Category Archives: On Writing

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.

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. 🙂 )

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.)

Creativity, Sensitivity, Laziness and Courage

by Kassandra Lamb

Please note that this is not a post about the pros and cons of indie vs. traditional publishing per se (I will cover those in a later post). Rather this post is about the “between a rock and a hard place” spot where new writers often find themselves as they explore how to get their words in front of readers’ eyes.

The indie vs. traditional publishing controversy was resurrected in December, 2016, by a Huffington Post article with the rather obnoxious title, Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word? by Laurie Gough.

Quite a few indie authors immediately responded with some eloquent replies. And then the Alliance of Independent Authors published their New Year’s post: Successful Indie Authors 2016: Part One.

These two posts, along with the responding comments, represent the two sides of this controversy, but I noted that one thing was missing from the discussion. Indeed, I have never heard this point made during debates about the issue.

Creatives are, by definition, sensitive souls.

Van Gogh

One of Van Gogh’s self portraits, this one with a bandage where his ear once was. Creatives’ sensitivity sometimes leads to madness. (public domain)

It’s a cliché really—the tortured artistic poet/painter/musician/actor/author who drinks too much, uses drugs, suffers for their art with an angst-filled life, etc.

But like all clichés, this one has a kernel of truth at its core.

So why would we require that these sensitive souls endure months or years of rejection before they are allowed to show their work to the world?

The author of the Huff Post article calls literary agents and traditional publishers the “gatekeepers” of the written word. Indeed, that term is bandied about a lot in the world of trad publishing. The implication is that they are saving the unwashed masses of readers from bad literature by carefully vetting new works of fiction.

In addition to the implied insult to readers, the reality is that all too often these days agents and publishers are not always as concerned about the quality of a story as they are about whether or not they think it will sell.

That’s not just my perspective; I’ve heard agents say this at conferences. With regret in their voices, because they know good stories are being rejected and good writers are being discouraged by those rejections.

No one deals well with rejection. And the more important an achievement or some aspect of ourselves is to us, the greater the blow to our spirits if it is rejected.

During my twenty-year career as a psychotherapist, I wrote and published multiple professional articles. I had more than one editor tell me that my ability to string words together in a coherent and interesting way was well above average. (I mention this only to point out that I had good reason to believe I was a good writer.)

During that same time period, I wrote the beginnings of several novels, plus quite a few shorter stories, all of which ended up in a box labeled “fiction” when I retired and moved to Florida.

I’d considered trying to get my fiction work published many times during those twenty years. What stopped me was not doubt in my abilities as a writer. No, each time I was stopped by the reality of how much rejection I would have to endure before I managed to find a publisher.

statue of baby taking first steps

Karl Hulstrom’s statue, First Steps in Stockholm, Sweden (photo by Bengt Oberger CC-BY 3.0 unported, Wikimedia Commons)

For writers, our works are our children. We build them from scratch, their bones leaching sleep and sanity from us as surely as a growing babe in the womb leaches nutrients from his mother’s system. Then we spend weeks, sometimes months, putting flesh on those bones—editing and fine-tuning every scene, paragraph and sentence.

And then we are expected to send these innocent babes out to strangers, requesting that they please, please let our children live?

And when those children are beaten with a club and sent back to us, we are expected to dust them off and send them out again to even more strangers.

I’m sure this gauntlet of rejection has kept many a good writer besides myself from even trying to get their work published. Having our “children” abused and tossed out into the cold again and again is often more than we can even stand to think about.

I’m also sure that many agents and publishers are trying to be good gatekeepers, but when I think of the traditional publishing industry as a whole today, the image that comes to mind is not of someone standing beside a gate, checking the quality of the work produced by those who wish to pass through it.

Rather I see a dam, an artificial barrier stopping up the flow of creativity, allowing only a limited trickle of new authors’ works to pass through.

Yagisawa Dam (public domain)

Yagisawa Dam (public domain)

Five years into my retirement, I had finally finished one of my novels and polished it to the best of my ability (with the help of many beta readers and a professional editor).

