Missye K. Clarke on Becoming a Writer

Misyye K. Clarke

It’s always interesting to me how many of we writers started in our teens. Missye K. Clarke is yet another one. Here’s how it happened.

My writing life began with my coming into the world a true smartass. That happens when you’re born and raised in old-school New York City. Flushing, Queens to be precise. Strong assessment? Sure. But it got your attention. And, hey, old-school Big Apple residents often use strong anything.

But first, a bit of backstory.

I remember, for as long as could remember—with family stories backing said recollections—I started writing when I was four, that word “Freedom” in a fat green crayon on orange construction paper. Between that moment and when my being that smartass got me suspended for a month from riding the bus one way and in school, I hated writing.

Okay . . . hate’s too strong a word, as my late Granny would say. More like detested and dreaded writing. Book reports, that is (Aha! I see heads nodding in agreement and hands shooting up in solidarity with me!). Don’t get me wrong—reading was my strongest suit, my vocabulary reflecting as such in those school percentile tests and when I read the Macmillan Children’s Dictionary during weekends at my Granny’s whenever I got in trouble or told her I was bored. I loved getting lost in stories of boys watching an independent mouse work his toy motorcycle, or a little shy black cat with a red scarf discovering she had a skating talent to be part of her neighborhood cat club—or a sweet little girl channeling a jealous dead girl similar in age because the girl’s ghost was restless, the connection, a glass globe on a stone pedestal. What I didn’t like was summarizing these stories in writing, jotting my thoughts of said stories in these essays.

It wasn’t so much the writing that bothered me; if that were the case, I’d hate drafting sentences to use my newly-learned vocabulary words in. It was the drafting book reports of someone else’s imagination that, as a teacher discovered, was what I argued hard what the point was to prove I’d read the book. She tried an experiment when I didn’t turn in said detestable assignment: she let me orally summarize the story I’d read, since I was more expressive in this vein than most. And in other aspects, I couldn’t shut up.

The first oral report worked. A dozen others followed. She graded me in her marking book, happy for one less thing to read from a class of twenty-something students, sending my book report writing days to the cartoon graveyard at the ripe old age of eleven.

“And this all has to do you’re being a smart-aleck lead to writing, how, exactly Missye?”

Patience, Grasshopper (**she says sarcastically through a wry smirk**). Every good storyteller has a decent setup before the payoff.

Fast forward five years. I’m sixteen, well ensconced in northern Arizona—another blog post for another day, perhaps—and my younger sister and I are on the bus on a typical school day, which quickly went atypical.

The driver, an angry lumberjack bull lesbian female (which she honestly was, but insensitive to say nowadays), was either tired of trying to antagonize me or fed up with not breaking me with her instigation, began to pick on my sister. Sister started crying, the other kids were laughing at her for the rain, and I got super-pissed from this (only I’m supposed to pick on her, nobody else is! I’m kidding, but you know what I mean). So while “Marie” was still driving, I popped such a hot remark to and about her of her girlfriend dumping her, I think I saw cartoony sparks fly from me that could’ve set her plaid shirt on fire.

“Marie” slammed the brakes, radioed dispatch she’s not moving that bus one more inch until this kid—me—is off her bus IMMEDIATELY! In crocodile tears, too, I’ll add, but hey, I was in the wrong for wising off to somebody in authority. But she’d antagonized me one time too many—and as an afterthought too late to head off, that was her way to antagonize me. Adding insult to injury: not even my sister came to my defense in my defending her. Such was the hell of high school life.

Ironically, my sister got to stay on the bus, but while one of my parents drove me into school that morning, the kids whooped and hollered over so what I’d said, it hit the gossip mill all day plus two more. I was an anti-celebrity of sorts—then tagged a smartass and since—until one of my favorite people in authority—Assistant Principal James MacLarney–really lowered the boom. The impact his truthful statements made while he yelled at me in the first place, and his intoned, truly-giving-a-damn words broke me. I always hated on myself when people I liked and respected a whole lot did that, and I sure did then.

Sigh. I faced a choice: in-house suspension of one of my favorite music classes for a month, since my parents had to work when school let out and they weren’t making an extra stop for my butt to get home—morning bus privileges and weekend babysitting privileges concurrently suspended, too—or hard labor for three hours a day after school for a month on someone’s nearby horse and cattle farm.

I opted for the in-house.

