Archive for November, 2011
November 30, 2011
Mystery We Write Winter 2011 Blog Tour Presents Jean Henry Mead
Making the Transition from Journalism to Fiction
By Jean Henry Mead
Writing fiction has always been my goal. I wrote my first novel when I was nine, a chapter a day to entertain classmates, but my first published novel didn’t appear until many years later, in 1999.
There were no fiction writing classes available so I wrote for my high school newspaper. Later, as a divorced mother of four young daughters, I served as editor in chief of my college newspaper while working 35 hours a week for the local daily as a “cub” reporter. Driving 50 miles round trip to school in another town, often in pea soup fog, made me realize that I could do anything, if I lived through it. It also made me even more determined to write fiction.
When I wrote my first novel, after two years of sitting behind a microfilm machine to research a centennial history, I had so many typewritten notes that I couldn’t allow them go to waste. They served as research for an historical novel titled Escape on the Wind, which later resold as Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel, now in its fourth edition. I had already written four nonfiction books and the focus, of course, is entirely different. Nonfiction is objective while fiction is subjective, although all fiction is rooted in fact.
For me, the transition was a struggle. Fortunately, during the 1980s, well established writers were still taking fledglings under their wings. My mentor was Fred Grove, who had won five prestigious Spur Awards from Western Writers of America. Fred had also begun his writing career in journalism so he understood that switching to fiction could be difficult. He encouraged me to snail mail him chapters as I wrote them. He then told me what I was doing wrong, as well
as right. He didn’t edit or rewrite my work but his encouragement made all the difference.
When historical western novels lost their popularity, I was encouraged by my pen pal, Loren
Estleman, to follow his keystrokes by writing mysteries, which I’ve always enjoyed reading. My two boomer amateur sleuths were given birth when I thought about the relationship between myself and a good friend while I was struggling through my college courses. The humor that’s sprinkled throughout my books originated with my friend, Marge, who could always make me laugh. (She missed her calling as a standup comic.)
After three Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novels, I decided to also try my hand at writing children’s novels, so the Hamilton Kid’s mystery series took root this year. Mystery of Spider
Mountain and Ghost of Crimson Dawn were published after I took a children’s writing course with Louise Munro Foley as my mentor. I chose her because she also writes with humor.
I’m still writing nonfiction, mainly recycling blog articles into ebooks, but my favorite writing will always remain fiction.
Bio: Jean Henry Mead is the author of 15 books, half of them novels. Her Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series is comprised of three novels: A Village Shattered, Diary of Murder and Murder on the Interstate. She’s also an award-winning photojournalist with articles published nationally as well as abroad. The southern California native now lives in Wyoming with her husband and Australian Shepherd.
Her website: www.jeanhenrymead.com
She’s also on Facebook and Twitter.
Jean’s latest Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novel, Murder on the Interstate, is available at:
Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/6znjvsa (print and Kindle) and
Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/3vxzppy (Nook)
She’s giving away one of her mystery e-books at the end of each of her 14 blog appearances as well as three print novels at the conclusion of the tour. Be sure to leave a comment and email address to be eligible for the drawings. Her blog tour schedule is listed at: http://jeansblogtour.blogspot.com/
November 29, 2011
Mystery We Write Winter 2011 Blog tour Presents Marilyn Meredith
Understanding what Point-of-View means when it comes to writing a novel was no doubt the most difficult thing for me to learn. As I read other authors’ books—especially those who were published with a small press or self-published—I know that the concept is not readily grasped by many writers.
So what is POV as most authors refer to this? When I was told, years ago, by my critique group that my POV was all over the place I had no idea what they meant. I knew what having a point-of-view meant, but not what they meant by POV.
Recently, I was on a panel about POV with other authors and it didn’t take long to realize we all didn’t have the same idea what it meant when it came to writing our books.
Of course there’s the Omniscient POV which is coming from someone who knows all. (Simplistic explanation, but this is the way many if not all of the old classics were written.)
First person POV is probably the easiest to write as the whole story is told by the “I” person who is experiencing everything. This person only knows what he or she sees, hears, experiences, feels, tastes, etc. (Nowadays, some authors are using more than one first person POV. Tricky and not recommended unless you really know what you are doing.)
Third person close is what I like to write. This is almost the same as first person except that it’s coming from the “he” or “she” character. In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, I write strictly from Tempe’s POV. The story is told as she experiences it. This means I don’t jump into anyone else’s POV—the reader will only know what she knows.
