Wednesday, September 30, 2015


by Clare O'Donohue

 Q: What is the research tool you turn to most often? How important is visiting the site of your story to your research?

Writers don't just write what we know, we write what we want to know. At least I do. Often I'll use the premise of my story as an excuse to learn about something that's always made me curious.

So in my Someday Quilts books my main character went to art school, because I've always loved drawing and painting. I took several art classes as research for the second book in the series. Those classes added a lot of detail my imagination alone wouldn't have been able to manage, and (bonus!) I fulfilled a desire to indulge a life-long hobby.

I did not paint this...

In an upcoming story I sent my characters to Ireland. So I went there first. I traveled to Ireland twice in the last year for research. (And family. And a little bit because the Guinness is better over there.) Even though I know the country well, being there while I was writing was essential to my telling the story authentically. I needed to walk the streets they would walk, and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of a place that I would later write about.

And, you know, I wanted to spend some time there, so - again - bonus!

...But I did drink this.

What I especially love is that "research" is the ultimate excuse to (forgive me Nike) Just Do It. Take the class, learn the skill, face the fear... You might make an idiot out of yourself but who cares? It's all fodder for some book. Because while research is looking up stuff on the internet, and talking to experts in a particular field - it's also living and learning, and then writing it down.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Google + Travel = Research

by Robin Spano

Question of the Week: What is the research tool you turn to most often? How important is visiting the site of your story to your research?

My favorite research tool is Google. This morning I was writing a scene inside the US Senate. I had a senator racing to make it into the chamber for a vote, but I wasn't sure how the Senate calls its members or when and if they lock the doors. I typed something into Google and followed my fingers to find a government page that explained in micro detail how the vote happens, as well as the potential variations of voting format, that helped me give the scene the credibility I was looking for.

But while I've visited enough political arenas to feel like I have a realistic feel for the energy inside the building, I haven't written any scenes outside in DC. The senator lives in Miami, visits Boston, Paris and London. All of these places have city scenes because I've been there. But since I've never visited DC, I stick to the inside of offices and buildings - and even that as little as possible.

I've used Google Earth street view to refresh my memory, or to browse an area to figure out where a sniper might hide. But Google Earth, or even excellent travel writing, won't give me the feel of a place, the taste in the air, the quirky ways of the people who live and work there.

Another awesome research tool is the yahoo group "crimescenewriter". Anyone can join, so if you're writing crime, I highly recommend it. I've asked questions about US law enforcement and received helpful answers from police officers, FBI agents and lawyers, some of whom are writers now and some who just follow the thread and help out. I also like to read their daily digest, because sometimes I'll learn something that can help me down the road.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Getting It Right

The research tool I turn to most often? How important is it to visit the sites I write about?

 - from Susan

“Research” is a word that covers a lot of territory for me. How do you spell “purview”? (That’s how.)  Am I sure Chicago isn’t the capital of Illinois? (It isn’t, Springfield is.) Is it true that Burgundy’s edible snails are better than anywhere else? (That one did require on site research and the answer is mais oui!)

Art magazines, the New York Times, museums (I write about a fundraiser at an art museum), and my personal experiences are the major sources I consult. But I will admit that I have fallen deeply into the Internet research trap, prone as it can be to error. I feel best if I get what I need from Wikipedia, but not everything can be found there, alas, with its reassuring footnotes. If my online information is a little soft, I’ll try to cross check a source with other Internet sites, but I know they tend to pick up and spread false information at the speed of light, so that’s really not protection against mistakes. Rarely now do I scout out physical maps, go to the library for resource materials, or write entreatingly to an academic for help. I admit I am lazy and want and expect instant, easy answers. Note that I’m not recommending this, only telling the truth about myself.

Where I draw the line – and who wouldn’t, given the chance – is setting. Santa Fe for the first Dani book? Well, of course I had to check out the town and its restaurants and Christmas farolitos (those candles or electric lights in brown paper bags). 

Manhattan for the second in the series? As a native of the city, I definitely needed to remind myself of the joys of the Upper East Side and the 24/7 noise levels. I already knew and loved those places, which is why I wanted to write love letters to them in my books. But it was important to figure out where crimes might have happened, right?