Homework completed the nights before, all the books I had were saved for home, forty-five minutes of the first two days dragged—until I began writing longhand on day three. Something clicked. Now again, don’t get me wrong, I liked writing—loved it, actually. Just not summarizing somebody else’s imaginative results; if that wanted to know about it, as I often wrote at the end of those silly reports, READ THE BOOK! And I wrote two pieces, two long-shorts when I was fourteen and fifteen based on writing prompts from an English teacher at the time (I was the lone one in class taking all three prompts, since they individually weren’t calling out to me).

But the study hall time opened my untapped strange new world in a wardrobe. First person, Le Pen in left hand to spiral-bound notebook, my MC was a guy named Alex “Ponyboy” McCormick, blond, grey-eyed, my age, and he and five other buddies—three dudes, two females, one of which he was interested in, but she was one of his wingdude’s boo—found themselves in a Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space-type situation in then the Space Shuttle Challenger. Admittedly, I borrowed heavily from everything I’d read, absorbed from Saturday morning cartoons, dreams, and made this rough start of a novel into the gumbo of my imagination. But it was those “But what happens next, Missye?” moments every day and every night that pushed me to keep writing. It made the forty-five prison minutes of daily in-house speed by, my grades improved . . . and I kept writing over the weekends to divert my mind from losing out on extra babysitting cash (my parents relented occasionally when the family needing a sitter didn’t want my sister minding their kids due to her being twelve to my sixteen. She howled a pluperfect fit, but couldn’t do much more past that.).

Find the magic, however you can, if it’s gone wayward or long asleep. It’s inside you, but will surface with the right scent, or touched by the perfect angle of sunlight, or maybe free-writing by full moonlight or firelight to gently coax Mr. Sandman from its eyes. Or, as was my case writing during that in-house of hell, I did to stave off sheer boredom; they wouldn’t let us even sleep then, can you imagine? But even through all this, my mind, imagination, curiosity—alongside Alex, Zak, Little Joe, Allyson, Kris, and Mickey at the time–never quit asking what comes next. Even my present Casebook and Threesome of Magic mysteries, the same “what comes next” drumbeats come from Casper, Logan, Alex, Missye Maroon, and Jay Vincent today. And I don’t believe I, or they, ever will stop asking. They know where the magic truly lies. They and I all know even the snarky smart-alecks have that glow of story-magic, too.

Time to dust a new trail of imagination fairy dust and plumb more magical lands of possibilities.

Did I ever give “Marie” an apology? Sort of. I was wrong for wising off, I told her—and dropped it. Once school authorities realized the technicality I exploited—I never said I’m sorry for what I’d said, because I genuinely wasn’t—there was little they could do to remedy it.

Happy writing, everybody. 🙂

Missye K. Clarke’s novel JERSEY DOGS, the first of the McGuinness/Pedregon Casebooks, is set for release this spring in e-book and print editions.

Suzanne Adair and The American Revolution From the Other Side

Suzanne Adair

Ever since I read Suzanne Adair’s first book in her Michael Stoddard series, Deadly Occupation, set during the American Revolution, I’ve been wondering why she made the insanely interesting choice to have her hero be a Redcoat. Yeah, that’s right. The good guys in her books are the folks we’re used to thinking of as the bad guys. So I put that and a couple other questions to her, and we’ve got the answers below.

1) So why did you make Michael Stoddard a Redcoat rather than a rebel?

The rebel point of view has been explored so often in film, novels, and non-fiction that I’m not sure what more I could contribute to it. But step into the “enemy’s” boots, and your perspective shifts. You see the history from an angle that doesn’t involve tired clichés, and you gain new insights. You also realize that this character who wears the enemy’s colors is faced with the same dilemmas that you’ve faced and is making the same decisions (sometimes errors) that you make. Finally, you get around to asking yourself, “How different are we, really?” Which is the question I’d hoped you’d ask, since you’re curious about a redcoat protagonist.

2) How “religious” do people get about the American Revolution? I mean, it is our American myth and there are those who get fussy when folks mess with it.

Some people get very fussy over those myths about the American Revolution. The irony is that by the time the Centennial celebration in 1876 rolled around, the majority of our Great American Myth had been hammered out in the form of anecdotal “stories” that weren’t grounded historically. Across the generations, many teachers and scholars have accepted these anecdotes as fact, and that’s why most Americans believe that Paul Revere completed his midnight ride, and that just about everybody in America during the Revolution was Protestant, and that all British soldiers were “recruited” from prison.

People who have believed the wrong version of history for most of their lives don’t easily change their minds. They’re also more inclined to believe cinematic balderdash like that scene in “The Patriot” where the British barricaded civilians in a church and set fire to the church. Such a thing never happened. Don’t you think the soldiers and civilians who hated the Crown would have reported it if it had? However Nazis—yeah, burning civilians in a church was quite their style.