If I did decide to tell something from another person’s POV, I would start a different chapter and immediately write something that would alert the reader that the next part was from another person’s POV. I could do the same thing with a scene break (a space) but I don’t choose to do that in this particular series. A for instance, in Invisible Path the first chapter is from another character’s POV which gives the reader a little insight into what happens later.
In my Rocky Bluff P.D. series I used multiple viewpoints but always with a scene break to let the reader know what is going on. When doing this, it is important that you always let the reader know whose head the story is coming from.
Why I don’t like head-hopping (jumping from one character’s POV to another) is I think it makes the story choppy. What a writer needs to remember is that whoever the POV character
is, he or she can’t know what another character is thinking. Of course she can tell is someone is getting angry by if she sees the other person’s face has turned bring red, he’s clenching his fists, etc.
Having said all that, recently I read two extremely exciting books where the POV jumped all over the place. As a writer, it drove me crazy—however, I kept right on reading because the stories were so clever and kept me turning the pages.
To help me, when I’m writing, I climb right inside my POV character and see what’s going on through her (or his) eyes. Everything that happens has to be something she’s experiencing—and the narrative is what she’s thinking.
Marilyn Meredithis the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Bears With Us from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel is Angel Lost, the third from Oak Tree Press. She was an instructor for Writers Digest School for 10 years and has been an instructor for numerous writing conferences including the Maui Writers Retreat. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Central Coast chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://www.marilymeredith.blogspot.com
Bears With Us Description: Deputy Tempe Crabtree has her hands full when bears turn up in and around Bear Creek, a young teen commits suicide and his parents’ actions are suspicious, a prominent woman files a complaint against Tempe and her preacher husband Hutch, a love affair from long ago comes to light, and a woman suffering from dementia disappears.
Thank you, Marilyn. Folks, stop by tomorrow for another great blog by another wonderful author. And don’t forget to comment to enter the contest to win one of Marilyn’s books.
November 28, 2011
Mystery We Write 2011 Winter Blog Tour Presents Mike Orenduff
Buy Link for the latest book: http://tiny.cc/hkps0
The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier are published by Oak Tress Press and are available as paperbacks in many Barnes & Nobles, Hastings, and Independent bookstores and as ebooks on Kindle and Nook readers.
“Hubert Shuze, pot thief extraordinaire, operates an ancient pottery resale shop, not entirely legally, in the middle of Albuquerque’s town square. His activities, both in the selling and creating of ancient pots and their knock-offs, tend to get him mixed up in an assortment of marginally ethical activities, murder generally being the most profound. Shuze operates by a complex set of ethics that allows him to sell questionably legal pots, burglarize, and launder money — but never to lie, cheat or steal. Along the way, Shuze, a perpetual student of life, educates us on his philosopher du jour. His previous novels featured the philosophies of Pythagoras, Ptolemy and Einstein. “The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier” is a quirky repast of piñon-infused chimeneas, New Mexican sunsets, and a delightful band of foodie misfits. It is best enjoyed in the fading glow of a Southwestern sunset, a fire crackling beside you, a faithful dog at your feet.” The El Paso Times
Mike Orenduff grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico. He came by his love of pueblo pottery during weekends, buying small pots from the pueblos his family visited and – in one case – acquiring one when his sister traded chocolate chip cookies for it. His love of pottery expanded to a general interest in archaeology which he studied as an undergraduate.
While in graduate school at the University of New Mexico, Mike worked during the summer as a volunteer teacher at one of the nearby pueblos. He went on to serve as President of New Mexico State University and as a visiting faculty member at West Point and President of Bermuda College. After retiring from higher education, he rekindled his love of the Southwest by writing his award-winning Pot Thief murder mysteries which combine archaeology and philosophy with humor and mystery. Among his many awards are the New Mexico Book of the Year, the “Lefty” national award for best humorous mystery and two “Eppies” for the best eBook mysteries.
His first book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, was described by The Baltimore Sun as, “funny at a very high intellectual level and deliciously delightful,” and his latest, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier, was called “the perfect fusion of murder, mayhem and margaritas” by The El Paso Times.
The hardest thing I had to learn about putting a publishable manuscript together was actually something I had to unlearn. I had written scores of articles for scholarly journals over the
course of my career as a professor. When I tried to write fiction, my background as an academic got in the way.
Another academic who wrote murder mysteries was Robert Parker. He had a Pd.D. in English, but he learned how to write in such a way that it didn’t show. His first book, The Private Eye in Hammett and Chandler, was his doctoral dissertation, pruned – in his words – “of the more egregious academic excesses.” He goes on to say of the work that, “it stands before you still a
bit unseemly in its scholarly circumlocution, with excessive demonstration, and insufficient insight.”
