Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poof, they are gone, but a hero lives on.

By R.J. Harlick

Which character is more fun to write, villain or hero (in the classic sense of the word)?

Meredith has done such a good job of answering this question, I’m not sure if I can add more. I agree that while a writer can have a lot of fun creating an over-the-top, particularly nasty villain with a myriad of psychosis, it is far more interesting creating a villain who isn’t obviously one, a person like you or me who because of extraordinary circumstances is forced to kill and a villain, whose villainy is gradually revealed through nuances of character.

But as intriguing as it can be to create the subtle villain with layers of complexity, I enjoy creating the hero more, particularly the main character of a series like my Meg Harris series.  I enjoy giving Meg a life, having her grow from book to book and take on new challenges. I like to place her in different threatening situations and see how she handles them.  I give her a history with events that weren’t always pleasant and see how they affect her as she gets on with her life.  I give her a love life, which doesn’t always go the way she wants it to. And of course, I give her a victim, an unjust situation that she must dig within herself to resolve and make right.

With a hero of a series, a writer has a much greater scope in creating a multi-facetted character that becomes a real person in the reader’s mind and lives on from book to book. The villain on the other hand, as intriguing as he or she might be, has a short life and rarely exists beyond the one book.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Are we having fun yet?

Which type of character is more fun to write: villain or hero (in the classic sense of the word)?

by Meredith Cole

Characters should be fun to write--no matter what their role is in your story. When I find myself feeling bored when I write a character (especially a hero that I've made too, well, blah), I have to ask myself what I can expect my poor reader to feel? Boring to write means, of course, boring to read.

Although it's tons of fun to write a villain that is so amazingly over the top bad that he chews up the scenery and spits it out, I think characters need to be a little more realistic to be believable. I sometimes have to be reminded that every villain is a hero in his or her own story. They have a reason for trying to "get" our hero, or for killing people or for whatever nefarious deeds they are doing. We may not think their reason is just, but they have to have one.

I enjoy reading complex characters, and so I attempt to create them in my own books. It's never easy to do, though. Give a hero too many quirks and flaws, and they can become annoying and unlikeable. Give a villain too much of a sympathetic story line and people start to wonder if there's been some kind of a mistake. So like sugar, fats and exercise, moderation is the key to everything. And keeping it fun, so you don't just give up and go read a book by someone else.

Oh--and I did a fun event Saturday at Stone Soup in Waynesboro with fellow Sisters in Crime "Virginia is for Mysteries" anthology writers Rosemary Shoemaker and Linda Thornburg. Here's a photo of us on the bookstore patio:

Friday, September 26, 2014

SinC Blog Hop: Blog the Night Away!

by Paul D. Marks

Well, it’s my turn to hop on the Sisters in Crime blog hop. Art Taylor passed the baton to me last week, so now it’s my turn to hijack our weekly question. (And I’m tagging Susan Shea, you’re up next.)

To participate, I have to:

(a) ignore our regularly scheduled weekly question
(b) choose a question from the list below & answer it here today
(b) tag another Criminal Mind to take the next turn

The Question Choices:

1. Which authors have inspired you?
2. Which male authors write great women characters?
3. If someone said, "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men," how would you respond?
4. What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?
5. Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?
6. What books are on your nightstand right now?
7. If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I’m going with #6. I know Robin did this a few weeks back, but there’s only a limited number of questions so I figured I’d give it a shot too. At least for the “short list” of nightstand books.  I’m also including digital books here, that might not be on the physical nightstand. And I’m purposely leaving off any books by people I know personally in case I might accidentally leave someone out, so they don’t come after me with a blackjack in the middle of the night.

Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons and Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. The former because I like to mix things up and read different kinds of books, even though I mostly write mystery-suspense and the latter because, like Joan Jett, well, I love rock ‘n’ roll. I love the Stones and Keith—the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll outlaw. I also enjoy reading about writers, artists, musicians in general. I feel their pain, to quote another rock star...

In the on-deck circle are several books. But they can change. Things go in and out of the pile, often before I might get to them. So, in no particular order.

