Classic Summer Reads

Love the summer, and it’s finally here! Summer means sun block, sassy water and a good book. To me a great summer read (or poolside or hammock book) has a dreamy setting, romance, suspense, mystery and adventure. I like substance, too—I don’t want a light, forgettable story, but one that will stick with me for a while and challenge me.

Cornwall
On just such a bay in Cornwall, Rebecca De Winter drowned.

Sometimes I browse the bestseller lists for the latest beach book, but I like to read the best of the past, too. Here’s a short list of classic summer reads. Two are extremely famous and two are relatively obscure. The latter two are free for your Kindle!

Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic romance, is an archetypal suspense novel with all the right ingredients. Manderley is probably the most famous mansion in all of fiction, and Maxim de Winter is the perfect brooding, rich, handsome romantic hero with a mysterious and tragic past. The climax is a real nail-biter. If you’ve already read Rebecca (like a few million other people), you can try the less well-known Progress of Julius, also a great beach read.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, ignited a firestorm when it was first published in the US in 1958. The subject is controversial, the style is highly subjective, and the book is often listed as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century—if not one of the best novels ever written in any language, period.

Youth, Conrad
Youth, by Joseph Conrad

Summer is a novella by the great American author Edith Wharton. First published in 1917, it starts out with all the promise of a fine and atmospheric romance: a young girl living in a remote New England village meets a mysterious young man from the larger world. A romance follows, but it bears no resemblance to the modern genre. Rather, it is a stark, unflinching work of literary genius that will haunt you.

Youth, by Joseph Conrad, is also a novella. Just 70 pages, it will carry you off on a desperate and epic voyage through storms and vast emptiness at sea. Sail from London to Bangkok on the barque JudeaDo or Die! Just reading it is a magnificent adventure, and it’s short enough to finish in a single summer afternoon.

Elizabeth Buhmann

Enjoy the sunny weather! And don’t forget to take a good book with you to the beach.

Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door, a mystery/suspense novel about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated.

A Good Time Was Had by All

IMG_3022By Gale Albright

There was much happiness on display at the tenth annual Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event (BBSAWE) on May 18 at Recycled Reads in Austin. People were talking, laughing, eating, exchanging e-mail addresses and phone numbers, eating, reading out loud, giving gifts, taking pictures–did I say eating?

The BBSAWE was created in the spring of 2005, after the tragic death of Ms. Smith, who was a published cozy mystery author. She was past president (International 1999-2000) of Sisters in Crime and was known for her helpfulness to other writers. Dynamic, energetic, and talented, her loss was greatly mourned by her family and the Austin writing community. To honor her memory, the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation was dedicated in her honor to support and provide a mentoring community for aspiring mystery writers.

Every year Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter calls for submissions of the first 500 words of a mystery story or novel from unpublished authors. The aspiring writers are then matched up with published mystery authors for mentoring.

This tenth BBSAWE was a joyous occasion. Six mentors and seven aspiring writers were introduced to the audience. The writers read aloud the synopses and first 500 words of their submissions. We were treated to a diverse and imaginative display of literary talent.

W.D. Smith, son of Barbara Burnett Smith and head of her foundation, presented certificates to mentors and aspiring writers, as well as copies of his mother’s mystery novels. Russ Hall, prolific mystery writer and all-around Sisters in Crime volunteer, spoke about mentoring, calling on his long-term experience at the job.

“In life, you will realize there is a role for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you, some will love you, and some will teach you. But the ones who are truly important are the ones who bring out the best in you. They are the rare and amazing people who remind you why it’s worth it. I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”bbs photos 006 IMG_2971 Sinc tx cookies sinc tx hearts

After readings were completed and gifts awarded, we adjourned to enjoy a bountiful feast of fresh fruit, raw vegetables with dip, lovely finger sandwiches and wraps, crackers, cheese, and hand-crafted desserts.

It was inspiring to see people socializing after the program, doing the aforementioned laughing, talking, conferring, and eating. Writers were networking and making plans to start critique groups.

The event took several months of work and planning to put together, but to echo Russ Hall, it was worth it. I’m looking forward to the eleventh annual BBSAWE.

