally, I try to put myself in the scene, capturing the sights, sounds, and smells of the moment.
Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
Readers tell me that the theme that comes through all my stories is the strength of women whether they’re contemporary or historical.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
I keep a regular schedule. After an early morning workout, breakfast and shower, I’m in the office by 9 to start writing. Mornings are my best time. Then I break for lunch, run any necessary errands, and return to the office to review what I’ve written, revise and, when my brain seems completely depleted, I stop. I don’t try to push through because I found whatever I write then is garbage. Then it’s time to answer email, check Facebook, and tidy up anything else awaiting attention. I leave the office about 5. That’s it except I do find that my mind keeps working on tough problems and I often awake the next morning with how to solve them. Hurray for the subconscious!

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
As a former scientist and nonfiction author, I can’t imagine writing content without an outline to guide me.
I start first with the murder: who’s murdered, by whom and why.
I make two outlines. The first is a list of scenes in the best order I can imagine. Here’s an example my latest book, Cover Her Body:
Scene 1 Adelaide finds body in river, knows the girl didn’t drown
Scene 2 Benjamin learns body in river, fears it’s Adelaide but learns it was Johanna
Scene 3 Adelaide tells Nellie about Johanna’s death, fearing her reaction

Then I flush out details of each scene in an expanded outline with notes about who was there, what happened, descriptive details, how characters felt, how the scene ended, and anything else I think of. This is not an onerous task. I just jot down ideas as they come to me.

Of course the outline changes as I write. I add scenes, delete some, and reorder them throughout the writing process. But the outline keeps me on track. Without it, I think I’d wander around endlessly without getting anywhere.
How do you develop your characters?
Since I start with the murder, I create the victim and perpetrator first, identifying their characteristics, physical appearance, and relationship.

For the protagonists (I have a husband and wife POV in Cover Her Body), I develop a detailed backstory and rationale for their flaws, fears, and hopes.
For the entire cast, I create a mind map, linking names to reflect their connections. I give each a role in the story and then figure out each character’s name to convey just the right message about the person. At the same time, I work on his strengths and weaknesses as well as his appearance that could reflect his personality or counter it.
If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
That they’ve been taken into a different world for a time, that they’ve learned about people and places, that they’ve been caught up in the characters’ plights, and, finally, that they’ve been satisfactorily entertained.

Cover Her Body, A Singular Village Mystery Blurb

In a strict, religious society in 1830s rural Ohio, a 16 year-old girl is murdered because she’s pregnant, but the only person who suspects it wasn’t an accident is a young midwife, who puts her own life in danger when she tries to find the killer.
“…finely drawn murder mystery…expertly crafted, perfectly paced novel…”
Kirkus reviews, December 6, 2011

“…enjoyed the storyline, the writing style, the well-rounded characters…no facet of the story I did not enjoy!”
Reader Views, December 1, 2011

Brief Bio
Eleanor Sullivan is the award winning author of books for nurses, the former dean of nursing at the University of Kansas, and past president of the world’s largest nursing organization. Turning her attention to mystery fiction, she authored the Monika Everhardt medical mystery series and, more recently, a series of historical mysteries set in the 1830s religious settlement of her ancestors. The stories feature a midwife and her cabinet-maker husband in the Northern Ohio village of Zoar. Cover Her Body, A Singular Village Mystery, is the first book in the series.


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Thank you Eleanor!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stories to Enjoy - Tom Mach's Blog Tour

By some stroke of good fortune, I was selected as one of the hosts for Tom Mach's "Stories to Enjoy" blog tour. I'm very lucky (for once) and am glad to interview him. I'm glad to see another writer who believes compassion is one of our most treasured graces.

Please be sure to check out the entire blog for there is a nugget in there that might reward one of the readers. As they say, "You'll know it when you see it." But to avoid being too mysterious and driving you nuts, it's The Icing on the Cake.

So here's Tom Mach.
Tom Mach

Why did you decide to write?
A combination of two factors. One is that I enjoy reading because it releases my mind, allowing it to experience other situations and get involved with interesting characters. As a result of my reading, I want to introduce readers to situations and characters whom I create. It’s sort of like creating your own vacationland and inviting others to have fun with you. Another factor is that I’ve always had an interest in writing, much like an artist has an interest in painting or a composer has an interest in creating music.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
My favorite theme is compassion and forgiveness. In fact, I’ve devoted my entire blog site ( ) to compassion. Sometimes it’s difficult for a reader to see where this theme fits into one of my stories, but it does. For instance, in “The Crossword Puzzle Murders” (a story in Stories to Enjoy), Detective Pulaski feels badly about her brother being confined to a mental hospital.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I generally take an idea and then try to do an outline for it, if it’s a short story. If it’s a novel, I work up a synopsis. What I find, however, is that as I write, my story or novel does not follow my outline but rather goes in a new and better direction.

