Unlucky Charms Debuts

We don’t usually post on Mondays, but we have a guest post by author Linda O. Johnston that is fitting for this time of the year. Now, don’t get nervous, but it’s October and getting close to Halloween and the post is about superstition mysteries!

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Thank you, Writers in Residence.  I’m delighted to be blogging here.  In case you can’t tell, I enjoy blogging, including guest blogging.

It’s October, the month of Halloween.  Halloween is full of superstitions.   It’s a great time for the debut of my third Superstition Mystery, Unlucky Charms.

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My Superstition Mysteries feature Rory Chasen, a pet lover who managed a pet store in Los Angeles… till she came to Destiny, California.  Destiny is all about superstitions, and Rory headed there when her fiancé died after walking under a ladder.  No, the ladder didn’t fall on him, but he was hit by a car soon afterward.  Did the two interconnect?  Did he die thanks to the effect of the superstition?  Rory wants to know.

And when she first gets to Destiny with her dog Pluckie, she learns that black and white dogs are good luck, especially if you’re going to a business meeting.  Pluckie saves the life of Martha Jallopia, who owns the Lucky Dog Boutique.  Martha then asks Rory to stay in Destiny and manage the shop.

That story is in the first Superstition Mystery, Lost Under a Ladder–in which Martha becomes a murder suspect and Rory has to help her in that, too, by trying to clear her.  In book two, Knock on Wood, Rory’s bff Gemma Grayfield comes to  Destiny to be with Rory–and she’s the next one to become a murder suspect.

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Here, in book three, Unlucky Charms, Rory’s the murder suspect!

All through this, Rory remains a superstition agnostic.  Sure, it probably doesn’t hurt to comply with superstitions… but does it really help?  She continues trying to figure it out.

And there are a lot of suspicions all over Destiny that Rory gets involved with, including seeding the sidewalks in front of the Lucky Dog Boutique with lucky heads-up pennies.  Since I write a lot about dogs and other pets, more superstitions about them are contained in the stories, too–including how unlucky, or lucky, black cats are.

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Like Rory, I’m a superstition agnostic.  How about you?  Do you really believe… or not?

Just in case… well, one thing I will do here at the Writers in Residence blog is to cross my fingers, and knock on wood, that all the writers in residence, as well as all their readers, have lots and lots of good luck!

 

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries. She additionally currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne.

She also wrote the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spin-off from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkeley Prime Crime.

Please visit Linda at her website: http://www.LindaOJohnston.com and friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaOJohnston

Latest book: Unlucky Charms

And So What Do You Bring to the Party?

99be9-gayle51closeupA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy, Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in book form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

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If you are a writer, you do research. If you are a good writer, you do a lot of research. If you are a procrastinator/writer, you do even more research and very little writing. That isn’t good. The least we can do is check out facts to make sure we have has much right as possible. The worst we can do is to put so much in a story that the story gets lost in the endless details.

Any writer knows it is rather embarrassing to write about our hero driving south on a street (in a city where we have obviously never been) only to learn later that the street is one-way going north. It happens. Google Maps makes it a lot easier to find out about streets in towns we have never seen. If all else fails, make up the town and the street and do what you want.

There is technical stuff that some writers drop into their tomes to make it more interesting. Hopefully they check with people who actually know about the activity so they get it right. That research is great. I do a lot of it. Often I learn way more than is necessary for the tale I am telling. I edit out much of the knowledge lest I turn the story into a How To book.

But what about stuff you actually know? When you get to be a certain age, you should have done things in life like have a few jobs or a few hobbies. I have had my share of jobs and lived quite a few places and have hobbies up the wazoo. So, you ask, how have I used my knowledge in my books?

