Archive for the ‘The Writing World’ Category

December 6, 2011

Mystery We Write Winter 2011 Blog Tour Presents John M. Daniel

John M. Daniel was born in Minnesota, raised in Texas, and educated in Massachusetts and California. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University and a Writer in Residence at Wilbur Hot Springs. He has taught fiction writing at UCLA Extension and Santa Barbara Adult Education and was on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for nearly twenty years.  He now teaches creative writing for Humboldt State University Extended Education.
John’s stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines. His thirteen published books include four mysteries: Play Melancholy Baby, The Poet’s Funeral, Vanity Fire, and Behind the Redwood Door, recently published by Oak Tree Press.
John has worked as a bookseller, a free-lance writer, an editor, an entertainer, a model, an innkeeper, and a teacher. He and his wife, Susan, live in Humboldt County, California, where they are small-press book publishers. Susan enjoys gardening, John enjoys writing, and they both enjoy living with their wondercat, Warren.
Behind the Redwood Door is sold by Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It can be ordered by your local independent bookseller, or bought directly from the publisher at  For an autographed copy, call John at 1-800-662-8351.


Beth’s challenge to write about difficulties with the writing process gave me pause. I always preach the joy of writing: yes it’s work, but it’s a high, a pleasure, its own reward, the thing
we writers must do, because it sorts our universe and gives wings to our souls.

Well, writing is all that. If it weren’t a thing of joy, I wouldn’t do it. But it’s hard work, and sometimes it’s difficult and thorny. (I imagine the same could be said of other people’s hobbies, like golf or gardening.)

Once I got over the foolish notion that I wasn’t a good writer, things got easier. What did it matter if I was “good,” so long as I was having fun? Besides I was getting published, so there. I was mainly a short story writer back then, and stories are relatively easy to keep track of, even if they’re not always easy to write.

But novels, as fun as they are, have some built-in traps, and I fell right in a couple of times. I was writing a novel I thought would be my gateway to fame, a musical sex comedy called Hot Springs Eternal, set in a clothing-optional hot springs resort in 1980. The novel was told from about
fifteen different points of view, male and female, young and old, and it braided a dozen plot lines that kept intersecting and intertwining. I’m still proud of my first draft, but the first draft is as far as I got with the novel.

The problem was the dates. I read and reread that draft and discovered to my chagrin that events that were the consequence of certain changes and choices actually occurred before the changes and choices happened; and some of the characters were born too long ago in back story to still be the ages they were in the front story; and characters kept getting surprised by things they already knew. Sometimes months had two or more full moons. And so on.

Fix it? Oh sure, just fix it.
That would mean unbraiding the whole thing, losing all the continuity and chapter arcs. It would mean starting over. Sadly, I put that novel, for which I’d gladly gotten up at 4:30 a.m. every morning for eight months, on the closet shelf. I still hear my wonderful characters crying out to me in the middle of the night: “Let us out of here! Revise! Revise!”

I never did revise that novel. I tried a couple of times to untie the Gordian Knot, and was left with shreds that I converted into a few short stories. A couple of them got published in tiny magazines.

But I learned a lesson: Whether you like to outline or like to wing it, it’s important to keep good notes and to make yourself a timeline. In chronological order, list birth dates of characters, dates of weddings and murders, dates of important full moons, and any other timely facts that might get you in trouble if you slip up.

Believe me, this timeline devise paid off when it came to writing my newest, Behind the Redwood Door. It was especially important to keep track of such details, because my novel is about a feud that was built in the past.

So the novel slips back into history three times: long interludes that take place in the late nineteenth century and in the early 1980s. I think the historical segments are the most entertaining parts of the book, perhaps because I let my writing get playful and took chances with plot that paid off.

But without the timelines, those historical segments might have been hysterical instead.

So return with us now to the daring days of yesteryear…and learn why the Connollys and the Websters still hate each other in 1999. Why brothers battle to the death. Why Pete Thayer got
stabbed in the throat on Friday the Thirteenth behind the Redwood Door saloon. These are mysteries buried in the past, waiting for you to unearth them. You’ll find they’re all properly dated.