I didn’t go to a small college town outside Boston to research the third in the series, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, which comes out in February 2016. I knew so many of these towns, so many small colleges, so much of that part of New England from growing up years that I felt I could conjure my fictional town from affectionate memory. The hardest bit of research was finding a name for my made-up college. It was difficult to find one not already bestowed on a college or prep school, one that sounded like it could have been started in the nineteenth century by descendants of Mayflower passengers, or people who wished they were. That required days of trying out names and seeing if they popped up online. Lynthorpe College does not exist, at least not in the United States. Apparently, there’s an institution by that name in England, however.

 (Note: The real college pictured here is Curry College - nice photo!)

So, it’s a mixed bag. Basically, I look wherever I think I can find a reliable answer to my question. And, if it requires knowledge of the cuisine, I start packing.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Attics and Basements

By Art Taylor

I'll admit, straight from the start, that I have no idea how to answer this week's question: "After the excitement and controversy of Go Set A Watchman: what would be your dream rediscovered-lost-work? And your nightmare?"

It's been interesting to read the various approaches by my fellow panelists here at Criminal Minds—occasionally talking about their own early drafts or failed efforts potentially being made public someday, elsewhere surveying the trends (and travesties) of posthumous releases and/or works written by other authors building on legacies, and then Alan yesterday talking about a book that wasn't rediscovered after having been lost but just a failed book in a series (though he puts a clever spin on that: It couldn't have been the author himself who wrote it).

I've already admitted elsewhere my own interest in reading Go Set a Watchman for insight into the backstory of To Kill a Mockingbird (both the wider world of Scout's own story and some glimpses into the potential backstory of the editorial and publication process of Harper Lee's original book). Likewise, I've appreciated those times when author's original manuscripts have been published as a contrast to existing publications (Robert Penn Warren's "restored edition" of All The King's Men, say, or Raymond Carver's Beginners, which gave us early versions of several well-known stories), and I've appreciated too some of the trends of author's works emerging from archives and libraries for fresh audiences—as with recent publications of Dashiell Hammett's work. I've also talked elsewhere about my acceptance and frequently even admiration for the many series characters who've found fresh life in another author's hands—and in fact, I just picked up last weekend the latest James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, penned by Anthony Horowitz this time and with the tagline "With Original Material by Ian Fleming." (I'm intrigued to find out more about how that original material might be identified in the book—or not, of course.)

But none of that quite gets to the question here, as I see it: Is there an author—presumably dead or at least no longer writing—from whom I'd want more? an unknown manuscript discovered in some corner of a relative's attic or unearthed from a basement—jewels from junk?

Well, I've rummaged around the attic and the basement of my own imagination (and then the very real bookshelves surrounding me at work and at home), and no author has jumped to mind.

Maybe readers here will fault my own speculative abilities—some dearth of interest on my part, some lack of passion. I can't blame them, entirely, though I wouldn't necessarily agree. I would indeed be interested if, say, an unknown story by Edgar Allan Poe or Flannery O'Connor or Stanley Ellin were to suddenly surface—but at the same time, I'm more than content with reading and re-reading the existing work by these and many other authors. And let's face it, all of us already have more to read than we'll ever finish in a lifetime—I still haven't read all of Poe, so why would I need more?

Are there authors whose works I can honestly say I've fully, completely exhausted my time with and need more? That's what I'm struggling to think of—because even then, my instinct would be simply to reread, a process which has so many pleasures and, sadly, too few proponents sometimes.

And maybe it's that last point I want to leave folks with—questions stemming from that: Which authors can you just never get enough of? Which authors, which books, do you find yourself REreading time and again? And what is it that you get out of that kind of immersion and reimmersion?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

At Least 702 People Agree With Me

by Alan

After the excitement and controversy of Go Set A Watchman: what would be your dream rediscovered-lost-work? And your nightmare?

I’m a big fan of Robert B. Parker, so I guess I would love to see his Spenser series and his Jesse Stone series continue. If only someone would discover some of his lost work, then I <BREAKING NEWS>Two excellent crime writers, Ace Atkins and Reed Farrel Coleman, already are continuing those series <END BREAKING NEWS>

Um, never mind.

Let me regroup.

I would like to see the lost sequel to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS discovered in Thomas Harris’s basement. I loved that book (and RED DRAGON before it) and would eagerly devour another one featuring Clarice Starling facing off against Hannibal Lecter.

Of course, some of you may be familiar with a book called HANNIBAL that purports to be a sequel, but…lecter

I don’t think so.

