Western Mysteries

Photo by Ladyheart

Photo by Ladyheart

I have a confession to make. I love westerns, all kinds of westerns. I like characters with a sense of independence, who live life by their own rules. I like studying that era of our history. It has everything you could want that makes a great story: evil-doers, heroes, the clash of cultures (Native American/European, city/country, poor/rich), people trying to make their lives better, people trying to hold on to their heritage. You name it.

I also like modern westerns. They still hold the same sense of character and grit as the older ones.

So it’s no great surprise that like western mysteries. I thought I’d delve into that subgenre and look for books to add to my TBR (To Be Read) shelf and take you along with me.

 

That's Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig Johnson

Those of you who know me know that I’m a fan of Craig Johnson and the Longmire series. The way he captures the essence of the west and the clash of cultures while respecting both sides is masterful. The books are full of drama, humor, and history. The characters grow deeper by each book. (As they should.)

At the moment I’ve only read the first three books in the series. I have a lot of reading to do! But I’ve watched all of the TV episodes. If you haven’t seen them, check them out on Netflix. It’s one of my favorite shows. All of the actors are excellent at their jobs and they’re nice in real life. And Craig Johnson is as nice as could be too.

Check out his website for all the info. http://www.craigallenjohnson.com

 

 

Billy Kring

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Manning Wolfe, me, and Billy Kring. We like Mexican food!

 

Most of his Hunter Kincaid series takes place in Texas and along the Mexican border since Hunter is a border patrol agent. I’ve read the first one, Quick, and let me tell you, it’s good! It’s a page-turner. I will say it’s not for the squeamish, but Billy tells me (since he’s a friend of mine) that the others aren’t quite so graphic. But it didn’t bother me since I kind of expected that, considering the topic.

I think it’s interesting that Billy’s a big cowboy (former border patrol and anti-terrorism expert) and the Kincaid books are told from a woman’s perspective. And he writes it well!

Go check out his website and book list. It’s impressive! He also writes other genres. There’s something for everyone. http://www.billykring.com

 

 

J.A. JanceJanceJA

And just so you don’t think I only read books written by big burly cowboys, (Yes, I’m partial to them) I want to tell you about J.A. Jance. She has a special place in my mystery reader/writer heart. She is one of the writers who inspired me to pick up a pen and write. Her Joanna Brady series is very good. It takes place in Arizona and Joanna is a sheriff in a small border town. She’s a full and complex character that deals with all sorts of horrors and problems, big and small.

Jance also writes a Detective Beaumont series, some of which I’ve read and it’s very good too. http://www.jajance.com

 

Those are my favorties, but I wanted to know more. So whenever I have a question about mysteries, I turn to my friends. And the person I know who’s the most knowledgeable is Scott Montgomery, mystery coordinator at Book People in Austin. He pointed me to Tony Hillerman and Peter Bowen.

**Scott gave me an extra tidbit of info. “The first hardboiled detective novel, Hammett’s Red Harvest, is about a detective coming into a corrupt Montana mining town and playing both evil interests off one another like A Fistful Of Dollars (inspired by Yojimbo, which was inspired by Red Harvest)”

So there you go.

 

 

Tony Hillerman 27hillerman.large1

You can’t talk about this genre without talking about Tony Hillerman. He’s famous for his Navajo Tribal Police Series. The series starts with The Blessing Way (1970) and goes to the 18th one, The Shape Shifter (2006). The series features Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo police officers who solve mysteries with their knowledge of the people and knowledge of the area. The two first work together in the seventh novel in the series, Skinwalkers. (I can’t wait to read some of these!)

Hillerman was such an accomplished writer that his books have won numerous awards and he’s considered to be one New Mexico’s foremost novelists. TH is no longer alive, but his daughter, Anne, has continued his legacy. http://www.annehillerman.com

 

 

Peter Bowen Peter Bowen

Bowen lives in Montana and is known for his Yellowstone Kelly historical novels (fictionalized stories based on a real person) and the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries are set in modern Montana. All of his books sound rich with characters and place. You can find out more at his website: http://peterbowenmt.com.

 

 

 

Dusty Richards 

Since I’m talking about Westerns, I have to tell you about Dusty Richards. He doesn’t write mysteries but he writes darn good westerns. How did I come to discover him? My husband was a co-op engineer and Dusty serves on the board of his electric co-op. They were both attending a conference and got to talking. My husband told him about me and Dusty said, “Hold on a moment.” He went up to his room and came back with a signed copy of his book to me to wish me well in my writing endeavors.
Since then my husband has read many of his books and said they are great. (And this is coming from a guy who compares EVERY book to Louis L’Amour.)

Since then I’ve followed Dusty on social media and I see that one of his books is being made into a movie. Yay! I like it when good things happen for good people.

He also has a literary quarterly that’s always looking for western stories, modern or historical. If you’re interested in submitting, the website is: http://saddlebagdispatches.com

And his regular website is: http://dustyrichardslegacy.com

 

Well, thanks for moseying along with me on this trail. Since I’m partial to this genre, it’s no surprise that I’ve written some Western short stories (Suspense and Horror) and the novel I’m working on (Suspense) is set in West Texas. I hope to make it the first in a series, or two.

