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. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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

NOTE: the blog is currently dormant but please enjoy the posts we're keeping online.

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Monday, May 30, 2011

Using Your Travel Experiences as Inspiration

Good morning on this Memorial Day! I just want to take a moment to thank all our wonderful military men, women and their families who sacrifice so much so that we might have our freedom and liberty. On this Memorial Day, and on every other day, we honor your service and all that you do.

For those of you who know me, I still have my full time job in New York City. It involves a lot of long hours, but I love what I do. I've met lots of interesting people and have also been able to visit many different countries thanks to the various cases on which I've worked.

I like to travel in general and if the money situation allows, I will visit the locations I plan on using in my novels so that I can get a first hand experience for the locale. Even when I'm on a business trip, as soon as business is over I put on walking shoes and check out the sights in the city. Besides all the tourist locations, I make a point to visit where the locals will hang out and shop. I'll spend some time browsing through local shops and markets and make it a point to try out new foods and beverages.

While I'm doing that, I'll also keep an eye out for how the locals dress, any interesting looking individuals and of course, anything unusual that inspires my mind for a story.

My two Carina Press releases, AZTEC GOLD (Jan 2011) and THE FIFTH KINGDOM (July 2011) were inspired by a series of business trips to Mexico City. I had the opportunity to visit Teotihuacan, a pre-Columbian city which boasts some of the tallest pyramids in the world, the Avenue of the Dead and beautiful murals. You can click here to read more about that visit and a hair rising climb up the pyramid.

But I also spent time in the city itself and got to visit the lovely Chapultepec Park, the museum with the Sun Stone as well as try lots of unique foods, like huitlacoches, a corn fungus that tastes much like a truffle.

Much like the pyramids inspired AZTEC GOLD, the Sun Stone got me thinking about ancient relics and what would happen if one had mystical powers and got into the wrong hands. That's how THE FIFTH KINGDOM was born. In THE FIFTH KINGDOM, a sexy CIA Agent has to find a kidnapped archeologist who may have found Montezuma's tomb. To do so, he is forced to rely on the missing woman's daughter, an expert in Mexican culture who was abandoned by her mother as a teen.

The sparks fly between the two and so does the adventure as they go on the trail of the missing mother and the terrorists who are jonesing for something which may be in Montezuma's tomb.
Many of the scenes in the book are based on the experiences I had while in Mexico and I hope you will enjoy the real life sights, sounds and flavors that I've put into the novel.

That's one of the reasons I like to visit my locations. You can add so much more realism into the stories when you've actually have been there. I think readers can sense that and I love hearing from someone that when they actually went there it was just like I had depicted it in the novel.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by! If you'd like to see more photos from my various trips, take a moment to stop by my Facebook Fan Page at or visit my website at I post many of my photos there for you to enjoy and share in the experience.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Winners from our chat day at Love Romances Cafe

Did we have fun at Love Romances Cafe yesterday, or what? :)

Plenty of excerpts, chat, musings on mystery, and ... weather reports from around the globe!

Look out for our next chat day in July, we'll post the date nearer the time.

Here are the winners in the Prize Draw. I've contacted you all to ask for your email address so I can let you know the titles available. Thanks again for joining us! :)

Terra, Teresa, Melinda, Cathy, Annette, Margie, Kelly, SiNn, Paula, Lori, pomma wolf, and Pender.

Yes, we've been very generous, but the authors are keen to share their exciting titles - as well as their first experience on Yahoo as a group :).  I think we took to it like a duck to water!

Clare London

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Join the Not Your Usual Suspects authors today at Loves Romances Cafe for excerpts and loads of prize giveaways all day Saturday, May 28!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Advice needed!

So it's my turn to post and I bet you're expecting me to show off the wonderful cover for my August release from Carina Press, Dead Silent. Well, no. The Carina artists are awesome and every cover is spectacular. I also suspect I've bored people to death by going on - and on - about my cover. So I'm not going to say a word about it. Not a word. Zilch.

Instead, I'm asking this group of mega-talented authors for advice. Recently, I've given talks to writers' groups and hosted a fiction writing workshop. There was one question that came up at every event. People stared at me, breath suspended, as they waited for my words of wisdom. The question?

What's the best piece of advice you could give a writer?

For what it's worth, this is how I reply:

1/. Write. Sounds obvious, yes? Well, it is. Write, write and write some more. Don't plan to write. Write. Write every day, even if you can only spare fifteen minutes. Write even when garbage is spewing from your fingertips. Writing is like a muscle. The more it's exercised, the stronger it becomes. Also, remember that words can be moved around, deleted or made stronger. It's impossible to edit a blank page.

