NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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


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

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Deadline That Drives Me



In another lifetime--which really means before kids--I worked as a journalist. My career began at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc. in downtown Washington, DC. At the time, the Radio broadcast news and information about countries behind the Iron Curtain before the Internet and Twitter changed the face of revolution. During the late 80s and early 90s, the Radio broadcast in over 40 languages to Eastern Europe and the countries that made up the Soviet Union. I started out in the Russian Language Service of Radio Liberty, which made sense since I majored in Political Science and Russian Language in college and grad school. At first I did mostly administration and translation work for the broadcasters who wrote and recorded the programs. I eventually moved on to actual production of the programs, working the equipment in the studio. For a while, I even had a small part on the air about life in America. Eventually, I was transferred from the Russian Service to the English News Service where I was hired as a correspondent to cover everything in Washington, DC from the White House to Congress to the Pentagon. One of my favorite memories is standing on the White House steps and looking out at all the protestors shouting at me. They probably thought I was someone important when in reality, I was just a lowly reporter covering the news of the day. It was a pretty exciting time for a young writer, and I learned a lot.

I think one of the most useful things I learned as a journalist was the importance of a deadline. There were no do-overs, "I don't feel like it," or "Can it wait until tomorrow?" The news doesn't stop for anyone, so when I had a deadline, it HAD to be met or we had dead air on the radio. After a few hair-raising moments of turning in an article with about four seconds to spare, I learned to embrace the deadline. Deadlines forced me to get organized, stay focused, and push through any writer blocks. Deadlines motivated me, scared me and kept me on schedule. They also helped me become a better writer. Sentences had to be as tight, clean and well-written as I could make them the first time around so I could keep editing time to a minimum. As a result, I became disciplined and well organized. As a writer, those are really useful skills to have.


Deadlines now motivate me, although I admit they still scare me a little bit. I just signed a three-book deal with Carina Press that will require me to produce a book every six months. Can I do it while juggling the day job, the kids, a forthcoming move, and grad school classes? I sure hope so. I'm counting on the deadlines to help me out!

How about you? Do deadlines motivate or deflate you?


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Importance of Bibles


by Janis Patterson

Be at ease – this is not a religious rant. I am using ‘bible’ in the purely secular definition, i.e., ‘a book that is considered the most important one for a particular subject.’ (Just to put things straight, Bible with a capital ‘B’ is the religious book; bible with a small ‘b’ is the definitely un-religious context I’m using here.)

I’m talking about the book about your book.

Confused? You shouldn’t be, either about bibles or books that obviously haven’t had one. We’ve all read a book where a minor character changes names somewhere in the book – Mavis the bookkeeper becomes Maura somewhere around chapter 22, for example. Or a location shifts without reason or warning – the crime scene is located north of the river for most of the book, then suddenly migrates to south of the river for a chapter or two, then miraculously appears back on the north side. The detective who favors a Beretta suddenly and without justification starts carrying a Glock. Such mistakes are not only confusing and irritating to the reader, they are the sign of a lazy writer.

When I become queen of the universe, one of my proclamations is going to be that everyone writing a book has to do a bible. Many writers – especially the good ones – already do. There are all kinds of formats for bibles, from expensive software to cheap spiral bound notebooks, but however they work all serve to keep your characters, locations, timeline and odd facts straight.

I do a bible for every book I write, and mine are about as simple as you can get. (Warning – I’m a pantser, so if you’re a plotter or some other kind of writer, you’ll have to adapt this to your particular process.) When I open a new file to start a new book, I open two – one for the manuscript, one for the bible. As I write and something (character, location, whatever) appears, I flip over to the bible and make a note of it. Just a short note with all the pertinent information – the bigger part that particular whatever plays in the story, the bigger note it gets. Later on, if I reveal something more about that whatever, I add it to their entry in the bible. Entries are usually single spaced with double spaces in between one and the next to set them off.

