Category Archives: Uncategorized

Iceland: The New Hot Spot for Mystery Novels

I recently returned from Iceland and was fascinated by the quality and depth of its bookstores. For a country of only 300,000 people, Iceland has a fertile written heritage, starting with its medieval Viking sagas and continuing to a rich collection of modern mystery novelists.

photo of Icelandic waterside town

A typical Icelandic fishing village.

Is their voracious reading habit because of the cold weather? Iceland’s recent economic crash? The BBC recently reported that Iceland has more writers, more books read, and more books published, per capita, than any other nation. It’s estimated that one out of ten Icelanders will publish a book. Unfortunately, only about three percent of Icelandic works are translated for the English market.

Iceland hasn’t yet developed the international reputation its Scandinavian neighbors have for mystery novels and thrillers. The English-language series I found most prominently displayed in the bookstores of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, (and also available on Amazon) was the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series by Arnaldur Indridason. His prose is as sparse and clean as Iceland in October, which happens to be when the first book in the series, Jar City, takes place.

The book is noir-ish, featuring Reykjavik Detective Erlendur. Like a good noir hero, he’s divorced and feeling his age. One of his children is a junkee, the other in rehab. Chapter one drops the reader into a murdered man’s apartment, while the Detective examines the body. It seems like a simple enough crime against an elderly male –and most likely random – except for one clue: a cryptic three-word message left beside the body. Tantalizingly, the author only gives the reader one of the three words, driving an otherwise prosaic scene forward.

photo of moss-covered lava field

A lava field in Iceland, covered in moss.

The Day Is Dark, by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, is another currently “hot” Icelandic book, though it is largely set in Greenland. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, an attorney, departs Iceland for a snowbound outpost in Greenland, where Icelandic employees have disappeared. Malignant townsfolk and hints of danger in the woods ratchet up the tension in this book, which is part mystery and part thriller.

Looking for a real classic? The medieval Icelandic sagas are jam-packed with murder, mayhem, and magic. Ranking as one of the world’s most important literary works, the sagas take place around the beginning of the last millennium, and have preserved much of what modern scholars know about the daily life, religion, magical practices, and adventures of the early Norse men and women, including their astonishing journeys to America.

kirsten-1

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten works part-time as a writer and part-time as an international development consultant. She writes the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery novels. Her fifth book in the series, The Elemental Detective, will be published in December, 2013.

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 harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Ouija Boards Debunked (Maybe)

This is a combination psychology and paranormal post, written by Kassandra Lamb and Kirsten Weiss.

Kirsten here to start things off.

A few weeks ago I posted on the origins of Ouija boards. The post got some interesting reactions. Apparently there are quite a few people out there who have had very spooky experiences with them.

Ouija BoardIndeed, many psychics believe that this simple piece of wood with letters and numbers on it is a portal to the underworld. I’ll have more on that in a minute. First Kass Lamb (who’s a retired psychotherapist) is going to explain what makes the planchette move.

Take it away, Kass.  

When I was a teenager, a Ouija board was standard fare at sleep-overs and Halloween parties. We thought it could predict the future, so we’d ask it who we were going to marry. The third time it told me that the boy I was currently infatuated with would be my future husband (a different boy each time) I became a bit disenchanted with Ouija boards. But I still couldn’t explain how that little wooden planchette seemed to move on its own, spelling out the name of my current flame.

Forty some years and a couple of degrees in psychology later, I can explain it with a phenomenon called ideomotor response. This term refers to an idea (ideo) being able to cause minuscule muscular responses that can actually cause (motor) movement without the person consciously telling their muscles to move.

No, it is not magic, and no, I’m not making this up! This phenomenon was first described by William Benjamin Carpenter, M.D., F.R.S. (I’ve no idea what F.R.S. stands for). He presented his findings to the Royal Institution of Great Britain on March 12, 1852.

At the time no one had a clue how this worked, but today we know enough about the brain to attempt to explain it.

Freud speculated in the late 1800’s that only a small part of what’s going on in our minds at any given time is actually in our conscious awareness. He used the analogy of an iceberg, the tip of which is the conscious mind and the bulk is underneath the surface.

