What’s in a Name? by G.B. Pool

Romeo and JulietWilliam Shakespeare had Juliet utter these famous words: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But as Romeo and Juliet discovered, the entire story revolved around those names and the fact that he was a Montague and she was a Capulet and those two families weren’t destined to get together. The same with the Hatfields and the McCoys. Without the tension between those families, we wouldn’t have the classic story that we know today.

 

My point being: Names Matter.

 

There is a saying credited to Elmore Leonard who was a master at picking names for his marvelous characters. He said he was having trouble with a character until he changed the guy’s name and then he couldn’t shut him up.

There is so much truth in that. Go back to Romeo and Juliet. If Romeo had come from another family that didn’t have a lifetime feud with the Capulets, he and Juliet would have had no problem getting married. But he was a dreaded Montague and there was no peace between the families until half the cast of the play was dead and the survivors saw the error of their ways and had a group hug before the curtain came down. I’m making up the hug part, but you get the drift.

The same plot was used in the musical, West Side Story. Many of the Sharks and the Jets lay dead in the street by the time the credits rolled. But that was the story. The names mattered. So here’s a heads up: Your characters might be begging for a different name if you would just listen.

Hello My Name Is

Are you having trouble getting that guy you introduced on page 24 to fit into the costume you decided he should wear? Maybe the costume doesn’t fit the name you have pinned onto that character. Change the name and see if he looks better in that outfit. I mean really, would a guy named Bruno Lipbuster look right in a Saville Row suit? Or would Maisie Dalrimple look right with a crown on her head as queen of a mythical country in Europe?

Johnny Casino, the main character in my Johnny Casino Casebook Series, got his name when I thought about who he was and what he did for a living. He’s a private detective, so I wanted him to have a detective’s name. I knew his first name was going to be Johnny. But what about his last name?

My first thought was Sam Spade from Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I loved that movie and Bogie as Sam Spade. Then an old TV series starring David Jansen popped into my head. His name was Richard Diamond in the show.

That’s when I started to see a mental pattern forming. The characters’ last names were the suits on playing cards. The third name would be heart. What about Jonathan Hart in the old TV series Hart to Hart?

Okay, those names were all taken. What about the last suit of cards in the deck? That would be clubs. I couldn’t think of any character in movies or TV that was called Club. BUT, what is another name for a club? Not the wooden object that hits you over the head, but the one where you play cards: a casino. Ah.

Johnny Casino TattoosI had a name: Johnny Casino. I looked up the name on the Internet to see how many times it was used. A character in Grease was named Johnny Casino. There was also a tattoo parlor out here in California, now closed, called Johnny Casino’s Tattoo Parlor. The name wasn’t really over used. I picked that name.

And Johnny liked it, but there was more to his name than I knew at first. Johnny enlightened me. Johnny wasn’t born with the name Johnny Casino. It had been Johnny Cassini. He has a story in the second book, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody, that explains how he went from Cassini to Casino. But it all started with Sam Spade and a deck of cards.

And then there was Chance McCoy in my latest detective series. The title of the collection of short stories, Second Chance, and his name hit me like two trains colliding. I had written the first few pages of the first story back in high school. I didn’t know what to do with those pages, so I decided to save them. Sixty years later I looked at that opening and thought that this guy had a second chance in life. Bam! Chance had to be his name. I don’t know where the McCoy came from. Maybe he told me his last name. Nevertheless, I use the word “chance” in every title of every short story in the collection. His first name couldn’t have been anything else.

Minor character’s names seem to come to me when I think about who they are and what their background might be in my story. Elmer and Delmer were two goofy brothers in a short story. The rhyming, old-fashioned names fit the type of people I wanted them to be.

Dale Carr’s moniker was a take-off on actor Glenn Ford’s name. (A glen is another word for a dale; a Ford is a car.) I had my character basically co-opt the life of actor Glenn Ford, but I didn’t feel right using his real name in the story. I did use some parts of his life like a location that was used in one of his movies.

