NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dumb Witnesses

No, I'm not being politically incorrect! 


By Daryl Anderson

I'm using the word dumb in its original meaning, as in being unable to speak. In mysteries, a dumb witness is one that has witnessed a crime, but is powerless to tell its story.

At least not in the conventional manner.

Perhaps the most beloved dumb witness is Bob the Jack Russell Terrier from Agatha Christie's novel Dumb Witness. As Bob was with his mistress on the night she was murdered, Poirot is certain the little fellow knows the truth and eventually the great detective "hears" what the dog has to say. 

However, a good dumb witness is more than a plot point. As with any other element of the story, it can be used to develop character, inject pathos or even add a little humor. It's also part of a long and revered tradition in Western literature as the first dumb witness appeared way back in Homer's Odyssey.

I'm speaking of Argo, Odysseus' faithful dog.

When Odysseus returns home in disguise only Argo recognizes him. The faithful dog wags his tail, but lacks the strength to go to his master. Fearful of betraying his identity, Odysseus dares not acknowledge Argos. 
Odysseus and Argo
 Odysseus entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years.
There is something so very human and heartfelt in this passage. Through Argo, Odysseus is more human.

A recent impressive use of the dumb witness is found in Donna Leon's The Waters of Eternal Youth. In the novel Commissario Guido Brunetti is asked to investigate a cold case from fifteen years earlier in which a young girl is attacked and subsequently brain damaged. Before her injury, the girl was an avid equestrian whose greatest joy was her beloved horse Petunia. In the novel's poignant conclusion, the girl is brought to the farm when Petunia now lives. 
In an almost transcendent scene, the old horse and damaged girl recognize one another.

Now, we move from the sublime to the ridiculous.

I'm a dog person and so when I sat down to write my first mystery Murder in Mystic Cove, I knew a dog was going to play a crucial role in the plot. Sure enough, the victim's elderly pug Jinks witnesses his master's murder. Because the victim was such a nasty piece of work I originally pictured Jinks as an extension of his master in order to emphasize the victim's loathsome nature. Anyhow, I pictured Jinks as something like this--

Jinks, first draft
It didn't take long for me to switch tracks and soften some of Jinks' rough edges. Though the elderly pug didn't exactly became lovable, what with his chronic halitosis and excessive gas, he did become a pitiable creature, which helped humanize my very unlikable victim and add a bit of pathos to the tale.
Jinks, final draft


I hope I've proven that dumb witnesses aren't dumb at all but very smart. 

Oh, and I'd love to hear about some of your favorite dummies.

Friday, July 21, 2017

SO LONG, FAREWELL, AU REVOIR…

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu
Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu...



I’m feeling a little nostalgic lately, knowing that this will be my last post at Not Your Usual Suspects, at least for a while. I’ll certainly be dropping by to check out what my NYUS colleagues are up to and celebrate their latest accomplishments.

So, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past, especially once I realized that I’ve been posting here for seven years! Much of that time, I’ve felt like a bit of a fraud, pretending I’m a “real” writer while my NYUS colleagues (the real writers) go about their amazing careers.

But I sat down and counted, and since 2010, the year On Her Trail came out from Carina Press, and the year I “met” some fabulous writers (I’m looking at you in particular Maureen Miller, Toni Anderson and Shirley Wells), I’ve published 11 novels, 25 short stories, and two collections. It would interest me greatly to know how many novels the NYUS writers have published collectively. I’m sure it’s enough to fill a small library!

So, see you around. Here’s to another fabulous seven years for NYUS.




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Come Travel With Me



I love to travel. I suspect part of the reason for that is my upbringing as a military child. My dad was in the Air Force and we were transferred to many different bases during my childhood. One of my fondest memories of travelling was when my family moved to the small island of Okinawa, Japan. I spent three years there attending high school and made some amazing memories and wonderful, lifelong friends.

So, it's probably no surprise to those who know me well, that my mystery novels are often filled with travel to exciting and different locales. In fact, just a week ago, I returned from a 10-day trip to Paris and London. Of course, the entire time I was there, I was mentally taking notes, wondering what situation I could create to get my characters there as soon as possible. Here are just a few of my favorite pictures from my trip.








