Category Archives: On Writing

Re-story-a-tion: Reviving An Old Creation

by Vinnie Hansen

If February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper died in an airplane crash, is The Day the Music Died, then 2016 is The Year The Music Died. Consider this partial list: David Bowie, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, and George Michael.

The deaths hit music lovers of a certain age hard. And, for me, 2016 went out with a bang—four deaths in my broader circle of friends, all people in their sixties and seventies.

My novel Lostart Street rose from these ashes.

The deaths prompted my husband and me to make a living trust. During the grueling process, I reviewed my old will in which I’d left money and directions for the publication of my file-cabinet novel Love on Lostart Street.

Over the years, a couple of publishers had nibbled at the novel, so I knew it contained tempting morsels. But what a task to leave to someone! I was the one best equipped to bring the novel to fruition, especially if the ladies at misterio press gave the project a nod.

One of the best parts of working with a small, collaborative press is the flexibility and freedom in what we can try. The ladies agreed to the publication although the title quickly changed to Lostart Street, because, as Kassandra Lamb pointed out, we don’t want readers to think the book is a romance.

But Lostart Street is not our usual mystery fare, either. It’s a cross-genre mash-up that I call “a novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. “

Even though the novel was already written and I had seven mysteries and numerous short stories under my belt, preparing Lostart Street for publication proved to be the toughest writing task I’ve faced.

First, the novel is personal. The protagonist is a twenty-eight-year-old would-be writer who abandons her life in San Francisco to accept a teaching position in a small California coast town.  This is my background, and the struggles of a first-year teacher certainly figure in the book.

A cartoon drawn for me by one of my first-year students. Bless his heart.

So I  worried myself into sleepless nights that readers would think the main character is me.

I reminded myself that when I created Carol Sabala, the protagonist in my mystery series, I went out of my way to make her different than I am. She’s half-Mexican American and a baker who becomes a P.I. She’s younger, taller, and more athletic with long wavy auburn hair. She grew up in California, came from a small family . . . .

It didn’t matter. Readers told me that they imagined Carol Sabala as me! Me—investigating murders, breaking and entering, propelling from rooftops? We can’t control what goes on in the minds of our readers, so why worry about it.

Nonetheless, in the front of Lostart Street I added to the usual disclaimer “not a single occurrence actually happened, or if it did, not at the time or in the context or with the people or in the manner depicted.”

But I faced another, much tougher issue. Lostart Street is set in 1982. I didn’t write it in 1982, but I started it much closer to 1982 than I am now. So when I pulled the book out of the file cabinet to rework it, I realized I’d become a better writer than I was then. The problem became how to apply my developed skills to this older work without erasing what made it unique and charming in the first place.

Twenty-eight-year-old self.

My sixty-year-old self.

Back in 1987, I was lucky enough to see the Sistine Chapel while the restoration of its ceiling was in progress. This project was, and remains, controversial. People had grown accustomed to the look of the art covered with hundreds of years of grime. Some art critics even argued that the change over the years was the natural evolution of the frescoes and cleaning them was a travesty.

Now, not to compare myself to Michelangelo, but the process of restoration, or re-story-a-tion, of Lostart Street, created a similar dilemma. How did I apply the cleaner—scrubbing at adverbs and metaphors and multiple points of view—without losing the book’s original appeal? How did I apply my 63-year-old wisdom to the 28-year-old voice? Yes, the story brightened and sharpened, but what was being lost?

The process was painstaking! But now I present the new and improved Lostart Street, available at Amazon. The launch party will be June 8th, 7 p.m. at Bookshop Santa Cruz.  For those of you farther away, I will be interviewed about Lostart Street tonight (June 6) at 7 p.m. on Universal Grapevine, KZSC 88.1 fm. Please tune in.

Have you ever tried to rework an older piece of writing or art? What challenges did you encounter?

Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Like Lostart Street, her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California, where Vinnie lives with her husband and requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Introverted Author, the Malice Domestic Convention, and a Giveaway!

Malice Domestic 29

 

by K.B. Owen

To (liberally) paraphrase Austen: it is a truth universally acknowledged, that we introvert authors need to come out of our writing caves from time to time and interact with our fellows.