I did sort of the same thing in my spy novels though I did use real historical characters like Eisenhower and Ian Fleming and a few others. They dropped in for a guest appearance. Everybody else was a character that I created like Rhoda Zimmerman and Martha Rose. These two ladies were minor characters in the third spy novel, Star Power. The book dealt with communism in Hollywood starting back in the 30s and 40s. Both ladies were big-time communists. Both names are also a version of the color red. I’m not the first person to use that color to denote a fellow traveler. Communists did it themselves for aliases.

Many people in old Hollywood were Jews. I had a few guys with Jewish names appear like Sidney Berman and Martin Zimmerman. When I wanted a name that sounded like a famous writer I chose William Durack. How about an agent named Peter Roth? The name sounds like a talent agent.

I did have to consider the era in which the majority of the book takes place. No Tiffany’s, Amber’s or Kanisha’s welcome. I used Lillian and Estelle instead. And a maid called Hilda Brown. Back in that era many gals who went into domestic work were right off the boat from Germany or England, so they got the gig.

In the second book in the spy series called Dry Bones, I have Oriental characters. The Internet has places you can check to see what various Oriental names mean. One of the main characters in the book is Trang van Quang – Trang means intelligent, beautiful/ Van means cloud/Quang means clear. I liked what that name meant. Quang’s adopted daughter was called Su Linh – Linh means spring, soul. That totally fit her.

Dad in Japan 1945A recurring character in all three of the spy novels is an Air Force pilot named Major Ralph M. Barton. It’s no coincidence that the guy flew C-47s and was stationed in Okinawa, Memphis, France, and Florida. And that he had a daughter named Elaine who ended up being a writer who, in the first book, wrote a very similar book in order to catch a traitor. That was part of the plot. You see, my late dad’s name was Major Ralph M. Bartos, USAF retired. My middle name is Elaine. I knew these characters really well and the names had to be that close to the original people so I could tell the story. (Not everything in my spy novels is fiction, by the way.)

So my point in this piece is to mention how important names are to you and to the reader. Play with the names you have chosen. If those characters don’t speak to you, think about changing them until they won’t shut up. (Thanks Mr. Leonard for your quote.) The right name will help you write your story.

Who Am I

The Importance of Setting

By Patricia Smiley*

michael-discenza-331452-unsplashYears ago I bought a novel written by a well-known author because it took place in Seattle, a city where I’d lived, went to school, and worked for many years. A few chapters in, I was dismayed that the descriptions of setting were so generic that the story could have taken place anywhere. It was almost as if that the author had never set foot in the city.

Setting matters. The place of your novel includes the broader vistas into which you set the story, such as the culture and customs of the people who live there, history, land, floral and fauna, and even the shape of the clouds. It’s also where each scene takes place, be it the backseat of a Mini Cooper, an English garden, a Federal prison cell, or a home kitchen.

We were given five senses for a reason. Detail specificity enriches your writing. Don’t just say the kitchen was messy; describe the smell of spaghetti sauce oozing down the wall, the feel of that sticky green substance puddled on the floor next to the baby highchair, and the tick tock of the antique grandfather clock in an otherwise silent room. Descriptions should not just be an inventory of the space. Each one must illuminate an element of plot, theme, or character and, in the case of this kitchen, raise a myriad of dramatic questions about what happened there and to whom.

Description as fine sauce. Descriptions need not be long and rambling, but a writer must persuade the reader that the story is real. Even people who’ve never been to a location should feel as though they’re experiencing it firsthand. This also applies to imaginary settings. To prevent long passages of boring prose, take Elmore Leonard’s advice, ”Don’t write the parts people skip.” Instead, distill the essence of a place into a fine sauce. Below is an example of reporter Jeffrey Fleishman’s brilliant and evocative description of Port Said, Egypt, from the Los Angeles Times:

“This shipping city of factory men, with its whispers of colonial-era architecture, was once a crossroads for intellectuals, spies and wanderers who conspired in cafes while the Suez Canal was dug and Egypt’s storied cotton was exported around the globe. Rising on a slender cusp in the Mediterranean Sea, the town exuded cosmopolitan allure amid the slap of fishing nets and the creak of trawlers.”

