Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crime In Genres

by guest blogger Angela Verdenius

Crime in books is so varied. It can be savage, shocking, run-of-the-mill, or even…yes, people, it can be funny.  You don’t believe me?  Try reading a Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich and tell me that some of the crimes aren’t funny.  I’ve literally sat in bed with tears running down my face, roaring with laughter.

It used to be that if you wanted a story on crime, you went out and bought a crime novel.  It featured cops and robbers and killers, was a chiller or thriller, and basically was a crime novel.

Not so much now.

You can have crime and romance (romance suspense), crime and the supernatural (urban fantasy), crime and futuristic romance (think J D Robb), crime and horror (slasher), forensic thrillers (Kathy Reich), light crime (mysteries), and even crime in kids’ books.  Come to think of it, crime in kids’ books has been around a long time - think Famous Five by Enid Blyton.  All those kidnappings and robbers…

Crime ranges from the light to the murderous, it all depends what takes your fancy in the reading world.  My own taste at the time depends on the mood I’m in - my reading tastes range across almost everything.

The newest thing to break out in the crime/romance is the terrorism/FBI/SEALS/Elite Forces/Special Ops etc.  Something about a man in uniform fighting against the odds that just tickles our romantic souls.

But then again, I’m also a sucker for a hot cop romance .  (Okay, let’s not go into my particular fantasies…not the kind of blog for that!)

Over time, as real crime gets more shocking and varied, so the story-lines of books follow.  It’s interesting to see how the growth of terrorism and computer hacking is evolving in the crime novels.  Life leading reading matter. 

I write futuristic romances, and a little horror (and just released my first contemporary romance), but I suddenly realised, while thinking about this blog the other day, that I have a lot of crime in my futuristic romances.  Thieves, lawmen, outlaws, bounty hunters, space pirates, murder, kidnapping, traitors, espionage, fights, war, pretty much everything.  I never thought about it before, I didn’t even attempt to write ‘crime’ into my novels, they were a part of the story linking the storyline and characters, but suddenly I thought…hey, there’s crime in my books! 

So I wonder if the authors writing romance suspense ever think of it as that they’re actually writing crime and romance?  Do they set out with that mind-set?  I wonder.  I know I certainly didn’t! 

And where do we draw the line between a straight crime novel, and crime with mostly romance (or horror or other genre).  Okay, I sort of know the answer to that, LOL, I’m just tossing that question into the ring to stir things up a bit!  (I’m trying to sound intelligent here, people, work with me!)

But what attracts us to the crime?  Is it the thinking, trying to figure out the criminal, or we’re lusting after the hero (if it’s a romance)?  Or we like the technology, or the supernatural slant?  The meshing of relationships in the characters involved?  Or are we all just a little gory-liking deep down?  For me, it adds that unknown affect in the book, the impact on characters and relationships, how it affects their outlook on life, on the crime, the impact on their life and where it leaves them in the end.

And because I can close the book and know that it’s all in the writer’s imagination and I’m safe.  Really.  Because it’s just a book, right?

I think I’ll just go and check that the door is locked….

Angela Verdenius lives in Australia where she is ruled by her cats, adores reading, and thinks a perfect day is writing and drinking Diet Coke. Her latest book is Doctor's Delight, a contemporary romance featuring a plus-size heroine. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Multiple Personalities

By guest blogger Sheila Connolly

When I first started writing, I never considered writing a series. I started with one book, and then discovered that I couldn't let the characters go, so I kept writing. And writing. After four and a half books, when none had sold, I laid them quietly on the shelf. And kept writing, except about other people.

Now I find myself in the enviable and overwhelming position of writing more than one series at a time. Of course, it didn't happen all at once—it just kinda grew. The book that eventually led to the Orchard Mystery series was supposed to be a standalone, but Berkley Prime Crime liked it, and I've now written six of them (which bear little resemblance to that original standalone concept). Actually the setting came first—an old house in a small New England town—and the people kept showing up, one or two at a time. It's kind of like settlers moving into a village. The place is based on a real town and a real house. I've never lived there, but generations of my ancestors did, and I feel weirdly at home there.

My second series is nothing like the first—intentionally. I sometimes wonder if many writers harbor split personalities. I think I do, because both series reflect sides of me, but they're not exactly related. I've never been a farmer, but the Museum Mystery series is set in the cultural community of Philadelphia, where I worked for several years. It's urban—definitely not a small town, unless you count the population of museum professionals as their own tribe. Meg in the Orchard series struggles to manage an orchard; Nell in the Museum series struggles to raise money for the historic institution she runs. And both keep tripping over bodies. Makes you wonder if anywhere is safe these days!

The Orchard series seems to tap into a vein of American nostalgia—wherever you were raised, you probably still have this image in the back of your mind of a small town with a central green dominated by a tall-steepled church, with blazing red, orange and yellow trees on the hills behind. It's all new to Meg, but she's finding that she likes it. On the other hand, a city—any city—has its own kind of energy. Things happen just because there's so much energy there, and so many people. Nell may retreat to her home in the suburbs to recharge her batteries, but she loves working in the midst of so much history.

