Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cozy - defined

Many years ago, every Tuesday night, my parents would go to the Legion to play darts, leaving my sister and me alone with the monopoly board, a bowl of pop corn and the TV. We always watched The Avengers, while engaging in the high finance and real estate board game. Diana Rigg was awesome and the series a classic. I'm glad she maintained a presence in the mystery scene over the years. The following definition is one that she gives during the intro to a Masterpiece Theatre show:

"A cozy mystery refers to stories that take place in closed, often serene settings. An unexpected act of violence shatters the peace. A small group of characters falls under suspicion and a heroic detective arrives to solve the crime. Are usually solved within a short period of time, a week or two at the most. In general the solution is usually in plain sight from start to finish. And the killer has been onstage throughout. Motives are clear and simple. Somebody hates fears or envies somebody else or else stands to inherits a lot of money. One by one suspects are considered and eliminated, although the detective will occasionally find himself in a blind alley."

Diana Rigg / Masterpiece Theatre

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How to Hear about How to Write a Mystery

Last month, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” aired a great double interview entitled How to Write a Mystery. What made the show great, IMHO, is that instead of spending an hour with James Patterson or Stephen King, they enlisted a pair of what I consider journeyman authors. Tana French, author of In The Woods and The Likeness, and Louis Bayard, author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye, are not celebrity authors just hard-working folks who make their living turning out tightly-plotted, character-driven stories that are fun to read. NPR gave us a chance to listen to them talk about how to create the perfect whodunit, and to give their idea of the most important elements in a page-turning thriller. The show is still on their site and well worth listening to.

But even more fun for me was the interactive side. When I returned to the interview for a second listen I saw that people had posted comments on the NPR site. I found many of them interesting, as a fan and as a writer. Consider these snippets:

“RE: Series mystery novels. I find it absolutely maddening to read series mysteries which rehash the same characters - if the books are well written in the first place we should know everything we need to know about these characters. It seems that authors who use the same characters over and over again do backbends to make their characters SEEM fresh.”

“I have enjoyed all of the modern weapons put into government/crime mystery novels, such as the FBI and LAPD in Michael Connelly's books. It becomes a game of outsmarting the machines man created to have justice and peace.”

“One thing I do NOT enjoy about series of novels is when the author tries to teach a moral lesson, or life lesson, in a mystery, of all places. I hate when I notice five books later that the author must have had an eye opening life experience, because there are "tender moments" thrown into the plot that didn't happen in the first four.”

“As owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore I can tell you what my customers think make a good mystery. Mysteries that take you to another place where you can learn about the culture, the society and the people.”

Yep, I learn as much from fans as I do from other authors. One thing seems clear, though. There’s something for everyone to love in a good mystery!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If you're a Canadian author, please join the Canadian Authors Network

Visit Canadian Authors Network

This network is ONLY for Canadian authors* and for fans of Canadian authors. Please do not join this group if you are neither.

International authors should not join unless they are serious fans of Canadian books/authors and posts should be relevant and not self-promotion.

Canadian authors can discuss their works, events, news, etc, and fans can discuss their favorite Canadian authors and Canadian books.

*You are a CANADIAN author if you currently live in Canada or were born in Canada.

Canadian Authors Network - Helping CANADIAN AUTHORS connect to fans worldwide!

Dusty drawer

Technology can not stop the dust bunnies. An electronic drawer is no different from a dresser drawer for yielding surprises upon opening a compartment you haven't been in for a while and blow the dust aside. Clicking randomly on files while my attention was elsewhere, I discovered an unknown document appear on my screen. Who wrote that I wondered? The first paragraphs intriqued me:


"John Jacob Johnson was born during an electrical storm on July 11th, 1934 as the first fat blops of rain hit the dusty ground and the wind whipped the trees into pendulums. When Mr. Johnson was calling relatives with news of John Jacob’s arrival, a bolt of lightning struck the pole, traveled through the telephone wires, out the earpiece and landed John Senior across the room. Mrs. Johnson hugged her new son to her bosom, stared at her motionless husband and wondered, “What does it mean?”