Don’t trust your memory—verify. Get the specifics right. Nothing takes a reader out of the story faster than getting hung up on inaccurate details. If you can’t visit the location, read travel blogs, talk to friends with knowledge of the area, consult Google Maps, online photos, and YouTube videos.

People like to “travel” when they read. Effective use of description creates atmosphere and mood, and stimulates emotions. Anyone who is familiar with the cold, bleak settings in Scandinavian crime novels or films knows how integral “place” is to every part of those stories. So, give your readers a compelling setting and then wish them a bon voyage.

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patty-smiley-250-shadow

Patricia Smiley is the author of four novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Her new Pacific Homicide series profiles LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and is based on her fifteen years as a volunteer and a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The third in that series, The Second Goodbye, is set for release on December 8, 2018.

Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences in the U.S. and Canada and also served as vice president for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.

PatriciaSmiley.com

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Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash
*This blog article is posted for Patricia Smiley by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

What Do You Do? by Linda O. Johnston

Switch5 As with everything else in our lives, things can change in our publishing careers.  Sometimes they’re for the better, sometimes not.

I’ve been writing for a long time, which isn’t surprising since Visionary Wolf, my Harlequin Nocturne that’s being published in November, is my 50th traditionally published novel.  During all those years, I’ve been dumped by two new editors assigned to me at different houses, though I still managed to continue with my publishing career–with the same publishing company in one instance.  But those editor changes still managed to move my career in different directions.

Visionary Wolf I’ve also had several mystery series that I was writing end, for different reasons.  Also, Visionary Wolf will be my last Nocturne despite its being my ninth book in my Alpha Force miniseries because the Nocturne line is ending, which I’ve known for a while.

And now?  Well, I recently learned that my current mystery publisher, Midnight Ink, is going out of business next year.  It’s part of Llewellyn, which will continue, but no more cozy mysteries.

I’d already had my first series with them, the Superstition Mysteries, end for various reasons.  There have been four books in my current series, the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, and I’ve turned in the manuscript for the fifth, which is to be a May 2019 release.

Switch2You notice that I didn’t put that sentence into the past tense.  The MI authors were notified that although the company wasn’t buying any more books, those scheduled at least through July 2019 will still be published.  Hopefully, that will remain the case.

But even so, there won’t be any more Barkery mysteries unless I find another publisher or decide to self-publish them.

Not sure yet what I’ll be doing, though I’m currently plotting new series ideas as well as others.  Plus, I hope to remain published in romance, too.

Switch3Other career changes?  Well, once upon a time I was a practicing attorney who also wrote fiction, before I became a full time writer.  And before becoming a lawyer, I worked in advertising and public relations.

And you?  Whether you’re a writer or a reader or both, I’m sure you’ve seen changes in your life, both professionally and personally.  It definitely is part of living, and hopefully the changes are good–or we learn to somehow make the best of them.

What’s changed in your life lately?

Oh, and by the way: Happy Halloween, everyone!

Halloween 2011 (2)

 

WHY DO WE DO IT, EH? by ROSEMARY LORD

writer Lady 3“Why do we do it, eh?  Write, I mean…”

It’s a way of life for so many of us. We have to write, even if no-one else sees our scribbling. Sometimes we get published – sometimes our writing stays hidden. We write in snatched moments between life’s challenges – often turning those very challenges into the next short story or novel.

I find other writers always fascinating to talk with; we know a little bit or a lot about so many subjects and have researched a lot of different topics. Although some of us are more hermits than others; some more prolific than others and some more disciplined than others. There’s a basic shared language with other scribes. But we each have our own reason for doing what we do: writing.