Following is a list of mentors, aspiring writers and their biographies:

Elizabeth Buhmann mentored Sue Cleveland and Dixie Evatt for Shrouded.

Elizabeth Buhmann is originally from Virginia and lived several years abroad while growing up. She graduated magna cum laude from SmithCollege, Northampton, Massachusetts, and has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. For twenty years she worked for the Texas Attorney General as a researcher and writer on criminal justice and crime victim issues. Her first novel, Lay Death at Her Door, (Red Adept Publishing) reached the Amazon Top 100 bestseller list (paid Kindle) in 2013. She is currently working on her new mystery, A Monster in the Garden. Elizabeth now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, dog and two chickens. She is an avid gardener, loves murder mysteries, and has a black sash in Tai Chi.

Sue Cleveland was born in a hunting lodge in England. She is a widely traveled writer and award-winning artist. A member of SCBWI, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas, Sue is eagerly awaiting the publication of her short story, “Decoy,” in Minerva Rising Literary Journal. She hopes to find a home for several manuscripts: Shrouded, which she wrote with Dixie Evatt, and two middle-grade mysteries.

Dixie Evatt has more than 35 years professional experience in news reporting and public relations, including experience in political and government affairs. Dr. Evatt also taught at Syracuse University, Baylor University and The University of Texas at Austin. Her academic publications include a book about communication practices of small enterprises called Thinking Big. Staying Small. Although they’ve yet to be published, she and her writing partner, Sue Cleveland, have completed two mysteries and are working on a third. One takes place in Egypt, one in Italy and another in the Southwest. They make it a point to travel to each location for research.

 Susan Rogers Cooper mentored Lindsay Carlson for The Origami Murders.

Susan Rogers Cooper has been a published mystery writer since 1988 and has had a total of 26 books published.  She’s garnered rave reviews and was nominated for an Edgar.  Her newest E.J. Pugh mystery, Gone in a Flash, is available now, and a new Milt Kovak will be out in the fall, entitled Countdown.  Her back list is now being uploaded to e-books.

Lindsay Carlson currently splits her time between being a legal drug dealer (aka pharmacist) and a writer.  In her “free time,” she feeds her fortune cookie addiction and collects books to add to her to-read pile, which currently is taller than she is.

Helen Ginger mentored Shelby O’Neill for Truth or Dare.

Helen Ginger is an author, freelance editor, and book consultant. Her first fiction book, Angel Sometimes, won a USA Best Book Award and her new mystery, Dismembering the Past, is coming out soon. Actively involved in the writing community, Helen was the Executive Director of the Writers’ League of Texas from 2003-2005. Currently, she serves as a Committee Chair for the Texas Book Festival. In February of 2012, Helen took over as the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.

Shelby O’Neill is a writer and editor who lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and their two pets. Her first novel is currently a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, and she is hard at work on her second book, a teen cyber-stalking mystery.

Jan Grape mentored Jane Shaughness for The Invisible Detective.

Former owner of Mysteries & More bookstore in Austin, Texas, Anthony and Macavity Award-winner Jan Grape’s first mystery novel Austin City Blue was nominated for best first novel at Bouchercon 2002. Dark Blue Death is the second in her Zoe Barrow mystery series set in Austin about a female police officer. Found Dead in Texas is Jan’s first short story collection.  She wrote a stand-alone called What Doesn’t Kill You and co-edited two anthologies with R. Barry Flowers, American Crime Writers League, Murder Here Murder There and Murder Past Murder Present and has a short story in each.  She is currently finalizing her books for Kindle and Nook.

Jane Shaughness retired from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 where she had worked for almost thirty years in the areas of student affairs, architecture, and most recently, compliance and ethics. Last fall, after giving herself six months of “free” time in which she entirely overscheduled herself with volunteer work, Jane began to work seriously on her mystery novel. In addition to writing fiction, Jane enjoys writing for her blog “55 AND COUNTING . . .” where she highlights free events in Austin of interest to the literary autodidact. Jane lives in Hyde Park with her husband, her two dogs, Jake and Champion, and her cat Pumpkin.

Russ Hall mentored Alex Ferraro for Ramona.