How do you develop your characters?
I let my imagination create the characters, trying to imagine them as real people have certain distinct personality traits. As I write my story, I discover more about these characters and soon they take on a life of their own. I don’t like to write a comprehensive bio on each one because doing that makes my characters seem too artificial to me. You can’t force a character to act in a certain way just because you said so in a bio.

How much research do you do?
The amount of research really depends on the story I’m writing. For a historical novel, for instance, I do a ton of research because I want to be sure everything I say is dead-on accurate. For other stories, I may rely on my personal experience (such as my market research manager background when I wrote “The Lead Bird” in Stories to Enjoy.) I also have to do research in contemporary fiction where I’m not familiar with certain scenes (such as the interior of Air Force One in “The Assassin.”)

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
I have a broad range of favorite authors. If I had to pick three, I’d say John Steinbeck, O. Henry, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Steinbeck wrote with true compassion. O. Henry takes us through unusual twists to get to a surprising conclusion. Dostoevsky can get into a torture mind better than any writer I know.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
A great book has timelessness to it. It’s the kind of book that you read more than once, and each time you read it you get a greater depth of understanding of what the author intended to say.

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
Although the industry is going in the direction of eBooks, I think there will continue to be a large population of readers who want physical books with pages and covers. I can’t see myself lining my bookshelves with Kindles and Nooks. I will continue to write in both media—for eBooks as well as perfect bound books.

Tom Mach’s Bio

Tom Mach wrote two successful historical novels, Sissy! and All Parts Together, both of which have won rave reviews and were listed among the 150 best Kansas books in 2011.Sissy! won the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award while All Parts Together was a viable entrant for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Award. He also wrote a collection of short stories entitled Stories To Enjoy which received positive reviews. Tom’s other novels include: An Innocent Murdered, Advent, and Homer the Roamer.

His poetry collection, The Uni Verse, won the Nelson Poetry Book Award. In addition to several awards for his poetry, Writer’s Digest awarded him ninth place in a field of 3,000 entrants. His website is: He also has a popular blog for writers of both prose and verse at

Book Blurb
This unique collection of 16 short stories written by prize-winner Tom Mach includes stories such as "Real Characters," which is about a writer who gets his wish--that his characters come alive.... "Breakfast, Over Easy" makes you wonder about loyalty in the face of temptation.... "When Kansas Women Were Not Free" takes you to a time when women were less free than former males slaves.... "Son" make you think differently about compassion. One novelist describes STORIES TO ENJOY as "memorable and intriguing, with O. Henry twists that are sure to surprise and entertain."

Detective Pulaski agonized over the challenge. This one was tougher to solve than the other three. When she finished the upper portion of the puzzle, adrenaline again pumped through her body. She felt a pain in her chest as if she were about to have a heart attack. Aggie blinked twice as she stared at the answers to today’s puzzle:

“Agatha Pulaski,” she said aloud, her voice quivering. “Policewoman, Sib, Twelve.”

That’s crazy. My own brother wouldn’t rape and kill me, would he?

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The Icing on the Cake

At the end of Tom Mach's blog tour, he will be giving away a $25 Amazon gift certificate to a lucky person who leaves a comment. So be sure to give him a cheery hello and throw your hat into the ring!


Monday, January 09, 2012

Guest Author: Kaye George

Author Kaye George joins us today to talk about writing mysteries. For writers, there are a lot of great tips and ones which I have also taken advantage of. If you haven't taken an online writing class with Mary Buckham or Margie Lawson, I highly recommend them. They are a wealth of information.

One of the things which has always struck me about writers is their generosity and Kaye is no exception. I don't know a lot of fields where folks are so willing to help each other out with whatever tidbits they've gleaned over the years to help make their books a success. Readers may also find this information illuminating, even if they never intend to write a book of their own. There's a lot of work that goes into even the shortest of short stories, but when you think about it, that's true of every job out there. If you want to do a good job, it requires learning. And sharing what you've learned has surprising benefits. Try it sometime. I think you'll go to bed happy that night.

