Thursday, August 14, 2014

Killer Nashville--Double the Killer Fun

by Jackie King

Looking forward to a trip is half of the fun. Looking back at delightful memories is another half of the fun. That leaves 100 percent of fun to enjoy at the time of the experience. (I’ve been told that my math leaves something to be desired. But I seldom listen.) So you can say that I plan to have double the fun at KN. This will be my first time to this conference. I’ve been to Bouchercon twice, once in Dallas and once in St. Louis. Both times were fabulous, and I’m eager to experience KN. Mystery Cons ROCK!
Book One

Book Two

Packing is always a nightmare for me. I think it’s because I’m wishy-washy. Undecided. I’m one of those women who want to take everything I own with me, and at the same time I’m sensible enough to know that’s ridiculous. So right now, a few days away from the trip, I’m trying to make a list of what to take.

Happy Smile--Me Thinking of Killer Nashville

Nothing looks right. First of all, I need to lose about 20 pounds so that the clothes I like best would fit again. Since I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight, my backup plan is to pack what fits and remember not to look in mirrors.

I’m traveling with the most delightful writer, T.D. Hart. She writes thrillers and I write cozies, and that’s pretty much where our differences stop. (Unless you’re talking about our ages, our weight, and our energy levels. Mine is high, high, and low. T.D.’s is the opposite. She’s a living doll.)

T.D. Hart
T D Hart, Glamorous Gal Who Writes Thrillers

We’re driving from Tulsa, OK, and our plan is to go a day early. We will talk plotting on the way. She’s a much better plotter than I am, so I’m hoping to learn how to pace and plot my stories better.

But back to packing: Do you think T.D. would consider it outrageous if I told her I’m taking a steamer trunk and two suitcases?

Probably not. I doubt if she even knows what a steamer trunk is.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thoughts from below the equator – an interview with Dorothy Johnston (part one)

by Bill Kirton
Dorothy Johnston is an award-winning Australian author. She’s written novels, short stories and a quartet of mysteries featuring Sandra Mahoney. It’s through these mysteries that I came to know her. They’re set in Canberra and, as well as being beautifully written examples of the genre, convey the subtle differences between life in the northern and southern hemispheres.  The questions she asked when she interviewed me  were so perceptive that I wanted to turn the tables and try to get some of her own inside story. Her replies were so rich and interesting that I didn’t want to lose anything of what she said so I’m posting them in two parts. Here’s part one.

From the point of view of a traditional fan of crimes/mysteries, it seems that the whole area of computer crime, identity theft, alibi establishing, the location of suspects/victims at specific times (through mobile phones or computer log-ins) has added a new dimension to the genre. Is that the way you see it? Does your own expertise in the field open up possibilities different from the conventional ones?

I’m no technical expert, but neither is my protagonist, Sandra Mahoney. Her partner, Ivan, knows a lot more about the IT world than she does, at least at the beginning. In the first book in my quartet, The Trojan Dog, Sandra falls into investigating an electronic crime, much as I fell into writing about them. She’s an everywoman, learning as she goes.

The mystery quartet – after The Trojan Dog comes The White Tower, then Eden, then The Fourth Season – is my way of writing about Canberra, where I lived for thirty years before moving back to Victoria, close to where I was born. Canberra, the most stratified and Gothic of Australian cities, had ambitions to become the IT capital of the country, an ambition which seems quaint now; but in the early 1990s, when I began my quartet, a lot of people were taking it seriously. The slipperiness, often the invisibility, of electronic crime still seems to fit well with the national capital – the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing – or pretending not to know – the government as the country's biggest spender, and therefore a most attractive target for thieves.

On another level, writing about electronic crime appealed to me imaginatively. Some years ago, I discovered a description by Umberto Eco of three types of labyrinth, and this description has stayed with me.

First, Eco says, there is the classic labyrinth of Theseus. Theseus enters the labyrinth, arrives at its centre thanks to Ariadne's thread, slays the minotaur, then leaves. He does not get lost. Terror is born of the fact that you know there is a minotaur, but you do not know what the minotaur will do. Then there is the mannerist maze. As Ariadne's thread is unravelled and followed, the Theseus figure discovers, not a centre, but a kind of tree with many dead ends, many branches leading nowhere. There is an exit, but finding it is a complicated task. Finally there is the net, which is so constructed that every path can be connected to every other one. This labyrinth has no centre and no one entry or exit.

Cyberspace, where crimes using computers are committed, is clearly this third kind of labyrinth. The computer criminal, hacker, virus king etc can be tracked, but the mode of tracking, of following the thread, soon corresponds to becoming lost in the maze, which indeed itself can become the minotaur.