Russ Hall is author of more than a dozen books and co-author of numerous other books, as well as short stories and articles. He has been an editor for major publishing companies, ranging from Harper & Row (now HarperCollins), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He lives in Lago Vista, where he hikes, fishes, and tends a herd of deer that visit daily to peep in the office window and help with the writing.

Alex Ferraro was born in Denver, Colorado. At the age of five, he stole a horse and rode to Texas, where he has lived ever since. In 2011, he graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a dual degree in business and drinking. When he isn’t writing or watching entirely too much TV, he performs standup comedy in and around Austin. He also co-hosts a podcast about writing called Do the Write Thing, which can be found on iTunes and at WriteThingPodcast.com

Caroline Shearer mentored Eileen Dew for Invisible in Austin.

Caroline A. Shearer is the creator of Absolute Love Publishing. A bestselling author, Caroline’s popular books include, Dead End Date, the first book in the Adventures of a Lightworker metaphysical mystery series. In addition to her own projects, she founded Spirited Press, an assisted self-publishing imprint that operates under the umbrella of Absolute Love Publishing. Spirited Press supports authors in sharing their own messages with the world.

Eileen Dew is a former English teacher who writes about mother-daughter relationships which are unique and yet the same, regardless of the time or the location.

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Much Ado About Malice Domestic 2014

photo 1Writing is often a solitary endeavor. Working alone for long stretches of time can take a toll on us and on our work.   We spend too much time chatting with our imaginary friends and not enough time with our real ones.

This is one of the reasons I believe attending a writers’ conference is so important. When you spend stretches of time in your own imagination, plotting where your perp should hide a body or debating how your protagonist will emerge victorious from her latest dilemma, it’s important to get out among others who share your love and frustration for the craft that is crime fiction

Malice Domestic 2014 was my choice this year, in part, because I had attended in 2013 andphoto 4 found the people enthusiastic and welcoming. I also wanted to cheer on our friend and Austin Mystery Writers member, Kaye George, who was nominated for an Agatha for her novel Death in the Time of Ice. While I have attended a few other conferences over the years, Malice Domestic is the first one that I attended that brings together both readers and writers. Many of the panels were directed toward reader questions, although I gleaned important tips designed to help me improve my craft as well. Overall, the experience focused more on the shared love of mysteries and the opportunity to discuss the many facets of why we love this genre.

We are members of the same tribe.

The conference sessions ranged in topics from the role of outsiders in mysteries to how to
balance murder and humor and mysteries to mysteries set on different continents. Perhaps one of my favorite sessions was Dr. Max Houck’s Crime Lab Gab. A favorite from last year’s Malice Domestic, he returned this year to share more insight into his daily life as the director of D.C.’s Department of Forensic Sciences. With a sense of humor twisted perfectly to fit the rest of us in the room, Houck provided an inside peek into what it’s like to oversee cases ranging from food poisoning to contagious diseases to the realities of processing a crime scene.

It ain’t pretty, people.

Dr. Houck tells us “your house is far cleaner than you know. However dirty you think your homMax Houcke is, it isn’t. It’s just fine.” He then shares a story of walking through the front door of a crime scene to find a hoarder’s home filled with piles of trash. And a body.

And farm animals.

Yes, farm animals in the living room.

So, ignore the dusting this week. You’re good.

Houck also discusses the prickly issue of DNA as it is used in fiction and on television. Unlike contemporary TV shows that produce forensic DNA results quicker than a fashion model denounces dessert, the reality is that the average DNA turnaround time is 78 days. That’s right–over two months. This is due mostly to backlogs, with crime labs working at 200% or higher capacity. So, Houck advises that it’s fine to play with the timeline when it comes to referring to DNA in fiction but he pleads with us to put in the effort to make it feel authentic.   He also tipped his hat to Jan Burke, who he feels is one of the most accurate authors handling the topic of forensic science.

One of Houck’s most compelling comments still sticks in my mind. “Anybody will do anything to anyone, given the right conditions.” It was a cautionary comment, a reminder that his experience has taught him that even the most virtuous among us might be pushed over the edge, given the Perfect Storm of circumstances. It is certainly the launching point for many a mystery and an observation with brutal reality at its core.