So here's Kaye!
Kaye George

Why did you decide to write?
This was not really a decision. I've actually had to seek therapy when I'm not writing. It's my pressure valve, the thing that keeps me sane. So, not a decision, a necessity. Another thing that contributes to a writers' sanity is keeping company with other writers. Writing a short story anthology together with my regular writing partners has been a blast.
How much research do you do?
That depends on what I'm writing. I do like to get all the details right, so I'll look up the times of sunset and sunrise in the area I'm using as a setting so that I'll have it getting dark at the right hour for that time of year. I've been writing a lot of rodeo-related stuff lately for a novel and have had to look up videos so my descriptions won't be wrong.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
The most intense research I've had to do is for a mystery series that takes place thirty thousand years ago, among Neanderthals. Don't ask me why I'm writing this, I just feel I have to! I've ordered textbooks and saved every clipping on new discoveries, especially the insights being gained with DNA analysis. I'll admit I do look a lot of things up on the internet. But if I want to go into any degree of depth, I'll order a book on the subject.

I sometimes do almost as much research for a short story if there are details I want to get right. I love to set short stories in places I haven't been, so I need to research that. One of the short stories in our anthology has a colorist as a character. That's a career I read about in an airline magazine, *American Way* if I remember correctly. I saved the article. Didn't use much of it, but did use the occupation.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
I want my readers to have fun, to be entertained, and, if they have something going wrong in their lives, to able to escape for a few hours. With my short stories, my main goal is entertainment. I like to startle my readers with unexpected endings, maybe because I like to be startled that way myself. For the Neanderthal series (which is unpublished as yet), I want the reader to feel about them as I do, that they've gotten a bad rap for many years and were pretty interesting people. In my mystery, "Choke," I want to make people laugh, to take their minds off whatever their troubles are.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
I'm not a morning person, so I usually go through emails, write blogs, pay bills, that sort of thing, in the morning. More times than I like, I have to do grocery shopping, errands, laundry, that sort of thing, in the afternoons. So evenings are for writing. Unless I have a writers' group meeting. I'll sometimes write after meetings, though, late into the night. Sleep is a waste of time!
What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
Best advice: persist. The difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is that the published one didn't quit.

Worst advice? I guess the poetry class I took from Stephen Spender years ago was my worst writing experience. I didn't get any advice, but sure got shot down. We had one-on-one consultations at the end of the course. His comment was, "Why are you writing poetry?" I answered something, maybe that I liked doing it. He repeated his comment twice more and I walked out. I didn't write poetry for years. Still don't do it much.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I've gotten a system together, cobbled from many courses I've taken from Mary Buckham, Margie Lawson, Kris Neri, and Pat Kay.

First I fill out the plotting templates I got from Mary Buckham on the main characters (protagonist, antagonist, and villain) and main plot points. I get my opening and my ending (which, of course, is subject to change) from this.

Then, per Kris Neri, I write a blurb of what I think the book will be about. After that I write out the background necessary for the crime, the backstory and what she called the root story. This means I'm telling the story (to myself) from the villain's point of view before I start writing the book. These are all just a few paragraphs.

I then put some plot points on a spreadsheet in a loose three-act structure. A good number is 24, but for the project I'm on now, I just have 9. I'll write in the direction of the next plot point, but will veer off course sometimes as new things crop up.

After I've started writing some of it, maybe one or two chapters, I'll stop and make some notes to myself on who the characters are. I don't really know them until then.

Short stories are an entirely different matter. They often come to me fully formed. They're much easier for me.

How do you develop your characters?
As implied above, they develop as I'm writing them, especially the secondary characters (who sometimes move to the forefront unexpectedly). But my starting point is the name. If I don't have the name right, but character doesn't come alive for me. If the character is lying flat on the page, I fool around with the name and, when I've found a good one, that guy or gal will pop.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
That's a very hard question! Ann Rule is my favorite true crime author. I like lots of different mystery authors in lots of different sub-genres. I like to read biographies and autobiographies and history, as well as mainstream and literary fiction (although I'm not certain of the difference between those last two). I love humor, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Addams, David Sedaris, and Carl Hiaasen.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
To call a book great, it has to be something that stays with me long after I've put it down and after I've read a lot more books in the meantime. Sandra Parshall's mysteries are like that.
 Amy's note: I'm so glad to hear you mention Sandra Parshall. She's a fabulous writer and a long-time friend. I first met Sandra when I volunteered to work on the local Audubon Society newsletter. She was the editor and did an absolutely unbelievable job. She is a skilled writer and I agree with Kaye, her books are wonderful. And so are Kaye's.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
Oh gosh, maybe a feeling that they hadn't wasted their time and money. You know how insecure we writers are! A feeling that they had fun reading the book. The stories are all dark, but in varied genres since we three all write in different genres.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Don't give up. Take some courses. If what is taught doesn't resonate with you, toss it and take another course. Try to find a community of writers, either in person or online, that you're comfortable with. That will make a big difference.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
I hope to have published the two sequels to "Choke" and to have published lots more short stories. I'd like to have gotten another series into publication by then, too. Maybe two more.

