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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

March is National Women’s History month.
If it wasn't leap year today would be March 1st so I figure we're good to post this today.

What follows is a small list of women I admire. Not because they were first at something but because they have moral courage and an ability to get beyond danger and do what is right because it needs to be done.  
The women who settled North America. All the little mama’s who had the courage to get on a tiny, leaky boat and go to an unknown new world. They didn’t have a smart phone to check the weather, complain on fb the boat didn’t dock on time or call an Uber driver to take them to the nearest inn.   
Agent 555, an extraordinary woman, was a member of the Culper Spy ring that George Washington says helped win the revolutionary war.  To this day her identity is unknown.
Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for her efforts to save lives during the civil war. Congress eventually revoked her medal saying she was a civilian and asked for its return.  Mary, quite the outspoken character, refused and wore the medal proudly every day until she died.
WWl
17-year-old Frenchwoman Emilienne Moreau assisted the Allies and set up a first-aid post in her home.
Russian peasant Maria Bochkareva, twice wounded in battle, led the all-women combat unit the "Women's Battalion of Death" on the eastern front.
American journalist Madeleine Doty, traveled to Germany during the war to report the truth.
WWll
Actress Hedy Lamarr developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat jamming by Axis powers. The principles are now incorporated in wi-fi and Bluetooth technology.
Julia Childs was a world-renowned chef. She was also a SPY. At the onset of World War II, she went to work for a newly formed government intelligence agency the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). She went on assignments around the world and played a key role in the communication of top-secret documents between U.S. government officials and their intelligence officers.
Nancy Augusta Wake. She ran away from her home in Australia at age 16. Worked as a nurse, traveled to New York and London. Married a wealthy Frenchman and became the single biggest thorn in the German’s side during WWll. The Gestapo called her the White Mouse because she eluded capture. She was their most wanted person and they put out a five million-franc reward for her capture. In a WWll movie if you see a woman depicted doing extraordinary things it is more than likely something Nancy actually did. She died in 2011 and I truly wish I had met her. There is simply too much to say about this amazing woman. I suggest you research her.  
The women of London who, during the war, sent their children to the country side in hopes they’d be safe then went about enduring the almost daily bombings of the city. Can you imagine?   
Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. About 200 women flew planes during World War II but weren't considered "real" military pilots. No flags were draped over their coffins when they died on duty. And when their service ended, they had to pay their own bus fare home.
An incredible group of Soviet women, most under 20 years of age, flew bombing missions during World War II. Many flying more than a thousand missions. The Germans feared them and gave them the name The Night Witches.
Rosie the Riveter, a name for American women who worked in factories during World War II, many in plants that produced munitions and war supplies.  Rosie’s Canadian sister was just as determined and dedicated. 
Minnie Spotted-Wolf, the first Native American woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.
In 1945, Olivia Hooker became the first African-American female admitted into the United States Coast Guard. Dr. Hooker later earned a doctorate in psychology and had a long and distinguished career as a professor in New York, retiring at the age of eighty- seven. She is amazing.
Rose Valland a French art historian, and member of the French Resistance, a captain in the French military, and one of the most decorated women in French history. Rose is one of the greatest and yet unknown heroines of World War II. For four years, Rose risked her life daily to locate and return works of art stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of France. Her remarkable story remained unknown to the broad public until it was revealed in the book and movie The Monuments Men.  I’ve stood in galleries admiring the art she saved and never knew about her until the book was released. It makes me sad the world didn’t know to thank her.
Marjorie Carr is a personal heroine of mine. She led the campaign to stop the cross Florida barge canal. Environmentalists now agree that had it been completed it would have destroyed the ecology of the Everglades and surrounding area.
The nurses of the Vietnam War.
Carol A. Mutter is a retired United States Marine Corps lieutenant general. She is the first woman in the history of the United States Armed Forces to be appointed to a three-star grade.
Lt. Col. Sarah Deal Burrow, United States Marine Corps, became the first female Marine selected for Naval aviation training, and subsequently the Marine Corps’ first female aviator.
Major Jennifer Grieves, made history as the first female pilot of Marine One, the presidential helicopter. Hu rah.
Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz the first female superintendent at any of the U.S. service academies. Prior to her appointment she spent 12 years at sea in command of two cutters. She and her crews executed missions such as drug interdiction, search and rescue, and waterways security.
Sergeant Kimberly Munley a civilian Department of Defense police officer at Ft Hood who stopping the firing rampage of an Army Major. Munley a petite mother of two put her life at risk.  She took the man down. But not before being shot three times.
Around the world, the wives, mothers and sisters of the military and those who protect and serve, who daily face down the fear of what could happen to their loved ones.  
Thank you ladies and the many, many more who paved the way for women today.
To find out about more extraordinary women The National Women’s History Museum has a marvelous web page. http://www.nwhm.org/


Friday, February 26, 2016

A BELATED VALENTINE


For better or worse, here’s a little true story I entered in a Valentine’s Day contest sponsored by Southwest Florida’s Spotlight Magazine.  It won a box of Norman Love Chocolates.  Strictly speaking, this is not a mystery except in one regard—that two people can stay married as long as John and I have without killing each other.  Or even wanting to. (I think that’s called romantic suspense.)  Here goes:

BUS STOP

Well, it wasn’t a Streetcar Named Desire.  And Judy Garland wasn’t singing The Trolley Song.  But I remember the night John and I met on that Hope Street bus as if someone wrote a play about it and someone sang a song.