And if that's not confusing enough, earlier this year I contracted to write yet another series (don't ask me if they'll all run at the same time!), this time set in Ireland. For once my protagonist is not an educated professional woman; instead, she's a young blue-collar woman raised by an Irish grandmother. She's definitely not into nostalgia for the Ould Country, because she's seen too many down-and-out Irish immigrants pass through her life. But it shouldn't be a surprise that she changes her mind when she gets to Ireland: it's not what she expected.

And that's another piece of me—my father's parents were both Irish-born, although I never knew them. I didn't travel to Ireland until I was in my forties, but as soon as I arrived it felt like home. In writing about it, I want to get past the tacky leprechauns and paper shamrocks and find out what a different country is really like under the surface.

Now the challenge will be to keep all these people straight in my head: the reluctant farmer, the committed professional, and the skeptical barmaid. And don't forget, I have to throw in a body or two.
After exploring careers ranging from art historian to investment banker to professional genealogist, Sheila Connolly began writing mysteries in 2001, and is now a full-time writer. She writes the Orchard Mystery series, the most recent of which is Bitter Harvest (August 2011), and the Museum Mystery series, based in Philadelphia; the second book, Let's Play Dead, will be published next week. Her first e-story, Called Home, is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble this week.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Don't Mind The Corpse

by guest blogger A.J. Maguire (Aimee Dyer)

Main character – check

Love interest – check

Antagonist – check

Supporting cast members – check, check and check

Tally up the point of view (POV) characters – 5

This goes against the 4 POV limit, but we’ll live.  Or most of us will live.  By the time I write the fourth chapter, I already know how one character eats it in the end.  So, technically, I’m dealing with four characters and a walking corpse.

Keep writing.

Discover that the walking corpse actually resembles a walking corpse on the page.  He’s as dead as a red-shirted Star Trek character.  There’s no life to him, no color and no reason for us to care about his death.


Try to force personality into the corpse, but find that the doomed character refuses to cooperate.  By heaven, he’ll be heard on his terms and not mine!

Take a week off.

Get back to work, pushing forward with the rough draft, and try to ignore the scent of decay coming from the corpse in the corner.  (I might try spraying some Febreeze on him, but at this point he’s taken to plucking his toes off like some gruesome rendition of; “She loves me, she loves me not.”  Which I find highly disturbing, so I just try to pretend he’s not there.)

Nearing the end of the draft, Point of View character number 3 gets hit by a flying ax.  Instantly dead, this character’s abrupt transition into the Netherworld is tragically beautiful.  The lack of his voice on the page is so startling that I can’t write for the rest of the night.

The corpse in the corner increases in stench exponentially.  I find him playing dice with his rotten toes, smirking at me as though to say; “So why did that character matter so much more than me?”

I toss and turn in fitful sleep that night, my corpulent character looming at the foot of the bed.  He’s getting impatient now and I can sense it.  I’ve finally reached his death scene, but find that the whole thing reeks of a setup.


Beat my head on my desk a few times.  Complain to my cat, who purrs and assumes that I want to drag a ball of yarn around for him.  I don’t, but I do anyway, all the while glaring at the computer screen from across the living room.

Complain to friend, who has come to the point in our relationship where she just smiles and nods, hoping I won’t ask a question at the end of my crazy rant because there’s no way she understands it.  And she’s lucky, because I already know the problem with my much-adored work in progress.  The truth is, I’ve known it since chapter four, when I spied the death of this character.

I didn’t care about the walking corpse because I knew the end of his story.  I never explored his personality, his tastes.  I never saw the way he lingered in the library, staring at the books with a longing that’s all too familiar to me.  He was dead before he got to live on the page. 

A.J. Maguire is a proud veteran and mother. Her first book, Sedition, was released by Wings ePress in January 2011. Her second book, Witch-Born, is scheduled for release by Double Dragon Publishing. When she's not reading or writing, she's hunting for a mountain to climb. Given her history in the military, A.J. Maguire has a soft spot for soldiers and uses them a lot in her work.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Virtual Dinner Party : Who will you bring?

by C.L. Phillips

Let's do something different today.  I'd love to learn about one of your writing projects.  Doesn't have to be complete. Maybe it's your work-in-progress, or the pile of pages you are editing for the fourth time, or the novel you have out for query.

What I want to do is meet one of your main characters.  Give me a cute introduction, something that tickles my fancy and makes me want to get to know your hero.

I'll start by way of example.  Then you chime in with your comment.  Think of it as a virtual dinner party, but instead of introducing ourselves, we are introducing one of our characters.  Pick anyone you like, even your villain.  But no fair telling us whether the character is the hero or villain.  Make us guess.

And to make it even more of a challenge, try to make your introduction tweetable (that's a 140 characters for you non-twitter types).  Don't worry if you can't, I just thought it would be an interesting twist.  And here at Working Stiffs, we are all about the twists, right?

Jimmy Ray Hawkens.  Austin lawyer.  Trapped between duty and love. Divorced three times.  Never fails to save a client.  Only drinks when he must.