MegaphoneFor me, it’s my way of having a voice. Not everyone wants to sit and listen to me pontificating. But when I write, my readers can choose – or not – to read what I have written whenever they want.

I have written since I was little, starting with children’s short adventure stories. Flights of fancy that took me into magical worlds – long before Harry Potter came along.

Hollywood OldAs I grew older, I became fascinated with the old Hollywood movies and my writing morphed into something else.

My first published books were non-fiction: Los Angeles Then and Now and Hollywood Then and Now, about the history of Los Angeles and Hollywood. I loved the research involved and found so many more ideas to write about. One of these ideas became the Lottie Topaz series. I now write mystery stories. My paternal grandfather was a detective with the Bristol police, so it must be in the genes.

Hollywood Sign I realized I loved sharing the knowledge I uncovered about Hollywood in those very early days. I want people to know what it was really like back then. I want to share what I know: To show what the old movie sets were like during silent movies – the open top stages standing cheek-by-jowl with each other. Because there was no sound recorded in those days, there was a cacophony of music, actors talking, the director calling out directions, laughter, screams – all at the same time from different corners of the movie lot. I write about the little details of Lottie’s make-up case, showing what make-up was used in 1925; a lot of this was gleaned from my mum who devoured Hollywood magazines as a young girl and subsequently instilled in me a fascination for that era.

In these books, I write about how Hollywood used to be. I like to bring to life what it was like back then. Through my writing, I also hope to take readers on the same journey that fascinated me so – and take them away from today’s troubles and challenges. I love disappearing into that other world. I hope readers will feel the same.

Writer GiraffeI write about my travels – sharing those experiences on the page. I have had a lot of adventures in my travels, mostly throughout Europe on film locations when I worked first as an actress and then later as a journalist, and I love to share those times – especially on the written page.

Once I moved to Hollywood and then travelled across the States on movie locations and later exploring with my American husband, I experienced more places to write about. I had created a whole new life for myself and became a proud American Citizen… with more writing topics.

After my husband, Rick, died suddenly, I didn’t know how to talk about it. I cried a lot – but I found solace in writing. First, I wrote to my husband and best friend, in a journal, frequently in those early days. I still write to him, sharing the thoughts about each day. It helps.

Writer Lady 2Writer Lady 2Ironically, I found a Blog called Planet Grief. It was written by  English children’s author Helen Bailey, after her husband tragically drowned in Barbados in 2011. “A wife at breakfast. A widow by lunch,” she later wrote. Grief stricken, Helen was unable to get back to her children’s books, so she began writing the blog. She called it Planet Grief, because she felt that without her beloved husband John, she was living on another planet. Others who had lost loved ones responded to her blog that was filled with tears and laughter and tales of their pet dachshund. She even met some of her followers in a local Coffee Shop, to commiserate.

Some years after, she met a new beau and they moved in together. In April 2016, I read a headline in the English papers: “Children’s writer and her dog missing.” Some months later the two bodies were found in a cesspit at her new home. Helen and her dog had been drugged – by the new beau. He was found guilty and sent to prison earlier this year. His first young wife had died suddenly in their garden ten years before he met Helen Bailey. Police are now re-examining that death.

So the writer in me was fascinated with this whole saga. My mind is still spinning storylines from the awful details. And I am sure many other writers also found a morbid interest in this tale.   That’s the way my writer’s mind works. I can’t help it. Just as I can’t help writing – about everything. 

I wonder about my fellow writer friends. Why do you do it, eh? Write, I mean.

Writer Lady

AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE McNEFF by Miko Johnston

 

mikemcneff

If you write mysteries – stories about crimes, their investigation and prosecution – and want your writing to be publication perfect, wouldn’t you love to know someone who could help you achieve that goal?  Then prepare to meet your next best friend, Mike McNeff.

