Monday, August 29, 2011


Kaye George, fellow Sister in Crime and Guppy, is today's guest. She's the author of the very funny Choke, a mystery from Mainly Murder Press, and "The Truck Contest," a short story in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology.

I love to make people laugh. I always have. When I was young, I didn't always know what to do in a social situation. But I knew one good thing to fall back on—make them laugh.

In fact (and this is crazy) I think I'd like to do standup comedy. This is crazy because I'm terrified in front of audiences. I saw an interview with Garrison Keillor where he said he didn't notice the audience, even when they seated some of them on the stage. He said he's so nearsighted, they look like a field of pinkish Renoir flowers. Is he lucky! I'm every bit that nearsighted, but don't dare go without my glasses.

One thing I've studied over the years is comedic timing, on television and on the stage. I know this doesn't have that much to do with the written page, but I think it helps if you understand that when you're writing comedy. None of my in-depth critiques have ever faulted the humor in CHOKE, and that makes me very happy!

The easiest kind of humor is mean. (Well, the very easiest is filthy potty-mouthed.) That's a kind I try to stay away from. There's a simple secret to keeping the humor away from ridicule and mocking. That's to love your characters. I do dearly love all my characters. I know some are odd balls (and at least one is a murderer), but there is something to like about each one. I give the reader reasons for their odd behaviors, which makes them more understandable. That is, after all, just part of knowing the characters—knowing why they act the way they do.

I'll let you in on a secret. For years and years I never wrote humor. I though that would be a cop-out because it's so easy. When I finally got it drilled into me that it's not easy for everyone, I let myself do it. I never had so much fun writing a book before. And you may notice it's the ONE that's published.
No wonder Kaye George writes such interesting characters—she's been a janitor in a tractor factory, a mental health center secretary, a bookkeeper and a short order cook. She's been a mainframe computer programmer and a nurse's aide along the way.
 Kaye is also a violinist, an online mystery reviewer, an award-winning short story writer, and the author of several unpublished (so far) mystery series besides the one being published by Mainly Murder Press. Find out more at her website, In her blog, Travels with Kaye, she documents her writing journey, but she also includes actual travels.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Help—thought-provoking or just bad entertainment?

We saw the movie The Help this week. I read the book a year or so ago and loved it. There's such a lot of controversy about it, but to me it's an important book and film. I don't see it as pure entertainment. There may be some exaggeration in a few scenes (I can't say—I wasn't there). A couple of situations seemed a little off, but overall it's outstanding. The main characters, Aibilene
(Viola Davis), Minny (Octavia Spencer), and Skeeter (Emma Stone), were outstanding. Alison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Celia Foote. Sissy Spacek—they were all fabulous.

To me, this is an important story that needed to be told. Too many young people won't have any idea what it was like. Everyone must know about the terrible events such as the horrible, shameful murders of Medgar Evers and Emmett Till, the savagery in Birmingham, and Martin Luther King, but what about the everyday lives of the ordinary people? The maids, who had no voice, who were denied dignity, who faced it all routinely? They endured it with stoicism (at least outwardly) and courage. I have only praise for the wonderful black actresses who brought this story to life for new generations. I want my grandchildren to see it.

I know many people hated it, but it happened. It's not over yet, but it's part of our history and we need to know. How else can we fight it? How do you feel about it? 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Community- An Aspect of Setting or Character?

My guest this week is Donna White Glaser, psychotherapist/office manager/writer, not always in that order. Wearing her writing hat, she's the author of The Enemy We Know.

My series, The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mysteries, takes place in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin—a beautiful scenic town that was chosen in 1997 by Time magazine as one of America’s top ten small towns. It’s a pretty place. There are authors who would certainly do justice to its charm and unique north-midwestern style. I’d love to be able to bring a setting to life the way William Kent Krueger does for Minnesota’s Iron Range.2

However, an aspect that I do find easy to incorporate into my writing (whether I’m good at it or not is up for grabs) is: community. When I was pondering what to write for this post, it occurred to me that much of my book is based on the communities that Letty is immersed in. All of us—unless we’re living in a remote Montana cabin proofreading our manifesto—are a part of some community, usually several. Family, neighborhoods, work, friendship circles, special interest groups such as writers’ organizations, and, of course, perhaps the most important: blogs!

At first glance, when I began exploring what purpose Letty’s communities have on her and the plot I assumed that community was just an aspect of setting. And indeed it is since setting has to do with orienting the reader to the character’s world. Unless the character is working in a vacuum, her communities are going to come into play when describing her life and the external surroundings.