There’s no way that Thomas Harris, a fine suspense writer, would COMPLETELY CHANGE the incontrovertible core beliefs of one of the main characters he created. No way.

How could he?

No, I think HANNIBAL must have been written by an imposter, one who had absolutely no knowledge about what made Clarice Starling tick, because the REAL Clarice Starling would never (Never in a million, trillion years! Never, never, never!) act like the Starling depicted in HANNIBAL. (It was the only book I’ve ever thrown against the wall in disgust, with the clear intention of causing it damage—the book, not the wall.)

And I’m not the only one who felt betrayed by that book—it garnered 702 one-star reviews on Amazon. (If you think my mini-rant is pointed, try reading some of those reviews!)*

I mean, turning Starling into a character who would act like she does in this book would be like turning Atticus Finch into a racist!**



*I don’t usually bad-mouth an author’s work, but in this case, I’m justified. I felt betrayed, I tell you, betrayed!

**I haven’t actually read GO SET A WATCHMAN

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

No way, José

By R.J. Harlick

After the excitement and controversy of Go Set A Watchman: what would be your dream rediscovered-lost-work? And your nightmare?

I’ve been wracking my brains to come up with an answer. I’ve been sifting through the hundreds of books, if not thousands I have read since I started reading, as if I could remember them all. Since I’m one of those readers who generally forgets the contents of a book the minute I close the cover, do you think I’d be able to remember any of the books. I tell you though, it sure helps the book budget. I can re-read old books and get as much enjoyment out of them second and third time around, because it’s like reading a new book.

But are there any authors, lamentably now dead, since most likely if they had a rediscovered-lost-work, it’s not them doing the rediscovering, authors whose long buried work I would want to read? Mind you, Harper Lee is still very much alive and I suppose most of us have manuscripts collecting dust on a shelf or occupying hard drive space and we’re still kicking. But let’s face it, there is a reason why these forgotten or lost manuscripts have never seen the light of day as a published book, they aren’t any good. Either they were rejected by publishers or the writer decided for themselves that the book wasn’t worthy. Often they are early works and the author’s writing style has matured significantly to the better. 

So my take is let’s leave them buried. Chances are the work wasn’t completely finished, so considerable editing is required often with little or no input from the author, especially if they’re dead. As a result the true voice of the author will be diluted, even lost. It’s unlikely this long forgotten work would live up to the quality that readers of the published books have come to expect and enjoy.

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast comes to mind. It was published three years after his death, based on a diary he kept in Paris, forty years earlier.  Although he had begun to shape it into a book, it was his last wife who did the editing and forty years later his son in a new edition. Like Harper Lee’s long forgotten manuscript, A Moveable Feast was published to much controversy. But, hey, it sells books and that is what it’s all about. 

I mustn’t forget the number of books, often crime related, that have been written in the style of a dead author, using the characters of a best selling series. The most recent is The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is being sold as a Stieg Larsen sequel, even though not a single word is his, not even the story line, just the characters. And since characters with all their quirks are brought to life by an author’s imagination, it’s difficult to believe that they would continue to be the same characters in a book by another author.

No doubt you’ve gathered by now that I have no interest in a rediscovered work for any of my favourite authors. Nor do I have any interest in forgotten works by other authors or the continuation of a favourite mystery series by another author. I worry that these books which are not wholly their own would cloud the good memories I have of their earlier books.

And now for some BSP. I’m into the countdown. Only six more weeks before A Cold White Fear is released. It’s now available for pre-order at your favourite online booksellers.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Warning: Rough draft. Do not publish!!!

by Meredith Cole

Like every reader, I always want more books by my favorite authors. I would love, of course, to hear that they had found more books by Dorothy Sayers and Jane Austen. But at the same time, the whole Go Set A Watchman controversy (plus Jane's juvenile works) makes me wonder about this impulse. I don't really want to read the work they never finished and never intended for outside eyes. I want to read more of their polished wonderful books. And if that isn't available, then so be it.

I have plenty of ridiculous unfinished writing projects that I've never thrown away. A gothic romance I started when I was twelve with a friend (believe me, you don't want to read it). Screenplays. The first 60 pages of novels that didn't have the legs to go any further. And my nightmare would be for someone to expose it to the light of day and publish it as my work. It's enough to make me go back and burn it all.