The Relevant History feature on my blog, created in 2011, is a place in cyberspace where writers of historical fiction and non-fiction can trot those myths out and discuss the real history behind them, and inquisitive readers can learn. Come on over and discover history that’s relevant to events in the 21st century.

3) Part of the fun of writing historical fiction is that you know when the stock market is going to crash or what’s going to happen in the future. How fun (or not) is it to play with the reality that Stoddard’s cause is going to lose?

It’s a lot of fun! And since my series follows the actual history of the British occupation in Wilmington in 1781, the path for the series background is laid out for me.

However, after researching the American Revolution for almost two decades, I’m not sure that “lose” is the correct term here. When the last of the British sailed for home in 1783, Britain was still the most powerful country on the earth. If that weren’t so, in the conflict with France in the following generation, Napoleon would have emerged the victor.

You see, Britain was fighting on multiple fronts, making our American Revolution one part of a world war. It wasn’t a popular war across the pond. American Revolution, historical fiction, historical mystery, historical mysteries Civilians griped noisily in pubs and coffeehouses about how politicians were wasting their money. (Sound familiar?) Several historians have told me that Britain’s most seasoned soldiers weren’t even in America; we got something like the third string. That Atlantic-wide supply line was an absolute beast to maintain and protect. So a lot of civilians in Britain weren’t exactly heartbroken when the powers-that-be decided to cut the hemorrhage of resources into America and either bring soldiers home or send them elsewhere, where they could be more productive. (That strategy might sound familiar, too.)

I haven’t given redcoat Michael Stoddard any special abilities to predict the future. However, almost a decade in the British Army has definitely stomped out his idealism. Astute and practical, he looks for ways to get as much experience as possible while the King is picking up some of the tab. He’s kept his eyes and ears open, so he knows that his commander (Major Craig) has advised his commander (Lord Cornwallis) to stay in the Carolinas and not go to Virginia. When Michael hears how it goes down at Yorktown, of course, he’ll be disappointed, but he won’t be terribly surprised. And when it’s all over, he’s grateful to have taken part in a campaign in North Carolina that was, for many months, a success—instead of being on that bloody battlefield in Virginia.

Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in North Carolina. Killer Debt is the fourth in her series featuring Michael Stoddard. Here’s the fun part – it will be available for pre-order on March 1, through her Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign. And because this is going (has gone) live two days before the campaign starts, please click through to her website to find out more. You can also find her on Facebook at Suzanne.Adair.Author or on Twitter @Suzanne_Adair.

You can also find links to buy the rest of the Michael Stoddard series from your preferred retailer on her site: www.suzanneadair.net/books/michael-stoddard-american-revolution-thrillers/.

 

Unusual Book Promotions with Jill Amadio

Let’s face it, we writers are always looking for interesting venues for book promotion. This week, my fellow Sister in Crime Jill Amadio writes about some of the different venues she’s pursued to promote her two mysteries Digging too Deep and Digging up the Dead.

Book promotion

Author Jill Amadio

After promoting my debut crime novel to the usual online, broadcast, and print mystery media where I hoped (okay, begged) for reviews and interviews I realized:  there are many other publicity outlets worth approaching that are outside-the-box and often neglected by many authors.

“Yes, indeed,” I wrote to a gentleman in Virginia. “I believe I am definitely qualified to join your organization. My family played an active part in the St. Ives community when we lived there”.

What was that all about? This conversation with the president of the Cornish-American Heritage Society came about after my book, “Digging Too Deep: A Tosca Trevant Mystery,” was published. I had endowed my amateur sleuth with a vocabulary of Cornish cusswords and a penchant for brewing tongue-curling medieval mead from the land of the piskies (Cornish elves). My initial reason for seeking out the Society was to get back in touch with my roots and because my main character is a Cornishwoman. But I had an ulterior motive.

The Society has a newsletter that reports on various goings-on in Cornwall, UK, and on ex-pats. One delicious news item that caught my eye was that the Duchy of Cornwall was contemplating opening up an embassy in London now that the Cornish are finally recognized as an official minority. Lower the drawbridge! Tosca can have fun with that in her next book in the series, I thought. Then, Lo and behold, I noted that the newsletter also ran book reviews. Well, icing on the cake. The review and a blurb of my book appeared in the next issue. I noted, too, that with the Society holding events all over the U.S they provide signing opportunities. Their next meeting was in San Diego, California where I was invited to talk. When I attended their international Gathering of the Cornish Bards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had a book table and sold out.