Got a minute?
ralphmbartosprintlarge    My father was in the Air Force. We traveled a lot. I lived on Okinawa and in France as well as in Memphis (near Elvis) and here in California. There were a few other military bases along the way and many of these places turn up in my SPYGAME Trilogy. I used some of my father’s experiences as a pilot during World War II and afterwards, as well as my imagination, to concoct an intriguing set of stories. The first one, The Odd Man, deals mostly with WWII and the Bay of Pigs. I went to a boarding school in France and that place finds a home in book two, Dry Bones. Book three, Star Power, wraps up the trilogy by bringing back characters from books one and two for a climax ending up in Southern California with some Hollywood stars tossed in for fun, though some are positively deadly.

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There is a lot of history plus my own experiences in those books. I actually use a few pictures my mother and I took while living in these places in the book. As one of my characters and I say: “The facts are true. I made up the rest.”

But I mentioned my own jobs as being hands-on research for my books. Let me tell you a story. I wrote my three spy novels and tried to get them published many years ago. I wasn’t having any luck. By then I had moved to California, married, and was writing yet another book that didn’t get published until later. My wonderful husband noticed my frustration and said this: “You used to be a private detective. Why don’t you write a detective novel?”

I had been a detective about a dozen years earlier. I actually went undercover in a variety of places looking for bad guys. Maybe…

I started thinking about a detective series. Then I got on a jury. I thought this might be a perfect segue into a plot. The jury thing ended when the case was settled out of court and I went home. Then Richard got on a case. He was to appear the same day the O.J. Simpson jurors were to be picked. He wasn’t in that cattle call, but he saw the media circus downtown with the television cameras and helicopters and reporters. He came back with a vivid view of the proceedings. Then the ad nauseam media coverage ensued.
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But that case wasn’t the first or last to hyperventilate on TV. Experts came out of the woodwork and threw out their “wisdom” and opinion long before a jury was even seated. THAT was going to be my story. What happens when the media orchestrates the justice? My book, Media Justice, was the first in the Ginger Caulfield P.I. series.

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Speaking of jobs, I worked over a decade in a bank dealing with stocks and bonds. That’s where I met Richard. (Do I have to say that was the best job I ever had?) I dealt with millions and millions of dollars daily. Then one day we got free tickets to the Santa Anita Racetrack. Richard and I went. I explored. I found a terrific place to find a body… I combined horse racing and hedge funds and got Hedge Bet out of it.

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The third book in the series was the result of my fellow writer and friend, Jackie Houchin, doing an article about the local dam up here in the Foothills where I live. She took a terrific picture of the dam before the retrofitting took place. It was so ominous. It reeked of mystery. It ended up as the cover shot on Damning Evidence. Jackie wrote a great interview of the guy who lived up at the dam. I knew I was going to use that character someway, somehow. And I did.

caverns-cover-only-updated-smallHere’s another story. When I was on assignment in Chicago as a P.I., I lived in an apartment near Lake Michigan. It was February. A brutal winter. I had to take the subway and a bus to the job at night. I worked from 5 p.m. until 2 in the morning. I survived Chicago. Years later I heard a story from a co-worker in California about a police officer in New York City who ran across something rummaging around in garbage cans down an alley. He shot it. It was a rat. It weighed in at 105 pounds. I moved the rat and his friends to snowy Chicago and I have them eating away the garbage on which a large area of The Windy City was built after the Great Fire. This was near the lake. Huge caverns have been carved out under the condos around the lake. Disaster looms. That book is Caverns.

All of these prior books have a connection to my actual life. But so do my Christmas books. This is where my hobbies come in. I collect Santas. I have around 4000. I have made some, bought many. And I used to work in a miniature store called Miniature World. We sold dollhouses. Ibookcoverpreviewcropped started making my own and making vignettes. I had an idea for a Christmas castle that I designed. I still have the sketch. I decided to write a story to go along with the idea of this castle. Then I decided to build the castle and make the figures that went with the story. Then I published the book. The first one was Bearnard’s Christmas.

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I say first because there is a second book coming out this Christmas called The Santa Claus Machine. I am currently working on the third, Every Castle Needs a Dragon.

Now you might say there is no research in fantasies. Well, I added pictures to these books. I had to have things to photograph that fit the story. My Christmas collection is vast. I have reindeer and animals and sleighs and miniature toys that fit my stories. I must have been saving them just for these books.