It is in these sessions, and with other passionate mystery lovers, that writers can find Hank & Laurainspiration and an opportunity to explore the many “what ifs” of a project with others who have their own work in progress. This camaraderie should not be underestimated; many a ‘stuck’ writer has found a story resolution in a hallway conversation at Malice Domestic with another writer. We are all Ping-Pong balls, bouncing ideas and character motivations off one another.

Nancy and SharonCommunity is at the heart of this conference. It is the red thread that binds the attendees and authors together, a shared love for figuring out “who did it and why.” It is commiserating over dinner to suss out why a certain plot point isn’t working out and to share with others why we love writing, why we hate it and why we simply can’t do anything else.

Sometimes you have to venture out behind your desk to find your tribe. It can be a challenge to make the time, but make the time. Juggle what you need to and live in chaos for a bit to make it happen.

 

Your people are waiting for you.

–Laura Oles

Whispers of Memories

I recently took a trip to Huntsville, Texas, and everything I saw at every turn stirred up old memories.

 

–          Right behind the hotel where I stayed was the apartment complex where my cousins had lived. A few blocks away was a second place they lived.

–          I passed a street of good friends of many years. They hosted a wedding shower for me.

–          I passed the fancy restaurant where my grandmother lived for a while when she was a child. I remember that when she told us, we had no idea!

–          I saw the nursing home where my other grandmother spent her last years.

 

All of this within a short drive just to get a burger! My mother’s family has been in the Huntsville area since the mid 1800’s so we have a lot of stories. A couple of my favorites:

 

–          Sam Houston was a friend of the family. He used to come and visit.

–          My great-grandfather was sheriff for a while and lived in the jail.

 

Neither of my parents grew up there, but my father moved there after my parents got divorced. He was offered a job at Sam Houston State University as a Criminal Justice professor. So I have a personal connection to the place through my mother and my father.

Besides the personal connections, there is something that draws me to the place. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe it’s something about the vines growing in the pines, maybe it’s because I love history and old things, maybe it’s because of my “writer brain”, but when I pass old houses, I imagine children playing and grannies rocking while shelling peas. I love browsing through the old stores. I sometimes look at what they’re selling, though I’m more likely to be looking at the tin ceilings and wondering what the original store was.

The history of a place just calls out to me. I look at the red leather seats in the booth at a diner and remember when not everyone was welcome as a customer. I look at the young, happy families and wonder if they hear or feel the negative things that happened. Can they even imagine it? I pass the prison walls and know the prison has been there since 1849. Lots of famous and infamous people have been in those walls.

At the university I think of my great great aunts who attended when it was a Sam Houston Normal School. We’ve had a graduate from there in every generation. My grandmother went to kindergarten at Old Main, which has since burned down.

I think about my father when I sit on the bench outside the CJ building that’s dedicated to him. There’s a plaque with his name on it. He used to sit outside and smoke and talk to students. Inside the building there’s a big picture of him. DadNext to it are plaques with names of students who have received scholarships named after him.

 

Sometimes when I’m in town, I visit the cemetery. I look up my folks and browse around. Yep, some people like museums, I like cemeteries. file000511322167When you’re looking at someone’s headstone, you see when they were born and when they died. You can see if they were married or had children buried with them. So many stories untold.

 

 

It’s all a bit overwhelming for me at times. But I guess it’s no surprise that I like to write historical fiction. file0001461581320For me the place is full of mystery, history, conflicts, love, death and birth. Those piney woods have a lot of secrets.

 

Do you have a place that calls to you?

Opening the Study Door

By Elizabeth Buhmann, author of Lay Death at Her Door (Red Adept Publishing, 2013)

ut2Writing is a solitary occupation—up to a point. We confront the blank page alone, wresting plot from story idea, populating plot with characters, and putting words in their mouths. But you can’t get from first draft to final draft without feedback from readers.

In his popular book On Writing, Stephen King says, “You take your story through at least two drafts: the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.”

King’s advice is to finish writing down the whole story—and to let it sit for a while and then revise—before showing it to anyone. I know writers who do very well letting readers’ comments guide them early and often during the creative process, but for me, King’s way is what works best.

For me, it’s a matter of not allowing other people’s input to knock me off-course. With early feedback, I am likely to lose access to what’s coming from within. If the story is still fragile in my mind, showing it around can be like letting someone sit in a chair I’ve just assembled before the glue has dried. The chair gets busted, the reader lands on the floor, and I am left with a pile of broken sticks!

