Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's a Mystery

There are various types of whodunits, or crime novels, including detective stories, cozy mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers--each with its own format. Even though most subject indices list them together as “Mystery and Detective Stories” or just “Mysteries,” a lover of thrillers may become bored by a cozy. Readers of cozy whodunits, on the other hand, might dismiss a suspense novel or thriller as unlikely, melodramatic, and plot-driven to the extent that characters are underdeveloped.

The amateur sleuth in a cozy mystery follows clues to solve a murder or other dastardly crime without the depiction of graphic violence or profanity. The protagonists’ careers,

hobbies, villages, or neighborhoods are important elements in the stories and may change along with the main characters as the series evolve. Diane Mott Davidson’s sleuth is a caterer in a small town where the reader learns to know the town and its inhabitants while Goldie solves mysteries there.
In the detective whodunit, the professional sleuth follows the clues in a grittier story that may include graphic content and crude language used by both the bad guys and the detectives in the midst of criminal activity. In a good one, the reader learns about the detective’s personal life and can see, hear, feel, and smell the locale. Tony Hillerman’s landscapes and policemen are what I remember more than the crime and detection in his Navajo police mystery novels. We learn about the personal life of Sue Grafton’s P.I., Kinsey Millhone, and accompany her from Sneaky Pete’s diner to her apartment to the scenes of her investigations as we get to know her and her town.
Cozies and detective mysteries are whodunits. The crime is committed, but who did it remains the mystery for the sleuth to solve. The sleuth isn’t necessarily in danger, but twists and turns in the plot and subplots suggest danger and intrigue.

In a suspense mystery, the protagonist must escape ever-present danger, and the reader may learn to know the evil antagonist. Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense movies keep us on the edge of our seats as we empathize with the intended victims. A thriller takes the suspense to the next level as our hero strives to save the world, or part of the world, from ultimate destruction. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pit follows the evil destroyers around the world with many sidetracks and dangerous encounters before he destroys the destroyers.

Since I started writing my whodunits, I see mysteries everywhere I go. It may be a weed-infested trail leading into the woods off of a walking trail I’m on.
What’s at the end? My imagination runs wild. Sometimes I hear part of an intriguing conversation between complete strangers, and I start wondering what’s going on. Are they plotting a heist or hiding something? At my dentist’s office there’s a series of numbers and letters written on the aluminum framework of the acoustic ceiling panels. While I get my teeth cleaned, I dream up stories about who might have written that code and what might be hidden above the panels.

 In Puerto Rico, I approached an old stone tower at the end of a jungle-lined path. Fog surrounded me, and everything appeared to be wrapped in ghostly ectoplasm. The color of the vines pushing their tendrils onto the sides of the tower appeared as slightly darker grey veining on the grey stonework. Inside, I learned the origin and the purpose of that tower, and by the time I’d climbed to the top, the sun had pushed rays of gold through the cloud cover, exposed the green surroundings, and broke the spell. What I remember is the shiver in my imagination while I was engulfed in humid heat, which told me the tower was a place shrouded in mystery.
Do you find mysteries in your daily life? What do you do with them? Do you file them away in your mind, in a picture file, in a notebook, or in a memo on your phone? We’d love to learn about your mysterious places or experiences.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Murder in the Big Easy

            Last week I had the pleasure of attending Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. This year’s theme was “Blood on the Bayou.”

            Having never been to a Bouchercon, which bills itself as the World Mystery Convention, I had only a fuzzy idea of what to expect. What I found was a huge community of mystery writers and mystery fans, all of whom were supportive, engaging, funny, knowledgeable, and inquisitive.

            If you’ve ever been to a large convention (or a small one, or if you’ve ever met even one writer), you know there’s nothing writers love more than talking shop. And there was plenty of that at Bouchercon. Each day of the convention was jam-packed with panel after panel of fascinating discussion. It was actually hard to prioritize which panels to attend because they all sounded interesting and many of them were scheduled in the same time slots.

            Here’s just a brief glimpse of some of the panel topics:

            Problems All Authors Face
            Captivating the Reader
            Agents & Editors Panel: State of the Industry
            Realities of Death Investigation
            Writing Groups: Our Experience Forming and Running a Group
            Cozy vs. Hardboiled
            Ever-Changing Trends in Genre Fiction

            I wish I could list all the panels here, but it would take way too much space. I participated on a panel called “Take Me Home,” all about setting and its importance or non-importance in different types of stories.

Take Me Home panel

            But the panels weren’t the only things going on; every 15 minutes between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., there was a different author in the spotlight to talk about a free-flowing range of topics. There were book signings, readings, publisher events, interviews with the hottest mystery writers today, interviews with the accomplished and lauded guests of honor (including Harlan Coben, David Morrell, and R.L. Stine), and presentations by experts in the field of crime investigation. There was a huge booksellers’ room with thousands of books for sale. There was another room called the Book Bazaar, and every attendee, both writer and fan, had the opportunity to choose six free books to take home from the Bazaar.