Viveza: The Secret to Creating Breathtaking Photography by Robin Whalley; and Plug In with Nik by John Batdorff: I bought the Nik suite of photographic tools/programs some time ago, but haven’t really had a chance to play around with it/them and learn by doing, so I figured if I bought a book or two I could read about it and at least feel like I was getting something out of the programs.

Goodis: A Life in Black and White by Phillipe Garnier—a biography of David Goodis, the “poet of
the losers,” a phrase coined by Geoffrey O’Brien. Goodis wrote the books on which the Bogie-Bacall movie Dark Passage and Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (book title Down There), among several other films, are based. I’m a huge Goodis fan and have been waiting years (decades?) for this book to be translated into English—the only full-length bio on Goodis, to my knowledge. Got it as soon as it came out.  I started to read it, but was disappointed that it had no index or table of contents, things I really appreciate in non-fiction books, so I sort of set it aside, though I’m sure I will get back to it.

The Poet by Michael Connelly—I’ve read this one before and I think it’s Connelly’s best book. And just have the urge to read it again.  ‘Cause I like spending time with the scum of the earth.

It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell—Well, just because I love Carol O’Connell and her tough as nails (and I do mean nails) NYPD detective Kathy Mallory, but don’t ever call her Kathy. Mallory only. But this shows how far behind I am, as this book is about a year old and I still haven’t gotten to it.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein—This has been on my “to read” shelf for a long time and I just can’t bring myself to read it.  I like animals too much, especially my own, and I think it might be too much of a downer.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chabon—I read a review of this when it first came out and thought it sounded like an interesting and intriguing story.  And still do.  I will get to it, soon, I hope.

Perfidia by James Ellroy—Well, this one’s complicated.  I used to be an Ellroy fanatic. Would go to all of his LA signings, including one time when he even had a band with him.  And these signings are events in themselves. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, Ellroy too.  Now here’s the complicated part: I don’t have the book yet.  In the “olden” days I would have bought it the day it came out (about two weeks ago), and there’s still part of me that wants to read it, but I’ve been disappointed by Ellroy lately. He’s adopted that staccato style, but has gone way too far in that direction to the point where some of his work is unreadable, at least to me.  So, while I still have an affinity for him, I haven’t been able to get through his last couple of books.  And, while Perfidia sounds interesting and like something I would like subject-wise, I’m also gun-shy about getting it and then not being able to get into it.  So, while normally it would shoot to the top of my pile, right now it’s on the phantom night stand. And maybe one day it will make to the solid, real-world nightstand. Maybe...

*          *          *

And, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I’d also like to respond briefly to this week’s regular 7 Criminal Minds question:

Is there a novel that you're afraid to write, that you're waiting to attempt until you're older/your mother dies/your skill level matches your ambition?

There’s nothing that I’m afraid to write—I guess I’m either fearless or stupid or both. But there is a Big Book that I’ve been wanting to write for years.  It spans most of the twentieth century, with several storylines that ultimately intertwine.  I’ve made notes on it, even a chart, so long ago it’s handwritten on a huge piece of paper, BC: Before Computers.  That’s how long I’ve had this idea.

And, while some ideas come and go, and some seem great at the time, but not so much later, this one has stuck with me.  And one of these days I will do it. No, I’m not going to go into details here.  But it’s one of those backpocket stories that you just carry around until it has to come out.

Many years ago an agent asked me if I had a “Big Book,” ‘cause that’s what he was looking for.  I told him I did, but it wasn’t written. It’s still not written...but it will be one day.

*          *          *

And a little BSP: I just launched my Facebook author page this week. So why not check it out and if you’re so inclined give it a ‘like’. Thanks. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Feel The Fear And Write It Anyway

"Is there a novel you're afraid to write? That you're waiting to write when you're older/the rellies are dead/your skill matches your ambition?"

I think every family has at least one story that would make the basis of a compelling  . . . well, psychological suspense novel anyway. Some poor souls live in families with thrillers going on. And not everyone waits until the stars of the show are dead. Not by any means.  I once went to a book launch for a novel about family dysfunction - child sex abuse, serious neglect, foster "care" - where all the main players were still alive (some in jail, one in the audience). It made for an interesting Q&A.

