Friday, April 17, 2015

How Carolyn Hart Became a Bestselling Author

When Carolyn Hart sent me an announcement of her soon-to-be released novel, I asked that she write a guest blog and she graciously complied:                                              
In the spring of 1985, I was a failed author. I’d had seven books published but another seven manuscripts were stacked, gathering dust, turned down by a raft of publishers. This was the heyday of steamy romance novels. I tried that. No sale. I wrote WWII novels. Escape from Paris, the story of two American sisters in Paris in1940 who help British airmen flee the Gestapo, is possibly the best suspense novel I ever wrote.  Escape from Paris later sold to a small publishing house in England, then to Doubleday in the U.S. and has been reprinted now by Seventh Street Books. But in 1985, it was in the unsold stack of seven.
1985 marked a turning point in mystery publishing for American women. Until then, publishers considered the American mystery to be the hard-boiled male (of course) private eye written by men. That mold was broken by Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton.They wrote hard-boiled books but the protagonists were women. Publishers saw their sales and decided American women readers were interested in books by and about American women.
As a writer living in Oklahoma, I didn’t know a sea change was occurring. All I knew was that I’d written book after book and no one was interested. I was teaching at the time and attended a meeting of Mystery Writers of America in Houston. Wonderful Joan Lowery Nixon, a renowned Houston YA writer, had a cocktail party for the MWA members.
I attended though I felt out of place even though I’d had seven books published. There was that stack of seven unsold and nothing on the horizon. Everyone was friendly and kind, as writers generally are. I met Bill Crider who had just sold his first book. As we talked, he asked if I’d been to Murder by the Book. I asked him what that was. He said, “A mystery bookstore.” I’d never heard of a mystery bookstore. The next day I took a cab from the hotel to Murder by the Book. The owner was there, gracious and appealing Martha Farrington. I didn’t introduce myself or mention my previous books. Instead I gloried in the store, row after row of shelves filled with mysteries of all kinds, suspense, thrillers, traditional mysteries, crime novels, British mysteries, and a whole wall of used books. In Oklahoma when we like something we say, “I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.” That, to me, was Murder by the Book. (Martha has since retired but fabulous Murder by the Book continues to be a Houston triumph.)
I returned home, energized by friendly writers talking about the books we loved to read and loved to write and by visiting Murder by the Book. I’d just started a new book (the triumph of hope over experience) set in a bookstore. I made it a mystery bookstore. I wrote the kind of book I love to read, about ordinary people and the passions and heartache that lead to murder and about a young couple, Annie Laurence and Max Darling, who truly love each other. I called the book Death on Demand. 

In New York, publishers were looking for books by American women. The book sold to Kate Miciak at Bantam, one of the mystery world’s most fabulous editors. I had written it more in defiance than in hope. The possibility that anyone would publish it seemed remote. It never occurred to me to think in terms of a series. Kate called to talk and asked, “It’s the first in a series, isn’t it?” I immediately said of course it was. I wrote the next and the next and readers read them and I kept going. The 25th in the Death on Demand series - Don’t Go Home - will be published May 8. 

Annie Darling tries hard to keep her promise to Max that she will never again put herself in danger but their good friend Gazette Reporter Marian Kenyon faces scandal and heartbreak when an author’s return to the island ends in murder. He knew too much about too many. Choices are made by Annie about the importance of friendship and by Marian about what kind of truth matters.

by Carolyn Hart
Submitted by Jean Henry Mead

Thursday, April 16, 2015


I'm a day late but I just wanted to sneak in a couple of early reviews of my next Daisy Dalrymple mystery (Minotaur, June).

Publishers Weekly: "...Affecting..."
                          The rest is just about the story, but at least the one word that's actual review is positive!

And Booklist:
"Now here’s a proper British mystery. The title refers to the two million excess women left unmarried after WWI. Dunn’s heroine, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple, now wife of Scotland Yard Inspector Alec Fletcher, is friends with one of these women, Willie Chandler, a chum from school who has just moved to Beaconsfield with two other roommates. With Daisy recuperating in the village after a bout of bronchitis, she renews the acquaintance, and she and Alec gladly accept an invitation to Sunday lunch. Though the smell of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding wafts through the kitchen, another, less aromatic smell comes from the basement. Alas, it is the exceedingly dead body of a woman.