We were both live-at-home students at Bryant College in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was a Friday evening in October, and I was on my to help decorate Bryant’s gymnasium for a Halloween dance Phi Sigma Nu fraternity was holding the next night—a semi-formal, which meant girls would wear dresses and heels and boys would wear jackets and ties.  I was looking forward to it.  Even more so when a handsome Phi Sig guy I’d seen around campus hopped on the bus, and I guessed he was going to help out too.

The bus was crowded, so he took the seat next to mine.  As the bus lurched along, starting and stopping at every other block, we began talking and were soon exchanging names.  Wasn’t it the neatest thing in the world that both our names began with J?  Think of it.  How often did that happen?  He loved the same classes I did (business and English) and, even better, hated the same ones (sociology and accounting).

When our stop came, we stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the Rexall Drugstore on the corner of Thayer and Waterman Streets.  John said, “It’s kind of dark out tonight.  Would you like me to walk you over to Bryant?”

Would I?  I’d been hoping he’d ask but would have died before letting on.  So I accepted his offer with a noncommittal and very sophisticated, “Okay,” but my heart was pounding.  Far from being the prettiest girl on campus, not even near to such a designation, my self-esteem was pretty close to zero.  What I didn’t know until much later was that John’s self-image was shaky too.

But on that night, the stars were in alignment.  Either that or some cosmic aura was shining on us.  For the truth is that two shy, unspoiled kids had found each other.  Though only exchanging uncertain glances, not daring to hold hands, and only speaking of superficial inanities—still, we had found each other, and somehow we knew it.

We still do.  We’ve been married since before the Alps peaked up, and over the years we have loved and argued in equal measure.  But even after all this time, John and I grow nostalgic whenever we talk about the October night we first met.  The night we took a bus ride on Hope.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Something to Do

This is my first post for Not Your Usual Suspects, so I'll begin with … Hey, y'all!  So glad to be here.

If you're wondering who the heck I am, you're not alone. Until November of 2015, no one had heard of me. Ah, the life of a debut author. So, to borrow a phrase, allow myself to introduce … myself.

As you can guess from the y’all, I’m a southern girl. I was born and raised in a small town. I haunted the library from the time I was old enough to read, and I always wanted to write my own stories.

However, I didn’t always want to write romance.  When I picked up a pen a few years ago, I had a story to tell about brothers – all about choosing your life and making your family. As I told the tale, it became a romance between the hometown hero and his brother’s best friend – the girl who got away.

By the way, it’s a really awful story. (As in, "it's hidden on my computer and I refuse to look at" it awful.) It’s full of great characters, but they don’t have anything to do. There is no conflict, no plot, and no real goal other than to live happily-ever-after.

That’s how I ended up writing romantic suspense. I needed something for my characters to do. It was sort of a natural leap for me because I have a morbid curiosity with true crime and forensic television. That external conflict pushes them together and makes them form a team. It gives them motivation, a common enemy, and a goal. It makes them face something in themselves that’s frightening. 

Well, that and I can’t write mysteries – I can’t keep a secret for a whole book. I think a lot of the thrill of reading is when you can see the danger coming, and you’re hoping the characters see it before it’s too late. It’s one of the reasons we yell "don't go in the basement" during horror movies.

But there’s more to it than figuring out the villain before the characters do. A few days ago, I got into a discussion with a guy at the post office. I told him I write romances, and the conversation went like this:

Him: “But no crime?”
Me: “Well, I write romantic suspense, so, yes, there’s some crime - generally blood and mayhem, probably a murder or two.”
Him: “I thought so. If there’s romance, there has to be crime.”

And you know, he’s sort of right. Romance and crime are two very emotional aspects in fiction. Combined, they heighten each other, sharpen the characters’ relationships and the plot as a whole. 

If you look at one broad definition of crime, it’s: “any offense, serious wrongdoing, or sin. A foolish, senseless, or shameful act.” Every genre of romance has that, doesn’t it? The older brother who’s gambled away the family fortune, leaving his sister no choice but a marriage of convenience. The hero who’s returned home to recover after a horrible accident. The heroine who’s escaping a bankrupt business.

All those “serious wrongdoings” put the characters in an emotional blender – everything is more intense. It makes it more fun to read and tons more fun to write.

Romance gets a bum rap for being “escapist.” But what’s so wrong with that? Sometimes real life is too quiet. Escape from our calm routines might mean adventure that sends tingles up our spines and passion that steals our breath.