The Malice Domestic Convention fits the bill nicely for those of us who are mystery author introverts. Malice celebrates mystery fiction written in the cozy style, aka the tradition of Agatha Christie, and has been held yearly in Bethesda, MD since 1989. With its three days of panel discussions, book signings, awards, and social receptions, the convention draws authors and readers alike.

One of many signings, after the crowd had thinned and I could move around.

When I step into the space, I feel as if I’ve rediscovered my tribe. No one bats an eyelash over you bringing your takeout lunch to Luci Zahray’s (otherwise known as the “Poison Lady”) panel on the use of organophosphates to bump off someone (characters, of course). The audience was practically rubbing its hands and cackling with glee as she detailed the symptoms, the lack of a test to detect the compound, the difficulty in reversing the effects, and the ease of access to the poison (any Home Depot or garage sale…also, apparently DDT can still be found at the random garage or yard sale because folks don’t throw out ANYTHING).

Luci Zahray, “Poison Lady.” You can’t see the rat poison and other samples she had on display from this angle, unfortunately.

For the introvert, the nice thing about a convention is you can pick and choose when you want to converse. You can get a lot out of the convention by simply attending the panels and listening (not an option if you are ON the panel, of course, but then you signed up for that, LOL).

The hospitality lounge is a nice place to get yourself some coffee or tea and browse the long tables for bookmarks and promotional goodies that authors set out. I came away with a pen, a set of sticky notes, a disposable flashlight, and a hand mirror…all kinds of cool stuff! I had brought some of my own material for the hospitality tables, too: bookmarks of my Concordia Wells series, along with a basket of peppermint patties and individually wrapped tea bags with my logo sticker/web address on the back of each piece.

It’s hard to see the stickers here, but they were really cute. *wink*

I kept refilling the basket, but there wasn’t a candy or tea bag left by Sunday morning!

In between browsing the dealers’ tables, chatting with folks, getting my books signed, and going to the Agatha Awards dinner, I attended several terrific panels that weekend (there were many more I couldn’t fit in). Here’s a partial list to give you an idea:

  • Malice Go-Round: It’s Like Speed Dating, But With Authors (Attendees sit and relax while pairs of authors come to them, distribute bookmarks–and sometimes chocolate, and describe their series and new releases. Then the moderator calls time, they rotate to another table, our table gets a new pair of authors, and so on. One of my fave events).
  • Making History: Agatha Best Historical Novel Nominees (Authors nominated for the Agatha in the category of best historical novel talk about their books, their research, etc. A fab and funny group!).
  • Murder on the Menu: Food & Mysteries (Several food-themed series authors talked about their inspiration, where they get their recipes, and the funny coincidence of growing up in households where their moms couldn’t cook all that well…maybe compensation for a deprived childhood? *wink*)
  • Poison Lady (Described above).
  • Book’em: Book-Loving Sleuths (Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s amazing how many bookshop mysteries are out there!)
  • Murder Way Back When: U.S. Historicals (Loved hearing about research challenges and successes…I continued the conversation with a couple of the authors afterward, comparing databases we use).
  • Sherlock Lives! (I love reading about the Great Detective, and it was so much fun to listen to the discussion of the current pastiches out there, and all the SH societies).

Panel for best historical Agatha nominees. Catriona McPherson won!

The most meaningful event for me personally was the Mystery Most Historical Signing, held on Friday evening. Mystery Most Historical is this year’s Malice anthology of short stories, and guess what…a story of mine is in it!

“Summons for a Dead Girl” is set in September of 1911 in New York City, months after the devastating Triangle Factory fire, and features spirit medium/con woman Maddy Cartiere. The blurb and opening paragraphs below give you an idea of the story:

***

This book signing was an additional thrill because I was part of a large group of authors (many of them prolific and best sellers) who were also signing. The reader turnout for autographs was amazing, and it was such a privilege to chat with mystery fans while sitting in the company of award-winning authors such as Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Elaine Viets!

Your typical group picture: someone looking away, someone’s eyes closed, someone waving a hand or fussing with something, LOL.

 

Short story author Keenan Powell was signing on my left. Such a nice lady!

To celebrate the release of the anthology, I’m holding an:

Anthology Giveaway

May 9th-23rd

I’ll be giving away five (5) signed paperback copies of Mystery Most Historical!