I took a deep breath (several actually) and sent out my first batch of query emails. And then ran to the bathroom to throw up. The thought of the inevitable round of rejections literally made me sick.

This was the summer of 2011. After I had rinsed out my mouth and stumbled back to my computer, I asked myself why I was going through this. Life was too short, especially at my age, to intentionally torture my soul this way.

That summer, I started checking out this new trend of self-publishing ebooks that seemed to be getting a foothold in the publishing industry. That summer, I also met Shannon Esposito at a writers’ conference, and while other authors were schmoozing with the agents and editors at the obligatory after-conference cocktail party, she and I were huddled in a corner conspiring.

I’ve never looked back.

The end result of that conspiring was misterio press, an indie press that operates as an author cooperative. Today, my sister authors at misterio and I are each others’ gatekeepers. After each author’s work has gone through the beta readers, editing, etc. process, we read and critique each others’ stories to make sure we are producing the best quality mysteries we possibly can.

Misterio press is the best of both worlds for our authors, and we believe for our readers as well. They get top quality mysteries at indie prices.

Ironically, several of our authors have been approached by traditional publishers, and two of them are now “hybrid” authors. I haven’t been approached and I’m not sure what I would do if I were.

I suspect I would turn them down.

Those traditionally-published authors who look down their noses* at indies often imply (or outright say) that we are taking the lazy way out or that we lack the courage to submit our work to the “gatekeepers.”

Do not judge until you have walked a mile in our shoes. I have never worked harder in my life! And believe me, it takes a lot of courage to go it on one’s own. We sink or swim on the merits of our writing, and our final judges are the readers.

(*Note: This is not the majority of trad-pubbed authors. And if you are an author who has taken the traditional path, I’m rooting for your success! Each of us has to choose the way that works best for us.)

Book publishing today has essentially gone the same route as the music industry, toward empowering artists to reach out to their listeners/readers directly rather than having the control over their careers resting with big companies.

It’s a brave new world for authors and I am glad to be a part of it!

Your thoughts on the indie publishing revolution?

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. 🙂 )

Binge Reading – No, It’s Not What You Think

by Kirsten Weiss

Call it the age of Netflix.

It’s spoiled us for the wait – no longer do we have to hang on an aching seven days to find out what comes next on our favorite TV show. With shows produced by Netflix, we can now binge watch the entire season over a weekend. (And yes, I’m guilty of this – Longmire! Stranger Things!).

So when I heard about “binge reading,” I decided to take the plunge with my new Doyle Witch cozy mystery series. Fortunately, my patient editors at misterio press were willing to take this journey with me, because a lot ended up happening in a short span of time.

Witches of DoyleThe concept is simple – launch all the books in the series at once.

As a reader, binge reading was nothing new to me. How many weekends had I spent curled up with a good book, closing one cover only to open and devour the next in the series?

My Kindle made the process easier. I didn’t have to go to a bookstore or wait for a book to arrive in the mail. Instant gratification! Push a button, and it arrives on my screen.

Now some people may not care for binge reading. They may prefer to savor a story a bit after finishing it, before plunging on in the series.

One of my editors at misterio reminded me about this old commercial:

 

But my witch cozy mystery trilogy seemed to fit the binge model well. Each novel in the Doyle Witch cozy mystery series is a self-contained murder mystery (and romance). But there’s a paranormal mystery too, which arcs across all three books, making the trilogy akin to a TV “season.”

(And if you’re one who likes “anticipation,” by all means spread out the reading of these stories. But they’ll all be there waiting for you when you’re ready.)

As a writer, the process of launching everything at once was more stressful than I’d expected. I was never one for keeping my powder dry. Having to sit on the first two books while waiting for the third to be completed was… irritating.

It also made the stakes higher. Many more months of work were riding on a single launch date. The only feedback I got on the books was from my editors – champions, to be sure. But what if readers didn’t like the series I’d spent so much time writing? (No pressure there.)

kitchen witch courseMy launches are usually chaotic, but having the materials prepped for the first two books well in advance made this one smoother. I had teasers. I had quotes. I had covers.