Readers’ reactions are hard to predict. My first novel was pretty smooth, I thought, by the time I took it to a manuscript class. I was completely taken by surprise when no one understood my main character’s reactions to the events at the beginning of the story.

In chapter one, she learns that a man convicted on her testimony has been exonerated. Yet she shows no surprise, no fear, no consternation. She just sort of hunkers down. My first readers said, “She can’t do that! Why isn’t she angry, why isn’t she stunned? Why isn’t she afraid?”

It made sense to me. MY MC didn’t act surprised because she knew all along that the man was innocent. I was keeping that up my sleeve! I wanted it to come as a surprise a little later in the book. I thought readers might wonder why she was acting the way she was. I thought they might have suspicions, or even guess what was going on.

I was wrong.  Instead of questioning their assumptions, my readers lost confidence that I was telling the story right. I knew how my character had to act, but my readers couldn’t accept what I was telling them. What a disaster!

Lay Death at Her DoorFinding a big weakness in a story (especially in chapter one!) can be discouraging at first. But it often leads to much greater strength. This was how it worked for me (to my immense relief, after I got over my initial panic).

Oddly enough, I didn’t even understand what my story’s real hook was until one of my critique partners–Brenda Vicars Hummel, whose wonderful YA comes out later this year!–pointed it out to me. My hook was that my main character had lied. Her reactions in chapter one made perfect sense once I let the reader in on her secret.

And once the readers knew she lied, many of them were very curious about why she would have done such a thing. To quote one five-star review: “This mystery grabbed me from the two-word second paragraph. `I lied’…the lie is the elephant in the room…I want to know why she lied! Why, why, why?!”

I still had a good surprise up my sleeve for the ending, but I might never have gotten my readers past the first chapter without what I learned from readers when I opened the study door.

Two New Mystery Events for May

DENNIS TAFOYA’S SHORT MYSTERY WRITING CLASS AT BOOKPEOPLE

tafoya  pictureAcclaimed crime author Dennis Tafoya is teaching a short mystery writing class on May 1st, 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor.

It’s a fun way to promote his new book The Poor Boy’s Game. He will teach an hour-long class on the elements of crime fiction using examples from classic and current authors as well as his own work. A fun and informative night for beginning and practicing writers as well as people who are just fans of the genre. Bring pen and paper. Admission is free.

Dennis Tafoya has also authored The Wolves of Fairmount Park and Dope Thief.

Tafoya book cover

To find out more, click on http://www.dennistafoya.com/

BookPeople is located at 603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX78703.

tafoya  dope thief

Tafoya wolves

tafoya philly noir

 

 

 

 

 

 

BARBARA BURNETT SMITH ASPIRING WRITERS EVENT

On May 18, Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter will host the Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event (BBSAWE) at 2 p.m. at Recycled Reads in Austin.

This event will celebrate the legacy of Barbara Burnett Smith, a published mystery author who helped many writers in the Austin community. Aspiring Writers will meet with their Mentors, who are published mystery authors in the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter.

W.D. Smith will speak about his mother’s legacy and Russ Hall will talk about mentorship. Following these remarks, the mentors will introduce their aspiring writers to the membership and the writers will read their 500 submitted words to the audience.

Following the program, a buffet supper will be served and aspiring writers will consult with their mentors.

Jan Grape mentors Jane Shaughness; Russ Hall mentors Alex Ferraro; Helen Ginger mentors Shelby O’Neill; Susan Rogers Cooper mentors Lindsay Carlson; Caroline Shearer mentors Eileen Dew; Elizabeth Buhmann mentors co-authors Sue Cleveland and Dixie Evatt.

Recycled Reads is located at 5335 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX78756.

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James Michener Didn’t Object

By Kathy Waller

0kathy-blog

Last week, Valerie wrote about why she writes. Here’s my take on that subject:

When I was four years old, I took a pair of scissors and a roll of red, gooey adhesive tape and wrote my name on the inside of the kitchen door. It didn’t occurred to me I shouldn’t, and my parents never said a word. I’m sure they discussed it, but I wasn’t privy to that conversation.  The crooked red letters stayed on the door for years. When they were finally removed, a heavy red stain remained.