Now it's your turn! :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Foreign Culture

by guest blogger Patricia Winton

Writing from Italy for an American audience creates many challenges. I want my work to present stories that couldn’t happen anywhere else. And I aim at showcasing Italian culture that visitors on vacation for a few days or even weeks might not see.

To establish the setting, the first thing I do is drop in Italian words or phrases. When I first began writing from this vantage point, I translated or paraphrased, following a tip from the first “how to” book I read. For example, a character might tell the waiter, “Pasta e fagioli, per favore.” Later, the waiter would deliver his pasta and beans. When I read these passages now, I cringe because their leadenness slows the pace.  Fortunately, I didn’t submit much before I abandoned this approach. Now I drop in phrases familiar to Americans or which have spelling or pronunciation similar to the English counterpart.

My American protagonist has an Italian mother who left Italy for America forty years ago. Caroline learned Italian from her mother, but it’s a bit out of date. In my story “Feeding Frenzy” from Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology, she overhears something that she understands on the surface, but not the idiom it represents. That phrase becomes the key to solving the murder. When she finally learns the idiomatic meaning, she can identify the murderer. I hope that having Caroline occasionally misunderstand creates a bond with the reader.

I also try to draw a picture of Italian daily life and habits. The bar is integral to the Italian way of life. It’s rather like the post office in my home town where everybody stops to talk with their neighbors when they go to pick up the post. In Italy people gravitate to the bar for a cup of espresso or cappuccino in the morning, maybe a glass of fruit juice in the afternoon. Here you’ll hear arguments or last night’s soccer match or gossip about the latest political scandal. And it’s a family affair. Grandparents take their grandchildren to the bar for ice cream.

Other things have no counterpart. For example, Italians frequently identify a woman with the article La followed by her surname. Meryl Streep is often called La Streep by the newspapers. In my WIP, two brothers meet for coffee. One, a police commissioner, refers to the murder victim as La Davidoni. His brother is attracted to Caroline the protag. Later, the police commissioner warns his brother to steer clear of La Whitlock. I want to show that this cultural habit is not disrespectful. It’s quite the opposite.

The biggest challenge is trying to find a balance that showcases the culture for a foreign audience without sounding simplistic to the conoscenti. An Italian friend who grew up in the U.S. and knows both cultures thinks I achieve that with my blog ( I hope I’m doing that with the novel.

Patricia Winton has lived in Italy for about 12 years, the last nine in Rome. A former food writer, she has combined her passion for Italy, mysteries, and food to create a cast of characters and plot lines that derive from the Italian setting. Her first published work using these elements is “Feeding Frenzy” in Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press, 2011). She has two novels in the works.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Prevailing Themes

by guest blogger Bill Cameron
Not long ago, I had a revelation. It was the sort of thing you'd think I would have figured out already, but an excess of brainpower is not something I'm blessed with. Takes me a long time to noodle through things. In this case, it took me four books and who knows how many short stories to recognize there's a prevailing theme in my writing.

Wait. What?

The first surprise is that there IS a prevailing theme. I honestly had no idea. Oh, I've had, "This story is about …" moments. Lost Dog was about (gasp) loss. Chasing Smoke was about confronting mortality. Day One dealt with the need for security. And County Line is about how a single choice can resonate throughout a lifetime.

Fancy, high-falutin' stuff. But only peripherally interesting. No one reads a story because you say, "It's about loss." 

For me, the recognition of each book's individual themes served as a touchstone during revision—does this scene/character/line of dialog fit what I'm trying to do here? Once I've sorted through those kinds of questions, broad observations about "theme" don't have much significance.

But this prevailing theme notion? Maybe that's something worth a second look.

So what's my thing? Turns out all my books and the majority of my short stories are about how parental neglect and abuse shape children into the adults they become. Each story is a different take on this issue. Sometimes I focus on how damaged children become damaged adults, sometimes my interest is in how they survive to become whole. But if one thing shows up again and again in my work, it's really crappy parents.

That's fairly specific. It's not "loss" or "mortality" or some other cruising altitude observation which can apply to a multitude of tales. Rather, it's a window into what preys on my mind. It's a problem I struggle to understand, perhaps even to solve. 

Of course, the issue is likely beyond resolution. But that's another matter altogether.

You might ask how a guy gets to be nearly 48 years old before he figures out what's important to him. It's not that I haven't long understood childhood abuse is important to me. In other contexts, this problem has been a priority for me for most of my life. 

It's one thing to have a priority in one area of your life and another thing to see how it influences another. Like I said, I can be slow on the uptake, and my approach to writing is so focused on the moment that I don't often see the bigger picture until later.

Those general themes—loss, confronting mortality, etc.—are rarely clear to me when I'm drafting a story. I didn't know the theme of Lost Dog until the third draft, and I had to complete at least one draft of the other three books before I had a handle on what I was attempting. When I consider that, it makes sense that I needed a body of work under my belt before I could see what I'm up to in my writing.

Now that I know this, what next?