But I also ended up spending so much time thinking about the launch, that I made more work for myself. A friend suggested putting spells at the back of the books (instead of the ubiquitous recipes).

I squeezed out a 5-day free Kitchen Witch course to promote the series.

I developed a supplementary novella that fits between books 1 and 2. I even wrote a companion book of poetry, Tales of the Rose Rabbit. This did not get launched with the other books because of a last-minute brainstorm to add illustrations, and is due out some time in December.

 

The complete package

That said, I’m happy I did it all – I’m thrilled with the total package of books and supplementary materials.

What about you? Are you into binge-watching/reading or do you prefer to anticipate and savor?

Here’s a bit about the books themselves:

Bound: Book 1 in the Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery Series

Bound cover

Bound by magic, bound by love, bound by murder…

The Bonheim triplets live seemingly ordinary lives, hiding their magic from the neighbors in the small, mountain town of Doyle, California. But when a body is found in big sister Jayce’s coffee shop, Karin, the practical one, is determined to prove Jayce innocent.

A murder isn’t the only bizarre event in Doyle. Why are hikers vanishing in the nearby woods? Why are some people cursed with bad luck and others with good? And why is Karin’s magic the weakest of the three sisters’?

As Karin digs deep to uncover the truth and regain her magic, her family is thrown into peril. Will her power return too late to save the people she loves the most, or will it be the cause of disaster?

Spells included at the back of the book!

ISBN: 1-944767-15-0  ~  Available at:    Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

Ground: Book 2 in the Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery Series

Ground cover

Her magic flows from the earth…

Jayce Bonheim is on the sheriff’s radar and not in a good way.

Always the reckless one of her triplet sisters, Jayce is trying to turn over a new leaf. No more wild partying. No more one night stands. But when someone leaves a dead body in her pickup truck, her resolve to become the sensible sister is sorely tested.

Caught in a web of love, murder, and magic, Jayce must clear her name and discover who is behind the curse that holds her family and town in thrall.

Spells included at the back of the book!

ISBN: 1-944767-18-5 ~ Available at:    Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

Down coverDown: Book 3 in the Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery Series

The answers lie below…

A shamanic witch and a poet, Lenore Bonheim hides in the world of books to escape reality, which for her includes seeing ghosts and forecasting death. But when her employer and friend dies under suspicious circumstances, she must use all her skills – magical and mundane – to find the killer and save her two sisters and her town.

As the three sisters pull together to stave off a growing menace, Lenore must discover what it means to be in this world and of it.

Spells included at the back of the book!

ISBN: 1-944767-20-7 ~ Available on:    Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

Spirit on Fire, A Doyle Witch Mystery Companion novella

Spirit on Fire coverWhat happens when a fictional character writes a romantic novella about a shaman and a fire demon? All hell breaks loose.

When fledgling witch, Karin Bonheim, began writing her paranormal romance, she never could’ve anticipated the world she created would bleed into her own…or the danger it would bring.

A companion novella of romantic suspense to the Witches of Doyle trilogy, this novella takes place between books 1 and 2 of the Doyle Witch cozy mystery series.

ISBN: 1-944767-21-5 ~ Available on:

Rose Rabbit cover

Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

And coming in December:

Tales of the Rose Rabbit (Poems)

~ preorder on Amazon now ~

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked for fourteen years in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. Her experiences abroad gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. She is the author of the Riga Hayworth Metaphysical Detective urban fantasy/mystery series, the Sensibility Grey steampunk mysteries, the Rocky Bridges mysteries and the Witches of Doyle cozy mystery trilogy.

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. 🙂 )

When (And How) To End a Series

by Kassandra Lamb

Today I’m guest posting over at Jami Gold’s blog, with some thoughts on when it is time to end a book series. (Note to My Readers: don’t panic; it’s not time yet after all.)