I find this space enormously appealing. Yet what also appeals to me is the traditional structure of a crime investigation, a fictional one, that is, the progression from a beginning to an end where the criminal is identified and caught. I like the tension that's created by putting one inside the other.

That’s a terrific analysis of how the genre works. I’ll no doubt be stealing it in the future. Let’s be more basic now, though. I knew, of course, that the seasons in the southern and northern hemispheres are reversed but I was somehow more aware of it when I read The White Tower. Is that the sort of experience you have when reading books written by ‘northern’ authors?

The quartet was always going to be ‘four seasons’ – one novel for each. The seasons are distinct in Canberra, for someone who was born and grew up on the coast. (The White Tower is Spring.) I like turning things upside down for northern hemisphere readers. In the same way, I like looking at snowbound French villages on television when the temperature outside my window is forty degrees.

You’ll find images of Aberdeen in January have a similar effect, only without the prettiness. Does the genre differ in Australia from crimes or mysteries written here up north? If so, can you tell me a bit about the nature of those differences?

I thought you might ask about this, and I really don’t have an answer. It’s a truism to say that Australia was a convict settlement, that Europeans’ sense of themselves in this country began with ritualised crime and punishment, compared with, for example, religious conviction in North America. It’s a truism that, in my view, has far-reaching consequences, but I don’t have the space to go into them here. Bill – you said you could write an essay in answer to each of my questions, and you’ve presented me with the same dilemma! Briefly, there’s a strong – and brutal – line of inheritance from convict days, and at the same time contemporary fiction that goes in multiple directions – from cosy to hard-boiled and everything in between. One general comment made by critics from time to time is that we favour private operators rather than police procedurals. Interestingly enough, one of my favourite writers, Barry Maitland, who writes police procedurals, has chosen to set his series in London rather than anywhere in Australia.

…and that’s the point at which we’ll pause to reflect on some stimulating thoughts about both the mystery genre and the cultural influences that I, for one, had never really considered. The fact that we share a language tends to lead us to suppose that the sharing extends to values. It probably does, but the historical element Dorothy introduces adds a fascinating new dimension.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Author Paul D. Marks On Writing

I would like to welcome Shamus Award Winner Paul D. Marks as my guest blogger.  This week Paul offers Murderous Musings readers his insight in writing.  I encourage you to pass his insight onto others and also check out his website,  Thank you, Paul!


By Paul D. Marks

I recently saw a writer post something on Facebook about an editor wanting a writer to remove certain historical references from his manuscript because the editor thought some readers might not recognize them. Dismayed, the writer then asked his Facebook friends whether he should keep or remove those references. This author’s question got me thinking about my own writing, and whether or not I should “write down” to my readers.

Certainly, all writers want to convey certain thoughts, emotions and ideas to their readers. To do that, we often use literary or historical allusions, scientific and cultural references.  But in doing so, we believe our reader base will possess a similar degree of shared knowledge so that when we mention references to Freud, Shakespeare, Billie Holiday or Queen Victoria, (who lent her name to an entire era) or simple phrases such as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, they will not only comprehend what we are saying, but relate to it.  We also assume that if they are unfamiliar and curious, they will look it up.

Unfortunately, our cultural ties-that-bind are either breaking down, or they are not being passed down to younger generations. Granted, every elder has said this regarding successive generations, but the problem seems to have worsened in recent decades.  The media, social media, internet, video games, educational system, parents and a breakdown in nuclear families have all played a role in this demise.

Sadly, today’s younger generations seem less informed about history, literature, pop culture (other than their own), high culture and in general, most things that preceded them.  As a result, every subsequent generation has been left further behind. When I was a kid I might not have known the difference between Catherine the Great or Katharine Hepburn, W.E.B. Du Bois or Jorge Luis Borges, or Benny Goodman and Beethoven, but they eventually came into my consciousness because I was curious and did some research.  Today, many people know little of our major figures, even from recent past. Ask a young adult about our history in warfare and few will have a clue. Mention George Washington, FDR, Lincoln or Cesar Chavez and see their reaction. Sadly, most people rarely let history seep into their consciousness.

As a writer pitching ideas to Hollywood executives, I used to begin as if my audience and I had a common knowledge base. When I quickly learned that wasn’t the case, I dumbed my presentation down so as not to include anything that might make any of them feel insecure or ignorant.  Although most had heard of Casablanca, few had seen it, so if I mentioned it was like “a modern day Casablanca,” their blank stares forced me to first describe the Casablanca plot, which I then explained my reference.

