Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Using Weather to Enhance Suspense

Weather can serve as an antagonist in any novel, whether it's  mystery, suspense, thriller or other genre. And I've used precipitation in all its forms in my own books.

In my first novel, A Village Shattered, the opaque San Joaquin 

fog hides the serial killer, but I didn’t even think about the fog until I was writing chapter three. Having lived in the valley for a dozen years, I know the horror of trying to drive in pea soup fog, so I switched seasons and went back to chapter one to add extreme weather to the plot. In doing so, it tied all aspects of the story together. 

In Diary of Murder, my second mystery, I took my sleuths out of California and placed them in a motorhome in the middle of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. Fortunately, I had actually experienced the mishap so I could write convincingly about it. The blizzard starts the novel off with suspense, but my sleuths face a similar fate later in the plot, so I had to swap some snowy details between the first and later chapters to prevent repetition.Weather plays a large role in any northern state, and can provide an element of danger to the plot.

Murder on the Interstate follows with Dana and Sarah getting caught in a flash flood in Arizona, where their rented Hummer is swept away. That happened to a friend whose experience convinced me to add the downpour to my plot. 

Snow also presents a problem for my intrepid amateur sleuths in Gray Wolf Mountain where they track a shooter who kills not only wolves but people. Victims of the shooter themselves, the two women are rescued by a quirky old man who rescues the wolves and nurses them back to health.

Murder in RV Paradise is set in Texas where the sun can bake the brain as well as fry tortillas on the hood of one's pickup truck. When my senior sleuths pull a woman's body from one of the small lakes the day of their arrival, they have to deal with not only the heat but suspicion that they committed the murder.

And, finally, Murder at the Mansion, finds Dana and Sarah fleeing a killer in Wyoming after a tornado destroys Dana's mansion. The two women wind up in a snowy backwoods cabin in the Alaskan outback where they find themselves in even more danger. My trip to Fairbanks, where I experienced an ice storm and extreme cold, helped to bring this sixth and final series novel to a suspenseful conclusion. 

I had heard before I wrote my first novel that you should never start your book with weather, but I've found that severe weather can enhance a mystery/suspense novel by fine tuning characters' reactions to it. Man or woman against nature has always intrigued readers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


by Jackie King

Book One
Writing a book is an onerous undertaking. I’m astonished that a cowardly woman such as myself, would even attempt such a thing. But the compulsion to express oneself on paper is a sort of madness—an urge that can’t be ignored comfortably. Ordinary chores such as dusting or tidying up your sock drawer, can be postponed until infinity. Or as my mother might have said, until the cows come home. And since I have no cows, there will be no interruption of that sort.

Book Two
An unfinished book, even one that yet has one word typed on a blank computer page, refuses to be ignored. This primal urge, for some of us, is like a mother hearing her child fussing in his crib, regardless of how high you turn up the radio, Mom will still hear her baby. And likewise, a writer must come back to finish that story.

At my age I often think, this book may be my last. Followed by, “Please God, let me stay healthy enough to finish this one.” And last week, when I sent the edited galley proofs to the publisher, I sighed a momentary breath of relief.

THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE is now his problem. He will have to find the right cover (and please God, don’t let him suffer from color blindness), and get the thing ready to download and ready for the printers. (Book three--Cover as yet unavailable.)

Now I can take a deep breath and relax for a while.


Another story began crying out from its crib. This is an old one resurrected from years earlier, but now I know how to fix it. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m not sure yet what title to use; I have three in mind:

NIGHTWIND (The Original Working Title)

So far I have one serious vote for The Edge of Nowhere. We’ll see. If you have a preference, let me know.
The view just outside of Tumbleweed, OK--An imaginary town in the OK Panhandle
The story is set in a small, fictitious town in the Oklahoma Panhandle named, Tumbleweed. Many of the inhabitants descended from pioneers who settled the land and built fortunes when there was nothing in sight but sagebrush, prairie grass and hardship.

In my novel this question arises: Will a later generation be strong enough to withstand a new kind of evil?

Suddenly it’s my job to spin that tale. The story is in my heart—strong as the wind that constantly whips across the plains. Now I must get busy.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dialogue Brings Characters to Life

by Jean Henry Mead

I enjoy writing dialogue because it’s an excellent way to bring fictional characters to life. I began my writing career as a news reporter and photojournalist, so dialogue was not something I learned to write. Fortunately, I have an ear for dialects and speech patterns, and journalism taught me brevity. So my characters rarely ramble or veer off topic.

I learned the secrets of good dialogue from Sol Stein, who said screenwriting courses are a great way to learn to write conversations. Although I wasn’t able to take his dialogue course at UC Irvine, I benefited from reading his book, Sol Stein on Writing. In it he says “Talk is repetitive, full of rambling, incomplete, or run-on sentences, and usually contains a lot of unnecessary words. Dialogue, contrary to popular belief, is not a recording of actual speech; it is a semblance of speech, an invented language of exchanges that build in tempo or content toward climaxes.