I know exactly what he means. Despite my efforts to overcome my academic background, my first drafts still contain the odd circumlocution here and there.
Only 200 copies of The Private Eye in Hammett and Chandler were printed, and I’m lucky to be the owner of a signed copy. Parker’s Spencer series sold a lot better than his re-written dissertation. And a lot better than my Pot Thief series, alas. However, I’ve published more scholarly articles than he did. Can you see the jealousy dripping from my words?
Here is an example of a circumlocution from one of my articles on the English ethicist, G. E. Moore: “Instead, the quoted passage is Moore’s explanation of what has been called ‘imaginative
isolation’, the process whereby we can presumably determine whether something, X, is identical with goodness by considering what is actually before our minds when we focus first on X and then on goodness.”
Try working that into a murder mystery!
And, to demonstrate that I have, on occasion, overcome this handicap, I will end with a passage from my latest book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier:
“It’s the restaurant syndrome, Hubie.”
“Restaurant syndrome? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Maybe you know it by its original name, le syndrome de restaurant.”
I groaned. “Please, no more French words and phrases.”
“But that’s it. That’s the syndrome. You start working in a restaurant, and you have to learn all those French terms. It begins to affect your thinking, like the twins thing.”
“The twins thing?”
“Yeah. You know, like how twins have this special language that makes it easy for them to communicate with each other, but it messes them up when they try to deal with normal people.
Restaurant workers are like that. We may start out normal, but after you begin using words like prix fixe, hors-d’œuvres, à la carte, escargots, and raison d’être, you get a little crazy.”
“I think it’s a raisin soufflé.”
“No. I think the phrase for a raisin soufflé is au courant,” I said.
“Anyway,” she continued, “it affects your judgment, and pretty soon you’re doing crazy things like actually eating snails because you think of them as escargots and don’t realize they’re just slimy snails.”
Folks, thank you for stopping by, please don’t forget to comment so you can win one of Mike’s books! Come back tomorrow for another great author!
November 27, 2011
Mystery We Write 2011 Fall Tour Presents Jinx Schwartz
Raised in the jungles of Haiti and Thailand, with returns to Texas in-between, Jinx followed her father’s steel-toed footsteps into the Construction and Engineering industry in hopes of building dams. Finding all the good rivers taken, she traveled the world defacing other landscapes with mega-projects in Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Like the protagonist in her mystery series, Hetta Coffey, Jinx was a woman with a yacht—and she wasn’t afraid to use it—when she met her husband, Mad Dog Schwartz. They opted to become cash-poor cruisers rather than continue chasing the rat, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, turned left, and headed for Mexico. They now divide their time between Arizona and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.
Jinx’s seventh book in her award-winning series, Just Deserts: Book Four of the Hetta Coffey mystery series, was recently released. Her other books include a YA fictography of her childhood in Haiti (Land of Mountains), an adventure in the Sea of Cortez (Troubled Sea) and an epic novel of the 30 years leading to the fall of the Alamo (The Texicans).
Jinx Schwartz: Accidental author
I did not set out to be a writer. Not once, even though I have been an avid reader my entire life, did it occur to me to write a book until I found myself afloat with no television, no job, no phone, nada. . Over twenty years ago, my new hubby and I decided to take our boat from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on a three-month voyage. Much like the crew of the Minnow, we never returned. No, we were not shipwrecked, we just decided we liked Mexico and since all we owned was the boat, we would opt out for awhile. It turned out to be a very long while.
During the summers, when the Sea of Cortez is hotter than the hinges of Hell, we returned to Texas, my native state. Okay, so it wasn’t any cooler there, but we have fantastic air conditioning.
As a ninth-generation Texan, I knew some of the family history, but that first summer back home I spent many hours in frigid libraries, putting faces to that boring genealogy chart. Of course, I
had to make up my own faces, as many were around before photography and not rich enough for portraits. Why, oh why, hadn’t someone, when I was slogging through those same History books back in school, tell me these people were my relatives?
I made my own charts, wrote small stories about each of these people with information gleaned from Texana sections all over the state, and finally focused on one couple I found especially interesting. Next thing I knew, I had written The Texicans. Actually it took three years of research and another year of writing and rewriting and editing before I had to pull on my
big girl panties and search for a publisher. Like that was going to happen.
With spectacular naiveté, I sent a copy of the manuscript, unsolicited, to Elmer Kelton, the premier Texas writer, and since God protects fools, he actually answered and gave me great advice. (SHOW, DON’T TELL, being the best.) Still unable to find a publisher for my GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, I dug into the coffers and self-published The Texicans. In hard cover. I do not recommend this.
