Happy 100th, Agatha & Hercule! and Many More

Posted by Kathy Waller

This month mystery lovers celebrate two of the most important figures in the history of crime fiction:

~ Agatha Christie, who was born on September 15, 1890, and whose mysteries have outsold everything except Shakespeare and the Bible; and

~ Hercule Poirot, who, having appeared in 1916 in Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, is marking his one hundredth birthday.

The Royal Mail is observing the occasion with a special stamp issue focusing on six of Christie’s novels. Each stamp contains clues and features related to a specific book.  “As the solving of mysteries is the focus of Christie’s art,” said a spokesman for the Royal Mail, “it is fitting that the public have to turn detective to find the hidden words and images in each stamp.”

A series of literary events–Agatha Christie Birthday Celebrations: Marking 100 Years of Creativity–is in progress, including those in Torquay, where Christie was born, and in Wallingford, where she lived at Winterbrook House from 1934 to her death in 1976.

Closed Casket, Sophie Hannah’s second Hercule Poirot novel, was released on September 6th, just in time for Hannah to take part in the festivities, including a book signing at Christie’s holiday home, Greenway.

(Kirkus Reviews on Closed Casket: As in The Monogram Murders (2014), Hannah provides both less and more than Agatha Christie ever baked into any of her tales. But the climactic revelation that establishes the killer’s motive is every bit as brilliant and improbable as any of Christie’s own decorous thunderclaps.)

And BBC One will produce seven more adaptations of Christie’s works.

Austin Mystery Writers, alas, couldn’t attend the festivities in England, so we celebrate here in our own small but sincere way–by letting the Queen of Crime speak for herself.

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*The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

English: The Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus, at ...

English: The Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus, at the corner of the walled gardens at Greenway House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Derek Harper is licensed under [CC BY-SA  2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

*Many friends have said to me, ‘I never know when you write your books, because I’ve never seen you writing, or even seen you go away to write.’ I must behave rather as dogs do when they retire with a bone; they depart in a secretive manner and you do not see them again for an odd half hour. They return self-consciously with mud on their noses. I do much the same.

*All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter…a marble-topped bedroom washstand table made a good place; the dining-room table between meals was also suitable.

*Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop… suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head.

*Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.

*There’s no agony like [getting started]. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off.

*One problem is that the interruptions are generally far more enjoyable than writing, and once you’ve stopped, it’s exceedingly difficult to get started again.

*One’s always a little self-conscious over the murderer’s first appearance. He must never come in too late; that’s uninteresting for the reader at the end of the book. And the dénouement has to be worked out frightfully carefully.

*I myself always found the love interest a terrible bore in detective stories. Love, I felt, belonged to romantic stories. To force a love motif into what should be a scientific process went much against the grain.

*God bless my soul, woman, the more personal you are the better! This is a story of human beings – not dummies! Be personal – be prejudiced – be catty – be anything you please! Write the thing your own way. We can always prune out the bits that are libellous afterwards!

*I know nothing about pistols and revolvers, which is why I usually kill off my characters with a blunt instrument or better with poisons. Besides, poisons are neat and clean and really exciting… I do not think I could look a really ghastly mangled body in the face. It is the means that I am interested in. I do not usually describe the end, which is often a corpse.

*If I were at any time to set out on a career of deceit, it would be of Miss Marple that I should be afraid.

*Three months seems quite a reasonable time to complete a book, if one can get right down to it.

*I am like a sausage machine. As soon as [I finish a novel] and cut off the string, I have to think of the next one.

*When I re-read those first [detective stories I wrote], I’m amazed at the number of servants drifting about. And nobody is really doing any work, they’re always having tea on the lawn.

*I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties.

*I am not mad. I am eccentric perhaps–at least certain people say so; but as regards my profession. I am very much as one says, ‘all there.’

*It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.

*If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, one would hardly see anybody.

*I married an archaeologist because the older I grow, the more he appreciates me.

*What they need is a little immorality in their lives. Then they wouldn’t be so busy looking for it in other people’s.

*A man when he is making up to anybody can be cordial and gallant and full of little attentions and altogether charming. But when a man is really in love he can’t help looking like a sheep.

*Mr. Jesmond made a peculiar noise rather like a hen who has decided to lay an egg and then thought better of it.

*Coffee in England always tastes like a chemistry experiment.

*I know there’s a proverb which that says ‘To err is human,’ but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.

*I can’t imagine why everybody is so keen for authors to talk about writing. I should have thought it was an author’s business to write, not to talk.

*People should be interested in books, not their authors.

*If anyone is really determined to loan you a book, you can never get out of it!