2/. Read. Read recently published books in your chosen genre. See what works and what doesn't. Ask yourself what made the editor choose that particular book over the hundreds that land on her desk or in her Inbox.

3/. Write from the heart. Forget the fad that's currently taking the literary world by storm. By the time you've written something similar, people will have forgotten and moved on. Write the story you would love to read. If you're true to yourself, chances are an editor will love your story too.

4/. Stick to "he said" or "she said". "He said" belongs to your character. There's no need for you, as author, to go interfering.

5/. Remember that we write because it's what we love doing. Don't let deadlines or editorial requirements steal your passion.

I could go on about adverbs, cliches and those pesky words like "just" that, um, just creep in, but I'll leave it there. What advice can you offer? I'd love to know.

I'm off to deal with my own deadline now. Oh, wait. I hear voices. You want to see what? You do? Really? Hey, you're hurting my arm. Come back here with that chocolate. Okay, I give in. You win. It's here:

Dead Silent releases on August 22. :-)

Romance and Mystery Mayhem tomorrow ...!

Come on over on SATURDAY 28 May to Love Romances Cafe to meet me and the other authors of the Not Your Usual Suspects Blog.

ET from 12 noon.

Not Your Usual Suspects is a group blog featuring an international array of authors writing mysteries, suspense and romantic suspense. The premises and story lines are different than your “run of the mill” mysteries as you can tell by our group’s name. We tend to write what is considered outside the box and are published by Carina Press as well as other publishers.

We'll be chatting about what we love in our genre and what challenges we face. We'll also be sharing excerpts from our books and news about any new and upcoming releases.

And Prizes!

The generous authors have offered a FREE download to lucky visitors. Just drop in to the LRC Group tomorrow and add your name to the Prize Post, to be entered into the draw for any one of these great, best-selling titles:

Toni Anderson's Sea of Suspicion or Storm Warning
Clare London's Blinded by Our Eyes or The Tourist
Josh Lanyon's This Rough Magic or Snowball in Hell
Marcelle Dube's On her Trail or The Shoeless Kid
Kathy Ivan's Desperate Choices
Wynter Daniels : choice of backlist
Carol Stephenson's Courting Disaster or Courting Death
Maureen Miller's Endless Night
Julie Moffett's No One Lives Twice and (out in June) No One to Trust
Julie Wachowski's In Plain View

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I've been puzzling for the last week or so about what to write for this blog. We've covered so many great topics here at Not Your Usual Suspects, it can be difficult to try to come up with something witty and interesting to blog about. Certainly not my life, that's for sure. (Big evil grin.) Dull and boring, the daily grind recently has left its mark on my creativity. Long hours of working, day in and day out, has drain any desire to sit in front of the computer and let the words flow.

Earlier today, though, I read a blog post by one of my DARA chapter-mates about why she writes in first person. That got me thinking. What makes our creative brains pick one point of view (POV) over another?

I think some stories cry out for first person point of view. Urban fantasy, paranormal, chick lit and even some young adult scream for the story to be told from only thee main character's point of view. The writer can literally become the eyes and ears of the main character, using their point of view as the camera that sees everything and imparts it to the reader. First person point of view can sometimes seem to delve deeper into the main characters feelings, hopes, and dreams; but, we can't forget all the other players in the story either. As authors, we have to make sure their emotions are portrayed realistically and can be interpreted by the main POV character.

Me, I tend to write just about everything in third person. I like being able to immerse myself and the reader into the thoughts and emotions of more than one character throughout the story. When I'm writing a scene, I try to decide who gets the most impact from that particular scene and write it from their perspective. Does the heroine have more to lose? Then I'm inside her head, spilling her emotions on the page for the reader to see. Will the scene cause the hero moments of torture or agony? Let's spread his POV across the pages. Even at times, when it's appropriate, let's hop into the villain's head and take the reader on a roller coaster ride through what he thinks, what he feels.

Since I write in third person, I'm including a small excerpt from Desperate Choices, available now from Carina Press, as an example. Hopefully you can see that we're in Max (the hero's) point of view, seeing what he sees, feeling the emotions that he feels.

Behind the wheel of the car, Max angled his head and watched Theresa. She sat silent and unmoving, just as she had since they’d left her shop. His gaze slid slowly along the length of her, and he definitely liked what he saw. He never paid much attention to her when she and Remy first began hanging out together. She’d been way too young. He’d rarely been home then, staying in Shreveport while attending LSU.