Again, someone was watching over my shoulder. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Books in Motion picked it up as an audio book, which they rented out at truck stops all over the U.S.. I was written up in Trucker Digest!
Finally, I found an Indie publisher for the paperback. Since 2002, I have published six more books with the same publisher. Most are in audio and print, and all are in some e-book format.
What was the hardest thing to learn about writing?
Oh, that’s easy: SHOW DON’T TELL
Have I learned it well? Maybe. Switching to first person narrative certainly helped, even
though my characters TELL a story from their viewpoint. I don’t know how anyone can not SHOW when writing in first person. The reader can only know what this character knows, because only that character is allowed to think. The thinker can speculate, surmise, guess, and deduce, all the while moving the story forward, or even backward, but keeping the reader in the
The other thing I love about first person writing is the ability of a character to address the reader directly. The most famous example of this is Charlotte Bronte’s famous line from Jane Eyre: “Reader, I married him.” Love it.
Another learned skill (and there are so many) is stomping on as many past tense and passive verbs (hads, coulds, shoulds, woulds and bes) as possible. Nothing drags down a paragraph like
too many hads. Once a writer establishes that something happened in the past, no sense in beating the hads to death, is there. I’ve seen paragraphs with as many as eight hads in it. This one has four; are you ready to stomp them?
And last, but by no means least, I’ve learned there is no such thing as too many edits. Eventually I have to let my precious work go, but it drives a stake into my heart when I realize a blooper sneaked though all those many editors, and my obsessive proofing. So now, before I send this out, I will proof it ad nauseam.
The first person to detect my boo-boo today, and comment on it, wins a copy of Just Add Water, first in my award-winning Hetta Coffey Mystery series.
Jinx, thank you for this great blog today! And folks, don’t forget to comment so you can win a copy of one of her books! Cheers, see you tomorrow with another great author!
November 26, 2011
Mystery We Write 2011 Winter Tour presents Earl Staggs
Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre.
He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com
Beth asked about the hardest part of writing a book. My first response is that every single thing
about writing a book is hard. After a lot of thought, I singled out what I think is the absolutely hardest part.
Prospective readers may pick up your book, read a page or two, maybe less, and if that sampling doesn’t grab them in a tight grip, they’ll put yours back on the shelf and pick up someone else’s. You could have the best second and third chapters ever written, but no one is going to read them if your first chapter doesn’t pull them in and make them want to read more.
Getting that first chapter right may be harder and require more time and effort than writing the
entire rest of the book. The rest of the book must be good, too, of course, but it may as well be your shopping list if the first chapter doesn’t do its job.
I still have the drafts of at least a dozen attempts at a first chapter for my novel, MEMORY OF A
MURDER. My level of frustration went through the roof when I realized not one of them was good enough. It was time to take another approach.
I stopped writing and made a list — yes, a shopping list, if you will — of what I wanted to put in the first chapter so that readers would want to read the rest of the book.
Here’s the list:
. . .introduce the protagonist, Adam Kingston, so that readers will like him and want to spent
time with him.
. . .explain Adam’s special gift in an such a way that readers are intrigued.
. . .give some of Adam’s history so readers can relate to him and understand why he’s a widower devoted to his wife’s memory — perhaps more than he should be.
. . .describe where Adam lives, why it is special to him, and make readers want to visit there.
. . .foreshadow something sinister and mysterious about to happen.
When I finished the list, I looked it over and said, “Wow! That’s a lot!” It was a lot, but I knew if I could pull it off, my novel would be off to a good start. So. I started writing the opening lines of the first chapter, and here’s what I came up with:
“Adam Kingston! Get your skinny butt out of that bed.” Her voice cut through his sleep and made him cringe. He pulled his face out of his pillow, forced one eye open, and turned his head far enough for a squinting glance around. Yes. He was in his own bedroom.
And then I wrote. . . .
Wait. Here’s a better idea. Go over to http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com where you’ll find the entire first chapter of MEMORY OF A MURDER. After you’ve read it, come on back and tell me if you think I accomplished what I wanted to do or if I put together just another shopping list.
While you’re over there, you can also read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” which some say is the funniest story I’ve ever written. There’s also one called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with Roy Rogers. Also while you’re there, please leave a comment and sign up for the drawing on December 9. The first name drawn from those who comment will receive a print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER. The second name drawn will have a choice of an e-book or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.
Thank you, Beth, for letting me come by and talk about my favorite topic – writing.
Thanks, Earl, for a great idea, one I never thought of myself. Folks, make that list! And come back tomorrow for another great blog from another great author!