Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Research Note

For those of us who don't know as much about guns as we'd like/need to, I came across an interesting post on the Make Mine Mystery blog: http://makeminemystery.blogspot.com/2008/12/bang.html . Here you can find information about DNA evidence and guns, ballistics, and useful websites and magazines for research. Thanks to Ben Small for the informative post.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Interesting Article

I enjoy my subscription to Poets and Writers. Online, their website has a really interesting interview with four, young literary agents.  They discuss the types of material they're looking for, problems facing beginning writers, why it's difficult to secure an agent, and the publishing industry today.

Looking for a Last-Minute Book Gift for a Mystery Reader?

Here's November's list of best-selling mysteries from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association:

Hardcovers

1 - P.D. James, The Private Patient, Knopf
2 - Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict, Little Brown
3 - Donna Andrews, Six Geese A-Slaying, St. Martin's
4 - Dennis Lehane, The Given Day, Morrow
5 - Jeffery Deaver, The Bodies Left Behind, Simon & Schuster
5 - Vince Flynn, Extreme Measures, Atria
7 - Katherine Neville, The Fire, Ballantine
7 - Clive Cussler, Arctic Drift, Putnam
9 - Reginald Hill, The Price of Butcher's Meat, Harper
10 - Rita Mae Brown, Santa Clawed, Bantam

Softcover 1 - Elaine Viets, Murder with All the Trimmings, Obsidian
2 - Barbara Cleverly, Bright Hair About the Bone, Delta
3 - M.C. Beaton, Kissing Christmas Goodbye, St. Martin's
4 - C.S. Challinor, Christmas is Murder, Midnight Ink
5 - Jennie Bentley, Fatal Fixer-Upper, Berkley
5 - Clare Langley-Hawthorne, The Serpent and the Scorpion, Penguin
5 - Jeanne Dams, Indigo Christmas, Perseverance Press
8 - John Hart, Down River, St. Martin's
8 - Earl Derr Biggers, The House Without a Key, Academy Chicago Press
10 - Kate Kingsbury, Ringing In Murder, Berkley
10 - Archer Mayor, Chat, Grand Central
10 - Cynthia Baxter, Murder Packs a Suitcase, Bantam
10 - Kate Kingsbury, Shrouds of Holy, Berkley

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thoughts on the Setting for Your Mystery

Don't underestimate setting as a valuable part of your mystery and serve to set the tone for the book.  Some of my favorite reads have placed murderers on virtually-inaccessible islands, in lighthouses, in manor houses during snowstorms, and gritty metropolises.

Cozy mysteries usually will pick a tranquil setting for the murder, and have the murder make a major impact on the community.  Whether the setting is a village in England or a small town in the American South, the reader feels the urge to solve the mystery and return the community to its former idyll status. 

An isolated setting can create suspense for your readers.  If there's a killer knocking out characters one by one, it can really heighten the urgency of solving the case.  Agatha Christie demonstrated this beautifully in And Then There Were None.

Thrillers work well in many settings, but my favorites are set in cities like New York, London, or Las Vegas.  The glitter of the big cities as backdrops can lend an up-all-night grittiness to the storyline. 

Foreign Settings: You can make your reader an armchair traveler by placing your mystery in an exotic or foreign setting.  What is exotic depends on the reader: I recently read a series of books set in Quebec, Canada and it provided a true escape through its pages.  I've also read books set in Egypt, Greece, and various European countries.  As long as the setting doesn't distract from the plot, it can really help to set the tone of the novel.  Maybe your protagonist is in a country where they don't speak the language (or very well.)  That can also serve to add more tension to the mystery. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Make Your Mystery Believable

Sometimes when I'm reading mysteries, I have to suspend my disbelief.  That's okay, as long as it isn't too long.  I want to enjoy each book I read, but sometimes that's hard to do when I'm distracted by unbelievable plot devices.

Amateur Sleuths' Involvement:  Why is your sleuth involved in the case?  Were they accused of perpetrating the crime themselves?  Was someone close to them accused?  Were they intimately involved with the victim and feel they need to track down the killer on the victim's behalf? Searching for a murderer is a dangerous activity--and the reader needs a viable reason why it's necessary for the sleuth to get involved.

Suspects' Motives: If there's only one suspect with a good motive, we'd have to assume that person is the killer.  The strongest motives for killing someone are for gain (money, power), revenge, hate, love, fear (having something uncovered, losing something precious.)  Usually people don't kill others for minor slights or jealousies. 

Killer's Motive:  I've occasionally read mysteries where I just wasn't convinced the murderer had a good reason for what they did---the story had a trumped-up feel about it.  When I read those, I think, "Well, no wonder I didn't peg him as the killer.  It doesn't make any sense that he'd have done it."  Unless it's clear that the killer is a raging psychopath, there should be a clear reason (and a good one) that he would have risked everything to murder the victim.  After all, we're talking about possibly facing a death sentence or life in prison for the crime.  

Confrontation With the Killer: I covered this in a recent post (which referenced a blog post on adding suspense to your book.)  Most books include a scene at the end of the book where the detective (amateur or professional) reveals and confronts the murderer.  Be sure to make this scene believable.  Would your sleuth really knowingly confront the killer in a deserted location with no backup? 

By thinking ahead, you can make your manuscript stronger and more believable.  That will keep your reader hooked until the last page. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Mysteries

Now, a holiday treat for anyone who's interested in Christmas mystery reading: a list of Christmas-related mysteries, courtesy of Grave Matters.

Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Adding Suspense

I came across a very insightful blog post today, that I thought I'd share.  On the Make Mine Mystery blog, there was a post by Mark Troy that included excellent suggestions on adding an element of suspense to your murder mystery.

Suspense is important even in cozy mysteries; it provides momentum for the story and comes in especially handy at the climax of your novel.  Would your book be as interesting if, after your sleuth names the killer, he's quickly and easily arrested by the police?  Yes, there's satisfaction that the detective--amateur or professional--solved the crime and that the murderer has been detained, but it's not exactly riveting reading.

Troy suggests isolating your protagonist (in most cases your detective) to create suspense.  He points out the problem facing all writers--how to put the protagonist in a dangerous situation without making him or her look foolish for being in it. 

The entire article is interesting, and I really recommend it for anyone looking for ways to make their novel more exciting.  Here are some of Mark Troy's ideas for isolating your detective (believably) with the murderer:

Have your detective confronted while he's out gathering evidence.

Have your detective isolated with the killer while he's in a remote setting.

Have the killer turn out to be a mentor or friend of your detective.

Have your detective eagerly run ahead of his backup and end up in the killer's clutches.