I don’t bother to alphabetize or rate entries according to importance – I just note them down as they appear. Believe it or not, this doesn’t create a problem when I have to go look something up several chapters later. As I said, the entries are short and very factual, and for most books the entire bible doesn’t run more than 3-4 pages – a lot easier to flip through than going back through the whole manuscript to find the name of Lady Bellingstoke’s butler or whatever.

The one exception to this generality was my semi-paranormal gothic INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS – the bible for that ran almost eighteen (yes, 18!) pages of dense copy. In my defense, however, I will say that book was more complex than any other I’ve ever done, with a romantic storyline, a father/daughter storyline, a sort-of-ghost story and seven different books written about seven different worlds, all of which had a direct bearing on the main action of the novel! All in one book… When I sent in the final conceptual manuscript to my editor I also sent in a copy of the bible, for which I got an almost sobbingly-happy letter of thanks from the copy editor.


Writing a book is hard enough without tripping yourself up on the minutiae. Keep a bible, write down every fact and name as it happens, and your life will become so much easier – and so will your editor’s!

Monday, February 24, 2014

POOR COUSIN

I’ve just returned from a two-day meeting that brought together about 250 participants from the Canadian world of words. The idea behind the gathering was to take stock of where the Canadian publishing industry stands in order to see where it’s going. The participants were to consider new and innovative ways of supporting writing and writers, in all their forms.

I was excited at the prospect of being in a room full of people who love words as much as I do. I looked forward to learning from the experience of others and sharing my own as a hybrid (indie/traditional) writer.

We were assigned a table and stayed with the same eight to ten people for the two days, and while I got to learn about the people at my table, I didn’t meet any other writers. Looking at the participants list, there didn’t seem to be many writers. And while there were many (many, many, many) small literary publishers present, there was only one big publishing house represented. Where was Harlequin? Simon and Schuster? Penguin? And what of the smaller genre publishers like ChiZine?

Where were the organizations like SF Canada and Crime Writers of Canada?

Literary short fiction publishers abounded but there were no publishers of short genre fiction, like On Spec Magazine. And we have wonderful, well-published science fiction and mystery writers in this country—Robert Sawyer, Giles Blunt, Louise Penny, Guy Gavriel Kay—were they invited but didn’t come? Were they not invited?

I would have been interested in hearing what some of those folks had to say. I did hear the opinions of a number of writers and small publishers in the plenary sessions and at the microphones at the end of each session.

As it turns out, nobody was all that interested in my experience as an indie writer. In Canada, it seems, indie publishing may be the wave of the future but right now it’s still rather gauche.

I may be generalizing unfairly, but it seemed to me that there was a whiff of elitism in the room. I lost track of the number of times people spoke about the value of literary fiction and poetry (both of which I like just fine, thank you) in enriching the Canadian discourse. I actually considered going up to the microphone myself and making a point about the value of genre fiction in enriching pocketbooks as well, but I ran out of nerve. Besides, nobody actually said anything negative about genre fiction or indie publishing. It was more subtle than that. It was interrupting me when I brought up a point about indie publishing or corrected a misconception, and deflecting the discussion back to literary fiction and poetry. They were willing to be polite but really didn’t think what I wrote and published was important.

After a while, I felt like the poor cousin invited to the mansion for Christmas dinner: nice, until you realize you’re a charity case.

Am I being overly sensitive? Is this a chip-on-the-shoulder type of thing? If so, maybe I should just build a bridge and get over it. I am, however, interested in learning if other people experience this type of bias. Is it different in the U.S.?

My latest crass, commercial venture is a short story, “The Verdant Gene,” in the Fiction River anthology, Moonscapes.
 
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Friday, February 21, 2014

The End...of the First Draft


I've just reached the end of the rough first draft of my latest novel. This is what my desk looks like after the apocalypse (I removed the tissues. You can thank me later ;)).The piece of paper with the hieroglyphics written on it, on the left hand side of the keyboard is a little (ha!) flow diagram of the plot that I drew last week--OMG. Absolute disaster. I have too many characters, too much plot, political intrigue, and not enough romance. But even though I know I have holes and inconsistencies in the story, even though I know I need to do more research, change the pace, even though I know it needs work, I ploughed on to get the first draft done. 