Freud's Id, Ego and Superego diagram on an iceberg

Freud’s iceberg, depicting the conscious vs. unconscious mind  (public domain)

Freud’s theories weren’t always right but with this one, he was spot on. There is a lot going on in our brains at any given time, most of which is not conscious. Part of our brains (the cerebellum) is moving our bodies around–walking, chewing gum, typing, etc.–without our having to pay attention to each little movement. Other parts of our brains (in the limbic system and parts of the cerebral cortex) are processing emotions, making connections between current events and past experiences, etc. while we are consciously thinking about other things (in another part of our cerebral cortex).

And it is indeed possible for a part of our brains, that we are not currently consciously controlling, to tell our muscles to move a certain way. You think the thought and the movement happens, without any specific signals to the muscles that you are aware of.

Let me demonstrate with a simple makeshift pendulum–a metal clip and two rubber bands.

Holding the top of the rubber bands between my index finger and thumb (relaxed but intentionally holding my hand as still as possible), I think the word “swing” while imagining the pendulum swinging back and forth. Lo and behold, it starts to swing. When I think “circle” (I say it out loud in the video so you know when I started thinking it), it changes directions, and when I think “stop” it comes slowly to a halt.

Click the video below and watch the pendulum do its thing, then watch a second time and keep your eye on my hand. (Note: my husband took this video with his digital camera. Every time I watch this I’m amazed myself that this works!)

Note: some of the related videos that come up at the end mention hypnosis; that is because ideomotor signals are sometimes used by hypnotherapists but it is NOT a hypnotic phenomenon. It is a purely physiological response. No hypnosis required, although the power of suggestion may be involved as we are about to see.

So back to the Ouija board. I’m fifteen and madly in love with a boy named Bobby. I’m at a sleep-over. The hostess whips out a Ouija board and we start fooling with it. My fingertips are on the planchette along with those of one or two other girls. I ask out loud who I’m going to marry. The other girls’ fingertips have no vested interest in the outcome but my fingertips are listening to my brain chanting, “Bobby, please let it be Bobby.”

I am NOT telling my fingertips to move, but they get that signal anyway and the planchette starts to slowly stutter across the board toward the B. Yay!!! Then I hold my breath as I think, “Make it an O, please make it an O.” But I’m being very careful not to intentionally move the planchette because I want the TRUTH. Sure enough, we slowly slide over to the O. Somewhere around the second B the planchette really picks up speed and whizzes over to the Y, and then maybe flies right off the board as my excited nervous system goes into overload.

This is the explanation for what makes the Ouija board planchette move. Our own ideomotor response is doing this. Now the next question is, who is controlling the messages in our brains that are being sent to our fingertips, bypassing our conscious minds along the way?

When teenagers ask it stupid questions about who they’re going to marry someday, it’s their own wishful thinking controlling the planchette. But when we ask the Ouija board to allow us to contact spirits from beyond, what happens then?

Is it still our unconscious minds–our own wishful thinking or our own greatest fears–controlling the planchette? Or is it something else?

Back to Kirsten and what psychics say on the subject.

I don’t claim this to be a representative poll, but the psychics I’ve spoken with believe that yes, you can contact the “other side” with Ouija boards. But you don’t know who (or what) you’re inviting into your home.

Most psychics and magical practitioners will erect magical wards and protections before attempting any sort of contact with spirits (not just through a Ouija board). These are to keep out anything with negative intentions.

They warn against the use of Ouija boards by the layperson who doesn’t know how to protect him/herself.

Kass here again.

Personally I don’t quite know what to believe about the spirit world but if Ouija boards can open a portal to the other side, I think it is very wise to avoid them. (Google “psychics and Ouija boards” if you don’t believe us.)

If a spirit can indeed enter your mind (when you’ve invited it in via the board), that spirit would then be able to use the board to communicate. The spirit could influences your thoughts (you would not necessarily be consciously aware of that influence nor even the thoughts themselves). Those thoughts then would move the planchette via ideomotor response.

I’m very grateful that my friends and I never asked to contact the spirit world with our Ouija boards.

Do any of you have cautionary tales you are willing to share about Ouija boards? Any thoughts or questions about ideomotor response?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss, author of paranormal mystery novels and the Riga Hayworth Metaphysical Detective series and Kassandra Lamb, retired psychotherapist and author of the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press on Tuesdays, sometimes about serious topics, and sometimes just for fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Happy Independence Day!!!