Troy offers many other ideas for adding suspense, too--some of them involving internal isolation techniques--so be sure to check it out.  I thought it was a fresh perspective on an old plotting problem.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Creating Suspects for your Mystery Novel

So you're busily cooking up your mystery recipe, fully realizing some innocent victim or two will die as a result of tasting it.  One of the most important ingredients in your fatal stew is the suspect.

Choosing suspects: Who murdered your victim?  Suspects aren't usually eager to be classified as such.  It's up to your police detective or sleuth to connect the dots.  Was there a public argument between your victim and suspect?  Did your victim confide in their friend about a suspect (if so, is the friend in danger, too?)  Would the suspect gain monetarily from the victim's death?  Was there another obvious reason besides money (revenge, love, hate) that could have motivated a suspect?  Who was close to your victim?  Who loved or hated him?

Number of  suspects: Try not to bog your reader down with too many suspects.  If you're writing a 65,000-- 85,000 word book, cramming in ten suspects with varying motives, means, and opportunity can make the plot pretty confusing. Usually, the smaller the number of suspects, the better.  Cozies frequently confine the number of suspects to five or six and let the reader get well-acquainted with them. 

Suspect names: Try not to name your suspects with similar-sounding names or with names that start with the same letter (if you have a Kate, don't have a Karen.)  You don't want your reader to find out the name of the killer and then have to flip through your book to find out who they were. 

Suspects who move along the plot: Your suspects are going to want to stay out of jail.  To do this, they might lie about their motive or opportunity or implicate other suspects.  If their implications are false (or don't lead to the actual killer), they're red herrings.   The suspects can also provide genuine clues to the murderer (perhaps a clue that the suspect doesn't even realize is key to the case) or can  clumsily reveal their own guilt (accidentally breaking their alibi, revealing knowledge that only the killer could know, displaying guilt, nervousness, or other out-of-character traits.)

Suspect deaths:   Sometimes mystery writers will kill one of the book's prime suspects.  Not only can this add more urgency to the plot (this murderer must be caught before he/she can kill again), but it can add another layer of depth to the mystery--why was this particular suspect killed?  What did they know? 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tips on Your Business Writing

Think creative writers don't have to work on business writing?  Think again.  It's as important (or maybe more so) to have a well-crafted query or cover letter as it is to have a manuscript that's as flawless as possible.  Do you have a blog or website?  If not, you need to rethink....a web presence is a great tool to help you get your foot in the door.  After your foot is there, your blog or website can help you with your promotion efforts.

Here is a great blog entry on the Urban Muse website on crafting a query letter (it was written with freelance writers in mind, but apply the tips to your manuscript query.)  Had your query rejected?  Don't take it personally: here is a blog covering the context of rejection on an old post  on the Slushkiller website (thanks to Et  in Arcaedia, ego's post for pointing it out.)

Tips for making your blog reader-worthy can be found here at the Write to Done blog. 

Polish up your business writing and you'll soon start seeing results. Just make sure that your manuscript is completely proofread and in as perfect a condition as you can make it--don't waste the manuscript requests you receive from agents and editors.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleuths

One of the most important elements in your mystery novel is your detective.  Depending on the type of book you're writing (police procedural, thriller, cozy), your detective might be a member of the police department or a gifted amateur who unwittingly becomes involved in your case. 

If you plan on writing a series, your detective's personality needs to be one that you can explore over the course of several books.  There are many wonderful mystery series featuring the same detectives that you can read.  It's nice to have a sense of how other authors create interesting characters for their readers to enjoy book after book.  Interesting sleuths include: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock, Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, P.D. James' Adam Dalgleish, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Anne George's Southern Sisters, and Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity. 

M.C. Beaton's series feature two intriguing detectives: Hamish McBeth (a police constable in a Scottish village) and Agatha Raisin (formerly a busybody, currently a private investigator.)  Hamish is a lovable officer--a gangling man who loves his village and desperately tries to prevent his own promotion (which would mean he'd have to leave the place he loves.)  The readers tune in each book to check in with the recurring characters, see what's happening with Hamish's disastrous love life, and see how he plays down the fact that he has solved another case.  Agatha Raisin, on the other hand, sometimes causes as many problems for the police department as she solves.  It's fun to pick up a new Agatha Raisin book and see what trouble Agatha is in this time. 

If you do choose to have an amateur detective, make sure that he or she is involved in the case in a natural and believable way.  It's a stretch to believe that the sleuth just decides to play detective one day, for example.  It makes a lot more sense that they would become involved if they or someone close to them is a suspect (and they want to clear their name) or if the victim was someone important to them.

It's nice for the detectives, amateur or professional, to have their own foibles to deal with.  I loved it when even Christie's brilliant Hercule Poirot had faulty reasoning or made an error.  Of course, he always figured it out in the end, but when he took us along on a red herring it was always fun.

Some publishers and agents are looking for books with specific hooks for the readers (this is especially true in the cozy mystery genre.)  Does your sleuth also do crosswords?  Quilt? Scrapbook?  Hobbies can be tools to reel in readers. 

In Christie's books, Poirot usually explained his reasoning and unveiled the murderer in a room full of suspects.  That's less common today in mysteries.  The reader is more likely to find the detective locked into a dangerous confrontation with the killer at the book's denouement.  In a police procedural, you might find a similar situation--perhaps the police are desperately trying to locate the murderer (once they discover his identity) before he kills someone else.  Or maybe the police have realized who the killer is at the same time they're recognized that a particular person close to him will be in danger. 

Whatever personality and foibles you create for your detective, remember that they can help to make or break your mystery novel. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Who is Your Victim?

Several of the mystery writers I know really have a lot of fun with their victim.  Sometimes an author purposefully makes the victim similar to someone he's had a  run-in with or someone they didn't like in high school.  There are plenty of unpleasant people out there and it's easy to make an amalgam of them to form your perfect murder victim.

The victim needs to be someone murderable (I know, it's a made-up word).  In other words, someone who has a few enemies.  Actually, this is a rule that I'm playing with a little for the book I'm writing now.  I start the book with everyone having warm fuzzy feelings for the future victim, but then we start finding out a little bit more about her.  Then we know why several people would like to bump her off.  Otherwise, why on earth would your victim legitimately be murdered?  Unless you're writing a thriller with a serial killer who just kills random people.

I've read books before where the victim is dead on page one.  Later on, we find out more about the victim through flashbacks (not my favorite device) or through interviewing people who knew him.  This can be really interesting, if done right.  I found that I was very curious to find out more about the victim and having the information doled out in tantalizing bits and pieces held my interest. 

I've also read books where the reader was fully introduced and vested in the victim before the murder.  This works, too.  The reader has gotten to know the victim and has more of a personal interest in who killed him. 