I couldn't do that. I think my chip of ice is defective - not quite melted but rounded at the edges and useless for skewering with. So, yes there are stories I've heard that I can't write.  Am I living on wheatgrass and Pilates so I can write them when everyone's dead? Nah. There are lots of other stories and bacon matters too.

As for waiting until I'm older, I think stories come when they come and inevitably the stories that come to me when I'm seventy-five (get up, turn round three times, spit, sit down again) will be different from the stories bubbling up now. My first three stand-alone novels - As She Left It, The Day She Died and Come To Harm have come from tiny incidents (a bargain bed in an antique shop), fleeting glimpses of others' lives (a young man counting change in a supermarket), filtered through my own past and set in places redolent of something that half intrigues and half repels (see below).

God knows where Dandy Gilver comes from. It feels like playing to conjure that world - pure chortling joy - and I'm only glad I'm still getting away with it. 

But what about the book I'm afraid to write? Honestly, I think I've just written it. The Child Garden (w/t) has a central character who I loved and believed in, but whom I fully expected no one else to warm to.  I aired some of my worries at Sister in Crime, Desert Sleuths recently - but no one had read it so no one could either agree with them or reassure me. 

I breathed a sigh of relief that changed the weather patterns all across the continental US when my agent said she adores Gloria and started asking if it could be a series.  And Midnight Ink gave me a thumbs up too. Phee-ew. Gloria Harkness, in a book that might be called The Child Garden, will be joining us in September 2015.

And my brand-new advice to anyone would therefore be . . . write the book that you're scared to write. It might turn out okay.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


by Clare O'Donohue

Q: Is there a novel you're afraid to write?

Like Robin, there aren't any novels I'm afraid to write, though there are several that I am not ready to write, mulling up there in the dark parts of my brain where ideas hide from me.

There are other things I'm afraid of as a writer, though.

Since I write series, I'm afraid someone will say, "Oh I love Clare's Someday books... but the early ones. After a while they got repetitive." I've heard that about more than a few authors - the characters essentially ran out of things to do and say and learn. The author, probably having forgotten the plot twist of book 3, used it again in book 11. Or the romantic triangle that was so fresh at the beginning, just looks like indecision and selfishness after years of reading about it.

I'm afraid of getting something really wrong in a book. I like research but I'm not perfect about it. I know I'm occasionally going to get some of the small details wrong, and I figure most people won't notice or care. But I do get nervous that something I get wrong will ruin the book for someone, or make me look like an idiot. I reassure myself that plenty of successful writers don't give a hoot about stuff like that... but I still worry.

I like to write cozies, and I like to write sarcastic darker books. I'm writing a thriller now, and I have a spy series in the works. I'm all over the place. I just go where my interests lie, and I worry that people won't know what to expect from me or bother to follow me as I meander.

And mostly, I'm afraid of not having time for all the ideas to become books. With all the avenues available to writers these days, it's less about "will this get published" and more about writing what I want and finding the right place for it. But because writing books isn't my full time job, I can't imagine when or how I'll ever have time to write everything.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Plot to Hang the Message On

Question of the Week: Is there a novel that you're afraid to write?

My Answer: No, but there a couple of novels that I have to write later, because they're still mulling and I'm not sure how to get them out into a story that's compelling to read.

The first is a thriller I've just trashed (OK, shelved) that has some themes I'm stoked to explore—intellectual supremacy, eugenics, a twisted female mentorship relationship (think Damages), all tied up into a fast-paced international thriller. But after working on this story for two years, I realized that I hadn't found its core. I was poking at it from several angles and hadn't really nailed the hook or the plot line. So I'm putting it away until it screams at me to reopen it. I'm pretty sure it will one day, but I'm also pretty sure that's not today.