 

So happy trails and vio con Dios! Hasta luego!

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

Critic or Critiquer?

Lately, the topic of critique groups has reared its head. Valerie Chandler represented both Austin Mystery Writers and Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter at the Third Thursday meeting of the Writers League of Texas at BookPeople on July 21.  Valerie was invited to join local critique group leaders/members to make announcements about their organizations before the main panel discussion of the evening.

again val with mow

I was privileged to moderate a panel of local authors and members of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter on our July 10 meeting at the  Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library. Included in the wide-ranging discussion was a ringing endorsement of critique groups and how they helped writers. The panel was composed of writers Doris Christian (writing as Sara Caudell), Francine Paino, Noreen Cedeno, and Martha Carr.P1030005 (2)

Below, see a post I wrote some years ago about the difference between being critical and being helpful in a critique situation. It appeared in one of the Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter’s HOTSHOTS! newsletter. I thought it would be helpful to resurrect it.

By Gale Albright

I grew up admiring critics.hutto oct. 1 2014 023 (2)

Critics like Dorothy Parker and Rex Reed. Their comments were witty, dry, often acerbic. For many years, Rex Reed has been known for his acidic movie reviews. Just a small example among many is this one, from the New York Observer, July 13, 2010:

“At the movies, incomprehensible gibberish has become a way of life, but it usually takes time before it’s clear that a movie really stinks. Inception, Christopher Nolan’s latest assault on rational coherence, wastes no time. It cuts straight to the chase that leads to the junkpile without passing go, although before it drags its sorry butt to a merciful finale, you’ll be desperately in need of a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.”

Pretty funny, eh? And then there’s the iconic Dorothy Parker, whose critique of a youthful Katharine Hepburn’s performance on Broadway has become legendary: “Miss Hepburn runs the emotional gamut from A to B,” Miss Parker was supposed to have said to a colleague during the play’s intermission.

So, naturally, I thought you were supposed to basically heap scorn on books and movies and performances you didn’t like. As long as you were witty, dry, and often acerbic. A good critic made expert use of sarcasm and unkind jokes and metaphors.

I thought the critic was the center of attention. The bringer of wit and laughter.

I learned that the origin of the word sarcasm was from Latin for rending the flesh. Apt indeed.

The trouble is, when your flesh is rended, it doesn’t feel very good. As a person who thought cheap shots and ill-considered comebacks were the height of wit, I discovered how devastating it was to be on the receiving end of those oh-so-clever comments and witticisms.

Especially when it involved something I had written.

When I went back to college after intervening years of Real Life, I decided to major in English Writing and Rhetoric. To my chagrin, I had to take some classes in which, among other things, we had to learn the proper manner of critique. Critique etiquette, as it were.

I found I was not the second coming of Rex Reed or Dorothy Parker. Nasty, witty comments were strictly taboo. I had to learn how to give constructive criticism to classmates.

At first, I had a very hard time. What if I just hated what the other person wrote? What if it was stupid, boring, idiotic, or insane? Too bad.  And I had to do it over and over again. In short, I hated it. I felt totally out of my depth.

It was pure torture. Witticisms leaped to my tongue, only to die a stillborn death within my mouth. It was discipline. It was a change of habit. It was hard.

Then I understood. A critic is a star. She is the center of the universe. She earns her money by saying clever, often unkind things. But a person who offers a critique is not a star. To offer a critique is to offer a somewhat educated opinion, encouragement, and suggestions. One endeavors to be honest without being cruel or funny. I had to learn that I was not the director of the show. My lofty pronouncements did not come straight from Mount Olympus. I was merely a handmaid in the service of some other writer’s creative birthing.

At school I was told to start out a critique by telling the writer “what worked” in the piece. Sometimes I had to look pretty hard to find something “that worked.” It was like your mother telling you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Except, the catch was, you couldn’t abstain. You had to give feedback.

After stressing the positive parts of a piece of writing, the critiquer would then write down “What didn’t work so well was ….” And say it without making a cruel comment at the writer’s expense.

All the critiquer has to offer is a personal opinion. It is to be hoped that critiquers in writers’ groups are people who love reading and writing, so that their opinions might have some literary weight. But it’s still just a solitary opinion.

As a critiquer, I’m not writing a syndicated column. I’m not an agent or an editor. I’m a fellow writer who needs another pair of eyes to look at my work. I want feedback, gentle feedback. It’s a balancing act.

I can’t lie and say something is great when it’s not. That’s evading one’s responsibility as a critiquer. But I’m not mean. The aim, I should think, of a writing group, is to keep the writers writing and coming back to the critique group. You don’t want to be so witty and sarcastic and cruel that a writer quits the group, shreds all her writings, shoots her laptop and treks off to Tibet in search of the spiritual peace of which you robbed her.

If a writer seeks out a critique group, obviously said writer, number one, wants to be read and, number two, wants feedback. Number three, said writer probably wants to continue writing.