My books always require multiple (x 10) drafts. I never write anything worth reading on the first go around. I sometimes wonder if my first draft is actually a giant eighty-thousand-word outline that I rewrite into something (hopefully) worth reading.

I guess if doesn't really matter what my process is, only that I stick at it with as much tenacity as I am capable of and finish the first draft. Then I can edit until the characters feed off each other, the plot holes are filled, the pace and plot and intrigue go hand-in-hand with the romance. This is the aim. This is the goal.

Great advice from Mr. King...

So don't give up or abandon hope. Writing is hard, and the end of the first draft is only the beginning!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And as a little advertising sidebar (because I'm really not Mr King :))
the boxed set (DANGEROUS ATTRACTION) which contains my book THE KILLING GAME will be taken off the market come March 1st. Forever!
Only $2.99. Don't miss this last chance to get it before it's gone.


Smashwords: http://ow.ly/pMhLW
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1cJi4aH

AND (as if that wasn't enough!) my publisher has DANGEROUS WATERS listed at only $1.99 until the end of February at Amazon.com



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A SETTING?


When I was about to begin the Murders by Design Series, I was torn about where to place it.  The old adage, “Write about what you know” echoed in my head and wouldn’t go away even though I wanted it to.  There’s a lot of wisdom in that saying, so why was I resisting?


My DH said, “Use New England as a setting. You were raised there and know it well.  Why reinvent the wheel?”  Writing pals offered much the same advice, and it’s good advice.  But that’s not where I wanted to go.


 I didn’t want to visit all the locales I once knew, not even in my mind.  The movie theater that’s no more, the church John and I were married in and that later burned to the ground, the house I grew up in . . . it’s so small now.  My father’s grave.  The high school where I met my first love . . . where is he today?


No, all of these memories come crowding in and crowding out a fresh beginning.  I needed to get in a happy zone, in a brand new place where I had no long history, just a clean canvas I could paint with humor and fresh, tongue-in-cheek colors.  So I chose my current home town, Naples, Florida.


Naples offered a sub-tropical, kind of glamorous and up-beat locale for the series, including the newest release, Rooms To Die For.  Deva Dunne, my heroine and amateur sleuth loves it there, even though the humidity plays havoc with her hair, and the sun turns her freckles into polka dots.  But on the plus side, her interior design business is thriving and so is her relationship with studly Lieutenant Victor Rossi.  In fact, Deva’s life is full and exciting as she helps Rossi live a life of crime—busting—while creating gorgeous rooms that are to die for.


To see what Deva’s up to, check out some first chapter excerpts: www.jeanharrington.com





Monday, February 17, 2014

Oh, the terror!

I'm about to start a new romantic suspense novel! I've got my notepad and pen handy for plotting and character development and several hours left of the day with no pressing obligations. The laundry is done, husband busy with his own projects and I'm…

Terrified.

What if I can't think of anything to say? What if my characters fall flat, my plot is insupportable, there isn't enough conflict? What if my agent hates it?

Or what if it gets published and every review is negative?

I don't know why I go through this every time I write a book. I've written several and had three published so far, so it would follow that I'm somewhat confident. And I am…somewhat.

This is my first try at a trilogy. I've got the first book written and almost half of the third—which I thought was the second, but realized it needed to be the last book. There are three siblings in the Hunter family: Nathan is the oldest, and his book is written. Rick is the middle child and Kat is the youngest.

Nathan is a wounded former cop turned P.I. who specializes in finding missing kids. He takes on the search for a senator's son, which leads him to the boy's stepsister—a woman with a past who doesn't want to be found. In order not to spook Sophie when he meets her, he doesn't tell her he's tracked her down to find her stepbrother, all of which sets up a disastrous chain of events for Nathan and his family.