The second is a novel that compels readers to take action against climate change. My fear is of writing a story that's too preachy or pessimistic, not entertaining or enjoyable to read. Right now, I think the most pressing, immediate problem the world faces is that the politicians and CEOs making important decisions on behalf of us voters aren't interested in reality. They're greedy and lining their pockets, and they listen to the voices that tell them they have nothing to worry about regarding fossil fuels. In my real life, I volunteer with a local group called Save Howe Sound, where we're currently fighting against LNG (liquefied natural gas that comes from fracking). I would love to bring this fight into fiction, and as quickly as possible, But I want to make this a compulsively addictive read, and I'm still searching for the right plot to hang the message on.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Pursuit of Truth in Writing

It’s a pleasure to introduce Criminal Minds readers to a friend and fellow author who has a new book out. Holly West is the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Harlequin’s Carina Press will publish the latest book in the series, Mistress of Lies, on September 29. She lives, reads, and writes in Los Angeles with her husband, Mick, and dog, Stella.

I can’t remember where I first met Holly West, but, knowing her, it was wherever the fun was at the time. I can remember where I first met Stella. She was curled up next to Holly, staring at me with big, round eyes, a worry line above her cute little nose. Holly’s saga of hard work before her first two Mistress books were published pales next to Stella’s recent trauma, when she had most of her little teeth extracted to treat an infected jaw. Okay, maybe I’m getting too involved with Holly’s and Mick’s dog. Onward, Holly:

By Holly West

As a guest to this blog, Susan Shea assured me that I wasn’t required to answer the Question of the Week. But when she told me the topic—“Is there a novel that you’re afraid to write?”—I decided it was something I wanted to address since my current work-in-progress is just this type of book.

It’s no secret that writers use experiences in their own lives as a basis for some of their stories. My Mistress of Fortune series is set in 17th century London—seemingly a million miles away from my life in present-day Los Angeles—and I still found inspiration for the books in my everyday experiences. For instance, the plot of Mistress of Lies, which will be published on September 29, involves the goldsmith profession, a craft I studied for many years. My amateur sleuth, Isabel Wilde, lives in a house at the intersection of Drury Lane and Aldwych, very near to where the Waldorf Hilton now stands and where my husband and I have stayed many times. And Madame Laverne, a seamstress who appears in Mistress of Fortune, is named after a dear friend who passed away a few years ago.

All that said, the experiences I used in the Mistress of Fortune series are but small references to my real life. My new work-in-progress (as yet unnamed) is a whole other matter. It’s set in both Los Angeles and a fictional town called Gold Valley that’s based on the community I grew up in and some aspects of it autobiographical (albeit loosely).

It’s the story of an alcoholic actress who, after hitting rock bottom, checks herself into rehab and a counseling session triggers a repressed memory about her mother’s unsolved murder that occurred twenty-five years earlier. Convinced she actually witnessed the killing, she returns to her hometown—a haven of secrets, lies, and corruption—to learn the truth about her mother’s death.

Thankfully, I have no personal experience with murder. But I do have plenty of experience with dysfunction—in my case, it’s the severe depression of a close family member that’s never been properly treated. At its core, this is a novel about a deeply troubled family that can’t face its own demons and the tragic consequences of their denial of the truth. It is multi-generational and seeks to answer a key question: Is it ever possible for younger generations to heal past wounds by looking truth in the eye and facing it, head on?

When you’re writing about something that’s important to you, it feels like there’s a lot at stake. I want to be true to my story without hurting anyone who might recognize themselves within its pages. It is, after all, fiction, and while it might have some basis in truth, it is a highly dramatized version of people, relationships and events. Furthermore, the issues I want to tackle are complicated and sometimes difficult to articulate. Not only do I fear that telling the story might be hurtful, I feel doubt about my own ability to tell it properly. Am I really ready, as a writer, to do such a story justice?

I try not to spend much time worrying about it, however. If I’d given into the doubt that sometimes overwhelmed me as I wrote the Mistress of Fortune novels, they wouldn’t exist. I powered through, even when I had no idea what I was doing. And that’s just how I intend to proceed with this current project.

Friday, September 19, 2014

SinC Blog Hop! Plus This Week's Question Too!

By Art Taylor

Meredith Cole tagged me earlier this week for the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up, a blog hop that I'm happy to be a part of! (And Paul D. Marks, I'm tagging you next, buddy.)