Mike is a retired law enforcement officer and lawyer. He’s worked as a state trooper, a deputy sheriff and a city police officer; a prosecutor, police legal advisor, defense lawyer and a civil trial lawyer. He’s a firearms expert and certified instructor who volunteers as a teacher for a local gun club. He’s also a published author of three novels and in addition, has recently completed a certified course in editing from the University of Washington.

Mike’s the guy who’ll tell you the crook wouldn’t “snap a cartridge in his gun”, he’d “jack a round in the chamber”.  The proper methods of searching a crime scene. The sound a bullet makes when it hits the trunk of a car or passes within inches of your head. How a corpse would smell or appear depending on the environmental conditions and TOD. He knows this all firsthand.

As a qualified editor, he can tell when a scene moves the story forward or drags down the narrative. He also knows an m dash from an n dash, when to use ellipses, whether that number should be written out, and how many sentences comprise a complete paragraph (hint: it depends on whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction – the answer will be at the end of the interview).

And if that wasn’t enough, he’s a great guy and a good friend to all, especially writers.

 

Mike, could you begin by explaining the four types of editing that can be done?

There are actually five types. First there is acquisition editing, a review of a manuscript for possible acceptance by the publisher. There’s developmental editing, where the content and structure of a work is developed for publication. Then there’s a line editor, whose job is not to correct punctuation, but make certain that everything written properly develops and moves the story forward. Next is a copy editor and there are three stages: light, medium and heavy. Light is mainly going over the work for major mistakes in punctuation and grammar when the piece is well written and it doesn’t have to be delved into deeply. Medium is really going into the grammar, punctuation and sentence structure to make the piece as readable as possible. Heavy is medium copy editing mixed with line editing. The last is proof reading. The proofreader looks at every word, punctuation, spelling, formatting, looking for any mistakes in the final draft of the manuscript to make sure the copy is clean.

 

You’ve been outspoken about the need for writers to have certified editors review their manuscript before publication. Why? 

Editing is the most crucial thing a writer can have done to their work. I never knew there were five levels of editing before I was certified. To have a neighbor or your mother do the editing isn’t going to work. You need a trained editor who knows what it takes for a manuscript to be ready for publishing. It’s very important because you have to impress readers right out of the gate. A poorly edited work will make it very hard to recover your reputation as a writer.

 

You and I have shared our bafflement as to why so many writers resist allowing their work to be edited. Why do you think that is? 

Two reasons: One, “I can’t afford an editor”. When I hear that excuse I say, “You can’t afford not to have an editor.” Others don’t like having their work critically reviewed. You need to have the skin of a rhinoceros to be a successful writer.

 

How can you change their minds?

You have to convince writers they need an editor, or else they’ll learn it through the cruel world of publishing. The market will eventually determine how good your book is, including the reviews you’ll get. Bad reviews hurt.

 

What advice would you give a writer seeking an editor?  

There are books like The Writers Market that offer writers resources. Online there’s the Northwest Editors Guild, the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) and other groups like that (in your area). Go on Google and type in editors. It’s important to get editors who are familiar with your genre. Look at websites of different editors. And there’s word of mouth. Talk to other writers about their experiences.

 

What questions should writers ask before hiring someone? 

Find out how long they’ve been an editor. Have they any formal training, either a course or working as an intern for an editor. Ask for references, and then ask what books they’ve edited and take a look at them. Check reviews, but also read at least one or two chapters.

 

Let’s talk about your expertise in law enforcement. Does your earlier career give you an advantage when content editing mysteries, police procedurals and legal thrillers? 

I was a police officer for 29 years. I did what cops call a trifecta – state trooper, deputy sheriff and retired as a city police officer. I’ve been assigned to federal task forces, worked with FBI and U.S. Customs/Border Patrol, so I know how federal officers operate. I was a team supervisor with two SWAT teams and commanded one. Having worked almost every detail an officer can do and almost every type of crime with those investigations, I’m familiar with all the procedures officers have to follow to make a case right. It also helps that I was a prosecutor for five years.