A writer puts his heart and soul and ego on the page. A writer needs tender treatment. Tell the truth, but do it in a constructive manner. To critique is to help a fellow writer improve, not implode.

What goes around comes around. Yesterday’s witty, cruel comments may come back to haunt you when your own heart and soul are exposed on the page.

Writers.  Handle them with care.

 

Write What You Know: A BookPeople Event with Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring

A lawyer, an Army clerk and a border patrol agent walk into a bookstore…

BookPeople, our much beloved independent bookstore here in Austin, hosted a panel of crime writers this past week, and the discussions kept us laughing, interested and entertained the entire evening. Scott Montgomery, BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, moderated the panel, although it quickly evolved from a formal Q&A session to a fascinating conversation amongst colleagues and friends.

Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring gathered together to share how each of them has taken their professional experiences and used them as foundations upon which to build successful crime writing careers. The program was titled “Write What You Know,” and it’s clear that each author has executed this writing tenet with substantial skill.

martin_manning_billyIt seems that a solid sense of humor is a requirement in each of these fields, as Billy, Manning and Martin shared stories that were equal parts heartbreaking and humorous. Like any profession that is also a passion, the work is made easier by the love for it, but the injustices are more painful for the same reason. Manning’s debut mystery novel, Dollar Signs, is loosely based upon one of her cases while working as an Austin attorney, and the nuances of that case are brought to life, mixed with a healthy dose of savvy storytelling.   When asked what had prompted her love of reading during her childhood, Manning gave credit to a librarian in her life. “Once I started, I just took off and read every book in the library. Books were a way for me to escape my small town and expand and travel in many ways, all while just sitting in my room.”

Martin’s fascination and respect for Korea and its culture was evident during this panel discussion as he shared how some family and friends were puzzled by his desire to stay in Korea during his time of service. As he explained to Scott Montgomery, “Culturally, I realized early on how different Korea is from the West. Not only are the buildings and the food and the clothes and the music and the art much different, but also the way people think. I was fascinated by this (and I still am).” His attraction to the culture and the time period in which he served is evident in his latest release, Ping Pong Heart, which takes us into the heart of a North-South Korea espionage mystery.

When asked what drew him to reading, Martin admitted that he hadn’t been much interested in reading when he was a child. He’d found it difficult to find stories that captured this imagination. Then along came Jack London, whom he had discovered when he was fourteen years old, and To Build a Fire converted him into a life long reader.

panel_bookpeople1.jpgMartin shared with us that, while he would have loved to have spent his entire military career in Korea, the Army decided to send him back to the States to serve as a recruiter. It was during this time that he decided he would use his spare time to write. “I had wanted to write for twenty years, and at that point, I decided to give myself permission.” That decision was the catalyst that sparked a successful writing career, one that has allowed Martin to share his fascination of both Korea and time period in which he served in that country.

Billy Kring’s latest novel, Tonton, features female border patrol agent, Hunter Kincaid, throwing her into a South Florida case involving a Haitian community and vodou. When asked if some of his villains were based upon actual people he had encountered during his time working border intelligence and security, he replied, “Yes, and I haven’t even used some of the worst offenders yet.”

Are you scared yet, readers? You should be. Billy paints an effectively frightening villain within his book’s pages, and it has been recommended that this latest book is best read during the daytime. The opening scene of Tonton is based upon an actual experience of Billy’s while working border security. “Well, everything but the shark, but the shark is from another case,” he explained.

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Billy explained that he truly enjoyed the work he did, which meant that he came late to the writing game. He had once had a bank job and he hated it, living each day in a cubicle and not being out in the world. He loved the fact a career in border security meant that each day brought new challenges and experiences. “I never knew what was going to happen next, and I liked that part of the job.” Like Martin and Manning, Billy then realized he could take his enthusiasm and experience for his work and bring it to a life writing fiction. Billy also shared the nuances that ripple across our borders. “There are two distinct cultures that have changed and merged over many generations, and it’s important to recognize that and bring those elements to the story.”

One thing is clear after spending an evening with these three authors–each one of them brings their experiences to life in ways that are engrossing, entertaining and compelling. While an evening with their books is fantastic, an evening with the authors behind those books?

Even better.

–Laura Oles

 

 

 

ROW80: The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life

Posted by Kathy Waller

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to accomplish anything of worth, one must first set goals.

English: 85. Functions and Use Scenarios Mappi...

English: 85. Functions and Use Scenarios Mapping to Requirements and Goals (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Richard J. Mayer and others [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But goals drive me crazy, and that’s no secret either. Periodically, fellow Austin Mystery Writer Gale Albright pulls out her notebook and says, “All right. Let’s write down our goals.” Her goals, my goals, goals for us as a team. She’s serious about goals.

As soon as she says the magic word, I start a major case of the fantods. I can come up with goals, but when I see them on paper, claustrophobia sets in. I dig in my heels and think, “I will not do [whatever I’ve written that I will do]. And you can’t make me.” Sometimes I don’t just think it–I say it.