“Some people mistakenly believe that all a writer has to do is turn on a tape recorder to capture dialogue.” He also stressed that, “Dialogue is always in immediate scene, which is one reason readers relish it.”

I sometimes write too much dialogue instead of narrative because my sleuths discuss the murders they investigate. When I sit down at my computer each morning to write, I look forward to listening to what my characters have to say. After the sixth book in my Logan and Cafferty series, I know my characters well and their conversations fill my head as though I were eavesdropping on old friends.

Dialogue is a good way to insert humor into the plot. In Gray Wolf Mountain, Dana and Sarah encounter an old man whose grammar would cause an English teacher to cringe. It was fun writing his conversations and making readers aware that although he had little formal education, he was well versed in the ways of wildlife, especially the endangered gray wolf.

Dialogue says a lot about a character in very few words. The reader should be able to discern the character’s ethnic background, education, attitude, social standing, etc. through dialogue, and every word must count. Unnecessary dialogue or narrative can turn readers off because they want to get on with the story. I aim for one line-dialogue—no more than three—from each character. When exposition requires more than three lines, I switch to narrative or interruption from another character because, in my opinion, excessive dialogue slows down the plot.

Dialogue should be written and rewritten carefully, preferably aloud to maintain sentence flow.  

In my latest release, Murder at the Mansion, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty manage some brief but humorous dialogue while escaping a killer who tricks them into flying to the Alaskan outback where their lives are placed in even more danger. If not for their dialogue, the reader would not fully experience their fear or their secret plot to escape their captors.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


or Do All Writers Have Split Personalities

by Jackie King
Jackie King
In Julia Cameron’s book AN ARTIST’S WAY, she speaks of feeding your inner child. My problem is, I’m so busy taking care of my old-girl self, that there’s little time left for outings with some brat that lurks in my psyche. However, some time in the past I had to return a purchase to the mall. I walked from the sizzling Tulsa  heat into life reviving air conditioning and decided that both me and my inner-child could something new. I had just picked up a shirt when this inner-brat whined,

“Why don’t you get something different? I’m sick of beige.”

What? Inner Brat didn’t like beige?

Somewhat unnerved, I put back the Tee and wandered on through the store. Maybe Inner-Child would prefer a nice navy blue? I strolled from sportswear into blouses and stepped within arm’s length of a dressy print top in shades of orange, yellow and brown. The effect was a bit like viewing an abstract painting and I paused a minute.

That one, Brat said.

My civilized (beleaguered?) self, smiled and spoke in a (silent) faux-calm voice said, “Okay, we’ll try it on, but will make us look like a buffalo.” (Brat isn’t the only alter ego who can be snippy.) I looped the blouse over my arm and moved on. Four racks over I spotted a splashy flowered print. I reacted with one word: “Yuck.”

“Try on that one, too,” Brat said.

I thought my child rearing days were over!

Grown-up-lady rolled her eyes. If anything would make us look ridiculous (an important fear to me, but Brat didn’t seem to care) this garment would. But the jacket was unlined, cotton and sported three-quarter sleeves. Very comfortable for summer, and we mature ladies love our comfort. What the heck, might as well try that one on too.

The two of us, brat and woman-of-a-certain age, (not sure who was leading whom), found a dressing room and tried on both items. SHOCKEROO: My older self decided to buy both! Grown up self loved the blouse; Brat insisted on the blazing blazer.

Feeling more than a little daring, I headed toward hats. I was getting into this. If child and grownup joined forces, what might happen next?

The above anecdote happened four summers earlier, and I’m growing more eccentric with each passing year. When I went to church yesterday, I wore what are called Pajama-Jeans (Purple ones) with a T-shirt  that read, “OLD IS COOL.” 
Two avid readers who agree that OLD IS COOL!
So my message to Julia Cameron is that my inner-child isn't just alive and well, she is thriving and corrupting senior readers along the way. Above I'm with Mary Ruth Whitman and Richard Baden. We are wearing different colored fedoras with twinkling lights.

Like my own children years earlier, my inner child has taken over my life.

Book 1 - Grace Cassidy Series

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Too much research?

by Carola

How much research is too much?

I'm presently writing about a car chase across Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. I have two old Ordnance Survey* maps, 1/2" to the mile, of the area. They're really useful to show the roads the way they used to be, before they were straightened and widened. They also show the contours, so I can tell whether a road goes uphill--in general terms--or downhill. One has contour lines at 50 foot intervals. The other is tinted from blue (sea) through greens to various shades of brown, making it more intuitive but less precise. They show every tiny hamlet, with its name, and even many farms.

 And I have Google and Bing maps and bird's eye/satellite views, and in some places (but by no means everywhere) "street view." These maps tend to ignore narrow lanes, while the satellite pics don't show them when they run beneath trees. They don't show tiny places.

 But for some places they show you exactly what's there.

So both types have their uses. The question is, do I really need all that information? I've heard from a few readers who get out a map and follow the tracks of my characters, but for most people a few evocative village names and a few words of description of the scenery and the state of the road are sufficient.