On my website, www.jillamadiomysteries.com, I added a page about St. Ives that includes a photo of its 1312 pub, The Sloop Inn, which is still selling pints. A topic for a future article for the brewing trade publications? I also sent a copy of the book to the St. Ives Archive which maintains an online site as well as a gift shop that sells books. (Shouldn’t I be hired by the Cornwall Council as a roving ambassador?)

Another Venue for Book Promotion

Another avenue for publicity came from a friend in New York, a leading classical music critic. He writes an internationally-syndicated column for ConcertoNet.com distributed in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and on the island of Karguella for all I know. He’d helped with research for the classical music details in my book and surprised me with a lengthy review. After it appeared in the Bangkok Post, Thailand I heard from a reporter I’d worked with years ago. She now owns a specialty museum that I’ll include in a future book. Again, grist for the mill, and an addition to her Facebook page.

Some authors combine their non-literary careers with the fiction they write and are able to pursue marketing on both fronts. Psychological suspense writer Sheila Lowe, a certified forensic handwriting examiner and president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, bases her protagonist in the Claudia Rose series on her daily job. Lowe’s expertise and testimony in court cases gains her entry and access to legal publications, legal blogs, and online sites where she can discuss real cases involving forensic graphology and at the same time promote her novels.

Author Diane Vallere spent over 20 years in the fashion industry and her passion for shoes, clues and clothes encouraged her to base the fashionista sleuth in her Material Witness crime series on her own life.

The list of custom blogs for just about every subject on the planet is growing by the week and looking for content. If you write about wine, gourmet cheese or other foods are you or your publicist sending review copies to bakers’ and grocery organizations for their blogs and newsletters? Have a knitting protagonist? Query crafts magazines. How about an ARC to women farmers’ associations if your setting is in rural America? The Internet is chock full of hobby newsletters that probably one of your characters enjoys although I doubt there is a milkmaids fellowship.

I used to write an automotive column and sent my book, which features a vintage Austin-Healey sports car, to my pals at car magazines, and got reviewed. Alumni and club publications, too, welcome notices of new books. Hit them up for a talk and write on their blog. Platforms such as these provide ideas for finding new and unusual opportunities to promote your book. Turn over that stone!

Yes, promoting books is time-consuming and often frustrating but it’s the road we’ve chosen to trek, and there are often wonderful, unusual, and unexpectedly rewarding results when we keep putting one foot in front of the other.

You can find out more about Jill and her books at  www.jillamadiomysteries.com.

Pauline Baird Jones Explains How a Duet Came to Be

Pauline Baird Jones has an unusual offer for us today: science fiction romance. Hers is one of two stories published as a duet with her friend Genie Davis. If you’ve ever wondered how an author comes up with ideas, well, this is an interesting twist on the process. You can find out more about Pauline here.

Like many of my ideas, Open With Care began with Genie, the other author in our duet, and I at lunch, talking.

“Why haven’t we written something together?” One of us asked. I don’t remember which one. It was a question because we’d been friends (online first and after some years, some face-to– face meetings) for a long time. So then and there, we decided to write “something” together.

Soon.

By the end of the year.

We did some kicking around of idea via Facebook Messenger and decided our “duet” would have these elements:
1. Wyoming
2. In the science fiction romance genre.
3. Holiday (Christmas)
4. Be triggered by an unusual gift.

So separately, we took these elements and started writing. Because you have to write holiday stories ahead of the holidays, I found myself working
on my story, “Up on the Rooftop,” in August. Luckily, I was also in Wyoming, but that didn’t help as much as you’d think it would. Because it was August.

My story idea was further refined by a couple of personal triggers:
1. That spring I was at the Romantic Times Convention in Las Vegas and involved in the Intergalactic Bar & Grille party. We decorated with blow up, green aliens.
2. My real life experience with aging parents.

How I brought all of these elements together into a single short story, well, frankly, it puzzles me, too. Apparently, I poured them into my brain, turned on the brain blender, and out came a quirky tale of aliens on the rooftop, Men in Black in the yard, and a long shot chance to rekindle an old romance.

Genie’s story is quintessentially hers, too. It is evocative, a little dark, but ultimately a hopeful story about love and the power of Christmas. Hers has aliens, too, but not the little green men variety.

The Stories:

Gini knew Christmas in Wyoming would be challenging as she headed
over the frozen crick and through the woods to the family cabin. The lights
are going out in her mom’s attic, the guy who broke her heart is on the
porch…and there are aliens on the roof.
According to her mom, it’s going to be the best Christmas ever.
And then dive into a mesmerizing tale of interstellar time travel and
romance!