Well, if nothing else, I hope the realization helps make me a better writer. Will I continue to explore these themes? And in so doing, with I be more mindful of the approaches I use in the future? The quick answer to both those question is yes. I'm working on a young adult mystery which I think will take a look at the domestic abuse issue in a way which is new for me. That's pretty exciting. 

But the other thing I find I'm likely to do is consciously choose to tackle other issues in future projects. Not that I believe I've said all I have to say about domestic abuse, but I'm looking for opportunities to explore new issues. If there is a lesson is in this, it's simple enough: one way to avoid a rut is to see it before you get stuck. Rut or not, understanding of where I've been helps me better choose where to go next.

Bill Cameron is the author of dark, gritty mysteries featuring Skin Kadash: County LineDay OneChasing Smoke, and Lost Dog. Bill’s short stories have appeared in Spinetingler, as well as Portland NoirFirst Thrills, and the forthcoming West Coast Crime Wave and Deadly Treats anthologies. His work been nominated for multiple awards, including the Spotted Owl Award for Best Northwest Mystery, the Left Coast Crime Rocky Award, and the 2011 CWA Short Story Dagger Award. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is currently trying to decide what his next great issue will be. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interview with Mindy Klasky, traditional author serializes book online

by C.L. Phillips

Today we've got a tasty treat - an interview with Mindy  Klasky.  Believe it or not, I discovered Mindy on Twitter.  I went to her website and read FRIGHT COURT.  She's using a novel concept (pun intended) to sell her words, and I thought you might enjoy meeting her.  Here's our interview:

1)  Fright Court - lawyers, vampires and cupcakes - What a concept.  Tell us about the story, without giving away the ending.  We love mysteries.

FRIGHT COURT combines a lot of my interests.  I started out my professional life as a lawyer, and I spent *way* too many hours in courthouses around the country.  There's something a little creepy about all those chilly marble hallways, all those quiet-as-a-tomb corridors.  I started to think about what might happen if an ordinary human woman found herself involved in some pretty extraordinary legal events.  From there, it was a short hop to developing the Eastern Empire, my collection of supernatural creatures who have their own legal system.

Of course, "murder" (of a human) wouldn't be a capital crime for a vampire.  But other things might be -- letting the human world know about the existence of supernaturals, for example.  Or creating a "blood-herd" of unwilling humans, to feed from at will (possibly drawing unwelcome attention from mundane authorities.)  Or...  well, let's just say that there's a lot of trouble vampires can cause.

Before long, my human heroine found her way into a maze of supernatural legal proceedings.  As for the cupcakes?  Well every girl needs sustenance along the way!  :-)

2)  You are doing something very innovative - you are serializing Fright Court, asking for Paypal donations and offering sweet rewards for your readers.  What encouraged you to try this idea?

I have published twelve novels through traditional channels.  Originally, I thought that FRIGHT COURT would follow the same path.  Along the way, though, I realized that traditional publishing offers pretty narrow channels -- vampires can be dark and secret and scary or vampires can be frothy and light and all about shoes and shopping.  My vampires are somewhere in between -- there are definitely dark elements to their tale, but I can't tell Manolo Blahniks from Christian Laboutins.

Therefore, I decided that I needed to provide FRIGHT COURT with a different type of home -- an online launch as an electronically published novel.  As for the serialization?  There's a very long tradition of serialized publishing -- Dickens, Melville, Highlights Magazine for Children...  I've always liked the idea of building suspense over chapters -- and so far, it looks as if my readers are enjoying it too!

3)  What has been the response from your readers?

Most modern readers aren't used to serialization.  A handful of people have complained about the delay in waiting for chapters; a number of readers have asked if I'll be publishing the entire novel as an ebook when I'm done.  (The answer is ... probably.  I'm taking one project at a time, for now.)  

Most readers, though, have really enjoyed the new format.  A number have made donations to support the project, in part because they get a weekly email, reminding them that a new chapter has been posted.

4)  How has the reader response been different from your initial expectations?

I had originally expected to get a lot of reader reaction, including donations, when I posted the first chapter, and then nothing for weeks and weeks, as I continued to reveal the story.  I've been surprised -- and gratified! -- to receive a lot of ongoing support, with new donations coming in ever week.

5)  What do you know now that you wished you knew before you started the Fright Court serialized novel?

Organizing the serialization took more effort than I expected.  Due to the structure of the web pages, I can't just prepare all the posts and program them for appearance on their individual dates; I need to add links to existing pages each time a new chapter goes live.  Those links create a better reading experience, so I'm pleased to add them, but they do make for some challenging Thursday evenings!

6)  What else can we look forward to reading from you?

My next novel will be traditionally published -- a fun, light category romance called THE MOGUL'S MAYBE MARRIAGE (available August 11 from Harlequin.)  I am also working on a middle-grade traditional fantasy novel, and I have dozens of other irons in the fire.

Thank you so much for the chance to visit here at Working Stiffs!  I hope that you will check out FRIGHT COURT, and let me know what you think of the novel!