Here's an excerpt from Nathan's book, which I'm calling Trust No One:

In the bedroom, Sophie could hear Nathan's voice very faintly from the powder room off the kitchen. Either he was talking to himself or he was on the phone.
In the bathroom. On the phone.
Her gut seized.
Please, God, don't let him be one of them.
A moment later his silhouette filled the bedroom doorway and she was sitting on the bed in the dark, wrapped in a towel, frozen with doubt and fear. He unbuttoned his shirt as he walked over to the bed, but didn't take it off.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Of course," she said. How could he tell there was something bothering her? He could barely see her. "Why do you ask?"
The bed creaked when he sat down beside her and reached out to stroke her hair. "I can feel the tension rising off you, that's why."
Tell him to leave. Tell him you changed your mind.
But he was big and warm and smelled so masculine, and he'd already given her a taste of what it would be likeAnd there was the way he smiled and the way he was with Max…
"I thought I heard you talking to someone," she said, hoping he couldn't hear the tremble in her voice. "Were you on the phone?"
His hand didn't falter. "I called my little sister, Kat. I spoke to her yesterday, and she didn't sound so good. Her husband's kind of a schmuck."
Very smooth. But was it the truth? "Isn't it a little late to make a phone call?"
"Kat has trouble sleeping," he said. "Especially when her husband's on the road, which he is now. She's alone with three kids, including twins not much older than Max."
"Oh." She couldn't think of what else to say. She had to make him leave now, before he touched her again. "Nathan—"
"What are you afraid of, Sophie?"
She closed her mouth. If he were one of them, wouldn't he have arrested her by now? Or was he planning to screw her first and then pull out the cuffs?
"Talk to me," he said softly. "You can trust me, I swear. Get it off your chest."
Oh, God, how she wished she could tell him everything and make him understand. But what if he was just manipulating her into confessing? No. She couldn't trust him. Couldn't trust anyone.
"I was just going to say that I think we're… moving a little too fast."
He nodded. "I'm happy to go very, very slowly. Whatever you like."
He bent down and planted a kiss on her bare shoulder, and every nerve ending in her body lit up. Her breasts swelled with need, as did the hard nub between her legs. Was it so bad that she wanted this man, even if…
No, he wasn't one of them. He couldn't be.
-- Ana

I love to hear from readers. If you liked this excerpt and would like to read one of my current ebooks, either leave a comment or email me at: ana@anabarrons.com, let me know which book you'd like (WrongfullyAccused, Son of the Enemy or Betrayed by Trust) and in what format and I'll send you a copy. Easy as that!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The New Black

About a year ago, I started writing a new paranormal series, The Witches of Freedom Moon. Each book features a modern day white witch who lives at a spiritualist camp in northern Florida. There's a suspense plot in each book, and all the stories highlight the modern practice of witchcraft. Sure, I've ramped up the magic, but this is fiction and I can build my world how I want it to be, right?

Soon after I published the first book, HIDDEN MAGIC, I started noticing a new trend. Books, movies and TV shows about witches were popping up everywhere. There was Deborah Harkness's A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, Nora Roberts' DARK WITCH. New witch movies included BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and HANSEL & GRETEL, WITCH HUNTERS. Even Television got in on the action with THE WITCHES OF EAST END and AMERICAN HORROR STORY, COVEN.


Witches, I realized had become a new staple of paranormal entertainment, the new black, so to speak. And I couldn't be more thrilled. Usually I am way behind on trends. But finally, I am getting out books that are timely and trendy! KILLER MAGIC just came out a few weeks ago and I am busy working on the next in the series.


 I loved AHS, COVEN and enjoyed reading Liz Schulte's EASY BAKE COVEN. Have you read any good witch books lately? Seen any movies? Do you think witches have overtaken vampires and zombies for the moment? Is witch the new black?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Letter of the Law


New writers ask a lot of questions. They ask for help. Which is why they get so much confusing and contradictory information -- as well as some downright bad advice.