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
That's up for grabs, isn't it? I'd like to do at least one more anthology with Mary Ann and Steve, and publish more mysteries with my present small press, Mainly Murder Press. I'd love to move up to a larger press eventually if things hold together at all in the industry. If not, I'll strike out on my own and self-publish, hoping the following I have will, well, keep following.

Contact Info
My webpage:
My solo blog:
My group blog:
Website for our anthology

Thirteen horror, mystery, and urban fantasy short stories by Austin authors with a distinctly dark side.

"Keep an eye on these authors. You'll be seeing their names for a long time to come." --AJ Hayes, featured author in the noir anthology, PULP INK.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Corwin's Blog Tour Starts Next Week!

I'm starting off this year with a series of blogs during Jan, Feb, and March with Goddess Fish Blog tours. It's very exiciting and I love working with them, they are a wonderful resource for writers hoping to connect with a few more readers. Several of the blogs are interviews and some are just "off the top of my head" about mysteries, why I write mysteries with a touch of romance, and a writer's life. They were all fun to write, I mean, who doesn't love talking about their interests? I hope they're just as much fun to read.

For a lot of writers (me included) it's always difficult to juggle writing your next book and writing other things like blogs. I found that working with a blog tour coordinator was easier for me for two major reasons: 1) I had someone to prod me to write the blogs; and 2) The coordinator did all the leg work to find and schedule blogs. It sounds trivial and a lot of writers do this on their very own, but ultimately, I recognized my own limitations. I needed help in setting it up. So thanks to all of those who spent time chasing after me to get my blogs in on time and keep track of everything. It wasn't a trivial task.
Please join me on the following dates as I'll be giving away a $25 Amazon gift card each month to one lucky person who leaves a comment. Be sure to drop by and leave a comment!

1/10/2012 - Write About
1/17/2012 - Carrie Ann Ryan's Blog
1/24/2012 - We Fancy Books
1/31/2012 - Realmantic Moments


2/6/2012 - Sherry Gloag The Heart of Romance
2/7/2012 - Christine Young Romance Writer
2/8/2012 - It's Raining Books
2/9/2012 - Rachel Brimble
2/10/2012 - Worlds of Possibilities


3/6/2012 - Book Lover's Hideway
3/13/2012 -
3/20/2012 - Megan Johns Invites
3/27/2012 - Kacey's Kreations

Note that I'll update the March events when they are completed.
Thanks to all my readers and I hope 2012 is off to a great start to you!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Guest Author: C.K. Crigger

It's always exciting to discover a new mystery author and I was really lucky to have C.K. Crigger here for the first blog in 2012.She has a new book coming out this year and from the blurb, I can't wait for the release. One of the things I like most about having authors participate in interviews is that I always learn something new about writing and the people who enjoy this profession. There is always some new aspect, some new thing I never thought about, or knew before, and CK Crigger is no exception.

C.K. Crigger
Why did you decide to write?
I can’t help laughing at this question because I belong to the generation who started out with, “See Dick run. See Jane run. See Spot run.” Even then I thought that was pretty uninspired storytelling. I always figured I could to do better and nothing in the intervening years has changed my mind. I still think I can write better stories than many of those being published today. Of course, there are those writers--many of them--who make me sigh and say, “I wish I could write like that.” All I can do is keep on keeping on.