            And of course there were the Anthony Awards for different categories of mystery: Best Novel, Best Non-Fiction Book, Best Anthology, Best Young Adult Book, etc. But even more fun than the Anthony Awards was the Second Line parade that wound authors, fans, and guests of honor through the streets from the convention hotel to the Orpheum Theater. Even the rain couldn’t dampen the fun, which included stilt walkers, dancers, performers, and a jazz band.

Second Line Parade

            And it was in New Orleans. I’d never been, but it’s a city that almost defies description. The architecture was gorgeous, the French Quarter and the Garden District were breathtaking, and Bourbon Street was an education in itself.

Bourbon Street
          Did I mention last week was Restaurant Week in New Orleans? Don’t even get me started.

The Scalibut at GW Fins

            I’m already making plans for next year’s Bouchercon, which will be held in Toronto.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Musical Muses: Every Writer Needs One

Are you plagued with writers block? Or do you just need a gentle nudge to get in the writing mood? Find a musical muse and let the power of music unleash your creativity. 

I normally don’t listen to music while I’m writing. When I do I choose classical, jazz, or easy listening. In “Music to Write By,” author Indra Sena suggests that non-listeners try “anchoring” themselves to a starting song (her term for a musical muse) to get in the writing mood:

You can choose any song that makes you feel energized, inspired or excited. Every time you sit down to write, play the starting song with the plan that you will write for the duration of the entire song. Even if you decide you will only write for those few minutes, the old science law holds true: A body in motion tends to remain in motion.

If you play your Starting Song every time you sit down to write, your writing practice will become anchored to the song. Just hearing the song will make you feel the urge to grab your keyboard and start typing.

See Ms. Sena’s complete article, “Music to Write By,” here. She suggests playing songs that reflect the period you are writing about; playing music that puts you in the writing mood; and using music that increases brain functioning (Remember the MozartEffect).

My personal “Musical Muses”:

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, Andante (“Elvira Madigan”). Listen here.

Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16. Listen here

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto 1 - B Flat Minor. Listen here

Nadia’s Theme from The Young and the Restless. Listen here

Debussy’s "Clair de Lune." Listen here

My #1 inspirational vocal: "I Hope You Dance," by Lee Ann Womack. Listen here.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Do you have a favorite song that helps you with your writing process?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Keeping Your Author Profile and Posts Picture Current

by Linda Thorne

My company asked me to provide a picture and a profile page recently for something our company is publishing for employees nationwide. For some reason they needed it that morning, so I had authorization and approval to find someone to take it for me.

The first thing that came into my mind was: Yay. I now have a great excuse to impose upon someone to take photos of me when I'm in dire need of updated ones for my author posts. The outcome is the pic of me above.

Pictures are important for authors. You'll need them for your website, your swag, Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts. Most people will remember pictures before they remember names. To help get your name out there include your picture with it, often. People will begin to recognize you. But your picture needs to look like you. Whether you think you're too thin, too fat, too wrinkly, you will always look the way you do.

I used Tucker Photography here in Nashville in November 2014 and bought photos to use on Facebook for my website, and a number of posts coming out in preparation of Just Another Termination's August 2015 release. That took time and money, but I've gotten a lot of mileage out of those pix. The problem is they are getting close to two years old, so I've started adding more current pictures and will eventually let the older ones go.

At a writers conference I attended, I Googled some of the authors I'd met. I had a problem finding one online. Why? Because the person's picture was so outdated, I thought this had to be another author with the same name. Finally, after getting the names of some of the books this author had published, I was able to confirm that the person's picture online was that of the author I met. I could not find any resemblance.  

I know an author who uses initials for the first name and doesn't post personal pictures. Instead, she posts something more like a logo with her face hidden behind. I think it adds mystic to her branding and if that's what she wants her name to be identified with instead of her picture, that works too. Recently, she mentioned the advantage of not having to update her picture.

Time seems to pass quickly, at least to me it does. We all will change: Look older, fatter, skinnier, grayer, some may grow beards or shave beards, become bald. Keeping pictures updated may be a nuisance, but you are the biggest part of your branding, so let the real you be seen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Are Women Better Than Men At Social Media?

Oh, that title should raise some eyebrows. Am I worried that men might take offense and respond? Not really. Men don’t tend to read my blogs, my FB page, my Coming Attractions or my Christy Chronicles. With the rare exception they don’t buy my books. They are not my target audience.