Max didn’t really understand Theresa and Remy’s friendship. They were so diametrically different, yet their friendship endured all these years.

Theresa had spent a lot of time at their house, all the holidays, birthdays, even family reunions. She was practically a member of the family, at least to everybody but him. He’d never had the remotest familial thought about her. When he looked at her, she set him aflame.
Every damn time there was a get-together, she’d been included. Until about a year ago. Things started to change then. He stopped seeing her as Remy’s best friend. Instead he saw a sexy, vibrant, eye-catching woman. A woman he wanted in a primitive, gut-wrenching and wholly masculine way. His body ached with wanting her. He’d been avoiding her like the plague ever since. A relationship was a complication he couldn’t afford in his life right now.

“Pull over here.” Her voice drew his attention back to the road. He angled the car over to the side of the pavement. Coasting to a stop, he swiveled to face the passenger side, watching Theresa closely.

“Why here?” he asked in a deceptively quiet voice, careful to betray nothing. An amazing coincidence. She’d told him to stop at the exact location the police discovered Tommy’s cellphone. Just a lucky guess. Doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Opening the passenger door, Theresa stepped from the car. Max got out and walked around the front to join her where she stood. He watched her take several steps forward and then backtrack. Her eyelids were shuttered, as if by closing them, she could obscure her surroundings.

For a few tense moments, he watched and waited. In a whispered tone, she finally spoke. “Give me the cellphone.”

Quiet resolve and determination filled her face. Reaching through the passenger-side window, he plucked the manila envelope from the front seat and handed it to her. Then he stood back and watched.

Omniscient POV isn't used as much these days. I'm not even sure I could try to do it justice in describing it. All those you can, you might, you should . . . so mostly its first person POV or third person POV.

I'm curious. In writing romantic suspense, suspense, and/or mysteries, which do you prefer to write in? Better yet, which do you prefer to read? Tell me all about it . . .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Paris and Other Pleasures - A Pretty Good Year So Far

My trip to Paris was spectacular and, if I remember correctly, I promised to tell you all about it. If I didn’t, just brace yourself because I’ve hardly had any other subject of conversation since!

I flew into Frankfurt where The Husband came in to meet me, and we spent one night in Landsthul (where he is stationed) before taking the ICE train to Paris. It’s a high speed train, doing the trip from Saarbrucken in just barely over three hours, but there’s not much sense of ultra high speed.

Paris is everything you’d expect it to be – crowded and fancy and plain and modern and belle époque and… well, you get the idea. There’s no one word to describe Paris but magical. It’s hard to believe that people go to school and get jobs and work every day and cook dinner and shop for mundanities and walk their dogs in such a magical place, but they do. Although we tend to have an idealized view of it, Paris is a city, a living organism like any other city. It’s just prettier.

We stayed at the Cercle National des Armees – the French military officers’ club – and a treat it was. Beautiful, with lots of marble and gilt and red carpets and two floors of dining/party rooms… almost every night there was some sort of ‘do’ there, with men in fancy uniforms and women in long dresses – and lots of soldiers carrying great big guns! The elevators were tiny, about half the size of a card table – two adults and two rolling suitcases would not fit in one! Made for some fun ‘getting close’ moments, though.

We took the Metro everywhere, and although you can get almost everywhere using the Metro, it can involve changing trains several times. You can generally depend on using at least three staircases per train change. Parisians may be flatlanders, but they have the souls and legs of mountain goats!

We spent a day at the Louvre and only saw a part of it. We spent a long day at Versailles, and a few hours extra in the town itself when we got lost. We saw Napoleon’s tomb and the war museums at Les Invalides. The Husband opted for WWI and WWII – I chose Napoleonic, and was startled to find that they had Napoleon’s horse there! Apparently when he died the Emperor had him stuffed, and he’s been hanging around ever since. Now he’s a little shabby and moth-eaten, but for something almost 200 years old, he looks pretty good.

We spent a day at Notre Dame, going from the archaeological crypt beneath, where there are paving stones from pre-Roman Paris, to the top of the cathedral towers. At least, The Husband did. The tower tour involves over 1,000 steps up and down, and I don’t do steps well. I found a little sidewalk café, had a café au lait and a pain au chocolate and acted like I belonged there.