How much research do you do?
How much research I do depends on the story. Some require quite a lot, some not so much. The book I’ve done the most research for is the second in my Gunsmith Series, Shadow Soldier. I did lots no only for the guns used in the story, but for the whole WWI era. I discovered I love that period of history. The least research was probably for a little fantasy called, The Prince’s Cousin. The others have been a mix, more for the China Bohannon series, immersing myself in the 1890s, than for the westerns.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
I’ve found all research requires extensive reading. For my historical stories, an interest in antiques helps, by providing inspiration. Who used the items I now collect? How does the object fit into the period’s lifestyle? How does it fit into the story? Sometimes what a writer does is not pure research, as such, but fact checking. You might be surprised how often what you think you positively know is wrong.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
Although I don’t particularly start off a book with a theme or message to my readers in mind, I’ve discovered over the years that my heroines and heroes often have an overly developed sense of responsibility. If there’s a wrong needing righted, they can’t rest until it’s done, whether it began as their problem or not. This is often the very trait that leads them into trouble.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
I used to answer this question by saying I write mostly in the mornings, although when I held down a full-time job, I wrote from 7 - 9 every single night. Nowadays, I write when the notion takes me, sometimes with only fifteen minute intervals. But I find I plan more of what I’m going to say before I begin, so it all seems to work out.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I’m a total seat of the pantser writer, so I approach new books with just an idea. I don’t outline, as such, although I have a notebook for each book with names, characteristics, potential scenes, and the main conflict. These ideas often get ditched along the way, but they do give me a starting point. Fun stuff to read back on when you finish the story and see how everything evolved from those first ideas. For instance, I have an idea for the fourth China Bohannon story. One, it’s to be set in the fall with the weather getting cold, and two, the plot will be based on horse racing. Spokane was a big horse racing town in the 1890s.

How do you develop your characters?
Once I’ve introduced the characters, they sort of grow on their own, changes stemming from the events happening to and around them. Sometimes I’m afraid they don’t show enough growth--that old character arc thing so important in writing--but I promise, I do work on it.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
I love Lois McMaster Bujold, and not only her Vorkosigan series. She’s one of those from whose work I sit back and wish I were able to write like that. I like Craig Johnson for his intelligent simplicity. I like Cherie Priest and Sophie Littlefield. Oh, there are so many I’m having brain failure right now. Oddly enough, the only author I feel may have influenced my own writing, and that only what I was writing at the moment, is Barbara Hambly. Why? No idea, but it’s weird.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
In my opinion, characters make the book. Of course, story is part of the whole. Sometimes you can read a satisfactory book that relies more on subject matter or how characters fit within the plot. Frequently, an exciting story can compensate for mediocre characters. But for a great book, you need great characters.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
I just hope that when a readers puts down my book at the end (see. I trust my stories will not belong in the DNF category) they say, “Got my money’s worth. I was entertained.” The whole idea behind my books is simply to entertain.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
My tips are the usual things. Write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again. Persevere. Write for the sheer joy of getting those stories and characters out of your head.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
I hope I’m going at it stronger than ever, but if not, I’m thankful for whatever success I’ve had to date. Writing, as about everyone knows, is a tough business. Hey, everyone is a critic!

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
I can’t help thinking e-books will gain more market share. I know I love my Kindle, although when it wears out, I may try a Nook or whatever new is out by then. Technology changes so fast! My books have been available (and still are) as e-books from the very beginning of my career. I’ve seen that except for hand-selling print copies to a few favored customers, most of my sales have come from the e-book stores and in audio. I don’t see this changing, but only growing stronger. Besides, my poor house has about run out of room for hardcovers and trade paperbacks, even though I’ll always love holding a printed on paper book in my hands.

Brief Bio
Born and raised in North Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington. She is a member of Western Writers of America and reviews books for Roundup magazine as well as occasionally for the Buried Under Books review site at

Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, Ms. Crigger writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. In her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, the locales are real places. All of her books are set the Inland Northwest, the westerns with a historical background. Her short story, Aldy Neal’s Ghost, was a 2007 Spur finalist. Her western novel, Black Crossing, won the 2008 E.P.I.C. award. Letter of the Law was a 2009 Spur finalist in the audio category.

Visit her website at:

Book Blurb for THREE SECONDS TO THUNDER, to be released early 2012 from Oak Tree Press
China Bohannon is a modern 1890’s career woman, but the Doyle & Howe Detective Agency hasn’t turned her loose on a case of her own just yet. China is champing at the bit and when a call for help comes in, a trip into the mountains above the St. Joe country sounds just the thing to prove her worth and assist a friend at the same time. Porter Anderson’s uncle has disappeared and a Johnny-come-lately timber baron has claimed the family homestead. What’s more, he has a bill of sale that Porter knows his uncle didn’t sign. The problem is proving it—or so it would seem. Porter doesn’t believe his uncle sold out and left the country without telling anybody. He’s afraid old Lionel Hooker might be dead—murdered.

Declaring the case unsuitable for a lady like China, Monk Howe takes it on, but now no one has heard from him in days. China sets out to discover his whereabouts as the dry lightning of summer sets the woods ablaze.

What she finds is a trail of lies, theft, and murder, with her uncle Monk likely the next victim. Then, just when the problem appears solved, trouble breaks out again. This time, Gratton Doyle is the one in danger and it’s China who must bail him out.

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Thank you and I can't wait to see your latest book arrive this year!