 1000px-United_States_flag_waving_icon pub domain.svg

 

Independence Day has a whole new meaning for me now that I am part of an indie press! I am more grateful than ever to be a citizen of a country where initiative, inventiveness and entrepreneurship are valued and encouraged.

Have a great 4th of July, everyone, and God bless America!

Kass Lamb and the misterio press authors

Five Reasons to Honor Our Troops

I was going to post about something completely different today and then I looked at the calendar, and saw ‘Memorial Day’ staring back at me (Note to self: get out of writer’s cave more often).

I’m currently doing a Tour of Fives blog tour to celebrate the release of the 5th book in my mystery series (you can win a free e-book at the end of this post). So the natural post for today is Five Reasons to Honor Our Troops. There are a gazillion reasons really, but I’m gonna pick my top five.

1.   They have a strong sense of duty. Granted they may have other reasons for joining the armed forces as well, but the men and women who sign on that dotted line do so partly, or sometimes mostly, out of a sense of duty. That is an honorable trait.

2.   They make sacrifices the rest of us aren’t willing to make.  Not the least of which is being willing to put their lives on the line. But they also deal with a lot of other things, some of which we don’t think about. Oh, we get that they have to cope with being separated from loved ones and the facing danger part. But dirt, fatigue and boredom are frequent companions.

USMC-120112-M-RE261-003 troops playing cards

(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

3.   They protect our ability to live in a free country by giving up a lot of their freedom.  Their lives are not their own. They can be ordered at any time to drop what they’re doing, say goodbye to their families and report to be shipped out to wherever they’re needed. And some of them will be affected mentally and physically for the rest of their lives.

At the San Diego 20th annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans  )why do we have homeless veterans?)

At the San Diego 20th annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans (why do we have homeless veterans?)

4.   They ask their loved ones to make sacrifices. If you’ve ever been apart from someone you love for a long time, you know how big a deal this is. They ask their families and friends to go on without them while they serve their country. They are gone for months, sometimes years, at a time. Not only do their mothers/fathers/wives/husbands/children/siblings/grandparents/friends have to miss them and worry about them daily but they will have many family holidays and milestones that their soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen will not be there for. And some of them will never come home.

5.   They protect us from the evil in the world.  As a retired psychotherapist who specialized in trauma recovery, I have seen all too often the aftereffects of that evil. We in the U.S. certainly have our own home-grown evil, but these men and women in uniform keep the evil elements from the rest of the world at bay.

So now I’m feeling quite guilty that I needed a calendar to remind me to honor our troops. We should be honoring them 365 days a year.

A big salute to all the men and women in uniform and those who have served in the past. God bless everyone of you, and God bless America!

female soldier saluting

(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Today through Tuesday are the last days to win an ARC (advance review copy) of my new book. Five commenters will be randomly selected to receive one, so tell us your top reason for honoring our troops and veterans!

COLLATERAL CASUALTIES, A Kate Huntington Mystery (#5) will be officially launched on June 6th!

Speaking of the evil in the world…

book cover for COLLATERAL CASUALTIES, A Kate Huntington Mystery

   When a former client reaches out to psychotherapist Kate Huntington and reveals a foreign diplomat’s dark secret, then dies of ‘natural causes’ just days later, Kate isn’t sure what to think. Was the man delusional or is she now privy to dangerous information?
    Soon she discovers her client was totally sane… and he was murdered. Someone is now trying to eliminate her, and anyone and everyone she might have told. Forced into hiding, she and her husband, Skip, along with the operatives of his private investigating agency, struggle to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer. Skip and his P.I. partner are good investigators, but this time they may be in over their heads… and they all could end up drowning in a sea of international intrigue.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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A Mother’s Day Tribute to Strong but Conventional Women

A friend recently wrote a post about Gertrude Atherton, a strong and unconventional female author who scandalized 19th century society. I love such stories of women who defied the constraints of their era to live life to its fullest. But the article got me to thinking about all the strong but conventional women of the past who perhaps don’t get the accolades they deserve.

One such woman was Mary Amelia, who was born in 1898–around the time Ms. Atherton was publishing her most scandalous books.