Mindy will be hanging out with us today responding to comments, so don't be shy.  Ask her anything about her books, e-publishing, or even cupcakes.  And Mindy, we at Working Stiffs thank YOU for sharing your experience and wish you the BEST.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Social Media and the Herd Mentality

By Martha Reed

Last night I watched the movie Social Media, about the advent of Facebook and the business chaos it inspired, and as I sat there watching it I kept thinking: This has a lot of application to what it happening in the publishing business today, too. I’ve repeatedly heard at conferences and workshops that what’s happening to authors today is very similar to what happened to musicians with Napster five years ago.

We’re experiencing the concept of direct content (via eBooks), we’re questioning the old business model structure and pay breakout, ie., author/agent/editor/Publishing house. I’ve seen concerns over copyright. And these are all good discussions to have, in any situation.

The question, as I gaze into my murky crystal ball, is what is an author to do?

For example: I have a completed manuscript in the pipeline. I’m following the traditional publication route, querying agents, etc. but I’m also reading everything I can get my hands on about the publishing marketplace. I get discouraged to see that agents, desperate now because of the inflow of out of work former editors who are morphing into agents seem to be following a herd mentality by only looking for YA supernatural because they think that’s where the money is post-Twilight. Maybe it is. But Sisters in Crime paid for a survey that indicated a majority of readers were women between 50-70 years old who lived in the southern states. I’m sure some of them are reading Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, but there must be room in there for other trend lines that are not YA paranormal.

What are your thoughts on the current marketplace? What publishing strategies are you choosing to follow? Inquiring Mind wants to know.

Monday, June 20, 2011


by Gina Sestak

"Open sesame."  "Presto Chango."  "Abracadabra."

We're all familiar with the power of magic words.

It seems to me, though, that every word is magical.  A squiggle on the page, a tickle on the eardrum, can convey a complex meaning.  Every word is freighted with connotations and somewhere, deep in the recesses of our subconscious mind, we've all been programmed by words.  The language we speak colors the way we see the world.

I've always been fascinated by languages.  Before I realized that I have absolutely no talent for learning them, I used to fantasize about becoming a translator.  And so I studied Latin and French in high school, more French, Spanish and Russian in college.  I tried to learn.  I really did, but it seems as if my brain has two compartments:  "English" and "Other Stuff."  So when I'd forget the Spanish word for "rain" I'd just plug in the Russian one . . .

I've tried to learn Greek and Danish before trips to Greece and Denmark.  No luck.  So why, I wonder, have I now embarked upon trying to learn an even more difficult language?

For the past several months, I've been using the Pimsleur method to study Hindi.  Pimsleur is one of those programs that promises you'll learn a language in a week.  It's been months.  Instead of covering a half-hour lesson every day, I've had to repeat every lesson for at least a week before it started to sink in.  I'm only up to No. 14 of 30, and I can't pronounce anything correctly.  NOTHING.

Hindi sounds are different from English sounds.  Worse, I have trouble hearing exactly what each sound is.  Listening to the same speaker on the same CD, it sometimes sounds as if she's saying t and sometimes d, and so I figure that it must be something in between.  Same goes for another sound that seems to be a cross between k and g.   Then there's the one that seems to be triangulated in the center of t, d, and th.  My tongue doesn't work that way!

I'm really not aiming to learn to speak Hindi, though.  I'm trying to learn to understand enough that I can watch Bollywood films without having to be so dependent upon subtitles.  So far, I've been able to pick up some words.  I can comprehend fragments of the dialogue: but, and, or, tonight, eat, and things like that, but it would be a boring movie if the characters spoke like the Pimsleur lessons:

     "How are you?"
     "I am very well."
     "Do you want to drink something?"
     "Yes.  I want to drink some tea.  Do you want to drink something?"
     "I want to drink some coffee in the restaurant."

Understanding spoken Hindi is challenging enough.  I haven't even tried to learn to read - it's written in an entirely different alphabet, the Devanagari.  It looks pretty on the page, but it may as well be Greek to me.*  Here's an example - the word Om:

*Actually, when I was in Greece I found that I knew enough about the Greek alphabet to sound out words and sometimes guess their meanings.

At this point, you're probably wondering: What kind of flaming idiot tries to learn an entire language just to watch movies in it?

The answer is: me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mystery Series from Acorn Media

by Pat Gulley

Not so long ago I wrote a blog about the Murdoch Mysteries; a Canadian TV series that takes place in the late 1890s in Toronto. I rented the series from Netflix and watched two seasons and thought that was it. Well, there’s a third season, and I’ve got it ordered from Netflix. This series, like Rosemary & Thyme, are both excellent and I’ve always wondered why some network hasn’t picked them up. Friends have told me that R&T did play on their local PBS, but both Murdochs, the 2004 and 2008, hadn’t played in the USA at all.

            What alerted me to the 3rd season of Murdoch was an ad on a Midsomer Murder episode I was watching on Netflix that had a whole list of TV productions done by Acorn Media. I suddenly realized just how many mystery series (and many other things) Acorn has done that I absolutely love! As-a-matter-of-fact, when I finally found a complete list, I wondered if they did 90% of British TV. I’m sure they don’t, but they sure have done a lot of stuff I’ve watched, and loved, over the years, many not mysteries. I also found myself going to Netflix to search some of these shows out, only to find more and more suggestions until I had to quit, worrying that I’d spend days pulling up show and doing nothing but watching old shows forever. (Author opinion: Ain’t that the way of research???)