So, it’s nice to meet y’all. I’m Mia, a new writer who loves to write romantic suspense for the adventure of it all. Buckle up and hang on. And don't go in the basement.   

Mia Kay

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pearl Harbor

Just over a week ago I got to stand in a place where history was made.

Because I grew up in Britain, my view of WWII has always been shaped from the perspective of a Brit. I was focused on the European theatre, and Africa, maybe the Eastern Front. Both my grandfathers and my grandmother, numerous aunts and uncles all joined up and fought in Europe. Frankly, I never understood why the Americans weren't fighting Hitler when Germany invaded Poland in Sept 1939. I knew the Japanese had invaded mainland China, but I hadn't put that timeline into context with WWII.

Visiting Pearl Harbor and the museum there brought the war in the Pacific Theatre to vivid life, which is ironic and incredibly sad at the site where so many people died. The museum tells the story from both the Japanese and the American POV. And, right now, there is a display on board the USS Missouri all about the kamikaze pilots who attacked that day. It is fascinating. If you want to read more about the attack itself you should read the website. It has photos and great historical detail and is much more interesting than I will ever be.

The most poignant part of the visit to Pearl Harbor was the trip out to the USS Arizona which was sunk with 1177 lives lost. The memorial straddles the wreck itself--an official war grave and tomb.

Memorial USS Arizona

The tree of life at the memorial
The tree of life at the memorial

Names of the dead.


The dock of the USS Arizona
The wreck of the USS Arizona
The stern of the USS Arizona, looking toward USS Missouri
You can see the slight stain of oil on the surface of the water--oil that still leaks from the wreckage of the USS Arizona. 
USS Missouri
After visiting the memorial we drove to Ford Island for a tour of the USS Missouri. The Missouri wasn't commissioned until 1944, but she played an important part in the end of the war. There's a lot of symbolism at Pearl Harbor about the start and end of WWII. This ship is where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was sighed in Tokyo Bay in September 1945, and the ship retired to the place where the war officially began.
The Canadian signed in the wrong spot and nearly screwed up the whole thing.
THIS EXACT SPOT!
The dent is where the ship was hit by a kamikaze plane.

I was honored to visit this incredible place and learn the history of America's entry into WWII. What happened on December 7th, 1941, changed the course of the world. It sounds so long ago, but the older I get, the closer it seems. Only seventy-five years ago the world was at war. I pray it never happens again and that the conflicts that exist today are soon over so we can all live in peace. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Murder in the Land of Ice and Fire

Reykjavik

"Language most shows a man, speak that I may see thee." 

Ben Jonson  

I first came across the above quote in a Renaissance drama class, many years ago, and although I've forgotten most of what I read in that class, I remember this quote. For me, it's one of the big truths, up there with death and taxes. Jonson might have been speaking on a personal level, but his dictum works on a larger scale.

To really understand a country, listen to its stories.

Which is why whenever I travel to a new place, I read--or at least sample--its literature. Last year when I learned that our European vacation would include two days in Iceland, I discovered the Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indridason and his fictional detective Inspector Erlendur.

Leif Erikson glares down on Reykjavik 
The first Erlendur novel I read was Silence of the Grave. I was hooked on the first sentence:
He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.
It's a powerful image--superficially a pleasant if mundane picture of daily life, but the underlying truth reveals its hidden horror. To me, this is an essentially Icelandic sensibility--the juxtaposition of the everyday with the monstrous.

Kind of like Erlendur himself.

Erlendur is one of those characters that is inexorably connected to his place of birth. Sherlock Holmes is British to the bone. Jay Gatsby is the eternal American, inventing and reinventing himself. To compare, Poe's French detective Auguste Dupin possesses a certain universality. It's not hard to imagine him chasing orangutangs in London or New York.

Erlendur can only be Icelandic.

 In that spirit, I'd like to share some of my observations about Iceland, and how they connect to my new favorite fictional detective.

First, Iceland is aptly named!
The Unforgiving Land
I read somewhere that hell was cold, but Iceland's colder. True, I've lived in the Sunshine State of Florida for years and so my blood is probably as thin as diluted sweet tea, but even a hardy Canadian would blanch at Iceland's frozen fury--it is a killing cold, as the Icelanders know all too well.

Meet Otti, the alley cat
Some furball, huh?





Iceland's cold is unforgiving. One mistake, one misstep, and you're staring into the abyss. As a child Erlendur lost his brother in a blizzard, a loss that has haunted him all his life.

Only loss doesn't begin to describe it.

In fiction, as in real life, character is developed by what is experienced--one's parents, friends, schools. But it is also influenced by what has been lost or even what never was. A child whose mother died while giving birth doesn't actively mourn someone she has never known, and yet that absence influences all that is to come. With painstaking care,  Indridason peels away the layer after layer of Erlunder's personality, finding at the core the catastrophic loss of his brother. Perhaps that's why he is obsessed unexplained disappearances.

 Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on earth. Volcanoes spew, geysers spit, and earthquakes shudder--the land is alive and it bites.
Strokkur Geyser

Indridason uses this to great effect. For example,the action in The Draining Lake begins at Lake Kleifarvatn, which is mysteriously disappearing. As its waters recede, a 30-year-old skeleton with a hole in its skull is discovered. Sounds like a job for Erlender.
Putrified shark--it's what for dinner!

Icelanders eat putrefied shark. 
Iceland's national is Hakarl or rotten shark. I find it difficult to believe that anyone enjoys eating decomposed shark meat, but they do eat it. I think (hope?) it has more to do with honoring their ancestors, who ate anything and everything that could be eaten--cod, whale, puffin, and rotten shark.
As for Erlendur, he likes plain Icelandic fare, and is particularly fond of a nicely boiled sheep's head.


Icelanders love their cars. 
Before traveling to Iceland, I was puzzled yet oddly touched at Erlendur's affection for his  car--a late model Ford sedan. I thought this an idiosyncratic flourish by Indridason--why else write passages in which the detective rhapsodizes over his new used Ford? Imagine my surprise when the driver of our tour bus exclaimed over the microphone, "We love our cars in Iceland--if an Icelander says otherwise, he's lying." I don't think he was joking--this declaration was unsolicited and apropos of nothing. So what I thought an eccentricity was a national trait. I guess it makes sense. Long, lonely roads connect isolated towns and so a certain affection develops between a person and her car, but still...

They're just one big happy family! 
Around 320,000 people live in Iceland and  most of them have common ancestors. Just about everyone is related to everyone else, at least distantly. I guess it's nice to be able to claim Bj├Ârk as a relative, but dating presents certain problems. (Luckily, there's an anti-incest app for that. I bet it's busy on Sunday morning.) But this shared history is what makes this country so vital.

Yes, Iceland is place of natural wonder and beauty, but the real miracle of Iceland is its existence. It is a miracle that those early founders survived. By every natural law, they should have perished. They possessed a tenacity to live another day, to stay alive.

├×ingvellir--the heart of Iceland



 Erlendur is a deeply flawed man. He's stubborn and selfish, as all obsessed people are. He was a terrible husband and a worse father, but now struggles to reconnect with his estranged children, who bear the scars of his neglect. But that doesn't  mean that Erlendur is unfeeling. He feels deeply but in a hard land like Iceland, sentiment is best kept hidden. In his own plodding way, and with the tenacity of his ancestors, he strives to do right.

Whether that means bringing a killer to justice or finding his long lost brother's body.

These books are not for everyone, but if you're in the mood for something dark and complex, give them a try.

Bye, Otti!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Drama in the family!

Recently there haven’t been as many family feud stories in the romance novel, which is a shame, because there is so much potential for it.
But when the muse strikes, it strikes and there wasn’t much I could do about it. That, and the resurgence of the more angsty historical romance gave me a chance to write about something that’s fascinated me for most of my life. Along with writing about passion, tempestuous relationships and people falling in love, that is.
My stories are based in Georgian England, just before the Regency period, so to do some research, recently I went to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace to research the Jacobites. Culloden, the ‘forty-five, Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that. They have a great display of maps and portraits, letters and even a copy of an order to spies. Then it struck me. The Jacobites were the enemies of the Hanoverians, and they were the ancestors of the current generation. The Queen is a Hanoverian. And she has loads of stuff on the rebellion and the Jacobites. So why would their enemy treasure and preserve all that material?
Because it was a family feud. The Queen has Stuart ancestry too. So the Jacobite rebellion could be seen as one big family feud.
I hope the Queen forgives the whoop I gave when I realized that, because my series, “The Emperors of London,” is about two warring families, and the trouble they cause. The Dankworths are for the Stuarts and the heroes of this series, nicknamed the Emperors of London, want to keep the status quo.
Moreover (don’t you love that word?) I set it in the 1750’s, a time of turmoil for Britain, with an ageing king, an underage heir and lots of unrest at home and in Europe.
But romances aren’t about all that. They’re about how individuals cope, and how they cope when they fall in love with the most inconvenient people! So I had fun creating a Deep Dark Secret that could mean the safety of the country is at stake. It’s only hinted at in the first book, “Rogue in Red Velvet,” but the feud is there, and the ramifications for the two lovers at the heart of the story.
Still about the romance, but I’m having such fun with the family feud! Some of the books are lighter on the feud than others, because I didn’t want to shoehorn a trope into the stories. And my other love, making the past come to life, shared by that brilliant eccentric, Dennis Severs, whose house I also went to see (don’t you love research?)
When you start to look, there are family feuds all over the place. “Romeo and Juliet” is probably the most straightforward one. I wept buckets over the Zefferelli movie when we went to see it at school, and I guess that was the time I started to get Shakespeare. Then there’s the massively popular “Game of Thrones,” but that one isn’t exactly a romance, is it?
It’s got built-in tension, but it would be easy to make it a one-note series, so I decided to draw from the backstory as needed. New revelations in each book, but the real emphasis is on people falling in love under adversity.
When it comes down to basics, everything is personal. Bonnie Prince Charlie lost his campaign as much through personal failures as political. He was personable, a charming man, but feckless, not very bright and even by the ‘forty-five, when he was regarded as a romantic hero, he was a drunk, if not an alcoholic. By the 1750’s, he’d put on weight, gained a florid complexion and any hope he had of remaining romantic had gone. But then, the Georges were hardly the romantic type. Except they had deep, dark family secrets, too, such as the wife George I kept locked up in a tower because she’d taken a lover. A real-life Rapunzel, though I don’t know how long her hair was. And the secret baby Princess Amelia, daughter of George II, was rumored to have had by a member of her household. A lifelong spinster, if rumor was correct, she wasn’t a lifelong virgin!
Secrets and families. Such rich material for a romantic suspense! So do you enjoy the trope? And can you think of some that really worked for you?