All the potential questions for the challenge are terrific, but I'm gonna zero in on this one: "Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?"—especially because of an article I saw trending on Facebook recently about how moderate noise (coffee shop chatter particularly) enhances creativity; this may not be the exact article, but it's similar subject matter.

I can't write in silence, and more than that, even without the study to back me up, I've always believed that a little bit of music helps to unlock something in my head and get both the imagination working and the keyboard click-clacking away. I usually listen to jazz, because anything with words to it messes up my own words (I'm highly susceptible to earworms, sadly), and most times I just put on Pandora and pull up my John Coltrane station and take whatever comes up. Right now, for example, I'm listening to Carmell Jones' "What Is This Thing Called Love?"—and no complaints there!

But a couple of years ago, at an event at The Writer's Center, Ann Hagedorn, author of Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919, talked about her own writing process and mentioned that she listened to the same piece of music when she was writing a book—a different piece for each of her books as I recall, but in any case, the point was that whenever the music came on, it was a trigger of sorts that eased her into the project and into the writing day. I'm paraphrasing and perhaps not representing exactly what she said, but the idea did stick with me, and since then, whenever I'm working on longer projects (those failed novels or longer short stories), I've picked a single piece of music that I hoped matched the mood of that specific piece. For example, in the midst of working on a grittier darker piece, I spent several months listening each morning to Bob Belden's Black Dahlia—and that jolt that starts it up sure calls you to attention! For another piece, one set further in the past and drawing on some of my own childhood memories, I ended up playing Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth over and over and over again (and it holds up to repeated plays, that's for sure). It was a fascinating idea to have that same trigger music—and then to write for the length of the CD to make sure I did my daily dose—and while I haven't continued it faithfully, I'm sure it's a trend I'll come back to.

As for this week's Criminal Minds question—"What's your best research story?"—I can't let it pass without responding, because I've got a good one (though do need to mention a little bit of a spoiler alert ahead).

Back in 2007 (a key part of this story) when I was writing the first draft of "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants," I needed a little background on making ricin. Since I work at George Mason University, I naturally reached out via email to one of the faculty members here, a botanist, for some advice—and was very quickly told, "We should talk by phone about this."

After we did—and she offered some great help—she revealed that she had done some work for the government in chemical and biological weapons and felt that we'd be better not to email about it, since our correspondence had likely already been flagged and monitored.

Right, I thought. Like the government is paying any attention to random emails. Ha ha!

Little did I know....

Thursday, September 18, 2014


by Alan

What’s your best research story?

Here’s my best (scariest) research story:

Many local law enforcement jurisdictions hold their own Citizen Academies (or some version of one—make a few calls, you’ll be surprised). I attended one put on by the Herndon (VA) Police Department, where everyone involved was absolutely great—friendly, informative, generous. We met every Wednesday night for 12 weeks, and the sessions encompassed a wide range of police activities.

Undercover narc cops spoke to us about the seamy underbelly of the drug world, regaling us with some amazing stories and showing us what different drugs looked like, up close and personal. Gang specialists told us about dealing with different gangs and how to spot gang activity. We watched a K9 unit demonstrate “take-down” techniques, and we hit the streets to work the LIDAR gun (sorry Mrs. Peterson, but I clocked you going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone).

We went to the evidence lab and learned how to expose fingerprints with superglue fumes, we observed the lie detector in use (excuse me, the polygraph), and we got to fire live weapons on the firing range. A word of warning: Don’t mess with me—I put all five rounds in the inner circle, and it was the first time I’d ever even touched a real gun. Okay, I think it was from five yards away, but still...

Another highlight was our visit to the County Detention Center (aka, the jail). Talk about an eye-popping experience! We toured the whole thing—intake, processing, fingerprinting, breathalyzers, the holding cells, regular cells (pods, I think they were called), as well as the “special” cells. Fascinating, and mighty depressing. Talk about getting scared straight!

While all those experiences were terrific, the topper was my ride-along with a police officer.

I’ll take you back to that Saturday night on the mean streets of Herndon...