When (And How) To End a Series

meme

meme created on imgflip.com

I’m currently working on Book 9—what I thought would be the last book—in my Kate Huntington Mystery series (Readers: I think I’ve changed my mind—more on this in a bit).

When a writer sets out to write a series, often there’s no set number of books in mind. The vague thought is that we’ll keep writing as long as readers are reading and we’re still coming up with story ideas.

But everything has to come to an end some time. When should a writer stop a series? Here are my thoughts on possible reasons to say “the end,” based on my own ruminations about winding down the Kate series. Read More…

 

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. 🙂 )

First Impressions & Second Chances

by Vinnie Hansen

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

weirdtalesv36n1pg002_dandruff-public-domain

This advertising slogan for dandruff shampoo wormed its way into our consciousness. Because it’s a catchy way to state a truth. In life there are no do-overs.

My good friend Christine recalls when she first met me. She was a teacher visiting my classroom to see if she wanted to make the shift to a high-school setting. She thought I was unfriendly.

This sounds awful, but I completely understand her first impression. I’m an introvert, so I don’t project the bubbly exterior many might dub friendly. I also grew up in the Midwest, so I tend to be private, which many might interpret as aloof, or unfriendly. Finally, she was visiting my class before lunch and I had to be brusque in order to meet other colleagues for our lunchtime walk.

Me, Christine and our colleague Georgene, dressed as flappers (many moons ago)

Me, Christine and our colleague Georgene, dressed as flappers for Halloween (many moons ago)

Over time, Christine learned that I may not be overtly friendly, but I’m an excellent friend—loyal, thoughtful, and encouraging. She once said I was the kindest person she knew. And when she became my lunchtime walking partner, she learned firsthand that one could not dally and still fit a walk into the lunch period.

The problem with the well-known aphorism above is that it supports the tyranny of the first impression. And first impressions are sometimes wrong. Or maybe not wrong so much as superficial. The aphorism reinforces the notion that nothing will ever be different. If we blow it, the damage is done! You show up with dandruff–game over.

Fortunately, like other tyrants, first impressions can be toppled. Second chances are possible.

My friend came to appreciate not my friendliness, but my friendship. And knowing that she found me unfriendly, improved my self-awareness. I practiced the painful art of extending myself to strangers, creating a new first impression for future acquaintances. The truth is, every moment, really, we offer a new self for impressions. And anyone stuck on a first impression is making a mistake.

Which brings me to my books. When I started writing the Carol Sabala mystery series, I was working full-time as an English teacher. I did not have a lot of free time to pursue my long-abiding love of creative writing. Nonetheless, my first mystery, Murder, Honey, caught the interest of an agent. Only in retrospect do I appreciate what a milestone that was, even though the agent did not successfully market the book.

At the time, I did not know that the next step should have been to write the second book for the series. I later learned that many series writers don’t sell their first, or even their second book, but may sell their third, creating the opportunity then to publish the first and second.

deathwdessert-old-cover

One of my original covers

But back then in my naiveté, I decided to self-publish. Digital print, companies such as iUniverse, were in their infancy. With little guidance, (I wasn’t even a member of Sisters in Crime yet!), I still did many things right. The book had passed through a writing group and other readers. As an English teacher, I proofread the book until my eyeballs were hanging out.

I employed a professional photographer to create cover art. Still I had no idea how much more really needed to be done to create a polished product.

Over time, I improved. By my third book, I was working with a small, local publisher who expertly formatted the mysteries and steered me to reputable printers. The problem was, to make this viable, I had to order hundreds of copies of my books—and I didn’t know much about marketing.

The new version!

The new version!

It wasn’t until I both retired from teaching and found a home at misterio press that I really learned what it takes to produce a first-rate product. The last book in my series was published directly from misterio, but I’ve also had the good fortune to go back and re-release the first six books under the misterio imprint.

I can’t change the fact that some readers encountered Murder, Honey in its first edition. Fortunately, some people liked it warts and all.

No matter what others’ first impressions of my writing are or have been, it does not change the fact that I am evolving, becoming a better writer. Having the expertise of the ladies at misterio press, using a professional cover designer, and gaining a better sense of the market, I now have the chance to make new first impressions with new readers.