I’ve said it to Gale so often that now when she pulls out her notebook, she begins with, “I know you don’t like goals, but…”

I don’t think she knows I have a long history of goal-setting–I love trying to organize myself. And there are so many goals out there just itching to be adopted.

Writing challenges lurk all over the Internet: Write every day, write a thousand words every day, keep a journal, do morning pages, do evening pages, write for an hour-two hours-three hours every day, produce a 50,000-word novel in November by writing 1,667 words a day…

That last, which you no doubt recognize as the goal of NaNoWriMo, really drives me up the wall. Every year, I register. Then, every October 31, the fantods set in, and there goes my chance of winning. I’ve given up all hope of getting a NaNo tee-shirt.

row80logocopySeveral years ago, however, I discovered a writing challenge I can live with: A Round of Words in 80 Days: The writing challenge that knows you have a life.

It goes like this: Each year, there are four 80-day rounds. On the first day of each round, participants decide on goals and post them on their blogs. Then they put links to their posts on a ROW80 Linky for a ROW80 blog hop.

For the rest of the round, participants report their progress on Sundays and Wednesdays, and publish their links on the day’s Linky.

If they’ve met their goals, that’s great. If they haven’t, that’s life. Participants are free to change goals and post new ones.

Anyone who wants to join is welcome, and it’s okay to jump in at any time during the round–just post goals on the next Sunday/Wednesday check-in day and go on from there.

I’ve done ROW80 several times without even a hint of the fantods. The secret, I think, is in the subtitle: The writing challenge that knows you have a life.

I have a life. And sometimes it gets in the way. Cedar fever, company coming, hauling cats to the vet–so many things can bump writing down to second or third or tenth priority. When I  set out to write every single day, or one hour every single day–or adopt any goal set by someone else–and then don’t meet that goal, I’ve failed. And I’m likely to stop altogether.

But ROW80 not only allows me to set my own goals, it also acknowledges I might need to set them aside. It allows me to tweak them, change them, and if I need to, scuttle them and start over. There’s no pressure to conform or to make excuses for lapses. I’m in charge.

Now, here’s the evidence that I’m a little crazy: No matter what goals I set or what challenges I face, I’m always in charge. No one stands over me holding a machete to make sure I write one hour a day. No one pins a Scarlet F-for-failure on my tee-shirt when I don’t write in my journal.

Nobody. Not even Gale.

But there’s a flexibility to ROW80 that somehow makes goals easier to live with. I’m free, free, free… In addition, I’m not in this alone. At present, fourteen bloggers have registered on today’s Linky. Tomorrow there will be more. Reading their posts is instructive as well. Participants don’t make excuses; they evaluate, consider what didn’t work and what might work, and go from there.

Yesterday I drafted some goals, posted them on my blog, and registered on the Linky. On Wednesday, I’ll report on my progress, or possibly on my not-progress. But when I’m part of ROW80, I usually make some progress, even when life gets in the way.

Rules for A Round of Words in 80 Days, appear here. Information about how ROW80 started appears here. Find the ROW80 blog here.

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fantod: Usually, fantods. a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the)

I came across the word fantods in a story by O. Henry and liked it so much I decided to have the fantods as often as possible.

###

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly
and at the group blog Writing Wranglers and Warriors
as well as here at Austin Mystery Writers.
Her short stories appear at Mysterical-E
and in Murder on Wheels

 

 

Pets and the Fourth

 

Today we have a guest blogger who is a former AMW member, Kaye George.

 

If you’re reading this, you either like to read or to write, right? Or you’re a loyal friend of one of the Austin Mystery Writers. I’ve seen an odd connection between lovers of the written word and the love of animals. Or maybe that’s just a universal thing, or a thing with people who hang around in cyber space. Anyway, I’d like to appeal to those of you who love animals.

running dog

If you have a dog or cat, take care of it tonight! Please don’t leave it outside. Between July 4th and July 6th, animal control services nationwide see a 30% rise in missing pets!* If you live in Texas, among many other places, fireworks will start well before the 4th, so you’ll need to take precautions in the days leading up to Fireworks Day, as well as the days afterward.

 

If you have an animal that is overly anxious, you might want to give him medicine to soothe him during the height of the booming. Hugging or wrapping tightly can help some dogs. If you can distract your pet with other noises, that might help. Also, it’s good to have at least an ID tag, at most a chip, just in case he gets out and runs away, confused and frightened by the unusual noises.

 

If you should see an animal running loose and scared, you can report it here:

https://www.petamberalert.com/report-a-pet-sighting/

 

One more if. If you’re fortunate enough to have a laid-back furry buddy who can ignore fireworks, count yourself lucky and enjoy the holiday. Happy Fourth!

 

*https://www.petamberalert.com/blog/keeping-your-pets-safe-on-the-4th-of-july/

Life Lessons Learned In “Battle”

 

I’ve been waging war.

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Photo by Michael O’Reilly

(No, that isn’t a picture of me. It’s a picture my friend Michael O’Reilly took of his friend. He sometimes goes around Austin with a sword and asks strangers to pose with it. Really, and he gets some great pictures!)

