Monday, April 30, 2012

Research Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – Or Can It?

At Amazon

Marja McGraw, author of the wonderful Bogey series and other mysteries, is my guest today.
I’d like to say that I’m one of those people who knows things. Haven’t you ever met someone who seems to know everything? Well, I’m not one of those people. I know a few facts about many subjects. Consequently, I have to research for my books.
I wrote Old Murders Never Die, which is about a young female P.I. and her partner being stranded in a ghost town, and I had to research things about the Old West. Not cowboys or the fun stuff, but how to use a wood-burning cook stove. What might you find in a hundred and twenty year old house if it was abandoned and no one had entered it until you came along? How did people speak – especially if it was someone who wasn’t well-educated? I’d start to write a scene and suddenly have to stop to research some small piece of the story.
When I started writing the Bogey Man series, which is about a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, I had to start researching vintage clothing, 1940s slang and, not that it broke my heart, but I had to sit down and watch old Bogart movies to study some of his mannerisms and speech habits.
Both of my series take place today; however, they include things from the past. I had no idea what I was getting into until I’d start to write a scene and realize I didn’t know what I was talking about.
At Amazon
Research is essential to writing a good story whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Ya can’t just make things up and hope no one notices. If you don’t get your facts right, I can almost guarantee someone will call you on it.
One thing I’ve learned through this is that I enjoy research. Who knew? In fact, sometimes I have to force myself to put aside the research and get back to the book. My, how things have changed since I was a kid and had to research projects for school.
Another eye-opener was when I realized that not everything you read on the Internet is factual. Many times I have to check out multiple resources, including the library. It’s time-consuming, but well worth the effort.
I know several retired police officers and they’re probably sick of me asking questions about police procedure. There may be a few police departments who’ve blocked my calls, too. (Just joking. I’m sure they love to hear from me.) When I need information, I’m not the least bit shy about asking for it.
I’ve learned that when I read books by other authors, I can usually tell if they’ve done their homework before writing the story. I appreciate the effort they’ve put into it, because I know how much blood, sweat and tears were involved. What else would a mystery writer put into their research? Laughter? Giggles?
So next time you read a good book, remind yourself that a lot more went into writing the story than simply imagination.
Book Trailer for Bogey’s Ace in the Hole:

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Romantic Hero …

At Amazon

Caroline Bourne, author of Shadow Marsh, a historical romance set in Louisiana, is my guest. 
Back in the early 90s I read a historical romance novel at the request of the writer. On the very first page of the novel, the hero sat in a saloon belching and passing gas.  It wouldn’t have mattered how good the story was; I was immediately turned off of the novel by this uncouth pig.  Whenever this man was with the heroine, all I could think about was him sitting in that saloon belching and passing gas…and why on earth was the smart, educated heroine even giving him the time of day?
Since then it has been my opinion that a reader’s first impression of the hero of a romance novel will set the tone for the story. It is much easier for a female writer to associate with the female protagonist, because she has those natural feminine feelings. It takes a good deal of patience, understanding and imagination to get into the head of her male protagonist and know just how much of a soft side he needs to win over the reader, or how brutal he can be and keep the respect of the reader. I like to think that I had some success in that regard, simply because I always gave the hero traits that I like to see in a man. Can the hero have a soft side? Certainly, he can. 
The reader of historical romance, typically women, will fall in love with a hero who climbs a tree to rescue a kitten or throws his coat over a muddy puddle for the heroine, or any woman, to step on. I have to admit that, to my recollection, the hero in none of my 14 historical romances climbed a tree to rescue a kitten or threw out his coat, but they all had their soft side. I fell in love with each and every one them. My 14th novel, Talon’s Heart, out soon as an eBook, has two dominant men.  Only one gets the girl, but I was totally “in love” with the one who didn’t.  To right that injustice, his story continues in a sequel.
Coming soon from Echelon Press
The characters of a book are as important as the story. Their personalities must be consistent, and stir the reaction in the reader that the writer intends. And please, no belching “hero” passing gas in a saloon.