When I was eight, my father gave me a ream of legal-sized paper. I produced a newspaper, one copy per issue, focusing on the social activities of dogs, cats, and horses in the neighborhood. I reported on the wedding of Mr. Pat Boone, my fox terrier, and Miss Bootsie, my grandfather’s cranky gray-and-white cat. Miss Bootsie was really Mr. Bootsie, but even then I knew the value of poetic license. Mr. Tommy, my cousin’s orange tabby, married someone, too, but I don’t remember whom or what gender. Or what genus and species for that matter.

For years, I loved writing—the paper, the pens, the ink, the facts, the improved facts, and the outright fiction.

The feeling lasted until high school, when I began taking courses labeled English. Writing became torture. What will I write about, how many words does it have to be, I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to say. Through high school and two college degrees–in English–I produced the required papers but agonized over every word.

There were bright spots: writing the junior class prophecy, which made even the teachers laugh when I read it at the junior-senior banquet; composing a satire on life in the teachers’ lounge, issued serially on an irregular basis–whenever the Muse moved me.

Overall, however, my relationship to writing remained conflicted. I did my best to camouflage the discomfort, though. After all, I taught English.

Things began to change when I told a therapist about my early love affair with words. He responded, “I think you’d better start writing.” He suggested I join the Austin Writers’ League.

“I can’t,” I said. “James Michener belongs to the Austin Writers’ League. I can’t belong to anything James Michener belongs to.”

The next day, I joined. James Michener didn’t object. I started taking informal classes at nearby universities. An instructor invited me to a Saturday-morning writing practice group. The next weekend, I drove fifty miles, parked in front of the café where it met, watched people carry notebooks inside, backed my car out, and drove home. It took another week to build the courage to pick up my notebook to join them and become a regular.

The result of all this effort? Once again, I fell in love with writing. I also fell in love with a member of the writing practice group and, after a decent interval, married him.

In my romance with writing, I didn’t live happily ever after. I don’t have a long list of appealing topics. I don’t have a file of perfect first sentences. I still have to write to find out what I know and what I think. I still find myself writing furiously right up to the deadline. (Or slightly after, as I am now.) Starting any piece is difficult. But once I begin, the words flow.

I wouldn’t exchange that feeling for anything.

In fifteen years, I’ve come from, I can’t join the Austin Writers’ League to I’m working on a novel, attending Austin Mystery Writers critique group, writing short stories for publication in an anthology, blogging, writing every day.

And, contrary to the moans I make when asked how the writing is going, I love every second of it.

Why I Write

By Valerie Chandler

Almost every writer is asked, “Why do you write?” Many writers have lofty answers, but mine is, “Because I have to.” I love telling stories. I have to tell stories. I think it’s something I got from my dad who was a natural-born storyteller. He used this gift in his job as a college professor. He loved to entertain his students.

I wrote my first stories in first grade and I loved it. During my elementary years, every time a teacher said, “Get out a pencil and paper. It’s time to write a story,” I practically jumped out of my chair from excitement while the rest of the class groaned. As I grew older, writing exercises turned from writing stories to writing essays. I felt the school system was conspiring to squash our creativity.

Then in eighth grade Mrs. Cunningham read a story called “The Spanking Machine”. My heart raced. When I was in kindergarten, my older brother teased me that Principal Rockefeller of the elementary school where I would attend the following year, had a spanking machine and she accidentally killed a kid with it.

The story that Mrs. C. read was not about that, but it brought back a vivid memory of my run-in with her spanking machine. I knew that was the story I had to write. (You can read what happened here.)

A few days later, before Mrs. C. returned our stories to us, she said, “You all wrote really good stories, but there is one I’d like to read to you. It’s called ‘The Spanking Machine’.”

The students protested, “You already read that to us!”

“No, this is a different one. A story that one of you wrote.” I couldn’t believe she was going to read it to the whole class! I was nervous and curious as to how they would react. I remember looking around the room, pretending I didn’t know who wrote it, in case they didn’t like it. As the story progressed they leaned forward in their chairs, got nervous as the tension grew, and laughed at the end.