To help with logistics, I’m using the Gleam giveaway service to keep things organized and randomly select the winners. All you have to do is visit the giveaway page HERE to see your options for entering the drawing. Multiple entries increase your chances:

https://gleam.io/NjmCZ/anthology-giveaway

I’ll notify the winners no later than May 31st, and ask for your street address to ship the book to you. Good luck!

Do you enjoy attending conventions, or do you find them a bit overwhelming? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

Posted by K.B. Owen, misterio press author.

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, she did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts.  Thankfully. Learn more about her historical mysteries at her website, Chasing the Cozy Thrill.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

12 Crime Lab Tidbits

by Vinnie Hansen

In March, I visited the Santa Clara Crime Lab because hey, that’s the kind of thing crime writers do on a lovely spring day.

My husband, Danny, went along. He enjoys police info, too. I guess you better if you’re married to a mystery author.

We were disappointed to learn that we would not be able to traipse about the lab. Even though the event was advertised as a “virtual” tour, when Danny and I visited the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, our guide led us right up to the line of weapons waiting for rifling tests. But that was many years ago and our group consisted of just Danny, Cara Black and me.

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

The Santa Clara Crime Lab presentation drew over 20 sisters and misters from NorCal Sisters in Crime as well as a whole class from a local college. I was glad that criminalist Cordelia Willis did not try to herd such an unwieldy flock.

But even if there were only a few of us, we could not have entered the lab. Our very breath could contaminate DNA evidence!

Instead, we congregated in the training room for slides and an informative talk.

Here are a dozen fun facts from our two-hour stint:

  • The bane of criminalists: lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and EMTs who trample evidence.
  • CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) has two parts, the usual one we think of which contains info only from criminals, and another part for unidentified persons, used to match bodies to missing people. The criminal and victim parts do not mix.
  • Red Bull is the drink of choice for burglars (and a nifty way to collect DNA).
  • Thirty is the magic number when a murderer stabs his victim.
  • A slice on the perpetrator’s hand is common in stabbings because the knife handle gets slippery. (Think O.J.)
  • Cordelia worked on a cold case where DNA evidence was taken from 22- year-old semen.
  • If a body is inside a structure, the police have to get a search warrant to call in the lab.
  • Digital/multimedia evidence is most backlogged. One case might yield 15 cellphones!IMG_1418
  • Bullet rifling is unique to each individual gun, but (sigh) many bullets get smooshed and can’t be tested.
  • BUT, cartridges can be compared via the firing pin impression.IMG_1420
  • Gun shot residue disappears quickly — no sense testing after 8 hours.
  • It’s blood spatter, not blood splatter.

Have you ever wondered how much of CSI is true? What’s a question you would like answered by a crime lab? 

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen.

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Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover. If you saw the cover in the last post, you’ll notice the new iteration is slightly different. What do you think?

LostartStreet

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To Write or Not To Write Short

by Kassandra Lamb

Someday is Here! book cover

I’m guest posting today over on Janice Hardy’s wonderful site for authors: Fiction University. So thrilled to have this opportunity!

I’m talking about the pros and cons of writing short stories/novellas vs. full-length novels. Please hop on over and check it out!

To Write or Not To Write Short:

Short stories, novellas, novels—what’s the best route to go as a fiction writer? Are there advantages to writing short?

This is a more complicated question than it may seem to be on the surface. There are several factors to consider:

● The definition of a short story vs. a novella
● The appeal of writing short for the author
● How readers feel about short stories and novellas vs. full-length novels
● The benefits of shorts for authors
● The bottom line: how much can you make off of shorts?

In order to give you more than just my take on writing short, I surveyed several authors from various genres. I’ve included their experiences along with my own… Read More

Honolulu Havoc: The Pros and Cons of a Conference in Paradise

Left Coast Crime 2017 convened in Hawaii. The allure is almost too obvious to mention. There’s—well—the setting, the elaborate Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. Warm weather, sunsets on the beach, Diamond Head in the distance.

Beach in front of hotel.

Beach in front of hotel.

For many attendees the conference was a great excuse to escape a March roaring in like a lion. Almost every participant I talked to had extended his/her stay. Sisters in Crime Guppy President, Jim Jackson, and his wife, Jan Rubens, planned a month in Hawaii! Even Danny and I, who hale from temperate Santa Cruz, stayed a week. A conference in a vacation destination clearly entices writers to take a break.