How gruesome is the murder of your victim?  This depends on the type of book you're writing.  If you're writing a cozy mystery, the murder will probably take place off-stage and you won't provide your reader with many gory details.  If you're writing a police procedural or a thriller, you can usually get away with a lot more.  But keep in mind that if a book gets too graphic, you could lose some readers.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mystery Writing Checklist

  Sometimes a task can be easier if you make yourself a checklist to ensure you're covering all your bases.  With that idea in mind, here's a brief checklist you might want to consult before sending your manuscript off into the big, bad world of editors and agents. Or, it might be more helpful to think about these things while you're still plotting your novel.

Genre: Have you got a clear genre for your book? Thriller, cozy, police procedural, hard boiled? If you can’t identify your genre to an agent or editor, your manuscript won’t go too far.

Have you followed the rules of writing a mystery?: (see Twenty Mystery Writing Rules )

Setting: Frequently, setting plays a role in a mystery novel. It limits the number of suspects if it’s a remote island, for example. For a thriller, you may want a faster-paced, big-city environment. See how setting plays a role in your book. If it doesn’t, you may want to consider tweaking your manuscript.

An Engaging Beginning: Have you started out with a bang? Or have you started out with some messy backstory that no one wants to wade through at the beginning of your book? Make sure you’ve lured your reader in from the very beginning so they’ll want to stick with you.  Think twice before using a prologue or using flashbacks at the beginning of your manuscript.

A Murder that Happens in First 50 pages or so: Don’t wait until you’re half-way through the book for a body to be discovered. Your reader may give up on you.

Protagonist: This will be your sleuth or police detective. Are they likable people or at least people interesting enough for your readers to want to spend time with? What special talents do they have that make them capable of solving the crime? Are they easy to talk to? Have they spent many years in the police department? What sets them apart?

Suspects: Do your suspects all have motive, means, and opportunity? Does their motive make sense and is it believable? Have you given the reader a chance to meet each suspect and learn about them? Have your suspects misdirected your readers and provided some red herrings? Have they lied to the sleuth and the reader? Do they have secrets? Do they have some depth?

Murderer: The killer will need to be fairly clever so he isn’t caught right away. Is your culprit believable but not obvious?  If the murderer ends up being the least likely candidate, have you made his motivation realistic? 

Clues:  The clues need to be made available to the reader as well as the detective.  You have to be fair with your reader in providing them the clues, but make sure they don't stand out too obviously in the scene.  If they do, think about pointing the reader's/detective's attention in another direction, quickly.  There also needs to be more than one clue--preferably three or more. 

Red Herrings:  Make sure your red herrings don't last the entire length of the book---that's generally considered unfair.  Red herrings are a good diversion to mislead your reader, but  they can be taken too far. If the entire focus of your murder was blackmail and the ensuing investigation is wrapped up with blackmail victims and scurrilous gossip: and then the real motivation ends up being revenge or obtaining life insurance money,  most readers will end up wanting to throw your book in frustration. 

Victims: You know you need at least one. Do you need two? Do you need more? (Remember that some genres, like cozies, generally don’t have a high body count.)

Element of Danger: Does your sleuth or detective know too much? Are they getting too close to the truth? Adding some action or a touch of danger can help with sagging middles of books.

Exciting Chapter Endings: Don’t let your reader put down your book and go to sleep. Do you have some exciting chapter endings so they’ll want to go on reading?

Resolution: Did you catch the bad guys in the end? Did you tie up all the loose ends that you created? Did you explain how the sleuth/police followed the clues?

Errors: Have you checked all the grammar, spelling, mechanics? And double-checked it? Have you trimmed any pointless dialogue, scenes that go on too long? Everything you write should have a purpose….there’s no time to dilly-dally.  Double-check to make sure you haven't made any major changes in your manuscript--did your character start out being middle-aged and then end up being older or younger?  Did your story start out during the dog days of summer and then suddenly change to spring? Make sure you read your manuscript from start to finish to eliminate any content errors. 

 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clues: Planning and Planting Clues for Your Mystery

To me, one of the most fun things about reading a mystery is the puzzle. I love finding the clues along with my sleuth...and being misdirected by the author's red herrings.

I also have fun writing in clues and distracting my readers from them in my own book. But I admit that planting clues is the hardest part of writing a mystery for me. I want them to point to the killer, but I also want to make sure the reader doesn't have a neon sign blinking "CLUE! CLUE!" whenever I plant a clue.

Agatha Christie did a great job writing in her clues. She frequently slipped in an important clue among some useless information that seemed more important than the actual clue. Or she would plant a clue, draw the reader's attention to it, then have two characters suddenly burst into the room in the midst of an argument that completely shifted the reader's attention.

There are some good websites out there that can help writers learn more about writing effective clues and red herrings:

Don't Drop Clues: Plant them Carefully! by Stephen Rogers does a great job covering the types of clues, how to misdirect your reader, and mistakes to avoid.

Suite 101 covers planting clues in different ways: tucking them in a paragraph, heightening the drama, clues of omission, missing weapons, and clues from real life.

Author Sandra Parshall's website explains how "Clues Drive the Mystery Plot."

The Christie Mystery website demonstrates how Agatha Christie used clues and other plot devices.

Stephen Rogers writes a different article on red herrings and how to use them effectively.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Mystery Writing Tools

I know there are a lot of writers who have a germ of an idea for a mystery novel. Most of them are mystery readers and feel like, if they can just get started, that they can finish an entire manuscript.

Here are some interesting and useful websites for mystery writers, and other writers, to help them get started on their mysterious voyage:

Write That Novel , which has useful, printable sheets for characterization, plotting, storyboards, etc.

Book Crossroads , which has links to online mystery writing groups, hardboiled slang dictionaries, forensic information, and legal overviews.

John Morgan Wilson's website , which gives tips on mystery writing, including a useful page that demonstrates how to bring your characters to life (if you've ever been told "show, don't tell," this would be good for you to check out.)

Holly Lisle's website , which has articles on creating characters, preventing a "sagging middle," ending your writer's block, etc.

A Yahoo Group for writers on firearms : a good place to start your research.

Tripod.com's Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula : Reading this can help you see the bare bones of many mystery novels. You don't have to follow it exactly--it's just a guide.

Advanced Fiction Writing.com's snowflake method of writing a novel : one of many different methods of writing/plotting a book.

The Cliche Site is just sort of fun. But it can also remind you how many cliches you have built into your writing. Take a look and see if there's another way to word some of the cliches that you've used.