She is Talon Rose, half-blood daughter of a Comanche chief and a white captive. As an outlaw who prides herself on never having killed, she rides the Arizona badlands with Mexican bandits, rustling livestock to sell south of the border, and eludes a “hang on sight” order. . . until a US Marshal captures her.   Taken to an American army camp deep in the Huachuca Mountains and forced to scout with Apaches, she is soon caught in a triangle wrought with desire.
John Nightwing, the Apache Chief of Scouts, proud and determined.
Major Laine Taylor, Officer of Scouts and a genteel Southern gentleman, stubborn and equally determined.
Talon's heart is captured between the two equally imposing men, but only one can gain her undying love and devotion.  Torn between her heritage and her heart, Talon Rose battles the demons of the world as fiercely as the ones within herself. But her struggle is not the only one as two suitors face off in a passionate battle that may cost one man not only his heart, but his life.
Caroline Bourne was born in Southampton, England, served in the United States Marine Corps, and is the author of 14 historical romance novels. She contributed stories to two holiday anthologies for Kensington Publishers of New York.  She currently works for a Southern Indiana police department, and has two daughters, six granddaughters and one great-grandson.    

Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing My First Children’s Mystery Novel

At Amazon
Jean Henry Mead, author of the Logan & Cafferty mysteries for adults, is my guest this week.

I considered writing an autobiographical children's book for years before actually sitting down to write one. Medallion Books released it as Mystery ofSpider Mountain as well as the second novel, Ghost of Crimson Dawn, in my Hamilton Kids' mystery series.
I’m a former news reporter with seven published nonfiction books and four novels, but I wondered about the language of middle school children. My five kids were grown and I had no grandchildren nearby in the 9-12 age range. So I read a number of books written by others although none of them were in the style I planned to write. What to do? A flyer from the Institute of Children’s Literature arrived in the mail, so, on a whim, I submitted the test and was immediately accepted as a student. No surprise there. Still, I wondered whether I was wasting my money because I already knew how to write. It just goes to show that no matter how much experience you have, you can always learn more.
I’m not getting paid to sing the praises of the institute, but I must say that it was well worth the tuition. My instructor, Louise Munro Foley, an experienced children’s writer, served as my mentor as I took my time writing the novel between other projects. One of the things I learned was that children must solve the mysteries on their own with only minimal help from parents and other adults. And I was encouraged to watch children’s Saturday programming to learn their   “language.”
Fiction is rooted in fact and my three protagonists spent their formative years at the foot of a large hill in southern California, as I did with four younger brothers. Because the hill was inhabited by trap door spiders and an occasional tarantula that arrived on a banana boat from Central America, I called it Spider Mountain.
My brothers and I were close in age and explored our "mountain" together. The apron was filled with tall, blue lupines which bloomed nearly year round, and halfway up the hill was Dead Man’s Tree. We called it that because a thickly-knotted rope hung from a limb that we swung on. At the end was a large loop. That prompted stories about horse thieves which we imagined had been hanged there.
A dirt road encircled the hill at three levels but was so chocked with rocks and clumps of weeds that even a bicycle would have had difficult passage. So we wondered how the people who lived at the summit were able to reach their home, and imagined everything from rock climbers to space ships and helicopters, although we’d never heard one in the area.
When I was twelve and old enough to babysit brothers who were nearly my own size, we climbed our mountain to spy on the mysterious house. What we found was a chain link fence restraining four large vicious-appearing dogs with mouths large enough to swallow a child whole. Or so we thought. It didn’t take us long to scramble back down the hill to our own house. And, of course, we never told our parents.
When I began to write, I wondered again who those people were and how they arrived at their hilltop home. The house itself was a mystery but I had to decide which crime(s) the residents of the house had committed. And how the Hamilton kids would be able to bring them to justice. I then thought of the Ouija board we used to play with. That’s when the spirit Bagnomi materialized and talked to the kids via the board.
My four brothers had to be reduced to two to make the story manageable. Even so, they were as unmanageable as my own brothers had been, so their widowed grandmother came to live with them—as ours had done. However, our grandmother didn’t have bright red curly hair like Ronald McDonald, and wasn’t interested in finding a husband. Even children’s books need humor and the Hamilton Kids’ grandmother provides that and more, along with an adopted Australian Shepherd with a penchant for chewing furniture.
Writing for children has opened a new vista for me, which I hope my young readers will enjoy as much as I enjoyed the writing. I'm currently working on the second novel in the series, The Ghost of Crimson Dawn, which takes place here in Wyoming, where the Hamilton Kids visit their Uncle Harry at his mountaintop ranch. There's a bit of autobiographical plotting in that book as well. 

Both children's mysteries are available on Kindle and Nook as well as in print. Murder on the Interstate, the third novel of my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, was also recently released, as well as the new book I edited, The Mystery Writers, written by sixty bestselling, award-winning and journeymen writers.