*I’ve got a stomach now as well as a behind. And I mean – well, you can’t pull it in both ways, can you? … I’ve made it a rule to pull in my stomach and let my behind look after itself.

*Writing is a great comfort to people like me, who are unsure of themselves and have trouble expressing themselves properly.

*I would like it to be said that I was a good writer of detective and thriller stories.

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Agatha Christie Birthday Celebrations
2017 DATES: 13TH-17TH SEPTEMBER

*****

For a everything about Agatha Christie, go to http://www.agathachristie.com/

And for more:

Quotations from Agatha Christie were drawn from following sources:

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Kathy Waller blogs at
Telling the Truth, Mainly,
and at
Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

Murder on Wheels Nominated for 2016 Silver Falchion Award

Posted by Kathy Waller

MURDER ON WHEELS, Austin Mystery Writers’ first crime fiction anthology, has been named a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2016 Silver Falchion Award.

Best Fiction Short Story Anthology
Ramona DeFelice Long, Fish or Cut Bait
Kaye George, Murder on Wheels
Joe McKinney, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine
Josh Pachter, The Tree of Life

71QiKRIkj+LThe Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award™ honors “the best books published for the first time that are readily available to a North American audience in any format from the past year.”

The idea for MURDER ON WHEELS came from a late-night group e-mail session.  As Kaye George explains in her Introduction, she and her husband had taken a ride on a large commercial double-decker bus, the Megabus, that runs between major cities.

“I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder,” Kaye writes. “There was only one problem–where to hide the body.”

One night, when all the AMWs were online, Kaye mentioned the idea. That led to members suggesting other vehicular settings: Bopped on a Bicycle, Creamed in a Car, Vaporized on a Velocipede… The thesaurus got involved, wordplay began, and an idea formed–we would all write stories around the theme of wheels. Once momentum started to gather, there was no getting off that bus.

So we wrote. Each of us contributed one or two stories. We were pleased to have two guest writers, Reavis Wortham and Earl Staggs, contribute as well. Ramona DeFelice Long edited the manuscript. MURDER ON WHEELS was published by Wildside Press in April 2015.

The final line-up goes like this:

A NICE SET OF WHEELS, by Kathy Waller
FAMILY BUSINESS, by Reavis Z. Wortham
ROTA FORTUNAE, by V. P. Chandler
MOME RATH, MY SWEET, by Gale Albright
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO ROUND AND ROUND, by Kaye George
BUON VIAGGIO, by Laura Oles
APORKALYPSE NOW, by Gale Albright
HAVE A NICE TRIP, by Kaye George
DEAD MAN ON A SCHOOL BUS, by Earl Staggs
HELL ON WHEELS, by Kathy Waller
RED’S WHITE F-150 BLUES, by Scott Montgomery

We’re also pleased to announce that member Laura Oles’ manuscript, THE DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, is a finalist for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award.

Winners of the 2016 Silver Falchion Award and  the Claymore Award will be announced tonight at the Dinner and Awards Banquet at Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference in Franklin, Tennessee.

We’ve all heard, It’s an honor just to be nominated. In this case, it’s not a cliche. Austin Mystery Writers are honored to be nominated for these awards.

We’re also delighted, ecstatic, effervescent, excited, flabbergasted, frolicsome, joyous, jubilant, thrilled, thunderstruck… and in a veritable tizzy.

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Kathy Waller blogs at MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)
Telling the Truth, Mainly and at
Writing Wranglers and Warriors.
Her short stories appear in
MURDER ON WHEELS and at
Mysterical-E

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.

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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

 

 

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?

 

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.


Embed from Getty Images

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.


Embed from Getty Images

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

–Posted by Kathy Waller

 

Interview With AMW Member Laura Oles

In continuing my series of interviews of fellow members of AMW, I’d like to introduce you to Laura Oles.

Austin Mystery Writer Laura Oles

VPC- Welcome, Laura! Tell us a little about your background.

LO- I grew up in an Air Force family and moved a number of times growing up.   I graduated from Texas State and met my husband while I was in college. His parents were both professional photographers and entrepreneurs who introduced me to the world of photography. At the time, I didn’t know an f/stop from a bus stop, but I loved the industry almost immediately. We were working in the time of early digital photography and had built a business that did some pretty cool things in that space. I also started writing for digital photography magazines—both consumer and trade— and did that for about fifteen years. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met work behind the camera. It remains my first love, although I detest having my photo taken. Ask anyone—the camera comes out and I duck behind a tree.   If awkward smiling were an Olympic sport, I would bring home the gold.

LRO-sanfran

Laura hiding from the camera.

VPC- I can vouch for that, readers. It’s true! So you’ve had some success with publishing nonfiction, why are you interested in writing fiction?