            I digress. So, here’s a list of “I’m thankful” for, and to tell you that if you are a purchaser of mystery series, then Acorn Media’s website is a treasure. Otherwise, Netflix does have most of them. One, however, was not. The Agatha Christie Hour, featuring classic tales of her lesser know sleuths, was missing and though I’m sure Tommy & Tuppence was on it, I wonder if Mr. Parker Pine was? No way to know without buying, but I’m not a buyer of movies or series.

            Here’s my nostalgic list of “wow, I love that show”. Midsomer Murders (18 discs—seems there are more), Murdoch Mysteries (3 seasons) Miss Marple with Geraldine McEwan, Blue Murder (with Caroline Quentin—remember her in Jonathan Creek? They have it too.) Doc Martin (I know not mystery, but come on!) Hetty Wainthropp, Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, Sherlock Holmes w/Jeremy Brett, Sherlock (the new one about when he was young) Inspector Lewis, Morse, Cracker, A Touch of Frost, The Last Detective, Cadfael, Life on Mars (the British version and the best), Rumpole of the Bailey, Foyle’s War, Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, Ruth Rendell Mysteries and Wallander. Wire In The Blood and Raising The Dead too, but not sure who did them.

            One I found but don’t remember is Oliver’s Travels. There were five episodes. Netflix does have it. Oh gosh, and another one: George Gently, better go order.

            Are you a fan of British Mysteries? What did I miss?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paging Elmer Fudd

By Paula Matter

I had a nice, upbeat post all prepared for today. You would've loved reading all about the progress I've made in my garden. You would've been happy for me. It was that kind of post.

Then I went outside to take a couple more photos. . .

Rabbits: 9 12   Paula: 0

I no longer call the little bastards bunnies.

I'm not going to let them win. No, I'm not a killer (she wrote on a public forum), but I must stop them from destroying my plants. 
A half eaten lily

Y'know what? I'm not gonna give the little bastards the satisfaction. Bitching about them gives them power. I'm gonna show you what progress I have made despite their evil ways. I'm at about the midway point.

                                                                      April 2010

                                                                      June 2010

                                                            June 2011 minus the mulch
Putting this photo up here before it's finished is kinda like querying an agent before the book's done.


April 2010                                                                                                 June 2011

April 2010                                                                                                 June 2011
Okay, so maybe it wasn't that kind of post since I uploaded only photos. But you do see progress, right? I'll be back in three weeks with the final results. In the meantime . . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Monster in the Dark

Last week can only be described as “interesting.” If you don’t read my Writing, etc blog or follow my mayhem on Facebook, you may want to go here to catch up a little. Go on. I’ll wait.

Okay, so now you know I’m working my way through the trifecta of colonscopy, scratched cornea, and cat bite, all within a two-day period.

First, let me say that my foot is healing nicely, and Moochie cat is snoozing comfortably in my basement, showing no symptoms of rabies so far. But we’re only on day four of the ten-day quarantine. I’m a little like the guy who jumps out of the 50-story building and, as he passes the twenty-fifth floor window, can be heard saying, “Nothing’s happened YET.”

Besides providing a ton of research material for a future story (I swear, you have to complete more reports for an animal bite than for a gunshot wound!), the experience has made me think about other aspects of fiction writing. Motivation. Ticking clock. Deep-seated terror.

I’ve been a farm girl all my life. I’ve been bitten and scratched and kicked more times than I care to mention. So my initial reaction to this bite was blasé. Other than the stream of curse words I directed at the culprit, of course. I had plans for the weekend and figured if I wasn’t healing by Monday, I’d go to the doctor. But as the day wore on and my foot ballooned into a painful, crimson lump, I became strongly motivated to take more immediate action. Words like “blood poisoning,” “septicemia,” and the dreaded “rabies” started rolling around in my brain.

For me the big one was the “R” word.

The first horror flick I ever saw as a kid was a movie by the title of “Old Yeller.” Okay, some of you may not consider it to be in the horror category, but for me? Lifetime emotional trauma. We saw it at a drive-in theater and I spend a large portion of the evening on the floor of the car, hiding.

I also have very vivid memories of an episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman where one of the characters contracted the disease. I’ve blocked out the details in my mind, but I can attest that it further traumatized me. I’m not a germaphobe, but the ideas of  “no cure” and “always fatal” scare the bejeezus out of me.

Forget my modest fear of needles. Give me the damned shots before it’s too late.

Hence the ticking clock. I remember all those news stories about pleas from family members. If you happen to see this particular dog or cat, please let us know so our loved one won’t have to undergo those dreaded shots. And it has to be done SOON.

All this played out in my mind Friday night (can you say “sleep deprived”?) into Saturday morning. And as I sat on the bed in the emergency department having an I.V. jammed into my arm, the urgency of the doctors, nurses, and techs fed my fear. I was told if I had followed my original plan to wait until Monday, they’d have been admitting me.