We did tour the cathedral itself together. Our plan had been to reaffirm our vows to each other in the church, but the building was so crowded you could hardly breathe. I do mean, elbow to elbow, and if you stopped walking, your heels were instantly trod upon. Finally we found a tiny space behind a huge pillar and squeezed in there, where we said what was important to us. Not at all the way we had planned it, but still a moment I will always treasure.

We walked in the Tuilleries Gardens and spent an evening on the Eiffel Tower, watching the sky turn red with the sunset, then blue with the dusk and then seeing the lights coming on all over the city and finally the ‘sparkle’ lights on the tower itself. We toured the Arc de Triomphe and, when we came down, were fortunate enough to watch some unfamiliar official lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There were all kinds of military brass around, and politicians, and the Army band, and photographers… don’t know who the official was, or what was said, but it was wonderful pageantry!

We walked the Champs Elysees and photographed the Egyptian obelisk that is called Cleopatra’s Needle and, because it was cold, dashed into the closest place for coffee. The closest place was the fabled Hotel du Crillon – luxurious and simply smells of money. Their coffee shop is a tastefully appointed sitting room with marble and brocade and perfectly trained waiters. The coffee was delicious, too.

Also, in the spirit of public service I must say that in all my recent travels in Europe I have yet to find a king-sized bed. Their version is two twins shoved together. It’s fairly comfortable for sleeping, but be warned that if you find yourself and your beloved attempting some of the more exuberant joys of marriage, the beds can separate and give you a nasty surprise which instantly ruins the mood. Just a word of warning….

When our magical trip was over, we returned to Landsthul and I spent a few more days in Germany while we tried to see some of the things we missed at Christmas because of the record snows. That was enjoyable, too, but it wasn’t Paris. On the other hand, I was with The Husband, and that alone makes it magic.

So does this have anything to do with writing? I hope. First of all, remember my last post, where I postulated that EVERYTHING has to do with writing. I took pictures like a fiend – some 4,000, I think; thank goodness electrons are cheap! I made acres of notes and there were times my brain seemed flooded with ideas. For example, I saw a youngish (30ish?) couple arguing fiercely in the middle of a huge boulevard as the traffic whizzed around them. (Crossing the streets in Paris is a completely different discipline from here!) Why were they fighting so intensely, and in the middle of a busy street no less? I can think of several storylines right off the top of my head.

Versailles Palace – a veritable hotbed of potential stories, both ancient and modern. Same with Notre Dame, and the archaeological crypt beneath positively vibrated with ideas. Everywhere you look there is the potential for a story.

But – you want to know the real truth? Even though I heartily recommend the trip, you don’t have to go to Paris to find the potential for a story. That lurks all around you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Paris is probably more fun, though!

Now, I have babbled on much too long, but I have one more nugget of news. Just a couple of days ago my editor gave me the welcome news that Carina wants my new book – a traditional gothic now called DARK SUN, though that is subject to change. This is my third sale to Carina.

Yes, as my title said, it’s been a pretty good year so far.

Next time I promise to write more about writing and less about traveling. Maybe.

Janis Patterson

Friday, May 20, 2011


I recently had a conversation with someone who said using body language to express the emotions of a character was lost on them. Really? Wow! “So,” I said, “if I made a fist and extended my arm in the direction of your face you would not know what was coming or how I was feeling?” The response was, “Well, you might be mad and going to hit me.” Like, hello! Body language.
What brought the discussion on was I’d put a book down in frustration because the author had the characters do something and then interpreted that action. For example - she slammed the door then said, she was angry. In the context of the rest of the paragraph I understood she was angry when she slammed the door. Like my friend, when you see a fist coming your direction you figure you are going to be hit. The owner of said fist doesn’t need to accompany the action with a verbal warning. Same thing when you write. There is an instinctual understanding of body language. I call it lizard brain instinct.
As mystery and suspense authors how do you show a character is the bad guy without coming out and saying it? I use inappropriate eye contact, as in glaring and holding contact to long, a dismissive glance, no eye contact at all, a predatory up and down look that makes you feel like you are on the menu. My bad people laugh at the suffering of others and are almost always space invaders. That is, people who constantly stand to close forcing others to back up. I also use inappropriate touching. I mean if a woman just met a man five minutes ago and out of the blue, he slips an arm around her waist and pulls them together. For me that’s a strong ewww factor. Does it hit you wrong also, or do you need to be told why it’s inappropriate?
What do you get from these situations?
1. A character in an interview is jiggling his leg looking side to side.
2. A couple sitting in the doctor’s office leaning toward one another. Leaning away.
3. A couple at a table in Starbucks, she is leaning over the table in his direction arm outstretched, palm up. He is leaning back arms crossed.
4. Another couple leaning to each other, hands resting on the table, finger tips barely touching.
5. A man in a suit standing legs spread, hands on his hips pushing his suit jack back elbows sticking out. Or, he is leaning back in a chair, an ankle resting on the opposite knee his hand clasped behind his head.
6. What is a woman telling her companion when she laughs and tips her head back exposing her throat?
7. A man and woman are standing together. She is leaning into him head resting on his shoulder and a hand in the middle of his chest. He has one arm around her, the other in a pants pocket and a big grin on his face.
8. A woman walking away from a man she knows is checking out her aft deck, turns and looks at him over her shoulder and licks her lips.