That night Betty Johnson had a dream. A path lay before her. Immediately in front of her, snarling and clawing, were a pair of mating tigers. Behind them a dismembered body spilled over the path. At the end of the travel stood the radiant Mother, in front of a large wooden box. Inside the box was Betty Johnson’s answer.

That morning Betty Johnson woke and called her sister Alice, who knew about dreams and such things. Before night fell, John Jacob’s crib was turned in a north south direction, cinnamon was sprinkled around his tiny room and Goldenrod guarded the windowsill. After a year, two years, five years had passed, the vigilant mother was satisfied that she had tricked destiny."

Well I wanted to know more and when the author was revealed to be myself - I felt a little pleased and a little cheated. Apparently my judgements were asleep when I didn't know the writer but now I have to take it somewhere if I want to know 'what it means.'

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You TubesDay: Ray Bradbury on writing

Simply, a wonderful example of persistence and belief in oneself as told by the incredible Ray Bradbury. Enjoy!

Happy writing!

Karen Harrington
author, Janeology

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tips for Plotting Your Novel - Percolate & Ferment

Fiction authors are often asked, “How do you come up with your novel plots? Where do you find these ideas?” As a Canadian suspense author, I am often asked these questions, and my answers will usually include something about letting ideas percolate and ferment.

Read Part 1: Percolate Your Ideas

Read Part 2: Ferment the Plot

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif is a bestselling author of 3 Canadian suspense novels (Whale Song (published by award-winning Kunati Books), The River and Divine Intervention). She is also a freelance journalist and popular speaker at writers groups, conferences and book clubs. Her specialty topics are: book publishing options; book marketing (online and offline) and writing advice. Cheryl currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Visit her website:, or her blog:

Saturday, August 02, 2008

All Crime is Local

The most common question I hear at conferences is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Despite my stock answers (aisle 6 at Sam’s Club or The truth is, most crime writers work from real life crimes they see or read about in the news.

Then of coures I hear how lucky I am that my private detective, Hannibal Jones, lives in crime-ridden Washington DC. “But I live in a peaceful little town,” they say. “Where can I get ideas?”

That made me wonder about my real home in Northern Virginia, where Hannibal Jones often strays in the course of an adventure. And guess what? I live in a crime-ridden area too. A little research showed me that recently several gangs surfaced, leaving graffiti that police at first thought was just random vandalism. A girl who had been relocated to the Shanendoah Valley area for protection was murdered by a group called the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. Police say this Latino based gang is following the growth of drug use in small towns. Then I read that groups of farmers banded together to fight their growing influence and to maintain the peace of their rural life. Is there a novel hidden in there someplace? You betcha!

There’s an FBI taskforce now because several people have been brutally murdered in Northern Virginia. Newsweek called MS-13 ...the fastest-growing, most violent and least understood of the nation’s street gangs.”

So shootings, burglaries and drug use plague my area, and it’s certainly more pronounced than it was five years ago. Maybe it’s not more important than in Washington DC, but in an area proud of its rural heritage and peaceful lifestyle it sure can destroy peoples’ peace of mind. And THAT sounds like the theme for a series of novels. And consider these news clips I found on the “Hello, Alexandria” website:

Sat, 26 Jul 2008 06:50:54 GMT - SF Man Gets 23 Years For Trafficking Cocaine (CBS 5 Bay Area)A 34-year-old San Francisco man was sentenced in Eastern District of Virginia court Friday to 23 years in prison on cocaine trafficking and tax evasion charges in Alexandria, Virginia.

Hmmm... How’d he end up here?

Chinese national sentenced for aiding spy (The Post-Standard) Fri, 01 Aug 2008 14:42:16 GMTALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A woman who helped a Chinese spy obtain U.S. military secrets has been sentenced in Virginia to a year and a half in prison. Thirty-three-year old Yu Xin Kang is a Chinese national who had been living in New Orleans with furniture salesman Tai Shen Kuo.

Wow! I don’t have time to write all the story ideas that came into my head when I read those, so you can have them. But then, I bet there's a similar web site in your community. The point is, crime is everywhere, and so are great ideas for crime stories. Plug into your local reality and write one!