But back to my story. I’ve been at war with the Dreaded Ivy Monster. This thing has overtaken my yard and covers huge bushes. It’s choking the life out of everything. And while I’m out there on the front line, hacking and pulling, I do a lot of thinking.

20160627_104708

Small section of the monster that’s overtaken my yard. There are rock and other plants under there.

I can’t help but seeing symbolism in what I’m doing. I actually talked about this on the first post of my blog back in 2012. At that time I happened to be thinking about clutter. http://vpchandler.com/trim-away-the-dead/

But apparently fighting the DIM is good for my imagination. I recently told a friend who felt like she wasn’t making progress on her book,

“We have a vine that’s grown to be a monster. It’s taken over the flowerbeds and killed some of the bushes. Everyday I go outside and trim it and rip up parts of it out of the ground. Basically chipping away at the problem, but I’m getting results. I’ll take one tendril and pull on it. It’s amazing to see how intertwined it all is.

Every time I go out there I can’t help but compare working on it to writing and editing a book. I may spend anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour on it. But each time I see progress. Each time I’m unraveling a tendril, I’m unraveling a problem.”

 

As I say in the above quote, I’ve been editing my book, getting rid of unwanted and unnecessary stuff. So when I pull on a lonnng tendril that has creeped and wound its way through the bushes, it reminds of getting rid of unwanted story lines. Of course they weave their way through the book so I have to make sure everything makes sense when that’s gone! But it feels good when the extra stuff is hacked away.

Something else also popped into my mind yesterday, of course while fighting the DIM. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Now I’m not a poet, but here’s what I was thinking.

 

Reach For the Light

What kind of vine are you? Are you a jasmine, a honeysuckle, English ivy, the stifling kudzu? I hope you aren’t the dreaded poison ivy or poison oak!

Whatever vine you are, search for the light that helps you grow.
Don’t stay in the dark humus, the decay of years past. That way stifles and rots your roots. It weakens growth and stunts your leaves.

No, search for the light.
If you have to twist your way among Life’s branches to go around obstacles, keep at it. Study your path, grow strong and use what you’ve learned to anchor yourself while you reach for the new, the sun, and see what Life has to offer.

 

(It’s not Emily Dickinson, but I like it.)

 

I can now see rocks!

The edge of progress. I can now see rocks!

I’d also like to add that it’s rewarding to see how a few minutes here and there can produce results. So whatever you’re working on, whether it’s writing, gardening, painting, or what have you, a few minutes can make a difference. And while you’re pulling those weeds, let your mind wander. Who knows, you might find the answers to the questions you’ve been looking for or you might get a glimpse into the meaning of Life.

 

Whiskers, my trusty companion in battle. He comforts me and criticizes my work. Apparently I'm not worthy.

Whiskers, my trusty companion in battle. He comforts me and criticizes my work. Apparently I’m not worthy.

Does this happen to you? Do you get insights to your writing or life when you’re driving, washing dishes or doing other such work? Had any “aha!” moments? Share them with us!

Banishing Lazy Words by Terry Shames

This week we have a guest blogger, friend and fellow mystery writer, Terry Shames!

Terry grew up in Texas, and has an abiding affection for the people she grew up with and the landscape and culture of the town that is the model for Jarrett Creek. She graduated from the University of Texas and has an MA from San Francisco State University. Terry now lives in Northern California with her husband, two terriers and a regal cat.

Terry’s first Samuel Craddock novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, (July 2013) and was named one of the top five debut mystery novels of 2013 by MysteryPeople. The second in the series, The Last Death of Jack Harbin was named one of the top five mysteries of 2014 by the Library Association’s Library Journal. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, the third in the Samuel Craddock series, came out in October of 2014, followed by A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge in April 2015 and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake in January 2016.

A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she serves on the boards of Northern California chapters of both.

Welcome, Terry! shamesTerry_1

Banishing Lazy Words

When I’m editing a book, I know that when I begin to get restless I’ve probably come across a nest of lazy words–words that are shorthand, or placeholders, for what I really want to say. Here are some lazy word indicators:

These, this, those, thing, stuff, some, about, just…and the dreaded “to be” verb (was, were…)

I often find when I come across several of these words on one page it means I was reluctant to dig deeper into the emotional content in the scene. When I buckle down and confront what I’m avoiding writing, digging deep to find the emotional core of the scene, I often end up writing a lot more words than I had before.

Here’s an example of a piece I was editing for someone else. I ran across several places on one page where two characters were talking about, “This thing we have going,” and “This thing we are trying.” The “thing” the writer was talking about was a difficult relationship between people of different ethnic backgrounds. By repeating the words “this thing,” she avoided addressing in depth the painful aspects of the relationship. The words fell flat on the page. Only when she changed it to say what she really meant, “Our risky experiment,” and “The way we are thumbing our nose at tradition,” did it begin to have the depth it deserved. Instead of a romance novel, it because more like Romeo and Juliet.