Hope these help!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How NOT to Spend Your Weekend Morning Writing

Okay, I'm intending this post to be a warning to all you parents out there.  PLAN YOUR QUIET WRITING TIME IN ADVANCE!  I managed to do this during the summer, but for some reason have gotten out of the habit. 

What you should do: Tell your kids to give you_____ minutes for you to write. Have it be whatever length of time you feel you'll need.  Tell them what's available for them to eat for breakfast, or, go ahead and fix it for them before you get started.  Tell them not to disturb you unless they're sick or the house is on fire, etc.  Tell them to let the answering machine pick up. Take the dog out to use the bathroom.

What you should not do: what I did this morning, which was just to send them upstairs (this is early in the morning and my husband is not up yet.)  Because this led to my daughter ("I have a tummyache. And I'm hungry."), my son ("I'm having a problem installing a program on the computer.  Can you take a look at it?"), and my dog ("Whine! Whine!" and looking earnestly at the front door) all interrupting me.  Luckily, I knew where I was going with my story this morning and stepped back into it.  But how much faster could I have gone and how much more could I have accomplished if I'd done a little prep work before I got started? 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rejection

Okay, I know that rejection is no laughing matter.  But if you're an active writer (i.e., you have finished a manuscript, article, something else that's ready to submit), then you've probably experienced your fair share.  Think of all the opportunities for rejection that lurk out there between literary agents and book and magazine editors.

Sometimes you've just got to have a chance to laugh about it, though.  Remember, J.K. Rowling was rejected by an editor, too.  And isn't he sorry he turned her down? 

When I stumbled across a funny post about rejection and an even funnier web site, I had to share.  The website is http://rejectioncollection.com/  and it touts itself as: "The writer's and artist's online source for misery, commiseration, and inspiration."  Chances are, you'll see many versions of your own form letter rejection here.

I also came across a great blog entry on the agent blog "The Rejecter."  The anonymous literary agent assistant on the blog states that authors will find fault with any rejection they receive.  That's probably true.  Here's a sampling of the agent's possible rejection language and the author's possible response to it:

Rejection: "Thanks, not for me."
Author: "What, she couldn't take the time to write more than one line?"


Rejection: "(long and winding things about how the author should try other agencies and there's potential, but it's just not for this agent for some such reason, and good luck!)"
Author: "How long does it take her to say 'no'?"


Rejection: Printed on a half-slip of paper.
Author: "She couldn't afford an entire sheet of paper?"


Rejection: Printed on a normal sheet of high-quality paper.
Author: "For two lines? What a waste of paper. I guess agents don't care about the environment."


Rejection: Photocopied form response.
Author: "How impersonal! Did she even read it or did she just stuff envelopes?"


Rejection: Personal note on original query letter, handwritten.
Author: "What, she couldn't afford the time to type out a whole letter?"


It goes on an on. The point is: We're saying no and you don't like it. All agents try to use different tactics to soften the blow, but none of them work, though intentions are usually good.

Remember that everyone goes through rejection.  If the letters are personal enough to give you writing or revision tips, take the advice. And just keep on trying.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More Rules for Mystery Writers

A while back I referenced "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" as a great tool for mystery writers to use when working on their manuscript.  It is a great tool and offers advice like "the reader should have the same opportunity as the detective to solve the crime," and "the villain has to be someone who plays a prominent part of the story" (no sudden introductions of the killer at the end of the book).   The list of rules reminds us that the killer shouldn't be a professional crook, or a servant (none of "the butler did it.")  

One of my favorite parts of the mystery writing rules states:

20) All of the following tricks and devices are verboten. They've been done to death or are otherwise unfair.

a) Comparing a cigarette butt with the suspect's cigarette.
b) Using a séance to frighten the culprit into revealing himself.
c) Using phony fingerprints.
d) Using a dummy figure to establish a false alibi.
e) Learning that the culprit was familiar because the dog didn't bark.
f) Having "the twin" do it.
g) Using knock-out drops.
h) If the murder is in a locked room, it has to be done before the police have actually broken in.
i) Using a word-association test for guilt.
j) Having the solution in a coded message that takes the detective until the end of book to figure out.

Good reminders.

As great as it is, though,  this list of rules was compiled in 1936 by author S.S. Van Dine and includes some possibly outdated advice, too....like "the detective should not have a love interest."  I don't see a lot of problem with the detective having a romantic interest (poor guy or gal has to have some fun in the book.) 

A different version of a mystery writing rules list can be found here.  It's an About.com article on modern mystery rules.  It does repeat some of the items on the earlier list, but also adds things like: "The culprit must be capable of committing the crime," and "wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit." Their reminder to make sure to research your details is also a good one. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Your Mystery Outline--Planning for Your Busiest Days

Okay, here's the situation. I've just come back from a fun, but busy, weekend out of town. I returned to a bunch of laundry, suitcases to unpack, school forms to sign and return, a child with a nasty cold, a Monday morning doctor checkup...oh, and I pulled my neck somehow when unloading the car. Sigh. BUT--amazingly enough I was able to scrape together a page of my manuscript yesterday.

The reason yesterday's writing was easy was because I already knew what I was going to write. I was actually in the middle of the denouement scene (no, I'm not done with the book. But I knew how I wanted it to end.). Because I knew where I was picking up and what was going to happen in the scene (I could see the action happening in my head), it made it much easier to write. I had a roadmap for writing that day.

Here's one way I've found to easily hop into your writing with no delay on a day where you might not have time to figure out which scene you need to work on.

First of all, I have a folder in "My Documents" labeled with my book's name. Inside that folder, I have many different saved documents. You can plan ahead the scenes you'll need to write in the future. With a genre mystery (cozy, police procedural, etc), this is pretty easy. You know you need a scene where the first body is discovered. You know you need a scene where each of the 4 or 5 suspects is interviewed about their opportunity and possible motive (that's 4 or 5 separate scenes right there). You know you need to plant clues and red herrings. You know you may need a scene where a second body is discovered. Possibly a scene where your protagonist is in danger and a scene where the killer is apprehended. You see what I mean.

I've already named and explored the character of each of my five suspects. So one day I created five separate Word documents. Each one had the name of my sleuth (Myrtle) and "interviews ________(suspect's name)."

On a day where you just need to jump right into your manuscript and write it, having your book divided into its components makes it easy. You can even print out the document if you're on the go and take it with you to scribble on while you're out. You can write at the top of the page some notes for yourself on what you want to accomplish with the scene ("have suspect lie about their alibi" or "have suspect implicate another character", etc.)

Later you can assemble your book into one manuscript by copy/pasting it in to approximately the right place. Once you print it and read it through, it's easy to add scene transitions, segues, etc.

