Inspiration

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There is a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., called Kalorama. I lived not too far from there for a few years, just down the street in Dupont Circle. Dupont Circle was a fabulous place to live, particularly as a young, single adult — lots of restaurants, bars, clubs, bookstores (what, aren’t all young people looking for a good bookstore?).

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Kalorama, on the other hand, is an upscale neighborhood. Imagine big houses with thick walls surrounding large gardens. Black limousines wait in the tree-lined streets more often than taxis. So close, yet a world away.

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One house in particular in Kalorama caught my attention. I must have driven past it once while living in D.C. and lodged the memory away somewhere in the back of my brain, because as soon as I got to work on developing the characters for my second book, A Thin Veil, knew that one of them lived in that house. And it didn’t take long to realize he must be the French ambassador to the United States.

I had only seen the house once, several years before, so I did what all diligent researchers do: I googled it. Google maps is a wonderful tool — absolutely no replacement for the real thing, don’t get me wrong, but the details you can find online can be astounding (if not a little frightening).
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I spent hours “walking” up and down the street in front of that house, stopping at different angles to see the way the light hit it, to get a glimpse over the wall into the back garden. I also found a variety of photographs of the house, from the inside and outside (mostly from the outside).

By the time I went back to D.C. for another in-person visit, I felt like I knew the house intimately!

It’s a beautiful house. No wonder it proved to be such an inspiration to me. Ambassador Saint-Amand is one of my favorite characters now. Writing the scene in which I first introduce the reader to the house — and the ambassador — was a true joy.

Of course, not all of my characters are inspired by the house in which they live. But it’s fun to think how much anything — a house, a boat, a church, even a city park — can serve as an inspiration.

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Meet Ambassador Saint-Amand and get to know the neighborhoods of D.C. in book 2 in the Adam Kaminski mystery series, A Thin Veil.

Learn more about Jane Gorman at janegorman.com or visit her pages on Amazon or Bookbub.

 

 

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CHOOSING A TITLE

copyI’m nearly done with my latest book, the third in the series set on the Treasure Coast in Florida, and now I’m thinking about the title. The first two books in the series referred to one another: A REASON TO KILL and SO MANY REASONS TO DIE. I’m wondering if I should stick with that idea.

Since the book is about the disappearance of Captain Lawrence Bradley, Andi Battaglia and Greg Lamont’s boss. perhaps I should go with a title that refers to the other two books in the series, such as REASONS TO DISAPPEAR. That’s pretty accurate because the story involves Andi and Greg trying to find Bradley and learning the reasons for his disappearance. But the title seems a bit boring to me, not something that will get my readers to buy the book. I was thinking of a title like G…O…N…E, perhaps slanting off down the cover page. What do you think?

Do books sell because they’ve got good titles? GONE GIRL certainly established a trend and since its publication there have been lots of books with girl in the title: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN; THE GIRL BEFORE; and others. But Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE conveys nothing about the setting or the story, i.e., a blind girl and a young German boy in World War II Germany and France, so if you picked it up thinking it was about electricity, you’d be disappointed. But apparently the title found an audience.

Many writers of series link their books by using titles that refer to one another. Connie Archer writes books set in a small New England town called “Soup Lovers Mysteries.” She uses titles like A CLUE IN THE STEW and A SPOONFUL OF MURDER. Sheila Lowe, a handwriting expert, writes mysteries using that milieu. Her books have titles such as DEAD WRITE and POISON PEN. Rochelle Staab, who writes the MIND FOR MURDER, uses such titles as WHO DO, VOODOO? and HEX ON THE EX.

Agatha Christie, the queen of mystery writers, used lots of different titles without reference to one another, even if they featured one of her classic characters like Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple. And other early female mystery writers like Ngaio March and Margery Allingham used titles that referred to murder or death without ties to previous books.

What are your thoughts about titles. Lawrence Block in his essay about titles says that TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY was the original title of Margaret Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND, a change that certainly did it no harm. Did Tolstoy have a different title in mind for WAR AND PEACE? We’ll never know, but the title he chose seems to fit the book. And when Thomas Wolfe brought his manuscript O LOST to Max Perkins in the late twenties, Perkins not only helped Wolfe edit the book, he suggested the title LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL. Better? I think so.

So, titles do attract or discourage potential readers. I’m inclined to go with something like DISAPPEARING REASONS for book three of the series, thus linking them together. What do you think?