And yet... I like to save unfinished projects to read over, if only to see how far I've come. I've turned one screenplay (and may turn more) into novels. So I will just have to leave careful instructions to my family (and lots of threatening notes in the file folders) that they are not to do publish any of it. Oh--that and a link to this blog.

Friday, September 18, 2015

All Dogs (and Cats) Go To Heaven. Hope there’s room for me too…

Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, if you answer yes to the first question, the answer to the second is ipso facto yes too.
My answer is yes.

I understand what Susan said earlier in the week about the cardinal rule of not killing animals in crime fiction stories. And what RJ said in one of the comments, adding children to that. Also movieposterhow agents, fans and readers will come down on you for killing an animal. It’s one of those unwritten rules. SPOILER ALERT: But my novel White Heat (which has been out long enough that I’m okay with giving it away here) is a very tough noir-thriller and in the parameters of that genre I think it works. At least I think it worked in that story. Still, if I recall correctly, when I was writing White Heat I debated a long time as to whether or not to make that happen. But ultimately it’s what I thought the story called for, so it went in. That book has a bunch of controversial elements. And deals with a lot of sensitive issues, of which that is a small part.

I did hear from people about it. It upset them, but not in a way to make them not like the book or not want to read other things from me. It just upset them the way the death of any innocent would, but they still liked the book. Whether people I didn’t hear from had an issue with it, I can’t say, of course.

Marley & Me D1That said, it’s hard for me to read or think about killing an animal. We have a contingent of four animals at most times, two dogs and two cats. Though, unfortunately, they’re not always the same four. So we are definitely animal people. I’ve seen enough death in my life, both human and animal, that at this point when we’ve had to put animals to sleep I won’t be in the room. And when our vet wanted to put Curley, one of our cats, to sleep, I said no. And here, almost two years later, he’s still going strong, and will hopefully continue to do so.

I also love the movies Old Yeller, My Dog Skip and Marley & Me...but so far I can’t bring myself to watch them again, though I’m sure I will. I still can’t read The Art of Racing in the Rain.

But none of that stopped me from “killing” a dog in White Heat – because that’s what the plot required. Like Robin said it shouldn’t be gratuitous. And I do have limits. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the distant past I wouldn’t do things that I thought would give terrorists ideas. But they seem to have plenty of their own and I doubt anything I could come up with would be something they haven’t already thought of. I also wouldn’t want to be very specific about building a bomb or some such. Sure that info’s out there on the web, but I don’t want to be the one to tell someone how to do it.

Will I kill another animal in a story? If the plot calls for it, I guess I will. But I won’t enjoy doing it. And here’s to you, Baron – the real Baron, one of the greatest dogs that ever lived! See you, buddy—hopefully not too soon.

The Real Baron -- Paul D Marks


WhiteHeat_PaulDMarks-Amazon Author
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella out now.

“...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

I’m almost ready to send out my newsletter – sign up now so you won’t miss out on my full blown egotistical newsletter about one of my favorite subjects: me Winking smile -- and you get a prize: my newsletter SmileSmile

Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter

Please join me on Facebook: and Twitter: @PaulDMarks

And check out my updated website

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Silence of the Lambs

by Tracy Kiely

Question of the week: "Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?"

Before I answer this week’s question, I thought I would first provide you with a little background about me:
* In 1976, I was deeply troubled by society’s persistent refusal to let a sweet bunny eat a bowl of his favorite cereal. To me the phrase, “Silly, Rabbit! Trix are for kids!” highlighted a serious disconnect in our society – one that held that rabbits were fine for entertainment purposes, but were not worthy to eat our sugary, over processed-cereal. I balked at such discrimination. I was eight, damnit, and I wasn’t going to let this injustice stand. A national debate ensued, and I gladly joined the fight. With a determination not to be seen again for many years, I dutifully saved my allowance and bought up as many boxes of the cereal as I could. I then proudly checked off the ‘Let The Rabbit Eat The Cereal’ voter’s box on the box top and mailed them to the corporate bigwigs at General Mills, who no doubt were overjoyed to see the nation's youth take an interest in civil rights.

No Cereal! No Justice!

* I have never seen the movie Bambi. Although My Cousin Vinny came out years after this decision, it still captures the governing sentiment behind it.