Have you ever been given an important second chance? Have you ever made a bad first impression that haunted you?

And here is the last one to be re-released under the misterio press imprint, Book #3 in the series — Rotten Dates.

RottenDatesNewly divorced and vulnerable, baker/sleuth Carol Sabala resists her friend’s pressure to use a personal ad to enter the dating scene.

Two weeks later a woman’s body is found strangled on a riverbank in Santa Cruz. Did the killer use the ads to lure his victim?

Hired to investigate by the deceased’s cousin, Carol sees the amateur photographer who discovered the body as a likely suspect. He’s handsome, charming, and definitely on the prowl. Is it for a date with Carol or for his next victim?

As she digs deeper into the case, she uncovers one dangerous-but-appealing man after another. Longing for companionship and adventure in her own life, Carol learns the hard way that combining the two can be a risky business.

Now available on:    AMAZON    SMASHWORDS

The paperback version should be ready by the end of the week!

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

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. 🙂 )

6 Answers Fiction Writers Have for the Grammar Police

by Kassandra Lamb

made at imgflip.com

One of the frustrations of being a fiction writer is the occasional need to defend ourselves when accosted by the Grammar Police.

Now, that’s not to say that we don’t sometimes become the Grammar Police ourselves. Most of us have had a lot of training in the use of language, including proper grammar. So we grind our teeth when we see flat-out errors (apostrophes in places they don’t belong is one of my pet peeves).

But often our own grammatical “mistakes” really aren’t mistakes at all.

Certainly we writers do sometimes make boo-boos in our writing. Anytime one is feverishly typing — trying to get the words down before the muse snatches them away again — there is bound to be an occasional “your” slipping in where we meant “you’re.” (That’s why it’s so important for writers to get fresh eyes to proofread their final work.)

But many of the things the Grammar Police see as horrific errors are more examples of literary license and/or the evolution of language.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

1.  Sentence fragments are okay in fiction. Honest! They are. For emphasis. They should be used sparingly, but it really is okay to leave out the subject, or even the subject and the verb, or some other component of a grammatically-correct sentence, when writing fiction.

2.  Dialogue is about how people really talk, not what is grammatically correct.

Nothing will bring out the grammar police reaction in me faster than someone using “that” to refer to a person.

made at imgflip.com

made at imgflip.com

~ She’s the one that came to the door.

No, no, no! 

~ She’s the one who came to the door.

However, if you put quotes around that first sentence, indicating that it’s dialogue, it is now okay. Because that’s how people talk today, in America at least.

Likewise, “a couple of days ago” is grammatically correct. But when speaking, someone is more likely to say, “A couple days ago.”

3.  Dropping some “correct” words for the sake of flow.  Flow is important in fiction. The smoother the flow of words, the more the reader forgets that s/he is reading and becomes immersed in the story.

One of the things writers are advised to do is read the story out loud. When you see how easily (or not) the words flow off the tongue, you have a better sense of how easily they will flow through the reader’s mind.

For example, when a dependent clause acts as a modifier of a noun, it technically should begin with “that.” But often times, the “that” can be dropped and the sentence still means the same thing, but it flows a bit smoother.

~  It was the blanket that the toddler always carried around with her.

~  It was the blanket the toddler always carried around with her.

4.  Mixing verb tenses. Fiction is most often written in past tense.

~  She walked to the bench and picked up the book.

We read that as something that is happening in the present in the story. So if a writer needs to talk about something that happened in the character’s past–even a few minutes before–the past perfect tense is required.

~  It was the book she had dropped in a puddle earlier.

This is fine if it’s just a sentence or two, but if we’re writing whole paragraphs in the past perfect tense, all the “hads” start to get awkward. And especially if the verb going with the had is “to have.”

~  She had had enough.

That looks really, really weird. So again, in the interest of flow and helping the reader forget s/he is reading, the “hads” are often dropped in the middle of the paragraph and we revert to simple past tense. Or the “had” may be replaced with a contraction.