"Are Willie et al. the murderers? What about the leasing agent, who had a thing for the home’s former owner? Or the lascivious schoolteacher? Daisy, much to the chagrin of her husband (though he’s getting used to it), is as involved as ever in this twenty-first book of the series. A thoroughly cozy atmosphere combines with a solid mystery.
More Daisy, please."
— Ilene Cooper

And Kirkus just arrived:  "Fans of classic British mysteries and Dunn’s clever heroine will find plenty of local color and red herrings in her latest charmer."


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A chat with a frog

By Bill Kirton 
Richard Dawkins, the eminent but controversial evolutionary biologist, is always being attacked for his ‘militant atheism’ and uncompromising rejection of things ‘supernatural’. A while ago, the accusation was that he’d claimed fairy stories were bad for children. It was a false accusation but I took the chance of using it to write a blog. It went like this:

(There’s a frog sitting on the wall outside my house, right on the corner, near the gate. He spends a lot of time there. I always say ‘Hi’ when I go out and when I come back. He doesn’t often reply and when he does it’s more of a grunt than a greeting. This week, though, he was looking around a bit. I thought he looked sort of anxious, so I stopped for a wee chat.)
‘Morning,’ I said. ‘You seem a bit … different today.’
‘I s’pose I am.’
‘Seen the paper?’
‘Yes, but…’
‘Bloody Richard Dawkins. At it again.’
‘Ah, right. The bit about not telling kids stories about princesses kissing frogs and toads.’
‘Right, he reckons it’s only feeding them more supernatural stuff, like the church does. Clever bloke. But he always sees the destination, not the journey.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Well, you’ve seen me here, haven’t you?’
‘How often?’
‘Well. Lots. You’re always here.’
‘And why d’you suppose I do that?’
‘I dunno.’
‘’s obvious, innit. Balmoral’s just up the road.’
(He’s right, I live on the road that leads to Balmoral, but it’s nearly 50 miles away.)
‘So what?’ I said.
‘Well, if I’m going to have any chance of getting kissed by a princess, I’ve got to hang out in the places they go to.’
‘So that’s why you’re here? Waiting to be kissed by a princess?’
‘Any particular one?’
‘No, I’m not fussy. I won’t be hanging around after the kiss.’
‘Why not?’
‘Well, I’ll have changed. I’ll be a prince then. I’ll have money, status, women. Why the hell would I want to sit on the corner of a wall?’
‘Hang on a minute. What are the chances of a) a princess seeing you and stopping? And b) actually giving you a kiss?’
‘That’s exactly what Dawkins said. It’s all statistics. No room for hope.’
‘Have you bought a lottery ticket this week?’
‘Well, yes.’
‘Right, so right now, you’ve got a chance of being rich next Wednesday.’
‘It’s true. And any minute now, some chauffeur-driven limo could pull up here, some woman in a tiara might get out, pick me up and kiss me. Just a peck’ll do. Doesn’t have to be tongues. And I’ll be a prince.’
‘No, listen. Is that theoretically possible?’
‘Is it?’
‘I suppose, theoretically, we …’
‘Right. But the trouble with Dawkins is, he jumps past that. Just focuses on conclusions, results. All statistics do is get rid of the nice bits.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘OK, listen. There’s four mice living in your cellar…’
‘Are there?’
‘Yes, and every so often they get changed into horses and they get to pull a big carriage to balls and that. And the lizards down the garden, they get to be footmen. And that rat who lives in your garage, he’s a coachman. Brilliant.’
‘Yes, there’s always a “but”. Just think about it. The mice – all of a sudden they’re white horses and they’re big and beautiful, and they gallop away for miles. And the lizards and the rat are clinging on, having a great time. Carefree, all of ’em. Living the dream.’
(He really did have a dreamy look on his face as he described it. Then his expression changed.)
‘But all of a sudden, it’s midnight and they all change back. And they’re standing round by this pumpkin. And they’re bloody miles away. Takes them hours to get home.’
‘I don’t see what…’
‘That’s reality. Nothing wrong with the dreaming and the supernatural. It’s the “happy ever after” bit. That’s the real problem. Dawkins joins up all the dots. He wants everything to connect, make sense, mean something. Well, obviously, that’s crap. Never mind meaning, I just want the bit before the “happy ever after”. If I could…’