What I see.
1. The character is nervous.
2. The couple are happy and getting alone. Leaning away -they aren’t very happy with each other.
3. She is pleading about something and he really doesn’t want to hear it.
4. A new relationship.
5. Both of these tell me the man is in control and he is letting everyone know it with his displays.
6. Exposing the vulnerable throat indicates she trusts him and is ready to move to the next level of the relationship.
7. I feel like she is declaring ownership. He is telling every man in the room- yeaph she’s mine, eat your heart out.
8. No stamp needed for that invitation.

So, tell me what you see in these situations. Do you like subtle body language in the books you read? Do you use it in your writing?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Mystery of Justice

Sherlock Holmes and I made our first acquaintanceship when I was a mere minor. I gobbled his stories like candy. Watched all the old Basil Rathbone movies on re-runs and then, fell in love with the BBC series starring Jeremy Brett. (I still hear that theme song when I think of Mr. Holmes.)

Sherlock is such a comfort. He’s the Superman of mystery. He proves again and again that the world is not essentially mysterious, it’s understandable. It’s logical. It’s …elementary.

In the universe of Holmes, understanding is the antidote to suffering. It’s the things you don’t understand that drive you to smoke like a stack, play music manically into the night and occasionally self-medicate with dangerous controlled substances.

Knowing, understanding…is what sets the world to rights.

I just finished reading a recent Sherlock revamp, The Holmes Affair, by Graham Moore. Fun book. What I really enjoyed was the way the author examined this basic principle of the Holmes Universe.

Turns out, some mystery authors think knowing isn’t enough to set the world to rights. Sometimes knowing makes things worse.

Moore sets up a comparison of the Holmes-ian “drive to know” versus the more modern position that knowing isn’t enough to counter suffering. Justice seems to require both understanding and action.

Many of my favorite modern mystery writers are committed to this point of view. Action forms the antidote to suffering. Dennis Lehane and Robert Parker send their heroes into the mess of a mystery to punch, shoot, taze, and otherwise battle their way to a satisfyingly just solution.

Spencer, the hero of many of Parker’s mysteries, is one such dose of comfort. He’s a Superman of Sleuths too. He quotes poetry, cooks a gourmet meal and appreciates a woman’s beauty with flair. When the world tips off balance, Spencer can shift it back into place with his bare hands.

The manly call to action is what sets the world to rights.

Or is it? Turns out, sometimes actions aren’t the answer either. In The Holmes Affair, Moore suggests the mystery lovers’ most fundamental dilemma. Sometimes, knowing makes the world more complicated and justice harder to find. Sometimes, action is no antidote to suffering.

And that is perhaps the greatest mystery of all….

Monday, May 16, 2011


Any fashionista will tell you that the right shoe, be it stiletto, open-toed sandal or riding boot, will make your outfit. Apparently, what you wear on your feet tells the world a lot about you. Me, I’m a loafers and sandals kinda gal. Anything higher than an inch, and I get dizzy. I’d like to think that this tells the world I’m practical, no nonsense and ready to move quickly if I have to.

After all, you never know when I may have to chase a bad guy.

What about you? Do you stride confidently down Montreal streets in your three-inch heels like a true femme de ville? Or are you ready to move fast in your running shoes? Do you wear comfy shoes to get from Point A to Point B and then switch into your killer pumps?

And what does it mean when you lose your shoes?

Kate Williams, Mendenhall’s new chief of police, is a woman with both work-boot-clad feet planted firmly on the ground. She took the job hoping it would be a change from the crazy pace of the big city. Instead, she finds internal rivalries threatening to tear apart a deeply divided police station. So when a crazy old man walks into her station with a kid’s high top sneaker and a bizarre story about a kidnapped boy, she is tempted to ignore him. She doesn’t have time for flights of fancy.