What had he been thinking? The case was poison from the get go. His partner warned him. She’d pointed out that they didn’t need the money that badly. But he’d gone ahead and told the client yes. And now they were paying the price.

If you don’t think that’s smoother, here’s the technically correct version:

What had he been thinking? The case had been poison from the get go. His partner had warned him. She had pointed out that they hadn’t needed the money that badly. But he had gone ahead and had told the client yes. And now they were paying the price.

Which brings us to…

5.  Contractions are okay in narration. When I was in school, contractions were only okay in dialogue. In narration, they were a no-no.

But today, writers are trying to pull the reader into the point-of-view character’s perspective as much as possible. So contractions are not only helpful for flow, but they make the reader feel more like s/he is inside the POV character’s head, experiencing what they are thinking, observing, doing, etc. right along with them.

6.  Language evolves.  Like it or not, this is reality.

If you don’t believe me, try asking for directions using Chaucer’s English and see what happens.

Blake's Canterbury Pilgrims

William Blake’s The Canterbury Pilgrims, 1808 (public domain)

Did you notice in the 2nd paragraph in number 5 above, I refer to a single POV character, and then say: experiencing what they are thinking, observing, doing, etc. right along with them?

Maybe you did, but I’m betting you didn’t. Because it is becoming more and more acceptable to use “they” as the pronoun for a singular person whose gender is unknown.

Such changes in language usually start in speech. Then, as the new usage becomes more acceptable, it eventually becomes the norm in written language as well.

What about you? What grammar mistakes make you grind your teeth? How do you feel about language evolving?

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. 🙂 )

COPS AND WRITERS

by Kassandra Lamb

Two weeks ago, I attended the most amazing conference of my life, The Writer’s Police Academy. And that’s saying something since I’ve been to a lot of conferences through the years.

Mock "unknown assailant on campus" scenario

Mock “unknown assailant on campus” scenario

Real cops, firefighters, EMS personnel, lawyers and private investigators taught us how to Write it Right in our mysteries and thrillers. Sister mp author, Vinnie Hansen, also attended and she told us about her favorite takeaways last week.

Today, I’d like to share some of the many surprises I discovered during this eye-opening conference.

 

FIRE 101: Did you know that smoke burns? I didn’t.

It is full of particles of unburned fuel, which then will ignite when the fire gets hot enough. But even the vapors in it are solid fuel converted to gas, and they also burn. Burning smoke on the ceiling is called “rollover.”

building on fire

See the fire coming out of the TOP of the front window. That’s rollover from smoke burning near the ceiling. (Photo by Eric Hensley, CC-BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

Which burns faster, older buildings or newer, tighter buildings?

The answer is newer buildings. Older buildings (the instructor called them ”legacy” buildings), while draftier, were built of more solid materials. And older furniture was made of wood, cotton and wool.

Today, some construction materials and many components of furniture are plastic, i.e., petroleum products, i.e., OIL. They ignite sooner, burn faster and give off more toxic fumes.

A fire in a modern house will be “fully developed” in about 10 minutes. In a legacy house, it may take 20-25 minutes.

SHOOT, DON’T SHOOT: This involved video scenarios where participants (with fake guns) got to play cops (us) and bad guys (in the videos).

A police officer has to determine whether to use potential lethal force (they are shooting to “stop the threat,” not to kill, but their gun is a lethal weapon) based on 3 criteria:

● Does the suspect have a weapon?
● Do they have the means to deliver harm with that weapon?
● Do they intend to use that weapon?

The officer often has to make that assessment in less than a second.

Example 1: The person pulls a knife but they are fifty feet away. The officer has time to try to defuse the situation: “Police! Don’t move! Drop your weapon! Sir, put the knife down.”

But if the person is 20 feet away and running toward the officer (or someone else) with a knife in their hand, they are an immediate threat and the officer needs to shoot.

Example 2: The person has a gun, pointed down. “Police! Put your weapon on the ground!” But if they start to raise the gun, the officer doesn’t need to wait until it’s aimed at him/her. By then, it will be too late.