 

 

 

 

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Print or Audio? by Paty Jager

availableI’m happy to say my first mystery audio book is now available! This has been a dream of mine since my first book in the Shandra Higheagle mystery series was available to purchase in ebook and print.

From the very conception of this series, I could hear the voices and couldn’t wait to hear them “for real.” I have the seventh book released in ebook and print and now I can say I have one in audio. And the second book is already in production.

After attending a workshop at the In’Dscribe conference last summer by Ann M. Richardson also a narrator. One who is so wanted, I couldn’t afford her prices, but she had some wonderful insights into how to get a newer narrator and cultivate them into the narrator you want.  She said to get a better quality narrator and not someone just starting out, you had to pay some per finished hour and do the royalty share.

My goal by doing it this way and getting a more professional narrator, I will have more sales and can keep building the audio editions to this series.

The fist thing I had to do was listen to the audition files. I only had two, because I couldn’t afford more than $100 per finished hour. However, one of the two did a wonderful job, had only produced half a dozen book,s and her words were, “I’m coachable.” Those were the words I needed to hear, because, as I said up above, I had these characters’ voices in my head.  I also have some Nez Perce words in the books and they need to be said correctly.

Working on the first book with Ann Thompson, a Cincinnati radio news anchor, has been fun.  She doesn’t mind changing one word in a chapter or changing up voices when they don’t sound/feel right for the character.

I’ve listened to several audio books over the years. Some have been duds and some have been very good. I’m happy to say, that Ann is doing a great job with Double Duplicity.

Do you prefer audio or print/ebook books?

Leave a comment and I’ll pick one person on Saturday, 2/18 who will win a code to download the audio of Double Duplicity for FREE.

Book one of the Shandra Higheagle Native American Mystery Series
Dreams…Visions…Murder
On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent. With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever but just as determined to discover the truth. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Detective Ryan Greer believes in them and believes in her.

Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

SH Mug Art

 

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Body, Body, Who’s Got A Body?

by Janis Patterson

On one of my email loops there has been a discussion about whether or not a cozy mystery has to include a murder. Both yes and no answers are plentiful and while the discussion has not been acrimonious, it has been lively.

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. I am most definitely not a fan of excessive blood and gore, but it would have to be a most outstanding puzzle to hold my interest without at least one body. That said, I don’t like seeing someone dispatched ‘onscreen’ with fulsome details of the exploding blood spattering the walls and every dying scream lovingly recorded, etc. That is the pornography of death and the reason I don’t read some of the highly regarded mystery/thriller writers. The writers can be wonderful craftsmen and most are deservedly very popular… I don’t blame anyone who likes them; they’re just not my cup of tea.

Let’s face it, it is exceedingly difficult to have a believable and attention grabbing/holding mystery without a body. In our discussion only a few people could think of even one – and I was surprised that there were as many as were mentioned. Almost everyone said without hesitation that to be a mystery, there had to be a body.

Apparently that’s one thing on which everyone will have to agree to disagree. I unashamedly align myself with the “there has to be a body” contingent. Even in a light-hearted humorous tale, the act of murder is a heinous one. It creates a high stakes situation that almost no other situation can. (I’m not talking about those find-the-whatever-or-the-world-will-end-scenario; those are an entirely different kettle of fish!)

I have a friend who was once contacted to ghostwrite a contract series of ‘wholesome’ mysteries; the company would give her detailed outlines and she would write the books according to their specifications. The books were short and the money fairly decent, but she turned the contract down. At the time I was incredibly cash-strapped (even more than usual) and incredulous that she would turn down what seemed like easy money.

“There is no way,” she said, “I could write those stories like that and make them interesting to people. There wasn’t any murder. There wasn’t even any crime.”

A mystery? With no body OR crime? What, I had asked, was the mystery? Her answer floored me. It seemed that the mystery was who was ringing all the doorbells in this quaint little village and then running away. A mystery? Really? (Remember, these were books for adults, not very young readers.)  Then she really blew me away when she gave me the ‘solution’… the mysterious bell ringer was a cat.

A cat? Really? Didn’t these people ever hear of motivation? Or goal? Or conflict? Now I have a cat who opens doors like crazy – turns the knobs with incredible dexterity – when she wants to get into the other room, usually to chew on something or find food she isn’t supposed to have. What motivation could a cat have for ringing a doorbell? To be invited in for tea? In a different era, to sell Fuller Brushes or Avon? Cats are smarter than most people admit, but that goes beyond any cat I ever heard of!