In first drafts, we often use shorthand for what we know is going to be a difficult description. But as writers we have to work hard to ferret out those lazy little words and phrases and say what we really mean. Not, “Amanda’s bedroom was a mess. There was STUFF lying everywhere,” or “I walked into Bill’s office. There was STUFF lying everywhere,” but instead, “Amanda’s clothes were strewn on the floor leading to the bed,” or “Judging from Bill’s office, he was a guy who dropped whatever he was reading onto any handy surface as soon as he was done with it.” Instead of saying, “there were several things he wanted to tell her,” it’s more interesting to read, “he stored up little criticisms that he could spring on her later.”

Contrast these two paragraphs:

“They dated for a few months, during which he told several lies. Some time later, she tried to remember which lies bothered her the most. There was the time he told her he was an accountant and lost his job when the economy went bad. And another time he said he looked around for a job for a long while before he could find another one. But the worst was when he said he’d buy her some jewelry, and never did.”

The fix:

“They dated for six month. After he disappeared, she found that he had hardly opened his mouth without lying. She bought into it when he told her he was an accountant, and lost his job when the economy went bust. She even believed that he pounded the pavement looking for a job for six months before he found one. But the lie that hurt most was that he promised to buy her a diamond ring, and he never did.”

The first paragraph is full of lazy words like “a few,” “several,” “some, “tried,” most,” “there was,” etc. The second one uses livelier, mores descriptive words.

When you read authors you admire, note that they pin down real time, real place, real emotion. It makes their prose richer and keeps readers engaged. It takes hard editing work, but it’s worth it. It’s the key element that will make your prose come alive.

You can find more information about Terry Shames at www.terryshames.com 

Thank you, Terry! That’s good concrete information that all writers can use. What do you think, reader? Any questions or comments?

 

Mystery Workshop At Book People

Last Saturday I attended a writer’s workshop at Book People, sponsored by Mystery People and the Austin chapter of Sisters In Crime. I honestly didn’t think I’d learn much new. But I was wrong. *Note- Between classes we had drawings for giveaways like books and tote bags!

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41VaFJ3tHPL._UX250_It started with George Wier speaking about writing action scenes. He’s literally a pro at this. Just read any of his books. (www.billtravismysteries.com) It wasn’t about how to describe a blow-by-blow fistfight. It was more about how to add tension to a scene, how to make it move along. I don’t know about you, but I like bullet points. So I’ll share my notes in that manner.

 

  • Before you can add action, you must put the reader in the moment. They won’t follow anything if they aren’t there. To accomplish this, describe the lay of the land and the surroundings.
  • What are the results of the action? There should be consequences or the reader won’t care.
  • The scene must have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Don’t describe things in terms of time. (aka- three hours later). Believe it or not, that doesn’t do anything for the reader. Time isn’t as tangible as distance. “They walked down a flight of stairs.” Is much easier for the reader to see and instantly understand.
  • Perception is everything. Use all the senses. Have your characters be aware of their breathing, their surroundings, sounds, pain, everything.

The idea of writing about distance instead of time interests me. All of the things listed above make sense, but the idea that the reader can intuitively understand distance better than the concept of time is fascinating.

Scott Montgomery of Book People recommended the book, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. He said it was a good example of what Wier was talking about.

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Cutting up between classes. Friend and author Billy Kring dropped by. He’s trying to distract me while George Wier looks on.

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The guys behaving for Terry’s talk.

 

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Next at the workshop was Terry Shames. She gave us many tips on how to writing compelling settings. And she should know. She does an excellent job of describing the Texas town where her Samuel Craddock series takes place. (www.terryshames.com) I came away with the concept of interior settings and exterior settings. No, not what a living room looks like, interior as in what’s going on inside a character. (More bullet points!)

  • Treat your scenes as characters.
  • The way to make your story interesting is to show how the interior setting (of characters) intersect with the exterior setting. How would someone from a Texas ranch interact with the people and setting of New York city? How would that same person act in their own hometown?
  • The devil is in the details. Immerse the reader in the setting. You don’t have to do an information dump. (Please don’t.) But you can provide things like smells and sounds.
  • If you aren’t familiar with a place, research it. Talk to people who know the place.
  • Above all, know how your characters would interact with the setting. Someone who almost drowned would have a different reaction to falling in the water than someone who is an Olympic swimmer. So Know Your Characters!
  • Every scene should try to have-
  1. Action
  2. Dialogue
  3. Physical description of setting
  4. Physical description of characters
  5. Internal thinking
  6. Internal physical descriptions.
  • A good rhythm of a scene would be: 2/1/2, 4/3/5, 6/2/1. Try it and see what happens.

 

 

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Brent and James. Looking forward to reading their books.

After lunch we gathered for the last class about collaboration. Brent Douglass and James Dennis, two of the three authors who make up the persona of Miles Arecenaux (www.milesarceneaux.com), led a funny discussion on their journey of collaborative writing. They started their first book back in the days before email. Thank goodness the days of mailing a manuscript back and forth are gone. Thank you email! So what are their tips?