Jane MacKenzie, visiting her grandfather’s abandoned ranch,
discovers something in the snow. When she opens the ribbon-wrapped
box, it mysteriously returns Sam Harrington, who “disappeared” in an  1885
blizzard.
There’s nothing alien in this enduring tale of holiday homecomings and
the hope of a love that lasts a lifetime.

You can buy Open With Care at BarnesandNoble, Google Play, Kobo, Amazon, and iTunes, or just go to the link for Open With Care.

Lois Winston on the Mystery of Crafts

Lois Winston

My guest post today, Lois Wilson, writes one of the funniest series out there, featuring amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, a craft editor at a major magazine. If you’ve ever thought that a mystery with crafts or recipes had to be tooth-achingly twee, come meet Anastasia. Trust me, it takes real talent to mix mop dolls and scrapbooking with gangsters, communists, and spies – and those are the good guys! 

I started my career as a romance author, but in my day job I’m a designer. For several decades (more than I’m willing to admit at this stage in my life!), I’ve designed needlework for kit manufacturers, magazines, book publishers, and the world’s leading producer of embroidery floss. One day about twelve years ago an editor told my agent she was looking for crafting mysteries. My agent immediately thought of me and asked if I’d be interested in trying my hand at writing one. I jumped at the challenge, and the rest is history.

First, I did a bit of research to see what types of crafting mysteries were being published. I discovered all of them featured one particular craft and most took place in craft shops or a crafter’s studio. With just about every craft already covered and many crafts represented in multiple series (yarn and knitting mysteries galore!), I decided to break from the pack. I came up with Anastasia Pollack, the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. That way, rather than my mystery centering round a single type of craft, I could feature different crafts in each book. No other crafting mystery author had done that.

When you write a crafting mystery series, readers expect you to include craft projects, just as authors who write culinary mysteries are expected to include recipes. Recipes are easier. They don’t require charts or diagrams or step-by-step how-to photos the way many crafts do.

Right off the bat I was presented with a dilemma. Knowing the chances of a publisher agreeing to include photos in the books were slim to none, I had to come up with crafts that could be made with only written directions. This is easy if the craft is knitting or crochet. It’s far more difficult for other crafts.

For Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I chose to feature general crafts. Anastasia is working on two different magazine features in this book, one for June weddings and one for Fourth of July celebrations. I included directions for appliqué embellished bridal tennis shoes and birdseed roses for the wedding crafts. For the Fourth of July crafts I featured recycled jeans placemats, clay pot candles, and a decoupaged flag tray.

After the first book, I settled on one type of craft for each book. Death by Killer Mop Doll includes directions for making mop dolls and string doll ornaments. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse features projects made with fabric yo-yos, and Decoupage Can Be Deadly includes (what else?) decoupage crafts. In A Stitch to Die For I went with knit and crocheted baby blankets. Scrapbook of Murder is the newest book in the series. For this book, rather than include a specific craft project, I’ve featured a series of scrapbooking tips.

Now I have to start thinking about a plot and a craft for the next book in the series. Any suggestions?

You can find out more about Lois Winston at her website, www.loiswinston.com or read Anastasia’s blog. You can find Scrapbook For Murder at Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Amazon.

Nancy Cole Silverman on Writing Herself – Or Not Herself

Nancy Cole Silverman impersonating Carol Childs (or is it the other way around)?

As somebody who otherwise leads a pretty boring life, it’s always amazed me when I run into novels written by folks who bear an uncanny resemblance to their characters. So when Nancy Cole Silverman, who has more than a little in common with her character Carol Childs, agreed to do a guest post for me, I had to ask about how and where she draws the line. And she did!

Anne Bannon believes my protagonist has been impersonating me.  Or maybe it’s the other way around, since on more than one occasion, Anne, and a number of friends, have referred to me as Carol Childs.

Allow me to set the record straight.  My name is Nancy Cole Silverman, and I created Carol Childs, she was a figment of my imagination.  A strong, take no prisoners type of now-gal, who believes, no matter what the situation, “Brains Beat Brawn, and a Mic is more Powerful than a Forty-five.” In short, as an investigative reporter for a Los Angeles talk radio station, Carol doesn’t carry a gun, she carries a microphone.

Idealistic?

You bet. But then I spent twenty-five year in news and talk radio, and saw first hand where the power of the mic got the last word on more than one bad varmint in this town. OJ Simpson and Robert Blake may have not been found guilty of murder, but by the time their trial ended, the court of public opinion–the chatter on the airwaves–had cast a very different light on both the man and the crime.