LO- Yes, I wrote Digital Photography for Busy Women back in 2005 and was so happy to see the reception it received in the photography field. Technology books become obsolete pretty quickly, so while it served its purpose then, it’s outdated now. Part of the cycle. Still, it came out an important time in the industry when people were leaving film for digital and had no idea what to do with their photos once the image had been taken. I had been covering related technology for industry magazines and the book was an extension of that education.

Nonfiction has its own challenges but I love it as much as I love fiction. I grew up reading fiction at an early age, getting lost in Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume, Reading fiction was the perfect escape for a kid that kept relocating to a new school, a new city. While I enjoy many genres, mystery, suspense and thrillers remain my favorites. Not only do I love getting lost in the worlds other people create, I also love creating my own worlds and occupying them with interesting personalities. My husband once told me that I talk about these characters like they’re real people. I guess for me, they are real people. Is that weird?

I also like reading both fiction and nonfiction. I often bounce between reading a business book and a mystery at the same time. So, right now I’ve got Charles Duhigg’s Smarter Faster Better and Mark Pryor’s Hollow Man in progress. I find it hard to commit to reading one book at a time. Both books are excellent. And my TBR list is a little out of hand at the moment.

 

VPC- I know that you also have three kids. Two of them are twins! How do you juggle writing, working and raising a family?

LO- I think one of the challenges of loving your work and loving your family is that you never feel like you’re excelling in either arena at the same time. Other people may have tamed this dragon but I have yet to do so. I try to compartmentalize as much as possible, but it’s difficult. My time is often split into small segments so I work at piecing them together to create something meaningful. For example, I’ve started and stopped answering these questions several times already because of a soccer tournament, Prom, and NHS volunteer projects. Granted, it’s easier than it was when my kids were little, especially when my twins were in the pre-school stages. I don’t think I drank of cup of hot coffee for a couple of years. With three teenagers, it’s a different kind of busy. My job is largely driving, coordinating schedules, counseling and proofreading my kids’ English papers.   I am very fortunate to have an awesome husband who, despite a demanding work and travel schedule, still makes most of the sporting events, concerts and other things that are important. If he has to drive from the airport to a volleyball game, he’s there.

With respect to writing, I think one of the most difficult things is shifting my brain from multi-tasking to creative mode. I have found that it is so important to protect that sacred space of allowing your imagination to roam, to get lost in the ‘what if’s of storytelling so the story has time to grow and take some turns. I really have to work at protecting that space. It’s very easy for real life to intrude and lay claim to it. (Link to Laura’s article about making the most of your time via the Pomodoro Method.) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

VPC: What aspect of writing do you enjoy the most?

LO: I have a fond affection for dialogue. I love writing interactions between characters, trying to find the proper beats where the back-and-forth feels authentic. Elmore Leonard remains one of my all time favorite masters of dialogue. He said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I think that’s very good advice. I also enjoy editing, maybe even more than writing the first draft, because it’s my opportunity to shape the story and figure out what works and what is getting in the way of the story moving forward.

 

VPC- How did you come to be a member of AMW?

LO-I met Kathy Waller and Gale Albright through our local Sisters in Crime chapter and was part of the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentor program in 2012. They invited me in and I have enjoyed their company and critiques ever since. Writing is a solitary process, so having like minded writers who want to discuss plot points, character development and setting is a wonderful thing. I would probably bore my non-writer friends out of their minds but the AMW people get me. And I’m grateful for it.

 

VPC- What are you working on now?

LO-I am currently revising my second mystery, Point & Shoot, which was named a finalist in the Writer’s League of Texas manuscript competition. I’m also working on a few short stories, including one for an anthology being put together by AMW for publication next year. I continue to write for the photo industry, although I’m taking a hiatus for a bit to focus on my fiction (no pun intended). I’m leaving for Malice Domestic this week (in Bethesda, MD) and am looking forward to spending time with some of my favorite writers and friends.   I’m also finally making it to Bouchercon this year in New Orleans. Other than that, I’m just trying to find time to write each day so I can keep my imaginary friends alive. They suffer if I’m gone too long. And I do, too.  I’m cranky if I’ve gone a bit without writing.  Even worse than when I skip coffee, and that’s saying something.

 

Hank & Laura

With Hank Phillippi Ryan at MD 2014

Malice laura and kaye

Laura and Kaye George at Malice in 2014

 

 

Article about Malice Domestic 2014

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the interview, Laura Oles! I’ve enjoyed these interviews. I like showing the world how diverse we are in AMW.