If you've read any of my geeky mysteries, you'll see how many places I take her and the gang. From Italy to Africa to Hollywood and Egypt ... those are just a few places so far. To finish off this blog, I'm going to share a trailer for my Lexi Carmichael mystery series that will show you just how much I enjoy traveling, even in my writing life. So, if you haven't had a chance to check out the series... Come Travel with Me! 

By the way,  where is the ONE place you've always wanted to travel?

video


Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting Prepped for RWA Nationals

The Romance Writers of America national conference is about a week away and preparation around here has shifted into high gear. For those who don’t know, the RWA is a national organization that helps romance authors with information and resources on the business and creative sides of writing. It’s a great group of people, and a strong and supportive community.

The national conference is the once a year opportunity for people who mostly communicate electronically to meet in person. This time it’s in Orlando, Florida. My wife, Zoe Archer (AKA Eva Leigh), and I have gone over the last several years, but this one is particularly exciting for me. My book One Minute to Midnight has been nominated for a RITA award in Romantic Suspense and the ceremony to announce the winners will be on Thursday night of the conference.

So really, the conference prep started soon after I found out I was up for the award. The people at our local Y have definitely seen a lot more of me in the run up to the ceremony. Zoe has been nominated a couple times before and I’ve attended with her, so I know how good everyone looks on the big night out.

Which means: fancy clothes. I’m not one to dress up, so it took a while to put together what I'm wearing to the ceremony. But clothing choices to the rest of the conference are important as well. You want to be comfortable, but also to represent your style. Can’t dress too warmly for summer, but there’s always air conditioning, making layering important.

And then there’s the shoes. Prepare to spend a lot of time spent on your feet, chatting with people at the bar, or navigating through the hotel corridors. Sometimes it’s a hike just to get from your room to the central area of the conference.

After all your sartorial choices are settled, the next packing challenge is swag. For the first time, I’m going to be signing at the massive literacy autographing book sale. Some authors go all out with swag, creating unique environments made of balloons, tassels, stuffed animals, riding crops, etc, in what space they’re allocated on the table. I don’t know which approach works best, but a minimalist aesthetic is what fits me best: A pen cup with custom pens, a bowl of chocolates.

Other obligations at the conference require different plans as well. Zoe and I will be giving a panel on Mindfulness for Writers, and while the handouts are finalized, we still need to practice our talk a couple of times in order to refine it and make sure we’re getting our points across clearly.

Other packing essentials include:
-A notebook and a pen you enjoy writing with. There are plenty of pens and paper to be had at the conference, but there’s so much good insight on the panels to be written down, you’ll want to be using your personal setup. Or bring a laptop or tablet if that’s best for you. I’ve seen a lot of people clicking away on their keyboards during panels.
-Hand sanitizer. Sometimes there isn’t a moment to wash your hands before rushing off to a meal.
-Lip balm. Air conditioning always dries me out.
-Snacks. With a full calendar, meals don’t always come around when you’re needing them. I like to keep a couple protein bars in my day bag just in case my blood sugar starts to crash.
-Band aids. Depending on what kind of fancy shoes you’re bringing.
-A flask of booze for the room for a quiet moment before sleep after spending all day interacting with interesting, creative, excited, encouraging people.
-A readiness to approach strangers and strike up a conversation, based only on what you can learn from their name badge. Along with this, bring your desire to share your experiences and ideas with others. That’s one of the great ways this community grows and evolves, by listening and sharing.

If you’re attending RWA this year, I hope I see you there. Or if you’re only hitting up the big signing, stop by for some chocolate.

Here’s the LINK for the conference.

And the LINK for the signing.

Did I forget anything? How do you prep for conference?

Friday, July 14, 2017

This Summer, At Writers Camp...



My first week at writers boot camp—cleverly disguised as an idyllic online summer camp, with cabins and marshmallows and even a lake—started off with a bang. But now, as I find myself thousands of words behind on my new manuscript at the end of Week Two, it’s turned into something more like a whimper. But I’m not discouraged. No sirree Bob!

For those who may not be familiar with Camp NaNoWriMo, it’s a one-month virtual writers marathon held each April and July. It’s related to the larger annual National Novel Writing Month in November, where you have thirty days to write 50,000 words. (That’s 1666 per day—notice anything ominous about those last three digits?) In the camp version, you can set your own goals, but I thought it would be inspiring to go for a midsummer Five-Oh-Thousand. Was that a mistake? Well, maybe. But when the writing gets tough, the tough get going, right? (Answer: Yes. Straight to the fridge for an ice cream break.)