 

What are the biggest mistakes mystery writers make in their manuscripts? 

They get too mired down in police detail.

That surprises me. I’d have thought the opposite – getting it totally wrong.

You want to show you have credible police knowledge, but don’t let reality get in the way of a good story. You see things on TV that cops cringe at but if you get into too much detail you slow the pace of the story, so you need balance. Good example: Law & Order. On every episode the suspect would be brought in with his or her lawyer for interrogation and the lawyer would let the client talk to the police. In real life that would never happen – it would be malpractice for the lawyer, but as a device to move story forward, it works.

 

What about self-published writers, regardless of their genre? 

You need a professional editor. Your English teacher is not an editor for the purpose of storytelling. You need someone who knows how to tell a story and what makes a story work.

 

It must drive you crazy when you read books or stories that get the law enforcement and legal facts wrong. What are some of the worst examples you’ve seen? 

Really egregious are stories that have cops arrest people without probable cause, kick in doors without a search warrant—things that would get a real cop in trouble and the case kicked out. Pushing to the limit is okay, but total breaks with the law don’t fly, unless the story has the offending cop punished. If the story has a cop who commits a felony and he or she doesn’t get punished, that drives me up a wall. It’s one of the reasons so many people have distrust for police officers. They think because it’s on TV or in a movie it must be true.

 

What sources (local agencies; websites) would you recommend to writers who do not have a cop or lawyer in their circle to prevent these inaccuracies? 

Lots of cops write books and pay attention to the legal aspects. Zack Fortier writes about working patrol and dealing with gangs. Another fine author, Bernard Schaffer, has several books out and is still active in law enforcement. Pick up books by those authors and you’ll get an idea. Also read my first novel, GOTU (pronounced GOT-U).

 

Lastly, what reference books should every writer have on their bookshelf? 

The one book I recommend for all writers is The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler. Also Gregg’s Grammar Reference, and a good dictionary.

 

* * * * *

Hard Justice.McNeff

Mike McNeff is the author of the western Hard Justice and the Robin Marlette series of Black Ops; the third installment, Blood Wealth will be available soon. He’s currently writing a non-fiction book about four Vietnam vets who survived a horrific battle and its aftermath. For queries about manuscript editing, he can be reached at his website, mikemcneff.com.

 

Finally, as promised, how many sentences should be in a complete paragraph? In fiction, there is no rule. In non-fiction, a paragraph should have a minimum of three sentences.

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

AUTHOR NEWSLETTERS AND THE NEED TO REACH READERS by Jill Amadio

HandshakeHow important are newsletters to authors?  Some complain about the time spent writing them and maintaining their content, but readers appear to be experiencing a desire to bond personally with authors they read, and with privacy practically a thing of the past fans clamor for details of a writer’s life.

Letters A few authors still take the old-fashioned route for visibility and reach readers via print, then use e-newsletters to drive traffic to their Web site or blog, and vice versa. I interviewed a couple of bestselling writers a while ago about their newsletters. Thriller mega-author Dean Koontz considers himself a traditionalist as far as promotion goes and is one of the more reclusive of writers. He has never done a national book tour.

“I keep publicity to a minimum and try to reserve my work time for writing rather than for promotion,” he said.

Nevertheless, Koontz has both an online newsletter and one that he home-brews himself. “Useless News” is how he describes his seasonal printed newsletter (Spring, Summer, Holidays) and, indeed, that is its title. He goes on to declare in the sub-title: “but you’re on the mailing list, and there’s nowhere to hide.”

Snail MailHe’s happy that talented people at Bantam, his publishing house, produce his e-newsletter and send it floating into cyberspace where computers grab it for those who‘ve signed up. “I don’t know much about digital marketing”, he admits.   But the snail-mail version is created by Koontz and his assistants at home, one suspects in his Southern California kitchen but actually he has an entire wing of his house, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, devoted to work.