But then it turns out a boy really is missing, and Kate has to find a way of turning her deeply dysfunctional detachment into a working police force to find him before it’s too late.

In honour of Release Day for The Shoeless Kid, I’m having a CONTEST. Tell me about the kinds of shoes you wear, or don’t wear. Be honest—we’re all friends here! I’ll draw a winner from among the commenters on Friday, May 20. And be sure to check out Endless Night by Maureen Miller, my Release Mate at Carina Press.

Endless Night and The Shoeless Kid are available from Carina Press and most other online outlets.

You can read the first chapter of The Shoeless Kid here.



The shoe appeared on her desk, gently deposited on top of the pile of occurrence reports from the last week.

It was a kid’s high-top—left foot—and it was red and grubby, but not worn.

Kate automatically picked it up, more to keep it from dirtying her paperwork than out of curiosity. It was damp. On the inside of the tongue, in red marker, was written “Josh H.” She flipped the shoe over to look at the underside. A size four. It would fit a…what? A four- or five-year-old?

Bobby MacAllister’s age.

She slowly looked up. Marco Trepalli, youngest and newest member of the Mendenhall police force—and too handsome for his own good—smiled down at her. The morning sun gilded his tanned cheek and added a twinkle to his eye. Kate stifled a sigh. Marco had the makings of a good cop, if he ever learned to get over himself.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Got Character?

When you think of your favorite books or movies, I bet it's the characters that you remember most! For example, who could forget Hans Solo or Darth Vader from Star Wars, Scarlet O'Hara or Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind, Neo from The Matrix, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and the list goes on and on . . .

Characters are critical to any story. In regards to characters, if you are a writer, your job is to:
1.) Make your readers care about your characters
2.) Establish reader identification with your characters
3.) Make your characters care deeply about something (this is crucial in order to help drive the plot)

Let’s take Star Wars, for example, (because I presume everyone is more or less familiar with this story) and examine two of the main characters.

Luke Skywalker – He’s the every man – the person with whom the reader can easily identify with because he’s a lot like you and me. He cares about his family, about doing what’s right, about being good.

Hans Solo – He cares only about himself. He’s selfish, rough around the edges, and interested only in monetary gain. He doesn’t care about the Rebellion or fighting for what’s right. But still, we all know someone like him, someone whose selfishness has touched our lives in a passing or significant way. We can identify with him.

Both characters are critical to the story, the reader can identify easily with both of them, and the fact that they are different helps drive the plot, provide conflict and keep the pacing tight. Luke’s goals (to help the Rebellion and free the people from the evil Empire) are what basically drive the plot. However, Hans Solo is just as important a character because, despite his diametrically opposed goals to Luke, HE IS CHANGED BY THE PLOT. By the end of the story he has evolved into a person who cares more about other people than himself or money. We care about him all the more because we watched him change and grow and were a part of that evolution.

So, when you sit down to build your characters – ask yourself: “What do my characters care deeply about?” Once you know this, you’ve taken the first step toward committing your characters to paper and ultimately, action. And remember, creating memorable, unforgettable characters that the reader cares about will make just about any novel publishable.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Crossover Moments

One day I found myself on a stool at a harbor-side pub in Maine. The young female bartender approached me and graciously asked what I wanted. Behind her were a bevy of ornate tap handles, and taking a quick stock of the selection, I put on a ridiculous smile that probably had her suspecting this was not my first bar,  and I said, “I’ll have a bottle of Allagash, please.”

With my eccentric smile never wavering, I sat there and people-watched, drinking what I thought was the best beer ever brewed.

I was experiencing what I like to call a crossover moment. This was a scene from my book. The seaside pub. The bottle of Allagash. As authors, we may visit a place, or do something that is pivotal enough to warrant putting it into one of our books. But how often does one re-live an excerpt from a book after it has been written? It might be simple enough to purposely re-enact a scene, but have you ever looked around, and it suddenly occurs to you that you are smack in the middle of one your favorite passages?

Maybe you’re sitting on a train that has just pulled out of King's Cross Station and someone hands you a vomit-flavored jellybean, and you think, “Wow, I know this has happened before in a famous book…I just can’t place the name...”

Crossover moments are literary acts of déjà-vu. They could be as simple as a character quote that you didn’t expect to slip from your lips or as complex as only your imagination and knowledge can interpret them.