My website:
Blog sites:
and Facebook:!/profile.php?id=1290204781

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Great Bee Migration Continues

The new queen in her cage
Sunday afternoon
The new hive and queen were installed on Saturday.  By Sunday afternoon there was a great mass of bees outside the old hive in the house wall, unable to get back in. That night they formed a huge ball and clung to the dome all night. We checked and took one picture with a flash. The beekeeper came, checked on the queen, who was alive and well, still in her little cage, and he was hopeful.  Tuesday the weather changed from sunny and warm to cold and rainy. The wind and rain got quite hard, and we worried.
Sunday night
By early Tuesday afternoon, the poor little bees were huddled together in the rain, unable to return to the safety of their hive in the wall. They clung to the dome and formed a large tight ball that literally vibrated during the first hours of the rain. Did they shiver as we do to circulate whatever flows through their bodies. We had no idea, and we couldn't think of any way to protect or warm them.
Tuesday afternoon
Later they stopped moving at all. No vibrating, no flying, no anything. The stillness was eerie. But no bee bodies littered the ground below the dome. We checked again the next morning before daylight. They might have been frozen in place, but it wasn't that cold. The Internet didn't tell us about such a situation, and we didn't have any idea if they could survive. By early afternoon it had warmed a little and a few began flying. Hope returned. Happily we shot off another email and picture to our beekeeper friend. He wasn't sure either and passed it on to a more experienced friend.
Early Wednesday
That evening after sundown, another cool one, there were far fewer bees visible on the dome. Were they dead? Had they taken shelter in trees or bushes? Found a new home? We did see three or four enter the new hive, but no large numbers, no swarm as we had hoped.
Almost gone Thursday
Then Thursday came, sunny and fairly warm. The bees almost disappeared from the dome. We waited anxiously for the beekeeper. This time he came in his white suit and watched. Not much was happening, so he removed the top to the new hive to check on the queen. Bees! And the queen had eaten the candy plug in her box and escaped. He took off the screen and peered into the hole. Thousands of bees! They'd moved into the new hive and were alive and well. What excitement! Success.

You'd think, for all our interest and enthusiasm, we'd want the bees, but we've been trying to get rid of them for years. It just seems that such tough, determined little creatures deserve a chance, and we wanted them to find a place where they'd be welcome. So, long live the Queen!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Interview with a Ghost

At Amazon
Marilyn Levinson, author of  the Twin Lakes mysteries, is my guest today.
Rosie the Reporter Interviews Cameron Leeds, the Ghost in GIVING UP THE GHOST
Rosie the Reporter: Cam, it must have felt strange--waking up in your cottage and discovering you’re a ghost.
Cam: Strange doesn’t cover it. I came to in the den and knew something was wrong when I saw clear through my hand. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks—I was dead. Someone had killed me, and I had no idea who.
Rosie the Reporter: Why is that? Did the murderer strike you in the middle of the night when all the lights were out?
Cam: it happened in broad daylight. I must admit, I’d been drinking, and the killer snuck up on me unawares. Afterwards, I was determined to find out who murdered me, only I couldn’t because I couldn’t leave this den.
At Amazon
Rosie the Reporter:  And so the minute Gabbie moved into the cottage you badgered her until she agreed to play detective. Did you ever stop to consider what a shock you were to her system? That having her ask questions about your death would put her life in danger?
Cam: I suppose from that perspective I was being selfish, but I had to find out who murdered me. Don’t underestimate Gabbie. She’s as smart as she’s easy on the eyes. I worked my magic until she agreed to play detective.
Rosie the Reporter: You worked your magic, eh? I heard you’ve worked your magic on a large segment of the town’s female population.
Cam: A gross exaggeration. I’ve merely enjoyed the company of various women over the years.
Rosie the Reporter: Including some who were married. Could an irate husband have decided to murder you?
Cam: I doubt it. The past few years I was faithful to Jill Leverette. Hmmm, I suppose her husband might have killed me. And Jill was furious with me the last day of my life—not that she’d ever consider offing me.
Rosie the Reporter: Why was she furious?
Cam: Because I was leaving town and wouldn’t take her along. I explained it was for her own good, but she couldn’t see it that way.
Rosie the Reporter: You suddenly seem sad.
Cam: I was an idiot! I never realized how much I loved her until I was dead.
Rosie the Reporter: Word has it you were quite a wheeler dealer. Do you think one of your business partners murdered you? A few have complained you didn’t always treat them fairly.
Cam (shrugging): Business is business. I made the deals and took the risks, so I got the lion’s share of the profits. I only did business with friends, and I always treated them fairly. None of them killed me because friends don’t kill one another.
Rosie the Reporter: You seem to have excluded everyone as suspect except Jill’s husband.
Cam (grinning): I suppose you’ll have to read GIVING UP THE GHOST to find out.
Gabbie Meyerson moves to the sleepy town of Chrissom Harbor, Long Island, to teach English at the local high school. She settles into her rental cottage above the Long Island Sound and discovers she has a housemate--the ghost of Cameron Leeds, who used to live in the cottage. Cam insists his death was no accident, and implores Gabbie to find out who murdered him eight months ago. After she recovers from her initial shock, Gabbie agrees to investigate. She soon discovers many people had reason to want Cam dead.

Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries and novels for kids. Her debut novel, A MURDERER AMONG US, was awarded a Best Indie of 2011 by Suspense Magazine. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Bernie, and their cat, Sammy.
You can visit Marilyn at

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Sad Little Tale of Hope

Mirek's Beautiful Bee (Miroslav Fišmeister)
It's begun. The great bee removal. We have bees in one wall of our house, which no experienced beekeeper will touch. Believe me, we've talked to many. We've called the Clemson (University) Extension Center, pest control services, and online bee removal sites. No one is interested enough to actually participate. Until yesterday.
A friend of a friend turned up, a novice beekeeper. He has one hive and an empty house ready for more. Bee book in hand, he came up with a plan. A kind man, he worries about the ones that won't survive this transfer. But his enthusiasm is contagious.
His first act was to order a new queen. I  believe this is going to work. Just a couple of days ago, my Chinese fortune said I would soon be a host to royalty. Is that an omen or what?
Helen. That's what I'm calling her. She's going to be beautiful and launch a thousand . . . well, flights. Or maybe the truck that will eventually carry her and her entourage could be considered a ship. Anyway, Helen should arrive this morning.
The plan involves a one-way valve that will let the workers leave the existing wall hive but not return. Because of the warm days, cool nights, and flowers, our new best friend is convinced the workers will return laden with pollen and have no place to deliver it. Hence Helen, safely ensconced in a little cage, right there, buzzing her siren song. The cage is necessary for a while so the now homeless bees can't attack the stranger in their midst but will have time to get acquainted and gradually shift their affections (and pollen). This will take several days.
Then, when new love is finally realized and nearly all the bees have fallen for Helen, our friendly beekeeper will don his white suit and seal off the old nest entirely. The new colony will begin its epic journey to the promised land—via truck. We hope. We're counting on it. We need it.
Sadly, the old queen and her newest babies, entombed in their nest, will gradually pass into another world. When winter returns, the interior wall will have to come down so the honey and comb can be removed. That will be another major project.
Meanwhile, the queen is dead. Long live the Queen!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Importance of Finding Your Writing Group

Bridle Path Press
Marni Graff, author of the Nora Tierney mysteries, is my guest this week.
Writing is such a solitary process that it might seem counter-productive to stress joining a writing group. It’s easy to buy into the myth of the lone writer in his garret, staring at that blank page. There’s also no question that being a writer means spending time alone with your thoughts and is an essential part of the creative process. Writers need time to do research or write drafts, to imagine characters or plot lines, and to revise and polish.
But when a writer becomes locked into his solitude, he loses the ability to connect, the very thing he wants to do with his readers. Other artistic groups don’t hesitate to use the sustaining power of group work: musicians jam, painters work in schools, dancers train side by side in studios.
I’m enthusiastic about joining some kind of writing group based on my own experience, and these groups exist in all kinds of forms, from those which meet physically once a week or month, to others who exist in only cyber-space and exchange pages via email. My own writing group meets yearly in June, after reading each other's novel drafts during May. Each author gets her entire work read and looked at by four other writers whose opinions we’ve come to value. I also run a local group that meets every four to six weeks and we read out loud pages from our works in progress. This is an excellent device for gaining experience reading in front of an audience, while it lets you hear the rhythm of your prose.
At Amazon
But back to those reasons for joining a group: Being a part of a writing community will allow you to amp up your inspiration with a built-in audience for your work. You’ll have the added incentive of a self-imposed deadline for bringing pages to your group when you know they’re waiting to read them. And your group will empower you to travel that long road between your concept for an initial idea and bringing that piece to completion.
One final word on feedback. It’s critical that your group know how to give feedback that is helpful to one another. A list of negatives isn’t helpful to anyone. “I don’t like violent scenes” won’t help the guy who’s writing an action thriller. But if your group can show him what is getting in the way of telling his story well, the idea of the violence you abhor becomes less important as the storytelling improves. Once you are part of a writing group who have learned how to give good feedback, you will use that group to improve your own craft. By editing the work of your fellow authors, you’ll be learning how to edit yourself. By listening to the story others tell and how they do it, you will learn how to effectively tell the story you want to tell.
Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in the UK. The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford and introduces Nora, an American writer living in England. She becomes involved in a murder investigation to clear her best friend as a suspect, to the chagrin of DI Declan Barnes. The Green Remains follows Nora’s move to Cumbria where she’s awaiting the publication of her first children’s book and the birth of her first child. When Nora stumbles across the corpse at the edge of Lake Windermere, she realizes she recognizes the dead man. Then her friend and illustrator, Simon Ramsey, is implicated in the murder of the heir to Clarendon Hall, and Nora swings into sleuth mode.
Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. She writes a weekly mystery review at A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. She has also published poetry, and her creative nonfiction has most recently appeared in Southern Women’s Review. Her books can be bought at or at