Creating a "Platform"

There was an interesting post at the Editorial Ass blog recently that you can read here:

Editorial Ass: how does a stay-at-home mom go about creating a platform?

Want to build a name for yourself (especially online) and make yourself and your manuscript more interesting to potential agents and editors? Moonrat explains how to go about getting some serious writing credibility, especially if you're new to the game. 

Some of her recommendations: blog, submit stories to your local newspaper (then the state newspaper), write for online magazines (webzines), then to national magazines, become an expert on a subject and write about it.

There are lots of good ideas there.  And it sure beats "I've always loved reading and am so excited to have finally written my first book" on your query letter.

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Keeping up With Your Suspects

I love Agatha Christie stories for lots of reasons:  the familiar sleuths (Miss Marple , Tommy and Tuppence, Hercule Poirot), I love the coziness of the locations (the small village, the large country house), and...I love the chapter where Agatha Christie spent several paragraphs introducing each suspect.

The characters were all conveniently located in one place.  If you forgot who someone was, you could easily flip back and reference it. In many of Christie's books, she even thoughtfully provided a cast of characters with the name and a brief explanation of their role in the novel. 

With too many books these days, I lose track of characters.  I've even gotten close to the end of a book, read a character name and gone "Who the heck is that?!".  Either the author created too many people for me to keep up with, the characters' names sound too much alike, or...let's be honest...I've been interrupted so many times when reading that I can't remember who's who. 

I can't help but think there are other readers like me out there--scatterbrained folks who love a good read but don't want to keep up with too many names.  Maybe they're moms or other busy people who just want to keep it simple.  I can usually read just 20 minutes at a time before I'm running up to take laundry out of the dryer, dashing out the door for a carpool, falling asleep after a long day, or hearing "the doctor will see you now."

I'm making a conscious effort to limit the number of murder suspects for my books.  Five is really a good number--not so many that you lose track of them, but not so few that you don't have any sense of surprise when the killer is revealed. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Avoiding Procrastination

I came across an interesting blog entry today, courtesy of the Renegade Writer Blog, that referenced ten common excuses for putting off writing. The author of the original piece is Gina Hiatt, Ph.D., president of Academic Writing Club and Academic Ladder. Here is Hiatt's list of procrastinating thoughts and her rebuttals to them:

Thought: I need to warm up first by writing some email.

Rebuttal: You can warm up by starting the work slowly, making a list of what you will do, reading over your notes or writing from yesterday

Thought: I’m not in a good mood and I don’t write well when I’m not in a good mood – I’ll do it later when I feel better.

Rebuttal: Nothing will make you feel as good as getting something done. The main reason for your bad mood is that you don’t really want to do this task, so getting it out of the way will feel great.

Thought: Life is so hard – I can’t believe I have to do this unpleasant task. I’ll even it out by doing something more fun first.

Rebuttal: Yes, life is hard, and it’s terrible that you have to do this task. That’s why you will reward yourself after you do the task. Otherwise you’re applying backwards conditioning, which doesn’t work. And don’t forget to plan enough fun and relaxation time into your schedule.

Thought: I’ll definitely do it, in a minute or so.

Rebuttal: Set a timer, or that minute could last two hours. When the timer goes off, do the task. Even better, do it now!

Thought: After this bad thing is over in my life (midterms, meeting, in-law visit, etc.) my life will seem easier and I’ll be able to do my task on a daily basis. So I’ll wait until then.

Rebuttal: Life is always like this. You can afford to do 15 minutes of work today, can’t you? This is the one small act you can do to make your life a little better.

Thought: I just don’t feel like it.

Rebuttal: So what? Do it anyway! If you wait until you feel like it, the task will get done in 10 years if you’re lucky. They only way to make yourself feel like it is to get started and get into the flow of the work.

Thought: Why do just a little today – I’ll do double tomorrow – I work better when I feel pressure anyway.

Rebuttal: It’s a fallacy that you work better under pressure. It’s not true, because anxiety reduces creativity and clear thinking. And doing double the next day will backfire. You will feel less like doing it tomorrow because you’ve decided you must do double the work, and it will seem more overwhelming and less appealing, so you’re even more likely to put it off until the next day.

Thought: I can only work in one place (the library, a cafĂ©, my office) and that place isn’t available or I can’t get there – so there’s no point in working at all.

Rebuttal: You’d be surprised how much work you can get done no matter where you are. Even if you don’t have your laptop with you, you can pull out a scrap of paper and write down a few notes on what you’d like to accomplish in the section you’ve been working on. Try it!

Thought: I’m not sure how to do this – I don’t know how sitting down and writing will enable me to do it — it’s just hopeless so why even start?

Rebuttal: If you’re not clear enough on what to do, writing may be the only way to get you out of this state. If you truly need help from someone else on this problem, you need to write down the questions clearly. The process of writing them down may clarify the issue for you.

Thought: I didn’t write well yesterday, so today will be terrible.

Rebuttal: Often bad writing days are followed by better ones. The reason to write daily is that your brain is still plugging away on it while you’re doing other things or sleeping. So you may surprise yourself today!

I agreed with Dr. Hiatt's rebuttals and the "get it done" attitude. There's no way you're going to be on the same wavelength as your muse most days. It's been just to make a date with your manuscript every day for at least a few minutes and put something on the page. You can always go back later and add some polish to your text.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ten Common Reasons for Rejection

At the Mysterious Matters blog , a mystery editor shed light on common reasons for manuscript rejection.  Apparently at their office, they keep a database of all the works they turn down.  On reviewing this database, this editor realized that there were certain words  used over and over again in their in-house comments on these rejected manuscripts.   Be sure to read the article, which explores each word in depth, but here is an overview:   Pretentious, derivative, self-indulgent, slow, forced, ho-hum, inane, depressing, amoral, dull.  

The ho-hum was a little disturbing to me.  The editor commented: 6. HO-HUM.  A ho-hum manuscript might actually be a good book if you were stranded on a deserted island with nothing to read but pulp fiction.  It has all the right elements but doesn't manage to rise above the everyday formula.  Sadly, a competent, ho-hum  manuscript won't make it in this cutthroat era.  If we can't get excited about it, we're not going to be able to get readers excited about it, either.

It just goes to show you really do have to go the extra mile with your manuscript.  Even if it's good, it has to be great to pass an editor's requirements these days.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Before Your Book is Published

Okay, I know it seems I'm hopping around a lot between topics.  That's because not only am I starting a new book, but I've got a book that's being published next summer. 

Although there's lots and lots of information on querying, synopses, finding a publisher, etc., there's not a whole lot on what happens after your book is put under contract and before it's published. 