The truth is, Carol Childs is my alter ego. And why not? I’ve taken my experiences, both those from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms, and those from my life as a single mom and bled them onto the page, in an attempt to make Carol feel real to the reader.

Similarities aside, however, Carol Childs is not me. Creating a character, particularly a powerful and believable protagonist requires a little distance and few rules; Writing What You Know, Research, and Romance or Writing From the Heart. I call them the three R’s.

Write what you know.  Everybody has experience in something and pulling from that can be an invaluable resource when writing.  Nora Ephron said, “Everything is copy.”  For me, that experience was working in a newsroom.  It helps when I sit down to write a scene to remember the world I came from; the non-stop deadlines, the constant chatter from the news desk to reporters and that adrenalin rush a reporter feels when uncovering a breaking news story. Along with all the facts and stats of the newsroom, I also pull from my own experiences as a single, working mom. Like I was then, Carol Childs is a single mom, struggling to establish herself in a tough competitive field and the clock is always ticking.

Research. I certainly haven’t had any first-hand experience with any of the crimes involved in my books.  Like most mystery writers I may write about murder, but poisons, sex trafficking, international jewelry theft or vigilante killings, like those I have exposed Carol to in my books, I’ve no first-hand knowledge.  Instead, I did a lot of research. Admittedly, research can lead a writer down a lot of rabbit holes, but in the end, when well-researched information is blended with real-life scenarios we get a ripped-from-the-headlines type of feel to the story.  I love when readers ask me if I really encountered such things while working in radio.  It’s my gotcha moment, my reward for a job well done.

Romance or Writing From the Heart: I believe it’s important for a writer to take note of their emotions.  Psychologist have categorized six basic emotions; happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust, but writers know telling isn’t showing.  It’s important for a writer to note if a character is surprised to be able to recall their own physical and psychological reactions to such an emotion.  Equating that to the character’s feeling on the page in a way the reader can relate to helps to make the character real and memorable.

If readers recognize me on the page, I suppose I’ve nobody to blame but myself. Sometimes writers put more of themselves into their work then they know.  Hemmingway was accused of it in his Nick Adams short stories. Some literary critics suspect that Charlotte Bronte may have lived vicariously through her characterization of Jane Eyre, and I’ve often wondered if Janet Evanovich is more Stephanie Plum than she lets on.  Whatever the case, my name is Nancy Cole Silverman, I’m the voice behind The Carol Childs Mysteries, as for any similarities, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Nancy’s latest book, Room for Doubt, is now available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You can find out more about her and the other Carol Childs mysteries at her site, www.nancycolesilverman.com.

Author Shannon Muir on Writing in Multiple Genres

Shannon Muir (Guy Viau Photography)

Author and screenwriter Shannon Muir is best known for her pulp mystery suspense stories that appear in a variety of anthologies. However, she’s not one to stop there. She’s got a whole host of fantasy stories out, too. Here she is on why she doesn’t stick to one single genre (which sounds more than a little familiar to me).

In my youth, I grew up with a mother who watched soap operas, a father devoted to science fiction and fantasy, discovering a love of mysteries on my own, and in college getting an English degree emphasizing literary prose and poetry. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve tried writing a variety of genres trying to find my niche. Early effort strove to be of the soap-opera-in-book-form variety, but I’ve come to learn I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. One thing I really want to focus on is character psychology and why characters behave as they do. It took a while to learn that the traditional romance book, while not without complications, doesn’t really venture down these paths. This required me to take a step back and figure out what I really wanted to be writing.

I realized that what I wanted to be doing were stories that had discovery and mystery at the core, with a focus on character. Early opportunities opened up with niche genre publisher Pro Se Press, who – especially at that time – emphasized fiction written in a pulp style. For me, it became easier to write more of an action piece if I latched on to a character in a period tale; that is a big reason that my early short stories with Pro Se Press are set in 1950 or earlier. I didn’t see them as mystery or crime stories at first, but more pulp-style action stories.