For instance, Letty is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous—a fairly insular group—and one of the “hooks” in my series is to open the world of AA to the curious. In fact, each book is thematically structured on one or two of AA’s 12 Steps. I wanted readers who haven’t “sat around the tables” to feel what it’s like to walk into a (typically) shabby old building where everybody knows your deepest secrets and it feels as though you’d just come home even though the coffee is atrocious and the person sitting next to you has disgusting B.O.3 I also wanted readers who have been to AA to say, “Yeah, that’s what it’s like.” Needless to say, AA is highly significant to my story. As Roerden points out, “In some fiction, setting plays a role as significant as that of a character.” It was in this context that I then considered community as a technique for developing character.

After all, the communities our characters belong to tell readers a great deal about them. Is your character a reluctant member, forced to participate in a community because it’s a necessary evil? Harry Bosch of Michael Connelly’s thriller series comes to mind. He’d much rather be on his own but the guy’s gotta make a living. Lee Child went even further with Jack Reacher. Or perhaps your character is a hearty enthusiast, someone whose personality makes him or her a “joiner”? Something like Claire O’Donohue’s Someday Quilts series where the quilters group solves murders in between stitches. Where our characters feel at home is highly descriptive and is as much a part of his or her personality as how he dresses or what sports she follows.

Another aspect of character development is the need to bring alive the characters and relationships within the community that our characters interact with. After all, a community is empty of meaning without people.4 As writers, we’ll have to examine how those personalities fit into the whole of the community, and what relationships with them says about the main characters. Communities provide oodles of secondary or tertiary characters that add depth and “flavor” to our story.

But there is a larger consideration than the individual members.

When we’re speaking about communities we aren’t referring merely to individuals—isolated and distinct—but to the unique entity that is born when its members identify with each other and decide to belong to the entity. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” to steal from Aristotle. We could argue “greater than,” but let’s not quibble. My point is that the whole is separate from its parts.

What’s amazing to me (and to community psychologists) 5 is that this whole can essentially become a new, distinct character. As such, a community has a personality, if you will, and therefore requires as much thought as any other character. Communities have certain norms, mores, belief systems, etc. that its members either adhere to or rebel against and that either invite or exclude non-members from entering. A community can put pressures on a character, can become an obstacle as in bureaucracies, the source of a threat, or, of course, a vast network of support and affection.

In short, a community can be a big, hairy beast that thwarts—or nurtures—our characters. Ignore it at your peril!6

Thank you, Ellis, for allowing me to explore this idea on your blog! I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the importance of community in their writings. Thanks again!

1 I made that up.
2 Of course if I could do that it would negate the whole premise of this posting, wouldn’t it?
3 Well, maybe not with that much clarity.
4 Or sheep, if you’re Leonie Swan. Have you read “Three Bags Full”? Love it!
5  Yes, there are such things. Why don’t you trust me?
6  Okay, that was over-the-top but I needed a closing line.

Description: Psychotherapist Letty Whittaker, a professional secret keeper, has a secret of her own. When one of her clients slips free from an abusive boyfriend, Letty becomes the target of his violent rage. Wayne invades Letty's life, slithering his way past the barriers erected between her personal and professional lives, leaving gifts of dead rats, mutilated dolls, and freaky Shakespearian sonnets. Worst of all, Wayne uncovers Letty's deepest shame, infiltrating her AA group and threatening to expose her to the state licensing board.

And then--good news--Wayne is murdered. The bad news? The police suspect Letty. Worse yet, the sonnets and bloody souvenirs keep coming. Someone else has been watching Letty. Someone eager to drop bodies at her feet like a cat offering dead mole trophies to his mistress.

Someone willing to kill again.


Author Bio: Donna White Glaser is the author of THE ENEMY WE KNOW. Like her main character, Donna is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the second Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery-THE ONE WE LOVE. Donna would love to hear from you via her website at or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Punctuation with Quotation Marks

Uh-oh. Nothing ready for this week, but since I'm working on edits for my new novel, and this is today's subject, I thought I might as well post this.

Fire has been on my mind because I just finished listening to Nora Roberts's Chasing Fire, a terrific book. The reader, Rebecca Lowman, was outstanding and added to it. The descriptions of the fire took your breath. I really, really enjoyed it.

So, back to quotation marks and punctuation.

Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark.  Placement of question marks and exclamation points depends on the context. Colons and semicolons always go outside the closing quotation marks.