D-minus

MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)
First posted by Kathy Waller
on Writing Wranglers and Warriors
and on Telling the Truth, Mainly

Very long, but sort of necessary

On January 29, I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Two kinds of cancer are present, not a common occurrence. One kind is aggressive but easier to treat than the other, which is slow-growing. There is a lesion in each lung. One was biopsied, so we know which kind it is. My oncologist said there’s no reason to think the lesion in the other lung is the same kind, but since that lesion wasn’t been biopsied, we don’t know. The radiologist preferred not to biopsy it because it’s near the heart. Sticking needles near the heart isn’t a preferred protocol.

Before I go further, I must say this: Please don’t say you’re sorry. I don’t feel ill. I have no symptoms except one lump I can feel. I’m sorry–really, really sorry, big-time sorry–I’m in this fix, but I already know you’re sorry, too, so it’s okay not to say it. Hearing it can be a bit of a downer. 

I announced the diagnosis to a friend over lunch. We discussed the situation from all sides. Before we parted, she said, “You know this is an opportunity to write.” I said, Yes, I’d already thought of that.

Newbie writers repeatedly ask themselves–and each other–When can I call myself a ***writer*** without feeling like a fraud?

Answer: When no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, or what you’re feeling, you think, I can write about this.

From now on, when people ask what I do, or what I am, I shall say, in a firm and forthright manner, as if they’d better believe it or else, I am a writer.

I responded to the diagnosis with a combination of O God and Okaaaayyyyy…. The oncologist spoke of palliative care and statistics. I despise the word palliative, and the statistics were mind-boggling, and not in a good way. But I told David I’m going to fight, and he said he was, too. I said I was going to be happy while I fought. He said, “That’s what fighting is.” I’ve never heard a better definition.

When a navigator (survivor) from the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC) called to introduce herself, I told her I hadn’t read the stack of literature the surgeon had given me–a looseleaf notebook, a spiral notebook, and a passel of booklets–because after glancing over a couple of pages, I decided I didn’t need that much information. I said I guessed I was in denial. She said a little denial can be a good thing.

I dumped the stack of paper in David’s lap and invited him to read it. He did. He’s a good person. A brick, if I may use an old-fashioned word that sounds funny now but in this case isn’t. He takes copious notes, asks questions, knows what meds and chemo drugs I take, records appointments on his calendar, remembers what other questions we need to ask, and and and… He can recite most of the info from memory.

I’ve vowed several times to step up and take more responsibility for the fight. To date, I’ve learned which anti-nausea pill to take first and which to take if the first one hasn’t worked. I know chemo #4 is scheduled for April 15, too, plus a few other random facts.

On the not-denial side–and to date–for a few days after a chemo infusion, I feel kind of meh but generally okay. However, I become fatigued easily. But I forget about the fatigue and do too much and then pay for it. The oncologist said, “Yeah, everybody does that.” The first time, I paid with a day in bed. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stayed up half the night, three nights in a row, trying to write three hundred words for a guest blog, and paid for over-reach by thinking, What if the chemo doesn’t work?

The good old, What if?

The thought had already crossed my mind, of course, but this time it was accompanied by the line from It’s Always Something, Gilda Radner’s account of  her experience with ovarian cancer:

I had wanted to wrap this book up in a neat little package. I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

I’ve not read the book, but a long time ago, I read that sentence, and it stuck.

The BCRC navigator called again to see how I was getting along. We I met for iced tea and conversation, and I unloaded a couple of million words on her and said I would attend a meeting of a group the oncologist had strongly recommended (twice already). I perked up some more.

But then came the third visit with oncologist. He ordered a CT scan to check progress, as in, Is the chemo working?–and the possibility of No surfaced again. After a while, No morphed from possibility to probability. Then it began to feel like a prediction. More sighing, combined with an undeclared expectation of the worst.

But I knew that surgical oncologist Dr. Bernie Siegal says cancer patients must tell the truth, that if you go around claiming, I’m fine, just fine, your subconscious, which takes words literally, will believe you, and won’t tell your body it must fight. He recommends using a grading system: When you feel like C-minus, admit it. So I told people who asked, and some who didn’t, that I was a D-minus: scared to death.

Anyway. I had the CT scan yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. The oncologist had stressed that he wanted me to have the results by the second day at the latest–I like him a lot–so if we hadn’t heard by then, to call his office.

Later I realized that when you have a scan on Thursday, the second day is Monday, which leaves a weekend of not knowing in the middle.

But. Here’s where things get better.

The oncologist called yesterday afternoon, not two hours after we left the imaging center. One lung lesion has almost “resolved,” the other has reduced in size by nearly half, one lymph node has reduced significantly. However, a lymph node near where the bronchial tubes branch off from the trachea has enlarged significantly. He said it could be just “reactive,” doing what lymph nodes normally do when you have, say, a cold–but not to count on that. We’ll follow it closely, see what it does, and if it doesn’t shrink, figure out what to do next.