I came away from that workshop with a whole new respect for how stressful and dangerous police work is.

It is now lunch time of the first day and I already feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth!

After lunch, I started with retired police detective/now writer Robin Burcell’s workshop…

THE WAY WE WALK, THE WAY WE TALK:  “Perp” is East Coast; on the West Coast, they’re called “suspects.” And the FBI uses “subject,” or “unsub” if they don’t know the suspect’s identity.

Unlike on TV and in movies, female detectives do not wear skirts and high heels! (Except maybe in court.) And cops don’t point their guns toward the ceiling (not unless there’s a bad guy up there) nor do they rack a bullet into the chamber just before engaging.

They carry their guns “locked and loaded” (already racked and safety off) at all times, and when they pull them out, the finger is beside the trigger until time to fire. And they point them straight ahead, in the direction they will most likely need to shoot.

10 COMMON MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE ABOUT THE LAW:  Leslie Budewitz, lawyer and author, shared many interesting tidbits about how the law really works, including the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence, but my fave takeaway was that Miranda rights are not automatically read to someone when they are arrested.

Two things have to be in place for Miranda to be necessary — the person must be in custody AND interrogation must be happening. So if a “perp” (I’m East Coast 🙂 ) is arrested (in custody) and is on the way to the station, and s/he makes a spontaneous, incriminating statement (NOT during interrogation), it can be used even if no Miranda warning has been given yet. Likewise, if someone is questioned and they haven’t been arrested yet, no Miranda is needed to use whatever they say.

participants wearing service belts and weilding pistols

Pistol-packin’ Mamas ~ #2016WPA

End of Day 1, we thought…

We went back to the hotel, exhausted but happy, but that evening we were treated to more demos in the parking lot after dinner. And several volunteers got to wear real (and very heavy) police belts and learned how to wield a baton, and when to use it vs. your pistol.

Day 2…

PTSD: I almost didn’t go to this one because I am an expert myself on PTSD, but this workshop was about what it looks like in police officers.

It was awesome!! The presenter was a former police officer, who developed PTSD, and is now a therapist working with officers with this disorder.

And he has a service dog for his PTSD! (The man made the mistake of giving me his card; I am so going to pick his brain via email.)

I came away from that workshop with a great story idea for Book 10 in my Kate Huntington series!

FORCE ON FORCE ROOM CLEARING:

This one wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, but it was still quite awesome. It involved more scenarios, and we got to shoot guns loaded with tiny paint pellets. Again, a whole new respect for how hard it is to judge how much force to use and when to use it.

But the biggest takeaway from this workshop was the presenter Randy Clifton’s comments about the recent controversial police shootings. He said he didn’t blame the officers (unless there seemed to be blatant racism involved). He blames the departments for insufficient training with real-life scenarios that replicate the stress levels of on-the-street confrontations.

Police Trainer Randy Clifton and me.

Police Trainer Randy Clifton and me. #2016WPA

He made the excellent point that when the adrenaline is flowing, the rational brain shuts down, and one reverts to old learned patterns (this is psychologically sound). If those old learned patterns aren’t superceded by deeply ingrained new patterns during training, the officer is likely to make the wrong decision.

He demonstrated this via a scenario in which police have raided a house where a known felon is staying. The police have cleared the rest of the house, while yelling repeatedly that they are the police. The guy comes out of his bedroom with his hands in the air, but a gun in one hand. The young police recruit Randy used in this scenario yelled, “Sir, put the gun down. Sir, drop your weapon.”

Randy stopped the scenario and asked us how many of us would shoot. Only 2 out of 12 responded yes (I was a no). Then he demonstrated how quickly someone can lower a gun from that “hands up” position and shoot the officer, while said officer is so politely telling him to drop the gun.

His point: our old patterns tell us that hands up means the guy is surrendering, but why then does he have a gun in his hand? He knows the cops are all over his house. If he was truly surrendering, he would have left the gun in the bedroom.