            * I have never, nor will I ever, see Old Yeller.  Yes, it's a classic. However:

* I have never seen the movie The Lion King. This was more due to the fact that I was newly married and was more likely to spend my money to see Reality Bites or Pulp Fiction.  That, and my husband refused to see a movie in which we were the only patrons whose shoulders were visible above the seat backs. But, it was also around this time that I noticed a disturbing pattern in Disney movies: the mother always seemed to die within seconds of the opening scene. Now, I know that most of Disney’s movies are based on Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy tales which in turn are based on Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which in turn were based on even darker versions of those classic tales. For instance, in the original Sleeping Beauty, the charming prince does more than lay a kiss on her. In fact, she has two children by him while still asleep. It is only when one of her children sucks the poisoned pricker from her finger that she awakens. 
Now, that kind of WTF moment makes The Hangover seem tame.
The mortality rate of women dying in childbirth was horrific in the 1700s, which is why there are so many references to cruel stepmothers in popular fiction. The Dad had to marry again to get someone to watch the kids, and when there’s barely enough food to go around, a mother is going to feed her kids first. So, that said, I do get where the trend came from – but come on! Do they all have to die? Nemo’s mother didn’t just die, she was ripped apart and eaten!
So, now that you know that about me, I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble guessing that no, I do not kill animals in my books. I wrote about a pissy cat once, but that’s about as far as I’m comfortable taking it. I don’t like reading about animals being hurt, tortured, or killed. It actually makes me queasy.
I read Red Dragon years ago when I was home from college on break. Not only did I not sleep at all that week, but I constantly had to put the book down and go hug my dog. (The killer in the book would first kill the family pet of his victims to prevent any interference.) 
It may sound odd or hypocritical coming from someone who writes about people getting killed, but I can’t stomach the idea of writing about an animal meeting the same fate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rules just tempt me to break them

Question of the week: "Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?"

My answer: I haven't so far.

As Susan mentioned yesterday, it's considered career suicide for a writer to kill a cat or a dog in a crime fiction novel. Apparently it makes readers upset and they will stop reading your work from that point forward until the end of time. 

I hate rules,  especially arbitrary ones that don't make sense to me, so every time this topic comes up it makes me want to slaughter Fluffy or Rover in whatever book I write next.

But I probably won't. Though I love to play with friends' dogs and I adored the cat who was with my family from before I was born until I was thirteen, I don't own any pets as an adult, and animals just don't figure into any of the stories I've written so far. 

So here's my position: If an animal ever does have to be murdered in a book I write in the future, I'll make sure it's not gratuitous, but has a clear purpose for character or plot development. I'll also make sure (if I can work it naturally into the plot) that the cat or dog or iguana or horse has been given a distinct character so it can be properly mourned--not just slaughtered and left on the side of the road like collateral damage.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Q: "Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?"

-from Susan

Good heavens, are you serious? Do you think I’m a suicidal author who would set fire to her own meager career, who would jeopardize her position on Facebook, call down the wrath of the Twitter troll colonies, cause her agent to faint and her editor to cancel any shred of a book tour if said editor had even a slight willingness to offer a tour in the first place?

Do you think I’m crazy?

Dani O’Rourke has a cat named Fever, who tolerates her but is enamored of Yvette, the Canadian woman who lives downstairs and doesn’t like cats. While there is no fan club dedicated to Fever, I dare to say the few readers I have would notice if Dani let him escape from her apartment, run into the street, and get smooshed. Or if Yvette, tired of cat-sitting an animal who left hair all over her pant legs when he professed his affection by brushing up against her, threw him out the window. Even writing that makes me twitch.

I think the line writers cross is defined on one side by butterflies and on the other by worms, and I’m not even sure in these environmentally conscious days, that I would have someone – unless it was a particularly evil villain – step on a worm trying to cross a wet sidewalk.

Easier to write about a brilliant young artist pushed out a window, or a socialite garroted in her office, or any of the normal havoc that ends human life than to turn to the sweet, innocent face on the couch next to me and say, “Sweetheart, you’re for the chopper in my next book.”

In real life, I have read, children who torture and kill animals are, sadly, giving warning that they are damaged mentally or emotionally, and may well turn out to be equally cruel to humans during their lives. If I were ever to consider having a fictional animal come to harm in a story, it would be to make that very real and frightening point. But I don’t think I could write convincingly about a person like that, so animals are safe between the covers of my books.

Submitted with the approval of Saffron and Pumpkin.