Not long after that, I began to find out about a handful of female writers who wrote for Pro Se Press that also happened to be members of Sisters in Crime. That’s how I began to make the connection that I might fit into some bigger picture with the stories I told. I still remember the day not long after I started regularly networking with mystery and crime authors that I realized a short story I’d previously done, “Ghost of the Airwaves,” was a female amateur sleuth mystery as much as a suspense tale since the lead character actively works to find her husband’s killer. With more recent published stories like “Hidden History” in the anthology Explorer Pulp, and “Tropical Terror” in the anthology Crime Down Island, multiple genre influences are also a bit more apparent. With “Hidden History,” though the thrust of the anthology call was for action stories with explorers, I have a strong interest in how people think and motivation. Therefore, I developed that story with a character mystery first which ended up being a tale of suspense and crime. “Tropical Terror” really clearly shows the cross-genre as the former Marine that gets tied up in the local mystery also uncovers a soap-opera like plot in which his girlfriend is a central player.

So, at the heart, what I want to write is a good character story, that contains some mystery or discovery, that I’ve call “the mystery of character” and use it as part of my branding. Then, I seek out the genre that best fits the way to tell that character’s story. It might be hard action, it could be cozy and romantic; it could take place in the past or present, or maybe not even on Earth. I’ve actually started to discover some interesting and classic mysteries with investigators who utilize fantastical elements, such as the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett, the Garrett, P.I.  series by Glen Cook, and the more recent Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (who counts Cook among his influences). While it will require a lot of research, bringing my personal genre passions together in this manner is something I hope to experiment with in the future.

Admittedly, not sticking to one genre makes any form of marketing a challenge, as I can’t be easily “typecast” or “pigeon-holed” into a set of expectations. Fortunately, while sales are a nice thing to have, that wasn’t what motivated me to want to write; that motivation comes from a strong desire to be a storyteller. In the end, I’m telling the stories I want to tell, and willing to take those risks. That’s better than not even taking the chance and finding out what you can do as a writer.

You can find out more about Shannon Muir and her work at her website, www.shannon-muir.com

Ilene Schneider on What Mysteries Can Do

Rabbi Ilene Scheidler

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, EdD, was one of the first women to be ordained in the United States. So after a lifetime of working in Jewish education administration, then as a hospice chaplain and coordinating a Jewish hospice program, she wrote a short series of mysteries featuring Rabbi Aviva Cohen, who in between leading a congregation, offering advice and dealing with synagogue politics, stumbles into murders and solves them. You can find out more about Rabbi Scheidler on her website RabbiAuthor.com, or check out her Facebook page, Rabbi Author.

When I asked my gracious blog host Anne Louise Bannon about suggestions for my post, she mentioned, “How about the use of the murder mystery to share our values, maybe as a mitzvah? Not necessarily as a way of beating people over the head to agree with us, but as a way to present another way of thinking about something?” Her question got me thinking (as all good questions should) about how much of an author’s views are reflected in the fictional characters. And, conversely, how hard is it to incorporate opinions the opposite of the author’s into a book?

I know that an author does not have to be a murderer or a rapist or a sadist or a crook to write convincing villains. I admire authors who can write convincing thrillers, yet I wonder how some are able to squelch their own distaste or squeamishness to compose actions I have trouble reading. I find it very hard to write scenes that depict graphic violence, which is why I write cozies. Everything is off the page. I find it is easier to describe a character’s reactions to an event than to write the event.

(As an aside, I write a first person narrative, and my protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, looks a lot like me. In fact, she looks like me. I’ve commented on panels that as good an imagination as I may have, I do have difficulty writing from the first person point of view of someone who is tall and svelte and athletic, has straight, silky hair, and complains she can’t find a bathing suit that fits because the tops are too roomy.)

One advantage of writing fiction is being able to put unpopular or racist or other objectionable opinions into the mouths of characters the readers aren’t supposed to like. It’s a great form of therapy to ascribe such views to the bad guys, particularly if they’re based on real people I dislike. But it does not mean I ascribe to those views. But I also find it cathartic to explore what may consider esoteric or philosophic or theoretical ideas. The trick, as Anne alluded to, is to find a balance between lecturing and discussing, to teach without indoctrinating. And to do it without diverting from the plot or boring the reader.

In my latest book, Yom Killer, I have a scene in which Aviva and a colleague, who works as a chaplain, have a discussion about how to be a spiritual counselor when one has questions about the validity of the theology patients and their families want or need to hear. I used the scene to explore issues that have bothered me as a rabbi and rationalist, particularly when I worked as a hospice chaplain. Aviva voiced the hesitations I had, while her friend supplied the answers I also espouse.

Now it was my turn to shake my head. “Wow. I wish I could have your faith, but I feel like such a fraud sometimes.” 

“Don’t. Just remember that you have to be where your patients are, even if you believe what you’re saying is no more than a banality. You’re helping them, and that’s all that matters. If they think they’ll see their parents in the afterlife, don’t lecture them about how there’s no such thing. If they start talking to their dead husband, don’t tell them it’s a hallucination caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.” 