Monday, February 15, 2016

Five Reasons to Love Cozy Mysteries

1.    1. Cozy heroines make the perfect friends.

Opening a cozy mystery is like meeting your best friend for coffee and learning what she’s been up to. She’s the girl next door. The one with a big heart, crackling wit and a heaping helping of chutzpa.
Google Image Result for http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l865nv0xyU1qd76iqo1_500.jpg:

“Every time you get an idea, I get dragged into it somehow.”

I’d cheerfully follow a cozy heroine anywhere.

2.      2. Cozy mysteries make me laugh

I can’t help it. I love to laugh. I grew up on I love Lucy and Murder She Wrote reruns. As a result, I’ve developed a deep appreciate for beautiful, intelligent women unafraid of making silly faces or showing up the men. You think that fence and sign will stop her? Think again.
Wait this is crazy, this is me and my best friend ! Photo taken by Jon Jon Macaya who also happens to be my boyfriend:

3.      3. Clean, family fun

Cozy mysteries are great for sharing. They’re light on the cursing, romance and gore. Okay, there’s actually no gore, but there’s plenty of antics, action and laughs. I love dropping the drama and dissolving into a PG rated read when life starts feeling more like R for ridiculous and I need a fast escape.
Rowan or Tris would say this to someone.:

4.      4. Community

There’s nothing I love more than friends, family and community. Cozy mysteries feature quirky townsfolk, loopy neighbors and loyal friends. Think: Stars Hallow circa Gilmore Girls. There’s just something about finding our people that stirs my heart and cozies are all about heart.
Hahaha :) "This town is like one big outpatient mental institution":
5.      

5    5. Girl Power!

Yes, there might be a handsome detective. Yes, he might do his best to keep our heroine out of harm’s way, but cozy heroines don’t need saving. Cozy heroines are one part sass and two parts gumption. Think: Veronica Mars. Resilient, brilliant and unstoppable. She doesn’t have a gun or Navy Seal training, and she probably runs a cheese shop or works at the Renaissance Faire, but when push comes to shove, a cozy heroine puts her IQ to work and gets the job done. My grandma always said, “Tell a woman it’s impossible, and she’ll have it done by supper.” I say, “Amen, grandma!”
Veronica Mars wisecracks - Fear:


Well, I think that sums it up! There are plenty of reasons I love reading cozy mysteries, but these are my favorites. What about you? Do you love a good mystery? Are there any cozies on your night stand? What’s draws you to your favorite genre? I’d love to hear!

Friday, February 12, 2016

How Do I Love Thee


Let’s play, How Do Your Character Feel About Each Other. 
Our heroes and heroines love one another. As romance authors, no matter the sub-genre, we build the love between our characters. Sometimes slowly, other times quite rapidly. I’ve learned asking my H&H to describe how they feel about their relationship makes writing their romance much easier.
In my WIP I have a couple I wanted to build another book around. Each time I posed the question to them, I got blank looks. Not a single romantic word. They are very suited for and truly care for each, but as friends.  I put them with other minor/secondary, and a bit unlikely characters, and things happened. Boy did things happen.
So, let’s go. Tell me your character’s feeling about each other in as few words as possible. Please no, they complete me, answers. You decide which one or both or your characters you want to share. I’ll start with my heroes only.
“I thought I protected her. I realized it was the other way around. Every day she wrapped me in her love and let me do what I was meant to do.” Nick Mahoney
“She is my heart. Everything about her is etched there.” Hunter
“Describe how I feel about her? Describe the air you need to breathe.” Declan O’Conner  
“Can I live without her? I did for years. Do I want to? Not for another second, and I won’t.” Ben Walsh. 
“She’s made me believe in reincarnation. God wouldn’t be so cruel as to only give me one life to love her.” Jack O'Brien.
I also asked a secondary character married twenty-five years to explain his feelings. He scratched his jaw, squinted and said, “it would be easier to catch fog in a jar then to explain how I feel about that woman.”   

Rita writes about military heroines, extraordinary women and the men they love.
You can find the books where ever fine ebooks are sold.
Under fire
Under Fire: The Admiral
No Holding Back
Point of No Return
Hunter’s Heart             


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Creating Character Companions

I’m talking about the non-human variety. Be it a dog, cat, horse, or even a fish, the companion you pick for a character tells the reader something about that character. Spend time selecting the perfect pet by digging deep into your character’s backstory.

Did they always want a pet but weren’t allowed one or did they grow up with animals as part of the family? Or were all the animals a means to an end, a working cow horse or maybe a hunting dog that was never allowed in the house?

Things to keep in mind when you develop this non-human companion: How did he or she acquire that pet? What does it mean to him or her? What is it named? Male or female? Big or little? Color and breed? Well-behaved or a constant source of mischief? Does the pet reflect characteristics of its owner, or not? Why or how did they pick this particular pet? Did they choose it, or did they inherit it from a favorite or hated relative? Is it purebred or of unknown parentage?
Did they raise it from infancy or was it full grown? Did it come from the pound or a high-priced breeder? The answers to these questions tell the reader a lot about your character as you weave this list of traits into your story.

An animal provides a wonderful way for you to show, not tell, more about your characters. Why that particular animal? What does it represent to that person? Unconditional love, obligation, duty or a painful reminder of someone lost? Can the pet be a metaphor for issues the character is trying to work out? Does the animal reflect hidden characteristics, or does it represents where your character needs to be at the end of their transformation?

As a writer, you need to do your research if you don’t have any first-hand experience with that particular animal. In my current work in progress I have a twelve-year old boy who has a ferret.
I’ve only been around one in my whole life, so I took to the Internet—several hours later I had a few new scenes I could write that would allow me to use that boy’s pet to explore issues with his mother’s death. (Plus I had a ball watching ferrets’ play in a plastic swimming pool of packing peanuts!)

The relationship between the character and pet can be almost mystical like the Black Stallion and Alec Ramsay,
or comic relief like Stephanie Plum and Rex, her hamster and Eve Dallas and her fat cat Sir Galahad. Then there was Cujo a chilling antagonist brought to life by Stephen King. These animals became characters in their own right, which to my way of thinking is exactly what we should strive for—don’t let them be trivial—make them work and carry their own weight in your novel.


So, do you have any favorite character companions? What makes them memorable to you?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Body Language

I'll be giving a workshop on body language at a conference next year and thought I'd dive into a little of it here. Just out of curiosity... how many of you "people watch"? How much do you pay attention to people and the things they say with their body, not their words?

I've found that body language actually speaks louder than words. (Actions too, obviously, but sometimes it's more subtle than that.) I thought - just for fun - I'd post an old pic from last year with actor and romance cover model Michael Foster. (We took this picture in the makeup and hair room at the show were working on.) Now what does this picture say to you? Don't cheat and look below for what I was thinking/feeling. Take a look and see if you can figure it out before you continue.




For starters, you can tell I'm nervous. I'm not looking at the camera. And... I won't even touch the guy! Yes, my arm is in a cast, but I could've touched HIS arm and I didn't. You can tell he has tremendous confidence and he's used to looking at the camera. The man has no fear! (And really, why should he with that bod! Haha!) He's got his arms around me like I'm a model from one of his cover shoots! I'm embarrassed. You can tell that by my red face and goofy grin. So... did you guess all that?

As writers, we know it's important to cover everything because we want to set a scene. What's the temperature? Are we inside or outside? What's the ambiance? What's happening? Is it loud or quiet? Are other people around? There are a TON of details to get across and limited time to get that info out. Part of all that detail is getting across our character's feelings.

But what if you're in one character's head and need to get across another character's feelings. We show it through body language, right? One of my favorite things is being in someone's point of view (POV) and showing how certain things make them feel by what they do with their body. That way, when I'm in someone else's POV and show that first character using a specific body language, the reader knows exactly what they are feeling...or hiding.

I try to give all my characters little quirks or certain mannerisms specific to them. It's one of the things that helps define them and makes them stand out for the reader.

The other important part of giving characters specific traits is to make sure you use the strongest words possible when moving them around. A quick example... anytime I read a sentence where "someone 'went' to the door..." (or 'went' anywhere for that matter), it makes me stop and think about what would've been a stronger word choice. Sure, the word 'went' works and sometimes maybe it's the strongest choice, but wouldn't you rather see what the character is made of or what they are feeling in that specific moment of opening the door? Maybe she 'glided' to the door. Or he 'stomped' to the door. There are dozens of verbs that can be used to describe what a person might be feeling just by showing how they crossed a room.

Or maybe you've given your character a 'tell.' My heroine, Ellie, in Danger Zone had a huge secret and every time she lied about it (or anything), she spun the ring on her finger. So every time I was in someone else's POV and that character - and the reader - watched Ellie spin her ring, the reader knew she was lying.

The best part of writing body language traits is that we have so much to choose from. Facial expressions, posture, muscle tension, nervous ticks. Just start at the top and work your way down and figure out how many different body language 'tells' or 'quirks' you can come up with.

So... any particular traits that you've noticed about people over the years? Or maybe YOU have a specific trait that's specific to you... Want to share?

Friday, February 5, 2016

What makes a book a DNF?

How often have you come across the dreaded syndrome of a book being a DNF i.e. Did Not Finish?


I used to pride myself on finishing any book I started as a matter of principle, and because even if I wasn't taken with it at the early stages, it might improve and become a favourite.

Well not any more, I'm afraid!

I don't know about you, but I have 100s of books in my To Be Read pile, whether in paperback or e-format. There are 100s of new ones appearing every day. And - to be honest? - I'm getting on in years *cough* and life just feels too short to waste on an endurance tussle with a book that doesn't engage!

I really like the modern way of giving excerpts when you go to buy a book online. I can immediately tell if I'm going to enjoy the style - and so often I'll read an *author* I love, whatever they write. And I confess I've often initially passed on a book, then returned to it later and found it to be a hidden gem. But that's less often than it used to be.

I recently revisited a fellow blogger's post from some years ago where readers discussed what would make them give up on a book. In the spirit of full disclosure, here are my particular reasons:

 * Writing style is stilted or overly melodramatic.
 * Dialogue isn't realistic (a biggie for me).
 * Neither protagonist engages my sympathy.
 * I have a strong feeling I want to 'slap' a character because of their behaviour or attitude (though that may be due to my occasional(!) lack of tolerance *g*)..

I know I also don't like to read too many similar themes in a sequence. And I also know for the more heavyweight topics - even if I'm looking forward to reading the book - I need to have the time and mindset ready for it.


Here are some of the other issues raised by fellow DNF-ers:
- Unbelievable/implausible situations for our hero(es).
- Factual errors.
- Too many characters or too much head-hopping/confusion as to whose story it is.
- No conflict (excluding slice-of-life stories that can have their own charm).
- An author's soap box showing through too often.
- Poorly crafted or unimaginative writing.

My favourite comments? From the two ends of the reading spectrum:
* I just have to give them all a fighting chance!
* some books are so bad I just have to finish and see how bad they can get!

We all know that one reader's delight is another reader's dread. That's human nature, and thank heavens for the variety.
But what are YOUR deal-breakers?

PS this is not to be taken as criticism or finger-pointing at any book or author in particular. Please make sure your comments relate to styles/plotting/characters in general :).

Clare London
www.clarelondon.com

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Passages


by Janis Patterson


I’m not a mother, but I can imagine what it’s like to send your child off to school the first day. Suddenly your world is never going to be the same – perhaps it will be better, or maybe worse, but it’s guaranteed it will be different. Your child is not altogether yours any more. Although nothing is quite so cosmic as something dealing with a child, there are other things equally wrenching.

A book, for example; in many ways books are like our children. We conceive them, carry them around (in our minds) for a while, then bring them into the world in a protracted and generally painful process. Then, when we have done all we can do, we must send them out into the world if they are to develop and prosper. First to editors, who all too often crush their spirit and try to remake them until our books fit their vision. It’s a painful process – and I must admit, all too often I’ve thought what a pity it is that it’s illegal to kill an editor. Many times it might even be considered a public service.

Mothers shouldn’t have favorite children – I don’t see how they could – but authors have favorite books, and I’ve just sent mine on the first step out into the world. This is a straight cozy mystery called A KILLING AT EL KAB. Yes, this is the book The Husband and I went to Egypt to research last year. It will be released in March, one year exactly from our time there. I’ve always loved archaeology and Egyptology, so that make this book special, but what makes it extra special to me is that I’ve pledged one quarter of the royalties will go to the El Kab dig house for restoration. (Yes, there really is a dig house at El Kab, and physically it’s exactly as I describe it in the book – the builder’s grave in the courtyard and all.) This house is a world treasure, and needs restoration.

Anyway, the book is finished to the best of my abilities and I sent it to my editor – the inimitable Laree Bryant – just a couple of days ago. It was not easy. I kept wondering if I should have done this or that… but I also know that too much tweaking can kill a book dead, making it dull and lifeless. I know Laree is a good editor, honest but gentle, and that my book will be safe and prosper in her hands, but still… It’s the first time I’ve let it go. Now it is free to go places and see people on its own, to reach into places I could only dream of, to take on a life of its own. My book will never again belong just to me again.

And even though it’s the right thing to do, my life will never be quite the same.


By the way, if you’re in the Bonham, Texas area on this coming Saturday, 6 February, thirteen wonderful romance authors and I will be featured at the Eighth Biennial “Romance in Bonham” panel discussion/reader event. It will be held from 11am to 1 pm at the Bonham Public Library, 305 E. 5th Street. Please come by if you can – it’s free, of course.

Monday, February 1, 2016

I SPY: Burnout


Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

***

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...

BURNOUT



Burnout. Such a short, simple word, but with such a high impact. When it happens, it can derail even the most dedicated artists. For people who thrive on exploring their creative selves, mental exhaustion hits hard, but we only have so much energy—mental or physical.

So what does one do when one hits that invisible wall?

Survive, revive, and thrive.


Survive


I blogged about “The Write Balance” a few years back. As a counselor (in a former life), I’m aware how important finding balance is to maintaining health and happiness…and as a human with people and projects pulling at me from all directions, I’m just as aware how difficult that balance is to achieve and maintain on a daily basis. 

This time, when my turn to blog came around, the only writing craft or career-related topic I could think of right now was the one thing that has consumed me for the past several weeks: Recovering my lost mojo. My motivation. My sense of balance. Whatever you want to call that need, that drive to create, I had lost track of it sometime back in early December. It's possible I misplaced it earlier than that and was just going through the motions for many weeks, meeting deadlines but feeling no joy in the process.

It wasn't until my health started suffering (both physically and depression) that I had to admit to myself that I'd hit a wall. Whether it was the current work-in-progress that threw that wall in my path or the holidays and a couple family emergencies combined with deadline after deadline throughout 2015, or just my inner two-year-old coming out to throw a tantrum, I just. Didn’t. Wanna. Anymore.

Image from: http://www.pauladavislaack.com/burnout/
When my physical health started to fail and I wasn't enjoying time with my kids during the holiday season, I knew these were signs I needed to slow the heck down. I had to focus on survival, making the holidays as bright for my kids as possible, and rest my poor, tired brain.

I worked on nothing but enjoying each moment, especially with my family. I read as much as I could. I communed with nature and binge-watched movies, trying to reabsorb any and all forms of creativity and storytelling while not having to work on my own stories. My only job became to nurture and restore myself.


Revive


I was convinced (and more than a little worried) that I was done with writing. Kaput. For about two weeks, until the holidays passed and the kids were back in school, I focused on family stuff. During that time, I hung out with family, played mindless online games where I grew crops and entire towns populated by imaginary people who didn’t care if I finished my book. I also jumped into several household projects that had been bugging me—such as repainting and reorganizing my pantry. 

And I tried not to think about the manuscript that I’d already put weeks of hard work into, that already had a beautiful cover and two-thirds of a rough draft and was now languishing on my computer.

And I assessed what I wanted. Was this career still my goal? Was I simply tired? Did I need to try something new, even if it was simply switching to a new genre of writing?

Emailing with friends (writer friends who've been there, in particular) was helpful at this time. And I think the self-preservation part of me was trying to keep one foot in those writing waters. I wasn't ready to give up the career I'd fought so hard for.

Except...
My friends kept asking me "can you really walk away from this?" And, "what would you do if you didn't write?" The tone suggested that, as a writer, I couldn't NOT write. But I thought that maybe I could walk away and not look back. After years of working toward this career. (This was scary.)

So, analyzing why you're pursuing a goal—Money? Passion? Fame?—can help you discover whether the pursuit is still worth it for you.

For me, I need to finish a project I've started. I've always been that way. So I'll get back to it and finish. And I enjoy being a writer. At least, I'm discovering that I can revive that joy, now that I've had a break from the deadlines. It also helped to remember I could take a step back and it didn't mean I was quitting. I just needed perspective.


Photo from: http://wemagazineforwomen.com/
finding-zen-easy-ways-to-cultivate-more-inner-peace/

Thrive


The answers didn’t come easy. In fact, I’m still working on finding that inner "zen." I'm not sure where this path is taking me, or whether a different path might be better. But after about four weeks of regrouping, of doing other “writerly” things other than working on the book I’d stuck in the corner, and totally non-writerly things like finally working on getting my youngest's baby book together (he'll be 6 in a couple weeks!), I decided to reopen the work-in-progress and take a peek. It wasn't so bad. I know it went off the rails somewhere, otherwise I wouldn't have stopped. And when my brain's rested, I'll find the answers. Despite my recent struggles, I have faith in this process.

Slowly, I'm getting back into the groove. (After all, I've already got that beautiful cover and don't want to waste it!) I'm learning that I need to pace myself, and part of that was setting time limits and reassessing goals. Instead of having a daily word count or page count goal, I've switched to a time goal. I know that, if I put two hours a day into this manuscript, eventually it'll get done. And I'll probably build up my stamina again in the process.

When committing to a word count or page goal seems daunting, or exhausting, I know I can still manage a time goal. One or two hours seems manageable.

And one day, that energy will be back and I'll thrive again.



Have you suffered burnout in your job? Have you had to take a step back and reassess? Do you have any tips or tricks of the trade for recovering from burnout and/or maintaining balance?


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