The Hawaiian flavor permeated the conference from the POG (pineapple, orange, guava) juice served in the hospitality suite to the braided leis given to each award nominee at the reception—held outside on the Great Lawn. Toastmaster Laurie King literally let her hair down, releasing her famous bun into a cascade of silver. As we strolled around in our muumuus and shorts, Ghost of Honor, Earl Derr Biggers, and his creation Charlie Chan, haunted the setting. The first panel I attended, Real-Life Experience: Authors Tell All opened with free mimosas. Now there’s a ploy to get people to talk.

IMG_0058

As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to see writing buddies from other parts of the country and to meet and read authors new to me, like Maia Chance who participated on the Eye to Eye With the P.I. panel with me. I am thoroughly enjoying the first book in her series, Come Hell or Highball. Our panel was moderated by my crime writing idol, Allen Eskens! As moderator, he read a book from each panelist. He liked  Black Beans & Venom enough to give me this blurb, “It is the mark of true talent for a writer to be able to deliver her readers completely and believably to another world, and in Black Beans and Venom Vinnie Hansen has done just that. Set in the vibrant and gritty back streets of Cuba, this cat-and-mouse hunt for a missing woman is full of intrigue, suspense and authenticity.I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.” That alone was worth the price of admission.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

So what could possibly be wrong?

It’s difficult to organize a conference in a place where one poached egg costs $4.25! Compare the room-rate of $209-$249 a night to that for next year’s LCC in Reno–$82. And the room-rate in Honolulu didn’t even include room Wi-Fi or parking, both part of the package in Reno.

The time and expense of getting to Hawaii and staying in Hawaii clearly lowered attendance. Quite a few authors appeared on three different panels, good for them perhaps, but not as stimulating for the audience. And maybe its just my guilty conscience speaking, but I feel tourist distractions pulled attendees away from conference events. Usually the Liar’s Panel, a perennial favorite, packs the room. Not so this year, in spite of a stellar line-up–Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Lee Goldberg, Parnell Hall, Catriona McPherson.

Finally, Honolulu isn’t my idea of paradise. It’s a bustling city, thick with tourists. Danny and I took a morning off to follow the ant trail of people up Diamond Head. I’m glad we did it, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

The Sunset Pillbox Trail on the North Shore, where we spent our first few days on the island, was much more satisfying. On that hike, we encountered only a few locals, the vistas were just as spectacular, and the brightly graffitied pillboxes were more interesting than the structures atop Diamond Head.

Pillbox on North Shore.

Pillbox on North Shore.

IMG_1265

I have no regrets about attending Left Coast Crime 2017, but look forward to the more economical Left Coast Crime 2018. If I win enough at blackjack, it may not cost me a thing. 🙂

 

 

What’s the best or worst conference you’ve attended conferences? What made the conference that way? 

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Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover:

LostartStreet3

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

 

 

 

A Peek Behind the Curtain: How We Come Up with Book Covers

by Kirsten Weiss

While cover design is certainly not the most stressful part of the book publishing process, it has its quirks. A good cover doesn’t tell the story, but it does need to do three things:

  • Grab the reader’s attention and make them curious about the story

    Bound cover

    Thumbnail size on Amazon

  • Tell the reader what type of story they’re buying – funny mystery, spooky suspense, lighthearted romance.
  • This information needs to be easy to identify when the reader is looking at a thumbnail sized image.

That said, I’ve made my share of cover mistakes.

Exhibit A: What Type of Story is This?

The image on the left, below, is the original cover for the first book in my steampunk series, Steam and Sensibility. I was pleased with it. Corset. Gears. Fog. It’s San Francisco steampunk! I thought the font was a little too much, but that was what the cover designer came up with, so I went for it, thinking all was well.steampunk covers

Except when I attended a steampunk convention, a lot of people asked me if the novel was erotica. Ooops!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against erotica. But that definitely wasn’t what the book was about. So I switched to the cover on the right – also clearly steampunk, but with a magical flare.