I once sat on the steps of the courthouse that hosted the Crime of the Century.  I looked across the street at the Union Hotel which has changed very little since all the journalists were on site to document the Lindbergh trial. I could take that setting verbatim, or I could look closer and actually see those reporters standing on the hotel deck, talking and taking notes, waiting for news from the courthouse and experience a crossover moment.

Crossover moments happen to authors and readers alike. Can you think of any that have happened to you?

P.S. Congratulations to our own Wynter Daniels for her release of Protective Custody this week, and likewise for next week's release of Marcelle Dubé's Shoeless Kid, and ummm...who else has a release next week? Oh! Me, with Endless Night.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Personal Rituals

I was looking through my old emails the other day (which I have broken up into files for each of my publishers and other categories) and I noticed something interesting. I had kept the very first emails I’d gotten from each of my publishers – that note that said ‘welcome to the company’ or ‘we’d like to offer you a contract on your submission.’ But it’s not only the very first email, but nearly all the letters pertaining to that first book with that company. I just can’t bring myself to delete those emails. I guess I’m afraid I’ll jinx myself if I do. Saving those emails is my personal ritual, a comfort of sorts. I occasionally go back and reread one or two, just to pump up my confidence when those pesky self-doubts creep into my head.

Another little ritual I have is to celebrate on the day of a book release. And today is one of those days for me. Not only is Protective Custody out today, but tomorrow is my birthday, so I’ll be doing a little extra celebrating.

In Protective Custody, Megan Jackson has a different type of ritual, a way more personal one. She has a candle at her bedside that she lights when she has male company. (Nod, nod, wink, wink.) Her ex-boyfriend, Will McCoy knows this ritual and when he goes into her bedroom after they’ve been apart for months, the first thing he notices is that candle and whether it's burned down at all since he was last there. But you'll have to read the book to find out!

Here’s a little about Protective Custody from Carina Press:

Witness to a murder, but no one will believe her…

Shocked by the brutal crime she witnesses through the window of her small office, Megan Jackson calls the police and is devastated when they question the truth of her story. With no body and no evidence of a crime, she’s written off as a nutcase.

Megan suspects the killer saw her face. Terrified, she calls the only person she can trust—her ex-boyfriend and former police officer, Will McCoy.

Despite a devastating breakup, Will jumps at the chance to help the woman who broke his heart. When the killer ramps up the stakes, Will is forced to take her into hiding—where the passion they once shared reignites, deeper and hotter than ever. But can Will keep Megan alive long enough to win back her heart?

What about you? Do you have any rituals (that you can share;-) that you’re not willing to deviate from?

Text Copyright © 2011 by Wynter Daniels
Cover Copyright © 2011 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.

Friday, May 6, 2011

It Started with Nancy Drew

I grew up reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mystery series. Solving puzzles in exciting locales? That's catnip to a problem solver like myself. I traveled to Brussels solely because I wanted to know if the houses would be like what I read in a Nancy Drew book. I enjoyed the books so much as a child that I succumbed to nostalgia and watched the most recent film adaptation of the former. (This act still feels slightly shameful.)

When I hit my mid-teens, I became distracted by the romance genre and cut a wide swath through all the sub-genres: historicals, contemporaries, fantasies, and pseudo-science fiction. As I grew older, crankiness cynicism set in and I could no longer handle damsels in financial distress (usually of their fathers' making) who needed big, strapping men endowed with large bank accounts to bail them out. For a time, I read only single title thrillers where every villain is a sadistic serial killer and every hero is a moody and suicidal alcoholic. (Of course, I still like to revisit those books every now and then.) After a detour into science fiction, I found my way back to the oddly comfortable realm of the mystery series. It wasn't, however, easy and I had to try a lot of different series before I found the right ones for me.

Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series by JA Konrath. A heroine who's smart, tough, and knows when to relieve the tension with a joke. She kicks ass without dressing up in movement-restricting black leather. A great cast of supporting characters who are as witty and capable as Jack. These mysteries aren't whodunits but howtocatchems, and they're by turns laugh-out-loud funny and cringe-inducingly violent. Konrath is only planning one more title in the series and I'm not sure how I'm going to cope.

Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. A historical (1884-1923) mystery series set predominantly in Egypt with a heroine who is introduced as the spinster daughter of a reclusive scholar who bequeaths to her a small fortune. After his death, she travels to Egypt where she has a "meet cute" with Radcliffe Emerson, her future husband. The mysteries wouldn't stump a five-year-old, but I loved this series from the first title because of the colorful details that bring Egypt to life (Peters has a PhD in Egyptology) and the equally colorful characters. Amelia is bossy, nosy, witty, and deadly with a parasol--and she owns a utility belt Batman would envy. Emerson is short-tempered, irascible, willing to resort to violence to protect his family, and fully deserving of the sobriquet "Father of Curses." Peters also created complex and entertaining supporting characters and *gasp* allows them to grow, not only in depth but also in years.