Mind you, these were intelligent people, many of whom came from Ivy League schools. Even so, few knew anything about World War II, the Cold War, Viet Nam, or that “black comedies” are not films named for featuring African American characters, but rather for its style. I also learned that many were unfamiliar with basic phrases or expressions.  Regardless, I soon realized that whenever I had to explain a reference, I had lost them.

Of course, ignorance applies to anyone who is not informed.  This includes Hollywood executives, psychologists, professionals I’ve encountered while doing research, and people I have met in everyday life.  Remember that ignorance is not a statement of intelligence, but rather a lack of knowledge.  Several years ago a group of journalism students demonstrated their knowledge of their world and current events in a questionnaire. The results were shocking because they proved to know little.  If anyone should be curious about history and current events, it should be journalism students.  

How many young people know that many great literary works contain biblical references?  Hemingway used them in The Old Man and the Sea, and The Sun Also Rises. Moby Dick, a book considered by many to be the greatest American novel, is filled with them.  T.S. Eliot used them in The Wasteland.  Bob Dylan used biblical allusions in many songs that even now go over most people’s heads. Even the recent TV show Lost did this.  Those sharing that common knowledge base will easily pick them out.  But in spite of having the Internet and hyperlinks to instantly provide answers, few will choose to expand their horizons. Without understanding the references in a story, the viewer/reader will lose much of the story.  As a result, while I prefer using cultural references in my writing, I now think twice about including them.  Of course, in doing so I am also guilty of not only dumbing down my work, but society, in general.

No doubt my decision to “write down” has actually stemmed from working on film and radio scripts where I was instructed to dumb things down. On one radio show, a fellow writer and I were called on the carpet and given a condescending lecture by the producer for using “big words”.  Words like condescending.  No doubt this was the result of him feeling embarrassed because he didn’t understand their meaning.  But he wasn’t alone.  Jay Leno’s Jaywalking segments demonstrated how little the average person knew. Many of those Leno interviewed couldn’t identify President Bush and Obama from a photo.  Others believed it was Joe Biden who crossed the Delaware. Leno has admitted he didn’t have to search for “dumb” people.  Normally, they went with the first few people they came across because there was no need in searching any further. Again, this is not to say these people are stupid.  More likely their ignorance is due to apathy and/or narcissistic values.

Personal computers, cell phones, social media and Twitter have changed the way people globally interact.  Furthermore, because many families are spread out, grandparents may not live nearby, so their knowledge is not passed down. Nowadays, shorter attention spans means longer articles are being disregarded.  Reality shows have greater audiences than shows on the History channel.  Even the Discovery Channel have been forced into shows like Escaped: Real Prison Breaks or the Learning Channel’s 19 Kids and Counting to retain its viewers. And the Biography Channel has resorted to stories about movie and TV stars of little significance rather than people of historical significance.  This disturbing trend seems to prove that today’s audience prefers vapid celebrities and superficial reality shows to those shows having historical significance.  Unfortunately, what people fail to understand is that without understanding our past, we lack the knowledge and ability to influence our future.

Personally, I do not like dumbing my writing down. I believe authors should challenge their readers to learn more by forcing them to look things up and expand their vocabularies and worlds. Writers need to challenge their readers to dust off an encyclopedia, history book, and surf the web beyond paparazzi photos and cute animal videos. (Hey, I like them too, but . . .)  I love using examples from history and literature, etc., in my writing, and hate seeing them get lost in the quicksand of lethargy. There is far more to life than celebrities and housewives’ gossip or what’s just happened in the span of someone’s conscious memory. There is also more to life than selfies, in both the literal and figurative sense.  The bottom line – write like you mean it.


There are a couple of famous stories about well-known works being rejected after they had been huge successes.  One example is writer Chuck Ross who hand-typed the script for Casablanca, arguably one of the three best and most famous American movies of all time, and considered by many to be the best.  For grins, he changed the title and submitted it to several producers. Not surprisingly, most didn’t recognize it and rejected it outright.  When some thought the people best to play the roles were unfortunately dead, he knew they got it.  This example shows you how even Hollywood is unaware of its own past. Check out this link to find out more:

Ross further tested his “oblivious theory” by using a novel written by Jerzy Kosiński, who won the National Book Award for Steps. Ross typed it up as a manuscript and submitted it to Kosiński’s own publisher, who then rejected it without ever recognizing it, proving even the supposedly “literate” publishing industry is not immune to ignorance.  The moral of the story is, don’t feel bad if you get rejected because the reviewers don’t necessarily recognize good material. Check out Ross’s experience with this link:  

Thanks for having me, Mark!