Both versions of Koontz’s newsletter contain glad tidings about upcoming books but the print version is packed with more personal pieces about his travels, home life with his dog, sources of inspiration, and two pages filled with answers to questions from readers. Given away to the 25,000 people or so who have asked for it, it’s obviously a labor of love. The postage costs alone to so many recipients around the world must be astronomical but he enjoys the hands-on task of creating the informal eight-pager whose back page invariably bears a photo of Anna, his golden retriever.

“We let readers know when a new book is coming but otherwise the purpose of the snail-mail thing is to have fun, evoke a few smiles from readers, and thank them for their loyalty,” he said.

But does Koontz’s author newsletter work as a marketing tool for this world-famous writer? “Not so that I can tell,” he said”.

World InternetSara Paretsky told me she began her e-newsletter after she’d published 14 novels. Readers fell in love with her private eye, V.I. Warshawski, and wrote enough fan mail for her to build a large mailing list.  A box on her Web site is provided for people to sign up. Because she has about three times the Facebook followers as she does for her newsletter subscribers she also directs FB readers to her latest newsletter.

“With the newsletter I wanted to expand the number of ways that I could connect with readers,” she said. “Any time someone writes to me I add their name to my list. My blog and newsletter have very different content. I don’t write either very often but the newsletter tends to be more specific to events in my publishing life – tour dates, book synopses, or contests”.

Unlike Koontz, though, Paretsky enjoys electronic communication. She Facebooks frequently and her page is especially well read by fellow authors. She posts about her family, her friends, feelings, and trips, and she replies to comments. Both her Facebook page and blog are informal and friendly. They often feature photos of her golden retriever, Capo – obviously the preferred breed of famous scribes. Readers are interested in anecdotes about her writing life, she said, and are fascinated by her physicist husband’s (Courtenay Wright) history, and her dog stories. She appreciates and values most the reader responses that show her work has touched their hearts.

As a marketing tool she doesn’t find a newsletter particularly important but agrees it can be useful for those who work the Web more than she does.  Terry Ambrose, a former skip tracer and author of a thriller series, is more forceful in his opinion. He considers author newsletters to be nothing more than blatant self-promotion.

Internet Friends World “The better solution is to provide value to the reader,” he said. “My e-newsletter is called The Snitch and talks about how to avoid scams as well as a little about my writing news. Authors should find subjects that readers like to read about, and make it the primary focus. Your books should feature secondarily most of the time.”

Generous as always about sharing her expertise, Sara Paretsky provided a few tips for newsletter writers:

  1. If you send out too many they are really annoying to the recipients.
  2. The most important part of my list are the overseas readers. Facebook doesn’t always allow international readers to join in the kind of simple contests I run, so I always set those up in my newsletters as well.
  3. Keep to a regular but not too frequent schedule. Include pictures. Keep the stories short.
  4. If I am writing about a new book I include a link to my web site where someone who wants more information or a sample chapter can go.
  5. If you receive an award or honor, mention it in your newsletter but don’t be fake humble or overly vain!

A Peek Inside the Kitchen…

Winding Road SignThere’s a TV show I no longer often watch, but in its day with me, I absolutely loved. The show’s name is/was, a variant, of “How’s it made.” When I watched faithfully, they often visited the manufacturing processes for different foods, many I knew about, or ate. With that idea in the background, I thought sharing another twisting-turn and stop on my winding-writing-road might be fun (and cathartic for me). This time, stopping at the “plotting-land” rest stop.

In my mind (and the imaginary worlds therein), characters and setting come easy—plot pieces not so easy. Not because I don’t have ideas, oh no—just the opposite. Too many pieces I want to combine—somehow. Adding to that, my taste in reading and writing is–the trickier the better. With surprises of course. While at the same time making sure, when the truth does comes out, the pieces have to all hang-together. Have to make sense—once you’re looking at the facts in the right way.