Now that was years ago, and I don’t know if that book was ever written; nor do I wish to be scornful of it. If someone can get joy out of reading such a story, more power to them. Tastes differ. I would just have a difficult time finding any interest in such a tale. For me, a mystery has to have something at stake – something worthwhile that can justify expenditure of such time and energy.

Mysteries – good mysteries – don’t really need to have a murder, but they do need a good mystery.

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The mystery of the Peanuts’ parents

By Sally Carpenter

I grew up reading the “Peanuts” comic strip in the newspaper, but I never thought much about the characters until I recently watched “The Peanuts Movie” and something struck me.

Where are the parents?

In the nearly 50 years the strip ran, we never saw the faces of the characters’ parents or even knew their names or anything about them. Charlie Brown’s father was a barber (as was Charles Schulz’s dad) and Peppermint Pattie’s parents were divorced. Outside of that, the parents were a complete mystery.

Cartoonist Schulz made a deliberate decision in drawing the strip not to show adults. In an interview, he said he didn’t find adults interesting. (He also couldn’t draw them. In a rare early Sunday strip that showed the kids standing among a crowd of grown-ups, Charlie Brown appears to be only as tall as a woman’s knee!).

In the earliest strips, the parents at least seemed present. The kids frequently say, “your mother’s calling.” In Lucy’s earliest appearances in 1951, she’s a toddler calling for her dad from her crib—but she never cries out for her mother. Is dad the more comforting parent? Or was this the cartoonist’s personal experience?

The following year, Lucy is seen talking with her mother several times. That is, the reader sees mom’s dialogue balloon but not the person. Then mom vanished until decades later when Lucy’s second kid brother, Rerun, was born. Lucy is so upset that not getting a sister that she kicks Linus out of the house! Isn’t dad at home keeping order? Rerun is seen riding on the back of mom’ bicycle, but we still never catch a glimpse of the parent.

As the kids began attending school, teachers were involved in their lives, but these adults were likewise invisible and mute on paper. In the TV specials and movies, one hears a trumpet “wah-wah” sound whenever the grownups talked. Even on the screen we never see or hear an adult.

In one early strip, Charlie Brown calls the telephone operator and says, “I’m lonely. Can you read me a story?” The thought makes us laugh, but why doesn’t he ask a parent for this favor? Why does he turn to a stranger for nurturing?

This is no “Lord of the Flies” existence in which the kids fend for themselves. All of them live in nice (although not extravagant) and neat homes. They never go hungry and always have spending money for toys and candy. Their clothes are washed and mended, although the fashions never change. Someone organizes the school dances and drives the buses.

Yet the kids must handle their own problems. They have no parental help with homework. No adult tucks them into bed at night. Charlie Brown receives no comfort when he loses another baseball game. No one punishes Lucy when she slugs her kid brother. No adult provides emotional support.

What about Pigpen? Why don’t his parents make him bathe? Are they as dirty as he is? Is his house filthy and untidy? In today’s world, social services probably pull him out of his home and label his parents as inept caretakers.

If Schroeder lived in Los Angeles, his parents would drive him to a private piano teacher and enter him in prestigious music competitions. Lucy would be a precocious child actor with a controlling stage mom. Charlie Brown’s parents would haul him off to a licensed marriage-family therapist to deal with his neuroses.

But the kids seem fairly well adjusted. Yes, they bully, tease, insult, hit, snub and are mean to each other. That’s true of any child. Except for Charlie Brown’s bouts of depression, they seem optimist, happy and content. No gang members, Goth kids or punk rockers in this bunch. Rerun is a bit of a rebel, but nothing drastic.

Obviously the presence of adults would ruin the comic. Modern “helicopter parents” would constantly call and text to check up on their brood. Today’s adults would manage every aspect of their children’s lives. The parents would enroll their kids in every type of organized sport and club and not allow them the time or freedom to play, imagine, dream and, well, just be kids.

In Schulz’s world, the kids build up confidence and resiliency on their own. They fight their own battles. They stand up for what they think is right (The Great Pumpkin) and learn how to bounce back after failure. They negotiate, handle taunts and deal with problems—character traits that adults need as well.

One wonders what the Peanuts kids would be like had Schulz allowed them to grow up. Would they follow the same “absent parenting” style? Would they fade away as their own children began to talk?

The purpose of the comic is to entertain, not to present a manual on child rearing. But it’s interesting to note that as far as I know, “Peanuts” is the only comic with children and no adults. All the modern family comics I know of include both parents and kids. Nobody else has dared to recreate Schulz’s formula—yet.