Staff members bustled in and out, asking questions about the cat, taking reports, making phone calls.

I’ve had family members get less attention for a heart attack.

With the antibiotics dripping into my veins, the threat of infection seem to be quelled. But that ticking clock continued to run. We needed to catch the cat ASAP.

Now, some municipalities may have facilities to keep quarantined animals. It turns out my little rural township doesn’t. So confining the little furry perpetrator became my responsibility.

Moochie is happily serving out his term in my basement. Unless he shows symptoms before next Tuesday, I’m safe. And even if he does, I’ll know about it and be able to get treated. So for me and this episode, the panic has passed.

But it’s made me think about what strikes terror in our hearts? What motivates us to take action when we’d really rather be camping? For me, the monster in the dark wasn’t a…well…a monster in the dark. It was the memory of a scary childhood movie. The fear of certain, painful death if left ignored. The idea that a small, furry pussycat could be the harbinger of disaster.

How can we put these ideas into our stories? Not by remaking Old Yeller. But by making the threat to our protagonist something seemingly innocuous. By finding something that is so terrifying that it can’t be ignored.

What is your monster in the dark?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Best-Selling Blank Books

I recently read about an Englishman whose self-published book is topping Amazon's UK charts. It consists of 200 blank pages beneath a cover with the title: "What Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex."

His success at turning a gimmick into profit got me thinking about a similar blank book I could publish. Imagine the possibilities! And considering how difficult writing is, this route might be a novel approach to becoming a best-selling author.
I considered a variety of titles, eventually settling on: "What I Knew About Motherhood Before I Became a Mother."

Although I've since learned many Mom lessons the hard way, I do wish someone had warned me a bit more about motherhood, especially the stressful conversations I'd be having with my children. For example, I've threatened for years to cut off all financial support to my children if they 1) Buy a motorcycle 2) Get a tattoo and/or 3) Pierce their bodies.

So when No. 1 son-the-cop recently telephoned with the announcement that at the age of 25, he'd fulfilled his longtime dream of purchasing a motorcycle, I was speechless. Then he proceeded to detail the tattoos he'll be getting. Again, stunned silence. "Mom, Mom, are you still there?" he finally said.

"I think your mother just fainted," advised his father from the extension.

"Just kidding about the tattoos, Mom," he laughed.

This was even less funny than the startling realization that motherhood looks  different when you don't have anything to hold over your children's heads anymore. But after adjusting to the reality that my son carries a gun to work every day, I suppose a motorcycle doesn't seem so bad.

Meanwhile, No. 2 son's check-in call at the beginning of his Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge archaeology adventure as part of his college education began with, "I probably shouldn't tell you this...."

And here is where I began thinking, "Are we really going to have ANOTHER one of these conversations no one told me are part of motherhood?

"The swamp is home to the largest concentration of black bears on the East Coast," he continued. "But don't worry. We've been given lots of safety instructions."

I struggled to remain calm and offer my standard response in stressful situations (the ones where I'm screaming inside): "That's nice, dear."  But the screams in my head were getting louder, so I added, "Such as?"

"If you hear loud noises in the underbrush, be prepared to make loud noises in response," he said.
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Then he offered: "And I probably shouldn't tell you this either, but I may get trained in using a machete."

The screams were now in danger of escaping into the atmosphere.  "Will you be able to use the machete against the three types of poisonous snakes that inhabit the swamp? Because I'm really concerned about the snakes."

"I'm not sure. But don't worry. We've had lots of safety instructions," he repeated.

Don't worry? As much as I wanted to, I didn't scream this out loud. Instead I said: "Maybe you should ask your brother if you can borrow one of his guns."

This was the moment when we both realized I'd gone over the edge: a woman who hates guns was suggesting one son get a firearm from the other. "I don't think they'll allow that, Mom. This is a university course," No. 2 son said, carefully enunciating each word as if trying to placate a crazy woman.

After I calmed down somewhat, I came up with a solution: I probably shouldn't tell you this.... but I'm ordering No. 1 son to get his gun and climb on that motorcycle I didn't want him to buy -- and drive the 3 1/2 hours south from Washington, DC, to retrieve his brother immediately.

Then I'm going to sit down and design that cover for "What I Knew About Motherhood Before I Became a Mother." I think it probably should include a motorcycle and a machete, don't you?

What would the title of your blank book be?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Exquisite Use of Back story : Super 8

by C.L. Phillips

While at a party this weekend, I found myself telling everyone about my new favorite movie, Super 8, released on June 10, 2011.  Why is it my favorite?  Because of its exquisite use of back story and single line dialog anchoring the scene and action in 1979.

I don't dare give away the movie premise, so I'll confine my comments to how the back story and dialog provided a richness and depth I don't often find in movies.

1)  Gadgets - "Don't touch my C.B., man." - Doesn't that just scream the 70's to you?  Sure does for me.  "Breaker, breaker one-nine."