(He stopped. I looked at him. He was staring across the road. A Rolls Royce had pulled up. Something was fluttering on its bonnet. It was the royal standard.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Aging in Place--Perfect for This Writer

by Jackie King

A couple of years ago, I decided to sell my 4-bedroom house and get myself settled into a cozy writing nest where I could age in place. The plan was that I would have nothing to worry about except writing, which I love. (Well, love/hate, but that’s a different essay.)

The first step was to find the right nesting place. After visiting several different facilities, I chose Woodland Terrace, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa has been my home since I was in my twenties.

I looked at a number of different apartments and floor plans. Nothing in my price range seemed just right. However, the last place I perused seemed to reach out and wrap invisible arms around me. This pad was on the third floor, close to the exercise room, and best of all, the large window looked out into the tops of gorgeous oak trees. It was May, and  I looked into a green wonderland filled with squirrels and birds. I was in love.
Looking outside my window in early Autumn
Just gazing into the lush growth of green leaves, transports me to to a lakeside in the country. I have taken pictures of my trees in every season and I love each change.

Downsizing and moving was a nightmare, which I would have never survived if not for my youngest daughter, Jennifer and my BFF, Judy Rosser. But with the help of those close to me, I made the change successfully and now spin my stories glancing out the window from time to time for inspiration.

Birds nest just outside my window and squirrels romp, leaping from branch to branch.

When I grow tired at my computer, I walk a few steps to my bedroom and lie down for a while. There I rethink my plot and characterization.

I love my life, and I love my new pad!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Creating Novel Characters

by Jean Henry Mead

Some of us are tempted to create characters based on people we know. And that's fine as long as you don’t describe them accurately. Your relatives probably won’t sue if they discover themselves in your books, but others might.

To successfully sue, a plaintiff must prove that your fictional character is negatively based on her, and has injured her emotionally, financially or socially. It’s safer to write about a public figure or someone deceased, although their relatives can sue for defaming them posthumously. To avoid lawsuits, disguise characters in ways to make them unrecognizable. That includes physical appearances as well as mannerisms. By combining the traits of one person with another, you'll have a unique character.

How much disguise is necessary? No hard and fast rules exist but merely changing a person’s name will not keep you out of court. The only safe way to avoid litigation is to change the character’s name, sex, age, occupation and appearance. In other words, create an original character.

Fleshing out characters so that they become real to readers is as important as giving them appropriate names. But you have to be careful what you name your villains because someone with the same name may take offense and claim to have been libeled. So give villains simple names such as Bob Smith, Joe Brown or Pat Wilson. If you’re unsure, there are websites such as "How Many of Me?" which list how many people have a certain name. I also check with various people finders online to make sure that no one has the name when I decide on an unusual one. I was surprised to learn that out of more than 320,000,000 people in this country, no one else has my name.

Character names are important because they conger up images in a reader’s mind. You wouldn’t name a contemporary character Ebenezer any more than you would call a Roman Emperor Mike. In my first mystery/suspense novel, A Village Shattered, I called one of my contemporary characters Elisibub because his southern parents named him after his great-grandfather, a Civil War captain. Everyone called him “Bub.”

Writers can find appropriate names for their characters by reading the newspaper, baby name books or the phone book. I once knew a humorous western writer, Stanley Locke, who chose Ormly Gumfudgin as his pen name. I’ve also known people with unusual names like Fayfern Dinkle, Damond Binkley, Wakley Peacock and Sissie Muddle, but I wouldn’t dream of using them in a novel. Like my own name, they’re one of a kind, but that doesn't stop me from tweaking them a little and coming up with Wilber Birdsnest, Damer Winkle and Fannie Dinkley. I like to include humor in my work, including my nonfiction books.