I thought this blog entry that is referenced by literary agency Fine Print Literary Management does a good job explaining what's going on (particularly publicity-wise) in the 6 months--1 year before your book hits the shelves: Fine Print blog entry .

These days, the more that the author can do to promote his book, the better. There are plenty of inexpensive means of promotion, like going on a blog tour.  There's a wonderful group that discusses promotion and publicity for mystery writers (and other writers) called Murder Must Advertise http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MurderMustAdvertise/ . You have to join the group (it's free) and then you can either view the forums online or you can choose to have them delivered to you by email.  They also offer some great tips in their archives on working on publicity before your book is published.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Agent Gives Seven Tips for Getting Her Attention

Agent Susan Rabiner offers seven tips on getting your book proposal noticed on her client, Penelope Trunk's, blog .

On the other hand, Penelope Trunk writes five reasons why you don't need to write a book: here .  Interestingly, she is working on her second book.  :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Editors Go Through the Same Angst Writers Do

Check out this blog entry by Moonrat regarding the editorial cycle: Editorial Ass: the Editing Cycle (a confession) . It's reassuring to know that editors experience the same gamut of feelings that writers do. I sometimes forget that editors feel (and are) accountable for the success of a work and are just as anxious to avoid a manuscript full of problems as we are. And can have just as many insecurities. I have so many days where I look at my WIP and wonder "Where am I going with this?!" It's good to know I'm not alone.

What NOT to Do When You Submit

Here is Brian Klems' article for Writer's Digest on submission don'ts. He's recently back from the Maui Writers Conference (apparently a great event, if you've got the means) and the five "don'ts" were collected from an agents' panel he attended. I've come across number 5 before on other blogs: "5. Don't resend a query or manuscript a day or two later with a note, "I found a mistake in my proposal and fixed it." Once it's sent, it's sent." I've never resent a query or manuscript, but I can understand the urge to try to obliterate an imperfect copy. It's funny how sometimes something can look perfect and read perfect, but once you hit that send button, all the errors seem to stand out in red to you. Don't let this happen to you! Give yourself a chance to sleep on it and then take a fresh look at your query/synopsis/manuscript in the morning and see if it's still as perfect as it seemed the night before.

Incidentally, Brian Klems' entire blog for Writer's Digest looks interesting. It covers blogging, copyrights, editors, publishing, formatting, the whole nine yards. Here's the link: http://blog.writersdigest.com/qq/ .

Monday, September 15, 2008

Negotiating Book Contracts Without an Agent

Nine-tenths of the advice out there urges writers to obtain an agent before negotiating your book contract with a publisher. Here is an excellent blog (written by editor Moonrat) explaining why having an agent is essential. 

That being said, sometimes it's easier to find a publisher than an agent (okay, neither one is easy, but I've got a publisher and no agent.)  I found it tough to locate  information about publishing contracts online, and the library and bookstore were also little help.

The very best information was on two different agent blogs:  the "Agenting 101" series (look for it on the right hand side of the page.  There are eleven references) on the Pub Rants blog by agent Kristen, and a blog entry called "Ten Things to Know if You Go Commando" on agent Janet Reid's blog. 

Another site I found helpful showed a sample author contract, just to give you an idea the document may look like:  www.writecontent.com.

Negotiating your own contract still isn't the way you want to go if you have a choice.  But these articles (the "Agenting 101" series is really almost a class in publishing contracts) can go a long way in helping you out. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Panel Discussion in Gastonia, NC

IMG_4237  The Carolina Conspiracy had a panel discussion this past weekend at the Gaston County Public Library in Gastonia, North Carolina, on the topic "Murder for Fun and Profit." The branch sponsors many really interesting programs( http://www.glrl.lib.nc.us/eventsexhibits/events.htm ) and librarian Carol Reinhardt was a wonderful hostess.

I have a great time with the Carolina Conspiracy and blog with them on alternate Mondays ( http://carolinaconspiracyblog.blogspot.com/ ) .  Being a member of the Conspiracy is a great way to network with other writers, get inspiration, hear industry tips, and find out how other writers get the job done.  If you have an opportunity to join a group with other writers in your town, I highly recommend it.  I'm a former/current member of: writers' clubs (generally they'll have speakers, host contests, and offer networking opportunities), critique groups (I've done both the online and the in-person varieties), and promotional groups....like the Conspiracy. If nothing else, you'll make new friends with people who share common interests with you.

Free Download to Improve Your Writing Style

I would download this book, but I already have it in my library--have had it in my library since high school, actually.  If you're not familiar with Elements of Style by William Strunk,  here's an opportunity to download the first edition for free.  E.B. White became a coauthor in later editions--that's right....the E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame. 

Here is the link to Rob Parnell's blog, then click on "Download: Elements of Style.

I've used this book more than any other guide to composition.  Strunk's advice to "omit needless words" is just as important now as it was in 1957 when Elements first came out.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Keeping on Top of Industry News

Okay, I know our time is limited as writers. If you have other big things going on (parenting, aging parents, a time-consuming day-job), then you have even less time. But I really think it's important to stay on top of publishing-related news.

For one, you can frequently read what different publishers and agents are tired of, or what they're looking for. You can read lousy queries on several editor and agent blogs (try http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ , http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/ , http://pubrants.blogspot.com/ , http://rejecter.blogspot.com/ http://www.evileditor.blogspot.com/ )and tweak yours accordingly.

For another, you can read about publishing trends on free feeds like Publisher's Lunch: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/subscribe.html and Galley Cat: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/ . Trends are important, although you should always plan on writing what you like.

If you find yourself distracted by the Internet (surfing around instead of writing) then just sign up for the feeds at the bottom of the blog pages. It's easy to do and your computer checks for blog updates on the blogs. There's a "feeds" tab next to your "favorites" tab if you use Windows Internet Explorer. The feeds will be in bold if there are new blogs to read. Limiting myself to just reading updates helps me resist the temptation to surf around.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Doing Revisions and Working on a New WIP

I'll admit that I took a couple of months off this past summer. Our house was on the market (unsuccessfully, I might add! Obviously, the housing market is less than ideal right now). I had strangers tromping through at (literally) a moment's notice. Lots of, "Okay! Let's throw those Barbies in the toy chest and go to the park!!" at the drop of a hat. Add in the vacations and family visits and it really wasn't a conducive time to do a lot of writing.

But I discovered something. If you don't write nearly every day, writing doesn't come as easily to you when you come back to it. It's sort of like an underused muscle.

Now I'm in the middle of doing revisions for the book coming out next year (for a new publisher) and working on the new book in the series. I'm starting to get my groove back, but it took a couple of weeks of pure work. Even if I felt like my writing wasn't up to par, my ideas were out on paper and I knew I could go back later and edit them into something much better.