What mystery series do you read? Any recommendations? But, please, no knitting, baking, crime-fighting cats, or "adorably" inept sleuths.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Have the Formula!

Once upon a time there was a pulp fiction writer by the name of Lester Dent. I've read a lot of his work, though not much of the Doc Savage stuff (which is too pulpy even for me) and he's good. He's a solid writer of action-adventure and crime stories.

However one of the most famous things Dent wrote was his "Master Plot Formula." Though I'm quite sure he wrote it tongue-in-cheek, it's actually chock full of excellent advice, and in fact Dent did largely follow this formula in his own work. He stuck mostly to the short story form, but he used the same formula in novels.

Anyway, I stumbled over this the other night when I was glancing through one of my vintage writing books. I thought I'd offer it up to the blog, more as a curiosity than sincere writing advice, although you could certainly do worse when it comes to plotting.

 "The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot"

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.
Here's how it starts:

One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary.

Scribes who have their villain's victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won't do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.
The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure--thing that villain wants--makes it simpler, and it's also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you've lived or worked. So many pulpateers don't. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here's a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled "Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned," or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, "What's the matter?" He looks in the book and finds, "El khabar, eyh?" To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it's perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it's a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.
Here's the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:

1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
2--The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4--Hero's endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
5--Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE?
Is there a MENACE to the hero?
Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise's tail, if nothing better comes to mind.
They're not real. The rings are painted there. Why?

1--Shovel more grief onto the hero.
2--Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
3--Another physical conflict.
4--A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?
Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?
Is the hero getting it in the neck?
Is the second part logical?

DON'T TELL ABOUT IT***Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader--show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.
When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of  inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until--surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader's mind. TAG HIM.

1--Shovel the grief onto the hero.
2--Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
3--A physical conflict.
4--A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE?
The MENACE getting blacker?
The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix?
It all happens logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.
The idea is to avoid monotony.

Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.
Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.
Trees, wind, scenery and water.

1--Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
2--Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
3--The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
4--The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes
the situation in hand.
5--Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)
6--The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?
The MENACE held out to the last?
Everything been explained?
It all happen logically?
Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?
Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?  

So what do you think? I mean, aside from the fact that none of us wants to be writing according to a formula...don't we all kind of write to our personal formula anyway?

Monday, May 2, 2011


Theatre director and writers or their characters will often cast against type. Think about the sweet, innocent child who wrecks havoc on his playmates and siblings—a monster who cannot be saved by parents, priest or psychiatrist. Example: The Bad Seed written by William March, later made into a film, where a mother begins to believe her child could be a cold-blooded murderer.
And who hasn’t written or read about the handsome, personable and—oh yes—intelligent man—unfortunately a serial killer—who revels in matching wits with detectives, police or the FBI? There’s a prime example in Dr. Hannibal Lecter, starring in a series of horror novels, penned by Thomas Harris. How many readers fall for the virginal, usually blonde ingénue whose obsessive love, jealousy and neediness will ruin the lives of people whose lives touch hers. Read Leave her to Heaven written by Ben Ames Williams—another novel to film with Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain and Cornell Wilde.
The affectionate relative or teacher who turns out to be a pedophile? Or not? Doubt—a play written by John Patrick Shanley kept audience members debating for days after they left the theater. Did Father Flynn molest the boy or was Sister Aloysius, a woman of iron convictions, accusing an innocent man who was guilty of nothing but befriending the child and personalizing the priesthood?
The bad stepmother has been handed down from old folk tales—what about Snow White and her jealous stepmother—the Queen—characters written by the Brothers Grimm. Books that tell us about the good stepmother who gives her all? There aren’t many. One that stands out is Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner. The story takes place after the geisha Cio-Cio San kills herself leaving her child Benjie to her lover—the child’s father and his new American wife. The author’s inspiration—Puccini’s opera—Madame Butterfly. Perhaps more books are waiting to be written about the good stepmother.

When my creation twists, turns and changes the route I jotted down so carefully—I have to pay attention. A call from my character may be a surprise—sometimes pleasant, sometimes not—that alters the course of my book. I try to be ready to embark on an entirely different escapade. A not to be missed venture into the unknown.

How do you handle your characters?

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