We’d been cruising for about two hours or so, checking out the normal trouble spots, and we’d gotten the usual calls. Excessive noise at a sketchy apartment complex, some possible gang activity near the 7-Eleven, a D-and-D (that’s drunk and disorderly, for all you, uh, rookies) at a local bar. Just your typical shift. Then the radio crackled to life again (police radios always “crackle to life”).

There was a report of several people running through the Community Center’s parking lot with rifles. “Hold on,” the officer beside me said. “This could get hairy.” She flipped on the siren and we went roaring through town, cars parting to let us through. Screeching into the Community Center parking lot, we pulled up alongside a couple other cruisers, both empty, one with a door still flung open. Someone had left in a hurry.

The officer barked at me, “Stay here. Don’t get out of the car.”

I forced a nod, mouth too dry to talk. Of course, she didn't have to worry. I had no intention of following her into the night with a bunch of armed goons on the loose. I slid down in my seat, until I could barely see over the dashboard.

She grabbed her shotgun out of the lockdown and raced off, leaving me all alone.

All alone.

My heart raced. What if the guys with guns doubled back and found me, by myself, a sitting duck in a patrol car? Would I become the unfortunate reason future ride-alongs had to be eliminated? I glanced around, hoping for reinforcements. Nope, just me and the empty police cars. I’d realized it before, but it hit home a lot harder in that moment. We don’t pay law enforcement personnel nearly enough.

Luckily, the situation had a non-violent resolution. It turned out that the people running through the parking lot were teenagers wielding air rifles. No one got hurt. But, man, how easily could something have gone terribly, irrevocably wrong? In the dark, those air rifles were indistinguishable from real rifles. Some poor Ride Along 600x960teenager’s head easily could have been blown off.

I heartily recommend going on a ride-along. Just make sure to wear two pairs of underwear on ride-along night.

That experience made its way into one of my books, a suspense novel appropriately titled RIDE-ALONG. (If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy, I’m giving one away at Goodreads. But hurry, today is the last day!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When Research is Fun

By Tracy Kiely

Before we start, I want to remind everyone that I write cozies. COZIES. For those who need a refresher on the definition let me be of assistance. Cozies are stories about well-mannered, well-dressed people having witty conversations… while they sip cocktails and stand over a body.
It sounds more callous than it is.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky to be able to attend several writer panels featuring some really great thriller writers. I discovered that research for thriller writers is waaaay cooler than research for cozy writers. Thriller writers get to learn about really cool stuff, like how bombs work, how spies communicate, how to quickly die your hair in a public bathroom, or which streets in Paris are the best for trying to lose a tail.  My research tends to be…umm… nothing at all like that. The raciest thing I every looked into was how to easily poison lemonade.  (For those of you who are curious, when Lilies of the Valley are placed in a vase of water, the water becomes sweet and toxic.  If this water were then added to an already sweeten drink – let’s say lemonade – it becomes both refreshing and deadly.)
Yeah. It doesn’t produce the same room gasp as learning how to forge a passport or disable a bomb. (Fun fact: apparently the timer mechanism on most bombs is NOT made from a giant red digital clock. Who knew?)
So, back to my books. My first series, featuring Elizabeth Parker, incorporates many of the themes and character traits in Jane Austen’s novels. Research for these books generally included me re-reading the books and re-watching the BBC’s adaptions.
Grueling work, but it’s for the craft.
I also read up on Austen, her life and the social mores of the times. Despite its somewhat sexist title, the book What Jane Austen ate and Charles Dickenson Knew, was one of the more fascinating reads. It highlighted some aspects of Pride and Prejudice that I’d missed. For instance, I learned that the dances usually lasted around a half and hour, which accounts for why Lizzy was so upset at having to dance the first two with her odious cousin, Mr. Collins. I also learned that height was a sign of vitality/sexuality which explains why Lydia is described as being the tallest of all the Bennett girls despite being the youngest. I also learned that men’s shirts were very long. They would tie one side into a knot and jam it down their pants to enhance their, ah, silhouette.
I know, right?
My new series is a modern-day update of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. My characters, Nicole and Nigel Martini, live in a LA where Nigel runs a movie preservation company. For the second book in the series I wanted them to uncover the truth behind an old Hollywood scandal. So, I read up on some of the more famous ones.
Did you know George Reeves – TV’s Superman – died under very strange circumstances?  The official story is that he shot and killed himself during a drunken party at his house. But there are many inconsistencies in the stories of those who where there – most especially from his volatile girlfriend, Leonore Lemmon.  In addition, the evidence creates more questions than answers. Reeves purportedly shot himself in the head while lying down on his bed. However, there were no fingerprints found on the gun. There was no gunpowder on the wound. A spent shell was found under his body. Lastly, the gun was found at his feet, not by his head. Add to all of this the fact that the police weren’t called for almost an hour after his death and you have yourself quite an interesting mystery.
Now, did I use any of this for my story? No. But, it was fun reading and all in the name of research.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Leave the computer behind.