Mary Amelia was the epitome of a strong woman. Not necessarily in the way we might define a strong woman today. Not kick-ass, go-to-the-gym-several-times-a-week strong. But she was emotionally strong. And she was my grandmother.

My grandmother (in the middle) in the conventional swimming garb of her era. Sexy huh?

She was the eldest child of a well-to-do Maryland family. Her father spoiled his beautiful wife. She loved babies, especially since she didn’t have to take care of them. (My guess is she loved the process of making babies as well, but folks didn’t talk about that back then!) So she kept popping them out, and when they were no longer little and cute, she turned them over to the servants to raise.

Then my great grandfather made a crucial mistake. He believed some guy who swore that the land in Florida he had for sale was prime real estate. Great-granddaddy sold his business, packed up his family and moved to Florida, only to discover that he had bought an alligator-infested swamp. (Yes, I am the progeny of someone who actually bought swampland in Florida! Not one of our family’s prouder moments.)

Great-granddaddy slunk back to Maryland and took a job as a laborer. With no money now for servants, my grandmother was pulled out of school at age 13 to take care of her younger siblings. Because heaven forbid her spoiled mother should have to change a nappie. My grandmother rose to the task (and until the day she died she was the matriarch of the family, even while her mother was still alive).

At 24, she was in danger of being an old maid when young “Buck” Roland (no pun intended; that really was my grandfather’s nickname) swept her off her feet. A few years later, she had her own baby, my mother. Unfortunately her new hubby was what they called back then a ne’er-do-well. He couldn’t seem to hold a job or keep a business going.  He was long on promises and short on follow-through.

Now up to this point, my grandmother had played by the rules. She was a conventional woman who tried to avoid those things that “just weren’t done.” But out of necessity she did something that middle-class, married women of her era just didn’t do. She got a job.

With only an eighth-grade education, she became a clerk in the payroll department of a Baltimore chemical company. This was back when credentials were less important than pure smarts and a willingness to work hard. She had so much of both of the latter that she advanced through the years, despite sexism, to the position of payroll supervisor.

In the meantime, her husband was making less and less effort to make a living, and by the time my mother was eleven, he’d given up completely. Women, no matter how good they were at their jobs, didn’t make much money back then. My grandmother realized she couldn’t support three people on her salary.

So she did something that “just wasn’t done.” She looked at my grandfather one day and said, “You’re just another mouth to feed. You need to leave.” And he did.

She never divorced him, however, because that just wasn’t done. And she never took off her wedding ring, even decades after he had died. She went by her married name and considered herself a widow.

My mother, age 14, with her mother.

She raised my mother, as a single parent, in an era that was not at all kind to single moms. And not only did she make sure my mother finished high school, but she pushed her to go to college. Also, somewhere along the way, my grandmother bought her own house. Even though most of her sisters, who were married, were still renting theirs. And in 1959, at the age of 61, she learned to drive, and bought her first and only car.

My grandmother, the proud owner of a spankin’ new 1959 Ford Fairlane. (Yeah, that’s me in the dorky little skirt.)

She used to scare the crap out of my parents. She would get on the Baltimore Beltway, pull all the way over into the fast lane, and then do forty miles an hour. She thought the two lines in the center of the road were for bicycles, and they changed from solid to dotted occasionally just for variety, so that drivers wouldn’t fall asleep staring at them (seriously; I am not making this up!) When my father explained that the dotted line meant that drivers could now safely pass, she just stared at him. She never passed anybody, but plenty of drivers passed her.

We joked about her strange driving habits, but we were actually quite impressed that she had tackled such a foreign activity in her sixties (which would be comparable to one’s eighties today). She lived on her own until the day she died, almost a decade later.

It wasn’t until a few years after that, when I was fully grown, that I realized just how strong my grandmother had been, in her own conventional way.

I’m far from perfect, but I do think that I’ve done her proud in the ‘strong woman’ category. Thanks, Grandma, for being such a great role model!

Have you known any strong and remarkable conventional women? Who has been your most inspiring role model?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Welcome to the Family, K.B. Owen

I am thrilled to welcome a new author to our group! K.B. Owen (a.k.a. Kathy Owen) writes historical cozy mysteries and we have bribed lured enticed her to join us here at misterio press.

I have read her newly released novel, Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery, and it is one of the best debut novels I have ever read! But more on her book in a moment.