Exhibit B: Contrast Issues and Originality

Another miss, but for a different reason, was the first cover (below left) for The Metaphysical Detective, the first book in my Riga Hayworth series of supernatural mystery.Riga covers

The contrast is low (which is not such a good thing when people are squinting at a tiny icon on Amazon), but it looks suitably gloomy and mysterious.

Except…

Since there are seven books in this series, I wanted original artwork that had more of a “series” feeling. Hence the new cover on the right. It’s got slightly higher contrast, and it’s original art. I’m not entirely satisfied with it, but I haven’t gotten around to changing it.

Exhibit C: Try, try, again…

hoodoo detective coversEven when you’ve got a great cover designer, there are typically several iterations before the cover is just right. In fairness, cover designers don’t know what’s in the author’s head. You have to provide them with samples of what you want, and even then, things can get tricky.

And for The Hoodoo Detective (book 6 in the Riga Hayworth series), above is proof that my cover designer has the patience of a saint.

(I ended up with the cover on the bottom right).

Exhibit D: Just right!

And then, sometimes, the cover designer nails it right away…

At Wit's End coverThe cover to the right is for a cozy mystery coming out in June, 2017.

What does this cover say to you? And what do you think makes a great book cover?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked overseas for nearly twenty years in the fringes of the former USSR, Africa, and South-east Asia.  Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.

Sign up for her newsletter to get free updates on her latest work.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

3 Reasons Why a Sleuth Can Never Take a Vacation

by Kathy (K.B.) Owen

Ah, the chance to get away from it all. Our sleuth (amateur or otherwise) is more than ready to leave the bustle behind and relax, dig her toes in the sand, perhaps sip a cool beverage beside the water. Not a care in the world.

Nope. Not gonna happen. The mystery writer is there to ruthlessly yank that illusion away. Bwahaha. 

Why so heartless? Because vacationing is the perfect occasion for mayhem and murder. Here are three reasons why:

State of mind.

No one wants to deal with unpleasantness or disruption while on vacation. And a dead body can be plenty disruptive, as Hercule Poirot found out during his aborted vacation in Christie’s Death on the Nile. Conflict, a key ingredient to any story, increases when our expectations are flouted and we are caught unprepared. A detective’s fellow vacationers would rather be sipping margaritas than answering uncomfortable questions.

The journey.

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Trains, planes, cruise ships…great opportunities for chaos and conflict, as strangers are forced to travel together in tight quarters. Tempers flare. Small annoyances turn into big grievances. Moreover, who are these people? What troubles have they brought along with them?

Mystery writers have long turned to such a setting. I couldn’t resist it myself in the fourth book of my Concordia Wells Mysteries, Unseemly Haste, which is set aboard a cross-country sleeper car in the summer of 1898. There may have been a dead body or two, but you’d have to read it to find out. *wink*

The locale.

There are a couple of elements to consider in this category. One is the incongruity between, say, a paradise location and a grisly murder. Everywhere one looks–the swaying palms, the gentle breeze, the gorgeous sunsets–indicates peace, contentment, serenity. Except for the grisly body one has just stumbled upon.

Just a sunset, no body. Photo by K.B. Owen.

Another consideration is the “fish out of water” aspect of being in a strange place. We are completely dependent upon the local hosts who are the only ones familiar with the people, backstories, customs, and overall workings of the community. Misinformation–or outright lying–can make for some wonderful twists and turns to the mystery. Who knows what secrets lurk in paradise?

So, there you have it: our poor, overworked sleuth cannot catch a break.

Any other reasons you can think of as to why a vacation spot works so well for a mystery? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of detectives and vacations, I’d like to announce a new release!

 Missing jewels…a haunted inn…a long-held secret…

Penelope Hamilton Wynch, one of the few female operatives employed at the Pinkerton Agency in 1886, is sent to the Adirondacks to investigate the mysterious happenings at Schroon Lake Inn, newly renovated to cater to New York City’s upper crust on summer holiday. Rumors of ghosts are bad enough, but when expensive jewelry disappears, the owner’s livelihood is at stake. A woman’s touch is needed.

Pen’s boss, William Pinkerton, thinks he has given her the perfect cover. She is to play the part of an eccentric spirit medium, eager to experience the purported ghostly manifestations.

Unfortunately, her cover will not remain intact for long, and there are those watching who do not want the secrets disturbed.