I quickly backtracked. “Oh, I never would. I always agree with whatever they believe. It’s just that I feel like such a hypocrite, betraying my own belief system.” 

“I’m repeating myself here, Aviva, but it’s not a betrayal to soothe others.”

So, yes, Anne, I do add elements to my books “as a way to present another way of thinking about something.” Is it a mitzvah? Only my readers can answer whether they benefit from these ramblings. I like to think I am giving them a new insight.

As for Anne’s other possible topics for my guest blog, perhaps next time I will take her suggestion to “riff on the glory of the Krispy Kreme.”

Schneider’s latest book is Yom Killer, which you can buy in paperback at Barnes and Noble or in ebook and paper at Amazon.

 

 

 

Merrilee Robson on Housing-Inspired Murder

Merrilee Robson

Please welcome Canadian author Merrilee Robson, whose first book is based on her own experiences with a housing option we don’t have here in the states. Murder is Uncooperative is her first book, unless you count the one she wrote at age 11. I’m impressed about that first one. I asked Merrilee to explain what is cooperative housing.

During university, I moved every six months. From the apartment on a busy street we left when the mouse infestation became unbearable, to a cold and gloomy room in a shared house where someone else regularly ate the food I bought. There was the basement suite that flooded, leaving my roommate and I trying to salvage our belongings while wading knee deep in cold water. Then came the nice one-bedroom I had to leave when the rent was raised, and then finally the apartment that was charming but a firetrap.

It was while living in the last place that our fortunes changed. A government program allowed the tenants in the building to buy, renovate and run the building as a non-profit housing co-op. Young couples settled down and raised families. Refugees and other new immigrants found a stable community that welcomed them. Seniors were able to “age in place” in affordable rental homes where they knew their neighbours. We lived there for 10 years.

In my new mystery, Murder is Uncooperative, all Rebecca wants is a safe, affordable home for her family. That’s not an easy thing to find in an expensive rental market. At first she thinks she’s found the perfect home in a non-profit housing co-op. But then she finds a body.

The book focuses on how desperate people can get trying to find a home for their family. That experience will ring true for readers, whether they understand housing co-ops or not.

But Anne asked me to explain a bit about what a co-op is. In Canada, where Murder is Uncooperative is set, there are over 2,000 co-ops across the country housing a quarter of a million people. But there are housing co-ops in most countries around the world, including in the United States.

The main distinction between a housing cooperative and other forms of home ownership is that in a housing cooperative you don’t directly own real estate. People buy shares or a membership in a housing co-op, which is often a non-profit. In some cases there is government subsidy to help keep costs down for low-income residents. Co‑op housing also offers security. Co‑ops are controlled by their members, who have a vote in decisions about their housing. There is no outside landlord.

And how did housing co-op members react to their homes being portrayed as the scene of a murder. They were thrilled! While housing co-ops can be safe havens for many, there are inevitably tensions among groups of people trying to live together.

“I bet I know who dies and I bet I know why,” people kept telling me. Or they asked, “Is it based on my co-op?”

In any case, housing co-op members seem to like seeing their lives portrayed in the first housing co-op mystery.

You can find Murder is Uncooperative at Kobo.com, Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo Books, or Amazon.

Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger Explain ’50s Slang

Will Zeilinger and Janet Elizabeth Lynn

Co-authors Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger are friends of mine from our local Sisters in Crime chapter. (Sisters in Crime is a national organization supporting women who write mysteries, which means we also include misters). They’re a married couple who wrote separately, but now, together, they write the Skylar Drake mysteries, set in the 1950s. You can find out more about the books and Janet’s other books here. Janet has offered us a short glossary of slang from the 1950s.

My husband and I write The Skylark Drake Murder Mysteries, a hard boiled 1950s series. To make this as authentic as we can, we include the language used during that time period. Yeah, some people actually feel the 1950s is considered historical (Umm!)

It is fun looking up some of the slang that was used by the “younger generation” and for me, remembering some as well.

Burn Rubber-when a car accelerates quickly

Shocker-a liar or cheat

Knuckle sandwich- a punch in the face

Get on the horn-to use a phone

Dullsville-a boring or dull person

Wig out-get agitated

So to make our characters real, not only do we dress them in period clothes (i.e. gloves and hats) and include current events of the time we also include some of the slang.

Our third book in the series, Desert Ice was released in January and…yes we are still married!

Thanks, Janet. You can pick up copies of Desert Ice at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.