Nonetheless, I find myself obsessively checking whether there's a crossroads between villages A and B, and whether the chasing car at point A would have a view of the quarry when it reaches point B. Too Much Information available!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger Rocks!

by Jackie King

Long before I decided to write, I was a reader. I still am. I love everything about all books. Especially mysteries.

Books made of paper rock: their smell, their feel, their bright covers. Most of all, I love losing myself in a new world created by a gifted writer.

Virtual books rock: the ability to read the story immediately; the capability to make print larger for my aging eyes; the convenience of being able to read in dark places. Most of all, I love disappearing into a new domain shaped by a creative author.

William Kent Krueger
Currently I'm living in a biosphere molded by William Kent Krueger. His first words quickened my pulse, and instantly I cared about a teen-aged boy he had created. Here’s that paragraph from the prologue:

Cork O'Connor first heard the story of the Windigo in the fall of 1965 when he hunted the big bear with Sam Winter Moon. He was fourteen and his father was dead a year.

The pages flew and my knuckles turned as white as the Minnesota blizzard where the story was set.

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
The book itself features Cork as a grown man. Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota. His heart, wounded by a recent tragedy, seems unable to heal. Needless to say, I'm now in love with Cork, so Joe Pike can eat his heart out. (smile)

I bought this book at Killer Nashville in 2014, along with ORDINARY GRACE, which won the Edgar and other prestigious mystery awards. Krueger spoke at the conference and I was impressed by this kind, smart and eloquent man.

Ordinary Grace--an extraordinary novel
I read ORDINARY GRACE, first, since this book had won several prestigious mystery awards. ORDINARY GRACE, an exceptionally fine literary novel, wasn't a mystery.  At least not to me. Because of this, I was disappointed. (Will all those who loved the book as a mystery  please forgive me?) I do like literary novels, just not when my appetite is set for murder and mayhem.

This week IRON LAKE rose to the top of my To Be Read pile. And wow! This book is an outstanding mystery, and I'm loving it. As Hank Phillipi Ryan said at the same conference, "Every mystery needs to have three things: hook, stakes, and beautiful Writing. IRON LAKE has all three.

Mystery novels by William Kent Krueger will never again stay in my TBR pile for such a long time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kim Jong-un and Me by Bill Kirton

At last, the breakthrough! After all these years of writing all sorts of things, fame and riches are within reach. All I have to do is play my cards right and undertake an admittedly tricky piece of international diplomacy.

Let’s get the facts straight first. Kim Jong-un is a very nice man, a very nice man indeed. Yes, yes, we all know he’s First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, Supreme Leader, blah, blah, blah but I’m betting he’s basically a very thoughtful, caring individual who has his nation’s welfare, progress and general well-being at heart. You don’t get to be a top political leader of any of the world’s great powers or even of the minor ones, such as the United Kingdom, unless you’re a really nice guy. And, I repeat, Kim Jong-un, or KJ as I intend to call him from now on, is a very, very nice man.

He’s also the world’s youngest head of state and his youth is part of the reason I want so much to get to know him better. He was actually educated in Switzerland and his classmates there said he was a bit shy. But he was a good student and got on well with others. He was ambitious, enjoyed playing basketball and, like most students who know that education’s only a pretence for having a good time, he wasn’t all that meticulous about attendance and his grades suffered as a result. (These indisputable facts are essential to an understanding of my thesis and, needless to say, I owe them all to Wikipedia.)

But from those inauspicious, even mundane beginnings, he has progressed to a condition described by the Korean Central News Agency as ‘a great person born of heaven’ and inspired the ruling Workers' Party to declare in an editorial, ‘We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader’. (NOTE. ‘Bleeding’ in this context is not the same as its usage in such English expressions as ‘Oi, mate, what’s the bleedin game then? Leave it out, you bleedin tosser.’)

So where does KJ fit into my own plan for JK Rowling-style world domination? The answer’s easy. I ask you to picture one of those gatherings where thousands of those present and many millions watching on TV weep and wail and gnash simply because KJ exists and is among them. He has only to raise his hand for a silence to fall on the multitude (broken only by suppressed sobs of ineluctable joy), he has only to take one step and they will follow, however deep the abyss towards which he leads them.

Now I ask you to add just one element, one gesture and two words to the scene. In his hand he holds a book. He raises it for them to see and says just two words, ‘Buy this’. The resultant KJ-provoked sales would make JK look like a no-hoper. And that will be the effect of my diplomatic endeavours because recently, to my great surprise, I received two copies of one of my non-fiction books, Brilliant Study Skills, IN KOREAN! The attached illustrations are proof of its existence, and I’m hoping the one with the blurb about me conveys the fact that I am one of KJ’s greatest fans.

On the other hand (and this is where the tricky diplomacy comes in), I must be careful not to alienate South Korea and it may be that I have to indulge in a wee apostasy, denounce my erstwhile mate, KJ, and cut my losses because the population of South Korea is twice that of the North.

Democracy can be annoying at times.