Find me at:


Paul D. Marks’ novel WHITE HEAT is a 2013 SHAMUS AWARD WINNER. Publishers Weekly calls WHITE HEAT a “taut crime yarn.” And Midwest Book Review says “WHITE HEAT is a riveting read of mystery, much recommended.” Paul is also the author of over thirty published short stories in a variety of genres, including several award winners—and L.A. LATE @ NIGHT, a collection of five of his mystery and noir tales. His story HOWLING AT THE MOON will be in an upcoming edition of Ellery Queen. And he has the distinction, dubious though it might be, of being the last person to have shot a film on the fabled MGM backlot before it bit the dust to make way for condos. According to Steven Bingen, one of the authors of the recent, well-received book MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot: “That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his [Paul D. Marks’] name on it.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


by Carola

The first two Daisy Dalrymple mysteries have now come out in Hungarian. They have used the UK covers, but the titles are in Hungarian, of course.

 This is Death at Wentwater Court. I'm told it translates roughly as Daisy and the Frozen Don Juan. Which is all very well, but makes it liable to be confused with Fall of a Philanderer--though that takes place in summer...

 This is The Winter Garden Mystery. The translation is more or less Daisy and the Garden of Mystery. Fair enough.

 The German translations of Daisy had titles on a pattern similar to the Hungarian--they were all Miss Daisy und...  Most were perfectly acceptable but one actually gave away one of what you might call the inner mysteries, not whodunnit but to whom it was done. Maddening.

Some of the Polish titles were pretty strange. Gone West came out as the Mystery of the Empty Notebook. No empty notebook in that story.

Die Laughing is something like Torture Me with Laughter. It sounds as if the victim was tickled to death, which he wasn't.

I've been told the the translations of the actual text are pretty bad, but I guess they sold well in spite of it. Perhaps Polish readers are used to reading bad translations of foreign books and make allowances.

The only translations of my books that I've been able to read for myself were a few Regencies that came out in French. They were readable but had serious trouble when it came to the language of the period. I guess I shouldn't have written puns in Regency English.

The one above all that I would really like to be able to read is the Hebrew translation of Mayhem and Miranda. I can't believe they changed my innocuous story sufficiently to justify this cover:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Starting a New Series

by June Shaw

Hm, starting to write a new series is much more difficult than I'd expected.

Of course the characters are different and so is the tone -- to some extent. I'd thought I wouldn't put quite so much romance in this one, but relationships jumped in. Oh right, I think most lives are enhanced with having a loved one, or even a really important person in your life.

My first series features a spunky widow of a certain age who'd trying (without much success) to avoid her hunky dude, and all of those books are fun.

The series I've begun now features divorced sisters--one's hot, one's not--in the interest of romance I mean. This is also fun to write, although parts of the books are darker than those in my Cealie Gunther series.

Yes, I do have ideas for at the second book, and they're wanting to draw me into that one before I complete a final rewrite of the first. I guess that's a good thing. It means I care enough about the concept and characters to stay with them. Yay!

What about you? If you're written more than one series, how do you feel about the characters and plot for the next one? I'd be interested in hearing your ideas. Thanks!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Weird Kind of Storyboarding

by Jackie King

The amount of time it took me to write my second Grace Cassidy mystery, THE CORPSE WHO WALKED IN THE DOOR, was downright embarrassing. To avoid this with my third in the series, I researched storyboarding and plotting. Then I told anyone who would listen that I would block out each and every scene before I typed one word in my third Grace Cassidy mystery.

Well, I lied!

Sorry about that.

My intentions, as always, were pristine. (And, yes. I do know the name of the road that’s lined with good intentions. My mother explained all of that to me when I was 13.)

But in my own defense, is it my fault that the headlights of my brain only show me a tiny stretch of the road ahead? (You can blame God, if you like, since he created me. But first you should know that He and I have already agreed that He’s always going to be right, no matter how good of an argument I manage to offer.)

I began my storyboard for my 3rd Grace Cassidy mystery in good faith. I bought a bulletin board at Walmart for ten bucks, came home with my purchase and marked it into four sections with masking tape. Feeling very self-righteous and completely sure of my success in this project, I started making plot points on index cards, as I’d always done.

This grew old in a hurry. My fingers started to cramp. (I'm an old girl, after all.) Then it occurred to me that I could type much faster than I could write in longhand. So I finished my notes on Word. Then I changed the margins so I could cut each note into an index-card size. These I pinned to the board.