2)  More gadgets - "It's called a Walkman, sherriff.  You can listen to your own music."  I wondered where they found a real Walkman.  At the Smithsonian?  Compare the size of the original Walkman to an ipod nano, and you'll appreciate how far the music business has changed in thirty years.  I wonder what it will look like in thirty more years, in 2040.  Music on your fingernail?

3)  Hero back story - One of the heroes in the movie is a school teacher.  We see his actions, but do not learn his background or motivation until most of the movie is over.  The back story provides another level of emotional depth - one that I did not expect.  Again, I don't want to give it away, but after that scene, I started cheering for the bad guy.  Why?  Because the bad guy wasn't bad, and the bad guy was behaving exactly as I would if I were in his circumstances.  Now that's effective back story.  And it was done with one simple line of dialog.  "I felt what he felt."  Of course, there were more words,'ll have to see the movie! :)

4)  Visual back story - the picture of the businesses on main street - including a photo store with film processing.  When was the last time you dropped off a roll of film?  Or picked up a package of prints?    As the camera panned down the street, I thought, "I buy that on Amazon, haven't bought that in twenty years, buy that at Walmart."  The scene captured a time that is no more.  Commerce that has evaporated into the network and the world of electronic payments and super stores.

So go see Super 8.  Listen for the back story.  Check your watch.  None of it arrives until well past the half way point of the movie.

I plan to incorporate this lesson into my editing.  I'm calling it SUPER 8.  Backstory way back.  Deep back.

What's your favorite example of well placed back story?  Movie or book?

Friday, June 10, 2011


My sister (whose name is Annette, but for obvious reasons I will call her “The Other Annette”) and her family are visiting this week from Louisiana, so I am using the vacation theme to do a non-writing post. 

On Wednesday, I announced on Facebook that, in honor of The Other Annette’s arrival, I baked my fabulous chocolate cake using my secret metal cake cover trick. Requests were made to share the recipe, so I will pony up and do that after I ramble about a few other things.

The metal cake cover in question belonged to my grandmother. It is red, and I match it (or mis-match it if you are picky) with a gold metal plate, also from my grandmother. On the back of the gold plate is a piece of masking tape with “Mrs. John DeFelice” written in blue ink. This plate had a long and happy life attending weddings, baby showers, church socials and ladies’ groups meeting with my grandmother (whose given name was Euphraisie, but she went by “Mrs. John” to her neighbors, “Ma-Ma” to her grandchildren and “Frazie” to her friends). Now the cake plate is in service with me.

A lot of my possessions have signed pieces of masking tape on the back. The ones that don’t are signed in my memory. My collection of tablecloths, for instance, began with a couple of tea table covers I inherited from my other grandmother (whose given name was Clemence, but she was “Grom” to her family, “Mrs. Paris” to her husband’s friends, and “Miss Tit” to everyone else in town, most of whom were French and understood that “tit” means little, not the thing it means if you are English.) 

I like old stuff. I don’t need to pretty it up and call things classic or vintage. Old is fine. When we have dinner, it’s on old jade colored Fire King dinnerware that came from my husband’s grandmother, (whose given name was Sara Keith, and everyone called her that.)  Despite her lack of nicknames, Sara Keith was a gifted artist. When her husband (whose given name was Leven, after Loch Leven in Scotland) returned from World War II, Sara Keith took the greatcoat he’d been issued by the Marines and created a rug from it. She designed a floral pattern, cut the wool into strips, had the strips dyed into the appropriate colors and hand wove it. That rug now hangs on my dining room wall, which is the proper way to display a work of art.

On the wall across from the art rug is a large and colorful turkey platter. The platter has no family connection, but it is valuable to me because I found it in an antique shop in Bedford, Pennsylvania, while on a weekend getaway with the Indiana Women’s Writing Circle. It’s also important because I bought it with the tiny paycheck I received for an article on children’s mysteries in TWINS magazine. 

I can look around my house and see possessions that have meaning and history. Not much of it is valuable in monetary terms, but to use a cliché, in terms of sentiment, it’s all priceless. From time to time, like now and earlier this week when another tablecloth piece was published online by Dew on the Kudzu, I mine my possessions to write about them.

So I guess this is a writing post after all. Hmm. Funny how that happened, isn’t it?

What do you own that is priceless? And why does it hold meaning for you?

And here’s the recipe!

1 boxed chocolate cake mix. (Devil’s Food, Dark Chocolate, Duncan, Betty, whatever is your favorite.)
1 box chocolate pudding (NOT instant.)
1 cup regular sour cream (NOT low or no fat.)
Powdered sugar
1 metal cake cover
Instructions: Mix the dry cake mix with the dry pudding mix and whisk together. Prepare the cake mix as directed on the box. When it’s mixed, gently fold in the cup of sour cream. Bake the cake as directed in a Bundt pan. When the cake is cooked, let it cool for about 2 minutes. Turn it out onto a cake plate and then immediately cover with the metal cake cover. Let stand for 1 hour—no peeking! The heat from the cake cover with infuse moisture into the cake and it will be rich and fudgy. After an hour, remove cake cover, which is will be covered in condensation. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the cake. No icing is necessary. Eat at a table covered with your favorite tablecloth.