Every night after Taps (you just hum it to yourself), campers post their word counts for the day. And unless you specified a preference for a private cabin, you’re sharing a bunkhouse with up to 19 other writers. Cabinmates share cheers and group sprints and write-ins—and there’s always plenty of encouragement for those campers who have a little (ahem) trouble getting started…or keeping up the furious pace.

Camp NaNoWriMo isn’t supposed to be stressful, of course. It’s fun as well as productive. In addition to picking your own word count, you can set your own writing schedule. You can write at the crack of dawn (nooo, thank you, rooster fans) or anytime until the stroke of midnight.  Some days, between my day job and procrastinating in just about whatever way I can think of, I don’t sit down to the keyboard until almost 11 pm. So I have to fudge the cut-off time just a teensy bit and write til the wee hours of the next morning. My cabinmates agreed that wasn’t cheating, really. The first day I only got in a thousand words—just 666 short. Hmm…


(via Giphy)

Luckily, the word count is cumulative, so you can write however many words you want each day. And by the time July 31st rolls around (it comes up fast, trust me), you have a pretty decent chunk of a brand new, spanking manuscript. You might need to collapse and take the month of August off, of course, but at least you’ll have bragging rights.

There’s another incentive, too: In addition to nifty badges you can earn (yep, former Girl Scout here), there’s a little target graphic with an arrow that moves closer and closer toward the bullseye to show your outstanding progress. As it happens, my favorite activity at actual summer camp (next to reading my way through the Nancy Drew library) was Archery. I’m not Katniss from the Hunger Games or actress/Olympian Geena Davis, but I might work a quiver full of arrows into a murder mystery sometime. That’s me on the far right.



So now it’s Week Three—time to glom myself to the keyboard and attempt to catch up on that elusive word count. The important thing is DON’T EVER GIVE UP!!!! Today my cabinmates and I are going to try to pound out as many words as the fastest writer in camp. If all else fails, we may just short sheet her bed.


(via Giphy)

Anyone else out there at writers camp this summer? Let us know—or share your favorite camp memory!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

OPPOSITES ATTRACT


 High concept ideas? What are they, and what do they mean to your work as an author?
Well, recently, my fellow RWA member and bestselling author, Heather Burch, analyzed the h.c. approach to novel writing and agreed that I could share her thoughts with you.

Like so many good ideas, h.c. can be expressed in a single statement: A high concept is two worlds that should never meet but do. For example, Jurassic Park—Live dinosaurs meet modern man. Or Love Story—Young woman with everything to live for meets death.
Also, most reality shows are h.c. Take Duck Dynasty. What’s the unexpected element there? Well, glory be, it’s the rich rednecks, a current take on the old TV show The Beverly Hillbillies.
 
Not all opposites, however, amount to a high concept. While Cinderella has the necessary elements of two worlds colliding, the story is so familiar it offers no surprises. But how about this? A single mom is struggling to make ends meet when her child is killed in a drive-by shooting. To avenge her child, she takes on the mobs. Or this? Your character goes in for a latte; somebody else drinks it and dies. What should not happen, happens. Your character is thrust into a situation she never asked for and doesn’t want to be in. Think of the tension this creates!
Another example is Allied, the recent Brad Pitt/ Marion Cotillard flick. A WWII British soldier falls in love with a German spy. And closer to home, in my soon-to-be-released mystery, Murder on Pea Pike, a country girl outfoxes a city slicker.

What makes a h.c. interesting is not the event itself but what goes wrong in the characters’ lives. Your heroine has to feel she can’t go there again. It hurts too much. It’s too threatening, too dangerous. Despite all these fears, she plunges into what frightens her, into what is inherently dangerous and that energizes both her and your story.
Another important point: By thinking in high concept terms, you may well discover your story’s tag line, the single statement that sums up your novel. Consider what you’ve written. What polar opposites have you pulled together? Find out and you have your tag line, your sales hook. Or how about this? Create the h.c. tag line first and you may have a capsule idea for your next book.

Here are a few I played around with:

Football hero meets crippled girl.
Tough commando meets war-hating pacifist.

Ex-con meets former nun.

Murder suspect meets victim’s sister.
Millionaire playboy meets bag lady.

Starving novelist meets celebrity chef.
I think my tries got better as the list went on.  That last one kind of has potential. What do you think?