Luke burst into the meeting. “Who yelled ‘Fire’?”

David said, “Voting is responsibility as well as a right.”

After the introduction, the speaker said, “We are here to support our leader”; but the audience booed him off the stage.

Another example:
I question the use of the word “tortured”; you may have a tortured soul or a tortured expression, but as an adjective, the word means “anguished,” not brutalized or subjected to torture.

Monday, August 15, 2011

End of an Era

Today my guest is Warren Bull, author, editor, reviewer, and blogger (check out writers who kill)--all in all, a very talented man!
My favorite mystery bookstore, I Love a Mystery, in Mission, Kansas is closing in mid August.  In some ways I’m glad that I will be in New Zealand when it finally happens.  In other ways I am sad not to be able to squeeze in every possible moment before the store closes.  I have similar mixed emotions about attending funerals.
For eleven years I Love a Mystery’s motto was, “It’s not just a bookstore – it’s an experience.”  The store and wonderful staff lived up to the motto with Holiday parties, especially Christmas, author signings and Border Crimes chapter of the Sisters in Crime meetings. 
You could sit in a comfortable chair, under the steely gaze of a raven and sample a new author or relax with the works of an old friend.  It always felt like Sherlock Holmes had just stepped out to smoke his pipe whilst considering the latest reports from the Baker Street Irregulars.  Perhaps the older woman chatting up Becci was really Miss Jane Marple talking about how the cook’s daughter reminded her of something related to her current inquiries. Oh, what was it now?
The Maltese Falcon, sitting smugly on a shelf above a skeleton and a stained dagger waited for the ponderous footsteps of the fat man, and the silhouette behind the door of Spade and Archer seemed ready to do, “What a man’s gotta’ do.”
The shelves held the best of contemporary mystery writing from all over the world. The store was frequently a home away from home for mystery writers as well as readers. 
Thanks to the departed but still loved and never forgotten Karen Spengler, and to Becci West.  Thanks to the wonderful staff who figured out what books I was talking about from the mangled titles and tiny clues I was able to provide.  I will miss you all.
Warren Bull is the author of more than thirty short stories as well as memoirs, essays a novel, ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE, PublishAmerica, 2003, Smashwords, 2010  and a short story collection, MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE, Ninth Month Publishing, Co, 2010. He has published in STRANGE MYSTERIES 2, Whortleberry Press, 2010, STRANGE MYSTERIES, Whortleberry Press, 2009, MEDIUM OF MURDER, Red Coyote Press, 2008, MANHATTAN MYSTERIES, KS Publishing, Inc., 2005, Great Mystery and Suspense magazine, Mouth Full of Bullets, The Back Alley,, and Mysterical-E among others.  He was a psychologist for thirty years. He comes from a functional family and is a fierce competitor at trivia games.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Personalities--alpha, beta, or gamma?

Bruce Willis, Tears of the Sun
As we all know, a SEAL team took out Osama bin Laden. I believe it was also a SEAL team that shot the Somali pirates, the ones who took the ship captain prisoner. SEALs seem to be the supermen of our day—no wonder they’re featured in so many romantic suspense novels. I wonder what sort of personalities they have in real life. In books they’re always alpha males, tough and hard but with a tender side the heroine uncovers.
Attila and his Hordes Overrun Italy and the Arts
(Detail) Eugène Delacroix
So I googled alpha males. Try it. You’ll be surprised at all the advice on how men can transform themselves from betas (another name for lily-livered losers) into alphas and get all the hot women they want. (Alphas never chase women; women swarm to them.) Most of the advice struck me as how to turn wimps into jerks. There seems to be some confusion between being dominant and being strong and between confidence and arrogance (one site advises “never apologize”). From some of the descriptions and advice, I think they’re creating sociopaths. I kept thinking of a twist on Mae West’s words: Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily wonderful.
The websites ignored the sensitive, caring side, seeing it as a weakness that needs to be wiped from the psyche. But there’s hope. According to a few sites, there’s another type, very rare: the gamma male. Having some of that tender side is what makes gamma males. Gammas seem to combine the strength of alphas with a little of the sweetness and sensitivity attributed to betas.
I think these advisers and men who want to change could learn a lot from reading a few good romance novels. The heroes of books are leaders because they’re smart, strong, and exciting but still good men. They lead through respect, not fear. “Bold” and “bad” are not synonymous. I don’t think women would find them so exciting if they weren’t decent guys with a sense of honor and responsibility, men who care about others. Those characteristics are as much a part of their attraction as the strong stuff. If that makes them gamma men, then let’s have more gamma men.
Real heroes, male or female, should be strong enough and confident enough that they don’t have to prove themselves. They can respect another’s knowledge or ability and work as a team, using everyone’s skills to the advantage of the team. It can be a woman’s skills as well as a man’s. If she’s the better marksman, let her pull the trigger. If she speaks fluent Urdu, let her do the talking. If he can calm the frightened child, let him be the one to hold it. That’s true confidence—when a person is comfortable in his or her own skin. That’s how I think of SEALs, and that’s how I hope to see heroes in books.