Available for pre-order now, goes live March 1st! Just $0.99

 Order from Kindle or iBooks

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 6 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Where The Research Takes Us: How To Kill Your Characters

Kass here to tell you about today’s guest blogger, cozy mystery writer Gilian Baker, who is about to release her debut novel, Blogging Is Murder (which I review below).

She will entertain us with a fun little post on how to kill one’s characters (I swear, the FBI is going to come knocking any day now).

First, let’s get to know Gilian a bit…

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

Disclaimer:  Do NOT try this at home, folks! This post is for entertainment purposes only.

Researching How To Kill Your Characters

by Gilian Baker

I love to plot murder! Yeah, that’s not a sentence you read every day, but it’s true. In my first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, the murder victim is poisoned with hemlock.

Why hemlock when there are so many new, man-made chemicals available?

I’ve just always wanted to kill someone off with an old-fashioned plant. And when I started researching the properties of hemlock, I knew I had the perfect murder weapon for my first mystery with my protagonist, Jade Blackwell, amateur sleuth.

Here are a few of the questions I had to research to determine if hemlock was a viable murder weapon for the story:

  •  Does it grow wild in Wyoming? (The setting of the series)
  •  Where is it found there?
  •  What parts of the plant are poisonous?
  •  Why would Jade’s friend, Liz write about hemlock on her blog, The Wise Housewife? Is it still used in herbal remedies? What ailments was it historically used for and what is it used for now?
  •  How does it kill? What are the symptoms of the poisoning?
  •  Is it still poisonous when dried?
  •  When does it grow?
  •  Is it frost hearty? Or is it killed off easily by a heavy frost?

I researched some of these questions before I wrote much of the story. But other questions didn’t occur to me until the plot developed, and I needed to know. For example, I was considering adding a freak snowstorm to add tension to the last third of the book. It’s not uncommon to get snow in Wyoming eight months out of the year, so that could work.

I’d written a couple of chapters that included light frosts overnight, which worried Jade since her spring bulbs had already come up in her garden. But wait! Would even a light frost, let alone a big snowstorm kill hemlock that was growing in the wild? If so, how would the murderer get fresh hemlock to kill their victim? Did I want to change the plot so the killer used dried hemlock?

You see how plot twists and new ideas for where to take the story impact the research that needs to be done. In this case, I had to go back and change the entire setting to a later time in spring to avoid overnight frosts. That meant rewriting those scenes where Jade worried about her spring bulbs.

detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (public domain)

I bet you want to know the answers I found in my research, right? After all, who doesn’t want to know more about hemlock? Okay, to satisfy your curiosity, here are the answers.

  • Does it grow wild in Wyoming?
    Yes, in fact it grows wild in most states in the U.S. There are many types of hemlock and most regions have the right conditions for several types to grow.
  • Where is it found there?
    It’s found most anywhere, but it likes a damp climate. During a wet spring, ranchers have to keep an eye out for the plant in their pastures. It’s one of the most poisonous plants to humans, but also to cows, horses and other animals.
  • What parts of the plant are poisonous?
    All of it.
  • Why would Liz write about it on her blog, The Wise Housewife?
    It is still used in herbal remedies, but only in minute doses and only in the hands of a skilled alternative therapist or homeopath. It was historically used for a wide range of ailments, including bronchitis, mania, anxiety, epilepsy and asthma. The Greeks also used it to put criminals to death.
  • How does it kill? What are the symptoms of poisoning?
    Hemlock affects the central nervous system so that the brain continues to function, but the person can’t move. They are paralyzed, but aware of what’s happening to them. It eventually stops their heart.
  • Is it poisonous after it’s dried?
    Yes, for up to three years.
  • When does it grow?
    In the spring.
  • Is it frost hearty?
    No, it’s not. That’s why I had to change the setting of the book and forgo my inspired idea of a freak snowstorm.

But I’m sure I’ll be able to find another way to use that idea in later books. 🙂

If you want to find out who exactly gets knocked off with hemlock and whodunit, well I’m afraid you will have to read the story.

book coverBlogging Is Murder, A Jade Blackwell Mystery

Former English professor Jade Blackwell’s promising new career as a blogger falters when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. Then the hacker is found dead, and Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she has felt living in the quaint Rocky Mountain hamlet of Aspen Falls.