After this little lecture, all 12 of us voted unanimously to shoot.

Two last takeaways from the last two workshops:
DEFENSE TACTICS: Did you know that if you splay your fingers out at the end of your arm, it is almost impossible for someone to force you to bend your arm? Try it!

PRIVATE INVESTIGATION: OR HOW TO BE A DICK FOR FUN AND PROFIT: Do you know who the most accurate TV/movie private investigator is? (I’ll answer below in the comments section after some of you have made your best guess.)

Now, you may be thinking that I’ve “gone over to the side of the cops” regarding unnecessary police shootings.

Some of our amazing faculty!

Some of our amazing and very generous faculty!

No way! First, I don’t think it’s them against us. Another takeaway from this conference was how generous many police officers are. Every presenter gave out his/her email address and encouraged us to inundate them with questions. I believe the vast majority of officers are truly trying to “protect and serve.”

But many of them need better training, and PTSD needs to be identified and treated much more quickly in officers, because this disorder undetected can lead to more confrontations with the public, and bad decision-making due to lack of sleep (because of nightmares) and higher stress levels.

I still am pursuing investigating and improving these things in my own community, but I am so glad I went to this conference before my scheduled meetings with my sheriff and police chief. I now have a much better understanding of what their departments are up against!

Also, if you are planning to do the same in your own community, I found out that the place to start is with your local police department’s Public Information Officer.

Back to WPA. I’ve decided I will have to go again next year, since I never got to the Ballistics or Blood Spatter classes. 😀

So who do you think is the most accurate TV/movie P.I.? Have you gone to any professional conferences that were as good as this one?

By the way, one of the stories I was able to make more accurate, thanks to this conference, is now available for preorder. (I’ll bet you can figure out what I used when you read the story.)

$1.99 thru its release date of 9/5/16

ARSENIC and YOUNG LACY, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, Book #2

book cover

Sweet, adorable Lacy has stolen Marcia Banks’ heart, but money is tight. Like it or not, the service dog trainer needs to complete the human phase of the training and deliver the dog to her new owner in order to get paid. But the ex-Army nurse client turns out to be a challenging trainee. On top of her existing neuroses–which go beyond the psychological damage from a sexual assault during her second tour in Afghanistan–the veteran is now being stalked.

When Marcia receives a bizarre warning to stay away from her client and Lacy is also caught in the stalker’s malicious orbit, Sheriff Will Haines steps in to investigate. Marcia finds this both endearing and annoying, especially when he expects her to stay on the sidelines. The training fee would make her solvent again, but how can she put her dogs at risk?

Maybe Marcia should be more worried about herself, since the stalker has decided to pay her off in a very different way.

Available on:   AMAZON US    AMAZON UK    AMAZON CA    AMAZON AUS

APPLE    KOBO    NOOK

And Book #1, TO KILL A LABRADOR, is ON SALE for just $0.99 thru 9/3/16!!

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. 🙂 )

10 Nuggets from the Writers’ Police Academy

Vinnie Hansen and I attended a rather unusual conference last week. It’s called the Writers’ Police Academy. Law enforcement and EMS faculty (among others) taught us how to get it right when we have cops, courtrooms and/or blood in our novels.

Which happens a lot when one writes murder mysteries.

I’ll be sharing some of my best moments from the conference next week but today Vinnie’s here to tell us about her experience.

The Friday morning “announcement” at WPA was a staged car crash. They brought in a friggin’ helicopter!

The Friday morning “announcement” at WPA was a staged car crash. They brought in a friggin’ helicopter!

10 Nuggets from the Writers’ Police Academy

by Vinnie Hansen

Attending the Writers’ Police Academy gave me a wealth of cop and EMS info. I offer these 10 nuggets:

  • A person will bleed out in three to five minutes.
  • If you’re bleeding out, I can improvise a tourniquet with a two-inch wide band of material and something to twist it up good.
  • In hand-to-hand combat, the rule is flesh to bone and bone to flesh

Read more…

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

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. 🙂 )