In addition, several recent blogs from authors I like/know were about the back-stories to “why” a particular novel—the who, what, where triggering the story. Those posts also got me thinking down this line too, even though they weren’t addressing my particular challenge—the specifics of plotting.

This post is also a public retraction of a private proclamation (smile). I have a very small part in producing an area newsletter, involving layout. One the very competent ladies[i] who spearheads this effort, asked me if I liked puzzles. My flippant answer was no. Duh! A puzzle of course provides the basis for most of my mystery-plotting efforts. Admittedly, for several of my books, my plots were based on simple and one-dimensional ideas, i.e.–a singular and straightforward mini-mart off I-15 combined with a dog named Joey[ii]. Or, could you kill someone with clay flying off your pottery wheel?[iii] Or simply, the beauty of a unique mountain—as in my first novel, Uncle Si’s Secret.

But over time, my writing goals have changed—expanded—one might say “Gotten out of control!” For example, here’s a peek inside the kitchen of my latest. All the images, thoughts, ideas, and accompanying action and symbolism for  Rhodes The-Caretakers. Ingredients for my latest plot:

  • puzzleclipartCreated a character (a villain) in my last Rhodes adventure that I’ve become fond of, and now want him to have a key part in my current story-line. Yes, my mind says, Mugs Nightshade needs to be in the mix somehow,
  • More than once a limo has passed me on I-15, with tinted windows I couldn’t see into, and I wondered who they were transporting. Of course there had to be a mystery involved—not something simple like a celebrity being shuttled from LA to Vegas. No, something more sinister for sure. But then, I also saw a limo on I-40, why, and where could they possibly be headed on I-40? Laughlin maybe? Or doing Route 66 in a limo? Hardly…,
  • Also on I-40—for an extended period of time, dust was flying, huge trucks were coming and going on and off the median strip producing blowing sand—and of course, because of my PSWA awareness, often a highway patrol officer “on guard.” Caltrans was redoing the median strip in our area, which meant grading, clearing, and replacing culvert underpinnings. This situation, I wanted so much to be a key plot/puzzle piece,
  • As if that wasn’t enough, ran into one my town’s volunteer firemen[iv] at the community center, who listens to the channel/band for fires. Goes straight to a person in need—he’s one of the good guys. So, another piece that caught my imagination—I wanted a fire, volunteer firefighters, the devastation caused by that fire, and with murderous intent of an arsonist,
  • Too much Midsomer Murder binge watching also sent me down the imaginary trail of intrigue produced from a “village struggle,” as in many Midsomer plots. I wanted to include something like that…but in my case, are there enough folks in Shiné even to fight over anything? Hmmm,
  • And for sure—another key plot element I wanted was someone from Leiv’s past to arrive in Shiné. Maybe even on the run from a murderer?

ThinkingHeadtoBookEasy putting all that together, right? Just move the puzzle pieces around until they all fit together intriguingly. Ha!

Well—I finally did make it through the plotting puzzle part and put all those piece together to form a plot I’d like to read. Indeed, I’m now about half through with this book—slow writer. But the cake is mixed, and in my mental oven. And now that I’m finished actually bringing the puzzle pieces together, I also wanted to share how grand the feeling is when you’ve fit it all together in a way you like.

Not sure if plotting is a challenge or joy for others, but would love to hear about how your pieces come together. And on the reading front, do you enjoy tricky multi-layered goings on? Or do you prefer when the author just tells the “darn story” and gets it over with!

Thanks for visiting my kitchen-rest-stop on the winding writing-road, and,

Happy reading and writing trails!


[i] Vickie Paulsen, Paula Deel, and Ronnie Shaw. [ii] Reticence of Ravens and Counsel of Ravens [iii] Death of a Perfect Man, and [iv] Larry Menard