The third book needed fairies and a dragon and a miniature diving helmet… I just happened to have this stuff tucked away. I guess I have been researching this story even before I got the idea for it.

But we all have stuff to bring to the party. What do you have in your imagination closet that you can pull out to enhance a character or plot? Maybe there is somebody in the family who influenced you. Or a place you lived that aches to be part of a story. Be an archaeologist of your own life and dig for those relics that will set your story apart. Let the party begin.

What’s a Hundred Years? …by Gayle Bartos-Pool

99be9-gayle51closeupA former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.”

 

 

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Shakespeare died 400 years ago, but we all have read his plays. There is talk now that schools want to stop teaching works by the guys who basically gave us the foundation of our modern literature. I would give you their astute reasoning, but there is no good reason behind it. It’s a stupid idea.

Aristotle, Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles… I hope those names aren’t Greek to you (Sorry, that’s a little literary humor.), but these men crafted the basics of writing as we know it. Centuries later we got Shakespeare and Chaucer and Christopher Marlowe, Ibsen, Chekhov and, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and the Bronte Sisters. And list goes on and on.

They make movies based on these books. People still read the classics. Some of the wording is a tad dated, but the stories are still relevant. Romeo and Juliet turned into West Side Story. How many retellings of A Christmas Carol have there been? Good lasts.
Anna Katharine GreenThis takes me to Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart. These two ladies lived a hundred years ago. Anna Katharine Green wrote her Amelia Butterworth character in 1897, well before Agatha Christie wrote The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) featuring Miss Marple. Christie acknowledges Green as her inspiration. Green also wrote about a young female amateur sleuth, Violet Strange, years before the first Nancy Drew stories hit the bookstore shelves.

Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart turned out her first mystery, The Man in Lower Ten, in 1906 and The Circular Staircase in 1907, both astonishingly good mystery stories. She references both Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in that first mystery. She went on to pen her Letitia Carberry stories featuring three old spinsters who have adventures and calamities that are rollickingly funny and dead clever.

SCircular Staircasehe is considered the source for the term: “The butler did it.” She didn’t use that exact phrase, but the butler was the culprit. She even has a series of stories centered around World War I. She was a trained nurse and married a doctor; so much of what she writes has facts behind it. She even served as a war correspondent during World War I in Belgium and toured the front lines, so the visuals are based on things she saw firsthand. Not all her stories are mysteries, but they are all good, solid stories, some even slightly romantic, but nothing even remotely lurid. How refreshing.

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I started with the Anna Katherine Green stories. When I first started reading these two ladies, I couldn’t believe they were written a hundred years ago. The writing is fresh, some of the social/political comments could have been written today, and the work is witty, clever, and occasionally deliciously sarcastic. I have to admit, both ladies used a few words that are no longer in the vernacular (look it up), but since I was reading on my Kindle, I could look up the meanings right there and then carry on. But the overall feeling was that I was reading something written yesterday, not a century ago. I was and am still amazed at the contemporary handling of the stories.

The list of literary greats from that time and earlier does contain preponderance of male writers, but that’s just the way it was for quite a few centuries. Health care got better so women weren’t dying during childbirth, household appliances were invented to make domestic life easier, and some women decided they wanted to write… and they did. Women wrote short stories for magazines and even penned a few books. They showed what was possible.

But these two ladies weren’t writing fluff or recipes. In fact, there was a lawsuit against Anna Katharine Green because some fool didn’t believe a woman could write a story with such an accurate legal basis as a plot. Well, the idiot ate his words. Green’s father was a lawyer and the lady knew what she was writing about.

If you can’t find hardback books by these ladies, there are e-book collections of their many stories available at remarkably low prices. Some single stories are free, the work transcribing their books to an e-Book format done by volunteers. God Bless them. Some books are only available for free. (I pay for nearly every book that I read. These tireless workers who provided the works of these great ladies and frankly all writers deserve that we pay for their efforts.) These collections contain both novel-length stories and short stories and novellas.