  • Don’t be afraid to be honest with each other. Actually, they said to be brutally honest. Treat each other like siblings.
  • Play up to your partners’ strengths. You are different people with different experiences. You that to your advantage.
  • Work to maintain “one voice” for your book. It will get easier with practice but it will also take many edits to achieve this.
  • Defer to people with experience. (Again, take advantage of your partner’s strengths.)
  • It helps to build accountability. If you know that you’re expected to get your part done by a certain time and the others are counting on you, you better do it.
  • Broadcast gratitude. Not only show gratitude to your partners, show gratitude to other writers.

 

(Collaborating sounds interesting. I think I’d like to take a stab at that just for fun.)

 

P1010257 (3)The last event was a panel discussion that was very informal. It was about publishing, marketing, and networking. Honestly, I was so caught up in listening, I forgot to take notes! All the speakers were charming, personable, and informative. It was worth every moment that I was there.

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Gale Albright helped put it all together and did the raffle.

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George answering questions between classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Terry and Scott

 

 

I’d like to say thank you to Book People and Scott Montgomery of Mystery People for hosting us!

 

A Brief Malice Domestic Recap

(Kaye George, prolific mystery writer and blogger, has granted us permission to borrow and publish a recap of her “A Brief Malice Recap” from her blog “Travels with Kaye” at http://travelswithkaye.blogspot.com/)

 

Kaye George at Malice DomesticIt was exhilarating and exhausting, as usual. This year I was there to let people know about two new books of mine that both came out in early April.

Here’s me at Malice Go Round, giving one minute of information on each book. This is an event described as Speed Dating, But with Authors. A pair of authors visits 20 tables of 8-10 people each, staying for 4 minutes and taking 1 minute to change tables. We tell the listeners about our books and give them bookmarks and sometimes other things so they’ll remember us. I paired up with Jim Jackson, James M. Jackson is his author name. His newest book is ANT FARM, in his Seamus McCree series. My new ones are FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE (by Janet Cantrell) and REQUIEM IN RED (by Kaye George). This event was Friday morning after I checked in Thursday night.

This picture was taken by Patti Phillips when I was at her table.

After Malice Go Round, I walked over to Booeymonger’s with Judy Penz Sheluk, who was at Malice for the first time. This sandwich and salad place is where the Guppies have gathered for lunch ever since the convention moved to Bethesda from Crystal City in Virginia. I got to chat with several Guppies there.

Later that afternoon, I met with my agent, Kim Lionetti. This is the only time I see her face to face, once a year. That night Berkley, my Fat Cat publisher took us out to dinner at The American Tap Room.

Early Saturday, 7:30, was the Sisters in Crime breakfast, where all the Guppies wear boas or reasonable facsimiles. Jan Rubens, who came with Jim Jackson, took this picture of ALL the Gups that attended. After I wore a feather boa one year and threw it away the same day, I wear my chartreuse scarf.

I admit I deflated a bit and stayed in the hotel for lunch, then went to my panel, “Death for Dessert: Sweet Murder” in the afternoon. Our admirable moderator was Nancy J. Parra and the panelists were Kathy Aarons, Maggie Barbieri, me, and Jessie Crocket/Jessica Estevao. We all write cozy mysteries with dessert recipes in the back. We discovered that Jessie is actually the only one of us who is a good cook. This photo was shot by Julie Hennrikus.

I raced to the wine and cupcake reception given by my agency, BookEnds, guided by Terrie Moran, who had also guided me to the dinner the night before. If these people keep guiding me, I’ll never learn how to get anywhere. Actually, I may not anyway, so I’m grateful for that!

Our panel signed books soon after that, then we did a cocktail or so, then the Banquet with the Agatha Awards.

I highly regret that I wasn’t able to make it to the New Authors Breakfast the next morning at 7. I chalked it up to getting older, but I came down with a cold and bronchitis as soon as I got home, so I’ll blame that instead. I’m making plans to hold a mystery conference/convention where nothing starts earlier than 10.

My own camera, as usual, stayed safely tucked inside my suitcase for the whole trip. Someday I’ll take pictures!

Another fun time talking to and seeing so many of my online pals!

Kaye's panel at Malice DomesticBreakfast at Malice Domestic where Guppies wear boas.

(Pictures) Top picture is Kaye George. Second picture is Kaye George’s panel at Malice Domestic, “Death for Dessert: Sweet Murder” (Photo by Julie Hennrikus). Third picture is Breakfast at Malice Domestic, where Guppies wear boas.

Why I’m Not a Journalist

The Good Old Days.

Let’s face it: Were things really that good?

Yes, they were. Those ’70s television sit-coms were the best things ever.

I’m binge-watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ran from 1970 to 1977. It was funny then and it’s just funny now.

One episode isn’t quite as funny as the others, though, because it reflects an aspect of my life I find particularly painful.

First season cast: (left top) Harper, Asner, L...

First season cast: (left top) Harper, Asner, Leachman; (left bottom) MacLeod, Moore, Knight. Last season cast: (right top) Knight, MacLeod, Asner; (right bottom) White, Engel, Moore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By CBS Television Uploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the scene in which news writer Murray Slaughter rushes home to operate on an ailing water heater, leaving associate producer Mary Richards to cover for him. If a bulletin comes in over the wire–

No problem, she says. The news is almost over, she says. If a story comes across the wire, I’ll just take it off the teletype machine, type it up, and get it to the anchor desk. It’s easy, she says.