In short, this is a mixed result, but the oncologist is pleased. What pleases him pleases me. So I’m pleased.

Backing up a bit, at our second visit, the oncologist asked whether I had more questions. I said, “No.”

He said, “Okay. Well, your next question should be, ‘How will we know the chemo is working?’” I told him I’d assumed he’d get around to that when he was ready.

Now, Dear Reader, your next question should be, Why did it take you so long to write this post?

For a variety of reasons, I suppose. Because I’ve only now decided how to approach the topic. Because I wanted to hear some good news before writing. Because I wanted some grounding–I like certainty; even relative certainty–before writing.

Because I didn’t want to.

Because writing about any subject makes it real.

Years ago, I put off writing a letter because I’d have had to say in it that my father had died. I still haven’t written that letter. Writing it would have made the death real, and I preferred it stay as it was, hovering on the edge of reality.

Writing about Stage IV cancer would have made every detail, every statistic, real. I wasn’t ready for that.  Now it’s okay. It’s real, not like it was yesterday with No in the ascendant, but real with mixed but pleasing results.

Ending tacked on Tuesday night: That’s the post I wrote last Friday, or most of it. I started working on it during chemo infusion #3 and continued that evening and into the night. Chemo drugs seem to invigorate me. Sunday, however, the crash came. The “flu-like” symptoms the oncologist had been asking about finally hit. That lasted only thirty-six hours or so, and it could have been worse. However, it left me in a nasty mood from which I haven’t emerged.

Last Friday, this was a chirpy post about adventures in breast cancer. Tonight–or, as it will probably post tomorrow, the 30th, a day late–it’s a non-chirpy post written by someone who’s in a nasty, nasty mood. Because I took all the chirpy parts out.

I shouldn’t admit that. Even if it’s evident, I shouldn’t admit it. I should pretend to be chirpy. I really, really should. That’s what nice Southern girls are supposed to do. Chirp.

But I remember the name of the English honor society I joined in college: Sigma Tau Delta. Sincerity. Truth. Design.

And I think of Dr. Siegal: If you’re feeling D-minus, say you’re D-minus.

So what this post lacks in Design, it makes up for in Sincerity and Truth. Tonight, I’m D-minus.

Having said that, however, I think tomorrow I’ll be much improved.

###

Oh, all right. As long as I’m already late, I’ll mention one achievement: After watching selected videos on YouTube, I have learned to wrap a scarf into a turban. For one devoid of manual dexterity, that’s big. The first two times we appeared together in public, the turban stayed put, and I received compliments. During Friday’s chemo, filaments of fringe kept popping out. They looked like little bitty antennae.

Obviously, Friday’s edition was poorly engineered from the get-go, because as soon as I got home, one end slipped out and draped down the side of my face. Fringe crawled over in front of my glasses.

©MKW. Any person who even thinks about copying, reproducing, grabbing, stealing, purloining, or otherwise taking and placing, positioning, or using this photograph anywhere else in the Universe should recognize, understand, and know that if he, she, or it does, Something Bad will happen.

©MKW. Any person who even thinks about copying, reproducing, grabbing, stealing, purloining, or otherwise taking and placing, positioning, or using this photograph anywhere else in the Universe should recognize, understand, and know that if he, she, or it does, Something Bad will happen.

I reminded myself of Lord Byron in Albanian dress. Except Byron’s headgear probably isn’t called a turban.

And he’s absolutely gorgeous.

I look like I wrapped a scarf around my head, and shouldn’t have.

 

###

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

 

 

The Keep Writing Sign

“One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.” Gertrude Stein

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, with American flag...

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, with American flag as backdrop (1935 January 4) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m having a hard time getting this post started. First I wrote a sentence about buying Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing but stopped half-way through. Then I began a sentence about the book’s title, finished it, and realized it had nothing to do with my topic. I’m still trying to get it right.

For most of us, the first sentence isn’t easy. Neither is the second. Often, the third is troublesome. Sometimes the process just goes on and on.

Okay, scratch that. There’s nothing new in it. I was trying to avoid using the first opening sentence I thought of, because it might be a little off-putting, and I didn’t want you to stop reading. But it’s only fair to warn you:

The section in italics is boring. 

It’s not necessary to read the whole thing, but at least skim a few paragraphs, because if you don’t, you’ll miss the point I intend to make.

Below is a draft I wrote for another group blog, Writing Wranglers and Warriors:

I’d planned to write about Shakespeare today, but a picture of a dress fellow Writing Wrangler Nancy Jardine shared stopped me in my tracks.