First, I’ll let Kathy introduce herself.

Headshot of K.B. OwenHi! I’m a former college instructor, with a Ph.D. in 19th century literature. These days, I’m applying my background and interests to historical mystery writing, and have created a female professor as amateur sleuth. I’ve been a professor but never a detective, so I’m living vicariously. (Although I never taught college classes in a bustle and long skirts, either. Thankfully!)

I’m also married to the love of my life, and am mom to three boys, ages 12, 17 and 20.  In my *ahem* free time, I enjoy reading, baking, gardening, and backyard bird-watching.

 

Phew, Kathy, you are one busy lady! And, folks, she also has a delightful website and blog at K.B. Owen, Historical Mystery Author: Chasing the Cozy Thrill.

Now a bit more about Kathy’s writing. Her stories are set in the late 1800’s at a women’s college (women going to college was a newfangled concept back then). Kathy is a meticulous researcher and her descriptions pull you back in time so that you feel you are living in Concordia’s world.

This is what I love most about historical fiction. You get to learn about another era–not just the dry facts from history books, but the way that people dressed, talked, interacted, the attitudes and conventions, etc. At the same time you are being entertained by a delightful story, in this case a suspenseful mystery.

Kathy is also great at developing compelling, and sometimes quirky, characters. But wait, don’t just take my word for it. Here are some comments from award winning authors who have read Kathy’s book.

  • “What a perfectly enjoyable debut! The author seamlessly works in the finely wrought historical details that make the reader feel totally at home. …truly a delight to read. I’ll definitely be awaiting more adventures of the intrepid Miss Wells.” ~ Martha Powers, author of Conspiracy of Silence and Death Angel
  • “The exquisitely plotted mystery will keep you turning the pages well into the night, and the richness of the world will keep you thinking about the story long after you put it down.” ~ Janice Hamrick, author of Death Makes the Cut

Below is the blurb and links for her book, but before you run off to check it out, please join with me and our misterio press authors as we break out the virtual bubbly to celebrate.

(photo by ori2uru, Creative Commons 2.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

 A Toast ~ Welcome Aboard, Kathy!

 

Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells Mystery

Dangerous and Unseemly book cover

An unseemly lesson… in murder. The year is 1896, and college professor Concordia Wells has her hands full: teaching classes, acting as live-in chaperone to a cottage of lively female students, and directing the student play, Macbeth. But mystery and murder are not confined to the stage, especially when the death of Concordia’s sister, Mary, appears to be foul play. To make matters worse, the women’s college is plagued by malicious pranks, arson, money troubles, and the apparent suicide of a college official. With her beloved school facing certain ruin, Concordia knows that she must act. As she struggles to seek justice for her sister and discover who is behind the college incidents, there are some closest to Concordia who do not appreciate the unseemly inquiries and bold actions of the young lady professor. Can she discover who is responsible… before she becomes the next target?

Absorbing in its memorable characters, non-stop plot twists, and depiction of life in a late-nineteenth century women’s college, Dangerous and Unseemly is a suspenseful and engaging contribution to the cozy historical mystery genre. Fans of Harriet Vane and Maisie Dobbs will find in Concordia Wells a new heroine to fall in love with.

Available now:

Amazon Kindle

Paperback (Amazon)

Barnes and Noble Nookbook

Smashwords

Kobo

Scribd

Posted by Kassandra Lamb, co-founder of misterio press.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

 

Talking about Autism over at Rhonda Hopkins’ Place Today

I’m over at Rhonda Hopkins’ blog today, as part of her Authors Give Back series. I’m talking about Autism, and I’m donating all proceeds from Celebrity Status in February to the organization, Autism Speaks. Come join us over there! (Put this in your browser address line if the link above doesn’t work — http://bit.ly/12HZh9 )

Also, today is the last day to sign up for your blind date with a free e-book at the Valentine’s Day Book Date Giveaway. Everybody gets a free book in one of your favorite genres.

Watch for a Just for Fun post on Thursday!

(posted by Kassandra Lamb)

 

Readers, Rebels and the Rules of Writing

(The third installment on gender differences in relating will be posted soon. Here is a post in our ongoing series on what Readers Really Want.)