The first section was filled, when suddenly the characters sprang to life and started talking inside my head. The problem was, they said what they wanted to say, not what I had planned. And since I’m sort of a wishy-washy person, I didn’t argue with them, but just followed blindly. (For some weird reason there seems to be a sort of magic connection between my fingers and the story. I’d be a real bust at dictating).

I’m still convinced that storyboarding is the right way to go and might save me a year of rewrites. Therefore my storyboard for my 3rd Grace Cassidy mystery is still in progress. However, my method evolved. (Some writers work with files and some work with piles. I’m a pile person.) I now pin the plot progress on my board as I go. I’m a gal who must write as she goes. I start with a premise, knowing only who has murder in their hearts, and why and who they're ticked off with. The rest I learn as I write.
2nd Grace Cassidy Mystery

1st Grace Cassidy Mystery
I wish I could be a strict plotter, but it seems I can't. I have to write "by the seat of my pants."

Oh well, it worked for the pilots in the 1920's maybe it will work for me too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My writing process

by Bill Kirton
Whenever I’m asked questions about my writing, I always seem to find out something new for myself. Here are my answers to some questions put to me in a recent interview.

What am I working on?
Ahem, this is an embarrassing question because I’ve been working on it for such a long time. It’s the sequel to my novel The Figurehead. That was set in Aberdeen in 1840 and featured John Grant, a figurehead carver, and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a shipowner. It was a crime novel (because that’s what I’m supposed to write) but the chemistry between John and Helen turned it into a romance, too. The romance aspect was left unresolved and I knew I wanted to spend more time with those two characters. There was also the pleasure of stepping back once again into 19th century Aberdeen and its ways.

I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to get into the sequel. I knew I wanted it to feature a theatre company performing melodramas and that it would see Helen becoming involved in her father’s business. I also knew there’d have to be a crime (see above brackets) but, since John and Helen had ended the previous book with what I described as ‘a lover’s kiss’, I had to work out what they’d been doing in the year that had passed since then. This, remember, was in early Victorian Scotland so their options were limited. I’m 23,000 words into it and waiting for it to grab me and insist I work it all out. It doesn’t help that I’ve also started writing another sequel, to my satire The Sparrow Conundrum, and have made copious notes for the sixth (and probably last) in my detective series.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The bulk of my output has been contemporary crime, which is a very crowded field. It comes under the police procedural tag and I started writing it because a publisher liked a stand-alone thriller I’d written but would have preferred a police procedural, so I wrote one. There are now five in the series, all featuring DCI Jack Carston who’s happily married and doesn’t have any particular hang-ups. drink problems or other character-defining flaws, so I suppose that’s one difference. More than that, though, he believes in justice rather than the law and is aware of the gaps between them. His (and my) interest is in people and their motives rather than the deeds they perpetrate so, while the books are whodunits, they’re also whydunnits.

I try to get as much humour as possible into the stories but that’s not unusual. But there’s one thing which I think is: I have a tendency to add a coda to each book which suggests that, although the crime has been solved and the loose ends have been tied up, there’s still something going on which shows that evil persists. I like to leave the reader with the satisfaction of a good story where justice has been done but a little niggle to undermine their idea that ‘all’s right with the world’.

Finally, very few of the deaths are caused by murderers.

Why do I write what I do?
I’ve already hinted at that. I write crime because it’s what that first publisher wanted. But it also offers a ready-made structure. To tell any story about crime you need characters, motives, notions of good and evil and by seeing how different characters respond to temptations, frustrations, provocations and the rest, we come to understand better our own attitudes. The third in my Carston series, The Darkness, sets real questions for readers, making them examine where their sympathies lie and what that says about their own morality.

On the other hand, I used to write radio and stage plays and I also write short stories, most of which aren’t about crime, and stories for children and I do it for the sheer pleasure of entering different worlds, getting to know different characters, some of them existing in other dimensions. In fact, my latest novella, Alternative Dimension, was about an online role-playing game where characters were not only themselves but avatars, which could take any form. In the end, I write because I enjoy it so much.

How does my writing process work?
If you’ve read my answer to the first question, you’ll probably be thinking ‘well, it obviously doesn’t’, but I’m always writing something. Ideas come from everywhere – newspaper items, scenes you see in the street, some dialogue you overhear, a photograph, anything and everything – and they’re either compelling in themselves or two or more of them fuse to set up something which needs to be resolved. Then, once I’ve let the implications stew for a bit, I start writing about them, characters appear and, basically, take over. Thereafter, I sit and watch and listen to them and write it all down. When I’m really into a novel, I want to be writing it all the time and I sometimes lose track of time entirely. I know that’ll happen soon with that sequel that’s taking so long and, when it does, I'll finish it quite quickly.