Copyright restrictions don’t allow me to display a photo here, and I could never describe it adequately, so I’ll post the link to Blonde and Wise and to a picture of the Bright Red and Yellow Trench Dress so you can see for yourself.

Now. Isn’t that absolutely track-stopping?

I confess I had to look up trench dress. I’d never heard the term. Imagine my surprise when I realized I’ve had trench dresses of my own. Although I love nice clothes, the technicalities have never interested me.

The feature of this particular dress that caught my eye was the plaid. It reminds me of my childhood. There was never a plaid my mother didn’t love and wouldn’t wrap me up in.

And that brought to mind the annual back-to-school treks to Comal Cottons in New Braunfels, Texas, where we bought patterns, fabric, and all the necessary notions to make back-to-school clothes. Friends from up the street and their mother came, too.

We made the trip in July, and started early, to get a jump on the summer heat. The outlet store, about thirty miles from where we lived, was filled with bolt after bolt of cloth. Mother walked slowly, running her hand across every bolt–it seemed to me she touched every bolt–and saying, “Isn’t that pretty,” or, “That color would look good on you,” or, “That would make a cute…” I followed along. My job was to chime about the colors and patterns I liked, but I trusted my mother to do the right thing, and I was bored stiff. I agreed with everything.

Next step, patterns: Opening long metal file drawers, pulling out packets of patterns… Simplicity and Butterick patterns were the best; but McCall’s instructions were confusing. Then, mentally matching styles with material we’d seen, taking patterns to fabrics to make sure, checking yardage and price, reconsidering… I was sure we re-examined every bolt.

By this time my feet were killing me. (I was born with feet designed for sitting). Comal Cottons had no chairs. Three bored tweens, one with aching feet, needed chairs. With chairs, girls can read books. Without chairs, girls stand around, one of them shuffling from foot to foot.

Then, decisions: making choices, stacking bolts on big tables, watching clerks cut material straight across, perfectly straight. and folded them. Despite its name, Comal Cottons also sold wool.

And then, the notions: buttons, thread, bias tape, zippers, lots more considering.

Clackson-tartan

Clackson-tartan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And finally we headed for the car, bearing loads of raw material that over the next six weeks would be made into our fall wardrobes. Which in my case would include a plethora plaids. My mother loved plaids.

By the time I reached high school, plaids had retreated from entire outfits to wool skirts worn with solid color sweaters, and trips to Comal Cottons had ended.

Now, like much else of my childhood, the store is a memory. Today it’s found on postcards.

Thank you, Nancy. With just one picture of a plaid dress, you brought back part of my childhood.

On and on and on. To quote my former high school students, BO-ring.

But as I wrote that last line, the daily miracle arrived: A treasured memory of a different piece of fabric surfaced. And then, another miracle:  I realized the story about the shopping trip was just a warm-up, an introduction, brain rubble that had to be expelled before higher quality thought could emerge.

Acting on the epiphany, I found my bit of fabric, snapped a photograph, and added three short paragraphs to what was already there. Finally, I deleted the boring prelude.

The final version–part of it, anyway–looked like this:

Fellow Writer and Wrangler Nancy Jardine recently shared a picture of a beautiful plaid dress that reminded me of  some fabric I’ve saved for more than fifty years. After residing all that time in my mother’s cedar chest, it’s wrinkled but intact.

The fall I turned eleven, my father’s father, whom we called Dad, gave Mother some money to buy me a birthday present. She purchased the wool shown in the photo and made me a pleated skirt. When I was sixteen, she remade it into an A-line skirt and a weskit.

DSCN1342

Note: That isn’t the end. There’s one more paragraph. Read it, please, at https://writingwranglersandwarriors.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/a-scrap-of-plaid/ It’s important, too.

But back to the topic at hand.

To prevent further strike-throughs, I’ll get to the point promised in the Warning:

A boring (bad, terrible, appalling, disgusting, abhorrent, loathsome, etc.) first (second, third, etc.) draft is not a Stop Writing sign. It’s a Keep Writing sign, signaling that brain rubble is loosening up, that something better is in the offing–that the daily miracle will come. Because the only way to get rid of brain rubble is to write it out.

I wish I had more time to work on this. If I did, the daily miracle would arrive.

And this post might be on an entirely different topic. It would also contain less brain rubble.

My Writing Library: Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own

Advice to writers?

There’s a lot out there, some good, some bad.

Back up your computer. Back up all your files. All the time. That’s good advice. It comes from every writer friend I have. Recently I learned what truly excellent advice that is.

A Broom of One's Own - Nancy Peacock - Harper Perennial, 2008 - PB & Kindle

A Broom of One’s Own – Nancy Peacock – Harper Perennial, 2008 – PB & Kindle

Someday I’ll regain enough emotional stability to talk about it without twitching like a frantic Deputy Barney Fife.