To have an effect like that on someone is fun, intriguing and addictive. The idea that a writer can reach through the words and grab a reader is a powerful and fun feeling, but it’s also a compulsion. I have stories constantly swimming through my head and I want to share them with the world. I hope readers will still lean forward with anticipation when they read my stories.

The Hidden Drama

By Elizabeth Buhmann

ut2I love a really good mystery. There is nothing I would rather read.

What I like is the discovery of a hidden reality—dark and terrible—that underlies appearance. And there is satisfaction in seeing evildoers dragged out in the open and brought to justice.

When you write a mystery novel, you invent not one but two stories. One is the hidden story of a crime. The other is a story of discovery.

You start with the hidden drama. Why might one person kill another? How exactly does it go down? How does the murderer conceal the crime?

A man might be jealous of his lover. He quarrels with her, strangles her, conceals the body, and invents an alibi. That’s what happens, but it’s hidden. Nobody knows about it.

The underlying story could be a novel in itself, but it wouldn’t be a mystery—it would be a crime drama, or a tragedy, perhaps. The mystery is about how the hidden story comes to be exposed.

The plot of the mystery begins with the first public sign of a violent reality that hides beneath the placid surface. Shots are heard, or someone disappears. A body might be found.

The first inkling of the hidden story typically leads to a detective being hired or police being called to a crime scene. The detective/protagonist then makes deductions and discoveries that lead inexorably from the first sign of violence to a full exposure of the hidden drama. Only then can justice be restored.

Somebody once asked me why I write stand-alone mysteries instead of detective stories, which can be developed into a series. It’s because the hidden drama is what intrigues me most–the dark and terrible evil underneath the surface.

Blue Ridge Mountains
Lay Death at Her Door is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

My first book, Lay Death at Her Door, is not a detective story, but it still has the heart of a mystery, because it’s all about the laying bare of a hidden life. My main character Kate got herself into a situation which led to a man getting shot and Kate being beaten and raped. To protect herself, Kate lied on the stand, and an innocent man went to prison.

So in my book, an eruption of violence was initially explained away by a false solution. The wrong man took the blame. The first inkling of what really happened comes twenty years after the fact (in chapter one), when the innocent man is exonerated by new evidence.

In another departure from the usual structure of a mystery novel, I chose a main character in the hidden drama as my protagonist, rather than the detective who solves the crime. I wanted to tell the story from the inside, even though it meant my main character would be a dark one, morally complicit, however unwillingly, in the real killer’s crimes.

Mysteries are ultimately about justice. In Kate’s story, there was a very real possibility that the truth would never be revealed. What breaks the case is Kate herself. Her own character is her downfall. This to me is a compelling idea—that evil deeds destroy us from within.

The Halls of Mystery

by Gale Albright

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The April 13 Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas program will feature “The Halls of Mystery” with authors Joan Upton Hall and Russ Hall. They will present mini-workshops on everything you ever wanted to know about writing. Bring your questions! Be ready to listen, take notes, and interact. It should be a lively meeting.

JUH bookcover

Joan and Russ, who have a number of books under their belts, have always been more than happy to help fledgling writers learn the craft of writing. They will share their personal experiences on getting published and keeping the right mental attitude. Both have received Sage Awards from the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation. The award is given to an author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community.rx book doctor

A former English teacher, Joan Upton Hall is an author, editor, writing instructor and speaker. Her books run from historical nonfiction to urban fantasy and the paranormal. She offers sample chapters and more on her website. Her books include The Shadow of Excalibur, Dream Shifters, Just Visitin’ Old Texas Jails, and RX for Your Writing Ills. http://joanuptonhall.com/home

Russ Hall

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Russ Hall has had fifteen novels published, including: The Blue-Eyed Indian, Wildcat Did Growl, Island, No Murder Before its Time, Goodbye She Lied, Talon’s Grip, Bones of the Rain, and South Austin Vampire. He has also co-authored (as well as ghost written) numerous non-fiction books. Russ is a frequent mentor and judge for writing organizations. In 1996 he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction. http://www.russhall.com/russ hall bk2

“The Halls of Mystery” program starts at 2 p.m., Recycled Reads at 5335 Burnet Road in Austin, TX.