And something else for you writers, these ladies show how to tell a story with a ton of stuff in them, no repetition, lots of plot, character and setting that will make you reevaluate your own writing. Remember, they did these stories a hundred years ago. They were cutting edge in the mystery genre… some of the first to do this genre, male or female. And their works are good.

As many contemporary books as I have read by men and women, these books are rising to the top as my favorites because they did it first and did it beautifully. Cleanly crafted, lots of stuff happening, lots of great characters. Some of the stories you don’t want to end. That is literary gold.

How to Write a Killer Opening

 

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A former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.” For more information about Gayle and her books, visit her website.

 

 

Whether you are writing a novel, short story, or screenplay, you want to open your story with a BANG!

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 The Most Important Lesson:

If you want to give yourself a better chance to have your short story, novel or screenplay picked up by an agent, a publisher, or a producer, you have to get their attention FAST. If you are lucky, an agent/publisher will read your first chapter. Usually they will just read the first few pages or maybe only the first paragraph. This holds true for a short story that you might submit to a contest. Agents get 50 manuscripts a day and they are looking for any excuse to toss your work into the round file. You want to make your opening a GRABBER.

Make sure the opening scene has some relevance to the rest of the story, whether it actually figures into the plot or echoes the theme. Opening in a beautiful flower garden better reveal a dead body in the posies. Or hearing about a long ago train wreck better foretell another “train wreck.”

What exactly does an Opening Line/Paragraph/Scene in a Short Story, Novel or Screenplay do?

  1. Sets the TONE of the story
  2. Establishes the GENRE
  3. States the PROBLEM
  4. It might hint at the SOLUTION
  5. Gets you into the action FAST

The Opening should do 2, 3 or all of these things.

 When the OPENING Sets the Tone (funny/mysterious/adventure/children’s lit/chick lit/geezer lit). Don’t start out funny and turn it into a slasher film.

EXAMPLE: I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper.                  “A Role to Die For” by G.B.Pool

             This opening has dark humor; absolutely no remorse (Tone); it’s probably a mystery (Genre); it starts right in the middle of the beginning (Fast); and the reader will want to know if the killer gets caught (Problem).

 

EXAMPLE: When TONE is established by VOICE

Archie Wright’s the name. Dishing dirt’s the game. My sandbox: Hollywood. The most glamorous and glitzy, vicious, and venomous playground in the world. If you come for a visit, bring your sunscreen and your shark repellent. If you come to stay, let me warn you, Tinsel Town eats up and spits out a hundred just like you every day. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but it’s my job to chronicle the ebb and flow of the hopeful, the helpless, and the hapless. My best stories come from the dark side of Glitzville.   “Glitzville” by G.B. Pool

      This opening is written in first person which is very one-on-one (Tone); the glib Hollywood-eze sets the Genre; there is a little dark humor, too. (Tone).

  

  1. When the OPENING Establishes the Genre – Mystery, Romance, Children’s Lit, Chic Lit, Geezer Lit, Women’s Fiction, Adventure.

EXAMPLE:

East Berlin – 24 December 1964 – 4:00 p.m.

Why does it always rain when I’m in Berlin? Ralph Barton thought, feeling the oppressive dampness close in around him.            The Odd Man by G.B. Pool

       This opening classifies itself as historical, Cold War story (Genre); the very nature makes it a taught, spy drama (Tone).

 

EXAMPLE:

Frank Madison rode the Monorail to work.

The used Cadillac Eldorado he bought six years earlier came with a stack of options, most of which didn’t work. The gas tank was currently empty, and so was his wallet, so the mint green boat sat at the curb near his place and he took public transportation.

The Santa Claus Singer” by G.B. Pool

But in this example, the opening doesn’t set the genre. It does set the TONE. We have a down-on-his-luck guy riding the Monorail (Mono means: one/lonely). It does state a PROBLEM: the guy doesn’t have much money.