Schulz would probably say I’m reading too much into his characters. But as fiction writers, we give our character more depth than a security blanket or a pet dog. Novelists need to create total personalities that keep the reader riveted for hundreds of pages. Building a family background into a character will enrich the story.

In my Sandy Fairfax series, Sandy’s parents only appear in two of the four books, but he often makes references to his overbearing father. In the first three books, Sandy makes snide cracks about his brother, Warren, whom we never met until book four. Even when we don’t see the family dynamics behind Sandy, they have formed the person he is.

And one wonders what kind of family setting made Lucy into a crab and Linus into a philosopher.

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Fiction Keeps Me Sane

A day without fiction is like a day without food, sleep or exercise. At times, I may be so busy I can only write for twenty minutes or can only devote fifteen minutes to reading a novel, but I don’t go without. This is requires no self-discipline. It’s like the desire to run that grabs me on a beautiful day or the need to get up from my desk for a yoga break.

My fiction time comes after I empty myself of the day with journaling and meditation. It takes a lot to shut down my community and planetary concerns and my ever-growing to-do list for work and then keep them shut down for the night. These thoughts aren’t unhealthy, but once I’ve talked with others and taken what action I can for the day, I need to shift gears to save my sanity. At a set time in the evening, I turn off everything but my laptop and in perfect silence, I write. Ah. The best time of the day.

There’s only eustress, not distress, in the effort of writing, even when I’m analyzing a stuck plot or revising the antagonist’s motivation again and again until it makes sense. At present I’m working on a “cut revision,” focused solely on eliminating excess verbiage. (And slaughtering darlings as I go.) It makes me happy. So does the first draft; so do the later revisions. Writing is totally absorbing in all its stages. This is what Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi calls flow. Activities that bring about flow create more happiness than those that are easier. Reading is more demanding than watching TV and is thus more likely to produce flow

I have to write at night, and then I have to read before I go to sleep. The harder the day, the more I appreciate my escape into a well-told story. While I’m in engaged-citizen mode or professor mode, I’m trying to make the world a better place, but in its own way fiction does that, too.

My fellow writers, I thank you. You’re doing your part to keep me sane.

Does anyone else depend on fiction this way? Or have I actually gone crazy?

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What Kind of Real Mysteries Have you Experienced?

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Don’t count the ones where you’ve misplaced something and can’t find it, or something you can’t remember. I want to hear about any kind of mystery you’ve encountered–the kind that could end up in a mystery story.

Years ago, and I mean lots of years because I think I was 9 or 10 at the time, a young man a block away committed suicide by hanging himself in his garage. At the time, the mystery to me was why he’d done it. I really knew nothing about him, although when I heard adults talking about him, no one else seemed to know the reason either. I remember standing in front of the garage and wondering what caused him to do it.

When I was even younger, one of the church ladies and a friend of my mom, killed her husband with an ax by chopping his head open. No one knew exactly whey, though I overheard one of the other ladies say, “He was so boring, if I’d been married to him, I’d have done the same.” That’s really all I know, except for the fact the murderous wife was put into a mental hospital.

Also when I was in grammar school (6th grade),  a new family moved in with three girls, one was my age and she had an older sister and a younger one. Now, looking back, I know they were poor as can be. The house they lived in was tiny, the girls slept in a screened-in porch, and the one who was my age wore dresses that were far too short for her. I romanticized this family. I thought the girls were beautiful, they had wispy blonde hair. I loved going to their house and wondered what it might be like to sleep on that porch. I was never invited, and they didn’t stay in the neighborhood long. I’m sure there is a mystery attached to what little I recall.

Fast forwarding, there have been two murders where I live now. The first was motivated by greed–the murderer dumb as could be. He killed his landlord and stole all the rent money from him he’d collected and left the dead man in his truck on the side of the road. The murderer might have been smart enough to not leave fingerprints, but when he started buying expensive fancy belt buckles and boots in town, it wasn’t long before he was caught.

Second murder was motivated by passion and greed. A woman who owned a mountain lodge was murdered, and her lover shot in the head while they slept. There were no witnesses or clues. A few months later, it all came out when the paid-for-hire murderer tried to get more money for the one who hired him–the woman’s estranged husband. He shot the murderer. Yes, the husband was arrested and is now serving time.

What about you? What real mysteries have you experienced or happened near you?

Marilyn

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