Friends sometimes give bad advice, however. The one who told me I had to outline every scene before I began my manuscript had me stalled for months. The method worked for her but tied me up in knots. Don’t worry–he won’t recognize himself.

If you’re interested in writing. you’ve no doubt browsed the section of the bookstore or library for books about how to write. Shelves are packed with them. I’ve bought them for years, compulsively. Some have helped me, but some–not so much.

The least helpful preach rules that must be closely adhered to:

>You must outline before writing.

>You must get up an hour early to write before you go to work.

>You must write for a set time every single day. Even days when you sleep through the alarm, and the boss makes you stay late, and you get home and have to cook dinner, and then your five children tell you they promised you would make homemade brownies for their class Halloween parties, and the sixth says she’s given away her mermaid costume because now she wants to be a duck, and the stores don’t have any duck costumes, and you couldn’t make that child look like a duck if your life depended on it. And your husband is working in the Azores and won’t be home till Thanksgiving.

>And my #1 favorite: You must describe each scene of your projected novel on a 3″ x  5″ note card, and stack the cards in sequence, before you begin the manuscript. At any point, you may stack them in a different order, but you must never jump ahead and write a scene out of sequence, before you’ve written the scenes before it.

That Very Specific Commandment appeared in a book by a prominent author and teacher, so I thought I had to obey. For months I kept the paper companies in business by buying note cards, describing scenes, becoming seasick every time I tried to write, throwing the cards away–and buying new cards. I recently read the author now uses popular software when he composes. He didn’t mention note cards.

***

As I said before, some advice is good, and some isn’t. Each writer gets to decide for himself which is which, to find his own process and establish his own rules. We’re all different.

For that reason, the books I like are primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive, not How to but How I… Books in which authors tell stories about their own experiences, success and failures, methods, and beliefs about the writing life. If they slip in some How to…, it’s usually worth considering.

Perhaps the best-known and -loved of his genre is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a humorous and heartfelt memoir of her development as a writer and as a human being. Stephen King’s On Writing is another, a story of persistence crowned by his wife’s pulling the manuscript of Carrie out of the wastebasket and insisting he continue trying to get it published.

But there are other fine books that, though not so well known, are worth anyone’s time and attention.

The first came to my notice for a Story Circle challenge: Write and post a four-sentence book review. I chose a review copy of Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, & Life. From cleaning the houses of a variety of clients, Peacock extracts truths about about writing. Below is my original review.

English: Broom Suomi: Luuta

English: Broom Suomi: Luuta (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words About Writing, Housecleaning & Life so much that it’s taken me over two months and two missed deadlines to untangle my thoughts and write this four-sentence review, an irony Peacock, author of two critically acclaimed novels, would no doubt address were I in one of her writing classes.

“She would probably tell me there is no perfect writing life; that her job as a part-time house cleaner, begun when full-time writing wouldn’t pay the bills, afforded time, solitude, and the “foundation of regular work” she needed;  that engaging in physical labor allowed her unconscious mind to “kick into gear,” so she became not the writer but the “receiver” of her stories.

“She’d probably say that writing is hard; that sitting at a desk doesn’t automatically bring brilliance; that writers have to work with what they have; that “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love”; that there are a million “saner” things to do and a “million good reasons to quit” and that the only good reason to continue is, “This is what I want.”

“So, having composed at least two dozen subordinated, coordinated, appositived, participial-phrase-stuffed first sentences and discarded them before completion; having practically memorized the book searching for the perfect quotation to end with; and having once again stayed awake into the night, racing another deadline well past the due date, I am completing this review—because I value Nancy Peacock’s advice; and because I love A Broom of One’s Own; and because I consider it the equal of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird; and because I want other readers to know about it; and because this is what I want.”

Since I’m not limited to four sentences, I’ll add that I appreciate Peacock’s integrity. In an afterword, “Writing Advice from the Author,” she rebuts ten pieces of “free advice she’s received about being an author.”

About #10, “You have to network, network, network, and never forget that everyone you meet is a potential source for something besides friendship,” she counters, “People are not commodities. Enough said.”

And under “bonus advice on developing your own writing life,” she says,

“Be kind. Do not write for revenge. Do not vilify. If you are writing a memoir understand that you will have to write about your own role in whatever event you are exploring. Nothing is ever everyone else’s fault. A part of being kind is seeing the complexities of life and people, finding what is human in your story. This does not mean being dishonest.”

In its own way, A Broom of One’s Own is as amusing as Bird by Bird. Much humor comes from Peacock’s description of her relationship with clients and of their idiosyncrasies.