I learned that one too, with my first big book, John.  Fortunately, I learned it first but it still took me a long time to write the book.  Thanks for reminding us that your timeline can be crucial.

People, come back tomorrow and check out another great author.  Cheers and hugs to all of you,

Beth, who also reminds you to leave a comment so we can all draw names when this tour is over and maybe you’ll win one of 60 or so books!









The Writing World | 16 Comments  

December 5, 2011

Mystery We Write Winter 2011 Blog Tour Presents Alice Duncan

Award-winning author Alice Duncan lives with a herd of wild dachshunds (enriched from time to time with fosterees from New Mexico Dachshund Rescue) in Roswell, New Mexico. She’s not a
UFO enthusiast; she’s in Roswell because her mother’s family settled there fifty years before the aliens crashed. Alice no longer longs to return to California, although she still misses the food, not to mention her children, one of whom is there and the other of whom is in Nevada. Alice would love to hear from you at  And be sure to visit her
Web site at http//

The most difficult thing for me to do when I began writing actual, real live books, was to string a coherent story together that would fill 400 or so manuscript pages. Try it someday, if you don’t believe me. It’s hard! Maybe it’s easier for some folks than others, but I’m kind of a get-to-the-point kind of person, and it’s more in my nature to say something like, “William Kent was murdered on September 6, 1924, and Marilyn Phillips Kent did the dirty deed with a hatchet
in the library” than to go on for pages and pages. Heck, that doesn’t even fill up a paragraph.

Therefore, when I finally settled down to write books, after decades of rearing children and working horrible jobs (well, I was still working a horrible job, but at least my daughters were grown), it was difficult to put enough twists and turns into a plot to fill a book. I’m rather plot-challenged to begin with, so this deficiency on my part doesn’t help much.

In the first book I wrote from beginning to end, I found myself putting in chapters of history, which didn’t move the story forward one teeny bit. I’m not honestly sure what tipped the scales and allowed me to write a full-length novel, although I think writing synopses, laying out my entire plot ahead of time, helped. A lot.

Mind you, I veer from my synopses when I feel the need, but at least with a synopsis, I have the basis for a full-length story. Gotta have those plot points, you know? Recently, I added a second body for my heroine to stumble over, since I felt the book needed another murder, but I still had the basic plot written for me to follow. More or less. I mean, every now and then a character will take off on his/her own, you know? But I do try to keep them in hand. After all, it’s my name on the book. They’re my puppets, and they do what I tell them to do.

Don’t tell them I said that, okay?

I’ve had three books published this year, so I have three links to the books:

PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL (featuring Annabelle Blue and set in Roswell,
NM, in 1923):

FALLEN ANGELS (featuring Mercedes Louise Allcutt and
set in Los Angeles, CA, in 1926):

GENTEEL SPIRITS (featuring Daisy Gumm Majesty, and
set in Pasadena, CA, in 1922):

Thanks for stopping by, Alice!  Folks, come back tomorrow for another terrific author’s blog to check out and maybe win a book.  All the authors on this tour are picking people who comment on their blogs, so please comment!

Cheers, all, Beth




The Writing World | 19 Comments  

December 4, 2011

Mystery We Write Winter 2011Blog Tour Presents Wendy Gager

I Hate Final Edits!

In writing a book I love the beginning, tolerate the middle and hate the end. I’m not talking about the plots of my Mitch Malone Mystery Series but am talking about the writing process. For me I could write first drafts non-stop. This is when I am most creative and try to get the story down in as few sittings as I can. I’ve referred to these as the “throwing up” of the story. It is in
horrible shape but that is where the best twists and turns come from, when my characters take their own path instead of the one I’ve planned. Next comes the rewriting. I know this is needed because when I am most creative I kill off my best villain halfway through the book and need to find another murderer. The new clues need to be layered in from the beginning and consistent throughout. I don’t mind doing this. What I hate is going through the book to fix all the typos, bad grammar, taking out unnecessary words and fixing passive voice.

These are usually the last readings I do and I am horrible at it. By this time I am really sick of the story, think it is terrible and want to chuck the whole thing. Do you ever feel like that?