 

I thought today maybe we should discuss three of the worst pieces of advice new writers receive -- which, ironically, are also three of the best pieces of advice we receive. The key to knowledge is understanding. Too often writers memorize and parrot the opinions of others and thus believe they have absorbed useful knowledge. You have to understand the reasoning behind the rules in order to actually understand the lesson.

 

Look at this way. There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Mathematicians and scientists (and cops) are concerned with the letter of the law. Artists and philosophers (and judges) are those concerned with the spirit of the law. Neither is better than the other. We need both. But the type of writer you become depends on whether you are a Letter of the Law writer or a Spirit of the Law writer.

 

1 - First piece of good/bad advice - Write What You Know.

 

Except you don’t know anything. And what you do know is too boring to read.

 

Why is this good advice? Because beginning writers don’t write anything resembling real life. Their characters are unreal, their plots are preposterous, and their stories take place in a world that bears no resemblance to any planet in any solar system in any uni--well, you get the idea.

 

What the advice really means: regardless of what you write -- fantasy, mystery, historical -- your stories must be grounded in recognizable reality. Your reality. The reality you know. That doesn’t mean the characters are based on your family and friends or (God forbid) you. It means you’ve been living and interacting with people -- or at least observing them -- long enough to have formed a workable construct of how real live people behave in various situations. You take what you know and you apply it to your fiction.

 

It means you do your research and you use your imagination and you apply these things -- these things that you know -- to your fiction.

 

So when you write about life on an ice planet you bring what you know about the cold and the wet and frost bite, and you take your research, and you come up with a fantasy world that for a few hours can seem more vivid and realistic to a reader than her own living room.

 

 

2 - Second piece of good/bad advice - Don’t Worry About the Market, Just Write the Book You Want to Write.


Except you want to sell your book -- and you could potentially enjoy writing all kinds of things.

 

 

Why is this good advice? Because when you try to write something merely because you think it will sell, that paint-by-numbers attitude often shows in the work. You must write what you enjoy reading.

 

That said, of course you want to keep an eye on the market and trends within publishing. You need to know if the market for cozy mystery is glutted. You need to know if gothic is making a comeback. That doesn't mean you won't go ahead and write your cozy gothic, it just means you'll be a lot less frustrated if you know what you're up against.

Most of us have broader reading tastes than plain vanilla. Maybe we like French vanilla. Maybe we like vanilla with chocolate sauce or sprinkles or lavender bits or ground up vanilla bean. Maybe we like vanilla mixed with sherbet or Neapolitan ice cream. Maybe we like vanilla frozen yogurt or ice milk. You get what I’m saying? Romance is a big seller, but maybe romance with chili peppers is a harder sell than romance with lavender sprinkles.

 

The idea that you can’t -- shouldn’t -- be aware of the market and what’s selling and still write the book you long to write is nonsensical. A successful publishing career is built of creative and artistic compromise. Just like all your relationships in life.  

 

 

3 - Third piece of good/bad advice - Don’t Use Adjectives, Adverbs, Any Words Ending in “ly” OR Any Dialog Tag Other Than “said” or “ask.”

 

Yeah, because there is one -- and ONLY ONE -- genuinely “good” writing style -- and it works for ALL fiction, literary and genre.  And coincidentally, it’s also the very same style used for non-fiction. It’s one size fits all. How perfect is that????

 

Why is this good advice? It’s good advice because most new writers tend to overdo all these things. Most new writers get carried away with the “busyness” of their scenes, keeping their characters twitching and jumping with lots of expressions and gestures and glances that mean essentially nothing. Every line of dialog has a tag or a bit of business attached, and these too add nothing. It’s all filler and it is tedious to read.