Asked whether she has any housecleaning tips, she says, “My most valuable advice is to never hire a writer to clean your house.”

I planned to review three books readers might like as much as I do, but I’ve run on long enough.

So I’ll wrap this up with a paragraph about the author herself, taken from her website:

“Nancy Peacock does not have enough fingers and toes (it’s the standard issue of ten of each) to count the number of times she’s quit this confounded writing business. Yet somehow she always comes back to it, and has finally come to accept it is not only her lot in life, but a damn good place to be too.”

The authors whose advice I respect most are ones like Peacock: kind, thoughtful, understanding, honest, and generous, willing to share what they know and to admit they don’t know it all.

They also believe the writing life is “…a damn good place to be too.”

***

Kathy

Kathy

Kathy Waller blogs at Kathy Waller–Telling the Truth, Mainly,
and at Writing Wranglers & Warriors.
Years ago she gave several stacks of her books about writing
to the library she directed.
She wishes she had them back.

***

 

Live Without Water - Nancy Peacock - Longstreet, 1996 - HB & PB

Life Without Water
Nancy Peacock
Longstreet, 1996
Hardback & Paperback

 

The Premise of a Mystery

A mystery needs a strong premise to succeed in today’s vast sea of manuscripts and newly published books. But what exactly is a premise? And how can you tell if the premise of your book is a good one?

photo (45)

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder defines the premise as the idea that promises to be an exciting or interesting story. It’s a short answer to the question, “What’s it about?” Its job is to make you want to read the book. Premise in this sense is similar to the back cover copy (blurb or description) of the book.

What’s a ginthewoodsood premise for a mystery? A child is murdered and the detective has to catch the killer. Not good enough. It’s a murder mystery, but why read this one?

Three children go into the woods. Two are murdered and the third is found covered with blood. He remembers nothing. Better. I might read it.

But that was 20 years ago. Now there’s been a similar murder in the same woods and the detective is the third child who survived the earlier crime and still has no memory of it. I will definitely sample that book.

A twenty-year-old body is found, that of a young woman. Twenty years earlier, a young man and his girlfriend planned to elope. When she failed to show up, he thought she’d jilted him. The young man is now a detective, and the body is that of his girlfriend.

faithfulplace

In the Woods and Faithful Place are excellent examples of one way to build a compelling premise for a mystery: an interesting crime plus a personal connection with the detective. The fundamental conflict of any mystery—murderer versus agent of truth and justice—is amplified by internal conflict.

Moreover, there is a built-in professional conflict for the detective, because he should recuse himself. In ITW, he keeps it a secret that he was the third child. In FP, he defies orders and investigates secretly on his own.

For Snyder, the premise is a what-if containing elements of both character and inciting incident. For John Truby (The Anatomy of Story), the premise is a short synopsis that includes the inciting incident, the main character, and the outcome.

His example, for the Godfather: “The youngest son of a Mafia family takes revenge on the men who shot his father and becomes the new Godfather.” The whole story, in a nutshell.

The two different senses of the term ‘premise’ are both widely used. In Story, Robert McKee discusses both concepts, which he calls, respectively, the inspiring idea and the controlling idea.

The story-in-a-nutshell of a mystery is the solution to the mystery. It is what I have elsewhere called the hidden drama. It’s the truth about the murder that is concealed in the enticing set-up.

A mystery needs a strong premise in both senses. The set-up states the mystery (someone has been murdered—why? By whom?) and the hidden drama, when revealed, must pack some sort of wallop to pay off the promise of a good story.

I cannot give you an example of the latter without spoiling a mystery. So that’s what I’m going to do. If you have not read Rebecca, STOP READING NOW! Read Rebecca and come back.

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively, in the 1940 film diected by Alfred Hitchcock

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively, in the 1940 film diected by Alfred Hitchcock

A shy, unconfident young woman marries a man whose first wife, Rebecca, has died in an accident. Rebecca was beautiful, talented, seemingly perfect in every way. How can our poor heroine ever compete with the ghost of this paragon?

Not the most powerful set-up (no mention of a crime), but the hidden drama—oh my. It turns out Rebecca was EVIL! Her husband hated her and murdered her! He got away with it—or did he? OMG!!! A witness comes forward! Breathtaking, page-turning suspense ensues. This book delivers on its premise like no other.

Cornwall

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

Call them hook and twist: a compelling crime to be solved and an underlying truth that is both unexpected and confounding. A really good mystery needs both.

Elizabeth Buhmann

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A woman who witnessed a murder lied on the stand. Twenty years later, the man who was convicted on her testimony has just been exonerated and released:

Lay Death at Her Door, by Elizabeth Buhmann