Available on AMAZON

Posted by Gilian Baker. You can connect with Gilian on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter or at her website. Blogging Is Murder is the first book in her Jade Blackwell series.

Kassandra Lamb’s review of Blogging is Murder:

This is a very good debut cozy mystery. The pace is lively and the characters likeable. (I particularly enjoyed the quirky elderly neighbor of the murder victim.) The twist at the end was unexpected but plausible.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a professional blogger. I had no idea how much work was involved in that business. I’m looking forward to reading more of Jade’s adventures and getting to know the residents of Aspen Falls, Wyoming. Four out of five fingerprints!

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We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction

by Kassandra Lamb

For the writers among our subscribers, I’m over at The Write Stuff today, talking about some of the best ways to make descriptions of settings and characters as efficient as possible. I’ve included some interesting info I learned as a psychologist and college professor, about how people process input through their senses.

8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction

hand painting

A few deft strokes often will suffice.

While editing the book I’m releasing tomorrow, and especially while trying to pare down the scenes that beta readers and my editor said were dragging, I truly came to appreciate the importance of a finely honed description.

Descriptions in fiction are important to ground the reader in the setting and allow him/her to visualize characters. But they can also bog down the pace and bore the reader if they are too long, and can be jarring if they’re in the wrong spot.

Read More…

 

Making the Case for Indie AND Traditional Publishing (For Writers and Readers)

by Kassandra Lamb

I envy writers under thirty. Not for their youth, but because they have never known a publishing world where indie publishing wasn’t a viable alternative.

But I’ve heard even some younger writers make comments that indicate they think indie is what you do if you can’t get a traditional publishing contract. In other words, it’s a second choice.

Actually, for some of us, it was a first choice.

And sadly there are a few traditionally published authors who like to judge indies from the other side of the fence. (See Part I of this series: Creativity, Sensitivity, Laziness and Courage.)

For the newbie authors out there (or those considering jumping the fence), I will try to spell out the differences between the two paths. Also, I want to mention the pros of each for readers, the most important people in this whole arena!

I will try to be balanced, but I’ll warn you all up front, I am biased toward the indie path, since that’s the one I chose. To help counter that bias I’ll let trad publishing go first. And I’m trying to stay positive by focusing on the “pros” of each (the cons are mostly implied).

K.B. Owen, one of my sister authors here at misterio press, generously offered the graphic she developed for a presentation on publishing she gave recently. It gives us a great jumping off point.

chart of pros of each

(Chart created by K.B. Owen (c) 2016)

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING PROS

Validation:  The author can feel confident that their story idea is worthy and that their writing is good. Trad publishing gives it the stamp of approval of the industry.

For the reader, this means the odds are good that you will enjoy reading this book, that it will abide by the expectations for its genre and will only have the good kind of twists and turns, not the kind that leave you thinking “Huh?” or have you dangling off the edge of an unexpected cliffhanger.

Access to Experienced Professionals:  You don’t have to find your own cover artist, editor or proofreader. The publisher provides all that. They prep your book for publication while you are writing the next one.

For readers, this means you usually won’t find any major plot holes or other writing faux pas and the typos will be minimal. (I say “usually” because I’ve found more typos in recent years in all books, indie and trad-pubbed, but then maybe I’m more sensitive to them now that I’m writing and publishing fiction myself.)

Visibility/Publisher Promo:  Visibility is probably the traditional publishers’ greatest “pro.” They have the ins with the retailers, the distribution networks, etc. that make it easier for readers to find a new author. They especially have an advantage in the distribution arena, as indies have to struggle to get their books into physical bookstores. They fall a good bit short, however, in the promotions area (more on this in a minute).

bookshop interior

Photo by Bahrain International Airport (The Bookshop @BIA) CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Readers don’t have to go searching for new releases in bookstores or hope that their spam filters don’t keep them from seeing their favorite authors’ newsletters announcing said releases. Traditionally published new releases are more likely to be on the front displays in brick-and-mortar stores and front and center in the promos by online retailers.

No Upfront Costs/Author Advance:  The publisher shells out for cover art and editing. The author pays nothing, and may even get paid upfront via an advance (although these are not as sure a thing as they once were, and are usually small for new authors).