I have always been a rebel. When I was a kid, telling me that something was against the rules was a sure-fire way to get me to do it. As an adult, I try to resist the temptation to break a rule at least once, just to see what happens.

 

From a 1915 musical score, public domain in the U.S.

When I retired from being a psychotherapist and turned my writing talents toward fiction, I was so relieved. No more having to follow the ‘introduction, literature review, evidence, conclusions’ format required for professional journal articles. My creativity would finally be free and unfettered.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that writing fiction had rules! (One of which is to avoid using exclamation points. Teehee!) My editor probably ended up with muscle spasms in her neck from shaking her head so much over my first manuscript.

My editor probably could have used some of this. (Photo by Craiglduncan from Wikimedia Commons)

An internal battle then ensued, between the part of me that wanted to ignore the rules and the part that wanted to get published. The latter won and I beat the rebel into submission. Now, as a somewhat more seasoned novelist, I’ve developed a bit more of a compromise in my view of these rules. But before I get into that, let me present a few things to you, the reader.

Here are three rules that I find somewhat, shall we say, stifling: (1) Use exclamation marks very sparingly (as in, almost never); (2) only use said or asked in dialogue tags; and (3) avoid adverbs like the plague.

So imagine the hero is trying to seduce the heroine. He is nibbling on her earlobe and then starts trailing kisses down the side of her neck. *pauses to fan face, is it getting hot in here?* She is trying to resist but her body has other ideas.

“Please, stop,” she gasped breathlessly.

“Please, stop,” she said, in a breathless voice.

“Please, stop.” Her voice was breathless.

You tell me, which do you like better? Which is more powerful? And which will tend to slow the story down?

Example number 2: The protagonist tells his buddy that his pet gerbil can talk.

“No way,” Jimmy said.

“No way!” Jimmy said.

No way,” Jimmy exclaimed.

“No way.” Jimmy’s voice was incredulous.

I don’t know about you, but the first one sounds to me like Jimmy isn’t all that interested. Either the second or third one works for me, although I like number two best. Technically, according to the rules, the fourth one is correct. But looking at that one, and the third one, through my reader eyes (instead of those of the writer trying to follow the rules), I can’t help wondering why there isn’t an exclamation mark there, if Jimmy is so all fired incredulous.

Now, some editors would respond to this by saying, if you need an exclamation mark or the word exclaimed in order to convey the speaker’s emotions, then you need to rewrite the dialogue to make it stronger, or show (not tell; yet another rule) the emotion through action.

Okay, how about:  Jimmy’s eyes grew wide. “No way.”

Nope, sorry, I’m still feeling like this reaction is too lukewarm without that exclamation mark. For me, first prize would go to:

Jimmy’s eyes grew wide. “No way!”

So here is the middle ground I have found, with three–soon to be four–published novels under my belt. These rules should be guidelines, because they have merit, but they should not be strictly enforced.

Use too many exclamation marks and they lose their punch (not to mention the fact that the speaker starts to sound silly.) Let’s not outlaw them completely, however.

Use said or asked most of the time as dialogue tags, because the reader’s eye glides right over them and they don’t interfere with the flow of the dialogue. But when describing the emotion or tone of voice would interfere with the flow of the dialogue, use a different dialogue tag to convey that emotion.

Likewise with adverbs; use them sparingly, but sometimes they may be the tighter way to convey the mood or tone.

Protagonist and her husband are in the middle of a disagreement that is about to heat up:

“Look, I know I go on and on sometimes, but I feel like you aren’t always listening to me.”

“What, you go on and on? Naw, never!” he teased.

“Like right now. You’re not taking me seriously,” she shot back.

He realized he had gone too far. “I do listen,” he said softly, hoping to appease her.

Oh, yeah, forgot to mention the rule about avoiding italicizing words for emphasis. So here’s the same conversation, following all the rules:

“Look, I know I go on and on sometimes, but I feel like you aren’t always listening to me.”

“What, you go on and on? Naw, never,” he said, a teasing note in his voice.

“Like right now. You’re not taking me seriously.” Her tone was now angry.

He realized he had gone too far. “I do listen,” he said, softening his voice, hoping to appease her.
Now there’s nothing wrong with the second version. But, in my opinion, the emotions aren’t as powerful. And we have ten extra words that slow down the pace of the scene, which makes the interchange sound less heated.