 Some of the new super-tough, kick-ass heroines leave me cold too. Where are their redeeming qualities? There should be something to like, something to smile at.
What do you think about alpha personalities? What’s your definition? Do you have any good examples of alphas, betas, or gammas?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Riding with the Harley Dogs: One Author’s Adventure

My guest today is best-selling New York Times author Angie Fox. Her latest release is The Last of the Demon Slayers.
I’d always known writing would be an adventure, but I never predicted my writing would put me on the back of a coal black Harley Davidson, with an Irish Setter in tow. I’d set out to write a paranormal about a straight-laced preschool teacher turned demon slayer who has to run off with a gang of geriatric biker witches. But my heroine has a smart-mouthed dog that, thanks to her new powers, can talk…and talk…and talk. And I really loved that dog. What’s a writer to do? Well, I went online and learned that there is a nationwide club of Harley bikers who ride with their dogs. So my heroine could have her pink Harley, and her Jack Russell Terrier too.
And of course I had to meet these Harley riding dog lovers. I called up a few of the members of a Biker Dogs Motorcycle Club and the adventure began. They invited me into their homes, introduced me to their dogs and, like my heroine, the bikers hoisted me up on the back of a Harley, with a dog in tow.
Things I learned right off the bat:
1. After an hour on a Harley, you’ll walk like John Wayne for a week
2. Helmets hurt when they are worn backwards
3. Dogs love riding motorcycles
Stone, the biker who spent the most time making sure I didn’t fall off his hog, showed me how to ride, invited me to some biker rallies (note to self: don’t wear pink next time), and helped make The Accidental Demon Slayer as real as it can be (for a book about a somewhat sheltered preschool teacher turned demon slayer).
So just when I thought I was writing fiction, it seemed my made-up characters from The Accidental Demon Slayer weren’t so imaginary after all. One of the bikers I met even has a wife who is a biker witch. I’m wondering if she, like my heroine’s biker witch grandma, wears a “Kiss my Asphalt” T-shirt and carries a carpet bag full of Smuckers jars filled with magic. Maybe I’ll find out on my next adventure.
Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of several books about vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night. She claims that researching her stories can be just as much fun as writing them. In the name of fact-finding, Angie has ridden with Harley biker gangs, explored the tunnels underneath Hoover Dam and found an interesting recipe for Mamma Coalpot’s Southern Skunk Surprise (she’s still trying to get her courage up to try it).
Angie earned a Journalism degree from the University of Missouri. She worked in television news and then in advertising before beginning her career as an author. Visit Angie at

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Word "Mortified"

Lucille Ball
The use of this word puzzles me. Yesterday someone told me they were mortified when diagnosed with cancer. (The diagnosis was years ago—the person has been cancer free for many years now.) Someone else told me they were mortified at hearing a tasteless joke. Another was mortified at a near miss by an oncoming car. These examples stuck with me because they rang false in my ear. Am I wrong? (Always a possibility.)
I might be terrified, horrified, or even petrified at a particular diagnosis, but I can only think of one or two that would mortify me, and that would be caused the manner of acquiring the disease. 
While I might be embarrassed by someone else’s joke, mortified doesn’t seem right.
I’ve always associated the word with shame in some personal way. My child’s behavior could possibly mortify me (appall would be more likely), but I, unfortunately, am capable of mortifying myself.

From Merriam-Webster
transitive verb
1 obsolete : to destroy the strength, vitality, or functioning of 
2: to subdue or deaden (as the body or bodily appetites) especially by abstinence or self-inflicted pain or discomfort
3: to subject to severe and vexing embarrassment : shame
Synonyms: abash, confound, confuse, discomfit, disconcert, discountenance, faze, fluster, embarrass, nonplus, rattle

How do you use the word? Do you notice its use or misuse by others? Can you give an example?