Finally, to revert to my old teaching persona, I’ve come to realize that high concept is somewhat akin to metaphor, the yoking together of dissimilar objects and treating them as if they were one--one good, strong sales pitch!  

LINKS: Camel Press, Amazon, Heather Burch, Murder on Pea Pike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 





 
 

 
 

 

 


 


 

 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Real Life Crime

How many of you have ever been burglarized? Your home? Your car? You know that feeling when you open the door and know immediately that something is off/wrong?

It happened to me for the first (and hopefully ONLY) time a few months ago. The outrage, the feeling of being violated… well, let’s just say I was HUGELY, COLOSSALLY pissed and leave it at that, because I could write a novel alone on the anger I still feel.

I will say this. Writing suspense and having done research and interviewing police, detectives and private investigators may have rubbed off on me.

For example:
1.     I knew how they attempted to enter my house and couldn’t, and how they ultimately did enter.
2.     I knew a woman was involved.
3.     I knew in what part of my house they were interrupted.
4.     I’m fairly certain they were high at the time.




Granted some of that stuff was easy to determine, I’ll admit. Obviously they removed the window screen and used this little orange wooden piece to scratch it out. The window itself was scored with something sharp as if they tried to cut through it. Easy enough to figure out and also leads me to believe they were stoned enough to think they could cut or slice through double-paned glass. (Brilliant? I think not.)

But, how did I know a woman was involved? I won’t say how exactly other than size played a factor in breaking into my house. It was either a woman or teenager. When I was finally able to clean my kitchen after police left, I discovered glitter on my floor. I had cleaned house the day before (Sunday), so it wasn’t left over from anything I might’ve had in the house. No holiday cards or anything that might’ve had glitter on it. Somehow that glitter came with thieves attached.

The one thing I’m always reminded of when plotting a story is to avoid something too contrived with forced circumstances or coincidence. But I’m here to tell you that thieves make mistakes and all those little puzzle pieces to a crime can come together to nail a suspect. (Coincidence happens. That’s why it’s a word in the dictionary.) My case is one of those.

Ten days after the burglary, the police knocked on my door at 10:30 pm. Scared the crap out of me as I was working away in the front room near the front door. The police had just come from a vehicular crime scene and had property with our names on it. When I explained we had been burglarized a week before, it gave our detective more information to work with.  Now we had a name (the car owner, since the driver and passengers ran after the accident) to either potentially go with the sets of fingerprints lifted from my house or at least a beginning as far as having a suspect. (BTW- I should mention the fingerprints lifted from my home have yet to be released.)

Cut to several weeks later and I’m informed of another vehicular incident where a suspect is arrested. What did police find in his car? Our checkbooks and our 27” desktop computer among other things. Now we have an actual person! A name! Trust me, I was a very happy camper with this news…. Until I discovered he was released before they were able to determine that the stuff in his car was stolen! Now I’m pissed again. My first thought was why didn’t they call me immediately? Because they’re busy. I get it, kind of. The wheels of justice move soooo slooowwwwlllyyy. Ugh.

But wait… the story continues. Another couple of weeks, I receive ANOTHER phone call… The suspect was arrested again! For what, I don’t know and the police wouldn’t tell me, but now they have him for my burglary and the good news is he actually confessed to robbing my house.

Honestly, I think the only reason I’m able to write about this is because the man was caught.  The woman who helped him – yes, there was a female involved as I had already figured out – is still at large, but I think her karma will find her one day soon. (We have a first name so it's a start.) 

Anyway, my point to all this is that anything can happen when you’re crafting a story and need to pull the ends together to either wrap it up or lead your characters down a different path. What were the odds that the guy who burglarized my house would be arrested a second time so soon after getting out after his first arrest? What were the odds of catching him with any of my stuff or catching him at all?

Once I had his name, my daughter and I did more digging. The Internet is an amazing, scary thing.  We found him all right. And found where he’d sold our laptop computers online. I realize my jewelry is forever gone and that sticks hard with me. Unlike others, I’m not able to just turn the other cheek with this dude. I want him to pay and pay hard for everything he stole from my family and me.  Some areas are just not gray and this is one of them.

I eagerly anticipate my first court date with this fool and I can only hope I have a judge who’ll let me say a few words about the whole ordeal.

I guess the moral of this post is that (hopefully) justice is served when the pieces fall together.


May your pieces always fall together whether it be in real life or your story.

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