Here is another way to set the Genre for this story: Write a GRABBER book blurb

 

EXAMPLE:

An out-of-work lounge singer ends up playing Santa Claus at the mall and makes a very sick young girl a promise that could cost him everything, but sometimes the best gift you can give is yourself.

The BLURB classifies this as a holiday story (Genre); How is this guy gonna overcome his situation? (Problem).

      Another way to set the Genre so the reading public knows what type of book you have written: Have the book’s COVER fit the story you are telling.

      If you have a publisher who wants to design the cover without your help, write a killer book blurb to capture the essence of your story and/or make sure your OPENING reflects the type of book you are writing. These might be the only times you have input.

      You can always submit a few cover ideas yourself. Just make sure you know what your story is about.

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 The Opening can State the Problem.

  1. When the blurb tells us it’s a mystery… (Genre)

            EXAMPLE: When a body turns up at a local dam, P.I. Gin Caulfield has to get to the bottom of it, but the bottom can be very deep.

 

  1. The Opening gets us into the story Fast/Sets up Problem:

EXAMPLE:

“How long has he been in the water?” I asked, knowing by the bloated, blue body it was too long. What was left of the corpse’s clothes had shredded, exposing large masses of distended flesh.

“More than a week,” said the sheriff’s deputy. “It got itself tangled in the bramble caught against the rocks down there. If you hadn’t noticed it bobbing up, it could have been there a lot longer. Good call, lady.”

I turned away.

            No, my friend, it was a lousy call. I hate finding dead bodies. No matter what they show on TV, private detectives don’t like corpses. We like the hunt… the chase… the capture. If everybody is still breathing at the end, great. If somebody’s dead, we hope it’s the other guy… or gal. I have seen my share of bad women. We’re not all Betty Crocker.                        Damning Evidence by G.B. Pool

In this opening we have a female detective (Genre); she’s probably been around the block a few times (Tone); she has a conscience and a cynical sense of humor. (Tone); the dead body (is the Problem).

 

  1. The Opening alludes to the Ending or the Solution/Payoff, so you come full circle when you get to the end.

 

EXAMPLE of an OPENING: “I already told you. I met the guy in a bar. We got to talking. Somehow he knew I’d been in trouble with the law before.”

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EXAMPLE of the ENDING: “Perhaps you would like to speak to a lawyer now, Mr. Harrison?” said the cop.                                                 “The Big Payoff” by G.B. Pool

 

The OPENING shows a guy used to being in trouble. The ENDING sees that he has been talking to a cop about a crime all along, though I never mentioned the other guy was a cop until the last word in the story.

HINT: HOOK the READER with a compelling reason to continue reading; have an “out-of-whack” event; something that changes the protagonist’s world view profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next.

Example:

John Smith didn’t know he was an amnesiac. He discovered that and the fact he was married to two women when one of them turned up dead.

  1. The opening gives us 4 things that change John’s world-view: he’s an amnesiac, he was married, to two women, one is dead.
  2. the dead wife drops this into the mystery Genre and sets up the Problem.

 

     The best way to make sure you are opening your story with a BANG is to go over the 5 Elements to any story – Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the Point of the Story – The Point is the most important. No Point – Why write it?

     The POINT should be reflected in your OPENING!

     Are you writing about Man against Man, Man against Nature, Man against Himself. Good vs. Evil?

  1. Use that OUTLINE that lists all the major plot points & characters.
  2. Ask yourself: Am I covering all the bases?
  3. Reread the story and ask yourself: Does this make sense?
  4. Does the Opening grab the reader and make him want to read more?
  5. Does the Ending fit the Opening?
  6. Does the Title fit the major theme of the story?
  7. Does the Cover fit the story?

 

Take another look at your story and see if these questions have been answered. If it does, you will have a Killer Opening to your story.

 The AAnatomy  Book Covernatomy of a Short Story Workbook will be out this summer on Amazon. It’s a great way to analyze your story whether it’s a novel, screenplay or short story. It will help with your Opening and your Ending and everything in between.