To get beyond that, my publisher gave me a great idea of how to do these final edits. Start at the end of the book and read it backwards. Look only at one sentence at a time. Look at every word. If you take it out of the sequence, you can’t get sucked back into the story and whether it is any
good or not. It is easier to just look for grammar, word choices and making it the best and tightest sentence. The bonus is when you are concentrating on the sentence, alarm bells will sound if the details don’t match up like the color of a jacket or the location of an important place.

I’m still not very good at the final edits but I am getting better.


In A CASE OF HOMETOWN BLUES crime beat reporter Mitch Malone returns to the town where he was raised to teach a seminar at the local paper. He walks in on his class reunion
mortified to be facing his schoolmates but excited when the homecoming queen expresses interest in him. She is found dead the next morning and Mitch is the prime suspect. As he wades through trying to separate his childish reactions from the adult counterparts he finds surprising allies and murderers. Can he figure out who wants to plant him next to his dead parents in the sleepy town where nothing bad ever happens?

A Case of Hometown Blues” Synopsis

When Pulitzer-winning reporter Mitch Malone’s editor presses him for a favor, Malone breaks his vow to never return to his hometown. It seemed simple enough–lead a seminar for Flatville, MI’s newspaper, keep a low profile and get back to the city post haste. But memories of his parents’ death swarm him, and, to avoid solitude, he stops for a beer. In the crowded bar, Mitch is dismayed to see many of his former classmates–including the still-lovely Homecoming Queen, Trudy. Once the object of his teenage crush, Trudy joins Mitch. He quickly realizes she is
upset and inebriated. Always the gentleman, Mitch sees her safely home, and returns to his B&B, still trying to shake memories of his parents’ sad demise. The next day, he is stunned to learn Trudy was murdered and he is the prime suspect. The locals treat the murder charge as a slam dunk, and Mitch realizes he must track down the real killer to keep his butt out of jail. As he
investigates, facts he thought he knew about his family unravel, and danger ratchets up. Can Mitch discover the truth that will allow his parents to rest in peace, or will he be resting with them?

W.S. Gager has lived in Michigan for most of her life except when she was interviewing race car drivers or professional woman’s golfers. She enjoyed the fast-paced life of a newspaper reporter until deciding to settle down and realized babies didn’t adapt well to running down story details on deadline. Since then she honed her skills on other forms of writing before deciding to do what she always wanted with her life and that was to write mystery novels. Her main character is Mitch Malone who is an edgy crime-beat reporter always on the hunt for the next Pulitzer and won’t let anyone stop him, supposedly.

Wendy, thank you!  Come back tomorrow, folks, for another great author’s blog, and don’t forget to comment here for a chance to win one of Wendy’s books!

Cheers, All,  Beth



The Writing World | 14 Comments  

December 3, 2011

Mystery We Write Winter Blog Tour 2011 Presents M M Gornell

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell has three published mystery novels—PSWA awarding winning Uncle Si’s Secret (2008), Death of a Perfect Man (2009), and her latest release, Reticence of Ravens (2010)her first Route 66 mystery. Reticence of Ravens is a 2011 Eric Hoffer Fiction finalist and Honorary Mention winner, the da Vinci Eye finalist, and a Montaigne Medalist finalist.

She continues to be inspired by historic Route 66, and has recently completed Lies of Convenience, which hopefully will have a 2011 winter release date. It is a tale that fictionally connects murder, truths untold, and Chicago’s Lake Michigan with California’s high desert on the opposite end of The Mother Road. Madeline is also a potter with a fondness for stoneware and reduction firing. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the Mojave in a town on internationally revered Route 66.

Thank you, Beth, for hosting me on your blog! I’m pleased to be here.

I think the topic you’ve asked about is an important one, and interesting to think about. For me, putting my first publishable manuscript together was sort of like learning how to swim (way back when)—where you learn all the bits-and-pieces, arm strokes, kicks, breathing, etc.—then one day all those parts somehow become one fluid act.

There were so many individual bits-and-pieces that had to come together before I was publishable. But luckily, two definitive things came about that brought it all together. Even
though I thought I knew how to write, and already had short stories published, I decided to take an online writing class from Mike Foley, author/instructor.