Now some writers might find reading industry blogs a real distraction. I'll admit that it's tempting to surf the net instead of slugging out your daily pages. But if you subscribe to the blogs' feeds, you can just read them when they're updated. And so many of them have great information. There are lots of great websites for writers. Here is a cool site that I've enjoyed lately: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ ---You'll feel good about the query letters you've sent in! I like to edit these queries as I read them, which probably places me in the "disturbed" category.

An interesting idea that might appeal to many writers: organizing your writing with a wiki. This might sound a little scary, but you can make wikis that aren't shared out--that are private to your computer. Here's a blog article on creating a writing wiki: http://writerunboxed.com/2008/08/28/organize-your-novel-with-a-wiki/ If you've used a wiki for writing or if you give it a try, let me know how it goes! There are definitely parts to this that sound interesting to me if I find time to set it up.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Days You Don't Stop

Today was one of those days where I couldn't even sit down unless I was in the driver's seat of my minivan.  Plus, it was like the Fates were throwing every wacky curve ball they could think of at me.  I had a car that had to go to the shop, 2 sets of carpools to drive and a husband to get to work, yardwork to do before a tropical storm arrived in town, and a doctor's appointment for my son.  Many of these things were not on my list of things to do today.

So today I had my tiny, spiral notebook with me.  I knew I wasn't going to be able to write much, or even coherently, today.  But I could still get some snapshots of people, situations, and names.  I could mull through my plot at stoplights and think about how the story was going to play out.  And I could think of ideas to relieve the tedium of traffic, doctors' offices, and car repair shops. I even did some jotting down while waiting for the doctor (my son worked on his homework.)  So the day didn't go exactly as planned, but I did manage to get something accomplished.  And maybe Monday won't be the same way.

Cool website for mystery writers: http://mysteriousmatters.typepad.com/mysterious_matters_myster/   An interesting site for anyone interested in writing mysteries.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Being a Reader and a Writer

I love reading mysteries.  That's the whole reason I chose the genre to write for.  But when I'm writing a book, I try not to read books that are similar to my own.  In other words, I try to avoid humorous cozy mysteries. 

The reasons I do this are two-fold.  First,  on some level, I'm worried about getting too much influence from a book similar to my own.  But mostly, I'm worried that reading another author's published book will make me more frustrated with my own.  What I'm reading is a well-polished, darned-near-perfect finished product, but I can't help but compare it to my own, imperfect, scratched-up and scribbled over Work in Progress. 

So lately I've read some wonderful mysteries, but they've been nothing like my own.  I read Deborah Crombie's latest police procedural (Where Memories Lie) and a couple of books with mysterious elements to them that weren't traditional mysteries (House at Riverton and The Secret History). These books were so different from mine in every way that I was able to read them for relaxation and pure enjoyment instead of comparing my manuscript to them and feeling like I'm falling short. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting Distracted

Is it tough for you to stay focused?  Ever find that, despite your best intentions, you start flirting with another project?  It's the lure of the forbidden:  you're actually supposed to be working on your mystery series.  But then you get this great idea for a children's book.  In the middle of the night, no less.  You even sketch out some dialogue and the tone of the book, and...

Just say no! This happened to me a couple of nights ago and it was soooo tempting to start working on something new and different.  It always seems like the new love will be easier to work with, more fun-loving, cuter.  Isn't the grass always greener on the other side of the fence?

I decided to type out my sketchy idea on a Word doc and save it to the file "New Book Ideas." That way I haven't forgotten the idea and I can explore it later.  Because starting another project is just as much a form of distraction as messing around on the computer or watching TV is. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

When Your Schedule Goes Nuts

Sometimes when you're a mom, your life just gets incredibly busy and crazy.  Occasionally you can guess when this madness will descend, and others it just bites you in the rear end.  This week was a little of both.

I had kids over for end-of-summer playdates several days.  My own children were unexpectedly attention-craving, we had my daughter's birthday party to plan and execute, Brownie Scouts had a pool party....argh!  Basically, any plans I made were quickly morphed into something else.  Did I mention that both my dryer and my air conditioner needed repairman?

I did manage to write during this craziness, but I was catching my moments when I could: in the middle of the night, waking up with insomnia; while my kids were in the pool and I was at poolside; in the car at stoplights.  Was it exactly the quality writing time I wanted?  No.  But I felt better when I did it and it quickly added up, too. 

School starts back next week and with any luck I can get back into more of a rhythm.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Characters: Suspects and Victims

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While I'm writing my daily pages (I'm starting at the beginning of the book, but might hop around later), I'm also working at the same time on fleshing out my characters. Since I'm writing mysteries, I'm thinking in terms of suspects, killer, and victim(s).

A lot of these characters have traits of people I know or have met, even for a few minutes, in the grocery store or Target. Sometimes I meet people that really strike me the wrong way and they become victims in my books. :) The idea here is that you're writing what you know. Obviously you're not going to want to call your characters by the same name or make them exactly like the person you have in mind. That's called libel. But there's lots of good baby naming links for names. Or you could drag out your old high school yearbook and come across a bunch of name ideas. I've had fun with this site: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php . It has a lot of fantasy name ideas, but it can really get your creative juices flowing.

It's been said a lot, but it really helps to know your characters well. It helps even more to know your characters a little TOO well. If you make a simple list of your character's personality traits and background, it helps you to know what motivates them and what internal conflicts they might be facing. You don't need to put all your information about the characters in your book--it would end up bloated with unnecessary information. But by knowing your character well, you can make your book stronger.

Here are some links to some character trait charts that have helped me nail down my characters: http://users.wirefire.com/tritt/tip8.html and http://www.charlottedillon.com/CharacterChart.html

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Keeping to a Schedule

There are days when churning out my 1-2 pages is a major chore. Today started out that way. I had a flurry of emails, phone calls, and a meeting yesterday which all dealt with event sign-ups for Scouts and school, 2 special occasions to find a babysitter for, college reunion activities to plan out and make hotel reservations for, and the launch of a major fundraiser for Boy Scouts. STRESS. I knew before I went to bed that I was feeling stressed out, but just decided to turn in and hope for the best (the best= wake up refreshed the next morning.)

Anyway, I woke up worried at 3:15 A.M. How was everything going to get done? Could I carry it off or would I drop the ball? Could I even remember all the stuff I needed to do? And so I decided to get up for the day. Because, let's face it, we all know when sleep just isn't going to happen that night. Getting up sure beats tossing and turning. I sat down with my calendar, worked out my worries the best I could, and then started writing. There sure as heck aren't a lot of distractions in the middle of the night. Despite being tired, I wrote my couple of pages and surprised myself at their humor. Okay, maybe it was sarcasm. But that was a tone I was going for so maybe being exhausted helped me to channel it.