Male protagonists with names such as Daniel, Michael, George and David seem to instill confidence in the reader that they are capable of accomplishing their goals or overcoming a problem before the novel's conclusion. Female characters have an even wider range of names and writers have been known to create some unusual ones. I prefer short, common names such as Dana, Sarah, Kerrie and Rosita, all characters in my latest novel, Murder at the Mansion. It’s only when I choose surnames that I'm creative.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Writing with Your Grandkids

by June Shaw

"We'd like to write a book with you," my two teen granddaughters told me.

"Do y'all just want money, or do you really want to write a book?"

"No, it would be fun to write a book. That's what we'd like to do."

Hmm, they were fourteen and sixteen and both avid readers, although the older sister had gotten much more involved in extra-curricular activities. We thought about what we might write. They both really enjoyed The Hunger Games. So did I, so we decided we would create that type novel.

Since they were in school and taking part in various sports, dancing and gymnastics, I did most of the writing. I asked for lots of input from them about things like different sports, characters, descriptions.... Often I'd get in a jam and ask what might happen next, or how could the character get out of that situation, or what might happen that's even worse than the previous one. How great it was to get responses from sweet young ladies who have read widely.

Now it's finally happened. They are published authors! Our science fiction JUST ONE FRIEND takes place after warfare has destroyed most of the country. Since only one area is known where life can  exist, the leader decreed that each person is only allowed to have one friend. A teenage girl believes things should be otherwise.

Our novel is available for e-readers and in print. We are really proud of our work. I am one proud grandmother.

I forgot the link:

Being a grandmother means... well, sometimes I forget something. In this case I forgot to add a link for people who might want to learn more about the book I wrote with my granddaughters  -- or possibly order it. They'd love you forever for doing that.

On Amazon JUST ONE FRIEND is here:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Truth or Consequences

Telling the Truth Is Hard
Even When You’re Making It Up As You Go
I’m a private person. A friend says it’s because I’m a Pisces. I think it’s because I was always in trouble as a kid for saying things that annoyed grownups. So I learned to hide my true thoughts and said what others wanted to hear. It was neither interesting nor fun, but I got pretty good at it. That skill worked well for getting along with adults and later on, bosses and coworkers. But when I started writing, this acquired fa├žade turned into my biggest Nemesis.
As a beginning writer my protagonist (hero or heroine), did the same thing, but without the saving-grace of inner thoughts. I made my characters ‘nice,’ because this had worked well for me as a person. But the result on paper produced cardboard people that even I didn’t like.
For some time I soldiered on, not quite knowing how to fix my problem. Then one day while working at my computer (the place where best ideas spring to life) I realized that my aversion to showing flaws, wasn’t to protect my characters, it was to protect myself! (As if anyone really cared.)
No wonder I had plastic people in my stories. I decided to TELL THE TRUTH as I saw it. This decision improved my writing overnight. I started to speak straight from my heart, without worrying about how it sounded. Suddenly my characters turned into flesh and blood. These imaginary playmates didn’t blab their faults to other characters; they tormented themselves with these inner doubts. Flaws were vocalized inside their heads, where readers could identify with this common human trait.
Note to beginning writers: This is called inner dialogue, or a private conversation between the character and the reader. 
To develop this and other writing skills, spend as much time as possible writing. Also it’s essential to read continually. After you finish reading a mystery (or other book) that you love, go back and study how that author set you up for the ride. Especially observe the character’s inner dialogue—especially those with no attributions.
I was astonished at how hard telling the truth was at first. These thoughts exposed me. It felt a bit like walking about naked. What would my church friends think? What would my children or mother think? But by that time I was at the point where writing had become more important to me than anyone’s opinion. I figured that if they liked me, they’d forgive me. So I forged on.

Telling the truth on paper has been the most freeing thing I’ve ever done as a writer. If you haven’t already discovered the joy of being yourself in your work, try it. Incidentally, this skill is also part of what’s called ‘voice.’ Dare to be outrageous, if that’s your true self. Or fearful, or timid, or cowardly. Your readers will love you for it.