Friday, April 6, 2012

It's the Eccentricities that Count

Does he like liver?
What do you do to make your characters stand out? Do you know their favorite song? Can they dance or are they self-conscious on a dance floor? What are her eccentricities? Does she avoid the color red? Why? Always put her left shoe on first?
How about him? Does he have a fondness for liver? Put in a few surprises, like his great grandmother dressed as a boy and rode for the pony express. Or she was a sharpshooter with a circus--which accounts for his being a sniper--something that fits.
One way to get to know your characters is to write a first-person essay about the life of each of the major characters, relating important or life-altering events for each one—kind of "My Life So Far." Give them some weird ability or quirk.  Of course, these things need to tie in with the story somehow. Find the things that helped to shape his/her personality, formed her character. It may take a few days, but it's worth doing. This method really helps some people get to know their characters, and it will help you find the voice for each one. Each writer has to find his or her own way. Try it and see if it works for you.
Give both the protagonist and the antagonist a background and a personality. Say the heroine has trusted the wrong man more than once. The author should know why she falls for them. Are they much older than she is? Is she looking for a father?
If you cover the character’s life, you'll have much more information than you'll use in the story, but once you know your characters well, bits may find their way into your book. They'll make the characters richer and more interesting.  How do you do it? What kind of things do you want to know about your characters? Are they your friends? Do you miss them when the book is finished? I do. I cry over them, laugh with them, believe in them. If not, I can't write them.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The World's Biggest Typo

Amazon Kindle

Mystery author Camille Minichino is this week's guest. She definitely has a point--I detest typos!
Twice a year, members of Sisters in Crime of Northern California host a "showcase" where we're invited to read from our newly published work. One after the other, usually about 8 or 9 of us at any given event, stand behind the podium and read a selected passage. Maybe the first chapter, maybe a particularly funny or gripping section from the middle. We have 5 minutes.
Question: How many typos can you expect to find in an already printed book in 5 minutes?
Answer: I don't know, and I certainly don't want to find out.
To make sure that doesn't happen, I never read from my latest release, or any book of mine that's been published. I know I couldn't stand it if I came across a typo and could do nothing about it. In fact, I never even open my books once they're published. Call it Typophobia.
At the showcases, I read from a Work in Progress – that way if there's a typo or an awkward phrase, I can fix it on the next draft.
So, it serves me right that one day at a signing, I came across the WBT—the World's Biggest Typo in one of my books.
A woman bought "The HydrogenMurder," in hardback, from the bookseller and brought it to the table for me to sign. At least, on the outside, it looked like "The Hydrogen Murder." The cover was right, the flap copy and photo were correct.
I opened the book, ready to pen my name. But something was off. What was Simon & Schuster's logo doing on the first page? Avalon was my publisher. 
I kept going, flipping pages, gasping as I went. The printer (or someone!) had put Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" between the covers of my book. I removed the paper cover and saw that the printing on the spine was correct for "The Hydrogen Murder." In the photo, you might be able to make out the flap copy (mine) on one side, and the title page (Bradbury's) on the other.
I'm sorry to tell you that there is no resolution here—the bookseller had no idea where she'd gotten the book; no other book in her stock of Hydrogen Murders was like this one.
I've often wondered if the great Ray Bradbury ever opened one of his copies of "Fahrenheit 451" and found "The Hydrogen Murder," by Camille Minichino.
If so, it might not have fazed him—after all, he writes sci fi.
Can you top that for a typo? I'm willing to relinquish my title to the WBT for a good story.
Camille Minichino is a retired physicist turned writer.
She has 3 releases this spring: A re-issue of "The Hydrogen Murder" as an e-book; the second in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, "The Probability of Murder" (by Ada Madison, March 6); and the sixth in the Miniature Mysteries, "Mix-Up in Miniature" (by Margaret Grace, April 2).
Soon, every aspect of her life will be a mystery series.  
Find more about Camille and her books on her website: