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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MT. EVEREST, ANYONE?


I confess. This is about as close as I’ll ever get to deep sea diving. I admire all those adventure junkies out there. Those zip-lining, skydiving, roller-coastering thrill seekers. My idea of recklessness is going five miles above the speed limit. Even as a kid I would look at all those kids at the waterpark climbing 100-foot towers to some waterslide of horror, while I would just shake my head and turn towards the innocent little pontoons in the placid canal.

Well, my WIP takes place in a deep sea cave. The logistics pose a challenge for me, but I look to the words of the great Nora Roberts for comfort. A decade or two ago I attended an RWA conference and she was teaching a class. She said, “Look at my desk. You’ll see little piles everywhere. Neat little stacks. Look at this pile right here.” She held up three sheets of paper, and said, “This is my research for THE REEF. Do you think I’ve actually been diving?”

If I stuck to my knowledge wheelhouse, I’d have only managed to release maybe three books. I have to broaden my horizons--horizons that are now taking me down…down…down. Glug, glug, glug. The research is fun. Some of the underwater caves are absolutely exquisite, and my bucket list has increased tenfold. Here are a couple I'd like to see.

Neptune's Grotto in Italy
Blue Grotto, Italy


As a writer, have you ever been forced out of your comfort zone in the spirit of expansion? As a reader, do you like to read about things you've never done before, or probably won't do?




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Do You See What I See?


My guess is every reader envisions the hero and heroine differently than the author did. I often start a new story with a vague image in mind, or maybe I find a picture that is like my mental picture, but somewhere along the way, that character changes, taking on a life of his or her own, that is just a little bit different from my first impression. Their personality becomes more distinct as their image becomes less so!

The reader can create their own images!


And cover art? Nope, it never matches the one I begin building from the moment that character walks on the page—even my own covers! Though I did like that the images Carina Press used were more silhouette than actual discernible people. 

Add your own head!
Speaking of cover art, I love the headless bodies myself—that way I don’t have these images that never match my vision cluttering up my mind every time I pick up that book (one added benefit of an e-book—I only see that cover image once!) 

Sometimes I create a mental image before the author describes the character and rarely will I change that mental picture to match the authors! Call me obstinate, but once I have that mental picture I just can’t erase it. Heck, I’ve totally ignored some characteristics if I don’t find them personally appealing (hair color, facial hair, weight and height have all been modified in the world I create out of the authors original story).

As a writer, I don’t mind readers creating a different look than I had for my characters—if it makes the story more real for them, go for it! Every reader brings their own biases, experiences, and belief systems that color every book they read. Hopefully they enjoy my stories no matter who they place in the starring role.
This may, or may not be my hero for book four...

So, have you found yourself creating different characters in the books you read, or is it just me?

About Sharon:

Sharon Calvin writes contemporary romantic suspense and is currently working on book three of her Gulf Coast Rescue series about the men and women of the US Coast Guard.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Detective Fashion for Dummies

Today’s the day! FASHIONABLY LATE, my latest Ladies Smythe & Westin mystery, has hit the catwalk. My fellow Not Your Usual Suspects bloggers may not realize this, but I am now quite the fashion expert—in the realm of fictional detectives, anyway. (No snickering, please.) And I have to point out that some of our favorite sleuths are on trend and others are—how can I put this delicately?—in rather serious need of a stylist. So I’ve put together a quick run-down of a few sleuths who really stand out on the Hot list—for better or for worse.

Unlike most hardworking, real-life detectives who dress for the job, many of their book and TV counterparts spend a lot of time in the public eye, running around chasing suspects in expensive leather jackets and killer heels. And then there are others, including my odd-couple sleuths Summer Smythe, an impulsive twenty-something, and Dorothy Westin, a practical seventy-something, who might consider upping their fashion games. (Truth: the most fashionable character in FASHIONABLY LATE is a 6-year-old with a subscription to Vogue.) With that said, here we go:


Those Seventies Guys: Okay, so maybe the 70s weren’t known for fabulous male fashion. Kojak with the lollipops, Columbo with his rumpled trenchcoat, and Jim Rockford with the crazy-plaid sportcoats (you rocked anyway, Jimbo!). But the real-life Columbo cleaned up rather well for the Academy Awards with costume designer Edith Head:


Nancy, Nancy, Nancy: Let’s get this hem straight: No one puts the teen queen detective in a fashion corner. She dressed impeccably and appropriately for every occasion, from speeding after crooks in that cute roadster to her equestrienne pursuits to being trapped in attics. But sometimes, well…her tastes ran a little on the boring side:


Luckily, French illustrator Albert Chazelle had a different take on Nancy and her friends. Très chic, n’est-ce pas?


Lob-stah Bibs and Liberty Scahves: Like Nancy, mystery writer and amateur sleuth extraordinaire Jessica (“J.B”) Fletcher’s style was also well-suited to every activity. Plus, she managed to look stylish and keep her cool as a female TV star in the 80s, so she gets extra points. Oh, and Angela Lansbury. Super-bonus points.


V is for Velma, Veronica, and Va-va-voom: Velma, honey, we admired your colorfully-groovy choices in Scooby Doo. But may we suggest taking a few fashion notes from equally-unique fellow V-girl Veronica Mars?


Nick and Nora Charles: No question, these two were always in high style, especially with cocktails in hand. Maybe substituting a few higher-energy outfits for those chic dressing gowns and smart PJ sets would be…Oh, never mind. 


Plain Jane: Yes, Miss Marple, we know those tweeds and Wellies are all the rage for kickin' it in St. Mary Mead. And you may give Jessica and Nancy a run for the roses in the practicality department. But with all those house parties, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to live a little:



Summer Smythe and Dorothy Westin: This odd-couple sleuth team recently hit the holiday fashion show circuit in glitzy Milano, Florida—and picked up a few game-changing (and lifesaving) style tips. Reindeer sweaters, awkward fishtails, and merry widow ensembles aside (don’t ask), there may be hope for these two yet!



About Lisa:
Lisa Q. Mathews lives in New England but sets her series The Ladies Smythe & Westin in sunny Florida. Her closet most closely resembles Jessica Fletcher’s, with a handy yellow slicker, an all-season trench, Bean boots and plenty of scarves. Her titles include CARDIAC ARREST, PERMANENTLY BOOKED, and the very latest, FASHIONABLY LATE. 

Do you agree with our Detective Fashion Police—or have any other sleuths you’d like to nominate for a fashion intervention? (Remember, we’re talking fictional characters here, not (ahem) writers!)




Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Makes a Great Story?

I was looking through photos from my hubby’s trip out to Zion National Park last weekend (I’ll post a picture at the end), then the procrastination bug hit and I wandered into other photo files. I came across this charming black and white photo of a little boy on a bench taken over thirty years ago. It was in a collection from several friends taken during a year when our spouses went to school together.

I’m not sure who the child is or even who took the photo, but it reminded me of a talk presented at a writers’ convention last week. The topic was “What is a Story?” based on the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron. One piece of wisdom she imparted that resonated with me is that the plot is the surface of the story, but what brings it to life is what is hidden under the surface. It is this underneath portion made up of the main character that is the real story. The way the character changes and moves forward is what creates the plot that will unfold.

This little boy is looking out upon the world, assessing and gathering in knowledge of all he sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells. He, like all children, will collect this endless flow of data to build a life vision, but is unable to evaluate it with the wisdom of years. His experiences will color his world as he grows. What if when your protagonist was young, he dreamed of being a soccer player and mowed lawns to earn money for a special sport camp staffed by his superstar hero? If someone in his household stole his money so he couldn't attend, he might lose trust in family and grow up stingy or distrustful of those who supposedly love him.

Intuitively, I develop a loose plot idea and have the character’s backstory fleshed out in my head, but sometimes having the obvious pointed out can save time in plotting the character’s arc. Lisa’s point hit home, when recently I had to trade out the main character of book three in a new series. I had shifted the timeline of the series and thus the place where the adventure would occur. My original politician-handling hero went from being in Washington D.C. to the jungle, and his growth arc simply didn’t fit with flailing around in humidity and thorny undergrowth. Thus, I snatched up another secondary character from book one (who turned out to be perfect for the job) and planted him in the jungle…but then the story shut down. Why? Because as Lisa noted, the character is the story and he drives the plot. I hadn’t fully fleshed out the new character’s early life and backstory. What made him into the man he is today and how can he grow through the book? Once I developed that, the story, plot, and characters were off and running, just in a slightly different direction than the first hero.

Think back through some of your favorite books and figure out how the hero or heroine changed through the story and how their experiences and beliefs from childhood affected the storyline. I bet you discover no matter how complicated the plot, it is the character’s growth that made the story stand out.

Happy reading!
Zion National Park


Sandy Parks writes action-adventure thrillers with capable women and tough heroes with some quirky sidekicks thrown in. Coming next year is the start of a new romantic thriller science-fiction series. Check out her books at sandyparksauthor.com.

Monday, July 31, 2017

From Fanfiction to Pro fiction

by Clare London

I've recently been contributing articles to a new writing advice site, The SubRosa Writer, offering a "how to" path from writing fanfiction to publishing original fiction. You may say, What's fanfiction? or maybe How do I make that move?

According to Wikipedia, Fan fiction or fanfiction (also abbreviated to fan fic, fanfic or fic) is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator." 

Many authors, particularly in romance and fantasy genres, started with re-told stories for their favourite characters, whether in movies, TV or - in my case - anime series. I wrote online, for free, for 3-4 years until I plucked up courage to submit an original novel for publication.

So what good does fanfiction do for an aspiring writer? Here's my opinion.

Fanfiction is…


*Your training ground as an author. There are few rules – you can write about what you like, for how many words you like, in whatever genre you like, at whatever time and place you like. And you don’t need a degree in creative writing to do so. It’s one of the most empowering places to be! This is a perfect chance to hone your writing craft. Find out if you prefer writing short/long books; happy-ever-after/angsty; contemporary/fantasy. And then – try something different again! Try a dialogue-only piece; write from 1st person to 3rd person point of view; a soliloquy or a multi-person scene. It’s all in your band of work.

*A perfectly valid experience of publishing. It’s still a big step to publish your fiction, even on a free online forum. It’s still launching it into the world. Authors don’t call their work their “babies” without emotional reason LOL. But it’s that second step – after the big first step of writing in the first place – of sharing publicly.

*Your connection with readers, for perhaps the first time. It thrives on a community of fellow, (mostly) supportive fans. You receive feedback, you receive interaction with other authors. You may even receive praise, and a loyal following! That’s one of the most fabulous things about publishing.

*Your experience of a fiction community. That is, maybe your first experience (like mine was!) of “different strokes for different folks” i.e. the diversity of the world out there. The internet can connect you to any timezone, any country, and person. There’s no qualification to be a reader, either. You may find new friends, or people to avoid. Keep your common sense about you, remember an online persona isn’t always pitched with the whole truth, and it can be both eye-opening and life-enriching.

*Your access to a huge variety of reading material. And as we know, one of the most important things about starting to write is to READ.

So fanfiction can build both your writer’s craft, and your personal confidence. As a final word of warning, most fanfiction communities come with a certainly low level of moderation of its members – which is good! Step outside that fanfiction playground, and you may find much less in the wider publishing world. You become a small fish in a larger pond. And that pond has rules too, just like anywhere else in life.

But that’s what it’s all about, right? Your new adventure!

~Clare London~
www.clarelondon.com


   Click to email me

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dumb Witnesses

No, I'm not being politically incorrect! 


By Daryl Anderson

I'm using the word dumb in its original meaning, as in being unable to speak. In mysteries, a dumb witness is one that has witnessed a crime, but is powerless to tell its story.

At least not in the conventional manner.

Perhaps the most beloved dumb witness is Bob the Jack Russell Terrier from Agatha Christie's novel Dumb Witness. As Bob was with his mistress on the night she was murdered, Poirot is certain the little fellow knows the truth and eventually the great detective "hears" what the dog has to say. 

However, a good dumb witness is more than a plot point. As with any other element of the story, it can be used to develop character, inject pathos or even add a little humor. It's also part of a long and revered tradition in Western literature as the first dumb witness appeared way back in Homer's Odyssey.

I'm speaking of Argo, Odysseus' faithful dog.

When Odysseus returns home in disguise only Argo recognizes him. The faithful dog wags his tail, but lacks the strength to go to his master. Fearful of betraying his identity, Odysseus dares not acknowledge Argos. 
Odysseus and Argo
 Odysseus entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years.
There is something so very human and heartfelt in this passage. Through Argo, Odysseus is more human.

A recent impressive use of the dumb witness is found in Donna Leon's The Waters of Eternal Youth. In the novel Commissario Guido Brunetti is asked to investigate a cold case from fifteen years earlier in which a young girl is attacked and subsequently brain damaged. Before her injury, the girl was an avid equestrian whose greatest joy was her beloved horse Petunia. In the novel's poignant conclusion, the girl is brought to the farm when Petunia now lives. 
In an almost transcendent scene, the old horse and damaged girl recognize one another.

Now, we move from the sublime to the ridiculous.

I'm a dog person and so when I sat down to write my first mystery Murder in Mystic Cove, I knew a dog was going to play a crucial role in the plot. Sure enough, the victim's elderly pug Jinks witnesses his master's murder. Because the victim was such a nasty piece of work I originally pictured Jinks as an extension of his master in order to emphasize the victim's loathsome nature. Anyhow, I pictured Jinks as something like this--

Jinks, first draft
It didn't take long for me to switch tracks and soften some of Jinks' rough edges. Though the elderly pug didn't exactly became lovable, what with his chronic halitosis and excessive gas, he did become a pitiable creature, which helped humanize my very unlikable victim and add a bit of pathos to the tale.
Jinks, final draft


I hope I've proven that dumb witnesses aren't dumb at all but very smart. 

Oh, and I'd love to hear about some of your favorite dummies.

Friday, July 21, 2017

SO LONG, FAREWELL, AU REVOIR…

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu
Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu...



I’m feeling a little nostalgic lately, knowing that this will be my last post at Not Your Usual Suspects, at least for a while. I’ll certainly be dropping by to check out what my NYUS colleagues are up to and celebrate their latest accomplishments.

So, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past, especially once I realized that I’ve been posting here for seven years! Much of that time, I’ve felt like a bit of a fraud, pretending I’m a “real” writer while my NYUS colleagues (the real writers) go about their amazing careers.

But I sat down and counted, and since 2010, the year On Her Trail came out from Carina Press, and the year I “met” some fabulous writers (I’m looking at you in particular Maureen Miller, Toni Anderson and Shirley Wells), I’ve published 11 novels, 25 short stories, and two collections. It would interest me greatly to know how many novels the NYUS writers have published collectively. I’m sure it’s enough to fill a small library!

So, see you around. Here’s to another fabulous seven years for NYUS.




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Come Travel With Me



I love to travel. I suspect part of the reason for that is my upbringing as a military child. My dad was in the Air Force and we were transferred to many different bases during my childhood. One of my fondest memories of travelling was when my family moved to the small island of Okinawa, Japan. I spent three years there attending high school and made some amazing memories and wonderful, lifelong friends.

So, it's probably no surprise to those who know me well, that my mystery novels are often filled with travel to exciting and different locales. In fact, just a week ago, I returned from a 10-day trip to Paris and London. Of course, the entire time I was there, I was mentally taking notes, wondering what situation I could create to get my characters there as soon as possible. Here are just a few of my favorite pictures from my trip.








If you've read any of my geeky mysteries, you'll see how many places I take her and the gang. From Italy to Africa to Hollywood and Egypt ... those are just a few places so far. To finish off this blog, I'm going to share a trailer for my Lexi Carmichael mystery series that will show you just how much I enjoy traveling, even in my writing life. So, if you haven't had a chance to check out the series... Come Travel with Me! 

By the way,  where is the ONE place you've always wanted to travel?

video


Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting Prepped for RWA Nationals

The Romance Writers of America national conference is about a week away and preparation around here has shifted into high gear. For those who don’t know, the RWA is a national organization that helps romance authors with information and resources on the business and creative sides of writing. It’s a great group of people, and a strong and supportive community.

The national conference is the once a year opportunity for people who mostly communicate electronically to meet in person. This time it’s in Orlando, Florida. My wife, Zoe Archer (AKA Eva Leigh), and I have gone over the last several years, but this one is particularly exciting for me. My book One Minute to Midnight has been nominated for a RITA award in Romantic Suspense and the ceremony to announce the winners will be on Thursday night of the conference.

So really, the conference prep started soon after I found out I was up for the award. The people at our local Y have definitely seen a lot more of me in the run up to the ceremony. Zoe has been nominated a couple times before and I’ve attended with her, so I know how good everyone looks on the big night out.

Which means: fancy clothes. I’m not one to dress up, so it took a while to put together what I'm wearing to the ceremony. But clothing choices to the rest of the conference are important as well. You want to be comfortable, but also to represent your style. Can’t dress too warmly for summer, but there’s always air conditioning, making layering important.

And then there’s the shoes. Prepare to spend a lot of time spent on your feet, chatting with people at the bar, or navigating through the hotel corridors. Sometimes it’s a hike just to get from your room to the central area of the conference.

After all your sartorial choices are settled, the next packing challenge is swag. For the first time, I’m going to be signing at the massive literacy autographing book sale. Some authors go all out with swag, creating unique environments made of balloons, tassels, stuffed animals, riding crops, etc, in what space they’re allocated on the table. I don’t know which approach works best, but a minimalist aesthetic is what fits me best: A pen cup with custom pens, a bowl of chocolates.

Other obligations at the conference require different plans as well. Zoe and I will be giving a panel on Mindfulness for Writers, and while the handouts are finalized, we still need to practice our talk a couple of times in order to refine it and make sure we’re getting our points across clearly.

Other packing essentials include:
-A notebook and a pen you enjoy writing with. There are plenty of pens and paper to be had at the conference, but there’s so much good insight on the panels to be written down, you’ll want to be using your personal setup. Or bring a laptop or tablet if that’s best for you. I’ve seen a lot of people clicking away on their keyboards during panels.
-Hand sanitizer. Sometimes there isn’t a moment to wash your hands before rushing off to a meal.
-Lip balm. Air conditioning always dries me out.
-Snacks. With a full calendar, meals don’t always come around when you’re needing them. I like to keep a couple protein bars in my day bag just in case my blood sugar starts to crash.
-Band aids. Depending on what kind of fancy shoes you’re bringing.
-A flask of booze for the room for a quiet moment before sleep after spending all day interacting with interesting, creative, excited, encouraging people.
-A readiness to approach strangers and strike up a conversation, based only on what you can learn from their name badge. Along with this, bring your desire to share your experiences and ideas with others. That’s one of the great ways this community grows and evolves, by listening and sharing.

If you’re attending RWA this year, I hope I see you there. Or if you’re only hitting up the big signing, stop by for some chocolate.

Here’s the LINK for the conference.

And the LINK for the signing.

Did I forget anything? How do you prep for conference?

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