Let me reiterate, however, that I have matured enough through the years to realize that rules usually exist for a reason. These elements should not be used too often. Note the following, which is not far off from several first-page samples I have read on Amazon in recent times:

Jeannette sat down on a bar stool, longingly glancing in Carlos’s direction, then blatantly ignoring him.

Suddenly, she felt hot breath on her neck. Carlos gently picked up her hand and, lovingly and tenderly, kissed the soft palm. “So you can’t resist me, querida!” he breathed lustily into her ear.

Jeannette shivered deliciously but kept her face turned away.

Another man had taken the stool on her other side. “Can… uh, I buy you a drink?” he stammered nervously.

Carlos leaned forward and stared aggressively at the interloper. “She’s taken!” he growled emphatically.

“I am not!” she protested, equally emphatically.

Carlos instantly jumped from his barstool and grabbed her arm firmly. “We’ll see about that!” he growled menacingly as he hauled her off her stool and moved her hurriedly toward the door.
Now this writer has promise (Ha, ha! It’s me, several decades ago), but the mood of the scene is ruined by all the melodramatic adverbs, exclamation marks and overused irregular dialogue tags. It reads more like a farce than a serious scene. My fingers are itching to go back and edit it. (I would keep two of the fourteen adverbs, one of the four exclamation marks, and two out of the five irregular dialogue tags.)

But I won’t bore you further by ridiculously hammering home an already obviously made point about the annoyingly frequent habit of over-using these temptingly easy elements rather than writing truly fabulous and exceedingly tight, emotionally tantalizing dialogue.
Please, wade in, readers! (Yes, I do so love those exclamation marks.) What do you think about these rules? Writers and editors, feel free to join the fray.

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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Readers: How Do You Feel About Cliffhangers?

This is the first in a series asking readers what they do and don’t like in fiction. Please, readers, let us know what you think! We authors want to give you what you want.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, or maybe I should say a ledge, and assume that at least some readers are like me and don’t like cliffhangers.

My husband and I were watching Criminal Minds, Season 2, on DVD the other night. At the end of the last episode, all the main characters get into their various look-alike black FBI-issued SUV’s, and then the scene flashes to a black SUV blowing up! Grrr! We’ve learned the hard way to already have the next season’s DVD in hand before watching the last episode on the disc, so within minutes we knew whose vehicle it was. Our annoyance was short-lived, this time.

I find full-blown cliffhangers even more annoying in novels. Awhile back, I read a debut novel in a mystery series by an indie author. The story had come to a satisfying end, and then, as the loose ends were being tied up, the protagonist’s boyfriend suddenly disappears. I turn the page, and there is a note from the author telling me I should run, not walk, to my computer and order the next book in the series.

I don’t think so!
Instead, I vowed never to buy another book by that author. I was offended by this blatant manipulation.

Now I don’t mind if an author leaves something dangling a little bit, such as a budding romance or hints of some other new development in the protagonist’s life. But please don’t hang me off the cliff! I get vertigo.

Then again, I know that semi-cliffhangers, have become a bit of a trend in some series and trilogies. I just finished reading a friend’s debut novel and she did this. The initial story, in which the young protagonist is running for her life from her abusive father with the help of her boyfriend and a stranger from another world, is resolved. But there are lots and lots of loose ends dangling when you turn the page and discover the book is done. What saved the day for me, the abhorrer of cliffhangers, was an excerpt from the beginning of Book 2 in the trilogy. It gave enough hints of where the tale was going next to turn the sour taste in my mouth to a whetted appetite. Well done, Myndi Shafer! (I highly recommend her book, Shrilugh)

And then there are soap operas–those time-honored, slow-moving series on daytime TV, and sometimes during evening prime time. I will confess that even I watched Dallas, in its first rendition. And I had an aunt who would do you bodily harm if you got in her way when she was trying to get home in time to watch her “afternoon stories.”

How about it, readers, do you like wandering along paths close to the edge of the cliff? Or do you get vertigo like me?

All of these pictures were taken at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (gorgeous country!)

Just how tolerant are you of loose ends at the end of a book? Do you have any other pet peeves about how some novels are written?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
 
We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Mondays or Tuesdays. Sometimes we blog again, on Fridays or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address at the top of the column to the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!