This means readers usually see well-designed covers and good editing.

INDIE PUBLISHING PROS

Creative Control/Flexibility:  This is one of the big advantages for indie publishing. You may have to find your own editors and pay them, but if you don’t like the changes they advise, you don’t have to accept them. Likewise, you find and pay your cover artist but don’t have to live with a cover you don’t like.

Related to this is flexibility. The writer doesn’t have to beg the publisher to correct typos that readers have pointed out. You can go in and upload a corrected text file yourself. (But you have to do this; not some worker at the publishing house.) You also control where the book is sold, how much it’s sold for, whether or not it is discounted, etc. And you can change things up to discover what works best for your books.

sculpture - "Modern Book Printing" on Berlin Walk of Ideas

“Modern Book Printing” sculpture on the Berlin “Walk of Ideas” (photo by Lienhard Schulz, permission by Scholz Friends Sensai, agency of Walk of Ideas, CC BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

For the reader, this means more innovation—new ideas, new writing styles, etc. Writers aren’t producing what their publishers and editors want; they’re producing what they think you the reader wants. And you let them know if they’re right via your reviews. But it can also mean crappy books with poor or no editing.

Books Get To Market Faster:  In traditional publishing there is up to a two-year lag from the day the contract is signed and the date of actual publication. That’s a long time to wait to see your baby in print and to see money coming in for your efforts. Most indie authors can write, polish and publish a good book in about six months. This means you have readers and royalties sooner instead of later, and many indies find that they can publish more books in a year this way. (I average 3 per year.)

More books means more visibility, more readers, more royalties.

For readers, you’re getting books based on this year’s trends, not those of two years ago. And your favorite indie authors are probably releasing new stories more often.

Paid Promptly/Better Royalties:  This is the other biggie for indie publishing. Traditional publishing royalties often lag behind by six months or more, and royalty reports may be sketchy or hard to decipher, so you’re never quite sure if you’re getting all that is due you. Indies get paid within a month or two, depending on the distributor, and they get to keep all of the royalties less what the distributors keep. This is between 35% and 70% depending on the distributor and the price point, versus 17-25% (more often 17 and one has to pay their agent out of that) for trad-published books.

Readers, indie-pubbed books are almost always cheaper. At 65-70% royalty from distributors for ebooks, these authors can make more money even at lower prices (and most of them would rather sell more books for less each).

Retain All Rights/Stays In Print:  Yes, trad publishers can provide greater visibility for the new author, but if that book doesn’t sell up to their expectations within six months, it’s almost always taken off the shelves. And then the author may have to fight to get the rights back to their own work. Indies have to work harder and often have to wait longer to get some traction, but their work is available forever, and they retain the rights.

For readers, this means that when you discover a new-to-you author, you can still get your hands on all their works, no matter how long ago they were published. (I recently discovered a great writer, only to find that all but one of her books were out of print, the one I’d just read.)

WHAT’S THE SAME FOR BOTH

Both indie and trad-published authors have to write great books in order to be successful. And they need to work with experienced professionals (cover designers, editors, etc.) to make sure their books are truly the best they can be.

AND they both have to do the bulk of their own promotions. Unless you are already a well-established, well-known entity, publishers will spend little to none of their marketing budgets on you and your book. You have to establish a “brand” and develop a social media presence, buy ads, etc.

Whatever path a writer chooses in order to get their books out there, judging or sniping at each other is uncalled for. We are not competitors. Books are not like toasters or refrigerators. Consumers don’t just buy one every few years.

Books are consumable items for readers. The main challenge is getting their attention in the crowded market today. Granted, that market has been made much more crowded because of indie publishing.

But putting down other authors doesn’t make your books rise to the top. Only great writing, hard work, and a good bit of luck will do that.

Dawn Whidden and Kass at Bell Christmas Festival

A selfie with an author I now call a friend, Dawn Kopman Whidden, at Bell, Florida’s Christmas Festival. Most folks who stopped at our table bought a book from each of us, because books are not toasters!

I much prefer the attitude I’ve encountered in most authors, a more comrade-in-arms approach. Because we’re all in this crazy business together!

Your thoughts on this, authors? Readers, do you care whether a book is traditionally or indie published?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)