By R.J. Harlick

What’s your best research story?

As a crime writer, I’ve goggled some rather nefarious websites, all in the interests of research of course. You know, sites for exotic poisons that kill instantaneously, getting rid of bodies without leaving a trace, the ins and outs of bondage sex and the like. I figure I have lit up a number of police alert systems and wouldn’t be the least surprised if some day I get the knock on the door. But hey, it’s all in writing the realistic crime novel, eh?

But as intriguing as these sites can be, I’ve had more fun and learned more by leaving my computer behind and getting out into the world I want to write about. Since I don’t write a police procedural I’ve never done a ride along with the police. The closest I’ve come was during a research trip to Baffin Island when I found myself with an RCMP constable who had to check prisoners in at a courthouse pending their court appearance. But none were up for murder and most were for drunk and disorderly with one accused of break and enter. Hardly the hardened criminals many of us write about. In fact I found them a rather sad lot.

Perhaps one of my more memorable research experiences is one that had nothing to do with crime or criminals. It happened while I was waiting for a flight in the Iqaluit airport on Baffin Island. In the far north the fuselage of small passenger planes are often divided to transport both passengers and cargo. I was watching them load the cargo into the plane I would be flying in, when a forklift drove up with an unusually large and long rectangular box.

Up until then, the boxes had been your standard square carton in which most goods are shipped, so I was curious to see how they would load this one onto the conveyor belt. But they managed with little fuss likely because they’d done it many times before. I got on the plane and didn’t give it another thought until we landed in Pangnirtung.

I wended my way through a surprisingly large throng of people waiting in the tiny airport. All of a sudden they began keening. It sent chills up my spine. The minute I heard this heartrending sound, I knew what the long rectangular box was all about. It was a coffin.

Though very tragic for those intimately involved, as an observer and writer, I didn’t hesitate to include a similar coffin scene in the book that eventually became Arctic Blue Death. I also learned the value of getting away from my computer and going into the field to do my research, because you never know when you might come upon something that will inspire your story.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A few of my favorite things about writing

The SinC Blog hop continues on 7 Criminal Minds! Instead of answering our question of the week, I'm going to answer a Sisters in Crime blog hop question.

What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?

If you were to ask anyone who is not a writer what they think is our favorite part of the writing process they would probably say "getting published." Although getting published is nice, if is definitely not my favorite part. In fact, if that was my favorite part I would probably have given up a long time ago (like at age 15). Getting published usually happens when I have already shifted my attention to my next book, and so my book in published form seems a little unfamiliar--like something I've read before but don't really feel very close to anymore.

The best part of the writing process is usually the one that I am not doing at this very moment. When I'm in first draft mode, I think, "I can't wait to edit this book! That will be so much easier." When I'm in editing mode, I think, "if only I were in first draft mode! I could write whatever I wanted instead of dealing with this huge first draft mess..."

Really the best part of writing is the times when I'm in "the zone." I have a million ideas for how to make my book better or I know exactly what is going to happen next and I can't type it fast enough. At those moments, I feel talented, creative and productive. I know that being a writer is what I was meant to do.

If you're looking for inspiration for the writing journey, look no further than the new Sisters in Crime anthology WRITES OF PASSAGE! Edited by Hank Phillipi Ryan, contributors include Laurie King, Margaret Maron, Nancy Martin--and from our very own Criminal Minds Catriona McPherson, Clare O'Donohue and me!