As long as I write at least one or two pages a day, I'm on target. The most important thing is getting the words down on the page. I'm as much of a perfectionist as anyone else, but you can't revise and edit until you've got something substantial to read-through. When I'm too hung up in corrections and reading over the text, then I don't move forward on the project at all.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rules and Tools

Some Mystery Writing Rules:

Here's an important link to review before you get too deep into your plotting: http://www.mysteryinkonline.com/2005/01/twenty_rules_fo.html

You've got to make sure your mystery is fair. After all, you don't want your readers feeling cheated at the end of the book. Actually, if you have a potential editor or agent feeling cheated, your book won't even get as far as a reader. So keep it fair. Most readers like to match wits with your sleuth.

Some Mystery Writing Tools:

I'm in brainstorming mode now. Right now I don't have my suspects fully formed. In fact, I haven't even decided on their names. But my plotting is starting to make some inroads. One tool I use to organize the masses of paper and typing is a free one you can find online: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Download Included is a Wiki that tells you more about the product. Basically, you can use it to create a visual outline. To see screenshots of some example FreeMind maps, look here: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page#Screenshots

My FreeMind map has the name of the mystery in the middle. Coming out of it are "Suspects for First Murder, "Suspects for Second Murder," "Scene of Crime" (with 4 nodes coming out--Place, Clues, Weapon, Body), "Sleuth," "Victims," "The Killer," Setting,"--you get the idea. You could do this on paper, too, of course. Might want to get a big sheet, though. Each node has more nodes coming out of it with more information. Out of the "Victims," I have 2 nodes--one for each victim. For each victim, I have suspect nodes. It helps me to see how it all fits together.

Another bit of software that I like can be found on this UK site: http://www.writerscafe.co.uk/ . The software creates a bulletin board with index card look for your story. This is very helpful in keeping up with your different storylines. This is not free software (and the dollar to pound exchange rate is not the best right now), but it's not too expensive, either.

For all you moms out there: is school still out where you are? If so, it might help you out to make yourself a schedule. At least you'll start out with a game plan (every good mom knows that plans have to be flexible!) Right now I've got my going-into-middle-schooler on a Whitewater rafting trip, but my 6 year old is home. My day looked like this:

Coffee. Take out dog and get/read paper. Check email. Work on my plotting for 30 minutes. Fix breakfast for my daughter and some for me. Start a load. Write a blog entry. Make sure daughter is dressed and has done a little tidying up in her room. While daughter is playing, do some research online. Run a few errands (gas, purchase and send a gift) and come back home. Put laundry in the dryer and prepare lunch. After lunch, write for a few more minutes. Take daughter to the Kitt Kittredge movie. Make supper. Run load for a couple more minutes to de-wrinkle. Hang up laundry....

The important thing out of all the drivel above is that I did schedule some one-on-one time with my daughter. She can put up with almost any amount of distraction from me (and even my telling her that I do need 30 minutes alone....bye-bye) if she knows that we are going to do something special together. Many times we just play Memory together (a game I'm abysmal at) or read stories. But the time is there and I make a point of making it. That way I don't feel guilty when I'm carving out time to write.

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Take Your Idea and Write Back Cover Copy

First of all, a disclaimer: this blog will follow what works for me. In fact, I may find that some of these methods DON'T even work for me, which will put me back at the drawing board. But I'll be sure to report in on what's working and what's not helping at all.

So here we are with the old blank page. It's good for brainstorming, at least. If you haven't gotten your idea for your mystery, this is the place to start a list. For me, it all starts with the murder. My last book featured a newcomer to a small town and a variety of people who disliked her for different reasons. Are there any news stories lately that have peaked your interest? Think of motives for murder: love gone wrong, greed, revenge, heat of the moment-type stuff. Just reading the newspaper (online or the paper variety) or watching the local news can give you ideas. You could change the outcome of the news story: ask yourself "What if THIS happened instead? What if it wasn't the jealous husband who killed her--maybe it was her lover instead. What if he were desperate to keep their affair hidden?" You get the idea.

It's also important from the start to determine what mystery genre you're writing in. These websites can help you: http://www.cluelass.com/guide/faqgenre.lasso http://www.booksnbytes.com/genres_mystery.html http://www.mysterynet.com/genres/

For example, if you're writing a cozy mystery, you won't want the murder depiction to be too graphic. The murder itself would happen offstage and usually isn't very gruesome. (Agatha Christie did have some fairly gruesome poisonings and stranglings, but usually cozies have lots of people with blunt force head trauma or have been pushed down staircases.) Determining what type of mystery you're writing helps you choose the murder plot.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time with finding the spark of an idea. That's one of those things that you just have to discover yourself. I picked up the idea for my new book while ruminating on dinner parties--a testament to the fact that you can find your ideas anywhere. I'm mostly interesting in the execution of the plot and the tools available to help it happen.

This is how I've started out the 3rd book--I've written the back cover copy. It does sound backward, but after reading this post yesterday, it sounded like a great idea to me: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/search/label/pitch%20blurbs . After all, no matter what your position is--aspiring writer, an established writer pitching the next book in your series, etc--you'll need a pithy pitch. Besides, she's right when she mentions it helps you to focus on the main plot catalyst. It also shows you whether your plot has enough punch and conflict. You can check out cover copy by walking through your bookstore, or online at Amazon. You might also check out your local library's website and see the subject blurbs they list for various mysteries. Choose your favorite mystery author and read his or her jacket copy.

Welcome to Mystery Writing is Murder

You're invited to come along as I chronicle writing my third cozy mystery. I hope this log will help me with my next book and help anyone else who finds writing a novel overwhelming at the beginning.

You'd think by this time it would be easier. After all, this is a series and I know my main characters pretty well. The setting is based on a place familiar to me both on the page and in person. And I have a basic plan for the story. But for some reason it's not all that simple.

I do reach a point in the story where the words come out faster than I can record them: in the car, at the grocery store, during conversations with people that I should be listening to, in the kids' carpool line. But at the beginning, I like to research and think things through. That's the slowest, most difficult part of the process to me. I'm planning on posting websites, blog entries, and books that help me out. Since I do like taking breaks, I'll also post some mini book reviews along the way. And, because I'm a mom with a regular life (do any of us have a true 'regular life?!'), there'll also be plenty of posts on how I'm fitting this process in with parenting, being a Brownie leader, and cleaning my house. And blogging! You can find me on another blog, too-- http://www.carolinaconspiracyblog.blogspot.com/

Time to write.