She rolls a piece of paper into her typewriter, just in case.

Then a story comes in: A fire is threatening a munitions plant on the outskirts of town.

Mary tears off the bulletin, sits down at her desk, thinks… and thinks… types a few words…  erases… brushes away the crumbs… thinks… and thinks….

Producer Lou Grant, who’s been leaning over her shoulder, bouncing up and down on his toes, finally grabs the paper, runs into his office, types–like the wind–then flies out just in time to meet anchorman Ted Baxter leaving the studio. The show’s over. He’s already signed off–“Good night, and good news”–and the competition’s 7:00 o’clock news will get the scoop.


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That’s why I’m not a journalist. I’m not Lou. I’m not Murray. I’m Mary.

That, and because as a journalist, I would have to make cold calls: get people on the phone, request interviews, ask questions. I’m not comfortable talking to people I don’t know.

But mainly, it’s because editors would expect me to write fast. I don’t do fast. I’m slower than Mary Richards is. Sometimes getting words on paper requires moaning and weeping and riving of hair.

Looking back I wonder how I got to this point. Not the distaste for talking to strangers–I’ve never liked doing that–but the difficulty with writing.

In the beginning, I loved to write. By the time I was seven, I was writing long letters to grandmothers and aunts and cousins. Once when I was home from school, enjoying ill health, I used my father’s fountain pen to write letter after letter. Another time, I used a pencil with a point so soft and dull I doubt the recipients could read through the smears.

The summer I was eight, I spent June in Central Texas with an aunt and uncle while my mother was in Dallas with my grandmother, who was ill. My father, who remained at home in Del Rio, brought me a present one weekend: a ream of legal-sized paper.


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On a scale of one to ten, most children would have rated a ream of paper at minus 3. I gave it a twelve and used it to produce my own newspaper. Mostly I reported weddings in the cat and dog community. I described bridesmaids’ dresses worn by Blackie and Bootsie and Kitty and my fox terrier, Pat Boone. It was a devastating little parody of a small-town newspaper. That summer, I was a journalist.

Fairchild Mill Grindstone

Fairchild Mill Grindstone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But things changed. Writing stopped being easy. It stopped being fun. It became a millstone ’round my neck. It became nose-to-the-grindstone work. I turned into Mary Richards, thinking, typing, thinking, thinking, typing, erasing, thinking…

How did that happen? I suspect it had something to do with school and English classes, and writing pieces I didn’t want to write, on topics I knew nothing about. And having to outline before I wrote.

There’s nothing that strangles the free flow of words onto the page than having to organize your thought before you’ve had any.

Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington I...

Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington Italiano: Ritratto di E. M. Forster di Dora Carrington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lifetime later, I discovered novelist E. M. Forster’s remark on the relationship between writing and organizing: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

In other words, if you can write an outline, you’ve already written the piece in your head. 

But I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know it doesn’t have to be right the first time. I didn’t know I could just start writing and, that way, find out what I knew and what I thought before I tried to put those thoughts in order.

I didn’t know Nancy Peacock would one day write, “If I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.”

I didn’t know all I had to do was lighten up.

Now I’ve lightened a bit, and so has the millstone. When I write for my personal blog, I’m fluent–unless I’m trying to be serious, weighty, and profound.

English: Original caption:"NASA Remembers...

English: Original caption:”NASA Remembers Walter Cronkite. Legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite speaks in February 2004 at a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington honoring the fallen astronauts of the STS-107 Columbia mission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not do profound. I think profound, but I write shallow. I wish it were otherwise, but, to quote Walter Cronkite, that’s the way it is.

Some things haven’t changed, however. I will never fit in the little journalism box. I don’t write fast. I don’t want to strike up conversations with strangers. And the only facts I want to deal with are ones I make up myself.

So that’s why I’m not a journalist.

That’s why I write fiction.

Writers of fiction have deadlines. But they don’t have Lou Grant leaning over them, fidgeting while they think and delete and rewrite and delete and rewrite…

Writers of fiction–especially we pantsers, who write by the seat of our pants–can see what they say before they know what they think.

Sorry, Mary Richards, but that’s the way it is.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Room 223”: Mary takes a journalism class
(Resolution isn’t great, but the show is.)

Other high points:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Chuckles Bites the Dust: Chuckles the Clown goes to a parade dressed as a peanut, and an elephant… But it’s okay to laugh.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “The Lars Affair”: Sue Ann Nivens closes an oven door in a way formerly unknown to man.

I don’t understand the legalities of putting these programs on Youtube, but as long as they’re there, I’ll assume it’s okay to link to them. Enjoy.

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P. S. I don’t like being interviewed either. I always tell reporters to be sure they make me sound intelligent. One young lady told me she didn’t have to fix anything because I talk in complete sentences. I told her that was strictly accidental.

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–Posted by Kathy Waller