And I tag Art Taylor to continue the SinC Blog hop!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fiction is the Lie

Was there a point before you were published when you thought of giving up? If so, how did you get over it and keep going?

By Paul D. Marks

I still think of giving up, but I don’t do it.

Part of the reason we’re writers is ‘cause we’re persistent. Lots of people want to be writers, give up to easily or just don’t’ find time to do it. It’s a passion – it’s not like a hobby that you give up when you don’t have the time. And it’s a passion that you have to do every day like eating.

You write because you have to. Yes, it’s nice to get published. And even paid. But if that’s why one writes you’re in the wrong biz.

It’s kind of like “Ol’ Man River,” tired of livin’, but scared of dyin’. But the river keeps rolling along. As do we. Because there’s nothing else we can possibly do. Sure we might have families, other jobs, other obligations, but we find the time to write because it’s in our blood and in our bones.

We write because we have something to say, some interpretation of life that we want to share. Or maybe we just want to entertain. In “Sullivan’s Travels,” the classic Preston Sturges film, Joel McCrea plays a movie director who makes silly trifles like “Ants in Your Plants of 1939”. But he wants to make a serious film about people struggling, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”. Not knowing anything about the downtrodden he has the studio
costume department outfit him like a hobo and he takes off, entourage not far behind. To cut to the chase, so to speak, and through a series of misadventures he finds himself on a real chain gang. And there, watching the prisoners laugh at a Mickey Mouse cartoon he realizes that people just want to laugh and be entertained. And I think that’s what we want to do, entertain. It can be serious entertainment or light entertainment. But ultimately that is the bottom line – we are entertainers.

And how do I get over those doubts about continuing, I wake up the next day, sit at the typewriter (in the “early” days) and type. And if it really is in your blood you just get over it. Just like you do after you break up with the “love of your life.” Sure, h/she’s the one that got away. And you still think about her on occasion. But it’s yesterday. Today is working on that new chapter or character or funny bit or whatever. You just do it.

All of this because ultimately, as Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Doomed and happy to be so.

by Catriona

"Was there ever a time before you were published when you thought of calling it quits?"

Clare's answer yesterday was spot-on. Writing the first book, pre-agent, pre-deal, pre-anyone actually believing you've got a prayer isn't quitting time. It's the good old days. No deadline, no publicity, no helpful frenemies forwarding bad reviews. Before a writer is published everything in bathed in a golden glow.

Is it pessimistic to think of The Future as the end of hope and every achievement as another door slammed shut?  Possibly. Accurate, though. On a yearly scale, each book is perfect before you write it and then you make it worse and worse until it's finished and the only reason you carry on is to be done with it and get to the next perfect book-to-be. On a career-sized scale, each milestone takes you further away from the fork where you might have chosen the path that swerved the headache du jour.

How I wish I was completely kidding. (How I hope that at least one person reading this is going to know what I mean. (How I fear that some friends might stage an intervention.))

But I sort of mean it. Not for nothing is my favourite bit from Radio Days that bit when Julie Kavner says to little Seth Green: "Our lives are ruined already. You have a chance to grow up and be someone."

RADIO DAYS, Julie Kavner, Seth Green, Michael Tucker, 1987

By the way, if anyone wants to start an argument about whether the argument about whether the Atlantic or the Pacific is a better ocean is a better bit, go for it.

Anyway, if it's so terrible to combine writing book X with dodging reviews of book Y, promoting book Z, and not counting how little time there is left in the year to write book What Comes After Z, perhaps the question should be: "Was there ever a time after you were published that you thought of calling it quits?"

And in this case the answer is  . . . still no. It took me such a long time to work out that writing was for me and the other jobs I did were so unspeakable (except the one where I worked in a local history library, which was really just research for writing) I've never doubted for a minute that I'm doing the work I was meant to do.

Do I wish I'd worked it out a bit quicker? Nah. I think the only way to get to wherever you are is the way you came, on this wrong path, starting at the fork of regret. That's a sort of sunny side, right?