He helped me in so many ways—storytelling mechanics and POV in particular. Those classes were the smartest thing I ever did! During the same time period, the “gods smiled,” and I became friends with a wonderful agent and editor, Kitty Kladstrup—who has taught me so much via editing. What I didn’t know about punctuation—and I certainly should have at this point in my writing career—was amazing. I still break rules, but usually it’s on purpose, and I know why I’m doing it.

Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure, because every author is different, every approach individual. I guess Listen is the key word, then decide if it’s something that will help you.

And most important, I keep learning with each book, with each edit, with each rewrite. Which as an aside, I now love to rewrite. It’s the part of the process where my ideas become a novel. Indeed, my author’s learning journey has become a wonderful thing!

Beth, it’s been fun posting on your Blog, thanks for the visit and your thoughtful questions!

Thank you, Madeline!  Folks, come back tomorrow to see another fantastic author, and don’t forget to leave a comment so you’ll be in the running to win a book!

Cheers, All, Betj

The Writing World | 13 Comments  

December 2, 2011

Mystery We Write Winter 2011 Blog Tour Presents Tim Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of the traditionally-published Poke Rafferty series of Bangkok thrillers, the most recent of which is The Queen of Patpong, and the Junior Bender Los Angeles mysteries, which are e-book originals. The most recent Junior Bender adventure is Little Elvises. Earlier this year Hallinan conceived and edited an e-book of
original short stories by twenty top-ranked mystery writers, Shaken: Stories for Japan, which is available from Amazon for $3.99. He lives in Santa Monica and Southeast Asia and is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy.  His website is , and
the largest area of it is devoted to helping writers finish their first novel.


Not for Attribution by Tim Hallinan

When I started to write, my learning curve was almost vertical.

I made every beginner’s mistake. I began the books with long prologues, usually in italics, to make them even harder to read. I “enhanced” my verbs with adverbs, so that we’d know not only that Joanne gasped the line, “It was you,” but that she gasped it raggedly. I got fancy-schmancy with my prose, so that “It was the kind of hot that makes you doubt summer will ever end” became “The heat radiated from the road in liquid ripples, scoured the sky a pale and bleached blue, and gathered in the corners of the day, waiting to ambush the unwary.”

You get it.

But the big one was attribution. I couldn’t get comfortable with it. “He said” and “she said” felt like a ping-pong game. More active verbs to replace “said” seemed to call attention to themselves and actually pull the reader from the story.

“I’m not going,” Joanne snapped.

“Oh, yes, you are,” Dwight insisted. “This was your idea.”

“It was not,” Joanne demurred.

“You’re going,” Dwight commanded.

See? It’s awful. Those verbs speckle the page like someonesneezed on it.

Finally, reading something, I realized I’d just seen an attribution with no attributing verb at all. I don’t remember what it was, but it could have been something like, “Joanne turned her back on Dwight and looked out the window. “You’ve never understood.”

And then a paragraph break. Hooooooooooo. You could show a character doing something and then give him/her a line or even a whole speech, and everybody would know who was talking. This is especially useful for scenes in which there are three or more characters, so you’re not continually reciting names—and you’re advancing the scene at the same time.

I know, I know—this is as fundamental as breathing out after breathing in, but to me it was a revelation. No Joanne-Dwight-Howard rotating through the scene, no attribution verbs adding uselessly to the word count.  (When tightening, I always cut the useless words first, so why put them in?) It solved, if not everything, quite a lot.

And another thing: it forced me to visualize what my characters were doing. That, in turn, forced me to imagine them a little more deeply and ask myself how I might show them as individuals by something as simple as the way they played a hand of cards. I could get rid of all those verbs and clarify my characters at the same time.

Oh, and one more thing: I gradually junked all attributing verbs except “said.” My characters no longer gasp, whimper, aver, claim, or snivel. The exception is when a different word is actually needed. If I have two characters tied together on a conveyor belt being carried inexorably into
the ravening maw of a machine that’s presently tearing a Chevrolet to shreds, I might write the line, “’I love you,’ he shouted.”

But it would take something like that.

Thanks, folks, for stopping by.  Be sure and leave a comment and come back tomorrow for another of fourteen extremely talented writers and what they have to say about writing.

The Writing World | 17 Comments  







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