 

What does this really mean? Adverbs, adjectives and dialog tags are to good writing what salt and pepper are to good cooking. Less is more -- but no seasoning whatsoever is usually pretty bland. Quality rather than quantity of detail is what you’re always aiming for in your writing.

 

 

Friday, February 7, 2014

There's a cure for that!

I recently had a discussion about old-school home remedies.  You know the type--alcohol rubs, steam from the sink, Vicks. God bless Vicks.  


Grandma's cure for everything was Mercurochrome.

She had this very same bottle, and I remember at the time thinking the bottle looked old even back then.  I know that my fingers or toes, or whatever cut I had was stained orange for at least a day from this stuff.

I don't know where Grandma ever came up with the concept of putting butter on burns. To me that seems like putting oil on a fire. But through all of these home remedies, I prevailed, so maybe there was something to them. In this era of health care woes, a towel over the head and a steaming sink seem like a more economical alternative.

When I was young I didn't like the color of my eyes. I wanted brown eyes. Well, through KidsWordOfMouth.net I learned that if you put lemon drops into blue eyes, they would turn brown. Yes, in my infinite wisdom, I tried this.  I didn't even have the pretty little bottle of stock lemon juice.  I cut a lemon and squeezed it into my eye (pulp and all).  For an hour I squinted through slits into the mirror to see if my eyes would change color.  They did not.


In my youth I spent every waking moment in the Florida sun.  I can remember calling my mother from Buccaneer Bay and crying, "Mom, I'm burned." To which she would calmly respond, "Well then get out of the sun dear."  I didn't listen. By the time I got home, she had a muumuu waiting for me because all clothes hurt. She would walk out on the back porch and chop yucca leaves and squeeze their guts out on my arms. Picture little Maureen in a muumuu with her sticky arms held out straight at her sides for about three hours. Noxzema was also great on sunburn...for about thirty seconds.

Have you ever thrown any crazy homemade remedies into your books? What are some of the treatments that you've personally attempted and will pass on to your children?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Are Conferences for Everyone?


I’ve been waiting for registration to begin for the Writer’s Police Academy since last year. It’s a great opportunity to learn from the professionals what really happens at a crime scene and the detailed process of an investigation. The conference provides ride-alongs, trips to a shooting range, jail tours, step-by-step workshops on how to process a crime scene, dispose of a dead body, undercover work and microbial forensic. You get the idea. The list goes on and on. This year the guest of honor is Michael Connelly. The guest presenters are Lisa Gardner and Alafair Burke. Who wouldn’t want to be in North Carolina this September, right? Well… me.

I got all the emails for months, anticipated the day of registration and kept my pep talk mantra rolling in my head; a continuous circuit of “You can do this. Go out on a limb. It’ll be worth it.” And I tried to ignore the voice in my head that kept saying, “Don’t set yourself up to fail. It’ll be a waste of money. Conferences are not your thing.” And I know deep down that I should listen to that voice because it’s right. Not because there isn’t a great line up of people and activities, but because I won’t take full advantage of the opportunity. I’d go to hear the speakers (and sit alone at some obscure table) and I’d enjoy listening to them, but the rest would be hell.

It’s the networking, the socializing and the lunch hours when I have to look around the room and find a seat at an already full table or find an empty table where I sit alone (either one is excruciating). It’s making small talk with people I don’t know and the exhausting task of trying to be an extrovert when I’m overwhelmingly the opposite.

The date to register for the Writer’s Police Academy came and went. I made a few menial excuses to myself, like I couldn’t really afford it this year and what if something comes up at the last minute that prevents me from going? September is a long way off.

I was relieved when registration day had come and gone. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to register, but I tried hard for a few months to persuade myself otherwise. Conferences are for socializing, for networking and at least for the Writer’s Police Academy, about gathering research, all of which I can do from the comfort of my computer. It may not be as much fun, but it doesn’t make my heart race or my palms sweat.

How about you, anyone else with an aversion to conferences and feeling guilty about it? Anyone have an antidote for introversion?

  

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