Out of 1,257 FB friends, 215 are male. Some of those men “friended” me when I was acquisitions editor and they wanted publication. Some are men from foreign countries looking for lady friends. Some are authors who sought my promotion and then dismissed me after I gave them publicity. The rest are actually friends from my former time in law enforcement, the American Legion, high school, relatives, Misters in Crime, the Posse and Novel Spaces. With the exception of the last two groups, I seldom hear from the others.

Women have always been social. We talked while pounding laundry on rocks in ancient times. We’ve been belittled for our cafe klatches in the ‘50’s when women didn’t work, got the kids off to school and took a housework break to talk over the kitchen table. Before men became enamored with cell phone technology, women were the ones who dominated the telephone lines. We gossip, we bare our souls, we commiserate. We are the shoulder to cry on, the person to bitch to, the sisterhood for support, the ladies who lunch. We talk. And now we Face Book and blog.

While men may not read my blogs, I do read theirs. They are usually focused on their expertise, intent on schooling the rest of us and putting their knowledge on display. Often, they are trying to sell me something, a book on how to get rich with my writing or buying their services for mass promotion. It’s a one-way conversation.

That’s not “social.” Defined by Webster it’s time “passed in pleasant companionship of one’s friends or associates.” It’s checking in for no other reason than we care about their daily lives. We share on Face Book funny memes, recipes, craft tips, cat videos, kid photos, anniversaries and books we love.

My Coming Attractions column promotes primarily female cozy authors. At first, I was afraid I was being prejudiced. But I noticed that when I gave male authors kudos, I seldom got thanked in return. Even the most well-known women mystery writers appreciate any free publicity. Maybe it’s because we’re still behind men at selling books. While women buy books written by either sex, men in general don’t buy fiction or anything with a female byline. Just ask J.A. Jance who used her initials and for years men believed she was a man writing edgy fiction. I was even told early on to spell my name “Sonny” to garner more readers. Not gonna happen.

In my mysteries I write about drugs, sex and murder. I couch it in a strong female friendship between two women as well as astrology. Male readers are pretty skeptical about horoscopes and planetary predictions; women are much more open-minded. If men read my books they might gain insights into female logic (or, illogic) and intuition as well as the role women are thrust into within the law enforcement workplace. They would definitely learn how my area became the meth capitol of THE WORLD while I was working at the Sheriff’s Dept. I write about the San Joaquin Valley of California, an oft-overlooked section that covers the whole middle of the state. I know my stuff.

So, I will keep on writing blogs and the women who follow me will keep on reading and responding. We are a loyal community. And, we are social with a capital “S.”     

Friday, September 9, 2016

Beam My UP, Scotty.

As I write this, it is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek being on television. So why is it that I still cannot beam myself to ... wherever, maybe to visit one of my kids or grandkids?

In that epic series, Gene Roddenberry gave us everything we needed to accomplish the task. James T. Kirk and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) demonstrated the process each week - often more than once in a show.

This production gave us the chamber sometimes used, and even the command to make it work: "Beam me up, Scotty." (In today's spirit of full disclosure, Captain Kirk never said those exact words in the original series. But the spirit was there. He actually said, "Beam me up," and "Scotty, beam us up." And who can forget Captain Kirk giving the command, "Beam them out of there, Scotty.")

But all of that aside, Roddenberry gave us the blueprint - and more - to develop a transporter, a beam machine, if you wish, that could move people from one place to another, more or less instantaneously. Having worked in research for many years, I can tell you that the most valuable part of the process is the idea. Those are golden.

In the case of Star Trek, we - that is, the scientific community - have been given not only the idea, but plans. Well, at least part of them. And most researchers will tell you that they don't want to be given every last detail. If that were the case, what would they have to research? If all the work has been done and given to them, what are they supposed to do - just write up the experiment?

Fifty years. And the scientific community has not been able to reproduce, or create, the beam machine clearly outlined in 1966. And these episodes are still available. If today's scientist needs to be refreshed, pull up as many episodes as needed to get the facts down. Of course, the members of today's science community are too young to remember those wonder years when the Enterprise ruled the universe. Or at least that portion which could be filmed.

So, what's the story? Are we spending too much time inventing child-proof caps for bottles? Or Velcro? (Actually, Velcro was invented well before Star Trek.) Probably the new generation of scientists will have to discover the idea for themselves. They will take credit and even give it a different name, maybe something like teleporting. Of course, Edward Mitchell, an American author, wrote about matter transmission in 1877. That was before my time, barely. But I remember The Fly, a 1957 story, and 1958 movie, which had a transporter, although it did not always reassemble things perfectly. But it moved them from one place to another. Fast.

Scientists, get busy. Authors have pointed the way. All you have to do is build it. Simple engineering. As the security lines at the airports get longer and longer, there will certainly be a market for a teleporter. We're ready to say, "Beam me home, Scotty."

James R. Callan, September 2016